Commentary

The Tour de Pants: Cosby, Jared, And Trump

It’s been a painful time for fans of Subway guy Jared Fogle, and beloved sitcom dad and sometime Jello pudding pop pusher Bill Cosby. Add Donald Trump to the mix and it’s been one weird week.

The Donald, once again, proved to be the Trumperian Candidate, lighting up the brain circuits of listeners with his finger-pointing, reality-defying bombast. It’s almost as if he speaks an alternative language, which is catnip for the media.

But given the wild nature of Trump’s statements, it was not surprising  that most of the major brands and companies he’s affiliated with have dropped him.

It’s a great opportunity for those advertisers. They get immediate points and garner easy publicity for doing the right thing: standing up for diversity, inclusion, and their Latino constituents.   

Macy’s, for example, wins by losing Trump’s menswear line —which, incidentally, was “hecho in Mexico.” Before that, the ties and shirts were made in China. And obviously Univision, a Spanish-language broadcaster, could not continue to do business with him.

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Trump’s answer is to diminish and belittle his ex-partners, and say that they’ll be back — and, mostly, to sue them. He claims he’ll make enough from winning his $500 million suit against Univision to pay for his entire campaign.  Then again, that doesn’t matter, because he’s  “very rich.”

Right now, Trump is sucking up most of the interview time on the airwaves, because he makes himself so available. (This week he did numerous interviews from his chair in the corner of the lobby of Trump Tower, with shoppers in the background.)

The result is stunning television.  Trump counters every reality with his logic-busting bluster, telling an NBC interviewer that not only is it not a problem that he said Mexicans who come here are “drug dealers and rapists,” but that he will become the Republican candidate and also win the Latino vote.

He’s rising in the polls and connecting with voters, particularly on the legitimate issue of securing borders, and tapping into the public’s anger about sellouts and phony politicians.

Trump's popularity is also due to the fact that he’s a television brand name. What is “The Apprentice,” after all, but a surreal version of the presidency as embodied by an all-knowing mogul with a problematic, but telegenic, head of golden hair-covering?

The set-up is quite solemn and pompous, with the Donald often dipping down to meet with his people from his Trump helicopter, or communicating with the contestants via speakers from the heavens. The would-be apprentices bow and scrape, and as the exalted one  — the chief executive — he gets to sit at the head of the formal, gold-plated table, with his cabinet members around him, and decide who lives and who gets fired.

The problem for Trump is that life — and the presidency of the United States — is not like “The Apprentice.”  And for him, and men like Cosby and Fogle, it’s just too easy to start believing that they are the people they play on TV — and that they’ll continue to get a pass for being famous, rich, and powerful.

Cosby and Fogle have far uglier problems, to be sure. Fogle has not been arrested or accused of any crime.  But his Zionsville, Ind. home was the scene of a raid, with helicopters flying overhead, and police swooping in and carrying out computers and electronics.  (How is it that all the cameras were there at 6 a.m.?)

Let’s go back 17 years ago, to the genesis of Jared. He was a sophomore in college when Subway swept him up as an endorser for his amazing story and genuineness, his everyman-in-khakis quality.  The story is that he had lost 245 pounds on a “Subway diet,” limiting his intake to two sandwiches a day and doing a lot of walking. He was the embodiment of that magical catch-all word for ad persuasion: “authenticity.”

This was a genius marketing move. At a time when fast food meant fat food, Subway introduced the healthy (or healthier) alternative movement. The company spent hundreds of millions of dollars featuring him in ads: a biggest loser, of sorts as plain-spoken Midwestern guy. The marketing takeaway — that you could lose weight easily and cheaply, on Subway sandwiches, or at least eat a bit more healthfully — resonated with consumers, leading to impressive sales increases.

For the last five years or so, Jared has mainly been a traveling brand ambassador, and the sub company has concentrated on promoting the “$5-dollar-footlong” in ads. (And yes, the tasteless puns write themselves.)

Subway stood by him when he gained 40 pounds, and had him go back on the diet and train for the New York Marathon. Most unfortunately, they also sent him on a cross-country mission known as the “Tour de Pants.” (He’s famous for holding his enormous, tent-like, fat jeans up for the camera.)

The sad ironies abound. A few months ago, Russell Walker, the head of the Jared Foundation (for combating obesity in kids) was arrested on several counts of possessing and producing child pornography. The foundation was set up in part to combat teens’ typically sedentary lifestyle.

(The real story, according to several Web sources, is that by the time Jared was a freshman at Indiana University, when he was 400-plus pounds, he allegedly spent most of the time in his dorm room running his successful porn rental business. He started eating Subway twice a day because the store was a mere 10 steps away from his dorm.)

Subway indicated in its statement that the raid was related to a “previous incident” — which suggests the Russell Walker arrest. At the time, Fogle said he was “shocked” to hear about it. But it’s hard to believe that he didn’t hand-pick the head of his own foundation. And even if he’s not guilty, just having any of the evidence linked to his personal computers could indict him.

It’s simple now to say that Subway should not have put all its eggs in the Jared-as-endorser basket. But certainly, he proved to be marketing gold, and then his fame took on a life of its own. Now Subway has to distance itself, and Fogle is tainted and faces criminal charges.  Humans are fallible and the story isn’t new, but this one is particularly gruesome.

So is Cosby’s. The saddest thing is how, when sexual abuse allegations were revived starting last November, the 20-plus women who came forward to accuse him of drugging and raping them were demeaned and bullied.

This week, a judge unsealed the papers of a 2005 lawsuit trial, which was settled privately, in which Cosby admitted to giving Quaaludes to young women in order to have sex  with them. Why make public what was supposed to be private? The judge did so at least in part because of what he described as “the stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct.”

Yes, Cosby revived the popularity of the sitcom, and through his show, featuring an upper-middle-class black family, changed the way families were portrayed, and ushered in a rainbow of shows with diverse casts. He made himself a kindly doctor — a gynecologist, yet — who was married to a feminist lawyer, who was patient and loving with his children. Throughout his career, he was revered as “America’s dad.”

And then based on this persona, Cosby became a public scold, telling young black men to “pull up your damn pants.” And Hannibal Buress, a black comedian, was the only one to call him on being a rapist.

It might be too late to prosecute Cosby.  But the only lesson here is for America to pull up its pants, and keep its eye on the agonizing chasm between reality and show business.

11 comments about "The Tour de Pants: Cosby, Jared, And Trump".
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  1. Patricia Friedlander from Word-Up!, July 9, 2015 at 1:59 p.m.

    Simply brilliant!

  2. Marke Rubenstein from The Brooklyn Brothers, July 9, 2015 at 2:05 p.m.

    BL  as we have come to expect, you say what is on our minds so articulately.  It is always a rrisk reward situation to have a personality as a spokesperson.  Too many times our famous personalities disappoint. In the case of The Donald... He has an always will be a disappointing ass. 

  3. david marks from self, July 9, 2015 at 2:06 p.m.

    Proving once again, that it's all about the brand.  Spokespeople are fallible, human, prone to the flaws we all share, but criminal behaviors are reserved for the criminal, and no amount of marketing can save Humpty Dumpty, once he has fallen from his perch. Corporations, and any organization dependent on the public trust, had better change their game plans, had better stop relying on a singular mouth piece. This is a terrific piece, Barbara Lippert, an eye opener.

  4. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, July 9, 2015 at 2:23 p.m.

    Great piece, Barbara. The bottom line is, Cosby is a criminal hypocrite (or hypocritically criminal, whichever). Jared is whatever he is, but always insipid. Trump is doing us all a favor (except the GOP's largest donors, of course), by exposing the worst of the 1%: arrogant, conceited, prejudiced, deludedly overconfident about his real abilities, and so disturbingly self-righteous about it all.  Does anyone really believe that Sheldon Adelson is any less despicable?

  5. Nancie Martin from Tell My Story, July 9, 2015 at 2:31 p.m.

    Love the title! As it happens, saw it as I was buying jeans on Levi.com ;-)

  6. Melanie Howard from self employed, July 9, 2015 at 3:02 p.m.

    Excellent piece. If Jared is guilty of something, my question for Subway (and for any of the corporations who hired Cosby) would be what they knew and when. As for The Donald, I'm glad that Macy's dumped him, but aren't the conditions under which these clothes are made as troubling as his remarks?

  7. Adrian Lichter from Adrian Lichter, Inc., July 9, 2015 at 3:12 p.m.

    A perfect recap of an amazing week in America.

  8. Patrick Scullin from Ames Scullin O'Haire, inc., July 9, 2015 at 3:30 p.m.

    To quote the great philosopher, Freddie Mercury:
    "Is this the real life?
    Is this just fantasy?
    Caught in a landslide,
    no escape from reality..."

  9. George Parker from Parker Consultants, July 9, 2015 at 6:55 p.m.

    Barbara... When I worked at Y&R, I never worked on the Jello account, but the stories were rife. He was an absolute arsehole. His "Green Room" requests included Amos n' Andies cookies, Dom Perignon champagne and several bozes of illiegal Cohiba cigars. he was also, apparently a nightmare to work with. No word on Qualudes for the kids, or their mums. What an absolute wanker!!!
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  10. Jim English from The Met Museum, July 11, 2015 at 12:39 p.m.

    With these 3 guys,  Barbara, "the creepiness meter is off the charts," to borrow your 2004 description of "the King" character in Crispin Porter + Bogusky's executions for Burger King.  An uninvited royal turns up in the intimacy of your home serving fast food. I visualize especially the self-proclaimed monarch, Trump, as especially creepy.

  11. Mitria Di Giacomo from Nexus Plexus, July 13, 2015 at 12:40 p.m.

    Barbara, What a great piece! "America's Dad, Jared and the Donald" all converging in a bizzare and surreal Felliniesque script. I love the way you captured this crazy spectacle of characters and drew parallels in their personal sagas.


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