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Teri Bernstein, MBA, CPA has been teaching full time in the Business Department of Santa Monica College since 1985.  Prior to that, she worked in Internal Audit and Special Financial Projects for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, CBS, Inc., and Coopers & Lybrand (which is now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers).  She attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

  • "bots" pretending to be humans is a new form of ID theft

    image from pandodaily Bots pretending to be human is a new form of ID theft...but instead of targeting you and me and our credit cards online...the arena is "digital ad theft." Internet researchers believe that at least a third (and in some arenas up to 60%) of all internet traffic is not human. It is trained computers working those mouse buttons. Computers are clicking on the Eye Creams and Diet Miracles and other products appearing in ads online. So, if an advertiser thinks they are getting 500,000 hits on their ad that appears in the Facebook margin...they are not getting their money's worth if the ad "viewer" is a robot trained to click ads.The computers don't represent potential sales. Of course, software has been developed to detect non-human mouse movements or click timing. But then more sophisticated robot ad clickers are developed. It escalates. One company specializing in spotting digital ad theft is White Ops . Tamar Hassan, Chief Tech officer of White Ops, says that digital ad fraud can be more lucrative because there is a cost to obtaining the credit card number and the high risk of being prosecuted for fraud, because there are real human beings who are harmed. These risks are less with digital ad fraud, so ad fraud presents a "business opportunity" for the criminally minded. Sources: " Digital advertisers losing the 'bot arms race' ," by David Weinberg, Marketplace American Public Media , April 14, 2014. F ollow up: What are the marketing issues for the "big box" company mentioned in the article? How does the digital ad criminal make money?
  • Lobbying community leaders to work against their communities

    Wouldn't millions of Americans be happy to have the choice to use pre-filled-in tax returns? Even according to the IRS, tax filing is expensive: Why would religious leaders, small town politicians, and a state NAACP official write letters to newspaper editors and op-ed pieces that spoke against such an option. The arguments they used was that the option would hurt low-income people and create a conflict of interest for the IRS, who could misuse their power against vulnerable taxpayers. As it turns out, the indignant individuals arguing against the implementation of the super-simplified tax system had been lobbied by individuals like Emily Pflaster, who works for Intuit's public relations firm, JCI Worldwide . Intuit makes the tax preparation software called Turbo Tax . Intuit's public relations reps did not point out some of these particulars, which were articulated by ProPublica : return-free filing would allow million of taxpayers to do their returns in minutes returns could be filed for free the IRS would use information that is already submitted by banks and employers...and taxpayers could review the items and make adjustments this program has been endorsed by former President Reagan and President Obama Also, according to ProPublica's research, Intuit spent over $2.6 million last year on lobbying. Sources: " TurboTax Maker Linked to 'Grassroots' Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing ," Liz Day, ProPublica via Mother Jones , April 14, 2014. F ollow up: Describe the difference between "Grassroots" campaigns and "Grasstops" campaigns Would you take advantage of a pre-filled-in tax return option? Why or why not? Who are the ideal candidates for this option?
  • Peeps all year: too much of a "good" thing?

    photo of the formerly seasonal Marshmallow Peeps; image from the radio article linked below Just Born , the maker of the polarizing marshmallow snack called "Peeps," recently announced that Peeps will be available all year round beginning May 1, 2014. Of course (Peeps fans already know this), the Peeps season--springtime: for the festive and secular side of Easter--has already begun. A company spokesperson said, " We're making every day into a holiday. " I think I'm more aligned with the comment made by Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal: " It is this week's sign that the apocalypse is upon us ." I'm wondering if the marketing people have really thought this through--will Peeps lose its market niche as a seasonal treat if it is always in the candy or treat aisle? Or, like Oreos , are Peeps so beloved by their fan base that sales will increase? Sources: " Peeps year-round: Harbinger of apocalypse ," by Kai Ryssdal, , April 9, 2014. F ollow up: What are the risks of the decision to produce Peeps year-round, from a marketing and sales point of view? What are the possible rewards? Very few folks are neutral when it comes to Peeps. Where do you stand?
  • Oculus: what I don't understand might make a fortune for others

    This image of "The Rift" by Oculus was taken by Christina Ascani for Mashable (linked below) When I read the news that Facebook had purchased Oculus VR , a "virtual reality" start-up, my first thought was, "Huh? What does this have to do with Facebook?" The Oculus "Rift" device lets a user experience a video game as though they were inside it. Moving your head can result in dodging a virtual bullet, and turning your head gives a different view of your video game environment, as though you were really inside that environment. This device is still what I like to refer to as " vaporware "--it doesn't exist yet. Oculus developers were trying to raise enough money through Kickstarter to continue development (they'd already raised $2.4 million). Then Facebook came along...and for $2 billion bought the whole operation. While this solved the Oculus developer's cash problem, it didn't make some of the Kickstarter supporters very happy. David Prosser writes about those concerns in an online Forbes article . [View: :550:0] from vimeo Still--what is in this for Facebook? Do they just want a piece of the video game action? Or do they foresee the Rift device as a way that Facebook friends can also interact? We'll see... Source: " What is Oculus Rift--And Why You Should Care ," by Samantha Murphy Reilly, Mashable online , March 26, 2014. Follow up: What is "virtual reality" and what makes it different from other media experiences? How do the potential users of Rift use Facebook now? Who might eventually be the users? What potential might this product have as an educational tool? Read the Forbes article written by David Prosser. What might be the issues for the original Kickstarter supporters, and what bigger concerns might that mean for Kickstarter?
  • Social media manipulates General Motors' reputation

    [View: utility/ :550:0] Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors talking to her employees about the vehicle recall in a recent video If video does not appear above, see link to video here . "Damage control" looks different in the modern age of social networking. General Motors' recent problems with the ignition switches of several of its vehicles has created a public relations problem. GM's response has utilized social media on at least three fronts. First, a video--supposedly a speech to GM employees--is available in the public domain. Second--the Facebook page of GM is responding to customer issues--maybe not always successfully: image from Third, GM is at least listening in to Twitter complaints...and responding. One Alaskan mother, Lauren Munhoven, tweeted a complaint. GM listened and helped her with her Saturn Ion by paying the ferry cost to get her car fixed, and getting her a rental car. Munhoven posted her thanks on Twitter. GM is also using old school methods of snail-mail notices of recalls, and call centers to help with customer problems. I found it quite compelling that part of the message was that the cars were safe to drive IF there were no other items attached to the keys--like no key ring. These apparently could be bumped or could weight the ignition switch in a way that the problems ensued. The mixed message--that there is an ignition problem but that the customer might be partly to blame because they use a key ring--might not be the best message to be putting out to the public. In this modern age of social media, customers who are outraged can "flame" GM's service--that is, negatively report their experience to as many others as might be tantalized by the customer message. It remains to be seen how this plays out in GM sales. By the way, there is another Facebook page called GM Recall Survivors . From what I've read on it, it seems more to be about those who have not survived. Source: " G.M. Uses Social Media to Manage Customers and Its Reputation ," by Vindu Goel, New York Times , March 23, 2013. Follow up: What effect would a text message from GM Customer Care have on your confidence level if you were a Cobalt owner? Evaluate Mary Barra's video as a communication vehicle to GM employees, and as as public relations piece "spinning" the defective part debacle.
  • The "Income Upshot" tool--what does it say about Homer Simpson and one of the Two Broke Girls?

    the income upshot tool link This article specifically addresses two fictional incomes--that of Homer Simpson and that of one of the "two broke girls" living in Brooklyn. It is fascinating to adopt several different personas to see what "big data" might say about some basic demographic data. I input my personal data and found myself to be riding with the majority on all parameters that were reported. Am I deceiving myself to think that I would NOT have been with the majority on other parameters? Source: " Income Upshot: Homer Simpson Edition ," by Jolie Myers, Marketplace-- American Public Media , September 12, 2013. Follow up: Did you use the link to fill in your income? Is the assessment of this tool relevant to your personal situation? What do you think this link is trying to sell or monetize? What information can "big data" analyzers provide? What are the most relevant parameters, in your opinion, to marketers of various products? What other parameters might be important to marketers? Do you think the selected parameters were relevant and appropriate?
  • The Samsung Selfie

    [View: /utility/ :550:0] video of original selfie from YouTube One of Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres' trademarks is her ability to make everything look casual, impromptu, and unplanned--as though the next event was just an outgrowth of her natural curiosity. But it seems as though the "impromptu" selfie that was taken at the March 2nd Academy Awards was planned...and the smartphone that Ellen handed to Bradley Cooper (which he used to take the photo) was no accident. According to the Wall Street Journal , and as reported in US Weekly , "As part of its sponsorship and ad pact for the Oscars with ABC, the TV network airing the show, Samsung and its media buying firm Starcom MediaVest negotiated to have its Galaxy smartphone integrated into the show." Samsung also arranged for a group of young film makers who were touring Disney as part of the Oscar broadcast to have Samsung phones. In addition, Samsung trained Ellen in how to use the phone prior to the broadcast. Samsung had placed at least $18 million of ads in this year's telecast. image from Sources: " Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar Selfie Part of Samsung Phone Product Placement: Report ," by Rachel Mcrady, US Magazine Weekly , March 7, 2014. Follow us: @usweekly on Twitter | usweekly on Facebook " Behind the Pre-planned Oscar Selfie: Samsung's Ad Strategy; Marketer Spent Nearly $20 Million on Ad Time and Got Product Placement of Galaxy Phone ," by Samantha Vranica, Wall Street Journal , March 3, 2014. Follow up: Did you watch the Oscar broadcast? Were you aware of the Samsung Galaxy Note during the broadcast? What effect has the subsequent social media reaction and press had on your awareness of this product?
  • Blackfish: whistleblowing ethics and animal welfare

    image from What do the bands Heart, Willie Nelson, and Barenaked Ladies have in common? It seems that all of them have dropped out of commitments to play at SeaWorld due to the " Blackfish " scandal. Animal welfare is a hot-button topic that can polarize fans and radically influence events. If you aren't up on this particular scandal, here are the particulars: "Blackfish" is a documentary, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite , that is critical of the treatment of whales in captivity. It is currently available on Netflix . Controversy surrounding the leaking of documents relating to the 2010 fatal attack by a killer whale named Tilikum on Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer, is a major part of the current issue. SeaWorld has pursued an aggressive campaign to deny harm to killer whales in captivity and to block certain OSHA officers from oversight of their facilities while the whole issue is under review. According to the NYT article, " Whether the film and a subsequent debate about the propriety of orca captivity have taken a toll on SeaWorld’s business — a publicly traded company with a stock market value of more than $3 billion — remains an open question ." Whether relevant or not..."Blackfish"--once considered a contender for the 2013 Best Documentary Oscar--was not nominated. It seems that SeaWorld's pushback against what may or may not have been unfair ethical complaints has had some influence in at least the small community of Academy voters. It remains to be seen what effects accusations--true or untrue--may have on the SeaWorld business model for years to come. Source: " Seaworld Questions Ethics of Blackfish Investigator ," by Michael Cieply, New York Times, February 28, 2014. Follow up: What effect do animal rights issues have on you and your business decisions? Do you eat meat? Wear fur? Wear leather shoes or belts? How do these issues affect your peer group? Are there any broader issues that influence your decisions? What are your thoughts about misplaced indignation and the effects it can have on legitimate business operations? What should the penalties, if any, be for this type of breach? What should the standards of proof or business harm be for damages? Have you seen "Blackfish"? What are your thoughts?
  • T-Mobile spurs competition among wireless providers

    [View: /utility/ :550:0] Video from T-Mobile offered to pay the costs of contract termination for those willing to switch from one of the big carriers. AT&T countered by offering to pay $200 of the costs--but only of T-Mobile users switching to AT&T. This comes on the heels of T-Mobile reporting higher 4th quarter 2013 earnings--a result of an increase of 1,645,000 customers. T-Mobile seems to have zeroed in on the costs of switching providers as being a major factor in customers being unwilling to change. It has taken a marketing risk in covering the costs of this switch...and it could be that the gamble is paying off. Source Strategy Analytics , however, feels that even though T-Mobile is a catalyst for price competition, that they will not prevail moving forward against the bigger providers--primarily AT&T and Verizon. The market reaction to T- Mobile's moves has shown that a larger number of companies in the pool can stimulate competition and improve the situation for custormers. Sources: " Comparison: How Does T-Mobile’s New Plans Stack Up Against the Competition? " by Alexander Maxham, Android Headlines , March 27, 2013. " T-Mobile to Pay Termination Fees; Reports Customer Growth ," by Reuters, , January 8, 2014. " LTE Enables US Wireless Price War as Carriers Fight for 60 million New LTE Subs in 2014 ," by Source Strategy Analytics, 12 NewsNow, February 25, 2014. Follow up: What does "LTE" mean? What are the alternatives, and why does LTE look to be a medium for the future? What is the projected growth according to Source Strategy Analytics? What are the key factors that keep you from switching wireless carriers, even if there is a price advantage? Consider: your level of understanding about the plans, the information sources you trust, the time factor, start-up or termination costs, and any other factors. What is the industry term for customer defectors? (read all of the linked is in there somewhere)
  • Sweet-to-the-core product launch

    image from article linked below Pictured above is one of Ben & Jerry's new "core" ice cream flavors: Hazed and Confused. There is a core of Nutella (chocolate/hazelnut), surrounded by hazelnut ice cream and chocolate ice cream with fudge chips. The products in this launch have multiple ice creams in one yummy container. Ben & Jerry's is a company that started in 1978. During that time, they have expanded world-wide and have remained profitable. One way that they have continued to thrive has been to adapt their product line on a regular basis. This product launch is one innovation. The other products that are a part of this launch are: That's My Jam Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Salted Caramel I wish I could say I'd already done a product taste test. Which flavor do you think will be most successful? Source: " Ben & Jerry's Nails It With New Core Ice Cream Flavors, " Huffington Post, February 25, 2014. Follow up: Read about Ben & Jerry's on their website, linked above. What attributes make Ben & Jerry's different from other corporations, and in what way is it similar in terms of structure? What are Ben & Jerry's "core" values? How do they influence the following: marketing campaigns? product manufacture? employee relations?
  • The Lego Empire

    image from Forbes magazine This movie has something for everyone--parents, kids, casual moviegoers, erudite film critics, and Warner Brothers investors. It only cost $60 million to make, and its domestic box office for the first three weeks topped $183 million . My husband and I saw it in 3D on a Saturday afternoon and we didn't know what to expect. But a few minutes in, it was pretty clear that the script was dense with puns and double-entendres. The story itself contained themes about job autonomy and the responsibilities and choices corporations make to improve or harm the world of its employees and customers. Plus, it was a sweet story about overcoming the obstacles of low self expectations...and of inflated self-perceptions. The song " Everything Is Awesome " has staying power as well. [View: utility/ :550:0] The movie is a metaphor for the success of both the Lego Company and Time Warner. According to Scott Mendelson in Forbes , " all likelihood, The Lego Movie will be a big hit that will not only sell countless new Lego sets, but also be the first building block towards reestablishing Warner Bros. as an animation powerhouse." Opportunistic investors have probably missed their best window to buy, but it remains to be seen whether either company can build on this success. Source: " Lego Builds an Empire, Brick by Brick ," by Gregory Schmidt, New York Times, February 15, 2014. " Review: Everything About The Lego Movie Is Awesome ," by Scott Mendelson, Forbes , February 4, 2014. Follow up: Are you familiar with the Lego brand name? Have you owned Lego block kits? Visited LegoLand? Played the Lego video game? What are the first words that come to your mind with respect to this product? What does Gregory Schmidt think about Lego's business plan?
  • Businesses track and respond to the erosion of the middle class

    Image from Even if politicians and media celebrities debate whether the middle class is struggling in these economic times...the debate means little if corporations are already reacting to their conclusion about this matter. Business entities, in preparing sales and production budgets, have already noted and responded to the current state of affairs: the upper class is buying and the middle class is not. In the Chelsea district of Manhattan, the Loehmann 's discount store is closing and the upscale Barneys store is taking its place. Red Lobster and Olive Garden flounder but the Capital Grille thrives. Only demand for the high end appliances is soaring; mid-range appliance demand is faltering. According to Steven Fazzari (Washington University) and Barry Cynamon (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis), in 2012 the top 5% of earners consumed 38% of the domestic product. This was up from 28% in 1995. They also noted that top earners' purchases have been driving the current economic recovery. Sources: " The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World ," by Nelson D. Schwartz, The New York Times, February 3, 2014. " The Middle Class Falls Further Behind ," by Aaron Smith, , August 22, 2012. Follow up: What DID go wrong for Olive Garden and Red Lobster? Read the article that is linked to those chains above. Do you consider yourself middle class? What does that mean to you in terms of your current and future financial life?
  • Nintendo and the State of the Union

    Link to audio from the Marketplace Website On the same day that President Obama was expressing optimism about the economic future in the State of the Union address, Nintendo was announcing its dismal third quarter profits. Nintendo is facing a flex point in its product cycle. For its business life so far (about 30 years), Nintendo has made games that have to be played on Nintendo hardware. image from The problem is that in 2014--every smart phone is also a mobile game-playing device. The convenience of carrying around a game station in the same device as one's phone might trump the bells and whistles that can be experienced on a dedicated device. Not to mention that at least some version of many game apps is FREE. It is probably time for Nintendo to re-think its business plan. Source: " Will Nintendo Ditch Hardware ?" by Kate Davidson, Marketplace--American Public Media , January 29, 2014. Follow up: What are Nintendo's options in terms of product mix and marketing? What are your personal game playing habits? How have they shifted over the past 5 or 10 years? How do you think they will change in the future?
  • Most expensive cell phone service...can you hear me now?

    image from What are you spending on your smartphone and wireless internet service? Is it the best price that you can get? A recent survey by Cowen and Company reported that Verizon Wireless customers may pay the most. Verizon has no intention of reducing their prices. So why are Verizon customers willing to pay more? Maybe it is because, in many markets, Verizon service covers more areas. But a savvy consumer needs to research whether or not the increased coverage area actually affects their particular market. The survey found that: Verizon bills averaged $148 per month; Sprint bills averaged $144 per month; AT&T averaged $141 per months; T-Mobile bills averaged $120 per month. Can you hear me now? Source: " Guess which wireless carrier has the biggest bills in America " by Zach Epstein, BGR: Boy Genius Report , January 1 7 , 2014, from a story picked up by Ars Technica . Follow up: What were the major and minor factors that influenced your personal choice of smartphone service? What is an oligopoly? Does that term apply to the wireless service market? How does that affect consumers? Where does the phrase "Can you hear me now?" originate? Why is it notable?
  • Job creation in North Carolina

    image from "Promise Zones." The phrase implies hope and focus. The new initiative was presented at North Carolina State University, which is leading a group that hopes to "reinvigorate the nation’s manufacturing economy." The intention of the program is to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. The new program redirects existing funding, rather than requiring additional tax dollars. Deciding when and where to create the manufacturing institutes has required a lot of planning. A competition will be held to decide which proposals will actually be funded. According to the article, "This is the first of three such institutes the White House plans to announce in the coming weeks. It will be financed by a five-year, $70 million grant from the Department of Energy, which will be matched by funding from the consortium members, including the equipment maker John Deere and Delphi, an auto-parts maker." This specific initiative will focus on advanced semiconductor technology in order to create energy-efficient devices for various industries. Source: " Obama Announces Institute to Create Manufacturing Jobs ," by Mark Landler, The New York Times , January 15, 2014. Follow up: Is "Promise Zones" an effective name for marketing this new initiative? In what ways does it "work"? Can you think of a better name to describe this effort?
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