Apr 13

The new trickle down theory

Is the Rev. Al Sharpton the single most powerful man in the country? Is he the most dangerous? Or is he a combination of both?


There’s no doubt in my mind that Sharpton’s assault on all things Imus forced the major marketers to pull their advertising support of Imus (or run the risk of a Sharpton-inspired product boycott). The networks, in turn, fired Imus in order to placate the advertisers. And Imus is gone and we’re left contemplating a new type of trickle-down theory: the loudmouthed activist with an agenda scares the advertisers who, in turn, scare the networks who pull the plug on the politically incorrect source of the controversy.

So, Sharpton has won. And the double standard reigns supreme. It’s ok for Sharpton to pile on the Duke lacrosse players and never be held accountable for his reckless statements. But, Imus, apology or no apology, is gone.

The losers here are the kids. What signal are we sending them? Are we saying it’s ok to say what you want as long as it’s politically correct? Are we saying you needn’t worry about accountability if you’re attacking the mainstream, power sources (i.e. White society)?

The other loser is the already battered image and reputation of American society. What must America watchers be thinking of this latest charade?

I’m all for fairness, justice and equality. But, not when it’s a one way street. So, Rev. Sharpton, when will you start holding Hip-Hop artists to the same standards you’ve held Don Imus?

Apr 12

Where are the apologies?

Dukescandal_2While Imus is apologizing nationwide to the Rutgers women’s basketball team and to the African-American community at large for his stupid comments, where are the apologies from the African-American leaders to the Duke lacrosse students who "went to hell and back" as one of them stated today? Where are the apologies to the innocent students for presuming them guilty and for ruining their reputations?  Where are the apologies to the country for creating a racial incident when none existed? 

Why is no one — at the very least — saying sorry?

And, why do we allow this to happen in our country?  It’s criminal for us to just let anyone get on a soapbox — and shout to the world — without having hard evidence as to someone’s guilt or innocence.  In the Imus case, the disgust is justified and the evidence is as hard as it gets.  But, in the Duke case, which is now similar in many ways to the Tawana Brawley case, there was no hard evidence that these boys were possibly guilty. 

On April 19, 2006, Al Sharpton was a guest on the Bill O’Reilly Show on the Fox News Channel.

The topic was the Duke case. Toward the end of the interview, Sharpton admitted that he didn’t know yet what really happened, and said, "I don’t know yet and I think that the proper thing to do is to support those that want justice."

OK, Al, what justice now do the boys get? Don’t they, at the very least, deserve an apology.

Apr 11

Civility on the web? Fuggedaboudit!

Tim O’Reilly’s well-intentioned, but incredibly naïve, suggestion to create a set ofManners guidelines to shape online discussion and, ultimately, bring civility and manners to the web has about as much chance of success as the proverbial snowball in hell. (Click for article in NY Times.)

O’Reilly, along with Wikipedia Founder, Jimmy Wales, are asking bloggers to, among other things ban anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

Had this dynamic duo suggested such a set of guidelines say, two or three years ago, I’d give it a better than 50-50 chance of success. But, with 60 million-plus bloggers around the world doing and saying whatever they please, the chance of even a small percentage playing by Messrs. O’Reilly and Wales’ new rules is slim to none.

The genie is out of the bottle as far as online boorishness, poor manners and inappropriate postings. In fact, the Blogosphere reminds me of the Old West where lawlessness reigned supreme and the quickest gun (or, in the Blogosphere’s case, the quickest typepad) won the day. So, hats off to O’Reilly and Wales, but the guys with the Black hats can’t and won’t be controlled.

Apr 10

Political correctness rides again

NBC’s decision to suspend Don Imus is yet another nail in the coffin of free speech, hipness and edgy humor.

Imus, like other shock jocks, rose to fame and fortune because he was willing to say and do what others wouldn’t. What set Imus apart, however, was his intellectual bent, his politically incorrect view on life and his A-level guest list. For me, Imus was the thinking man’s Howard Stern.

Now, though, Imus has been shut down for a fortnight because of a racially insensitive slur. As Imus was quick to point out, he’s offended every possible race, religion and creed. Yet, this time, he apparently went too far.

I don’t condone his bizarre ways, but I do support Imus in his free-thinking and free speech. Political correctness may have won with the Imus suspension. But, we all lose when a true original like the I-man is shut down.

I hope advertisers don’t follow NBCs lead and pull their spots from the I-man’s show. After all, he was merely living up to an image and reputation he’d carefully crafted for years.

Here’s hoping the I-man rests up and comes back from his forced hiatus bigger and badder than ever.

Apr 09

Corporate Social Irresponsibility

There are great marketing ideas, not-so-great-marketing ideas and bad marketing ideas. Occasionally, though, there comes along a marketing idea so bad that is also qualifies as just plain wrong.

Krispy Kreme, the makers of those heart-stopping, calorie-laden donuts, has lent their name to an event so unique that it strains credulity. Naturally, it incorporates their ubiquitous product. But, after that, the idea goes straight to hell in a hand basket.

Called ‘The Krispy Kreme Challenge,’ the ‘race’ encourages joggers to run one mile to and from a Krispy Kreme store. Fair enough. But, the ‘challenge’ involves stopping at the KK store and downing a dozen donuts before completing the race.

The race was started as a fund raising event by a NC State University fraternity and is now sponsored by a local running supply store, a handful of local college hang-outs and a law firm.  Now in its second year, the KK Challenge attracted a record 1,400 runners whose race fees contributed more than $10,000 to the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

The donation is a good thing. But, everything else about the challenge is wrong.  Just plain wrong. What is Krispy Kreme thinking? I’m not a doctor, but consuming a dozen donuts and then running a mile has to put huge strains on the cardiovascular system. It can’t be good for the stomach or other vital organs now that I think about it. Just thinking about the race makes me ill.

Why would KK lend its name to a race that does more harm than good? Will it take a few runner heart attacks before someone with some semblance of sense and responsibility wakes up and pulls the plug on this god-awful idea?

The Krispy Kreme Challenge is so bad and so absurd that I believe it should be entered in its own PR industry awards category: corporate social irresponsibility.

Apr 05

Volvo’s shift away from safety is a dangerous image move

Ad Age reports (subscription required) that Swedish carmaker Volvo is in the final stages of selecting a new agency and a totally new corporate positioning.

After decades of owning the ‘safety’ moniker, Volvo executives believe it’s time to become hipper and trendier.

The new brand platform, says Volvo’s Tim Ellis, builds on safety but will appeal to the more emotional, right-side of a buyer’s brain. ‘Safety, on its own," says Ellis. "….is not enough.’

I disagree. I think Volvo is making a serious mistake. By expanding the brand description, Volvo will 223943 succeed only in confusing prospective customers while running the risk of potentially alienating its core constituency who buy the auto because it feels and rides like a Sherman tank. Further complicating Volvo’s goal is its relatively paltry budget vis-à-vis its global competitors.

I’m no car expert, but changing a brand’s core values and positioning makes sense only if the market isn’t responding or if the brand promise/positioning no longer rings true. Other car brands may be touting safety in their marketing programs, but that doesn’t change the way people feel about Volvos.

In my mind, Volvo will always be the car I want my kids driving. Unless, that is, they start trying to convince me that Volvos are sleeker and sexier than, say, a Ferrari or Maserati. If they do, I’ll accelerate past their dealer showrooms faster than you can say ‘zero to 60.’

Apr 04

Will newspapers go the way of the Pony Express?

The Newspaper Association of America is launching an aggressive advertising campaign to convince Newspapers marketers that newspapers remain a relevant source of, well, news.

Quantitative and qualitative research, however, points in different directions, especially among younger audiences. In fact, most of the ‘younger’ people I know, as well as many ‘professionals’ opt for online news and information solutions. And, while the digital versions of, say, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times will always remain relevant, their print brethren face a bleak future.

I also find it rather ironic that one beleaguered industry, publishing, is reaching out to another, advertising, to prove its relevance. I’m not sure what the solution is, but embracing the opportunities of new media as opposed to beating its collective chest about traditional print, seems to me a smarter approach. So, rather than pointing to its multi-platform flexibility, I wonder if the newspaper industry would be better served by positioning itself as the logical solution for ‘Generation Next.’ The latter appear to have abandoned traditional and digital newspapers for a variety of new and alternative sources. Figuring out how to play in that new sandbox while remaining relevant to its core readership will accomplish far more than an advertising campaign.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea.

Apr 02

As if we needed any more proof

As if we needed any more proof that the traditional advertising model is in freefall, Ad Age devoted a recent cover story to the matter at hand. And, while reading a round-up provides a broad brush perspective on the issue, I was also able to hear about the pain first-hand at a recent industry panel discussion.

Held by PR News and VMS, the ‘integrated communications’ session included representatives from the PR agency and client-side worlds as well as experts from direct response and integrated marketing shops.

Everyone agreed that, because of the horrific cost/benefit ratio of traditional advertising (i.e. Word-of-mouth, digital and other one-to-one communications are so much more effective at reaching consumers in a disintermediated media world), we’re seeing more and more ad shops providing traditional PR services.

We’re seeing this happen on some of our larger accounts. So, as our peers in advertising see their budgets reduced year-after-year, they come to our clients with ideas and recommendations sounding surprisingly like ours.

While there’s still a dividing line between our disciplines it’s becoming murkier and murkier. So, while we in PR debate whether Web 2.0 is a separate phenomenon or merely another communications channel, the ad agencies are scrambling to retrofit their models so they can sound more like ‘earned media’ as they like to describe media relations.

The panel was extremely enlightening and, for me, served as a real wake-up call that PR is not THE place to be, but a place that increasingly desperate ad agencies also want to be.