Friday, September 25, 2009

of potato chips and tomato ketchups

"Even if you are not interested in marketing, go to the Marketing Forum. The Frito Lay guy is a terrific speaker."

He indeed was. For an hour, as Dave Skena (VP Marketing) spoke about the latest Potato Chips ad campaign, I sat in amazement - somewhat in awe of the art of marketing.
He started with how they set about reaching out to the consumer with a very simple strategy. That the chips are made of three things - potato, vegetable oil and a dash of salt. To dispense the image of an unhealthy, junk, fat filled diet, they launched ads which showed the farmers from across the country who supplied potatoes to the Frito Lay plants. The simplicity and uniqueness of the whole exercise took the audience by surprise and yes, revenues started showing positive trends. So there I was - an Indian, listening to an American talk about a snack which I'm not particularly crazy about, watching ads which showed farmers from Florida and Texas and Michigan - and yet I could somewhat identify with it. As much as there are numbers and market share and consumer lifetime value, maybe marketing is indeed a lot about knowing the pulse of the consumer.

Heinz followed next, carrying on the theme of Ketchup = Tomatoes. Noel Geoffroy, Director of Consumer Products Ketchup and a Darden alum, talked about changing the label in front of the bottle. About how replacing the pickle with the tomato and increasing the font size of Tomato had so much research going into it whereas the consumer was not really bothered about it that much. As a guy who has almost zero brand loyalty when it comes to CPGs, it was a revelation to get a peek into the minds of people who have and what goes into deciding what to buy and how much to buy. Like mothers who want to give their 10 year olds a 'healthy' ketchup and thus need to be absolutely sure what the ketchup is made of.

The DuPont presentation, to me, was the least exciting of the lot. It might have got a little to do with the fact that I was feeling sleepy by that time but apart from the bit where he talked about how Teflon sticks to the pan, I was bored.

MarketBridge was next and Katrina Lowes, SVP Marketing Services talked about Social Media and how Humana was using its social media portal to foster collaboration among users. She pointed out how, everybody, in the race to capture the youth population (25-35) have forgotten about the Baby Boomers aged around 50-65 who form the bulk of the world population. Never ever in the history of mankind have there been more people of this age and that represents a huge market if you are ready for it. She talked about how these are people who are nearing their retirement. About how these are people who are sustaining their families and have, in a lot of cases, both parents and children to take care of. She talked about how, they want to talk to others about things ranging from sex to healthcare, from emotional stresses to the changing world around them. It was funny that Katrina mentioned the stupid war that CNN had with Ashton Kutcher in Twitterland and how Social Media is Not about getting a million people to follow your tweet or blog. On the other hand, if you are FlyLady, you do have control over the minds of millions of people!

4:00 P.M. and it was time for Dan Holler, Product Director - Johnson's Baby to talk about the "Olympics Campaign - Thanks Mom". Particularly engaging was the bit where he talked about how they signed in Cullen Jones even before he was a part of the US Olympic Swimming team. A shortage of funds meant that they couldn't sign in big names like Phelps so they decided on this approach and shot the ads in very less time, using the training grounds of the athletes as the backdrop as they talked about how their mothers have influenced them throughout their life. Novel, inexpensive concept. But here's the magic that happened after it. Jones made it to the Olympic team. He then somehow made it to the six who formed the relay team. But only four were to make the finals. Against all odds, he makes it and is the last man in the relay. If you haven't already, dig out the YouTube link and watch how he beats the French guy to win the Gold (thus helping Phelps get his 8 medals). The story doesn't end here. By a rare mix of luck, forecast, science and add what you want, the first TV ad slot after the 4x100 relay is the Johnson & Johnson one where Jones says "Thanks Mom".

General Mills came up next and with no disrespect to them, the emotional high of Johnson & Johnson was tough to better. I listened to them talk about targeting the Hispanic market even though none of the guys presenting spoke Spanish. We laughed out loud at the part where they talked about how Latina women only want slim waists and don't really care about anything else!

After more than 4 hours of sitting in Classroom 50, I came out of the 2009 Marketing Forum feeling good and a lot more informed about the science (& arts) of marketing. The speakers were great. The subject matter was even better. And although I still don't want to get into marketing, yet, I feel I more than had my time's worth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What are you going to do about the wrist, Doctor Dorsey

In our management communications class today, about 15 of us told their 2 minute leadership story. Some talked about people who had inspired them while others narrated instances from their own lives. We had Paul Farmer's example of how leadership is about empowering people and bringing hope. Then there was the ex Indian Army grandfather who packed up his business in India and went to the US so that his grandson could get his VISA. There were stories of coaches and mentors; of a Mohammed who had immigrated from Pakistan to Canada; of a 29 year old millionaire who went shirtless to office, and of the moment when The Dalai Lama told someone that her opinion mattered.

It was amazing how each story was so unique and yet so powerful. But what made the session special was the story the Doctor said. As somebody pointed out later, the fact that nobody said a word or raised their hand even after he had gone back to his seat bore testimony to the impact it had had on us. I wont even try to talk about it here. If you were there in the class you would have felt its power.

It's a humbling experience. To be sharing the class with these guys. Hopefully someday I'll have a story which blows your mind!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Only The Boy Can Go

And he did.

Today I went to the first of Darden Leadership Speaker Series and heard Ralph de la Vega talk. About things ranging from the story of a 10 year old who had to leave behind his parents in Cuba to come to the US, to iPhone apps and how the Apple - AT&T collaboration happened. It was enthralling. He told us about his meeting with Steve Jobs during the pre launch days of the iPhone and how he couldn't even talk about the design of the phone to his boss. Then there was his take on the ubiquity of the wireless network and how its making ways for the cellular company to collaborate with Beer manufacturers. I did my Masters Thesis on Sensor Networks (although the amount of work I put in it could be debated!) so it was quite exciting to listen to him talk about it briefly.

Woven in between all this was his personal story of making it big in the land of opportunities. Of struggles coping with language, culture and food. Of his love for Miami and not so much for Chicago. He was a really good story teller - as our Management Communications professor would say. It helped though, that he had one heck of a story. He ended with a piece of advice which I have often heard. But this time around, it felt a lot more powerful. Maybe it was him. Or maybe its the energy you feel when you are at Darden!
He said never to let anyone place limitations on what we can do. Somebody had dissuaded him from being an engineer. And he was on his way to becoming a mechanic instead. His grandmother, however, believed otherwise.

It's a wonderful place. Darden. All that they said about the intensity, energy, people, professors has been true. And beyond.