Prescription Drugs and Toyotas

The other day I had a doctor’s appointment. During the appointment, we got to talking about the relationship between prescription drug ads and Toyotas—more specifically, about the fears related to prescription drug side effects and unintended acceleration. I thought I would share some of these thoughts over lunch.

Prescription drug companies advertise their patented products heavily. During these ads, they mention all the horrific side effects of their products, but most people ignore them because, (a) the ads are designed to emphasize the good, not the bad, and (b) for the most part, these side effects are extremely rare. But still, we worry about those extremely rare side effects: in fact, some of us won’t take particular medicine out of fear for the side effects.

Similarly, the instance of unintended acceleration in Toyotas is very rare. The OC register reports that there is a new tally of the death toll: 56 people have died due to the problem. Put on your critical thinking caps, and think. Fifty six. Toyota issued over 10 million safety recalls over this: 56 problems. Whipping out my calculator, that’s .00056% — translation, extremely rare. About as rare, if not rarer, than prescription drug side effects. Yet, people are abandoning the brand over it, declaring Toyotas as unsafe.

Perhaps irrational fears have taken over our society? More worrisome, however, is that the lack of critical thinking (and math and statistics understanding) will cause people to elevate the irrational fears over the more probable, rational ones.


An American Institution

I had thought about using my normal lunchtime writing slot to discuss this whole “post your brassiere color” thing going around Facebook, and what it says about the changes with respect to modesty in society. I mean, in the 1960s would women have done this (if, of course, Facebook was around)? Anyway, I’m not going to discuss it. I found something better. Advertising.

The Data Surfer over at the Sacramento Bee has an interesting post today about an advertising archive at Duke University. This archive is an online collection of over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian print ads, covering five product areas (beauty and hygiene, radio and television sets, transportation and World War II propaganda), spanning 1911-1955, that is searchable by product name, company, general category and date range. The ads feature many well-known brands that have existed for decades (like Ivory Soap, Crest, Greyhound Bus and Listerine), as well as those that have vanished from the marketplace (Burma-Shave, Wildroot, Braniff). They also have an online collection of vintage television commericals dating from the 1950s to the 1980s. The images are just wonderful. Alas, I haven’t yet been able to find any of Stan Freberg’s classics.

Brings back memories.


News Chum: Things that are Going Away

Today’s lunchtime news chum provides three reports on things that are going away. Will you be sad to see them disappear? Share your thoughts.

  • From the “Familiar Brand Names” Department: CNN has a gallery of 8 brand names that were killed in 2009. These include familiar names such as Saturn or Pontiac, Circuit City, and Kodachrome, and less familiar names such as Encarta. In some ways, I’m sad to see Pontiac go: at least they kept NUMMI alive, and that helped California.
  • From the “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” Department: Disneyland is replacing the Aladdin show with the Toy Story show, according to the LA Times. The Aladdin show was evidnetly great because of the ad-libbing (I haven’t seen it); the Toy Story show is a more static show imported from Disney Cruise Lines. No indications of where Aladdin is going, or whether it might be expanded and moved into Disney Theatricals.
  • From the “What a Beautiful Doll” Department: The Ventura County Star, via AP, is reporting how American Girl is phasing out the Kirsten historical doll. Now, my daughter was never into the American Girl characters (although she did read the books early on)… what I find interesting here is the marketing angle: girls losing interest in historical dolls (except for the older girls that grew up with them), and the notion that the dolls were overexposed, and might come back at some time in the future (raising the question of whether Mattel, which owns AG, is learning from Disney… and what other properties might be periodically “retired”).

Interesting Questions


Back To School Chum

Last night was “Back to School” night at Van Nuys, so in that spirit, some chum organized around my daughter’s schedule:

  • Period 1: Honors Biology. CNN has an interesting article about how hydrogen sulfide gas is being used to put mice into suspended animation.
  • Period 2: Honors English. The LA STage Tix listing I received today alerted me to the fact that the Lyric Theatre in Hollywood (where we saw “Into the Woods” last year) will be doing Antigone from 11/13 to 12/6. LA Stage Tix tickets (half-price) are $3.75 to $7.50. If you prefer Shakespeare, the Ark Theatre at the Hayworth is doing “Much Ado About Nuthin”, an “Appalachian” spin on Shakespeare’s crowd-pleasing comedy, from 10/1 to 11/21. LA Stage Tix tickets (half-price) are $5 to $11. ETA: P.S.: I seem to be missing some of my Moonlighting DVDs, in particular the Season 3 DVD with “Atomic Shakespeare”. Did I loan it to anyone reading this?
  • Period 3: Dance. There’s an interesting dance going on between Microsoft and Family Guy. Specifically, M$ is teaming with “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane to sponsor a variety show to air on the Fox network on Nov. 8 that will run without commercials, and instead promises to feature “unique Windows 7-branded programming that blends seamlessly with show content.” The working title is “Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show”
  • Period 4: AP World History. This period allows me to plug the upcoming Meeting of Minds on Sun 10/25 at 7pm. This episode features Gary Cole (Steve Allen), Mark Moses (Martin Luther), Ray Abruzzo (Voltaire), Harold Gould (Plato), and Sharon Lawrence (Florence Nightingale). The page now also indicates that the November episode will be 11/22, which should be an interesting day, as we have “M*A*S*H” at 2pm in Saugus, with a talk-back afterwards.
  • Period 5: AP Statistics. It is amazing what statistics tell you. For example, did you know that women deal with life changes by buying new cars. An August 2009 survey of 500 U.S. women ages 18 and older asked, “Of the following life events, which is the most likely to prompt you to purchase a car?” with the following options to choose from: new job, retirement, pregnancy, divorce, an empty nest and children becoming drivers. 60% of the women surveyed indicated that career changes, including a new job (37%) and retirement (23%) would most likely to prompt them to buy a car. Women ages 18 to 34 had a close tie between pregnancy (41%) and getting a new job (44%) as motivations for car buying. 11% of all women cited a new child driver as an impetus.
  • Period 6: Technical Theatre. One of the things I noticed recently on our street is that the street lights had changed to LED lighting. So, I did a search and found some information on the project. In September 2009, LA approved retrofitting 140,000 of its high pressure sodium street lights with LED light fixtures, and BetaLED, a division of Racine-based Ruud Lighting Inc., is one of two companies that will supply the new fixtures. By switching to LED street lights, Los Angeles is expected to save about $10 million in energy costs and maintenance per year. The statistics about lighting are interesting. An article on the East Hollywood Street Lighting Yard notes that Street Lights workers repair or replace about 75 light poles each month that are damaged or destroyed by motorists in auto collisions. There are approximately 400 different street light fixtures used on the 5000 miles of LA streets that the Street Lighting maintains. They store approximately 200 of those fixtures at the East Hollywood service yard.
  • Period “7”: More Technical Theatre. Tonight we’re going to Valley College, near the high school, to see the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. They did a good job with “Alicen”, so it should be interesting to see what they do with Spelling Bee.

Interesting Photo Essays

It’s Sunday. Time to relax with the Sunday paper, and time to take a leisurely look at some photo essays…

The first was brought to my attention by kyburg, and is titled, “The Berlin Reunion”. It illustrates a performance by the Royal de Luxe street theatre company of Franch for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and depicts the reunion of two gigantic marionettes, Big Giant and Little Giantess. These puppets are just spectactular, and the photography is wonderful. The storyline of the performance has the two separated by a wall, thrown up by “land and sea monsters”. The Big Giant has just returned from a long and difficult – but successful – expedition to destroy the wall, and now the two are walking the streets of Berlin, seeking each other after many years apart.

The second was brought to my attention by Otto Yamamoto on Facebook, and presents some 12 old advertisements that are downright creepy in their messages. It makes one realized either how enlightened, or at least hypersensitized, we are these days. They also highlight how our attitudes are changing: remember that when Roman Polanski was charged, he was sentenced to 48 days in jail, and ran away to escape that. Nowadays…. As I said, our attitudes change. Then again, perhaps some of these photos explain a lot about why we are where we are these days.


Lunchtime News Chum: Truth in Advertising, Barbies, Neverland Rides, and Fried, not Baked, Goldfish

Lunchtime reading of various news sites over the last few days has unearthed a few nuggets of news chum, almost all of them related to various aspects of business and marketing:

  • From the “I Liked The Company So Much I Bought It” Department: The LA Times is reporting that Burger King is unearthing a deep secret in their newest ads: most celebrity endorsers do not use the products they endorse.
  • From the “She Looks Just Like Me” Department: Those of you that have daughters will remember shopping for Barbies, and noticing that the black Barbies looked just like the white ones, but with different color plastic. No more. The LA Daily News is reporting that Mattel is coming out with a new line of black dolls that has more authentic features, which Mattel defines as “fuller lips, a wider nose, more distinctive cheek bones and curlier hair”. The line, called “So In Style”, includes a hair-styling set that will allow girls to curl, straighten and style their dolls’ hair for $24.99.
  • From the “Buy It Now” Department: Remember how GM was going to this big experiment of selling their cars on eBay. It didn’t work. The NY Times is reporting how GM is abandoning eBay’s auto marketplace, as of today. Instead of eBay, GM is going to focus on its new, national marketing campaigns and its money-back guarantee program in which dissatisfied buyers can return their vehicles within 60 days.
  • From the “George Washington Slept Here” Department: Coming soon to a carnival near you: Michael Jackson. Well, not Jackson himself, but his rides from Neverland. The LA Times is reporting how carnivals are marketing the former Neverland-rides and their connection to Jackson… and it’s working. The saddest part of the article is at the end, where it notes:

    Though busloads of sick and underprivileged children would occasionally visit Neverland, Jackson sometimes hopped on rides alone, chugging through sleepless nights on his steam train, tooting a whistle heard on ranches for miles around. But mostly the rides were unused, a silent amusement park with no cotton candy, no flashing lights, no stomach-churning exhilaration. “These rides are built to move people every day,” said [the man who bought many of the rides]. “But at Neverland they just sat and sat.”

    Almost makes you feel sorry for the rides.

  • From the “If Joe Camel Said So” Department: The OC Register is reporting on how a coalition of restaurants and food companies are launching an ad campaign to say high-fructose corn syrup is good for you. Well, if not good for you, then at least no worse than other forms of sugar. Do you think they are protesting too hard?
  • From the “No, No, the Other Goldfish” Department: The SF Chronicle is reporting on how a Houston TX woman got so mad at her husband that she netted out her husband’s pet goldfish, fried them, and ate them. Officers who were dispatched to the woman’s home arrived to find four fried goldfish on a plate. The woman said she already ate the other three. Hmmm, I thought goldfish were supposed to be the baked, cheesy treat.

Advertising Icon News Chum: Smokey Bear Turns 65, Breakfasts of Male Champions, and more 7-Elevens

Today’s edition of lunchtime News Chum is dedicated to Stan Freberg, who is currently at SDCC:

  • From the “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” Department: Our first advertising icon is 65 years old, still working, and still going strong. Yup, Smokey Bear is still on the job. Although his message has changed slightly, he’s still working to keep forests safe. Aren’t you glad they didn’t go with the squirrel? And aren’t you glad they aren’t permitting sales of Smokey Bear Lighters, Smokey Gas-Fired Camp Lighters… or Smokey Thongs?
  • From the “Breakfast of Champions” Department: Wheaties, that bastion of celebrity cereal box advertising, is looking to expand its market to manly men. They are introducing a new variant, “Wheaties Fuel”, targeted at men. What’s different? First, they’ve dropped the folic acid, while adding Vitamin E. Secondly, they’ve upped the suger: it is now 25% sugar by weight. Third, after running the prototypes by a panel of only male athletes, including the Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and the Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett, to consult on both the nutritional profile and flavor, they are running a competition in Mens Health magazine to select the best of the three prototypes. What do they think men want? Two contain clusters that have a cinnamon-roll-like flavor and a third has raisins, cranberries and almonds. Why are they doing this? Their logic is impeccable: “Men don’t use their wives’ razors or deodorants; why would they be eating their cereal?” Yeah. Right.
  • From the “Oh Thank Heaven…” Department: Live in SoCal? Like your Slurpees? Then I have good news for you: 7-Eleven plans to take advantage of the poor real-estate market to negotiate leases for up to 600 new locations in Southern California. Soon, they’ll be as ubiquitous as Starbucks. This is a good thing. Right?