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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Xmas Is A Crime: Zweng Holiday Chart Topper

Last year's Christmas pick was the warm-hearted swingin' spirit of Brian Setzer, with his hard-drivin' horn-blowin' version of Xmas classics. This year's pick, while flirting with the outre, is painfully appropriate for the times--making it an obvious choice. In promotion of the forthcoming Zweng album, Silent Scream of Gulls, he's released a holiday track in the spirit of the season at Xmasisacrime.com. Zweng commands a cult of personality which shows in the track. For a sneak peak of the new album, take a look at Futher South, a song capturing Zweng's delicate style while showcasing his penchant for the diabolical. Cheers to Xmasisacrime.

A victory for public health...Sparks loses its juice

In a win for health advocates and opponents of underage drinking, MillerCoors announced last week that will voluntarily remove the caffeine, taurine, and guarana content from its Sparks energy beer. The company is also agreeing to pay $550,000 to the National Association of Attorneys General to cover their cost of the investigation into the health effects of their concoction. The investigation found that not only is the alcohol-caffeine mix deleterious to one’s health, but that college students who mix alcohol and energy drinks were more likely to be hurt, sexually assaulted, or drive drunk than those who only drank alcohol.

What happens when you take the caffeine, taurine, and guarana out of your beer? I know the answer and it’s not what MillerCoors wants to hear. After plunking down $215 million dollars for the Sparks and Steele Reserve brands (created by the San Francisco-based marketing and beverage development firm, McKenzie River), I wouldn’t be surprised if they were dusting off the guillotine out in Milwaukee. From 2003 to 2005 Sparks purportedly grew sales at 107% annually, a blistering growth rate that was fueled by popularity among entry-level drinkers and females. What is surprising about all this is that Miller failed to foresee the current public policy climate and that marketing to underage drinker would indeed be frowned upon by law enforcement.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

McDonald's Picks a Fight with Starbucks

McDonald's recently launched an aggressive advertising campaign aimed at converting Starbucks customers. Focusing on Starbucks' home turf of Seattle, the burger giant has strategically planted a whopping 140 billboards placed near Starbucks locations. Beckoning loyal coffee drinkers to save a few bucks and get their espresso from Ronald McDonald instead, the new ad campaign is an aggressive move designed to promote McDonald's foray into the premium coffee market.  In a concept dubbed "McCafe," McDonald's has attempted to recreate their own version of the Starbucks experience, offering highly caffeinated espresso-based beverages in a cafe setting to their BigMac-munching clientele (translation: eat BigMacs faster).

Despite Starbucks' recent woes and dour outlook for the new year, McDonald's is aggressively seeking to gain share in the caffeinated realm, an area that has grown rapidly in the last two decades. Their answer to the phenonmenal success of Starbucks over the last several years is a bold, albeit late, attempt with McCafe.  (I searched for a McCafe near me in California.  There used to be one in Palo Alto but it closed its doors a few years ago.)

Is McCafe a threat to Starbucks?  Former CEO Jim Donald doesn't think so:
“Well, we have read that McDonald’s is going into a premium cup of coffee, to serve a premium cup of coffee, and we are in that business. We are in the premium bean segment, and we think that the more the consumer gets educated on premium coffee, the more (that) bodes well for all of us that are serving that type of coffee. We watch it closely, but at the end of the day, we think that it helps educate the customer on what really a great cup of coffee is all about.”
With 47 million customers walking through their front doors daily, the the McCafe concept will no doubt succeed in the short run by helping the burger behemoth squeeze a few extra bucks out of each customer, but those customers probably wouldn't have gone to Starbucks anyway. By increasing category awareness for lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, McDonalds is raising a new breed of Starbucks customers who otherwise might not have felt comfortable enough to order an Italian-style beverage.