Baseball, Hot Dogs & Pizza Pie

20 09 2010

In the Good Old Days of retailing, stores closed up shop by 8 or 9pm. Every once in a while you might find a daring retailer who would stretch the limits of business sense by staying open until 10. But you can bet your bottom dollar that all employees were able to get a good night’s sleep before the store re-opened sometime the next morning. And at a time when the sun didn”t shine.

Of course, this put great burden on USAmerican shoppers, because it meant we had to plan ahead. We couldn’t run the risk of running out of milk at the breakfast table. We had to plan our daily menus in advance. We couoldn’t have a late-night craving.

Somewhere between the 1960s and 2010, we became a 24-hour culture. Today we curse the seller of essentials who does not stay open round the clock. Never mind if we have to sacrifice a few employees’ circadian rhythms in the process. We demand it. And so they supply it.

I remember when I was in grad school at Indiana University back in the mid-80s. We thought it was so awesome when the Kroger went to a 24-hour format. We could take a break from studying by going grocery shopping. Truth be known, I rather liked it, because the place was not crowded. Aside from a few sleep-deprived shoppers and employees.

Convenience stores and truck stops were quick to jump on this never-ending business treadmill, thereby enabling me to keep the motor running (both mine and the car’s). Wal-Mart joined the fray by making most of its supercenters eternally open. Even a few McDonald’s now have 24-hour drive-thrus.

So when I read that a Domino’s pizza franchise in Ohio is the first to stay open 24 hours, I realized we had passed another cultural milestone. Pizza? For breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack?

Why not? I eat leftover pizza for breakfast all the time. In fact, pizza is one food item that Domino’s doesn’t even need to alter for breakfast by adding eggs and bacon (which they did), because it’s just as good for breakfast the way it is served for the evening meal.

More importantly, we are witnessing yet another piece of the economy recognize that business occurs whenever and wherever. The sun never sets on the global economy anyway (just like the British Empire of old). And though we may be a nation of insomniacs and zombies with appetites at all hours of the day and night, we must accept the fact that to sleep means you run the risk of missing a sale. Somehow. Somewhere.

That’s not to say a business cannot call a moratorium on hours of operation. Chick-Fil-A stores are all closed on Sundays as a matter of the owners’ religious preference. Other restaurants close on Mondays to offer all employees at least one day off.

But business is business, and capitalism means that the bottom line can drive us to work a little harder (or longer) than the next guy. I suppose if you have enough, you can back off a bit and let others take your share. But for most businesses, the motive is to get ahead, not behind.

As for me, I can dig being able to order a piping hot pizza for breakfast, with or without the eggs. Because just like being able to buy my groceries at 3am, pizza pie has become a hallowed part of American culture.

I just wish I could find the time to sleep.

Dr “Make Mine With Peppers and Mushrooms” Gerlich

Ad Nauseam

19 09 2010

Ads have a way of finding people. Let eyeballs populate any given space, and ads will be quick to follow.

Unfortunately, the onslaught is not just limited to our eyes, for our ears also take a beating. Like at last night’s football game pitting West Texas A&M University against Southeast Oklahoma State University. From the opening kickoff (photo courtesy Lori Westermann), every play, every punt return, every flag thrown, had a sponsor.

I Facebooked my frustration and quickly found others at the game with the same discomfort. The poor announcer had to hustle just to keep up with matching the appropriate sponsor to the particular game scenario. Zips Car Wash. Edward Jones Financial Services. Hastings.

Now everyone knows that I am a Marketing guy. And I will fight to the death our right to engage in commerce freely. But with this right comes great responsibility. There is a fine line separating calling attention to one’s business, and being a pain in the end zone. Because my hind quarters hurt last night. And not because I was sitting on a burr.

Now lest you think I am a poor sport and don’t support my institution’s athletic programs, think again. I shelled out $100 for the family pass that gets us into every home game or match for the entire academic year. I intend to use it. But I am not looking forward to the sonic assault we endured last night.

I’ll be honest with you. One of the big reasons I quit attending Amarillo hockey and baseball games was because of the incessant huckstering fans are forced to endure. From the first pitch to the final open-net goal, it’s shameless and shrill promotion. “Hey, that’s another Dewey, Cheatham & Howe Law Firm sack!”

And I find it very distracting.

You see, I go to games because…hold your hats…I want to see the game. I appreciate the finesse of a hockey forward as he skates through a defenseman and goes 1-on-1 with the goalie. I enjoy watching a pitcher stare down his opponent, and hurl a fastball that is low and outside…but still nicks the corner of the plate. And I love seeing a wide receiver dodge defenders as he tip-toes along the white line.

Sure, proponents will say that this is a necessary evil for small-town (and small-school) athletics. Not only is every inch of arena surface fair game for an ad, so is every audible second. And I can accept the fact that audible ads are pure profit, because there’s no production expense whatsoever. Everyone within earshot is guaranteed to be exposed (if not annoyed). But I fear that fans are going to be turned off in a big way.

Heck, even the college kids behind us were making fun of all the ads.

Which means that this is going nowhere. Fast. Maybe we need to raise the ticket price if the team cannot support itself. Or maybe we need to find more and better ways to advertise visually so that only one of our senses is abused. My annoyance was so high that I have started a mental list of businesses I am not likely to patronize.

It may be early in the season, but I see this as a 4th-and-10 situation. I mean, unless they would let me sponsor the Excessive Advertising penalty. Irony can be sweet.

Dr “Where Are My Ear Plugs?” Gerlich

Eye To i

19 09 2010

Don’t look now, ladies and gentlemen, but I think a technological paradigm shift has just happened. And it is once again going to radically change the way we compute.

Late last January, following months of rumors, Apple announced the April 3rd introduction of its first-generation iPad. Although Apple had been beaten to the punch by Kindle, Nook and the Sony eReader, Steve Jobs milked the announcement for all its PR value. Like Pavlov’s dogs, Apple fans placed their advance orders mid-March, completely guaranteeing a sell-out on the very first day of market availability.

Of course, I had to have one. Mine arrived via UPS that morning, which was a Saturday. I can only imagine the nature of most UPS deliveries that day across the USA. All the same box. All from Apple. Heck, I had been tracking the delivery progress of mine for two days, watching as it left China, briefly touched down in Anchorage, made a mad dash for Dallas, and then arrived in Amarillo.

It was right about that time that the market for netbooks (the tiny laptop) saw its growth rate plummet to nearly zero. And then laptops in general experienced the same hard landing. The iPad was cannibalizing sales.

Now to be fair, it is possible that sales of netbooks and laptops had reached a natural plateau. To be even more fair, we must remember we are talking about the sales growth rate of those products, not actual sales. They were still selling…just not any faster than the month or year prior.

But there is enough evidence to strongly suggest tablet devices like the iPad have captured not only the imagination of techno-geeks, but also shown their legitimacy as a workhorse tool of the trade. Once you load the iPad with Apple’s productivity suite (which is compatible with Windows Office), and add a micro-mini projector, you have one lean, mean presentation machine. And it doesn’t fill briefcases or weigh ten pounds.

Not that Apple is going to have this segment all to its self. There are at least a dozen knockoffs either already available or coming soon. And there is little doubt in my mind that some of these will one-up the iPad quite handily, thereby creating a feature war for future product generations.

More tan anything, though, I think we are witnessing the emergence (and rapid growth) of an entirely new way to do all of our daily chores and bores, as well as tote all of our games and tunes. The rumor mill also suggests that Apple will soon add an iNewsstand online storefront whereby users can subscribe to newspapers and magazines, much like people already do with Kindle.

So is the iPad just a humongous iPhone without the phone, or is it an incredibly versatile portable computer? I opt for the latter. I am getting ready for a couple of conference presentations in Las Vegas next month, and I fully intend to use my iPad as the delivery vehicle.

Because that netbook I bought a year ago is like a horse with two legs. And my laptops are just plain heavy. Besides, I rather like helping lead the charge of the paradigm brigade. It’s easier being on the front than trying to catch up from behind.

At least that’s how I justified the purchase. Besides, I couldn’t quit salivating as long as Steve Jobs was ringing that darn bell.

Dr “iLoveIt” Gerlich

Close To Home

17 09 2010

Being the only vegetarian in my family and group of friends, I often take some ribbing (not the BBQ kind). Heck, my best friends even bought me a shirt that said, in nice big letters: “VEGETARIAN: Indian word for “lousy hunter.”

But the fact of the matter is, most of us are lousy hunters. And gatherers. For decades we have all become customers of supermarkets and chain restaurants. We have no more connection to our food than we do the clothes we wear. Our food just magically shows up on shelves or plates. The plate of lasagna you just had at Olive Garden was no doubt prepared off-site, shipped in frozen, and then heated 10 minutes before it was served to you.

As if there were an Italian chef in the kitchen. Or you were tagging along with Elizabeth Gilbert on the first leg of her Eat Pray Love journey.

In other words, we live in an era of factory farms and factory kitchens.

But there is hope. The locavore movement is gaining steam. Initially started with the advent and growth of farmer’s markets, the latest trend is small butcher shops in which shoppers can get much closer to the meat they are buying. Meat hooks can be seen overhead. Butchers can be observed cutting and packing. And the places smells like…well, like there’s animal carcasses hanging around.

To be fair, we still engage in modest amounts of hunting and gathering. The backyard garden is a start. And some folks go fishing, or participate in seasonal hunts. But the fact remains, these little butcher shops are about the closest we will ever get to the animal whose flesh we grill for dinner.

Well, not me anyway. Maybe you.

As for me, I rather like this movement. I am not opposed to chain restaurants or supermarkets, but the idea of eating freshly prepared food that may very well have come from the area in which I stand is very appealing.

Unfortunately, unless you eat copious amounts of beef, there aren’t many things for an Amarillo boy to eat locally. Unless you like cotton and sorghum. But my neighbor is raising chickens and has eggs for sale. And if the weatherman cooperates, we can actually grow a few peaches around here.

At a more macro level, though, maybe this trend signifies a bigger change afoot. And that change stands in stark contrast to everything we as a culture have fought hard to achieve in the last century. Maybe we are returning to our roots. Maybe we are tired of the saccharine taste of food that has no real place to call home. Maybe we are just screaming for a little more simplicity and less complexity in our lives.

And maybe it’s time to cross back over to the other side of the street. Because it wasn’t so bad over there after all.

Dr “Attraversiamo, Baby!” Gerlich

All Made Up

16 09 2010

Ever since Adam stole the remote from Eve and made her watch Sunday afternoon football instead of When Harry Met Sally, men and women have realized there are some fundamental differences between the genders. Some things that you just cannot explain. Some things that just won’t go away.

These perpetual flash points continue to make life interesting, frustrating and humorous. All at the same time. I picture a God looking down on creation, laughing so hard he/she nearly falls of his/her throne. Apparently, there are some things in this world that we are not meant to understand or resolve.

Ah, vive la difference!

But that doesn’t mean some profit-minded marketers won’t try to change things anyway. After all, we have a plethora of products that are more or less gender-specific (or at least heavily favored by one gender). Personal care products. Sporting goods. Clothing. Household decor. Power tools. What if we could get the other half to buy this stuff, too?

So when I heard that sales of men’s cosmetics (yes, cosmetics!) had doubled over the last decade to $5 billion dollars, I took note. Men’s skin care product sales have quadrupled over the same period. It’s enough to make the ghost of Max Factor wish he had another chance at life and sales.

Now I don’t have a problem with men being clean, or even smelling like they fell into a vat of musk (or WD-40…take your pick). But I just wince when I hear about guys using moisturizers, exfoliants and makeup to cover dark and sagging spots under the eyes.

Look, I rather like being able to get up, race through the shower, shave, and be ready to go in…oh, about 8 minutes. Our culture mocks pretty boys, but honors ruggedly handsome men. The words “foundation” and “ruggedly handsome” just don’t go together in the same sentence.

These differences are part nature, part nurture. Culture arises in large part because of our native inclinations and differences (or hard-wiring, if you prefer), and then serves to reinforce those differences. How a culture manifests those reinforcements is pretty much up to the people themselves, explaining how in western societies women shave most of their body hair below their neck, while men do not (except for those in certain sports, but that’s another story). There is no “right” or “wrong” in the discussion of culture, just “this is how we do it.”

And while I am a firm believer in cultures adapting and changing over time, I still just don’t get it why some men (OK, apparently a lot of men) have started using what are traditionally known as women’s personal care products. Even if they make them smell like a locker room.

Sure, there are no doubt some marketers just giddy at the prospect of USAmerican males strolling into a department store, taking a seat on a stool at a cosmetics counter, and sitting still while a lab-coated miracle worker applies his eyeliner. Doubling the market size is enough to make any stockholder jump for joy.

If we do that, we’ll have to fork over the remote. It’ll be chick flicks from now through January. And we’ll have to read about the game in Monday’s paper.

Dr “Can I Get An Amen?” Gerlich

To A Tee

15 09 2010

If there is one consumer product for which the Baby Boom generation is forever remembered, it will be the t-shirt. Not that we invented it or anything. No, we took what was arguably a piece of underwear, and turned it into a billboard.

The t-shirt has evolved from a souvenir telling everyone where you spent your vacation or what band you just saw in concert, to a screenprinted rendition what just emanated from your microphone. Personal expression. Political statement. A glimpse into the inner psyche.

And we cannot own enough of them. The t-shirt has become a cultural sign post, such an essential element of everyone’s wardrobe that it remains haute couture for everyone between rich and poor.

Check my closet and basement, and you will count many hundreds of shirts I have accumulated in the last 35 years (yeah, I still have most of them). They are quirky. They are kitschy. But they are me.

And yours are unequivocally you.

I would be remiss if I said I never secretly wished I were in the t-shirt business. I bet you have had the same fantasy. Like me, you have probably already come up with some clever ideas for your first run of shirts.

Which explains in large part why I am so enamored of Threadless, the Chicago t-shirt company where the customers are the company.

Started 10 years ago by a couple of college dropouts, Threadless has become a $25 million company selling 2 million shirts a year. Artwork is provided by customers, all of whom can vote on what gets printed (or re-printed). It is, in essence, a social network for t-shirt lovers. Designers get a small fee and a lot of notoriety, while the company reaps the profits from an enterprise in which they already know in advance what is going to be popular.

So popular are these shirts that Threadless is now test marketing their wares at selected Nordstrom department stores in California and Hawaii, and has partnered with Dell to offer 11 different designs for netbooks and laptops.

On one of my trips to Chicago this summer, I purposely embarked on a very long walk from downtown to Wrigley Field, and took a slight detour down Broadway Street to visit one of the Threadless retail stores. Inside are floor-to-ceiling vertical bins filled with only the very latest shirts, for the inventory is rotated every week. The ethos of the company is that what is hot today may very well be a dud tomorrow (and possibly in the car wash rag pile), so you had better act fast.

There are dozens of online t-shirt companies, but only Threadless has created a community around this iconic piece of clothing. While I may never take on the risk of starting my own t-shirt company (heck, I even have my first design ready to roll), you can bet I’ll be buying more threads from this outfit. And if you have to ask me what in the world my latest shirt means (see the image above), then all the more glory for me in getting to explain it. I’ve been wearing my sentiments for 35 years anyway. It’s a Baby Boomer thing.

Dr “CMYK” Gerlich

Greater Apptitude

14 09 2010

Ferraris and Lamborghinis are known for accelerating from 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds. In a heartbeat they can leave a Chevy Impala at the stop light, wondering what happened.

And that, my friends, is exactly what Apple has done to Android, Blackberry and Palm. In scarcely over 2 years, there have been 13 million apps downloaded from iTunes. Just this month the number of apps has now surpassed the number of songs purchased in 5 years.

Interesting trends are emerging about app users. About 35% of US adults have apps, but only 24% of all adults use them (which means that, of the app-owning Americans, about two-thirds are actually using them). Furthermore, there are age, gender, income and education differences galore. App users tend to be male, young, well-educated, and relatively affluent. Female app users more typically use social networking apps like Facebook and Twitter, along with games, while males are more likely to use productivity apps.

Twenty-nine-percent of adult cell phone users have downloaded apps (the other 6% apparently using apps that came pre-loaded on their phone). Of the downloaders, 47% have paid for apps (with the remainder opting for only free apps).

It is this 47% that is of greatest appeal to app developers, because therein lies the potential revenue stream. Free apps usually fall under two umbrellas: entertainment (games, web radio, etc.) and brand reinforcement (like the apps for The Weather Channel). For free apps, the only real benefit to the developer is if there is some form of brand reinforcement occurring, or possibly a lure to users to upgrade to a premium app version for a small fee (like some app developers do in offering ad-free versions).

But apps that are available strictly on a pay-per-download basis represent the future of apps. Often highly specialized in scope, these apps can command prices up to as much as $40 for the TomTom GPS app. For example, I recently paid $5 for the Cyclemeter biking app. It is completely GPS-driven, and provides the same data that a Garmin GPS unit $600 or more) would on my bike (miles ridden, average speed, max speed, elevation profile, time on the bike and more). I tested it in Red River NM this last weekend on the 100-mile Enchanted Circle Tour, and it worked flawlessly.

And it even yelled at me when a took a short break atop one of the mountain passes. All that information, and a butt-chewing, too. All for $5.

More than anything, the rapid adoption of apps by the smartphone-owning public signifies an enormous paradigm shift. People are viewing their phones not just as communication devices, cameras and music players, but also as small computers. The proliferation of apps (over 250,000 at the moment) and the acceptance thereof attest to this change in consumer behavior.

Now if they just put a Ferrari in my iPhone that could jolt my sleepy self from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds when I arise each morning. Is there an app for that?

Dr “If So, I’ll Buy It” Gerlich

Scene On TV

13 09 2010

My Mother is a sucker for gadgets, gizmos and doodads. I suppose when you are in your 80s and nothing but time on your hands, watching TV salespeople provides entertainment, as well as a way to make those Social security checks vanish.

So when we had to pack up Mom and Dad this summer to move them into an independent living center, we had to conduct a major downsizing. They went from a 1600 sq. ft. house to a 950 sq. ft. apartment. That’s a lot of junk to get rid of. We sorted. We packed. We donated. We loaded. We pitched.

And in the process, we found all kinds of amusing items I have added to my Museum of SYDN. That’s Stuff You Don’t Need. (Feel free to substitute a different S-word if you so desire.)

Ironically, our current recession may be fueling the supply of SYDN items. Turns out that Frugal Freds and Scrimping Suzies are gobbling up these trinkets that purport to save them money.

Like these bottle tops.

But wait just a minute. How much money can we possibly save by putting a lid on a soda can? And if you really want a bottle top, why not just buy your sodas in bottles to begin with? Wouldn’t you save money that way?

And what about the little gewgaw that squeezes the toothpaste tube? I do quite well without such a device, thank you very much. Remember, that old adage about getting blood out of turnips only applies if you don’t spend money on beets along the way.

Now before you dismiss my rant as someone who has completely missed the point of Marketing, let me assure you that I fully understand that our task is to uncover and serve customer needs. But at what expense do we make these offerings? And are we truly meeting needs in one pocket while picking money out of the other?

While Mom adores all these little items, one need look no farther than my Dad, who was born 7 years before Mom, and is old enough to remember the Great Depression. He is the master of frugality. Talk about blood out of turnips. Heck, he could keep a blood center in business for years. No alleged money-saving gadget exists that he did not figure out beforehand how to survive without.

So maybe that’s why Dad is able to turn a deaf ear to those TV hawkers. It’s a scene he doesn’t need or want to see. It’s how birth year (1928 vs. 1921) pits Ms. Spendthrift with Mr. Thrifty Spender.

And it’s how my Museum of SYDN gets stocked in the first place.

Dr “Scene It All” Gerlich

Tall In A Small World

13 09 2010

Marketers have often been criticized for employing smoke and mirrors to make the sale. Superlatives (!), superfluous wording, misleading phrasing and downright lying are all frequent accusations we have felt.

And sometimes the critics are right. Like when they criticize Starbucks, the Walmart of coffee. Derisively known as “Fivebucks” and “Charbucks” by many, the venerable coffee giant recently volunteered to re-enter the radar with its plans to remove the 12oz option from its drive-thru menus. Really…who in their right mind would only want 12 oz. of coffee anyway?

But let us step back a second. The 12 oz. cup has always been called a “Tall,” even though it is the smallest item on the menu. And what is bigger than Tall? Grande, of course (16 oz.), and Venti (20 oz.). And who among us knew that “Venti” is Italian for “20?”

See what I mean?

Starbucks is guilty of deliberately confusing customers for years. And now they want to upsell patrons by removing the smallest choice available.

Now may SBUX knows something about the consumer psyche that most folks don’t know, that “small” is too diminutive, and that “tall” is far more empowering and upbear. No one wants to be small. And maybe no one wants to feel like they just paid $1.80 for 12 oz. of Pike Place straight up.

And maybe it leaves something for the imagination, that possibly there is a “secret menu” (like at In-N-Out Burger), whereby customers could order a true “small” coffee.

Which would be served in a paper thimble, of course.

I am not a Starbucks regular. It is not my coffee of choice. It’s not that I oppose their giant corporate status. I just don’t care for their coffee. But when push comes to shove and the alternative is a massive migraine, I’ll belly up to the barista for a large coffee. Or is that Grande? Venti? Heck, I don’t know. I can’t see the barista for all that smoke anyway.

Dr “Grounds For Ridicule” Gerlich

What’s Your Status?

13 09 2010

I suppose it was only as matter of time. Our culture is changing so rapidly anyway, so there really is no reason at all that I even blinked an eye the other day when General Motors announced that they will now be providing Facebook integration via their OnStar service.

As if we don’t have enough other distractions already.

But then again, maybe this could work out for the better. OnStar is a two-way GPS communications system, and GM is also looking at offering voice-to-text. In other words, hands-free communicating. If GM/OnStar can convert those voice messages into FB mistake-free FB posts, we would have it made.

Now before everyone starts howling in disapproval, please hear me out. I actually like this idea. Sure, naysayers everywhere belittle we FB fanatics. And I know that not everyone wants to know that I just had spaghetti at Johnny Carino’s, or that my kids and I are going to the mall. So Hide me. Ignore me. Whatever.

I actually like reading what all of my friends and family are up to, for they are writing the story of their life, one status update or tweet at a time. And if ever you don’t want me to know something (or vice-versa), there’s always the option of simply not posting at all.

So will the FB landscape be filled with ever more updates? Possibly. One thing for sure, they will be simple blurbs, free of links, pictures and embedded YouTube videos.

We are already way beyond the point of deciding if Twitter and Facebook have any social relevance. They do. Six hundred million combined users have already cast their vote. And companies seldom list their website address on print or TV ads these days, opting instead to point us to the social graph. You know…where everyone is.

So it really is no surprise to hear of this new feature, which is actually debuting this month. No, the real question in my mind is when cell phone providers will do the same. Imagine being able to update from your smartphone. Saying it is a heck of a lot safer than trying to type and drive.

After barely rising above the horizon for many years, OnStar is now poised to rise ever higher. Integration is what’s all about…just like our smartphones brought conversations, photography, email, video, web surfing and more into one handy little device.

Just be careful when you’re pressing buttons on your OnStar screen. Or else you may as well just use your phone

Dr “Face The Music” Gerlich