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Posts from March 2015

Lunch Lessons

Posted on  31 March 15  by 


by Nissa Hanna

Recently, visual comparisons between school lunches in the US and other countries have been circulating online. The latest buzzy “battle of the trays” content puts the US’s sad chicken nuggets against the fresh herbed salads of Italy, and oranges with the stems and leaves still attached in Greece. However, those viral images weren’t exactly accurate (they were, somewhat surreptitiously, a creative-license-as-marketing-strategy for a healthy restaurant chain). But they still captured — and stimulated — the cultural sentiment that US school cafeterias could and should do better.

im_LearningtoEatWell_402829_2And the truth is, the food choices in US school cafeterias are improving, nudged along by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids act, which started rolling out in the 2012-2013 school year, and the Smart Snacks in School standard, which launched in the 2014-2015 year. Now, kids are seeing more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, more low-fat protein and dairy, and less sugar, fat and sodium at the lunch table and in vending machines. At first, most students weren’t so keen on the changes, but the majority has since warmed up to the wholesome meals. That’s not a surprise for those of us who are closely keeping an eye on this cohort. We’ve reported on industrious, social media-savvy kids advocating for better school lunches and the generations’ exposure to and involvement in the foodie culture.

In fact, the problem that kids face in the cafeteria is that they feel the food is low-quality, not that they necessarily equate healthy food with unappetizing food. And since school menus are limited by budgets and kitchen capabilities, the shift to fresh, homemade-like meals is a work-in-progress. As the quality and nutrition improves, this generation is learning that wellness doesn’t come at the cost of enjoyment, flavor and fun. So brands and marketers can expect that those with discerning tastes won’t just be a niche subset of Gen We. An appreciation for good food is becoming a baked-in characteristic of this cohort.

For more on the changes in elementary and secondary school cafeterias and how that’s influencing Gen We’s behaviors and attitudes, check out our trend report Learning to Eat Well.

photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture,

Meet America’s New Diversity Trainers: Starbucks Baristas

Posted on  20 March 15  by 


by Monica Mason

Starbucks recently rolled out a new initiative — #RaceTogether — that has many consumers perplexed as to why they should be having a conversation about race with their Starbucks barista. And what’s even more puzzling is that Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Schultz, stands by his decision to encourage these kinds of conversations at the counter, further proving that he and the Starbucks brand are out of touch with, well, reality.

What would make Starbucks think that consumers, prior to their morning caffeine fix, would be interested in having an in-depth conversation about anything with a Starbucks barista, much less a conversation about race, especially considering that people who normally facilitate these kinds of discussions have to participate in specialized diversity training?

im_NationalProtests_401240_2Starbucks isn’t the first brand to take part in the national race conversation. As we’ve covered, Ben & Jerry’s announced its support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement by encouraging franchisees to sell T-shirts benefiting the Hands Up United organization. And the LUSH cosmetics brand supported employees who wanted to participate in peaceful protesting during the 2014 holiday season.

But are brands really trying to engage in an honest conversation about race, or are they trying to capitalize on a buzz-worthy topic to keep them in the public eye? Although Starbucks might have had good intentions, the #RaceTogether initiative lacked a constructive approach to a sensitive issue, and the consumer response further demonstrates that the brand missed the mark. Instead of taking an inside-out approach, Starbucks should have considered: 1) What do our customers think? 2) How might our brand really contribute to the conversation? and 3) What’s the end goal?


photo credit: fuseboxradio,

Iconosphere 2015: Special Tracks, Special Speakers

Posted on  5 March 15  by 


We’re gearing up for our ninth annual member event, Iconosphere, in the Windy City May 4-6. So geared up, in fact, that we’re ready to announce our two keynote speakers, as well as our new way to help attendees navigate the conference.im_Iconosphere2015MktgFeat_401152_2

Now that marketers must become content providers, you’re probably wondering how to make the stickiest, slickest and smartest of content. Look to the guy who produced the most profitable movie in Hollywood history. Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions made the horror flick Paranormal Activity for a mere $15,000, and it grossed close to $200 million worldwide, ushering in the new “micro-budget” model of studio filmmaking. In his day-one Iconosphere keynote, Blum will share his unique insights into newly successful forms of storytelling, discuss the game-changing ways in which Gen We and Millennial consumers are influencing content, and answer plenty of our attendees’ toughest questions.

But wait, there’s more. On day two we give the stage to journalist powerhouse Hanna Rosin, who wrote the 2012 book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, sparking a national conversation and prompting marketers to sit up and take notice of major shifts in gender roles. The insights she shares in her talk are sure to have a major impact on how brands position themselves to women in the lightning-soon future.

In the moments between these keynotes, attendees will be soaking up the smarts at our consumer strategists’ presentations. We have so much deep research to share this year that we decided to organize the content by theme: “Mindbenders” presentations will rock your marketingscape with new avenues and strategies; “Demographic Dives” will go deep on particular generations or groups; “Behavioral Beacons” will help brand owners understand consumer shifts within particular categories; and “Functional Excellence” will bring meta-level marketing insights to the mix.

Won’t you join us? Contact us soon or you’ll miss the party — and the take-home favors are sure to be the most actionable consumer insights of the year.

And the award DOES NOT go to…

Posted on  4 March 15  by 


by Monica Mason

We at CEB Iconoculture have been documenting the recent wave of diversity in movies and TV shows — and the rave reception that diversity has had with audiences — with movies like Dear White People, Pelo Malo and Pretty Rosebud, and primetime TV shows like Jane the Virgin, Fresh off the Boat and Black-ish — but you wouldn’t know that by watching the Oscars.

Two Sundays ago, 36.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the glamourous spectacle. But missing from that number — down from last year’s 43.74 million viewers — were many who chose to boycott the show, feeling that many actors, actresses, directors and movies were snubbed of an academy award simply because they weren’t white. Hashtags like #BoycottOscars, #OscarsSoWhite and #ChangeHollywood gave way to comments on Twitter: “Every year I watch the #Oscars. Then every year I wish I had spent those 3.5 hours doing almost anything else. No more. #OscarsSoWhite;” “I’m not watching the Oscars tonight 4 basically the same reasons I wouldn’t go 2 a Klan rally. I know where I’m not welcome. #BoycottOscars” and “I adore Hollywood guys, but I’ve made the decision to watch shows that align with my values. #ChangeHollywood #BoycottOscars #OscarsSoWhite.”

Year after year, it’s always the same. Yes, a person of color might get an award from time to time, but for what kind of performance? News sources representing each of the dominant multicultural segments — African American, Asian American and Latino — addressed the Oscars’ diversity problem, so when will the Oscars get smart? Does the well-received diversity in movies and TV shows from consumers not speak for itself?