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!!!!

Dec 01

Instant Recess is gonna get you

Two completely different articles have reinforced something I already knew: the vast majority of 1190 Americans are in horrific physical condition.

The first piece was an Advertising Age article reporting that our nation's kids “…overwhelmingly chose McDonald's as their favorite fast-food restaurant (37 percent picked Mickey D's, 10 percent liked Subway and a mere eight percent opted for Burger King).”

McDonald's is so successful with kids, says one industry analyst, because of its Happy Meals. Eric Giandelone of Mintel says the calorie-laden meals make going to McDonald's “…fun for kids.” I'll bet the trips they make later in life to obesity clinics won't be as much fun.

McDonald's disturbing success with our nation's youth dovetailed neatly with an excellent Jane E. Brody column in a recent New York Times Health Section. In it, Brody profiles Dr. Toni Yancey, a professor of health services at UCLA, who says, “Being sedentary is the norm in America.”  Ninety-five percent of Americans, says Yancey, “…spend most of our waking time sitting, reclining or lying down.' Let me repeat that statistic: 95 percent of us do nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. A Happy Meal legacy, perhaps?

Dr. Yancey has a name for America's inertia. She calls it “sedentary behavior disorder.” I call it laziness.

She has a solution for SBD and has even written a book about it called “Instant Recess.” Unlike the recess we remember from grade school however, this newer, adult version consists of “two, 10-minute breaks of enjoyable community activity as part of people's everyday lives.” Yancey suggests brisk group walks wherever people gather: workplaces, day care centers, conferences, etc. She says instant recess beats structured exercise since most people “get tired when they exert themselves just a little bit, which of course discourages them from exercising.” I'd call that laziness as well.

I'm all for Dr. Toni Yancey's instant recess strategy. I just hope the group walks don't pass by a McDonald's. I can just see one of the members suggesting an instant recess from the instant recess.

Nov 19

You are what you watch. Except when you aren’t.

Dog watching television According to psychographic ad targeter Mindset Media, the television shows we watch provide a  unique insight into our personality and can help brands better target their marketing spend (insert link).

For example, modest people, says Mindset Media, are more likely to watch 'Deadliest Catch' while altruistic types, such as Ed Moed, dial up cooking shows like 'Rachel Ray.'

Hmmm. Color me skeptical about all this psychographic psychobabble.

In describing viewers of my favorite show, 'Mad Men', Mindset says it attracts creative types. (No duh. The show's about an ad agency.) But, the creative types who watch 'Mad Men' are also emotionally sensitive (Well, yes, that's me.) and intellectually curious types (Damn, right again.) who tend to be more often dreamers than realists. (Whoa. Back off, Mindset. That's not me!)

Mad Men watchers are also liberal (Gee, these guys are pretty good.) and prefer brands such as Blue Moon and American Express. (I order sauvignon blanc, but I do like a Blue Moon on occasion and carry an AmEx card.) Mindset says I wouldn't be as interested in Campbell's Soup or the Cadillac Escalade. (That's putting it mildly.)

Mindset analyzed viewers of other shows as well, including ‘The Office’ which, while it's gone steadily downhill, is still a favorite of mine. “Like Michael on the show,” says Mindset, “watchers of The Office think they are superior to others.” (Rubbish.) In fact, says Mindset, fans of ‘The Office’ believe they are extraordinary (Which I am.) and happily brag about their accomplishments. (I'm a shameless self promoter.) Viewers prefer Starbucks (Not me. The coffee's way too bitter.) and the BMW Series 3 (Now, this is scary. I own an M3.) They dislike McDonald's (The word 'loathe' would be more appropriate.) and the Lincoln Town Car. (I'll ride in one, but you'll never catch me behind the wheel.).

All in all, this psychobabble stuff IS pretty impressive. Their analysis of me based upon my viewing of ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Office’ is eerily accurate.

BTW, in case you watch ‘Glee’ (which I can't stomach), you're “in touch with your own feelings and may even feel happiness or sadness more intensely than others.” I'll bet you didn't know that, did you? You also drink Evian and drive a Volkswagen. You dislike Quaker cereals (What's your issue with Quaker cereals?) and the Chevy Silverado. (Does anyone like that car?) Oh, and as reluctant as I am to add this in, Mindset says ‘Glee’ viewers are closest to viewers of ‘Mad Men’ when it comes to being creative. Not true. We ‘Mad Men’ types rule.

So, what's your favorite TV show and what do you think it says about you? I'd go on, but I need to DVR 'Eastbound and Down.' I'll bet Mindset would have a field day with viewers of that show.

Oct 01

Toys don’t contain calories. Or do they?

Guest Post by Maddy Gale, Peppercom

Happy meal This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is meeting to discuss an ordinance concerning toy giveaways in fast food meals marketed to children. The toys won’t be eliminated completely, but will be limited to children’s meals that fit into a set range of calories, fat, salt, and sugar decided on by the city.

Living in San Francisco, and watching a similar situation unfold concerning sugary drinks and city vending machines, I am not at all surprised by this news. But I am a bit torn.

I’m a good liberal arts college grad, having attended school in southern California where fruits and vegetables are bountiful year-round, and whose student body regularly spoke with school administration about where we sourced the food for our dining hall. Now that I live in San Francisco, I frequent the weekly farmers’ market clutching Michael Pollan’s newest sermon while stuffing my reusable bag full and discussing the biographies of my produce with the growers. I’m revolted by fast food chains and often find myself in conversation about the likes of McDonalds and Burger King and their ability to literally make a killing manufacturing highly processed, chemically flavored products and selling them as “food.” 

I seem like the type who would whole-heartedly support something that would upset and potentially damage the sales of fast food. But I’m not—at least not in this situation. Despite my desire to rally the type of enthusiasm I have for swiss chard and eggplants in the hearts and minds of all Americans, I do not think limiting the number of plastic toys that lay coated in French fry grease at the bottom of a child’s Happy Meal is the best way for city officials to encourage San Francisco’s youth to eat healthier.

Neither does Mayor Gavin Newsom who, according to his spokesman Tony Winnicker, believes dictating “what plastic toys can be put in a cardboard box is not the right way to achieve [getting kids to eat better].”

So who besides the Board of Supervisors thinks this ordinance will do any good? I can only guess the parents who are allowing their children to have the final say on what’s on their dinner plate—or tray in this instance. Perhaps these parents who are unwilling to withstand the tantrums and demands of their little cherubs every time they drive by a fast food chain are hoping that the city can suppress their kids’ desires by eliminating one part of the advertised meal. The part they can’t even eat. 

A child can’t make it to the drive-up window or down the street to sit inside the restaurant by themselves—a caregiver is the one taking them and asking if they want extra cheese on their burger. 

I appreciate what the Board of Supervisors is trying to do – encourage healthy living and keep health care costs in check. But this potential ordinance is just one of the many examples of children being victimized in the “obesity epidemic.” When is the country going to realize parents and caregivers are the ones who play the key role in supporting their growing kids – not the government? 

Sep 01

Will the Big Mac cause America to lose future wars?

In what may the most telling sign yet that our society is in a deep, and perhaps permanent, Fat-soldier decline, comes word that the U.S. Army has dramatically altered its fitness and basic training requirements for new recruits. Why? Because they can't handle it. A jaw-dropping front-page New York Times article reports a 70 percent increase in recruit drop outs between 1998 and 2008 because, as an Army spokesperson pointed out, the combination of a sedentary lifestyle, the reduction of gym classes in public schools due to budget cuts and, yes, good ol' fast food has created a generation of overweight, out-of-shape teenagers. It's no exaggeration to say the Big Mac is playing a key role in undermining our nation's security here and abroad.

In an effort to retain anyone remotely fit, the Army has dramatically altered its physical training regimen for the first time in history. Get this: they've dropped sit-ups and long runs from their training. How sad is it that the average Repman reader can probably bang out more push-ups and run a longer distance than the typical American teen?

There's something strangely symmetrical about America's decades-long decline. Initially, we saw it with our kids' test scores, particularly in math and science. Reports showed the very best engineers, the ones who will be inventing next generation technology, all seem to be coming from India or Asia. Many attend America's top universities since Stanford, Harvard, et al, are still among the world's elite. But, the newly-minted grads quickly return to their place of birth and apply their newfound acumen to solving a different country's technology challenges.

Now, we're seeing the result of years of physical and nutritional neglect coming home to roost (that last line was a salute to our nation's farmers who, as Repman readers will recall, are thought of more highly than PR types).

It's getting to the point where our kids not only can't outthink the competition, they can't outfight them. With each passing day, I'm starting to better understand what the average Roman citizen must have felt circa 476 A.D.

The saddest thing about teenage obesity is that it's solvable. But, there's really no one to hold accountable. Who will force parents to prepare better meals (and steer the kids away from Mickey D's)? And, if the kids aren't exercising in school because of budget cutbacks, how do we encourage them to embrace fitness? And, if Nintendo and Sony continue to churn out reality-based, slash-and-burn video games that keep the teens glued to their computers, how will they burn calories? Maybe the industrial design company IDEO can create a fat-burning mouse.

This is a sad, sad state of affairs. I, for one, am totally embarrassed. I think I'll go climb a mountain to burn off the stress.

Mar 31

The trial of Ronald McDonald

March 31 A coalition of health care professionals, parents and corporate accountability advocates are calling for the retirement of fast-food icon, Ronald McDonald. The coalition, Corporate Accountability International, plans to hold ‘retirement parties’ for good ol’ Ronald at various McDonald’s restaurants and college campuses. They believe the clownish icon is a huge cause of our nation’s obesity problems. And, I agree. I think retiring Ronald is a cool idea. But, it doesn’t go far enough.

In my mind, Ronald McDonald is a cartoon criminal, responsible for causing much of America’s obesity problem (I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between the growth of the McDonald’s chain since the 1950s and America’s expanding waistline). In fact, I think Ronald McDonald should go on trial for his crimes against humanity.

I believe a smart district attorney could put together a fool-proof case for the jury’s consideration. And, here’s how I envision the cross examination:

D.A.: “Mr. McDonald, your corporation is serving billions of Big Macs daily. How many calories a day do you think that adds up to? Trillions? Zillions?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I don’t make the hamburgers, Mr. District Attorney. I just bring happiness to people’s lives.”

D.A.: “Nice. How many morbidly obese people do you think are happy, Mr. McDonald?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I see lots of happy, rolly polly people every day, Mr. District Attorney.”

D.A.: “I’ll bet you do. Your honor, if it pleases the court, I’d like to enter into evidence this MRI photograph of severe arterial blockage. It was taken of a lifelong devotee of McDonald’s hamburgers who recently died of a massive heart attack. Mr. McDonald: how does that make you feel?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. Hungry, Mr. District Attorney. Hungry. That picture looks like one of my super-sized Macs. Kids just love ‘em to death.”

D.A.: “You mean they love them until they’re killed by them, is that what you’re saying Mr. McDonald?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I’m just the Chief Happiness Officer of McDonald’s, Mr. District Attorney. You’d have to ask someone else about death. That’s a real downer.”

D.A.: “No further questions, your honor.”

Judge: “You’re free to step down, Mr. McDonald.”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. Thanks your honor. That was fun.”

Judge: “You may not think so when the jury returns a guilty verdict, Mr. McDonald.”

Apr 29

This cannot be good news for Sparks, Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris

April 29 - no_red_meatA newly-released study of more than 500,000 Americans confirms that men and women who consume the most red and processed meat are likely to die sooner, especially from heart disease and cancer. Results of the decade-long survey were published in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

As a long-standing fan of fish, the news comes as comforting confirmation that I was right in withstanding all that peer pressure over the years from the Ed Moed's and Art Cody's of the world who'd say, 'C'mon Steve. You're at a steak house. Order a damn porterhouse!'

More to the point of this blog, thought, it'll be interesting to see how the meat packing plants, trade associations and multiple steak houses will deal with this news (not to mention good old McDonald's which, in this blogger's humble opinion, has done more damage to more arteries than any other entity in the history of mankind).

How will the pro-meat spin doctors spin these new facts? My guess is they'll trot out some medical shill who's been on some company's payroll for awhile. Taking a page out of the tobacco industry strategies of the 1960s, said 'medical expert' will present contrarian evidence proving that meat is a beautiful thing and, like those Wonder Bread commercials of yesteryear, '……helps build strong bodies in 12 ways.' (Note to Wonder Bread: What, exactly, were the 12 ways white bread helps build strong bodies?).

So, if you're a Peter Lugar, Morton's or Sparks Restaurant whose claims to fame are outrageously tasty steaks, what strategy makes the most sense?

– Aggressive counter-claims
– Reactive messaging to be trotted out only if, and when, the subject comes up, or
– Simply adopting a 'this too shall pass' philosophy?

Image aside, what are the moral and ethical implications of continuing to dish out a food product that has now been directly linked to disease? Do I see a Surgeon General's report in the making?

As for me, I'll continue to order the Dover Sole and keep my fingers crossed there isn't another study underway that links fish consumption to, say, leprosy.

Jan 31

Will Starbucks water down its brand along with its coffee?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And, Starbucks sure seems desperate at the moment. Starbucks

First, they sacked their CEO and reinstated founder and chairman Howard Schultz in the position. Then Schultz announces that the brand has lost its way and promises to close stores and re-focus on core offerings. Next, McDonald’s, sensing vulnerability, announces it will open 14,000 coffee bars and go mano-a-mano with the once unrivaled coffee king.

And how does Starbucks respond? It begins testing $1 cups of coffee in its hometown of Seattle. That’s right, the guys who dazzled marketing professors everywhere by convincing Americans to pay $4 or more for a cup of Joe, have blinked.

One can almost sense the panic that must be pervading the hallways of Schultz’s once-proud empire. Slashing the price of its coffee flies in the face of everything Starbucks stands for, and should give a monumental image and reputation boost to McDonald’s gamble.

The Starbucks move makes as much sense as Lexus suddenly offering a cheap, ‘starter car,’ Gucci licensing body tattoos or Zegna selling designer overalls.

These are the times that try men’s souls and now is the time for Howard Schultz to stand firm and hold the line on pricing and brand consistency.

Dec 30

Growth at Any Price – Including No Growth

Guest blog by Gene ColterTh12410
When my mom travels from my home to JFK airport this week, chances are her Florida-bound JetBlue flight will be substantially delayed, just as my dad’s flight was last week.

It won’t be the airline’s fault – New York-area airports have on-time arrival/departure percentages that rival the test scores of “successful” college football teams – but every little hiccup gets me thinking about what’s gone terribly wrong with the airline that only a short while ago had been the promise of the industry. More to the point, JetBlue stands as an object lesson on the mission that drives – and damages – many of America’s greatest companies.

JetBlue is near to hitting a couple of notable anniversaries. The discount carrier was founded almost a decade ago in 1998, and it was almost a year ago that JetBlue made worldwide headlines after allowing weather-bound passengers to spend 10 hours on the tarmac and canceling over 1,000 flights.

The root cause of that debacle – and the inevitable travel delays of the Colter brood – is not weather. It is JetBlue’s overreaching for “growth,” a sin that’s so common among notable public companies and their backers that we have trouble even recognizing its pervasiveness.

Please know that your blogger does not own sandals and hugs no trees. (In fact, given the latter’s tendency to invade his basement, he must often be physically detained by contractors from trying to cut down every tree in his heavily wooded Northern New Jersey neighborhood.) But the fact stands that there are reasonable growth strategies – often evidenced by their long-term parameters – and growth-right-here-right-now-don’t-care-how-it-happens strategies.

When David Neeleman founded JetBlue, he showed signs of getting it all right: limited, controlled reach; disdain for the all-over-the-place pricing and hub-and-spoke system that had damaged the major carriers; dynamite customer service; and a serious commitment to managing costs.

But Neeleman is also a “serial entrepreneur” and a man who seems to treat his much-discussed attention-deficit disorder as a public-relations messaging point. More to the point – and this is the real killer – JetBlue is a public company, with all the attendant quarter-to-quarter demands that entails. We should have known.

So it was a couple of years ago that Neeleman — since replaced in the top job, though he remains the company’s non-executive chairman – added another type of aircraft to JetBlue’s stable, plus a bunch more routes and a new training center. Costs – in an industry already legendary for high fixed costs – soared. The future is by no means bright for the airline with good TV, fun-loving attendants and tasty blue-corn chips.

Business luminaries with much more serious chops than I will see that I am making a lonely argument about controlled growth, and they will dismiss it. Yet the fact remains that sometimes – many times – companies would be better off reining in their urges to soar ahead and instead settle for steady profits and good cash flow, picking their spots for big strategic moves that will bring another wave of sustainable growth.

Just ask JetBlue, which posted losses for the last two years and whose stock price is near-grounded at about $6. Even fans of the airline have noted that it has grown too fast to manage its challenges.

It’s unfair (though certainly convenient) to single out JetBlue. Many companies have similarly stumbled. Countless more will follow. And even successful multinationals suffer at the hands of U.S. public markets, which, make no mistake, are a tremendous asset, perhaps more so than government and any other social entity.

Consider, for example, McDonald’s. The Golden Arches have pretty much penetrated every market they can operate in. Analysts ding the stock because it is no longer a “growth company.” But the cash flow from “Billions and Billions Served” is amazing, and what’s wrong with cash and the profits they produce? I suspect the company could fund itself from operations for eternity, or easily turn to banks or bond markets should it need to fatten up its customers, er, coffers. Does it even need to be public anymore?

So, as the New Year approaches, make your way to the airport and settle in for your long (long) trip home. Perhaps you can kill some time by working on a plan to take McDonald’s private.

* * *
Speaking of public companies, anyone who wants to get the real read on what the economy’s fate will be in 2008 would do well to skip the government data and instead turn to the companies’ financial reports. Your goal is to determine whether companies are spending down their cash piles. Right now, most aren’t. If that trend continues no amount of consumer spending or Federal Reserve intervention will keep the economy’s trajectory from looking like JetBlue’s stock chart.