TIME technology

My Experiment Opting Out of Big Data Made Me Look Like a Criminal

The Latest Mobile Apps At The App World Multi-Platform Developer Show
The Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. company logos are seen on an advertising sign during the Apps World Multi-Platform Developer Show in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Here's what happened when I tried to hide my pregnancy from the Internet and marketing companies

This week, the President is expected to release a report on big data, the result of a 90-day study that brought together experts and the public to weigh in on the opportunities and pitfalls of the collection and use of personal information in government, academia and industry. Many people say that the solution to this discomfiting level of personal-data collection is simple: if you don’t like it, just opt out. But as my experience shows, it’s not as simple as that. And it may leave you feeling like a criminal.

It all started with a personal experiment to see if I could keep a secret from the bots, trackers, cookies and other data sniffers online that feed the databases that companies use for targeted advertising. As a sociologist of technology, I was launching a study of how people keep their personal information on the Internet, which led me to wonder: Could I go the entire nine months of my pregnancy without letting these companies know that I was expecting?

This is a difficult thing to do, given how hungry marketing companies are to identify pregnant women. Prospective mothers are busy making big purchases and new choices (which diapers? Which bottles?) that will become their patterns for the next several years. In the big-data era of targeted advertising, detection algorithms sniff out potentially pregnant clients based on their shopping and browsing patterns. It’s a lucrative business; according to a report in the Financial Times, identifying a single pregnant woman is worth as much as knowing the age, sex and location of up to 200 people. Some of these systems can even guess which trimester you’re in.

Avoiding this layer of data detectors isn’t a question of checking a box. Last year, many people were shocked by the story of the teenager in Minnesota whose local Target store knew she was expecting before her father did. Based on her in-store purchasing patterns tracked with credit cards and loyalty programs, Target started sending her ads for diapers and baby supplies, effectively outing her to her family. Like the girl in the Target store, I knew that similar systems would infer my status based on my actions. So keeping my secret required new habits, both online and off.

Social media is one of the most pervasive data-collection platforms, so it was obvious that I couldn’t say anything on Facebook or Twitter, or click on baby-related link bait. But social interactions online are not just about what you say but also what others say about you. One tagged photo with a visible bump and the cascade of “Congratulations!” would let the cat out of the bag. So when we phoned our friends and families to tell them the good news, we told them about our experiment, requesting that they not put anything about the pregnancy online.

Social media isn’t the only offender. Many websites and companies, especially baby-related ones, follow you around the Internet. So I downloaded Tor, a private browser that routes your traffic through foreign servers. While it has a reputation for facilitating illicit activities, I used it to visit BabyCenter.com and to look up possible names. And when it came to shopping, I did all my purchasing—from prenatal vitamins to baby gear and maternity wear—in cash. No matter how good the deal, I turned down loyalty-card swipes. I even set up an Amazon.com account tied to an email address hosted on a personal server, delivering to a locker, and paid with gift cards purchased with cash.

It’s been an inconvenient nine months, but the experiment has exposed harsh realities behind the opt-out myth. For example, seven months in, my uncle sent me a Facebook message congratulating me on my pregnancy. My response was downright rude: I deleted the thread and unfriended him immediately. When I emailed to ask why he did it, he explained, “I didn’t put it on your wall.” Another family member who reached out on Facebook chat a few weeks later exclaimed, “I didn’t know that a private message wasn’t private!”

This sleight of hand is intentional. Internet companies hope that users will not only accept the trade-off between “free” services and private information but will also forget that there is a trade-off in the first place. Once those companies have that personal data, users don’t have any control over where it goes or who might have access to it in the future. And unlike the early days of the Internet, in which digital interactions were ephemeral, today’s Internet services have considerable economic incentives to track and remember—indefinitely.

Attempting to opt out forced me into increasingly awkward interactions with my family and friends. But, as I discovered when I tried to buy a stroller, opting out is not only antisocial, but it can appear criminal.

For months I had joked to my family that I was probably on a watch list for my excessive use of Tor and cash withdrawals. But then my husband headed to our local corner store to buy enough gift cards to afford a stroller listed on Amazon. There, a warning sign behind the cashier informed him that the store “reserves the right to limit the daily amount of prepaid card purchases and has an obligation to report excessive transactions to the authorities.”

It was no joke that taken together, the things I had to do to evade marketing detection looked suspiciously like illicit activities. All I was trying to do was to fight for the right for a transaction to be just a transaction, not an excuse for a thousand little trackers to follow me around. But avoiding the big-data dragnet meant that I not only looked like a rude family member or an inconsiderate friend, but I also looked like a bad citizen.

The myth that users will “vote with their feet” is simply wrong if opting out comes at such a high price. With social, financial and even potentially legal repercussions involved, the barriers for exit are high. This leaves users and consumers with no real choice nor a voice to express our concerns.

No one should have to act like a criminal just to have some privacy from marketers and tech giants. But the data-driven path we are currently on—paved with the heartwarming rhetoric of openness, sharing and connectivity—actually undermines civic values and circumvents checks and balances. The President’s report can’t come soon enough. When it comes to our personal data, we need better choices than either “leave if you don’t like it” or no choice at all. It’s time for a frank public discussion about how to make personal-information privacy not just a series of check boxes but a basic human right, both online and off.

TIME Advertising

If You Have a Heart, This Puppy Ad Will Completely Melt It

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American spending on pets reached a record $55.7 billion last year, according to the American Pet Products Association. “If the pet industry were tracked by the U.S. government as a single entity, we’d be the seventh largest retail segment in the country,” Bob Vetere, CEO of the industry group told TIME recently. All that spending has been a boon to pet-food marketers willing to capitalize on the Web’s obsession with animals. Now Pedigree New Zealand is trying to use puppies and YouTube’s revenue-sharing model to raise money for dog charity—and drive views. Apparently, this involves watching uber-cute dachshunds eating hot dogs.

TIME Food and Beverage Industry

How Breakfast Became the Most Important Meal of the Day

It's not just Taco Bell and McDonald's who are duking it out to win over America's early diners. Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Jack in the Box, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. have all stepped up to the plate recently with new marketing campaigns or menu items

Fast food chains generate the vast majority of their revenues during the lunch and dinner hours. So why does it seem all the industry’s biggest players care about lately is breakfast?

It’s been a nasty couple of weeks in the fast food world. Not due to any new “pink slime” type scandals, but thanks to an increasingly aggressive, in-your-face ad and social media showdown between Taco Bell and McDonald’s. The war is all about breakfast, and it kicked off when Taco Bell featured Ronald McDonald—actually, a whole bunch of guys really named Ronald McDonald, not the McDonald spokesclown—in a commercial giving Taco Bell over-the-top endorsements for its new breakfast.

McDonald’s countered by enticing the morning crowd with a promise of free coffee for a couple of weeks, followed up more recently by the launch of the McGriddle as a tempting new pancake-wrapped alternative to Taco Bell’s waffle-wrapped breakfast taco. The battles have continued on with braggy Tweets and more ads, and while plenty of smack has been talked, there’s something contrived about all of the bickering. Both of the combatants involved, of course, are well aware that they both stand to benefit thanks to the attention showered upon them.

What’s somewhat overlooked amid this colorful smackdown is that the players are fighting about a meal that has traditionally been something of an afterthought for fast food—but that has taken on enormous importance lately.

(MORE: Why Fast Food Chains Wish the Dollar Menu Would Disappear)

It’s not just Taco Bell and McDonald’s duking it out over breakfast. As Nation’s Restaurant News summed up earlier this year, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jack in the Box, and sister chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. have all stepped up their breakfast game recently, rolling out new marketing campaigns and introducing new menu items. Likewise, Businessweek took note of White Castle’s new Belgian Waffle breakfast sandwich, which is available not only in the morning like you’d guess, but after midnight for the chain’s celebrated late-night munchers.

Why does it seem like breakfast has become the most important meal of the day among fast-food competitors? Why is it that the traditional marquee battlegrounds, lunch and dinner, seem to have taken a step back in terms of fast food priorities?

The answer is simply that throughout the fast food world, lunch and dinner sales have been flat for years, while breakfast sales have climbed steadily—up 4.8% annually from 2007 to 2012, according to The Motley Fool. Meanwhile, the food and beverage research firm Technomic just reported that fast food “burger chains have finally reached maturity” in the U.S., with minimal or nonexistent growth it terms of both sales and number of locations.

When it seems impossible for fast food outlets to increase sales during lunch and dinner, and it also seems impossible or at least infeasible to create more fast food franchise locations, there’s still one way to boost sales—and that’s to pull in more customers into existing restaurants at times other than the usual lunch and dinner periods. These other “dayparts,” as they call them in the business, include the post-dinner time, which has gotten a push with late-night menus and greasy “craver” snacks, and, of course, breakfast.

(MORE: Drinkers, Stoners, Insomniacs Wanted: Fast Food Expands Late-Night Menus)

“This decade, visits to restaurants have slowed, and especially during the recession they declined for two years—but the morning meal was the bright spot,” said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst for NPD, which released a study earlier this year indicating breakfast sales increased 3% in 2013 across the entire restaurant industry, according to QSR Magazine. “It continues to grow strongly while the other dayparts are not.”

And why has breakfast been the anomaly? The frantic, on-the-go, no-time-to-cook nature of modern life is one reason. The Egg McMuffin-unemployment connection offers another explanation, showing a correlation between fast food breakfast sales and the jobs market. Basically, the theory holds that more people swing by the drive-thru in the morning when they actually have jobs to drive to—and when they’re jobless, there’s less reason to get out of bed, let alone feel compelled (or financially able) to fork over cash for a prepared morning meal.

What’s interesting is that the post-recession era has been notable in that the unemployment rate has declined, and that a disproportionate number of the jobs created lately have been low-paying gigs. Both of these factors actually bode well for restaurant breakfast sales because 1) when people have jobs, they’re more likely to eat breakfast out of the house on the way to work (see above); and 2) breakfast is the most affordable meal to eat at a restaurant, so it’s more within reach of today’s typical low-wage worker.

“It’s the cheapest meal you can get at a restaurant outside of a snack,” said the NPD’s Riggs. Among consumers, demand is high and rising for a fast, inexpensive restaurant breakfast, so it’s understandable that so many players in fast food want to win the battle for this growing, increasingly important time of day. “Those who are best able to meet consumers’ wants and needs at that daypart are the ones that will win market share.”

TIME Marketing & Advertising

It’s High Time to Mock Pretentious, Pricey Vodka, Says Cheaper Vodka Brand

Smirnoff has launched a “cut the velvet rope” marketing campaign, openly mocking high-end bottle service at clubs and the trend of pretentious overpriced artisan vodkas.

It’s an obviously self-serving idea from a mass-market vodka brand that easily costs half the price of the typical “ultra premium” or “craft” vodka. But there’s probably a legitimate point to be made anyway.

Just this week, the Wall Street Journal ran a story focused on the small-batch craft vodka trend, in which micro-distilleries around the country encourage those with fine taste to enjoy the exclusive offerings at room temperature (never chilled!), one tiny sip at a time (no shots!), to maximize the opportunity of detecting the subtle flavors—caramel, pepper, orange—held therein. During tastings of these premium products, with names like Bourbon Barrel Aged Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, enthusiasts are encouraged to taste, savor, and spit rather than drink to get drunk.

Amid this atmosphere, Smirnoff has launched its new “Exclusively for Everybody” campaign, including a series of commercials showing the actors Alison Brie (“Community”) and Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) planning and throwing a party, in which VIP sections and pretentious, overly complicated cocktails are mocked, while the casual vodka for the masses is celebrated.

As AdAge pointed out, Smirnoff is the by far America’s best-selling vodka, but it seems motivated to create this campaign because the brand is growing more slowly than others—in particular, many of the higher-end, small-batch vodkas that are vaguely targeted in the ads. Here’s one of them, with a bearded hipster bartender who is easy to make fun of:

(MORE: The Resurgence of Cheap, Old-School Mass-Market Beer)

What’s especially interesting is that Smirnoff and Diageo, the company that owns the brand, are themselves guilty of dipping into the territory of trendy, fruity-flavored and exclusive vodkas. Diageo’s brands include Ketel One, described on the company site as an “ultra-premium vodka” that’s “crafted from small batches,” and Cîroc, “a super premium vodka made exclusively from top-quality French Mauzac and Ugni Blanc grapes.” Smirnoff, meanwhile, is sold in a wide range of complicated variations and flavors, including Smirnoff Norsk, a pale blue vodka “flavoured with Nordic berries.”

Like the world’s big beer companies, which are simultaneously promoting the simplicity and tradition of old-school mass-market brands such as Miller Lite while also pursuing trendier angles involving ciders, fruity beers, and so-called “crafty” beers, Diageo and Smirnoff appear to be trying to have it both ways. They’re trying to win over the pretentious trendy cocktail market one moment, and mock the trend the next.

TIME India

The 2014 Elections Are the Most Expensive Ever Held in India

Narendra Modi Address rally In Darjeeling
A rally for BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Siliguri, Darjeeling, on April 10, 2014. Voter mobilization, campaigning and advertising costs have made this the most expensive Indian poll ever Hindustan Times—Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India's politicians are expected to spend around $5 billion on their campaigns, which makes these polls second only to the U.S. presidential elections in terms of expense

Correction appended, April 11

India’s 2014 elections are the world’s biggest exercise in democracy, with a price tag to match.

The nation’s politicians are expected to spend around $5 billion on their campaigns, which, in terms of expense, makes these polls second only to the U.S. presidential elections (they hit the $7 billion mark).

According to the initial findings of an election expenditure tracker by the Centre for Media Studies, three times more is being spent on the 2014 polls than was spent in the last general elections in 2009.

While part of this increase is because of significant inflation, much of it is a reflection of the changing expectations of a younger, increasingly demanding electorate.

“You are dealing with a new generation of 150 million voters who like to see a sense of scale,” says Dilip Cherian, founding partner of Perfect Relations, a communications group and a political campaign adviser. He says even small details, like the kind of seating being provided at rallies, are being subtly upgraded to meet demands.

“The quality of chairs that are being used at rallies, for example, has gone up from 2009. The age of the street corner rallies is over.”

The quality of messaging has gone up too. An Indian Express report says in 2009 political parties spent around $83 million on advertising campaigns. In 2014, the figure will be at least around $300 million, partly owing to a spurt in digital marketing through which politicians are hoping to connect to a younger generation.

The incumbent Congress party “has started spending on digital, which it never did in 2009,” says Mahesh Murthy, founder of the digital marketing group Pinstorm, which works for some of the leading political parties.

Upgraded voter mobilization and logistics — including the hire of helicopters and jets for star campaigners like Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi — are also eating up a ton of cash. Span Air, a private chartered flight company, has leased all five of its aircraft to the Congress party until the end of the elections. The hourly cost of these planes range between $1,250 and $3,000. Even a very conservative estimate—five aircrafts for 15 days at an average cost of $1,500 per hour for 8 hours a day—totals to a whopping $900,000.

Some argue that these sums simply reflect the cost of campaigning in a country the size of India. “I don’t think $5 billion for 800 million people is expensive,” says Mohan Guruswamy, a Delhi-based political observer. “Democracy doesn’t come cheap.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the amount the Congress party is spending per day on chartered planes.

TIME Congress

Lobbyists Push Congress to Curb Misleading Photoshopped Ads

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif. speaks at a news conference, March 20, 2012.
Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif. speaks at a news conference, March 20, 2012. Tom Williams—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Fashion and beauty ads where the physical appearance of subjects is dramatically altered can have a dire effect on the health outcomes of young people, say anti-eating disorder groups. A bill introduced last month could prompt the FTC to investigate

Lobbyists concerned with the way digitally altered advertisements impact young women and girls took to Capitol Hill on Thursday to rally support for a new bill.

Members of the Eating Disorders Coalition met with over 50 lawmakers about the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014, introduced on March 27, which they say could prompt the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the impact digitally retouched images have on society.

Seth Matlins, a marketer who works to promote positive images of women and girls, said Thursday he’s concerned about “ads that take Kim Kardashian’s body and make it Miley Cyrus’s.”

“If photoshopped ads told the same bold-faced lies that they do on images there would be regulatory action,” Matlins said during a briefing on the lobbying effort. “Truth in advertising matters because we can no longer sit by and allow this to happen.”

The problem for the Eating Disorders Coalition isn’t the ads themselves; it’s the altered images the ads present. The group handed out before and after images of advertisements from fashion houses like Ralph Lauren and Lancôme that they claimed showed the insidious effect of digital alterations. Speakers, who included a former Photoshop professional who referred to himself as an “eye-con,” told personal stories of how altered images had affected people around them.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the new bill, said during the briefing that as a mother and as a school nurse in her home state she had seen the impact altered fashion ads can have on young girls. She acknowledged the bill faced an uphill battle to gain widespread support in today’s Congress, but said there was a historical precedent for action.

“Just as with cigarette ads in the past, fashion ads portray a twisted, ideal image for young women,” she said. “And they’re vulnerable. As sales go up, body image and confidence drops.”

The Eating Disorders Coalition claims the bill is a great first step to preventing some of the negative health outcomes that have been directly linked to these types of images. Though the new bill would not force the Federal Trade Commission to take direct action against advertisers, the federal government would study the use of images where subjects’ physical attributes had been tweaked in order to pursue recommendations on what should be done about it.

Several research studies have found that higher exposure to beauty and fashion magazines increase the likelihood that young girls will develop negative body image and eating disorders. In one study, young girls in Fiji had already begun to develop eating disorders and body image issues only three years after western TV was introduced there.

“The link between false ads and eating disorders becomes increasingly clear every day,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the new bill. “We need to instead empower young men and women to have realistic expectations of their bodies.”

But the Federal Trade Commission already has the authority to keep “unfair and deceptive” commerce away from consumers, and Dan Jaffe of the Association of National Advertisers says the federal government already has more than enough power to protect vulnerable communities from false ads. He argues the law as it stands is actually too broad and that eliminating the use of photoshop would be going too far.

“The use of cosmetics and photoshop are widespread practices,” Jaffe says. “It can’t just be the photoshopping that they go after, it would have to be tied to something specific. Are you just going to say that when ever someone photoshops it’s a per se violation? I think that would be going too far.”

TIME

Why That Creepy Character in the Cereal Aisle Is Eyeing Your Child

A man pushes his shopping cart past the cereal aisle where G
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

If your child begs, pleads, and throws a hissy fit to get you to buy the sugary cereal featuring a cartoon mascot on the box, all is going according to plan.

It’s fairly common knowledge that supermarkets are carefully, purposefully designed to pump up the possibility of spontaneous walk-by purchases. Milk and eggs are in some remote corner, forcing shoppers to stroll past a range of inessential goods in order to pick up the basics. Soda, candy, and trashy magazines fill the checkout area, where there’s a captive audience likely to be tempted into staving off boredom and grumbling stomachs.

Lately, stores have increased efforts to tempt an increasingly large grocery-shopping demographic (guys) with so-called “man aisles,”, where products aimed at dudes—lighter fluid, beer, cheese dip, jerky, batteries—are found in abundance. These sections often aren’t entire aisles; instead, they tend to be toward the end of an aisle, to maximize the possibility that guys, who aren’t known to browse from aisle to aisle, will see them while hunting for the items on one’s list.

The guys section is an extension of the well-worn tactic of grocery stores involving placing products strategically so that they’ll catch the eyes of the core demographic. Higher-priced goods tend to sit at the eye level of an adult, with the hope that shoppers in a hurry will grab the first tomato sauce or bag of coffee they see, rather than take the time to search for a better value somewhere below.

Researchers at Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab just released a study verifying that cereals marketed to kids—the sugary kind, with colorful cartoon mascots, including Cap’N Crunch, Trix, and Cocoa Puffs—are understandably placed much lower than cereals aimed at adults. The average height of placement in grocery stores for a kids cereal is 23 inches, compared to 48 inches high for grown-up cereals.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given all the other strategic design and placement that goes on in grocery stores. What parents may find surprising and, likely, disturbing, is that Cornell researchers also found that the majority of mascots on kids cereal boxes look slightly downward, increasing the chances that these characters will be making direct eye contact with your toddler standing in the aisle. Spokespeople and other characters on adult cereal boxes, by contrast, are almost always staring straight ahead, and because they’re placed among the top shelves, they too should be staring straight into the eyes of the demographic they’re trying to woo.

None of this happens by accident. Research shows that brand trust and connectivity to a product increases when eye contact is made, even when it’s just a weird cartoon rabbit or frog that’s gazing directly at a small child’s face. What’s more, when the uneasy feeling arises that someone is staring at you, there’s an instinct to turn your head and see who it is. This means shoppers are more likely to take a look at the product in the first place because it catches one’s eye. Naturally, all of this increases the odds that the cereal will wind up in your shopping cart.

What can you do to avoid having your kid manipulated, and perhaps more importantly, avoid having to deal with a meltdown? Brian Wansink, one of the Cornell researchers involved in the study, offers some advice that moms and dads may or may not find practical: “If you are a parent who does not want your kids to go ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,’ avoid taking them down the cereal aisle,” he says. Wansik also doles out a tip to cereal makers hoping to score points with families: “If you are a cereal company looking to market healthy cereals to kids, use spokes-characters that make eye contact with children to create brand loyalty.”

TIME Food and Beverage Industry

The Trend Miller and Budweiser May Want to Start Worrying About

ULTRA.F / Getty Images

Are you tempted to taste Hell? In the mood for a Hooker? Or perhaps it’s time to try Zevia? The latter may sound like a mood-enhancing drug, but it’s not. Neither are the others—not exactly, anyway. They’re all unfamiliar beverage brands, a few of the many increasingly showing up on the menus of casinos, airlines, and pro baseball stadiums.

Craft beers and indie soft drink brands have been mainstays at local restaurants, bars, and markets for years. Heck, craft beer is so mainstream that even Costco and Walmart are now known to stock a few interesting selections. Lately, unfamiliar labels are more likely to be seen even in mass-market hubs and attractions that traditionally have been dominated by the world’s biggest brands, often thanks to exclusive partnerships.

Airlines
In February, Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines announced it was getting Surly. Beers from Minnesota neighbor Surly Brewing Company with names like Hell, Furious, and Bender are now being sold in 16-ounce cans on Sun Country flights.

As NBC beer blogger Jim Galligan and, more recently, the Associated Press, have reported, Sun Country is one of several airlines to offer passengers beer options beyond the usual Miller and Budweiser products (which, it should be noted, Sun Country still sells). Shortly before Sun Country’s craft beer infusion, Southwest Airlines introduced a partnership with New Belgium Brewing, the Colorado-based brewer known for Fat Tire Amber Ale, among many other beers. Like all alcoholic beverages on Southwest, a can of Fat Tire—airlines almost always stick with cans, or plastic bottles, to avoid broken glass on the plane—will run an airline customer $5.

Samuel Adams, the largest of all craft brewers, has been available on JetBlue since last summer, Frontier Airlines launched a big craft beer initiative in 2012, and Virgin America brought beers from 21st Amendment Brewery on board in 2009, and welcomed Anchor Steam beer a few years later. Best of all, Horizon and Alaska Airlines recently expanded their craft beer options to include brands such as Alaska’s own Silver Gulch, and, in almost unheard-of fashion nowadays, the carriers offer beer and other alcoholic beverages on a complimentary basis on longer flights.

Casinos and Cruise Ships
Realizing that an impressive and unusual selection of beer and wine is not only good for business but practically necessary for the fine dining crowd today, casinos and bars along the Vegas strip have been ushering in craft beer brands in a hurry. In Connecticut, the Mohegan Sun resort and casino just introduced the Hooker Brewing Test Kitchen, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a spot for Bloomfield-based Hooker Brewing to make and sell experimental small-batch brews.

Cruise companies are increasingly playing up their craft beer selections as amenities as well: Celebrity Cruises, for instance, notes “up to 50 international craft beers” offered one ship’s club. There are also beer-themed cruises focused on small and unusual local brews from operators such as Crystal Cruises and Un-Cruise Adventures.

Baseball Stadiums
Craft brews are nothing new at pro and minor league ballparks. Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, boasts perhaps the best beer selection in baseball, with no fewer than 14 local craft brews sold during games. But there are a few caveats of note: These craft brews are seriously pricey (over $15 a pop in some cases), and sometimes these craft beers aren’t truly craft brews. For instance, last year, there was some uproar in the craft beer community regarding Yankee Stadium’s “Craft Beer Destination” concession stand. All of the brews sold there just so happened to be MillerCoors products, though they featured indie-sounding “crafty” names such as Blue Moon and Batch 19.

If fans find it strange to see less Miller and Bud sold at the ballpark, then it might be downright surreal for soft drink giants such as Pepsi and Coke to be replaced, even to a small degree. Yet this season at the Oakland Coliseum, the old official soft drink sponsor of the A’s (Pepsi) is out and a new one is being ushered in: Zevia, a naturally-sweetened, zero-calorie soda sold in flavors like cola, ginger ale, and black cherry. Zevia will be sold in bottles at all concessions stands in the stadium, and while Pepsi drinks will still be available for purchase, they’ll only be offered as fountain soda (not in bottles).

One branding consultant told USA Today that the ball club may have a hard time convincing fans that Zevia is the soft drink for them. “It sounds like a car made behind the Iron Curtain 50 years ago,” he said.

TIME Marketing & Advertising

The Resurgence of Cheap Old-School Mass Market Beer

Getty Images

Beer drinkers lost interest in one old-school pale lager, until the brew started being sold in cans from the 1970s. An endorsement from Ron Burgundy probably helped too.

The recent evolution of alcoholic beverage preferences has been dominated by the rise of craft beer, as well as a steady shift to wine and liquor and away from traditional mass-market beers such as Budweiser. Miller Lite is one of the many brands that has seemed past its heyday, with reports routinely noting sales declines in the “mid-single digits” in recent years.

But a funny thing has happened to Miller Lite. Over the last few months, sales have surged—in particular, sales of Miller Lite cans. To juice sales of sagging brands, beer manufacturers have toyed with all sorts of “can-o-vations” of late, including wide-mouth openings and weird “bowtie” designs. Miller went a different way, selling Lite in retro ’70s-style white cans featuring the original logo and design.

The new (old?) can was launched to coincide with the December 2013 release of the Will Ferrell comedy “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” (there’s some product placement, of course). The retro cans were only supposed to be around for a few months, but sales have been so strong that MillerCoors just announced they’ll be sold nationally at least through the end of September. One beer distributor in Philadelphia told the Chicago Tribune that his Miller Lite can sales are up 18% this year, and sales of Lite 30-packs are up 27% compared to a year ago.

(MORE: That Craft Beer You’re Drinking Isn’t Craft Beer. Do You Care?)

Speaking to AdAge, MillerCoors Chief Marketing Officer Andy England said that the retro Lite cans are popular with older drinkers “because they remember it and it brings back great memories,” while “millennials really like it because of its authenticity, which is such an important trend these days.”

Pairing up with Ferrell and his mustachioed alter ego Ron Burgundy probably didn’t hurt the cause. Ferrell’s famous fictional anchorman has already proved successful in the selling of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Dodge Durangos, and the real-life “Anchorman” Will Ferrell has a history of endorsing old-school beers—namely Old Milwaukee, which bizarrely featured Ferrell in commercials airing randomly in Sweden and Nebraska, among other places. So it makes sense the movie about the throwback TV anchor would include a tie-in with a throwback beer brand.

Lite isn’t the only fading brew getting a second wind. Its sister old-school brand, Coors Banquet, has also been enjoying a sales renaissance, and it too owes its recent success at least partly to retro packaging: MillerCoors (re) introduced the beer in stubby “heritage” bottles of yore last summer. Meanwhile, Pabst Blue Ribbon, has famously been enjoying its status as the old-school hipster beer of choice, without ever launching a retro design—because the brand has always essentially maintained its original classic look.

(MORE: After PBR: Will the Next Great Hipster Beer Please Stand Up?)

At the even lower end of the beer market, there are brands such as Busch and Keystone Light. Like most mass-market brews, these brands have suffered consistent decreases in sales over the years. But their corporate parents aren’t giving up on them. According to Bloomberg News, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors have both committed to increased advertising and marketing spending on beers that are retro in price ($15 a case) if not necessarily appearance.

TIME Marketing & Advertising

A Recent History of Campaigns to Get Couples to Do the Nasty

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Kathrin Ziegler—Getty Images

The new “Do It for Denmark” campaign is just what it sounds like: an initiative encouraging couples to have sex—and make babies—for the good of the country.

The campaign, reminiscent of a cheesy song from “Grease 2,” was launched by the travel operator Spies Rejser, which claims that it is simply doing its share for an extremely important cause: helping couples get busy. “Do It for Denmark” offers couples the opportunity to book vacations with an “ovulation discount,” and those who prove they conceived while on holiday are eligible to win a three years’ worth of baby supplies, as well as a child-friendly vacation in the future. The point—beyond generating media attention and booking more vacations—is to combat a low birth rate that has been described as “approaching epidemic levels” in Denmark.

The company points to research indicating that 46% of couples have more sex on vacation, and that 10% of all Danes are conceived while couples are away from home. “Do It for Denmark” is hardly the first or only campaign making the case that a hotel or resort is the perfect spot for procreating, for the good of a country’s future or otherwise. In the late ’00s, a range of hotel companies and tour operators latched onto the idea that there was a strong demand among couples for “procreation vacation” packages, or “conceptionmoons,” if you’d rather. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the trend was largely an extension of other ‘moon vacation ideas, including “babymoons” (a last vacation before a baby arrives), “anniversarymoons” (basically another honeymoon on a big wedding anniversary year), and “divorcemoons” (a celebratory trip after a split).

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Much larger pro-procreation movements have been undertaken by nations seeking to kick lackluster birth rates into higher gear. The most notable—and certainly, memorable—took place last year, when R&B greats Boyz II Men played in Moscow before Valentine’s Day, supposedly to help Vladimir Putin in his quest to boost the country’s birth rate, which has been falling for decades. While it was unclear it Putin had anything to do with the booking of the “I’ll Make Love to You” crooners, Slate pointed out that the Putin era has been filled with baby-making and pro-family initiatives, including the introduction of special holidays more or less created for the purpose of conception and cash bonuses for moms having second kids. In Asia, Singapore and South Korea have tried to hike birth rates with big discounts on childcare and a commercial featuring a rap song proclaiming how inherently patriotic it is to make babies.

Then there’s France. A wide range of pro-family policies, including tax breaks, generous maternity leave, and discounts on train travel and other services, was credited for helping France achieve the second-highest fertility rate in Europe in the mid-00s, 1.94 children born per woman, the Washington Post reported.

According to Reuters, the fertility rate in France climbed as high as 2.03 in 2010, but has since retreated, to 2.01 in 2012 and 1.99 last year. It might be time to call Boyz II Men.

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