business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Since this is the time of year when pundits of all kinds make all sorts of lists, I figure this is a good time for me to make a list of things that puzzle, delight or irritate me. Or, more accurately, a list of questions.

Let’s start with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Honestly, I’ve had it with all the reprehensible characters in the news lately. I’m tired of people running companies and huge parts of our economy into the ground due to greed or ignorance. Which brings me to question number one:

Have we finally reached the bottom of the barrel with this guy?

We have to start figuring out who or what we can actually blame for all the woes we are facing right now. It is so easy to point the finger at leaders of the financial industry or automotive giants for all they did and did not do. Likewise, it’s easy to blame the government overseers who clearly missed everything. But, maybe it also is time to look in the mirror…

A chart in the New York Times recently made this clear. It showed the incredible rise in credit card debt in this country and how, a few years back, the average American starting spending more money each year than they were making. Now while I’m ticked that banks were distributing credit cards like Halloween candy and that the banking system went berserk as it made terrible loans, we also have to blame people for borrowing and spending stupidly. Everyone wants to live a wonderful lifestyle, but living within our means should matter. My mother used to say that two wrongs never make a right, which leads me to question number two:

How many wrongs it will take to finally make people do things right?

Not all the news is bad however, which brings me to an issue closer to the food industry – the power of creative marketing and merchandising. This was brought to mind by the California Raisin Board getting honored recently for having the world’s biggest dancing raisin. Now that may not be the greatest promotion ever, but if you recall, dancing raisins changed the entire look of that category. And it prompts question number three:

Why aren’t there other more fun, creative promotions out there?

Let me start out my next point by asking question number four:

What happens when conventional wisdom is proven wrong? Do we change or ignore the facts? (Okay, technically that’s two questions.)

Here’s the issue that concerns me. Everyone knows that 20 percent of the buying public---the heavy users—make up 80 percent of sales. It’s called the 80/20 rule … and it ends up that the 80/20 rule is wrong.

Catalina Marketing has an incredibly cool web tool where you can track the real percentage of the population producing 80 percent of sales and it exposes the old myth. There are products, in fact, where less than 1 percent of the population makes up 80 percent of the sales.

Now clearly the 80/20 principle has been done in by line extensions and product proliferation, but the bottom line is that it has changed. More than ever, what is on the shelf really better get thought out carefully or you might be vastly under serving the key market or vastly over-serving a group that doesn’t care and won’t buy.

My last point really needs to be addressed by the scientists of the world, who seem to have no sense of pity. (I heard about this from the wonderful Stephen Colbert, whose show, “The Colbert Report,” combines with “The Daily Show” for the best hour of television anywhere. And it’s amazing how many people now get their news from these guys.)

It’s hard to imagine a bleaker year than 2008. Virtually everything has gone wrong, especially for fans of the New York Mets. Now we find out that the world’s scientists will add one second to the year to keep the world’s atomic clocks in synch with the slightly slowed rotation of the planet.

That means 2008, which also included a Feb. 29th, will be the longest year ever. How wonderful. So here’s my fifth and final question:

Couldn’t you guys have added the second to a better year?

(Just think what Gov. Blagojevich did with that extra second…)

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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