Sunday, March 30, 2014

Marketing Baseball's Opening Day(s)

When Casey was at the bat, baseball had one opening day in spring. Today, Major League Baseball is an international industry, and opening day often takes place far away from the home country of the Coney Island hot dog.

Since 1999, when "opening day" was in Mexico, baseball has played season openers in Japan and other nations.In 2014, the opener featured the Arizona Diamondbacks playing the L.A. Dodgers in a cricket stadium in Sydney, Australia (above), the first time baseball has opened down under. MLB's SVP for international operations told the Sydney Morning Herald: "We want to play in developing baseball markets and hopefully give the sport a boost to grow." Although the Diamondbacks lost the two Australian openers to the Dodgers, hundreds of Arizona fans went along for the journey, enjoying the Sydney sights and the unique setting for a baseball opener.

MLB's domestic opener was in prime-time on Sunday night, followed by days of openers at local stadiums from coast to coast. Each team has its own opening-day marketing plan. The Red Sox have a countdown clock on their home page, for example, plus fan contests to win tickets and tweets with special hashtags to build excitement. The Yankees are promoting their phenom pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, direct from Japan, among other marketing initiatives.

MLB has a special "grand openings" blog to cover every opening day in every market. And, in a clever move, Budweiser beer is teaming up with MLB to encourage fans to sign a petition requesting an official "opening day holiday" in the U.S.

Batter up!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Fast Food in 2014: Make It Snappy, with a Smile and an App

Fast food is getting faster by the minute--literally. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article explains how the Little Caesars pizza franchises owned by Valor Equity Partners use detailed day-by-day sales projections to prepare pizzas, wings, and other foods in anticipation of customer orders, 30 minutes at a time, based on sales history and sales projections.

For example, from 6 to 6:30 pm at a Little Caesars in Salt Lake City, the staff will have ready 67 pepperoni pizzas, 39 cheese pizzas, 6 Hawaiian pizzas, and so on. Picking up the pace is pleasing customers: The dollar value of the average customer order here is nearly 8% higher than before the projections and efficiency fine-tuning went into effect. The bottom line: Shaving even a few minutes off the waiting time can be a competitive advantage when targeting consumers who value speedy service.

The idea is the fast-food equivalent of Amazon's possible plan to "pre-ship" merchandise that consumers look at (or even pause the mouse over)--before an order is placed. Consumers want what they want, when they want it, as Amazon and Little Caesars know.

On the other hand, drive-through performance is affected by the number of cars and the complexity of orders being prepared. Last year, a study reported in QSR magazine found more cars in line at Chick-Fil-A drive-throughs. Chick-Fil-A says that the increase in specialty menu items means it takes more time to get each order right.

The relationship factor is also a consideration for this fast-food marketer: "When you have Chick-fil-A team members who are making eye contact with you and listening to you, even through a speaker box, they’re more attentive, they’re more focused, they’re more likely to get it right … and they’re also more likely to get it out with much more grace and efficiency."

Still, for most drive-through customers, speed matters. McDonald's is adding a third drive-through lane at its busiest locations to accommodate customers in a hurry. And now, here comes the fast-food ordering app--for customers who want their orders ready for pickup without waiting. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Truth in Advertising

Today's New York Times has a full page ad from, a nonprofit based in Madison, CT. The ad's copy reads, in part:
"Telling the truth's not easy, but in advertising it's the law. This year millions of us will be misled by deceptive advertisers promoting products and services that don't do what they promise."
The organization asks members of the public to report a misleading ad by filing a complaint at

Truth in Advertising has a handy glossary page that defines regulatory agencies and laws, marketing practices, and topics under discussion. I've added the glossary to my page of marketing links, here.

Want to see more? The nonprofit has a Youtube video here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pampers, the $10 Billion Brand

Procter & Gamble has 25 billion-dollar brands, but Pampers--the disposable diaper brand--is the single largest in the company's portfolio. Last year, Forbes ranked Pampers #51 in its list of global brands.

Of P&G's total sales, Pampers accounts for about 12%. And, just as important, Pampers is an absolutely key brand for P&G's main target market of mothers. Pampers has nearly 13 million Facebook likes.

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article looked at P&G's research and development for improving Pampers products. Pampers researchers measure babies' "output" and diapers' absorbency from every angle, striving to prevent leaks and keep tender skin as dry as possible for as long as possible.

Researchers interview thousands of parents every year, and observe hundreds of babies for hundreds of hours, watching diaper performance as the children move. The head of P&G's diaper research lab says that "fitting a diaper is like trying to fit a snowflake" because no two babies are alike.

Pampers' marketers learned an important lesson when confronted with aggressive competition from Huggies, which in 1978 offered a shaped diaper to fit babies' bottoms. Many mothers preferred Huggies to the Pampers design of that time--and so Pampers shifted to shaped diapers and cranked up its innovation in a bid to recapture market share it had lost to Huggies.

The Swedish firm Svendka Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA) is a big competitor in Europe and is also looking to Asia for future growth. Pampers is in China, but global rivals such as Mamy Poko (from Unicharm) are also in China. In short, there's no end in sight for the international diaper wars.

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Ventures: Succeed Quickly Or Get Cut Quickly

New ventures need to show results in a hurry these days. When a new offering doesn't show early signs of succeeding by measuring up to metrics, the plug is more likely to get pulled. That seems to be the situation at Outerwall (formerly known as Coinstar).

Outerwall has three mainstay products that make product use of space in or near large stores or malls:
  • The Coinstar coin-counting machine, a popular feature in many supermarkets coast to coast. 
  • The Redbox DVD/video game rental machine, especially handy for impulse rentals.
  • The EcoATM "automated e-waste recycling machine," which buys old and used digital gadgets from consumers and recycles them responsibly.

Outerwall's mission is "to create a better everyday. We transform empty spaces into exciting retail solutions that make life easier and less complicated for consumers — and more profitable for retailers."

Its New Ventures division was once the launching pad for Star Studio photo kiosks, Rubi coffee kiosks, and Crisp Market food kiosks. In an earlier post, I questioned whether the photo kiosks would succeed at a time when camera phones are everywhere. Now the answer seems to be: no. The three ventures were introduced in mid-2012. By the end of 2013, Outerwall announced it was dropping the photo kiosks, coffee kiosks, and food kiosks in a cost-cutting move that also included cutting jobs.

The company's New Ventures page explains: "Every idea we invest in is put through a rigorous testing process and measured against key criteria. It has to make sense for consumers, retailers and investors. If it doesn’t, it’s out." The kiosk ventures didn't show early signs of meeting preset metrics for success, so they're out.

Meanwhile, what is Redbox's future in an industry that is increasingly embracing streaming for low-cost delivery and convenience? Redbox Instant by Verizon is a venture that provides streaming movies with monthly subscription pricing, and credits earned by renting at the Redbox kiosks. Consumers can choose to pick up a DVD or click to stream, which allows for targeting of multiple consumer segments. Choice seems to be the key, just as choice allows competitor Netflix to satisfy customers who want to stream and customers who want to receive DVDs by mail.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rise of the Curbside Economy

The Curbside Economy is my term for the ever-growing marketplace of goods and services -- such as gourmet food trucks and express bus lines -- delivered not in a fixed location but from various streetside locations convenient to where customers live or work.

A century ago, many goods and services were brought from neighborhood to neighborhood by push-cart operators, wagons, etc. Fifty years ago, ice cream trucks roamed nearly every community. Now we've gone back to the future, bringing goods and services to local customers for convenience.

The Curbside Economy covers a wide range of offerings, such as:
  • Express bus service. Instead of going to a central transportation terminal to board a bus, customers of BoltBus and MegaBus and their competitors can wait at a designated curbside location and ride to a curbside location in another city. BoltBus launched in 2008, an early pioneer of curbside bus service. Today, the growth of curbside buses is far outpacing that of traditional bus service, not just because of convenience but also due to amenities like Wi-Fi and wider, comfier seats.
  • Gourmet food trucks. Kogi BBQ Taco Trucks began rolling in San Francisco at the end of 2008, kicking off a fad that has extended across the US and beyond. Want a sip of gourmet coffee in Lima, Peru? Food trucks are at the curb to serve you. Gelato is ready for curbside consumption in New Zealand. The list of foods and locations goes on and on.
  • Mobile services. Albuquerque has an unusual barber shop on wheels, ready to drive to your neighborhood. New York is home to numerous mobile personal grooming services for busy people who don't have time to travel to a fixed location like a salon. Again, the list goes on and on.
  • Mobile pop-up shops. Mobile retail stores featuring branded goods, like pop-up shops but on wheels, are helping marketers to test the market in different places. Fashion eyeglasses go for a spin in the Rivet & Sway bicycle cart called Specs on Wheels. More marketers are experimenting with these mobile units, for promotional purposes and for revenue.
What's next for the Curbside Economy?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

D.C. Cool, Cherry Blossoms, and Tourism

Cherry Blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial - Destination D.C. 
Washington, D.C. has a new tourism campaign under the theme D.C. Cool. I noticed one of its ads in a recent New Yorker issue, showcasing the National Cherry Blossom Festival, March 20-April 13.

Typically, photos of cherry blossoms are in color (like the one shown above, from the tourism site). The D.C. Cool ad caught my eye because it's in black and white--only the name Cherry Blossom is in pink, with two outlines of cherry blossom flowers.

The D.C. Cool campaign was announced on a hot day last August, with the target audience being adults who will enjoy not just historic sights but also restaurants, hotels, and more. School groups will always visit D.C. but they're not big spenders compared with tourists who check out the night life or dine out in style.

The overall campaign includes a themed hashtag, #itsdccool, a Twitter account, and a dedicated Facebook page. D.C. Cool is an umbrella for outreach activities by other marketers throughout 2014. As one example, the Four Seasons Hotel offers such D.C. Cool tie-ins as DC Hash, a new dish on the restaurant's menu, and cookies for guests who mention D.C. Cool at check-in.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival has its own Facebook page and Twitter account with news of blossom dates, parade info, and more. You can even download an app. The photo at left is from the Festival's press page. (Spoiler: Peak bloom period is projected to be April 8-12!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Are Newspaper Paywalls Paying Off?

During the first decade of this millennium, digital content (mainly free) was proliferating while printed content was struggling to find a large enough paying audience. Newspapers merged, cut days from their print schedule, and looked for other ways to cut costs while assessing the digital pricing landscape.

In the second decade, paywalls are beginning to pay off for top newspaper sites. The Wall Street Journal famously pioneered a paywall in 1996 that continues to be quite profitable. The Financial Times has more digital than print subscribers.

According to a study by the Online Publishers Association, papers have learned that digital subscriptions don't cannibalize print subscriptions. And the growth of digital subscriptions is actually helping the growth of advertising revenues, because publishers have more and better data about readers to help advertisers better target their audiences.

At the New York Times, digital subscription revenues are now higher than advertising revenues--demonstrating how much the content is valued by its online readers. In the next couple of months, the Times will be further segmenting its market to offer niche products for readers. No specifics yet, but hints suggest content about food and restaurants and content about "what you have to know about the world" to start your day. Meanwhile, digital subscriptions are available for smartphone and tablet apps, online access, and for educators.

Print-dominant papers are having a difficult time. Gannett just released its fourth-quarter 2013 results, and the news isn't good. According to Columbia Journalism Review, Gannett continues to increase prices on print content, and doesn't appear to be achieving its goals for digital subscriptions.
Other newspapers have cut content pricing experiments short. The San Francisco Chronicle tried a paywall, for instance, but eliminated it after a few months. On the other hand, for consumers who want digital everything, the Chicago Sun Times is testing the acceptance of Bitcoin for its content.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Samsung Selfie Seen Round the World

Sunday night's Oscars telecast included one of the most widely retweeted photos ever: Ellen DeGeneres using a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to take selfies with other celebrities in the audience. Here's one shot of the Twitter post...missing the Samsung phone which is in Bradley Cooper's outstretched hand. But the audience watching at home saw the whole thing, and the distinctive Galaxy phone.
Can you read the number of retweets? More than 3.1 million as of two days later, and more than 1.7 million favorites. Enough retweets to briefly crash Twitter. A new record in retweets, as of this moment. This is social media marketing at work during one of the most widely-seen telecasts of the year, doing what it does best: encouraging sharing of positive marketing-related messages (from a group of well-known opinion leaders, no less).

Samsung publicly says it didn't actually stage the stunt, even though it was a major advertiser during the telecast (to the tune of $20 million). Yes, the company provided the Galaxy phones and showed Ms. DeGeneres how to use them. Then the company stepped back and let the improv flow, touching off a viral firestorm that added to the product's high profile. Not exactly product placement, not exactly advertising, but definitely smart marketing.

Apparently the star also used an iPhone to tweet during the show. Still, Samsung was so happy with the results of the selfie seen round the world that it later donated $3 million to charities of Ms. DeGeneres's choice.