Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Sweet Snack, Sweet Brand
Courtesy: (CC) Larry D. Moore

By Anne Zeiser
President and CEO 
Azure Media

The Twinkie, “the golden sponge cake with creamy filling” conjures up memories of post WWII moms laying out the treat to the delight of fawning children.  That saccharine scenario has prevailed for some 80 years and continues this week, despite a short hiccup. That’s brand endurance.

The Twinkie began in Illinois in 1930 with a banana cream filling, but when bananas were rationed during the war, it switched to the signature vanilla cream, which has reigned for more than half a century. In the ‘80s, Hostess introduced the short-lived Fruit and Cream filling, and in 2005, it brought back banana as part of a King Kong film promotion. With a 20% uptick in sales, banana filling was back for good.

Twinkies have weathered The Great Depression, the German invasion of Poland, the bombing of Hiroshima, the Civil Rights Movement, the Beatles, Roe vs. Wade, disco, the Dot-Com boom, 9-11 and Justin Bieber.  Along the way, the Twinkie has become a true American icon: a lunchbox staple; a deep-fried treat at country fairs; an urban legend of indefinite shelf life; an entry in the 1999 Millennium Time Capsule; a single-food diet; and even, a legal defense.

So, it’s no wonder that in 2012, when parent company Hostess filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced it would suspend production of the snack cake because of lagging sales and inability to come to terms with its two unions -- there was a hue and cry of epic proportions. Legions of fans took to Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit lamenting the demise of their favorite glucose drug of choice. Even “celebrities” from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to Donald Trump got into the fray. Home-baked capitalists began hoarding them, banking on big returns on eBay.

The end of the Twinkie spawned evangelistic fan reaction and consumed popular culture, motivating private equity firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. to buy the brand and, using non unionized workers, put Twinkies back on the shelf again during this summer of our re-contentment.

Why has Twinkie become the ever-surviving cockroach of unhealthy snacks and desserts? Because of its almost-unparalleled brand equity. Despite trends toward health-conscious foods or gourmet expressions of guilty pleasures, the Twinkie is a brand master of the dopamine fix and nostalgic aura. Among brands, it’s S-W-E-E-T.

  • Tells a story
  • Conveys a clear message
  • Connects to audiences emotionally
  •  Delivers value
  • Is consistent
  • Generates loyalty
The private equity firms recognized that even mammoth financial investments to create a new brand couldn’t duplicate Twinkie’s hard-earned brand equity.  Much smarter to leverage the stalwart brand. They understood that creating and expressing a clear brand with authentic meaning and value is one of the most important things you can do when you start a business or manage a product. And, it’s one of the most difficult.  

It’s the assessment of a brand’s equity - what the brand means in the marketplace and the loyalty it engenders with its target audience - that gives it monetary value. Companies are bought and sold based on that brand value, just like the Twinkie. Even your Twitter account and Facebook Page have values ascribed to them based on the number and nature of your followers and fans and their engagement with your posts. There’s an algorithm that determines your social brand value.

Susan Schreter, a venture capitalist, small business funding expert and author of “Start On Purpose: Everything You Need To Know and Do toStartup with Strength,” says the fundamentals for start up businesses to generatebrand equity with lasting financial value are creating brands “that stand for something” and managing brands’ value so “they can sell themselves” and you can “charge higher prices.” 

When James Alexander Dewar, the manager at Continental Bakery, used strawberry shortcake machines to fill the cakes with banana during the berry’s off-season to achieve more efficiency, he couldn’t have imagined he was creating a signature American brand that would sell for the lion’s share of $410 million and prevail for three-quarters of a century…and counting.

So, what’s the outlook for the new, old Twinkie? The biggest threat to the Twinkie’s survival is that it’s breaking the “consistency” attribute of good brands. It’s smaller than the original Twinkie, weighing in at 38.5 grams with 135 calories; the original Twinkie weighed 42.5 grams with 150 calories. Will audiences notice and care? The new Twinkies also have a longer shelf life of 45 days, up from the 26 days. Likely, that will help the brand, feeding the Twinkie’s kitchiness as the indestructible snack. Perhaps its infinite shelf life can translate into infinite brand equity. 

Is there such a thing as an immortal brand? Probably God, and just maybe, the Twinkie. 

Anne Zeiser is currently writing a book subtitled "The 21st Century Guide to Marketing Film, TV, Games and Digital Media" (Focal Press 2014). 

Friday, April 19, 2013


Curtis, the helper and hero
By Anne Zeiser
President and CEO 
Azure Media

When this Marathon Monday dawned a perfect day for über running, it put me in a great mood even though I’m not much of a runner. Marathon Day signals the “real” start of spring for New Englanders. It reminds Americans of our steely roots because it always falls on Patriots Day. It launches spring school vacation week in Massachusetts, And, it stirs my former professional connections to the event, having covered it for Boston’s CBS News affiliate (now NBC) and managed marketing client, the Boston Athletic Association’s 100th Anniversary activities.

So the holiday opened for me, my eight year old son, husband and dog with the lazy feel of a Sunday morning.  I lingered over coffee knowing there was no morning scramble to shower and catch the school bus. We’d decided to make it a TV-free day. We played the board game Life, I did a West Coast conference call and my husband puttered outside. In the early afternoon, with my son playing at my feet, I checked Facebook and learned about the bombings. Abandoning the family vow, I flipped on the TV, aghast at the barbarism at the “Hub’s” beloved Boston Marathon.

In just a few minutes, my “Mom” instincts overtook my journalist and news junkie instincts and I turned off the TV, knowing the cumulative effects of media. But in that short time, the fear and gruesome implications were already in sharp reveal. So, I decided to talk to my son about what had happened at the Marathon. In today's wired world, there's no shielding children completely from such harsh realities. Who could have guessed that I'd need to find words to comfort my son like after the Newtown, CT massacre -- twice in just six months?

As a former PBS-er, I went to my most trusted parenting source, PBS KIDS. It offered Mr. Rogers’ sage advice, in times of tragedy, "look for the helpers, you will always find people who are helping." I conveyed those thoughts to my son, while noting Rogers’ additional advice to the media to be sure to cover the “helpers.” I didn't know what my son felt or heard, but was glad to have Fred Rogers’ “helpful” words.

Then, we all went outside to get distance from the horror unfolding on the television. We planted bulbs, played catch with our dog, Curtis and took the bikes for a spin.  At bedtime, when I did a recheck with my son about the days’ events, he delivered a non-verbal signal of understanding and comfort, hugging Curtis, who was curled up at the end of the bed.

This vacation week I decided to send my son to our town's vacation community program in hopes that playtime with other kids would help him both separate from and process the atrocity he had “witnessed.” Yesterday was a bit better for everyone -- a day of healing with the President in Boston comforting victims, the city and the nation; suspects identified; and social media afire with sentiments of "Boston Strong." At the town’s vacation program, there were special visitors for the children, "Barn Babies," coincidently scheduled for that day. My son played with piglets, kids (goats), chicks, puppies and kittens. After that, he was the most relaxed I'd seen him since the atrocity happened. The animal babies had done their magic. 

This morning, unaware of the firefight and carjacking, we expected more healing and calm.  The call that went to voicemail at the crack of dawn from Emerson College (where I'm an adjunct professor) cancelling classes because the city was in lockdown, should have been a tip off. During breakfast, I turned on the TV to check on the weather and learned about the unimaginable developments with the two Marathon bomber suspects.

My son was visually shaken so I turned off the TV immediately. Only with a lot of coaxing did I learn of my son’s particular worry. (He's not too chatty about his anxieties or concerns). He explained that he was afraid that the “bad man” was going to come to our house. I quickly responded, “Oh no, the last place a bad guy on the run could hideout is a house with a cute white pup that barks when someone comes to the house.” A huge smile of relief came across my son's face. Curtis closed the love loop by licking my son’s hand. This sometimes-annoying canine practice of announcing visitors with loud barks had become my saving grace. In that moment of my son’s smile, Curtis had become my helper and my hero.

As a concerned parent, I’ve learned two things so far from the Boston Marathon tragedy. First, make sure you work hard to understand your kids’ specific fears so you can address them directly to make them feel safer. And second, look everywhere for the “helpers” because they may come in many forms. From the Marathon runners donating blood right after the race and BAA personnel, volunteers' and bystanders' rushing toward the smoke to first responders' swift and steady actions and medical staff working tirelessly through several nights.

And in our case, the “helper” took the shape of a medium-sized lab mix, Curtis, who celebrates his fourth anniversary of adoption from the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA – tomorrow. 

This post was inspired by my interview in this week's Huffington Post's Parenting page.

Friday, November 2, 2012


By Anne Zeiser, President and CEO, Azure Media

Courtesy AP Photo/Sean Sweeney
Climate change has been MIA from the 2012 presidential election.

Those who believe in Acts of God might say that Hurricane Sandy was visited upon us to bring climate change into full relief, just in time for Election Day. Yesterday, in reaction to Sandy’s widespread devastation, New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who’s been critical of both candidates, endorsed President Obama because of his faith in Obama’s leadership on climate change. This, the first major entrée of climate change into the 2012 political discourse, just five days before Americans vote in the next President.

For the last several presidential elections, climate change has been an integral part of the dialogue. The topic’s frame has evolved from the greenhouse effect to global warming to climate change, but it’s been a significant theme. In fact, in the year leading up to the 2008 presidential election, both of our current presidential hopefuls talked about it actively. On the campaign trail, candidate Obama highlighted climate change’s far reaching effects as “not just an economic issue or an environmental concern, this is a national security crisis.” In 2007, in an interview with Katie Couric, Mitt Romney said, “I think the risks of climate change are real, and that you’re seeing climate change, and I think human activity is contributing to it.”

Yet four years later it’s conspicuously absent from the 2012 presidential election and debates. It’s such a glaring omission that it has its own Twitter hashtag, #climatesilence.  Given the candidate’s statements you might think it’s because they agree and the debates have focused instead on the candidates’ big differences. But the opposite’s true; they don’t agree.  By 2011 Romney had flip-flopped saying, “We don’t know what’s causing climate change” and Obama was referring to climate change obliquely in broad and non-controversial terms in his “all of the above” energy strategy.

Where did climate change go? In 2007 the UN released an analysis of climate data by 30 nations’ top scientists concluding the “unequivocal” warming of the climate system and substantiating evidence of human contribution to climate change. More than 97% of scientists worldwide agreed that climate changes are not attributable to natural swings in weather and are substantially caused by human activity. The political consensus followed the scientific consensus. But in four short years that political accord has been suffocated by a heavily funded, well organized, and brilliantly communicated strategic campaign. Its chief tactics: using incomplete science to create doubt that climate change is real and to impose massive Big Oil-, Coal- and Gas-backed pressure to block Cap-and-Trade carbon emission reduction legislation.

The science hasn’t changed; in fact, evidence of manmade contributions to climate effects is even weightier. What’s changed is the political will to stop burning fossil fuels. For simply supporting climate change’s validity, Congressmen have become targets of special interest groups and lost their seats. During key votes and hearings, cowering policy makers have skirted the issue or cited specious science to justify bowing to political pressure. This misuse of science is a wholesale breach of the public trust.

Still, there have been three notable reminders of climate change leading up to the election. First, two year’s worth of undeniable weather extremes – from record heat in the continental U.S. and attendant wildfires to the highest levels of Arctic ice melting to date to rising worldwide sea levels, including the California and Atlantic coasts. The second, 350.org’s inimitable environmental advocate, Bill McKibben and his July Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” and “Do the Math” tour. The third, a recent “PBS Election 2012 Special Presentation” of Frontline, “Climate of Doubt.” This riveting Frontline reveals this systematic campaign over the past few years to reverse the political consensus on climate change. Until now, none of these formidable influences brought climate change into this election process.

Both presidential candidates have avoided public discussion of climate change. Romney wants to elude exposure of his nomination-inspired flip-flop, potentially further eroding perceptions about his character. Obama has implied climate change in his energy frame, but tried to be centrist by supporting “all of the above,” meaning oil and gas, plus solar, biofuels, nuclear, wind and fuel efficiency measures (thankfully coal isn’t included because “clean coal” is an oxymoron). Just because the candidates wanted to evade the topic doesn’t explain why no direct question about climate change surfaced during the presidential debates.

In his endorsement editorial, A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change” on Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg notes that the climate is changing; whether connected to climate change or not, two hurricanes have wreaked havoc on New York; and it's time for action. He compares the two presidential candidates’ climate change positions:

One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.

Maybe this endorsement was simmering for Bloomberg and would have happened no matter what. Who knows? There’s no upside to a hurricane that kills and injures people, demolishes buildings and infrastructure, and stalls commerce and travel. But maybe Sandy’s devastation underscored our fragile dependency on this Earth and climate change’s threat to that stasis. And maybe it compelled one of the country’s smartest, most dedicated political leaders to bring human responsibility for climate change to the forefront of this election. 

If so, then maybe there’s one good thing that came from Hurricane Sandy.