Round-up of the week’s odd marketing stories

  • Anti-Religion ad banned: Last month the South African Advertising Standards Authority banned an ad from a church for claiming miracles, this month UK’s ASA banned posters from the British Humanist Association asking people to check the “No Religion” box on census forms. The reason? They had the “potential to cause widespread and serious offence.”
  • 575-pound spokesman for Heart Attack Grill dies: ‘Heart Attack Grill is an unabashedly unhealthy restaurant – the menu consists of huge burgers, milkshakes and fries cooked in lard – and having such a big man as a spokesman was part of its tongue in cheek “glorification of obesity.”’
  • LA Clippers celebrate Black History month after Black History month ends: Not surprising really. As AdFreak points out “given [team owner Donald] Sterling’s standing as a poster boy for racial intolerance and bigotry, I’m amazed he missed it by only two days. By all accounts, this meathead is about as racially progressive as Archie Bunker. This is a guy who paid $2.73 million in 2009 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed he discriminated against blacks and Hispanics when renting apartments in L.A.”
  • Del Monte unveils individually plastic wrapped …bananas. In case that wasn’t silly enough, the company claims the biodegradable wrappers are part of a “green initiative.”
  • Aussie schools sell booze for fundraising:  “The Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) has written to every school principal in the country asking them to reconsider the sale, use and promotion of alcohol products when raising money. In the open letter, chairman Dr John Herron said there were concerns students were being used as "couriers" between school and home for advertising material, forms and payments for alcohol as part of fundraising activities.”
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    WWJD in the War Against Christmas?

    Because so many people are outraged that other people are saying things like, “Happy Holidays,” or that stores have signs which say “Xmas", I asked myself: What would Jesus do?

    war-on-christmasAlthough not a Christian myself, I have read the New Testament several times. (Sound moral thinking is sound moral thinking, regardless of whether or not I agree with the direct divinity of the source.)  So I tried to imagine someone going up to Him and expressing anger that others weren’t calling the day of His birth by the right name. I like to think of Him pausing while washing the feet of the poor or feeding the hungry or befriending the most despised people in society and looking at the person with His infinite patience, “Oh, that’s too bad. Excuse me, I have important work to do.” And with that he would get back to preventing a crowd from stoning a woman to death or comforting the sick or teaching about the importance of having no God before God or treating your fellow human as if you thought they were also humans.

    Whenever I hear someone say, “There’s no X in Christmas,” I am always tempted to ask, “But is there any Christ in Christmas?” I do not, because to do so would be to give in to my own ego and not treat that person with the love and patience he or she deserves. There are many great places to learn that and, while my personal preference is Buddhist,  it is also laid out very well in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Good texts, all.

    Another fine take on this issue can be found at the website DefendChristmas.com:

    We assert there is a war on Christmas. It is an old and unsettled debate. But it has nothing to do with television pundits, school grounds, city parks or Supreme Courts. The war on Christmas is fought in the home and in the heart.

    The site’s mission is,  “to referee the passionate-though-misguided combatants in the War on Christmas. If we have to discuss these things — and evidently we do — then we will be a voice of reason for both sides of the debate and serve to provide simple reminders of “peace on Earth, goodwill to all men”. Amen to that.

    BTW, if you are interested in a very good and very well informed discussion about how Dec. 25th came to be the approved date for His birth, please see this fine article from The Catholic Encyclopedia.

    Concerning the date of Christ’s birth the Gospels give no help; upon their data contradictory arguments are based. The censuswould have been impossible in winter: a whole population could not then be put in motion. Again, in winter it must have been; then only field labour was suspended. But Rome was not thus considerate. Authorities moreover differ as to whether shepherds could or would keep flocks exposed during the nights of the rainy season.

    10 Worst Marketing Blunders of 2009

    1) NBC GOES ALL LENO ALL THE TIME

    Edsel … New Coke … Lenovision.

    NBC has joined the immortals of marketing stupidity. This year the molting peacock network and president Jeff “Have They Fired Me Yet?” Zucker decided to turn five of the primest pieces of prime-time real estate — the hour between 10 and 11 PM from Monday through Friday — into the Jay Leno hour.

    The result? A 28% drop in viewership (through mid-November). This has not only killed network revenues but done in affiliates who have no lead-in for their late news casts.

    Despite this, Jeff “10% Of Americans Are Unemployed and I’m Not?” Zucker recently said that all is going according to plan. “Right now, in terms of its performance on the television network, at NBC, in terms of ratings it’s doing exactly what we thought it would do.” Comcast recently bought NBC in what must have been an attempt to copy the government’s cash for clunkers program. Comcast shareholders can now only hope they are being lied to. The worst case scenario is that Mr. Z believes what he is saying.

    On the plus side:

    1. It is now possible to buy every ad slot during the Leno show for less than the cost of a house in Detroit.
    2. The federal witness protection program is using guest slots to hide people.

    2) TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT

    (Originally #9 — Who knew?)

    Because I have a really limited imagination I thought the big celeb marketing mishap story of the year would be Michael Vick’s failed attempt to become a spokesperson for PETA. Then along came Tiger who prefers women with bad nose jobs to the Swedish bikini model he is actually married to. The story broke on Nov. 27th, when Mrs. Woods apparently decided to prove her own golfing expertise. This was unfortunate for Accenture which two days earlier had kicked off its annual Tiger campaign. A print ad which ran in the Nov. 30th Wall Street Journal featured Tiger Woods walking in the rough under the headline: “The road to high performance isn’t always paved.” And watch out for the trees and fire hydrants. Accenture has since declawed its Tiger connection.

    UPDATE: File this under “Pull the other one, it’s made of wood.”

    “We decided several months ago to discontinue Gatorade Tiger Focus, along with some other products to make room for our planned series of innovative products in 2010,” Gatorade spokeswoman Jennifer Schmit said in an e-mailed statement.

    3) BANKERS CUT BONUSES, INCREASE SALARY & BLAME JESUS

    First the banking industry made a big show of cutting the obscene bonuses it was paying itself for going on the dole. Meanwhile they hoped no one would notice the allegedly eliminated bonuses were now being paid as plain old salary.

    But wait … that’s not all!

    Apparently still feeling that their efforts to destroys the economy were still underappreciated, bankers started claiming Jesus wanted them to do it.

    “The injunc­tion of Jesus to love others as our­selves is an endorse­ment of self-​interest,” Goldman’s [inter­na­tional adviser Brian] Grif­fiths said Oct. 20, his voice echo­ing around the gold-​mosaic walls of St. Paul’s Cathe­dral, whose 365-feet-high dome towers over the City, London’s finan­cial dis­trict. “We have to tol­er­ate the inequal­ity as a way to achiev­ing greater pros­per­ity and oppor­tu­nity for all.”

    How much LSD do you have to take to interpret Scripture this way? However much it is, it is certainly being passed out at all the best financial institutions. Two weeks later, Barclays CEO John Varley spoke at the venerable St. Martin-in-the-Fields and tried to wrap the Bible around his bonus.

    “There is no conflict between doing business in an ethical and responsible way and making money. We make our biggest contribution to society by being good at what we do. Profit is not satanic.”

    I guess it all depends on who gets to determine how we define ethical and responsible. Perhaps Varley could have gotten away with this specious argument had he not added this gloss to the text after the service: “Is Christianity and banking compatible? Yes. And is Christianity and fair reward compatible? Yes.” (Not a good sign when a banker can’t even get his verb and subject numbers to add up.) Hey John, can we parse the word “fair” for a moment?

    I believe the renowned 20th century theologian Ray Price put it best when he asked, “Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?”

    4: GM EXPLAINS AWAY ITS “LITTLE PROBLEM”

    In the face of the greatest single corporate collapse in the history of the world, GM rolled out an ad that inadvertently explains the company’s failure.

    It is a veritable symphony of weasel words.

    Let’s be completely honest, no company wants to go through this.

    By the end of that first sentence it is clear this ad has no intention whatsoever of living up to that initial clause. You can tell because the final pronoun is never made specific. That “this” covers billions of sins. It implies we all know what has happened without saying what that was. It is everything to everyone and thus means nothing. Is “this” an utter failure of leadership? Or is it an inability to have even the vaguest understanding of the needs of the marketplace? Sadly, I suspect “this” is “an economic calamity no one could have foreseen” – the preferred phrase of everyone from Alan Greenspan to, well, the Detroit-based car makers. There is no taking responsibility anywhere in this ad just as there has been no taking responsibility at GM for decades. (Read more here)

    5) VOGUE: BLACKFACE IS THE NEW BLACK

    Vogue The October issue of French Vogue had a photo spread of the very Caucasian Lara Stone painted head to toe in dark make-up. Vogue went with the old “I’m sorry if you found my words insulting” defense and told the Daily Mail “it was unaware it had caused offence, but said it could not give any further comment.” (Worth noting: Italian Vogue’s issue for the same month was filled with actual Black women.) In a keeping up with the KKK move inflight magazine EasyJet ran a photo spread featuring brooding generic models dressed in black POSING IN FRONT OF BERLIN’S HOLOCAUST MONUMENT.

    Fortunately for me marketers just can’t seem to figure out that Nazi = Bad. This years examples:

    LATE BREAKING STUPIDITY UPDATE: NYT runs gift guide with special section devoted to:

    “Somali fashion, do-it-yourself henna kits, children’s books that draw inspiration from the lives of Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor: it’s not hard to find gifts created for and by people of color this holiday season.” (emphasis added)

    Why it’s almost like they’re real people!

    6) CHOCOLATES SHAPED LIKE PRESIDENT OBAMA & MORE

    CandyExpress said its commemorative Barack Obama heads would only be available for a limited time, unfortunately it wasn’t limited enough. Off the top of my head I would say there are three things Mr. Obama should not be used to advertise: Chocolate, fried chicken (a German company did it), watermelon (that’s a yet). However, the Russians came up with a bunch of things I’d never thought of. They used our President to advertise a tanning salon, a dental clinic and pre-packaged ice cream with the slogan “Everyone’s talking about it: dark inside white!” The bars have a chocolate-flavored center embedded in a layer of vanilla.

    Obama Daughters DollsHowever these are just idiocy, the sheer stupidity award goes to Beanie Baby maker Ty. First they decided to sell two new dolls named Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia. Then they tried to deny they were named after America’s First Kids.

    “[We] chose the dolls’ names because “they are beautiful names,” not because of any resemblance to President Obama’s daughters, said spokeswoman Tania Lundeen. “There’s nothing on the dolls that refers to the Obama girls,” Lundeen said. “It would not be fair to say they are exact replications of these girls. They are not.”

    Sorry dear, but in order to get away with a lie like that you have to be a bank.

    7) STUPIDITY? THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT

    The word of the year really should have been app. The ubiquitous iPhone has spawned an industry of companies trying to market their wares by providing allegedly useful and/or humorous apps. To paraphrase Pogo, this confronted Pepsi with an insurmountable opportunity. The company released an app called Before You Score for its Mountain Dew AMP brand. The app gives you 24 different types of women (sorority girl, etc.) and offers “appropriate” pick-up lines for each type and other similar information.

    Not to be outdone, LawFirms.com, a legal referral site, decided to get attention with a campaign featuring the (fictitious) app iCoyote. It “packs all of the features of a real immigrant smuggler into the iPhone. Using GPS, navigate through the patrol packed desert without worrying about that pesky Border Patrol.”

    The app included a variety of features such as:

    • iWife. It “will take care of finding marriage prospects for you. Aggregating and analyzing data from a variety of online sources [to] match you up with only the most promising US Citizen candidates.”
    • iLawyer. “Homeland Security is Cracking down. Not to worry. With iLawyer, you can find an attorney to convince the immigration court to grant Asylum Protection. A Green Card is a finger swipe away.”
    • Weather Monitors. “The desert can get hot, and trying to cross it when it’s 120 degrees is not fun. Get up-to-date weather forecasts to pick the right time and ensure your trip to the US is comfortable and fun-packed.”
    • City Statistics. “San Antonio? Albuquerque? Tucson? San Diego? Not sure which is best? Get unemployment statistics, current average wages, cost of living expenses and more. Get the job you want, at the right wage, tax free!”

    8 AMERICAN GIRL SELLS “HOMELESS GIRL” DOLL

    Your child can learn that the homeless are just like real people once you spend $95 to buy her a “less fortunate” playmate for her other American Girl doll(s). The latest addition to the American Girl line of how-do-you-justify-it-ly expensive dolls is Gwen Thompson. Ms. Thompson

    wheelchair and her mother Janine fell on hard times when her father lost his job; they later lost the house as they were unable to keep up payments. Soon after, Gwen’s father left them and they became homeless the fall before the start of the book’s events. Initially, Gwen’s mother has them live in their car until the winter comes; she then takes them to Sunrise House, a place for homeless women and children. Sunrise House helps them get on their feet and eventually get a new apartment.

    And should you also want to teach the kid that the disabled are people too, American Girl also sells a wheelchair for $30.

    9) KFC UNDERESTIMATES OPRAH’S POPULARITY

    Why would you pay to have Oprah endorse your product if you didn’t know what the result be? In May the chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken paid Ms. Winfrey to discuss its new grilled chicken on her show. (This is part of an ongoing effort to rebrand KFC as someplace that serves something besides FC. By the time it’s over KFC will be Rhode Island Clam Shack. But I digress.) In addition to giving product to her audience — and how pissed were they? Other folks got a new car and they get a food experiment – viewers could go to a website and download a coupon for up to four free two-piece chicken meals with two sides and a biscuit. If there’s one thing the US loves more than Oprah, it’s Oprah and free food.

    You’ll never guess what happened. OK, so maybe you will.

    Several bajillion people downloaded the coupon and sprinted to the nearest KFC. Well, the food disappeared faster than a dollar bill on the floor of the Senate. As a result somefranchisees started refusing to accept the coupon, some told people the promotion was over for the day, some quickly pointed to the “while supplies last” clause, the more creative said that coupons with barcode numbers ending in “1234” are not valid. Look closely at the barcode below to see what that meant.

    All this brought new meaning to the chain’s horrible new tagline: “Unthink What You Thought About KFC.”

    Another chain, El Pollo Loco, moved smart and fast and sent out a twitter saying they’d accept the coupons on Mother’s Day. Soon Oprah was having to apologize for the stupidity and KFC issued rain checks to the disgruntled.

    All of which goes to prove that whatever you have to pay Oprah, the ROI is REAL!

    10) (tie) BLACKWATER, NIGERIA & SWINE INDUSTRY LAUNCH REBRANDING EFFORTS

    • In an attempt to change all the nasty connotations that go along with being mercenaries, Blackwater Worldwide changed its name to Xe. That’s pronounced zee, as in “zee idiots in marketing thought of it.”

    Blackwater president Gary Jackson said in a memo to employees the new name reflects the change in company focus away from the business of providing private security. “The volume of changes over the past half-year have taken the company to an exciting place and we are now ready for two of the final, and most obvious changes,” Jackson said in the note.

    That exciting place seems to include a lot of lawsuits.

    “At international airports, in trains, in shopping malls, and almost everywhere, every Nigerian is a marked person,” Dora Akunyili, information minister and self-styled chief image maker said at the launch of the re-branding campaign this week. “We are pulled aside for questioning. We are seen as potential drug pushers or fraudsters. We are unfortunately denied the benefit of the doubt.”

    • Swine flu is no laughing matter. Especially if you’re the American Pork Association. They went into overdrive screaming about how it was hurting their sales and enlisted Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin who constantly referred to the “so-called swine flu.” Unfortunately humor trumps branding every time. Thus we got headlines like:

    “We will call it Mexico flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a black-garbed Orthodox Jew, told a news conference Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.

    CIO writer and friend Al Sacco came up with this: Swine flu isn’t a scary enough name. It needs a slogan, too: “Pork Plague, the (Other) White Death,” for example.

    DISHONORABLE MENTIONS

    AMAZON DELISTS GAY AND LESBIAN BOOKS

    The online retailer blamed an “employee in France” for a “software glitch” which oddly delisted gay and lesbian themed books from its search listings. (Example: Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain vanished, but not her book The Shipping News in which all the sex is hetero.)

    Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as “adult,” the source said.

    CRAIGSLIST CEO SAYS SITE HAS NO SEX RELATED ADS

    “I would not describe any section of our site as ’sex related,’ ” [Craigslist CEO Jim] Buckmaster wrote in response to a series of e-mailed questions from the Globe. He acknowledged that Craigslist offers an “erotic services” section that should not include more than “legitimate escort services, sensual massage, exotic dancers, etc.,” but said that offers to exchange sexual favors for money are “strictly prohibited” and removed from the site.

    SPECIAL PENGUIN OF IRONY CITATION:

    THE WISCONSIN TOURISM FOUNDATION
    had to change its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin

    6a00d83451c45669e20120a5fe38e4970c-500wi

    BONUS: A few other totally wrong products from the year

    Bank fails after taking “Jesus saves” literally

    JC savesRiverview Community Bank of Ostego, MN, whose founder said God told him that He “would take care of the bottom line,” was closed by the FDIC last Friday.

    Chuck Ripka, one of the bank’s founders, once told the Star Tribune that God spoke to him and said, "Chuck, if you pastor the bank, I’ll take care of the bottom line." Ripka and his staff would pray with customers in the bank’s Otsego branch and even at the drive-up window. (A story I once heard about not mixing money lenders and temples suddenly comes to mind.)

    Seems the Good Lord didn’t tip Mr. Ripka to the fact that home prices do not always head toward Heaven. The bank was an aggressive real estate lender and at one point had the fourth-highest concentration of real estate loans-to-capital of any community bank in the Minnesota. Riverview’s mistakes weren’t limited to bad loans it seems. Earlier this month it had reached an agreement with the Fed to cease paying dividends and correct violations of law spelled out in a May letter from the Fed. The order didn’t identify what laws were broken.

     

    (And speaking of banks in need of divine intercession, check out: Citigroup’s "Hail Mary Pass": How To Know Citigroup Is In Serious Trouble)

    UK ad standards agency to rule on God’s existence

    nogodThe UK’s Adertising Standards Authority has been asked to rule on a campaign by an atheist group featuring signs that read, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  (Note: the action part of the message works just as well if you replace “no” with “a”.) The campaign from the British Humanist Association has been challenged by a group called Christian Voice on the grounds it  breaks rules concerning substantiation and truthfulness.

    The ASA’s code states “marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims”. The regulator said it would assess the complaint and decide whether to contact the advertiser.

    Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: “There is plenty of evidence for God, from people’s personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.  But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.”

    Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: “I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.”

    Once it hands down this ruling I want the ASA to get to the bottom of the whole Mac or Windows thing.

    German churches hot about Chocolate Jesus

    chocolate-jesusGermany’s churches criticized a businessman for selling thousands of Jesus chocolates. Frank Oynhausen set up his “Sweet Lord” chocolate Jesus-making business saying he wanted to restore some traditional religious values to Christmas in Germany.

    So remember: Representations of The Savior in bread or wine form are OK, just don’t serve Him as dessert. However, is it OK to eat a cookie with a picture of Jesus on it? There’s a woman in the UK for whom this is not a theoretical question.

    You really owe it to yourself to checkout the website for The Original Chocolate GoldJesus®. Best line: “No Santa Claus, especially no chocolate Santa Claus, could ever substitute for Jesus.” I know someone who’s getting coal this in his stocking!

    Worth noting that chocolate crosses and such have long been sold in many places (even Wal Mart!). They seem to have started as a Hispanic tradition and spread from there.

    If God is everywhere, why can’t you serve Him a summons … or a beer?

    A judge in Nebraska has tossed a lawsuit filed by a state senator against the Almighty because You-Know-Who was never served legal papers.

    Just over a year ago Ernie Chambers, the longest serving — and maybe the most powerful — state senator in Nebraska history, sought a permanent injunction against God. He said the Almighty has made terroristic threats against the senator and his constituents in Omaha, inspired fear and caused “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.’’

    In what may be the best legal argument I’ve ever encountered, Chambers said he has already found a flaw in the Judge’s reasoning: “The court itself acknowledges the existence of God. A consequence of that acknowledgment is a recognition of God’s omniscience. Therefore, God would have actual notice of that lawsuit. Since God knows everything, God has notice of this lawsuit.’’

    Elsewhere in The Realm of the Unknowable … G-D is making His/Her/Its/Their presence known at this year’s Great American Beer Festival:

    • The Lost Abbey brewery of San Marcos, Calif., has a full line of offerings, including one called Judgment Day. Even better, the company also makes a line of “non-denominational ales.”
    • There is also Schmaltz Brewing, makers of “He’Brew … The Chosen Beer.” Brands include Genesis Ale (“our first creation”), Messiah Bold (“the one you’ve been waiting for”), Jewbelation (“L’Chaim!”) and the seasonally released Rejewvenator.
    • Russian River Brewing Co. seems to offer everything you could want in a religion with brands called Damnation, Salvation, Perdition, Redemption, Sanctification, Deification and Benediction.
    • St. Arnold Brewing Co. has Divine Reserve and for believers of any stripe don’t do the whole alcohol thing they make St. Arnold Root Beer as well. (Also have the best name of any beer I’ve ever seen: Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower)