Jun 30, 2008

Separate But Equal

My buddy Ian Schafer has a great post today about the increased use of mobile internet and what that means for advertising.

And seeing how Research In Motion (Blackberry) has increased its share of the market to 44.5% of all smartphones got me to thinking about something I’d posted about on MP Daily Fix a few months back: I have a sneaking suspicion that “smartphones” may be a misnomer.

Because I don’t think we’re going to use our mobile internet devices (MIDs) as phones down the road.

Already, I see many people who keep two phones: a regular cell phone for making and getting calls, and a Blackberry or iPhone for emails and web browsing. (Full disclosure: I am one of “those people.”) In fact, a recent study showed that a full third of iPhone users keep a second phone for phone calls.

Now there are multiple, overlapping reasons for this.

For me, and many others, it’s the ability to keep work and personal lives separate. So that if I’m going to the movies on a weekend, I can take my cell phone in case the car breaks down or the baby sitter calls, while leaving emails and all matters work-related at home on the dresser, on my Blackberry.

Which leads to reason number two: since many smartphones are employer-provided, people are often hesitant to use them for personal matters, both for ethical and privacy reasons.

But I think there’s also another, bigger reason, one that we may not be consciously aware of: calling has fallen out of favor.

It was only about 5 years ago, that checking your voicemail was a reflex action after you emerged from a long meeting. Now you check your email. Who calls anybody anymore?

In a business setting, phone calls are reserved for emergency or immediate messages: Smith’s plane never took off—the meeting’s cancelled. There's a meeting in Conference Room C- we're all around the corner in Room D instead. We rarely just call to chat, let alone exchange relevant information.

Part of that is due to the ease of email and IM and other communication that allows us to avoid face-to-face conversations. But part of that is due to the fact that it’s just easier—and more socially acceptable in many situations-- to read something than to talk, out loud, about it.

Think about all the meetings you’ve been at where other people have been surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously) checking their email during the meeting. Or the places you’ve been forced to wait-- a doctor’s office, an airport, a restaurant—where talking on the phone would have seemed rude but emailing or browsing the internet on a smartphone was perfectly acceptable because it was (a) silent (b) private and (c) something you could pause at any moment.

So given all the myriad ways and reasons why we’ve separated voice calls from reading-focused activities (email, IM web browsing) it stands to reason that we’ll continue to separate them on our mobile devices. Leaving us one device that lets us do all sorts of visual and typing related things (email, browsing, texting, photos, video) and another that's just an interactive talking device. (e.g. a phone.)

It will change the way we view our portable media devices, for sure. And if nothing else, it’ll certainly make the product designers jobs a lot easier.

Jun 27, 2008

Worth Checking Out

Two nice blog posts worth checking out this weekend:

David Armano, over at Logic + Emotion writes about the mistakes marketers are making right now in "Marketing's Wheel of Misfortune." It's got one of his trademark graphics on it and it's a nice easy-to-digest summary of all that ails us these days. Good summer reading that will have you nodding along in agreement. (And the graphic is a good thing to print out and have on hand next time you find yourself in one of those situations.)

Jason Heller has an excellent-- and very true-- rant over on his blog The Digital Blur. It's called It's Not A Magical Parallel Universe, It's Just The Internet and it covers all the ways that traditional and digital agencies shoot themselves-- and each other in the foot by not playing well together. It offers a very common sense approach to looking at the changing media landscapes and even provides some link love for a very special blogger. A bit weightier and more thought provoking than the first piece, but definitely worth spending some time with.

Finally, I'm going to spread the word about a wonderful little app I've discovered. It's called PandoraBoy and it's definitely changed how I listen to music at work. It's nothing more than a free-standing client app for Pandora, the internet music service that lets you create your own personalized radio stations. Pandora normally works through a browser and I was forever accidentally closing the window it was open it, thus reducing its daily use viability. But with Pandora Boy I can listen to any of the dozens of stations I've created without having to worry about accidentally quitting. Small thing, but it's made me very happy this week, so I thought I'd share.

Jun 26, 2008

And The Brand Played On

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting story on the Sharper Image, the ultimate 80s mall store, and how they’ve come to realize there’s more money to be made in selling the brand than in selling the stores.

Having filed for bankruptcy back in February 2008, their plan is now to sell Sharper Image branded merchandise directly to retailers. The idea is that mid-market retailers like Target or Best Buy would benefit from the aura of carrying high tech Sharper Image merchandise. The article quotes Hilco Consumer Capital Chief Executive James Salter who says “Some brands are retailers and some are better as wholesalers. Sharper Image is better as a wholesaler.”

And while Sharper Image was full of gimmicky “why would anyone need that” merchandise of the sort found in the back of airline magazines, there was a certain cachet to their products, especially in the early years. They were, after all, one of the forerunners of yuppie consumer culture, one of the first brands that said “hey, it’s okay to spend money on something just because it looks really cool.” And by “cool” they meant sleek and business/techy looking, which, for those of you too young to remember, was kind of a breakthrough concept back in say 1984.

Turning a retailer with a strong brand image into a wholesaler is an interesting play. Sharper Image has always had a strong brand image: you knew exactly what the store was about and what the products said about the people who bought them. (Even if that message was “I spent too much money on something no one really needs.”) And their ability to have a second act, to revive the brand is directly attributable to that strong brand image.

Which is why it’s so important for brands to stay true to who they are. To keep not just their advertising, but their products and designs and user experiences, on track. Because a consistent brand is a brand that can live forever. Or for a very long time, anyway.

Jun 25, 2008


Adweek ran a version of my popular piece "Your Brand Is Not My Friend" (albeit with a slightly different headline) on Monday in both the online and offline (print) editions. I was particularly thrilled because it's a chance to get my ideas in front of a brand-new audience, especially those marketers and agency types who don't read blogs.

And as the above chart indicates, they seem to like it.

Like a reformed tax-and-spend politician who's suddenly seen the light, ad agencies are busy telling anyone who'll listen that they're not about selling anymore.

No, what they're into now is "storytelling" and "conversation." Because you see, consumers aren't really customers anymore. They're friends. But come on guys, who are you really fooling? Your brand is not my friend. READ THE REST ON ADWEEK.COM

Jun 23, 2008

Something Extra: Guest Post on Sean Howard's Craphammer

My friend Sean Howard, a Toronto-based marketing consultant, asked me to write a guest column for him the other day on his most excellent blog Craphammer. Given his audience, I wrote about the need to maintain high standards in terms of casting, writing and design when undertaking social media projects:

While we tend to think of “social media” as something scientific in nature, the truth is, it is every bit as subjective and dependent on executional considerations as traditional ad devices like TV commercials and print ads.

Take casting, for instance. READ THE REST HERE

Twittering Teddy

How 2.0: Make a Twittering Teddy Bear from My Home 2.0 DIY on Vimeo.

A few weeks back, Steve Coulson, from The Advance Guard, was telling me about a project he was working on that featured an animatronic teddy bear that could actually speak your tweets.

Well the bear's been live for about a week now, as part of a promotion for Verizon FIOS and My Home 2.0. The site features a video showing exactly how the show's "Techno-Gurus" made the bear (see above) and the bear itself is currently being auctioned off on eBay to benefit the Homeless Children's Education Fund.

Teddy's been a fairly active Twitterer and seems to understand the medium and it's conversational nature better than many humans.

What's more, the site's gotten a lot of press, both inside and outside the Twitterverse and helps cement the impression that FIOS is an advanced technology that helps you do cool things.

All without ever actually saying those words or anything remotely as heavy handed: social media plays are never about copy points and selling, always about giving people something memorable, fun and/or useful and getting out of the way and letting them draw their own conclusions.

Nicely done.

Jun 19, 2008

It's Not My Job, Man

Years ago, when I worked at the legendary Anderson & Lembke, Steve Trygg (who started the shop) was fond of saying that “an ad agency can be the contractor or it can be the architect. And you always want to be the architect.”

Now what he meant is that you could be the trusted partner the client went to for advice and guidance on all matters strategic.

Or you could be the guys who made the ads.

And since “the guys who make the ads” were a dime a dozen, you wanted to be a bit less replaceable.

I was reminded of his point last week when I witnessed a somewhat disturbing exchange over on BBH London CD Simon Veksner's Scamp blog. He had praised a series of spots from Droga Five for a start-up phone service called Net 10. And with good reason: they’re wonderfully entertaining spots.

So entertaining, that I set out to see if Net 10 was worth switching to.

And there, as the saying goes, my troubles began.

Like any reasonably savvy consumer, I turned to Google and entered the phrase Net 10 Phone Service Reviews. What came up were a bunch of mediocre reviews from fairly reputable sites (e.g. amazon.com) almost all of which mentioned the company’s horrible customer service.

So no Net 10 for me.

Now what was particularly disturbing about this is that the entire ad campaign is based on the premise that other phone companies are “evil” and Net 10 is not. And if you’re going to be calling other phone companies evil, you’d better not have dozens of online reviewers throwing that moniker back at you. I mean you’d better be loved and adored by all who come into contact with you. And love and adoration were notably missing from the vast majority of the reviews.

I noted this fact on Veksner’s blog and urged some of the readers who’d praised the campaign to try googling the company themselves. And while there were some who got why this made the Net 10 campaign fairly moot, especially in the midst of the Real Digital Revolution, a number of the ad creatives who read the blog did not.

They took the attitude, expressed by one poster that “Droga 5 are doing THE ADVERTISING, Net 10 do THE PHONE BIT including the service and therefore cannot be responsible for user reviews.”

And that attitude, in a nutshell, is why our industry is in the position it’s in.

We’ve turned ourselves into the contractors. The guys who make the ads. Who cares about the strategy, who cares about the actual product, if the ads are funny and clever and likely to win awards?

And clients get that. They get that in spades.

That’s why they turn to PR agencies like Edelman and strategy shops like Naked and even management consulting firms like Bain and McKinsey to do all the work their agencies should be doing. Because they know that too many agencies can’t even be bothered to use Google to see if the product actually lives up to the brief. Can’t be bothered to realize that for most non packaged-goods items, the consumer pattern is now ad -Google-purchase. Not ad-purchase. (And that “ad” now encompasses a range of things from TV commercials to social media mentions.)

Now the real danger here is that if all you’re doing is making an ad, you don’t need an agency. You need a general contractor.

As for me, I’ll be over at the drafting table with all the architects.

Jun 16, 2008

Unfriendly Skies

So the talk this time of year, on the lush green playing fields and crystal blue pools of my leafy upscale burb is of summer vacation plans.

And even the most upscale of my neighbors are talking about how avoiding an airplane trip is at the top of their agenda.

Every conversation is identical: the virtual doubling of airfares coupled with what's perceived to be the complete disintegration of service has lead people to find ways to avoid air travel.

And for many of my neighbors, it's not even a question of money-- it's perceived value, or lack thereof.

A summer airline trip is now seen as nothing more than a series of all-but-guaranteed lines and flight delays followed by hours in a cramped uncomfortable cabin with surly service and no guarantee of making it to one's destination remotely on time. Cross country flights, which were once the province of spacious 747s are now flown by small single-aisle planes where even the first class seats seem like coach.

So if you're an airline, that's either a kick in the ribs or an opportunity to prove you understand your customer's pain.

Because if an airline were to run a campaign that was honest, that took the position "hey, things have gotten a bit rough, prices are up, delays are more frequent, we'll do what we can to make it up to you," I suspect that campaign would resonate with consumers in a big way.

Anyone who's been on an airplane lately knows that all that all the usual happy talk is just wishful thinking-- even airlines like JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic who normally do a great job are at the mercy of lengthy security lines, overscheduled flight patterns and erratic weather conditions. So a little honestly would go a long, long way.

Any takers?

Advertising's Fifth Column

The-blogger-formerly-known-as-SuperSpy-but-currently-known-as-Sabrina-Duncan (yes, after the Kate Jackson character on Charlie's Angels) has launched a new site that promises to be most interesting.

It's called Advertising's Fifth Column, and here's how she describes it:
I've decided to collect suggestions/ideas by agency about how each shop hires, fires, pitches, rewards, promotes, wastes money, creates, bills or brainstorms. I will then organize the input, shove it into a PDF and email all the suggestions to the appropriate VPs and CEOs. Then, the advertising media. After that, I'll get someone to ring them up and get a response for the record, which will then be posted on the site.
The site has no affiliation with Media Bistro (her previous employers) and the comments that are currently up there are of the earnest-and-helpful variety, not the snarky-and-bitter type, and I'm hoping that tonality will continue.

It's definitely worth taking a look at participating in if you've got something useful to add.

New Color Scheme + Act of Technological Genius

So last night I got the bright idea of changing the color scheme on the blog, something I'd thought was going to take me all of 90 seconds.


It seems that when you change the layout in blogger, you mess up the whole Disqus thing.
So that suddenly a whole month's worth of comments disappeared. (Either that, or two year's worth of Blogger comments.) Disqus has this giant gaping flaw right now where you can enable it from the day you integrate it into your blog or from the very beginning. You just can't choose the date where you start. Which is fine if you are starting to blog or integrating Disqus for the first time.

Not so fine if you've already been using it for a month.

Before I went to sleep I left a question on the Disqus message board, which Daniel Ha, who started Disqus, actually responded to fairly quickly. (But only to ask if I was thinking of moving to WordPress. I'm not.)

Anyway, when I awoke this morning, I had a brainstorm: what if I tricked the computer into thinking it was a month ago. I reset the date in my preferences, reintegrated Disqus, and for some reason this worked: all the old and new comments are visible, in the right place and whatnot. I was even able to enable video comments and make the comment area less narrow.

Now if you know the slightest thing about HTML (I don't) fixing the problem is probably pretty easy. But I was pretty impressed with myself for figuring our this jerryrigged solution.

A less self-congratulatory post on a marketing related topic will appear later today.

Jun 12, 2008

The Toad Speaks

So last night I did my first speaking gig, a panel discussion with (from left to right) Christina Kerley (CK's Blog), Paul Soldera (Insight By Design) and David Berkowitz (Inside The Marketer's Studio).

The topic (as indicated above) was "Social Media and the Tech Entrepreneur" and our hosts were Ralf Schmelter and Carsten R├╝bsaamen, two-thirds of the team behind VentureRoadTrip.com a project they've undertaken to videotape interviews with "high-impact serial entrepreneurs and investors on their personal stories and experiences in building up companies."

We were the first marketers they spoke with.

Carsten manned the camera, Ralf ably conducted the interview and the resulting videos will soon be available to watch online-- I'll be posting links next week.

It was a great experience, made somewhat easier by the fact that I seem to have been born without whatever gene it is that causes fear of public speaking. And the panel format will save you from having to hear a full hour's worth of me.

Thought Of The Day

My friend Erick sent me a link to this t-shirt this morning. Which was ironic, since just last night, I'd written an email to a friend who's working on a book about design which included the line "Good design is increasingly seen as tangible proof that Company X cares about me, while advertising is increasingly seen as tangible proof that Company X is lying to me."

It's something I've written about before, but bears repeating every now and then. At a time when media fragmentation means you can't be sure how exactly someone found you (Search Engine? TV commercial? Blog post? Word-of-Mouth?) good, consistent design is your strongest asset. That means everything from the product itself to the store to the website.

No exceptions.

Good design very clearly says "these people care about their customers enough to make sure that the store/website/product is well-designed and pleasant to interact with. That makes me feel wanted and valued."

And it says it far more effectively than $75 million worth of advertising.

Jun 10, 2008

TV Isn't Dead Yet.

We spend a lot of time talking about the rise of social media on here and how it’s affected marketing and changed the balance of power and moving everything into the digital arena and all that. But we need to bear in mind that while TV may be down, it’s certainly not out.

There will always be live TV. Whether it’s the news, sports, talk shows or reality shows, there will be entertainment that just works better in real time.

And those shows will likely contain ads. If for no other reason than that ads are far more interesting than the announcers blathering during the two minute time-outs and halftimes and whatnot that occur in professional sports.

Now my guess is that the ads will look a bit different than what we’re used to seeing now. For one thing, those million dollar production will be gone and spots will be simpler and will rely on an expanding supply of stock art, both professional and amateur.

Second, most TV commercials will be retail spots. TV is a great medium for retail. For 30 seconds, you get a visual display of a few items from the store or manufacturer, along with prices, whose goal is to entice you to go visit the store or website. Since prices are news, this fits in with the theory of The Real Digital Revolution, that the role of traditional advertising was to bring us news about a brand or product.

Now the good news is that “retail” spans a pretty broad selection, from local car dealer associations (e.g. Tri-State Honda Dealers) to department stores to online emporia like Zappos. So if TV is your metier, then you can stop worrying about being outdated.

Because TV is still a powerful medium with lots of reach and watching it is still a habit.If you're planning to write it off, you do so at your own risk.

Jun 9, 2008

The Breakfast Habits Of Complete Strangers. (And Other Things I Don't Like About Plurk.)

While I’m still willing to give it a chance—it’s way too early in the game to write it off—I’ve been completely underwhelmed by Plurk, the newest Twitter competitor that’s become all the rage.

A lot of it depends on how you like your microblogging. For me, it’s a way to connect with friends in a business-social kind of way. That means I may discuss a project I’m working on, but not the gory details of my dental surgery.

It also means that I don’t follow back people I don’t know. (Or at least people I don’t know of.) I don’t care what hundreds of complete strangers are having for breakfast. If strangers want to follow me, that’s their prerogative. But I have enough trouble keeping track of the people I know.

Which is my problem with Plurk: I have to spend way too much time wading through conversations between people I don’t know about things I don’t care about.

On Twitter, if I’m not following you, I don’t get your messages. Even your @ messages to my friends. So if a conversation about something interesting devolves into a conversation about root canal surgery between a bunch of strangers, I’m not aware of it.

On Plurk, unfortunately, I am.

Plurk shows me comments from people I’m not following if they happen to comment on one of my friend’s threads. So I have to wade through those root canal and what-I’m-eating-for-breakfast conversations between total strangers. It’s an odd feeling, like you accidentally opened someone else’s personal email.

Now I’m sure there are people who love that feature, love seeing what their friends’ friends’ friends are dining upon and maybe that’s who Plurk is for.

I’m also not digging the timeline UI and the lack of freestanding app, but I can get over those in due time. The conversations from strangers? Not as quickly.

Jun 6, 2008

Friday Favorites

Why does it seem like so much of the breakthrough work being done these days is in the service of movie promotions. Be it online experiences or TV commercials like this one, to promote Adam Sandler's new movie Zohan.

For those of you who don't watch NBA basketball, the spot (which features Sandler and the Golden State Warrior's Baron Davis) is a spot-on parody of the far more serious split screen spots the NBA ran to promote this year's playoff games.

Now movie properties are among the group I call Prom King Brands - that select group of brands people are proud to be associated with and view as an extension of their personality, rather than just another product.

But that's in the social media space. This is a TV commercial and a very funny one at that.


Jun 4, 2008

Obama and the Fallacy of Conventional Wisdom

So Barack Obama claimed the Democratic nomination today, and his eventual candidacy is considered a fait accompli by just about everyone whose last name isn’t Clinton. From a marketing perspective, I find his resounding success with voters to be a perfect example of why using research to create an ad campaign or to learn why one product succeeds where another doesn’t can be as effective as herding cats.

I mean seriously, could you have devised a less-likely candidate than Barack Obama?

Had you suggested, even a year ago, that the ideal candidate for the Democratic Party was a young half-Black man from Hawaii with a Kenyan Muslim (e.g. non-American) father who’d spent his adult life among the ultraliberal BoBo elite in Chicago’s Hyde Park and has limited work experience in corporate or industrial America—well you’d have been laughed all the way back to the funny farm.

But here we are.

And without getting into all the gory details, there was something about Obama, some magic that he had, that energized people and made them forget all the reasons they weren’t supposed to vote for him. Even if you can’t stand the guy, you’ve got to give him that much.

So too with products and ads. We can guess all we want at what people really want. Conduct millions of focus groups to find the “right” flavor, the “right” tag line, the “right” execution for the ad campaign. Ignore and dismiss any sort of gut instinct or reaction.

And we wind up wrong most of the time. Because focus groups and research can’t locate and define that magic dust. (Magic dust being the sort of thing you can only find once you've actually seen it.)

But people love their research. (Bless their hearts.) They love having numbers and the specter of a “sure thing.” And nothing you can say will convince them otherwise.

Until, of course, it does.

UPDATE: Changes made to reflect that Obama worked at a Chicago law firm for several years in the early-mid 1990s and is thus familiar with corporate America. This post was not meant to be a referendum on his fitness for office, but rather a look at how he does not fit the profile of the "ideal candidate" as defined by the punditocracy.

Jun 2, 2008

The Terrorist In The Kitchen (from MP DailyFix)

So last week Rachel Ray, erstwhile host of numerous cooking shows—including one that runs (coincidentally enough) in the back of New York City taxis—was involved in a bit of a kafuffle concerning the scarf she was sporting in the Dunkin’ Donuts ad above. For despite the appearance of said scarf in fashion magazines and the pages of Stuff White People Like, for conservative columnist Michele Malkin, it was as if the decidedly apolitical Ray had stepped out in a “Team Al Qaeda” sweatshirt. »READ THE REST ON MP DAILYFIX

Jun 1, 2008

An Issue of Character

A good judge of someone’s character is their propensity towards returning email. We’ve all been in the situation where we are left wondering why we’ve not heard back. Be it the boss who doesn’t respond to our latest request. The job interview that suddenly switches to radio silence after the third round. The contact who doesn’t acknowledge our not-exactly-out-of-the-blue pitch. Or the date who suddenly stops responding after several pleasant evenings.

What follows is a fairly unpleasant internal drama: Was it something I said? Did I get the address wrong? Was my email too forward? Did I accidentally write “worship Satan” in the sig line? Is the person ill? Have they somehow heard false rumors about me?

It’s not a pleasant feeling and it significantly reduces our feelings of self-worth and makes us feel anything but kindly towards the perpetrator. We’re angry at them for making us feel so unappreciated and it's hard not to take it personally.

So why do so many companies act this way towards their customers?

Whether it’s the complaint letter that goes unanswered. The much commented on blog posting that goes unresponded to. (I’m talking both positive and negative blog posts.) The customer service manager who never calls back. The installer or service rep who never shows up. The phone chain that cuts us off after 20 minutes spent on hold.

All those things make a customer feel unloved, unwanted and quite frankly, dissed. They undo, to paraphrase David Armano, years of positive customer service and advertising and brand interaction in one fell swoop.

They’re easy to remedy. Easy to avoid. And yet companies keep doing them. Over and over again.

Leaving the door wide open for the ones who don’t.