• Sugar Losing Sweetness: Part Two

    Continued From Part One

    Sugar isn't just used as a sweetener. In some chocolate products, for example, it is used to give the finished product a smoother texture. If you remove sugar from ice cream, as another example, the result is a product that is very, very hard. Sugar also acts as a preservative, enhancing shelf stability. Indeed food chemists must come up with a number of substitute ingredients to compensate for the lack of sugar. But it does look like sugar, for the most part, is on the outs, and so it is up to product developers to figure out ways to cope with this new market reality. So what's the future hold?

    Image result for sugar substitutes

    Many researchers believe that low and zero-calorie solutions are more likely to be found in nature rather than in a laboratory, and of course the growth of natural products in general over the past several decades supports this assertion. Increasingly, consumers are shunning artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, and so that option is fraught with challenges of its own. But the natural sweeteners that are currently on the market have problems of their own, a bitter aftertaste being among them. The race is on. And you can bet that necessity is the mother of invention, so hopefully several new options will emerge in the near future as consumer attitudes drive the need for product developers to change what they have been doing. The industry is betting billions that it can find solutions, and "The Marketing Concept" lives on!

    Discussion: Can you think of any other industries undergoing a shift such as this one? What are some of the similarities and differences between the two situations?

  • Sugar Losing Sweetness: Part One

    The obesity epidemic remains a major problem in America as well as in other wealthy nations, and concern among consumers and lawmakers alike is driving food chemists to find alternative sweeteners that still satisfy our need for things that are "sweet". Surely this isn't new as we are all familiar with the ingredients in diet drinks, but continued concern about those artificial sweeteners has branded products makers looking to find "substitutes" at a rate never seen before. Consider the following two points of data from a recent Nielsen study:

    *22% of Americans restrict sugar intake

    *52% of Americans avoid artificial sweeteners

    Image result for problems with sugar

    The writing is on the wall, and yet there are 22,000 food/beverage products that contain high fructose corn syrup (an ingredient that actually has over 200 names) currently on the market. Sales of products with natural and/or low glycerin sweeteners are up 19%, and we know that the sales growth of products without artificial ingredients has outpaced those that contain artificial ingredients for many years. The meteoric rise of natural and organic products are a testament to this. Meanwhile, regulators are requiring more disclosure of added sugar, with pending regulation that is transforming the industry.

    Part Two To Follow

    Discussion: Are you watching your intake of sugar? Why or why not? Do you read labels? Are Millennial (17-37) attitudes towards sugar and artificial ingredients driving the market?

  • Target Remodels, Thinks Small

    As brick-and-mortar retailers reduce their respective footprints across the nation, it is important to remember that despite the rapid rise of e-commerce, these major retailers will always be building new stores even as they close old and under-performing locations. And after years of stores getting larger and larger, there is increasing evidence that a new "smaller is better" paradigm might be emerging.

    Image result for target small stores

    Despite the failure of Wal-Mart's smaller-format "Neighborhood Market" model, Target is looking to add more small format stores across the United States in the coming decade. Faced with saturation in suburban and rural markets and as they busily remodel existing superstores, Target marketers have decided that growth opportunities likely exist in adding smaller stores in urban areas.

    Image result for target small stores

    The company's CEO has said that the company is making "big commitments" to improving existing stores and is also expanding its digital capabilities (as most retailers are being forced to do). He has even boasted that the company remodels while competitors "across the street" close their doors. Indeed Target intends to remodel over 1,000 locations over the next three years, and will roll out lots more 50,000 square-foot stores, which are far smaller than the average Target 145,000 square foot locations. Surely these will be bale to fit in all kinds of handy urban locations. Target does seemed poised for a bright future as it also continues to upgrade its product mix, especially signature apparel lines. Attracting Millennials and upgrading the digital experience are two keys to success. As so many retailers struggle, it's nice to see one doing so well.

    Discussion: Does Target appeal to you? Why or why not? What can the brand to to have more Millennial appeal?

  • The Nielsen Haters

    The Nielsen Ratings have been a fact of life in advertising for many decades. This periodic sampling of TV viewers across the U.S. is the primary factor in how prices are set in the advertising industry since it reflects how many people are watching a particular program and thus the advertising that supports it. But what if the "ratings", almost as old as television itself, don't really accurately reflect the reality of content viewership in today's media environment? That's where the "hating" comes in.

    Image result for nielsen ratings

    Like most marketing research, the ratings are based on a sampling of the TV-viewing population, and many industry observers believe that ratings are dropping in general partly because the people at Nielsen have been slow to keep up with the times. Recent attempts by Nielsen to measure "non-traditional" viewing, namely co-viewing, out-of-home and digital users, has been met with much criticism. And as a result, NBC recently decided to stop exclusively relying on Nielsen because the ratings service did not measure out-of-home viewing.

    Image result for nielsen ratings

    As TV ratings continue to fall across the board it is clear that Nielsen and other far less important ratings services must do more to measure non-traditional viewing. There are billions of dollars at stake, and an antiquated ratings system with a monopoly cannot serve the industry adequately in this day and age. Video viewing now exists across many devices, especially among the coveted under-30 demographic, but it is still video viewing. The definition of TV has changed. Yes, ads are reaching these consumers, and the industry revenue model demands that viewers be counted. Clearly Nielsen has to get better at what it does, and it would be nice to see a significant competing ratings service emerge to lubricate the wheels of progress. Let's see what happens.

    Discussion:  Do you think that Nielsen's monopolistic position affects it's desire to keep up with the times? What can networks do to improve a situation that only gets worse by the day?

  • Costco's Catastrophe Kits

    It often pays to address a niche market, which could be defined as a relatively small market that features few if any competitors. If you have a unique enough good or service and the market is large enough to reach and serve profitably, niche marketing pays. As a case in point, for those seeking to survive a major disaster, Costco is now offering a 1-year emergency kit made up of nearly 100 one-gallon cans comprising 6,200 servings of food. The whole package runs $999.99 and includes shipping, and the product will last up to 25 years. Who would buy such a thing?

    Image result for survivalists

    Well,  the "survivalist" market segment of U.S. consumers might not be a very large one, but a niche it is. The product should do rather well, especially in more remote geographic areas of the country. But what about short term-disasters? A smart marketer might not see the opportunity in this product category in such a "niche" fashion and might have even better ideas for this category. Indeed much smaller kits with shorter shelf lives are already being sold at Wal-Mart as well as Costco, and such products (large and small) would obviously be very useful during natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and other incidents where people could be cut off from supply routes for extended periods of time. Such products have almost universal application, and, with a population becoming increasingly worried about disasters, one would expect that this category could become very large indeed.

    Discussion: Would you buy such a kit? Why or why not? Can you think of any other new products that might meet a consumer's need for sustenance during an emergency?

  • Futbol on Fox

    The U.S. soccer team recently suffered a remarkable defeat at the hands of a tiny island nation off the coast of Venezuela and consequently will miss its first World Cup since 1986. Fans of U.S. men's soccer, and there are many of these, will have to go without seeing the U.S. in action for a while, but perhaps the biggest loser in this whole thing.might be Fox Sports. After all the network paid $200 million for the U.S. English-language rights to broadcast next year's World Cup, and made a bet that viewership for the tournament would continue to achieve great growth as it did in 2010 and to a lesser but still significant degree in 2014.

    Image result for us soccer loss trinidad tobago

    The growth of soccer in the U.S. has been slow and steady over the decades, and there is evidence (if English Premier League ratings are any indicator) that a growing number of Americans are willing to watch high quality action even if it happens during the early morning hours of the weekend. And so paying for World Cup rights appeared to be a no-brainer for Fox Sports. The trouble is that now that the U.S. is out, there are going to be far fewer people tuning in. This isn't good news for Fox Sports or its usual advertisers who were also expecting a larger audience.

    Image result for world cup soccer

    The U.S. team's four matches in the 2014 World Cup were among the top five most-watched matches, averaging 14.3 million viewers in the U.S. versus 3.8 for other contests. Uh oh. Fox only owns the U.S. rights, and English language ones at that. It's fair to say that marketers won't be bale to sell ads as easily or for as much money if the audience is anticipated to be low. Advertisers will pay less to reach fewer viewers. ESPN brought in over $500 million in advertising during the last Cup and some advertisers ponied up as much as $30 million each on U.S. game ads. Fox Sports is unlikely to come close to that number and could lose its shirt on this deal, but perhaps it could break even or make a bit of cash on its $200 million broadcasting rights investment if marketers get creative with their ad inventory.

    Image result for 2018 world cup soccer sponsors

    It's a 90 minute game with a long halftime and there are numerous opportunities to place ads during the broadcast, and many possibilities to be creative on what the network can offer advertisers. In addition, event sponsors will want to place ads to "activate" and "leverage" their sponsorships (as they know they must do) to optimize their sponsorship objectives. And there are lots of sponsors. One thing is for certain, marketers will have to try harder without the American team and many of their fans in the mix.

    Discussion: Can you think of any creative strategies that marketers at Fox Sports could employ to attract advertisers? 

  • The Book Is Back

    The failure of e-books to win enough American hearts and minds means that the creative destruction of the book industry may be coming to a close. Larger bookstores have already consolidated and big chains have closed down as Amazon rapidly grabbed its market share. In fact the e-books, a product category that only emerged recently with the advent of such clever devices as the Kindle and the Nook, has seen revenues fall by more than 15% annually since 2015. That's might be hard to believe, but I have been surprised by the lack of e-textbook adoption among my students over the past few years. I guess it just hasn't caught on. It is interesting to note that the tablet category, which largely replaced those devices when Apple introduced the iPad, is also already in decline. The market moves fast these days, which is exciting for a young marketer.

    Image result for print books

    So does that mean traditional books are on the rise again? We know from previous KnowNOW! Marketing posts that independent bookstores are now doing rather well. As long as the location is right and the marketer understands the demographics and psychographics of the local market, the proper mix of new and used books, coffee, sometimes wine, and good old-fashioned customer service can result in some outstanding outcomes.

    Image result for independent book stores

    the answer is a surprising "yes". Print books themselves are seeing some healthy revenue growth at around 5% annually for both 2015 and 2016, which is great news for independent booksellers, publishers, authors, editors, bookmakers, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and for anyone who wants to break into the business. Five percent growth in a large industry means that there is opportunity. And demand for goods and services all the way up the supply chain is derived from the consumer, so when consumers want more of something, the whole chain grows and flourishes. Indeed many companies are reinvesting in print books at a rapid clip and some in the industry are working on building more effective pipelines to bring more authors to more consumers. And so it looks like the book may be back, at least for now.

    Discussion: Do you own a tablet or e-reader? What percentage of books that you read are e-books? Do you think that e-books might eventually become more popular? Why or why not?

  • Holiday Freeze for Brick and Mortar

    The consumer shift from brick-and-mortar buying towards e-commerce buying has been in full force for almost two decades now, and the 2017 holiday shopping season won't be any different. Indeed, Retailer brands that focus on physical locations have had what can only be described as a brutal year and their stock prices (company values) have been hammered by investors due to their overall poor performance. Indeed, we should all rejoice in the successes of Wal-Mart and Best Buy with regard to the online space now that Amazon controls about 60% of all online purchases and is now making a major foray into brick-and-mortar. Competition is always a good thing, and there are many concerns that Amazon might control a bit too much of the retail sector at this point in time. Such perceptions often result in regulatory scrutiny. Stay tuned for that.

    Image result for e-commerce

    And so it is Amazon that will largely benefit from the revenue growth that analysts expect this holiday season. Macy's, Target, Kohl's, and Nordstrom are all sucking wind, and it seems that the entire brick-and-mortar sector is being buoyed by Wal-Mart, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and a handful of successful specialty retailers. Holiday sales are expected to rise about 4% from last year, modest growth to be sure, and almost all of this growth is expected to be online. And it is starting to look like some retailers will no longer be around come Spring.

    Discussion:  Young consumers are coveted by most marketers. What percentage of goods and services do you buy online versus in a traditional store? Compare your attitudes with those of your peers. What conclusions can you draw about the future of retailing from your anecdotal evidence?

  • Dove Pulls Offensive Ad

    My, how times have changed. An advertisement that was meant to show how Dove's body wash is for everyone and a celebration of diversity was slammed on social media, resulting in marketers discontinuing the ad entirely. The ad portrayed a woman morphing into different ethnicities as she pulls her shirt over her head, which 15 years ago would have been received as a clever nod to diversity, but in 2017 has inflamed portions of the Internet.

    Image result for brands and politics

    Indeed these opinions are statistical outliers, but this sort of controversy is something that every brand wants to steer clear of, and Dove has unwittingly found itself right in the middle of the fray. Memes have even appeared lampooning the ad, and a senator has even used the concept to show President Trump morphing into Adolph Hitler. Yep. An elected senator. That's how bad the national vitriol has become, and how dangerous it is for a brand to address it. What some people found offensive about the ad is totally beyond some folks, but maybe making such a statement might also be offensive to these same people. Well, count me out. Marketing really shouldn't be offensive. So what is a marketer to do?

    Image result for dove ad

    Our advice here at KnowNOW! Marketing has always been the same, and now it applies double. Stay away from targeting or themes based on ethnicity. Just don't do it. And this goes for all social issues that have become politicized. Stay away from all of it. There is zero advantage in taking stands on controversial issues in marketing communications, especially considering that it is a marketers job to sell products, and not to play politics. Unless the communication is in fact highly targeted and placed in a medium where only folks who feel a certain way will see it, don't implement such a creative strategy. It is so easy to be accused of stereotyping. These issues are becoming difficult to talk about even in a classroom setting where academic freedom insures that ideas can and should be heard and exchanged. Raising any issues that could be misconstrued is becoming too dangerous in almost every setting, let alone in paid marketing communications. And in our opinion, most ads that are ethnically-themed (and gender-themed for that matter) tend to be rather cheesy and gratuitous in the first place, so why bother doing it in the first place? 

    Image result for mcdonalds ethnic asian ads

    The point here is that no matter how they feel about politics, these days marketers need to stay as far away from controversial issues as possible. But what is interesting here is that so many major branded product marketers continue to make attempts to address divisive issues in their marketing efforts despite the risks that have become glaringly obvious now that we are two decades into the 21st century. There are obviously some deep-seated social issues that America must face, and we are living in a time when it seems that just about anything can be twisted and misconstrued. Smart marketers know that to protect their brands, they just need to stay neutral.

    Discussion: Did you find the Dove ad offensive? Why or why not? Do you agree with the writer's advice in this post? Why or why not?

  • Tesla Not Good at Production, Promises

    They make pretty cool cars, and that Elon Musk is one heck of a marketer, but the fact of the matter is that Tesla has been an unprofitable maker of very expensive electric cars for well over a decade, and has failed to meet almost every production deadline in its history. Various government incentives make the vehicles far cheaper than they would otherwise be, which means that for all practical purposes, the company would be insolvent if left to market forces.

    Image result for electric car government incentives

    But governments simply love electric cars even if the vast majority of consumers do not, but Tesla has nevertheless managed to gain a fairly good-sized following of late, especially after marketers announced the introduction of a lower-priced model, which garnered lots of pre-orders. The problem is that the company has a problem with delivering on its promises, and this time is no exception. 

    Image result for tesla cars

    Indeed the company has made only a fraction of the promised Model 3's that are expected to satisfy hundreds of thousands of customers, which certainly surprises no one here at KnowNOW! Marketing Headquarters, longtime critics of Mr. Musk and his largely outsized ideas, but this sort of thing should start to concern the folks who are expecting actual results, namely shareholders and customers.

    Image result for tesla memes

    Reports that Tesla is producing cars by hand rather than on production lines have shed light on the issue. Mr. Musk warned his acolytes several months ago that they were entering "production hell", but at the rate of three cars per day, it is highly unlikely that Tesla will satisfy even a fraction of the promise it has made to its fans. But these fans have historically been a forgiving bunch, and remind us at Headquarters of the overwhelming zeal Apple "fanboys" of yesteryear once had for Apple products they considered to be "innovative". Well, that's kind of over, although pockets of resistance remain. But at least Apple delivers on its promises, and every student of marketing learns that it's best to under-promise and over-deliver, preferring  to delight the consumer rather than disappoint. Tesla? Not so much. But it does appear that rising demand for electric vehicles in the future will largely be driven by the legal and regulatory environment as governments large and small continue to subsidize this industry that still comprises less than 1% of the car market. 

    Discussion: Why is it important is it for marketers to under-promise and over-deliver? If Tesla often fails to deliver on its promises, then why is the brand so well-regarded by so many consumers and almost everyone in the media? In light of the tax subsidies available for electric vehicles, what is government's role in driving demand for a product category?

  • The Need for Nuggets

    Is there really a need in the marketplace for more chicken nuggets? That's the important product question marketers at both Wendy's and Burger King think they have already answered, but interestingly, the conclusions the two have drawn aren't the same.

    Image result for burger king and wendys

    Back in March, Ohio-based Wendy's wrote an open letter that said it's spicy nuggets product wasn't doing very well overall and, as a result, the company would only sell them in the seven cities where they were popular. Despite this, Canada-based Burger King has decided to introduce essentially the same product to essentially the same market. Why? The marketers at Restaurant Brands International headquarters have said that a review of social media chatter suggests that there is still a healthy demand for spicy nuggets and consequently went into the Research and Development stage about four months ago.. Burger King President Alex Macedo said, "It's all over Twitter and Facebook. People miss spicy nuggets."

    Image result for spicy nuggets

    But do they really? This might be a good time to remind students and practitioners of the marketing arts that what is seen on social media does not really constitute what scientists consider to be "marketing research", and so any analysis should be conducted very carefully and any interpretation of this largely qualitative "data" should be strictly "directional" in nature. In fact much of what we see on social media consists of very happy or very unhappy people, or simply people with lots of free time on their hands. In other words, commentary on social media is probably not representative of the norm. And statisticians don't like outliers. Monitoring social media is important, but we here at KnowNOW! Marketing headquarters would like to know if the Burger King conducted any "real" marketing research throughout the kingdom. You know, the kind with validity and reliability, and randomized sampling. We hope that they did. Perhaps truly assessing the presence of a need scientifically is something we should expect from one of the top fast food brands in the world prior to introducing a new product on a large scale. It sure would be a shame if such an experienced company made such a rookie mistake.

    Discussion:  Is assessing a need in the market more than just scanning social media? Do you think that social media has a place in the new product development process? If so, provide some examples.

  • Making Lidl Progress

    There was much fanfare when the German grocery giant entered the U.S. market, opening a headquarters in Virginia and challenging long-held turf in that state, Georgia, Delaware, and the Carolinas. The plan is to gain a nice following and expand outward from there. Indeed, Lidl enjoyed an initial burst of customers as it introduced its successful small-format, discount pricing model that features a limited selection of inexpensive, store-brand goods. Lidl siphoned off 11% of customers in the markets it entered during its first few months, but the fun didn't last very long at all.

    Image result for lidl usa

    Lidl failed to keep those customers, and the company should be very, very worried. Wal-Mart and Kroeger have already regained their respective market shares suggesting that the consumers that did visit the stores were not happy enough to return. In other words, the success achieved in international markets (namely Europe) might not translate into success in the U.S.

    Image result for lidl usa

    Marketers will need to begin conducting marketing research to see what's going on. Perhaps consumers don't like the selection, or the brands themselves, or maybe something is wrong with the store layout or aesthetics. There are many possibilities, and the key is to do some homework. And do it soon. This is why it can be a good idea to enter an unfamiliar market slowly, rather than en mass, so that marketers can adjust the business model before too much has been invested in a flawed effort. Lidl has been smart in this respect, but it looks like marketers have indeed failed in some major way. Luckily the company ha slots of cash. Now they just have to find out what they missed.

    Discussion:  What marketing research techniques would you recommend Lidl marketers employ, and what information would you want to get from the market if you were conducting the research?

  • Aurora Organic: Authenticated

    When a brand is marketed as Certified Organic it must adhere to the tenants of the National Organic Program, a set of stringent requirements that affirm a product's "organic-ness". This program is regulated by the USDA and each organic producer is affirmed by ongoing third-party certification. But sometimes that certification is a bit lax, and some producers have been known to take certain liberties with regard to a business model that, quite frankly, involves very high costs. Luckily, these producers can charge a premium that trickles all the way down the supply chain to the consumer, who is willing to pay a premium for an organic product.

    Image result for organi cconsumers

    Aurora Organic Dairy has been criticized since its inception for the crime of being "too big" to be truly organic, and a Washington Post story published last year asserted that it had uncovered some potential violations. As a result, the USDA dutifully performed an investigation and found the "mega-dairy" to be in compliance after all. Smaller producers cried foul, some even alleging that large producers like Aurora Organic are somehow colluding with the Organic Trade Association, a non-profit trade group that represents the industry. Smaller producers don't like the fact that a dairy that is large enough to supply the likes of Wal-Mart, Costco and Target can adhere to standards that many believe were really intended for smaller operations. And so many of them have become a bit unhinged. I watched it happen.

    Image result for organic consumers memes

    But the National Organic Program has been a huge success over its 25 year history, with revenues through the roof, increasing supply, widening distribution channels, and prices falling to what many consider to be reasonable levels. In other words, most Americans now have access to organic products, and it is the larger players throughout the supply chain that have made this happen. Small companies, however well-intentioned, are notoriously unable to keep up with the myriad demands of being a major member of a supply chain. That's the problem with being small.

    Image result for big is better

    It's the large brands that meet most of America's demand for organic products. But don't expect this simple truth to stop various industry activists, most of whom own for-profit companies, from protesting against those that are larger and more powerful than they. They have been doing it for years. Larger companies, especially those who come from mainstream sectors, in the natural and organic products industry have always been bullied by organized smaller industry insiders, a phenomenon I have personally witnessed over a 25 year career in the industry.  In fact, the vindication of Aurora Organic might anger the "little guy", but it nevertheless is a good thing for the industry and Americans as a whole. It would be refreshing if more organic industry leaders, instead of being threatened by the success of competitors, recall the mantra that the whole point of the organic movement is to eventually overtake conventional agriculture because it's supposed to be better for people and the environment. And this just isn't possible without big organic companies making big organic things happen.

  • New Owner, Old Prices?

    Much has been written of late about the lack of progress Whole Foods has made thus far in its efforts to lower prices, but this writing has been penned primarily by journalists rather than professional marketers, the latter of whom must understand that these things take time.

    Image result for take your time

    Five weeks is not enough time for a large company to alter a marketing strategy, especially one that involves business-to-business buying on a national level. Amazon was able to lower prices immediately on mostly high profile, high volume goods because it wanted to generate publicity and a larger company can operate with thinner profit margins; but without a major change in how Whole Foods buys what it stocks on its shelves, a one percent reduction is about all it can afford. In fact, the company opted to raise prices on some lower volume goods. What can we expect in the future?

    Image result for whole foods business model

    Right now Whole Foods' business model is inefficient, and it takes a while for one company (Amazon) to digest another (Whole Foods) after acquisition. Amazon will use its massive retail presence and command of supply chains to reduce prices in much the same way that Wal-Mart has been able to do over the years. Channel captains enjoy close relationships with their vendors, are able to negotiate more favorable prices, are great at merchandising and category management, and often buy in large volumes over a long period of time, all of which results in a more efficient supply chain overall and lower costs.

    Image result for whole foods business model

    Add Amazon's obvious e-commerce advantages into the equation and overall, we could see about a 10% reduction in retail prices over the next few years at Whole Foods Markets. And since prices at Whole Foods have historically been about 15% higher than traditional grocery prices, the brand can still enjoy a bit of a premium position in the market, albeit not one as extreme as the "Whole Paycheck" image it has managed to cultivate. But these things do take time and Whole Foods doesn't want to dilute its brand equity by duplicating the low-price model of Sprouts. I would favor a slow, steady reduction in prices. Let's see what happens.

  • Only Human

    Celebrities are only human, and humans make mistakes. Sometimes we forget that, and when marketers use celebrities such as athletes as brand endorsers, the errors that humans have a propensity to make can exact fairly large consequences. This is true for both the human as well as the brand. Using celebrities in marketing can be risky, especially in the Age of Twitter. Everything a famous person might say or do these days is subject to an unprecedented level of scrutiny, and this new reality is becoming increasingly troublesome for marketers who prefer to use endorsers to cut through the marketing clutter.

    Image result for newton celebrity endorsements

    Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback who has been no stranger to controversy over his career, recently insulted a female reporter by suggesting in a condescending manner that it was "funny" that a female should be asking about pass routes. The female sports reporter did not find it funny at all, and neither did yogurt giant Dannon which did not wait for the obligatory apology and cut endorsement ties with Newton immediately.

    Image result for oikos cam newton

    In fact, the company seemed to take more offense than the reporter did, and at first blush it seemed to me that Dannon overreacted. But when thinking about all of the recent controversy stirred up by the anthem protests, it's hard to blame a major brand for being a bit "gun shy". This sort of thing is beginning to happen with much greater frequency. These are touchy times, and a contemporary marketer might even reconsider any plans to use celebrity endorsers in this new environment that almost invites problems. In the old days, the negative publicity created by what a person did and said didn't travel quite as far and wide as it does now. And a brand doesn't want to be associated with any controversy created by the actions of a celebrity endorser. So why not create a "spokescharacter" instead?

    Image result for subway jared

    Well, Jared from Subway taught us that even non-celebrity spokespeople (he wasn't a celebrity before Subway made him one) can create problems for a brand.Using a voice behind an animated character like Chester the Cheetah (Cheetos) and the Geico gecko does appear to be the least risky proposition, but celebrity endorsements have been found to be rather effective in advertising. This is why they are used so often. But perhaps marketers could take a bit more care in selecting the endorsers they use, who are primarily chosen and compensated based on one or more awareness and "like-ability" scores. Maybe the folks who develop these scores can start to factor in the "risk" of using a particular endorser based on age, occupation, income, level of consumer awareness, past behavior, marital status, gender, and other relevant risk factors a marketer might want to consider before attaching his/her brand to a famous human being. These days like-ability doesn't seem to be enough. It's just an idea, but it is one whose time has probably come. After all, celebrity endorsers are only human.

  • FDA Says, "Hold The Love"

    One of the tasks of the Food and Drug Administration is to regulate what goes into the products we buy, well, at least the products that we put in and on our bodies. When it comes to foods, the FDA manages a list of acceptable ingredients that it considers to be GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe and updates that list from time to time. It's all pretty simple unless you are selling dietary/nutritional supplements, which is a whole different set of regulations altogether. But when a tiny granola company based in Massachusetts began insisting that its products contain "love", the regulatory agency took exception. Is this ridiculous?

    Image result for love ingredient

    Obviously the inclusion of love as an ingredient is a marketing tactic used by marketers at Nashoba Brook Bakery, an allusion as to how much the bakers care about what they do. But don't expect the FDA to care a lick about that. It's the agency's job to make sure that what a company says is in the product is actually in the product. And apparently love is not only difficult to quantify, but its inclusion on a product label is also fodder for an FDA warning letter.

    Image result for warning letter

    The FDA also cited numerous other code violations at the facility that included mislabeled products, sanitary violations, as well as a 1-inch long "crawling insect" seen in the pastry area. Indeed, the FDA shows no love when it comes to consumer safety and doesn't want marketers to take liberties when it comes to telling consumers what is and what isn't in their products. Until love becomes a GRAS ingredient, marketers would do well to just leave it out entirely.

  • A Gorilla of a Case

    Trademarks are important to marketers since they can be tremendous branding tools, and sometimes this intellectual property must be defended against marketers that aren't even competitors. Imagine how long it would take Nike to call it's legal team if someone discovered that another company was using its coveted "swoosh" or the name "Nike", even if it was a vegetarian restaurant. This stuff is worth defending! And so it is the same with Ohio-based The Gorilla Glue Company who sued a Nevada-based cannabis company, GG Strains LLC, for using its "Gorilla Glue" nomenclature with regard to three of its products.

    Image result for gorilla glue

    Of course, this is particularly interesting because it concerns a cannabis company that sells in a product category still deemed illegal in the United States (but one that is nonetheless sold in almost 30 states for both medical and recreational uses) infringing on the intellectual property rights of a glue maker. A glue maker? But trademarks are trademarks in the eyes of a federal court whose job in this case was to make sure there would be no confusion in the marketplace, and a quick internet search reveals several pot-oriented images on the first page alone.

    Image result for gorilla glue

    The result? The two entities reached a settlement wherein GC Strains will have to transition away from the name, any gorilla-oriented imagery, or any other similarities to Gorilla Glue trademarks by this time next year. The company will have to re-brand its three products, which shouldn't be a terribly difficult task considering it's a silly name for strain of cannabis anyway; and Gorilla Glue will retain its identity as a Ohio-made glue and not be confused with a strain of weed in Las Vegas. Indeed all of this reminds us of the role that the legal and regulatory environment must play in maintaining the integrity of intellectual property rights in commerce. Without these protections, ethical marketing would be a rather difficult endeavor.