I admit it.  I have a special relationship with the Saturday Wall Street Journal. Many of you will recall the brouhaha when Dow Jones launched the Saturday edition in 2006.  Do they have enough non-endemic advertising to make it profitable?  What will it look like?  Will anyone read it?  Don’t we have ENOUGH to read? 

Well I love the Saturday Wall Street Journal, and I’ll tell you why.  For most, Saturday is the only day of the week when one does not have to go to work the very next day.  Saturday mornings are full of promise.  The streets are (sort of) empty, and I believe that, this time, the weekend really will last forever.  Then I joyfully kick back to read what I consider Dow Jones’ own version of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” 

Yes folks, I love the Saturday WSJ because I think it’s the kookiest read around.  It takes the WSJ brand in a whole different direction… but I can’t quite figure out what that direction is!  I mean, if business can be funny, it is actually funny.  I don’t know if the newsroom actually holds back nutty stories (“Hey, it’s only Tuesday:  let’s hold that ‘puppy saves Fortune 100 company with magic drool’ story ‘til Saturday!”) but it might as well. 

Here are my favorite selections from the Saturday, Oct. 6 Wall Street Journal: 

·         OK, right out of the box, I’m going to cheat a little.  “The Hit List” is where the Saturday WSJ gives a well-known person the opportunity to share his or her favorite music.  Today, I have to admit, the column actually made sense, with Barry Manilow choosing his favorite music.  The time they thought I’d be interested to know what John Malcovich (best known for dangerous, slimy characters in films such as “Dangerous Liasons” and “In the Line of Fire”) listens to, however, I did wonder what they were thinking.  Next up:  “Salman Rushdie chooses songs to hide by…” 

·         This one is too perfect for a superhero lover to pass up.  Under the headline “Economan Pleads Guilty” is a story of a guy named Al Parish who took 500 investors for about $90 milion dollars, which he used to buy himself some major bling.  To top it off, Parish was apparently known for his flashy appearance and a website that showed him – wait for it – dressed as a superhero with a huge “E” on his chest.   

·         A great fox guarding the hen house story…  We should all be relieved to know that Whole Foods, John Mackey’s own company, has completed an internal investigation of John Mackey, and John Mackey had decided to “reaffirm” his support for John Mackey. 

Mackey is the CEO who, while attempting a hostile take-over of Whole Food’s chief competitor, Wild Oats, was simultaneously using an alias to post blog comments badmouthing Wild Oats and implying the target company was unstable and in poor financial health. In addition, “Harobed” (the unbreakable code equaling his wife’s name spelled backwards) liked to praise himself in creepy ways, saying in one post, “I like John Mackey’s haircut.  I think he looks cute!” 

This. Story. Is. Hilarious!  I mean… how are we supposed to take the businessworld seriously?  Senior execs knew that Mackey was the mystery blogger back in 2001 but said nothing, violating what many would perceive to be their duty to serve this public company’s shareholders.  They all still have their jobs.  And you have a CEO clearly trying to influence the purchase price of a target competitor… when not spending his time online saying that he thinks he’s cute!!!  Wow.  Hey SEC, anyone home?  

·         Peggy Noonan is best known as an assistant to Reagan and a speechwriter for G.H. Bush.  She is the person who gave us “one thousand points of light,” “Read my lips:  no new taxes” and the book, The Case Against Hilary Clinton.  Since then, she has attempted to appear more moderate, and write about both sides of the political aisle, but it just never… works.  She… leaks, here and there.

Thus I thought truly goofy Peggy Noonan’s piece today called “The Trance.”  It appears to be about the thoughtful look (?) Obama gets when he’s thinking, which is weird enough, but then she makes a crack about whether or not he actually can think.  That Peggy Noonan, I know.  Then she whipsaws toward complimenting other Democratic candidates such as Chris Dodd and I’m confused again.

 Thankfully, all is made well when it becomes clear that the entire purpose of her approximately 1,200 word article is to slam Hilary Clinton.  Well why didn’t you just say that upfront, silly? It would have saved me about 1,100 words…

 
  ·         And finally, a long riff from Steve Stechlow on his love for Bruce Springsteen.  Best part:  Stechlow bestows the greatest love of all on his teenage son when he invites the kid to Springsteen’s opening night in Hartford.  Long pause.   Kid’s response: “Who else is playing?”  Stechlow: “It is… a body blow.  How could I have failed so miserably as a father?”  Funny for the text, and hilarious because… THIS is a WSJ story?! 


So the next time you need a refreshing businessworld-relevant giggle, read the Saturday Wall Street Journal.  I can promise you as much humor as probably any newpaper, short of The Onion, can muster.
 

Richard Branson’s Virgin is one of the biggest brands in the world – nearly everywhere but the United States. There have been plenty of launches over the years:  Virgin Mobile by all rights could perhaps be considered the most successful.  There has also been Virgin Cola, Virgin Megastores, Virgin Comics and, most recently, Virgin Money.  Someone please let me know if I’ve missed any others. 

Cleverly, most of these come out of Virgin USA, which describes itself as a venture capital organization that looks for and invests in underserviced consumer markets that could be transformed by Virgin’s trademark characteristics of “value for money, good quality, innovation, exceptional customer service, fun and a sense of competitive challenge.”  Goodness knows it does seem to work everywhere else, with 50,000 employees generating $20 billion in top-line revenue each year from Virgin-branded companies. 

Now comes Virgin America, which launched its U.S. service on August 8 and so far, so good.  Like JetBlue, my opinion is that this new airline is trying to focus on what matters to flyers – that is, of the factors they can impact – including attitude, routes, prices, a robust frequent flyer program and decent seating/well-considered planes.  This is not to say that the consumer technology isn’t way cool, because it is.  A superior seatback in-flight entertainment system that offers PPV movies, games and live satellite TV, with high speed Internet access coming next year.  And for the truly lazy such as myself, I can swipe my credit card and order a sandwich without having to raise my arm aaaaall the way up to push that little button.  Plus, the airline hired one of my favorite shops, Anomaly, to do everything from advertising to merchandise to uniforms.  I knock none of it.  As a marketer, I know that this is what branding dreams are made of.   But this business in this country? Yikes.  I’m just skeptical that being “the most geek-friendly airline ever invented” is what will ultimately attract a loyal, long-term audience in the U.S.  We Americans tend to ask for style in our airlines but favor price and routes.  So we’ll see.   

One note on Americans and Virgin America:  we sure gave the company a tough go of it.  The DOT forced the airline to replace its founding CEO, shed most of Branson’s stake and appoint an independent (U.S.) trustee to represent his remaining 25% share and report to federal regulators any loans Branson might make to the U.S. carrier. As usual, Branson kept on going, prompting Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to note that it’d be “tough to think of a company that has done as much to meet our standards for becoming a commercial airline.”  And it took a Brit to do it!

I grew up in an airline family and can remember just about every new launch, crash, failure, strike, pension collapse, and major snow storm since 1979.  It’s a wild business.  But while the runways may be absurdly overcrowded, this sector, like many, could always use a little entrepreneurship to keep folks on their best game.

And for you bloggers out there… click here for some amusing back-and-forth between Fake Steve Jobs and Fake Richard Branson.

Most of my marketing friends have not had the experience of managing actual, living people as “brands.” What must that be like?

Do you remember when Tom Cruise fired longtime PR agent-to-the-stars Pat Kingsley, replaced her with his sister and proceeded to transform into a lunatic? Who can forget his assessment of psychiatry on Today or his couch-leaping action on Oprah? Of course, this means that Cruise had always been a nut and Kingsley had been earning her fee for a long, long time. And then there are the poor souls who manage Lindsey and Paris and Her and Him and…

Consider this. You are a marketer at P&G or Citibank. Things happen, sure, but you don’t have what must be a particular kind of fear that you will awake on any random morning to see your brand of paper towel or toothpaste humiliating itself at the Chateau Marmont, falling down in the street or driving drunk for the upteenth time without a license.  Since I began running sales and marketing for Time Warner’s DC Comics division, there hasn’t been a single night that I sat home, worrying that Superman was out with Catwoman, getting drunk and punching paparazzi.  (But that Green Lantern??  Don’t get me started!  I’m kidding) 

I thought of all this when right after my post on the wholesomeness of Disney’s High School Musical franchise the movies’ lead actress was forced to admit that a very nude photo of her on the Internet was indeed her in a “private” moment (I can’t bring myself to offer a link check out PerezHilton). Of course this is not Disney’s or her manager’s fault, and if Ms. Hudgens didn’t tell them they could not have known of the photo’s existence but what kind of antacid goes with this kind of moment? Oy.

So the next time you look at your lawn care product samples and long for excitement, imagine that you’ve changed careers and you’re happy. You and your product’s celebrity endorser, Clay Aiken, have worked so hard since his run on American Idol.  Sure, the constant questions about his personal life make it a little challenging to build him up as a teen girl heartthrob, but you just know that his huge talent will prevail. You lean over, give your Clay Aiken bobblehead doll one more tap on the head, and fall asleep.

Then you wake up and turn on the tv/open the newspaper/fire up the Internet. And at that very moment, Lawncare never. Looked. So. Good.