In December 2007, I went to a breakfast about women and financial services and wrote the post you see below as a result.

Flash forward to February 2011, and Wells Fargo launches a new Web destination for women thinking about retirement, backed by the results of a new study on the same topic. 

As I surfed over to Beyond Today, I was optimistic.  Unfortunately, I found more of the same.

Really happy older couple

Why why why must we continue to alienate big blocks of women? 51 million women in the United States are single and I’d wager that a lot of them, like me, don’t cook.  To start a blog post about investment allocation with “Pasta, pot roast, peas… ever get in a rut with your menus?” is just old school. Not to mention the shot of the hysterically-delighted older couple (maybe he’s on Viagra) on the home page while 40-50% of marriages end up in divorce, 32 million people live alone, women live considerably longer than men, etc.  Or the primary involvement of Jean Chatzky: an expert I like, but one who is frequently seen in other venues (like The Today Show and Oprah).

In other words, there’s no new news here – still Version 1.0.  I guess I expect more.  Maybe the thrashing is because gender is no longer (or shouldn’t be) a primary segmentation characteristic in the first place.

Women And Financial Services
December 2007

I attended a breakfast last week entitled “Marketing to the Female Investor.”  I was pretty jazzed about this because, in addition to a pretty good expert panel, the core of the event was a review of fresh research on the topic and I was looking forward to getting a sophisticated update on my own experienced-but-possibly rusty notions.

That’s not exactly what the audience got.

The research’s executive summary declares that “single women are on the rise” (is this the 70′s?) and the study confirms that women are living longer, marrying later, get 58% of all undergrad degrees awarded in the US and are opening businesses at 2x the rate of men.  Speakers presenting the research still referred to this as the “women’s market” – despite the fact that 52% of all US citizens are female – and declared that members of this group have “special needs.”  The research itself, as in years past, said that 71% believe that financial services marketing is targeted to men, and fewer women then men say they understand financial services products well or extremely well (e.g. mutual funds, stocks, IRAs, trusts).  A nervous presenter inadvertently plunged me into a moment of despair when she explained that, while the female respondents may not have an equal understanding of said products, “they are still intelligent.”

Good grief.  Had nothing changed in 15 years?

When the morning (mourning?) turned to the panel, however, the tone began to change for the better.  Most of the panelists’ real-life priorities and programs focused on women’s changing roles in society, and how these role changes are increasingly non-linear:   that women, more so than men, may move back and forth between the core roles of provider and caregiver… and may, as a result, be more or less educated about financial services, may be shopping for products at different times, etc.

So is there a primary segmentation scheme more relevant than gender?  Is it more valuable to target based on whether a person of either gender is home taking care of a child or aging parent vs. bringing home the bacon?  With roles, education levels and life span all changing, is gender becoming a secondary variable, rather than a primary one?

I sketched out the following during the session (and since I can’t draw in 3D, I just inserted the “Decision Maker” axis in here so I wouldn’t forget about it…):

There’s no question that, when observed in as close to real circumstances as possible, men and women tend to have different ways of consuming information, choosing financial advisors and so on.  But, right or wrong, “women’s marketing” has frequently been housed in retail bank groups focused on special niche populations – and this has not served to create a breakthrough positioning for, well, anyone.

Maybe we’ve reached a critical mass at which point it’s not whether one is female or male that should drive marketing communications and sales process design, but rather the role a person plays that dictates her – or his – financial needs, habits and buying behaviors.

Have you ever had anything in your life that you really liked – loved, even – and so when it went bad you raged, you beat your fists, you cried out in angst?!?

Then at some point, finally, you had to accept that whatever was to be, would be. As with the 7 stages of mourning, you had no choice but to find acceptance?

Well that it what I am trying to do, as a coffee-drinker and long-time sales and marketing executive, with respect to:

stephanie-fierman-schultz-starbucks1.jpgSTARBUCKS.

Yes, Starbucks. I give up. I do. Seriously. I started writing about Starbuck’s travails on a whole other blog, for cryin’ out loud, and things have only deteriorated.

Yes yes, I can hear you counter with a reminder that I like the Pike Place and the oatmeal, or that maybe the $4 breakfast combo isn’t too bad. Neither could balance a series of seemingly endless missteps that I did not think could get any worse. Then Howard Schultz rode back into town on his “You ‘executives’ need help; I’m back to bring this place back to its roots” horse and the place went entirely over the edge.

Seriously – I am like this because I love Starbucks coffee.

The problem with Schultz’s naked arrogance is that the world around this company has changed forever. The “roots” from which this company originally drew sustenance are long gone. We can all see that the company over-extended itself with respect to both its geographic footprint and prices… but where is the leadership?? Schultz has been back in that seat for nearly 2 years.

Just as I can’t blame Obama for AIG’s 2008 bonuses, I’m not going to pin firings and store closings on Schultz. He had to clean up a mess that he found upon his return. But beyond that… he spent part of his comeback interview in last July’s Portfolio magazine lavishing praise on a “magical” blended drink from Italy that was “going to be the next Frappuccino.”

Meanwhile, I can’t get a cup of coffee in under 15 minutes in the morning and have to wait for the milk to be refilled.

Since the Portfolio interview last summer, the company’s made a number of “puzzling” moves, including:stephanie-fierman-costco-starbucks.jpg
– launching the new Vivanno (starting at $2.79)
– reversing its decision to kill the breakfast sandwiches that were difficult for staff and smelly for customers
– maintaining prices despite the worst recession in living memory
laying off staff with no accompanying attempts to address the stores’ painfully long lines
– creating a new rewards program that was minimally rewarding (Costco had a better deal)
– promising to eliminate the music program that remains in full swing in New York (where the music rack is often neater and more stocked than the condiments counter)
– announcing a new instant coffee

Earlier this week, I cut to the middle of a WSJ article about Starbucks in which I spotted a quote from Schultz: “The issue at hand… is the cost of losing your core customer. It’s very hard to get them back.” I saw a spark of hope – at last, maybe the chain was going back the basics. Was it possible??

Nope.  Instead, the article says that Frappuccinos will come off the menu boards altogether, only to be hand-sold by a salesperson in what will undoubtedly be a lengthier, more harried transaction.  And in a world headed toward greater transparency, where restaurants are being forced to post calorie counts on their menu boards, Starbucks is headed in the other direction with a plan to remove prices (prices!) from their menu boards.  If you want to know what your order actually costs, a staff member will have to stock and point you to a new paper menu somewhere on the jammed counter next to the CDs. 

Ironically, Schultz’s response to all this is to start running a new ad campaign that counters the “myth” (his word) that Starbucks coffee is too expensive.  Unfortunately, nothing reinforces an existing impression that your products are probably too expensive than you deciding to hide your prices from me.

But, hey: new, “more sophisticated” test stores will have wood decor and a big wood table.

Saving core customers, making a store feel “more like a coffeehouse” – these are worthy ideas rooted in the company’s past that should remain. The thing is, a brand must sometimes re-envision its execution of such fundamental values based on the contemporary circumstances surrounding it.  Let’s say Ford had “Get a customer safely from here to there” as one of its original tenets.  Back then, that might have involved horses and buggy whips.  Today? Same concept, updated execution.

Starbucks is unquestionably struggling to see its external circumstances in a clear and honest light.  If it did, it would understand that it has so weakened its own brand that it must re-earn its customers’ trust by truly going back to square one: a good cup of coffee, at a decent price, delivered in a timely fashion. Hold the wood table. Period. The company must remind us that it is first capable of delivering on this primal promise before it can have our psychic “permission” to explore any of these pet projects (e.g. fruit drinks made from powder).

Until then, all these Vivanno-like moves will not only deepen the company’s failure, they’ll also remind us every day that the company cares more about itself than it does about its customers.

As for the 7 stages of mourning, I am trying to get my head around the possibility of reaching the final stage – Acceptance – while standing in a Dunkin Donuts, holding a latte.

So I was sitting in a meeting just a few days ago, and someone I like and respect said something about “the long tail.”  A couple people sort of nodded, and I thought, “Oh my, are people still talking about that?”

You see, I am and always have been… a long tail doubter.  It’s true.  I’ve never said it out loud because the book was so very popular and the concept was picked up everywhere and it spread like wildfire, so I just kept my doubts to myself.  For two years.  Until now.

But first, a bit of history to catch us up to the present day.

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, made a huge splash with The Long Tail, which was first published by the magazine in 2004 and then as a book in 2006.  In a nutshell, the long tail theory says that the abundance and ease of choice on the Internet has shifted sales potential from a small number of mainstream “hits” (at the front of the demand curve) toward a near-endless number of lesser-known choices at the tail.  The term refers to the orange section of the demand curve shown here:

stephanie-fierman-long-tail-curve.jpg

Furthermore, because retail economics restrict stores to carrying only the best-selling products, items that have already been created and have either lost their mojo or were never popular in the mainstream in the first place are pushed out – along with their sunk costs.  But lo the Internet, with its infinite “shelf space” makes every product discoverable and ready to be purchased.  The book has become something of a holy document in the Internet community where companies (“from Amazon to iTunes,” says Anderson on his website) want to find a way to sell old songs, movies, videos, ringtones, on-demand books and television shows from their infinite Web warehouses.  Case studies flew up everywhere. 

Personally, I thought it was bunk.  Or rather, I thought the concept vastly overdramatized the effect of a small minority of “committed seekers” dedicated enough to something (comic books, that lost Marvin Gaye song, Civil War spoons…) to search for and purchase a category’s flotsam and jetsam.

When I looked around, in fact, it seemed that the rest of us were doing quite the opposite.  The New York Times’ Most Blogged, Most Emailed and Most Searched lists.  Top TV Shows, Top Music, Top Movies on iTunes.   Amazon.com’s influential Sales Rank, and its Bestsellers list (updated hourly).  The Netflix Top 10.  To me, the Internet appeared to be herding users more aggressively toward blockbusters, not away from them.

Like I said:  I kept this then un-hip and un-scientific opinion to myself.

Now there’s a professor at Harvard Business School who has researched the long tail. Based on sales data for online video rentals and songs, Professor Anita Elberse verifies my gut: not only do hits continue to be just as important online as they are online, but the Web is actually magnifying attention on the winners.

Elberse also discusses what she and others view as an incorrect subjective assumption that Anderson made when building the long tail, which is the idea that people want to go their own way.  They don’t want to listen/watch/read what everyone else does, and would rather wander down an untrodden hallway of the Web and find an otherwise discarded gem.  Who is he kidding?  Elberse cites additional research showing how intensely social people really are: how we like sharing experiences with others and that the mere fact that others like something makes us like it even more. 

And confirmation has come from another interesting source, as well.  Neil Howe, widely considered to be the expert on Millenials, draws a broad distinction between Gen X and this new influential group – the generation driving the most development and change on the Web. Among other things, while Boomers and Gen X “individuated,” born-in-the-80s Millenials gravitate toward the social:  chat rooms, instant messaging, Facebook.  They enjoy being with each other, forming friendships and shared preferences.  Rather than acting independently, Millenials who spend time customizing content on the Web do so for the purpose of sharing it with others (hello, YouTube). 

stephanie-fierman-millenials-wom.jpg
                                         (Click on the graphic for a larger view)

Howe says it is and will be “the most connected generation in world history,” and that their preferences will only solidify the popularity of mainstream, popular brands and products.
Finally, Elberse and The Wall Street Journal‘s Lee Gomes also believe that the Internet/tech community unconsciously may have wanted to back the theory because it flattered its citizenry.  Long tail strength would fortify the value of new digital assets created outside the walls of institutional, cultural power (let’s build a pet robot in my garage, shoot a video for YouTube and get rich!).  And bloggers drank the Kool-Aid, they say, because the long tail promises an audience for just about any goofy comment out there.  This is all probably true, but it’s a little sketchy so I’m not going to dwell here.

But I am very, very happy that some respectable people with significant research refute the long tail theory.  Because – while I may not be a Millenial – I do like company.


If you enjoyed this post and wish there was so much more… Check out my daily blog at www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com. Thank you!


dov-charney-stephanie-fierman1.jpgI’ve written at least one post on corporate blogging before, but I gave them a little more thought this week.

This was because I ran a break-out group at this week’s CMO Club summit on PR 2.0, which I would loosely define as the new practices, policies and opportunities available to individuals and companies based on the digital innovations we all fondly call Web 2.0.

So I created a hand-out, which included such items such as how to track blogs, monitor Twitter tweets, figure out when to social(ly) network and so on.

One of the more active conversations focused on the topic of corporate blogs – notably, when should a company consider creating one? My top rules are that a corporation might consider a corporate blog when:

1. Two-way, honest conversations between senior management and both employees as well as consumers are already part of the company culture (think Sun and Stonyfield Farm)

2. Roles and responsibilities for the blog are clear and there is genuine commitment to (a) constant maintenance and (b) responding immediately (or at least promptly) to a problem

3. The company is prepared – both short-term and long-term – for what Kathy Sierra calls “the physics of passion.”


[NOTE: The famous corporate blogger Robert Scoble delivers the corporate blog manifesto here]


I guess I neglected what should be Rule #4: Your CEO isn’t a looney tune or, at minimum, far to colorful for public consumption.

Case in point: Dov Charney, Founder and CEO of American Apparel. Today’s WSJ includes an article on how American Apparel’s CFO has resigned after Charney called him “a complete loser” while sitting for a WSJ interview in March. Now that’s a bad performance appraisal!

In the past, Charney has gotten into hot water for engaging in completely inappropriate behavior during magazine interviews, having inappropriate (there’s that word again) encounters with company employee, hiring models from local strip bars, having scantily-clad employees serve him meals (at home), running around the office in his underwear and referring to women in ways that even he says he wouldn’t use with his mother.  His claim to fame (that, in my opinion, unfortunately outshines his philanthropy and US manufacturing-centric ethos) is that he’s been sued for sexual harassment more times than Joe Francis.

The photo is from an American Apparel “Apres Ski” advertisement. That’s Dov on the left.

It remains to be seen how he does once several quarters as a public company sinks in. In the meantime: no corporate blogs, please!

Retail Cooperatives Move Online
Data cooperatives that track catalog purchase behavior have been around for decades.  Catalog retailers join the cooperative, submit their own anonymous but detailed purchase data and then can use the aggregated data to make targeting decisions.  Now this concept has jumped to the web, which could be very exciting.  An online cooperative called aCerno acts as a clearinghouse for retailers to share data collected from web transactions. “The system would allow an online retailer to contribute information, such as a cookie tied to a customer who bought a lawn mower. Another co-op member could then use that data to show the person an ad for a related product, like gardening supplies, with the supplier getting a cut.”


Online Video-Sharing Site Usage is Huge

43% of female and 53% of male adult Internet users visited an online video-sharing content site in 2007, and the %s in all age ranges soared.  Check this article for interesting and detailed stats.


Top 10 Viral Videos of 2007
Here are Jack Myers’ picks.  The #1 most popular video had 20 million views on YouTube and needs no introduction.  On a personal note, I did not do so well with geography in elementary school myself, so this video makes me feel a lot better.


Taser Home Shopping Parties a “Stunning” Success
The Tupperware party idea has finally jumped the shark.  Proof positive that you can apply a high-pressure ponzi scheme to just about anything!


Match the Medium to what People Actually do with It
This is an article detailing some of Rupert Murdoch’s thinking re. the future of the Wall Street Journal and, of course, he’s a genius.  His simple point of view is that – in a multi-media, multi-channel, multi-screen world – each channel’s content should be based on the interest and needs of its users.  For example:  perhaps the long, long, long stories on the cover of the Wall Street Journal each day would be better off in the weekend edition, when readers could actually find the time to read them.  The WSJ shouldn’t be ESPN, but maybe a simply sports score chart would be useful to traveling businesspeople who might get yesterday’s scores by picking up the newspaper left outside her hotel room. 

This is the process that Time magazine must pursue if it is going to survive.  Forget about the past.  (1) Put index cards up on a bulletin board that say Website / Mobile Web / Mobile Text / Print.  (2) Decide who uses each, when and for what.  (3) Execute mercilessly.  This is the process that the Variety franchise pursued when I was at Reed Elsevier:  Variety online is best for quick visits and breaking news.  Daily Variety is great for finding out what you missed yesterday, with just enough context.  Weekly Variety offers long-form articles and a discussion of trends. 


The Trading Up Phenomenon is Recession-Proof
This is an article in The New York Times (01.20.08) that tries to tie the idea that consumers are reigning in spending at the moment to an overall “decline” of the idea that consumers who are not truly wealthy “trade up” to luxury brands when they have discretionary cash.  This blogger has discussed her interest in this concept before, and recommends Michael Silverstein’s and Neil Fiske’s book on the topic Trading Up: The New American Luxury.  Like Silverstein, who’s quoted in this article, I think the author of this article is way off track.  The whole point is that middle- to upper-middle class people trade down when they are low on funds, and up when they are flush.  “The trading up phenomenon is quite recession-proof,” Mr. Silverstein says.

Tech Tools for the Financially Challenged
An off-base title for a list of nifty, mostly VC-backed sites that help integrate your far-flung financial affairs and analyze how, where and when you spend.  The privacy challenge, of course, is that a user must provide all of his/her account information.  Some company – either one of these or a player to be named later – will get around this problem. 

Visa, Card Lab Create Custom Holiday Gift Cards

The cost and complexity of card design and manufacturing has dropped practically down to nothing.  And with online photo technology…  I think this is a brilliant idea that works to counteract the “coldness” and implication of laziness that can come with receiving a gift card.  FYI – here are some solid metrics on the booming gift card market.

“I Took the Blows and Did It May Way”

Sure, she’s eccentric, to say the least, and the stories I’ve heard about what it’s like to work for her are legendary.  But her attitude – her recovery from life-destroying criticism – is instructive.
“They tried to hurt me, and maybe they did, but I know this much is true: You can take your punches, and you can take everything away from me, but no one will ever hijack my imagination, my drive, my creative spirit, or my dignity.”  

Facebook Retreats on Online Tracking

Great Artists Steal!  A Podcast with Professor William Dugan
A great podcast from my friend Paul Dunay, who interviews the author of the new book, Strategic Intuition.  See The Wall Street Journal’s positive review here.


AND JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE FUNNY…

Trademark Office Rejects Hormel’s Claim Against Spam Arrest  
“In a stinging loss [so dramatic!!], meat company Hormel’s effort to have anti-spam firm Spam Arrest’s trademark registration canceled has been dismissed.” 


Head of Rove Inquiry in Hot Seat Himself
“The head of the federal agency investigating Karl Rove’s White House political operation is facing allegations that he improperly deleted computer files from another probe using a private computer-help company…    Bypassing his agency’s computer technicians, Mr. Bloch phoned 1-800-905-GEEKS for Geeks on Call, the mobile PC-help service. It dispatched a technician in one of its signature PT Cruiser wagons…  Mr. Bloch had his computer’s hard disk completely cleansed using a “seven-level” wipe…



a.      
This is a“you couldn’t pay for this kind of press coverage” stories – I wish I ran Geeks on Call!
 

b.      You really should read the whole article.  “Seven-level wipe…” It’s practically satire.
 

c.       It was even fun searching for “geeks” at the Wall Street Journal website.   NBThis blogger needs to get out more. 

Without Snow Globe Innovations, Christmas Décor Will Be Flat

Adweek Not A Weekly Anymore

A New Ad Agency – Eager For Press – Blunders Fundamentally
There is a new agency in New York called Womankind that is promoting itself as a new idea: advertising created by women, for women. It’s not new, of course (paging Mary Lou Quinlan), but it’s getting its 15 minutes. And what does it do, to show that it is serious about “harness[ing] the power of female ad and marketing executives” to make difference? It chooses a man to be interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

This made me want to slap my own forehead. Hard. There is nothing in the universe that would have kept me from putting a woman up for that interview. If all the female ad executives in the world were wiped out by some advertising plague, I’d have media-trained a homeless woman. Or used a female sock puppet. Or put a dress on a rock.

I would have to think twice about giving business to a shop who, in my opinion, just displayed such colossally poor (and easy to correct) judgment right out of the box! Not kidding.

Clinton Library To Get More Green

Sak’s Wealthy Clients Help It Buck The Trend
“The higher-end luxury price points have not seen a slowdown and we feel quite good about that consumer’s buying power at this point,” Saks Chief Executive Stephen Sadove said on Tuesday.

This is one of several interesting articles spawned by Saks’ prediction of increased sales in the 3Q and a prediction of better sales in 4Q06 vs. 4Q05. The key observation overall appears to be that the haves are getting more and the have-nots are slipping down, while the middle is getting squeezed.

High-end luxury retailers, targeting the truly affluent client (net worth of $1M-$10M) are still performing, as these are the customers immune to credit problems, housing woes and $3/gallon gas prices. But those in the middle who have been reaching up to “low end luxury” brands such as Coach for the last 5 years or so (consumers with annual incomes of $100,000 to $300,000) must now pull back and will shop at Wal-Mart instead – shopping closer to their needs than their wants.

TWO SPINS ON OUR CONVERSATION ABOUT ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT AND THE UNFETTERED NATURE OF THE WEB

Town Considers Criminalizing Online Harrassment After 13 Year Old Commits Suicide
A terrible, sad story about “Internet shaming” and the death of a 13 year old girl. Where are we going re. regulation on the Web? What responsibility, if any, do we believe that ISPs, social networks and other involved parties must take?

Bob Garfield’s Campaign Against Comcast Continues
“For people with anger issues, the internet is a cathartic godsend and/or lethal weapon.” “… all he needs to have, basically, is fingers and rage.”

Garfield’s ongoing campaign is funny to read, ha ha, and we all feel good about it when we agree with the attacker’s point of view. Then it happens to you personally, or your brand. What do we do?

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Like many marketers – especially direct marketers who study real behavior, in addition to demos and psychographics – I have long marveled at marketers’ general disregard for older Americans.  It’s  as if you become 35 (30?) and fall off the face of the marketing earth.  Or all your mail is suddenly about the Craftmatic Adjustable Bed or characterized by calls-to-action such as “Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” 

So I have been really thrilled to see some of these attitudes change.  Dove, Vespa and Kelloggs have all done a nice job.  Companies are utilizing online advertising to reach the 60% of seniors and 80% of boomers are on the Internet.  And there are more websites reflecting the “young” older market, my favorite being the new tbd.com from Robin Wolaner.  TBD.com and others target a 40+ consumer who is physically and mentally active, likely to continue working at least part-time until they die or their health prohibits it (even with money, forget retirement – too boring) and very interested in romance, relationships and s-e-x.  Just yesterday there was an amazing article in the Wall Street Journal on how the sports medicine profession is branching out to embrace older athletes.  The article mentions that folks age 55 or older make up the fastest-growing segment of health-club members and that 10,000 competitors are expected to participate in the Huntsman World Senior Games, “an event in which anyone over 55 can compete in sports including basketball, triathlon and mountain biking .”  Triathlon??  Who, me? Right after my nap. It seemed that people were finally understanding that “psychographics are way more important than demographics” (Seth Godin) when marketing to seniors today. So I was quite discombobulated to read an article in AdAge (“How to Target Older Demos,” 9-24-07) that seemed to be pulling in the opposite direction.  An article in fact, that appeared to be pulling its readers back to the 1950s.The article is based on Project Looking Glass, a study completed by a marketing company called Varsity.  Varsity is unfamiliar to me.  Based on the physical layout of the AdAge page, my eye was naturally drawn first to the charts and bullets  – which is where I got into trouble with observations and tips such as:

·         Seniors 65+ share a Depression-era frugality

·         Problems with everyday activities are increased, such as bendig down or opening a package

·         Marketers should choose easy-to-see colors and feature young-looking people in ads

·         Companies should slow down voice prompts

·         If direct mail is employed, use thicker (easier-to-open) packaging

Now aside from the fact that I’m nowhere near my 60s and even I get creaky sometimes bending over, these details just sounded so lopsided compared to all of the current studies I’ve been reading!  The picture being painted was the classic “these are old people and bring on the Depends.”  What was going on here?

So I backtrack and actually read the article in question and discover that Project Looking Glass collected its data… during a month-long stay at a RETIREMENT COMMUNITY!!    I mean, the data may be perfectly sound based on a sample from a — repeat — RETIREMENT COMMUNITY — but it’s certainly not the representative and diverse sample that I assumed was the background for the article’s graphics.

A funny but serious example of how – when it comes to market research, as in most things – context is everything.


I admit it.  I have a special relationship with the Saturday Wall Street Journal. Many of you will recall the brouhaha when Dow Jones launched the Saturday edition in 2006.  Do they have enough non-endemic advertising to make it profitable?  What will it look like?  Will anyone read it?  Don’t we have ENOUGH to read? 

Well I love the Saturday Wall Street Journal, and I’ll tell you why.  For most, Saturday is the only day of the week when one does not have to go to work the very next day.  Saturday mornings are full of promise.  The streets are (sort of) empty, and I believe that, this time, the weekend really will last forever.  Then I joyfully kick back to read what I consider Dow Jones’ own version of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” 

Yes folks, I love the Saturday WSJ because I think it’s the kookiest read around.  It takes the WSJ brand in a whole different direction… but I can’t quite figure out what that direction is!  I mean, if business can be funny, it is actually funny.  I don’t know if the newsroom actually holds back nutty stories (“Hey, it’s only Tuesday:  let’s hold that ‘puppy saves Fortune 100 company with magic drool’ story ‘til Saturday!”) but it might as well. 

Here are my favorite selections from the Saturday, Oct. 6 Wall Street Journal: 

·         OK, right out of the box, I’m going to cheat a little.  “The Hit List” is where the Saturday WSJ gives a well-known person the opportunity to share his or her favorite music.  Today, I have to admit, the column actually made sense, with Barry Manilow choosing his favorite music.  The time they thought I’d be interested to know what John Malcovich (best known for dangerous, slimy characters in films such as “Dangerous Liasons” and “In the Line of Fire”) listens to, however, I did wonder what they were thinking.  Next up:  “Salman Rushdie chooses songs to hide by…” 

·         This one is too perfect for a superhero lover to pass up.  Under the headline “Economan Pleads Guilty” is a story of a guy named Al Parish who took 500 investors for about $90 milion dollars, which he used to buy himself some major bling.  To top it off, Parish was apparently known for his flashy appearance and a website that showed him – wait for it – dressed as a superhero with a huge “E” on his chest.   

·         A great fox guarding the hen house story…  We should all be relieved to know that Whole Foods, John Mackey’s own company, has completed an internal investigation of John Mackey, and John Mackey had decided to “reaffirm” his support for John Mackey. 

Mackey is the CEO who, while attempting a hostile take-over of Whole Food’s chief competitor, Wild Oats, was simultaneously using an alias to post blog comments badmouthing Wild Oats and implying the target company was unstable and in poor financial health. In addition, “Harobed” (the unbreakable code equaling his wife’s name spelled backwards) liked to praise himself in creepy ways, saying in one post, “I like John Mackey’s haircut.  I think he looks cute!” 

This. Story. Is. Hilarious!  I mean… how are we supposed to take the businessworld seriously?  Senior execs knew that Mackey was the mystery blogger back in 2001 but said nothing, violating what many would perceive to be their duty to serve this public company’s shareholders.  They all still have their jobs.  And you have a CEO clearly trying to influence the purchase price of a target competitor… when not spending his time online saying that he thinks he’s cute!!!  Wow.  Hey SEC, anyone home?  

·         Peggy Noonan is best known as an assistant to Reagan and a speechwriter for G.H. Bush.  She is the person who gave us “one thousand points of light,” “Read my lips:  no new taxes” and the book, The Case Against Hilary Clinton.  Since then, she has attempted to appear more moderate, and write about both sides of the political aisle, but it just never… works.  She… leaks, here and there.

Thus I thought truly goofy Peggy Noonan’s piece today called “The Trance.”  It appears to be about the thoughtful look (?) Obama gets when he’s thinking, which is weird enough, but then she makes a crack about whether or not he actually can think.  That Peggy Noonan, I know.  Then she whipsaws toward complimenting other Democratic candidates such as Chris Dodd and I’m confused again.

 Thankfully, all is made well when it becomes clear that the entire purpose of her approximately 1,200 word article is to slam Hilary Clinton.  Well why didn’t you just say that upfront, silly? It would have saved me about 1,100 words…

 
  ·         And finally, a long riff from Steve Stechlow on his love for Bruce Springsteen.  Best part:  Stechlow bestows the greatest love of all on his teenage son when he invites the kid to Springsteen’s opening night in Hartford.  Long pause.   Kid’s response: “Who else is playing?”  Stechlow: “It is… a body blow.  How could I have failed so miserably as a father?”  Funny for the text, and hilarious because… THIS is a WSJ story?! 


So the next time you need a refreshing businessworld-relevant giggle, read the Saturday Wall Street Journal.  I can promise you as much humor as probably any newpaper, short of The Onion, can muster.