Feb 08

Designed to Fail.

It seems that every new day brings with it another egregious self-inflicted crisis caused by racially and gender-insensitive marketers.

The most recent examples are the truly horrific gaffes committed by Adidas and Gucci, respectively;

How could anyone think this was okay?

“There are somethings that just don’t make sense in life; Adidas celebrating black history month with this shoe is one example”

While the in-house marketing team and agency partners are unquestionably at fault for their lack of social awareness, I think the real genesis of these blunders lies with the designers and engineers.

These are the uber cool and uber insulated types who are constantly trying to come up with the hippest, sleekest and most cutting-edge sneakers, sweaters and widgets.

Having worked with designers and engineers alike, I know they live within their own ivory towers. They obsess over trends, technology and ease-of-use, but are oblivious to the larger societal issues rocking our world. As a result, a Gucci designer will create a way cool addition to an existing sweater without realizing that, when the add-on is added-on, it looks like someone in blackface.

And who else but an Adidas designer would come up with an all-white sneaker to celebrate Black History Month? (Note: I’ve alerted Adidas that they’ve just won the coveted Repman Award for the most tone-deaf brand in the world).

So here’s my solution to the problem: immediate diversity & inclusiveness training for product designers and engineers.

It seems to me that, if the designers and engineers are given the proper training, there will be far fewer opportunities for their marketing brethren to create a totally unnecessary cause celebre.

That said, stay tuned for next week’s self-inflicted brand misstep. 😎

Jan 16

It’s a close shave

No matter how one analyzes Gillette’s controversial new campaign “Is this the best a man can get?” it’s fraught with uncertainties. And it most certainly has further divided an already divided country.

Truly the best a man can get?

First, though, a tip of the hat (or razor) to Gillette’s management for having the courage to double down on its purpose and values. But have they? Or is the campaign a mere ploy or stunt as some detractors claim whose only goal is to drive sales?

I think there are several factors to weigh when analyzing the Gillette campaign:

1) Is alienating a significant percentage of the male shaving market worth the risk of taking a stand and saying the right thing? We asked that very question of 50 CCOs and CMOs we interviewed in a joint research study with the Institute for Public Relations.

One CCO, who managed a global manufacturing company’s marketing spend, echoed the comments of most when he stated, “No matter what you say you WILL alienate a percentage of your stakeholders. I’d much prefer to go on record and double down on our purpose in the wake of a societal crisis than remain silent.”

2) Consistency: Nike’s outstanding campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick won countless awards and witnessed a serious uptick in sales. But, as bold as it was, Nike’s campaign was consistent with its track record (pun intended) of partnering with controversial, outspoken athletes. As a result, the campaign was authentic to the core. Gillette has no such track record and, as the WashPo article indicates, has long profiled macho men in previous campaigns. So, there’s no sense of continuity in my mind. The campaign was a complete 180 for the brand. I think that’s why, when the dust settles, Nike’s post-Kaepernick sales increase will far surpass that of Gillette’s.

3) There but for the grace of god go I. Suppose, just suppose, that Gillette management should be accused of a #MeToo scandal of their own?

That scenario played out in the months following BP’s launch of its “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, extolling their multiple contributions to the environment. Sure enough, a few months later, BP found itself at the epicenter of the Gulf oil spill disaster (and became the butt of endless late night talk show host jokes).

When they said, “think outside the barrel,” I don’t think they meant the Gulf Coast.

I do hope that, in Gillette’s case, HR has done its due diligence to ensure there aren’t any 15 or 20-year-old harassment claims against the current executive team. If such an event were to unfold, it would be beyond catastrophic and underscores the risks a brand takes when it creates it own societal crisis by taking a stand on a societal crisis.

We live in a brave new world littered with myriad societal minefields ranging from illegal immigration and mass school shootings to environmental roll-backs and, yes, #MeToo scandals.

Taking a stand in the immediate aftermath of a societal crisis is the right thing for a purpose-driven organization to do.

It remains to be seen if Gillette’s gamble to create a crisis within a crisis will play out the way they hope.

 

 

Oct 27

What a REAL Steve Jobs presentation must have been like

Wednesday's CommPR.Biz contains a blog authored by Makovsky's Gene Marbach and entitled, "The Art of the Presentation (and What I Learned from Steve Jobs).

Moses-Jobs72As might be expected, the blog contains all the smart things great presenters already know (i.e. Jobs strict adherence to The KISS principle, his not relying solely on PowerPoint slides, etc.). And clearly, in his public performances, Jobs was, indeed, a master presenter.

But, as is now finally becoming abundantly clear, the real Steve Jobs was a total perfectionist who terrorized everyone from Apple employees to hapless restaurant waitresses. By all reports, Jobs didn't suffer fools gladly; he actually pulverized the bejesus out of them.

So, knowing the real Steve Jobs for what he was, I wonder what one of his REAL internal presentations at Apple must have been like…

Scene: A large auditorium at Apple headquarters. Lights dim. Spotlight picks Jobs as he strides across the stage to thunderous applause.

Jobs raises his hand, asking for quiet: "Shut up, you worthless slugs and pay attention!" (Note: This is a superb technique with which to make an immediate audience connection.)

Jobs:  "Before I begin, there are a few ground rules even you simpletons will grasp. No talking. No arms folded or legs crossed. You in the first row, you're fired! That'll teach you to keep your legs crossed. Idiot! Now, the rest of you, listen up: you inhale and exhale on my commands only, got it? Now, slide one."

Slide One shows a classic portrayal of god in heaven with Steve's head superimposed on the body.

Jobs: "Excellent. This is just in case you had any doubts about my ultimate authority." (Note: Here's another tried and true presentation technique since Jobs establishes his credentials right up front.)

Slide Two shows an oh-so-clever, uber-cool, new type of communications device.
Jobs: "What you incredibly fortunate rabble are now viewing is the new iJobs. Quite simply, it is the greatest product ever invented. It will end war, world hunger and poverty. And it has some pretty neat apps too." (Note: A superb presentation technique. Rather than waste his precious time on features Jobs, instead, focuses on the new product's benefits.)

Slide Three shows the mushroom cloud that rose above Hiroshima in the moments after the first atomic bomb was dropped.

Jobs: "This is our competition. This is what you will do to our competition. And, if you don't, this is what your career will look like. Now, go out and sell, you morons!" (Note: What a superb way to quickly wrap up his remarks, motivate the audience and also suggest possible outcomes if they don't succeed.)

So, in just three slides and two minutes, we can see how masterful Steve Jobs was at presentation techniques. Like Makovsky's Marbach, I've sure learned something from Steve Jobs. Fear and retribution are powerful motivators and can make any presentation a total home run.

And, now, as Mr. Jobs might say if he were addressing you, go back to leading your lives of quiet desperation.

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 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 11

Beating them to the punch

Ogilvy PR just fired the California High-Speed Rail Authority. In so doing, the firm walked away  from a four-and-a-half year, $9mm contract.

I-dontaaa Ogilvy fired the client after hearing through the grapevine that some CHSRA officials weren't pleased with the work and planned to terminate the agency relationship.

  This is big news for two reasons:

A) Ogilvy PR walked away from a huge budget. Regardless of the rumors being circulated, it takes serious guts to walk away from something that big without first putting up a fight.

B) The Daily Dog reported the news. PR trades cover 'reverse firings' less often than Fox runs positive pieces about the Obama Administration.

So, three cheers for Ogilvy PR and The Daily Dog.

Agencies seldom find about impending terminations in advance. But it does happen. I'll never forget the time it happened to me.

We were representing a tech company at the height of the dotcom craze. As was usually the case at the time, the client paid us a serious monthly retainer, expected 24×7 access to our team, routinely mistreated them and began complaining about poor results about three days into the relationship.

Since that sort of client behavior was de rigueur in those crazy, hazy days, I didn't think much of it. We were growing at a 100 percent clip annually, so we just assumed such behavior came with the turf.

That was, until, I interviewed a prospective employee. At that point, talent was so scarce most agencies were hiring pretty much anyone who could walk and chew gum at the same time. This particular guy could. So, as I was wrapping up the interview, I told him he'd be working on the brand new, high maintenance, dotcom account. “Oh, I know them well. We just pitched them,” he said in response.

I smiled. “Yeah,” I said, “They told us we'd beaten four or five very good firms.” He shook his head. “No. I mean we JUST pitched them earlier this week.”

After my anger had subsided and I verified the facts, I called the client. As was her wont, she began the call with a complaint, “Oh, hi, Steve. You know, you guys never sent yesterday's end-of-day report. That's unacceptable.” I cut her off at the pass. “Diane,” I asked, “Are you interviewing other agencies?” Dead silence.

She finally coughed and said, “Ah, yes.” She tried to continue, but I cut her off again. “Then, this relationship is over. You're fired. I'll e-mail the termination notice this afternoon.”

Man, that felt good. And, I hope the fine folks at Ogilvy PR are feeling good right now despite the loss in fees. I respect agencies that walk away from badly behaving clients. And, employees respect managers with the chutzpah to do the right thing. Now, all we need is the trade press to provide some crack investigative reporting like The Daily Dog just did.

Jul 06

Corporate Social Irresponsibility: PR’s next BIG thing

What do brands such as 7-11, Armour and Hooters have in common? They all sponsor competitive binge-eating contests. Slide1 In case you've somehow missed it, competitive binge eating is the next new thing. Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs pioneered the caloriefest and now lots of other brands are following suit (and setting a horrific example for a nation already beset by obesity and weight-related illnesses).

All of which spells opportunity for some enterprising public relations entrepreneur. In fact, I'll bet a quarter pounder with cheese that there's some latter-day, bizarro world version of Carol Cone just salivating over the revenue potential. (Note: Carol Cone is widely recognized in PR circles for pioneering cause marketing and corporate social responsibility programs. Today, nearly every organization purports to 'do good' and some actually do.)

But, back to the business development opportunity. This past July 4th weekend, Joey 'The Jaws' Chestnut won his fifth consecutive Nathan's hot dog eating contest at Coney Island by consuming 62 dogs in 10 minutes (@ 397 calories per frank, Jaws inhaled some 24,614 calories in 600 seconds. I gag just looking at those numbers).

I'm also thrilled to report that Sonya Thomas won Nathan's first-ever women's competition by scarfing down 40 dogs in the same 10 minutes. I say thrilled because now women can't point to this obscenity as yet another example of 'stupid guy things.'

By winning their respective competitions, Chestnut and Thomas automatically become members of the Major League Eating Hall of Fame. For you non-foodies, MLE is the official governing body of binge eating and includes such other superstar athletes as:

– Don Lerman, who holds a world's record for consuming SIX POUNDS of baked beans in one minute and 48 seconds (note to self: do NOT stand downwind of Big Don).

– Cookie Jarvis, who shoveled down six and two-thirds pounds of linguini at one sitting (and, I'll bet she remained seated for some time afterwards. I wouldn't be able to move for a week).

– Takeru Kobayoshi, who sucked down 57 cow brains in 15 minutes (something tells me Kobayoshi-san didn't have much category competition, though. "The cow brain-eating contest? Hell no. I'm here to throw back some bratwurst.").

A cursory glance at the World Eating League's website reveals such major sponsors as Heinz and Pepto-Bismol. Heinz ketchup and mustard has to be the K-Y Jelly of binge-eating. I can't believe anyone can taste anything after, say, the 41st dog has inched its way past the trachea. It's all about lubrication at that point.

Pepto's marketing spend is a no-brainer. But where are Tums, Immodium and, of course, Scott Tissue?

And, how, exactly do the makers of Heinz and Pepto explain their sponsorships in annual reports? "In another area of cause marketing, Your Company once again contributed $1 million to sponsor the World Eating League. Management and directors alike believe obesity is not a problem but, rather, an opportunity that will provide immediate shareholder growth (and girth)."

I jest of course. These companies should be ashamed of themselves. So, too, should the competitors, who actually believe they're athletes. I always thought athletes burned calories, not consumed them.

The real losers though, as always, are our nation's kids. I can just picture 12-year-old, 200-pound Johnny or Sally Ann  giving up on their fitness program and opting instead to pursue a career as a World Eating Champion. "Hey mom and dad! I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. The king of the hot dog eating universe!"

But, enough already with French Fries finger pointing and Buffalo wing bashing, I have a business plan to write and some misbehaving brands to pitch. I think Corporate Social Irresponsibility is PR's next BIG thing (and, what a great double entendre the service offering's initials will make. "CSI? You betcha! In fact, we have an entire division devoted to it.").

And a tip o' the toque to Valerie "the Foodie" Di Maria for this suggestion.

Jul 05

Evil spirits

I perform stand-up comedy as a hobby.

Every time I sit in the green room awaiting my turn on stage, I listen as my fellow comedians struggle to maintain the fine line between the irreverent and the obnoxious. Some succeed. Some bomb. And, those that do bomb are not only greeted by boos but, even worse, by dead silence. And, trust me, the latter is far worse. Silence tells a comedian, an actor or a brand for that matter, that they’re not worth the time of day.

And, frankly, the new Spirit Airline campaign isn’t worth the time of day either except that it serves as a textbook example of how not to use humor in marketing.  In case you’ve somehow dodged the endless barrage of unsolicited spam from the low-fare discount airline, their sleazy promotions have run the gamut from scantily-clad, pole dancing ‘flight attendants’ who strut their stuff in flatbed trucks going from market to market to frat boy, promotional riffs on the latest political scandal.

For example, during the endless Anthony Weiner scandal, Spirit blasted this very unfunny e-mail:Weinerone And, when the Governator’s reckless ways with his house maid generated front-page news, Spirit jumped on the bandwagon with an ad entitled, ‘Hasta la vista to high fares!’ The text was predictably accompanied by a photo of an attractive young lady in a French Maid’s costume.

Spirit supplements these breaking news one-offs with an endless barrage of daily e-mails sporting such witty titles as: ‘The Red Light Special’ (a trashy tome that trumpets $9 one-way and $17 round-trip fares).

I have three fundamental marketing problems with the Spirit campaign. The first two are obvious:
1.)    Sophomoric humor isn’t funny (unless you’re a sophomore in high school).
2.)    Since they’re neither clever nor witty, the ads end up being nothing more than offensive and stupid. The latter may work for Godaddy.com and Howard Stern, but not for an airline.
3.)    Airlines are a very serious business. Each day they transport thousands of people to and fro in their planes. If, God forbid, something tragic should occur on a Spirit Airline, these ads will be dredged up by the media and used against them (remember how the media savaged BP with its own advertising after the oil spill?).

Reputation management is fundamentally critical because it helps build a reservoir of trust and credibility in the minds of end users. That’s why, despite endless product recalls, J&J continues to finish at, or near, the top of the Fortune and Reputation Institute lists for most admired organizations. The company spent decades making itself synonymous with trust. BP, on the other hand, changed the meaning of its initials (from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum) before it had built a reservoir of trust. Then, adding insult to injury, BP didn’t back up the change with quality assurance programs. Hence, when the oil hit the fan, as it were, pundits and comedians had a field day (‘i.e. Did you hear what BP stands for? Beyond Pathetic.’).

I’m not sure what the polar opposite of reputation management is, but Spirit Airlines is pioneering the craft.

Smart, insightful humor can be a powerful weapon in any organization’s marketing arsenal. And, it can work very well in serious industries too. Just look at Geico (life insurance) and Southwest (airlines). But, crass, offensive junk like the kind being served up by Spirit is akin to whistling past the graveyard. They know they’re over-stepping the boundaries of common decency in an attempt to sell tickets. What they don’t know is how the media will use these very same ads to destroy Spirit’s reputation if, and when, something goes south.

I think the new motto for Spirit Airlines should be: ‘An accident waiting to happen.’”

May 19

The 11th commandment should read: ‘Thou shalt blame others for thy sins’

BlogIt was only a matter of time before U.S. Catholic Bishops chose to adopt the victim strategy in  defending its priests' rampant pedophilia. In a comparison that is almost laughable were it not so pathetic, the Church is now blaming the sexual liberation of the 1960s and '70s for its priests' predatory tactics.

The bishops say neither celibacy nor pedophilia were the root causes of their priests' problems. And, get this, they say their problem has been pretty much cleaned up. Yeah, right, and the Mets will win the World Series this year.

Catholic Church leaders MUST be living in a parallel universe. First, they fast track Pope John Paul II for sainthood based upon two rather shaky miracles. (Hey, I can point to a REAL miracle maker. How about Gil Hodges, manager of the 1969 Mets? Any votes for beatifying St. Gilbert of Flushing?)

Second, the bishops publicize this totally bogus report that assumes no responsibility whatsoever for the conduct of their priests. Hundreds of priests ran amok for decades, destroyed lives and then were simply transferred from parish to parish as the Church desperately tried to cover up its mess (all done, BTW, under the aegis of the soon-to-be Saint John Paul II).

If the Catholic Church can blame the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s for its wrongdoings, so should everyone else. Heck, if I were advising Arnold Schwarzenegger right now, I'd just tell him to go with the church defense. I'd tell the governator, “Look, Arnold, baby, fathering your maid's kid wasn't your fault. It's that damned sexual liberation of the '60s.” Ditto with Lindsay Lohan's problems. Blame the 1960s and '70s. Don't like ObamaCare? Tough. It's a direct result of the sexual liberation. Are you a Cubs fan still waiting for the first world's series title since the Flood? At least you can blame the sexual revolution for distracting the owners, managers and players for the past 50 years.

I know the New Testament advises followers to turn the other cheek. But, where does it also say to point the finger at others for one's own poor behavior?

The Catholic Church should be ashamed of this latest cover-up. Blaming sexual liberation for rampant pedophilia is akin to Detroit's explaining its woes by pointing to better engineering and quality from Japanese and German auto makers. Puh-lese!

I believe Shakespeare was a member of the Church of England, but he must have been thinking of Catholic Bishops when he wrote, “The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” And, to paraphrase Hippocrates, “Bishops: heal thyselves!”

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.