Fox Network’s Low Ratings Highlighted Before Upfronts

 Fox Network’s Low Ratings Highlighted Before Upfronts

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Fox network (pictured: advert for Fox’s upcoming series Gotham).

This week, advertisers flock to New York City for upfronts—parties, meet-and-greets with celebrities, and previews from networks of new fall TV offerings. This is when advertisers decide which networks and shows will share nearly $16 billion in ad dollars. Among talk of the upfronts, one recurring theme emerges: how badly the Fox network needs a hit.

A series of hits, actually, to make up for once mighty shows that have dropped precipitously in ratings. Take American Idol, which during one season had 30 million viewers glued to Fox. Now it averages less than 7 million. Another former hit, Glee, is also viewer anemic. “Fox has the most to prove,” said David Campanelli, senior VP and director for national television at Horizon Media to the New York Times.

Toward that end, Fox started buzz with Gotham, their big gun, which tells the story of a young Bruce Wayne, pre-Batman cape, and a young(er) Jim Gordon, pre-commissioner title. The drama melds popular TV themes of cop show with teens (yes, there are young versions of Catwoman, Joker, et al), and a hit movie genre, comic book heroes. Gotham’s trailer does look like one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Will it save Fox? A few days, a few cocktails, and a few billion dollars will tell.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Fox, if the network can turn the conversation from their need to advertisers’ want.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Ostriches can’t just take their heads out of the sand; they have to do something. Fox could say things are tough all over—they certainly aren’t the only network feeling the sting of failing shows, viewers who fast forward through commercials while watching recorded programs, and other ad-dollar losses. But Fox is suffering more than most networks, and their PR job is to generate buzz about Gotham and other shows, and get it off their ratings plunge.

Arizona Governor May Win Battle but Lose PR War

Jan Brewer 150x150 Arizona Governor May Win Battle but Lose PR War

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

America is sending decidedly mixed messages to its LGBT citizens. This past weekend’s headlines included clothing chain Banana Republic unveiling an ad campaign with interior designer Nate Berkus and his fiancé Jeremiah Brent. The Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins, who becomes the National Basketball League’s first openly gay player. To balance out the notion of acceptance, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer remained undecided on whether to sign a bill allowing businesses to deny service to gay and lesbian customers on the grounds of their religious beliefs.

Whichever way Gov. Brewer decides will cost her. A former small business owner known for her conservative views, she told CNN, “I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don’t work with. But,” she hedged, “I don’t know that it needs to be statutory.” While refusal to sign the bill may anger her religious constituency, signing it would have repercussions as the worlds of advertising and sports accept – and capitalize – upon the LGBT community. As Arizona prepares to host next year’s SuperBowl, companies were already informing the state that it would be dropped as a potential investment location, should the bill pass.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It’s better to lose the battle and win the war. Brewer, a conservative, may personally align with the bill. But in signing it into law, her state will be identified with discrimination. Tourism will suffer. Arizona will become the target of protests. The businesses so intent on maintaining their religious beliefs by refusing service to gays and lesbians may find themselves with less business overall. SuperBowl advertisers may shrink from the potential for negative publicity via association. In the end, letting go of the bill may be a lose-win situation.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to H&M, the sole clothing retailer set to advertise during the Superbowl. They’re going against heavyweights in the automotive, fast food and alcohol groups, but their $4 million gamble will likely pay off thanks to advance buzz on their commercial. In it, soccer star David Beckham, who has a line of underwear with H&M, will appear either in his briefs or naked (by TV standards) according to fan votes of #covered or #uncovered. This could be the first Superbowl in history with higher female than male ratings.

dimon The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, for telling CNBC that the expensive government legal cases against his bank were “unfair.” In swanky Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, Dimon said the bank, which paid $13 billion to settle claims over mortgage securities dealings and $7 billion more over hinky derivatives, power trading and overselling of credit card products, faced “two really bad options” between settling or fighting the cases. Going to court “would really hurt this company and that would have been criminal for me to subject our company to those kinds of issues.” Criminal as in, say, fraud? Better not to have picked up this gauntlet.

george zimmerman painting 300x235 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to George Zimmerman, acquitted of murder and now trying his hand at  “art.” Last July, Zimmerman was found not guilty of the 2012 murder of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. With a stack of hefty legal bills and job prospects presumably thin, Zimmerman has miraculously found his inner painter. His first piece, a blue flag with a patriotic verse painted on an 18 x 24-inch canvas, sold for more than $100,000 on eBay. His second work depicts prosecutor Angela Corey holding finger and thumb slightly apart with the caption “I have this much respect for the American judicial system – Angie C.” We fervently hope the art-buying world has even less than that for George.

 

Old Spice’s “Oedipal Nightmare” Is PR Dream

 Old Spice’s Oedipal Nightmare Is PR Dream

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) to Old Spice and it’s “Momsong” campaign.

Old Spice, that old seadog of an aftershave, has been around since before World War II.  Little surprise that, with “75 years of experience helping guys improve their mansmells” and a lot of awards for their clever adverts, the Old Spice marketing team has done it again.

As part of its new “Smellcome to Manhood” campaign, Old Spice began airing an attention-grabbing commercial called Momsong this week. In it, mothers prowl around their teenage sons who are out on dates, bemoaning the day “Old Spice sprayed them into men.” Moms hide behind curtains, hang onto car bumpers, and pop out of pull-out couches while their sons obliviously flirt with the fairer sex.

If it sounds odd, that’s because it is. Some of the adjectives used to describe it? “Freaky,” “creepy,” and “bizarre” – and, nearly universally, “hilarious.” Momsong is unquestionably strange, but it’s also the perfect mix of witty and weird. Most importantly, it’s gotten people talking. In just three days, the commercial garnered more than 1 million YouTube views.

Momsong isn’t the first commercial coup for Old Spice, a division of Proctor & Gamble. Although the brand name’s most iconic figure is probably the duffel-laden sailor returning from sea into the arms of a waiting woman, Old Spice has always excelled at marketing its line of body products. Add Momsong to the repertoire.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Old Spice, whose “Oedipal nightmare” is a PR dream come true.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Taking a chance on unusual ads is not for the faint of heart, but it’s something many companies consider under pressure to stand out. Old Spice gets away with wacky commercials because its name is embedded in American culture, and because it’s known for an unusual advertising approach. Lesser known companies should do careful market research and not skimp on the focus groups. A zany ad campaign can make – or break – a brand.

 

Trouble Afloat for Macy’s

 Trouble Afloat for Macys

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

One of the great traditions of Thanksgiving in America is watching the Macy’s parade. Marching bands play, celebrities perform and a cadre of inflatable balloons delights the nation.

Among the floats this year is one by Sea World – now a target of animal rights activists. A highly-praised documentary, Blackfish, enlightened viewers about the lives of orcas kept in captivity at Sea World. Animals rights group PETA mobilized forces against Sea World, including a protest demanding Macy’s exclude Sea World’s float from its parade.

Macy’s response: “The parade has never taken on, promoted or otherwise engaged in social commentary, political debate or other forms of advocacy.” Tried, true, staid – but likely the protests will go on.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be consistent. Macy’s has little choice but to give the pat “We don’t get involved in controversy” statement. If they give in to one group, they’d have to give in to another… But wait they already have! Sponsors of the float for South Dakota balked at singer Joan Jett performing on their parade entry because, as a vegetarian and PETA member, she was unsuitable to represent a cattle ranching state. Macy’s gave in and moved Jett to another float. Macy’s is now on a collision course with new groups who are likely be offended by future. Stay clear and don’t get involved. Placating all parties can ultimately sink an entire parade.

Pasta Maker’s Remarks Land Him in the Sauce

157691 guido barilla Pasta Makers Remarks Land Him in the Sauce

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Barilla Group Chair Guido Barilla.

If you’re tempted to feel sorry for Guido Barilla, resist the urge. The chairman of Barilla Group, the world’s leading pasta maker, blundered wildly in an Italian radio interview last week as he tried to justify why his company doesn’t feature gay families in its advertising. From a business perspective – never mind society in general – no one who heads a company of any size could be excused such a miscue.

In one of the more forgiving and contextualized translations of his remarks, Barilla said his family-owned company had “a slightly different culture” about the “traditional” family. “If gays like our pasta and our advertisings, they will eat our pasta; if they don’t like that, they will eat someone else’s pasta. You can’t always please everyone not to displease anyone,” he said. Excluding gays was “not for lack of respect toward homosexuals – who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others – but because I don’t agree with them, and I think we want to talk to traditional families.”

The LGBT activist community took up Barilla’s invitation to “eat someone elses’s pasta,” winning broader support for boycotts as the CEO tried to apologize and walk back for his remarks. Buona fortuna with that. Thanks to his misplaced candor, Barilla’s pasta isn’t the only thing morally-outraged consumers aren’t buying.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Barilla and its CEO, for a PR disaster that undid years of built-up brand goodwill in a matter of seconds.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave personal politics in the kitchen, away from your business, your branding and – per favore! – any microphones. This is especially true for broad consumer brands. If you get thrown a curveball question in an interview, be ready to demur. Your attempt at a nuanced explanation won’t survive the news cycle, much less translation, and in today’s linked-up world, transmission happens almost instantly. Finally, be prepared with a contingency plan that says more than “I’m sorry.” Barilla needs to take positive corrective action to show a true change of heart, not just remorse.

Belize Tourist Board Breaks Bad

 Belize Tourist Board Breaks Bad

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Belize Tourism Board and Olson ad agency.

Last week, millions of Americans sat enthralled by one of the final episodes of Breaking Bad, the award-winning TV series about a chemistry teacher-turned-drug kingpin. As the episode unfolded, a potential slam became a golden opportunity for the country of Belize.

In the episode, drug lord Walter White is discussing with his consigliere ways to deal with someone who knows too much about White’s line of work. The lawyer asks White if he’s considered sending the individual in question “on a trip to Belize,” referring to a similar, previous problem in which the person, who was murdered, was said to have moved to the Central American nation. White retorts, “I’ll send you to Belize!” The phrase swiftly became one of the top five memes on the Internet – and an unexpected boon for Belize.

The Belize Tourist Board was on it like sand on a tourist’s toes. Their advertising agency, Olson, quickly crafted an ad that offered a free trip to show’s cast and creator, using clever inside references that delighted the show’s many fans. As ADWEEK noted, the country “took the reference in stride and is out to prove that a visit to Belize isn’t, in fact, a one-way trip to oblivion.”

The cute gimmick generated more headlines than Belize has probably received at any one time in history. It also represented some canny thinking by a small country that competes for its tourism dollars with larger and more easily reached neighbors like Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Peru. Instead of being offended by the connotation, they turned the reference into tourism gold.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) for the Belize Tourism Board and ad agency Olson, for taking a potentially unflattering catchphrase and turning it into a golden PR opportunity.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Seize unorthodox ways to call attention to your business, especially when raising marketing dollars is a challenge. Belize could have taken a conservative view and balked at promoting itself in this case; the phrase is, after all, a euphemism for murder. Instead, savvy marketing minds saw a unique and cost-effective opportunity to introduce their country to a demographic likely to appreciate what it has to offer. The result? They’re likely to make a killing.

Maker’s Mark: Mistake, or Marketing?

 Makers Mark: Mistake, or Marketing?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Maker’s Mark.

Maker’s Mark, one of the best-known American bourbon whiskies, has gotten more than its share of media attention recently. First, the small-batch distillery announced that global supply shortages were forcing it to produce more of its sweet spirit. To do this, the company said it would reduce its alcohol content from 45% alcohol (90 proof) to 42% (84 proof). Since bourbon lovers tend to like their alcohol, customer response was swift and unhappy. Aficionados questioned the company’s commitment to producing quality whiskey, and many threatened to switch brands. Within days, the spirit maker reversed its decision and issued a deeply humble statement that said, in part: “While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision. You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

It would appear that Maker’s Mark senior management learned a lesson from Coca-Cola’s infamous marketing debacle of the 1980s, when the soda maker abandoned its wildly popular flagship product in favor of “New Coke.” Three months later, facing full-scale revolts from both customers and bottlers, they were forced to return to their original formulation.

Or…was this all a grand publicity stunt? Bourbon, made only in the United States (Kentucky, specifically) has recently enjoyed growing popularity in Europe and Asia. Internet chat boards are rife with speculation that the quick backpedal suggests Maker’s Mark never intended to actually change their product. Instead, conspirators whisper, this “mistake” has successfully highlighted their name and commitment to a high-octane product in a time of rising global demand.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show). Strategy or stunt – really, does it matter?  Either way, people are talking about Maker’s Mark.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Never underestimate the affection for a brand icon. With its distinctive square bottle and red wax seal, Maker’s Mark has become one of America’s leading liquor brands. At a minimum, intensive market research should have been conducted before pursuing such a significant change. That said, management recognized the error and fell on its sword swiftly enough to limit serious damage to the brand. Cheers!

Is Volkswagen’s Ad Racist or Happy?

 Is Volkswagens Ad Racist or Happy?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Volkswagen.

Who knew that Volkswagen’s mock-Jamaican ad, which aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl, would ignite such a huge controversy online and in the Twitterverse? Apart from the stadium blackout and close winning score, this was the moment that garnered all other media and online attention. Media pundits are debating whether the ad is racist – a potential black eye for a company and its ad agency.

The controversial commercial features a white American male from Minnesota cheering up his downtrodden office colleagues with self-help phrases spoken in a Jamaican accent. The background music is “C’mon, Get Happy” by Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff.  The white man is the proud owner of a Volkswagen. Tagline: “Get in. Get happy.”

Even before airing, the commercial provoked debate about racism. There were calls for it to be removed from the Super Bowl’s playlist. Volkswagen stood by the ad and brought out Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, who said, “I think this is a very creative commercial which truly taps into the tremendous appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people have globally.” What do viewers think? The jury is out, and growing. The ad, which debuted on Volkswagen’s YouTube channel on Jan. 27, has received over 8,600,00 views.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Volkswagen for creating a PR moment that stands out without getting out of hand.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Let others do the talking – but control the chat. Better than fighting the battle head-on, Volkswagen secured the Jamaican government’s unofficial endorsement; if Jamaicans aren’t offended, why should anyone else be? Potentially racist heat removed from the debate, all that’s left is enormous curiosity, and millions of YouTube views and Tweets. A good combination of hype, damage control, and publicity.

Why Bain Capital is in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

BAINromney2 300x168 Why Bain Capital is in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

The PR Verdict: “C” for Bain Capital.

If any publicity is good publicity, then take a look at Bain Capital, the investment firm, founded by presidential Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  The firm is front and center in a TV ad, issued by the Obama campaign, undermining Romney’s record on jobs.  The ad’s main focus is Bain’s 1993 investment in a Kansas steel company, GST Steel.

The advertisement cuts between interviews with former GST workers and clips of Romney on the campaign trial, saying he knows what “makes jobs come and go.”  One ageing worker says of Bain, “It’s like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us,” while another says that Bain’s impact was “like watching an old friend bleed to death”.  Ironically, the ad echoes a strategy used by Newt Gingrich during Republican primaries, which characterised Romney’s firm as “rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company.”  Ouch!

A statement has been issued by Bain to clarify  certain facts but it has gained almost no traction in the wider media. One thing Bain can be sure of? Whatever it says will be drowned out, from now until November.  How then to protect a brand?

The PR Verdict: “C” for Bain Capital.  So far the statement issued to the media is adequate but won’t suffice.  Editorial coverage wont give the clarifying bang needed.

The PR Takeaway: Bain Capital is caught in the in the wrong place at the wrong time.  In its statement the firm reaffirmed that it takes no public position on any candidate, that Mitt Romney retired from Bain Capital over 13 years ago and that it has grown revenues in over 80 percent of its companies.  Fair enough! The bad news is that this will not get any serious airtime. Competing priorities are sexier.  Bain now needs strategically placed, low key advertising to convey its points without being edited.  Privately, why not start preparing for a partial rebrand, sometime after November?

To read the statement from Bain click here. To see the TV advertisement click here.

What’s your PR Verdict?

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