Bowel bothers, $4 million can-can, wow- lessness, flogger flops, unfab abs, FedEx, how “the social” never happened, what public bathroom walls have to do with big mergers, and why Gossip Girl isn’t feeling lucky. After a year of celebrating the good, welcome to the second annual round-up of the bad and the ugly: the Brain Pickings Not-So-Much Awards.
By Maria Popova
With all the health-related propaganda oozing from the popular media, you’d think it’s getting easier for the nation to stay healthy. Well, not so much. Last year gave us the glorious E. coli outbreak from spinach that caused 3 deaths and 200 illnesses. And what did this year bring?
Another E. coli outbreak (this time from beef patties and frozen pizzas — we’re downgrading); asthma- attack-provoking sulfites in dried sweet potatoes; thousands of cans of beans with botulism– causing bacteria; Veggie Booty with Salmonella; and various- untimely-body-exits-inducing baby carrots with Shigella.
So has it been a great year for the 5-a-day set? Eh, not so much. Unless the number refers to the frequency of daily number-two runs. Then 2007 hasn’t been half crappy.
This was going to be the year of good television. The return of comedy that’s actually funny. The rise of smart scripted dramas. The time for well-written shows to claim glory, audiences and ad dollars back from the national tragedy that is reality TV. At least judging by the upfront extravaganza, that was the plan.
Millions of dollars were spent (3 to 5, to be exact), grand venues were rented, all-star Academy-winning casts were made to do the can-can in uncompromising spotlights, glamorous swag was sent to the media and marketing folk who matter, big plans were laid, $9.2 were sucked in from advertisers.
And then the WGA struck. More than 12,000 writers raised their communal and previously snubbed, ignored, unheard voice for the first time in two decades to ask for a teeny bit more than the measly revenue crumbs they’ve been getting. No writing, no audience, no ad dollars. Network terror. Panic. The unmistakable smell of TV exec shit.
For all those reasons and more, a well-deserved Not-So-Much award goes to the 2007 TV Upfront. Congrats, too bad TV execs can’t retire on a virtual trophy once they’re handed that cardboard box.
Billy Boy, we love your humanitarian work — but Vista? Seriously? How about you first test it out on your PC at home next time, eh? Needless to say, the “WOW” moment never came. Unless we count the “WOW” you got after PC World (!) named Vista the biggest tech disappointment of 2007. Combine that with the overwhelmingly underwhelming review by ultimate tech tastemaker Engadget, and there you have it: wow? Not so much.
Really, though. Isn’t this why you’re paying those pimply programmer kids seven-figure salaries? Feed them more pizza, buy them more beer, do what you gotta do. Just don’t let another one of these slide.
Rather than learning from last year’s flogs debacle (hey there, Sony PSP and Wal-Mart), the ethically challenged bastard-children of the marketing industry decided to kick it up a notch this year: they hired full-fledged floggers. Under the PayPerPost model, thousands of bloggers brokered their “opinions” to eager advertisers — it’s Payola 2.0 and it’s going down in flames already.
So the FCC threatened. WOMMA (the Word of Mouth Marketing Association) initiated an investigation and proceeded to slam the practice as non-compliant with their Ethics Code. The New York Times raised a disapproving eyebrow at chief offenders PayPerPost.com, ReviewMe.com and SponsoredReviews.com. Then it really escalated: first the FTC stuck a major red flag on it all, then it got as bad as it gets — Google spanked the questionable practice big-time. (Because, let’s be honest, these days a bitch-slapping by Google is far more serious a threat than anything coming from a Federal Toothless Committee.)
In the end, PayPerPost (legally IZEA) folded some of its properties and quietly tucked away others. And the obvious answer to the “Isn’t paid blogging a great, legitimate, win-win idea?” question seems to be an unanimous “Not so much.”
It’s not that they didn’t give her a chance. They did. And boy oh boy did they regret it. Because Britney’s “comeback performance” at the VMA’s was just the kind of ordeal that sent 99% into almost-feeling-bad-for- her-but-not-quite bouts of convulsive laughter. The remaining 1% got fired because of it…although we’re pretty sure they too laughed all the way to the Unemployment Office. Wait, wait. We take that back. the remaining 1% were Chris Crocker.
But the abysmal performance isn’t what’s earning Brit the Not So Much award this year. Because while it may have been abysmal, at least it was real. Which isn’t something that could be said of her spray-tanned- over-the-flab abs. If only she had spent those 2 hours rehearsing, then maybe it wouldn’t have ended like…oh, who are we kidding.
And what’s an annual shitlist without an Ann Coulter entry? Nope, it’s not for dropping the F-bomb on both Al Gore and John Edwards. It’s not for saying the Jews need to be “perfected” into Christianity. (All that and more has come to be naturally expected from the depravity dame.) It’s not even for comparing the New Testament to FedEx.
It’s for doing it on Donny Deutsch‘s The Big Idea. Here’s the thing: Donny, always the media whore, is probably much less disturbed by stabs at his private beliefs, such as religion, than he is by even the slightest allusions to his public failures. Because, coincidentally, Donny’s big Super Bowl idea this year crashed and burned like no other. Which we’re sure only added fuel to the fire of his grumping about how BBDO’s spots for FedEx outperform any Deutsch Super Bowl creations year after year.
Congrats, Ann. You’ve reached a point where your bile reaches far beyond your intended sore spots.
And so it is, Microsoft appears to be the Tina Fey of the Not So Much awards (you know, snagging the honors in multiple categories)…only not nearly as smart and much, much less sexy. Case in point: the Zune.
You may vaguely remember last year’s overhyped launch and the sharing-based “Welcome to the Social” positioning. Well, after an initial review by make-or-break tech expert Engadget that actually included the word “sucked” and a subsequent extensive confirmation of the Zune’s overall lackingness, it became apparent that the only sharing going on was that of worldwide opinions on what exactly about the Zune makes it suck.
So swinging between damage control and a second stab at taking down the iPod, the unfortunate underdog decided to pretend like “the social” never happened (wait, it actually never did) and position the Zune with the sharply original (in another universe) “You Make It You.” More hype followed, including one rather blatant rip-off of a certain shot-down- by-client Cutwater spot for Motorola by Michel Gondry, or of the wonderful “Hello Tomorrow” spot for adidas by Spike Jonze from a few years ago, or of both.
In the end, the Zune continues to tank, Microsoft continues burning through ad agencies like a celebrutante through rehab stints, and the answer to the “Are we bumping the iPod yet?” question continues to remain: “Not so much.”
Remember in high school when the bathroom walls were a graffitified slander fest, a Sharpie-driven manifestation of petty popularity vendettas? Well, seems like Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, the same nice guy who made his own salary $1 last year and basked in the press ooohing and awwwing over it, is more high school girl than business big boy. Or at least that’s what his doings in the business version of bathroom walls — you know, the stock market forums — suggest.
Because this year was the year he got caught Sharpie-handed, busted for being the mysterious bad-mouther of Whole Foods competitor Wild Oats all across the stock forums, something he’d been doing since 2005 — when, apparently, his plan of acquiring Wild Oats was first cooked up. (A plan that finally came to fruition when Whole Foods agreed to buy Wild Oats for $565 million, or $18.50 a share, this year.) That mysterious had been dishing out rather specific prophetic projections, including the prediction that Wild Oats would crumble into bankruptcy after its stock price dropped to $5, as well as some pretty stabby critiques of Wild Oats management. So how did the mystery bad-mouther get traced back to Mackey?
Via the very, very, very cleverly devised username: Rahodeb. Which just so happens to be wife Deborah’s name with the syllables swapped backwards. Even more embarrassingly, “Rahodeb” went as far as revealing, like, an ohmigod-total crush on Mackey, complete with confessions like “I like Mackey’s haircut” and “I think he looks cute!”
Not to worry, though. Our aforementioned government hero, the FTC, stepped in hands-on-hips and cape aflow to resolve the issue by questioning the bigger-than-high-school legal issues about a Whole Foods / Wild Oats merger. Too bad big bad villain Bureaucracy got in the way — the case is still pending, and we’re left hanging for a final word. But, meanwhile, we’re pleased to present Rahodeb with a Not-So-Much award for a high-school-to-business-world transition.
It’s not news that product placement, branded entertainment, or whatever else you wanna call the ubiquitous paid-for logo-slapping on today’s screens, has become a big deal. Some takes on it are actually marginally believable and not too disruptive of the show’s flow. NBC and Bravo had the formula right again this year, with 8 of the top 10 most successful (a.k.a. least likely to piss off audiences) product integrations.
So what is the formula? The pros say it best: Frank Zazza, CEO of product placement valuation company ITVX points the finger to seamlessness: â€œ[Seamlessness] is the key to the future of product placement… If it is done organically and seamlessly, it will match [the viewerâ€™s] real world.â€
Hmmm, we have to wonder what kind of wax the CW folks had in their ears when deciding to go smack against the expert advice. Sure, they’re hungry to rise above being the pimply loser at the popular kids’ party that is broadcast television. And, sure, they may be lusting after the 13-24 female set with shows like the flashback-to-the-worst-of-high-school Gossip Girl. But seemlessness, it seems, wasn’t anywhere on the roadmap for getting there.
See, the CW chose to splatter Verizon products all over that canvas of mediocrity that is Gossip Girl (a gig so inexplicably sought-after that it ignited a vicious three-way bid-off against T-Mobile and AT&T, which Verizon in the end won.) And by all over we mean all over: long pan-and-zooms on Verizon devices, unnaturally lengthy screen time of text messages (and, yes, we mean unnatural even in the uber-texty universe of teenage girls)…you get the idea.
Meanwhile, they choose to purposely mask the most natural, plot-based use of one of today’s most universally recognized brands: Google. In fact, a brand so crucial that they simply couldn’t get around it in the story line, and so powerfully popular through word-of-mouth alone that it didn’t even need to pay for placement. Most importantly, a brand so strong that it’s inevitably recognized beneath the changed colors of its homepage, the generic “Search” name, and the bland “1st Result” label for its iconic “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. How’s that for matching the viewer’s “real world.”
What an ironic allegory for the power of brands this is — goes to show that no product placement budget can match the pure value of authenticity. In the great words of Google VP of Marketing David Lawlee, “It’s easier to do a thousand little things than one 30-second spot, if you have the world’s attention.” Unfortunately for the CW, the world’s attention in this case was neither there nor generating revenue.
Spotted: CW trying oh-so-hard to score with the cool kids but scoring the year’s biggest Not-So-Much award instad. Fake recognizes fake, little net.