Outside Baseball: Mets Announcers Go Rogue

The Wall Street Journal: “The Mets broadcast trio—Gary Cohen on play-by-play with Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling as the analysts—is widely acknowledged as one of the best in baseball … But what makes fans so obsessed with them begins with a revolutionary idea that has nothing to do with their sharp baseball commentary. They’re at their best when, during baseball games, they’re not talking about baseball.”

“During their 11 years on air together, the trio has mastered the art of the tangent. Take this short list of some notable midgame conversation topics from a Wall Street Journal sampling of games this season: a primer on impressionist and pointillist art; a history of French exploration beyond the Mississippi; the frustration of the 7-10 split in bowling; Mirkwood forest from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”; getting pickpocketed at Mardi Gras; the Marmaduke and Beetle Bailey comics; and at what age it’s appropriate to take up the javelin.”

Keith Hernandez explains: “We’re going to have sh***y games. And if I’m bored, I know the people out there are bored.” Here’s a sample:

What’s more “Cohen, Darling and Hernandez stand out as one of the handful of crews that avoids biased language or openly rooting for their team.”


Cool Beans: America’s New Favorite Snack?

Christian Science Monitor: “Once relegated to the canned food aisle and the far reaches of the salad bar, the bean suddenly is becoming a star. These days, it’s popping up in the most unexpected places: in pasta and chips, and even as a centerpiece of dishes at the world’s best restaurants. And it’s no wonder, considering beans are packed with protein and a plethora of other nutrients, say nutrition experts. They’re also inexpensive and among the most environmentally benign agricultural crops.”

“Last year in the United States, sales of pulses – which are the seeds of legumes that are used as food, including peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas and fava beans – grew by 8 percent. By comparison, sales of meat grew by 3 percent. Global demand is also rising, especially for foods with green or yellow split peas and coral-colored lentils, reports market researcher Mintel.”

“Pepsi has launched a bean chip under its Tostitos brand, as has General Mills, under its Food Should Taste Good brand. The Good Bean chips are now available at many conventional grocers, including Costco. Its sales doubled in 2015 and are expected to do the same this year, says the company. Even 7-Eleven has signed on to carry the chips.”


Friday’s Re-Design: Millennial Minimalism

The Atlantic: “Strategically de-cluttered, devoid of flair—devoid, indeed, of any decor that might distinguish them from their fellow establishments—chain restaurants are melding, visually, into one tentacular beast. They are, en masse, going normcore.”

“The redesigns are … responding to a culture that is renegotiating its relationship with ‘stuff’ as a concept. More and more young people are renting homes rather than buying them; many of them simply intuit, in a way their parents cannot, the life-changing magic of tidying up. In an age defined by anxieties about the limitations of the planet’s physical resources, minimalism is a moral as much as it is an aesthetic.”

“T.G.I. Friday’s recently rebranded as ‘Fridays’; even its name has been subjected to the whims of minimalism. And its new look, whether manifested in Corpus Christi or Des Moines or Alexandria, evokes Silicon Valley—whose corporate spaces, in general, are defined by their airiness, and their emptiness, and their engineering of ‘serendipitous’ social interactions … You don’t need flair on the walls, after all, when you have a screen on your table.”


Cuteness & Our Consumerist Culture

The Washington Post: “Cuteness is an especially powerful force in our digital world because it is something that can be consumed in quick, small doses, in a gif or picture. And it has blossomed in our consumerist culture because it is incredibly good at selling things … According to a body of academic research … the science of cuteness begins with babies. Babies have large eyes and heads, button noses, soft, chubby bodies, floppy little limbs and a teetering gate. Those properties are echoed in Pikachu, puppies and even the Volkswagen Beetle.”

“Researchers say that the rise of cuteness is closely tied with industrialization, advertising and the rise of consumerism in the late 1800s and onward. By the 1910s, for example, Kewpie dolls … were used to advertise Jell-O. The Morton Salt Girl appeared in Good Housekeeping in 1911, and the Gerber baby appeared in 1928. The Coppertone Girl, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Snuggle Bear came after World War II, with the arrival of television.”

“And companies have extended the power of ‘cuteness’ in less predictable ways — selling smaller-sized versions of their products, typically for a higher price per pound. Think of miniature M&Ms, cupcakes, and iPod minis … In a 2011 study, researchers found that consumers saw the fronts of cars as similar to human faces, with the headlights representing the eyes. Cars with big, round headlights elicited more positive responses.”


Services: The Killer App of Smart ‘Things’

Christopher Mims: “The killer app of the Internet of Things isn’t a thing at all—it is services … When internet-connected devices are considered a service, consumers don’t have to worry about integrating gadgets. Focusing on services also helps vendors clarify their offerings … In the case of Brita, the service is filtered water. For alarm maker ADT, it is security; for ride-sharing companies, it is transportation.”

“The term Internet of Things is misleading, argues Ljuba Miljkovic, co-founder of Automatic Labs Inc., which makes a device that can turn almost any car into a connected vehicle. More important than simply adding a chip and a wireless connection is ‘why?’ How does the combination of smarts, sensors and connectivity enhance people’s lives?”

“Shifting from describing objects as smart and connected to realizing that they are elements of a service offering allows us to make a prediction: The next breakout Internet-of-Things company will be another services business.”


British Airways: Beginning its Descent?

The Economist: “Back in the 1990s, British Airways, the nation’s flag-carrier, proclaimed itself to be ‘the world’s favourite airline’ in a long-running and hugely successful advertising campaign … Were British Airways to run the same campaign today, it would probably stir a mixture of derision abroad and embarrassment at home” amid “a relentless dilution of BA’s once-superior customer service and on-board product.”

“Despite notching up five consecutive years in the black, BA is getting even stingier … Without formally announcing any changes, the airline last month stopped providing two meals to Economy passengers on flights under eight-and-a-half hours. In lieu of a complimentary sandwich six hours after their first meal, travellers on the London to New York route are now presented with one—and only one … fun-sized chocolate bar.”

In addition (or subtraction): “bottled water, pretzels, cheese and biscuits will also be removed from Economy cabins … tuck boxes—trolleys filled with free snacks on long-haul flights—will be removed from Economy, while Club passengers will no longer receive a choice of their starter. Next month, the airline will reportedly stop providing free newspapers at the gate for inbound short-haul flights to London … Taken in isolation, these measures are tolerable if not popular. But BA should be careful; reputations are more difficult to win back than to lose.”


Home Depot: Stores Are Fulfilling

The Wall Street Journal: “About 42% of Home Depot’s online orders and almost 90% of its online returns for the second quarter were handled by its stores, executives said this week as they announced a 9.3% increase in net profit to $2.4 billion, on a 6.6% increase in revenue.”

“Many in the retail industry believe fulfilling online orders from physical stores can be provide store owners an advantage over online competitors like Amazon.com Inc., allowing brick-and-mortar shops to serve as both showrooms and well-located mini-distribution centers.”

“Home Depot says it is aided in part by its existing delivery service, which previously only served in-store customers, and its investment into new order management software. Online purchases can now be delivered from more than 700 stores, faster and with shorter scheduled-delivery windows than previously possible.”


Quote of the Day: Dick Johnson

“The facts are that most of the basketball shoes that we sell never see a basketball court. Most of the running shoes that we sell never see the roads or the trail or the track. They just look really good, and they’re part of the sneaker culture that we really support.” – Dick Johnson, CEO of Foot Locker, reporting that second-quarter sales at existing Foot Locker stores rose 4.7%, via The Wall Street Journal.


Cupping: The Next Big Olympic Sport?

FiveThirtyEight: “For the past two weeks, people at the Olympics have been losing their minds trying to collect yellow and blue plastic souvenir cups that feature the silhouetted athletes of each sport. The cups are sold only with the official Olympics beer — Skol — though many collectors are just dumping out the beer or paying full price (13 reais, or about $4) for an empty cup, several vendors confirmed.”

“But although the cups, which are an advertising product for the beer, have been hugely popular, there is little in the way of official information from the company about the collectibles, which has led to the curious situation of visitors trying to complete a set of some indeterminate number.”

“The confusion comes in part because no official marketing materials were released by Ambev, the South American distributor of Skol, stating the number of cups or how best to collect them. But the mystery has only fueled fascination, making the frenzy around the cups more happy accident than calculated guerrilla marketing.”


Under Armour Rocks Around Its Clock

The Street: “Under Armour (UA) has bet big on connected fitness by acquiring an array of app makers and unveiling a suite of new hardware devices, and it wants visitors to its newest retail store (at World Trade Center, NYC) to be aware of that huge wager … the showstopper was a gigantic digital clock hanging from the wall that tracks people signing up to the company’s fitness apps such as MapMyFitness in real-time. At the time of our visit Tuesday afternoon, the clock read that Under Armour had over 179 million users to its connected fitness apps, up from about 175 million exiting the second quarter.”

“Earlier this year, Under Armour debuted its ‘Healthbox’, which is box that contains a fitness tracker called the UA Band, a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled scale called the UA Scale and the UA Heart Rate, which is a strap that fits around your chest to measure heart rate. Healthbox is one of the first sections the consumer sees when walking into the World Trade Center location. The connected fitness segment represents about 2.1% of Under Armour’s sales. Sales so far this year for the business have surged 91% to $42 million.”