Is using breast cancer as a marketing tool ethical?

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I came across this feature in Glamour while getting a pedicure, and it made me think: when brands put the breast cancer ribbon on their products, are they doing it because they genuinely support breast cancer as a cause, and want to donate proceeds to it, or does it work in their favor as well – by increasing the sales of their products? I know that I, as a consumer, am definitely more likely to buy something if it has the breast cancer ribbon on it, because I feel like I’m donating to a good cause. But I’m not sure how I feel about “pinkwashing”, and not even knowing how much of the money I’m paying is going to breast cancer research (at least this article is clear about how much of the price is going to it, but I’m curious to know if that is clear to the in-store consumer). Definitely something to think about as both a brand, and a consumer!

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Planned Blog Revamp

I haven’t written in a while–the usual school and job recruiting took over my life a little bit. I’ve been itching to write though. I’ve decided that I’m probably going to teach myself a little bit of CSS/HTML over the next few months and build out my blog a little bit, hopefully you’ll like it once it’s done!

Cheers! 

Life over the last few months

Marketing: Word-of-Mouth & Influencers

This semester, I am fortunate to be in a couple of business classes that feature accomplished guest speakers who share their insights and experience. My marketing class (Consumer Behavior) has featured speakers from Campbell Soup, Nike, Nielsen and Fizz (a word-of-mouth marketing agency), each sharing their experience in positioning and targeting strategies at their respective companies.

In marketing, we always learn about how “word-of-mouth” is the strongest form of marketing; nothing is as powerful as someone naturally recommending a product to you. When I first heard this stated in my marketing 101 class, I thought of it as a testament to the importance of product; your product has to be so good that people want to share it with others. Everyone has their swear-by products that they have persuaded their friends to use (for me, Twitter, Pinterest, Jaipur Avenue Chai and the Mexicali food truck on Penn’s campus) – but I would probably never have shared those products unless they provided real value to me. I’ve also heard that Sriracha, the popular and now pretty much ubiquitous hot sauce brand, has never put out an advertisement; I’ve always thought of that as a reminder of how good their product is and how much people like it.

However, I heard a little bit of different perspective on “word-of-mouth” marketing from Ted Wright, founder and CEO of Fizz, a marketing agency focused on word-of-mouth marketing. One of the clients he talked about was a Chocolate Milk company who were trying to increase sales in the middle school age range. Fizz did their market research and found that the best way to influence middle school kids was to use high school kids – but how to influence high school kids (a notoriously hormonal, surly crowd)? They started with a research study that showed that chocolate milk was the best post-exercise drink. They decided that they needed to get the sportspeople (read: jocks) to drink milk, and to do this, they had to target coaches – high school football coaches. They went to high school football clinics and recruited NFL alumni to talk about milk to these coaches, and in turn these coaches went to their kids and pushed milk. This became a huge thing – at the end, there was a ton of earned media (ESPN, Men’s Health, etc.) that led to the NFL eventually co-promoting milk.

This made me rethink word-of-mouth, while chocolate milk was undoubtedly a good product, but it had always been. Nothing about that had changed with Fizz’s approach. While I definitely think Fizz’s approach was innovative and of course effective, it definitely wasn’t the same as me trying chocolate milk and saying “this is great!” and sharing that with my friends. I couldn’t help but think of it has “high ROI, authentic PR”, because it doesn’t strike consumers as traditional advertising. Nevertheless, they were still paying those NFL alumni to talk about milk in an applicable setting for the target market. What makes that more effective than mass market, say, TV advertising? It was using an authentic voice (NFL players) to talk to the target market (football coaches) in a setting that was focused (football clinics/conferences). This was where the conversations started; they then proceeded from the coaches to their players, and then players to other players. And that is where the product comes in – I’m sure this campaign wouldn’t be effective unless chocolate milk actually made these players feel re-energized after practice.

So, I think that two things are essential for word-of-mouth marketing: an excellent, value-adding product (this could be enough, and something to get the conversation started in the target audience. I don’t think this always has to be the type of marketing Fizz used is essential for a product to go “viral” – it could be a mass advertising campaign that gets people talking; recent examples in my memory are Virgin Airline’s “Sassy” safety video or Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” video – those were big budget company-produced campaigns, but they got shared voluminously by consumers. If the virality is enough that it encourages consumers to try the product, this is enough if the product is actually value-adding – because if it is, the consumer will come back and buy it again (ding, Customer Lifetime Value!).

I also think there’s a lot of buzz around “digital word-of-mouth” effects. The company that comes to mind is Klout; a company that measures users’ “social influence” by an algorithm that combines your influence (likes, retweets, etc.) on all of your social networks and calculates a “Klout score”. Companies can then offer “perks” to certain consumers to encourage them to share opinions about the product via their social media. For example, this summer, I was given free tickets to the horror flick The Conjuring; I was encouraged to tweet about the trailer and movie after I had seen it.

While I think Klout’s model makes a lot of sense and could potentially be extremely powerful, I do have some problems with it. First, something Ted (from Fizz) mentioned was that digitally sharing something is much less effective than sharing it in a face-to-face conversation. That’s something I agree with fully: think about it, are you more likely to be influenced by something your friend tweets or shares on Facebook, or something they talk to you about over lunch? Secondly, I think that it comes back to the product – if I hadn’t liked The Conjuring, I wouldn’t have shared anything about it – at least not anything positive. And I would be most likely to appreciate the movie if I was someone who was part of their target market – but was I? How did they determine whether I was – based on my Klout score? I think that it’s great to use socially influential people, but they have to be part of their target market as well, so that the people I was reaching on social media were part of the target market too, and so that I actually appreciated the product! Klout has topics that you can give “+Ks” to people for – to indicate they are an expert on the topic – but I am skeptical as to whether they use these topics to categorize people, seeing as the perks that have been offered to me – ice cream, the movie, and business cards – aren’t really things I especially like or would talk about.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m studying marketing – so I can go on about it forever! If you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts – they are by no means right or wrong – just my reaction to things I’ve learned and heard!

(thanks to Ted Wright of Fizz for getting me thinking – he is an amazing speaker!)

New York: A Reflection

I’d like to start by saying that my goal of blogging weekly was such an incredible failure. But this blog post is about why I didn’t blog – because I was in this city! We hear so much about New York, and when people ask me where I’ve been over the summer and I answer, they respond with a “Wow!!!” and are excited. At least for me, growing up in the suburbs of Portland and the tropical island of Penang, New York has always been a city I saw on TV shows and movies (mostly Gossip Girl, let’s be real), somewhere I never thought I would experience living in. Now, I can’t believe my summer here has come to an end; it has been a colorful experience to say the least. I can’t even begin to list the experiences I have had that simply wouldn’t be possible anywhere else, with New York being a fashion and tech hub, an intern flood during the summer and such a huge cultural melting pot. I’ve categorized my experiences into a few sections to organize my thoughts!

vente-privee

I guess I should start with the real reason I came to New York: to work. At vente-privee! In case you’re not familiar, vente-privee is a French company which pioneered the flash sales model back in 2001. While now a huge company in Europe with almost $2 Billion of annual revenue, they came to the US a little more than a year ago in the form of a joint venture with American Express.

The reason I decided to intern here is because it was a perfect intersection of fashion and tech in a start-up environment. I have learned SO much about the different aspects of an e-commerce business – email marketing and how that drives revenue, social media engagement, PR initiatives, and even the finances and logistics of it. Along with the other interns, I even organized a sample sale to liquidate some of the company’s inventory. It was also a unique opportunity to learn about what a joint venture is like, especially between two companies that don’t have a lot of overlap at all, and come from different parts of the world. It’s such an interesting mix of cultures in the business, and it’s been really interesting seeing that.

But apart from that, it was a great place to work. I’ve made some great friends and had so much fun! vp has a great office on the edge of SoHo, so I enjoyed walking through New York’s fashion center every day. The office is a huge, open, collaborative space that’s mostly white with pink accents (pink is vente-privee’s color), and we always have a stocked kitchen (loved it, obviously). It was also so amazing having samples from different brands coming in everyday, and photo shoots happening all the time. There was one photo shoot for a swimwear brand, and the photographer created a huge fake beach with sand and everything in the front of the office – super cool!

The Office Entrance
The Office Entrance
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Lobby area

New York: Fashion/Retail Capital 

Of course, it was amazing to be in the fashion capital of the country. Fashion lives in New York, and people have their own very individual tastes, and it’s apparent everywhere (I love it, obviously).

Another thing I noticed while shopping and exploring in New York was how much effort and detail is put into the storefronts of stores. I guess that in New York, all stores are essentially flagship, so that’s necessary. Some of my favorites were the All Saints in SoHo, which has a whole wall of vintage Singer sewing machines in the front. At the Jill Stuart SoHo store, a wall has been plastered with 3D flowers and butterflies. For a while this summer, The Tommy Hilfiger storefronts had a convertible car that had been decorated with seashells and immersed in a beach scene. I just found it so interesting how much work and thought had been put into luring the shopper into the store, and to project the brand’s presence outwards.

Singers at All Saints
Singers at All Saints
Jill Stuart
Jill Stuart

In General

There are so many things about New York that so unique, and living in New York is an experience that definitely can’t be replicated. I was constantly astonished by how frequently I ran into people I know, or people who had mutual friends. It boggles my mind to think every time I was walking through Union Square (where I took the subway from), there was probably one person I knew within a two block radius of me; it’s unreal.

I’m also so happy that I explored different neighborhoods of New York. I love Williamsburg, because it reminds me a little bit of Portland. I can’t get enough of sitting on the Hudson and watching the Manhattan skyline. There was one night when my roommate and I watched the sunset while sitting on the rocks on the shore, and it was one of my favorite nights in Manhattan. We also found a consignment store there called Beacon’s closet which is certainly my favorite thrift store in the world (so far). I also had such a great time exploring food in New York (the list is too long to talk in depth about). A few of my favorites were Cuba (SoHo), Joe’s Pizza, Chloe’s Soft Serve (Union Square), Rudy’s (Nolita), Yakiniku West (East Village), Nyonya (Little Italy/Chinatown) and Chikalicious (East Village). There were more that I’m definitely forgetting!

All in all, an unforgettable summer. Thanks NYC!

Manhattan skyline from Williamsburg
Manhattan skyline from Williamsburg

Fashion in the Tennis World

Sports have been a big part of my life since I was a toddler – some of my earliest memories are of my first NBA game (where I continually asked my dad why I couldn’t “go down there” onto the court). Now that I have developed an interest for fashion, it’s been interesting witness how the two passions combine. In basketball and other team sports with uniforms, it’s a little more difficult to see, but in a sport like tennis, where sponsorships are key and players have some choice in what they can wear.

If I’m not mistaken, I’ve watched at least a few matches of every grand slam since 2004. I’ve picked out some of my favorite looks, and others I think are just too iconic or unforgettable to leave out.

Maria Sharapova, US Open 2008

This dress is just amazing. It made me think of the US Open as a tennis Met Gala or something. It doesn’t hurt that Maria is probably the best person to wear all these amazing dresses, but this one, with the Swarovski crystals around the neckline, and it’s almost fit-and-flare silhouette is flawless. Her earrings are pretty as well. If only we all were Maria Sharapovas.

Serena Williams, US Open 2004

Serena Williams plays in denim and knee-high boots... (2004)

I remember being 11 years old and being shocked when I saw Serena Williams walk on to the court in this outfit. A denim skirt and boots? I guess no one but Serena could pull this off (and this probably isn’t her craziest look, actually). She did take off the top part of her boots after warm up, but still. This outfit is ridiculous. But then again, in my opinion, tennis needs these sort of personalities – it goes to show that it’s not some old-rich-people-country-club game anymore, it’s a current, exciting and eclectic game.

Rafael Nadal, French Open 2009

This outfit is brings back a little bit of sadness, because it is the outfit Nadal wore the only time he lost at the French…I remember worrying that his knee injury would end his career. Anyway, apart from the emotion, I absolutely LOVE this pink/yellow/grey combination. I always think about the designers who design the clothes for the French Open, and how they have to pick colors that go well with the rusty red clay of the courts – it’s such a sight.

Maria Sharapova, Wimbledon 2008

I LOVE this might be my all-time favorite. Way to get creative with the “all white” rule, Maria. The tuxedo look (well, any look) is perfect on Maria. It accentuates her broad shoulders and tall, slim figure. The mix of sheer and tuxedo detailing on the front make for a stylish yet polished look. Even though she’s wearing shorts, she manages to create the perfect look for the classy, timeless grass courts of Wimbledon.

Venus Williams, French Open, 2011

I couldn’t exclude this dress because I had never seen anything like this in the tennis world. Or the sports world, for that matter. I mean for one thing, this dress looks like lingerie, but the thing you can’t see in this photograph is that Venus decided to wear spandex that was her exact skin color under the dress. So every time she served, you thought you were looking at her rear-end. I don’t know what fueled this outfit choice, but it’s interesting to say the very least.

Caroline Wozniacki, Wimbledon 2011

This isn’t my favorite dress ever, but I had to include it because it’s a Stella McCartney for Adidas design. It really excited me that designers were getting more into designing sportswear; I was a little disappointed with this dress. I mean it’s alright, but I would expect more from Stella McCartney!

Chris Evert, Wimbledon 1981

I couldn’t just not include some of the greats before my time. Chris Evert was my favorite from back in the 80s – I love her polished looks that would translate well even into today.

I would include more, but I think I’ve captured the essence of it. Can’t wait to see the outfits of Wimbledon this year!

My Summer Shopping List (It Should Be Yours Too!)

Since I am no longer an uncontrollable freak shopper, I now employ methods to streamline my shopping and make it more efficient (okay, I sound like some sort of supply chain manager). In all seriousness, I’ve decided to devote my shopping energies to a select few items that I really feel could add something to my wardrobe, and I’m going to be super picky about them too.

1. Denim Jacket

Denim jackets are SO versatile. The only thing they don’t go with is, well, blue jeans. Especially when I imagine my New York summer filled with maxi dresses/skirts that I think are complemented perfectly by a well-fitting denim jacket. I especially have a thing for denim jackets with pattern detail. That being said, I have a really hard time finding a well-fitting denim jacket with my disproportionately broad shoulders.

Denim Jacket Combos
Denim Jacket Combos

2. Maxi skirts (yes, plural)

Maxi skirts have grown on me, and now I’m hopelessly in love with them. I mean a skirt that you don’t have to shave your legs for?! Okay, not the point, but maxis do have a versatility that persists from spring to fall. I just bought my first one (just plain black), but I’m looking to buy a few with more interesting patterns and colors.

maxi
Maxi skirt dreams

3. Midi skirt

Okay, I’m a little reluctant about midi skirts because I’m so short, but I definitely love the idea of them. They’re so elegant and can be used in a variety of situations – evening, casual, work, etc.

midi1 midi3 midi2

4. Oxfords

I have been wanting to buy oxfords for so long, but I have a hard time finding the perfect ones (and justifying them to myself given the price and/or necessity). Oxfords are preppy and cute at the same time, and go well with jeans and skirts. I’m looking for something unique but not something that stands out too much. I’m thinking something like dark brown leather or grey, but maybe with some colored accents. To be decided.

Oxfords galore
Oxfords galore

5. Summer sandals

I am so incredibly picky about summer sandals. And I’ve also become big about wanting comfortable sandals that don’t make you feel like you’ve been walking on stone barefoot; many of the sandals I’ve come across have a sole which is only a little thicker than a piece of paper. I really want something rugged, maybe some leather sandals with thicker straps.

Summa sandal ideas
Summa sandal ideas

6. Fedora

Okay, I’ve really wanted one for ages. This does not fit with my whole efficient shopping strategy, but I want one to wear this summer for my casual strolls through Central Park (a la Blair Waldorf).

Fedora!
Fedora!

7. Versatile Sheath Dress

I don’t really enjoy wearing a business skirt-suit thing when doing interviews or formal presentations (#Wharton); the skirt always rides up and the collar always gets messed up…just not comfortable. I really want a simple, plain sheath dress that can I can pop a cardigan or blazer over  for formal purposes, but also for nice dinners and occasions.

Sheath Dress: Work or Elegant Party!
Sheath Dress: Work or Elegant Party!

8. Sunglasses

I really want new sunglasses, and yes, I want some chic retro ones. I do want them to last me a few years at least, so I want them to look like they will last the next few years in fashion. It’s also SO HARD to find sunglasses that look good on my face, since my face is so small and has weird angles to it. Ugh. I am really hoping to pick a pair at the Warby Parker showroom in New York though.

Retro sunnies
Retro sunnies

It is my mission this summer to find all of these things, and I won’t just buy any item, it has to be perfect. I mean, I’m in NYC so hopefully this will happen. Okay I think that’s enough for now – there are still two whole other seasons to go in the year, and who knows what will be on my list for those!

Places: Penang

I haven’t written a travel post yet, and I think it’s time I do. And what better place to write about then the place I would most associate with the word ‘home’ (there are multiple…#CulturallyConfused).

Penang is a small island off the west coast of Malaysia where I happened to move when I was eleven years old. At the time, it was devastating. I cried for three hours into my dad’s shoulder, asking him why he was making me move to the other side of the world away from my established sixth-grade routine. Six-and-a-half years later, I was crying again; this time, because I was at the Penang Airport, saying good bye to friends I know will always be there for me, and leaving the island I that had become my home.

Penang from the sea

Okay, sorry for that emotional but necessary (?) aside. Anyway, when most people think of a tropical island in Southeast Asia, they think beaches, suntans, snorkeling, etc. I’m sorry, but Penang isn’t the best place for these things. Of course, these options are available – water sports like parasailing, jet-skiing, banana boating – these I would actually recommend at the beach. But the actual beach and water are nothing to die for – the water isn’t very clear, there are jelly fish, and the sand isn’t soft. It is fun for bonfires and just general being-by-the-ocean (which is something not to be undervalued, I miss having the ocean around me). There are a number of restaurants, hotels and hang-out places near the beach that are great too – Sigi’s by the Seat and  Bora Bora (formerly Sunset Bistro) are great hang-out places, while Rasa Sayang (Penang’s “6 star” hotel), Parkroyal, and Lone Pine are all hotels along the Batu Feringghi beach.

Roti Canai
Char Koay Teow

Food is one part of Penang you can’t miss…I would say that it has arguably the best mix of food of any other city in the world. By that I mean that you can find delicious food of any type and any price range (besides Mexican. That one’s difficult). The hawker (street) food in Penang is amazing, and probably cheaper than anything you could make at home. For this reason, many Penangites eat out more than they cook. Hawker food ranges from Malaysian Chinese food to ‘mamak’ (Indian-muslim) food to Western food even (I would check out the Northam Beach cafe hawker stands – they have a really good French hawker place!). My favorite dishes are Char Koay Teow, which is sort of Penang’s signature dish, and Roti Canai. I also really, really miss having Iced Milo and Iced Lime Juice…you really don’t get those things here! Apart from Hawker food, there are also some really nice restaurants. My personal favorite is Bella Italia, a really good, small Italian place started by an Italian man. Their pizza is amazing (it’s thin crust and really light), their pasta is good too, and their tiramisu is some of the best I’ve tasted (granted, I’ve never been to Italy). If you like Indian food, I would recommend going to Woodlands (in Little India) for brunch; it’s the some of the best South Indian food I’ve ever had. I feel like I’m forgetting most of the good food in Penang, but there’s only so much I can fit in a blog post!

There’s a lot to see in Penang too, and all of it reflects Penang’s unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western cultures. One of my favorite places in Penang is Armenian Street, which is an artsy part of town where there are art galleries, furniture shops, and my favorite jeweler in the entire world, Jonathan Yun. The tiles on the sidewalks of Armenian street are even artistic. It’s wonderful. Another must-see is Kek Lok Si Temple, a majestic Buddhist temple in the hills. It’s especially beautiful at night during Chinese New Year – it’s all lit up and looks heavenly. I really like going there just to relax and light a candle during the day too – it’s a spiritual, peaceful haven nestled at the base of Penang’s hills.

The tiles of Armenian Street
Kek Lok Si Temple, lit up during Chinese New Year

I guess there’s a gaping difference between living in Penang and visiting it, but I tried to merge the two in this post. Arguably the best part of Penang is having the ocean in sight at all times, it’s always a relaxing and calming feeling to see the ocean surround you; that’s definitely something I miss. Sometimes I can’t figure out what it is about this island that makes me so enthralled with it – it has a unique charm – but it’s definitely a mix of its landscape, culture and people. It will always be home!