The Wall Street Journal‘s Dennis K. Berman wants to know if “innovate” just means “stay competitive.”
When Hewlett-Packard executives addressed shareholders on an Oct. 9 conference call, they used innovation 70 times.
At a Nov. 20 presentation by Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc., executives, speakers mention the words innovate or innovation 21 times to describe, variously, pepper hamburger buns, beer-can cocktails and beer milkshakes.
What initially caught Berman’s attention was Kellogg’s Gone Nutty! peanut butter Pop-Tart, which CEO John Bryant described as an innovation, as opposed to “a product extension or upgrade.” In a way, innovation has become a proof point of sorts.
During my research into the vodka industry, a top advertising executive mentioned to me “proof points”—words that consumers supposedly are drawn to and that help them make purchasing decisions. In the spirit world, proof points include “single-barrel” and “five-times distilled.” You gotta have them. Likewise, products have to be innovative, even if they aren’t (at least by definition), in order to bolster investor confidence.
By definition, “there aren’t a lot of breakthroughs,” says John Hoffecker, a managing director at turnaround firm AlixPartners who has spent years around the auto industry.
A product extension “is different colored diapers. You haven’t changed the functionality, cost or quality. It affects nothing in a significant way.”
Netflix has just unveiled its first trailer for the second season of House of Cards. No spoilers, no dialogue—not even a change of scenery. All we see is Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) looking out her window, taking a nice, long drag from a cigarette. How unpolitically correct! Because of course when Robin Wright smokes, it’s undeniably sexy. (I just try not to think of that disturbing scene in the hospital between Claire and the former driver dying of cancer.)
With such a long break between seasons, I almost forget my concerns: Will the journalists bring down Frank Underwood or will the conniving whip and soon-to-be vice president prevail? And prevail how? Through more murder and mayhem? Yes, I am surprised the prostitute hasn’t been killed by Doug Stamper … yet. And what’s with the homeless guy who made the origami out of Claire’s money?
You wouldn’t guess from the trailer that Disney’s Frozen is about two princesses or that the soundtrack has enough catchy tunes to qualify it as a musical. But as Justin Chang notes in Variety, a movie that marketed princesses and musicals would lose a valuable segment: guys. Hence a trailer and commercials featuring Olaf the animated snowman.
“The thinking (if that’s the word) behind these decisions is clear enough,” writes Chang, “and it’s been a matter of fairly public knowledge since the disappointing B.O. performance of a 2009 film that Disney had the grave misfortune to title ‘The Princess and the Frog.’ After all, why call attention to princesses—a niche commodity at best these days—when you can more successfully market your product to all four quadrants? Why run the risk of alienating viewers with singing, dancing and other archaic showbiz practices when you can seduce them instead with catchy one-liners and breezy slapstick?” It’s a short but worthwhile read.
And at the very least, people don’t seem to be getting it confused with that other Frozen movie.
For egg sellers these days, nothing works better than a carton touting Jumbo-Grade A-Organic-Cage Free-Free Range-Omega 3 loaded eggs—otherwise known as “specialty eggs.” As Sarah Nassauer reports in the Wall Street Journal, “Specialty egg sales are up 13.5 percent by volume through mid-May this year, while egg sales overall are up 2.5 percent.” In other words, eggs, which have in recent times been eschewed for its cholesterol, are making a comeback.
The average American ate about 400 eggs a year in the 1940s. By the 1980s, consumption was nearly half that, and continued to fall until recently. These days, fewer consumers see eggs as cholesterol hazards and instead buy them as a cheap, natural source of protein, [Charlie Lanktree, chief executive and president of Eggland's Best] says.
Didn’t Rocky view eggs as a “cheap, natural source of protein” (and miraculously didn’t die from salmonella)?
Apparently the ultimate goal is to get calcium on the carton because calcium sells:
Executives believe calcium is an appealing claim to most buyers, especially women. The average egg has about 28 milligrams of calcium—about 3 percent of the recommended daily intake of calcium for people ages 19 to 50—concentrated primarily in the yolk. [Eggland's Best] wants to increase the calcium level to 10% of the daily value, which is the level required by the Food and Drug Administration to put a “good source of” claim on labels. So far, that goal has proved elusive.
As a result, researchers spend a considerable amount of time tinkering with the chickens’ diet. “To boost omega-3 fatty acids, for example, the feed has canola oil, flax seed and kelp,” writes Nassauer. “The company is careful not to add too much flax seed to feed, which can lead to ‘fishy’ tasting yolks,” she is told. Most intriguing:
Several years ago the company experimented with adding vanilla, garlic, cayenne pepper and other seasoning to feed, hoping to make flavored eggs for baking or cooking certain recipes. The company succeeded, but decided they wouldn’t be widely appealing, says [Bart Slaugh, quality assurance and laboratory director at Eggland's Best].
Flavored eggs? The implications would’ve been staggering!
Growing up in Jersey, the only mayo I’d ever had was Hellmann’s and sometimes Kraft (my wife occasionally had Miracle Whip, but she’s from Connecticut, ahem). So not until I moved down to Arlington, Va., did I come across another brand known as Duke’s. “It’s a Southern thing,” I was told. Indeed, the product was the creation of Eugenia Duke, who began her sandwich (with homemade mayo) business in Greenville, S.C., toward the end of World War I.
Despite being a regional brand and slowly spreading, as it were, Duke’s is the third-biggest mayo brand behind Hellmann’s and Kraft (in the United States). My wife’s cousin, originally from Upstate New York but also a transplant in Arlington, swears by it.
As Emily Wallace notes in the Washington Post, there’s a bit of a cult following as well:
There was the man on his hospital death bed who asked for a tomato sandwich made with Duke’s. There was the mother of the bride who, after the company made its switch from glass to plastic containers around 2005, demanded four glass jars with labels intact to use as centerpieces at her daughter’s wedding. And there was the elderly woman from North Carolina. She wrote in hopes of obtaining just three glass jars, saying she’d like to be cremated and have her ashes placed in the containers for her three daughters.
It makes you want to go out and buy a jar this instant. (Of course, not everyone is a fan of mayo.)