Nov 04

This can’t be good news for the Barcalounger

Img_2112-500x497Doctors and fitness experts have long espoused the benefits of an active lifestyle. But, as the statistics bear out, Americans have not only turned a deaf ear to the warnings, the number of obese, sedentary slugs has only grown.

Now comes a new study that shows more than 90,000 new cancer cases a year may be due to physical inactivity and prolonged periods of sitting. The American Institute for Cancer Research cites some 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 of colon cancer. That's enough people to fill the Rose Bowl!

The anti-sedentary news can't be good news for marketers who enable such inactivity. How should Barcalounger, for example, respond? Do they take the route of Big Tobacco and deny, deny, deny?

     – “The AICR study adds nothing new to the dialogue. We remain committed to providing the softest, most comfortable lounging experience possible for inert Americans.”

Or, do they go on the offensive and launch an attack ad against fitness and wellness?

     – “Who needs activity? Even triathletes die sooner or later. Kick back and ease your way through a shortened lifespan with our new, extra padded Barcalounger Deluxe (which comes equipped with fold-away trays, a built-in fridge AND airtight storage areas for those double cheeseburgers and fries you want to keep super fresh for the second half kick-off!).”

I've often wondered how I'd handle an offer to represent a product that either causes illness (i.e. tobacco) or enables obesity and inactivity (i.e. lounge chairs). The latter is obviously a no-brainer since it can be positioned as a lifestyle accessory for the active or inactive consumer.

But, representing Big Tobacco or the National Rifle Association would present a huge ethical problem for this blogger. I simply don't buy into the logic of PR firms who say they represent these merchants of death because “…every business deserves a right to tell its side of the story.” And, I also don't buy into the NRA's rant about Second Amendment rights and their mantra that 'Guns don't kill people. People kill people.' Yeah, sure. And, a Big Mac with cheese doesn't harden the arteries either. That's caused by an individual's DNA. Not.

In any event, I'll be interested in reading how, if at all, the enablers respond to the new statistics about the dangers of a sedentary life and sitting for a prolonged period of time. As for me, I've never been able to sit still, so the whole thing is a non-issue. As a matter of fact, I think I'll head to the gym right now.

Oct 26

One is the loneliest number

One of the immediate outcomes of the just published IBM Institute for Business Value's study of 1,734 chief marketing officers is a collective sigh of relief among CMOs who have reviewed it, says Carolyn Heller Baird, director, Global CRM Research Leader at the Institute.

GBS_IBVhero_930x300“The CMOs with whom we've shared the results tell us they're relieved to know they're not alone in helping their organizations cope with the fundamental shifts we're seeing in business,” observed Baird. “While we're still sifting through the data on an industry-by-industry basis, the CMOs are remarkably similar in terms of how they manage data, deliver value, foster lasting connections and measure results. In reviewing what their peers say, the CMOs feel validated and inspired.”

I can relate to that. As the CEO of an independent, midsized communications firm, I often feel alone in making decisions. So, I can empathize with the pressures that must weigh on the CMO of a Fortune 500 company.

And, while Baird says there are no dramatic differences between CMOs in the business-to-consumer and business-to-business spaces, she does see distinctions between chief marketing officers in emerging markets (i.e. Kenya, Croatia and Peru) vs. those in mature ones (i.e. The U.S., Germany and Japan).

“CMOs in emerging markets have fewer legacy issues and more flexibility. In many ways, they're starting from scratch,” Baird says. As a result, they can wear multiple hats and make multiple decisions. And, that has to be liberating.

Regardless of whether they find themselves in the Czech Republic or the United Kingdom, though, I have to believe every CMO wants to avoid the gaffe just made by their peer at Netflix. In fact, The New York Times says the corporation “…made a classic business mistake. In its reliance on data and long-term strategy, the company underestimated the unquantifiable emotions of subscribers who still want those little red envelopes, even if they forget to ever watch the DVD's inside.”

IBM confirmed that managing what they call 'the data explosion' was the top concern of CMOs and that many “struggle to develop customer insights because they primarily focus on understanding markets rather than individuals.”  I believe far too many marketing and corporate communications executives depend solely on data to drive their decisions. The smartest ones know a mix of gut instinct and intuition are just as important in deciding their marketing mix; as is the elementary, but often overlooked, solution of simply putting oneself in a customer's shows and experience the brand from the outside in.

I don't know if the Netflix CMO felt alone when he made a huge decision relying solely on data and yesterday's strategy, but he'll most certainly be alone in resurrecting his career. Before he starts the journey, though, he might want to read the IBM report. It may prevent a similar mistake down the road.

Oct 06

Experiencing the brand before creating the plan

I had the good fortune yesterday to address an audience of cable industry communications 
managers.

It was a panel discussion whose goal was to identify best practices for client-agency partnerships, understand the fast-changing media relations landscape and predict what's next.

BrandExperience I saw the panel as an opportunity to once again ask the marketing and PR types in the audience if they had ever put themselves in their customers' shoes and experienced the brand from the outside in. About half had done so.

I congratulated those who had and suggested that those who hadn't done so do so immediately.

I've come to believe it's impossible to create an effective communications plan unless you literally walk the walk and experience what your customer experiences.

For a cable industry communications executive, that would mean experiencing, say, The History Channel through each and every one of its online and offline touch points. And, it would mean putting oneself in every constituent audience's shoes.

Then, and only then, would a cable executive be able to craft the precise plan with which to engage in a conversation with each and every audience on THEIR terms. That's critical, because it's all about being where they are. "They" being the customer.

Too many organizations still rely solely on quantitative data to inform their branding and messaging communications. That's not only yesterday's approach, it's taking the easy way out.

Smart communicators are beginning to realize the nuances and insights to be gleaned from experiencing the brand BEFORE creating the plan. It may involve some heavy lifting but, trust me, the pain will be worth the gain. I should know. We put ourselves in our customers' shoes and, while the overall experience wasn't bad, we identified areas for improvement and have  tweaked our communications program accordingly.

If a PR firm can do it, so can a cable company. Or, any company for that matter. The longest journey begins with a single step.

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.

May 09

A little something for the al Qaeda operative in all of us

Article-0-0BF14C4E00000578-929_634x387 A little less than a week after the death of Osama bin Laden, New York-based Kuma Games has  introduced an Internet-based game called ‘Episode 107: The Death of Osama bin Laden.’ That’s nice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the free enterprise system, being first to market and all that, but check out this feature: game players can not only pretend to be members of the elite Navy Seals Team 6 that took down bin Laden, they can also choose to defend bin Laden. Yes, that’s right. Little Johnny can don a virtual robe and turban, pick up his AK-47 replica and begin wasting some of the storming Navy Seals operatives. That’s just so wrong in so many ways that it defies logic.

If I had lost a loved one on 9/11, or in one of the two wars that followed on its heels, I’d be planning to launch a personal Jihad against these bozos. And, I wouldn’t build-in an option for players to defend Kuma Games either.

Can you imagine your 11-year-old son, double-clicking on episode 107 link and yelling, “Hey mom, I’ll be down for dinner in a half hour or so. My al Qaeda mates and I have to disrupt this Navy Seals operation. It’s imperative we get bin Laden and his family safely away.”

Episode 107 is billed as the latest in a franchise of video games that recreate military missions, including the capture of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. There’s no indication if the Kuma Klan also provided an option for game players to defend Hussein and secret him away to another, new hiding place. But, they probably did. Nor is there any indication whether Kuma has created similarly-themed video games that enable players to say, whisk Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun away from their Berlin bunker in early May of 1945, or find an escape route from Elba that would provide Napoleon one last shot at conquering Europe and killing millions.

I’m not a child psychologist, but enabling an impressionable youngster to defend bin Laden might tend to soften the youngster’s views towards the mass murderer, no? And, in my mind, that could lead to any number of unintended, and very serious, real world consequences.

So, let me borrow a page out of the Ronald Reagan speech book and demand of Mr. Kuma (or whatever nut job runs the company) to: Take down that game!

Tip o' RepMan's Green Beret to Catharine "Goose" Cody for the idea for this post.

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 newhope360.com 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 supermarketguru.com 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?

Feb 14

Holy App!

Leave it to the Catholic Church to totally muck up its first foray into the wonderful world of 968131-dtevent-pope-apps1 iPhone applications.

In a desperate attempt to look cool and “with it,” the Church circumvented its usual backward, bureaucratic ways to launch an iPhone application that provides Catholics with best practices for confessing one’s sins. (Note: For the unenlightened, one must first confess one’s sins and be absolved by a priest before receiving Holy Communion).

The App not only contains a section for one to log previous sins (a neat feature, BTW), but also provides questions one should ask before entering the ‘confessional’ (a dark, scary little room inside a church where one kneels, recites one’s sins and is then given a list of prayers to recite to cleanse the soul).

Among the iPhone App questions are:

1.)  Do I not give God time every day in prayer?

2.)  Do I not seek to love Him with my whole heart?

3.)  Have I been involved with superstitious practices or have I been involved with the occult? (Note to Repman reader Peter Engel: only you can answer that question.)

For reasons known only to them, the Church then felt compelled to add one other question to its App; a question that was sure to enrage a key constituent audience: gays and lesbians. To wit: ‘Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?’  Needless to say, the response from gays and lesbians was immediate and understandably negative (insert link of story from Burlington, VT.).

Here’s my question about the iPhone App question: As it was preparing to launch the App in an effort to appear cutting-edge, what genius decided to add the ‘homosexual activity’ question? It immediately undermines the App’s 21st century, forward-looking credibility while unnecessarily alienating a key audience (and, I won’t comment on the obvious hypocrisy of the question in question).

The Catholic Church iPhone App provides a textbook example of how not to engage in social media. An organization must first listen to what’s being said in the blogosphere. Then, it should carefully engage in conversations when, and where, they’re happening on the web to see if their content is being accepted and passed along to others. Only then should an organization begin creating a platform such as an App.

The Church was either in a rush to bring its App to market or purposely decided to offend gays and lesbians with its pointed question. Either way, the Church is once again the big loser. In fact, they remind me of a religious version of the famous mob book authored by Jimmy Breslin and entitled, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

Jan 31

Sippin on some Sizzurp

Until this past week, I thought I had nothing in common with Hip Hop musicians or their 'songs'. 36mafia6 But then, felled by an absolutely hellacious ear and throat infection, I began a regimen of antibiotics and cough syrup (and, fell head-over-heels in love with a Hip Hop drug of choice: codeine).

I've always heard the best high came in a dentist's chair, courtesy of sweet air. But, I'm here to tell you that codeine-laced cough syrup is 'A number 1, top of the heap.' It numbs while it cures (and wouldn't that serve as an ideal brand promise for the syrup's manufacturer?)

It turns out that Hip Hop artists have known about codeine's amazing high all along (Silly me. How could I have doubted these artists for one second?).

Rappers, particularly those in the Southwest, absolutely adore cough syrup. They'll mix it with Sprite, Mountain Dew or Jolly Ranchers, and chug or snort the mixture until they're higher than the proverbial kite. One Hip Hop group in particular, 36 Mafia, has written a song about the experience, called, 'Sippin' on Some Sizzurp'.

Rappers have other names for sizzurp, including: lean, barre, purple jelly and Texas Tea. I'd add 'mule kick', to the list, because that's what I felt like after I'd swallowed a mere teaspoon (as directed, of course).

Hip Hop Nation: all is forgiven. I get it. I get you, I get your music and I now get at least one of your drugs of choice.

In fact, come to think of it, I've actually embraced two popular phrases used in the demi-monde that is Hip-Hop: 'Child, please' and 'Sippin' on some sizzurp.' One can teach an old dog new tricks.

I'll bet if he were still alive, the late Rick James would have made one slight alteration to his now classic, one-liner on the Dave Chappelle Show. He's have inserted 'codeine' for 'cocaine.'

Tip o' the hat to Chris "RepMan, Jr." Cody for this idea.

Nov 11

The image sent is not necessarily the image received

I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a book that made me laugh out loud with each and every new page. Jon Stewart’s Earth: A Visitor’s guide to the Human Race is one of those rarities. Written by Stewart and his staff, the book is intended for aliens who discover our planet long after we’ve perished. It’s intended to explain to the aliens what they’ve stumbled across.

Sections include: explanations on how our society was structured, our major religions formed and our bizarre culture created. The latter is beautifully captured in what Stewart calls his FAQs, or Frequent Alien Questions. For example:

Alien question: "The Acme company appears to have made low-quality products. How did they stay in business?"

Stewart: "Free shipping to remote desert locations."

Alien question: "You had the word Trump on many of your buildings. What did that word mean?"

Stewart: "A Trump was a demon who sometimes appeared to us in quasi-human form in order to fire us from jobs we never wanted in the first place."

One of my favorite sections is entitled, ‘Corporate Identity.’ It reads: "The choice of a proper brand logo was as crucial to a corporation as a nation’s flag or a religion’s gold-thing-you-wear-on-a-chain. It had to be visually appealing, but it did not have to have anything to do with what your company did." In other words, the image being sent by countless corporations wasn’t necessarily the image received by end users.

Here are three classic examples Stewart cites:

 GerberLogo

What you’d expect them to sell: White babies.   

What they sold: Baby food.

 

Anheuser-Busch 'Here's to Beer' :  

What you’d expect them to sell: Eagle traps.   

What they sold: Urine-flavored beer.

 

Bank_of_America_Logo

What you’d expect them to sell: Three-field crop rotation.

What they sold: Your own money back to you.

 

 

Loving Stewart’s suggestions so much, I decided to submit my own: 

Kfc-logo-high-quality

What you’d expect them to sell: Antebellum plantations.  

What they sold: Cholesterol-laden fried chicken.

 

  Alaska Airlines Logo

What you’d expect them to sell: Grumpy Eskimos.  

What they sold: Air travel to and from places that had no Eskimos.

 

Mr_clean_logo

What you’d expect them to sell: West Village bouncers.

What they sold: Floor cleaner that could probably double as rocket fuel if you Aliens ever find yourself in a pinch.

How about you Repman readers? Do you know any corporate logos that have absolutely nothing to do with explaining the type of product the company sells? I’m all ears (which, FYI to future alien readers, means "I’m welcoming readers to submit their ideas.")

 

Aug 19

The case of the missing luggage

I’m not sure if it was my Russian adventure, the impending 15th anniversary of Peppercom or Doc_suitcase some late Summer malaise, but I’ve been flooded recently by obscure memories (i.e. the crazy client who insisted we become 18 percent diverse or else, the ill-fated pool party, etc.).

My dusty synapses fired up once again the other day when I spied a PR news brief announcing that a certain luggage company had retained a new PR firm. You see, Ed and I knew this company once upon a time. We knew it very well.

Nearly two decades ago, we toiled for a now defunct, integrated marketing shop called Earle Palmer Brown. EPB was the antithesis of our other employer, Brouillard (i.e. if the latter resembled the Politburo, the former was more akin to what Ed’s charming and vivacious wife, Pamela, liked to call ‘Romper Room.’). The inmates ran the asylum at EPB. And, because, Ed, Bill Southard (our boss) and I were bringing in loads of new business, we were pretty much allowed to indulge any and all excesses.

All of which brings me back to the luggage company. At the time, they were a client on the advertising side of the office. In order to create ads for the client, our ad group needed to photograph the product. So, they grabbed an unused storage room and filled it with the latest, greatest stuff (note: the luggage was also loaned to art directors and photo editors of style magazines for use as props in their shoots).

One day, when the account manager was away on vacation, someone in the PR group secured a key to the product storage room. Needless to say, it emptied out faster than a disappointed group of Mets fans leaving CitiField. Everyone grabbed one, two or more items of their liking. It was positively Bacchanalian in its excess.

Now, fast forward to the following week when the vacationing account guy returned, unlocked the product loan door and went totally ballistic. He sent an agency-wide note letting everyone know about the theft, suggesting he knew exactly who had taken it (our rollicking PR group had built quite an image and reputation by then) and declared that no questions would be asked if the merchandise was promptly returned. Sad to say, it wasn’t. The account guy complained to senior management, who promptly told him to back off. He did a little dance with the client and told them uncooperative art directors and photo editors had refused to return the product loans. Amazingly, the room was quickly restocked and the office returned to its normal state of complete bedlam.

In retrospect, the case of the missing luggage is an interesting morality tale. It spotlights the reality that far too many management teams ‘overlook’ inappropriate behavior from solid performers. Just look at Wall Street or Enron or BP. Moral and ethical behavior routinely takes a back seat to profits (which is why we’re seeing such a plethora of crises). At EPB, the PR group were the high rollers, so no one was going to mess with us about a few missing garment bags.

I’d like to think that Ed and I took the best and worst of what we experienced at EPB and Brouillard, and created a happy medium at Peppercom. It also helps that we haven’t represented luggage manufacturers and been tempted to ‘borrow’ a sleek, black briefcase or two.

We’re older and wiser now (even if Ed hasn’t aged particularly well). And, I’d like to think we’d crack down hard and fast on any behavior remotely resembling the Romper Room days of EPB- which should be good news for any luggage manufacturers out there in search of PR agency support. Your bags are safe with us.