Friday, January 30, 2009

Social Media Run Amuck. What a Buzzkill.

I got smacked in the head today (some might say that is a good thing) by two absolutely unacceptable blogger activities... And just when I was really starting to like social media.

The day started when Jennifer, the manager of our North Carolina office, forwarded me an e-mail she received from a "mommy" blogger. Following is an excerpt of this blogger's communication:

I am in the process of planning a virtual baby shower for my sister on my blog. I have worked with you all in the past, and I would love to include your products again on my blog.

My sister is due to have a baby in May (a little boy), and I'm trying to find the newest and greatest things for babies. For the virtual baby shower, I am looking for any baby related items for mom, dad, and/or baby. Nonreturnable samples are appreciated and do increase your chances to get listed. All samples will be given to my sister to use. Any additional samples you would be willing to donate will be used for a giveaway for my readers. I found that giveaways definitely increase your exposure. As part of the giveaway, I do make the contestants check out your site and tell me something about it, so I can definitely drive some additional traffic. (I do ask that you send your item to the winners otherwise this becomes a very expensive thing to do on my end.)

WTF? Are you kidding me? Let's just strip away all the facade and call this what it is: legalized prostitution.

We (the agency) work with a lot of bloggers, many of whom are mommy bloggers and they are - for the most part - very professional and very responsible. While they rarely present themselves to be anything more than what they are - and the never pretend to be editors or reporters - this kind of really bad behavior is going to ruin it for everyone.

Of course it is just one blogger and maybe she got caught up in the excitement of her sister's baby... who knows.

But then I got to the end of the day, and PR 2.0 (aka Brian Solis) reared his head again. This time he is telling tales of his exploits with Anheuser-Busch. And yes, he offered a disclosure (so did the mommy blogger) at the start of his post as if to say: Please excuse me for doing something totally inappropriate, but I am about to do something totally inappropriate.

This is the difference between the traditional media and online information sources that will never be acceptable to me. Guys like Solis present themselves to the world as experts and thought leaders, and maybe they are (he says it about himself on his blog page, so who knows what's real). But I will give him the benefit of the doubt; I've communicated with Brian and I like him.

But here is what I do not like: He is not and never can be objective.

On his blog he reports:

The press team at Anheuser-Busch is actively exploring the inherent benefits and opportunities of genuinely participating in the important and relevant conversations that are transpiring across the Social Web.

Does he really believe that? They make beer! And yes, they have pretty horsies, but how can you honestly write about this stuff? How important is it for A-B to get people "up close and personal" on the internet or on their iPhones with hairy-hooved horses?

Regardless, since A-B is your client, would you tell us if you thought it was all a waste of time and money?

Maybe you would. Maybe you wouldn't. That's the problem.

When a reporter from the New York Times or an ABC anchor tells us something, we have good reason to believe that they are probably telling the truth. They may not be, but they likely are.

Apparently the medium is still the message.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

When is an App Not an App?

When it is useless.

As a member of the exclusive brotherhood and sisterhood of iPhone users (iPu), I can not even begin to extol the virtues of my iPhone.  So I won't.

Instead, I would like to direct your attention to the insanity of the world we live in.

My brother Shawn recently invested in not one, but two iTouch devices - one for him and one for his wife.  Of course, he paid less than $100 for each of them, but that's a story for another post.  They wanted to purchase iPhones, but the whole contract thing is making it impossible for honest, hard-working Americans to get what they want without going further into debt.

So, iTouch it is, somewhere in limbo between the land of iPod and utopia of iPhone.

Anyway, Shawn is a high tech street rat who learned more about his iTouch in one day than I did about my iPhone in a month.  He's a mad genius.

One of the things he discovered is a little toy app named orb.  Orb opens doors to the universe and windows to your soul.  It let's you into into any nightclub, past any bouncer and up to the hottest dance floor faster than a folded Benjamin. He got me so lathered up on Friday night that I downloaded the trial app to my iPhone while we were still talking.

Then the insanity started.  You can't run the trial until you first download the original orb files to your PC (what's a PC?).  So I wait all weekend - in between calls from Shawn asking if I tested it it out yet. Finally Monday arrives and I promptly forget.  Fortunately Shawn calls me on his way into work:  Did you try it yet?

So I find the site and I click the orb download button and an "exe" file shows up on the desktop of my iMac.  And of course my iMac is befuddled with the lack of intuitive insight I've shown by downloading this file which is obviously created for a Windows environment.  And it promptly spits it out and into my desktop trash can.

After a lengthy search I discover that there is a beta Mac OS X version available if I don't mind experimenting.  Yeah, do I look like Mr. Wizard?

So it's over before it begins.  I'll have to listen to my brother brag about his orb and his PC for the next six weeks, or until he finds a more interesting app.  But I really don't mind that so much.  What I do mind is the idea that someone created an application for the iPhone (a Mac product) that does not work with an iMac.  

Is it just me or is that crazy?  I mean really, where is the sense and logic in a non-Mac product for a Mac product?  How many PC users actually even own iPhones?  Four?  Maybe five? Wait, let me look that up on my iPhone and I'll get right back to you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Standard Services, Set Prices, Same Old Results

What's that quote from Lewis Carroll?  

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.


If you order a double cheeseburger at McDonalds, it cost a dollar (more or less now that Mickey Ds is testing a new pricing structure).  It's a standard and available at a very reasonable set price. It makes a fine lunch. But a regular diet of McDonalds, as Morgan Spurlock demonstrated, will kill you.

So who eats at McDonalds?  Pretty much anyone and everyone who really doesn't care what they put into their bodies.  Is the food healthy?  No.  Is it tasty?  Sure, if you love the taste of salt.  Is it affordable?  It can be if you only eat from the dollar menu and never, ever supersize your order.

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?

And yet lots of people continue to eat at McDonalds.  Why?  They have no will power... they have no money... they don't know any better... they like living on the edge... who knows? Regardless, they do [eat there].  Sales in 2008 were way up (drum roll please) at $23.7 billion and profits were up also at $4.6 billion, while the stock rose 11%.

So, what could possibly be wrong with that?  Clearly standard services and set prices are a good thing.  Well, yes, if you are McDonalds.  But no if you are one of the millions and millions of unfortunate customers spending good money on bad food.

And double no if you are a company - of any size - that is investing hard-earned money into a marketing campaign that offers no more value than a happy meal.   

[Editorial comment: I am not against McDonalds; in fact I still eat there on occasion. But if you think I am being too harsh, consider that less than 19 years ago it was still okay to smoke on domestic airline flights. Sooner or later McDonalds will be forced to change its ways.]

Think about it. You wouldn't go to H & R Block to get your company's taxes done.   You wouldn't go to Walmart to buy furniture for the lobby of your corporate headquarters.  And you wouldn't go to Kinko's to print your annual report. So why would you even consider going to anything less than a full-service, strategy driven agency for your marketing needs?  Do you really believe that a "one-size-fits-all" shelf product will get you to where you want to be? Really?

But in fairness, it's your money, it's your company, it's your decision.  So I will just eat my fries and shut up now.

It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Goes Down, Must Come Up.

If it's not a law, it should be. It hardly seems fair that gravity on Earth is just a one-trick pony.

But this is reality, so we have to deal with it... even when it sucks; like this:

According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for December, which exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, declined 2.2% unadjusted when compared to 2007, and decreased 1.4% seasonally adjusted from November. In addition, November retail sales were revised down to a 3.4% decline unadjusted year-over-year from the original drop of 2.2%.

Okay, fine. No one really believed that sales over the holidays were going to be better than this. But they could have been worse. In fact, there was even some good news:

Among the few bright spots were health and personal care stores, where unadjusted sales grew 7.6% year-over-year. Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores were up 0.7% unadjusted from a year ago.

And just because I vowed to keep my cup half-full at all times in 2009, I am going out on a limb and making a prediction: Retail sales in January 2009 will be up. Despite all the incredibly harsh weather and the absolute uncertainty. Despite the transition at the White House. Despite the inability of so many Americans to land a job or secure health insurance or refinance their mortgage loans. Things are going to get better... starting this month.

Of course, this is not a popular belief. According to a brand new Gallup poll, "A majority of Americans, 55%, think it will be two or more years before the U.S. economy starts to recover."

But wait, it gets worse:

The poll finds that most Americans do not believe the bottom of the economic downturn has been reached -- just 19% say the economy is now as bad as it will get. The vast majority -- 79% -- expect it will get worse before it starts to recover, with 46% saying it will get "a little worse" and 33% saying it will get "a lot worse."

So, where do I come off with an optimistic forecast? After all, I'm still walking around with most of my holiday and birthday (January 1 for those of you who missed it) money in my pocket. So what gives?

I don't know. Maybe I believe in change. And maybe I believe that change is about to happen. Or maybe I am just giddy with optimism because life is pretty darn good. I've got my health and my family and my friends and my job. I'm still here, still standing, still pushing, still striving. Why not be optimistic?

You do realize it is a choice, right?

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's Not the Size of the Dog in the Fight...

I saw Mr. Barack Obama being interviewed by Mr. George Stephanopoulos over the weekend (is anyone named John Smith anymore?). Let me say first that these are two very cool customers. In addition, and no less significant, these are two guys with clear agendas. Finally, lest it escape everyone's attention, these are two people who came from relatively simple and somewhat humble beginnings.

It just goes to show that anything can happen in America. What do they say at the poker tables in Las Vegas? All you need is a chip and a chair.

Mr. Obama mentioned in his interview that he is concerned about small businesses. Apparently with all the bailouts for the big dogs, no one is paying much attention to the puppies, and he sees that as a problem. More specifically, he said said he wants the second half of a $700 billion financial bailout fund available to him as “ammunition” in the event of an economic emergency and promised to direct more of the money to small businesses and homeowners.

Larry Summers, Obama’s top economic adviser, said: “President-elect Obama believes there has been too little transparency and accountability; too much upside for financial institutions and executives who acted irresponsibly without providing enough help for small-business owners, families who are struggling to keep their jobs and make ends meet, and innocent homeowners.”

Though there is no accepted standard for what constitutes small, I think most of us know it when we see it. Small business are the backbone and the hope of this country, as they have been for nearly five centuries. Think about it: most great businesses (if not all) start small.

Close your eyes and you can almost see them – people with an idea, tinkering away in their garage or basement, confident in their potential and hopeful of their success, believing in their future and how it can be better.

The thing is, you really don't need to get behind small businesses. You don't even have to prop them up with $350 billion in support. Just get out of their way. Allow them to explore and experiment and succeed. And don't allow the government – at any level – to suck all the wind out of their sails before they can even leave the dock.

Aeschylus, Mr. Robert Kennedy's favorite poet, once said: "From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Prosperous New Year?

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn't take one more step.

It's there, all around us. Bad news about the economy is easier to get than the winter flu. Take this little gem, for example:

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index declined to a new all-time low in December. The Index now stands at 38.0 down from 44.7 in November. The Present Situation Index plummeted to 29.4 from 42.3 last month. The Expectations Index decreased to 43.8 from 46.2 in November.

"The further erosion of the Consumer Confidence Index reflects the rapid and steep deterioration of economic conditions that occurred in the fourth quarter of 2008,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

Yikes and double yikes!

Funny thing is, all these pundits - the economists, the government regulators, the financial media - never wanted to admit we were in a recession in the first place. Now it is all gloom and doom, which is a likely indicator (if recent history has taught us anything) that we are already headed out of the recession.

And maybe it's just me, but I am feeling pretty confident going into this new year. We've got a new President, a new Cabinet, a new House. We've got the hope for and promise of change. And we've got a resilient consumer marketplace that can only be pushed down so far before it fights back.

Still, the stories are rolling off the presses and down Main Street like tanks at war; consider this burst of reality from Ad Age:

Marketing executives are tired of buzzwords such as Web 2.0, blogs and social networking. They're more concerned about credit availability, housing markets, alternative energy and the trade deficit, according to a new study of top-level marketers.

Of course, it's no surprise that the economy is weighing heavily on marketers looking toward 2009. In a study by Anderson Analytics for the Marketing Executives Networking Group, more than half of the marketers surveyed said their budgets will be cut in the coming year, and another 44% said they'll cut or freeze hiring.


I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.

Well, count me out. I am nowhere near ready to give up, cave in and fade away. I believe in this country. I believe in the American spirit. I believe in Americans.

At the end of the day, most of us still care about honesty and integrity and loyalty and hard work. And even while the New York Yankees spend hundreds of millions of dollars to field the most expensive team in the history of Major League Baseball, virtually all of us who are not Yankee fans believe that we can and will beat them.

So I am stepping up my game and not hoping for, but rather planning on a happy and prosperous 2009. You are welcome to join me.

And I love you so.
The people ask me how,
How I've lived till now.
I tell them, "I don't know."