Category Archives: Blogs

SuperBowl commercials: Best [Chrysler’s hymn to Detroit] and Worst [Groupon’s tasteless humor]

My personal favorite: American industry, American workers, and the power of a great American city, by Chrysler

Groupon easily wins for the worst ad. Unless you agree that saving $15 at a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago is the equal of the cultural annihilation and genocide that’s been underway in Tibet, you might even call it creepy. What will they think of next — equating the Holocaust with one of the Second Avenue Deli’s incomparable hot pastrami sandwiches? All this proves is that having a company valued at $6-billion doesn’t mean you have a dime’s worth of common sense or an ounce of sensitivity.

Twitter exploded last night with instant revilement over Groupon’s commercials. This morning, there were plenty of angry posts by bloggers and newspaper writers. Time asks: “Did they merely push the envelope, or did they cross a line?” The NY Times wondered “whether the start-up has burned through a lot of good will.” Groupon’s hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, said the company “cheapened itself” when it “trivialized the oppression of the people of Tibet.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese — oppressors of Tibet — were also not happy about the spot (but, obviously, for other reasons).

In addition to the Tibet spot, Groupon prepared two other commercials:

In a bid to illustrate that it understands that the problems of Tibet, the Brazilian rainforest, and high seas whaling are indeed serious, Groupon created a web page that invites viewers to contribute money to aid these causes. But even here, Groupon is on slippery ground. Under Cuba Gooding Jr’s video about whaling, there’s a “urgent message” and a “donate” button in which viewers are urged to donate $15 to Greenpeace — and get a $15 Groupon credit in exchange: “Your essentially free donation will go to help end commercial whaling.” Greenpeace is hardly a universally admired advocate. Meanwhile, no kickbacks are offered for contributions to Tibet, the rainforest, or building schools “in some of the world’s poorest villages” (the schools video was not yet up).

The attitude conveyed by last night’s commercials might have been predictable — it’s reflected in this commercial that was prepared by Groupon when it was just getting started, in early 2009 [WARNING: the following video may not be suitable for young children] :

You’ll find all of the SuperBowl commercials through a link at YouTube.


My son is gay

This is not what you’d expect.

Whether or not the statement applies to the boy pictured here is, in fact, irrelevant. He’s just 5 years old, for heaven’s sake!

What counts is that his mom won’t stand for him being bullied … bullied by his classmates’ moms (who should know better) or by another else!

This is an exceptional post, by “Cop’s Wife does not remain silent” at NerdyAppleBottom .com.

Nerdy Apple Bottom’s post has drawn (to this hour) nearly 30,000 comments (not “likes” — actual comments!), including about 10,000 comments added in the last 24 hours. [UPDATE: By Nov. 10, there were over 43,000 comments.]

Read it — and pass it along.

I’m back from BlogWorld NewMedia Expo

This is what it’s all about:

… As we celebrate mediocrity, all the boys upstairs want to see, how much you’ll pay for what you used to get for free …

… Can’t turn him into a company man, can’t turn him into a whore, and the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore …

‘Curse of Joe Biden’ … or editors stuck in their sophomore year

Vice President Biden’s barely audible use of the “F” word was newsworthy, made-for-the-Internet flash. But front page play in four of New York’s five newspapers?!?

New York media’s fixation with the “F” word exploded yesterday ahead of the Biden story. Someone protesting a massive Brooklyn redevelopment project hacked into an electronic traffic sign and inserted “F— Ratner,” spelling out the four-letter word and directing it at the developer, Bruce Ratner.

We reported yesterday how online editors were divided on using a photo of the “F” sign in its natural versus an edited state. Bloggers went au natural, as did The Brooklyn Paper.

However, the Times, Post and NY1 obliterated three of the word’s four letters.

Who were they protecting? The children who’d see today’s front pages — or hear the buzz on TV or the interent — and easily guess what was left out? Or readers who still have a sense of propriety — certainly, they would not be offended by Metro’s giant f****g. Give me a F—ing break!

Although both the Times and Post yesterday prominently featured the traffic sign online —  edited — neither referenced it in their print editions today.

As for Biden, the Times was alone is not running a big story on his stumble, covering it instead at the end of a bill-signing sidebar on A19:

Mr. Biden introduced Mr. Obama, lauding the president’s “perseverance” and “clarity of purpose.” But in a remark that he clearly did not intend to be heard, Mr. Biden used a vulgarity in his private congratulations to the president that, while not audible inside the room, was picked up by a broadcast microphone and spread quickly across the Internet.

“Mr. President, this is a big [expletive] deal,” Mr. Biden whispered, inserting an adjective not used in polite conversation. Later, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, sent out a message over Twitter: “And yes, Mr. Vice President, you’re right.”

Subway tragedy: Everything changed in a New York minute

A woman going about her work-a-day routine dropped her gym bag onto a subway track at the start of Thursday night’s rush hour. Then she did what every New Yorker knows instinctively not to do: She jumped onto the track to retrieve it.

On the 11 o’clock news, we saw transit workers washing away her blood.

Within minutes, bloggers were on it … even the New York Times’ City Room was updating, and in this case the Times drew ahead of the pack.

When something like this happens, people want to know about it now. Not in an hour, not on the six o’clock or 11 o’clock news — now. In New York, particularly when it involves the city’s lifeline — the subways — and even more so when it happens at a station filled with youngsters heading home from school, people — included worried parents — want information immediately.

Chad Rachman shot the dropped bag that led to a 48-year-old woman's death. The picture ran on page one of the NY Post.

With that in mind … what’s left for next day print?

Friday morning’s papers covered the story in grizzly detail, and there’d be more on Saturday. A 48-year-old woman (initially reported as a school-age girl) died as she attempted to scramble back onto the platform, squeezed between the train and the platform.

From the Daily News:

“The train hit her and her head was stuck between the platform and the train,” said Katy Liang, 12, a seventh-grader at Robert Wagner Middle School.

“A woman was screaming ‘La cabeza! La cabeza!” said Katy, saying the Spanish word for “head.

The NY Post (pictured) carried the day. Instead of joining the Times and News in featuring shots of emergency workers on the station platform, it zeroed in on the bag the woman was attempted to recover. Inside, gym clothes and toiletries. Nothing worth dying for. Kudos to photographer Chad Rachman who waited for that shot.

From the Post account:

“You could see some woman with her head stuck in between the train [and the platform] and her arms sticking out,” recalled witness Andrew Pistella, 30. “Some guy was screaming, ‘Is this real? Is this real?’ It looked like a mannequin.”

It was bedlam on the platform, with children, teenagers and old ladies shrieking hysterically, witnesses said.

“Who drops their [bag] down there, then jumps down there to get it?” Pistella asked.

The money quote’s in the Times’ follow-up account one day later:

Her father, Robert Mankos, 82, said Friday that he had hardly begun to process his daughter’s death and that he already felt stretched past his limit from caring for his wife, who has Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

“I felt like 60 before,” he said in a phone interview from his home in North Bergen, N.J. “I feel like 105 now.”

Ms. Mankos lived by herself and had never married, her father said. He said she often visited her mother at a nursing home in New Jersey.

Mr. Mankos said he could not fathom why his daughter had jumped onto the subway tracks. “I guess she dropped her purse,” he said. “Except you never do that. Never.”

The family was planning a small private service in the coming days.

“It’s too late now,” Mr. Mankos said. “I’ll be praying for the rest of my life, until I die.”

Out of SXSW in Texas …

Out of SXSW in Texas … David Carr’s beat by Gawker ‘All The TIme’ … This is news?

Just a quick taste from Austin. Wish I was there.

Every merchant’s nightmare: Customers who are mad as hell, and aren’t going to take it anymore

You know what it’s like. Things aren’t clicking right, you’re not at your best, it’s a bad hair day. Shit happens.

Then a customer walks in whose day is bad but who’s been suppressing his or her crankiness — until now. That customer is about to make your life a living Hell.

Search Google for the phrase, “No excuse for bad service.” You’ll get 345,000 links.

Broaden it to simply, “Bad service,” and the tally reaches 3,360,000.

Downtown Des Moines, whose quiet, snow-covered streets were rocked by a viral e-mail and Facebook attack on a locally-owned restaurant.

A restaurant owner in Des Moines, Iowa, found out last week just how quickly those numbers add up, and how rapidly his enterprise could come under the knife. The agony of Legends American Grill owner Mark Rogers is a cautionary tale on the power of social media to make or break reputations on a dime.

A hair in a teacher’s salad began an encounter that led, within hours, to a viral e-mail that was the talk of sleepy Des Moines. Within a day or so, 2,000 people friended a Facebook page titled “Keep Legend’s American Grill Teacher (and Customer) Free”. The page’s intent — to destroy Legends and its owner and the owner’s two other restaurants — was clear and powerful. Some commenters on the page were Legends’ defenders, but most of the rants — I stopped counting after 1,000 (a printout filled more than 78 pages) — were calling for blood.

“Des Moines and the area would be a lot better without this shameful place,” wrote Andy Horn, one of the tamer commenters. “Someone should chase him with a pitchfork and some Silly String.”

“Whatever happened to good customer service these days,” wrote Missy West-Brown. “Apparently his employees have the same attitude that he does!!! Maybe if people were to stop eating at places owned by Mark Rogers, he may think twice about how they had behaved. I, myself, will NEVER eat at Legends, Jimmy’s American Cafe, or Fire Creek Inn! Thanks for saving me some money Mark!!!”

Remember, most Facebook commenters are not hiding behind pseudonyms and other fake identifies — they’re attaching their real names and photos to their comments. They’re proud and unafraid — and they’re settling scores.

People claiming to be former employees and friends or relatives of former employees; people who report having been slighted by the restaurant, its owner and its staff in the past; and people — hundreds of them — frustrated by having been on the receiving end of bad service at places unrelated to Legends and its owner — they all piled on, declaring forcefully that, just as in the movie “Network,” they’re fed up and are not going to take it anymore.

When “Network” was released in 1976, Americans lived vicariously through Howard Beale’s insanity. Today, every American can be a Howard Beale.

If someone had a complaint in the old days, “five or ten people might hear it,” Des Moines Local Live host Mac McKoy commented. With thousands joining a protest on Facebook, “the smallest voice is amplified.”

By this morning, the Facebook page had nearly 3,200 members.

The local CBS affiliate ran two stories; talk radio was abuzz; on Sunday, it was the subject of a column by the Des Moines Register’s lead columnist, Marc Hansen.

“This is the day Des Moines went viral,” Mac McKoy said.

Even though McKoy was put off by the viral attack on a local business and its employees — and he urged Des Moines residents to patronize Legends in its hour of crisis — he piled on as well. Pointing out that he’s known Legends’ owner Mark Rogers for many years, he said, “I don’t like Mark at all … I don’t think Mark’s an honest man … I don’t eat at Legends because I don’t like Mark Rogers, but I want to eat there now, because I want them to know that I am supporting a local business.”

The immediate cause of the anti-Legends crusade took shape last Monday, when hundreds of Des Moines teachers descended on Downtown for a professional development day. At noon, they went hunting for tasty greasy spoons or something a little nicer. Monday being a Monday (when business is traditionally slow at restaurants) and restaurateurs being notoriously deaf to their communities’ heartbeat (meaning Downtown eateries like Legends didn’t realize they’d be packed with visiting teachers), Legends — and other restaurants — got slammed.

There were long lines and unappreciated waits for service.

Possibly, the eight teachers who sat together at Legends were not in the best of moods by the time the hair materialized in one of their salads, at which point a godawful employee enters the scene. When shown the hair, she reportedly said something like: What do you want me to do about it — I didn’t put it there!

The teachers asked to see her manager, but the manager — working behind the bar and presumably also taxed by the unexpected traffic — said she was too busy to speak with them. Then the owner, who had been helping out in the kitchen, appeared.

Restaurant owners in general are feisty individualists (Ayn Rand might well have used a restaurateur or chef, instead of an architect, as her chief protagonist). They have to be in order to survive the minefield of regulations, competition and bizarre staffing practices that helps doom most new eateries. Mark Rogers is no different in this regard, only more so. He began his mini-empire, as I hear it, with a video store in the early ’80s.

Amid the tension of a nutsy Monday lunchtime, the whiny teachers set him off. And he told them where to go.

When you listen to his apology on KCCI8, you get the impression that he meant what he said to the teachers, if not his apology.

“The interesting part now isn’t the salad hair — an excellent source of protein, by the way — as much as the lightning speed with which everyone between the two rivers found out about the incident and formed an opinion,” Marc Hansen wrote in the Register.

“The lunch was Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, people were e-mailing and twittering and blogging. The great social networking machine was hitting on all cylinders.

“It would have taken months to get the word out by rotary phone. It only took a few hours with a computer. A teacher at Lincoln South Academy, Marsha Richards, composed an e-mail from her home computer telling colleagues how Legends had ruined their dining experience, insulting them and their profession in the process.”

This is the world today and there is no escaping it. Corporate strategies and individual relationships must take this realty into account or expect to pay a price.

Which brings us to Hansen’s final point:

Jonnie Wright could see it coming. A longtime Des Moines multimedia maven, Wright owns a company called the Buyosphere.

He does customer service training and secret shopping. About a year ago, he consulted with Rogers but nothing came of it, which is too bad.

Losing a customer, Wright says, costs a company at least 10 times more than keeping a customer happy. He has a theory on keeping the customer satisfied: The minute the employee walks in the door, it’s “butt-kissing time.” Which is why it’s crucial that business owners hire happy people.

You can train skills, Wright says, but you can’t train happy. People with naturally sunny dispositions go to great lengths to avoid saying they didn’t put that hair in the salad.

“On a multiple-choice test on how to handle the situation,” Wright says, “that would be the joke answer.”

Wright is writing a book, “Customer Dis-service: Tales from the Check-out Counter.”

When the book comes out, don’t be surprised to see a chapter on Legends and the Des Moines teachers. And one on the bird.

Wright was secret shopping at a sports bar in West Des Moines when he came upon a dead bird in the parking lot. He placed it next to the entrance to see what would happen.

The answer was nothing. When he returned two weeks later, the bird was still waiting for a proper burial.

This was not a good sign. The owner soon went bankrupt. The restaurant business is hard enough without dead birds, salad hairs and, of course, send buttons.

The challenge out of Des Moines isn’t only to businesses with sloppy customer relations (and that includes media businesses).

It’s also to media’s role as a reporter of news and an organizer of perspectives.

The speed at which news breaks will keep getting faster, and the news media has to keep pace — with a smile, and no excuses.

Facebook and Twitter are keeping pace, and their successors will do an even better job. Unless mainstream media creates for itself a place at the table, those young upstarts will eat its lunch and leave nothing behind.

— Ed Weintrob

• • •

“Network” author Paddy Chayesfsky discusses his movie in a very calm interview with Dinah Shore: