May 2008

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A couple of months ago a person in Texas had a simple idea that had an amazing impact on our country. One person, one simple idea. A young women placed a telephone call to local authorities suggesting she was being sexually abused at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, TX. Whether the caller was being truthful as to her identity we do not know – she was never found – but we do know her call set off an amazing set of events. 
 
468 children were removed from the ranch. Many Texas families stepped up, altering their lives to take in these children. The story, broken by the national news media, captured the public’s attention and created indignant debate and discussion across the land. Innocent lives were thrown into chaos. Innocent lives were saved. The reverberations have been felt all around the world, most recently in the Texas Supreme Court. 
 
One idea. One phone call. See what happens when your idea hits a nerve?
 

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This whole American car thing is getting a little ridiculous. Will someone please strap on a pair of balls and get ahead of the market? Ford is in the news today for cutting 2,000 jobs. GM is in the news today for cutting 2,000 jobs. Could they just be realizing that trucks and SUVs are not their future. Nah. “Let’s cut some jobs.”
 
Back in the ‘80s GM created a different kind of car company – Saturn — because they thought the purchase experience needed changing. It was in part to compete with the Japanese car juggernaut and to break with GM’s past. The cars were a bit smaller too. It wasn’t a great reason to create a new company.  Today we have a reason. 

So, how about one of the big three step up and create car brand that is all about conserving energy and resources? Might that not be a good idea for today? Might it not be a brand that kids could rally behind? Are kids the car market of the future? I mean Ford is talking about car seats made of corn starch or some crap to prove its commitment, but it is just not believable. 

 
We need a new American car brand created by Mark Zuckerberg and friends, not some geeze-mobile from Detroit.  (All deference to Steve Yzerman.)
 

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I’m guessing every kid in a America’s least favorite words, behind “Stitches,” are Hydrogen Peroxide. Just say those words – iodine is in third place – and kids eyes tear and their Galvan Skin Response score goes way up. It’s a fact.
 
So if Hydrogen Peroxide are such scary words for kids why name a cookie after them?  Hydrox. In August, Kellogg is bringing back Hydrox (nemesis of the Oreo) to celebrate the brand’s 100th anniversary, rekindling sales and perhaps mimic Oreo’s growth in China, where Kraft Food’s Oreos have taken off thanks to some smart marketing.
 
There’s no time left, but Kellogg need a new name for Hydrox before the August launch. The name probably needs to be close enough to Hydox to satisfy older cult followers yet far enough so that kids won’t be repelled. How about Lister-ash? JKJK
 

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Fast forward a couple of years and listen in on what the network executives are saying: “The only way we can make money off of TV shows is though cast appearances, tee-shirt sales and residuals paid for Internet mash-ups of our show.” Sound familiar? It should. That’s what music executives have been saying about their business thanks to the decline of CD sales due to free music downloads. 
 
As TV shows become downloadable, portable and copy-able, one can expect ad revenue to continue to drop. TV shows are 1s and 0s, just like music, and they will be pirated. TV execs better get on the stick. They had better learn from their music industry brethren. Are you listening ABC, NBC, CBS?

 

 

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The presidential election should be huge.
 
Why is that? Because the economy is in the dumper? Because “W” has besmirched America’s reputation in many places around the world? Because the price of gas is soaring and we’re in a war that might last 100 years? Nope. 
 
The reason we’re going to have record turn out is because we’ve gone vote crazy. Thanks to American Idol and the internet, our kids have grown up voting daily. Perhaps hourly. We rate and rank online social media, newspaper articles, TV performers, iPod tunes. Popular culture today comes with a counter. As the digital culture grows and more content and information are available to us, we need data filters to help us think. 
 
I love that we will have a huge turn out for the election. I just hope we as a country vote based upon what we feel about the candidates, rather than what we think the data is telling us, e.g., which candidate has more friends on MySpace. 
  
 

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Helmet law.


I know this may be a bit off topic but since “What’s the idea” is a blog about the search for clear and meaningful ideas, I have one for our men in Afghanistan – and I suspect parts of Iraq. Wear a helmet!
 
We mandate it in most states for motorcyclists, and moms everywhere are scolding their kids about wearing helmets while on bikes and skateboards, so what’s up with the military? This is not the first time I’ve seen our men in harm’s way without helmets. It’s just the first time it made the cover of NYTimes.com.
 
I know it’s hot in Afghanistan and it may not be a good look to wear helmets, but it seems to me this man is a few inches away from a bed in Walter Reed Hospital and a lifetime of physical and speech therapy. Who the hell does this guy report to? (Check out his friend behind him.)

 

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What do Billie Joe Armstrong, Steve McNair and Keifer Sutherland have in common? They are all in a print ad together having been caught driving with excessive blood alcohol levels. Each got his own little mug shot (Keifer knows how to pose in any condition) and caption citing their blood alcohol levels atop assorted pictures of other sober, presumably reasonable people toasting and having business lunches over beers.
 
The ad was sponsored by some alcohol lobby or association who was suggesting that installing breathalyzers in cars is a bad idea. Primarily because they thought the gizmo’s threshold for inebriation would be set too low, curtailing social drinking.
 
No matter what side of this argument you are on, the ad is a mistake. Kids look up to Green Day’s Billie Joe, Jack Bauer and Air McNair. Telling the world these guys drink and drive is not something we need to be telling kids. It almost validates the behavior. 
 
Friends don’t let friends drink and drive.  Companies and organizations shouldn’t let each other promote drinking and driving in ways they don’t intent. Think people!
 

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I don’t know how much money is spent every year in pharmaceutical research and development, but I bet it’s in the double digit billions. I certainly can’t watch a television show without seeing some drug name crawl slowly across the screen, lapping over some healthy 50-something grey head. Pharma ad spending is in the 100s of millions of dollars.
 
Our focus on living longer, more perfect lives thank to drugs rather than hard work (read: exercise and healthy eating) is directly proportionate to the growth of the pharmaceutical business and its advertising. 
 
Here’s a thought: let’s put half of that money into developing some energy efficient ways to moving our fat asses around town. Without burning emission-spewing fossil fuels. Pfizer, J&J, Novartis, Merck are you listening? Start new lines of business. If you think drugs are easy money, wait until you figure out a low-cost way to propel humanity and — how about this for an idea — expel something positive…like clean air. 
 
Why doesn’t someone look to develop a conveyance that cleans air rather than turns it sour.
 

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Over the weekend there was a great article in The New York Times about one of my favorite new TV shows, Gossip Girl. The acting is superb, as is the writing. The characters, art direction, cinematography (What do that call that on TV? Videography?) and dialogue, brilliantly capture the lives a bunch of snooty, rich, high school kids and parents who live on New York’s Upper East Side.
 
The article compared Gossip Girl to two reality shows currently following similar story paths: “The Hills” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”  The writer suggested the reality shows paled in comparison. 
 
Don’t get me wrong, I love real people, but Gossip Girl is emotionally wrenching. It’s anthropologic in its ethnography. A wonderful time-capsule of the ethos, albeit somewhat overplayed. Yet as entertainment, Gossip Girl is much more real than reality TV. Check it out! Oh yeah, the finale is tonight.
 
PS. Props to 72 and Sunny, for the cool ad.

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Eye on C|Net

 

CBS is in the content business. C|Net is in the content business. CBS is known for TV shows favored by older adults. C|Net is known for online content targeting the technically astute and younger demo. In order for CBS to increase revenue it has often attempted to infuse its programming with younger fare and it hasn’t really worked.  But that’s exactly what it has done with this bold move to purchase C|Net — the CBS portfolio just got younger.
 
CBS will learn from its younger, technical partner and C|Net will learn from CBS. (So long as they don’t silo up.) I expect great things to come out of the merger of these two very different media and two very different cultures. You see, tools (read Internet apps) are wonderful things but content is king. Bringing together two disparate elements, be they demographic or media, can often yield explosive breakthroughs. In this case, it all begins with Leslie Moonves and his willingness to put on his sneakers and play ball with Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive. The game has started and it’s looking good.   
 
 

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