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Rove Meets with Attorneys on His Role in CIA Leak Case; Consumer Research Group Looks at Celebrity Endorsements; Controversial Computer Game Targets Hispanics

Aired April 26, 2006 - 10:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Would you buy a used car, let's say, from Donald Trump? How about Paris Hilton? Well, a consumer research company is out way new celebrity study, and they're looking at who sells a product well, who extends its shelf life. The company is called NPD. It found that consumers are less likely to buy products endorsed by the Donald or Paris Hilton. The reason? They don't believe that they'd really use what they sell.
OK, so who's hot? Consumers are likely to buy whatever home improvement guru Ty Pennington sells. Celebrities like George Foreman and Kirstie Alley were rated as trustworthy. One consumer said, "I believe that Kirstie Alley is working hard to lose weight, and George Foreman knows about healthy grilling."

Keeping it on famous people. A celebrity pitching a product, well, that's one thing. An endorsement from the pope? That is high praise. Pope Benedict the XVI is in the business of saving souls, but when he wore a pair of flashy soles -- S-O-L-E-S -- the holy association was born. The media buzz over the pope's red shoes. Does he pamper his feet with Prada?

Mark Workman is CEO of FirstFireworks, a marketing and business development company based in Los Angeles, and he joins me now to talk about this business of product placement.

Mark, good morning.

MARK WORKMAN, CEO, FIRSTFIREWORKS: Hey, good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: Let's get right to the dollars. Let's say you could get one of your clients, one of your companies, and have one of their products go on the pope. What would that be worth, bottom line, do you think, in terms of advertising dollars?

WORKMAN: Well, I think we'd look at it in two ways. On the hard side, from a sales standpoint, clearly, the pope's endorsement is nearly priceless. On the soft side, though, there's more of an emotional connection with the pope, a sense that -- that if he endorses your product, clearly, you're in a rarefied world.

KAGAN: You're in heaven. You're in advertising heaven, you might say!

WORKMAN: Yes. KAGAN: You have to be careful with it, wouldn't you? Because you could be seen as exploitive. He's kind of in a different business.

WORKMAN: Well, absolutely. And I think you noted it with, really, in the intro, in terms of Donald, because there's a fine line between the credibility of awareness and the credibility of authenticity. And what you strike for is that authenticity that, in fact, the person belongs in the environment that they're in. Seeing the pope in a Mercedes vehicle...

KAGAN: Like we see right now.

WORKMAN: Like we see right now. Feels credible, feels accurate. Clearly, there's a different connotation with the pope in a Hyundai or the pope in a Mercedes. So I think when you think about this, it's almost like casting a product. Does the product seamlessly feel like it belongs there? In this case, I think does. And I think where we get into a little bit of trouble if -- is if whether it's Paris Hilton or Donald Trump, excellent people, but doesn't feel credible that they actually would be with that association.

KAGAN: Let's talk about this bigger business of product placement. It's everywhere, and I think a lot of people don't even realize they're being inundated with advertising. Like last night, I'm watching "American Idol," you see the judges drinking from Coca- Cola cups. You see that the contestant's driving in Ford cars. That's not an accident. They paid big money to be part of that show.

WORKMAN: Absolutely. "American Idol" is probably the best example of contemporary product placement. The folks from Cingular, the folks from Ford and the folks, of course, from Coca-Cola, all enjoy deep partnerships. I think what we've seen in that show, though, is a real sense that those products have ingrained themselves into kind of the DNA of the show.

KAGAN: Let me just jump in a second. OK, we just saw Randy drinking from a cup. What is that worth, dollarwise, to Coca-Cola, and why is it worth more money to them, those ads dollars, better spent doing that than let's say, just running a 30-second spot on "American Idol"?

WORKMAN: Well, most people would say that a picture's worth 1,000 words. And from a credibility standpoint, the difference between Coca-Cola selling you the product and seeing some of our favorite celebrities or our favorite celebrity judges endorsing it, is that multiplier is to the advantage of the company. So, clearly, Paula Abdul, in a real-life situation using Coca-Cola, is far more persuasive because it's believable than simply that 30-second spot. And from a Coke standpoint, if they look at what they're spending on the 30-second spot, they'd have to say that being endorsed in the program, that's really a higher level of value for them.

KAGAN: We have found examples about how this is just getting completely out of control. Take a look at the picture we found from the Netherlands. This ran in "The New York Times." The Netherlands, this is a company called Do we have the sheet picture? I hope we do. OK, we're working on it. So just stick with me, here. Anyhow -- look at that. They put blankets on sheep, on the side of the road. It's everywhere. We can't get away from the advertising. Even they're getting the sheep! What's next, Mark? Where does it go from here?

WORKMAN: Well, I think where it goes from here, frankly, is starting to look at our digital screens. Whether it's phone or clearly, the Internet and the ability to brand in the digital space so it's right there in your hand at the time of usage, is probably the fastest growing future area. But in some ways, if you think within the product placement world, there are a bunch of categories. There's something called product placement, where the -- where I would argue that the sheep is that you can at least see that a sponsorship is there.

KAGAN: Right. It's not the sheep who are drinking Coca-Cola. Wasn't like that.

WORKMAN: Right. Absolutely not. That's a lot different, really, than what we call branded integration, where there's a natural seamless link between the person using the product. And in this case, it wouldn't be the sheep, it would be someone staying in the hotel bed. And our test always is, do you feel better after having seen it?

To your point, the folks at the hotel company right now are feeling, gosh, this was a terrible exposure. Not only did it not build credibility in our beds or in our hotels or in our hospitality, we're being poked fun at. So I think as much as there are new venues, finding credible ways so audiences say that feels right, feel like my product was meant to be cast there, that's the trick. And that will be the trick to make sure that we as placement people don't push that line too far.

KAGAN: You watch the line us as you go on to work today in Los Angeles.

WORKMAN: I will do that, Daryn.

KAGAN: OK. Mark Workman with FirstFireworks, thank you.

WORKMAN: OK, thanks, Daryn.

KAGAN: Explaining product placement to us.

We're going to look at a different type of -- well, some people call it entertainment. Some people just call it sick. It has to do with killing more people and scoring more points.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're killing a pregnant woman, and if you can feel good about that, well, have at it.


KAGAN: Shooting Mexicans at the border. They say it's just a video game, but is it a racist trend as well? We'll look at that.

And school shooting plots. Police get surprising help to bust up a few recently. CNN takes a look at that, when LIVE TODAY returns.



KAGAN: We've talking about people showing up late for work. We've asked you to send us your best late excuse. And, boy, you have not disappointed. Let's go and check some of them out.

Lance says, "I doing my work from home early and time slipped away from me." Oh, yes, Lance, we believe that one.

Leah says, "I'm having trouble with my eyes. I just can't see coming in today." Thanks, Leah.

Ron tells us, "The cows got out." Bad, bad start to the morning, Ron.

And Patricia says, "I'll be in late today because I have to panhandle for gas money on my way in." We feel your pain, Patricia. Keep them coming in.

What's the best excuse you've given your boss why you were late for work? E-mail us at

Meanwhile, dogs are all fun and games until you realize you're training your dog all wrong.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're attention span is very short. Not because she wanted to, it's because you have not been strict enough with the concept.


KAGAN: Yes, the owner having some leadership problems. My dog Darla and I get a dressing down from the Dog Whisperer. Just ahead, the lessons begin.


KAGAN: Crossing the border Immigrants risk their lives. Crossing the border in a new video game means certain death, and claims of racism.

CNN's Dan Simon has the story. His report first aired on "PAULA ZAHN NOW."


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The creators of a video game called "Border Patrol" won't win any awards for graphics or creativity, but could take home a prize for bad taste.

(on camera): This isn't some expensive game for the Xbox. It's simple, free and on the Internet and, according to the Anti-Defamation League, dangerous.

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: It puts in the mind of the player that they should be resorting to violence.

SIMON (voice-over): The objective? To shoot and kill Mexicans crossing into the U.S. The game's targets? Mexican nationalists, drug smugglers and most outrageous, breeders, pregnant women running with children. The more you kill, the higher your score.

CRIS FRANCO, COMEDIAN/SATIRIST: You're killing a pregnant woman, and if you can feel good about that, well, have at it.

SIMON: Sarcasm comes naturally to Latino comedian Cris Franco. All joking aside, though, Franco was concerned when we showed him the game.

FRANCO: What sort of makes it innocuous is sort of the thing that makes it so very dangerous, is that you might have kids getting up there and they're killing Mexicans. You know? And now that's a fun thing to do I gather, in our world. I think most people of conscience would not think this was a good way to spend your time.

SIMON: "Border Patrol" has become a showcase on hate group Web sites, alongside other games that target African-Americans, homosexuals and Jews. USC professor Peter Vorderer has written books about the aspects of video games on society.

PETER VORDERER, UNIV. OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: I don't think that a game like this would attract anybody who is serious player, other than those who share that sentiment or attitude.

SIMON: Still, Vorderer says that certain children can be swayed by such violent images.

VORDERER: If somebody knows nothing, let's say, about a specific ethnic group and the only way he or she learns about that ethnic group is through the media -- in this case, through a video game -- then this video game has a great potential of, you know, impacting that person's view about this ethnic group.

SIMON: And that fits right in with the goals of the National Alliance, a white supremacist group. Shaun Walker calls himself the chairman and CEO. He says teenagers who might not read his books instead will buy one of its games.

SHAUN WALKER, WHITE SUPREMACIST: We gain several thousand new customers immediately that we wouldn't have had contact with.

SIMON: Walker's group is behind a game called "Ethnic Cleansing." The goal? To kill anybody who isn't white. The National Alliance says it has fulfilled a niche for people who want their entertainment skewed toward their racist ideology. WALKER: This allowed all the racially conscious white people that play video games to suddenly have a pro-white video game. So it was unique, and it's proven to be successful.

SIMON: How successful, the group won't say, but the game sells for $15. As for "Border Patrol," it's unknown who created the game. But what some call entertainment, others are calling violent and racist propaganda.

Dan Simon, CNN, Los Angeles.


KAGAN: For more stories like that, you can stay with CNN and "PAULA ZAHN NOW" weeknights, 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

Police jolt a woman in a wheelchair with a stun gun, and now she's dead.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is pretty devastating for us, because being an invalid, I just feel personally myself that other forces could have been used besides tasing her.


KAGAN: So what happened to Emily Delafield? A neighborhood demands answers from police.

Fear of the next big hurricane. Who is going to pay? Some insurance companies are thinking twice about that.

Coastal homeowners caught in a corporate storm.



KAGAN: New information to CNN on a CIA leak investigation. Let's go to our John King in the Washington bureau. John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, as if this is not busy enough day for the Bush White House, it could be a very significant day in the course of the special prosecutor's investigation into the outing of the CIA agent and the role, potential role, of top White House officials in that.

We are told this morning, CNN is told by three sources familiar with the investigation, that this morning Karl Rove, the president's deputy chief of staff and his top political adviser, is meeting with his attorney and is to meet this morning, if it is not already under way, with the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. Now, according to our sources, the goal of the meeting is for Karl Rove to clear up some lingering questions about his role in a White House campaign to undermine Ambassador Joe Wilson. Remember, he was the critic of the Bush administration's case for going to war in Iraq. His wife was the CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose name was outed.

It's a very complicated legal investigation, and obviously has become a very complicated political problem for the White House. But our understanding is that Karl Rove is meeting with his attorney this morning, meeting with the special prosecutor this morning. And the hope from Rove's camp is that he can answer the few remaining questions about his involvement, his back and forth with reporters, during that timeframe, his comments to the FBI and other investigators, including the grand jury that has been investigating this for quite some time now. And the hope from the Rove camp is that all of this can be resolved and Karl Rove will be cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the relatively near future.

Remember, Daryn, when Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, was indicted, the special counsel said he would leave the grand jury proceedings open so that he continued to get -- continued to gather and present evidence. Again, we're just getting word of this meeting this morning from our sources. It is quite a sensitive moment.

But Karl Rove has left the White House, we are told, to go to a meeting with his criminal defense lawyer and the special prosecutor. And, again, from their perspective, they hope to be able to answer the few remaining questions they say the prosecutor has, and hopefully -- again, hopefully -- for the Bush White House and Karl Rove personally to put all this behind him.

KAGAN: Right, now, let's backtrack here for a second, John. You mentioned this Scooter Libby. That is the one indictment that has come out of this investigation so far, and the only one.

KING: It is the one and only indictment so far. We do know again, though, that Mr. Fitzgerald kept the grand jury open so that he could gather and present more evidence. We do know one of the questions about Karl Rove is, when he first spoke to prosecutors and spoke to investigators, he did not disclose a conversation he had with Matthew Cooper of "Time" magazine about this whole CIA -- what became the CIA leak investigation and Valerie Plame.

Karl Rove says he did not recall that conversation at the time of his initial testimony, and that Karl Rove and his lawyers have told the special prosecutor it was they who brought that to his attention. They raised their hand and said, we forgot to tell you this. But they were back and forth and investigations about all that. So, essentially, what we know since the Scooter Libby indictment is that prosecutors are trying to go back, see if there's any new information, and then dot the I's and cross the T's, if you will, to what Karl Rove has said before in his evolving story about all this.

And again, from the Bush White House and having this cloud of investigation over one of the president's top aides, the hope is -- the hope is that finally Karl Rove can put this behind him. That is certainly the perspective of his camp going into these meetings. Getting just very little information. Just the fact that we know about this meeting is tough enough to report because of the sensitivity of it, but they hope, Daryn -- they hope that this will be soon behind him.

KAGAN: Well, you know, John, over the last week, when we're watching some of the different moves within the White House, there was news about Karl Rove, how his responsibilities were changing a little bit and how they're adding another deputy chief of staff. Does that have anything to do with this hanging over this White House?

KING: Well, yes and no. No, the White House would say that Josh Bolten, the new White House chief of staff, wanted a more streamlined chain of command, wanted to bring one of his most trusted deputies, Joel Kaplan, into the chief of staff's office, wants Joel to take care of policy, wants Karl to think of big picture, strategic planning and focus day to day on -- every second of every day between now and the November elections.

Privately, many Bush aides will tell you when Karl Rove took over policy, it didn't go so well, that he was not as good a manager of policy -- think Social Security reform and other big initiatives that have failed -- as he was with the president's political strategy. Obviously, he has been the architect, as the president calls him, of three successful Republican campaigns, two Bush elections and the last mid-term elections. They hope with his time more focused on that, Republicans can rebound from the slump they're in right now.

But certainly, Karl Rove being the subject of such controversy was not an asset, if you will, to the Bush White House. Having a potential legal cloud hanging over him not an asset to the Bush White House, which already has a long enough list of troubles.

KAGAN: John King in Washington, D.C. An important story, one that has a lot of interest, but one people that a lot of people don't know very well. And you definitely do. So thank you for your perspective and new information. John King, thanks.


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