Friday, December 19, 2008

The Top 10 Things I am Grateful for in 2008.

I probably should have done this three weeks ago, but I wanted to get as close to the end of the year as I could. Anyway, here goes:

10. Nearly 123 million Americans voted in the 2008 presidential election. Hip-hip-hooray.

9. The Cleveland Indians comeback. Okay, maybe it's just me, but the second half of the Tribe's season was one very special half of a season (typical Cleveland sports fan).

8. Season 4 of LOST was the best season to date. Get lost. No, really. Get Lost.

7. The Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. Awesome.

6. The volatile price for a gallon of gas got America excited about new alternatives. It's about time.

5. Hurricane Gustav did not become a category 4 beast. We needed a break and we got it.

4. Charlie Rose. When everyone else in the media was sensationalizing and politicizing, Charlie just towed the line. I love Charlie.

3. Gears of War 2 was voted the second best video game of 2008. My son helped make that happen.

2. Apple iPhone 3G launch. Welcome to the brave new world.

1. Good health and good friends. That combination just never gets old... and I had plenty of both in 2008.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marketers Could Learn A Lesson or Two from Coach Wooden

Some say John Wooden is the most influential, if not the greatest coach of the 20th century. At 98, he is definitely one of the oldest living coaches from the 20th century.

Mr. Wooden is most notable for his success as the coach of UCLA's championship basketball teams from 1948 to 1975 (from 1946-1948 he was the coach of Indiana State, where he racked up a 44-15 record). Under his guidance, the Bruins won 81% of their games and set all-time records with four perfect 30-0 seasons, 88 consecutive victories, 38 straight NCAA tournament victories, 20 PAC-10 championships, and 10 national championships - seven of them consecutive.

What else... oh yeah, since 1977, one of the four college basketball player of the year awards has been named the John R. Wooden Award. And two annual doubleheader men's basketball events called the "John R. Wooden Classic"and "The Wooden Tradition" are held in Wooden's honor.

The 95,000 square foot John Wooden recreation center on the UCLA campus for student intramural athletics is named after legendary basketball coach John Wooden.

On July 23, 2003, John Wooden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. On November 17, 2006, Wooden was recognized for his impact on college basketball as a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. And UCLA celebrates John Wooden Day every February 29.

If you didn't know better, you would think this guy was pretty special. But really, he's just a farm boy from Hall, Indiana... a farm boy who became so successful that he created The Pyramid of Success, a philosophy for winning at basketball and at life.

At the heart of his success formula are four building blocks: Enthusiasm (doing what you enjoy and enjoying what you do), Industriousness (because success in any endeavor takes hard work), Patience (because success sometimes takes a while) and Faith (for those times when you are not having fun, don't feel like working hard and you get tired of waiting for success).

But here is the really intersting thing: Coach Wooden does not define "success" as winning championships or making money. In his view:

"Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

Sounds a lot to me like something my dad would say.

According to Coach, defining success is a lot like differentiating between your character and your reputation. Your reputation is what people think you are. Your character is who you really are. And what you really are - your character - is what really counts.

At a time in the world when "reputation management" is looked upon as a noble act, marketers could do worse than to take a lesson from Coach John Wooden. Consider all those companies who just a few months ago were considered industry leaders and now are standing in the Government soup line looking for handouts.

The next time a client tells you they want to be perceived as in industry leader, tell them to focus on character, not reputation. If they are leaders, the marketplace will know it. If they are not leaders, they will eventually be recognized as the frauds they are.

And remember that success derives from knowing you gave it your best shot as the best professional you are capable of being. Hard work, enthusiasm, patience, faith.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Goodnight Denny Crane

The funny thing about Alzheimer's Disease... Oh, wait, there isn't anything funny about Alzheimer's Disease. In point fo fact, it is the only thing about Boston Legal that was not funny.

The idea of Denny Crane finally being taken down by an invisible foe was painful and sad. And so, with as much dignity as it could bring to the small screen, Boston Legal spared Denny Crane and all of its fans the inevitable undoing of a story that has been strong and bold since its debut.

Thank you Denny Crane. Thank you Alan Shore. Thank you Shirley Schmidt. Your witty dialogue and outlandish opinions will be missed.

Yes, Virginia, some of us still do watch TV.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

He'll Just Buy $2000 Worth of Ugly Suits!

Something about the big 3 automakers going to Congress today with their collective hats in hand reminded me of an old story.

Once upon a time (in the early '80s) I was a Vice President and Public Relations Manager for Griswold-Eshleman, a very prominent ad agency headquartered in Cleveland (with offices around the world). In an effort to appease one of its accounts, the president of the ad agency insisted I hire just the right kind of account executive to make a client happy.

Now I am neither a pretentious nor judgmental guy, but one of the candidates they put in front of me was a young man who was so inappropriately dressed for a job interview that even I was taken aback. I mean he was wearing the wrong shoes, the wrong socks, the wrong shirt and tie and the wrong suit. And it had nothing to do with his station in life. He was simply clueless and not the least bit bothered by it.

Given that there was nothing in particular about this candidate that would cause one to look beyond his attire, I passed on him. Unfortunately, the agency CFO (a Yale grad no less) insisted that this candidate's trade magazine writing background made him the perfect man for the job. We argued relentlessly for what seemed like seconds before he offered a grand solution:

"We'll give him a $2,000 hiring bonus and tell him to buy a new wardrobe," said Ed with glee in his eyes (I am not kidding, he was full of glee).

"No," I retorted, "he'll just go out and buy $2,000 worth of ugly clothes."

What Ed could not see was that this young man was content with his look and was not going to change it, though with $2,000 he could surely expand on it.

Anyway, back to the automakers. GM wants our government to give them $4 billion initially and up to $12 billion later, Ford wants an investment of about $14 billion and Chrysler is asking for $7 billion.

That's a lot of billions of dollars that I am fairly certain will buy a lot of ugly suits and may or may not change anything.

What does it all mean?

In the case of Griswold-Eshleman, I did not hire the candidate the organization insisted I hire (it wasn't personal, it was business). I have no idea what happened to him, but I know what happened to the company that wanted to invest money in him: They went out of business.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Blogs*

*But Were Afraid to Ask."

Before we take the advice of anyone about blogging matters it is worthwhile to remember one vital - and wonderful - fact: Blogging should be the simplest and most straightforward thing we do.

I've never blogged before and my friend told me that the first time can be painful; is this true?

Blogging is actually quite simple. But it's a good idea to learn as much about blogging as you can before you commit to your first blog. There is a great deal of information available about blogging, including: videos, books, magazines and even blog entries. The more you know, the more satisfying your first experience is likely to be.

Does the size of my blog matter?

Yes and no. Size - length - can be important, but even more important is the quality of your blog. If you want to leave your reader satisfied, concentrate on content, not size.

What is the BLOG spot?

Blogspot, also knows as Blogger, is an offering owned by Google. This offering allows users to register new blogging sites to set up their own blog. Because there are no restrictions, anyone can set up any number of blog sites for no charge.

My parents say I am not old enough to blog; how will I know when I am ready?

This is a very good question, and the answer is extremely confusing. In order to make the explanation easier to follow there are a few terms you should know, like "age of consent" and "age of majority". If you are under the age of majority, which is usually 18 or 19, and especially if you are under the age of consent, which can be as young as 12, you should get your parents' permission before blogging.

Is it possible to be too old to blog?

This is also a very good question. As long as you are able to get up on the Internet and still enjoy blogging, you are not too old!

I have heard that you can go blind from too much blogging; but how much is too much?

This is absolutely untrue, unless you press your face against your monitor while blogging. But even then, you are likely to only damage your retinas. Blogging is a perfectly healthy activity, whether a person is a girl or boy, woman or man. Although some people may worry that blogging is harmful, it actually is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress.

I find that I get more pleasure out of other people's blogs than actually blogging myself; is that normal?

Absolutely. You don't have to blog yourself to enjoy blogging. You can visit other people's sites and enjoy their blogs. Technorati reports that there are well over 100 million blogs on the Internet; find the ones that satisfy your interests.

I tend to jump around indiscriminately from blog to blog; am I more susceptible to viruses because of this behavior?

Risky behavior leads to bad outcomes. Viruses tend to infect, replicate themselves and spread. So the more blog sites you visit... Fortunately, there are antivirus software programs that offer very good and free protection. Remember, everyone needs to protect themselves from viruses.

I was recently invited to join a blogging group, but I'm not sure I am ready for that; how do I know for sure?

Experienced bloggers often feel the urge to experiment. Blogger groups can be a great way to talk about and learn from each others' experiences. If you are unsure, start out with a small group and see how you like it.

I've been told that adding twittering to my blogging routine can significantly heighten awareness.

This is true; you should tweet your blog regularly. But don't just announce that you've published a new post, engage your Twitter followers in a conversation about the blog topic by asking a question and offering a link.

I have been a basic blogger for some time now and think it might be time to spice things up; where do I start?

Many people are perfectly satisfied with a basic blog life, while others like to take it to the next level. If you are curious about spicing things up, consider links to other sites, photos, videos and WAV files. But don't get too carried away; stay focused on substance over style.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Holy Crap, I Forgot About My Blog

The great thing about social media is that it allows you to connect with so many people in so many different ways almost all the time. The bad thing about social media is that it allows you to connect with so many people in so many different ways almost all the time.

When I was in grade school at St. Stephen's on West 54th Street, one of my best buddies was Mike Kichak. Mike was unquestionably the smartest boy and perhaps the smartest student overall in my class. And I was (believe it or not) considered the next smartest boy in my class. But Mike and I were as different as night and day.

Mike was blond haired, blue eyed; I was brown haired, hazel eyed. Mike was medium height, medium frame, I was short and slender. Mike was quiet and controlled; I was loud and out of control. Mike was almost always serious; I was almost always laughing. Mike was an only child; I was one of eight. Mike had a million personal possessions; I had whatever fit into my pockets.

In the classroom, Mike had separate pouches for his seemingly endless supply of pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners and erasures. I know because I had to borrow a new pencil from Mike almost every day... and he always gave me one. And at home, Mike had baseball cards and football cards, baseballs and footballs, ten pairs of tennis shoes, magazines and books and toys and games and stuff galore. He had everything.

In truth, he had too much.

There just wasn't enough time in the day to use all that stuff, yet alone enjoy it. Even if you jumped around like a Tasmanian Devil from thing to thing, you couldn't use it all. And even if you did, the quality of time would make it pointless.

Mike's mom and dad were beautiful, wonderful people; I loved them. And they loved their son, so you couldn't blame them for showering him with all the stuff. And Mike was a good guy who shared almost all of his stuff almost all the time (as much as you could expect an only child to share his stuff with the local rugrats).

But it used to make me nuts that he didn't at least TRY to play with all that stuff all the time. I mean for a kid looking into the toy store from the outside, I just didn't get it. So I would hound him: "Hey Mike, let's get out your erector set and build something." or "Hey Mikey, let's get out your chemistry set and make some slimy, stinky goo." But Mike would just say no. Even when his parents prodded him, he inevitably hung his head and moaned.

And finally, thirtysomething years later, I get it.

Social media is to me what all Mike's stuff was to him. I love my blog and I love my Facebook account and I love my LinkedIn account and I love YouTube and I love Twitter and I love the Steelheadsite message board and I love my fantasy football message board and I love all my online marketing groups and social media groups and my news alerts and RSS feeds and on and on and on.

But holy crap; suddenly I have to much stuff.

Apparently I have been oblivious to the fact that I have been stockpiling. And suddenly I am overwhelmed by all the stuff, all the choices, all the options. It's just too much. So I am making an early New Year's resolution: I am making some hard choices to spend more quality time with less stuff. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Can Marketing Save Starbucks

According to Kraft's new CMO, Mary Beth West, "Great marketing drives business. If it doesn't, it doesn't really matter."

Forget for just a moment that Kraft's top marketing posts have experienced more turnovers in the past year than a Hungarian bakery; Mary Beth West is a proven asset. She's earned her stripes building Kraft Foods brands. She's bold, she's consistent and she respects the power of marketing.

So, in light of of Starbucks' announcement today that 4th quarter profitability fell 97%, I wondered what kind of marketing would be required to pull Howard Schultz' company up off the floor. After all, Starbucks' arch nemesis (MacDonald's) also made an announcement this week - global same-store sales jumped 8.2 percent during the month, beating the company's own prediction for a rise similar to the one it recorded in its last quarter (damn you, evil clown).

But who knows more about marketing than Chief Executive Howard Schultz of Starbucks? He has tried just about everything to turn the company around: He has conducted companywide staff training days, thrown out the bean shop's hot sandwich program and is closing hundreds of stores. But so far it isn't working.

Have I mentioned that I love Starbucks? Have I mentioned that I really admire Howard Schultz? Have I made it clear that marketing is my life?

But unlike me, most Wall Street analysts are not believers. They say that the ship is still taking on water and Schultz is ordering the band to play louder to drown out the noise.

But the thing I like about Schultz is the same thing I like about West, they are mareketing geniuses. Schultz has always been a MBWA kind of guy; he knows consumers and what they want and how they want it, and he serves it up as ordered. The problem at Starbucks may in fact be that the consumer marketplace just doesn't know what it wants right now.

Consider that our new president-elect is not coming into office with the endorsement of an overwhelming percentage of the population; he is squeaking in with a 1% margin. Consumers are confused, concerned, uncertain.

A $3.00 plus coffee drink is a luxury item for most Americans when they don't have the spare change (or do but are afraid to spend it) and can get a similar cup of coffee for considerably less. That's the bottom line.

Can marketing solve this problem? You bet. Can great marketing drive business back into Starbucks? You bet. Will Howard Schultz prove once again that he has the marketing savvy to give consumers what they are looking for? I'm betting on it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Search Engine is a Terrible Thing to Waste

At the risk of offending my SEO/SEM friends, I have a bone to pick with the state of search.

Last night my daughter and I invested a solid hour searching online (on two separate computers) for a resource selling "down fill" for a winter jacket she is making. We began with the obvious search terms:

Down Fill
Down Filler
Goose Down
Goose Down Fill
Goose Down Filling

Almost immediately we noticed two trends. First, we were not finding what we were looking for. Second, the same web sites kept appearing in the paid ads and sponsored links sections of the results page. These usual subjects included,,, and

Naturally, we clicked on these links because the ad copy indicated that they sold goose down fill. But guess what? None of them sold it or had links to other sites that sold it. It was a ruse... a deception... a lie.

So we continued our journey, carefully refining and rethinking our search. We asked ourselves, "What exactly are we looking for?" And the answer was "goose or synthetic down fill to stuff into a jacket." Our new search terms included:

Loose Goose Down
Loose Goose Down Fill
Synthetic Goose Down
Synthetic Goose Down Fill
Goose Down Retailers
Goose Down Suppliers
Synthetic Down Manufacturers
Where to Buy Goose Down Fill

And we got lots of results for pillows and bedding and comforters and sleeping bags and furniture. And new paid advertisers showed up –,,,

We tried new permutations:

Fill for Pillows
Down Used in Comforters
Pillow Stuffings

And we got and,, and But none of these ads or sponsored links took us to what we were looking for. Instead, they drove us to a home page to conduct another search on their sites, where we quickly learned that none of them sold down fill.

About this time, we began swearing openly... frickin' frackin' companies, smurfin' smarfin' search engines, rizzle frazzle pillow stores. I was frustrating as all get out.

So, what are Target and WalMart and JCPenney thinking? And what are Overstock and NexTag and Shopzilla thinking? Aren't they the least bit worried about damaging their brand by leading consumers down a dead end path? And who is telling them that this is a good idea? Is it their marketing people or their search engine people or their IT people? And where is Google in the middle of all this? Doesn't Google want to protect its reputation by not allowing organizations to buy search terms and phrases that lead people in the wrong direction?

As consumers, my daughter and I were pissed with all of these brands for wasting our time and pretending to be something that they were not. And by far, Target is the worst offender, presenting themselves as the purveyor of all things. You did not help us and you damaged your reputation in the process. Congratulations on that achievement.

As a marketing and public relations professional, I believe Google and the industry-at-large (including you search engine marketing pros) need to take a long, hard look at the search process as it exists today. You can only get away with successfully selling ads and sponsorships for so long if you aren't providing consumers a valuable service. Search engines are designed for the express purpose of helping consumers find things... not for getting lost.

As for the goose down fill, our search for "loose goose down fill" finally revealed a resource:

Finally, this experience also revealed an interesting insight. For all the public worries that the Internet may eventually cause diminished communications skills, consider the talent required to know how to look for all those things you look for on the worldwide web.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Good to be GOW2

[Shameless self-promotion alert: my son, Matt, who is presently boarding a jet for England to participate in the Euro launch of Gears of War 2, is an employee of Epic Games]

Sometimes I feel like that kid at the playground standing on the wrong side of the fence, watching the championship baseball game instead of playing in it. I love marketing and public relations, whether we are working with the smallest company on a minor project or a Fortune 50 industry icon rolling out a global campaign. It's all a challenge and it's all fun.

Still, every once in a great while I read or hear about a campaign I wish I was a part of. The upcoming (November 7) launch of Gears of War 2 would be a great example.

This game has been in the works since the introduction of the original Gears of War (4.5 million games sold worldwide). And the plans for its unveiling have been in the works for more than a year. Print and broadcast advertising, online advertising, publicity and media relations, blogger relations, guerrilla marketing, web site marketing, social networking, video sharing, trade show marketing, special events and on and on.

Not a stone has been left unturned. The funny thing is that most of it is probably unnecessary (words most companies dream of but never hear). This game is so amazing and has such a solid cult following that it will likely sell out faster than it can hit the shelves. There will be no need for Heidi Klum to dance around in her underclothes to promote this game (though a few gamers might enjoy it just the same).

Nonetheless, Microsoft and Epic are pulling out all the stops. Consider a few of the announcements recently reported:

Microsoft Corp. on Mon. said that the Gears of War 2 Live Weekend Assault will offer sweepstakes, tournaments and more on launch weekend.

On Thursday, November 6, 2008 Xbox Canada is going to be celebrating the launch of the hugely anticipated Xbox 360 exclusive, Gears of War 2, from Epic Games, which releases on November 7 worldwide.

Microsoft India held an event to pre-launch Gears of War 2 at a nightclub in central Mumbai.

Spike TV will celebrate the launch of one of this year’s most anticipated video games, Gears of War 2, with a half-hour special hosted by "GameTrailers TV’s" Geoff Keighley, which premieres Thursday, November 6 (11:30 PM - Midnight, ET/PT). Spike TV’s "Gears of War 2: The First Delta Squad" special will feature five die-hard gamers from around the country participating in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to be the first consumer in the world to play Epic Games Gears of War 2.

Well, you get the idea. This is exciting stuff. And as much as most game enthusiasts would love to be a part of the team that created this new release, I would love to be a member of the team that is launching it. But I don't see that happening any time soon... this is a special club and I don't have a membership.

Dominic Santiago: Looks like you need an access code.
Marcus Fenix: Hmm... Got one?
Dominic Santiago: Yeah, in my other pants.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What Would Jesus or Moses Do?

Thanks to the business I am in, thoughts (some normal, some less so) about the impact of marketing and media constantly fill my mind. It is both a blessing and a curse.

For example, while trimming ornamental grasses in the yard this weekend, I had a rather unusual thought: If Moses or Jesus were here today, how would they make use of 21st century marketing and media?

Quite frankly, I think the answer is self-evident. Moses and Jesus both took to the streets and the mountains and the synagogues and anywhere else crowds were likely to gather for the express purpose of spreading the word. These guys liked to talk and they liked having lots of people to talk to.

But would Moses and Jesus blog? Would they hire a publicist to conduct media relations? Would they have their own Web sites? What about social networking pages (Facebook or MySpace)? Would they host special events, employ guerrilla marketing, develop videos and download them to YouTube, would they advertise, use direct mail, conduct research?

Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Moses was on a mission – to deliver the Hebrews from slavery and share the Ten (or 14 or 15) Commandments. Jesus was likewise on a mission – to spread the good word of love and to fulfill the promise of salvation and reconciliation.

In both cases, getting the word out was paramount. And neither of these religious leaders had any qualms about doing whatever was necessary to make their points.... from unleashing the ten plagues and parting the Red Sea... to turning water to wine and bringing the dead back to life, Moses and Jesus were all about getting results. They were focused and they were bold.

And if marketing and media could help their cause, they would not hesitate to put them to use. But whether marketing and media would help Moses and Jesus to achieve their missions is a whole other question.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Now What Will We Wrap Our Fish In?

According to ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations), the average weekday circulation of 507 American daily newspapers was only 36.2 million during a six-month period in 2008. This number represents a drop of 4.6% from a year earlier.

On the flip side, the NAA (Newspaper Association of America) reports that usage of newspaper Web sites grew nearly 16% in the third quarter of 2008, compared to the same period last year. And the average number of monthly unique visitors to newspaper sites is? Drum roll please... 68 million.

So, what's the story? Well, to no one's surprise, more and more consumers are migrating to the Internet to get their daily news. This is good for the environment. Good for the trees and good for the sky and good for the birds. And it is good for newspaper publishers; they aren't losing readers, just subscribers. And it's good news for consumers who can read most newspapers for free.

Sure, publishers are hurting right now because print circulation is down and print advertising is down. And they are not pleased that the losses in advertising on the print side are not translating into increased advertising on the Internet. But given enough time, things will balance out.

American's are nothing if not inventive, and that's a good thing too. After all, someone's going to have to figure out what to do with all those curbside newspaper vending machines.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mac Attack

My dad was the very definition of a troublemaker. He reveled like a child in the business of mischief, smiling from ear to ear as he picked and poked and prodded you into an argument. But to his credit, he always knew when to stop.

"Okay, that's enough," he'd say as tempers began to flare. Then he'd evaluate and assess the action, like a movie critic after a good show. I miss my dad.

So I was talking to my youngest son this afternoon and I asked him if he'd seen the new Mac commercials. "The ones making fun of PC for all the money they are spending on advertising," I gushed.

"Yeah, they're ridiculous," he replied matter of factly.

I must admit I was taken aback... mildly shocked. I knew he was primarily a PC user (he's a scientist after all), but he is also a progressive young man. He's had an iPod since day one and he traded in his old phone for a iPhone earlier this year.

"Wait," I said, "are we talking about the same commercials?"

Then he got that tone... that "I know you're my dad and I respect you, but I am not an idiot" tone.

"It's ridiculous. Apple is paying for TV commercials to make fun of Microsoft for spending money on TV commercials. It's stupid."

Of course, he is right. Somehow in the pleasure of the moment I lost sight of the truth. It's the old "Do as I say, not as I do" endorsement, which is as my son says, ridiculous and stupid.

So, Mac, I would like to share some sage advice from my dear departed dad: "Okay, that's enough."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Recession Marketing Tip: Know Your Audiences.

Just last week I was reading the results of the latest Nielsen Shopper Modality Study.

According to the report, "Consumers approach different categories of consumer packaged goods with different mindsets, and marketers that understand and leverage these can enhance their products' performance."

David Parma, global head of Nielsen Consumer Research warns that CPG (consumer packaged goods) marketers "don't want to get it wrong in the fleeting nan-second of purchase decision. Marketers need to know what buttons to press to influence their shoppers and win on the ultimate marketing battleground - the store aisle."


She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge,
she studied sculpture at Saint Martin's College,
that's where I,
caught her eye.
She told me that her Dad was loaded,
I said "In that case I'll have a rum and coca-cola."
She said "Fine."
and in thirty seconds time she said,

"I want to live like common people,
I want to do whatever common people do,
I want to sleep with common people,
I want to sleep with common people, like you."

The thing about consumers is that every time you think you've got them figured out, they surprise you. It would be nice to suppose that you could place all shoppers into five convenient boxes as Nielsen does. Here is how they describe the process:

The Study, combines primary survey data with Nielsen scan data. The method provides an integrated picture of the dynamics of a category with a "holistic deconstruction" of the shopper decision process that includes shopper habits and predispositions, channel choice and in-store behavior.

How cool is that? And the result is the identification of five CPG mindsets that marketers can exploit.

Well what else could I do -
I said "I'll see what I can do."
I took her to a supermarket,
I don't know why but I had to start it somewhere,
so it started there.
I said pretend you've got no money,
she just laughed and said,
"Oh you're so funny."
I said "yeah?
Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here.
Are you sure you want to live like common people,
you want to see whatever common people see,
you want to sleep with common people,
you want to sleep with common people, like me."

Unfortunately, the economic bubble has burst and the world of CPG shoppers has been reduced to only two boxes. It is important to know who your target audience is... and what they are experiencing at any point in time.

But she didn't understand,
she just smiled and held my hand.

Rent a flat above a shop,

cut your hair and get a job.

Smoke some fags and play some pool,

pretend you never went to school.

But still you'll never get it right,

cos when you're laid in bed at night,

watching roaches climb the wall,

if you call your Dad he could stop it all.

Friday, October 17, 2008

eMarketer. The Last Place To Look?

Paul Verna, Senior Analyst, reported in eMarketer yesterday (October 16) that blogging has become mainstream. Here's what he says:

Blogging has become so pervasive and influential that the lines between blogging and the mainstream media have disappeared.

At first glance, this looks really important. The implications are huge... massive. Unfortunately, that is the end of it. Verna credits Technorati and Decipher for this momentous finding. In fact, Technorati CEO Richard Jalichandra is quoted:

“Blogs are now mainstream media. We’ve certainly seen that with the number of professional, semiprofessional and passion/enthusiast bloggers who are creating real media experiences. At the same time, you’re also seeing mainstream media come the other direction to add blog content.”

Okay, so what's your point? I am not aware of anyone, anywhere who has not considered blogging to be a part of the mainstream media since the turn of the millennium. Did you guys just figure this out?

Verna does share some comScore Media Metrix data indicating that blogs had 77 million unique visitors in the US in August 2008. Great, and TV has nearly 290 million unique viewers in the US (BTW, that represents an increase of 1.3% from last year).

What does this mean? I have no idea. I guess it means that we love our toys. We love TV. We love the Internet. We love video games. We love our iPods. We love blogs.

What am I missing here?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rose-Colored Glasses For Everyone

Like so many others of my generation, I was raised on and greatly influenced by the Wonderful World of Disney. And I willingly embraced the "can do... anything goes... follow your dreams" approach to life. Of course, I also embraced the Looney Tunes "ehh, what's up doc... meep meep... what an ultra maroon" philosophy of life.

So while I am most optimistic (the glass is always half full if not spilling over), I am also somewhat cautious and excessively sarcastic. It works for me.

What's my point? In the midst of all that is going on in the world today – and in the U.S. in particular – I could not have been more pleased to read that Disney has taken this insane moment in time to open a 30,000-square-foot dinosaur-themed restaurant.

Painting the roses red, We're painting the roses red
We dare not stop Or waste a drop
So let the paint be spread
We're painting the roses red, We're painting the roses red

Introducing T-Rex: A Prehistoric Family Adventure, A Place to Eat, Shop, Explore and Discover. Okay, so it doesn't just roll off your tongue like McDonald's or Burger King, but who cares? This is not just some new restaurant. This is a statement. This is Walt Disney Company thumbing its nose at the world and saying: Hakuna Matata!

And I am pretty certain that the company's namesake would be supportive and proud.

Oh, painting the roses, And many a tear we shed
Because we know They'll cease to grow

In fact, they'll soon be dead

And yet we go ahead, Painting the roses red

There's something to be said for an organization that doesn't fold up its tent and go home at the first sign of adversity. Walt Disney, the man, often said that "all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

Or to paraphrase Billy Joel, they (Disney) may be right and we might be crazy, but it might just be a lunatic we're looking for to get us out of this slump we're in.

Nothing's impossible.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Let The Facts Get In The Way.

I just came across a Reuters story with the following headline:

Making math uncool is hurting America, report says

As a huge advocate of education and math, I was intrigued. So I began reading the article. And I was immediately taken aback by the unsubstantiated assumptions of the story and, as such, was compelled to read on.

The entire premise of the story is nothing more than subjective guesswork on behalf of researchers led by a University of Madison-Wisconsin professor who conducted a study that apparently (the researchers never explain the actual purpose of the study) was designed to figure out why "a majority of the top young mathematicians in this country were not born here," according to professor Janet Mertz.

Guess what they concluded? If we didn't tease the girls so much, more of them would be mathematicians. Nanner neener.

Here are some of their assertions:

They found that while girls can be just as talented as boys at mathematics, some are driven from the field because they are teased, ostracized or simply neglected.

"It is deemed uncool within the social context of USA middle and high schools to do mathematics for fun; doing so can lead to social ostracism. Consequently, gifted girls, even more so than boys, usually camouflage their mathematical talent to fit in well with their peers," they wrote.

The study also looked at test scores that show that in elementary school girls do as well or better in math than boys. These begin to lag in the middle school years and the gap widens greatly between girls and boys in high school.

Why? Because they are teased. Wow.

I guess there's no chance that girls like math less than boys? Or maybe boys like math more than girls? Or lacking the availability of any solid data in this story, maybe the gap isn't nearly as big as is implied?

Just one last thought: If girls stay away from math because they are teased, wouldn't logic dictate that only the strongest willed boys and girls (aka, the bullies who are doing the teasing) would all become mathematicians?

That might explain the current economic collapse...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Crisis. Communications.

Richard (Dick) Fuld, ex-CEO of Lehman Brothers would like to blame the ills of the financial industry on a crisis of confidence. Way to spin, Dick.

The fact that you had the Brinks truck backed up to the corporate fleet and were dumping cash into the trunk of your C-level mates' corporate-owned vehicles during the final days before the fall of your empire is simply a bit of detail unworthy of acknowledging.

Money, get away.
Get a good job with good pay and you're okay.

Money, its a gas.
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.
New car, caviar, four star daydream,

Think I'll buy me a football team.

Clearly it wasn't your fault, Dick. There was "a storm of fear enveloping the entire investment banking field..." That's what you told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Did you happen to mention that it was your fault?

Oh wait, you did. "I take full responsibility for the decisions that I made and for the actions that I took, based on the information that we had at the time." So I guess we're all squared up then. Have a nice night and sleep well... Dick.

Money, get back.
I'm all right jack keep your hands off of my stack.
Money, its a hit.
Don't give me that do goody good bullshit.
I'm in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
And I think I need a lear jet.

According to your testimony, you wake up every single morning thinking about what you could have done differently. You stated: "This is a pain that will stay with me for the rest of my life, regardless of what comes out of this committee, regardless of what comes out of the record book when it finally gets written."

Really, Dick? Really? Then maybe you'd like to give back everything you've taken since you joined the firm in 1969. Maybe you'd like to prove that you take full responsibility by making restitution.

Or you can just keep shifting blame. Spin, Dick, spin.

Money, its a crime.
Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie.

Money, so they say

Is the root of all evil today.

But if you ask for a raise it's no surprise that they're

Giving none away.

Friday, October 3, 2008

I'm A PC!

You know what really kills me (I mean besides a forearm shiver to the bridge of my nose)? When I read about a company (Microsoft, for example) that pays an agency (Crispin Porter, for example) $300 million for a campaign that turns out to be mediocre at best.

Am I jealous? You bet... not about the mediocre campaign, but about the budget. I can't tell you how many times we have outperformed the objectives of a campaign only to be rewarded with a "you've done a great job, but we are going to reel in our marketing spending next year" call from clients. I know, I need to find a better class of clients.

But now I am off topic. Today I want to celebrate the PC, the Pretentious Campaign.

So long ago
Was it in a dream, was it just a dream?
I know, yes I know
Seemed so very real, it seemed so real to me

I have no desire to pick on CP+B; they have done some great stuff. But "I'm a PC" began and will end as a stupid, pretentious exercise in chest pounding. Be honest, you could give a 10-year-old a digital camera and write anything for Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates and millions of people would have watched it - on TV, on YouTube, on Microsoft's web site... anywhere.

The evolution of dance (which is an amazingly funny video) has been viewed by more than 100 million! "Star Wars according to a 3 year old" has been viewed by more than eight million! Who the heck isn't going to tune in to find out what the odd couple pairing of Jerry and Bill are doing?

But what and where is the payoff? Shift your drawers, Bill. Do the robot, Bill. Give me all your money, Bill. We're creating a purely pretentious campaign, Bill. No one will get it, Bill. It's all make believe, Bill. You're eyes are getting heavy, Bill. You're asleep, Bill. It's all a dream, Bill.

Took a walk down the street
Thru the heat whispered trees
I thought I could hear (hear, hear, hear)
Somebody call out my name as it started to rain

According to Ad Age, "Microsoft sparked a dialogue in the Seinfeld ad that isn't there in the PC ads." Yeah, here is the typical dialogue it sparked:

"Dude, did you see the new Microsoft ads with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates?"
"No; what were they about?"
"Dude, I have no idea, but they are hilarious. Freaking Seinfeld and Bill Gates. Check it out, I'm sure they're on YouTube."

Then comes the deadly drone ads: I'm a PC. I'm a PC. I'm a nerd and I'm a PC. I'm a scuba diver and I'm a PC. I'm not even curious.

I have always believed that if you throw enough money at something - regardless of how bad the strategy and/or creative are - you can still achieve a result. God only knows what the result will be, and whatever it is, I am pretty sure that all the kids over at Apple are rolling around on the floor laughing about it. If that's what Microsoft and CP+B were going for with their $300 million, then congratulations.

Dream, dream away
Magic in the air, was magic in the air?
I believe, yes I believe
More I cannot say, what more can I say?

Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé
Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé
Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé

[Editorial Note: John Lennon sings the strange phrase "Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé" in his song "#9 Dream." According to John, it doesn't mean anything... it is just a phrase that came to him in a dream and he decided to base a song around it.]

Maybe it means "I'm a PC."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Other Other White Meat

In the midst of all our economic woes and political wrangling, I almost lost sight of global warming.

But the other night I saw a very entertaining news story about how cow farts are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently they are far worse than cars and factories.

Who knew?

Well, apparently our neighbors in the Outback knew. In fact, a major report to the Aussie government on global warming has recommended that kangaroos replace cattle and sheep on the daily menu.

"It's low in fat, it's got high protein levels, it's very clean in the sense that basically it's the ultimate free range animal," says Peter Ampt of the University of New South Wales's Institute of Environmental Studies.

And there's a bonus: kangaroos fart less than cows and sheep.

So, there you have it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hey Ronald, Welcome to the Party

You know the economy has taken a turn for the worst when you can't afford a cup of coffee.

Just as McDonald's was ready to take a final run at the severely crippled and seemingly clueless Starbucks (in the midst of all their troubles, the coffee company has taken time and money to introduce a new, printed newsletter - the Good Sheet), Bank of America steps in (or out as the case may be) and says "no" to the loans the hamburglars so badly want to fund their 14,000 franchise coffee bars.

So now the franchisees are scrambling to find other banks with money to support their java jitters. But of course, now is not a good time for lending or borrowing. So, the golden arches are suggesting that franchisees use available cash. So maybe it will happen and maybe it will not. Maybe in the spring, maybe in the summer, maybe never. And how do we plan all our marketing support amidst all this uncertainty? Maybe McDonald's should quit clowning around and stay with what it knows best - fast and affordable burgers and fries.

Yeah, like that's gonna happen.

For my money, this scenario begs the question: Just how much does McDonald's hate Starbucks (and/or Howard Schultz)? Apparently more than it once hated Pizza Hut, unless of course the grand plan behind all of this is to eventually purchase Starbucks.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blame It On Marketing

In team sports, when things are not going well, there is a standard process that takes place. First you blame the individual players (ideally the overpaid, underproducing ones; they make good targets) and perhaps even replace one or two of the main cogs. Then you start blaming the assistant coaches. And ultimately you fire the manager. Then you give the new manager a free pass for the next couple years. Generally the owner is overlooked, though there are exceptions to this rule.

In business, you pretty much blame marketing - or the lack thereof - for everything that goes wrong. But first you blame the agency. Maybe the agency got it right and maybe they didn't; they still get blamed. Plus, they are easy to hire and replace, so why not? But once you've blamed the agency, the next cycle begins. Marketing budgets are cut, heads start to roll, staff sizes are reduced and titles are shuffled. Eventually a new wunderkind is brought on board and new agencies are hired and the process starts all over again.

Of course this is a ridiculous process that only serves to undermine the organization. It promotes fear and creates instability. And it usually results in bad decision making.

Marketing has come a long way in the past couple decades, but it remains the corporate scapegoat of all ills. A little more respect for the value of marketing within the corridors of corporate America would go a long way. This is not to say that marketing should not come under the microscope when things go wrong.

Just consider the possibility that marketing might actual be the solution and not the problem. Give us a voice in the boardroom, and listen.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is It Just Me or Is the Sky Really Falling?

For all the goodwill that the Summer Olympics afforded China, I would have to say that allowing 13,000 babies to be hospitalized after drinking tainted milk formula pretty much levels the playing field and dropkicks the country back into the dark ages. And "oh by the way" they knew about this problem before the Olypmics began; some reports say as early as June. The government is blaming local officials, who are blaming the milk powder manufacturers, and the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round. I guess we now know what that murky afternoon haze was really all about.

It occurred to me over the weekend that Microsoft may know something that the rest of us don't. In light of the worsening economic picture, perhaps we will soon all be living a "life without walls." And you can take this to reference Wall Street and/or the walls of your home, which continue to be foreclosed at a record pace. I get why the government is unable to step in and bail out individual homeowners, but I don't get why it readily bails out the likes of AIG, whose freaking CEO made over $8 million in salary and bonuses last year. Oddly, a CNN survey found that many Americans (more than 60% of those surveyed) believe the government should step in and help the struggling financial institutions... just so they aren't taxed to pay for it. Ugh.

Heroes returns to the little screen tonight... and not a second too soon.

Bad News/Good News. I'll bet you didn't know this... there's a shortage of road salt this year, which has set the price of salt skyrocketing (apparently salt is the new gold). Fortunately, the price of gas got a headstart on salt; this reality will prevent the majority of U.S. drivers from being on the road this winter anyway. So, all's well that ends well.

In the aftermath of hurricane Ike, it appears that illegal immigrants are once again welcome across the southern border of the U.S. They are helping to rebuild the devastated cities of southeast Texas. [Sarcasm alert] Let's hope our government - local, state and federal - has the good sense to ship them all back across the border as soon as they are finished with the rebuilding effort. And by all means, let's applaud the local businesses and residents who take advantage of the cheap labor but fail to support the cause of the immigrants. Idiots.

The Cleveland Indians are over .500 and fighting for second place, Yankee Stadium is closed for business, Brady Quinn is warming up on the sidelines, the Americans reclaimed the Ryder Cup and the Miami Dolphins put an end to the New England Patriots' regular season winning streak.

The sky isn't falling, there are just a bunch of nuts dropping out of trees. Be sure to buy yourself a dumbrella.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Microsoft Marketing Madness Part II

I saw it. The new Microsoft "PC" commercial aired last night. It was half over before I realized what it was, but I saw it.

"I am PC." Are you kidding me?

Kirk Douglas saying the memorable line, "I am Spartacus" in this classic 1960 blockbuster became a classic moment because it represented the true dignity and spirit of man. Here was a slave who overcomes all possible adversity to become a great gladiator and leader of his people. In a final valiant effort to protect his people, he gives up his own identity. But his followers so loved him, that they all took his identity.

This line - in homage - is repeated at the conclusion of the 1992 film "Malcom X," as young students of African descent declare: "I am Malcolm X."

And once again toward the end of the last century (1997), this now famous line was uttered by children of all size, stature and color as they eagerly announce: "I am Tiger Woods."

I get Malcolm X. I even get Tiger Woods. Like Spartacus, they both rose up from humble beginnings and made something of their lives.

But "I am PC?"

I am befuddled.

New memo to Microsoft: You're gonna need a bigger ad budget.

Memo to Microsoft: Cancel Your Ad Campign and Save the Money

So now we know the big scret: Microsoft is going to tell PC users why it's okay to be PC users. Yeah, that ought to work.

Let me say a couple of things at the outset. Bill Gates is awesome. He is a tech genius, he is a business genius and he is proving to be an amazing humanitarian. And although PCs are not even close to being as effective, functional, intuitive and fun as Macs, they serve a purpose... and they are cheap. I own one of each. I prefer Mac beacuse it is an infinitely more usable computer. But this isn't about PC vs. Mac; it's about wasteful marketing.

Does anyone actually believe that spending millions upon millions of dollars ($300 million to be precise) to convince PC users that they should feel good about being PC users, is actually going to serve a purpose? In case you haven't heard, you can put lipstick on a mannequin. It's still a mannequin.

Maybe I am thickheaded. Okay, I AM thinkheaded. But what is the point of this massive ad expenditure?

Unlike the classic Volkwagen Beetle ad campaign from the 1960s, which embraced its true identity as a small, sensible, affordable car, Microsoft and Crispin Porter + Bogusky are marketing Windows as "Life without walls." Huh?

On September 15, 2008, PC World Magazine ran an article titled: "Ten fixes for Vista's worst features." Here are the first two paragraphs of the article:

Just ask anyone who's seen Spiderman 3: Good ideas seldom survive bad execution.

The developers at Microsoft had some great ideas while designing Vista, but poor implementation turned many of those great concepts into lousy, annoying features. To be fair, Vista inherited most of these well-intentioned flaws from earlier versions of Windows — but it either failed to fix them or didn't even try.

I would call that a wall... a very big wall. And all the advertising in the world is not going to make me think otherwise. So, in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, "good luck with all that!"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Magical Marketing Formula

Okay, I can not believe that I am right back on this McDonald's vs. Starbucks topic, but it will not go away!

While Starbucks is launching its new better-for-you breakfast menu with minimal fanfare and questionable success (there ain't no lines outside the stores), McDonald's is reporting global sales surges.

According to some reports, recent Olympic promotions have helped to boost the sales. But that is a bunch of nonsense. And as much as it pains me to say it, McDonald's is just out-marketing Howard Schultz.

The special sauce: Yesterday I stopped at Starbucks for my noon grande wet cappuccino, then breezed by McDonald's for a McChicken sandwich and a small fry. The former set me back $3.35... the latter cost me two bucks.

McDonald's seems to understand what Starbucks is unwilling to acknowledge: in difficult economic times, high-priced coffee becomes a luxury for the average Joe (plenty of whom were buying their coffee at Starbucks).

Somebody needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

Friday, September 5, 2008

That's Gold, Jerry! Gold!

Bania: Why do they call it Ovaltine? The mug is round. The jar is round. They should call it round tine.

Bania was an idiot, but he know a good joke when he heard it. Bill Gates on the other hand is a genius, but does he know a good joke when he hears it?

The new Microsoft ad - in and of itself - is pure gold. Pure Seinfeld. After all, it's about nothing.

On the downside, the writing is really not all that good. On the upside, Jerry Seinfeld remains an icon, and who knew that Bill Gates was willing and able to adjust his shorts on command? It is a great little spot (90-seconds little) that tells a fun little story. And it has me looking forward to watching the next installment.

But what I am really curious about, what I want to start a conversation about is the $300 million they are spending on this campaign. Is it just me or is that a lot of money to spend on nothing? Of course this is Bill Gates we're talking about; I'm guessing he and I don't look at money the same way...

Kramer: At Brandt-Lealand, I’m gettin’ things done.
Jerry: How much are they paying you?
Kramer: Oh no no no, I don’t want any money, I’m doin’ this just for me.
Jerry: Clearly… so, uh, what do you do down there all day?
Kramer: T.C.B. You know, takin’ care of business. Well, I gotta go… ah, can’t forget my briefcase.
Jerry: What have you got in there?
Kramer: Crackers.

Still, at a cost of $300 million, I have to believe that it has to be about something... Right?

Jerry: So, we go into NBC, we tell them we've got an idea for a show about nothing.
George: Exactly.
Jerry: They say, "What's your show about?" I say, "Nothing."
George: There you go.
(A moment passes)
Jerry: (Nodding) I think you may have something there.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

If You Can't Fight'em...

Okay, so McDonald's fired the first volley with the introduction of its premium coffee. And Starbucks - like many onlookers - was stunned at their success (and the immediate damage it inflicted on Starbucks). Now McDonald's is vowing to install coffee bars in its restaurants; clearly they have staked out new territory and are willing to do whatever is needed to take down their new adversary.

In the meantime, Howard Schultz has been reeling. Some might even argue that he got caught asleep at the wheel. Somehow I doubt that. This man is vigilant. He simply missed the signs.

The economy was slumping, the coffee craze was slowing down, the price of gas was rising, consumers were losing their jobs and BAM, the bottom drops out.

So what can you do? First you back off of your magazine and stop pushing books and videos in your stores. Then you begin offering lower priced drinks. Then you start closing stores. Then you realize you are in a war and you begin fighting back. But healthy breakfasts? Is this really a good brand move?

It is one thing to re-invent a company, but to openly admit that your food is "embarrassing" seems to send a bad signal. I have never ordered any food at Starbucks... and I am there every day. Starbucks is coffee. McDonald's is food (loosely defined). McDonald's can succeed because coffee is an extra, an add-on. But for Starbucks to add food, well that is a whole different thing.

I wish Starbucks the very best, and would not be the least bit disappointed if McDonald's loses this war, but something tells me that McDonald's has a better marketing plan than Starbucks does.

According to Starbucks, there is research that says I am wrong. Findings indicate that 75% of American consumers say they are willing to change their routine to get a convenient, healthy breakfast [apparently at Starbucks].

But I've got to tell you: I'm not loving it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Facebook Stops Global Warming; Helps Capture Bin Laden

Did you hear the big news of the day? Kevin Beckner just won the primary for County Commission in Hillsborough County in Florida. But wait, there's more: Beckner is crediting Facebook for the primary win.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

"The campaign, including content, video production, management and media buying, was valued at about $7,000," Rearden Killion (Beckner's ad agency) said, although the company also said it charged a bit less to prove the effort could work.

As if proof were necessary. Hello. I read last week that two lepers and one prostitute were cured by Facebook.

In a virtual landslide that could only be attributed to social networking, Becker won 45.6 percent of the vote. And you know why? Facebook!

And their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

But this wasn't just any ordinary Facebook account, this was like Superfacebook. Beckner had an application that actually allowed you to put a "Vote for Beckner" button on your own page... plus you could link to Beckner's page!

And did it work? And how. I just checked his Facebook page now and Beckner has almost 100 supporters (well, actually, only 89, but that's sort of close to 100). Dude, he has supporters from Oklahoma, Ontario, Oregon, Illinois, Texas, Washington DC and Australia. And sure, they can't vote for him, so only about 80 of those supporters are potentially voters.

Still, Facebook has the power to clear up acne and relieve the burning itch of athletes foot. Kevin Beckner is living proof.

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad

The dreams in which I'm dying

Are the best I've ever had

I find it hard to tell you

'Cos I find it hard to take

When people run in circles

It's a very, very

Mad World

God Bless Kevin Beckner. God Bless Facebook. God Bless America.

Monday, August 25, 2008

DNC = Does Not Compute

Would you be surprised if I reported that not everyone in the United States has a computer and/or regular Internet access? What if I told you the numbers were something like 18 percent? I guess that doesn't sound like a lot, but what if I told you that this equates to 20 million homes?

"Nearly one out of three household heads has never used a computer to create a document," said John Barrett, director, research, Parks Associates. "These data underscore the significant digital divide between the connected majority and the unconnected minority that rarely, if ever, uses a computer."

So, doesn't it make you wonder who Barack was trying to reach when he announced his running mate by way of text messaging?

Okay, so you are probably thinking to yourself "wait a minute, text messaging is for cell phones." That's true. But did you know that (according to the US census Bureau) only 70 percent of the nation have wireless phones? And when given a choice, less than 40% of US consumers prefer text messaging to radio or TV advertising.

Anyway, not to get hung up on statistics, the point is this: When did Barack become a candidate and stop being one of the people? Although his campaign promises "change we can believe in", I must admit that I can not believe how much he has changed in just one year. And apparently I am not alone in my lack of belief.

According to the New York Times, The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll last week found Barack Obama’s lead over his Republican rival withering. In late June, Mr. Obama held a comfortable eight-point margin over John McCain. A look at these latest trends suggests that while Mr. McCain has made some gains over the last two months, perceptions of Mr. Obama have stalled.

I believe that Barack's early and unforeseen popularity resulted from his special ability to relate with the average American. He didn't talk to people, he engaged them in conversation. Even during the early democtratic debates, he rarely if ever allowed himself to stoop to the level of his competitors.

But somewhere along the way, he began stooping. First with Hillary and now with John. And now when he communicates with the people he seems to be preaching and relying on celebrities and the Internet to "engage" the public (both in person and over social networking sites). In the beginning, he simply was "everyman," last night was the packaged everyman.

It is not my place to advise Barack [editorial sidenote: I have not committed my vote to anyone yet], but if it was, I would suggest a quick move forward to the past... Barack Redux as it were.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Soylent Green is People!

It's the year 2022... People are still the same. They'll do anything to get what they need. And they need SOYLENT GREEN.

I remember when Soylent Green hit the local theaters in 1973. I was so excited; nothing like a good sci-fi flick starring Charlton Heston.

But this one was different. The bad guy was a corporation - the Soylent Company. They created a new food to feed the starving masses. But alas, the most nutritious of these creations – soylent green – had a secret ingredient.

Today we learn that one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies – Merck & Co. – likewise was keeping secrets from the masses who were starving for relief from pain. Like the Soylent Company, they pretended to be doing one thing while they were doing something else. They claimed to be testing the side effects of Vioxx when in fact they were supporting a marketing campaign.

Naturally, Merck denies any wrongdoing.

In any event, the product turned out to be a failure and was taken off the market. Merck was forced to settle with U.S. patients (or their survivors) to the tune of $4.85 billion. And in the end (at least for me) it's hard to determine which is worse – deceiving the general public or doubling your patients' chances of a heart attack and stroke. I guess neither really works.

Which reminds me, in the movie (Soylent Green), there is a scene in which Detective Thorne (Charlton Heston) questions a local resident about her incinerator...

Det. Thorn: Used it lately?
Martha Phillips:
It doesn't work.

Det. Thorn:
What does?

Indeed, what does?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why Michael Arrington is a Moron

Just in case you are curious about the source of this post, go at your own risk to:

Every time I think I have read the dumbest argument conceivable on the subject of why public relations professionals should just go quietly into the night, I come across a new one that is so void of any factual or meaningful data that I want to throw up.

So, please allow me to heave.

This most recent attack on PR, courtesy of Michael Arrington is like so many others of its kind, completely unsubstantiated, but hey, why let the facts get in your way? Instead it is full of generalizations, innuendos, suppositions, guesses and idiotic anecdotal data.

So, Michael Arrington, here are a couple questions to consider (excuse the vomit chunks):

1. Throughout your post you refer to "public relations" and "PR" when in fact you are talking about publicity. Do you even understand what you are talking about?

2. You "agree that PR as a profession is broken." That is very generous of you, but who are you agreeing with? Are you accusing Steve Rubel of saying that? Are you just making stuff up as you go along?

3. You state that "they [I guess you mean them PR goons] are trying to apply the same rules used when the number of journalists covering their companies was a manageable, chummy lot." Wow, so, do you not realize that there are literally tens of thousands of journalists out there? Do you think that PR people are all chummy with all of them? Are you also implying that these journalists are in on it with the PR people or that they are being duped or bribed? Do you actually think before you begin writing (sorry, blogging)?

4. You say that "most PR people don't read blogs and certainly don't understand them." I must admit that I missed this survey; can you give me a link to the study that provided these amazing results?

5. You are advising startups not to hire PR help until it is absolutely necessary. And this advice is based on what tangible expertise? Do you also suggest that they avoid accountants and attorneys (no, not attorneys, you are an attorney)?

6. You refer to the "web of politics and intrigue that guides the relationships between PR firms and the press." Dude, are you stoned? Really, lay off the reefer for a few nights; it's killing off too many brain cells.

7. Finally, in total contradiction to all common sense, you say this: "And there are a lot of good PR people out there that really understand what’s going on with the profession today." Statistically, what is "a lot?" Is that more than the "many" idiot PR people you refer to earlier? Do you actually think you can excuse all the bad things you say about PR by simply summing up that there are a lot of good PR people out there?

Thank you for contributing nothing valuable to the conversation of how we can all work together to help companies succeed in the marketplace.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Keeping the "Bull" in Bulldog Reporter

Once again, Bulldog Reporter is pimping a New University audio conference that pushes the limits of what is reasonable and does little to enhance the image of our industry. This event is entitled:

Blog Relations Update for PR: Top Online Influencers Show How to Break into Blogs.


And the description (edited below to spare you) does its very best to scare the crap out of prospective participants:

Don't believe those who play down the differences between bloggers and traditional journalists. Fact is, blog relations is a far more subjective science than traditional media relations—pitching preferences, reporting styles and even journalistic ethics (or lack thereof) can vary wildly from one blogger to the next, and one misstep when pitching any given online influencer could sink your product or announcement. Look no further than the "Dell Hell" fiasco for proof. Join Bulldog Reporter's PR University and our panel of top bloggers for the answers to these and other critical questions designed to demystify the blogosphere, break down today's best blog-pitching practices and turn you and your team into blog PR experts so you can actively drive results and messaging for your company or client online.

Double sheesh.

No wonder Internet marketers look at traditional public relations practitioners as if they had two heads and forked tongues. "ONE MISSTEP COULD SINK YOUR PRODUCT!"

I am not even going to dignify this inane promotion other than to say two things:

1. Embrace the Internet without fear; just don't be stupid. There's no need to "BREAK INTO" blogs, they are open to the public.

2. The Dell Hell fiasco actually lead to some very important and useful developments at Dell - developments that are good for Dell and for consumers. For those of you actually interested, check out this blog entry (so much for Bulldog Reporter's proof):

[Editorial Note: I have not referenced the moderator or speakers as they may be terrific people doing really good work. But this Bulldog Reporter promotion sucks!]

Sunday, August 10, 2008

This is a Joke, Right?

I was just checking my email and clicked on my daily Google Alert on "consumer packaged goods." Amongst the news stories was a report from Internet Retailer (Strategies for Multi-Channel Retailing).

Here is the headline and lead paragaphs:

“Tweens” use online search when researching products

Online search plays a major role for shoppers ages 10-to-14-year-olds, who frequently turn to the Internet to learn more about a product after seeing ads in other channels, according to a new study from DoubleClick Performics, an online ad network owned by Google Inc.

Of the so-called tweens surveyed, 57% said they rely on the Internet to research appliances and electronics after seeing ads in other channels, while 56% used search to learn more about telecom services. 47% used the Internet to research apparel and 46% to research home furnishings and consumer packaged goods.

The first thing that jumped out at me is this: Tween shoppers first learn about products from ads in other channels (no one in the Internet business ever wants to make that acknowledgement). For a moment I was truly impressed. "This is raw honesty" I thought. Good for Internet Retailer.

Then I read that more than half (57%) of Tweens rely on the Internet to research appliances, while 56% used search to learn more about telecom services and just under half (46%) used the Internet to research home furnishings.

In fairness, my three kids are now in their 20s, and a lot has changed in the past decade, but am I to believe that the 10-to-14-year-olds today are buying appliances, telecom services and home furnishings?

What am I missing here? I mean even if we are talking about George Foreman grills, cell phone service and bedroom lava lamps, I am still having a difficult time imagining Tweens making these purchases. I can see 10-to-14-year-olds picking out their own clothes, selecting their own shoes, telling mom and dad that they want a phone, begging both parents for a bedroom refrigerator and trying like mad to convince anyone who will listen that they want a sleep sofa instead of a bed.

So, maybe the study is only saying that Tweens are researching appliances, telecom services and home furnishings on the Internet - NOT with the intent of purchasing them, but simply because they are curious to know more? But then the article goes on to say that the Internet plays a "substantial role in the purchase process for Tweens."

The thing is, I have no doubt taht Tweens are heavy, heavy users of the Itnernet - by way of computers and mobile devices. I just don't get this research. In fact, I don't even understand what kind of study would ask a 10-year-old about purchasing appliances and home furnishings.

Long story short: I did a little looking around and found this story form 2007:

"Tween buying power is larger than with any prior generation," explains James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, a Belmont, MA, marketing, strategy and research firm that focuses on emerging trends. "Having said that, we are seeing a shift back. Five years ago tweens were in control. This new generation of parents (Gen-Xers) doesn't want to rush kids to grow up. Tweens have more information about their purchases, but they're not making the final decisions."

So the research is half right. Tweens are doing the research and likely influencing the purchase. But in the end, mom and dad have the final say in what they buy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

What is Publicity Anyway? (#2 in a series)

Now that is a good question.

According to Wickedpedia, "Publicity is the deliberate attempt to manage the public's perception of a subject."

In essence, publicists are like Svengalis... villainous hypnotists. Dang, who knew? All this time I was under the impression - based on six years of college and 28 years of practice - that publicity is, as Merriam-Webster defines it:

1: the quality or state of being public
2 a: an act or device designed to attract public interest; specifically: information with news value issued as a means of gaining public attention or support b: the dissemination of information or promotional material

Yeah, okay, so that's not the same thing.

According to the perennial college textbook, “Effective Public Relations,” by Scott Cutlip, Allen Center, and Glen Broom, "Publicity and other communication tactics are not the defining framework for the profession, but merely the tools used to accomplish its larger objective of relationship building and maintenance." Relationship building and maintenance? That sounds more like the job of that newfangled online PR. Maybe these guys never heard of Edward L. Bernays!

Not just the father of public relations, but the nephew of Sigmund Freud as well. And according to his obituary (he died in 1995 at the age of 103): "Mr. Bernays was one of the first people to expand what had been a narrow concept of press agentry, or working to influence government policy, into a far more ambitious -- and controversial -- realm of seeking to influence and change public opinion and behavior." And hey, here is an interesting side note you might not be aware of, Bernays was instrumental in making it acceptable for women to smoke in public.

Now that's more like it... more evil, more insidious.

Then I found this definition provided by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD: "Publicity is mention in the media. Organizations usually have little control over the message in the media, at least, not as they do in advertising. Regarding publicity, reporters and writers decide what will be said." What?! Reporters and writers and editors actually think for themselves and decide what will be communicated? This is heresy!

Clearly I am getting nowhere fast. I need one authoritative source to provide an acceptable definition and position we can all live with... One that will clarify what publicity really is - a useful strategic tool for communicating news and information or a diabolical, magical potion for duping the unsuspecting and weak minds of our society.

How about a Supreme Court Justice? Louis Dembitz Brandeis was also an American litigator, advocate of privacy and developer of the Brandeis Brief in Muller v. Oregon (This was the first instance in the United States that social science had been used in law and changed the direction of the Supreme Court and of U.S. law. The Brandeis Brief became the model for future Supreme Court presentations). Anyway, here is what Brandeis had to say:

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.

Sounds to me like he thought publicity was a good thing. And it is. In the world according to Jim, "Publicity involves primarily the development and maintenance of databases, the documentation of news or information and the subsequent distribution of that news or information to relevant audiences.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe."

That is - in its simplest form - what publicity is, letting people know the facts. Unfortunately, it's never quite that simple.

In the next post we'll address "publicity in practice" and how, when integrated with media relations, it can be an amazingly effective tool that serves the good of clients, the media and the public.

Why Publicity Still Rocks and Rules (#1 in a series).

Undoubtedly, the Internet is changing the way we get our news, information and entertainment. As a result, the role of "publicity" and its partner "media relations" has come under question - and in some cases, under fire.

So let's cut to the chase and look at some facts:

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, there are approximately 300 million television sets in use in U.S. households today. Pretty much that is one TV per person. This does not include handheld units or TV on the Internet. Nielsen reports (July 2008) that screen time of the average American continues to increase with TV users watching more TV than ever before (127 hrs, 15 min per month).

According to Burrelle's (under the guidance of the Audit Bureau of Circulations), in the top 50 U.S. markets alone, the top daily newspapers have a daily circulation of nearly 30 million. According to the World Association of Newspapers, the total daily circulation of newspapers in the U.S. is nearly 50 million. According to the PEW Research Center, better than 50% of Americans read a newspaper during the week and more than 60% on Sundays.

Broadcast radio is a tricky bird. There are no real numbers for radio sets in the U.S. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, there are more than 135 million automobiles in the U.S., and most all of them have radios. According the the Bureau of Census, there are about 110 million households in the U.S., but who knows how many radios are in every home? According to Arbitron, traditional radio commands a weekly audience of 93.3% of the population 12 and older; this translates into nearly 233 million people who tuned into the AM/FM dial at least once during an average week. According to another Arbitron study, more than 30 million listeners also tune into online radio, much of which is over-the-air radio station programming rebroadcast over the Internet.

More than 22,650 trade and consumer magazines are still published in the U.S. The top 10 alone reach more than 100 million subscribers.

Have I begun to make my point yet?

There are a lot of people on the Internet and all of them are still watching TV, reading newspapers, listening to radios and reading magazines. However, only 72% of the U.S. population uses the Internet. In other words, there are about 80 million U.S. consumers you can only reach OFF the Internet.

So why does publicity still rock and rule?

If you're interested in learning the answer, read my next entry when I explain what "publicity" really is, versus what a lot of sources (yes, Wikipedia, I am talking about you) think it is.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

This past Christmas, my daughter bought Kathy and me a very special gift: two tickets to Rain-The Beatles Experience, showing at the State Theater. Rain is as you might guess a Beatles tribute band. In fact, they are considered by some to be the most renowned Beatles tribute band.

It is quite a performance that transports adoring fans of all ages (no kidding, from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds) through a musical oddysey that warps from the late 1950s through the late 1970s. There's not a lot of production, but what production exists is very good. More important, the band looks and sounds like the Beatles in every regard... at least from the first row of the balcony amidst thousands of screaming fans.

To be clear, Rain is not passing itself off as the Beatles, they are creating an experience that allows the audience to easily imagine they are in the presence of the Beatles. It is a difference with a distinction. Based on the reaction of the audience, including numerous standing ovations resulting in carefully scripted curtain calls, the experience works.

However, a close inspection of the Rain website <> the next morning washes away any residual illusion. The lads - Joe, Joey, Ralph and Steve - look less like George, Paul, Ringo and John than you might expect. And their music, unfiltered by screaming fans, sounds less like the Beatles than you might expect.

They are a good imitation, but they are not the Beatles.

You can lead with all new lines
If you believe in what you say
And life can be just as you make it

John Booth, staff reporter at Crain's Cleveland Business, has asked me on several occasions what I think about social media marketing. Are traditional PR firms venturing into the new media arena? It's a good question.

When I started in the business 28 years ago, I worked at a local ad agency (Sharp Advertising) that has since disappeared. From the perspective of the ad guys, PR was simply about writing news releases and giving them to the reps they bought ad space from. In other words, they had no clue what they were talking about and they were irresponsible in their behavior. Nonetheless, they told their clients they offered PR services. Eventually they hired Nancy Valent, a talented young professional from Diamond Sharock's PR department, who in turn hired me, a knucklehead fresh out of college with a degree in mass communications. And now they could honestly say that they offered PR services. It is a difference with a distinction.

Lately, I've heard a lot of PR professionals - individuals and agencies - talk about how they are all wired and fully capable of offering new media services. They can create blogs and handle online ads and customize pay-per-click campaigns and manage search engine optimization and produce viral videos and on and on. Maybe they can and maybe they can't.

If you believe in every lie
You're never free to walk away
You should be free to go today

Of course, what's at stake here is only the reputation of the entire industry, so what's a few tall tales between a couple of drunken sailors?

As agencies, we should always put ourselves in a position to help our clients determine the best strategies at all times, regardless of whether it benefits us financially or otherwise. So if we have the ability to offer a particulare service - either because we have been trained or we have hired experts - then bravo, offer away. Unfortunately, there are no standards in place to ensure clients are getting what they pay for.

From the agency perspective, I can only rely on what my father always told me, "Don't pretend to be someone that you are not; because sooner or later the truth will reveal itself." From the client perspective, I guess you must rely on your instincts and some common sense advice, "caveat emptor."

Believe the lie and it will all come true

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Importance of Marketing, As Clear as Muddy Water.

If you believe what you read in the news (and I do), it appears U.S. companies experiencing the most sales growth and profitability during our economic downturn (recession) have three things in common:

1.  They are raising their prices.
2.  They are cutting costs.
3.  They are increasing their marketing expenditures.

Procter and Gamble today reported higher profits: "Like most consumer products makers, P&G, with brands ranging from Pampers nappies to Olay skin-care products, has raised prices and cut costs in order to cope with rising costs for energy, resin and other raw materials."

Church & Dwight reported the same basic news, but placed the emphasis on the power of marketing: "On Monday the company said it spent $13.1 million more than in the corresponding quarter last year to promote its largest brands: Arm & Hammer, Trojan, OxiClean and First Response, which helped second-quarter sales increase 8.7%, 8 percentage points of which came from organic sales growth."

On the flipside, Ford announced that it had cut its ad spending by two-thirds over last year's amount [shareholder editorial comment: that is the least of their problems right now].

And then there is Coke, the beverage stalwart, whose CEO (Muhtar Kent) said the company plans to cut $400-500 million dollars from its annual marketing costs by 2011.

On the other hand, Kraft and PepsiCo are spending more:  "Across the board, we are planning to invest even more in 2008 than 2007 for marketing, quality and innovation focusing on our key brands and categories," says Kraft spokeswoman Lisa Gibbons.  While in a July earnings call, CEO Indra Nooyi said Pepsi is "not backing off" ad spending. "We really have an eye towards the long-term future of the company," she said.

So, what does it all mean?  What's the right approach?  Raise prices, cut costs, shrink package sizes, increase marketing, decrease marketing?

As my high school buddy Jim Krupar used to say:  "When in doubt, put the pedal to the metal." Or as my dad used to say when we - as young children - would stand around on the shoreline afraid to test the seemingly cold waters of Lake Erie: "Either get in the water or get in the car, we didn't come here to put our toes in the sand."

Monday, August 4, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

How can you place a price on the beauty of newborn babies nestled in the arms of their loving parents?

Apparently People magazine has the methodology.  And the price is $14 million.  Of course, that's only for the North American rights.

The good news is that the proceeds will benefit children around the world.  The bad news is that People magazine spent $14 million for the rights to own baby photos.  Which of course means that they believe consumers are really interested in seeing the baby photos.  Which means we've all gone mad.

Don't get me wrong, I love babies as much as the next guy; in fact, probably more.  But here is the value I would put on seeing a photo of the Brangelina tikes:  $0.  

Hopefully the foundation will make better use of the money than People magazine did.