Commentary

The Top 10 Of 2014

Abercrombie downplays logos; Kohl’s brings back brand names. Walmart undercuts the competition; Sprint and T-Mobile engage in a good, old-fashioned price war. Starbuck expands; Microsoft acquires. For all the disruption — and legal woes — of the Ubers and Airbnbs, and all the seeming need of marketers to refine social media and Big Data strategies, a big brand name in the headline proved to be the most reliable click bait for “Top of the News” in 2014. That’s not to say that Ellen, Chucks, Restoration Hardware and Bill Ackman didn’t have their appeal, too.

Herewith, the 10 most popular stories of the year from No. 1 down. 

Walmart Slashes Fees For Money Transfers

Imagine you’re selling something for $85 and Walmart comes along and says it’s going to offer an identical service for under $10. That’s an extreme example of what happened when the retailer announced plans to get into the money transfer business, undercutting the fees charged by the two big players in the game, Western Union and MoneyGram

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“The company is partnering with Ria Money Transfer to launch Walmart-2-Walmart Money Transfer Service, allowing customers to transfer as much as $50 for a $4.50 fee, and up to $900 for a $9.50 fee from more than 4,000 of its stores,” reports CNBC’s Krystina Gustafson. (April 18)

Ellen Makes Selfie-Fulfilling Prophecy For Samsung

Perhaps the biggest surprise winner at the Oscars last night was the often-overlooked marketing stratagem of product placement. Samsung took the honors in the You Get What You Pay For category. 

Combine the sociability of Ellen DeGeneres with the social-networkability of Twitter and the purchase of more than five minutes of ad time that was going at about $1.8 million per :30 and, voila, you have a star-studded shot taken with a Samsung Galaxy that was retweeted more than two million times by the end of the telecast. (March 3)

Abercrombie Says It Gets It As Teens Eschew Logos

Teens are finding other ways to express their identities than by wearing designer logos — a fact that has finally hit home at Abercrombie & Fitch and its sister brand, Hollister, by way of drastically declining sales over the past few years.

“For years, logos were huge on kids clothing; many wouldn’t leave home without them,” Lester Holt reported on “NBC Nightly News.” “But now one big brand that teens worshipped for years is getting rid” of them. (Aug. 29)

Game On: Microsoft Buys Minecraft Looking To Build Windows Mobile

Microsoft has agreed to pay $2.5 billion for the Swedish game-development company Mojang and its “iconic Minecraft franchise” although its three founders — creator Markus Persson, CEO Carl Manneh and game designer Jakob Porser — are leaving to pursue other opportunities. 

The game, which generated about $326 million in revenue last year, “has become a global phenomenon since its launch in 2009 as an incomplete ‘alpha’ project,” write the Guardian’s Keith Stuart and Alex Hern, selling more than 50 million copies on PCs, smartphones and gaming consoles. (Sept. 16)

Sprint, T-Mobile Have At It In 'Unlimited' Price War

With T-Mobile firing back to a Sprint salvo earlier in the day, the No. 4 and No. 3 mobile carriers have now declared “unlimited” war on each other just weeks after their long–simmering plans to merge fell apart.

The day began with Sprint offering to individuals an industry-best unlimited data plan after unveiling a “20GB of Shared Data” plan for families on Monday. It now will offer unlimited talk, text and data for $60 to individuals who don’t need a subsidy to purchase a phone — whether they have a usable device already or are willing to pay full price for a new one. (Aug. 22)

Converse Says Knock It Off To 31 Companies It Claims Knock Off Chucks

The Nike-owned Converse brand "called foul” on 31 retailers and manufacturers including Walmart, Kmart, Skechers and H&M by filing 22 trademark infringement suits in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. As a Huffington Post hed puts it, Converse is suing “Basically Everyone In The World Over Knockoff Chucks.”  (Oct. 15)

Live at 10: Ackman's Latest Salvo Against Herbalife

Bill Ackman — the “activist investor” also frequently modified as   “billionaire hedge fund honcho” — has promised a showdown in the digital corral with slides and videos blazing against Herbalife, the company his Pershing Square Capital Management first shorted in May 2012, with a presentation packed with “particularity.” 

“We have hundreds of hours of internal video,” Ackman said yesterday on CNBC's “Halftime Report,” according to a CNBC/Reuters recap of his latest tossing of the gauntlet. “We have some internal documents that were given to us by some employees.” (July 22)

Starbucks Serving Up High-End 'Tasting Rooms,' Food, Alcohol And App Ordering

There’s going to be a whole lot of slurping and munching going on not only at Starbucks and its new high-end sibling — the Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, which is opening the doors to its first outlet today in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood — but also in hideaways where folks who would rather skip the small talk will be able order and pay for their Soy Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino Blended Crème through their smartphones. (Dec. 5)

Restoration Hardware's Catalog Lands With A Thud

That thwack I heard emanating from the front stoop yesterday, it turned out, was the outcome of more than 10 pounds worth of UPS-delivered catalogs hitting the bluestone —Restoration Hardware’s “2014 Annual Source Books” collection of “the most comprehensive and curated collection of home furnishings in the world.” (June 20)

Kohl's Bringing Back Name Brands To Drive Sales

For years, it seems, private labels have been nothing but a success story, whether it’s in the grocery aisles, warehouse outlet or drugstore. But one particularly telling comment in yesterday’s flurry of retailers’ first-quarter results — our Sarah Mahoney has the complete roundup here — was a promise by Kohl’s to drive sales by bringing back name brands that will attract customers back to its “retail racetrack” nationwide. (May 16)

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