Patanjali: Baba’s Got a Cool New Brand

The New York Times: Baba Ramdev is “the leader of what has become known as the ‘Baba Cool Movement’ — a group of spiritual men, known here as ‘babas,’ who are marketing healthy consumer items based on the ancient Indian medicinal system of herbal treatments, known as Ayurveda. His rapidly expanding business empire of packaged food, cosmetics and home-care products is eating into the sales of both multinational and Indian corporations. ‘People buy our products because they believe I will only sell them good things,’ he said.”

His Patanjali-brand “products are attractive because they are high quality and prices are about 20 percent lower than the competition, analysts said. It is not clear how Patanjali is able to charge such low prices, given that its profit margin of 13 percent is within the industry range of 13 to 16 percent. Mr. Ramdev ventured that, with his fame, his advertising costs are much lower than his competitors’, who spend as much as 15 percent of their revenue promoting their products.”

“Harish Bijoor, a brand strategy specialist and former head of marketing at a subsidiary of the big Indian conglomerate Tata Group.has predicted that the “Baba Cool Movement” will eventually outsell both multinationals and top Indian companies alike. ‘It’s about a good connect,’ he said. ‘It’s about becoming the umbilical cord connecting the past to the present.'”

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High Times Plots Pot as Lifestyle Brand

The New York Times: “Just as Playboy transformed from a skin magazine to a branding behemoth during the sexual revolution, a new management team at High Times is looking to pare back its outlaw image to become a lifestyle brand. Its big plans to capitalize on the era of legalized marijuana include a revamped website, apparel, furniture, nightclubs and eventually ganja-themed cruises, hotels and casinos.”

“While deals have not been completed, the company is deep in talks with partners to open a series of high-end cannabis-consumption lounges in Colorado, where adult use of marijuana is legal, and in Las Vegas, where medical marijuana is legal under Nevada state law. In Las Vegas, the company’s partners have also secured a cabaret license and a gambling license as well as approval for an off-site dispensary at an undisclosed location 150 feet off the Strip … this cannabis gambling lounge would provide a springboard for a potential High Times hotel and casino, following the model of the Hard Rock Cafe.”

“ArcView Group, a cannabis research and investment firm, recently called legal marijuana ‘the fastest growing industry in America,’ having rocketed 74 percent, to $2.7 billion, from 2013 to 2014. Attitudes seem to be changing just as quickly. In popular culture, potheads are no longer portrayed only as glazed-eyed dolts, but everyday professionals with children and mortgages.”

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Introducing the Meat-O-Mat!

The Wall Street Journal: “Attached to a laboratory-like plant in this upstate community is a neon-lit vending machine dubbed the Meat-O-Mat, where customers can buy locally raised meat whenever they like. If Joshua Applestone has his way, carnivores will flock to it the way that banking customers visit the ATM. His invention is stocked with pork chops, dry-aged burger patties, bratwurst meatballs and his beloved pork roll, a deli meat native to New Jersey. Customers swipe their credit cards, push a button, slide the door open and retrieve their hormone- and antibiotic-free selection.”

“Mr. Applestone and his partners at Applestone Meat Co., the attached plant, are attempting to develop a new, meat-centric business model. For the past two years, they have been exploring ways of making high-quality cuts available at lower prices by slashing labor costs and considering offbeat distribution methods like the Meat-O-Mat. ‘We’re going for a highway-roadside-attraction type of approach,’ said Samantha Gloffke, the company’s general manager and a part owner. ‘The goal is to make sustainability really exciting.'”

Mr. Applestone envisions them stationed at supermarkets, football stadiums and picnic sites, places where you might welcome the convenience of buying something to toss on the grill. ‘Think about it at any music festival,’ he said. ‘Anywhere someone brings a cooler, you no longer have to bring fresh meat. How much is peace of mind worth?'”

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Wafu Chuka: Probably Not The Next Ramen Noodles

The New York Times: The restaurant Saburi has been an unassuming presence on a quiet street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Kips Bay for 10 years … From evening until 3 a.m., Saburi becomes a lively canteen filled with Japanese businessmen, Japanese expatriates and American enthusiasts of Japanese culture … The cuisine is called wafu chuka and is, simply put, Japanese-style Chinese food, or rather, Chinese dishes modified for Japanese sensibilities. It involves putting a Japanese spin on Chinese cuisine by using fewer spices and oils and adding fresh Japanese ingredients.”

Wafu Chuka “emerged in the early 1900s during the Meiji Restoration period, when Japan was opened up to international trade. It originated in cities including Nagasaki, Kobe and Yokohama … and is eaten throughout Japan … At the restaurant, female bartenders wear short Chinese dresses. Shadow puppets, the paper-thin figurines used in the ancient Chinese storytelling form, are framed on walls … And customers can store unfinished bottles of shochu, a Japanese liquor, behind the bar for future consumption — a tradition in pubs in the island nation.”

Sadly, Saburi is closing because of “lease difficulties” and its husband-and-wife owners, Jun Cui (who is Chinese) and Mika Saburi (who is Japanese) “desire to move back to Japan.” Kiara Phillips, a regular, comments: “The problem is it’s not like the ramen boom. Everyone is crazy for ramen now. And the wafu chuka style never quite took off that way. But is that a bad thing? It means people didn’t take it over and start doing it wrong,” she said. “No one else is trying to make it the best. No one is trying to make it something it’s not. The way it is here is just the way it is done.”

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YouTube is the ‘Hometown TV’ of Presidential Marketing

The Washington Post: YouTube “has become not just the Web’s biggest petri dish for the funny, weird and astronomically popular. With its 1 billion viewers and cultural omnipresence, it now offers campaigns a breadth no hometown TV network can match … Republican front-runner Donald Trump has been the most digitally prolific, with more YouTube views and videos about his campaign than all other candidates, data provided by Google show. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Cruz follow, in that order, closely resembling the real-life race.”

“In an encouraging sign for campaign ad makers — and a reflection of how bizarre or amusing this race has become — many viewers are seeking out the same political ads they only previously endured during commercial breaks. Since April 2015, Google data show, Americans have watched 12,500 years’ worth (110 million hours) of YouTube videos about the 2016 issues and candidates.”

“Though broadcast TV remains king, gobbling up $2 billion of ad budgets, campaigns are increasingly turning to YouTube for its finer precision in targeting voters and its potentially viral popularity. Old-fashioned commercials are pricey, time-limited and impossible to pass on, while YouTube lets campaigns experiment with a wider range of lengths, costs and talking points.”

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The ‘Overton Window’ Is Broken

Zeynep Tufekci, writing in The New York Times: “For decades, journalists at major media organizations acted as gatekeepers who passed judgment on what ideas could be publicly discussed, and what was considered too radical. This is sometimes called the ‘Overton window,’ after Joseph P. Overton of the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who discussed the relatively narrow range of policies that are viewed as politically acceptable.”

“What such gatekeepers thought was acceptable often overlapped with what those in power believed, too. Conversations outside the frame of this window were not tolerated. For worse, and sometimes for better, the Overton window is broken. We are in an era of rapidly weakening gatekeepers.”

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Plants or Petroleum: The ‘Natural’ Difference Isn’t Clear

The Wall Street Journal: “Many retailers and consumer products companies classify their products as natural if some of their ingredients were originally sourced from plant-based materials. But the top ingredients in many natural or ‘green’ consumer goods aren’t that different from mainstream products, whose ingredients often come from petroleum-based sources … The main ingredients in Tom’s of Maine Simply White toothpaste, for instance—including sodium fluoride, hydrated silica, sorbitol and sodium lauryl sulfate—are also in some types of Colgate toothpaste. Tom’s of Maine, which says all its ingredients ‘originate from nature,’ is owned by Colgate-Palmolive Co.”

“Whole Foods Markets Inc. last fall started selling a new brand of laundry detergent called Nature’s Power, whose green bottle claims the product is made ‘with plant-derived soaps.’ Its top active ingredient, a commonly used cleaning agent called sodium laureth sulfate, is found in plenty of its mainstream peers, including Arm & Hammer, which like Nature’s Power is made by Church & Dwight Co. Sodium laureth sulfate can be produced from coconut oil, palm oil or petroleum. ‘It is the same chemical compound, regardless of what it’s derived from,’ says Clarence Miller, a professor emeritus of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University in Houston.”

“While the Food and Drug Administration regulates foods and personal-care products and requires detailed ingredient labeling, it isn’t clear who is checking the labels of household products or the contents of bottles … The use of term “organic” is more closely regulated. Makers of household cleaners that label their products organic must have their ingredients certified by an independent body that follows guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

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Why Is Laundry Detergent So Difficult To Measure?

The Washington Post: “The measuring caps on liquid laundry detergent containers are universally difficult to read, because of faint markings that blend in with the plastic cups. Without perfect lighting conditions and sharp vision, this has left many consumers squinting to see where the line is that they should fill to. And the related instructions are often vague … While impossible to pinpoint exactly how much detergent is wasted, experts say a significant portion of the industry’s revenues come from excess use of detergent that consumers didn’t need to use to clean their clothes.”

“Experts say a good measuring cap is doable — all that’s needed is a contrasting color to mark the lines consumers should fill to … Yet laundry detergent companies stick with a design that has its roots in the 1930s, when a patent was issued for a measuring top for containers … For the foreseeable future, consumers struggling to find the perfect detergent dose for their laundry will have to keep making do.”

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Parnassus: A Bookstore As Food Truck

The New York Times: “Nashville’s newest bookstore is an old van. The bright blue bookmobile, which hit the road this week, is a roving offshoot of Parnassus Books, a popular independent bookstore. It will roam around town, stopping at food truck rallies, farmers’ markets and outside restaurants. The arrival of a bookstore on wheels is a fitting evolution for Parnassus, which is co-owned by Karen Hayes and the novelist Ann Patchett.”

“A bookmobile made so much sense, because food trucks work so well in this town,” says Patchett. “It’s a great way to get our name out there, too. It’s a rolling advertisement.”

“It is a logical and efficient way for a small bookstore to expand its footprint, especially as big chains have shuttered locations, leaving a vacuum for enterprising independent stores to fill … The van packs around 1,000 books, mostly new releases and best sellers — a small fraction of Parnassus’s stock of 20,000 books. Its owners have managed to make the cramped space bright and inviting: customers can walk the narrow aisles between the shelves, and can linger and sample books on one of the padded blue benches.”

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Is Mall Shopping Greener Than E-Commerce?

The Wall Street Journal: “Could going to the mall be better for the environment than shopping online? That’s the surprising claim in a new study from Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall landlord. The argument is that mall shoppers often travel in groups and buy more than one item, reducing their environmental impact. Online shoppers, meanwhile, return products more often, and the shipping requires more packaging.”

“Among the factors Simon looked at was how many people went on the trip and ‘the idea that shoppers combine mall shopping trips with other errands.’ The report also examined the impact of product returns both online and in stores … The report found that online shopping had an environmental impact that was 7% greater than mall shopping, if shoppers bought the same number of products both ways.”

“The issue isn’t settled, however. A 2013 master thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Transportation & Logistics, for example, examined various ways consumers could shop in stores or online. ‘Results show that online shopping is the most environmentally friendly option in a wide range of scenarios,’ the thesis concluded. The MIT thesis examined how some shoppers combine the two channels, sometimes researching products both in stores and online, or buying online but picking up or returning in a store. As a result, the thesis also found, ‘as more consumers leverage traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives to their online buying behaviors, some of the environmental savings quickly erode.'”

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