business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

In the new age of segmented telecommunications, it pays to keep your eyes open. The industry got two important lessons in this during this summer—but only if you were watching.

You probably know by now that the highest rated television show since mid-May wasn’t “The Soprano’s” or anything on CBS, NBC or ABC. It was “High School Musical 2,” which aired as an original movie sequel on the Disney Channel. The movie drew so well, in fact, that it dragged a second Disney show (“Hannah Montana” anyone?) to the top of the ratings.

How big is “High School Musical 2?” You can count the ways. The video of the first movie is one of the best selling ever; the live show draws big audiences; and plans are already in the works for movies 3 & 4. To be clear, this success has no correlation to quality. I actually watched the second movie and will forever mourn the two hours of my life wasted on Troy, Sharpay, Ryan and Gabriella. (I’m not completely happy that I remember their names.)

But it was BIG! So, where was the “High School Musical” merchandising? Where were the stores running events for “High School Musical” parties for the gala opening night? If millions of American families were gathering for this long awaited event, where was the industry? After all, it’s not like August is awash in great merchandising opportunities.

Many missed it because we didn’t know it was coming. That’s the challenge of a fragmented society, where the top television show of the summer is on basic cable channel 56.

And what do we do when telecommunications gets even more fragmented than that. A much shorter video certainly got the attention of A&P in New Jersey. The video—“Produce Paradise” - is the type you can only find on The video features two young men rapping, dancing and playing with produce in ways that no one in the industry will approve. That both were also employed in a supermarket only makes matters worse, not to mention their outrage at actually being fired for pretending to urinate on produce. Imagine the injustice.

But the video itself is just part of the situation we need to understand. It’s the culture of and YouTube, where everybody and anybody can stand on an electronic soapbox and yell their message to the world. If you haven’t been to these sites prepare for a shock.

Read this next sentence very slowly:

Search the word “supermarket” at YouTube and you find 4,200 videos. There are songs, stories, races and even just people shopping. All on line and all easily accessible.

(At Myspace you can find countless gripes about the industry, including employees complaining about their stores, their bosses and their customers…)

The implications of all of this are enormous. For instance, A&P is suing the rappers for $1 million claiming the video is costing them business. Whether they have a case is anyone’s guess and it’s likely the suit is only a warning shot for anyone thinking of creating a sequel. It’s possible that A&P might have been better served by challenging the pair to start producing training videos because while the tape may be stupid, the rappers demonstrate some serious knowledge about products.

Ask yourself what will you do when it happens in your store? Or how about videos making claims about certain products or demonstrating “fun” new supermarket games like cart racing through the aisles? Will you even know the message exists? Will you fight it or will you embrace it?

Please consider that last point; it can be embraced. My college-aged daughter fell in love with a short-lived Broadway musical called “The Pirate Queen” last spring. Part of the appeal of the show was a daily cast com, which featured backstage stories, tours and insights. The videos made the show and cast come alive for her in an entirely new way.

In that light, you can suddenly see the appeal in letting employees rap about produce (in a far more responsible way, of course). It could build the personality of your employees, the store and may help you build relationships with a new market of shoppers. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but what new idea hasn’t. Think of the connections it could build. For instance, it might have helped you find merchandising events around the summer’s hottest movie.

The digital clock is ticking…
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