Aug 11

Carpe diem, Evansville

Evansville, Indiana, was just named America's fattest city

According to the survey, 37.8 percent of Evansville's population is obese. That's more than one in three people. Absorb that shocker for a moment: more than one in three!
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That means the starting line-up for every Evansville high school basketball team has two obese members. So much for the fast break. It also means three members of every Evansville Little League team probably can't go from first to third on a hit-and-run. Maybe they should call it a hit-and-waddle, instead? And forget about the city's football wide receivers running the fly pattern. Maybe they rename it the slug?

I'm joking, but Evansville's obesity is a sad, sick joke. And, since the odds are good that residents aren't going to be giving up their Big Macs and supersized fries anytime soon, why not embrace a huge marketing opportunity?

For starters, I'd change the city's nickname to Obeseville, USA. I'd advertise plus-sized friendly theme parks, movie theatres and public transportation. And, since weight-challenged folks are also supposed to be jolly, why not host a comedy festival? And, I'd do away with any and all overt signs of fitness or wellness (i.e. cover over hiking, jogging and bicycle trails, close down health clubs, etc.).

I think Evansville has a chance to do something very special here. It can simultaneously become synonymous with heft AND, a la Xerox and Google, become a verb ("You Evansvilling me with that extra cheese?”).

City fathers should challenge local chefs to come up with a signature cheeseburger to mark their accomplishment. I'd call it the 37 Special. The branding opportunities are as limitless as the waistlines are large.

Here's one final thought: Evansville should challenge residents of America's fittest city, Boulder, Colorado, (where a mere 12.9 percent of the population is obese). They should engage in a multi-event competition that would favor neither town but still capture the imagination of a recession-weary populace (i.e. A 26.2 marathon followed by a Nathan's Famous type hot dog eating contest). How cool would it be to see which city would come out on top? Of course, there's an excellent chance that one in every three Evansville competitors might keel over from a massive heart attack during even the most sedentary event but, hey, what better way to die than in the service of one's home town?

So, don't hide your collective heads in shame, Evansville. Take a deep breath, let out that 48-inch belt a little more and embrace what you, and you alone can own: the unrivaled claim to being America's fattest city!

Carpe diem, Evansville. Carpe diem.

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.

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?

Apr 25

Dear Prudence

A recently published book entitled, The Longevity Project puts the lie to conventional wisdom  about the keys to a long and healthy life. Authors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, picked up on an original study that began in 1921 with 1,528 San Francisco 11-year-olds and analyzed what personality traits and lifestyle choices made some members of the original cohort far outlive their peers.

Happy-old-folksGuess what? Things such as optimism, happiness, a good marriage and the ability to handle stress didn’t rate very highly. Instead, the “…best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness. The qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person wins out every time.” And, that has to be very bad news for those of you who double and triple book meetings and/or maintain sloppy cubicles.

he exhaustive study also confirmed what I’d always read and believed: “Genes constitute about one-third of the factors leading to a long life. The other two-thirds have to do with lifestyle and chance.”

When one looks beneath the surface, it’s easy to see why prudence and persistence are so important to longevity say the authors. Conscientious people are more likely to live healthy lifestyles, to not smoke or drink to excess, wear seat belts and follow doctors’ orders. Prudent and persistent people also tend to find themselves in healthier, happier workplaces and personal relationships. They also understand the importance of stress. “There’s a misconception about stress,” says Dr., Friedman. “People think everyone should take it easy. Rather, he says, “a hard job that is also stressful, but which enables people to eventually succeed, leads to a longer life.” So much for retiring to Del Boca Vista and playing golf every day.

One finding really struck home with me. Optimism has a huge downside. “If you’re cheerful, very optimistic, especially in the face of illness and recovery, if you don’t consider the possibility that you might have setbacks, than those setbacks are harder to deal with.” says Dr. Martin. “If you’re one of those people who think everything’s fine–the stress of failure, because you haven’t been more careful, is harmful. You almost set yourself up for more problems.”

I may die tomorrow, but I have to say The longevity Project made me smile for a number of reasons. First, because by recognizing that I was working in a toxic environment in the mid-1990s, I walked away from it and, along with Ed, created a workplace I knew I’d enjoy. Second, and this sentence is aimed directly at our firm’s management committee, I have always considered myself a ‘realist’ when it comes to such things as new business presentations, employee issues, economic downturns or other fundamental challenges.  As a result, I never expect to win a big, new piece of business, retain an important employee who’s being wooed away by a competitor or change the mindset of a clique within Peppercom who take exception to a particular management decision. My peers call me a pessimist. Rather, I’m doing exactly what the authors suggest is a key ingredient to longevity: I’m not setting myself up for more problems by being overly optimistic.

Anyway, that’s my take on The Longevity Project. What’s yours? Sorry, but I’ve got to run. I have another 40 years to live.

Apr 19

The death of the role model

Remember role models? They were the athletes, celebrities and other influencers who we looked  up to as kids. Mine included Joe Namath, Paul McCartney and Muhammad Ali. And, while each had a dark side (Joe Willie had a fondness for the ladies, Sir Paul liked his hallucinogenic drugs and Ali perfected, if not invented, trash talk), none ever purposely endorsed products that were bad for kids.

Snoop-dogg-smokingBut, that was then and this is now. Now, we have role models such as Charlie Sheen, Barry Bonds and the Kardashians. They're all train wrecks. But, their personal lives aside, some of today's role models have become dangerous because they're endorsing products and services that are anything but good for our nation's kids.

Take Snoop Dogg. Please.

  An article in Monday's New York Times profiles a new advertising campaign for Blast from Colt .45. Snoop stars in the fully integrated campaign. In a YouTube video, for example, the Dogg poses in a white fur coat, surrounded by models in skimpy dress and holding a can of Blast. So what's my problem? Well, it turns out that Blast is the latest, coolest, cutest and hippest gateway beverage that introduces kids to the wonderful world of alcohol. One alcohol industry watchdog calls Blast, which comes in flavors such as grape and raspberry watermelon, an “alcopop."

Tom Burrell, author of Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, says: “What is happening here is an obvious attempt to foist this stuff on young African-American men. Colt .45 has invested in the black consumer market for years, and if they weren't looking for an African-American audience they wouldn't be using Snoop Dogg.”

But, why should Snoop care? According to industry analysts, the flavored malt beverage category generated some $967 million last year. And, the Dogg's getting a long, green sip of that brew courtesy of his endorsements. Proving what a terrific role model he is, Snoop's been nice enough to mention Blast on his Facebook page (where he has eight million followers) and on Twitter (where 3.1 million fans follow him). He also mentions Blast in "Boom", a single in his new album, 'Doggumentary'. Daren Metropoulos, who owns Pabst, Colt's parent company, says Snoop's adoration of the toxic beverage is “…just him being a true partner and saying I'm not just an endorser.” That Snoop. What a stand-up guy!

Would Namath, McCartney or Ali have knowingly promoted gateway drugs in their prime? It's hard to say. But, I doubt it.

In the meantime, we're left with role models like Snoop Dogg who make sweet-tasting, brightly colored, highly potent alcoholic beverages seem cool to unsuspecting, underage kids. Snoop is one dog who's leading his pack astray and being paid handsomely to do so. And, here's the saddest part of the tale: we're doing nothing to stop Pabst, Colt .45 or Snoop.

Apr 05

Can you spot the ancient ad that’s more relevant than ever?

Pic19912Pic17035This blogger’s older brother constantly bombards me with videos, tunes and other memorabilia from the distant past. I’m not sure exactly why he sends me these things, but most end up in my virtual wastebasket. This one containing the ads pictured, however, struck a chord.

As you’ll see, it contains a number of print advertisements from a bygone era. It’s hard to say which is more politically incorrect. But, there’s one ad that, sadly, is as relevant today as it was when it first appeared a half century ago. Let me know if you agree about the ad in question, and we’ll go back-and-forth on why this particular ‘wrong’ is more ‘right’ than ever before.

One other observation: these print ads from yesteryear are amazingly patronizing and condescending towards women. I find it fascinating that today’s advertisements and commercials have come full circle with many, if not, most, equally demeaning to men (i.e. portraying us as dumb, helpless creatures always in need of a woman to show us how to Pic25667survive, etc.).Pic14771Pic01869Pic26299Pic21726Pic23811       Pic26299  Pic11538

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.

Mar 07

Boy, you’re going to carry that weight a (short) time

Article-0-0D776455000005DC-938_468x392It came as no surprise to me that Blair River, the 29-year-old, 575-pound spokesman for the  Heart Attack Grill died last week of '…complications caused by pneumonia.'

I first blogged about the Heart Attack Grill a few years back. At that time, I was simultaneously appalled and attracted by their bald-faced campaign.

I was appalled for all the obvious reasons: The Heart Attack Grill featured dishes such as the Triple Bypass Burger that were served up by waitresses dressed as scantily-clad nurses. They also had multiple stretchers and gurneys on hand and an ambulance waiting in the parking should any patron actually suffer a heart attack. And, The Heart Attack Grill promised free meals to any patron who weighed more than 300 pounds.

Disgusting, yes? But, but it's also as transparent and authentic a marketing campaign as I've ever seen. Unlike so many other organizations, the Heart Attack Grill didn't serve up a set of false promises in its marketing only to disappoint customers with the actual experience. On the contrary, The Heart Attack Grill is THE poster child for properly aligning its brand and marketing messages with what we communications types call the 'end user experience.'

While I may detest everything the Heart Attack Grill stands for, and lament the loss of their 29-year-old spokesman, I applaud their honesty. The branding folks at BP, Toyota and The Catholic Church could learn a thing or two about transparency from the Arizona eatery's diabolically direct messaging. It's as simple and stark as, well, a heart attack.

Tip o' RepMan's hat (and a large order of fries) to Jimmy Moock for suggesting this post topic.