Y2K Angst Spooks Merchandisers: Companies Avoid Products Tied To Millennium Due To Fears Of Widespread Computer Problems (San Francisco Chronicle)

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Y2K Angst Spooks Merchandisers
Companies avoid products tied to millennium due to fears of widespread computer problems
Carol Emert, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 1999
)1999 San Francisco Chronicle


[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

The new millennium is less than four months away, but you would never know it from walking around your local supermarket or department store.

In 1976, makers of consumer products jumped head first into the bicentennial hoopla. Red, white and blue was the color craze of the year. Fife-and-drum troops seemed to march across every limited-edition cereal box, soda can and maple syrup bottle (not to mention license plates and quarters).

By contrast, the new millennium -- which, after all, happens only once every thousand years -- isn't considered much of a sales gimmick.

It's not that marketers are less aggressive than they were 23 years ago. There's a fly in the ointment: the notorious Y2K bug.

``The bicentennial was a time of celebration and the millennium is something people are trepidatious about,'' said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, a San Francisco advertising agency. He noted millennium-related fears crop up frequently in focus group interviews.

``You feel old,'' said the ad man, who is 48. ``You're afraid that all of the infrastructure is going to break down. Advertisers aren't using it because they sense that it's not a big time of celebration, it's actually scary, depressing and perhaps dangerous.''

The Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group, concurs. ``I think if the Y2K bug wasn't an issue, you'd see (makers of consumer- products) going nuts,'' said Lisa McCue. ``But there's this cloud over the celebration because people aren't sure what's going to happen.''

J.C. Penney found out the hard way that Americans aren't as smitten by the upcoming calendar flip as one might think.

The Plano, Texas, chain introduced Millennium Shops in its stores last Christmas. Pillows, throws, dresses and countdown clocks featuring the graphic ``01-01-00'' sold well at Christmas time, but then stalled. Penney's, which had planned to keep the shops open all year, discounted the merchandise and shuttered them this summer.

While the Y2K downer gets most of the blame, it is also possible that splashy themed merchandise doesn't fit the national zeitgeist as well as it did in 1976, posited Cami Alexander, a Penney spokeswoman. ``People have different ideas about what they will wear and put around their house,'' she said.

Asked to elaborate, Alexander was diplomatically vague. ``Tastes evolve,'' she said.

Exorbitant costs of New Year's revelry may also be putting a damper on consumers' enthusiasm, said Alexander. Reports of $100,000 travel packages and $2,500 Barbra Streisand concert tickets have made the coming New Year's Eve seem overpriced and unapproachable instead of fun and festive, she said.

Then there's the question of shelf life. Come January, millennium merchandise will start to seem dated. Alexander bought a 01-01-00 baseball jacket last year, but she intends to retire it after this winter. ``You can definitely tell what year I bought it in.''

Of course, there are exceptions to the millennium group-shun, most notably among marketers of products designed for consumption on New Year's Eve.

Some champagne-makers have designed special, high-priced millennium bottles, which they backed up with marketing campaigns warning revelers to stock up now, before an end-of-the-year shortage.

For partygoers who prefer beer to bubbly, Anheuser Busch has produced a magnum (46 ounces, the equivalent of two wine bottles) of Budweiser beer, complete with gold lettering and a cork for midnight popping.

Other companies simply found the millennium gimmick too good to pass up. The marketing department at General Mills, which makes Cheerios, hit upon the name ``Millenios'' months ago and fell in love with it.

The idea for Millenios -- a sweetened cereal in the shape of ``2s'' in addition to the standard ``0's,'' was tested on focus groups, where participants rolled their eyes and laughed at the proposed name. ``But then they'd say, `Yeah, I'd buy it, I'd serve it on New Year's Day,''' said Ami Miesner, brand manager.

General Mills now sells Millenios in a shiny purple box designed for kids to use as a time capsule, storing keepsakes from 1999.

``Ninety-nine percent of what you hear about the millennium has been about Y2K, and we asked ourselves, do we really want to tie in with something so negative?'' Miesner said. ``But we think it's positive and we want to . . . build on its celebratory nature.''

Still, Millenios are the only millennium-themed product General Mills, which sells $6.2 billion dollars of groceries a year, has produced.

Jonathan Gavzer, a San Francisco acupuncturist and herbalist, hit upon another millennium-related marketing gimmick: the Y2K curative.

Gavzer developed MillenniLube Y2K Jelly, a pungent body lotion containing chamomile, St. Johns Wort and algae extract, which is available online at www.millennilube.com and by phone at (877) 925-5355.

``Everyone was kind of freaking out about Y2K and I said, `We should make some kind of an antidote,' '' said Gavzer, who used to run a massage oil business.

MillenniLube, which sells for $5.99, is ``designed to calm fear, soothe dry skin and lubricate your slide through the Y2K ride,'' the 2-ounce tube says. ``To protect against millennium bug bites, place entire container on computer.''

)1999 San Francisco Chronicle

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), September 25, 1999



Beaujolais Nouveau and D-cells.

It should be a happening time. We're going to party like it's 1999.


-- no talking please (breadlines@soupkitchen.gov), September 25, 1999.


You sure *sigh* a lot! How about a giggle, smirk, or frown once in a while? I saw some little stuffed squeeze-me creatures that go through a millenium countdown and new year cheer. They were gone in a week, probably purchased by the beanie babies collectors thinking they will be worth a lot someday! But certainly depending on the nature of the product there are certain things best not associated with Y2K. Judging by what I've been seeing already (everything from pens to popcorn), we'll probably have more junk than all of the Star Wars flicks and Superbowls combined. In that case, I agree.. (sigh)!

-- @ (@@@.@), September 25, 1999.

About to go for a long walk, sip a comforting hot caffe latte, savor a "to-die-for" pumpkin muffin, and forgedabout Y2K for the nonce.

*Big Grin*



(S'okay by U?)

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), September 25, 1999.

Yeah, there ya go girl! Sounds like you have good reason to grin - enjoy!

-- @ (@@@.@), September 25, 1999.

For once Diane I will have to agree with something you posted. Could it be a sign of the apocalypse? Either way Im getting scared, lol.

Seriously though some marketing trade mags brought up marketing on 2000. Many companies were not marketing products for the time because they were worried if problems did occur that a stigma would be attached to the product.

Others were straying away because its such a short timespan. You really can't do much more than sell novelty pieces of the year 2000. And many people are just tired of it anyways. Definate consumer backlash will be coming on those 1-1-00 hats, shirts, ect.

-- Pat (BAMECW@aol.com), September 25, 1999.

I find it interesting that 'they' (leading car mnfctrs) haven't hopped onto the bandwagon yet. I remember two years ago they had all sorts of cool Ideas for the "Millennium Car", now....only silence for the 2000 year models. Nothing on TV, Radio, Magazines, kind of a bummer, I was looking forward to some 'wild and wooly' concept cars this fall.......the Year 2000 Stigmata I guess...

-- Billy-Boy (Rakkasn@Yahoo.com), September 25, 1999.

Car companies usually don't start plugging the new cars until very late in the fourth quarter or the first quarter of the new year. So Im sure we will see some new stuff in the coming weeks.

-- Pat (BAMECW@aol.com), September 25, 1999.

For New Years I bought M&Ms (the official millenium candy) and Champagne with a little "2000" sticker on it.

I also bought a nice Bulgarain AK and a bunch of Russian 7.62 Hollowpoint. Got a bunch of fireworks (not the safe and sane type). Can't use them around here until the ground is soaked so saved 'em for New Year. Expect it will be fun firing them off...then too we might need them to illuminated the spikey haired mutants coming over the barbed wire (not bloody likely but then it pays to be prepared).


-- Don Kulha (dkulha@vom.com), September 25, 1999.

I couldn't resist buying those beanie baby type Y2K bears. Crash has a little y2k emblem on him, Stash has a zipper in his back where you can hide your money, and Blackout has a little flashlight. They're sooooo cute. They sit on top of my computer, waiting to help me bring in the new year. I also bought a Y2K countdown baseball cap, with the live countdown clock in it,..because my son thought it was "neat". And I have a "01-01-00 It's coming!" keychain for my keys.

The market for Y2K/Millenium items seems to be silly people like myself. I like the stuff. I'd buy those Millenio's..if I could find them. :)

-- kritter (kritter@adelphia.net), September 25, 1999.

Got a count-down clock as a gift, didn't buy it myself.

Got a p-38 (minimalist military can-opener) on my keychain.

Today, saw another nice oil lamp at a garage sale. Candles as well, & camp stoves. Certainly no fear here, in the lower left-hand corner of Ohio.

-- it's just stuff, you (cant@eat.it), September 25, 1999.

you rascals that got both alcohol and weapons know that the two don't mix, i pray. i won't even look at a picture of a gun when i've had a nip or three.

a cautious smooch to ya'

-- corrine l (corrine@iwaynet.net), September 26, 1999.

The place where I've seen the most stuffed 'Y2k Bug' plush animals in one place?

My bank. No kidding.

Guess they're "Y2k - OK", huh?


-- Wilferd (WilferdW@aol.com), September 26, 1999.

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