Search This Blog

I have a problem with Valerie Bertinelli

Maybe Valerie Bertinelli didn't like herself when she looked like this, but I did.

I liked Valerie Bertinelli when she was regular-looking for the same reason I liked watching "One Day at a Time" when I was growing up.

If you're not familiar with the show, it was about a woman struggling to raise her daughters alone just after a divorce. There was something about that show that felt very honest and real. I felt like I understood where each character was coming from. The time I spent watching it was akin to reading a really good book. It was very far from junk TV.

Anyway. I read Valerie Bertinelli's book Losing It, and again found her to be refreshingly real. I admired her honesty and her willingness to share her feelings of shame with the world. (I don't think I'll ever look at a jalapeno cream cheese popper the same way again - let's just say I've lost my taste and leave it there.)

Similarly, I read Mackenzie Phillip's book High on Arrival (she played Valerie's sister in the show) and thought she had a lot of guts to talk about not only her drug addiction but her incestuous relationship with her dad.

Both Valerie and Mackenzie struck me as people who were not motivated by money. Rather they seemed to want to help other people avoid the pain they had endured.

When Valerie endorsed Jenny Craig, I could see how that was a good thing, and I supported it, even though I'm generally suspicious of all these weight loss systems. Each one claims to have a special method to help you lose weight when really there's no magic behind the curtain. Take

1) Common sense advice about food
2) Intense social pressure to be thin
3) An incredibly busy schedule
4) Disposable income to pay for the meals
5) A hunger for emotional support

and voila...a customer is born.

Nevertheless, if it helps people, whatever. It's a free society. And so many people are suffering from obesity (caused by...guess what? More marketing of fast-food - "Supersize Me!") that I think it's actually a good thing if we have brands to counter the brands that have done us harm.

Here's her new TV commercial for Jenny Craig for the holidays, together with behind-the-scenes footage. Watching it, I can really get a sense of what a genuinely nice, caring person Valerie Bertinelli is. (Unless she's a total psychopath and is fooling everyone. Which could happen. But I doubt.)

However, I am starting to wonder if Valerie has let her newfound money and success go to her head. In marketing terms, I think she is losing her "brand permission." But not in the way marketers normally talk about this.

You see, normally when someone oversteps their "brand permission" they try to take their endorsement power somewhere the customer is not willing to let them go. For example, no matter how smart she is, you wouldn't see Kim Kardashian endorsing Harvard University. And you wouldn't see Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) endorsing baby food. The image of the brand is what determines its ability to move product.

The kind of mess-up I am talking about is more serious. Bertinelli, in my mind, is losing her credibility. Because she is misusing he position as a "trusted sister" - which she has leveraged so well in the Jenny Craig campaign - to promote an unnecessary, expensive, time-wasting beauty product: "Meaningful Beauty."

This stuff, which has the Cindy Crawford name attached to it, is marketed in a deeply offensive way. And by affiliating herself with it, Valerie trashes her own brand - because it only works if I, the consumer, identify with and trust her. I don't like this other product and I don't trust whoever is marketing it.

Here's why:

# 1 - The name is offensive

The term "meaningful beauty" is in my mind associated with doing something concrete in the world that has nothing to do with outward appearances. That's what MEANING is. It's INNER.

Meaningful beauty would be the late Mother Teresa, who gave her life as a nun in the Catholic Church and who spent 45 years of her life taking care of the poor and sick in India.

Or Elizabeth Edwards, a dedicated wife, mother and health care activist whose accomplishments in this life were so many and so honorable. Her love, caring and lack of ego were total, even in the face of loss and personal betrayal.

Or Ashley Judd, who is campaigning to end suffering and poverty while highlighting the ongoing struggle for women's rights: “A woman’s body is not the property of any church, state or other human being,” she told the Today Show.

Judd is also campaigning for women's empowerment and the end of sexual violence in the Congo:

The beauty that these women represent is their service to the world. Their selflessness. Their giving.

Beauty does not come from putting melon extracts on your skin.

# 2 - The infomercial perpetuates countless harmful stereotypes.

* The "untouchable" female beauty in the form of Cindy Crawford

* The "admiring younger sister who will never look that good but whom we trust for her common sense" in the form of Valerie

* "Dr. Sebagh," the supposed genius behind the cosmetics, who plays a very specific gender role to provide credibility to the product

* The "all natural super-ingredient" in the form of a supposed super-melon (the name of which we of course do not get)

* The remote-sounding location from which the ingredient is described, "Luberon, a secluded region in the south of France" and of course --

* The scientific-sounding language about "cutting-edge science" and "first generation antioxidants"

#3 - The product is a waste of the customer's time and money

There is no way to not get old. Sorry.

#4 - The marketing exploits women's insecurities

Women have quite enough insecurity as it is without Cindy Crawford selling them hope in a bottle. But the addition of Valerie Bertinelli really twists the knife. It is like saying, even a plain Jane like us can look like Cindy - even though we know that we can't.

I wish Valerie Bertinelli well. But I wish that she would stop promoting Meaningful Beauty. Maybe the product works, maybe it doesn't - I honestly couldn't see much difference in the before-and-after pictures.

The point however is that women, who are suffering in very concrete, survival-type ways all over the world, need real support from one another. Real sisterhood.

Someone who made her career as a sister, and whose brand rests on being a trusted kind of sister, should not exploit that sisterhood to make money.

The world doesn't need yet another fake friend.

Music as a Vehicle for Nation-Branding

Three songs, three messages from both Israel and the U.S. about the desire for peace.

Amid all the hatred, a powerful and unifying vision that anyone, in any language or culture, can understand and relate to.

#1 - Subliminal & The Shadow - Tikva (Hope)

This is an English translation of the song.

I saw how many they went
Too many of them did not return
Friends separated, houses broken,
tears of families spilled

Buds of people flowers that didn't flower
The hope in our heads, the love in our hearts, the dream in our spirits so we continue in our path.

The silence has disappeared for it, again sounds of war
Another soldier returns, wrapped in what? In the flag of the country
Blood and tears absorbed by the land
And another shocked mother is left with just a picture
The hope is locked in the heart, the strong nation will not fold over
Because the son of a bitch that can stop Israel has not been born.

Give me the hope to accept what there isn't
The strength to change what there is.

Come let's continue, our life is in front of us
It's not late because tomorrow is a new day
The dream will perish if we lose the hope
So reach out to love.

You promised a dove, in the sky there's a hawk
Brother, poisonous twig pricks, this is not an olive branch
Living in a dream, everybody talks about peace
But they shoot, oppress, pull, squeeze the trigger
In a world of suicide attacks, the people are still talking
Living in an illusion of righteousness,
they widen the rift in the nation.

Pass madness every day in order to survive
Don't want to live in order to fight,
Sub fights in order to live
Plant hope, sends out roots
Shield in my body for the dream
so it won't be shattered to splinters
Enough, enough with the hurt, enough with the tears
A year that the land bleeds not sleeping and why?

Give me the hope to accept what there isn't
The strength to change what there is.

Come let's continue, our life is in front of us
It's not late because tomorrow is a new day
The dream will perish if we lose the hope
So reach out to love

G-d, give me the hope to accept what there isn't
Give me the courage to try to fix the world.

Come let's continue, our life is in front of us
It's not late because tomorrow is a new day
The dream will perish if we lose the hope
So reach out to love

G-d, give me the hope to accept what there isn't
Give me the strength to change what is
Give me the courage to try to fix the world.

Come let's continue, our life is in front of us
It's not late because tomorrow is a new day
The dream will perish if we lose the hope
So reach out to love.

#2 - "One Day" by Matisyahu - Maccabeats version


sometimes I lay
under the moon
and thank God I'm breathing
then I pray
don't take me soon
cause I am here for a reason
sometimes in my tears I drown
but I never let it get me down
so when negativity surrounds
I know some day it'll all turn around
all my life I've been waiting for
I've been praying for
for the people to say
that we don't wanna fight no more
they'll be no more wars
and our children will play
one day x6
it's not about
win or lose
we all lose
when they feed on the souls of the innocent
blood drenched pavement
keep on moving though the waters stay raging
in this maze you can lose your way (your way)
it might drive you crazy but don't let it faze you no way (no way)
sometimes in my tears I drown
but I never let it get me down
so when negativity surrounds
I know some day it'll all turn around
all my life I've been waiting for
I've been praying for
for the people to say
that we don't wanna fight no more
they'll be no more wars
and our children will play
one day x6
one day this all will change
treat people the same
stop with the violence
down with the hate
one day we'll all be free
and proud to be
under the same sun
singing songs of freedom like
one day x4
all my life I've been waiting for
I've been praying for
for the people to say
that we don't wanna fight no more
they'll be no more wars
and our children will play
one day

#3 - Hadag Nahash - "The Sticker Song"

No lyrics for this, but the message is clear - a desire for normalcy and moderation amid extremism, represented by a deluge of bumper stickers.

The Real Future of Advertising

For too long, the ad industry has relied on their audience to be idiotic. The fashion brand Diesel doesn't mince words. It tells us directly: "Be Stupid."


Are we really dumb? Or is Diesel just smartly confronting us with our intelligence, and then telling us to let go? More on that in a bit.


But first: How pliable are consumers, still? Do we carelessly absorb marketing messages the same way Silly Putty picks up the ink from a cartoon book?


Clearly, marketers think so, or want to. It's hard to understand, since social media is so mainstream now, and everything is on Twitter in about five seconds. They know Wikileaks is coming for them, and yet they still embrace terms like "neuromarketing."


The fact of the matter is, despite all the talk about "engaging the bloggers," marketers continue to put the reputation of the industry at risk by doing things to purposefully deceive and confuse the customer. They flood people with enticing images and create a peer-pressure effect to try and induce initial and repeated purchases.


If they can't bring the customer in, and if they can't co-opt the social media, they will simply ignore or shun the critics – people who analyze their activities and provide the customer with another point of view, with research and facts that don't conform to the idealized image. Just a few examples from the daily deluge:


·         Deception: Remember Papa John's tagline, "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza"? Marketing B.S. (Which led to a famous lawsuit by Pizza Hut, which Papa John's won – a completely puzzling outcome. Why pay for this tagline if it doesn't influence customer behavior?)

·         Neuromarketing: Put a baby in an ad. Watch product sell. Enough said.

·         Confusion: McDonald's smoothie ads proudly proclaim they have "real fruit". That is true. But what they don't tell you is that the fruit, combined with the added sugar, adds up. There are 70 grams of sugar in a large McDonald's strawberry-banana smoothie. Will you be healthier after drinking it, or climbing the walls?

·         Brainwashing: A sociological study once showed that if you put a law-abiding citizen into jail and into jail clothing, within 2 days they will act like a hardened criminal. Similarly, if you expose a normal pre-teen girl to "kid-oriented" television shows pushing makeup, sexy clothes, and fast food – either eaten by the show's characters or on the commercials that play during the breaks – guess what? That girl will want to eat McNuggets and wear makeup and adult-looking clothing. And she'll want it more if she sees those images repeated in magazines, on billboards, and promoted by her circle of susceptible peers.

·         Shunning: Have you ever noticed that people who take a strong, public stand in favor of consumers and natural solutions, and against deceptive marketing practices, are treated by the mainstream as "extremists" or "weirdos"? If you have ever seen anyone suffering from cancer or a degenerative disease, think about whether you want to trust marketers with your health or someone who has comparably far less to gain. A single crusader might need to sell a book or a line of products in order to eat. But a huge conglomerate, and its associated huge ad agency, needs to move millions and even billions of product in order to hit their sales targets.


It's interesting. I remember recently that I had to discard a can of caffeine-free Diet Coke (I hadn't drunk from it, because the last time I started drinking Diet Cherry Coke I got major sugar cravings that lasted all night.) I watched the brown liquid as it seemed to ooze down the sink drain. At the time, I thought to myself, "Can you believe that people regularly put this into their bodies?"


Shortly after I saw an ad for Diet Coke at a bus stop: It said I would "be extraordinary" by drinking it. Extraordinarily what?


But then, I know Coca-Cola has something intelligent in mind, because they have a place where they study how people shop (source: recent CNBC special on the company). So they must do enough mystery shopping, competitive intelligence, and focus groups to know that that particular tagline will set people's brain cells ringing. Even as the fake sugar in the soda does…what to people's brains?


Anyway, my point is that people are not really stupid. That is why the Diesel campaign is so smart. I imagine they understand that people gain hard-won intelligence by dealing with things like: birth defects, disabilities, parents, two decades of school, bullies, bosses, friends, enemies, getting fired, starting a business, bankruptcy, buying a home, foreclosure, real estate, divorce, the loss of a loved one, jail, addiction, natural disasters, terrorism, violence, car accidents, doctors, illness, aging and more.


So Diesel pokes fun at all that. The company says, relax a bit. Buy our clothes and be stupid for awhile.


Many other ads are not that smart, or self-aware. They truly think they can brainwash people.


In the past this approach may have worked. Primarily because the world is so complex that people have relied on major social institutions to tell them what to do. On trustworthy brands to help "guide" their decisions. Otherwise life can easily become unlivable with all the choices one must make.


However, in 2011 this isn't going to work. You can't tell anyone what to think or what to do. You can trick them, true, but only for a short time, before they find out and get so angry that they do not listen to you anymore. Even if the telling is in the form of an ad, which really seeks to engage people in the "brand story," it is critical to walk the fine line that says, "here's the honest truth, I invite you in to make the choice."


Look at the recent ads for Johnson & Johnson, where they talk about being transparent about ingredients. About giving people information about the products so that they can make an informed choice. That's what I'm talking about.


Maybe J&J is looking at marketing research that bears my supposition out. If you want proof of modern cynicism, just look around. We see it not only in the total non-response that ads get, and in the cynicism of the modern workplace, but also in the realms of politics, the media, and even religious institutions. People trust each other, not the "system" and not even charismatic leaders. That's why brands stand on such shaky ground.


The system started to fall apart with the rise of mass media. It accelerated with the explosive growth of the Internet and social media. Suddenly no one was in control. The same scandals kept happening as before, but now it is exponentially more difficult to hide misbehavior. Sexual abuse of children in the religious community is a good example. If you can't trust people who wear the mantle of G-d, then really, what is left?


At the same time, people are a lot less bound by social convention than they were in the past. They don't care about authority. For one thing, they haven't been able to count on their parents – the huge divorce rate is Exhibit 1. Their jobs are not secure either, and even if they follow the rules and go to school they can't count on having a job in the future. They rely on their friends and not their parents for their social norms. Facebook has taken convenient advantage of this fact. And your friends can change a lot more fluidly than your family and its traditional values can.


Facebook also introduced to us the new "morality" of the Internet age, which is that any privacy is inherently bad and reflects a certain amount of hypocrisy. If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn't need any privacy at all, right?


Wikileaks, in the form of Julian Assange, preaches from the same song sheet. Enabling the pilferers of secret information, he says, "Look how much corruption there is going on behind your back. I'm the good guy, keeping everyone moral, keeping markets free."


He says, too: Don't mistreat your employees, because they will shine the light on everything you've done wrong.


And you know what? Call him what you will – accuse him of causing irreparable harm and you may be justified – but Assange has a large audience and probably many peers who are poised to do the same thing as he has done, if given the chance.


I completely disagree with destroying the possibility of privacy. I am frightened at what could happen if people started recklessly dumping everyone's private information out into the public space. But what I think and feel are separate from applying one's judgment to assess the mood of the moment. And my assessment is that Wikileaks and Facebook are squarely in the middle of it. To cope successfully, every single company and institution must prepare to get transparent immediately. Radically so. Or they face serious, serious danger.


The process of laying it all out there is undoubtedly painful, especially if you're not used to it. But once that's done – once nobody can hold over you a skeleton in the closet – you are poised to renew your relationship with your audience on more adult, more honest footing.


The basis of the new marketing relationship is that you are giving people a choice. You tell them who you are and what you're made of, and you say: It's up to you.


You say: Knowing what my company or my leadership style is all about, here is how my offering can satisfy your physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. You attempt to move beyond physical need quickly – because it is easily commoditized - to win consumers where it really counts - in their hearts, social circles, and connection to the eternal. You let them, essentially, vote with their pocketbooks. And you don't cheat them out of money they don't need to spend.


So the marketer of the future will be able to answer 4 questions:


1. Cost-benefit analysis: What is this going to do for me? Can I believe the claims? What are the risks? Is there a cheaper, equivalent alternative? If so, why should I buy from you?


2. Emotional need: Should I buy/accept this, even if it's not the most logical choice, just because I like the way it makes me feel?


3. Social need: Will buying/accepting this make me feel included as part of a community?


4. Spiritual need: Was the product sourced and made ethically? Will buying/accepting this bring me closer to a higher goal?


Although it may seem that people are really bent on surviving first and then feeling, making friends and connecting to G-d later, it's exactly the opposite: We are all connected to the eternal, the spiritual, the life that comes before and after this physical existence. Eternal life is more vital than this physical plane. We don't worry about survival needs unless we have to.


All of this is why Fast Company's recent article on the future of advertising was only partially right. Selling is not about learning to code HTML or finding new and more annoying ways to intrude on the customer's life. (As if a more sophisticated banner ad is any less obnoxious than the old-fashioned kind). It's not about "targeting" people by secretly tracking them online. It is about good old-fashioned integrity, coupled with insight: Delivering something of value, and then wrapping it in an evolving, appealing story.


As Barry Diller recently told the Wall Street Journal (see the most recent issue of WSJ magazine), it's more valuable to have one liberal arts-educated person on your staff than a million techies. This is because the future is about doing what's right, understanding the customer, connecting with them, and helping them to grow.


Value, transparency, decency, fun, connection and spirituality—that is where I think consumers want to be. Me included.






Beauty as a Liberating and an Oppressing Force

(Image source: "How to design your own Barbie")

This morning I caught a segment of Dr. Phil's "Holiday 12" episode that ran on Nov. 29. Brief summary here, but the gist of it was that a woman who was overweight as a child suffered terrible psychological abuse from her parents. They made fun of her and withheld food from her because of her weight. My heart broke with her as she remembered those dark days.

This woman grew up to be what she calls a "Barbie." She had a photo of herself dressed up all in pink, and she really did look like the doll. But she gained a lot of weight after achieving "Barbie" status, and now is obsessed with food and her inability to control her appetite.

During the course of the show, Dr. Phil took that photo in a blown-up life size version and brought it on stage. Seeing the life-size photo, the woman broke down in tears. At that moment, Dr. Phil told her something very wise. He said that although he was going to help her with her diet (of course this is commercial TV, so he was promoting the "17 day rescue" or whatever; I'm not going to promote them by looking up the exact name or link), the thing she should remember is that she is the same exact person, thin or overweight. That she should be kind to herself and remember that the goal is not to become somebody else - the Barbie - but to remain herself, only to feel that she has more mastery over food, since right now it's controlling her life.

Watching a show like this, with a woman in such pain, it is tempting to go either to one extreme or another. One could say that Barbies and makeup and diets are an inherently oppressive force of women. Eating disorders, inability to marry or stay married, prostitution and human trafficking, and other social ills are all in my view related to an obsession with Barbie beauty. In this world, women's power and physicality is experienced as threatening - and women can't be equal in relationships but rather must be controlled like skinny unthreatening dolls. Women must be preoccupied with beauty, similarly, because if they think about real things like money and political control, they are a threat to gender inequality.

On the other hand, it strikes me that beauty - the pursuit of beauty, and playing with different forms of beauty - is something that women themselves truly enjoy. Having the choice to participate in beauty culture, through the experimentation with different brands, is a way for many women to express themselves. I don't think that replacing glamour with miserable unsmiling faces, bad clothes and obesity is going to make women feel any better.

The bottom line is, I was truly gratified to hear Dr. Phil speak such good words of advice to his guest on the show. It's fine and good to choose an interest in beauty, but let's not get so carried away with it that we ignore or destroy ourselves and our relationships.