Oct 16

Does an Ad Work if it Annoys the Heck Out of You?

Does the larynx cancer guy bug you as much as he does me? In case you’ve somehow missed him, the larynx cancer guy is an anti-tobacco spokesman whose TV commercial seems to be on every station every minute of the day.

The larynx cancer guy first appeared a couple of years ago. He walked around a pool, telling us that he once loved to swim. But, because of throat cancer caused by smoking, he now has a hole where his larynx once was. As a result, he’d drown if he dove into the pool. The capper, though, was his voice. It was unbelievably irritating, sounding something like a cross between E.T. and a robot.

The campaign ran for a period of time and, thought I, the larynx cancer guy had made his point and would go wherever it is that anti-tobacco spokespeople go.

But, he’s back. And, he’s even more annoying and more in your face than before. I’ve heard countless people tell me how turned off they are by the new spots. The larynx guy has, in fact, become synonymous with channel surfing.

So, when one defines success in advertising, does this sort of negative reaction register? Is grossing people out considered a win? We all know smoking kills. But, do we need to keep seeing and hearing this annoying, irritating little man with the hole in his throat? He seems to be the anti-tobacco industry’s answer to the Dell guy, who was equally annoying. Remember him?

So, while I respect the need for the message, here’s hoping the larynx cancer guy soon disappears in a puff of smoke and joins other annoying ad pitchmen of the past like Crazy Eddie, the Jolly Green Giant and countless local Mazda dealers.

Oct 15

I Like the Fact that We Struck the ‘Berg

I love watching the political candidates avoid direct questions and spin their response. Senator John McCain is especially adept at “bridging” as we public relations people call it.

I’ve seen him asked countless times about his fading prospects (one recent poll had him trailing Senator Barack Obama by 14 percent). McCain always smiles contemptuously at the reporter asking the question, and sniffs: “Look, I like where we are. No one gave me a chance to win the GOP nomination, and I like the fact that no one’s giving me a chance now. I like where we are in the polls.”Titanic2

I doubt that. In fact, I’ll bet he and Sarah are sweating bigtime. Who wouldn’t? Could you imagine some of the great losers in history saying something similar?

“I like the odds. The Indians seem to be running away,” General George Armstrong Custer, Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876

“I like Siberia and believe the Bolshevik guards will take good care of me and my family,” Nicholas Romanov (the former Czar Nicholas II), November, 1917

“I like what the Colonists are doing. What’s a little skirmish in two, small Massachusetts towns in the grand scheme of things?” King George III, May, 1775, after hearing about the battles of Lexington and Concord

“I like the fact that we struck the ‘berg. The side of the ship needed to have some barnacles scraped off,” Captain Smith, RMS Titanic, April 14, 1912

Just once, I’d like to hear the candidates say what’s really on their minds:

– “I hope I don’t blow this,” Barack Obama
– “I’m toast,” John McCain

Oct 14

Yes, Virginia, Being Uninvited from a Meeting at the Last Second is not a Good Career Sign

I felt a shiver go up and down my spine as I read a recent PR Week “experience” column. Jane Waldman, Kaplow’s director of recruitment, was asked by a reader if there were “…signs to help me tell if I am going to be fired so that I can start a new job search.”

Waldman responds by saying, “One possible fire alarm is that all of a sudden you are excluded from important company meetings.” I’d call that a three-alarm fire, Jane. Being uninvited from important company meetings is akin to the final nail being hammered into one’s career path coffin. I should know. It happened to me.

I was running a division of J. Walter Thompson and openly feuding with the CEO (also not a wise career move). Towards the end of my 15 months in hell (as I now refer to it), I started being uninvited to meetings. I remember David Johnson calling me one day near the end to say, “Hey Steve, just a heads up, but Jim’s removed your name from the list of attendees at tomorrow’s big AGA meeting.” And, later the same day, Kate Gomez stopped by to ask why the CEO had told her to uninvite me from a planned lunch with the Greenpoint Savings Bank client.

I was livid and demanded a meeting the following morning. I had been hired to succeed this CEO and, if anything, things seemed to be going in the opposite direction. The only thing I was succeeding in was in not succeeding.

The next morning I walked into the meeting with the CEO and, voila, there was the CFO as well, and she was armed with a stack of papers. They wanted to end things there and then and asked me to sign paperwork releasing them from some of their written promises. I refused. But, I left just the same. We later settled for a nominal amount and I signed their papers. In the meantime, Ed and I started Peppercom.

So, yes, Virginia, if you’re being uninvited from important company meetings, I would not pass go. I would not collect $200. Instead, I would start calling any and all contacts in hopes of finding a new gig. Ask not for whom the meeting bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Oct 13

The Herbert Hoover of the 21st Century

There’s no doubt in my mind that historians will rank George W. Bush at the absolute bottom of the presidential barrel. Forget Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and Gitmo, W is going to go down in history right alongside Herbert W. Hoover for his shortsighted, hands-off mismanagement of the current financial crisis. Bushoover

Like Mr. Hoover, who presided during the go-go years of the Roaring ’20s, W did little to build his image or reputation as the economy boomed in the early years of this century. And, like Hoover who did nothing to build his image and reputation during the “good times,” W had no equity to draw upon when things began spiraling out of control. In fact, W had so alienated America with his iconoclastic, “let ‘future historians’ decide if I was right or wrong” mentality that nobody listened to him when the market began to tank.

Like Hoover, Bush appears to be little more than the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. Like Hoover, he’s really not suggesting any immediate remedies. And, like Hoover, W doesn’t possess the gravitas to calm our fears.

While W is clearly another Hoover, it’s also abundantly clear that there’s no FDR on the horizon. And, that my friends, is the real dilemma.

Oct 09

You Want to Talk About Climbing a Mountain?

So, you think Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson have a tough task on their hands? Try making a group of bored, tired and sober PR executives laugh at the end of a day-long conference. As you can see, I gave it my best shot, but the energy levels at 5pm on a Friday afternoon aren’t exactly ideal. Still, if I can do this, I feel like I can do just about anything. A world economic crisis? Bring it on, baby!

Oct 07

Would We Have Survived the Great Depression if the 24×7 News Cycle Had Existed Then?

For the beast that is the 24×7 news cycle, these are the good, old days. The pundits, empty suits and talking heads have more doom and gloom content than they know what to do with.

They just ADORE issuing news alerts as the market once again tanks. They ADORE leading their morning newscasts with stories such as the one today about a California financial planner who killed his family members before turning the gun on himself. And, they’ll occasionally “balance” their hysterics with oh-so-obvious tips from money management experts.

It’s non-stop and it’s almost universally negative. Which got me wondering: how would FDR have dealt with the 24×7 media beast in the depths of The Great Depression? Would his first 100 days of legislation have been second guessed? Would CNN have criticized his “alphabet” solution of public works programs aimed at Fdr_fireside_chat_march_1933putting Americans back to work, describing it as nothing more than a “band-aid” approach? Would Fox have slammed his creation of the FDIC as the “wrong remedy at the wrong time?” Would CNBC have aired endless cell phone videos of stockbrokers jumping to their deaths? And, would People Magazine have capped it all off by running a cover photo of a wheelchair-bound president entitled, “A Crippled President for a Crippled Economy’?

The mind shudders at what might have been. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say we might never have climbed out of the Depression if cable news had been around at the time.

I firmly believe the media helped exacerbate today’s dilemma. Sure, they didn’t cause the mortgage crisis or credit crunch but, man, do they love to fan the flames.

Let’s be thankful the 24×7 media beast didn’t exist during The Great Depression. If it had, FDR might have said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself (and continuous and irresponsible news coverage).”

Oct 06

Did the Name Prompt the Blame?

Thanks to Zara Gibb for the idea.

The BBC’s Web site ran a fascinating article about the unintended implications of the word "bailout." As detailed in the text, the oft-maligned George W. Bush actually isn’t at fault for this particular, oral blunder.

As the fiscal crisis escalated, W called on Congress for a "recovery" or a "rescue."_45075194_bailout_416 Somehow, though, the word "bailout" became the popular substitute. And, all hell broke loose as Democrats blamed Bush and his Republican cronies for the mess on Wall Street while the GOP refused to endorse a $700 billion package that they say rewarded the evildoers.

More importantly, as the "B" word was bandied about and the original bill stalled, Americans panicked and European and Asian markets tanked.

A revised bill was finally passed on Friday, but pundits are already saying it may be too little, too late. One wonders if lawmakers and the media had followed W’s lead and used words like rescue or recovery, would the package have passed sooner and would today’s mess be a little less bleak? As W would say, "I’ll leave that for future historians to decide."

Oct 03

You Betcha!

Let me preface this blog by saying I’m a Barack Obama supporter. That said, I’m absolutely amazed to see and read all the glowing reviews of Sarah Palin’s performance in last night’s debate.

Simply because Sarah didn’t have a brain freeze or ramble on and on in nonsensical non sequiturs, pundits and consumers alike seem to think she did amazingly well.

Not me. Her "You betcha!" and "Say it ain’t so, Joe!" quips didn’t resonate with me. And, she’s done absolutely nothing to convince me she has the depth of intellect or character to manage the myriad crises facing the next administration. Francesfargo

When I see Sarah Palin, I see Frances McDormand’s "Sheriff Marge" character in the movie Fargo. I see this quirky, down-home, part-time wife and part-time small town
sheriff trying to deal with a grisly murder. While Sheriff Marge rose to the occasion in the movie, I don’t see Candidate Sarah following suit. In fact, I see her as nothing more than an empty suit.

Did anything Sarah say or do last night change my thinking at all? Nope. Am I still voting for Obama? You betcha!

Oct 02

Exercise Your Mind or Your Body. But Not At the Same Time

I go to the gym for an intense workout. Whether it’s running, lifting weights, cruising through the elliptical trainer or some combination thereof, I like to push my body to the max. It helps me unwind and refresh at the same time.

So, I honestly don’t understand the people who sit on the exercise bike, walk on the treadmill or slowly stride their way through an elliptical trainer workout while reading a book or magazine!

What is that all about? How many calories does one burn while ever so slowly scanning the latest tips from Cosmo?

I wouldn’t mind so much except that it always seems these are the very same people who boast about their regular exercise. Puh-lese. Sure, reading a book while slowly strolling on  a treadmill is better than doing nothing. But, I wouldn’t categorize it as a workout.Campbells

Just last night, ABC World News Tonight ran a segment about the amazing rise in popularity of comfort food.  According to the report, only one major corporate stock rose during Monday’s freefall: Campbell’s. Savvy investors apparently know that people turn to comfort foods (read: fatty foods) during times of extreme uncertainty. While that may be understandable, it’s certainly not laudable. How can a nation with
two-thirds of its population already overweight possibly stand by and watch them load up on even more junk? On the other hand, fewer people mean more jobs for the rest of us.

Americans need to turn away from comfort food, put down their books when cycling and start some real exercising. In my book (which I don’t read while running, btw), exercise trumps eating for stress reduction any day of the week.