Oct 12

While my Blackberry gently weeps

SMG_Harrison_EgmondI highly recommend the new Martin Scorsese documentary about the late Beatle George Harrison. Called 'Living in a Material World', the HBO film is chock full of terrific interviews, rare photographs and outtakes and deep insight into the man known as the quiet Beatle.

It's a MUST see for anyone, young or old, who believes in lifelong learning. In fact, if there's one fundamental difference that set George apart from the other members of the Fab Four, it had to be his continual quest for spiritual enlightenment while battling his very real appetite for, shall we say, worldly pleasures?

Scorsese’s movie shows the many, many sides of a gifted artist who was, and always will be, overshadowed by John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. But, while Lennon focused on anti-war activities and McCartney continued writing 'Silly Love Songs', Harrison plunged deeper and deeper into the very meaning of life.

I must admit to having been somewhat alienated by Harrison during his Hare Krishna days but, having now viewed the new documentary, I understand it was just another stage in the man's unending quest to better understand himself and the world around him.

The documentary is well worth seeing and, for me, has added new insights to some of my favorite Harrison songs, including: 'Wah, Wah,' 'All Things Must Pass' and, in my opinion, his best love song of all: 'Long, Long, Long'.

As an aside, whenever I'm pressed by college and university students to name the key to career success, I always say, “lifelong learning”. In researching the song's origins, I found out that Harrison's quest for lifelong learning partly inspired him to write, 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. Mine certainly inspired me to entitle this particular blog, 'While my Blackberry gently weeps'.

One Harrison lyric from Guitar is more relevant than ever: 'From every mistake, we must surely be learning'.  We clearly weren't learning when Harrison first wrote the lyric in 1968 and, lord knows, we've learned even less in 2011. And that's why his guitar and my Blackberry still weep.


Mar 25

Five Things We Can Learn from Elizabeth Taylor

Today's guest post is by Julie Farin, (@JulieFarin)

4113269400_5b2c627867With the death of legendary actress and activist Elizabeth Taylor, so goes the end of an era – the  Golden Age of Hollywood – when a handful of studio moguls, like Louis B. Mayer, Darryl Zanuck, and Jack Warner controlled careers, when glamorous leading ladies, like the breathtakingly beautiful Liz, guaranteed big box office returns, and when celebrity media coverage dominated by Hedda, Louella, and Winchell, was carefully managed.

Dame Elizabeth Taylor packed a lot of living into her 79 years; way more than us mere mortals. Some might consider her life a cautionary tale filled with failed marriages and endless illnesses, topped with addictions to alcohol, pain medication, and food. But I believe that we can all take away some valuable life lessons from the Oscar-winning Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky.

•    Never underestimate the power and attention that comes with dazzling beauty – and knowing how to use it wisely. 

•    True friendship isn’t measured by how many “friends,” “likes” or “followers” you have, but
by being there for Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson during their time of need.

•    Ask for what you believe you’re worth. Taylor had no particular interest in starring in Cleopatra, so she flippantly told 20th Century Fox that she’d do it only if they paid her $1 million.  Her negotiating chutzpah made her the highest-paid actor in Hollywood and the first ever to earn a seven-figure salary for one film.

•    Getting back together with an ex- is seldom a good idea. Elizabeth Taylor was publicly condemned by the Vatican when news broke of her scandalous affair with Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome. Liz & Dick married in 1964 and divorced ten years later, only to remarry in 1975. However, the problems in their relationship still hadn’t been resolved, so they wound up divorcing a second time after less than a year.

•    Speak out against injustice and stand up for you believe in– even when it’s unpopular.  Nowadays, just about every celebrity is connected to a charity cause. Back in the mid-1980s, few in Hollywood wanted to be associated with the new health crisis– HIV and AIDS– which was labeled the “gay plague” at the time. But LA Liz went all the way to Washington, DC to petition Congress to fund research for cures and co-founded AmfAR.

Elizabeth Taylor was a one of a kind gem, and the world was much richer for having her in it for 79 years.  As her good friend Larry King said upon hearing of her death, “There’ll never be another like her.”

Mar 18

Lobster ravioli from AMC Theaters, or Kevin Spacey from Netflix. And the winner is….

Today's guest post is by Michael Dresner, CEO of Brand Squared, a Division of Peppercom.

“Content Is King.”  – Sumner Redstone

American_Beauty_2082_MediumDesperately trying to read entertainment news that wasn’t about William and Kate, I found articles this week about a new Kevin Spacey television series called "House Of Cards," directed by David Fincher (Oscar-nominated director of last year’s marvelous The Social Network). The memorable point of most articles is that the series will be distributed exclusively through Netflix.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the Netflix distribution concept was AMC Movie Theaters’ 'Fork and Screen' concept- enthusiastically reviewed on Repman’s sibling blog Measuring Up.  The two strategies have a lot in common.

Both are in the business of feature film distribution.  Both are surrounded by traditional and digital competition.  Both have seen behemoths in their industry (Blockbuster) rapidly fade into irrelevance from behemoth status. And, both are creating innovative experiences that ideally keep consumers returning, paying premium fees, and recommending to others.

AMC Movie Theaters is offering lobster ravioli, loaded potato skins and pints of beer. The waiters bring food to your seats. Netflix– which could have developed an alliance with any restaurant or packaged food company in the U.S.– decided to place their bets instead on Kevin Spacey.
I am a movie fanatic.  I have been to going to movie theaters near and far for decades. Yet when

I think about the most satisfying film experiences, I never think of the food (though I frequently pay more for that than the ticket). I think about great scenes from movies like "The Usual Suspects."  "L.A. Confidential."  Glengarry Glen Ross."  "American Beauty." Great movies featuring Kevin Spacey.

 The fact is, I can get lobster ravioli and Sam Adams anywhere. But I can’t get "House Of Cards" unless I become a subscriber to Netflix. 

Netflix’ strategy seems new but it’s not. HBO figured out two decades ago that showing first-run movies alongside Showtime and Cinemax wasn’t a sustainable way to keep subscribers. HBO developed original programming, such as the phenomenal “Larry Sanders Show” in the early 1990s. It took a while for the channel to find its footing in this space. But once The Sopranos and The Wire hit our zeitgeist, HBO had leverage to increase their fees by 20%. And they did.

So why would AMC Movie Theaters focus on restaurant-style food– a product they will never master (apologies to Measuring Up – when they have the capability to invest in original content– product they have been presenting for years?  I’m not sure film lovers will go out of their way to find a theater with lobster ravioli. I know I would go out of my way if AMC had a lock on a movie made by Kevin Spacey and David Fincher (or, for people 30 years my junior, Justin Bieber).

AMC’s 'Fork and Screen' concept sounded interesting. But as a business decision I have to give it two thumbs down. They will never own a lock on dinner the way Netflix will with House Of Cards.

As a footnote, Sumner Redstone ran a regional movie theater chain for most of his career. He is now the Chairman of Viacom and CBS, two companies that peak and valley with ad sales but lives and die by original content.

Oct 22

Some stunts should never see the light of day

Buried_aliveIn this time compressed, ADD-addled, 24×7 news cycle world of ours, marketers are going to ever  greater extremes to break through the clutter.

Some, like the Old Spice campaign, are remarkably smart and successful. Others, though, such as the stunt I'm about to relate are downright dangerous, if not completely harebrained.

So, to publicize the screen debut of a new Ryan Reynolds' thriller called “Buried”, the Alamo Drafthouse theatre chain came up with an unbelievable stunt. They found four local Texas women who agreed to be blindfolded, driven in silence to a burial site 30 minutes away from Austin's 'Fantastic Fest' and, get this, be interred in wooden caskets, lowered into the ground and have shovelfuls of dirt dumped on top of them. The specially-equipped caskets contained flat screen monitors attached to the coffin roof that enabled the women to view the movie.

I wonder if popcorn and a supersized Coke with flexible straw were provided as well?

Wow. That is just so, so wrong. Suppose one of the women just freaked out, had a major panic attack or, god forbid, suffered a fatal heart attack? I'm all for smart, guerilla marketing, but this stunt deserves a special place in hell.

At my firm, we're long on strategy and short on stunts. We'll do them. But only if they leverage a client's strategy and deliver measurable results.

And, while we've never produced anything that could cause potential bodily harm, we have had our share of clunkers. Quite a few years back, we launched an 'innovation tour' of college campuses to underscore one client's commitment to innovative thinking. We constructed huge white boards, took them to college campuses and invited students to write down any and all ideas for making America more innovative. Smart, no?

We received some great ideas from the college kids. But, we also got some unbelievably nasty, X-rated comments about the client and the client's CEO that our team had to quickly delete. All in all, it turned out to be a terrific learning lesson about the unpredictability of stunts.

Burying four people alive may generate some buzz for the movie (hey, I wrote about it), but at what cost? I know nothing about the director or his movie, but I've taken an immediate, visceral dislike for both. And, in my book, that's the antithesis of smart marketing. Why alienate a potential audience with a tactic that may resonate with a few core constituents?

Bury the buried alive stunt, Mr. Reynolds.

Oct 20

The ‘Other’ Big C

I'm in the midst of flipping through Jon Stewart's laugh out loud coffee table book, Earth. It's   TMCQuentinMeaseCroppedRGB written for aliens who have stumbled across planet earth long after we humans have annihilated ourselves. In it, Stewart provides his P.O.V. on the who, what, when, where, why and how humanity got itself into the mess that is life in the year 2010.

As is the case with all of Stewart's humor, the text is decidedly tongue-in-cheek. One section, entitled ‘The Phases of Man’ is both hilarious and insightful.

The middle-age section naturally hit home with me. It features a photograph of a portly, balding middle-aged guy rocking a Hawaiian shirt, mandals, a couple of tats and an earring. Various arrows point to the man's anatomy and contain captions such as this one about his visible chest hair, “Men of a certain age were eager to show the world not all of their hairlines were receding.” Another arrow pointing to the man's sagging chest reads, “Decreased metabolism manifested itself in the form of love handles, spare tires, saddle bags, walrus knees, beluga back and manteats.”

Stewart describes middle age as the period of time between 45 and 60 (Phew! I still qualify). He then goes on to say that middle age varied greatly due to changing life expectancies. “For instance,” he writes, “victims of midlife crisis during the Dark Ages would comfort themselves with the thought that 20 is the new 16.”

Tuesday's New York Times Science section neatly complemented Stewart's wisdom on middle age with an in-depth analysis of how and why centenarians make it to 100 years of age and beyond. There are now 96,548 humans 100 years of age, or older (there were only 38,300 in 1990). That's enough oldsters to fill the Rose Bowl! Of course, they'd fall asleep before halftime, but still…

According to the article, which cites findings of a New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, there's a direct link between longevity and people who are extroverts, have a healthy dose of self-esteem and strong ties to family and community (note: two out of three ain't bad). It also reports on a University of Pittsburgh study that followed 97,000 women for eight years and said those 'deemed optimistic' were significantly less likely to die from heart disease than were pessimistic women, which the study described as “cynically hostile.” (Note: I've had more than one cynically hostile client over the years). Pessimists were also more likely to be overweight, smoke cigarettes and avoid exercise.

Here's the kicker, though. A Swedish study of identical twins separated at birth and reared apart concluded that only about 20 to 30 percent of longevity is genetically determined. That's huge. That means we can play a major role in determining how long we live and whether we can make it to the 'other’ Big C.

My game plan to reach 100 is two-fold:

– Challenge my body with intense physical exercise such as this past weekend's rock climbing in New Hampshire  , the Tour de Pink charity ride and other seemingly nonsensical middle-age pursuits.
– Challenge my mind with daily blogs, bi-monthly podcasts, performing stand-up comedy and trying to devise new service offerings for Peppercom. I find battling with Ed also keeps my mind fresh. I may die before this blog is even posted, but I've got a ‘Big C Plan’ that I'm implementing. What about you? Are you thinking of making it to the other Big C? If so, share your game plan. Lifelong learning is another key ingredient in the lives of centenarians portrayed in the Times article. And, I'm all ears (minus the eDSCN4689arring, of course).IMAG0066 (2)

Jun 28

We get what we deserve

Grown ups
used to blame Hollywood producers, directors and actors for causing the dumbing
down of America. But, after reading Stephen Holden's scathing review of the
latest, mindless movie from Adam Sandler, I realize we have no
one to blame but ourselves. We get what we deserve.

discussing the dreadful content of 'Grown Ups,' Holden opines, 'The movie is
symptomatic of a social attitude that might be called the security of incompetence.
There's something reassuring about a bad movie that doesn't ask you to think or
feel or even pay attention; we can all be happy D-minus students huddled
together in communal self-disgust in a D-minus world.' That, my friends, is an
A-plus observation.

pabulum served up by the likes of Sandler, Stiller and their ilk is atrocious.
But, the great, unwashed masses pay to see it, so why shouldn't they continue
churning out one tired wretch of a movie after another?

feel the exact same way about Howard Stern and his T&A/flatulent-obsessed,
shock jock peers. My business partner, Ed, will sometimes liken my caustic
comments to Stern, but I prefer to see myself taking the higher, satiric road
of, say, a Johnny Carson or Don Imus. Their wit carries a rapier-like message
with it. Stern's content, on the other hand, is exactly like Sandler's flicks:
one doesn't need to think or feel or even pay attention to it.

so, the ongoing dumbing down of America continues. There are myriad reasons why
our country is on an increasingly steep downside of greatness. One can argue a
lack of political leadership, a loss of confidence in business & industry
and a complete betrayal by the church. But, one should not overlook the
contributions made by the entertainment industry.

There's a reason moronic comedians such as Adam Sandler have become multi-millionaires.
And, that reason is staring right back at you in the mirror.

fault lies not in our stars (Hollywood, or otherwise), but in ourselves.

May 13

The historical atrocity that is the Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrayal of King Henry VIII

May 12  
the time of his death in 1547, the 55-year-old British King Henry VIII stood
6’2”, boasted a 53-inch waistline and weighed more than 400 pounds. According
to various reports, he most likely suffered from Type II diabetes, syphilis,
gout or some variation thereof, and his painful, pustule-riddled leg forced
minions to not only create mechanical devices to hoist the immobile monarch
from his bed, but flee from its horrific odor. I bring you this tidbit of
unsolicited history because of my escalating disgust with the Jonathan Rhys
Meyers ‘interpretation’ of Henry Tudor in Showtime’s ‘The Tudors.’

held my tongue for the past four seasons because, until lately, Rhys Meyers had
been portraying the youthful ‘rock star’ Henry. This younger Henry was a
world-class brawler, hunter, composer (‘Green Sleeves’) tennis player and, most
obviously, womanizer.

though, time has passed. And the historical Henry is now long in the tooth.
From an historical standpoint, Henry VIII is now 49 and being cuckolded by his
fifth wife, 17-year-old Catherine Howard. Yet, in a sleight of hand that would
dazzle even Dorian Gray, Rhys Meyers has not aged one iota. Nor has he gained a
single ounce of fat. In fact, except for an occasional limp, Rhys Meyers looks
like the rock star Henry he portrayed in season one.  Even the damn limp
seems to be a minor annoyance at best, and has a nasty habit of disappearing
from one scene to the next (which reminds me of Marty Feldman’s classic
character ‘Igor’ in ‘Young Frankenstein’, whose hunchbacked lump would move
from one side to the other in successive scenes). As for height and weight, the
inaccuracies are off the blooming scales! According to Rhys Meyers’ web site,
he’s 5’10” and weighs 155 lbs. Knowing how badly actors fudge their vitals, I’m
guessing Rhys Meyers is closer to 5’7” and 140lbs. So, he’s seven inches
shorter and 250 pounds lighter than the character he portrays. Oh, and Henry’s
hair was orange-red. The actor’s is dark brown.

a result of this total charade, I’m officially placing Jonathan Rhys Meyers in
the Repman Hall of Shame for worst casting ever. Other members include: 

– Gary
Cooper as Lou Gehrig in ‘Pride of the Yankees.’ Cooper batter right-handed in
the movie even though Lou was a lefty (and Cooper was a weathered-looking
50-something trying to portray a teenaged Lou at Columbia University. Ugh.).

Goodman as Babe Ruth. Babe was big, but he was never
that big.

Bendix as Babe Ruth. Bendix’s total lack of athleticism was laughingly bad.

Costner as Robin Hood. A Hollywood accent in Sherwood Forest. Not likely, mate.

Cruise in Valkyrie. See above for accent abuse.

actor portraying Abraham Lincoln (if you have a chance, check The History
Channel’s ‘History of Us’ mini-series. You’ll see the Lincoln character
surrounded by men his own height. Never happened. At 6’4”, Lincoln was our
tallest president. And, he lived at a time when the average man was, well Rhys
Meyers-sized. He towered over one and all).

casting can undermine the integrity, image and reputation of a production. In
the case of the Tudors, it has positively ruined what was an otherwise
enjoyable mini-series. One only wonders what the real Henry and his six wives
must think of the Rhys Meyers character. Knowing Henry Tudor, he’d probably
scream, ‘Off with his head!’ 

Aug 10

Tommy’s last picture show

I'm not a big moviegoer. Never have been. Never will be. I'm content to wait and see a movie when it finds its way onto Comcast's fairly miserable listing of 'new releases.'

Thomas J Photo My friend Tommy (pictured), aka ‘Thos,’ is the exact opposite. The man constantly goes to see new movies and will often fire off reviews of the latest Hollywood offering. Tommy's quite the entertainment maven, so I take his critiques seriously and file them away for future consideration.

But, Tommy's gone dark of late. I wasn't consciously aware of this new, information void in my life until Thos brought the subject up at a recent reunion. He said he hadn't gone to see a movie in months! I was taken aback. Mouth agape, I asked why.

Tommy said he'd abandoned theater-going to become part of Netflix Nation. Chris "RepMan, Jr' Cody is another Netflix member, as are my dad and brother.

It seems to me that losing a 'Tommy' should be a huge red flag to the Cineplex Odeons of the world. Just think of the lost annual revenue from this man alone.

I didn't ask Tommy what mix of incentives would put his ample posterior back into a movie seat, but I have to believe it would involve a mix of discounts and extra amounts of Diet Pepsi, popcorn and cotton candy. The big guy loves his cotton candy.

Hollywood studio heads may be happy with the late summer performances of 'G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra' and 'Julie & Julia,' but, in my mind, if they've lost Tommy, somebody needs to shout, 'Cut!' and go back to the drawing board.

Tommy's last picture show is undoubtedly an early indicator that the curtain's gone down on classic movie-going.

Jul 07

Aston Martin’s move is (Money) penny wise and pound foolish

Aston Martin’s decision to offer a new mini-Aston based on Toyota’s iQ baby hatchback must be making secret agent 007, as well as M, Q, Moneypenny, and the whole gang on Her Majesty’s Secret Service hopping mad.

July 7 - bond

Long associated as the Bond car (before BMW and product placement took control of the Bond series, that is), the Aston Martin perfectly accentuated the Sean Connery coolness of the lead character. The silver sports car became synonymous with uber sophistication, along with ordering a vodka martini, shaken not stirred and introducing oneself as, ‘Bond. James Bond.’

Specially equipped with ejector seats, machine guns, smoke screen exhaust pipes and god knows what else, the Aston Martin would whisk Bond to and from assignments and enable him to barely escape a seemingly impossible tight squeeze. Now, though, the only tight squeeze will be the one caused by the new, smaller and cheaper Aston, called the Cygnet (Ugh. What a horrible name. What secret service agent worth his 9mm Glock would want to ride around in a baby swan?).

Driven by the desperation of a horrible economy, Aston is making the same branding mistake committed by General Motors and other luxury brands. They’re marginalizing their high-end brand equity in order to make a quick buck (or, Pound Sterling, in Aston’s case).

Trust me. As surely as 007 always gets the girl and vanquishes the bad guy in the end, Aston’s move will backfire. True sports car enthusiasts will abandon the brand when good times return and Aston will end up with a confused marketplace image. On the plus side, though, Aston’s demise will most assuredly put a smile on the faces of Blofeld and Odd Job.

Thanks to Carl Foster for the tip on this entry.