Potty Palooza

Some days, I struggle to unearth a PR-infused topic on which to write. Other days, it seems that every news story or blog post resonates with some alluring PR twist.

Today everything pops. A story in Crain’s New York’s daily e-newsletter touted McDonald’s hiring of former Deputy New York City Mayor Randy Mastro to fight the proposed ban on the use of trans-fatty acids in NYC eateries. (The magazine just happened to be hosting a breakfast this morning on the same subject.) Concurrently, arch rival Burger King announced its intention to curb unhealthful advertising to children in the UK. Hey, McDonalds, have it your way. Update: McDonalds working on it.

This morning, Floyd Norris looked at Citigroup’s $400 million, 20-year deal to re-name the new/old Shea Stadium CitiField. This intrigued me, not only because I had played a small role helping QUALCOMM garner some attention for its newly branded stadium in San Diego, but I found Mr. Norris’s analysis of the cost-benefits especially deflating:

“Citigroup obviously thinks that the naming rights are valuable, but history does not indicate such deals have done much for other banks, or for the ball clubs that play in them. Stocks of banks with ballparks have tended to do worse than stocks of other banks, and teams in these parks have tended to lose more games than they win.”

I never understood the branding rationale for slapping one’s (already ubiquitous) brand name on a field or sporting event. Granted, if such sponsorships translate to hospitality for prospective customers, e.g., think PGA, or if the deal comes with a TV advertising package, perhaps the cost-benefit can be justified. I mean Citigroup already has two of the most prominent billboards it could possibly have in this city.

This all brings me to the final topic of this post: toilet paper in Times Square. Yes folks, this may be one Times Square promotion that will clean up. The folks at P&G have spent millions to install bathroom stalls in a vacant store front on the Great White Way to promote Charmin Ultra. The stalls come with personal attendants hired to clean up after each use. (Now there’s a resume builder.) Cost, in fact, was the main thing keeping Charmin from doing this sooner.

“‘Real estate is so expensive in New York, we just couldn’t be sure the economics would work,’ Mr. Legault [brand manager for Charmin] said. ‘But we know that New York is the center of the universe, so we just had to give it a try.’ (…retail space in the area goes for $150 to $225 a square foot per year, and the restroom will occupy from 7,000 to 8,000 square feet.”)

Again, the branding experts, not PR people, weighed in:

“‘This will provide a much-needed service for women, who I suspect are Charmin’s main buyers,’ said Judy Hopelain, a partner at the marketing consultant Prophet Brand Strategy.”

“Michael Watras, president of the brand consultant Straightline International, figures that the costs, no matter how high, are a pittance for what the promotion will glean. ‘They’re showcasing their brand to a gazillion people in the toughest place in the toughest city,’ he said. ‘They’ll get more publicity than any advertising campaign could ever provide.'”

With the same (but opposite) end in mind, we once urged a champagne maker to take over a vacant E. 60’s Madison Avenue storefront and create a fabulous window display exclusively for the holiday season. They didn’t drink the bubbly. Let’s see how P&G fares on the ROI (store)front.

“Mr. Legault concedes, ‘evaluating this is going to be a challenge.'”