December 30, 2005 by Colin
More muttering about the conspiracy between industry lobbyists and expert sources, this time as a result of the debate in the U.S. about the acceptable levels of perchlorate in drinking water. The WSJ (article republished in Pitt. Post-Gazette) examined the conflict between the Environmental Protection Agency and users of perchlorate (including manufacturers and the Defense Department), in the process identifying another tactic in the lobbyist’s arsenal: co-opting sympathetic expert sources.
[At an EPA peer review meeting one of] … the speakers was La Donna White, president of an African-American doctors’ group, who said the EPA proposal would divert funds from “real health issues” affecting blacks and “scare the public.”(Video) She later repeated her points in an op-ed essay in a local newspaper — and in a news release put out by a lobbying group for perchlorate users, the Council on Water Quality.
Dr. White, a family physician, says she had learned about the issues from a guest at one of her medical-society meetings, Eric Newman. He is a lobbyist for a Sacramento firm that has lobbied on perchlorate matters for defense contractors. Dr. White says she didn’t know he was a lobbyist when he asked her to speak to the EPA. She didn’t reply to an email asking whether anyone had helped her draft her perchlorate commentaries — two of which misspelled her first name. Mr. Newman didn’t return messages left for him.”
To be fair – it seems that “misspelled her first name” means the paper didn’t put the space between “La” and “Donna”. It’s not like the byline read “Madonna White, M.D.”
Still, the story certainly implies that Dr. White and Mr. Newman wanted to limit their public exposure once the WSJ started asking about the provenance of Dr. White’s commentaries. Is this a case of ghost-written work or simply a remarkable similarity between the key messages pushed by the industry and the work of Dr. White?
While the picture painted by the WSJ may not pass the smell test, is it really out of place for an industry lobbyist to communicate his clients’ point of view to an interested subject expert? (Okay, it may be immoral or illegal to provide an expert with a prepared – but unattributed – commentary for publication under their name. But I don’t know if the WSJ proved this argument to my satisfaction in this case)
Oh – the LA City Paper ran a story in 2004 about the level of another contaminant, Chromium 6, in Los Angeles’ water – which also mentions the lobbying efforts of Eric Newman.
Note: I think there is a place for lobbying in an open and democratic system where not all citizens have full knowledge (as they should) of the levers of power and influence. Still, from time to time I like to highlight the tactics, foibles, peccadilloes and outright deception of some members of the lobbying industry.
December 29, 2005 by Colin
So you crave unvarnished customer feedback, do you? Need to validate your focus group results with on-the-street commentary? How about these comments from “Celeb Sniff & Scratch Test: Many Stars Are Peddling Scents. But Does Eye Candy Really Smell Like That?” in yesterday’s Washington Post?
… “Is this Britney’s? It is, huh?” asked Ginny Gettemeier, 28, a communications manager. She guessed right. “It smells slutty. It smells cheap. It smells like the stuff I wore in fifth grade.” She used to wear Electric Youth by Debbie Gibson. “(WaPo)
Funny thing – the Gibson/Spears-Federline lineage is popping up in more than one place:
“… I was in Macy’s in NYC recently, and I walked by a big perfume display that smelled exactly like Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth. Was it possible they had re-released the fragrance I loved as a teen? Nope. It was a display for Britney Spears’ new Fantasy perfume. I love the idea that they’re rebranding Debbie Gibson’s popstar scent for a new generation. I can’t figure out who the manufacturer of Electric Youth was, but if it’s the same company, I bet they just mixed up a new batch and put Britney’s name on it. If it’s a different company, something smells stolen.”(Pop Crazy)
December 28, 2005 by Colin
Angus Reid talks to Canadian Business about federal politics, refusal rates and web-enabled interview panels. Oh, and how traditional market research organizations, so dependent upon phone interviews, are dinosaurs. One quote from the reporter:
“In the Canadian polling business, what insiders call the “fuck-off rate” is climbing so high that public opinion surveys are losing credibility. After all, if someone is willing to spend 20 minutes talking to a phone surveyor, do we really want to know their opinion?”
Reid spends some time pumping up the technology developed by his son, which now supports market research by automating the creation of online panels of demographically correct and anonymous respondents for online panels. Conveniently, Public Opinion Quarterly has just run “Toward an Open-Source Methodology: What We Can Learn from the Blogosphere“, penned by Mark Blumenthal. He makes a strong point about internet polls (whether opt-in or recruited, in my opinion):
“Opt-in Internet Polls—Experiment and Validate but with Caution: At what point do the compromises to probability sampling become too great? At what point, if ever, might we place greater trust in surveys drawn from opt-in panels? The only way we will know is by continued experimentation, disclosure, and attempts to evaluate the results through the Total Survey Error framework.
Opt-in panels are gaining popularity, whether we approve or not. We should encourage those who procure and consume such research to do so with great caution and to demand full disclosure of methods and results. If nonprobability sampling can ever routinely deliver results empirically proven more valid or reliable, we will need to understand what produces such a result.”
Finally, Blumenthal makes an observation about …
“…. the blogosphere’s commentary on polling methodology [in 2004]: Some is good; some, bad; some, ugly. It embodies many of the themes common to all of the passages cited above: a fascination and openness to new technologies, an instinct to test the quality of polling by validation against election results, and the enduring paradox of consumers who view polling as badly flawed and untrustworthy and yet remain obsessed with every twitch of the numbers.”
I think the word consumers is too wide-ranging: any debate about politics and polling, while vigorous, is still only occupying the attention of a small subset of the American (in 2004) and Canadian (in December 2005) population.
That said, make sure to get your SES daily tracking poll. Be the first on the block to question the reliability of your newspaper’s polling company!
December 25, 2005 by Colin
The NYT ran their piece on Friday – and BusinessWeek on the 16th.
Responses to the accusations were posted online at one think tank the very same day.
While this issue is interesting on its own, there is a dialogue developing in the comments on the BW website, where one of the individuals quoted claims Eamon Javers, the author, ” … misquotes both myself and Peter Ferrara, in that it omits distinctions made in the interviews.”
The decision to comment directly upon a web-published article marks a distinct shift in our relationship with reporters – a shift underlined by a comment filed by Javers the same day.
I can see how one of the authors might feel exposed by his quote:
“Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation, says he, too, took money from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist’s clients. “I do that all the time,” Ferrara says. “I’ve done that in the past, and I’ll do it in the future.” (BW)
Here’s Ferrara’s counter-argument, published online in response to this article.
If the allegations are true, that sure sounds like astroturfing on Abramoff’s part – and intellectual flooziness on the part of the writers involved.
December 23, 2005 by Colin
Stay Organized is an Ottawa store that specializes in imposing order on cluttered lives. Their black and white ad ran in the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week. I’ve picked it out for the copywriting: it may seem like code to the average reader, but the copy “Unlike Paige, Vern, Teresa and Stephen, our best people are still with us” speaks directly to the store’s target market: those considering renovations and exploring ideas for decluttering their home.
The single name references ring familiar with frequent viewers of TLC’s home renovation shows:
- Paige Davis, the perky (and former) host of TLC’s Trading Spaces
- Vern Yip, also of Trading Spaces
- Teresa Strasser, onetime host of While You Were Out
- Stephen Saint-Onge, former designer on While You Were Out.
Stay Oganized’s copy accomplishes two tasks: it makes an emotional connection with TLC viewers already predisposed to buying their services, and it underlines that their store has a history of quality and service . No Kia Steave-Dickerson astroturf/camo drive-by designs here – these folks will be at the same location when you eventually get tired of the in-closet storage solution built from wire baskets painted in primary colours.
The best part of the ad? Since the ad doesn’t actually name TLC or its shows, the store doesn’t have to pay any royalties or licensing fees.
December 22, 2005 by Colin
RIM, the makers of the Blackberry, are undoubtedly pursuing a multi-faceted strategy In their ongoing legal battle with US patent holding company NTP. The much smaller US company, however, seems to winning the parallel public relations war. Earlier this week RIM’s co-CEO, Jim Balsillie, launched a broadside against NTP – on the pages of the WSJ. At least in the Canadian markets, the momentum from this move was reinforced by the revelation that the US Patent Office was fast tracking its review of NTP’s erstwhile patents.
A considered media relations approach is an important component of every litigation strategy – just as it should be part of your analyst relations efforts. Reporters can only amplify existing murmurs and concerns – doubts about your ongoing profitability originally expressed by your customers and the analysts tracking your company.
If the media is playing up the potentially devastating implications of losing your case, shouldn’t your media relations efforts strive to reassure customers, analysts and the media?
(copy of Balsillie’s op/ed found on Blackberrycool)
December 22, 2005 by Colin
Earth shattering news from the National Retail Federation: “Men Continue to Procrastinate on Holiday Shopping, According to NRF.”
“Contrasting styles of bargain shopping demonstrate that for many couples a shopping trip is a recipe for disaster – men and women apply different levels of significance to the core bargain components.
“Men tend to adopt a more ‘smash and grab’ approach to the High Street compared to women who display more sophisticated shopping behaviour.
“This may work in getting the item required, but will almost certainly mean they pay more than their female counterparts.”
December 21, 2005 by Colin
Wonder how retail analysts keep track of their companies? Other than quarterly financials, calls from the friendly IR department, the occasional visit to CEO and reading the weekly circulars? They try to visit retail locations as inconspicuously as possible. The Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. is a favourite for NY- based analysts looking for a quick dip in the market.
“… Thomas D. Lennox, the head of investor relations at Abercrombie & Fitch, jokes that on any given Friday afternoon “you will find more retail analysts at Garden State Plaza than on Wall Street and Midtown Manhattan combined.”
… Retailing analysts and fund managers say they never base judgments – particularly recommendations to buy or sell a stock – on observations from a single mall. In interviews, half a dozen analysts said they visited at least three malls a month. But nearly all conceded that they returned, again and again, to Garden State Plaza, about a 20-minute drive from Midtown, making it perhaps the single most influential mall in the country.”(NYT)
How do these analysts, seeking partial anonymity while strolling through the mall in “suburban dad” clothes, judge the success or failure of holiday marketing campaigns? How do they “develop” the qualitative data for their reports?
“…In the world of retailing analysis, even the size of the sale sign has meaning, conveying what [Harris Nesbitt retail analyst John D. Morris] calls “levels of desperation.” A large, bright sign positioned prominently outside the store in the mall’s main corridor is “very desperate,” whereas a small, unobtrusive sign, visible through a display window, conveys confidence.”
Really, the analysts don’t wield any specialist knowledge on the shop floor. The impressions they form are based on pricing, inventory and customer care signals that any experienced shopper can recognize.
“… the peculiar craft of retailing analysis, in which a store’s strength is measured through dozens of tiny, seemingly imperceptible signs, ranging from the size of a 50-percent-off sale poster (revealing how desperate a store is to clear out merchandise) to the number of unfolded shirts on the sales floor (indicating a store, perhaps fearing poor holiday sales, has cut back on employment and is understaffed).”(NYT)
There are weaknesses in relying on the Garden State Plaza, which Retail Traffic called “the patriarch of New Jersey’s shopping centers.” Thankfully, the NYT acknowledge’s the mall unusually high average family income and other factors.
December 21, 2005 by Colin
We’ve all heard Mannheim Steamroller at some point in the last 24 hours. Chip Davis, the music and business genius behind Steamroller, has sold 27 million Steamroller albums – many of them Christmas-themed. Davis moves product by making shrewd marketing decisions:
” … I asked Davis to explain the theory behind his marketing schemes, and he told me a story about the release of “American Spirit,” a collection of patriotic songs “done Mannheim style.” Just before Memorial Day in 2002, the CD went on sale in several stores at a busy Omaha intersection, including a Super Target and a Baker’s supermarket. The Target store, where the discs were discounted to $12.98, sold just a dozen copies, but the supermarket, which priced them at a full $15.99, “blew through 60 pieces.”
Why? “We put the CD’s next to the hot-dog buns, where everyone was going for their holiday barbecues,” he told me. “We weren’t sitting in the music department with some big display saying, ‘Mannheim CD’s.’ We have a slogan around here: we try to put our music in the path of what people do everyday.” (NYT Magazine)
BTW – Davis was a key player in one of the tech booms of the 70s. As a copywriter in Omaha, he wrote the jingles that helped fictional trucker C.W. McCall to pimp for a local bakery. McCall, a regional hit, grew into a national singing sensation – remember Convoy? – that prompted thousands of teenagers to run out and buy whip antennas, CB radios and 30 watt amps for their AMC Eagles.
(Here’s McCall doing a 1974 radio promo for Great Country KSO, a Des Moines radio station. RealPlayer file courtesy of Desmoinesbroadcasting.com)
December 20, 2005 by Colin
Out yesterday, BrandWeek’s “Best and Worst Marketing Ideas of 2005.”
“Hit: KFC’s 99-cent chicken Snacker sandwiches. Launched in March, they scored as the best sandwich launch in the chain’s history.”
I have to think that any major restaurant chain could launch a 99-cent sandwich and see immediate take-up. KFC’s sales weren’t prompted by additional flavour attributes: they were driven by the value proposition. This is not a case of admen moving product or masterful brand management.
Oh yeah – BrandWeek also doesn’t like blogs.
“BLOGS: Blogs provide almost no new information. They’re frequently inaccurate. They contribute to the hysterical polarization of our nation’s political discourse. And they’re often written by people who can’t, you know, write. So naturally marketers have flocked to associate their brands with them. Seriously, it’s not entirely clear why so many marketers have rushed to get themselves name-dropped in one of the most unreliable media environments yet invented, but we’re sure there’s a PowerPoint presentation on their ROI being prepared as we write this.
Inaccurate? Sure. Hysterical polarization? Maybe. Unreliable, huh? I’ll cop to that.
Nevertheless, with that one paragraph, BrandWeek really comes down on the side of crotchety old-school admen in the ongoing debate about the impact of online media.
And I really think they’ve got it wrong about TiVo Ad Search. Go see for yourself (hint: “expect to see more TV spots to look like infomercials”), and compare to my recent post on TiVo Ad Search.
December 20, 2005 by Colin
Not only do gaming consoles draw kids away from traditional forms of entertainment – like sitting in front of the Victorla listening to music – they also suck away the money their parents would normally spend on abysmal MOR music.
“Some retailers say that hot videogame consoles and titles have had a negative impact on some unexpected genres of music. “Often Mom and Dad are the ones buying the Xbox 360″ for the kids, says Bryan Everitt, director of music operations at Hastings Entertainment Inc., which operates 153 stores in 20 states in the West and Midwest. “So country, easy listening, classical, and jazz are affected. Even the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond — Boomer artists — they’re affected.”(WSJ)
Thank god. With declining album sales, maybe bands like Chicago, Diamond, g-damn Kenny G and the rest of the boomer generation’s favourites will get condemned to the depths of golden oldies AM band radio – where they belong.
December 19, 2005 by Colin
Today, the story of a lonely geek and his only chance at carnal satisfaction, as rendered through the Hospitality Symbol Signs System (APEC) pictograms designed by Mies Hora.
December 15, 2005 by Colin
ihaveanidea and Taxi have teamed up to create “Share ads, Talk ads, Know ads.” The campaign pushes the idea that ads can weave their way into the collective unconscious, starting off with a spoof of subservient chicken (set with a hooker in a motel room) and an old lady being hectored over the phone for the derivative copywriting in her classified ad.
Props to dabitch and adland for the pointer.
December 15, 2005 by Colin
Paul Wells, a columnist for Maclean’s, reproduces the chain of emails between a new Maclean’s reporter and the flack for Michael Ignatieff, the former Harvard prof parachuted into a Toronto riding for our current federal election. The reporter simply wanted to follow the candidate around for a day or two, much like the insanely boring pieces you see on CPAC and CSPAN all the time. The flack didn’t think that was a good idea. And the flack comes across rather poorly. Here’s the last of the string of emails:
“Dear Nick [Maclean's reporter]: You can check his public events by visiting his web site, www.michaelignatieff.ca
There is, for example, an open house at the campaign HQ on Sunday that you may wish to drop in on.
But I must repeat my earlier assertion, which was not a negotiating position, but an attempt at making a clear statement: You would not be welcome to shadow him for a few hours.
In our view, this would be an unacceptable and unreasonable intrusion into the campaign.
We understand the media have a job to do: They must have reasonable access to candidates running for public office. As a former member of the media, one who covered two federal elections and worked on Parliament Hill for a national news service for 4 years, I understand that very well.
You must also understand that Michael has a job to do, and, I believe, a right to do it.
He is trying to meet as many people in the riding as possible, unencumbered.
He is not a member of the government nor cabinet minister, unlike Mr. Goodale, and of course Mr. Goodale is free to make his own decisions in any case.
Feel free to forward this email to your editor if any further clarification is required.
December 15, 2005 by Colin
MarketingSherpa: 5 Steps for Major Corporations Launching Blogs.