A New Look for Time Warner?

In the past year and a half or so some crazy design bug has completely hit Time Warner. The shift started about a year and a half ago with some really great spots here and there on CNN domestic, followed by a wholesale overhaul of CNN International (see screenshot below), the success of which seemed to influence the Pentagram redesign of the print version of Time magazine, and now the redesign of CNN.com.
You can check out the online beta of the new CNN.com here.

CNN International Screenshot

Screenshot of CNN International

I’m REALLY curious as to who’s been supporting all this great work at Time Warner — so if anyone knows, let me know.

Everyone knows that I’m a big CNN fan. I watch …

Everyone knows that I’m a big CNN fan. I watch the domestic network feed obsessively (eventually, I’ll write a book about it), but my favorite thing about the whole network is Candy Crowley. She gets so much bad press, but I find her to be really, well, real. She’s unflappable, really (really) knows her game, and NEVER loses her cool. She doesn’t play in to the voice in her ear saying (5 seconds to break, Can) and finishes every sentence with thoughful grace.

I’d like to have lunch with Candy Crowley, not because I’m a crazed obsessive fan, but because I think that she’s truly a journalist — not just someone who reads the news on TV, but someone who works all day to file thoughtful, considerate reports about things that she’s passionate about. And, in a world of hyper media domination, I respect and appreciate that.

Snickers Controversy. Advertising is increasingly…

Snickers Controversy.

Advertising is increasingly about creating outrageous or otherwise ‘memorable’ spots or ‘experiences’. For better or for worse, we — each and every one of us — is equally guilty of buying in to this wave of desparation that has piqued in recent years as marketers react to the shifting media landscape, and as major corporations (media included, just take a look at what’s going on at NBC) react to the omnipresent individual reporter.

Some corporations (Time Warner, for example) are taking the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach, and now regularly solicit ‘iReports’ via their CNN.com vehicle. Likewise, YouTube.com features prominently as a ‘news source’ on most CNN programs.

Other corporations are integrating technology differently — and some (like ABC) aren’t even going there (yet.)

The points to remember:

1. Things are changing, and nothing is a given. Time-tested metrics (Neilsen Ratings, Gallup Polls, Market Share) mean very little in today’s market, because everything can change with the click of a mouse (just Google: George Allen, Senate Race, Racial Slur, and you’ll see what I’m talking about).

2. If we buy, we buy in. Every time we make a purchase (whether it’s gas from ExxonMobil, or a Snickers from the vending machine), we’re voting. These votes — ultimately, and over the long run — have a much more pronounced affect on the quality of our lives than the votes we cast every 4 years or so in the political ballot box. Think about the number of times you vote at the cash register each day. The number of options you have is staggering. And if, the flap of the wings of a butterfly can cause a blizzard in Buffalo, think about the ripple effect of purchasing your daily cup of coffee from Starbucks (if you buy a cup a day, you buy about 90 gallons of coffee each year from Starbucks).

3. Speak up. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, and stick to it.

So all that brings me around to Snickers, and the stupid controversy surrounding the stupid commercial that aired during the stupid football game.

My blogger friend, John has posted a fine chronology at his site, americablog.com.

He’s dead right — and from a totally rational perspective, the campaign was distrurbing, irresponsible, thoughtless, and stupid.

However, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York (the advertising company behind the commercial) isn’t dumb. TBWA did 3 ‘buys’ during the Super Bowl — the deal was the commercial would air for 1 minute, and then later on in the Super Bowl, ‘follow up’ ads would air, 2 separate spots at :30 seconds each. That’s a total of 2:00 minutes total.

Not shockingly, the ‘offensive Snickers commercial’ has had a hell of a lot more than 2:00 minutes of media time (yesterday, the 1:00 minute spot aired on The Situation Room, Paula Zahn Now, and Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN, on MSNBC, and on Fox News, as well as on NBC’s Today Show, and to top it off, it was discussed on ABC’s ‘The View’. Again, today, it aired on Paula Zahn Now on CNN — for a total fo about 22:00 minutes of airtime — significantly more than the 2:00 minute buy originally made by TBWA. To put it directly, a whole lot of bang for TBWA’s buck, and a carefully engineered bang at that.

My sources inside TBWA indicate that this had been part of the marketing plan from the very early ‘concept’ meetings. TBWA released the spot in a ‘Sneak Peek” (Read that story here.). One senior account executive noted that the plan was to “leak the video to sites like YouTube with the hope that it would be picked up on sites like MySpace.”

So where does that leave us?

Remember those 3 rules?

1. The landscape is changing. Recognize that, and don’t buy in to the media hype about it. The quicker it dies down, the less effective the ad will be over time.

2. Opt out. If you’re not buying, you’re not in. Stop buying Snickers, and stop buying all Masterfoods brands. If you want to be crazy radical, stop buying stuff from all companies represented by TBWA\Chiat\Day.

3. Speak Up. Tell your friends, and most importantly, tell TBWA and Masterfoods what you’re doing, and why.

Or, if this doesn’t affect you, do nothing. Sit back, eat your Snickers, and well, wait until something comes along that pisses you off enough to incite some action on your part, like maybe preempting the Super Bowl next year, and instead featuring marathon C-SPAN coverage of the highlights of Prime Minister’s Question Hour. The choice is yours.

Wow. The Gap is on the brink of a bust up. Ni…

Wow. The Gap is on the brink of a bust up. Nice job, Paul Pressler… Only goes to show that Don and Doris let greed get the best of them. What goes around, comes around, I suppose.

Two great stories cover the pending downfall:

From the San Francisco Chronicle

and

From Forbes.

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Sprint h…

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Sprint had a good thing going. They were the first landline long distance company (at the time called US Sprint) to roll out fixed rate long distance at 10 cents a minute — a move that was genius in its simplicity, and forever pulled back the black curtain behind which whopping long-distance bills were generated by other carriers.

Sprint also had a great campaign. Remember the pin drop? Everyone remembers the pin drop — and the very cool, ultra hip FON card? Way cooler than even a gold AMEX at the time — and again, simple to use. Dial an 800 number, make a long distance call, and bill it to your home. Just that easy.

So, not suprisingly, when Sprint decided to roll out cell phone service, I was the first in line, and about 10 years ago, I picked up my first Sprint PCS phone. It was a hot little SONY number made by Qualcom, with a futuristic pull down thing that you talked into. Very cool, and simple to use.

That’s where the simplicity ends, with Sprint the product was always cool, techno-savvy, simple, and fuelled by cutting edge technology. That’s all well and good — especially because it was so well done, Sprint didn’t need to have much customer service, essentially, the machine ran itself.

Well, as we know now, cell phone users want service, both in terms of coverage, and in terms of customer service. And that was where Sprint started to fall apart. Their coverage sucked — really sucked — and their customer service sucked more. Sprint PCS never really ‘got it’ the way that the old US Sprint did — simplicity is what the customer is looking for. If, at the time, Sprint had introduced flat rate cell service, they would be the market leader today. Instead, they instituted a complicated charge scheme, which caused a lot of angry customers, coupled with poor coverage and lousy support, it was a recipe for disaster.

Then, Sprint acquired Nextel. More complication more confusion, and less quality (not to mention a significantly more deficient logo). So what happened? How did this forward-looking, #1, blazing-ahead-at-full-speed company become the bottom feeder? And more importantly, for the folks at Sprint… how do they climb back?

My vote: simplicity. Go back to a hip, simple service — and make the customer service stellar. In essence, make the service what Apple would offer if they were a phone company. And do it fast, because Apple is warming up the oven, and if Sprint doesn’t, well, sprint, they may just get left behind.

“Can I See Your Credit Card?” The question has …

“Can I See Your Credit Card?”

The question has become more pervasive than the now defunct “paper or plastic?” My reply is the same, whenever quereied to “see” my card: “Why sure, see, here it is.” I then hold up the card, next to my right shoulder, to which the clerk inevitably (and usually in an iritated tone) retorts: “I NEED to check the signature.” To which I then reply “Oh, I understand. You asked to see my card, but you didn’t a.) ask properly, and b.) ask politely.

I’m a firm believer in voting with my dollar — whether it’s paper or plastic. It’s why I’ve begun to make a list of stores where I won’t shop:

Home Depot
Target
Gap
Old Navy

Consistently, the workers at these stores — usually after a curt transaction — blurt out: Can I (or even worse, I need to) see your card.

Well, frankly, no one ever needs to see my card. No great floods or famines, crumbling walls or earthquakes might occur if by chance, someone does not see my card. And honestly, no one really needs to see my card either. Why? Well, the media is rife with scary stories about identity theft, and “stolen” credit card numbers. To that, I say, big deal. Why you again ask? Well, let’s take a look at how credit card transactions were processed 30 years ago, before computer transaction clearing.

Back in the day, the customer would present a credit card for payment. The number of the card was checked in a book that listed the delinquent card accounts, stolen cards, and the like. The booklet was updated once monthly, twice montly during the busy holiday season. After checking the authenticity of the card, it was then placed in an imprinting device, a carbon booklet or triplicate “sales draft” was placed over the card, and the raised plastic number of the card was literally imprinted on the card. Because the technology was not very difficult to replicate, and counterfeit cards were rampant, and could be used for nearly an entire month — before the new verifcation book was printed and distributed. As such, the signature became the only security feature of the card. Most merchant banks required the retailer to “verify the signature” on the back of the card to that presented on the sales draft. If the signature didn’t match perfectly, the retailer was to reject the card, and void the transaction.

The signature verifcation requirement is an anachronistic holdover from that time. For the most part, credit card transactions are now processed electronically, but consumers have grown to equate the signature check with security, and most still expect to have their signature checked. In reality, though, credit transactions are approved (or declined) as well as cleared electronically. Most often, the signed slips wind up in a big disorganized box in the back room of the store where the purchase is made.

So, after the 7 seconds or so it takes the customer to sign, rarely does anyone ever look at that slip again. In rare instances, such as a in the instance of a chargeback, or to trace transactions using a stolen card the origninal sales slip is requested by the merchant bank. In the rare instances when it can the original can be found it is turned over to the merchant bank, though two sources from separate Northeastern regional banks have both independently verified that it is a rare instance when the original sales slip can actually be found. With increasing frequency, signatures are caputred electronically (that is, the customer signs an electronic screen, rather than a piece of paper). In this way, the signature is stored, and no records are stored. Curiously, many retailers still print the entire credit card number on original receipts as well as on the customer copies. I’ve noticed that at stores like JCPenney and the Bon Ton — these charge slips are kept in a small plastic basket next to, or on a shelf under the cash register — I don’t know why all these folks that are identity theft-paranoid, and are scared to death to buy anything over the internet, for fear that some credit card-stealing boogey man is lurking in the cybershadows, seem to be OK with having not only their number but also their signature on a slip of paper, that nearly anyone could walk by and take.

Regardless, the signature requirement has become, in my opinion, a nuissance, and slows down what could be a far more efficient (and fast) checkout experience. So my question: why bother? Why can’t — or why won’t — credit card companies simply let you swipe and go? It’s beginning to happen. On purchases under $20, no signature is required. Great idea. The MasterCard/Visa Pay Pass is a great idea, but the equipment hasn’t yet been widely distributed, and in the five or six times I’ve had the opportunity to use it, the equipment never seems to work.

So, over the past few months, I’ve run a little experiment. I don’t have much fear of identity theft, and I’ve never known it to happen to anyone I know. Not to mention the fact that if my credit card was ever stolen — or even should just turn up missing — I’m only resonsible for the first $50 in purchases after I’ve reported it missing or stolen. So big deal. Is $50 worth losing sleep, buying a paper shredder, and being harassed at the checkout? I don’t think so. It’s also definitely not worth the $60 a year to sign up for credit ‘protection’ services like ChargeGard.

I’ve decided to sign another name when making credit card purchases, I’ve tried: Donald Duck, Mr. Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, a dollar sign, an ‘X’, George W. Bush, and a host of others. Never once has my purchase been declined. An in the two or three instances when the cashier has actually checked the validity of my signature she/he has simply shurgged, and returned the card back to me. So, the next time a cashier bluntly says “I need to see your card,” I can answer with a solid “No, you don’t.”

From Food Navigator.com, Breaking News on Food & B…

From Food Navigator.com, Breaking News on Food & Beverage Development – North America

Customized branding brings corporate logos to M&Ms

By Lorraine Heller
8/16/2006- Masterfoods USA will soon allow companies to feature their logos or messages on its M&M chocolates, in a marketing move expected to launch a new platform of growth for the product.

‘My Branding’, due to become available next month, is the next step in the company’s personalization campaign, which has seen sales double since its introduction last year.

Masterfoods USA expects similar success from its latest initiative, which marks a major step in the increasingly popular trend of brand customization. The idea behind this type of marketing is consistent with other brand development techniques: strengthening consumer loyalty through brand association.

“This has been a paradigm change for our business. It’s been a significant breakthrough in pushing our brand as it allows consumers to make greater connections. People love to interact and experience a brand in different ways, and they have embraced this opportunity,” said Jim Cass, vice president and general manager of ‘My M&M’S’.

Indeed, customized branding is being increasingly offered on a number of food and beverage products. Earlier this month Heinz announced it will allow consumers to personalize the text on its ketchup labels. And General Mills prints consumer photographs on its Wheaties cereal boxes, which are normally associated with famous athletes.

Other initiatives include personalized Jones Soda bottles and customized Hershey chocolate bars.

Masterfoods USA, a division of Mars Inc, considers 1996 to be the start of its brand personalization program, when the firm made its M&M chocolates available in 21 colors. While the standard M&M product remained a five-color mix, consumers were able to order the chocolates in any one of a variety of shades through the internet or in specialty stores.

And in 2005, the firm launched its ‘My M&M’S’ initiative, which allowed consumers to choose a message to be printed on the chocolates for a charge of around $45. The majority of sales are online, with a small proportion conducted in specialty candy stores.

The company now receives approximately 800 to 1,000 orders a day, and expects the business to expand further.

“Over the next few years we hope to reach out to a million consumers every year, and we expect the business to generate around $1 million in sales,” said Cass.

“M&M’S is a mega brand. When you are able to bring a significant marketing idea to consumers, it becomes very big,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.com.

However, until now, the corporate market has not had a large presence in the company’s marketing plan. But its new ‘My Branding’ program will transfer the standard concept of placing corporate logos and slogans on items such as pens and gifts onto a consumable good.

Under the new program, the company with charge a $100 set up fee, together with up to $30 per pound of branded chocolates. Language and logos deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the company, as well as direct competitors, will not be allowed to feature on the popular chocolate brand.

“Personalization and customization is a need in the market, and it will continue to grow. Any time a brand can make a personal connection with consumers it will enhance the brand. Consumers want things made for them. If they get this, a brand will have their loyalty,” said Cass.

Over the next few years Masterfoods USA expects My M&M’S to become a “significant portion” of the total brand. The program is currently only available in the US, but is due to be implemented in other countries as early as next year.

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