"Yes, I'm sorry I did it." -- AOL co-founder Steve Case admitting to PBS's Charlie Rose that he regrets participating in the company's ill-fated merger with Time Warner
So long, Led Zeppelin. General Motors' (GM) Cadillac division has just dropped its five-year ad campaign featuring the rock band. And as troubled GM tries to get its brands to resonate with young car buyers, Cadillac isn't the only line getting a marketing makeover. The company has just hired New York marketing consultancy Translation Consultation & Brand Imaging to surround its Chevy brand with younger sounds and, perhaps, hipper stars.
Chevy's problem is pretty straightforward. It is the GM brand with the most products priced to appeal to buyers under age 30, but its average buyer is 46. Chevy has been losing traction with young people. In 2002, almost 40% of those under age 26 said they'd consider buying a Chevy. Today, that number is down to 35%, despite three new products under $20,000 -- the retro-styled HHR, the economy car Aveo, and the Cobalt.
Translation Consultation has the right track record for fixing this. It hooked up Justin Timberlake with McDonald's (MCD) and Jay-Z with Hewlett-Packard and Nike (NKE). No word on who, if anyone, might be right for Chevy. Translation CEO Steve Stoute says he's still working out how to make Chevy more relevant in urban markets on both coasts and in the South. Chevy, he says, has long been pitched as "American" in "maybe too much a red-state way."
For years, the Bush Administration has had securities class-action superstar William Lerach in its sights, targeting the lawyer in a probe into illegal kickbacks and pushing for laws aimed at curbing investor suits. Now Lerach, who has long maintained his innocence, is turning the tables with a maneuver that could play out just in time for the 2008 Presidential campaign.
On July 28, a federal judge in Dallas is expected to give the go-ahead to a class-action complaint against Vice-President Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton (HAL). When the suit was first filed four years ago, the complaint didn't mention Cheney, although he was Halliburton's CEO at the time of the alleged wrongdoings. In subsequent filings, his name barely came up.
Now, a series of legal twists have made Lerach, a big donor to Democratic causes, the lead attorney in the class action, which has been refiled. (A judge threw out an earlier settlement.) And his rewrite of the complaint replaces "the defendants" with "Cheney's executive team" and drops Cheney's name 170 times in 183 pages. The Veep isn't a named defendant. The statute of limitations prevents that. But among other things, the complaint accuses him of insider trading and misleading investors about Halliburton's asbestos liability. "Cheney had motive to make Halliburton look good because of what he was involved in at the time -- the election," says Lerach, adding that he is looking forward to deposing Cheney personally. A private lawyer for Cheney declined to comment for attribution but said the suit's allegations are without merit.
On Aug. 1, India will become the first country to ban images of smoking in all TV shows and new films. Under the directive, issued in June by Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, each time an actor lights up on TV, the screen must be blurred. Smoking scenes in existing films will be accompanied by a screen crawl warning of the dangers of smoking. The ban follows a previous directive requiring that, by next February, cigarette packs sold in India (where half the men and up to 21% of women smoke) must carry a skull and crossbones and photos of smoking-related ills -- a mouth with cancerous tumors, for instance.
In the U.S., where 20% of adults smoke, a new study from Dartmouth College found that 75% of 2004's youth-targeted films (rated G, PG, or PG-13) depicted smoking. In fact, among the 100 top-grossing films released each year from 1996 to 2004, such movies had more smoking in them than did R-rated ones. The study did find a decline in on-screen smoking overall, from 96% in 1996 to 77% in 2004. But "youths continue to see smoking in most of the movies they see," says Dartmouth pediatrician James Sargent.
Call them blogbusters. Video diaries made by directors or actors on a movie set have consistently been on iTunes' most-downloaded list this summer. Some of these moviemaking video journals remain on the site's top 100 list even after the movies are released. Among the latest entries: Actor Jack Black's videoblog about the making of Nacho Libre (which he also produced) and Zach Braff's videotaped diary about The Last Kiss, the upcoming DreamWorks comedy in which he stars. Director Kevin Smith pumped out 75 video posts about the making of Clerks II. They got 3 million downloads before the movie came out on July 21.
WHY READ IT
Want to start a viral or buzz marketing program? Keep an eye on this blog from the Word of Mouth Marketing Assn. for the latest research on the topic. Recent posts muse on the state of podcast advertising (it's expected to surpass the blog advertising market by 2010), the number of CEOs who are blogging (just 7%), and the growing demographic of "surfer" moms. "They seek relationships, and they want to connect," posts one blogger about the 32 million mothers who spend time on social networking or online community sites. "They do not want just to download information."
Feeling super-squeezed at the pump when you fill up with premium? Here's why: The price difference between regular unleaded, which has an octane rating above 85, and premium gas (above 90) has risen from 23 cents a gallon to 30 cents nationally over the past year -- bringing the average price per gallon for the high-octane stuff to $3.29.
Blame ethanol. The corn-based additive, which makes gasoline burn more cleanly, also evaporates more quickly than MTBE, the additive it has replaced. So refiners have to take extra steps to maintain the octane level of ethanol-blended fuel.
Prices for premium gas (whose high octane level helps prevent engine knock) are highest in the Northeast, where supplies of the special blends are tightest. In Boston, it's about 35 cents higher per gallon. The premium on premium isn't as steep in car-crazy California, in part because refiners simply lowered the octane level of premium fuel, from 92 to 91, when the state switched to ethanol additives three years ago.
Maybe it's because Americans have fewer "core" confidants these days, as a headline-grabbing study proclaimed in a recent issue of the American Sociological Review. Whatever the reason, at least three ad campaigns are currently using the same gimmick: asking people to reveal their secrets online.
The confessional Web sites are brought to you by Secret deodorant (shareyour secret.com), Greased Lightning household cleaner (filthyconfessions.com), and TV's Game Show Network, whose site (gsn.com/secret) invites viewers to upload confessional videos to promote its remake of the 1950s quiz show, I've Got a Secret.
Secret spokeswoman Michelle Vaeth says the print and TV ads urging women to "share your secret" fit the Procter & Gamble brand's message about "feminine strength." Visitors to the Web site can view other people's entries (about 4,500 since mid-July), which run from the silly ("I'm addicted to Tetris") to the poignant ("I believe I was the reason my daughter turned to drugs"). The voyeuristic appeal is considerable, judging from the high number of "views" on some posts. "We're thrilled," says Vaeth. "It has been resonating really well."
So far nearly 10,000 consumers have spilled their guts to Greased Lightning's filthyconfessions by phone or with a fill-in-the-blanks template online.
The basic idea isn't new. In 2004, ad shop Crispin Porter + Bogusky ran a campaign for Method soap asking shoppers to "come clean" on a Web site. Beyond the ad world, the popular PostSecret blog (postsecret.blogspot.com) has been displaying postcards scrawled with secrets since January of last year.
Wharton School marketing professor Americus Reed is skeptical about the payoff. A call to bare our souls may tap our desire to express ourselves, he says, "but it's a far cry from motivating a person to buy deodorant." Marketers are betting he's wrong. 3M, for one, says it's considering a campaign about secret uses for Post-it Notes.
You've heard about robot space explorers and robot workers. Now a pair of Japanese companies -- tech startup Trade Science and online securities firm Monex Beans Holding -- has teamed up to provide robot fund managers for individual investors in Japan. If all goes as planned, next year investors will be able to choose from among 10 so-called Kaburobos, each offering a different investment strategy (tested using data from the past 15 years to see how it would have performed against market indexes). Using algorithmic programs, the robots will make the day-to-day decisions about what stocks and indexes to trade -- and when.
The idea is the brainchild of Trade Science's CEO, Koichi Kato, who once worked for Microsoft (MSFT) in Japan. Kato had seen computer models at Tokyo's Waseda University, where researchers were working on artificial intelligence programs for speech recognition and genome sequencing. Tinkering with them, he created a trading model using algorithms yielding annual returns of 300%.
Most trading desks rely on automated models to arbitrage or anticipate market swings. But Kato says no one has thought to market them to the masses. "Which would you choose," he asks, "a fund manager you don't know or a robot with a clear track record?"