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Pepsi needs pop psychology

Pepsi, how many times do we have to tell you the customer is always right? A new Wikipedia entry on Inca Kola discusses the disaster that was the Pepsi Challenge in Peru:

"The campaign was a disaster, three results came from the testing, all detrimental to Pepsi: 1) People were angered by the fact that they were 'wrong' in their choice and abandoned Pepsi, switching to either Coca-Cola or Inca Kola; 2) Those who chose Coca-Cola over Pepsi either switched to or stayed with Coca-Cola; 3) Those who were ambivalent between them cemented their ambivalence and switched to Inca Kola. Additionally, the costs of the Pepsi Challenge, which started to run into the millions of US dollars, coupled with managerial mistakes left CEPSA virtually bankrupt."

Oops. --Brooke Capps


Telemarketers tarry where Al Qaeda can't

We all love, love, love telemarketers. That's why we ran, did not pass go and did not collect $200 on our way to the National Do Not Call Registry to slap down every phone number remotely related to us.

While it's only a rumor that telemarketers may soon be able to automatically dial cellphone numbers, it's not hard to believe when they've already tapped into secret Homeland Security hotlines.

Jennifer Brooks of Delaware's News Journal writes that Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner finds her hotline rings with occasional "offers of time share condominiums and great deals on long distance." The lines are only supposed to ring in the event of a national catastrophe.

"So what's a governor to do?" asks Brooks. "According to Minner's office, the Department of Homeland Security placed all the hot line numbers on the federal government's Do Not Call Registry, which is supposed to ward off telemarketers."

So there you have it, telemarketers are a national catastrophe. --Brooke Capps

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June 16, 2006

Marketers find new oro in old Mexico

There's the NCAA version of wrestling, where men in singlets toss one another about on a mat trying to pin and not get pinned. Then there's the WWE -- formerly the WWF version -- with Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock. This is the more flexing and grunting and ego-driven antics version.

Then there's lucha libre.

The Mexican sport, complete with masked luchadors and theatrics that inspired the WWE, is hitting the big time north of the border with the release of the new Jack Black film "Nacho Libre." Black plays an orphanage cook who moonlights as a luchador to raise money for the orphans, a plotline that is -- almost unbelievably -- based on a true story.

Though this is lucha libre's big break in the movie industry, it's been flirting with the spotlight for years. Documentaries, TV shows, burlesque shows, cartoons and even a rock band have used the lucha libre phenomenon to target audiences. And of course, marketers don't follow too far behind. "Advertisers love to get their lucha on," says the San Jose Mercury-News. (Not kidding, they used that exact phrase.) Yes, apparently, the way to consumers' hearts is through flabby masked Mexican wrestlers. And let's face it, if that won't get your product flying off shelves, you were probably doomed anyway. --Bonnie Thompson

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June 15, 2006

Cover Girl goes under covers

It's one thing to teach and expect your teens to be savvy about product placement in their summer blockbusters and on "American Idol:" "See that Coke cup, kid? That's product placement. Simon would have rotten teeth if he drank that much Coke." But, darn, if it hasn't seeped into their beach reading.

Running Press, the publisher of a young-adult novel coming out in September called "Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233," has made a deal with Procter & Gamble to mention Cover Girl products in the book. In exchange, rather than pay for the product placement, P&G will promote the book on Beinggirl.com, a site for adolescent girls.

Books have typically been outside the realm of product placement, and the fact that this one is targeting young adults makes it trickier. It's a generally accepted notion that young minds are naïve and sensitive and malleable. These kids are worried enough about clammy palms, who they're going to the school dance with and why their parents are trying to ruin their lives that we don't need them worrying about whether they have the right shade of lip gloss or whose fake Louis Vuitton purse is bigger than theirs.

But who are we kidding? These kids are a gold mine for marketers. We're not saying it's ethical, but at least Running Press didn't strike up its deal with Frederick's of Hollywood. There are worse things than a 13-year-old wanting some Cover Girl lip gloss.

But, ah, yes, the slippery slope. It always comes back to the slippery slope. The book's authors, Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, have got that covered. Mr. Weisman told The New York Times that the folks at Beinggirl.com suggested they consider product placement deals for feminine hygiene products.

"We said while that might be very funny, we think that would be very far over the edge," Mr. Weisman told The New York Times. Of course, that may have been an effort by the two male writers to keep the word "tampon" out of their book. --Bonnie Thompson


Mea culpa. Mea culpa.

Say it with us: Mea culpa. Evidently, WashingtonPost.com's Richard Morin finds that buying illegal drugs and donating to the nice couple at the Al Qaeda Defense Fund are no longer the only ways Americans can support terrorism. In his discussion with Bruno S. Frey of the University of Zurich and Dominic Rohner of Cambridge University, Morin revealed the vicious cycle that is print-begets-bloodshed.

We think Dr. Spock confronted this behavior first in children. If you reward kids by giving them attention during their tantrums, they learn that tantrums will get them what they want and they throw more of them. In a more serious vein, professors Frey and Rohner believe that the more the media covers terrorist attacks, the more terrorist attacks there will be. As Morin puts it: "It's a macabre example of win-win in what economists call a 'common-interest game.'"

How then, are journalists to disperse much-wanted information without inspiring further acts of terror? Frey suggests not naming the parties responsible for the act, noting: "Many experiences show us that in virtually all cases several groups claimed responsibility for a particular terrorist act." --Brooke Capps


Is nothing sacred?

When it comes to a lack of funds and much needed repairs, not even Veneranda Arca -- an association founded in the Middle Ages to see to the assets of St. Anthony's Basilica in Padua -- can say no to advertisers. Turns out that upkeep for the 13th-century church, its frescoes, statues and other Romanesque-Gothic masterpieces within the large religious complex tops 8 million euros every year.

Gianni Berno, president of Veneranda Arca, sees no shame in bringing advertisers into the church: "The Basilica is known all around the world and the advertising inside the church will grant sponsors such as private companies, banks and financial institutions the publicity due to them for funding restoration works." --Brooke Capps

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June 13, 2006

Move over, Pop Rocks, now there's something fizzier

Mentos, the fresh-maker, is getting some of the best publicity it's had since those silly commercials. (But seriously, that song is still in our heads.) Someone discovered that when you put a Mento in a bottle of Diet Coke, there is a chemical reaction that creates a geyser-like effect -- the Diet Coke shoots about 10 to 20 feet into the air. Then someone decided to videotape the reaction and post it on the web. Then hundreds of followers did the same. Then that got old.

That was before Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz got involved. The pair from Maine decided to make a spectacle of the kooky science experiment. They took 101 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke and 523 Mentos and created a geyser-fountain show to music that resembles the Bellagio water feature in Las Vegas (only it's two guys running around in lab coats and goggles, it's Diet Coke, and, OK, it doesn't exactly resemble the Bellagio, but you get the idea).

Mentos is made by Perfetti Van Melle, which told The Wall Street Journal they were happy about all the publicity. But Diet Coke turned its nose up at the video trend, telling the Journal the phenomenon "doesn't fit with the brand personality."

The two viral video geniuses aren't stopping any time soon. "We are working on a couple new ideas that we are not at liberty to divulge at this juncture," they told NPR. "Let's just say we're trying to go bigger and better and higher and produce a level of Diet Coke and Mentos explosions that have not been seen on the face of this planet."

OK, but seriously, didn't you just do that? --Bonnie Thompson

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The Customer Is King, Queen and Pawn

According to the cliché, the best offense is a good defense. So tell us, when will companies realize that some of the very best marketing is good customer service? As per our dear friendly neighborhood blog, Consumerist.com, AOL hasn't gotten the e-mail yet.

Their summary of one consumer's run-in with AOL's customer service: "'Cancel the account. Cancel the account. Cancel the account. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. FOR GOD'S SAKE JUST CANCEL THE F***ING ACCOUNT.' After every period, insert a few minutes of AOL CSR John trying to 'help' Vincent somehow figure out a way to keep on paying ... generally through the ingratiating method of straight out calling him a liar."

Meanwhile, Business 2.0 reports that some smaller businesses not only got the e-mail, they read it.

"At the online T-shirt emporium Threadless, shoppers suggest, rate, and buy T-shirt designs from other users. Online retailer Etsy provides a platform for users sell their handicrafts on its website, and lets customers vote on which products should be featured on its homepage. And electronics maker Slim Devices plans to let customers sell their own open-source software and even add-on accessories for its digital music gear.

"By definition, these companies are selling precisely what consumers want. 'It's the open-source software concept applied to product marketing,' says Georg von Krogh, a professor of management at Switzerland's University of St. Gallen."

Welcome to the Wikifuture ...

--Brooke Capps

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June 9, 2006

GM vs. 'The New York Times'
We're sure that when marketers play with the idea of starting a blog, there's a laundry list of reasons not to do it. But blogs suddenly seem like a great idea when you've got a grievance against a major newspaper and that newspaper won't let you get your point across.

For a great example of this, see GM's Brian Akre's post about his dealings with The New York Times. The short version: Tom "The World is Flat" Friedman writes a column that, among other things, compared GM to a corporate crack dealer. GM gets upset and wants to write a letter to the editor. GM is told that the letter is too long. And they can't use the word "rubbish." Brian Akre posts the original letter, the edited letter and the e-mails sent back and forth between GM and The Times. The end.

The longer version is more fun to read. --Ken Wheaton

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Coke makes you look rich

The Economist has expanded upon the popular "Big Mac Index" (you know, the easiest way for a layman to figure out the true value of a dollar, yen, tala, ruble, euro, what have you), and examined what a bottle of Coca-Cola is worth: "There is a loose but clear positive relationship between Coke consumption and wealth -- perhaps not surprisingly. Even clearer is the relationship between cola and an index developed by the United Nations to show general quality of life (as measured by wealth, education, health and literacy). Coke consumption takes off at the upper end of the development scale."

Is it enough to make up for the fact that Coke could be one of the major sources of our obesity woes? We think not. --Brooke Capps

UPDATE: It seems we missed that Starbuck's tall latte can be an economic indicator, too.

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June 8, 2006

Captive kids, captive audience

Let's review some business basics: In the U.S., most teens and all tweens cannot legally hold down a job. Beyond their allowance, they have no money of their own and yet their spending power (via mom and pop, pop and pop, mom and mom, nana and pop-pop -- you get the picture) is vast and ever-growing. Every marketer wants a slice of the pie American kids are serving up. But -- dang kids! -- they are so hard to pin down outside of their video game playing and bazillion hours of TV every day. What's a marketer to do?

Caroline E. Mayer, a consumer issues writer at the Washington Post, has uncovered the next brilliant idea on how to keep kids a captive audience for advertisers. It's called BusRadio and Michael Yanoff and Steven Shulman hope that, come fall 2007, Massachusetts kids will be enjoying BusRadio's mix of music and commercials on their way too and from school every day. Yanoff and Schulman must spend their days finding out how to get to print-adverse kids, because they are also the proud parents of Cover Concepts "a company that has provided schools with millions of free book covers -- full of bold, colorful ads for Kellogg's, McDonald's, Calvin Klein, Nike and other major national advertisers. Now owned by comic-book king Marvel Enterprises, Cover Concepts says it reaches 30 million school-age children in 43,000 U.S. public schools, which receive no funding for distributing the products."

While we excuse ourselves to retch a little bit, read these paragraphs about trial results:

"BusRadio says pilot tests have shown that students behave better when its programs are on. Noise is reduced, and students are more likely to remain in their seats and more willing to follow school rules, according to the Web site. 'Drivers used BusRadio as a behavioral tool. ... If kids misbehaved, they lost the privilege of listening to the show,' the Web site said.

"BusRadio said that in test runs, its commercials were effective in attracting kids' attention. The WB network, for example, wanted to promote its television shows to kids. Print ads could reach the right audience but perhaps not on the day that the shows were to be broadcast. Commercial radio could do that, but it was considered inefficient for the youngest of viewers because kids 'tend to turn the station when the ads begin.'" --Brooke Capps

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June 6, 2006

Unofficial? Says who?
In 1991 a bunch of people in red shirts descended upon the Magic Kingdom in an act of solidarity, visibility and, well, fun. In the 15 years since, "Gay Day" became Gay Days, got a Web site, an Expo, a cruise ship and a passel of sponsors like Bud Light and Virgin Megastore. So, how is it that Gay Days is still officially an "unofficial" event at Disney? It's an annual, week-long event now celebrating its sweet 16 and bringing in an estimated 140,000 people to Disney parks between May 27 and June 4. We've seen welcome signs out for far less impressive numbers.

The Orlando Sentinel interviewed Chris Alexander-Manley, VP of sales and marketing for Gay Days, and asked him about the unofficial status: "I think that they're losing out. Definitely, we're bringing them millions of dollars. And I'm sure they appreciate that they're getting that without having to put any effort into it. ... We have E-surance.com and CNA insurance that are national sponsors -- they've seen the return. Bud Light actually doubled their sponsorship, jumping up to presenting sponsor this year. E-surance.com doubled their sponsorship -- they saw the return for their involvement. The attractions being tourist-based -- these are 140,000 tourists. That's what they're here for: to visit the parks, go to the shopping malls, dine out. ... I think all the parks are losing out that they're not aggressively marketing to our crowd."

With Rosie O'Donnell soon to be steaming up "The View" -- on ABC, which we all know is owned by Disney -- can official recognition of the growing event be far behind? --Brooke Capps

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June 5, 2006

Loomis goes to the great toy-maker in the sky
Bernard Loomis, master toy marketer, died last week. Writing in The Washington Post, Patricia Sullivan details some of the highlights in a career full of them. Loomis -- who once said "The trouble with research is it tells you what people were thinking about yesterday, not tomorrow. It's like driving a car using a rearview mirror" -- was the man behind the success of Matchbox and Strawberry Shortcake. The man who was there when Mattel became No. 1. The man who was there when Kenner became No. 1. And the man who was there when Hasbro became No. 1. Detect a pattern?

We like this anecdote in particular:

"In keeping with standard practice, the 'Star Wars' toys were not supposed to appear until about a year after the movie opened. But the immediate success of the film forced Mr. Loomis to reconsider. Unable to speed up production, and with the all-important Christmas season looming, Mr. Loomis ordered paper certificates sold in colorful boxes for the price of the toy. Kenner promised to deliver the toys by mail eight months later, at which time a second wave of demand crested, as kids competed to get what their friends had."

And while the FCC and all sorts of other nanny-staters no doubt viewed Mr. Loomis as evil-incarnate, we'd like to thank him for hours and hours of childhood enjoyment. --Ken Wheaton

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Yet another score for iPod
Because Apple needed more help marketing the iPod. "The Rockies have incorporated the iPod into their hitters' video work, a harbinger of the technological advances they believe will also help them track upcoming draft picks and future free agents. 'It's the wave of the future,' Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. 'I was blown away by it.' When Apple unveiled its video iPod in November, it had consumers in mind, not hitters. But with the ability to hold 150 hours of video and display it on a mobile screen, the iPod blends perfectly with baseball players' needs." --Ken Wheaton

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June 1, 2006

Jesse James Living Omnimedia?
He's got more tattoos than you do, builds $60,000 motorcycles, hosts "Monster Garage," is married to Sandra Bullock and makes one hell of an almond tart.

Ladies and gentleman, I present you with the next Martha Stewart: Jesse James. Before you cough your coffee all over your keyboard, listen to this: When "Monster Garage" airs its last episode on the Discovery Channel June 12, James is kicking it into high gear to give dear old Martha a run for her money. According to an article in the June 5 People, James is poised to create his very own Jesse James Living Omnimedia. Beyond keeping up his West Coast Choppers, he will continue to produce and appear in various Discovery Channel specials (his next is "Iraq Confidential with Jesse James"), he's started up a West Coast Gold clothing line for women and has a High Caliber clothing line for men on its way. If you visit Long Beach, Calif., anytime soon, you'll find James' eco-friendly Cisco Burger -- and that almond tart? Martha was so impressed she even shared her airtime with him so he could show her how to bake one. Last, but not least, James recently bought a magazine geared toward the hot-rod lifestyle: Garage. James told his People interviewer: "A lot of people have compared me to [Martha Stewart]. I'm this weird perfectionist and she's that way, too."

Rest assured that if this lifestyle maven winds up in jail (not that we want him to) there will be nothing cupcake-ish about it. Unless, of course, he says so. -- Brooke Capps

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May 31, 2006

Bottled Toad, anyone?
Writing for The Independent, Anthony Rose finds that the French are loosening up a bit when it comes to marketing their wine. "The dull lists of meaningless appellations and negociant names are giving way to a host of brand names a la New World. Some arrive with a French accent, like Chamarre, Premiere, La Terre or Blason de Bourgogne. Others like Stone Road wouldn't look out of place on an Australian or Californian shelf. And, following in the footsteps of Fat Bastard Chardonnay, there's a new tongue-in-cheek breed like Le Freak, Chat en Oeuf, and the self-deprecating Arrogant Frog, telling us that the French can lighten up if they have to." Of course, this being a Brit publication, the French weren't going to get a free pass. Rose also writes: "Encouraging as it is to see France making an effort to modernise its marketing, much of what's in the bottle remains unworthy of the flash labels." --Ken Wheaton

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Not-so-funny moments in PR
Greenpeace temporarily finds a sense of humor. Unfortunately, it was in a press release that was meant to be serious. Tucked away in an press release criticizing nuclear power was the following line: "In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]." A spokesman explained that this wasn't standard boilerplate reflecting Greenpeace's PR methods, but rather, a joke. A joke, he quickly added, that wasn't even funny. --Ken Wheaton

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Blogging works up a sweat
If you've been asking yourself, "Where can I find a blog dedicated to Gatorade and Gatorade marketing?" we've got an answer for you: Darren Rovell's Gatorade blog. --Ken Wheaton

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May 30, 2006

Very bad things
People love "best of" lists. For some, such lists offer validation. For others, such lists offer something to argue about. But if there's one thing people love more than a "best of" list, it's a "worst of" list. Everyone likes to pile on. Everyone, of course, except the folks on the list. We can't imagine AOL is happy about being named the No. 1 worst tech product of all time by PC World. We can't rightly say we feel bad for AOL, though. As PC World points out: "Of course, most truly awful ideas never make it out of somebody's garage. Our bottom 25 designees are all relatively well-known items, and many had multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns behind them. In other words, they were made by people who should have known better."

About AOL, PC World says: "Since America Online emerged from the belly of a BBS called Quantum 'PC-Link' in 1989, users have suffered through awful software, inaccessible dial-up numbers, rapacious marketing, in-your-face advertising, questionable billing practices, inexcusably poor customer service, and enough spam to last a lifetime. And all the while, AOL remained more expensive than its major competitors."

But not to be outdone by AOL, Microsoft has three products in the Top 10. (And before anyone starts gloating, Apple has its fair share). --Ken Wheaton

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They believed they could fly
Fast Company offers a look at Superfly Productions, the company behind the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. "As ideas go, the notion of setting a three-day festival 60 miles outside of Nashville -- featuring a bunch of bands that had never come close to the FM dial -- verged on the insane." Of course, Bonnaroo is now the highest grossing music festival in the world. The question Fast Company is asking: Can Superfly hold on to its soul? (And does that even matter these days?) --Ken Wheaton

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May 24, 2006

That's capitalistic!
Young Dutch entrepreneurs are getting a leg up thanks to Postbank's Bizznizz Web site. Adverblog gives the (English language) low-down on the site, which is directed toward pre-teens. Bizznizz provides kids with briefcase kits and online tools to start, promote and bill for their own dog walking, house cleaning, car washing or similar service businesses. Kids learn how to brand and advertise themselves through business cards, t-shirts and circulars. In our day, these skills were called chores. Does this mean we missed multiple money-making opportunities with our bed-making skills? Rats! --Brooke Capps

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May 23, 2006

Vonage comes a-callin'
As phone companies and Internet companies duke it out over net neutrality, Internet-based phone company Vonage is set to go public. We've used Internet-based phone before. And, if we still had a landline, we'd definitely go with such a service. In fact, it boggles our mind that anyone would pay a local telephone company over 30 bucks plus all sorts of taxes for basic service. Ah, but which service would we choose from -- Vonage or one of its many competitors? That's a point raised by Business Week in Vonage on the Line, a look at how the company's been doing and where it's going:

"No question Vonage is growing fast. Sales zoomed from $16.9 million in 2003 to $269.2 million last year. The number of subscribers hit 1.6 million at the end of March, from 857,000 at the end of 2003. Vonage is harnessing the popularity of what's known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which lets people make voice calls with the same technology that's used to move data over the Internet. Despite that breakneck growth, the company has yet to make money. Losses have swelled steadily with revenue, to the point where Vonage lost $261.3 million last year on sales of $269.2 million. Worse, a company long at the forefront of Net phone calls is now facing an onslaught of competition, from upstarts like eBay's Skype to giants such as Verizon Communications and AT&T."

(And other household names such as Cablevision, Time Warner, Comcast ... ) --Ken Wheaton

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Tax preparers against easy taxes
How's this for an unfavorable comparison? "Imagine if tire manufacturers lobbied against filling potholes so they could sell more tires. Or if private emergency services got local agencies to cut funding for fire departments so people would end up calling private services first. And what if private schools pushed to reduce public school money so more families would flee the public system? Or what if taxicab companies managed to get a rail line placed just far enough from an airport to make public transportation prohibitively inconvenient?"

That's Wired's Lawrence Lessig in a post about tax-return companies lobbying the state of California to kill a government program that makes paying taxes easier. If the average consumer paid more attention to lobbying efforts and the goings on in state legislatures, we'd call this a really bad PR move by both companies involved. --Ken Wheaton

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A clean, well-lighted place
Perhaps one of the more interesting things we've read about church marketing: "The pastor said they chose to spend a significant amount of money on the restrooms instead of anywhere else in the building because they were convinced that the return on investment would be higher than anywhere else."

All business would do well to follow that rule. --Ken Wheaton ~ ~ ~

May 22, 2006

Numbers Say Taylor Has It
Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at online-measurement company Hitwise, takes a look at the tea leaves (in this case, the search results) and comes up with an "America Idol" prediction. The winner is? Taylor Hicks.

One of the reasons Tancer goes with Hicks is that those searching for Katharine McPhee aren't exactly interested in her music: "It seems that the majority of searches for Katharine McPhee over the last few weeks have been centered around a supposed wardrobe malfunction versus her talent, with the query 'katharine mcphee wardrobe malfunction' accounting for over 11% of all McPhee searches (other top searches were 'katharine mcphee pix,' 'katharine mcphee pictures' and 'katharine mcphee yellow dress' (subject of the alleged malfunction). Contrast that with search terms for Taylor Hicks, which contain primarily queries around his music, songs that he's song on the show and his previously recorded CD. By discounting Katharine's searches for unlikely voters (male 18-24) the gap between Taylor and Katharine widens."

Funny. We'd picked McPhee to win for the exact same reasons Tancer's picking her to lose. --Ken Wheaton

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Anheuser-Busch Draws Yellow Card in Germany
Budweiser has beer and soccer lovers crying "Blasphemy!" over its sponsorship of this year's World Cup tournament in Germany. Roger Boyes, writing for the U.K.'s Times online, reports that the King of Beers is not only usurping roughly 1,270 domestic breweries in and around the stadiums, but -- because it uses rice in its brewing process -- doesn't even count as beer in the German sense of the term.

Walter Konig of the Bavarian Breweries' Association says, "Most pubs don't even stock it. Bavarian beer should be available in a Bavarian stadium -- Munich -- for the first kick-off. But what can we do? Budweiser paid $40 million for the concession even before Germany had been chosen to host the tournament."

If there's one small consolations in this for the Europeans, it's that Budweiser can't call itself Budweiser. One Czech brewery, Budweiser Budvar, contests A-B's rights to the name in Germany, so A-B will only be allowed to use the name "Bud" outside the stadiums. Better yet, because "Bud" sounds like "Bit" in German, the name of beers from the German Bitburger Brewery, A-B has been forced to allow some Bit to be sold next to Bud.

All in all, it sounds like the roughly 3 million soccer fans expected to attend the games are in for some mixed-up pints. --Brooke Capps

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May 19, 2006

P&G prediction: Drama from the mamas
We don't speak for anyone else at Ad Age when we say the following: Vocalpoint, P&G's 600,000-strong word-of-mom marketing program, is going to get more and more attention from the feds. And we're not talking about the good kind of attention. Ad Age has written extensively about Vocalpoint in its pages, but check out this nugget from a Business Week piece. Because the moms don't have to disclose that they're affiliated with P&G, the company is catching flack from WOMMA and the government:

"In January, the Federal Trade Commission discussed the disclosure issue with P&G. While Knox says the agency is fine with P&G's stance, another person knowledgeable about the situation says the matter isn't resolved. 'There are a lot of word-of-mouth programs in play now, many of which are unsavory,' observes Pete Blackshaw, a WOMMA founding board member. 'As the leader in the industry, P&G has a higher obligation to set the right standard.' "

A higher obligation, huh? Sounds like something the U.N. would say to the U.S. It's only a matter of time before Ralph Nader comes a calling.

We don't have a position on the disclosure thing, but there might be a lesson here about using somebody's mama to peddle your products. --Ken Wheaton

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Saddam! The Musical!
Former dictator for life, Saddam Hussein, is now looking to become dictator of people's hearts and minds; well, at least in Japan. His book "Get Out of Here, Curse You" (titled "Devil's Dance" in Japan) has hit bookstores in the Asian country after being smuggled out of Iraq and handed over to a Japanese journalist and translator Itsuko Hirata, according to Reuters.

Hirata believes the novel was written in the weeks prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and finds it interesting how much it reflects what has happened in the the time since. Hirata told Reuters: "He (Saddam) knew he was heading into a war he couldn't win, so I think with this book he was trying to make his position clear and send a message to the Iraqi people." She went on to say, "I really think this book should be made into a musical. And once this is done, it should play in the heart of his enemy's country, on Broadway."

While the Japanese publishers took the project on for its "historical curiosity," their timing could have been better; the Japanese translation of "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" also hit stores this week. --Brooke Capps

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Hell, you say?
Writing in The London Free Press (Canada), Morris Dalla Costa bemoans the plight of baseball. There's only one thing people can talk about this year, and it isn't the teams being fielded by Detroit and Toronto. "All anyone can talk about is a worn-out, personality-bereft outfielder who is under a cloud because of suspected steroid use, could eventually be indicted for lying to a grand jury and is making a mockery of the game by dragging himself out on the field in the hope he has 43 more good swings in his body so he can break a home-run record."

But aside from taking shots at Barry Bonds, Costa does his part to add one more voice to the people begging and pleading with MLB to wake up. "Baseball has gone on believing it needed to do nothing to make itself better or to change. Like royalty, baseball operates on the principal of divine passage. It has a right to do things the way they've always been done simply because it's baseball. Many of the game's players are public relations nightmares. The game never wanted to acknowledge a problem with steroids. The game never wants to admit it could use something to make it more watchable. The game came to think of itself as bigger than anything else. Now the leagues are reaping what they sowed and the harvest isn't pretty."

And neither was Bonds when he dressed up like Paula Abdul earlier this year. --Ken Wheaton

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May 17, 2006

Coolest use of customization
Lego is getting into the customization business. Or, to be more accurate, it's getting better at it. Chris Anderson writes about the Lego Factory, "which now only ships you the pieces you need rather than expensive bags of (too many) assorted parts." He also talks to Lego Brand Manager Michael McNally, "who explained how they cracked the tricky picking and packing problem of total mass customization. The answer: they pack the kits by hand, piece by piece. In one of Lego's Denmark factories, one packing station is now dedicated to Factory. The 520 pieces available in Factory are a number large enough to be interesting but small enough to be stored in bins that are no more than a step or two away for the packer."

We have only one word for all of this: neat! --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Self-hating creatives
Slate goes to The Clios and seems almost surprised at what it finds: "MIAMI -- Yesterday afternoon, I ran into a young-ish ad executive. He's serving on one of the jury panels here at the Clio Awards, the ad industry's annual celebration of itself. I asked him if, during his review of the best advertising produced this year, he'd noticed any overarching trends. 'Yes,' he said. 'I've noticed that advertising sucks.' For an awards gala, the vibe here is distinctly self-hating."

~ ~ ~

Extra! Extra! Read all about it
Good news for those running newspapers. Mark Cuban writes that, in some cases, they're better than blogs (and wire services and TV). He writes this sentiment, of course, on his own blog. Cuban shares an experience the day after a Mavericks game: "This morning, woke up, grabbed the papers at the door. Dallas Morning News, Star Telegram both had great coverage of the game. Multiple columnists, who although I dont think give their topics as much depth as they could, they at least covered different angles and aspects of the game. In addition the reporting of the game, again, although not in depth versus the opportunity, was far, far better and more detailed than the AP reporting. As would be expected. Plus, they provided some basic statistical breakdowns. About 1pm Dallas time, got on the PC, and checked out ESPN. What a waste of time."

He also finds The New York Times useful (if often wrong) for business news. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

May 16, 2006

Greetings from Nigeria!
Some of here who use the interwebs and the e-mails and such consider ourselves quite sophisticated when it comes to e-mail scams. We realize that certain old ladies down in Florida might be gullible enough to get hooked in a phishing expedition. Heck, even some overly enthusiastic blogger or eBay trader might fall for one of the many new Paypal scams floating about. But surely no one would ever answer the numerous Nigerian generals, businessmen and trade ministers promising to offer huge sums of cash in return for checking accounts or money upfront.

Apparently, we were wrong. Mitchell Zukoff, writing in the The New Yorker, has a fascinating story about one John Worley, a Massachusetts psychotherapist and upstanding family man who took a journey down this particular dark alley of the Internet. And when he came to the edge of the cliff, he jumped. And jumped. And jumped again. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Gawker detoxes with Evian
Through the wiley connective tissue that is blog-on-blog reporting (Out of Site heard from Adrants, who heard from Copyranter) the word is out that Gawker has one heck of a sweet interactive ad on its site right now.

Normally, your average blog read is pretty straight-forward with several easily ignorable ads running along the top or sides of the post (unless, of course, they blink, have video, make noise or otherwise require a few clicks of the mouse before you can read on your merry way). Today, Gawker's site is dominated by Evian, but in a completely different way than you might think. One click of the banner ad and all the other ads (including the larger Evian ads) disappear, leaving behind one little pinkish tag inviting you to "detox with Evian."

Cynics might call it a sell out, others might call it refreshing. We just want to see the price tag on that deal. --Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

Old dog, new trick
Vanguard Group Founder John C. Bogle, at the ripe young age of 77, has entered the blog game with The Bogle Blog. Bogle writes: "Can you believe it? A few months ago I barely knew what on earth a 'blog' was, and now here I am blogging. I'm excited, however, about the opportunities this new website will offer me, and hope that what you find here keeps you coming back to check in."

There's even an 'Ask Jack' feature. We imagine that when Bogle starts blogging, people might listen. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

May 15, 2006

Gospel on the gridiron
If the Catholic Church were involved with this marketing promotion trend, it would give a more literal meaning to the football phrase "Hail Mary." The trend is called Faith Nights and takes advantage of the fact that there are no atheists in foxholes or on the sidelines (or in the dugout). And the AP's John Zenor offers a taste from a Birmingham arena football game: "The throng of fans cheered, shouted enthusiastic 'Amens' and waved their arms above their heads to the tunes of a Christian rock band. Nearby, kids checked out the Bible-themed bobblehead dolls and posed with Veggietales characters while parents scanned tables filled with Bibles in a family-friendly brand of pregame tailgating. That scene before a recent Birmingham Steeldogs arenafootball2 game is one of a growing number of 'Faith Nights' at sporting events around the country that mix religion and sports, praise and promotion." It doesn't get any more Red State than that. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Kindergarten ad cops
It's a lesson many kids learn when they finally get that first toy they bugged their parents about and, lo and behold, it doesn't do what it did in the commercial: Advertising can be misleading.

One school in Dover, Mass., has decided it's too harsh a way to gain media literacy, so the Chickering School is offering an after-school course for the young and impressionable (not to mention the manipulators of their parent's bank accounts) to help them gain a better understanding of marketers and how they manipulate. The Dover-Sherborn Press interviewed teaching aide Robert Minshul, who described the course: "[It] is all about how companies market products and services and what ways they urge you to use and buy their product ... from pure exaggeration to outright lying."

Before all you marketers and advertisers cry "Outrage!" or "Curses, foiled again," pause and consider that while some of the students found some of the advertisements they studied downright insulting to their new-found awareness (ahem, Clorox), the young tikes will actually be developing and promoting their own products in the weeks to come.

Interesting. Developing conscientious consumers and potentially responsible future marketers and advertisers. Now that's a concept. --Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

Should you start a blog?
Those starting their own small businesses might ask whether it's worth it to start a blog, whether a blog will prove a boon to the business or simply a distraction from the real tasks at hand (making money). Business Week's Karen E. Klein offers some advice.

~ ~ ~

May 12, 2006

The pseudoscience of management theory
Typically we wouldn't link to a subscription-only piece, but we just had to point out Matthew Stewart's "Management Myths" in the June issue of The Atlantic. Why did we feel the need? Because Stewart says that a philosophy degree is probably more useful than an M.B.A. and, being the insecure possessor of an advanced liberal arts degree, we simply can't pass up the opportunity to poke fun. Stewart worked as a management consultant for seven years, sans an M.B.A. "As a principal and founding partner of a consulting firm that eventually grew to 600 employees, I interviewed, hired, and worked alongside hundreds of business-school graduates, and the impression I formed of the M.B.A. experience was that it involved taking two years out of your life and going deeply into debt, all for the sake of learning how to keep a straight face while using phrases like 'out-of-the-box thinking,' 'win-win situation,' and 'core competencies.'"

But it's not just a matter of making fun of management theory. Stewart does a great job of pointing out what should be obvious. Every hot new management trend is, in reality, probably an old and busted rehash of a pseudoscience started when your daddy was wearing short pants. He describes management theorists as anything from a religious hucksters to self-help gurus to revolutionary "leaders" who don't really care about what happens after they've left the building. "At the end of the day, it isn't a new world order that the management theorists are after; it's the sensation of the revolutionary moment. They long for that exhilarating instant when they're fighting the good fight and imagining a future utopia. What happens after the revolution -- civil war and Stalinism being good bets -- could not be of less concern."

Read it all. It's got a surprise ending. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Insurance for football fever
Of all the advertising and marketing hoopla surrounding the impending World Cup Soccer tournament in Germany this June, Dutch insurance agency SEZ has by far the greatest pitch. Reuters.com reports that during the 2004 European Championships in Portugal, "tens of thousands of Dutch workers phone in ill . . . with sickness levels rising 20 percent on days when the Dutch national side played." SEZ hopes to capitalize on similar football fever by offering employers insurance for the loss of workers on or just after game days. While it is Dutch law to pay employees for sick days, and companies in the Netherlands can already get insurance to cover that pay, the normal policy only covers two-week or longer absences.

SEZ's Dennis Massaar says: "Obviously nobody will phone in and say they're ill because they want to watch the match or because they drank too much." Therefore the company will cover the absence regardless of excuse. --Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

May 10, 2006

China wins gold in cracking down
In preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing is cracking down on the cheapest forms of advertising. According to M&C News, don't bother handing out leaflets or putting up posters of any sort. And spray-painting adverts? Fuggedaboutit. Any phone numbers on such ads will be suspended and violators could find themselves levied with detention or community service.

In all the glowing business speak about China's great frontier, it's easy to forget that in China, no one can hear you scream "First Amendment!"

Especially if you're the little guy.

Any type of self-promotion is also out: unlicensed taxi cabs, illegal vendors and beggars will also be subject to the same rules. The original Beijing news release says "Child beggars younger than 18 'will be required to accept the government's help and protection'... while those who organize the city's gangs of young beggars will be 'heavily punished.'" Maybe now Falun Gong will find allies in the ranks of New York's rather clever and industrious beggars.

And actual sponsors will be oh so happy not to have their messages diluted. --Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

Disney cuts the fat
Who decided it was "pick on Happy Meal" season? First New Zealand wants to ban Happy Meal toys because they encourage kids to nag their parents for the fat-injected foods and now The Los Angeles Times reports that Walt Disney Co. is filing for divorce from McDonald's Happy Meal. Put quite simply: Disney wants to be as far from the childhood obesity blame-game as possible. Said Dr. J. Michael McGinnis, chairman of a National Academy of Sciences panel on how marketing affects children's eating habits: "I think [the Disney decision] would have an impact in contributing to the cultural change that is necessary. The committee thought it was important for the use of cartoon characters that appeal to children only to be used in the marketing of healthy products."

Hey, here's an idea: maybe Mickey D's can make up for the Disney loss by teaming up with Joe Camel. (Did we type that out loud?) Before that, though, you will still be able to claim your "Cars" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" paraphernalia this summer, as they will be the last two cross-promotions. Whew. --Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

Down on the bayou
So every once in awhile, we hear about beef, pork or some other agricultural company getting fed up with the co-op advertising it's involved in and heading off to court to make the case that the advertising is compelled speech. And now, straight from Louisiana, we have alligator farmer's taking their turn: "A fee imposed on Louisiana alligator processors to pay for a $400,000-a-year marketing campaign is back in court, two years after the federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled that it was unconstitutional."

We wonder the whether the court will hand down a decision or simply say, "See you later, alligator." --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

May 9, 2006

Frenchman frowns upon Wal-Mart
Generally a fan of Everyday Low Prices, our first response to Wal-Mart's move to trademark the smiley face is to call it a bad idea. No one walks away from the fight with a smile. Then again, Wal-Mart says it only made the move after the Frenchman who claims to have invented the smiley face staked his claim to the happy yellow face in the U.S. And the Frenchman? Despite having a business relationship with the retailer, he now says he's too good for Wal-Mart these days.

"Interestingly, SmileyWorld's chief executive says the firm was now not only trying to protect itself, it also doesn't want to be associated with Wal-Mart. It's a 'very cheap mass-market store,' Nicholas Loufrani told Forbes.com. 'In the past three or four years I've changed my strategy and we don't want to be associated with mass-market accounts. Our main objective is to be able to sell our products in the American market without any confusion with Wal-Mart.'"

How do you say "ouch" in French? --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

We smell a monkey
So the San Diego Zoo runs an ad promoting its recently reopened monkey exhibit in the San Diego Union Tribune. The ad features an application for American residency covered in what any reasonable adult, considering the context, would assume the red scrawl of an excited monkey. But now "some," those mysterious folks who turn up at news outlets' doorsteps, are "upset." Yes. Some are upset because the ad could be considered offensive to someone or other involved in the immigration debate. We think. "The latest ad in the campaign is a single page in the Union-Tribune, promoting the monkey exhibit. The newspaper did not receive any negative calls about it, and neither did 10News. The zoo received very few."

So the newspaper didn't receive any complaints and the zoo received "very few." And those quoted as being upset are unnamed.

Is this media hysteria or a sad publicity stunt? We don't care. We're just writing about it because it involves monkeys. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Better advertising through abstinence?
Soon to be the talk of the industry, a study that says sex doesn't necessarily sell. In the June issue of Journal of Consumer Research, authors Yong-Soon Kang and Paul M. Herr argue "that an attractive model can actually negatively influence product perception if the model is irrelevant to the quality of the product and the consumer had a very high interest in the product to begin with."

Yeah? You think so? OK. To be fair, we imagine something was lost in the translation from scholarly article to press release. Perhaps someone is sexing up the press release to sell the article? Here's the author's summary from the JCR Web site:

"Whether people are persuaded by spokespeople in advertisements depends on their ability and motivation to think about the relation between the spokesperson and the advertised product. When consumers are either unable or unwilling to consider the spokesperson's credibility, they rely on the spokesperson's attractiveness. In those cases, more attractive spokespeople are more persuasive than less attractive spokespeople. When consumers are willing and able to consider the spokesperson's credibility (because the product is important to them and they have time to think about the advertisement) more attractive spokespeople are more persuasive than less attractive spokespeople only when the spokesperson's credibility is relevant to the product being sold. Finally, when consumers are especially focused on the ad, and/or they believe that their thinking about the product may be unduly influenced by something about the spokesperson (other than the spokesperson's credible product claims), attractive spokespeople may be less persuasive than relatively unattractive spokespeople." --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

May 5, 2008

The sky is not falling. Yet.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has something to tell you. Listen up, people. Bird flu is not in our country, and it's highly unlikely to infiltrate our food supply ... but, you know, on the off chance that it is, be sure to cook your chicken thoroughly. Get the facts. Knowledge is power!

Sadly, this very reasonable and factual PSA effort by the USDA likely won't be able to counter media, public and entertainment hysteria (thanks for Fatal Contact, ABC!). -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

In other morbid news
You've heard of MySpace.com. Now, check out MyDeathSpace, which memorializes dead MySpace users. "If you have a MySpace account and you die, this is where you will end up," says the site. While it doesn't have nearly as many ads as MySpace, it's much more interesting to read. Causes of death include the standard car accidents and disease, as well as death by avalanche and train and murder. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

May 4, 2005

The wine wars
As they say, sometimes bad press is better than no press at all. Russia has banned wine made in Georgia and Moldova, claiming those vintages contain trace amounts of DDT and other pesticides (something both countries deny). A Tbilisi, Georgia-based news site reports that President Mikheil Saakashvili, apparently the type of man to make fine wine out of sour grapes, is grateful for Russia's ban. "In a long-term perspective, we should be thankful to Russia, because the entire world has learnt that Georgia has wine, Georgia is a country of wine and drinking of Georgian wine is equal to supporting freedom-loving nations."

And Saakashvili isn't one to rest on his laurels. Oh no. He'd rather rest on J. Lo's laurels. Apparently, Georgia's "government offered U.S. pop diva Jennifer Lopez half a million dollars to sing in Tbilisi and promote the country's wines." But, alas, they couldn't afford her and J. Lo said no-no. Labor party leader Soso Shatberashvili had a nice take on the matter. Negotiating with the Russians would be "much easier and cheaper than inviting Lopez," he said.

Finally, as if this whole ordeal wasn't weird enough, we learn this: In retaliation for the wine ban, Georgian Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili -- yes, the defense minister -- wants to ban imports of Russian beer. -- Brooke Capps and Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Soccer ambush
Lufthansa's recent soccer-themed campaign would lead any bystander to believe the airline is the official airline of the World Cup in Germany next month. The only problem is: they aren't -- Emirates is. Says Amelie Lorenz, a Lufthansa spokeswoman: "People might think we are a sponsor, but that's good for us." Chalk another point up for the ambush marketers. Though this is all going to get ugly sooner or later. As the International Herald Tribune reports: "That kind of confusion is leading to the emergence of fierce clashes over freedom of expression and commercial rights of wealthy multinational corporate sponsors at global sporting events like cricket competitions, World Cup soccer matches and the Olympics." We can just imagine the "real" sponsors shaking their fists and proclaiming, "You've won this round, ambush marketers, but we'll have our day in court yet!" -- Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

May 3, 2006

Firing on Explorer
If you're reading Out of Site with Internet Explore, beware: Your friends may soon try to make a buck off of you. Mega-fans of Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox Web browser who call themselves "political activists" have set into motion a campaign to switch users from IE to Firefox.

According to InfoWorld.com: "The Explorer Destroyer Web site . . . offers Web-site owners scripting technology that will detect if a visitor is running IE. If so, an alert will appear directing them to download Firefox either to view the site better or at all. Whenever a visitor to a Web site using the group's technology switches to Firefox from IE, the owner of the Web site will get the referral fee if they have signed up for Google's AdSense program."

It also allows the owners three levels of alerts for their IE users: "gentle encouragement," "semi-serious" or "dead serious." --Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

Wanted. Help wanted
When have we ever seen James Bond reading the papers, let alone the classifieds? The UK's Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6, is hoping a would-be 007 does read the help-wanted section; they've placed advertisements in a number of the country's papers looking for future agents.

A half-page advert seeking "operational officers, technology experts and thoroughly efficient administrators" reads: "We operate around the world to make this country safer and more prosperous." And here we were thinking the reckless Bond put his own little dent in Britain's economy with his constant need for new cars, better gadgets and petty cash to cover the suits, martinis and slight gambling habit. --Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

May 2, 2006

Making out like bandits
Forbes' Dan Frommer brings up an interesting point. All that streaming video on the Web might be cool, but it ain't exactly cheap. YouTube reportedly pays as much as $1 million a month for bandwidth. But who is YouTube (and MySpace and all the others) paying all that money to? Hosting companies like Limelight (which handles both YouTube and MySpace), AT&T and Akamai. "Hosting" isn't nearly as glamorous as being a media darling for the new wave, but guess which companies will be still be around if this particular bubble bursts. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Move over Opus Dei
The Catholic Church isn't the only group taking aim at the upcoming "Da Vinci Code" release. "The Anglican Church in Sydney will launch a cinema advertising campaign this month aimed at challenging the claims made by the Da Vinci Code that Jesus was not God, did not die on the cross and that he married Mary Magdelene and had a family. The cinema advert will screen on 250 screens across Sydney for 4 weeks from May 11."

The Anglican Church in Sydney, though, claims not to be attempting to tell people not to see the movie: "'Our concern is that the Da Vinci Code will mislead people about the truth,' says Bishop Forsyth. 'We are not afraid of the film. We are not seeking to discourage people from seeing it. But we are well aware of the power popular films have in filling the information void about Jesus.'" We see the point. We're not the religious sort, but we still want to pull our hair out every time we hear someone trying to pass themselves off as a "Biblical scholar" after having read the garbage dressed up as history in that particular book. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Realtors hang shingle on blog
The National Association of Realtors now has a blog. In New York, the word Realtor is often a dirty word -- we have to blame someone other than ourselves for paying entirely too much for too little -- and we doubt that a blog is going to put a shine on the old Realtor image. Actually, the blog is called NAR in the News and it aims to "give its readers a peek behind the scenes into how journalists cover the nation's largest trade association and the 1.2 million REALTORS it represents." In the blog's very first post, we find this: "Hollywood portrays journalists about as accurately as it portrays real estate professionals. ... If REALTORS are to make sure reporters understand us, it's a good idea to gain an accurate understand of how the news media really works." One thing that upsets news folk? Unnecessary insistence on using all-caps and registration symbols. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Some helpful advice
Note to the telecom lobby. If you're going to hire a spokesman to hit the blogs, you might want to get someone who can stand the heat. Or you could also give up the bad idea of tiered Internet service. Either way, letting Mike McCurry blog on the Huffington Post is like letting a baby go swimming in the ocean with bloody fish bits stuffed in his diaper. (But unlike watching a baby get ravaged by sharks, watching McCurry get savaged by HuffPo commenters is extremely entertaining.) -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

May 1, 2006

Depends on what you mean by 'evil'
News from the juggernaut of Google. This isn't nearly as bad as censoring its Chinese search results to make Tiananmen Square look like a happy fun place, but it's still pretty shady. "Google Inc., which runs the largest ad network on the Internet, is making millions of dollars a year by filling otherwise unused Web sites with ads. In many instances, these ad-filled pages appear when users mistype an Internet address, such as 'BistBuy.com.'" Just another day of doing no evil. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Kiwis to criminalize Happy Meals?
New Zealand's parliament is set to crack down on food advertising aimed at children. "The health select committee begins its inquiry next month and its chairwoman, Green MP Sue Kedgely, said she would welcome a ban on promotional toys, used by companies such as McDonald's and Burger King to entice children and generate 'pester power' for parents. . . . She said the health committee would look not only at the extent of the obesity epidemic and its impact on the health system but at other ways of tackling the problem, including regulation." -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Another blogger battle
Stay with us. An ad agency in New York is suing a blogger in Maine because of posts he's written about the ad campaign for the state's tourism office. "Warren Kremer Paino Advertising LLC, an agency hired by the Maine Department of Tourism, filed suit in US District Court in Maine last week, alleging the blogger, Lance Dutson of Searsmont, Maine, outside Camden, violated the agency's copyright and defamed the agency in blog entries self-published at www.mainewebreport.com." Dutson, as bloggers tend to do, offers his own take on the story. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

April 28, 2006

IBM peers into crystal ball, sees end of TV
IBM has just released a study called The end of TV as we know it: A future industry perspective and has this to say: "Our analysis indicates that market evolution hinges on two key market drivers: openness of access channels and levels of consumer involvement with media. For the next 5-7 years, there will be change on both fronts -- but not uniformly. The industry instead will be stamped by consumer bimodality, a coexistence of two types of users with disparate channel requirements. While one consumer segment remains passive in the living room, the other will force radical change in business models in a search for anytime, anywhere content through multiple channels." Big Blue gets it. So why are there still TV and advertising people covering their ears, squeezing their eyes tight and screaming "LALALALALALA, we can't hear you!"? -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

A stain on European TV
Millions of innocent Europeans may one day soon turn on their TV and discover their programming has been tainted by yet another American invention: product placement. And if we're reading this Financial Times story correctly, the European Commission is giving networks the nudge to move in that direction. But as one commissioner points out: "Many people seem not to like it, in particular the Germans. It's attacked in the European Parliament and member states and by the print media." Well, at least they had a say-so in the matter, even if it didn't really count. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

'Welcome to the Internet. First Class or Coach?'
The Popular Mechanics blog offers a concise post about the (very, very stupid) idea of tiered Internet service. It includes two of the scarier words known to the Internet: "Enter Congress." (Though in this case, congress might prove to be the good guys.) Writes James Ross: "Telecommunications companies argue that content providers are getting a free ride on their networks, and that someone has to pay to build and maintain the network infrastructure. But someone already is: you and me." Listen up, ISP providers, Americans might put up with $5 gas, but don't even think about touching their Web sites. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Jewelers prey on kids?
Quick! Alert congress and the consumer interest groups! Our children are at risk from jewelers. Apparently, Gaetano Gavlieri, president of CIBJO, The World Jewelry Confederation, thinks "global jewelry marketing efforts should focus on education and marketing to younger consumers so they develop a penchant for jewelry."

OK, so what he actually said was: "There is a tendency in our industry to focus predominantly upon a middle-aged audience, because it is reaching the height of its earning capacity. But, if we do not invest more effort in developing a youthful and trendy fine jewelry culture, we will discover that those consumers are not as attuned to buying jewelry when they reach middle age." Sounds like he's talking about the good ol' 18-34 rather than the Nickelodeon set. And that's probably a smart business decision. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

April 27, 2006

Toyota Is Good for America
While Toyota is doing plenty of things right in terms of manufacturing and sales, the quality of much of their ad creative can be (and is) debated. But one smart campaign is striking a chord. According to the AP, "Billboards along highways in areas of the country such as the Cincinnati-northern Kentucky region, where Toyota employs some 8,800 people, tout the U.S. economic impact of the company, which is on its way to passing GM as the world's largest automaker." Some of these areas, of course, were once strictly "Made in America" sorts. But now? "Toyota's message is generally warmly received in Kentucky, where it has provided a major economic boost to the state and employs 7,000 workers at its Georgetown plant alone."

Of course, some people aren't happy. "'We're not real happy about it,' said Tony Currington, vice president of United Auto Workers Local 696."

Go figure. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Commercial comes to life
Columnist and blogger James Lileks has an odd experience in McDonald's. "As we ate I noticed three new patrons, all in their mid-20s: a very attractive African-American woman, model slim without the hauteur; a good-looking trim Asian guy with wrap-around sunglasses, and a grinning handsome Caucausian with a soul patch and a knit cap. My God, it's a royalty-free stock photo come to life! ... Maybe this was a commercial. Maybe McDonald's paid them to roam the country and administer Hip in small piquant slices."

If it wasn't a paid advertisement, it should have been.

Lileks also makes note of new McDonald's packaging and offers some photos (and commentary) from the organic cereal aisle. Organic-food manufactures please take note. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Pencils go to the head
As if we needed any more proof that ad industry award show cause strange behavior, there's this viral video featuring Euro RSCG's Jeff Kling and his pencil. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

April 26, 2006

Busted for gluttony
If a pharmaceutical company deploying the very disease it has the patent to cure sounds like the plot for a great thriller, Angela Cullen's story on Bloomberg.com about Bayer AG reads like a pitch for the next "Scary Movie" farce. The drug company, which specializes in heart disease and indigestion aids, recently cut ties with the International Federation of Competitive Eating Inc, claiming Alka-Seltzer's sponsorship of last year's U.S. Open eating championship was "a one-off marketing event, which won't be repeated."

Technically, if we were to attempt to beat the record of, say, 57 cow brains in 15 minutes, or 11 pounds of cheesecake in nine minutes, we would really hope some mass quantities of the indigestion medication would be nearby.

Having said that, Hubert Ostendorf, spokesman of the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, points out: "It's obvious to all that excessive eating is a danger to health. Paradoxically, Bayer offers diabetic remedies to cure the diabetes that is often caused by the very events they are sponsoring." -- Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

Home movies on iTunes?
We're not certain how we missed this breaking story last week: ITunes to Sell Your Home Videos for $1.99 Each. Reads the report: " 'Ladies and gentlemen, the future of home-video viewing is now,' Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at a media event Tuesday morning. 'As soon as you record that precious footage of your daughter's first steps, you'll be able to buy it right back from iTunes and download it directly to your computer and video iPod.' " Of course, that report ran in The Onion, and the news is fake. -- Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

April 25, 2006

Blogger-Journalist Puts New Model to Test
We don't know whether to call Michael J. Totten a blogger or a freelance journalist. But that's part of his point in an interesting post called "An Experiment in Journalism." It's a post that those struggling with the "new media" -- whether they be writers, editors, publishers or marketers looking for places to park ads -- would do well to read.

Totten writes: "I decided to try a little experiment. Instead of lining up an assignment from an editor to cover Northern Iraqi Kurdistan, I struck out on my own without asking permission from anyone. Almost all my material was posted directly to this Web site. I wanted to see if the amount of money I can raise from readers competes with the industry's going rate [for freelancers]. ... It does."

Totten, a center-left blogger, points out the obvious about posting to his Middle East Journal site: Aside from being free from editorial control, he can post in real time, doesn't have to wait a year for a story to run (then get stiffed on payment), gets immediate feedback, etc. The usual blogger talking-points.

And he's making money not by blogging about partisan politics during an election cycle or by delivering snark and gossip. But he isn't getting rich. For from it. Still, he did manage to go to Kurdistan and pay his bills back home on money raised directly from the site.

Now he's conducting a little market research: "Not many journalists go to Northern Iraq, though. So here's what I don't know: Were you willing to pay me because I went where few others go? Or can I do this again in a different location? I need to know how economically viable this emerging model of journalism really is."

That's something a lot of people want to know.
--Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

Elvis Lives! (Again)
Woe are Morgan Freeman and Justin Timberlake. Heck, even James Stewart, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash all have reason to mope: Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton have been selected to represent Tennessee in a new series of ads promoting tourism to the state, according to an article in USAToday.

Gov. Phil Bredesen said: "When I go outside of Tennessee and talk about the state, there are two people that everyone knows are from Tennessee, and they are Dolly and Elvis. ... To get the two of them together in a commercial is a home run."

The home run, however, will take place on Elvis's turf as Ms. Parton will be digitally added to a scene from the Elvis film "Clambake." The deal also marks a boon for CKX Inc., a company that also owns rights to "American Idol" and recently acquired rights to license Muhammad Ali.

Maybe some of Tennessee's other native-born celebrities should consider taking to peanut butter, banana, honey and bacon sandwiches. They may just be the key to the King's life and monetary success long after death. Or maybe the key is just a really good manager. -- Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

Nascar, the Romance
As if stilettos weren't enough, it turns out Nascar is really laying it on thick for its female fans. Last week we relayed a report about a pair of Nicole Miller high heels designed specifically for Nascar lovers, but now, according to The Arizona Republic, there's skirts, skimpy tops and a Harlequin romance to boot. Believe it or not, manufacturers are banking on the overall romance of the sport to sell products to women.

Says TrackCouture creator Kathleen Smith: "When you go and watch a race, it's not just someone driving around the circle. There are young and up-and-coming drivers who are cute. Most of them are eligible bachelors. That's attracting younger female fans." And we thought Danica Patrick was responsible for sexing-up stock car racing. -- Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

Copy editors have taken note (marketers should, too)
Via Adrants, we learn of this dastardly attempt by Ray del Salvio to turn the word concept into a verb.

No. No. And a thousand times no. And it did our hearts good to see that the commenters at AdRants have decided to defend what little is left of the language's integrity. The copy editors here at Ad Age fight every day to keep that word from seeing the light of day and ad agencies and marketers should, too. No concepting. No tasking. No impacting. And effort as a verb? Never. --Ken Wheaton

~ ~ ~

April 21, 2006

Philips makes our head hurt
Editor's note: We'd like to welcome new contributor Brooke Capps to Out of Site.
So let's get this straight. According to AdAge's own report, Philips Electronics has applied for a patent that will make it impossible for us to channel surf during TV commercials, yet TMCnet.com reports today that Philips and Time Inc. are partnering to, in essence, let readers skip a big chunk of magazine ads.

"Continuing its theme of 'simplifying' media experiences, Philips Electronics will purchase all the advertising inventory between the cover and table of contents of four Time Inc. publications. When readers open the magazines, the first thing they see is the table of contents. By eliminating the complexity of the initial advertising space, consumers can simply identify and find the stories they want to read." The deal starts with the May 1 issue of Time.

So which is it? Do we have to look at ads or not?

Never mind the fact that from day one, Oprah's magazine has forgone the usual 10 or 20 ads that precede the table of contents (prime print real estate). The point is that in the 20 or so seconds it might take a person to flip past the ads and land on the table of contents, she might still be stuck watching the nth run of a battery commercial during her weekly viewing of "Lost."

So Philips' stance is anything but straightforward. Consider the copy on the company's print ad: "Simplicity means not letting complexity stand in your way. It starts with moving the table of contents to the first page. It continues underneath this flap and on the last page, where you'll see innovative product concepts that will change the way you live. It's our vision of the future, one where complexity doesn't stand in your way."

And consider this statement by Philips CMO Andrea Ragnetti: "In television terms, this means buying all the advertising inventory and returning this time to the show, as we did with CBS's '60 Minutes' program. In print terms, we found Time Inc. an eager partner on our journey to simplicity, and we believe the readers will relish the experience of finding their favorite section of the publication faster and easier."

Er, so why the patent to prevent commercial-time channel changing again? -- Brooke Capps

~ ~ ~

April 20, 2006

Delta engages in spring cleaning
We're pretty sure this isn't a great PR move. Delta is asking employees to volunteer to clean up the airplanes: Now, the nation's No. 3 airline is asking some 50,000 employees to volunteer to clean aircraft at night on their own time. Their reward: a free T-shirt, reward points good for merchandise and a chance to show their pride in the airline.

And there's this: "The effort allows us to focus on a key element of customers' expectations when traveling: aircraft cleanliness," said a recorded message on Delta's employee news line. "Clean Days allow employees to work together to demonstrate pride in Delta and its operation."

Two observations. 1. Customers expect people dealing with airplanes -- in any capacity -- to be trained and paid professionals. 2. Employees are being allowed to demonstrate that they're so scared of losing their jobs that they'll work for free. Here's our rule on this sort of thing: If an employer is going to demand 110%, they should be willing to pay 110%.

~ ~ ~

This joke's for you
Anheuser-Busch teams up with the JibJab brothers for content. "As young adults spend more and more time on the Internet, Anheuser-Busch Cos. aims to keep this generation's attention through its sponsorship of a new humor Web site. The country's largest brewer is sponsoring and providing its own humorous ads to a new Web site called Jokebox, the creation of brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis."

This sounds like a savvy play, but we wonder how long before MADD and other groups start making noise about targeting minors.

~ ~ ~

Stuff gets into travel
Stuff magazine has entered the travel game. Upon seeing the site, we sort of wondered what took them so long, which we guess is a good sign that this is a logical brand extension. After all, if you're targeting young men with disposable income, why not act as their travel agents? It's a brand, not a magazine.

~ ~ ~

On the political front
More fun with McCain-Feingold. "Arguments will be heard next week in Washington, D.C., in a lawsuit brought by the Christian Civic League of Maine that claims campaign finance laws run afoul of the First Amendment."

~ ~ ~

April 18, 2006

When bloggers attack
How could we not link to this piece in The Guardian headlined "Ignore Bloggers at Your Own Peril, Say Researchers." According to the story, "Bloggers and internet pundits are exerting a 'disproportionately large influence' on society, according to a report by a technology research company." You hear that? It's the sound of egos inflating (and publicists scrambling ... and bloggers upping their ad rates).

~ ~ ~

The gorgeous ladies of Nascar
Has Nascar figured out how to market to women? Sports Illustrated seems to think so: "According to a pair of recent surveys, of Nascar's 75 million fans 40 percent are women. For every two new Nascar fans, one of them is a woman. Women will spend $250 million on Nascar-licensed products this year, and 68 percent of those women say they're only going to become bigger Nascar fans. And according to Nielsen, women are more likely to flip over to a Nascar race than any sport outside of football." We're pretty sure some of our aunts are responsible for this trend.

~ ~ ~

Taking the fun out of baseball?
Tommy Craggs, writing for Slate, bemoans the loss of the cheap seats in the attempt to make baseball stadiums more intimate. "Underpoliced and sparsely populated, the coliseum's scruffy upper deck was perfect -- the ballpark equivalent of Wyoming. In 310, a man could throw an object in anger and know he'd never strike a prissily self-entitled Yankees fan, for the simple reason that no prissily self-entitled Yankees fan would ever want to sit in 310. But the 310s of baseball are doomed. And according to the A's, the fact that the coliseum now has the lowest seating capacity in the majors (34,179) is a good thing for us fans."

Where are the battery-chuckers supposed to sit if not in the upper deck? It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

~ ~ ~

NPR goes red, white and brew
Via Adrants, we find a post that's almost too good to be true. PBR sponsoring NPR's "All Things Considered?" We can't even begin to contemplate the levels of irony here. But one wonders if PBR, "The Finest Beer Served Anywhere," is going after yuppies or if NPR is hoping to reach out to hipsters -- not that there's any difference there other than age. We weren't able to get to a radio to figure out though if the underwriter is Pabst Blue Ribbon (the brand) or Pabst Brewing (the parent company), which also brews Colt 45, Champale, Schaefer ("The one beer to have when you're having more than one") and National Bohemian. As we've never seen any of these consumed on the Upper West Side, we assume it would introduce a veritable slew of new demographics to "All Things Considered."

~ ~ ~

April 17, 2006

Opportunity in Obesity
We can argue all day about whether obesity in the U.S. is an "epidemic." But what we can't argue about is that a) obese people do exist and b) they want and need products tailored for them. And thus a niche market is born. Writes Deborah Hastings in a fascinating story: "But for those who are overweight, who know full well how it feels to be sneered at, laughed at, pitied and scorned, having a simple tool such as a sponge on a stick, or a sturdy footstool that can bear up to 500 pounds, makes one feel a little more human. And a little less demonized."

~ ~ ~

And the winner is ...
Award-show season is upon us, and so begins the annual debate: Do the awards actually mean anything? (The correct answer is "Yes" if you've won one or two and "No" if you've yet to win any.) Ernie Schenck is doing his part to kick off the debate by referencing our fellow blogger Mark Brownstein, who's pro awards. So here's your chance to add your two cents.

~ ~ ~

Frist pulls a Dean
Believe it or not (or should we say, like it or not), 2008 is right around the corner. And Bill Frist seems to be taking a page from the Howard Dean playbook. So says The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. Frist (or his people) is blogging and promising podcasts. Cillizza concludes: "How effective any one of these online approaches will be in recruiting supporters (and donors) to Frist's 2008 cause is an open question. There is a at least one crucial difference between Dean and Frist. Like him or hate him, the former Vermont governor inspired passion and loyalty among those who believed in him. At best, Frist can be described as low-key, at worst boring. Can a man with the Tennessee senator's mien inspire people to activism via the Web?"

Of course we all know how well Dean's grass-roots Internet effort worked out for him. This is the sort of thing that bugs us about politics and political advertising or fundraising. It doesn't matter how cool the effort or how much passion is drummed up. A political campaign could take home all the Lions, all the One Club Pencils, all the Webbys. But a win is a win is a win. This ain't little league and second-place and good intentions count for squat. As Vince Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." That said, we'd put Frist's chances at winning in 2008 at about the same as Dean's.

~ ~ ~

Crescent City classics
When is an outdoor ad more than just an outdoor ad? Check out this billboard outside of New Orleans. The copy reads: "New Orleans' Finest Drive Sewell." Seems harmless, right? Not exactly. Sewell is the Cadillac dealership from which members of New Orleans' not-so-finest police department (the Cadillac Cops), allegedly stole cars and evacuated in the face of Katrina.

And in other New Orleans advertising shenanigans, a mayoral candidate apparently goes to Disney World. (Congrats to the http://www.nola.com/ New Orleans Times-Picayune for its Pulitzer wins.)

~ ~ ~

The eyes have it
Now there's a way to really track those eyeballs. We don't know how well Etre's eye tracking technology works, but it seems really cool.

~ ~ ~

April 14, 2006

Comedy Central to Religious Groups: Use Violence
Remember those pesky Danish cartoons from a few months back that dared show the image of Prophet Muhammad? The ones that, after given a special tour around the Mid East by "concerned" religious leaders, set off waves of riots? They're back, sort of.
The pranksters at "South Park" entered the fray with two recent episodes. It gets a little tricky, but the premise was that a fictional "Family Guy" was going to show an image of the prophet, but a fictional Fox Network tried to stop it. Eventually, the fictional Fox decides to do what's right, to stand up for free expression and air the image.

But the real Comedy Central didn't. In the episode, when the image is supposed to be seen, the screen went blank and was filled with the words: "Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Muhammad on their network."

Was it a trick by show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker? Apparently not. In a statement on Thursday, Comedy Central said. "In light of recent world events, we feel we made the right decision."

We assume the "world events" were the riots. Oddly enough, "South Park" has shown the Prophet before. Odder still? In the same episode in which Comedy Central refused to allow an image of Muhammad, it did allow images of Jesus Christ and President Bush defecating on themselves and other people (adding to the confusion, in the show, this was a cartoon drawn by angry Muslims to protest the "Family Guy" episode).

The Catholic League's William Donohue, who might have missed some of the finer nuances here, isn't very pleased about that. And one has to wonder what Don Wildmon's thinking at the moment.

Whatever the case, Comedy Central seems to be sending a very clear (and dangerous) message that the easiest way to get it to respond is threats of violence.

~ ~ ~

April 13, 2006

What the Bonds drama says about us
Culture-chronicler (and culture-mocker) Chuck Klosterman, author of "Sexs, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs," tackles the Barry Bonds issue in ESPN: The Magazine. Regarding the inevitable breaking of Babe Ruth's record, Klosterman writes: "The problem is this: It's an achievement of disenchantment. And that applies to pretty much everyone involved, including you." It's an enlightening, if slightly depressing read.

~ ~ ~
A not-so modest proposal
First they took our cigarettes and we did nothing. Now, they're going after our Twinkies. "Fat taxes" aren't exactly a new idea, but John G. Sotos, writing in The Washington Post, says that calories should be considered a pollutant and treated thusly. "A program for tradable emission allowances could target foods with a high caloric density, that is, foods with a high number of calories per ounce." Sure, go ahead and laugh at him now. But if you're a food marketer, you might want to keep an eye on this guy. (Hill Holliday might want to watch out, too.)

~ ~ ~
Stay out of the hall
Via Adland, we find blogger The Bullshit Observer warning marketers to steer clear of a particular type of ad testing. Writes the Observer: "You know which test I'm talking about. It's the one where you walk around your workplace with the boards and take the pulse of your co-workers. Here are just a few of the many reasons why."

~ ~ ~

April 12, 2006

Journalists driven to crime
This isn't a post about the New York Post scandal. This is about poor professional journalists pushed to pilfer their own paper. According to a memo posted to Poynter Online, Minneapolis Star Tribune Circulation Exec Steve Alexander took employees to task for stealing papers. And what pushed them to steal papers? As part of a cost-cutting move to drive employees online, "Three weeks ago we converted employee copies of our newspaper to an electronic e-mailed version that is very easy to access from a computer."

In other words, no free papers. Employees, obviously, were left with three options: read the free e-mail version, buy their own, or steal.

The letters written in to Romenesko in regard to the memo make for good reading.

~ ~ ~
Rough play for 'Playboy'
Last week, we noted that Playboy opened up offices and released its first issue in Indonesia. While the magazine toned down the content -- women in underwear rather than in the buff -- reaction from some quarters was sadly predictable: "Clad in white shirts and skull caps the protesters threw rocks at the front lobby, breaking the windows of the building in the south of Jakarta several days after the magazine hit news-stands for the first time."

Protesters also burnt copies of the issue, but the report doesn't answer the burning question: "Did they read them first?"

Despite the broken windows, the first issue of Playboy in Indonesia sold out.

April 10, 2006

Damned if they do, damned if they don't
Apparently, advertising's just fine for selling soap, anti-depressants, political messages, raw meat, cooked meat, organic food, junk food, sex, alcohol, religion. But advertising support for the troops? That's propaganda, according to some in the industry. The America Supports You effort from the Defense Department and the Ad Council and created by Devito/Verdi seems to be taking some flak. "I feel the war propaganda machine,'' Paul Venables, founder and co-creative director of San Francisco ad agency Venables, Bell & Partners, tells the San Francisco Chronicle. "This feels a bit too close to a political campaign for my tastes," said Jeff Manning, who's described as a Berkeley brand and marketing consultant.

Of course, finding a couple of people from outside the Bay Area might add some credence to this story. The region does have a reputation, after all.

~ ~ ~
The dark side of contextual advertising
Say you're GM and you pay some Web outfit to hook you up with contextual advertising. Next thing you know, there's your ad running on the Web next to a piece about how GM is going the way of the dinosaurs. Yes, contextual advertising has its flaws. Heck, in that instance, it's just the marketer who gets upset. Think about the more gruesome miscues of contextual advertising: JazzFest tickets advertised in a story about Hurricane Katrina's death toll; Tel Aviv getaways running on the side of the latest suicide-bombing horror. You can bet it wasn't only the marketer who was horrified to see that sort of placement.

Tessa Wegert talks to some contextual advertising gurus to see how they're working to fine-tune the algorithms to prevent such occurrences in the future.

~ ~ ~
Interesting foreign investment
ACNielsen scoops up a retail-measurement firm in Venezuela. We're sure the company knows what it's doing, and obviously South America's a hot place to be for future years, but it seems an odd time to be getting involved in capitalistic enterprises in Hugo Chavez's country.

~ ~ ~
'Playboy' as terrorism?
Playboy execs apparently are made of stronger stuff that many a news outlet in the states. Where almost all respectable brands refused to show those Danish cartoons from a while back, Playboy's gone and launched an issue in Indonesia. The ladies are scantily clad rather than nude, but plenty of folks are still unhappy. "'This is a kind of moral terrorism that destroys the way of the life of the nation in a systematic and long-term way,' state news agency Antara quoted Yusuf Hasyim as saying."

The majority of Indonesian Muslims, of course, don't support that view. After all, the country already can boast its own versions of Maxim and FHM.

~ ~ ~
Weathering the storm
Writing for the Society of Professional Journalists, New Orleans Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss writes in detail about how he and other staffers continued to get the news out during that fateful week. While Anderson Cooper was still playing in the wind in Baton Rouge, Times-Pic reporters were seeing something a little different: "Both James and Doug had been furiously scribbling their observations. Now James put down his notebook. He stood frozen on the bridge for several minutes, as it dawned on him that his house was drowning, that there would be no coming home when this was over. Then he shook himself back into reporter mode and continued writing." And that was before the entire office had to be evacuated. Long but well worth reading.

April 5, 2006

Having it their way
Business Week takes a look at the upcoming Burger King IPO and doesn't exactly like what it sees, calling it a great deal only for the private-equity investors. "The coming Burger King IPO offers a window onto the clubby world of cash-rich private-equity players and how they make their billions," sayeth the authors. They continue: "Nowadays private-equity firms often spend hundreds of millions of their own money on an acquisition. Just as often, though, they load up the companies with debt and use the money to pay themselves special dividends and other fees that allow them to profit even if the company itself struggles. Then the backers take the company public, often pocketing the lion's share of the offering. ... That is basically how the Burger King saga is unfolding."

The story also quotes an analyst using one of our favorite expressions. Regarding BK's recent SEC filings, a "prominent Wall Street analyst" says: "This is as close to putting lipstick on a pig as you get."

~ ~ ~
In today's human news
The Consumerist yesterday wrapped up Day Two of a new feature, "How Long to Get a Human." (Day One can be found here.) "Each week, we pick an industry and call up their customer service lines around noon. We see how long it takes to get a person and post a graph of the results." Sounds like a noble, if unscientific, experiment.

First up? Mobile-phone companies. So far this week, Nextel seems to be winning the race. (Oddly enough, Sprint is performing poorly.)

~ ~ ~
Attention voters
Has the great state of Arizona figured out a way to increase voter turnout? The Freakonomics blog links to an Arizona ballot initiative that would, in essence, turn elections into a lottery. Reads the ballot: "This law will establish a voter reward random drawing every two years with a first prize of one million dollars or more."

We can't guarantee many things in life, but we guarantee this: bribes work much better than a public service announcement

~ ~ ~
Any color, as long as it's black (and white)
The newspaper industry is looking for ways to stay relevant. To that end the Newspaper Association of America has unveiled an effort to convince media buyers to park their money at newspapers. But blogger Todd Copilevitz raises an interesting question about one aspect of the campaign: "What the @*#% were you thinking using imagery of dead fish and Model Ts to invoke the image of a vital industry?"

He's angry because he cares.

Consumers bite back
Sure, consumer-generated content is all the rage. And we applaud any company that braves the waters, even if, as GM's Chevy did with a recent effort, the company tries to install some controls on that content.

For its launch of the new Tahoe, Chevy tied in with "The Apprentice" for a contest asking consumers to "direct" Tahoe ads using music and video clips provided by the company. That wasn't enough control, however, to thwart those consumers with an ax to grind. Yesterday, automotive reporter Jean Halliday alerted us to one spot calling the America in 2006 "the ultimate padded cell" and leading off with the lines "We paved the prairies, We deforested the hills, We strip-mined our mountains, And sold ourselves for oil, To bring you this beautiful machine." It's safe to say it's not exactly what Chevy had in mind. (When contacted by Halliday, Chevy declined to comment.) And it turns out there are more out there. Blogging at Daily Kos, blogger "by foot" has collected some of them. With titles like "Global Warming" and "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Drive), the spots range in tone from damning ("2327" refers to the number of soldiers killed in Iraq) to mocking ("How Big Is Yours?" should be self-explanatory). (Warning: some adult content.)

Wes Brown, an analyst for consultant Iceology, said marketers trying these kinds of promotions should be aware of the potential pitfalls. "It lets people vent and provides them with an avenue to express their opinions," he said. "That vehicle can be quite polarizing," he said of the Tahoe.

We're going to make a safe bet that those entries won't win the contest. And despite the tone of the ads, we imagine this will do little to hurt Tahoe sales and will only increase entries for the Chevy contest.

(Jean Halliday contributed to this item.)

~ ~ ~
Pollsters gone wild
Perhaps you've read or watched some of the hysteria about wayward young women on Spring Break on the heels of a poll conducted by the American Medical Association. Mark Blumenthal, aka The Mystery Pollster, with the help of Cliff Zukin, the current president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, takes the AMA out behind the woodshed and spanks it for some sloppy polling. At issue: non-random Internet panels. Interesting reading if you're into that sort of thing. Note that in Part 1 MP doesn't even discuss the subject matter of the poll. And don't worry: All the sex, drugs and alcohol can be had in Part 2

~ ~ ~
How's McDonald's better than church?
McDonald's is meeting its business goals. Or so says Mark O. Wilson, blogging at Revitalize Your Church. He offers a list of business results for different companies:

"Percentage of McDonald's franchises that did not sell a hamburger last year: 0%
Percentage of Ace Hardware Stores that did not sell a hammer last year: 0%. . .
Percentage of Methodist Churches that did not receive a member by profession of faith last year: 43%"

We imagine those numbers aren't scientific.

Church Marketing Sucks liked the post. The Consumerist had some strong words about equating souls with hamburgers.

~ ~ ~
Marketing challenge of the day
In Zimbabwe, the Rainbow Tourism Group is looking to grow market share for its Rainbow Towers Hotel Brand. Just another day in the hotel industry, right? As if. As the All Africa story says, Rainbow Towers is replacing the Sheraton brand name as Starwood decided to pack up and go home last December. Now perhaps Starwood did that because, as this AP article in Business Week points out, "tourism earnings dropped by half last year." Or perhaps Starwood left for the same reasons the tourists aren't showing up anymore: "soaring domestic inflation, currently the world's highest at 783 percent, gasoline shortages and 'negative publicity' abroad about Zimbabwe's problems." Or perhaps the fact that RTG is a state-owned company combined with President Robert Mugabe's nasty habit of seizing "white-owned" companies had something to do with Starwood's "mutual decision" to end its management contract. Whatever the case, good luck to RTG -- and whatever agency it chooses to work with.

~ ~ ~
Sexism in advertising
You know the drill. Sex sells, but sexism, some would say, sells so much better. Women are stereotyped or, worse, turned into a commodity. Marketers trivialize and cheapen women in their advertising. But we're not the only ones. Apparently, they do it in India, too.

March 29, 2006

The 10-year itch
Viral marketing turns 10 this year and, according to Marketing Sherpa, it's in a bit of a rut.

"You know the drill. The amusing video download, the interactive ecard, the engaging game, the forward-to-a-friend sweeps entry, etc. It's all getting a bit too boring for both marketers and consumers alike."

Plenty of charts, data, survey results and a few tips for those whose viral efforts are a bit under the weather.

~ ~ ~
Britain does it "for the children"
The Forces for Good seem to be winning the battle of the bulge on the U.K. front in the War on Obesity.

"Ofcom is proposing to ban all TV advertising or sponsorship for food and drink aimed at children, one of four new proposals designed to combat childhood obesity. The media regulator's long-awaited report into advertising junk food to children sets out four alternative proposals, ranging from time and product restrictions to an all-out ban."

Does this mean British kids will be deprived the pleasure of being completely freaked out by those recent Skittles spots?

~ ~ ~
So much for the value menu
George Beane was accidentally charged $4,334.33 for four hamburgers at a California Burger King, which came immediately from his debit card. Hilarity did not ensue as the charge wiped out Beane's bank account. The local BK guys jumped through hoops to undo the error, but ran into a problem:

"Bank officials said they would reverse the charge only if a representative of Burger King came forward and confirmed the error, Beane said. Even when the error was confirmed, the bank said the funds were on a three-day hold and nothing could be done to release them, she said."

This sort of story always makes us wonder why banks are so quick to take money out of your account, but always seem to have a raft of excuses (legitimate sounding, all of them) for taking forever to put that same money back in. (Via The Consumerist)

~ ~ ~
The road less rocked?
Writing on the Hill Holliday blog, Justin Holloway ponders his decision to go into advertising/marketing as opposed to rock 'n' roll. After watching U2 win another Grammy 20 years after getting their start, Holloway makes a connection:

"This came hard on the heels of: A) the Rolling Stones proving that, even well into their sixties, they could still extract a living wage from rock and roll by being selected to perform the Superbowl half-time show. And, B) the news that the average tenure of a CMO had fallen again, to a new low of just 23 months."

March 27, 2006

Making the new-media sausage
Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone involved with newspapers has by now learned to repeat the mantra of platform-agnostic news delivery. Of course, saying that is far easier than doing it -- especially with some papers expecting twice the output from half the staff. Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp offers a very in-depth look at how the new sausage is being made in Part 1 of "Across the Web/Print Divide."

"Although a growing number of reporters and editors welcome the ability to expand the print product and compete with their broadcast rivals for breaking news, others claim the expanded coverage translates into a staggering workload and excessive demands to feed the daily-news beast. Others contend that quality suffers when stories are rushed onto the Web too soon, or when reporters and editors are forced to complete distracting tasks like online chats before turning in a less-than-complete print version."

This isn't some consultant promising the world and neither is it an old-school journo protecting his turf. It's a sober look, with plenty of concrete examples, at what's being done, how it's being done and the problems that have come up so far.

~ ~ ~
Telecoms to New Orleans: Say bye-bye to free Wi-Fi
In the wake of Katrina, the city opened its wireless network to anyone and everyone. For free. Obviously, with Internet down in half the city and phone service still out in a third of it, many businesses have come to rely on the access. Therefore the city was looking to expand it.

But not so fast.

Chief Information Officer Greg Meffert tells Red Herring: "The vendors, the BellSouths of this world, are not only going to force us back, making our existing Wi-Fi illegal, but also they want to close a loophole for emergencies so that we would not do this again."

Kicking people while they're down: a great way to build brand loyalty.

~ ~ ~
Good morning, Vietnam
Local agencies in Vietnam are having a tough time, according to this story.

"Some 2,900 of the country's 3,000 registered ad companies have had brief lifespans, operating for a short time only and then closing down for lack of business. Of the remaining 100 domestic ad firms, only 10 are considered successful, said Do Gia Binh, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Advertising Association "

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