business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story the other day about how different companies deal with the image issue, and how Wal-Mart has until recently hoped that its business could speak for itself while Starbucks has always cultivated its public image, believing that a strong and positive image would beget greater sales.

This story generated a number of email responses…

MNB user Matthew Muir wrote:

There is a key difference in the approach of these 2 stores -- Wal-Mart is a low cost (EDLP) operator, whilst people will pay good money for a great coffee. I'm guessing also that Starbucks would have slightly higher margins than Wal-Mart.....

MNB user Sam Civiello wrote:

It’s apples and oranges…Walmart does everything it can to keep prices low and Starbucks charges more for coffee than most everyone. How can you compare images?

How would you compare Costco to Walmart / Sam’s Club?

We’re not sure how pricing connects to public image…and Costco is an excellent example of that. Its public image is much more positive than Wal-Mart’s…as is its price profile.

We also got a number of emails about yesterday’s story relating how the Walt Disney Co. has applied for a patent on a portable media player that could be handed out instead of toys with McDonald’s Happy Meals and that allow kids to download movies, videos or audio files.

One of them was from MNB user Sharese S. Alston:

This is a great idea, if we were only thinking of profits. Just yesterday we were talking about obesity in children. Now, we are saying in order to keep children’s loyalty, a video game or movie will be given out with their 700 calorie “happy meal”. This is absurd! Instead of calling it a loyalty card, it should be called an addiction card. McDonalds is addictive, especially to children, and this is only encouraging that. Basically, they are pairing up children’s two favorite things and using it against them – food and fun.

MNB user Bill Drew wrote:

Thank goodness my four year old will be weaned from Happy Meals by the time this technology (and the roll out at McDonald's) comes to fruition. I can hear it now:

"Daddy," Riley says, "I got this cool thing in my Happy Meal. Let's download my cartoon."
"OK, kiddo," I say, "but remember, you are only going to get part of the video this time. We have to come back two or three more times to download the rest of the show."
"I know," he says, not really knowing at all.
So we download what we are able to and watch what we can, but the show isn't complete.
Riley says, "Dad, I need to find out what happens in the video. Let's buy another high fat, high carbo, high sodium meal so I can gorge myself. Worse yet, Dad, go ahead and buy it, but I'm not going to eat it. I'm just going to make you spend more money so I can watch more video."

You're right, Kevin. This new technology has great potential at both McDonald's and other venues of retailing, but I'm scratching my head at the fact that McDonald's and Disney are targeting Happy Meals as the primary outlet at the outset of the program. They, and others, should be going after the 13 to 25 year-olds by offering "free" downloads of music or videos with the purchase of a value meal or other add-on.

We’re not endorsing Happy Meals. Just the wisdom of the marketing approach.

Two very different responses to yesterday’s piece about the Chicago Tribune investigation into high mercury levels into seafood…

One MNB user wrote:

Mercury and other dangerous contaminates in fish and seafood is not new. The fish industry has been getting away with murder for years!

Sound familiar? No testing, no inspection…and government assigned oversight from a department that won’t do its job.

This is exactly the response I would expect from a government that thinks minimum inspection / testing procedures is protecting us from “mad cow” among other things. What we see today in the fish industry is where we are going with the whole meat industry.

Scandalous is too mild!

But another MNB user disagreed:

Wait a minute. Hold your horses. Accusation by a newspaper without reference to sources is irresponsible.

Given your background in reporting I find it scandalous that you would repeat the "Tribune" story without so much as a hint of skepticism. Who makes the claim that mercury levels are dangerously high? Who are the FDA officials? How few samples have been taken? Is the sampling within FDA norms? This story smells like the one when Florida growers a few years ago got the TV news to report that workers in Mexico relieve themselves in the vegetable fields. It reads like the regular "news updates" I get by e-mail from my college daughter.

Fair point. Our goal was to give the top line information from the in-depth Tribune investigation, but perhaps we could have gone into greater detail.

Regarding Wegmans’ rejection of any possible acquisition by Tesco, MNB user Barbara Thomas wrote:

Wegmans is a unique and special business. May it ever remain free, independent, creative and the best place in town.

Let freedom ring.

An MNB user wrote the other day: “Although I am NOT a Wal-Mart fan, thank you for expressing exactly what I feel about the ‘Jesus’ comments from the religious right. This is inexcusable.”

To which another MNB user responded:

FYI: is not the religious ‘right’. In fact, many of their platforms are in direct opposition to the religious right.

That really needs to be clarified.

We never equated the two. But the point is well taken.

Got the following email from an MNB user:

I wanted to respond to your reader who was commenting about using the word "Christmas" in marketing (today's Your Views).

While I agree with most of the statement, there is a huge fundamental flaw in the argument. It is no coincidence that the word Christmas begins with the word Christ. Jesus Christ is the reason why we celebrate this time of year, for the most part. It's why we have time off to spend with our families and it's why retailers are taking advantage of the gift giving season by offering attractive promotions to get more of our dollars. When I feel like I can't even say Merry Christmas to someone or write it in a card, regardless of their religious affiliation, yes, I do feel that something very important is being taken away from me. It's not about getting on a religious "high horse" or being holier than thou taking the celebration from all other groups. And it's not about most Americans being Christian or not.

When I say Merry Christmas to someone I want it to be for the spirit of the season, for the sincere sentiment of wishing others just that, a Merry Christmas. But taking the very word out of Christmas devalues the whole reason why Christians celebrate this time of year to begin with! And yes, I acknowledge that there are other religions celebrating this time of year as well, but for Christians to not feel like they can say Merry Christmas to colleagues or friends or anyone else is completely ridiculous -- just for the sake of being politically correct! And it's not about a word because Christmas celebrates of the birth of the fundamental difference between Christianity and other religions -- the acknowledgement, acceptance and celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. So yes, I feel like something very important is being taken away from me when I feel I can't use the word Christmas.

This is the discussion topic that just keeps on giving…

We celebrate Christmas in our house. But if somebody wants to send us a Hanukkah card, or wish us a “Happy Kwanzaa,” we think that’s great…and would return the compliment.

People should wish people whatever they feel comfortable wishing them, and should do so without feel of criticism from the political correctness police.

Use “Christmas” all you want. Go crazy.

But here’s the corollary. If people want to say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” in their cards because they know they are sending them to a wide variety of people of different beliefs, then they shouldn’t be subject to criticism, either.

It is extraordinary to us how hot this debate has gotten, and how intolerant people have gotten during a time of year when tolerance should be top of mind and heart.
KC's View: