Madoff, And When Is ‘Evil’ Evil…

What’s in a word? Really everything, so take heed…

Those of us writers (especially in PR and marketing) that agonize over every word ever written, understand that the choice of words is a crucial judgment call, for it can cause unwanted ripple effects, twisted misperceptions or can be interpreted in the most unexpected of ways. And then consider how some words have the power to engage, while others can get glazed over by overuse, in particular, words such as exciting or unique, which are no longer exciting or unique.

And then there are those words that have become synonymous with a single person, event or brand, or a series of such, not in the grammatical sense, of course, but by association, which instantly inhibits their use.

And, for me, such a word is ‘evil’.

Now, the main headline of The Wall Street Journal of June 30, used the word ‘evil’ in reference to Madoff’s epic fraud – a direct quote from the judge that presided at Madoff’s trial, US District Court Judge Denny Chin. Not that for a nano second do I think that Madoff’s crime does not fully deserve the 150 year sentence given, but it is the choice of word that stunned, for that very word belongs for evermore – almost exclusively — to the greatest cruelty that has ever been bestowed upon mankind, the Nazi regime and the unspeakable horrors it unleashed. I believe the word ‘evil’ has a specific connotation, in particular since 1945, that is well outside the confines of dictionaries or thesaurus and thus cannot really be used freely as a descriptive word, nor separated from its word association. And since 1945, there were other word associations with ‘evil’, as in Khemer Rouge, the Armenian genocide, Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia and more.

Madoff caused a horror of another kind, destroying lives in another way, through the disappearance of financial safety nets, causing personal losses of gigantic proportions. Basically by single handedly concentrating on saving his neck, he deprived masses of investors of their life’s savings. But surely there are other descriptive word choices that would separate his actions from the ‘evil’ of horrors of concentration camps, medical atrocities, torture, terrorism and death.

Questions as to when evil is evil or whether there are degrees of evil, have been discussed by theologians over centuries. However, still unresolved to date, we are left with what the word connotes.

I am sure that Judge Chin meant no harm in uttering the word ‘evil’, most likely an emotional reaction to what the court had just witnessed. That said, it did make headlines and for me, therefore, diluted the true ‘evilness’ of the word.

If we scrutinize our politicians as to their choice of words, so should we scrutinize all elected officials…

Who Says Stunts Are Yesterday’s Promotion?

In recessionary times, companies are re-evaluating proposals for marketing campaigns from every angle to make sure they are cost effective.  Clients almost want a “guarantee” of ROI on every tactic before they venture out and “gray” no longer counts. Apparently, building awareness of a new product (as an example) or generating visibility for a company’s CSR (corporate social responsibility), often a prime goals of PR campaigns, now fall into the gray area according to clients and unless they can be tied into tangible results or are translatable into profits, they are put on the back burner.

One would assume that that sort of thinking would put traditional large-scaled promotional events at bay or, minimally, on a shelf to be dusted off in better economic times.  But not so with companies that understand their value and, as such, are bucking the trend.

Verizon’s two 99-cent campaigns launched in New York City this month, are an example of how imagination, big picture thinking and partnerships can meld together into successful campaigns. Apparently the original goal was to tout a Verizon business segment that has low consumer awareness: prepaid cellular plans. And yes, of course, the pre-paid plan’s daily usage fee is 99 cents.

As to the campaigns, they were planned for the season.  Just in time for the official start of summer, Verizon teamed up with Mr. Softee Ice Cream to sell ice cream from four Verizon Wireless-wrapped trucks at high-traffic locations in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens during the lunch hour.  Branded napkins and additional prepaid details came with the ice cream.

Earlier in the month, Verizon had teamed up with a New York City Cab Company for one day only, sponsoring 99-cent cab rides that started from select locations (with Verizon-branded taxis) for destinations anywhere in Manhattan.  When you consider that a typical cab ride in New York City can cost between $10 and $20 — or more — depending on traffic and destination – that’s quite an eye-popping deal.

Still, what’s troubling here is that, according to a report in Adweek, Verizon’s original goal of building consumer awareness for its pre-paid plan got muddled.  Apparently, the success of the promotions, were also tied to immediate sales.

Counting on increasing consumer awareness through such an imaginative campaign is absolutely realistic.  Counting on immediate sign ups for the plan by virtue of having eaten an ice cream or riding around in an almost free cab is not, even with the support of a large NY ad campaign.

I think that “gray” (in this case, consumer awareness) does move the needle and that ROI needs to be built into any program — but counted on, a bit down the road.

Celebrating Champions, “Americana” style…

It almost happened to the Lakers team, following their National Basketball Association championship win on June 14.  They almost did not get their ‘rightful’ celebration, Americana style — a victory parade.  Los Angeles fans held their breath in wait… For what’s a victory without a parade?  It’s as “Americana” as apple pie, baseball or the 4th of July.

Of course, the city balked at a parade for the Lakers in light of its near billion-dollar deficit and an estimated cost of $2.1 million for the citywide parade. Still, city officials should have considered all the money the Lakers have pumped into city coffers since they moved downtown and searched for an equitable resolution before balking — loudly.

In any case, as we all now know, the private sector stepped in. The old adage of “where there is a will there is a way” held true for the Lakers and their euphoric fans.  Some quick creative thinking as to available recourses came to the rescue — and the Lakers’ got their due – a victory parade.

With all this babbling fuss, one wonders what was the harder win  (facetiously, of course), the game or the parade…

The Lakers’ world championship celebration also gave pause to reflect how America celebrates its champions, whether Little League champions, Academy Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, local marathon race winners, spelling bee winners or business innovations. America provides an environment where personal, and team, “best” is encouraged, respected and then rewarded.

America is enamored with its winners, a seemingly superficial trait that may very well be at the very root of the competitiveness that is engendered on the path to excellence.

The Lakers win once again proves that all is possible…

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Steps In, Lightly…

It’s not news that large groups of bloggers influence buying decisions and that companies, in taking note, are sending free products to bloggers who have large followings with the hopes that they will either review the product itself or include it in their conversations with their followers.

Not really unlike the traditional route of sending a product to a journalist for review, with the exception being that journalists are ethically required to remain objective while bloggers, who may want to keep the flow of free products coming, might not always be.  The issue gets even murkier when companies, realizing that this is an inexpensive form of direct advertising, really a ‘goldmine’ for them, actually pay certain bloggers to write these reviews.

No wonder the FTC is taking note and planning to implement “self-regulation” policies for bloggers and other social media influencers, as detailed in a report co-written by Gunther Sonnenfeld of ThinkState and Emily Levin, a corporate attorney specializing in IP and eCommerce initiatives, “Why Brands Should Rethink Partnerships With Bloggers.”

And just in time, for problems abound…

One such example is that bloggers can make claims or have opinions about products that are not in line with the companies’ specs about a product.  This is worrisome, especially in the case of healthcare products.  The FTC position is that both advertiser and blogger are responsible for blogger’s false or unsubstantiated statements as well as the failure to disclose clearly that he/she is being paid for services – whether with free products or fees.

Another example cited in the report is that of a college student who has a reputation as a video game expert and maintains a personal blog where he posts entries about his gaming experiences and offer opinions about video game hardware and software.  As such it behooves the manufacturer of a newly released video game system to send the student a free copy of the system and ask the student to write about it on his blog.  The student tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review.  Not much of a surprise here.   The FTC guideline states that the blogger should conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.

Look, advertisers can’t really play watchdog over conversations or disclosures, but it is their responsibility to monitor, as well as course-correct messaging and/or respective content positioning, to steer clear of the viral spread of misinformation about their products.  Moreover, reviews from paid bloggers cannot, and should not, be promoted as objective opinions.

And if a watchful eye from the FTC will help keep the boundaries between objective and subjective reviews well defined, I am all for it.  It may also engender a type of social responsibility that could spread throughout the blogging community at large…