Jul 29

Tasteless Spot

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer and Kangoo Nation member, Deb Brown.

OK… so I might be in the minority here, but I think the fairly new Snickers commercial for its new Peanut Butter Squared isn’t ha-ha funny nor is it dark humor.  It’s just plain dark (and I don’t mean as in chocolate).  The commercial debuted in January but I saw it for the first time earlier this week.  Somehow I luckily escaped the tasteless spot over the past several months. However, for some reason, the ending was slightly different from the one that ran in January.  The commercial I saw omitted the guy at the end (see original commercial below).   Maybe the company thought that would soften it a bit. Yeah, right. The commercial shows a focus group of sharks saying how they thought the young man tasted better than the young woman because he had eaten Peanut Butter Squared as opposed to a peanut butter cup (in other words – take that Reese’s… sharks like young adults who eat Snickers PB Squared better).

Now, I happen to have a sense of humor.  But, I didn’t find this commercial funny.  I actually thought that BBDO, which created the spot, and Mars, the candy company responsible for all things Snickers, crossed the line from humorous to sick and stupid.  I think this spot is indicative of television/cable television today. We’re constantly lowering the bar when it comes to reality TV so why should commercials be any different?  Since when is the death of young adults even remotely funny?  And since when is it ok to use the deaths of young adults to sell candy or for that matter…anything?  The commercial is even more morbid when you learn that the month before it launched, a woman was killed by a shark in Egypt.  And, just a few days ago, a 6-year-old girl almost lost her leg in a shark attack.

There’s nothing tasteful about this spot.    I’m not sure if Mars got itself into a sticky situation with this spot that will negatively impact Snickers’ sales or if the general public will just accept it and buy the candy.  I still believe Mars bit off more than it could chew with this spot.  But, maybe I’m wrong.  Or, maybe we hit such lows with television shows and commercials that nobody even notices anymore.

Jul 28

Will complacency cause RIM to R.I.P.?

Research In Motion, makers of the ubiquitous Blackberry, just announced a layoff of some 2,000 RIP-RIM workers. That's more than 10 percent of the total workforce. It's also an indication the organization has rested on its laurels far too long.

RIM's BB is being beaten to the virtual punch by Apple's iPhone and Google's Android. And, while the once high-flying RIM says it's shipped a brand new BB platform with all sorts of cool bells and whistles as well as a version of the iPad, customers aren't taking the bait.

RIM is just the latest MySpace, Second Life or Pets.com. Or, if you prefer time traveling to a distant era, RIM may end up being this generation's Smith-Corona (once one of the world's leading manufacturers of typewriters that simply couldn't adapt to the computer revolution).

I find it ironic that companies who initiate change often fall prey to it. Take Yahoo, please. Fifteen years ago, Yahoo was a dotcom pioneer at the absolute forefront of online search. Today, they're an afterthought, having lost the entire market to a company whose name has become a verb: Google.

PR firms that resist changing their mojo risk facing the same fate as RIM.

I know quite a few who remain firmly entrenched in the service model of the 1990s, providing little more than media by the pound.

These risk-averse agencies believe clients will always pay for a big hit in the Times or Journal. Perhaps. But, fleet-footed firms are anticipating change and following the conversation, wherever it may lead. They're also finding new and different ways to earn a seat at the proverbial C-suite table. It's no longer just enough to be masters of crisis communications and social media protocols. Smart PR firms also understand they can play a critical, and desperately needed, role in helping to close the gaps between what an organization promises and what the end user experiences (Comcast is the classic example).

As a Blackberry user of long-standing, I'm hoping the company can pull a rabbit out of the hat. But, based upon the fact that the new platform is being ignored and the current system is antiquated, I fear the handwriting may already be on the wall. If so, RIM will R.I.P. right alongside other movers and shakers of past eras.

The corporate graveyard is littered with the names of countless organizations that all died of the same disease: complacency.

Jul 27

The perfect embodiment of mediocrity

NJ Transit which, along with Comcast and Continental Airlines, form a terrible Troika that plagues my very existence, recently released its first rider report card.
  
The results weren't pretty, but not nearly as bad as I expected. Some19,000 riders gave the state's rail system a 4.5 grade out of a possible 10. Online performance, required maintenance and communications during serious rail disruptions scored the lowest. I'd have added surly conductors and befouled rest rooms to the list. But, hey, that's just me.
  
In announcing the results, an NJT spokesperson issued a predictably patronizing quote, saying, 'We're going to target specific areas of improvements.' Sure, you are. And the Catholic Church is going to embrace marriage between gays and lesbians.
  
Having copped any number of mediocre grades in such high school courses as algebra, chemistry and basic math, I see the marginal scores as an opportunity for NJT to come clean and launch a new era of transparent, credible advertising. I'd suggest the following headlines:

- "The rest of your world sucks. So should your rail experience."
  
- "NJT: Level-setting what will be just another mediocre day in your miserable existence."
  
- "Broken bathrooms. Nasty conductors. Delayed trains with no explanation. Living life large on NJT."
  
- "So, you've been battered, bloodied and berated. Get over it. We got you there. Eventually. NJT."
  
The survey results also warrant a rider contest. I'd incentivize NJT rail riders to identify the   Mediocre most mediocre person in their deadly dull lives.
   
How about the most mediocre stop on the NJT North Jersey Coast Line? The most mediocre NJ politician? Talk about a dead heat. Where would one begin?
  
Winners of the NJT Mediocrity contest would win an all-expense paid trip to America's most mediocre resort destination: Atlantic City. They'd be fed at a mediocre restaurant (Applebee's?), stay at a middle-of-the-road hotel (Courtyard Marriott?) and receive two free tickets to a performance by a thoroughly mediocre performer (Paul Anka?).
  
I'm proud of NJT. But, they need to leverage this image and reputation opportunity ASAP. How many other brands step up and actually admit their mediocrity? Not Yahoo. Not Burger King. Not The New York Mets. NJT has a once in a brand's lifetime opportunity to own mediocrity.
  
So, here's hoping the internal communications team doesn't suffer an unexpected delay, stop for required maintenance, get stuck inside a non-working restroom and end up missing this marketer's dream of a window.
  
Oh, and here's one final tagline submitted for your consideration…..'NJT: We put the suck in unsuccessful.'"

And a tip o' RepMan's conductor's cap to Greg Schmalz for this suggestion.

Jul 26

Baggage carousels. The final frontier.

As if we weren’t already being bombarded by endless advertising every single second of our day, Waiting for luggage a company called DoubleTake Marketing has found a brand new venue: airport baggage carousels (insert link). That’s right: baggage  carousels. Now, there’s a brilliant idea.

According to DoubleTake, more than 70 percent of travelers check luggage every year. (Not this blogger. I need to be physically forced to check my bags.) Furthermore, DoubleTake says the average time for a bag to arrive from a plane to the carousel is 17 minutes. I’d say 45 minutes is more like it. (Note: that doesn’t include the time spent by TSA agents and baggage handlers rifling through your valuables and taking what they please or, as was the case with some disgruntled union workers at one airline, actually urinating on checked luggage).

DoubleTake says “…brands are finding baggage carousel advertising (allows) them to tell a story in a unique and captivating way.” Ha! That’s laugh out loud funny. I buy the captivating part since passengers are literally being held hostage by the airlines as they endlessly wait for their luggage to come cartwheeling down one of those chutes. But, c’mon, there’s no friggin’ way passengers want to see advertisements at, say, baggage carousel #2. Just think back to the emotions you felt the last time you were at baggage claim. I can tell you how I felt: frazzled, angry, tired, grungy and anxious. The latter emotion, of course, was being caused by a steady stream of everyone’s bag but mine barreling out of that black hole at the top of the carousel.
What type of advertiser honestly thinks a pissed off, beaten up, tired as hell passenger will spy their ad and think to themselves, “Hey yeah. I do need to buy that right now!” To wit:

-    It’s been 30 minutes since you arrived at baggage carousel #3 when you suddenly spy an ad, slap yourself in the head and exclaim, “Man, I could have had a V-8!”
-    Some 45 minutes after landing, you notice an ad for Cialis circling around and around baggage carousel #1. You stop worrying about your bag and, instead, think, “You know what? I really was in the mood back at gate 13A. If only I’d popped one of those 72-hour Cialis pills, I’d have been good to go.”
-    You’re at Newark’s baggage carousel #7 when you spot an ad for the New York State Lottery and take note of its signature tagline, “Hey, you never know.” The irony is rich as you think to yourself, “The same could be said for my bag. It could be in Houston, Boise or Phoenix. With Continental, hey, you never know.”

There are bad business ideas. Then, there are stupid business ideas. But, DoubleTake’s belief that advertisers can “…reach both the business and leisure traveler” using baggage carousels plumbs new depths of depravity.

I would never, ever consider purchasing a product or service when I’m in the foulest mood possible. And, I cannot believe any other victim of our nation’s horrific air system would feel any differently. But, that won’t deter DoubleTake from collecting some unsuspecting advertiser’s money.

What’s next for DoubleTake? Advertising along death row in a state prison? Now, that would qualify as unique and captivating (oh baby, would it ever).

I can envision DoubleTake’s trade advertisement now: “Death Row advertising. Why wait? With the rise of DNA evidence overturning so many death penalties of late, there’s a very real possibility some of today’s death row inmates may be tomorrow’s customers. Act now while there’s still plenty of institutional white space available at the Big House. DoubleTake: advertising where you least want to see it.”

Jul 25

Big brother bursts onto the blogosphere

InternetSpyRemember that Drew University frat party photo you posted on your wall in 2007? 

How about the steamy text exchange with the woman you met at Del Frisco’s three years ago?

Or, what about the e-mail rants against affirmative action you posted on whiteisright.com back in 2009?

Well, it's all fair game to prospective employers now that a year-old company called Social Intelligence is on the case. A new software solution that would make Sherlock Holmes green with envy and George Orwell recoil in disgust is being used by organizations near and far to pry into your innermost Internet intercourse (as in the conversation, not the deed).

Social Intelligence “…scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees have said or done online in the past seven years.” That's right. It unearths EVERYTHING you've said or done on the web. EVERYTHING.

To make matters even worse, the Federal Trade Commission says this seeming invasion of privacy is perfectly legal and “…in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” whatever that is.

Max Drucker, the CEO of Social Intelligence, says his employees “…aren't detectives (at all). All (they) assemble is what is publicly available on the Internet today.” Right. And, the Gestapo was just a bunch of good-natured pencil pushers looking to find out whose Nazi party membership fees had lapsed. Gimme a break. 

I don't like this at all. And, I'm an EMPLOYER!

I definitely want to know if someone has broken the law or done something amazingly tawdry in his or her personal life. But, seven years is one helluva long time. I have to believe there isn't a single reader of this blog who hasn't done something in the last seven years that they'd rather not have a prospective employer see.

And, trust me. If you did it, Social Intelligence will find it. They go far beyond Facebook, Twitter and MySpace to conduct searches that unearth comments on blogs and smaller sites such as Tumblr, Yahoo user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and, yes, even Craig's List. Good Lord!

Big Brother has clearly arrived on the blogosphere, and it got me thinking.
Will we now lose otherwise stellar candidates because they once wore a toga to a party? And, how would some of history's greatest figures have fared if Social Intelligence had existed way back when:

- Would St. Peter have been recruited to the original group of Apostles if Christ had access to S.I.? Maybe. Christ was into forgiveness, not casting the first stone and all that. But, if Jesus had had a human resources manager on staff, Peter (nee Saul) never would have made it to a first interview.
- Would Thomas Jefferson, who sired numerous children with his slave, Sally Hemmings, been elected to two terms as president? Ditto for JFK, FDR, W, Slick Willy and other presidents who misbehaved long before they entered the Oval Office.

On the other hand, S.I. might have prevented the likes of Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin from rising to power.

So, color me very concerned, but open to arguments as to why corporate America needs Social Intelligence. What about you? Would you be cool with someone digging deep into your entire online world while you were job searching? And, for you corporate types, do you think S.I. steps over the line and is, in fact, an invasion of privacy? Would you be able to support it from an ethical standpoint?

I'd ask more questions, but Ed and I need to do a deep Internet dive right now on a prospective account supervisor's personal life. Seems she once dated a member of Hamas. Does that disqualify her, or make her even more attractive since she understands how a different culture acts and thinks?

Jul 22

CANINE ACCUSES MEDIA OF ‘BREED BAITING’

- Ex-Congressdog Cody says use of term 'dog days' to describe heat wave is 'inflammatory' -

Lincroft, NJ, July 22, 2011 – Controversial former Congressdog Mick Cody lashed out today at the media's use of 'dog days' to describe the nation's brutal heat wave, calling it “breed baiting.” 2011-07-21 15.33.59Cody, who was forced to resign his position as the first elected Congressdog in the aftermath of a sexting scandal, says the polarization of America goes far beyond humans living in Red and Blue states and now includes the animal world.

“How would your breed like to be associated with the most horrific weather of the Summer?” asked a noticeably tanned and rested Cody, lounging near his backyard pool. “I not only cringe when I hear a meteorologist use the term, I find myself acting out in anger and, say, ripping apart my master's hiking boots. That's not fair to him or me,” he snarled. “This sort of rhetoric undermines all dogs and marginalizes our attempts to gain equal rights under the Constitution.”

Gore days

The former Congressdog has a solution to what he terms “…yet another example of caninephobic behavior”.

“I think it's time for all breeds to admit that former Vice President Gore was 100 percent correct in predicting both global warming and seismic climate change. Let's honor him by dropping the word dog and, instead, inserting Gore. I think Gore Days should enter the popular lexicon,” said Mick, after relieving himself on a nearby shrub.

The term Dog Days originated in ancient Rome and was coined in honor of the brightest (ergo 'hottest') star in the night sky: Sirius. Romans believed the hottest days of the year were caused by Sirius getting too close to the sun; hence Dog Days. “Those ancient Romans were doing some serious drugs,” howled Mick. “Like most species with half a brain, I'm getting really tired of adhering to the words and phrases written by old white guys from 2,000 years ago.”

Mr. Gore was unavailable for comment.

In his statement, Cody demanded immediate action or promised a “million dog march” on Washington, D.C. in mid-August. “Let those damn politicians see what havoc a million canines can wreak on Pennsylvania Avenue in 100 degree heat. They may be unable to agree on anything else, but I guarantee the smell alone will force some legislation to be passed,” said a smiling and panting Mick.

Mick Cody rose to prominence in the midst of the Michael Vick pit bull scandal, rode a wave of popularity to win election as the first canine to serve in Congress and was later forced to resign after sexting a topless photograph of himself to a cat.

Jul 21

Sidewalk in the sky

Chris 'Repman, Jr.’ Cody and I just took a stroll along the “Sidewalk in the Sky.” That's the  nickname mountain guide par excellence Art Mooney (www.mooneymountainguides.com) gives to the Knife's Edge, a 1.1 mile long section of Maine's rugged, 11-mile long, 5,200 ft. tall Mt. Katahdin. DSCN6511ll

The “sidewalk” is treacherous. At points, it's only 18 inches wide with vertical drops of 2,000 feet on either side. One false step and any concerns about clients, new business or the national debt will come to an immediate and eternal end. But, that's precisely what makes the climb so refreshing. One MUST focus on every single step; ergo, one CANNOT think of anything else.

When I return to the office from one of these forays, I feel totally refreshed in a way that more sedentary vacations simply can't match.

Most people think I'm crazy. But, I'm just living my life. In fact, what I do pales in comparison to what such uber, middle-age athletes as Diana Nyad attempt. In case you missed Tuesday's NY Times Science section, the 61-year-old dynamo is about to swim 60 hours in shark infested waters to cover the 103 miles from Cuba to Key West. If she succeeds, Nyad will shatter every existing long distance swimming record.

Here's the coolest part about what Nyad's doing: she's not alone in her pursuit of athletic excellence at an age when most humans curl up on a couch and zone out to the latest episode of 'Glee’. Fifty-two-year old Jeannie Longo is still an elite cyclist. Gordie Howe played ice hockey in his 50s. George Blanda started as an NFL quarterback in his late 40s. And, Jack LaLane was 60 when he swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf (handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000 pound boat. And, they call me crazy).

Nyad says she swims to inspire others.”I hope a couple will say I want to live life like that (at the age of 61)." She added that her parent's generation considered 60 to be old. Not Nyad. "I'm in the middle of middle age.”

I like that line: the middle of middle age. I think I'll use it the next time I take a stroll along the Sidewalk in the Sky.

Jul 20

From ambassador to vigilante

When United and Continental merged, the move was accompanied by the usual marketing hoopla.  AaaaaaaaaaaaE-mails promising 'increased efficiency,' 'greater service,' and 'expanded routes' were routinely pushed to this long-time Continental customer.

But, almost immediately, I noticed a slow, but steady, deterioration. First, my long-time Gold Elite status simply disappeared with no explanation whatsoever. Then, my regular routes began experiencing far more delays than before.

But, the real clincher occurred over the past few days as I attempted to fly home from Portland, Maine, to Newark.

My original flight was scheduled to depart at 1pm on Monday. At about 6pm Sunday evening, though, I received a trip alert e-mail notifying me the flight had been canceled. No explanation was provided. A second e-mail followed shortly thereafter. It provided a URL and 888 number for me to call "…with any questions." I had a question all right, "How the hell was I supposed to get home?"

We dutifully called the number provided and, after the usual 15-minute wait and countless bilingual prompts, we reached a live person. She told us she'd book us on the next available flight from Portland to Newark. The scheduled departure time was now 7pm on Monday night. Oh, she said our original flight had been canceled because of weather. Yeah, sure.

Once I arrived at Portland airport on Monday afternoon, the Continental trip alerts began pouring into my blackberry. They said the originating flight was late departing Newark, but would only be delayed by five minutes. No, make that 35 minutes. No, wait, make it a full hour. Oh never mind, the plane just arrived. We were told by a gate agent to board immediately so as not to lose our departure slot. Yes ma'am. Will do, ma'am.

The pilot apologized for the delay, but promised the flight would be '….a very short 59 minutes.' About 90 minutes later, the pilot sighed and said, 'Ah, ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed we've been circling for the past half hour.' Damn straight I'd noticed. I was tired and hungry and wanted to get home pronto. The pilot explained that '…weather at Newark had deteriorated and that we had about 20 more minutes of fuel.' Now, that was comforting to hear. What would happen when the fuel ran out? Would be asked to flap our wings?

The pilot came back on the P.A. a few minutes later to tell us we were being diverted in order to re-fuel. Nice. So, now, instead of being home at, say, 3pm Monday afternoon I was, instead, parked on the always scenic Albany, NY, tarmac at 10 pm.

We eventually arrived home at midnight, some nine full hours later than originally planned.

As I deplaned, I noticed the countless placards and banners boasting about the United/Continental merger. They all said the same thing: 'It's not who's merging that's exciting, but what's about to emerge.' Ha! I can tell you what's emerged: a third rate airline that can't get its act together.

Sadly, Continental is just the latest in a long line of brands that promise one sort of experience but deliver a totally different one. As a result, I've gone from being a brand ambassador to a vigilante.

So, caveat Continental. I'll be gunning for you, or United, or whatever it is you're now calling that steaming mess of a merged airline. Keep messing with me and I'll keep spreading news about your delays, disingenuous explanations and diverted flights.

Epilogue: when we met our driver at Newark Airport, he asked what had happened. I told him Newark Airport had been closed because of severe weather and we'd been diverted to Albany. 'Severe weather?' he asked incredulously. 'It hasn't rained a drop here all day long.'"

Jul 19

Where’s Harry S. Truman when you need him?

Passing the buckEmbattled media impresario Rupert Murdoch folded like an accordion today and blamed others for the phone-hacking scandal that's doing a major number on his empire. 

Speaking before an enraged British Parliament, Murdoch said he is not ultimately responsible for 'this fiasco'. Ha! Sound familiar?

Richard Nixon said he wasn't to blame for Watergate. Jeff Skilling pointed the finger at Andy Fastow for Enron's demise. And, Dennis Koslowski said his solid gold wastebasket, shower rods and bacchanalian parties on the Greek Islands were just part of the perks he deserved as Tyco's CEO.

Harry S. Truman must be spinning in his grave. Our nation's 33rd president, Truman was noted for assuming ultimate responsibility for his administration's successes and failures. In fact, instead of having a name plate on his desk, Truman's featured a sign that read, 'The buck stops here.'

Sadly, the buck never seems to stop anywhere with anyone anymore. From Anthony Weiner and Casey Anthony to Roger Clemens and Rupert Murdoch, we've become a society of finger pointers and blame duckers. We not only blame others for our mistakes but, in many cases, are allowed to literally get away with murder (well, at least, in Casey's case).

Murdoch's comments come as no surprise to me. And, like Joe Nocera of the Times, I'm delighted by the rich irony in seeing a scandal monger such as Murdoch caught up in the midst of scandal.

Murdoch may not pay for his years of abusive leadership and right-wing fanaticism, but his image and reputation will be forever tarnished by the News of the World scandal. And, for me at least, that's punishment enough. In fact, it might just be enough poetic justice to put a smile on old Harry's face if he were alive today.

Jul 18

New Life in the ER

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

Epidemic-nml The average hospital always promises one thing in its branding – such as exceptional care and  genuine compassion – but then rarely (or never!) delivers on that promise.   And, the emergency department seems to be the weakest link in any possible branding and the one area I dread most about any hospital. Unless you’re profusely bleeding from a major artery, chances are you’ll end up waiting hours (maybe even days!) before you’re even seen. 

However, I was pleasantly surprised with the changes that NYU Langone Medical Center in NYC recently made.  This past Thursday evening, my husband and I went with our adult son to the emergency department at NYU.  He had a condition that needed immediate medical attention but would not be considered life-threatening (thank goodness!) in order to be seen right away.  I was preparing myself for a very late night and was hoping we’d get home before sunrise.

When we walked into NYU’s ER, the first thing I noticed was no chaos.  Unfortunately, I’ve had my fair share of times in the emergency department, and your head starts to spin with the chaos, craziness and overcrowding.  But, this time, it was shockingly different.  It was quiet. Was I no longer in NYC?  They immediately had my son talk to the triage nurse and my husband and I sat down.  I noticed the chairs were completely different as well.  They were new chairs and, surprisingly, really comfortable.  Well, I thought, that’s good since we’ll probably be stuck here for hours.

My son sat down with us and we prepared to wait.  But, only after a few short minutes, they called his name.  We followed a gentleman down a long corridor to another wing in the hospital.  We were going to “Fast Track” – another area for less seriously ill or injured patients who would be seen right away versus waiting for hours.  Really?  I couldn’t believe it…this new area was also quiet and very organized.  My son was seen after a few minutes, and the doctor was terrific.  He spent a good deal of time with my son and was very compassionate.  We were in and out of the emergency department in about an hour-and-a-half.  Trust me… that’s record time and I was amazed.

So, kudos to NYU for reorganizing their emergency department to make triage more efficient and to prevent long hours of waiting for those who need medical attention but are not considered to be in a life-threatening situation.  We actually had a good experience in the emergency department, which I realize sounds like an oxymoron.  But, it’s not.  My perception of what an ER could be like has completely changed…for the better.  NYU eliminated the chaos, overcrowding and long hours by completely separating the serious from the less serious cases.  It seems so simple and obvious, but I’ve never seen this done before.

This experience was particularly interesting to me, both as a public relations professional and as a consumer.  At Peppercom, we conduct a proprietary audience experience audit for clients, which allows them to truly understand their brand’s experience in their customers’ shoes.  I would never even think to equate the word good and, even in this case, exceptional with an ER.  However, NYU is like the Zappos of emergency departments.  That’s probably the highest compliment I could give since I greatly admire how Zappos handles its customers.

I’m hoping NYU has started a new trend for the other emergency departments in NYC and throughout the country.  Congrats, NYU, for giving new life to the emergency department.