Thursday, August 23, 2007

Commercials and Cali

Whiskey's commercial corner

A look at a few commercial successes -- and failures.

My soft drink of choice for many years now has been diet Coke. After I suffered a rash of cavities during my high school years, my dentist recommended that I switch from sugared sodas to diets. I didn't really mind the switch; regular Coke (i.e., the non-diet kind) hadn't tasted quite right since the original Coca-Cola reappeared as "Coca Cola Classic" following the failed introduction of "New Coke". Somewhere along the way, Coke stopped using real sugar in the manufacture of its soft drinks and switched over to "high fructose corn syrup". Whether it's in a can or 20-ounce plastic bottle, Coke today just isn't the same as I remember it from the early 1980s and before.

You may not know it, but the real deal is still around -- IF you're determined enough to locate it. Walk into any Latino supermarket here in north Texas -- from Fiesta Mart to Carnival -- as well as most corner convenience stores in certain parts of town, and you're sure to find it -- imported Mexican Coca-Cola, sold in glass bottles and made with REAL cane sugar! The Coca-Cola Corporation allows the Mexican bottlers to manufacture the product with real sugar (reportedly due to Mexican tax legislation which penalizes imports of corn syrup), intending it to be sold only in Mexico... but millions of cases are finding their way north of the border each year, where Mexican immigrants and savvy consumers prefer it over the US-manufactured corn-syrup version.

Mexican Coke may even be available at your local Albertson's, but you won't find it sharing the shelves with US-bottled products. The imported stuff is located practically on the other side of the store from the main soft drink aisle. Bottles of Mexican Coke stand proudly alongside jars of salsa, cans of black beans, and other Mexican-made soft drinks like Jarritos.

(I've also read of an elusive product known as "Passover Coke", a variety of Coca-Cola manufactured with real sugar and sold in markets with large Jewish populations during the Passover holiday, when the Jewish religion forbids consumption of grain products (including corn syrup). Coca-Cola quietly makes "Passover Coke" available to these select markets during a limited time each year; product packaging is distinguished by Hebrew lettering and yellow bottle caps. Unfortunately, I haven't yet enjoyed the opportunity to sample this variety... the state of Texas is not commonly known as having a large Jewish population, and I'm not aware of this product being available here. The next time I'm in New York or Florida during Passover, though... )

Now, if you've paid attention to the news during the past couple years, maybe you've read about how the US bottlers discourage retailers from stocking the Mexican imports, because it cuts into their (the US bottlers') sales and profits. Although it is not explicity illegal to import the Mexican Coke products, the bottlers obviously don't want them here. Ignoring customers' preference for a superior-tasting product made with real sugar, the company claims that the products are identical, and argues that the Mexican bottlers shouldn't encroach on markets that rightfully belong to the US.

The fact of the matter is, Coca-Cola with corn syrup in a can or plastic bottle doesn't taste anywhere NEAR the same as Coca-Cola made with pure cane sugar and served in a glass bottle. You peckerheads at Coke aren't fooling me! And you're obviously not fooling lots of other the Albertsons where I shop, the section of shelving designated forMexican Coke is sometimes completely empty, which (to me) speaks volumes of its popularity as well as the fact that consumers aren't can hide this stuff in some obscure corner of the store, but they'll find it if it's there.

GOD, am I glad I sold my last few shares of Coca-Cola stock. If anyone at Coca-Cola actually had half a brain, they'd figure out a way to market this stuff as a premium product -- to capitalize on the superiority of the sugar cane over corn syrup, and take advantage of consumers' nostalgic preference for the full-size glass bottle. All they gotta do is bottle this stuff here in the states (yes, with REAL sugar, not with corn syrup), package it in 12-ounce glass bottles just like so many of us remember from when we were kids, and promote it as a premium brand. OK, so it would cost more to make... but such a product would obviously command a premium price... say, 50% to 100% more than a standard 12-ounce can of corn-syrup Coke. Does Coca-Cola really think that consumers wouldn't fork over the extra cash to get the good stuff? I'm telling you, this stuff would fly off the shelves. If anyone at Coca-Cola is reading this and would like to hire me to spearhead the company's efforts to launch this new product line, I'm open to any offers. I require a six-figure salary, fifteen weeks' vacation, and a three-day work week. Oh, and you'll have to set up an office for me here in Ft. Worth... I ain't moving to Atlanta.


OK, what gives? Why did the Nestle / Willy Wonka conglomerate have to royally screw up one of the few kinds of hard candy I could actually tolerate? I'm talking about the inclusion of two new flavors in my box of Runts -- and the noticeable absence of two others. I have nothing against the occasional introduction of new flavors -- in this case, pineapple (which aren't bad) and mango (which are pretty nasty). But why on God's green earth did they have to do it at the expense of what were previously the two best flavors in the box --watermelon and blueberry?

Thumbs-down: new flavors
Thumbs-up: bilingual labelling

Sure, Crayola occasionally retires an old color -- but they've got like a hundred different ones. And they never retire anything worthwhile, like midnight blue or brick red -- just the garbage colors nobody cares about. If a box of Runts just absolutely doesn't have room for more than six flavors (a ridiculous assertion; the damn box is HUGE!) -- if there's just no way to accommodate the new without getting rid of something old -- for God's sake, get rid of the stupid, rock-hard bananas that I always almost break my teeth on, or the oranges that taste like expired Swee-tarts. Oh well, I guess they won't be selling as many boxes anymore -- not to me, anyway. What a bunch of 'tards.


Then there's Tony the Tiger... the kids tossed a box of these into our shopping buggy during a recent trip to the grocery store. I was amazed to find a product exactly as I remembered it from when I was a kid. Hell, I'm not sure anything has changed in Frosted Flakes in a hundred years.

Congratulations to Kellogg's for resisting the urge to add marshmallows, or add fruit flavoring to the flakes or turn them different colors. Sometimes, it's best not to mess with success. If you've got a good product, just leave it alone and don't screw it up. I don't know if I'd consider them "Grrreat", but as far as artificially sweetened cereals go, you could do a lot worse. Have you opened a box of Froot Loops lately?

Goin' back to Cali?
So, K and I both have vacation coming up in a couple months. A month or two ago, I started thinking it might be nice to visit California. I haven't set foot in a "left coast" state (not including Hawaii) in 15 years. Meanwhile, K has been wanting to visit friends in Las Vegas. It looks like we'll be taking separate vacations this fall.
Vegas would probably be fun for a weekend, but I don't have much interest in spending a whole week there. And California has been calling my name for a while now. The last time I was there was 1992, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I had just finished a grueling semester of summer school, and flew out to San Francisco to hang with Mom and Dad on vacation. We visited Alcatraz, caught an A's game and a Giants game, and I spent a day railfanning Franklin Canyon and the Napa Valley before catching Amtrak's "Coast Starlate" down to Los Angeles to spend a few days with a friend in Orange County. This time around, I'm interested in seeing and doing some different stuff, most notably checking out the Steinbeck Center in Salinas. I'm a big fan of John Steinbeck's writing, from Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden to Tortilla Flat and Sweet Thursday. In addition to visiting the literary center, I'm looking forward to stopping by the nearby town of Monterrey for a walk down Cannery Row, to see if it looks anything like I imagined it while reading the book.
California is also a target-rich environment for railfans, featuring some of North America's best-known train-watching locales (Cajon Pass,Tehachapi Loop) as well as obscurities like Modesto & Empire Traction's GE 70-tonners. These will all be on my agenda during my upcoming trip to the Golden State.
Looking at maps and aerial photographs of some of these places, I'm really getting the itch to start my trip. I wish I could leave right now...
np: Dale Watson - Exit 109
nr: Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

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Blogger BEK said...

HA! Frosted Flakes. Didn't we used to call 'em SUGAR Frosted Flakes? Damn straight. Back in the days when euphenisms or glaring exclusions weren't needed no wanted. Remember Sugar Pops? My favorites (though Sugar Frosted Flakes are a close second, as long as I don't have to tolerate the Sugar Frosted Flake dust at the bottom of the box!).

Of course they're still around, but you won't see the word SUGAR anywhere near them. . .that is too truthful. . .so we've got Frosted Flakes (frosted with WHAT?) and Corn Pops.

I wonder if Sugar Crisp--supplanted by the SUPER Sugar Crisp--is still around, and if so, what they happened to rename it.

Dammit, I want SUGAR. The REAL stuff, not the crap that is wrung from an ear of corn. Although if the corn lobby has its way with ethanol production quotas, I'm sure Corn Syrup will become way too expensive for cereal and soda pop manufacturers to use, and they'll go back to Sugar Cane. And where can we get Sugar Cane? Why, Cuba, of course, after the Castro regime falls. It all makes sense now. . .

Wes, I hear ya on the "real" Coca-Cola. Coke is right up there with Catholicism in Mexico. No "real" Mexican would be caught dead with a Pepsi in his hands. Kids drink that stuff more than milk! And don't forget to mention the "real" Dr Pepper, bottled only for "trade out" sales in Dublin. . .they don't even bottle the stuff you find in small bottles for sale in Ace Hardware stores in Fort Worth anymore (that is bottled in Waco under license, along with the "real" Dublin Dr Pepper which is canned and distributed in the Dublin/Stephenville area).

Enjoy! 10-2-4. . .

1:13 AM  

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