Saturday, October 21, 2006
A Kodak (Embarrassing) Moment, TV Guide Becomes Internet Only in Canada, Malaysian Printing?
to define its new attitude and new aggressiveness is more "Animal House" or Lewis Black is rather strange and silly (the speaker in it is imitating LB... and if not, the idea that there is a second person just like him should scare us). The video won't change people's minds about the company, and it's very embarrassing... mainly because someone may have actually thought it was a good idea. While sales people and many Wall Street executives enjoy the good, sometimes raunchy jokes that a rush of testosterone creates, those are usually best left in the locker room or in the bar.
What is also questionable is that in a market that increasingly includes women (and it will even more so, as women represent more than half of graduate business students), this video is even sillier. This is men's locker room ranting, much like John Belushi in Animal House. Even though coarseness can be genderless (the girls on Sex and the City have their own locker room chatter), there is a sense that when you go to do business in the public, you take a shower, you shave, you brush your teeth, you dress in clean clothes, take one last look in the mirror, and go out into the world. But this is just men behaving badly, and much should not be expected of men anyway, at least that's what the SATC girls would say, and they would be right. As Otter says in response to Bluto's monologue in AH: "I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part." And we see the results of it here.
What is even stranger about this is the leaking (was it purposeful?) of it online at youtube.com, and now it is there for everyone to see, and link to. Right now, it links to a "Kodak S***s" video. I'm sure that's exactly what Kodak wanted.
Some people will look at this and say that it's nothing more than a PG-13 movie or what one would see on Saturday Night Live. They are absolutely correct. Some would suggest that it's out of context. The fact that it can't stand on its own testifies to its weakness. If you can't proudly say it over a family dinner with little kids at the table with the desire that you'd like them to do it too when they're an adult, then you probably shouldn't put it in a corporate video. The old saying "character is what you do when no one is looking" goes out the window in a YouTube.com world: once it's there, the whole world sees.
It's best to leave coarse satire to those who do it best. When those folks do it, it's called "buzz" and it can actually help build a brand. When we watch Animal House we know it's funny because of how unlikely it is: Dean Wormer would have been fired long ago, and the Delta House students' parents would have yanked their tuition or the school would have tossed them many semesters ago. It's funny because it is so over the top. Maniac Lewis Black is funny because he's not in charge of anything, yet somehow can find the weakest point and grind humor into it and make it uncomfortably funny for anyone watching. At the end of the day, Lewis goes home. We know that if we trusted him with anything, it would end up in shambles, and that's why he is funny. At the end of Kodak's day, the executives still have to be trusted to run Kodak.
As far as Kodak's problems go, real people with real families lost real jobs because of the decisions Kodak executives made. One of America's great companies was undermined by executives who were out of touch with the market except for their posh lifestyles and smooth talk with investors and the public, and employees naive enough to believe them. When they should have been acting aggressively and decisively to save and reposition the company, they ignored competition and protected their turf and their bonuses instead. The video says that Kodak has never been short of "big ideas and brass cojones" (at 1:48 of the video, and he points to the cojones, like no one in the audience knows where they are typically found). That's been their problem, and it still is. The big ideas were to ignore Fuji and digital imaging because they could never be as good as what Kodak blessed and approved, and it turned out that the "brass ones" were what they used to keep telling people that they were on track as planned and that things would be better next quarter. This is the company whose only dependable part of their financial report was its accounting for "non-recurring charges" which seemed to occur every quarter, more predictably than anything else that was happening, as they kept being surprised by the constant need to downsize again and again.
Dismissing its dysfunctional decisions, affecting all those employees and the once thriving city of Rochester, by "call[ing] the 90s one big fat makeready" (at 1:42 of the video) minimizes what happened to this once admirable member of the Dow Jones 30. It exhibits managerial behavior and credibility more typical of unlisted "pink sheet" stocks. All I know is that if I was shown this video as a Kodak manager, I'd be rolling on the floor laughing. But the joke would have been "between us," and would never have seen the light of day outside my office. Kodak doesn't need big ideas, nor does it need "brass cojones." It needs competence and people who can implement wise decisions, and whose reliability is unquestioned. This video would work, possibly, if they were at the top of their game. Instead, it's disappointing that someone thinks something like this, done all in "good fun" can actually build respect for a company that still, after more than a decade, is having trouble centering its image. Delivering consistent performance based on delighted customers changes one's image. This video doesn't advance that cause one bit. In the end, it's not offensive, it's dumb.
For the culturally impaired:
What is Animal House? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_House
Who is Lewis Black? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Black
What is Sex and the City? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_and_the_City
"cojones" has an encyclopedic listing! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cojones
"cojones" dictionary listing http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cojones
Kodak 10-year stock chart (it's not very pretty, and they even tried to stop it with a stock buyback; the chart may default to 1-year; switch it to 10 years by clicking the drop-down arrow under "Time" and selecting "1 decade"; then click the box that says "chart" and it will refresh the data) http://money.cnn.com/quote/chart/chart.html?pg=ch&symb=EK&time=10yr&amp;amp;amp;amp;compidx=aaaaa%7E0&comp=&ma=0&maval=60&freq=1dy&type=2&uf=0&lf=1&ind_compind=
Kodak dropped from the Dow 30 Industrials http://www.crn.com/sections/breakingnews/dailyarchives.jhtml?articleId=18842297
At one point, the white-haired Lewis Black-like speaker lets out a "booyah." The definition is at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/booyah but I heard it's generally a fishing term, screamed when you catch a big one. The word has been popularized by CNBC personality Jim Cramer on his show Mad Money http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cramer. Whoever made this video has create a composite Black-Cramer character. The only thing missing is the throwing of an office chair when Cramer starts his "lightning round" where he gives off the cuff stock advice to callers.
When he calls someone "Bucko" it's much like the old comedian Eddie Lawrence who had the character "The Old Philosopher" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Lawrence whose routines are at http://www.lyrics-lyric.com/song/lyrics/5200/Eddie_Lawrence/Old_Philosopher,_The.html -- It would not be surprising if Lewis Black and others were influenced by Lawrence's rather strange novelty act of the 1950s and 1960s.
The similarity to this video and the famous monologue by John Belushi is quite evident. Famous lines from the movie, unedited, can be found at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077975/quotes, but here's the monologue in question:
D-Day: War's over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.
Bluto: Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
Boon: Forget it, he's rolling.
Bluto: And it ain't over now. 'Cause when the goin' gets tough...
Bluto: the tough get goin'! Who's with me? Let's go!
[runs out, alone; then returns]
Bluto: What the **** happened to the Delta I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? "Ooh, we're afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble." Well just kiss my *** from now on! Not me! I'm not gonna take this. Wormer, he's a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer...
Otter: Dead! Bluto's right. Psychotic, but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.
Bluto: We're just the guys to do it.
D-Day: Let's do it.
Bluto: LET'S DO IT!
TV Guide Canada discontinues its print version to be Internet-only; it's owned by Transcontinental Printing.
NYT article about why business is so bad: "To Explain Soft Numbers, Newspaper Companies Name a Common Culprit": lack of ads. No kidding. Cynics would say if you don't have hard news, you get soft numbers.
Good NYT article about the economics of printed materials and technological change
One never hears of Malaysia as a source of "offshore printing." This article cures that.