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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 1 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

I’ve written about tobacco industry and government overreach before (here, here, here, and here). My feeling is that as long as tobacco is a legal product, and the government chooses to collect ever higher taxes from smokers, and as long as there are age restrictions and programs in place to educate young people, then there should be a balance. However, with the cost of employee health care guaranteed to keep rising, there will be ever-increasing pressure on people not to smoke, not to over eat, not to eat unhealthy foods, not to drink sugary drinks or those with artificial sweeteners, not to drive except to work, school, or essential errands, not to step off curbs. . .well, where does it end or does it ever end? The other day, I heard that some state is thinking of introducing legislation to prevent the public smoking of electronic cigarettes, the ones that produce no harmful byproducts or second-hand smoke, only steam. So, now it is the sight of someone deriving pleasure from an electronic device that simulates the smoking of a tobacco cigarette that is enough to cause psychic harm to bystanders? We have really lost our way.

When Ted Regan loaned me his copy of “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” and began sharing Ayer stories, he didn’t know he was going to re-ignite the great tobacco/smokers’ rights debate again. This is rich territory that MadMen has visited in various episodes and might again this coming spring.

N.W. Ayer's introductory campaign to launch the then-new Camels brand.

N.W. Ayer's introductory campaign to launch the then-new Camels brand.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the most iconic of cigarette brands began life as an N.W. Ayer account. When R. J. Reynolds blended a new cigarette that they wanted to roll out as a national brand, they acquired the Camel name from a small independent company in Philadelphia for $2,500. They then budgeted 10 times that amount, so Ayer could introduce it. First, there was testing to ensure the public liked the new cigarettes — many cartons were distributed and sold through the best retail stores in Cleveland, prominently placed on top of counters. Secondarily, it was moved to parts of stores where it competed for sales with regional brands. It did well in both areas of these stores. Ayer then developed a newspaper teaser ad campaign, coordinated with the implementation of new distribution, to create interest in demand for Camels (“Tomorrow There Will Be More Camels in This Town Than in Asia and Africa Combined”). The rest is brand history. Later on, a billboard painter was quoted as saying “I’d Walk A Mile For A Camel.” That was the genesis of one of the most famous slogans in advertising history.

This Lucky Strike campaign was aimed squarely at women and against candy.

This Lucky Strike campaign was aimed squarely at women and against candy.

Long before there were Virginia Slims, developed specifically to market as a women’s cigarette brand, the American Tobacco Company decided that Lucky Strikes could be effectively marketed (against the protests of the confectionary industry) as “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.” Motion picture starlets were hired as spokespersons to pitch the dietary cravings advantage of cigarettes over candy to women. It was a huge success, and many believe that the campaign may have been the single greatest effort leading to creating women smokers.

Hedy Lamar continued the Lucky Strike trend of movie star brand spokespersons.

Hedy Lamar continued the Lucky Strike trend of movie star brand spokespersons.

Conversely, the tobacco brand forever most associated with men is Marlboro, thanks to the efforts of Leo Burnett, where the marketing effort began. Ironically, Marlboro already existed as a high-priced exclusive cigarette sold to sophisticates and women at hotels, cigar stores, and nightclubs. Philip Morris wanted to take the brand for a new entry into the popular-priced filter field. They wanted to appeal broadly to men, and secondarily to women.

Long before the "most interesting man in the world" there was the Marlboro Man.

Long before the "most interesting man in the world" there was the Marlboro Man.

The filtered segment began in response to health concerns (more on that in a minute), but flavor was still critical in brand decision-making. Burnett realized that image was critical. And so, the Marlboro Man was born — the cowboy who bought a new brand of filtered cigarettes because he liked the taste and they came in a distinctive crush-proof box.

The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Ironically, the other book I’ve been reading concurrently with Ted Regan’s loaned Ayer and advertising volumes is the exceptional, Pulitzer Prize-winning,“The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, subtitled “A Biography of Cancer.”  Two later chapters touch on the battle to beat lung cancer, and the subsequent start of the government’s own battle with the tobacco industry. At that time, the tobacco industry was far more dominant than they are today. When Richard Doll and Bradford Hill published a ground-breaking study on lung cancer in 1956, the adult American population had reached a peak of 45 percent who smoked. On average, Americans smoked 11 cigarettes per day. Hard to imagine those numbers today.

"A Frank Statement," American tobacco's first salvo against medical studies linking smoking and cancer.

"A Frank Statement," American tobacco's first salvo against medical studies linking smoking and cancer.

The study’s results for the first time strongly linked smoking, tar, and tobacco with lung cancer deaths, especially when contrasted against non-smokers. With bad publicity spreading, the heads of U.S. tobacco companies decided they could not sit back and ignore what would be increasingly damaging reports. The result was a counterattack that began with a full page ad in 400 major newspapers entitled “A Frank Statement.” The text cast doubt on the quality of the science (experiments on mice vs. humans, which actually was not the case in the Doll/Hill study) and disagreements in the medical community. The topping was the announcement that the industry would be conducting its own research by the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (no conflict of interest here). A recent trip to a Baltimore antique store hammered home to me that Big Tobacco’s efforts to assure the public of the safety of cigarettes didn’t end with “A Frank Statement.” Although it never evolved into a lasting brand, Country Doctor pipe tobacco may have been the ultimate attempt to mislead the public that cancer risks from smoking were minimal to the point that the medical profession had their own preferred pack.

Country Doctor brand cigarettes. To your health!

Country Doctor brand pipe tobacco. To your health!

     Any trip to Wawa will tell you by the number of tobacco products behind the counter that Americans are still smoking, chewing, pinching, and spitting. But you’ve come a long way, baby, from a market share of half the adult population. Smoking is still a pleasurable, stress-relieving activity for a lot of people, but those who partake do so with the knowledge that they may face a bevy of health risks or early death down the road. If ever there was a product that the phrase caveat emptor was invented for, it’s cigarettes.

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It all started in December at the annual Warriors holiday luncheon organized by long-time Newton friend, Art Niedosik, just retired from a distinguished career in b2b ad sales, most recently for SDM magazine. The Warriors are made up of many other b2b ad sales reps like Art, members of the now-defunct (or in dormancy) Philadelphia Advertising Golf Association (PAGA), a number of b2b clients, and agency folk like yours truly. This was my second year attending and it was a good way to catch up with old friends and make a few new ones. That was the case this year when I had the good fortune to be seated next to Ted Regan, whom I assumed was there on the b2b side, but came out to the Warriors as a long-time Merion and PAGA  member. More importantly, I learned he was a kindred spirit — before he semi-retired, Ted was a creative director and copywriter for the legendary Ayer Worldwide in New York (and while still based here in Philadelphia).

Ted Regan, CD, Copywriter, and local N.W. Ayerthority

Ted Regan, CD, Copywriter, and local N.W. Ayerthority (photo courtesy of Chuck Lubking)

After trading creative war stories and business cards, Ted and I agreed to continue our discussion over lunch in the New Year. I was dying to know more about Philadelphia’s greatest advertising story (before there was Madison Avenue, there was N.W. Ayer) and Ted wanted to hear what causes thrills and ulcers in the agency business in 2013. When we got together last month, Ted brought along a book, “The 100 Greatest Advertisements” by Julian Lewis Watkins, this edition published by Dover in 1959.  He followed up by mail with another, “125 Years of Building Brands,” a commemorative published upon the 125th anniversary of the founding of N.W. Ayer. Between these two volumes, and two lunches worth of stories from Ted, I realized I had been graced with a treasure trove of advertising history, particularly Philadelphia advertising history, most of it blog-worthy. Over the past few weeks, I’ve wrestled with how best to present what I was learning, and I realized that there was enough material here for a series. So look for some familiar hits and some surprises in the weeks ahead. This is a decidedly rich vein.

Ted had many great lunch stories, including what it is like pitching memorable slogans to the U.S. Army. Also, how creative presentations go at the Department of Defense, where rank and eye contact are well defined. Sounded a lot like the high level conference room scene in “Zero Dark Thirty” when the certainty/uncertainty of Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan whereabouts is officially presented to Leon Panetta.

What surprised me is how much I thought I knew about N.W. Ayer but really didn’t. We are talking about an advertising agency that all but invented the agency business. In the process, they helped establish and build some of the best known brands in the world. Agency years are like dog years, so for multiple generations of owners and managers to take a shop far past the century mark, you are talking about one of the great American business success stories. For a pretty good Ayer chronicle, Ad Age published this history. And here is the Wikipedia version. And for some sense of Ayer success, here is an excellent video tour of the exterior and interior lobby of the majestic Ayer building in Philadelphia (now condos) at 210 West Washington Square.

To me, what’s sad is the legacy loss of Ayer as an agency entity, which officially occurred in 2002 when then parent Bcom3 (there’s a name that rolls right off the tongue) bundled agency assets into the Kaplan Thayer Group but discontinued the Ayer brand. Ten years later, Kaplan Thayer itself just got bundled into Publicis at year-end creating Publicis Kaplan Thayer. Well, at least Ayer is still resident in the last four letters of that new mongrelized brandname.

In the coming weeks, look for some historical ground-breaking work from Ayer and other top agencies, along with some thoughts on historical context and cultural changes and/or continuity.

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I am fully prepared for the page views of this blog to drop by 50%, because sadly we just lost our most loyal reader, a family friend who even at 90, was the living embodiment of the phrase “Carpe Diem,” (Seize the Day for all you non-English majors).

Speaking of which, for those of you who didn’t know Charlotte Melville, she might sound like a fictional character, but trust me when I say she was the realest person I have ever met. My last correspondence with her (again, it started with a reaction to a blog post) was December 2. In every contact I had with Charlotte, I always learned something (and often something extraordinary about her). In this latest instance, it was that she had once performed in Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Philadelphia during the 1930s. She was returning to her home in Bristol, PA mid-month from an extended stay with daughter Ann and husband Jeff, who currently live in Budapest working for the foreign service. Everyone would be home for Christmas. She was already planning her next international excursion, to Burma in the fall of 2013. Unfortunately, a few days upon her arrival here, Charlotte suffered a stroke, followed by a brain hemorrhage on Sunday. Very early Thursday morning, she died at home surrounded by her family.

If Dos Equis beer had a “Most Interesting Woman in the World,” Charlotte would be her. Everything about Charlotte was fascinating, starting with growing up in a privileged family in Bristol, a descendant of the founder of the D. Landreth Seed Company, which began in 1784 and introduced to the United States the Zinnia, the white potato, various tomato varieties, and Bloomsdale Spinach. Landreth remains in operation under non-family ownership as the oldest seed house and the fifth oldest corporation in America.

Charlotte's family founded the D. Landreth Seed Company, the oldest seedhouse in America.

Charlotte's family founded the D. Landreth Seed Company, the oldest seedhouse in America.

Early on, Charlotte developed an appreciation for just how wide and diverse Planet Earth is, and she became a global traveler abroad and a hostess with the mostest at home, welcoming foreign visitors to this country through various organizations. At times, she seemed like she knew everyone in every country, on every continent. This last trip at age 90 included the following itinerary: Croatia, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and to celebrate her birthday, a gondola ride in Venice.

Despite a Social Register type upbringing, Charlotte eschewed luxury accommodations for hostels, huts, and the homes of her many contacts. For instance, last summer in Lublijana, Slovenia, she stayed in a prison converted into a youth hostel. Despite roughing it, Charlotte had very few unpleasant travel surprises — one of the few was finding herself behind the Iron Curtain during a Soviet crackdown  in 1968.

Charlotte was a force of nature, proving that if you rest, you rust. Every morning, she took a long, brisk walk with her good friend, Herta Mackay. If you were a friend of Charlotte, you knew that she never stopped talking or walking. Energy drinks would be lost on her because she had so much natural get-up-and-go.

There wasn’t anything she wasn’t curious about, from history, to culture, to politics. When she was home, she wrote travel articles for the Bristol Pilot community newspaper. She attended meetings, outings, and lectures. She kept in touch with a myriad of fellow travelers, old friends, new friends, and personal acquaintances.

If you can believe it, Charlotte also squeezed in a stint in the U.S. Marines into her busy, busy life. As a result, she made a point in recent years of attending the annual USMC Ball. Most recently, she was the oldest marine there at the one held in Hungary in November. She was honored in the same fashion at an earlier USMC Ball in Beijing and got to meet President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush.

Charlotte was honored as the oldest marine at two recent USMC Balls in Hungary (here) and earlier in Beijing.

Charlotte was honored as the oldest marine at two recent USMC Balls in Hungary (here) and earlier in Beijing.

While back home in Bristol during the late 1980s, Charlotte met Gregory Peck when he was in town to see his daughter in a production at the Bristol Riverside Theatre. Charlotte had a knack for being at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. By comparison, Forest Gump was a piker.

Even now, I am having a hard time imagining life without Charlotte. She was a wonderful neighbor and friend to my in-laws. She was a great mentor and friend to my wife when she grew up with Charlotte’s daughters. She instantly became my friend, too, after my wife introduced us several decades ago. She has been a terrific role model to my kids. She has been an amazing mother to daughters Ann and Linda and a loving grandmother to her two grandsons.  And she has been both a great patriot and a world citizen. Not a bad resume for someone born to tremendous privilege, who, while enormously proud of her own heritage, chose to make her own way and her own name.

Charlotte passed away at home, less than half a mile from where she was born. That’s a pretty poetic circle of life for someone who has been one of the great globetrotters and goodwill ambassadors. Semper Fi, Charlotte. Semper Fi.

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It has been a difficult week or so since the Presidential election. Thankfully, we had a clear winner of both the electoral votes and the popular vote. Still, President Obama’s re-election did little to heal divisions. A disturbing number of petitions have been launched calling for states to secede from the federal United States. A woman was arrested for running down her husband for not voting. A man began flying the American flag upside down as a sign of distress. Comments boards have been full of the same trash-talking nastiness that preceded the election, much of it treating the outcome as if it was a Monday Night Football beating.

Meanwhile, both sides of the aisle in Congress, along with President Obama, continue to posture from their entrenchments over positions taken with regard to the approaching Fiscal Cliff deadline. Most of it is attributable to politics as usual while Americans and American businesses and American investors await Federal tax decisions that will have real consequences for 2013 and beyond.

Then, without a breather, we’ve had the resignation of General David Petraeus as CIA chief in the wake of an extra-marital affair, leading to the extra-bizarro world of scandals cascading to the FBI agent who began the investigation, a socialite with lots distracting side-stories, and linkage to the current general in charge of the Afghanistan theater. All of it representing layers of distraction from the real scandal — the deaths of four Americans, who went without requested security and aid, during the attack on our consulate in Benghazi.

I don’t know about you, but I am thoroughly disgusted by the profiles in cowardice on exhibit in recent weeks. We are all human and we all have our weaknesses and failings, but no one on the horizon appears to be taking a long view, or thinking of whether their actions are corrosive and ultimately self-defeating in pursuit of momentary satisfaction, or giving anyone else consideration or even the benefit of the doubt.

"Claudette Colvin; Twice tward Justice" by Phillip Hoose won the National Book Award

"Claudette Colvin; Twice Toward Justice" by Phillip Hoose won the National Book Award

At times like this, grace can sometimes be found in unexpected places. When I was at my low point surveying the current landscape, I discovered uplift in of all places, my daughter’s latest school project: a non-fiction book report. She chose a recent National Book Award winner, “Claudette Colvin; Twice Toward Justice” by Phillip Hoose.

Whereas most Americans know who Rosa Parks is, few of us have ever heard of Claudette Colvin or her inspiring story. You owe it to yourself to learn who Colvin is via either Hoose’s excellent account or other resources. Frankly, Colvin was a solo spark in the fight against bus segregation, and all forms of segregation. She was a lonely teenager who had big dreams, recognized simple right from wrong, and demonstrated a remarkable personal courage made all the more remarkable because of her youth.

In a nutshell, well before the courageous but organized bus protests and civil rights marches of the 60s, Claudette Colvin was riding a Montgomery, Alabama public bus and refused to give up her seat to a white woman standing in the aisle. Her three friends and seatmates got up, leaving three available seats, but the white woman would not sit down and insisted that Colvin get up from the row as well. Colvin stood her ground, which led to her arrest for violating bus segregation laws, disturbing the peace, and “assaulting” police officers. Quite simply, she knew she was within her Constitutional rights, but it took tremendous presence of mind and moral focus to not bend to the pressure of the woman in the aisle, the bus driver, a transit officer, and finally two police officers who subsequently boarded and dragged her off the bus. She went to jail, had to brave bullying by law enforcement, ostracism by classmates, and a judge who found her guilty, even maintaining the “assault” charge in a subsequent appeal, so she was branded with a criminal record.

There are many other aspects to Colvin’s story, but ultimately it was her decisive action that helped lead to the Supreme Court upholding the abolishment of segregated seating and to spurring on Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders to vigorously carrying on the fight.

Colvin, now in her 70s and having subsequently lived a quiet life out of the limelight, stands as a shining example for all of us at this particular moment in our history. The time is always right for each and every one of us to do the right thing.  Taking a stand against hate and for freedom and individual rights often requires courage and the potential for mistreatment by others. This is what leadership looks like. If more of us were willing to take such principled stands against popular opinion, withering criticism, and hard-nosed  entrenched authority and special interests, we might be able to effect positive change. Sometimes it means picking your battles, but in Colvin’s case, her battle picked her, and even as a young teenager without any adult to guide her, she rose to the moment and made a lasting difference. Her personal courage really resonates at this time when so little is on display from our elected and appointed leaders.

 

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Hurricanes have a way of getting your attention. Being part of the Mid-Atlantic path of Sandy has made me aware of many things out of the normal course of daily business. Storms of all sorts are increasingly opportunities for local news stations to push weather expertise and project themselves as round-the-clock regional communications centers. The result is typically a lot of supermarkets benefiting from bread and milk sales and a lot of snow shovels and sidewalk salt sold at Lowes and Home Depot.

Erie Insurance and State Farm took to the air pre-Sandy promoting emergency preparedness.

Erie Insurance and State Farm took to the air pre-Sandy promoting emergency preparedness.

However, the potential for serious flooding, property damage, and power outages with Hurricane Sandy over such a wide path of the Eastern seaboard has upped the ante in many directions. Yesterday, a number of smart retailers like Wal-Mart and Office Depot had moved essentials to the front of their stores, including bottled water, flashlights, batteries, etc. Perhaps the only exception — portable generators are still tough to be had at a time like this.

Especially surprising were some smart radio commercials yesterday by two different major property/casualty insurance giants — State Farm and Erie Insurance. Both spots were direct, full of good preparatory advice, and reassurance that they would be there for policyholders. That is a solid message for corporations to send ahead of what will be a costly quarter for them as they help customers settle claims post hurricane. The media buy was expensive, but likely more than offset by the new customers they will gain from competitive property/casualty insurers who don’t treat their insureds well in the days ahead.

Travelers sent a safety email to customers in advance of Sandy.

Travelers sent a safety email to customers in advance of Sandy.

I wondered about my own company, Travelers, but found a similar message emailed to me, along with important details on storm preparedness and claim follow-up. This is a terrific use of a Customer Relationship Marketing database, and while it may seem like a no-brainer, it requires advance planning on the part of the insurance company’s marketing department, along with coordination with all the departments within the company to ensure accuracy of information.

One of the biggest concerns related to Sandy appears to be about loss of electricity from downed trees taking down transmission lines and water affecting the power grid. I had one unexpected level of assurance from my friend Steven Brush posting to Facebook on Sunday — he snapped a smartphone picture of electrical crew trucks traveling north from Alabama via I-95. Now, that’s emergency preparedness and much appreciated out-of-state assistance even before it is officially needed.

Power crews from Alabama already headed north in advance of Sandy.

Power crews from Alabama already headed north in advance of Sandy.

In the information age, all of us are getting better prepared to handle whatever nature throws our way, certainly following painful lessons learned during Katrina. And government, utilities, media, non-profit relief agencies, and businesses are getting smarter in helping citizens weather these storms.

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A roof over your head. Seems like such a basic concept, but ironically, what is the term for the biggest group of expenses of any business (the expenses that constantly get cut in order to maintain profitability)? Overhead — employee salaries and benefits, office or commercial space, utilities, taxes, insurance to maintain that office or commercial space. So, as businesses struggle to make payments, and often have to layoff staff, so do the many individual employees affected by such cuts. And with all the holes in the safety net of government assistance, more and more people are losing homes and without employment unable to find affordable housing. Vicious cycle, as they say.

Homeless is a term that says it all. You have hit rock bottom economically and you have the cold hard pavement as a pillow each night. A few weeks ago, our blog talked about the politics of cancer and how some forms were politically incorrect and less sympathetic (notably, lung cancer thanks to tobacco stigma). The same rules apply to the homeless and make them easy to dismiss — when you have a group that includes the mentally ill (many off meds or untreated), the drug addicted (alcohol, prescription, and/or illegal drugs), and the criminal (serving your time does not guarantee you a roof over your head upon release), many are going to be quick to write off the problem of homelessness as unsolvable or throwing good money after bad. But the group also includes people who can’t find work in a tough economy, entire families, veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars, and the poor who work but don’t earn enough to pay for housing.

Real life is seldom ever neat and tidy, however. I was reminded of this when hearing the latest presidential campaign tussles over 47% of Americans not paying federal income tax and some other percentage receiving government assistance. Regardless of which candidate you support, those numbers should disturb you. A lot. For me, they underscore that too many Americans are on the handout side of some kind of weighted scale and not enough are on the working and earning enough to pay federal taxes side.

One Step Away is a new newspaper sold by the homeless in Philadelphia to help the homeless.

One Step Away is a new newspaper sold by the homeless in Philadelphia to help the homeless.

That is why I was heartened by a casual event when I was down to the Pennsylvania Convention Center last week. I was approached by a street vendor selling a newspaper called “One Step Away.” It is a new publication designed for a noble purpose— to incentivize the homeless to earn money and get themselves on a path toward a roof over their heads.  Each homeless vendor pays 25 cents a copy but sells the paper for $1. That means every paper purchased puts 75 cents in their pocket. Most salespersons I know would kill for a 75% commission; however, we’re not talking about an easy-to-sell product in the digital age. In fact, I just saw a story about how newspaper revenues had dropped to 1950s levels. So, “One Step Away” is properly structured on a basic free enterprise level and the homeless vendors have a great carrot to help themselves. They have skin in the game, unlike a significant portion of those 47% who aren’t paying federal income taxes but receiving benefits.

“One Step Away” gets its name from the truism that too many of us are only a missed paycheck or a lost job or a medical crisis on the plus side of the homelessness ledger. That is a sobering thought.

If you would like to help the “One Step Away” mission, I encourage you to visit OSAPHILLY.ORG to donate, support, advertise. This video will introduce you to some of the many homeless vendors you will be helping get back on their feet.

Philadelphia once captured national attention about the problem of homelessness when an 11-year-old boy named Trevor Ferrell from one of America’s richest suburbs, Gladwyne, challenged his parents, his church, and a whole lot of other fellow citizens to help out. I am glad to see that TrevorsCampaign.org is still carrying on his mission. It was a little bittersweet to read this account and learn that the adult Trevor elected not to leverage his fame into a career and is now dealing somewhat anonymously with adult challenges like the rest of us — meeting financial obligations and trying to make a good life for his own family. We all have skin in this game.

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It was painful and haunting to go through old photos and find the World Trade Towers.

It was painful and haunting to go through old photos and find the World Trade Towers.

It’s been a very sad week in America. I don’t need an anniversary date on the calendar to remind me of one of the worst days in American history. There hasn’t been a day that’s passed since September 11, 2001 in which I haven’t thought and gotten angry about how our country and the world have been changed since our nation was attacked by radical Islamists and thousands of citizens died violent, horrible deaths. I did not lose any family members or friends that day, so I can only imagine the pain and emptiness that victims’ loved ones have had to endure this past decade.

It was with some trepidation that I waited to see how this eleventh anniversary would be marked, now that there was the distance of ten plus one years since that infamous attack on our shores. It didn’t take long to be disappointed in how 9/11 perceptions are changing. Good friend and client Wayne Hayward forwarded me two tone-deaf marketing e-mails he’d received, both of which purported to honor those affected by 9/11, but quickly followed those words with a commercial sales pitch. Ugh! What next? 9/11 mattress sales and car dealership discounts?

Later, in the day, we took out-of-town client Secure Wireless (in-town for the ASIS security show) to the Phillies-Marlins game. A few rows below our section was an energetic young lady in a string bikini  top and body paint with the message 9/11 and “Always Remember” on her back. Mostly, she was posing in hopes of appearing on the scoreboard cam. Given that she was probably 10 when the planes hit the twin towers, I don’t think she intended disrespect, but there was a profound disconnect between the event and her freestyle attempt at commemoration.

As for the ASIS show in Philadelphia,  aimed at corporate, academic, governmental, institutional security, I was amazed at some of the latest advances in everything from CCTV analytics to armored bulletproof vehicles, guard houses, and much more. And then came the news about the mob attacks at our embassies in Egypt and Libya and how the latter in Benghazi was a makeshift affair with contracted security and no Marines assigned. The world is still a dangerous place and the bad actors are always poking for signs of weakness.

This explosion of Islamic rage and anti-American hatred should be a wake-up call to those who look at 9/11 as some sort of historical event in the past. Who delude themselves that a continually expanding TSA will protect us from global conflicts such as a nuclear Iran.

The murders of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans at the Libyan embassy, and the anti-American hate mobs in a growing list of Muslim nations should be enough to remind Americans that we are still engaged in a War on Terror. We are being told that a pathetic, badly made YouTube video incited the carefully planned and coordinated attacks on our embassies. This common sense article hammers home the point that this is about Islamists trying to undermine our most basic freedom — freedom of speech.  The fact that Americans aren’t united about an act of war — the outrageous murders of Ambassador Stevens and his associates — represents a terrible way to mark the anniversary of 9/11. On some matters, we should NEVER be a nation divided. And yet, we are.

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A new web site by Ben and Jerry's is lobbying against corporate lobbyists and big money donors.

A new web site by Ben and Jerry's is lobbying against corporate lobbyists and big money donors.

A week after ranting about the politicization of absolutely everything, I find myself ranting again. My Facebook page hasn’t gotten any less political, but it has gotten muddled. Tonight I noticed a paid Facebook ad, promoted by Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, asking for help to Get The Dough Out of Politics. Admirable, Don Quixotic thought, but also a little like trying to make water less wet. What’s more, there are a few contradictions here.

There has been a lot of sound and fury lately about whether corporations are people. The video for Get The Dough Out of Politics helps answer this. A lot of passionate individuals, men and women, young and old, speak to the issue of campaign finance reform. They all are employees who work for two guys named Ben and Jerry, who happen to be a decent sized corporation that makes really fine ice cream. So, yes, corporations are people who have livelihoods tied to common business interests. Sometimes companies or entire industries hire lobbyists and contribute funds to political campaigns to support candidates and programs that advance their business interests.

Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that Ben and Jerry’s would like to see overturned by constitutional amendment, ruled that such corporate efforts, including paid lobbying and political advertising, is free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Ben and Jerry’s and I share a common opinion that it is imperative to protect the free speech of U.S. citizens. Ben and Jerry’s thinks to do so, we must drive money out of the equation. However, they are paying for ads and videos to advance that cause. I am glad to see them exercising their own right to corporate free speech as protected by Citizens United. Actually, I am glad to see anyone investing in anything at the moment.

As Ben and Jerry’s would quickly point out, they are just two peace-loving guys who also love to make ice cream and occasional questionable marketing decisions. In other words, there is a world of difference between them and the Koch Brothers, who the Left is convinced is capable of buying elections. The Koch Brothers are popular targets — Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow play thinly veiled versions of them in the wildly funny film, The Campaign. Meanwhile, those on the Right lodge the same complaints about George Soros.

Money does buy political messaging and it is ripe for abuse. But it costs a lot to run political campaigns. And not all political messaging is bad. I am sure Ben and Jerry’s is convinced of the purity of its purpose. The problem is that every time Washington DC introduces campaign finance reform, they seldom get it right. They make the process cumbersome. Political committees figure out workarounds (Super Pacs).  And the danger grows that free speech will be eliminated (it can’t be for just the other guy — federal laws cut both ways). I’ve heard others suggest that the way to approach this is to introduce full transparency — make it a requirement to disclose who is contributing to which candidates and how much. However, to that thought, in this political season, personal contributors (not corporations) to one candidate have been targeted in advertising and with questionable allegations about them made by the other candidate. Naturally, the result has been personal harrassment. Money, power, full disclosure, and dirty politics. What a mess.

Might be time for some new Ben and Jerry’s flavors — Campaign Cashew and Freedom Brittle.

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A few weeks ago, I took a pretty angry stand against cancer in all its terrible forms. Not exactly going out on a limb, but I hoped to encourage others to work and contribute toward a cure — a hearty thanks to all who have done so.

A couple of things in recent days have sparked another discussion in my head about how even something so seemingly black and white as the fight against cancer can be politicized, watered down, and manipulated for questionable purposes. An example earlier this year was how two highly successful non-profits working on behalf of women can suddenly lose their way, get into petty litmus test fighting, and undo a long history of cooperation and positive outcomes. The mess between Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Foundation is complicated, nasty, and ultimately a losing proposition for both organizations. My touchstone on this and all other cancer related situations is to focus on whether the cause of cancer victims is advanced. If it isn’t, the people involved need to look themselves in the mirror and ask what could be more important.

If only politicians and government bureaucrats came with warning labels.

If only politicians and government bureaucrats came with warning labels.

Perhaps the murkiest area is when government over reaches. Packaging Digest reports on  a federal appeals court decision that threw out the FDA’s foray into creating ultra-graphic tobacco warning labels. I wrote about the case in November 2010, troubled by the over the top nature and the government’s conflict of interest in collecting tobacco taxes with one hand while wagging a finger at smokers with the other.

In its drug regulatory role, the FDA is too often intent on throwing up roadblocks against new cancer drugs, even those that have been shown to be effective in clinical trials. In the interest of attaining some sort of near-flawless safety record, the FDA has prevented promising drugs from reaching the market sooner than much later. In such instances, people with especially difficult cancers and their physicians are denied the opportunity to explore new drugs that have helped others. In many cases, such drugs are the last remaining hope. Such decisions should not be left in the hands of bureaucrats.

What really got me thinking about the politics of cancer is a public service advertising campaign launched by the LungCancerLeaders.org. Pat McGee, Vice President of Marketing, for HLP Klearfold brought it to my attention after hearing the radio spot while driving with his daughter. Both of them were struck by the thorny issues it raised.

The "No One Deserves to Die" campaign advocates on behalf of lung cancer victims.

The "No One Deserves to Die" campaign advocates on behalf of lung cancer victims.

Essentially, the non-profit (and several others devoted to helping victims of lung cancer such as NoOneDeservesToDie.org from the Lung Cancer Alliance) noted that it is a forgotten cause without ribbons, walks, and ultimately sympathy. The assumption is that those who contract lung cancer brought on their own trouble by smoking. On an individual basis, that may or may NOT be the case. Plenty of people who contract lung cancer are non-smokers. And plenty more contract lung cancer than most other forms of cancer. The creation of some kind of cosmic pecking order of cancer victims is a terrible image, but yet there it is. Cancer is cancer and when someone has contracted it, playing politics over causes, and the withholding of sympathy and support, are really, really bad ideas.

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Last week, my family went on a New England road trip and I brought along my laptop and iPhone to stay connected with the office and clients. It is the norm for many businesspersons these days (and not much different from typical weekends). The downside of technology is that you are always connected. Fortunately for me last week was quiet and the digital side was a huge help in managing projects in progress.

I mention all this because my family’s trip was a wonderful educational trip mostly along the coast of New England. It underscored for me how much life, especially working life, in America has changed over our relatively short history. It was humbling on many levels.

The Morgan docked in Mystic, CT is under major restoration but still tourable.

The Morgan docked in Mystic, CT is under major restoration but still tourable.

In Mystic, we had a chance to tour the Morgan, the only remaining wooden whaling boat left and currently under major restoration. On a hot AC-less day, its cramped quarters underscored that a long time at sea was a very long time. Especially at a time deodorant wasn’t invented yet.

The Breakers, the Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, RI, is a glimpse back to the Gilded Age.

The Breakers, the Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, RI, is a glimpse back to the Gilded Age.

With class warfare in full political mode, a visit to Newport, RI and the summer homes of the Vanderbilts and others underscored that at times the gulf between the haves and have-nots was much greater. The American middle-class didn’t exist yet. It is a testament to capitalism and free-enterprise that a middle ground evolved and thrived in the last century. Even if it feels like we are at another tipping point.

The whaling museum in New Bedford, MA tells the amazing story of whales and the men who hunted them.

The whaling museum in New Bedford, MA tells the amazing story of whales and the men who hunted them.

The whaling museum in New Bedford, MA is a treasure chest of knowledge and exhibits about what was New England’s principal livelihood for many years. I learned why every whale hunted was such a vital collection of valuable resources, principally oil used as a fuel for lights, which extended American’s day on average by an extra hour after sunset. However, the hard work and danger to successfully hunt, kill, and bring back a whale was beyond daunting. It must have taken a certain kind of bravado or crazy to sign on for this duty. Ironically, it was the discovery of oil in the ground in Titusville, PA that signaled the beginning of the end for whale-hunting as an industry in New England.

Up close and personal with a humpback whale from the deck of the Seven Seas tour boat.

Up close and personal with a humpback whale from the deck of the Seven Seas tour boat.

Happily, the whaling industry is thriving in a new way now — tourism. Whale sightseeing boats out of Gloucester are doing an amazing job of introducing landlubbers like me to these amazing creatures. On the Seven Seas, we saw a dozen humpbacks during an afternoon voyage off Cape Ann. And as these awesome natural wonders put on a show on the surface of the Atlantic, they are unaware they are helping to support all the shops, restaurants, and motels in the area that depend on summer vacationers. There were close to 150 on our ship, times twice daily, times many other similar tour boats. Talk about an unlikely ecosystem.

A Lowell textile mill reimagined dollhouse size.

A Lowell textile mill reimagined dollhouse size.

On the way home, we headed inland to Lowell, MA for a different take on the New England economy of yesteryear. The once thriving textile mills there are now a working museum run by the National Park Service. They have done a terrific job of presenting the relevant-today story of cheap labor in service of manufactured goods. The Lowell mills were populated by a steady stream of ever-cheaper-to-compete labor pools. Ironically, most were women. First, farm girls from New England. Then, immigrants were brought in, from one nationality or country at a time, always in search of remaining competitive. Lowell went from being one of America’s brightest stories during the Industrial Revolution to finding itself fighting for its economic life, first against other cities in New England, then in the southern US, and finally, in countries around the world. The work in the mill was hard, loud, monotonous, long, and often dangerous. In those early days, there was no OSHA and there were no unions, although both would come later.

The Lowell lesson is an instructive one — if America wants to compete in today’s global markets, we face tremendous challenges in terms of costs, regulations, worker/union expectations, technology, and governmental cooperation with the private sector. With Lowell’s mills closed in the early 90s, the city is now retooling in another direction — tourism. I encourage you to avail yourself of this instructive link to our past (and hopefully, future).

The late great Ron Rotelli (center) helping to manage a Time and Parking Controls seminar at the National Constitution Center.

The late great Ron Rotelli (center) helping to manage a Time and Parking Controls seminar at the National Constitution Center.

My vacation ended on a very sad note with an email from Kevin Elsesser, GM of Time and Parking Controls — his longtime associate Ron Rotelli passed away in his sleep during a family vacation. Ron was a man of many talents, he made friends instantly with everyone he met, and he balanced work with a love of family and a long list of personal interests, especially music. He was one of the least likely people to have his life cut short in such abrupt fashion, which just underscores the age-old Carpe Diem message for the rest of us. That he will be sorely missed by so many was brought home by the endless line of friends, family, and co-workers inside and outside the Donoghue Funeral Home Thursday evening.

 

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