Sep 29, 2008

L'Shana Tova

Happy New Year 5769.
The Toad Stool will be closed until sundown on Tuesday.

Sarah Palin and the Real Digital Revoltion

I’ve been working on a theory lately about why Sarah Palin is still so popular and how this relates to the way people view advertising. You see, I think that part of the equation with Palin, (and this is likely a subconscious thought) is that there’s a strong feeling on the part of most of her supporters that all the experts, all the smart guys, all the pundits and gurus and PhDs have messed up. That despite their stellar credentials, they’ve managed to do nothing more than lead us into the morass. So that a Disney-movie heroine can’t actually do any worse. And if her entire foreign policy experience is limited to the ability to see Russia from her house, that doesn’t really put her at a disadvantage compared to the guys with Harvard PhDs in Islamic Studies who still can’t seem to find Osama Bin Laden or figure out a way to keep the Muslim extremists at bay.

Now I realize why this is a flawed theory, but I suspect for a large number of Americans, it’s the math they do to get to “Palin is okay.” And it’s the same calculation they use when deciding to trust Mary Rose from Paducah, Kentucky and her review of a Mr. Coffee machine on Amazon over the brilliant and persuasive copy and clever imagery in the latest Mr. Coffee ad.*

You see, they’ve been lied to by clever and persuasive ads before. Fell for products that were supposed to make them slimmer and hipper and younger and happier, but didn’t. And so now they’re tired of ads. Sixty years of Bernbachian advertising has made it difficult to remember which product is "the hip one" this week. So the messages all start to blur. Every consumer product is for the young and hip, everything even remotely related to technology works faster and frees you up to… use even more technology. It’s all become one giant blur.

Now Mary Rose from Paducah may not know much about coffeemakers and her review, even if it’s favorable, would likely not pass muster with a coffeemaker expert of even the Mr. Coffee client. But at some level, we get the sense that she can’t mess up more than the experts already have. That maybe she’s hung up on the shape of the handle, which is something we’d never notice, but that’s no better or worse than the actual ad for the product which focuses on the new and improved taste of the coffee, which is something we’ve never noticed either. That, and the fact that Mary Rose's opinion on the handle feels like an opinion, whereas the "new and improved" bit feels like a lie.

Now I suspect this is all just a shakeout, and that soon enough people are going to want to find experts again, people to help them sort through all the information that’s out there that they don't have time to sort through themselves. Only this time they want the experts to have different credentials. And that for many people, being a self-possessed hockey mom is credential enough for a job they feel the so-called experts have proven to be incompetent at as well.

*I'm just using Mr. Coffee as an example here. I can't remember the last Mr. Coffee ad I've actually seen.

Sep 26, 2008

(Black) Friday Fun

Rhett and Link are a comedy writing duo who've built up quite a following on YouTube.

The guys over at Brand Capitalists, a very interesting new model marketing company that's associated with The Rockefeller Consulting Group (yup, those Rockefellers) helped hook them up with their client Microbilt, which provides small businesses with risk management solutions (everything from credit checks on up.)

The result is a very funny (and timely) little video that works because as Brand Capitalist notes "It's entertainment that's relevant to Microbilt's audience. Not branded entertainment."

Key-- and very crucial difference there that harkens back to Howard Gossage's adage, "people don't read ads. They read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad." (And yeah, I know I've been quoting famous dead ad guys a lot lately.) The more utlitity you can bring me, the more your brand tells me "hey, I get where you're coming from," the more disposed I'll be to listening to your sales pitch. It's something ad agencies did quite often back in the Mad Men days and something we need to start doing more of now.


Sep 25, 2008

People Are Talking

At about 08:40 into this video, from the Social Ad Summit panel on Branded Experiences in Social Networks, Scott Monty, the Head of Social Media @ Ford, delivers a spot on recap of my Your Brand Is Not My Friend theory and why it's important.

Hat tip to Ian Schafer for posting the video. And of course to Scott, for actually quoting me. The entire session is actually quite interesting if you have some time to watch it. Oh, and since one good turn deserves another, you should also check out Scott's incredible Sherlock Holmes blog,

Authenticity Is The New Storytelling

Around this time last year, you couldn't go three paragraphs in any marketing or advertising blog post, article or conference report without encountering the word "storytelling."

No one was quite sure what it meant, but the new meaning most decidedly did not refer to a librarian's animated recounting of a Lithuanian fable to a room full of kindergartners.

Rather, it referred to some "story" that each and every brand allegedly had. One that consumers were allegedly jonesing to hear about.

Its most common usage was as a way to justify campaigns that had diverse elements in different media-- in other words, the fact that the microsite (remember those?) had nothing to do with the print ad was just "storytelling" rather than incompetence.

These days, "storytelling" has been replaced by "authentic" as the buzzword-du-jour. Everything that consumers touch is "authentic." Every vain attempt by a brand to hide the fact that it's behind a marketing effort is done in the name of making it more "authentic." As is every vain attempt at interaction: allowing consumer feedback-- no matter how many restrictive registration pages I need to go through, no matter how awkward the interface is-- is all about being "authentic."

Which is not to say that authenticity is a bad thing. It certainly is not. And it truly is something brands should strive for. But rather than creating authenticity, most of them are creating fauxthenticity - a word my friend Ian Schafer coined the other day - because true authenticity scares them: it requires giving up way more control that they're comfortable with.

But as the legendary David Ogilvy once said "the consumer isn't a moron, she's your wife." And the consumer knows full well when the experience is "fauxthentic" rather than "authentic."

So you can bandy about the word all you want. But unless you deliver, it's all just a lot of hot air.

Sep 23, 2008

"Have To" vs. "Choose To"

There's been a lot of discussion on the blogosphere about the new Microsoft "I'm a PC" campaign from Crispin, Porter & Bogusky.

Only the one thing I haven't seen brought up is the one thing I see as the core difference between the two: People often have to use a PC. Whereas they almost always choose to use a Mac.

Have to versus Choose to. It's an interesting paradigm. And having to use a PC can entail any number of reasons: it may be the platform your employer uses. Or it may be that you find Macs to be overpriced.

So, for me, the benefit of the new campaign is that it tells all those people who have to use a PC that they are not alone, that they are not dorks for having to use one and that in fact, lots of other cool people have to use one too.

Now how that plays out really depends on your psyche. There's the danger you could hear it as your mom pointing out all the other kids whose parents didn't get them the $120 sneakers. But I suspect that people who hear that will go over to the Mac side as soon as they are able. The ones who hear it as validation of their current situation and relative level of satisfaction with PCs are the campaign's sweet spot and it's likely to have a positive effect on them.

Most of the noise in the ad blogosphere has been against this campaign, partly as Dave Knox points out, due to a certain type of NASCAR Blindness that prevents them from believing that anyone sane could actually prefer to use a PC. It also stems from the fact that the campaign is a bit of a formula: many brands have done the whole "interesting people around the world are using our product" campaign.

And while the old One Show snob in me is nodding his head vigorously at this, the truth is that consumers don't pay as much attention to advertising as we do. So none of them really remember the (very similar) Cisco campaign that ran about 4-5 years ago. And if they do, they're not really bothered by the repetition.

I'm very curious to see where the campaign goes next: will they offer reasons why people use PCs? Or will they just leave it at "I use one" and let new, cake-like, post-Vista innovations answer the "why" part.

Sep 22, 2008

School of Hard Knox

Dave Knox has one of the more interesting blogs out there right now for a number of reasons:

1. He's a client. He's in the midst of transitioning from a job on the P&G Wal-Mart Customer Team to a job at Procter & Gamble proper (in Cincinnati) where he'll help boost their social media practice. As such, he looks at things from a different perspective than many of the advertising focused bloggers.

2. He's a midwesterner, born and bred in Cincinnati (or thereabouts) and as such, has not fallen victim to the NASCAR Blindness that afflicts so many in the ad community.

3. He's a smart guy and good writer who makes it a point to keep up on everything that's going on in the world of social media. I've learned a lot from his blog and his tweets.

If you're looking to expand your perspective beyond the same old/same old, then definitely check out his blog Hard Knox Life.

Sep 18, 2008

Subtlety and Advertising Don’t Mix

There’s an article (subscibers only, sorry) in today’s Wall Street Journal about how Walden Media and 20th Century Fox have co-opted a 15 year-old YouTube star named Lucas Cruikshank to shill for their new movie “City of Ember.”

Which is not a horrible idea in and of itself. Only they are going about it the absolute wrong way.

Cruikshank’s (completely homemade) videos have him playing a hyperactive 6 year-old named Fred. So he is in character the whole time. But rather than have Fred come out and openly shill for “City of Ember” the plan (which you can see the beginnings of in the video above) is to have him very very casually “discover” it in passing and slowly bring it up to his fans so that they too can discover it. Which seemed like a clever plan to one prominent ad agency creative director who told the Journal that “By not being so overt and making it look like he’s discovering the film for his audience, it comes across as less pushy.”

Perhaps. But it also comes across as lying.

Think about it: when celebrities shill for a product, you know they’re shilling. They may not honestly like the product, but it’s clear that they’ve been paid for the honor. We’ve been inculcated in this notion since the early days of television when words like “this has been a paid announcement for Ford” were the norm.

But social media is different. If I were to casually mention on here that I really loved the new iPhone, you’d probably not think much of it. If you later found out, however, that I wrote about my love for the iPhone because Apple paid me to write about it, you’d feel angry and deceived. You weren’t suspecting an advertising message. You were trusting that my opinion really was my own, that it was what Alan Wolk really believed. Not what he was paid to believe.

Well ditto Fred. Yes, he’s a fictional character, but he’s a creation of the filmmaker and we assume that the things he touches on are things that reflect that filmmakers artistic sensibility. Not things he was paid to mention. Product placement happens in TV shows and films, but those are not nearly as personal as Fred. They’re also made by professionals, whereas Cruikshank is clearly an amateur. The fact that it’s aimed at kids, who are by more gullible by nature, makes the whole venture even sleazier.

It’s fine to use YouTube celebrities in ads. It’s even fine to use them in ads, in character, on YouTube. You’ve just got to let us know that’s what you’re doing. Because if we find out you’ve been tricking us-- and we will, we always will-- we’re not going to like you—or your stooge very much.

And while we might forgive your stooges their naiveté, we won’t forgive you. Because after all people, Your Brand Is Not My Friend.

Sep 17, 2008

Ben Walker - You're No One If You're Not On Twitter

Enjoy. This is genius. (Thanks to Lisa Baldini and Danielle Knopf for the link!)

Sep 15, 2008

NBC's Lost Opporunity

So Tina Fey’s brilliant Saturday Night Live impression of Sarah Palin wound up getting shared on YouTube by everyone from major media outlets to Facebook friends.

Until of course, NBC made them take it down so that we'd all watch the Hulu version featured above.

But new YouTube versions keep springing up. This one, which may be down by the time you read this post, has over 759,000 views. So the question is why? Why are people watching it on YouTube when there's an official NBC version whose quality is about a thousand times better? Did YouTube initially trump the NBC version because it got better search results and people kept linking to it? Because it was up first? Because people remember how much the networks hate sharing any of their precious clips and decided that an official NBC site was the last place they should look? Or do they just not want to sit through 15 seconds of pre-roll commercial for the chance to get a more high quality video?

There's no way to really know, but any combination of the above sounds like a logical answer. The ultimate takeaway, however, being that there’s no point in trying to stop popular culture from being shared without your consent. The best you can do is make it easy for them.

What’s more, NBC missed a possible cross-sell opportunity here, giving people the chance to pay to download the entire episode once they’d watched the (free) clip. You know, something as simple as posting a comment on the YouTube sites to the effect of “Haven’t watched SNL in a while? Find out what you’ve been missing.” With a link to iTunes or Amazon. Or even simpler: "Watch the HD version of the same clip over at"

Maybe next time…

Sep 13, 2008

Sister Souljah Time

Free Advice Of The Day: If Barack Obama wants to win this election, he needs to take a page from the Bill Clinton Playbook and do a “Sister Souljah” on one of the legion of lefty journos who have been eviscerating Sarah Palin.

He needs to find a particularly nasty and unlikable journo, someone whose criticism seems mostly focused on Palin’s hair and accent and kids names and all that, and go to town on them the way Clinton went to town on Ms. Souljah for her comment about the L.A. riots.

And he legitimately can.

His mother was a teenage mother. She was on food stamps. He grew up without a father. He knows what it’s like to live outside the mainstream. To be the outsider looking in on that Starbucks and Whole Food world. And he desperately needs to remind people of that.

He needs to get pissed off, in a big way, that the message that’s clearly coming out from the Huffington Posts and Daily Koses is “How dare this white trash woman think she can run the world?”

Here’s why he needs to do this right now: Not liking Sarah Palin’s politics is one thing. But too many of the attacks seem to focus on her lifestyle. This is not lost on her supporters, the undecideds and everyone else in middle America: the disgust is about who she is, not what she stands for. Which just helps to cement the impression that Obama is one of the “we think we’re better than you” coastal establishment. And every moose joke, every online comment about “how could you elect someone who names her kid Track?” just cements this impression that the election is all about class lines and geographic location.

If Obama Sister Souljahs the leftist journalists, then he distances himself from the class warfare and bring the election back to the issues. There's no downside: it's not like the HuffPosties are going to stop supporting him or stay home from the polls. And if he can convince the undecided voters that he gets where they're coming from, that he doesn't look down on them because he was once one of them, then he has a real shot at convincing them to vote for him.

Sep 12, 2008

Service Nation Showdown

So the Service Nation Summit, held last night at Columbia University here in New York, turned into far more of a debate than I’d anticipated.

Yes, both men kept their promise to be polite and respectful towards each other. And yes, as my friend, education reform advocate Whitney Tilson pointed out, both men had fairly similar stances on the issue. But the tone and the timbre of the question and answer session was clearly a preview of what we can expect to see in the upcoming debates.

John McCain was first up and he stayed on script and on point the entire night. His script was simple: I am the experienced bipartisan get-along-with-everyone guy whose “maverick” reputation came about because I do the right thing, regardless of what my party is telling me to do.

And so McCain did not miss a single opportunity to mention a Democratic senator he’d cosponsored legislation with. Bayh, Feingold, Kennedy—he spent a good two minutes telling us how much he loved Ted Kennedy— and kept emphasizing how these guys were his friends. Not Bush and Cheney.

Which is part two of the McCain message: I am NotBush. So there was Bush bashing and Congress bashing in his message. (The laugh line of the night, for example, came when McCain said that given the 94% disapproval rating, the only people who still thought Congress was doing a good job were “staffers and blood relatives”)

McCain also scored points by thoughtfully answering questions about the military: when asked about how to make the military a more attractive career to those from the upper economic strata, he pointed out that although Columbia had allowed Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus, ROTC recruiters were still banned and then called on them to end the ban. (A point Mr. Obama later reiterated, much to the surprise and delight of many in the audience, depending on where they stood on the issue.)

Obama, on the other hand, got off to a rocky start. The first comment out of his mouth was a joke about how the neighborhood around Columbia had changed so much since he’d been in college that he could no longer afford an apartment there. There was much groaning in the press room over that one, since this is clearly not the case.

Obama, as Doug Meacham pointed out to me in a tweet, is not as effective one-on-one as he is in a speech, and he began to ramble, going into excruciating detail about his programs and confusing everyone as to what he was actually talking about. He strayed from his message of “I am the postmodern JFK, the guy who can re-energize the country and bring us back to hope and optimism” by getting bogged down in the minutiae rather than sticking to the broad strokes.

He did recover though, about midway through, when he began talking about the military and his plans for expanding the definition of military service to include jobs in civil engineering, agriculture and even education. That seemed to be his turning point and he really came to life when he spoke about the value of public service and it was clear from his tone and his body language that this was something he felt strongly about. He went on to garner the biggest applause line of the night when he said that it was his job to “make government service cool again.”

Obama also ended on a high note, giving his popular campaign speech about how change needed to come from the bottom up rather than the top down, a message that drives home his post-modern JFK positioning.

Overall, I’d say McCain did the best job of staying on point and sounding empathetic and presidential. He is clearly at ease in these sorts of events and it’s easy to see why the “Town Hall” style debates are so compelling to him: clearly, that is McCain’s sweet spot while speechmaking is not. With Obama, it’s quite the opposite: he’s much better working a crowd than one-on-one.

Something the McCain camp needs to watch is that their man doesn’t stray too far into his “Good Time Charlie” persona that his message starts to clash with that of the party at large and Sarah Palin in particular. For Obama, my fear would be more nebulous: he needs to be careful that McCain doesn’t sound like the CEO of a large and powerful corporation while he’s left sounding like the head of a small, hip start-up, the kind where people wear flip-flops to work and bring their dogs to the office. (To wit: While Obama authentically feels very strongly about public service, he needs to realize that not everyone shares what’s often perceived as a youthful passion and he can’t assume that they will.)

The real winners tonight though were the American public. They got to hear smart, well-thought out questions from the moderators: Time magazine editor Richard Stengel and PBS correspondent Judy Woodruff and serious answers from the candidates. Woodruff and Stengel quoted de Tocqueville and used PBS-esque phrases like “American exceptionalism.” It was fascinating (in a good way) to see how the more highbrow tone of the questions changed the level and tone of the debate.

All in all a positive evening. Thanks again to Christina Kerley (CK) for bringing me there and to David Berkowitz and David Reich for joining me.

Sidenote: For those linguists in the audience, one of the more interesting moments was hearing the 50something Stengel use the word “dissing” in a question he posed to the 70something McCain.

Sep 11, 2008

Service Nation Tonight - Live Tweeting

Thanks to the efforts of Christina Kerley (otherwise known as "CK") I am going to be attending the Service Nation Summit tonight along with Barack Obama and John McCain. A number of other politicos are slated to be there - everyone from Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg.

Here's a description of Service Nation, taken straight from their website:
ServiceNation is a campaign for a new America. An America where citizens unite and take responsibility for the nation’s future. ServiceNation unites leaders from every sector of American society with hundreds of thousands of citizens in a national campaign to call on the next President and Congress to enact a new era of voluntary service and civic engagement in America, an era in which all Americans will work together to try and solve our greatest and most persistent societal challenges.

ServiceNation Summit 2008 – September 11-12, New York City
ServiceNation Summit will bring together 600 leaders of all ages and from every sector of American life – from universities and foundations, to business and politics – to celebrate the power and potential of service, and lay out a bold policy blueprint for addressing challenges facing our society through expanded opportunities for volunteer and community national service.

You can watch the whole thing live on CNN tonight while following along with me, @ckepiphany and @davidberkowitz on Twitter or (maybe) Kyte.

Sep 10, 2008

Seven Years Of Plenty

It’s hard to imagine that it was 7 years ago. It seems, at once, so much sooner and so much more distant.

I remember being at the gym, at the Reebok Club on the Upper West Side, when it happened. And the moment that the plane hit into the second tower and all 50 treadmills and stairsteppers and Lifecycles and NordicTracks and elliptical trainers slowed to a stop and we all just stared at each other in disbelief until the third plane slammed into the Pentagon and we realized that the city was now under attack.

I remember running back home to find my wife and son and then dashing off to the store to buy milk and water before they ran out. And then, not wanting to stay at home, all of us heading over to Riverside Park, to the pier where we’d spent so many calm summer evenings, and realizing you could see the giant plumes of smoke coming from where the buildings had once stood, simultaneously repelled and transfixed.

I remember the silence too, of a New York without cars. And the noise from the fighter jets circling overhead. In Tel Aviv sometimes, you would hear those booms from the balcony of the hotel room, but that was Israel, where such things were to be expected. This was New York, where they were not.

I remember the steady stream of ash-covered survivors marching slowly up Amsterdam Avenue that afternoon, like actors from a science fiction movie, only there was no one to yell "cut."

I remember the line of trucks over by the American Red Cross building, the ones with canvas tops that look like covered wagons, that you see in places like “war-torn Rwanda” and pressing $200 cash into the hands of one of the volunteers.

I remember that night when the winds shifted and the smoke made it up to the Upper West Side and we realized how very close we really were.

I remember thinking we’d protected my son, who was not yet three, from figuring out what had gone on. Until the next morning when we went outside and he asked me if “those two buildings that fell down yesterday" were still on fire and I tried to keep my voice steady as I told him that yes, the firemen had put them out.

I remember the signs. Everywhere, people had put up handmade missing posters for the loved ones we now knew were never coming home. I’d stop in the subway stations and on street corners and read them all, crying behind sunglasses, then sneezing to pretend it was just allergies.

I remember the first day I went back to work and how the cadets from the police academy were stationed on nearly every corner in midtown. And how these terrified 21-year-olds with guns seemed a perfect metaphor for the city in wartime.

I remember that my route home took me through Grand Central Station and Times Square. And how I clung to the words of the Israeli mother of one of my son’s classmates who’d admonished us that “yesterday, you didn’t know there was a threat and so you didn’t think twice to go on the subway. Tomorrow, maybe it will be a different threat. You don’t know. You can’t live your life worrying about every little thing.”

And I will cling to those words again tomorrow as I cross under the Hudson and descend into the subway and take a train that goes through Times Square and enter again into a city that in most ways seems to have fully recovered from a nightmare that for a time seemed truly terminal.

Sep 9, 2008

Field of Dreams

So we rented Field of Dreams with the kids the other night and it struck me that while the actors and settings themselves did not appear in any way dated (e.g. the clothes and hairstyles, Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan were wearing would look perfectly at home in 2008,) the complete lack of any of what we regard as modern “necessities” gave the movie the air of a period drama.

It was only 1989. A year that most you reading this blog had already been born. Yet there were no cell phones. No internet. In one key scene, Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones can only keep in touch with their families by calling them from a pay telephone. With a dial on it. My kids stared at it and wondered “what’s that?”

While we talk about things like “digital natives” and all, we can’t really fathom what it’s like to come of age at a time when all this isn’t new anymore. Or how rapidly the world and the way we act in it has changed. My kids (and they are not unique) are somewhat wigged out when we visit their grandparents who do not own DVRs. The younger one, in particular, does not quite get why Grandma can’t just pause the TV or call up the shows she want to watch when she wants to watch them.

And so they didn't quite get why Costner didn’t just call his wife on his cell phone to tell her where he was. Or at the very least just text her. The microfilm scene was also a complete mystery: their world is neatly indexed, PDF’d and fully searchable online.

But the gap is much greater than that, for their generation doesn’t see media as being all that separate. Dora the Explorer lives in the computer as a 30 minute iTunes video, a website, a DVD, some songs on iTunes or Songza and a dozen or so clips up on YouTube. There’s no line between them, no sense that they are different, even though some are “hot mediums” and others “cool;” some interactive and some passive. It doesn't seem very important when they all seem to come from the same place.

We adults too, are learning to think like that, albeit a bit more gradually. And yet despite our hesitation, the New York Times is now a newspaper that arrives on the porch in the morning, a button on our Blackberries and iPhones that delivers portable news updates and a website that fleshes out, via charts, graphics and even videos, the stories we started reading in the newspaper that morning. And yet it is, in a way we haven’t fully come to terms with, all still the New York Times.

That this change has come about in less than 19 years is simply unparalleled. Living with it, day to day, it’s sometimes hard for us to step outside and realize the magnitude of it all. Until something like Field of Dreams comes along and knocks us for a loop and it all comes into perspective.

What’s more amazing is that we’re nowhere near the end of this technological revolution: we may in fact just be at the very beginning of it. All we can do is continue to adapt and just hold on for the ride.

Sep 5, 2008

Social Media's Defining Moment

There’s a fascinating article in this coming Sunday’s New York Times by Clive Thompson called Brave New World of Digital Intimacy on how our digital world is making us closer to each other than ever before, a phenomenon Thompson calls “ambient initimacy.”

It’s probably one of the most important articles anyone associated with the digital world can read, since it will be talked about by people outside of our world for years to come, and may actually mark the very moment that social media goes mainstream.

Some of the key points Thompson makes are:

The idea of constant life updates takes some getting used to.
Indeed, many of the people I interviewed, who are among the most avid users of these “awareness” tools, admit that at first they couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to do this.
The "a-ha moment" comes when we start to sense patterns in people’s tweets and updates and lives.
Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting.
Social media's affect on offline, face-to-face socialization can be surprisingly positive.
(W)hen they do socialize face to face, it feels oddly as if they’ve never actually been apart. They don’t need to ask, “So, what have you been up to?” because they already know. Instead, they’ll begin discussing something that one of the friends Twittered that afternoon, as if picking up a conversation in the middle.
Our mobile society and workplace isolation make these services more valuable.
The mobile workforce requires people to travel more frequently for work, leaving friends and family behind, and members of the growing army of the self-employed often spend their days in solitude. Ambient intimacy becomes a way to “feel less alone,” as more than one Facebook and Twitter user told me.
Twitter demands a lower level of commitment than phone calls, email and other non-ambient forms of communication.
(A) point I heard from many others: awareness tools aren’t as cognitively demanding as an e-mail message. E-mail is something you have to stop to open and assess. It’s personal; someone is asking for 100 percent of your attention. In contrast, ambient updates are all visible on one single page in a big row, and they’re not really directed at you. This makes them skimmable, like newspaper headlines; maybe you’ll read them all, maybe you’ll skip some.
Social networking doesn’t increase the number of close friends we have as much as it allows us to expand our contacts with “weak ties”-- loose acquaintances—someone we met at a conference who we otherwise would have lost all contact with.
In their pre-Internet lives, these sorts of acquaintances would have quickly faded from their attention. But when one of these far-flung people suddenly posts a personal note to your feed, it is essentially a reminder that they exist.
Our network of weak ties helps us to solve problems faster because it expands our greater network.
Laura Fitton, a social-media consultant who has become a minor celebrity on Twitter — she has more than 5,300 followers — recently discovered to her horror that her accountant had made an error in filing last year’s taxes. She went to Twitter, wrote a tiny note explaining her problem, and within 10 minutes her online audience had provided leads to lawyers and better accountants.
One potential downside is that we may be spending too much time on “parasocial relationships.”
Danah Boyd, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society who has studied social media for 10 years, published a paper this spring arguing that awareness tools like News Feed might be creating a whole new class of relationships that are nearly parasocial — peripheral people in our network whose intimate details we follow closely online, even while they, like Angelina Jolie, are basically unaware we exist.
For people in their 20s, who have basically grown up with social media, disengaging is simply not an option.
(P)eople in their 20s who were in college when Facebook appeared and have never lived as adults without online awareness. For them, participation isn’t optional. If you don’t dive in, other people will define who you are. So you constantly stream your pictures, your thoughts, your relationship status and what you’re doing — right now! — if only to ensure the virtual version of you is accurate, or at least the one you want to present to the world.
At some level, social media helps us to recreate a pre-urban world of small towns and villages where anonymity was non-existent.
“It’s just like living in a village, where it’s actually hard to lie because everybody knows the truth already. The current generation is never unconnected. They’re never losing touch with their friends. So we’re going back to a more normal place, historically. If you look at human history, the idea that you would drift through life, going from new relation to new relation, that’s very new. It’s just the 20th century.”
Participation in social media can actually lead to greater self-awareness.
Many of the avid Twitterers, Flickrers and Facebook users I interviewed described an unexpected side-effect of constant self-disclosure. The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act.

Five Things I'd Like From Twitter

1. THE ABILITY TO REPLY TO DIRECT MESSAGES VIA EMAIL. Right now I receive DMs in my email inbox (whether I have Twitter open or not) but I can’t reply to them via email. This is bothersome in that I then need to log on to Twitter to reply. Or insert the person’s actual email address and reply to them via email, which they may or may not be checking, given that they contact me over Twitter in the first place.

2. THE ABILITY TO SEE MY FOLLOWERS/FOLLOWEES IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER. This should be simple enough. And there are so many times I find myself wishing I had this functionality. Is John @JSmith or @JohnSmith or @JohnSmith2008? Is Mary @maryconner or @ maryconnor? This is especially key if I'm sending a DM and don't really want some stranger to accidentally learn details of my financial dealings.

3. THE ABILITY TO INSTANT MESSAGE PEOPLE. This would replace the usual pattern which is to send a series of DMs. If I’m already in Twitter and I need to find out something either private (what you really think of so-and-so’s new blog post) or banal (did you get the email I sent you and is Thursday at noon okay?) we can DM each other, but DMs don’t get delivered right away and wind up in my email inbox and don’t make for quick conversation the way IMs do. I’d even settle for IMs limited to 140 characters or less.

4. THE ABILITY TO RESPOND WHEN I’M ABLE. This is something Twitter gives me now and I’d like to keep it that way. Twitter, unlike, say IM or Facebook, doesn’t let my friends know if I’m logged in or not. So there’s no expectation that I’ll respond to @ messages or DMs instantly. This is a real joy, because it lets me use Twitter at my own convenience without the pressure of feeling like I’m insulting someone because I haven’t responded to their message. It also keep the feeling going that Twitter is like an ongoing cocktail party or water cooler conversation that I can wander in and out of at will.

5. THE ABILITY TO ADD FOLLOWERS VIA TWHIRL AND OTHER THIRD PARTY APPS. Okay, this is pretty minor, but I figured I should have five things on my list;) I only follow people once I’ve gotten to know them. And I usually get to know them via Twhirl. It would be easier to be able to follow them via Twhirl than to have to open up my browser and find them all over again.

Sep 4, 2008

The Old End Run

If my criteria for voting centered on which candidate had the best marketing strategy, the newly rechristened “Johnny Mac” would win in a heartbeat. Because the end-run he’s done around the Democrats this week has been nothing short of brilliant.

By setting himself up as the leader of what he’s essentially playing up as a new third party—Team Maverick—he’s completely taken the wind out of the sails of all the anti-Bush sentiment on display in Denver last week.

Let Obama and Biden attack Bush and Cheney all they want. Team Maverick doesn’t necessarily disagree. I mean isn’t the not-so-subtle message that Johnny Mac is called a maverick because he doesn’t agree with Bush/Cheney either?

Neither Bush nor Cheney was anywhere near the convention this week. And when people finally started to tune in, the two people they heard speaking were Fred Thompson and Rudy Guiliani. Two other “mavericks;” neither of whom is closely associated with Bush/Cheney and all their baggage. Palin never mentioned either of them and I suspect McCain won't either when he speaks tonight.

From a marketing perspective (and we are talking marketing here- not politics) it’s the equivalent of introducing a spin-off brand that operates separately from the main brand and goes in a completely different direction. Sort of what Pottery Barn did with West Elm when people felt PB was too staid/expensive or what Toyota did with Lexus for the opposite reason.

And I say “sort of” because people are less invested in brands than they are in politics, because neither Pottery Barn nor Toyota had the negative baggage associated with Bush/Cheney and because it remains to be seen whether McCain and Palin can get Americans to believe that Team Maverick is indeed a separate brand.

Sep 3, 2008

Public Speaking

So I am going to be speaking at my first real live conference next month:
The Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference here in New York.

Here's how they're billing my panel:
How Can Marketers Show Off Their Social Advertising Skills?
Are agencies, both media and creative, empowered by their brand clients to execute the type of marketing commitments demanded by social media? And how are brands embracing the concept of consumer control? Will they be able to participate in the discussion surrounding their brand in a meaningful way to shape their brands image/place in a new generation of consumers?

My friend David Berkowitz of 360i and Inside The Marketer's Studio is going to be the moderator.

Other panelists will be:
Don Steele, VP, Digital Marketing, MTVN (MTV Networks) Entertainment Group
Mike Church, Eastern Region Manager, Cross Platform Solutions, YouTube
Darren Herman, Group Director, Digital Media, The Media Kitchen

It's scheduled for 12 noon on Monday, October 27th at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square.

It's an interesting topic, we've got some good people speaking, David is a fantastic and seasoned moderator and so a good time should be had by all.

For more details on how you can register, check out the DPAC website.

Hope to see many of you there.