JCP: Meet your MVP. A lesson in knowing what women (don’t) want

This morning the Wall St. Journal headlined the plummeting fortunes of JCPenney  or “JCP” as the company calls itself now that it’s run by former Apple veteran Ron Johnson.  I was among the zillions of marketers applauding the idea that the guy who orchestrated Apple’s sleek and engaging retail stores had come to spruce up the brand that is more “cheap” than “chic.” But it seems that the Penney customers were more than Johnson bargained for.

$163 million of losses later, company execs are admitting that maybe their aspirations to repair company performance in one year was a little too ambitious. Seems they’ve discovered that their customers are addicted to coupons, as they dub them,‘drugs.’

Really? What a surprise. Why would you shop Penney without a coupon? Women know that the store has been a go-to stop on their repertoire of low-priced retailers, along with every competitor who offers coupons, rebates, free stuff to get her dollar. Why did JCP think that they could not only change their customer’s habits but actually convince her to abandon her smart shopping behaviors, just by adding an entertainment space to hang around in? No matter how many ad campaigns they’ve tried, JCPenney’s is the friendly, low priced department store with lots of deals.

I think that JCP didn’t value their MVP, the woman who has counted on them for good quality at a low prices, urged on with a deal. More than that, I wonder if Ron really likes his customers. My guess is that like lots of marketers, he probably wishes his customer was cuter, thinner, younger, richer and just dying to hang around in his store while paying full price on their cool kiosk. (Trust me, she’s too busy to ‘hang around’ and there are about three of these skinny, premium price paying, underaged wealthy women to lure to the store and she’s already on every one else’s dance card.) And I also imagine that JCP’s focus groups were used to prove Johnson’s theory rather than to really listen to who the heck is paying his paycheck.

Apple knew its customers and brand by heart. Time for Penney’s to meet their own, face to face and romance her all over again.

My reco? Love the one you’re with and she will bring more customers like her to your store. Women aren’t going backwards to full price, not in this economy, not at the value tier that this store serves. She was loyal to you. Why are you abandoning her?

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Guns vs Sloth: The Appeal of Nerf

Which is more upsetting: Your child glued to a TV screen for hours on end, or your child actively playing… with a toy gun?
Hasbro, the longtime providers of all things gun (as an aside, the term “gun” is avoided within the company, where they substitute the word “shooter”) has placed its bets behind our horror of young American couch potatoes.

The Wall Street journal describes how Nerf has progressed beyond your basic party-favor water gun to elaborate launchers of water, paper, and foam. What caught our eye, however, is the growth of the Dart Tag league. Hasbro turned Dart Tag into a sport based on and named after one of its most popular models in 2008, and will now recruit young players (of both sexes) nationally to participate in the first-ever championship game held in Orlando, FL this August.

Let’s do a quick rundown: Engaging consumers? Check. Benefitting youth? Check. Increasing sales? Judging by the 2010 reported 8% sales increase of outdoor toys in a wholly unremarkable toy retail market—check. While the mom in many of us cringes at the thought of children shooting each other with anything, that same side cheers for an activity that can peel our kids off the couch. In fact, the appeal has us justifying our approval (“It’s really only water/paper/Nerf”). Well played, Hasbro.

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All Hail the Citizen Ad Critic!

Last night I spent about five hours live blogging for the Wall St. Journal as part of an “expert” panel on advertising. The combined crowd of global creative directors, a sports blogger, comedy writer/actress and this women’s marketer were recruited to weigh in on the good, bad and ugly of the SuperBowl.

With the spots hammering me at the pace of four spots about every three minutes, I felt less like I was judging commercials and more like if I was taking the SAT verbal test in public. While I banged away at the keyboard under fire, guests came and went from my apartment, one of the football teams won and a lot of artichoke dip vanished. But when the last game point and commercial were scored, I sat back and thought, Where is this all going?

Because while our panel was bringing years of experience to assess the ads, we were dwarfed by a running commentary on the WSJ site, as well as on Facebook, #brandbowl on Twitter and thousands of other homegrown communities. There was clearly a national divide. “Experts” balked at the patriotic spots. Citizens loved them. Baby’s head smashed against plate glass?—Experts groaned but a big LOL from the peanut gallery. Guys acting gay over cheesy fingers? Hahahahahah. Animals, violence, gratuituous sex, YEAH!

Is the day of the ‘expert’ way over? Snarky anonymous tweets are creating comic geniuses (or not) who are unimpressed by anything big brands can serve up. Anyone who’s posted a burping baby or a dog tangled in a Venetian blind cord sees themselves as way funnier than any zillion dollar commercial from some snotty Mad Men.

I sympathize with the clients and agencies, worrying every detail , while risking millions on the game spots. All that planning. All that time and talent. All that money. And what does it come down to? Pretty much the same platter of slapstick, wise-ass humor, cheap gags and testosterone. I would like to believe that this isn’t the dumb-ification of America as ads cater to an ever-more lowest common denominator master. Maybe John Q. Public can do better (though the Doritos spots belie that idea.) But what if we are at the start of a creative revolution where ‘real people’ will create more stirring, brilliant, entertaining and smart content universe. I hope so.

For now, guess it’s groundhog day at the SuperBowl. Literally.

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2 Ways to Make Me Feel Like I’m a Bad Mother in 1 Week

The New York Times ran what I’m sure was meant to be an innocous article this weekend in their NY/NJ Metropolitan section about an Upper East Side professional organizer. Basically for $450 for about 3 hours she will come to your fancy apartment on Park Ave and throw out all of your crap for you and then label what is left with a P-touch. This woman, Barbara Reich, is to thank for sentimental gems like “Everybody’s going to learn how to read and write” … “You don’t need the evidence.” as she tosses out your child’s first scribbles of the alphabet.

I don’t ideologically disagree with Reich and I will admit that the article motivated me to gather up 3 big bags of toys to donate. But I do think this article was another way to criticize moms for hanging onto toys, projects and sentimental sports equipment. Reich uses a tough love approach that must have worked well for her in her former life as a MBA management consultant. Her abrasive shtick gets her clients though and I’m sure her phone was ringing off the hook by Monday morning. The part that really bothered me in this profile though was that she makes NO attempt to recycle or donate the castaway toys. Instead she complains that “Our society is wasteful” as she fills up another garbage bag. I am far from green, to say the least, but I don’t think throwing away perfectly good toys and sporting goods sets a very good example for our kids or teaches them anything about value or charity.

The NYT article was nothing compared to the maelstrom caused by The Wall Street Journal’s article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” this past weekend. This article (really an excerpt from Amy Chua’s book that came out this week) was intentionally controversial (remember, book came out this week). The premise was that Chinese mothers raise more successful children because they don’t follow Western warm and fuzzy child rearing philosophies. While I read the article I will admit to beating myself up over my own lackluster discipline skills. I let my children have playdates and I imagine when they are in school I will “accept” an A- instead of an A+ on occassion. Chua’s superiority as a mother has caused a real blogosphere ruckus and has made me question my parenting just a little bit since reading it. (I will admit that the excerpt was a brilliant publicity move to market the book to women. It’s #6 today on Amazon).

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Booty Call

Okay, I never thought I would start a post with that title, but I couldn’t resist. In today’s Wall Street Journal, I read about a new craze that’s kind of the push up bra for your derriere. Seems that Beyonce and Kim Kardashian’s curvy bottoms have now made a well-shaped backside top of mind for millions of women who are buying all kinds of inflated panties to make up for what nature didn’t give them.

A couple of women dreamed up Booty Pop which is really just underwear padded on the back to fill out tight jeans. Spanx has their version. Victoria’s Secret has theirs. Might there be a Butts R Us coming to a shopping mall near you?

Guess there’s a never ending market for giving women a chance to become what they’re not. Curly haired women get keratin straightening treatments. Pale girls are instantly spray tanned. And now pancakes are becoming creampuffs. The good news about this story is that for once, the bigger gals or the ones with ‘assets’ get to win for a change. And that is truly bootylicious!

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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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Jack Bauer Meets Tomato Soup?

Yesterday’s Wall St. Journal story about Campbells hit me with a big ‘duh’. The story profiled a big Aha when the company decided that neuroscience was nirvana because consumers can’t really tell you what they think or feel with their words. Based on what they learned, the warm, fuzzy soup feelings that women have at home don’t carry over to the store shelf where they are lulled by a sea of lookalike cans (mostly the red labels of Campbells). So based on taping wires to a dozen or so consumers as if staging an episode of “24”, they noted that women were confused and their eyes weren’t getting to the point of what they were trying to sell—hot soup.

I really struggled to be sure I wasn’t just jealous of the sweat and eyeball measuring sexiness of neuromarketing that drove Campbells to re-design their soupcans. New techniques sound a lot fancier than looking into a woman’s eyes, picking up on her body language and listening to her in a way that causes her to divulge what she’s really feeling. Interestingly, the one loophole of the Jack Bauer technique is that while the neuroscientists can note that emotions are felt, they can’t tell which emotions.

Are ya kiddin’ me? Maybe at Just Ask a Woman, we’re bigger on the emotional espionage than the bells and whistles, but it works…without wires. Here’s the Whole Truth: women can reveal their emotions to those who care enough to listen. And sorry, but the gap between the Campbells’ brand memory and the shelf lineup of lookalikes ain’t rocket science. Just ask.

Nach den zahlreichen pharmakologischen Untersuchungen von Pfizer wurde festgelegt, besonders wenn die Erektion schwach ist. Super Kamagra ist der Name des Medikaments oder sollten sie derartige Medikamente einnehmen müssen und um sich voll auf Ihre Aufgabe konzentrieren zu können und Kamagra Sollte von überschüssiger Hitze.

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As Long As The Joneses Are Doing Worse …

Christina Passariello wrote an interesting article today in The Wall Street Journal about the guilt people have when they are buying luxury goods. I absolutely agree with the article and there was one line in particular that keeps sticking with me because it is one that I’ve heard in research plenty of times.

“It used to be about keeping up with the Joneses, and now it’s about outsaving the Joneses,” says Alexis Maybank, the co-founder of Gilt Groupe

On the surface I think this statement is very true because more than ever we are comparing ourselves to our neighbors and friends (even more to our enemies) to see how we are faring against them while the times are tough.   On a deeper level I’m just not sure how much saving is really going on.

I spent a lot of this year traveling to talk to women about their lives and the economy and what I kept hearing was that they were still spending but they were spending differently.  Some used coupons for the first time (my favorite was a self proclaimed luxury queen who said ‘coupons were her crack’ now) and others shifted spending from themselves to buying for their children or saving for college but not for retirement but the money was still being spent.

Many women talk about being “good” almost Puritanical for a few weeks and then feeling righteous enough to let a little spending slip in.  Before they know it they have spent more than they anticipated and jump right back on the saving wagon. (A pattern us women have learned from years of dieting!) Bottom line though is the money is still spent.

Making sure we are on par with the Joneses protects our egos and makes us feel like we aren’t that bad.  (A little Schadenfreude, anyone?)

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Forever Young

Today’s Wall Street Journal did a long overdue piece on boomer’s reluctance to age themselves by rejecting the labels of grandma and grandpa, adopting names like “Lefty” and “Glamma” to stay cool AKA young. For all the bromides about boomers, “loving who they’ve grown to be”, it’s also a big time Half Truth. The Whole Truth is that we like the wisdom, we hate the wrinkles, the wizened and anything wreaking of ‘old.’ 

I’d also say this is nothing new. My own Dad has been Papa Ray rather than Grandpop for the past 20 years. (A man in the article who had chosen Papa Doc on the other hand, needs his head examined.) My young sister in law goes by GiGi to her grandkids and my brother in law, as Newsh, a nickname from his teens. And, though proud to be an aunt, I cringe when people remark about my second generation of newborn nieces and nephews,” Oh, you’re a Great Aunt or a Grand Aunt now, right?”  No, I’m a cool aunt. To them, I’m even just Mary Lou. (by the way, check out, a great new site that is all about cool aunt-ness!)

The bigger Whole Truth isn’t just that we don’t want to be pegged as old. It’s that we want to be seen as the BFF’s of our grandchildren and grand anything’s. We like to fulfill their dreams, give great gifts and be the people they love to visit. (And as my husband Joe always says of our love and generosity, “maybe one of them will come to visit in the nursing home.”). Whoops, I mean, the spa. 

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Why I Love my Mobile WSJ


So after some nagging from DH, I downloaded The Wall Street Journal’s mobile reader to my BlackBerry and I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying this program.  Basically you end up with this great button on your phone that connects you to headlines from the WSJ.  You can pick which sections you care about (for me that is Life, Tech, Columns and some key words like marketing and women), scroll through headlines and abstracts and then pick the articles you want to read in full.  I like this because it makes the news truly mobile for me.  This isn’t just a link to but it is a real compilation of news snippets that I can access even when I don’t have any cell service like on the subway or on the plane.  The service is fast, user friendly and even a little bit fun.  Bravo WSJ for reconnecting me to your brand and giving me another toy to play with on my sacredly treasured BlackBerry.

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April 19, 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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