Posts by Adrian Barrow - New York

BP and the ‘worst-case scenario’

bp_logo_1In Bob Herbert’s recent New York Times column, he uses a phrase that triggered a response in my aging brain: “worst-case scenario.” The context for these three words was the horrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and BP’s apparent surprise that something this horrendous could happen. Thinking about the concept at the heart of this little saying, I began to wonder if there’s something wrong with the way we calibrate for catastrophes. Perhaps our determined cultural optimism (or, more correctly, our collective anxiety about negative consequences) is one reason that otherwise brilliant people resist thinking about how bad things could really get. “Worst-case scenario” planning is turning out to be one planning practice that’s in urgent need of a complete re-think.

Anybody else have any theories?

Photo Credit: Scave

The recession and the death of impulse

A week ago, I was in the gym gazing at a bank of monitors that carried a variety of subtitled shows about the GFC. One was an MSNBC show featuring Ivanka Trump as a guest. Responding to a question from the host, she noted that there are still lots of people out there looking to buy an apartment but that they will now visit a property three, four, even five times before making a decision. Ms. Trump owns a blog_ivanka1diamond jewelry business and the story there is similar. Buyers are out there, albeit in smaller numbers, but their behavior is characterized by extreme caution.

It came to me that we’ve killed off our impulsive side and replaced it with ill-placed belief in the power of rational caution. We’re still a nation of buyers, but we no longer trust our instincts. We’re freaked out, and this is our response. As I see it, the problem with this is that we are a species with a highly developed instinctive ability. In fact, most behavioral scientists and Malcolm Gladwell now agree that we don’t do very well in the world when we think too deeply about what’s going on.

The thing that will rescue Trump Enterprises from another hard year is the very same thing that will rescue all of us from this recession: the confidence to once again trust our instincts and be impulsive again.

Cash for all of America’s clunkers


The U.S. government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program, which ends today, was a bona fide hit. The program encouraged Americans to trade in their gas-guzzling and un-ecological clunkers for thousands off the price of a brand new (and much more economic) vehicle. If you believe the press, this has been enough to turn Detroit around. In fact, GM and Ford just announced additional factory shifts to keep up with the demand this program has stimulated.

This got me thinking—what else could consumers, government and industry do to re-engineer America’s aging private infrastructure? How about replacing the millions of leaky roofs across America, for a start? Or trading in the legions of inefficient air conditioners and boilers for energy-efficient models? Let’s not forget the broken-down BBQ that’s in every second backyard; they could use some love too. While we’re at it, maybe we should target the nation’s energy-hungry washing machines and dryers, or even the stock of aging pool filters.

Come to think of it, why stop at things that are broken or neglected? How about a program to get everyone to install water filters and rainwater tanks in their homes?

Before year’s end, we could probably renew most of what’s broken and inefficient in our lives and put many thousands of trades-people back to work. But most important, this could accomplish the seemingly impossible: getting millions of Americans back into the habit of shopping.

Photo credit: billaday

America’s new ‘R’ word

picture1Like many people still in business today, I don’t read the paper anymore. Actually, I scan it. Or rather, I scan the headlines and the synopsis that The New York Times kindly e-mails me every morning. And last week, I realized that a new “R” word is creeping into our daily media diet. Not “recession”—that’s old hat now—but “reset.”

The NYT used it in describing President Obama’s efforts to try to restart U.S./Russian relations, but I’ve seen it used recently in other stories—about Obama’s hopeful efforts to repair U.S./Muslim relations, the administration’s emergency plan to reboot the domestic auto industry and the imperative to reinvent the health care industry.

None of these important initiatives are really about the recession; it has just forced the issue. They’re about something more important: rebirth and renewal. I’ve got a theory that “resetting” is a quintessentially American concept—somewhere deep in our national psyche lies the need to start afresh, whether that’s commercially, legislatively, socially or psychologically.

Look out for brands that effectively capture this sentiment. They’ll be the ones to follow, to partner with and invest in. They’ll also be the ones stealing your market share and your loyal consumers.

Observations from an evening commute

we-live-in-financial-timesEvery evening, I take the train from the heart of NYC to my house in leafy Scarsdale, a place that’s been experiencing some unfamiliar financial pain over the past 12 months. The advertising that adorns the New Haven Line is tailored to the wealthy—but increasingly anxious—commuters who rush in and out of Wall Street and Madison Avenue: luxury watch brands, newspapers that chronicle capitalism, professional services firms, etc.

As you might expect, these advertisers have been trying some new approaches on those of us who are still employed. Financial Times reminds us that “We live in Financial Times,” a subtle play on Oscar Wilde’s eternal line. Carl F. Bucherer positions its luxury timepieces as made for “people who do not go with the times.” AVON has been exhorting us to “Walk as one” as we march for breast cancer in October. And the Take 5 lottery tells us that “with 100,000 winners a day, who says you can’t live large in New York?”

Navigating uncertainty, zigging while others zag, stories of life-affirming hope and the chance that one’s luck could change at any moment—this is the new narrative of my daily commute.

Video games offer more bang for your buck

ss18-hiresEveryone knows that some categories get creamed in a recession while others soar.

Take video games, for instance. Back in January, we observed that online gaming was recession-proof. It seems like this applies for console games as well.

Research firm NPD Group recently reported that U.S. video game industry revenues grew 13 percent in January, to $1.33 billion. While total software sales were up 10 percent, to $676.6 million, total hardware sales were up 17 percent, to $445.4 million, so we’re not just talking about people being frivolous with 30 or 40 bucks; an Xbox will set you back $200 to $500.

“Video games have great value as entertainment,” said Ron Meiners, director of community for the Hollywood Interactive Group. “The number of hours of solid entertainment that come from a video game purchase is much greater than a movie, for example, for very comparable cost. Moreover, it’s a much more interactive, involving activity, which helps make them more valuable.”

Brand managers might want to heed Meiners’ advice and find a way to make their marketing communications more like a video game—more involving, more interactive, more entertaining and ultimately more “gotta have it.”