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Let's Make a List of the Dumbest Moments in the DVD Business

29 Jan, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Business 2.0 is out with its annual list of the 101 “dumbest moments in business,” and this year's installment contains some real doozies.

A few of my favorites:

* Seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster's “bottomless bucket of crab” promotion. It worked — too well: The company subsequently announced lower-than-expected earnings, with CEO Joe Lee noting, “It wasn't the second helping on all-you-can-eat, but the third.”

* Kraft's ad campaign to promote its new presliced, cracker-size cheese. The slogan: “We cut the cheese so you don't have to.”

* Urban Outfitters' Ghettopoly, a Monopoly knockoff. The top hat, shoe and car are replaced with a machine gun, marijuana leaf, basketball and rock of crack cocaine. Reacting to protests, the edgy retail chain promptly yanked the game from its stores.

* Sony filing an application to trademark the term “Shock and Awe” for a video game — just one day after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Sony later pulled the filing, calling it an act of “regrettable bad judgment.”

Our industry didn't have any humdingers worthy of mention — or at least none that popped up on Business 2.0's radar. But over the years, we've certainly had our choice moments.

Who can forget the flap Free Willy caused overseas when marketers belatedly realized “willy” was slang for a certain part of the male anatomy?

Or the clear-as-day rendering of that same male part on the cover of the original videocassette release of Little Mermaid, cleverly hidden inside one of the castle spires? Disney denied it ever happened, but when Little Mermaid was reissued a few years later, the cover mysteriously changed.

We have some present-day issues the editors of Business 2.0 might also want to check out for possible inclusion in next year's list.

For starters, what could be a dumber moment in business than the decision by the big retail chains to sell hot new DVD releases for below cost their first week in stores, at a loss, when they could easily make a nice profit without appreciably affecting sales? I understand they want to drive traffic, and DVD is a most compelling lure — but why go so low? They're not only losing money, but they're also lowering the value of DVD in the consumer's mind — and those $5.88 catalog dump bins only make matters worse.

Then there's all that hard-to-remove tape on three sides of most DVD releases. Isn't shrink wrap enough? It's not only an annoyance, but it also can damage the cover art, particularly on Warner's cheapo cardboard “snapper.”

I also don't get the scheduling of TV DVD releases — and I'm talking about current series that are still on the air. Some “complete season” sets come out at the end of the old season; others come out at the beginning of the new season; some are a year behind; others two, three, four or even more. Take a cue from the networks: they all bow their new seasons in the fall, at the same time, creating anticipation and huge front-end viewership. Might not such a strategy work for TV DVD as well?

My “dumb” list doesn't end there. Let's also include listing Dolby and subtitles as “special features”; not including English subtitles on DVDs at a time when most Americans have come to expect them (and appreciate them, if they happen to have noisy kids and/or spouses); putting out crappy direct-to-video sequels with none of the original stars, another notch on the “devaluation” scale; menus on kidvids that don't automatically switch to play after a minute or two (my poor kids once spent half an hour watching the menu to some big animated feature, disappointed that nothing was happening); and separate units for full screen and widescreen, something that confuses consumers and really isn't necessary, given that you can easily put both versions on the same DVD.

Readers, I'd be interested to hear your own nominations for “dumbest moments in the DVD business.” Please e-mail me your suggestions, and we'll revisit this topic in a few weeks.

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