Personification is IN.
At least for commercials. The AFLAC duck, Geico Gecko, Joe Camel, the Cheetohs Cheetah, Honey Nut Cheerios Bee, Golden Crisps Bear, Honey Smacks Frog, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, Trix Rabbit, Serta Sheep, Kraft Macaroni's Cheeseasaurus Rex, The Nesquick Bunny, Snuggle Bear, Charlie the Tuna. And who could forget the Tootsie Roll Pops Owl. There are probably a bazillion others, and I'm not exaggerating.
Those are just the ANIMALS. Nevermind the creepiness of Fruit-of-the-Loom Fruit in your underwear or the at-risk-for-assault M&M characters(date rape is so cute when it's chocolate).
Still. STILL. Nothing seems so eyebrow-raising as the latest Geico pig commercial. Apparently the little British Gecko wasn't cutting it, so now we're to pigs. In this commercial, we have a pig playing with his iPhone(cute) while a woman suggests they fool around.
It has come to this, Dumbericans. This. Where this happens and we chuckle. And then realize what we chuckled at and we take a shower.
I don't really care that GoDaddy's superbowl commercial has an obligatory Danica Patrick appearance and "flips the script" by having a hot blonde frenching a well, with all due respect let's say the guy is unattractive. It's a nasty lil commercial bit of shock jockeying, it's memorable in a "why-would-I-do-business-with-a-company-that's-doing this-without-Danica-Patrick" kinda way. I get it. We're supposed to remember it, think "ewwwwww!" but GoDaddy is in our minds. Howard Stern, thanks for this.
That isn't the intention of the Geico commercial. The main story is the pig's obliviousness, the cute Fruit Ninjas reference at the end; but it's punctuated with a supposed-to-be-clever bit about a woman who apparently wants to have sex with a pig.
Anyway, I remember it, fo sho, and I'll remember that the marketing team at GEICO is a bit disturbed. That's what I'm looking for in my next auto insurance policy - a team of freaks behind it.
Way to hit your target market.
Lots of problems with this meme and the ideology behind it. I should state I am no fan of McDonald's. It's just an icky place, and I don't trust anything that comes out of it.
People on who saw this meme posted on a FB page were quick to point out the grammar mistake, but its no big deal. See what I did there. Okay, the real problems...
1) The math: if 14,000 locations increased the pay for 10 employees each from $8 per hour to $25,000 per year, that would be a total increase in wages of $1.26 billion, an amount 84 times the CEO's salary.
2) Like Papa John's, we're talking about franchisees. McDonald's can't dictate that they raise employee pay, and asking franchisees to swallow another $90k in expenses per location ain't gonna happen.
It's a good try, but really just a "if wishes were horses" kind of solution. The blame is on the McDonald's model, the darling of business for decades. the franchise model is duplicated by anyone who can duplicate it. It's taught at every business school in America. The idea of duplicating effort with minimum wage employees, of breaking jobs into tiny components that are replicable by low wage earners, is the holy grail of practically every business model. At some point, increasing the bottom line includes cutting wages. It's practically Business 101.
Franchisees won't pay more than they have to for workers. It's not in their DNA. It's not a part of their business plan to increase wages for no reason, to pay more for squirting ketchup on a bun. Asking a company to raise wages? That's anti-business, my friend. Trying to get McDonald's to force franchisees to raise wages by this amount is like asking the President to renounce freedom.
Of course, we could just try to STOP EATING THIS CRAP. Go somewhere locally owned and healthier. But it's easier to ask companies to stop being fat cats than it is to make societal changes like that.
Years ago a very popular business book was "How to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." It's a fairly appropriate analogy, sharks and business. Let's say McDonald's is a shark. You don't stop a shark by asking it to give back the arm it swallowed, or stop swallowing so many arms.
All told, it's a rather Dumberican idea that we can force change on a system we created and applauded.
The Twinkie as metaphor for Private Equity
There’s something wildly appropriate about Hostess’ demise: a company that made its living on the gimme-sweets-now palates of Americans goes bankrupt due to the instant-gratification obliviousness of venture capitalism.
And Hostess blames it on the little people. Health nuts: those danged people who have changing tastes, who are starting to demand that their food have the USDA recommended one millionth of healthiness. Unions: those danged people(again with the people!) who organize into groups to demand that corporations pay them enough to live on.
How dare they?
This is SO American, isn’t it? A CEO triples his own pay over 3 years and then blames their financial ruin on “unions”. A company that sells vaguely cake-like preservatives baked in sugar – a delicious cloud of absolutely effing nothing of value – spent the last 10 years doing the same thing with their company finances. This is surprising, how, exactly?
2012’s presidential election highlighted this kind of business practice through exposes like the one written by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. This is an inflate-the-debt-and-cash-out method Private Equity firms utilize that produces results for the balance sheet, often at the expense of employee welfare and American jobs.
Hostess, in an oddly appropriate way, built their product while sacrificing the health of Americans. Similarly, they built their financial statements on by sacrificing the health of their books. It's a pyramid based on unhealthy products supported by unhealthy financials. It's as is the company gained 500 pounds eating Ho Hos and decided to inject themselves with malaria.
I’m not badmouthing Hostess. Really, I’m not. Hostess is a business. It was "trying" to do what businesses do: maximize shareholder value. In fairness, a business is not really asked to do much more than that, and if the books look good one year at the expense of the firm’s long-term health, well, this is America baby. It’s how we do. The fact that business debts have a tendency to Snoball, well, it’s Hostess’ right to do so. If they want to be Ding-Dongs about it.
They certainly did. The company has/had 1.4 Billion in debt to service, was unable to reach an agreement with the people who actually make the products, and the CEO’s salary had tripled in recent months. Guess he didn’t see the need to start a diet when the company’s balance sheets were already obese, right? I wonder if he had a case of Twinkies delivered to his desk every day, just to emphasize the metaphor?
Americans demanded less confections in the marketplace while Hostess demanded concessions from its workers.
As one Hostess worker describes, pay would be cut under the new proposed deal to unions by 27% over five years. Oh, and their pensions would be gone. Oh, and the money Hostess ‘borrowed’ and promised to pay from the workers years before would be gone. Oh, and their insurance plan will be worse. Oh, and their worse insurance plan would cost twice as much. The AFL-CIO blog called these “Bain-style tactics”. It's an easy comparison to make.
This is somehow the union’s fault for not taking this deal: a worker making $48,000 in 2005 at a Hostess bakery would be paid $25,000 in five years under the new contract. Those stupid unions probably wanted that salary number to go UP over the next few years, right? Evil, rotten unions(shaking fist).
How DARE they?
Hostess offered sugars and empty carbohydrates in their financials while their debtors demanded more complex proteins.
As of this writing, Twinkies are selling on eBay for around $4 each. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the gold spongecake rush, wouldja? Some enterprising Twinkiephiles/gougers are selling them for thousands. Even millions, though some of those posts are just silly. Imagine that. Silliness in the Twinkie markets.
This is much like the financial snake-oil salesmanship of Hostess as its gone through several bankruptcies and its debts have been inflated even as wages and employee hours were cut. Hostess has been almost classically preyed upon by Bain-esque vulture capital firms like Ripplewood and hedge funds like Silver Point and Monarch. I should rephrase that. As David Kaplan wrote,
“whether you call them saviors or vultures depends on whether you're getting fed or getting eaten.”
It’s ironic that we’re talking about Hostess and venture capital together. Venture capital is the ultimate in instant gratification. But in your financial statements, just as in your body, you can’t live on a diet of Twinkies forever. I wonder if Ripplewood chuckled as they handed the Hostess CEO a pen: “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the financial statements.”
Will the demise of Hostess, purveyor of empty calories and empty promises, change the way business is done in The USA?
Oh hayuls No.
Twinkies are to your personal health what Private Equity firms are to corporate financial health. It's painfully obvious to those who look at the practice that the debt-loading practice must be curtailed. Like compulsive Drake Cake gobbling, it requires an intervention. Despite this, isolated and public incidents like this will not change our business practices. It raises awareness, but only marginally when you have pundits like Rush Limbaugh saying that the Hostess affair is an example of how the Obama administration is unwilling to compromise and Michelle Obama is probably glad to see a snack food company go under. Nice.
This kind of spin-doctoring is, in itself, a kind of snack, a diversionary tactic for the health of America. Take something bad, like sugar. Spin it into a creme, airy and light, and inject it into a chocolate cupcake with a cute little squiggle across the top. YUMMY! Also, a very popular radio show.
The company known as Hostess will go away, but the brands will continue after purchase by one of the big snack-food players. Do not lose hope! We’ll have Twinkies again. No need to hoard them or buy them on eBay for $100. Or whatever they cost if you continue to ignore the amazing arbitrage opportunity that Twinkies represent. Trade your Cash for Twinkie Gold! Please, someone, start charting speculative Twinkie markets. PLEASE.
It’s the brands. This is what is important – the ideas will continue, though the people moving the pieces change, the idea of Twinkies, like the product, has a shelf life of FOREVER. The brand will be sold, the product will be marketed and eaten, and we will continue to be satisfied with zero percent nutritional value. The corporate raiding that ravaged the corporate person-hood of Hostess will be a footnote no one reads, like the “Nutrition Facts” label on a box of Ho-Hos. Such things are studied mightily in the halls of business academia – after all, one must know the rules if one wishes to circumvent them – but for the rest of us, we know it’s all a sham. Nutrition facts? Of Ho-Hos? Really?
As is often the case in this country, strong marketing trumps strong content. Strong flavor beats strong ideas. In this way, Twinkies are like food porn. All form, objectified, idealized, without the requirements of thinking or moderation, without consequence or real, constructive relationship. I didn't even need to write this article, really. I just needed pictures of Twinkies. Preferably naked.
This is AMERICA, for God’s sakes. There will always be room in the American markets for such fluffed-up, empty, and fundamentally useless products. And, lest we forget, there will also be room for fluffed-up, empty, and fundamentally useless companies like the company Hostess had become.
How does marketing make us stupid? Psychologist Tim Kasser, in The High Price of Materialism, finds that when we clamor for more stuff and more things in our lives, our lives are not better: “The more materialistic desires are at the center of our lives, the more our quality of life is diminished.”
Of course this is bollocks – a “qualitative” assessment based on what sociologists believe are our “real” desires is probably a bunch of scientific hocus pocus. Americans’ love affair with capitalism pits our noblest desires to be happy and do good against our basest desires to be at what we perceive to be the top of the economic food chain. Put another way: Mark Twain said he was against millionaires, but “it would be dangerous to offer me the position.”
This is where marketing comes in – appealing to our basest emotions, making us stupid, stripping us of logic and reason is what marketers strive for. Is it really our brains telling us that we need a Shamwow, or is it the attraction of having a beautiful car and the feelings of satisfaction, enjoyment, and superiority that go with it? Is it our brains telling us we like Bud Light, or are the buxom Bud Light lasses really what we’re thirsting for?
Excellent 5-minute video on the subject based on Kasser's book, below.
The availability of information via the web should mean that the truth is easier to find than ever. It isn't. The ability to manipulate numbers is a perfect example of why.
In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand's* character Ellsworth Toohey exploits and manipulates the media to his full advantage, painting protagonist Roark in the worst possible light.
I always thought this was an eerie echo of what has happened in our information age, which could not possibly have been foreseen by Rand. We have perfect knowledge available to us, like never before in history. But that access is limited by the knowledge's source. Google: Santorum. Perfect knowledge. Devastating result - that is, if you want intelligent answers.
68% of all statistics are made up on the spot.
Numbers are the perfect medium through which to propagate misinformation. Quoting numbers is like quoting an irrefutable, dispassionate expert, someone who is not there but has complete authority - and because you are the source of which numbers you report, you may as well be writing the words your expert is saying.
Consider a marketing campaign for the cigarette brand Triumph. Merit cigarettes were a popular national brand, and if you are the VP of marketing for Triumph, you might think that a 'taste test'(cough, hack, I know, right?) of the two would be a good idea.
Triumph did exactly that - a taste test vs. their competitor Merit brand cigarettes. Their results for stated preference were:
If you are Triumph's VP of marketing, these results are not what you were looking for. But these are numbers, remember? You can work with this, even though your brand was actually preferred by less people. Triumph boasted the results in their campaign:
"An amazing 60 percent said Triumph was as good or better than Merit"
Isn't that neat? A fantastic example of how you can take perfectly good numbers and use them to your advantage. You may call this "lying", but I assure you it's a kind of creativity we often reward in our society. If you were that Triumph VP, do you think "We're about the same as Merit, really" would have been a better choice of campaign?
Another example of lying with numbers is using an average, mean, or median with no explanation. As most of us learned(and promptly forgot!) in grade school, the "arithmetic average" is only one measure of the "middle" of a set of numbers.
How could using average be bad?
An easy illustration is something called the Bill Gates example. Imagine a homeless shelter filled with 50 homeless people. Average income, say 3,000 per year. If Bill Gates walks into that homeless shelter, the average income of everyone in that homeless shelter would skyrocket to an estimated $152 MILLION dollars. But that's not exactly fair, is it? In this case, the mean or median would be much more fair. Explained another way here.
I don't mean to entirely bash numbers. I LOVE numbers. Good statistics are an excellent way to understand a subject at it's core. The problem is that confirmation bias is so strong that people often see what they want to see in those numbers. Worse, ad agencies, politicos and Media representatives may want to prove something they are saying, and in an effort to support their story they may slant those numbers. It's not hard to do. It's actually harder to resist doing it, as anyone who has ever written a paper knows.
Change your assumptions, change your results
The first two examples are quite simply, selective reporting - touting one number as important while discarding relevant information. But it's also possible to completely change the outcome of the numbers based on assumptions that you, well, make up out of thin air.
Businesses do this all the time, and they have to. Forecasting sales of a new product is a flight of fancy - I know, I've done this several times, and sometimes it feels a bit like witchery or an ouija board. I prefer dice. But really, how can you predict a result for something that hasn't happened? I am not sure. Let's ask the guys that forecast sales for New Coke.
Easy example: government budgets. If you travel on over to the CBO you'll see their budget forecasts for the next year. Dig a little deeper into those forecasts and you'll see that those forecasts are based on assumptions. Of COURSE they have to be. Will the next congress renew those expiring tax breaks? Pass the proposed budget as proposed or with amendments? Hard to say. But if you want to lie outright, you could use those numbers and change a few of the assumptions, thereby changing the result pretty quickly. When dealing with large delicate numbers systems, tiny changes - say a 1% tax rate change based on an expiration date that never happens in actuality - can make a gigantic difference in the numbers.
Creating your own actual factual statistics that have a numbers-y feel without being really real at like, all.
The last, favoritest and bestest way to lie with numbers is to just go completely batcrunch crazy with your associations. This is more logic-based than numbers-based, but it sure is fun, and you can do it yourself!
1) Notice something
2) Notice something else about that something
Conclude that the two must be related for no other reason than the two coexist in the same space.
For instance, I was at Starbucks today. A group of wine representatives were having a meeting there. There were 10 total people in the store, 6 of which are wine reps, I therefore logically conclude that 60% of Starbucks' customers are wine reps.
FUN, RIGHT? By the same logic I have concluded just now that
(for accuracy, I included "n" - the statistical sampling size used in these conclusions)
These are ALL sample size problems, as you have probably guessed - there just isn't enough data to conclude anything. This is why Pharmaceutical companies conduct trials on hundreds of patients before their findings even approach any kind of validity.
Graphs lie effectively 100% of the time
I'll leave you with the below graph, which illustrates another excellent way to lie: using scaling in a graph. See if you can figure out the two main reasons that the graph below is painfully misleading! And good luck lying with numbers! :D
*Ayn Rand disclaimer: There has been a lot of talk lately about Ayn Rand, on account of that no-good Rand-o-phile Paul Ryan(shakes fist, Scary VP). While I enjoyed reading The Fountainhead, I no more think that Ayn Rand's theme are a blueprint for society than I think The Hulk was a movie about how to be a good parent. The opinions of Ayn Rand are not necessarily those of this author. And why the heck do I have to have a disclaimer about an author? Ugh, America. On that note, why are you reading this?!
SEATTLE (AP) -- Tony Markey is preparing for a corporate purchase.
'It's been in the cards for awhile now,' says Markey, a 44-year old Seattle blogger with rugged good looks. 'Many bloggers are receiving offers from companies who want the kind of spectacular name recognition that comes from setting up a website and intermittently writing about random subjects.'
According to Markey, a natural charmer who is often mistaken for a celebrity, a 'very prominent internet company' is about to make him a substantial offer for his personal website, www.tonymarkey.info, based solely on his blogging about sometimes serious, occasionally humorous topics ranging from Usain Bolt to Paul Ryan.
"Most bloggers write purely for financial gain, and when they achieve the kind of mass appeal my site has seen in the last month, a lucrative offer from 'one of the big boys' isn't far behind." Asked how he defines that mass appeal, Markey, a cheerful and gregarious jobseeker with a Master's in Business Administration, points to the amount of traffic coming in to his site, noting that 'I've seen a 600% increase in traffic this month alone, now almost 200 visits.'
Markey's blog site at www.tonymarkey.info wasn't always popular. With his natural charisma, Markey notes that just 30 days ago, his site was only receiving 50% of the expected traffic. "I knew I had to do something," he says with a wry smile masking an irresistibly attractive humilty, "I mean, 50%? That's almost half!"
What kind of an offer does he expect to purchase his website and all the traffic that goes along with it? Tony explains that while traffic is a good indicator of prospective purchase price, the real attraction of his site is attractive personality and engaging wit. "I don't want to brag, but I'm pretty cool. A company would probably pay a lot for that in a website, probably in the seven-figure area, especially if you count seven figures as including the digits after the decimal points."
Tony credits his MBA with his business acumen, waving his finger casually like the cute italian you would imagine based on his name, only without quite so much hair: "I'm getting real good with numbers, too, like people used to say 'I feel a thousand percent better', and that would be really confusing, you know? But now I totally get that. Get it - TOTALly?" He chuckles quietly in a self-deprecating yet completely effective manner, adding: "A little MBA humor for you."
A real offer, according to the dreamy and virile Tony, is probably "only weeks away." In the meantime, we'll continue to enjoy his handsome wit - for as long as it lasts before the inevitable purchase by a company that wants to achieve the same kind of fame Tony himself has achieved based on his spectacular humility,impressive intellect, and beautiful smile.
Contributor: Tony Markey
photo: Team Coco
So the President of Chick-Fil-A is married to his first wife, believes in the "traditional" marriage unit(traditional as defined by the bible, of course), and scorns gay marriage.
Chick-Fil-A's intolerance and support of anti-gay causes is pretty well documented. You either agree with that or you don't. Personally, I disagree with it, but being in the Northwest, the decision to NOT visit CFA is pretty easy.
The real news here isn't the intolerance/values of a single CEO, his family, or even one organization. It's the question: can a business take a moral stand of this kind and capitalize on it from a business perspective?
Newspapers around the country reported huge lines and support for Chick-Fil-A on Huckabee's erstwhile "National Chick-Fil-A Day." To me that's a disappointment, but when your major business presence is in an area that still refers to the "War of Northern Aggression", I suppose its to be expected.
But will it last? Riling the troops, mobilizing your base for one day is a positive effect for the company, surely - but will they lose in the long run? If they lose 5% of their business EVERY day and gain 100% for one day, that's a long-term loser. But if Christians turn out10% more and gay-supporters drop out to the tune of a 5-10% loss, it could be a big winner. Will CFA grow as a result of their CEO's moral stance? And is that growth sustainable?
If they do grow - if their quarterly financials indicate that this position is positive for their company - I predict we'll see more of it as other similarly geographically situated companies seek to identify themselves with this strong Christian base. We'll see Christian values go more mainstream in advertising. This is similar to past efforts to cast anti-war sentiments as unpatriotic("I support our troops!"), and are nothing more than an opportunity for one group to claim their moral superiority to another.
So time will tell - if moral superiority statements like Chick-Fil-A's become an effective marketing strategy for companies in the future!
I am a bourgeois spiritualist.