business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday we reported on how Voodoo Doughnuts suspended a doughnut-eating challenge after one of its customers died while trying to win it; I expressed a certain ambivalence about gluttony-oriented promotions. Which led one MNB reader to write:

I joined Sara Lee in 2005  at a time when the organization was going through a big restructure and centralization of the HQ’s of many subsidiaries into one location outside of Chicago.  Shortly after my arrival, the Ball Park Franks group held an employee hot dog eating contest in the cafeteria at lunch in what seemed like a continuation of a long held tradition prior to the group arriving at the new HQ.  Personally I found this pretty off putting.  The scene was a  bit disgusting with contestants jamming food down their throats, but I also felt like they were cheapening their brand in the eyes of the other non Ball Park groups.  My sentiment was- if this is what your product stands for, any quality messaging is secondary.

A few of my co-workers expressed similar thoughts, but the sense was, well this is their brand, they know how to promote and showcase their products. Turns out many of the non Ball Park folks had similar thoughts, expressed them  to senior management and ultimately caused this event to be cancelled.  A victory over bad behavior, bad optics and likely bad messaging.

Regarding Amazon, one MNB reader wrote:

As the evil Amazon continues to destroy more and more working class jobs not to mention the collateral damage from the harm done to malls, I find your views, as well as those of Tom Furphy’s, both narrow and simplistic.

According to a report by PwC, 38% of jobs in the U.S. will be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years. Blame it on the retailers if that’s your default (and yes, I understand they deserve some of the blame) and yes, I understand there will also be some job creation created by these “advancements”, but this is not the industrial revolution. I would expect intelligent people like you who obviously have an understanding of the world to be insightful enough to see the harm caused by Amazon and what happens when the willing can’t find work.

You're right, this isn't the industrial revolution ... but it is a technology revolution with implications equally as profound. You're also right that for both people and companies, it is a matter of adapt or die.

While I believe that the nation needs a public policy approach that deals with this shift and works with private enterprise to help people and companies make the necessary changes so they can thrive in the new environment, I do not believe that the way forward is to move backward. It never is.

I don't think this makes us narrow or simplistic. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

Responding to our ongoing warnings about the potential impact of Lidl in the US, one MNB reader wrote:

There will be lots of hoopla, even media frenzy around Lidl launch. However, let's remember that Aldi and Sav A Lot have been in USA for 40 years, occupying a niche......rarely see an article on their USA market share trends and they have over 3,000 stores!

European retailers always overestimate USA consumers' interest in private label dominated stores. Why buy private label when you can always find your favorite national brand on sale at your local supermarket, club, Walmart, Amazon etc?  Reports suggest that Lidl USA will be a cross between Aldi and Food Lion and that does not excite me. At best, just another store to cherry pick.

I was pretty tough yesterday on the new Pepsi commercial that got pulled almost as fast as it got posted, writing, in part:

The Pepsi ad struck me as a diversity ad thought up and produced by middle-aged white guys.

The Pepsi ad didn't actually stand for anything except more sales. That may have been the worst sin it committed. Except, perhaps, for the use of Kendall Jenner.

I must confess that if I'd never read any of the coverage, I would have had no idea who she was just by watching the commercial. I have no knowledge of or interest in the Jenner-Kardashian universe ... except for having a sense that these people are popular for being notorious. Or maybe notorious for being popular. Beats the hell out of me, though the whole syndrome seems to be indicative of the decline of western culture and civilization.

Somehow suggesting that a child of privilege, self-promotion, media overexposure and reality television has any freakin' ideas what the real world is like, much less any passion for social justice, ought to be a poster child for such things, strikes me as offensive in the extreme ... and it puts the lie to any suggestion that Pepsi is sincere in being serious, or serious about being sincere.

Which prompted MNB reader Christy Meyer to write:

I think you’re taking it a little too far when you said you were offended by the idea that a famous person (albeit, famous for being famous) might have a passion for social justice. Does that make Matt Damon’s passion for clean water any less relevant? Or what about Bono, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn … Any famous person with a cause? Because Ms. Jenner happens to be a young model with a famous family doesn’t mean she isn’t passionate about social injustice. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t, but maybe you shouldn’t judge.

While I take your point, I do have two observations.

First of all, judging is kind of what I do for a living.

Second, my problem isn't with famous people. I think it is fine when famous people decide to do the work required to be knowledgeable about issues. What I dislike are dilettantes.

Yesterday, MNB took note of a Wall Street Journal story suggesting that with all the strategic and tactic issues challenging Target, its position on allowing customers and employees to use restrooms corresponding with their gender identities has proven to be nettlesome. "For Target," the story said, "the posting of what was its long-held practice quickly became an expensive and distracting lesson about the perils of combining the web’s megaphone with touchy social issues."

I commented:

I have to be honest here. I have several readers who, every time we have a story about Target's issues, have come back to the bathroom issue and have suggested that I was blind to the impact that it had on the company's business.

If the Journal story is to be believed, they are right and I've been wrong.

I still think that this issue may be more divisive in some regions of the country than others, but maybe it has been a mistake to underestimate how it resonated with some folks. My miscalculation on this can be traced to a certain epistemic closure on my part - I'm a child of the northeast with urban predilections, and I'm happy to own that. But sometimes it means I miss things.

MNB reader Lisa Malmarowski responded:

Hmmm… maybe the bathrooms were an issue, but seriously, Target’s shopping experience has been going down hill and combine that with the ease of shopping online for so many of the things one would go to Target for, and there’s your downward trend. As someone who believes the most important thing about the bathroom is that you wash your hands, I can say their policy didn’t influence me to shop more, despite my ardent belief it was right. Now, make shopping there better, offer the cool brands they used to, and I’d be tempted to shop more often.

As a contrast, look what happened to Penzey’s Spices when they loudly and repeatedly spoke out against the current administration, they lost some customers but gained a lot of new ones. Because they have an amazing product.

PS - It’s never wrong to be on the right side of history.

And another MNB reader wrote:

I got a good chuckle out of your use of the phrase "urban predilections" because only someone with urban predilections would consider using the term urban predilections. I need to start weaving that description into my conversations. Keep up the great work.

I gotta own who and what I am.
KC's View: