Nov 30

The curious tale of the worrisome wart

As readers may recall, I was frustrated some weeks back by an endless wait in a doctor’s office. Eventually I gave up and rescheduled after an hour-long wait.

Quick update: I returned to said doctor, had a "suspicious" growth removed from my arm and went home.

Now, fast forward to yesterday. My wife dials my office in a panic. The doctor’s office called her,Phone_4   saying the biopsy results had just come in and they needed to speak with me immediately. Despite her pleading, they refused to tell my wife anything. She asked that I call the doctor and call her back ASAP. Which I did.

I asked for the doctor and was put on hold. For the next three minutes, I listened as an audio recording told me ALL about skin cancer and the chances of survival being vastly improved via early detection, etc. The longer I waited, and the more I heard, the more convinced I became that, yes indeed, I had cancer. To say the three minutes felt like three hours would be an understatement. My heart was literally in my throat.

Finally, a nurse picked up the phone and said, "Hi Steve. The doctor just wanted you to know the biopsy showed the mass was only a wart. Have a good day."

I was stunned. Happy and relieved to be sure, but stunned. Then, "stunned" turned to resentment and resentment, in turn, escalated to anger. Doctors’ lack of customer service (not to mention good-old bedside manner) never ceases to amaze me.

I guess patient confidentiality rules prevented them from sharing the information with my wife. But, the audio recordings were downright scary and the interminable wait was just plain irresponsible and inhumane. Again I ask the rhetorical question: would this sort of behavior be tolerated in any other field?

Based upon personal experiences, I’d now rate the average doctor right alongside lawyers at the bottom of the "most admired professions" list.

Nov 29

Did truth in advertising ever really exist?

So, I was cruising through Times Square yesterday in one of those tank-like yellow cabs when I spied a billboard advertising the New Jersey Nets basketball team. I smiled as I glanced at "Vinsanity," Jason Kidd and "RJ." But, then my grin turned to a frown as I read the brief inscription below the players: "Just 15 minutes from Broadway."

Say what? Fifteen minutes from Broadway? Who are they trying to kid (or, Kidd, if you will)? On a rainy, gridlocked night, Madison Square Garden (home of the abysmal NY Knicks) can be a 15-minute cab ride from Times Square. So, are the Nets (or, more likely, their ad agency) trying to tell me I can make it from Times Square to Continental Arena in the Meadowlands in just 15 minutes? C’mon. You can’t even get to the Lincoln Tunnel in 15 minutes on most nights.

There’s no friggin’ way that message rings true. So, why plant the seed in the first place? Obviously, advertising has long been notorious for stretching the truth. But, this billboard is a slam dunk of a lie. Even my partner, Ed, whose reckless driving has prompted many a hapless Peppercom passenger to dislocate a neck vertebra, couldn’t make it from Times Square to courtside in a quarter-hour.

So, how about a quick fix? How about a younger, more adventurous Nets fan provides an assist by shimmying up the billboard one night and replacing the number one with the number four. "Only 45 minutes from Broadway." Now, that’s a tagline I could live with.

Nov 28

Kids and adults alike will say (and write) the darndest things

I happened to stumble across a book I’d brought home from a long-ago PRSA Counselors Academy event entitled, "More Anguished English." It’s written by Richard Lederer and contains chapter after chapter of hilarious hijacks of the English language.

For example, a job seeker wrote on her application: "I have an obsession for detail. I like to make sure I cross my I’s and dot my t’s."

A history student submitted an essay that contained this gem: "Pompeii was destroyed by an overflow of saliva from the Vatican."

And there was this beaut from a local newspaper: "This is the time of year when all the policemen and firemen hold their balls."

There are nearly 200 pages of laugh out loud malaprops. I found the book especially relevant since I come across quite a few malaprops in my e-mail in-box. The most recent involved an inquiry as to whether we’d create a ‘horse-and-pony’ show for a prospective client. Malaprops in a business setting are, sadly, no laughing matter. They reflect poorly on the individual as well as his or her firm. In severe instances, repeated grammatical and syntax sins can actually jeopardize client relationships.

I’d been planning to compile some of the more egregious malaprops that I’ve come across and write my own handbook. But, Mr. Lederer seems to have cornered the market. Oh well, maybe I’ll focus instead on the funniest new business gaffes I’ve witnessed. For example, I can still picture a former associate heatedly gesturing to make a point in front of a large group of prospects, only to knock a presentation board with such force that it literally took flight and ended up clear across the room. And, then there was the time an associate inadvertently spilled a steaming hot cup of coffee on the lap of a senior prospective client executive. To be sure, neither incident went over very well. In fact, both ended up derailing otherwise well crafted "horse and pony shows."

Nov 27

A young man’s perspective on McDonald’s

Chris ‘Repman, Jr.’ Cody, home for the Thanksgiving break, shared an interesting insight yesterday as we watched a bizarre McDonald’s commercial during a break in the Jets game. In the spot, one incredibly attractive young lady after another enter a guy’s apartment for a party where McDonald’s take-out food is being served.

A self-proclaimed man-about-town, Repman, Jr., was skeptical of the commercial, saying most guysMc942001  his age abhor kissing a girl who has just eaten a McDonald’s product. In fact, he says the ‘after taste’ of a quarter pounder is even worse than that of a cigarette. How ’bout that?

Chris’s observation was Interesting, but not surprising. On the rare occasions when I eat at McDonald’s or Burger King, I find myself immediately lamenting the fact and feeling the need for a cleansing shower.

Which got me thinking. If other young men (and women) feel so strongly about kissing someone who has just consumed a quarter pounder or Big Mac, maybe McD’s should think about a smart, in-store partnership with, say, Lavoris. That would solve the Chris Cody issue and still allow McDonald’s patrons to eat to their hearts’ content. And, speaking of hearts and heart disease, what about another McDonald’s partnership with a heart-healthy product? Dark chocolate, maybe? Red wine? What a great meal combo that would make: "Yes, I’d like the quarter-pounder with cheese, a glass of Pinot Noir and some heart-healthy dark chocolate. And, that’s to go, please.

Nov 22

It’s that time of the year again

No sooner do the horrific and heinous political commercials end than boring and banal Christmas spots pop up on the screen. And, none is worse than the tri-state Lexus "December to remember" campaign.

These spots are ubiquitous and seem to have been running every Christmas season since Scrooge &Lexus_bow_1 Marley set up their accountancy way back when. They’re also a real turn-off. There’s always some heartwarming scene that ends with someone walking outside to find themselves the lucky recipient of a brand new Lexus. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing better than a Lexus. But, these commercials are a real disconnect from an image standpoint.

Lexus is all about perfection (i.e.trouble-free driving, stylish lines and a great ride). But, the commercials could be about any car: a Hyundai, a VW, a Toyota or, dare I say it, even a Chevy. There’s nothing that leverages the brand’s points of differentiation.

I know, I know. It’s a Christmas spot. But, like the majority of political ads, the Lexus commercials fail to break through from the six million other sickly-sweet holiday spots cramming the airwaves. A brand and car as unique as Lexus deserves a creative treatment to match. Dads handing over car keys to daughters or wives doing the same for hubbies is just plain lame. Especially when it runs Christmas after Christmas after Christmas. Pardon me, Lexus, but it’s time for peace on earth, good will to men and TV spots that are a little less nauseating. As Scrooge would say, "bah humbug."

Nov 21

What’s with all the meltdowns in Hollywood?

First there was Tom Cruise decrying the use of anti depressant medications, chastising Matt Lauer (no relation to P’com’s Dawn, btw) on the Today Show and leaping around Oprah’s set like a hopped up frog on acid. Then came Mel Gibson lashing out at all things Jewish. Now, along comes Michael Richards of Seinfeld fame, going postal during a live comedy routine (video) and screaming racial epithets at two black studio audience members.

What’s with the rash of Hollywood meltdowns? Is Tinsletown merely reflecting the ills of the larger society? Many pundits believe Americans have never been more stressed or more depressed. And, when you factor in such stresses as rising gas prices, a brutal war, a lame duck government, Catholic priests running amok, and God knows what else, it sure does add up.

So, can "Kramer" come back from his moment of madness? Actually, since Seinfeld, Richards has been the ultimate role model of typecasting. Unlike Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Richards has been unable to shake free of the character’s shackles and convince audiences he can be someone else. And, maybe, just maybe, last week’s on-stage meltdown was the result of years of pent-up frustration. 

Richards hasn’t been working much lately, so I don’t think the blow-up will hurt. In fact, who knows, it may just resuscitate his moribund act since he clearly demonstrated he can be more than the cool, hip and funny as hell Kramer character.

America loves to build up, tear down and then, in a few rare instances, give a broken down actor/performer a second chance. We’ll see what happens in Richards’ case. So, here’s hoping that one of my favorite characters in my all-time favorite TV show can bounce back and reinvent himself. As Louis-Drefus’ character might say, "He’s certainly sponge-worthy in my book."

Nov 21

Bogus cars = bogus sales

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just released its annual list of the safest cars to drive.H995rru_1  And, guess, what? There isn’t a single American-made car among the top 13 models in the large, midsized or small categories.

Frankly, I’m not surprised. In fact, it’s not even a big story anymore. Years ago, it might have been. But, Detroit’s image and reputation have taken such a beating that, collectively, the Big Three are seen as little more than road kill on the automotive global highway.

How does Detroit expect to forestall further inroads by the Toyotas of the road when they still can’t get it right from a safety standpoint? I, for one, don’t go near American cars. Detroit lost me 20 years ago and, based upon these scores, it will be at least another two decades before I pay them any attention.

Detroit’s plight is a great example of the best marketing, advertising and PR in the world not being able to overcome the handicap of a bad product. Spend as much as you like, Detroit. But, if the cars remain bogus, so will your sales figures. Until and unless the Big Three start consistently producing quality cars, they’ll stay in the rear-view mirrors of Toyota, Honda and other foreign manufacturers.

Thanks to Dave Mandell for this idea.

Nov 20

Change for the sake of change

The totally bogus decision by the Florida Marlins to fire manager Joe Girardi after he engineered one5gg830  of the most striking turnarounds in recent MLB history was underscored by Girardi’s being named National League manager of the year. How sad, and how ironic, that he’s no longer around to enjoy his award.

The Marlins’ management decided that, regardless of Girardi’s accomplishments, it was time for a change. This sort of ‘change for change’s sake’ is certainly not unique to baseball. In fact, it runs rampant in the wonderful world of marketing as well.

How many times has an outstanding agency been dumped just because a new client marketing guru comes on board? How many times has an agency that’s been producing great results been told the account was being put up for review because the client wanted "fresh thinking" or a "different perspective"?

I remember one huge accounting firm letting us go despite breakthrough results on our part. Later on, it was bittersweet to be sure when, a la Joe Girardi, the program in question was submitted, and selected, as "best b-to-b" effort of the year.

Nothing against Girardi’s successor, but I’m kinda hoping he fails. Managements who change for the sake of change, sometimes need to be reminded of the absurdity of their decisions.

Thanks to Pete Harris for this idea.

Nov 17

OK, I admit it, I like the titanium card’s ‘plunk’ factor

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting feature (subscription required) about the latest craze in credit cards: cool colors, unique partnerships/charitable tie-ins and, in the case of the American Express titanium card, the so-called ‘plunk’ factor.

As a titanium card holder, I know of what they speak. According to the article, the average creditBlack_card  card tips the scales at a measly 0.17 ounce. Hah! The mighty titanium card weighs in at a massive 0.53 ounce. And, says, Amex execs, that added heft is what creates the plunk factor.

It’s true. That card is a big momma. And when waiters, bartenders or hotel clerks see and feel the card for the first time, they do a definite double take. Some even emit a "wow…" as well.

Plunk factor and viral buzz have to be the ultimate holy grail for a card company. Sadly, I can’t say that I’m part of Amex’s titanium card word of mouth army because, frankly, while I dig the card, I’m also a little embarrassed by it. I mean, it’s like having a Sherman tank in your wallet. You pull that baby out and slap it down on a table, and, boom, it’s like a 3 megaton bomb has exploded.

In the ‘me too’ world of credit card marketing, I’m surprised Visa or Mastercard haven’t supersized one of their own cards and trumped the titanium with, say, a 0.65 ‘mother of all cards’ card. I know I would. And, hey, for a strategic partnership, the ‘mother’ card company could team up with chiropractors, who would obviously be needed to treat the lower back pain caused by the card.

Nov 16

Is red, white, and blonde as Betty Beauty?

There’s no such thing as ‘going too far’ in today’s society. Once taboo topics are now regular fodderBetty111206_1   for primetime sitcoms, dramas and the assorted CSI shows.

And, when it comes to the marketing of consumer products, sex is becoming more and more mainstream as Levitra, Cialis and various other pills, lotions and god knows what else compete for the almighty dollar.

As a jaded, cynical and world weary consumer (at times), I thought I’d seen it all. But, then along came Betty. "Betty Beauty" to be exact, which bills itself as ‘color for the hair down there.’ Yes, that hair down there.

The branchild of Nancy Jarecki, Betty Beauty is generating quite the buzz, attracting some 2 million web visitors on an annual basis, well ahead of other "hair coloring" products such as Clairol.

Betty Beauty comes in a wide range of colors: auburn, black, blonde, brown and, of course, ‘fun,’ which is hot pink. Ms. Jarecki says she came up with the ‘down under’ hair color concept when she visited a Rome hair salon and saw a colorist discreetly slip a hair color packet in a departing customer’s purse (after asking the colorist "what up?," Jarecki was told the packet contained coloring "to match down there"). And that, my friends, is when this particular entrepreneur’s eureka moment occurred. She asked herself the age-old, rhetorical question: "…Who wouldn’t want to be a true blond?" and, voila, we have the birth of Betty Beauty.

With Betty’s arrival, another product and marketing barrier has been broken. And the world, I’m sure, is the better for it. But I, for one, shudder to think what sort of line extensions Betty Beauty might have in the wings. If nothing else, they have to be thinking of strategic partnerships with, say, The Playboy Channel, Cosmopolitan, Victoria’s Secret and god knows who else.

In stepping back and thinking about the image and reputation implications of Betty Beauty, I wondered what the Founding Fathers (or their wives for that matter) would think of the free-market society they created that has spawned a product as bizarre as Betty Beauty. Ya gotta believe the old boys would see it as nothing less than revolutionary. And, talk about the spirit of ’76! Betty Beauty has my vote for the spirit of ’06. And ’07. And 08.