101 Dumbest Moments in Business
(Business 2.0) – GRAND PRIZE WINNERS, DUMBEST MOMENTS OF 2003
Two greedy Richards.
Richard the First | In August, the board of the New York Stock Exchange decides to give CEO Dick Grasso his $139.5 million pension up front, ostensibly to save the estimated $10 million it would cost to deliver the payout at retirement. Grasso offers a succinct if not altogether satisfying explanation: "I'm blessed." When a firestorm erupts over Grasso's payday, he graciously agrees not to take another $48 million he has coming to him. Then, a week later, Grasso "resigns"--and quickly claims he was fired, which entitles him to another $58 million, including the $48 million he had promised to forgo.
Richard the Second | In October, New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer's wide-ranging investigation of the mutual-fund industry reveals that Dick Strong, the founder and chairman of Strong Financial, has made $600,000--the equivalent of about 60 bucks to a regular working stiff--through market-timing trades contrary to his own company's rules. He's forced to resign and may have to sell his nearly 90 percent stake in the firm, valued at just under $1 billion.
Don't hate the player. Hate the game.
In September, retail chain Urban Outfitters begins peddling Ghettopoly, a Monopoly knockoff. The top hat, shoe, and car are replaced with a machine gun, marijuana leaf, basketball, and rock of crack cocaine. Reacting to protests, Urban Outfitters pulls the game from its stores.
The next day, Count Chocula drops by to pick up an application.
Dairy Queen franchisee W.A. Enterprises is docked $700,000 by a jury in Richmond, Va., after DQ employee Ayman Ahmed Hasaballa allegedly slides into a booth next to a female customer, pulls down her sweater, bites her breast, and says, "I am like Dracula." The jury holds the company responsible because it didn't fire Hasaballa six months earlier after he allegedly attacked a female co-worker.
If we accuse them of backpedaling, does that make them a target?
"We deeply regret that comments made by on-air personalities were misinterpreted. Clear Channel does not condone advocating violence in any form."
-- Clear Channel Radio CEO John Hogan, after disc jockeys at three of the company's stations urge listeners to attack bicyclists with tactics that include slamming on car brakes, throwing open car doors suddenly, and beaning riders with soda bottles
The company places the blame on junior analyst Mary Jane Bogart, a chronic underachiever who never has the straight dope and often fails to weed out her own mistakes.
Research firm Nielsen/NetRatings issues a report describing a website called the Blunt Truth as "an educational resource for marijuana." It's actually an online game site in which teens reveal secrets to one another anonymously.
The annual Pearl Harbor Day bash, however, is a real blast.
In August, online "social planning destination" Evite sends an apology to its users for having cited Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, as a "reason to party" in an earlier e-mail newsletter.
Just to be on the safe side, let's also lose the jack, the fuel pump, and the four-stroke engine.
In Canada, General Motors is forced to come up with a new name for its Buick LaCrosse sedan after discovering that crosse is a slang term for masturbation in Quebec.
It then opens a new store in La Crosse, Wis.
In April, Swedish furniture giant Ikea explains that a children's bunk bed called the Gutvik is named for "a tiny town in Sweden." Announcing that bit of etymology becomes necessary when Germans point out that, in their neck of the woods, the word sounds like a phrase that means "good f***." Ikea yanks the Gutvik from its catalogs in Germany.
Buick LaCrosse buyers were sorely disappointed.
In November, Chrysler announces that it will sponsor the Lingerie Bowl, a football game to be played by female models airing as a pay-per-view special during halftime of the Super Bowl. After the carmaker comes under fire for the sexist nature of the event, CEO Dieter Zetsche quickly distances himself from the spectacle, claiming he had no knowledge that it was in the works. The company reportedly pressures the event's producers to change the players' uniforms, demanding that participants wear sports bras and volleyball shorts; then, a week later, it drops the event altogether.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, ADVERTISING
Mommy, can I have something to drink with my cheesesteak?
Fast-food sandwich chain Quiznos launches its new Philly cheesesteak with a TV commercial featuring two businessmen eating lunch alfresco. One's a smart Quiznos customer; the other, a non-Q loser. "Were you raised by wolves?" asks appalled Guy No. 1. Yes, indeed--and he still calls the wolf den home. Cut to a shot of Guy No. 2 lying on the ground and suckling a mama wolf's teat.
It could be worse. At least they're not selling wolf milk.
In July, a McDonald's outlet in Chicago's Field Museum is closed by health inspectors who discover that the food preparation area is backed up with raw sewage and that employees have changed the expiration dates on 200 cartons of milk.
Minor attractions include the raw sewage station and the expiration-date changing area.
In an effort to improve its public image, 120 McDonald's restaurants in England open their kitchens to tourists in October. Says a company press release, "Major attractions include the French Fry station and the Big Mac preparation area."
Thanks, but we're still nauseated from Band on the Run.
A British man claiming to have caught the flu from former Beatle Paul McCartney attempts to sell the germs on eBay. The listing is later pulled, but not before seller Ian Mears kindly offers the high bidder the option of "a resealable bag that I will cough into, or if preferred, they can have a plastic container full of mucus."
By the way, those Do-Not-Call people called again, wondering if you did not want them to call.
In February, Seattle-based software firm Spam Arrest starts spamming people who correspond with current customers. The come-on? "Enjoy a spam-free inbox."
Don't forget tall, charming, modest, and irrationally litigious.
"Albie Hecht, TNN's president, told the media that the name referred to a guy's name with specific personality traits ... irreverent, aggressive, unapologetically male, smart, and contemporary."
-- Filmmaker Spike Lee, explaining why he filed suit against Viacom over The National Network's name change to Spike TV. Hecht did indeed cite Lee at a press conference announcing the name, along with director Spike Jonze, a character from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and volleyball. Viacom and Lee reach a settlement a month later; Spike TV claims losses of $17 million due to launch delays caused by the suit.
God does exist--and She has a wicked sense of humor.
Just three days before Martha Stewart and her stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, are indicted for obstruction of justice, making false statements, conspiracy, and other charges, German researchers release a study showing that Erbitux--the ImClone drug that started the questionable-stock-trading foofaraw in the first place--does, in fact, reduce tumors.
We won't even mention the one they were planning to shoot in Tiananmen Square.
In December, Toyota apologizes for its advertising in the Beijing-based monthly magazine Auto Fan. One ad depicts a Land Cruiser towing a truck that resembles a Chinese military vehicle, thus insulting China's ever-sensitive army. The other ad shows a stone lion--a traditional Chinese symbol of power--bowing down to Toyota's Prado, a word rendered in Chinese as badao, or "domineering."
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, MANAGEMENT
He was never a big fan of business class.
As American Airlines teeters on the brink of bankruptcy in April, CEO Donald Carty goes to the unions, hat in hand, begging $1.8 billion in wage concessions from its 110,000 workers. Yet even as he's preaching his stirring, we're-all-in-this-together line, the company quietly files an SEC report outlining a luscious, salary-tripling bonus scheme and a bankruptcy-proof, $41 million pension plan for its top 45 executives. "It's the equivalent of an obscene gesture from management," says union leader John Ward. Salvaging the labor deal and likely staving off Chapter 11 in the process, AA's board kills the bonuses, and Carty resigns in disgrace.
Hmmm. Maybe you should've gotten the hint by the 3,168,453rd time we closed one of your pop-ups without reading it.
After years of bombarding Web surfers with annoying pop-up ads, wireless camera maker X10 files for bankruptcy in October, listing debts of more than $10 million. Among the parties stiffed: AOL, Google, Yahoo, and AdvertisementBanners.com, which won $4 million in a lawsuit against X10 shortly before the bankruptcy filing.
Too bad X10 wasn't based in La Grange. It would've won hands down.
In October, the La Grange, N.C., Chamber of Commerce presents its "Small Business of the Year" award to Herring's Grill. One problem: The grill had closed two months earlier.
Have you tried our new signature scent, Desperation?
In November, after several would-be employees serve it with racial-discrimination lawsuits, retailer Abercrombie & Fitch faces trouble on a second front: Focus on the Family and other conservative groups call for a boycott of the store. The reason: The cover of its Christmas 2003 magalog promises "Group Sex and More." Abercrombie orders employees to remove all copies of the $6 publication at the height of the Christmas season, saying it needs the shelf space to launch a new perfume.
The official software vendor of the American Humane Society.
"If Craigy [PeopleSoft CEO Conway] and Bear [Conway's dog] were standing next to each other and I had one bullet, trust me, it wouldn't be for the dog."
-- Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, expressing his interest in acquiring rival software maker PeopleSoft
Larry Ellison really wanted the job, but in the end the choice was obvious.
In August, McDonald's promotes mascot Ronald McDonald to the post of "chief happiness officer."
In other news, the company announces that Mr. Schwab has been appointed to the post of chief happiness officer.
In the midst of an advertising campaign to persuade investors to trust the company with their retirement savings, Charles Schwab axes 401(k) matching dollars for its own employees.
Next time, try lifestyle-oriented and emotional and cool and creditworthy and ... oh, hell, we give up.
After marketing its sporty Eclipse coupe to 20-something slacker types through a mix of ultrahip ads and zero-percent financing, Mitsubishi Motors announces a $469 million loss from loan defaults. New CEO Rolf Eckrodt says the company's mistake was "aiming at customers interested in products which are lifestyle-oriented and emotional and cool." The fix? Aiming at customers with money. The move looks good on paper--just not the paper on which the company's books are kept. After tightening up credit requirements, Eclipse sales fall by 48 percent, forcing Mitsubishi to spend another $432 million to clear out unsold inventory.
AOL: Back on top?
Part 1 | We're the toast of the town! AOL runs an ad in the New York Post touting the release of a new version of the service. It reads, "You Didn't Think We'd Launch Something Like This in Boise, Did You?" After Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne writes a letter of complaint, AOL charges ahead with plans for another gala launch event ... in Boise.
Part 2 | We've got our finger on the pulse of America! AOL spends a reported $35 million on an ad campaign featuring Sharon Stone, apparently fresh from a romp in bed with the service's "running man" icon. Matters of taste aside, critics loudly wonder about the choice of an actress whose career peaked a decade ago. CEO Jonathan Miller's explanation: "The AOL brand was perceived as not sophisticated and not necessarily in tune with the times."
Part 3 | Well ... At least our own company still loves us! In September, less than three years after AOL "acquired" Time Warner, the board of AOL Time Warner decides to drop AOL from the company's name and change its ticker symbol from AOL back to the original TWX.
On the plus side, all the applicants were buying Eclipses.
"Anyone, feasibly, given enough time and enough resources, could hack into any system."
-- Brad Hill, CIO of Dealerskins, a Tennessee firm that hosts websites for car dealerships, confessing in September that the company had exposed 1,000 customers' car-loan applications on an unprotected website. The Dealerskins "hack"--selecting "Source" from Internet Explorer's View menu to examine the webpage's HTML code--takes about a quarter of a second.
Yes, it does. But your bottled rainwater idea still bites.
In February, inventor J. Hutton Pulitzer files a trademark application for Purain, which he proposes as the name for a line of processed rainwater. When the Dallas Observer mocks Pulitzer's audacity--he was the man behind the CueCat scanner flop--he transforms the Purain website into a lecture about media schadenfreude: "Sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. Sounds like today's media--doesn't it?"
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, DIRECT MAIL
Save-a-Flush (Plan B): Make people crap in their pants.
British utility Yorkshire Water sparks an anthrax panic in the spring with a mass mailing that includes an unmarked envelope of white crystalline grains. Yorkshire Water explains that the packets of silica sand--which expands in water--are supposed to be placed in toilet tanks as part of its "Save-a-Flush" campaign.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
Microsoft: In the crapper?
Part 1 | The PC in the WC. On April 30, Microsoft U.K. issues a press release touting a new product called the iLoo, an Internet-enabled toilet equipped with a Wi-Fi broadband connection, a plasma flat screen, a waterproof keyboard, and sponsored toilet paper festooned with Web addresses. According to the release, the iLoo will "allow instant logging on."
Part 2 | Johnny on the spot. Twelve days later, after much snickering in morning newspapers and on late-night talk shows, Microsoft flacks back in Redmond come up with a clever strategy for damage control. The iLoo, says spokeswoman Kathy Gill, was merely an "April Fool-like joke."
Part 3 | Something doesn't smell right. The next day, realizing that nobody's buying the April-Fool's-joke-29-days-after-April-Fool's-Day explanation, Microsoft calls back reporters and admits that it had told an iLulu: The project was indeed real but has subsequently been killed. "We jumped the gun basically yesterday in confirming that it was a hoax," says MSN group product manager Lisa Gurry. "In fact, it was not."
Think they'll buy the April Fool's joke thing again? Nah, better go with the bit about the top-secret location.
Michael Hanscom, a temp worker at Microsoft's in-house print shop, is fired after posting to his blog a photo that showed workers at the facility taking delivery of several Apple G5 computers. His supervisor insists that Hanscom was fired not for showing the company relying on the product of its chief rival, but for revealing the location of one of its shipping and receiving departments.
The highest standards of integrity--unless we can save a nickel per call.
In July, just eight months after new MCI CEO Michael Capellas pledged that his firm would maintain an "unwavering commitment to the highest possible standards of integrity," regulators investigate the company formerly known as WorldCom for improperly routing domestic calls overseas to avoid paying tolls to competitors. Some of the calls were placed by government agencies, posing a potential risk to national security. The General Services Administration threatens to suspend MCI from bidding on future government telecom contracts if it doesn't improve its financial controls and ethics training, putting more than $700 million in federal phone bills at risk.
Whizzinators don't cheat on drug tests. People cheat on drug tests.
Over the course of six months, the sheriff's department in Lubbock County, Texas, catches five suspects attempting to fool urinalysis using the Whizzinator, an artificial penis that dispenses fake pee. Says a straight-faced Dennis Catalano, the owner of the company that makes the device and also sells dried urine, "How people choose to use it is beyond our control."
They thought about changing their name, but, sadly, Whizzinator was already taken.
U.K. energy company Powergen finds itself so often confused with a similarly named Italian battery maker that it issues a statement disavowing any connection between the two enterprises. It's not so much the Italian company that the Brits want to distance themselves from as its Web address: Powergenitalia.com.
That's OK. We hear the computer science department sucks anyway.
In February, Cornell University sends out an e-mail to incoming freshmen that begins, "Greetings from Cornell, your future alma mater!" The message is sent to all 1,700 students who applied for early decision, including the 550 who've been rejected.
Match the quote with the person who said it.
1| "We're not shipping A| Intel CEO Craig Barrett, on jobs from the U.S. firing thousands of chip but growing outside designers in the U.S. while the U.S." hiring thousands of chip designers in India
2| "Oh, OK, now we get it. B| Thousands of newly unemployed Our jobs weren't Intel chip designers outsourced after all. Thanks, Craig."
3| "This is not about C| IBM software chief Steve Mills, moving skilled jobs on plans to fire thousands of elsewhere." coders in the U.S. while hiring thousands of coders in India
4| "Oh, OK, now we get D| Thousands of soon-to-be- it. Our jobs aren't unemployed IBM coders being outsourced after all. Thanks, Steve."
ANSWERS: 1A; 2B; 3C; 4D
We didn't know Cornell had a law school.
"I'm busy doing jack shit."
-- Jonas L. Blank, revealing the dirty little secret of internships, in June 2003. A "summer associate" at the New York corporate law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Blank accidentally distributed his personal e-mail to dozens of colleagues, necessitating a speedy apology.
Didn't we already see this on HBO?
Taking advantage of a local ordinance that gives hearses priority service at gas stations during a shortage, two mortuary workers in Zimbabwe go into business renting out corpses and falsified burial orders. They are arrested in July.
And now, an entirely convincing verbatim quote from a network public relations department.
"CBS will not broadcast THE REAGANS on November 16 and 18. This decision is based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script."
Careful what you wish for, Mr. Shapiro.
"His acute sense of what's on the minds of his listeners, combined with his ability to ... serve as a lightning rod for lively discussion, makes him the perfect fit."
-- ESPN executive vice president Mark Shapiro, explaining why he hired Rush Limbaugh to join ESPN as an NFL commentator. Limbaugh is forced to quit three months later after saying that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is overrated because the media wants to see a black QB succeed. Nine days after that, Limbaugh admits to an addiction to prescription painkillers and checks himself into a rehab clinic.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, PUBLISHING
Meanwhile, a jilted yen sobs quietly at home.
In Moscow, authorities ban a poster promoting Russia's Finance magazine. Says publisher Igor Maltsev, "I thought the currencies were dancing."
Translation: Stock images look OK, and photo shoots are really, really expensive.
In February, the Bermuda Department of Tourism struggles to explain how it managed to use a photograph of a Hawaiian beach for a new marketing campaign. The answer: It hired a New York ad agency. Tourism minister Renee Webb explains that the photo selection allowed for "maximum creative impact with superior fiscal responsibility."
I say, Nigel, you look like you're freezing your bum off.
In January, British radio station BRMB is fined £15,000 for holding a contest in which entrants are challenged to see who can sit on a block of ice the longest, with the winner getting free concert tickets. The station got the idea from a New Zealand website, but unlike the Kiwis, the Brits use dry ice, which, at -109 degrees Fahrenheit, is unkind to human flesh. Three participants are hospitalized.
They're doing what? Gosh, we had no ... um, make that very little idea.
In December, Putnam Investments drops the $41 million pension plan of Boilermakers Local Lodge No. 5 as a client. Regulators allege that Putnam first spotted the boilermakers breaking market-timing rules in its funds more than three years ago, but didn't stop them from making trades until September, when investigations of the mutual-fund industry hit the news. Members of the union made as much as $4 million through rapid-fire trades. Putnam fires CEO Lawrence Lasser and 15 other employees, while pension managers and investors pull more than $13 billion out of Putnam funds in the span of a month.
Paid, no doubt, from a slush fund.
The gangbusters success of Frozen Coke--a Slurpee-like concoction sold by Coca-Cola at Burger King restaurants--proves to be a sham in March, when it's revealed that the successful tests were the result of Coke paying $10,000 to buy up Frozen Coke combo meals. By way of apology, Coke offers to pay as much as $21.1 million to Burger King and the affected restaurants.
Except that when Greenspan rocks the mic with his mad skillz, people listen.
In June, hip-hop icon KRS-One learns that his label, Koch, has released his record Kristyles without his approval. After he obtains an injunction forcing the record to be removed from stores, it debuts at an unspectacular 186th on Billboard's album chart. Making matters worse, KRS-One releases his approved version for free on Kazaa. When the record is released again in August, it fails to chart at all, meaning that few get to hear him proclaim that he's "the Alan Greenspan of hip-hop."
Keep it open through April and you'll be bigger than Gigli.
After a disastrous run as a magazine mogul, Rosie O'Donnell produces Taboo, a Broadway musical starring '80s relic Boy George. It opens to savage reviews and empty seats. O'Donnell nonetheless insists on keeping the show open until January, despite estimates that this may swell the production's losses to more than $20 million.
Actually, it was a sinker.
"The picture will speak for itself. This is a really smart summer movie. It's not a fastball down the middle.... It's a curveball."
-- Revolution Studios executive Tom Sherak, attempting to explain the charms of the film "Gigli" shortly before its release. The Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez vehicle contributes to Revolution partner Sony Pictures's $41 million loss in its second quarter.
That'll just about cover the payments on a Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Cunning Stunts, a London-based marketing firm, begins offering local university students £88.20 a week for the right to plaster logos smack between their hairlines and eyebrows. The "foreheADS" program signs up more than 500 students in the first four months.
The sound of one firm blaspheming.
In August, online CRM company Salesforce.com produces posters promoting a San Francisco appearance of the Dalai Lama featuring the slogan "There is no software on the path to enlightenment." After Buddhist groups complain, CEO Marc Benioff apologizes, yanks the posters, and makes a $100,000 donation to the American Himalayan Foundation.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, OUTSOURCING
Passing the $.03
In October, a Pakistani woman doing cut-rate clerical work for the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center threatens to post patients' confidential files on the Internet unless she's paid money she says she's owed for her transcription work. Lubna Baloch claims she hasn't been paid the 3 cents a line promised by Tom Spires, a Texas man who got the assignment from Sonya Newburn, a Florida woman who got the job from Transcription Stat, a firm in Sausalito, Calif., that contracted to transcribe UCSF's records for 18 cents a line.
At Goldman, every employee (except the 80 to 85 percent of you slackers who don't do a damn thing) is special.
At an investment conference in January, Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson explains his company's recent layoffs: "There are 15 to 20 percent of the people that really add 80 percent of the value. Although we have a lot of good people, you can cut a fair amount ... and still be well positioned for the upturn." Paulson later apologizes in a voice-mail message sent to every Goldman employee.
Soon to be replaced by "You can't take it to the grave, so you might as well buy a damn watch."
In August, Timex decides to replace "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking," one of the world's most recognizable tag lines, with the utterly depressing "Life is ticking."
America's bottom line keeps on growing. Red Lobster's, alas, does not.
In June, seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster unveils its new promotion: the bottomless bucket of crab. It works--though apparently too well. In September, Red Lobster's owner, Darden Restaurants, announces lower-than-expected earnings, blaming a 5 percent drop in profits on the "bottomless" promotion. Chastened Darden CEO Joe Lee explains what came back to bite him: "It wasn't the second helping on all-you-can-eat, but the third."
"Hermione!" Harry cried. "Oh, mierda, just wait for the DVD."
A bootleg Spanish translation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix hits bookshelves rife with apologies from the translator: "Sorry, I didn't understand what this means"; "I didn't really understand what this phrase meant, so I paraphrased"; and so on.
We'll wait for the bootleg Spanish translation, Desgracia.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, aircraft manufacturer Boeing fires CFO Michael Sears and vice president Darleen A. Druyun after an internal investigation alleges that Sears personally lobbied to hire Druyun in late 2002 while she worked for the Air Force--with whom Boeing was negotiating a $21 billion contract. A week later, Boeing CEO Phil Condit resigns as well, just as book reviewers receive their copies of Soaring Through Turbulence: A New Model for Managers Who Want to Succeed in a Changing Business World, a primer on ethical business management by ... now-former Boeing CFO Michael Sears.
Computerworld special: Saddam's web of Viagra-spam terror!
In February, Computerworld publishes an article in which "Abu Mujahid," a Pakistani operative linked to al Qaeda, claims responsibility for releasing the Slammer virus. The magazine pulls the story three hours after it's posted online. "Mujahid" is revealed to be Brian McWilliams, a freelance writer who created a fake website to lure gullible journalists.
"And, finally, your outsourcing decisions seem laughably poor."
In January, a PR agency hired by Seattle biotech firm Cell Therapeutics accidentally sends a brutally frank report on the company's strengths and weaknesses to reporters and other outsiders. The flacks claim that the e-mail distribution was the work of a computer virus.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
Is that where we'd go to register Squanderingbillions.com?
In October, three and a half years after buying Network Solutions for $21 billion, VeriSign sells its dotcom-registration business for $100 million.
I did it because I wanted to seem petty and vindictive.
"There is no business justification. That's not why I did it."
-- Lindows.com founder Michael Robertson, whose rhymes-with-Windows company is in the midst of a legal dispute with Microsoft, on the revelation that he's the formerly anonymous donor behind a $200,000 contest to hack Microsoft's Xbox
Thank you for calling Prudential. For stock quotes, press 1. To log a complaint about market-timing trades, please hang up and wait for the dial tone.
In October, Prudential Securities fires 10 brokers and two branch managers after an internal investigation into illegal market-timing trades. The Securities and Exchange Commission and Massachusetts officials then file charges, alleging that Prudential first learned about the trades in March 2000 and took no action for three years--despite having received as many as 30,000 complaints about the brokers' trades.
He's got to piss away his time somehow.
In March, Apple Computer appoints former vice president Al Gore to its board of directors. Apple CEO Steve Jobs reassuringly notes that Gore, who famously dumped his Mac for a PC in 2000, now uses a Mac again. In November, Falcon Waterfree Technologies announces that Gore has joined its advisory board. No word on whether Gore has started using Falcon's product, a waterless urinal.
Al Gore's not interested, but we hear Gerald Ford would love to join the board.
Despite claims that it "allows people to go farther and move more quickly anywhere they currently walk," Segway finds few buyers for the $4,000 Human Transporter scooter in its first year on sale after it's banned for use on sidewalks by local governments from San Francisco to Key West. In June, its "self-balancing" claims are also put to the test when photos of George W. Bush "riding" a Segway begin circulating on the Internet.
Gov. Schwarzenegger quickly unveils a new plan to fix the state's budget woes by selling herbal supplements and prepaid phone cards.
Animal-rights group PETA sues the California Milk Advisory Board for false advertising in a campaign that claims that "happy cows come from California," contending that California's cows actually live on dung- and urine-soaked lots. A judge dismisses the case on a technicality, ruling, in essence, that as a state entity, the CMAB is free to deceive customers as much as it likes.
Sure, California's cows may be a little down in the dumps. But Iowa's hogs are as happy as pigs in ...
In October, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources certifies 34 "odor inspectors" to research the not-so-subtle fragrances emanating from the state's 10,000 hog farms. The inspectors, also known as Nasal Rangers, are sent into the field with devices resembling radar guns held to their noses.
Sounds like a job for the Nasal Rangers!
The same month, the government of New Zealand scraps plans for a tax on noxious emissions by farm animals. The tax would have raised $4.9 million a year to research the effects of flatulence in cows, sheep, and goats.
OK, we promise: This absolutely, positively will be the last flatulence joke.
In April, Kraft rolls out an ad campaign to promote its new presliced, cracker-size cheese. The slogan: "We cut the cheese so you don't have to."
In November, the Northarvest Bean Growers Association launches a campaign that includes such doozies as "Toot if you like beans" and "Live to be an old fart."
In hindsight, they should praise the lord that they never had to stay in such a hotel.
Finally closing the books on a 16-year-old lawsuit, an Asheville, N.C., court rules in favor of 165,000 people who paid $1,000 apiece to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Praise the Lord ministry for stays at a resort that was never built. Lawyers receive $2.5 million for litigating the case; plaintiffs end up with $6.54 each.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, BRAND EXTENSION
Go ahead, make my bed.
In the midst of shrinking firearm sales, Smith & Wesson Holding Co. expands into the home decor market. A recent issue of the "Crossings" catalog features gift ideas like cowgirl pillows, silk blouses, and bedding in a "rustic yet romantic print."
Funny, a guy in a Lone Ranger mask said the same thing when the cops found him with a stethoscope in front of the bank vault.
"We looked at a document in the public domain. It's not some protected preserve with lots of protected content."
--Larry Lunetta, an executive at security startup ArcSight, claiming that his firm did nothing wrong after an employee was caught red-handed poking around in password-protected files on a competitor's website
Not to be outdone, American unveils Ric, Northwest launches Wes, and Continental rolls out Al.
Two years after shutting down its money-losing Shuttle operation, United Airlines decides to get back in the low-fare game with Ted. As in, Uni-ted. Get it? Though the bankrupt airline still hasn't made clear how it will profit despite the inflated labor costs and operational woes that doomed Shuttle, it will apparently save about 50 percent on paint for the sides of the planes.
In customer satisfaction surveys, they still preferred Mainline to Ted.
In January, Babson College student Luke Thompson creates a website for Mainline Airways, offering $89 one-way flights between Los Angeles and Honolulu. In June, after Massachusetts attorney general Thomas Reilly freezes his bank accounts, Thompson insists that he had been planning to begin flights the following month, despite not having permits, planes, pilots, or, really, any of the thousands of things necessary to operate an airline--with the lone exception of bookings. All 121 people who bought tickets get their money back, while Thompson and Mainline are fined $50,000.
How to win friends and influence record sales.
"We won't win any popularity contests. We don't really care what people think."
-- Recording Industry Association of America spokeswoman Amy Weiss, on the group's decision to file lawsuits against customers accused of Internet file sharing, including a 12-year-old New York girl and a 65-year-old Massachusetts grandmother. U.S. record sales remain stagnant after the RIAA launches its campaign in the courts, and an appeals court bans the RIAA's legal methods in December.
How to win friends and influence software sales.
"Terrorists do things designed to intimidate people, and we see a lot of that going on all the time--people trying to attack us or people that we're associated with."
-- SCO Group CEO Darl McBride, complaining about the backlash from hundreds of thousands of Linux users after the former Linux software vendor sued IBM, a major Linux proponent, for allegedly violating its intellectual-property rights
On a related note, Joseph Goebbels is found alive and working as a marketer in Hong Kong ...
In April, Coca-Cola promotes its brand in Hong Kong by selling robot figurines based on popular cartoon characters, one of which features chest plates festooned with swastikas. Coca-Cola later apologizes and pulls the figurine. Four months later, Hong Kong retailer Izzue introduces a line of Nazi-theme T-shirts and other related merchandise. Izzue later apologizes and discontinues the line.
... and also designing fonts in Redmond.
"Microsoft has learned of a mistake in the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font ... we failed to identify, prior to the release, the presence of two swastikas within the font. We apologize for this and for any offense caused."
-- From a statement released in December by Microsoft senior vice president Steven Sinofsky
Finally, music encryption powerful enough to stump recording-industry executives.
After SunnComm Technologies rolls out new CD copy-protection software in September, a Princeton student figures out how to disable it. The devious hack: holding down the "Shift" key.
The sentence for first offenders? Three to five in Fresno.
While attending a gathering of business leaders in Florida, Fresno, Calif., Chamber of Commerce head Stebbins Dean--inventor of his city's slogan "Fresno: Smile When You Say That"--is arrested for attempting to buy crack from an undercover cop. He resigns shortly thereafter.
All that time spent ghoulishly watching QVC's Knife Hour, wasted.
On a live QVC broadcast in September, a guest demonstrating the virtues of a 12.5-foot telescoping ladder slips and plummets to the ground. As cameras quickly cut from a shot of the demonstrator writhing in pain, studio host Lisa Robertson intones, "He's moving, he's OK."
A parity of itself.
Promotional materials distributed in the fall to ad agencies for celebrity-tracking Star magazine promise an upgraded editorial product and a cover-price hike from $2.99 to $3.29, bringing the magazine into "price parody with People and Us Weekly."
"Quagmire" is still available.
A day after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Sony files an application to trademark the term "Shock and Awe" for a videogame. Sony later pulls the filing, calling it an act of "regrettable bad judgment."
On the plus side, a whole lot of Nevada fifth-graders just aced their LSATs.
A year after it misgrades Nevada test scores and wrongly fails 736 students, Harcourt Educational Measurement uses an incorrect grading key for proficiency tests given at more than 200 Nevada elementary schools. The company faces a fine--again--this time for as much as $483,000.
You'd think his three-part series on the sub-eating executive raised by wolves might have tipped them off.
Esteemed newspaper-of-record the New York Times confesses in May that it has polluted the record with dozens of articles written by 27-year-old hotshot reporter and indefatigable faker Jayson Blair. In a 6,500-word article, the Times details the extent of Blair's journalistic flimflam: Not only pretending to cover stories in other cities while hanging out in his Brooklyn apartment, Blair even filed for travel expenses using receipts from neighborhood shops and restaurants. In June, as a staff mutiny simmers, two of Blair's chief enablers, top editors Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, walk the plank. Blair later gets a book deal; the Times gets an ombudsman.
Sure, that oughta cut down on the looky-loo traffic.
As part of its effort to supplant traditional printed real-estate advertising magazines, online home-finding service eHouseguide.com sends a series of postcards to real-estate agents to drum up listings. The postcards feature pictures of naked men and women at their computers, presumably perusing eHouseguide.com in the buff.
Make that 86 passengers and one lucky photographer from eHouseguide.com.
In May, Castaways Travel's first naked flight from Miami to Cancún departs with 87 passengers. Wisely, hot coffee and tea aren't served.
If it doesn't work out the second time, we suggest you try real estate.
Two Southwest Airlines pilots are fired in April for removing their clothing in the cockpit during a flight. The pilots protest their termination, claiming that just one guy took off his uniform after spilling a drink, and are later rehired.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, HUMAN RESOURCES
Should you find that your boss is a complete and total jerkwad, use one of his machines to post his memo on the Web.
"I expect my computers to be used for work only. I expect my phones to be used for work only. Should you receive a personal call, keep it short. Should you receive a personal e-mail, I expect the e-mail either not answered, or a brief note telling whoever is sending you e-mails at work to stop immediately. Should I go through machines, which I assure you, I will be doing, and I find anything to the contrary, you will be terminated immediately. For those who think I am kidding, and do not get with this program, I will promise you that by Christmas eve 8:00 you will be gone."
-- From a memo sent to employees in November by Doug Monahan, founder and chairman of technology marketing firm Sunset Direct. It was promptly posted on InternalMemos.com.
Interesting theory, Scott. Now tell us: How many calories in a nice, big serving of crow?
In October, KFC "executive vice president for marketing and food innovation" Scott Bergren announces some innovative food-related marketing: the repositioning of fried chicken as health food in a series of new TV ads. "Consumers," he says, "will be surprised to learn they can enjoy fried chicken as part of a healthy, balanced diet." They are indeed surprised: After protests from consumer advocates, who note that the advertised bucket of fried chicken contains 3,090 calories, the ads are pulled.
Not to fear. It's all part of that KFC healthy lifestyles program.
In January, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issues the following press release: "Innova Inc., Davenport, Iowa, is voluntarily recalling to replace about 8,700 Ultrex Thermal/Double Wall frying pans. The pans can explode or separate when preheated, used on high heat, or used for frying, which can pose a serious burn hazard from hot oil or food contents spilling onto consumers. Innova has received 16 reports of these frying pans exploding, including two consumers who received burns from hot oil and eight reports of property damage."
UR fired :(
"Its official, you no longer work for JNI Traffic Control and u have forfided any arrangements made."
-- Text message sent in February from JIN Traffic Control in Sydney, Australia, to employee John Eid, who later files a claim for unfair dismissal. JNI says that the message was simply to confirm Eid's resignation from the day before. In May, Eid and JNI reach an undisclosed settlement.
Conaway himself has never used the safe room. But Dick Grasso has been living in there since August.
In November, Kmart creditors file a lawsuit against six of the company's former executives, including former chairman and CEO Chuck Conaway. Among the allegations are charges that, as Kmart was sliding toward bankruptcy, Conaway billed the company $106,191 for improvements to his home--including $34,948 for a guardhouse and $3,590 for a safe room--and kept a driver on the payroll to take his children to school. The bankruptcy filing results in the closing of 600 stores and the firing of 57,000 employees.