It’s (maybe) the end of the translite world as we know it

Photo: Commoner JournalI went inside of an older McDonald’s for the first time in over a year last week and couldn’t believe the store’s menu boards had been updated to hi-res flat-panel monitors.  Undoubtedly, the QSR industry’s steady conversion to LCD menu board screens spells death and doom for the translite–those translucent plastic panels that have made up menu boards for decades.

Most people probably don’t think or care much about translites, but I can assure you that there is an enormous specialty industry built around designing, printing, and shipping them. McDonald’s alone has over 12,000 restaurants in the US, so one can imagine the translite producers’ joy every time that McD’s or another national chain changed its menu or ran a sales promotion that required new menu board signage. Unfortunately for them, it appears that the translite will soon be obsolete, suffering a fate similar to that of film, land-lines, and Blockbuster stores.

The advantage of digital menu boards for McDonald’s and other fast feeders goes beyond potential cost savings. All QSRs prize consistency across their disparate locations. Thus, the ability to program the appearance of menu boards system-wide from a central file is a god-send for marketing and operations managers. It may make the 10:30 switch from breakfast to lunch a bit easier for store employees as well.

Bored in the bathroom? Marketers should give you something to read.

Like all social scientists, I’m fascinated by patterns in human behavior–especially those that are hiding in plain sight. I encountered one while I was watching YouTube clips of Woody Harrelson films last week and happened across this scene:

There, from 1:20-1:30, was a little behavioral insight that led me to what I think is a rather clever marketing idea. Amazingly, some quick Googling led to a relevant academic study and this news article that described its findings. The researchers surveyed 500 people and reported that:

“More than half of the men (64%) and 41% of the women confessed to being regular toilet readers. More often than not, they described their reading material as “whatever is around”. In practice, this usually meant newspapers.”

It’s no secret that people read while in the bathroom. Some enterprising media companies have already taken advantage of captive audiences in public restrooms by selling ad space on posters hung above urinals and in stalls. But I can’t think of any marketers taking advantage of the potential to reach their customers in home bathrooms.

As the clip implies, the most obvious type of products that could exploit the opportunity are consumer packaged goods that are stored in the bathroom. I think the ideal category would be men’s body wash (I’m looking at you Axe and Dove Men + Care) because it’s a product that most consumers replace every four to six weeks. That purchase cycle lends itself to some kind of a serial story printed on on-package booklet labels (like this one), the assumption being that an interesting bit of reading will engage people with the brand and create brand loyalty by encouraging future purchases in order to find out what happens next in the series. Previous editions could be made available online so that new customers would be able to catch up to the current printing.

How laundry detergent marketers are wringing every cent out of the wash

Laundry-related product introductions have been at an all-time-high the past couple years. Led by Procter & Gamble, CPG marketers have churned out a number of innovative wonders for clothes washing.

On a recent trip through the laundry aisles (yes, aisles is plural–there are two of them) at Target, I thought it might be fun to break down how much a person could spend on one load of laundry if s/he wanted to have the best-smelling, softest, brightest, whitest, most stain-free, and least-clingy clothes in the history of mankind. So I did:

Tide Pods Detergent 25¢
Tide Boost Detergent booster/stain remover 36¢
Downy Fabric softener
Downy Unstopables Scent booster $1.00
Shout Color Catcher Anti-bleed 16¢
Downy Sheets Anti-static
TOTAL PER LOAD   $1.89

As you can see, one could spend nearly $2 per load on laundry products if s/he tried. Not that many people would use every one of these products, but when we consider that the average US family does about 400 loads of laundry per year, it’s easy to see why P&G, SC Johnson, and others are willing to develop and promote line extensions that will be added to a fraction of those loads.

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H2O-NO: Maker’s waters-down its iconic brand

Reports of a decision by Maker’s Mark to add water to its signature bourbon in order to meet increased global demand have circulated online among drinkers in recent days. If my circle of friends is in anyway representative of a broader audience, it’s safe to say that the announcement has elicited a substantial amount of consternation, anger, and criticism. I’ve not heard of anyone burning their Ambassador’s Card yet, but the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.

Maker’s has always been one of my very favorite brands. It’s a Kentucky-made product with iconic packaging and print advertising by Louisville agency Doe-Anderson (the horrendous TV ads they’ve produced the past few years are a very different story, but that’s another conversation), a place where I interned a century ago and where I had the good fortune of riding an elevator a couple floors with the very funny and foul-mouthed Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Bill Samuels, Jr. (now retired).

Samuels’s devotion to quality and consistency–and his acute marketing savvy–were the catalysts of the brand’s tremendous growth over three decades. An ad (posted below) produced in response to a spike in demand following a fortuitous 1980 WSJ article thanked drinkers for their interest, but conceded that the time-consuming nature of distilling, aging, and bottling Maker’s Mark didn’t lend itself to ramped-up mass production of the bourbon. This was, of course, partly true, but also a great way to spin the fact that Maker’s simply hadn’t yet grown large enough to produce enough volume to distribute outside of Kentucky. However, Samuels’s response cemented Maker’s position as a premium, hand-made, authentic bourbon and led to the formation of a cult of rabid brand enthusiasts. I suppose that’s much of the reason so many Maker’s drinkers are feeling plenty betrayed right now.

Image“We were very pleased on August 1st to find a story about our little family distillery on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

As a result of the story, we’re getting calls from people all over the country who are ‘suddenly’ interested in buying Maker’s Mark.

And as much as we’d like to accommodate all the inquiring public, we’re concerned that we can’t. Quality is what makes Maker’s Mark special. And if we made much more than we did, well, it just wouldn’t be the Maker’s Mark you read about.

If our special bourbon whisky isn’t available where you live, you might need a little perseverance. If your local retailer doesn’t have it, he can order it for you.

Or, if you’d prefer, write us at Maker’s Mark. We’ll get you started on the right avenue toward finding this one-of-a-kind whisky.”

Super Bowl ad review: Sodastream strategy falls flat

Sodastream wants people to buy one of its soft drink makers because it will help save the environment by eliminating lots of plastic bottles. Sounds nice, but will it sell the $80 machine? Doubtful. We’ve known for years that plastic bottles are an environmental disaster but that hasn’t affected the beverage industry in the least. Bottled water sales have steadily increased despite campaigns to sell $5 reusable bottles and to install fillers in offices and other places of business. This article points out that Americans are consuming more bottled water than ever. And this website notes that Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles per hour. In short, nobody really gives a rat’s ass about eliminating plastic bottles.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Sodastream’s sales won’t increase. It’s a neat machine that plenty of people will want to sit next to the KitchenAid mixer and Keurig coffee maker to impress house guests. But had it been positioned using a deprivation strategy (think of the original Got Milk? campaign), I think its post-Super Bowl sales bump would have been outstanding. Instead of talking about environmental pollution, the spot should have shown someone needing to whip up a fresh drink in the kitchen to seal the deal after a hot date but coming up short because his week-old cola poured out like cough syrup and had no bubbles.

The Sodastream could be the hero in a great many situations when someone doesn’t have time to run to the store or vending machine or doesn’t want to because it’s cold or rainy or late or whatever other reason. People could readily identify with those scenarios. Who hasn’t cooked a pizza only to realize that the Coke you planned to wash it down with was completely flat?

Thoughts on a visual comm nightmare

We’re all familiar with the red and blue electoral college maps that appear in news reports about this time every four years. In 2000–the year that the Supreme Court elected W–the final map looked like this:

Keep in mind that the final electoral vote count was 271 for Bush and 266 for Gore, about as close to dead even as it could have been. (Gore won the popular vote, as well as a proper recount, but those are other issues altogether.)

The problem these maps present then–for Democrats at least–is that they represent a near 50/50 split as an apparent red state landslide. Obviously, using a map with individual states scaled to represent their physical size and not their population size (the basis of how many electoral votes the state gets) is the culprit. The bigger issue relates somewhat to a tenet of Spiral of Silence theory which holds that when people perceive the masses as moving some direction, they tend to move in the same direction. Consequently, I believe electoral college maps are part of the reason that many people believe the country is made up overwhelmingly of Republicans.

So my question–and I’m looking squarely at the DNC and media outlets such as Huffington Post and MSNBC–is, why in the hell hasn’t someone figured out a better way to visually represent an electoral map by showing each state sized proportionally to its population instead of its area? Can the DNC not afford a copy of InDesign and a freelance graphic designer?