Marketing

Novelty Company Cashes in on "Weinergate" Debacle

Sarah Palin action figure (HeroBuilders.com)A company called HeroBuilders.com that makes bobbleheads, candy heads and custom sneakers, started marketing a hot new item on June 20 that is flying off its shelves: an Anthony Weiner action figure. The Standard action figure costs $39.95 and wears boxer shorts that say "Tweet This." An "adults only" version has the word "Censored" stamped over the crotch area of the boxer shorts on the company's website and sells for $49.95. "Anthony comes in our brand new stealth body," the site boasts, "It is a perfect match for this congressman." Buyers can add an optional stand and Blackberry device to complete the set for an additional $18. The company also sells action figures of Sarah Palin (dressed either as a school girl or a super hero), Michele Bachmann, Joe the Plumber, Rod Blagojevich (holding a handful of cash), Jimmie McMillan ("The Rent is Too Damn High" guy), and a Nancy Pelosi action figure that comes complete with a waterboard that says "Fun for the Whole Family."

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Scholastic, Inc. Burned by Coal Industry-Sponsored Curriculum

Coal industry's 4th grade curriculumScholastic, Inc., a leading publisher and distributor of children's books and teaching materials, agreed to stop selling a coal industry-sponsored curriculum that it has distributed to 66,000 fourth grade teachers since 2009. The curriculum was sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which represents the interests of the coal mining industry. A May 11, 2011 New York Times story labeled the coal industry-created curriculum "unfit" for fourth graders because it failed to mention the negative aspects of coal mining and burning on human health and the environment, like removal of Appalachian mountaintops, toxic waste discharge, sulfur dioxide, mercury and arsenic discharges, lung disease and mining accidents. The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, which drew attention to and opposed Scholastic's use of the curriculum, has also opposed Scholastic for its “SunnyD Book Spree,” which the company featured its Parent and Child magazine that encouraged teachers to have classroom parties with Sunny Delight, a sugar-fortified drink, and collect labels from the beverage to win free books. The campaign has also objected to Scholastic’s promotion of Children’s Claritin in materials it distributed about spring allergies. Scholastic is a $2 billion business whose educational materials are in 9 of 10 American classrooms.

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Mixed Messages? Bristol Palin Teaches by (Poor) Example

A Candies clothing line adThe Candies Foundation, whose mission is preventing teen pregnancy, hired America's most famous unwed teen mother, Bristol Palin, as its paid spokesperson. The Foundation paid Palin $332,000 for less than a month of work during 2009-2010 to promote the idea to teenage girls that having premarital sex is a bad idea. Palin appeared in video and print public service ads, attended two town hall meetings and conducted media interviews to help Candies "create awareness about teen pregnancy." In one print ad, Palin appears with her son Tripp on her lap, against a black background and looking dour with her face scrubbed of makeup (far from the glamorous appearance she assumed for her stint on Dancing with the Stars), alongside the quote, "I never thought I would be a statistic ... More than 750,000 teenage girls will become pregnant this year. Pause before you play." The Candies Foundation was started by Neil Cole, who also heads the Candie's brand of fashion clothing,  which targets teenage girls. Ads for Candies clothing typically feature young females and celebrities in attention-grabbing, overtly sexualized poses.

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Fake "Handwriting" Boosts Junk Mail Open Rate

Fool junk mail recipients once, and then Fake penkeep fooling them over and over again. That's the hope of a Virginia-based direct mail marketing company that has developed a specialized machine that makes junk mail envelopes look like they have been hand-written. RST Marketing, a Virginia-based, direct-mail marketing company, custom-makes its "Real Pen" machines and markets the technology to cash-strapped nonprofits and others seeking to raise funds or sell products through the mail. The machines can use any kind of pen, can create a custom font from any person's actual handwriting, and can even use multiple handwriting styles on the same page. RST can crank out hundreds of thousands of fake hand-addressed envelopes per day. Its high-tech machines can even fake hand-write yellow sticky notes and affix them to marketing materials by machine. The machines make envelopes look like they've come from a real person who may actually know or care about you. RST Vice President Glen Thomas says, "With Real Pen, the machines run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they never take a break and never take lunch." The fake "personal" touch helps lure unsuspecting mail recipients into opening junk mail more often. Testimonials on the company's web site say the open rate for fake handwritten junk mailers is about equal to the open rate for real handwritten mailers.

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Lorillard's Unreal "Youth Smoking Prevention" Campaign

Real parents adFamily Circle and Parents magazines regularly run youth smoking prevention (YSP) ads called "Real Parents, Real Answers" that are paid for by the Lorillard Tobacco Company. The ads drive readers to a website operated by Lorillard that contains no information about the health hazards of cigarette smoking, the addictive nature of nicotine or cigarette companies' role in promoting youth smoking through advertising and  marketing techniques. Instead, the site blames kids' smoking on parents, citing kids' rebelliousness and self-esteem as being at the core of the youth smoking problem. Research shows that tobacco company-run YSP campaigns are ineffective, and in 2006 a federal judge ruled that such campaigns are merely public relations stunts by tobacco companies to improve their image. Tobacco industry documents show that cigarette makers design YSP campaigns to impress political leaders and give the appearance that the industry is being "responsible," not to reduce youth smoking rates. The web site Change.org and a new group called the Start Noticing Coalition are working to pressure the Meredith Corporation, publisher of Parents and Family Circle, to acknowledge these facts and stop running the ads, but Meredith refused, saying the ads are "appropriate" for its magazines, so Change.org started an online petition to increase pressure on the publisher to stop accepting the ads.

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Fiji Water Flees Fiji

Fiji water greenThe Fiji bottled water company is stomping out of Fiji in protest after the country's government increased a tax it charges on the water from one-third of a Fiji cent to 15 cents per liter. Half of Fijians lack access to safe water while the Fiji Water company exports clean bottled water to the U.S., where Americans shell out 3,300 times what tap water costs to buy it. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans pay around .002 to .003 cents per gallon for tap water, while one liter of Fiji water (less than a quarter of a gallon) costs about $2.19. Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch says, "Like oil in the 20th Century, water has become increasingly managed by corporate cartels that move it around the globe, where it flows out of communities towards money ... Water must be managed as a common resource, not a market commodity." Ironically, Fiji Water, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo -- beverage companies that also extract water from developing countries facing water scarcity -- have been named finalists for the U.S. Secretary of State's 2010 Award for Corporate Excellence.

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"Power Balance" Wristbands: Rubber Bands with a Big Marketing Budget

PowerBalance WristbandsPower Balance of Orange County, California makes rubber bracelets with a holographic inset that "are designed to work with your body's natural energy field" to increase strength, balance and flexibility. The bands sell on Amazon.com for anywhere from $4.25 to $30.00. The company has poured tens of millions of dollars into a marketing campaign that features sports heroes and athletes like Shaquille O'Neil promoting the product. But on December 22, 2010, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ruled that claims that the bracelets improve strength, balance and flexibility "were not supported by any credible scientific evidence," and made Power Balance admit that it engaged in "misleading and deceptive conduct in breach of 2.52 of the Trade Practices Act of 1974." The Commission told Power Balance to stop making bogus claims about the product, refund the purchase price of the wrist band to people who feel they were misled, publish a corrective advertisement to keep consumers from being misled in the future and remove the words "performance technology" from the brand. The Australian ruling isn't valid in other countries, however.

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Cables Show U.S. Government Works for Boeing

Classified State Department cables published by Wikileaks show high-up U.S. government officials have entertained and obliged special requests from foreign heads of state to help close big deals for Boeing. In 2006, a senior Commerce Department official hand-delivered a personal letter from George W. Bush to the office of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, urging the king to complete a deal with Boeing for 43 airliners, including some for the king's family fleet. The cable shows that as part of the deal, the King wanted his personal jet "to have all the technology that his friend, President Bush, had on Air Force One." Once he had his high-tech plane, the King said, "God willing," he would "make a decision that will 'please you very much.' " The U.S. obligingly authorized an upgrade in King Abdullah's plane. In other instances, Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheik Hasina Wazed, sought landing rights at Kennedy International Airport, and the Turkish government asked for assurances that one of their astronauts could join a future NASA space flight. U.S. diplomats served as marketing agents for Boeing by using State Department visits as bargaining chips and offering deals to foreign heads of state and commercial executives with the power to purchase airplanes from Boeing.

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Is the "Druggiest Campus" List a PR Stunt?

alcohol and marijuanaThe Monterey Herald accused The Daily Beast of shameless self-promotion after the news Web site posted a list of what it claimed were the 50 "druggiest" colleges and universities in the United States. California State University Monterey Bay was ranked the seventh most drug-infested campus in the country, which the Herald disputes as illogical and unfair, particularly since UC Berkeley was ranked 46th, and UC Santa Cruz and Humboldt State didn't even make on the list. The Herald accused the article's authors of using shoddy methodology, like surveying relatively small samples of students, and considering U.S. Department of Education statistics for on-campus arrests and drug law citations for 2009, without regard to how aggressively each campus carries out enforcement. Using the latter measure, the Herald points out, would make campuses that actively discourage drug use through stricter enforcement rank higher on the "druggiest" list than would schools that ignore students' possession and use of marijuana and other recreational drugs. The Herald says that rather than shedding light on the problem of drug use on U.S. campuses, but the goal of the authors "was to get newspapers and TV stations in at least 50 college towns around the country to produce stories mentioning the Daily Beast, and it worked exceedingly well" -- and put The Daily Beast at the top of the list for shameless website promotion.

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Lorillard Loses

A Massachusetts jury has ordered cigarette maker Lorillard, Inc. to pay $71 million in damages to the family of a Boston woman who said she was seduced into smoking Newport cigarettes as a child. The plaintiff, Marie Evans, died from lung cancer at age 54, after smoking Newport cigarettes for 40 years. Before her death, she gave a videotaped deposition in which described how, starting at age nine, she received free samples of cigarettes from a man in a white truck who would drive through their neighborhood passing them out to children. Evans said the trucks "seemed to be there waiting when we got out of school." Evans' sister, Leslie Adamson, corroborated her testimony. Evans accepted some responsibility for never being able to quit her nicotine addiction, even after suffering a heart attack at age 37. Lorillard denied marketing cigarettes to children and targeting black communities with Newports.

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