Month: July 2009

More Mortgage Meltdown: Noteworthy Nuggets from a Talk by Whitney Tilson


I’ve just attended a very interesting lunchtime talk at the New York Society for Security Analysts (NYSSA) and found the speaker not only smart, knowledgeable, informative and interesting but also a source for a number of pithy statements worth sharing. Below are some of my key takeaways and notations:

- The average annual income is currently in the low $40Ks, up from the low $30Ks in the 1990s (I had thought it was $55,000 back in 2005).

- At the peak of the housing bubble, a consumer could borrow 9 times his or her income, so long as the money was going to buy a house (or home), of course. (I included “home” because condos and coops were the first to default.)

- At the peak of the housing bubble, the requirement to demonstrate your income went away. “Literally, if you had a pulse, you could get a mortgage of several hundred thousand dollars.”

- Prior to the bubble, 2% a year was the worst increase in home values. The change is now SIGNIFICANTLY negative.

- Mortgage resets are what started the surge of defaults. Following the first few years of “teaser” interest rates, mortgage payments reset to much higher rates. If a home owner couldn’t refinance anymore, he or she would default. As home values fell, consumers had trouble refinancing.

- An audience-member from Britain reported that 40% of Americans “in this non-socialist country” do not pay taxes – as part of a question to Whitney during Q&A.

- “Wells Fargo is the Walmart of Banking…”

- “If Wells Fargo is the Walmart of Banking, Citibank is the K-Mart of Banking.”

- Wells Fargo securities are likely to double in 4-5 years. (Don’t quote me, i.e., Karen, on this.)

- The Borders Group hit 35 cents at its low and reached $3.53 today – a ten-fold increase. (What does that say about the outlook of traditional booksellers and/or Borders’ preparation for the digital world – there, I got my allusion to new media in.)

- Mortgages were the largest debt market at the peak of the bubble. Everyone (bankers) wanted in.

- The housing bubble was much bigger than the Internet bubble.

- High end investment bankers, e.g., Merrill Lynch – and particularly CEOs and those in Fixed Income (i.e., securitized loans) were making multi-multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses. 2,000 people were sharing an enormous bonus pool. The average was $5MM, and I-Bank CEOs were earning $35MM a year. There was no way they were going to point out the dangers (and lack of sustainability) of what was going on: “They’re gonna ride this horse until it keels over!” (That was one of my FAVORITE quotes from the talk.)

- California accounts for 10% of homes, 33% of foreclosures and 43% of home value. (43%!!! Seriously? Did I hear him correctly? That’s out of control.)

- GDP is made up of Consumer Spending, Corporate (Business) Spending and Government Spending. (Wow, I remember those macro-economic equations – good old friends). The ratio is 70:10:20. That is the logic behind the stimulus spending, to make up in some way for the lack of consumer and corporate spending. Saving rates are way up. (As Jeff Sachs said when he spoke at the Harvard Club, we want people to spend – need it now – but we want people to save – personal debt, i.e., over-spending or deficit spending, is what fueled the fire.)

- Sales of new homes were up last quarter – that’s because home builders were cutting prices on new homes to get rid of inventory: “Home builders dumping homes are not a green shoot in my opinion.” (I like the “green shoot” terminology.”

- “Jim Cramer [who says we have hit bottom] is right, but about a year too early.” We are halfway through total losses. (Oy Vey.)

And so it goes. Excellent talk.

With All Due Respect…


With all due respect and in my humble opinion, this is something I would advise against including in a dating profile:

“…I love making out, have a passion for running, cooking, baking & movies.”

It seems to me that a person should “love” making out with a particular person, not as a independent concept – with all due respect.

Somehow, however this works:

“…I like sex, pizza with real olives, dogs, enough money for a good coffee, accordions, handmade things, good art, bad art that is better than good art, books…”

Women are desperate for men with a sense of humor – that and a good golden parachute.

I must say, I really like turn of phrase at the end of this self-description:

“I am bright, creative, grounded and realistically idealistic.”

On the other hand, when a 55 year old man (seeking a woman 35-50) uses the pseudoynm “YoungAtHeart,” it doesn’t make him seem youthful – in my humble opinion.

It seems that there are some men who feel that there are some women who have misled them through their online dating profiles:

“So I’ve been on a few dates with women that say they are petite… Being 5’2″ or under doesn’t constitute petite. Then there are the athletic/lean/fit types. Again…ladies….that means present not 10 yrs ago. And speaking of 10 yrs ago….even if you look younger than you appear… please use today’s age not the one represented in your old picture. Now please understand, I’m not perfect nor do I represent perfection…however… what you see is what you get….visually and on paper.”

Hmmmm… I wonder what kind of success he’s having with that siren’s song?

Are these sites spreading love or fueling the jadedness of the local NYC population? Have these online personas become their own bad will ambassadors?

In my case, I seem to benefit from this mass misrepresentation as the men I meet in person profess stunned amazement that I resemble my photos and physical description. One wonders but must be optimistic in the face of such sad, sad tales. On the other side, there are the increasing number of happy couples who are rumored to have met online. Are they the exception or the possibiity?

Spot the Placement, Place the Spot


As promised in a previous blog posting, I have created a repository for potential product placement (aka brand integration…) spottings:

(1) My Name Is Earl – a few weeks ago — QVC open heart necklace

(2) The Wrestler – no obvious product placement; possibly Tylenol or RAM trucks

(3) Sierra Mist on Colbert, Jan 8, 2009 (as you may know, he makes his placements “humorously” obvious)

(4) Elle Magazine on Ugly Betty. This is an ongoing plot element. Is it possible that HFM is paying for this? – Jan 8, 2009

(5) in Zohan: Sony Erickson phone, possibly Moishe’s moving (local brand?), possibly Sony, itself. – Jan 6, 2009

(6) In “Taken:” Audi automobiles. Somewhat subtle in that the cars were moving so fast that the grill was a little fuzzy, but still obvious to those of us sensitive to this kind of thing. Confirmed in the credits. Positioning consistent with Super Bowl ad, and cars looked good in silver. Audi and Hyundai are two brands taking advantage of the reduced clutter in automotive TV advertising. It will be interesting to see how it plays out., February 27, 2009

(7) Stephen Colbert, March 11, 2009 – Sierra Mist

(8) Frito Lay on The Daily Show – March 2009 – Jon Stewart suggests sponsored medals of honor. Frito Lay is owned by Pepsi; there seems to be a bundled purchase incorporating brand mentions on both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert shows. I remember when sales executives could not fathom the idea of value added packages a la the magazine world. It was 2003.

(9) Stephen Colbert, first week in April — mention of Sierra Mist during interview with head NAA (Newspaper Association of America) – suggested that newspapers incorporate product placement, e.g., “Obama, while enjoying a refreshing Siera Mist…” (Note that, like Doritos, Sierra Mist is owned by Pepsi. Doritos officially sponsored the “Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert’s Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign Coverage.)

(10) “United States of Tara,” April 5, 2009 — Gene Stuart (Nathan Corddry) asks Kate (Brie Larson) for a Sierra Mist – is it coincidental that Sierra Mist is showing up on Colbert and Tara — do they have a brand placement strategy, or is it coincidental? Or does Sierra Mist suggest a particular type of personality for Gene — different than a Coke kind of guy?

(11) “ER,” April 2009: In exchange for an undisclosed amount of money from the Gates Foundation, ER’s producers agreed to a plot line centering on a kidney transplant for one of the leading characters. Promoting organ donation is one of the Gates Foundation’s causes.

(12) Viacom, April 2009 — The Gates Foundation struck a deal called “Get Schooled” with Viacom (MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, etc.) in which the networks will incorporate messaging that promotes education and healthy living.

(13) Jon Stewart, April 15, 2009 — uses Tostitos and Buick as hypothetical brand sponsorship. (The Tostitos brand is owned by Frito Lay, which is owned by Pepsi; Colbert’s Pepsi chip of choice is Doritos.)

(14) Procter & Gamble – in-school sexual education programs and materials: Old Spice, Always, Secret brands.

(15) Stephen Colbert – Pepsi (I think this mystery has been unlocked long ago.)

(16) Hasbro has upcoming films based on its Transformers and G.I. Joe brands set for release this summer, and Monopoly, Clue and even Stretch Armstrong films are in development. In addition, Hasbro will pay Discovery $300 million for a 50% stake in a new network which will replace the existing Discovery Kids (60MM homes), making Hasbro the first kids’ marketer to create a branded cable network. (Ad Age)

(17) KFC Grilled Chicken – “Gary Unmarried” – May 6, 2009 — not even a little bit subtle. 2 bags, one bucket – huge branding/logos. 60 seconds of dialog about the chicken and the “herbs and spices” including, “doesn’t taste like KFC.” “It’s the new Grilled KFC.” The KFC thread follows us throughout the episode including a follow up discussion about the new grilled chicken between Gary and his brother on the floor of a Las Vegas casino.

(18) Stephen Colbert — Sierra Mist, Sierra Mist, Sierra Mist – consumed 5+ cans over the course of the hour and even offered it to his guest – an expert on healthful eating… That said, Colbert does not sell out as he makes fun of the beverage industry’s objection to the currently proposed soda tax.

(19) The Chinese Ugly Betty is evidently out of control with Unilever brand placement of its Dove products. Because the show is set in an ad agency rather than a fashion magazine, there are extensive opportunities for brand integration – much along the lines of our “Mad Men.”

(20) Starbucks sponsorship of MSNBC “The Morning Joe” for $10MM (June 5, 2009)

(21) G-Force film in Gary Unmarried episode July 2009 – Gary given the nickname “G-Force” followed within minutes by an ad for the film in the next pod of commercials.

(22) Desperate Housewives – Sprint (Edie’s shopping bag) and Lexus (nearly an infomercial by Bree)

(23) During season 6 (Jan. 16 May 23, 2007), American Idol featured 4,349 product placement occurrences. As of March 31, 2008, the number of placements featured during season 7 was surgingAmerican Idol had already racked up 3,291 occurrence (Product Placement News)

(24) Product integration/media buy for final episode – $3MM for 2 minute integration and 30 second spot (iMedia podcast – but I’m blanking on the brand at the moment)

(25) When an athlete, e.g., Tiger Woods in U.S. Open, wears a sportswear brand, the manufacturer enjoys a 10% bump in sales. (July 20, 2009)

Read more at “Place the Spot; Spot the Placement.”

Who’s Tweeting Now?


This is a Twitter-like blog post about who’s doing interesting things with Twitter:

  • A program called TweetDeck purports to integrate social net platforms. (Jed Dineen, April 16th, 2009)

  • Love this video created for Sprint Now network (4G) – cool stats, visuals – “233,267 people just twittered. 26% of you have no idea what that means.” (April 7th, 2009)
  • Twitter co-founder Biz Stone interviewed by Stephen Colbert (April 3rd, 2009)
  • Caldwell and Banker paintings have facebook pages, blogs and twitter feeds (April 1st, 2009)
  • Met someone who is creating a twitter-based dating service (April 1st, 2009)
  • 100 Twitter tools: http://tinyurl.com/bbkxtb (via @addthis) (March 11th, 2009)
  • Evidently Twitter traffic jam was due to Skittles making its home page its Twitter site (March 3rd, 2009, Facebook salesperson)
  • I’m told that “tweeting” is the term used for posting a Twitter entry, while “twittering” is the term for reading posts – Cathy Smith, May 2009
  • Ian Williams (Twitter co-founder) talking about Twitter’s origins and evolution, which has been driven by the way users have adopted and adapted the technology – TED conference, February 2009
  • Twitter Value application puts a value on on a Twitter-er based on the quality of the person’s network of followers – very interesting BusinessWeek cover story: What Are Friend’s Worth. (I’ve listened to the podcast with journalist Stephen Baker and editor-in-chief John Byrne.) Interesting observation: Yahoo! found that people who IM with each other (via Yahoo) are four times as likely to click through on the same ad as someone outside this circle.
  • Dennis Leary asks us to use our “Tweety Pages” (as well as our ‘Facey Spaces” and “Bliggidy Blogs”) to tell our “book wormy anti- boob-tubey” friends about Hulu so they can watch free TV on the “one screen you drag around with you everywhere.” Well written, well executed, thought provoking campaign with a variety of star-driven executions.
  • On May 30th, I tweeted the following: “Recently discovered & love this website/podcast series/service: http://www.yogadownload.com/ 20 mins of yoga when I don’t have 2 hrs for gym.” Almost immediately, the following Twitterers started following my tweets: “Everything Yoga” and “Snack Sound.” I, in turn, checked out what they had been tweeting, found it of interest, and started following them. Pinpoint targeting based on behavior and proclaimed interest. Clearly, these other Tweeters have filters in place that notify them when someone uses a relevant key word. And that’s how it works.
  • 10% of Twitter users create 90% of Twitter activity (Harvard Business Review, June 1, 2009 )
  • Onion Web Editor and Huffington Post Blogger Baratunde Thurston created a satirical Twitter Feed called @The Swine Flu and executed an integrated campaign that included FaceBook, which he said is more viral. I have embedded the video “Everything I Needed To Know About Social Media, I Learned from Being @The_Swine_Flu” from InternetWeek; however, I should warn you that it has explicit language:
  • Twitter.com had 17.6MM unique visitors in May 2009, up from 600,000 in 2008. This compares to 70.3MM unique visitors for Facebook and for MySpace (17.28MM and 17.25MM respectively). (ComScore, June 15, 2009)
  • Putting Twitter into Banner Ads: “Volkswagen banners include a Twitter evaluator that will match users to a VW model based on the content of their Tweets. After you enter your Twitter name, the banner trolls through your recent updates, even floating recent keywords in the banner before arriving at a car.” Crispin Porter campaign – summarized by Brian Morrissey, Ad Age, June 18, 2009
  • Determined to change the negative perceptions about the plastics industry created by its critics and opponents, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is getting ready to launch its social media-based Internet campaign aimed at the 50 million people in the millennial generation. The major thrust of the multifaceted educational and outreach campaign will be Internet-based and social media venues like YouTube, flickr, myspace.com, reddit, dig, friendfeed, twitter and blogs to provide information and create conversations among 18-28 year olds. (June 22, 2009 – PlasticNews.com, July 7, 2009 – Ad Age 3 Minute Podcast)
  • A Twitter conversation between Coke and Pepsi… (more later – heard about it from a colleague at Razorfish)

This post was originated April 16th, 2009 and is being continuously updated.