TIME Advertising

Steve Buscemi Plays A Very Compelling Jan Brady in Snickers Super Bowl Ad

"Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"

Tom isn’t the only Brady making an appearance in Super Bowl 2015.

Snickers’ big game ad inserts the company’s “you’re not you when you’re hungry” trope into its most inspired scenario yet: The Brady Bunch.

Machete star Danny Trejo plays Marcia in ad agency BBDO’s reinterpretation of the show’s iconic “Marcia gets hit in the face with a football” scene. (Note: No footballs were deflated in the making of this ad.)

But the true standout is Steve Buscemi, who brings his trademark nuance and complexity to the role of Jan Brady.

We hope that Buscemi is available for Snickers’ Super Bowl sequel: An ode to George Glass.

MONEY Fast Food

5 Problems That’ll Challenge McDonald’s No Matter Who’s CEO

A McDonald's restaurant in Encinitas, California.
Mike Blake—Reuters

The McDonald's McFamily will have a new head honcho in early 2015, and he has his work cut out for him.

Amid slumping sales and years of losing customers to Chipotle and other fast casual contenders, McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson announced this week that he would be retiring in March. “It’s tough to say goodbye to the McFamily, but there is a time and season for everything,” Thompson said in a press release.

His replacement, current chief brand officer Steve Easterbrook, will take over a McFamily with many problems to address—problems that, given McDonald’s muddled sense of mission of late and overarching changes in demographics and the marketplace, have seemed difficult if not impossible to solve. Among the issues that need attention:

Millennials
Generally speaking, millennials love food and dining out, and yet their preferences—customizable options, transparency, and fare that’s healthier, more sustainable, and altogether superior compared to any cheap cookie-cutter fast food joint—are the exact opposite of what McDonald’s is known for. McDonald’s has made some moves clearly aimed at winning over millennials, including ventures into personalized, make-your-own burgers and potentially adding brunch menu items (brunch is a Gen Y obsession). McDonald’s has also dramatically expanded the menu over the years with the hopes of drawing in more young customers. Yet many of these initiatives have proven to be costly, and they’ve failed to make McDonald’s a top choice among millennials—who tend to favor Starbucks, Chipotle, and other more upscale fast casual contenders over McDonald’s or any old-fashioned fast food establishment.

No Hot New Product
Around this time last year, business reporters were proclaiming that McDonald’s desperately needed to add a “miracle” product to the menu like Wendy’s did with its Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger. That once-limited-time-only burger proved such a hit that Wendy’s added it to the permanent menu last summer. Other recent monumental successes in the fast food world include Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos line of tacos.

Of course, McDonald’s has regularly rolled out plenty of new menu items with the hope of them breaking out as phenomenal best-sellers. But new contenders like fish nuggets and habanero Quarter Pounders have come up way short of being runaway successes, and another recent menu addition, overpriced chicken wings, was a huge flop. The Wall Street Journal has reported that McDonald’s most recent “bona fide blockbuster” new product, which stayed on the menu and impacted sales in a significant way, was the McGriddle pancake breakfast sandwich, introduced back in 2003.

Pricing
McDonald’s decades-long value pitch is that it’s a quick and inexpensive place to eat, and that reputation has hurt the fast food giant lately in two ways: 1) It’s difficult to raise prices and offer “premium” items like the doomed Angus burger because the customer base, accustomed to cheaper prices, won’t pay up; and 2) because McDonald’s food is fast and cheap, the assumption is that the quality must be low. As one fast food franchise consultant told the Associated Press, “It’s the whole perception people get when you sell something cheaply.”

McDonald’s needs its coffee giveaways and low-price value menu to pull in diners even though these items result in little to no profits. Yet to increase profits and better compete with the likes of Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Chipotle, McDonald’s is constantly trying to entice customers into spending more on “gourmet” and “premium” options like espressos and McWraps. As a result, service has slowed, lowering the value proposition at the same time, and McDonald’s pricing doesn’t make sense to many customers. When there are a bunch of burgers for under $2 in the Dollar Menu & More section, it’s puzzling why anyone would pay $5 or so for what seems like a very similar burger on the regular menu.

Focus
This problem is closely related to how McDonald’s pricing is all over the map. That, along with the fact that the McDonald’s menu has expanded to the point of being unwieldy and slowing down operations, has left franchisee owners angry and deeply concerned that the company has lost its sense of focus. McDonald’s recently announced intentions to scale back the menu and put some items on the chopping block. But such a measure could create its own problems. After all, some of the items likely to be downsized or cut, including espressos and McWraps, were added to menus to woo millennials and consumers who otherwise probably wouldn’t dine at McDonald’s.

Haters
During the Golden Globes, McDonald’s aired a “Signs” commercial campaign showing how different restaurant locations posted messages in support of local causes, the troops, and 9/11. Loads of people took to social media to say how much they hated the ad. Last year, McDonald’s introduced a new Happy Meal mascot and Ronald McDonald got a makeover. Both efforts were declared “terrifying,” while the former was also categorized as “nightmarish” and the latter was described as the face of the “saddest place on Earth.”

Heck, even when McDonald’s launches a broad “transparency” campaign answering questions about where its food comes from and how it is processed, the company is bashed for admitting to unhealthy practices and because of skepticism about other things still being hid.

The point is: People love to hate McDonald’s. In a story I wrote about the reaction on social media to the new Happy Meal mascot, Steve Connelly, of the Boston ad agency Connelly Partners, put things in perspective by explaining there are legions of opinionated consumers out there who consider McDonald’s “a piñata” rather than simply just another brand or place to eat. Many people will “keep bashing the hell out of them every chance you get because they stand for evil and are making the nation fat. Sometimes I think if McDonald’s came up with a cure for cancer they would get bashed for it.”

Surely, McDonald’s hates how much hate it attracts. And it’s up to the new leadership to figure out how to change perceptions that have built up over generations in the U.S. and abroad. They have to find a way to convince the haters to stop hating.

TIME Advertising

Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel Grapple With Newfangled ‘Internet’ in BMW Ad

Does "@" mean "at" or "around"?

Back in 1994, “Internet” was not yet an everyday word, as Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel humorously demonstrate in this Super Bowl ad for BMW.

In the spot, the pair are seen grappling with online lingo such as “Internet,” “.com,” and the “@” symbol in footage from a shoot of the Today show. “What is Internet anyway?” Gumbel asks frustratedly at one point.

Cut to today and the two are cruising in a BMW i3 that they find equally perplexing. The implication here of course is that the technology in BMW’s new vehicle will one day be as widely known as the Internet is today. We’ll see about that, but BMW has at least drawn the parallel in a humorous way. We only wish they hadn’t overreached with the twerking joke at the very end, which dates the ad even more than the 1994 file footage.

 

TIME apps

iPhone and Android Finally Have a Full-Featured Outlook App

It's Microsoft's latest move to make cross-platform apps

Microsoft freed Outlook email from the confines of the office PC on Thursday, releasing for the first time fully-featured Outlook apps for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

The new Outlook apps are now available for download through Apple’s iTunes and the Google Play store. While Microsoft previously offered versions of Outlook for iOS and Android, neither had the power of this new software.

Outlook for iOS and Android Microsoft

Microsoft’s move comes on the heels of its decision to release a motherlode of its flagship software from Word to Excel as mobile-friendly apps that work across a range of devices.

“To date, we’ve seen more than 80 million downloads of Office on iPhone and iPad worldwide,” Microsoft said in a public statement. “We have received tremendous customer request for Outlook across all devices, so we are thrilled to fulfill this for our customers.”

The new Outlook mobile app includes familiar features, such as swipe gestures for rapid archiving and machine learning algorithms that learn which emails the user is most likely to read and pushes them to the top of the inbox. What sets the app apart is a built-in calendar, enabling the user to schedule an appointment within the app, rather than laboriously copy and paste event details in a second, calendar app.

Microsoft on Thursday also released new versions of its Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Android tablets.

TIME Research

IBM Thinks it Can Make Your Food Safer: Will it Work?

85536344
Getty Images

IBM plans to sequence the microbiomes of food ingredients to prevent outbreaks earlier

Our food system is by no means bulletproof when it comes to pathogens. In just the past year, the United States saw major outbreaks of listeria in caramel apples and salmonella in nut butters, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans suffer from some kind of food-borne diseases annually. Meanwhile, food-borne illness results in $9 billion in medical costs and another $75 billion in contaminated food that’s recalled and tossed out every year. Regulatory agencies have acknowledged that more needs to be done.

One strategy comes from IBM, which announced on Thursday that it’s partnering with Mars on a project called the Sequencing the Food Supply Chain Consortium. Their goal, which will likely take at least three years to accomplish, is to sequence the makeup of various foods and then enter that information into a database. The thinking is that if they can establish, at the molecular level, what a given ingredient is supposed to look like, systems can be put into place to catch brewing problems before contaminated foods make it to your table.

“The hypothesis is that [this process] offers you a microscope into what’s happening in that [food] environment,” says Jeff Welser, vice president of IBM Research. “Any deviation from that might indicate there’s a problem.” IBM says it will take into account variations that could occur in ingredients based on where in the world the product is coming from, and what time of year it is.

“A key challenge for food safety experts today is that typically when they test food they only really have a chance of finding what they set out to look for,” says David Crean, global head of technical food safety development at Mars. “If they are testing for Salmonella, they won’t find Listeria.”

The process is highly time- and data-intensive, and not necessarily something companies will want to put their foods and ingredients through constantly, but IBM thinks the science could be developed into a simple test. “You ought to be able to do this when you’re doing normal testing during the day, like for E.coli. The goal is to find the markers that give you a safety-check barcode, if you will, and if you see a change then it lets you know we need to do further testing,” says Welser.

Within three to five years the consortium estimates it will have more companies involved as well as some version of the testing process available for commercial use. They plan to engage with regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it’s determined the process works well.

The FDA says it is prioritizing food safety, and in 2011 the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama. The FDA says it’s the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in over 70 years and the goal is to shift focus from responding to contamination to prevention. The FDA is supportive of whole genome sequencing as a way to find bacteria in food.

“Overall this seems to be a great basic science project,” says Jonathan A. Eisen, a professor at University of California, Davis. “Personally I believe we need major efforts in characterizing the communities found in and on food, and that a full characterization of the microbes in the facilities where food is produced would be great. This is the first I have heard of a company planning to do this on a large scale.” Eisen is not involved in the consortium, but has researched the suite of microbes in food.

The concept is ambitious, but could be a new way to keep our foods safer than they are currently.

TIME Companies

Fake Goods Land Alibaba in Hot Water With Regulators

But it might be an excuse for China’s largest e-commerce company to clean itself up, for regulators but more importantly, Wall Street

During Alibaba’s earnings call this morning, when it reported revenues that missed expectations, only one question came up about the report released yesterday by a Chinese regulator criticizing the e-commerce giant. But that might understate how likely the report is to influence talk about Alibaba for some time.

The regulator, the State Administration For Industry And Commerce (SAIC) accused Alibaba of selling fake goods and misleading customers on its biggest shopping platform Taobao.com.

SAIC has already taken down the report, but in it Alibaba’s consumer-to-consumer platform Taobao ranked worse for fakes and reliability than other Chinese sites like JD.com and Yihaodian.com. One fair reason for that, from Alibaba’s perspective, is that Taobao is much bigger than its rivals, with 500 million consumer accounts. But the report also includes allegations that Alibaba employees accepted bribes from merchants who wanted to improve their search rankings. Those allegations are going to be riling Wall Street for a while.

Taobao’s history of fakes and ripoffs is well known in China. But that hasn’t hurt Alibaba because increasingly, shoppers look to comments sections first while scanning similar products. If the seller isn’t well reviewed, they simply move on, similar to the way a low feedback score on eBay.com can doom a seller.

In that way, it’s tough to understand the timing of SAIC’s report, which was held until after the firm’s September IPO, the government said. Even if Alibaba isn’t pushing forward with solutions fast enough for regulators’ liking, CEO Jack Ma and Co. would certainly move fast if customers were turned off. But that’s the thing: customers are only growing. In today’s earnings report, Alibaba said revenues in the quarter grew by 40%, even if they slightly missed estimates.

As Paul Mozur of the New York Times notes, Alibaba’s success has brought it greater scrutiny “with China’s opaque and at-times arbitrary government regulators, a reminder that an investment in Alibaba brings inevitable political risk.”

Fortune highlighted those regulators in a piece last yearabout the scrutiny Western companies have come under. In it, foreign business groups accused China’s regulators of having a spotty record of openness and fairness. Now Alibaba has joined the criticism. On Taobao.com, it said the SAIC’s main investigator, Director Liu Hongliang, had unfairly formed the report, including the tiny sample size used (92 batches of products).

“We felt we were unfairly attacked by a report that was a sample check of some of the items,” Alibaba vice chairman Joe Tsai said in an interview this morning on CBNC. “We thought the methodology was flawed, we felt the attack was targeted at us specifically, and it was unfair. Over time we hope to work with regulators to address the issues of their concern.”

One response to the SAIC on Taobao, by an unsigned employee, included a fair point. As translated by the WSJ:

SAIC has “succeeded in proving just how unsafe and unreliable online shopping in China is, just how crafty the several millions of online retailers are, just how blind and stupid its 500 million consumers are….”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.

TIME Companies

Amazon Wants to Power Your Work Email

BRITAIN-BUSINESS-RETAIL-AMAZON
A picture shows the logo of the online retailer Amazon dispalyed on computer screens in London on December 11, 2014. Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images

Amazon deliveries go from electronics to emails

Amazon has launched a work email service aimed at undermining Microsoft’s dominance in office messaging.

The e-commerce giant is introducing WorkMail, allowing users to send and receive emails, and manage contacts and share calendars all stored on Amazon’s cloud servers.

WorkMail won’t replace Microsoft Outlook’s software interface for businesses that make the switch. Instead, it changes the background technology that powers corporate email. It will push messages through Amazon’s encrypted computer networks at a monthly cost of $4 per inbox.

Amazon said that with WorkMail customers won’t have to buy servers or manage software, upgrades, or patches. Instead, they just have to pay for each inbox.

“Customers have repeatedly asked us for a business email and calendaring service that is more cost-effective and simpler to manage than their on-premises solution,” said Peter De Santis, vice president of AWS Compute Services, said in a press release. “We built Amazon WorkMail to address these requests.”

An analyst with Baird Equity Research, Colin Sebastian told the Wall Street Journal that email services could bring Amazon $1 billion each year, based on estimate of sales for Google’s business software.

TIME Smartphones

Apple Might Finally Be Beating Samsung in Smartphone Sales

But some analysts say it's a tie

Apple and Samsung have long been bitter rivals in the smartphone market, with each able to claim an advantage over the other: The higher cost of Apple’s iPhones have helped the company enjoy wider profit margins, while Samsung has historically clobbered Apple in terms of the number of devices shipped.

However, that may no longer be the case.

Apple sold a record 74.5 million iPhones last quarter, it said as part of its earnings report Tuesday. A day later, Samsung said it sold somewhere between 71 and 76 million smartphones. That means there’s a decent chance Apple is now beating Samsung not only in profit margins, but also in number of devices shipped.

Still, some analysts are sowing doubt over whether that’s actually the case. One research firm, Counterpoint Research, says Apple is now on top: It says Samsung only shipped 73.8 million devices last quarter. Ben Barjarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies and TIME columnist, also gave the nod to Apple.

But another analyst, Strategy Analytics, has taken the middle road and called it a tie, saying Apple and Samsung both shipped 74.5 million devices, giving both companies an equal 19.6% share of the global smartphone market.

A tie game means we’re headed to overtime. Whether Apple can hold on to its maybe-possibly-kind-of lead over Samsung depends on how its newest iPhone models perform as their shine wears off. Apple’s sales numbers last quarter got a big boost from the introduction of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, particularly in China, where the bigger devices were an equally big hit. If history is any indication, Apple won’t refresh its phone lineup for several months at the earliest, while Samsung is reportedly set to drop a new flagship model early this year to replace the Galaxy S5. If that as-yet-unannounced phone is a winner, it could put Samsung right back on top.

TIME

The 1 Weird Reason You’re Tipping More

TIME.com stock photos Money Dollar Bills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

These tricks businesses use could make you more likely to tip

If you buy a cup of coffee or lunch and your server pulls out an iPad, pay attention: You could wind up leaving a higher tip without even realizing it.

When software research company Software Advice surveyed consumers who use iPads or similar devices to buy food and drink, it found that the use of iPads increases the amount many people tip when they pay. More than four in 10 consumers say being in close proximity to their server at the time of the transaction can prompt them to leave a tip when they otherwise might not have.

What’s more, nearly 30% of respondents say they would be more likely to tip if they had to tap a button that says “no tip,” a feature many establishments use.

“This is especially more prevalent at places like coffee shops or at food trucks where the person taking your card is standing right in front of you,” says Justin Guinn, retail market researcher at Software Advice. “People might feel awkward pressing a ‘no tip’ button with the server or cashier looking right at them, waiting for them to make a choice. There’s an undeniable guilty feeling,” he says.

Others also have observed this phenomenon in restaurants that use digital tipping, and even in taxi fleets that have been converted to accept credit cards via touch screens in the back seat.

“I think there’s some kind of a casino effect,” Manny Pena, owner of a New York City cafe. tells Bon Appetit magazine. “You don’t comprehend that it’s real money.”

And in some cases, establishments take advantage of the addition of iPads to tweak the standard tip — rather than offer customers a range with 15% at the midpoint, 15% or even 18% might be the starting point. Reflexively hitting the center option without thinking about it could lead to paying a few percentage points more.

When coffee giant Starbucks added the ability for a customer to leave a tip to their barista using the payment function on their mobile app, they included dollar amounts up to $2 — which adds up to a whopping 50% tip even if you’re paying $4 for your caffeine fix.

It could be guilt at work, or it could be the convenience of paying with a couple of taps, according to Guinn.

“Whether or not patrons are ‘feeling the pressure’ to tip more because the server is standing next to them certainly seems to be a factor in the amount they’re leaving,” he says. “However, since the iPad is streamlining the ordering and paying process overall, it could be the convenience of the iPad itself.”

 

 

TIME China

Why China Is Nervous About Its Role in the World

Hong Kong based Vietnamese demonstrators carry Vietnam's flag during a protest against China's territory claim in Hong Kong
Hong Kong based Vietnamese demonstrators carry Vietnam's flag during a protest against China's territory claim in Hong Kong May 25, 2014. Around 200 people marched on Sunday to declare Paracel Islands belong to Vietnam. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) TYRONE SIU—REUTERS

China’s fear of closer ties between the U.S. and India may indicate growing economic problems at home

In the wake of President Obama’s historic trip to India, China issued an unsolicited and perplexing statement downplaying the relevance of the visit. As the White House pointed out in response, the only thing significant about China’s statement was the fact that the Asian nation felt the need to make it in the first place.

The rivalry between China and India for economic power and strategic control in Asia is longstanding and is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. But China’s taunt is not necessarily a sign of its hostility towards India but an inadvertent admission of its declining supremacy in the region.

China, once an accepted economic and military juggernaut and the darling of investors the world over, is now facing both economic and strategic challenges which could slow down its progress.

First, China’s economy seems to be shrinking. With industrial activity trending down and interest rate cuts yet to produce results, it’s looking likely that China’s meteoric economic rise may have peaked and, according to a report from the Conference Board, could lead to a 4% GDP growth rate in the future, which is considerably lower than in previous decades. Further problems plaguing China include a debt overhang, a real estate bubble, lack of competition, and an old-world industrial economy instead of a more modern information economy such as that of the U.S.

In addition, India’s economic growth is predicted to outpace China’s by 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund, a fact that doesn’t bode well for China’s dominance of Asia. That’s not to say that China will cease to be an economic power but that it may not be able to exert the same clout on the world stage that it once did.

Another major shift could be in China’s ability to use the specter of its military might to secure favorable trade terms with other nations. That specter, even as it grows, could be undermined by higher defense spending by India and Japan (aided by the U.S.), who are eager to contain China. At the same time, China can’t bank on Russia for support since the latter is facing its own crisis from low oil prices and economic sanctions. This could leave China isolated and weaken its position with trading partners.

Finally, there is the democracy factor. The recent protests in Hong Kong were an indication of the tenuousness of China’s draconian control over its people, and possibly of political upheaval to come.

In economic terms, this means that although China has done a fairly good job of balancing free market principles with state run control, the desire of citizens for democracy could force China to relax regulatory control over businesses, embrace labor reform, and truly open its markets in the not-too-distant future. That’s good news for investors but depends heavily on the reaction of the Chinese government, whose response to pro-democracy forces could be unpredictable and severe. Also, a sudden rise in labor costs due to free market forces could in itself disrupt the economic ecosystem in China, and have a negative impact on both domestic and foreign companies that rely on the labor pool.

Given this context, it becomes easier to understand just why China is nervous about closer ties developing between the world’s two largest democracies, the U.S. and India, and why global investors should be wary of the Chinese economic miracle. For sure, China will continue to be an influential player and has demonstrated resilience in the face of difficulties before, but investors looking to make money from the region should still temper their enthusiasm with a realistic assessment of where the nation is now.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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