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No more super sizing in NYC.

No more super sizing in NYC.

Cheers. I would like to drink a toast to your health (with the beverage of your choice), as well as to the land where you are still free to make that choice (sort of).  There is a free enterprise battle being fought, and it is the subject of late night talk show jokes, but it could not be more serious. It is slow. It is insidious. And it is under the auspices of best intentions, but it is really about power and control.

I am referring to the current and pending over-regulation of food and drink by local, state, and federal government officials who say they are interested in controlling obesity and reducing healthcare costs. That sounds like something we should all be willing and glad to get behind. However, all of us individually can do that now for ourselves, and once government starts telling businesses how to run their business, things never end well.

The fast-food industry has been under considerable pressure for years to add healthier choices to their menus. Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” documentary vividly demonstrated the dangers of a recurring fast-food diet. Often when restaurateurs do introduce more nutritious fare, these items wither away from lack of sales — the market speaks in each case. Today, if you want to eat healthy, there ARE lots of options. Mobile phone apps like EAT THIS, NOT THAT are available to steer you away from calorie bombs and into best alternatives at individual national chains.  But if you want to pig out on an occasional basis, you still can (or should be allowed).

The recent decision by the Bloomberg administration in NYC to ban supersized soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces is regrettable. One segment was targeted (for now). Notice the mayor wisely decided not to try to limit over 16 ounce beer sales. He has admitted that he just wanted to make a point and get people to think.

This video produced by tries to make that same point and is disgustingly over the top and again at war with a single segment (the soft drink companies, plus unintentionally, all the small food businesses they help support). It ends with a push toward healthier drinks like water or milk.

So Bloomberg’s office has arbitrarily set 16 ounces as a limit. But concentration and perspective matters.  Even water, if you drink enough of it, can kill you by flushing vital minerals and nutrients from your system. So no more Deer Park cooler bottles. SOMEONE out there could harm himself.

Next up, kid cereals. This week’s Ad Age covers the increasing pressures that cereal makers find themselves under and how the industry’s ad spending is even being closely tracked (now, we are into regulation of free speech, admittedly commercial, but closely regulated). If there are two things government nanny-staters hate, it’s sugar and carbon (or maybe they secretly love them, because they open worlds of regulatory possibilities).

The government has a similar love-hate relationship with tobacco. It loves to vilify the cigarette companies for causing cancer, but would never think of banning this product, because it is so badly addicted to the tax revenue it receives from the sale of each pack and carton.

If the government would limit itself to educating the public about various health risks and requiring food and drink companies to label products clearly so consumers understand immediate and potential long-term risks and benefits, we would all be better off. Unfortunately, when industry fails to lead, the government will swoop into the resulting vacuum. Then, all bets are off. Once again, here’s to our collective health. And to a healthier business climate and national economy.

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Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" 2-minute SuperBowl spot

Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" 2-minute SuperBowl spot

Originally, I was only going to devote one post to SuperBowl commercials. However, a lot of blog-worthy controversy erupted over two banned spots going into the game. By last Sunday, the majority of spots were posted to YouTube and elsewhere prior to the game that I was able to blog about my favorites even before kickoff. This week, on to other marketing matters. Well, not quite.

Last Sunday’s SuperBowl set the all-time TV viewership record, 111 million viewers, eclipsing the prior year’s Saints-Colts matchup of 106.5 million viewers, which had finally beaten the long-held record of 106 million viewers held by the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H. Wow, now that’s 222 million eyeballs (give or take a few fans who may have finally dozed off during the Vince Lombardi trophy ceremony).  I would say that all those advertisers who shelled out $3 million per 30-second spot got their money’s worth in viewership.

Well, maybe not, and that’s the reason for Part III. A week later, people are still talking about SuperBowl commercials on talk radio, in social media, around the water cooler, but not especially in a good way.

It’s not like 1984 when Apple’s vision of the digital future smashing an Orwellian present with a Thor-like hammer seized everyone’s attention and imagination. This year’s conversation was all about specific “what were they thinking?” controversies.

The spot that I think came closest to a “1984” statement was Chrysler’s 2-minute gritty ode to the resilience and spirit of Detroit, featuring Eminem, unidentified at first, as he drove viewers around his hometown and the voiceover narrator shared some pretty inspirational thoughts. It resonated with me and a lot of other viewers. At least until I multiplied 30 seconds times 4 and arrived at a $12 million advertising media price tag for a car company that just two years ago was getting bailed out by Uncle Sam. Hard to make those numbers add up. The line between “warm and fuzzy” and “fuzzy math” got a lot blurrier.

Creatively, my favorite work from the SuperBowl is still Audi’s, although not a huge number share my opinion. I hope the car company sticks with this campaign and gives it the exposure it deserves. I posted a link to last week’s blog in five different ad and marketing LinkedIn groups I belong to as a way to get discussion going about the SuperBowl spots. A lot of people weighed in with their own favorites, thoughts on the controversies, and insider baseball. Kerry Antezana, a Creative Director from Seattle, shared this particularly good link to the BrandBowl site that blended stats from Twitter responses to pick ad winners (Chrysler for overall, so maybe that $12 million was well spent).  There were a lot of comments that everyone was underwhelmed by the creativity of this year’s spots, but that even the lamest spots resonated more than social media’s role in all this.

Edginess of spots did not automatically mean people were talking about them. Doritos scored more for their amazing pug on a hunger mission than the cringe-worthy ad where a cheese-flavor-obsessed Doritos lover sucked the fingers of a co-worker and pulled the cheese-dust-covered pants off another.

However, Pepsi Max managed to turn edgy humor into racial controversy on the floor of the U.S. Congress when Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee denounced its stereotypes as a sorry distraction from Black History Month. I don’t think most viewers saw it that way. It was more about relationship humor, but it was neither funny enough nor edgy enough to register much on either the laughs or controversy scale.

The biggest controversy belonged to Groupon, who sought to have some snarky fun with the seriousness of social causes, by having Tim Hutton flip the mention of political turmoil in Tibet around to this week’s Groupon deal for Tibetan restaurant cuisine. Tasteless? Yes. Intentional? Yes, in a Saturday Night Live commercial parody kind of way. Successful? Obviously not, in light of the nearly universal righteous anger it generated. Some of the posters in the LinkedIn discussions noted that it may not have affected Groupon as much as originally predicted, but by week’s end, the company pulled the offending spot.

Closing thoughts. When you are spending $3 million per 30 seconds of SuperBowl time, a little more spent for a focus group might be warranted (not to tweak creative, but to act as a canary in a coal mine). As for the impact of all this? Put in the context of events in Egypt this week, it’s a little silly and a lot self-important. The freedom we have to enjoy the NFL, commercials, and commerce should not be taken for granted. Here’s hoping for a better life for Egyptians, Tibetans, and the rest of the world.

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