And now a word from “real” consumers….

Activia is reaching out with a campaign that touts home-done footage of women documenting their 14 days of digestive improvement, in response to Jamie Lee Curtis’s 14 day challenge. Two things struck me about it. First, that with so many reality shows revealing TMI to the max, is showing ‘real consumers’ in commercials that noteworthy anymore? We are too real for our own good right now, so announcing they are “real” makes them seem less real than Bethenny or any Bachelorette we’ve grown to love/hate.

Second, do we really want to hear about the day by day bowel changes of these satisfied real customers? Ick. I would rather trust Jamie Lee that the stuff does the trick than watch a blow by blow on the topic. And funny enough, even getting the Whole Truth from consumers with cameras isn’t as easy as it sounds. When we do Self-nographies with women, we often double back to ask them a second round of tougher follow up questions. The camera can lie, or at least tell some ego-protecting Half Truths, when it’s in her hands. (Of course, in this case, I’m kind of glad that those Activia “real” women are keeping some things behind closed bathroom doors!)

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The Power of Nudge

I was glad to see the recent findings that declared that exercise and weight loss are just a nudge away. Supposedly, test groups of women who were reminded to exercise by human or computerized phone calls, worked out more often and lost more weight than the control group. Women are used to being nagged or to nagging themselves but these ‘nudges’ were done in a good way. Could positive reinforcement be the answer to the never-ending cry of “I don’t have time to exercise”?

I am a testimony to the success of this carrot vs stick approach. Although I worked out for years with trainers who could teach me good form, I never really cracked the code of exercising out of their sight. But (drumroll), one year ago, I started to work out with a wonderful woman named Colleen Tomko of Frenchtown, NJ and she has made all the difference due to one thing: a constant stream of motivational nudges, courtesy of text messaging. Every day she’ll write me simple texts like, “How was the gym?” (note her expectation that I went) or “H2O? Pushups? How are the food choices?” which make me grab the water, hit the floor and drop the muffin I may have accidentally grabbed.

For the first time in my life of up and down pounds, I’ve lost and kept off 20 pounds and exercised pretty much 5-6 days a week for a year and shockingly kept a positive mental attitude toward the whole process (or “PMA” as Colleen cheerily calls it.) It’s true that when I’ve shared my Colleen messages with others, the constant attagirl’s aren’t for everyone. But marketers who are wondering how to get customers re-engaged, might try the nudge approach—that doesn’t sell or scold—but simply reminds.

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Can McNeil Win Business Back From Generics?

As a marketer and someone who is fiercely loyal to many Johnson & Johnson products this last recall really worries me. I’m not worried that my children will get sick from their medicine but I am worried that the brand will never regain the trust of parents who are weary of scouring their medicine cabinets every time there is a news release. For parents, these recalls are stressful on an emotional level (could my child get sick?) and irritating on a more rational level (checking all of your products, getting a refund, replacing the product…). In this instance the FDA even told consumers to buy and give their children generic versions of Motrin, Tylenol and Zyrtec. For the FDA to boldly make that recommendation name brand loyalists may be convinced to make the switch. Once parents save a few bucks a bottle and see that the products work just as well what would motivate them to return to the name brand?

Over the last 2 years I’ve interviewed many women who have been experimenting with store brand foods because they need to cut corners on their household budgets. “Who needs brand name flour?” “I put the cheese into Tupperware and then they don’t know it is ShopRite brand.” They are getting more and more comfortable with their decisions and stores are getting better and better at providing private label products that don’t feel like a consolation prize (hello Archer Farms or Up and Up). In this environment McNeil has to really think about what else the name brand produuct offers to consumers. A golden halo of “we know babies” is not enough anymore.

What would be a compelling reason to return to name brands?

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Kotex: Whole Truth or Too Much?

For more than 10 years we’ve been doing research about “below the belt” type products and categories. Yup. Lots of stuff about “intimate” things. If you aren’t comfortable talking about stuff “down there” then you wouldn’t be good on our team.

We’ve talked about waxing, itching, leaking… and whenever we do women talk about how bad fem hy advertising is. They are embarassed by the euphemisms and imagery of women wearing white pants and bikinis. BUT when we have shown them more candid creative executions that take some liberties and even poke a little fun at the category, they back off their criticism and admit that they really don’t want anyone to talk about this stuff too graphically. Adult women just aren’t super comfortable talking about these things even if they pretend that they are. Trust me, I’ve heard more than one woman (old and young) refer to their menstrual cycle as “aunt Flo” or “her friend”.

So when I read about Kotex’s new campaign in an Andrew Adam Newman’s article in The New York Times I was intrigued. Here is what I love:

I love that the work is taking a Go Big or Go Home attitude and I think that if a brand like Kotex doesn’t take these kinds of risks that it will disappear into the sunset after being trampled by competitors. I’m impressed that JWT was able to get this strategy approved. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during these brainstorming sessions.

I love the inside baseball type references to market research!

I love that packaging in this category is getting more modern. This U by Kotex packaging is definitely a departure (black versus baby pink).

Here is what I worry about as a business strategist:

Will women, especially the young ones ages 14-21 that are being targeted, be brave enough to laugh at these jokes? Is any 14 year old girl confident enough for that? Plus if you are 14 years old you haven’t really been exposed to the historically bad category advertising to get the joke. Sort of like why I don’t think that 14 year olds and 40 year olds appreciatte Facebook for the same reason – if you are 14 you aren’t old enough to have lost touch with people! Who are they reconnecting with?

I also worry for Kotex that the work will be like Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. Consumers will be relieved that someone has spoken the truth but that they won’t be motivated enough to change their behavior or their brand preference. Will a good, clever message equal increased sales? Remains to be seen I guess.

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Starting Weight Watchers? Head to McDonald’s…

McDonald’s branches in New Zealand (and soon America and Britain, as well) have partnered with weight loss chain Weight Watchers to offer three meals on their menu that equal 6 1/2 Weight Watchers’ points.

The Filet-O-Fish, Chicken McNuggets and a Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap are the same fan faves as before, but a combination of switching to a healthier canola oil and reducing the amount of sauce used cuts the calories (not to mention saturated fat) to diet-friendly proportions.

Definitely smart marketing on behalf of both companies—like ‘em or not, Mickey D’s is one of the largest meal providers around with something like 27 million people eating there everyday.  It’s nice to see them offering up healthier options for those that are trying to stick to their diet, but don’t want to give up their favorite indulgences.

But I have to wonder… isn’t the whole point of starting a weight loss program to try and learn new, healthy, sustainable eating habits…not just eat less of the same bad stuff?  Will this encourage more people to choose McNuggets because it’s easy and, technically, allowed when they might otherwise have selected a more nutritious item?   Is it (kinda) cheating?

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Going Green is Getting Easier

Women have been telling us for awhile now that they would like to be more socially and environmentally responsible. They have the best of intentions but as we’ve mentioned before, most women are going “Greenish”.  Most do what’s convenient and not too expensive and what works best in their lives. (See our recent post on how Clorox has won with women trying to be more green)

While it’s great when consumers can take the first step in being more conscious of their actions (reusable bags, energy-efficient light bulbs, etc.), it’s even better when companies make it easy to be green and get us actually thinking about our actions. Here are three companies I’d like to give shout-outs to:

Brita and their “Responsible Water” Campaign. They remind you that a plastic water bottle will live forever in a landfill.   They’ve made me think about picking up a bottle of water on my way to a walk in the park vs filling my reusable BPA free container from my Brita pitcher.

Method’s new laundry detergent with smartclean technology is the world’s first Cradle to Cradle certified laundry detergent.  Its environmentally-intelligent design has me rethinking the heavy jug I get at Costco each month.

And lastly, SunChip’s creation of the first 100% compostable chip package which debuts Earth Day 2010 (Great commercial by Juniper Park!), will have consumer packaged goods companies scrambling to figure out how they too can make their packaging plantable.  

Companies are going to continue to take even more responsibility for making this a better planet which in turn will make it easier and more affordable for consumers to play their part.

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Ice Cube Diet – Feels like a Half Truth Brand – Hoodia thunk it?!

Hoodia is an ancient supplement proven to ward off appetite during long journeys. That’s at least what the packaging for The Ice Cube Diet  touts.

While shopping the frozen food section the other night at my local market, I couldn’t help but notice this very attractive packaging among the Lean Cuisines and the organic peas. But paying for diet ice cubes?  Isn’t that what water is all about?

First, I give them credit for getting out of the diet aisle and into the freezer. But what caught my attention the most is that they suggest that eating an ice cube with this South African ingredient is a natural way for quick and easy weight loss. Ahhh, the two most damaging words in the category.

While we know that women looking to lose weight don’t want to give up what they love to get results (see our post on Taco Bell’s Drive Thru Diet), this product seems to be stuck in the Half Truth land of believing women want miracles and will pay upwards of $65 at the hope of one. Women know better. Of course they’ll say they wish there was a magic pill but the Whole Truth is that the skeptic inside wants proof, results, data (and maybe a celebrity endorsement) before believing an ice cube from South Africa is going to make all the difference.

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Quitting Smoking Does SUCK. Thanks Nicorette.

As a former smoker and someone who has done work on both sides of the tobacco fence, I take my hat off to Nicorette for being a Whole Truth Brand. I have heard smokers say for 10+years how much they dread a quitting attempt – even if they know it is good for them in the long run – they are miserable leading up to quitting and truly frustrated once they get started.

The Half Truth smokers usually tell themselves: "It is too hard."

The Whole Truth smokers need to hear: “Yup. It’s hard and miserable but you’ve got to do it or you’ll die.”

If we had an award ceremony for brands that best nabbed a consumer insight (let’s imagine we call it the Whole Truth-y Awards and we got all dressed up and had a red carpet…) this brand would win top honors. From the commercials to their candid letter to smokers in magazines like People, the brand nails the raw emotional reality of breaking a cigarette addiction. The honesty puts the brand into a true ‘on your side’ position and makes it a hero instead of a crutch. Bravo!

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Pharmaceutical Speech: Physicians…Hear Thyself

Last night I spoke to about 200 leading marketers of a global pharmaceutical company and the subject was (you guessed it!) Half Truths and Whole Truths of healthcare.

A particularly interesting question from the audience was whether we believed that, just as female consumers hide the truth, do female doctors do it too? I have to say that most of our research is with patients not docs, and we’ve heard many women say that female doctors tend to be more personal and open with female patients. And areas like gynecology have seen an increase in the number of female physicians in response to this belief.

But when female doctors are the ‘subject’ of an interview, alongside male doctors, do they hide Whole Truths from the marketers who are trying to learn from them?

Tracy was in the audience and noted that she’d seen female doctors become more vocal and assertive when interviewed alongside their male peers. And so I wondered aloud from the stage, whether that was a result of the nature of what happens between women and men in varied professional settings.

I don’t know a woman alive who hasn’t had the experience of proposing an idea in a meeting and getting no response and then becoming irritated when two minutes later, a man offers the same idea and receives a round of high-five’s.

Do women eventually resort to playing Half Truth GAMES just to be heard? Women are women, whether they are doctors or patients. If a female doc or a patient feels the need to protect her ego by raising the volume, it may communicate more conviction than is true, when it’s really a defense measure against competitive egos. And if that’s so, are we really hearing the Whole Truth (or the one that wins in the male/female dynamic?)

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Zico: One of America’s Hottest Brands is also a Whole Truth Brand

I was very happy to see that my favorite coconut water, Zico, made it to Ad Age’s 2009 America’s Hottest Brands List, reported by Natalie Zmuda.  Introduced to it over two years ago at a hot yoga studio in New York, I looked forward to my Zico water at the end of each class even more than the class itself.  

Now I must confess, I wasn’t that good at Bikram Yoga. When everyone was staring at the wall behind them during backbends, I was looking at the ceiling and my favorite part of class was when they shut off the lights and I could lie perfectly still for as long as I wanted. (Hot yoga was a lot of work for an early evening nap!) 

As my reward for not passing out and actually lasting the full 90 minutes in the room, I would treat myself to a cold Zico.  And while I could have drunk the whole 11 ounces right there in the locker room, I enjoyed walking out of the building and onto the subway platform with my Zico in hand so others would think I was a dedicated yogi. 

As a Whole Truth Brand, Zico has connected with the E (Ego Protection) of G.A.M.E.S., our acronym for why women tell Half Truths.  Zico gives people bragging rights. And that’s actually part of the brand strategy. Mark Rampolla, Founder of Zico Beverages says that it heads straight for hot yoga studios, where it has had success in cultivating a crop of brand evangelists.

And while I haven’t been to hot yoga in quite some time, when I’m feeling like I need a pick me up, I pick up a Zico and head down those subway steps, and hold the container so others might think I could have just come from class.

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March 27, 2023
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK


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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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