Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sandy, Soggy Halloween

It's Halloween, and a bit spooky for people in the Eastern US. We're having a subdued and soggy holiday this year, with no electricity, widespread damage, injuries, and cleanup efforts still in the early stages. Many towns are postponing children's events for safety reasons.

Well before Hurricane Sandy made her appearance, candy marketers were on the air and in print advertising family size packages, individual packages suitable for trick-or-treaters, and recipes for party fare.

Halloween goodies come in salty flavors as well as sweet. Some supermarkets are featuring point-of-purchase displays of Wonderful Pistachio treats for Halloween, with packaging tied to the Disney Frankenweenie movie.

And while pumpkin lattes wouldn't seem to be at the top of the list for young trick-or-treaters, their parents are unhappy about Starbucks running out of this seasonal favorite. (Starbucks has been testing pumpkin spice latte ice cream too.) On the other hand, Dunkin' Donuts has pumpkin lattes, pumpkin donuts, and more. And 'tis the season for pumpkin beers.

Happy Halloween, no matter what treat you prefer, and please be safe.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Free Returns Lead to "Escalation Effect"

A new study published in the September 2012 issue of the Journal of Marketing indicates that consumers will spend MORE with online retailers that pay for shipping on returned goods.

Of course e-tailers will pay for returns on goods that are defective, broken in transit, or when the order is filled incorrectly. Many, however, require customers to pay for shipping when they return something that doesn't fit or is the wrong color or just isn't what customers expected.

According to this study, when companies like Zappos pay shipping both ways, their customers tend to buy more. Why? Because of the escalation effect--the idea that the customer is willing to try purchasing more items or more expensive items because there's no risk in the purchase, no shipping fees to pay to return unwanted purchases.

In the study, customers who'd previously returned one or more items (without paying return shipping) bought significantly more later from the e-tailer offering free returns. In contrast, customers who had to pay for return shipping reduced their future purchases with that e-tailer.

The study's authors conclude:
The findings suggest that online retailers should either institute a policy of free product returns or, at a minimum, examine their customer data to determine their customers' responses to fee returns.
The founder of, a company specializing in virtual dressing rooms that enable customers to "try on" clothing before purchasing online, also notes the other side of the equation: "Returns cost retailers enormous sums of money; not just the transportation of it, but the re-warehousing of the garment and, often, its subsequent discounting for resale."
The bottom line for retail marketers: Know your customers' behavior patterns and test to see whether you'll get a better financial return from offering free returns.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Retailers in Halloween Mood

Retailers are getting ready for a busy Halloween this year: According to the National Retail Federation, 71.5% of Americans "will get into the haunting Halloween mood, up from 68.6 percent last year and the most in NRF’s 10-year survey history." The survey suggests that purchases of candy, costumes, and decorations will be about 10% higher than last year--nearly $80 per household, on average.

Pet owners will be costuming their dogs or cats, too, to the tune of an estimated $370 million in Halloween spending.

And trick-or-treaters will be enjoying a LOT of candy this year. The National Confectioners Association projects more than $2 billion in US candy sales for Halloween.

The top 10 costumes? The NRF's infographic sums it up: superheroes, zombies/vampires, and the usual pirates, princesses, pumpkins, and ghosts.

Top Halloween costumes for adults, kids and pets in 2012 – Infographic

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cause-Related Marketing: October and Pink Products

When First Lady Betty Ford talked publicly about her battle with breast cancer in 1974, she broke down barriers and encouraged dialogues that have continued to this day. Would she have been amazed at the blossoming of pink products offered through cause-related marketing to raise money for breast cancer research and education?

A quick search for "pink cancer products" brings up more than 47 million results. They range from Master Lock's pink locks (above) to NFL football jerseys and everything in between. Walk down almost any aisle in the supermarket and you'll see pink products. Many retailers (such as Staples) have pink products for sale, as well.

Yet some research shows that consumers are skeptical about how much this river of pink actually benefits the cause. On the one hand, 86% of those who responded to a Cone Communication survey said they have a more positive perception of firms that support breast cancer awareness/research. On the other hand, 77% of respondents believed that firms get involved with cause-related marketing “solely for corporate gain.” The study also indicates that people are overwhelmed by the huge number of pink offers.

To improve transparency, both Susan G. Komen For The Cure and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation have established specific guidelines for firms to use in disclosing the level and purpose of their pink product fundraising. For example, if purchasing a pink product triggers a financial donation, the tag should say that (and how much the firm is donating). If purchasing a pink product raises money for cause awareness, the label should say that.

Buy a pink cause-related product next time you're shopping, and help raise money to fight breast cancer.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Starbucks + Coinstar = Premium Coffee Kiosks

Rubi coffee kiosk
Coinstar, which owns the highly successful Redbox chain of DVD rental kiosks, has now teamed up with the Starbucks-owned chain Seattle's Best Coffee to create Rubi vending machines (oops, I mean kiosks) that dispense premium coffee by the cup.

The out-of-home coffee market is estimated to be as large as $28.5 billion yearly. No one competitor dominates, so the Rubi kiosk won't be trying to dislodge a well established brand. It's also selling premium coffees, lattes, and other specialty java drinks at prices below the menu price at Starbucks, a plus for price-conscious folks.

Seattle's Best used to feature its coffees in Borders bookstore cafes. Now that Borders has gone bust, Rubi kiosks are an opportunity to spread the Seattle's Best brand across the country once again.

Coinstar's CEO says that Rubi will offer "the kind of quality, convenience and value that we know coffee drinkers on the go will appreciate."

Will Rubi machines deliver enough revenues and profits per square foot to become fixtures at thousands of supermarkets, stores, and offices within a few years?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

State Fairs Reach Out to Exhibitors and Sponsors

State fairs are big business these days, with events scheduled over two or three weeks, multiple exhibit halls, musical presentations, agricultural contests, and much, much more. A million people or more attend each fair--creating a marketing opportunity for many companies.

Here's what the State Fair of Texas tells prospective exhibitors: The State Fair of Texas Auto Show functions on two levels. As an exposure venue, the Auto Show has no peer in its ability to put the product in front of the customer. As a sales venue, a big percentage of car purchases were preceded by a State Fair visit.

Demographics posted on the Texas site profile the Fair's audience. For example: Of the new car buyers who attend the Fair's auto show exhibits, household income is over $95,000, 76% are married, 51% are men/49% are women, and the average age is 44.

The Florida State Fair, held every February, describes its attendees using a variety of demographics, including: 88% are Florida residents, average household income is over $64,000, 60% of attendees work full time, and 14% of attendees bring children under 5 years old.

Here's what the Arizona State Fair knows about the 1.1 million people who attend during the fair's three weeks: Average household income is more than $55,000, 42% bring a child under the age of 12, 58% are female, and 34% have college degrees. 

The Ohio State Fair (photo above), which opens for two weeks each year, promotes itself to sponsors this way: The Ohio State Fair Corporate Event Marketing Program has developed into one of the most comprehensive grass-roots marketing initiatives in the Fair industry today. Whether you sell products or services, or have a message or initiative to promote, we can develop a turn-key tailored sponsorship and promotion program that provides integrated advertising, sales promotion and hospitality benefits to meet your goals and objectives.

Thinking about a state fair exhibit or sponsorship? Know your goals and objectives; determine whether the fair's audience matches your target market. Talk with sponsors and exhibitors who have experience with the fair you're considering. Be sure to attend before you sign. And enjoy!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reverse Channels for Old or Unwanted Cell Phones

So many consumers are upgrading their smartphones so often that entrepreneurs are figuring out ways to profit by providing a "reverse channel" for old or unneeded phones. The goal is to keep these devices out of landfills where they don't belong and create a way to collect and refurbish them for resale. Consumers win, entrepreneurs win, and the planet wins.

EcoATM is much in the news lately because its automated self-serve kiosks make it quick and easy for consumers to recycle their old phones with the bonus of making a few bucks--right away. "There's no 30-day wait for a check in the mail," founder Mark Bowles tells Businessweek. In essence, customers let the kiosks test their old phones, receive an instant appraisal, and get immediate cash or store credit for the value set by EcoATM, if they decide to accept the offer. (NOTE: The Economist notes that the EcoATM requires fingerprints and driver's license of sellers to discourage the sale of stolen merchandise.)

The EcoATM looks user-friendly, and its green-and-white theme has a recycling feel. (The animated "how to" on the company's home page features a robot who might be a cousin of Eve, WALL-E's companion, as shown at left--both have a white body and big blue eyes!)

There are numerous ways to recycle your old phone, not just through EcoATM but at online buyback sites, the store where you buy your new phone, and other drop-off points. Check it out next time you upgrade.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ford Accelerates Social Media Marketing

Ford is putting the pedal to the metal by testing lots of marketing ideas--and then taking immediate action when it finds a winner. "We test it, and if it works, we scale it right away," Ford's Jim Farley told the Masters of Marketing conference.

Social media marketing makes sense in this situation, because it can be updated quickly, with metrics to determine audience response day by day (or more frequently). How many people clicked to view a site or page? How long did each person stay on that site or page? Did the visitor click for more information or to configure a car?

True, it's very hard to determine whether a sticky site or popular page leads to a purchase. But Ford is taking the long view, thinking about its brand first. "We want to be the brand that the average person feels most engaged with. We don't want to be the fanciest company, we just want to engage people," Farley explains.

The "Random Acts of Fusion" campaign, for example, stars Ryan Seacrest and Joel McHale putting lucky consumers in the driver's seat of a newly redesigned Ford Fusion. Farley says that consumers seek out Ford because of technology, and this Fusion campaign reminds consumers that Ford is a very social brand.

Rather than segment by age and other demographics, Ford is providing social media content that appeals to a target market segmented by psychographic and behavioral elements.  

Farley said in an Advertising Age interview: "The days are over that digital media is dominated and consumed by younger males. Far over. The fastest growing group on Facebook is women in their 50s." Consider Ford a driven brand.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cigarette Labels, Down Under

After a series of legal challenges that failed to change the rules, cigarette marketers in Australia are getting ready to comply with the country's new laws on plain packaging. Starting on December 1st, 75% of the package front must be devoted to graphic images and written warnings about the dangers of smoking.

Australia has set a goal of reducing smoking rates from nearly 17% in 2007 to 10% by 2018. This plain-pack law is one of several approaches to demarketing tobacco products.

Now, instead of the familiar red-and-white box, Marlboro cigarettes will look like the packs in the photo. In fact, every brand's cigarettes will be packaged in similar wrappings, with strict rules on the way the brand name is presented on the label. A recent study confirms that plain packaging is much less appealing to would-be smokers than the usual colorful, differentiated cigarette packages.

One legal challenge the Australian courts brushed aside was the argument that brands' intellectual rights were not being respected. Manufacturers charged that the country was infringing on their legal right to use trademarked packaging and branding. The high court responded: Although the Act regulated the plaintiffs' intellectual property rights and imposed controls on the packaging and presentation of tobacco products, it did not confer a proprietary benefit or interest on the Commonwealth or any other person.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

McDonald's Canada Makes the Most of Content Marketing

Content marketing--marketing to demonstrate thought leadership through informative, engaging, and often original content --is increasingly vital in this age of social media and viral videos.

A company that can weave a theme of transparency and engage customers through content marketing is really savvy. That's why McDonald's Canada is doing so well with its content marketing initiatives, emerging as a model of how to address issues of real interest to customers, critics, and the company itself.

On a dedicated web page, on Facebook, and on Twitter, McD's Canada is inviting questions from the public and creating written answers, photos, and/or videos that respond with facts and details. Think the eggs on a McMuffin look too perfect to be fresh and real? McD's Canada can explain (here). An earlier video about how McD's burgers are prepped for commercials went viral worldwide.

As simple as this content marketing approach seems to be, it's actually breaking new ground and is a refreshing change from the usual over-produced, glitzy fast-food commercials and ads we're used to seeing. McD's Canada is promoting this "Our Food, Your Questions" program in multiple media to attract more attention and involve more customers in asking questions that offer opportunities for sharing info and educating the public about policies and practices.

Will other McDonald's companies follow this recipe for smart marketing?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Goodwill Markets Vintage Everything

"Vintage" clothing and furniture and housewares are trendy...and that's great news for Goodwill Industries. The nonprofit group's mission is: to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.

Its no-frills thrift stores offer employment for local people and sell a wide selection of clothing and seasonal basics at extremely reasonable prices. Money raised helps Goodwill provide job retraining and other needed services in hundreds of U.S. communities.

Now new Goodwill stores are filling vacant storefronts with spruced up-merchandising, attracting crowds of bargain hunters. Shopping for gently worn Halloween costumes? Check your local Goodwill store this month. Costume jewelry, books, even LPs are on the shelves at many Goodwill stores. In my area, when you donate your unneeded clothing or goods to Goodwill, you receive a 20% off coupon good on your next purchase in nearby Goodwill stores.

Although Goodwill has been part of the e-commerce movement for some time, local Goodwill groups are beginning to sell local merchandise online. Pre-owned stuff marketed in 21st century fashion!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Previewing Top Toys for Christmas, 2012

Although Halloween is still 29 days in the future, Christmas is right around the corner for marketers in the toy industry. Already we're seeing lists of the top toys for Christmas 2012. Here's a preview:

Time to Play magazine says that a new Thomas the Tank Engine toy will be the must-have for kids 2 and up. Never fear, there's a digital device for age 3 and up, the LeapPad2, a tablet computer for toddlers--complete with apps. A few others among the magazine's picks are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures and new MEGA Blocks kits.

Toys 'R' Us is offering its own list of 15 hot toys, ready for reservation so gift-givers don't find themselves without this year's trendy toy. With a 20% deposit, you can reserve your Furby or LeapPad2 or Lego Ninjago Epic Dragon Battle kit. Or a 1D collectors' set of figures from the hot new boy band, among other toys.

Target has its own list of 24 top toys, including Disney's Bounce Bounce Tigger and Lego Friends kits (for girls), plus a few toys that overlap with other lists.

Finally, CNN Money picks 7 toys made by small businesses that it believes will be in high demand for Christmas 2012, including
Illumivor Mecha-Shark (left) and
Perplexus Twist, a solve-it 3D toy.