Sep 30

Would her best friend, Leslie, still say “oh she’s just being Miley?”

Had your share of reading about Miley Cyrus? Well, that’s too f*cking bad (as the wholesome singer might say).

Catharine Cody waxes poetic about the toxic twerker in today’s guest post.  FYI, Ms. Cyrus is currently appearing (in the nude, of course) on the cover of Rolling Stone….

HannaI’ll be the first to admit that I really liked Miley Cyrus back in the day (“the day” being sophomore year of college.)  We JAMMED to her songs in the car, getting ready for class and at the bars.  She was our Karaoke go-to, along with Lady Gaga, Britney Spears & the Spice Girls of course.  One of my little cousins even told me once that I looked like Hannah Montana! #Winning!

One of her first songs after dropping her Disney Hannah Montana persona is “See You Again,” where Miley talks about the crazy things she does to get boys to notice her.  Throughout the song she says, “My best friend Leslie says, ‘Oh she’s just being Miley.”  But the second she shaved her head and forced the word “twerk” into our vocabulary, she stopped “just being Miley” and transformed into something or someone else.

I didn’t watch the VMAs live because Breaking Bad was on. Enough said. But, I did receive live text updates from my friends.  I thought they were just messing around until my CNN push alerts started to come through.  When I watched the YouTube video the next day, I was literally agog AND aghast.  My sweet little Miley! What hath thou done???

“OK, OK,” I reasoned to myself, “it’s just Miley being Miley.” But then she released the “Wrecking Ball” music video where she’s licking a sledgehammer and gyrating on a wrecking ball- naked. Then she performed at the iHeartRadio Music Festival wearing a white mesh dress and little else.  Then she posed nude on the cover of the most recent issue of Rolling Stone.

MIleyNo matter how good Miley’s new “Wrecking Ball” song sounds, I think of her stupid tongue and her general sleaziness every time I listen to it.  Watching her transformation from Hannah Montana to the train wreck she is today is akin to Walter White’s transformation from a meek chemistry teacher to a psychopathic meth dealer.  The only difference is I still root for Walt.  Miley’s off my list now.

There may be hope left for Miley, though.  As she says in “See You Again,” hopefully the next time we hang out, she will redeem herself.  Only time will tell.

Sep 26

Blurred Lines: Are we Being Naïve about Native (Advertising)

Today’s post is by Peppercomm president, Ted Birkhahn.

It’s Advertising WeekForbes so let’s talk advertising. One of the hottest topics sweeping the marketing industry is the recent proliferation of native advertising platforms. Some folks love it; others think it’s heresy. As with any new phenomenon, there’s a lot of hype and not enough fact so I figured it might help to break down the pros, cons and significant risks associated with putting sponsored content alongside earned media.

Here are the facts as I see them. Feel free to disagree:
•    Publishers get to make more money. This is precisely why so many are practically tripping over themselves to create and sell space on native ad platforms. It feels a bit like the beginning of a gold rush. They know they’re onto something but haven’t quite assessed the risks that might come back to haunt them. For now, they’re testing the concept, enjoying early signs of success (mostly judged by quantitative metrics) and generating some much needed revenue along the way.
•    Brands have a lot of potential upside here. Now they can tap into high-traffic web platforms as a vehicle to deliver the content they think their audiences want to read, share and discuss. Their challenge is to come up the content; good, hard-hitting content that is as relevant and interesting as the editorial coverage that it sits adjacent to on the platform. To do this consistently and credibly is not easy for many marketing departments.  They must think and act like publishers, which is no simple feat.
•    Readers are in a precarious position. On the one hand, native ad platforms should provide readers with supplemental content that will resonate with their interests. On the other hand, with the lines blurring between editorial and paid content, the risk of confusing the reader and eroding their trust in the publisher and advertiser is real, not to mention their perception of a brand who doesn’t get it right.
•    Journalists lose. I’m not a reporter, but I know many of them and I have to think most are appalled at the concept of native advertising. It might help pay their salaries, but it flies in the face of the very purpose and mission of unbiased, no holds barred journalism. Many skeptics, including Gerard Baker, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, support this notion. Jeff Jarvis recently railed against native advertisers and the publishing community while David Carr also jumped into the discussion. Their church and state lines are as bright as ever.

There’s got to be a happy balance. But to achieve one, each party must play a role. Publishers need to respect the separation of paid and earned media and not destroy the balance for the sake of near-term profits. Brands must be overtly transparent about where the content comes from and they owe it to the media ecosystem to produce strong content; marketing copy and self-serving copy won’t cut it here. Readers must police; they must monitor the publishing community and the brands that advertise and never hesitate to call them out when either begin to blur the lines. As for journalists, they need to do what they’ve always done: be a necessary thorn in their publishers’ sides by keeping them honest and ensuring the trust between the reader and reporter is never jeopardized.

And it wouldn’t be a party without the regulators. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it was beginning to explore the issue with a series of workshops later this year. Any rule changes or enforcement actions will take be slow in coming but it’s notable that in such a short amount of time the FTC has put this on their radar screen.

Where do you net out on this issue? Is native advertising generally good for the parties involved or inherently evil? It’s an evolving issue and we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sep 25

All hail the king

0obdzs-lHats off to the high cholesterol folks at Burger King for introducing a new, lower fat french fry.

Called SatisFries (Seriously? That’s the best they could come up with?), the new fries are decidedly less artery-clogging than the slop McDonald’s has been serving for decades.

And, for that, I applaud the King.

Beating Ronald McDonald to the punch (with a seemingly breakthrough product) is akin to:

– Yahoo outflanking Google or Facebook
– Tiny Drew University topping Duke in college basketball
– Miley Cyrus outclassing Clare Danes.

It just doesn’t happen. And, I have to believe heads are rolling (or, guts being punched, as the case may be) in McDonald’s Oakbrook, Illinois, headquarters.

According to published reports, it took BK a full decade to develop the new fries. That’s longer than the time it took the U.S. space program to land a man on the moon! Just imagine if the dollars and manpower devoted to developing a low-fat fry had, instead, been directed towards educating young people about the dangers of fast food and an unhealthy diet. Oh well, the King has more important battles to fight, such as his mortal combat with Ronald.

Speaking of the latter, I can’t wait to see how Mickey D responds. Will they, too, admit their gruel could be a tad healthier and introduce a healthier Big Mac (talk about an oxymoron!)?

Or, will they order soda suppliers to add a little less sugar to their tooth-decaying, waistline expanding syrups?

Maybe they’ll introduce a Kinda Happy Meal (featuring less fat, less sodium and less mirth).

I’m betting McDonald’s stands pat (or, in their case, sit pat since they’ve been enabling a sedentary lifestyle since Eisenhower was president).

McDonald’s is the Disney of fat. They’ve turned indulgence into entertainment, and addicted generations of kids to a lifetime habit of unhealthy eating.

So, why fix what isn’t broken? If I’m in charge of McDonald’s marketing, I just sit back and watch the King try to change the mindset of a junk food junkie. Why spend money on a lost cause? There’s gold in them thar hills (and arches).

Sep 24

You tell us

picture_cacioppo_low_ballNine out of 10 times I agree with new business guru, Robb High’s list of 3,952 common pitch mistakes made by advertising and PR firms.

But, I take exception with Robb’s Agency Pitch Mistake #18 in which he says, “…Agencies often think if they low-ball their price in a new business competition, they increase the likelihood of getting selected.”

High says a client decision is based, instead, on feedback such as, “I like them and I trust them.”

I agree that chemistry is key. But, and this is a big but, many prospects refuse to provide ANY budget parameters whatsoever during a search.

They’ll ask you to “think big” and “show us how creative you can be.” Others will list their business challenges, and ask for strategies and tactics (all gratis, needless to say).

Then, if an agency is so fortunate, they’ll be invited to a final round of in-person presentations with the prospective client decision-makers. That’s where Robb High’s likeness and trust factors come into play.

But, and this often occurs, when the agency completes its presentation and presents a suggested budget, there’s a nervous laugh, followed by silence. Then, a senior executive on the client side will ask, “What could do within, shall we say, far more modest budget parameters?”

I’m not sure why this bizarre mating ritual occurs as often as it does, but it does.

And then a day, a week, a month (or, sometimes never at all), a call or e-mail will be placed or sent by the prospect thanking the agency profusely, but explaining they selected a competitor who seemed to “…be able to do more with less.”

In other words, they selected Robb High’s low-ball agency.

It’s not pretty. But, it’s life in the agency business. And, try as hard as we do to pre-qualify prospects at the very beginning of a pitch, many invariably hint that budget isn’t an issue. They’ll say they want the smartest and most creative partner. What they fail to add is, “We also want a low-ball budget.”

Sep 20

Full disclosure?

drawing_hands-468x400When NBC was owned by General Electric and network anchors or reporters filed stories on GE, their words were always preceded by a disclaimer: “The General Electric Corporation, NBC’s parent company, today announced…”

That’s responsible journalism. It served as a caveat to the viewer, reader or listener that the story they were about view, read or hear might, in some small way, have been influenced by GE.

I raise the issue of responsible journalism and transparency because both were missing in action during the coverage of last week’s Putin/Ketchum imbroglio.

Allow me to elaborate. Both leading PR trade journals published opinion pieces on the subject.

One went back-and-and-forth on the ethics and business realities faced by a firm that was retained by a powerful foreign government. The analysis ended with quite a homage to Ketchum: “…when all is said and done, there’s no doubt Ketchum did a good job in maximizing impact of the op-ed via the placement in the Times.”

The other trade’s opinion piece was more direct, and asked “Did Ketchum do all it could to vet the content of the op-ed?” suggesting the agency may have looked the other way more than once as Russia’s violated countless civil rights and engaged in armed conflict around it borders.

Neither opinion really matters, though, because neither publication was transparent about their dealings with Ketchum.

It seems to me that fair, balanced and objective journalism could be influenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by Ketchum to each publication for advertising, consulting, sponsorships and, of course, multiple tables at awards banquets. I’m not suggesting the integrity of either piece was affected by the financial transactions, but shouldn’t readers be told of their existence?

There’s anything wrong with global agencies spending their marketing dollars with leading trade journals. But, when one of the large agencies suddenly becomes front-page news, I do think it’s incumbent upon any media property that subsequently provides analysis to disclose the financial relationship that exists between the two parties. That’s responsible journalism. That would tell an informed reader that maybe, just maybe, the trade journal is cutting some slack to the large advertiser.

I’ve had the good fortune to contribute content to the Page Turner, the official blog of The Arthur W. Page Society.

Since its creation, the Page Society has advocated for the role of the chief communications officer and the need for full transparency in communications. I suggest Page President, Roger Bolton, invite the editors of both publications to explain why they should, or shouldn’t, disclose the monies they earn from an agency  (or corporation that they then analyze in an opinion piece).

It seems to me that, when it comes to walking the talk and dispensing advice, our trade journals need to play by the same rules of full transparency as the players in the field they cover.

Sep 19

Ready. Set. Eat!

sssssports1A just-released study revealed there is a direct link between an NFL fan’s saturated fat consumption and his team’s performance on the field. So, if you’re a long-suffering Jets fan, I’ll bet you pack on a solid 50 or so pounds each, and every, Fall. Conversely, if say, you’ve been a Steel Curtain fan (prior to this season, of course), odds are good you’re sipping on a smoothie and stomping around like a younger version of Mick Jagger.

The research draws a direct connection (a perfect spiral, if you will) to fans of losing teams eating such saturated fat dreck as McDonald’s after a loss while their winning opponents opt towards healthy food.

The feeding frenzy occurs because comfort foods (i.e. pizza, cheeseburgers, french fries and their ilk soothe a body) are the nutritional equivalent of a couch, a shawl and a warm fireplace. The only thing missing is a hologram of the fan’s mom, stroking the man’s neck and whispering, ‘There, there, little Eddie. Things will be just fine. You still have the business. Forget about the Steelers.”

The survey stats are sobering. Saturated fat consumption decreases by 16 percent after a victory (because the fans are happy and want to eat right). Conversely, the devastated fans of a losing team will increase their intake of saturated fat by 28 percent after a loss! Holy cheeseburger deluxe, Batman. That’s huge! Literally.

Pierre Chandon, an INSEAD professor and co-author of the research, says the link between diet and NFL team won-lost records is particularly prevalent in cities whose teams have the most devoted fans. And, says Chandon, Pittsburgh has the most ardent fan base. So, after an 0-2 start by the Steelers this season, it stands to reason that the cash registers at McDonald’s must be
lighting up like a Roman Candle on the Fourth of July.

I find this trend fascinating and, were I contemplating the purchase of a McDonald’s or Burger King franchise, I’d plant it not in Pittsburgh (which has a long record of success) but rather in Cleveland, Cincinnati or right outside the Jets’ Florham Park, NJ headquarters. The Browns have never appeared in a Super Bowl game, the Bengals have never won one and the Jets have been a disgrace since winning Super Bowl III on January 12, 1969. I’ve gotta believe those three areas would form the evil axis of poor nutrition.

These documented trends actually present an ethical dilemma to the owners of consistently poor-performing NFL franchises: Should they issue public service announcements at halftime: “Ladies and gentlemen, with the Jets trailing by 10 points and Tom Brady absolutely shredding our secondary, team management suggests you select your post-game meal in a responsible manner. Gang Green dieticians will be positioned at every exit ramp midway through the third quarter (which is when the Patriots should be applying the coup de graces). We do hope you speak to our trained nutritionists and begin eating in a more responsible way. The Jets team and management would like to have you here to witness many more losing seasons in the years to come.”

And a tip o’ Repman’s climbing helmet to Tommy Joseph Powers, Jr., for suggesting this post.

Sep 18

You can’t judge a book by its cover… or even its title.

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer (and Repman editor-in-chief) Dandy Stevenson.

9175945The America’s Cup is the oldest sporting match in the world, and thus the most coveted prize in the sailing world. For those unaware, the US and New Zealand are currently battling it out in San Francisco Bay. (BTW, 9 races takes the Cup, and NZ is up 7-1.) NZ is the current defender of the Cup, and the US is the challenger.

Or is it?

Larry Ellison’s Team USA has 23 crew members, and eight are from New Zealand. Only two are from the US. (Seven are from Australia and six are from farther corners of the globe.)

Of the 15 crew members on Team NZ, all are New Zealanders, save one (from Australia.)

Ellison, self-made billionaire and founder of software giant Oracle, is as known for his ginormous ego as his bottomless pockets. He doesn’t like to lose, and thus left America’s shores to put together Team “USA.”  (Why there are not more world class sailors from the US, is another post, another day.)

Clearly, the world’s finest sailors are from New Zealand, and the best of the best are sailing for their homeland. And here in the US, Larry Ellison got the best his money could buy, including eight who didn’t make Team New Zealand.

Thus, all the folks who are cheering for Team USA, are not really cheering on America. New Zealand won it last time, and will effectively win no matter  the outcome this year. Make no mistake, I truly want to see New Zealand keep the Cup in Auckland, but it’s obvious who the real winners are regardless of who makes the 9 race win.

Were I talking about PR and not yachting, I might suggest this comparison:  Suppose Exxon sends a RFP to Peppercomm and Edelman.  Peppercomm assembles its team and gets working on the pitch. Edelman calls Steve and says “We’d like to hire Peppercomm to pitch Exxon, but under our name.”   So we assemble another team, and then go head to head with… ourselves? Yes, there are two teams competing for the business. But if the team Edelman hired wins the business did Edelman really win? No. The Peppercommers win regardless of who Exxon selects.

So who is Ellison fooling with this bait and switch… you? Do you feel less loyal to team “USA” knowing that there are only two Yanks aboard?






Sep 17

There’s an exception to every rule

brandon cooperUnited is far, and away, the worst airline I’ve ever experienced. Since merging with Continental, I’d liken United Airlines to:

– The Comcast of the clouds
– The Miley Cyrus of Mileage Plus
– The A-Rod of the atmosphere.

They’re that bad.

But, for every rule, there’s always an exception. And, the exception to the horror show that is United Airlines is one of their flight attendants: Brandon L. Cooper.

Allow me to explain. Just last week, two traveling companions and this blogger were seated on United flight #4395 from Newark to Indianapolis. Some 30 minutes into the flight, however, my reading was interrupted by the following announcement from the cockpit: “I’m really sorry, ladies and gentlemen. But, our weather radar detector is broken, and there’s some weather ahead, so Newark ATC has gone ahead and asked we return to Newark, land and have it checked out. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks again for choosing United. We know you have other options.”

Now, allow me to fast forward (a phrase that is entirely alien to United Airlines, BTW). Some three hours later, we re-boarded United flight 4395 and taxied towards the departure runway.

Suddenly, the captain once again interrupted my reading to declare: “I’m really sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but Newark ATC says we’ve lost our departure slot, and now have to wait to be told when we might be able to take off. Plus, there’s weather due west of the airport AND our right engine is running low on fuel. I’ll keep you updated. Oh, and thanks again for choosing United. We know you have other options.”

And, that, my friends, is when Brandon L. Cooper, the sole flight attendant on United Airlines ill-fated flight 4395 from Newark to Indianapolis, went to work.

Brandon made his own announcement to apologize for the numerous delays. He then told us drinks were on him. And, trust me, when Brandon pours, he pours a full drink.

Brandon plied us with as much wine, beer and liquor as we could inhale. And, he went far beyond merely supplying spirits.

Brandon asked me if I lived in Indianapolis. I admitted I’d only been to ‘Indy’, as everyone calls it, only once before. And, quicker than you can say ‘indefinite delay’ Brandon wrote down a list of his favorite neighborhood bars, pubs, eateries and clubs.

When I told him my friends and I were struggling to decipher his hastily-penned hieroglyphics, Brandon took the time and effort to write down all the names and descriptions again! Wait, this is a United flight attendant? What happened to the rude, crude and otherwise boorish behavior I’d grown so accustomed to?

Throughout our six-hour ordeal, Mr. Cooper kept us up-to-date on holding patterns and unexpected turbulence, as well as playing traffic cop on the plane’s sole rest room.

Brandon L. Cooper made United’s skies friendly again for one, brief (ok, not-so-brief), shining moment.

If his management had any sense (which they clearly don’t), they’d promote Mr. Cooper faster than you can say mechanical glitch. They’d also empower him to train all of the arrogant and indifferent captains, co-captains, flight attendants, baggage handlers and gate agents that, collectively, have made United Airlines a miserable user experience.

You rock, Brandon. Now, if only you possessed the political clout within that godforsaken business to shake some sense into senior management. Until you do, you’ll continue to be a lone exception to the rule at United Airlines.

Sep 16

Tattoos on wheels

I’ve successfully completed 10 assaults on the summit of New Hampshire’s rugged Mt. Washington (all thanks to the superb guiding of Art Mooney

On more than occasion, however, I’ve been taken aback to see various cars, station wagons, mini-vans and SUV’s parked at the summit lot, and sporting a real bumper sticker that read, ‘This car climbed Mt. Washington.’ Such tattoos on wheels simultaneously bemused and offended me.

I chuckled at the thought of some latter-day Clark Griswold claiming credit for an accomplishment his four, six or eight cylinder machine had made possible. I was offended by the sheer audacity of some couch potato suggesting to the world that he had conquered the same unforgiving, oft-times perilous, peak as me.

It got me thinking about bumper stickers in general, and their more insidious, latter-day offspring, the: ‘Hey world. Look-at-me’ tattoo on wheels.

I first recall bumper stickers relocating from the bumper, and becoming some sort of plaintiff cry when those ugly ‘Baby on board’ yield signs began being plastered on the read windows of every car in suburbia. Those were followed by the American flag as antenna adornment in the days and weeks following 9/11. One could not drive on any greater New York metropolitan area highway without seeing convoys of such flag-sporting cars, vans and trucks (99 percent of which went the way of all flesh within 90 days of the disaster).

Now, though, we’re witnessing the rise of a whole new, and disturbing, class of tats on wheels.
And, thanks to roving Repman correspondent, Patti Palmer, we’re able to view a recent sampling from the hinterlands:

disney logo car1.)    The first photograph features a rear-window homage to The Rat (otherwise known as Mickey Mouse). I’m not sure if the seven mouse-eared cut-outs on the car signify seven visits to the Magic Kingdom of Rip-Offs or one, unforgettable sojourn to the a la carte pricing capital of the world by a single family unit. Either way, it’s disturbing.
rolling memorial2.)    Number two shines the spotlight on a hearse on wheels that, in lieu of the actual headstones in a local cemetery, are intended to remind friends, family and complete strangers that Uncle Paul, Uncle Ricky and some other late, lamented family member are no longer with us. May their souls rest in peace. But, do I have to see their headstones when I park behind the car at a Walmart? Talk about the high price of low cost.
obama3.)    Last, but not least, there’s the Fox & Friends salute to our current president. I remember similar, Blue State versions of this idiocy dating back to 1974, when every single car with a Massachusetts license plate came equipped with a bumper sticker that read, ‘Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts.’ The advisory reminded voters that, in the 1972 presidential election, the Bay State was America’s only one not to vote for Richard M. Nixon (who, at the time, was assuring Americans he was not a crook for masterminding the Watergate break-in).

Tats on wheels is a worthy follow-up to the blog I penned about 9/11 marketing mistakes.

As I wrote then, aside from friends and families of victims as well as those who survived the terrorist attacks, organizations and individuals have no right to capitalize on the anniversary or bore us with the details of how they remember that god-awful day.

The same holds true for tats on wheels. I don’t care if you, and your clan, visited Disneyland, Disney World or any other theme park that charges $35 for a rain slicker. Nor am I impressed that your Chevy Suburban dug down deep and somehow found the wherewithal to surmount the final, steep stretch of Mt. Washington. And, I most certainly don’t need to read your creative application of the president’s first name on the back of your pick-up truck.

Let’s keep tattoos restricted to the small of the back, up-and-down the arms, the ankles, the calves and, in Iron Mike Tyson’s case, the face.  America’s highways and byways have enough litter and road signs as it is. We don’t need your family room on wheels to join the fray and tell us what we don’t need, or want, to know.

And a tip o’ RepMan’s climbing helmet to  to Repman’s Southeastern correspondent, Patti “The Pride of Jacksonville” Palmer for this idea and for the most excellent photographs.

Sep 13

Vulnerability vs. Weakness

Today’s  guest post is by Peppercomm’s Chief Comedy Officer, and stand-up comedian extraordinaire, Clayton Fletcher.

Clayton-FletcherThis week I had the privilege of co-presenting along with our beloved RepMan at a special event here in New York City called Workforce Live! Our topic was the use of comedy as a culture catalyst. Now, I don’t know what a culture catalyst is, but my dad’s Gremlin had a catalytic converter, so I’m clearly an expert.

In the joke above, I admit to not knowing something, which shows vulnerability. I make this kind of joke often in my role as Chief Comedy Officer at Peppercomm. I never thought too hard about why I do, until after RepMan and I left the stage at the Workforce Live! event. A human resource manager from one of the companies in attendance asked, “Aren’t you afraid that in being vulnerable you won’t seem strong?”

I was taken aback by the question because that thought had never crossed my mind. Vulnerability and weakness are not inextricably linked. In fact, showing humanity (by admitting imperfections) and being honest (by sharing insecurities) are moves only strong people make! Giving the audience a certain amount of power to hurt me allows them to become more emotionally invested in my performance. This is a comedy trick of the trade that all performers and presenters should master. Being vulnerable takes courage, and those who do it are seen as genuine, open, authentic, and strong.

Pretending to know everything is a surefire way to lose everyone’s trust, and what could be weaker than that?