If the Shoe Product Fits…

Democracy works best when consumers vote with their wallet. No purchase means no profit; no profit means failure. All we have to do, as consumers, is be more selective with our spending, and we can help shape the future of retail. Yes, it’s that simple!

However, I was reminded lately of the need to speak up first. If the store manager doesn’t know you are an unhappy customer, how is he or she supposed to do something about it? If you find the staff rude and dismissive, what good does it do to commiserate with your friends over a beer?  Sure, we all like to share horror stories about our retail battles, particularly the juicy ones where the “duh” factor is huge, but what then? You can’t expect change if you’re not part of it.

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Opportunity knocks…

I recently purchased shoe insoles for my mother, packaged in that ridiculous and rigid heat-sealed clamshell plastic, which has to be cut open with large scissors to avoid nasty cuts (a Wikipedia search will lead you to “package rage”). Aware of the ongoing packaging vs. consumer war, I asked first if the insoles could be returned. I explained that (of course) my mother would have to open them to try them on. The cashier did not want to give me that assurance; she called another person and asked. The other person came to the counter and said “Yes, we will let you return these, even if opened.”

Happy customer!

Cut to scene two…

Three days later, on a weekend when I was fitting in a lot of errands, I brought the insoles back; wrong fit for my Mom. Along with a pile of other purchases, I approached the cashier with confidence.

“I’m sorry, you can’t return these. The package is open.”

“Yes, I know,” I replied, still smiling, “Which is why I asked before buying them if I could return them open. I was told I could.”

“No….” said the cashier, “That’s not store policy.”

“Which is, again, why I asked!” I replied, still smiling brightly.

“Who did you speak to?” asked the cashier, a glint of suspicion in her eyes. I stopped smiling.

“Well,” I said, feeling the creep of sarcasm, “I didn’t get a name. Was I supposed to?”

To make a long story longer….

The cashier refused to acknowledge my story. I asked her to speak to the store manager, she told me he was not at work that day. She did not offer any other solutions, and there was a line forming behind me. She was not rude, just consistently unhelpful. Uncaring.

I asked for the store manager’s name, left my purchases on the counter (but took the offending item) and told her she had lost a customer. This had no effect on her whatsoever; it seems people who work in stores have become desensitized.

Then, before I could find excuses not to, I sat down and wrote a long letter to the manager, explaining in simple terms WHY the store had lost a customer. I thought he should know that someone was giving assurances that weren’t honoured, that I felt dismissed, that the treatment of my simple dilemma (no doubt one of a million similar ones in stores everywhere daily) was no longer acceptable. I put the letter in the mail that same day.

Full circle…

Two days later, I received a phone call from the store manager. He apologized twice, quite sincerely. He told me to come in with the item again, assured me that they would certainly reimburse me. He sent me a text message confirming… which was a good thing, because when I went back I was AGAIN told I couldn’t return the now really-offensive item, with another gal pointing to the back of the bill, saying “No, it says here you can’t,” and finally I had to pull out my smartphone and show the cashier the text. OH FOR PETE’S SAKE.

“What do people generally do if these products don’t fit?” I asked the cashier as she finally reimbursed me the measly $17. “They return it to the manufacturer,” she said glibly. I didn’t believe her; I think this is just what she says when asked. I suspect she has no idea and doesn’t give a damn. But that’s another post.

Now I shall turn to the offending package, and send a letter to the manufacturer. Obviously, consumers are expected to buy these items at a potential loss, because if they don’t fit, you can’t return them. Message to consumers? Tough luck!

NOTE: I have been unable to devote much time to my marketing mission lately, after I took on caregiving for my parents, both with dementia. It has been an astonishing year of delving into the world of health care, home care, medical research and eye-opening experiences that I plan to share on another blog, when I have more time.

 

 

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New Pill for Women is Really for Men

I will be following the launch of a new pharmaceutical pill targeting women, which some of you may have already heard of. The scientific name is flibanserin, the brand name as it will be sold in the USA is Addyi. Don’t ask me how they come up with these names, because that’s what I used to do, and the process is rather comical. The indication for the drug is “female sexual dysfunction”, which (in my opinion) is the first red flag. How do we define sexual dysfunction? By the amount of times your spouse wants it and you don’t? I’m sure the pharmaceutical company has given your gynecologist a measuring tool, if not all the tools they need to put the fear of frigidity in females.

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Flibanserin is not yet approved for use in Canada. Advertising campaigns in the USA are just beginning, as shown here. True to form, the message from marketer Boehringer Ingelheim is fear-driven. “My low sex drive is making it hard to be close” is the heading, implying that this pill might help you become closer to your partner. The target, despite the age of the woman in the ad, is post-menopausal women, who have “lost their libido” (as if that’s a bad thing).

It’s encouraging to see some healthy pushback from both industry and consumers. MedPageToday in the USA reported on its blog that the FDA rejected the drug initially when it was sponsored by Boehringer, but then approved it when the drug was sold to Sprout Pharmaceuticals, a smaller player in the big pharma arena. Sprout went to a great deal of trouble to find women who would testify that their lack of interest in sex had caused them “substantial distress”, although the women were paid, so there is a credibility issue. You should know, as well, that the drug was originally investigated as an antidepressant, not for low libido. Antidepressants usually lower the libido, and they noticed that this one didn’t. In other words, there was a lot of time and money put into the research, and some leverage gained in finding some use for it. Opponents of the drug are even calling female hypoactive sexual desire disorder (or HSDD) a “figment of the pharmaceutical industry’s imagination”, which may be closer to the truth.

Either way, the drug has potentially serious side effects, including an increase in anxiety levels, as well as nausea, insomnia, stomach upsets, dizziness, fatigue and dry mouth. There have been no long-term studies done, so the jury’s out on that, as it usually is. From oral contraceptives to thalidomide, women have been the medical world’s guinea pigs for several decades now. There’s no other way, really. But consumers should know, and make an informed choice.

This previously released CNN video is amusing. The woman talks favourably about her experience with the “little pink pill” while her husband watches with a dumbfounded look on his face, not quite sure what he’s supposed to say. Her language is very casual in tone, but also very technical; she has become very comfortable with the terminology. And again, it all raises the question – if our sexual desire drops after a certain age, as nature intended, do we necessarily have to get it back? Is this not just catering to the male sexual appetite, which has proven to be more active longer? These are important questions, if only because the drug will be ingested by women in the later stages of life, who are battling other real age-related problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, arthritis, osteoporosis and mood swings.

The drug works by increasing the blood flow to the brain (as opposed to the genitals, which is where Viagra works), presumably causing alterations in brain chemistry. For those women who genuinely suffer as a result of low libido, it may be a promising new treatment. The rest of us need to be careful that we don’t get sucked into feeling bad that we’re not having sex every time our hubby does; that’s just ridiculous.

Then again, we’ve been made ridiculous by the advertising world for a long time. I’ll keep you posted about the Canadian launch, and feel free to send me any questions you might have that I can research for you. Sprout has announced its intention to hire 200 sales reps who will be calling on 30,000 doctors. Pricing will be different from region to region, but 10 tablets will cost about $400 without insurance, according to an article in the New York Times.

Lysol-Wreck-Your-Marriage-148x300Finally, it’s good to remember that things are always changing, and that we don’t have to jump on the bandwagon every time a new solution emerges. Lysol for vaginal odor? I don’t think so!

The PMS Mess…Fooled You!

Every woman I know claims to have had PMS – Premenstrual Syndrome – at some point in time. It was a convenient way to explain mood swings and irritability at “that time” of the month. How did we know we were suffering from PMS? Well, we didn’t. It’s not something that we went to the doctor about, although it may have come up in conversation when we requested birth control.

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The marketing world was right on top of PMS, though, offering us a cornucopia of solutions that might help. Everyone joked about it, worried about it, dreaded it and endured it. We were easy targets, because we believed that we were hapless victims of PMS every month, at which point we became raving, ranting, moody bitches that no one wanted to be around. There are even thousands of books written on the subject, to help mothers explain it to their teenage daughters. We all thought it was inevitable. Just a part of being a woman.

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It’s all a myth… are you surprised? 

As it turns out, though, very few women suffer from PMS. Probably less than 5% of us qualify as PMS sufferers here in North America, according to the criteria set out by health guidelines. The rest of us may experience mild cramps and some grumpiness (wouldn’t you be grumpy if you had to deal with bleeding for one week out of every month?) but nothing severe or debilitating.

Of course, that didn’t matter to the makers of Midol, widely advertised for decades as a solution for PMS, and even as something that we should take daily during our entire reproductive lives. Midol is a simple diuretic, analegesic and caffeine pill. Whether or not it relieves the symptoms of PMS is debatable, and possibly very subjective. Yet the manufacturers of Midol raked in a cool $48 million in 2013 alone. They’ve convinced women for the past three decades that we should be taking this “cure” every day for decades, based on zero science. And now they’re targeting teenagers, with a video game called the MIghty Midols. The characters help young girls battle with the perils of menstruation, including cramps, fatigue and bloating, by destroying them in the video game and providing advice.

Bleeding us dry…

Parents, it’s time to talk to your daughters. Explain to them that being bloated and crampy is definitely real, but that there is no real need for medication just because you’re menstruating. There’s no need to spend your hard-earned money on pills that may or may not help… and it really is time to put our foot down when it comes to perpetuating a myth that works against us in many, many ways.

If you want to know more, watch this excellent TED.COM talk by Robyn Stein DeLuca. She nails it with common sense and statistics.

Ready to Get Naked for Facebook?

Yesterday I sent an email to a friend recommending a book I thought she would enjoy. I included a link to its listing on Amazon. Ten minutes later, I went to my Facebook feed. Right there, beside my friends’ updates, was an ad for the same book. Coincidence? Of course not. However, the email account is under one name, and the Facebook account under another. Different passwords completely, which should mean, theoretically, that it’s two different people. So how can that happen?

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The password-protected identity is just an illusion, I guess, and somehow the algorithms at work in the cloud know that there is one person at the keyboard behind two different accounts. Which doesn’t make sense, because if my partner and I were sharing an account and/or password, how would an algorithm differentiate between us? And if the answer is “it wouldn’t”, then everyone sharing an account or password is going to be extemely paranoid about everything they say or share digitally, particularly if they don’t want it shared with their significant other (or, for that matter, with the entire online community).

I can’t get used to the thought of algorithms rifling through my drawers and pulling out bits of lingerie to examine and sniff. Knowing that it’s all a huge marketing ploy doesn’t make it any less creepy. Knowing that there’s no “real” person viewing or sharing my information doesn’t make it any less exploitative. And knowing that I’m just scratching the surface makes me want to stop scratching, for fear of unearthing something that will drive me away from the wonderful world of the Internet, which held out such sparkling potential 25 years ago.

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For now, suffice it to say that we are all being watched online (and, more increasingly, by hidden cameras in the real world). At some point, this is going to force a showdown. Those who don’t mind sharing will “bare it all.” Those who don’t like sharing will “shut it down.”

So… are you comfortable being naked in public? And if not, can I sell you a big coat?

Does Drug Abuse Make You Think Of Teenagers? Think Again.

As I explain in my book, prescription drug manufacturers in Canada are not allowed to advertise directly to you, the consumer. It’s a bit of a joke, for a few reasons. First, the rules are different in the USA, which means that Canadians are seeing commercials for Viagra, Rogaine, Fosamax and other prescription drugs when they watch streaming US content. Second, the penalty for breaking this law is a ridiculously small fine (click on link for recent CBC report) – something these manufacturers can easily afford. So who cares, right? Why shouldn’t Canadian consumers see ads for prescription drugs?

I’m all for transparency, but I’m also keenly aware of how the marketing game works. Prescription manufactureSittingDuckrs have big advertising budgets, and when they decide to flood a market with advertising, they have the clout to do it. Even a cynical over-informed person like me is influenced by huge advertising campaigns. The average person is a sitting duck.

The reality is that prescription drugs are already over-used and abused by our society. The evidence points to a whole generation of men and women who are taking heavy-duty drugs for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, digestive problems, joint pain and “plumbing” problems. Not many doctors mention diet and exercise; it’s easier to prescribe a pill. Yet each prescription drug has to be processed by the body, through the liver or the kidneys. There are often serious side effects, and prescription drugs can also interact with other substances we consume. As an example, my mother’s GP has noticed that her memory is in decline, and he wants to put her on Aricept. Will it help? Probably not. Will it hurt? Well, that’s the million-dollar question. There are serious side effects, the science is inconclusive, and it’s a drug that alters brain function. I’d rather help my mother find other options at this point in time.

“Canada is now the second-largest per capita consumer of prescription opioids (exceeded only by the United States), according to the International Narcotics Control Board (2013). Globally, North America consumes approximately 80% of the world’s opioids.” 

Canadian laws are designed to protect the consumer who doesn’t know better, and to allow physicians to have more control over what his or her patient knows. Regardless of whether this law is right or wrong, and in spite of the fact that it’s poorly enforced and barely effective, it’s designed to protect us from overly-influential advertising. We should respect and appreciate that, and support the need for stricter penalties.

In a perfect world, prescription drugs are a miracle. In a world where greed rules and doctors are rewarded for being high-prescribers, they can be a menace. Work with your doctor, and make it your business to know what you’re taking, why you’re taking it, and for how long. Be a smart consumer; it’s your life!

A Bitter Pill to Swallow: The Erosion of Trust

If my 35-year marketing career taught me anything, it was the reality of “back room” deals…from large, influential clients angling for better rates to physicians being courted by drug manufacturers with all-expenses-paid trips to the Caribbean. I cover more of this topic in my book — and it’s an evolving topic. Corruption usually gets shut down when it becomes problematic, but it soon finds a new way in.

As a 50-something Canadian born at the height of the baby-boom, I’m keenly aware that our aging population is going to hit an already weak healthcare system like a tsunami. We’re ill prepared, pun intended. In the midst of this storm, “trust” between patient and health care provider is either going to disappear altogether, or become increasingly valuable. I don’t mean the kind of blind trust that my parents offered to their physicians – that’s a societal dynamic that is unlikely to return post-Internet. I mean a trust engendered and bolstered through knowledge, peer review (listening to each other), and awareness of the potential shenanigans going on behind the scenes. One thing the Internet has proven to be extremely useful for is promoting transparency. Whether you like it or not, the digital highways are jammed with people trying to be heard as individuals over the collective din. Our stories have begun to surface, and to matter more, and to make a difference.

One of the biggest problems arises when the reward system creates a conflict of interest. Does your physician have your best interests at heart if he’s getting a kick-back every time he prescribes a certain medication? In some cases yes, in some cases no. But in either case, how would the average patient even know? And should they care? Let’s face it, whenever a new drug is introduced to the market, no matter how well it performed in clinical research, it remains an unknown for decades, or until the number of people using it have lived long enough to prove that it has no serious long-term adverse events. That’s medical talk for “If it didn’t kill a lot of you after all this time, it’s probably as good as we thought it was.”

Don’t be mindless, be aware. I encourage you to listen to this young woman, who thinks that physicians should declare their associations with drug makers to their patients. Her TED.COM presentation is called “What Your Doctor Won’t Disclose“, and it’s a very enlightening 15 minutes. This morning, The New York Times ran an article called “Using Doctors With Troubled Pasts to Market a Painkiller“, which reveals an even more disturbing practice of exploitation and nepotism within the ranks of high-prescribers and marketers.

Sweet Seduction: Let’s Get The Kids Involved

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I nearly spit my coffee out this morning while listening to a CBC report investigating the hiring of teenagers to sell chocolate bars door-to-door. Apparently, this company is paying the teenagers a commission, teaching them aggressive sales techniques (including how to handle objections; e.g. If the adult says they have diabetes, suggest they buy some for a friend, and put two chocolate bars in their hand.) The story came to light because a teenager was actually fired for not making his quota.

Each sales instruction, as shown on the company’s website, ends with “and put two chocolate bars in their hand.” As all adults know, when presented with the fresh, hopeful face of a teenager trying to do her best, handing back the chocolate bars would feel churlish. This is manipulation marketing at its best and worst. They are exploiting teenagers, making a profit (no one would return calls to the CBC, but the recipient charity receives only 10% of proceeds, and the website acknowledges that teenagers get $1 per sale) and corrupting an entire process that has been embedded in our society for generations. Not only that, but the small 10% goes to an organization which helps autistic and disadvantaged children, making the exaggerated claim of “charitable” even more onerous.

This came just days after a visit to my niece and nephew – they, too, were selling chocolate bars. When I asked my 5 year-old niece what she was collecting for (a field trip? an educational outing?), she said proudly that it was for supplies and equipment for her school. Apparently, school budget cut-backs mean that the kids can be used as corporate fund-raisers. Really?

Moments later, the doorbell rang, and it was another child in the same neighbourhood selling chocolate bars. I politely refused, saying that I had already made a purchase. That poor kid looked very unhappy as I closed the door in his face. Are we supposed to give inclusively and indiscriminately? I guess that’s what all these opportunists are hoping.

As Halloween and the accepted time of charitable-asking draws near, may I suggest that you THINK TWICE before you hand over your hard-earned money. And as a parent, you might want to start asking some relevant questions to the providers.

I know it’s a tired, old lament, but …. what is the world coming to?