Sunday, April 16, 2000

Odd couples

Marketing ice cream, diet shake

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This Ben & Jerry ice cream deal announced last week could be just the beginning. Unilever not only bought the makers of Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia, it is also buying the antidote.

        The gigantic consumer products company cut a deal to buy Slim-Fast on the same day.

        Brilliant. The company acquired one product that creates a need for its other new product. This appears to be the first of a new and improved merger-mania. One bank gobbling up another bank and one media company gobbling up another media company is just so over. Really, how many new service charges can you come up with after a while?

        And now that Leonardo DiCaprio is playing the “role” of a television journalist and Candice Bergen is being considered as a 60 Minutes correspondent, these companies may have to look outside their own industries for growth.

        The newspaper industry, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, is in the process of converting to smaller pages. Some of our readers have complained that it makes us harder to read. We're still tinkering with this, of course, and have increased the type size already. Maybe we should simply cut a deal with LensCrafters.

        Instead of fighting with the Food and Drug Administration over charges that its olestra caused, er, anal leakage, Procter & Gamble should have just arranged to shrink-wrap an adult diaper with every giant bag of WOW! chips.

        Motorola, maker of hand-held cell phones that we are encouraged to use while careening around the highways, could buy Maaco Enterprises, a company that specializes in automotive painting and bodyworks. Or maybe one great, big company could buy them both, say, British Petroleum, which could then buy an automaker that builds gas-guzzling SUVs.

        If BP really wants to gild the lily, it could sponsor children's soccer, which is one of the main excuses for these tanks.

        The products are out there, just waiting for corporate ingenuity to encourage sales growth. The yin and yang of the new millennium: A little wired on our coffee? Try the new Starbucks Prozac Frappuccino.

        Ben & Jerry's can put together a sort of Binge Bonus. As soon as you've eaten your weight in its ice cream, you get a free six-pack of Slim-Fast.

        Pfizer, maker of Viagra, could aim for the aging boomers. It could package the medication used to treat impotence with some kind of aspirin. Headache? No problem, Dear. Let me get you something from my Mid-Life Romantic Getaway Kit.

        We boomers, the hogs moving though the consumer python, present endless possibilities. Tattoo artists could team up with laser surgeons. The artists can recommend rosebuds for 30-something butts. The laser surgeons can remove them when they turn into droopy peonies. Warner-Lambert, which makes Lipitor, a successful cholesterol-fighting drug, has been talking merger with Pfizer. Company officials might want to reconsider this over a Chunky Monkey milkshake made with Slim-Fast. Why settle for just another great, big drug company.

        How about a merger with McDonald's? Throw in the Wisconsin Cheese Association.

        Will you have fries with that?

        And, perhaps, some fried cheese?

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at