The #brandbowl

The Super Bowl. The one day of the year we don’t set our DVRs. Instead of fast-forwarding through the commercials, we’re glued to the TV to capture every second. We pay a lot of attention to the major players on the big screen, but now so much of Super Bowl engagement is occurring on much smaller screens: laptops, tablets and smartphones, where people are active across their social platforms.

These three brands won at social around the big game:

HostGator

GoDaddy released their Super Bowl ad in the morning on January 27th, featuring a lost puppy who finds his way home to realize he’s being sold online. Animal rights activists took to Facebook and Twitter to complain. Most puppy mill dogs are sold online. The ad was intended to mock the Budweiser #bestbuds ad, but had a very different effect. Due to the negative backlash, GoDaddy pulled the ad by 6:30pm ET the same day. HostGator, a GoDaddy competitor, immediately created and sponsored a “Puppy Love” Tweet and coupon code announcing they would be donating a portion of their profits to a local Austin Animal Rights organization. If any animal lover was considering a web-hosting provider, HostGator won their business. This is an example of smart real-time social marketing done right.

HostGator Tweet

 

Monster

Monster brilliantly used a Twitter photo size feature to create a post that went live right after the Super Bowl. The Tweet read “Congratulations Seattle from Monster.com! #biggame” and the photo also featured a congratulations message in the image. If you click to view the full-sized image, you see a Monster search for a Social Media Manager position. This was smart for a few reasons. First, it makes fun of brands who have famously messed up on social media. Second, it immediately catches your attention (everybody watching on TV or on social would know the Patriots won the game. Third, they were able to prepare ahead of time by likely having two versions approved and ready to go. Lastly, it has a direct connection to their service (while many Super Bowl commercials are memorable, consumers don’t connect the brand or product affiliated with the ads).

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McDonald’s

While the McDonald’s Super Bowl spot received mixed reviews, the brand recovered and won on social. McDonald’s Tweeted a giveaway tied to every product advertised during the Big Game. This was easy for brands who released Super Bowl commercials ahead of time, but more difficult for brands who didn’t, and involved a large real-time social media effort from the McDonald’s team. People entered by simply Re-Tweeting the McDonald’s tweet, generating engagement awareness for the program. Giveaways ranged from a $1,000 Victoria’s Secret gift card to designer sandals and a pedi tied to the infamous Jublia toenail fungus ad. The giveaways allowed McDonald’s to surprise their fans and engage real-time throughout the entire game.

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Valentine’s Day Gets a Facelift

Millennials, described as “confident, connected and open to change” by PewResearch, are living up to their characteristics according to TPN’s Seasonal Pulse New Year 2014 study.

Among all generations, millennials are the most likely group to “change it up” this Valentine’s Day. Thirty percent of millennials are planning to celebrate the romantic holiday differently than last year (see graph below), providing a huge opportunity for marketers to influence their plans – especially if millennials are trying to impress a new special someone.

Further, 21 percent of millennials plan to stay home and cook a special meal this Valentine’s Day. As notorious foodies who are always online, millennials will be hunting down new meal inspirations across social media and the web. Grocery retailers and online brands should be targeting this generation as they plan for their night in.

While 29 percent of millennials do plan on going out for a meal, those staying in, including myself, won’t have to make a last-minute reservation or spend an arm and a leg on food. Maybe it’s me, but I think millennials may be on to something.

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Source: TPN Seasonal Pulse, New Year 2014

For more information regarding TPN and our Seasonal Pulse findings, please visit www.tpnretail.com.

Test Drive for McDonald’s Happy Table

Venturing into new territory, a McDonald’s in Yishun, Singapore is testing driving a new form of in-store entertainment with the Happy Table. With the help of NFC (near field communication) stickers placed on the underside of the table, DDB Group Singapore is bringing a new playing field for games to the restaurant.

As shown in the video, people, in this case children, can use smartphones to communicate with the NFC stickers to play games across the table. A whole new world of gaming becomes easily accessible and unveils another excuse for families to linger a little longer in the restaurant, maybe to grab one more drink while they’re hanging out. And while I’d like to think such a game might allow for more peace at the table, I can’t help but wonder how this pans out when the number of children outnumbers the number of smartphones available in Mom’s purse. But I digress.

The simplicity of this technology, from the installation of simple stickers to the basic methods of playing the games, make the Happy Table seem like a no-brainer. Once this pilot program at the single location ends, rollout plans are in the works to spread to more McDonald’s across Asia. How long with it take for the Happy Table to cross the pond to the states? No dates confirmed as of yet.

NFC has not hit mainstream USA, though with every new iPhone or latest mobile phone release, people anxiously await for NFC capabilities to be incorporated. However, it’s easy to see that NFC is drawing closer and closer on the horizon. An NFC-driven concept like the Happy Table could easily be translated into any number of ways. Perhaps, Barnes & Noble could incorporate NFC to its play tables at story time or Starbucks could implement simple games into its tables, with varying games that could appeal to children or to the procrastinating college student taking a study break.

Along those lines, why not have these NFC stickers strategically-placed by the sitting areas in malls, near chairs/tables placed for resting in retailers, or at the beverage station in a convenience store etc, all with the purpose of quick games to increase engagement with their surroundings, when people might otherwise disengage into Facebook posts or their own games or texting their friends. Because at the end of the day, it’s the engagement that will keep your store/product/brand top of mind and keep them coming back for more.

Credits: Youtube, DDB Group Singapore, FastCo

What’s In A Name?

Or more to the point, what’s in a brand name? As a marketing experiment with real world consequences, we’re about to find out when Hostess Brands returns out of bankruptcy with a new owner in August 2013. When Hostess first closed their bakeries last November, connoisseurs of baked dessert goods unleashed much sound and fury at the thought of their beloved Hostess Twinkies going away forever. And as the bankruptcy hearings dragged on, the stores shelves filled the gap left in Hostess’ absence with breads and other treats. Consumers frantically went on eBay to find the last boxes of Twinkies and Ding Dongs, because Hostess so thoroughly owned the category that there were no direct equivalents available.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and now other companies have rushed to fill the gap, rapidly producing their own knock-offs of iconic Hostess items to occupy the spaces that were once filled by those well-known brand names. With shelves now filled with alternatives, Hostess has emerged from bankruptcy auction and plan on resuming production shortly:

Twinkies will hit store shelves nationally by late July, Michael Cramer, executive vice president of Hostess Brands LLC told NBC News on Thursday. “We expect to be making and selling in July,” he said. “Probably the later half of the month before the product hits the stores.”

All of the classic Hostess snack brands will return, some making their return in August and September. Hostess Donettes and some of the snack cakes will be among the first to return. And “Twinkies for sure,” Cramer said.

In November, all 36 Hostess Brands, Inc., plants shut down after an extended stand-off with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. That Hostess company has almost completely wound down its operations, selling its assets in pieces. The bulk of the Hostess Snacks brands the public knows best — Twinkies, Cup Cakes, Ho Hos, Zingers, Ding Dongs and Suzy Q’s — were purchased in April for $410 million by hedge funds Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co.

And so we’ll now get to see in real time what exactly a brand name is worth. The usurper products will not willingly relinquish shelf space to Hostess, and the consumer will now have a choice for each item… in many cases a cheaper choice that tastes similar if not identical to the Twinkie/Ding Dong/Ho-Ho that abandoned them in their hour of need. Will consumers really pay more solely for a name? Or maybe Hostess will find that their comeback doesn’t taste quite so sweet after all.

Giving Back on the Go

Last week, TPN participated in its Annual Day of Service by volunteering at food banks across the nation.  The Chicago team worked together to unpack, rebag and repack 2,000 pounds of Corn Flakes at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  It provided a break from the office and gave us a chance to do something different for the day.

It also reminded me how tough it is to make time to volunteer consistently throughout the year, outside of our TPN-dedicated days of service.

So I took it upon myself to look into some online and mobile solutions for those of us who want to give back, but may not have the time:

Snoball

Snoball “turns any action into a donation,” by using the power of social media to raise money for nonprofits.  By connecting Snoball to your Facebook, Foursquare or fantasy sports apps, it “empowers individuals to seamlessly integrate giving with living.”

I personally use this program, and each time I check into a restaurant on Foursquare, it donates a dollar to my selected nonprofit.  I also have a monthly limit on how much money I’ll give (I’m a bit of a Foursquare addict and can’t afford a dollar for every check-in).

FreeRice

Owned by the United Nations World Food Programme, Freerice.com has two goals: 1. Providing education to everyone for free, and 2. Helping to end hunger by providing free rice to hungry people for free.

Simply visit the website and answer educational trivia questions.  For each question you get right, 10 grains of rice are donated to the hungry.  It’s literally that simple.  Monetary support comes from sponsors who advertise on the website.

Charity Miles

Charity Miles, like FreeRice, uses corporate partners to support its cause of allowing users to “earn money and raise awareness for charities by walking, running or biking.”

The app not only tracks activity as any other running app, but users have the power to choose which charity they will run for.  Walkers and runners earn $0.25 per mile and bikers earn $0.10 per mile.

From the Westside: Fresh & Easy Exits US Market

It comes as no surprise to many retail watchers that British parent company Tesco announced this morning that it will attempt to sell all 200 Fresh & Easy stores, located in California, Arizona and Nevada. Incredibly, the chain did not make any money during its 5-year duration in the US.

It’s an unfortunate situation for the small-format, innovative stores that launched in 2007 with high hopes for bringing fresh food to “food deserts,” or areas that were underserved by supermarket and grocery store chains. Initial plans were to launch 1,000 stores in California & other western states before expanding east. Those plans were scaled down due to the economic climate as well as lack of performance & profit.

Why did Fresh & Easy fail? Theories abound. Primarily, the US grocery market is competitive, with well-established banners under Kroger, Safeway, and SuperValu brands.There’s also increased competition from high-end/specialty/independent grocery chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, as well as the rise of mass-market retailers with grocery components, notably Walmart and Target.

Fresh & Easy also pursued a self-service check-out model that was not popular with consumers who are used to cashiers, especially for high-volume, check-out intensive purchases. The chain also did not offer vouchers or coupons, which US grocery shoppers are accustomed to. In fact, many grocery chains highlight their coupon program as the primary draw for shoppers, even offering shopping incentives such as double coupons. Fresh & Easy also made a push to sell ready-made meals which were not necessarily compatible with local shoppers and their habits, mainly because shoppers in the west tend to grocery shop once a week and look for a wide range of products rather than shopping more frequently, where they’d be more inclined to shop for a grab-and-go/ready-made product.

Finally, Fresh & Easy launched with a high percentage of private label brands and a reduced SKU assortment in the center of the store. Many consumers were unable to find the brands they were used to purchasing, leading to frustration and an additional shopping trip. Many shoppers willing to give the new concept a try visited once and never returned.

Ultimately, the store failed to find it’s niche in the competitive US grocery landscape and solve a real need for consumers. It tried to introduce a new way of shopping that wasn’t compatible with US shopper needs, desires or patterns.

Retail analyst Neil Saunders of Conlumino in London said “Retail history will likely record Tesco’s American foray as something of an unfortunate misadventure.”

Peapod reimagines itself again…and again

As you can imagine, I have a fascination with anything that takes retail into fresh new territories. One company I’ve always admired is Peapod. The online grocery delivery service reimagined retail with its debut in 1989 – way back in the day, when modems were newfangled devices and AOL was the craze. They weren’t the first to offer the service – but they’re the one that has lasted by understanding that the business isn’t solely about convenience, but also hinges on “quality fulfillment” and “customer service”. Nothing’s “convenient” if you get blotchy produce delivered late. Peapod got it right about what customers really wanted and needed right from the start.
Recently, they’ve again reimagined retail – twice. This spring Peapod set up an interactive grocery store in the tunnel of Chicago’s State & Lake “L” station. Commuters shopped using their smartphones to scan products pictured on shelves in train station posters. Purchases were delivered the next day. Peapod wasn’t the first with the idea, but I suspect that, once again, they’ll be the ones to make it an ongoing and viable offering by truly meeting shoppers’ desires. (Tesco pioneered the concept last year in subway stations in Seoul, South Korea.)
 
In early October, the program returned, expanded to 17 Chicago train stations and, now, also offers 30 items from area restaurants and hometown brands, such as Lou Malnati’s pizza, Garrett’s Popcorn and Eli’s cheesecake. The program was also introduced in Boston, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington.
Next, in a fresh feat of re-imagination, the company that is synonymous with home delivery, has opened a pick-up store – Peapod Pick-Up – in a Chicago suburb and plans to open another in December. Customers order online, then come during an assigned time window to pick up their groceries. A Peapod associate puts the groceries right in your car. No schlepping required until you unload at home.
This is the kind of change and re-imagination that keeps retail so exciting for me. I’m inspired by their nimble approach and curious to see what future reinventions Peapod has growing on the vine.