May 18

We need the Navy Seals to take down the bin Laden of Burgers

Some 55Presentation10 leading health care professionals and organizations have signed their names to a  full-page advertisement running today in six national newspapers. It's a call to action pleading with McDonald's to stop its sleazy, subversive marketing to kids and to retire their damnable corporate icon, Ronald McDonald.

Fuggedaboutit! The ad won't work because McDonald's won't stop marketing to kids. They can't. The impact on future sales would be too horrible to contemplate. (Could you imagine life without plus-sized families wolfing down Big Macs five times a week? How positively un-American.)

Instead, America's health groups should get serious, mobilize their monies, marshal their troops, and declare war on McDonald's. And, public enemy number one of what I'm calling 'Operation: Waistline' should be Ronald McDonald himself.

In my mind, Ronald's the bin Laden of Burgers, the Pol Pot of Poor Diets and the Hitler of Healthy Living.

And, I'd engage the same elite Seal 6 team that took out bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound for this surgical strike. Why not? They've got a proven plan and are ready to roll.

I'd have the Seals initiate a midnight raid on Mickey D's Oakbrook, Illinois, headquarters. I'll bet they'd catch Ronald watching the tube (hopefully nothing worse than PG-13 content). I picture him lying in bed, wearing just his red overalls. He'll have an arm draped around one or more of his morbidly obese wives while puffing on a cigarette and scarfing down some fries and a chocolate shake.

As was the case with bin Laden, I'd tell the Seals to take him down ASAP. Who knows what a cornered corporate icon might do in a moment of desperation? Waste him. Plus, no one wants Ronald McDonald alive and put on trial. The guy's a real charmer and that red and yellow costume might just sway a jurist or two. No, I'd tell the Seals to put one bullet just above Ronald's eye.

Then, let's bury him in an undisclosed location in Lake Michigan. We don't want McDonald's fanatics making a shrine out of Ronald's final resting spot.

The Mob likes to say if you 'cut off the head, the body will die.' I think health care professionals need to adopt the same strategy with McDonald's. Whack Ronald and watch our nation's obesity epidemic (and waistlines) slowly, but surely, contract.

One caveat to the Seals, though. Do yourselves a public relations favor and don't adopt an American Indian code word such as Geronimo for Ronald. There's no need to undermine the results by alienating an important minority.

So, let's get to work. Let's infiltrate Ronald's inner circle, use some advanced terror techniques to determine his daily habits, get some spy satellites to focus their cameras on his compound and get this deed done. If Obama doesn't want to issue the final execute command, I will.

Ronald McDonald must die if America is to live. It's go time!!!!

May 05

Krispy Kreme is pleased to announce we’ll be awarding special prizes to any runners suffering strokes or heart attacks during today’s run

Polls_KrispyKremeCake2_1755_385816_answer_3_xlargeThere’s gross. There’s negligent. There’s just plain stupid. And, then there’s the Norcross High  School Relay for Life.

Intended to raise money for charity (which is always a good, wise and noble thing), this particular race is underwritten by Krispy Kreme doughnuts. And, if there’s one foodstuff that makes a Big Mac seem healthy in comparison, it has to be a Krispy Kreme doughnut. In fact, I have to believe the average KK doughnut packs more calories than an AK-47 does bullets. And, I can only imagine the immediate and profound damage inhaling one, if not six, of these caloric-laden mounds of mush must have on the cardiovascular system.

But, why should a runner’s health, nutrition and wellness concerns stop Norcross High School and Krispy Kreme from staging a race that requires competitors to eat a half dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts halfway through!  Are they serious? Never mind the long-term damage. Ever try running on a full stomach? It’s not fun. Ever see The Office episode in which Dwight and Michael conspire to ensure the latter wins the Dundler-Mifflin 5k race by having Michael load up on carbohydrates by consuming a plate of pasta just before race time? It wasn’t pretty.

Krispy Kreme’s race sponsorship deserves immediate enshrinement in the Repman Marketing Hall of Shame. It also belongs on Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks segment (if such a segment existed).

On the other hand, if Krispy Kreme can sponsor runs, why can’t Lucky Strike cigarettes sponsor long-distance cycling races? And, how about Absolut Vodka awarding cash prizes to mountaineers who can consume a fifth of vodka en route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro? The possibilities are endless.

So, how about it, Rep readers. Gimme some of your suggestions on corporate sponsorship ideas from hell. We did well with the recent soy industry re-positioning taglines. But, that was a walk in the park compared to this atrocity. So, let’s have at it. And, if possible, please consume six doughnuts before posting your ideas. Distended stomachs can produce a lot of hot air.

And  a big starter’s gun shoutout to Greg Schmalz for this post idea.

May 03

There’s no joy in Soyville

598tThe market for soy food and beverages dropped a whopping 16 percent in the last two years,  according to a report from market researcher, Mintel.

Soy watchers blame rising prices, new alternatives and the fickleness of health-conscious consumers. I'd add one other ingredient: taste. Yuck!

Having dabbled with such foodstuffs as soy milk and soy ice cream over the years, I can personally attest to being part of the 16 percent drop. You couldn't pay enough me to buy soy stuff.

The pocketbook's also playing a huge role in soy's demise. When times are good, consumers will pay extra for what they perceive to be a healthy alternative. They'll also buy ‘green' products because, well, who doesn't want to reach out and give Mother Earth a great, big hug?

But, when the Great Recession hit, yucky-tasting, high priced food began gathering dust on store shelves. Ditto with all those higher-priced green products. I've always believed that, whether it's a global multinational or a multi-tasking housewife, green is a nice-to-have, and not a must-have. And, when sacrifices have to be made, a nice-to-have is the first to go. (Note: That same Repman truism holds for PR in a down economy.)

So, what's a soy boy to do? Well, according to the Ad Age article, the industry's not doing much to rally the troops. First, they've been extremely slow to react to what Carlotta Mast of says has “…been a lot of innovation in the vegetarian and vegan markets.” Second, says Ad Age, the industry has had “…to deal with conflicting news reports about cancer.” Ouch. Smart, fleet-footed competitors, yucky taste, high prices AND a possibility of an increased risk of breast-cancer recurrence in survivors? Talk about the perfect storm.

Phil Lempert, who runs summed it up beautifully: “Gluten-free products are fueling their own growth through innovation. Soy got lazy.”

So, we've got a lazy, yucky-tasting, high-priced product linked to cancer whose competition is eating its lunch. Or, we've got what we in PR call an opportunity.

So, putting on my branding hat, let me take a stab at a few re-positioning campaign themes for the soy industry:

– 'Soy stinks. Life is short. Let's both move on.'
– 'Soy: We'll be back' (with the Governator as its new spokesman)
– 'Tastes bad. Costs more. There we've said it.' (This might be a nice co-branding opportunity with Big Tobacco, BTW).

I'd love to hear suggested campaign themes from Rep readers, especially Lunch Boy. Hey Lunch? Do you do soy?

Mar 01

Seems to me a McFuneral makes an even more logical line extension

Leave it to those out-of-the-box marketing whiz kids at McDonald's to come up with yet another Mcfuneral-home diabolically clever way to increase per store traffic and revenues.

According to The New York Times, McDonald's is the first fast food chain in Hong Kong to host engagement parties, weddings and receptions in their restaurants. Yes, you read that right. People are being married at the local Mickey D's.

For as little as $1,280, a happy Hong Kong couple can have a McEngagement, McWedding and/or McReception at a Golden Arches establishment. According to the Times, the price includes food and drinks for 50 people. There's a cake made of stacked apple pies (yummy) and gifts for the guests (most likely Toy Story 3 figurines). Mickey D employees dress in black suits (highly appropriate since all those empty calories will undoubtedly shorten the life of more than one reveler). They greet guests at the entrance, usher them to the signature book and deliver food. (“Would you like ketchup and mustard with your fries, sir?”).

The only shortcoming is a lack of alcohol. But, says the Times, that doesn't seem to bother anyone. Instead, couples toast with something sugary, because of the implications of sweetness in the Chinese belief system. I have to believe after downing a couple of super-sized soft drinks, the revelers are literally bouncing off the walls (but, the sugar crash afterwards has to be positively brutal.)

It seems to me McDonald's is onto something here. But, why limit it to engagements, weddings and receptions? I think this should be a cradle-to-grave marketing program. The same company that first lured your kids to a lifetime of empty calories and is now helping you tie the knot should be there to ease you into the afterlife as well.

I think a McWake and McFuneral make perfect sense since, in so many instances, the clogged arteries and fatal diseases associated with obesity were caused in part by Mickey D and its fast food cousins.

I'll bet one of the reasons Burger King constantly churns advertising and PR firms and just fired its latest chief marketing officer after only six months is because they simply get out-marketed by Ronald & Co.

McWeddings are a brilliant idea, and I and just imagine the exchange of vows:

Rabbi: “Do you Pamela MacFall take Edward to be your lawfully wedded husband in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, all the days of your life? Oh, and do you want the burger and fries for here or to go?”

Feb 03

Sorry kids. But, you can’t blame genes for those tight jeans

A just-released study conducted by the University of Michigan of some 1,000 sixth graders in Obese_boy the state showed proper diet, regular exercise and less television viewing had a dramatic effect on lessening childhood obesity. The study is among the first to prove that even if obesity is linked to one's genetics, it can be combated with a little common sense. In other words, obese kids and their parents will need to find other excuses to explain their bulging waistlines.

Michigan is faring poorly in its battle of the bulge. The state ranks 41st in the nation for highest childhood obesity rates, and a staggering 21 percent of Detroit's kids qualify as obese. That means one in five is likely to suffer weight-related health problems, placing a further strain on our nation's already beleaguered health care system.

U.S. childhood obesity also reinforces a global perspective that America is a lazy, bloated, self-centered superpower whose best days are past.

We still have time to change our wanton ways, though:

– First, we need to stop blaming obesity on genetics. Statements such as: “Why bother dieting and exercising when my DNA has already determined I'll be morbidly obese by the age of 21?” should be countered with the Michigan study facts.

– Second, the government needs to push our nation's public schools to do a better job of educating kids about the importance of exercise and diet.

– Third, parents need to step up to the plate (figuratively, not literally) and better manage their kids' lifestyles (two hours a day sitting in front of a television or computer screen is unacceptable).

– Last, and certainly not least, fast food makers need to stop marketing their mega-whopper, calorie-laden, artery-clogging meals in friendly, wholesome ways (replete with smiling clowns). I think the surgeon general should insist these bacchanalian feasts carry warning labels to the effect: 'This Happy Meal will make you and your body unhappy. It will add empty calories, help raise cholesterol levels and lead to a host of diseases, including diabetes.'

It pains me to see what's happening to our nation's youth. At least, they no longer have the genes/jeans excuse. I guess that's a step in the right direction. Now, kids, it's time to put down the Cheetos, turn off the tube and start getting the old ticker pumping away. You may be saving your own, and the nation's, health and well-being in the process.

Dec 14

The W Deserves an F

Robinsonjack_Tomlin11 Today's guest post is by Ann Barlow, President, Peppercom West.

If you’ve stayed at a W hotel, you know how hard they work to be hip.  I was at one for three  nights this past week, and when I tell you the priority they gave coolness over service wore a little thin by the time we left, I’m being kind. 

was fortunate to go to the first TEDWomen conference in Washington, D.C.  As usual with these things, the conference had ‘deals,’ (there’s no such thing in that neighborhood) in this case at the Marriott, the Willard and the W.  The Marriott was sold out, and the Willard was a little pricier than the W, so I chose the W. 

  When you arrive, the bellmen are all in black shirts and  pants, so initially it’s not easy to spot them.  (I can’t imagine how that could possibly work in NY, where black is the signature color.)  At any rate, we were shown to our room, which looked eerily like the inside of a refrigerator.  White drawers, a bluish brushed glass on shower, white bed. I half-expected the headboard to read ‘crisper.’

The shower is a good example of hip over what’s actually good for the guest.  The bluish, but nonetheless transparent, glass faces the room and entranceway so if you are showering when, say, room service walks in, you’ll be revealing more than your preferences for tea over coffee.  What is the point?

In the bathroom, there are the requisite toiletries, tissues, towels and robe.  There’s a little white bag hanging next to the robe labeled ‘plan B.’ What’s in this mysterious bag?  A roll of toilet paper.  Seriously?  Couldn’t they just put an extra roll under the counter and be done with it?
The worst, though, is when you want to call for anything from a wake-up call to housekeeping to room service.  In what must have seemed like a great idea at the time, some marketing guru decided that the guest should dial ‘1’ no matter what they needed, and they would be served. 

Three problems with that:
1.    They answer with an impossibly cheerful ‘Whatever, whenever! How can I help you?’  Try being greeted that way more than twice and see if your nerves don’t begin to fray.
2.    About half the time, the line is busy, especially since the same people who answer also man the front desks.
3.    Because they wear so many hats, the Whatever Whenever people sometimes forget to do what they said they would for you.  When that happens, the Whatever Whenever greeting makes you want to go through the phone at them.

One of several cases in point:  We asked for a wake-up call at 7 am.  The Whatever lady asked if we would like a 7:15 follow-up call.  I thought that was a great idea, because being on West Coast time (we’d flown in from California), I knew it wouldn’t be easy to wake up.  So I said yes, please.  She asked if we wanted breakfast, and I said no thank you.

Well, they must have taken the Whenever part a bit too seriously, because the wake-up call never came.  We woke up at 9:30.  My husband missed his 10 am meeting in Reston, and I was late to register for the opening day of the conference. If that had happened the second or third morning, the results would have been disastrous. We weren’t pleased. 

I want to point out here that the hotel did its best to make things right, taking $200 off our bill and sending up wine and cheese.  And the next morning when apparently they once again took Whenever a little too much to heart and showed up late with our breakfast, they comped it.

The point is, trying hard to be hip at the expense of service is so 2008.  In this kind of economy – and to my way of thinking, in any economy – why not focus your energies on good customer service instead of being cool?  Turn down the ‘unz unz’ beat in the lobby so that the concierge can hear your question and the bartender hear your drink order.   Let the operator direct my call to housekeeping or room service.  I’ll sacrifice the one-touch saccharine greeting for knowing that my request will be honored.

This is hardly the first time I’ve stayed at a W.  No doubt, the hotel chain will say, ‘whatever,’ but whenever do I intend to stay at a W again?  Never. 

Sep 20

You want skin with your coffee?

It's somehow comforting to know terrible customer service isn't the sole domain of New Jersey Panera1 Transit. It's actually alive and well in tony Brookline, Massachusetts, where the local Panera eatery may employ the most illiterate employees north of Secaucus Junction.

We frequent the Coolidge Corner Panera whenever we visit Repman, Jr.  (who lives nearby and pursues his master's degree in history at the white hot Northeastern University).

So, our dismal customer experience this past Sunday morning was in no way unique. Allow me to explain.

While it boasts a Peet's or Starbucks-like environment replete with soft jazz music, overstuffed chairs and Kindle-toting patrons, Panera's similarity to the higher-end chains ends there.

Once one survives a long wait on line, one places an order that must, repeat, must fall strictly within the guidelines of the menu. So, for example, if one prefers his egg whites without a bagel, the conversation quickly deteriorates faster than a Mets' fan's hopes in late Spring.

“You no want bagel?” the counter attendant asked me. “No,” I replied. “Just the eggs. Thanks.” He shook his head. “Not on menu. What type bagel?” I tried explaining my desire for bagel-free egg whites, but he continued to resist.

Finally, after a moment or so, he shouted, “Margie!”

Out strode a middle-aged woman who clearly knew the ropes. “What's the issue, sweetie?” She asked me. I explained there was no real issue, just a desire to be bagel free. She sighed, shook her head in a disapproving way, whispered something into the attendant's ear and, magically, my order was placed.

Next came my wife's trial by fire. Her order was simpler: a walnut raisin muffin and large coffee with skim milk. “You want skin with coffee?” The attendant asked incredulously. “No,” said my wife, “skim milk.” The server was completely baffled. “Skin?” Being the provocateur that I am, I stepped forward and added, “Yeah, and would you mind throwing in a finger or two, a spleen and some toenails?” This wasn't a language barrier, mind you. The attendant spoke English. He simply didn't, or wouldn't, respond to the request.

Back came Margie. If looks could kill, Ang and I would be dead on arrival. “What's the issue this time?” She sniffed. My wife said she wanted skim milk with her coffee. Margie didn't answer. Instead, she just pointed behind us to a partially obscured stand containing various types of milk and cream.

We grabbed our food and sat down, shaking our heads at yet another horrific user experience. While it was conveniently located to my son's spacious bachelor pad, we decided to place Panera on our endangered species list.

When will brands understand that customer service has become the new public relations? Billboards outside the Brookline Panera boast of its steaming hot coffee, wide assortment of bagels, croissants and breakfast fare. And, of course, the billboards come replete with photographs of smiling customers.

My visceral reaction to the marketing materials was similar to the one I experience whenever an NJT conductor announces an indefinite delay, but doesn't bother to add why it was caused or how long it would last.

Until, and unless, brands begin closing the gaps between what their marketing messages boast and what an end user experiences, they'll continue to lose customers (and, all the time, be at a complete loss as to the exact reason why).

We went into Panera hungry for breakfast. We left feeling like a combination of Jack Nicholson's character in 'Five Easy Pieces' and some sort of real-world Hannibal Lecter, who'd just ordered skin with their coffee.

So, note to Rep, Jr.: track down a new eatery in Coolidge Corner. Panera has bungled its last order for the Cody Clan. Oh, and I'll take an eyebrow to go with my egg whites.

Sep 01

Will the Big Mac cause America to lose future wars?

In what may the most telling sign yet that our society is in a deep, and perhaps permanent, Fat-soldier decline, comes word that the U.S. Army has dramatically altered its fitness and basic training requirements for new recruits. Why? Because they can't handle it. A jaw-dropping front-page New York Times article reports a 70 percent increase in recruit drop outs between 1998 and 2008 because, as an Army spokesperson pointed out, the combination of a sedentary lifestyle, the reduction of gym classes in public schools due to budget cuts and, yes, good ol' fast food has created a generation of overweight, out-of-shape teenagers. It's no exaggeration to say the Big Mac is playing a key role in undermining our nation's security here and abroad.

In an effort to retain anyone remotely fit, the Army has dramatically altered its physical training regimen for the first time in history. Get this: they've dropped sit-ups and long runs from their training. How sad is it that the average Repman reader can probably bang out more push-ups and run a longer distance than the typical American teen?

There's something strangely symmetrical about America's decades-long decline. Initially, we saw it with our kids' test scores, particularly in math and science. Reports showed the very best engineers, the ones who will be inventing next generation technology, all seem to be coming from India or Asia. Many attend America's top universities since Stanford, Harvard, et al, are still among the world's elite. But, the newly-minted grads quickly return to their place of birth and apply their newfound acumen to solving a different country's technology challenges.

Now, we're seeing the result of years of physical and nutritional neglect coming home to roost (that last line was a salute to our nation's farmers who, as Repman readers will recall, are thought of more highly than PR types).

It's getting to the point where our kids not only can't outthink the competition, they can't outfight them. With each passing day, I'm starting to better understand what the average Roman citizen must have felt circa 476 A.D.

The saddest thing about teenage obesity is that it's solvable. But, there's really no one to hold accountable. Who will force parents to prepare better meals (and steer the kids away from Mickey D's)? And, if the kids aren't exercising in school because of budget cutbacks, how do we encourage them to embrace fitness? And, if Nintendo and Sony continue to churn out reality-based, slash-and-burn video games that keep the teens glued to their computers, how will they burn calories? Maybe the industrial design company IDEO can create a fat-burning mouse.

This is a sad, sad state of affairs. I, for one, am totally embarrassed. I think I'll go climb a mountain to burn off the stress.