Japanese KFC Offers Deep-Fried Soup

First it was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Quantitative Easing on Steroids. Now, Japan seems to be aping another cornerstone of modern American excess: deep-fried everything. That’s right: KFC Japan has just announced that it will start serving deep-fried corn potage fritters (for the layman, fried corn soup balls). Starting September 5th, Japanese KFC will be offering deep-fried soup!

While this news may come as a surprise to many Americans, it turns out that not only is deep-fried potage scientifically possible, but it’s quite the rage in Japan these days. Corn Potage fever has taken over the famously slim island nation, with upscale restaurants and 7-11s alike selling corn potage-infused potato chips, appetizers, and puffs. It seems that deep-frying the thick, goopy soup was the last frontier, and the legendary greasemongers at KFC were more than happy to push that envelope right into the bubbling fryer.

It’s not everyday that we see another country outdo us in terms of fat-infused delicacies, and it may just bring forth a spate of insecurities in our (admittedly clogged) American hearts. For starters, is Japan finally having their McRib moment? Is this an omen that American county fairs are losing their edge? And the most troubling thought of all: now that we’ve conquered soup, twinkies, beer, and ice cream, what’s left for us to deep-fry?


Famed Kia Hamsters Live For The Applause

Ever since Kia’s fashion-forward hamsters made their debut in 2009, they’ve managed to capture that elusive “so-unnecessarily-bizarre-that-you-can’t-look-away” appeal that is usually reserved for breakout reality TV stars of the Honey Boo Boo variety. Thus, it’s no surprise that Kia recently decided to double down on their favorite spokesrodents for a new primetime ad campaign. The famed Kia hamsters live for applause.

The new spot by David & Goliath features the infamous rodents embarking on an intense exercise regimen, resulting in the red carpet debut of three buffed and toned new hamsters, all set to Lady Gaga’s new single “Applause.” I suppose that this is meant to serve as a metaphor for the slimmed
down, redesigned Kia Soul, but there’s little use groping for logic in a narrative about upwardly mobile, man-sized hamsters.
This commercial premiered early during the broadcast of MTV’s Video Music Awards (which coincidentally opened with Gaga’s live debut of “Applause”), suggesting that Kia is banking on the meme-esque appeal of the hamsters to younger demographics. Given that the video has already gone quasi-viral across the web, it’s safe to say that abstraction and absurdity, once the province of modern art snobs and Lady Gaga’s costume designers, have reached a level of mass appeal. If you think I’m crazy, I’ve got an Old Spice-wearing centaur who’d like a word with you.


Sprayable Energy Runs The Caffeine Race

Is it just me, or has the last decade seen an increasingly bitter arms race for caffeine products? Much like iPods, each new generation of caffeinated drinks and supplements have been cramming more powerful punches into ever smaller packages. But with the 5-Hour Energy Shot and its ilk slimming an energy jolt into just a couple ounces, what new territory is left to conquer? Well, Sprayable Energy has entered the caffeine race.

Entrepreneur Ben Yu has come forth with a bold answer: Sprayable Energy. At the tender age of 21, Yu has managed to synthesize and bottle a sprayable form of caffeine. Four sprays applied to the skin purportedly give you a buzz similar to a cup of coffee. According to the company, absorption through the skin gives the user a more potent and sustained rush, while also smoothing out the widely feared post-coffee crash.

The central appeal of Sprayable Energy – besides its novel ingestion method – seems to be its promise of a smoother, cleaner, more sustained buzz. This has been the vaunted turf that energy supplements have been fighting over the past few years, and it’s clear that the public does indeed want to avoid that much-maligned “2:30 feeling.” Of course, there often seems to be a subtext in the marketing of these high-octane energy supplements. “No crash” and “a smoother buzz” are great, but consumers (read: teenagers) are also looking for the product that will allow them to get as wired as humanly possible without having a nervous breakdown and/or heart palpitations. And hey, what’s an easier way to do that than doffing yourself with a few quick sprays on the drive to work?

Sprayable Energy is the first product born out of libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel’s $100,000 College Dropout Challenge, which Yu won a few years back. It’s still early in the game – and it’s certainly no cure for cancer – but the young entrepreneur just might be onto something. After all, the popular demand for smaller, faster, and stronger energy boosts shows no signs of abating anytime soon.


Swiffer Ads Clean House With Endearing Elderly Couple

Capturing an air of authenticity has always been a silver bullet in advertising, and Swiffer seems to have hit the nail on the head with “The Everyday Effect,” their most recent ad campaign. The campaign’s web and TV spots feature Lee and Morty Kaufman, an adorable 90-year old couple living on Long Island, and how a box of free Swiffer products simplified Lee’s decades-long regiment of sweeping, dusting, and mopping. Oy, do the Swiffer ads clean house with such an endearing couple.

The video is shot in a crisp documentary style and focuses primarily on the sweet, lovingly sarcastic, “that-reminds-me-so-much-of-my-parents” relationship between Lee and Morty. Since the ads debuted, the two lovebirds (who “never even listened to ads” before this, according to Morty) have become local celebrities – not to mention a viral sensation on YouTube. Their three-minute video has already amassed over 1 million views, which has come as quite the surprise to the not-so-tech-savvy Kaufmans: “I’m just wondering about the mechanics of how they managed to get so many hits,” Morty said in a recent interview.

Apparently, the mechanics (from a marketing standpoint) are as simple as operating a Swiffer Wet Jet: just put your product into the hands of the most endearing Golden Age couple you can find, film them marveling at the ease and convenience of it, and win hearts across the web.


Cops Giving Munchies to Potheads in Seattle

Another Reason Seattle Rocks

Seattle police are getting innovative with their messaging to spread the word about the phased-in rollout of legalized marijuana in Washington, according the Seattle website the Stranger. At an upcoming Hempfest, the cops will be handing out bags of chips to stoners with info on the bags about how the law works. I mean, next thing you know, they’ll be jamming with the bands onstage….nah, never happen. Cops really are giving munchies to potheads in Seattle.

In a quote that sounds straight from the Onion, a police spokesman put it this way:

“Distributing salty snacks at a festival celebrating hemp, I think, is deliberately ironic enough that people will accept them in good humor,” says police department spokesman Sergeant Sean Whitcomb. “We want to make sure people learn the rules and that they respect the vote.”

Right now, the law says that potheads in Washington can possess an ounce of it at a time, but can’t hold more until the state’s licensing program kicks in provisions for sanctioned distributors. The cops have set up an FAQ after the Hempfest so smokers will know their rights. I’m sure concertgoers’ attention will be really sharp by that point.

The Seattle Police are being a lot more responsive about the rollout of Washington’s marijuana legalization law than some other branches of government. Technically, they could ticket people for smoking in public, according to state law, but they are just warning folks and asking them to put out their joints. That’s better than the Seattle city council, which is busy crafting a new law to create a municipal ticket for smoking up in public, which makes the council look like grumpy old men in comparison to these hip cops.

As a bonus timewaster for getting to the end of this article, enjoy this very square 1978 trailer for the granddaddy of stoner comedies, Cheech and Chong: Up in Smoke. Perhaps a van made out of marijuana exceeds the legal limits of Washington’s pot laws?


Branding Is Bubbling At Jones Soda

Nobody – not even Jones Soda – really knows why their soda initially caught on so well in the Michigan market. But branding is bubbling for this Seattle based company. Regardless, the company has decided to go back to its “roots” as a strategic part of its plan to be profitable again. Luckily, the plan involves branding and marketing galore.

Jones has launched a “Made in Michigan” series of sodas with labels featuring consumer submitted photos of Michigan and its capital. The series is even bottled in Detroit. Jones is also not so subtly pushing southward to the California market by partnering with Fiat in a “win a Fiat 500e” campaign (the car will only release in California) and by releasing a California exclusive “Natural Jones” line of sodas. Relax, Bostonians. With only 5 grams of sugar, 30 calories and 5 grams of fiber, “Natural Jones” is too healthy for us and the name sounds like an Oprah Network reality show anyway.

Slashing a net loss of $495,000 in Q2 2012 to only $95,000 in Q2 2013 is not too shabby, though the company did lose its NASDAQ listing about a year ago due to low shares.

Jones – since you’re increasing your marketing efforts anyway, I suggest you invest in a Jones Soda themed remix of the aforementioned “Mr. Jones” song (the ad-song is on the up). Reader – don’t even pretend it’s not still in your head. Case and point.

PS. Now grab a soda and put the Counting Crows song in your head.


Oreo Makes Music Wonderfill

Music has always been crucial to advertising, which is why what Oreo is doing now seems so obvious. Their “Wonderfilled” campaign employs the skills of popular musicians Chiddy Bang, Owl City, and Kacey Musgraves by having each record a different version of Oreo’s Wonderfilled jingle, which is then set to a short, word-based, cartoon animation. AdWeek has called the phenomenon the “branded pop song”. Oreo is really trying to make music wonderfill.

There are likable and dislikable parts about this campaign. One very likable aspect is that fans of these musicians are liable to check-out the new “music” from their artist just because they are fans. That’s an easy +1 for Oreo. Another likable part of Wonderfilled is that the company can expand the campaign as it sees fit, or as it gains popularity. If it catches on, it is an almost infinitely expandable campaign for the near future. Oreo can sign new artists, do more street-marketing campaigns to place on Youtube (like the one they did in New York City), and even go so far to sponsor music festivals or something like that. Oreo even has a “Wonderfilled Studios” on their website, in which popular Youtube artists cover the ad-song as well.

The dislikable part so far is the original version done by Owl City’s Adam Young – it is insufferable. Like his signature singles, the lyrics and melody are cutesy and bubbly like a lullaby, which may work for Oreo’s image but really takes a toll on the ears. Chiddy’s version, on the other hand, is fresh and witty – “if you want to go and lick it, I believe you should” he declares. If Oreo keeps putting out versions with bite like Chiddy’s, I think I’ll take that lick.


Applebee’s Blows Up with Lunch Decoy

In a cheeky “up-yours” to employers who have downsized the lunch hour, Applebee’s is pushing forward with its Lunch Decoy ad campaign. In a scarily-eighties-feeling infomercial, the restaurant chain encourages corporate drones and blue collar folks to deploy “industrial-strength” blow-up dolls to stand in for them while they take their lunch breaks. This new line of dolls, which are indeed for sale on Amazon, are said to be able to withstand everything from annoying co-workers to ninja attacks.

It’s part of Applebee’s rebranding efforts in the last couple of years, as current president Mike Archer tries to freshen up the chain’s image. Archer is trying to encourage people to think of Applebee’s as more than a Friday night celebration place for the unabashedly uncool. He wants it to be a place for people to pop off to lunch several times a week. But he still doesn’t seem to mind the uncool label, as the ad is cute, but not edgy, in tone, mimicking an eighties commercial with only a hint of snark.

Perhaps the most subversive part of this ad is that it is hard to think of lifelike blow-up dolls without thinking of other models used for…more carnal uses. Indeed, it seems this ad is part of a simmering movement to put clothes back on sex dolls. The Daily Beast, the hipper form of Newsweek, recently featured a series of photos from an artist who clothes sex dolls and puts them in eerily lifelike home settings. Perhaps clothes will become the new form of kinkiness, since we’ve done everything else we could without them as a society?

As a parting shot, here is a 7th-grade-dirty ditty about dolls from Sting and his backup band from the eighties. Enjoy and try not to snicker the next time you go to Applebee’s.


First Outsourcing To China…Now China’s Buying Us!

Chinese branding is like the young buck of multinational companies. It’s got its legs up kicking, but it’s not quite ready to go out on its own and fare in the wild. We all know about the struggles of Chinese domestic brands abroad. It’s been covered again and again and again as of late. To many it may seem like an easy problem to fix by putting any sort of effort at all into the branding and marketing process. What a lot of people don’t understand is that “culturally” (in an economic sense), Chinese companies don’t really see the point in branding. So, first outsourcing To China, now China’s buying us.

The Chinese economy has a funky structure. You have these giant State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) getting favorable bank loans and raking in a purported 43 percent of Chinese economy profits (according to official figures for 2011). This brings to rise a common saying among China watchers: “for most SOEs, ‘branding’ means getting a new logo, ‘marketing’ means buying ads on China Central Television, and ‘P.R.’ stands for ‘pay the reporter’.” There’s just no incentive to do much more than that if you’re one of the big SOE conglomerates.

Notions of branding are a little different in China. Along with inexperience with the Western form of branding, a lot of Chinese companies feel that when it comes to their company name more is better. Just take the translation of one of China’s biggest mobile, phone and internet providers: “China Mobile Communications Group Corporation”. It’s a tad more of a mouthful than AT&T, don’t you think? For Chinese people, a company name like that sounds more official and respected. In a Western branding and marketing sense, it is way too long and runs the risk of being easily forgettable.

So what’s hot for Chinese investors? Buying American brands. The Boston Globe has aptly laid-out some numbers for just how much Chinese investment in American companies has increased since the dawn of the 00s:

Big-name brands like Volvo, ThinkPad, AMC Theaters and A123 (battery company) have been sold to Chinese owners. Now, the largest pork producer in the world, Smithfield Foods, is “at risk” of being acquired by a Chinese company. In light of this we can identify two major shifts in Chinese foreign investment trends. Not only are Chinese investors 1) focusing more on the American marketplace, they are also 2) targeting more “brand-dependent” companies than ever before. With reference to the second trend, Chinese foreign investment has been heavily resource based in the past, e.g., investing in oil in Africa. This kind of investment does work by itself and holds no major concern about imaging and marketing. However, in investing in American companies, there are major concerns over image. Smithfield is a perfect example of how a potential Chinese owner could ruin the image and brand of a company.

It’s clear that Chinese companies tend to follow as opposed to lead. Rich Chinese investors have a lot of money and are finding their home country void of any worthy and lucrative investments. In comes the U.S. At this point it’s hard to gauge exactly how Chinese owners fare at the helm of American brands, because there’s just not enough history there. One thing that’s for sure is that investment will continue, not just in companies but in real estate as well. China and the U.S. also seem to be edging more and more towards more favorable investment policies for both sides. Should we be worried? Maybe. But keep in mind that a very similar trend arose with another certain Asian superpower with a booming economy not too long ago…


A Teacher Who Makes $4 Million

Kim Ki-hoon is a teacher who has created a multi-million dollar hagwon empire for himself in South Korea. He makes $4 million a year — as teacher.

The Wall Street Journal has an article published about the Korean educational system and the hagwons that parallel it. Writer Amanda Ripley adapted the piece from her upcoming book “The Smartest Kids in the World—and How They Got That Way,” in which she follows the stories of three American high schoolers’ experiences spending a year studying in Finland, Poland and South Korean schools.

The most successfully paid athletes in America (and the world) are paid more for their brand then they are for the sport they play. It’s the Tiger Woods brand. The Roger Federer brand. The Kobe Bryant brand. Well, meet Ripley’s $4 million “teacher” – Kim Ki-Hoon – is also a brand. He gets the big bucks because his company is listed on the South Korean stock market.

The essential problem with the competitive afterschool, private shadow education system is that no matter how it originated, its main goal inevitably becomes profitability, not education. It’s comparable to the U.S. health system, where payment comes first and care comes next. Don’t get me started.

The problem in both is that the “care” may not be that good, even after paying that much. In a system based on profits and in which “teachers are free agents”, there is no assurance of quality of education. When a parent signs their kid up to learn English – a language they may likely not know – what assurance do they have that it is good? Training schools must build a strong brand, one that demands higher prices than others.

Kim Ki-hoon is a machine. He herds umm “teaches” hundreds of thousands of kids via online video – is not quite the same as what public school teachers do. Much of the training school industry (especially English training schools) in Eastern countries like South Korea are rotten businesses that put profitability above-all and treat students like cows – herding them through book exercises and tests.

“Can the U.S. learn from this academic superpower?” Of course it can, although I like the idea of education for education’s sake as compared to asking how much (both mentally and monetarily) we can squeeze out of a kid. There are other things to consider: the psychological tolls on children, the effects of income-based education on society, and the increasing focus on technology sourced learning. Branding is not a new concept in education. U.S. universities do it all the time. It’s a question of how much we want our quality of education be decided by how it’s marketed to us.