Wal-Mart’s blogger outreach program

03/05/06

According to one blogger who emailed me, the NYTimes is getting ready to run a story on the blogger outreach program managed by Edelman on behalf of Wal-mart.

John McAdams provides quite a bit of detail on his correspondence with Marshall Manson, a senior account supervisor with Edelman. Manson’s blogger relations work on Wal-Mart’s behalf has popped up across the web. Interestingly, it seems to hit mostly on conservative blogs. (Examples can be found here, here and here.)

Or maybe that portion of Edelman’s outreach program targeted towards conservative bloggers just produces greater reverb. Do the macro-economic arguments in favour of Wal-mart work better for conservatives, or do they just provide another detail for reference in their vilification of mainstream and liberal media?

To be fair, Manson’s work has also popped up on liberal blogs (here and here). Being a PR professional, I’m sure Manson’s going to read this and think “Dammit! Those aren’t even my good hits!”

It seems that targeting conservative bloggers is a conscious decision on Edelman’s part. Businessweek highlighted this point last fall. The fact that Mike Krempasky was put on the Wal-Mart file shortly after being hired by Edelman seems to underline the strategy.

It makes perfect sense to staff up an emerging agency practice with experienced bloggers, and I also recognize that the public affairs environment in the United States is far more polarized than up here in Canada. Still, don’t your consumer clients twitch – just a little – when your outreach effort is staffed by PR staffers with a clear history and a sizeable axe to grind against some of the establishment media?

“… As it so often does, the [New York] Times’ agenda is apparent: paint the appearance of division amongst conservatives and provide fodder for the argument that right-leaning organizations, from the White House on down, don’t tolereate descension.

Whether the story is on target or not, no newspaper should be letting an agenda drive its news coverage. (Or, non-news coverage, as the case might be.) Of course, that never stopped the Times before.”

Of course, this blog work is only one small part of Edelman’s campaign on Wal-mart’s behalf. Kevin Dugan wrote up an overview of their efforts back in September.

Update: more bloggers (here and here) report on their contact with Edelman.

Technorati:
media relations Wal-mart Edelman conservative blogs blog outreach

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Starbucks: it’s all still marketing, with a side of cherry wood

02/24/06

Brandweek tells us that the PR manager for 1-800-Got-Junk scored a coup when she landed founder Brian Scudamore’s quote in the Starbucks “The way I see it campaign” – where various trite/profound quotes are printed on the side of the coffee chain’s ubiquitous takeaway cup.

Forget all the left versus right outrage about the campaign that popped up last year. What about brand dilution? Starbucks certainly derives some added value from the aspirational qualities implied by these lofty-sounding quotes from well-known authors, philosopers and activists.

But junk entrepreneurs? Even extremely successful junk entrepreneurs?

I’m not naiive enough to believe that Deepak Chopra and others featured on the venti lattes simply sprang forth into the world, fully developed intellectuals and savants. There were publishing house publicity folks involved. There were literary agents by the shrimp rings at the holiday parties. They were all kids at one time, fighting to monopolize the pages of their college literary journal. They submitted rants to the City section of their local paper. They thumbed through the sale racks at Banana Republic and J. Press, buying corduroy jackets in the spring when they were on sale. They went on and on about Bjork.

As a consumer, though, how much advertising will I be willing to tolerate before I give up on Starbucks as a treasured “third place?” It’s supposed to be a hidey-hole, a meeting place where I can recharge.

Will I turn when I realize the latest aspirational quotes are really a call to action for a promotional campaign? “Wait a second! Does this really say Pepsi Points?”

Or will it be something far more blatant, like seasonal holiday music samplers on 2″ CDs “brought to you by Volvo.”

Nonetheless, kudos to the 1-800 PR team for figuring out a way to land that half a square inch of valuable retail packaging space. The Vancouver based company certainly knows how to market and press the flesh. (PR Week, reg. req.)

Technorati: branding public relations

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How GSK is mobilizing a community outreach program to improve pharma’s image

02/21/06

GlaxoSmithKline, the pharma behemoth, became convinced over the past two years that it needed to do a better job establishing a relationship with its community: its customers, its users, the public in general. It needed to counter some of the negative impressions of big pharma with practical and personal commentary that would resonate with the public. The best vehicle? GSK’s 8,000 sales reps in the United States.

    “… Armed with salient talking points and answers to tough questions, the sales force is out speaking to Rotarians, Elks, Lions Club members, senior-citizen groups, weekly newspapers, schools and every community group they can think of. And Mr. Pucci [the GlaxoSmithKline VP responsible for External Advocacy] said GSK has enough sales reps to cover every county in every state in the country.

    … He said the majority of questions the reps receive revolve around pricing, and he has given them what he calls a “learning system” that takes 50 minutes to master and will enable the rep to satisfy queries about the company and the industry. GSK reps made 15,000 presentations last year, Mr. Pucci said, reaching 1.8 million people.” (AdAge)

Wondering how Glaxo’s community outreach program, “Value for Medicine,” might be structured? Here’s the fundamental outline, straight from the pen of Mike Pucci :

    Corporate Image Enhancement Strategies to Ensure Clinical Trial Success

    In recent years, there have been a host of reasons that have led the general public to view pharmaceutical companies negatively. This has caused tactical troubles for pharmaceutical companies, one of the major problems being an increased difficulty in recruiting patients for clinical trials. Recognizing this, pharmaceutical companies are now realizing they need to create and sustain a positive corporate image to gain the respect, acceptance and assistance from the public for their clinical trials to succeed with an appropriate patient population. This workshop educates attendees on the top methods to improve corporate image, which helps the pharmaceutical company as a whole, as well as the public’s willingness to participate in clinical trials and gives insights into what clinical personnel can implement specifically. A case study on empowering rank and file employees to engage in positive negotiations about the Value of Medicine Campaign that was implemented at GlaxoSmithKline, is also discussed. This campaign was implemented to enhance corporate image and also to increase patient awareness on clinical trials.

    I. Initiate a Value of Medicine Campaign to Enhance Image and Increase Patient Recruitment and Retention

    – Understand the impact that industry reputation has on patient recruitment and retention
    – Learn why clinical employees are more influential than corporate communication departments
    – Define the impact corporate enhancement strategies, such as the Value of Medicine Campaign, can have on clinical trial recruitment

    II. Action Items to Implement a Value of Medicine Campaign in Your Organization for Optimal Clinical Participation

    – Set up a volunteer network to implement strategies
    – Learn how to respond and not to respond to current events and issues
    – Use positive clinical experiences to position your company

    III. Core Clinical Messaging that Impacts Perception

    – Hear the 3 universal key messages that assist clinical trial recruitment and retention (or see them further down in this post)
    – Explore the delivery channels of corporate image campaigns based on clinical trials.

That’s from the agenda for the pre-conference workshop being led next month by Mike Pucci, GSK’s VP of External Advocacy.

Even more detail on GSK’s campaign is available in this month’s Medical Marketing and Media:

    “… The foundation of any good PR campaign is a good narrative. GSK has been hammering on three themes: how today’s miracle drugs finance tomorrow’s, the risk of developing medicines and how R&D costs drive retail prices, and acknowledging and expressing concern for the obstacles many face in obtaining the drugs they need. That last one, says Pucci, has proven the most potent. “We’ve come to find out that what resonates is acknowledging access and affordability issues and letting them know you care.”

    That was the message at press events in Springfield and Kansas City. Featuring a PhRMA-sponsored bus promoting the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), the events proved surprisingly successful, as local newspapers, TV and radio turned out in force (a Springfield radio station even brought along a giant inflatable bear). Area residents heard reps, joined by patient advocates from local hospitals and the president of the Missouri Pharmacy Association, speak about the value of medicine and the PPA while touting the program’s 800 number to reporters. The company aired radio ads from its “Scientist” series in advance of the events-netting 2.5 million media impressions-and got the state legislature to declare December Value of Medicine Month. Calls to the PPA 800 number jumped by 50% as the campaign ran into November, and 91% of callers were matched with a discount or patient assistance program. “That tells us that not only was information getting out there, but the right information was getting out there,” says Pucci. “And the result speaks for itself. We got a wonderful response in smaller markets, where it’s more of an event than in the larger markets. They were very interested in the fact that we were there and fired up to talk about how we were helping and what we were doing.” …

Technorati: branding pharma GSK Glaxo CME community relations

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Lupinacci: The consumer is not Jack Kerouac

02/15/06

Ernest Lupinacci has some choice words for overly ambitious – some may say pretentious – advertising briefs over at ihaveanidea. Some creatives will call a campaign “aspirational.” I think Lupinacci is asking: when you’re pitching an aspirational strategy, are you really just asking the client and the customer to buy into a line of bull because your own creative team doesn’t want to work on something practical and retail?

    “This pretentious amalgamation of words didn’t leave me intrigued as much as deeply disturbed; it was as though I had seen or heard all of these adjectives before. Upon opening the foldout I was confronted with the image of an SUV and the accompanying headline: “You are. It is.” My immediate reaction was not dissimilar to that of Charlton Heston’s when, in the climactic scene of Planet Of the Apes, he discovers the Statue Of Liberty buried up to her neck in sand. “My God,” I thought aloud, “you maniacs, you finally went and did it! You literally ran the brief. Damn you, damn you all to Hell.”

    And of course this wasn’t just any brief mind you; this was “The Brief”. The Universal Brief. The “all-purpose digital wireless button-fly stuffed-crust cold-filtered, our-product-is-Prometheus’s-gift-of-fire and you’re-a-rebel-and you-can’t-play-by-The Man’ s rules” brief.”

    … Or is it just that The Universal Brief is merely what you wind up with when everyone starts to gets a little lazy, and fails to ask if it’s still plausible for a consumer to believe (or for that matter an advertiser to suggest) that merely by purchasing any one of a vast majority of mass-produced, mass-marketed consumer goods and services, an individual can get in touch with his inner-disenfranchised Beatnik Poet Warlord?

It’s an excerpt from Lupinacci’s speech to the final round of EFFIE awards judging in 2005.

Technorati: creative brief

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Smash Hits: it’s PR driven homogenity wot done it in

02/10/06

David Hepworth, a former editor of the British pop magazine Smash Hits, comments on its demise:

    “… There had previously been a singles chart that provided a weekly drama. Records went in at 34 and then agonisingly, enthrallingly climbed their way to the top. … These days hits are records that go in at number one. All the rest are disappointments. [Record companies] invented bands aimed at teenagers who were inevitably not as interesting as the ones aimed at everybody. The PRs moved in and did what PRs always do, which is make the world slightly duller and more congenial for PRs. Pop had previously been an alternative to reality. Now it was an alternative reality and people were taking it worryingly seriously. By then the magazine was a huge business asset that had to be protected.

    … What we do know is that the liberal application of all the following failed to save one of the biggest brands in British media: money, market research, cover gifts, brand extensions, TV exposure, sponsorship, expensive redesigns, gondola ends, retail promotions, endless conferences and all the experience in the world. (Guardian)

BBC online has comments from former readers (many thirtysomethings who haven’t bought the mag since Rick Astley went underground)

A note on Hepworth’s time as editor:

    “In 1981, Smash Hits editor David Hepworth sent a memo to record company press departments that read: “It is my intention to reverse the entire direction of [popular music publishing] in favor of entirely trivia…. We want to know the colour of your artists’ socks.” And he succeeded. In the first six months of 1979, Smash Hits drew an audience of 166,000 to NME’s 202,000; but by the end of 1984 Smash Hits’ readership had swelled to over half a million, while NME’s had dwindled to 123,000.”(The New Republic)

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I didn’t really mean THAT KIND of community relations

01/31/06

Over at Boxtank, Geoff and Emily point out that opponents of the new Wal-Mart in Lincoln, Nebraska have some concerns about what those damn kids will get up to in the yard:

    “If you have never lived close to a large retail establishment, you cannot possibly imagine all the problems that would be coming your way. Don’t ever expect to have a yard free of trash again. Don’t forget to plan for the after-hour parties that develop in the parking lot with noise, fights and empty beer bottles and cans. Plan for the cars that will park in your drive or in the street when the party group starts dividing up to make out in their cars.“(Letter to the Editor, Lincoln, NB)

furley.gif

Really? I’d be more worried about the retirees setting up camp in the parking lot.

Not only does Wal-Mart’s open welcome for campers to spend the night undermine local campgrounds, it encourages septuagenarian intercourse right in front of the garden centre.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not see Ralph Furley’s “o face” – especially through the back of a shaggin wagon covered in two tone siding.

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Blogger junkets: does that make a blogger your pimp or your bitch?

01/27/06

So, the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions is working with BlogAds to send 25 bloggers on a five star trip to Amsterdam. As Henry describes it, these bloggers will participate in a custom ad package tailored for their specific blog styles and voices, as well as contribute to interviews to be featured on a standalone website. There’s no commitment to write about the trip in their actual blog.

Fine. Henry is quite upfront that this is a custom ad package, not the traditional “send a freelancer to our new hotel in Bali so he’ll write a puff piece for Parade” junket.

Steve, though, inflates the idea:

    “…I am a fan of blogger junkets – if you can afford them. I think they have a lot more potential than traditional media junkets to build buzz because you can do things with bloggers that the press would frown on.

    … So, blog junkets are empowerment programs. Now I am not saying that blogger bribing should be your primary goal here. However, if you remain transparent and can walk the fine line between helping bloggers and engaging them in a real dialogue to get feedback (warts and all), you’re going to build word of mouth. As always, remain ethical, truthful and transparent.

What’s in this transaction for the blogger? Is it only a free trip? Even if they’re completely transparent about the arrangement, are well profiled bloggers actually willing to trade their valuable brand identity, hard-earned reader trust and perceived editorial independence for a trip and some ad placements?

Isn’t this junior varsity league behaviour? This is the sort of “pay for play” crap that’s always pitched to corporate PR staff. With this deal, a boxload of shiny vanity pubs for the corporate waiting area are replaced by a couple of blog posts?

Don’t get me wrong – I can see the value in the transaction for the sponsor/client. It’s a good idea to pitch as a public relations consultant. But I thought blogs were beginning to build some editiorial credibility?

Somewhere, a magazine publisher is wetting his pants thinking of this arrangement. Chinese wall between advertising and editorial? GONE! He can only imagine a freelancer writing his feature for free, their only compensation the free minibar almonds and ogling the rich girlfriends at the pool bar!

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Funniest Political Blog Posting Yet

01/15/06

Sure, it’s a faux blog – no comments, no real conversation with the reader – but Scott Feschuk’s “blackberry blog” has one of the funniest “official” posts of the campaign:

    January 15th – Day Forty-Eight: We Saw Nude-Type People Having “Relations” in a Car Last Night on a Main Street in Montreal. I’m Just Saying.

    10:12 AM - Before we head west to Vancouver, with stops along the way in North Bay, Ont., and Edmonton, the PM is going out here in Montreal this morning to announce more cash money for infrastructure as part of our municipal agenda. I haven’t read the policy in great detail, so I might not be your best source of information. But so far as I can tell the basic gist is that a Liberal government will build our cities, quite possibly on rock ‘n roll. This is terrific news for most Canadian communities, but a tragic revelation for residents of Funkytown, whose disco foundations disqualify it from both federal funding and classic rock airplay.”

Ads That Suck likes Feschuk as well.

BTW – Feschuk is the Prime Minister’s speech writer, and a former National Post scribe.

Technorati: campaigning

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Try to avoid becoming a metaphor for a crisis situation

01/13/06

As much as we all think our brand would benefit from becoming a catchphrase, I can’t think Albertson’s would be too pleased about this:

    “One significant concern is what Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, described in an interview as the “Albertson’s syndrome,” referring to the grocery-store chain. At the first sign of panic, all supplies disappear from shelves, something that routinely happens when there is the threat of even a modest storm.” (Pitt. Post-Gazette)

Every retail outlet is quickly stripped of anything of use or value in the build-up to a crisis. We know this because, like clockwork, Anderson Cooper and Miles O’Brien pop up at every weather event to catalogue the carts full of water, plywood and canned soup being carted out of every Albertson’s, Publix and Home Depot in the neighbouring three states.

Still, it must be frustrating for Albertson’s to be singled out, especially when the company tries to maintain a positive profile in times of crisis.

That’s from a WSJ story on the economic and social impact a global pandemic (think avian flu) might have upon an economy dependent upon just-in-time inventory management. It’s a good read.

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Poorly aimed pitches: a New Year’s trend

01/10/06

It’s the new year, and I’ve heard of more basic pitch errors that I did all of last year. Three of my friends have received email pitches with the wrong name: either the wrong first or last name, never both in error. Today, I received this:

    ” [[First_Name,]

    I thought you might be interested in a new study out today showing that consumer satisfaction with virtually all of the top 40 retail websites has dropped over the holiday season. …”

Is manipulating an Excel file that difficult? Or maybe the failure was the merge with Outlook? How about a simple test email, folks?

I can’t imagine which is worse: sending out a pitch to an entire email list with an empty salutation field, or sending out one where you’ve addressed each recipient by the wrong first name.

Update: An even worse error: Kevin singles out one pitch sent from a free email account: guaranteed to be scooped by most spam filters.

(note – the field name was coded properly. I fiddled with it so it would show up in HTML)

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VW: Americans like cup holders. Who knew?

01/05/06

An update on VW’s Moonraker project – a bunch of European car freaks at loose ends in California. Sort of like the teenybopper “S Club 7 in Hollywood“. Except that these twenty-three auto specialists are trying to help the German home office design a car that the average American might actually think about buying. From the WSJ:

    “…The Moonraker staffers say they’ve learned a lot about American car buyers, like why storage space is so important to them and why they can never have enough speakers in a vehicle. While Germans prize a car’s driving capability and frown on eating while driving, the Moonraker team found Americans think of their cars like a second home or office.

    “In Germany, it’s all about driving, but here, it’s about everything but driving,” says VW designer Reto Brun. “People here want to use their time in other ways, like talk on their cellphone. …”

    “… One big revelation from Nascar: tailgating. When Jens Berger, a fan of the more-staid Formula One races, walked into a parking lot at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, he was surprised to see many of the fans there listening to the competition on the radio instead of watching the race. And he didn’t understand why they had set up a makeshift campground there. The Germans in the group never knew Americans use their cars as portable buffets tables and partymobiles, a discovery that could factor into future vehicles, such as a minivan.

(For more background, see my post from last August)

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Social media as the cultural mosh pit of our century?

01/03/06

Great quotes on the impact of documentaries (and social media in general) on our cultural consciousness below.

Katerina Cizek, writing in This Magazine, discusses the “documentary as democratic experiment, in which we can potentially all participate in the non-fiction genre, retelling and reinventing our own stories of the human condition.”

    “[Errol] Morris made the case in a recent New York Times editorial reflecting on the power of video images. He was considering, in particular, the many, disparate interpretations of the videotape of a US marine shooting an Iraqi insurgent point-blank during the invasion of Fallujah. “Unhappily, an unerring fact of human nature is that we habitually reject the evidence of our own senses,” he writes. “If we want to believe something, then we often find a way to do so regardless of evidence to the contrary. Believing is seeing and not the other way around.”

    In this respect, the documentary confounds and confuses the public good as much as it clarifies and illuminates. And the documentary genre—from big screens to blogs—continues its long, complicated relationship with politics, with participatory democracy, and with the truth. As the documentary gathers nuclear strength at the core of our culture, so too it converges, modifies and transforms into myriad cultural hybrids and transmutations. Banging up against journalism, music, animation and fiction, the documentary is in our collective central mosh pit, with its poetry and its flaws, mashing with the best of them, and, certainly these days, holding its own. What happens next will be up to us all.”(This Magazine)

So here’s my question: we’ve been hurriedly developing the technology to drive social media and participatory democracy into the farthest reaches of society. What tools have we developed for the general public to help them identify and interpret this mass of information, analysis and hyperbole?

Are we counting on them learning through practice, with myspace and blogger being the intellectual equivalents of the childhood tricycle?

(I know there are hard working activists trying to fill this gap … but they’re not being handed bags of money, are they? Somehow, they have to reprofile their work as Web 2.0)

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Abramoff, op/eds and the “invisible hand” of the free market

12/25/05

Both BusinessWeek and the NYT detail how Jack Abramoff paid certain think tank analysts to mention and praise his clients in their placed op/eds.

The NYT ran their piece on Friday – and BusinessWeek on the 16th.

Responses to the accusations were posted online at one think tank the very same day.

While this issue is interesting on its own, there is a dialogue developing in the comments on the BW website, where one of the individuals quoted claims Eamon Javers, the author, ” … misquotes both myself and Peter Ferrara, in that it omits distinctions made in the interviews.”

The decision to comment directly upon a web-published article marks a distinct shift in our relationship with reporters – a shift underlined by a comment filed by Javers the same day.

I can see how one of the authors might feel exposed by his quote:

    “Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation, says he, too, took money from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist’s clients. “I do that all the time,” Ferrara says. “I’ve done that in the past, and I’ll do it in the future.” (BW)

Here’s Ferrara’s counter-argument, published online in response to this article.

If the allegations are true, that sure sounds like astroturfing on Abramoff’s part – and intellectual flooziness on the part of the writers involved.

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Local advertising – leveraging profile with references to national programs

12/23/05

Stay Organized is an Ottawa store that specializes in imposing order on cluttered lives. Their black and white ad ran in the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week. I’ve picked it out for the copywriting: it may seem like code to the average reader, but the copy “Unlike Paige, Vern, Teresa and Stephen, our best people are still with us” speaks directly to the store’s target market: those considering renovations and exploring ideas for decluttering their home.

The single name references ring familiar with frequent viewers of TLC’s home renovation shows:

– Paige Davis, the perky (and former) host of TLC’s Trading Spaces
Vern Yip, also of Trading Spaces
Teresa Strasser, onetime host of While You Were Out
Stephen Saint-Onge, former designer on While You Were Out.

Stay Oganized’s copy accomplishes two tasks: it makes an emotional connection with TLC viewers already predisposed to buying their services, and it underlines that their store has a history of quality and service . No Kia Steave-Dickerson astroturf/camo drive-by designs here – these folks will be at the same location when you eventually get tired of the in-closet storage solution built from wire baskets painted in primary colours.

The best part of the ad? Since the ad doesn’t actually name TLC or its shows, the store doesn’t have to pay any royalties or licensing fees.

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The Mannheim Steamroller School of Marketing

12/21/05

BBelev.jpg

We’ve all heard Mannheim Steamroller at some point in the last 24 hours. Chip Davis, the music and business genius behind Steamroller, has sold 27 million Steamroller albums – many of them Christmas-themed. Davis moves product by making shrewd marketing decisions:

    ” … I asked Davis to explain the theory behind his marketing schemes, and he told me a story about the release of “American Spirit,” a collection of patriotic songs “done Mannheim style.” Just before Memorial Day in 2002, the CD went on sale in several stores at a busy Omaha intersection, including a Super Target and a Baker’s supermarket. The Target store, where the discs were discounted to $12.98, sold just a dozen copies, but the supermarket, which priced them at a full $15.99, “blew through 60 pieces.”

    Why? “We put the CD’s next to the hot-dog buns, where everyone was going for their holiday barbecues,” he told me. “We weren’t sitting in the music department with some big display saying, ‘Mannheim CD’s.’ We have a slogan around here: we try to put our music in the path of what people do everyday.” (NYT Magazine)

BTW – Davis was a key player in one of the tech booms of the 70s. As a copywriter in Omaha, he wrote the jingles that helped fictional trucker C.W. McCall to pimp for a local bakery. McCall, a regional hit, grew into a national singing sensation – remember Convoy? – that prompted thousands of teenagers to run out and buy whip antennas, CB radios and 30 watt amps for their AMC Eagles.

(Here’s McCall doing a 1974 radio promo for Great Country KSO, a Des Moines radio station. RealPlayer file courtesy of Desmoinesbroadcasting.com)

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Will the XBox 360 speed the death of MOR radio?

12/20/05

Not only do gaming consoles draw kids away from traditional forms of entertainment – like sitting in front of the Victorla listening to music – they also suck away the money their parents would normally spend on abysmal MOR music.

    “Some retailers say that hot videogame consoles and titles have had a negative impact on some unexpected genres of music. “Often Mom and Dad are the ones buying the Xbox 360″ for the kids, says Bryan Everitt, director of music operations at Hastings Entertainment Inc., which operates 153 stores in 20 states in the West and Midwest. “So country, easy listening, classical, and jazz are affected. Even the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond — Boomer artists — they’re affected.”(WSJ)

Thank god. With declining album sales, maybe bands like Chicago, Diamond, g-damn Kenny G and the rest of the boomer generation’s favourites will get condemned to the depths of golden oldies AM band radio – where they belong.

Technorati: Xbox radio music Jack boomer

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Conversations with Santa, part 2

12/12/05

    Hi Santa.I had no idea your workshop was in a lawless wilderness. Our homeroom teacher read an article to us today, and the North Pole seems to work in a no-man’s land, subject to no government’s laws.

    While this sort of arrangement might work in the sort of world dreamed up by idyllic storytellers, what if chaos strikes?

      “For instance, let’s say there’s a drunken brawl between elves that ends in tragedy. Without a national affiliation, who investigates and tries the accused?”

    Santa, that’s who!

    This arrangement seems to be in your self-interest. You’ve set up an autocratic and authoritarian regime, where an indigenous race of Elves is ruled by a seemingly benevolent despot bent on aggrandizing his own international persona. Just like Monaco … or France!

    The principal at my charter school says I’m overreacting. That I should just let the free market work, what ever that means.

    Sure, I’m going to get a tree-load of toys come December 25. But at what cost? You have legions of elves producing “toys” – which add no value to the domestic Elf economy. In fact, there’s significant evidence that your workshop is preventing Elves from achieving their true personal potential. I’ve uncovered oral testimony from Hermie the Elf to prove this!

    And let’s not even get into your overextended franchise system! I think I’ve seen a suspicious Santa imitator in every mall my mother’s dragged me to! Who do you have doing training for these bozos? Some of them are real perverts.

    I guess I’ll have to wait for the annual broadcast “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to recharge my Christmas cheer.

    Worringly,

    Colin

    BTW – time to watch “The Narrator that Ruined Christmas” again. A wonderful take-off on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

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How much is that mullet in the window?

12/09/05

The link between mullets, retail design and Germany’s World Cup 2006? To begin, the lede to an article on retail design in a recent issue of Retail Week (sub. req.):

    “A brief trip to Germany last week showed that the country remains the spiritual home of the mullet – a little piece of the late 1970s in barnet terms. Although Germany is the engine room of the European economy, many of its shops suffer from the same syndrome as its hairstyles – they are all a tad behind the times.”

Exaggeration, you say? Why don’t we let an opinon piece from Deutsche Welle continue the discussion? Marc Young has some concerns about Germany’s plans for World Cup 2006:

    “… Which brings me to Goleo, a mustard-colored, mulleted lion recently presented as the World Cup’s next official mascot. Looking like a furry version of a member of the German rock band the Scorpions, he will do little to update the world’s preconceptions of what German soccer fans look like.”

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Tar-zhay, SMS and fresh pork loins

12/09/05

Looks like retail applications for SMS are winning converts in North America. SuperTarget has begun offering coupons, recipes and tips to customers that sign up to their new SMS service. All you have to do is send a text message to a Target number or sign up online.

Time for North America to catch up with Japan … and China … and France … and England … and Hong Kong … and India …

Technorati: advertising marketing Target SMS Tarzhay text message grocery

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Mobile phones, consumerism and Frank Navatsky

12/08/05

Walter Kirn seems far too young (43) to be truly anti-technology. Instead, I have to believe he has jumped upon the promise of mobile phone technology to make a point about the apparent disconnect between human desires and online shopping applications.

Kirn offers the example of a mobile phone, powered by pricing engines, product comparison services and extensive databases, that will eventually drive competition and force an equal price among retailers and manufacturers. Facing a market with perfect information, the consumer should be able to demand the cheapest price – arguably ruining the shopping experience in the process.

    “Despite the cost-controlled monolithic gloom of the Wal-Marts and Costcos of the land, human beings, deep down, are still creatures of the bazaar, with a restless desire to haggle and finagle that cuts across cultures and the centuries. …

    A penny saved is a nickel earned, to my mind, and though everyone paying the same amount for everything no matter where or when he goes to buy it may seem to some like a consumerist paradise, to me it sounds almost as stifling as Soviet socialism but without the vibrant black market that made it bearable.”(NYT magazine)

How evocative, drawing deep into our subconcious to draw parallels with historic shopping practices. You know what his prose reminds me of? Frank Navasky, the idealistic columnist played by Greg Kinnear in “You’ve Got Mail“:

    Frank Navasky: Kathleen. YOU, are a lone reed. You are a lone reed, standing tall, waving boldly in the corrupt sands of commerce.

    Kathleen Kelly: I am a lone reed.

The economic underpinnings of Kirn’s argument, however, are far too general:

    “The best price for something, in theory, will be the only price, everywhere and absolutely, and bargain hunting will be a hunt no more but something akin to a point-blank execution.”

He overlooks – maybe for dramatic effect – that consumers are individuals with individual tastes. Some of us like different colours. Some of us have a hate-on for a particular store or salesman, no matter what the price. And some of us live 800 miles away from the retailer. And some of us never, ever, buy retail.

Each of these points of differentiation may also lead to price differentiation. A truly comprehensive price database may help a consumer identify the cheapest price, but Kirn’s argument will eventually win or lose on an equitable distribution of goods: if my local retailer doesn’t have my widget in blue, I won’t buy it. And if my closest retailer is 800 miles away, shipping charges will factor into my purchasing decision.

Technorati: consumerism kirn

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Brand Sluts, Ford and Kevin Federline

12/07/05

Forget K. Fed. “Wiggers” has long been a term thrown around by trend experts to describe Vanilla ice, Marky Mark, and other “D” celebrities far more talented than Mr. Spears.

Marian Salzman, a global exec at JWT, is largely given credit for popularizing the term “wiggers.” The new term fashionable in the JWT’s offices is “”Brand Slut”:

    “The term “brand slut” is a play not only on the penchant among marketers for using sexy imagery in ads but also the “language of courtship” e.g., consumer loyalty, brand fidelity, etc. they often use in describing their relationship with customers. ….

    Salzman said her reaction to the research made her realize “people are really a whole lot more slutty about brands than we realized.”(NYPost)

A better description, however, appeared in the Telegraph more than a week ago: From Rob Long, in an opinion piece:

    “According to market research, at a certain age – they peg it, I think, at 35 – a person just suddenly knows who he is. What he likes to eat. Which beer he prefers to drink. What car he wants to drive, which paste he wants to brush his teeth with, and how he wants his underarms to smell. So after about 35, the average consumer is unreachable.

    No matter how much money a company spends trying to convince him to smell spicier or sexier, he’s unlikely to change.

    But the 18 to 34 crowd, apparently, are disloyal brand sluts. They hop and whore around the place, trying this new beer or that new car or body sprays and tooth whiteners: they can be bought, in other words. And that makes them desirable.”

      So where does this leave Ford, the motor company? They announced yesterday that they would be pulling advertising for their Jaguar and Land Rover brands from gay-themed and gay-focused magazines. This may have something to do with a threatened boycott from “family values”groups.

      Volvo, it seems, still has a market and a strategy for this demographic.

      Now – which is worse: consumers that are brand sluts, or brands that are sluts to interest groups? You be the judge.

      Technorati: trend wigger JWT Ford brand slut

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Perhaps the biggest downer on Christmas morning

12/03/05

Nothing like running down to the tree, grabbing a 6″ by 6″ box and giving it a little shake. Feels hefty. Could be interesting. You eagerly sit down to rip open your first present – and discover a box of … giftscriptions … ?

New, from Time, Inc. A gift certificate for a free magazine subscription and a catalog describing the 50 magazine choices available to you. Oh – and a postage-paid envelope to send your subscription in.

Doesn’t that really shout “I couldn’t even bother about your present, and I found this box at the checkout beside the Maglite flashlights and leatherette bookmarks”?

Technorati: promo marketing

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Christmas Creep and Gift Card Budget Distortions

12/03/05

This week at Wharton: a bunch of marketing profs discussing the ever-extending Christmas retailing season.

Too bad they don’t have any facts to back up their assertions – which is what you can find in American Demographic’s “Inside the Christmas Shopping Mind.”

One observation: sales of general merchandise are slowly declining. This is the result of services gaining acceptance as a holiday gift (think spa certificates), as well as the popularity of gift cards.

    “Sales of gift cards this holiday season will rise 6.6% to $18.5 billion, according to a National Retail Federation survey by BIGresearch. The survey found the average consumer will spend $88.03 on the cards, 15.6% of a typical holiday gift budget.”

Of course, what retailers love about gift cards are the redemption rates: there’s nothing like selling a gift card for $50 that expires with $1.34 on it: that’s 2.68% in free margin!

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Christmas, mail order and Toughskins

11/30/05

Over at Flickr, the entire 1979 Sears Wish Book.

Remember the days when the Sears Wish Book used to be delivered in the mail? The only link between you and the holiday to come? The entire range of gifts available to you, wrapped in plastic?

And your mom always pointed out things like these cute cowboy/cowgirl outfits to your grandmother?

You’d fill out a form, send it off in late October, and wait until your package arrived at the local dry cleaner/Sears mail order outlet in late November.

Ahh. The bliss of delayed gratification. Even if it meant wearing Toughskins jeans for the next eleven months.

(By the way – have you noticed that the Sears mail order outlet is dying a quiet death? I’ve only seen in them in very rural areas over the past few years.)

Technorati: promo marketing

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McKinsey’s building the argument for corporate investment in social networks

11/29/05

Should companies stop concentrating on outsourcing and downsizing, and instead invest more heavily in social networking software to increase the productivity of their most innovative and valuable workers?

That’s what some McKinsey consultants seem to be arguing in “The next revolution in interactions,” from the new edition of the McKinsey Quarterly.

The article differentiates between work that is largely transactional – tasks that can be clearly identified and whose work load can be mapped out, like air transportation, retailing, utilities, and recreation workers – and work that is tacit – tasks that depend upon information sharing, communication and negotiation skills.

The authors argue that companies should concentrate upon increasing the productivity of their “tacit workers” if they want to establish a new competitive advantage in their industry – and this will require new priorities in IT investment.

    “… new and emerging technologies will let companies extend the breadth and impact of tacit interactions. Loosely coupled systems are more likely than hard-coded systems and connections to be adapted successfully to the highly dynamic work of tacit employees. This point will be particularly critical, since tacit interactions will occur as much within companies as across them.

    Broadband connectivity and novel applications (including collaborative software, multiple-source videoconferencing, and IP telephony) can facilitate, speed up, and progressively cut the cost of such interactions as collaboration among communities of interest and build consensus across great distances. Companies might then involve greater numbers of workers in these activities, reach rural consumers and suppliers more effectively, and connect with networks of people and specialized talent around the world …

    Companies will also have to think differently about the way they prioritize their investments in technology. On the whole, such investments are now intended largely to boost the performance of transformational activities – manufacturing, construction, and so on – or of transactional ones. Companies invest far less to support tacit tasks …

    So they must shift more of their IT dollars to tacit tools, even while they still try to get whatever additional (though declining) improvements can be had, in particular, from streamlining transactions. The performance spread between the most and least productive manufacturing companies is relatively narrow. The spread widens in transaction-based sectors – meaning that investments to improve performance in this area still make sense. But the variability of company-level performance is more than 50 percent greater in tacit-based sectors than in manufacturing-based ones … Tacit activities are now a green pasture for improvement.”

Could Technorati, SixApart – even Wikimedia – end up with multinational sales forces and channel partners – like SAP, SAS or Oracle?

Analysis like this, from recognized management and business authorities, is essential if social media is to evolve – to move beyond circular debates among early adopters and online enthusiasts and become an essential component of the business strategies considered by the decision-makers in your C-suite.

Technorati: social media management McKinsey

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Working with Venus Envy

11/25/05

I found this 1.5″x2.6″ ad for an Ottawa “education-oriented sex shop” in the monthly listings for a a local indie theatre. Not only do I like the store name (there’s another in Halifax), but that rocketship logo has a rather blatant (and Freudian) sub-meaning. Not to mention that the rocketship seems to be escaping a big gaping maw of a Black Hole.

Childish titillation aside, this ad works. Even for its size, it displays a clear headline, makes the selling point (BIGGER store) and provides multiple points of contact. For $210 a month, the store’s reaching more than 3000 filmgoers who are likely in its identified target market – in terms of demographics as well as intellectual curiosity.

Technorati: advertising

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Conversations with Santa, pt. 1

11/24/05

    Hi Santa.Here at the family table, the whole gang is telling me to eat my parsnips and triple bean salad, because tomorrow is Black Friday. I need to build up my energy, they say, for twelve hours of Christmas shopping. The cute guy with the gray hair on CNN says it’s the busiest shopping day of the year.

    I guess that’s why Mom is going in to work two hours early. And coming home five hours late. And only getting paid for one hour of overtime. Sometimes I think she’d like to work at a different big box general merchandise store.

    Uncle Glen says I have to get up at 5, because he thinks I’ll give him an “edge” getting past all the people in line for the door crashers at Best Buy.

    How have you and Mrs. Claus done it? Push back Christmas into November, I mean? Your elves have already set up your throne down by the mall – and I see the price of the 4 by 8 photo package has gone up again.

    It also seems like you’ve set up quite a range of endorsement deals, because I see your picture on almost every flyer that comes with the morning paper. But is Discount Furniture Warehouse really necessary?

    I guess the National Retail Federation has something to do with it. And the Toy Industry Association. And maybe Drew Rosenhaus.

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Dunkin Donuts, flackery and messaging

11/24/05

Is the old school “black with two creams” coffee making a comeback? Looking at the expansion plans for Dunkin’ Donuts in the Big Apple, New York magazine plays up the contrasts between Starbucks and its downmarket competitor. Along the way, author Stephen Rodrick hits some points about:

Overeager Flackery

    “Imagine my surprise when I was met by not one, not two, but eight Dunkin employees. There was the flack, the outside-agency flack, three executives, the franchise owner, his son, and someone to drive the trail vehicle. Soon, I was deluged by a shower of business cards, fair-trade beans, and Coffee Coolattas.”

Packaging, Design and Self Identity

    “Unlike Starbucks, whose mermaid-logoed paper cups scream I am a person with some design sense and an environmentally raised consciousness, Dunkin serves its coffee in Styrofoam containers emblazoned with the companys cheerful puffy-fonted pink-and-orange trademark. Viewed through an upmarket lens, Dunkins cups suggest landfills and Gymboree classes. Theyre fine in the car up to New Hampshire, an Upper East Side publicist told me, but not so much on Madison and 52nd.

The Value-Added Menu

    “Starbucks cellophane-wrapped $6 sandwiches are a crime against commerce and fairness in pricing, but its unlikely those products will kill you. I feel fairly confident, on the other hand, that Dunkins new steak-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich is what the Grim Reaper packs in his lunch box.”

Retail Merchandising

    “Despite its aesthetically pleasing location and floor-to-ceiling windows, members of the ocho mumbled obscenities and rolled their eyes. Apparently, the promotional posters were not up-to-date.”

The Uselessness of Controlling the Message

    “On my officially sanctioned guided tour with the Dunkin boys, all the stops were spacious, airy locales, clearly chosen for their PR suitability. Alas, these turned out to be Dunkins Potemkin Villages. Many of the other stores I visited had all the ambience of a Texaco outside El Paso, resplendent with interrogation-quality fluorescent lights and pee on the toilet seats.”

Oh – and Rodrick works in some commentary on the Dunkin’ Donut’s customer segmentation from John Moore of Brand Autopsy fame.

Technorati: public relations

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Direct marketing, consumer targeting and Jello Biafra

11/19/05

Trying to drive sales? Haymarket’s Marketing Direct just took a look at the techniques British agencies and mailhouses have been using to optimize their mail lists (sub. req.).

One program that caught my eye was the new Lifetime Value Score from Expeian, which develops:

    “… detailed profiles of each prospect and customer from its unique lifestyle, demographic, transactional, consumer classification and permissible credit data. Experians consumer scoring model ranks each prospect and customer to identify their future lifetime value against each brand offered by the client.”

Wonderful use of mailing lists, consumer data and quant brainpower. As a marketer, I can only admire the professed breadth and depth of the data analysis available.

As a consumer, I can tell you these programs are the reason I make sure to lie at every chance possible when providing information while shopping. Phone number? I’ll give you the pet shelter number, just don’t cross-compare my purchases. Contest entry require purchasing intentions? Why, I plan to buy several consumer durables during the next six months, and I always look for more Arnold Palmer clothing in the store. Do you have five minutes to complete this important survey? Sure – as long as you don’t mind me assuming the identity of a pre-op transgendered Republican fishetarian.

I mustn’t be the only one feeding inaccurate data into the machine. Still, I’m not exactly shouting from the rooftops about the corporate hand sneaking into my wallet and making copies of my receipts. To quote “Love me, I’m a liberal!” originally by Phil Ochs, covered by Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon:

    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

    I go to pro-choice rallies
    Recycle my cans and jars
    I’ll honk if you love the Dead
    Hope those funny grunge bands become stars
    But don’t talk about revolution
    That’s going a little bit too far

    Once I was young and had an attitude
    Stickers covered the car I drove in
    Even went on some direct actions
    When there weren’t rent-a-cops to be seen
    Ah, but now I’ve grown older and wiser
    And that’s why I’m turning you in
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal …”

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Someone switched to decaf at Pharma Exec

11/17/05

Looks like there’s some anger management issues over at Pharma Exec magazine. Either that, or the junior editor writing the headlines is working through his 30 day layoff notice. “Bustin’ a CAP” is just one headline. Sure, it’s about likely problems with Medicare Part B’s Competitive Acquisitions Program, but I have to wonder who’s channelling some white suburban punk rage – a la Michael Bolton.

Just like the headline from the cover of the mag: “Soldiering On: Valeant Pharmaceuticals has stopped the bleeding. Can the specialty company dress the wounds?”

Ouch.

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Kurt Busch: one step away from meeting Sgt. Stedenko

11/13/05

upinsmoke_sergent.gif

How do you undermine your personal brand equity? Say you’re the reigning Nextel Cup champion, have just managed to negotiate your way off one racing team, and will be driving the #2 Miller Lite Dodge in 2006. Oh, and that your move to Penske Racing was likely the reason Miller Lite extended their sponsorship agreement through 2010?

Miller must be counting on the cross-promotion opportunities normally accorded a major NASCAR sponsorship:

    “[Kurt] Busch will participate in a number of personal appearances at bars, retail outlets and events on behalf of the brewer. In addition, his likeness will be featured on Miller Lite s retail and on-premise merchandising materials, promotional programs and on the companys web sites. (Paddocktalk)

Too bad Busch got pulled over for reckless driving last night. And we’re not talking Cole Trickle street racing, either.

    “Busch was stopped Friday night after trying to avoid another car and running a stop sign about two miles from Phoenix International Raceway … As a result of the roadside investigation the deputy did take Mr. Busch into custody for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol,” said [Lt. Paul Chagolla], a Maricopa County sheriff’s spokesman. (NASCAR/AP)

I bet that news is going over well in Milwaukee.

While Busch hasn’t had his day in court (or his day with NASCAR execs, which is worse?), he will be feeling some retribution for this. Somewhere, there’s a brand manager who’s had to come into the office on Sunday to work “court-ordered public service” into his Miller/Busch media plan.

“If we pick the right schools – like an inner-city school – we can work some extra media out of this! Does the Bondurant School count for public service?”

While this was no drug bust worthy of the fearsome Sgt. Stedenko, Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” probably had an accurate account of Busch’s police stop:

    Arresting Officer: [to Man] Sir, what’s your name?

    Pedro: Whut? I told you my name, man!

    Arresting Officer: [to Man] Sir… what’s YOUR name?

    Pedro: [to Man] Hey man! The dude wants to know your name, man!

    [Man vomits onto the floor of the car]

    Pedro: Uuhhh – His name is RAALLLPH, man!

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Heavy Rock has its arm in a sling …

11/12/05

Bubblegum Machine has some witty commentary on the state of popular music. It’s even funnier if you understand the British retail references (I’ve tried to hyperlink them for your education).

Speaking of British popular culture: How Chav Are You?

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Newspapers: underestimating RPC, but not much to look forward to

11/01/05

Looks like some newpaper salespeople may be underestimating – or overestimating – their reader per copy number. By relying on an national average RPC* of 2.3, they may be overlooking much more favourable local readership numbers:

    “… ABC and NSA … found a wide range in individual newspapers from 1.8 to 4.4 RPC. From this base, 38 daily newspapers confirm around 2.3 RPC — the national average — but 46 papers report a lower RPC and 153 papers show a higher RPC than the national average.

    In other words, using 2.3 RPC to arrive at readership is only accurate 16% of the time. In the majority of these cases (65%), using the national RPC “underestimates daily individual newspaper readership by as much as 91%,” according to the report.”(Editor & Publisher)

These numbers might be a source of inspiration for some salespeople and publishers – if Goldman wasn’t forecasting a weak year ahead for the industry:

    “The weak ad environment for newspapers has caused Goldman to scale back its 2006 growth forecast to 3.5 percent from 4.0 percent. … national ad growth would once again be weakest at 1.0 percent, followed by retail, 2.5 percent, and classifieds at 3.6 percent. The bright spot continues to be online newspaper revenues, which are projected to grow an impressive 25 percent in 2006. Despite this, online will still represent 5.0 percent of total newspaper revenues.(MediaPost)

Well, at least things are looking up for online and classifieds. Or should I say Craigslist?

*”newspaper specific readership estimate divided by paid circulation equals newspaper specific RPC”

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Fuji, GM and the red headed stepchild brand

10/24/05

Eleven years ago, Where the Suckers Moon documented the life-deadening process of trying to build Subaru’s brand identity in the United States. They’ve still got problems, and some in the auto industry say a switch in their corporate alliances between GM and Toyota is the result of bullheadedness on branding strategy.

Despite a high-profile campaign faced by Lance Armstrong, they’re still having problems breaking through in North America.

What sort of problems? When the possiblility of Armstrong’s being dumped after a two year high profile advertising campaign was floated this past spring, Edmunds’ Inside Line assessed the possibile impact this way:

    What this means to you: Unless you’re a huge Lance fan, this switch won’t mean much.”

Five years ago, GM accrued a 20% stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent. It seems that this investment was interpreted differently on each side of the Pacific: in the U.S., GM was clearly buying into an auto brand with a unique image: As James Treece describes in Auto News today (sub. req.):

    “Subaru offered a well-earned reputation for durability to people who wanted all-wheel drive but, for whatever reason, did not want an SUV. In other words, Subaru had a brand niche as unique as Volvo’s safety image.”

In Japan, Fuji’s executives thought the new relationship was based on Subaru’s technology: their all-wheel drive platform and their “boxer” engine.

When GM floated the idea of Subaru and Saab models sharing components, Fuji’s dedication to the “boxer” as a point of differentiation for their brand became a real obstacle. Sure, rally fiends know what the damn thing is, but does the average LL Bean customer – Subaru’s real North American target market?

The end result? GM and Fuji have now dissolved their relationship. In its stead, Fuji has recruited Toyota to pick up a smaller (8.7%) stake.

Strategic move by Fuji? Doubt it. There are some benefits for Toyota, but it doesn’t look like your average American-style strategic relationship.

The WSJ confirmed this impression today: “But little is known at this point. Friday, Toyota and Fuji said they still are considering how to work together and have no details yet.”

Guys! This isn’t the 80s! Japanese companies have to stop making reciprocal investments for tradition’s sake! GM may be a dog of an auto company with wavering support from fickle customers tempted by outrageous discount pricing and daunted by high oil prices, but it did make the initial commitment to the relationship. Detroit brought Fuji to the dance, but Fuji just didn’t want to put on the pretty dress – or the variety of frilly bows – to help move the product.

As for Fuji/Toyota? Merrill Lynch auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida noted in a report that if Fuji wants this relationship to work it “must set aside any pride or shame and put all its effort into cooperative projects.”(Auto News)

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Coffee & WiFi: it’s 2002 in Canada

10/07/05

I’m so embarassed. It’s almost 2006, and Canada’s only just getting around to having WiFi at Starbucks. We’ve been missing out on a vital component of the whole multinational beverage retail third place experience.

It’s like discovering you’ve been wearing your new Yohji Yamamoto outfit backwards – and that none of your friends were au courant enough to notice.

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Coffee & WiFi: it’s 2002 in Canada

10/07/05

I’m so embarassed. It’s almost 2006, and Canada’s only just getting around to having WiFi at Starbucks. We’ve been missing out on a vital component of the whole multinational beverage retail third place experience.

It’s like discovering you’ve been wearing your new Yohji Yamamoto outfit backwards – and that none of your friends were au courant enough to notice.

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Clean-up in Aisle 8!

10/03/05

Are you a natural-born merchandiser? The National Association for Retail Marketing Services has written up Merchandising 101 for all you aspiring can stackers and p-o-p assemblers.

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Unilver, tea houses and old bags

09/29/05

You wouldn’t know it from the varieties of flavoured, steeped and blended tea being hawked by beverage companies on this side of the Atlantic, but the market for instant coffee is starting to percolate in the UK – at the expense of the traditional tea bag. (/rimshot)

There’s still hope in the market, though. A new innovation – PG-2-Go – a packaged tea cup with a retractable tea bag (so you can select your own strength) is apparently building market share. The other, more traditional, tea companies are being squeezed between a growing preference for instant coffee and suicidal price wars with grocery companies’ house brands.

The Guardian covered this seismic movement in the British cultural landscape earlier this week. Deep in the piece, an admission from Unilever that their previous attempt to shore up their tea business in the UK had failed:

    “Five years ago Unilever boldly tried to resurrect the Lyons spirit and challenge the espresso bar culture by piloting four teahouses under the Cha brand. They have since closed but a Unilever spokesman said: “The experiment taught us a few lessons – one of them was that we are definitely not a retailer.”(Guardian)

What? Does this mean Unilever – with their horde of consumer good products and marques – doesn’t know how to build from hundreds of millions of pounds’ investment in promoting benefits and attributes into a sustainable consumer experience?

Advertising minty-fresh goodness, new cleaning power and ultra lemony sparkle will move individual boxes off the shelf – but now that grocery stores have figured out the tricks behind house branding and discount pricing, are brand-building marketing campaigns strong enough to stop market share erosion?

It seems like the tea companies already know the answer – and they could draw upon a hundred years of emotional and cultural history tying them to their customers.

More details on Unilever’s attempts to diversify into personal services and retail. There’s also a Cambridge case study in the failure of their myhome services.

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Tony Blair, speechifying and the first wave of punk

09/27/05

Tony Blair’s speech to the Labour Party conference in Brighton earlier today is prompting comment -as it should, considering an ongoing leadership insurgency lurks in the background.

For us public relations types with a serious politics jones, it’s the little details that get us all excited: like what song was used to introduce the Prime Minister?

The Guardian’s Conference Blog discusses Tony’s unusual choice of a first generation punk band:

    “It was If the Kids are United by punk band Sham 69. The band were known as the real punks of the movement. The band was the “voice of the people in the first wave of British punk” and introduced football chant-style lyrics into their songs.

    Mr Blair is in good company. Columnist and critic Garry Bushell is a huge fan of the band – he coined the phrase the “Oi!” movement for the street punk sound of bands like Sham 69 in the early 80s.

    Sham 69 gigs were notorious for fights and punch-ups, with the violence eventually leading to their demise.”

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Crisis comms at the Astrodome

09/11/05

How do you communicate to 10,000 people stranded in the Astrodome? People so desperate for information about their family that they stick post-it notes to a common blackboard, searching out basic information about emergency supplies, housing, jobs .. the basics of life?

Volunteers on the ground are the best response. Well-informed volunteers. On-on-one conversations can help to mitigate the stress and uncertainty inherent in an emergency as far-reaching as Katrina. Other information – more pedantic but equally valuable – like administrivia, even music, can be conveyed through mass media. In the case of the Astrodome, we’re talking about arena loudspeakers and the jumbotron.

One idea, admittedly more reliant on equipment than word-of-mouth , is low-power FM-band radio. Community broadcasts. Guerilla radio. Even plain old airport information radio.

Houston volunteers, seized with the idea of providing a community radio for the residents of the Astrodome, found growing support from across the States. They quickly pulled together the necessary emergency license from the FCC and the required radio equipment. They even found thousands of battery-powered radios to pass around the arena.

Their fledgling radio station, however, has ground to a halt, challenged by the complex calculations involved in managing an emergency response of this size – and the usual conservative reserve (caution? paranoia?) of any government bureaucracy.

WFMU and Boing Boing point to more details about the effort.

    “… Rita Obey, a local official from Harris County Public Health Services … speaking to Wired News, explained that the [Joint Information Center currently operating the Astrodome] couldn’t see a use for the radio station when they had the ability to communicate via the loudspeaker system and newsletters.

    “I did not see the utility,” said Obey.”(Wired)

In the Village Voice, even more details:

    “They wanted unlimited access to the buildings, which we could not give to anyone in the media, said Gloria Roemer, a spokesperson for Harris County, which has jurisdiction over the Astrodome complex. Currently reporters are allowed in only on 15-minute guided tours.

    According to Roemer, FEMA officials also believed they could not allocate scarce electricity, office space, and phone and Internet access to the volunteer stationeven though activists say they offered to run the station on batteries and use their own cellphones.”

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