May 22

This latest TV infomercial is real crap

Just when I thought TV content couldn’t possibly sink any lower, I happened to light on a new Sunday morning infomercial for a "two-part" cleansing solution intended to "free" the upper and lower intestines of unwanted fecal matter and generate stools with greater girth and length (just like the kind when you were a kid. Remember?).

The "inventor" of this product, who was joined on the Larry King-like talk show setting by a "doctor" Billboard_3 and "health care store owner and nutritionist" said his product helped offset all of the harmful toxins and anti-oxidants that abound in our post-modern, post-industrial, global warming-beset environment. It does so by acting as a roto-rooter that scours the intestinal walls of the unwanted fecal matter that hangs out in there. As "proof" of his claim, the inventor said the pathologists who performed John Wayne’s autopsy found 44 pounds of fecal matter in the Duke’s intestines. This guy then claimed Wayne would have lived many years more if he’d only produced healthy daily dumps (I guess the Western star’s "personal production" didn’t have the desired girth and length it should have). One can only imagine what the Wayne’s family reaction to this drivel will be. Can you spell lawsuit?

While the average, semi-literate viewer will hopefully see this ruse for what it is, I wonder how many other, less astute consumers might be duped (especially since the inventor also claims his two-part solution is a great weight-loss solution since it cleans out an average of five to 10 pounds of unwanted nastiness every 30 days).

Where is the FCC in this shitstorm? Did someone in authority actually screen the segment? Is anyone awake at the wheel?

While there are so many upsides to a free enterprise system, it takes something like this to remind me that what the great 19th century showman P.T. Barnum said way back when still holds true today: "there’s a sucker born every minute."

May 19

American Management Today – Idiots?

A magazine recently ran a "Dilbert Quotes" contest for people to submit quotes from their real-life Dilbert-comic-strip-type managers. These were voted the top ten and speak for themselves. (My personal favorite is from AT&T.)

"As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday, and employees will receive their cards in two weeks." (This was the winning quote from Fred Dales, Microsoft Corp. in Redmond WA)

"What I need is an exact list of specific unknown problems we might encounter." (Lykes Lines Shipping)

"E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business." (Accounting manager, Electric Boat Company)

"This project is so important we can’t let things that are more important interfere with it." (Advertising/Marketing manager, United Parcel Service)

"Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule." (Plant Manager, Delco Corporation)

"No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We’ve been working on it for months. Now go act busy for a few weeks and I’ll let you know when it’s time to tell them." (R&D supervisor, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing/3M Corp.)

Quote from the Boss: "Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say." (Marketing executive, Citrix Corporation)

My sister passed away and her funeral was scheduled for Monday. When I told my Boss, he said she died on purpose so that I would have to miss work on the busiest day of the year. He then asked if we could change her burial to Friday. He said, "That would be better for me." (Shipping executive, FTD Florists)

"We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees." (Switching supervisor, AT&T Long Lines Division)

Tip of the RepMan’s hat to Mike Herman for forwarding.

May 19

Bland, banal and boring best describes most print ads

I was skimming yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and was just about to put it down when I spied a half-page photo of a woman standing on a street corner. I decided to try and figure out what the ad was about without reading the text.

The woman is looking straight ahead, and is flanked by men walking away from her in opposite directions. She’s in front of a building, sports a conservative pants suit and has a Mona Lisa-like smile creasing her face.

So, what was the ad for? A new line of women’s business attire? A cell phone company? A promotionDoubletree_ad_1   for some upcoming walk for the cure of some disease? An incredibly subtle pitch for the DaVinci Code movie?

It was impossible to tell, so I decided to read the headline: "Work. Dream. We’ll leave that up to you. But, as far as taking care of you goes, you can leave that up to us."

Hmmmm. Was this a subtle move by Sanofi-Aventis to promote its beleaguered Ambien product? Maybe a mattress maker promoting its product? A sleep clinic?

Finally I saw the tiny Doubletree Hotel logo at the bottom of the ad. Ah ha. Then, finally, I realized that the woman in question was flanked by two carefully trimmed trees…..the Doubletree logo. Talk about subliminal advertising.

Print advertising rarely gets my interest or attention anymore. There simply isn’t any time on my part or, in my opinion, credibility on the marketer’s part. How much smarter might Doubletree have been to follow JetBlue’s lead and enact a viral, word-of-mouth campaign aimed at sharing customers’ favorite hotel experiences? It would dramatically heighten awareness, credibility and trust since prospects would be reading real-world stories from real-world business travelers.

Oh well, until then, Doubletree will have to count on people like me to "double back" and re-read their ads in order to figure them out. How that then translates to a buying decision, though, is beyond me.

May 18

I wonder if the just-discovered solar system has a planet and a PR industry like ours?

European astronomers have detected a new solar system in the constellation Puppis (always one of my favorite constellations, btw) that is remarkably similar to our own. And, guess what? The third planet in this new solar system just might have the right ingredients for life.

So, borrowing a page from one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, I wonder if this third planet in the constellation Puppis might have spawned a "bizarro" version of our present-day public relations world on Earth?

On Bizarro planet, the reality of our PR world would be the exact opposite. So, for example:

1) Bizarro mainstream media would not only acknowledge they get most of their story ideas fromPlanetary_system_1   public relations pros, they’d thank them as well.

2) The Bizarro PR industry would reflect the ethnic diversity of the third planet’s population.

3) In the Bizarro PR world, corporate purchasing managers would focus on what they do best: get the lowest possible prices for office supplies and furniture.

4) On Bizarro, prospective clients would be "up front and honest" with agencies competing for their business. If the CEO has a relationship with the head of one of the agencies, it would be disclosed in advance. If a global manufacturer says it’s tired of the way it’s been treated by its present big agency partner, but still feels a multinational presence is critical, then they wouldn’t invite smaller agencies into the pitch and make them fruitlessly spin their wheels.

5) Bizarro clients would pay agencies in advance of each month’s work.

6) Bizarro world Fortune 500 CEO’s would understand the bottom-line contributions of PR and routinely extend that coveted "seat at the table."

7) Bizarro PR world awards’ dinners would be brief and to the point.

8) And, last but not least, the Bizarro world edition of the New York Times would have a daily column devoted to public relations in recognition of the fact that it has grown more important and strategic than advertising.

So, who wants to help me charter a spaceship to Bizarro PR world? I’m pretty sure your frequent flier miles will cover most of the cost.

May 17

Better late than never

Bausch & Lomb is doing everything right in handling its contact lens crisis. Despite accusations from the FDA that they were late to pull their product from the shelves, B&L is now in full crisis communications mode. Unlike its peers atRenu Sanofi-Aventis who have snoozed through their Ambien crisis, B&L is actually listening to the marketplace and doing some smart communications work. In addition to recalling its products, it’s launched an aggressive consumer education campaign featuring Ron Zarrella, the CEO.

The effort portrays B&L as a caring, compassionate corporate citizen. By enlisting Zarrella as lead spokesperson, it also demonstrates how seriously the company views the product flaws. And, by recalling the product, Bausch & Lomb is emulating the crisis gold standard, Johnson & Johnson, and its handling of the Tylenol crisis.

B&L has put its money where its mouth is. It’s doing all the right things. Let’s hope some of its big pharma peers take note and follow suit soon.

May 17

I want to go where everybody knows my name

Bolt Media just released the results of a fascinating survey about "younger" Americans and their TV 123_2 viewing habits. There’s one really interesting disconnect in the findings: while 69 percent of the 400 survey respondents between the ages of 16 and 34 said they watched TV as an activity, three out of four couldn’t name all four of the big networks (CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox).

The Bolt Media people interpret this as a sign that the Internet and movies have made huge inroads among young people and drawn them away from TV. OK, I’ll go along with that. But, how could 75 percent of the respondents be so clueless as to not know the names of the four major networks? It boggles the mind. So, while nearly seven out of 10 respondents are sitting in front of the oh-so-appropriately named boob tube, most can’t remember the name of the network airing their favorite shows. How brutal is that?

This would be equivalent to Major League Baseball fans saying they go to see the Yankees and Mets play but have no idea what leagues they’re in. Or, perhaps, a bunch of churchgoers saying that while they "religiously" attended Catholic, Episcopalian or Methodist services every Sunday, they couldn’t tell you whether said religions would be classified as Christian, Jewish or Islamic.

I wish I could think of some smart image or reputation programs the big four networks could implement to heighten awareness among this huge, semi-conscious market segment. But, considering how seemingly unaware the 16 to 34-year-olds are, this particular mountain may be just too high to climb.

May 16

Do as we say, not as we do

Major media companies such as CBS, Walt Disney and Viacom are lobbying the Securities and Exchange Commission to alter or drop a proposal that would require disclosing the financial packages of top-earning, non-executive actors and TV news anchors.

The so-called "Katie Couric" clause is intended by the SEC to provide more transparency to shareholders of the mega media concerns, and would require companies to disclose salary figures for up to three workers whose compensation exceeds that of its top executives. As most of the Western World now knows, Ms. Couric recently signed with CBS for a reported salary of $15 million over five years.

So, while it’s fine for the Katie’s of the world to lambaste the "excessive" pay packages of CEOs, it’s apparently not fair to hold her and her ilk to the same standards. In their defense, the media companies say the Katie-type compensation packages are "too complex and irrelevant to shareholders." They also say they’re fearful that such transparency would scare away the more secretive celebrities out there. My, how my heart bleeds.

It’s time for these double standards to follow the 30-second television commercial into obscurity. Americans and shareholders have every right to know what sort of dough Katie is pulling down, especially in light of her alleged credibility with, and concern for, the "average" American. And, it definitely does Katie’s image and reputation no good to be clearly talking out of both sides of her mouth on this issue.

That said, if the SEC does cave into pressure and delete the clause, how much fun would it be to see Ms. Couric squirming just once as she’s asked by some investigative reporter to explain how she can pillory handsomely paid CEOs on the one hand while balking at disclosing her own pay on the other.

May 12

New 24-hour, all-infant channel is so wrong in so many ways

Just when I thought I’d seen it all comes news that a new, 24-hour network for infantsis launching next Thursday. Called "BabyfirstTV," the channel will initially be available via satellite TV and, later, mainstream cable. Despite vehement protestations from such august groups as the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies should absolutely not be exposed to the boob tube, BabyfirstTV executives say the content will be "safe, commercial free and appropriate."

Well, gag me with a pacifier. This is so perverse, so bogus and so obviously driven by marketers who want to exploit yet another market segment that it absolutely boggles the mind. What’s next? An all Alzheimer’s channel? A 24-hour network for quadraplegics?

I can just imagine the programming on BabyfirstTV. There’s probably the "Tot Today Show" with Baby Katie and Baby Matt, "All My Infants," a searing soap opera that explores the increasingly complicated interpersonal relationships of today’s babies and "ESPNatal," which covers baby races, baby boxing and , of course, baby poker matches.

Can you imagine the dialogue on the "Tot Today Show?"

Baby Katie: "Well our guest today is Baby Louise, who has started a cosmetic line for infants. Baby Louise, welcome. So tell us, why are cosmetics so important for baby girls?

Baby Louise: "I don’t know about you Baby Katie, but I was mortified to see the videos of my birth. No eyeliner, rouge or anything. I mean, I was hideous. Absolutely hideous. And, I’m still dealing with the emotional scars of that so-called special moment. Baby Katie, looking good for baby girls is no longer an option, it’s an essential."

And so on and so forth. FirstbabyTV has to win awards for being the most insidious marketing idea of the year. Here’s hoping babies vote their displeasure by simply channel surfing to something more appropriate, say, Sesame Street, for example.

May 11

CEO misconduct is becoming an everyday occurrence

How sad is it to read about one bogus CEO after another lying, cheating or just plain misbehaving? Along with the erosion of trust in our religious, government, sports and entertainment "leaders," what’s happening in big business is clearly fanning the flames of an overall feeling of angst and hopelessness in America.

The latest CEO crisis comes from New England and involves Brian Keane, the founder and top kick of his eponymous, fast-growing, publicly traded computer company. While the allegations are vague, they involve "misbehavior" and were serious enough for the board to step in and ask Keene to step out.

Happily, the Keene board acted responsibly. As did the Radio Shack board when its CEO was caught lying about his college credentials. I’m still amazed and appalled, though, by what’s not happening at Raytheon, whose board is impersonating the proverbial deer caught in the headlights in the wake of its CEOs blatant plagiarism of other authors’ works.

We need accountability in the worst way right now. For whatever reason, societal or otherwise, personal accountability seems to have gone the way of the carrier pigeon, dodo bird and T. Rex. It’s become extinct. And, I’m not sure how to ever bring it back.

It’s great to see some boards step up to the plate and hold the misbehaving executives accountable. But a similar mechanism seems to be missing entirely in every other sector of society.