• Pizza Still Numero Uno

    The Big Game is here, and although I'm finding it tough to find anyone in football-obsessed Denver who is actually excited about the event, there is one thing for sure. We will be eating a lot of pizza on Super Bowl Sunday, and Americans can be expected to consume 12.5 million pies on game day. Yet it's not just special occasions that have consumers clamoring for the stuff, as annual per capita pizza consumption now stands at 46 slices per person. But occasions certainly account for a lot of our annual consumption as New Year's Eve, Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, and Valentine's Day complete the list of the most popular pizza eating days of the year. Remember that some folks never eat pizza, while others manage to eat it several times per week, so this doesn't really mean that everyone eats that much pie. Statistics can sometimes be tricky.

    Yet there are 65,000 pizza joints in The U.S. alone, and sales are up 2.5% from last year to reach $36 billion. The dish is so popular, that the primary provider of pizza boxes, a company called Rock-Tenn Co., has six entire factories (as well as 11 partial operations) devoted to producing pizza boxes for major industry players such as Domino's, Papa John's and Little Caesar among many other lesser players. As a result of the high one-day demand, the corrugated cardboard supplier begins churning out boxes as far back as November just to have enough on hand for Pizza Sunday. These numbers are simply staggering. 

    Clearly, forecasting demand accurately is crucial when there are spikes in the marketplace such as those experienced by pizza makers on special days. And good market predictions not only involve excellent market intelligence, but also close supply chain relationships. What would happen if Domino's suddenly ran out of boxes? Or sauce for that matter? I was at the Super Bowl last year and they actually ran out of beer. Hard to believe but it's true. Is it better to have too much or too little inventory? Carrying too much inventory is very expensive, but too little inventory can result in lost business. These are the dilemmas that tend to keep many marketers up at night, and there are no easy answers.

  • POM Loses "Appeal"

    No, I don't mean "consumer appeal", but a  "court appeal", and a pretty important one at that. As such, it looks like POM Wonderful's difficulty with the Federal Trade Commission may finally be winding down. Back in 2013, the maker of rather delicious pomegranate juice products was also accused of being a maker of false and misleading claims about what its products do for consumer health. Such "product claim" issues were supposed to have been decided back in 1994 with the enactment of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which established a "nutritional supplement" category" for ingestible products (in between food and drugs) and set guidelines about what types of things can and cannot be said in both advertising and on product labels. The law is muddy in some areas but it is clear that outright health claims, such as those that suggest a product is intended to cure, treat, or mitigate a disease or condition, are only permitted with prior FDA approval, and the Food and Drug Administration reserves such claims primarily for drugs, which are regulated differently than foods or nutritional supplements. Statements such as "supports the immune system" and "supports cardiovascular health" are generally allowed as long as the product in question has ingredients that have been clinically proven to do these things, and these products are almost always marketed as "nutritional supplements" rather than "foods". Drugs, both the over-the-counter variety as well as prescription, are a different regulatory story altogether.

    Anyway, POM has been making statements such as "Drink to prostate health" and "Amaze your cardiologist", among what the FTC has characterized as a history of distorting scientific results and pushing the envelope beyond just claiming that POM products have general health benefits. Marketers haven't been making overt drug/health claims, but doesn't this violate the spirit of DSHEA and mislead consumers as to the product's benefits? Recently a federal appeals court thought so. No doubt the juice is pure and is delicious, but making drug/health claims on labels and advertising is expressly forbidden, and many supplement companies over the years have gone down fighting when faced with the legal aftereffects of making weight loss and anti-cancer claims without substantiation.

    POM however is owned by an LA billionaire couple (I knew their son back in junior high school), and they can certainly afford whatever remedy the court orders in terms of fines. In fact, all too many companies possess the resources to wait out the legal process, sell lots of product in the meanwhile, and ultimately pay what turns out to be a fraction of the profits reaped from the actions of their ethically-challenged marketing department. I would suggest that an additional remedy might involve some corrective advertising, which involves in some way retracting the earlier claims. This non-financial remedy would have long-term consequences on the brand's reputation and would serve to deter other slick actors from executing similar marketing strategies. Let's see what penalty the powers-that-be decide upon.

  • Google Glasses Not Need-Driven

    New products often fail. And no matter what marketers do to avoid failure, sometimes the deck is just stacked against them. So when a highly innovative tech giant stumbles with a product that no one else is offering, people tend to take notice. Google is now officially a member of the "Worst Products Hall of Shame" according to syndicated columnist Froma Harrop, and for many observers this is no surprise.

    You guessed it. It's the Google Glasses product that made the list, and not the powerful search engine for which the company is known. These "smart glasses" not only look weird, but also have a very high "creepiness factor" and have been banned in many places due to privacy concerns even though the product has not been widely adopted, which is a very bad sign. But although important factors, these aren't the primary reasons that this product has failed to catch on in the marketplace. The biggest reason is that the product doesn't do anything that our smartphones can't do at this point. iPod anyone? And without some form of unique functionality, the product is nothing more than just another gadget that some people think is cool. But is simply being "cool" enough to sell products in this day and age?

    No. It really isn't. The marketing concept suggests that needs should be assessed first and then a marketing mix should be developed to meet those needs. And it helps to have some competitive advantages or at least some benefits not found easily in other places. But what can a pair of Google glasses do that my smartphone cannot? With wearable technology becoming more ubiquitous, do we really need a pair of glasses over, say, a smartwatch? Exactly who is this product for and for what purpose? Is it fair for Ms. Harrop to lump this product in with other classic, epic product failures such as the Segway, Crystal Pepsi. the Colgate frozen dinner, the Ford Edsel, Clairol's Touch of Yogurt Shampoo, the Microsoft Zune, Zima, and the McDonald's Arch Deluxe hamburger? among so many others? Is it too soon for Google marketers to throw in the towel, so to speak, or does this product still have a chance? Let's see what Google does about this problem.

  • Alaska and Virgin Score Big On Satisfaction

    Each year, the Wall Street Journal produces its "Airline Scorecard", which is essentially a set of rankings of major passenger jet carriers in key operational areas, from best to worst. Carriers are recording record profits, partly due to the sharp drop in fuel costs, but also due to years-long efforts to reduce overall capacity (by retiring jets), charging for amenities, and cramming more seats into each plane (which increases individual jet capacity). The result has been good news for airline industry shareholders. So which airlines ranked at the top?

    Alaska and Virgin America are the usual suspects, and the two well-run companies did not disappoint in 2014. They scored very well overall across important service categories which are: on-time arrivals, canceled flights, extreme delays, two-hour tarmac delays, mishandled baggage, and total customer complaints. Delta ranked third, The worst? United, American and Frontier. United scored at the bottom in four of six categories. Ironically, the worst airline for baggage has been Southwest (5th overall) which, as we all know, likes to differentiate itself on factors such as caring (and not charging) for your baggage. One would think that the company could do better in light of its creative strategy.

    On the consumer side of things, hopefully passengers will consider these additional factors when they make their purchase decisions, but it seems that most folks are either loyal to a particular carrier due in large part to a rewards program, or they shop solely on price. But there are other factors, like the ones in the WSJ study, that are of equal importance to most consumers, and since the data is widely available, it would make quite a bit of sense for consumers to take heed. Enjoyment of a vacation or toleration of a business trip may depend on it!

  • What Will Aging Millennials Want?

    There is no doubt that the Millennial/Gen Y generation, consisting of those born in the 1980's and 1990's, are closer to their parents than previous generations have been. Not only are they staying at home longer, they are delaying the formation of households, which are a primary driver of economic activity. While this is bad news economically-speaking, there is no doubt that eventually these kids will grow up. In fact, the oldest Millennial turns 35 this year, which means that middle-age is upon the largest and most technologically-driven generation in the history of the planet. But will the preferences of Millennials really be all that much different as those of their parents as they age? This is not to say that newspapers are about to make a comeback any time soon, but it is a question that marketers are struggling with at present. 

    Much has been written about the propensity of this age cohort to live in the city rather than in the suburbs, and many demographers and economists think that this urban preference will persist as these young folks age. As a result, the inner cores of dozens of cities have been revitalized and now brim with urban housing, hip bars and restaurants, and a variety of services that cater to the young adult crowd. But with the next generation being smaller than this one and the massive Millennial generation aging, as we all do, have developers over estimated the demand for city living? Will Millennials move to the 'burbs as their behaviors, attitudes, family status, occupations, incomes, etc., change over time?

    A survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders, an influential trade group, suggested that the preference for city living might already be wearing off. The results found that the majority (66%) want to live in single family homes outside of the urban center, and this was true even for those who currently live in the suburbs. Not exactly clamoring for city life, eh? Furthermore, 81% want three or more bedrooms. So much for living the simple life.

    While in no way does this mean that cities will become abandoned, it does remind us that tastes do change as we get older, and that psychographics (behaviors, attitudes) are influenced by demographics (age, family life cycle stage, income, marital status). And the economic recovery, as slow as it has been, will move an increasing number of young adult  Millennials into their own home ownership-driven households at a more rapid clip. The sheer size of the generation (75 million) does matter. And indeed it appears that the urban revolution we have seen over the past 20 years might be swinging back to the suburbs. The more things change, it sometimes appears, the more things stay the same.

  • Marriott's Moxy

    The hospitality industry is about to get a bit more interesting. Marriott, a market leader, is making a play to address and attract the young and hip crowd by launching its 18th brand, Moxy. A successful Moxy location in Milan, Italy has encouraged the company to strike deals with eight franchise owners in major cities across the U.S., and the result will almost certainly be the biggest test thus far for the "micro-hotel" concept here in America. Indeed other players, such as Pod Hotel, Yotel, and CitizenM, have already enjoyed brief success in the Big Apple and are also looking to expand across the United States.

    The rooms feature a standard size of only 183 square-feet, which is much smaller than the industry standard 250-300 foot size, with concrete flooring and spare, industrial chic furniture. Expect only 160-200 rooms per hotel, no real restaurant, a full bar (of course), and a grab-and-go food and beverage service. The bold move by this fairly conservative, business travel-oriented, 88 year-old brand is almost surely an attempt to address a market that marketers feel has yet to be adequately tapped. Rather than attempt to re-position a current brand, a marketing exercise that's expensive, time-consuming, and can ultimately be rather confusing for consumers, marketers have smartly opted to create a new brand to address what they feel might be a very lucrative market. Competitors will be watching, and some might even try to beat Marriott to the punch. Is this a good positioning move by Marriott or just another weak attempt by one of your grandfather's brands to exploit the hipster trend? Would you want to stay in such a hotel if the price was reasonable? Is smaller truly better for the Millennial generation or will they prefer more traditional hotel formats as they age? Interesting stuff this is!

  • The Natural and Organic Products Juggernaut

    Hartman Group, a market research firm that covers the natural products industry, issued its latest "Organic and Natural" industry report, and didn't exactly tell us anything we didn't already know, but it did reveal that the steady growth enjoyed in the industry over the past 30 years or so shows no signs of abatement. The 2014 report also provided pages upon pages of useful consumer data regarding purchase behavior, and as marketers we know that we must have this sort of data if we are to make informed marketing decisions. Uninformed marketing decisions almost always lead to failure, and so marketing planners tend to accumulate as much information as possible before making marketing mix decisions. Here are a few of the findings in the most recent report:

    *73% of U.S. consumers by Certified Organic products

    *More than 1/3 of Certified Organic consumers use these products at least monthly

    *Almost as many consumers are concerned about how locally produced something is than they are about whether or not it is Certified Organic

    *More consumers are concerned about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) than they are about the organic or natural nature of the products they buy

    *Most consumers are skeptical about "natural" product claims

    Want more data? You have to buy the report, and it probably isn't cheap. We do know that the overall global Health and Wellness industry (of which natural and organic products are a big part) grew by almost 7% in 2014 and has now reached $774 billion. Wow! When I started in the industry 25 years ago, it was a fraction of that size. Times do change as do consumer attitudes, and so the sort of data marketers find in the market research reports generated by Hartman and many other research firms have become crucial to making informed marketing decisions. Obtaining these studies can be expensive, but has become increasingly necessary in this hyper-competitive, globalized marketplace.

  • Catalog Comeback

    By the late part of the last century, many pundits were predicting the end of paper as we know it. Everything will be digital, they said, within just a few decades. Although much of what we do in marketing now involves digital, non-paper formats, the use of tangible marketing communications materials is still very much alive, and in the world of mailed catalogs, it appears that a comeback may be brewing.

    Catalog mailings peaked in 2007 at 19.6 billion mailed, according to the Direct Marketing Association, and declined rapidly from 2008 to 2012. In 2013, however, mailings grew to 11.9 billion, and many experts figure that the number might hover around there for a while. Even JC Penney has resumed printing their massive catalog after a five year hiatus. It turns out that a large percentage of Penney's online sales have been actually generated by catalog shoppers who prefer to order online rather than over the phone. These days when you buy something online from a retailer, there is a good chance you will eventually get a physical catalog in the mail, and perhaps the decline in catalog mailings seen during that brief period was due more to the after effects of the Great Recession, rather than a long-term change in marketing practices. Who knows?

    But the the implications for marketers are obvious. Catalog and online retailing must be integrated seamlessly, and since online ordering is much cheaper to manage than telephone ordering, marketers should absolutely steer those catalog shoppers to order on the web rather than calling a customer service rep. And it is important that we remember that marketers should be wherever consumers want to shop. If they use brochures and catalogs (or customer service phone reps for that matter) to help them make purchase decisions, then it certainly doesn't make sense for a marketer to ignore these buying preferences. Sure it's expensive to mail these things, but just because we have a tool (the Internet) that has made accessing customers one-to-one incredibly inexpensive, that doesn't mean that we can solely rely on this medium when crafting a marketing strategy.

  • Fast Casual Rising, Servers Beware

    Fast Casual. To be sure, the consumer's desire for better quality fast food is a driver in this new industry segment, which grew 10.5% last year in the U.S. versus 6.1% growth for fast food chains. And customization also figures into the consumer's calculus. At Chipotle and other purveyors of assembly line-delivered burritos, one has a seemingly endless array of ingredient combinations from which to choose, and consumers seem to truly delight in this. And the price for a basic offering from most of these chains is competitive with lower quality fast food outlets, with much of their profitability coming from add-ons. But is Chipotle truly fast casual?

    One of the variables that seems to differentiate a fast food model from a fast casual model is the idea that in the latter, the food is delivered to your table. But neither chain does that. So isn't "fast casual" merely high-end fast food? If so, then Taco Bell is considered "fast food" due to lower quality ingredients and lower prices and for no other reason. And so marketers at Qdoba and Chipotle, et al., get to enjoy the much sexier moniker "fast casual", which gives them a distinct competitive advantage, even though they don't deliver the food. I am a bit confused here. I always thought that fast casual meant that you order from the counter and get the food delivered to you by a food runner.

    To make things even more convoluted, some fast casual restaurants are even allowing ordering from the table, further blurring the line between fast casual and full service; but remember, in most cases, consumers only tip when they receive full sit down service. The practice of tipping is now largely tied to a person actually taking an order at the table and delivering the goods, and in most fast casual models the ordering is done at the counter and the food is either provided at the register or delivered to the table. And tipping in these formats is not expected, unlike causal and full service dining formats. So it begs the question, is there really a fast casual segment, or are some fast food marketers simply offering higher quality products and increased opportunities for customization?  And the other question is how long will the current full-service model survive intact in this changing marketplace, and what about the legions of servers who rely on gratuity for their incomes? What changes to the full service model might take place?

  • Cannabis Campaign Educates, Doesn't Alienate

    Many of us remember the DARE campaign ads from the 1980's and 90's that warned us not to fry our brains on drugs such as pot. This approach to what is known as "social marketing" or "de-marketing" was found to be largely ineffective for a number of reasons. Now that medical pot is legal in over 20 states (and in many states just about anyone can get a medical card) and recreational pot is legal in four states plus Washington DC,, there are renewed calls for public service advocacy advertising campaigns to discourage the use of the substance, especially among young people. But we should know from previous experience that preaching, being loose with facts, and trying to scare the audience only goes so far, especially among skeptical and rebellion-prone adolescents who have ready access to information.

    One has to admit that those anti-meth ads are scary and preachy and seem to be effective, but hey, it's meth! We don't need that much convincing that meth is very dangerous, do we? And how effective has that campaign really been? Where is the data? Pot isn't meth obviously, and since the substance has proven medicinal value and is permissible in so many places, messaging in a social marketing campaign can be tricky.

    So, early last year, the state of Colorado rolled out an ill-fated "Don't Be A Lab Rat" campaign which featured giant cages placed on K-12 campuses among other gimmicks. The jury is probably still out on the effectiveness of that effort, but early feedback about the creative strategy and tactics has been unkind. The latest campaign is targeted more toward adult residents and visitors, and so does not have much of an emotional appeal, as previous campaigns have had. This campaign, called "Good to Know" and rolled out a few days ago, is almost entirely rational/informational in its creative appeal, with a helping of folksy humor. Colorado's advertising and PR effort is the first state public education campaign to be funded by the tax money generated from recreational sales, and this time marketers have smartly chosen not to lecture.

    The ads do not have deeply serious voice-overs,  ominous music, and scary images. Rather the creative tactics feature bright colors and catchy phrases such as "For those underage. it's not OK. Their brains are still growing, so keep it away". The friendly, folksy voice and what sounds like square dance music comes across as more "neighborly" according to its architects. This effort seems to be very appropriate for the audience, adult residents and visitors, but future efforts will target teens, parents, pregnant women and Spanish-speaking Latinos. Uh oh. This could be trouble. Let's see if Colorado's Department of Public Health and the Environment can keep up the good work.

  • Keurig Making All The Right Moves

    From its acquisition of Green Mountain coffee roasters to its outstanding mix of products, it is no small wonder that Keurig certainly has its fans. But the maker of coffee and brewing machines knows that the world of hot beverages has its limitations, and so marketers don't want to dilute the brand by moving too far outside its range of competencies and thus confusing customers about what the brand really represents. This is why Tide hasn't moved beyond its positioning as the leading cleaner of clothes and remover of stains. Why not introduce floor cleaners or an all-purpose cleaner? Because Tide has spent millions over decades telling folks what the brand represents, and that's cleaning your clothes. It might be a good idea for Tide to move beyond fabrics and into other cleaning categories, but would it make much sense for them to develop a toothpaste or a body wash? So with the announcement that in September Keurig will enter the home carbonation machine category and compete directly with market leader Soda Stream, eyebrows have been raised. Are at-home soda machines too far outside what the Keurig brand represents?

    It depends on how marketers wish to define the brand. If Keurig is all about making high quality beverages at home (and I think it should be) rather than a narrower focus on just hot beverages, then this move is right on point. Many do-it-yourself kitchen products from ice cream makers to bread bakers have been very successful in the past. And Keurig has managed to do what Soda Stream could not accomplish, as it has signed Coca Cola and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, two of the top three soda companies, to deals that will allow consumers to make these branded beverages at home. Wow!Yes, the market for fizzy beverages has been declining for some time. But even a declining category can offer opportunities for savvy marketers that offer products people really want. Soda Stream has enjoyed success without the help of popular brands, and maybe the company can convince Pepsi to come aboard so it can better compete. But at Keurig it seems that marketers continue to make all the right moves.

  • Petco Dumps Some China Suppliers

    The San Diego-based pet products retailer probably isn't dumping all of its Chinese product suppliers, at least not yet, but the FDA investigation into "treats" that have sickened and killed several thousands of pets has forced the company's hand in the name of brand reputation. As a result, Petco has removed all Chinese made dog and cat treats from its website and brick-and-mortar stores citing uncertainty about product safety.

    But wait a minute, you say. Isn't product safety the job of the Food and Drug Administration? Why hasn't there been a recall? You ask too many questions. Federal agencies are notoriously slow to act, and when they finally do, the industry in question has often "self-regulated" the problem away. The Petco decision is probably a good example of this in action.  FDA tests have not confirmed any link between the illnesses and the products, but it is unclear just what the agency has done so far in its investigation. And so Petco has decided to make a move itself and will remove the goods from its 1,300 stores. The company now says that all its treats are made in such places as the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and the good old U.S. That is, countries that have "first-world" manufacturing standards. 

    While yet another blow to China in terms of its image as a trustworthy supply chain partner, this situation emphasizes the importance of retailers being willing to make bold decisions even though government hasn't yet made a move. Even if ultimately there is no connection found, which does seem highly unlikely, hasn't the damage been done to the Chinese brands, and shouldn't Petco will do its best to insure that any damage done to the its own reputation is minimized?

  • LA Waits For Franchise

    It is hard to believe that two storied NFL franchises, the Rams and Raiders, left LA for more lucrative pastures back in 1995, and for a full 20 years, a viable market with millions of fans has been neglected. Well, it hasn't been completely neglected since lots of NFL fans in the LA-area root for other teams, play fantasy football, or are overall sport "appreciators", so they still spend money and consume the sport, But doesn't it seem ridiculous that the league, concerned with profits, has ignored such a large market?

    Remember that the league is actually a not-for-profit association and it is the franchises themselves that are for-profit entities, but I don't think that the usual lack of high-level business acumen present in most not-for-profit organizations or their lack of bottom-line orientation are the primary reasons for this. It just takes forever to get stuff done in the NFL as a 3/4th's majority must approve any relocation.

    Both of the aformentioned franchises have indicated a willingness, if not desire, to return to their former digs, but much of this involves big real estate transactions and community ballot issues. Three stadium possibilities remain most likely. The least likely involves the City of Industry, an unattractive, unsafe area somewhat near downtown that promises lots of parking but not much else. The second option, a stadium proposed by Staples center owner, billionaire and sports business mogul Phil Anshutz, would connect the existing Staples Center with a new stadium and convention center. This property is right downtown and the existing infrastructure could handle another large facility. Farmer's Insurance has already indicated that it would pay to be the venue naming sponsor. But Phil has no NFL team, and the City of Industry option doesn't involve an existing team either (the league has indicated that will not approve a new expansion team).

    The most likely scenario involves St. Louis Rams owner, billionaire, and sports business mogul Stan Kroenke who has already purchased property near the Fabulous Forum, where the Kings and Lakers used to play, and has put together a proposed real estate deal with the recently-closed Hollywood Park racetrack landowners who happen to be right next door. Approval of a complex would require a vote by the good people of Inglewood, a suburb of LA located a couple of miles from LAX and the 405 freeway viaduct. This location isn't far from the beach, and Stan hasn't received the deal he wanted for a new stadium in St. Louis. Sounds like the perfect storm to me, but I used to be a Rams fan and I so desperately want them to return to their 50-year home.  Regardless of which deal gets done, the seemly indestructible NFL brand is poised for even more growth beyond LA as it continues to  expand its European footprint. The LA deal will happen to somebody's favorite team eventually, however, and any team can immediately move there and play a few years in the LA Coliseum (home of the USC Trojans) or the Rose Bowl (home of the UCLA Bruins) while waiting for its own palace to be constructed. But whatever does happen, it won't be happening for a few more years.

  • Sling To Bring In Millennials

    In what some industry observers have described as a "very big deal", Dish Network has unveiled a $20 per month package of 12 live TV channels (complete with commercials) delivered via app and Internet connection. The new service, called Sling TV, is expected to appeal to viewers who have left pay TV as well as those who have never paid for it at all, many of whom are in the financially-challenged Millennial age cohort.

    The basic plan includes ESPN, Disney, CNN, Cartoon Network and others, but noticeably absent are major networks which tend to charge big bucks and contribute greatly to the fact that the average pay TV bill is just under $70 per month these days. In the spirit of consumer choice, Dish offers multiple tiers of additional channels (at additional costs) to those who want more options. Why is this a game changer?

    Eyeballs, the body part that advertisers covet the most, have been increasingly migrating onto the internet for video entertainment, while those of us who still pay for TV have been left with dozens of channels we don't want (the dreaded "bundles") and skyrocketing bills. However, in return for having to pay for three ION television stations they don't want among many others, these high rolling consumers have also been getting desirable content that frugal consumers cannot obtain for free over the internet. Dish, like Sony before it, is among the first of many to deliver what consumers really want -- a good selection channels at a reasonable price that they can watch on multiple devices. Competitors will follow suit. The reality of paying for what you want to watch across multiple devices was promised by the experts long ago, and it seems that it is finally coming to fruition. Consumers rejoice!

  • Forbes Crossing Journalistic Line?

    Forbes Magazine, a mainstay in the world of business publications, has probably crossed an important line. Obviously the purpose of a magazine is to entertain and inform readers while generating revenue through advertisements and to some degree subscriptions. This model has been around for quite some time now and manages to persist even in the face of massive amounts of ad dollars migrating to online formats. In other words there are still quite a few print publications out there. But it looks like Forbes, with its recent announcement that it will accept even more advertiser-produced content in return for cash, is either desperate for cash flow or no longer cares much about journalistic integrity. Why might this be so?

    In the world of journalism there is a "separation of church and state" of sorts. That is, editors don't want the publisher (who manages the sales force) to influence the content of the publication so that the content can maintain a level of editorial integrity. So it seems obvious to make efforts to keep 'em separated. If they do not, advertisers can and will easily influence what is written in the magazine, especially if the publisher has too much power over the editor. So when Forbes announced that it will generate a full 30% of its ad revenue this year through a 4 year-old program called BrandVoice, ethics enthusiasts took note.

    Undaunted by criticism, indeed it seems that Forbes is betting that the industry has changed and that this separation of editorial and advertising no longer matters, especially with regard to its online version of the magazine. In 2014, 52 different advertisers posted content on Forbes.com that looked and felt like content produced by the media firm's reporters and editors. This year Forbes will up the ante. And if advertisers are producing content then Forbes doesn't have to pay for it. Indeed the advertisers will write stuff for free. Is this a good thing? Will readers begin to question the objectivity of what they read? Is this the shape of things to come?

    No. Yes. And I hope not. Forbes will probably come to regret this program, as serious business readers turn to other, more objective sources of information. Although the program has been around for a little while, the magazine could turn into nothing more than a 100-page infomercial and lose whatever journalistic integrity it still has left. Have the readers noticed? Do they care? The company's position is that "content is content". I couldn't disagree more. This just feeds into the perception that what is online is often garbage from a journalistic perspective, but the practice is becoming so common that it has a name, "content marketing".

    Indeed, publishers desperate for ad dollars must do something or they will surely perish, but diluting the integrity of the service offering probably isn't the best course of action. At the very least, in the name of ethics and transparency Forbes should make better efforts to more clearly differentiate true editorial from that generated by advertisers.