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CBS's Dirty 'Frosty' Is a Disgrace

I’ve been a marketing man a long time, but I’ve never been as appalled, outraged and saddened as I have over the "Frosty the Inappropriate Snowman" trailers created by CBS.

These trailers are not only morally bankrupt, they’re the stupidest kind of marketing imaginable. The dirty-minded lunatics have definitely taken over the asylum this time.

Here’s the background on the story:

CBS seems to have decided to re-cut scenes from its perennial classic Christmas cartoon tale, "Frosty the Snowman," with voiceover from two of its most depraved and dirty-minded sit-com characters played by Neil Patrick Harris and Charlie Sheen.

Apparently the idea was to cross-promote "Frosty," a holiday delight aimed at kids, airing on December 18th with its two adult shows “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men”.

The result? A disgusting, amateurish marketing catastrophe for four distinct brands, shows Frosty talking about his “porn collection” while surrounded by crowds of smiling minors. What’s wrong with these people? If you want to see for yourself, here is the link to the Neil Patrick Harris clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-jznmiufz8

Here’s the damage as I see it:

CBS: Talk about insulting and possibly injuring your audience. Now when kids look up "Frosty the Snowman" online, there’s a very good chance that they’ll stumble on one of these two clips. Instead of being regaled with Christmas spirit, they’ll be treated to Frosty talking about porn and picking up women. CBS is a venerable network, but this kind of desperate, depraved and hare-brained approach to marketing its properties will lead to serious questions about the strength of its brand, its management and its future, especially in the current environment where network television is one big question mark (i.e., after all, just this week Comcast made a deal to buy NBC). While it's out of my marketing purview, I’d go so far as to say that CBS’s legal department might be putting in some overtime on this one.

"Frosty the Snowman:" Poor Frosty! What did he do to deserve having his snow-white image dragged through the mud? Nothing. But now it will be hard for many to watch the original without thinking about the smut. Already people are screaming about never being able to look at Frosty the same way again. This is about stealing people’s memories of childhood and polluting the precious memories of children being formed at Christmas. In an age when big media is talking about the value of its content, this prized piece of content just took a body blow. This might just be the kind of heat that will permanently melt Frosty, magic hat or not. It's a true shame and totally unnecessary if CBS had simply remembered the Frosty brand.

“How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men”: These two shows might come out the best of all four brands in question. Bottom line: the adult content and cynicism of the "Frosty" clips is in keeping with the content and spirit of these shows. Still, it is possible that both the shows might lose viewers. Why? Because when you watch the “Frosty” clips you hear just how foul some of the dialogue of these shows is against the snow-white background of the cartoon –and with Adam Lambert being shunned recently for his lewd and lascivious behavior at the American Music Awards, isn’t it possible that these shows might come under some pretty serious scrutiny? Moreover, the actors doing the voice-overs might lose respect because of their involvement in this debacle -- after all, they’ll be seen as trashing "Frosty," a sacrosanct Christmas tradition, and indirectly hurting kids. So chalk up two more brands that might be damaged by this one very bad decision.

A few more points.

You hear people speak about demographics all the time. Presumably the demographic that watches “Frosty” and the demographic that watches the two adult shows are different. Not so.

The folks watching “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men” likely grew up with "Frosty." Around Christmastime, many from this same demographic probably tune back into “Frosty” for a trip down memory lane. -- They might even share their childhood experience with their own kids.

I can see the brainstorming at CBS that led to this disaster now… Wow, the same demographic will appreciate the humor of having foul things come out of Frosty’s mouth. Brilliant!

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The fact is, you’ve got two demographics in the same person. When that fan of “How I Met Your Mother” watches “Frosty” he or she becomes a kid again, especially when they’re watching it with their kids. No one wants to see their Christmas traditions dragged through the mud or be seen as being associated with something dirty in front of their wide-eyed kids.

There’s also the issue of what I like to call "adpublitizing." I’ve defined "adpublitizing" as creating an ad that is sure to generate controversial coverage which promotes your brand for a low advertising cost. I wouldn’t be surprised if adpublitizing was also part of CBS’s plan. But in this case, the adpublitizing has backfired and the coverage will only do damage.

To tell the truth, I won’t be unhappy if CBS's stunt does some damage and discourages this kind of thing from happening again, because only the worst kind of marketing crawls right out of the gutter and into our living rooms and the lives of our kids.

And remember, the business of business and the business of media is always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.

John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and president of the Marketing Department of America who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.

John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He writes frequently for Fox News Opinion and is author of "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."

 

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