Did Tostitos’ Fiesta Bowl Halftime Show Go Too Far?

Last night, I nearly gagged watching the ill-advised shenanigans Tostitos pulled during the Fiesta Bowl halftime show.

To summarize, Tostitos — the title sponsor of the game — partnered with USO to surprise four families by reuniting them with a loved one returned from overseas. The families had been brought down to the field and honored for their sacrifice. All of the sudden, a curtain dropped to reveal four servicemen, and 30 millions Americans looked on as emotion and shock flooded the field.

Was it touching? Absolutely. But the moment wasn’t ours. We didn’t deserve to be a part of it. It was a highly personal moment — branded, commercialized, and corporatized for your viewing pleasure. And judging by the mostly positive reviews on Twitter, it went over quite well.

The halftime show was a sort-of kickoff for the Tostitos Reunite America campaign. According to a Frito-Lay press release, Reunite America is “a program that will foster consumer-requested reunions of all kinds nationwide during 2011.” The release goes on to say,

Current pop culture trends show that consumers are looking for ways to reconnect, not just online, but in real life. From television shows that spotlight high-profile reunions to the recent trend in tracing ancestry roots, people are seeking out long-lost connections. With that in mind, the Tostitos brand intends to make desired reunions a reality for many people who otherwise might be limited to connecting with friends and family online, or not at all.

Please. Stick to chips.

It’s one thing to reconnect with an old friend, co-worker or classmate. However, reuniting with a family member who’s served overseas should be considered something sacred, not a marketing opportunity.

I’m not the only who reviled the halftime show:

Of course, there were plenty of positive reviews, too. If you can evoke powerful emotions in a consumer, nearly any campaign will be well-received. But take a step back and think about if military families reuniting was really Tostitos’ moment to own, whether it should’ve been used to sell some chips or drive people to a Facebook page.

(For the record, the Tostitos Facebook page received about 1,000 Likes in the half-hour following halftime — roughly a 0.003 percent conversion rate with a viewing audience of 30 million. Not good.)

Did you see last night’s halftime show? What did you think? Did Tostitos take advantage of a great opportunity or did they undermine their own campaign before it got off the blocks?

How Metro Transit Can Boost Its Public Image

Metro Transit needs to aggressively position itself as an alternative to driving.

I came this close to balking on my New Year’s Eve plans this year for fear of getting safely to and from downtown Minneapolis.

I wasn’t about to spend $60 on a cab. (That’s what the neighbors above me paid.) I wasn’t going to have just a few drinks and chance driving home. Walking was out of the question, because it was godawful outside. So, how did we manage to go on with plans?

Public transportation — the forgotten ride.

After using public transportation almost daily in Portland, Friday night was the first time in six months I’d relied on Metro Transit. I drove downtown and parked at my office, where my girlfriend and I rode two miles to our destination for $1.00. Around 1:10 a.m., we hopped on another bus to catch a ride home. That was just $3.50. I cheated by leaving my car downtown, but I spent just $4.50 to get around town on New Year’s Eve. That’s ludicrous. You’d be lucky to find a bottle of beer for that much.

I’m working with a small sample size here, but my initial bus ride wasn’t the most pleasant. A group of teenagers piled up in the back and spent the ride shouting profanity, belting R&B songs and taunting the bus driver. Several other passengers yelped into their cell phones. The bus driver never once acknowledged the behavior. It made for an uncomfortable experience, but again, it probably wasn’t indicative of the average bus ride in Minneapolis.

It made me think about local attitudes regarding public transportation. We’re blessed to live in the land of parking lots, so for anyone with a car, you can drive just about anywhere. Buses are generally seen as transportation for those without a vehicle of their own. For a public transportation system to be great, that attitude has to change.

But, how does it change?

There were some similarly unsavory rides in Portland, but there was great self-policing among passengers and TriMet — the local governing body — included signage in every bus and light-rail car to outline proper rider etiquette. On top of that, drivers and conductors were quick to remove unruly passengers who were ruining the experience for others.

And that’s what Metro Transit needs to focus on — the experience. Riders should feel safe, enjoy the quiet, and worry simply about when to get on and when to get off. Buses and light-rail services should be seen as a convenient, affordable, stress-free alternative to driving for those who wouldn’t otherwise ride. That’s how Metro Transit ups ridership — by being viewed as an alternative, not a last resort.

I can’t say when I’ll use Metro Transit again. I’m lucky to avoid the major highways during rush hours, but I’m all for taking a bus to and from downtown on nights my girlfriend and I want to go out. I would encourage any Twin Citizen to do the same.

I Got The Job

Today seems like a fitting day to announce I’ve accepted a job offer at Fast Horse. Effective mid-January once my internshipexpires, I’ll be hopping on full time as an Associate.

I waited until today to break the news — I found out last Friday — because it’s Lose the Laptop Day at Fast Horse, which is ironic considering laptops had everything to do with me earning my internship and eventual employment. The reason I’m so excited about this job opportunity is for the fact I work at an agency that stays on the cutting edge, but not without challenging itself to get better. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, the whole staff is working away from their computers. That’s like an auto repair shop saying, “All right guys, no drills today.”

But as with mechanics and their power tools, marketing and public relations existed long before the Internet. It’s a relationship industry, after all, and while social media makes it easier to maintain contact, Lose the Laptop Day forces us to go out and engage, to meet people, to re-hash friendships, to learn the world we’re selling to, to be a consumer, to be inspired. We’re channeling our inner Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons, as my boss writes.

This isn’t a stunt or a drill. This is an exercise about checks and balances, well-roundedness, self-awareness, moxie and avoiding complacency when it’s just so damn cozy. Forget an arbitrary seminar, workshop or motivational speaker — we’re living the lesson today.

So, thank you, again, to everyone who voted in the Intern Search back in June. Every week, I seem to meet a new person who voted in the contest. Recently, the conversations would end with me saying, “Now I just I hope I get the job,” and I would walk away a bit sullen, fearful of the reality things might not shake out the way I’d hoped.

But, I got the job. Holy shit, I got the job. Thanks again!

[Powers laptop down.]

No, Really — The Timberwolves Make a Great Anniversary Date

I follow Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Anthony Tolliver on Twitter on the good advice of my friend Joe Eckert, who attended Creighton along with Tolliver and good vouch he was “a good dude.”

Maybe you’ve heard of Tolliver. Shortly after LeBron James told the world he was “taking his talents to South Beach” on ESPN’s one-hour special, The Decision, Tolliver took to YouTube tell tell the world he was going to play for the Wolves:

Yesterday was mine and my girlfriend’s third anniversary. Money’s been tight, so I had to get creative to come up with a date. Luckily, my girlfriend is a sports fan. I was aware Tolliver gives away home tickets via Twitter whenever the Wolves are in town. That said, I kept close watch on Twitter all day, until:

Bingo! So, I responded as quickly as possible:

Though I wasn’t the first to respond, Tolliver decided to give Beth and I the tickets anyway, given it was our anniversary. We sat in Section 133, Row H, just a few rows from the Timberwolves’ bench. We were surrounded by wealthy season-ticket holders, players’ friends, players’ girlfriends, players’ wives and players’ mistresses. So romantic.

Awesome game, too. Both the Los Angeles Clippers and Wolves are more likely to make the NBA Draft Lottery rather than the NBA playoffs, but there was plenty of young talent on the court, including several players from the vaunted high school recruiting class of 2007. From the Timberwolves (with their Rivals.com class ranking): Michael Beasley (No. 1), Kevin Love (No. 6), Kosta Koufos (No. 16) and Jonny Flynn (No. 22), who is injured. From the Clippers, Eric Gordon (No. 2), DeAndre Jordan (No. 8) and Blake Griffin (No. 23). These players have competed against one another for years now, so it made for an entertaining match-up.

How’d it shake out? The Wolves won 113-111 after Beasley hit a game-winning shot with 2.3 seconds left. We had a great view, too:

So, nothing but good vibrations from this new Timberwolves convert. I love the product on the floor right now, even if the team is too young to reach the postseason.

I also appreciate my girlfriend, who is willing to put up with a guy who, in desperation mode to take her on a date, resorted to Twitter and the uncommonly good nature of an NBA player.

New York Times Nails Online News With Its Budget Puzzle

This morning, I closed the 2015 U.S. budget gap before I could finish my Clif Bar.

I did it by eliminating earmarks, cutting 250,000 government contractors, reducing nuclear arsenal and space spending, dramatically reducing the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, returning estate taxes to Clinton-era levels and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire.

This isn’t the start of my presidential campaign. This is courtesy of the New York Times. Think you can balance the budget? Check out Budget Puzzle, where “you’re in charge of the nation’s finances. Some of your options have more short-term savings and some have more long-term savings.” It’s the realest “game” you’ll ever play.

Here’s how my plan stacked up:

As I’ve said before, I’m a Democrat. (That means I love taxes.) Balancing this beast meant making a ton of spending cuts and avoiding tax hikes that would’ve impacted the budget much quicker, but would’ve left most of America begging I be tarred and feathered. My plan generated a $10 billion surplus, but it couldn’t cure the long-term gap which would peak in 2030. I felt immediate results were more important for position in the global economy and national morale.

Really, this shit is hard. I’m glad the New York Times gave me the opportunity, although it’s worth noting the Budget Puzzle is based on a dictatorship, not a democracy. I felt guilty with many of my selections, knowing few would be lucky to sputter through Congress without becoming a hallowed-out shell.

This is a salute to the New York Times, leading the way for interactive news websites.

Part of me wants to be bitter about the distressed newspaper industry. The Internet has murdered ad sales and subscriptions, which has resulted in more job cuts than new hires. I went to college with the intent of becoming a journalist. I, along with many of my classmates, looked on, hopelessly, as the newspaper industry all but shriveled up before our eyes. Some of my classmates found work at community newspapers, where furloughs and layoffs spread their offices like the common cold. Some gave up writing altogether. I started blogging — something which I enjoy more than I ever did news writing — and I found a job where I get to write, as well. I made out fine.

The traditionalist in me died a little this morning, though. The New York Times has proven online news can, in fact, be more informative than its paper-version.

The NYTimes.com is expected to switch over to a paywall system in January, leaving non-subscribers to limited access of the website. This is the pay model news websites should’ve gone by since day one, but I think the New York Times proves its value with interactive graphics like the Budget Puzzle, which can actively teach readers the intricacies of bigger stories and trends. I’d pay for stuff like this. I hope I’m not alone.

This morning, I eliminated tax loopholes and created a carbon tax before my coffee was ready.  I prioritized the 2015 budget over the 2030 budget and pondered raising the Social Security age limit to 68. (Hey, life expectancy keeps increasing!) This puzzle with its accompanying story ran over the weekend, but this morning, I had one of the best newspaper-reading experiences of my life.

And I did it online.

Underdog Under Armour Triumphs in Brand-Building Game

Every few weeks, I write a blog post for Idea Peepshow, the official blog of Fast Horse Inc., the consumer marketing agency where I’m currently an intern. Today, I wrote about Under Armour’s most recent endorsement deal with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady:

As long as I’ve been an athlete, I’ve always been a gear head. When other kids were spending money on personal training, camps and acceleration programs, I was busy checking out the latest advances in sporting goods.

In August 2002, before my senior high school football season, I went to a little family owned sports store in Sioux Falls to special order an undershirt made with space-age material proven to wick away sweat better than any product on the market.

As my co-workers can attest from some of our warmer softball games last summer, I sweat — a lot. I felt anything that could help me survive becoming a puddle during two-a-days was worth it, so I paid $30 for a T-shirt and implored the store owner to order more for my teammates.

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LinkedIn is a Soulless, Selfish Social Network

Today rounds out three months as a consumer marketing intern. Had I not been offered a three-month extension last week, today would be a sad day. I probably would’ve spent my Friday night sitting here, at my desk, paws wrapped around a whiskey sour, Pandora set to B.B. King, searching hopelessly for my next job opportunity.

Worse yet, I could’ve resorted to badgering every contact in my social network. I could’ve — gasp! — updated my LinkedIn profile.

For all the beauty and wonderment social media has brought to my life, I’ve purposefully steered clear of LinkedIn, the soul-sucking social network which focuses on maintaining and making professional contacts for personal gain. It’s like a Rolodex. A really douchey, self-involved Rolodex. Facebook and Twitter can fulfill the same selfish motives, but they allow deeper interaction with photo albums and TwitPics, pages and links. LinkedIn exists to say, “Scratch my back. I’ll scratch yours.”

Except very little scratching actually takes place — for me, anyways.

I keep a shade over 400 Facebook friends and follow about 350 on Twitter. I have 26 contacts on LinkedIn, several of whom I don’t know and wouldn’t recognize if we were stuck in the same elevator.

Facebook has done a lot for me. Hell, it’s the reason I have an on-going internship. And Twitter? I’ve made some nice connections on there, too, ranging from regional journalists to now avid readers of my blog. ;) I also look at Twitter like a word game with it’s 140-character limit; something akin to a Haiku or crossword puzzle.

But LinkedIn?

Look, I’ve always wanted to be the guy to earn opportunities based on merit, not connections. Who hasn’t? The more time I spend at my internship, the more I realize the business world revolves around relationships; not who you know, but rather why you know them and how you continue to know them. That’s where many PR amateurs go wrong, striving for quantity rather than quality.

I was an English major and briefly dabbled in an MFA program where the dream of being a published author was based, first and foremost, on ability. Relationships would help, but they wouldn’t sell books. The business world — marketing, especially — is dependent on relationship-building, not meritocracy. Unfortunately, many in the biz severely lack tact when it comes to interacting with other professionals. Go to a monthly meeting for any of the trade organizations and most of your interactions will go like this:

You: “Hey, I’m ____.”

Them: “Oh, cool. I’m _____Who do you work for?”

You: “I’m at ____.”

(If you’re from a well-known agency, they’ll hand you their business card and you’ll be talking to this person for 20 minutes. If they’ve never heard of the agency, they’ll ask which clients you work with. If you’re unemployed, they’ll flee the scene. No matter what, the next day on Twitter, they’ll post something to the effect of, “Pleasure to meet @you last night. PR rock star! Love engaging with other young talent!” You’ll know they see you as important if they add you on LinkedIn.)

In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece titled Twitter, Facebook, and social activism. I largely disagreed with his overarching sentiment, but he may have been on to something when he wrote, “The platforms of social media are built around weak ties.” LinkedIn fails because it’s main purpose is to help foster and maintain relationships for professional gain. Have people earned employment, found opportunity, created meaningful connections through LinkedIn? Sure. But I doubt the quality of those relationships, where Facebook and Twitter provide a more wholesome environment for communication unrelated to personal gain. LinkedIn is as personal as a job interview — is that really who you are? What you’re like? Do you really rattle off your three biggest weaknesses in casual conversation?

It’s who you know, true, but more importantly, how you know them. Nothing beats meeting in the flesh, and should I ever need to start looking elsewhere for employment, LinkedIn is the last well I’ll tap. I’ve got Facebook friends and Twitter tweeps for that.