Sep 13

White Castle’s conundrum

White-castle
What would you do if you sat in the White Castle CEO seat? The low end, fast food purveyor has been peddling fattening fare for decades but they've just been sued by a severely obese customer who says the 'restaurant's' booth seats are too small!

This could only happen in America.

It's also a classic conundrum. White Castle exists to fatten people up for the kill. But, the 290-pound Wall Street stockbroker wants to be compensated because he can't squeeze his already massive hulk into a White Castle seat. So, what to do if you're White Castle? It would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. (Want to check your own weight status? click here.)

I have a win-win solution.

White Castle should embrace its core differentiator, declare itself America's first 'Friend of the Fat' and partner with the roly poly stockbroker to redesign the chain's booths. How cool would that be?

In fact, WC should expand (ouch) on my idea by creating a crowdsourcing contest and invite the obese, severely obese and morbidly obese of the world to submit their ideas. The person who submits the winning booth design would receive a lifetime supply of those disgusting, little burgers and have all the medical expenses paid for his or her upcoming massive stroke or quadruple bypass.

This has Silver Anvil award written all over it.

As Don Levin, my first boss at Hill & Knowlton used to say, “Where the client sees a challenge, we see an opportunity.” White Castle doesn't have a conundrum. It has a unique branding and marketing opportunity. Carpe diem, White Castle. Now's the time to declare yourself the very first openly friendly friend of the junk food junkie. Oh, and by the way, you should make that money-grubbing, slob of a stockbroker your new corporate spokesperson. You were made for each other.

Aug 26

The Pol Pot of supersized portions

First it was Hosni Mubarak. Then, Muammar el-Qaddafi. Now comes news there's been a coup d'etat at Burger King as well, and the King has been banished.

The media cited words such as 'creepy' and 'disturbing' to explain the king's overthrow. I'd add “…horrific role model, guilty of encouraging millions to eat themselves to an early grave”.

Ronald_mcdonald_arrestedWith the king gone, I'm hoping that, like the Arab Spring, we'll now see an Obesity Fall. And Ronald McDonald should be the first to go.

The sadistic-looking clown is public enemy number one. He's the ultimate fast food despot who, in fact, has a far creepier and disturbing side than the late Burger King. Ronald, you see, was purposely created to be a junk food version of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. Kids loved Ronald and, boy, did Ronald love kids (mind you, I'm not suggesting pedophilia was a motivator. To the best of my knowledge, Ronald was never ordained).

Ronald McDonald ensnared generations of unwitting kids with his mini amusement park rides, Happy Meal treats and 'life is a blast' at Mickey D's marketing campaigns. The bastard is single-handedly responsible for countless cases of morbid obesity and their associated complications. He's the Pol Pot of supersized portions.

So, here's hoping that, with the king gone, we'll now see Ronald McDonald deposed. And, let's not stop there. The Obesity Fall should include Colonel Sanders, the Pillsbury Dough Boy (who should be chained to a treadmill until he losses those multiples layers of dough) and other icons of obesity.

The king is dead! Long live sensible eating!

Now, let's round up some mercenaries, a platoon or two of paramilitary types and order a NATO air strike on Oakbrook, Illinois (where Ronald and his family maintain their palatial estate).

Aug 15

Would Gaga go to war?

I'm flying through “Our Mothers' War”, a brilliant examination of the roles of women on the home  front and abroad during World War II.
 
01-women-working-poster-us-wwiiWritten by former New York Times reporter (and Peppercom consultant) Emily Yellin, the book shines the spotlight on a completely overlooked aspect of the Second World War: what women did and how profoundly their actions changed society. It's also an inspirational read that examines an American society that was united as one in its fight against the Axis Powers (a far cry from today's pathetic, polarized, soon-to-be second-class successors).
 
The book is chock full of fun and little known facts, such as:
 
– Betty Crocker, the ultimate role model for American housewives in the 1930s and '40s, was a fictional character. Her surname came from a General Mills executive and another employee, who thought Betty was a bright, cheerful name. Most Americans never knew she was ersatz, though, and often wrote long and compassionate letters to Betty asking for advice. In 1943 a Fortune magazine poll named her the second most famous woman in America, after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

– Captain Ronald Reagan sent a photographer out to search war factories and plants in Southern California for attractive Rosie the Riveter types to feature in the war effort's propaganda program. At a parachute factory, the photographer stumbled across an 18-year-old housewife named Norma Jean Dougherty, who stopped him in his tracks. He asked, “Where the hell have you been hiding?” Norma Jean agreed to pose for a few photographs. Those, in turn, led to a few more. All of which led to her divorcing her husband, dying her hair blond and changing her name to Marilyn Monroe.

– While I knew all about Bob Hope and the countless shows he arranged for front line troops, I had no idea how many A-level Hollywood actresses did the same thing. Marlene Dietrich, a German born actress who was despised by Hitler and actually placed on his hit list, courageously followed Patton's army as it plowed through Europe. Carole Landis, Martha Raye. Mitzi Mayfair and Kay Francis, all A-level actresses and performers, toured North Africa and actually sang for the troops in a makeshift bunker as they were being blitzed by bombs from Nazi planes.
 
I was amazed not so much by the image and perception of women 60 years ago but, rather, by their willingness to roll up their sleeves and pitch in (especially the Hollywood stars). Betty Grable, Bette Davis, Clark Gable and Tyrone Power all did their bit. Carole Lombard died on plane flight back from selling war bonds. Jimmy Stewart served as an Air Force colonel and flew scores of bombing missions over Germany.
 
Can you picture Lady Gaga, Britney, Lindsey, Leo, Johnny, Brad or any of today's superstars not only putting themselves in harm's way but, like their predecessors, actually serving coffee and food to the troops (and cleaning their pots and pans afterwards)?  Unlike Carole Landis for example, those that have gone have not had to duck into bunkers to avoid bombing runs.
 
Yellin's book chronicles a major flash point in the evolving role of women in American society. And, as she points out December 7, 1941, was very likely the start of the feminist movement in America.
 
Our Mothers' War is a great read for women or men interested in history. But, it's an even better read for public relations and marketing executives who study image and perception. The greatest generation clearly earned its moniker. Today's sorry lot should be called the slacker generation.

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!
090220101283431391Fat People
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 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 08

Ignorance is gender neutral

Dumb-and-DumberEver take note of the steady drumbeat of male bashing in print ads, TV commercials, sitcoms and  movies? It's not overt but, like death and taxes, it's something you can count on.

Here's a quick case in point. Doubleclick on this current State Farm commercial and tell me what you see. What I see are three separate examples of absurdly stupid men who spend the savings from their low-cost State Farm policies on such idiotic items as falcons. Note how the clever, level-headed wife uncovers the mystery of the missing money, who spent it (her hubby) and on what (the bird).

I wouldn't be writing this blog if the State Farm spot had included even one dopey woman. But, it doesn't. All three morons are men. In fact, if Madison Avenue creative directors and Hollywood screenwriters were asked to describe the average American male, they'd use adjectives such as: clueless, idiotic, helpless, befuddled and overwhelmed. Ask the same influencers to describe the average American female and you'd hear such superlatives as: bright, engaged, sensitive and multi-tasking (re: the latter, journeyman comic Darryl Salerno likes to ask, “If women are such great multi-taskers, how come they can't have sex and a headache at the same time?” His words. Not mine).

Want another insurance sector example of subliminal male bashing? Look no further than Geico's brilliant caveman campaign. How come the tagline doesn't state, “Insurance made so simple even a cavewoman could understand it”? The answer is obvious: we've been programmed to just accept the fact that men are stupid. So, ipso facto, cavewomen were smarter than cavemen.

I've been around long enough to know there are just as many ignorant women as men. But, our entertainment gurus have decided otherwise.

It doesn't bother me. But, it SHOULD bother you if you're a mom or dad of impressionable boys and young men because it's reinforcing a negative stereotype in their minds. And, conversely, girls and young women are being told they're superior to boys and, aside from procreation, really don't need them for much of anything.

Feminists might argue that men have no one to blame but themselves for the negative stereotyping. But, for every Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and Tiger Woods, there's a Casey Anthony, Tonya Harding and the former governor of Alaska. Ignorance is gender neutral. But, the perceptions of our nation's future leaders are being shaped to believe otherwise.

Too much of anything is bad. It's high time for some responsible (and balanced) marketing and entertainment content from what Ad Age used to refer to as the 'intersection of Madison and Vine.' Let's call for a cease-fire on male-bashing.

Jun 29

Golden Years

174857103v1_225x225_FrontI'm 57 today. That's old. It sounds old and it looks old. As a matter of fact, 57 only looks good on  the label of a Heinz's ketchup bottle.

Turning 57 is an actuarial wake-up call. There's no denying that, statistically speaking, I'm much closer to the end than the beginning. But, to add insult to injury, there are lots of other signs that Father Time is breathing down my neck. To wit:

– An attractive young lady in a bar smiles at me, walks up and whispers in my ear, 'Excuse me sir. But is anyone using that stool next to you? We'd like to borrow it." (Note: sir = elderly).
– A friend shows my photo to her friend who responds by saying, “My, he's rather distinguished looking, isn't he?” (Note: distinguished looking = dissipated. Sean Connery is distinguished looking. I do NOT want to be called distinguished looking.).
– An otherwise intelligent intern tells me she's never heard of a DeLorean or the 'Back to the Future' movies. (Note: it's no fun to be surrounded by a whole new generation of employees who are clueless about ANYTHING that occurred before 1990).

That carnage aside, I'm absolutely loving 57. In fact, I think I've crammed more living in the past five years than I had in the previous 52.

'They' say experience is one advantage that comes with aging. But, they rarely mention another less obvious, but more important, value-add: freedom.

I'm now totally free to take risks and try things that would have been unthinkable 10, 20 or even 30 years earlier. They include performing improvisation and stand-up comedy, as well as rock, ice and mountain climbing. Toss in some long-distance cycling, gyrotonic (www.bodyevolution.com) and devising brand new Peppercom service offerings and you'll have an inkling of just how free I feel at such an advanced age.

I've been blessed. But, I've also embraced risk.

In fact, I now understand what David Bowie meant when he sang in 'Golden Years': 'Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere.'

There are two ways to go through life: you take life or life takes you. You're either a driver who take risks and isn't afraid to fail or you're a passenger who blames others when your dreams don't come true.

Whether you're 27, 37, 47 or 57, do yourself a favor and get behind the wheel as soon as possible. You never know. It might just end up being a mint condition DeLorean and you might just end up having the time of your life.

Make the most of your golden years. They'll be over before you know it.

Jun 09

A tale of two crises

This is a tale of two crises. One was handled flawlessly. The other was badly bungled.

The first dominated yesterday's PR news world and concerned the ill-advised attempt by Delta Airlines to charge returning Afghanistan veterans $200 for their extra bags. Ugh.

A social media savvy vet captured the unfortunate and oh-so-unnecessary airport confrontation between the vets and the “Sorry sir, but rules are rules” airline worker. He posted the video on YouTube and it spread faster than Anthony Weiner's nude pics.

In the blink of an eye, Delta suddenly had a 747-sized crisis on its hands. But, that's when the airline turned on the after burners, fastened the seat belts and weathered the increasingly bumpy ride. A Delta blogger, identified only as Rachael R (is Rachael Ray moonlighting?)  quickly posted an apology AND announced an immediate change in the airline's baggage policy for traveling U.S. military personnel. A simple, yet brilliant move. Crisis averted. Delta and the vets can move on. And, Rachael R. can get back to her cooking.

Now, compare Delta's response with the Bank of America's incredibly, ham-fisted mishandling of a Florida couple's mortgage payment.

Warren and Maureen Nyerges had purchased their foreclosed home outright.   However, while on a foreclosure frenzy, BofA decided the property’s foreclosure was still in force and past due.  So, the bank went on with their foreclosure on the hapless Nyerges. With no other recourse, they hired a savvy lawyer who turned the tables on the bank in a brilliant legal maneuver that would impress even the legendary Mike Lasky of Davis & Gilbert fame.

The couple's lawyer proved the home was free and clear and demanded the bank pay their $2,500 legal fees. BofA refused. So, get this, the lawyer got a court order to go to the local bank branch and take possession of their furniture. Ya gotta love it!

Sheriff deputies and a moving van showed up at the bank. But, the brain-dead BofA branch manager STILL wouldn't comply. It took a full hour before he finally gave Mr. & Mrs. Nyerges a check for $5,772.88 as restitution. This local news clip below is a MUST SEE and should be included in any crisis planning workshop.

 

Did BofA issue an explanation, an apology or announce a change in their foreclosure policy? Nope. There wasn't even a peep from the massive financial institution.

So, here's an idea. Since BofA has shown itself so inept at managing crisis communications, why not outsource the function to the Delta Airlines team? I'm sure the ailing airline could use the incremental income and Bank of America desperately needs competent PR counsel. Hey, maybe BofA can even convince Delta's Rachael R. to cook the Nyerges a special 'forgiveness meal.'

Jun 08

Forget WeinerGate. What about JudgmentGate?

How Cartoon11 come we're hounding Congressman Anthony Weiner out of office but allowing Brother Harold  Camping to continue scaring people and collecting millions of dollars for his ersatz preaching?

In case you don't recognize the name, Camping's the lunatic who predicted Judgment Day would occur on May 21. As a result of his rants, people emptied their pocket books, quit their jobs and sent Brother Harold more than $9 million.

Camping predicted Judgment Day would begin worldwide at 6pm local time on 5/21. It would feature a rash of terrible earthquakes that would kill millions, unearth every casket and see only the “true believers” rising to heaven. Survivors of Judgment Day would chill with the now undead until October 21st, at which time God would mercifully finish off the planet.

Needless to say, there were no earthquakes. In fact, the only rumblings came from some of the believers Camping had bilked out of their life savings. One misguided European teenager actually committed suicide in anticipation of Judgment Day.

And, yet, Brother Harold's back on TV and radio with a slightly corrected prediction. He says we experienced a quiet Judgment Day and that we're still on track for an October 21st blitzkrieg from the Big Guy.

Camping is a zealot. And, zealots are dangerous. I'd label him a religious terrorist. He's using fear to once again whip up a frenzy, scare the uneducated and rake in a whole lot of additional loot. But, the mainstream media's giving him a free pass.

I'm not suggesting politicians such as Arnold and Anthony shouldn't be pilloried for their misbehaving. But, as far as I know, neither stole money from people, ruined lives or caused at least one suicide. So, how come the media's going 24×7 about WeinerGate but ignoring JudgmentGate?

Camping's a brilliant scam artist. He uses ersatz math to formulate an end of days pronouncement. Then, when it doesn't happen, he simply pushes the date back six months and says it will still happen. In effect, he's saying God has granted us an extension. But, unless I've missed something, God doesn't work for the IRS and we're not talking about tax filings.

I believe religion, and not money, is the root cause of all evil. Fundamentalists like Camping are no different than terrorists such as bin Laden. The former's weapon of choice is words. The latter's was, of course, weapons.

The media will wake up again only when Camping begins spending millions of newly-collected dollars from his fearful flock in early October. At that time, he'll once again proclaim the end of the world and TV's talking heads will once again joke about end of the world parties. Until then, though, the Fourth Estate will stay focused on the sleazy and sordid behavior of politicians and celebrities instead of exposing this nut job's dangerous ways. The former hypes ratings. The latter could save lives and fortunes.

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!”