A Personal Letter to Disney: Be Brave

There is a storm brewing with the Disney release of a toy line featuring its first truly ‘brave’ heroine, Princess Merida. Seems that in an effort to appeal traditionally to little girls’ doll tastes, the rough and tumble star of “Brave” has lost weight, filled out her too tight gown and adopted that doe-eyed sparkle princess look….the look and the life that the animated Merida despised.

I will let anthropologists and psychologists dissect why this is right or wrong. Or just cowardly.

I will turn instead to my own experience, watching the animated film alongside a 7 year old redhead named Soleil.  From the moment that Merida, the cartoon ginger wild child, picked up her bow and galloped through the woods, Soleil’s heart pounded in the saddle alongside her heroine. Proud, cheering, valiant.

For once, the story wasn’t about a cookie-cutter forgotten waif lifted by a prince to a palace. This was true grit, the kind of beauty any girl with guts can achieve. The knowing eyes, the powerful stance, the in-your-face joy of being a girl alive in her own skin spoke to Soleil. And the hair, the untamed, boundless curls that said, “Remember me!” Go ahead, Disney, give our real ‘brave’ Merida a sparkly crown. We need her in the Magic Kingdom. But don’t mess with her curls or her curves or her courage.

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Macy’s New Shoe Strategy: Stepping up Foot Traffic


Department stores have been outdoing each other with bigger and more extravagant shoe departments. Barney’s recently rehabbed their emporium and Saks floor bears its own zip code. This month Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square opened a new 63,000 square foot shoe floor with 300,000 pairs—stepping up to be the biggest shoe store in the world. A champagne and chocolate bar is located on the floor to celebrate when you find the perfect glass slipper. But what’s really behind the shoe madness?

Listen to the interview here!

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Like A Fruit Basket, But Better: Sephora Same-Day Delivery

If you’re a fan of makeup superstore Sephora, you probably already know that the store’s newest campaign is that of same-day delivery from their local store. For $15, makeup lovers can have products from around the corner delivered to their doors… or the doors of their friends.

The appeal is obvious: We don’t have to find the time to sneak from our desks to the Sephora store—a timeless, alternate universe of perfume clouds and color palettes. We also don’t have to dampen the fun of makeup shopping by going when we’re just refreshing the basics (sorry, can’t get excited about concealer), or sit at home waiting for our online order to arrive. And when our order does arrive a matter of hours later, it will be via “iconic Mini.” Let us know if you spot it around town!

But with a minimum order of $50 and a delivery fee of $15, same-day orders have to be substantial. Therefore, we leave you with the following question: What’s it worth to you to avoid the perfume lady?

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ScanIt!, Then SpendIt!

First there was the cashier. Then, the express lane. The self-scanner. And now, the ScanIt!.

Another testament to the idea that the better the tech, the smaller the package (and that exclamation points are silly in product names) the ScanIt! is a handheld device that scans grocery purchases as they’re made, keeps a running total, and even suggests relevant coupons and deals mid-shop.

Let’s do pros first: It’s really, really cool. Who doesn’t love scanning things? We see a prime distraction for bored shoppers, kids and moms alike. Then there’s the budget-policing aspect: No more fudging prices or mistyping on that smart phone calculator—the ScanIt! (feels silly, right?) will do the math for you.

Photo: coolestgadgets.com

Yet while the ScanIt! might be touted as a tool for the money-conscious shopper—and who isn’t one, these days?—it’s actually a pink plastic spending trap. Really though, it’s pink. The idea of suggestions for further purchases with coupons seems great, but it’s eerily reminiscent of the enjoyably black hole that is SuperTarget… you don’t think you need it until you see it on sale. The Wall Street Journal tells us that, unsurprisingly, shoppers who use the device spend about 10% more than shoppers who don’t.

Apparently, around half of Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets in the Northeast have implemented the ScanIt!. But knowing that it’s a device that allows us to avoid lines and interacting with others, we expect that it will spread through NYC like wildfire.

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Who’s Your Hidden Buyer? The True Power of Women

This past weekend, a newspaper columnist discredited the well known statistic that ‘women buy 80%’ of everything sold in the US. I could take issue with the article on several counts, including the fact that the writer discarded reams of data supplied by experts in the field and relied on only the more discouraging sources, oddly from overseas. But I understand why he struggled with the statistic in the first place. It’s virtually unproveable by its nature. What Just Ask a Woman and so many of our colleagues in the women’s marketing arena have espoused for years is that women ‘buy or influence the purchase of 80%’ and it’s that word ‘influence’ that provides too much wiggle room.

For indeed, if women buy or influence, then so do men. “Buy” is easy to define. Credit card handed over? That’s the buyer. Cash on the counter? That’s the buyer. Contract signed? That’s the buyer. But what does influence really mean? It’s the how, why, who and when that lead to that final decision. And in some of the biggest spending categories, women are the Hidden Buyers.

While leaders in the food, beauty and household products industries refer to all their customers as “she,” marketers of less traditionally gender-based  products and services, such as finance, electronics, major hardgoods, automotive, healthcare and insurance may need a wake- up call to be able to pick their hidden buyer out of a line up. (That’s why the 80% stat is a helpful eye-opener!)

Here’s an example.  Look at your kitchen, from the countertop to the appliances to the lighting. If you’re a couple, you both may have voted on whether you’ve got granite or a composite, a water dispenser or a wine cabinet,  Schoolhouse lights or modern overheads.  But whose idea was it? Who pulled pictures from Dwell, DVR’d HGTV and bookmarked Houzz? Who vetted ideas with friends? Who compared prices, walked the aisles, pushed for one more feature, one more deal? Even if the credit card receipt carried his signature, the likelihood, by far, is that the dealbreaking decisions were largely hers.

But retailers and marketers who give him all the credit are hugely missing her hidden buying power. The home improvement industry’s major players—who watch the in-store action firsthand– are convinced of women’s 80% clout. And the female hidden buyer is rocking the foundation of every car showroom, financial broker’s office and big box electronic retailer in this country and their power only increases each year.

The question isn’t whether your brand or business attributes 60, 80 or 90% of final sales to women. The real question is: are you seeing the hidden 100%…her sometimes invisible but always powerful influence?

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Forget Black Friday. It’s Black Monday for Women Shoppers

Last night I had a few free minutes before a dentist’s appointment and I popped into a BCBG store. “Come on in,” trilled Michelle, the manager, “50 percent off leather, bags, sweaters because we’re starting Black Friday now!” I’ve noticed email invites from retailers, store signs, commercials all pre-empting the big day by making it a big week. The Target ads, which feature the return of the funny shopper practicing her Black Friday techniques and stamina seem old this year. By the time she flexes her muscles for Friday a.m. doorbusters, she may find she can just stroll the aisles on her own.Next year’s prediction: Black Friday will be November 1st, once the “second retail Christmas” of Halloween is done!

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Whole Truth at Your Service

I am always on the alert for good and bad customer service and this holiday season is prime for detecting the Half Truths of retail.

Half Truth: I know what I’m looking for and don’t want to be pushed into buying something.

Whole Truth: I really want advice but am wary that I’ll be forced to buy more than I want if I ask for it.

Last week, a terrific associate named Trevor Dallier in the J.Crew store on lower Fifth Avenue in New York effortlessly balanced these Half and Whole Truths. I was looking for outfits for my college-age nieces. There were lots of great things on sale, but it was late, the checkout line was 15 people deep and I was feeling more stressed than creative about choosing the right cool combos.

Trevor to the rescue! His opener? “I’m a personal shopper here, can I help you put something together?” How did he choose me to help? Was it the way I was holding sweaters next to tees and pursing my lips? Was it the way I kept walking from one side of the store to the other, changing my mind from pink to black? Whatever my vibe, he picked it up. And he won my heart. He knew the merchandise and sizing tricks, had great fashion sense, mixed sale items with new ones, even added styling tips which I can pass on with the gifts. Best of all, he followed up the next day with an email, inviting me to special events, promotions and a phone relationship where he’ll snag and hold things that I want from the catalog if there are limited quantities.

This is the Whole Truth. A chain store can become a prized boutique when service exceeds expectations. A sales associate can add value and increase average order (sure beats the over-used strategy of price cutting to gain volume). The holiday shopping season which often stresses store personnel as much as their customers, can be a time to create new relationships for the new year. Simple…if only there were more Trevor’s out there.

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The Anti-Vigilante

While it’s easy to rail against bad customer service, I wondered how hard it would be to fix it instead?  I’ve had my share of rude clerks and late deliveries, but I realize that there are some retailers that I’ve actually become “friends” with.  Could there be a magic formula that would personalize all my transaction interactions? So as an experiment I decided to become the anti-vigilante. As simple as it sounds, I began to ask people their names. Not the way we typically ask, as in “What’s your name so I can rat you out to your supervisor?” but “What’s your name, so we can know each other?” 

Most mornings, I get coffee from a nice guy who has a cart a couple of blocks down from my apartment. But it wasn’t until yesterday, that I asked, “What’s your name?” “Nazir,” he smiled (and secretly slipped a donut into my bag.) Now, this friendship comes with calories but what a transformation! It’s isn’t coffee anymore; it’s a chance to chat with Nazir.

It worked at the vegetable stand, with a building security guard, with a florist. Eureka! Everyone is so much nicer. I’m lucky that I have a pretty amazing memory, so I can recall my mental Rolodex on a dime. Could we actually recreate service with a smile in a Vigilante Consumer service world? Could a cold digital relationship warm up with a little old-fashioned courtesy?

The new campaign for Dentyne Ice jumps on this intimacy bandwagon with a new campaign called “Make Face Time” reminding consumers that the original instant message was a kiss. How about a hug to replace Reply All? OK, I’m not going that far with the coffee guy, but there’s something to this.

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Right on the Money

The financial services category has good intentions as far as reaching out to women, but often their ads end up filled with pantsuits and portfolios, in other words, boring. But two recent campaigns caught my eye for the way they tapped into women’s Whole Truths about money. (For perspective, Half Truths are the reflex, sort-of-true answers women give in typical research. Whole Truths reveal her deeper fears or desires, beyond the ‘politically correct’ response.)  

The Wealth Management group of USTrust hits on the underlying bag lady fears of even the most flush female investors. While many profess they are financially in control (Half Truth), the Whole Truth is that a frugal girlhood can color a woman’s financial confidence later in life. Many successful women harbor worries that at any moment, she’ll be pushing her possessions in a shopping cart.   

The USTrust spot describes a woman who (paraphrased) “owns a villa in St. Barths, a condo in Sun Valley…yet a part of her still lives in a cul de sac in  (smalltown) Ohio.” While most viewers won’t pity her, the target of private wealth clients will likely say Bingo! 

Ameritrade is reaching out to the starter investor with a new newspaper ad that features a hip, successful 30 something: “They said I only had $100,000 in my account and passed me off to some junior guy. Since when is $100,000 preceded by ‘only?’” Good question. But the truth is, to many firms, $100,000 in investible assets is pocket change and it shows. Not so fast, buster.  

Rather than luring young women with a jokey Half Truth, “I would rather spend it on shoes now and worry later,” Ameritrade recognizes that anyone who’s managed to save $100,000 early on promises to be a great client over time. Just because she’s young, doesn’t mean she’s not serious about her bottom line. Now, let’s see how they play that out in service.

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Off the Hook

Well, now there’s a service that you can pay for to enable an undercover behavior you may have been doing for free. A new technology called Slydial allows you to direct your phone messages directly into someone’s cellphone voicemail so you don’t risk talking to them live. “Why?,” you say? You’ve never called someone after hours with the secret prayer that they wouldn’t pick up, so that you could leave the “I’m late, I’m sorry, I don’t want to” message and avoid a drawn-out conversation or possible recrimination?  

Let’s face it—thanks to a culture of bad customer service, most of us choose to avoid human contact and look at E-ZPass, self-checkout and online shopping as godsends. But in a world where we love the sound of our own voices, posting personal videos or blogging to perfect strangers (like right now), it’s funny that we shy away from hearing opinions in return.  Saying our piece is easy. Listening to someone else is hard. 

It makes me understand how challenging it can be for some marketers to feel comfortable in our research sessions, face to face with consumers. Behind the two way mirror, there’s comfort; the food’s better. But most of all, back there, without the risk of being confronted by female consumers, you can keep the listening under control and check your BlackBerry instead. Sort of like leaving her a voicemail about your brand and hoping she likes it when she picks it up in store. If only it were that easy to get off the hook.

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June 14, 2024
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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