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).

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.

Feb 03

Sorry kids. But, you can’t blame genes for those tight jeans

A just-released study conducted by the University of Michigan of some 1,000 sixth graders in Obese_boy the state showed proper diet, regular exercise and less television viewing had a dramatic effect on lessening childhood obesity. The study is among the first to prove that even if obesity is linked to one's genetics, it can be combated with a little common sense. In other words, obese kids and their parents will need to find other excuses to explain their bulging waistlines.

Michigan is faring poorly in its battle of the bulge. The state ranks 41st in the nation for highest childhood obesity rates, and a staggering 21 percent of Detroit's kids qualify as obese. That means one in five is likely to suffer weight-related health problems, placing a further strain on our nation's already beleaguered health care system.

U.S. childhood obesity also reinforces a global perspective that America is a lazy, bloated, self-centered superpower whose best days are past.

We still have time to change our wanton ways, though:

– First, we need to stop blaming obesity on genetics. Statements such as: “Why bother dieting and exercising when my DNA has already determined I'll be morbidly obese by the age of 21?” should be countered with the Michigan study facts.

– Second, the government needs to push our nation's public schools to do a better job of educating kids about the importance of exercise and diet.

– Third, parents need to step up to the plate (figuratively, not literally) and better manage their kids' lifestyles (two hours a day sitting in front of a television or computer screen is unacceptable).

– Last, and certainly not least, fast food makers need to stop marketing their mega-whopper, calorie-laden, artery-clogging meals in friendly, wholesome ways (replete with smiling clowns). I think the surgeon general should insist these bacchanalian feasts carry warning labels to the effect: 'This Happy Meal will make you and your body unhappy. It will add empty calories, help raise cholesterol levels and lead to a host of diseases, including diabetes.'

It pains me to see what's happening to our nation's youth. At least, they no longer have the genes/jeans excuse. I guess that's a step in the right direction. Now, kids, it's time to put down the Cheetos, turn off the tube and start getting the old ticker pumping away. You may be saving your own, and the nation's, health and well-being in the process.

Jan 12

A day like any other day? Not quite

1969-ny-daily-news-jan-320January 12th is just another day for everyone in the world. Everyone that is, except for New York  Jets fans.

That’s because it was Sunday, January 12, 1969, that the New York Jets won their one, and only, Super Bowl. It was a magic day that remains to Jets fans near and far, and young and old, a Camelot-like ‘brief, shining moment.’ It was also a major image and reputation moment for the old American Football League since, by winning the game, the AFL’s Jets brought instant credibility to the junior league and expedited an eventual merger.

Since 1969, though, each January 12th has been little more than a drab, early winter day to me and every other member of Gang Green. Will this January 12th be remembered differently? Will it be recalled as a midpoint on the way to a second Jets Super Bowl victory? I sincerely doubt it. But, hope springs eternal for Jets fans and this year’s team is certainly talented, if inconsistent.

So, here’s hoping that today’s otherwise utterly mundane, forgettable date is, instead, a key milestone along the road to a second trip to the Promised Land for Jets fans.

Jan 10

The ultimate ambush interview

Every public relations professional fears the ambush interview. For the uninitiated, an ambush An_2_Apache_Ambush__1892_gouache_henry_farney_cowboy_weste interview is exactly what the phrase implies: a television ‘journalist’ ambushes an unsuspecting subject and makes him or her look very foolish, frightened or fraudulent in the process. And, if the genre has a founding father, it would have to be Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes” fame.

I raise the ambush interview issue for two very different reasons:
1.)    Despite countless individuals and organizations having been savaged by ambush interviews, self-congratulatory, inward-focused and Kool-Aid drinking CEOs continue to put themselves in harm’s way by requesting off-the-record briefings in order to tell their side of the story in the midst of crisis. CEOs are best advised not to do so unless they’ve anticipated every conceivable negative question and have ironclad responses in hand.
2.)    I’ve just finished reading “The Kennedy Detail.” It’s written by one of the surviving members of the Secret Service detail entrusted with President John F. Kennedy’s safety and security, and is intended to set the record straight, once and for all. As something of a Kennedy assassination buff, I thought I knew all there was to know about the sad event. But, I did not. And, I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in learning more about November 22, 1963.

Near the end of the book, there’s a fascinating chapter about Clint Hill, who had been assigned to Mrs. Kennedy’s Secret Service detail. He was the agent who climbed aboard the president’s limousine just seconds after JFK had been mortally wounded. Twelve years after the shootings, Hill was invited to appear on 60 Minutes by Mike Wallace.

Hill agreed to do so only if Wallace promised not to probe into the details of the assassination. Wallace readily agreed and said he was really only looking to do a profile of the Secret Service itself. And, Wallace was true to word. The taping went well. Wallace asked Agent Hill about Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, and the role of the Secret Service.

Then, a few days later, Wallace called Hill up and said there’d been a problem with one small section of the taping. He asked “Secret Service Agent #9” if he’d mind re-taping about five minutes of it. Hill agreed.

Now, double click on this link and watch what Wallace did to Hill: Hill-limo Mike Wallace Clint Hill 1975 "60 Minutes" Interview.

The media perform a valuable service in a free society. But, journalists such as Wallace are to be feared. His gotcha style of gonzo journalism devastated Hill, and exacerbated the agent’s downward spiral towards alcoholism and depression.

CEOs and their counselors would be well advised to watch the Secret Service Agent #9 clip before they decide to sit down for their next interview. The image and reputation they save may be their own.

Thanks and a special tip o’ RepMan’s climbing helmet to Edward M. Ted “Conspiracy Theory” Birkhahn for sending me the Clint Hill link.

Dec 02

Cats Who Like Dogs Who Like Dogs

In effort to compete with the brand new reality show from the Sundance Channel called ‘Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys’, The Canine Network (TCN) today announced it would be airing its first reality show, Cats Who Like Dogs Who Like Dogs …. (A Species Apart).

I recently caught up with the show’s creator, co-producer and star, Mick  Cody. Mick had just finished a strenuous backyard workout with his mom and was having his muddy paws cleaned as we began our chat…

Rep: ‘Mick, thanks again for finding time to meet with me. Man, are you ever panting!’
Mick: ‘Yup. My mom really puts me through my paces. She’s a personal trainer.’
Rep: ‘So I’ve heard. So, tell me about your new reality show, Cats Who Like Dogs Who Like Dogs …. (A Species Apart).
Mick: ‘Sure. The impetus was human reality TV programming. My co-producer, Rooney Cody and I are totally really fed up with it. This latest nonsense about girls who like boys who like boys was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or, the stick that broke the dog’s back, if you prefer. So, we decided to produce a program that would simultaneously mock human reality shows while taking the entire genre to a whole new level.’
Rep: ‘Do tell.’
Mick: ‘I’d need a Beggin’ Strip to do that.’
Rep: ‘Damn. How many of those things do you down in a day? Fine. Here. And, lay down. You’re still panting heavily.’
Mick: (now stretched out comfortably in front of a roaring fireplace): ‘Human reality shows have gone so far beyond bizarre that they leave me speechless (literally). I mean I can respond to your command to speak, but I can’t speak per se.’
Rep: ‘I get your point. Please stay on subject.’
Mick: Sorry. Well, I mean, who cares about girls who like boys who like boys? Boys who like boys who like girls? Gimme a break. And, gimme another bone while you’re at it. Anyway, we’ve decided to go far beyond mere hetero/homo/transgender content and elevate the programming to a new level: trans species content. That’s why we’re using the subtitle: “A Species Apart.” I always loved that old Merrill Lynch tagline.’
Rep: ‘It’s bold and brash to be sure. Can you give us an idea of the plot?’
Mick: It’ll be fashioned along the lines of The Jersey Shore which, as you know, is the only TV reality show Rooney and I will watch with you. It’ll be set in our back yard. Rooney and I will have different monikers: I’m JMick and Rooney is FleaMan. We invite cats to our crib and then treat them like the scum they are. Instead of calling the ugly ones grenades, though, we’ll call them Furballs.’
Rep: ‘You have some real issues with cats, don’t you?’
Mick: ‘They serve no purpose whatsoever and are arrogant, egotistical asses. Cats Who Like Dogs Who Like Dogs will reveal the sleazy underbelly of the cat world. It’ll be positively groundbreaking. And, speaking of ground-breaking, I need to go out again. Would you mind?’
Rep: ‘Not at all. Best of luck with Cats Who Like Dogs Who Like Dogs. I’d use the old showbiz expression ‘break a leg,’ but I know that can be fatal with canines.’

Sep 22

When in doubt, blame others

Birds don't do it. Bees don't do it. But, big business sure does it. “It” is blaming others for one's Blame-game mistakes.

The latest example came a few days ago when my beloved, primary source of commutation, NJ Transit, blamed Amtrak for its record 1,400 delays this past summer.

Talk about the summer from hell. NJT experienced 1,400 delays in a period of 90 days! Now, I'm not a math wizard, but that adds up to a staggering 150 or so delays a day. I'm surprised any of their damn trains moved at all.

But, hey, don't blame NJT. It wasn't their fault. A lead spokesperson pointed the finger at Amtrak, from whom NJT leases 'track time' on the Northeast Corridor. He said that, since Amtrak has always been underfunded by the government and unable to keep pace with needed maintenance, NJT really isn't to blame for overheated 20-year-old locomotives, overhead wires that drooped in the heat and electric power interruptions. That's the business equivalent of a kid saying the dog ate his homework.

To add insult to injury, NJT also implemented an across-the-board fare hike this summer. That's akin to charging the Titanic passengers a surcharge for life jackets.

NJT officials certainly aren't alone when it comes to pointing fingers at others. BP has made it something of an art form. So, too, have Wall Street executives who shrugged their shoulders when the markets collapsed but happily continue to pocket record bonuses.

No one's better at obfuscation, though, than religious leaders. My favorite is Brother Harold Camping, a Bible expert who holds court on a national cable channel.

The 90-year-old, hearing impaired, former engineer sits in a dilapidated studio, holding a Bible and entertaining questions from viewers. But, whenever an above-average viewer stumps Brother Camping with one of the Bible's countless contradictions, he claims not to have heard or understood what was just asked. So, he thanks the viewer for her question and simply hangs up. It's hilarious to watch.

Recently, the self-proclaimed Bible authority was thrown a real caller curve: “Brother Camping,” said the caller, “please explain how the Bible preaches an eye for an eye in one section but advises us to turn the other cheek in another?” Brother Camping squinted at the camera, fidgeted in his chair and finally responded by saying, “Unless you can cite the specific passages, I can't answer. But, thank you for calling Open Forum.” Classic dodge.

Brother Camping has somehow added, multiplied, subtracted and divided various 'mathematical clues' in the bible and declared that May 22, 2011, will be the end of the world. About 15 years ago, he made a similar prediction. But, when the day came and went without an apocalyptic event, Brother Camping pulled an NJT (or, BP if you prefer) and blamed a faulty computer.

Isn't it great to be living in a society with no accountability? Hey, my train's delayed again! At least I know it's Amtrak's fault.

Sep 17

Feeding the Beast

500x_cargood Thanks to last night’s horrific and totally unexpected thunderstorm, the New York media Beast has been sated. For now, that is.

The Beast had been grumpy of late. Highly-touted Hurricane Earl, predicted by many tri-state weathermen to be the worst hurricane to threaten New York since 1938, had hung a right turn instead and headed out to the Atlantic. So, instead of downed power lines, battered beaches and terrified citizens, the media Beast was left with hours and hours of ‘filler’ time. The ‘total team coverage’ every station had set to go had to stand down. And, most maddening of all for the Beast, the anticipated ratings increases never materialized.

Then, like manna from heaven, came yesterday’s mother of all storms. And, trust me, it was a world-class event of biblical proportions. Thunder, lightning, hail and incredibly strong winds shook Manhattan like a rag doll, shut down power at my beloved Penn Station and ended up stranding tens of thousands of Long Island Railroad commuters (note to tri-state readers: Ever wonder why the most horrific traffic, weather and news always seems to impact Long Island?).

The media Beast gorged itself on the storm’s offerings. Regular programming was interrupted. Teams were dispatched to scores of severely-affected areas in Brooklyn, Queens and, of course, the Island. Cameras showed downed trees, smashed cars and storefront windows blown to smithereens. It simply didn’t get any better for the Beast. Soon, reports began coming in that the storm might, in fact, have been a tornado. The Beast loved the ‘T’ word and continued suggesting such an event had, indeed, occurred.

The Beast’s representatives also succeeded in interviewing countless storm victims and somehow, some way, induced each and every one to agree that he or she had never, ever, seen the likes of Thursday’s storm (i.e. “I’ve been living in Bed-Stuy for 51 years and I’ve never seen nothing like this!”).

It was good. Very good. The coverage went on throughout the night and into the early morning. As might be expected, the Beast positioned camera crews at Penn Station this morning to intercept incoming Long Islanders. ‘How was your commute?’ shouted one CBS reporter to a passenger. ‘Fine. Just fine,’ she replied. Undaunted by such a positive response, the reporter kept his head and nailed the commuter with a follow-up: ‘But, last night was horrible, right?’ The commuter smiled, shrugged her shoulders as if to say, ‘such is life’ and continued on. Damn. That was not good. There was no hype. No fear. No indication that this particular person’s world hadn’t been crushed like so many trees.

But, back in the studio, all was well. The weatherman beamed as he relayed the news that the National Weather Service was conducting an investigation and would decide sometime later today if, in fact, yesterday’s storm had been a tornado. Wow. A tornado in Manhattan? It simply doesn’t get any better for the Beast.

And, so, as the hype and ersatz concern in the voices of reporters began to fade away, the Beast began to hunker down. It was content knowing it had done everything possible to not only cover but, indeed, escalate the drama and hype of this gift from heaven. The Beast had been fed.

Aug 16

Don Draper rocks

Don Draper, the fictional lead character in AMC's breakout hit, 'Mad Men,' just did what every PR Mad-men-office and ad agency executive pines to do just once in a career. In a recent episode, he threw two executives from a prospective client out of his office. Draper did so because the Jantzen swimwear executives refused to see the strategic business sense in Don's suggested creative campaign. The fearful Jantzen guys, not wanting to upset their conservative target audience, were afraid of Draper's provocative ad and told him so (and what a brutal product placement for Jantzen, whose swim suits remain amazingly modest, BTW. I checked).

Draper stormed out of the conference room, thought about it for a second, and then stormed back in to tell the Luddites to immediately get out of his office. It was breathtaking to watch (and, might I add that this is stuff of which dreams are made).

I don't know how many times I've wanted to toss a rude, boorish or indifferent prospect out of our conference. You know the types:

– The self-absorbed prospects who bang away on their Blackberries while you pitch.
– The ones who are totally evasive about their budget (“Why don't you tell us what you think it will take?”). Prospects who don't know what their budget is shouldn't be seeking PR support
– The marketing executives who, after telling you category expertise isn't important, interrupt your presentation to ask, ”So, that's it? That's all the category experience you have?”

There are many, many more examples.

The beauty of Mad Men is its spot-on accuracy. In addition to dealing with maladroit prospects, Don's nascent firm also has to walk on egg shells for their biggest client, Lucky Strike cigarettes, which commands 71 percent of billings. The Lucky Strike client knows he can belittle and berate his agency, so he does.

The Lucky Strike guy reminds me of a huge client of ours from long ago and far away. This particular master of the universe boasted that he'd give us a $10 million budget with which to work. He also immediately applied the pressure, knowing he was indeed, for one brief, dark moment, our largest client. His particular mission in life was to force diversity on the profession. So, right after hiring us, he gave us an ultimatum. Prove that our staff was at least 18 percent minority-based, or risk losing his business within the year. (Note: that's one tough mandate in an industry that remains as lily white as ours).

Anyway, my business partner, Ed, rose to the occasion with some amazing legerdemain and convinced this bizarre client that Peppercom was, in fact, 18 percent diverse. (I think Ed counted left-handed employees and New Jersey residents as minorities).

Long story made short, the big shot client was fired less than a year after his hiring, and has bounced around from one job to the other since.

We're a bit older and wiser now, and make sure no one client dominates too large a percentage of our billings. That's somewhat easier when your firm is an established, 15-year-old midsized business. That isn't the case for Don Draper's upstart agency and it certainly wasn't the case in Peppercom's embryonic days.

While he may have many dark sides and hidden agendas, I love the way Don Draper manages new business prospects. As his partner, Roger Sterling, said in the same episode, “My father told me advertising would be a great business if it weren't for the clients.” I'd change that to read, 'PR would be a great business if it weren't for the abusive prospective clients.’

Aug 13

A true crossover hit

Jersey shore When it comes to pop culture, there are very few things Catharine ‘Goose’ Cody and I agree on. She likes Lady Gaga and Eminem. I chill to Ziggy Marley and Miles Davis. Catharine’s taste in movies skews towards ‘The Other Guys,’ ‘The Mummy’ and ‘Toy Story 3.’ Me? I think ‘Fargo’ and ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ are two of the best movies of the past 15 years. And when it comes to television, there’s always been a huge divide. The Goose goes for ‘Gilmore Girls’ and ‘True Blood’ while I gravitate towards ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Mad Men.’

But, there’s one thing we do agree on: We both adore the over-the-top antics of MTV’s Jersey Shore.

Now, I know Italian-American groups as well as New Jersey tourism officials are less than thrilled with the content, but I’m amazed at how many people my age watch a show that one would think appeals solely to Goose types. I think it’s because Jersey Shore combines some powerful crossover ingredients, including:

– A cast that, in some ways, reminds me of a weird, dumbed-down brew of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and Carrot Top all poured into one. The cast characters are amazingly funny (i.e. I loved The Situation’s observation about his car’s being stuck in the South Carolina mud and, after calling the AAA and seeing their truck get caught in the same quagmire, quipping, ‘You know, I always wondered who the AAA called when they got in trouble. Turns out, they call another AAA truck.’

– A new and totally bizarre vocabulary that includes such memorable words and phrases as: ‘Ima do me. You do you.’ That’s Jersey Shore slang for ‘you sleep with whomever you want, and vice versa, and we’ll still be friends in the morning.’ Then there’s ‘Did you smush with any girls last night?’ Smush = sleep with. And, then there are such true crossover expressions as: ‘grenade’ and ‘landmine’ that have already become mainstream expressions. The former is a descriptor for an unattractive, weight-challenged girl. The latter describes a leaner version of the same gender.

– All the drama and plot twists of the best daytime soap operas. The Ronnie and Sammie saga is not only scintillating, it’s punctuated by some of the worst, yet, most hysterical, dialogue one could conjure up. To wit:

Ronnie: ‘Sam, I’m, like, really trying here.’

Sammie; ‘I, like, know you are and that means a lot.’

Ronnie; ‘I, like, so love you.’

Sammie: ‘Like I know and I’ll always be there, even if we, like, hate each other.’

As is the case with any crossover hit, Jersey Shore has evolved over time. Unlike season one, there’s less attention being paid to the cast’s ethnicity (so, we don’t hear them calling themselves guidos and guidettes as in the past). There’s also a new venue, Miami, and a new workplace for the cast, a gelato shop in South Beach.

I’ll leave it to experts such as our resident pop culture guru, Sam Ford, to explain why Jersey Shore simultaneously appeals to my age group and my daughter’s. Perhaps, it’s because both generations see the show and the cast as absolute bus wrecks and, as is the case with rubber necking delays on the Garden State Parkway, we simply can’t help but slow down and look. And, once you look, you’re hooked.

So, here’s a shoutout to The Situation, Paulie D, Snooki and the other cast members. Keep it coming. Oh, and MIA, bitch. MIA.