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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:


And here is the holiday card retelling. . .



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!


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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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 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 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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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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Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

No wonder advertisers get confused about how to allocate media dollars. It is an absolute free-for-all. A day does not go by without another news item suggesting how one medium or platform is overtaking or supplanting another. I routinely remind myself of the progression that TV did not kill radio when it came on the scene, and likewise, the Internet did not replace TV. Every form of media is still in active use (papyrus scrolls and carrier pigeons excepted). I see latest Conan TV ads feature blimp advertising blended with mobile platforms. As a big fan of Team Coco, I am hoping for Goodyear associations, not Hindenberg.

A quick sampling of recent stories should give everyone pause about claiming superiority over another medium or about writing a competing medium’s obituary.

This intriguing story from Advertising Age suggests Facebook is voraciously eating the lunch of major magazine brands. It left me scratching my head about how Burberry, frozen in my own brain as a conservative British purveyor of fine raincoats, has attracted over 8 million followers on Facebook. I visited their pages and came away still scratching my head. This Google search revealed a few clues — fashion launches via Facebook and iPads, free samples of a new fragrance, interactive videos, and easy-to-follow followers like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Still, that is a staggering number of followers, but more power to them. Whatever Burberry is doing, it’s working.

Next up, two stories from Digiday. One reveals how Google is preparing a full frontal assault on newspapers’ biggest cash cow — Sunday circulars. Imagine a digital version of a circular that gives a retailer all kinds of local control to customize content by store, pricing, and product category. Also from Digiday is a rather depressing, confusing  picture of the landscape of digital advertising tech companies. The bar is low for entrants. The result is a mixed bag of options and results for advertisers. Not sure who is being served by this.

This week, New York magazine devotes an extended article to Twitter and whether it is becoming too big for its 140-character britches, er tweets.

If you’re not completely boggled yet, here is video reporting by the print-based Wall Street Journal delivered online from their web site to explain how tv ad spending can be rising as viewership is dropping. Got that?

My next media recommendation? Burma-shave style billboards but delivered with a twist — constantly changing messaging on a series of digital billboards. The product? Attention-deficit disorder drugs.

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Advertising typically reflects the spirit of the times it occurs in.  Lately, I’ve been thinking of building a time machine to escape to the MadMen era. I’ve been seeing a trend that reflects what DC likes to refer to as “our new reality”.  It is a reality that I don’t think many Americans are eager or willing to accept, which might fall under the heading of downsized dreams.

In the past few weeks, as the nation’s investment rating was downgraded and Warren Buffett expressed the odd belief that he and other millionaires weren’t paying enough in taxes, I have begun to notice some of this sentiment creeping into ads. Some of it is subtle, but the subtext seems to be that the American dream is dead or at the very least dying.

VIST Financial borrows an unfortunate image from the Depression

VIST Financial borrows an unfortunate image from the Depression

The first time I noticed it was in print and online ads for VIST Financial. The campaign showcased employees holding up “Will Work for Your Trust” signs that unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) mirrored the Depression era imagery of the perpetually unemployed holding signs that read “Will Work for Food”.  What next? Apple Annie? Pencil sales on the corner? Bank employees jumping out of office windows after each day’s stock market decline? Can we find another theme? Forget about earning trust; this is confidence-rattling.

Moving on to automobiles, we’ve graduated from Cash for Clunkers to scenes of a Mad Max future. It started with the Eminem SuperBowl spot that showcased Detroit’s grit, but the latest Dodge Durango advertising is right out of Bruce Springsteen’s “rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert.” The message is that naysayers shouldn’t be declaring America’s auto industry dead yet, but the visuals suggest that it is on life support. If this is a message of hope, Norman Vincent Peale is like a rotisserie chicken in his grave.

Then, there is the spot that led me to write this post — a really well produced spot. It was so well produced that I thought I was watching an ad for one of the big banks. The scene takes place as a couple prepares their nursery for their new baby. The voiceovers and supers promote the idea of starting a college fund for their kids, then for their kids’ kids, then for hundreds of kids in their community. Saving early has always been a great idea. Except the ad isn’t about investing wisely and often. It is about buying Mega Millions lottery tickets. Unintended underlying message — this may be the only way the next few generations will be able to afford higher education. Yikes!

I think we are all in need of an attitude adjustment. We don’t need Pollyanna preaching, but a little positivity in advertising would go a long way toward relieving the grim mood of the moment. Americans want to be inspired, not discouraged that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. We have TV news for that messaging.

And a moment of silence (followed by the opening chords of Layla). This week, a different kind of era sadly ended with the announcement that classic rock station WYSP would fade out, soon to be replaced with an FM simulcast of AM sister station’s WIP sports talk format. WYSP, for a long time the home of Howard Stern before his move to XM, has also long been a staple of the Philadelphia region’s rock scene. It has always been a rival of WMMR, but increasingly, other stations began carrying classic rock fare, from WMGK to BEN FM. Although classic rock has enjoyed a resurgence among younger listeners, the youth music market has many other alternatives from top 40, to hip hop. Like every other medium, radio is a numbers game and with Philadelphia’s love affair with their professional sports teams, it makes sense that WIP can reach an even wider audience via the FM dial, where it can go head to head with its own rival,  97.5 — The Phanatic. Well, at least WYSP fulfilled the wish of The Who, “to die before I get old.”

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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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PNG Screenshot of President Obama's Long Form Birth Certificate

PNG Screenshot of President Obama's Long Form Birth Certificate

Last week’s look at two humorous political videos triggered an appreciative response from Philadelphia Republican mayoral candidate, John Featherman, whose campaign produced one of the videos (we can’t wait for the next). This week’s post is about President Obama’s birth certificate, but I don’t expect him to weigh in since his release of the long-form was intended to put the matter to rest. It did. For one day. And that is why we are wandering from a marketing opinion this week, but staying within the fields of graphic arts and public relations.

The afternoon after national relief that the matter of the President’s official birth place had been settled once and for all, my business partner and our art director, Gerry Giambattista, heard a caller to Michael Medved’s radio program, who identified himself as being a graphic artist and was expressing amazement that the long sought document, digitally delivered from the White House web site in PDF file format, when opened in Adobe Illustrator is actually a layered file. A many layered file. Michael Medved quickly dismissed the caller with a combination of skepticism and the realization that none of this translates well to radio.

It most definitely piqued our curiosity, however. Gerry opened the digital version of the President’s birth certificate on his computer in Adobe Illustrator and sure enough saw a multitude of layers. What does this mean? With all the glitches and weird results in the digital world, that is hard to answer with complete certainty. However, when a print document is scanned, with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) active, it should, to the best of our professional knowledge and experience, create a PDF file with just two layers, one for text and one for background. I am immediately reminded of the oft-quoted Marx Brothers line from Duck Soup, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

In trying to get our heads around this, and realizing that the Medved caller was maybe not the first person to explore this, we Googled the terms “Obama birth certificate” and “layered file.” If you do the same, you will see a long list of sites that have already created tutorial videos and detailed technical examinations of this.

When an artist does digital imaging work on a photograph in Adobe Photoshop, or builds a complex illustration in Adobe Illustrator, he or she adds a variety of layers to the image. The existence of more than one layer here raises question whether this document was created or changed in one of these programs vs. merely being scanned from a print document. For instance, saving the scanned document as a jpeg format file might have avoided this issue (more on that at the end of this post).

Here are some examples of what Gerry and I saw and found perplexing about the President’s multi-layered birth certificate file:

What is going on with left margin and upper left corner of the certificate?

What is going on with left margin and upper left corner of the certificate?

Box in upper right shows all the different layers; this layer has a few things missing.

Box in upper right shows all the different layers; this layer has a few things missing.

In each layer, you can select individual items (like this date) and move them elsewhere.

In each layer, you can select individual items (like this date) and move them elsewhere.

This post isn’t about conspiracy theories or political motivations, but it is worth noting one other strange thing about this file. If it were doctored, it was done so in a pretty visibly obvious manner by an Adobe amateur. Anyone who wanted to cover his or her tracks could flatten the layers and the file would be left with one layer.

With so many dead ends to intriguing questions, it was time for me to phone a friend, so I posed this digital weirdness to my chums, Pete, Glenn, and Steve, whose professional credentials for this matter are that they cover the political, technical, and pop culture spectrum so completely that our team would every week win the weekly trivia contest on our college’s radio station. Now equipped with Google, they came back with a wide range of articles that provided credible answers on scanning, software, the President’s maternity hospital name, and Hoover’s hat size (a tip of the trivia hat to anyone who remembers the sitcom that reference comes from). For me, the most convincing ones are these from National Review and FoxNews, because they come from sources not usually considered friendly to President Obama’s agenda.

Nearly satisfied myself that the multi-layered mystery could be put to rest, I was troubled by one additional thing. The expert in the Fox article is a leading software trainer and Adobe-certified expert. So, what does Adobe, the company and the creator of the Creative Suite of all the software involved here (Illustrator, Acrobat, Photoshop), have to say on this subject. With so many graphic artists weighing in, surely the company would be all over this story on its software, because if ever there is a “teachable moment,” with a huge global audience, this is it. A visit to Adobe’s home page revealed silence on the subject. So did the News Center. But then, I found a link to Adobe Featured Blogs with nearly 20 separate Corporate and Product blogs. Amazingly, the term Obama birth certificate yielded zero results.

Adobe's silence on this subject makes them look like A dope.

Adobe's silence on this subject makes them look like A dope.

This is what I would call an epic fail by an otherwise highly reputable, creative product rich, digitally savvy company. I don’t know whether this was a busy week in San Jose. Or whether legal and PR concluded this is too hot of a hot potato, but silence is really not an answer. The reputation of the leader of the free world was being questioned because of nuances in your software, and you as a company have nothing official to say on the subject? Wow. Not a good week to be bogged down in debugging the latest version of Dreamweaver.

A last word (and image) on this fascinating subject came to me this morning in a viral e-mail forwarded from my cousin Donna.

Einstein = Monroe = Sanity Check

Einstein = Monroe = Sanity Check

It is visual non-holographic trickery, which works on a PC but not mobile devices and hopefully is not an indicator of middle age eyesight. Anyway, keep looking at this picture of Albert Einstein as you step back 15 feet or more and you will see him transform into Marilyn Monroe (how’s that for a new theory of relativity?). Don’t know how some graphic artist did this, but I guarantee it began life as a multi-layered Photoshop file and it’s now a jpeg. “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

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Philly fave Tastykake is now owned by Flower Foods but is going national.

Philly fave Tastykake is now owned by Flower Foods but is going national.

This week, two stories got my attention in an interconnected way. The first was the news that Tastykake had been sold to Flowers Foods, a Southern baked goods company. It is depressing that ownership of another of the brands most associated with Philadelphia is moving out of state. However, given Tastykake’s debt troubles, at least the brand will live on and the new plant down at the Navy Yard will stay, along with most if not all of those jobs (that at least delivers some value for the extensive state funding poured into Tastykake in recent past). Better still, Flowers Foods has plans to take Tastykake from regional to national.

That brings me to the other story, which was a regional-to-national success from yesteryear. I heard it by chance on my car radio because Mike Gallagher was celebrating how a multi-generational Chicago area family meat packing business exploded on the national scene in an unexpected way. One of the ad agency execs was recalling for Gallagher how it happened. At the time, the company was on its second generation Oscar and he was a typical, hard-driving CEO of the era.

He called his agency in for a meeting one day and announced that what they needed was to be on the radio with a jingle. The agency folks thought to themselves that TV was the place to be, but Oscar Mayer was driven by limo to work every day and was an avid radio listener. A few weeks later, hoping Oscar would move on to other things, the agency was surprised to be called to his home and to be serenaded by the piano-playing hot dog magnate. The song was an old ditty that the Mayer family used to sing together — even the old man admitted that it was not very good. He added, though, that the agency had 30 days to deliver something better or he was going to go on the air with his song.

The agency turned to a number of jingle writers, one of whom was especially talented as a songwriter, but not as a performer. So, he got his kids to perform his amazingly simple but memorable melody. Despite some early trepidation about the jingle being too childish, the Oscar Mayer jingle was rolled out to instant popularity and memorability and the brand skyrocketed to national status and innocent fun that as this video demonstrates carries over to today.

Could Tastykake follow a similar regional-to-national brand trajectory by pursuing the Oscar Mayer jingle path? Even Oscar Mayer moved away from its own jingly roots last year. While they already have their own memorable “Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake” tune that is well established here, it is a digital world now and even a hyper-creative viral video might not be enough to win the day nationally (I think the taste of Tastykakes elevates them about typical snack food fare and is their greatest asset).  At least they don’t face the challenge faced by a global baked goods company with its US headquarters in the Philadelphia area — getting people to pronounce the Bimbo brand as B-E-E-E-E-M-B-O.

All this jingle talk also made me sad, because it reminded me that the area lost its own great resource in 2009 when Andy Mark passed away way too prematurely at age 58. His Philadelphia Music Works was responsible for many local and national gems. We were fortunate to work with him on music for Buten —The Paint and Paper People, Shop ‘n Bag, and Thriftway. Andy would have loved hearing this week’s tribute to the Oscar Mayer jingle.

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Email Marketing On The Radio

What is wearying about the current economic mess is how often a particular marketing means is oversold like an all-purpose tonic from the back of a medicine wagon. I picked up a bank’s business publication outside a supermarket branch and saw a whole article devoted to how to “Stretch Your Marketing Dollars with E-Mail Marketing.” My first reaction was shouldn’t a bank’s business publication be about banking? As a marketer, I don’t appreciate seeing banks offering advice, however well-intentioned, that gets into my arena.

Then, I read the opening to the bank’s e-mail marketing article:
“Whenever business slows, marketing budgets often are prime targets for owners and managers looking to slash spending. While it may be necessary to cut marketing costs during a downturn to protect your cash flow, it’s absolutely essential to find ways to continue to reach your customer base to market your business and generate revenue.”

How very inspirational. Especially at a time that banks are not doing enough lending to help small businesses during the downturn. Let’s remind companies that they might consider gutting their marketing budgets, so that all that is left are funds for e-mail marketing. Brilliant business strategy.

That is not to say that e-mail marketing isn’t useful, flexible, memorable (when properly executed), and highly measurable. However, it is just one tool in the marketing toolbox and an increasingly overused one. As a result, we are all dealing with newsletter fatigue, information overload, spam filtering challenges, and a much bigger problem — brand underexposure.

Too many single-minded, single-tool zealots are pushing their solo solution to the exclusion of other, perhaps more expensive but also more effective methods of creating awareness, buzz, and sales. I am really tired of hearing about the waste of traditional media, the death of print, the end of marketing as we know it.

I rest my case with Constant Contact, the best-known purveyor of e-mail marketing software. Why are they the best-known purveyor of e-mail marketing software? Because they market the hell out of themselves. Occasionally, I get a Constant Contact e-mailing encouraging me to sign up for their service. But I get the same from Lyris, Bronto, and a whole slew of others. The reason I know Constant Contact top of mind is because of their widely-run radio advertising campaign used to sell Constant Contact e-mail marketing as the most effective way to reach prospects and customers. Rich irony anyone?

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