Late & Great: Allen McKellar

The Wall Street Journal: “Allen McKellar, an African-American college senior in South Carolina, figured his chances were slight in 1940 when he entered in an essay-writing contest in a bid to win an internship at Pepsi-Cola Co … Pepsi chose him as one of 13 interns. After serving in the Army, he returned in 1947 to join a Pepsi marketing team focused on African-Americans at a time when few large companies hired blacks for white-collar jobs.”

“At Pepsi, Mr. McKellar and his colleagues persuaded Duke Ellington and other jazz stars to give shout-outs to the soft drink, according to ‘The Real Pepsi Challenge,’ a 2007 book by Stephanie Capparell, a Wall Street Journal editor. They were treated as celebrities in the black press as they crisscrossed the country to pitch Pepsi by giving interviews and visiting schools, church groups and mom-and-pop groceries.”

“Pepsi already had set itself apart by offering 12 ounces for a nickel, while most rivals sold 6-ounce bottles for the same price. Promising “twice as much,” Pepsi ads appealed to the less affluent. The soft-drink company hoped its willingness to hire African-Americans for prominent roles and to market directly to blacks would give it further advantages over Coca-Cola.” In a 2009 interview, Mr. McKellar commented: “Back in those days, there were one or two things a minority kid could expect to do: You could become a teacher or, if you had the financial resources, a doctor. I became the national sales representative for the black market in America. I have been told this was a precursor for blacks in the corporate world.”

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Kicks: How Sneakers Sneaked Up

The Wall Street Journal: “How on earth have people who make freaking footwear apparently managed to reduce athletic powerhouses like USC and Louisville to the role of glorified money launderers? It all comes down to the outsize importance of sneakers in popular culture. In his expansive, thorough and entertaining book ‘Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers,’ author Nicholas Smith traces the history of this $20 billion industry, arguing that the power and allure of the shoe have shaped American business and fashion for decades.”

“Their manufacturers have thus become economic forces larger than the sports they’re supposedly there to support. In many ways, to hear Mr. Smith tell it, the shoes have been wearing us.’Kicks’ serves as a comprehensive look at how much the sneaker became a signature indicator of cool, from Chuck Taylor and his Converse All-Stars to Clyde Frazier’s Pumas to Run-DMC and their Adidas to, of course, Michael Jordan.”

“Today, the author suggests, sneakers have essentially replaced music as the go-to investment for companies looking at getting into the youth market. They have become so popular that most manufacturers make limited-edition shoes that exist solely to become valuable and are almost never worn. The shoes aren’t for wearing; they’re simply for having.”

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How Jewelry Rattles The Millennial Market

The Wall Street Journal: “Jewelers are following fashion’s playbook for romancing millennials who are left cold by traditional, museum-like high-end boutiques. Brands are pulling out all the stops, designing products that customers can personalize and flaunting their ethical sourcing and sustainability. They are making online and in-store shopping distinctive and are hosting pop-up shops with limited-edition items.”

“The challenge is twofold: designing pieces that appeal to young shoppers and then persuading them to buy jewelry for themselves any time—and not just as the occasional milestone gift. Many millennials reserve splurging for technology or vacations—not fancy jewelry … When millennials do buy jewelry, they often seek out eclectic pieces from Gucci and other trendy brands. They also favor artisanal jewelry from small or new brands.”

“Diamond giant De Beers added nightclub touches to its sleek new Libert’aime by Forevermark store in Shanghai. The shop, which opened last month, has a scented VIP lounge for big-ticket purchases and a “diamond bar” with jewelry meant to be worn every day. One wall features an enormous detail of a diamond, where browsers can take Instagram-friendly selfies surrounded by gleaming facets. The jewelry in the shop is ‘designed to appeal to the 420 million millennials in China,’ the company said.”

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United Breaks Privacy with Passenger App

The Wall Street Journal: “United rolled out a new app to its flight attendants earlier this year with so much information about people, the airline has been reluctant to turn on all the functionality. The tool can show flight attendants information on each frequent flier’s five previous flights—green if it was a good flight, yellow or red if something went wrong, like a delay. But United is worried some customers might consider that stalking … Personal milestones like birthdays are left to the judgment of flight attendants. They can decide whether they think a customer would appreciate the recognition or recoil.”

“The devices can give flight attendants real-time information on tight flight connections for passengers, confirm whether a wheelchair has been ordered for a customer and help keep track of unaccompanied minors. Many now allow flight attendants to offer instant compensation for maladies like spilled coffee or broken entertainment screens. Better service onboard in coach will go to those with higher status.”

“Airlines acknowledge the devices have made the job more complex for flight attendants. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, says the devices can reduce situational awareness. If flight attendants have to study the screen to correctly recognize each customer, they may not be spending as much time staying alert to what’s going on in the cabin.” She comments: “I’m a little shocked there hasn’t been more backlash. I think the public has generally decided they like the personalized service, they like to be able to resolve their issues faster, not have to tell people as much. And they’ve sort of sacrificed their privacy for those conveniences.”

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Disney Tries ‘Dynamic’ Pricing

The Wall Street Journal: “After raising some ticket prices for its theme parks by more than 20% over the past five years, Walt Disney Co. will set a new benchmark this week when it offers die-hard fans the chance to attend a six-hour preview of a new attraction at Disneyland—for $299. Even for fans used to high prices, the $50-an-hour sneak peek at Pixar Pier on Friday, a day before the attraction officially opens, breaks new ground.”

“Raising prices—currently around $100 on average days and more than $120 during ‘peak’ times around holidays—could mitigate tourist appetite and increase Disney’s profits. The company, however, is wary of appearing to gouge customers, according to theme-park executives and analysts, and going against founder Walt Disney’s vision of affordable family entertainment.”

“Disney parks executives are working on adopting a dynamic pricing model similar to airlines, in which prices fluctuate depending on when a ticket is purchased, this person said. Disney already has introduced a limited version of dynamic pricing to its parks, charging a range of prices based on three categories of dates: ‘value,’ ‘regular’ and ‘peak.’ Prices range from $97 to $135 for Disneyland and between $102 and $122 for Walt Disney World.”

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Kanye Tests Bite-Sized Music

The Wall Street Journal: “Kanye West is betting that good things can come from small packages. The 41-year-old rapper has produced five albums, each with seven tracks, many under three minutes. Released on consecutive Fridays, mostly by his record label, G.O.O.D. Music, and its partner Def Jam Recordings, the minialbums are making waves in a music industry where bigger has increasingly been seen as better … G.O.O.D. Music’s experiment is the latest instance of labels and artists tinkering with release strategies in the streaming age. Streaming is now the most popular way Americans listen to music. As listening habits change, record executives and musicians are trying to figure out how to reach fans and distinguish their releases in an increasingly crowded market.”

“Similar to how Mr. West’s provocative tweets and interviews in recent months helped him break through the clutter of social media ahead of his new releases, his seven-track albums are generating buzz for G.O.O.D. Music, music-industry experts say … It’s too soon to tell if shorter albums will trump longer ones in the streaming world … Bite-sized LPs may go down smoother for music fans inundated each week not just with music, but movies, videogames and social-media.”

“Mr. West hasn’t detailed his strategy, but he hints at the idea of shorter tracks on 4th Dimension, a 2½-minute song on Kids See Ghosts. The track samples Someday, by gospel singer Shirley Ann Lee, which includes the lines ‘you only want 2½ minutes if you can get it…three minutes maximum’ and ‘when it get too many then they can’t remember it and then they lose interest’.”

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MacBlur: Apple Melds Laptops & iPhones

The Wall Street Journal: “Laptops, which haven’t been exciting for years, are about to get interesting again … Many manufacturers are already using mobile chips from smartphones in laptops running Google’s Chrome OS, and are starting to put them in laptops running Microsoft Windows. Apple Inc. already designs its own chips, which are arguably the fastest mobile processors in the world—will it use them in its own MacBooks? A shift in this direction would blur the line between laptops and mobile devices further, changing our expectations of computers large and small.”

“So imagine something that looks like a MacBook and works like a MacBook, but has the guts of an iPhone. In addition to things like facial recognition and AR capabilities, it could have longer battery life, built-in always-on connectivity to fast 5G networks, and more … The size of the circuitry on a microchip, known as a process node, determines its power consumption, performance and cost. The smaller the transistors on the chip, the wider the variety of stuff you can put on it, such as wireless modems, GPS receivers, image processors and the like. Each new silicon breakthrough is named after the ever-smaller distance between certain chip components, measured in nanometers.”

“Apple is also pushing capabilities such as on-device artificial intelligence, which could enable better voice recognition and other capabilities, and the company aims to support only its own graphics software in the future. Because Apple’s in-house chip designers only have one customer—Apple—they’re able to tune its silicon to run all these things as fast as possible.”

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Computers Teach Humans To Be More Human

The Wall Street Journal: “Can a computer program make humans more human? That’s the goal of new software aimed at making call-center agents better at their jobs by assessing performance on phone etiquette and social skills like empathy and patience … Cogito is one of several companies developing analytics tools that give agents feedback about how conversations with customers are going.”

“Its software measures in real time the tone of an agent’s voice, their speech rate, and how much each person is talking … That dance is sometimes out of sync, such as when an agent speaks too quickly or too much, cuts a customer off, has extended periods of silence or sounds tired … When the software detects these mistakes, a notification pops up on a window on an agent’s screen to coax them to change their strategy.”

“These tools don’t understand every nuance of what a person says—which, for now, might assuage privacy concerns about companies listening in on conversations and analyzing that data.”

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How Moosejaw & Walmart Make Music

The Wall Street Journal: “Walmart is betting that even under its umbrella, Moosejaw and other brands like the feminist-leaning ModCloth and men’s fashion clothier Bonobos can remain convincingly hipster. But Walmart has such a distinct culture; will it be able to maintain an appropriate distance or will executives from Bentonville swoop in, forcing everyone to wear those iconic blue big-box vests? … Some suppliers of high-end gear abandoned Moosejaw’s shelves to avoid doing business with its new parent.”

Yet: “Moosejaw’s loyalist shoppers appear unfazed. While there have been reports of social-media backlash against Walmart ownership of firms like ModCloth, Walmart’s overall e-commerce sales have picked up … Moosejaw will soon have a rolling pop-up store pulled across the U.S. by a semi truck—another innovation private-equity backers may not have sponsored. With access to Walmart’s shipping rates, Moosejaw.com offers free two-day shipping, which is increasingly expected by online shoppers.”

“Then there is the beer cooler. Much has been made of alcohol policies at Walmart subsidiaries, and Moosejaw’s victory in this category is notable. Before the acquisition, Bentonville executives noticed a padlocked beer cooler at its Madison Heights, Mich., headquarters … Shortly after the deal … Chief Executive Doug McMillon concluded that because Moosejaw had responsible policies, the cooler could stay. At this month’s shareholder meeting Mr. McMillon gave analysts a glimpse of why he’s bending the rules. He carries a list with him of top retailers from decades gone by, a sobering list that includes struggling Kmart and Sears that reminds him of the fleeting nature of success. Yesterday’s retail kings die ‘because they don’t change,’ he said.”

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How Ben & Jerry’s Creates Flavors

Fast Company: “Ben & Jerry’s tastemakers don’t just rely on their own judgment … After assembling a couple hundred ideas, the Gurus then turn to a surprisingly low-tech yet crucial source in order to whittle them down: email surveys. Close to 200 flavor possibilities enter the ‘reduction’ stage. Only about 15 make it through. The team sends out a short survey to a representative slice of its massive email list of ice cream enthusiasts. The survey is extremely straightforward; it consists of a one-sentence description of each of the 200 flavors, followed by the same two questions apiece: How likely are you to buy this flavor? How unique is this flavor?”

“Respondents are asked to rank their answers on a five-point scale. According to the Flavor Gurus, the goal is to zero in on flavors that are both familiar and novel.”

“The second question, ‘How unique is the flavor?’ helps Gurus ensure they’re maintaining enough novelty in the flavor pool. Based on the survey data, the team settles on the 15 flavors they believe have the ideal balance of novelty and familiarity. This is the reduction step, and it’s likewise a key part of many creative processes. To generate ideas that stick, you need to go from a wide-ranging list of plausible ideas to a data-driven subset of the ones that have the strongest likelihood of succeeding, based on whatever metrics for success you’ve outlined.”

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