Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Signs of the apocalypse

According to Fast Company magazine, reality TV "stars" Lauren Conrad, Bethenny Frankel, Kate Gosselin, Kim Kardashian and Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi have turned their 15 minutes of fame into the following.

Average TV viewership for most recent season and show: Polizzi - 8.5 million, Conrad - 3.7 million, Kardashian - 3.5 million, Gosselin - 2.5 million, Frankel - 2 million.

Twitter followers: Kardashian - 6 million, Conrad - 1.5 million, Polizzi - 1.2 million, Frankel - 346,000, Gosselin - n/a.

Facebook fans: Kardashian - 3.9 million, Frankel - 446,000, Polizzi - 146,000, Conrad - 145,000, Gosselin - 3,800.

Books "written:" Conrad - 4, Frankel - 3, Gosselin - 3, Kardashian - 1, Polizzi - 1. (Editor's note: I use the term "written" very, very loosely.)

Branded products: Conrad - LC Lauren Conrad Clothes; Frankel - SkinnyGirl Margaritas, Workout DVDs; Kardashian - Kardashian Collection clothes, Shoe-Dazzle footwear, perfume; Polizzi - "in the works;" Gosselin - n/a.

Debut single: Kardashian - "Turn It Up," all others n/a.

The winner? You decide...this is too painful for me to consider.

French fries

In 1802, Thomas Jefferson served "potatoes made in a French manner" and America was hooked--french fries have ever since been a staple of the U.S. love affair with fast and/or comfort food.

Among the most popular purveyors of the fried treats, McDonald's set the standard for the best fries. Burger King tried, and failed, to match McDonald's share of the french fry market and Wendy's attempt was met with discorn--its fries were too thick and thus too soggy for the palette of most Americans.

That's all changing. Wendy's has replaced its thick fries with a crisper, skin-on version flavored with sea salt. A new campaign, from the Kaplan Thaler Group, is breaking this week to promote the natural-cut fries.

The new fry hit Wendy's locations in November and since then sales have risen to 10% per 100 transactions, according to a story today on AdAge.com.

The fries were pushed in measured media late last year and consumers have noticed. In a study done by Technomic Consumer Brand Metrics in February, 61% of those surveyed had tried the new fries and, out of that group, 77% said they would recommend the new, improved product.

Wendy's labeling of the product with words like "sea salt" and "natural" has struck a chord with consumers. According to the research, the words connote a lack of processing compared to other fast-food offerings.

Overall, Wendy's same store sales were up 0.2% in the fourth quarter 2010 compared with that same period a year earlier. And, while Wendy's still trails dramatically behind McDonald's 48.2% share, the third place fast food brand is closing in on Burger King--Wendy's share is now about 13% compared to BK's 13.9%.

Perhaps it's time for the creepy king to make a comeback on BK's behalf.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When last we checked in on Don Draper...

How are Don Draper and his new bride, Megan, doing? Is the new agency making it? And, what of Peggy and her promising career as chief copywriter at the firm?

Well, Mad Men fans, we won't know the answers to any of these questions, at least for awhile--Season Five of AMC's smash series likely won't start this summer as originally planned.

According to a story in today's New York Times, it appears that Mad Men will be back on air, at the earliest, in late 2011. It's more realistic that the series wouldn't start again until early 2012.

The delay is being caused by negotiations between AMC, the network which airs the show, and Lionsgate, the studio which makes the show. Given the success of Mad Men, the two companies are fighting over what is now a very lucrative property.

A summer 2011 start is not totally out of the question but negotiations would have to resolve quickly in order to get writers to work and actors back from other commitments. In the meantime, Season Four of Mad Men will be released next week--re-runs of last season may be the only recourse for those of us anxiously awaiting the return of Don, Peggy, Megan, Joan, Roger and crew.

Elizabeth Taylor

America's first true celebrity--iconic actress and pop culture phenomenon, Elizabeth Taylor--died this morning at age 79.

Taylor's every move was chronicled long before the days of TMZ, People magazine and Entertainment Tonight. Women wanted to be her; men wanted to be with her.

Taylor first drew notoriety for National Velvet and went on to star in classics like Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the latter two which won her the Academy Award for Best Actress. She starred alongside friend Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun, my personal favorite. And, of course, she was Cleopatra--a fitting role for this stunningly beautiful actress.

Her off-screen romances were many--she was married eight times, two of those were with Richard Burton. Their romance was fiery, tempestuous and very, very public.

Taylor's eclectic mix of friends ranged from Michael Jackson to Elton John to Barbara Walters to Montgomery Clift to Paul Newman. She was a humanitarian, deeply involved in the fight against AIDS/HIV, and can be credited for using her celebrity to raise the public's awareness of that disease.

Elizabeth Taylor is the first person that I can remember as a celebrity. She was of my parents' generation and her movies and appearances on TV were memories from my youth. I was always struck by her beauty but also by the way everyone seemed to want to be close to her and know more about her.

It would be easy to say that a pop culture legend has died. But, somehow, that seems to minimize the impact that Taylor had on her craft of acting, and on the world through her humanitarianism and care for others.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The New York street system

The New York Times reports today that the New York street grid system is 200 years old this year. And, it truly is a significant birthday.

In 1811, when New York had about 60,000 residents, the city fathers ordered an ambitious street plan which would accommodate population growth. The solution was a grid, laid on top of the island of Manhattan, which is now the street system of avenues running north and south and streets running east and west.

Several changes and improvements occurred in the years after including in 1853 when Central Park was laid out in response to demand from wealthy merchants. About 1,600 German gardeners and Irish pig farmers were displaced, as well as a small African-American settlement at what is now 82nd Street and Eighth Avenue.

There are anomalies in the system, such as the area of Greenwich Village, which was already developed in 1811. But, overall, the foresight of these developers in 1811 is in place for the eight million daily inhabitants of the island of Manhattan.

(Source: New York Times)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

- The March Madness "experiment" is a success. I like the multi-network coverage from CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV. The games are staggered enough that it's easy to watch games in their entirety or easily switch from network-to-network, particularly in a time period like Thursday afternoon where there were plenty of close games and upsets. My one beef with the coverage is the networks' insistence on using an overhead/baseline camera angle from time-to-time--it's as if they're saying "we've got cool technology and multiple cameras...let us prove it to you." (For March Madness coverage, check out The View from Section 10, section10.blogspot.com.)

- Guess what was voted "the most tear-jerking scene in movie history?" In a survey of 2,000 fans, the farewell scene in E.T. was given the honor. Really!?

- Another sign of the apocalypse: A New York couple is suing the lawyers they hired to help them adopt a baby boy. Why? The couple says that the child is "defective," and if they'd known that the boy had serious neurological problems, they would not have adopted him. They want $5 million for medical costs and emotional distress, saying "He is a wonderful little boy, but this has been hard."

- Speaking of tear-jerking movie scenes, it's been revealed that the child actor who provided the voice for Bambi was tricked into thinking that his real mother was in danger when he recorded the movie's heart-tugging, core scene. A Disney executive told Donnie Dunagan, then six years old, "Your mother's in trouble, we're going to put you on the speaker--call for your mother." The result was Bambi's plaintive cries for his mother--a scene which truly provided tears for generations of moviegoers. Dunagan said he has since forgiven the Disney exec involved in the trick.

- Here's a word of warning to my peeps in San Francisco. Tests on the seats of the San Francisco BART trains found nine different types of bacteria, including some found in fecal matter. Yikes!

- What is it about celebrity and misguided behavior which makes us craving more, more and more? Wrote Joanna Weiss in The Boston Globe about Charlie Sheen, "The Charlie Sheen I'm watching seems to be enjoying himself immensely. By every measure of pop-culture currency, Sheen's claims that he's 'winning!' are pretty accurate." As proof, Weiss cites Sheen's Twitter account, which set a new record for how quickly he gathered one million followers. Would Sheen behave in this manner if no one paid any attention? Just askin'...

- It's been a month since Valentine's Day and I figure that a few of you are dealing now with a breakup with your "sweetheart." As a public service, check out PinkKisses.com. The website assists those going through a post-breakup period with a variety of offerings--a $10 a month action plan delivers a daily advice e-mail, and you can upload a photo of your ex for free and "watch it burn." Wow...the things you can do on this thing called the Internet.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pepsi now in third

It's official--Pepsi, long the number two brand in the soft drink category, is now number three having fallen behind not only Coke but also Diet Coke. Beverage Digest reported that Pepsi lost 0.4 share in 2010, falling to a 9.5% share of the category. Diet Coke now controls 9.9% of the market while Coke owns a sizable share lead at 17%.

Share losses like this call into question marketing strategy and that's what is happening at Pepsi. The Refresh Project, launched early last year by Pepsi, saw the soft drink brand move away from traditional celebrity-focused campaigns to a cause marketing focus. This move included de-selecting Super Bowl advertising and ceding that advertising venue to Coke and other beverage brands.

Pepsi maintains that the Refresh Project has been a success, particularly at the local level. And, it plans to expand the program this year.

According to Advertising Age, Pepsi plans to increase ad spending by 30% this year, which will include new advertising for Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Gatorade. The company is also supporting X Factor, the new music competition created by ex-American Idol judge Simon Cowell.

When considering Pepsi's plans to increase spending, bear in mind that Diet Coke is small compared to its competitor. Diet Coke spent $36 million on measured media in 2010 while Pepsi spent around $114 million.

The news about Pepsi's slide continues a bad couple of years or so for PepsiCo's beverage family--Gatorade has stumbled, Tropicana had a well-documented ill-fated brand identity redesign, and other marketing and branding mishaps have occurred across the various brands.

The news of the slide to number three also will impact employee morale at Pepsi given how long it took to achieve the strong second place standing in the category. Said Credit Suisse analyst Carlos Laboy, "It took decades to get Pepsi to number two, and it is risky that PepsiCo cannot avert this slide, while brand Coca-Cola holds it together, Diet Coke rises and Coke Zero continues to play its role well. Sure, a Pepsi Max relaunch looks brilliant, but the core is ailing."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Comings and goings

- Surprise, surprise--the opening of Spider-Man, the musical, on Broadway has been delayed...again. The "new" official opening date is June 14. This is the sixth time that the show has been delayed and is in danger of becoming the biggest, most expensive flop in Broadway history.

- Another sign of the apocalypse: Charlie Sheen is taking his craziness on the road. On April 2, the Charlie Sheen LIVE: My Violent Torpedo of Truth tour will open.

- Note to self--do NOT travel on business on the first day of spring break week.

- The New York Times has a story today on a magazine which is actually succeeding in printed form. The Week, a small publication which relies upon stripped-down news stories, culled from a variety of sources, has a formula which is working--it's profitable and has grown subscribers by more than fivefold since it began publishing in 2001.

- Just as I tire, as a Kansan, of references to Oz, so too must Houstonians tire of the following. Both the New York Times and USA Today used references to "Houston, we have (fill in the blank)" for the main headlines of their NCAA Basketball Tournament preview sections. The Times had "Houston, We Have Liftoff" while USAT had "Houston, We Have Tipoff."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

- Perhaps if we'd all paid closer attention, we would have seen the warning signs on Charlie Sheen's behavior given his performance as Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn in Major League and Major League II.

- Quote of the week: "When it's time to pull and tuck, I'm sure I will consider," said Britney Spears on plastic surgery and other surgical enhancements to one's body.

- There's a story on CNN.com about Marilyn Monroe which tries to answer the question as to why we still find her fascinating, 50 years after her death. One "expert" says it's because Monroe appeared to have everything, yet died with nothing--she lived in a small bungalow, surrounded by clutter, and was found dead with a variety of pills on her bedstand. Another suggests that it's because Monroe died young--there are no photos of her as an older woman and her beauty is how she's remembered, citing the famous Andy Warhol silkscreen painting of Monroe. Many have tried to emulate her in various ways (e.g., Lady Gaga comes to mind) and there are also the stories of her relationship with John and Robert Kennedy which add to the mystique.

- Speaking of Lady Gaga, the singer launched a movement on Twitter and her website to raise relief funds for victims of the disaster in Japan. Gaga designed a red-and-white wristband for fans to purchase on her website with all proceeds going to the Tsunami Relief Effort.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The aging of television

Advertisers have long coveted the 18-49 television viewing audience. But, recent data which was part of a story today in the Wall Street Journal, indicates that U.S. television viewership is actually aging as the overall population gets older.

In 1991-92, the number one rated show on television was Cheers. The median viewer age of those watching the antics of Norm, Cliff, Sam and Diane was 34.7.

In 2010-11, the number show is American Idol. And, the media viewer age of that program is 43.8. The median age was even older last year--57.4 for NCIS.

What's it all mean? It means as we boomers continue to age, we see actors like Tom Selleck (66) and Kathy Bates (62) in starring roles. And, there are plenty of other older stars in key roles, e.g., Ed O'Neill in Modern Family, Hugh Laurie in House, and Mark Harmon on NCIS. As younger viewers gravitate to the internet, gaming and video-on-demand, the average prime-time viewer's age has risen to 51 this year.

Viewers who are over 55 make up nearly 60% of the weekly audience for CBS' popular The Good Wife and ABC's Dancing With the Stars. The boomer audience is also a reason networks are introducing remakes like Hawaii Five-O and Charlie's Angels (in development.)

The trend is a fairly stunning reversal of what for so long was the conventional wisdom of targeting twenty-somethings who were early in their earning power, thus building relationships with advertised brands. Instead, advertisers are now reaching boomers (55-64) who, according to NBC Universal, spend $1.8 trillion annually on food, cars, personal care and other products.

This boomer doesn't necessarily think that network programmers have cracked the code on what this audience wants to watch, but it's certainly comforting to see advertising that's actually targeting us versus making us feel aged and out-of-the-loop.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Comings and goings

- Well, road warriors, the irritation of paying to have your bags fly with you is only going to get worse, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal. Last year, the airline industry brought in an estimated $22 billion, or 5% of total revenue, through fees charged for checked bags, pillows, snacks and other items. Look for airlines to find even more ways to gouge travelers by charging for things like more legroom, liquor and even insurance for delayed flights. In other words, get ready to spend even more money to fly the friendly skies.

- Hugh Hefner has succeeded in taking Playboy private. The struggling magazine will now be owned by Rizvi Traverse, a private investment firm, Hefner and other executive management. Rizvi Traverse will own 60%, Hefner will own 37% and others in executive management will own the remaining 3%. Hef remains as editor-in-chief and chief creative officer.

- There's no crying in basketball! What's up with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra admitting that a few Heat players were teary-eyed in the locker room following the team's fourth straight loss yesterday, this one to the Chicago Bulls?

- Thank goodness for Sly James and Mike Burke. Kansas City, MO voters have two very good choices for their new Mayor, which will be decided in the April election.

- What is it that is so compelling about watching scorned women confront the guy who jilted them? Tonight's episode of The Bachelor is the pre-final show where the women who didn't receive a rose get to have cat fights with each other, then turn their collective cat claws on bachelor Brad Womack.

- Kristen Kalis, a Pennsylvania woman, accidentally flushed her wedding ring, valued at $10,000, down the toilet on Valentine's Day. Kalis called several plumbers who told her a search was pointless but, finally, found someone who would take on the job. A company named Mr. Rooter used a shop-vac to empty the sewage trap outside the house, rummaged through the waste for three hours, and finally found the ring. Said Kalis, "Between God and Mr. Rooter, my prayers were answered."

- What do you all think of the new Dancing With the Stars lineup? That's what I thought--snooze.

- According to PopEater.com, Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson may be rekindling their romance. Perhaps Ronson missed her 15 minutes of fame.

- Mariah Carey is raising the bar for expectant mothers. The vocal diva, who is expecting twins, is tricking out the nursery with two walk-in closets, a gold-and-onyx couch--value $1 million, and flat screen TVs which will descend from the ceiling. And, each child will be given a diamond-encrusted iPod upon arrival into the world. Carey is spending millions to convert a wing of her Beverly Hills mansion into this "luxury nursery."

- Need further proof of the changing face of media consumption? There is a "store closing" sign in the Blockbuster video store a mile from our home.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

Notes and quotes as I await tip-off of Kansas versus Missouri on CBS:

- Google may have failed to acquire Groupon but the internet company made 48 different acquisitions last year.

- Quote of the week: What else? "Winning!," Charlie Sheen.

- Speaking of Sheen, the dude is scary. This saga is going to go from a public amusement to some sort of dramatic meltdown with serious ramifications for others--whether his children, his ex-wife, or an innocent bystander.

- Secondary quote of the week: "That's chickens--t defense." Bob Knight, on ESPN GameDay, after a demonstration of a late-in-game clock play versus fellow ex-coach Digger Phelps.

- The rules of basketball, written by James Naismith, are making an appearance in Kansas City, MO. The typed and handwritten rules are being displayed in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, just in time for next week's Big 12 post-season tournament being played at Sprint Center.

- James Franco, fresh off a less-than-stellar co-hosting gig at the Academy Awards telecast, has a new project lined up with rock group R.E.M. The group announced the Collapse Into Now Film Project, a selection of films which are personally curated by lead singer Michael Stipe and will accompany each song on R.E.M.'s new album, due this coming Tuesday. Franco will direct one of the films on the project.

- If you haven't checked out Lights Out on FX, you should do so. While the acting isn't first rate, the storyline is compelling.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Madness advertising

(Editor's Note: This post is being reprinted from The View from Section 10.)

For the first time ever, March Madness will be seen over four different channels later this month. This is an advertising sales challenge, right? Not so fast--according to officials at CBS Sports, commercial inventory is "virtually gone."

The upcoming tournament will be seen not only on CBS, but also on TNT, TBS and TruTV, which means that hoops junkies can see each game of the tournament, rather than the past regional broadcast format. Viewers will be able to switch to the game they want, rather than relying upon CBS to switch from game-to-game, which has been the past approach.

While the new format is a boon for viewers, it's a challenge for media planners, buyers and marketing execs. Brands involved with the tournament have to figure out how to purchase it across cable, where to place ads on each outlet, and how best to measure success. The networks have to determine contingency plans should ratings guarantees fall short of what's been promised to advertisers.

The approach is unique but will be the precedent for tournaments to come. CBS and Turner are spending $10.8 billion over 14 years for the rights to broadcast the three-weeks of March Madness, which has been expanded to 68 teams (from 65), on both television as well as digitally. Thus, the stakes are high given the rights fees coupled with the $600+ million spent (in 2010) on March Madness by advertisers.

This years, familiar brands like Coca-Cola, AT&T and Capital One will continue their NCAA Tournament involvement. The broadcasts will also feature Enterprise Rent-A-Car, The Hartford, LG Electronics, Infiniti and Unilever, among others. And, while the NCAA has long forbidden corporate signage in-game or in-arena, the new broadcast format opens up more places for advertising brands to be seen--in regular commercial pods as well as "at the half" and "pre-game" studio shows.

Let March Madness begin!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Who should host the Oscars

The test was to see if youthful co-hosts--Anne Hathaway and James Franco--could pull in a younger viewing audience to watch the Academy Awards telecast. The result? Failure.

Not only did Hathaway and Franco fail to deliver any excitement to the deathly dull show, but the ratings among the younger demographic did not materialize either. That then begs the question, "who should host the Oscars?"

One of the biggest ovations of the evening was for Billy Crystal, who was recognized for his former host role on the telecast. Given Crystal's reception, which seemed to be a "save us from this debacle" reaction, perhaps it's time to bring Billy back as the host for the show.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were perhaps the funniest presenters of the evening. Their banter would work well as co-hosts. And, what of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, co-hosts in 2010, and two guys who've done their sharing of hosting on Saturday Night Live--good practice for the live nature of the Academy Awards show.

How about Jimmy Fallon? Or, Jimmy Kimmel? If the desire is a younger demographic viewing the show, those two guys would seem to have more pull than Hathaway and Franco.

Whatever the decision, it's obvious that this year's hosts will pull a David Letterman, i.e., a "one-and-done" on the hosting role for ABC's Academy Awards show.