June 2008

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David Maxwell for The New York Times

Some big box stores have redesigned the gallon milk carton and consumers are up in arms. The new boxy cartons are not easy to pour and often result in the spilling of some milk. “What the…?” say new users while sloshing these oblong vessels. Trainers are now stationed near the milk area in Wal-Mart and Costco teaching grumpy buyers the new “rock and pour” technique.

 
Why are we to be inconvenienced by this new boxy gallon design?  Why must we retrain ourselves in the pour? It is simple: gallon jugs are expense to make, stock, ship, clean, load and shelve. They are inefficient and are an amazing energy suck. These forward thinking companies deserve our applause.  We should learn from them.  All us us need to be a more thoughtful of energy consumption. And if it requires a little inconvenience or a little retraining I’m all for it. 
 
(Try this one — next time you are at the deli buying a sandwich say “No paper bag please.” Got to start somewhere.)
 

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“Logistics Are in Vogue With Designers” reads a headline in today’s Wall Street Journal. With the economy continuing to soften, some of the larger design house brands such as Valentino and Bulgari are investing in IT and more robust supply chain systems; the thought being, if they know what is selling where and when, they can quickly course correct and optimize profits.
 
As a planner, one of the businesses I’ve always loved to watch is the clothing design business. The best designers look ahead for inspiration. They bet their careers on it. Yet with all of this new reporting from stores and more science in the equation, inspiration will wane. I often squawk about “rearview mirror” planners.  I have no problem with data collection and analysis, but it does not provide the way forward.  

The best clothing designers know this and should swear off these sales reports.
 

 

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Better Man

 

Eddie Vedder sang “Better Man” last night at Madison Square Garden and it was extraordinary. Though there are lots of songs written by PJ that incite sing along, Eddie seemed to want to sing this one by himself. He stopped the song after a few bars and was motioning to the crowd to let him do it.
 
Sorry. As soon as he started up again, the 19,000 really started singing. My friend turned to me and asked “Why do they do that?” My response: “It’s not his song.”  Were Eddie more sensitive and a prima donna, he may have taken offense. He didn’t.  He knows Better Man is no longer his song. It’s our song. And that is the highest compliment fans can pay an artist. He was euphoric from that moment on.
 

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I’ve always been a big radio fan. Too much so, perhaps. I’ve argued with a TV exec buddy of mine that radio will make a comeback in terms of dramatic programming — think TV drama for radio. Okay, I’m still waiting on that one but it’s early in the 21st century. 
 
PSFK today posted a neat story regarding radio that solves community
 
If you have ever listened to public radio in small town or resort town, you’ll know how this type of radio works. And why it works. It is local people talking local stuff. From lost and found, to ride boards, weather, events – it’s a wonderful snapshop of what’s what.  Local radio is where the community rises to the top. Throw in a little music and retail advertising and an outsider can really get the flavor of what makes the community tick. Big city radio has a hard time with this. I think we may have found a killer app for radio.
 
PS. Going to see Pearl Jam tonight. On the floor in the Garden.

 

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MillerCoors, the soon-to-be combined brewer that will compete with Anheuser Busch for share of the domestic beer market, has some hard marketing decisions ahead with Miller Lite. A friend of mine who brews beer at home once told me Miller Genuine Draft is the best tasting pasteurized beer on the market. He told me this while we had some grain a toastin’ on the stove. I believed him. Sometimes, where you hear something is more important than what you hear.  Taste is not an underrated quality in beer and especially so when it comes to light beer.
 
Here’s my advice regarding Miller Lite, the beer that broke open the light category with its “Tastes Great. Less Filling.” campaign. Taste is the key strategic point and Y&R Chicago pounded it a couple of years ago with “I can’t taste my beer.” If MillerCoors and current agency BBH can create advertising that “proves” the taste, they will win.  Don’t do a taste tests, just find what in the brewing process creates the taste better and make that the idea. 

How about something like “it’s the toast.”

 

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Want to know my favorite invention over the last few years? The iPod? No. Blackberry? Nope. Flip video? Nah-uh.  It’s the Smart Key System for my Prius.  It never has to come out of my pocket.  The wireless reader in the car knows when I’m nearby and unlocks the door and lets me push the start button without inserting the key.  I’m so used to it, in fact, that when I use the other family car I often sit for a beat before I realize the need to go old school.
 
So what’s the future? Soon all cars will be keyless and these keys, now the size of a small box of matches, will be reduced to coin size. And what will happen as we need to carry less keys and money and other things that go jingle in our pants pockets?  Pants designs will change. Instead of 4 pockets, we’ll probably have one. And that one will be for our iPhones. Were I Tommy Hilfiger, I’d put that pocket right in back…in the middle.
                                                                                                                     

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All along I’ve been thinking that the gia-normous profits the oil companies are making have been the result of corporate avarice, and that ExxonMobil and the like are making billions at the hands of poor schlubs like me who are spending at the pump liked never before.
 
I was so wrong.
 
Exxon/Mobil isn’t the enemy, it’s saving the planet. At least so says their new ad campaign. While waiting on line at the local falafel store a TV commercial on cable news told me so — as did a series of expensive spread ads in the New York Times. The new campaign has a lovely little blue graphic depicting some sort of blue liquid chemical construct, reminding me that ExxonMobil is big into R&D. And the ads educate me that ExxonMobil has people working really hard to solve next generation energy problems. Real people — I’ve read their names and titles. Lastly, ExxonMobil has developed a new exciting separator film for lithium ion batteries “to be” used in hybrid cars. (Did you know hybrid cars lower emissions?)
 
I’m so glad ExxonMobil is spending $50-100 million on advertising to educate me as to what a helpful company they are. Without that I might have thought them in it for the money. I’m so stupid.
 

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Here’s an online media metric for those of you tracking social networking and social media.  Total buying power.  It’s a single, simple, comparative number.  LinkedIn’s average user age is 41 years old with an average household income of $109,000. Its 23 million registered users in May generated 7.7 million monthly visits to the site.  When I multiplied visits by income it made my calculator quake. (It was close to a trillion.)  When I multiplied registered users by the income, the calculator spit the battery. 

In May, MySpace had 60M visitors and Facebook 26M, but how much money do college and high school kids make each year.  Granted Facebook’s average age is getting older, but the income levels really aren’t there yet.  Between the higher income target and the smart marketing strategy, you can see why LinkedIn is the only one of the three turning a profit. 

So, media types, what do you think about this metric?  Is Total Buying Power (TBP) a discussion starter?

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The McClatchy Company today reported it is letting go around 1,400 of its newspaper employees. This, after having let go 2,000 others over the last 18 months.  Samuel  Zell has his spreadsheet and sickle out at the Tribune Company and who knows what will becomes of Newsday as the Dolans take control.  Is there less news to be reported?  Is there less advertising to pay the bills?  Or is it the Internet?


It’s a perfect storm of all three, actually. There is not less news, but more.  Technology has enabled few things in the world to go unnoticed.  Add to that the millions of bloggers reporting and analyzing news and events and the choices become even greater.  Bloggers are competing with favorite newspaper columnists for Share of Day (SOD.)  That’s the impact of the Internet.  And in this recession-like clime, ad pages are harder to come by.

Newspapers will always be around. The delivery medium will change, but the news will be there.  As for reporters, there are good and bad and regardless of where they publish, smart media properties will hire the good to attract readers.  With the right packaging and the right mix of advertising, the strong will reemerge and all will be fine.

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