April 30, 2004 by Colin
While McSweeney’s may have the Create Your Own Thomas Friedman Op-Ed Column, it seems this proposed Friedman formula would equally apply to a lot of “on the scene” or investigative reporting and analysis, which seems to have become formulaic and predictable.
As readers, we expect “good” investigative journalism to establish a rhythm: open the story with a gripping scene, introduce the reader to a passionate and concerned character and his/her community, work through the practical benefits and complications of an issue, identify the hindrances (human or mechanical, cultural or geographic) and close with a hint of morality and hope. But does this only address our needs as readers, rather than as engaged citizens?
This question was posed as “the new journalism” built speed. Here’s a voice from the past, writing in a 1972 Atlantic article:
[Speaking about the NYT] If this is the voice of conventional journalism speaking to us about our world, it is likely to find an increasingly restless, disconnected audience. The voice speaks too thin a language. The world it tells us about so assiduously seems but a small part of the world that is actually outside the window—seems a dead world, peopled largely by official figures, and by procedural facts, and written about in a fashion which is doubtless intended to be clear, and clean, and easy to understand, but which instead is usually flat, and inhuman, and nearly impossible to connect to.
Of course, you could argue that Jack Kelley, Daniel Glass and Jayson Blair were in some way aspiring to meet the creative standards set by “new journalism” – but were more likely just trying to be interesting enough to keep the attention of their readers and, more importantly, their editors.
I’ve often heard the expression “phoning it in” used to describe a half-hearted attempt at completing a creative task. In Blair’s case, this was actually true. But it’s not a condition that only affects reporters. “Creatives,” whether in advertising, marketing or PR, often find ourselves stuck in a creative and inspirational rut. Faced with an immediate deadline, or an afternoon ballgame, or an upcoming vacation, we might be tempted to just pull something from the files, put some lipstick on that pig, and ship it out.
I asked myself…so what? So what if this week it seemed that a bunch of guys were phoning it in from Planet Mambo? What’s the big deal?
I sat there for a while and thought about Sandy Weill and Jack Grubman, suspected of manipulating the rating of AT&T, the first because he wanted to rule Citigroup alone and the second because he wanted to get his tot into some snotty nursery school. How much of what we do is like that? Stuff that looks like business but is really just a bunch of guys scratching an itch? Once you start to think that way, it’s hard not to phone in the activities that feel inauthentic. And when you begin gauging the authenticity of the work you do, it’s a short step to picking up that psychic receiver and phoning in the whole deal.
I put on my jacket and went outside for a walk. You know what I saw everywhere? Thousands of people quite literally phoning it in, walking down the street yakking into their little handheld receivers, nowhere near a place where people do any actual business.
Fine. That’s how others may want to live their life. But are there products in your portfolio (or more likely your drawer) that shout “Jesus, I could have done better than this”?
There are some creatives out there that want to remind you of your weaknesses. Take a look at iamjack: Most Advertising Sucks. You Could Be The Reason.
Approve ads that kidnap mediocrity and bend it over a fencepost. Let your agency get away with something dramatic. Something simple. A TV spot that doesn’t lead with the offer and scream the phone number five times, or a print ad that doesn’t have a headline. Or a stock photo. Or 5 miles of disclaimer.
Come on. You know this hits home.
And in case you’re searching your memory about the “lipstick on this pig” tag line, check out this Slate article about the Charles Schwab ads of 2002.
Thanks to MarketingSherpa for the iamjack pointer.
April 29, 2004 by Colin
The BBC is drawing deep into the cultural psyche to find inspiration for their new digital services. In fact, someone at the Beeb must have watched 1988′s Scrooged, because they are about to launch Pet TV, a digital channel aimed at providing entertainment for your housebound pets. As the Guardian reports (reg. req.):
The interactive TV service will consist of a looped series of images and sounds, including clips of snooker balls rolling across the green baize, frisbees flying through the air, cat toys and cartoon characters such as Top Cat …
“It’s a unique opportunity to find out if we really do have a nation of pet telly addicts, and if so, what are the pets’ favourite shows,” the BBC said.
Okay. I am getting very strong flashbacks to the scene in Scrooged where the addled network Chairman suggests that more network shows include elements to attract pets – like a character dangling string, or a bouncing ball.
Of course, network President Frank Cross (played by Bill Murray) takes this suggestion one step too far, ordering that the big Christmas production include mice with antlers:
Props man: I can’t get the antlers glued to this little guy. We tried Crazy Glue, but it don’t work.
Frank Cross: Did you try staples?
April 27, 2004 by Colin
Over at CommonCraft, Lee’s resurrected a great scene in the Jerk, where Navin R. Johnson reacts wildly to the arrival of the new phone books:
The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity I need. My name in print. That really makes somebody. Things are going to start happening to me now!
Of course, there’s another line in the Jerk relevant to PR – and it emphasizes the value of cross-marketing, especially if you use a well-travelled medium. Navin finds out Patty’s gone and tattooed his name somewhere:
Navin: Do you ever think we’d get to know each other well enough to kiss?
Patty: We don’t have to. You’re my man. It’s like we’re married. Look at my ass.
Navin: Gosh! You have my last name tattooed right there under the j’s! First I get my name in the phone book and now I’m on your ass! You know, I bet more people see that than the phone book.
Hey! Patty had a blogroll!
April 26, 2004 by Colin
We are all just waiting for the other shoe to drop in Googledom – an actual date for their expected blockbuster IPO. Paul Kedrosky has made a wry observation about the building wave of rumours:
“People familiar with the situation” are almost always, at least when it comes to deal-making, investment bankers. Anyone who has done a deal, or, better yet, read the canonical “Barbarians at the Gate”, knows that the leakiest people involved in any transaction are the i-bankers — put ‘em in a bar with a RIM email device and they’re like a one-man PR band.
Looking for a basic explanation how a PR agency might figure in an IPO? Try this PPT deck prepared by a H&K branch waaay back in 2001. And this is a garage.com PPT deck on the Top Ten Lies of Investment Bankers.
More on Google
As a private company, Google has traditionally held its financial and operational cards close to its chest. This month’s MIT Technology Review observes that the PR department has a role in guarding these figures, and tells us why:
Whenever somebody from Google puts together a new presentation, he explained, the PR department vets the talk and hacks down the numbers. Originally, he said, the slide with the numbers said that 1,000 queries/sec was the “minimum” rate, not the peak. “We have 10,000-plus servers. That’s plus a lot.”
Just as Google’s search engine comes back instantly and seemingly effortlessly with a response to any query that you throw it, hiding the true difficulty of the task from users, the company also wants its competitors kept in the dark about the difficulty of the problem.
After all, if Google publicized how many pages it has indexed and how many computers it has in its data centers around the world, search competitors like Yahoo!, Teoma, and Mooter would know how much capital they had to raise in order to have a hope of displacing the king at the top of the hill.
April 23, 2004 by Colin
Quite a doozy of a slip-up for the NYT, who ran this story (second item) earlier this week. As the Rocky Mountain News pointed out:
Thursday’s New York Times misidentified GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors as a Ku Klux Klan member who murdered a black sharecropper.
The Coors campaign found the error “so outrageous it’s kind of funny,” said spokeswoman Cinamon Watson.
“It could have been worse,” she joked. “Pete could have been identified as John Kerry.”
April 23, 2004 by Colin
As you may know, the Canadian Parliament continues to look into allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the administration of the government’s sponsorship program over the past ten years.
Chuck Guite, the former head of the sponsorship program, began his testimony yesterday, and the National Post has corralled several lawyers to dissect the tactics and style of the politicians questioning the man.
“This is not a court of law; it is a court of public opinion. It is all about the cameras, it is all about the optics and all about partisanship, so we’re not really getting a real inquiry. The public, at the end of the day, will never get a true picture,” said John Rosen, a Toronto criminal lawyer.
“The fault of most politicians on these inquiries is they don’t know how to ask questions,” he said.
Of course, the setting isn’t exactly ideal, as Hillwatch has commented.
Committee staff, translators, MPs staff and media are constantly milling about as if they were in a train station.
Sometimes MPs ask penetratingly intelligent questions about your submission; other times they ask question that have absolutely nothing to do with your subject.
Government members want you to say something supportive about the Government. Opposition members want you to criticize the government.
And, finally, a vote can be called in the middle of your testimony and all the MPs get up and leave!
April 21, 2004 by Colin
Two Democratic political consultants and a UCLA psychiatry prof have joined forces to fund a project exploring how the brain reacts to the stimuli from political ads. (NYT, Reg. req.)
How have they measured the reactions of their eleven test subjects so far? With an M.R.I. machine!
In the experiment … , researchers exposed [a subject] to photographs of the presidential candidates, commercials for President Bush and John Kerry, and other video images, including the “Daisy” commercial from 1964. In that advertisement, promoting Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater, images of a girl picking petals from a daisy were replaced by images of a nuclear explosion …
“Brain imaging offers a fantastic opportunity to study how people respond to political information,” said Jonathan D. Cohen, director of the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior at Princeton. “But the results of such studies are often complex, and it is important to resist the temptation to read into them what we may wish to believe, before our conclusions have been adequately tested.”
The NYT notes that others have looked into this area, including neuromarketers. Read Montague, the director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Baylor College of Medicine, has conducted similar research.
”I keep joking that I could do this Gucci shoes study, where I’d show people shoes I think are beautiful, and see whether women like them,” says Elizabeth Phelps, a professor of psychology at New York University. ”And I’ll see activity in the brain. I definitely will. But it’s not like I’ve found ‘the shoe center of the brain.”’
Or the left-leaning/suburban mom/suv-owning/tough on crime center of the brain either.
April 21, 2004 by Colin
AdRants points to this story about the downing of a defenseless remote-control blimp advertising Cloninger Ford-Toyota – a North Carolina dealership. Problem was, the blimp was flying beside the Team Chevrolet dealer lot.
Witnesses at a nearby car wash report seeing a black Chevy pickup with Team Chevrolet dealer tags pull up, a man get out, and fire a shotgun at the blimp.
What’s the appeal of blimps? They deliver results. The Orlando Weekly ran through the work of the Lightship Group, a leader in the market for larger blimps, last month.
The Saturn blimp hung around in the skies over Orlando for several weeks this winter. “It definitely generates interest,” says Sabrina Case, a spokeswoman for the Saturn of Orlando dealership.
Lightship, which is partly owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, counts MasterCard, Nescafe, Izod and others among its roster of clients.
For advertising and branding purposes, [company executive Mickey] Wittman says you can’t beat a blimp in terms of getting the biggest bang for your buck. “They are basically moveable billboards that are loveable.” …
For instance, sales for Pepsi’s new bottled water, Aquafina, increased 11 percent in cities where its Lightship appeared earlier this year. Whitman’s Chocolates in Australia experienced a sales increase of 240 percent above expectations during and after their Lightship campaign, catapulting them to the No. 1 spot in the market.
They obviously get under the skin of your competitors as well.
April 21, 2004 by Colin
Recent research showed the Alton Towers amusement park in Staffordshire that a third of their adult visitors had freed up time to visit by skipping work or calling in sick.
The marketing solution? A targeted website aimed at this demographic. As Revolution magazine notes:
Alton Towers said its skivers claimed they were throwing sickies because they did not get enough holiday time. Mike Lorimer, marketing manager at Alton Towers, said: “We were actually quite surprised by the number of skivers we appear to have on park, and expect our Ihatework.co.uk website to be really popular as a result.” He added: “It’s not up to us to reduce absenteeism and if workers want to take advantage of the mid-week deals, why not?”
The Federation of Small Business has a problem with the campaign. Not only does the site encourage “skiving,” it actually offers a discount coupon for employees considering skipping work. Said an FSB rep:
“Staff ‘pulling sickies’ is demoralising for other employees. It is also a disciplinary offence. How would management at Alton Towers like it if their staff pulled a sickie to spend the day at Chessington World of Adventure or Blackpool?”
The FSB’s worked up enough to threaten a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority if the site isn’t pulled down. Spoilsports.
April 19, 2004 by Colin
Ideally, there should be an element of central control and empathic communication in every organization, says HBR Working Knowledge’s summary of Changing Minds.
This new book reminds us that there are intangible forces at play when communicating, especially in an environment as stress-laden as a company undergoing structural change. These can include cultural differences across organization units, the particular working “ticks” of technical specialists (you know what I mean), personal learning styles and those darn MBPT results.
It is one thing to instigate such changes; it is quite another to weave them into the well-worn corporate fabric and the DNA of its workforce. Indeed, few goals are more challenging to achieve than significant, lasting change in adult human beings. So, even when everyone agrees in broad terms on what needs to change, someone still needs to work out a plan to implement change in a lasting way …
To put this in terms of a cognitive perspective, a leader must proceed from her own internal representations of both the present and of the desired (new) state of affairs to some kind of a public presentation that captures this vision. Moreover, each member of the leadership team will likely have his own mental representation, and each will likewise utilize modes of expression that are comfortable. The team must hammer out an acceptable consensual representation. The leadership team then needs to communicate this representation widelyďż˝preferably in a number of discrete yet compatible formsďż˝and test whether it can gain support …
In our terms, a leader must first define the content of the message she wishes to convey and then find the formats that convey that message well enough to create meaningful and lasting changes of mindďż˝first in the leadership team, eventually throughout the company.
Howard Gardner, a prof at Harvard and the Senior Director of Project Zero, goes on to make the point that managers and communicators need to assume there will be dissent from the master plan, and we must develop strategies and tools to resolve conflict as it emerges.
Define it, understand the reasons for its provenance, point out its weaknesses, and then develop multiple ways of undermining that view and bolstering a more constructive one. In other words, search for the resonance and stamp out the resistance.
April 19, 2004 by Colin
When USA Today launched back in 1982, Al Neuharth’s baby weathered a lot of criticism for being too lite, too chipper, too optimistic and not sufficiently sophisticated.
Turns out that may be what teens are looking for in a newspaper. Tomorrow, the Newspaper Association of America will release details from their study of students from across the US. As Jon Iafeliece of North Castle Partners, the consultants on the study, told the E&P:
In terms of content, teens are looking for short, concise articles and lots of bullet points. “They don’t want the news dumbed down, they just want it more concise,” Iafeliece says.
Fittingly, USA Today’s Weekend supplement just finished an online survey of 65,000 teens:
Now, a USA WEEKEND survey of more than 65,000 American teenagers delivers some interesting news: Newspapers have established a substantial beachhead in today’s teen culture. According to the magazine’s large, if unscientific, survey, a majority of teenagers have a newspaper delivered to their homes and at least see it …
The best way to characterize their attitude — and this is exactly the result one would obtain from an unscientific survey of my own home — is that they believe in newspapers in theory and expect really to read them one day, but in practice they dip in and out of the more accessible sections. That’s promising.
April 16, 2004 by Colin
Ah. The office cubicle. Those precious 96 square feet of semi-autonomous privacy! The cartoons, the art class pottery, and the cat pictures.
And the germs. Billions of them, as WSJ’s Cubicle Culture tells us today:
… the desktop surrounding you has 400 times as much bacteria per skuzzy square inch as the toilet seat; the keyboard and mouse have 67 times and 34 times as much bacteria, respectively. So says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. The difference, he says, is that someone cleans the toilet. “Basically what you have in an office is an unregulated restaurant,” says Prof. Gerba. “We’ve turned our desks into bacteria cafeterias.” …
… To stifle whatever wafts from nearby plates, or the hot breath of garbage cans, [securities trader Leslee] Byron paints her aromatherapy oils onto Post-it Notes and sticks them under people’s desks above the trash cans.
Bacteria Cafeteria! That would make a nice SchoolHouse Rock special! A short animated industrial film, to be shown at team meetings and OSH conventions:
I know a little place,
Just around the bend,
Where you’re never on the mend!
Someone’s always sneezing, someone’s always wheezing!
Don’t let them germs get near ya!
April 15, 2004 by Colin
Richard Bailey’s got a couple of good links to possible PR tactics for David Beckham and Posh Spice, who are facing claims of marital infidelity.
Excerpts from two separate articles jump out:
Just think: if you or I were facing such a crisis in our marriage, whether anyone had ever heard of us or not, the overriding priority would surely be to find somewhere – anywhere – where we could get to the bottom of the facts and then review our subsequent feelings in private …
But not Mr and Mrs Beckham. Faced with exposure and humiliation on a monumental scale, their immediate response, Ceaucescu-style, is to phone not a counsellor or a friend for advice but a photographer for an image fix.(Guardian, reg. req.)
SMILE FOR THE CAMERAS
Along with instructing their lawyers, this seems to be the tactic most favoured by the Beckhams.
The couple have been seen frolicking in the snow at an exclusive French ski resort, leaving a London restaurant hand in hand, larking about at Beckingham Palace, and out and about in Madrid.
But the strategy has come at a price, with every facial expression scrutinised for hidden meanings. (BBC)
April 15, 2004 by Colin
Check out managing e-loyalty through experience design, a three-year project to test theory, review current literature and conduct research in three areas:
- trust development in e-business
- culturally sensitive interface design
- adaptive designs for mobility
Their latest work is on the localization of interface design, drawing upon limited experiments and surveys in Boston, Munich, Tokyo and Vancouver. ( Here’s their latest academic paper, .pdf)
More practical details can be found in their corporate report. (you’ll have to provide your name and email)
Data collection involved a survey, online task, and interviews in order to elaborate differences across cultures related to trusting online payment security preferences, degree to which a company is considered legitimate and has a solid reputation, the type of assurance in after sales attention desired, and preferences for design elements.
For the online task participants responded to a local version of the Samsung website, and a foreign version (which was the Hong Kong site in each case). When the site was activated, participants were asked to explore the site, observe its attributes, and test for navigation.
The research reveals distinct preferences for loyalty, design, security and customer follow-up in the four countries. It’s worth a read.
April 14, 2004 by Colin
Amid all the handwringing about the state of the media in North America, Britain and elsewhere, Wired’s got an interview with the editor of the Onion – whose outrageous stories have been picked up several times as breaking news:
[Editor Carol] Kolb, of course, chuckles at the notion that anyone took [a recent story about Harry Potter inspiring satanism among children] seriously.
Then again, she says, after stories like “Chinese Woman Gives Birth to Septuplets: Has One Week to Choose” provoked prayer vigils on behalf of the six babies who would be tossed off a mountaintop, Kolb isn’t surprised that The Onion gets regularly flooded with e-mails from people who didn’t get the joke.
But Kolb says she and her staff don’t write back.
“We don’t respond to anyone, really, ever,” she says. “We just laugh and laugh and laugh.”