Monday, December 29, 2008

There Must Be a Pony

I don't think there's much argument that 2008 was an annus horribilis of the first degree. Apart from the truly historic election of Barak Obama as the first black president of the United States, I'd be happy to have everything else wiped from my hard drive.

One might think that there's little room for joyful thought in wrapping up such a relentlessly miserable year. But there are some who can find a silver lining in even the gloomiest scenario. There's an often repeated story about a young boy who was such an audacious optimist that, when presented with roomful of horse dung, he grew ecstatic. When he was asked the reason for his seemingly inappropriate joy, he exclaimed, "With all this horse shit, there must be a pony."

That kid is clearly not related to me. But, as part of my 2009 resolution to be more of a glass-half-full sort of person, I will say that even though the vast expanse of horse poop covering most of 2008 doesn't excite me, it turns out some of that manure really did signify a pony. Or three.

So, in no particular order, here are three things from 2008 that make me want to say, giddy-up:

1. The iPhone App Store.
Oh. My. God. I get dizzy from the sheer number of possibilities. Solutions for problems you haven't even thought of yet. Utilities to accomplish everything you've ever wanted to do, except, perhaps, one to help you tell the 12 year old HR assistant who just pink-slipped you what circle of hell to go inhabit.

There are over 10,000 apps available, and users have downloaded over 300 million of them, which would indicate I'm not the only one gone ga-ga for them. But with that sort of tsunami of interest and usage, it sort of begs the question, why aren't brands making better marketing use of them? Like desktop widgets, iPhone apps can be an extremely effective and inexpensive way to reach users, provide them with branded utility, and interact with them. Yet, only a few brands have jumped into the iPhone pool and many of them still seem to be tone-deaf to the interactive music of applications.

Michael Arrington's Sept. post about the app, Sonic Lighter, in TechCrunch, illustrates this perfectly. It seems Zippo is offering an iPhone app of a virtual lighter. You can choose from limited lighter designs, flip the lighter open, blow on the flame and see it flicker, and make the flame tilt. Even though the app is free, one use and you've exhausted its fun potential. In contrast, Sonic Lighter by Smule selling at .99 is a bargain at twice the price. Smule has cleverly recognized and tapped into our innate desire to connect which is driving the explosion and popularity of social networking sites. Sonic lighter users can opt to share their location information and have their "Kilojoules" (time spent burning your lighter flame) illustrated on an map of the earth. The map also lists rankings by geography, creating the potential for competitions. Oh, and you can also use your lighter to ignite another iPhone lighter. As Arrington points out: "Unlike its competitors, it’s effectively leveraging location awareness and social networking/human team building instincts to create a bit of a phenomenon. The result is a viral spread."

2. Twitter
Yes, I know Twitter debuted in 2006. When I signed on in late 2007, it had already had it's big coming-of-age at SXSW. But it was really this past year that the tool finally became an important two-way communication channel for brands and people. In April, Michael Arrington (What's with all this Arrington love? Must broaden sources.) wrote the now-famous blog post about his experience with Comcast on Twitter. With the ability to monitor the conversation about their business, companies are turning customer service into customer first response. The typical scenario of public whining about a company's missteps can now have a different ending.

In an article this past September, Business Week noted that Dell, GM, Kodak, Whole Foods, and H&R Block have also established Twitter accounts to communicate with consumers. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos uses his Zappos Twitter account to communicate directly with consumers, letting them know what city he's in, where he's speaking, and posting occasional contests, turning the position of CEO into the company's envoy to the people.

For me, personally, the tool has been invaluable. I have found a wide range of articulate and insightful people to follow and interact with. I've met and become friends with people whose live intersect with mine, but whom I never might have met in the real world. Like life, Twitter is sometimes brilliant, often surprising, sometimes mundane, but never, ever boring.

3. Crowdsourcing & Geospatial Web
In a June 2006 article in Wired, Jeff Howe wrote about "distributed labor networks using the Internet to exploit the spare processing power of millions of human brains". He called it crowdsourcing.

"The open source software movement proved that a network of passionate, geeky volunteers could write code just as well as the highly paid developers at Microsoft or Sun Microsystems. Wikipedia showed that the model could be used to create a sprawling and surprisingly comprehensive online encyclopedia. And companies like eBay and MySpace have built profitable businesses that couldn’t exist without the contributions of users."

Online ventures built around the concept of crowdsourcing have only gotten stronger, from YouTube and iStockphoto, to the online film production social networking site Massify, which, in a project that used the collaborative efforts of film fans and filmmakers, is creating the first crowdsourced film.

All well and good, you say, but old news. Well, it turns out, there's not only wisdom in crowds, there's buried treasure. The most recent issue of Release 2.0 considers the impact of adding of location-based information - the GeoWeb to the already valuable and potentially lucrative predictive abilities of collective information. The most recent example of the resulting functionality of this is Google Flu Trends. It seems that people suffering the first symptoms of flu use search as a first pass at self-diagnosis, typing in terms like "flu symptoms" before they finally shlep themselves to a doctor. The smart folks over at Google noticed clusters of the search terms appearing and researched five years worth of flu symptom keyword search data, which they then mapped against Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports. The resulting findings showed a strong correlation between increased geographic based searches and actual outbreaks of influenza and other similar illnesses. What makes this application all the more important is that Flu Trends beats the CDC reports by about 2 weeks. As the New York Times reported:
"In early February, for example, the C.D.C. reported that the flu cases had recently spiked in the mid-Atlantic states. But Google says its search data show a spike in queries about flu symptoms two weeks before that report was released. Its new service at analyzes those searches as they come in, creating graphs and maps of the country that, ideally, will show where the flu is spreading.

The C.D.C. reports are slower because they rely on data collected and compiled from thousands of health care providers, labs and other sources. Some public health experts say the Google data could help accelerate the response of doctors, hospitals and public health officials to a nasty flu season, reducing the spread of the disease and, potentially, saving lives."
Cool, huh?
So I'm thinking that 2009 has the potential to be great. Granted, we've been pounded into such a deep hole that any glimmer of light would be a huge improvement. But I'm thinking that we're going to go way beyond that. It was the power of social networking and collective influence that brought Obama into office - our collective influence. Hmmm, just imagine what we can all do if we put our minds to it.

marketing, brands ,app store, twitter,collective widsom, crowdsourcing, geoweb

Friday, November 21, 2008

"Who Said This Isn't Media"

The "Digital" column in this past Wednesday's had a surprising headline: "P&G Digital Guru Not Sure Marketers Belong on Facebook."

It seems that P&G's general manager-interactive marketing and innovation, Ted McConnell, in speaking to a program presented by the Ad Club of Cincinnati, thinks that social networks are the wrong places for brands to be. The Ad Age article quotes him as saying, "What in heaven's name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?"

Hey Ted, a friendly piece of advice, in today's job market you may want to keep your profound lack of understanding of the social networking world to yourself. You know, it's bad enough you tasted shoe-leather with the Facebook line. But then you go and follow it up with: "Who said this is media?" Media is something you can buy and sell. Media contains inventory. Media contains blank spaces. Consumers weren't trying to generate media. They were trying to talk to somebody. So it just seems a bit arrogant. ... We hijack their own conversations, their own thoughts and feelings, and try to monetize it."

His Ad Club speech might have worked out better if he'd been invited to participate in P&G and Google's -job-swap program, where, in an effort for P&G'ers to understand Internet users better, and for Google to win a larger part of P&G's ad budget, staffers from each company spend time at each other's staff training programs and business meetings. (WSJ, Nov. 19)

Or he could have read Danny Flamberg's excellent and thoughtful recent post on MediaPost's Social Media Insider, titled, "Making Sense of Social Media."

Or, he could have simply done some homework to get a little historical context.

To anyone who has been paying attention, the proliferation of social media shouldn’t be a surprise. Ever since 1985 when Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant began the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, which became The WELL, people have been flocking to converse with, learn from, and establish relationships with each other in an environment free conventional time and geographic restrictions. These “virtual communities”, as Howard Rheingold called them, were powerful lures to a universal, deep-seated desire to reach out and be social in a way that creates local, people-operated neighborhoods in a global context.

This ability to create communities around shared interests, as well as the instantaneous connection of email was a powerful driver of the first online services, like AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy.

Social communities like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, are simply the latest incarnations of this quest to connect. From the start, though, marketers have failed to understand the Web as the interactive environment that it is, and have continued to engage as if it’s one of the passive mediums they’re comfortable with. It’s as if brands and marketers are the online equivalent of the ugly American tourist who travels abroad, and when the locals don’t understand their requests, simply repeat it slower and louder, as if the listener is simple-minded and deaf.

We need to help brands (as well as brand "Digital Gurus) understand that the Web isn’t a magazine with hyperlinks or TV with text. It’s a constantly evolving environment where information will always want to be free, it’s a democratic publishing forum, and it’s a place where dishonesty is outed at the speed of sound. So, s’il vous plait, before you open your mouth, learn to speak the language.

*Photo by Tarnie

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Year of the Depend Undergarment

[ed. note: I began this posting back in May, before my summer-of-too-much-work-and-too-little-time, before my blog & my tweets became casualties of my schedule, and before the extraordinary talent of David Foster Wallace was silenced by his suicide. RIP, DFW]

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel, predicted a not-so-distant future, where brand advertising has infiltrated our lives so completely that even time is sponsored. Calendar years are no longer designated by numbers, they're named after products:
Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar, Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, and Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.

Back then, I thought the idea of sponsored time was humorous, in the way that a real idea exaggerated beyond logic becomes funny. But today, I'm thinking maybe not so much funny as prescient. It seems like everyone is looking for the last remaining untapped media areas - those bits of everyday life hiding in plain sight, until someone says: "Doh! Let's put an ad here!" The sides of buses, the roofs of taxis, wrapped around cars, everywhere you look, blank space has been infiltrated by advertising. From sports and arts venues that get stuck with the prosaic names of of their sponsors (Monster Park? PNC Bank Arts Center?), to the ads laminated to the bottom of the security bins I recently saw at Richmond Airport (Zappos: "Getting shoes through security isn't always fast. Buying them is.") branding is popping up everywhere.

All of that media ingenuity got me to thinking, what's left? Where is the rest of the still unexploited real estate that captures eyeballs in a meaningful way? I came up with a few ideas. Feel free to add to them, steal them, or come to the conclusion that some things may be better off left unsponsored.

1. Booty Banners. Witnessed walking past a NYC construction site: two cute young women in tight jeans sashaying; men in hard hats staring and hooting. Me, thinking hmmmm, is there are beer brand on the planet that wouldn't love to see armies of young men follow their logo down the street?

2. Elevator Door :15s. Yeah, yeah, you're thinking I must have been living under a rock for the past few years - elevatortainment tv is old news. OK, it is. But ads run on the outside of the doors, where all attention is focused in efforts to telepathically summon the elevator car, is new news.

3. Subway Pop-Up Stores. It seems that no matter how much the MTA raises its fares, there's never enough money to get their budget out of its hole. Why not rent out portions of subway cars as "pop-up" stores. Think about it. Probably 90% of the train riding population shops at Duane Reade. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to pick up a container of hand sanitizer on a crowded east side local?

copyright, brands, infringement, marketing, branding, advertising, sponsorship

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Copyright Infringement or Marketing Coup?

"Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free." Is there any woman whose mother has not offered some version of this advice, generally preceded by "Remember!" and followed by, "Don't say I didn't warn you." Inevitably, this advice was ignored on a universal scale. Much was given away for free with, arguably, no impact on livestock sales, or marriage, depending on your tolerance for euphemism.

This phrase popped into my head while reading about Viacom's $1 billion copyright infringement suit against Google's YouTube. The company claims that YouTube is liable for damages for allowing unauthorized viewing of their programming. Does Viacom really believe that the user-published 2-5 minute clips of Jon Stewart's Daily Show, or MTV award show performances are stealing network viewership?

A recent 5-minute clip of a Daily Show segment posted one week ago has been viewed nearly 25,000 times and got 48 viewer comments. That's 25,000 people who have been exposed to a brief clip of the humorous content of the show. They can watch it on demand, replay it, develop an interest in the show, and pass it on to friends. What's more, the video post aggregated the YouTube identities of 48 people who felt strongly enough about it to post their thoughts, giving Viacom the opportunity to communicate directly with them. Isn't that kind of brand interaction a marketer's dream?

I think someone is giving Viacom bad advice. They can spend a lot of time and money trying to litigate complete control over viewer access to their content, a challenge they will never succeed at, or they can recognize this as an opportunities and leverage the inevitable. Engage and legitimize these defacto brand evangelists. Provide them with high quality show clips and encourage show fans to post them everywhere. Exploit the strength of viewer recommendation implicit in these posts. Or, to rewrite mom's advice, "Let them taste the milk. They'll come find the cow for more."

copyright, brands, infringement, marketing, brand evangelist, content, YouTube, Viacom

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Not Completely Random Thoughts

My intention of posting at least once a week has been defeated by an overload of just about everything - work, family crises, and a backup of information. But, that doesn't mean that I haven't been churning out thoughts. I just haven't found time to funnel them from my head to the computer. So, in these few stolen moments, when I should be loading the car for the trip to the innards of New Jersey to celebrate the woman who brought me into the world, I'll start the download.

Random Thought #1: Not-For-Profit Doesn't Mean Not For Business
Over the past year I've taken on several non-profits as clients. This wasn't by design, it just happened imperceptibly until one day I discovered my one NPO client had become three, and then four. They're all wonderful organizations doing great things for the arts, for education, and generally making the world a better place. But (of course there's a "but"), I've found that in certain respects, they're run more like non-profit hobbies than businesses. Let's be honest, a non-profit is a business. It has output - a product or service - and it needs to generate income in order to operate and deliver its product or service. Sounds like a duck to me. Success may not be measured by shareholder value, but NPOs still need to engage in proven business practices in order to be successful. To think otherwise is foolish. In fact, to help change the perception that "business" isn't part of not for profit operations, I propose a name change: Non-Profit Business.

When you start looking at non-profits as businesses, there are certain business marketing realities that become clear:

- Non-Profits are Brands. That's right, just like Coke, Microsoft, and Toyota. Non-profit businesses (NPB), like all businesses have an identity that fosters perception, emotional connection, and loyalty. This identity must be honed, based on organization objectives and mission, and it must be continually tended to ensure that all communications, events, and interactions are consistent with the brand.

- All Communications are Marketing Communication. Based on the number of horrifyingly bad annual donation solicitations I've gotten, my assumption is that this idea isn't wide spread. Just because non profits are mostly in the business of doing good things doesn't mean there isn't competition. Every other NPB is competing for donor dollars which, in today's economy, are becoming less and less. Non-profits need to be developing visual identities and marketing campaigns that cut through the clutter and will be seen and heard in a creative way with a meaningful and compelling message.

- An Annual Marketing Plan is Your Tool to Achieving Annual Business Objectives. Assuming an NPB has clearly defined yearly business goals (i.e., fund raising, raising brand profile & creating awareness, events, donor acquisition, etc.), an organized marketing plan with a focused strategy, defined tactics, and success measurement tools is the most effective and efficient way to realize goals.

- Multichannel and Online Marketing Isn't Optional, It's Critical. Ask any foot dragging, geek-bashing, technology-phobic business how their strategy of resisting change is working out for them. These days most people use multiple communication channels and have schedules that are more time crunched, resulting in attention spans that are much shorter. Getting noticed, communicating your message, and persuading people to take action requires an interactive online strategy as well as off line communications and events. Using social media to communicate as well as to foster a virtual community of interested and connected supporters is one of the most powerful initiatives non-profits can undertake. Check out Beth Kanter's very illuminating posts on this.

Next up in the Random Thoughts hit parade: "Mini-Socials - Social Networking Writ Small".

Beth Kanter, brands, business, marketing, marketing communications, marketing plan, non-profit, not for profit, NPO, online marketing, social media, social networking

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Ad Men Get Bitch Slapped, The Cable Guy Tweets

In today's NY Times, Stuart Elliot reports that the attendees of this year's American Association of Advertising Agencies (Four A's) leadership conference found a very different event from previous years. Instead of the usual agenda of drinks/golf/and self-congratulatory bullshit, the attendees were dished a series of verbal whuppings followed by workshops on digital media. If this sounds like agency-abuse, it was actually self-inflicted. The conferences of the past several years were so thin on content and relevant information that, Elliott reports, some wanted to do away with it altogether. So this year, the format was changed.

Tom Carroll, TBWA Worldwide president and ceo, laid it on the line:

Mr. Carroll acknowledged that it would be hard work to “change the way we do our business,” but called it a necessary response to the profound shifts in media, consumer behavior and technology that are remaking the advertising landscape.

“All industries recalibrate themselves,” Mr. Carroll said, illustrating his point with a rhetorical question, “How’d you like to be in the CD business?”
My hero, Lee Clow, showed even less mercy and here's where the bitch slapping started in earnest:
“Stop whining,” Mr. Clow told the estimated 380 attendees. The new realities “shouldn’t be scary,” he said, because they offer “a huge opportunity for us” to become far more useful to marketer clients as they seek more effective ways to sell products.

“If you want to participate, you’ve got to start hiring young people,” Mr. Clow said, “and don’t tell them what to do — ask them what to do.”
Apparently, the crowd received their flogging enthusiastically and flocked to the digital media demonstrations. All of this warms my heart to read, but it makes me wonder, if agencies were so hot to find out about transforming their business and really integrating digital media in meaningful way, what in god's name have they been waiting for???

Today's Social Media Insider Blog by Catharine Taylor, reports about the opposite end of the spectrum - a company that doesn't need to be bitch slapped in order to wake up and smell the coffee. Comcast has appointed a customer service rep, Frank Eliason, to be their Twitterer, under the name Comcastcares. Taylor writes:
The fact that Eliason’s job even exists illustrates the serendipity required for most companies to get with the social networking program today. His emergence on Twitter is the result of his own long-held interest in tracking customer sentiment — along with a nudge from a Comcast executive a few months ago to check out what people were saying about the company on the micro-blogging service. Eliason just observed Twitter at first before tentatively wading in. But earlier this month, his dalliance with Twitter burst into the blogosphere, when he noticed a tweet from Michael Arrington, who runs the highly influential blog TechCrunch. Arrington was complaining that his Comcast Internet service was inexplicably down. Eliason reached out to help, and Comcast soon dispatched a team to Arrington’s house to fix his Internet connection. It was, Eliason says, a turning point, but not in quite the way you’d think. Sure, Arrington’s experience with Eliason turned into a lengthy post on TechCrunch, but what seems to have interested Eliason more is how his Twitter followers rallied around him when some said that Comcast had only helped Arrington because he was Arrington. No, his supporters said, he’d helped out many other people too. Comcastcares was forming relationships.
So does this mean Comcast has succeeded, where agencies have failed, in molding themselves to operate and succeed in a digital interactive world? I'll bet anyone who's called their customer service lately would vote no. But, as Michael Arrington blogged about his experience:
But wow, they’re doing at least one thing right. Well before most people, they have identified blogs, and particularly Twitter, as an excellent early warning system to flag possible brand implosions.
Maybe next year the 4 A's should be held in Philadelphia.

advertising, 4 A's,consumer behavior, customer service,interactive

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Creating The Met 2.0

Last week's premier performance of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment at the Metropolitan Opera proved that rock stars can be found in every genre of music, even opera.

Juan Diego Florez, a young, sexy, and devastatingly handsome Peruvian tenor, rocked the house and brought the audience to its feet with his brilliant delivery of an aria that has nine high C's. (For those of you who aren't opera fans, this is the basketball equivalent of Michael Jordan shooting his six 3-point field goals in first half of the first game of the 1992 Finals.) And he did it twice. That's right, when he finished the aria and the audience rose, applauding and screaming, Juan Diego did what very few artists have ever done in performance at the Met. He sang an encore. This show-stopping repeat, antithetical to the historically staid character of opera, was the idea of the Met's other rock star, its General Manager, Peter Gelb. Slight, balding, and bespectacled, Mr. Gelb appears more CPA than R&R. But anyone who wants to see a brilliant case study in brand rejuvenation, pay attention. This man can also rock the house.

It's been nearly two years since Gelb stepped into the GM role at the Met, where, from day one, he knew he was taking on some formidable challenges, namely declining ticket sales and membership, and a rapidly aging audience. But Gelb came prepared with a plan to rebrand not just the Met, but the entire opera category. He would make it modern, relevant, and accessible to younger, sophisticated, art-going audiences. He would turn the Met into a content distributor, opening up new channels of delivery. He would roll out a brash and daring brand makeover that would transformed a fusty, aging institution into a hip, technology savvy, arts marketing organization. He would create the Met 2.0.

Many people thought Gelb's plan was too audacious and risky. Clearly, those folk had never read Peter Drucker whose writing may as well have been the blueprint for it: "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two, and only these two, basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs."

The marketing and innovation strategies that Gelb instituted were all designed to position the Met as a modern and hip component of the New York cultural scene, and to create a broader awareness of the entertainment value of the Met's operas among people outside of the metropolitan area. To do this, the Met focused on three main initiatives:

1. Rock the Brand.
Pre-Gelb, the Met's brand imagery was an iconography of opera house cliches: chandeliers, silhouetted 70's-era patrons, and a logo that evoked a proscenium arch were used on brochures, the Met's limited advertising, and communications. Gelb wanted to communicate a new Met brand - an organization that wasn't simply an opera venue, but one that was bringing its audiences innovative interpretations of classic operas envisioned by name film and theater directors, as well as new, avant-garde works by modern composers.

Thomas Michel, who had been the head of marketing for the Public Theater, was brought in as the Director of Marketing. Michel turned to Pentagram, a design firm he'd worked with at the Public. The results were a very simple and contemporary serifed-font logo that emphasizes the words "Met" and "Opera", and powerful, stylized photography that conveys the passion and drama of opera with a very modern and hip sensibility.

2. Advertise.
If this seems like a ridiculously obvious solution, up until 2006 it hadn't been so obvious to the Met. Advertising was anathema to the organization and the one other ad campaign they ran in their entire history wasn't meant to appeal to anyone who wasn't already an opera fan. The campaign that was launched in 2006 had a different target in mind - non-opera goers. To reach them, the campaign was spread throughout the city transit system with ads at subway entrances, station platforms, on the sides and backs of MTA buses, at bus shelters and on telephone kiosks.

3. Find New Channels and Distribute.
Bringing an audience to the opera is important, but Gelb understood that it was equally important to bring opera to an audience. If the Met was going to expand awareness and create new opera lovers it needed to find new distribution channels that could communicate the drama and excitement of a live opera.

In December 2006 they launched the Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD series that brought digital HD transmissions of six live operas to 100 specially equipped movie theaters around the world. The program has been wildly successful. In many theaters live performances sold out and encore showings were added. The 07/08 season expanded from six to eight opera transmissions and the number of participating venues worldwide increased to 600 and the 08/09 season has plans to feature eleven transmission in up t 800 theaters. By the end of this year the Met will have reached an audience of close to 900,000.

Other initiatives and channels include a subscription-based Metropolitan Opera station on SIRIUS Satellite Radio, selected open dress rehearsals, simulcasting opening night to the Jumbotron in Times Square, and streaming live operas to the Internet.

It may be a bit too early to evaluate the success of this program. While the HD transmissions are successful beyond anyone's anticipation, they're not yet making money, although are on track to do so. Met ticket sales are up more than 10% from a year ago and, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, revenue will probably be up by $10 million. Whether the momentum can be sustained and profits made remains to be seen. But what's certain is that not doing any of this would have doomed the Met to a slow and sad demise.

As a marketer I send Mr. Gelb a big Bravo. As an opera lover, I say, "Encore".

advertising, brand makeover,branding, innovation,marketing, Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Good Fakes, Bad Fakes, and Frigtards

My first encounter with the disappointment of a fake masquerading as the real thing came early in life. My parents bought me a cheap knock off of the short lived but very popular Patty Playpal doll- a 35 inch tall composite of petroleum byproducts, nylon hair, and combustible clothing. My fake-Patty was the right height, but everything else about her screamed "imitation". Her eyes didn't blink, she didn't "walk" when I held her hand, and while real-Patty's mouth turned up slightly in the hint of an adoring smile, fake-Patty had the bee-stung pout of a porn star and the blank, wide-eyed stare of catatonia.

Even though this unfortunate experience led to a lifelong aversion to imitations, every once in a while I come across an imitation that is so amazing in its own right, it becomes something else entirely. Case in point, the Fake Steve Jobs blog. Written in reality by Forbes journalist Dan Lyons, this blog ("The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs - Dude, I Invented the Friggin iPhone. Have You Heard of It?") is not only a brilliant and affectionate caricature of our man in mock turtlenecks, it's insightful commentary on current technology and business news, delivered with a healthy dose of profanity and irreverence (and he coins spectacular words, like frigtard). It's a great fake and I love it.

Which brings me to the new Chevy print/online marketing campaign, which is the bad fake. As part of their efforts to promote their "greenness", they've begun what they call a "dialog" with consumers. This consists of a micro-site attached to the NY Times' website where viewers can pose questions relating to "fuel solutions", and, in response, Chevy delivers answers to some of the questions in a 1/3 page ad in the Friday and Saturday NY Times Op-Ed page, as well as on their micro-site.

All I can say to them is, it's a fake-dialog, you Nettards! Do they really think that in 2008, when the Pew Internet & American Life project reports that 1 in every 10 adult Internet users has a blog, and where social interaction is the lingua franca of every demographic online, that "ask me a question and, perhaps it will be posted online (as of this very minute there are exactly 10 questions posted online) and answered" constitutes a "dialog"? My "fake" radar (fakedar?) is beeping like mad. Do we all look that dumb and easy, or is it that neither Chevy nor their agency has a clue? Answers welcome.

But, as proof that there is a god of interactive integrity, yesterday's Chevy "Op-Ed" ad was placed directly next to Gail Collins' extremely funny and biting piece on "The Fat Bush Theory", which satirizes GW's transparently insincere vow to curb global warming. Better yet, Collins' piece includes another gem in the catalog of clueless Bushisms, "Climate change involves complicated science.", which parallels so nicely with Chevy's answer to a consumer's question on why the technology to develop new fuel economy standards costs so much: "Technologies such as cylinder activation, Variable Valve Timing, and hybrids do exist, but these technologies add complexity." Bravo, Alan R. Weverstad, Executive Director, Environment, Energy, and Safety Policy for General Motors. You've managed to deliver a spot-on imitation of the one person on the planet with the least amount of environmental credibility. My fake-Patty started disintegrating not long after she arrived in our household. I only hope that Chevy's fake-dialog does the same.

Chevy, Dan Lyons,Fake Steve Jobs, Forbes,interactive marketing, Frigtard, Gail Collins, microsite, Social Interaction

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

This past Monday I was invited to a cocktail reception for the new Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University. The VCU Brandcenter, until recently called the VCU Adcenter, is a graduate program in marketing communications. What makes the program unique is its approach. It has structured its curricula to reflect a marketing communication vision that ad agencies have been paying lip service to forever, but never really accomplishing - organically integrating the business and strategy bits with the creative and interactive bits. Led by ex-Ogilvy Chief Creative Officer Rick Boyko, the program plans on expanding its online/digital focus by adding a full-fledged interactive track in the fall semester.

In a conversation with a recent graduate of the program though, I got the sense that her job search in New York was turning out be a rude awakening. Because despite the fact that most of the advertising behemoths have interactive capabilities, these are generally balkanized organizations with no real seat at the grown-ups table.

It's been a little over a decade that agencies have been trying to figure this out. In all of the time since then, despite the multiple iterations of organization charts, agencies have never quite figured out the integration. Most likely because the people at the top still see interactive as banner ads, websites, and unequal to "legitimate" advertising.

Perhaps nothing articulates this as clearly as Allen Rosenshine's acceptance remarks at his Advertising Hall of Fame induction. This Chairman Emeritus of BBDO who has been called one of the 100 most influential people of 20th century advertising said, "Beware those who would have us believe that advertising has become irrelevant. It always was, and always will be, as relevant as we make it. The geeks will not destroy us. Only we can do that." In an interview with Ad Age's Rance Crain, Rosenshine added: "The internet becomes and is a brilliant resource for information. It isn't branding because it doesn't have the capacity to deliver the emotional content of branding."

Hmmmm. I don't know how much time Mr. Rosenshine has spent on the Internet in the the past ten years, but cumulatively, consumers have been spending hours online with compelling creative executions from brands like Audi, Dove, and Toyota, to name a few. So, if he really wants to go head to head, here's the choice for brands: create a rich, interactive, online experience that clearly articulates your brand, gives users value in the form of content or entertainment, and allows them to interact and engage in a dialog with you and with each other; or broadcast a :30 spot that most likely will be Tivo-ed out of the programming. Want to think about it?

In a piece about the Brandcenter in Creativity Magazine this past January, editor Teressa Iezzi quoted TBWA's Lee Clow: “Brands today cannot be sustained by what in the past has been called advertising…everything a brand does that connects to the consumer is media, is brand communication. If orchestrating the art of all those media conversations isn’t advertising, then perhaps the creativity of what we’ll do in the future needs a new name.”

Bravo, Brandcenter and lookout Madison Avenue, here come the geeks.

advertising, Allen Rosenshine,BBDO, Creativity Magazine,Interactive Technology, Lee Clow, marketing, Rick Boyko, TBWA, VCU Brandcenter

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My April Fool

I actually love a day that gives everyone a chance to channel their inner frat boy. I mean, after the year (or eight) that we've had, isn't it nice to finally see the words "April Fools" appended to some of the roster of bad news?

Throughout the day, I've been sent or I've stumbled upon a number of amusing and sometimes elaborately concocted spoofs. From the c/net announcement of a Mark Zuckerberg appearance on Saturday Night Live, to Google's rather overly elaborate Mars collaboration with Virgin, Virgle, they've been an entertaining break from work.

But then, early this afternoon, an I got an April Fools email that changed everything. It was my Rosebud. What I'm about to tell you is a true story. And to answer the question that will no doubt be ringing in your head at the end of it, no, I'm not actually as dumb as I look. Let's just call it sweetly naive. In today's edition of my MUG newsletter, there was a link to a BBC hoax perpetrated in the late '50s. One look at the title, "Swiss Spaghetti Harvest", and I knew immediately, this was going clear up a lifetimes worth of self-doubt and humiliation.

You see, when I was a little girl, my mother, most likely believing she was instilling in me an early love of technology, used to plop me in front of the TV to keep me out of her hair. Being a bit of a bookworm and a geek, I loved documentaries, especially if they had British narrators with posh accents and sonorous voices. One day, I saw a documentary that fascinated me. I was young (probably somewhere between 7 and 10) and had no reason to believe it wasn't a real documentary. What did I know about spoofs? It was about the Swiss spaghetti harvest. The narrator (British, of course) described how the farmers would pluck the current crop from bushes and lay them in the sun to dry. And there they were, in authoritative black and white, lovely farm maids plucking strands of limp spaghetti from tall leafy bushes. I couldn't wait to share this exciting knowledge with my family and my friends at school. Indeed. Whatever you imagine the reaction to that news might have been, triple it.

Despite the resulting emotional trauma from the humiliation and the years of self-doubt that followed (But I really saw it! It was on TV!!), I grew up to be an only moderately neurotic, and mostly functional adult, with the understanding that if you speak with authority, radiate conviction, and present compelling evidence, you too can grow spaghetti on trees.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Products are dead. Long live services.

An interesting post this morning from Jack Loechner, in his Center for Media Research blog. He toplines some of the findings of the 5th annual "The State of the News Media" report issued by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Both Loechner's topline of the major trends amd the report itself, (which is quite extensive) are fascinating reads. But it was the first line of the first bullet in the Major Trends section that stopped me cold.

"News is shifting from being a product - today's newspaper, Web site or newscast - to becoming a service - how can you help me, even empower me?"

The report's authors have succinctly captured the essence of the tectonic shift happening everywhere with everything. The trend of products becoming services is universal. In a shift so subtle and incremental that marketers are still trying to comprehend it, consumers have redefined their relationship to products. The technology tools that have empowered all of us have permanently changed our needs and expectations. Dialog, utility, interactive tools, and on-demand convenience are no longer optional. They're the expected standard equipment.

Some products and marketers are beginning to understand this. Kraft Foods, figuring that we expect our food products to do more than just nourish us, has launched a desktop recipe widget. Saucy Pork Medallions, anyone?

As marketers, I think we have to start considering that the question in most consumers' minds isn't "Is this product NEW and IMPROVED?", but rather "What have you done for me lately?"

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Coat of Arms - 2.0

A story in today's New York Times reports that Toyota's Scion brand has launched a web application that extends the quirky-hip identity of the car and recognizes the social bonding and personal expression needs of its drivers.

The website,, features an online program that allows visitors to design their own personal coat of arms using a collection of hundreds of artist-designed components. The designs can be downloaded and turned into window decals or users can take them to airburshing shops to have them painted onto their cars. The campaign was created by StrawberryFrog in New York.

I went to the site and even though I'm several years beyond and many levels of hip below their target, I got totally sucked into creating a coat of arms (yes, I am Sista Diva the Finest.) Toyota is calling it their foray into social marketing. I wouldn't go that far, there doesn't seen to be any actual social interaction components or ways for users to interact. But I give it kudos for being well designed, fun and relevant to their target. It's slim and direct, featuring only the symbol building program and some videos on the creation of the utility. The interface is clean and elegant without a single superfluous element. The navigation is fast and straightforward and accompanied by satisfying, yet simple sound effects. Best of all, there aren't any bloated downloads. You can create your coat of arms and download it in minutes.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.

Jeff Jarvis, in his wonderful Buzz Machine blog has recently posted some interesting and provocative viewpoints. His post on the future of government online is an intelligent and worthwhile read. But it was Friday's post on Obama's speech on race and religion that inspired me to leave a response. Jeff posits that he might be the single person not worshipful of Obama's speech, which he finds more, rather than less divisive. I'm not sure that I agree with his perception, but I love the number of responses he's gotten and the conversation it's sparked. His characterization of Obama fans as "worshipful", however, struck me as right on the money. Coming from German Jewish stock, my unease in the face of fanatical adoration of political figures might be genetic. Or maybe I prefer my heros slightly imperfect, just like me. In any case, my response to Jeff was as follows:

"Jeff, you certainly struck a chord, proving racial, religious, and ethnic bigotry are still extremely hot buttons in this country. It is great to see how many people responded and how the threads of discussion are evolving. Not to sound too Pollyana-ish, but I think anything that forces discourse on this 800 pound gorilla, which is our country’s dirty little secret, can’t be all bad.

That said, I think your choice of words in the very first sentence, “worshipful”, is the thing that makes me uneasy about this man. He should represent everything I’m looking for in a presidential candidate, he’s smart, insightful, engaging, articulate, moral, and charismatic. But instead, I find the aura of worship that has materialized around him, this “cult of Obama”, to be sort of scary. There seems to be an appetite among Democrats to anoint a saviour. To find someone who will weave such a dazzling vision of peace and stability and unity that, like desert wanderers dying of thirst, we will flock to him to drink the KoolAid. And anyone (including other Democrats) who challenges this saviour is a spoiler who must be stopped. I would like to think that both Democratic candidates have strengths that should be carefully and reasonably evaluated as we make decisions. I would prefer not to have a preference for Hilary be considered heretical."

For sixteen years we have been fed escalating and damaging infusions of divisive partisanship. Nuanced and objective democratic conversation is being trounced by the neo-religious pronouncement "You're either with us or against us." Really? Are those my only choices? Have politics in the U.S. become so polarized that there is only one right answer and disagreement is synonymous with treason? I hope not.

The brilliant cartoonist, Walt Kelly, from whom I "borrowed" the title of this blog, has expressed this more eloquently than I ever could:

"Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle."

"There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us."


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Little Is The New Big.

With apologies to the Who and Pete Townsend, online advertisers have been singing the same refrain for years, "See me. Feel me. Touch me. Click me." But, as Los Angeles Creative Club director, Roger Poirier pointed out at the OMMA Conference last week, "Most creative--both online and off--falls flat."

While there may be some clicking, consumer engagement is rare and there's not a whole lot of feeling or touching going on.

It seems silly that, in an environment where interaction is everything, brands haven't quite found a way to walk through the open door. Instead of adapting their online communication strategies to leverage the power of interactive technology, they've been intent on using the technology to replicate their offline executions. But, as Laurie Sullivan discussed in Tuesday's MediaPost Marketing Daily, branded widgets just may be the big little thing that gets them through the door.

Personally, I think advertisers should kiss the Red Bull stained fingers of their API programmers. Widgets give brands the ability to bring something more than a just sales message to consumers. Widgets can engage them with a game, information, content, or any kind of interesting, useful or entertaining utility. And brands can syndicate widgets in the places that their users gather, like Facebook.

A recent Business Week article describes the efforts of A&E Television to publicize their new series "Parking Wars". It's a reality show about meter readers, so they had their work cut out for them. They hired a multimedia developer to create an online game based on the series. The result is a widget, distributed between users, and played on Facebook. Newsweek reports that in less than 3 months time it's "attracted more than 198,000 unique users. many of them repeat players, and generated more than 45 million page views." Better still, these little applications, that can run on a desktop or online, are relatively quick and inexpensive to build, making the risk small and the potential payback big.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Drawn From Real Life

If you missed SXSW Interactive you may want to crib Mike Rohde's notes on the event, or just flip through them for their creativity and design. Because, unlike me and the rest of the scratchy, sloppy note takers of the world, this guy turns information into art. Word has traveled fast. In the 5 days since he uploaded the notes they've been featured all over the web and he's even gotten some project offers. Yesterday he posted some interesting observations from the experience.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It Started with a Pot of Coffee

This is a story about an epiphany. It stars a coffee pot, a Mac II, and an early web browser called Mosaic. In 1995 I was working at BBDO, heading up a group that designed and produced interactive new business presentations (we worked in Photoshop before it had layers!). Our IT group had just installed Mosaic on my computer, giving me a window into this odd new world called the Internet. Poking around that landscape in the mid '90s was like walking through a half-empty convention center populated, intermittently, with billboards that displayed only welcome messages and the locations of all the other billboards. In other words, there wasn't a whole lot of "there" there. My reaction was a big, "Huh?". And then someone gave me the URL of the Cambridge Coffee Pot . The caffeine addicted computer scientists at Cambridge University constructed what may have been the world's first web cam as a way to determine if the single coffee pot in their building, located in a far recess, was filled or not, thereby saving a wasted trip involving several flights of stairs. Even though the image was updated only about three times a minute, my first viewing of it felt electric and I realized that everything we knew about communication was about to change. With nothing more exotic than my chuggy little computer and a primitive browser, I was looking, in near real time, at an image of something incredibly obscure and very far away. I could see around the world.

I had a similar shiver of excitement at this year's SXSW interactive conference. It wasn't the ubiquitous laptops, Blackberries, and iPhones that nearly everyone was using to tap out their thoughts and comments. It was how they were doing it. They were Twittering and nothing illustrated the power of this mini-blog form more than the now infamous Sarah Lacy interview of Mark Zuckerberg. In the old days (ummm, 3 months ago, for example) public opinion would coalesce only after an event passed, when conversations could happen and reviews could be published. But once again, technology has removed the time lag. From the very start of the interview, in real time, the audience twittered their opinions to each other as well as to the twitter universe outside of the conference room. Inside the room, people coalesced around a nearly universal opinion that the interview was a train wreck. Emboldened by the confirmation of their opinion, people heckled and left - near the end they poured out in droves. Outside the room, it became a topic of discussion, blogs, and reporting, before the event had even ended. An analysis of what this may mean for the future is a topic for another post. But be assured, we're on the cusp of another seismic change in communication. In the meantime, use your voice wisely. It can be heard around the world.

communication, SXSW,Twitter, blogs

Thursday, March 13, 2008

At the (Digital, Interactive, On-Demand) Movies

A little over a hundred years ago, the good people at The Ladies' Home Journal looked into their crystal ball and came up with a page of predictions for the future that ranged from quaintly wrong to strangely prescient. There were even a few that missed the mark, but should have been right, such as the prediction that university education would be free to everyone, economically disadvantaged students would have room, board, and clothing subsidized if they couldn't afford them, and health care (including optometric and dental) would be available to every child who needed it.

Two of the most striking predictions, though, actually got it somewhat right: "Man Will See Around the World", and "Grand Opera will be Telephoned" to private homes. The LHJ foresaw cameras capturing images that would be transmitted electrically to screens thousands of miles away. And they predicted that "Great musicians gathered in one (sp) inclosure in New York will, by manipulating electric keys, produce at the same time music from instruments arranged in theaters or halls" throughout the country.

How surprised would the audacious seers of the LHJ be to see us now. Today, nearly everybody under 20 believes that instantaneous access is an addendum to the Bill of Rights, and the Metropolitan Opera - HD Live series, launched by director Peter Gelb, has been packing movie theaters around the world.

At a panel discussion titled, "Digital Cinema for Indies", at last week's SXSW Interactive, the conversation focused on the "top down" issues of distribution: studio costs for film digitizing and promotion, theater costs for installing digital equipment, and the ongoing problem of getting butts in seats. This conversation seems to be continuing at ShoWest in Las Vegas where, as CNBC's Julia Boorstin notes, "The movie theaters owners and studios are together moving towards digitizing the 38,000 movie theaters nation-wide."

Good for them. The problem is, the landscape has changed in an important way that the ladies of the Home Journal couldn't predict, and the film studios at ShoWest don't get. Interactive technology has changed us. Getting access to the content and entertainment we want, where and when we want it, has become addictive and that genie's not going back in the bottle any time soon. I may want to go to a movie theater occasionally, but I also expect to see films, on-demand, on my computer, my TV, and even my iPhone. These days, entertainment is being influenced from the bottom up as much as from the top down, and viewers voices are getting louder all the time.

If filmmakers, studios, and theaters, want to continue to be relevant to audiences, they'd better start thinking more about where audiences want to see entertainment product, and less about forcing them into appointment viewing. It doesn't take much to turn a creative visionary into a dinosaur. Just ask David Lynch.