Oct 31, 2008


We're heading down to Disney World tomorrow with the kids for a little R&R (emphasis on the latter R-- not too much of the former in Disney.)

While I'll have internet access, I probably won't do a whole lot of posting.

Now I can think of few places as bizarre as Disney World to witness the election results-- I have this vision of Mickey on a stage in front of Cinderella's Castle, reading the results while Minnie leads the Obama supporters in a cheer and Donald fires up the McCain camp.

Either that or a ceremony at the Hall of Presidents where a hologram of the winner appears in the space next to W at the end of the night.

So I'll try and do a post on what that was like

Oh... and be sure to check out Adweek on Monday.

Casual Gaming For The Common Man

Social Net game developer Playfish just received a $17 million VC hit. But more than that, they may have figured out a way to make money off of Facebook.

London-based Playfish makes easy-to-use trivia type games like GeoChallenge, Word Challenge and Who Has The Biggest Brain. On a site like Facebook you can play against your friends and/or check to see who has the highest score.

As Playfish CEO Kristian Segerstrale noted in an interview with Techncrunch, unlike traditional online games “people play our games with the same people that they would play cards, play board games or go bowling with in the real world.” In my experience, their games are fun, easy to learn and a great way to kill a couple of minutes between tasks.

What I find particularly interesting about Playfish though is that they're trying to monetize their Facebook fan base. To wit: This morning, I logged on and saw this message in my "Notifications" box:
Since I like playing Geo Challenge, and know a lot about European geography, I was intrigued enough to click on it. After several levels, I came to this screen:
$4.99 if I want to play it.

Now I didn't bite this time... I don't like GeoChallenge that much. But I might in the future if I'm feeling particularly flush. Or I might have bitten if the price was $1.99. And I'm sure plenty of other people have bitten. If just 5% of their 10 million active monthly users sign up, that's a $500,000 profit on what's basically an add-on to an existing game.

It's the standard "create something people really enjoy using and then, once you've got them hooked, monetize it" ploy, but it's particularly well done. Why? Because Playfish is just charging you for the extras. Not the primary service. So they're not taking anything away, not penalizing you for not paying. They're just giving you the option to do more.

Twitter, to give but one example, might look at this with particular interest. Because what if Twitter started charging $5/month for "pro" features, the stuff we've all been asking for, like the ability to temporarily unfollow someone who's livetweeting from a conference or respond to a direct message via email. Lots of people might sign up for it and those who didn't wouldn't feel ripped off, since the service they were using hadn't changed.

Something to think about.

Oct 29, 2008

Kick Apps Today

I'll be speaking at the Kick Apps/Clickability Seminar today, Thursday, October 30th.

It's called The Social Media Equation: Customer Relationships = Company Success and I'll be doing the Your Brand Is Not My Friend talk.

If you're interested, it's at the W Hotel in Union Square at 3:00 PM. I go on at 4.

Oct 27, 2008

Affordable Luxury In The Apocalyptic Economy

One of the most interesting marketing studies I’ve ever read was something that crossed my desk about 15 years ago. It was about a concept called “Affordable Luxury” and its lessons may be particularly apt as we head into a period of economic turmoil.

Affordable luxury was the name the authors (and I forget who wrote the study or why) gave to items like high-end espresso machines, cashmere sweaters, Tiffany key rings and the like: high-end items that spoke of a certain familiarity with upper class tastes, but whose price tags kept them within the realm of possible for middle class Americans. One of the things the study found was that the most die-hard consumers of these items were not upper class or even upper-middle-class, but rather middle class professionals who worked in high education/low salary type jobs like teaching, social work and journalism.

The notion was that these people, many of whom had grown up in upper middle class families, and all of whom certainly had classmates and peers working in higher income professions, needed some way to reassert their white collar status, a badge that said they too had the taste and income necessary to participate in the exploding market for high-end consumer goods. This group, the study went on to say, was particularly fond of recognizable brand name items because of the way these messages were immediately telegraphed by a Tiffany, Braun or Ralph Lauren label.

I find myself coming back to this study as of late, because the current economic crisis is going to put real luxury items beyond the reach of many more people. And I keep thinking that this may bode well for purveyors of today’s affordable luxury items. Take Whole Foods, for instance. A consumer who is cutting back on restaurant meals may feel justified in spending an extra $6 for a hunk of gourmet cheese. Starbucks too, may benefit, as the newly brown-bagging office worker may make the calculation that the money she’s saving on lunch enables her to spend an extra $1.50 on coffee. Again, in both of these situations, the benefit is more psychological than actual: “I’m drinking Starbucks coffee, therefore I am still a member of the white collar club.”

Other industries that may benefit are small consumer electronics. So while a new $1200 Macbook may be out of the question, a $199 iPhone might prove doable. Ditto a pair of $99 Bose headphones. Blu-ray DVD players (or their successors) may also see a bump as people factor in their relatively low cost vis a vis the necessity to cut back on movie going.

The worse things get, the more these badges will matter, as consumers struggle to hold on to whatever vestiges of an upper middle class lifestyle they once enjoyed. It’s a sign of where our culture is that these talismans can hold so much value, but observing this is not the same as endorsing it. I suspect we’ll see this sort of “badging” work its way into social media, where people become fans of and align themselves with easily identifiable upscale brands. It’s free, and again, it provides us with a way to promote our status as the sort of people successful and sophisticated enough to appreciate high-end consumer goods.

One final point here: this is a difficult topic to bring up because, as Paul Fussell noted in his landmark book Class, Americans do not like talking about social class or even acknowledging that social classes exist. We are all middle class, the mindset goes, unless we’re homeless or Mr. Howell. That’s all well and good, but the reality is quite different. As marketers, we need to acknowledge that reality and find ways to help our clients adapt to it.


In the homestretch of my busy end-of-October conference schedule here.

Tomorrow (Monday, October 27th) I'll be part of a panel discussion at DPAC 2 (Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference) called How Can Marketers Show Off Their Social Advertising Skills? hosted by my friend David Berkowitz.

My fellow panelists are:
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

Should be fun and it's always easier to share the spotlight than to be a solo act.

Marriott Marquis Hotel, NYC
12 Noon

If you're there, stop by and say hello.

Oct 23, 2008

Boards Summit Tomorrow, Friday 10/24

I'll be speaking at the Boards Summit tomorrow here in NYC, doing the Your Brand Is Not My Friend™ presentation.

It's a fun presentation, with a serious message, so if you're around, please stop by. There are a bunch of other great speakers scheduled, including Noah Brier and Michael Lebowitz so you'll definitely get your money's worth.

It's at:
The Crowne Plaza Hotel
1605 Broadway at 49th Street

I am on at 2:30.

» Here's the link for more information and to register.

Oct 22, 2008

The Real Digitial Revolution - Political Edition

I'd been a fan of The Huffington Post up until this election season, when if devolved into a competition for not-very-bright-or-talented lefty journos to try and outdo each other with the most over-the-top articles on why Hitler, Stalin and Lucifer had nothing on McCain, Palin and their supporters.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find this very thoughtful piece from Arianna Huffington herself on why the internet has meant the death of Rovian politics. And self-centered creature that I am, my first thought was how this is yet another example of The Real Digital Revolution.

Allow me to explain.

Huffington's thesis (which she credits to Google CEO Eric Schmidt) is that thanks to the evolution of the internet, we are now able to rapidly fact-check and disprove Swift Boat, Obama-is-a-Muslim-terrorist, Trigg-is-really-Palin's-grandson and other smear campaigns. Or at least contain the belief that they are true to a much smaller segment of the population.

And she's right. It's hard to imagine that as recently as 2004, there was no YouTube. No real blogosphere. No real social media. So, as Huffington points out, if the tradtional media outlets of the day did not move full-force to disprove a rumor, then it was left to fester and spread and we had no real way to know the truth.

The same is true, in a (generally) less malevolent way, about product information. As I've noted in The Real Digital Revolution, it's only recently that we can fact-check the information advertisers feed us and learn the truth about products. From consumer feedback to expert reviews, we now get the real story about about whether "new and improved" really is new and improved. And so the power of The Big Lie is greatly reduced.

The question-- both in politics and in advertising, is whether we are currently experiencing a brief-lived Golden Age of honesty that will vanish like Brigadoon as the forces of darkness learn to manipulate the new media landcape.

Or if the Age of Reason really is here to stay.

Oct 18, 2008

Curing NASCAR Blindness

CK pointed me to this post on Wizbang from a self-described "southern stay-at-home mom with a hick accent and a limited vocabulary."

It's all about why she and people like her still L-O-V-E Sarah Palin. Even after Tina Fey.

It's worth reading if you fear you suffer from NASCAR Blindness, especially the comments, to get a sense of what the other side is thinking and to realize that they are not all knuckle draggers and mouth breathers.

You'll be surprised.

Oct 16, 2008

Five Reasons Why Whole Foods Gets Facebook

So I have to give Whole Foods credit for textbook use of Facebook this month (Even if their location that is currently (an easily walkable) 3 blocks from my house is moving (to a not as easily walkable location, a half mile away) later this month.)

I logged onto Facebook this morning to find an update from my Whole Foods Fan Page offering me a $5 coupon on any $25 purchase. And, as anyone who has ever shopped at Whole Foods knows, it's pretty easy to spend $25 in one visit.

But what Whole Foods – whose high prices may be threatening its Prom King status- did, was the sort of maneuver more brands need to do in the social media space: they gave something of value to their customers.

Here’s what they did right:

1. They offered a somewhat sizeable coupon to their Facebook fans… and their fans friends… and anyone else who came along. How? The coupon is also hosted on an external site.

2. They also have a separate web page on their own (non-Facebook) site for their offers because even though they are a Prom King brand with a well done Facebook page, they realize that Your Brand Is Not My Friend™. (They also realize that these sorts of web coupons get passed around a lot, so that trying to isolate it on Facebook is likely futile.)
Whole Foods Deal Page

3. Their Facebook page is well done and provides utility for the customer base. It mostly links to their external resources (the well-done corporate blog and a corporate charity foundation page) and provides video recipes for customers to follow.
Whole Foods Facebook page

4. The Facebook group message is signed by Winnie Hsia, an actual person who works at Whole Foods and who often comments in an official capacity on the corporate blog. Not some faceless corporate entity, which is the way too many brands approach social media in general, not just Facebook.
Whole Foods Facebook update

5. They did not try and upsell me. Just “here’s the coupon” and they got out of their way. (NB: By "upsell" I mean they did not try and push a useless Facebook app at me (you know one of those apps half the brands on Facebook seem to have, apps that merely replicate something that exists elsewhere in a superior, unbranded form) nor did they try and push me to share my favorite recipe with my friends or any other "engagement" tricks users ultimately find annoying.)

Excellent use of Facebook all around. Even if they are moving the store.

Oct 14, 2008

Life In The Fishbowl

The explosive growth of media, much of it beyond the mainstream, raises some interesting questions that came to light in the past couple of weeks, in regards to the global financial crisis and subsequent stock market meltdown.

Namely, how much does the constant and persistent availability of information from various sources, all of whom are now trying to shout louder than ever, lead to the feeling that we're on a giant pendulum, swinging wildly from one extreme to the next.

One day every tweet, newspaper article, blog post, Facebook link, TV pundit, etc. seems to point to the next Great Depression. Or something even worse than the Great Depression.

And then, just as suddenly, stocks are up, we've hit bottom, Asia is following suit, who cares about Iceland and Happy Days Are Here Again.

There's an irrationality to the crowd mentality that seems to feed on itself. And the growing number of touchpoints we have seem to make it all the more urgent, all the more pressing.

And what I'm not sure of is whether this is just that all of us, who grew up before the explosion of new media, need to get used to this new environment, and just re-tune the way we listen and process the glut of information. Or whether it's a plague and the chorus of voices just leads to groupthink and avoids any sort of rational thought.

Curious what you all think about this.

And if you're in Toronto, don't forget to see me TODAY (Tuesday, 10.14.08) at the Media In Canada Forum

Oct 7, 2008

Next Tuesday in Toronto

I'm going to be doing the "Your Brand Is Not My Friend" presentation at the Media In Canada Forum in Toronto next Tuesday, October 14th.

It's at the Jane Mallett Theatre at the St. Lawrence Center for the Arts and I'm scheduled to go on at 4:25 PM.

Sarah Fay, CEO of Aegis Media will be speaking, along with Hashem Bajwa, Digital Strategy Director at Goodby Silverstein, and Aaron Starkman, the Creative Director of Toronto hot-shop Zig.

If you're in Toronto or think you can convince your employer to send you there, please stop by and say hello.

You can register here.

Oct 4, 2008


While I found this video to be more than a bit condescending as well as overly long, I'm not the target audience-- I'm neither unregistered nor 18-- so I won't quibble over aesthetics. You see, what really bothered me about this video is the dishonesty.

It's clearly a liberal Democratic "get out and vote for Obama" spot that's trying to disguise itself as a non-partisan, "register to vote" piece of do-gooding. And while that sort of thing is par for the course in political advertising, consumers are far less prone to accept it in brand advertising.

There's a silly belief out there now that the more you can hide the fact that you're advertising something, the more consumers will like you.

Only that's completely missing the point. The more you bang people over the head with some arcane selling proposition ("Acme Widgets save you time and money by allowing you to widgetize the way you want, when you want") the less they are going to like you. But that doesn't mean they want you to try and trick them. They just want you to get to the point quicker and don't make them think too much. ("Acme widgets are speedy widgets.")

Online or offline, lying and trying to fool people only serves to piss them off. Even if you've got half of Hollywood in your commercial.

Oct 3, 2008

Friday Fun (Political Edition)

Via The Ad Store in New York comes this loaded Campaign '08 message made for client diapers.com on behalf of Parents For Change.

Oct 1, 2008

Social Media and the Tech Entrepreneur: Now on YouTube

Part 2: How has marketing changed with the "new guard" of social media?

With special thanks to Carsten Rubsaamen and Ralf Schmelter from Venture Road Trip (especially to Carsten who did the editing) and to Christina "CK" Kerley for making this all happen, I am happy to present the official videos from "Social Media and the Tech Entrepreneur" featuring myself, the aforementioned Ms. Kerley, David Berkowitz and Paul Soldera.

There are nine videos all together, which you can watch on their very own YouTube channel.

The session came about when CK met Ralf and Carsten at Sun's Startup Camp. The two German post-grads were doing a 90-day tour of the US, called Venture Road Trip, in order to study similarities and differences between American and European startup success stories.

They interviewed a score of high-impact serial entrepreneurs and investors on their personal stories and experiences in building up companies--from small early-stage technology startups to paradigm-shifting companies like Amazon, Google, and Yahoo.

We were the only marketers they spoke with and the conversation-- on the uses of and effects of social media on start-ups makes for a great conversation.

Check it out.