Hotels booked, fees paid, legs stretched, Marathon canceled.

My BER class at NYU started an online publication a couple of weeks ago to cover how the New York City area is getting back to business after Hurricane Sandy. I wrote a story about the fallout of the cancelation of the NYC marathon, consulting runners, the New York Road Runners, a PR expert, and marathon supporters. The consensus? The cancelation sure was a suspicious one.

Chicago resident Andrea Hutchins planned to run the NYC marathon this year, but when she found out the race was cancelled she and her friends and family went to Staten Island and helped a NYC Police officer start rebuilding his home in Midland Beach.Photo Credit: Andrea Hutchins

Chicago resident Andrea Hutchins planned to run the NYC marathon this year, but when she found out the race was cancelled she and her friends and family went to Staten Island and helped a NYC Police officer start rebuilding his home in Midland Beach.
Photo Credit: Andrea Hutchins

By Sonya Chudgar

As news broke of the decision to cancel the New York City Marathon late on Friday, Nov. 2, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many runners grieved.

“I got a little emotional,” said Chicago resident Emily Hutchins, 32, who had trained for the marathon since March. “And then I just lost it. You don’t even think about the fact of the race itself. You think about the time and the energy you spent training for it, to get there, and of course, the money.”

The marathon brings a minimum of $340 million to the city annually. With most of the race’s 47,500 runners and their supporters already in the city by Friday evening, 36 hours from the race, some wondered whether NYC leaders held off on a cancellation after Sandy in order to capitalize as much as possible.

The lack of communication about future plans from the race organizer — the New York Road Runners — further frustrated runners, leaving a massive branding problem on the hands of the NYRR, its president Mary Wittenberg and its biggest sponsor, ING Financial Services.

The Suspicious Cancellation

The former treasurer of the New Orleans Track Club, Bonnie McAfee, 56, flew to New York on Friday before the cancellation decision was made. She traveled from Pensacola, Fla., with her husband, Scott Hoxie, who planned to run the marathon.

“The NYRR, they’re the same as any local track club, except for the fact that they’re like a normal track club on steroids,” McAfee said, adding, “[The NYRR] works with big numbers—millions and millions of dollars instead of, maybe, hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Total revenue for the NYRR was more than $1.7 million for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011. The organization hiked up the cost to enter this year’s race by $60, asking $216 from NYRR members, $255 from non-members living in the U.S. and $347 from international applicants. It cited rising police costs as the impetus. 

Communication from the NYRR about the fallout—why the marathon was canceled so late and whether runners will be refunded or at least grandfathered into next year’s race—has been sparse.

A press release issued by the marathon’s organizers and Mayor Bloomberg cited a couple reasons for canceling the event, including the controversy of holding a race so soon after the storm and the marathon’s distraction from recovery work.

Few runners first learned of the eleventh hour cancellation directly from the NYRR. Hutchins heard it on CNN and got an official email a couple hours later. McAfee and her husband learned of it when they went to pick up his race package at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the West side of Manhattan.

McAfee said the city should have figured out some way to hold the marathon, perhaps by moving the location.

In a request for comment on this article, the NYRR responded with its latest message to runners—a three-paragraph statement that said the cancellation was an unprecedented event, the NYRR’s priority it to address runners’ concerns and that it is working out the details.

Cheryl Snapp Conner, founder and managing partner of public relations agency Snapp Conner PR, said the NYRR should have realized it might be forced to cancel and thought through a Plan B.

“An organization this substantial should always have at least a template PR plan in place,” she said in an email.

Runners

But with no apparent plan to fall back on, the NYRR’s muddled actions left runners and supporters puzzled. Some began drawing their own conclusions.

“I’m thinking maybe what happened was, intentionally or unintentionally, Bloomberg got the $340 million because people were already there,” McAfee said.

She said she’d had a bad feeling since she arrived at LaGuardia Airport on Friday.

“We find out the first thing is that there’s a ration on gas. And our shuttle is going to be three hours late, ‘cause he’s sitting in New Jersey getting gas,” she said. “That’s the first indication that things were not hunky-dory in New York.”

Her journey to the marathon cost about $4,000.

Andrea Hutchins, 36, flew from Michigan to NYC to support her sister Emily in her first marathon.

“I think my sister, in a way, felt like a jerk for even being in New York,” she said. “We really saw that folks on Staten Island and elsewhere were really upset the marathon was going to happen … It probably would’ve been better if they had announced it sooner, because with the subways and everything not running and power down everywhere, we question why the decision was so late.”

The Hutchins sisters flew to New York with their parents and a friend on Nov. 2, with Emily offering to pay for everyone’s travel expenses and two hotel rooms in Brooklyn. She said the trip put her out $4,500.

The NYRR faced massive backlash from runners, many of whom flew in internationally and complained of the group’s irresponsible and negligent actions. McAfee looked into filing a class action lawsuit, inspired by a group of French runners who are doing the same.

“I think it’s caused a bad taste in the mouth of a lot of people from out of the country,” she said. “It makes me embarrassed, almost, being American. I wouldn’t handle a race like that.”

ING Financial Services, the marathon’s biggest supporter, also came under heat from aggravated marathoners. Some accused the race’s title sponsor of putting its monetary interests before New Yorkers’, despite the fact that city officials ultimately controlled the cancellation.

The NYRR pledged $1 million to Sandy relief efforts, or $26.20 for each runner, with the creation of its 2012 ING New York City Marathon Race to Recover Fund. ING donated $500,000 to the fund.

Another group of disappointed runners went after Mary Wittenberg, the NYRR president. They took issue with her salary of half a million dollars and her Tweets: “2012 INGNYCM will b run 2 show the vitality & spirit of NYC,” she sent out on Oct. 31. “Run 2 aid in recovery & show NYC will be back stronger than ever.”

Recovery

Contrary to Wittenberg’s Tweet, many runners agreed that canceling the race was the correct thing to do, especially as residents in lower Manhattan, coastal Brooklyn and Staten Island who were displaced by the hurricane had tried and failed to get hotels in the city that were booked by the marathon crowd.

“That was frustrating, to have just gotten there and just have it canceled,” Andrea Hutchins said. “But it put us in the place that I think we were supposed to be.”

Hutchins, like many runners and supporters, joined in an effort called New York Runners in Support of Staten Island. The association went live on Facebook shortly after the marathon was called off. It organized an impromptu mission to send runners to Staten Island with recovery items.

Andrea Hutchins said, in hindsight, she and her sister had a great experience in New York by helping the residents in need.

“There’s been many times that I know we’ve sat here in our Midwestern homes—where we’re not really impacted by hurricanes or things—and we see when Katrina came through and these disasters,” she said. “You see the news and you think, ‘What if there’s something else I could do? I would like to be able to help these people.’”

“However, the fact that we were there, and the experience we had, it was like, we were supposed to be here on this day,” she added. “It gave us that opportunity to look back on all of the times we’ve said, ‘We’d like to be able to help in one of these situations,’ and we were actually given the opportunity to do that.”

Her sister Emily agreed, adding that the experience made the trip worth it, despite the loss in finance.

“To be able to help those people and just bring a little bit of sunlight into their world for the hour and half that we helped them made the trip worth it,” she said.

What’s Next

Runners are still waiting to hear from the NYRR about whether they will get refunds and their qualification status for next year’s race.

Emily Hutchins, who wants to return to run the race in 2013, said the NYRR responded to her inquiry email saying it was working out details and would get back to her in a couple of weeks. Likewise, McAfee said she was still waiting to hear something definitive from the organization.

As for the future of the NYRR, public relations expert Conner said the best thing for the organization to do would be to hit the restart button: “Speak openly and candidly about where they fell down and what they’ll do differently as a re-emerged organization to ensure they emerge stronger and never have to re-learn these lessons again.”

She expects Mary Wittenberg will be given the boot or relegated to an administrative position soon.

“[It was] so badly handled that it will likely be incontrovertible,” Conner said. “Even if she didn’t handle it as badly as it looks, she has destroyed their PR and her own.”

Interview With a Journalist: Sam Anderson, Critic at Large for The New York Times Magazine

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sam Anderson, the critic at large for The New York Times magazine. Sitting by the glass windows in the cafeteria of the Times building in Midtown, we discussed Sam’s cover story about the Oklahoma City Thunder and the magic surrounding it and its community. It was a great conversation about journalism today, sports, being a reporter, and the struggles and tremendous payoffs associated with the career.

The story:
“A Basketball Fairy Tale in Middle America” by Sam Anderson. It was the cover story of The New York Times magazine during the week of Nov. 8, 2012.

Sam writes about the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA team that competed against the Miami Heat in the Championship last summer. The OCT lost in Game 5, but its rise to fame was mysterious and marvelous nonetheless, and Sam went to Oklahoma to find the potion behind the magic. His story was both broad, decrypting the melting pot of Oklahoma’s citizens and its history as a state, as well as specific, zeroing in on such specifics as the personality of star Kevin Durant and even his teammate’s beard.

The author:
Originally from Oregon, Sam earned his bachelor’s degree at Louisiana State University. He stayed there to obtain his Master’s degree in English, and then moved to New York after being accepted to the PhD program in English at New York University—which he left when offered his first writing job toward the end of the program. Sam has written for various publications, including Slate and New York magazine. He is currently the critic at large for The New York Times magazine.

Sam says he thinks of himself as more of an essayist than a journalist.

The idea and pitch:
Sam says his editors at the magazine came up with the pitch. His editor, Lauren Kern, wrote him a one-line email that said, “Do you have any interest in writing about the Oklahoma City Thunder?”

The assignment was a bit of a departure from Sam’s usual work as critic at large.

“Left to my own devices, I tend to choose really weird and obscure subjects that no one reading a national magazine is really interested in,” he says. His piece prior to the Oklahoma City Thunder profile was on buffalo mozzarella.

He usually focuses on essays, which often are not source-dependent and require little interstate traveling.

But he knew immediately that the Oklahoma City Thunder was something he wanted to write about.

He said the only guidance he got on the OCT story came from Hugo Lindgren, editor of the magazine, who said, “There seems to be something strange and amazing happening in Oklahoma City. Why don’t you go down and see what it is.”

The research:
Sam has been a fan of the NBA since he was 10. Growing up in Oregon, his team was the Portland Trail Blazers.

“I waste a lot of time reading about basketball, watching highlights and stuff,” he says. “So, one great thing about a story like this is, suddenly all that wasted time is kind of justified because it gives you this vast background knowledge.”

Sam remembers watching Kevin Durant in college and being blown away by him. He followed him through the NBA draft—even as Sam’s Trail Blazers picked another rookie over him. Sam forgave Portland for its decision to pass on Durant, ultimately: “Eventually, he sort of won me over. If you watch basketball at all, it’s hard not to love the Thunder.”

He also rewatched a bunch of the Thunder’s games before he flew out, so he’d have better detail to draw from in his story. He also used his knowledge to prove to the players, when he interviewed them later, that he really understood the nuances of the game and had done his due diligence.

The reporting:
Sam took two trips to Oklahoma for the story. The biggest hurdle, he quickly discovered, was earning the trust of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s management and public relations team.

“It was a little like pulling teeth to arrange this with the team, to arrange access,” he recalls. “I called up and I was thinking, ‘Oh, I’m a hotshot New York Times magazine guy, and this is this small town basketball team, they’re gong to open their arms and welcome me in, give me access to everything.’

“And it was kind of the opposite.”

The OCT’s public relations point person was very skeptical of Sam’s intentions. When Sam said he wanted to write a portrait of the team and act as a fly on the wall, the PR person was not receptive to it at all. He gave Sam resistance every step of the way. When the team finally OK’d his story, accepting that Sam wanted to mirror the state’s history with the Thunder’s rise, the PR guy tried to put off Sam’s visit to the city. Finally, after having his trip pushed back multiple times, Sam booked a flight and told them determinedly, “All right, I’m coming. I’ll be there next week.”

Not that touching down on the tarmac in Oklahoma solved all his problems. His whole access to the team hinged on convincing the PR guy that his intentions were benign.

“When I met that PR guy the first time, he was so nervous,” Sam says. “He was so obviously nervous that I was going to write, like, a hatchet job, that I was this cynical, East Coast guy coming in to pop the bubble of the fairy tale of the Thunder.

“Finally, I was getting this vibe from him, finally I just said to him, ‘Listen. I’m not here to write a hatchet job. That’s not the kind of writing I do. That’s not my interest in this case. It’s not my personality. You know, relax.’ I don’t know if that helped or not; I don’t think it did,” he adds with a laugh.

But the initial visit broke the ice enough so that when Sam made his second trip, the Thunder were willing to arrange interviews for him with the players, the coach, and the general manager, becoming more generous with their time.

He understands the team’s reasoning for being so guarded, especially around a journalist.

“They were very, very, very wary. Which I guess makes a certain amount of sense. They have a lot to lose in a situation like that. Like I said, they are extremely conscious of their image. And I think because they’re so closely identified with the city, because their image is so wholesome, you kind of have to constantly be aware of threats to that,” Sam says.

Sam also had to break through with the general manager, Sam Presti, who upon their first meeting turned into what Sam called the least comfortable human being he’s ever seen from the moment he flipped on the recorder.

As Presti weighed each word in his mind and gave Sam quotes too fluffy or meaningless to use, Sam decided to turn off the recorder.

“And he breathed a literal sigh of relief,” Sam says. “And then we went on to have an actual conversation.”

The men talked for four hours, on background. Upon his second meeting with Presti, Sam didn’t bother to bring his recorder in. Presti grew so comfortable with Sam, that he called him out of the blue a couple days later, and the two had another hour-and-a-half-long conversation.

“That was my first experience with something like that,” he says. “You just have to feel out what makes the person comfortable. I think if I had insisted that we were on record the whole time, I would’ve gotten nothing from him, and he’s so in control of that organization, such a meticulous guy, that if I hadn’t broken through with him, I think, it would’ve been a very different reporting experience for me.”

As for his interviews with the players, Sam—who describes himself as a star-struck fanboy getting to sit down with professional athletes, who to him were almost “these mythological figures, like heroes out of Greek legend”—said his interviews ran the gamut from friendly and forthcoming to closed and unreceptive.

“One guy, Nick Collison (the Thunder’s power forward), was just kind of this blue collar, unglamorous role player, who was really open from the start,” Sam says. “You can just feel it, like, ‘Oh, this is a human sitting next to me. Not just thinking of me as a sport’s reporter who’s trying to get a few quotes, but as just another guy sitting next to him who he’s going to speak with really openly.’ That was an incredible conversation.”

Russell Westbrook (the Thunder’s point guard), on the other hand, has a public dislike of the media, and was appropriately short with Sam. He kept Sam waiting for an hour for the interview, and then took a call at the beginning. Their conversation lasted about 10 minutes.

Sam says it’s interesting to feel out the moment in the interview, regardless of whether it goes well. “It’s always an adventure when I go out into the real world and have conversations,” he says, adding, “It was just an extra weirdness that they were professional basketball players.”

The writing:
Sam’s writing process is always nerve-wracking, hard, long, and frustrating—although this time, it was better than usual, he says.

His newest process is to write a vomit blurt of an email to his editor, this time about various aspects of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I’d literally start with something conversational, like, ‘Do you know about Kevin Durant? Here’s the deal about Kevin Durant!’ And then I’d just start having to articulate the most basic stuff in a way that directly communicates with someone.”

In this patchwork method, Sam wrote the portrait of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It came out to about 12,000 words—he hadn’t been given a word limit by his editor and purposely had not asked for one.

“One of my bugaboos lately that I love to complain about is word limits,” he says. “I feel like magazines are so squished these days, all of the writing that I really love and that I read to train myself to do long-form journalism is so long by today’s standards.”

He says the Thunder profile felt like a big piece to him, so he emailed a note to his editors along with the finished product: “I know this is obscenely long by magazine standards, but I feel like it’s good, I feel like there’s enough here to justify it, and if you’re ever going to let me go crazy and do a 10,000-word-piece, I think this should be the one.”

The final version that went in the magazine was close to 8,000 words.

The response:
The PR guy who initially gave Sam so much trouble called him the day the story came out, gushing with happiness, “Which immediately made me be like, ‘Oh man, did I write this like a puff piece?’” he says with a laugh.

He says the Thunder speaks with one instutional voice, so if the PR guy loved it, general manager Sam Presti also likely did, too.

Response from readers was overwhelmingly positive, too.  He received many long, touching emails from Oklahomans telling him how validating it was that the national media, for once, treated the state as if it was an actual, complex place with people who deserve serious attention.

For example, some people wrote saying, “I have family on the East Coast, but I like in Oklahoma. They’re always making fun of me and saying, ‘Why would you want to live there?’ And I’m just going to print out your article and carry it with me and I’ll show it to people who ask that.”

He also felt a resonance to their validation; being from Oregon, he’s been asked before by serious adults whether the state has electricity.

“I do feel like there’s a provincialism to the New York media bubble world that I’ve always felt like an outsider to,” Sam says. “So, I do feel a kind of outsider pride or solidarity with the people of Oklahoma. So, when they feel validated to that, it makes me feel really good because I can identify with that feeling of feeling like you’re really far from the center of culture, like nobody really sees you.”

iMessage Goes Down, and Twitter Goes to Town

  1. Around 3 p.m. today, Apple iMessage service went down. Reliability is at the core of Apple’s services. Its brand depends on satisfied customers—and the more often Apple introduces gaffes, such as its faulty Apple Maps app and this iMessaging blunder, the fewer loyal customers will remain.
    While Apple’s brand is known for its unbelievably loyal “fanboys,” there are clearly many vocal users who speak out against the brand when it wrongs them.
  2. kakabadze
    Apple’s iMessage service is currently suffering from systemic downtime http://flpbd.it/KbjvO

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:16:42
  3. kennawilkinson
    RT @TaylorBerger_: iMessage is nice and all when it actually works

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:16:41
  4. Savannah_Lee1
    RT @spoiledbratprbz: Come back to me, iMessage. I’m not going to survive much longer without you.

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:17:33
  5. _lauradoe
    RT @yhpaige: imessage isn’t working? http://pic.twitter.com/AMX593AK

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:19:44
  6. Brodsto77
    RT @Canadagentleman: Seriously Apple? One of the worlds largest tech giants & you can barely keep your messaging service running? #iMessage

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:21:50
  7. _leemitchell
    thought it was only blackberrys that had problems with the network, not apple!

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:25:44
  8. paige_ashleyy
    I guess Apple decided that we should all go Amish for the day.. #iPhoneProblems

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:30:21
  9. A consortium of Tweeters believe Apple’s brand has been mishandled and weakened since Steve Jobs’ passing in 2011.
  10. LeeRoge
    apple have gone down hill since Steve Jobs died.

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:22:42
  11. peteypabz92
    RT @realmisacampo: I’m pissed that Steve Jobs passed away. Apple is really, really effing up my iPhone love. Dropped the ball, dropped the ball.

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:29:38
  12. mywayorBUSHWAY
    Wake up Steve Jobs, we got a problem with iMessage down here.

    Sun, Nov 18 2012 14:23:56

Yahoo Fumbles with Fantasy Football on Sunday

Yesterday, as I walked toward Union Square to meet a friend around 1:30 p.m., I was continually forcing my phone to re-launch the Yahoo! Fantasy Football app. Was Cam Newton going to score another TD? How many TD catches would Torrey Smith have against the Oakland Raiders? And most importantly, was I going to beat my opponents in my two leagues?

I had no way to know.

Yahoo’s fantasy football—one of the most popular fantasy football services, next to ESPN—went down around 1 p.m. Sunday, leaving millions of users stranded with no way to adjust their teams or check stats as the games went on. I know, I know; fantasy football is not the end-all, be-all of life. It’s just a fun pastime  But it’s one that some people take very seriously, and a handful bet a lot of money on, and its consistency is required.

This fantasy football blackout speaks to a larger issue at Yahoo. The internet giant’s third quarter earnings were $1.089 billion, slightly above expectations and 2 percent above year-to-year numbers. But the lackluster earnings reflect the lackluster expectations.

Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, has not yet been able to capitalize on the high expectations that surrounded her ascension to CEO in July. She spoke in October about Yahoo turning its focus to the mobile side, noting it had fallen behind leaders in the industry.

It’s true. Yahoo failed to change with the times, and like many companies of the dot com era of growth, it hung onto its old ways until they threatened to destabilize the company entirely. Yahoo is tweaking its homepage these days, scheming to find the best one to roll out in December. So, changes are coming, yes. The question is, are these changes enough? Will they reposition Yahoo in a style such that the brand can live up to its former expectations?

And more importantly, amidst Apple and Google, do people still care?

The “Big Six” Movie Studios; Does Disney’s Lucasfilm Purchase Make Disney King?

It’s been a while, folks. Sandy left me without power for a while (still waiting on that hot water to return, too!), but a few things have happened in the media and branding world that I’d love to comment on. I’ll start with Disney’s $4 billion purchase of George Lucas’ child, Lucasfilms.

Listen while you read! 

My first thought upon hearing this news is that this gives Disney a commodity that makes the brand not quite a monopoly on successful, profitable series, but something close to it. We’ll delve further into this hypothesis by contrasting Disney’s strong franchises to others out there.

There are six movie studios that are considered today’s “big six”: Disney, Paramount, Columbia, Warner Bros., Universal, and 20th Century Fox.

In terms of powerhouse series, Disney owns the wonderful cartoon films children of the ’90s grew up on (OK, not technically a series, but this does include include Toy Story, still spawning sequels), The Avengers and all of its individual superhero series, and now Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Here’s some background on Disney to help you out:

  • The Avengers film last summer pulled in $623 million in the U.S. alone. It pushed out The Dark Knight to take the No. 3 spot in the all-time domestic box office rankings. (If you’re curious, The Avengers’ worldwide pull was $1.5 billion.)
  • Toy Story 3, a sequel that came 15 years after the original, raked in $410 million domestically in 2010.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and POTC: On Stranger Tides are Nos. 8 and 10 on the all-time worldwide box office gross, respectively.
  • The original Star Wars movie in 1977 earned $307 million its first time in theaters. But its total domestic gross is actually $460 million, meaning this movie alone sold another $153 million in re-releases as it gained popularity across generations. Is that not crazy? And five movies followed. And the craze only grew.

Now that you have some idea of Disney’s prowess in the movie studio competition, let’s examine how the other contenders in the category stack up when it comes to moneymaking:

Warner Bros. v. Disney:

This is a tough contest to call. In terms of the powerhouse series, Warner Bros’ studio produced/owns the Harry Potter, Dark Knight, and Lord of the Rings mammoths. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II earned $1.3b worldwide. The Dark Knight Rises has pulled in $1b so far worldwide and is No. 7 right now in the ranking of all-time box office gross, on both the domestic and the worldwide lists.

But all of these series are over (or will be, once The Hobbit rolls out next month), and despite HP/LOTR/DK having 14 (about to be 15) very profitable movies between them, Disney already has plans to crank out a new Star Wars movie (and I would not be surprised if an Indiana Jones announcement was far behind. I’m sure Shia LaBoeuf is around somewhere.). For comparison, the most recent Star Wars movie, which was Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005, earned $380m domestically and $848m worldwide. I bet the new follow-up, with the invigorated blood Disney will surely pump in the series, earns even more.

Disney may have a lot of juice in terms of series, but you just can’t discount the fact that Warner Bros. knows how to pick ’em. If they struck gold with Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and the Dark Knight series, I’m certain they will do it again.

To call the winner of this match, let’s examine the movies in the top 20 of the all-time worldwide box office.

Disney’s claim to fame (including Star Wars now) is 8/20 while Warner Bros’ is 7/20. I was hoping this would be a bit more definitive, but it’s still too close to call, huh?

Winner — Tie.

Paramount v. Disney:

Paramount is responsible for many successful series of late, including the Transformers, Mission: Impossible, Paranormal Activity, Shrek, and Friday the 13th. It also co-produced the second biggest movie of all time, Titanic (co-producer 20th Century Fox is discussed further below).

But having one mammoth on your plate doesn’t help you going forward; the money’s been made and the brand created, but Titanic certainly is not about to birth any sequels.

So, I’d still argue that any future Star Wars films (and I’m certain there will be more than the one that has been announced) + The Avengers and all of its follow-ups (remember, The Avengers had a $1.5b worldwide gross) from Disney could easily knock out Transformers (the latest grossed $1.1b worldwide) + Mission: Impossible (the latest grossed $694m worldwide) at the box office.

Winner — Disney

Columbia v. Disney:

While Columbia is the brain behind many iconic films—recent examples are The Social Network, Moneyball, and Across the Universe—the studio does not play around with film franchises too much. Its only current holding is the Bond series, and even at that, it’s responsible only for the two films that have come out since Daniel Craig took over as 007.

Winner — Disney

Universal v. Disney: 

Like Columbia, Universal puts out popular films each year such as Snow White & the Huntsman and Despicable Me, but it does not incorporate many film franchises into its umbrella. The few that are still active are Fast Five, American Pie,and the Jason Bourne series—certainly not monetary competitors for the cash crown Disney holds.

Winner — Disney

20th Century Fox v. Disney: 

So, 20th Century Fox has two claims to fame in the movie world, and they happen to be the two most profitable films ever: Avatar and Titanic (co-produced with Paramount).

But if we’re talking series, where a lot of money stands to be made in the move industry, 20th Century does not court many of them. Ice Age and Alvin and the Chipmunks are the franchises 20th Century is pushing right now.

But it’s tough to count out a movie studio that has the two biggest movies ever.

Just to try to make this a little clearer, let’s combine the worldwide grosses of Avatar and Titanic: $2.78b + $2.19b = $4.97b profit at 20th Century Fox.

In comparison, Disney’s ownership of the top 10 is: The Avengers‘ $1.51b + Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest $1.07b + Toy Story 3 $1.06b + Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides $1.04b = $4.68b at Disney.

Still no clear consensus.

Winner — Tie

So, my original hypothesis, that the Lucasfilms acquisition gives Disney a holy monopoly, was proven wrong. There are two competitors, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, who are hot on the heels. Good. For one brand to run away with the game would be no fun.

The Ironic Man: Dos Equis Crafts Viral Campaign

Avi Dan helped conceive the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” viral campaign, though he left the advertising agency before the Man was driven to the hospital for delivery.

The agency that dreamt the Man up was Euro RSCG, where Dan served as global head of business development. As one of the few modern marketing marvels to blossom on television, the giant success of the “Most Interesting Man” was unexpected—it took years for the Dos Equis brand manager to approve the campaign and say yes to the Man—but it resulted in a grand payoff for the original concept.

Sales of Dos Equis doubled between 2006, when the campaign launched, and 2011, when the brand posted 25 percent sales growth even while owner Heineken’s numbers slipped, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights.

“It was very unusual in the sense that, if you look at 99 percent of beer advertising, it’s all about young men and women in a bar,” Dan said. “It’s very formulaic. And we came up with something that completely went against the formula.”

“The Most Interesting Man in the World” is a brazen series of television commercials that illustrates a 60-something hero with a grey beard and even darker diversions. He is a womanizer with a daredevil complex, and when he occasionally indulges in a beer, he says, “I prefer Dos Equis.”

The advertisements, accented by lines like, “The police often question him—just because they find him interesting,” bolstered consumer support and drove Dos Equis to No. 6 on the list of import beers, according to Ad Age.

Heineken marketing and selling expenses are approximately 12.5 percent of its revenue, or nearly $1.5 billion, as reported in the company’s 2012 Q2 report. Dan estimated a marginal amount of that, perhaps a fifth, goes to Dos Equis branding.

While the campaign did not influence the “big boys” such as Budweiser, Coors, and Miller because it is a small player in the category, it did influence a slew of copycats in the industry, “because the clients are saying, ‘Why don’t you do something similar to that?’” Dan explained.

The Man found traction with audiences, and particularly the young demographic, because he acted sardonically. As proof, Dan pointed to the Sept. 22 season premiere of “Saturday Night Live,” in which host Joseph Gordon-Levitt spoofed the campaign in a bit called “Tres Equis” in which he played the son of the Man.

“When ‘Saturday Night Live’ starts making fun of commercials, that’s good,” Dan said. “Because that means it’s penetrating culture.”

Another example of the Man’s influence in culture is his prevalence in the world of memes, or satirical videos, hash tags, and photos that provide commentary on the Internet. “The Most Interesting Man” is a popular go-to for average users to build their own jokes from templates on websites such as MemeGenerator.net and QuickMeme.com.

Memes are effective for both humor and meaningful observations, said Olivia Gonzalez, a senior at NYU studying comparative literature and philosophy. “A lot of people use them to perpetuate important things, like political memes, or things that can be really relevant commentary to what’s going on in pop culture,” she said. “Other memes can just be stupid and funny things that go viral on the Internet. Both are fun and have their own uses.”

Memes featuring the Man are as ironic as the campaign set out to be, reinforcing the principle with which Euro RSCG created the movement.

“The irony that was built into the campaign is the buffer that protects the campaign from people trying to make fun of it,” Dan said. “Young people love irony, and it wasn’t trying to hit them over the head with ‘buy this beer’ or some sort of a personality.”

#PendingLarryQuote

  1. On Thursday, Google’s Q3 earnings premiered on the SEC website hours earlier than planned. Whoops. But the bigger shocker? In place of an obligatory quote from Mr. Page, the report read: PENDING LARRY QUOTE. The Twitterverse, as you can imagine, enjoyed suggesting what that quote might be.
  2. scotthensley
    RT @inbaggiowetrust: “Hey at least we aren’t Facebook, right? Riiiiiiiiight?” #pendinglarryquote
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:18:02
  3. cloggiefx
    $GOOG blaming the printer, it is always someone elses fault #pendinglarryquote
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:23:11
  4. JakeScottIII
    Googles taking a hit after that unfortunate misfire. I might even buy some stock but that’s #PendingLarryQuote
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:24:31
  5. hainsworthtv
    Shares of $RRD extend decline after $GOOG blames firm for early SEC 8K release that sent shares -9% (still HALTED). #PendingLarryQuote $$
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:24:41
  6. DonitaPrakash
    “Oops, I didn’t really do that did I?”, says Page, with his finger on the send key. #pendingLarryquote
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:26:06
  7. srabil
    Apparently Google says RR Donnelley is to blame for premature earnings release … someone’s having a very bad day #pendinglarryquote
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:38:25
  8. ryanbatty
    Feeling 4 #PR colleagues @ $goog. New or experienced, we all fear a #pendinglarryquote moment. Old process collides w/ 24/7 networked world
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:43:30
  9. savitz
    Google’s Q3 miss just cost Larry Page $1.8 billion. Maybe he had a quote, but they couldn’t print it. #google $goog #pendinglarryquote
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:58:20
  10. ldignan
    RT @savitz: Stock market meme du jour: #pendinglarryquote. Thanks, Google!
    $goog #google http://pic.twitter.com/UChdgp7G
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 10:58:39
  11. aram
    Whew, Mitt lucked out. It seems that #pendinglarryquote is the new #bindersfullofwomen.
    Thu, Oct 18 2012 11:43:16