Who Needs Stores? E-Commerce Taking Over China

With e-commerce taking over the marketplace, retailers are forgoing physical stores in China.

In America, Costco is known for their low prices and big-box stores. In China, they’ll still have the low prices. They’re just skipping the part about having a physical store.

In the last five years, e-commerce has grown from 3% to 15.4% of the total retail sales in China. For brands looking to enter the country for the first time, e-commerce provides a low-risk, high-reward scenario that is nearly impossible for retailers to pass up.

Take for example, British fashion retailer Topshop. The brand recently debuted in China, hosting a launch event where guests tried on outfits, or took pictures with London’s famous red phone booths. However, this physical, offline event was anything but. No cashiers were present to “ring up” customers’ orders. Want to buy what you just tried on? Scan it into your smartphone and simply walk away.

China’s combination of exploding rent prices and tough competition for good locations is somewhat unique. For example, Best Buy recently closed all of its brick-and-mortar stores in China. The company was simply unable to engage in competitive pricing while still maintaining physical locations.

While brick-and-mortar retail stores everywhere face stiff challenges from e-commerce, don’t expect major retailers elsewhere to follow the example in China just yet. In America, the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world can still affordably set up shop on a frontage road in the suburbs. (Obviously, under either model, the ‘mom and pop’ retailer is totally screwed.)

However, talk to me in 2025 and I bet I’ll have a different story to tell. E-commerce is the future everywhere. That future is simply arriving faster in some countries than in others.

Howard Davidson Arlington Massachusetts

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Gatorade Employees Sweat Out It Out

On a quest for wellness, Gatorade is making employees sweat it out. Literally.

The Chicago-based sport drink brand is promoting workplace fitness by incentivizing employees to set personal fitness goals. Apparently company executives realized their sugary drinks needed extra exercise to burn off.

The PepsiCo-owned brand is providing a 6-month program for its 150 employees by providing subsidized program costs and access to trainers called G-Feat. The G-Feat plan includes a daily 60-second workout…at the office…with your officemates, making that mid-afternoon cup of coffee expendable.

So every afternoon all of the Gatorade coworkers have the opportunity to get up out of their chair for a minute of squats, planks, or jumping jacks. As if that wasn’t an opportunity for enough embarrassment, the G-Feat program encourages participants to make their goals public by posting them at the office so colleagues can keep each other motivated.

The G-Feat plan allows employees to be put in the consumer shoes. Gatorade executives are hoping training employees might notice a need to drink Gatorade at specific times or have a certain flavor. Either way, I doubt they want them even thinking about drinking a bottle of water. I bet if someone utters the words “Poland Springs”, they are ordered to do a pushups.

I’ll be staying far away from Gatorade HQ. I don’t shvitz with colleagues.

Howard Davidson Arlington MA

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Starbucks Delivers Right to Your Desk

Watch out drones, Starbucks will soon begin delivering right to your desk.

Starbucks delivery. Pumpkin spiced lattes right to your mouth, no movement necessary.

In 2015, the coffee giant will launch its new mobile-payment app allowing customers to order without waiting in line. Latter next year, they are plan on making food-and-beverage deliveries in select markets. Delivery will only be available to loyalty-program members though, but who isn’t going to become one after this news?

Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz believes delivery and mobile payment will be “E-commerce on steroids”. Forrester Research estimates that the mobile payments market in the U.S. will reach $90 billion by 2017 with restaurants like Taco Bell and Wendy’s already launching their own mobile apps. As if people weren’t staring at their phones enough.

By adding mobile payment and delivery, Starbucks is totally quenching consumer thirst for new technology. But this might come with some risks. Many of Starbucks’ drinks are temperature-sensitive. With time for delivery, an iced drink could arrive watered down, and a hot one could arrive lukewarm. And what about the coffee shop culture: the free WiFi, the hipster barista, the quirky name spelling on the cup. Oh, and, my favorite, listening to people place orders.

If only there was a way for Starbucks to deliver intravenously…. Someone tell them to get this idea brewing.

Howard Davidson Arlington MA

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Planet Fitness Lifts Spirits

Planet Fitness is lifting spirits of gym members and supporting achievements by flexing a community-based campaign.

Planet of Triumphs is an online community platform that allows members to tell their personal success stories. The stories range from small feats like making it to the gym for the first time in 10 years to losing over 100 pounds. Umm, today, I successfully went up and down three flights of stairs…but I don’t think that counts.

Visitors to the site, PlanetOfTriumphs.com, will be greeted with a feed of triumphant tales from all across the Planet Fitness community. Then a whole lot of viral following and commenting of others’ posts pumps up the platform like crazy. And of course, the community site is linked to www.PlanetFitness.com for serious SEO juice.

To make sure this thing has some muscle and stamina, all registered members will be eligible to win weekly prizes and the chance to be named “Triumph of the Week.”

Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners created this clever campaign for the gym chain. They are hoping to win mindshare by preying on a “every achievement deserves to be celebrated” mantra.

But will this get across to the sleeveless t-shirt wearing meatheads who only hold conversations about protein shakes and “getting big”? Probably not.

And don’t get me started about the “I lift things up and put things down guy”.

Howard Davidson Arlington MA

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Morris the Cat Purrs With Wearable Technology

Morris the Cat is now purring with wearable technology for 9Lives.

The feline mascot has made a comeback in ads for 9Lives. But this time he world’s most finicky cat is not snubbing cat food. He’s donning wearable technology.

Agency EVB features Morris in “Cat’s Eye View”. Morris tries on smart-cam glasses and invites you to join him on a journey around the house.

The website has you shadow Morris doing all the typical exciting things a cat does throughout the day like watching goldfish and unraveling toilet paper. The catch is that throughout the game, you can receive prizes like coupons for 9Lives or a downloadable poster of Morris wearing his wearable technology.

In a creative attempt to make 9Lives cat food and Morris the Cat relevant again, following grumpy Morris around the house with wearable technology is just as bland as it sounds.

While targeted at pet lovers of all ages (me excluded), EVB designed Cat’s Eye View to be natively mobile to introduce younger people to the cat serving company by following Morris on their smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. Morris, who has been 9Lives’ mascot for nearly 50 years, is no stranger to social media and technology: The star of 50 ads (and two feature films) has a Facebook page with 250,000 Likes, and he has used it to publicize his 2012 presidential bid (his second) and ongoing pet-adoption program, Morris’ Million Cat Rescue, which was designed by Smith Brothers Agency. Earlier this year, EVB created the first feline online-funding platform, Catstarter, for Big Heart Pet’s Meow Mix brand.

Cats creep me out. I’m into the fact that Morris is a high-brow. But he has fur and four legs. Sorry, I can’t deal with anything that has legs and fur.

Howard Davidson Arlington MA

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Rob Lowe Shows His Less-Flattering Sides for DirecTV

Rob Lowe continues to portray his unflattering alter egos in DirecTV ads.

Creepy Rob Lowe really is the best Rob Lowe. In DirecTV’s new campaign, the actor plays several different versions of himself. The one constant in the ads is normal, cool Rob Lowe. This version, of course, is a DirecTV subscriber. Opposite this character are three other less-inspiring alter egos, who all have cable.

First there’s Super Creepy Rob Lowe, whose cable is out, so he decides to go out on the town, watching people swim at the public pool, or smelling their hair at movie theaters. Then you’ve got Less Attractive Rob Lowe, complete with thinning hair and bad teeth. Now there’s Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe, who wears a fanny pack and spends all day waiting for the cable installer.

Super Creepy Rob Lowe is easily my favorite, as it hearkens back to his intense, sleazy persona from the Showtime series “Californication.” This is a role that Lowe plays with ease, and there are few actors better at getting under a viewer’s skin.

The message of the ads is as old as time: Buy this product/service and it will make you cooler/more attractive. This formula still works as long as it’s done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, as it is here. These spots do a good job of illustrating – in an exaggerated manner – the company’s advantages over cable.

Apparently there are at least two more spots from Grey New York on the way, and it will be interesting to see where Lowe’s alter egos take us next. No matter what, DirecTV-subscribing Cool Rob Lowe will be there to tell viewers, “Don’t be like this me.”

Creepy or not, Rob Lowe is on my nerves.

Howard Davidson Arlington Massachusetts

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Real Companies Hire Fictional Agency in “Buy This!”

In Finnish sitcom “Buy This!,” real companies work with the show’s fictional ad agency.

An unusual collaboration is brewing between TBWA Helsinki and FremantleMedia, the company that produces “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent.” The two companies have combined forces to create a sitcom called “Buy This!,” with TBWA Helsinki creating ad campaigns and Fremantle writing/producing the 30-minute episodes.

What gives this sitcom a swanky twist is that “Buy This!” features real brands – including Nissan – hiring the show’s fictional agency to create ads. (Product placement on TV has come so far since the good old days of a box of Cheerios sitting conspicuously on the edge of the counter!) So far, “Buy This!” appears to be a hit, as it is performing well in the all-important Sunday primetime slot on Finland’s biggest network.

It’s hard to see how this collaboration could be anything less than a win for all players. The brands get extensive exposure to the audience of a popular sitcom. TBWA Helsinki gets to flex their creative muscles for brands with which they (largely) are not currently associated. Fremantle, for their part, does what they usually do – reap the rewards of a successful television program.

The project is especially cool for each show’s featured brands. The reason I say this comes from a quote from the vice president of TBWA Helsinki’s innovation unit, Juha-Matti Raunio. Raunio says:

“The format allows you to let loose, and gives you the courage to experiment more, and create a new kind of campaign. We’ve tested new ideas like looking at what would happen if you sell a brand to women instead of men.”

The benefit to the brand here is enormous. The ability to test-market new audiences with little to no risk is a no-brainer, and explains why the first season features 10 of the top 15 advertisers in Finland. As long as the show continues to garner ratings, “Buy This!” will provide heightened visibility for TBWA Helsinki and Fremantle, not to mention the brands featured on each episode.

Good job guys!

Howard Davidson Arlington Massachusetts

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Eleven Has Flown the Coop with Virgin Airlines

Eleven in San Francisco has flown the coop with Virgin Airlines.

Together, they have taken flight with a super strange, Warholian Web film depicting the experience on a typical rival carrier during a log flight from Newark to San Francisco.

Have you been flying BLAH Airlines? That’s the conceit of one of the more absurd advertisements in recent memory—Virgin America’s six-hour-long, mind-numbingly boring look at what airline travel shouldn’t be.

The Web-flm is downright creepy and extremely boring. In fact if you can’t stand average airline travel, you probably won’t be able to sit through the first five minutes of this nonsense. ,

The commercial is somewhere between pop art and insomnia aid: it’s Enter the Void on an airplane, a soporific but well-crafted condemnation of banal conversation and quotidian annoyances.

I’m having none of this film. First of all, the mannequins just creep me out. Secondly Eleven is just trying way too hard to get a cult classic. Come on, Rocky Horror has entertainment value. No one is going to watch 5 hours of this “airline horror film”.

I will say that if they had condensed this into a few minutes it could have been funny and somewhat worth watching. But they didn’t ask me for help.

Howard Davidson Arlington MA

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Finnish PSA: What If Kids Could Pick Their Parents?

A Finnish public service announcement flips the script on adoption, posing the question of what would happen if children could choose their parents.

Finland-based children’s charity Fragile Childhood has again teamed up with Helsinki ad agency Havas Worldwide to produce a chilling study on parental alcoholism. The two groups collaborated a couple years ago for a PSA depicting drunk parents as horror-movie monsters. This new spot is less in-your-face, but is every bit as effective.

The ad follows two children as they tour an ‘orphanage’ of parents. They are first shown three sets of ideal parents, before a fourth couple appears, this one drunken and shouting. Of course, children can’t choose their parents, and the kids are forced to accompany their abusive, alcoholic parents back home.

Adding to the spot’s unsettling nature is the quasi-futuristic art design that depicts the ‘parental orphanage’ as a sort of cavernous observation laboratory. It’s quite clearly meant to make the viewer feel a sense of foreignness and discomfort, and it works.

I’m a big fan of these ads for that very reason – they make the viewer uneasy about topics that should make everyone feel that way. Contrast these with American PSAs, which are usually brightly lit affairs stuffed to the gills with celebrities. Which ones do you pay more attention to?

We’ll probably never see PSAs like this in the US, because American PSAs are usually just excuses for famous people to feel good about themselves. The message itself is nearly always secondary. It’s nice to see that isn’t the case everywhere else.

Howard Davidson Arlington Massachusetts

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Pepsi Uses Sugar and Stevia to Produce Yet Another Diet Soda

Pepsi has yet another diet soda on the market, which uses a combination of both sugar and stevia.

Coke. Diet Pepsi. Diet Coke. Pepsi One. Coke Zero. Clearly, this hasn’t gone far enough. Pepsi’s new offering, “Pepsi True,” has 30% less sugar than traditional Pepsi, and is marketed as a “mid-calorie” beverage. I suppose the target market here isn’t fat people or fit people, just those with a couple extra pounds to shed, or someone who skipped yesterday’s workout. I guess.

Making things even weirder, Pepsi True is only available on Amazon. Pepsi is following Coke’s lead in many ways here. First, Coke recently launched a “mid-calorie” soda of their own, Coca-Cola Life. Secondly, Coke brought back Surge – an abomination of a soft drink that tastes like Mountain Dew with a rotten egg mixed in – as an Amazon-exclusive a few weeks ago.

Just sit there for a second and let it sink into your head that each Pepsi and Coke now sell three diet sodas each. The part about being Amazon-exclusive isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Amazon continues to increase its impact on Americans’ shopping habits, especially since the company expanded to include grocery items.

However, the packaging details for Pepsi True are befuddling, to say the least. The beverage will be available exclusively in 24-packs of 7.5-ounce cans, because traditional 12-ounce cans are boring and unhip, I guess. Also, for those of you who live in apartments without the storage space for entire cases of soda, too bad, you don’t get to have any.

Pepsi claims to be targeting Pepsi True at “adults in their late 20s.” Most of the people I know that are under 30 haven’t even bothered switching to light beer or reduced-sodium soup yet. Maybe Pepsi knows better than I do, and maybe your average 27-year-old does feel like his life would be better with a mid-calorie soda in it…but I have my doubts.

I’m done with all this True business.

Howard Davidson Arlington MA

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