Thursday, 30 October 2008

Rants

General Mills blows a chance for a marketing bonus


Once upon a time there was an organic produce company called Cascadian Farm.  Formed in 1972, over time it became successful and partnered with other organic producers to form Small Planet Foods.  The rising demand for organic produce attracted the attention of large food processors, and at the end of 1999, the Small Planet and its Cascadian Farm brand were acquired by General Mills.

The “organic” end of the food industry is noted for its free spirits, and Cascadian was no exception. Says “pop”:

Around 7 years ago, my friend and I were... wandering the local Safeway...  My friend, who at the time was the head purchaser of organic foods for another grocery chain, excitedly dragged me over to the frozen foods aisle to show me packages of not only broccoli, but corn and other frozen items as well, with teeny tiny little faces [Photo]shopped in to very inconspicuous places.  My friend, who dealt with the company regularly, told me that they were the faces of employees and their children.
Hey, is that cool, or what?  Unfortunately...
Months later, I would remember this experience while shopping with a new girlfriend.  I dragged her over to show her the faces, but alas there were none to be found, and I was thought to be insane.  I called my friend right there on the spot and he confirmed to me that the company had changed hands or management or something, and the little heads had stopped appearing.
“About seven years ago” would have been just after the General Mills acquisition.

Fast-forward to 2008.  Many of the package designs have been replaced with plain-Jane ones, but not all, as the ladies who run the Bread and Honey foodblog discover:
...she suddenly remembered this crazy broccoli package in her freezer she wanted to show me.  She handed me the box and I studied it carefully, squinting, even allowing my eyes to blur, to try and see what I was missing.  She pointed- “Do you see?”  See what?  I didn’t see anything.  Just broccoli.  Her finger tapped on a certain part of the box and she urged me to look closer.  “There- right there. Do you see it..?”
As might be expected, reader reactions included the standard comments about subliminal marketing– and Soylent Green, but as people learned the story behind the faces, most found the idea pretty clever.

Apparently too clever for the suits at General Foods.  An inquiry by B&Hs Alicia Carrier elicited this somewhat-embarrassed-sounding explanation:
“Dear Mrs. Carrier:

“Thank you for contacting us concerning Cascadian Farm...  We appreciate the opportunity to address this matter.  Unfortunately, there is no one available for you to interview...

“The tradition of hiding names or faces on Cascadian Farm packaging began over a dozen years ago.  It was unspoken tribute by the package design department to the friends & family of Cascadian Farm. The faces won’t be included on our redesigned packaging.
Well, bah!

Here General Mills had something going that enhanced its brand both internally and externally.  It gave its employees recognition and “ownership” of what are normally commodity products (“See, there’s my daughter’s face!”).  It gave customers something to discover: A little “lore” that they could use to one-up their friends.  And it was a “plus” that made Cascadia’s products different.  All done at hardly any cost, and without imparing the value of the brand in any way.  Just like something out of one of those “use creative distinctions to enhance your brand and make your company special” textbooks.

Shot down, for whatever reason.  Like something out of one of those “how unimaginative management turned _____ into just another _____” textbooks.

The readers are disappointed:
On October 28, 2008 4:59 PM, LMinVT said...
Personally, I would have thought that people may have started buying them out of curiosity, and found that they are good, and continued to buy their products.
At 11:20 AM on Wed Oct 29 2008, emilymarion333 said...
I like the little faces...too bad.  Cascadian Farms is in my hometown so we always bought this brand growing up.
At 2:52 PM on Wed Oct 29 2008, Ein2015 said...
@emilymarion333: I second the liking of the faces.   Nice story behind it, too!
At 11:21 AM on Wed Oct 29 2008, SkokieGuy said...
I'm saddened by this.  What a charming and cool tradition and why discontinue?  Look at all the publicity this generated.

Dear Cascadian Farms:
The benefit of discontinuing the hidden faces is?

And what if, as commenter Angela opined:
HA!  “Unspoken tribute” aka... the design studio probably snuck them in for fun and didn’t bother to tell anyone else until after it got printed.  I work in a design studio, I should know
Well then, maybe somebody in that design studio deserves a promotion to brand management.

Tiny faces on a broccoli box (from Bread and Honey weblog)

Elsewhere:
Bread & Honey’s package photos:  Set 1.Set 2
HT to The Consumerist, for:  Tiny Faces On Broccoli To Be Heartlessly Discontinued...

Posted by: Old Grouch in Rants at 23:49:55 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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Saturday, 25 October 2008

Rants

Rights? *What* Rights?

When “border” means “100 miles inland”

From the American Civil Liberties Union:
...Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the American people are not generally subject to random and arbitrary stops and searches.  The border, however, has always been an exception.  There, the longstanding view is that the normal rules do not apply.  For example the authorities do not need a warrant or probable cause to conduct a “routine search.”

But what is “the border”?  According to the government, it is a 100-mile wide strip that wraps around the “external boundary” of the United States.  As a result of this claimed authority, individuals who are far away from the border, American citizens traveling from one place in America to another, are being stopped and harassed in ways that our Constitution does not permit...

On the roads of California and elsewhere in the nation – places far removed from the actual border – agents are stopping, interrogating, and searching Americans on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.
The ACLU estimates that two-thirds of the country’s population (including 9 of the top 10 metro areas) fall within the “100 miles from the border” zone.  It encompasses the entirety of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.  For your convenience, the ACLU has produced a handy map of what they call the United States’ “Constitution-Free” Zone.

The map:
map of “The Constitution-Free Zone of the United States” (source: American Civil Liberties Union)

At first glance this might appear another case of post-9/11 overreach.  But inland Border Patrol roadblocks were actually found legal[1] in 1976[2] by the Supreme Court decision UNITED STATES vs. MARTINEZ-FUERTE, ET AL.[3]  The decision permitted “immigration check” roadblocks many miles inland.  As seems inevitable, in the thirty-some years since the decision there has been mission creep.  Today other agencies often participate, and searches have snared American citizens for the (also seemingly-inevitable) “drugs” and “child porn.”

Meanwhile, the federal government has made little effort to monitor or limit the scope of these actions– yet another example of failure by the Congress and the subsequent administrations to look out for the rights of ordinary citizens.[4]

Random “your papers please” stops are an opprobium to a free society.  I’m old enough to remember American propaganda (which was propaganda, even if it was true) that used such stops to draw the line between the Free United States and the Evil Communist Bloc.[5]  It’s beyond ironic that, less than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, our government engages in the very thing it used to condemn.

And if we want to consider “original intent,” I certainly doubt if the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island or Vermont would have voted to adopt a constitution in which the Fourth Amendment was effectively a dead letter within their boundaries.  (Not to mention that in 1787 a “border zone” of 100 miles would have effectively included the entire country.)

I wonder how someone in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; Lynchburg, Virginia; or Columbia, South Carolina will react when they’re stopped (and searched) by Border Patrol agents and, on asking the reason, being told “we don’t need one.”


Elsewhere:
Roadblock Revelations weblog
National Motorists Association’s Roadblock Registry

Related (immigration enforcement and border security):

Provoked by:  Slashdot, where there are several first-person accounts in the comments
-----
[1]  for the purpose of immigration enforcement, and because the effect of such checkpoints on legitimate motorists would be “minimal.”

[2]   Ironically enough, the bicentennial year of the American revolution.

[3]  HT: “TheGeneration

[4]  Hey, aren’t the Democrats all about “human rights,” and the Republicans all about “less intrusive government”?  Oh, snap!  What was I thinking?

[5]  ...and Communism was evil.  After all, the best propaganda is propaganda in which you don’t have to lie!

Posted by: Old Grouch in Rants at 19:45:26 GMT | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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Friday, 03 October 2008

Rants

Little arrows, for me and for you...


Much of the uproar about the Senate’s pork-ified bailout bill has centered around the first item on this list:

The special provisions include tax breaks for:
  • Manufacturers of kids’ wooden arrows - $6 million.
  • Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands rum producers - $192 million.
  • Wool research.
  • Auto-racing tracks - $128 million.
  • Corporations operating in American Samoa - $33 million.
  • Small- to medium-budget film and television productions - $10 million.
Turns out there are two stories here.

The first story is that the items on this particular list aren’t actually expenditures. Nobody is being given $6 million. What’s happening is a tax is being eliminated.  But in Congress’s upside-down “all your money belongs to us” accounting, anytime some poor benighted taxpayer gets to keep more of his hard-earned bucks it gets listed as an expense.  (And we actually pay these people to make up rules like this!)

Okay, the second story: What’s this all about?  For that we go to a pair of reader e-mails over at The Corner:
The first:
Under the Wildlife Restoration Act… [aka] the Pittman-Robertson Act… guns and hunting equipment are taxed... [The taxes are] returned to the States under matching grants to fund their hunting programs. Hunting arrows are subject to the tax… The purpose of the wooden arrow exclusion is to exempt toys from what is otherwise a hunting excise tax.
Understandable, except, as it turns out, “toy” arrows used to be excluded:
This provision was included to correct a mistake that was made several years ago in the JOBS Act, when the excise tax on archery arrows was changed from a percentage tax to flat rate of 39 cents. As a result of the imposition of this flat tax rate, producers of wooden practice arrows that cost 30 cents each are now required to pay 39 cents tax on each arrow – more than doubling the cost of these arrows.
So WTF is the JOBS Act (and wtf do jobs have to do with taxing arrows?)? Well, a search over at THOMAS turns up “H.R.4520 • the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.” H.R.4520 turns out to be yet another one of those  everything-including-the-kitchen-sink bills that Congress loves so dearly. The table of contents page for this monstrosity runs 17 screens on my browser.  And sure enough, buried in the middle[1] is Title III (“Tax relief for agriculture and small manufacturers”), Subtitle C (“Incentives for small manufacturers”), Section 332[2] (“Simplification of excise tax imposed on bows and arrows”).  To wit:
SEC. 332. SIMPLIFICATION OF EXCISE TAX IMPOSED ON BOWS AND ARROWS.
(a) BOWS- Paragraph (1) of section 4161(b) (relating to bows) is amended to read as follows:
(1) BOWS-
`(A) IN GENERAL- There is hereby imposed on the sale by the manufacturer, producer, or importer of any bow which has a peak draw weight of 30 pounds or more, a tax equal to 11 percent of the price for which so sold.

`(B) ARCHERY EQUIPMENT- There is hereby imposed on the sale by the manufacturer, producer, or importer--
`(i) of any part or accessory suitable for inclusion in or attachment to a bow described in subparagraph (A), and
`(ii) of any quiver or broadhead suitable for use with an arrow described in paragraph (2),

a tax equal to 11 percent of the price for which so sold.'.

(b) ARROWS- Subsection (b) of section 4161 (relating to bows and arrows, etc.) is amended by redesignating paragraph (3) as paragraph (4) and inserting after paragraph (2) the following:

`(3) ARROWS-
`(A) IN GENERAL- There is hereby imposed on the sale by the manufacturer, producer, or importer of any arrow, a tax equal to 12 percent of the price for which so sold.

`(B) EXCEPTION- In the case of any arrow of which the shaft or any other component has been previously taxed under paragraph (1) or (2)--
`(i) section 6416(b)(3) shall not apply, and
`(ii) the tax imposed by subparagraph (A) shall be an amount equal to the excess (if any) of--
`(I) the amount of tax imposed by this paragraph (determined without regard to this subparagraph), over
`(II) the amount of tax paid with respect to the tax imposed under paragraph (1) or (2) on such shaft or component.

`(C) ARROW- For purposes of this paragraph, the term `arrow' means any shaft described in paragraph (2) to which additional components are attached.'.

(c) CONFORMING AMENDMENTS- Section 4161(b)(2) is amended--
(1) by inserting `(other than broadheads)' after `point', and
(2) by striking `ARROWS- ' in the heading and inserting `ARROW COMPONENTS- '.

(d) EFFECTIVE DATE- The amendments made by this section shall apply to articles sold by the manufacturer, producer, or importer after the date which is 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.
Well, that’s clear as mud, innit?

But (assuming I’ve got the right JOBS Act[3]) the problem appears to have been created when the authors modified Subsection 4161: The added paragraph (3) says “any arrow.”  No exemption for toys!

And there we have it:  The original law– the one that created the tax to fund the states’ hunting programs– was either so confusing, so complicated, or so expensive that someone complained, and when it came time to write the 2004 bill, someone in Congress stuck in a section to make sure the arrow manufacturers got taken care of.  Unfortunately, they screwed up, and the toymakers suffered collateral damage.

And four years later, the provision to correct that mistake gets buried in the 340 non-germane pages of the 2008 financial bailout bill.  Lovely!


------
[1] Thank God for browser “search” functions!

[2] It falls between Section 331 (“NET INCOME FROM PUBLICLY TRADED PARTNERSHIPS TREATED AS QUALIFYING INCOME OF REGULATED INVESTMENT COMPANIES.”) and Section 333 (“REDUCTION OF EXCISE TAX ON FISHING TACKLE BOXES.”).

[3] a dangerous assumption, given Congress’s proclivity for repeating bill names from session to session.

Posted by: Old Grouch in Rants at 00:48:26 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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Wednesday, 01 October 2008

Rants

Preparing the battlefield


The Washington Post actually criticizes a Democrat:

[House Speaker] Pelosi deserves no praise for her leadership on Monday.  Even stipulating that we are in the closing weeks of one of the most important political campaigns in a generation, her inability to rise above the tendency to score political points was inexcusable.  Monday’s vote was a moment to set aside those instincts and talk about the package as an example of Washington’s ability to work cooperatively in a time of crisis.

Instead, Pelosi accused Bush of economic policies that create “budgetary recklessness” and “an anything-goes mentality.”  And she closed with a partisan call to arms.  “In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president,” she said, “we will break free with a failed past and take America in a new direction to a better future.”
And Glenn Reynolds notes
Strikingly, these criticisms come from The Washington Post, not some right-leaning publication.
Well, before we celebrate the Post’s sudden attack of bi-partisanship, let’s engage in a little Kremlinology.  When the Official Democrat Media prints something counter to expectations, the reason must lie beyond the obvious. Let’s look past the surface to find the story-behind-the-story.

First off, on reading the entire piece, it’s immediately evident that it’s not as radically deviant as the anti-Pelosi quote, taken in isolation, would imply. After a single-sentence paragraph to set the scene, writer Dan Balz spends 10 paragraphs (582 words) wailing on – wait for it! – the Republicans.  From the ineffectiveness of President Bush, to the “ideology” of the House Republicans (“crucial in any decision” says an unnamed “veteran of a past Republican administration”), to the “disarray” of the Republican party in general (“leaderless and lacking in cohesion”), to John McCain (“raised more questions about his own style of leadership”), etcetera, etcetera: The list is long, and no stone is left unthrown.  It goes on and on, paragraph after paragraph, winding up with a couple of extracts from former-Bushie Peter Wehner’s NRO Corner post (“foolish and irresponsible” “lame and adolescent”).  Then, finally, Balz is ready to tackle the Democrats.

If anyone’s keeping statistics, they get four paragraphs.

Now, Pelosi’s speech was out of line.  In fact, it was so far out of line with what any reasonable person would have expected from the Speaker of the House that failure to acknowledge it would have left Balz tiptoeing past an elephant the size of China.  So he does, but in curiously muted terms.  Pelosi showed an “inability to rise above the tendency to score political points.”  The strongest language (fairly) characterizes the speech’s conclusion as “a partisan call to arms.”  Oh, and there’s a wrist-slap for Harry Reid, too: “[Reid has] sounded grudging in his comments about the Democrats’ willingness to participate in finding a solution to a problem that he argues is wholly the fault of Bush and the Republicans.”  “Grudging,” huh?  Like he was just having a bad day?  Certainly nothing ideological there!

Having come this far, the question remains: What’s this all about?  The answer lies in the piece’s final paragraph:
...Anger at Washington will feed a hunger for change, and it's likely to fall harder on the GOP as the party that holds the White House.  But for the next president and the next Congress, whatever its makeup, Monday’s performance should be looked at as an example of what it was, a performance designed to undermine the public’s confidence in its elected leadership.
As he dog-whistles the “change” slogan, Balz issues a warning: Any Republican (or Democrat, for that matter) who fails to go along with the next (i.e., Obama) adminstration’s program of Hopeful Changitude (or is it “Changeful Hopeitude”?) will be condemned by the press as “ideological,” or “undermining the public’s confidence,” or “not by any means representative of a governing majority in the country,” or (if they’re feeling generous) “partisan.”  The press will uphold its side, sincerity and principle will be granted only to the anointed, and all others be warned..

Of course, we already knew that.

Posted by: Old Grouch in Rants at 16:00:16 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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