Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why Main Street despises Wall Street

We hear a lot about resurgent populism – the anti-establishment anger that smoldered in the bosom of William Jennings Bryan in the 1890s and that flares anew in the breasts of Sarah Palin's followers today. President Obama scolds American banks in what some call a desperate resort to populist rhetoric. Tea Party conservatives attack Obama in terms that liberals dismiss as childish populism.

Populism is considered crude and simplistic. The colorful populist leaders of the 1890s – like Sockless Jerry Simpson of Kansas – were often uncouth farmers. They favored nationalizing railroads, giving everyone the vote, and passing an income tax. Horrors!

One streak that unites all populists – the original old-timey ones who wore no socks and the modern educated ones who mostly own stocks – is a delight in slamming Wall Street. You – the worldly viewers of this worldwide blog – are doubtless too sophisticated to condemn Wall Street. You probably see life as a complex interweaving of off-grays – not a simplistic interplay of good and evil.

Well, my friends, prepare to become populists. Our friend Charles R. Morris – author of The Trillion Dollar Meltdown and nine or ten other terrific books – shares these numbers on Merrill Lynch's revenue/compensation ratios. Read 'em and – not weep! – feel the boil.

Note that Merrill Lynch pay remains steady while revenues and profits plunge. Here are the actual ugly numbers:
Notice that in 2008 – thanks to government funds! – Merrill's silk-stockinged employees received just about the same 15 billions they received the preceding year – even though revenues and earnings went into negative territory.

Too jaded to be infected with populist indignation? Not now. I bet you're fixing to cast off your socks and grab a pitchfork.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Acura ZDX – A car commercial that sings

I was watching the Jets handily tame the Chargers – and had one thumb on my mute button (which is marked FOR CAR COMMERCIAL USE ONLY). But I froze... was blindsided... and was sacked by a stunningly captivating commercial... for... a... car. How often does that happen? This clip for the Acura ZDX actually makes you ACHE for the stupid hunk of metal being displayed.

So this is it: The 50% of your advertising expense that gets results. Check it out here and prepare for magic.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Managing acquisitions: How the big boys do it

Ever have a challenging acquisition to manage? You have a big, powerful company with high brand visibility – and you buy another big, powerful company with high visibility. Now you face a dilemma that goes back to the time when Rome conquered Greece. Do we just call it Roman Empire? Or do we say, "Greece, Brought to you by the Roman Empire?" Or do we call it Greco-Roman-Ville?

Now see, the really smart guys – the financial firms that rule the capital markets – hire the best consultants to do it right. So, let's take the example of Bank of America acquiring Merrill Lynch (oh, you remember the details... The visionary heads of the two companies were blind-folded and put in a swimming-pool drained of water and told to flounder around until they bumped into someone else... something like that.) Now, how should they visually merge these two notorious brands?

Voila! I just received an analyst report... and here's the solution: You put one name on top of the other name – like bunk beds! And look, there's a little blankie over on the right.

How much do you think they paid for this? Nothing wrong with it. Just... arbitrary. (I hope not much.)