Rogers: boob behind the tube

When I signed a 2-year digital TV contract last July with Rogers, it was following a long and painful price negotiation with their customer service department. Unhappy that they had increased their prices last summer, I argued to get it at the previous price. Plus additional discounts for invoicing screw-ups. Now, 9 months into the contract, this month’s invoice displayed a sudden hike in the amount due. Of course, I called them up immediately.

(Following several minutes of unbearable Muzak)

Me:  Hi. The amount on my invoice is higher than usual, and I’d like to know why.
Rep:  Yes. Rogers has increased the price of some of their programming packages, including the one you’re subscribed to.
Me:  When I signed up, I agreed to a particular price. I’m not interested in, nor do I intend on, paying more.
Rep:  Unfortunately, they’ve decided to increase the price. Rogers is constantly making improvements to the levels of service they offer their clients.

(Play along. Benefit of the doubt.)

Me:  Okay. Can you tell me what these improvements are?
Rep:  Well, um, Rogers is always bringing improvements to existing services, to better serve their clients.
Me:  Yes, I got that part. Can you tell me how this will benefit me, specifically, in my day-to-day experience, when I watch TV?
Rep:  Um, unfortunately I can’t really say… specifically…
Me:  That’s what I thought. Once again, I was already paying more than I’d like for cable, and I have no intention of paying more. So please change my invoice to the price I used to pay.
Rep:  Unfortunately, I can’t change the price of the packages.
Me:  Sure you can. I’ve negotiated with you guys before to get better pricing.
Rep:  Yes, I can see you have discounts on your invoice.
Me:  Yes. So just adjust that so that I don’t pay more. You can call it a credit, or a discount, or whatever label you need to on your end, as long as I don’t see an increase. Look, it’s simple. I know I’m screwed to stay with you for the 2-year duration of the contract. But you have a choice: you can keep me at the increased price and know for a fact that you’re losing a client after the contract, or you can work with me and keep me as a client.


Rep:  Okay, here’s what I can do. We have a promotion right now, on the package you currently have. It’s 20% off for 12 months. But your current discounts will no longer be valid.
Me:  That’s OK, because the 20% off more than compensates for it. (Translation: in the end, I’m still paying less, which is what I wanted)

(Note: Always ALWAYS repeat what you THINK they’re saying, to make sure you’ve understood correctly.)

Me:  So you’re telling me that for 12 months, as of today, I will keep the exact same package I currently have, and I will get it for $X less than I am currently paying.
Rep:  That’s correct.
Me:  Great, let’s do that.

But clearly isn't.

But clearly isn't.

In conclusion:

–  Never, ever accept a random change in service levels or price unless it’s in your favour.
–  Never, ever accept their initial refusal or dismissal. Push back. I’ve never called anywhere without getting something in return, with varying degrees of success.
–  I’m appalled that it would take a client threatening to leave before being offered a better deal. Shouldn’t the better deal be offered automatically, as a thank you for clients’ continued business? Oh wait. That would involve some notion of customer service.
–  I’m still getting my package for less. Again.


Ding dong, knock knock

Ding dong. Knock knock.

Evidently someone’s at the door.
As I walk down the stairs toward the front door, I can’t see anyone outside. I open the door and still can’t see anyone, so I look around on the ground in case anyone’s left a package.

I step outside and look around, to find a tall, gangly 18-ish year-old guy, who had obviously stolen Gilligan’s hat, and who was too busy looking at my driveway to say anything to me.

Me: “Did you just ring my doorbell?”
Gilligan: “Yes.”
Me: “Do you always walk away from doors after you ring or knock?”
Gilligan: “Yes. I offer driveway repair services and I can’t give you a price if I haven’t seen your driveway.”

Mistake number one: you make a dumbass opening move and don’t follow with “Oh, pardon me” or something equivalent.
Mistake number two: you’ve obviously not made a killer impression, and before even telling me anything I actually give a crap about, you announce that you want to sell me something.

Me: “Here’s a thought. Try taking a look at someone’s driveway *before* you ring the doorbell.”
Gilligan: “Oh, OK.”
Me: “We’ve already received other offers for these services. Thanks anyways.”

I shut the door.
Mistake number three: being an overall putz.
Hope Gilligan doesn’t make sales his life aspiration.

A Marketing Fad… Clearly.

Crystal Pepsi

Crystal Pepsi

The other day, I was driving to work when the radio played a blast from the past: Van Halen’s Right Now, circa 1992. Even before I started my marketing career, I was always attuned to advertising and marketing. Exhibit A: the song didn’t take me back to any college parties, but rather planted a clear image in my mind of Pepsi’s short-lived 1993 flop, Crystal Pepsi, and its advertising campaign.

Let’s face it: it’s easier to piggyback on an existing idea or trend and somehow still get some credit for it. At the time, it was somewhat of a fad to market “clear” versions of products – the theory was that consumers would equate clarity with purity. Ivory Soap was the first, remaking their classic creamy solution into a clear (and presumingly pure) liquid.

Enter Pepsi, with its own clear concoction, Crystal Pepsi. Launched at Superbowl 1993, below is one of their 30-second spots:

What exactly is Crystal Pepsi? Precisely what it sounds like: a colourless version of its cola self. Not a citrus-infused drink like many other clear, non-cola beverages, but simply one that tasted suspiciously like regular Pepsi. So what was the point?

Hence Crystal Pepsi’s meteoric rise to… nowhere. But all is not lost. After all, it provided valuable material for Saturday Night Live, who didn’t waste a second to pick up the pieces and rearrange them into something disturbing, albeit hilarious.

Lessons learned? Pepsi the drink has been around since the 1890, although Pepsi the brand was trademarked in 1903. Think twice before screwing with your brand just to unjustifiably jump on the latest lemon-scented and new-improved bandwagon.

Barbie World less than rosy

I grew up playing with Barbie dolls in the 70’s. I had it all: the furniture, the house, the RV, and the pink Corvette. Lots of Barbie friends, and boxes of clothing and accessories. In fact, my goal was to someday have the lifestyle that my Barbie had.

Today, my daughters play with Barbie dolls. But I’ve noticed some changes in the blonde bombshell that I’m less than enthusiastic about.

True, since her 1959 debut, Barbie has had about 125 careers or occupations, including aerobics instructor, U.S. army officer, astronaut, veterinarian, McDonald’s cashier and ballerina. She is a great toy for little girls to fantasize being anything they want to be. But lately, I’ve been wondering what exactly Mattel is trying to inspire girls to be.

Besides the obvious physical anomalies, which would cause Barbie to be 5’9″ tall, with a 36″ chest, 18″ waist and 33″ hips and missing about 20% the body fat required to menstruate, Mattel has made a few marketing blunders. Among these:

– Teen Talk Barbie, in 1992, featured a doll that spoke various phrases, including “I love shopping!” and “Math class is tough!”. Mattel has always claimed Barbie could be a positive role model for girls. Perhaps they meant for girls aspiring to marry rich.

– Oreo Fun Barbie in 1997, a cross-promotion with Nabisco, was criticized because in the African American community, Oreo is used as a derogatory term, meaning you’re “black on the outside, but white on the inside”.

– Totally Tattoos Barbie, in 2009, featured a series of tattoos that girls could apply to Barbie, including a lower-back tattoo. I mean, what if things don’t work out with Ken? Will Mattel throw in laser tattoo removal as part of the divorce settlement?

Ken Tattoo

Ken Tattoo

As a girl, my Barbie accessories ranged from fun to glamorous. Today, it seems challenging to find anything for Barbie that doesn’t scream “I charge by the hour”. I’ve been to various toy stores. I searched online on sites including Barbie and Toys R Us. In fact, I think Mattel is encouraging girls to think “sexy” at a premature, inappropriate time — shorts that barely cover Barbie’s ass, shirts that she shouldn’t bend over with in public, and outfits that look just plain sexually provocative.

I thought my point would be better illustrated by using examples of Barbie merchandise I found on the Barbie and Toys R Us web sites, and playing a little game called Name that Barbie:

1. Frat Party Barbie — complete with Daisy Dukes, easy-to-remove top, and Jell-o shots. Promotion: Purchase Frat Party Keg and get Tipsy Tina for real cheap.

Frat Party Barbie

Frat Party Barbie

2. Escort Barbie — includes cheap faux-chic ensemble, black boa, stiletto heals and matching purse perfect for carrying condoms. Barbie’s all about safety!

Escort Barbie

Escort Barbie

3. Mile-High Club Barbie — from the skin-tight teaser uniform to the f#@k me boots. Bonus handcuffs inside luggage.

Mile-High Club Barbie

Mile-High Club Barbie

4. Poolside Fling Barbie — comes with, evidently, very little material and Barbie’s own cabana boy

Poolside Fling Barbie

Poolside Fling Barbie

5. Little Black Dress Cougar Barbies — Can be sold separately, but usually sold as a pair of aggressive, slightly used dolls

Cougar Barbies

Cougar Barbies

My point is that Barbie is moving beyond the merely flimsy onto the full-blown skanky. Just in case I haven’t illustrated my point, here’s one more item, taken online from Toys R Us. They call it “Premium Pink House furniture”; I call it Barbie’s venture into adult films.

Barbie Boudoir

Barbie Boudoir

Am I the only one here who sees the inappropriateness of some of the available toys? And yet Mattel has launched an “I can be” Academy, meant to inspire girls by putting on display all the careers Barbie has held. There’s a great article in the Ottawa Citizen explaining the Academy and how it highlights Barbie as a positive role model. Girls can even design their own engagement rings, cakes and wedding dresses. They can walk down a pink carpet and receive a diploma from Barbie herself. Now there’s one to add to your CV.

They say the goal of the campaign is to empower girls. Just seems oddly self-contradictory with the other messages they’re sending.

Tasty and healthy: a paradox?

We parents do everything we can to ensure our kids grow up healthy and happy. For instance, we try to buy healthy, wholesome snacks for them, which they’ll actually want to eat. That’s the catch, right? If it’s tasty, it’s probably crap; but if it’s healthy, it probably tastes a little like sawdust.

At the top of the snack list are nature’s treats — fresh fruits and vegetables. Next come dried fruits, yogurt, nuts and whole grain crackers and cereal. But have you tried looking at alternatives? Slim pickings to say the least. Take a stroll to your local supermarket and go down the snack aisle.  You’ll find dozens of brands of granola bars in dozens of flavours, many claiming the benefits of either whole grains, high fibre, or some other trendy catch phrase.

Before throwing the box into your basket, turn it over and take a look at the nutritional content. The average granola bar will have 1 to 2 grams of fibre (2 grams being the minimum quantity necessary to claim “Source of fibre”). Keep reading. The sugar content, on average, will range anywhere between 9 and 16 grams. Let me put that into context for you: 1 teaspoon of granulated white sugar contains 4.2 grams. It’s like feeding your child rolled oats and nuts, with up to 4 teaspoons of sugar sprinkled on top.

Example #1: Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars — 3 g fat, 2 g fibre, 13 g sugar, 2 g protein

Example #2: General Mills’ Nature Valley Trail Mix bars — 4 g fat, 1 g fibre, 12 g sugar, 3 g protein (Their crunchy bars have 6 g of fat)

I wonder if they feed their own kids this stuff. Note that I didn’t bother referencing anything involving chocolate, honey, maple or the like.

I can spend up to 20 minutes in that aisle, comparing the backs of boxes, looking for the lesser of all evils. I can occasionally bake my own concoctions, but like most parents who work full-time, have kids to drive to multiple activities, and still have a home to manage, it’s not a permanent solution. So short of starting my own bakery, is there a decent solution on the market?

The light at the end of the tunnel: Kashi. Their granola bars are both nutritious and delicious. Evidently, they employ smart, responsible parents. Thank you, Kashi, for setting the example.

Consider Kashi’s Cherry Dark Chocolate granola bars — 3.5 g fat, 4 g fibre, 6 g sugar, 6 g protein

Their only flaw is that their products aren’t certified as being nut-free, which most schools today insist upon.

Oh well. The girls can at least enjoy Kashi bars at home or on the way to soccer. Incidentally, they’ve come up with some new flavours, which aren’t on their web site yet, but are available in stores – Dark chocolate & Coconut, for one, is sinfully delicious, and still boasts the same wholesome benefits. Just sayin’.

I do intend on using my relentless powers of harassment to contact some of the major players and suggest they follow Kashi’s lead and start offering some healthier alternatives. They all have R&D facilities. With enough pressure from the public, perhaps they’ll eventually come out with something that will make both kids and moms happy.