The Execution of Good Ideas
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 97 12:26:44 -0800
Subject: The Execution of Good Ideas
Forwarded-by: Jef Jaisun <email@example.com>
From: Forbes ASAP 2/24/97
Mores: The Execution of Good Ideas
By Owen Edwards
All sorts of good ideas fall flat, and no one has ever figured out why.
Clever concepts, put forward with the very best intentions, fizzle, while
totally harebrained notions take off. Sometimes it's simple. One hour with
the CBS clinker Central Park West and you could see what went wrong: The
characters were uniformly loathsome. (That works in politics, but showbiz
still requires a minimum level of appeal.) But it's far from obvious how
the divine right of kings, a comforting idea that worked for a few
millennia, fell into disuse, while a system as implausible as democracy is
all the rage. Go figure.
In a fickle marketplace, the list of flops grows every day. Perhaps the
increased acceleration of Internet time has caused some people to try ideas
with unwise haste. Whatever the reason, high technology, entertainment,
social policy, manufacturing, and marketing have all taken painful hits.
Some of the major casualties of the tumultuous year just past:
+ Guns for Opera Tickets: New York City officials applauded this approach
to fighting stereotypes by broadening the idea of civil disarmament, and
the program made the front page of the Daily News: "Verdi to Snobs-Drop It!"
But it yielded only a few rusted Colt six-shooters, a crossbow of
questionable authenticity, several bolt-action .22-caliber target rifles
(stamped "Camp Wawayanda"), and one immaculate Purdey elephant gun. After
three quiet months, the drive was suspended.
+ Leave It to Beaver and Butt-Head: Plenty of reasons for the Fox Network,
MTV, and Nickelodeon to think they had a winner here. Hot demographics that
combined Gen-Xers, neo-nostalgic slackers, and disaffected boomers. Old
values meet new vulgarity. John J. O'Conner at the New York Times called it
"offbeat and cheeky." But the Nielsen numbers were a disaster. Fox bailed
after four episodes, blaming its partners for failing to sign Beavis (whose
substitute stint for Kathie Lee Gifford made The Regis and Beavis Show a
major daytime hit).
+ Gnatscape!: Recognizing that the attention span of young online users has
diminished to the level of small insects, a consortium of Web browsers
created software to switch from site to site on an automatic five-second
timer, like the scan button on a car radio. Despite a lavish advertising
campaign ("Bugged by making choices? Try Gnatscape!"), the software didn't
sell. Though tests showed regular Web surfers (homepageboys) liked the
concept, marketers theorize that five seconds was simply too long to hold
+ Planet Mansfield Park: Riding the theme restaurant trend and the Jane Austen
boom, this 19th-century-style eatery opened simultaneously in New York, Los
Angeles, and Brighton, England. There were costumes and props from the
movies, a celebrities-only, glass-walled Pride and Prejudice Room, even a
Scents & Sensuality Boutique featuring Liz Taylor's Persuasion perfume.
Everything seemed set to make the restaurants must-see tourist stops. But
a menu of boiled meats and overcooked vegetables kept the big names away,
and picketing by a group of Bronto-crazed "Eyreheads" finished the place
+ Michael Jackson, Kosher Kuts: "The healing has begun," said the press
release for this combination of pop, rap, and traditional Jewish music, and
the motivations behind the CD seemed high-minded in a way not seen since
"We Are the World." But hard-core Jackson fans were confused, and the hoped-
for crossover audience was put off by songs such as "You Hava Nagilla, I
+ 1-900-CELIBYT: As an antidote to ubiquitous telephone "hot lines," the
Catharine MacKinnon/Andrea Dworkin-backed communications startup Nein!X
created a toll number that people could dial to reach a therapist who would
talk them out of phone sex. The cost of the calls was high, probably because
most callers weren't sure when to hang up. Consumer complaints quickly
scuttled the enterprise.
+ Nintendo Shuffleboard: A Faith Popcorn study asked: Why do preteen boys
play videogames an average of nine hours a day? Because, the poll indicated,
they have plenty of time, an unrealized sex life, and not much on their
minds. And who else is in this situation? People in retirement communities.
To expand into the lucrative senior citizen market, Nintendo launched
Shuffleblast. Sega followed with a tougher version incorporating elements
of Mortal Kombat called Snuffleboard. But competition from low-tech bingo
(which required no hardware and offered cash prizes) resulted in the biggest
videogame debacle since Atari. Game over.
+ Ultra Calm-Slim: Overweight, stress, and the stress brought on by being
overweight are top concerns of American consumers. So putting a Slim-Fast/
Prozac combo on supermarket shelves seemed inspired. But buyers became so
relaxed about their once-hated extra pounds that they decided to enjoy
eating again. Sales of all weight-loss foods dropped steadily, causing very
high stress in the multibillion-dollar diet industry. Donuts enhanced with
amphetamines (Speedy-Os) are currently in development.
+ Bill, the Fragrance: The marketing genius of Microsoft seemed once again
on track when the software giant announced perfumed email for those "online
and in love." Though skeptics dubbed it "geek sweetener," Bill Gates himself
was said to be deeply involved in concocting the scent, a subtle blend of
verbena, sandalwood, Olestra, and the distinctive aroma of an overheated
laser printer. "Bill really wants to be the Tommy Hilfiger of the Internet,"
his PR chief said at the kickoff news conference. Unfortunately, the
delivery system didn't work; even huge amounts of bandwidth weren't
sufficient to transmit smell. The end came when a Richard Avedon-directed
TV campaign pairing Gates with Kate Moss turned off the 15- to 18-year-old
hackers targeted for the product. Even a name change to Windsong 96 couldn't
turn the tide.
+ The Three Castrati: As Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras take in vast sums
of money, promoters are scrambling to replicate the success. "Four Bassos"
didn't survive focus groups, so the strategy behind this rococo rave was to
keep the gender but change the octave. The problem turned out to be finding
castrati at all, then finding three with real star power. Perhaps it was a
mistake to headline RuPaul (whose voice couldn't handle Handel) or to have
the show introduced by Andrew Dice Clay ("I gotta say, these guys really
have balls"). Whatever the reasons, the first concert (and the last) in the
Hollywood Bowl caused Variety to opine: "Some Like It High Tour Starts on
+ Stirbucks: The reasoning was so simple: If a few entrepreneurs in Seattle
could bring cafe latte to every street corner in America, why couldn't a
well-financed Dallas company do the same with a chain of cafes that served
only martinis? All the annoying distractions of ordinary bars-sports
channels, bad jukebox music, people asking what your sign is-were
eliminated, so the elemental delights of gin, vodka, and vermouth could be
appreciated in a pristine, standardized environment. Alas, few of the
minimum-wage mixers working at "McBooze" had ever tasted a martini
(resulting in the occasional 3-to-1 atrocity). Plus tacky menu items like
the oregano-flavored Bond Bombshell, bright lights, and large plate glass
windows kept devoted martini connoisseurs away.
+ Pup Fiction: Michael Ovitz's final and most disappointing deal at Disney
was to hire Quentin Tarantino to direct a nonanimated third sequel to the
company's endlessly successful 101 Dalmatians. Taking the title too
literally, the director filmed in Bosnia, and alienated feminists by
complaining that some of the cast "were real bitches." Inside jokes and
canine carnage were damned by critics as "Arf for arf's sake" and "Reservoir
Dogs with spots."
Copyright Forbes 1997
© 1997 Peter Langston