Category Archives: Marketing

Do Brands Need to be on Facebook?

Making dinner this evening (Rice-a-Roni, if you must know) my wife and I struck up a conversation over my love of Chicken flavored Rice-a-Roni.

As I was waxing poetic about the fine line between browning or burning the vermicelli, I decided to check out the San Francisco treat’s Facebook page.

Just nine days ago, Rice-a-Roni decided to quit Facebook.


I was genuinely surprised and explained to my wife the news having “just wanted to see what Rice-a-Roni was up to on Facebook…” She completed the sentence with her sarcastic voice “yeah, said nobody ever.

Most everyone, especially Catholics (Lent!), have had friends quit Facebook for a while (99 days of freedom). Other friends sort of phase it out of their lives, using it sparingly. But rare is the person who tells everyone they’re quitting for good. Even more rare is the person who doesn’t come crawling back and have to wear a scarlet letter.

I only know of one person who declared it, did it, and didn’t come back (so far).

When it comes to loving, er, “liking,” Rice-a-Roni, I am not alone. 212,000 people opted to “like” the page on Facebook… Which is not a small audience. Admittedly, it’s not large, either — White Castle only has locations in a handful of states and has about 5 times as many “likes.”

Alas, I was intrigued that a brand like Rice-a-Roni decided to call it quits on Facebook. Assuming they didn’t buy “likes” or advertise to coerce fans to “like” the page, they probably spent a fair amount of money on it.

Many brands — especially those in the service industries — spend a small fortune on in-house or outsourced social media teams. And Rice-a-Roni is part of Quaker Oats, a division of PepsiCo, so it’s not some mom and pop food company with a following.

So, why quit Facebook?

Is it that Rice-a-Roni is a simple product, a staple even, and it just is what it is? No cult following? Not a lot of complaints or social media mentions? Even their goodbye earned a whopping six likes over the course of nine days. To be fair, their last social media post was in February and the frequency with which posts appear in the feeds of those who “Like” something depend on a lot of factors, one of which is engagement. (TL, DR: Don’t post much, you won’t get much engagement.)

Perhaps, but how does Knorr, a competitor of sorts, have 10 million Facebook likes?

A lot of money? Do people prefer Knorr’s products to Rice-a-Roni’s? Or is it that they just offer more of them that can be used in a more diverse manner? (Answer: a combination of both.)

But, I think the fundamental question here is whether there is a measurable level of ROI for static brands like Rice-a-Roni to justify spending big on social.

Perhaps Quaker Oats did that cost/benefit analysis and concluded the ROI was too low.

“All Five of our Government Run Television Stations….”

This Newcastle ad campaign did not appeal to me at first (perhaps it’s because I don’t like Stephen Merchant), but the new Elizabeth Hurley spots are pretty good:

Should Everyone Graduate From Harvard?

The beauty of the internet, aside from bringing volumes and volumes of data to many people who would never have access to such information in the past, is that we get the opportunity to have brushes with greatness on twitter.

I’m not talking about trolling celebrities, getting lewd photos from Anthony Weiner, or even getting a “you’re fired!”  tweet from Donald Trump. I’m talking about the really famous intellectuals. Like Joyce Carol Oates. Thankfully, twitter has a way of telling me somebody is important even if I do not know who they are. It’s called the “verified” button.

And, thanks to the internet, I now know that Joyce Carol Oates is actually famous. (Good job, twitter!) In 2010, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal.

Joyce Carol Oates

I scoured the internet, and I couldn’t find any credible sources for her claim of a 1 percent graduation rate, other than a retweet from a News Corp employee who shared a stat provided by an Occupy Wall Street twitter account.

The Washington Post, my hometown newspaper, owns/owned a competitor to the University of Phoenix — Kaplan. They report that the overall graduation rate for the college is 16 percent. Online-only students have a graduation rate of about 4 percent.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that schools like Phoenix and Kaplan “compute and publicize their own alternative graduation or ‘completion rates,'” and that the institutions argue “that these better reflect the nature of their student bodies and their institutional missions.”

Be that as it may, Oates’s claim of a 1 percent graduation rate could be true after statistical manipulation — but I just haven’t seen that it’s true. This comparison is apples to oranges. Harvard isn’t the same as the University of Phoenix. It’s like comparing a privately-run GED equivalency program to a private high school like Sidwell Friends in Washington, or Saint Ignatius in Cleveland.

Some critics contend that Ivy League schools, like Harvard, suffer from grade inflation and bad professors. What does a diploma mean if your professors are bad (like Cornel West) and your grades are inflated? If you graduated from Harvard, it doesn’t matter.

There’s no doubt that Harvard-accepted students are bright people. But, as Oates questions, should “anyone” who gets into an Ivy League school be given a guaranteed diploma?

The obvious answer is no.

Acceptance to a school — whether it’s Harvard, Hagerstown Community College, or Hamilton College — shouldn’t guarantee you a diploma. A school’s exclusivity or selectivity shouldn’t negate the hard work by its students from acceptance to senior year.

Graduation should be earned, not given. Whether you attend the University of Phoenix or Harvard.

While all of my friends who attended Ivy League schools graduated, I highly doubt they’d advocate Oates’s position: “anyone who does [get in] should graduate.”bsig

‘Jackass’ Approved for Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit

bgThe upcoming film Bad Grandpa, part of the Jackass series, was filmed in Northeast Ohio.

I noticed a frame of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, a bridge I crossed frequently during my high school years on Cleveland’s West Side.

In an effort to win filming locations, Ohio offers the “Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit” as an incentive, though many films use Cleveland as a backdrop for other cities like New York, Chicago, or Washington, rather than a feature. In other words, Ohioans are subsidizing Hollywood firms to turn Cleveland into New York.

So far as these incentives go, Ohio isn’t alone — over 75% of states offer some form of incentive.

According to the website of the Ohio Development Services Agency:

“The Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit provides a refundable tax credit that equals 25 percent off in-state spend and non-resident wages and 35 percent in Ohio resident wages on eligible productions.”

It also specifies that “[e]ligible productions must spend a minimum of $300,000 in the State of Ohio”.

The Ohio Development Services Agency confirmed to me that, while “the production company has not yet sent in their final audit … the project was approved for a $1.5 million Motion Picture Tax Credit.” The production company projected that “47 percent was to be shot in Ohio.”

Motion Picture Tax Credits and other incentives for filming are popular among state legislators. The Tax Foundation observes:

“Forty-four states [in 2010] offer significant movie production incentives (MPIs), up from five states in 2002, and twenty-eight states offer film tax credits.”

While they are popular, they are not without controversy. The Economist called such incentives a “stupid trend.”

Since 2010, three states have dropped their motion picture incentives. Many others, including New Jersey — the epitome of states with silly policies, have suspended such programs.

The non-partisan Tax Foundation is skeptical of the value of incentives and credits for motion pictures:

“While broad-based tax competition often benefits consumers and spurs economic growth and development, industry-specific tax competition transfers wealth from the many to the few … Movie production incentives are costly and fail to live up to their promises.”

The report continues:

“Based on fanciful estimates of economic activity and tax revenue, states are investing in movie production projects with small returns and taking unnecessary risks with taxpayer dollars. In return, they attract mostly temporary jobs that are often transplanted from other states.”


“Furthermore, the competition among states transfers a large portion of potential gains to the movie industry, not to local businesses or state coffers. It is unlikely that movie production incentives generate wealth in the long run. Most fail even in the short run. Yet they remain popular.”

I’m in agreement. Scrap them.

But if you’re going to keep them, at least require that they say they’re in Cleveland in the film, so that you can pick movies that cast Cleveland in a positive light.bsig

Here’s a screen grab from Google street view of the bridge seen in the movie.


The next frame cuts immediately to Charlotte, North Carolina. From the trailer, it appears most of the film is depicted in North Carolina. (Also, Cleveland’s tallest building one of Charlotte’s tallest were both designed by Cesar Pelli and look similar.) Other scenes were filmed in North Carolina.


You can watch the trailer here:

Death to Discount Pricing!


This morning, I did what I pretty much never do, and that was to get up early and go to a department store to go holiday shopping. I am not a shopaholic, or lover of the holidays — I don’t hate the holidays, I just am ambivalent about them.

Department store visits are a once or twice a year thing, usually around the holidays or Mary’s birthday.

The object of my present buying spree was my fiancé, who does not share my hatred of the department store. I explained to her once why I don’t like going there, and it’s because of something called discount pricing. Having agreed to marry me, she listened politely and quickly changed the subject. My attempt to proselytize the evils of department stores and discount pricing had failed.

Macy’s, Kohls, and Bed, Bath and Beyond have worked their voodoo magic on her. I do have the rest of our lives together to win this war, so I’m optimistic I may outlive these businesses.

What is discount pricing? describes it this way:

A valuation approach where items are sometimes initially marked up artificially but are then offered for sale at what seems to be a reduced cost to the consumer. For example, a retail store business might offer discount pricing on all of its apparel items for a limited time period in order to attract new customers and boost sales.

It’s like those Jos. A. Bank commercials — buy one suit, get three free! I’ll admit I shop at Jos. A. Bank, but not because these deals have suckered me. I do pay attention to them, just in case one day the first customer to come in is awarded a free franchise.

Shopping for the special lady in your life at department stores is a nightmare, because you see a set of kitchenware from Wolfgang Puck or Martha Stewart and it says “Usually $500, today $150!” You think to yourself: “Man, Wolfgang is really taking a bath here!” Then you scan the UPC with your smart phone and see that if you bought the kitchenware from here, it’d be you taking a bath.

Where Department Stores Probably Source their Jewelry

Where Department Stores Probably Source their Jewelry

Jewelry, what all women want, is damn near impossible to find at department stores. Oddly, however, it’s not as if they have a shortage of jewelry, it’s just that most of it is for grandparents (all of mine are dead), people of different cultural tastes than your lady, and about 10,000 pieces of jewelry that look as if they were swept up from a street market in Tangier and stapled to felt squares with catchy names etched on them.

Finding a decent piece of jewelry that isn’t behind the counter is like finding a needle in a haystack. And we all know to avoid the lady behind the counter, or she’ll guilt trip you into buying a cubic zirconia heart pendent for $200 (normally $1,200!) In addition to the discount pricing on the largely crappy jewelry, I think each store hides about five decent items in the normal areas, and nobody will tell you if they’ve all been sold. Sometimes, and I don’t know because I don’t buy a lot of jewelry (though that will change) I think that Walmart probably has better jewelry than a typical department store does.

Even basic items like picture frames are in this nightmarish kabuki dance of discount pricing. Normally, this frame is $50! But today, for you, it’s $9.99. And their frame typically selection sucks, nothing good in the middle. Even if you manage to find a decent frame, you have to very carefully peel those super sticky stickers off of the glass, after which the glass is all covered in fingerprints. At least Walmart has the sense to put the UPC label on the fake stock photograph in the frame. Good on them.

Discount pricing, translated if you haven’t gotten the point by now, means “fake sale.” The savings, much like what you find in President Obama’s budget or the pay-for in the latest spending spree bill, are imaginary.

“Well, sir, if we pretend the war funding goes until 2020, and we end the wars sooner, we’ll save TRILLIONS!”

“Johnson, you are a genius. I am going to appoint you head of the CBO.”

There is one department store that has recently earned my respect, despite my general distaste for them. After all, who likes walking through real-life version of minecraft with tons of scary salespeople popping out from behind their cube, trying to spray perfume on you or sell you lotion made with anti-aging bubbles (which are actually just air).

That store is J.C. Penney. Bloomberg Businessweek reported earlier this year that they decided to get rid of the annoying discount pricing:

The lynchpin of J.C. Penney’s revitalization is a new “Fair and Square Every Day” pricing strategy. The plan stems from Johnson’s realization that three-quarters of everything sold at J.C. Penney is typically sold at a 50% discount from list price. Instead of using deep discount sales to attract customers, starting this week the chain will simply offer three prices: (1) “Every Day”, (2) “Month Long Value” (theme sales such as back-to-school related products in August), and (3) “Best Prices” (clearance). Prices will also now end in “0″ instead of “99″ and price tags will list just one price (instead of including the de rigueur “previously sold at a higher price” convention).

In the long run, they’ll probably save millions in signage costs. Businessweek’s reporter thinks this strategy is risky, but I don’t think it’s as bad as they fear.

While discount pricing appeals to both genders, I am sure there are many men out there like me who don’t want to scan every item they’re considering buying to know what percentage of the “sale” is imaginary bullshit. On second thought, that might be a little more difficult to market than “SALE SALE SALE.”

Either way, next year I’m going to Penney’s.bsig

For My Birthday, Leave Me Alone, Sales People

Nothing makes me angrier during Birthday season than people messing around with me for my birthday. OK, some things probably make me angrier, but pulling my chain regarding my very special day is definitely in the top 10.

Some companies send me nice coupons to their restaurants. Most even offer me a free meal, assuming I buy another one for Mary. I think that is nice. They’re advertising to me and making pleasing the lady lighter on the wallet.

What I do not appreciate is vague stuff like this (depicted left). Why? Because it’s a BAIT AND SWITCH. That’s why. Oh, you mean if I merely call your conveniently local phone number I’ll get a free “Touchpad Tablet Complete with New Android Software?” Well, SHIT! Why did I buy a Kindle Fire last year? Probably because I’m not a dipshit and I know people don’t send me letters promising to making it rain Android tablets.

A company that stupid would run out of business in a New York minute. No. These assholes want something. Who knows what they want? I don’t (yet) but I am sick of it. Sure, market to me when I’m at Lee’s Famous Recipe Fried Chicken, I know that “everybody wins the cruise.” That’s shitty marketing, but you know what it doesn’t do?

Denigrate my birthday with crappy offers, that’s what.

Remember Yeah. I do. I actually got a free iPod — 20 gigs — and a free t-shirt. That website was straightforward, at least with me. I’m sure some stupid people didn’t read the terms of service and felt they got duped, but as I recall it was pretty straightforward. You sign up, agree to a partner’s deal (I think I did BMG music?) and refer some friends who also have to complete the deal. I used an advertisement right here on and Andrew Chappelle, ironically, was the last referral that got me the free iPod. It appears the company that runs them, Gratis Networks (and later FreePay) doesn’t seem to be around, but they held up their end of the bargain.

You know what they didn’t do? Exploit my birthday exuberance. I’m happy I am turned 29 this year. Why? Because I’m not turning 30. And they’re not even telling me whether I’m getting a new Kindle Fire HD or some shitty alternative.

A cursory search tells me that CP, at PO Box 20389, West Palm Beach, FL 33416 is something called Classic Promotions. The Better Business Bureau doesn’t have nice things to say about them.

The mailing wishing me a happy birthday tells me “Some restrictions apply. See voucher below.” Turns out this voucher has been sponsored by one of those “DirectBuy” franchises. You may have seen their commercials, but imagine if CostCo, BJ’s or Sam’s Club had slick commercials telling you that you could save 4x the value of their membership fees, but they only sell items related to home furnishings. Like paying a membership fee to shop at IKEA. (Seriously, how much can you possibly spend on refurbishing your home?)

Yeah, this is who sent this to me. Via a company with an F rating at Florida’s Better Business Bureau. DirectBuy, to its credit, has a B+ rating with BBB, and is accredited with them.

I considered making a trip to Woodbridge to spend 90 minutes of my time hearing, presumably, a high-pressure sales pitch for something I don’t need. (Like SouthPark’s Asspen episode.) The tablet (allegedly) is valued at $249, and for 90 minutes, that means I value my time at $166 an hour.

Then, I decided I’d rather just take a nap. After all, I’m getting old.


These Hands

Is by far one of the best Romney ads this cycle. Which might explain the President’s hasty and poor response to it.

Somebody deserves a raise

Some corporate speech seems OK, according to liberals

And now, your daily dose of irony.

This week, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Citizens United by striking down a Montana campaign finance law that limited corporate speech. Of course, liberals were in a tizzy about this.

Retired Senator Russ Feingold whined:

“The Supreme Court had a perfect chance today to clean up the corrupt mess created by their lawless Citizens United decision. Instead, they just shrugged.”

You’ve heard them (liberals) carp and moan about the evils of corporate speech in elections.

Yet, also this week, Oreo posted a picture on its facebook page of one of its famous cookies not just double stuffed — sextuple stuffed –with rainbow frosting to celebrate gay pride month with the caption “Proudly support love.”

This corporate speech drew praise from liberal and pro-gay rights groups.

The Human Rights Campaign commented:

We just found yet another reason to love Oreos! …Guess we’ll just have to stop by the grocery store on the way home today!

Ironically, many of the same people who are praising Oreo/Kraft for speaking out in favor of gay rights are the very same people who denounce the Supreme Court for Citizens United and American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock because they are opposed to the evils of “corporate influence” on politics.

To which I say please, for the sake of consistency, pick a side. You can’t have it both ways. You either like corporate speech or you don’t. Picking and choosing which speech you like depending on whether you agree with it is disingenuous. 

(Previously, I’ve posited why buying/not buying things based on a company’s action/inaction on your issue du jour is stupid, but would a box of 6x normal sized Oreos put you on the fast track to diabetes? Then again, these people also were so happy Google opposed SOPA…)

Addendum: Because I, like the Supreme Court, accept that political speech is indeed a valid type of corporate speech, I think it’s ironic that some liberals say one but not the other is OK. I didn’t nuance this on the post because I accept it as fact. If liberals can acknowledge that corporations (and unions) have a right to be involved in political discourse, then it is hypocritical to support one but not both aspects of free speech.

What About Virginia?

I’ll give this ad a “Highly effective” rating. I think the best part is the narrator, who may be the same narrator as the celebrated Errol Morris Miller High Life Ads, and has a very blue collar and trustworthy voice.