Reading list

October 29, 2008

2 transcontinental flights afforded me time to do some reading, and I couldn’t resist this cover in the airport bookstore. Turned out to be a very interesting read. I’ll have it at my desk if you’d like to borrow it.

It chronicles some pioneering brand research that looks at peoples’ brains via MRI (and something called SST) as they react to imagery/concepts. The technology and techniques are at a nascent stage, but one thing is certain, and it’s something that those of us who have sat through a thousand focus groups know for sure: people aren’t telling the truth.

We all react on a subconscious, emotional level and then rationalize later, often completely contradicting (or inaccurately predicting) our actual behavior. Any research that relies on self-reporting is thus suspect. The author and his team were able to “see” how people’s brains reacted in real time and then compare that with what those same people said. Often completely opposite results.

The Emperor’s Clothes are off focus groups as far as I’m concerned. They may be all we have right now, but they aren’t good enough. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly “neuro-research” gets figured out.


Top 10 Food Trends for 2008

October 28, 2008

I recently read an article about the top 10 food trends this year.  This is relative to our food clients’ changing practices AND what messages about the food rises to the surface and resonates with their / our consumers’ tastes and changing diets.  

Top 10 Food Trends for 2008
By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature

‘Locavores,’ bold flavors, and healthier choices will be hot, experts predict.
What new food trends are in store (the grocery store, that is) for 2008? According to the experts, 2008 might be called the year of ethical eating. Consumers are looking for more locally grown foods that support a healthier environment and a healthier lifestyle.

“Locavore” — a person who seeks out locally grown and produced foods — was designated the 2007 word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, and eating locally is also is anticipated to be the biggest food trend of 2008. Experts say we can also expect consumers to think more holistically about their food — questioning where it came from, its packaging, and its ecological footprint.

Americans are also expected to experiment this year with exotic foods with bold flavors — like goji berries, yumberries, pomegranates, blood oranges, colored and flavored salts, and grains such as red rice, amaranth, and black quinoa.

And, experts predict we can look forward to more healthy choices on grocery store shelves. People want foods that are convenient, fill them up, taste good, and will help them lose weight, says American Dietetic Association President Connie Diekman, MEd, RD.

Soups, salads, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein are examples of these healthy foods that multitask. Manufacturers are also expected to continue to create more portion-controlled packages of foods (like the popular 100-calorie snack packs).

Here’s more of what diet and nutrition experts have named as the top food trends for 2008:

Food Trend No. 1: Eco-Friendly Foods

Increasingly, consumers want to know more about their food — where it was grown, what ingredients it contains, how it was packaged, and the footprint its production left on the earth.

“It is the evolution of organics that consumers want to know and understand more about the foods they eat,” says “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert, food trends editor and correspondent for NBC’s Today Show.  “You may choose a locally grown product over one that is organic because the food is fresher and its footprint is smaller.”

Food Trend No. 2: Local, Natural, and Fresh Foods

On a similar note, we’re likely to see more farmers markets and community co-ops, as well as more locally grown foods in mainstream grocery stores. Consumers are also said to be scrutinizing imported foods more carefully these days, and looking for those from countries that have very high safety standards.

Food Trend No. 3: Concern About Food Safety

No one wants to repeat the scares we had in 2007, when tainted pet food, peanut butter, ground beef, and other products made headlines. “Consumers are demanding safe food for us and our pets, and want the government to update the food safety system so we can have confidence that our food supply is safe,” says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Jeannie Moloo, PhD, RD. 

Food Trend No. 4: Higher Prices


Food prices are expected to continue rising, which experts say will cause consumers to rethink their purchasing patterns. “Higher food prices will push consumers out of the fresh produce section into the freezer or canned food aisles to re-evaluate other options that can be just as nutritious,” says Lempert.

Food Trend No. 5: Prebiotics and Probiotics

Consumers are learning that adding “friendly” bacteria to foods can help with digestion. And they’re not just for yogurt any more. We’ll be seeing the beneficial bacteria added to a wide variety of foods — including chocolate, predicts Moloo.

Food Trend No. 6: Whole Grains

Shoppers will continue to opt for more healthy whole grains, including exotic types aimed at tempting the jaded palates of baby boomers, experts say. “There are numerous health benefits of whole grains, and food manufacturers are making it easier to enjoy them with new products,” says Diekman. “Exotic grains such as amaranth, quinoa, teff, millet, and Kamut are going mainstream.”

Food Trend No. 7: Simple Ingredients and Clearer Labels

Increasingly, consumers don’t want ingredients they can’t pronounce, nor do they want artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, experts say. Look for more informative and clearer labels, and foods with just a handful of simple ingredients.

Food Trend No. 8: Emphasis on Lowering Salt

The American Medical Association has urged food manufacturers to lower the sodium in processed foods. “With an aging population and recommendations to lower sodium in our diets, companies are working to keep the same flavor profile and lower the sodium,” says Moloo.

Food Trend No. 9: Alternative Sweeteners

Alternative natural sweeteners like ultrasweet stevia (which is 300 times sweeter than table sugar) and zero-calorie erythritol will replace high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners in more beverages and foods, experts predict.

Food Trend No. 10: Bottled Water Backlash

Bottled water remains popular among consumers looking to cut down on calories and artificial sweeteners. But growing awareness of the impact all those empty plastic bottles have on the environment (and the fact that many brands of bottled water are nothing more than purified tap water) is expected to make this option less appealing, experts say.


The type of doughnut hole that’s not good for you.

October 24, 2008

An interesting article in BusinessWeek that explores a gap in the US Government’s Medicare Part D drug program.  Once the  coverage threshold is reached for a calendar year ($2,510 in 2008) elderly patients must pick up the full costs of their prescription drugs until the total hits $5,726.

From the article:

Only recently have pollsters been able to quantify the fallout of the doughnut hole. In August, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation released results of a survey showing that in 2007, 26% of Part D beneficiaries—3.4 million people—reached the doughnut hole … on average, Part D patients who fell into the doughnut hole saw their monthly out-of-pocket costs double to $196.

One proposed solution is to have the govenment negotiate the prices of the drugs covered under the program (something it does not currently do).    Whatever the remedy, it’s obvious that given the current programs, and economic difficulties, patients are feeling the pinch.

“TV Industry Faces Ad Avoidance Crisis More Severe Than Financial Crisis, Warns TiVo CEO.”

October 24, 2008

I read a column recently called :

“TV Industry Faces Ad Avoidance Crisis More Severe Than Financial Crisis, Warns TiVo CEO.”

If you are at all in/around the space of television advertising, you might want to take a look at it … Self professed interactive television guru Jack Myers’ column is worth a look.

Myers paints a picture that’s pretty bleak for us in the tv ad industry. The message: we’d better evolve. The article, citing TiVo’s ability to track on a micro level, consumer behavior and ad avoidance, really points to a situation that brands might want to make the decision not to advertise. Obviously, if you create entertaining commercials, more people are apt to NOT fast forward … but, the fact is, people don’t want to see advertising, and now, 3.5 million households can actually avoid them. And, with TiVo beating the DISH Network patent problem, they are going to be in most every household pretty soon (5 years? 10 years?).

For advertisers, there is another way to go.

The challenge is, rather than challenge your agency to produce compelling and entertaining commercials make interactive and engaging ones. How? Well, first off, advertisers need to look at tv differently. It’s no longer totally a lean back, entertaining delivery system. A lot of viewers, and more each day, are either multi-screeners with Internet and TV in the same room at the same time, or, are watching TV on their computer.

Changing the mentality of the advertiser is on the agency.
Finding the solution, on the networks and cable folks.

Can that happen? Yes. Is it? Well, it was!

Years ago, I was part of a start up called actzero. We were an Intel Capital and angel investor funded Internet company, focused on developing a Web-based solution for interactive television. Our cobbled convergence solution, the Burst Network, rested on a platform that was capable of handling 5 million simultaneous users, giving them the ability to participate in real time. We had some initial success with ESPN, Shrine Game and eBay, proving that our concept was real. Disappointingly, we were not able to raise a second round of funding and closed. At the time, as futurist Paul Saffo said, “you are ahead of the “S” curve of adoption.”

But, all is not lost (well besides that $4 million we burned).

Today, David Verklin is working with Cast Ventures. That’s a new startup in NYC focusing on this new direction. From their own materials : “ service bureau focused on making cable’s advanced advertising solutions easier to buy, use and measure. Canoe Ventures provides technology solutions that leverage cable’s two-way infrastructure for unprecedented message precision, engagement, interactivity, reach and measurability, and it helps networks tap into the power of cable so they can provide most effective and efficient marketing solutions for advertising clients, ultimately, changing the way viewers use TV.”

Weird. Seems like that S curve of adoption isn’t so far out in front of us.

I love(d) being the dumbest person

October 16, 2008

(And I’m not talking dumb, like the cell phone talking driver of that white Ford Explorer which swerved through four fives lanes of traffic, from the slow lane to the fast lane, slammed on his brakes to the sea of red lights in front of us, and then proceeded to crash into the stopped car in front of him)

Once a year, the TED conference is held ( I’ve attended three times, and each time, I’m amazed how dumb I am in relation to the smart folks in the audience. The organizer, Chris Anderson, has put together a virtual who’s who of who-dom that is truly awesome and inspiring. And, this is no Dr. Seuss thing either. If you ever have the chance, attend. Total brain candy.

Today the 2009 TED prize winners were announced. Three people, two searching the ocean and stars for life and another motivating a society with music, were awarded.

Check them out at :

Not only are these people getting recognized for incredible efforts in moving mankind ahead and making a difference, they each get a $100,000 prize to continue their dream.

I love being dumb. I just wish I were smarter.

(Oh yeah, the Explorer driver immediately jumped out of the car, threw his cell phone against the median wall, and then proceeded to yell at the driver of the car he just rear-ended! Nice.)

Brillant and simple healthcare poster

October 16, 2008

I was introduced to an organization called 30 Reasons.

It’s a group of 30 graphic designers making up posters for each of the 30 days leading up to the Presidential election … each being a reason to vote for B.O.

I love today’s poster.
What an amazingly simple and poignant idea …

Check it out @ :

“Build a Better Health Care System, Win $10 Million”

October 15, 2008

An article on the WSJ web site that announces a $10mm prize being offered for the best solution that lowers health care costs while improving the quality of the care.

The prize is being coordinated by the X Prize Foundation (former sponsors of contests to build a 100 m.p.g. car and send a robot to the moon) while WellPoint (an insurance company) is putting up the $10 million dollars.

Seems like a great time to put pencil to paper.  A quick excerpt below.  Additional details here.

“It’s not entirely clear yet what the targets will be. But they will probably include some combination of lowering costs and improving health outcomes, Brad Fluegel, WellPoint’s Chief Strategy Officer, told us. (Yes, we know WellPoint’s an insurer and it’s in their interest to lower costs. But when health care costs rising toward 20% of GDP, the interest in lowering health costs goes beyond insurers.)”