Huffing at Starbucks in Arlington, MA

Last week police removed a man from the Arlington Center Starbucks (in Arlington, MA) for alleged huffing.

Seemingly a venti mocha cappuccino wasn’t enough to get the anonymous Arlington man through the day. So instead of adding a couple of shots of espresso to his coffee he decided to sniff from two bottles of keyboard “dust off” (apparently he couldn’t get his hands on any glue).

Huffing is the colloquial term used to describe the sniffing of intoxicative inhalants. The fumes cause a slew of side effects, including light-headedness, dizziness, incoherence and involuntary loss of muscle control. While some might find these symptoms reminiscent of a bad case of the flu, others actually enjoy the high.

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However, if you’re planning on huffing you should probably do it within the privacy of your own home. As the Arlington Starbucks huffer has learned, sniffing from bottles in broad daylight in a crowded public place does, indeed, attract attention. A Starbucks manager noticed the man’s odd, erratic behavior and his bottles of dust off and promptly called the police. While the man was not arrested, the police did give the man a verbal no trespass order and encouraged him to seek out help for his problem.

I guess the huffer left the shop in a huff.

Posted by Howard Davidson in Arlington, MA

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Gross Anorexic Costume for Halloween

Halloween is a tricky time for social mores, as the rules of what’s acceptable are rewritten. It can be hard to find the boundaries. It’s fine to have hellish skeletons in every Rite-Aid, for example, but a terrible idea for Julianne Hough to dress up in blackface. So it should come as no surprise, then, that the “Anna Rexia” costume has shown up again with an online costume retailer, and that it’s caused some controversy.

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Halloween costumes are legendary for getting more and more inappropriate (“Sexy Bert and Ernie”, really?), but the “Anna Rexia” costume takes the cake. Designed by Dreamgirls International in 2007, it features a tight, sexy-cut black dress with a skeletal design and a measuring tape waist, not to mention the tagline, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” Tasteful.

The costume was the focus of an online protest in 2011, which caused some online major costume retailers to yank the costume. But this season, Halloweenparty13.com has been selling the discontinued costume again.

It’s not the only ghoulish thing that is upsetting to positive body image advocates. Mattel has seen great success with its Monsters High line of dolls and multimedia, which focus on female offspring of famous monsters. Many childhood welfare advocates worry that the ghoulish girls featured are designed to be so thin that they make Barbie look curvy by comparison.

While the stick-figure dolls of Monster High may be just wrong to market to impressionable young girls, there still is the question of where to draw the line for Halloween costumes. “Anna Rexia” may be terrible, but the costume is just as gross as any number of zombie costumes that will be a popular sell this year.

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Nestle Cleans Up With Zero Waste

Nestlé has been on an absolute sustainability tear lately. The world’s largest food company has just announced its plans to achieve zero waste at 150 of its European factories by 2020.

The company is well-known as the largest food company in the world measured by revenues. not ambitious Now Nestlé is expanding their 10-year old AAA sustainability project to Kenya and Ethiopia. To do this, the brand has enlisted the help of (who else?) superstar spokesman/actor/activist George Clooney. The company’s sustainability program involves buying coffee from 56,000 farmers in these two countries (as well as Colombia, Guatemala, India, and Mexico) and paying them a 30-40 percent premium to market prices in New York.

Starting in 2016, Nestlé plans on introducing enhanced nutrition labels, featuring guideline daily amount (GDA) statistics, on all of their food and beverage products. So much for all that sodium-laced insta-food that Nestlé traffics.

Lest you think this is all talk, Nestlé has already reached the zero waste goal for all of its factories in the UK and Switzerland. Worldwide, the global food giant has achieved zero waste in 39 of its 468 factories as of 2012. A most recent Access to Nutrition Index places Nestlé in third place among companies trying to combat global trends of obesity and malnutrition. With this much effort being expended, it’s surprising they only ranked third.

posted by Howard Davidson

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Cheetos Rolls Out App with TP

Talk about playing to your audience, Cheetos seems to be lasering in on the junior high boys who love the cheese-flavored snack with its latest app. Just in time for Halloween, Project TP allows you to virtually toilet paper your domicile or most every other public venue available using Google Earth and Google Streetview (Cheetos wisely chooses not to include 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, perhaps out of fear of getting a call from the Department of Homeland Security).

In their promo video, a wisecracking English-accent-like cheetah leads a toilet paper strafing run to the tune of “The Ride of the Valkyries.” While the video copiously says one should not try this at home, you know damn well that millions of pimply-faced kids on October 31st will be donning shades and talking low like the spokesanimal as they lob Charmin at the houses of school officials. (One wonders if the Cheetos campaign can be held liable for the distress of having to clean up TP hung up in a tree after a rainstorm.)

Cheetos is declaring victory with its toilet paper campaign, claiming that 300,000 feet of virtual paper have been let loose in cyberspace. I guess it’s good to have ad campaigns that try and spice up Halloween. It is a time for tricks, as well as treats, after all, and we’ve been getting entirely too mild about a holiday dedicated to chasing away our demons in a night of debauchery.

posted by Howard Davidson

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Geico’s Caleb Camel Reappears in New Ad

It appears that Geico may have found their newest superstar mascot. The famously ad-happy insurance company just unveiled a new commercial spot last week that features the return of Caleb, an obnoxious talking camel who went viral after his debut in the insurance company’s “Hump Day” spot earlier this year. That video racked up over 15 million views in a matter of days.

Now, Geico is bringing back Caleb the Camel in a variety of awkward situations. Their new spot, “Movie Day,” features Caleb harassing moviegoers (in typically absurd Geico fashion) to turn off their cell phones before the film starts.

Lest you think that the Gecko has been put into retirement, however, he makes an appearance in their other new ad, which is a send-up of the “Let’s all go to the lobby” concessions ads from the ‘50s.

Caleb the Camel is just the latest addition to what is now a sprawling list of recurring absurdist memes: they have the Portraits Gallery, the Piggy, the Cavemen (remember their ill-fated sitcom?), as well as the new “Did You Know?” series of spots. Geico’s silly, borderline Dadaist ads have been highly popular and cunningly effective ever since their notorious Gecko first appeared on TV in 1999. This latest effort proves that the folks at The Martin Agency are a long way from maxing out their roster of surreal mascots.

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Clorox Gets Dirty With Yale to Fight “Pooperator”

College seems to be an expensive place to do stupid things. (Someone in my dorm always used to get stoned and play a didgeridoo in the stairwell at midnight.) Ivy league Yale has been soiled recently by a prankster who has been urinating and defecating on unattended laundry. Meanwhile, in the midst of this foul crisis, Clorox smells a marketing opportunity with “Pooperator” at Yale.

Once the news hit the fan about the malcontent “Pooperator” who has been fouling the prestigious linens and unmentionables of Yale underclassmen, Clorox began tweeting to offer its product to help clean up the mess. The bleach product company even Photoshopped its product in a glass case atop a washing machine with a sign reading “Break Glass in Case of POOMERGANCY”. Yale being Yale, some were mildly amused.

Normally, getting close to human excrement is not a good idea for a product placement, but it’s a marketing win for Clorox, since you don’t really call in the big guns of bleach until things really hit the fan.

Meanwhile the “brown bandit”, or someone with a similar sense of humor, has struck again, this time stringing brown stained clothes on a line. On further…brave…inspection, the fouling agent for this prank proved to be chocolate. No word yet on whether Clorox will help with this problem, too.

Marketing might be the best way for whoever is pulling these shenanigans to get out of this without jail time. After all, if you could package these pranks into a killer sociology paper reframing the connection between marketing and feces in a post-industrial society and how that reframing casts light on an elite culture of entitlement, it seems like you could score an A and a future academic book deal.

Of course, it all might be bullshit.

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McDonald’s Healthier Happy Meal Side Options

McDonald’s has just announced plans to offer healthier side options on its value meals, and healthier beverage choices for its classic kids staple, the Happy Meal.

For the first time ever, the global fast food chain will be eliminating sodas from its Happy Meal menu, and instead will promote healthier alternatives like low fat milk, juice, or water. Fruit slices and salads will also now be featured as options alongside fries on the value menu.

While often criticized for peddling fatty foods to small children, McDonald’s has shown a steady, if gradual, willingness to introduce healthier items onto its menu. CEO Don Thompson called this latest change “an important step in our journey” to promote healthier options on their menu. In a move to quell the inevitable skepticism of consumer-health advocates, McDonald’s states that it will use its marketing muscle to “generate excitement” for the healthier menu options. Furthermore, they’re pledging that “100% of all advertising directed at children” will focus on promoting a fun, pro-health message.

McDonald’s announced the changes alongside the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a project founded by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association to combat childhood obesity. Coca-Cola – which has been McDonald’s top soda supplier since 1955 – doesn’t seem to be fighting this potential cut to their bottom line. They recently announced their own global initiatives towards combating obesity, which include a refusal to market their sodas to children under 12.

McDonald’s has been making modest forays into healthier menu options in the past few years, but this is by far their most concerted effort yet. The food chain predicts that 30-50% of its major markets will implement the menu changes in three years, with 100% of the markets adopting them by 2020.

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Affinnova Opens Vodka Brand War

A new study from the marketing and branding folks at Affinnova proclaims that a vodka brand’s success is hugely tied to its bottle design. Newer and edgier vodka brands, like Belvedere and Pinnacle, are edging out the old guards, like Absolut, for shelf space because of new bottle designs with bolder color choices. And advertising doesn’t help, the study concludes, because it’s too difficult to reach all the demographics in a fractured media landscape.

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The study, which analyzed 500 vodka brands and talked to many vodka-loving customers, found that taste satisfaction could be influenced by bottle design. Worse yet for traditional marketers, poor bottle design can even bring down a positive perception of a brand created by hard-won advertising dollars. Survey respondents generally found Absolut to be a pretty sexy brand until they look at the bottle. This all seems reminiscent to mounting reports that even high-paid wine taste-testers can’t consistently tell the difference between good wine and bad wine in blind taste tests.

Cut the advertising budget and put swill in the fancy bottles? It could happen. It’s just another reminder that we might be creatures of all style and little substance.

Here’s a video reminder why you shouldn’t fight after drinking too much. I will bet you $500 that vodka was involved in this Russian confrontation. I wonder if it came in a fancy bottle.

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Volkswagen is Going Back to 1985, sans Michael J. Fox

German automaker Volkswagen’s engineers decided to go back to das drawing board and bring new – corporate – life to the 1985 video that made A-ha’s “Take On Me” famous. So I don’t know about Michael J. Fox, but Doc is definitely behind this campaign.

A-ha’s video took six of MTV’s VMA awards that year primarily because of the amazing way it merged animated pencil drawing and real-actor filming into one surreal reality. The story centered on a bored woman in some boring diner being invited into a comic book by a Patrick Swayze lookalike (those were the 80s). Long story short, there is romance, a mirror, and bad guys chasing the couple through the pencil-drawn world.

Whereas in the original video the protagonist motorcycle racer gets killed by wrench wielding competitors (Mercedes, BMW?), the hero of VW’s version drives a… drum roll… Volkswagen and leaves the bikers in the dust (and leaves us wondering if those were BMW motorcycles). For the perfection-obsessed VW (of the iconic Lemon ad), running away from wrenches is an unusual twist (perhaps VW engineers use gentler tools or sing their cars’ bolts into loosening up).

The “Drive on Me” ad gets even better- the entire race is a dream of some happy VW owner bored in an office meeting (a dream within a dream within… Inception!). Why is he happy – well, because of Volkswagen’s free oil changes. Das what? Has the power of German engineering and the pursuit of perfection given way to the great marketing tool of servicing freebies? What’s next, Maserati advertising free windshield scrubbing?

There’s a lot of ad nonsense garnering attention these days. If Kia’s hamsters are taking over the red carpet, sure the makers of the Volkswaven GTI – ranked #1 Upscale Small Car by USNews – can compete on oil changes.

In the meantime, let’s reimagine other classic music videos as modern ads. How about Thriller, where Michael Jackson is replaced by Geico’s gecko (and squirrels, and cavemen, and – scariest of all – piles of cash)? But don’t get me started about Geico’s gecko or green animals in general.

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Subway Makes a Stop at New York Fashion Week

Subway has launched a new marketing campaign right in the heart of a place where sandwiches seldom go: New York Fashion Week. The Project Subway campaign, aimed to publicize its “$5 ANY regular footlong” promotion throughout the month of “SUBtember,” took place on September 11th at Chelsea Piers’ Pier 59 Studios.

For those wondering how Subway managed to link its products to the famous fashion frenzy in Manhattan, it’s quite simple: they featured a number of designs made entirely from items found at Subway restaurants, such as sandwich wrappers and napkins. Subway reports that its designers used 1,500 sandwich wrappers, 1,100 plastic sandwich bags, 500 gift cards, 200 straws, 100 salad bowls, 75 pizza boxes, and 400 cookie bags for the designs. Subway also went out of its way to stress that all of the materials are eco-friendly, in order to highlight the sandwich chain’s sustainability efforts. That should draw a nod of approval from NY Mayor Mike Bloomberg (so long as they didn’t utilize any 32 ounce soda cups, of course).

The panel judging the designs will feature gold medalist Nastia Liukin, “Project Runway” veteran Althea Harper, “City Girl Diaries” star Raina Seitel, 2013’s Mrs. Connecticut, and – unsurprisingly – the legendary Jared “Subway Guy” Fogle.

Lest anyone see this attempt as coming out of left field, Subway executives have stressed that their sandwiches – much like high fashion – are all about individual customization and creativity. Just don’t expect Yves Saint-Laurent to be rolling out blouses made of onions and sandwich wrappers on the catwalk anytime soon.

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