In the wake of my recent diatribe against Coors Light and their cold-activated cans, Advertising Age has published an article about the drowning U.S. premium light beer industry. I’m not saying that my rant inspired Ad Age’s article, but it was a nice coincidence to see some hard evidence to support my judgments (read the article here).
According to Ad Age, “The $100 billion U.S. brewing industry is staggering into its crucial selling season from its weakest position in years.” Despite massive media campaigns from the big breweries, Bud Light, Miller Light and Coors Light are all suffering from anorexic sales heading into summer. So what’s wrong?
Well, the economy sucks, for one. People are coping with the recession by opting for cheaper beer such as Keystone and Pabst Blue Ribbon when they need their nightly fix. And for special occasions, such as laundry day or the monthly mahjong tournament, people are splurging on nicer craft-style brews.
Okay, so that’s why the big three have resulted to obnoxious and belittling marketing – the class of cheaper bourgeoisie beers have stolen their pride, and the more sophisticated or elite beers have stripped them of their noble dreams. At first, Bud thought that pitching their premium light beer on its essence of “Drinkability” would make people flock back to their castle. But lo and behold, just because I can drink it doesn’t mean I want to.
I mean, piss has ‘drinkability,’ but only Gandhi ever thought it prudent to actually sip the stuff. The only way beer could ever not have ‘drinkability’ is if you put chunks of concrete in it so I would literally choke with each gulp. Promoting ‘drinkability’ is just as absurd as saying, “Drink Bud Light…it’s made of liquid.” And so the braniacs at Bud have changed their campaign to “Here We Go,” whatever the hell that means.
At this point, I’d like to make a slight correction to my previous article. In it, I distinguished the three major premium light beers (Bud, Miller and Coors) as separate entities. I was wrong. MillerCoors is one brewery and so Miller Light and Coors Light fall under the same umbrella of mediocrity. In my previous article, I gave Miller credit for their “triple hops brewed” tagline compared to Coors’ idiotic ‘cold-activated can’ campaign. So allow me to even the playing field between these brotherly beers.
Just like any sibling rivalry, one always has to outdo the other. So now Miller is promoting their new “Vortex Bottle,” which supposedly unlocks flavors and aromas in the beer by aerating it as it pours. Wow. Did you steal some scientists away from NASA for that one? While I commend you for the attempt at innovative design here, there’s one problem…your beer has no flavors or aroma to unlock as it pours! At least Guinness has a reason for putting that little plastic ball into their beers.
So, as we approach the shores of summer, the U.S. premium light beer market is waddling up to the boardwalk with their heads held low. They’re confused. Kind of like the fat kid who doesn’t know whether to be embarrassed and swim with his shirt on, or say ‘F’ it and sport those stretch marks with pride. And while I feel sorry for the fat kid, I have no empathy for the giant beer companies. They’re product is mediocre and their marketing is pitiful. Instead, I’m happy for the brands like Pabst and the small microbreweries around the country who are finally getting some mainstream love. And to that I say, “Yay for summer!”
Advertising. It makes the entertainment world go round. Every year, corporate giants spend millions if not billions of dollars to capture our eyeballs and our dollar bills. The goal is to persuade consumers to choose one brand over another within a single category. Occasionally, however, there are categories with literally no unique selling proposition. Take beer for example. The Miller, Bud and Coors corporations have battled over market share for decades, all peddling virtually the same product. This is where advertising comes in. While the objective is to persuade people to like your beer better than the other guy, it can always backfire, too.
When it comes to Bud Light versus Miller Light, I could swing either way (Although I prefer well-crafted microbrews to begin with). However, I will never willingly drink Coors. Simply because I hate their advertising. Or more specifically, their marketing.
Does Coors think their consumers are drooling idiots? Sorry, but I don’t need the mountains on your stupid label to turn blue in order to inform me that your beer is cold. What’s wrong with the age-old tradition of touching the bottle with your hand? And now, to add insult to idiocracy, Coors is touting a new case that has a clear window so you can see whether the mountains inside your 12-pack have turned blue. Seriously?! Just thinking about this patronization makes me want to break a blue mountain over the fool’s head who came up with this idea.
I’m sorry, but selling your beer on the notion that it’s the coldest in its category is simply absurd, if not belittling to your own brewers. The fact that your beer is cold has nothing to do with the taste of your beverage, but rather the quality of my refrigerator. At least Miller Light is touting the fact that their beer is “triple hops brewed.” I’m not a brewmaster myself, so I’m not exactly sure what that means, but at least it sounds good. It means they put extra time and effort into the process of making their beer taste good. However, you, Coors, make no such claim. You apparently think I’m wide-eyed caveman astounded by the invention of ice. Shame on you for your demeaning marketing strategy. If I ever walk into a bar that for some reason doesn’t sell Sierra Nevada, Newcastle or some other real beer, you can bet your sweet advertising dollars that I will never buy one of your ‘rocky mountain cold’ bottles of BS.
Below is an essay I wrote for a contest called "The Old Spice Adventure." The gist is that they are sending two people across the world: one to go snowboarding in Switzerland; the other to surf in Fiji. The question to apply was, "What does your ideal job smell like?" There were also some key phrases I threw in there to increase my odds of winning ("explore where freshness comes from" and "smells like palm trees, sunshine and freedom"). With that said, check out my submission. Would you pick me?
Have you ever smelled the morning sun over an open sea? A neoprene wetsuit marinated in salt water? Or smoke pluming from a forest on the Burmese border? Have you ever inhaled the sweetness of a Jerusalem farmer’s market on the eve of Shabbat? The musk of incense permeating a Thai tailor’s shop? Or exhaust from a crowded longboat choking down the Mekong?
I have smelled all these things and written about most. Because I love to travel and document my journeys. As a kid, I wanted to be a professional basketball player. But being short and Jewish squashed that dream long ago. Then one summer I lived aboard a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands, learning to sail and SCUBA dive while sleeping in a hammock for three weeks. That trip changed my life forever.
In college, I discovered my talent and passion for writing. So I turned it into a full-time job. But I still sat at a desk under fluorescent guard from nine to five. I prefer natural light and making my own hours. So now I work freelance. I’m genetically predisposed to being outdoors anyway. And playing sports. I’ll conquer any game, especially if it’s played outside and competitively. My friends call me Pocket Hercules, but I don’t flaunt my physical prowess like an Ed Hardy-wearing roid-head. I am ripped for the sake of sport. For surfing and snowboarding. For winning.
While some may get off to the smell of a new leather purse or a fresh pressed dollar bill, I get my olfactory kicks from trekking across foreign lands. I am the man for the Old Spice Adventure Internship Challenge because it is my destiny. But not in a religious or chick-flick sort of way. Traveling the world is what I do, and exploring where freshness comes from is a challenge I crave. So what does my ideal job smell like? It smells like paper, ink and the open sea. A rainforest at dawn. Sex Wax and fresh snow. It smells like palm trees, sunshine and freedom. And, it smells good!
Have you ever pondered how customer service affects where you eat? Of course you choose a restaurant for its quality of food first and foremost. But everyone’s got a favorite spot that might not be any better than the restaurant down the street. Sometimes, the deciding factor comes down to service. Well, I experienced something of that sort last week (although it wasn’t at a restaurant).
I was in Austin for South by Southwest (SXSW), and staying in a downtown condo with six to eight guys, liquor runs were more frequent than flier miles. So one day, a buddy of mine went to pick up some tequila and a bottle of Jameson from the Twin Liquor store around the corner. Somewhere in the midst of the transaction, my friend lost the bottle of Jameson. It wasn’t until much later that we realized the bottle was M.I.A.
Sad that we had lost Jameson, we cut our losses and went back to the store the following day (which we would have done anyway for need of more beer). Upon arrival, we decided to tell our story to the man behind the counter, not really expecting him to be able to help us, but just wanting to share the story of our loss. Well, the man with a long blonde ponytail paused, looked to his right, and said, “You know, this bottle of Jameson has been sitting here since yesterday. It’s yours.”
We were surprised. Stunned. Elated. We found our friend!
Now, this might not sound like an amazing story, but given the context that it was SXSW and this liquor store must have seen a thousand faces a day for a week, for the manager to believe our story and then, instead of offering us a pitiful “Sorry, I can’t do anything about it,” actually let us take the Jameson without a receipt or proof of purchase, now that’s genuine customer service!
I will always remember that moment. That Twin Liquor. That ponytailed man behind the counter. And even though a bottle of Jameson is the same no matter where you go, it’s because of that man; that moment, that I will continue to give Twin Liquor my business instead of the store down the street.
It’s Thursday evening. My dad and I are sitting at a small table enjoying our delicious dinner. There’s a clown in the corner twisting up animal balloons and little kids running around with painted faces. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. Until a well-groomed middle-aged woman approaches us.
“How is everything?” She asks.
“Delicious as always.” We reply.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“No thanks, we’re fine.”
This kind act of customer service makes my mind choke for a second. Did that really just happen? I glance down at the Styrofoam cup in front of me. Yep, we’re still at Chick-Fil-A. I mean, of the thousands of times I’ve eaten at a QSR (Quick Service Restaurant – otherwise known as fast food), never once has there been a floor manager cruising the dining area with the sole purpose of greeting customers.
Think about all the times you’ve stopped in to your nearest McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s or what-have-you. Was customer service ever a top priority at any point during your visit? Of course not. The QSR industry is predicated on quick turnover. Get in, get out, get on with your life. Once you’ve paid the lady at the counter and retrieved your tray of processed provisions, the relationship between store and customer is over before you can say ‘cheeseburger.’
Apparently that’s not how Chick-Fil-A rolls. So I was pleasantly surprised when the nice woman dropped by to ask how we were doing. Especially when she came around the bend for a second visit!
In a business saturated with cloned competition, Chick-Fil-A is doing an outstanding job of rising above it. For one, while their competitors strive to do it all, Chick-Fil-A keenly focuses on perfecting one item: the chicken sandwich. (It’s better to excel at one thing than be mediocre at many).
Then there’s the example of my personal dining experience. The standard for customer service in the QSR industry is so low that the floor manager’s presence that night, while not at all necessary, was such a pleasant and unexpected surprise that it became a unique selling point. And that’s why the best marketing sometimes is as simple as genuine smile.
“One less cookie a day will make the fat go away.”
This is the unofficial motto for people who subscribe to the Small Changes Diet. The idea is that making small changes in your diet, such as saying no to that midnight candy bar or opting for water over soda at lunch, will eventually lead to weight loss. While this food of thought isn’t entirely false, it isn’t completely true either. At first, your body will react to this newfound moderation, and you may lose a pound or two…at first. But the Small Changes Diet will inevitably fail in the long run because our bodies don’t lose or gain weight indefinitely. Eventually, we adapt and adjust to our caloric intake, making it the new norm.
That is the whole dilemma with dieting in the first place. They’re schemes sold to gullible consumers who are self conscious about their weight and desperate to drop a few belt loops. But diets only work as long as you’re on them, and only for a short time until your body reacts and adapts.
The key to real dieting is to tear down the foundation of your eating habits and reconstruct and new way to grub. A healthier way. Which leads me to my point – going on a diet is dumb, changing your diet smart. People should quit worrying so much about appearance and focus more on their health. Eat right and your body will look the part.
Morbid obesity is on the rise, and while these people may look terrible, I worry more about their quality of life than the size of their pants. And the worst part is that innocent kids are suffering from parental ignorance as child obesity and diabetes rates are busting at the seams.
People need to wake up and smell the fried butter. Then toss it in the garbage and grab some fruit instead. You shouldn’t go on a diet to lose weight because you think you’re fat. You should change your diet all together because eating healthy is the smart thing to do. If you have a deep cut on your head, you don’t put a band-aid on it; you go get stitches.
Going on a diet doesn’t fix anything. Changing your diet does.
*I would like to see a neurological study done on the correlation between a person’s eating habits and overall happiness. I’m willing to bet that the healthier you eat, the happier you are. If you know of such a study, please enlighten me in the comments section. Thanks.
Inspired by the Olympics over the last couple weeks, my buddy Keith and I have decided to create some commemorative posters to honor the games. Here's our first creation -- an ode to Shaun White's supreme snowboarding ability. Respect!
It's funny. This was actually something I wanted to write (complain) about a month ago, but I completely forgot. Until this morning when I read an article in Advertising Age about how "Starbucks Gets Its Business Brewing Again with Social Media."
Now I have to give Starbucks mad props for their success in social media. While many corporations of their size completely misunderstand and hence mis-apply themselves in the realm of social media, Starbucks actually launched a successful campaign. MyStarbucksIdea.com was a great idea, as were many of their other digital endeavors. And they're apparently big hits. Not just in terms of amassing friends or retweets, but in actual tangible dollars.
But there's something I don't quite understand. For a company so savvy with its digital marketing, how can they totally screw up the most basic digital-social attribute to their business -- free wifi.
Just a few weeks ago, a buddy and I hit up our local Starbucks to do some work on the patio (it was one of those rare nice days in Houston). After paying for my $5 white chocolate caloric explosion, I found a table outside and proceeded to set up my laptop. However, unlike the Coffee Bean I had just frequented days earlier in LA, getting online was a total pain in the ass. In fact, it never even worked.
Apparently, in order to use the wifi at Starbucks, you have to have a special card with a special code and a special personal account. I mean, WTF! I just want to drink my overpriced coffee with my flavored calorie boost and stalk my friends online from the comfort of your chic patio furniture...is that too much to ask!?
Seriously though, is it? I mean, the marketers at Starbucks have proven they can execute a solid social media campaign, so why can't they cut the bullshit and just offer free wifi without making me hop through hoops to get it. Perhaps this debacle was unique to that one location. I don't know. But what I do know is that's simply bad business. So while I commend you, Starbucks, for your success with engaging customers online, I also urge you to not forget about the most important consumer relationship -- the in-store experience.
In case you haven't noticed, the developing world's gone digital (in fact, virtually the whole world has). Savvy trinkets such as iPhones and e-readers suck the attention from our souls and reformat it as an intricate system of social networks, on-demand news and LOLcats.
Marketers pounced on this brightly colored ball of yarn known as digital advertising, and quickly proclaimed it to be the next evolution in human interaction. "We need a social networking campaign!" they scream. "Let's build a Facebook page and a twitter account and create colorful e-mail blasts to send to our friends!" It's all about building relationships, they say.
Well, I'm not here to argue against them. For one, I agree -- digital advertising (and mobile marketing specifically) is the next evolutionary phase in commercial communication. It will allow us to easily stay connected with people, places and brands we want to stay in touch with. It will make access to information ubiquitous and free-flowing. And it will make advertising more fun and engaging. But digital advertising is just a system. A platform. A tool. It's not an idea.
Let's not forget that great (i.e. effective) advertising begins with a brilliant thought, not the latest technology. True, digital advertising will make targeting consumers much easier, but it won't make up for crappy creative. The idea still rules supreme.
But I have digressed on a rant perpendicular to my point...
Building relationships between brands and consumers with emerging technology is all well and good. But when you need to get something done, and get it done fast, sometimes it's best to just rely on some good ol' 19th century technology...the telephone.
A couple days ago, my buddy Mykal received an email from his law school regarding a special student offer on Rockets tickets -- the first ten people to request tickets would get to hang out on the court during pre-game activities (or something like that). Since the game at hand happened to be the day after my brother's birthday, I told him to buy the tickets immediately (this was roughly twenty minutes after the email offer was sent). Now, privy to the fact that an entire Phish concert call sell out in a matter of minutes, I was worried we were too late to redeem our prize. Luckily for us, though, Mykal, in his old school ways, opted for a live, real-time interaction with the sales associate rather than lazily clicking the 'reply' button and hoping we were one of the first ten to respond.
So Mykal picked up his phone and called the guy directly. Apparently while processing our transaction, the sales associate had received 15 email requests! But we were the first to actually interact with him. So while the digital revolution has undoubtedly made it easier for us to all stay in touch, if you truly want to build 'relationships', try some good ol' fashioned interpersonal communication. You know, actually speaking with someone. No tweets. No avatars. No status updates. Just straight one-on-one conversation.
Have you heard of the "ultimatum game?" If you're a behavioral economist, you have. But I'm not, so I hadn't. Until this past weekend. I'm currently reading "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki, and in it, he mentions this famous ultimatum game. The gist is this:
An experimenter pairs two people together. One person is deemed the "proposer" while the other becomes the "responder." They're given $10 to divide between them, with the proposer making the offer and the responder deciding whether to accept or deny said proposal. The catch is that there is no communication between the two people, and only one offer can be made.
Got it? Now marinate on that for a second. Put yourself in the experiment. How would you respond?
Here's the deal (and I quote Mr. Surowiecki for convenience):
"If both players are rational, the proposer will keep $9 for himself and offer the responder $1, and the responder will take it. After all, whatever the offer, the responder should accept it, since if he accepts he gets some money and if he rejects, he gets none. A rational proposer will realize this and therefore make a lowball offer."
Makes sense, right? But that rarely happens. According to the research, lowball offers are routinely rejected. This is because people would rather gain nothing than see their partners walk away with an irrationally larger gain. Apparently we are all alike, as the proposers, acknowledging this, make more balanced offers generally around a $5 split.
Here's where it gets interesting though. In the most basic example above, the two participants entered the experiment on even ground. That's why the responder would refuse a lowball offer from the proposer -- in his eyes, the proposer didn't deserve a larger piece of the proverbial pie. However, when the experiment is tweaked, and the social lab rats are led to believe that the proposer has earned that position by doing better on a test, the lowball offers become more willingly accepted, and the proposer gobbles up a steak while the responder nibbles on his scraps.
So while, in one sense or another, we're all material girls living in a material world, our innate sense to negotiate terms such salary and pay raises come down to one thing...fairness.
But if that's truly the case, how did our collective perception of 'fair' go so askew? Do athletes really deserve millions of dollars annually because they're freaks of nature? Do fortune 500 CEOs deserve millions of dollars annually because they turn millions into billions? Or for a more ass-backwards example, do school teachers deserve the lowest pay on the totem pole for educating future generations? (After all, those CEOs wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for their teachers).
I understand that it's all economics -- athletes get paid millions because they sell tickets and advertising space, and CEOs get paid the same because they boost profit margins and stock prices. But are these people truly creating value for society like a school teacher does? I can't imagine they do. So why the discrepancy in fairness?
Apparently our priorities have just gotten so out of whack that what we value is no longer a better future. While fairness, in theory, dictates our perception of value, it seems the material girl in all of us has the last laugh; entertainment, personal status and short-term gain prevail over the creation of societal value.
And therein lies the problem between theory and reality. An answer on paper and a solution in the real world aren't always written the same.
All social experiments aside, isn't it time we reassess our values and determine what's truly fair? Or necessary, for that matter. The United States is slowly (or quickly, depending on how you look at it) losing its eminence in the world. And I would argue our education system is to blame. Shitty politics can be wiped clean. A collapsed economy can be rebuilt. And a starving education system can be fed. But it takes society as a whole to recognize the need to feed it. If we can do that, together, then maybe we can make a new proposal on what's fair to pay a teacher. I guarantee you she won't be the only person to benefit from that pay raise.
So here's what I propose:
We can't expect to pay teachers the cream they deserve with tax dollars, so why doesn't the education system take a page out of the entertainment industry's book. Everywhere you look these days, there's an ad. Except in classrooms. I say schools start selling ad space within the classroom and give teachers the extra revenue. Sure, it may not be politically correct, but then again, neither are politics. Imagine the possibilites!...
"Class, today's grammar lesson is brought to you by Campbell's Alphabet Soup. Not only is spelling fun, it tastes good too!"
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