• Voice Heard Over Idol

    Is American Idol losing its edge? Certainly the show, in its 11th season, cannot last forever and exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic producer several years ago. But it will take more than a half-hearted attempt at duplication by a founder (Simon Cowell) to steal these fans True, the audience has been slowly dwindling and skewing older demographically over the past few seasons, yet the domiance of the program is still remarkable. Can an upstart derivation of the talent contest theme succeed in today's cluttered marketplace?

    It appears the answer may be "yes". NBC's "The Voice", in its second season, is demonstrating signs that it could quickly overtake the aging "Idol", at least among the vastly important 18-49 demographic. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that 15% fewer viewers tuned into last week's "Idol" versus "The Voice." This is a fairly large leap and, if the three episodes aired since the Super Bowl are any indication of what the future holds, "The Voice" will very rapidly overtake and perhaps replace "American Idol" in th ehearts and minds of consumers. The question is, can the show keep existing viewers and attract new viewers at a pace that will crush "Idol" without futher fragmenting an already cluttered reality TV, competition-theme market?

    As a washed up professional musician, I have ignored the so-called talent contests (I call it American Karaoke) over the years. Yet, I found myself glued to the TV during last week's program. The format is just different enough from "Idol" to steal market share (think My Space and Facebook), and it will be exciting to see how the season shapes up.


  • A Measure of Confidence


    The movements of the Tide never cease. It sounds like an opening line from a novel in a "Bad Hemingway" competition, much like my favorite opener, "It was morning. And it had been morning since late last night." Nevertheless, Tide (the detergent) continues to roll. Despite its dominant position in the mature and therefore unexciting laundry product category, it seems that Proctor and Gamble still has its focus on product innovation. After revolutionizing the category with concentrated detergents, an innovation that allowed consumers to use less detergent per wash than before, the company introduced the Tide stain eraser, a product shaped and applied like a Sharpie pen, but one that removes marks instead of creating them. Both Tide brand extensions have enjoyed wide marketplace acceptance, so you'd think that the brand managers could finally relax and rest a bit on their laurels. Not so.

    As consumers have moved away from Proctor and Gamble's mid-range brand, Cheer, in favor of Gain (another successful brand P&G has been funding) and competing lower end brands, as well as private label store brands, Tide has held steady market share. And part of this reason may be the organization's thirst for innovation. Enter the Tide Pod, a small, dissolvable packet of detergent which promises to offer more convenience for consumers, but at a price almost 20% higher (per load) than Tide's most expensive current offering. Will it work?

    It is true that Tide enjoys premium product status, so its users tend to stick with the brand even through bad economic times. In addition, loyal users tend to be less price sensitive than shoppers who buy on price. And, we have seen overall acceptance for single serving products across numerous categories, including coffee, where convenience has remained a huge selling point. But, is laundry the same kind of product as coffee, a largely ritualistic luxury purchase that inspires brand loyalty due to nuances in taste across the myriad brands? It is "laundry" after all. Will consumers appreciate this introduction in the face of rising food and gas prices? Is there room for another premium product within a crowded premium brand?

    The obvious answer is no. Loyal Tide users may switch to this higher end product, but this is done only at the cost of cannibalizing the brand the consumers were buying before. This is not a net gain for Tide. In addition, lower income users are unlikely to trade up, so P&G is left with encouraging other users of premium brands to defect to Tide. Therefore, the current conditions do not appear ripe for such an introduction, and the success of the product will probably be at the expense of Tide's other sku's. All of this may be part of a calculated risk, or it could be a marketing oversight, or perhaps Tide knows something that I don't. All are good possibilities. I will be watching this one closely...


  • Riots for Shoes? Really?

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    Do you remember when the iPad was first introduced?  It hasn't been that long since Black Friday when a woman attempted to get a shopping advantage by using pepper spray on those ahead of her in line at a large retailer. This sort of frenzy has not been seen for a shoe since Nike first released their Jordan brand years ago.

    Sneaker fanatics who lined up outside stores overnight got their first crack Friday at a new outer-space themed Nike basketball shoe, getting so unruly in some cities that police were called to restore order. More than 100 deputies in riot gear quelled a crowd in Orlando, Fla., where the release of the $220 Foamposite Galaxy coincides with this weekend's NBA All-Star Game. In a mall in Hyattsville, MD, one person was arrested for disorderly conduct. The shoes, part of a space-themed collection, are a draw for so-called "sneakerheads" who collect signature sports footgear and can resell it online at a marked-up price, sometimes for hundreds more than retail.

    Malls in Florida, New York and Maryland reported bringing in police to manage fans clamoring for the purple and blue shoes, which have star-like flecks of white. Some shoppers lucky enough to get their hands on a pair immediately posted them for sale on eBay at skyrocketing prices. A quick peak at eBay revealed a pair of these ridiculously purple shoes was bid up to $7,000, and some report that a pair sold for as much as $70,000. Authorities did have some warning the shoe could cause mayhem. Earlier this month, police were called to a mall outside Albany after pushing and shoving broke out during a promotional event for the shoe. Nike spokesman Matthew Kneller said the Nike store in New York City immediately sold out Friday. GB

    Read more here.

  • Mixed Emotions about Pink Ribbon Marketing?

    How do you feel about the long-run social marketing effort to support breast cancer research? A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows that Americans have mixed emotions about the annual event. About 96% of 1,004 people polled say the event has succeeded in making people aware of the disease. Nearly 80% say they know someone who has had breast cancer. And most contribute to the cause, especially if shopping is involved: 84% of all Americans including 95% of those ages 18 to 29 now "shop for the cure," buying pink products with a breast cancer tie-in. The poll confirms what we know from experience — people are committed to ending breast cancer and are willing to donate, volunteer, participate in events and buy products that will support that effort. This doesn't mean that they don't care about other issues or other diseases, but breast cancer touches so many people's lives that it's very real to them and they want to take action, or does it?

    One in three adults, and nearly half of women under 50, say the intense focus on breast cancer overshadows other worthy causes. "I cannot help but be envious and wish melanoma got even a fraction of the attention and funding," says Donna Regen of Allen, Texas, who lost her daughter to melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. "I admire the success of the marketing, but I wish we would see a little less pink," and more support for other cancers. Even many breast cancer survivors are frustrated by what they see as the commercialization of a terrible disease. In October, "it seems every major company, whether they sell cars, blenders or yogurt, has a pink marketing campaign," says breast cancer survivor Brenda Coffee of Boerne, Texas, who blogs at BreastCancerSisterhood. "It's become almost un-American not to support 'pink awareness,'" she adds, but pink ribbons have "become more like background noise than the original cry for help."

    For all the hoopla of the marketing efforts and the millions upon millions of dollars that have been raised, doctors still have little to offer women with the most serious form of the disease, says Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. "We really haven't made significant progress," she says. "Making everything pink sends the false message that we have." Fundraising experts say selling pink-ribboned products has the potential to backfire, and make people complacent. "Awareness does not equal commitment," says Timothy Seiler of the Center on Philanthropy a Indiana University. "When people purchase an item like a pink ribbon or make a donation at a grocery store, those types of steps often lead people to feel like they've done their part."  GB

    Read more here.

  • Psychological Pricing: Finding that More Attractive Price


    Other than being being free or cheap, are there really prices out there that are more attractive to people like you and I as consumers? The psychology of pricing explains why we do many of the silly things we do with our money. Retailers work hard to manipulate us, tweaking price tags and offering "special" promotions to get us to spend more than we normally would. Why are we so vulnerable? In part, we're just wired to think in certain ways, experts say. But the other problem: We're usually far too busy and distracted to pick up on all the nuances working on our subconscious. I recently interviewed a couple of behavioral science and marketing experts and reviewed some academic studies to round up the most popular pricing tricks. Hopefully this list will come in handy next time you come across a "deal."

    1. 'Free' Stuff:  When retailers and shops offer merchandise and services for "free," there's almost always an ulterior motive. "The notion of a 'free lunch' - as in, 'there's no such thing as--' - comes from old New York, where Bowery taverns would offer free lunches, on the firm understanding that diners would wash it down with their overpriced beer," says William Poundstone, author of Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value and How to Take Advantage of It. "That's still pretty much the way it works. Free things draw you in to a store or Web site where you're likely to buy other things," he says. Psychologically speaking, the word "free" implies no downside or risk. Even a buy-one-get-one-free deal or an advertisement for free shipping ?€" which still requires us to spend money ?€" are marketing gimmicks businesses bank on, knowing that consumers simply can't resist.

    2. Bye, Bye, Dollar Signs: Prices marked with dollar signs have been proven to reduce consumer spending. For example, a 2009 Cornell University study found that diners in upscale restaurants spent significantly less when menus contained the word "dollars" or the symbol "$." In a society where we're overloaded with information, consumers tend to follow the path of least resistance, says Poundstone. "Expensive restaurants usually have minimalistic prices like "24" -- meaning $24.00 -- because they want you to focus on the food and not the price."

    3. '10 for $10': You may see this at supermarkets: "10 boxes of cereal for $10." Consumers often think they have to buy 10 items to get the deal - but sometimes it's just another way of advertising 1 for $1. "You don't have to buy 10 to get the price, but some people do - or at any rate, they buy more than they would have, convinced that they're getting some kind of great deal, says Poundstone.

    4. Per-Customer Limits: You may also see this type of pricing at the supermarket: "Limit 5 per customer." "This leads people to think 'Oh, this is scarce, I should buy this,'" says Vicki Morwitz, Professor of Marketing at New York University. Some stores also do this to avoid products getting sold on the gray market, but it does tend to entice people to buy more than they would.

    5. The 9 Factor: "Prices ending in 9, 99, or 95 are called 'charm prices,'" says Poundstone. "Apparently, we've been culturally conditioned to associate 9-ending prices with discounts and better deals." Also, because we read numbers from left to right, we encode a price like $7.99 as $7 - especially if we read too quickly. It's called "left-digit effect": "We encode it in our minds before we read all the digits," says Morwitz.

    6. Easy Math: Some stores will put a product on sale and show you what price it was marked down from. The sign might say "was $10, now $8." But you'll rarely see the sign saying, "was $10, now $7.97." Why? "If the difference is easy to calculate, we tend to think it's a better and bigger deal," says Morwitz. It's called "computation fluency." So even though a $7.97 deal saves you more money (and has the number 9 in it, which we like), the math is a little more involved - and as Poundstone stated earlier, we like to take the path of least resistance.

    7. Price Font Size: Marketing professors at Clark University and The University of Connecticut found that consumers perceive sale prices to be a better value when the price is written in a small font rather than a large, bold typeface. This is actually something marketers often get wrong, says Morwitz. We tend to see sale prices with large fonts relative to their original prices on a price tag or sign, all to grab people's attention. But that only confuses consumers because, "in our minds, physical magnitude is related to numerical magnitude," says Morwitz. GB

    Read more here.



  • Consumer Behavior and Engel's Law

    Have you ever noticed that as your income goes up, so do your expenditiures?  Sometimes it seems like you will never be able to save because you keep spending nearly everything you make.  As you reminisce about the past, you sometimes can't fiture out how or why your spending has gone up as much as, or sometimes more than your increases in earnings.  Well, like almost everything else, there is a theory that helps explain this phenomenon.  Actually, this is not a naturally-occuring phenomenon; consumers can control it, if they put their minds to it.  It is not like growing older, getting taller, etc.  So it is considered to be willful consumer behavior.

    This theory was an observation by an economist, Ernst Engel, in the 1800s.  It states that as consumer income increases, three things usually occur.  First, consumer will spend a smaller proportion of their income on food.  Second, they will spend about the same proportion on housing and houing related products.  Third, consumers will normally spend a greater proporiton of their incomes on luxury products.

    Remember that Engel's law is related to proportions of income, rather than dollar amounts of income.  For example, if a consumer is currently spending 15% of their $100,000 salary on food, that amounts to $15,000.  If that consumer gets a salary increase to $150,000, let's suppose that they proportion goes from 15% to 12.5%.that the consumer spends on food.  At first look, it may not seem to make sense that the consumer would spend less on food with a higher income.  However, if we perform the math, with the new salary, the consumer would actually be spending $18,750.  So even though the proportion decreased, the actual dollar amount increased, and according to Engel's Law, this is what we would expect.  GB

  • Using Advertising Appeals: The Case of Michael Jordan

    Appeals are often used in advertising and other brand or company promotion strategies.  Commonly used appeals include sex, humor, fear, intellectual, prestige, expertise, celebrity, and referent power.  During the time that former basketball star Michael Jordan was playing basketball, and even today, many companies asked him to represent their companies, products and brands.  Of course they paid him very well for these endorsements, but this blog is going to concentrate on other reasons so many companies wanted Michael Jordan to represent them. 

    One type of appeal is expertise.  This appeal works if the person representing a company or product is seen as an expert in the use of that product.  Another appeal is referent  poiewr appeal.  This type of appeal works if people respect the spokesperson and thus that person would have some influence over them as they go through the process of purchasing products.

    A list of the companies and/or products that Jordan endorsed and represented are as follows.

    • Nike
    • Gatorade
    • Bijan Cologne
    • MCI WorldCom
    • Rayovac Btteries
    • Hanes Uderwear
    • Ball Park Franks
    • Wheaties Creal (General Mills)
    • Wilson Sporting Equipment
    • Oakley Sunglasses
    • AMF Bowling
    • CBS Sportsline
    • Chevrolet (Chicago Area)
    • McDonalds
    • Bigsby & Kruthers (Men's Clothing Store)
    • NBA Entertainment/CBS-Fox Home Videos
    • Michael Jordan's Restaurant, Chicago
    • Upper Deck
    • Coach Leather Products
    • Warner Brothers (Space Jam Film)

    Among these product endorsements, which ones did the use of Jordan serve as an expertise appeal and which ones did the use of Jordan serve as a referent power appeal?  It is clear that Michael Jordan was at least perceived to be an expert in certain types of products.  These products were likely the sports-related ones, such as Nike, Gatorade, Wilson Sporting Equipment, Upper Deck, and possibly the Space Jam movie for Warner Brothers..  It is also possible that he might be perceived as an expert on some clothing and accessories, such as Oakley Sunglasses, Bigsby & Kruthers Men's Clothing Store, Coach Leather Products, and Hanes Underwear.  (This might be questionable because how many believe that Michael Jordan actually wears these simple Hanes cotton undies?)  However, he is clearly no more of an expert on the other products as almost anyone out there, so the other products enjoyed the referent power appeal when having Michael Jordan represent them.  GB

  • Whitney Houston: Death is Worth Millions


    About a year ago, my wife informed me that she took out a million dollar life insurance policy on me.  With the stroke of a pen, I instantaneously became worth more dead than alive.  I keep expecting to be killed at an moment, but until that happens, I have time to write a few more blogs.  It is interesting that the "worth more alive than dead" phenomenon happens not just to people with larege insurance policies, but also to celebrities and artists.  There is a somewhat obscure Mexican artist whose work I buy once in awhile.  His name is Sergio Bustamante and I especially like his sculptures.  He is currently in his 90s and it is projected that when he passes away, his art will significantly in price.

    The passing of a star as large as Whitney Houston has the potential to make a much larger splash than this obscure Mexican artist.  For example, Dolly Parton stands to make a fortune following Whitney Houston’s untimely death. The country recording artist is the sole writer of one of Houston's biggest hits, “I Will Always Love You,” which will likely bring in millions of dollars from royalties due to a surge in record sales.  The late pop star’s musical catalog quickly rose back onto the charts after her death, and consequently, Parton, 66, will receive writer and publisher rates from sales, a sizable chunk of money.  Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” in 1973, and while it hit #1 on country charts for her that same year, it was Houston who propelled it to legendary status. Her version in 1992, recorded for the film, “The Bodyguard,” helped the song cross over into the pop market, where it stayed atop the charts for 14 weeks.  This week, following Jennifer Hudson's performance at the Grammy's and a cover rendition on Glee, the song is expected to reach #1 on iTunes, where it currently sits in the Top Ten.  Parton commented to CBS News Tuesday on sharing the famous song with the late singer.  “Like everybody else, I am still in shock," she said. But I know that Whitney will live forever in all the great music that she left behind. I will always have a very special piece of her in the song we shared together and had the good fortune to share with the world. Rest in peace, Whitney. Again, we will always love you."  And Parton told Billboard, "I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song."

    Parton reportedly wrote the song after her one-time business partner and frequent duet partner, singer Porter Wagoner, suggested she switch from writing story songs and begin writing love songs. She re-recorded it in 1982 for the movie soundtrack of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Elvis Presley reportedly was interested in recording it, but Parton refused to sign over half of her publishing rights to him for a Presley performance of the tune.  There’s always been a debate as to who sang the song best, though no particular tension between the two artists. In January, Parton told CNN's Anderson Cooper how she spent her proceeds from the song, saying, "When Whitney did it, I got all the money for the publishing and for the writing, and I bought a lot of cheap wigs."  GB

  • NASCAR is Big Bucks

    If you think owning a stable of racehorses could max anyone’s credit card, try keeping two NASCAR racers primed for battle and fueled up at the starting line. Never before has money played such a big part in the auto racing game. In fact, to most people, money is the game. Long gone are the days when the winning owner simply paid the driver and crew a stipend and used the balance as best he could to prepare his car for the next weekend race. Today the expenses involved for keeping just two mid-level cars on the track is staggering. Although some big-time owners may have only two cars on the track, they usually have an average of 13 or 14 cars under construction. It makes sense, therefore, with that many cars in the garage, the owner (or owners), should have a team of skilled mechanics on the payroll to keep them ready for race day. Not only are the mechanics on the payroll but also teams that handle the purchasing, stocking, and inventory of hundreds of parts required for the cars. To take care of billing, payroll, and the myriad of other details, an administrative team is included as well as is a logistic team that arranges the racing schedules and travel for the cars, trucks, mechanics, drivers, and pit crews. Then there are the public relations people, the legal staff, the secretaries, and many others to help support the effort for putting the cars on the track. In fact, an entire mid-level racing team consists of almost 100 people.

    While the costs vary from team to team they are all close approximations for just one “typical” 2-car Nextel Cup team.

    • Cars - $130,000 each
    • Salaries for the teams - $3 million/year
    • Drivers - $400,000 for a rookie up to several million for a top ten driver
    • Travel - $1 million/year for each team
    • Tires – At least $20,000 per race
    • Engines - $40,000 each

    If you think these figures are high, the costs for the larger, more popular teams can be double or even more.

    With these astronomical expenditures NASCAR owners had to find someway to pay the bills-- in other words, for someone to subsidize their teams. Unlike the old days, the prize money for winning a race is not nearly enough. What used to cost tens of thousands of dollars a year has now skyrocketed to at least $15 million/year. Always searching for an opportunity to display their logos to American consumers, corporate American realized that with an estimated 75 million fans, NASCAR racing was the second most popular sport in the U.S. (Football is number one) Considering the impact those millions of fans could have on their bottom-line, these companies salivated over the chance to support NASCAR events. In return, however, company logos would be prominently displayed on the cars, equipment, and uniforms. In addition, drivers were obligated to mingle with the guests in the corporate tent on race day, make guest appearance at corporate functions and in advertisements, as well as speak at employee pep rallies, all under the name of “personal services”.

    There are three main levels of sponsorship – Associate, Major, and Primary. The amount of financial support for a team will vary not only on the level of sponsorship agreed to but within that level to such perks as the number of driver appearances, advertising guarantees, and most importantly, where the companies logo or logos will appear on the cars. An example of the typical costs for each level and the logo placement possibilities is illustrated as follows:

    • $500,000 to $2 million for an Associate sponsor - A logo on either the lower rear quarter panels, the rear deck lid, or one post.
    • $2 to $5 million for a Major sponsor - A logo prominently displayed on either the rear quarter panels or the rear deck lid, and the uniforms.
    • $10 to $20 million for a Primary sponsor - Logos on the entire hood and quarter panels, the signage below the quarter panels, most of the two posts, the equipment, the uniforms, as well as the color scheme of the car and team uniforms.

    The top racing teams are able to attract deep-pocket sponsors and with escalating costs many teams have found it necessary to contract with two or more sponsors at the same time. GB

    Read more here.

  • Using Numbers in Marketing

    It's well known that 99 cents 'sounds' like a lot less money than one dollar. And that a car selling for $19,995 'sounds' like much more of a bargain than $20,000. Amazing isn't it? That something can be just $5 less (which amounts to about an unimaginable small fraction of a penny over the life of a car loan) and yet it sounds like you've gotten it on the sly. Don't even pretend this doesn't work on you. It does whether you want it to or not, sorry to point out.

    In advertising, we tap into that one endlessly. It's a no brainer. We start with those tricks. Now what can you learn even from yourself and how you 'hear numbers' that can seriously add some muscle to your articles? Easy. Take this exact human 'listening and evaluating' condition and use it in your favor. To do thisk, try to never ever use numbers that fall on a 5 or on 0 (zero). Meaning don't use 5 or 25 or 65 etc., and don't use 10 or 30 or 90. (All numbers over 100 push different types of buttons, but for now and since we're talking about short articles, let's deal with all numbers under 100.)

    The reason you'll,  from now on, never use these numbers is that they seem too pre0fab. Using numbers like 5 and ten and twenty feel as if they've been almost automatically 'prepackaged up nice' and they don't hold real value. A dozen eggs feels expected. Nine eggs gets your attention. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that six is always more than five. It's not. Good marketers know that. And now you know that. Remember, find success and emulate it over and over.

    Think about it, if you write an article entitled "Five Magic Tricks You Need To Know This Halloween", versus writing one entitled "Six Magic Tricks You Need To Know This Halloween"...which one 'sounds' more unusual or  more real more real? Which one of those two is more likley to have you reaching for your mouse to learn more? And so a great way to incorporate this is to use odd numbers so make your article sound more real. Offer four tips instead of five;eleven instead of ten; break things up so they don't sound as if they've fallen off of an assemble line. Give your numbers the human touch and watch what happens. GB

    Read more here.

  • Happy Valentine's Day, Marketers!

    Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did these traditions come from? Find out about the history of this centuries-old holiday, from ancient Roman rituals to the customs of Victorian England.  The history of Valentine's Day--and the story of its patron saint--is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?  The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl--possibly his jailor's daughter--who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed "From your Valentine," an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and--most importantly--romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.


    While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial--which probably occurred around A.D. 270--others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat's hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

    Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”--at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine's Day should be a day for romance. Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

    In addition to the Uninted States,  Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.  Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap." Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

    Because of this commericial development, some people say that Valentine’s Day is a marketer’s holiday, a day created by Hallmark to sell more cards.  Others aren’t quite so cynical, and defend the day’s honor.  Regardless of where it comes from, I can say with some degree of certainty that marketers love Valentine’s Day.   Here’s are some reasons why.

    1. Happiness. Valentine’s Day is a holiday with positive feelings surrounding it. And though it falls in the middle of February, for many people a cold and dark month, it brings with it a certain warmth. It’s much easier as a marketer to play off of positive emotions than negative ones. And it’s much easier to get people to spend money when they’re in a good mood then when they’re in a bad one.
    2. Love. Love will make people do crazy things. And love can make people buy crazy things. Marketers all over the country are pitching gift ideas, from heart-shaped chocolate boxes to diamonds, hoping that the love you feel this year is worth as much as your credit limit.
    3. Guilt. Another powerful emotion that people in long term relationships will tell you plays a role is guilt. Guilt can make people do things almost as crazy as love. Valentine’s Day might be the day to make up for a lackluster month or a big fight. And certainly nobody wants to deal with the guilt your partner lays on you when you don’t come through on Valentine's Day.

    Marketers have the power to turn any holiday into a reason to spend money. And the good news for us is, consumers keep proving us right.  GB

  • Top Ten, Bottom Ten

    Watching the Superbowl for ads is like subscribing to an adult magazine for the articles.  However, Superbowl advertising has become big business.  This year companies paid an average of $3.5 million for 30 seconds of air time during the Superbowl.  Like everything else, costs of Superbowl air time have trended upward since the first Superbowl.

    File:Superbowl 30sec 2011 adjusted.png

    According to one rating, the following were the 10 best ads this year (2012).

    1.  It's Halftime in America - Chrysler

    2.  Matthew's Day Off - Honda

    3.  Transactions - Acura

    4.  2012 - Chevy Silverado

    5.  A Dream Car. For Real Life - Kia Optima

    6.  Reinvented - Toyota Camry

    7.  Happy Grad - Chevy

    8.  Performance Basketball - Bridgestone

    9.  The Dog Strikes Back - Volkswagon

    10. Thing Called Love - Samsung Mobile USA

     Another rating service has identified the 10 worst Superbowl ads this year.  They are as follows.

    1.  Delivery Room - E-Trade

    2.  Watching the Game - Coca-Cola

    3.  Platinum - Bud Light

    4.  Performance Enhancers - Bridgestone

    5.  Is This Heaven? - Godaddy.com

    6.  We Make Beer - General Electric

    7.  Super Agents - Century 21

    8.  What I Believe In - Samsung

    9.  Change Cannot be Contained - Lexus

    10. Life Stories - Toyota

    Anytime an investment is large, so are the risks.  However, at least for the top 10 ads, the investment is paying.  Kantar Video, a division of WPP's insight, information, and consultancy network, Kantar, has released the results today of a comprehensive study of online video viewership and social activity from Super Bowl XLVI advertisements. The study finds that within the first 3 days, the top 10 ads created $862,000 on average in earned video impressions, a 12.7% return on the cost of a Super Bowl ad spot. Overall, this year's ads have created over $11 million in earned media and saw a 267% increase in viewership over last year's Super Bowl. This increase in online video viewership underlines the increasing trend for advertisers to use the Super Bowl as a launch-pad for multi-platform commercial campaigns.  GB

    Read more here.

  • Pepsi's Challenge


    It has not been a great past few years for the folks over at Pepsi. Sure, it's a huge umbrella brand with multiple sub-brands and enjoys excellent awareness across many business units, but in the world of publicly traded companies, that's not good enough. Wall Street has profit and growth expectations and these marks must be hit on a quarterly and annual basis...or else! Under pressure from shareholders and the board of directors, Pepsi has been forced to overhaul its struggling U.S. beverage business by laying off almost 8,000 people globally and pumping more money into its top brands in the U.S. It is still unclear exactly how Pepsi has lost so much ground to rival Coca Cola, but in a previous column we have mentioned that reducing the marketing budget over several years has had an impact. Diet Coke recently replaced Pepsi as the number two beverage behind Coke itself. Ouch.

    It appears that company marketing executives are now aware of this problem, and the Wall Street Journal reported that Pepsi will increase its advertising budget by $600 million in 2012 alone, a hefty sum to be certain, in addition to reducing other costs by as much as $500 million per year starting in 2012. In addition, Pepsi will focus on its top brands rather than spreading marketing dollars across too many business units, as it has done in the past. Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, Tropicana, Gatorade, and Lipton will receive the lion's share of attention. To kick things off in grand style, the company ran its first Super Bowl TV ad in several years. Unfortunately, the creative execution was mediocre at best, but it's a start!.

    Criticized by many for losing her strategic focus, CEO Indra Nooyi said that this push doesn't mean that Pepsi will abandon its recent efforts to sell more "good for you" products (such as Quaker Oats) in favor of "fun for you products" (such as soda), but we all know this is nonsense. The organization can only allocate so many resources to so many products. If Mrs. Nooyi wishes to keep her job, this new strategy must be successful and Coke's progress must be impeded. Pepsi should do what it does best and leave the health food to other players.


  • Wal-Mart is Great For You!

    This story was buried in the media, but I think it's fairly important. Wal-Mart has announced a food-rating program wherein the company will implement a "Great For You" seal on private-label (Wal-Mart brand) products it deems to be healthy. Obviously, this raises questions as to what constitutes healthy and what metrics the company employs to determine which products receive the seal and which do not. This is a big deal. Wal-Mart is not only huge in size but also influential, in that the retailer sets benchmarks for others in the industry to follow.

    Don't panic. Lots of retailers are doing this, from Whole Foods to Kroeger, and the reason is simple. The Federal Government has, time and time again, refused to define the term "natural" and has, as of yet, failed to develop meaningful "healthy" guidelines for product labeling and marketing. As a result, retailers are taking it upon themselves to inform consumers in their own particular...um...idiom. In general, folks are confused, and the vast legions of Wal-Mart shoppers will likely do what Wal-Mart tells them to do, or whatever other retailer they trust tells them to do for that matter. This may be good for reducing the waistlines of Americans, but it does raise some questions for Wal-Mart.



  • Giving NBC the Finger


    The Super Bowl just won't go away this year, and I am certainly part of the problem. As such, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the unfortunate display of profanity during Madonna's cross-generational half time extraveganza. British singer M.I.A., another refugee from the increasingly generic hip hop genre (I'm OG), provided the audience with something besides the usual gyrating and hip thrusting...her middle finger. Gee, thanks! NBC was a bit slow on the draw with regard to its censorship efforts, so most of America saw it. Oh the humanity! Is this a big deal? Well, yes and no.


    It turns out the the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the regulatory body that oversees the broadcast airwaves, has fined networks in the past for failure to prevent this type of thing. The networks have taken exception to this, refusing to pay, and the case has been elevated to the Supreme Court. Did NBC and others break indecency rules? This is what the legal profession calls "fleeting indecency". The Clinton regime relaxed the rules, allowing most of these "slights" to occur without penalty. That all changed in 2003 when Bush weighed in on the issue and ordered the FCC to enforce the rule. This resulted in multi-million dollar fines for minor infractions and triggered the aforementioned court battles.

    The decision is expected before June, and this precedent will likely become an integral part of our legislation regarding indecency. This affects not only regular programming, but also commercials, so it's obviously a big deal.


  • Superbowl Marketing

    Another Superbowl has come and gone, and those of us who make a living analyzing marketing activities such as Superbowl commercials, can finally give it a rest. Here are a few final observations:

    The car companies performed very well this year, as opposed to the nondescript creative strategies they have employed in the past. From a weight losing dog with a successful Star Wars tie-in to a heartfelt message from Clint Eastwood, automotive brands Honda, Volkswagon, Chevy, Acura and others all had very successful advertisements this year.

    The polar bears are getting old. Plus it's not Christmas anymore. The running commentary on Coke's website was a bit much. Enough with the bears. Pepsi's ads were also unmemorable as were Budweiser's for the most part. Not  a good year for beverages.

    Dogs make better endorsers than people. Ads featuring dogs are effective at getting audience attention and maintaining interest. At what point will there be too many? Soon.

    20 out of 36 companies previewed ads online in the weeks prior to the game. The Ferris Bueller ad for Honda had 20 million hits by Saturday, for example. Many brands were able to achieve marketing objectives (as well as test ad effectiveness) well before the actual event. Look for more of this next year as the price of Superbowl advertising ($3.5 million for 30 seconds this year) continues to rise.

    Social media and other web tie-ins were evident in many ads. Twitter, Facebook, and Shazam (an auditory recognition app) were all employed along with the traditional driving of traffic to brand websites.

    It occurs to me every single year that, although most people say that they "intend" to watch the commercials carefully, the simple fact of the matter is that 9 out of 10 people watch the game in the company of others. This is what is known as "noise" in communication, and this noise makes watching the majority of commercials impossible for the vast majority of people.


  • Coming Soon: SuperBowl L (And Other Awkward Roman Numerals)

    Forget about this Sunday's game between the Giants and Patriots. We have seen this movie before, both this year and in a previous superbowl. Watch the ads instead. I am already looking toward the future. In 2016, we have Superbowl L which will also be known as the Loserbowl (you heard it here first) if the media can discover an appropriate linkage. Most people know that the depracating "L", a gesture made with the thumb and index finger against one's forehead, does not have positive connotations. Traced back to the early 1990's (Ace Ventura), this gesture has been used in countless movies and television shows since and remains a meaningful part of our cultural lexicon. Imagine thousands of people walking around with giant "L's" on their hats and chests. This could be fun.

    Superbowl L is probably not as awkward as Superbowl XXX was. We had some fun with that one. Libraries actually blocked searches for Superbowl XXX. This is not to draw any attention away from Superbowl IV, a favorite of health care providers and appropriate nomenclature for a fledgling league with very little in the way of financial resources. Superbowl XXXVIII broke the mold for "most cumbersome".  Superbowl XL was a good opportunity for clothing brands and weight loss companies (although shamefully this latter opportunity was never exploited). In 2025 we will have Superbowl LIX, which is also destined to be associated with lowbrow humor. And the medical profession makes a dramatic return with Superbowl MD...in the year 3466.

    Who is to blame for all of this? The league and the ancient Romans of course. It is supposed to represent gladiators or some other kind of manly activity. I guess that makes sense in a game that encourages the "blitz" and lines up in the "shotgun" and whose quarterbacks are protected by "guards", whose games occasionally end in "sudden death", and whose very first Superbowl was played in "The Coliseum". Enjoy the biggest party of the year!


  • Store Brands Cater To the Middle

    One of the great things about shopping in a grocery store is the store brand. Ah yes! We can all enjoy the same great quality as the national brand for a much lower price. This is true because marketing costs are much lower for store brands, and many contract out to current suppliers. Could the Minute Maid orange juice you just bought be the same juice as the store brand? The answer is sometimes, yes. National brands will often, in effect, compete with themselves to insure that competitors don't take market share. And often the end product is as good or the same as the much more expensive brand.

    Retailers have apparently figured this out, and now want to charge a premium for the store brands. Safeway strawberries are 35% higher than Fage, a leading brand. Target's Archer Farms store brand peanuts are the same price as leading brand Planters. Kroger's soy milk is actually more expensive than market pioneer Silk's soy milk. Sam's Club Simply Right diapers are more expensive than Luvs. Wow. What is up?!?

    Simply put, consumers are now aware of what store brands are all about and are increasingly preferring these products, up 12 % from last year according to the Wall Street Journal. This is bad news for national brands. The pressure is on to convince consumers of the value their offering adds over these retailer-branded offerings. Perhaps they will eventually refuse to contract manufacture these products. Maybe these brands will open outlets of their own, or perhaps develop direct-to-consumer models. Maybe the shelves will simply become more competitive. This is all good for consumers.

    It's getting interesting, people, Stay tuned.



  • Squeezing Out the Middle

    We have heard much propaganda regarding the disappearance of the middle class. From the more radical and increasingly angry Occupy protesters to the more reasoned Economist Magazine, experts and laypeople alike are sounding the alarm on how the middle class is getting squeezed out. Here is a dose of reality. Most models that study socioeconomic levels classify the "middle class" as folks making bwtween $35k and $200k annually. Yep. That's a really big group,and we really should be looking at those on the lower end of this middle income group since these folks are the least educated and least skilled members of the so-called middle class. So, are people really falling out of the lower middle class and into the  "lower class" socioeconomic strata? Are the rich driving people into the ground?

    These sorts of assertions are complete nonsense. What is actually happening is that American purchasing power, most notably in the area of discretionary income (what's left after bills and taxes), has been falling over the past several years. Simply put, the lower middle class was spending too much, which made them appear wealthier. Two cars, a four bedroom home, multiple media plans and a Disney vacation until recently were within the reach of lower echelon of the middle class, which was largely a post World war II phenomenon. Ever-increasing home values and huge credit card limits compounded the myth of a strong lower middle class.All of this was too good to be true and therefore unsustainable. Now, incomes are flat, unemployment is high, and inflation still moves prices up by 3 or 4% every year, so the lower middle class is where they should be--spending within their means.

    So, it's not that the middle class is disappearing so much that it is facing the reality that the lower levels of this group cannot afford the lifestyles of people that generate more income. What's to be done? Nothing. Those who fail to get the skills and education necessary to compete in this globalized economy, will lose.Opportunities exist for all in 2-year, 4-year, and technical degrees nationwide. Most people know this to be true, but it's hard for many to admit that this is the way the free market operates.