“Betcha Can’t Read Just One”

Jeff Bezos, who recently purchased The Washington Post, is on a quest for a new golden era based on the philosophy that guided him in building Amazon.com: “Put the customer first. Invent. Be patient.” Mr. Bezos concludes: “If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at the Post, too.” What do customers  and readers value? What kinds of value? How can we innovate to increase our value?

Let us interweave the Post’s marketing challenge with professor Jean-Jacques Lambin’s reflection about the challenges facing marketing: Should the marketing process satisfy short-term or long-term needs? Should it be more concerned about a person’s well-being than the person herself? And should it foster social or individual value?

Let’s expand this reflection using a global example: the snack-food industry, as described by Michael Moss. In his latest book, Moss describes how the food industry uses innovation to maximise the addictive effect of snack foods: salt and fat go straight to the brain, glucose levels in the blood shoot up, and crunchy textures leave us always wanting more. The food industry executive Indra Nooyi has admitted as much: reducing fat content and making snack foods healthier would be better for consumers’ health, but it would also make the products less addictive, cause immediate sales to drop, and lead to a loss of value for shareholders. The historic result: “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One.”

I love the story about Jeffrey Dunn, former chief operating officer at Coca-Cola. Dunn was fired after suggesting that consumers in Brazil’s favelas needed many things but that sodas were not one of them, and for trying to eliminate vending machines from public schools. In his book, he shares the marketing pitch he used some years later to sell baby carrots: consumers who are regular snackers make up a segment of 146 million people, let’s position baby carrots as simple as “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food”.

Why not transfer the snacking slogan to a newspaper, even when it represents not just a business but a “public trust”?

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