Monday, April 28, 2008

Please sir, I want some more

What is it about the smell of gruel in the morning? Despite its nasty appearance, blunt odor and dull taste, we are desperate enough to ask for more. 

Take heart good Americans, help is on its way.  The checks, as they say, are in the mail.  The great promise of prosperity – a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage – is closer than ever of being realized.

But here's the thing:  consumer confidence is lower than low right now, partly due to worries about jobs, the economy and the price of goods (gas in particular), and partly because there is no reason to have any confidence.  And it makes me wonder, will a rebate of a few hundred dollars really make us feel better?

Don't get me wrong, I am a true blue (and red and white) American who pays his taxes above and beyond anything that even resembles "reasonable."  But I absolutely have to state the obvious:  the government is giving back money it took from me.  In other words, it was my money, the government took a bunch of it and now the government is giving back a small portion f it.  Not all of it, just some.

And by the way, it's not like the money was being used wisely or anything.  No health insurance for millions of Americans, an education system that ranks well below dozens of other countries, fewer and fewer jobs, a war that is costing billions and billions... the list goes on and on.

But what does all this have to do with markeTING?  Glad you asked.

As you may have noticed, the economy is flagging. Uncle Sam noticed it too and set a marketing/business objective to stimulate the economy.  His selected strategy? Dole out $110 billion to 130 million taxpayers with the hope that they will spend, spend, spend.  

Now I am not a financial guy.  In fact, you might fairly portray me as a financial incompetent (I am not proud of this, I am simply honest.).  But I get the sense that most American who will qualify for their $300 or $600 or $1,200 check have already accumulated debt far beyond the value of the check.  What is the equivalent?  An overdue utility bill, a late car payment, a child's unpaid tuition?

Somehow, I am not seeing a family of four jetting of to Disneyworld, or even taking the regional transit to the ballpark.  Like I said, I am not a financial guy, but it seems like this plan can only work if those who get the money spend it in a way that it changes the mood of the nation.  In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, "good luck with all that."  

According to Lynn Franco, director of consumer research at the Conference Board (these are the guys who establish the Consumer Confidence Index), "consumers' outlook for the economy, the job market and their income prospects remains quite pessimistic.  In other words, the glass remains half empty."

Economies waiver, times change, things work out... even Herbert Hoover knew that.  But maybe Uncle Sam (are the presidential candidates listening?) needs to rethink its markeTING approach.  Consider the advice of Winston Churchill who once suggested that if the human race wants to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, "they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another." 


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hook, Line and Sinker

If you catch a record size fish and no one is there to see it, did you still break the record? And if you didn't catch a record size fish, but there is no one there to deny it, so you tell the world that you broke a record, do you get the credit?

More and more, it seems to me, it is of equal or greater importance what the world thinks is true, versus what really is true... what we refer to in the business as perception being more important than reality.
But I raised my three children to believe in themselves, to believe in God and to believe in their actions.  I told them that what really counted was not what people thought, but rather the truth.  And if someone or even many did not believe you, then tough for them; in the end, the truth is all that matters.

Now I feel guilty that I may not have equipped my children for the real world (not the Real World).

I've touched on this discussion before, but I am acutely aware of it as a result of a recent fishing trip.  My brother and a couple friends spent four days on the Clarion River chasing smallmouth bass and native brookies.  Naturally we all caught more fish and we all caught the largest and longest fish.  That's the way it is with fishing; we are competitive and we love to tell stories... even if they stretch the boundaries of truth.

But life isn't fishing.  And whether we are talking about companies or products or politicians, we should not ever be stretching the boundaries of truth. Still...

In my opinion, I should NOT have to wonder if one of the nation's 10 largest banks - National City Bank - was poorly run; after all, CEO Peter Raskind told the world back in January "National City remains fundamentally strong and well capitalized and expects to meet its challenges." Liar, liar, pants on fire. You were broke and you knew it, that is the truth.

Or what about Hillary and Barack?  I would expect that I should NOT have to wonder if the possible future president of the United States is telling me the truth.  After all, they are being followed 24/7 by the media and groupies; how could they possibly consider telling a lie.  Still, Hillary continues to lie about her support/opposition of NAFTA, just like Barack lies about taking money from oil company CEOs.  Lies, fibs and tall tales.  Just tell the truth already.

But it's not just the big shots and the big companies.  Everywhere I look I see people pretending to be things they are not, all for the sake of getting ahead or getting noticed or getting paid.

I am reminded of the lyrics of the Billy Joel song, Honesty:

Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.

So I am extending an olive branch in the name of truth. I did not catch the most fish while in Cook Forest (though I did catch a lot; like 90 in four days). As for the biggest/longest fish, my personal best was an 18" bronzeback that had to go two pounds. I am pretty sure it was in fact the biggest fish of the trip, but I have no way of knowing for sure, so I will leave that door open. 

That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, Love Marketer

Marketing love is nothing new.  The greeting card industry has been doing it for years.  So has the jewelry industry.  And let's not forget the purveyors of lingerie.

But I think Pope Benedict XVI has a different "love" in mind.  

Merriam-Webster defines love as a strong affection arising out of kinship or personal ties. Death Cab for Cutie recalls how the Catholic school nuns defined love: "Son, fear is the heart of love"... still, he followed his love into the dark. Aristotle tells us that love is a single soul inhabiting two bodies.  And St. Paul tells us that in the end, faith, hope and love remain; but the greatest of these is love.

This leads of course to the obvious question: WWJS (what would Jesus say)?   Jesus always kept it simple; he said: Love your God with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  It doesn't get much clearer than that. Love as you wish to be loved.

But how will Pope Benedict market his version of love in the U.S. this week, some 2000 years after Jesus implemented the original campaign?  

So far we've heard a great deal about how the Holy Father's visit is being orchestrated - meet and greet with the President on Tuesday, White House tour on Wednesday - including outdoor photo opps - mass at the Nationals ballpark on Thursday, followed by a meeting at Catholic University of America with the heads of 200 catholic colleges, then on to a meeting with Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.  From there it is off to New York to address the United Nations, visit Ground Zero and conduct mass at Yankee Stadium.   

But what will the Pope be marketing?  What will he say?  Well, according to Religion News Service (RNS), Benedict will likely focus on the faith's fundamentals, highlighting America's vibrant religious tradition and urging Catholics to retain their identity in the public square.

Then again {and this is just my wishful thinking], perhaps the Pope will decide to market some tough love and touch on some of the more delicate issues pointed out by RNS, like the clergy sex abuse crisis or his disapproval of the "continual slaughter" in Iraq, or the imperative to protect the environment, or the "scandal" of poverty.  These are not things I am making up, these are topics on the Pope's Top 10 List of issues that need to be addressed.

This we know, Pope Benedict XVI has stated that there can be no peace without love.  And this Pope wants peace.

So it appears the only question is which love he will be marketing:  gentle or tough.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why Penn Didn't Tell Her

Talk about nerves of steel.  Talk about getting off with a slap on the wrist.  

Look, I won't even pretend to understand what was going on between Hillary Clinton's camp and its chief strategist Mark Penn. Did Hillary know that Penn was meeting with the Columbian Ambassador? Was the Change to Win group really concerned about Penn? Did Penn really make an error in judgment?   Blah blah blah.

How about this instead:  They (Penn and Burson-Marsteller) billed her (Clinton) $13 million... and apparently she paid it! WTF?!

And better still, he was so greedy that he met with the Columbian Ambassador so he could bill them too.  Perfect.

Gee, I wonder why the PR industry has such a horrible reputation.  And speaking of which, where is all the indignation?  Does anyone even care?

Listen, I'll be the first to admit that I would love the opportunity to manage a $13 million account.  Fact is, most of the thousands of agencies in the U.S. don't bill that much to all their accounts combined.  But Penn was so bold that he did work with another account (presumably worth millions in billings) at the risk of losing the first account.  What can I say? I am blown away.

And did he get fired by Hillary for his actions? NO HE DID NOT. According to Clinton's campaign manager, Maggie WIlliams, "After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up  his role as Chief Strategist...". WHAT!?  He asked to step down.

But here is the best part.  In addition to being the worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller, he is also the President of a research firm (Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates), and THEY WILL CONTINUE TO PROVIDE POLLING AND ADVICE TO THE CLINTON CAMPAIGN.

Yeah, I know the first thing I want to do when I catch one of my employees stealing from the agency is to keep him or her on board as a key advisor. Someone please pinch me.  Or better still, kick me in the ass and tell me to wake up.  Because apparently I am asleep or as naive as the day is long.

But here is my favorite thing:  Penn (according to reports) is considered one of the most influential political advisors of his generation (please, God, let him be from a different generation).  

Maybe it's just me.  Maybe I am too human for my own good.  But then - if that were true - we all know how Penn would reply: "Being human is overrated."  

Give the man another million dollars... apparently he earned it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Missing Money

Save the whales. Save the children.  Save the tiger.  Save the rain forests.  Save the Jaguar.  Save the planet.

All noble campaigns; bold initiatives.  But if the goal is to save ourselves, we might want to reshuffle the "save" deck and put this one first:  Save the money.

If we can not save enough money to keep ourselves out of a recession, how can we hope to help the rest of the world save anything?  According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, the industry is having a great year.  To be more precise, they are expecting more than a million bankruptcies this year (yippee!).  But here's a ray of sunshine:  "The worst is still to come," reports Jack Williams, a law professor at Georgia State University and the ABI's scholar-in-residence. "Bankruptcies often lag two or three-quarters behind an economic downturn."

On a personal level, I am no fan of big banks.  And to be perfectly honest, little banks don't do much for me either.  For all the millions of dollars they spend each year advertising their great rates and services, when's the last time you saw a single ad telling you to save?

And for that matter, when's the last time you saw a savings & loan?  They pretty much disappeared in the late 1980s along with the FSLIC amidst all the failures of out-of-control institutions.

So who in the world, if not the banks, is out there telling consumers and businesses to save their money?  We are a spend crazy nation.  So crazy in fact that we are spending money that we don't even have.  And yes, the federal government has not set a good example for us, but really, let's blame ourselves for this mess.

My dad always told me that if I didn't have the cash in my pocket to buy something then I shouldn't be buying it.  And he routinely chastised all eight of us (including my seven brothers and sisters) because we acted as though our money was burning holes in our pockets.

We couldn't spend it fast enough.  And it would seem that we are not alone.

In fact, I was checking Google trends this morning and discovered that the phrase "missing money" was the top search of the day, described as volcanic. And I wondered why so many people were searching that term. Though I can not confirm the answer, I can guess that these Internet users are either desperate for cash or so disorganized with their finances that they do not even know where there money is.  Either way...

I am not chastising anyone, nor am I pointing a finger, as I am just as guilty as the next guy of not saving enough of my hard-earned income.  But I am making a strong suggestion: the next time you reach into your pocket or your wallet or your purse for an impulse purchase, think about those whales and tigers and jaguars.  Think about the rain forests and the oceans and the children.

And ask yourself how the United States can maintain its position as a global leader if we don't have a pot to piss in.  A wise man once said:  "A penny saved is a penny earned (not the same guy who said a walk is as good as a hit)."  I never really appreciated that thought until now. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. population now exceeds 303 million. If each one of us saved just a penny a day, our total annual savings would exceed $1 billion.  

I would call that a good start.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Perfect MarkeTING Opportunity

Imagine being the official sponsor of one of the largest and longest "walls" in all the United States.  The buzz factor alone will be worth the price of admission.  Then again...

I have been vaguely aware of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 for some time now, but I am a bit concerned that this promising structure may never realize its full potential unless someone gets behind it with a really good marketing strategy.

As originally proposed, this baby was going to stretch nearly 700 miles along the 1950-mile border between the  U.S. and Mexico.  And soon there were visionaries who proposed a complete barrier that would cover the entire expanse!  But after two years, only 300 or so miles of ugly fencing has been erected.

As the Christian Science Monitor aptly reports: "Only a fraction of the new barriers resemble anything like the images of formidable fencing - the Berlin Wall or the bleak monolith that divides Israel and the West Bank - envisioned by the initial proposal."  What's up with that?  We want a wall, damn it.

Of course, the problem involves resistance from goody two-shoes who lack the intestinal fortitude to make a statement. Local landowners and Native American Indians and civic leaders... you know the types.  Why can't they just get on board with the new program that is the United States?

Sure, there was a time when we built bridges and tore down walls, but that was in olden times, back in the 20th century.  Now we have a new imperative. Forget the whole Statue of Liberty thing; we really don't want your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Then again...

We want to protect what we have and keep everyone else out.  That's the new order.

So how do we make it happen?  It all starts with the wall.  It must be big... huge.  It must make a statement.  It must be so intense that people will travel from all around the globe just to see it.  It must become an attraction... a point of destination.  It must demand attention.

It must shout:  "This is the [insert sponsor name] Wall, look at how effective I am at keeping the wretched refuse, the homeless and the tempest tossed out of our land."  It's just the shot in the arm that our national ego needs.

And here is the added bonus: the sponsor naming rights alone will cover the cost of construction and maintenance.  It is a win-win scenario.

Enough with all the rhetoric from thoughtful guys like Ted Turner and activists like Jesse Ventura. It's the 21st century already; time to concede to Lou Dobbs and Git r Done.

Then again...