Real Media Riffs - Tuesday, Feb 20, 2007

THE MAGICAL NUMBER SEVEN, PLUS OR MINUS THEE - Some people consider seven to be a lucky number, but it hasn't always proven that way for David Verklin. At least not if you're Renetta McCann, the global chief of Starcom MediaVest Group, who used that numeric to demonstrate just how unlucky Verklin's Carat has been in head-to-head pitches against the Publicis unit.

"He loves the number seven," McCann said, courtesy of a videotaped presentation shown the other night during an Advertising Women of New York roast of Verklin. "I believe I beat him seven times," she added, ticking off:

Walt Disney Co.
Coca-Cola Co.
Miller.
Sun Microsystems.
EMI.
Lead agency on Procter & Gamble's communication planning account.
Kellogg .

Then, as if digging a virtual dagger in even deeper, and with a bit of a twist, she emphasized, "How could you not love that."

McCann, of course, was playing off of one of the many Verklinisms cited by industry roasters during the ceremony. Verklin is famous for citing the number seven, and also, on occasion, repeats things seven times when he really wants to emphasize something emphatically.

Other Verklin characteristics made fun of during the evening included: his hair, his boyish good looks, exuberant buddy banter, and clichéd lines like his infamous "crackle of change" speech.

But it was the numeral seven that appeared to hang over Verklin so many ways that evening, especially as a result of McCann's ribbing, which started with a good-natured, almost sappy love note -- "How do I love David Verklin, let me count the ways" -- before it turned mean and seemingly vindictive.

"She kicks your ass, picks you up and kicks your ass all over again," AOL Networks President and fellow Verklin roaster Mike Kelly chided after McCann's rib-crackling ribbing.

Most surprising of all, was just how inaccurate McCann's media math proved to be. It's not seven account pitches Carat has lost to SMG, but eight. Either McCann forgot about its most recent head-to-head win -- Wal-Mart -- or she felt that would be a little too painful to invoke, since Carat had first won the business, only to have it wrested away by MediaVest due to a last-minute technical foul. Either that, or Wal-Mart issued a gag order on any one-liners that didn't follow its party-liners.

Or maybe it's just that McCann was using the number seven the way some cognitive psychologists use it, as in the "magical number seven," which can actually equal plus or minus two. But that's the subject of another column.

Perhaps the most damaging reference to seven delivered by McCann was her allusion to something that sounded like it might be a seven-year itch. Recalling her favorite Verklin moment, McCann described walking hand-in-hand with Verklin one starlit night in Cannes, France. That anecdote caused Verklin, known to be a devoted husband and father, to issue an emphatic denial of any such recollection to his wife Veronica and 14-year-old son sitting feet away in the front row. Curiously, he denied it only once, not seven times.