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Well Dalai Gee
Did he get stock options?

1. Shake Shake Shake, Shake Shake Shake, Shake Your Buddha

The nuttiest thing happened this week: A company under the microscope at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab acknowledged that its behavior was indeed

dumb

.

This sort of admission doesn't happen too often. In fact, the last time we remember such a confession was 17 months ago, when CNBC decided that airing penis-enlargement product commercials wasn't a win-win proposition after all.

This time around, the apologetic company is salesforce.com, the customer relationship-management company run by Oracle (ORCL) - Get Oracle Corporation Report veteran Marc Benioff. The company, which positions its products as an alternative to software installed on customers' computers, goes by the motto "Success. Not software."

Salesforce.com first got our attention two weeks ago when it sent us a poster of His Holiness the Dalai Lama -- the spiritual leader of the Government of Tibet in Exile.

The poster, which mentioned contributions to the

Tibet Fund and the

American Himalayan Foundation, invited recipients to a Sept. 5 appearance by the Dalai Lama. It also contained a nice little plug for salesforce.com: Above the picture of the meditatively posed Dalai Lama was the headline "There Is No Software on the Path to Enlightenment."

Wow, we thought. It's not often that you see a major worldwide religious leader endorsing CRM solutions. If Mother Teresa were alive, would she be shilling for

Siebel Systems

(SEBL)

?

Yes, the idea of the Dalai Lama serving as a commercial pitchman struck us as a little distasteful. But who were we to feel holier-than-thou toward the Dalai Lama? He is, after all, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Well, it turns out that the D.L. wasn't pitching salesforce.com after all. In a letter dated Aug. 27, Benioff said, "We are writing to apologize for having suggested in our invitation ... that either His Holiness the Dalai Lama or the American Himalayan Foundation endorse, or have ever authorized us to suggest that they endorse, our company or our business activities. Neither is true."

TheStreet Recommends

Hmm. That changes things. Upon receiving the letter of apology, we did what we should have done the first time around, which was to call the American Himalayan Foundation and the official U.S. representative of the Dalai Lama. Neither got back to us.

A little curious about how salesforce.com could have committed this lapse in judgment, we called up the company to investigate. The spokeswoman we reached was appropriately apologetic: "A mistake was made," she said, employing the classic, passive-voice, blame-diffusing construction that George Bush and Ronald Reagan made famous in 1986. But the spokeswoman wasn't interested in dissecting how, in fact, the mistake was made.

Benioff, we should note, requests we return the poster "promptly," promising to reimburse us for the expense.

Hah! It'll be a warm day atop Tibet's

Chomolungma before you can wrest the poster from our clutches.

Yes, we've put the Dalai Lama poster on a wall in the research lab lunchroom. We like to think of it as our tribute to salesforce.com. Our little shrine.

2. Like a Rolling Stonyfield

Speaking of the research lab's lunchroom, we got a little confused by our yogurt earlier this week.

Wow. It's not often we get to write, "we got a little confused by our yogurt earlier this week."

Anyhow, what confused us was the lid of our

Stonyfield Farm

organic yogurt -- a foil label that suggested we visit the Stonyfield Farm

Web site for a chance to win a Segway Human Transporter, "one of the hottest innovations in environmentally friendly transportation."

It wasn't the Segway part that puzzled us. As inhabitants of the mediasphere, we've got a pretty good fix on what the Segway HT is: a battery powered, two-wheeled vehicle invented by New Hampshirite Dean Kamen and sold exclusively on

Amazon.com

.

No, what we couldn't figure out was how the Segway HT could be so environmentally friendly. See, as far as we could figure out, the Segway is supposed to be an alternative to walking. How's spending $5,000 on a piece of machinery -- complete with batteries you'll have to dispose of someday -- supposed to be more environmentally friendly than -- you know -- strolling down the street?

Can You Segway and Drink Yogurt at the Same Time?

It isn't, says Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg. The Segway HT, he says, is "an environmentally friendly alternative to the three-to-five-minute errand in the car or the crosstown taxi ride." The amount of energy your car wastes idling at a traffic light for a half-minute or so, says Hirshberg, is more than enough to power a 10-mile trip on a Segway HT. Granted, a bicycle is more enviro-friendly than an HT, he says. But a bike isn't always an option. "Most people in their business suits don't want to get all sweaty on their bicycle," he says.

Sounds reasonable. But how did we get this idea in our heads that the Segway HT was a substitute for walking, not driving? As nicely as he can, Hirshberg blames it on the headline-grabbing efforts by Kamen and Segway -- the vehicle's manufacturer -- to legalize sidewalk use of the HT. "I believe that was a misdirected effort," says Hirshberg. He says he'll bring up the subject with Kamen when they have dinner next week.

3. Novartis Toes the Line

We learned something fascinating from the Food and Drug Administration this week.

As far as drug advertising goes, it's perfectly fine to depict microorganisms as little yellow fiends partying underneath your toenail.

But depicting a healthy, pink toe in the same ad? Well, buddy, now you've gone too far.

Some words of explanation:

On Aug. 22, the FDA faxed the drug company

Novartis

(NVS) - Get Novartis AG Report

a letter objecting to certain TV commercials.

These commercials were for Lamisil (terbinafine hydrochloride) brand tablets prescribed to treat onychomycosis, an infection caused by a dermatophyte microorganism.

These being TV commercials, however, they didn't really focus on Lamisil (terbinafine hydrochloride) brand tablets prescribed to treat onychomycosis, an infection caused by a dermatophyte microorganism.

No, the ads instead illustrated the disease as a yellow, humanoid creature dancing around under someone's toenail with his friends -- a fiendish gathering that turns the caucasian skin beneath the nail from a healthy shade of pink to a crusty, brown mess.

Now that we think about it, these ads -- which we've seen about 5,000 times since they started running in April -- struck us as so vivid, so easily comprehensible that they must be as scientifically valid as those old Pepto-Bismol ads showing the pink stuff coating a stomach as neatly as a crew of union painters. Or as accurate as those old comic book ads featuring the humanoid Sea Monkey nuclear family lounging around in a fishbowl.

Toe Punk
Dermatophyte debate

But the FDA doesn't object to the dancing dermatophytes. No, the regulators object to the miracle cure suggested by the commercial's animated portrayal of the Lamisil pill crushing the lead anthropo-dermatophyte, and the toenail skin's restoration to its healthy, pinkish glow. (Verbal clarifications printed onscreen are ineffectual, says the FDA.)

In fact, the FDA reminds Novartis, 62% of patients in clinical trials -- that's what we at the research lab like to call a clear majority -- didn't achieve the complete cure pictured in the ad. And 15% of the 38% who recovered completely suffered a relapse subsequently.

"I just can't emphasize enough how minor this really is," says a Novartis spokesman. "The ad will run again."

We had a bunch of questions for the FDA. Why, for instance, is it OK to picture a disease with the scientific accuracy of a sea monkey ad? And if it's offensive to advertise cigarettes with a sax-playing Joe Camel, why is it OK to advertise prescription drugs with a dancing dermatophyte? And why did it take the FDA four months -- and countless hours of commercial airtime -- to get on the case?

Regarding the timing, an FDA spokesman says the agency prioritizes its work to have the most impact on promoting and protecting public health, going after the most egregious problems first. As for our animation questions, he refers us to

a publication of the FDA's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications.

"Advertisements cannot be false or misleading or omit material facts," is how the FDA sums up its guidelines. "They also must present a fair balance between effectiveness and risk information."

Hey! A "fair balance"! Just like

Fox News'

"fair and balanced" reporting? Is there any connection to report between

Fox News

and toenail infections? You decide.

4. Upside Down/The More You Turn Me/Inside Out/Round and Round

As far as we can figure out,

Unilever

(UN) - Get Unilever NV Report

is on some kind of upside-down, squeezable food kick.

Skippy peanut butter in upside-down, squeezable packages. Hellmann's Dippin' Sauce in upside-down, squeezable packages. And Wish-Bone Ranch-Up dressing.

All well and good. But this picture, which we received in a recent advertising circular, scares us.

What's the Upside?

We're not sure why we're alarmed. But we think it relates to our suspicion that no child should be this excited about ranch dressing.

Capitalist Piggybank
The Scrooge McDuck 10 Index

5. Grasso Under Foot

Finally, it's time for the results of our latest reader contest, the one in which we asked you

what New York Stock Exchange Chairman Dick Grasso should do with his recently revealed, righteous-outrage-inducing $140 million retirement payout.

Many entrants ignored the guideline that submissions be suitable for a family friendly Web site. Well, it serves us right. We were the ones who gave the contest the snidely provocative title "Where Should Dick Grasso Stick His Money?"

Other entrants chose to make fun of Grasso's baldness, an approach that we at the lab find hopelessly immature. We think it's more appropriate to make fun of Grasso's wedgelike, trapezoidal cranium.

Some noteworthy entries:

  • " Grasso's picture reminds me of Scrooge McDuck," writes Ed Klebacha. "Perhaps he should buy gold doubloons and keep them in a vault. Then he could invite his friends from Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, and Morgan Stanley (MWD) to a golden swim party." (David Burkart also picked up on the McDuck angle.)
  • A reader who requests anonymity writes to remind us of a relevant news item: Four years ago, at the invitation of the Colombian government, Grasso traveled to Colombia to meet with a rebel commander involved in that country's decades-long civil war. The mission was to help explain the economic benefits of peace in Colombia. Because FARC, the group with which Grasso met, supports itself in part through kidnapping, it's fortunate for Grasso that details of his compensation package were released after the meeting, writes our anonymous correspondent. "Had they known how much Mr. Grasso stands to make, the FARC folks probably wouldn't have let his visit be a free one."
  • Kevin Dunseath suggests the NYSE chairman endow the Dick Grasso Chair in Corporate Governance at the Ethics Resource Center nonprofit group.
  • "A PIGGY bank would seem appropriate," writes Jack Boren.

All good ideas. But the winners of our coveted

Yahoo!

lunchbox are Suzanne and Igor Mamedalin, who write that Grasso "should exhibit faith in his own worthiness" by investing his $140 million among the 10 companies with the highest paid executives.

We like this. It assumes the system works. It's based on the presumption that highly paid executives like Grasso get what they deserve. They're paid the most money because they create the most value for shareholders. Of course, if this hypothesis turns out to be incorrect, Grasso will get what he deserves then, too.

Just for fun, we at the research lab did a trial run of this proposed portfolio. Using 2002 executive compensation data published earlier this year in

BusinessWeek,

we put Grasso's 401(k) in stocks boasting last year's 10 highest paid CEOs.

Good news for Grasso! Between April 15 -- roughly the date by which all the 2002 compensation data came out -- and Sept. 2, the Scrooge McDuck portfolio was up 23.6%, well ahead of the

Standard & Poor's 500

index's gain of 14.7%. (We ignored dividends.)

But hey, Grasso deserves it, right?