Monthly Archives: June 2013

Zimmer and Deen – Are pitchmen still a good idea?

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Sort of weird that both George Zimmer and George Zimmerman are in the news this week.  One is defending himself, the other is a men’s clothing marketing icon and decidedly playing offense, and is the one we’ll discuss here.  We’ll also discuss the slow-motion self-destruction of Paula Deen, food celebrity.

The upshot of these stories:
– Companies need to realize that consumers tend to instinctively side with the person, not the company
– Increasingly, sponsors are cutting ties with celebrities at the first hint of controversy – – because they think they have no choice
– Ultimately celebrities get our attention but it’s harder than ever to have a 30-year spokesperson


Link to Men’s Wearhouse History

George Zimmer, founder of midscale clothier The Men’s Wearhouse and famous after umpteen years saying “You’re gonna like the way you look – – I guarantee it”, was booted from the organization last week.  The reasons have evolved into a sort of ‘he said, she said’ PR battle (one good summary is here).  In the end, though, the reasons aren’t important.  What’s important is that the company looks cold and heartless for mercilessly getting rid of the old guy who, yes, founded the place, but apparently can’t appeal to the more important younger shoppers.  And that has translated into consumer antipathy towards MW, which has decidedly lost the PR war.

We remember Wendy Kaufman, the popular straight-talking ‘Snapple Lady’ who was dumped right after the company was bought for $1.7B by Quaker Oats.  Quaker was 0-for-2 on that one – -it eventually unloaded Snapple for $300 million 3 years later to Triarc Brands, which immediately reinstated her as spokesperson, to the delight of consumers.

In January 2012, William Shatner (who has had more career changes than Madonna) was terminated as Priceline pitchman (‘The Negotiator’) after 14 years, apparently due to a change in their business strategy.  Credit to Priceline for offing Kirk in a suitably campy explosion.  On the other hand, a survey by discovered that 94% of customers wanted him back.  So this past January he returned, in different, but still amusing executions.  Good move, Priceline.

On the other hand, when celebrities clearly behave badly, a company is justified in letting them go.  O.J. Simpson, Lance Armstrong, Kobe Bryant (a seemingly endless list of pitchmen gone bad is here), which brings us to the case of Paula Deen.

Paula Deen Cries

Ms. Deen, longtime Food Network celebrity chef, is being fired by seemingly every sponsor she has (Food Network, Caesars, Smithfield Foods and now Wal-Mart).  Her crime?  Well, aside from glorifying heart-attack food, she admitted to using a racial slur several decades ago during a robbery.  OK, 30 years ago, she certainly could have moved beyond that mindset, right?  Well, she compounded the controversy by a continuing series of self-inflicted misfires in ensuing interviews.  She deserves to be heard and to have a chance for redemption, but she also can afford better PR advice.

Her sponsors, seeing this story take on a life of its own, probably figured that inaction on their part could be interpreted by some as tacit approval of using racist words.  So they needed to disconnect as a defensive play.  Fair?  Who knows; in this 24/7 news cycle the truth is less important than perception and reaction precedes facts.  But Paula Deen won’t starve, and business is business.  So it’s an understandable move by her sponsors.

On the other hand, the $1500+ Paula Deen cruise, where the food star mingles with guests and does cooking demos, has seen sufficient goodwill-fueled demand to require the cruise line to add another 500-person cruise to the schedule.  And her upcoming cookbook has seen a 1300% surge on Amazon since the incident.

Famous people can still move product – – but increasingly these relationships require caution – – and lawyers – – on both sides.


What is Velcro doing in my kitchen?

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Recently during a demanding session in my exciting new role as Observer in the kitchen, I noticed that a plastic pouch of Lundberg Family Farms Rice had a Velcro closure!  Velcro® PRESS-LOK™, to be accurate, according to the logo printed on the package back.  (technically speaking, PRESS-LOK™ uses a hook-and-hook approach rather than the original Velcro hook-and-loop).


Velcro® PRESS-LOK™Velcro2Branded ingredient logo

Like you, I’m used to seeing Velcro in jacket closures, little people’s shoes, the IPass transponder on my windshield, wallets, and a zillion other things.  ZZ Top even had a song called ‘Velcro Fly‘ but I’m not sure what they were specifically talking about.

But I’d never seen Velcro used in a food product before.  Why is this, and is it a good idea?  Does a Velcro logo on the package back do anyone any good?  Do I want to be thinking about muddy, stumpy little shoes when I’m (watching someone) chopping kohlrabi for dinner?

Velcro adds value to lots of products, but air- and water-tight seals have never really been part of the equation.  If it’s my food, I want that seal to be so impermeable that if called on to do so, the package swells up like a dead opossum once it goes past the sell-by date.

So, here’s my take.  In short, for ingredient branding to work there needs to be a meaningful new consumer benefit, or strong marketing support, or both.  This arguably has neither.

1) Expanding its applications to foods could be a nice business opportunity for Velcro — but there’s no guarantee.
If PRESS-LOK doesn’t work beyond the relatively unchallenging demands of a benign product like rice (or more importantly, if consumers don’t think it does), PRESS-LOK for food might go the way of the infamously loud, late and great compostable SunChips bag from Frito-Lay – – the answer to a question no one asked (not that you could have heard them).  (F-L Canada at least offered consumers earplugs.  But I digress…).

sun chips earplugs 2

2) This is not likely to bring ’em to the store 6-on-a-mule for Lundberg Family Farms Rice.  You can’t see ‘Velcro’ on the package front (in fact, you can’t even find it on their site), so it’s unlikely to generate new triers.  And one has no idea of what added benefit having a Velcro closure provides.  So any benefit to Lundberg will be if the Velcro closure provides an incredible consumer experience.  But it’s hard to imagine that happening, this being rice and all.
On the other hand, if Lundberg ever wants to sexy up some rice, they need only look to our German friends for how to inject a little Verführung in their brand messaging.

Net, from an ingredient branding standpoint, this ends up as perhaps a base hit but not a big deal.  Yes, you’ve now got Velcro introduced into the conversation in a food context, but it’s kept really low-key and the advantages of using Velcro in food packaging are never made clear.  So it’s an interesting alternative to the ubiquitous zip-lock closures but not likely the next Intel Inside.   (For those interested, Landor published a very good article on ingredient branding not too long ago.)

As for me, it’s time to grab a beer, today’s paper, drag my stool over to the kitchen, and get to work.

Restoration Hardware Weighs In Heavy

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When I first heard that Restoration Hardware was delivering 7 lb. reflections of its founder, I feared that science had finally mastered cloning and was sending us all little Gary Friedman (‘Chairman Emeritus) babies.   Turns out it’s even worse.

It seems that Restoration Hardware, which owes its success to the retro look, is also committed to retro marketing.

RH Spring 2013 catalogs

RH Spring 2013 catalogs


Chairman Emeritus Gary Friedman

Last week in my mail I received the latest RH catalog –  make that catalogs with an ‘s’ –no, scratch that – -make it ‘Source Books’ – all 7 lbs and 1600 pages of it.  It is huge, glossy, painfully self-conscious, and utterly uncalled for.  Comprising 5 separate parts (‘Interiors’, ‘Outdoor & Garden’, ‘Objects of Curiosity’, ‘Tableware’, and ‘Small Spaces’), it prominently features the heroic, studiously casual, Ralph Lauren-style visage as well as philosophical meanderings of the founder, Mr. Friedman.  It also features a sober collection of furniture marketers, as well as such fashion-forward innovations as deconstructed furniture.  Yes.  You can now have this for your home.

RH Design Team

RH Design Team


Deconstructed chair









You can find some other worthy commentary in the MorningNewsBeat blog.  And the philosophy of Mr. Friedman in the inside cover pages (“uh, do you mind if I, um, quote myself?”) is worth a quick look.

Now, to be fair, I’ve bought things at RH before (although I can’t remember the last time), and among the weirdness they do have some very nice stuff, although it always seemed overpriced.  But I can’t figure out why they would invest anywhere from $3 to $18 (depending on who you ask) to send this bulky material to my house.   I didn’t ask for this crap!  How does this ever pay back the millions invested?  New users?

Beyond the RH website, the catalog itself is available online as an iPad/iPhone app, which seems more consistent with how people shop.  And sending this enormous bulk of paper, in addition to being highly wasteful, now requires effort on the part of environmentally-conscious recipients – to execute recycling properly.  Mine went to the bin right after the photo shoot.

More likely, it is a true ego reflection of the founder – – and reveals his most basic underlying philosophy: size matters.  In a final unintended irony, an almost whispered disclaimer on an insert commends itself on sending this catalog ‘twice a year rather than monthly’, and encourages consumers to ‘participate in the recycling programs in their communities’.  No kidding.

Please recycle!

Please recycle!