The 101 Dumbest Moments In Business 2003 EDITION
(Business 2.0) – GRAND PRIZE WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT OF 2002
1| Whiffed pitch No. 1: naked grannies.
Six months after Midas hires marketing firm Cliff Freeman & Partners, lauding its "strategic insight into our business," that insight shows itself in the form of a TV ad featuring an elderly woman in a Midas shop. Told of the company's lifetime guarantee, the woman rips open her blouse and asks, "So what can you do with these?" Strategically and insightfully, the ad is quickly pulled.
Wylie Gustafson, better known as the yodeler featured in Yahoo ads, sues the company for $5 million, saying he was paid only for limited use. Yahoo settles for an undisclosed sum.
3| What the hell. It worked with that Chaucer term paper they "wrote" in college.
After hyping its new disposable cell phone as "innovative" and "technologically advanced," Hop-On sends a sample to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, who cracks open the casing to uncover the phone's "revolutionary" secret: Nokia parts. The company explains that it had run into glitches and had missed its deadline.
4| As for what's in it, we're guessing Nokia parts.
In an attempt to show that, no, really, they're serious about this cloning thing, Clonaid sells the RMX 2010, a $9,220 contraption that ... well, nobody's quite sure what it does. To help clarify the matter, Clonaid lends one to a British science museum--under strict orders not to open it to find out what's inside.
5| Celebrating the can-do spirit that continues to make American capitalism the envy of the world.
At a developers conference in September, Microsoft senior vice president Brian Valentine describes the state of the art in OS security: "Every operating system out there is about equal.... We all suck."
6| Timmy can have his juice box when Timmy starts hitting his productivity targets.
Soon after a summer stock plunge, Chris Whittle, CEO of Edison Schools, suggests a unique solution to stanch his company's bleeding: Have Edison students put in an hour of free work per day.
7| $23.4 billion, that's a big number. Big numbers are good, right?
"We built a good company...with a bad balance sheet." --Barclay Knapp, CEO of telecommunications firm NTL, shortly before filing for bankruptcy; the company's debts totaled nearly $23.4 billion
8| Milton Friedman declined to comment.
In October, employees at a floundering car plant in Romania announce that they've arrived at a method to erase the company's $20 million debt: Donate their sperm and give the proceeds to their employer. One report estimates that each employee would have to, er, donate to the cause 400 times. "[Management] told us to come up with a solution," says a union spokesperson. "Now we've found one that even the best economists never thought of."
9| Because nobody understands 12-year-old girls quite like a cattle rancher.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. launches www.cool-2b-real.com, a site designed to "steer" young girls away from vegetarianism. Featuring enlightening articles and insightful quizzes ("What type of beef do you most like to eat with your friends?"), the tweener-empowerment site also has recipes for snacks like Easy Beef Chili, Nacho Beef Dip, and Beef on Bamboo.
10 And there's another €5,000 in it if you can somehow work in strudel.
In December, German real estate tycoon Rolf Eden, 72, announces that he is willing to pay 125,000 to any woman who can kill him through sexual intercourse, saying he plans to fly interested women to his home in Berlin for a trial run. "I don't care why they make love to me," Eden says, "as long as I have my fun."
11| Whiffed pitch No. 2: swiping your competitor's idea and completely screwing it up.
In an attempt to blunt Apple's "Switch" campaign, Microsoft posts a page on its website, titled "Confessions of a Mac to PC Convert," featuring a woman touting the Windows XP operating system. It's soon revealed, however, that the woman pictured is a model and the touting comes from a freelance writer paid by Gates & Co.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, PUBLIC RELATIONS
12| That's not to say we think you actually ate the seat.
"If you consume more than one seat, you will be charged for more than one seat." --Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Beth Harbin, explaining the company's policy requiring "persons of size" to pay double the normal fare
13| To which Will & Grace's writing staff collectively enthuses: "Finally, something to work with besides butt size, alcoholism, and Cher!"
Out-of-work ex-Disney president Michael Ovitz, in what is presumably part of an attempt to rehabilitate his tarnished image, tells Vanity Fair that he has been the unwitting victim of a dastardly Hollywood "gay mafia" that's out to "eliminate" him.
14| Michael Ovitz is interested in buying one. Just don't tell him about the "Chinese health balls."
Nokia subsidiary Vertu launches a line of high-end cell phones built out of precious metals like gold and platinum, with prices ranging from $4,900 to nearly $20,000. "This is an experiment in exquisite design and craftsmanship," designer Frank Nuovo explains. "There's a size-to-proportion balance that has a calming effect, like Chinese health balls."
15, 16, 17 Nervous about that impending perp walk? Take these tips from the pros...
John Rigas, CEO, Adelphia Communications: Look sharp. Cultivate a man-of-the-people image. Have an assistant pick up something special at Goodwill.
Samuel Waksal, CEO, ImClone Systems: Be prepared. Clutch that all-important Fifth Amendment crib sheet firmly in your left hand, leaving the right hand free for the shackles of injustice.
David Myers, Controller, WorldCom: Find your happy place. Remember, in difficult moments like these, a little Xanax goes a long way.
18| Now the cat umbrella stand, that's stupid.
"It's not just some stupid dog umbrella stand. It's a very unique, beautiful piece."
--Wendy Valliere, interior designer to indicted Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, describing the $15,000 antique that Kozlowski allegedly charged to the company
19| To: Dean Kamen. Re: Vibrating Segway?
Shortly after Mattel releases its Nimbus 2000 broom as part of its line of Harry Potter toys, the vibrating device begins getting the wrong sort of customer raves. "I'm 32 and enjoy riding the broom as much as my 7-year-old," says one enthusiastic mother on Amazon. "My only complaint is, I wish the batteries didn't run out quite so quickly." Mattel stops making the toy, but denies that the unintended value-add is the reason. Says a spokesperson: "It's just not a continued product in our line."
20| That's OK. We heard they all had a nasty stain on them, anyway.
In April, Abercrombie & Fitch starts selling a line of Asian-themed T-shirts with slogans like "Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Can Make It White." After a firestorm of outraged complaints, A&F pulls the line. "We thought everyone would love this T-shirt," A&F spokesman Hampton Carney says. "We are truly and deeply sorry."
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, IMPORT/EXPORT
21| And that's nothing. Wait'll you get to the part about the Nimbus 2000 broom.
In July, bookstores in China start selling Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon, a knockoff of the series. First paragraph: "Harry is wondering in his bath how long it will take to wash away the creamy cake from his face. To a grown-up, handsome young man, it is disgusting to have filthy dirt on his body. Lying in a luxurious bathtub and rubbing his face with his hands, he thinks about Dudley's face, which is as fat as Aunt Petunia's bottom."
22| Buy a domain name, do nothing, watch the money roll in. Somebody wake up Henry Blodget--the dotcom model works!
After losing her six-figure TV-production job and racking up $20,000 in credit card debt on such survival essentials as lattes, CDs, and Prada pumps, Karyn Bosnak launches Savekaryn. com to solicit donations. Understandably, Bosnak is roundly mocked for her gall. Somewhat less understandably, people rush to donate more than $13,000 to Bosnak's cause.
23| Seven letters hath November?
Thanks to the toil of 47 diligent editorial staffers, Business 2.0 puts out its "Novemer" issue.
24| Whiffed pitch No. 3: dead spokespeople.
To promote the release of its videogame Shadow Man: Second Coming, the London office of Acclaim Entertainment seeks volunteers who'll allow the company to put ads on the headstones of deceased relatives. Explains an Acclaim spokesperson: "It's a dark, gory type of game, and we thought it was appropriate to raise advertising to a new level."
25| We may or may not make a joke here.
Hoping to keep his cash-hemorrhaging company afloat, Salon.com editor David Talbot announces a blockbuster story: Former Nixon attorney John Dean will "unmask the real Deep Throat" in an exclusive e-book for sale on the site. After the person Dean intended to name threatens a lawsuit, Salon backpedals; when the book finally appears, it limply suggests four people who may--or may not--have been the Watergate informant.
26| And the winner is...Matt Damon!
Despite the opportunity to gather clues in a seven-figure prize contest, TV viewers shun the Ben Affleck-produced Push, Nevada. ABC is forced to pull the plug after seven episodes, but not before giving $1 million to a savant who tuned in expecting to watch a different show.
27| Which also explains the Travolta oeuvre.
Reed Slatkin, one of three original investors in EarthLink, pleads guilty to 15 counts of fraud after a Ponzi scheme he orchestrated bilked investors out of $254 million. Though he faced a 105-year sentence, the plea allows Slatkin, a well-known Scientologist, to receive a shorter sentence due to the "psychological impact of his association with certain individuals and/or groups."
28| Great moments in asset management.
In 2001, Wilco--a rock band known for its critically acclaimed but mediocre-selling records--submits its Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album to its label, AOL Time Warner subsidiary Reprise Records. Believing that the record will be a poor seller, Reprise passes on the album and drops the band. After nearly a year in industry limbo, Wilco finds a new label: AOL Time Warner subsidiary Nonesuch Records. After shrewdly making the same corporation pay for the same record twice, Wilco releases Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to critical acclaim and mediocre sales.
WINNER, LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
29| OK, for the last time. James Earl Jones: much-admired actor. James Earl Ray: much-despised assassin. Got it?
To honor James Earl Jones at a Martin Luther King Day event, the city of Lauderhill, Fla., commissions Texas-based Merit Industries to create a plaque featuring stamps of famous black Americans. It reads, "Thank you James Earl Ray for keeping the dream alive."
30| Whiffed pitch No. 4: sodomy humor.
In a spot titled "Captive Audience," 7-Up pitchman Godfrey hands out cans of soda to prison inmates. After dropping a can, Godfrey remarks, "I'm not picking that up." The ad is pulled after complaints from the group Stop Prison Rape, which, according to a 7-Up spokesperson, "had some very valid points about the ad being able to be interpreted a different way from what we intended."
31| Damn. We nixed sodomy humor one item too soon.
Benjamin Curtis--better known as Steven in the "Dude, you're gettin' a Dell!" ads--is arrested on Manhattan's Lower East Side for marijuana possession.
32, 33, 34
Panic in the heartland, part 1: The crisis begins. Outside a Wal-Mart in the small town of Geneseo, Ill., a 73-year-old woman buys a newspaper and suddenly finds herself trapped when the door of the news rack slips closed and catches her coat. Unable to wriggle out, she solicits a bystander to enter the Wal-Mart and ask for help. A Wal-Mart employee comes out to explain that she can't assist, citing a policy against tampering with the news rack.
Panic in the heartland, part 2: The tense negotiation. After going back inside for a moment, the Wal-Mart employee comes out and tells the trapped woman that she'll call the newspaper and have a representative come to release her. The woman suggests an alternative solution: Somebody could simply put two quarters in the machine and open the damn door. The Wal-Mart employee rejects this out of hand, explaining that the store can't pay refunds for the news rack.
Panic in the heartland, part 3: The sweet taste of liberation. Eventually the employee relents and puts two quarters in the machine. Later the liberated woman's daughter visits the store and gives her a $5 bill to be used strictly to finance future releases. A Wal-Mart corporate spokesperson apologizes for the incident, saying, "This is not how we do business."
35| Also on the dais: Hugh Hefner on monogamy, Larry Ellison on modesty, and R. Kelly on baby-sitting.
In June, shortly after resigning from his post as CEO of Arthur Andersen, Joseph Berardino arrives in Palo Alto to deliver a lecture on ... reforming the accounting industry. Berardino tells the San Jose Mercury News that he's "in a unique position" to discuss the matter.
36| The pathetically lonely straight male ones, anyway.
"We look at this as something to heighten the hearts of Enron employees who are losing their jobs." --Playboy spokeswoman Elizabeth Norris, commenting on the magazine's "Women of Enron" issue
37| Largest in what sense?
"Can you imagine if we extended this offer to the guys of WorldCom, ImClone, AOL, and Martha Stewart's stockbrokers? We'd have the largest issue in publishing history." --Playgirl editor-in-chief Michele Zipp, on the magazine's "Men of Enron" issue
38| Over by the fryer vats, a despondent Ronald weeps quietly.
Two months after launching the concept nationwide, McDonald's discovers a tiny flaw in its "dollar menu" strategy: Charging folks a buck for a burger tends to lower profit margins. The fast-food company posts its first quarterly loss in 38 years as a public company, and CEO Jack Greenberg retires.
39| At least they didn't sell it for 99 cents.
With Africa in the throes of its worst drought in decades, McDonald's begins selling its beef-in-a-pita McAfrika sandwich in Norway. Protesters in Oslo counter by giving out samples of the emergency-ration crackers distributed throughout the continent. By way of appeasement, McDonald's allows the protesters to place posters and fact sheets in its stores.
40| To which Nestle executives reply, "Hey, at least we didn't name a sandwich after them."
Nestle demands $6 million from the Ethiopian government for a meat-processing company that was nationalized more than 25 years earlier. Says a Nestle spokesperson: "We insist that there's a principle at stake here." Alas, protesters point out another principle: Ethiopia is suffering its worst drought in 20 years and has little cash to spare.
41| Thus revealing the grime and graffiti with which New Yorkers are clearly far more comfortable.
To promote its MSN 8 online service, Microsoft places hundreds of butterfly-logo decals on traffic signals and sidewalks throughout Manhattan. After the city threatens to fine Microsoft $50 per decal, the company apologizes and removes the stickers.
42| After all, defying gravity has always been key to its success.
In an attempt to expand his brand, Hooters of America chairman Robert H. Brooks purchases Pace Airlines in December and renames the small North Carolina company Hooters Air.
43| We hear Hooters Air is hiring.
"I didn't take this job to preside over a bankruptcy," proclaims Jack Creighton in 2001, shortly after being named CEO of United Airlines. Creighton is as good as his word: In September 2002, he retires to make room for Glenn Tilton, who three months later finds himself presiding over the biggest bankruptcy filing in aviation history.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, POLITICS
44| Next in line: Joseph Berardino.
SEC chairman Harvey Pitt taps William Webster to head the agency's new accounting oversight board. Shortly before his Senate confirmation hearing, Webster humbly suggests that his past--specifically, his 2001 vote as a board member of U.S. Technologies to dismiss auditors who were questioning the company's accounting--might pose a bit of a credibility problem. Pitt tells Webster not to worry. Two weeks later, Pitt is forced to resign under White House pressure.
45| Somewhere in heaven, Sam Walton kicks himself over a missed opportunity.
In August, Jim Koch, chairman of the company that makes Samuel Adams beer, appears on a New York City radio program to promote its "Sex for Sam" competition, which encourages couples to have intercourse in public places throughout the city. After one couple is arrested for, shall we say, a less-than-immaculate conception in Manhattan's hallowed St. Patrick's Cathedral, Koch issues an apology and the promotion is canceled.
46| To the Victor go the spoils, which in this case means raspberry-flavored edible undies.
Shortly after Victor Moseley opens a small Kentucky lingerie and novelty store called Victor's Secret, he begins receiving cease-and-desist orders from Victoria's Secret. Changing the name to Victor's Little Secret doesn't impress the lingerie megaretailer, which sues. After losing in a U.S. appeals court, Moseley takes his case to the Supreme Court. In March 2003 the justices rule that Moseley's shop did not dilute the Victoria's Secret trademark and send the case back to the lower court.
47| We were wondering why Florida's mailmen seem so well-adjusted.
In an apparent move to depress them further, about 300 Florida residents with a history of depression open their mailboxes to find free samples of Eli Lilly's new product, Prozac Weekly, along with a letter that enthuses, "We are very excited to be able to offer you a more convenient way to take your antidepressant medication." A class-action suit filed in July accuses Eli Lilly, Walgreens, a local hospital, and five doctors of violating the patients' right to privacy.
48-51 .Net: Now we get it.
"One question might be, and I'll be as direct as I can be about this, what is .Net? Unlike Windows, where you could say it's a product, it sits in one place, it's got a nice little box. In some senses, it's a very good question." --Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, at a Microsoft .Net briefing day in July
"We don't have the user-centricity. Until we understand context, which is way beyond presence--presence is the most trivial notion of context." --Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, on the same topic at the same briefing
"Our biggest problem was policing the use of .Net. Things like .Net Enterprise Servers. That's a great example of where the confusion came from, because it looked like we were slapping .Net on a bunch of random products." --Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of Microsoft's platform strategy group, in August on ZDNet News
"It's about connecting people to people, people to information, businesses to businesses, businesses to information, and so on. That is the benefit." --Steve Ballmer, trying again, in an October interview with News.com
52| No? OK, how about this: I break into your house, steal your wife's jewelry, fence it to a guy named Speed, and then give you 30 percent. Whattaya think?
Alex Tan, owner of Film88.com--a website that streams first-release movies online for $1 a film--is sued by nine Hollywood studios for stealing copyrighted materials. Tan claims to have offered to pay the studios 30 percent of his revenue as compensation.
53| Come enjoy a magical cruise where everybody gets a chance to play the role of the little-known eighth dwarf, Pukey.
After 288 passengers fall victim to the Norwalk virus on the Disney cruise ship Magic, the ship is given a thorough disinfection. It sets sail again a week later. This time, a mere 60 passengers fall ill.
54| Martha, Martha, Martha
55| Southwest charges extra for consuming a seat, but at least that won't make you gag.
After eight straight quarters in the red, America West Airlines announces a plan to charge passengers for in-flight meal service. Price for delicious microwaved chicken Kiev: $10.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, ENTERTAINMENT
56| Further alienating the young male alcoholic demographic that can be so hard to reach.
After ABC announces plans for a new late-night talk show to be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, co-creator of Comedy Central's beer-and-breast-obsessed The Man Show, a producer sends a memo to staff writers explaining the new program's philosophy: "[The Man Show] was targeted very specifically to young male alcoholics. This one will be much broader-based." During the much-hyped post-Super Bowl debut of Jimmy Kimmel Live, a young audience member vomits after overindulging at the show's open bar, which is shut down before the start of the following episode.
57| Why it sucks to be a student in Nevada.
A red-faced Harcourt Educational Measurement admits that it incorrectly graded Nevada's high school proficiency test, failing more than 700 students who had actually passed. The company pays the state $425,000 in penalties.
58| Why it rocks to be a student in Minnesota.
A red-faced NCS Pearson admits it used the wrong answer key to grade an exam required for high school graduation in Minnesota. Eight thousand students are erroneously told they failed the exam. The company agrees to pay students as much as $7 million to settle the case.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, PUBLISHING
59| Circumference = [pi] ÷ (areola)2.
After Penthouse prints nude photos it claims are of tennis star Anna Kournikova, the woman actually photographed sues the magazine, which agrees to pulp 18,000 copies and pay an undisclosed sum. Explaining the gaffe, the photographer says he believed he was taking pictures of Kournikova, based on the size of the woman's nipples.
60| Somewhere in Hollywood, a screenwriter opens his laptop and types four ominous words: Weekend at Bernie's III.
Shortly after the death of baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams, his son John Henry Williams sends the body to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz. The slugger's body is to be hung upside down with up to three other corpses in a vat of liquid nitrogen until scientists invent a technology that can bring him back to life.
61| Why you always find the cheapest vendor for your business cards.
Shortly after changing the name of PwC Consulting to, well, the most depressing day of the workweek, Monday CEO Greg Brenneman explains that the rebranding is "a new identity on which to build our company's future, and it will have meaning and stand for something." IBM buys the firm less than four months later, prompting another name change.
62, 63, 64
How to destroy a venerable brand in three easy steps.
STEP 1: Make everybody look at your grossly infected wound. In the fall of 2000, magazine publisher Gruner & Jahr USA comes up with an ingenious way to revive McCall's, its 125-year-old women's magazine: Turn it into a Rosie O'Donnell-branded magazine titled Rosie. The July 2001 cover features the comedian wearing a hospital robe and a heavily bandaged hand, the result of a postoperative staph infection.
STEP 2: Use Stalin as your management role model. In July 2002, after numerous disagreements about stories and, understandably, covers, Gruner & Jahr management fires Rosie editor Cathy Cavender. Upset, O'Donnell asks G&J to fire new editor Susan Toepfer almost immediately after she starts. The publisher overrules the move, pointing out that O'Donnell has limited authority over editorial staffing. Outraged, O'Donnell shuts down the magazine.
STEP 3: Lawyer up and bicker. On Oct. 1, Gruner & Jahr files a $100 million lawsuit against O'Donnell for breach of contract, referring to her as a "self-proclaimed uber-bitch" and arguing that her "bizarre and ofttimes mean-spirited behavior soon had the effect of making it difficult, and ultimately impossible, for G&J to continue publishing the magazine." Three weeks later, O'Donnell responds with a $125 million countersuit.
65| Her gift: putting the "sham" in shaman.
"She was chosen. She has talent. She has the ability to be a shaman. She is a shaman. She has the gift." --William J. Cone Jr., attorney for Miss Cleo, the public face of a $4.99-per-minute psychic hotline that drew fraud complaints from the FTC and nine states; the operation is shut down in November
66| Whiffed pitch No. 5: scatological humor.
Metamucil puts out an ad in which a park ranger dumps its product in Old Faithful, which then proceeds to erupt. A Yellowstone spokesperson condemns the ad, saying, "It suggests that it's OK to pour some substance into a thermal feature."
67| Those special memories that last forever.
In May, a day after the announcement of possible terror threats involving light aircraft, charter-plane company Wings Aloft flies a Cessna over Seattle to spread the ashes of a Mariners fan over the roof of Safeco Field. Instead of the elegiac dusting that was intended, the container detaches from the Cessna, smashes onto the stadium's roof, and bursts into a powdery cloud that prompts the mobilization of a haz-mat team.
68| The Borg wannabe market ain't what it used to be.
In January 2002, Xybernaut launches the $1,499 Poma, a wearable computer that features a 1-inch screen positioned in front of the user's eye. Units sold in the first year: "In the hundreds," says company spokesman Mike Binko.
69| Apparently "Sure, I'm being exploited--but at least now I can get me a quart of Mad Dog 20/20" didn't test well.
In May, Denver ad firm Sumaato receives complaints from homeless advocates after it hands out signs to area panhandlers in an effort to promote its services. The signs read "At Least I'm Not Spamming Your E-Mail" and "Hell, It Beats a Cubicle."
70| Their agents are talking to Sumaato even as we speak.
Two homeless men sue the makers of a video titled Bumfights: A Cause for Concern, which features homeless men beating each other up, ramming their heads into stone walls, and having the word "Bumfights" tattooed on their foreheads. The two men say they were paid partly in booze.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, NEGOTIATION
71| Dear Mr. Gaus, thanks for your interest in partnering with Conair. Regretfully, I must inform you that a deal is unlikely, given that we've already filched your idea...
In February, 11 years after German inventor Harry Gaus discovered that Conair Corp. has been using a safety mechanism he invented to shut off hair dryers that fall into bathtubs, Gaus is awarded $46.1 million in a patent-infringement lawsuit. How did he learn of Conair's infringement? Gaus says Conair told him. At a meeting to discuss a potential partnership, a VP for engineering disclosed that the company was already marketing a dryer that "may infringe your patent."
72| Whiffed pitch No. 6: blatant stereotyping.
In September, insurance company AmeriChoice brings trucks to blighted neighborhoods in New York City and gives away coupons for free chickens as an incentive for the underprivileged to switch their Medicare coverage. New York state senator Carl Kruger files a complaint with the state attorney general.
73| On another front, Hyatt announces that it's discontinuing its "Kids Stay Free" promotion.
Liesel Pritzker, 18-year-old scion of the Hyatt-owning Pritzkers, sues her family, alleging that her trust fund was managed in ways that were "heinous, obnoxious, and offensive." Her claim against family members, including her father, asks for $5 billion in punitive damages.
74| Here's a hint: Fire is really, really hot.
Thirty Australian Kentucky Fried Chicken employees are seriously burned during a motivational fire-walking exercise at a company retreat. Says one of the extra-crispy managers: "We're exploring what went wrong."
75| The eighth habit: fiscal restraint.
In August, Marin County, Calif., announces that it will train its 2,500 employees in the virtues of Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Cost of the program: $570,000.
76| Strangely, callers weren't appeased by offers of polo shirts and embossed beer cozies.
Thousands of callers to a Gateway customer-service line instead find themselves speaking to Mo' Money, a small Florida company that puts promotional logos on caps, T-shirts, and assorted gewgaws. It seems Gateway had mistakenly used the 800 prefix instead of 888 on its direct-mail correspondence. "We had as many as 8,000 extra calls a month," says Mo' Money president Cliff Mowe, "and these were all angry people." Gateway settles with Mo' Money for $3.6 million in July.
77| Yet another reason to make sure fired employees turn in their key cards.
After Canal Plus chief Pierre Lescure is let go by then-Vivendi Universal CEO Jean-Marie Messier, Lescure decides to plead his case to the French people--on Canal Plus. Interrupting station programming, a tearful Lescure ridicules Messier on the air live.
78| The fine art of kicking yourself when you're down.
With concerns about contraction and a players strike already resulting in diminishing fan support, Major League Baseball tries to put its best foot forward at its All-Star Game. After 11 innings, both teams run out of pitchers, forcing commissioner Bud Selig to declare the game a 7-7 tie. Selig is lustily booed by 42,000 fans at Milwaukee's Miller Park--home, incidentally, to the team Selig owns.
79| Thereby busting a cap in Xerox's sorry a--with some crazy f---ed-up ink-jet s---.
In September, Advertising Age magazine reports that Island Def Jam Music Group and Hewlett-Packard are discussing a partnership deal in which Def Jam hip-hop artists like Ja Rule and Jay-Z would promote HP products in songs and videos. HP denies the report.
80| They had nowhere else to go. Highlights doesn't accept advertising.
R.J. Reynolds is fined $20 million for violating terms of the 1998 settlement that barred tobacco companies from advertising in magazines with high underage readerships. The company had placed ads in Hot Rod, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Vibe.
81| Corporate earnings reports: now 100 percent accurate!*
The board of Silicon Valley software firm HPL Technologies fires its CEO, Y. David Lepejian, in July, after it discovers that he was responsible for faking sales figures. The company admits that an impressive $11 million of the $13.7 million in revenues reported for the quarter ending March 2002 was entirely fictitious. HPL stock tumbles an even-more-impressive 72 percent on the day the fraud is announced.
*Minus about 80 percent
82| For reasons never adequately explained, McDonald's runs an ad that features a disturbing, bloated, poorly coiffed creature. And also Grimace.
83| Except telemarketers are only annoying during dinner.
"We're down at the bottom of the heap, with telemarketers." --GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, on corporate leaders
84| Hook meets Battlefield Earth. Sounded good at the pitch meeting.
On the heels of clunkers like Atlantis and The Emperor's New Groove, Disney releases the $140 million animated feature Treasure Planet the day before Thanksgiving. The movie takes in an anemic $16.6 million on its opening weekend; five days later Disney revises its fourth-quarter profit estimates downward, thereby officially ending America's love affair with clipper ships.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, HUMAN RESOURCES
85| Although, in 2002, heading up technology banking could legitimately have been called punishment.
In December 2000, high-flying Credit Suisse First Boston investment banker Frank Quattrone e-mails his entire banking group, recommending the discarding of documents in the midst of a federal investigation. A year later, he's hit with ... a promotion, in which he's named global head of technology banking. Reconsidering the matter when new details come to light this February, CSFB places Quattrone on leave; he later resigns.
86| At least he didn't say anything about "market penetration."
In early 2002, German businessman Martin Portmann launches what is believed to be the world's first rent-a-sheep service. "The main thing," Portmann says of his largely city-dwelling customers, "is they enjoy being with the animals."
87| Among its target audience, of course, the line between "date" and "prostitute" does tend to blur.
E-ECAD, a provider of electronic design automation software, takes out an ad on a Silicon Valley billboard that uses pictures of female archetypes to explain its three payment options: hourly (a prostitute), term (a girlfriend), and perpetual (a bride). After it comes under fire, the company puts out a press release explaining that the hourly woman--wearing thigh-high red boots and a miniskirt--wasn't a prostitute but rather a "date."
88| Besides, we sold that URL to Salon.com.
An outage on Verizon's website in August redirects visitors to a curiously named page, outtabiz.htm. The company later changes it to the more mundane index.htm. Says a Verizon spokesperson: "Out of business is obviously not the best choice of words."
89, 90, 91 How the right merger can create exponential growth.
January 2002 One year after the completion of its much-ballyhooed merger, AOL Time Warner posts a paltry quarterly loss of $1.8 billion.
April 2002 Just three months later, AOL Time Warner announces a loss of $54.2 billion, the biggest quarterly loss in U.S. history.
January 2003 Stunningly, a mere nine months after that--and just two years after the consummation of the marriage--AOL Time Warner sets another record with an annual loss of $98.7 billion.
92| Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.
"All us CEOs are auditioning for Jackass, the Movie: Part 2." --Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, in a keynote speech at Comdex 2002
93| Slyly slipping a camel through the eye of a needle.
In September, shortly after divorce papers reveal the details of former GE CEO Jack Welch's lavish retirement package, Welch pens an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. Falling on his sword, Welch announces he'll give up most of the perks, including a $15 million Manhattan penthouse. Welch defends the original package, however, saying simple cash compensation "would have been much more expensive for the company."
94| Taking a camel and firmly shoving it through the eye of a needle.
In the summer, California gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon adamantly refuses to disclose his tax returns, citing his right to privacy. After he bows to pressure and divulges his 2001 income--$2.5 million--Simon attempts to revive his common-man image with a new TV ad in which he declares, "Maybe because I've made money, I'm not corrupted by it." Simon loses handily to incumbent Gray Davis.
95| Chopping a camel into millions upon millions of tiny camel pieces and pushing them, one by one, through the eye of the goddamn needle.
In April, an E-Trade proxy report details the 2001 compensation package of CEO Christos Cotsakos, which includes $4.9 million in pay, $29 million in stock options, and forgiveness of a $15 million loan--all in a year during which the company lost $241 million. An E-Trade spokesman says his compensation "reflects the success the company has had under his leadership." Eight months later, Cotsakos resigns.
96| Whiffed pitch No. 7: Armageddon.
Proving that two nuclear powers with itchy trigger fingers can still be good for a laugh, Cadbury India runs a newspaper ad for its chocolates that features a map of India and Pakistan and describes the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir as "too good to share."
97| Gee, with shrewd financial acumen like that, we can't imagine why you guys went bankrupt.
Shortly after declaring bankruptcy in January, Kmart appoints turnaround specialist James Adamson as its new CEO. Ten months and more than 30,000 layoffs later, Adamson resigns from his post. Under terms of his contract, however, he'll be rewarded with as much as $3.6 million after Kmart comes out of Chapter 11. Adamson's total take: nearly $7 million. Kmart losses under his watch: about $2 billion.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, SECURITY
98| Gee, with shrewd financial acumen like that...aw, heck, you get the idea.
In a bankruptcy filing, Kmart reveals a startling discovery: It seems that the 790 self-service checkout machines it has installed in stores throughout the country--to the tune of $2.2 million a month--have led to an increase in "shrink." (In other words, allowing customers to ring up their own purchases has made it easier for them to steal.) Kmart asks the court to let it wriggle out of its lease with GE Capital.
99| "Harness of pain" better describes CBS's comedy lineup anyway.
During filming of the pilot of CBS reality show Culture Shock, Jill Mouser is told to don the "harness of pain," which reenacts "a Native American rite of passage wherein a young man was pierced twice through his torso with a pole and left suspended in the air by the pole for a period of time." After she asks if the harness is supposed to "kill my back," a crew member allegedly says "Yes." Hospitalized, Mouser sues the producers of Culture Shock, which never airs.
100| Here's one: We paid how much for that crappy slogan?
In an attempt to boost its profile, the Protestant church in Germany hires ad agency Melle Pufe to come up with a slogan to attract new parishioners. After nearly $1.5 million in billings and head-scratching of biblical proportions--during which the firm's creative director calls Protestantism "a problematic brand" because it lacks a central figure, such as a pope--the new slogan is announced: "Protestants ask questions."
101| May they rest in peace.
In January, FinalThoughts.com, a website that, among other death-related services, allowed members to write e-mail that would be sent to friends and family after their passing, passes on. Writes CEO Todd Krim in an e-mail to customers: "It is our sincere hope that another company will be able to someday build upon the legacy that we have left behind."