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1. As Sinead O'Connor Sensibly Suggested a Decade Ago, Fight the Real Enemy

It isn't just on the battlefield that Americans are having a hard time figuring out who they should be fighting. It's also at the package store.

That's what we conclude after reading research published this week exploring how attitudes of U.S. consumers have shifted since the onset of hostilities in Iraq.

The survey, conducted two weeks ago by Wirthlin Worldwide and Fleishman-Hillard, indicates that a certain segment of Americans plan to boycott goods from France and Germany -- longtime allies of the U.S. who chose not to support the U.S.'s policy in Iraq.

Twenty-nine percent of the survey's respondents said that as a result of recent geopolitical events, they were more likely to boycott or avoid purchasing products from French companies. Nineteen percent voiced similar plans regarding German companies and their goods.

Which is fine. We always support Americans' freedom to boycott, whether it's the buses is Montgomery, Ala., or a thigh-strengthening device favored by Suzanne Somers.

It's just that this time around, we're worried about the collateral damage.

When asked if they could think of brands, products or companies from France and Germany, people ran down the list of usual suspects: French stuff such as Perrier, Evian and Yoplait; and German names such as Volkswagen, BMW and Heineken.

Ich bin ein Berliner or Something
Our growing frustration with General Mills

Which, again, is fine. Except that Heineken is based in the Netherlands. And Yoplait is owned by

General Mills

(GIS) - Get General Mills, Inc. Report


Adding insult to injury, yogurtwise, more Americans believe Yoplait is French than they do Dannon yogurt, which actually


owned by a French company. And that's even after Dannon ran commercials in which a woman masquerades as a French maid so she can sit in her husband's lap and spoon him some heavily accented creamy stuff.

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Up and down the halls of Dannon's HQ, we are sure, beret-wearing, baguette-toting


are puttering about in their Citroens and muttering, "Zees ees an outrage!"

It occurred to us that many Americans might have a pre-existing dislike of certain European countries, an animus that has nothing to do with current events in Iraq. Is there any prior research that indicates a baseline level of disgust for things French and German? In other words, is it possible that 29% of Americans would have gone out of their way to avoid Frenchmen even if no one had ever heard of Saddam Hussein?

"I'm not aware of any such survey," responded a Fleishman-Hillard executive.


Speaking of foreign trade, if you're a humanoid life form with an email address, you've no doubt received at least 19 emails from people purporting to be someone somewhere in Africa who will happily give you millions of dollars if you can only help him gain access to a trove of cash that for some reason he can't quite get his hands on himself.

Well, great news! You won't be receiving any of those so-called Nigerian email scam letters anymore.

No, you'll be receiving Iraqi email scam letters instead.

We at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab, in fact, received our first one this week, a letter from one self-described "Eng. Farouk Al-Bashar ... the oldest son of the Al-Bashar family, who are the descendants of Ibrahim Al-Bashar Ali from one of the oil-rich areas in Iraq."

Mr. Al-Bashar is happy to let us have 10% of "funds totaling US$12.5 million" if we can only help him get his stash of cash out of the country.

How we're supposed to be helpful is unclear to us, especially since the closest we've gotten to Iraq is watching greenish pictures on TV in the research lab's break room. So we'll visit a funny Web site or look, my beautiful girlfriend instead.

3. First Movers and First Shakers

Speaking of nothing, we had a fit of nostalgia thinking back to the days of First Mover Advantage.

Bust a First Move
Media mentions of 'First-Mover Advantage'

2003 Projection based on mentions through April 3.
Source: Factiva

You remember First Mover Advantage, don't you? That was once the key to success for Internet companies -- the ability to establish dominance in a particular "space" before the second and third movers came along.

FMA helped Netscape whip Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report into submission. It made "the leading free destination for children and families on the Internet." And, of course, it catapulted into the lead of the multibillion-dollar online pet supplies space.

Didn't it?

Anyway, we realized it had been a long time since we heard anyone on CNBC wax poetic about the advantage of first mover advantage.

Maybe it's just because "cash" has a snappier ring to it.

4. Not Exactly a Level Plane Field

So let's recap the story at Delta Air Lines (DAL) - Get Delta Air Lines, Inc. Report. Actually, we'll just recap the recap published yesterday by Delta's hometown newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Shorn on the Bayou
Green and greener

Delta has an executive compensation plan with bonuses based mostly on profit targets.

Top Delta executives received no bonuses in 2001.

Delta changes its bonus plan to focus on cost-cutting goals.

Delta loses $1.3 billion in 2002.

Delta lays off thousands of employees in 2002.

Delta reveals that top executives met cost-cutting goals in 2002.

Executives receive millions of extra dollars in 2002 to fund special pension trusts, protected even if Delta were to go bankrupt.

Employees get mad.

Delta announces more layoffs.

The staff of the research lab can't think of anything to say.

5. No Man is an Aisle

This just in:


reported Thursday evening that Delta CEO Leo Mullin will be giving back much of what he might have earned in 2003 and beyond.

Citing an internal Delta memo,


says Mullin will forgo about $9 million in compensation over the next three years.

No mention was made of the $8.2 million pension payment Mullin received in 2002, along with the $1.4 million bonus to his $795,000 salary.

"The decisions in regard to executive compensation were fully appropriate in the context of the time in which they were made," Mullin is quoted as writing. "However, the reality of the airline industry is that the context changes rapidly."

"Rapidly changing context," we assume, is a euphemism for "I got tired of pulling off the 'Kick Me' Post-it notes people stuck on my butt."