Education is what matters – Mama says so!

 I recently left my retail marketing job at Sears / Kmart to contribute to something that sounded more urgent than selling toys and fitness equipment.  Don’t get me wrong, I love both toys and fitness equipment, but I am sure both will do fine without my assistance.  I joined the Sylvan Learning team where their purpose is to help kids succeed and thrive through personal learning.  As it turns out, a lot of kids can’t get everything they need from a classroom with one teacher and 30 students.  Sylvan helps kids who are behind catch up, and accelerate students who want to excel and push ahead.  It sounds simple, but it is pretty powerful stuff. 

I am discovering all kinds of crazy facts about education in the US that are flat out eye openers to me.  Like 3,000,000 kids drop out of high school each year.  Yet 90% of available jobs require a high school degree.  Currently, almost 80% of available jobs require a college degree, so if we plan to have the right workforce in the very near future, we collectively need to do a better job with our national approach to education.

But the real reason I joined Sylvan is not to improve our educational system as a whole.  It’s because like most Moms, I want my kids to be happy, confident, and successful in life.  And that happens when your kids know how to learn, and have a solid education.  Sylvan is one of the rare companies that are focused on motivating kids to learn, so it’s my privilege to join them in their efforts.

It’s Show Choir Time! Mama Says So!

 Heavy makeup, curled hair, bedazzled dresses.  I gape as my soccer-gear- wearing daughter appears transformed into a curious mix between an Irish Step Dancer and a low rent hooker.  And she doesn’t even seem to mind!  In fact, on a Saturday morning she and her contemporaries are gussied up and on a bus at the high school at 5:00 AM for a day of cut throat show choir competition.  They have been singing and dancing for weeks in the choir room and they are ready to bring it.

If this is your first trip to the Show Choir rodeo, there are some ground rules to understand from the get-go.  First, most of the competitions are in small town high schools in Wisconsin and Iowa.  Midwesterners love Show Choir!  Second, a lot of the parents are over the top about these events.  I’m talking appliqué sweatshirts that say “I’m a show choir mom” and big buttons featuring their son or daughter’s face.  Last, despite the first two factors, these cult-like events are jam packed with varying degrees of talent and unbridled high school energy and fun.

My husband and I leave the Chicago burbs bright and early on Saturday and drive a couple of hours north into Wisconsin for this first of the season competition.  We know we are getting close when most of the houses along the rural route have stone deer ornaments in the lawn and some of the front yards feature above ground swimming pools.  It’s a nice touch.  We go by the little town of Brodboard and we see the pizza place where we will probably escape for lunch.  It’s adjacent to the taxidermist, so I am wondering if squirrel deep dish will be one of the options.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Mamasaysso holiday gift list

Haven’t started shopping yet? No problem! It looks like lots of people are putting it off until the last minute this year. And we have two extra days between thanksgiving and Christmas to procrastinate. Be warned though – the weekend before Christmas will be a MONSTER shopping experience. #truth. People always ask me for gift ideas since I’m in retail – So I have put off my holidays guide albeit a little late this year

  1. Family gifts:
    Season tickets to a theatre in your town. We did this when the kids were in elementary school and we had no idea how it would influence their lives. Broadway in Chicago tickets were one of our best presents to the family yet
  2. Board Games -it only sounds corny until everyone stars having a ton of fun playing. Take one as a hostess gift if you get stuck at dull holiday parties. (The ones where you can’t even drink enough to make the people seem interesting)
  3. Harry & David’s Moose Mix – its ridiculous what they charge for it but EVERYONE loves that stuff.  It’s probably laced with moose meth and that is why we continue to buy the overpriced snack.

Teen Gifts -  Always a hard one because they secretly still want the thrill of opening toys, and they are mostly sulky no matter what you get them.  Regardless, here’s my top picks:

  1. Yurbuds – These are the best ear-buds EVER.  They stay in even when you are working out, and they will help your teen ignore you even more when they are plugged into their music.
  2. Little Speakers – I like the Nakamichi cubes.  They are small enough to fit in a stocking, but when connected to teens’ phones / music devices, these little guys can crank the jams to create an instant party
  3. Boys still like RC cars, planes (think Air Hogs) and Nerf guns.  They just do. 
  4. Teen girls have mixed emotions about make up – some love it and some have no idea where to start.  But its a great time to get them into something that looks natural and non trashy – Bare Essentials is a great line to get for teens and its fun to “play” with even Christmas day.

Grandparents – They are soo hard.  “Don’t get me anything, I don’t need anything”  As if we could ever get away with that!  Here’s my tried and trues:

  1. Anything from Marbles Brain Store.  They have all kinds of fun trivia and fun “stay sharp” games for seniors who end up spending a lot of time alone
  2.   iPad – if you are going big.  They are so much easier for the non-computer savvy just cause iPads are so intuitive
  3. Grandmas – Pictures – incorporated in calendars or framed up.  Just because we are leaving our photos on our phones does not mean grandmas are.  They like a picture, damnit.  Scarfs or capes – one size fits all, and pretty pyjamas. 
  4. Grandpas – Gift Cards to restaurants they like (think Olive Garden), sports stuff (golf balls) and favorite team gear (license plate rims, etc)  

Guys in your life:

  1. Stocking stuffer – multi colored shoe strings from Nordstroms.  They change them in the bucks to match their shirts
  2. Clothes – so they stop wearing the same stuff all the time
  3. Fun/ cool winter hat

Kids – Its way too easy.  Go look up my Kmart/Fab 15 list online.  Furbys, Monster High, Lala Loopsy are all perfect for girls.  Boys are still loving Legos, and the young kids love anything that is Doc McStuffins or Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  Throw in some classics for stocking stuffers – pick up sticks, card games, jacks.  Its retro and cool and you can still beat them at these things. 

Hope this helps as you go out to polish off your list.  Have a happy holiday!  Mama Says So!

Tricks and Treats – Halloween as I See it

I have certain bias toward Halloween – I will admit it.  After marketing Halloween for Kmart for a couple of years, I have a house full of decorations and an AWESOME witch costume I bought at Kmart for $24.99 and will wear once a year forever.  But when I dressed up for work this year, imagine my disappointment when I walked in the corporate complex to find that I was about the only one in costume.  How awkward for everyone else that they forgot to take advantage of the best day of the year.  Face it – Halloween is the one holiday where you don’t have to go to church, buy anyone a gift, and you can wear any crazy get-up you want.  Wake up, zombie-people!

I started my “corporations kill Halloween” grumbling – but I realize that isn’t true.  I have worked in companies where Halloween is a much anticipated event with food, decorations, costumes, and take-no-prisoners competitions.  If there is one thing I have learned – its that nobody does the costume and decor contest like the IT department.  Those guys bring it!!  Haunted cubes, blood, guts, twisted humor, they are the hands down favorite.  And it reminds me not to mess with IT- ever. Read the rest of this entry »

You Are What You Eat?

I have been keenly aware lately of the rise in kids food allergies and issues.  It is quite commonplace in the hoard of roving kids that move through our house to have peanut, wheat, and dairy allergies.  Now, it does not outweigh the 14 year olds who are shoving fist-fulls of dry breakfast cereal in their mouths, munching a shameless “Hello Mrs Fitz” as they have their arm elbow deep in what used to be my breakfast.  Still, when did the food allergy epidemic happen?

I have always been allergic to milk, but I was definitely an oddity.  I remembered that none of my teachers really believed me, and would try to force those nasty little cartons on me during the milk break in elementary school.   Now, not only has the milk break gone the way of the telephone booth, but there are so many kids in elementary with food allergies that more drastic measures are now commonplace in our community.  We receive the note every year that bans peanut products at school - including our household staple of peanut butter.  In recent years all birthday treats have also been banned.  It just became too hard for the school to manage the safety issues for the kids who have extreme reactions.

At first I was not very sympathetic, and even peeved that hundreds of us had to adapt our lunch packing routines for a few kids.  But once I met a few moms who try to manage the day to day effort of keeping their kids fed an out of the ER, I softened my stance.  My son has also had issues with stomach aches off an on for years.  For cross country, he stopped consuming all dairy and it seemed to clear up.  When he tried to resume cheese, ice cream etc, his body through an out-right fit.  We were pretty clear that he, too was lactose intolerant.

So here’s my queston – WHY?  Have we changed the foods and food production so they affect us differently?  Or has there always been a high percentage of kids with food alergies and we are just better at identifying them now?  I am on a quest to find out.  On a related note did tell my tween daughter that she needs to watch her food choices because you are what you eat.  The reply was “Really?  because I don’t remember eating a bowl of sexy beast this morning?”  Groan.  I’ll continue my research on my own.  :)

Olympic Mom Marketing

My family is all about the Olympics.  From the opening ceremony, through the competitions and background stories, and the Olympic commercial breaks – we watch more TV during these 2 weeks than we do the rest of the year.  So even though we are only a couple of days in – I already have my favorites.  And no surprise, they are the ads perfectly targeted to Moms. 

Mama says that P&G’s Thank You Mom campaign with the  ”Best Job” commercial is the hands-down winner for Mom Marketing.  I start misting up just thinking about the spot.  Their other Thank You Mom commercial, “They’ll Always Be Kids“  is equally touching – and shorter.  A strong second place is the Kellogg’s “Swimmer” commercial about starting with breakfast.  When the Olympic swimmer, Rebecca Soni,  turns back into a little girl wearing polka dots and does the cannon ball into the pool, every mom on the planet smiled.  Well played, Battle Creek! I also love the AT&T commercial where the kid goes out for a run and listens to the books on tape.  But that may just be because my cross country running son does the same thing.  (I always thought it was kind of strange!) 

Basically, any commercial that shows these amazing athletes as kids or applauds the Olympic spirit is a sure fire Mom pleaser.  Even while most of us know our own kids will never compete in the Olympic Arena, all Moms can see the Mothers in the stands and we know that emotion shining in their eyes.  My husband has no idea why I am crying when the heat winner looks up to share the moment with his mom.  But P&G and Kellogg have figured it out.

Licensing Show Tried & Truest

Tried and True?  Lets talk Power Rangers.  Created by Saban, purchased by Disney, and now back with Saban, this property just keeps on going.  What’s their secret?  New bad guys and story lines each year and they are on TV 70 times a week.  Yes, you read that correctly 70 times!  Maybe kids are just brainwashed into liking them.  Who cares?  This cheesy – bad-guy-butt-kickin property has been growing like crazy the last 2 years since saban put it back on track with Bandai as the Master Toy licensee.

Licenisng Show Remakes & Reworks

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be the stand out re-make in 2012 and 2013 – Mama Says So!  With a fall TV series this year, a movie, webisodes and a lot of Nickelodeon support, the pizza eating turtles should do well with a new generation.  

In the movie remake category, Warner Brothers’ Man of Steel looks to be a fantastic and edgy remake of Superman.  Warner Brothers seems to be taking some cues from the Marvel playbook and it looks like Man of Steel will be followed by other DC Super Heroes culminating in a Justice League “Avengers-esque” movie about 2015.  Smart move! 

Disney has been cautiously promoting a Cars Spin off / re-work called “Planes” for about a year.  Up until the licensing show I had not been particularly impressed with the effort.  But they showed some really cute footage, and I have to admit, I think there will be a lot of little boys playing with Dusty The Crop Duster Toys.  Winx is the girls’ property that worked so well in Europe, and struggled here in the US.  Jakks and Nickelodeon are teaming up to re-work these teen-age /superhero/fairies into an American success story  They are sort of trampy looking versions of the Disney Fairies, but that should play well in the US.  Right? 

Last but not least – the first half of 2013 will be dominated by Disney’s Monsters Inc!  The original movie returns to the theater in January followed by the Monsters Inc. DVD release in the Spring.   In June the pre-quel, Monsters University, hits the big screen as one of the hot summer remakes.  There will be months of Sully and Mike, so prepare to scream.  Monsters University is certain to be a movie success, but I am a little puzzled at Disney’s intent to position the merchandise for boys vs preschool.  I think that the big winner for Monsters Inc was the plush Boo doll.  But what do I know? 

Tomorrow let’s talk about the tried and true properties at the Licensing Show.

Licensing Show 2012 Hotties

The licensing show showcased the line ups, trends and hopefuls for 2013 and even 2014.  Among the entertainment licenses, the offerings shook out in 3 categories:  The New Hot-Hot, the Remakes & Reworks, and The Tried and True.  Here’s my take on the new Hotties or Hot-Hot wannabes.

Mama Says that the new Hot Hot License will be One Direction. (Insert ear-piercing squeal here) Love em or hate em, those British Singing Boys are already rolling in the licensing deals.  I’ve heard some of the guarantees being gossiped about and they are outlandish!  From Toys to Tee’s and notebooks – here comes One Direction!

Also in the Hot-Hot Category is App licensing.  Trying to follow in the footsteps of Angry Birds, everything from Cut The Rope, Annoying Orange, and Gotta Pea is available for licensing.  It will be interesting to see if Angry Birds was a one time break out or if this category can sustain.

Maybe Hot Hopefuls?  Dreamworks is launching a movie call Turbo about a racing snail.  Its so crazy it just might work.  We will see how audiences react next summer – and Mattel has an awesome line of boys toys to back it up.   Dreamwors’ best movies don’t always translate into great toy and merchandise sales, so Turbo is the gamblers bet. (I’m a believer!)  The other Hottie Wannabe is Disney’s Lone Ranger that launches around July 4th2013.  Yes, the Masked Man of the Westerns with a horse named Silver!  Tonto is Johnny Depp and the movie has a lot of the Pirates of the Caribbean producer and ethos.  Again, Pirates did not sell a lot of toys outside of Lego, so this may be a block buster movie with no real merchandising play. 

Fox tipped its hand about a 2014 Spielberg movie called Robopocolypse.  I was really excited about the possibilies for licensed merchandise (total boy property!) and it looks like it will be a great movie.

Disney is also launching a High School Musical type movie called Teen Beach.  Its like a Grease / Back To the Future mash up with heavy Beach Blanket Bingo overtones.  It’s too old for my Toys programs, but the Teen Beach dancing and singing cuties could be selling a lot of apparel next year.

I hate to keep going back to Disney, but they are also rocking the Preschool Category with their Disney Jr. properties.  Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Doc McStuffins and Mickey and Minnie are selling really well in 2012.  In August of 2013 they will be joined with Sophia the First – and new littlegirl princess in training.   This show will have cameo appearances from the real Disney Princesses and will delight the preschool girls to no end.   I’m sorry, but there are serious pink sparkly dollar signs rolling in my eyes right now.

More tomorrow on the Re-Makes and the Tried and Trues…..

Confessions of a SXSW Rookie

When I was invited to speak on a panel at SXSW (South by Southwest) I jumped at the chance.  First, I love the panel topic – the future of mobile and retailing.  My co-panelists and I could wax on about the subject endlessly.  The guys from Checkpoints, Savvy Shopper, and Levis, taught me a lot about how shoppers are using their phones in store and in general.

But I was really psyched to see what the legendary SXSW conference was all about.  And in retrospect, I DID IT ALL WRONG!!!  First, I booked late and had to stay out in the burbs – every hotel room in downtown Austin was booked 6 months in advance.  This means no late night drinking, partying or networking which, as it turns out, is half the beauty of SXSW.   Second, I just showed up on Saturday morning.  That’s like just showing up at Disney World without a reservation.  I didn’t prep to see who else was attending, what events were running, which talks would wow and amaze.  There is a very effective APP called GO SXSW that saved me, but I kept running into people I knew (including my own agencies) who asked “why didn’t you let us know you would be here?”.    (Umm, cause I am a rookie here)   Third, I cut it too short.  I did the sensible type-A thing and tried to power through in a day and a half.  I left right after my panel on Sunday afternoon, only to realize that the good stuff was just about to start.  That night JayZee performed, the cool film and music people started showing up, and the interactive conversation melded into the hipsters of art and pop culture.  I just heard that last night Bruce Springsteen gave an amazing performance at SXSW while I am back here in Chicago.  Super.    All rookie mistakes not to be repeated.  I started to see SXSW as a mash up of Ted, Mill Valley Film festivle, and a Texas State fair.  No wonder its called Spring break for Geeks. Read the rest of this entry »