Sep 30

Upgrading can be downgrading

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

heavenI just received notice that shoes I ordered on-line last week have been shipped. For some time now, most major retailers with a strong on-line presence (that’s an oxymoron, name a major retailer that doesn’t have a strong on-line presence) have been sending email notices when items have shipped, along with a reliable expected delivery date and time. Even though I have a doorman, and don’t have to fret over packages swiped from a stoop, I very much appreciate this notice.

But today’s notice was different in that it included an option to upgrade my delivery. For an additional fee, I could have my shoes on Wednesday instead of Thursday. I chose the free (read: slow) shipping option when I ordered the shoes, cause I don’t really care if it takes two weeks, so I passed on this new service.

This got me thinking about how years ago the only upgrade consumers were offered were in regards to airline seats. In fact prior to the 1950’s it was a mere noun used mainly by engineers and people who forgot to engage their parking brakes.

But it was the airlines use of the word, to entice rag-tag economy passengers to sit with the fat-cats in First Class, that brought its now mainstream usage. Now, no matter what you do, you are offered the opportunity to upgrade, i.e. spend more money.

Reserve a hotel room, and at least twice, once when you receive confirmation and again at check-in, you are offered the opportunity to upgrade. Supersizing fast food meals is just an upgrade. Rent a car and be asked over and over if you want an upgrade. And of course millions of folks wait not-so-patiently for the day to arrive when they can upgrade their phone from the woefully outmoded device they now have to the iPhone X. I theorize that being asked if you want to donate to the United Fund when you check out at Duane Reade is just another chance to upgrade your purchase. Order an appetizer sized portion at a restaurant, and you are likely to be asked if you want to upgrade to an entrée size. Order 4X6” photos on-line and before you check-out, you’re given the option to upgrade to 5X7s.

What really grinds my gears (I love ‘Family Guy’) is that all these offers are presented as something extra the seller is doing for me, the consumer. When of course, it is just an opportunity for them to squeeze more money out of me. Maybe it’s two sides of the same coin, but I’d be less offended if they just came clean and made a straightforward option, minus the word upgrade.
The way they present in now is downgrading.

Sep 29

Dumb and Dumber

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

stupid-peopleA recent article in NY Magazine (The Everything Guide to the Urban Daredevil) is all about how to get a rush (and your fifteen minutes of fame) while possibly bring killed, arrested or just stuck in three feet of pigeon poo.

This chunk of social irresponsibility stems from the publicity those Germans who did the flag-swap on the Brooklyn Bridge received. Not content to leave well enough alone, the editors sought out home-grown morons who spend their free time climbing bridges, jumping off of buildings and breaking into abandoned mental hospitals (there is a certain symmetry to this one.)

Our police department is stretched to the limit. People are shot, raped and burgled. The UN, presidential visits and demonstrations suck enough life out of our officers without them having to save people who have little regard for their own safety, let alone others.

But the most shocking is their final list of buildings into which you should try to break. They call it “place hacking.” Not sure what the legal penalty is for place-hacking but I hope it falls under the same category as breaking and entering, which is exactly what it is. If you came home to find a stranger sitting in your living room would you tell the police your apartment had been “place hacked”. I think not.

Pulling illegal stunts isn’t cute or entertaining or responsible. It is immature, dangerous and negligent. And for a main-stream publication to run a feature encouraging, and even giving how-to lessons is irresponsible. Don’t we have enough craziness in this world without purposefully endangering society? And don’t tell me these are victimless crimes. Every time the police are called to the scene of a prank, they are taken away from being available for a real emergency.

Of course, every stunt that ends in a death reduces the world’s moron population so maybe this isn’t so bad after all.

Sep 26

Let’s Raise a Paw to Budweiser

And, Catharine Cody steps into the lurch to provide today’s guest blog. It concerns a salivating new TV spot. See if you agree with her take…

47ece327-b1b6-45ba-b861-ed745986b2af_APJLbEoiD5kE-2x5HCW1TnFRntMO72o-wIeZ93XaVkiSy1nqjC5sK4UMlOpYpu8T0wkjXSvUI04-_2_0As my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers know, I’m a HUGE dog lover.  I have two pups at home that I absolutely adore (one of whom occasionally writes guest blogs for Repman, BTW). And, my family loves dogs so much that my dad even named his firm after our first dog, Pepper.

We’re not alone in our adoration of canines.  According to ABC News, 62 percent of U.S. households have a pet, 32% of which are dogs.  That’s why Budweiser’s latest ad surrounding Global Be(er) Responsible Day really hit home with me.

The Budweiser’s spot portrays a man hanging out with his best friend, an adorable golden retriever, before departing for the night.  The cute pup waits for a very, very long while for his friend to come home (which is what I imagine my dogs do whenever my Dad leaves for work).

At long last, the man arrives after a night of heavy drinking. At the bottom of the screen, a caption reads, “Next time you go out, be sure to make a plan to get home safely. Your friends are counting on you. Enjoy Budweiser responsibly.”

Budweiser REALLY nailed it with this commercial.  Not only are they speaking directly to their beer drinking audience but, critically, also to dog-lovers like me.  In the interests of full transparency, I’ve been known to down a brew or two when the mood strikes. At the moment, I enjoy Miller High Life, PBR and Budweiser.  But, this commercial made me admire Budweiser even MORE (and probably attracted prospective customers who also love their pups). In my opinion, that’s a best practice because it both increases existing customer loyalty while introducing the brand to potentially new consumer segments.

Needless to say, that sort of accomplishment is a very big deal to marketers everywhere.
So, with the weekend fast approaching, let’s raise a glass, and a paw, to this fabulous new campaign.

Sep 25

What’s your power pose?

van-damme-volvo-epic-splitThe NY Times just ran a fascinating article about Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy, whose TED conference video is the second most viewed of all time.

Cuddy, who is also a social psychologist, preaches about the importance of non-verbal communication in business settings.

In fact, her TED talk focused on various power poses all of us can use to differentiate ourselves and impress prospective clients, employers and that name-dropping, loud talker at a weekend cocktail reception. One pose is called the Wonder Woman and involves standing with your hands on hips and legs wide. I assume the WW costume is optional.

Cuddy says businesspeople need to make themselves ‘big’ in the two minutes before a meeting begins. Becoming big could mean everything from standing straighter, flexing one’s muscles or merely visualizing how effective you’ll be in the soon-to-occur meeting.

Cuddy has field tested her theories and found that thinking big and adopting a strong body posture will build courage, reduce anxiety and inspire leadership. In fact, lab participants who spent two minutes alone in a room doing high-power poses such as putting their feet on a desk increased testosterone levels by about 20 percent and lowered the stress hormone cortisol by about 25 percent. I think NFL players discovered power posing long ago.

Cuddy’s workshop was so effective with 1,500 Zappos employees that clusters of male and female employees later stood outside the auditorium where she spoke and either stretched out like starfish or struck the Wonder Woman pose. That must have been some off-site.

I’m a big believer in establishing a strong non-verbal presence in any sort of meeting. There’s no question it sends the right message at the right time to the right decision-makers. In fact, we incorporate some of Cuddy’s suggestions in our own comedy training workshops.

As Cuddy tells her audiences, striking the correct posture works. “Let your body tell you you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic and authentically yourself,” she said.

That sounds like great advice for any college student, mid-career veteran or recently retired Baby Boomer seeking to reinvent herself. As for me, I just struck a Wonder Woman pose on a New Jersey Transit train and noticed several fellow passengers moved out of my way.

So, what’s your power pose?

Sep 24

Did you, too, delete U2?

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Catharine Cody.

bonssoI hate to admit it, but I get the majority of my news from Facebook. Earlier this week while trolling through status updates, I saw one that really intrigued me: “Apparently U2 had their new album downloaded onto every iTunes account!”

Baffled, I quickly checked my own account and sure enough, there was the new album. I don’t like U2. You couldn’t even pay me to download their music. I guess that’s why they gave it to me for free.

But, I feel annoyed. Now when listening to my music on shuffle I hear songs I don’t want to! I have a prolific album, ranging from Les Miserables to The Beatles. And, having random U2 songs really grinds my gears. I know, first world problems…

Instead of forcing people to listen to their new album, U2 could have done so much else to connect with Millennials. Trust me, if I knew U2 donated the money spent on uploading music to my account to a charity I care about I may actually have listened to their songs! A CSR move like that would have helped to improve their image, especially with the Millennials who love to participate in charity events (think ALS ice bucket challenge, people.)

So tell me, did you see the U2 album pop up on your account? How do you feel about it? This millennial has deleted it.

Sep 23

Pain-based selling

o62ixcI’m pleased to report that Peppercomm won a new account last week as a direct result of pain-based selling.

What’s pain-based selling, you ask?

Well, PBS is an approach to business development that we brought to market in partnership with a sales training firm known as Harte Associates (and led by the lovely, and talented, Dr. Richard Harte).

Pain-based selling is both simple and subtle at the same time. Once one is engaged in a conversation with a prospect, probe for the following:

1.) Ask her the single biggest business issue keeping her up at night. In last week’s case, it was an unhappy relationship with the incumbent agency. The latter was missing deadlines and embarrassing the client in front of her direct reports.

2.) Once you’ve uncovered the pain, pour salt on the wound. I know that sounds like something an NFL player might do to a family member, but bear with me. In this instance, we asked the prospect what would happen if she didn’t find a quick solution to her pain points. The answer was direct and to the point: ‘My team and I could lose our jobs,’ she said.

3.) Ease the pain. We quickly reassured the CCO that we had faced many situations just like her’s. We presented two or three quick case studies that demonstrated a similar problem, our solution and the subsequent results. The prospect’s non-verbal responses were positive to say the least.

4.) Partnering. At this point, we’d completely improvised, uncovered the pain, made it worse and then provided a solution. So, we asked the critical question, ‘Assuming we can assemble a team with the experience to solve your challenges, would you be willing to partner with us?’ The answer was affirmative. We left with a purchase order and confirmation that, once again, pain-based selling can be a very smart approach to closing a deal.

McGraw-Hill thought enough of pain-based selling that they commissioned Dick Harte and me to write a book about it. The book’s now been translated into seven or eight languages and earned me upwards of $17.38. It also serves as a superb paperweight.

As for pain-based selling, try it. You’ll like it.

Sep 22

Rice was programmed to not be nice

Today’s guest blog comes from NFL sideline expert, Virginia Dandridge Stevenson, who provides a fresh take on the Ray Rice nightmare.

6884140094_f3442a01c2It’s now been revealed that the Raven’s powers-that-be knew about Rice’s giving his wife a sucker punch all along. His attorney even admitted that “it’s horrible.” But is it that surprising?

These football players are trained to come yea close to killing each other. They are, for the most part, big, brutish and mean. They growl, scream and grunt. They are paid millions upon millions to literally throw their weight around and incite near riot in the stands.

Most of them never went to college. They were primed at an early age, plucked from high school teams and told to fight like hell. These are not warrior poets. They are deep-pocketed, testosterone fueled bullies with a skewed sense of entitlement.

Of course the same could be said of a lot of the fans. Well, minus the money.

Point is, football is a violent sport and is more likely to attract players who like to slug things than those who, say like to spend the afternoon at the ol’ fishin’ hole. According to Benjamin Morris who researches and writes about sports for FiveThirtyEight, “…domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.”

And, every decision that has been made by the Raven’s and the NFL since the Rice incident has been made to protect the game, the fans and the money. My suspicion is that there are a lot of wife beaters, and beaten wives in the stands, as well. If they admit that what Ray Rice did is wrong, then they have to face their own situations. A 23 year-old Baltimore waitress recently said, “’I don’t agree with domestic violence, but she’s still with him, so obviously it wasn’t that big of a deal. Everyone should just drop it.”

We need to accept the fact that NFL players are 21st century gladiators fueled by the spectator’s cheers and checks.

Sep 18

College Coach or Corporate Flack? Who Comes Out Ahead In Resume Flap?

Today’s guest post is by WALEKPeppercommer Chris Gillick.

Fake-University-Diploma-Template-03Six months ago, I wrote in these pages about Manhattan College men’s basketball coach Steve Masiello’s resume scandal and loss of a job opportunity, giving advice on how all the parties involved should handle a crisis over the coach’s claiming to have a college degree when in fact he did not.

Masiello’s employer ended up exercising mercy, placing him on unpaid leave until he completed the requirements for his degree, as he was only a few credits short. Following crisis PR to a T, Manhattan announced this news an hour before the start of the Final Four, knowing full well that few would notice. Masiello was eventually reinstated in June.

But Corporate America is not nearly as forgiving as a small, Lasallian liberal arts college whose moments in the spotlight are limited. Earlier this week, David Tovar, a vice president of communications at Wal-Mart, resigned from the giant retailer under circumstances similar to Masiello’s.

There are several parallels here. Masiello and Tovar were rising stars about to move on up in their respective professions, Masiello moving to a bigger school for a lot more money, and Tovar being promoted to senior vice president. They had each attended college for four years, walked in their class’ graduation ceremony, but were a few credits short of a degree. Each moved onto their first jobs at 22 years old thinking all was well and paid their dues on the way up.

The main difference here is the aftermath.

No PR professional ever wants to be the topic of the news themselves, but like any well-trained in-house flack, Tovar spun things to his advantage. He owned up to the reality right away, claimed that all was transparent with Wal-Mart during the vetting process, that he left the company on good terms, and was excited about the next “new adventure” in his life. Given his background and experience with two controversial companies (Wal-Mart and Altria), he will likely have no problem landing a new gig or starting a new agency.

On the other hand, Masiello admits he has some rebuilding to do and is thankful and humbled that Manhattan took him back. In his “I’m out from hiding” interview following his reinstatement, the coach acknowledged that he got 242 congratulatory text messages the night after his team pushed Rick Pitino’s Louisville to the brink in the NCAA Tournament. But after the South Florida fiasco? “Let’s just say my phone’s not ringing as much right now.”


Sep 17

When to say when

pail110460Eli Manning of the New York Giants and David Wright of the New York Mets have many things in common:
– Each is captain of his respective team.
– Each enjoyed amazing success earlier in his career.
– Each is an All-American boy next door, feel good kind of guy.
– Each has fallen on hard times.
– Each is a spokesperson for multiple sponsors.
And, the last point is the one in question.

How long should a brand stick with a spokesperson who is no longer synonymous with excellence? When does a consumer ignore a product hawked by a has-been? In other words, when should a marketer say when?

David Wright is a mere shadow of his former self. And, Eli Manning is more inconsistent than President Obama’s foreign policy. Yet, both still seem to have more endorsements than the average prescription medication has side effects.

In Eli’s case, one sees him plugging Toyota SUV’s (and other marketers’ wares) every nanosecond on the nanosecond.

All of which would make me think long and hard about Eli’s future as a spokesperson were I calling the shots at Toyota. When does a nice guy who’s fallen on hard times need to be jettisoned? When does a player’s mediocrity transfer over to that of the product or service he endorses?

I admire loyalty as much as the next person, but I suggest any brand associated with Messrs. Wright and Manning place them on waivers.

All’s fair in love, war and marketing. And I, for one, think it’s high time advertisers cut the cord with these particular low-level performers.
What do you think?

Sep 15

Commercials That Connect with Millennials

The following guest blog comes from one of my two favorite Millennials in the world, Catharine Cody. Comments welcomed from Millennials and non-Millennials alike.

While relaxing on my couch this past weekend watching “Parks and Recreation”, a commercial for Miller light came on the tube. I usually just fast-forward my way through commercials but, for some reason, I let this one play. It immediately grabbed me and held me tight. And, I can honestly say, the Miller Light spot is now one of my favorite commercials – along with the ones from Mentos and State Farm.

The ad resonated with me because it made clear the brand understood Millennials in general, and me in particular.

It informed viewers that Miller was the very first beer company to offer light beer options. (Commercial from 1978 with George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin below.) Light beer, in turn, led to thinner men, which led to more relationships which, eventually, led to you and me (assuming you’re a Millennial like me).

The Miller commercial not only tugs at the heartstrings by reminding youngish beer-drinking consumers about their parents’ lives, it also speaks directly to us.  And, that’s what makes it so appealing. In fact, at the end of the spot, when a voiceover says, “…which led to you,” the actors look directly into the camera and, essentially, talk to us (and not at us).  And, trust me, Millennials are tired of being spoken at by marketers.

So, let’s lift a glass to Miller Light for truly understanding their customers’ hearts and minds. As a Millennial, I can tell you, we love retro commercials almost as much as we love a cool glass of beer.