Even the brightest of ideas can quickly lose its shine. All it takes is a moment of distraction, an unforeseen complication… or an act of just plain idiocy. Dumb moments happen to all of us. And they happen more often than we’re generally happy to admit. But as the late Kerry Packer once famously said, “If you get things right 60 percent of the time, you will rule the world.” As the year draws to a close, we decided to look back and remember some of the moments that many would prefer to forget. Because those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to… sorry… where was I?
By James C. Tuckerman (and the Anthill Army)
|Every year is tarred by moments of corporate shenanigans, skullduggery and just plain stupidity. With so many to choose from, it is always hard to pick a selection.Our top ten goofs, gaffes and groaners for 2006 were chosen for their sheer ability to raise eyebrows, evoke bemusement and cause their sideliners endless amusement. Bring on the dumbness!|
10. PERFORMANCE FALLS SHORT OF GOOD HUMOUR
If you are a disgraced business-person, disqualified from directing companies for misusing confidential board information to buy and sell shares, if you’ve been dragged through the courts and been very publicly dakked as a result of acrimonious dealings with your former accountant, if your fall from grace is so profound it made front page news (not just the business section!), how do you stage a comeback? How can you re-claim the hearts and minds of the public? Is that even possible?
Former funny-man turned alleged insider-trader Steve Vizard thought he could, reprising his once popular Fast Forward role with comedian Michael Veitch in a surprise appearance at this year’s Logie Awards. It pays to have friends in high places and perhaps the powers-that-be thought Vizard deserved a second chance (or the opportunity to create a cringe-worthy talking point around office water coolers).
But only time can heal all wounds and one year, even in show business, it seems was not enough for the many viewers and uncomfortable audience members at the popular television event. Vizard’s contrite performance was not his best, matched only by his appearance outside the Federal Court less than a year before. Vizard makes it into our top 10 by proving the power of narcissism to create ‘dumb’ moments and for bungling his best chance at a comeback in the process.
9. APPOINTMENT OF ROBERT GERARD CAUSES EXTREME RESERVATIONS
Politicians are very adept at making fools of themselves. So much time in the public spotlight can only promote opportunities for very public ‘dumb’ moments.
The appointment of Robert Gerard to the Reserve Bank Board became of source of many jibes in December ’05 and into ’06 against Federal Treasurer Peter Costello, whom it was revealed appointed Gerard to Australia’s most influential financial institution in 2003, despite Gerard’s long-running dispute with the Australian Tax Office involving a Caribbean tax haven and bogus insurance payments. Gerard did not resolve the dispute until 2004, with a $75 million out-of-court settlement, almost a year after he was appointed. But so what? We all make dud hires every now and then.
Costello takes the ‘dumb’ cake for turning the issue into a back-biting and finger pointing exercise at the highest levels of Government, stating in Parliament that when he put the idea to Prime Minister Howard, “I have never seen such an enthusiastic response in all my life.” In fact, Costello claimed that all South Australian cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Finance Minister Nick Minchin and then Defence Minister Robert Hill, could barely contain their glee.
Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan used his Parliamentary privilege to make the remark, “It seems that everybody knew about Mr Gerard’s tax problems except the Treasurer, Peter Costello. As this goes on, day by day, the Treasurer just gets deeper and deeper.”
Deeper into the ‘dumb’ pile, we thinks.
8. FOOTBALL ON CHANNEL 31?
At the time of writing this report, it has been 318 days since Seven and Ten trumpeted their deal to secure AFL broadcast rights for 2007.
At the time, many applauded the bravado of the dynamic duo in its tag-team approach to wrestling TV rights from heavy-weight and sport-obsessed Channel Nine. However, it seems that all is fair in love and war… and televised football.
Analysts have since suggested that the ‘dumbness’ most likely began when Channels Seven and Ten exercised an option (purchased in 1997 for $20 million) to meet Nine’s extremely generous bid of $780 million (roughly 50 percent above the previous deal) – a rumoured set up by the late and ever-crafty Kerry Packer to ensure his rivals would pay above market price. The fall-out has seen Foxtel, unable to meet Seven and Ten’s lofty licence fees, announce the likely closure of its Fox Footy Channel (FFC), forcing the suggestion that Seven and Ten will need to resort to community television to honour their obligations to the AFL, from which the rights were purchased.
Under the deal, the broadcasters have the right to onsell up to four games a week to pay TV. If no agreement is reached, they will be bound to broadcast all eight games a week on free-to-air, a recipe for disaster in NSW, ACT and Queensland, where NRL is likely to win in the ratings.
While sporting stars are the traditional butt of jokes when grey matter is placed under the spotlight, Channel Seven and Ten can be awarded the winning place in this ‘dumb’ contest.
7. ABC BOOKS TAKES FIRST EXIT OUT OF JONESTOWN
In June this year, the ABC announced that it would not publish Jonestown, the long awaited biography of powerful broadcaster Alan Jones. ABC Enterprises had commissioned Jonestown author, Chris Masters, to write the book.
However, according to ABC Television’s Media Watch, “Media Watch understands the decision to can the book was not made by the publishers and editors of ABC Enterprises, but by the ABC board.”
So why the interference by the ABC board? Of course, critics of the ABC have since hypothesised that the decision was the result of ABC board stacking in favour of Liberal Party cohorts and their conspiratorial agendas to protect one of the Liberal Party’s most faithful allies. The official line is that the publication would “almost certainly result in commercial loss” as a result of a potential action for defamation, as threatened by Jones.
So what’s so dumb about this? Firstly, leading barrister Terry Tobin QC, had already told the ABC that the book could be successfully defended in court. But the head of ABC Enterprises, Robyn Watts, wanted to see a written report and the ABC board couldn’t wait. Secondly, the ABC had already spent over $100,000 on Jonestown that will have to be written off while the plaudits for the book go to another publisher.
Rumour has it that the biography sold 13,000 units in its first month, suggesting an immediate best seller, and Jones has not taken legal action, yet. This sort of outcome creates the impression that the ABC is editorially timid, or worse, vulnerable to the influence of powerful men like Alan Jones. Now that’s dumb.
6. ACHTUNG! MAMBO CREATES A T-SHIRT TO RULE THEM ALL!
There are few historical figures able to command the same charged emotional response that Adolf Hitler continues to elicit. It should only take one royal heir to step out in a brown shirt and cropped faux mo to remind companies and marketers how sensitive a topic the dark deeds of Hitler remain (and rightly so).
When Australian T-shirt maker Mambo launched its ‘paper versus scissors’ design into Australian shops and department stores, it was business as usual at the brand that describes itself as “renowned for its quirky, often humorous” T-shirts. However, the image of the Fuhrer making his familiar flat handed salute next to a photo of Winston Churchill with his fingers forming a V for Victory (a play on the popular ‘paper, scissors, rock’ children’s game) was considered no laughing matter for prominent members of the Jewish community, who immediately protested against the offensive nature of the T-shirt to survivors of the Holocaust.
David Jones and other retailers promptly removed the offending T-shirt from sale. While controversy can be a powerful sales spinner, we suspect Mambo’s followon T might well feature figures of Mambo management slapping their foreheads and not-so-proudly wearing the embarrassment of a number six ranking in the Dumb Report.
5. STRIPPING FOR SCIENCE
According to reports on popular news-website Crikey.com and unsubstantiated claims from around the rumour mill, guests at the 2007 Australian and New Zealand Climate forum dinner, held at the Australian National University in Canberra this past September, were dismayed (or delighted) when the evening’s entertainment turned out to be a burlesque performance, involving scantily clad women and balloons.
The government sponsored event was largely attended by scientists, of which 30 percent were reportedly women.
As one attendee said in a message to Crikey.com, “I could not believe my eyes when a woman covered in balloons started prancing around as delirious male scientists popped them with a pin. This was followed by a series of women on stage dressed in almost nothing making jokes about being ridden.”
It is remarkable that this sort of public faux pas could have made it through the various levels of approval that most government sponsored exercises command. In fact, it would have required a multiple of ‘dumb’ moments to reach its final, history making ‘dumb’ conclusion.
We suspect that more than balloons were ultimately burst in this revealing endeavour.
4. SORTING THE WHEAT FROM THE GAFFE
Greed is one of the most powerful corruptors. And corruption is only too often the genesis of dumb behaviour.
When the Volcker Inquiry (set up to investigate the systematic corruption of the Oil-for-Food program by Saddam Hussein) pointed the finger at the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), alleging that it had knowingly paid kickbacks to the Iraqi Government, defrauding the UN and violating sanctions, AWB Directors scurried for cover, caught with their proverbial pants down and noses at the trough.
At the insistence of the Iraq Government, the AWB had agreed to pay ‘transportation fees’ of around $290 million. At the same time, the price per ton paid from the UN Oil-for-Food program was raised by an amount slightly above the ‘transportation fees’.
What caused particular uproar was the suggestion that Federal politicians, including Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, had knowingly turned a blind-eye to the fraudulent behaviour. While the government-established Cole Inquiry into the company’s role in the scandal is still under way, North American and Canadian farmers are claiming $1 billion in damages from AWB, alleging the Australian wheat exporter used bribery and other corrupt activities to corner grain markets. The growers are also claiming that AWB used the same techniques to secure grain sales in other markets in Asia and other countries in the Middle East.
Even criminal minds usually know that what they are doing is wrong. And the clever ones also anticipate that they might even be caught. Our number five spot goes to the AWB for being too smart for their own good and failing to see the wheat from the gaff.
3. EVERYBODY NEEDS SOME-BODY SOMETIMES
Jacob (Jake) Bruce Kovco, a Private in the Australian Defence Forces, died of a gunshot wound to the head in Baghdad, Iraq, on 21 April 2006. He was the first and, until recently, the only Australian soldier to have been killed in the conflict.
While the incident provided justifiable grounds for anguish (particularly among those close to the Private), the more cynical would also have recognised the potential of Kovco’s death as a powerful instrument for promoting anti-war messages and for arousing pro-war patriotism.
But Kovco’s death also lends credibility to the claim that bad luck travels in threes (and that misery loves company).
Once again, the poor management of information by the players in charge, the Australian Defence Force and the Federal Government, under Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, led to mass speculation about the ‘true’ cause of Kovco’s gun discharge, including rumours of suicide, accidental death as a result of ‘skylarking’ colleagues and murder in connection with so-called ‘black operations’.
Then, to make matters worse, the third and final straw in this trilogy of errors occurred on 26 April 2006 when Kovco’s body was apparently ‘misplaced’ during attempts to repatriate it to Melbourne, and the body of 47-year-old Bosnian contractor Juso Sinanovic was sent to Melbourne in its place.
There is nothing funny about this series of bureaucratic blunders. But the sheer idiocy of it all ensured the disrespectful treatment of Kovco, his family and the family of Sinanovic a top ranking in the Dumb Report.
2. TURKEY SLAP CAUSES RED-FACES
For those who have chosen to erase the now infamous ‘turkey slapping’ incident from memory, scandal erupted in early 2006 when two contestants of the popular (and ever controversial) Big Brother reality television program were unceremoniously evicted from the Australian Big Brother house amid claims of inappropriate sexual activity.
While a statement on the official Big Brother website initially referred to the incident simply as “a serious matter”, it was soon after announced that one of the evicted housemates had pressed his genitalia against the face of a fellow female housemate in what has since been conflictingly described as a both a serious act of ‘sexual assault’ and a harmless case of ‘flirtatious horseplay’. Media-fuelled controversy ensued, polarising public perceptions.
So why the ‘dumb’ ranking?
Southern Star, producer of Big Brother in Australia, is Australia’s largest independent television production group. Network 10 Australia, which aired the program, is one of Australia’s three national commercial television broadcasters. With these two successful and powerful media organisations managing the local version of the international franchise, it seems reasonable to assume that contingency plans would exist for this sort of ‘unplanned’ incident.
Instead, the staggered release of information, coupled with the show’s deliberate attempt to create sexual tension in previous days (the incident was preceded by a carefully engineered housemate ‘task’, that could have just as easily been described as enforced ‘kiss chasey’), created a perception of hypocrisy among the show’s producers and created significant public and political backlash for the show’s treatment of the three media-naive contestants at the centre of the furor.
When the behaviour of a company rates a mention in Parliament, with calls to have the program cancelled by Federal MP Trish Draper, it is worth asking, “Did I make a boo-boo?”
Big Brother gets a big ‘dumb’ ranking, positioned at number two.
1. MCDONALDS… MAKE UP YOUR MIND!
When you’re the target of as much anti-corporate sentiment as McDonalds, it makes sense to be proactive with your marketing.
For example, the decision by McDonald’s Australia to launch makeupyourownmind.com.au in combination with an aggressive television campaign – to coincide with the release of anti-fast-food movies, such as Fast Food Nation, and combat the bad PR likely to result – must have seemed like a stroke of genius to the highly successful, sometimes Machiavellian marketers at McDonalds.
However, underestimating its opposition, or simply failing to consider how its foes might undermine this artfully (and expensively) crafted campaign, places McDonald’s Australia in our number one spot. While the campaign would have cost the fast food giant hundreds of thousand of dollars to prepare and implement, a few hundred dollars spent on domain names with common variations, such as makeupyourmind.com.au (note the missing ‘own’), would have prevented outside organisations, such as Dendy Films, from linking these similar domains to websites promoting… you guessed it… Fast Food Nation!
McDonalds Australia lost this battle (but maybe not the war) for failing to be master of its own domains.
THE 2006 DUMB REPORT CONTINUES…