Thursday, August 30, 2007

Salsa Mystery

If you want a bottle of Del Monte Thick & Chunky Salsa (Medium), you’ll find it on our table – and nowhere else. Del Monte stopped making its glass-jarred salsas “a few years ago,” according to the Del Monte Consumer Affairs people in Pittsburgh, PA.

Now don’t you go thinking that I’ve begun to specialize in condiments (even though I posted about pickles at end of July). No, salsas and hot sauces are now outselling ketchup in the US – and that makes writing about their sales and marketing quirks worthwhile. America’s growing Hispanic population is something we don’t tend to notice in Texas but it’s increasingly apparent to the rest of the nation.

Salsa is No. 2 behind tortillas in the “Top 10 Hispanic Food and Beverage Categories.” The research organization Packaged Facts projects that this segment of the US retail marketplace will reach $8.4 billion by 2011, up 48% from 2006.

These days, choose among “major’ US brands like Pace (Campbell Soup Company) and Old El Paso (General Mills); brand extensions like Doritos’ salsa, store brands; restaurant and private labels; Mexican competitors such as Victoria and Ortega; specialty brands like Frontera Foods’ Salpica. Some of these are obviously better than others. True confession: I’m not brand-loyal in this crowded category. I’m always willing to try a different brand or flavor variation. Heck, I even hang out at the Houston Hot Sauce Festival, suffering agonies in my search for the good, the bad and the ugly salsas.

If forced to select one brand, I’d go with Goldwater’s salsas out of Arizona…I mail-order them sometimes. Not a lot of heat but plenty of fruity taste.

Taste tests abound – and most of the marketing and advertising work is accomplished by [a] Valassis couponing and [b] store sampling – this is a kind of “trial by mouth.”

But I didn’t recall Del Monte’s branded salsa until Barbara pulled it out of the back of the cupboard. Reading the label was a little like stepping back in time, because there’s no nutrition information, no “best by” date. So I went to the Web to look it up. Surprise! No Del Monte Thick & Chunky Salsa. Del Monte has a lot of sites – food, corporate, even Fresh Del Monte. A little confusing but understandable in a company that’s been around so long.

Finally, I called the Del Monte Consumer Affairs hotline: 1-800-543-3090. This is answered, as I noted above, in Pittsburgh…not exactly the place I’d pick for salsa information. The TSR was very polite, became puzzled and then engaged. She’d never heard of Del Monte Thick & Chunky Salsa. After checking with her supervisor and discovering that Barbara had purchased our bottle at a dollar store some years back, she was finally able to explain that Del Monte had made salsas in the early ‘90s, but ceased production “five or six years ago.” (Thanks, Niki!)

Too bad in a way: It’s pretty good salsa, even long past its freshness date – Barbara insists it’s the preservatives. (And Niki was able to tell me it was made in America. My “customer experience” with Del Monte’s hotline was a good one.)

Del Monte is a great trademark. It’s the kind of company that could bring real muscle to the salsa category in terms of its experience with packing fresh fruits and vegetables.

I guess Del Monte’s management couldn’t wait for the salsa boom to arrive. Today, it would take a lot of horsepower to grab some market share out of the crowded salsa category and Del Monte’s got a lot of tomatoes to pick.

Still, I would have liked to try Del Monte Thick & Chunky Salsa (Hot).

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mambo Floridiana

Chip Weber of Rubber Chicken for the Soul commented on my blog post about my new Moon Dog shirt. He loaded up on classic Mambo Loud Shirts from Australia and sells the remainder of the stock on eBay as well as on his own site. Now he cruises the Web for people who write about wild and crazy tropicals and offers them even better deals on these out-of-production spectaculars: a form of word-of-mouth advertising that’s perhaps a little slow, but he sure does hit his targets: the best kind of shout-out there is.

He’s 52 and 6”5” tall – he thinks that size has a lot to do with Mambo. He met some Aussies in Hong Kong in the mid-90s who were wearing Mambo shirts and fell in love with ‘em. (These days, Chip and his wife Jenny hang out down on Merritt Island in Florida.) He picked up a few shirts a decade ago.

When Mambo sold out, Weber found a “secret” source for these shirts and bought them all – the whole story will come out when he’s sold them. Instead of having a couple in his collection, he’s got, like, 85.

Dare Jennings, who started Mambo Graphics in Oz, originally asked Reg Mombassa to design t-shirts and Loud Shirts for him. Mombassa has said, “A pair of oscillating buttocks or a heaving chest provide an excellent perpetual motion armature over which to stretch the illustrated fabric, giving the images on the cloth the illusion of life and self-motivation.”

I’m glad to think of these loud shirts as having a life of their own – even if the buttocks and chests Mombassa was thinking about little resemble my own. Hey, I’m just a collector here.

So I did ask Weber to send along “Day of the Dead” (pictures above) as well as “Mambo Tropicana Lounge,” which will shock those who know me: this one’s a little quieter than usual. Still, it’s got a great chest on it. Thanks to the big guy from Florida.

PS: What I heard from Weber is that Mambo is actually Jennings’ acronym for Means for Acquiring Models, Bucks and Opiates.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

“Flash” Spoilt?

I could hardly do worse to the just-premiered “Flash Gordon” series on Sci-Fi than the lemony Tom Shales has done here – so I won’t. I will say (though you know I don’t normally review anything from the small screen) that Alex Raymond, who first drew the original “Flash Gordon” in 1934, is hardly spinning in his grave.

Unless, of course, you think of him as “Spinner” Raymond. Because “Flash Gordon” is a brand that’s been stepped on so many times, it’s like street dope.

In fact, Raymond was commissioned to draw up Flash to compete with the already popular “Buck Rogers” comic strip. It was a knock-off brand from the get-go. Ruling the spaceways and battling Ming the Merciless 10 years before I was born, that’s a long run…fueled by a huge variety of updates, re-makes, homages, parodies and other variations. Today, Jim Keefe is drawing the strip.

Let’s not forget the Flash Gordon brand t-shirts, action figures and an absolutely spiffy toy ray gun, too.

Come, come: let’s not get too bothered that the current generation of Sci-Fi channeleers will never know who Jean Rogers, Melody Anderson and Ornella Muti were (but whom you can read about here). We’ll just keep our own memories of this great character brand to ourselves. Save Mongo!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Truth Expected

The day before the integrity article appeared in Advertising Age (see below), Jim Blackburn wrote an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle “Outlook” section. You can read the entire article here – or read this take-out:

I want truth from the corporations in my community. I know that corporations must make a profit. I acknowledge that aspect of a corporation, and so should the company. By definition, a corporation is an entity that is created to generate profit (unless the entity is a nonprofit corporation). I hope that other goals and objectives enter into corporate thinking, but all of us should recognize that profit is a primary concern – and please do not disrespect me by pretending otherwise.

Similarly, when there is a crisis or a problem, I expect the truth. Don’t tell us that there is no problem when one exists. The priority in an accident is the safety and health of the community.

Blackburn is not only an environmental lawyer. He’s a professor of the subject in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rice University. This is clearly stated in the article’s descriptive paragraph about him.

I point this out because this blog is supposed to be about marketing and advertising and so is this post. Blackburn specifically asks, “What should we ask of corporations in our lives?” His answers are as much about marketing as they are about environmentalism.

Blackburn’s expectations, in order, include competency, truth (see above), relationship, respect and trust, conscience, social contract, a view to the future, and partnership. It seems to him that these concepts are “good starting points” for change. They’re just as valid for advertising as they are for production or operations.

(So yes, we’re talking about the Stakeholder Rule© again). Am I belaboring this unmercifully? I’m waiting for more advertisers to catch on to the idea that social interactions can influence how brands are perceived in the marketplace, and how the companies behind those brands perform.

This is an issue for every worker, every consumer…every stakeholder, in fact. Join the vanguard of our particular “proletariat” – the class of people who want to hold the owners of capital and the means of production responsible and responsive. Besides, if you always tell the truth, you won’t have to remember what stories you make up.

“Stakeholder Rule” © Richard Laurence Baron. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Truth “Official”

Praise be to God, it’s now fully endorsed: “Integrity in marketing is not optional.” I know this is the new hosanna because Lynn Upshaw says so in a July 30 article in Advertising Age, addressed to Chief Marketing Officers.

Upshaw is a marketing consultant and a faculty member at the UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. His book proclaims “truth” is the answer in a skeptical world and I’m glad he’s has written it.

What amuses me is that by publishing his article, Ad Age endorses the concept. By implication, truth is the next big thing.

If companies (and governments) would adopt this odd idea of telling the truth, it would make a nice change from screwing every stakeholder in sight – I do believe I’ve mentioned this a time or two.

Think of Upshaw’s article (if you can access it) as necessary reading, if only to help reinforce the idea that ethical behavior is good for business: “Last year, more than 75% of Opinion Research respondents said they preferred to buy from a company that operates ethically, even if they have to pay more.”

I’d like to thank the editors of Ad Age for agreeing to portray this truth thingy where many readers might be able to read it.

Bettter yet, buy Upshaw’s book and review the companies (such as Herman Miller and Johnson & Johnson) he accuses of telling the truth to stakeholders. They’re practicing what he preaches.

Thanks to Susan Kirkland for bringing this article to my attention.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Hoven’s Joke

An old-time Southern, hellfire-and-brimstone country preacher had a teenage son, and it was getting time the boy should give some thought to choosing a profession. Like many young men, the boy didn’t really know what he wanted to do, and he didn’t seem too concerned about it.

One day, while the boy was away at school, his father decided to try an experiment. He went into the boy’s room and placed on his study table four objects: a Bible, a silver dollar, a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey and a Playboy magazine.

“I’ll just hide behind the door,” the old preacher said to himself. “When he comes home from school this afternoon, I’ll see which object he picks up.

“If it’s the Holy Bible, he’s going to be a preacher like me, and what a blessing that would be!

“If he picks up the dollar, he’s going to be a businessman, and that would be okay, too.

“But Lord, if he picks up the bottle, he’s going to be a no-good, low-down drunkard. What a shame that would be! And worst of all.... if he picks up that magazine, he’s gonna be a skirt-chasin’ no-good bum.”

The old man waited anxiously, and soon heard his son’s footsteps as he entered the house whistling and headed for his room. The boy tossed his books on the bed. As he turned to leave the room, he spotted the objects on the table. With curiosity in his eye, he walked over to inspect them.

Finally, he reached out and placed the Bible under his arm. He picked up the silver dollar, flipped it once in the air and dropped it into his pocket. Then he uncorked the bottle and took a big drink while he admired Playboy’s Miss July.

“Lord, have mercy!” the old preacher disgustedly whispered. “He’s gonna be a Congressman!”

There’s no gag like an old one, so thanks to Paul Hoven for this great story; and Wikipedia Commons for the photo.