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"Are we pissed off? Yes." -- Tim Payne, a CNOOC spokesman, to The Los Angeles Times on U.S. pressure for the Chinese oil company to drop its pursuit of Unocal

Burger King (DEO) may be making a comeback, but its edgy ads have finally gone off the deep end. Last week the fast-food chain launched a TV and Internet campaign for Chicken Fries, its new poultry-based French fries. The ad blitz features a heavy metal band, dubbed CoqRoq, dressed in chicken masks and spouting cheesy lyrics such as "shake your lean white meat." But at www.coqroq.com, a photo gallery with fictional female fans featured sexually charged and obvious plays on the band's name. BK says it was a slipup caused by malfunctioning Web technology, and it pulled two photos within two hours of launch. That was just long enough to generate buzz among bloggers -- a by-product that doesn't seem lost on BK's ad agency. "We're trying to have a very distinct voice," says Jeff Hicks, CEO of Miami-based Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

CoqRoq is the latest saucy bid by fast-food chains to lure young burger lovers. BK's weird and once-raunchy subservient- chicken.com has drawn over 400 million viewers. Carl's Jr. (CKR) unleashed an ad with Paris Hilton lasciviously biting into a Spicy Burger; Hardee's put bikini-clad Sports Illustrated swimsuit models on cups hawked with Monster Thickburgers. "These guys are taking it one, two, three levels beyond McDonald's (MCD)," says Ron Paul, president of consultant Technomic.

BK calls the target for these promotions "Super Fans": 18- to 34-year-olds, mostly male, who eat fast food up to 15 times per month. At BK, they account for 49% of restaurant visits. That's why life is getting a whole lot racier in the drive-through lane.

Lured by the prospect of sweet returns, pension funds, endowments, and foundations are barreling into hedge funds. U.S. institutions last year boosted hedge assets by about 50%, to more than $100 billion, says consultant Casey, Quirk & Associates. But for many, it's a leap of faith. In a May poll of 45 institutions, 59% said they expect a major hedge-fund blowup within two years. More than a third of those responding to the survey, at a conference sponsored by Strategic Investment Group, said they "more or less backed into" a hedge plan. Forty-four percent didn't think their boards were capable of understanding hedge strategies. Still, 43% expected to boost hedge holdings to more than 20% of assets within five years.

The disconnect reflects immense pressure -- especially on underfunded pension plans -- to hit return targets, says David Rothkopf, chairman of the National Strategic Investment Dialogue, who directed the poll. "If the pack is moving into hedge funds, no one wants to be an outlier and risk falling behind." Nevertheless, hedge returns haven't been great lately, up just 1.06% on average in the first half of 2005, vs. the S&P 500's 0.82% decline, says Hennessee Group.

Store-return swindles used to be simple: A customer buys a cocktail dress for a big soir?e and returns it the next day, rumpled with tags intact. But today's scams are far more sophisticated -- and costly. Stores lost $16 billion to bogus returns in 2003, the most recent data, up 23% from 2002, says consultant KingRogers International.

The creativity of return artists is mind-boggling. E-tailers report that crooks buy differently priced but similar-looking DVD players online, then return the cheaper version as the expensive one after switching bar codes. Processing centers don't always check returned goods closely -- in fact, Mark Hilinski of software vendor The Return Exchange has even seen bricks returned in DVD boxes for refunds. In a tactic called "shoplisting," a thief pays maybe $10 for an unexpired receipt covering $500 of electronics or clothing, shoplifts the listed items, and returns them for a refund or gift card. The cards can be sold over the Net.

The underground market for receipts has been growing for years, as stores have liberalized return policies, says Read Hayes, director of the University of Florida's Loss Prevention Research Council. In April, the U.S. Secret Service charged eight Baltimore-area people with defrauding Marshalls stores out of more than $250,000 by stealing men's suits and returning them for cash using dummy receipts.

Now stores are using technology to fight back. The Retail Industry Leaders Assn. is testing a national Web portal that tracks thefts. The National Retail Federation is rolling out an online database to provide cops with incident reports and bar-code data. Retailers say they will report only major crimes by type, without identifying shoppers. Whether they can put a dent in the thriving business of return scams is another matter.

It's no secret that advertisers prefer to have their products appear in TV shows, not just in 30-second ads. But good luck figuring out how to price placements. Cadillac (GM) merely supplied free Escalades to producers of The Sopranos for airtime, yet Pontiac (GM) shelled out $2 million for a cameo appearance of its Solstice roadster on The Apprentice, says consultant iTVX. Now, Sanjay Dhar, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago business school, is working out a system for calculating return on investment for product-placement dollars. Dhar will combine Nielsen data on a product's ad reach, placement specifics, and sales.

Gary Hamel, the influential strategy guru who invented such seminal concepts as "strategic intent" and "core competency," has been quiet lately. He hasn't published a book in five years, but now he's helping London Business School launch what it is billing as the world's first university-based management innovation lab.

Hamel, 50, believes most big companies aren't good at creating innovative management processes -- they're built to create products. "How do you come up with new ideas and test them?" he says. Hence the Management Innovation Lab, which would bring companies and scholars together. Hamel expects to have a half-dozen professors working with at least five outfits within two years. The task is well suited to a European B-school: While U.S. profs, Hamel says, are "absorbed in papers" and getting published in research journals, in Europe business schools are "more closely connected to the real world." Here's his chance to prove it.

Shoppers have gotten used to fielding cell-phone calls in stores from family members suggesting things they might pick up. Now retailers themselves are jumping into the act. Walk into a pilot store of the f.y.e. or Coconuts audio-video chains, and your Bluetooth-enabled phone may get a text message asking if you mind being hit with ads and product samples as you shop. Those who opt in receive movie trailers, music downloads, and game come-ons.

The system is being tested in 10 stores, with an eye toward rolling it out to most of the 850 outlets owned by Trans World Entertainment twe). Greg Harper, a senior strategic adviser at TWE, says messages will go only to those shoppers who grant permission: "You have to say 'yes' before we send anything to your phone." In-store kiosks tell shoppers how to set their phones to get that Fantastic Four movie trailer they see playing in the store. TWE says it hasn't had any complaints yet.

If the test takes off, expect TWE to add partnerships with game and movie companies. In advertising, there's no such thing as a "busy" signal.

In an attempt to tap into what it calls "new ruralism," a Florida developer is betting that wealthy Americans are eager to escape suburban sprawl and spend weekends working the land. St. Joe Co. (JOE) has broken ground on the first of three planned projects in northwestern Florida. The lots run as large as 150 acres. But these are hardly for cowpokes: Amenities include fitness centers, watercraft rentals, and oyster roasts.

St. Joe says the first 134 lots were oversubscribed at its RiverCamps development on Crooked Creek, 130 miles west of Tallahassee. The latest group of lots went on sale with an average price of $342,900. To maximize the getaway experience, St. Joe has a "camp master" to coordinate activities such as kayaking, nature study, and stargazing. Owners can submit requests to the concierge staff, such as stocking a refrigerator prior to arrival, at a Web site. Fire up the Mercedes SUV -- we're heading for the woods.


Race, Class, and the Future of Ferguson
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