The Hub Cool News

Words Onscreen

words-onscreenDigital’s rise could be bad news for reading comprehension and "even our very culture," reports Steven Poole in a Wall Street Journal review of Words Onscreen by Naomi S. Baron (2/20/15). Naomi points out, for example, that students "forced to study using e-texts complain about eyestrain, distractibility and poorer recall of material … She contrasts ‘deep reading’ — the concentrated, continuous attention we pay to a fine novel or absorbing non-fiction book — with a more stop-start, goal-oriented kind that she calls ‘reading on the prowl’."

Naomi also "draws illuminating historical comparisons: between Reader’s Digest Condensed Books … and Summly, which automatically compresses news stories into bite-sized nuggets." Naomi further acknowledges that "deep reading" is actually a relatively new phenomenon, that "probably began only with the rise of the novel as entertainment. Reading on the prowl, on the other hand, has been the way most readers have consumed most books since the book was invented. (Consider, for example, how people use the Bible)."

Magazines, in fact, were developed as informational summaries (the word ‘magazine’ basically means "a place to store things" in French). It is true, as well, as Steven points out, that "there is no necessary correlation between word count and nutrition complexity. Someone reading a Wallace Stevens poem on an iPad is getting a better brain workout than someone reading a mediocre thriller in paperback," he writes, adding: "What you choose to read will always be much more important than how the text is delivered to your eyes."

The Aldine Press

aldine-pressGutenberg may have invented moveable type, but Aldus made reading popular, reports Jennifer Schuessler in The New York Times (2/27/15). The origins of paperback books — and the concept of “portable little books” — traces to Venice in 1494, and Aldus Manutius. “It was a moment of upheaval in reading roughly equivalent to our own digitally disrupted age. And Venice was the Silicon Valley of printing, home to dozens of shops locked in cutthroat competition.” The Aldine Press made its mark publishing “the first printed edition of Aristotle.”

This was followed by a “small octavo editions of the classics, books ‘that could be held in the hand and learned by heart (not to speak of being read) by everyone’,” as Aldus himself wrote. An exhibition of 20 “libelli portatiles,” as they are known, is included along with about 130 other Aldine Press books, is currently running at the Grolier Club in Manhattan. Each carries “the printer’s mark, a dolphin curled around an anchor. (The colophon is still used today by Doubleday.)” The “libelli portatiles” were not Aldus’ only innovation, however.

The “first italic typeface … appeared in a modest five words in a 1500 edition of the letters of St. Catherine and soon spread to other Aldines and beyond.” A “typeface devised for a 1496 book by the humanist scholar Pietro Bembo” is “still treasured by book designers for its grace and readability.” Aldus also had his battles with counterfeiters, mostly French, who sold “unauthorized” copies. Unfortunately, these paperback pirates were undeterred by threats of excommunication by the Vatican, which had awarded “special printing privileges” to Aldus.

The Hedonometer

happy-hatLanguage is a "social technology" that helps us in times of trouble, reports John Tierney in The New York Times (2/24/15). "While there are terrible stories in the news and awful threads on Twitter, we tend not to go on about them," says Peter Sheridan Dodds, a leader of the hedonometer project, which uses an algorithm "to gauge the emotional content of words in news articles, books, websites, music lyrics, television shows, movies and social media posts." This was done in 10 languages, and revealed a human bias for positive words.

This study was "published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" and "offers a sweeping confirmation of the Pollyanna hypothesis," which takes its "name from the 1913 novel about a girl who plays the ‘glad game,’ always trying to see the best in every situation." The impulse is surprising, since it runs counter to survival instincts: "Early humans oblivious to potential threats didn’t live long enough to pass on genes." We also tend to react more strongly to bad events, and "recognize hostile faces more quickly than friendly ones."

Yet, words people use on Twitter are "consistently upbeat," even during tragedies like the Charlie Hebdo attack. When applied to some 10,000 novels, the hedonometer found that writers attract readers "by putting characters in jeopardy, but they also make sure to keep things from getting too gloomy." Journalists, reporting on natural disasters, "look for stories of heroic rescue workers." Even the characters on Seinfeld, famous for their negativity, "somehow used more positive words than negative ones," according to the hedonometer.

Silly Love Songs

wingsGreensleeves may originally have been a tawdry love song, reports the Economist in a review of Love Songs by Ted Giola (2/14/15). The title may have referred "to grass stains on the clothing of (ladies of the night) who entertained their clients outdoors." This is among other trivia bits in the book, which also includes "that among the 64 talents the Kama Sutra recommends for elite lovers are singing, dancing, metallurgy and teaching parrots how to talk; and that Gene Simmons, the lead singer of Kiss, has slept with 4,897 women."

Ted seeks to revise the love song’s reputation as "wimpy music," and argue that they are, in fact, "radical and disruptive." Love songs "have survived repression, expanded human freedom and proved uniquely hospitable to the voices of the marginalized. Ted’s capacious definition of love … includes bizarre Sumerian fertility rites" and "chivalric troubadour songs." Incidentally, "a lament sung outside a lover’s door is called a paraklausithyron." Both troubadours and rock stars "owe tremendous debts to African and Middle Eastern influences."

Ted’s takes "a Darwinian view of love songs — that they are an evolutionary necessity, fulfilling a role similar in nature and intent to bird songs." Objections "to love songs," meanwhile, "sound similar across cultures" — the common complaint is that they threaten "to turn young listeners away from a stable and virtuous life." The sharpest criticism of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery has been "levelled against the tango in the 20th century, the waltz in the 19th and the sarabande in the 16th … the love song has outlasted … objections for centuries."

Blithe Spirit

spiritA bad brand experience seems to be Spirit Airline‘s competitive advantage, reports Scott McCartney in The Wall Street Journal (2/26/15). At the core of the airline’s offering is a bait-and-switch plan that advertises low air fares that are then raised via an array of fees for extras. In this case, extras can include an in-flight drink of water. They also include printing a boarding pass, using a credit card, and speaking with an agent by phone. “There’s no fee to recline the thin seats — they don’t recline because legroom is so cramped.”

This works “because other airlines have raised prices so much.” Spirit “is expanding nationwide” and “increased its capacity a whopping 19% last year.” Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza makes no apologies. “No one goes to Chick-fil-A and complains they can’t get a burger,” he says. “And people shouldn’t come to Spirit if they want lots of legroom.” He also says he expects people to complain about all of the extra fees. “Our complaints will be higher than the rest of the industry. We understand that,” he says.

The Spirit gambit obviously plays better with some fliers than with others. “They attract people with cheap flights and then overcharge for everything,” says Emily Alayyan. “If you know you’re taking Spirit, be ready for an awful ride.” Still, Emily has not been able to resist flying Spirit. Susana Farias, meanwhile, says she’s “very, very happy with Spirit” because the low fares enable her to travel more frequently. Bottom line: “The average ticket on Spirit is $73 each way, and passengers pay, on average, another $55 in fees and in-flight purchases.”

The Match Game

match-gamePrice-match guarantees can actually result in higher prices for shoppers, reports the Economist (2/14/15). It seems like a great deal: When you check out at the supermarket you might get a voucher good for the amount of money you would have saved shopping at a rival store. It’s a supermarket’s way of guaranteeing "that their customers could not save any money by shopping elsewhere." However, such offers effectively "blunt the logic of competition" and "can leave consumers worse off."

The problem is that cutting prices "no longer wins the competitor new business; buyers stay loyal and invoke the guarantee instead of switching. All that price cuts achieve for the competitor is the erosion of profits on existing sales. The competitor will probably conclude that prices — and margins — are better left high." This, in turn, works out neatly for those offering the price-match, as their competitor’s prices aren’t any lower, anyway. It’s a kind of "tacit collusion." There’s no need to advertise a lower price either, since the store only has to match rival prices, not provide low prices.

In addition, the price match typically is offered in the form of a voucher, meaning that it is good only on the next shopping trip — "to take advantage, a customer must return with the voucher." This potential for slippage gives a rival store an opening to offer direct, voucher-free price cuts that are less of a hassle for shoppers. That’s what’s happening in the UK, where "the four biggest supermarket chains" offer price-matches against each other, effectively keeping their prices high, leaving the low-cost path open for the likes of Aldi and Lidl.

Split Brains

brainThe ‘split-brain’ studies found that humans are quite literally of two minds, reports Sally Satel in The Wall Street Journal (2/24/15). This is research that goes back to the 1960s, by Michael S. Gazzaniga, who "was one of a team of CalTech researchers who opened the minds of fellow scientists to a new view of how the brain functions." It involved surgery to separate "the two cerebral hemispheres by cutting the sheath of nerves that connects them," performed "to treat intractable epilepsy or remove certain tumors."

This enabled researchers to witness "two mental systems … each with its own sense of purpose and quite independent of each other," as Michael writes in his new book, Tales From Both Sides of the Brain. The left side "is primarily responsible for speech and language capacities, and the right for visual-spatial processing and facial recognition. A split-brain patient cannot say the word ‘cat’ when it is flashed on a screen" visible only to his right hemisphere. "Yet he can select a cat image from various animal pictures."

In another experiment, a patient’s right hemisphere was shown a picture of a snowy scene, while the left hemisphere was shown a chicken’s claw. Asked to point to cards that matched the pictures, the patient pointed to a picture of a chicken with his left hand and to a shovel with his right, explaining that "you need it to clean up the chicken droppings." This ability to reconcile "gives our actions one narrative and enables us to feel like a unified being." It suggests that consciousness "is an irreducible ‘emergent property’ of the brain."

Brian Brain

rearview-mirrorThe science says that memories are not always what we think they are, reports Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times (2/11/15). According to Elizabeth Loftus, "a leading memory researcher and a professor of law and cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine," the Brian Williams incident is "a teaching moment, and a chance to really try to get information out there about the malleable nature of memory." In her opinion, Brian may not be so much a liar as someone who "developed a false memory."

Christopher Chabris, co-author of The Invisible Gorilla, says this can be true even if we are "extremely confident of the memory." The thing is, memories "exist as fragments of information, stored in different parts of our mind. Over time, as the memories are retrieved, or we see news footage about the event or have conversations with others, the story can change as the mind mistakenly stores them as memories. This process essentially creates a new version of the event that, to the storyteller, feels like the truth."

Elizabeth has done experiments where she "planted false memories of being a frightened child lost in a shopping mall. After reading a description of getting lost, about one in four study subjects came to believe the false memory as something that really happened to them." In another study, by Steven J. Frenda of the New School, subjects who wrote a story about a cat rescue "were twice as likely to claim the event as a real memory" as a control group who wrote about "a mundane topic," when both groups were asked if they had ever rescued a cat.

Old Bourbon

jim-beamThe roots of bourbon’s revival date back to 1795, reports Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times (2/20/15). Actually, it was the 1980s — when "bourbon distillers realized that by returning to some pre-Prohibition bottling traditions and embracing the small-batch production and marketing efforts that had helped other beverages thrive, they could break bourbon out of its old-man image." Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe says his father, Booker Noe, noticed that "single-malt scotches were doing really well," and thought bourbon had similar potential.

Fred says his father thought that "if high-end bourbons with their special taste profiles were presented to the public in the correct way … people would enjoy them." His father "went into the attic of Jim Beam’s home in Bardstown, Kentucky, and found the pre-Prohibition ledgers that included the bills for customers who purchased their bourbon straight from the barrels." He "developed Bookers straight from the barrel, uncut, unfiltered," says Fred. "That’s how it was done in 1795."

The "small-batch movement took off," as "did the role of the distillers who became brand managers in their own right, promoting bourbon to liquor stores and bars around the country and eventually overseas … signing bottles the way authors sign books." "People love to say, ‘I talked to Jim Beam’s great-grandson and he told me how this bourbon was made," says Fred. "People who come into bars are looking for more than a drink these days; they want the stories. It’s entertainment."

New Coke

new-cookeNew Coke’s champion said his greatest failures happened when he lost sight of the bull, reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (2/25/15). When the late Donald R. Keough, "who led Coca-Cola through the disastrous introduction of New Coke in 1985," said "bull," he meant it literally. "When I was 15 or 16 years old, I got a job buying bulls to ship back to processing plants," he once told The Times. On his first day, after overpaying, his boss chastised him, saying: "Concentrate on the bull, not on the language of selling."

Following the popular uproar that followed New Coke’s rollout, it was apparent Mr. Keough had indeed forgotten the bull. "All the time and money and skill that we poured into consumer research could not reveal the depth of feeling for the original taste of Coca-Cola," he said. After noting that cynics accused Coke of introducing a new flavor profile to spark demand for the original formula, he commented: "The truth is that we are not that dumb and we are not that smart." Old Coke — re-dubbed Classic Coke — was off the shelves for "just ten weeks."

Mr. Keough wrote a book called The Ten Commandments for Business Failure," in which he recounted his most famous disaster. One of the commandments was: Assume infallibility." As he told The Times in 2008 : "The word ‘success’ has always made me nervous, because I believe built into that word are a couple of viruses — arrogance and complacency — and left unchecked they can ensure failure." At one point, he also "suggested that his tombstone should read: ‘He’s not that dumb and he’s not that smart’." Donald Keough was 88.

The JetBlues

jetblueNew baggage fees won’t matter and less legroom will make JetBlue customers happier, says Marty St. George in a Wall Street Journal interview by Suzanne Vranica (2/23/15). Marty, who is JetBlue’s head of marketing, says customers say they don’t want to pay bag fees, but in fact really don’t care, and the fees "aren’t that big of a deal anymore." He adds: "I can’t tell you how many times I have been at the counter and a customer hands me a credit card to pay for a bag and I say, ‘No, it’s free’." He says reducing legroom is another "non-issue."

Marty says JetBlue’s new airplane, the Airbus 321 "is significantly more comfortable. This cabin has customer-service scores 20% to 30% better than existing Airbus 320 cabins. When more customers actually see this product, they will recognize it is a better seat. We will continue to have more legroom than any other airline in North America." He believes "the new product will be a lot easier" to explain once customers have experienced it. In the meantime, JetBlue’s favorability ratings have declined "to 56.2% from 63.8%," according to YouGov.

Negative perceptions were "triggered by giving guidance to Wall Street," says Marty, who admits "it will be tough to combat the rumors" until JetBlue launches "the new fare prices in the second quarter." He says JetBlue relies more on "a great customer experience" than on traditional advertising, but likes "search ads" best "because they fill seats." The key for marketing chiefs, he says, is "to have a more enterprise view of the business … and less communications-focused," while also being "more involved in the revenue side of the business."

Fatter Batteries

cellphone-batteriesSmartphone designers need to stop thinking thin to truly satisfy customers, writes Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal (2/23/15). The basic conflict, notes Christopher, is this: People want both really thin phones and really long battery life. The solution, he says, is "a company brave enough to persuade users that one of the things we’ve come to expect from phones and other gadgets — that every year, they become thinner and lighter — is a trend that has outlived its usefulness."

Christopher says "a little math reveals it’s more than reasonable that if the iPhone 6 were as thick as the iPhone 4, the iPhone 6 could have double its current battery life." The problem for Apple is that if it introduced a phone both thick in size and battery life, "it would be suicidal … Thinness and weight have become proxies for excellence in design, a shorthand for high-tech." Critics reinforce this to the point where "you start to realize that unrealistic beauty standards aren’t limited to judgments of other humans."

In short: "The battle for ever more svelte smartphones isn’t about utility; it’s about bragging rights." As phones have grown slimmer, our usage has grown fatter: "The average amount of time Americans spend on their mobile devices is up more than 60% in just the past three years, and we now spend more time looking at our phones than at TVs … Being alive in the 21st century means expending a meaningful portion of our limited cognitive capacity maintaining low-level anxiety about the length of a tiny green bar."

Michele Ferrero

nutellaThe recipe for Nutella is only one of many secrets the late Michele Ferrero kept, reports The Economist (2/21/15). The basic Nutella recipe was nothing original — "ground hazelnuts with a little cocoa had been known in northern Italy since Napoleonic times." It was Michele’s father, Pietro, who tinkered it into what eventually would become launched as Nutella in 1964. At first, the confection was produced "in solid loaves" and then as a "semi-solid" cream, in jars. Michele, came up with adding vegetable oil "to make it beautifully spreadable."

"The result was revolutionary: chocolate-eating transformed from a special event into something everyday." Michele came up with the Nutella name, packaged it in its now-iconic glass jar, "and the rest was history." In total, this was Michele’s first secret: "Always do something different from the others." His second secret was to stick with it. For Michele, who died on Valentine’s Day 2015, this meant resisting temptation to acquire or be acquired, and never going public. His third secret was "two women" — "la Valeria" and "Maria."

La Valeria was "his name for the typical housewife, mother, nonna or aunt, who had to decide what to buy every day." Maria was the Virgin Mary: "Each morning he prayed to her and placed his business in her hands." His prayers certainly were answered. Nutella, "along with more than 20 confectionary lines made him Italy’s richest man, worth $23.4 billion." His other products included Mon Cheri, individually wrapped "cherry-liqueur chocolates," created as an affordable treat in post-war Germany, and Tic-Tac mints. Michele Ferrero was 89.

Kenji Ekuan

kikkoman"Making an object means imbuing it with its own spirit," said the late Kenji Ekuan, as quoted by Jonathan Soble in a New York Times obituary (2/10/15). Kenji’s most famous object is "the instantly recognizable soy sauce bottle — red-capped and elegantly teardrop-shaped." He designed it for Kikkoman "while still in his 20s. It took him three years and 100 prototypes to come up with a final design for his dispenser, which combined a gracefully curving form with an innovative, dripless spout. More than 300 million of the bottles have been sold." (image)

Another of his famous designs was the Komachi bullet train. Kenji’s own spirit emanated from "the devastation of World War II." He grew up in Hiroshima. "Faced with that nothingness, I felt a great nostalgia for human culture," he said in a 2012 New York Times interview. "I needed something to touch, to look at … Right then I decided to be a maker of things." In a 2002 interview, he said: "The path of Buddha is the path to salvation for all living things, but I realized that, for me, salvation lay in objects … Objects have their own world."

Kenji’s influences were also Western, however. For example, he liked to read Blondie comics and once described the Jeep-driving American GIs in postwar Japan, in their crisp trousers as a "moving exhibition." While he "often worked with advanced technology," Kenji "disliked futurism for its own sake." As he told an online design magazine: "When we think of the evolution of design, we might imagine a world where robots are everywhere, but that’s not it … The ultimate design is little different from the natural world." Kenji Ekuan was 85.

Grocery Clerks

new-seasonsWorking at a grocery store is like being in a movie — only better, writes Jeffrey Shaffer in The Wall Street Journal (2/21/15). It’s better, says Jeffrey, because "there are no cameras to interfere with the action and I get to write my own lines every time a customer asks for help." Jeffrey’s own background is "in radio, television news and print journalism," which he also finds helpful in his current job as a "floater" at the New Seasons market in Beaverton, Oregon, which he says "emphasizes friendly service" and local products.

Being a "floater" means Jeffrey works "in all departments," which "provides a range of opportunities for making personal connections." He says he likes this better than writing, which tends to be a solitary endeavor. "Now I’m in a spontaneous, edit-free environment — and it comes with a nice benefits package," he writes. He loves the conversation: "This is an interesting time to be in the grocery business, when millions of Americans are becoming seriously interested in food production, nutrition, diet regimen and cooking styles."

Jeffrey’s favorite department is bakery: "Bread is elemental, and seeing the process that brings it into existence is compelling," he writes. He also puzzles that, despite its inherent theatricality, grocery clerks are routinely denigrated by Hollywood — as in Apocalypse Now, where the Marlon Brando character insults the Martin Sheen character, saying: "You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill." Jeffrey believes the Brando character’s attitude would have been better had he simply spent some time behind a bakery counter.

Garcon de Cafe

french-friesFrench waiters can be intimidating, but it’s not because they are arrogant, reports Cristina Nehring in The Wall Street Journal (2/21/15). Unlike American waiters, who sometimes work in restaurants to pay for school or while pursuing an acting career, French waiters go to college to learn how to be great waiters. The cliche about actors waiting tables is similarly turned inside out: "Table service is one of the most theatrical professions imaginable," says Arthur Lafon Kovenko, a student at Ecole Francaise de Gastronomie Ferrandi in Paris.

"Students at Ferrandi don’t just learn to dismember a chicken and hold forth about red wine, they do drama exercises; they take posture, breathing and fashion lessons." Arthur says he learned "how to project confidence, how to walk, how to talk and how never, ever, to fidget." The result can make some diners — particularly Americans — nervous, as a French waiter "first appears … a flurry of starched white and jet black." The "pokerfaced" intensity and "inflexibility" is easily mistaken for condescension.

It’s really just "an oddly expressed eagerness to please." If he corrects your pronunciation, it’s "because he thinks you want to pronounce things correctly. He will not bring your your check unless you ask him, because he considers it to be rude to intrude upon your party." His "impenetrable coolness" is because he is there to serve you, not to be your pal." As one French waiter explains: "Our culinary culture is worshipped the world over. Our wine is worshipped. Even our coffee is worshipped! … We are proud."

Something New

spencer-hapoineuCustomer data can replace brand building with efficient targeting. A Hub White Paper by Spencer L. Hapoienu of Insight Out Of Chaos. Newspaper and magazine circulation has declined by so much that if the shrinkage were applied to the physical paper it would be the size of a matchbook cover. Without all those eyeballs viewing the glorious print ads and visually compelling 30-second spots, it’s gotten much harder to maintain brand share and command premium pricing. In short, brand building is on the decline.

Keep in mind that for most of the last 100 years, brand building is what moved the market, drove business, and created one of the great consumer-driven economies. Consumer packaged-good companies, retailers, advertising agencies, and the media had a beautiful ecosystem that helped create the growth economy that relied on consumer spending for two-thirds of its size. Back in the day, it was said that General Foods makes coffee but Ogilvy makes Maxwell House. (Would David Ogilvy be tweeting now?) Read The White Paper.

Grace Thomas

grace-thomasAmerican Girl’s latest doll is designed to spark the entrepreneurial spirit, reports Ruth Simon in The Wall Street Journal (2/12/15). As with all American Girl dolls, this one has a name — Grace Thomas. She’s nine years old, and "is a budding bakery owner." Julia Prohaska of American Girl explains: "Marrying the idea of girls’ high interest in baking and cooking with entrepreneurialism was just a natural fit." American Girl is owned by Mattel, which itself has "rolled out entrepreneur Barbie, with her smartphone, tablet and briefcase."

Ted Ganchiff of the Science & Entrepreneurship Exchange, thinks the time is right: "We are creating generations of people who are terrified to make a mistake," he says. The new American Girl doll "plays out in three related books … The story of Grace … illustrates what’s needed to run a bakery, such a registering the business and obtaining a license … the books explain that launching a business can be ‘messy and overwhelming’" but tries to offer practical advice, like buying supplies in bulk, for instance.

According to Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, "women have opened roughly 200,000 new businesses a month over the past five years … Men, by contrast, have opened approximately 325,000 new businesses a month during the same time period." Inspiring more girls to start businesses doesn’t necessarily come cheap, though. In addition to the accompanying Grace Thomas books, American Girl sells "a miniature bakery with make-believe ingredients" for $500. The Grace Thomas doll itself goes for $120.

Raspberry Pi

raspberry-piA $35 computer is intended to help kids "learn more about how computers work," reports Joanna Stern in The Wall Street Journal (2/18/15). Called Raspberry Pi, the computer consists of nothing more than "a green board covered with chips, circuits and ports. There’s no keyboard, monitor, or power cord. There isn’t even an operating system." The idea, says Eben Upton, co-founder of The Raspberry Pi Foundation, is that while kids these days "have wonderful technology in their lives … they are deprived of learning how it works."

The adventurous might have to spend a little more to get much out of this computer, although it is possible to use keyboards, monitors and power cords you already have kicking around. No hard drive is included, which means you can either buy "a $10 card pre-loaded with Raspbian, a basic Linux OS optimized for the Pi," or download the free software and put it on your own card. You might also want to buy a plastic case to house the computer — which can be purchased online along with the Pi at adafruit.com.

While the Pi isn’t necessarily easy to use, a pre-loaded web browser enables users to "check email, Twitter, and Facebook." A free LibreOffice suite provides word processing, etc. Another free program, OSMC, lets users access YouTube, Pandora, ESPN and stream videos from an iPhone via AirPlay. Others have used the Pi to create "game consoles, printers, even Internet-connected dog feeders." Lima Fried, aka LadyAda, writes tutorials to help users along, and says "you’ll learn skills you normally wouldn’t learn, and hopefully have fun."

The Big McFix

ronald-mcdonaldMcDonald’s former CMO Larry Light says the chain’s problems can be fixed. Writing in The Wall Street Journal (2/11/15), Larry notes that McDonald’s recovered from similar challenges during his tenure, back in 2002. The turnaround, he says, "took less than a year to show results." The key was the so-called "Plan to Win," which "aligned the entire organization to execute ‘the right actions in the right way to achieve the right results.’ The basis for it was a laser focus on the customer," built from the inside out.

"Customer focus is important," Larry writes, "but employees come first. In 2003, we invested in an internal marketing effort to re-build employee pride," gaining "internal alignment across 119 countries." "We launched the new advertising approach internally, reaching out to about 1.5 million employees before the marketing was launched externally." Rebuilding trust was essential, and achieved, in part, through Paul Newman’s endorsement of its salads. Relevance is also critical, and today that is tightly linked to "changes in attitudes toward food."

Transparency matters, but can be a downside if it exposes ingredients "that customers don’t want to eat." "McDonald’s must revive Ray Kroc’s food-quality passion," Larry writes. Service also must be truly fast. Larry thinks McDonald’s should not try to copy Chipotle’s customization unless it can do so without sacrificing speedy service or quality food. And he thinks McDonald’s has been distracted by Chipotle and others that aren’t direct competitors, and needs to re-focus its menu, which today features more than 100 items.