Category Archives: Marketing

Girl Scout Cookies: Millennials Won’t Bite

Innovation is a word that gets thrown around too often. Things have changed since Girl Scouts walked door to door with clipboards and pencils taking down orders that took weeks to process. Girl Scouts and troop leader with cookie sign 1960

Recognized by Fast Company as #10 of The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 in Not-For-Profit, the Girl Scouts of the USA are keeping up with the times pretty well. But they could do better. The ubiquitous cookies are an obvious opportunity.

Mission: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

Some local councils offer Digital Cookie. Ecommerce skills are important, but not innovative. The @girlscouts Twitter stream is socially conscious and feminist. That’s great too, but not innovative.

girlscouts tweet about STEM

A growing crop of consumers are empowered to vote with their dollars, seeking products backed by social, political, and environmental responsibility. Millennials, the largest living generation at ~83 million, are what Scott Hess aptly calls conscientious consumers. Their annual spending is projected to reach $3.39tn by 2018, eclipsing Boomers. Millennials value health and brand transparency. Post Gen/Gen We (born since 2000) may prove to be even more invested in globalism, wellness, and pro-social companies.

There is a missed opportunity to set a meaningful example about both women in business and simply better business – modern, pro-social, pro-human business.

1) Role models: Thousands of women have created businesses from scratch, namely bakeries that use quality ingredients. Which of these company leaders would make a better role model?:

Karen Herrera of Sugar & Flour Bakery vs. John Bryant, CEO, Kellogg
Left: Karen Herrera, Owner, Sugar & Flour Bakery. Right: John Bryant, CEO, Kellogg

2) Ingredients: The Girl Scouts website advertises: “No hydrogenated oils” (false) and is full of misleading copy about how the cookies are wholesome.

Girl Scout Cookies - no hydrogenated oil claim - Little Brownie Bakers
Little Brownie Bakers: interesting claims

Girl Scouts: Align your flagship activity with your mission to make the world a better place.

RFP the cookie business to socially responsible, natural bakeries. Why support Kellogg in stuffing us full of GMO bleached flour, addictive sugar, and cell-destroying oils? I’d rather buy a Trefoil baked by Karen Herrera’s Sugar & Flour Bakery (Etsy shop turned storefront) in Greendale, WI than worry what BHT and sodium acid pyrophosphate are doing to my body. I’d rather buy Samoas made with whole ingredients by Sara Fitzpatrick’s The Cupcake Shoppe Bakery in Raleigh, NC than a chemical cardboard biscuit shot out of a conveyor belt in the Keebler factory.

Meet consumers’ growing appetite for transparency and social good.

Now, those two small bakeries could not handle the national demand. So look at an innovative, more established company like Hampton Creek, upstart maker of foods that use plant proteins instead of eggs. CEO and social entrepreneur Josh Tetrick founded Hampton Creek because while working and teaching in Sub-Saharan Africa, he noticed serious issues with the global food system. Hampton Creek makes ready-to-bake JustCookies, which are sustainable and natural.

Hampton Creek Just Cookies graphic

Consider two points:
1) JustCookies are sold at Walmart
2) Unilever (owner of Hellman’s Mayonnaise) was threatened enough to sue little Hampton Creek over their JustMayo product

People have begun to care more about what’s in their food, where it comes from, and how it affects the planet.

Organic, natural, sustainable, locally sourced: these are not fringe values or niche buzzwords. Look at the fire drill the fast food and sparkling beverage industries have had in recent years over obesity. People are waking up.

So let’s make the world a better place.

More About Ingredients in Girl Scout Cookies

Tagalongs Nutrition Facts: Ingredients: Peanut Butter (Peanuts, dextrose, peanut oil, salt), sugar, vegetable oil (partially hydrogenated palm, palm kernel and/or cottonseed oil, soybean and palm oil...
Tagalongs contain partially hydrogenated oil

ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers, the two bakeries licensed to bake Girl Scout cookies, distribute varieties that contain nefarious ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oil (both) and high fructose corn syrup (ABC). While copywriters address this with the seeming transparency du jour, the deflection is pure marketing. It’s par for the course from Kellogg, the Little Brownie Bakers parent company, known for depicting happy healthy kids on its cereal boxes of sugary junk and currently struggling with declining sales. Fueling a long FAQ page claiming that palm oil is perfectly healthy is the assumption that the original 8-ingredient natural recipe is no longer feasible. Why not?Girl Scout Cookies recipe 1922 - ingredients

Fun Facts – Girl Scouts

  • Founder Juliette Gordon Low organized the first Girl Scout Troop on March 12, 1912, in Savannah, Georgia. (Happy 103rd birthday.)
  • Both varieties of Thin Mints are vegan (but contain partially hydrogenated oil)
  • Troop Beverly Hills, the fictional Wilderness Girls troop from the 1989 movie starring Shelley Long and a young Jenny Lewis, accepted American Express but preferred Visa.
Troop Beverly Hills - It's cookie time dance
Troop Beverly Hills, “It’s Cookie Time” – 1989

 

Troop Beverly Hills - It's Cookie Time

Snapchat Marketing: Doing What?

In the last 1-2 years we’ve seen a trend of complimenting brands who are “rocking” Snapchat and other relatively new one-to-one social messaging apps. (I prefer Allison Steele’s term: attention deficit content creation platforms.)

After 5-10 years of oversharing, narcissism, and selfie culture resulting in enough privacy backlashes, firings, and divorces, many users are crunching inwards toward more private communication. Brands automatically assuming they belong in this new crop of apps is a me-too mistake, the result of too much demand for rapid reaction.

Taco Bell Snapchat screenshot #DoingStuff
Taco Bell uses Snapchat to let fans know about new products.

Where is the data indicating that Taco Bell, McDonald’s, General Electric, Heineken, the New Orleans Saints, 16 Handles, etc. are successful on Snapchat?

Brands on Snapchat hope to reach Millennials (those born in roughly the early 1980s to the early 2000s). Targeting a demo whose childhoods were filled with every-loser-gets-a-trophy-for-showing-up has translated to brands showing up – without even keeping score – being considered winners.
Ladybugs movie soccer

You can’t measure engagement within Snapchat.

A snap can’t benefit from the interaction of a Like, retweet, favorite, or share. Brands get more buzz off the flowery Mashable campaign coverage written by AYSO trophy-saturated writers who continually fail to proofread (a symptom of “A for effort”? – this is too easy). I’ve personally seen brand impressions from articles lauding the “organic/intimate/forward-thinking/risk-taking” efforts of marketers and their agencies for experimentation with Snapchat, Vine, etc. worth more than any fleeting impact the disappearing content may have on consumers. Not only do the messages disappear, the attention span of their target user base is the shortest on the planet.

Resources devoted to Snapchat when your other social ducks are anemic makes good linkbait when we’re all tired of hearing about the reach woes of Facebook and ineffective YouTube pre-roll. Instead of fixing problems on platforms with better tracking, targeting, reach, and content longevity, it’s easier and more fun to make stop motion videos. Now, Snapchat’s 32.9% penetration among 18-34 year-olds should not be ignored. And if you want to reach 18-25 year-olds with exclusive content – things like limited time coupons, flash sales, and behind-the-scenes footage – I see the draw. But where is the yardstick?

Lastly, we all know what Snapchat is for. Do you really want a brand’s snap next to your sext? The proximity alone should cause a panic attack.

Andrew Cunningham at HUGE wrote a nice summary of considerations if you choose to market with Snapchat. I am not saying avoid it: I’m saying stop handing out trophies for showing up at try-outs.

About Snapchat:

It’s a mobile messaging app that allows users to share photos and videos that disappear after a short time once the recipient opens the message (after 1-10 seconds or 24 hours for Stories). As of July 2014, users were sending 700 million photo messages each day, up from 400 million in October 2013.
Source: statista.com

Reduce Commerce Friction: Travel and Hospitality

Remove friction from the customer experience, make the sale more likely. We are seeing a trend in travel and hospitality to make transactions and guest experiences hassle-free, higher tech, and less reliant upon hard copies and hard people. Make mobile device use free, experience-enhancing, and rewarding, and incremental revenue-generating for vendors – stay in business.

Travel and hospitality companies that don’t prioritize automation and mobility won’t be here in five years.

You can already see the market for a frictionless, more seamless guest experience in the successful offerings of progressive car rental companies like Silvercarairlines like SurfAirPorter, and Virgin, hotel chains like IHG with the health-themed, wristband-based EVEN Hotels, Marriott with Moxy, etc. Reduce check-in time, reduce waits, reduce error-prone interactions with agents. Move the printed rental contract to the cloud. Take a snooty or busy or bribed human concierge and replace them with an app. Develop culturally sensitive sub-brands focused on different market needs and smarter guest profiling. The obvious fixes abound.
Silvercar homepage screenshot
While I loathe both of these resorts, I should touch on theme parks: Disney and SeaWorld are handling the trend well.
 Disney MagicBand family
Disney World’s MyMagic+ is a billion-dollar tech project that includes hotel and resort-wide WiFi and microchip-embedded wristbands that interact with sensors throughout the park and link to a reservation system to book attractions weeks in advance. Disney’s MagicBands use radio frequency (RF) technology, replacing theme park tickets and hotel room keys with tap and pay technology. MagicBands and Apple Watch (coming early 2015) both remove commerce friction, i.e., the hassle of getting a phone out of a pocket to tap and pay.

SeaWorld’s 7/15/14 app update incorporated a new mobile payments system. Now guests can use the app to pay for gifts, food, and Quick Queue access at the ride instead of paying in advance via desktop or at the front of the park.

SeaWorld iPhone app

But isn’t disconnecting important?

One could argue that the onslaught of offerings like free WiFi and charging stations at amusement parks and resorts only perpetuates the always-on, distracted state of mind from which a true vacation should provide escape, particularly when with family. If you really want a relaxing unplugged escape, however, you shouldn’t be at Disney or SeaWorld. If a parent uses a theme park’s free WiFi and app to decrease time spent waiting in line, to augment reality and amuse the kids, or to enhance the experience by hashtagging an Instagram photo to get a free Lego toy upon exit, everyone wins (guests, park, and brand). Not to mention that having instant communication via mobile can make a family trip more manageable and efficient – as long as you can find a convenient charging station.
What traditional airlines are doing for connectivity – further reading:

 

Foodstuff Marketing – Part 2

Updated follow-up to Part 1 about cereal games: Over the years I have tweeted and posted multiple complaints about the garbage in food that’s advertised as healthy. Cocoa Krispies box nutrition factsPart 1 originally linked to a Kellogg’s Cereal landing page encouraging activity (no longer available). Homepages for Froot Loops and Apple Jacks had pop-up messages urging kids to get outside and move around. The Frosted Flakes website was a big proponent of outdoor activity and sports participation:

Kelloggs-Frosted-Flakes-cereal-website-Are-You-Up Kelloggs Fruit Loops Get Your Move On

You see the same messaging on tons of food products. Hypocrisy rules grocery shelves. This hackneyed pro-exercise/health stance and the call-outs about vitamins and whole grain on boxes is ridiculous at best and criminal at worst considering the processed ingredients, added and artificial sweeteners, and chemical preservatives that these nutritionally devoid “foods” contain. That cereal nutrition facts have a second column for the addition of dairy milk to make it a “complete breakfast” is a problem.

Cocoa Krispies “Immunity” Cereal – 40% Sugar by Weight + Trans Fats
Cocoa Krispies “Immunity” Cereal – 40% Sugar by Weight + Trans Fats

Breakfast health poser brands like Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Post tout nutrients and a healthy start to the day. Aside from government regulation (see FTC response to the Kellogg’s immunity claim), what would it take on a consumer level to make such brands replace their GMO ingredients, partially hydrogenated oils (see Cocoa Krispies ingredients), and modified corn starch with natural ingredients? You can find organic cereal brands like Lydia’s Organics, Farm to Table, Go Raw, etc. who do this, make better products, and still profit. Just not as much. And unfortunately that’s the deciding factor. But despite media exposés, documentaries and books galore about our food problems, the grocery landscape is wrought with more confusing, misleading messaging than ever.

Eat whatever you want. I’m not here on a granola crusade. Actually, I’m more interested in the larger question of selective consumer awareness and empowerment.

Society has spent decades scapegoating, punishing, and regulating the tobacco industry for its seductive marketing of addictive, cancer-causing products. How have agribusiness and food conglomerates escaped anywhere near the widespread, research-backed, trenchant criticism for the role they play in our nation’s health problems? In 2012, more than one-third of U.S. children and adolescents were overweight or obese (CDC). I barely scratched the surface talking about unhealthy cereal that is marketed as healthy. The convoluted mess that is FDA labeling regulation for terms like natural, organic, free range, etc. creates a false advertising field day.

There’s nothing automatically wrong with selling most unhealthy products as long as the consumer is fairly informed. Tobacco, alcohol, fast food, soda pop, hot dogs at baseball games, sugary bubblegum, you name it – we deserve the right to choose to indulge. But food brands and marketers need to take more responsibility when it comes to product positioning. The misinformation about what’s actually healthy is more expensive than consumers understand.

To wrap up:
Part 1: Good: a return to simplicity and creativity – kids cutting out cardboard shapes (see the Lucky Charms game).

Part 2: Bad: food brands that position themselves with health and physical activity but contain nefarious foodstuff (not food) ingredients while making claims about good nutrition.

What will force change? Maybe consumer awareness is already improving. Social helps. See Bettina Siegel’s petition on change.org which helped to remove pink slime (LFTB from Beef Products Inc.) from school lunches across the country.

Our apples are being jacked.

Why We Hate Skyler White

Do you think Skyler White is a total buzzkill on Breaking Bad? Do you full out hate Skyler?  “…Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol.” In an 8/23/13 op-ed for the New York Times, Anna Gunn, who portrays Walter White’s wife, discussed what’s behind the vocal public contempt for Skyler, which has blurred into “loathing” and even death threats against the actress. Skyler White – I Have a Character Issue – NYT

Breaking Bad - Walter and Skyler White staring at piles of money in storage lockerAnna Gunn’s op-ed explores why viewers are so quick to hate TV wives like Skyler, Carmela Soprano, and Betty Draper while their husbands, the protagonists, commit crimes against humanity, cheat, lie, manipulate, and endanger their families, but rarely inspire such “homicidal rage” toward the Don Draper/Walter White types or the actors who play them. Anna Gunn’s article made me rethink why I used to see her character as a killjoy, annoying, or a nag as she’s been pegged.

Gunn makes an excellent point by complimenting Vince Gilligan and the Breaking Bad writers for painting an ever-evolving Walter White as complex and likable “despite his moral failings.” And yes, there is “a natural tendency to empathize with and root for [a show’s protagonist].” Still, the fact that everyone so loves the “deeply flawed yet charismatic genius” that is Walter speaks to the highly skilled storytelling that has earned Breaking Bad titles like “best show ever.” Maybe the writers of these top dramas aren’t making the wives likable enough. Maybe it’s a learned, default cultural interpretation of wives as automatically antagonistic to our beloved, flawed male protagonists. Regardless, this is an important conversation because our society is consumed with and influenced by media now more than ever:

  • “American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV, 17 hours a week listening to music, 3 hours a week watching movies, 4 hours a week reading magazines, 10 hours a week online. That’s 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption a day.
  • Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising).
  • 53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17.”

-statistics from Miss Representation with sources (2011-2012)

In the documentary Miss Representation (click to watch), filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom exposes disturbing realities about how women are portrayed by the media and “under-represented in positions of power and influence.” Newsom demonstrates the relationship between the lack of powerful women (characters or real ones) depicted by the media and entertainment industry and the lack of female leaders in politics, business, etc. In summary: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” -Marian Wright Edelman

Miss Representation Katie Couric media quote text

There are TV shows with strong, likable female leads, but nowhere near as many as those with male leads whose adoration by viewers exemplifies an obvious double standard given the wider range of character traits, flaws, age, and physical appearance in male leads. This is one reason I love shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO and Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

One aspect of Miss Representation that relates to television and marketing is the business of commercials. Essentially, brands want to advertise on content that mirrors their messaging. Marketing is about making consumers uncomfortable: if you instill in a consumer a sense of urgency that they need a product to make themselves better, happier, sexier, smarter, younger, prettier, richer, etc. then you’ve caught their attention. In general, TV shows are written to reflect their advertisers’ brand values and messaging so that they will keep advertising to an insecure consumer. Characters and storylines often perpetuate the beliefs that make viewers insecure, i.e., better consumers.

Media companies, networks, advertising conglomerates, and ad agencies are male-dominated financially, philosophically, and visually – pure numbers. While the Skyler White conversation has many variables, it’s important to keep the undeniable reality of our gendered media in mind when deciding whether you think Skyler hatred is a symptom of a larger cultural problem or is simply the result of storytelling in the modern age, where character-bashing is more public online.

Good follow-up reads:

  1. Laura Hudson’s Wired article posted after the 8/25/13 episode, Confessions: Breaking Bad Recap: Walter White Is An Abuser – Wired.com 8/26/13
  2. Hey, Anna Gunn: Not Everyone Hates Skyler White by Willa Paskin, 8/26/13