Jan 16

When in doubt, obfuscate

Keep-calm-and-keep-em-distractedWith all of Wal-Mart's overseas issues (bribery, corruption, etc.), it's safe to say they play loose and fast with the rules.

And, as the brilliant movie, 'The High Low Cost of Low Prices' has already documented, Wal-Mart is positively predatory when it comes to crushing small, mom-and-pop competitors and spying on employees to ensure they don't attempt to unionize.

So, the uber big box chain's announcement today that it intended to offer jobs to more than 100,000 returning U.S. military personnel is a bold and brilliant public relations move.

In one fell swoop, the beleaguered behemoth switched the media conversation from their ongoing financial shenanigans to a discussion about one of the most patriotic moves in Corporate America's history. And, I'm sure it will work for the short-term (or, until their next scandal erupts).

I salute Wal-Mart's decision to support our returning troops but I must say that, to a seasoned public relations executive, the motives for doing so are questionable at best.

Coca-Cola seems to be doing something comparable with its new advertising campaign that urges consumers to drink Coke's empty calories in a responsible way. And, The Catholic Church's decision to have Pope Benedict XVI begin Tweeting provided an ever-so-brief hope they were finally waking up to realities of the modern world.

Both, though, are really just PR ploys intended to change the conversation.

So, Wal-Mart's move in my mind, is just a new page from the same, old crisis communications chapter; the one entitled, 'When in doubt, obfuscate.'

And a tip 'o Repman's hat to Greg Schmalz for suggesting this topic.

Jan 15

Putting my life in the hands of… someone who has their hands on the phone

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Lia LoBello.

A quick snap of all the cruise ships in port on a sunny South Florida day. The sentence, “I don’t know…maybe something with chicken?” Scrolling through Facebook updates obsessively.
What do all of these things have in common? They are just a few of the things various members of my family decided to Instagram, text, and view, respectively, on their phones around me this holiday. The only problem? All of this took place in the car. While they were driving. Sometimes at 85 miles an hour. Sometimes on the highway.  Almost always in traffic.

We’ve all seen the commercials on the dangers of texting while driving, but here in New York City, where daily life rarely requires getting behind the wheel, I luckily haven’t had to play passenger to anyone who has one hand at ten o’clock…and one on their iPhone.

Until this past Thanksgiving and Christmas, when I found myself begging various members of my family – and not just my siblings in case you think this is a generational thing – if I could please text for them. Or take a picture and upload it (with the appropriate hash tags, of course.) Or if maybe Facebook could wait a second because, “We’re by the mall and it’s the day before Christmas so there are a lot of cars right here and maybe we should pay attention because oooooh ooooooh that’s a red light that we’re driving up to now. Yes now.  Right now. OH MY GOD NOW. STOP.”*

In 95 percent of cases, I was told “No, Lia, it’s fine. I do this all the time.” The other five percent was an equally not assuring, “RELAX LIA. JESUS, YOU ARE SO ANNOYING.”  I consider all of these people smart and as far as I know, they also would like to remain alive for the foreseeable future. So I really couldn’t believe they didn’t see how they were drifting within their own lane and sometimes into the next one. Or how many times they were tapping the brakes unnecessarily.  Or how closely they were tailgating. 

During one particular ride, I was so scared I just threw back the seat, laid down, closed my eyes and prayed we would make it.

Companies like AT&T – which full disclosure, is a former client of Peppercomm – have tried to do their part by showing truly heartbreaking commercials on the dangers of texting while driving by people who are handicapped because of their own accidents, or have lost loved ones. NBC's Rock Center also just aired a segment discussing how lawmakers in various states are trying to deal with the problem, as the punishments aren't being doled out in accordance with the crime. From what I saw on the roads, there is a long, long way to go.

While companies like AT&T are definitely on the right track, there is clearly more work to be done before the dangers of the practice make a dent in the public consciousness.  While staring out the passenger-side window (so as to notice less some of the aforementioned swaying and near-misses) I saw countless other drivers tapping away on their keys. Some of them were actually holding the phone up to their faces so as to better see the screen. As in – blocking their view of the actual road. Or even more to the point, not bothering to look at the road at all.

Any organization that can find a way to successfully own this cause will save countless lives in the process. At the very least, they will save people like me – who rely on family to get around while home – years of their life now lost thanks to a steady flow of pure, unadulterated fear coursing through their veins for extended periods of time.

Next time I’m home, I’m renting a car.

*actual words said by me

Jan 14

“Yer out!”

Steroids-mlbKalPageI’d like to give a standing ovation and a tip of the hat to The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BWAA) for their decision to NOT elect Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa to The Baseball Hall of Fame.  In barring entry to the three most overt steroid users of their generation, the writers sent a strong message to current players and, more importantly, our nation’s kids, that cheating will no longer be rewarded.

Coming on the heels of the professional cyclists cycling governing body (the International Cycling Union) stripping Lance Armstrong of his multiple Tour de France titles, we now have two instances of leaders leading by example (a rare commodity indeed in these troubled times). I believe Major League Baseball’s image and reputation will improve dramatically as a direct result of the Bonds/Clemens/Sosa snub.

And, yet, The New York Times has argued the BWAA is being disingenuous in banning the ‘roid heads. In a front page story last Wednesday, the Times cited Ty Cobb (a racist), Cap Anson (the man who originated the color barrier) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (an alcoholic) as just three examples of really bad guys who were elected to the Hall of Fame. The article also spotlights spitball specialist Gaylord Perry as another Hall of Famer who cheated for decades.
I agree the above-named players weren’t exemplary players. But, the Times is mixing apples and oranges. The old time bad boys didn’t inject artificial substances that enabled them to react more quickly to a 95 mph fastball or, as in the case of Clemens, add another mile or two to his already wickedly fast fastball. Steroid use and abuse enabled Bonds, Sosa and Clemens to post the numbers they did. And, those numbers are totally bogus. Cobb, Anson, Alexander and Perry may have done dishonorable things, but their numbers were legitimate (ditto for Pete Rose, BTW).
We need America’s pillars of society to draw a line in the sand and send a strong message to the rest of us. That’s why I argued in favor of The Biggest Loser in a recent post. We cannot rely on obese parents alone to prevent obesity in the next generation. And, we cannot rely on baseball players and cyclists to police themselves. That’s why the BWAA decision is so important. And, that’s why the National Football League has to step up to the plate (a mixed metaphor if I’ve ever heard one) and do something about the problem of player concussions, depression and suicides.

I’m glad Bonds, Clemens and Sosa were punished. Ditto for the Armstrong decision. Now, let’s see some more accountability around the horn. Batter up!

Jan 11

What risk are you willing to take?

Today’s guest post is
by Greg Schmalz,
president, Schmalz Communications.

hitting the brakes to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, there’s more
controversy in the nation’s capital. This time it involves the Washington
Redskins and quarterback sensation Robert Griffin III (otherwise known as RG3).


You see, the Redskins had won seven straight regular season games to win the Eastern Division title and played host to Seattle last weekend in the Wild Card round of the National Football League playoffs.

Griffin, who won the 2011 Heisman Trophy as college
football’s best player while playing for Baylor University, was the second
overall pick in the college draft last season and subsequently signed a
four-year contract worth $21 million.

He provided excitement to Washington fans, despite
playing up the road at FedEx Field in nearby Landover, Maryland. But on
December 9 he injured his right knee in a game against Baltimore, yet coach
Mike Shanahan sent him back into the game to play.  Griffin sat out the next game but played in
the last two regular season games.

Last week, Griffin helped stake the team to an early
14-0 lead but he hurt his leg again as his knee buckled as he attempted to
field a low snap from center.  His right
knee bent awkwardly and it was obvious he was in excruciating pain.  Eventually, he hobbled off the field.  Seattle went on to score and the game
turned.  The Redskins eventually lost,
24-14, eliminating them from the playoffs.

It’s obvious that Griffin is the team’s future. Yet,
Shanahan put his young quarterback at risk by letting him play hurt.  He was ineffective from that point and the
Redskins watched their 14-0 lead dissipate.

Griffin underwent surgery this week to repair both
the anterior cruciate and the lateral collateral ligaments.  Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews
performed the surgery in Florida.  Now
the healing begins. One report says rehabilitation will be 6-8 months which could
have him back in time for training camp. Another report says it could be 8-12

Was the risk worth it? Suppose the knee doesn’t heal
properly.  Suppose he’s out for next

Would you risk one of your key performers?

Jan 10

Church and State in the Middle East

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Carl Foster.

Like many international travelers, the first thing I do when
I arrive in a foreign hotel room is switch on the TV and flick through the
channels for some English speaking news. More often than not, the only such channel
I find is CNN International, the global sibling of CNN, “the most trusted name
in news.”

Carl blog graphicCNNi is a bit like CNN, but with more feature programming,
something that is a nice change of pace from the usual rolling news. You would
expect to think that this feature programming is editorially independent,
right? Well, read on.

As reported
by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian, CNNi’s “Eye On” series, like “Eye On
Lebanon,” is typically produced “in association with” the respective government
of the country being featured. It takes some digging to find out exactly what
“in association with” means. For example, for the “Eye On Lebanon” piece the
“in association language” appears in greyed out text at the very bottom of the
webpage (see screen grab).

Outside of the Middle East, CNNi continues to trade on its
reputation. As reported in eurasianet, CNNi’s “Eye on Kazakhstan” ends with an
"in association" disclosure that merely shows two unnamed corporate
logos. Eurasianet reports that, “those logos are of agencies of the Kazakh
government, though the average viewer would have no way of knowing this. The
program also features an expert guest who, undisclosed to the viewer, is an
employee of the Kazakh government.”

The CNN website
its sponsorship policy
, and claims that “at no stage do the sponsors
have a say in which stories CNN covers, which people CNN interviews or how we
present our editorial content” and that, “the editorial content is commissioned
and produced solely by CNN editorial staff or external contractors approved by
CNN editorial.” While this policy may stand up in court, it doesn’t ring true
to the casual viewer. There may not be direct editorial control by sponsors,
but if a major global news organization is producing editorially balanced
features on countries such as Lebanon and Kazakhstan, I would imagine some reporting
such as:

“When you arrive first arrive in Kazakhstan be sure to
notice the NATO military transports shipping equipment out of Afghanistan,” or,
“no trip to Lebanon is complete without a visit to the mine-riddled,
Hezbollah-controlled southern border with Israel.”

A more worrying result of the blurred lines between church
and state is CNNi’s refusal to broadcast an hour long documentary on the Arab
Spring uprising in Bahrain. The documentary, titled "iRevolution: Online
Warriors of the Arab Spring” is a hard-hitting piece – you can see it here
on YouTube. But it appears it is too hard-hitting to show on CNNi, even
though it is perfectly suited to CNNi’s audience. Why? One could suggest that
since 2008 and the drop in advertising revenue in the US, CNN has become less
profitable, and so it looks to its lucrative international sibling to make up
the numbers. Indeed, why would a news organization want to unnecessarily upset
a sponsor, or potential sponsor, by broadcasting a documentary on one of the
biggest news stories of the year?

The financial challenges that media organizations currently
face are more than just a business issue; they are a challenge to freedom and
democracy in all parts of the world. For sure, social media represents the
future, and it has already played a significant role in democracy movements,
such as the Green revolution in Iran. But we need publications such as the New
York Times
, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and Le Monde,
who can speak with the authority derived from 100 plus years of publishing.
Commercial pressures, no matter how acute, should not tarnish this authority
and reputation.

Before I entered the big wide world of work, I taught
English in Moscow. In one class I was discussing a news article with one of my
adult students. His first question was, “who published it?” I looked at him and
could see the suspicion of a man steeped in decades of Soviet totalitarian
repression. We’re a long way from the old Russian saying about the two main
Soviet newspapers, “In Pravda there is no news and in Izvestia there
is no truth,” but as news organizations succumb to commercial pressures
and blur the lines between church and state, we will all increasingly ask, “who
published it?”


Jan 09

This Dreamliner is a nightmare

Picture the following scenario:

Airlinesteve You're squeezed in the middle seat of jam-packed United 757 about to leave Newark en route to Las Vegas. Flight attendants are yelling at passengers to pass their oversized luggage forward since it won't fit in the overhead bins, the aroma of Big Macs and pizza slices permeates the cabin and, oh yes, there's a screaming, sneezing baby seated directly behind you.

All of a sudden, a flight attendant directs everyone's attention to the video screen for an important announcement. And, there, bedecked in a European suit, white shirt and red necktie is United's CEO. And, boy is he ever happy!

That's because the CEO is standing in front of a brand, spanking new Boeing Dreamliner 777. 'This is aviation's future,' he begins. 'It's the very best airship ever built. Period. And, United's just purchased 50 of these beauties because we believe in providing the very best for you.'

Accompanied by radiant flight attendants, dapper pilots and squeaky clean mechanics, the United team takes us on a quick tour of the 777 and boasts about such amenities as:

– Composite materials: 'That means flying faster and further while burning less fuel' (Meanwhile, we're still stuck at the gate because of a computer glitch).
– Special cabin lighting: 'Designed to optimize your viewing pleasure while minimizing stress' (This while the sun's rays are blasting through the tiny 757 windows and blinding my entire row).
– Oversized windows: 'To give you an even better view of the many gorgeous cities to which we fly worldwide' (The only thing I can see outside our micro port hole is another parked plane).

When the video ends, the Second Battle of Manassas picks up where it left off, with flight attendants battling passengers, and vice versa. It's enough to make a certain blogger absolutely appalled by what's he's just experienced.

The Futures of Entertainment Peppercomm sponsored in November at MIT focused on two fundamental rules for connecting with the audience in our social media-driven world that United's video violated:

1.) United was blinded by its shiny new object. The company was so psyched about telling the world about the Dreamliner that they gave absolutely no thought to how it might affect passengers jammed into the current generation of junk that masquerades as state-of-the-art. By showing me how much I was missing by NOT being on a Dreamliner, United exacerbated my miserable 757 experience. And, they prompted an outcome they'd probably never imagined: a scathingly negative blog.

2.) Balancing the onslaught of Big Data with qualitative insights. I guarantee United's crack marketing people relied on reams of market research telling them that lots and lots of business travelers would be sitting on Flight 1051 to Vegas. And, they were right. But, had ANYONE in marketing, PR or customer care taken the time to place themselves in their passengers' shoes and experience the Dreamliner video while stuck inside the Dante's Inferno that was my Boeing 757, the video never would have seen the light of day.

For more on these two issues, see Spreadable Media, the new book from my colleague (and Futures of Entertainment conference organizer) Sam Ford.

My Dreamliner nightmare is standard operating procedure among far too many Fortune 500 corporations. A sequestered corner office sifts through market research, figures out the right venues to introduce their shiny, new object but NEVER takes the time to first understand the experience from the customer's viewpoint. They opt for quantity over quality.

If it were up to me, I'd ground the Dreamliner video ASAP. I'd also suggest the CEO and his top marketing team get their butts out of their cushy office chairs and squeezed into, say, seat 8E on Flight 1051. I guarantee they'll come away with a greater understanding of how best to engage with passengers in this brave new world of ours. I bet they'll also come away with lower back pain, headaches and stiff joints.

Jan 08

Obesity rules

Generationnn-xxlI was more than taken aback to read
an official protest from the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance
to the season premiere of The Biggest Loser on NBC.

To cut to the chase, NAAFA believes
The Biggest Loser is harming young, grossly obese children by allowing them to
compete on the show. They say the program underscores a negative stereotype
about overweight kids, forces them to push their bodies beyond acceptable
limits and generally undermines the whole world of fat. Their specific
complaint accused The Biggest Loser of “…trying to profit off the bullying and
stigmatization of fat kids.’

To which I respond: Now, hold on a

Childhood obesity is rampant in
America. And, countless studies have shown that obesity leads to a smorgasbord
of diseases up to, but not limited to, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.

So, why shouldn’t The Biggest Loser
play a lead role in better educating our nation’s youth about the critical role
nutrition and exercise play in leading a long and healthy life? I think the
answer is simple: NAAFA leadership doesn’t want anyone messing with the
lifestyle of its members.  In short, they’re telling NBC to back off,
leave them alone and pass along the bucket of wings when they’re finished.

Just like their fellow merchants of
death at the Tobacco Institute, NAAFA bigwigs (that term had to have
been invented for them) think the status quo is just fine, thank you. They
believe that, if our kids want to clog their arteries and damage their internal
organs by stuffing themselves with Big Macs (avec cheese, s’il vous plait),
then so be it. This is America, after all, and no one should be allowed to tell
us what we should, or shouldn’t do.

In their defense, NAAFA cites
statistics showing obese kids suffer all sorts of humiliation, harassment and
hummus (sorry, I was going for alliteration). And, I’m sure that’s true. It
can’t be fun to be the one, 300-pound kid in a classroom full of 80-pound sixth
graders. But, what better way to show the plus-sized ones a path to wellness
than through TV shows such as The Biggest Loser?

I think the biggest loser in all of
this is America itself.

We’ve allowed ourselves to become a
couch potato nation. And, gosh darn it, we don’t like it when someone suggests
we stop stuffing our faces with mac & cheese, haul our carcasses off the
couch and put in some roadwork. That violates the Second Amendment. Or, is it
the third? I’ll check Wikipedia when I polish off this mushroom pizza (con
extra cheese, por favor).

We’re a complacent nation complacent
to stay complacent.

So, if my gut’s right, NAAFA will
win its argument and The Biggest Loser will yank the kids from future episodes.
Which would be a shame. America needs to shape up in every sense of the word:
financially, environmentally and, yes Virginia, even nutritionally.

So, I say, let the fat kids compete
and become role models for their peers across the Land of the Free and the Home
of the Brave. Because if we don’t counter the obesity trend soon, our
grandchildren will be far too sedentary to even field an army, much less win a
future war.

And a supersized tip o' the hat to Jackie Kolek for this suggestion.

Jan 07

An Epcot Center for the elderly

WelcomeHere's a quick trivia question:

What city is completely re-inventing itself to become 'The Silicon Valley for lifelong wellness and aging care?

A) Scottsdale, Arizona
B) Louisville, Kentucky
C) Boca Raton, Florida.

If you picked Muhammad Ali's birthplace, you'd be correct.

Louisville, Kentucky, is rapidly becoming THE mecca for every entrepreneur, venture capitalist or Fortune 500 corporation that aspires to create new products and services for senior citizens.

It's a smart, strategic move for the relatively obscure Midwestern city considering that 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day. And, says Advertising Age, “Within the next five years, boomers are on pace to control 70% of the disposable income in the U.S.” That's a whole lot of hearing aids, walkers and adult diapers if you ask me.

But, Louisville's desire is to go far beyond products and services one would associate with today's seniors.

They've already created a massive, downtown innovation hub that includes an 18,000 square-foot experience center they call an Epcot Center for the Elderly. The center enables entrepreneurs to test everything from bathrooms with robotic-tub technology that helps seniors out of the bath to a therapeutic motion simulation system that enables grandma to experience everything from jet skiing to motorcycle riding (all from the comfort of her BarcaLounger). Talk about the little old lady from Pasadena! (I may have to order one of those babies in 20 years in case I don't summit Mt. Everest).

Based upon what I've read, Louisville seems to be a superb example of public and private sector collaboration to achieve a desired goal. Government officials, local business executives and just about anyone else with energy and a few extra bucks is pitching in to change Louisville's image from a city of bourbon, fast food and the Kentucky Derby to the Davos of movers and shakers who want to create products for folks who just can't move and shake like they used to.

I could go on and on, but Louisville's accomplishments show what Americans CAN do when they set their minds to it.

In fact, if it were up to me, I'd relocate President Obama's upcoming State-Of-The-Union address to Louisville. And, I'd have a local octogenarian give the president a lift to the podium in a touch screen sensitive, video game equipped, battery-charged SeniorScooter. As for the audience, I'd seat the lawmakers in specially-equipped BarcaLoungers with video screens that depict a safe, upbeat and economically stable country.

I think we need an Epcot Center for Congress.

Jan 04

There should be a different kind of CES

Hate-yelpDid you know that, according to a new survey, 33 percent of consumers who have ONE bad experience with a product or service will completely stop their spending with the company? Or that a whopping three-fourths will end their interactions completely after a company does a poor job of attempting to re-establish the broken relationship? (Insert link).

The survey of 5,000 consumers by Temkin Group should be a real wake-up call for companies displaying their latest shiny objects at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

There's no question we LOVE new technology. Indeed, many of the network newscasters were positively drooling this morning over the flatest of flat screens, the coolest of cool new iPhone Apps and the tiniest of tiny cell phones being unveiled by manufacturers.

Those stories are the result of tireless efforts by the manufacturers' PR firms to whet the media's appetite. That's our job, and we do it well.

But, after that, we lose control. Why? Because customer experience is the REAL PR.

While the media may wax poetic about the latest features or benefits, Joe and Jane Customer simply don't care. They just want the new gizmo to do what it promises to do. (And they want to enjoy the experience. Period)

And, guess what? Joe and Jane are lightning quick to blog or Tweet about products, services and companies they don't like. Temkin says the use of Twitter to communicate about a bad experience more than DOUBLED last year. That's a whole lot of unhappiness.

According to the report, Best Buy, QVC, Gap and eBay have the worst customer experiences (Note to CES exhibitors: that's where many consumers first experience your shiny new objects).

Cox Communications, Symantec, ING Direct and TracPhone have the most negatively-worded comments on Facebook. And get this, GE and Verizon are MOST likely to have negatively based Tweets. It just goes to show the biggest PR and advertising budgets won't offset a lousy customer experience.

Some visionary companies do GET the connection between marketing, product design and customer service. Some have even created in-house councils to assure that nothing is introduced to the public before the end user experience is tested again and again and, critically, that the customer service representatives and PR types team-up to create authentic messaging that correctly describes the experience the consumer is about to have.

Right now, the chasm between PR and customer service in most Fortune 500 corporations makes the Grand Canyon look like a pothole.

That's why I'm advocating for a new type of CES. In my version, the acronym would stand for Customer Experience Show, and the trade show booths wouldn't be manned by product managers and sales types. Instead, they'd feature end-users who have been selected to experience the shiny new object IN ADVANCE and adore it.

After all, who cares whether the newest flat screen TV is thinner than a dime if the picture quality stinks?

It's high time PR steps up to the plate and begins advocating for a more strategic role in settings such as CES. We need to be part of an advance team that assures the new product's customer experience is flawless from the get-go (and that we can publicize those sentiments). Otherwise we'll be left doing what we many of us do today: trumpet the new gizmo and then duck and cover as all the negative Facebook comments and Tweets pile up on social media channels.

And a tip of Repman's hat to George Rosenberg for suggesting this post.

Jan 03

That’s a bunch of bull

EnemyThese aren't the best of times for the PR departments of Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy and their fellow category cohorts. Not after yesterday's scathing front-page investigative report from The New York Times reporting that the drinks are nothing more than exorbitantly priced caffeine and sugar delivery mechanisms that caused 'deaths and serious injuries.'

Talk about a buzz kill.

The Times, which says the Food and Drug Administration is taking a deep dive into the ingredients of Red Bull, et al, took the $10B per year energy drink category to task for citing outlandish and false 'mental and physical' benefits from their products.

Red Bull, for example, claims its contents 'gives you wings' and Monster Energy calls itself a 'killer energy brew.' Unfortunately, the latter brand promise may be 100 percent correct.

The real problem with energy drinks is their target audience: unsuspecting teenagers who believe these claims that caffeine and sugar loaded brews will enhance their mental and physical abilities (a promise that is based upon each drink's 'extra additives').

Indeed, Red Bull advertises such special ingredients as:

– 215mg of caffeine: which would keep this blogger wide awake right through Memorial Day Weekend.
– Taurine: An amino acid that researchers say the body already produces naturally.
– Glucoronolactone: A sugar-like substance that, once again, researchers say the body already produces in sufficient quantities.
– A whopping 833 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin B12. Guess what? The body already produces enough B12 and these ridiculously high extra doses “do nothing” says The Times.

To put a final nail in the energy drink coffin, the Times says a $2.99 16-ounce can of Red Bull contains the SAME amount of caffeine as a $.30 tablet of NoDoz. That should give cost-conscious consumers a jolt.

So, what's a poor Red Bull PR person to do? I see one of two possible courses of action:

– Find a medical researcher who's facing a personal fiscal cliff and is willing to say anything positive about any product for the right price. Then, book said researcher on any TV and radio talk show that will have him and continue to hoodwink the public. Hey, it worked for Enron for quite some time.

– Take a page out of Big Tobacco's play book and obfuscate at each and every turn. First, Big Tobacco claimed there was no scientific evidence linking cigarettes to heart disease, cancer, etc. Then, after being proven wrong and forced to post warning labels, they proceeded to blame the victims for not paying heed. And, when that too failed, they moved their marketing muscle to Third World countries where millions of uneducated consumers eagerly awaited the arrival of the legendary Marlboro Man.

Methinks the NYT article and pending FDA report are an ominous cloud on the horizon. But, hey, millions of Americans still smoke cigarettes despite indisputable evidence proving it will kill them. So, maybe Red Bull will live to fight another day after meeting a government agency matador in the courts (and the court of public opinion).

Why? Because when has making the right choice ever stopped Americans from doing the wrong thing?