Monthly Archives: October 2008

Wait! Don’t buy that gift card just yet!

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Ahhh…it’s almost the Christmas season.  Hot cocoa by the fireplace.  Christmas carolers.  Decorating the Christmas tree.  Yes, a time to be spent with friends and family.  It’s also time for the “WTF!? That costs how much??” book, otherwise known as the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.

The Christmas Book is now available for those of you that have that “person that has everything” on your gift list.  This year’s Wow Gifts include:

Fighter Motorcycle

Fighter Motorcycle

  • One of only 45 Confederate Motor Company’s Fighter Motorcycles.  The first ever Fighter travels 190 mph and has a cutting edge carbon fiber, titanium and aluminum chassis.  $110,000
  • Dallas Cowboys end zone package, including 530 square yards of the actual end zone and VIP treatment at the last regular season Cowboys game in Texas Stadium.  The entire purchase price will be donated to the Salvation Army.  $500,000
  • Life-size replicas of yourself, your significant other, the kids or anyone else – made out of LEGO bricks, by acclaimed artist Nathan Sawaya.  $60,000 each
  • A basketball playing experience with the Harlem Globetrotters.  $110,000
Life-size LEGO statues

Life-size LEGO statues

  • Jack Nicklaus custom-designed three-hold course for your backyard.  The package includes a round with Nicklaus, autographed club and ball, and a set of Nicklaus clubs in a personalized bag.  Beginning at $1,000,000 (construction and site prep not included)
  • Original, museum-quality, 10th centure Viking braidied gold rings, 15th century English gold signet rings, and 16th century Renaissance gemstone rings; each including its written history.  $25,000 – $45,000
  • One of ten M-Velope, transformable structures by architectural artist, Michael Jantzen.  The 15′ x 14′ x 17′ structure can be rebuilt, rearranged and reassembled.  $100,00
  • Thirty-five year collection of every Billboard Top 100 rock and pop chart-toping album – in 45 RPM vinyl.  Includes 18,400 records from 1955 through 1990, some autographed.  $275,000 (delivery not included)
M-Velope

M-Velope

  • Luxury destination wedding package at The Resort at Pelican Hill, in Newport Beach, California.  Package includes couture wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses by Carolina Herrera.  Beginning at $1,300,000
  • Fully functional, authentic Guinness home pub, crafted from historic Irish architectural elements and authentic Guinness artifacts.  Also includes a VIP trip for two to Dublin and fresh Guinness Stout for your pub for an entire year.  $250,000
  • Neiman Marcus, Limited Edition 2009 BMW Individual 7 Series sedan, including a European adventure to meet the engineers and designers who helped create it.  $160,000
  • Three Chimneys Farm thoroughbred racing stable package, including a stable of 12-15 thoroughbreds which they will train, house, and enter into races for the next four years.  You can name your stable and any unnamed horses, design you own silks, attend races and keep the purses and trophies.  A cool $10,000,000

See, doesn’t that get you into the Christmas spirit? 

You can be anyone you want to be [with the Internet]

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Yes, folks, you can harness the power of the internet to become whomever you want to be!  No, I’m not talking about going to school online, or online dating.  Aim higher!  Become a superhero!

Based off last year’s successful viral campaign, Elf Yourself by OfficeMax, several new websites have launched aimed at allowing you to create characters based on your appearance.  Yearbook Yourself lets you put your face onto yearbook pictures from the 1950s to today (wow, I sounded like a slimy radio DJ just then).  Here’s my “yearbook” picture from 1968.

This month, Kodak Gallery launched Make Me Super.  Make Me Super, like Yearbook Yourself, takes your headshot and puts it onto a super hero’s body.  It produces a funny video of you showing off your super powers.  One of the great things about Make Me Super is that Kodak found a way to also try and make money off of their viral campaign.  You can order products with a picture of your super self – a mug, a mousepad, or a deck of cards. 

Today, I found two new websites that allow you to pose with your favorite presidential candidate.  Upload your photo to be in several different pictures with McCain or Obama.  Here’s my pic of me with fellow super hero, McCain, for example.

There are also several websites which allow you to create a Japanese-inspired cartoon characacher of yourself.  These manga or avatar sites let you choose your skin tone, eye color, hair color and style and clothes.  I made mine at a site called faceyourmanga.com.  For a while I didn’t think that you could be on Twitter without having a manga.

So, what do all of these mean to marketers?  Well, everyone is out to create viral marketing.  Viral marketing, as explained by wikipedia, is the “marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message voluntarily.”  Like the video of the skateboarding dog – come on, you know you forwarded that to 10 of your friends.  The interesting thing about viral is that it can’t be produced – it has to happen spontaneously. 

You may still be asking why people are so interested in viral marketing.  Bottom line, it translates to money (cue the “cha-ching” sound).  Let’s go back to Elf Yourself – which by the way, Office Max is relaunching this year.  Elf Yourself contributed to a 20% increase in holiday traffic to OfficeMax’s website.  According to AdAge, the website received over 36 million hits in 5 weeks.  Over 123 million elves were created, and users spent a combined average of 2,600 years on the site.

As Elizabeth McDowell, Publicist for EVB San Francisco, the co-creator of “Elf Yourself” says, “The success is in part due to three fundamental characteristics: 1) Keep it Simple; 2) Make it Personal; and 3) Give People a Reason to Pass It On!”

Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics

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While we’re on the topic of the election, I highly recommend that everyone watch John Stossel’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics, which aired on 20/20 this past Friday.

It was such a great program!  It went through several of the issues and how, even though the candidates are promising change, we’re not likely to see much once they’re in office.  And, that’s not a bad thing.  We don’t need an all-controlling government.  The office of the President can’t create high-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced, as some candidates promise.  The job of the federal government should be to balance the budget and protect us from foreign interests.  And, for those things that they try to change, many of them become a bureaucratic mess. 

Take farm subsidies, most of the money goes to agri-business conglomerates.  They even featured a farmer from Nebraska that is worth over $1 billion, yet he still receives his subsidies.  Then, there is campaign finance reform, which was originally established to help new candidates enter politics.  But, we find out no more new candidates have entered office, and the incumbents are using the law against their new opponents.

The less that government interferes with our life, the better off we are.  It comes down to spontaneous order.  Businesses going into business, businesses go out of business.  Jobs are created, jobs are lost.  Its a cycle that we need – and one that has made Ameria so great.  We learn, we evolve.  We adapt, we overcome.  As one economist on the program mentioned, it would be tough to say that the ice delivery man could keep his job after the refrigerator was invented.

It’s all good

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What an interesting week we’ve had since I last blogged.  Let’s see – Ringo Star said he’s not accepting fan mail after next week; Joe the Plumber, Joe Six-Pack and Average Joe are all having the best week ever; Angelina announced she wants more kids; Britney’s back in court and McCain and Letterman made up.  Plus, I just found out that @snoopdogg and @therealbritney just joined Twitter.  Phew!

What I’ve really enjoyed over the past couple of weeks is the Good Sheet from Starbucks.  These are one-page, mini newspapers which each feature one topic important to this year’s election.   Each Thursday a new Good Sheet and topic is released at Starbucks – past issues have been dedicated to Health Care, Immigration and Education.  As the Good Sheet states:

Good is a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward.

This is the [number] Good Sheet, part of a series we hope will stimulate thought and conversation as you head to the polls on November 4.  For us, this is not about red states or blue states, this is about every American making the most informed choice possible, no matter what that choice may be.

Each Good Sheet unfolds to present a in-depth look at the statistics on the featured topic.  It’s a non-partial, bi-partisan look at the issues.  And, it’s presented in an easy to read, USA Today-type format.  Here’s a look at the new issue on the Economy:

The issues just present the data facts, so you’re free to make up your mind about which candidates (this is more than just the President) can help the situation.  Next time you are in Starbucks, pick up an issue!

Obama primetime special

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Barack Obama has purchased a half-hour of airtime on CBS and NBC, and is in talks with Fox as well.  The primetime special will air Wednesday, October 29, at 8pm.

Since Obama rejected public financing, he is not limited in the amount of money that his campaign can raise and spend.  McCain, however, accepted public financing, and it remains to be seen whether he will follow Obama’s lead and purchase airtime.

The last campaign to purchase a primetime slot, was Ross Perot in 1992.  Remember the pie charts and graphs?  Note: they’re back, visit Perotcharts.com.

I think the real question is, what would you like to see during this 30 minutes of airtime?  We’ve seen Obama at a podium giving speechs, so what about something more creative? 

  • Barack and Joe Variety Hour – following in the footsteps of the great Sunny and Cher, and Nick and Jessica
  • Survivor: Scranton, PA – we will hear from the tribal counsel about who should win the presidency
  • Dancing with the Candidates – tonight, the contestants will dance the lambada, the forbidden dance
  • The Apprentice – Obama and Biden compete to see how many health plans they can sell outside Capitol Hill
  • Friends (or “My Friends”) – Barack and Joe head down to the Central Perk to hear guest star, Tina Fey, sing “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”
  • Will & Grace – Barack and Joe visit the apartment – because it’s OK to support gays, unless they are married
  • Seinfeld – Joe Biden talks to Jerry about being The Hill’s biggest supporter of the Jewish community

Oh, I kid.  But it would be nice to bring some levity to this election…

You think that YOU have problems?

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Dear Average American,

I’m tired of your whining.  All I ever hear from you is how stressed you are with your low-paying jobs and your over-medicated kids.  I’ve had enough!

You want to know the real meaning of stress?  Try taking a 89-year old business, the 18th-largest company in the world, and making it financially defunct.  That, my friends, is a full-time job!

Yes, you complain about your measly retirement funds and the pressure of paying your bills on time.  Oblige me for one moment, and imagine living the life of an AIG executive, who was “forced” last month to accept $85 billion from the US government in order to save their company. 

You talk about the “pain at the pump,” when gas rises a few cents.  Put your efforts into something memorable, like taking a stock worth $70.13, at its 52-week high, to $1.25.  Take one of the most admired insurance companies in the world, with operations in 130 countries and 92,000 employees, and run it into the ground.  Yes, my friends, only then can you really know the meaning of doing something impactful on a global scale.

So, no, it came as no surprise when the executives at AIG decided they needed a little R&R.  Days after being approved for a $85 billion loan to save their company, stressed AIG executives headed to the ultra-posh St. Regis resort for a retreat, worth $440,000.

Amid Tomato Basil Nourishing Wraps and Dermal Quenches, these brave leaders forgot about the hours they spent avoiding internal and external auditors.  Between golfing on the bay and dining at Stonehill Tavern, they washed away the guilt of hiding risky financial decisions and the pain of carpal tunnel brought upon by feverishly shredding documents.

How dare you judge them!?  I, for one, agree with Eric Dinallo, superintendent of New York State Insurance Department, who said he “could see the value of such a retreat under the circumstances.”  Mr. Dinallo sees the retreat as a retention effort to hold onto such upstanding leaders.  Mr. Dinallo went on to say, “the concept of bringing all the major exmployees together…would not have been a crazy corporate decision.” Crazy! Who dare say such a thing! 

So, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sixpack, I urge you to put your problems aside and look at the broader picture.  Sure, your house may be reposessed and your job in jeopardy, but these are our nation’s corporate leaders that are just looking for your sympathy and a hand up in life.

Where are the Indictments?

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Sorry…a brief departure from the normal post on this blog.  I must admit that my blood pressure rose today when reading that Richard Fuld, disgraced leader of the now defunct Lehman Brothers, questioned the US government about why they did not bail him out

Reuters, via Yahoo! Finance, reports that Fuld takes full responsibility for his actions but “said US regulators knew exatly what the firm’s liquidity was and how it was pricing its distressed assets.”  The article goes on to state that Fuld lost patience several times during his testimony before Congress, when members tried to “pin him down on precise answers.” 

“Fuld said he did not know why the US government chose to help other financial companies, but not Lehman.”

Call me crazy, but did he just say, “yeah, I did something horrible…but where’s my money?” 

I’m sure that Bernie Ebbers and Jeffrey Skilling are throwing temper tantrums in their prison cells right now.  It’s great the bail-out passed, now where are the indictments?  Bernie Ebbers caused investors only $11 billion when he filed false financial reports for his company WorldCom.  He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.  Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, ex-CEO and chairman of Enron, were indicted on charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, false statements, and insider trading.  Skillman was sentenced to 24 years and fined $45 million; Lay would have been sentenced to 20-30 years had he not passed away shortly before his sentencing.

Is this situation really any different?  These CEOs created a financial crisis that has no boundaries – CNNMoney.com reports that Latin America (yes, an entire region!) could be devistated by this market collapse.

For years these finanical institutions were able to charge higher interest rates and make money on sub-prime loans.  Adjustable rate mortgages, zero-down financing, reverse mortgages, interest-only mortgages.  “If the borrowers defaulted, they could simply seize the house and put it back on the market.  On top of that, they were able to pass the risk off to mortgage insurers or package these mortgages as mortgage-backed securities,” says Pinyo, of Moolanomy.

My lender Rodney Anderson (plug: he’s great! and he really knows his stuff!) has a local radio show on Saturday mornings in Dallas.  One caller a month ago says that his lender (not Rodney) told him to adjust his 2007 tax return in order to qualify for a lower interest rate on his home loan.  Since the caller is self-employed, he needed to show a higher 2007 income.  Sounds easy.  Great!  The caller says he refiled with the IRS and was approved for a loan which saved him about $15,000.  Bad news: Soon after, the IRS hit him for back-taxes of approximately $30,000.  (And, although he didn’t say it on the phone, I’m sure he’ll be on the IRS watch list for the rest of his life…hello, audits.)

We have a government that spent months investigating steroids in baseball (big, SO WHAT?!).  When are they going to hold someone accountable for this fraud and greed?