McDonald's wants you to talk about the McRib more than eat it

By David Kiefaber on Wed Nov 24 2010


One drawback of being a global megabrand like McDonald's is that it's hard to get people excited about you. Consistency, it seems, breeds stagnation over time. That's why there's so much social-media focus on the McRib this time around—it stimulates conversation, so why not make that process easier for consumers? Whether or not they buy, or even like, the sandwich is irrelevant; it's less expensive than creating a new menu item, and it keeps McDonald's fresh in the minds of people who've already decided to eat out. The beauty of the McRib is that, whether people love it or think it's gross (and that's a fairly even split), it gets them talking. Plus, the McRib hasn't been on the menu since 1994, so there's an entire generation of fast-food junkies who've never had one, and some of them probably haven't even heard of it. Now, maybe if we eat enough McRibs, they'll bring back the Arch Deluxe.

Blockbuster to launch a major we're-not-dead-yet ad campaign

By David Kiefaber on Mon Nov 22 2010


Remember the $125 million that Blockbuster Video got upon declaring bankruptcy back in September? Yeah, $15-20 million of that is going toward an ad campaign that takes shots at competitors Redbox and Netflix. Money well spent! Blockbuster is trying to bounce back by introducing a DVD kiosk line of its own, but they still want you to know that they have new releases almost a month before their competition. Why they would attempt to rebrand by stressing what clearly isn't a thriving business model is beyond me, especially since they haven't done a TV ad campaign in three years. Rebounding from financial limbo is never easy, granted, but Blockbuster just can't accept that its poor customer-service reputation (especially the ridiculous fees) eclipsed the monopoly they used to have on video rentals when better options surfaced. If they want to make this work, they have to change their service model and actually fix the bad juju they have with consumers. Otherwise, they're just wasting money, which they also do well in advance of their competitors.

KFC offers $20,000 in college money to best high-school tweeter

By David Kiefaber on Thu Nov 18 2010


I've never considered KFC an institution that values learning (they're barely an institution that values food), but they must think differently. After all, they're offering a $20,000 Colonel's Scholars scholarship to the high-school senior who tweets the most compelling case for deserving it. The 140-character limit includes the #KFCScholar hashtag, by the way. The winner, who must be a high-school senior with a minimum 2.75 GPA, will get up to $5,000 a year to put toward an accredited public university in their home state. That more or less amounts to free college, unless the winner lives in California. KFC isn't the first organization to give away college money through Twitter— introduced a tweet-based award last year—but it's hard to measure creativity, need and drive (KFC's three required elements) in 140 characters. In fact, one could surmise that winning the scholarship would have more to do with dumb luck than actual merit. Still, if you're going to enter this contest, telling them how much you love their food probably won't help you. You'll be better off telling them how good you'll look in those Double Down sweatpants.

Is your endorser prone to bad behavior? Get disgrace insurance

By David Kiefaber on Thu Nov 18 2010


As companies rely more and more on celebrity endorsers, the risk of their spokespeople going spectacularly off the rails becomes more prominent. And while celebrity train wrecks make great headlines, they're terrible for PR. But since it's apparently impossible to pull back on the constant media scrutiny that celebrities live under, vulnerable brands are literally insuring themselves against bad publicity with "disgrace insurance." Now, disgrace claims have existed for a long time, but they have a much higher corporate profile now, thanks to guys like Tiger Woods and their very public misbehavior. For brand marketers, disgrace insurance policies cover the costs of having to restart an ad campaign, money that would otherwise be lost when the company has to jettison its star player. And according to Lloyd's, premiums fluctuate based on how likely the celebrity is to cause trouble. Not every company sees the need for disgrace insurance (some brands, like Gillette, kept Tiger Woods, if you recall), but there are plenty that do, and they're screwing up a teachable moment here. Expecting rich, attractive people who live in a world of yes to never misbehave is unrealistic, and the pressure this places on people who already have privacy issues is absurd. This could, and should, lead into a discussion about how unhinged Western celebrity culture has become, and that maybe we shouldn't make famous people the focal point of everything we consume.

Junk-food benefit of the week: Sprite could help cancer patients

By David Kiefaber on Tue Nov 16 2010


Can Sprite cure cancer? Well, no. But according to new research, it can help cancer patients absorb drugs prescribed to them during treatment, depending on the acidity of the patient's stomach. Or it could make matters worse. Like many pieces of medical journalism, this article is woefully unclear. Either way, researchers at Eli Lilly mixed an oral cancer drug with Captisol (to improve the drugs' solubility) and flat Sprite in an artificial stomach, and found that the Sprite "regulated the acidity in the stomach so as to allow the body to absorb more of the cancer drug." Skeptics claim there are too many biological intangibles to suggest that Sprite actually helps cancer patients, plus it's only uncarbonated Sprite that works. Not exactly the best endorsement for a refreshing beverage, I would say. I don't see Sprite capitalizing on this anytime soon, which is for the best. Junk-food ads are bad enough—on the rare occasion that they make health claims, they get even worse. And I do not want Thirst the Creepy Action Figure claiming he can cure cancer.

Nintendo tries to trademark the phrase 'It's on like Donkey Kong'

By David Kiefaber on Mon Nov 15 2010


Looks like Nintendo finally heard someone say "It's on like Donkey Kong," because the video-game company is trying to trademark the phrase before Donkey Kong Country Returns is released later this month. I'm not sure if they're doing this in good faith, or if it's just a weird, roundabout way to promote the game, but it's a shallow cash grab that makes them look as clueless and greedy as the music industry. They don't need to own that saying. Nothing's being taken from them in strict monetary terms, and pop-culture aphorisms like that one keep their intellectual property alive in ways that wouldn't happen when there's a price tag dangling from it. Now, granted, a lot of game companies try to swallow up phrases like this before a new game drops, but this is a fan-generated saying that's been around since 1992 at least, so I'm hoping it's just a publicity stunt. In case it isn't, I'll forgive Nintendo if they settle infringement lawsuits by throwing barrels at the accused.

Camel trying really hard to be cool with Williamsburg packaging

By David Kiefaber on Fri Nov 12 2010


R.J. Reynolds has been successful at marketing to children, however indirectly, but its efforts to hook those twentysomething and older are usually pathetic and weird. Its latest idea—putting the skylines of famous hipster spots like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Camel cigarette packaging—is pandering to the youth in ways that even Tom Wolfe would laugh at. The promotional material includes classic lines like, "It's about last call, a sloppy kiss goodbye and a solo saunter to a rock show in an abandoned building," and promises "serious street cred" for anyone who responds to their new packaging. Do they really expect this to work? People who aren't already hipsters tend to hate them (sometimes irrationally), and hipsters are by and large freeloaders who will smoke anything. Brand loyalty isn't something they engage in on any measurable scale. On the other hand, Brooklyn's reaction wasn't any better. Borough president Marty Markowitz responded to this in the lamest way possible, remarking that "when we say that Williamsburg and Brooklyn are smokin', we mean smokin' hot—not smokin' cigarettes!" Great. Any resident smoker under 35 who hears that is going to switch to Camels now just to piss him off.

Shed a tear for sad, uncool, obsolete old fool Mr. Goodwrench

By David Kiefaber on Thu Nov 11 2010


After almost 40 years of toting the GM logo around, Mr. Goodwrench is retiring. Or being laid off, depending on your perspective. Either way, the troubled auto company is replacing him next year with separate "certified service" concepts for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. GM has decided to focus on its remaining nameplates because a) they're all strong national brands, and b) GM's name is mud after the bankruptcy hearings and legacy of administrative incompetence. Plus, as David Kiley points out: "There isn't actually a lot of grease and wrench-work going on with new cars today. If something goes wrong on a vehicle, it usually requires fixes to the on-board computer. 'Goodwrench' doesn't quite reflect the technical sophistication of today's vehicles. Maybe 'Mr. Goodchip' would be more appropriate." I must admit, it's a little sad to see him go. Maybe Jay Leno will resurrect Mr. Badwrench in tribute. He's earned that much, I think.

Microsoft's Kinect is fun to play, when you're not getting maimed

By David Kiefaber on Wed Nov 10 2010

Microsoft's Kinect motion detector is shaping up to be the Family Dollar Dart Gun of multi-player gaming, given the number of people who've injured themselves or their children (on film!) while using it. Of course, Microsoft has an out—most of the people in those videos weren't allowing enough space between them and other players, and you can hurt yourself doing anything if you're not paying attention to your surroundings. Look at all the WiiMote accidents that have been documented over the years (caution: not while you're eating), and this becomes less an indictment of the Kinect and more a harsh reality of physically active gaming. It also explains why, once upon a time, many of these simulated activities happened outdoors. Point is, if the risk of possibly-disabling ouchies didn't scare people away from the Wii, the Kinect will survive this, too. Not that long-term sales projections will make this kid's face hurt any less, but you know what they say about omelets and eggs.

Christmas-tree growers look into a 'Got milk?' type ad campaign

By David Kiefaber on Wed Nov 10 2010


Christmas-tree growers are planning an industry advertising blitz, using the well-known beef, cotton and especially milk campaigns as inspiration, to better compete with artificial-tree manufacturers. If this leads to celebrities showing off pine-needle mustaches, I'm in. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The loose assortment of tree growers doesn't even have a slogan yet. Or a clear source of funding, for that matter. That won't be decided on until next year, but so far the money for the proposed program would come from a 15-cent mark-up on every fresh-cut tree, with the funds to be administered by a board overseen by the Department of Agriculture. You'd think something as embedded in our culture as the natural Christmas tree would sell itself, but artificial-tree sales are on the rise because they're less of a hassle. Real trees that shed needles and occasionally catch fire have to brand themselves another way, and if they can avoid sparking a team-sports mentality between purchasers of fake and real trees, more power to them. And this had better not add more fuel for those War on Christmas idiots, either.



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