Did bogus Hanauma Bay ad bachi AIG?
How ironic is it that only five months ago, insurance giant AIG was running a double-page advertisement in an international travel magazine portraying Hanauma Bay as one of the most dangerous beaches in the world with the headline, "You Never Know What's Out There"?
It's true. You never know what's out there. That's why you buy insurance. But shouldn't the insurance company have some kind of insurance to protect itself from unseen dangers? Dangers like the dramatic financial collapse AIG suffered this week? Oh yeah, AIG was backed by the biggest insurer in the world: Uncle Sam.
The U.S. government (that's you and me, folks) will loan the fallen underwriter $85 million in return for 80 percent ownership in the 18th-largest company in the world. Guess you'd call that a "distress sale." And this comes just after the government bailed out two huge mortgage lenders with the comic-book names of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I think it's wrong to name billion-dollar financial companies after characters that might have appeared on "The Beverly Hillbillies" or "Green Acres."
We should have known AIG was in trouble when we saw that Hanauma Bay advertisement in Conde Nast magazine in April. Of course, AIG had no idea the deadly dangerous beach it was featuring in the ad was one of the safest, most recognized beaches in the world. But it should have known. You never know what's out there, but if you ask a few questions, sometimes you can find out.
A lot of people in Hawaii thought the ad was funny. In a special Honolulu Lite that exposed the spurious promotion, we disclosed some of the many supposed dangers at Hanauma Bay listed in the ad: riptide, razor-sharp coral, jellyfish, rusty bottle caps, sun poisoning, hurricane approaching and, most alarming of all, unhappy crabs. It failed to mention the bay is haunted by the ghost of Elvis Presley who roams through the shallows humming "Blue Hawaii" and stuffing his thumb in swimmers' snorkels.
In truth, you'd be hard pressed to find a safer beach in the world than Hanauma Bay. Something like a million snorklers a year manage to safely hassle the reef fish.
The only people in Hawaii who didn't think the ad was amusing were state tourism officials and employees of the local AIG office.
Robin Campaniano, CEO of AIG Hawaii, said he was told by AIG on the mainland the beach in the ad was supposed to be just a generic Caribbean beach. "That ticked us off," he told me.
Perhaps the way the home office brushed aside concerns about the bogus beach ad was a sign that the AIG ship was not being run as tightly as possible. Or maybe dissing one of the most famous beaches in the world was what we in the islands call "bachi." You may never know what's out there, but what goes around often does come around.
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