Service of What Were They Thinking?

April 30th, 2012

Categories: Business Decisions, Humor, Lessons Learned, Magazines, Retail, What Were They Thinking?

I’ve written many posts that illustrate business behavior or decisions that deserve this reaction. Recently I’ve noticed a rash of examples that inspired me to revisit the question.

Humor Doesn’t Always Translate

I saw a scarf manufactured by a well known Italian fashion brand. Prominently printed along an edge in fancy script were the words “cheap & chic.” European or rich person’s humor, perhaps? At $80, the scarf represented the couture brand’s bargain basement price point. In spite of the pretty pattern and colors, the words translated to “what were they thinking?” Can you imagine the reaction of the recipient of such a gift?

My Stars

Another well known apparel brand, this one with retail stores of the same name, sells a tee-shirt with a yellow star reminiscent of the symbol Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany. Wonder what the stylist-and his/her boss-had in mind? One of the hosts of the WABC radio program “Religion on the Line” was not amused.

You Can’t Have That

Leafing through the pages of a once-favorite decorating magazine, I stopped at the image of a bright red and white bedroom ensemble. Most of the photo captions on the page were obscured by the dropout type on dark background. Centrally placed in the largest type on a white background I read: “____[name of store] no longer stocks this toile headboard, but the company still sells the matching dust ruffle.”

I couldn’t see the dust ruffle in the photo [though a friend said he could see a little bit of it]. The coordinating floral comforter took up most of the image but there was no mention of it.

Pay Your Debts

And then there was the Secret Service person who didn’t pay his Columbian prostitute. Now was that the time to be cheap?

Race to Play

On, Christopher Baxter wrote “N.J. state troopers face probe for ‘Death Race 2012’ down Parkway to AC.” According to Baxter, two troopers “escorted a caravan of luxury sports cars at speeds in excess of 100 mph down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City last month.” Baxter quoted one of two witnesses, Wayne Gantt, who complained to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority: “I had the great pleasure today of nearly being killed by, not one, but two, Lamborghinis traveling in excess of 110 mph in a (New Jersey State Police) escorted ‘caravan’ of approximately 30 exotic vehicles all traveling well over 100 mph.” What a precedent for the next time a state trooper tries to ticket a driver for going 75 mph in a 65 mph zone.

Guess the police and the sports car drivers don’t remember how former NJ Governor Corzine was almost killed when he urged his chauffeur to travel at 90+ mph down a turnpike and the car smashed into something. Speed must be in the air in that state.

Can you explain what these people were thinking or add other examples to the list?

14 Responses to “Service of What Were They Thinking?”

  1. Martha Takayama Said:

    These examples really are mystifying. It is very difficult to imagine what anyone responsible for any of these promotions, campaigns, events or products can be thinking, or, in fact, whether or not they do engage in any thoughtful reflection.

    What does seem to be a consistent element in all these examples is lack of taste and judgment, lack of intellectual development and, utter lack of respect for anyone and anything other than themselves.

    One has to ask what does the public think about all of this.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Bad taste is the answer to the fashion examples. May the silence of cash registers reflect the public’s opinions there.

    The scary part of the secret service and state trooper moves is that their lack of judgment might cause injury or death which is what members of both organizations are supposed to prevent.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Any given term means different things to different people, so that while the term “cheap” may offend some sensibilities, it will attract others. Reminds me of a well heeled boyfriend who liked to crow about how little he paid for expensive jackets. The fellow enjoyed bargains, a trait which is not lost on the wealthiest, popular opinion notwithstanding. It is not wise to put oneself in another persons head since one is not that person, and therefore can’t have the faintest idea what another is thinking. As for former Governor Corzine, that’s easy — for me, at least. We enjoy high speeds. It’s as simple as that!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Anybody can call themselves cheap and promote the fact, so I suppose the scarf is for them, but not for gifts. It cuts down the potential for income, so as long as the brand isn’t interested in sales…But a rich person flaunting a scarf that promotes how cheap they are doesn’t strike the right note either. Kind of like a rich person whining that they are poor or can’t afford to do something when everyone knows it’s hogwash.

    I, too, like driving fast, though 90 mph is excessive on public roads–but worse, it endangers others who if hit at that rate of speed, might not be as lucky as Corzine was.

    Further, why should anyone follow laws and rules of the road if the people in charge can’t be bothered? It’s not up to us–or entitled public servants–to pick and choose.

  5. Mimi Fukui Said:

    With regard to the details of the clothing you cite, one would hope the public would be savvy enough not to support companies which at best ridicule or at worst horribly offend the consumer.

    As for the now apparently Not Very Secret Service, the episodes coming to light are shocking not because of any issues of personal morality, but rather because they totally undermine the purpose of the organization and put multitudes, starting with our President, at risk.

    Does anyone remember the Profumo affair?

    The level of gaucheness, naiveté, and stupidity reflected in these antics, makes one wonder if the participants have ever seen a good spy movie. Furthermore it seems difficult to imagine so many people acting in concert in such an incredibly high risk and concentrated fashion. Where did the initiative and organization come from?

  6. Peter di Parma Said:

    Great subject!

    These things happen because people are trained to think in boxes.

    I once had a boss at a large multi-national who had graduated at the top of his class at some pipsqueak business school in Cambridge, Mass. Thanks to that and oodles of poise, he had moved up the corporate ladder at great speed. Before he was 40 he had been put in charge of my department

    He had learned well what had been taught, and when we opened an office in Tehran, Iran during the mid 1970s when the Shah was still around, he insisted that we should run a national advertising campaign to promote the office, because that is what the marketing textbooks said you should do. He called in our advertising agency, Doyle Dane and Bernbach, and set up a campaign.

    While this fellow may have known about marketing, he knew nothing about Middle East. I knew that bragging in public about what we were doing in Persia would only offend our far more important Arab customers, and besides there is no place more unstable than Iran on earth. A big marketing campaign was only likely to leave us with egg all over our face. I tried to persuade the man, but he was the stubborn type, besides he had allocated money to spend for this and wanted it spent before somebody else got it.

    We and Doyle Dane had meeting after meeting while I tried to stonewall the project. Meanwhile, tens of thousands were spent. Finally, in fear of loosing my job, I gave up. A campaign praising the 4,000 year old Persian Empire was to be launched.

    Then the Shah was overthrown, our chance to win the prize for “What did they think they were doing?” went by the boards.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love the way you refer to the “Not Very Secret Service!” I so agree with your concerns. The timing of their affairs could not be worse. I suppose they felt vindicated because there were so many of them. Reminds me of the illegal hazing that goes on when a school football team is on the road. Boys will be Boys doesn’t work when a student is injured or killed nor does it work when the so called boys have crucial, lifesaving jobs.

    I can’t think of anything more to say about the clothing than “don’t buy it.” Maybe, especially the tee shirts, can be used as rags.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a story! Were YOU and your team lucky [while the Shah was not]!

    So I guess you are saying that in all these instances, and the many more that I’ll keep looking for to use in future posts, there was probably someone, or even many, who knew better, only they were out voted by the boss.

  9. Marth Takayama Said:

    Peter your story is amazing and your understanding and foresight even more so.

  10. DManzaluni Said:

    Sorry, I cant see anything wrong with driving a car with a suspension which can handle speed at high speed, which I assume is what the troopers and their bosses thought. Especially when the convoy is escorted to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

    Do you all REALLY think there is anything wrong with whiling away the hours driving between Cheyenne and Casper along straight roads with no other cars, no buildings, no people, no trees etc etc etc at 90? Do you really think there is anything inheretly dangerous about passing another vehicle every few hours at that sort of speed? The “what were they thinking” are the idiots who imposed the blanket speed limit; which caused the death knell of the car industry while all the american designers of the 1970s onwards set about designing cars which could only travel safely at 55 and then tried to compete world wide with German cars which HAVE to be properly designed ‘cos they have no speed limits there.

    What I DO see is a whole lot of cars like American SUVs which are so badly designed that their suspensions cant handle the speeds that their engines put out. Suspensions which are so bad that even professional chauffeurs like the Gov’s couldnt handle the car at speed. And owners who dont understand how cars with bad suspensions handle at the sorts of speeds they shouldn’t be doing.

    People who have never driven them do think that cars like Lamborghinis are unsafe at speed precisely because they dont know how they handle at 90. It says more about the people criticising the convoy than those who took the decision to authorise it. (And yes, I do disagree with ticketing people who drive safely at speed)

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I checked what The New York Times wrote in 2007 about Governor Corzine’s accident. “Mr. Corzine was in the front passenger seat when his state police vehicle swerved to avoid an apparently out-of-control driver on the Garden State Parkway and hit a guardrail.” So maybe you are right about the capability of the car. No doubt the speed limit rules take into consideration the limitations of most of the cars on the road.

    I’ve never driven in Germany so I don’t know about speed limits. There are limits in France and I’ve driven at 100 mph in that country on a good road without potholes that had little traffic in a car that could handle the speed.

    Roads in New Jersey aren’t that well maintained and are severely congested. I would posit that the only safe way for any cars—whether or not they can handle fast speeds easily—could zoom down a turnpike in NJ would be if the state police cleared the road of any traffic, as they do when they set down a medevac to bring injured drivers to the hospital. Few were worried about the drivers of the magnificent sports vehicles—I think it was the innocents in their clumsy standard sedans and SUVs we worried about.

  12. Mimi Fukui Said:


    Risks and inconsistent application of rules of the road aside, is it the function of State Troopers to escort ” A caravan of luxury sports cars at speeds in excess of 100 mph down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City” at any time?

    Are all the drivers of luxury sports cars exempt from all speed limits and any legal consequences because of the vehicle they are driving? Furthermore who decides–and how–that a driver is capable of “driving safely at speed”?

  13. DManzaluni Said:

    Two good points Mimi. It isnt my function to decide (on the basis of three second sound bytes) what is or isnt safe on which New Jersey roads when a convoy is escorted and approriate precautions have been taken. Is IS the function of the local police chief and in no three second sound byte has it been suggested that he didnt do his job properly. I wouldn’t dream of second guessing him on the basis of some overblown sensationalist media hype about his taking the wrong decision without their considerating the circumstances he took into account. I simply don’t trust the media to quite that degree not to exaggerate what happened here.

    Your second case is even more powerful and a great idea. Assign ratings to different cars which define how fast they can go. So an SUV which can’t be safely driven with a full load of family members over 50 shouldnt be allowed to drive over 50. Period. A muscle car which handles at 100 much like an SUV at 30 should be allowed to drive at 100. Period. A simple chip inside (for example) a radar gun would let law enforcment personel identify the car they are testing to see whether to stop that Lamborghini for doing 67MPH in its second gear. There would be a charge of dangerous driving when driving is dangerous.

    Just watch how quickly the manufacturers would react to this by making their suspensions better-designed to obtain higher ratings. Just watch how buyers would avoid lower-rated cars. Sooner or later ALL cars would be more safe and better-designed. Better safety equals less accidents and less road deaths. Equally quickly foreign buyers would start to want to buy American cars. Everyone would benefit and roads would be safer.

    And we know how quickly they would react. Exactly as quickly as they reacted when a stupid 55 mph limit was imposed: by strangulating 6 litre cars to give better mileage at 55 and halting all suspension design. That was when Americans started buying foreign/German cars in qualitities and when Japanese cars started to gain such ascendency.

    And yes, I have driven on Geman roads which are predominantly two lanes and mysteriously there are fewer accidents. No, the drivers aren’t inherently any better than American drivers would be if given safer cars.

    Properly designed cars don’t go out of control when they “swerve” at speeds as low as 90!

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You know far more about motor vehicles and driving than most people do. You mention speed limit and fuel efficiency, which is an important concern, especially as the amount of fuel in the world shrinks and the price increases. There also may be studies that show that average people, who are not expert drivers, are less prone to die or to kill others when they have accidents at lower speeds.

    Again, I can’t address what happens in Germany, but in other European countries, where the price of gas has always been high to encourage frugal use, people are less prone to drive their cars as much, as far, and as often as we do, which might also result in lower numbers of accidents. In addition, trains are a convenient and comfortable option that we don’t enjoy here.

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