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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Dip & Squeeze: I dare someone to turn it into a rap video dance

Because I’m a nerd, I love inventive marketing research even more than stellar ad creative. And the research that led Heinz to its new Dip & Squeeze ketchup package is some of the coolest I’ve read about in a long time.


A Wall Street Journal article described part of the R&D that led to the new package, reporting “To develop the new packet, Heinz staffers sat behind one-way mirrored glass, watching consumers in 20 fake minivan interiors putting ketchup on fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets.”

The article also describes someone on the Heinz team who bought a used minivan to test the packaging with his own family because he feared doing so in his regular car would have been too messy. I’m assuming he drives something that’s named with numbers and letters that’s at least a decade newer than what I drive, but that’s just a hunch.

Since the new package is more expensive than the old ones, some fast food franchisees will likely resist switching. However, the profit margin on fries is quite high, so I’m sure the marketing departments at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and other QSRs are running the figures for how many incremental fry sales it will take to break even as well as the projections of how many fry sales will be added as a direct result of offering Dip & Squeeze. It also seems to me that putting some kind of “3x the amount of regular packs” POP in stores and at drive-throughs would mitigate people asking for more than one or two packages as customers begin learning how to use it.

I’m also sure that Heinz will be selling Dip & Squeeze multi-packs in supermarkets (if they haven’t already) which should further expand the stranglehold the company already has on the consumer ketchup market.

If you can’t wait to try the new package, it is being used at a national chain of chicken sandwich restaurants that will remain unnamed due to its continued anti-diversity stance. I refuse to go there or promote it in any positive context.

Subway’s pitiful pursuit of product placement on Pawn Stars

The recent Subway placements in History Channel’s Pawn Stars have been anything but well-executed. The most valuable product placements are those that appear seamless, as if the product is actually supposed to be part of a show/scene. Subway’s have stuck out like a Humane Society mutt at a fancy dog show.
When placements aren’t made blatantly obvious, viewers are less likely to realize they are being marketed to, which prevents them from critically analyzing a brand message (many scholars study this phenomenon in terms of one’s persuasion knowledge, or PK, being activated). Once persuasion knowledge is activated, potential consumers become much more defensive about being sold to. The ethical concerns surrounding such strategies are legitimate, but very few brands have actually faced that much criticism for using them.
I’m willing to bet that if you were asked to think of really good product placements that you’d have trouble doing so. Not because you haven’t seem them, but because you didn’t realize they were placements. I’m convinced those offer the most marketing value for brands.
I don’t blame the Old Man and Co. for making a buck off Subway, but the way those breakfast sandwiches were written into the show was amateur at best.