Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Marketing the Top Dog in an Anti-Dog World

Good News for Sara Lee: Ball Park brand has finally pushed its top competitor, Oscar Meyer, out of the number one beef frankfurter spot.

Bad News for Sara Lee: Institutions worldwide are taking a harder line against "junk foods", including America's favorite, the hot dog. Apparently timing is everything.

With public sentiment shifting, the iconic wiener is in danger of no longer being as American as baseball; but then again, neither is baseball (and the vote is still out on apple pie). It would seem schools don't want kids eating unhealthy foods, nor does the federal government for that matter, which means parents will eventually limit if not eliminate the poor frankfurter from their regular diets. And hot dogs, for better or worse, could someday become the new face of antiestablishmentarianism.

As the new king of the hill, Ball Park plans to capitalize on its success by upgrading its traditional campaign strategies.

According to BrandChannel, Ball Park’s marketing efforts are focusing on a new demographic: moms and their sons. The brand conducted consumer research and discovered that its sales primarily come from teenage boys and their mothers, and not adult males as had been assumed [Editorial aside: why didn't they already know this?]. This realization helped CMO Philippe Shaillee to redirect promotional efforts. Shaillee explained that the target mom was “really looking for a hearty solution for her teenage son and husband,” and not “just a lower quality snack or that would get them into this mindless eating behavior, but something that was solid, yet still fast and convenient.”

They also plan to do some sports-based advertising and some social media stuff. Oddly there is no mention of nutrition or healthy foods. So I went to the Ball Park website, where I found a whole line of "Better For You" product offerings – low-to-no fat and far fewer calories, but with all the great taste. Now that's a hot dog marketing angle you can wrap your arms around.

Regardless, there is no apparent need to panic. Ballparks in the United States expect to sell nearly 22 million hot dogs this year, according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. And that's just a tiny portion of the 730 million packages of hot dogs sold at retail stores last year.

Anyway, a healthy hot dog is better than no hot dog.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

As the new healthcare reform bill gets sorted out and we learn more of the details, the one thing that seems to be jumping out sideways is the mandate to get healthy... or else.

On the business side of things, for example, there is a provision that will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts on menus, menu boards, drive-thru menus and vending machines (seriously). Apparently the goal is to educate (shame) consumers into eating smaller portions and/or healthier selections.

On the consumer side of things, beginning in 2014, everyone will be required to purchase health insurance or face a $695 annual fine. There are some exceptions for low-income people. I would compare this with the requirement most states have to carry auto insurance... and you can see how that has made all of us better drivers. And of course, there is the 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services.

Meanwhile, recent IRI (Information Resources Inc.) data revealed at SNAXPO 2010 (yes, a trade show dedicated to snacks!), confirms that consumers want what they want: 47% of shoppers say they want to eat what tastes good rather than what’s healthy, and two-thirds of snack purchases still are in indulgent snacks.

According to a Cincinnati Enquirer story, "In a study published last year by the online journal Health Affairs, only half of customers in poor New York City neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and diabetes noticed the calorie counts."

I have two thoughts:

1. As a marketer, this should make for some amazingly fun strategizing over the next decade.
2. As an American, I am becoming "numb to the dumb".

Friday, March 19, 2010

Drowning in a Sea of Pathetic LOST Podcasts

Did I mention I was a LOST fan?

But do you know what I am not a fan of? Self-serving, long-winded, uncreative, poorly produced LOST podcasts.

OMG. If you want to know the problem with easy-to-access social media and easy-to-use technology, start with LOST podcasts.

For the record, there are some very good LOST podcasts out there that I listen to religiously, like "God Loved Jacob". And then there are the hundreds that absolutely suck the life out of you.

Imagine a room of 6-8 drunks sitting around a living room coffee table loudly talking over each other, swearing like sailors, giggling like schoolgirls and spewing one ridiculous thought after the next. Or imagine a dull, annoying, mindless nincompoop droning on and on in a monotone voice without ever saying an interesting or enlightening thing. Now multiply that by 200 and label it the LOST Podcast of the Week.

Don't believe me?

Try to spend more than five minutes listening to any one of these without reaching for the sharpest pencil you can find to jam into your ears:

What Katy Said

The Cranky Fanatic

Jacob's Cabin


Keys to Lost

While the nice thing about the Internet and social media and easy-to-use technology is that virtually anyone can get involved. Virtually anyone can produce a video or a podcast or an MP3 file and post it online for the world to see or hear or both.

But the truly unfortunate thing about the Internet and social media and easy-to-use technology is that virtually anyone can get involved.

I believe there is an old saying to cover such situations: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You Can Even Buy Money at Walmart

Walmart will soon have about 1,500 in-store MoneyCenters – that's roughly one in every other store – where you can cash your check or pay your bills. Apparently company associates just aren't busy enough selling clothes and groceries and electronics and fast food and automotive supplies and home furnishings and sporting goods and computers.

According to recent news reports, Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said the MoneyCenters could be a good thing for consumers, by bringing more competition to the industry and focusing on an underserved segment of the population.

And when you really think about it, how much worse could Walmart do than the traditional banking industry that drove us into our current recession? At the very least we know they will greet us upon arrival.

Still, local watchdog groups are keeping a close eye on Walmart as it expands its financial services. After all, Walmart is becoming more bank-like without any of the regulation. And the company does have a reputation of destroying anything and everything that gets in its path.

Quite frankly I have no idea if the MoneyCenter concept will work; clearly Walmart thinks it will. And I guess it really doesn't matter one way or the other. For as Sam Walton once said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

And that's the bottomline.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let's All Go to the Housewares Show.

For the third consecutive year, Jennifer is off to Chicago attending the International Home and Housewares Show. If estimates hold up, she will be one of 60,000 attendees (not to mention the nearly 2,000 exhibitors and their teams, plus the media and bloggers) to grace the hallowed halls of McCormick place. I am not certain, but I think that's more people than attended the Bon Jovi concert Jen went to in Vegas last week.

For the record, I am jealous. I love the windy city I once called home, and I miss the wonderful energy that is unique to this Midwestern metropolis. I also love the Housewares Show and this special opportunity to experience a seemingly infinite number of exciting new products – some that will make it and a lot that will not – and feed off the amazing level of hope that fills every inch of every booth space.

Of course, Jen will bring back some nice chotchkies for everyone. And I am certain she will write about the entire experience in her Consumer Products blog. And it will be great.

But on the whole, I'd rather be in Chicago at McCormick Place for IHHS... or at least for the day after when they dye the Chicago River green.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Media Database is Your Foundation; Do the Right Thing

Back in the '90s, there was a Cleveland builder who got busted for building a bunch of new homes that were never attached to their foundations. Turns out it really didn't matter, because the foundations were faulty as well.

According to one expert, "the footings and foundation are to a home what a person's legs and feet are to their body." Steve Bible, director of operations for Medallion Homes, says "The purpose of an engineered foundation is to support the superstructure of the home with consideration given to the existing soil conditions. The walls and roof of a home bear down on the foundation that rests on the soils that differ. With every house that is built, the soil must be studied to determine the engineer's design criteria."

And what does all this have to do with a media list? Everything.

Your media database is the foundation of your publicity and media relations program. It is not something that should ever be taken lightly or for granted. If it is not right, then the rest of your efforts – sending out news releases and calling media – will likely be a waste of time and money.

Unlike the home and building construction industry, there are no standards or regulations to guide database builders. Instead it is left to everyone's discretion as to how they will strategize and construct their lists. And that is just awesome... not.

Some use printed directories, some use electronic directories, some use online database services, some just rely on news distribution services and don't maintain any databases at all. Whichever of these methods are used, it is critically important to realize that this is at best, just the first of many steps that are required. Because unfortunately, none of these methods will allow you to create the database (foundation) capable of supporting the rest of your program.

Printed, electronic and online databases are generally only 75-85% accurate on any given day. Media outlets are missing. Media outlets that have shut down are still listed. Contact names are wrong. Contact information is wrong. And the support you receive from these providers is often useless.

But it is a place to begin the process (more on that in just a moment).

As for news distribution services, don't get me started. These services (no names please) charge a premium to shotgun the marketplace with no assurance that the desired reporter/editor/producer/blogger will ever see the news release. And, of course, you do not own the database, nor will you ever see it, so good luck with your follow up.

Creating a valuable, living, breathing media database is important and hard work. It begins with the creation of a basic list (see above) that must then be honed and maintained over time. Ultimately, whether your list has 20 or 20,000 contacts, you need to be in communication with those contacts – initially to ensure you have the right person and eventually to establish a working relationship in which you understand what to send to whom in what way and at what times to achieve maximum results. Likewise, you need to know how and when (if at all) they wish you to follow up after sending them information.

Believe it or not, communication with the media is branding. How you interact with editors and reporters and producers and bloggers will determine how these critical gatekeepers of information report about (or simply ignore) your organization and products. Putting the right information in front of the right person at the right time is important. Putting the wrong information in front of the wrong person at the wrong time is likewise important.

So, the next time you think about whipping up a media list to send out a news release, think about branding and reputation management. Think about how a sound database can help you and how a bad one can hurt you. And do the right thing.

It takes less time to do a thing right, than it does to explain why you did it wrong. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do Better Labels = Healthier Americans?

Everyone opposed to a healthier America, please stand up.

Now, everyone who believes that a leading cause of obesity in America is deceptive labeling, please eat a double bacon cheeseburger.

According to the FDA, "22 products made by [17] companies violate the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The violations include unauthorized health or nutrient-content claims, and unauthorized use of words such as "healthy," which have strict, regulated definitions. Companies receiving these letters must respond within 15 business days, detailing the steps being taken to correct their labeling."

Really? This is what we are worried about?

Please do not misunderstand, I am all for honesty in packaging and labeling and advertising; this is good stuff. And I am all for a healthier America. But at a time when dollars are tight, Americans are fat and healthcare spending is out of control, are we really supposed to think this is an important use of anyone's time and money?

And while I am quite sure that all 17 of these food companies are hustling to cover their arses and make whatever changes are necessary to appease the FDA (and they should), I can't help but think there are bigger fish to fry... or bake if that is the healthier alternative.

My dad used to tell me that the secret to a stable life was relatively easy: "All things in moderation," he would say. But my dad was an independent man, like most Americans. So despite his own advice, he ate and drank and smoked what he wanted. And when he suffered the consequences (which happened often) he never once blamed it on "unreliable product labeling" or lack of government protection.

So, while I am glad the FDA is doing their job to make it easier for health-conscious Americans to easily access reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food, I am nonetheless skeptical.

When Americans decide they want to get healthy, they will get healthy. Until then, they will eat all the wrong foods regardless of the labeling.

In the words of Popeye, a great American, "I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam."

In the words of Wimpy, "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

And there you have it.