JC Penney has its old CEO, Mike Ullman, in charge of the company again. Abundant sales and coupons have returned, as have brands that disappeared for a spell. In many ways, the JC Penney of old is back. Whether this is a good thing for the company remains to be seen. About month ago, within days of Ron Johnson being fired as CEO and Mike Ullman retaking his former position at the helm of JC Penney, Ullman quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that there were no plans to bring back the old JC Penney. “I wouldn’t recommend that we go back to the way J.C. Penney was when I left,” he said. “Things change.” Still, JC Penney has essentially done a huge about-face in recent weeks, and it’s understandable why: The short-lived Johnson era, with its no-coupons stand and new focus on hip boutique brands, alienated customers and damaged sales badly. For the three-month span ending May 4, JC Penney reportedly lost $289 million, with sales decreasing 16.4% compared to a year ago — which was itself an awful period for the retailer. To bring back customers, JC Penney has been bringing back its traditional, pre-Johnson pricing and discount strategies. This week, jcpenney.com was littered with old-school discounts—for instance, 50% to 60% off patio furniture, and 30% to 40% off clothing with the St. John’s Bay label, the retailer’s exclusive brand that disappeared during the Johnson era and was brought back in March. (MORE: Splurge Surge! Luxury Spending on the Rise) Of course, there are those who view such discounts are straight-up frauds, based on artificially inflated list prices. Johnson himself would be in this camp. In January 2012, Johnson, the retail superstar who had helped turn Target and the Apple Store into huge success stories, promised to get rid of such “fake” prices and summarily slashed original prices by 40% or more. Shoppers weren’t crazy about the newly cheap list prices—because their arrival prompted the end of sales and coupons—and so in recent weeks the retailer has
You might think that one beer can is the same as any other. Big beer companies and craft brewers alike say different, and they’re rolling out new cans with wider mouths and funky designs that they claim make for vastly superior beer drinking. Beer makers around the U.S. are trying to draw the attention (and thirst) of drinkers lately with something of an aluminum revolution. The most talked-about new beer vessel has to Budweiser’s angular “bowtie” can, which kinks in at the center—and, interestingly, holds less beer than the usual can. This spring and summer, Anheuser-Busch InBev will also be selling Budweiser in limited-edition “patriotic packaging”—red-white-and-blue American flag cans (and bottles)—with a portion of sales going to benefit the Folds of Honor Foundation, which gives scholarships to families of American soldiers killed or disabled in service. Anheuser-Busch executives say that the bowtie can is meant to appeal to consumers who are “looking for new things, the trend-seekers.” No one is claiming that Budweiser will taste any different in a bowtie can, or in an American flag can for that matter. On the other hand, most other brewers that are introducing new cans at least make an attempt to argue that the new design somehow enhances the drinking experience. Coors Light has been mocked in the past for its beer can “innovations,” which included a vented wide-mouth can for “easier drinking” and the “cold-activated” can, in which the mountains on the logo turn blue when the can is chilled. Now, the brand is simultaneously mocking itself while introducing yet another “can-ovation” of dubious purpose. (MORE: Budweiser’s New ‘Bowtie’ Can Design: More Aluminum, Less Beer) Coors Light’s new “double vent wide mouth” design—if a regular vent wide mouth was good, then a double vent must be doubly good—is being billed as “The World’s Most Refreshing Can.” In one intentionally ridiculous ad, the can is compared to rapper-director Ice Cube; in another, a giant multi-armed robot machine toils to create the fancy new can, while a scientist in a white lab coat does
A new report lends credence to the rumor that Microsoft’s next system will be called the Xbox Infinity.
The International Business Times cites unnamed “sources releated to the development of the new Xbox” in confirming the name for the new system, which will officially be revealed at a press event at Microsoft’s Redmond campus on May 21. IBT’s report follows images supposedly leaked from development units showing the Infinity name months ago, leading to the logo mock-up from a reddit user, shown above.
Oddly enough, the XboxInfinity.com Web domain is currently parked by Chinese firm HangZhou AiMing Network Co., Ltd, and the .net and .org domains are also parked by various private individuals in the US. However, Microsoft did secure a number of Xbox-related domains from a squatter last year, including xbox8.org and xbox8.us. That could suggest a cross-promotional linkup with Windows 8′s branding, or the use of an “8″ as a sideways infinity symbol or… nothing more than general brand protection.
Using a story about women being kidnapped and held against their will for years for marketing purposes is questionable enough. Now that the hero in the story turns out to have a history of domestic violence convictions, the Charles Ramsey-McDonald’s episode is shaping up as an argument that perhaps brands should respond to viral marketing opportunities slowly, cautiously—and sometimes not at all. The accepted wisdom today is that when a brand is suddenly front and center in the news for almost any reason whatsoever, the company must seize the moment and take advantage of the situation as a marketing opportunity. Responding with speed is deemed to be absolutely essential. Oreo, for instance, was widely lauded for its quick-thinking Tweet during the Super Bowl blackout. The Tweet, featuring a photo of the iconic cookie and the caption “You can still dunk in the dark,” was put up in 10 minutes—before the lights were back on at the New Orleans Superdome—and was immediately retweeted and liked on Facebook tens of thousands of times. (MORE: Stealth Celebrity Endorsement: No Money Changes Hands, Just Free Burritos) The Etch a Sketch toy and Sesame Street’s Big Bird both had big moments in the news during last year’s presidential campaign, and Poland Spring bottled water received plenty of attention thanks to Marco Rubio’s “Gulpgate” during the Republican Address to the Nation in February. These odd spectacles were all viewed as prime branding opportunities that fell into the laps of their respective marketing departments—an opportunity that Poland Spring, for one, was criticized for botching. This week, McDonald’s was suddenly, bizarrely in the news in a big way, when a man named Charles Ramsey became a viral sensation. Ramsey is the neighbor who helped rescue three women who had been abducted and held captive for a decade in a home in downtown Cleveland. In interviews that have been shown on TV stations around the world—and viewed millions of times online—Ramsey mentioned that he was “eating my McDonald’s” when he heard screaming, leading him to save a woman trying
News broke this week that for the first time ever, the drug manufacturer Pfizer has started selling Viagra directly to patients via the Internet. The pitch is that the new online sales channel will help men avoid the embarrassment of picking up the erectile dysfunction drug in person, as well as the possibility of buying counterfeit drugs from a sketchy website. The Associated Press story on Pfizer’s news starts as follows: Men who are bashful about needing help in the bedroom no longer have to go to the drugstore to buy that little blue pill. While most of the coverage has focused on Pfizer’s innovation as a means to avoid embarrassment, two key facts are being glossed over: 1) It’s been possible to buy guaranteed authentic Viagra online for years; and 2) Pfizer isn’t really selling drugs directly to customers. On Monday, Pfizer announced that it would start selling Viagra to customers via its site, Viagra.com. In actuality, the orders won’t being filled directly by Pfizer, but through drugstore giant CVS. What’s more, even before Pfizer’s announced partnership with CVS, it was (and still remains) possible to buy Viagra and most other prescription drugs without going to the drugstore. (MORE: Casino Revenues Are Up in 2012 — Thanks in Part to Gambling in Kansas) “With Viagra home delivery, men with ED can submit a new Viagra prescription or refill an existing one, estimate their co-pay in real-time, and check on the status of their order, from the privacy of their homes,” a Pfizer release explains. What’s being mostly overlooked is that men were able to get essentially these same services before Pfizer’s big announcement. Buying Viagra online is as simple as getting a valid prescription and placing an order through a legitimate pharmacy website, such as FamilyMeds.com, Walgreens.com, or, for that matter, CVS.com. So the idea that Pfizer’s service is somehow breaking ground by allowing customers to order prescription drugs “from the privacy of their homes” is silly. The only thing new here is that the drug manufacturer is getting
Pizza is popping up in more (and sometimes unusual) places, and it’s being prepared and marketed in new (and sometimes unusual) ways. Why is pizza so hot all of a sudden? Pizza has been popular for decades, of course. But lately, consumers‘ love for pizza has inched up a few degrees. Recent consumer research revealed that 41% of Americans now eat pizza at least once a week, up from just 26% a few years back. A post at QSRWeb.com (short for Quick Service Restaurant) from Jeff Fromm, an advertising executive with a special focus on marketing to millennials, offers some insight as to why pizza is so beloved by today’s consumers—Gen Y consumers in particular. Pizza is not only quick, easy, and relatively cheap, it’s also shareable (this group is incredibly social, seen in social media and many other ways) and endlessly customizable since you can always mix up the toppings. Supermarket experts have pointed out that millennials never want to eat the same thing twice, and pizza is brilliant in that you can eat it day after day and always be having something new. So naturally, all sorts of restaurants are trying to new and innovative things to get the attention of pizza-craving consumers. Here are a few examples: More Transparency Last fall, a Domino’s makeover introduced what the chain calls “pizza theater” as a way to entertain customers picking up orders. Instead of orders being prepared somewhere mysteriously out of the line of sight of customers, cooks have been tossing and spreading dough right behind the pickup counter. The point isn’t merely to give people something to watch while waiting around, but to make the pizza-making process more transparent, so that customers can see how things work and feel the operation is professional and trustworthy. (MORE: Nothing to Hide: Why Restaurants Embrace the Open Kitchen) More recently, the chain launched Domino’s Live, a website that broadcasts workers making pizzas 12 hours per day, on a choice of five cameras, inside a Domino’s in the Salt Lake City area.
Does bad weather correlate with less drinking? Well, perhaps it does with certain kinds of drinking. Unseasonably cold weather in Brazil, Europe, and the U.S. is being blamed as one of the reasons sales are down in early 2013 for Bud Light, Miller Lite, Heineken, and other mass-produced brews favored at picnics and tailgates. As more drinkers turn to craft beer, spirits, and wine, they’ve been snubbing the ubiquitous brews that have been featured in TV ads for decades. Budweiser, the “King of Beers,” saw sales decline 4.4% in 2011, for example, followed by another dip of around 6% last year. So the recent reports indicating that Anheuser-Busch InBev’s sales volume in the U.S. declined 5% in the first quarter of 2013 doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Neither does the news, highlighted in an AdAge story, that A-B InBev’s flagship Bud and Bud Light brands were down 7.7% and 6%, respectively, for the four-week sales period ending April 13. Miller Lite sales, meanwhile, declined 8.8% during that same four-week span, and Coors Light and Heineken experienced sales decreases as well. (MORE: Trouble Brewing? The Craft Beer Vs. ‘Crafty’ Beer Catfight) Yet even as diminishing sales for these well-known brands clearly seem to be part of a larger trend that’s been in the works for years as consumer tastes change, beer manufacturers are pointing to poor weather, higher taxes, and rising gas prices as reasons for why sales are down. In late April, Heineken CFO Rene Hooft Graafland told analysts that bad weather in Europe and North America was partially to blame for why the brand suffered a 4.7% global sales slump at the end of last year. This week, Carlos Brito, CEO of the A-B InBev, the world’s largest beer company, said that sales were down thanks to poor weather and food inflation in Brazil, as well as higher gas prices and weather in early 2013 that was considerably colder in the U.S. than the previous year. Indeed, weather does seem to play a factor in sales of
American diners have been giving frozen food the cold shoulder lately. Aging boomers are put off by high sodium and calorie counts in many frozen dishes, while many young adults would rather stop by Subway, Chipotle, or Domino’s than bother turning on an oven at all. But frozen foods are refusing to be relegated to the metaphorical back of the freezer of consumers‘ minds. “According to proprietary research from the organizations, 98% of products in the frozen aisle are experiencing flat or declining sales in the U.S., across nearly all categories,” Advertising Age magazine says. AdAge reports that a consortium of industry heavyweights is getting ready to throw $50 million in cold, hard cash at the problem. A huge advertising blitz will be launched later this year. A spokesperson from the American Frozen Food Institute tells NPR, “Frozen food manufacturers are united to weigh in in a comprehensive fashion.” “Weigh in” might not be the best term to use, given that many people view frozen food as unhealthy. Our dining habits and preferences today are supposed to lean towards fresher, less-processed food. What we’re eating might not be necessarily be better for us — Panera’s Chipotle Chicken on Artisan French Bread sandwich sounds innocuous, but it’s really an 830-calorie fat-and-salt bomb. But many consumers think they’re eating healthier, and that’s what counts when we go to the grocery store, sandwich shop, or drive-thru. Increasingly, the frozen food aisle doesn’t come across as particularly tasty or healthy. “I don’t think it’s particularly appealing merchandise,” says Bob Goldin, executive vice president at Technomic, a food industry consulting firm. “There’s a perception among consumers that probably the quality doesn’t meet the standards of fresh prepared or restaurants.” What’s more, “There’s so much competition for the food dollar these days, there are other alternatives that are perceived to be more attractive than frozen food.” (MORE: Why We’re Wasting Billions on Gluten-Free Food) Analysts say categories that could be described as ingredients rather than dishes — frozen veggies, for instance — are holding their own. Frozen