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Newton Associates holiday card 2004

This card reprinted an inspiring agency contribution to the 1974 Eagles yearbook and made an amazing link.

We’re coming up on nearly a decade since our agency sent out a holiday card to clients that carried an extra-special meaning and message, linking past with present via an inexplicable moment of foreshadowing. It also chronicles the generosity of Leonard Tose, the Eagles organization, and fans, the vision of Drs. Audrey Evans and Milton H. “Mickey” Donaldson, and the history behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ “Fly For Leukemia” and the birth of the nation’s first Ronald McDonald House right here in Philadelphia. I would normally save this for the holiday season, except I have an ulterior motive. I am hoping any good karma it generates will motivate readers to visit my personal fundraising page for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night walk to raise money for treatment of all forms of blood cancer. Here is the link if you find yourself so moved:

 

http://pages.lightthenight.org/epa/Phi13/dditzler

 

And here is the holiday card retelling. . .

A TRUE STORY ABOUT THE MOST IMPORTANT WIN IN PHILADELPHIA EAGLES’ HISTORY.

WITH HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM YOUR FRIENDS AT NEWTON ASSOCIATES

I’d like to share a story with you. It isn’t a holiday tale, but it is appropriate for this annual time of reflection. This story is personal, remarkable, humbling, and downright Capra-esque.

It begins back in the 1970s in the early days of Newton Associates when Jon Newton and Harry Streamer had some high profile local accounts in the Philadelphia Eagles and the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a heady time, especially for the sports fans in the office. But it wasn’t all fun and games. Through the Eagles in particular, Jon and Harry became involved in some worthy charities that the football club was helping to launch. Personal involvement at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia led Eagles executives to start Eagles Fly for Leukemia and to collaborate with McDonald’s on the first-ever Ronald McDonald House, which as you probably know provides a home away from home for families who need a nearby place to stay while their sick child is hospitalized for treatment.

Back then, Newton Associates created promotional materials for both charities. And in the 1974 Eagles yearbook, in an article reprinted here, Jon chronicled the efforts of a lot of generous people, who opened their hearts and their pocketbooks on behalf of numerous sick children and their families.

If you have a moment, I encourage you to read this article; not because it is Jon’s finest prose, but because it is filled with inspirational examples of people making a huge difference. I came across it myself going through agency samples in preparation for a new business pitch. When I read it, I did so with more than casual interest. And by the end of the article, I’d had a genuine epiphany.

For the reasons why, you need to fast forward from the 1970s to September 1999. When my youngest of three sons was a month shy of his first birthday, he developed some unusual bruising on his right thigh. A visit to our family doctor led to testing at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood leukemia. Needless to say, this was devastating news and a difficult time for my family. Thanks to the medical team at CHOP, my incredibly strong and determined wife, Drina, and the assistance of a network of amazing friends, church members, neighbors, and in some cases, total strangers, we somehow managed to complete three and one-half years of chemo treatment for my son. In remission for the start of this protocol, he remains healthy and cancer free today, just celebrated his sixth birthday, and entered kindergarten this fall.

There’s more to this story, however, and I continue to wrestle with it in my own mind to define whether it represents a mind-bending coincidence or my own personal version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” At the end of Jon’s article, he concludes with a hypothetical example to encourage readers to keep on giving because back in 1974, there were a lot more sick children to cure and many more medical advances needed. He gave this hypothetical sick child a name — Peter.

That just happens to be the name of my youngest son.

I don’t see any point in debating the unfathomable odds of picking that very same name, 24 years apart. I do know that the odds of a child surviving common childhood leukemia increased from 50% in 1974 to well over 90% when my son was diagnosed in 1999. And I know that those statistics didn’t increase by coincidence, but rather through the hard work and generosity of a never-ending stream of people, some of them encouraged no doubt by the early work for Eagles charities done by Jon and Harry.

It doesn’t hurt once in awhile to remind ourselves that we can make a positive difference in each other’s lives in ways we can never ever begin to imagine. And that something good we do today can yield surprising results even decades later. It is in this spirit that your friends at Newton Associates would like to make a donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities. In honor of Jon Newton and Harry Streamer for their early efforts on behalf of that organization. And in your honor as a valued friend of this agency. Best of the season and the New Year to you!

Sincerely,

Dan Ditzler

Newton Associates

 

Philadelphia Eagles 1974 Yearbook

The 1974 Yearbook chronicled the Philadelphia Eagles efforts on behalf of "Eagles Fly for Leukemia" and the first Ronald McDonald House.

And reprinted from the 1974 Philadelphia Eagles yearbook. . .

Reflections In A Passed Hat

by Jon Newton

Maybe you were there.

It happened on Sunday afternoon, November 25, 1973. The Eagles were taking on the New York Giants in front of a Vet full of typical fans.

It was a 100 percent football day. The Eagles had just come off a loss to Dallas. Earlier in the season they were tied by the Giants. The fans definitely — but definitely! — were in no mood for another tie. Everybody was still smarting from the embarrassing 42-41 loss to the Giants in Princeton in the pre-season.

Just before the kickoff, an announcement was made that the hat would be passed during the game. It was hard to believe. In the midst of 20th-century football with all its sophistication, in front of 63,000 hard-nosed fans, the Eagles were passing the hat!

Most of the newer football fans in the Vet that day probably didn’t even know what passing the hat meant. Some of the old-timers probably just smiled, remembering when that’s the way it used to be. Not in pro ball so much, but certainly in semi-pro and neighborhood ball.

The fact is, passing the hat is an American tradition as old as the origins of football itself. When pro ball was trying to get started along the railroad tracks of the Midwest, and on empty lots and high-school fields in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, passing the hat was it. There was no other team income.

The very first professional football game of record was a hat passer. Latrobe, PA August 31, 1895; Latrobe 12, Jeanette zip. The teams split the hat and divided it up among the players. Latrobe quarterback John Brailier, who was guaranteed ten bucks, went home high man.

Seventy-nine years later, with $12.50 seats, $100,000 ball players, and multi-million dollar television rights, passing the hat — for any reason — seemed pretty bush. But maybe that helped to make what happened at the Vet that day even more significant. Oh there was football all right. Plenty of it. And there really was a collection taken up in the stands. Actually, the two came together beautifully. Because just as the hats were going through the crowd, Gabriel uncorked a scoring pass to Zimmerman. People were on their feet, cheering and emptying their pockets simultaneously.

The Eagles won that day. In a small measure, so did mankind. Because when the game ended it was Eagles 20, Giants 16, leukemia $20,055. Twentieth-century football and traditional American hat passing had gotten along fine. Just fine.

It proved something. It proved that the football fan, the ultimate ball player, is still willing to make the payments. That he is still the greatest source of revenue — for professional football and for charity. Sure, he’ll bitch about what inflation has done to the price of ball park beer and hot dogs. And rightly so. But he still has the capacity to dig into his wallet and contribute this much and more, to help fight some disease that he has trouble spelling, much less understanding. It say something for the football fan. It says something for the American way.

Most of the time the fan doesn’t get any recognition for tossing his well-earned money into the hat of a charitable cause. It is the popular high-salaried player, donating his time to appear at fund-raising functions, who gets the acclaim. Let us acclaim both. Their contributions are equal.

The hat passing was the first really organized move in an effort that has come to be known as “Eagles Fly For Leukemia.” It’s hard to say precisely how the effort got started and who was responsible. Right there from the beginning was ex-Eagles player Freddy Hill. It was Hill who announced that the hat would be passed at the Vet last November. Hill is very close to the whole thing because he’s very close to his daughter. Kim Hill is eight years old. She has leukemia.

Fred Hill, along with his neighbor, Stan Lane, has been trying to raise funds to fight leukemia ever since his daughter was diagnosed five years ago. Back then it was just the two of them — one man with a very personal stake in a victory over leukemia; one friend who wanted to help. They stomped the neighborhoods, put out coin boards with Eagles emblems on them, and gathered players and wives together for fund-raising fashion shows. They did as much as two guys could. And they raised some money.

But leukemia is a big disease. It would take big money to beat it. And that would take Eagles participation in a big way.

Last fall Freddy Hill made his case, as only as man with his singularly heavy burden could, to Jim Murray, Eagles administrative assistant. Murray got involved. Instantly. Completely. In turn, he involved Eagles owner Leonard Tose. Tose involved Roman Gabriel and Mike McCormack. They involved the whole team. Doctors Audrey E. Evans and Milton H. Donaldson, oncologist and assistant oncologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, got involved. Some pretty important people and some pretty big organizations also got involved. But greater than the sum of all these, the average Philadelphia Eagles football fan got involved.

Joe Scirrotto is an average Eagles fan who runs a Gulf station at Rising Sun and Van Kirk in the Northeast. He has a great sense of humor. Ask him for a key to the restroom and his eyes narrow in mock seriousness.

“You’re in luck,” he says. “I got one left.”

Joe Scirrotto has an even greater sense of obligation. By the time you read this he will have raised over $10,000 for “Eagles Fly For Leukemia.”

That’s a real piece of work. But then Joe Scirrotto is a real piece of work. He thinks somewhere between Norman Vincent Peale and P.T. Barnum. Last year, just about the time the leukemia thing was getting off the ground, Joe saw some of the fun going out of his business. He had also seen the life go out of six of his customers and relatives of customers because of leukemia. Scirrotto decided to somehow do something about both. “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” became his vehicle.

Scirroto began by donating one cent on every gallon of Gulftane — a brand being discontinued — his station pumped. That wasn’t enough, so Joe started badgering the Eagles office with things to do.

He got the Eagles helmet cart up to his station and charged for kids to have pictures taken in it. He got football players to make personal appearances. He sold Eagles memorabilia ranging from knit hats, to decals, to color photos of Roman Gabriel. He plastered his gas station with so many posters and handmade signs that it became hard to tell it was a gas station. It still wasn’t enough.

When Gulftane ran out, Joe carried his cent-a-gallon donation policy over to the regular brand. . .pretty remarkable since he was already selling it at 49.9, probably the lowest price in the city. But again, it wasn’t enough. Scirrotto began to conduct weekly raffles: a set of radial tires, 100 gallons of gas, 50 gallons of gas. When somebody gave him a load of hot dogs, he raffled them off in 30 pound lots. He raffled off glassware and tableware as well. A customer brought in some stained-glass green and white eagles she had made. Joe sold them at $10 a copy.

Another vendor donated a lot of penny bubble gum for Joe to do with as he saw fit. Joe saw fit to sell it at 10 cents a piece, two for a quarter. The sense of humor never faded. Neither did the drive. He sold all the bubble gum and looked around for more. More of anything. His calls to the Eagles office became increasingly frequent — more photos, more decals, more players. Once he asked for eight players to appear at the same time to sign autographs. Can you believe it? In the middle of an NFL strike he wanted eight players!

Scirrotto set himself a September 15 deadline to raise the $10,000. What’s he doing now that it’s all over? You got to know Joe Scirrotto. For him it isn’t over until there is a cure for leukemia. Right now he’s probably still trying to get those eight players. So what if it’s the middle of the season!

If an average guy with an above-average sense of duty like Joe Scirrotto could raise $10,000 would could some carefully selected high-powered organizations do? Jim Murray and Hugh Ortman, special projects coordinator hired to run “Eagles Fly For Leukemia,” decided to find out.

Murray and Ortman made a pitch to NFL Charities. It was unusual. NFL Charities does a lot of good work on a national basis; getting involved in something as pinpointed as “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” was new to them. The proposal went to the League Office in New York. Murray and Ortman went too, and walked away with $20,000 earmarked to sponsor a fully-qualified doctor to do basic and clinical leukemia research for one year. Dr. Allan H. Arbeter started the job early in September at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a designated national cancer research center.

Once the Eagles players and fans really began to fly for leukemia they found they were not flying alone.

Bobby Clarke, the NHL’s most valuable player, presented $400 in cash collected from his Flyer teammates. A midget football league in Kensington passed the hat at its championship game and then went door-to-door. They collected $1,000. A mini-bike raffle conducted by a Harley-Davidson dealer in Norristown raised another $300. The South West Used Auto Parts Association asked for Bill Bradley or Po James to appear at their annual banquet. Both appeared and the fund was $1,500 richer. A 24-hour basketball marathon run by St. Bernard’s CYO raised $315. Several Eagles players went to the opening of Dunfey’s Sheraton Inn at the airport. They took a fish bowl along and came back with $700 in it. A Villanova inter-fraternity softball marathon was rained out but still managed to collect $285. Liberty Mutual Insurance raised $200 in a social club raffle. Roman Gabriel and Hugh Ortman worked out a golf tournament with Radley Run Country Club. It raised over $3,000. A gal named Barbara Kuchenmeister took it upon herself to organize a dinner-dance in Glenside. Roman Gabriel made an appearance. So did Steve Zabel and his wife, Susan. So did 450 people. In the end, over $7,000 was raised. The Vet ushers were so impressed by the November 25 hat passing that they donated part of their pay for the day. Pop Warner League football players of the Northeast Suburban Athletic Conference going door-to-door with a goal of collecting $15,000.

Not all the donations to “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” have been in the form of money. They have been no less valuable.

Continental Bank officiated at the Vet hat passing and provided tellers to count the money. It continues to provide free banking services to the fund. Stan Lane enlisted over 500 volunteers to help with collections and various administrative chores. Hundreds of others have called to help.

Everyone who did anything deserves a mention here. Unfortunately, that is impossible — partly because there are so many and partly because many people joined forces as an organization in order to accomplish more than they could individually. One such organization was McDonald’s.

There’s a sign in front of all McDonald’s. You’ve seen it — something about 18 billion served. It refers to the number of hamburgers McDonald’s has served. The Philadelphia area McDonald’s could well put up another sign about the hundreds of leukemia victims they have served through their efforts in “Eagles Fly For Leukemia.”

Remember the green shakes McDonald’s serves every year during St. Patrick’s Day week? This year there was something different about them. For one thing Roman Gabriel went on television and radio to push them. Now any day you can get Roman Gabriel to go on TV and push anything of any color, you have to do something pretty special in return. McDonald’s did. They donated the profit on every green shake served. It came to a fantastic $32,218.30.

Later in the year, Harold Carmichael made an appearance at the opening of a new McDonald’s at 13th and Market. Half the proceeds of the day were donated — another $1,900.

The money raised by the McDonald’s operators and managers who participated in “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” went to purchase a guest house near The Children’s Hospital. The house, now being converted into a boarding-type facility, will be called “Ronald McDonald House,” and will be used by leukemic children and their parents who must travel long distances to the hospital for treatment. It is impossible to image the emotional and financial strain  on parents whose children are stricken with leukemia. The Ronald McDonald House will help relieve both, by providing free accommodations to parents and providing the opportunity for them to share thoughts with people who carry a similar burden.

Up until a few months ago the Ronald McDonald House was just that. A house. The interior needed a lot of work before anyone could live there. John Canuso, a South Jersey builder, heard about the need at The Children’s Hospital. He goes there often. His daughter has leukemia. John Canuso is completely renovating the inside of Ronald McDonald House. Free.

The Ronald McDonald House was based on a concept of Dr. Evans and Donaldson. Jim Murray took the idea to advertising man Don Tuckerman. He took it to the McDonald’s operators and managers. Green shakes became the vehicle to make the idea a reality. It is typical of the many great ideas that have come from “Eagles Fly For Leukemia.”

Jim Murray still had what was perhaps the best idea: to get the Eagles team and the Eagles fans pulling together for leukemia in the first place. If that is true, his second best idea had to be the victory party held after the successful hat passing at the Vet. It proved to be the biggest single money maker so far.

Like everything else in “Eagles Fly For Leukemia,” this victory party involved more giving than celebrating. It was decided to tie in two elements of the party, a $1,000-per-couple ticket charge and a fashion show, with kids phoning in pledges directly to their favorite Eagles players. Some way was needed to get the word out on a broad scale. WIP provided that way. It threw the efforts of the entire station behind the project, including a full night of air time for the victory party “radiothon.” Sixty telephones were installed in the Eagles offices to handle the response. As it turned out that wasn’t enough.

To handle the tickets for the party a committee was formed by Len Tose’s friends — Herb Barness, Sidney Forstater, Whitney Kerchner, Harold Honickman, Billy Hyndman, III, John Taxin, Wally Leventhal, and Roy Peraino — all men who know other men who could afford $1,000 for tickets. Together they sold 40 of them.

The radiothon got an early start with a plug on the Eagles-49ers game a week before the party. The phones started ringing. Along the way Dandy Don Meredith plugged it again on NFL Monday Night Football. More calls came in from that, and from almost incessant mentioning of the radiothon by WIP personalities.

But it really wasn’t until about 7:00 pm, December 5, the night of the victory party, that all hell broke loose. Ever see 60 phones light up and stay lighted for hours on end? It was like an early Christmas with thousands of Santas calling in presents. The party was a long one. When it was over, more than $80,000 had been raised. The Eagles weren’t flying for leukemia anymore. They were soaring!

To date, better than $200,000 has been raised. That’s a lot of money. It might help to know where it’s all going.

It’s all going — every cent of it — to equip the leukemia in-patient, out-patient, and research laboratory facilities at the new Children’s Hospital, 34th and Civic Center Boulevard. Every cent? That means every cent after expenses, right? No. It means every cent, period. All the costs and expenses of “Eagles Fly For Leukemia,” and they are considerable, are coming out of Leonard Tose’s pocket. He wouldn’t have it any other way. And because of the kind of man Len Tose is, we’ll never know the value of his contribution in dollars and cents.

We can’t even guess what his bill will be. The salary of a full-time coordinator. The cost of telephones. The tab for good and drink for hundreds of people at the victory party. Secretarial labor. The cost of thousands of  Eagle souvenirs. The cost of making his players available for personal appearances. It’s all on Len Tose.

The $200,000 raised so far is a lot, but it is not enough. Not nearly enough. What is the goal then? For Dr. Audrey E. Evans, a most remarkable woman who heads the oncology department at The Children’s Hospital, anything would have been a godsend. The day she told Freddy Hill it would cost $800,000 to equip the entire oncology floor it was beyond her wildest dreams that this would become the “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” goal. Freddy Hill never dreamed of it either. Jim Murray saw the possibilities. Len Tose made it definite. This, then, is the goal. $800,000.

And it will take every penny of the goal to do the job. Leukemia treatment and research requires sums of money that boggle the mind.

A simple microscope with a dual-reading head (so it can be used simultaneously for clinical research and teaching) costs $2,500. The hospital has three; it should have twice that many. A refrigerated ultra-centrifuge used to differentially separate the proteins in biological fluids is a basic tool of leukemia research. It costs a basic $15,000. Most of the other sophisticated equipment carries a similar price tag. Still, these are the low-end items. A life island unit, which Dr. Evans describes as “a special area we set aside for the little people who require very special isolated treatment,” costs $50,000. It only accommodates two children.

The treatment of leukemia is also incredibly expensive. The cost of an average visit to the oncology out-patient clinic is over $300. Some current leukemia chemotherapy requires a drug so expensive that it is impossible to buy. The value placed on it is so high that no one could possibly afford it, so the government has to make it available at no cost.

There is no known cure for leukemia, a disease that causes white cells to multiply in number to a point where they displace other normal blood-forming elements. Most of us know leukemia as cancer of the blood. It actually starts in the bone marrow. This year 350,000 people will die from cancer — about one person every two minutes. Of these, over three thousand will be children. most of them will die from leukemia.

Is it all worth it, then? As cruel as that question may seem, isn’t it possible that leukemia is a disease for which there is no cure now and perhaps never will be?

Consider a child with leukemia. Let’s call him Peter. As little as 25 years ago leukemia would have been fatal to him. Anywhere from six weeks to six months after diagnosis. Peter would have been dead. Today, he has a 50 percent chance of surviving for at least four years after diagnosis. By the measure of a healthy child these are still pretty rotten odds. But in the measurement of progress it is nothing short of miraculous. Because for Peter there is now hope where once there was none. Hell yes, it’s worth it.

When the Eagles were Saints. Len Tose and other benefactors help Dr. Audrey Evans battle leukemia in a big and lasting way at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

When the Eagles were Saints. Len Tose and other benefactors help Dr. Audrey Evans battle leukemia in a big and lasting way at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Audrey Evans knows it’s worth it. She doesn’t talk about curing a child with leukemia, but she never stops talking about the hope for a cure. It is not a false hope. The cure for leukemia has to be just around the corner. But which corner? It will take time and money to find out. For now the best doctors can do for a child with leukemia is achieve a remission — an arresting of the disease and a rollback of its effects. For how long? It varies. The progress made in lengthening remission time has been remarkable. But it is still never long enough.

Dr. Milton H. “Mickey” Donaldson knows about periods of remission and the hopes of lengthening them. He has what must be the toughest job in the world. Mickey Donaldson helps kids battle against leukemia. He never wins. The best he can do is prolong the ultimate defeat. How many of us could do this job — a job that is measured by how long it takes a child to die.

Mickey Donaldson doesn’t see his job that way. He talks instead about how long he can keep a child alive. Because for every minute gained there is the chance that a new drug, a new method of therapy, a cure, will end the fight for good.

Mickey Donaldson’s children are what “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” is all about. They are the reason why the hat has to keep passing. It must stop only long enough to be emptied, and then it must be passed again. And each time you put something in it, a child with leukemia might live a little longer. It is the only way in God’s earth that we can actually buy time. If we spend enough, we may buy that child a complete life.

It’s not so remote to think of it all in a football context. You’re losing and it’s a fourth and inches situation. There isn’t any real question is there?

You go for it.

Philadelphia Eagles Fly For Leukemia

Philadelphia Eagles Fly For Leukemia

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It’s been an amazing season for mainstream movies. Argo, an incredible backstory to the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Lincoln, a transporting journey with the President during his fight to pass the 13th Amendment. Skyfall, arguably the best Bond movie ever. The list of cinematic gems goes on and on.

Silver Linings Playbook really nails the manic energy of the Philadelphia sports fan. The fact that it can be attractive to Jennifer Lawrence is icing on the cake.

Silver Linings Playbook really nails the manic energy of the Philadelphia sports fan. The fact that it can be attractive to Jennifer Lawrence is icing on the cake.

In particular, one of them resonated on many levels, most of all the local level. Silver Linings Playbook may be the quintessential Philadelphia movie (I know, Philadelphia Story it ain’t). If you haven’t caught it yet, please do, because it is a marvel on so many levels, not the least of which is how families and individuals grapple with mental illness, a matter that really matters especially at this sad moment in America.

David O Russell is a moviemaker who understands how much place plays a vital role in films. His last film, The Fighter, captured the down-on-its-luck industrial grittiness of Lowell, MA. Here, in Silver Linings Playbook, he absolutely nails the identity that an NFL franchise gives to its citizens. Along the way, he takes us on a wonderful visual tour of the city and Delco neighborhoods.

Philly may be behind other cities on a variety of initiatives, but it has long been way ahead in having its own film office to attract movie and tv production to our town. The list of films set here for all or part of storylines is long and memorable.  Credit Sharon Pinkenson and all the leaders who have supported her efforts to land location shootings as a way to showcase tourism and civic pride in our town.

In Silver Linings Playbook, Russell has assembled a great foundation adapting Matthew Quick’s novel, and a stellar A-list cast with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as the romantic leads and note-perfect supporting performances by Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker and others. Cooper and Lawrence do a sensational job of conveying a full range of emotions and human frailties while finding themselves and each other amidst a lot of wreckage from past events.

Not surprisingly, it is Philadelphia Eagles football that is the glue that binds the Solitano family together, so much so that Pat Sr. (De Niro) can only watch the games from home, because of all the fights he has gotten into in the stands (sound familiar, Philly faithful?). Russell really manages to spotlight the crazy streak that sports fandom generates. Fortunately, the story is set in a happier time —2008, a year when the Phils were World Series victors and the Eagles managed to make it to the conference championship game.

Perhaps the final gift that Silver Linings Playbook gives is that it helps Eagles fans forget for a little while the debacle that this season has been and which will likely lead to the departure of head coach Andy Reid, whose prior record more than speaks for itself, although no one says it so eloquently as Bill Lyons.

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Some stories are just too good not to follow and share. This one has two parts. The first is about badvertising — a creative concept that should have been killed by the agency before it ever reached the client. The second is about social media being wildly unpredictable and entertaining.

When ad and social media campaigns go bad.

When ad and social media campaigns go bad.

Adweek’s Ad Freak does an admirable job of presenting both accounts, going so far as to question whether the first one is worst campaign of the year. The badvertising is for the product of a new start-up company called Energy Sheets. You probably remember a similar product —breath freshening strips that you drop on your tongue. The effect is a hit of super-concentrated mouthwash triggered as the strip instantly dissolves. Presumably, Energy Sheets delivers the equivalent of a 5-hour energy shot via a similar quick hit. Incredibly, LeBron James is a key investor.

The entire campaign relies upon a dumb double entendre, “I Take A Sheet In The ______,” to include the pool (Caddyshack flashback anyone?), the library, and in an ad featuring the hot rapper Pitbull, on the stage. Even if you appreciate bathroom humor, as Adweek notes, do you want to promote a product that you put in your mouth with a headline that “references defecation?”  Can’t wait for the “Who gives a sheet?” gift cards.

On such dubious footing, it makes perfect sense that Energy Sheets would work with retailers like Wal-Mart to leverage the popularity of Pitbull via a social-media based contest. Like your favorite Wal-Mart store on Facebook and win a visit to that store by Pitbull. Sounds okay in theory, but the wild world of social media always has room for the unpredictable and unexpected. Enter one David Thorpe, a writer for the Boston Phoenix, who decided to have a little fun. He and a friend researched the most remote Wal-Mart store in the chain store’s chain and launched their own social media campaign to send Pitbull to Kodiak, Alaska, reachable only by plane or ferry. Already at 60,000 likes and climbing fast, the Kodiak Wal-Mart is looking more and more like the destination for Pitbull, who calls himself Mr. Worldwide. If that happens, Pitbull will have to reorient himself from hot, steamy Latin rhythm dance clubs to arctic landscapes. However, in the process, he may be able to finally answer the question, “Does a polar bear sheet in the woods?”

Update: Wal-Mart has a winner. Looks like Pitbull had better start packing his parka and lined boots for Kodiak, AK. As they used to say in the old Shake and Bake commercials, “And I helped.”

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A front page article in today’s Wall Street Journal has my Irish up (and I’m mostly Scotch-German). It concerns the Washington Nationals organization trying to have it both ways — full stadium attendance when the Phillies come to town, but with those seats occupied only by Nationals fans. Currently, this is the work (and job) of one Andrew Feffer.

Feffer is outraged that marauding Phils fans have traveled south to take over the mostly empty Nationals stadium whenever the NL East rivals played. The article cites the usual predictable nasty anecdotes about how horrible the sports fans of Philadelphia are. In this case, vomiting on a local fan’s shoes when he took his father to opening day. Well, there are horrible Philadelphia fans, but they are in the minority. Also, they are in roughly the same proportion as horrible fans from other cities. Philadelphia fans are the polar opposite of fair-weather, they are knowledgeable about their teams and their competitors, and they are passionate enough to take their support on the road.

Philly sports fans are proud to root on their teams even in enemy territory.

Philly sports fans are proud to root on their teams even in enemy territory.

Last summer, I had the pleasure of witnessing this phenomenon while vacationing in Los Angeles with my family. We wanted to take in a Dodgers game that week and were thrilled to learn the Phils were on a West Coast swing. Our only concern was awareness that LA had gotten some serious bad press after Dodgers faithful had beaten a Giants fan nearly to death in the parking lot earlier in the season. Turns out our concerns were unfounded. Like the Nationals, the Dodgers were having real trouble filling seats and as a result Phillies fans turned out in force. It was a great atmosphere and a real kick to watch our team notch a win in someone else’s ballpark. During every trip to the concession stands, a sea of red was high-fiving fellow travelers.

Back on the East Coast, for the past few seasons, Phils fans have actually helped boost the Nationals’ revenue by selling large blocks of tickets that would otherwise have been empty seats. Now, Andrew Feffer is leading an organizational charge to, in his mind, keep the barbarians at the gates. Really sad and shabby idea.

The solution is to field a winning team. The Nationals have been so bad as to be nearly unwatchable in recent years. It’s understandable to not fill seats when your team is terrible. There have been times in recent years, when the Braves and the Marlins had good teams and were unable to fill their stadiums, even at playoff time.  This year, the Nationals have improved from those tough seasons and look like they might be more than competitive. Feffer should trust that winning baseball will attract people to the ballpark. I know there will be at least one. My friend, Glenn, has been a Nats ballpark regular when they were like watching paint dry. THAT’S a fan. Now, it’s thick. Glenn was also there through thin.

Competition is good for sports rivalries. You don’t build a fanbase by keeping other teams’ fans out of your own ballpark. I hope the Nationals new stadium is filled to capacity this weekend. With Nats and Phils fans watching some great baseball, cheering on their teams, and not vomiting on each others’ shoes. Go Phightins!

 

 

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Who cares about the Super Bowl? Certainly not local sports fans in this town. It’s the Philadelphia Eagles’ arch NFC East rivals, the New York Giants, vs. the team that thrashed us in our last Super Bowl appearance, the New England Patriots. It is fortunate we have other diversions like hosting our own long-running annual professional sports championship this weekend — WING BOWL XX!!!!

WIP radio hosted Wing Bowl XX with an incredible sellout of the Wells Fargo Center by over 20,000 well-lubricated fans

WIP radio hosted Wing Bowl XX with an incredible sellout of the Wells Fargo Center by over 20,000 well-lubricated fans

For those of you who don’t follow eating competitions, Wing Bowl, hosted by local radio sports talk channel WIP, has grown from a couple guys sitting around a hotel-hosted wingfest into a Lollapalooza of an event that draws over 20,000 crazy fans who sell out the Wells Fargo Center weeks in advance. It is hard to describe this spectacle — it is part indoor Mummers Parade/Mardi Gras; part burlesque show thanks to hordes of barely clad Wingettes, and part fall of the Roman Empire complete with vomitorium.

Wing Bowl may sound like a slapdash affair, but it has grown from an amusing radio stunt conceived by Morning Team co-host Al Morganti into a mega-event that requires weeks of on-air and remote appearance screenings of professional (and amateur) eaters, Wingette girls, and event promotions. The City and the Wells Fargo Center has to prepare for an army of early a.m. drunks, carefully managing traffic and parking, and even closing FDR Park across the street to keep it from becoming a tailgate city.  The planning of D-Day looks spontaneous by comparison.

Like all good radio contests, zaniness abounds in Wing Bowl. My favorite of many laugh-out-loud moments over the past few weeks was listening to the Morning Team try out a strange fellow who won entry by eating five pounds of canned pineapples. Host Angelo Cataldi surprised his audience by asking the man’s religious affiliation following this tough gastric challenge, because he wanted to know if he was related to a past Wing Bowl contestant. Stagename: The Acidic Jew.

Wing Bowl XX was a record setting spectacle — 337 wings consumed by pro eater Kobayashi.

Wing Bowl XX was a record setting spectacle — 337 wings consumed by pro eater Kobayashi.

In spite of all the good-natured carousing and silliness, Wing Bowl is a serious competition, this year pitting 27 eating-stunt-tested contestants. Past winners like Super Squibb and El Wingador went elbow-to-elbow against a variety of past contestants and newcomers. Incredibly, the legendary Kobayashi, perhaps best known as the champion of other professional eating competitions like Coney Island’s hot dog eating competition, bested not only these all-time greats, but broke the all-time record by eating a jaw-dropping 337 wings. You can read all about it here and here. Or watch coverage here.

The other winners? Smart retail marketers like jeweler Steven Singer and Barb’s Harley-Davidson, who actively take part in the festivities and pony up the major prizes. You can’t buy this kind of publicity (well, actually they do), but it is ongoing, associative, and branded all over the place.

Wing Bowl may not succeed in making Philly sports fans forget that they are not in the Super Bowl this weekend. But kudos to the gang at WIP for creating their own mega-event that is fun, wildly unpredictable, and uniquely and exclusively Philadelphia.

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Just returning from a week in Southern California and wanted to share some pics from a couple billboards around Los Angeles. I thought I might see lots of new trends and cutting edge stuff.  Nothing quite that dramatic, but a few surprises nevertheless.

Lawyers and public transportation, perfect together.

Lawyers and public transportation, perfect together.

In only our second blog post, we noted that many attorneys had discovered bus boards as a way to reach accident victims. In CA, it’s not different, except for the language. Moving on to medicine. . .

And I thought the overcast skies were due to marine haze.

And I thought the overcast skies were due to marine haze.

Do you need to get a reeferal for seeing medical marijuana specialists?

Do you need to get a reeferal for seeing medical marijuana specialists?

This billboard in LA was a sad reminder that basketball great Magic Johnson is still living with HIV, but at least he is living well and still providing hope to many.

Magic Johnson is still offering hope to those with HIV.

Magic Johnson is still offering hope to those with HIV.

A trip to Dodgers Stadium to cheer on the Phils Monday night revealed that the Phils have a lot of fans who live in LA or are willing to travel. But also that they have a very different view of stadium food on the West Coast.

Only in LA are noodles considered stadium fare.

Only in LA are noodles considered stadium fare.

Finally, there was this reminder in Old Town San Diego that some of our best known brands have some very deep roots.

Wells Fargo once delivered other than financial solutions.

Wells Fargo once delivered other than financial solutions.

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NFL Films is one of the area's premier brands.

NFL Films is one of the area's premier brands.

It was a pleasant surprise to read that 94 year old Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH this weekend as a contributor. Sabol only turbocharged the  success of the NFL with his artful, loving, slo mo recreations of the game’s greatest plays each week — in so doing, he built his own successful NFL franchise, one of the region’s top film production companies (including corporate videos and tv commercials), while boosting the game’s popularity over all other professional sports. The NFL owes Ed Sabol a huge debt of gratitude. Not sure what took them so long to recognize his achievement, but it’s great that they finally have.

Unfortunately, a different kind of repayment has been coming in the form of NFL Networks, which has been trading on the NFL Films brand, while letting its style and content languish over the past few years. Two recent articles at Philly.com highlight Sabol’s long overdue honor and the current sad state of affairs at both NFL Films and NFL Network.

Ed Sabol and Steve Sabol of NFL Films

Ed Sabol and Steve Sabol of NFL Films

Compound the bad NFL Networks business decisions with the fact that Ed’s son, Steve Sabol, who has run NFL Films since 1995, has been recently diagnosed with brain cancer and you have a company and brand that is battling to regain its glory days. Best wishes to Steve Sabol who doesn’t deserve this fight on top of battling cancer  — working with others at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society who have loved ones or co-workers currently battling blood cancers has taught me how tough it is to focus on much else.

But NFL Films have had other losses in recent years. Great voiceover work has always distinguished them, starting with the golden pipes of John Facenda, who became synonymous with the Sunday week-in-review replay presentations. When John passed away, NFL Films was astute enough to enlist Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, also no slouch in the magical vocal chords and flawless delivery department.  With Harry’s passing, there has been no obvious voiceover legend to create “theater of the mind” moments.  With such signature talent, NFL Films has lost large blocks of other employees, dropping from over 300 to 215. Among them, the great writer and commentator. Ray Didinger, whose encyclopedic knowledge and analytical skills of NFL player personnel, history, rules, news, and trends is a gaping hole that NFL Films is hard pressed to fill.

Reading about NFL Films made me sad — Ed Sabol deserved this Canton honor long before now, his company is struggling, his son is battling cancer, and it sounds like a Philadelphia area treasure is in danger of getting further marginalized. We need NFL Films now more than ever — the Eagles appear to be poised to make another SuperBowl run (and hopefully win a championship this time). It would be a shame if NFL Films was not operating at peak performance to chronicle the coming season.

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Citizens Bank Park, Phils-Red Sox, game 3, view from behind home plate

Citizens Bank Park, Phils-Red Sox, game 3, view from behind home plate

I enjoy watching other sports. I love watching baseball. The unpredictability of so many possibilities on the field (and out of the park) resulting when pitcher, batter, and fielders square off via that small stitched ball make it endlessly enthralling. We are fortunate in my town (Philadelphia) to have arguably the best team in Major League Baseball right now. Definitely, the best starting pitching staff. It gives me bragging rights when trading jabs with my friends who are Yankees, Nats, and Mets fans respectively and my cousin from Atlanta, whose Braves are right behind the Phils in the standings and who e-mailed me at the start of this weekend series to say, “Hey, sincerely hope you guys win………………………………………the Wild Card.” That’s why I was giddy beyond words last week when my friend Steven called with an extra ticket to the 3rd game of the Red Sox series. Nothing like taking in a game at the ballpark and watching events and sports history unfold live.

That enthusiasm spills over to my family, too. My oldest son this morning and three of his friends are trying (so far unsuccessfully) to find tickets for today’s Phils-Braves game on StubHub and eBay. And my youngest had one of our greatest father-daughter bonding memories last fall when I took her to the Phils-Giants NLCS playoff game for her birthday. We sat in the last two rows of centerfield among a section of mostly guys in their twenties who divided their time between drinking beer and high-fiving her after every Phillies hit.

You can’t get more All-American, wholesome, fan-friendly entertainment than Major League Baseball, which is why I can’t get what happened on Thursday at the Texas Rangers game out of my head (and I haven’t even seen the endlessly played video nor do I care to). Drive-time radio talk show host Chris Stigall first brought the incident, and the troubling ethics of news stations constantly replaying the sad footage, to my attention on my way to work yesterday. The family has requested that MLB not post the video, which they haven’t, but news stations are still airing it.

Today’s account in the Inquirer was hard to read. A father, Shannon Stone, who took his young son Cooper to the park in the hope of snagging a ball, fell over a railing, as Cooper watched in horror, upon losing his balance when snagging a ball tossed by the boy’s idol AL MVP Josh Hamilton. Shannon plunged 20 feet onto concrete, then died a short time later at the hospital. Shannon was a firefighter just looking to fulfill a dream for his son. A sadder script, a modern-day Shakespeare could not write.

The zero risk tolerance crowd will soon descend. However, the stadium’s railings met and exceeded Arlington’s building code (26 inches height are required, the Rangers’ park had 33 inches). Major League Baseball leaves safety issues to each club, but a review is promised.

The Rangers as an organization are reeling. Their President, and one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Nolan Ryan, said “We’ll do whatever we have to do to make this stadium as safe as we possibly can for our fans.”

From a PR perspective, it sounds like the Rangers and MLB are saying and doing all the right things in response. But unfortunately, some things cannot be made better with words or deeds. It is very hard to fathom how a moment so wonderful and can be transformed into something so tragic and unfixable. A 6-year-old boy and the baseball player he idolized are linked together forever — both watched in helpless horror as the father suffered that fatal fall.

A different troubling saga is played out in the current and excellent documentary, “Steve Bartman: Catching Hell” about the infamous Chicago Cubs fan forever scapegoated for costing his team the 2003 NLCS over his “interference” with a foul ball that Moises Alou was about to snag for the final out against the Marlins in game 6. It has cost Bartman his life in a very different way, driving him underground a la the witness protection program.

Both these stories have made me question the value of chasing down professional sports immortality in the form of a baseball lofted into the stands. How has the national pastime suddenly become more risky than running with the bulls at Pamplona? No easy answers here. Just immediate thoughts and prayers to the Stone family, Josh Hamilton, and the Rangers organization, and belated ones to the unfairly maligned Mr. Bartman.

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Sonny Hill is Philadelphia's MUVMP — Most Undervalued Media Player

Sonny Hill is Philadelphia's MUVMP — Most Undervalued Media Player

I am on thin ice here. I am from the creative side of the business, so when I start talking media, I like to be armed with facts, stats, and ironclad targeted demographic  CPM recommendations.  I am also not a basketball guy, except for being of a fan of Dr J and the Iverson 2001 team. I enjoy great plays and exceptional gritty performances, but basketball falls behind baseball, football, and hockey on the list of sports I follow. (Although what Doug Collins is doing with the current Sixers team is starting to revive my interest again locally.)

I digress.  The reason for this week’s post is to encourage media buyers looking to reach Philadelphians, especially men of a certain age (nationally, you can just purchase TV spots on the TNT series of the same name), to seriously consider a radio buy on 610-WIP am, Sunday mornings from 8 to 10 am.  I know, I know, that sounds like the absolute worst time to reach anyone, especially men, via any medium, including radio. Guys are either off to church with their wives and family. Or sleeping off whatever they were doing on Saturday night.

Given those parameters, I can appreciate why you might be unfamiliar with Sonny Hill and his call-in program, “The Living Room.” Also, even after an over 20 year relationship with WIP, Hill is hard to find on the station’s own web site. But you owe it to yourself to set your alarm to tune in if you love sports, especially but not exclusively basketball, and you want to recreate the emotional experience you have every time “Field Of Dreams” comes on. Sonny has an amazing way of connecting with every caller, finding common ground, and sharing a love of sports, everyday life, and humanity. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of what seems like every athlete who has ever played the game of basketball, but other sports as well. He knows their names, their nicknames, their stats, what made each one of them special, what their big games were, and what they’re doing now. Take Pogo Johnson who played center for LaSalle on the 1952 NIT championship team  — actually, I just made Pogo up, but Sonny has the entire history of the game top of mind and at the tip of his tongue, so he can settle bets, educate callers, and inspire listeners. Chances are, he knows the player personally and has helped him at some point in his career.

There are quite a few bios on the web for Sonny, like here, here, and here. So, I won’t give you another one. I will just say that he made his mark as a basketball player. He made his mark as a basketball commentator. But he mostly made his mark as a role model for young people, forming his own summer basketball league to give youth in the inner city a life choice and alternative to gangs and violence. There is no way to underestimate Sonny’s influence, most recently evidenced by this Inquirer story about Boo Williams and his own league and impact in the Hampton Roads, VA region. Sonny’s name is peppered throughout the story. No one better demonstrates how good works are exponential than Sonny.

I have to admit that my own record of tuning in to “The Living Room” is spotty at best. But every time I do, I am riveted and rewarded. The man just exudes decency and a passion for both athletic excellence and encouraging young people to do the right thing.  Not sure how long Sonny Hill intends to keep up his broadcast gig, but advertisers would do themselves and the community a favor by supporting his show. In this case, it isn’t about the numbers, but about the potential for making a difference.

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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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O89q-RDHRjc

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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