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Who decides what is "common knowledge" when it comes to marketing claims?

Watching the movie Supersize Me, I was struck by something McDonald's said in response to a lawsuit against it by two obese young women.

Apparently McD's defended itself in part by saying it's "common knowledge" that processed foods are less healthy than unprocessed foods.

Actually in my experience this assertion is far from true. Just the opposite sometimes - there is the thought that if someone has "cooked the hell out of it," processed and pasteurized it and sealed it up tight in plastic, then it's much more safe than "unprotected" natural food.

I myself did not know there was a difference between chicken nuggets and regular chicken, actually, because so often you see things like "100% white meat" on the package.

Similarly I really thought Papa John's tagline, "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza" was a statement of fact.

I am no rocket scientist but I do have a Ph.D. And I have been working in and studying marketing for decades.

Are you going to tell me that most people are savvy disbelievers by nature?

Come on!

I think what's common knowledge is that people are frequently easily fooled.

And even if they are cynical - are you then going to argue that the entire marketing industry is built on open lies that people can easily unravel? Or that it should be?

It's common knowledge that nobody trusts a liar.

Love is not a "flaky crust"

There is a TV commercial for either dough or cinnamon rolls (I can't remember which) that portrays the problem perfectly.

Woman is shown holding up a tray of steaming-hot, freshly-baked, drizzling-sweet cinnamon buns before her gaspingly grateful husband and children.

Of course all is orderly at this family dinner table. Mom's love, represented by cinnamon rolls, keeps everyone seated and smiling.

In the fantasy world that advertisers create, food is love. More specifically, commercially prepared fast food is a stand-in for the fantasy of the perfect mother - or father.

The real wish of the child, of course, is not for food. Kids, and adults, want attention and nurturance most of all. But since there is no way to commercialize this, we are bombarded with substitute symbols. We are supposed to feel that preparing and eating these foods either means giving love, or being loved by a caring parent.

The culture during holiday season reinforces this. It's all about either shopping or parties or food. And for those who can't afford extravagant things and who aren't invited to fancy parties, "food is it." People take great pride and go to great lengths to make the perfect holiday meal.

But looking around nowadays, one can't help but wonder if the use of food (the exploitation of food) as a substitute for love has gone too far. We are glorifying and overconsuming all the wrong things, and marginalizing the right ones - i.e. no one brings a bag of organic apples to a holiday party.

It's time to rethink our priorities and take back our "food culture" from the advertisers.

Menschlachkeit: A Personal Branding Lesson from Apprentice Winner Brandy Kuentzel

The New 'Apprentice' Winner Is Brandy Kuentzel

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that my mother was finally victorious in getting me to watch The Apprentice.

I told her last night that I was watching and she got all excited. This was a great moment for her, I believe, as I never listen to anything she says, especially when she starts going on and on about it. (She absolutely hates my cooking, you should hear the lecture about my FANTASTIC chicken recipe: chicken thighs, skin on, broiled 5-7 minutes a side. She has to cook everything at 350 degrees for 1 hour and then let it sit out for 2. But that's another blog altogether).

Anyway, following is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation last night:

Ma: "So did you watch all the episodes?"

Me: "No, just the first two with the Kardashian perfume display and the commercial for Flo TV."

Ma: "So you don't know who won." (Yes, ma, you know more than I do - yet again!)

Me: "No." (Trying to eat dinner and talk at the same time. Family in the background trying to tell me about their days. Feedback that I talk too loud.)

Ma: "Go and find out who won and then we'll talk about it."

Me: "I'm pretty sure that Clint won. He seemed like the winner all along."

Ma: "We'll talk about it when you find out. Ask me what I think."

So I look up who won the contest and I am shocked to find that it was...BRANDY????

I was sure that Clint would win. He seemed at all times to be highly focused, adaptable, willing to learn, a decent leader and team member, etc.

Brandy, however, was fairly quiet and I didn't see her really stepping up aggressively in any way. I thought Trump would want an aggressive person to join the Trump Organization for sure. Like that not-nice woman from the previous episode who seems to now be a "spokesperson" for the brand.

Plus Brandy screwed up a couple of assignments she was given.

However, somewhere inside me I was rooting for her. For a few reasons.

1. Brandy showed some serious menschlechkeit (a Yiddish word for human decency) on the show. As the teams were whittled down she was paired with Liza, another female on the show who had been mistreated quite a bit. Instead of fighting to throw Liza under the bus, Brandy tried to give her some air time and let her be the project manager. In other words, she empowered someone who she could easily have tried to destroy. A TRUE LEADER.

2. Brandy accepted assignments she didn't like when it was good for the team. For example, she was asked several times to be a presenter because of her looks, gender, even her race. She didn't complain but rather genuinely tried to help out.

3. Brandy was able to confront tough issues, like hidden sexism, without losing her cool.

I am glad that Brandy won the race and think that she exemplifies an outstanding personal brand. Good luck to her and to all the contestants.

The Importance of Trust In Building Your Personal Brand

In this video I talk about the basic building block of personal branding - integrity.

My Mother Was Right About The Apprentice

Over the past few months I've been telling my mom to watch The Millionaire Matchmaker. That show is so much fun to watch and so hilarious. I really get a kick out of it.

In turn she's been telling me to watch The Apprentice, but like a stubborn kid I've been putting her off.

Well you know what happens when moms suddenly stop telling you to do something. That's exactly when you become open to the idea that they've planted in your head.

So yesterday, when I happened to see The Apprentice available on Video on Demand, I decided to watch an episode.

It was fantastic TV! It taught me a lot about the workplace. And there were a couple of brand things in there that I would like to highlight today.

The episodes I caught were "1009" and "1010." Let's pull out three brand issues:

1. In 1009, they have to promote Kim Kardashian perfume in massive retailer Perfumania through an in-store display.

2. In 1010, they have to promote AT&T Mobile TV and "FLO TV" (I'd never heard of that) through a 30-second commercial.

3. After 1010, the fired contestant said that she went on to "represent the Trump brand."

Some quick comments:

On the perfume signage:

1. I know this was just TV, but normally you would not want to come up with an entirely new presentation concept for a brand just for the sake of a point-of-purchase display.

2. The losing team actually came up with the idea that was truer to the Kardashian brand - feather boa, etc. and you can take your picture with a life-size Kim Kardashian. It was just poorly executed.

3. Sometimes tackiness can be fine for the brand. The other team's concept was more sophisticated but the first concept was truer to what is appealing about Kim. Therefore, it made me as a customer more inclined to buy it.

On the AT&T commercial:

1. The losing project team did not mention the brand first and foremost in the commercial. That's a point Trump made. Always put the brand front and center.

2. However, what Trump didn't say was that "AT&T" and "Flo TV" together were too confusing to be called a brand. That's why the representative of the losing project team kept stumbling. Most of the time it's better to just pick one name and not to try to force awareness of a company whose brand is either irrelevant or possibly detracting from the success of the rollout. In this case, AT&T is known to have crappy reception (so why would I invest in mobile TV from them) but "Flo TV" is not known at all (so why would I trust them)?

3. The brand confusion needed to be discussed with the customer. In the real world that would be a negotiation, as would the discussion with Kardashian over the display. Just because the customer likes a concept doesn't mean it is right for the brand.

On the representing of Trump by the fired contestant:

Let me just say that this woman, "Stephanie," represented the absolute worst that an individual can bring to the marketplace. I do not think she is a good representative for the Trump brand or any brand, unless that brand is about complete selfishness, demeaning of your staff, not giving them an opportunity to succeed, not listening to their ideas, elbowing out of every opportunity to contribute or succeed, vain egotism, etc.

In addition I got the distinct sense that this woman was a racist, which totally offended me.

No wonder that the other characters were practically begging Trump to fire her from the other room. I was clapping when he told her to get out, and shocked that the Trump organization hired her back.

In contrast, I think Trump's daughter Ivanka (not the son Donald) is an outstanding representative of the Trump brand. Everything she said was balanced and professional and her demeanor was always appropriate. She knew how to ask tough questions, how to be polite, how to laugh and joke, and she always saw what was really going on despite only glimpsing the situation.

It is interesting how many brand lessons you can learn simply by watching TV.

Thanks, Ma, for introducing me to The Apprentice!