Archive for May, 2011

I was an impressionable child

When it came to food, at least. Here are three things with very good marketing that I’m now very glad my mother never allowed me to consume:

1. Long John Silver. Good lord they made that fish look tasty on TV. How on earth does this chain stay in business?

2. Lucky Charms. The freeze-dried marshmallow is not half as delicious as it appears when an animated leprechaun is firing magical rainbows into it.

3. Sunny Delight. It looked like orange juice, only much, much more refreshing. In real life, this beverage tastes like Rust Belt sadness covered liberally in high fructose corn syrup.

Have One Doubt, They Call it Treason

The Rashard Mendenhall dustup has been a good illustration of the ultranationalism that runs through even the nonpolitical media. (Quick recap: Mendenhall, a pro football player, made two or three tweets after the bin Laden raid. The first, and what I took to be his main point, expressed disgust at the public celebrations of bin Laden’s death simply because it’s disgusting and dehumanizing to celebrate anyone’s violent death. The followups were murkier and oddly qualified his main point to the effect that people hadn’t heard bin Laden’s side of the argument – plus there was a dash of 9/11 trutherism thrown in.) Predictable media firestorm resulted, with endorsements lost, etc., etc. After their cowardly behavior I’m not hurrying to buy Champion sportswear anytime soon, by the way. Based on what I’ve seen, I have a hard time believing that the later tweets were really what caused this controversy. Merely dissenting on the acceptability of dancing in the streets after the killing was what set everything off.

The ESPN roundtable on the whole dumb affair (video at the above link) is pretty predictably boneheaded, but I did think Scoop Jackson got close to the mark here by noting that most professional athletes haven’t really been trained on their employers’ policies on social media, so every single incident ends up being dealt with ad hoc and players are never told exactly what the boundaries of acceptability are. Personally, I think the key to the whole “should celebrity athletes tweet” debate  is that those boundaries themselves are  virtually impossible to define –  an employer like the NFL simply cannot always know in advance what’s going to be “controversial” and what isn’t. A tweet about buying your spouse a fur coat could pass without incident, or it could result in PETA going on the warpath.  The really big determinant of a “controversy” is how big a megaphone the offended people have. With that in mind, I come down firmly on the side of player freedom: let the damn athletes tweet. God forbid they might say something that makes their fans rethink their opinions once in awhile.

Service Industry Shell Games

On the subject of universities, Matt Yglesias notes that rather than attract more customers or increase productivity by upselling existing customers, “schools are more often trying to ditch their existing customer base in favor of obtaining a different, more prestigious set of customers.” The one observation I would have about this is that this particular business model seems to be most widely seen in businesses whose services are of dubious value. By “dubious value” I don’t mean that that the service rendered is worthless, exactly, but that the service rendered has a much more questionable relevance to the customer’s desired outcome than is generally assumed.

Most people aren’t going to college to learn how to think, despite the glossy brochures full of ivory-tower talk that the admissions office sends out. They’re going because a degree is the gateway to securing a middle-class or better lifestyle, even though the jobs they’ll end up taking usually require exactly zero of the knowledge they learned in college. And the same is true of, say, old-style ad agencies and investment banks – due to the particular idiosyncrasies of how those sectors evolved, they’re able to operate hugely profitable and largely unaccountable businesses despite it being unclear why their customers really need them at all to accomplish their ultimate goals.