Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Going Zen in 2010

Over the holiday weekend I managed to catch about five minutes of A Christmas Carol on TV. It wasn't the classic movie starring Reginald Owen or even the 50s favorite starring Alastair Sim. And it wasn't the new Jim Carey animation. Instead it was the 1999 made-for-TV video starring Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Anyway, I have read the book numerous times and watched the movies even more often. But this time, I heard something that I do not ever recall hearing before. It was a rather simple line spoken by Scrooge himself, quoting his old boss - Fezziwig:

"Ebenezer, when happiness shows up, always give it a comfortable seat."

As we wrap up 2009 and finalize our plans for 2010, I wish this sentiment for all of you: When happiness shows up, always give it a comfortable seat.

As Scrooge suggests, "you have to be open to joy. If you are, it’s yours! If you aren’t, it won’t be found anywhere."

God bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sometimes a Cigar is Not a Cigar.

Once upon a time (in the early 1980s) I was an account executive with Burson-Marsteller/Chicago. One of my accounts was the National LP Gas Association and gas prices were soaring, which was good for the propane industry. So good in fact that Ford Motor Co. was retrofitting some of its vehicles with propane tanks and we (NLPGA and B-M) were holding a press conference on the south side of Chicago to watch the vehicles come off the assembly line. It was a big story for us, but the media was only mildly interested in attending... until a fire broke out at some factory along S. Torrence Avenue, just down the road from the Ford facility.

Suddenly there were media everywhere. And after they covered the fire, they came to watch our retrofitted vehicles roll off the assembly line. The resulting coverage was phenomenal, but you won't find any evidence of it in my professional portfolio. After all, if it were not for the fire, the media would not have come.

Anyway, this morning I read that Walgreens is pretty stoked that its focus on core consumer needs is paying off, with both sales and profits for the first quarter of its fiscal year hitting record levels. According to the story, "Some of the company's record results are directly linked to flu-fretting consumers: It [Walgreens] says it jabbed 5.4 million flu shots into consumers' arms in the quarter, up from 1.2 million last year."

The smoke made me think about the fire on South Torrence.

president and CEO Greg Wasson says the success of its flu shot campaign proves that "consumers across the country value the services of community pharmacists. Our center of gravity continues to be the community pharmacy." Wasson says it was the largest flu shot campaign in its history, and calls it "one of the best-executed initiatives in my 30 years at Walgreens."

Maybe. Or perhaps the endless barrage of media coverage warning consumers of the worst flu epidemic the world has experienced in a century had something to do with it. Maybe the five million people who came to Walgreens would have gone to Starbucks or even Macy's if they were giving out the shots.

In the words of Cindy Wang, "I'm just saying... give the fire a little credit."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


So how's that $100 million advertising investment to launch Bing working out for you Microsoft? And what about that billion-dollar-a-year investment you are making in your Yahoo partnership?

Well, according to data from Experian Hitwise, as reported in ClickZ, Bing lost ground during the four-week-period leading up to and ending November 28, while Google continued to gain. Ouch.

According to the report, "Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing both experienced a decline, dropping 5 percent and 2 percent respectively." Google experienced an increase of one percentage point. Oh snap.

Of course experts and insiders are saying it is too early to determine whether these investments will pay off. According to eWeek: "Whether the Yahoo-Microsoft agreement, combined with new functionality for Bing, can drive up Microsoft’s U.S. search engine market share is a question that will only start to be answered later in 2010." Sure, sure, sure.

But it occurs to me that Microsoft may find itself between a rock and a hard place. For years, the company has grown and grown not just as a result of innovation, but also because of its ability to "embrace, extend and extinguish" the competition. But suddenly that approach isn't working anymore. Suddenly the competition - in this case Google - isn't quaking in its boots. Somehow this all seems so familiar...

Michael: My credit good enough to buy you out?
Moe Greene: Buy me out?
[Fredo laughs nervously]
Michael: The hotel, the casino. The Corleone Family wants to buy you out.
Moe Greene: The Corleone Family wants to buy me out? No, I buy you out, you don't buy me out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Marketing Initiative Worthy of Our Involvement

Did you know more than 12.5 million children in the U.S. – 17% of kids and adolescents ages 2 to 19 – are overweight?

Did you know as they grow older, these overweight children and adolescents – our babies – are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes? Not to mention the emotional stress and psychological trauma.

Please help stop the madness.

Who lets their precious children eat themselves into sickness and death? Scratch that; who cares. Instead, "how can we help you to get your children into better health?" Because that is, after all, what this is all about.

Everyday we are bombarded with endless commercials and ads and promotions and events and videos that make fun of the issue and encourage us all to eat until we explode. And many of them are – by design – absolutely hilarious.

But there is nothing whatsoever funny about an overweight 12-year-old with diabetes. Or a 35-year-old who dies of heart failure.

Here are a few more facts to ponder from the Office of the Surgeon General:
  • Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
  • The number of overweight children has more than tripled over the past three decades.
  • Studies show that nearly 34 percent of children and teens in America are either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.
  • Research has shown that parents are often their children’s most important role model. If children see their caregivers enjoying healthy foods and being physically active, they are more likely to do the same.
But there is good – maybe even great – news: This is not inevitable and it is not a losing battle.

To demonstrate, I salute the good folks at the Biggest Loser – the most real of all reality shows – for demonstrating not only the importance of healthy living, but the ability to take charge of life and overcome obesity.

Please get involved. Please reach out to an overweight family member or neighborhood child, or join a group or initiative. Please let them know they are loved. Please help save their lives.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Where's the Balloon Boy When You Need Him?

Maybe we're all just tired from the Thanksgiving weekend followed by a five-day work week. Maybe the recession has us all in a funk. Maybe we're all just demented.

Regardless of the reason, Tiger Woods has suddenly captured the world's attention beyond anything he ever imagined on the golf course.

I have no desire to think about this, yet alone talk about it, so I will keep it short and sweet:

1. As my brother Kevin would say, "It is nunya," as in "nunya business."
2. In case you haven't noticed, Tiger is just a golfer; nothing more, nothing less.
3. In case you haven't noticed, we are still in a global recession.
4. In case you haven't noticed, our President has vowed to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
5. In case you haven't noticed, the holiday season (peace on Earth, good will toward men) is upon us.

I get the initial surprise of a little boy trapped in a balloon or an actor caught picking up a transvestite prostitute or a national leader having oral sex in the White House or a golfer driving his car into a fire hydrant. I get it. It is virtually impossible to not look into the sun during an eclipse. I get it.

But why do we insist on continuing to stare after the initial impulse? I don't get that.

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sometimes You Just Need to Press the Flesh

With all due respect to social media, and despite the constant threat of H1N1, I plan to spend this Thanksgiving holiday weekend going mano a mano with human beings.

I plan to look deep into the eyes of family, friends and neighbors.

I plan to shake hands, pump fists, hug shoulders, kiss cheeks and pat heads.

I plan to talk and sing and laugh and maybe even cry.

I plan to get up close and personal.

I plan to sit with my loved ones and share a long meal.

I plan to drink a little wine and tell a few stories.

I plan to nod off on the couch while watching football with my son.

I plan to wake up and go for a walk with anyone who will join me.

I plan to think about my dad and all the relatives and friends who are no longer with us.

I plan to be thankful for this wonderful life I have.

Be be forewarned, I plan to be social without all the media - no texting, no iPhone video games, no tweeting, no Facebook posting, no blogging, no email, no photo-taking and no cell phone calling. So if you want to see me this weekend or talk to me or listen to me, you have to come and see me. In person.

You'll thank me later.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Wind of Change is Blowing. Well, Something Blows.

" 'Ello, 'ello, 'ello? Admiral's right: 'eavy weather brewin' at Number 17, and no mistake!"
-Burt (Mary Poppins)

As you read this post, the FDA is actively taking testimony from leading Web companies and pharmaceutical interests about what they'd like to see in "a brave new world of digital drug ads."

According to a Los Angeles Times story, "we're going to need an entirely new FDA division dedicated solely to surfing the Web and policing all that digital content -- and that won't be cheap." The story goes on to say: "It will be up to federal officials to strike the right balance between digital commerce and keeping people safe."

Speaking only for myself, these ideas - leaving it up to the Feds and creating a new FDA division - do not get me excited, unless by excited you mean scare me half to death. And it frustrates me to think, are we really so uncontrollable as an industry? Are we so driven by greed that we will take the chance of letting the government step in?

The answer of course is yes. Greed continues to fuel our nation's economy. Just check the latest numbers on the bonuses Goldman Sachs is awarding to its employees; they have already set aside $16 billion for staff bonuses and expect to add another $7 billion before the end of the year. Meanwhile, they expect us to be overjoyed by the $500 million initiative to help small businesses directly and through universities. Here's an idea, keep the $500 million for bonuses and invest the $23 billion in small businesses.

Yeah, right.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, CNN is reporting that "three marketing firms and hundreds of their online partners made more than $1.4 billion using misleading sales tactics, according to a report issued Tuesday by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D., W.Va.)." According to the report: "The three [online marketing] firms previously have settled lawsuits brought by consumers or by states on behalf of consumers, and recently made changes to their marketing practices. Lawmakers suggested that may not be enough and that legislation may be needed."

Awesome. More government intervention. More laws and regulations. Apparently the World Wide Web, much like the Wild, Wild West will require Federal troops to get tamed. Wouldn't it be nice if we could clean up our own mess and self-regulate instead of pushing the limits and forcing the government to step in? LOL, I'm so funny.

"I'd like to make one thing quite clear: I never explain anything."
-Mary Poppins

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

2010 Marketing: Go Cheap or Go Home?

For as long as I can remember, publicity (a primary tool in the public relations toolbox) has been positioned and/or referred to as an efficient, if not inexpensive way to promote a product or service or organization or person.

In fact, this common misconception has led to the popularization of the term "free publicity." To illustrate, I conducted a quick Google search of the term and found endless references, such as these recent news stories:

Associated Press (Nov. 10):

"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2," almost certain to be the year's best-selling video game, has also become its most notorious. That's because of a prerelease leak showing a terrorist raid on an airport — exactly the sort of thing that's guaranteed to rile up anti-violence watchdogs and generate free publicity.

NBC New York (Nov. 10):

Calvin Klein's latest racy billboard in SoHo is stopping traffic, raising eyebrows and again earning the designer a little free publicity.

Detroit News (Nov. 5):

Fox News Channel is on a roll. A smackdown with the White House has handed the cable news network loads of free publicity, as well as raw meat for its commentators.

Well you get the idea, but it is most definitely the wrong idea. In point of fact, it is an idiotic idea perpetuated by morons who just do not understand the business. As my father often warned me, there is no such thing as a free lunch... and there is no such thing as free publicity.

But that is not even the point of this post. Because I am hyper sensitive to the idea of doing anything on the cheap (I am a big believer in the philosophy that we get what we pay for) my attention is always attracted to the mention of all things free, cheap and low-cost. And guess what I've been hearing a lot about lately? In the world of marketing, the new "free publicity" is social media.

Cape Cod News (Nov. 10):

It doesn't hurt that social media offer a very low-cost way of getting a message out. "We're kind of making it into a shining example of how to do a thing like this on zero budget," said Beth Dunn, a Massachusetts-based marketing consultant.

Restaurants & Institutions Magazine (Oct. 09):

Given its low cost of use compared with traditional marketing vehicles such as print, television and radio, social-media marketing can be a good fit for foodservice operations of all sizes, whether the goal is to drive traffic and sales or strengthen brand awareness and loyalty.

Mashable (Nov. 5):

Facebook offers exceptional, low cost marketing opportunities for small business.

Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada and on and on.

If you are looking for quality work that leads to quality results, you will find that social media marketing, like publicity, is neither free nor low-cost. It can be affordable and it most definitely can be valuable, but if it is advertised as cheap, I suggest you run - not walk - from the marketer selling you this line of bull stuff.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

If I Were A Client...

You know that Beyonce song, "If I were a boy"?

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot lately about clients and the decisions they make, as well as the decisions they don't make. Having been on the agency side my entire career tends to put me at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding what goes on behind closed doors on the client side. On the other hand, having worked with hundreds of clients in dozens of industries in markets around the globe has also given me a very unique perspective.

Naturally what I am most interested in knowing is what compels a client to hire one agency over another or to not hire an agency when they really need one or to hire an agency when they really don't need one. These are things I am more than curious about, but not yet obsessed with; I want to get to the bottom of them, but I can still sleep just fine at night if I do not know the answers.

In an effort to get at the answers in a scientific way, we (Sweeney) are planning to conduct a formal survey among marketing professionals who are responsible for making such decisions. I promise to make all the results public (even to other agencies) upon completion.

In the meantime, I wanted to share the perspective of one corporate marketing professional
whose opinion I respect more highly than most. His background is balanced and impeccable, having worked on both the agency and the corporate side... having worked with the world's smallest and largest marketing agencies... having worked with local, national and international corporations... and having worked with consumer, business, industrial and institutional clients.

During a recent conversation, I wondered aloud what agencies should communicate to prospective clients, not feeling entirely certain about what clients want. Here is his response:

I loathe agencies telling me how wacky and fun and creative they are. I don't care. What I care about is your ability to solve my problem. And the ability to do it well and on time and on budget. I don't care that you have a pool table in the creative department.

[For the record, Sweeney does not own a pool table or a ping pong table or a foosball table or a pinball machine or a climbing wall. Any pictures you may have seen of me or my employees in a ball pit were clearly taken at Chuck E. Cheese during normal lunch hours.]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

PR is dead, long live PR.

I was watching the Antique Roadshow on PBS last night and saw the most unusual early 20th century invention. It was a heat-powered house fan. For real. There was a kerosene lamp at the base of a fan that was lit and emitted heat through a series of turbines that powered the fan to begin rotating and cool the room. Who knew?

Unfortunately, as the antique expert explained, electricity was the undoing of the heat-powered fan. And so it goes. Something new always unseats something else. It's kind of like they say in that Semisonic song: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.

A recent Ad Age article reports such a shift:

As the body count of magazines and daily newspapers continues to rise and the once-robust news and feature holes of surviving publications shrink along with reporting staffs, some marketers have given up on the traditional path to media coverage: pitching journalists.

Kind of makes you feel like the world (or at least an industry) is coming to an end. Lots of doom and gloom, as Sam Lucas, chair of U.S. brand marketing at WPP's Burson-Marsteller concludes: "The traditional one-way media model has definitely had its day."

This, of course, led to some dramatic retorts from some very defensive PR people, which in turn led me to offer my own public response:

'Goodness gracious me!' said Henny-penny; 'the sky's a-going to fall; I must go and tell the king.'

My goodness indeed. Unless you have been living in a cave, "Public Relations" stopped being "press agentry" about four decades ago. Even the least sophisticated shops have offered a diversified mix of services, ranging from trade show marketing and customer events to direct marketing and yes, publicity. And I am pretty sure we all noticed the Internet thing about a decade and a half ago (thank you Al Gore).

Our business (PR) has always been and will continue to be a dynamic and evolving industry. The sky is not a-falling, so take a deep breath and just relax.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Problem with Marketing Today.


So, a woman goes onto a medical discussion group on the Internet and asks all the participating group members the following question:

"Can anyone suggest the best way to spend my health care dollars to relieve crippling back pain?"

Within minutes, the following answers appear in the discussion room:

John Doe, Chief Acupuncturist replies:
You need acupuncture.

Jane Smith, VP of Sales with Johnson's Massotherapy replies:
You need a back massage.

Doctor Vinnie Goomba, Surgeon replies:
You may need surgery; we'll take an X-ray.

Alice Jones, Director of Marketing with Osgood Orthotics says:
You need special inserts for your shoes.

Hank Witherspoon, manager with Professional Office Supplies replies:
You need an ergonomically designed desk chair.

Franco DeLupi, personal trainer replies:
You need to exercise.

Artie McSmarty, dietitian and nutritionist says:
You need to eat better and lose a few pounds.

Bob Jones, DrugStuff Pharmacist replies:
Take Aleve or Advil and apply a heating pad (aisle 4).

Lucy Alluette, Yoga Instructor replies:
Yoga will relieve your stress an stretch your muscles.

And on and on and on...

Of course, any one of these replies could work. Or, depending upon the patient's actual medical condition, could kill her. Yes, I said it, kill her. Fortunately, no one would allow random people to offer medical advice over the Internet without a flashing sign that reads: THIS SITE IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ADVICE OFFERED BY MEMBERS OF THIS GROUP; WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO SEEK ACTUAL MEDICAL CARE.

But "Marketing" is a whole other matter. Earlier today I received a discussion alert from a marketing group on LinkedIn. The question posted was this:

"Can anyone suggest the best areas to spend marketing budgets in difficult times such as these?"

A total of 39 comments have been posted so far. Amazingly, every single reply is more useless than the preceding reply. "Use SEO," says the SEO marketer. "No, use trade shows," says the trade show marketer. "Forget all of that and invest in experiential marketing," says the experiential marketer. "No way, you need to get involved in social networking," says the social marketer.

Do you see the trend here? Every response is self-serving and pointless. No one is asking about objectives and target audiences and priorities and opportunities and challenges. No one is asking anything. Instead, everyone is out there pimping their services, slamming their business card on LinkedIn like a billboard along the freeway.

Okay, well I am getting really flustered, so please allow my to clarify my thinking and sum this up with three key points:
  1. Don't ruin social media with stupidity.
  2. The solution to problems may be and probably is something other than what you specialize in.
  3. Lead with research and strategic planning, and follow with tactical implementation.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Adjust Search To Seasons, Cycles and Situations

Whether you are managing a pay-per-click campaign, optimizing a news release, launching a blogger relations campaign or any other of a dozen things to improve search and drive more traffic, be sure to make adjustments for the seasons, cycles and situations that impact on visitor behavior.

The Seasons

Children, adults, the elderly... consumers, businesspeople, government employees... men, women, transvestites... Catholics, Jews, Muslims... we are all subject to the changing seasons. The shifts in weather patterns we refer to as spring, summer fall and winter... the comings and goings of holidays, like Christmas and New Year and Independence Day... the taking of vacation time from school or work or retirement... the experience of longer days and longer nights thanks to the solstice.

As a marketer it is critical to understand the seasons, how they impact on business and how to communicate accordingly. Even the most subtle adjustments in messaging or communication or placement can amount to millions of dollars in increased (or lost) revenues. Likewise, it is important - if not critical - to understand that people change their search behavior in accordance with the seasons. There is a sudden increase in searches for boots and thermal underwear in the winter and for boogie boards and sun tan lotion in the summer. Are you adjusting your SEO and SEM accordingly?

As most corn farmers will tell you, the secret to a bumper crop is to plant the right variety at the right time – not too early and not too late.

The Cycles

At the moment, most of the globe is in a down economic cycle. As a result, consumers and businesses alike are more sensitive than usual to "price" and "value" messages. And they are more likely to get those messages while searching for deals – in newspapers and magazines and catalogs and on the Internet.

We are also in a green cycle right now. The world-at-large (except for China and the U.S.) is very concerned about the environment. So we now search for natural cleaners and organic foods and eco-friendly paints and sustainable production techniques.

By their very nature, most cycles repeat themselves, though the frequency often varies and some eventually just end. Some cycles are epic and some are subtle and short-lived. Regardless, you should take full advantage of the opportunities they provide for you as a marketer to tailor your search activities.

The Situations

Okay, so now this get a little bit tricky. What constitutes a situation that is important enough and enduring enough that it warrants your attention, yet is neither seasonal nor cyclical?

How about H1N1? According to the most recent report from ClickZ, the top search terms during September 2009 under the pharmaceutical and medical products category was "flu symptoms." In all likelihood, flu-related searches will continue through the spring - all around the world.

Al Gore says we have pushed our planet into a "climate change" situation that we may not be able to escape from. It is getting warmer and the ice caps are melting and the ocean's are getting watered down and rising. Cats and dogs are sleeping together. Mass hysteria. And suddenly people and businesses all around the planet are becoming sensitive to the ozone.

Like cycles, some situations last a long time, while others come and go quickly. As a marketer you need to be attuned to these situations and react accordingly - not simply to "take advantage" of the situation, but to communicate your ability to help the marketplace deal with the situation.

The Bottomline

As my favorite boss Ellen McConnell often told me: No matter how much you've done, there is always one more thing to do. Search is no exception to Ellen's rule.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.

Welcome one and all to the Open Innovation Virtual Network sponsored by The Clorox Company.

It is a site that welcomes one and all – young and old, amateur and professional – to gather under under the Clorox big top to share ideas in the "hopes of finding experts in the industry we can partner with to bring new and innovative products to the market. It is our hope that here you'll not only be able to interact with us, but that you'll also be able to find solutions and partnerships that are crucial for the success of your own businesses and careers."

Now by nature I am a bit of a skeptical guy. Some might even say jaded. Whatever.

So I spent a little time on this new social networking site and was immediately struck by two thoughts:

1. This is a smart idea.
2. Why is everyone talking about food?

I know Clorox. Clorox is a friend of mine. Clorox does not market foods.

Turns out I am wrong. Turns out Clorox owns the Hidden Vally brand of salad dressings and dips, and the KC Masterpiece line of sauces, marinades and seasonings. Clorox... the bleach company. Apparently when I wasn't looking they diversified well beyond the cleaning products category and into the food category. How did I miss that?

It's all a bit odd. Out of the 24 consumer brands Clorox lists on its website, only these two are food related (unless you count Kingsford Charcoal). The rest are bleach and drain cleaners and tile cleaners and kitty litter and water filtration.

And then I was struck by another thought: These guys at Clorox are very clever. Think about how they managed (in less than 24 months) to shift their reputation as the leading maker of high performance cleaning products that are anything but environmentally friendly, to one of the industry's leading manufacturers of natural cleaning products.

I will be completely honest, when Clorox first announced Green Works I was certain the marketplace would not accept the obvious contradiction. But I was wrong. Clorox came to the marketplace with a winning strategy – offer a product that was natural AND powerful, and promote the hell out of it. And it worked.

Which brings me back to the Open Innovation Hub. Clorox is inviting the world – indeed, challenging them – to share ideas and information. And there are already more than 100 members sharing away. And a lot of them are talking about food. In fact, "food" is one of 10 dedicated forum categories (which happen to align with all of Clorox's product categories).

And while my instinct is to conclude that this social network experiment will not work, I am actually pretty sure it will. And for the second day in a row I am tipping my hat to an organization willing to innovate and take risks.

Congratulations Clorox. May the force and the food be with you

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Left 4 Dead. Left Scratching My Head.

By all accounts, Left 4 Dead (L4D) was/is one of the most popular Zombie video games on the market. Compared to previous games created by producer Valve, it was a clear hit.

So, expectations for L4D2 are high. After all, sequels to popular video games are like sequels to Arnold Schwarzenegger films - they are always successful. Add to this the fact that Zombieland (the movie) is off to a fast start, taking the top spot in North America this past weekend with nearly $25 million in ticket sales.

Interestingly enough, that is the same number Valve plans to invest to market its new video game. Yes, that's right, Valve will spend 25 freaking million dollars to launch L4D2! Coincidence? Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

Compared to the $10 million they spent to launch the original, this sounds like a lot of money. But consider the possibilities. If opening weekend sales for Zombieland in North America were $25 million, imagine the potential for international sales of L4D2 over the course of the next three months (including the holiday season).

But really, is this huge investment in marketing necessary or even prudent? According Valve's VP of Marketing, "pre-orders for the game are the highest the company has ever seen for one of its titles." So why invest in a venture that is already bound to succeed?

Why not? What about the increased sales? What about the merchandising? What about the increased awareness and branding? The potential ROI is mind-boggling.

In fact, when all is said and done, assuming L4D2 is anywhere close to as good as the original, Valve may look back and wonder why it didn't invest even more money.

Of course we have no idea how they plan to spend that money. It is possible they will use it wisely and it is possible they will waste it. We'll see.

In the meantime, I tip my hat to the company with courage the size of grapefruits.

Carpe diem... or die trying.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Serenity Now.

Recently I have come under attack for my iPhone addiction. "He never puts his phone down; it's become an extension of his hand."

Interestingly enough, until I purchased the iPhone, I never even carried a cell phone. I hated the distraction and resented its intrusion into my private life. But the iPhone isn't a cell phone, it is a lifeline. It doesn't bind me, it frees me. So here goes:

My name is Jim, and I am an iPhone addict. I have been addicted for nearly a year.

Phew, I feel better just saying that. For me, it is all about the connection and utility. I am constantly in touch with the people I care about – by voice, text and photo/video. And I am constantly engaged in educational and/or entertainment utilities – news apps, game apps, reference apps, learning apps, music apps, lifestyle apps, business apps, e-commerce apps, social networking apps and silly toy apps.

And the best part? Almost all the apps I use and love are free. The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC News, The Weather Channel, The Sporting News, ESPN Sports Center... they are all free. Instant Messaging, Twitter, Safari, Google, Skype... all free. Maps, Stocks, Contacts, Notes, Google Earth, Clock, Calendar, Calculator, Thesaurus, LogYourRun... free. YouTube, iTunes, iPod, Pandora, iHeartRadio, AOL Radio, NPR, Shazam... free. Word Warp, Word Ace, Hangman, TicTacFree, Pac-Man, Solitaire, DoodleBuddy... no charge. Text, Phone, E-Mail, Camera, Voice Memos, TV Guide... standard. And there is more.

Talk about disruptive innovation, this baby is the poster child.

Of course, one can pay as much as $1000 for an app. But to date, I have not spent a dime. Apparently I am in the early stages of my addiction... or I am simply cheap.

One thing that is certain: I am a shameless and unrepentant shill for the iPhone. It's not perfect – reception could be better (thank you AT&T), the screen gets smudged too easily (and I am OC about that) and it has turned haters against me (mostly jealous people) – but until something better comes along, this is as good as it gets.

Serenity now. Insanity later.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Please Excuse This Commercial Disruption.

Clayton Christensen coined the term "Disruptive Innovation" more than a decade ago to describe the process whereby a new product or service takes root and displaces its established competitors (cell phones disrupting fixed line phones for example). Get it? It's an innovation that disrupts.

However, the process of disruptive innovation has been around for as long as the planet itself. It is a kind of intelligent or human evolution (think speciation). Except with disruptive innovation, we are talking about products or services created by humans.

It is, to say the least, an interesting concept. After all, who doesn't want to create a new product or service that displaces an already popular product or service. Consider the profit potential. There's just one hitch, you can plan disruptive innovation, but you have no way of knowing if it will work. There are just too many random variables that can impact on your plan. On the flip side, the U.S. Patent Office is filled with innovations designed to disrupt and displace, but that never made it beyond the planning stages.

Disruptive innovation references a natural progressive evolution. Take the Internet for example, which has succeeded in disrupting and displacing dozens of products and technologies and changing the world in the process. When Al Gore created the Internet back in the late 1960s, it connected only a handful of computers. At the time, no one envisioned or predicted its eventual impact... anymore than they could have foreseen the popularity of Pet Rocks in the mid-70s or of Beanie Babies in the early 90s.

These are things that happen and that people recognize after the fact.

The idea of building a better mouse trap and having the world beat a path to your door is nearly a century old (See Ralph Waldo Emerson) and alludes to two critical disruptive innovation points:

1. If your mouse trap is better (innovative)...
2. Then there must already be a mouse trap that you are planning to displace (disruptive).

And the assumption is "because your mouse trap is better, the world will embrace it."

Yeah. Tell that to Howard Hughes and his Spruce Goose. Or to Dean Kamen and his Segway. Or to Steven Jobs and his NeXT Computer. Or Bill Gates and his Windows ME software. Despite being among the greatest innovators of the 20th century, they often got it wrong.

So, here it is: Innovation – in and of itself – is a laudable goal and endeavor. And if the innovation happens to disrupt the marketplace, then all the better, as it is obviously something the marketplace has been waiting for.

But if you are expending energy hoping to predict or event create the next disruptive idea (in the words of Pinky and the Brain: to take over the world), you might be better served dropping quarters into a slot machine at the Mirage. The odds of winning are better and the drinks are free.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The American Dream vs. The American Scheme.

In "An American Tail", Papa Mousekewitz shares with his wife the wonders and promise of America:

Papa Mousekewitz: In America, there are mouse holes in every wall.
Mama Mousekewitz: Who says?
Papa Mousekewitz: Everyone. In America, there are bread crumbs on every floor.
Mama Mousekewitz: You're talking nonsense!
Papa Mousekewitz: In America, you can say anything you want, but most important - and this I know for a fact - in America, there are no cats.

But as we all know, there are cats in America, and the streets are not paved with cheese. However, the freedom and opportunity to pursue one's dreams – whatever they are – remain the cornerstone of our great nation.

Unfortunately there are some in America (and always have been) who could fairly be accused of pursuing their dreams via schemes.

USA Today reported this morning that the Goldman Sachs pursuit of the American dream is raising eyebrows:

Goldman's profits stand in sharp contrast to what the rest of the country is facing, hobbled with hundreds of thousands of job losses each month and hundreds of businesses shuttering on Main Street. Goldman also set aside $11.4 billion in the first half of this year for compensation and benefits for its employees, a 33% increase from last year. At a time when there has been intense focus on bankers' compensation, including congressional hearings, Goldman's decision has been hard to swallow on Main Street.

On the one hand, this seems mighty glutenous. On the other hand – and in complete fairness to Goldman – it was one of the first investment firms to reimburse the government in full, paying back the $10 billion it had borrowed, plus interest.

So, what's really at play here? Clearly, Goldman Sachs - at least under the reign of CEO Lloyd Blankfein - is no Bailey Building & Loan Association. But neither is Blankfein Mr. Henry F. Potter. In point of fact, one might suggest that he is a poster child of the American dream; the son of a postal worker who attended public school, made good and grabbed hold of the brass ring.

Perhaps the real problem is that we are no longer living in Frank Capra's America, whose films tout the basic goodness of human nature and show the value of unselfishness and hard work. According to one source, "His wholesome, feel-good themes have led some to call his Capra-corn, but those who hold his vision in high regard prefer the term Capraesque."

Regardless, it is clear we're not living in Bedford Falls any longer, and we are painfully aware the streets of America are not paved with cheese... or gold. But isn't it possible for this story to still have a happy ending?

If Tony Mousekewitz and George Bailey can figure it out, perhaps the rest of us can too. In the words of Clarence Oddbody (Angel Second Class), "Each man's life touches so many other lives." Perhaps for just one day we can all set aside our goals for world domination and lend a helping hand to someone in need.

What's the worst that could happen?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Healthcare Plan.

According to a new survey from Mintel, most Americans think they are healthier than they actually are. Or looked at from a different point-of-view, most Americans are not as healthy as they think they are.

For example, the CDC says more than two-thirds (67%) of Americans suffer from or have been diagnosed as obese or overweight (a primary cause of many health issues). Yet only 25% of the survey respondents say they fall into either of these categories. Mintel calculated the body mass index (BMI) of survey respondents for a separate report on obesity and confirmed the CDC's findings that 65 percent of people are overweight or obese.

There are a couple of possible explanations:

1. A lot of overweight or obese Americans are in denial.

2. Overweight or obese Americans have much higher self-esteem than might be expected.

3. There is some disagreement about what constitutes "overweight or obese."

Of course, obesity is not our only problem. The leading causes of death in America - heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents, diabetes, alzheimers and the flu - are brought about by faulty genes, bad driving, drug overdoses, tobacco inhalation, overdrinking alcohol, slipping in the bathtub, leading a sedentary lifestyle and hundreds of other actions.

And unfortunately a huge number of Americans with these medical conditions (causes of death) are not properly (if ever) treated because they either don't have insurance or their insurance is inadequate to cover medical care costs. Depending upon who you believe, the numbers are anywhere between 20 and 100 million uninsured Americans at any given time.

I would like to suggest - avoiding the insurance issue for the moment - that what America really needs is a National Well & Fitness Plan that actually treats the cause and not the symptoms of our crisis by helping us to get educated, exercise more, eat smarter and live healthier. At the foundation of my NWF Plan is a FREE membership in government-approved fitness centers. Of course there are strings attached to this voluntary program:

• Mandatory initial and annual health screening and stress test conducted by a physician (documenting statistics and health issues) as a precursor to using the membership.
• Mandatory nutritional education by a licensed dietician, requiring participants to commit themselves to healthier shopping, cooking and eating. Also a precursor to using the membership.
• Mandatory, monthly health and fitness programming by a certified physical trainer as an ongoing requirement of using the membership.

Now, I know what your thinking: "If all Americans simply inflated their tires properly and took their cars for regular tune-ups, they could save as much oil as new offshore drilling would produce..."

Frankly, I don't care. Consider for just a moment that if just 5% of Americans took advantage of this government-sponsored program and they all got healthier, we would have more than 16 million people who would be less reliant on health care and, therefore, insurance.

And just in case you think I am eating too many Cheetos, remember that more is spent on health care in the United States on a per capita basis than in any other nation in the world. So if the cost for health care per person is more than $7,500 (and it is) and each one of my 16 million healthier Americans now requires a thousand dollars less in health care services, then my new NWF Plan saved quite a few dollars, didn't it?

Monday, August 24, 2009

How Exactly Is This a PR Crisis?

Okay, so the CEO of Whole Foods recently spoke his mind in the Wall Street Journal about the proposed healthcare reforms. Blah, blah, blah. And now customers are up in arms – protesting and picketing and boycotting and twittering and joining Facebook pages. Blah, blah, blah.

Apparently John Mackey had the audacity to remind Americans that healthcare is not a birthright. Agree or disagree, he still has the right to free speech. And so too do the customers and union members and anyone else who wants to pile on. Hey, this is still America, land of the free, home of the brave. Everyone has rights.

But how in the name of the Liberty Bell is this a "PR Crisis"?

According to BBC News:

Seemingly caught off-guard by the unfolding PR crisis, Whole Foods sought to distance itself from its chief executive's comments.

"We've had a lot of emails and phone calls and people coming into our stores to talk about it," said Libba Letton, spokeswoman for Whole Foods. "Our top priority is addressing their concerns."

But public relations experts criticised the store for bungling its response.

"You have two choices: you either take a proactive approach and wade right in and sort it out or you sit back and wait," said Erica Iacono, executive editor of industry magazine PR Week. "The company seems to be taking a wait and see approach and hoping it goes away. It's a mistake."

By the way, not to accuse the BBC of being sensational, but Erica Iacono is the only "PR expert" referenced in the story. And nothing personal, but how exactly is Erica Iacono an expert on this matter?

Regardless, none of that matters. In fact, none of any of this should matter.

Mackey spoke his mind and now the marketplace is speaking its mind and the chips will fall where they will. I mean really, what do the protestors and the twitterers expect? Do you want Mackey to recant? And if he does, will those words be "real" or calculated? And then you have to ask yourself what you really want: the truth or something else?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When You Think Retail, Think John F. Geisse.

We know Sam Walton. We respect Jim Sinegal. We admire Sol Price. But there was another retail giant – a true pioneer – who is too often forgotten or overlooked in today's crowded marketplace: John F. Geisse. To know John Geisse is to love him.

Father of 10, dutiful husband to wife Mary, hardworking man, devoted citizen. That is John Geisse. Of course he also founded and launched the Target stores, the Venture chain and The Wholesale Club (which was sold in 1991 to his friend Sam Walton and became Sam's Club).

In as much as I helped write John's obituary, I could tell you a good portion of the story of his life, but I prefer to focus instead on a single chapter - the chapter I know best - The Wholesale Club years.

I first Met John Geisse and his son Tom when they visited Cleveland in 1982 to discuss the opening of their second membership warehouse club and their first unit in Ohio. They were looking for an agency to help them make connections and build awareness and generate traffic. But really, John was just looking for someone he could trust.

Somehow our paths crossed. I was only 26 at the time and John was barely 60, though he had more energy on his worst day than I had on my best. John Geisse was full of life and it showed in our first meeting. As he revealed to a group of us what the membership warehouse concept was all about – a new retail idea formulated by Sol Price on the west coast – we were already drooling at the opportunity to be involved on the ground floor of a business that was sure to succeed.

And it wasn't that Mr. Geisse was so convincing, though he was, it was that he was so passionate, so invested, so involved. He loved the very idea of what he was doing. Having opened his first unit in Carmel earlier that year, he was ready to explode his idea across the Midwest. And sure enough, over the course of the next eight to nine years, we worked our way through Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, opening more than 30 100,000-square-foot membership warehouses. In less than a decade, John Geisse had created a billion-dollar business.

And John was there every step of the way. Scouting locations. Meeting with civic and business leaders. Meeting with the media. Meeting with prospective business members. Meeting with the community. Preaching the gospel of The Wholesale Club. But nothing was more important to John Geisse than his customers. He was a showman and a businessman creating a nationally recognized and respected retail operation. Still, he never took his eye off the prize.

I recall one particular grand opening, which John Geisse always presided over, like a pastor leading his flock. Shortly after the speeches and the ribbon-cutting, the doors were opened and the curious flooded into the store. John was giving a tour and interview to a reporter of the daily newspaper when he spotted out of the corner of his eye a new member attempting to remove a 20-pound box of detergent from an overhead shelf. John cut off the interview in mid-sentence and ran to the aid of the customer, never even bothering to introduce himself as an inductee of the Discount Hall of Fame or the founder of this company.

In truth, John Geisse never really cared so much for the accolade as he did the pure fun of making someone smile.

Sam Walton once said of John Geisse,"I have never known anyone else that I respected more for many things, including integrity, morality and the way he cared for his associates."

John Geisse died at the age of 71 nearly two decades ago. It was his illness that forced him to sell the business to Sam Walton, his close and trusted friend. I think of John Geisse often. He was more than a great man, he was a good man.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What Happens When Everyone Becomes a Shill?

As bloggers and Twitterers become the new "celebrities" tapped by organizations to drive messages to the masses, when do they cross the line and become the very shills they once so willingly and joyfully persecuted?

Here's the answer: Immediately.

There is absolutely NO difference between bloggers, Twitterers or public relations professionals who for various reasons (cash, gifts, ego) represent a product manufacturer or service provider. And it happens every day.

Procter & Gamble does it all the time; bringing bloggers and Twitterers into its headquarters or hosting events and showering them with product samples... and more. Take this recent story from the New York Times...

"To harness the viral marketing of social media, Procter & Gamble sponsored an event last week before the BlogHer 2009 conference in Chicago to present its updated Swiffer Wet Jet cleaning mop, which will be shipped to stores around Aug. 1. The company was the title sponsor of the Swiffer SocialLuxe Lounge, billed as a pampering party. More than 500 BlogHer participants stopped by on Thursday afternoon, which offered makeovers, a blogging awards presentation and stations to recharge phones and hand-held devices."

Roche recently held a Diabetes Social Media Summit at its headquarters. The company flew about 30 bloggers into its Indianapolis headquarters for a day and a half long event. Rachel Baumgartel, a Diabetes blogger who did not make it, offered these thoughts:

"I admit it. I was invited. I chose not to go, mainly because of lack of vacation days after family obligations and BlogHer. A little part of me questioned the intentions of this pharmaceutical company and the money spent on such event. You see, I used to be an administrative assistant at a medical device manufacturer and was on a planning committee for a marketing tour for directors of nursing, purchasing managers, and other hospital administrators. I know how much money is spent on these type of events. Even with corporate cafeteria lunches, it's still a pretty penny - a pretty penny that should be used to bring down the cost of test strips."

Earlier this month, PepsiCo, parent company of the Mountain Dew soda brand, rented out a bowling alley to throw a "taste test" party for its new "Ultraviolet" diet soda. And the guest list had been amassed not for its red-carpet potential, but Twitter influence. Here, CNET reports:

"Not only do Twitter's uber-chatty twentysomethings want everyone to know exactly what they're doing at the trendiest bowling alley in Brooklyn's trendiest neighborhood, but their friends will probably listen -- they, after all, want to know what's going on.

And savvy brands have found that even if profits aren't clear-cut, they can use that Twitter buzz to keep up a loyal following -- even with a small base -- rather than to broadcast a brand's hashtag all over the Web and hope for profits."

Here's what Merriam-Webster says:

Main Entry: shill
Pronunciation: \ˈshil\
1 : to act as a shill
2 : to act as a spokesperson or promoter

Here's what Harry Chapin says:

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me

My boy was just like me

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin' home son?

I don't know when, but we'll get together then son

You know we'll have a good time then

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Don't Guess. Test before You Invest.

Yeah, I know, you've heard this a thousand times. But are you listening? Are you hearing?

Now more than ever – with the economy crimping budgets, the number of strategic options exponentially growing and the demand for measurable results ever increasing – testing is mandatory.

And yet...

Marketers continue to invest meaningful dollars into campaigns they are uncertain will work when they could just as easily test them first. Print advertising, radio advertising, TV advertising, online advertising, direct mail, e-mail, publicity, blogger relations, even trade shows and events – everything can and should be tested before diving headfirst into the water.

Because what worked yesterday, may not work today and may not work tomorrow. We are currently living and working in a period of unprecedented "media" change. Virtually every day brings a new channel, a new opportunity and another way to spend (and potentially throw away) money.

Consider your own experiences over the past year. Should our organization have a Facebook account? Can social media work in our B2B environment? Can we use Twitter to market our products? Is newspaper advertising a bad investment? Should our CEO write a blog? Do enough people follow traditional media to justify a publicity campaign? Can we still build brand with online advertising? If we do PPC, do we still need organic search? Are trade shows going the way of the dinosaurs?

And on and on and on. And the answer is: Yes, no, maybe.

For many organizations, budget limitations can severly hamper their ability to establish and maintain a truly diversified marketing mix (they can't do everything). For others, budget is not an issue at all. But for both, the quality of your investment will determine the value of your return.

There is a better way: Test first, act second.

I'm a living sunset
Lightning in my bones

Push me to the edge

But my will is stone

'Cause I believe in a better way

Fools will be fools

And wise will be wise

But I will look this world

Straight in the eyes

I believe in a better way

I believe there's a better way

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What Do Consumers Really Want?

Once upon a time, the answer to this question was: "What day is it?" Now it is more like the weather in Chicago: "Wait a minute, it'll change." Most consumers want whatever they can get; in a perfect world, they want everything – great product, great price, great service, great delivery, great warranty, plus free stuff just for being a customer.

If you are a product manufacturer or a retailer, this order would seem to be tall, but potentially achievable... until you start adding in the extras: Do you have it in another color? Do you have it in a smaller size? Can I get this with an alternate energy source? Is this available in an environmentally friendly version? Can I take it home today and return it a year from now if it shows wear and tear?

Consider the electronic book or digital reader. Not so long ago (like today), Kindle was the only real choice for consumers who wanted to read an electronic book. As it turns out, most of the current consumers are business people. It is kind of pricey because there is no real competition and because volume is still relatively low (supply and demand). And you have to buy it through Amazon (not a lot of flexibility here).

And just when sales start to pick up, Apple leaks that it will soon have its own hip version of the e-book reader. And then Sony jumps into the ring with equally cool, but cheaper versions. And suddenly consumers have more options - size, price, appearance, functions, availability, brand, etc. - than they ever could have hoped for. And the story is all over the media and all over the Internet. And consumers are blogging and tweeting and texting and getting themselves all in a lather. A tsunami wave of excitement will fuel huge sales, and everyone will soon be sporting e-book fanny packs and shoulder slings.

But back to reality. There currently is only one option available (Kindle) and most consumers have no idea what a Kindle or an e-book reader is. And once they find out, most - especially in this economic environment - will deem it to be unaffordable (at least until it becomes cool and a status symbol).

In short, even though they don't know it yet, consumers will soon want an e-book or digital reader and everything that goes with it. That's the way we roll in America.

Which reminds me of the last line in the final scene of The Candidate, when Bill McKay (Robert Redford) realizes that he just won the election that he isn't sure he really wants: "What do we do now?"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

SHOCKING REVELATION: Time Spent Online Flattens; Time Spent on TV Increases.


Ad Age reported today the results of a Forrester survey revealing that time spent online has leveled off at an average of 12 hours per week.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Nielsen Media Research reported last November the average American watches 142 hours of TV in a month. Last season the typical home had a television on for eight hours and 18 minutes each day. That's up an hour per day from just 10 years ago.

And the older you are, the more TV you watch. Nielsen said Americans aged 65 and up watch more than 196 hours per month.

Back at Ad Age...

Forrester contends that as consumers become more accustomed to the Internet, they also become more efficient.

I guess that makes sense, but then how do you explain the seemingly endless increases in TV viewing? Certainly we have all become accustomed to the TV enough to become more efficient with our utilization. Right?

Wrong. Americans love their TV. All-in-all, Internet use has flattened out, newspaper and magazine reading has flattened out, even Major League Baseball attendance has flattened out (actually it has dropped).

Meanwhile, somewhere in my head...

I am reminded of a Terrence Mann monologue from the popular movie Screen of Dreams:

People will watch Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been television. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But television has marked the time. This set, this screen: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will watch Ray. People will most definitely watch.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

TV Remains King of All Media

The Nielson Co. reported this week that the average U.S. home now has more TVs than people - 2.86/household to be precise. That's a lot of TVs. According to the same reports, more than 114 million homes in the U.S. have at least one TV; if my math is right, that's 90% (the Census Bureau reports there are now 128 million "housing units" in the U.S.).

I don't know - maybe it's because I've always loved TV so much - but 10% of households have no TV? I am amazed.

But then again, did you know...

• Less than 90% of Americans have a mobile phone.
• Only 80% of U.S. households have Internet access.
• There are fewer than 10 million U.S. Twitter users (some reports say only 1 million).
• Facebook claims to now have 250 million global members; that's just 3% of the global population and only a sliver of the U.S.
• About 1,400 daily U.S. newspapers are currently circulated to 48 million readers.
• More than 200 million iPods have been sold worldwide.

And of course there is the radio - in your home and in your car and in your office and on your mobile device. And there are books and movies.

But TV remains the king of all media. At least for today.

“Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn't have in your home.” - David Frost

Thursday, July 16, 2009

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read All About It.

Once upon a time, while a Mass Communications major at Cleveland State University, I conducted a research project to prove a three-part theory:

Part 1: Most newspaper readers mostly read headlines and not full stories
Part 2: Most headlines are sensationalized and do not reflect the true content of the article
Part 3: Lots of people assume the content of the story based on the headline and share it via word-of-mouth

My research supported my theory and I was all fired up about this, but then I graduated and I became an agency professional and time went by and then newspapers started dying. But I had a dream last night about a rather strange and globally read newspaper - Alternative International News Times. Here are just a few of the headlines I remember:

White House Gives Trillions to Business, Then Takes It Right Back With Health Care Plan
• • •
Best Buy Offers Preferred Parking Status to Big Screen TV Owners.

• • •
Indians Finally Win World Series; Forced By Congress To Change Team Name To Cleveland Caucasians

• • •
Michael Jackson Still Dead; Larry King Still Alive

• • •
US Department of Labor Blog Says Twitter Negatively Impacts Productivity

• • •
Study Says Coffee Cures Cancer, Causes Heart Failure

• • •
Tiger Woods Finally Wins 15th Major; Apologizes To Fans For Long Wait
Jimmy Kimmel To Replace Conan; Conan To Replace Jimmy Fallon; Jimmy Fallon Not That Funny
Legalized Pot Rescues California Economy; Legalized Pot Rescues California Economy

All the news that fits, we print.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In a Deep Recession, Which Green is Really More Important?

Sometimes I feel sorry for the color green. It is much maligned and often misunderstood.

A green light is a good thing. It is a sign of approval, as in: "You are good to go."

A green thumb is a good thing. It indicates that one has the ability to make things grow.

A green person is a bad thing. It is a sign of inexperience and/or jealousy.

And a person who is green around the gills is not a good thing. It implies you are not looking too well.

But the most popular meanings of "green" today – at least in the United States – are money and the environment. To have some green is a good thing. Likewise, keeping the planet green is a good thing. So, green is good.

But wait just a minute. Aren't we all in agreement that the endless quest for "money" in the U.S. is what is primarily responsible for the destruction of the "environment?" The factories pumping toxins into the air and into the water, the coal miners stripping away at the land, the lumberjack's destroying the forests, the cars and SUVs sucking up gas and spewing out pollution.

And isn't the new green the enemy of the old green? Doesn't Al Gore want smaller, more efficient cars and more land with trees and less coal mining and fewer factories?

So doesn't that make green good and bad at the same time? I am so confused.

Fortunately, WalMart has it all figured out. They know it is just a matter of time before Al Gore and his goon squad of dogood treehuggers create some kind of ridiculous legislation that requires manufacturers and retailers to be greener, which in turn will cost them truckloads of green in order to be in compliance. So WalMart is being proactive and creating its own environmental regulations.

Sure, it will cost suppliers some extra green, which in turn will cost consumers some extra green, but in the end, WalMart will make a lot of green and eventually become the universal symbol for green... and of course, for green.

This planet has -- or rather had -- a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

Douglas Adams

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Now, Could You Explain Your Process in English?

My son is a brilliant chemist with a Master's Degree in Food Science Technology. Despite his advanced education and superior knowledge he is able to communicate with great clarity all the processes and procedures involved in his highly technical food and beverage research. So why is it so very difficult - if not impossible - to get "professionals" in the marketing and communications industry to speak plain English?

Between the contrived language, artificial terms and unnecessary acronyms (UAs) you need a secret decoder ring just to know what they are talking about.

Think I am kidding, or worse, exaggerating? Fine. Following is a series of actual, unedited communications from industry professionals that I have either received in my inbox or read in industry articles and white papers over the past week. Do you know what they are talking about?

This first one is an actual e-mail to me from a vendor.

Right now we are in the process of performing QA in our virtual development environment. Once that is complete, and browsers have been verified we will be ready to schedule a code push. The team can then proceed with regression testing to ensure no other impacts.

If you are under the impression you have just read a transcript from a NASA pre-launch sequence, you would be wrong.

How about this copy from an article in an advertising trade magazine:

But even if reviews offer structured data, it's not easy to make them an integral part of a company's internal process and the ones who do have well-defined methods... We use tools to track buzz, track mentions of products and brands and there's a method to the madness but I can't say anyone's discovered it.

Or that anyone understands what you are talking about.

And then there is this:

This data will be used to contextualize the value of integrated business intelligence functionalities and their ability to drive additional cost savings for enterprise IT and telecom departments. Recommended actions: Develop or acquire a full telecom lifecycle management solution to manage the enterprise telecom and network deployment... Choose a solution with a pre-integrated BI solution in place... Implement role-based assignments for telecom and IT-related spend reports.

Yeah, that's what I would do.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I am not as smart as I think I am. But just consider this: If I am in the industry and don't understand what these people are saying, what chance to those outside our industry have? Unless of course you are simply trying to fool them with your idiomatic doubletalk and gelatinous jabberwocky.

Regardless, just stop it.

Social Media Battle Royale

Is it just me or are we living in incredibly divisive times?

Upon reading this week's Advertising Age story – "Forget Twitter" – I was reminded of the old Ken-L Ration commercials:

My dog's faster than your dog,
My dog's bigger than yours.

My dog's better 'cause he gets Ken-L Ration,

My dog's better than yours.

Does Ad Age and/or Abbey Klaassen really believe that we should just forget about Twitter and Facebook now that a couple of corporate executives have figured out that online product reviews are nifty channels of communication? Apparently they do.

According to the story, "for all the ink spilled on the importance of Twitter and Facebook as feedback and customer-service channels, there's another social-media tool marketers are increasingly finding useful, not just as an online-shopping tool but as an internal, culturally changing consumer-criticism channel: the humble product review."

Sheesh, that's high praise for a tool that has been around for more than a century. Ad Age does know that product reviews are not a new idea, right? Well, maybe not.

Regardless, was it necessary for Ad Age and/or Abbey Klaassen to throw the formidable tag team of Twitter and Facebook under the bus just to shower praise on Product Reviews? According to the story, the problem is that Twitter "conversation" and Facebook "chatter" are interesting and important, but not structured.

So, if I tweet my network that Key Bank sucks because they place a 24-hour hold on my deposits, but process my debits in real time, that is not something you can wrap your arms around? Or how about this: If I tweet a link to a product review on Amazon, allowing even more people to see it, does it not have tangible value? Or if I update my Facebook wall about the great time I had at The Melting Pot in Raleigh, NC, will it not resonate?

In point of fact, isn't any channel of communication that allows organizations to learn more about their constituents (internal and external) important? What about the incoming phone call to customer service? What about the quiet e-mail or the fax or the letter or the business reply card? Aren't they all important?

As the Ad Age article clearly explains, product reviews are easy to find, easy to read and easy to interpret (they are "structured" and "transparent"). In short, they are the low lying fruit. But I think it is naive and foolish to so readily dismiss other channels of social media simply because they present a challenge. And let's not ignore the traditional channels; they remain robust and vital sources of insider information.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Me and Michael Jackson and the Summer of '71.

Sometime between the release of Jackson 5's first album (Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5) in late 1969 (coinciding with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show) and the release of their Greatest Hits in December 1971, I became convinced that Michael Jackson was destined to be the greatest artist of our time... and I can prove it.

I can still picture this 11-year-old wunderkind in a purple velvet fedora performing "I Want You Back" like a seasoned professional. Who couldn't love that? Actually, a lot of people. Consider that it was not terribly cool to admire a young black male during the late 60s and early 70s. It was a time of civil unrest and protesting and drugs and rock and roll. And it all came to a head for me and Michael in the summer of '71.

Joe Snodgrass (his real name) was a Georgetown University bohemian (aka, hippie) spending his summer break in his mom's apartment in the building next to Lottie's Deli, where I worked for a $1 an hour stocking shelves, sweeeping floors and ringing up sales. Joe was a 6-foot something beanpole with horn-rimmed glasses, a quasi-perm, cut-off shorts and sandals who knew everything. And I was just a kid, 15, who knew absolutely nothing.

Anyway, one hot day during the summer of '71, Joe saunters into the store as he often did and begins his usual intellectual discussion about everything – the administration, Viet Nam, the toilet paper shortage. Lottie lets knuckleheads like Joe hang around because she is the greatest woman on the planet. And sometimes it is fun to have the company of these older guys around, but not today. Anyway, at some point, Joe hears me listening to the radio and not him, so he takes aim and fires.

"Jesus Christ, Sweeney, what is that bubblegum bullshit you're listening to on the radio?"

"Michael Jackson," I respond with disbelief.

"Fuck me; turn on WNCR and find some good tunes – Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, the Stones, CCR – anything is better than that pop crap you're listening to."

Here's the thing about me: I have always been a person of diverse tastes. Even at 15, I listened to my parent's Sinatra and Martin albums. And in my own collection I owned Cat Stevens, Four Seasons, Cactus, The Band, Elton John... I listened to both AM pop radio and FM rock radio. And I liked it all, so long as it was good.

But Joe was so smart and so annoying.

"Better than Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5?" I spit back.

"Sweeney, you know nothing... and you know even less about music," Joe calmly replied.

"Yeah," what a retort, "let me tell you what I do know. I know that Michael Jackson will sell more records than any of the stupid artists you listen to."

Now to this day, I can not say for sure if I was defending Michael or myself; maybe both. But it was out there now and there was no taking it back.

Joe laughed profusely. "How about the Beatles?" Wow, that question was so thick with sarcasm and condescension that you could chop it with a hand axe. "Do you think Michael Jackson will sell more records than the Beatles?" By now Joe was drooling in his own laughter.

"Yes he will," I stated with absolute confidence.

Egging me on, Joe asked: "How do you figure?"

"Well, in case word hadn't made it to DC yet, the Beatles broke up, so they won't be selling any new albums. And Michael Jackson is just getting started."

At that very moment, as if cursed by the gods, my older brother walked into Lottie's.

"Hey Junior," snaps Joe, "you've got to hear this. Your kid brother says that Michael Jackson will one day be bigger than the Beatles."

My brother Denny, who I always looked up to and admired, and who coincidentally was the person who told me about MJ's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show two years earlier, simply gave me a look and mocked me with sincerity: "What's wrong with you?"

That was 38 years ago, and it remains as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday.

Joe eventually graduated from Georgetown with a degree in Chinese linguistics and spent the rest of his life working in a county job. He is still a hippie and probably has no recollection of that special moment in time - partly because of his arrogance and partly because of all the weed.

My brother Denny is a retired Cleveland Detective. He still questions my sanity and I still admire him.

The Beatles never got back together to release a new album, but Michael Jackson eventually owned the rights to most of their music.

As for Michael Jackson and me, I stand by what I said in the summer of '71: Michael Jackson was destined to become the greatest artist of our time .

Thursday, June 25, 2009


According to a new study, CEOs are not wired-in to social media. Only two (2) of the 100 CEOs surveyed have a Twitter account and less than 20% have a personal Facebook page. Did I mention that these are FORTUNE 100 CEOs? Yeah, and not one of them has a blog!

No time left for you
On my way to better things
No time left for you
I found myself some wings
No time left for you
Distant roads are calling me
No time left for you

I guess I am just a bit curious what to make of this. Did the folks at the UberCEO blog really think that FORTUNE 100 CEOs had time for social media? Apparently they did:

"It's shocking that the top CEOs can appear to be so disconnected from the way their own customers are communicating. They're giving the impression that they're disconnected, disengaged and disinterested," said Sharon Barclay, editor at UberCEO.com who runs executive PR firm Blue Trumpet Group.

Yes, and every time a FORTUNE 100 company prints an annual report the CEO shows a disdain for the environment.

Maybe, just maybe – in light of how the economy is going right now and what a poor showing so many FORTUNE companies are displaying – it would be best if we excuse CEOs from Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and YouTube and Wordpress... at least until they are showing a consistent profit.

Just a thought.

No time for a gentle rain
No time for my watch and chain

No time for revolving doors

No time for the killing floor

No time for the killing floor

There's no time left for you

No time left for you

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Can Sirius XM Learn from Tiger Woods?

Sirius XM and Tiger Woods are a couple of very powerful brands. Brands that are constantly confronted with challenges and want to succeed at all costs. Brands that have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. Brands that have stumbled and fallen and got back up. But only one of these brands seems to get "it", and it's not Sirius XM.

After much anticipation, Sirius XM has finally released its new app for the iPhone and the iTouch. Here's the good news: you can dowload the app for FREE! Yippee.

Here's the bad news: Unless you have a subscription to Sirius XM, the app is useless. Here's more bad news: Even if you have a subscription, you will have to pay more money to use it. And here is the worst news: If you don't have a subscription and buy one or if you already have one and pay an additional fee, you still only have access to SOME of the Sirius XM programming.

No NFL Play-by-Play
No MLB Play-by-Play
No Howard Stern

So, what is the point? And more important from a branding perspective, how many times does Sirius XM think it can unapologetically disappoint its customers and "fans" before they finally say enough is enough?

Which leads me to my other question and perhaps the answer to this question: WWTD?

Tiger is more than just the ultimate competitor, he is also smart. He is smart enough to realize that on his way to winning (and it is clearly not just about the money), he needs to be considerate of his fan base and the golf industry and the sports media and the communities he lives in. In other words, he needs to be the anti-John Daly.

Whether it comes naturally to him or not is irrelevant. Whether he believes in it is also irrelevant. What matters is that he is aware of it, understands it is important, and acts on it. Maybe Tiger has good advisors, maybe he has acquired wisdom from his parents and the natural maturing process, maybe his wife reminds him every day. Regardless, he gets "it". Which is why he can get away with bad days on the course when he is tossing both "F" bombs and golf clubs.

If Tiger were Sirius XM – aware of its questionable reputation and aware of the deep recession we are in – he would be giving away more than a free app. Tiger would allow FREE access to all of its current and future subscribers and charge only a nominal fee to non-subscribers in the hope that they would become engaged and perhaps buy a full subscription... by choice. And Tiger would probably fight like hell to provide access to the MLB, NFL, NASCAR and Howard Stern (even if mobile-performance rights don't allow it, you can still fight for it).

And maybe one day, everyone will rally: I am Sirius.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Blackbird Fly into the Light of the Dark Black Night

If you are young (as in younger than me), you may never have heard or even heard of Kenny Rankin. He was a singer-songwriter who floated quietly through the music scene for nearly 40 years. Cool and velvety, he was often referred to as a "singer's singer" and a "songwriter's songwriter."

His cover of Blackbird is nothing less than inspirational and was so impactful on Paul McCartney that Rankin was asked by the former Beatle to represent him and John Lennon when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I happened upon Kenny Rankin late one night in a local Chicago jazz club in 1981 and was forever smitten. He is an acquired taste I suppose. For me, it was his ability to convey deep emotion in his words and his works that created an enduring bond.

Kenny passed away yesterday, leaving a small but indelible set of footprints in the sand. He will be missed by many, including me. You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

In the morning fun
When no one will be drinking any more wine
I'll wake the sun up
By givin' him a fresh air full of the wind cup
And I won't be found in the shadows hiding sorrow
And I can wait for fate to bring around to me
Any part of my tomorrow, tomorrow

'Cause it's oh, so peaceful here
There's no one bending over my shoulder
Nobody breathing in my ear
Oh, so peaceful here

In the evening shadows are callin' me
And the dew settles in my mind
And I think of friends in the yesterday
When my plans were giggled in rhyme
I had a son while on the run
And his love brought a tear to my eye
And maybe some day he'll up and say
"We had a pretty nice time", oh, oh, oh, my

'Cause it's oh, so peaceful here
There's no one bending over my shoulder
Nobody breathing in my ear
Oh, so peaceful here

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Heroes and Villains

Bing, in case you hadn't heard, is by its own description the "Official Site To Make Key Decisions Quick & Easy." Google is an advanced search engine and more (Preferences · Language Tools · Advertising Programs · Business Solutions).

Billy Mitchell, in case you hadn't heard, is by his own description the "greatest arcade-video-game player of all time." Steve Wiebe is a father and teacher who plays Donkey Kong in his spare time in his garage.

A lot of people - more than you might imagine - have a great deal of interest in the parties involved. And the outcome of the competition.

I've been in this town so long that back in the city
I've been taken for lost and gone

And unknown for a long long time

Fell in love years ago

With an innocent girl

From the spanish and indian

Home of the heroes and villains

Of course in truth it is more than a competition; it is a battle. And like all battles, it is about winning. Face it, competition makes the world go around.

In the battle between Bing and Google, I must admit that I am at a bit of a loss, but then again maybe not. Microsoft created Bing. And just as Microsoft invested cargo ships full of cash to out market Mac, it plans to do the same with Bing. According to Computerworld, "Microsoft plans to invest close to $100 million in an advertising campaign for Bing." But is there really a need? And is there really anything so significantly different to justify the huge investment - particularly in a bad economy?

I guess the answer is "why not?" It's their money. Plus, competition is good for the marketplace. It breeds innovation and progress. I have tested Bing side-by-side with Google and really don't see the difference - at least not enough of a difference to persuade me to make the switch. Of course, there is the muscle. Internet Explorer 6, in case you hadn't heard, is forcing users to use Bing. According to Cnet, "Microsoft confirmed on Tuesday that it is looking into an issue in which users of Internet Explorer 6 are forced into having Bing as their default search engine."

Hopefully, the ultimate winner in the battle of Bing and Google is us. So fight on.

Once at night cotillion squared the fight
And she was right in the rain of the bullets that eventually brought her down
But she's still dancing in the night

Unafraid of what a dude'll do in a town full of heroes and villains

In the battle between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell (aka, Silly Bitchell), it would appear that truth, justice and the American way are at stake. It is the classic battle between good and evil, angels and demons, heroes and villains.

In one corner, stands the villain, Billy Mitchell; classic evildoer. In the other corner stands the hero, Steve Wiebe; classic underdog . This is an epic battle that has raged on throughout this decade and continues to this day. So fight on, to the death if you must. It's a win-win for marketing.

Heroes and villains 
Just see what you've done

Thursday, May 28, 2009

School's Out for Summer, School's Out Forever...

It may not be easy "being green," but it is even harder not having any green. Ask the students who can't afford college, or even the colleges that can't afford to stay open. Just today, Miami-Dade College canceled enrollment drives and capped enrollment. Even smaller colleges like Wesleyan are trimming budgets in anticipation of declining enrollment.

When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on
Don't let yourself go, 'cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes

And what about the new crop of graduates, are they about to cash-in on their investment in higher education? Mmmmmmmm, probably not right away. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, just 19.7 percent of 2009 graduates who applied for a job actually have one, compared to 51 percent of those graduating in 2007 and 26 percent in 2008.

Even back in jolly ol' England, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported that nearly half of the UK-based companies surveyed said that they were not planning to recruit those leaving school or college this year. The research comes weeks after a separate survey found that only one university student in five expects to have secured a job by the time they graduate.

Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it's time to sing along
When your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go, (hold on)
When you think you've had too much of this life, well hang on

'Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hand. Oh, no. Don't throw your hand
If you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone

And, according to an article in the Washington Independent (referencing the Chronicle for Higher Education), the bubble may be about to burst: With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care. Patrick M. Callan, the center’s president, has warned that low-income students will find college unaffordable.

If you're on your own in this life, the days and nights are long,
When you think you've had too much of this life to hang on

Still, there is reason for hope. President Barack Obama is a supporter of higher education, as is Sonia Sotomayor and Joe Biden (a huge advocate of community college). Likewise, the legislature seems more inclined to act on supporting higher education than it is to act on universal healthcare.  And then there is the glimmer of hope that the worst of the recession may already be behind us. CNNMoney.com reports: The end of the recession is in sight, according to a new survey of leading economists. If you don't believe it, just ask McDonald's.

Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes. So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts. You are not alone