Alice in CPG-Land

Alice

Being an almost pathological devotee of free shipping, this week I decided to try Alice.com, a nifty new site that connects name-brand CPG manufacturers of household staples to sell directly to consumers and eliminate the middle-man.  Alice is still in beta and is in the process of getting new members like myself to sign up and test-drive their simple service.  Unlike sites like Drugstore.com or Amazon Grocery, Alice doesn’t take a cut of the sales revenues.  It offers heavily discounted prices direct from the manufacturer, along with tons of coupons and best of all, free shipping.  The site makes money from selling the companies spending data, ad space and sampling opportunities.

Alice was created as a way for CPG brands to respond to lagging sales as more and more financially strapped consumers started turning to store-brand (private label) products at their local drug and grocery stores.  Through Alice, brands like Hefty, Colgate, Neutrogena and Kleenex can set their own prices and market their household essentials direct to consumers.  I’ve used Drugstore.com a couple of times before and I have to say that despite the fact that Alice has fewer brands to choose from, it provided a much more streamlined experience with better prices.

The site is designed as a series of virtual “shelves” that you stock with your own name-brand products of choice.  It initially asks you the makeup of your household so that it can guesstimate around when you are likely to run out of whatever it is you are purchasing and send you reminders.  So if you always use Always pantiliners, Gillette Mach 3 razor blades and Bounty paper towels, all of these items will be sitting on your virtual “shelf” for you to simply pick out to restock when the time comes.

It’s ideal for families that consistently use the same brands for their home essentials, as well as households like mine that don’t own minivans to stuff full of toilet paper from Costco.  When it came to buying bulky essentials, I oftentimes ended up sharing a cab from the local Target with a neighbor just to get the stuff home.  With Alice, I can have the stuff sent straight to my door without paying for shipping and still get a price that’s cheaper than what I usuall find at Target.  On Monday I had picked out my brands on Alice, organized my shelf, and put 7 items in my basket.  On Wednesday I received a blue box containing all my stuff, neatly packed.  It’s kind of amazing how shopping just keeps getting easier!

What I Would Drink at the White House

Since everybody and their mother is blogging about yesterday’s Beer Summit at the White House, let me use this as an opportunity to plug a beer that was recommended to us by the nice folks at the HopCat brewery in Grand Rapids, which incidentally was named the third best beer bar in the world by Beer Advocate.  It’s called A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ and it’s a seasonal ale released in May by the Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, CA.  Not only is it appropriately named for enjoyment during the hot, sticky summer, it’s super delicious and refreshing.  How amazing would it have been if the headlines this morning had read: “President Obama Enjoys A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ on White House Lawn”?  Instead he was drinking Bud Light.  Booooring! And on top of that it’s not even American anymore since Anheuser-Busch was bought by Belgian company InBev.  But hey, if that’s what he likes, then cool beans.  Fills you up and never lets you down, right?

A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale
A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale

Los Grumildos in NYC

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If you happen to be in NYC between now and August 2, I encourage you to check out Los Grumildos at the HERE Arts Center in Soho.  Created by Peruvian artist Ety Fefer, Los Grumildos is an incredibly atmospheric walk-through installation of automated puppets.  The most impressive piece consists of a large-scale dollhouse of ill repute, in which hyper-detailed characters of the underworld live out bizarre fantasies for our voyeuristic pleasure.  The periodic release of stage smoke under cabaret lighting ensures everything is muy misterioso. Knock back a couple of Pisco Sours and head to Soho with a kinky date!  (Thanks to Brian for the pics.)

Refreshment for Bloodsuckers

tru_blood_beverageHBO announced on Monday that due to popular demand, they’ll begin selling bottles of Tru Blood, the titular beverage from their hit show “True Blood” starting September.  It’s really just blood orange soda bottled to look like the “synthetic blood from Japan” that is imbibed by the peace-loving vamps on the show as an alternative to going for the jugular.  They’re available for pre-order here, but at $4 a bottle, you have to be a serious sucker to sign up.  That said, I can pretty much guarantee it will be as ubiquitous at Halloween parties this year as the Thriller dance.  I remember when HBO first began marketing the series premier on billboards made to look like ads for synthetic blood, I was confused about whether or not it was an actual beverage brand and had to Google it–which we all know is tantamount to a marketing bull’s eye.  I guess things have come full circle now!

One Less Car

Commute Bike Shop in Grand Rapids
Commute Bike Shop in Grand Rapids

I recently bought a Strida collapsible bike and finally made my very overdue entry into the world of urban cycling.  My apartment building’s unfortunate lack of bike-locking space made it impossible for me to buy a bike of the non-folding variety, hence the Strida — a British bike designed with the urban commuter in mind.  It looks very snazzy but you won’t see me off-roading on these tiny wheels any time soon.

While bicycling has been a growing trend in cities around the world for years now, I hadn’t really paid close attention to just how rapidly it was taking over our car-centric culture until recently, when two bike shops opened in my neighborhood just months apart.  There was Brooklyn Bike & Board‘s opening at the end of last year followed by Bespoke Bicycles around the corner from me in May.  Both shops are literally crawling with bikers on weekends with people of all ages looking to fix up old bikes, buy parts and get free air for their tires.  Given that NYC boasts more bike lanes than any other city in America (with a reported four times more lanes in the works thanks to Bloomberg), it’s not surprising to see why so many people are taking up cycling as their preferred method of transportation.  What is surprising though is how popular it is in American cities that don’t necessarily have hundreds of miles worth of bike lanes.

017Take Grand Rapids, for example, which my colleague Susan and I recently had the pleasure of exploring.  GR is definitely still a very car-centric city.  To give you an anecdotal sense of this: the bellhop at our hotel told us it would take about 15 min to walk to a local coffee shop, which in actuality took less than 3 min.  And yet even in this very auto-focused Michigan city, the bicycling movement was going strong.  We met with Daniel Koert, a young entrepreneur who very recently opened Commute GR Bike Shop on downtown GR’s Division Ave.  He’d been open for about two weeks when we talked to him, and seemed optimistic about the spread of biking culture in his city.  Every Wednesday night he organizes a group ride that has been growing in popularity, and he told us that he thought more and more young people were choosing not to have cars — quite a big thing to give up in a city without much in the way of public transportation.

It’s exciting to see that 17 years since the first Critical Mass event in San Francisco, cycling as a viable alternative to driving has taken hold of American cities in this way.  While the recent collapse of the American auto industry has been a very sad story to follow with regard to laid-off auto workers, the silver lining is that more and more people are going green by giving up their multiple cars and coming back to cities after decades of suburban sprawl.  It marks a dramatic turning point for the revitalization of many American cities.

Free Bikes @ Commute GR
Free Bikes @ Commute GR

Selling Ads, Brazilian-Style

WOW.  This is incredible: campanhainstantanea.com

Hands down the craziest pitch for digital advertising services I’ve ever seen.  Brought to you by a wacky agency called Gringo in Brazil.  Now you know where to go for your next big ad campaign.  A viral ad for an ad agency.  Love it.  Nuts!

Get your Instant Campaign right here.
Get your Instant Campaign right here.

Chemex Spotted in Grand Rapids

As most of my good friends know, I’m very particular about my coffee.  My favorite brewing style is to use a Chemex slowdrip, which produces the best-tasting coffee in the world (provided you’re using good beans, of course).  It’s perhaps a bit more time-consuming than other brewing methods, but that’s partly the beauty of it.  The ritual of tying the leather cord around the wooden neck and using my thin-spouted enamel pot to slowly pour hot water over the grinds in a circular motion is all part of what makes the Chemex brewing process an essential part of my mornings.

So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into Madcap Coffee in Grand Rapids, MI earlier this week and saw that they had Chemex-brewed coffees on their menu.  I’ve yet to come across a cafe in NYC that offers this slow-drip delight so it was a real shock to the system to find it in Grand Rapids while on a business trip!  I went there a total of four times on my three-day trip so I guess you can say I felt right at home.  Anyway, will post more on the surprisingly wonderful things found in Grand Rapids in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

Chemex at Madcap Coffee in Grand Rapids, MI
Chemex at Madcap Coffee in Grand Rapids, MI
How I brew coffee at home.
How I brew coffee at home.

Awesome Signage

Sign for Hair Salon in Verona, Italy
Sign for a hair salon in Padua, Italy
Sign for cute cinema. They don't make 'em like they used to.
Sign for cute cinema. They don't make 'em like they used to.
This one was in Verona. Commonplace for Italians, I'm sure.
This one was in Verona. Commonplace for Italians, I'm sure.

Some signs I saw recently in Padua where my rental car broke down and I had to wait two hours for a tow truck.  The last one is from Verona, after we finally reached our destination in the replacement Fiat Panda.  Stuff like this makes me very happy.  If anyone knows where I may be able to buy an authentic Sali e Tabacchi sign, let me know.

Twitter Not for Teens Says Lone Teen

Gotta laugh out loud over this article from the Guardian regarding Morgan Stanley’s decision to publicize a report by their 15 year-old intern.  Described as “one of the clearest and most thought-provoking insights we have seen,” by Morgan’s Edward Hill-Wood in a report by the Financial Times, the intern’s analysis includes a scathing criticism of Twitter as pointless for teens as they quickly realize nobody is reading their updates and they’d rather spend their cellphone credits texting their friends.  I’ve got my own reservations about Twitter as I’ve blogged about before, but regardless of whether I agree with this intern or not, it’s pretty ridiculous that his analysis is being held up as something worthy of influencing major investment decisions.  At the very least it must be acknowledged that a 15 year-old who has an internship at Morgan Stanley is hardly representative of average teens.

Nevertheless I admit I’m secretly a bit chuffed that these phantom ‘teens’ supposedly share my rather renegade opinion (well, renegade for someone working in marketing in NYC anyway!) that Twitter will soon be outed as being pointless for most people, and will become the sole domain of obsessive self-promoters, bored people stuck at home with pets and young children, and revolutionaries living in countries where traditional media outlets aren’t allowed.  I know, I know, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!  But believe me I’ve done my research — interviewing my many intelligent and impressive Twittering friends about what drives them to ‘tweet’ (god, strike this horrid word out of our vocabulary, please!) all day and night, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it basically comes down to boredom, peer pressure, and the promise of fame.  Hmm…wait a minute, I’m contradicting myself.  If those are the main drivers, then I guess Twitter will be going strong for decades to come?  Oy!

kill twitter

One Love

Hopefully by now the endless replays of “Man in the Mirror” and “We Are the World” on the airwaves since MJ’s sad demise have peeled away every last layer of cynical self-interest left in your being.  And now with President Obama making his first official visit to Africa today, the NYTimes brings us an inspiring Op-Ed from Bono on rebranding Africa.  As both Bono and the WEF have noted in the past, the upcoming World Cup in South Africa in 2010 will be an incredible opportunity to improve the continent’s international image, much like the way the Beijing Olympics introduced the new face of China to the rest of the world.  African banks are growing strong and even the HBR agrees that now is the time to invest.  Expect shifting perceptions to come!