1. Richly Man, Poorly Man
Remember how last year you realized money wasn't everything? How once the intoxicating effects of the giddy bull market had faded, you came to your senses? How you finally understood -- really understood -- that there was more to life than big cars, expensive restaurants and numbers in a brokerage statement?
Yeah, happened to us, too. But we got over it.
And so, apparently, did Citibank.
You see, for months now we've been engrossed by the bank's ad campaign, which strikes us as one of the most touchy-feely pieces of financial advertising to run since the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.
Perhaps you've seen these ads, which the
subsidiary has pasted on nearly every blank wall in New York City over the past year. These posters, all with the tagline "Live Richly," don't advertise anything as crass as wealth or even free toasters with new accounts. Rather, with simple yet provocative copy on a spare, white background, they use subtle digs at our financial vocabulary to provoke passers-by into reflecting on how unimportant money and objects really are.
What, asks one ad, are your assets? Why, they're things like Family, Friends, Life, Memories, The Air, Passion and Pets.
Nary a mutual fund in the lot.
"Holding shares," muses another ad, "shouldn't be your only form of affection."
Gosh. Were we ashamed. Citigroup -- the parent of social-service agencies like Salomon Smith Barney and a conglomerate whose CEO, says
, made $151 million in 2000 -- certainly had us convinced that there was more to life than just getting and spending. We were just about ready to pull a
Francis of Assisi and renounce all our possessions.
Until, that is, we noticed a new set of Citibank ads on our subway ride down to the research lab one recent morning.
"Take the F train," said one, "and end up in Florida."
Alternatively, advised other ads in the series, we could take the B train and end in Barcelona or take the L train and end up in Lisbon.
You see, as explained by another new Citibank ad (which tempted us with the prospect of a trip to Paris), if we make everyday purchases -- like subway farecards -- with our Citibank debit cards, we can earn frequent-flier miles from American Airlines. Cool rewards just for spending money.
But -- but -- but what about all those other ads that made fun of our earthly desires? What about condemning all that crass materialism?
The earlier ads, gently explains a Citibank spokesman, were "overall image advertising." The debit card ads have "a different advertising objective," he says. "It's product-specific."
Sorry, St. Francis. We considered embracing poverty and all, but we found we had a different objective. One that's product-specific.
2. Grandmaster Dave Flashback
Speaking of seeing weird things on the way to work, we did a double take last week when we got a glimpse -- we thought -- of Dave Wetherell's latest business venture.
You'll recall that for a while there, we were enthusiastic chroniclers of Wetherell's
, an Internet incubator whose share price rode high on a wave of early investments like
, but whose stock got hammered down from $163 to sub-$2 levels once investors decided they were more interested in positive cash flow than establishing market share on the Internet.
So there we were on Wall Street one morning this week, watching a young man handing out business cards to attractive women he saw walking down the street.
Nothing shocking there. That's a perfectly acceptable way for time-challenged financial analysts to get a date these days.
gobsmacked us was the design on the back of the man's jacket: a double-H logo for a company called
Hip-Hop Models and Talent
, with the subtitle "A CMGI Company."
CMGI?!? We remember they once had their fingers in a lot of different businesses, but we sure didn't remember the modeling business as one of them.
So we took a closer look. Turns out the hip-hopper's "CMGI" stood for "Corporate Management Group International" -- in contrast to Wetherell's CMGI, which was formerly known as "College Marketing Group." The woman who answered the phone at
Hip-Hop Models and Talent -- an absolutely, positively, no-question-about-it ethical company that charges aspiring models an annual fee for the privilege of putting their information on its lame Web site -- had never heard of Dave Wetherell. Dave Wetherell's spokeswoman had never heard of HHM&T, and laughed at the thought that it might be part of the better-known CMGI.
But hey. Over the years, Wetherell's outfit has ventured into such businesses as used books, recreational boating, car parts, furniture, construction equipment, jewelry, outdoor clothing, fine art and seafood.
Hip-hop models? That's not such a stretch. For bringing this sure-fire idea to your attention, Dave, I want a box seat at CMGI Field.
3. Who'll Get Burned in This Particular Meltdown?
In the few weeks since Jerry Levin anointed Dick Parsons as his successor at the helm of multimedia convergence colossus
AOL Time Warner
, we cynical and unimaginative types have speculated that Parsons might not be best of buddies with co-Chief Operating Officer Bob Pittman.
Yes, we confess it had crossed our tiresomely predictable minds that the apparent opposites -- brash new media boy Pittman and low-key, old-school Parsons -- might not interact so well. Especially after that little episode where the battle-scarred, type-A Pittman got passed over for the CEO job. Maybe, just maybe, we thought, that could create a wee bit of friction.
Of course, Pittman, Parsons and everyone else toeing the official line at AOL Time Warner have expressed shock and dismay that our tiny little minds would fixate on such a fiction.
But we can't get this idea out of our heads -- especially since hearing the latest bit of palsy-walsy banter from Parsons during the AOL Time Warner analyst meeting Wednesday.
Before handing off the microphone to Pittman, Parsons said he'd taken to referring to Bob and himself as "Fire & Ice" -- Pittman being the fire.
Ouch. Wish he hadn't said that, considering the fate of the last high-profile mediasphere couple who referred to themselves as Fire & Ice.
Yeah, you kids are probably too young to remember, but back in 1989 the media hype machine was working double shifts to persuade a gullible public that Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson, the hosts of the hot new ABC News show
, were like, you know, Fire & Ice. We pulled some old clips out of our dusty file:
Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle
-- all making references to that Fire & Ice shtick.
You can guess what happened. It was obvious to even the accidental observer who happened to flip past the show on the way to the
Home Shopping Network
: Sam and Diane hated each other's guts. By season's end, that old fire-and-ice chemistry had proved so repellent, they were co-hosting from different cities: he in Washington, she in New York.
So now that Pittman and Parsons are officially like F&I, we know what that means: The next time Pittman wants to casually stroll over to Parsons' cubicle for an informal chat, he'll be packing for a five-day hike.
4. Market Performance Anxiety
When a sell-side analyst rates a stock "market perform," it means the obvious, right? Shares will do as well as the the general pack of stocks roaming the securities plain, right?
Well, we hope not. As
reader Mark Lindee pointed out to the research lab this week, Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown issued a research report on midday Monday rating
a market perform.
That's fine, except for one little detail: Two hours earlier, Global Crossing had announced it was
filing for bankruptcy. Following its expected reorganization, the company said, "Existing common equity and preferred shareholders would not participate in the new capital structure."
In other words, Global Crossing's shares, which last traded at 30 cents, would be worth nothing. Nada. Zip.
So that's where Alex. Brown thinks the rest of the market is heading? To zero?
Maybe not. Five hours later, after the market closed, Alex. Brown officially suspended coverage of Global Crossing, for which it has been an underwriter.
It seems, sources say, you just can't drop a company like a hot potato. You got procedures. You got to go through channels. A Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown spokesman declined to comment on internal procedures for dropping coverage.
We should have known. We're still waiting for clearance to issue our report on Hip-Hop Models and Talent.
5. Where Was Adam Schiff's Sage Counsel When We Needed It Most?
A thousand apologies to Andersen attorney Nancy Temple, of whom we made fun last week for
her small but noteworthy role in
ongoing accounting debacle.
What the hell happened to this city?
As you may recall, we chided Temple's need-not-to-know behavior -- her response to an urgent email about whether Enron might mislead the public in an impending earnings release. Temple's impulse apparently wasn't actually to be helpful but to ask the questioner to keep her name out of all correspondence so she wouldn't have to testify.
Well, as the Five Dumbest Things in-house counsel informed us this week, Temple Did the Right Thing. As squirrelly as it might seem to the layperson, Ralph the Lawyer tells us it's standard operating procedure for an attorney to tell a client not to blab to the world about conversations they've had, because that's a sure way to lose the sacred attorney/client privilege of confidentiality. Any half-decent lawyer (we pray that includes Ralph) would do the same thing.
Oops. Forget about that conversation with Ralph. It never happened. We learned about that privilege stuff from, uh, the
Anyway, we're sorry not only for making that mistake last week, but also for losing the opportunity, then and now, to make fun of Dumber stuff in the Enron/Andersen/accounting universe -- stuff like the shredding by the brilliantly named
, the destitute family of ex-CEO Ken Lay and the wacky "isolated error" that caused
to overlook a $1.7
Oh well. There's always next week.