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This Toyota Ad Is Utterly Insane — and Wonderful

Jungle Wakudoki, a.k.a. the most delightful two minutes of your day

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Japanese ads are an art form in and of themselves. But this spot produced for Toyota by agency Dentsu Aegis is incredible nonetheless. The premise is dead simple: a group of businessmen are driving through the jungle in their Toyota truck. When they pull over to let one of them relieve themselves, things get … well crazy. The spot is part of a campaign dubbed “Do the Wakudoki,” which encourages consumers to submit clips of themselves dancing.

[AdWeek]

TIME

You’ll Never Guess Which Store Is the Most Powerful in the U.S.

T.J. Maxx Retail
A customer shops at the opening of TJ Maxx's 1000th store on April 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi—Getty Images

The off-price chain has built a fantastically loyal following. How?

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Consider Company X. Its annual sales—now $27.4 billion, or more than those of Estée Lauder, Hilton Worldwide, and Hershey combined—have risen 50% over the past six years. Its profits have almost tripled, to $2.1 billion. Its shareholders have been the beneficiaries of 18 consecutive years of earnings-per-share growth. In its nearly-four-decade history, it has had only one year of negative same-store sales. And it does all this by selling blouses…pots and pans…and bedding, sunglasses, sriracha seasoning, yoga mats, and the occasional $1,250 Stella McCartney dress.

Company X—make that TJX—may well be the biggest enigma in an industry so fragile and capricious that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz once likened it to the “human condition.” The business of retail is hard stuff. Chains soar when they manage to sell into the zeitgeist (“Tar-zhay,” anyone?) and collapse when the stars of public taste realign (Abercrombie). In the off-price realm that the TJX TJX Companies dominates, it is, if anything, harder. The past six years have seen the demise of Filene’s Basement, Daffy’s, and Loehmann’s, which has reemerged as an online-only store. The number of customer purchases at TJX, by contrast, has risen in each of the last six years; over that time, TJX shares have climbed over 200%.

“It’s the most consistent, most powerful apparel retailer in the United States,” says Howard Davidowitz, who has run his own retail consulting and investment banking firm for 33 years. “It’s a bold statement, but it’s true.” Ron Hess, a professor of marketing at William & Mary’s Mason School of Business, puts it this way: “They are stunningly good.”

But there is one other salient fact about the Framingham, Mass., retailer that adds to the enigma: It will do almost anything to prevent anybody else from knowing how it has managed all of the above. TJX is Company X: a black box—arguably one of the most secretive retailers around.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME

Here’s Why the Mac Is Beating the PC Right Now

Mac vs. PC
A MacBook computer and instruction manual. JiaJia Liu—flickr Editorial/Getty Images

Mac sales are up, PC sales are down. And in that shrinking market, Apple takes the lion’s share of the profits

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Tim Cook reported Tuesday that Mac sales grew almost 18% year over year in the June quarter while the rest of the PC market shrank by nearly 2%.

And the Mac is the most profitable PC on the market. By far.

“Indeed,” writes Asymco‘s Horace Dediu, “it’s more profitable than all the other vendors put together.”

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME

Starbucks Is Totally Killing It Right Now

Starbucks Center, headquarters for the i
Starbucks Center, headquarters for the international coffee and coffeehouse chain, is seen on March 22, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images

Starbucks posted a solid quarter after announcing price hikes in July

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

The numbers: Starbucks met analyst estimates on Thursday by posting third quarter profits of 67 cents per share on $4.15 billion in sales. Analysts had expected the Seattle-based coffee company to deliver earnings of 67 cents on $4.15 billion in revenue. Starbucks also said sales growth accelerated to 11% for the quarter from 9% in the previous quarter. Other especially significant numbers from the earnings report: Comparable store sales 6% during a quarter in which the average price of customer orders increased 4%. Starbucks announced plans to raise costs for drinks and packaged items in the U.S. earlier this month, the first price hikes in almost four years. Starbucks also opened 344 new stores around the world, for a total of nearly 21,000 in 64 countries.

The takeaway: With the price of drinks rising, Starbucks isn’t likely to alienate its customers. The company is one of the most admired in the world (in fact, fifth on Fortune’s most admired list). Plus, the company is expanding its brand by getting into the tea business through its partnership with Teavanna, whose products are now available in-store. Overseas sales, too, are strong, highlighted by the company’s 18th consecutive quarter where global comparable growth has been 5% or more.

What’s interesting: Starbucks unveiled a number of new initiatives this quarter to keep its customers (and employees) happy and coming back for more. For instance, Starbucks introduced its Fizzio handcrafted sodas and Teavanna iced teas to bolster its refreshment offerings. Starbucks has also partnered with Duracell to offer Powermat wireless charging in certain stores, with a planned expansion to more stores in 2015. Also big news for the quarter: The coffee company launched the Starbucks College Achievement Plan for employees to earn a bachelor’s degree with Starbucks helping to foot the bill.

TIME Tech Policy

Meet the Woman Keeping Silicon Valley in Check

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez Cade Martin 2014

Edith Ramirez is probably not the most popular person in Seattle right now. As the chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, she’s currently suing two of the city’s biggest tech companies: Amazon, for allegedly making it too easy for kids to rack up in-app purchases on their parents’ Kindles, and T-Mobile, for allegedly cramming unwanted charges into customers’ phone bills. That’s to say nothing of the recent settlements with Snapchat over false marketing and Apple over in-app purchases. It’s all come under the watchful eye of Ramirez, who assumed the chairwoman’s position in March 2013 and has taken a laser focus to the activities of tech companies, particularly in regards to mobile.

The new FTC head talked to TIME about the hidden permissions lurking in terms of service agreements, Facebook’s controversial mood study and whether Americans should ever expect a “right to be forgotten” online. An edited version of the conversation is below.

TIME: How important is the technology sector as a whole for the FTC right now? Is it an area of focus for you personally?

Ramirez: Our fundamental mission is to protect consumers and promote competition and so we are going to be wherever consumers are. The reality is that technology has been playing a critically important role for the agency for a number of years. Because we see consumers really gravitating to mobile devices, it’s crucial that the agency be very much informed about and keenly aware of what’s happening in the mobile sphere.

TIME: What are the biggest challenges or dangerous that consumers can face with the rise of mobile?

Ramirez: You want consumers to be able to partake in all of the terrific innovation we see in the marketplace. One way to assure that is to make sure the products that are out there take into account what’s of concern to consumers—that includes, among other things, taking into account concerns about data security and privacy, and also making sure that some of the basic protections that we’re all used to when we walk into a grocery store or a local convenience store, that we also have those basic protections available to us when we’re engaging in a transaction on our smartphone.

Data security is paramount in my view. The more connected we are, the more information and data that is being gathered by all sorts of different companies. It’s crucial that this personal information that is being collected and being used, that companies take reasonable steps to ensure that data is protected.

TIME: We live in this era now where people sign up for services and they don’t read the fine print. Do you think there’s a base level of privacy or control that Internet companies should be affording their customers?

Ramirez: I do. We realize that consumers aren’t going to be poring over long, confusing privacy policies. Now that we’re in a mobile world, what’s the likelihood that anyone’s going to be scrolling through on a mobile device some lengthy privacy policy? That’s become increasingly unlikely.

Companies need to be thinking about privacy from the get-go, when they first start conceiving of any new product or service. If you’re developing an app that’s a flashlight app, do you really need to have access to my contacts? Do you really need to have access to my geolocation? If they want to access information that goes beyond what one would expect, they ought to be asking for permission to do that.

I think we’ve seen a tremendous improvement, even in the course of the time I’ve been at the agency. We’ve seen companies realize that consumers really do care very deeply about maintaining their information [security] and they want to also exercise greater control. At the same time I think a lot more needs to be done in this area. A lot in this area still continues to take place behind the scenes in a black box. Consumers may not fully appreciate the extent of data-sharing that’s taking place.

TIME: Last month people were upset because Facebook did this experiment where they were altering people’s News Feeds to change their mood in some way. Do you think that experiment was appropriate for them to do?

Ramirez: I can’t really comment on the specifics of what Facebook did, but I think what it does show is again the need for consumers to be in the driver’s seat. They want to know what companies are doing, how they’re using the information that they’re sharing. It just goes to show that consumers don’t want to be in the dark about this. That’s a basic responsibility companies have—they ought to be transparent about what they’re doing, they ought to give consumers an opportunity to have control over how their information is being used, what information is being collected. Simply because [consumers] are receiving a service, and even it happens to be free, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be in control.

TIME: Does the FTC plan to investigate the Facebook issue formally?

Ramirez: We can’t comment on how investigations we conduct. What I can tell you is these are issues we are concerned about and we are monitoring the marketplace.

TIME: In Europe, the courts recently enshrined a “right to be forgotten,” so people can delete articles about themselves from search results. Do you think that’s something Americans should have the right to for privacy reasons?

Ramirez: Of course we’re operating here in the U.S. under a very different legal regime than folks are in Europe. An expansive “right to be forgotten” is not something that’s likely to pass Constitutional muster here in the United States because there is a First Amendment right to both access to public information and freedom of expression. At the same time, I do understand the need for us to think about controlling our own information. By way of example, I know that consumers want to be able to delete information. If they’re on a particular platform, they will want to be able to be assured that if they close out their account that their information will be deleted. This is exactly an element of an order we have with Facebook. It’s not an expansive right to be forgotten, but there are certain controls and tools that I think U.S. consumers would like to have.

TIME: As we see these tech companies like Google and Amazon getting bigger and bigger, taking up a larger portion of their sectors, do you think there are antitrust issues with these companies as they continue to grow?

Ramirez: With any large company, if they have market power, monopoly power, we would be looking closely at how they use that. We did conduct an investigation relative to Google a couple of years back. In that particular investigation, we opted not to take action.

TIME: A lot of times when FTC settlements come out, people see the dollar figure, and it seems like a slap on the wrist to these companies that are generating billions of dollars in revenue every year. Are the actions you take actual deterrents to stop companies from abusing consumers in various ways?

Ramirez: We do not have general civil penalty authority. We can’t assess a fine when we find a violation of law under our general statute. What we can do is seek to obtain consumer redress or we can, if appropriate, ask a company to disgorge any unlawful gains that resulted from the unlawful conduct.

In any particular case, the amount that you may see, you may think, ‘Well how does that compare to the profits of a company?” But that’s not really the analysis. The analysis on our end is, “Are we successfully recovering money that would compensate consumers for the damage that they have suffered.”

I think our enforcement work is sending important signals to the marketplace. In the privacy arena, Facebook, Google, Twitter [are] under order. It’s sent important signals to them, and I think as a result of the action that we’ve taken, companies are more aware of what their responsibilities are.

TIME: How are you able to strike a balance between this goal of consumer protection and allowing companies to innovate and try new things?

Ramirez: Whether it’s having information about what you’re paying for, whether it’s knowing what information an app might want to have access to when I’m downloading it—all of these things really work side by side with innovation. I don’t think consumers should have to sacrifice their privacy, the security of their information…when they avail themselves of all these terrific products that we see today. In fact I think for companies to flourish, it’s really important that consumers feel they can trust the products that they’re using, that they feel that they know the full extent of what is happening when they download a service. Companies will flourish all the more if they provide basic protections.

TIME

BuzzFeed Fires Editor Over Plagiarism

US-MEDIA-IT-INTERNET
The logo of news website BuzzFeed is seen on a computer screen in Washington on March 25, 2014. Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images

Updated 11:20 a.m. ET

The popular social news site BuzzFeed announced the firing of an editor late Friday night after allegations of plagiarism surfaced online this week.

Benny Johnson was the site’s first “viral politics editor.” In a note to readers, the site’s editor said that a review of more than 500 posts authored by Johnson revealed 41 instances of plagiarism.

“Benny is a friend, colleague and, at his best, a creative force, but we had no choice other than letting him go,” wrote editor-in-chief Ben Smith.

Johnson apologized in a message sent on Twitter Saturday morning.

In one case, Johnson borrowed portions of text from a U.S. News & World Report story by journalist Rick Newman on the depravity of life in North Korea. In another, he used the exact phrasing of a five-year-old response on Yahoo! Answers on the German bombing of London during World War II.

Johnson, 28, came to BuzzFeed’s Washington bureau in December 2012 from Glenn Beck’s online publication, The Blaze.

TIME Music

Bose Is Suing Beats Over Headphone Patents

Apple Said To Be In Talks To Purchase Beats Headphones Company
Beats headphones in an Apple store on May 9, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

As Beats is being bought by Apple

Bose is suing Beats Electronics over the noise-canceling technology in Beats’ headphones.

Bose filed suit in a U.S. District Court in Delaware Friday, claiming that Beats violated five different patents in the manufacture of its line of Studio noise-canceling headphones. The patents in question are for technology such as “Dynamically Configurable ANR Filter Block Technology” and “Digital High Frequency Phase Compensation.”

Bose is seeking an injunction to prevent Beats from selling the products it says violate its patents, as well as an award for damages.

Apple agreed to buy Beats for $3 billion in May. The deal is still pending regulatory approval.

TIME

Herbalife Hires Biden’s Former Chief of Staff

Herbalife Ltd. signage is displayed outside of Herbalife Plaza in Torrance, Calif. on Feb. 3, 2014.
Herbalife Ltd. signage is displayed outside of Herbalife Plaza in Torrance, Calif. on Feb. 3, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Alan Hoffman will oversee the company's vast lobbying effort in Washington, DC. as it fights allegations that its business model is a predatory pyramid scheme

In yet another chapter in what has become a real-life, Wall Street-D.C. soap opera, the nutritional supplements company Herbalife announced today that it has hired Vice President Joe Biden’s former chief of staff, Alan Hoffman.

Hoffman, who left Biden’s side in 2012 to join Pepsi Co., will start in August as Herbalife’s new executive vice president in charge of everything from “public policy” to “government affairs”—a title that translates, in layman’s terms, to the person who will oversee the company’s vast lobbying effort in Washington, DC.

It’s a big job. Herbalife is reportedly under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and at least two state attorney generals over allegations that the company’s business model is a predatory pyramid scheme.

Herbalife’s arch nemesis, the billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, gave a three-hour presentation on Tuesday this week outlining his case against the company, which he describes as a “criminal operation” that fleeces poor people by promising, but not delivering, lucrative rewards for selling Herbalife’s nutritional supplements.

But Herbalife’s all-star team of backers, which includes former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the activist investor Carl Icahn, and soccer celeb David Beckham, have dismissed Ackman’s allegations out of hand as “completely false and fabricated.”

Ackman has led a lonely crusade against the company for the last 18 months, spending $50 million of his investors’ money hiring a battalion of investigators to prove that the company is misleading distributors, misrepresenting sales figures and selling its products at inflated prices. Ackman became tearful Tuesday describing the company’s practices, which he compared to those used by the Mafia, the Nazis, and Enron.

Ackman’s hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management LP, has also bet against Herbalife in the market and stands to gain $1 billion if the company’s stock collapses.

Herbalife’s stock has soared and plummeted, roller coaster-like, since December 2012, when Ackman first vowed to take the company down. Since January 2013, Herbalife has thrown itself into the battle, dumping roughly $2 million on official lobbying efforts in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That kind of spending marks a major increase for the company, which shelled out about the same amount on lobbying over the course of a decade between 1998 and 2008.

This week, the company suggested that it may sue Ackman for defamation — something public companies seldom do, in part because the legal barriers are very high and in part because such an action could give Ackman the power to demand access to some of Herbalife’s non-public records. (Ackman responded Tuesday to a question about the possible lawsuit: “Bring it on.”)

Hoffman, who has worked for all three branches of government, has close ties with officials within the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, Congress, and the Obama administration. “I look forward to ensuring that the public more clearly understands the critical role the company plays in advancing good nutrition,” Hoffman said in a statement today. “I also look forward to promoting the economic opportunities that this global nutrition company provides for hard-working people in communities everywhere.”

During Ackman’s presentation this week, which he promised would be a “death blow” for the company, Herbalife’s stock actually rose, ending the trading day 25% higher than where it had started. Ackman alleged that the company had bought its own stock to make its price rise.

Herbalife’s retail strategy depends on hiring salespeople who do not draw an independent income, but instead share in revenues generated by the salespeople they recruit, and those of their recruits’ recruits. Herbalife does not dispute that model.

But Ackman alleges that many of Herbalife’s “customers” are purchasing the company’s products in an effort to qualify to open a branded “nutrition club,” which the company bills as a lucrative business opportunity. Ackman says his investigators’ analysis of a sample of Herbalife’s “nutrition clubs” lost an average of at least $12,000 a year, and that fewer than 2% of its salespeople made more than $5,000 last year. Herbalife says those numbers misrepresent its model, where many customers sign up as “salespeople” to get discounts on the products for themselves, their friends and family.

“I’m an extremely, extremely persistent person. Extremely,” Ackman said Tuesday. “And when I believe I am right, and it is important, I will go to the end of the earth.” Whether he’s right or wrong, he’s up against a formidable team in Washington, DC.

TIME Transportation

Lyft Launching in New York City Following 2-Week Delay

Ridesharing Salt Lake City
A Lyft car crosses Market Street in San Francisco, Jan. 17, 2013. Jeff Chiu—AP

Lyft will have to use commercial drivers in the five boroughs

After a two-week legal spat with state officials, ride-sharing service Lyft is finally taking off in New York City Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Unlike in other cities, where strangers can give rides to their neighbors using the Lyft app, the service in the five boroughs will be operated by commercial drivers only, according to a statement from the New York Attorney General’s office. The change in Lyft’s business model makes it compliant with the rules of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates taxis and black car services, such as Uber, in New York City.

Despite the deal, Lyft is not giving up on eventually bringing its original model to New York City. “This agreement is the first big step in finding a home for Lyft’s peer-to-peer model in New York,” the company said in a blog post. “We’ll continue to work with the TLC, Department of Financial Services, and the Attorney General’s office to craft new rules for peer-to-peer transportation in New York.”

As part of its agreement with the state, Lyft will suspend its operations in Buffalo and Rochester by August 1. The company says it will work with regulatory officials to comply with state law and relaunch in those communities later.

TIME Environment

Only 1/3 of Americans ‘Willing’ to Change Behavior for Environment

As Michael Grunwald noted in his piece on TIME’s recent energy poll, Americans lag far behind other nations in their willingness to help the environment. Here, only 33% of Americans say they “strongly agree” they would modify their behavior to reduce their carbon footprint, compared to 43% of people from other countries.

Americans Take Less Responsibility For Clean Energy

 

For more stories on the New Energy Reality, click here.

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