Monday, November 28, 2011

America's hottest brands

Advertising Age has published a list of America's hottest brands based upon "strong sales, savvy marketing and overall buzz."

Here's the list:

- Uniqlo: This retailer opened two mammoth stores in New York, blanketed the city with differentiated advertising and coaxed shoppers in with impactful pricing.

- Sharpie: Who knew that this brand would become one known for its creativity?

- Skillet Street Food Spices: Spreadable bacon--what a concept!

- Poise: This brand tapped into a consumer insight that "light bladder leakage" is more common than women thought.

- JackThreads: Exclusive fashion-line collaborations.

- Crossfit: This fitness brand is exploding in popularity.

- Arizona Tea: Arizona Tea is challenging Lipton for control of the $5.3 billion ready-to-drink iced tea category.

- Chegg: A textbook rental company fahioned after Netflix.

- Finish: Used positive reviews of its product to become a force in the dish detergent category.

- Dove: This brand is the poster child for good consumer packaged goods marketing.

- Kia Soul: Who doesn't love the Soul's campaign featuring hamsters!?

- My Little Pony: Kids' cable network, The Hub, re-imagined this 1980's cult hit.

- Chevy Cruze: GM's hottest selling car brand.

- Goldfish: This 50-year old brand is now the second best selling cracker.

- DC Comics: Licensing, merchandising and movies--they are doing it all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The lunacy of Black Friday

Last year, the Kansas City Star had 59 flyers (a k a free-standing inserts) in its Thanksgiving edition. Today, the Star had 65, not counting the numerous print ads in the run-of-press portion of the paper, all extolling this or that Black Friday deal.

"We open the doors at 10PM tonight!" "Big savings--only from 4-5AM." "Doorbuster sale starting at 5AM."

Really, really...!?

I'm going to go all Andy Rooney (rest in peace) curmudgeonly on you for a bit now. So, those of you who plan to stay out all night to hit the sales may want to stop reading.

Back in the day, there was no Black Friday, there was the "day after Thanksgiving." On the day after Thanksgiving, we would shop but we'd also go to a movie, go out to lunch or dinner together, and perhaps nab a bit (or two or three) of leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. Retailers didn't promote sales as much as they promoted the first official day of the holiday shopping season.

Thanksgiving Day was reserved for family--no stores were open and no one gave a thought to missing out on the possibilities.

Let's see a show of hands--how many of you have worked retail on the day after Thanksgiving? If you have, you know it's a grueling, demanding day. Now, for a moment, consider those who are at home now, readying for their Thanksgiving meal but also pondering leaving home at 9:00 p.m. or 3:00 a.m., or whatever time it may be, working retail so those of you who feel so led can get out "early" and hit the various sales and deals which are being so heavily promoted this week.

It's a sad commentary on a day which originally was put into place to celebrate the harvest of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving, Kansas City!

I started this blog in February 2009 and for my Thanksgiving posts the past two years I’ve written a serious piece about all of the true reasons I have for being thankful on this, my favorite holiday of the year.

As I drove on the streets of my town, Kansas City, yesterday, I realized that I had special reasons to give thanks again this year—very much focused, though, on this amazing city where I and my family reside. So, with no further adieu, here are the reasons I’m thankful for Kansas City:

- I’m thankful for the people of this expansive geographic metropolitan area—from the tony suburbs to the rural communities and in between. I am thankful for the sincerity of feelings, the kindness which represents our community, and the passion for our state—whether Kansas or Missouri.

- I’m thankful for the prettiest shopping district in the country, the Country Club Plaza, and how no other place else feels so special during the holidays.

- I’m thankful for local icons like George Brett, Tom Watson and Len Dawson. I’m thankful for those who represent Kansas City in the entertainment business—Eric Stonestreet, Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd and others.

- I’m thankful for Grandstand Burgers, Rudy’s Tacqueria, Grinder’s, Stroud’s, LC’s, the original Peanut on Main, and Jess & Jim’s.

- I’m thankful for barbecue of all types, sauces, and venues—for Oklahoma Joes, Gates, Arthur Bryants, LC’s, Danny Edwards, B.B.'s Lawnside Barbecue, Jack’s Stack and Rosedale.

- I’m thankful for prime cuts of good ol’ red meat—for The Capital Grille, Ruth’s Chris, Plaza III and JJ’s.

- I’m thankful that our multi-purpose sports complex is updated and still a terrific place to watch baseball or football. I’m thankful for the Sprint Center and Kansas Speedway. And, I’m thankful for the vision of the local ownership of Sporting KC and for the best soccer venue in the United States.

- I’m thankful for Ward Parkway, the Paseo and all the other boulevards in our fair city. I’m thankful the J.C. Nichols fountain and all of the various waterways and water features in our cowtown, which boasts “more fountains than Rome” and “more boulevards than Paris.”

- I’m thankful for local leaders who give of their time, money and management skills to make Kansas City a case study in philanthropic leadership.

- I’m thankful for the companies that call K.C. “home.” And, I’m thankful for the local leaders who have recruited those companies here and work to keep them here.

- I’m thankful for this thing called “Kansas City Pride”—for a town, which engenders loyalty and a desire to make our community a great place to live and work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mid-week musings

It's the day before Thanksgiving so let's catch up, shall we, on the comings-and-goings in the world of pop culture, advertising and that big ol' world out there.

- I'm really surprised at Target's holiday advertising. The use of the irritating female in their pre-Black Friday television advertising is a radical departure from their differentiated, smart work which is their normal modus operandi.

- And, on the topic of irritating, what is with the casting of the female in the McDonald's McRib commercial? Her "I married a 14 year old" line, delivered in little girl voice, is like nails on a chalkboard (for those of you old enough to remember a chalkboard.)

- Did anyone out there really think that someone other than J.R. Martinez would win the mirror ball trophy on Dancing With the Stars? Well done, J.R.

- Happy Birthday, Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America!

- This is a true feel good story: Brian McGuinn of Florida realized that he had accidentally thrown his wife, Anne's, engagement ring in the trash last month. Vowing to do whatever necessary to retrieve the ring, McGuinn contacted the local sanitation company, suited up in a hazmat outfit, and waded into tons of rotting food and other trash to find the $10,000 piece of jewelry. After 30 minutes of work, McGuinn found the ring, had it professionally cleaned, and presented it to his wife.

- Researchers in Italy found that drinking one to two pints of beer per day has the same cardiovascular benefits as red wine, which can lower the risk of heart disease by 31 percent.

- Great concert: Chris Isaak at the Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO, last Friday night.

- And, finally, Americans filled 254 million prescriptions last year for pain-killing drugs like OxyContin and Percocet. That's enough to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month! (Source: Fortune)

Monday, November 21, 2011

2012 - The year of classic rock anniversaries?

The big news coming out of the music business today is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's plans for a new album and tour in 2012. As a stand-alone announcement, that's big news, but couple that with rumors of a Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tour as well as announced plans for The Eagles and their 40th anniversary tour and 2012 shapes up to be the year of classic rock.

The Stones have been coy with the possibilities for 2012. Reports have Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts practicing together in England while Mick Jagger has been tight-lipped about any anniversary plans.

As for The Eagles, the country rock stars last toured in support of their Long Road Out of Eden album, in 2008-2009.

The Springsteen tour will be the first for the band without Clarence Clemons. No tour dates have yet been set but the band plans to first play in Europe and then in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Throwin' it around...

Greetings from Gotham! Let's look at what's going on in the world of pop culture, shall we?

- Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, revealed today that he knows how he plans to end his successful drama series and what will become of lead character Don Draper (Jon Hamm.) Weiner plans to end the show in present time after the final season. Mad Men returns for Season Five next March and will have two more seasons after that.

- Justin Timberlake wrote an emotional thank you to his date and her fellow troops after attending the Marine Corps Birthday Ball this past Saturday. Timberlake escorted Cpl. Kelsey DeSantis after she extended an invitation to him in a YouTube video which quickly went viral. Wrote the singer, on his blog: "I knew I would have an evening that I wouldn't forget...What I didn't know was how moved I would be by the whole experience."

- Spotted on the streets of New York today was Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone magazine. Wenner co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 and now also owns Men's Journal and Us Weekly.

- How cool is it to see One World Trade Center rising up over the skyline in downtown Manhattan?

- Kris Humphries--the former Mr. Kim Kardashian--is back. Humphries is in New York today meeting with Chris del Gatto, CEO of jewelry company CIRCA. Humphries apparently will be announcing a business partnership with CIRCA sometime later this week. Do I hear a "who cares!?"

- A barber in Canton, OH is trying to help out during these rough economic times. Gregory Burnett, the haircutter, has signs up in the window of his shop which read "Times are hard" and "Pay what you can for a cut." Haircuts that normally go for $12 are now going for as low as $5.

- And finally, billionaire Warren Buffett, historically averse to tech stocks, has placed a $10.7 billion bet on IBM. The stock purchase makes IBM the second biggest holding for Buffett, trailing only Coca-Cola.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monkey see, monkey do?

American shoppers have been urged, in recent years, to get out and start their post-Thanksgiving shopping early--as early as 4:00 a.m. for some retail outlets.

This year, the start time has moved up even further as Best Buy just announced that they will join in with Target, Macy's, and Kohl's, to name a few, who will open their doors at midnight after Thanksgiving.

Brian Dunn, the CEO for Best Buy, had this particularly sad quote about the announcement, "It will change some Thanksgiving plans for our employees. It certainly changes mine."

The move follows what has happened recently in the retail sector--once one major retailer makes a move of this type, the others feel bound to follow. The only major retailer who has not announced plans to open at midnight is Wal-Mart. Keep in mind, though, that Wal-Mart has many stores which are already open 24 hours a day and had others open at midnight last year to sell toys.

While some shoppers welcome the earlier time, citing the ease of staying up versus getting up early, the move signals yet another cultural shift in the difficulty of Americans to shut down, even for one day, and spend time with family. Old fashioned? You bet. True? C' know you agree.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Picky eaters spell trouble for some restaurant chains

Chipotle and Subway are winning; Quizno's and Friendly's are not. These are the headlines from the latest round of data from the NPD Group on the success of mid-size restaurant chains among 18-24 year olds, and as reported today in the Wall Street Journal.

Friendly Ice Cream recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as did Real Mex Restaurants, the owner of Chevy's and other sit-down Mexican food chains. And, Quizno's, citing heavy competition from Subway, hired restructuring advisers earlier this year.

The chains with the most marketing clout, coupled with their ability to react to rising costs, are beating the smaller chains or those who fail to attrack the choosier (read "pickier") eaters.

Among the coveted 18-24 year old crowd--the key audience for these chains--restaurant visits are down dramatically. In the year ended May 2011, 18-24 year olds visited restaurants 192 times each, on average, down from 245 times five years ago.

The weak job market is a factor as this demographic group has been hard-hit by unemployment. And, the taste buds of this crowd is changing too with a greater focus on the need for fresh and healthy ingredients, coupled with the obvious desire for high value.

What once was the most reliable visitor to these less expensive chain restarants is now more picky--not only with the food they eat but because of less money in their pockets.