"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Wednesday, October 29, 2008,11:12 PM
The Negro Donald Draper
The Negro Donald Draper
27 Oct 2008 12:15 pm

So Mad Men is over, and short of the NFL, there really is no other reason for me to have a TV. I got rid of mine last spring, and I actually considered buying a new one just to see the new season. But then I discovered Mad Men was on Itunes. You should know that there are only two shows that have ever made me cry--Justice League and Mad Men. Sound insane? You obviously have never watched Justice League.

Here is the thing, in the superhero mythos, a character often gains his motivations, and his powers, because of some tragic event in the past--Spiderman loses Uncle Ben, Superman loses Krypton, a mad scientist runs devious experiments on Wolverine etc. The superhero is, at once tormented and empowered by his past. Often he tries to remake it, or he tries to abandon his power in hopes that his pain will come to an end. This invariably leads to more trouble, and the hero usually realizes that he can't actually escape his past. This is the essence of the whole "Great Power and Great Responsibility" theme that powers Spiderman That idea--the past as pain and power--has always been salient one for me.

I came of age in the midst of the Crack Era. I went to a besieged middle school in West Baltimore. My teachers were the sort of black women who were obsessed with getting the best out of you and also making sure you got the best out of the world. They did what they could--but this was 1987. I'm talking tons of guns, patent leather Jordans, Dopeman, and twelve year-olds dying for Georgetown Starter jackets. I spent as much time plotting a safe route home as I spent studying.

Once they caught me on Liberty Heights, right near the old CCB. Six kids beat the hell out of me and stomped on my face. A few years later I got into a fight in my high school cafeteria--some dude smacked me over the head with a trash-can. It was a bad time for the empire. And yet everything I learned about human nature, I learned in those years. Moreover, because I had to master a certain way of being, a certain style, in order to walk through my own neighborhood, I gained a sort of second sight that has never left me. When I write I am pulling from that past, I am seeing the world not just through refined adult eyes, but through the eyes of kid who's seen people at their lowest.

And then there is the collective experience of black folks. What does it mean to be the loser of history? To come out on the vanquished end of the great American narrative? Well, it kind of sucks. But too, it powers who we are--it gives us Zora Neal Hurston, Jimmy Baldwin, Marian Anderson, Nina Simone, Romare Bearden, Outkast and Nas. I think Jay summed up the entire deal:

Do not step to me, I'm awkward, I box lefty
An orphan, my Pops left me
And often, my Momma wasn't home.

That is who we are-- to be black, and successful in any way, is to box lefty. In many old societies, the left-hander is seen as cursed. But anyone from the street--or anyone who's watched tape of Ali-Norton--knows that the unorthodox fighter can be dangerous. To box lefty, It is to have a different way of grappling with the world, a different way of seeing. The trick is not letting it be your only way of seeing.

When I rewatched the first season of Mad Men, all of this came back to me. Don's past is unorthodox for his profession, and furthermore it is an object of great shame for him. And yet the past is the source of his power. In the last episode of season one, Don has to do a pitch for "The Wheel" a slide projector in need of rebranding. Don's marriage is crumbling and he's lost his brother--the last link to his murky, and poignant past. Don pulls all of that together and makes a beautiful pitch, rechristening "The Wheel" as "The Carousel" a device that's a time machine which takes us to a place where we ache to go again." The pitch blows everyone away, and Don is hailed as a genius. But what only we know, is that Don can write such pitches because he sees different, and he sees different because he's literally seen different things. His life has been much harder than his colleagues, and that gives him a power to see more than them.

But he's also haunted by the past. Don believes his progress is tied to no one ever knowing who he truly is, to no one discovering his true history--his secret identity, if you will. Don Draper is, in the parlance of old black folks, passing. His orgins are not proper and gentile--he is the child of a prostitute, who as reinvented himself for the Manhattan jet-set. He is Gatsby and Anatole Broyard, no? And yet the irony that animates Mad Men is the fact that, without that past, Draper would likely be the sort of pampered hack he despises. He'd be Pete Campbell. His double consciousness, makes him, indeed, doubly conscious, doubly aware. Don Draper sees more.

Only two groups of people truly can sense something amidest--the blacks, and the Jews. There is a lovely scene in Season Two where Peggy, Don and the black elevator man are riding up. They are talking about Marilyn Monroe's death and noting how shocked they are. The elevator man casually notes, "Some people just hide in plain sight." It is not so much that he directly knows Don's identity, but that he is playing the role that blacks play throughout the show--they are a kind of Greek chorus, unseen, but offering short poetic takes on the themes at work.

The major theme is set from the first episode, when Don, wooing Rachel, a Jewish proprietor of a department store, is enjoying the sound of his own voice. Rachel listens skeptically and then cuts right through the mask:

I don't know what it is you really believe in, but I do know what it feels like to be out of place, to be disconnected, to see the whole world laid out in front of you the way other people live it.There is something about you that tells me you it to.
To be out of place, To be disconnected. That is the essence of us, and I guess in one way or another, it's everyone else too.


posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
,11:08 PM
Barely Legal
by Claire Hoffman

The government is after him because he crusades for illegal-immigrant workers. The lawyers are after him because of the three (so far) sexual-harassment lawsuits. This might be enough to bring down the C.E.O of most publicly traded companies but for American Apparel founder Dov Charney it's just another day at the office.

It’s close to midnight, and Dov Charney, the 39-year-old founder of American Apparel, lies in his bed staring at a massive flat-screen TV. A pair of boat shoes and a white electric muscle massager are on the floor nearby. Behind him, a huge window is lit up with a sweeping view of downtown Los Angeles. Inside his gated, marble, gold-encrusted mansion on a hill, Charney is insulated from the chaos below. His fleet of weathered Mercedeses and Cadillacs, parked bumper to bumper, fills the circular driveway.

Despite the safety of his lair, Charney is not at peace. On CNN, a powdered, sweaty Lou Dobbs is yelling about how “illegals” are destroying the U.S. economy, taking jobs away from real Americans, and taking our money out of the country. Dobbs declares that business owners who employ illegal immigrants deserve to be punished.

“This is a disgusting perennial problem, and we have the opportunity to fix it,” Dobbs sneers.

“He has an anti-immigrant piece every night,” Charney says. Then he shouts at the screen, “I’m an industrialist! I get to call myself an industrialist, you know! When you have a factory with more than a couple hundred people, you get to call yourself an industrialist!”

With a squeak of a vintage sneaker, Michael, a handsome 21-year-old, emerges from a creaky bronze elevator and asks Charney if he needs anything else for the night. Perhaps a stick of gum? Michael is both an assistant of sorts to Charney and one of his half-dozen roommates, mostly twenty-somethings who work at an American Apparel factory a few miles away and come home at night to their boss’s mansion (where Charlie Chaplin once lived), making it their own by hanging posters on the walls and piling clothing here and there. In return, they are on call to do Charney’s erratic bidding. As Michael leaves, Charney explains to me, “I used to have girls around, but it’s easier with boys.”

Charney is off the bed now, pacing, his lean frame hunched forward like a cartoon of someone walking fast. “Some people call me the masturbator,” Charney says. “Okay. But I’m the industrialist!” At his feet, Hedkayce, one of his mongrel Chihuahuas, starts yapping. “And he,” says Charney, gesturing toward the television, “doesn’t know what it is.”

Charney is an old-fashioned captain of industry, a manufacturing tycoon who came up with a concept (sexy T-shirt), made it, advertised it, sold it, and watched over it all like a madman. He is obsessive about the product, throwing tantrums about stock allocation and necklines with equal petulance. Along the way to taking his company public, Charney acquired an accounting history that at times seems more street corner than Wall Street. And he is widely characterized as a pervert, a libertine who has made his company’s image hypersexual and, some employees have alleged, his workplace too. (View an interactive map of the world showing where T-shirts are made.)

But lately, all that has faded into the background. In December 2007, just as his third sexual-harassment suit was headed to court, Charney took a wild and potentially hazardous stand by placing ads in such publications as the New York Times to state his progressive position on the subject of immigration. One ad, featuring a photograph of an earnest young Hispanic factory worker, read, “It’s time to give a voice to the voiceless. Businesses are afraid to speak to the media about immigration, frightened of reprisals by government agencies. But we cannot just sit in the shadows and watch the government and politicians exploit and misrepresent this matter to advance their own careers.”

Charney’s newspaper spots all but said that American Apparel, like many other U.S. employers, makes use of illegal-immigrant labor. The ads directly criticized the Bush administration and asked the public if maybe it was time to be open and honest about the subject.

Perhaps not.

Last December, Charney was served with a notice of inspection by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security, informing him that he needed to prepare documentation on all of his workers for review. Charney and his growing team of lawyers and consultants have taken this as a warning. The company has given the feds records for thousands of workers; Charney says he hasn’t heard a word in response. Since then, he’s spent his days bracing for a raid at any time on American Apparel’s factories.

American Apparel is the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States, and in downtown Los Angeles Charney employs about 4,000 sewers, cutters, dyers, and other workers, most of whom were not born in the U.S. Although they have all provided documentation, he is still concerned about the legality of the majority of them. Now he is desperately trying to bulk up his workforce in order to keep his operations running smoothly. This year, he has hired an additional 2,000 workers, many of whom found out about the jobs from fliers that Charney himself handed to them on downtown L.A. sidewalks.

“I’ve spent every moment of my existence from the minute I wake up—I have a stomachache, and I get up, and this is what I do,” says Charney. “I do this every day. I do it on Sunday. I don’t even remember when it’s Friday. One day it’s Saturday, and one day it’s Monday. I just keep going and going and going.”

Maybe someday Dov Charney will be known as a tireless crusader for immigrant workers’ rights, but until then his current wicked reputation will probably remain in place. Mention him and people make a sound of distaste and then ask if he is really an exhibitionist-pornographer-compulsive masturbator. This mantle is one that Charney both encourages and abhors but is hard-pressed to shrug off. The public has reacted strongly to the images of out-of-control carnality beamed down from American Apparel’s billboards and splayed across its ads, often photographed by Charney himself, that show young bodies in various states of undress, sporting his company’s clothing.

This sexual aura has cut both ways for American Apparel. Charney has made his name in part through controversy. He once famously masturbated in front of a female journalist. Charney says the reporter, for the now-defunct Jane, took the masturbation out of context. “I was a younger man,” he says, wearily. “The lines were blurred between paramour and reporter.” The reporter has said that her tape recorder or notebook was in full view at all times and that the relationship was professional.

Since the resulting 2004 article was published, four female employees of American Apparel have filed three lawsuits against Charney. One suit was settled; another was dropped; and the third, by former sales representative Mary Nelson, 36, alleges that Charney wore a skimpy thong that barely covered his genitals. During Nelson’s initial job interview, which was held at Charney’s home, she says he referred to female employees as “sluts.” Nelson’s attorney, Keith Fink, told the Los Angeles Times that she was wrongfully terminated after she consulted with a lawyer. The suit was sent into binding arbitration at the beginning of the year; a settlement has not yet been reached.

Charney insists that Nelson, who worked for American Apparel for a little more than a year, was a bad employee who swore compulsively and hustled him, often referring to him as “donkey cock.” In court papers, Charney’s lawyers portray Nelson as a sales rep who performed below expectations. Charney says she was the mastermind of the suits, and he even drew a diagram for me of how three of the four women went to the factory roof to conspire to file them. He can talk for hours about what he calls their scheme and their betrayal.

Still, Charney hasn’t denied the majority of the allegations. His own lawyers have stated in court documents that “American Apparel is a sexually charged workplace where employees of both genders deal with sexual conduct, speech, and images as part of their jobs.” Charney has said that his behavior is the norm in the fashion industry and shouldn’t be considered harassment. He has defended himself by saying he is in the business of making underwear. He points out that in addition to being the company’s creative director, he is also one of its fit models—a simple explanation for why he would stride around his offices half-dressed. He has said that the real reason he had the underwear on was to show his employees and ask them how it looked. He has also said he “test-drives” the underwear to see how it fits “in action.”

He concedes that there was one point when he ran through the factory wearing his underwear, but says it was to entertain staff and film a spoof video. In a deposition, he said he “frequently” had been in his “underpants” because he was “designing an underwear line” while Nelson was working at the company. He says, “I’m very proud of my underwear.”

The sexual harassment suits torment Charney, if for no other reason than because they divert attention away from what he sees as his utopian American factory.

At the end of the 19th century, the U.S. finally got around to establishing its first immigration laws. Since then, much of the debate about who should and shouldn’t be allowed in has centered on California, where the gold rush and the construction of railroads drew a large influx of laborers from China and Mexico. Though the U.S. has dabbled in deportation methods in order to control a growing population of illegal immigrants, federal authorities have mainly turned a blind eye. But in recent years, illegal immigrants have become a potent political symbol. The blind eye seemed to open abruptly last summer, when Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, announced that federal authorities would crack down—not on workers but on employers.

Federal immigration raids on companies around the nation have increased, with 3,900 administrative arrests made since October 2007 and more than 1,000 criminal charges filed. States, too, have joined in the effort, with more than 175 bills introduced into legislatures throughout the country this year. In May, 389 employees were arrested in a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, and 230 sentenced to jail terms. (See “A Beef With the Rabbis”). In another instance, in late August, 350 workers were arrested at an electronics-manufacturing firm in Laurel, Mississippi.

Some estimates put the illegal-immigrant population of the U.S. at nearly 12 million. Most illegals perform at least a portion of their work either under the table or with the help of false documentation. If there’s a ground zero for this issue, it’s Los Angeles. By some economists’ estimates, 1 million of the city’s 10 million inhabitants are there illegally.

So in January, employers in Los Angeles gasped when federal authorities raided Micro Solutions Enterprises, a sleepy, long-established printer-­cartridge manufacturer based in East L.A. that employed 800 workers. Federal officials said that 138 employees were undocumented, but owner Avi Wazana told his customers that the company had been verifying the legal status of all new hires through federal programs for almost a year.

“It’s very nudge-nudge-wink,” says Jack Kyser, the chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “What you have is a large immigrant workforce. And if you are an undocumented immigrant, all you need is to get the documents necessary to get a job. They go in, and the employers look at it, but employers have to be careful.” That’s because state laws prohibit companies from asking prospective workers for more than two forms of identification, and they risk civil suits if they do.

This situation spurred California businesses to begin quietly lobbying public officials to push for change. In March, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wrote a letter to Chertoff criticizing I.C.E. agents for raids on “established, responsible employers” in the city; he asked the secretary to focus on those with a record of labor violations. Meanwhile, in April, Gavin Newsom, San Francisco’s mayor, said he would not cooperate with the federal crackdown.

In a recent interview, Chertoff defended his hard-line approach, saying, “We are not going to be able to satisfy the American people on a legal temporary-worker program until they are convinced that we will have a stick as well as a carrot.”

For most of the apparel business, illegal immigration is no longer an issue, since 97 percent of the clothing purchased in the U.S. is manufactured in foreign countries. In the world of T-shirts, all Charney’s major competitors—Hanes, Gap, and Fruit of the Loom—make their goods abroad.

Charney is in his office at 8:30 at night, typing on his computer. On the seventh floor of the 800,000-square-foot factory that houses most of American Apparel’s design, manufacturing, shipping, retailing, and customer-service departments, Charney’s spacious corner office functions as the control tower from which he wields his power in his own peculiar, Willy Wonka-ish way. He constantly calls out to anyone who passes by in the hallway, regardless of whether they are on their way to the bathroom or, worse, on their way home. “Hey, hey! What’s going on?” he shouts, always with a question. “What are we running out of? What’s selling? Did you get me those mannequins I asked for? Where are we at with that neckline?”

Charney’s desk faces a line of cheap black-leather chairs that could have been lifted from a nail salon. Behind him is a honeycomb arrangement of shelves where he has tucked items of importance—from vintage advertisements showing bare-breasted Polynesian women to a letter he wrote at age 11 asking for a refund for his not-quite-right bag of potato chips. There is also a handwritten list of what he believes fashion is made of: fantasy, function, status, anxiety. The shelves are lined with books with such titles as A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Population Studies, and Understanding Judaism.

His assistant Marina, a stocky woman with the patience of a saint, comes in and places two Hungry Man frozen dinners in front of him. “Chicken or turkey?” she asks. He ignores her. She looks up at me and rolls her eyes, like a bemused babysitter. Eventually, Charney stops his intense, jab-jab touch-typing (he’s severely dyslexic); grunts; points to the turkey; and then raises his head and flashes Marina a beaming smile. She wanders off, and he turns his attention back to his keyboard.

Charney’s project today and for the past few weeks has been to bulk up the immigration section of the American Apparel website called Legalize L.A., which is an extensive collection of news clips, pro-immigrant fact sheets, videos, an excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s 1958 book, A Nation of Immigrants, and other material advocating the legalization of L.A.’s workforce.

Charney has long been obsessed with immigration. He still has a copy of a school paper he wrote entitled “The Immigrant.” When I ask why he seems fixated on the subject, he shouts, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall! It’s because I’m a Jew! Birds are free! We want to go somewhere, let’s go! I just don’t believe in borders, in the end. The Americans who do just don’t trust humanity.”

A young, loud, pear-shaped man named Johnny Makeup wanders in wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater, purple jeans, and shiny loafers. Johnny says Charney recruited him from an American Apparel store in New York after being charmed by his sense of style. Now he’s apprenticing in the P.R. department, where his tasks include putting together music mixes, updating his MySpace page, making Charney salads, and keeping him company. He lives in Charney’s mansion and calls him Daddy.

“Daddy,” he says, as he plops onto the leather couch next to the desk, “I saw a vagina for the third time today.” Charney ignores him and continues to stare at his computer screen, scrolling through immigration fact sheets that he can use to bolster his arguments.

“Daddy, I know you don’t like doing anything fun right now, but my friends are going to Coachella,” Johnny continues happily. Charney picks up the phone and punches in a number.

“Mom,” Charney barks. “I need that picture, that picture from the march. No, I want it for the site. I’m putting it up on the site.” He wants a picture his mother has of them at a pro-choice demonstration march together 30 years ago. Then he asks her if she’s seen the photos of Zaida (the Yiddish word for grandfather); Charney’s grandfather is memorialized in countless photographs pinned to the office walls and on the American Apparel website. Charney is worried that people have the wrong idea about the company, so he wants to humanize it. If people know he’s human, he thinks, maybe they won’t be so hard on him.

He hangs up and turns to me with a funny look in his eyes. “What size waist are you?” he asks, rummaging in the corner and pulling out a teensy pair of periwinkle jeans.

“No way,” I say.

“Come on,” he wheedles. “These aren’t even in stores. I’ll leave the room if you want.” When I say no, he huffs in frustration.

If the feds do raid American Apparel, they will walk into a factory of 4,000 or more employees who are living in a sort of phantasmagoric Charney dream of blue-collar America: largely immigrant, Hispanic, hardworking, and at an average of $12 an hour, probably better paid than any other workers on the planet sewing T-shirts. Most clothing manufacturers have decamped to foreign shores over the past two decades, but here in downtown L.A., American Apparel offers health insurance, an in-house health clinic, subsidized meals, English-language classes, and a host of other cushy incentives. It is, in some sense, a utopian enterprise.

But it is also one that, some complain, exists only at Charney’s command. In 2003, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees attempted to organize factory workers at American Apparel. Its efforts failed. Charney says that it was his employees who didn’t want the union. But union organizers said Charney directed his managers to intimidate and threaten the workers. Five years later, union leaders in L.A. have arrived at a kind of cease-fire with Charney, but they remain critical.

“We think all employers have that obligation to take care of their workers, so we can’t say it is an exemplary employer,” says Kimi Lee, director of the Garment Workers Center, a nonprofit organization that deals with labor issues. “It isn’t a shining star, but it’s not a sweatshop. It could be better. Even though Charney talks about workers’ rights and trumpets all the things he’s done, he’s not letting the workers speak for themselves. It’s significant that he doesn’t. It’s very paternalistic. He believes he’s treating them better than anyone else could.”

When Charney finishes work, at 11 p.m., he nods at Johnny, who scampers after him, lugging an old tote bag. Charney walks down the hall, charges through a set of industrial doors, and plows across the cafeteria. Johnny vamps behind him, gesturing at Charney’s ass, and the night-shift workers sitting at the tables on break let loose with catcalls and whistles. Charney gives them a distracted smile and keeps going.

As a child, Charney showed signs of possibly having a future as a tycoon. When he was 11, he started a newspaper in his Montreal neighborhood. He contracted with an area printer to produce his weekly journal, which had about 50 subscribers and sold for 25 cents a copy. His mother, recalling the night when she almost lost her mind with fear because her son was missing, remembers him returning home in a cab at 2 a.m. with the latest edition of his newspaper under his arm.

“Dov has been driven since he was born,” Sylvia Charney says. “I never pushed him. In fact, I tried to pull him back. He’s always had that energy. He pushed, pushed, pushed until he got what he wanted.”

Charney came of age in the 1980s, an era that, since it coincided with a major shift in U.S. apparel manufacturing, laid the groundwork for his company. The major T-shirt makers left for cheaper pastures in China, India, and Pakistan. In love as much with the old-school model of in-house manufacturing as with clothing design, Charney is fervent about everything from his desire to maintain control of the total operation to the cut and feel of a polo shirt.

There are three main strands in the story of American Apparel: Charney’s obsession with free trade, his love affair with American T-shirts, and his fixation on sex. His love of T-shirts began early, with visits to his grandparents in Palm Beach, Florida, where he bought Lacoste, Gant, and Hanes shirts and proudly returned to Canada sporting the preppy look. In 1988, while a high school senior, Charney started American Apparel. “I was this little Jewish rat,” he recalls happily. He got his logo by tracing the eagle on a dollar bill and came up with the slogan “Canada’s direct source for American-made T-shirts and fleecewear.”

“I got so obsessed with it,” he says. “If you want to take the long view, I’m the only fucker still making this stuff. I was a Canadian in love with this iconic idea. It was like M&M’s if you’re from Moscow.”

At 19, he moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and insinuated himself into a world of aging manufacturers, from whom he learned elaborate formulas for how to produce apparel and make pennies on the dollar. He imitated the soft, basic simplicity of the Hanes T-shirts he’d grown up with and, trying to compete with the giants, sold shirts in bulk to printers and stores.

But for all of Charney’s passion, he was disorganized, and by 1996 he was having trouble paying his bills. That year, he filed for Chapter 11 and fled to California. He says he’s been ashamed ever since and has avoided talking about it. “It’s a disgrace!” he screams, when I ask. He arrived in Los Angeles and went to work in a sewing room downtown. He then met an apparel manufacturer named Sang Ho Lim; after the two had dinner at a restaurant where the sushi is delivered to customers on a conveyor belt, the two became partners.

With Lim’s backing, Charney retooled American Apparel in 1998, merging his existing operation with Lim’s cutting and sewing business. As the brand gained currency with antilabel young consumers—the clothing is famous for having no visible logo—the business began to grow. In 2003, he had three stores; in 2005, he opened 65 more.

But that year, the company’s then-C.F.O. Mark Schlein died of heart failure. Rather than hire a replacement immediately, American Apparel relied on an outside accounting firm to help oversee its finances. Meanwhile, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank, which had given the company an early loan, grew uneasy with the rapid pace at which it was opening new stores and asked Charney to secure additional financing. By the end of 2005 he still hadn’t found a new investor, so U.S. Bank declared American Apparel in default of its covenant agreement. Then, says Charney, an internal audit discovered that the company’s earnings had been “accidentally” inflated by 30 percent for the year; rather than $26 million, it had earned only about $18 million.

In 2006, Charney hired Adrian Ko­walewski, a newly minted University of Chicago business school graduate, to advise the firm on financing. The two met that spring when Kowalewski was writing a research paper on American Apparel. Shortly after, Charney was approached by Endeavor Acquisition, a recently formed special-purpose acquisition company. (Robert Kennedy’s daughter Kerry Kennedy is a board member.) Endeavor wanted to take a share of American Apparel; Charney would keep a 55 percent controlling stake, and American Apparel would receive more than $125 million. Endeavor would then take the company public, as long as Charney agreed to step down as C.E.O. and take the title of creative director.

Charney refused to step down but agreed to hire a real C.F.O. Kowalewski advised him not to take the deal, but Endeavor agreed to Charney’s terms, and it went forward anyway. On December 12, 2007, American Apparel began trading on the American Stock Exchange. Charney’s stock was worth more than $580 million. The deal also resulted in $67.9 million in cash for Lim, the company’s other principal shareholder. Hundreds of employees received cash bonuses totaling $2.5 million.

Still, Charney, ruminating on his negative image in the public eye, calls me late one night and spends an hour complaining about an article in the Wall Street Journal that details the company’s spotty financial history. “I just have to close my eyes and lie in bed with the windows open and let the wind blow over me and imagine I’m being covered in sand,” he says, sounding exhausted.

It’s four months after the notice from I.C.E., and the anticipated raid has yet to come. But Charney is convinced it will happen soon. On a blazing hot afternoon, he sets off on an employee-finding mission in his sparkling gray Land Rover. He pulls into a garbage-strewn parking lot in the old bank district in downtown Los Angeles. The ornate Beaux-Arts buildings in copper, stone, and wood that once housed the infrastructure of an early-19th-century city have been completely gutted and remade into sweatshops.

Charney hops out of the S.U.V. with a thick fistful of fliers advertising positions at American Apparel—sewing, dyeing, cutting, cleaning, security. He marches along the sidewalk, shoving papers at passersby with the zeal of a political propagandist. “Here you go,” he says, as he hands fliers to a homeless woman, a shop owner, a man eating a sandwich, and a woman walking down the street with a baby. We walk past two homeless men who reek of alcohol. “You don’t get a flier if you’re drunk,” he whispers to me.

“What about us?” one of the men yells. Charney stops and hands them a flier.

“You gave us this last week,” one of them grumbles.

Charney passes out the rest of his fliers and drives 10 blocks back to the American Apparel factory, where the unpaved and cratered parking lot is jammed with cars. Dozens of middle-aged women—Filipina, Chinese, South American, Mexican—are lined up at the gate waiting for the elevator. Job interviews are being conducted inside. A pair of twin blond surfer guys wander by in flip-flops. A tall redhead in purple jeans hurries past with a frantic look in his eyes and a measuring tape around his shoulders. One young woman is in hot-pink tiger-print pants; others wear miniskirts and tights and carry vintage Chanel purses. On a bench waiting with her mother is a little girl squeezed into a tennis skirt, eating a hot dog.

Inside the factory, on the high, white walls, hang large photographs of young women, their sweatshirts and T-shirts falling off. Employees—Charney’s soldiers—wear candy-colored T-shirts with the names of their departments (manufacturing, security, shipping) printed in both Spanish and English. Spend an hour in American Apparel’s factories, and you see two categories of employee: hipster and immigrant. There is some crossover, of course; Charney is quick to point out that he himself is an immigrant. But most of those who work on the factory floor are modestly dressed, tidily groomed, and Hispanic. The men wear loose jeans, T-shirts, or button-down shirts; the women wear embroidered tops and carry simple handbags.

On the second floor, a photo shoot is under way. A man in a turquoise nylon jacket and skintight jeans photographs a young woman in leggings. Standing nearby is Iris Alonzo, one of the company’s creative directors and a close Charney ally. “We’re living in a world of bullshit,” she complains. “They’re targeting us. Dov is a character, and it’s easy to make him a target. Older people, like government types, like to think of him as a pervert. But we put $100 million a year into the L.A. payroll. We’re a micro version of a macro problem,” she says.

In March and April, American Apparel interviewed between 3,000 and 4,000 people for factory jobs. They found fewer than 10 percent with impeccable documentation. “We’re not the bad guys. The I.C.E. guys are like rednecks,” says Alonzo. “Every time I drive in here I get teary. People are stoked to be here. It’s like a little team. It’s just really sad that—you know, we’re not evil. We had to let a small group of people go and give them severance.”

In the spring, Charney had to fire 30 employees—many of whom had worked at the company for a decade or more—when he discovered that they had improper paperwork. Each one had $30,000 worth of company stock to cash in, a kind of severance unheard of in the world of apparel-factory workers. When I ask Charney about it, his eyes seem to tear, and for once, he ignores me.

It’s noon on May Day, a pleasant 72 degrees, and in downtown Los Angeles the sun burns through the smog and onto cordoned-off streets. Long lines of police and firefighters coordinate crowd-control routines. In this city, May 1 has become the day to protest the treatment of immigrant workers. In 2007, during the annual march, police clubbed and teargassed protesters.

The American Apparel factory has closed early for the day so employees can take part. Charney pulls up to the factory in his Land Rover, parks, and stomps up the ramp with his mother trailing behind.

Today is supposed to be about the march, but the accounting staff is immediately in Charney’s face. It must file the company’s 10-K report by midnight. A series of whispered conversations takes place. He’s furious about something.
“You won’t understand what’s about to happen,” he tells me.

Nearly running, Charney barrels through the parking lot to the warehouse. The freight elevator is slow, so he runs up seven steep flights of stairs, his group of workers behind him, panting.

He silently plows through long rows of cardboard cartons, his chin thrust forward, moving spastically, jabbing at boxes. On this floor are products that have been identified defective. Charney says his company’s profits have been hurt by too much inventory designated “off quality.” He is convinced that lazy employees—those he’s summoned—are to blame.

“You’re robbing the company of profits!” he screams. “All these pink boxes need to be opened and accounted for.” The production manager sits on a box and starts to cry silently.

He seems angriest because he’s the one losing money. “You have to be a greedy monster in this world,” he says.

“Like a pig! Like a monster! That insatiable appetite is what drives business. I have the smell for it. I’m a pig! I’m an animal.”

Seven floors below,Bare in the parking lot, thousands of American Apparel workers holding protest signs are waiting for their leader. Charney and his aides have been gearing up for the march for weeks. Throughout the city, they’ve been giving away free legalize l.a. T-shirts in all their stores.

Charney joins his workers, but there’s still a delay: He’s waiting for a state senator who has promised to march with them. When the politician finally appears, Charney charges down the street, and within minutes his assistants are shouting that he has left the rest of the workers in the dust. He’s marching next to his mother, whom he ignores. But then she disappears, and he starts looking around, and then everyone is searching. In a soft voice, Charney says, “Where’s my mom?” and then his fabric guy, who is wearing an earpiece, announces that she’s been located.

Johnny Makeup shows up too, carrying a huge cutout of Paris Hilton, on which he has arranged a LEGALIZE L.A. dress.

“Immigrants are hot!” shouts Johnny. “Come party with the immigrants.” Johnny makes his way over to Sylvia, calling her Grandma. She doesn’t seem to like it.

Charney has said he wants American Apparel to be to L.A. what Levi Strauss was to San Francisco during the civil-rights era, when the jeansmaker desegregated its factories long before the federal government mandated it. But today, Charney seems conflicted about how much he will speak out. The march ends downtown, in front of the Los Angeles Times Building. A stage has been set up, where mariachi bands perform and local politicians take turns speaking out against I.C.E., Bush, and anti-immigrant sentiment. Charney has been looking forward to the march for weeks, but now, as politicians and activists are begging him to take the stage, he’s silently pacing. His mother urges him to go up there and speak.

But Charney says that politics doesn’t sell. Sex sells. And in the end, he wants to sell. I ask Charney about how all the pieces fit together—the sexual-harassment charges, the lewd advertising, and what he says matters most now, his political agenda of immigration reform.

“Fashion is about sexuality,” he’s shouting. “It’s hard to be fashionable and sanitize it and take the sexuality out of it. It’s tasteful. It’s utility—it’s not Frederick’s of Hollywood. It has to make you feel attractive. Sex makes you feel beautiful or handsome. And doesn’t it make you feel good that it’s made in conditions that are not deplorable? The whole sweatshop-free thing, it’s too complicated. It’s too sophisticated. So we were like, ‘Fuck it. Let’s not talk about it. People can’t get it.’ It’s a victory that we’re able to make clothing that people love in a place that isn’t embarrassing. Get over the ads. Get over the complaints. Get over the fact that I made a mistake making a comment to one or two girls. How selfish! Why couldn’t they just walk away? Think of the thousands of suppliers, the thousands of sewers, the workers!”

He continues, “Of course our clothing is intimate.” Then he switches briefly to his Québécois French. “Les intimes. It’s leisure. It’s intimacy. It’s a cold night, and you cuddle up with a blanket in your panties. You ever put on a pair of pants that made you look good, Claire?” he asks.

“Yes,” I tell him. “The pair I’m wearing right now.”

“See!” he shouts victoriously. “That’s what a beautiful, intelligent woman wants, to go to dinner in a pair of pants that makes her look good. She’s on top of the fucking world. That’s what it’s all about. The pants! The pants! That’s all a beautiful woman wants! A pair of pants that takes her into a restaurant. She looks beautiful. She looks intelligent! She’s got a pair of pants! She’s on top of the world—and it’s the pants, the pants!”

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,11:04 PM
Seth MacFarlane’s $2 Billion Family Guy Empire
By Josh Dean
It's not hard to find someone who delights in attacking the show Family Guy. Which isn't a criticism, per se. Much of the animated sitcom's purpose seems to be to stoke the opposition, to offend the easily offended. But that's not the only reason it annoys people. There is a school of thought that says the show is hackish -- crudely drawn and derivative of its cartoon forebears. Members of this school would include, most prominently, Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the fathers of South Park, which is probably the only show on television that rivals Family Guy for objectionable content per half hour. South Park has devoted entire episodes to attacking Family Guy, portraying the show's writers as manatees who push "idea balls" with random jokes down tubes to generate plotlines. Kricfalusi has said, "You can draw Family Guy when you're 10 years old."

What does Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane -- who earlier this year inked a $100 million -- plus contract with Fox, followed by a breakthrough deal involving Google -- have to say about that?

"I would say, 'How many violas do you have?' "

MacFarlane is hovering over the soundboard in the control room of the Newman Soundstage on the 20th Century Fox lot in Los Angeles. Various engineers twiddle knobs and adjust levels as he looks out on a gymnasium-size room full of classically trained musicians tuning their instruments. Every piece of music on every episode of Family Guy is recorded live by an orchestra that on this day numbers 56. The only music that ever repeats, even once, are the opening and closing themes, and those too are frequently updated, just because. Now, it is not unprecedented to use a live orchestra in today's TV world. But it is highly unusual. "All the shows used to do it," laments Walter Murphy, one of Family Guy's two composers. "It's mostly electronic now -- to save money." The Simpsons, he says, still uses an orchestra, as does Lost. King of the Hill has a small band. And, of course, there's an orchestra on American Dad, the other show created by MacFarlane, who is now the highest-paid writer-producer in the history of TV.

MacFarlane, despite being 35 and looking like an average dude, possesses the musical inclinations of a septuagenarian drag queen. A significant percentage of Family Guy episodes feature extravagant Broadway-inspired song-and-dance numbers (because, really, why have the cartoon doctor tell his patient he has end-stage AIDS when a barbershop quintet can break the news via song?), and only some of them are sacrilegious or scatological. Among the features of his new contract with Fox is a Family Guy movie he imagines as "an old-style musical with dialogue" in the vein of The Sound of Music, a poster of which hangs above his desk. "We'd really be trying to capture, musically, that feel," says MacFarlane, whose father moonlighted as a folk singer. "Nothing today feels like it'll play 50 years from now, like Cole Porter or Rodgers and Hart."

If you're waiting for the punch line here, there isn't one. Critics may dismiss MacFarlane's show for being vulgar, but when he writes a song, it's going to be lush and jazzy and, at least musically, exactly as you might hear in something by Irving Berlin. It's all part of a manic attention to detail that not only gives the show its layered humor but also has made MacFarlane a massive multiplatform success.

MacFarlane is more than just an eclectic entertainer. Stripped of its crude facade, Family Guy -- indeed, all of MacFarlane Inc. -- exposes itself as a quintessentially modern business with lessons that extend far beyond TV land. MacFarlane has divined how to connect with next-generation consumers, not simply through the subject of his jokes but by embracing a flexibility in both format and distribution. He has also stepped outside the siloed definitions of a single industry (Hollywood) and exploited opportunity wherever he could find it (Silicon Valley). And perhaps most instructive, his success is not predicated on his product being all things to all people. He has bred allegiance from his core customers precisely because he's been willing to turn his back on (and even offend) others -- a model of sorts for how to create a mass-market-size niche business in our increasingly atomized culture.

MacFarlane is a fairly unassuming young man. He is partial to long-sleeve T-shirts, fraying jeans, and laceless black Chuck Taylors. Various stories have described him as prematurely graying, but today his hair is convincingly black and lightly gelled, and he's wearing wire-rimmed glasses. Beard stubble is a staple. The net effect is the look of a full-grown, thinking man's frat boy, which also pretty well sums up the target of his comedy (minus, perhaps, the full-grown part).

His show concerns the Griffins of Quahog, Rhode Island, whose patriarch is Peter, voiced by MacFarlane. Like Homer Simpson, he is lovable but bumbling, overweight, and a little slow-witted (a recent plot development is that he's mentally retarded, but just barely). His wife is Lois, cartoon sexy and much sharper; she adores him despite his flaws. They have three children: Chris, overweight and dim, in so many ways his father's son; Meg, smart but underappreciated and ever the butt of jokes about her homeliness; and Stewie, the infant pedant with the football-shape head who secretly wishes to murder his mother. Rounding out the clan is Brian the talking dog. He lusts after Lois, drinks martinis, and has been known to snort the occasional line of blow. (MacFarlane also voices both Brian and Stewie.)

Back in the soundstage control room, with the orchestra on the other side of the glass, a bank of flat screens are frozen on an image of Stewie staring out a window, forlorn. MacFarlane tells me that in this future episode, Stewie has been left home alone while the family goes on vacation.

"Let's try it once with the dialogue," Murphy says to his musicians. Stewie's quasi-British voice -- inspired by Rex Harrison, MacFarlane says -- booms through the control room. "Oh, Mommy! Thank God you're home! I promise with all my heart that I'll never say or do anything bad to you for the rest of the evening." Comedic pause. "By the way, I disabled the V-chip and watched so much porn."

Out in the orchestra room, trombonists erupt in laughter.

It is a violent collision of high and low -- classical musicians accustomed to the Hollywood Bowl recording music for a show heavy on poop jokes -- and a perfect lens for examining why this man sipping coffee from a paper cup emblazoned with the Fox logo has such an enormous and perpetual grin.


It would be fair, at this point, to call Family Guy a juggernaut. If you're looking to get acquainted, it airs Sunday evenings at 9, just after The Simpsons, which it has surpassed as the most-popular animated show on TV. Among males 18 to 34, often cited as the most desirable demographic in advertising, Family Guy is the highest-rated scripted program in all of television (American Dad ranks sixth). It is the second-highest-rated show among males 18 to 49. It is among the most-downloaded shows on iTunes and the most-watched programs on Hulu, and it was the eighth most-pirated show of 2007 on BitTorrent sites.

Next spring, MacFarlane will introduce The Cleveland Show, a spin-off starring the Griffins' African-American neighbor. The show will be MacFarlane's third in prime time and the first new product of his megadeal with Fox. (He is also prepping a live-action movie, but no title or dates have been announced.)

A common complaint about MacFarlane's shows is that they are random and disjointed, with episodes that veer wildly off course for no apparent purpose. A human-size chicken, for example, has been known to show up and battle Peter, apropos of nothing, in elaborate fight scenes that mimic movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and stretch for more than a minute.

The show's tangents are intentional, but in no way intended to advance plot. MacFarlane admits that sometimes vignettes are inserted into an episode just to fill time, or just because they're good for a laugh, regardless of plot relevance. As a result, Family Guy is easily digested in bite-size portions -- the breakout gags, like the musical numbers, can be watched in isolation, at any time, and still work. This makes MacFarlane's show especially well suited to the Internet and mobile devices -- perfect for viewing during a boring history lecture or on the dreary commute home on the 5:07 to Ronkonkoma.

Easily masticated comedy -- plus a fervent audience of college kids in baggy cargo shorts bursting with disposable income and electronics -- also made MacFarlane a natural fit for Google. In September, the first of 50 bizarro animated shorts by MacFarlane appeared online. Seth MacFarlane's "Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy," distributed by Google via its AdSense network, is a series of Webisodes that MacFarlane describes as edgier versions of New Yorker cartoons come to life. Running from 30 seconds to just over two minutes, the shorts are sponsored by advertisers and noteworthy for a host of reasons. For fans, they are MacFarlane's first non-TV venture and so exist outside the reach of censors and network suits and introduce a universe of entirely new characters. For the entertainment industry, they mark the first experiments with a bold new method of content distribution (and the entry of the beast Google into its world). This purportedly unsophisticated hack comic now finds himself, in some ways by accident, at the intersection of advertising, television, and the Web -- all of which are blurring together.

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that while a MacFarlane product like Family Guy may seem slapdash when you're watching it, the creative process behind it is decidedly sophisticated. "He's kind of a modern-day cross between George Lucas and Norman Lear," says his manager, John Jacobs. "He thinks on a big canvas."

Says Norman Lear himself, a man who was once also the highest-paid creator on TV: "I'm crazy about him and his work. I can't think of anybody doing a better job right now of mining the foolishness of the human condition."


A Family Guy episode is more or less a nine-month undertaking, from first script to finished animation. All episodes take shape in the writers room on the third floor of an unremarkable office building on Wilshire Boulevard, home to MacFarlane's Fuzzy Door Productions. It's pretty much as you'd imagine: a conference table surrounded by rolling chairs and covered in computer monitors, action figures, and the assorted detritus of the comedy writer's diet: soft-drink cans, candy wrappers, half-finished bags of beef jerky. MacFarlane takes a chair in front of a dry-erase board as his 16 writers stagger in drinking coffee and stabbing at cups of fruit. One of them asks the boss how a concert he'd seen the night before had gone, and when MacFarlane complains about the bathroom lines, the guy suggests he stick to "lesbian shows, like the Indigo Girls."

The typical episode begins with a single writer producing a script, but then the whole team gets involved, dissecting each scene and line to decide if a) it's actually funny and b) it can be made funnier. In a loose but laborious process, each gag gets chewed over ad infinitum in this peanut-gallery forum. The goal is to produce an episode overstuffed with jokes -- something that gives fans plenty to discuss late at night on bulletin boards. "I think we're the most joke-per-minute show on television," asserts executive producer David Goodman.

This late-summer afternoon, the challenge is to fill out a scene in which Stewie and some friends are at nursery school. Ideas are tossed out in various impressions of Stewie's voice: There's a molestation joke, some poop jokes, a joke about a rogue chicken because, according to the writer who pitches it, "chickens just wander around the yard at some schools."

"Is that safe?" MacFarlane asks. "Aren't chickens aggressive and, like, poke your eyes out?"

Anyone can speak, and jokes are called out with no introduction. MacFarlane sits up front, along with Goodman, reclining in his seat and appearing in no way dictatorial. He'll chime in, but his input seems no more or less important than anyone else's. "If the writers in that room don't laugh -- it's not going on," says Goodman. "That's a tough room. If we laugh, it's probably funny."

The prevailing meta-joke about Stewie is that, despite being an infant, he is the most intellectual character on the show, even if the only family member who can hear him speak is Brian the dog.

"Stewie could wear a cop hat and go up to a white girl standing with a black kid and say, 'Are you okay, miss?' " one writer suggests.

Awkward, almost embarrassed laughs break out around the table. It's a joke that could be viewed as offensive, or as fairly pointed social criticism. A digression on race follows, before everyone moves on to another idea, about toddlers as obnoxious art critics picking apart one another's finger paintings.

There isn't a comedy writers room in America where the banter doesn't often veer toward extreme subjects. The difference with this crew is that the extremes are the goal. Watch enough Family Guy and you'll almost certainly see something that makes you cringe; it might not offend you personally, but you can imagine how someone won't find it funny. Family Guy savages politicians and celebrities, and is more than willing to tackle all manner of touchy subjects in the name of comedy -- race, Islam, Christianity (Jesus is a recurring character, because FCC rules stipulate you cannot use "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation unless the deity himself is present), homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, the physically impaired. A favorite example tossed out by opponents is a sight gag that involved a JFK Pez dispenser in which the candy emerged from a hole in the president's head. (MacFarlane later admitted that maybe, just maybe, that one crossed the line.)

MacFarlane doesn't argue with the notion that many of his jokes border on offensive, but the notion that the content is actually offensive irks him. Each episode is vetted by a team of Fox censors editing with the FCC in mind. But beyond that, he contends, "There's an enormous amount of self-policing that goes on and a lot of intelligent conversations about whether a show is worth doing. I would stack the ethics of one of my writers up against the average Washington bureaucrat on censorship any day." MacFarlane is mystified in particular by the two things that most upset the FCC -- two basic elements of human life that, in his view, are far less sensitive than, say, religion. "For the FCC, it's sexual references," he says. "But even more than that, shit jokes. Any time we even show somebody on a toilet, we get in trouble."

MacFarlane doesn’t argue with the notion that his jokes border on offensive. But the notion that they are actually offensive irks him.
Which brings us back to the writers room. A source of ongoing consternation is Stewie's inability to master the commode. MacFarlane assumes the child's erudite voice and says, speaking in character to his fellow children, "I'd like to make an announcement: It's the elephant in the room. I made a stool. Now let's just all go about our business as if nothing happened, and it'll take care of itself in due time."

Most everyone in the room laughs. The joke is in.


Seth MacFarlane was basically fated to this life. His middle name, Woodbury, was chosen by his mother as an homage to the town drunk back in Kent, Connecticut. "Some of the foulest jokes I've ever heard," he has said, "came from my mother." MacFarlane started drawing at 2 and published his first cartoon, "Walter Crouton," in a local paper at the age of 8. At 18, he left for the Rhode Island School of Design and, after his adviser sent his thesis film, "Life of Larry" (starring a lovable schlub with a tolerant wife and a talking dog), off to Hanna-Barbera, he was hired to work as an animator and writer on shows like Dexter's Laboratory and Johnny Bravo. In 1996, he created a sequel to "Life of Larry" that aired in prime time on the Cartoon Network. Fox development executives took notice and hired him away to work on interstitials to run between sketches on Mad TV.

A few years later, Fox asked MacFarlane, then 25, to develop an animated pilot, giving him a scant $50,000 to do it. MacFarlane emerged three months later with a nearly completed pilot, for which he had drawn every frame and voiced every character.

Fox bought the show, gave MacFarlane a reported $2-million-per-season contract, and premiered Family Guy in the highest-profile slot possible, following the 1999 Super Bowl. He was the youngest person ever to be given his own primetime network show.

It drew 22 million viewers but then became a sort of network foster child. For the next two years, Fox execs moved the show all over the schedule, trying it in 11 time slots, including in the death zone opposite Friends. Despite the fact that Family Guy tracked well with young men, the show's ratings were low. Fox canceled it in 2000, revived it briefly the next year, then canceled it again.

But a funny thing happened. The show lived on over at the Cartoon Network, with even edgier versions specially edited by MacFarlane. Regard for the show was so low that Fox essentially gave the Cartoon Network the first 50 episodes for free; Fox simply asked for promotion of the show's DVD in exchange. (They were having trouble persuading retailers to stock it -- another in a list of miscalculations that seems inconceivable in retrospect.) Family Guy's audience, ignored at every turn, followed the show to the Cartoon Network, dug in, and swelled, regularly beating both Letterman and Leno in the desirable young-male demographic. When Fox released the first 28 episodes on a series of DVDs in 2003, it sold more than 2.5 million copies. (In 2005, a straight-to-DVD movie called Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story sold about 3.5 million copies, bringing in almost $80 million.)

Twentieth Century Fox TV president Gary Newman (now chairman) summoned MacFarlane to his office in 2004 and did the unthinkable: He asked him to restart production. "I had gone into the meeting not knowing why I was going in there," MacFarlane recalls. "He said, 'We'd like to put this back into production,' and I almost fell out of my chair."

David Goodman says that when Family Guy was initially canceled, MacFarlane told him Goodman's job would be safe if it ever returned. "I'd been on 14 canceled TV shows," Goodman recalls. "They never come back. It's never happened before -- ever."

Fox brought the show back in a big way, ordering 35 episodes (22 is typical) and handing over the Sunday-at-9 slot, where it boomed. The 100th episode aired in November of 2007, pushing the show into syndication. Though schedules vary, Family Guy airs up to 27 times a week in a single market, with reruns on Fox, TBS, the Cartoon Network, and in 20 major markets on channels owned by Tribune Broadcasting.

"Animation is something that, if it works, it's more profitable for a studio than any other show," MacFarlane says. People don't buy Everybody Loves Raymond T-shirts, but they do buy shirts bearing the devious visage of Stewie, as well as action figures, stickers, posters, and video games. Increasingly, they also buy song clips and ring tones. And Fox, which owns the show, also owns the intellectual property (but kicks a percentage of sales back to MacFarlane). Reports have valued the Family Guy franchise at as much as $1 billion. Though neither Fox nor MacFarlane's team would confirm that number, a little back-of-the-envelope math indicates that it is overly conservative. At a reported $2 million per episode, Family Guy has garnered at least $400 million up front from syndication. DVD sales have totaled almost another $400 million, while 80 licensees have contributed at least $200 million from sales of various clothing and baubles, actual and digital. Fox's ad revenue off Family Guy can be estimated at at least $500 million over the years. "Suffice it to say, with it being a studio-owned show, and being on the Fox network, it's of substantial value," Newman told me. And none of this figures in revenue from MacFarlane's other hit product, American Dad.

Team MacFarlane, of course, also recognized the value of what MacFarlane has brought to the network. By the time negotiations on a new contract began more than two years ago, the challenge for both sides was how to put a number on MacFarlane's worth, considering that he isn't just a writer-producer but also an animator and actor. MacFarlane's team felt the need to let his contract expire, "to have him on the open market," explains one of his representatives. For more than two years, MacFarlane worked on Family Guy in good faith, without a contract. "There were a couple days when I was 'sick,' " MacFarlane says. "At times, that helps bring the negotiations back when they're stalled."

When the writers strike broke out last year, he sided with the guild and walked off the set. Fox decided to go forward and edit episodes without MacFarlane's participation -- they did own them, after all. MacFarlane called it a "colossal dick move." When asked about it now, he says it's a sore that's been salved ($100 million has a way of doing that). "They gave us money to go back and edit the shows the way we wanted, and we made nice."

One Fox-inflicted bruise that has yet to fade involves shots taken at Family Guy by The Simpsons, a show that MacFarlane says he admires greatly. Most famously, in an episode called "Treehouse of Horror," Homer creates a sea of clones even dumber and more dim-witted than himself. One of these is Family Guy's Peter Griffin. MacFarlane decided to return fire. He wrote a joke in which Peter's perverted friend Quagmire attacks and molests Marge Simpson. Fox, he says, nixed the idea. "They said, 'We want the feuds to end.' I thought it was very conspicuous that this came about only when we decided to hit them back."

What did he do? He left it in anyway, and delivered the edit to Fox, which then edited it out. "It's still a sore point," MacFarlane says. "It's still this wound that has never quite healed that says, 'We don't value you quite as much,' which I can't imagine is true, but ..." The thought trails off and, perhaps realizing that it's best not to follow this logic, he turns a corner. "To be fair to Fox -- for the most part, creatively they have been a very easy company to work with. This was kind of a rare lapse in judgment."


MacFarlane's contract hiatus didn't just buy him leverage with Fox; it was an expansion opportunity. While the studio was noodling on the deal, MacFarlane's management team went out and signed him up with Google. The resulting "Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy" is outside the bounds of the Fox relationship. "In a completely perfect world," Dana Walden, chairman of 20th Century Fox Television, has said, "he wouldn't be able to do that."

He did. The idea stemmed from conversations between MacFarlane's lawyer and agent and representatives of Media Rights Capital, an L.A.-based multimedia financier. Loosely tied to the talent agency Endeavor (which reps MacFarlane, naturally), MRC partners with content creators -- whether that's director Alejandro González Iñárritu on Babel; or Sacha Baron Cohen on his next film, Bruno; or MacFarlane -- giving them funding and a share in ownership, plus creative control.

MacFarlane produced the Cavalcade shorts with a team of six writers. The animation is instantly recognizable as his, as is the humor. The shorts lean heavily on pop culture (say, "Fred and Barney Try to Get Into a Club," which is fairly self-explanatory); they're rude (in one, Tara Reid's grotesque belly flab talks); and of course, they're crude (a boy is told he is adopted by two parents with nipples that stick out of their chests like javelins; his name, they tell him, is not Michael Sticknipples but rather Albert Horsefeet Turdsneeze -- whereupon the boy sneezes a turd that sprouts horse feet and gallops off).

The Cavalcade shorts are also distributed in an innovative way: targeting young males where they lurk by popping up in ad windows on sites such as Maxim.com and Fandango.com (while simultaneously appearing on YouTube). "The idea is not to drive someone to a Web site but to make content available wherever the audience will be," explains Dan Goodman, president of digital at MRC.

Also unprecedented is the way MacFarlane is being paid. MRC is not Fox; it can't just write him a nine-figure check. Instead, MacFarlane's status as an equity partner in the deal entitles him to split the ad revenue with Google and MRC. Because the whole idea is new, it's hard to draw parallels to current entertainment and marketing models but, essentially, MRC provides the funding and sells the ad partnerships, MacFarlane provides the content, and Google serves as distribution outlet, providing the "broadcast" via its AdSense network. Then all three split the proceeds. It can, and will, be replicated with other content providers. Already, MRC is working with the Disney Channel's Raven-Symoné on kids-targeted programming. You could easily imagine it with, say, Rachael Ray.

Each Cavalcade short carries a single advertiser. The first 10 were bought by Burger King, and -- in yet another unprecedented move -- MacFarlane animated the company's ads for them. It's an option available to any of the sponsors if they choose to pay extra for it.

For Burger King, the appeal was obvious. "Seth's fan base intersects squarely with our audience of young men and women," says Brian Gies, vice president of marketing impact for Burger King. In other words, MacFarlane's comedy provides a very powerful and friendly connection to a very targeted audience, one that tends to get the munchies. Says Google's Levy: "We know where to find them, and we're putting the advertising in an environment they're comfortable in."

"The idea is to take the TV experience and provide it on the Web," says Alex Levy, Google's director of branded entertainment. "But brought to the people you want to reach, when, where, and how you want to reach them." For a company that likes to say it's not in the content business, that's a remarkable statement. Google, in essence, is trying to use its ad-distribution network to turn content distribution upside down. (Google calls it the Content Network.)

There's no guarantee the new model is going to stick, of course -- advertisers could decide they get as much value by just buying regular Web ads and avoid paying extra. But early returns showed viewers were responding well to the shorts. In its first days, Cavalcade was the most-watched channel on YouTube, and the videos racked up 5.5 million views across the various sites running them. And MacFarlane wins no matter what. Unlike his Family Guy characters, every horny frog and lusty princess and sarcastic talking bear created for Cavalcade is owned by him, and can be deployed for future revenue. And for all this, he has zero financial risk.


A couple of years ago, MacFarlane nearly worked himself to death. He collapsed at his desk and was rushed to the hospital. He was sick, he says, and "didn't have the time to stop." So he passed out right there under the Sound of Music poster. He ended up spending, as he tells it, "a lovely afternoon at the emergency room."

"We've been behind schedule on Family Guy since day one," he explains. "In reality, you can't do a prime-time animated show in the time allotted, so that always puts a glaze of stress over the whole process." He takes a breath. "I refuse to let that control my life. I did that in my twenties. Now I insist on a balance."

MacFarlane has handed off the day-to-day control of both American Dad and The Cleveland Show, and he is increasingly delegating on Family Guy. He reviews all the drawings and obsesses more than a little over the music -- there is some stuff he just can't give up. And what's easy to forget is that MacFarlane is also the star of Family Guy. Actually, several stars of Family Guy. He voices three of the six main characters, and is in virtually every scene, sometimes playing several parts at once. He's also the voice of Quagmire, a major secondary player, and hundreds of ancillary characters and one-timers. And, of course, he's the voice of Stan, the lead on American Dad, and almost certain to guest-star often on The Cleveland Show. This summer, he showed up as a voice actor in Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II and is very soon planning to step in front of the camera in live-action projects. He also intends to direct movies.

One afternoon in August, MacFarlane and two sound engineers are in the tiny control room outside the recording booths in the Family Guy offices. In strolls the actor Gary Cole wearing shorts and sunglasses. For a show that likes to pick on celebrities, Family Guy has little trouble attracting them, especially those whose résumés include the kind of wonderfully awful performances that ultimately get embraced as cult in-jokes: Drew Barrymore, Haley Joel Osment, Gene Simmons, Bob Costas, Phyllis Diller ... Michael Clarke Duncan was in earlier this morning. Richard Dreyfuss is due to arrive this evening.

Cole has done the show 23 times. Today, he's doing Mike Brady, reprising a role he played in The Brady Bunch Movie. In this script, Mr. Brady is verbally abusing Mrs. Brady in one of those trademark pop-culture tangents.

"You know, you can really go as loud as you want," MacFarlane says in director mode. "We've never heard Mike Brady yell before, so this is new territory." He then assumes the role of Carol Brady.

"Huh, I don't remember asking for a warm beer," Cole says, his voice quiet but seething.

MacFarlane, as Carol, flips out: "I didn't want to quit working -- you made me!"

Five minutes later, Cole exits and MacFarlane is off to the next thing, laying down lines in furious fashion, typically in three or four takes, which he then selects from on the fly. His sound engineers tag his favorite takes and move on. He swaps from voicing Stewie to Peter to Quagmire to various odd parts, including a bit as Paul McCartney and another as Vince Vaughn.

Next up: A writer is doing Patrick Swayze, who is not, as you might expect, the butt of a cancer joke, but rather a tight-jeans joke followed by repeated takes of the writer growling, as throaty redneck Swayze, "Roadhouse!" It's another one of those cult jokes, a little snippet of Dada theater.

"Even a hair more badass," MacFarlane directs, and over and over they go until that one simple word becomes absurd in its own right. You can already hear it as a ring tone.

Josh Dean wrote about the legal woes of Bodog CEO Calvin Ayre in July/August.


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Tuesday, October 28, 2008,12:12 PM
Who's behind the "Wassup 2008" Obama ad? Not Budweiser.
by: Burt Helm

This morning when I blogged about the “Wassup 2008” Obama video, two questions sprung to my mind. First, who paid for this thing? The production values are very high – one person from Budweiser’s ad agency, DDB, estimated it could have cost as much as $750,000 (she also said DDB had nothing to do with the video). Second, how could Budweiser possibly be cool with such a clearly partisan advertisement?

After some digging, I found out. First, it cost way less than $750k. Second, Budweiser had no clue it was happening until after the video hit YouTube on Friday.

The man with the answers? Charles Stone III, the director of the original “Wassup” commercial and the movie Drumline (and the guy who answers the phone in the first frame of the video). He decided to make it about two weeks ago, he told me, with a crew of about 50 volunteers (all professionals working pro bono). They put it together in 9 days.

It was all possible, Stone says, because Budweiser never owned the rights to the idea. He’d originally made it as a short film independent of the brand, and Budweiser had only leased the rights, paying a mere $37,000 for five years of use. Back then, people gave him a hard time about the low price. Now Stone, a diehard Obama supporter, says it’s more than paid off. “That I’m able to use an idea distributed by a huge company, who made a lot of money off it, so that now when I put out what I want to say, it’s recognizable, and it sparks -- that’s worth $1 million to me.”

It came together after emailing with friends about ways they could make a video supporting Obama. Once they’d settled on the concept, he got on the phone with the original cast (all friends of his, who are now actors living in New York, Philadelphia, and LA), and called up his Director of Photography from Drumline, Shane Hurlbut, who brought in his crew. He also signed up Gerard Cantor and Maurice Marible, from commercial production house Believe Media, who co-produced. They shot over two days. The war-torn Iraq setting is actually a preexisting set in Santa Clarita, CA.

After they finished, they uploaded it to YouTube with distribution company 60Frames, set up a website, wassup08.com, and sent links to everyone they knew. As of writing this, it’s been viewed almost 1.8 million times, and picked up across the blogosphere, including on BoingBoing, Daily Kos, and Huffington Post. The final price tag? About $6500 out of his own pocket, Stone says.

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Monday, October 27, 2008,10:49 PM
Chief Hispanic Marketing Officer Is there such a thing? No, the following execs are filling that role.
September 22, 2008
By Della de Lafuente

NEW YORK Everyone knows by now that the Hispanic demo is a growing one, but how do marketers go about addressing it? Is there a dedicated team in place charged with reaching Hispanics or are all marketers in a company responsible for focusing some of their efforts on the segment? And does anyone have the equivalent of a chief Hispanic marketing officer?

Not yet, although several companies have CMOs who happen to be Hispanic. For them, the job often involves becoming part evangelist—to help make a case for Hispanic marketing—and part corporate Hispanic compass, i.e. the point person in a firm charged with maintaining the cultural integrity of language, tone and messaging.

"You're the one who's constantly out there talking up this opportunity, crusading, telling our story, getting people engaged and focused on the brand and our agents and in making the business case for why I need to keep and grow my Hispanic marketing budget," said Luisa Acosta-Franco, assistant vp-emerging marketing at Farmers Insurance and a self-described steward of the company's Hispanic and other ethnic targeted programs.
The exact number of marketers focused exclusively on the demo is unclear. One indicator: The ANA's multicultural marketing committee boasts 135 executives with Hispanic marketing duties, including many who are veteran marketers and both Hispanics and non-Hispanics.

A look at various companies uncovered Hispanic-targeted strategies as diverse as the Latino culture itself. Job titles and responsibilities vary from company to company, with a mix of Hispanics and non-Hispanics leading dedicated efforts aimed at Latinos. Read on to find out how some brands are handling the challenge:

T-Mobile's Stockdale

Mark Stockdale, director, Hispanic marketing, T-Mobile, doesn't have to make the case for more Hispanic marketing. He lets his metrics do it for him. "Companies that are unable to provide proof of performance will be unable to get sustainable attention," said Stockdale, a native of Mexico City who helped to create the Hispanic-targeted practice at T-Mobile four years ago.

T-Mobile's Hispanic effort is plotted out over a two-, four- and six year business plan, reaching across the entire organization with the Hispanic market appearing now on the company's weekly internal business reports as a key revenue channel and ad spending growing in double digits in recent years, Stockdale said.

But Stockdale's job isn't all about charts and graphs. He also seeks to tap into the needs of the market. "It's making sure that if customers want to sign a contract, receive a billing statement, interact with a payment kiosk or speak with a customer service representative in Spanish, they can," he said. Earlier this year, the company opened its fourth bilingual dedicated call center in Brownsville, Texas.

The approach worked. T-Mobile's share of the Hispanic wireless business has climbed to 21% from 17% in the past three years, the company claims.

Fox Sports' de Quesada

Fox's parent company, News Corp., doesn't have a dedicated Hispanic CMO position, but someday it might, predicted Raúl E. de Quesada, assistant gm and vp-marketing, communications and creative services, Fox Sports International.

"News Corp. is really putting a lot of weight into where they are developing the Hispanic talent," said de Quesada, a native of Camaguey, Cuba. "Once that Hispanic talent continues to move up into higher executive positions, you'll see the Hispanic [marketing] effort will go the other direction."

De Quesada appears to take the "compass" role at Fox Sports. As the head of the on-air promotions department, de Quesada said he reads nearly everything before it goes on the air and, in most cases, he also handles the English to Spanish translation of content himself, looking to preserve the integrity of the intended Spanish-language messaging while avoiding offensive language to some or all Latino cultural groups that may end up lost in translation.

That extends to new digital formats as well. Said de Quesada: "Movement of multiplatform opportunities will depend on the availability of relevant content that can deliver across the board. We're working on that because content is what really rules the marketplace."

General Mills' Rodriguez

At General Mills, Hispanic-targeted marketing is handled as a part of a wider multicultural approach that includes messaging aimed at African American consumers. The Hispanic side of the business is led by Rodolfo Rodriguez, General Mills' director-multicultural marketing.

He leads an internal team comprised of marketers and staffers in sales and consumer insights who partner with the brand teams to help support their efforts to reach Hispanics and African Americans through separate targeted programs supported by specific, dedicated dollars for each.

One of Rodriguez's projects is "Que Rica Vida," a multibrand platform in its third year aimed at Latinas and highlighting various brands and lifestyle tips via TV, a quarterly 350,000-circ. direct mail magazine featuring original content and recipes developed by the Betty Crocker kitchens; a Web portal and grass roots marketing at festivals also support.

The company has increased its investment in the program year over year, including a content partnership this year with Univision to air multiple vignettes featuring Despierta América's Karla Martínez via TV.

Launched in August, the vignettes provide tips and ideas for helping Hispanic moms navigate life in the U.S., Rodriguez said.

Western Union's Galuppo

Western Union has the unusual position of being at the center of communications between new Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. and their native countries, and Hispanics immigrating to outside the U.S.

"We're doing business with Hispanic customers all over the world, not just in the U.S. or in Canada," said Gail Galuppo, evp and CMO of Western Union's global marketing program, including Hispanic business here and abroad. "We're doing business with Hispanics in Latin America, the Caribbean, South America, even in Europe and the U.K."

As a result, the brand's approach to advertising and marketing is somewhat unusual: Western Union focuses its ad spending budget, which accounts for about 6% of the company's total revenues, in the key countries and communities where it does business or wants to build awareness of the brand. Ad budgets are managed by marketing heads in target markets in order to grow its business in key money-transfer corridors.

"You won't see us on big, mainstream TV because we're trying to reach our customers in the ethnic media and newspapers specifically targeting communities, said Galuppo. "Whether they are Guatemalans, Dominicans or Mexicans, we really get down to what type of communication they're reading."

Reliant Energy's Rodriguez

Targeted marketing is the way Reliant Energy approaches its strategy for Hispanic marketing, hiring pharmaceutical marketing veteran Manny Rodriguez in March to oversee the company's efforts, which encompass both the Hispanic and the general markets.

"Depending on the space that you play in, like us being based in Texas where in some instances Hispanics are the majority, how we go to market and how we talk to them is very important," said Rodriguez, a native of Spain who previously worked for major pharmaceutical companies in New York.

Reliant has had an ongoing Hispanic-focused marketing program for nearly a decade, devoting significant ad spend to targeting Latino consumers, said Rodriguez.

He serves as vp of brand and marketing services, essentially holding the CMO job, though it's not his title. Duties include oversight of all marketing in the general and Hispanic markets and directing advertising, public relations, market research, sports marketing and promotions among other duties.

Said Rodriguez: "To gain a position in the marketplace, it's all about understanding your core brand, your consumers and the demographics, and then investing in the marketplace, showing a presence in the community and respecting and rewarding the brand loyalty of Hispanics. Segmenting and targeting is what makes the difference."

Farmers Insurance's Acosta-Franco

Marketing to Hispanics is central to the corporate messaging program at Farmers, where Latinos are a core consumer and considered key to the company's growth strategy.

Acosta-Franco, assistant vp of emerging markets, leads that marketing, which is best known for ads featuring actor Edward James Olmos touting the benefits of insurance to the uninsured, though the company also makes a point of hiring bilingual agents.

"Ultimately, a good marketer needs to be knowledgeable and respectful of the culture to be successful," said Acosta-Franco, noting that a Spanish surname doesn't guarantee that a marketing executive will bring a personal and an industry perspective for the job.

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,10:48 PM
Not Lost In Translation
October 20, 2008
By Michael Applebaum

As part of its Hispanic marketing efforts during the 2008 tax season, H&R Block ran a series of TV ads that featured fictitious company reps Horacio and Roberto engaging in bold tactics to illustrate the brand's relevance to Latinos. In one spot, the two young guys enter a hair salon and ask a beautician to do their taxes. Instead, she cuts the tax form into a string of paper dolls. The narrator urges viewers to go to H&R Block, uttering "Estamos contigo" or "We're with you."

Earlier in the year, general market ads for H&R Block depicted wry scenarios with an alternative message. One TV spot involved two guys dressed in Germanic Alpine garb discussing how to reap tax deductions for lederhosen accessories. They are thusly informed, as the tagline says, because they "got people" at H&R Block.

While these two campaigns spoke in different ways to different consumers, they both positioned H&R Block as being "a brand on your side," said vp-marketing Kathy Collins. "Our communications objective is to share our tax knowledge, our expertise, our people. Be it 'Estamos contigo' or 'You got people,' the message is clear."
Marketers like H&R Block have long understood the need to create advertising that is developed specifically for the Hispanic market. The question is: How far can that advertising veer from what's being sent into the general market without damaging a brand? Most marketers and their agencies agree, the answer is not too far.

"You don't want a brand to have a completely different look or feel in Spanish," advised Jessica Pantanini, vice chair of Hispanic marketing agency Bromley Communications, San Antonio, Texas. "You have to figure out which of your brand drivers will work with Hispanic consumers. Then you'll know which aspects to leverage from the general campaign."

At H&R Block, for example, a primary goal of the general market campaign was to wean consumers off tax software. But research revealed different barriers among Hispanics. One was the incorrect assumption that retail branch employees did not speak Spanish-an idea countered by a pair of Spanish-speaking flamingo dancers in another TV spot. The other was the belief that consumers did not need an expert to do their taxes.

"In general, there was a perception among Hispanics that H&R Block is 'not for us,'" said Laurence Klinger, svp/cso at Lápiz, Chicago. "We had to show that, yes, the brand is for you and we know you are in a different financial place in your lives. That's how we came up with 'We're with you.' In other words, 'We're on your side.'"

In addition, he noted, the Seinfeld-ian humor of the original spots might have been lost on some Hispanic viewers. And vice versa: Few Americans likely would have understood the cultural expression "before a rooster can sing," which was used to demonstrate the speed of H&R Block's refund in a third Spanish-language TV spot.

Tag, You're It
When should a general market tagline be used in an Hispanic campaign? Sometimes, a brand has no choice but to come up with a new tag because there is no literal Spanish translation for the English version. That was the case earlier this year when Chase followed up its black-and-white themed branding campaign, dubbed "What Matters"—a double entendre for which there is no Spanish equivalent—with an Hispanic effort called "Juntos Se Puede" or "Together we can."

To be sure, adapting ads to the Hispanic market means more than getting out your Spanish dictionaries. A new tagline often arises as the result of specific insights into Hispanic consumers. In Wal-Mart's latest back-to-school campaign, for example, the general market tagline "Save Money. Live Better" became "Save More. Live Better" ("Ahorra Más. Vive Mejor"). That may seem like a small change, but it was an important distinction.

"To Hispanics, it's not just that Wal-Mart saves you money. It relieves angst because you know you'll find what you need, it has a good return policy, and so forth," explained Alex Lopez Negrete, whose Houston agency created the campaign. "If Wal-Mart is only talking about money to Hispanics, it's leaving something off the table."

For General Mills, which late last year launched its first Hispanic market campaign for Nature Valley granola bars, it wasn't so much that Hispanic consumers experienced the product differently, but rather had a different view of nature itself.

"Hispanics don't feel they have to 'get away' to find nature the way Americans traditionally do," explained Ingrid Otero-Smart, president and CEO of Casanova Pendrill, Costa Mesa, Calif.

Thus, her agency shifted the brand's focus from the images of mountains and waterfalls that dominated the general market campaign to the product's packaging. Outdoor ads, which continue to run this year in Los Angeles and other markets, feature a blown-up image of a granola bar wrapper printed with those same images and the headline: "La Naturaleza en tu Bolsillo" or "Nature in Your Pocket."

Rodolfo Rodriguez, director of multicultural marketing at General Mills, said that it was important for the brand to have a "single unified voice" in the marketplace, especially since some Hispanic consumers may be exposed to both campaigns. "Many of the iconic images of nature remained consistent in both campaigns as they appeal to both consumer segments and help reinforce the positioning," he added.

Some brands tend to draw on universal themes in their general market advertising, in which case the development of an Hispanic campaign may be a natural transition.

Take State Farm. Its ongoing TV spots features slice-of-life vignettes to illustrate the importance of insurance under the rubric of "State Farm Is There"—an idea that could have broad appeal beyond the general market. Variations of the line ("I'm there," etc.) in Spanish were used this year in a series of TV spots via Alma DDB, Coral Gables, Fla.

The scenarios, however, are intended to resonate specifically with the Hispanic audience: A couple opens a dance studio for little girls; a young man buys first apartment; a regional Mexican band looks to make it big in the U.S. A fourth spot about an expectant father awaiting his first boy has a little fun with Hispanic parents who name their girls feminine versions of boys' names (e.g., Fernanda, Daniella).

"We all find ourselves at these kinds of 'intersections' in life," said Madeline Perez-Velez, account director at Alma DDB. "With State Farm, it was a matter of leveraging insights with our consumers find the right situations."

Team Effort for Marketers and Agencies
Communication between marketers and their Hispanic/general market agencies can produce some desirable synergies. For instance, when DDB first shared its storyboards for a baseball-themed State Farm spot with Alma DDB, the Hispanic agency immediately recognized two things: 1) The idea certainly work for its target audience; 2) Here was an opportunity to realize an efficiency that otherwise might not be gained.

"Given our priorities this year, we probably weren't going to be able to do a sports-related TV spot," said Perez-Velez. "But we loved the idea. Baseball gives you that smile and [a platform to create] a lighthearted moment."

To leverage its Major League Baseball sponsorship, State Farm has been running the spot (filmed with a bilingual cast for two versions) during the MLB playoffs on TBS and on Spanish-language stations including Fox Sports en Español. The 30-second spot, shot outside Wrigley Field in Chicago, involves a teenager who recovers a home run ball and, seeing the poignant reaction from a young boy nearby, hands him the baseball. "You know that place where the love of the game is the real souvenir? I'm there," he says in Spanish, followed the State Farm/MLB sponsor tag.

"This is not just about taking their [DDB's] creative and recasting it," said Tom Maney, svp-ad sales for Fox Sports en Español. "It's about borrowing their brand equity and delivering it to the Hispanic market in the most appropriate way."

Bromley, meanwhile, did just that last fall in developing an Hispanic market campaign for AstraZeneca's pediatric asthma medication, Pulmicort.

The effort, including print ads and a direct mail kit offering an informational DVD and coupon for free samples, was based on an insight into the target audience—moms with children under age eight—that was summed up as: "It makes me very nervous not to be in control of my child's asthma." Whereas an earlier general market campaign (by Saatchi Healthcare, New York) had positioned the brand more generally as an asthma medication for kids, the Hispanic ads spoke directly mothers to ease her anxiety over the disease.

A side-by-side comparison of a portion of the two campaigns reveals the different approach (see photo caption). In the general market ads, the image is of a child alone and the core message is that asthma does not have to take control. In the Hispanic campaign, mom and child are shown together and the ad says that, by preventing asthma symptoms, Pulmicort helps both the child and her mother breathe easier.

"We needed to empower mothers to talk to their children's doctors and educate them on treatment options," said Vernonica Vela, account director at Bromley. "Asthma is confusing for everyone, but raising awareness was particularly important [for our audience]."

A common thread among all these campaigns is a description of the process by the interested parties, many of whom say the initial sharing of creative briefs and strategic goals was key, but from there it was up to the individual agencies to come up with the goods.

Greg Sutter, marketing communications manager at State Farm, said "there were absolutely no constraints" placed on Alma DDB in creating spots for the Hispanic market.

Collins of H&R Block agreed. "We told Lápiz, 'The handcuffs are off!' Bring us what's right for the consumer and the brand," she said. "And they delivered."

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,10:47 PM
N.Y. City Council to Call for FCC Investigation of Arbitron
September 25, 2008
By Jackie Madrigal, Radio and Records

NEW YORK The New York City Council voted unanimously Wednesday (Sept. 24) to call on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the Arbitron portable people meter’s (PPM's) potential effects on the diversity of radio.

The Spanish Radio Association -- comprised of Hispanic radio broadcasters Border Media Partners, Entravision Communications, Spanish Broadcasting System and Univision Radio -- said the measure "should serve as a wakeup call for local governments and minority communities around the nation."

In response to the New York City Council measure, the SRA issued the following statement:
"Arbitron's flawed PPM ratings methodology will severely harm media diversity and ultimately limit the variety of voices and viewpoints on the country's radio airwaves. It is a real threat not only to minority communities, but it could also have a devastating impact on local economies and needs to be taken seriously. The PPM ratings methodology should not be rolled out until all concerns are effectively addressed.

"Several members of the Spanish Radio Association have a long standing presence in New York City, working tirelessly as a vibrant extension of the minority communities they serve, and as a strong part of the economic fabric of the communities they serve by creating jobs, paying taxes and supporting small and minority-owned businesses that rely on our airwaves to reach the community. Urban and ethnic stations not only provide vital news and information, they also provide a lifeline for their communities by helping to organize, promote and service a wide range of local civic campaigns and programs. The importance of Spanish-language and urban radio stations in New York and around the nation is immeasurable, and Arbitron's unaccredited methodology produces unreliable and inaccurate measurement data that will destroy years of progress diversifying radio. Unfortunately, Arbitron is a monopoly, and even though the SRA has invested time and effort to help
Arbitron develop a system that will provide reliable rating data, their lack of understanding of minority communities combined with their lack of commitment to these communities, has resulted in our recommendations being ignored."

Arbitron released the following statement in response to the resolution passed by the New York City Council.

"We are disappointed by the Council's failure to recognize: that broadcasters, agencies and advertisers in New York and other major markets have made it clear that PPM is critical if radio is to remain competitive in an increasingly challenging media marketplace; the quality of the PPM samples in terms of African American, Hispanic and Spanish-dominant representation; the continuing dialogue Arbitron maintains with Urban and Hispanic broadcasters and agencies; and the outreach we are making to highlight the value of African American and Hispanic consumers in the PPM world.

"While Arbitron does not believe that the FCC has jurisdiction over our company, we are willing to continue our voluntary meetings with the FCC and other government officials. Arbitron's role as an independent research company is to provide stations and advertisers with information that is based on the actual behavior of radio audiences. That is what PPM delivers today."

Radio & Records is a sister title of MarketingyMedios.com.

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Monday, October 13, 2008,6:52 PM
Why brands die?
Harish Bijoor

Why do brands die? Here's a post-mortem.

AS I don the mantle of Brand Doctor on the prowl and follow a peripatetic lifestyle that has me in the treacherous bylanes of Ho Chi Min city one fine morning and the lovely tree-lined streets of Fort Kochi on another, there is just one big question brand-patients ask. A big question big brands ask when on the stretcher: "Why am I dying?"

Brands don't talk. Though I wish they could! They would tell you, the brand manager, many a tale. Many a tale of static-state thinking and much of the mystery of quick or slow brand death unravelled!

Big brand owners come to me at various stages in the life cycle of the brand. Some visit me even as they are in the process of planning the brand. They want me in as an active participant with the internal brand management team in place. This is the concerned CEO who believes the brand is an absolutely important entity to his organisation. His belief: The brand is much too important to be managed by Brand Managers!

A bit of a hit to the slender ego of the brand manager of a typical organisation, I must say! But many brand owners do this. Harry Bo in Hong Kong, who is just about to plan a family of brands in the realm of the semi-conductor business on a B2B format, is one such. Long live his tribe!

Some call six months after launch. The initial enthusiasm of the new cookie brand's launch is over. The brand has hit the market and the high decibel media campaign has run through its first thrust of activity. The first month's volumes were good. Initial brand placement was excellent. So was the initial enthusiasm and morale of both the brand and sales management teams. Something went wrong thereafter. The competition reacted. Engel Harrison reacted as well. Engel wants his brand of Engel cookies to figure in the ranks of the top two cookie brands in the German market. This is just not likely to happen if the current brand status of 16 amidst 18 local players is any indication! Time to call in the brand doctor. The witch doctor even! Whatever might help!

And some call when it is all well nigh nearly over! The brand is on the stretcher. Time to order the coffin and get that difficult reservation in the tiered graveyard of brands that died a premature death. Wonder why they even call me? I guess they just want to hear it from the doctor. There is just no hope. Pull out the support systems and let it go!

The big question then. Why must brands die at all? And why do they die?

The answer is a simple one! Brands never die. There is just no organic death in the life cycle of brands. In fact, there is just no life cycle at all! Let's bury this brand-ism once and for all! Brands are meant to live on forever. Brands don't die. Instead, they are murdered by Brand Managers. The over-zealous and the lazy ones alike! Most of the time done to death by stubborn brand-folks who just don't see the future unravelling!

One common thread I see in brands that actually die on the cushy laps of their emotional brand owners is their inability to embrace change. The lack of flexibility to adapt and adjust to a changing market scenario that is as unpredictable as ever! Brands traverse the trajectory of slow death as soon as rigidity in their management styles step in. And there are many styles equally guilty of forcing their brands onto the track of death ... near or distant!

Some styles, then: The all-knowing style of them all! Brand managers who think what they picked up twenty years ago in their generic Kotlers and in the early days when they grabbed their first David Aaker still holds! These are people living in the archives of brand history. These are folks who still believe in concepts such as Brand Loyalty and rigid Brand Positioning (despite the mind being such a dynamic and maverick piece of equipment yet to be understood).

Brand Management is as dynamic a subject as any. It is as dynamic in its changes, as is society itself. Brands need to change and adapt to their customers and consumers. They need to be in sync with the psyche of their target segment. Rigid brand mangers are the biggest liability to the brand.

The solution: Keep changing them every 18 months for a start!

The second brand sin is perpetuated by the jumpy brand manager who wants to prove a point. The guy knows for sure he is a short-tenure resource on the brand. He is young and raring to go. He has read enough of the brand's mystique. He now wants to leave his indelible mark on the brand he is slated to handle.

Right from Day One, he is on the go. He market-researches and wants to march fast. The pack will need to be changed. The BPS (brand positioning statement) needs tinkering, the advertising needs an overhaul! He will want to bring in 82 different changes in the brand before he goes! This guy is equally dangerous to the health of your brand. He might as well come with a statutory warning. Brands are too serious a company resource to be subjected to wanton change of every kind. Change there must be. But every change must be well thought out. If the brand needs no change during his tenure, so be it. If the market ratifies satisfaction, the brand manger may come and go, without being able to add a single notch to his credit on the brand tree he nurtures! Remember, these wanton notches could be detrimental to the health of the tree in the medium and long run!

The intelligent brand manager of the future is the guy who sits between these two points of action and inaction. He is one who knows his strengths and his gaps alike. He is therefore the sutradhaar who knits the purpose of the brand and its longevity together by bringing to the brand party every resource that he deems necessary. Bring in that sociologist who will give you a quick perspective of how society is morphing, bring in that practising psychologist who will psycho-analyse your consumer of today and hopefully tomorrow! Bring in the holistic market researcher who will look beyond the tools that are quantitative, qualitative and eventually a cusp of the two! Bring in the dentist and the tailor if necessary!

Brands die due to neglect. Due to a lack of accepting change. Due to stubborn, age-old thoughtsManaging brands is an art, a science ... and a philosophy as well! Practise each of these with perfection and humility!

(The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.)


posted by R J Noriega
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