Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Giving Credit

Every time I go to the mailbox, it becomes more and more obvious to me that the news media is not doing their job.

Whenever our country has faced troubled times, wars, recessions, celebrities getting out of cars without underwear, we've been able to rely on the mass media to bring us the truth, and deliver that truth to every corner of the Fruited Plain. But, as the specter of economic doom rises above our nation, foreclosures, bank failures, Starbucks closing stores, it is clear to me that the media is not getting the word out. At least not to the people who send me my daily dose of junk mail.

I'm not one to reveal in depth information about my finances on a blog, but since the mortgage crisis arose my personal line of credit has risen several thousand dollars. Both Master Card and Visa think I'm a swell guy, and Chase thinks my wife is a real sweetie. According to the letters they send on a monthly basis we have "earned" the "privileges" that come with a "sterling" record of responsibility. All of this is sent to a man in his forties who is sitting at home in the middle of the day writing a blog.

What gets me is the come-ons from the hoity-toity cards who want my business. American Express really, really, really wants me to get their card. Not the Tiger Woods card for those mamby-pamby wannabes. Oh no. I mean the down and dirty, executive level, don't leave home without it - and by "home" we mean The United States - American Express card. If I sent in one of the dozen or so forms I have on my desk right now - or maybe all of them - I could buy Annheiser Busch and keep your Bud an American beer. Hell. While I'm at it, might as well snap up the Chrysler Building, and maybe the Cincinnati Reds. (But Steve, you say in protest, you don't know the first thing about running a major league- Oh. Yeah. On second thought, go for it.)

I expect a letter in the mail addressed to one of our cats any day now. It'll read:


Dear Mr. Rum-Tum-Tigger,

Congratulations are in order, as you have earned the privileges that come with responsible financial management. Apply today for the Feline Fiduciary Card, and instantly earn points you can redeem on your next purchase at Petland, while carrying a low interest rate. And we waive the first year's service charge. Simply send in the application below, or come in to one of our branches and rub against the legs of one of our account executives today.


And it's not just the mail offers. The TV commercials for credit cards have hit an all-time high for creativity. Late night shows are riddled with slick, funny, and memorable ads for Capital One cards. Every night these commercials ask the late night college dorm Carson Daly audience "What's in your wallet?" Based on the number of commercials they run, I'd say a lot more than pizza money and a "just in case" condom.

So, with all this free credit being offered, it's very apparent that these credit card companies have not heard the news that there's a credit crisis going on in this country. Surely, these are intelligent people running these outfits. I mean they handle money, for crying out loud. They don't just let anybody run these places, do they? Right. So, there can only be one explanation for the disconnect: it's the media's fault.

Why has the news media failed in informing our financial institutions of this grave situation that grips this country? Is it a lack of fortitude? Have our journalists lost the ability to stand up and tell the truth to the corporate giants who may not want to hear it? Have we lost the verve, the zeal for justice, on which the foundation of this great nation was built? Or is Brian Williams simply afraid to talk too much about Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac because he knows it makes him sound like Hank on "King of the Hill?"

I don't know. But while I wait for an answer, I think I'll go buy an I-Phone. Let's see... should I use the Discover? or the Visa? or the Chase? Or...

Update

The KFC store mentioned in my "Pot Pie" post has been closed. According to local media reports, KFC corporate wanted the local franchise holder to invest serious money - $1 million is the given figure - into renovations on the store. The local franchise holder opted to close the store instead. Guess he wasn't interested in running a business after all.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

This Country Is Going To Pot - Pie

I was planning on posting a blog about the pantomime that was the elections in Zimbabwe and how the U.N. is a paper tiger in the human rights department, and why doesn't Dubya send troops into African nations under the yoke of a despot dictator... but then I tried to eat lunch. And that really got me railing.

About twenty minutes ago, I stopped in at my friendly neighborhood KFC with a cartoon balloon over my head. In it was an image of a KFC pot pie: flakey crust, big chucks of chicken, and real vegetables swimming in a delectable sea of creamy broth. Nutritious, delicious, and inexpensive. The All-American lunch.

The man at the counter informed me that during the summer pot pies were available only on Mondays.

Only on Mondays? What? Is this some kind of sick joke? Why would you do that? What was the marketing strategy behind this move? Was there an emergency meeting in the star chamber at the Kentucky Fried Chicken World Headquarters where Peter Sellers with a mechanical hand convinced the store managers that pot pies sold seven days a week would lead to a nation of weak, unproductive working-class citizens?

This is the kind of marketing acumen that infests the American economy. Take a successful product, advertise the life out of it, and then make sure nobody can buy it. Or find it. It's a strategy that befuddles even the most innocent of shoppers every Christmas when trying to find the toy Santa promised a niece or nephew. Whadya mean you won't get another Wii for six months? That's all the kids want this year. Tell those twelve year olds in China to box them up faster!

The reasons for this strategy are as optimistic as the companies' sales projections. Maybe they're are trying to create a "Cabbage Patch Kid" kind of buzz by doing this: if a product becomes rare, the more the proletariat will clamor for it. And the more we can charge for it. Sometimes it seems companies jump a few steps and go straight to the Cabbage Patch pricing. Create a new phone. Charge $600 for it. Now, watch the feeding frenzy begin.

Only the frenzy rarely happens. The Cabbage Patch Kid kind of phenomenon is just that, a phenomenon. An unpredictable anomaly in the ebb and flow of sales cycles. All Apple succeeded in doing was frustrating a number of "new adapter" consumers, and then throwing insult on top of injury when they introduced a $200 version a year later. This is a brand loyalty building strategy?

NBC's biggest hit show of the past two years was "Heroes." I ask you, when was the last time NBC aired an episode of "Heroes?" Can't remember? Neither can the once loyal fans of the show. Apparently, the brain trust in 30 Rock couldn't figure out how to harvest the golden eggs that goose was laying. Or perhaps the pharmaceutical companies that share GE/NBC/Universal's bed couldn't market pills for baby boomer maladies during what was essentially a graphic novel brought to life. Whatever the reason, the best show NBC had all decade has now vanished from the radar.

American auto makers are not immune to this affliction, either. General Motors is a world class leader in taking defeat and snatching it from the jaws of victory. Remember the Olds Cutlass Supreme? Smartly designed, fuel efficient, and durable, the Cutlass Supreme was one of, if not the best selling passenger car in the GM lineup throughout the 1980's. For reasons that defy gravity to this day, GM ceased the making of the beloved Cutlass Supreme. Hey, let's take our number one seller, and quit making them. It's genius! The result: Oldsmobile is defunct, and GM is getting its ass kicked by Toyota while twenty-year-old Cutlass Supremes still jug down the road, along with its close cousin, the butt-ugly Buick Skylark.

If there was ever a case study of the American economy gone wrong, it would have to be Buick. Once a car that told people you had arrived, driving a Buick now tells people you arrived back during the Carter administration. Designed by committee - apparently a committee that hates cars - Buicks are the 50,000 Watt AM radio station of automobiles: lots of power, but the owner doesn't know how to put that power to use, a long, proud heritage forgotten by the industry and unknown by the younger generations, trapped in a time warp where the Beatles never happened. The very symbol of right wing America, turn on a Buick sound system with 6 CD changer and MP3 input and you'll find it tuned to Rush Limbaugh. Test drive one of the TWO remaining passenger car models available, and you'll get a nostalgia-tinged feeling for driving a car that doesn't have a center console shifter. There's room under the dash to mount a CB radio. And to remind you that you are indeed driving a product of General Motors, if you use the wipers and switch them off they will come to rest in the fully up position on the windshield. Ah. The only thing missing is the row of taillights that stretches clear across the truck lid - half of them working.

Buicks are forlorn, overstyled, underdesigned, and acknowledge the 21st century begrudgingly with the inclusion of On Star. Given the average age of the Buick driver, I'd say adding touch screen navigation is a very, very, very bad idea.

But if you go to a Buick dealer today and ask to see a new Skylark or Century, cars once known as banker's hot rods, the salesman will only shake his head. Buick's butt-kickers were retired years ago. Why? I can only guess they were too good. And making something good, and making it available in large numbers, just doesn't fit into the in the current American economy. Which may be why the current American economy is in the state it's in.

What this country needs is a good pot pie - made by a Japanese company.