Consumers Are Faring
for Ad Translators
About Tamper Evident Packaging?
CONSUMERS ARE FARING
Many shoppers are cutting back on spending. Some are
tuning out the marketplace. The Conference Board's March report on an
upsurge in consumer confidence was music to the ears, but the music
was out of tune with what we are hearing, which shows spending softness
coming from two sources:
Real or feared income decline (close to what consumer confidence measures)
Disappointment in the consumer marketplace.
Number one is
all too familiar from today's headlines. It's number two that is triggering
disconnect. Consumers are tuning out because:
- They aren't being
turned on by today's merchandise - which just isn't that exciting
- They are being
turned off by the treatment and the value they are getting
- They aren't connecting
with advertising - which often doesn't make sense
merchandise. Maybe it's too many stores with too many of the same
products. Maybe we've had too much of everything. Maybe it's today's
Been There, Done That mentality. Except for Kashi, Jet Blue, green ketchup,
skate boards, Wegman's, and Dollar Stores, we aren't seeing much enthusiasm
for the stuff or the stores. We'd suspect winter doldrums but the calendar
says that it's Spring - a combination that reminds us of the times when
women weren't buying new clothes because they didn't like the fashions
in the magazines or the stores.
off by products and experiences. Consumers are expressing disdain
for more and more kinds of consumer experiences -- from grocery shopping
to fine dining and from appliances to advertising. If prices haven't
gone up, sizes have been shaved. Profits have been squeezed. Weights
and warranties have been reduced. Service has been trimmed. Advertising
is confusing, incompressible, and everywhere. (See Translator Wanted
below.) Graciousness has gotten rare. Among the disparate comments we've
heard in the last month:
make endless sign errors, and when I act on what the signs say, the
checkers and often the managers act as if I'm the one who is cheating.
- My favorite
brand (Toyota) is now priced well beyond what I'm willing to pay so
I traded down and am keeping my fingers crossed.
- I bought a
new top-of-the-line Hoover vacuum cleaner in January and three weeks
later was charged $48 to have it unclogged. They said I set it on
deep clean and the clogging that results from deep cleaning rugs isn't
covered by the warranty.
- Four of us
had dinner at a fixed price dining room at a Ritz Carlton hotel in
Florida. Two of us sent back entrees that we barely touched because
they tasted yucky. A three-course meal in their "good" restaurant
was priced at $77 a person plus wine, tip and taxes - and no one asked
if we liked the meal or said a word when we sent it back (One manager
said that waiters expect women to send most of their food back.).
- Premier fliers
usually get to board the aircraft first, even if they are sitting
in coach. As a Premier flier assigned to a coach seat in row 8, I
reached the gate attendant just after she had announced that row 25
and higher could board. She embarrassed me by loudly admonishing:
'I didn't say you could board at leisure so sit down and wait for
- I bought a
pants-with-jacket sweat suit on sale at Saks that I thought was a
really nice buy. When I actually wore it, I discovered that it had
not a single pocket - none in the jacket and none in the pants. I
felt really had, and from Saks Fifth Avenue!
- AOL was fun
at the beginning. Now I'm so agitated by problems getting and avoiding
ads that it's no fun at all.
- Banks have
lower and lower services, but higher and higher fees. It really feels
like they are trying to screw their customers.
This wide array
of disgruntled comments suggests a widespread loss of customer focus
and consumer connection. We suspect that many of the businesses involved
in these consumer perceptions are facing profit squeezes and looking
for advertising magic or solutions that trim costs. If stimulating an
economic rebound depends on growing top lines as well as bottom lines,
let's hope that more companies can get beyond quarterly profit measures
to reconnect with their consumers.
This is a guest column from Shel Sosna of Supermarket Advertising Associates.
When I was growing up in the advertising business, I was taught that
the essence of a good television commercial was to offer a single promise
later called the unique selling proposition that consumers would connect
with. Today consumers have to fathom both the meaning and the selling
proposition in many of today's 30-second excursions into fantasy. And
I am not talking about local advertising for aluminum replacement windows.
I'm referring to the big advertisers like AT&T, Nissan, Motrin,
and Bank of America.
can anyone figure out why AT&T uses a shepherd and a flock of sheep
in its wireless telephone commercials? They don't seem to have any connection
with the story they are trying to tell, which is quite straightforward:
AT&T gives you a wide menu of wireless options. But to understand
the message, you have to close your eyes and pretend that you are listening
to the radio. These days, when I think about sheep, I think hoof and
On the other
hand, AT&T wireless competitor Cingular is confusing in both the
audio and video portions of their commercials. The video is often of
a dancing red asterisk. Another Cingular commercial features a bunch
of overweight football players learning ballet! The message is always
the same; "Cingular believes in the power of self expression."
Well, duh. No mention of wireless that I noticed. To confuse things
even more, there are often adjacent commercials for Singulair, an asthma
Bank of America
is running a series of commercials that feature an androgynous little
boy who wants to become a teacher but whose father wants him to be a
doctor. "Without teachers," he tells his daddy, "where
would doctors come from?" Well, ok, but then why should I bank
at Bank of America?
have been a whole lot of ass jokes in commercials. There's the one,
probably written by a young agency recruit who just flunked out of pre-med
but who remembers an unimportant thing or two. It's for Nissan pickups,
and the line goes, "Some trucks haul dirt, some trucks haul bricks,
but some trucks haul gluteus maximus!" Tee-hee. Get it? He's daring
to say, "hauls ass" on television! Asses are big in commercials
these days. How about Motrin that tells prospects that it "kicks
butt?" Just what you want for a headache remedy.
Has anyone ever
seen an auto showroom as crowded and joyous as those in Toyota commercials?
Yeah, right. And why do almost all automobile commercials (for SUV's
and pickups as well as sedans) feature vehicles on mountainsides, fording
streams as if bridges have not yet been invented, churning through mud
or tooling down dusty gravel roads with empty fields as far as the eye
can see? As if most people didn't drive their vehicles in crowded city
traffic and on busy streets. I am especially intrigued by the attractive
lady on a snowy mountaintop who is carrying the back seat of a Chevy
Tahoe, just to show how light it is. What's she doing up there, anyhow?
Well, fantasy does sell if viewers understand it. If you buy a Jeep,
you may at least think that you could climb a mountain with it. Why
else would any sensible woman think that by buying a bra at Victoria's
Secret she is well on her way to looking like Julia Roberts. (Shel can
be reached at 919/384-2990. His new book, How To Never Make A Mistake,
is as much fun as this critique.)
Twenty percent of the shoppers surveyed by The Consumer Network last
month are actively worried about meat safety at the present time. Twelve
percent believe that the problems facing European consumers and farmers
will soon be here. Half of those who are actively worried cut back on
meat and/or poultry before Europe's problems started getting media attention.
And half of the consumers who are not worried now say they will immediately
cut back on or give up beef if mad cow comes here. Some of these consumers
are buying and eating more, rather than less meat in order to enjoy
it while they can. "I'm enjoying beef a lot, right now so I
can be prepared to give it up if it becomes too iffy or scary."
Some are considering
switching their meat purchases to stores that can assure them that all
the beef in their stores comes from producers that use only plant foods
as feed. Although most shoppers feel the media usually overdoes it on
food scares, several told us that they felt there has been too little
media about the current food scares. "We are scared to death
but there seems to be a relative conspiracy of silence in this country
to avoid overreaction, perhaps led by the cattle industry and retailers
like McDonald's, etc. It seems almost inevitable that either "mad
cow" or "foot & mouth" or both will spread here to
some degree but little is said about it."
Technology stocks have taken an enormous hit but consumers haven't
lost their faith in technology as a solution to real problems as well
as a provider of new dimensions to life itself. This month, in the shadow
of the animal diseases that are plaguing sections of Britain and Continental
Europe, we revisited consumer attitudes toward irradiation and tamper
evident packaging, either or both of which might be used to make fresh
meat and poultry somewhat safer for American consumers. It is about
a year since irradiation got USDA approval for fresh meat and poultry,
but shoppers haven't seen any irradiated meats or poultry in the stores.
Over 40 percent of the shoppers we polled last month feel that irradiated
products should be available and that they would buy them if they were.
(The remaining 60 percent are almost equally divided between those who
feel they need more information to know what they'd do and those who
are somewhat or strongly opposed.)
As we read what our national cross section of consumers had to say about
irradiation for meat and poultry, it became clear than the concerns
and opinions we were hearing from today's consumers were more sophisticated
than the reactions to irradiation that we heard ten years ago. We reported
on attitudes about meat and poultry safety and irradiation in 1988 and
1989. Even then, many consumers thought that meat and poultry weren't
nearly as safe as they should be. On irradiation as a remedy, many thought
it was probably not safe in the long haul; many felt they needed to
know lots more about it; and many felt that it sounded like progress
and should be available for consumers who wanted the benefits it offered.
What's dramatically different is the awareness of consumers' vulnerability
to a mix of specific dangers, acceptance of the global village, and
awareness of the shortage of government inspectors.
Today, more consumers
are eating less meat or no meat for safety as well as health reasons.
More know something about irradiation. More think irradiation is worth
doing, and more are interested in knowing more about it. Part of the
high interest level is attributable to the worries from Europe. But
much of it is part of American's belief in technological progress.
were used that may help many of us to find new ways of thinking about
- Some see
irradiation as an important niche offering - similar to organic options
for which some consumers are willing to pay a premium.
- Some see
irradiation as similar to microwave ovens in that people were afraid
of the leaks when they first appeared on the market and now no one
can live without them.
- Some compare
irradiation worries with worries about sweeteners that have now been
used for years without any of the long-term use fears bearing fruit.
is a great idea. The technology is here and I'm surprised it's
not widely used yet.
- I am 100%
in favor of radiation for meat and poultry.
- I have
no problem with irradiated food. I feel it is probably as safe
as the many other elements we are bombarded with without our knowledge
- You really
hit a hot button, Mona. Irradiation of food poses no health risks,
repeat NO risks. It is much more dangerous to take a risk of food
poisoning from spoiled food. I would absolutely prefer irradiated
foods and would like it labeled so I can select it
- I would
welcome irradiated meats, berries and milk products. If it would
help bread last longer, I would say zap that too. I am a single
person living alone and I tire of throwing out spoiled milk, moldy
bread, and moldy berries because I can't use it fast enough. And
if I buy a piece of meat, especially chicken or fish, I must "race"
to have it cooked up so it does not spoil or change flavor/texture.
My life has to revolve around my food instead of the other way
- I don't
have the scientific knowledge to comment other than to say I am
in favor of any reasonable steps that can be taken to make our
- I think
irradiation is safe. I fear that often really vocal groups on
the fringe make so much noise that they keep us from forging ahead
on things like this. I am very strongly pro irradiated meat and
poultry. It is a sensible, cost effective, safe way to protect
against some illnesses.
- I think
irradiation would be fine and I fail to see what harm would come
from killing off dangerous organisms. Does the meat glow in the
dark? (no) Does it get cancer? (no) Do people who have to have
multiple x-rays pose a danger to those around them? (don't think
so...) But, I wouldn't necessarily serve irradiated products to
a baby, as I'm really careful with babies...
food is a REAL pet peeve of mine. I think that the American consumer
deserves the opportunity to at least choose whether or not they
will use irradiated food, but the granola bunnies have done everything
in their power to frighten the public and scare off any business
person willing to market the products. I WANT irradiated products
because I think overall they would be better for my health, killing
all those pesky viruses, bacteria and such AND my pocketbook by
increasing shelf life. It bugs me to no end that a few activists
keep these products off of the shelves by blackmailing retailers
and spreading false information.
- I think
irradiation would be a good idea and wish more products would
be processed that way.
- I am in
favor of food irradiation, just as I am in favor of genetically
altered seeds, etc, which I am certain was how hybrids of various
kinds were developed and how our crops have improved - to our
betterment, not detriment. People really need to get a life -
and there are far too many groups out there devoting their mouths,
but perhaps not their untutored brains to some cause.
of meat is long overdue. Irradiation would increase the safety
of our food supply immensely. The public would benefit from education
about the use of irradiation. Once they understood it I think
it would be demanded.
- I think
irradiation should be used extensively. It's the best thing to
come along in a long time and I wish people weren't so paranoid
about it. I'm not at all afraid to purchase food labeled as irradiated,
as I know that it doesn't render food "radioactive."
is completely safe. Bring it on! Ironically, Europe has embraced
irradiation of meat and poultry and it is widely accepted there,
while the U.S. remains wary. It would bring far greater safety
to our meat supply. The E. Coli problems with hamburger would
be eliminated by irradiation.
- I think
that irradiation is a good way to assure the safety of the meat.
I would like it.
- From what
I've read on irradiated foods, it sounds like a great idea to
me. And as far as long-term effects, it makes me think of saccharine
sweeteners--30 or 40 years ago, they said it would kill us, but
I'm still using it exclusively for all my sweetening of drinks,
and I haven't suffered any ill effects yet--that I know of!
- It has
always amazed me that the general public is so leery of irradiated
food. The spice companies have been using this procedure for years
to kill off bugs, etc from herbs and spices.
- I am for
irradiation. I do not understand some people's fear. The same
scare stories came out when microwave ovens came on the market.
This issue has been researched to death. It is not a cure-all
... it's just part of the food safety precautions that can be
applied to food.
- I am really
concerned about all the media coverage ... sensationalized ...
that appears to be driven by so-called consumer groups who are
supposed to be working in my favor. If we continue to let these
groups control consumer perceptions, then we won't have any more
improvements in our life. I believe that we need to do adequate
testing and research on these new modified foods ... there is
potential for abuse, or problems, but not to the extent that some
groups would have you believe. Where are these same people when
it comes to the "herbals" and supplements that have
almost NO regulation, NO truth in labeling, NO proven track record
or research to show these products do ANYTHING?? It's the same
issue, but no one seems to be questioning these products.
The passionate concerns about the long-term effects of irradiation
are not to be dismissed. Many of those who are opposed are VERY opposed.
They worry about the cumulative effects of irradiation and hormones
and additives increasing resistance to microorganisms. They worry about
using the current problems in Europe as an excuse to start widespread
irradiation. Some worry about adding to or covering up the contamination
of the food supply. American consumers have low levels of trust in the
quality control of meat and poultry and many worry that irradiation
could make it worse as processors; distributors and/or retailers become
more lax about an irradiated meat supply than they are with the current
- I am sure
the industry is wondering whether they can use the current meat problem
to ram irradiated products down our throats. They have been looking
for a justification people will go for years. This may be the thing
that allows them to push this over. As you can tell I am vehemently
opposed to this.
can kill some microorganisms, but it isn't a cure-all. My guess is
that if meat suppliers could rely on irradiation, they would become
even more careless, such that the benefits would be lost. And we still
don't know definitively the effects of irradiation
- I would not
buy any product that has been irradiated. Irradiation causes by-products
to form in the food, and NO ONE knows what the long-term effects of
those by-products are or will be. I also think that if processors
could use irradiation, they would give up on many of their cleanliness
BETTER PACKAGING HELP?
More than a third of our shoppers think that any measures toward
greater safety, including tamper evident packaging, are warranted.
They want it for several reasons:
- They think
it will add another layer of safety.
- They have
seen kids poke through meat packages.
- They think
it would force cleaner packaging.
- They think
it might be result in sturdier or less flimsy package.
- Many think
that all food and drug packages should be tamper evident.
- Some think
it would be nice but not necessary.
oppose tamper evident packaging for fresh meat and poultry believe
- Tamper evident
features would increase prices.
- The meat
case is continually observed by meat workers so in-store tampering
routinely inspect meat packages before purchasing and would see
if the current packages have been opened without any T.E. additions.
- Tamper evident
features would increase amount of packaging.
A Meat Packaging
Priorities Report from The Consumer Network will be available later
this month. For more information, call us at 800/291-0100.
Tyson and Purdue are big brands - almost as familiar to American
consumers as Tide and Oreos. But while relatively few consumers would
say that detergent or grocery store brands are truly equal to Tide or
Oreos, most of the shoppers we surveyed said that store brand poultry
and store brand beef were really just as good as their national brand
counterparts. Store brands of sausage, hot dogs, sliced lunchmeats or
cheeses fall far short of national brand parity (in the collective ratings
of our shoppers). Store brand meat and poultry are rated just about
equal to national brands.
where consumers are with this and where they are going, it's helpful
to think about how brand equity develops over time. Most of the great
food retailers built their franchise on the quality and value of their
fresh meat and poultry. Even as case ready meat and chicken from Tyson,
Black Angus and others make significant inroads into the nations meat
cases, many of the consumers who are buying them have personal and family
histories to remember and defend - and those histories include holidays
and everyday meals based on roasts or steak or chickens from Kroger
or Safeway or Freddy's. The cookies may have come from Nabisco and the
hot dogs from Oscar Mayer but the meat came from Jewel or Red Owl.
As one consumer
put it, "The brands have more color and more coupons but they really
cook up and taste the same." Another wrote: "The main difference
between store brands and national brands is that the store brands are
packed fresh in the store and the national brands aren't." Only
one of the more than 200 consumers we heard from on this subject associated
national brands with greater safety than store brands on an unaided
basis. "I question the cleanliness of all meat/poultry/fish packaged
in the store. When I do purchase poultry in a supermarket, I purchase
only national branded products which were not cut and wrapped at store
Shopper Report, © 2001, edited by Mona Doyle, is published eleven
times a year by The Consumer Network, Inc. 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia,
PA 19104. Phone 215/235-2400. Fax 215/235-6967. Email ShopperReport@CS.com.