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People dislike Trump for the same reason they dislike advertisements

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“People hate ads.”

That’s the message from the New York Times. In an article about the advertising industry, the Times reports that unless it can confront “an existential need for change,” it risks “falling further into irrelevance.” The more pressure the advertising industry feels in terms of declining revenues and soaring marketing costs, the more it resorts to frequent, heavy-handed and obnoxious ads, which further turn off consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z. “[M]any of those consumers, especially the affluent young people prized by advertisers, hate ads so much that they are paying to avoid them” through the use of ad blockers.

I play a little game with myself when watching television. As soon as the program I’m watching switches to a commercial, I press the “mute” button or change the channel, to see if I can remain unaware of who the commercial’s sponsor is. If the commercial doesn’t mention the sponsor in the first second or so, I usually win my little game. When I lose, it’s because the advertisers know that they’d better get their company name out immediately, before viewers can mute or change the channel. That’s good marketing, I guess, but it also makes me resent those companies even more, because I’m aware of how desperately they’re trying to manipulate me.

We all know that T.V. commercials generally are louder, sometimes much louder, than the programming they interrupt. This, too, is an example of how advertisers are trying to seize our attention. Car ads blare loud, nerve-jangling music; insurance companies have jingles you can’t get out of your head; drug companies list disgusting symptoms and side effects along with diagrams of stomachs and bowels; appliances make ridiculous claims about ease of use, while cosmetic manufacturers continue the lie that nobody will like you unless you use their products.

It’s all so insulting to our intelligence, but it’s also mind-numbing. We’re supposed to pretend that a T.V. pitch man, screaming at the top of his lungs about APR financing for a car, is not a vulgar interruption of our peace and quiet. Besides, the inference that our lives are incomplete unless we purchase product “x” or service “y” is insulting. Americans don’t need more stuff, we need more peace in our lives; all this commotion and noise affects our psyches, making us jumpy and grouchy, and making us feel that suffering loud, stupid commercials is simply part of life.

It is this psychological negativity that Donald J. Trump knows how to manipulate. His years as a successful, high-ratings television producer and star have taught him how to use the media in all its obnoxious glory. First, craft a message. It need not be true; but it has to be attention-grabbing. Then repeat your message over and over and over; it may piss people off, but at least they’ll be listening (or, in the old Madison Avenue adage, bad publicity is better than no publicity at all). Above all, appeal to emotion. Jealousy, envy, anger, revenge, aspiration, hatred, curiosity, resentment, sex—if you can kindle these feelings in viewers, you’ve gotten inside their heads. From there, you can switch to reason: convince them they need your product or service, even if the facts you offer to prove it are fake. There’s essentially no difference between “fake” facts and “real” facts when it comes to advertising. A cream that makes the wrinkles under your eyes disappear may or may not work; even it it works, its effects may not last for more than an hour; and even if it lasts all day, there’s no proof that the world will love you any better, or treat you more humanely. There is thus no “truth” at stake here, only the advertiser’s ability to sell product. If the product “moves,” it means the ad worked, whether or not it was accurate.

This is the essence of Trump’s self-marketing. Of course, this kind of word play can only work with a certain type of consumer, namely, one who is credulous. The better educated people are, the less susceptible they are to the lies of commercials. Conversely, low-information consumers are more likely to be convinced by commercials. Trump knows that, too, which is why his base is dominated by low-information voters; conversely, again, his opponents tend to be the most highly-educated people in the country.

One explanation for the Resistance to Trump is because educated people understand how perverse is his use of the bully pulpit. Educated people tend to assign a high moral value to truth and fact-based reasoning. We’ve seen the historic results of ignorance and superstition: inquisitions, pogroms, mass death, civil disintegration, dictatorship, dark ages, the repression of minorities. We believe that “the truth shall set you free”—literally. We cringe when we have to see an ad or commercial that is misleading, and that seeks to take advantage of people’s credulity. It’s the same cringe-worthy reaction that makes it so distasteful to see T.V. televangelists huckster their elderly, poor followers out of their hard-earned money. That is not an honest, truthful way to make a living; it’s grifting on a grand scale.

Donald J. Trump grifts on a grand scale. He has taken everything disreputable about advertising and incorporated it into himself, so that there is no longer a difference between Donald J. Trump, the living, breathing human being, and Donald J. Trump, the product he self-peddles with the same vulgarity as a screaming car salesman. People hate ads, yes. And people hate Trump, although whether or not that’s a strong enough reason for voters to eject him next year remains to be seen.


A wine review, and an Overview of Napa Cabernet

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Nickel & Nickel 2009 C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). The C.C. Ranch is in the eastern Rutherford appellation, just west the Silverado Trail, near the hilly knolls of Quintessa. It’s a younger vineyard, with planting starting in 2000 to Cabernet Sauvignon. The gravelly soils are well-drained. Nickel & Nickel gets a portion of the grapes of the 115-acre vineyard.

When I first reviewed this wine, in 2012, it was disagreeably hard in tannins—a trait that marks all of Nickel & Nickel’s single-vineyard Cabernets. Which suggests aging. So how’s this 100% Cab doing?

Splendidly. The tannins are still there, but they’ve grown softer and melted. The youthful blackberry, cherry, plum and raisin flavors, liberally enriched with oak and tangy spices (anise, Chinese 5 spice), are turning the corner into secondary character: dried fruits, cassis, dark chocolate, enlivened with acidity. With a complex, long finish, it argues the case for aging high-quality Napa Valley Cabernet; a decade is a good guideline. Does it have a future? Yes. Already throwing sediment, it should continue to glide through the next ten years. But right now is a good time to pop the cork. Score: 95.

My review of this Cabernet opens up the wider question of the role of Napa Valley Cabernet in today’s world. The glamor, I think, that haloed Napa Cab from the 1960s until the end of the century has largely faded. Like a famous movie star in her time—Garbo, Bergman, Dietrich—its luster necessarily diminishes. And yet, Napa Cab has achieved what its pioneers always dreamed of: reputational parity, or nearly so, with classic European wines: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, German Riesling. The words “Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon” finally signify something important, coveted and expensive.

Still, Napa Cab suffers from limitations that do not impact classic European wines. For starters, Napa Cab is notoriously difficult to pair with food. It can be done, of course: if you go to a steakhouse, chances are you’ll see a lot of Napa Cabernet on the wine list. But people are eating less beef these days. Between 2000 and 2017, beef consumption in the U.S. declined significantly, by 15.5%.

People are turning away from beef, in favor of lighter meats (chicken, pork, lamb) or plant-based foods. And the fact is that Cabernet is not a particularly deft partner for lighter meats. It swamps poultry, while for pork or lamb, lighter reds, such as Pinot Noir, and even white wines, are far more amenable.

I suspect that my experience with Cabernet Sauvignon is similar to that of many other Americans. I drink it less and less (even though I have a lot in my cellar), simply because it’s too heavy for my eating habits. (I also drink far less Cabernet in the summer, for that very reason.) Napa Cabernet is high in alcohol, relative to other dry red table wines, which is another reason to reduce my consumption of it. I’m not a Millennial, but my hunch, based on anecdotal information including my observation of “hot” wine bars in the San Francisco Bay Area, is that Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z (at least, those old enough to legally consume alcohol) are not drinking Cabernet Sauvignon. They’re looking for lighter, more interesting wines from around the world, not something expensive and heavy, which their parents and grandparents drank. Having said this, I’m aware that Cabernet Sauvignon, as an international varietal wine, is the most popular red wine in America, by far. But that’s everyday Cabernet, under $20 or so—the polar opposite of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: the former Toyota, the latter Porsche.

Napa Cabernet will be around for a long time, but I think it has now entered a period of stasis. It will rest on its laurels, enjoying its exalted status, but its best, most exciting days are behind, at least here in the U.S. This has long been foreseen by Napa wineries, at least those capable of forward-looking vision, which is why so many have labored for so long to establish overseas markets. But export markets aren’t a silver bullet: Trump’s tariff wars threaten the foreign importation of U.S. wines.

So if you’re a Napa Cabernet producer, what do you do? For one thing, you’re grateful you have a personal fortune (which is practically a prerequisite for owning a Napa winery). Your money will allow you to continue in business, despite headwinds, for some time to come. But your money can’t compel consumers to buy the product you’re selling, and eventually, for many upscale Napa producers, getting bought out by a large company is the only way out (Cf. the Pahlmeyer-Gallo deal).

Don’t get me wrong: as my review of the Nickel & Nickel ’09 C.C. shows, it is a fabulous wine. I enjoyed reviewing it, and, afterwards, drinking the remainder with a perfect hamburger I made myself, using good ground beef with 20% fat content. But that was the first hamburger I’d made at home in years; it was only the second hamburger I’d eaten in years, and in fact, the reason I chose to make a hamburger was because I wanted something to drink the wine with, and a hamburger seemed a healthier alternative to steak. None of my “normal” dinners (grains, vegetables, chicken, salmon, omelets) would have been suitable for such a rich wine, sweet in fruit and oak, and thick in tannins. And so, all those other older bottles of Napa Cabernet will remain in my cellar until the next time I chose to make a hamburger, much less a steak. All of which makes drinking my Napa Cabs, frankly, problematic…


A comment on marketing, after receiving the latest Bordeaux hype from a press release

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You know, I understanding marketing. When a winery or wine region touts itself as the “best ever,” or “greatest vintage,” or simply uses self-reverential language that makes it sound like it’s sitting at the right hand of God, it’s merely putting its best foot forward in a formal situation—as most of us do.

Say you’re at a job interview, or maybe meeting your new boyfriend’s family for the first time. Of course you’re going to be charming and try to impress these people with what a special fellow you are. You might even do a little discrete bragging…nothing too over-the-top, just enough to let them know you’re better than the average bear. After all, as Rabbi Hillel said two thousand years ago, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

But really, there has to be a limit. Bordeaux (echoed by its various supportive critics) has proclaimed vintages of the century so often, we might have to reinvent the concept of “century” in order to accommodate all those special years. Its image, conjuring up marble palaces and royalty, is the nearest thing in winedom to the regality of the British royal house, itself a product of the greatest marketing the world has ever seen. And certainly, the proprietors of Bordeaux chateaux know a thing or two about pulling off the elite act! On the other hand, certain Napa proprietors who try to mimic the glamor, fashion and mansions of Bordeaux–and they’re out there–are plus royaliste que le roi, more royal than the King. Which makes them tres amusant, although they don’t intend to be.

* * *

A word about the commotion over Justin cutting down those oak trees. I have a long admiration for Justin, one of the icons of Westside Paso Robles. I always liked their wines, and when Justin Baldwin himself owned it, I thought he was a great guy who brought a lot of savvy to a region that needed it.

Now, Justin appears to be experiencing a rather serious backlash because of the tree cutting: restaurants are canceling their accounts and longtime customers say they won’t buy the brand anymore. As one of them noted, in the Paso Robles Daily News, Paso Robles itself is Spanish for “Pass of the Oaks.” Cutting down a bunch of old, beautiful oak trees must hit locals doubly-hard in that lovely part of Central California.

I couldn’t say if Justin’s ownership was right or wrong. There may be mitigating circumstances. Unlike many people, I’ve learned not to take fast positions on topics I haven’t studied. But I can say that the owners, The Wonderful Wine Company, showed surprisingly little foresight into how such a thing would be perceived. This is the age of the Internet, of social media; cutting down those trees provided perfect fodder to the nimbyism that often runs throughout wine country, where people understandably like the rural, scenic ambience and don’t want anybody or anything to mess with it. Surely, the Justin brouhaha testifies to the need to have a public relations consciousness within an enterprise—not necessarily a department, but somebody savvy who can anticipate public reaction and warn management of the potential risks. That does not seem to have been the case at Justin. There are lessons to be learned here for all wineries.


Big Pot: The marijuana industry learns from wine

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I am astounded how rapidly the marijuana industry is growing into a bona fide, full-fledged business. In fact, it’s starting to look a lot like the wine industry

My marijuana days—and they were many—happened when pot was illegal. You could get arrested for possession of a joint; I knew lots of people who were. We used to try and guess which would be legalized in the U.S. first, pot or gay marriage. I always figured it would be pot. I was wrong, but not by much.

California began the legalization process of medical marijuana back in 1996, but even today, marijuana is not completely legal, as gay marriage is. However, this November, California voters will probably pass the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Initiative, provided it can get enough signatures to make it onto the ballot, which seems likely. And with billions of dollars at stake, entrepreneurs are lining up to grab their fair share of the profits from an industry that—like wine—offers ordinary people pleasurable respite from their daily toils.

The latest evidence of this is an email I got yesterday. It’s from a high-powered investor relations firm, IRP, with offices in L.A., New York, Miami and Hong Kong. The email (you can read it below) was a press release touting a new company, Kush Bottles, a California company (with whom I have no relationship whatsoever, in case you’re wondering) to help “ease the pain and eliminate the headache of entering this fast-growing, opportunistic market.” Kush “provi[des] cannabis companies across the U.S. with market expertise, proper branding and high-quality packaging that satisfies the stringent requirements of the law.”

What strikes me is how high-level all this activity is. Almost overnight, it seems, we’re talking about the stock market (IRP has a lot of NASDAQ clients, and Kush is listed over-the-counter), and a level of complexity to the pot market that requires wannabe players to hire expert advice. The tone of IRP’s press release is extraordinarily similar to the press releases I get everyday from wineries: professional, articulate, and crafted in the public relations jargon language we’ve come to expect from a press release.

The wine industry discovered years ago that if it wants to play in the Big Leagues, it has to do so with bigtime marketing savvy and media relations professionalism. The marijuana industry, now in its infancy, reminds me of Napa Valley wineries in the 1960s and 1970s, when they were owned by visionary but rather naïve people when it comes to business. Wine took decades to go Big Business. Pot took a couple of years, and the way it sells itself is changing overnight. The day of the mom-and-pop pot cultivator is over. Welcome to Big Pot.

Here’s the full text of the IRP email, if you’re interested.

Dear Steve,

My name is redacted and I am contacting you to arrange one of the first interviews with the CEO of Kush Bottles, Inc. (OTCQB: KSHB) – – a rapidly growing Southern California company that is helping entrepreneurs across the U.S. enter the rapidly growing cannabis industry. Nick Kovacevich, the CEO of Kush Bottles is traveling to New York this week and will be available for any live interviews.

Entrepreneurs all over the nation are eager to enter the legal cannabis market, which could approach $9 billion by the end of 2016, according to massive expansion projections in existing medical marijuana markets, which estimate as much as 99% growth.  More states look to implement medical marijuana programs as doctors and researchers continue to uncover the medicinal benefits of cannabis. In addition to the growing medical industry, four states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational/adult-use programs, which further propel the expansion of legal cannabis nationwide.

Unfortunately, cannabis is still one of the most complex industries within the United States. As the laws evolve, new rules are put into place, making it difficult for cannabis businesses to keep up with the challenging regulations that govern legal marijuana. Growers and dispensaries must understand and carefully follow a multitude of laws that govern their business operations. Packaging, branding and labeling represent some of the biggest hurdles that a business must overcome. If any of those elements are mishandled, the business could be fined and/or shut down.

Kush Bottles, a California-based company, publicly-traded under the symbol “KSHB,” on the OTCQB, at approximately $1.35 per share, was founded in 2010 to ease the pain and eliminate the headache of entering this fast-growing, opportunistic market. This forward-thinking startup is a one-stop shop for any business looking to get going in the legal cannabis trade. Using its first-mover advantage, Kush Bottles is providing cannabis companies across the U.S. with market expertise, proper branding and high-quality packaging that satisfies the stringent requirements of the law – all without incurring massive legal fees.  In addition to saving clients thousands of dollars in legal expenses by helping them navigate compliance hurdles, the company also allows their clients to bring in more sales by using proven branding and marketing techniques to help make their products stand out to consumers.

Offering high quality innovative packaging solutions while also providing clients with crucial regulatory insight is the magic formula behind Kush Bottles’ success.  The company has proven its model by continuously growing revenues and posting net profits, which is rarely seen amongst other cannabis-related companies.  Furthermore, as a result of using their regulatory knowledge to help cannabis entrepreneurs achieve compliance, they have built an expansive network of growers, processors, and retailers across the United States.  With over 5000 returning customers to date, Kush Bottles is one of the largest suppliers of packaging and ancillary products for the legal cannabis industry.

We would like to offer you one of the first opportunities to interview Nick Kovacevich, the Company’s Co-Founder and CEO.   Nick has tremendous insight into the challenges that face the legal cannabis industry.  He is always excited to share his vision for helping entrepreneurs overcome these challenges and discuss how Kush Bottles has become the industry-leader in cannabis packaging and branding.

I can be reached via email at psugarman@irpartnersinc.com or via phone at 818-280-6801.

Sincerely,

redacted

Vice President, Media Relations

www.irpartnersinc.com


Is classic marketing an anachronism?

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I take Reka Haros’s point that there is “deep confusion around the term ‘marketing,’” specifically that marketing all too often is confused with sales and… marketing tactics confused with marketing strategy.” I’ve been in this business for a long time and even I can’t be sure of the differences; but after all, these are only words we use to describe slippery and overlapping concepts. Let me explain.

Haros, a marketing manager who wrote her op-ed piece in the “Trends” blog of the alternative closure company, Nomacorc, identifies three phases of marketing (similar to my five-phase analysis of West Coast Pinot Noir), stretching from the 1950s (think of T.V. automobile commercials of that era), to Marketing 3.0, our present time, when the Internet has empowered people, leading to all sorts of challenges to marketers.

What kinds of challenges? Marketers, says Haros, now need “to access [consumers’] hearts too,” through such concepts as “emotional marketing,” which itself is based on establishing “trust with consumers through identity, integrity, and authentic image.”

I guess I would argue that “emotional marketing” is nothing new. Look at this advertisement, from the Nov. 7, 1960 issue of TIME:Burington

It shows a mom and her little boy, on their way presumably to or from school. The little boy wears a Mackintosh (raincoat to you non-Brits) made of Burlington’s waterproof fabric. The ad capitalizes on the emotional bond between mom and son, on her sense of security that her boy won’t get wet in the rain, on the boy’s innocent trust, and on the “comfort and safety” Burlington Industries provides to Americans in the everyday pursuit of their lives. That is emotional marketing from nearly sixty years ago, right down to the scrawled drawing in the boy’s hand, of a sun shining on a stick-figured little boy much like himself.

The problem with wine marketing today, says Haros, is that the wine industry has “a confused idea” of what it means. She accurately concludes that, too often, social media is used by wine marketers as a strategy, rather than the mere tactic it actually is. Haros also accurately understands that marketing and sales people speak entirely different languages: marketers propose, but sales people dispose; and sales people—hard-driven road warriors, as opposed to the desk-bound creators in marketing–can be “hard to convince.”

For these reasons, Haros concludes that “wine marketing is still in its first stage of evolution.” It is here, however, that she runs out of solutions: it’s easy to diagnose a problem, hard to fix it. Granted that wine marketers need to develop “a long-term vision,” but this is easier said than done. The chief obstacle to this development, as I see things, is that marketing, as classically understood, may be an anachronism. [Italics mine] Marketing used to be based on the [true] assumption that most consumers were idiots who would fall for craftily-conceived campaigns designed to convince them to buy products and services they might not even really need. Using “emotional” and other [misleading] tools, marketing agents could appeal (often subconsciously) to consumers’ secret fears and desires, manipulating them in desirable directions. To refer back to the 1950s again, this approach worked: Marketers (and advertisers) were dealing with a naïve, credulous population that proved over and over again that it could be manipulated, even without being aware of it.

We have now in America, by contrast, an entirely different population, especially the young. No longer naïve, they are suspicious to a fault. No longer credulous, they believe practically nothing, except if their friends believe it. They particularly disbelieve anything deriving from authority. If it’s a billboard, a pop-up ad on the computer screen, a television commercial, a radio pitch between songs, it’s automatically tuned out.

If marketing indeed is as outmoded as rotary phones, then why do wineries still engage in the practice? Because they know that, if they do nothing, the chances are close to zero that they will continue to exist. This is their dilemma: thrust between the devil and the deep blue sea (or a rock and a hard place), they see, on the one hand, the necessity of spending time and money in a practice with no guaranteeable results and, on the other hand, doing nothing, in which case the result is guaranteeable: catastrophe. Given such a choice, it’s easy to see why wineries continue to engage in marketing.

And the truth is, every once in a while, lightning strikes: a marketing tactic actually achieves something. It’s also true, though, that serendipity is probably as effective as marketing; sometimes you just need to be in the right place, at the right time, and then do nothing to screw things up. As for marketing strategy as opposed to tactics, well, it sounds grandiose, but it’s really a unicorn. I’m not big on strategies, which our modern world seems to dismiss.

Can sales succeed without marketing? Probably. If a winery has to choose between the two, obviously sales is vastly more important. You do need a properly educated sales force, one that has at least some grip on the winery’s basic facts and ideas, but this isn’t necessarily hard to do. At some point, though, you have to wonder whether or not classic marketing can be updated to the 21st century, or whether it’s time has come and gone. If there’s a next phase of marketing, I don’t know what it is…and neither do marketers.


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