MONEY freebies

7-Eleven Free Slurpee Day Supersized Into a Freebie Week

As usual, 7-Eleven customers get free Slurpees on 7-Eleven Day (Friday, July 11). What's unusual this year is what comes after 7/11: seven more days of freebies.

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In what has become a wildly popular annual tradition, July 11 is celebrated as 7-Eleven Day by the convenience store giant. The average customer probably refers to the day as something different, though: Free Slurpee Day. On that day, all customers are entitled to a free Slurpee, no coupon or loyalty program membership required.

Last year, when 7-Eleven increased the size of free Slurpees from 7.11 ounces to a regular Small (12 ounces), something like 7 million free Slurpees were slurped by customers. Even more are expected this year, when 7-Eleven has upped its game again, transforming its ordinary one-day giveaway into eight days in a row of freebies.

While 7-Eleven Day works like normal—anyone who shows up from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. gets a free Slurpee—the rest of the freebies require the download of a 7-Eleven app. Do so and show your smartphone screen to a 7-Eleven clerk on the appropriate day for these freebies:

Saturday, July 12: Big Gulp
Sunday, July 13: M&M’s Birthday Cake Flavor Candies
Monday, July 14: Grandma’s Cookies
Tuesday, July 15: Twinkies
Wednesday, July 16: Snickers or Twix Ice Cream Bar
Thursday, July 17: Quaker Chewy Yogurt Snack Bar
Friday, July 18: Pillsbury Cookie
Saturday, July 19: Small Slurpee

That’s a lot of freebies.

Why does 7-Eleven do it? One reason is that giveaways are good for business. When a consumer is handed something for free, it generates good will—and a sense of obligation to want to pay that nicety back in some form. So when a customer gets a free sample at a supermarket, he’s more likely to buy whatever it is he tasted, or at least to buy a little something extra. When the sample is little in size, there’s also a tendency to want a little more.

That’s why, historically, the day that 7-Eleven hands out free Slurpees is also usually a huge day for sales of Slurpees, as well as sales of other items. And what goes well with Slurpees?

As company executives explained to USA Today, stores will be pushing “Big Bite hot dogs for $1 on Friday (usually $1.99) to wash down with the free Slurpees.” The new Doritos Loaded cheese sticks, unleashed on the public in early July, will probably also be big sellers.

The requirement to download an app also makes a lot of sense for 7-Eleven. In today’s noisy, ad-splashed world, brands and retailers love the idea of having such a direct connection—and sales path—to consumers. But it’s gotten harder and harder to convince consumers they should download yet another app, especially one that’s going to spam them with news and promotions they don’t necessarily want. Few are going to download an app for, say, a measly 50¢ discount.

But a whole week of freebies? A lot of folks will say: Sign me up.

MONEY consumer psychology

Why We Always Fall for Products Making Outlandish Claims

140620_EM_Suckers_Skechers_1
Chris Weeks—WireImage

Who would be foolish enough to fall for "shoes" that make it feel like you're running barefoot, or cookies that promise to make women's breasts bigger? Lots and lots of people, apparently.

Even the smartest consumers can be tempted to buy a product based on some marketing claim that, deep down, everyone knows can’t be true. Why?

We live in a time when modern-day snake oil, in the form of not-so-miraculous “miracle” products that are misleading if not worse, is around every corner. For example, based on sales totals, it looks like more than 70 million Americans believed Vibram’s claim that running in “shoes” that brought you a step closer to jogging barefoot would improve their “foot health.” Vibram, creator of the thin-soled FiveFinger running shoes that fit each toe like a glove, was unable to substantiate that claim, and the company settled a $3.75 million lawsuit this spring, entitling buyers to refunds.

Last summer, Skechers began paying out a $40 million class action lawsuit to more than a half million people who believed it when the company (and spokesmodel Kim Kardashian) said the shoes could not only tone muscles but also help them lose weight and improve their cardiovascular health. Reebok and FitFlops have also lost lawsuits on behalf of millions of other consumers who believed similar overstatements about the power of shoes to basically do our workouts for us.

Though consumers apparently have a soft spot for supposedly miracle-performing footwear, we’re not just suckers for hyped-up claims about shoes. Millions have purchased weight-loss potions that promise users they’ll lose fat without changing the exercise and eating habits that piled on the pounds in the first place; or lotions that can sprout new hair on bald heads. (It certainly doesn’t help that medical experts like TV’s Dr. Oz sometimes seem to endorse dubious weight-loss products.) This spring, the FTC announced that Lice Shield, a “lice-prevention” shampoo, deceived customers and exaggerated claims, and ordered the company to pay $500,000 and stop pretending that the product was “scientifically shown to repel head lice.” Another recent FTC settlement will stop the company that makes a supplement called BrainStrong Adult from claiming it has clinical proof the product “improves adult memory.”

Sometimes, the claims are downright laughable, like the F-Cup Cookies sold in Japan that are supposed to make your breasts bigger.

How could anyone fall for such claims? How can people not know better? What’s behind our will to believe when common sense tells us otherwise? There are four particularly strong forces at work: one is human nature, and three are unique to our times.

1. We are hopeful. If we’re lucky, we have a healthy dose of a charming, positive and essential human quality: hope. Add a dash of that particularly American characteristic, optimism, and we have the potential to be led astray. Hope gives us the will to try, while optimism gives us fortitude. Untempered by common sense and logic, though, hope and optimism can devolve to gullibility. The solution is not to decrease hope—it’s to blend in wisdom, and a bit of skepticism.

2. We see miracles in action every day. One marvelous technological advancement after another, from GPS systems to smartphones, has taught us to believe in innovation. “New” has never been better, and we eagerly await the next bit of wizardry. We’re more trusting and less skeptical of innovation, and therefore more likely to believe that the next big thing is really all that—the next big thing. That puts a damper on an age-old adage that’s kept us on the straight and narrow for years: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.” Today’s gadgets and innovations sometimes actually are as good as advertised. Which means consumers have to be craftier in ferreting out potentially false claims and examining the reputation of the source.

3. We have no attention spans. Evaluating products, and product claims, is harder today because of another side effect of technology—saturated with stimulation, we increasingly skim and rely on visual cues such as photos and symbolism to get the gist of what some hot new thing does. Nobody has ever been a fan of “fine print,” but today we’re less tolerant than ever. Nobody has the time or interest to dig deeper. Shorter attention spans have resulted in less patience to temper hope and optimism with thinking things through.

4. We are manipulated by marketers. Lastly, consumers are up against some brilliant marketing minds—professionals who are now armed with reams of data and psychological insights. Marketers increasingly use psychology to understand the deepest motivations of consumers and create the most resonant messaging. Most apply those insights to more fully satisfy consumers and gain an edge in a fiercely competitive marketplace. But some are less honest. Marketers have always been some of the best communicators in the world, and today they’re more aware and arguably better than ever.

Deep down, we want to believe in magic. Human beings always have. Thanks to the spectacular increase in innovation, from smartphones to self-driving cars, there’s proof that products can do seemingly magical, miraculous things. But the existence of amazing gadgets isn’t an excuse to lose grasp with reality. Smart shoppers temper hope, optimism, and awe with critical reasoning. It seems like a downer, but it’s never been more important.
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Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

TIME Advertising

This Is the New Stat Facebook Should Be Worrying About

A view of Facebook's "Like" button May 1
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

Updated 6:08 p.m.

All those ads that are increasingly crowding into users’ Facebook and Twitter feeds apparently aren’t doing much to affect what people actually buy. According to a newly released Gallup poll, 62% of Americans say social media has no influence on their purchasing decisions. Just 5% of people polled said social media has a great deal of influence on their buying habits. Even tech-savvy Millennials say they are not swayed by social ads—48% of respondents in that cohort said that social media doesn’t influence their purchasing decisions.

“A solid majority of American adults say that social media have no influence at all on their purchasing decisions — suggesting that the advertising may be reaching smaller segments of the market, or that the influence on consumers is indirect or goes unnoticed,” Gallup concluded. The company said people are more likely to consult in-store displays, television commercials, mail catalogs and magazines than a brand’s Facebook or Twitter account when making a purchasing decision.

If believed, the results could be problematic for social media companies like Facebook, which has tried to convince both marketers and investors that online ads can improve brand recall and drive in-store sales. U.S. companies spent $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013, according to Gallup. Facebook alone generated $7 billion in ad revenue last year globally.

Since the poll measured people’s sentiment and not their behavior, it’s possible that people are being influenced by social ads and they just don’t know it or won’t acknowledge it. But respondents indicated that they’re not using social media to go shopping or engage in commerce. 94% of respondents said they primarily use social media to connect with friends and family, while just 40% use it to find out information about a company. Even fewer people, 29% of respondents, said they use social sites to find user reviews or product information.

Facebook dismissed the value of the findings outright. “The only thing this poll shows is that self-reported behavioral data is unreliable,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “For decades, studies that look at people’s actual, real-world behavior have shown that ads on all mediums, including social media, affect the things people buy. The most successful marketers in the world don’t just take our word for it when it comes to ad effectiveness, they’ve asked us to prove that our ads work. And we have.”

Gallup surveyed more than 18,000 American adults in December 2012 and January 2013 to derive the results.

 

TIME Advertising

‘Banned’ Grey Poupon Commercial Is Gross, Hilarious

Ew

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A parody commercial for Grey Poupon mustard has racked up close to 2 million views on YouTube with a humorous take on the brand’s pronunciation. The ad, above, asks “What do you Poupon?” (Say it to yourself out loud.) The answers, delivered by sketch comedians, include “I Poupon my kids’ lunches” and “I Poupon my fingers.” The viral video was created by comedy group Online Broadcast Virtual Station, which has no link to Kraft, the brand’s owner, or its advertising agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky. The actual advertising for Grey Poupon has recently drawn on its classic line “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” while adding extravagant twists like car chases. The company’s new (real) slogan is “Spread good taste.”

[AdWeek]

TIME marketing

These Are the 10 Oldest Logos in the World

AB InBev Ends Beer Blockade
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even before global marketing campaigns, television commercials, and social media, a company’s logo has been important. Over time, as businesses and consumers have changed, most major companies have also changed their logos dramatically. Still, some logos have had incredible staying power and have lasted for decades or even hundreds of years.

The world’s oldest logos have all retained some core visual element, although several have been noticeably altered. Stella Artois, for example, is recognized by several details of its icon. The horn and the star resting above the label are the features continually represented in the brand’s history.

Click here to see the oldest company logos in the world

Not surprisingly, the original intent behind a company’s icon may be mysterious to many consumers. In some cases, this is due to the logo predating the company’s current operations. Global energy conglomerate Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE: RDS-A) was originally a shipping company, transporting kerosene to India and returning with seashells to sell in Euro. The company selected a shell image as a result.

Paint company Sherwin-Williams (NYSE: SHW), on the other hand, chose to symbolize its business with an image of a bucket of paint poured over a drawing of the Earth, a somewhat more explicit representation.

Many companies use their longevity as a selling point to consumers in advertising and on corporate websites. Companies also emphasize that they remain connected to their founding principles, with key management often related to the brand’s inventor or the company’s founder. Twinings Tea and Peugeot, for example, still employ descendants of their original founders.

While many of these companies operate internationally, all are recognizable to American consumers. Some are industry leaders — Sherwin-Williams, Levi’s, and Heinz, for example, dominate U.S. markets. Peugeot, on the other hand, failed in the U.S. Many Americans, however, recognize the brand as virtually ubiquitous in Europe.

Based on a review of the world’s oldest companies, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 oldest corporate logos still in use today. In order to be considered, the logo had to currently have an international presence. The logo also could not have been meaningfully changed.

1. Stella Artois
> Logo first used: 1366
> Company founded: 1366
> Parent company revenue: $43.2 billion
> Industry: Beverage

stella logo3The origins of Stella Artois can be traced to 1366 when the Den Hoorn brewery was established in Leuven, Belgium. Local brewer Sebastian Artois bought the brewery in 1708 and renamed it after himself. The word Stella, meaning “star” in Latin, was not added to the name until the company released its first seasonal beer, the Christmas Star, in 1926. However, despite numerous shifts in management over hundreds of years, the original horn logo has not changed. The same horn that once beckoned travellers in Belgium is still prominently featured in the current Stella Artois brand. Today, Anheuser-Busch-Inbev distributes Stella Artois in more than 80 countries. According to Plato Logic Limited, a beer market data company, Stella Artois is the best-selling Belgian beer in the world.

ALSO READ: Ten Cars Americans Don’t Want to Buy

2. Twinings Tea
> Logo first used: 1887
> Company founded: 1706
> Parent company revenue: $22.6 billion
> Industry: Beverage
twinings logoTwinings Tea has used the same logo — capitalized font beneath a lion crest — continuously for 227 years, making it the world’s oldest unaltered logo in continuous use, according to the company website. Perhaps even more remarkable, the company has occupied the same location on London’s Strand since its founding by Thomas Twining in 1706. Tea consumption was not always essential to everyday British life. Coffee, gin, and beer dominated English breakfast drink preferences in the early 18th century. By the turn of the century, however, tea had become extremely popular. After 10 generations, family-owned Twinings is now a globally recognized company, distributing its tea to more than 100 countries worldwide.

3. Bass Ale
> Logo first used: 1876
> Company founded: 1777
> Parent company revenue: $43.2 billion
> Industry: Beverage

bass-logoBass Ale has used the red triangle logo since 1876, when the logo became the first registered trademark ever issued by the British government. Its simple design may have helped Bass become one of England’s leading beer producers by 1890. The logo became so popular that Edouard Manet featured it in his 1882 work “A Bar at the Folies Bergere” and James Joyce explicitly mentioned it in his novel “Ulysses.”Bass Ale is even mentioned in connection with the sinking of the Titanic, as it was carrying 12,000 bottles of Bass in its hold when it sank. According Anheuser-Busch-InBev, Bass ale was even fought over by Napoleon.

4. Shell Oil
> Logo first used: 1904
> Company founded: 1833
> Parent company revenue: $451.2 billion
> Industry: Energy

shell logoIn 1891, Marcus Samuel and Company began shipping kerosene from London to India and bringing back seashells for sale in the European markets. Initially, the seashell business was so popular that it accounted for most of the company’s profits. Samuel incorporated the name “Shell” in 1897 and designated a mussel shell as its logo. In 1904, a scallop shell became the official logo. In 1907, Shell merged with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, retaining the logo that remains synonymous with the oil conglomerate. In 1915, Shell opened its first service station in California, introducing the red and yellow color scheme still in use. Today, Shell is one of the world’s largest energy companies, with a market value of nearly $260 billion.

5. Levi Strauss & Co.
> Logo first used: 1886
> Company founded: 1837
> Parent company revenue: $4.7 billion
> Industry: Clothing

levis logoLevi’s logo featuring two horses is perhaps just as durable as the denim it is printed on. Levi’s first used the logo in 1886 as a way to grow its market share before its patent on the jean-making process expired. In fact, the logo became so widespread that, according to Levi Strauss & Co., early customers would often ask for “those pants with two horses.” In fact, the brand used the name “The Two Horse Brand’ until 1928, when Levi Strauss officially trademarked the Levi’s name. Levi’s employed roughly 16,000 employees worldwide as of last year. Its product line now includes jeans, casual and dress pants, and jackets.

See the rest of the list at 24/7 Wall St.

Read more from 24/7 Wall St.:

Volkswagen’s Sales Disaster Continues

Americans Watch Only 17 TV Channel

What to Do If You Won the $149 Million Powerball Lottery

 

 

 

MONEY Shopping

School’s (Almost) Out! Just In Time for Back-to-School Sales

BSIP SA / Alamy—Alamy

If you thought now was the time to relax and celebrate the end of the school year, J.C. Penney, Walmart, and Lands' End have a back-to-school sale for you.

Last summer, retailers raised eyebrows by rolling out back-to-school sales in early July, within a week or two of when kids escaped the clutches of teachers, principals, and algebra homework. “In seven and a half years, I’ve never once seen so much emphasis put on back-to-school before July 4,” National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis told AdAge at the time.

Fast-forward to June 2014, and retailers are at it again, pushing back-to-school sales earlier than ever. Consumers are getting the message that the time to purchase gear for the upcoming school year is before the current school year has ended. Like, now.

J.C. Penney began promoting back-to-school sales last weekend, according to Consumerist. Walmart already has a back-to-school web page for student fashions, backpacks, and other school gear, as well as another page devoted to back-to-college apparel and tech. Target just introduced a college registry program, so that students can try to get other people to buy them stuff. Apple’s back-to-school promotional deals are expected to be announced any day now. And Lands’ End? It started zapping customers with e-mails a couple of weeks ago, pushing the idea that early June is a fine time to buy school uniforms that kids won’t wear until around Labor Day.

It’s totally understandable why retailers try to move back-to-school shopping earlier and earlier each year. Families generally have finite resources they can allocate to back-to-school fashion and paraphernalia, and once the pencils, protractors, glue sticks, notebooks, and a few new outfits are purchased, their back-to-school expenditures are done (in theory). Retailers want to beat the competition to the punch, before the family’s back-to-school budget is depleted.

“Retailers are going to do what they can to try to get consumers into the stores to shop, but the fact of the matter is they might not have much luck,” Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, explained to CNBC. “There aren’t any parents that I can find who have even thought of back-to-school shopping, because for most kids, they haven’t even gotten out of school yet.”

Still, even if shoppers don’t actually buy back-to-school stuff in June, the enticements may get them thinking about their needs for the upcoming school year. Panic sets in for a lot of overwhelmed parents, and they’re more apt to want to cross all of their children’s back-to-school items off their list as soon as possible. How can you relax on a summer vacation when you know there will be dorm rooms to decorate and Number 2 pencils that need to be purchased?

What’s more, early-season promotional efforts are limited mostly to the digital world. It’s much cheaper and easier for a retailer to send out an e-mail blast or put up a back-to-school web page than it is to rearrange shelves and create promotional sections inside thousands of stores. That’ll happen soon enough, of course, during the especially puzzling period when you’re likely to encounter Fourth of July, back to school, Christmas in July, and plain old summer sales in your local megamart, perhaps mixed in with the odd early Halloween aisle.

Of course, retailers risk some customer backlash by taking the expansion of shopping seasons too far. So-called “Christmas creep,” the phenomenon in which the Christmas shopping season kicks off in September and Christmas ads air within a few days of Labor Day weekend, has caused many an observer to groan in exasperation.

When the calendar says one thing and retailers are telling consumers something very different via sales and promotions, the result can be jarring, even off-putting. Yet retailers assume shoppers have short memories, and they hope that whatever bad feelings a too-early sale produces are outweighed by deals that are just too good to pass up.

TIME World Cup

Here’s Why Beats by Dre Headphones Are Banned From the World Cup

Sure, you may have seen soccer stars like Brazil’s Neymar and England’s Daniel Sturridge rocking Beats Electronics’ big, flashy headphones in the company’s popular soccer ad, but don’t expect to see those cans anywhere near the actual pitch during the World Cup matches. Beats headphones are banned from all official World Cup events during the games because Sony, which has its own line of premium headphones, is an official licensing deal with FIFA, Reuters reports.

That niggling detail hasn’t stopped the sport’s greatest athletes from rocking Beats during their leisure time. Neymar was wearing a pair when he stepped off the team bus at the Castelao stadium, and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez wore them at practice one day, according to Reuters.

Savvy marketers have long been able to usurp official sponsors at the World Cup. That viral Beats ad, dubbed “The Game Before the Game,” never mentions the World Cup by name. And sportswear giant Nike has had a sprawling soccer marketing campaign all year, even though Adidas is the offiical sponsor of FIFA and the World Cup. In an age where marketing effectiveness is often measured by authenticity—what ad a consumer voluntarily chooses to share on Facebook, or which headphones an athlete wears when the cameras are off—sponsorships are starting to mean a whole lot less than they did in the past.

MONEY Food & Drink

Meet the Guy Who Totally Makes Up the Fake Holidays We Celebrate

140317_EM_FAKEHOLIDAYS
Shayla Hunter

OK, we dig National Donut Day, too. But what's up with "holidays" like Oreo Day, Froot Loop Day, and Tater Tot Day? One food blogger can explain all.

If you have ever Googled the name of a holiday—one that’s traditional and familiar, or one of the quirky ones out there like Talk Like a Pirate Day—you’ve probably come across a holiday-themed website with a calendar listing a staggering number of events, annual celebrations, and “holidays” that you never knew existed.

This month, for example, kicked off with National Heimlich Maneuver Day on June 1. June 2 was dedicated to National Bubba Day—to, you know, celebrate all the folks nicknamed or actually named Bubba. National Donut Day always takes place on the first Friday of June, with giveaways on June 6 this year. National Iced Tea Day followed a few days later, with free Teavana beverages at Starbucks on June 10. Looking ahead, June 22 is National Onion Ring Day, and on and on.

Whole months are also dedicated to different organizations, products, and campaigns. May was both National Barbecue Month and National Hamburger Month, which seems like overlap. It was also Date Your Mate Month and International Masturbation Month, which seems like a mixed message. June is, among other things, Aquarium Month, Candy Month, Dairy Month, and Rose Month, and who could forget that most essential of events: Accordion Awareness Month.

June 18 happens to be a busy one for fake holidays: It’s Go Fishing Day, International Panic Day, International Picnic Day, National Splurge Day, and International Sushi Day all rolled up (ha-ha, like sushi, get it?) into one dizzying jumble of a day. The appropriate way to celebrate, I believe, is to splurge on a fancy new fishing pole, go fishing, then have a huge panic attack out on the water out of concern for the state of global relations. Oh, and throw in a picnic at some point, ideally with friends from overseas. And with sushi too.

But how to celebrate these days is probably not the right question. Instead, we might ask: Where do these holidays come from? And why should we give a flying fig? (Fig Newton Day, btw, is January 16.)

Jaded consumers might think that these days and months are just created out of the blue, whenever some random dude is bored or some company or association decides it wants a “holiday” for pumping up sales and marketing products. And guess what? After putting on my ace reporter fedora hat and investigating the origins of many of these days, I can confirm that, yeah, that’s exactly how a lot of these events are created.

National Splurge Day was created on a whim two decades ago by a woman from Chicago billed as “America’s Premier Eventologist,” Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith. What motivated her to whip up what she calls a “holidate”? “I became tremendously bored with the Traditional Holidays (and we know who they are) when I was 38,” Sioux Koopersmith said via e-mail. She explained her thought process this way: “Let’s get rid of the 2-faced Holidays where a Person has to SHOW-UP at a relative’s or put on a happy face; or buy a present or do something only because it is part of the Fabric of Modern Life. So I created my own, which I like much better.”

Similarly, Tom Torriglia, a professional accordionist based in Italy who regularly plays in northern California, explained via e-mail how he created National Accordion Awareness Month back in 1989: “It was established as simply as me deciding it would exist.”

While the National Onion Association is actively promoting the upcoming National Onion Ring Day, the organization curiously had nothing to do with its creation. Instead, an association spokesperson offered some suggestions for celebrating O-Ring Day (swap ideas for recipes and dipping sauces and “maybe have an onion ring tossing contest?”), then steered me to John-Bryan Hopkins, a food writer from Birmingham, Alabama, and founder of the popular website Foodimentary. Hopkins has 845,000 followers on Twitter, and his was named one of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds by TIME last year.

And yes, Hopkins freely and proudly admits that he just made up Onion Ring Day a few years ago. In fact, he’s created hundreds of such “holidays.” In a phone interview, Hopkins explained that when Foodimentary.com went live in 2006, there were already around 175 food-related holidays—many, like National Donut Day, established during the World War era—listed on various calendars. “I filled in the rest,” he said, to ensure there was at least one food holiday for every day of the year.

What’s more, from time to time, he gets rid of some holiday that doesn’t get him excited and replaces it with one that’s more appealing. “They’re just like my little children,” Hopkins said of the holidays he creates. “I might wake up a little groggy one morning and decide that I don’t like what’s being celebrated that day. So I make it a new one.”

For instance, Hopkins wasn’t a fan of Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, which supposedly takes place on June 13. “That was one I hated. How stupid of a day is that?” So, presto, change-o! With a quick update of his online calendar, he redubbed June 13 as the sure-to-please Cupcake Lover’s Day. “I’m not Mr. Health Food Celebration Day,” he said. (Froot Loop Day is another of his babies.) “I like the foods that America really likes.”

When asked to name his favorite self-manufactured holiday, Hopkins offered two focused on beloved mainstream comfort foods: National Oreo Cookie Day, which he subbed into the March 6 slot formerly held by National Frozen Food Day (“You want to celebrate frozen food in early March?”) and National Tater Tot Day, which shares billing with Groundhog Day on February 2.

Interestingly, what Hopkins enjoys most about Tater Tot Day—besides, you know, the pure deliciousness of Tater Tots—is that it was declared bogus a couple of years ago. In 2012, a Dallas Observer reporter called up the folks at Ore-Ida, the brand that produces Tater Tots, to get more info about the day, and the company had never heard of it. Hopkins owned up to his creation in an e-mail to the reporter. “You got me! Yes indeed! I created this holiday in 2009,” he wrote.

What’s there for Hopkins to love about this? Well, despite the debunking, “nobody cared,” said Hopkins. “People still want to celebrate Tater Tots and Tater Tot Day. They Tweet about it, they share recipes, and it’s a trending topic that day. I just think this is the best thing ever.”

Hopkins explained that the creation of a holiday takes a little time to take root. “The first year, it’s just me telling people to take my word,” he said. “By year two, the news people believe it because it was around the previous year. When year three comes, it’s like it was written in the Bible.”

In a way, the establishment of a holiday in this fashion by some random foodie blogger is just as valid as an event carefully concocted for maximum impact by a big company’s marketing department. Perhaps even more valid. At least Hopkins isn’t trying to sell us anything, other than the idea that his Twitter feed is worth following and his faux holidays are worth celebrating.

That’s more than you can say for some online “holiday” calendars out there. At least one site, NationalDayCalendar.com, charges (reportedly upwards of $800) for a package that includes creation of a holiday, a listing on the site, as well as a framed certificate and the development of a press kit. The same site also charges $19.99 for individuals wanting a one-time virtual national day of recognition posted online for an anniversary, birthday, or other event.

Hopkins said that the idea of selling off holidays is “offensive,” and that charging for the creation of days “will eventually degrade its importance and even make food holidays a joke.” He lives in fear that one day, people will grow bored with food holidays, and that his website traffic and Twitter following could both collapse. “I keep thinking people are going to stop being interested, that I’ll Tweet something and no one will care,” he said. “But it doesn’t happen.”

To keep people interested, Hopkins insists, fake holidays must be created the proper way—with integrity. “I take what I do seriously,” he said, “and want to protect it from abuse.”

MONEY Food & Drink

New Doritos Fast Food Monstrosity Embarks on Free Sample Tour

Doritos Loaded
Doritos—courtesy 7-Eleven, Inc.

Free samples of Doritos Loaded, a nacho cheese-encrusted cheese stick product, are being handed out at 7-Eleven stores in Dallas on Tuesday and Los Angeles on Friday, with more locations to come.

When Doritos Loaded was spotted at a 7-Eleven in Washington, D.C., this past February, it was reported with some disbelief, mixed with equal shares disgust and desire. The new product, as shown in photos that immediately went viral on social media, looks like a triangle-shaped chicken nugget—if a chicken nugget had fluorescent orange breading, the saltiness and spice of original nacho Doritos, and instead of “chicken” was filled with gooey melted orange-yellow cheese.

“I WANT THIS IN MY FACE,” one Tweeter commented of the cheese-stick-like delicacy. Another blogger summed it up: The concept of Doritos Loaded sounds “awesome and disgusting” at the same time. After what was apparently a successful test run, Doritos Loaded will be available nationally at 7-Elevens starting in early July. A four-pack sells for $1.99 and has 350 calories.

In anticipation of the launch, a Doritos Loaded tour hits the road this week, kicking off in Dallas on Tuesday, June 17, with free samples being given out in two sessions (10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) at two area 7-Elevens. This is something of a magical mystery tour, as 7-Eleven isn’t revealing a full schedule or list of locations, but the company did just announce that freebies would also be handed out at one or more 7-Elevens in Los Angeles on Friday, June 20.

Doritos Loaded is following in the footsteps of other diabolical, attention-grabbing fast food mashups, including the KFC Double Down, the Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco, last summer’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger at Wendy’s, Chicken Waffle tenders at Popeyes, and, of course, the Doritos Locos Taco at Taco Bell. The latter has been crowned as the “biggest launch in Taco Bell’s history,” and it spawned earlier Doritos-based delicacies, including the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco.

While 7-Eleven is selling the new hot nacho cheese sticks, it didn’t create them. The snack was developed by the Plano, Texas-based research and development arm of PepsiCo, parent of Doritos maker Frito-Lay, the Dallas News explained.

As for the early reviews of Doritos Loaded, they’ve been a bit mixed. “They tasted like Nacho Cheese Doritos dipped in queso,” one early sampler told Yahoo News in February. “The smell was awesome and distinctly Dorito-y.”

On the other hand, the blogger who goes by the name Junk Food Guy was disappointed after his taste test. “The inconsistency of the amount of cheese inside was a concern, as some had lots of goo and some didn’t,” he wrote. “When there wasn’t enough cheese, it was just a dry salty shell. At its best, it was sort of crispy on the outside, sort of saucy on the inside.”

For potentially viral, over-the-top products such as these, however, taste is only one part of the equation. Arguably more important is the product’s ability to grab the nation’s attention in what’s an incredibly noisy and competitive marketplace. Clearly, 7-Eleven is expecting big things. “Get Ready for the Biggest Product Launch in 7-Eleven History,” 7-Eleven declared in its Doritos Loaded tour announcement.

How big of a hit will Doritos Loaded be? We’ll have to wait and see. Regardless of its success, we probably haven’t seen the last Doritos-infused treat to be launched at fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Given the spicy chip’s history of hits and widespread appeal, new food product makers seem to understandably be of the opinion: When in doubt, just add Doritos.

MONEY working in retirement

Three Retirement Trends to Be Happy About

Marketers are trying to reinvent retirement, but the best choices are the same ones we've always had. And they're getting better.

Just about anyone over the age of 50 has seen the barrage of new labels for today’s post-retirement lifestyle: Retirement 2.0. Encore Careers. Next Act. Third Age. Not Your Parent’s Retirement.

Forget the marketing hype. When it comes to figuring out your retirement plan, here’s the best strategy: take a good look in the mirror. What you’ll see, if you’re really paying attention, is the definition of retirement that matters to you. And the good news is there’s more opportunity today to design the kind of retirement you want than ever before.

The more research I read, and the more experts I talk to, the more I’m convinced that nearly every kind of retirement option has been heavily road-tested by those who came before. There have always been people who continued to work during retirement—the most powerful and successful people, in fact, tend to never retire. They are having too much fun. Bill Gates will never really leave Microsoft. He continues to work longer hours “in retirement” than the rest of us do at our office jobs. Warren Buffett? They will have to pry a can of cherry coke out of his cold, cold, cold hands before he stops working.

You don’t have to be Warren Buffett, either. Plenty of ordinary people have reinvented their lives in their later years. Older people have always made great entrepreneurs as well as creative artists and inspirational leaders. Often, having a lot of money has nothing to do with the levels of engagement and enjoyment that older people derive from being busy. Sunset years? Hardly.

Continued work in your later years will make your lifestyle during whatever-you-want-to-call-retirement easier to afford—and more comfortable and enjoyable as well. Here are three key trends that should put a smile on your face when you look in the mirror:

Living longer. Yes, you need to make realistic allowances for health problems. But most of us should assume we will live two or three decades past age 65. Take a look at this 2011 life expectancy data from the National Center for Vital Statistics. As you can see, someone age 70 can expect to live to nearly 86, on average:

Age Remaining Life Expectancy (Yrs.)
40 40.6
45 36
50 31.5
55 27.2
60 23.1
65 19.2
70 15.5
75 12.1
80 9.1
85 6.5
90 4.6
95 3.2
100 2.3

 

Of course, average numbers disguise a lot of differences. People with college educations, who tend to earn more money, will live a lot longer than average life expectancy. So run the numbers as if you plan on lasting to age 100, and update your will to bequeath what’s left over if you don’t.

Improved healthcare. The quality of your medical care will be better than ever. Once the wrenching transition to Obamacare has moved into our rearview mirror—and it eventually will—what we’ll see in front of us is a huge shift toward wellness. Not only will our lives be longer but we live more of that time in good health. Yes, there eventually will be a fall-off into frailty. But increasingly that period won’t occur until just before our death. The technical phrase for this doesn’t sound pretty: compressed morbidity. But the trend is terrific. Better healthcare, more effective drugs and physically active lifestyles are a ticket to a higher quality of life in our later years.

Market power. As our society ages, older people are becoming a new mainstream group. Companies are shaping new products and sales pitches for us—they know that older people control the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth. So we’re likely to see a new wave of positive attention to older Americans. Of course, that’s what companies do to sell stuff. What’s important here is the growing visibility of older Americans, which will encourage a celebration of the diverse and interesting paths they have decided to follow in old age. And in turn, more older Americans will be encouraged try and succeed at lots of different things in their later lives. That will benefit all generations.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging and health. He is an award-winning business journalist and a research fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

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