Jan 31

Will Starbucks water down its brand along with its coffee?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And, Starbucks sure seems desperate at the moment. Starbucks

First, they sacked their CEO and reinstated founder and chairman Howard Schultz in the position. Then Schultz announces that the brand has lost its way and promises to close stores and re-focus on core offerings. Next, McDonald’s, sensing vulnerability, announces it will open 14,000 coffee bars and go mano-a-mano with the once unrivaled coffee king.

And how does Starbucks respond? It begins testing $1 cups of coffee in its hometown of Seattle. That’s right, the guys who dazzled marketing professors everywhere by convincing Americans to pay $4 or more for a cup of Joe, have blinked.

One can almost sense the panic that must be pervading the hallways of Schultz’s once-proud empire. Slashing the price of its coffee flies in the face of everything Starbucks stands for, and should give a monumental image and reputation boost to McDonald’s gamble.

The Starbucks move makes as much sense as Lexus suddenly offering a cheap, ‘starter car,’ Gucci licensing body tattoos or Zegna selling designer overalls.

These are the times that try men’s souls and now is the time for Howard Schultz to stand firm and hold the line on pricing and brand consistency.

Jan 30

Here’s why some surveys lack credibility

The media may say otherwise, but they have an insatiable appetite for surveys. Which is why we publicSurvey
relations types churn them out in endless quantities. Some are well done and contribute to thought leadership. Others tell you what you already know. A precious few actually break through and identify new and noteworthy trends.

Then there are those like this one from Cision that simply defy logic and strain credulity.  It reports that General Motors finished SECOND in Cision’s annual corporate reputation index just behind Microsoft.

Talk about stupifying! General Motors is the second most admired corporation in America? Is this the same company that has handed away its market share year-after-year to Toyota? Is this the same company where management is totally insulated from reality and continues to churn out inferior products year-after-year? Is this the same company that helped turn Detroit and the state of Michigan into a 2008 version of ‘The grapes of wrath’?

I’d love to know what hallucenogenic drug the Cision survey respondents were ingesting when they selected GM for such an accolade. It has to be some kick-ass stuff.

Jan 29

What would you do with $2.7 million?

I know what I wouldn’t do with $2.7 million, and that’s blow it on a Super Bowl commercial. And, now atBudbowl
long last, comes scientific proof that, unless you’re Budweiser, you’re wasting your cash on Super Bowl spots.

A study just released at the Cognitive Science Conference (and what a fun group that must be!) showed that ‘…ads with poor cognitive skills were misattributed by consumers, and beer ads were attributed to the huge Super Bowl presence that is Budweiser.’ Translation: people simply don’t remember the ad they just saw. So, regardless of the category or the cleverness, Super Bowl ads don’t work.

This comes as no surprise whatsoever. Yet, the ad trades still routinely go nuts about ‘first time’ Super Bowl advertisers. And, Monday morning water cooler conversationalists everywhere will debate the most creative Super Bowl spot.

But, none of it matters because, unless you’re Bud, you’re ad’s going to be a dud.

Now, imagine for a minute how far $2.7mm would go if those very same marketers allocated the funds towards a mix of traditional and digital PR. It boggles the mind.

So, as you’re sipping your brew and eating that slice of pizza on Sunday, take a longer look at the ads. You’ll be watching $2.7 million literally going up in smoke.

Jan 28

Captain Jack’s too frail to get you by tonight

I like to think my music tastes run to the eclectic. I love listening to Thelonious Monk as much as to T.Old
Rex. And, Liszt is just as cool as, say, Lionel Hampton. But, there’s nothing like working out to classic rock. I like those pulsating sounds as I’m pumping or pedaling away.

So, with my iPod still nursing its post Mt. Kilimanjaro wounds, I tuned in my favorite rock station this morning and stepped onto the elliptical trainer. What immediately stuck me, though, wasn’t the same old, recycled songs but, rather, the dramatically different radio commercials.

I’d grown accustomed to hearing banal spots for drag racing, blue collar beer guzzlers hitting on hot babes and the latest, greatest winter sporting gear sales. So, imagine my surprise when I heard one spot after another for cancer, heart disease and other afflictions associated with aging boomers. The effect was striking to say the least.

So, I began thinking what a smart image move it might be for aging rockers to update their classic songs, and make them, shall we say, more age appropriate?

Here are some suggestions:

Van Halen’s no longer screaming ‘Dance the night away’ anymore. Now, they’re unplugged and suggesting, instead, to ‘Sleep the day away.’

Bruce’s ‘Born to run’ has many possibilities and could be altered to ‘Born to limp’, ‘Born with the runs,’ or ‘Born to run (to the bathroom several times a night)’

The Stone’s signature song could be updated to: ‘(I can’t get no) erection’

Neil Young’s ’24′ becomes ’64,’ and it’s most poignant line changed to ‘…64 and there’s not much more.’

Jim Morrison’s long gone, but I’d like to think a simple update to his classic Door’s ditty would resonate with aching Boomer fans: So, with just a little editing, we now have ‘C’mon baby, light my fireplace.’

And poor, bald and battered Peter Frampton would now lament, ‘I hope you don’t feel like I do.’

Last, but not least, let’s not forget The Who, who could really hit home with, ‘Talking ’bout what’s left of my ggggggeneration.’

The opportunities are endless. If classic rock radio audiences are willing to listen to commercials from the likes of Mount Sinai Medical Center, Montefiore’s Heart Clinic and the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute, why not bring the message full circle with updated tunes that tell it like it really is?

Jan 25

Fit to be tied

A government sponsored study of more than 15,000 black and white men over a 23-year period hasExercise
proved that fitness levels are better indicators of longevity than age, blood pressure or body mass index.

The researchers, who work in the cardiology department of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, DC, say their studies also show that even moderate exercise can ‘dramatically’ prolong a man’s life. By ‘moderate,’ they mean walking as little as 30 minutes a day four days a week. And, that’s a piece of cake for most of us.

In fact, the more one exercises, the greater effect on longevity, says the study. ‘Very high-fit’ men cut their risk of early death by 70 percent, ‘high-fit men cut it by. 50 percent and even low-fit guys had a 20 percent lower risk, said the researchers.

And, yet, the couch potato generation continues to proliferate at an alarming rate. What don’t American men get? Here’s proof positive that just a little exercise can have a profoundly positive effect. But, two-thirds or more of American men literally fail to take the steps necessary to prolong their lives.

The most common excuse I hear is a lack of time. Then, there’s the complaint about not being able to afford a health club membership. Last, but not least, is the lament that, ‘Well, I don’ know how to use those complicated exercise machines, and I don’t want to get hurt.’

The researchers emphasized that none of these excuses hold water, stating: ‘What’s really important to understand is that you don’t need special clothes, special memberships or special equipment…It’s something everyone can engage in.’

My take on all this? The average joe could care less that he looks just like the Pillsbury dough boy. And, he’ll continue to channel-surf his life away until, and unless, it hurts him in the wallet. So, here’s hoping that more and more organizations start mandating regular fitness as a condition of hiring and ongoing employment. After all, it will simultaneously increase productivity while lowering health care costs (and force all those sedentary souls off the friggin’ couch).

I’d say more, but it’s time for a run.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea.

Jan 23

Next, we’ll find out the pope really isn’t Catholic

How depressing to learn that fortune cookies originated in Japan, not China. One wonders if this meansFortunecookie
the Benihana-type Japanese restaurants will start serving fortune cookies with that cup of tea and vanilla or chocolate ice cream? And, will the Chinese restaurant delivery guys no longer include fortune cookies along with those amazing chips and duck sauce? God, I hope not.

Talk about the world turning upside down!

With Chinese fortune cookies the latest ‘institution’ to fall by the wayside, what’s left to cling to? How long will it be before we learn that:

- The pope really isn’t Catholic?
- A bear really doesn’t relieve him/herself in the woods?
- Pigs fly the friendly skies?
- Snowball fights are routine in Hell? 

It’s enough to make me pour another glass of chard and wonder what my next Japanese fortune cookie will predict.

Jan 22

Which came first, negative press or poor financial performance?

I never cease to be amazed at the ways in which the media can whip up a frenzy: whether it’s forecastersJournalism
predicting a storm of the century, entertainment-focused, paparazzi types reporting on some dysfunctional celebrity’s latest miscue or, in the case of the economy, pure doom and gloom stories that make the much anticipated Recession a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My most recent ‘fan-the-flames’ favorite appeared on the front page of the New York Times business section. It focused on 40- and 50-something blue collar types who, having lost their $18-an-hour jobs, have been forced to move back in with their octogenarian parents. Ouch. Talk about grim. Not content with reporting just the facts, though, the reporter felt compelled to dig deep and elicit such quotes as, “I’m ruined,” and “I’ll never be able to dig myself out of this hell.”

The media helped build the dotcom mania of 1999 and 2000 by waxing ecstatic about get-rich-quick schemes that, as we now know, were anything but.

Now, they’re taking the opposite tack and filing one negative story after another. Which begs the question: which came first? The poor economic news or the negative press? My money’s on the latter.

Jan 17

Image enhancement 201; Winter semester, 2008.

Professor Reputation: "Ok, ok, settle down, class and welcome to Image Enhancement 201. I’m ProfessorDetroit
Rudyard Reputation, or Prof. Rep for short.

For those of you who remained semi-conscious during the long Winter break, today’s assignment should be of interest. In fact, it may be the most challenging assignment of the entire semester, so pay attention: you’re the head of a large advertising or public relations agency. The City of Detroit’s travel & tourism bureau has just contacted you, asking for a comprehensive program to rehabilitate the Motor City’s horrific image. As you hopefully know, Detroit has become synonymous with the demise of the US economy and the media have been piling on lately with lots of doom and gloom articles.

So, you’re running the average large ad or PR agency and have lots of off-the-shelf solutions to offer. Which ones do you suggest? Yes, Ms. Rousseau."

Rousseau: "It’s actually Mr. Rousseau, Professor Rep. I underwent a transgender operation over the holidays."

Prof: "Way too much info, but please proceed Mr. Rousseau."

Rousseau: "I’d opt for the tried and true name change recommendation a la Philip Morris becoming Altria in order to distance itself from killing so many people with its cigarettes."

Prof: "Go on."

Rousseau: "So, I’m thinking we give the city a new, more positive name without losing the core identity. How about ‘Uptroit,? Or ‘Newtroit"? Or, how about being counterintuitive and renaming the city ‘Jobtroit’?

Continue reading

Jan 16

Our not-so-green world

Green is today’s gold. At least in American marketing circles. Every company touts its carbon-neutralRecycled_desk
goals, its green-friendly products and services and its commitment to protect the environment for future generations.

And, surveys will come along to support such thinking. CNN just released one taken of recent college graduates who overwhelmingly said they’d prefer working for a green-friendly company. Duh. Who’s going to say they’d like to work for some manufacturer purposely poisoning our air, land and water?

Yet, at the same time, one wonders how long the green hype will continue? For example, another survey just released by Nielsen showed that American shoppers couldn’t care less about patronizing grocery stores that provide ‘recyclable bags and packaging. Much more important were ‘good value,’ ‘better selection of high quality brands and products’ and, get this, ‘easy parking.’ Ouch. Talk about priorities.

And, then there’s Africa. Having just visited several countries on the ‘dark continent,’ I can confirm that green/sustainability efforts are non-existent. Cars and factories spew all sorts of toxic gases into the sky, and forests, grasslands and other natural resources continue to be trampled down and abused at will.

Last, but not least, there’s the looming recession. Going green is a ‘smart, socially-conscious’ business move when the economy’s booming. One wonders, though, how many CEOs will stay the course when their boards and shareholders squeeze them even harder for improved quarterly profits.

So, color me ‘yellow’ for cautious when it comes to green’s long-term future. It’s a great idea but one, I’m afraid, that will take a back seat as more pressing realities come to the forefront.

Jan 15

Weather forecasts are a joke

“There they go again” as the late President Reagan might have said. Weather

Weather forecasters were doing their best throughout this past weekend to whip up a frenzy over a fast-approaching nor’easter that, they warned, would dump between four and eight inches of wet snow on Gotham.

Regular programming was interrupted as the intrepid forecasters screamed about the approaching holocaust. Supermarkets were jammed as wary shoppers stocked up on essentials necessary to ride out the storm. And, some grammar schools were already projecting two- to three-hour delayed starts Monday morning.

So, what happened? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. A little rain in the metropolitan fell in our area and there were a few sheepish ‘ah shucks’ grins on the faces of the TV weather folks this morning.

What a travesty. What other profession could get away with such a poor record? Imagine the lawsuits that would fly if, say, the average plumber, carpenter or technician was wrong 50 percent of the time? Or, if good old NJ Transit (my personal bete noir) boasted a 50 percent on-time arrival rate? Even lawyers, airlines and used car salesmen do a better job than weather forecasters. And, yet, these charlatans have become media icons.

Something’s amiss with a society that not only looks the other way at continuous incompetence, but actually rewards it. I’d suggest some solutions, but what if I’m wrong?