Yays and Nays of the Week

* By the time I get to Manhattan’s Grand Central Station on Monday mornings, I’ve already been up since 5 a.m. and suffered through a 12-minute car ride, a 20-minute bus ride, and an 85-minute train ride—and I still have two subway rides to go before I arrive at my office. So it takes a lot to bring a smile to my face as I trudge through the station to get to the platform for the 42nd Street Shuttle. But smile I did last Monday, because part of the platform was gussied up like a winter wonderland, complete with pillars wrapped to resemble candy canes and a sleigh for Santa.

It was part of a tie-in for the Aardman film Arthur Christmas, and it certainly attracted attention not only from me but from many other harried commuters. Later in the day—well after rush hour, thankfully!—Santa himself was scheduled to visit for photo ops with kids and take their wish-list request.

The choice of that particular subway stop for the promotion was no doubt necessitated in part because of the physical layout: On most other platforms it  would be difficult if not impossible to create that sort of pop-up without impeding the flow of traffic. But as a bonus, the 42nd Street Shuttle, according to what little info I could glean, has the highest proportion of tourists among the straphangers, giving the promotion exposure beyond New York commuters.

Best of all, in a corridor just outside the entry turnstiles, Arthur Christmas had another area festooned with banners. This one was set up to accept contributions for Toys for Tots, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide Christmas gifts for needy youngsters. 

While researching a recent article about cause marketing, I spoke with Mike Swenson, president, PR/cause group of Kansas City, MO-based Barkley. He emphasized how important it was, when selecting a charitable group or cause to work with, to “really take time to recognize the right cause and not just jump in to what would be the most obvious.” Sometimes, though, the obvious choice really is the one that best reflects the company's values, he added.  

Toys for Tots is a wonderful cause that happens to tie in perfectly with the plot of Arthur Christmas. It’s a feel-good promotion for a feel-good film and for an organization that works to make every youngster feel good during the holidays. 

* On the front cover of its holiday catalog, eco-friendly merchant VivaTerra promoted a spend-now, save-later deal: Spend $100 before Dec. 23 and you’ll receive a gift card good for $25; spend $250, and you’ll receive $100.

My first thought wasn’t “Wow, what a great deal! I’d better get shopping.” It was “Wow, they must mark up their merchandise pretty high if they can afford to give that much away. I might as well wait and see what sort of discounts they’ll be offering in January before I make any purchases now.”

Perhaps most other shoppers aren’t as cynical as I am. But today’s consumers are much more sophisticated than those of a decade or two ago. Just think of the way companies promote “Black Friday sales.” When I worked  in retail in the 1980s, hardly anyone outside of the industry knew what the term meant.

So I’d wager I’m not the only shopper who equates overly steep discounts with overly steep markups. Nor am I the only shopper who, when suspecting that a company is reaping a steep markup, begins Googling for the same or similar items available at a much lower price, or who waits for the original company to eventually lower the price before buying.

* When buying a dollhouse family for your child, you can generally choose from white-skinned dolls and brown-skinned dolls; sometimes you can find dolls meant to represent East Asian families too. But if you’re seeking a mixed-race family to reflect your own, you’re almost always out of luck. Granted, this isn’t something most Americans tend to think about, but if yours is a mixed-race family (as mine is), it can be a bit tiresome.

So I really liked how in its catalog Nova Natural calls out that you don’t have to buy its Dressable Dollhouse Family as a set. You can “pick from our most popular sets in Blonde Hair, Brown Hair, Medium Skin or Dark Skin or mix and match dolls.” And the full page of photos promoting the dolls and their houses shows a fair-haired, fair-skinned girl playing with dolls of varied skin tones and hair colors, which is an extra-nice touch.

 * A lump of coal for the holiday tagline of apparel and shoe retailer Kenneth Cole: “It’s not the thought that counts…” Way to get into the holiday spirit. Ugh. Just ugh.


  1. The main character in "Arthur Christmas" looks a lot like Linguini from "Ratatouille", so automatically, it's off my list.

  2. Ah, but he's voiced by James McAvoy, so automatically it's on my list!