March 30, 2008 by Colin
May I suggest a podcast Not one that arrives with any regularity, is informed by any editorial calendar or makes any effort to blather on about the benefits of social media?
No, I’m not talking about American Copywriter – but you should subscribe to that fantastic piece of work as well.
Instead, Stephen Fry seems to be applying his incredible range of interests and inspirations to a podcast – he’s up to episode 2 now. Here is his explanation why the podcast is only available on iTunes:
“… I am afraid that no host that we can find is capable of dealing with the 1 terabyte plus of traffic engendered without crashing. And so we turned to the might of Apple to help us out. The problem we always return to is bandwidth.
Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. Who would not prefer to pootle along the country lanes in a flowered gypsy caravan, rather than blast down the motorway in a colossal juggernaut? Trouble is, when you’ve a certain number of deliveries to make a van just isn’t big enough. Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth.
I sound like a 30s schoolgirl with a lisp. Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. What is she saying? Something to do with sandwiches perhaps? Or bandits. Bandits eating sandwiches and wearing bandages? We’ll never know. …”
Fry has always wielded a wonderful vocabulary. Here are some excerpts from this one podcast:
- braying dukes and vomiting ladettes
- being designated fifty types of watery twat
- It’s lazy, easy and gives us a warm glow
- a great maggot in my brain
- this is not a Nick Hornby Man List
- my ability to froth, frolic and gibber in time to music
It’s well worth a listen, people.
[tags] Stephen Fry, American Copywriter, ladettes, british culture [/tags]
March 30, 2008 by Colin
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why a brand manager would buy these ads. An ordinary woman, with ordinary if well-presented clothes, obviously standing in front of a false aisle of consumer goods, blatantly promoting a particular product – sauces, detergent, food.
The most direct comparison? Imagine the scripted pitch and rigid product positioning of an in-store sampling program, recorded with better lighting.
That’s Brand Power, the work of the Buchanan Group, which was featured in the National Post yesterday in an article called “Back to Basics.”
And here I thought Brand Power was a particularly Canadian program – but it’s obvious that audiences across North America and the Commonwealth are seeing one interpretation of the advertisements or another.
“… From a creative point of view the ad executions are awful, but mesmerizing. These are the type of commercials that are generally abhorred by agency brand strategists who spend months deciding on how to sell you breakfast cereal artfully.
“They are not ads that electrify you,” said Anthony Stokan, partner at retail consultancy Anthony Russell Inc. “They are very lame and uninspiring. But that said, they are highly believable because they focus on the essence of the brand and the products.” …”
Chris Clarke has made a strong, and emotional, argument in the past that Brand Power could be considered deceitful and misleading. I agree that the format is designed to appear informational rather than promotional, but I have never thought it anything but blatant advertising.
March 29, 2008 by Colin
Some on the scene retail anthropology, at the Tim Hortons donut shop in Khandahar, Afghanistan.
“… Of all the troops who crowd Tim’s counter or queue at the “walk thru” window outside, Barbarie’s personal favourites are the Royal Gurkhas, the diminutive but notoriously lethal Nepalese mercenaries who have fought for the British army for nearly two centuries.
“The Gurkhas are real fighting machines, so I don’t know if they want people to know they like frou-frou drinks that aren’t so manly, but they really love their French vanilla cappuccinos and their honey-dipped doughnuts,” joked the 35-year-old Barbarie, who gave up a job in Canada with a logistics company to serve a six-month stint in Afghanistan.
One of the revelations for Barbarie and the Canadian staff at Tim’s most remote outpost – owned by the Department of National Defence – has been that national tastes differ greatly.
Everyone at KAF, as the base is known, likes French vanilla cappuccinos – including the French. But Canada’s Afghan warriors hardly ever order this beverage unless extra coffee is put in it. The Dutch are keen on hot chocolate. French Canadians love honey crullers, which they call roues de tracteur (tractor wheels) …” (Canada.com)
Why is Tim Horton’s in Afghanistan? I discussed that last year.
March 28, 2008 by Colin
Childhood favourites the Famous Five will be returning to our lives, but in an animated series for the Disney Channel. And they seem to have gone poncey and high falutin’.
“… The children, who wear iPods and use mobile phones, also discover subliminal messages in DVDs to brainwash children into buying Fudgie Fries sweets …” (Northern Echo)
As a child of the British Empire, I was raised on Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series (and the Mr. Men books, but that’s a story for another day) and I always wondered …
WHERE DID THEY FIND ALL THAT FOOD? Dick, Anne, George and Julian were always eating!
March 28, 2008 by Colin
Blog posts are like grade school book reviews. They’re often thought up at the last minute, rely on familiar reference material, don’t explore untested subjects, and have as bare a thesis as possible.
Tweets, continuing with the analogy, are capsule movie reviews.
Reading through the language, form and conventions found in twitter messages, you can see that Gene Shalit, Jeffrey Lyons, Siskel and Ebert and Peter Travers were the intellectual mentors of twitter users.
Use 140 characters to win attention quickly, pass along a germ of an idea, and maybe share an opinion.
That or we all studied under the wing of masters like Yogi Berra, H.L Mencken, Dale Carnegie, Chuck Klosterman and Hunter S. Thompson – writers who taught us the value of short, witty and highly observant phrases that are usually non-sequiturs
Well, maybe 20% of twitter users.
The other 80% are posting about their breakfasts, arranging hookups or promoting themselves.
[tags] twitter, tweets, movie reviews, book reviews [/tags]
March 24, 2008 by Colin
Three snippets from music blogs – and all pointers to longer articles that are well worth the read.
“… I have a deep love for a very specific and short period in musical history – I don’t even think it has a name. Let’s name it right now: it’s When the Prog Rockers Got Real – Just Before They Got Plastic*.
In and right around 1980, several bands from the Progressive Rock age grew up and laid off the mushrooms. The result was a tiny period of very good rock music, where technical proficiency was still central, but the massive energies in King Crimson, Genesis, Rush, and Yes were boiled down into greatness, rather than sprawled out in pomp and crapenstance …” (Monkey X)
And this from Jeff Giles, writing at Popdose on Debbie Gibson:
“… We hear a lot about the sophomore jinx in music, and rightly so; making the jump from hit debut release to Greatest Hits, Volume 1 is a long road, and it’s got a big ol’ pothole where Album Number Two is supposed to be.
For a minute, it looked like Debbie Gibson was going to make that jump — her second album, 1989’s Electric Youth, was an even bigger hit than her debut, and since all anyone ever talked about was how Debbie wrote, produced, arranged, and played on all her songs, she seemed to have what it took to stick around for the long haul.
And then the little-known third-album jinx snuck up behind her, said “Not so fast, bitch,” and punched Debbie Gibson right in her face …”
David Caruso is Jack Lord? Robert Cass, also at Popdose, dissects David Caruso’s acting as Horatio Sanz … no Horatio Caine:
“… But while Baywatch had beefcake mannequin David Hasselhoff as its lead actor, CSI: Miami has David Caruso, whose performance makes the show endlessly watchable. (Of course, Bruce Fretts of TV Guide said in January that Caruso is “rapidly turning into the new Hasselhoff.” Please, Bruce, don’t piss all over my thesis just yet, okay?) …”
[tags] progressive rock, Rush, Genesis, popdose, Debbie Gibson, David Caruso, CSI Miami [/tags]
March 24, 2008 by Colin
Unfortunately, Danny Noonan did not win the Caddy Scholarship, but a Calgary man is in trouble after he tried to use a newfangled tool to get rid of some pesky gophers on his property.
“…the Rodenator — which pumps propane and oxygen into a rodent hole and then ignites the mixture to create an underground shock wave or concussion that instantly kills gophers and collapses the tunnel system …” (Edmonton Journal)
Unfortunately, Calgary is under a fire ban after a particularly dry patch. The result?
“… The fire spread more than a kilometre through Springbank Heights and a neighbouring community and threatened a number of homes, although none were damaged. But a number of sheds, barns, vehicles and trailers that were in the path of the fire were lost …” (Calgary Sun)
[tags] Rodenator, gophers, Danny Noonan, Bill Murray, Caddyshack, Bushwood, Calgary fire [/tags]
March 22, 2008 by Colin
No-one would ever accuse me of being a member of the Apple chorus. I like dials, whistles and options – even if they don’t perform as promised – so I tend towards WIntel products.
But Apple knows how to drive design in support of its products. And how to keep its engineers from drowning users in details, tweaks and goddamn cascading menus.
Just take a look at the guidance it provides for developers working on the iPhone, like Principles and Guidelines for Creating Great iPhone Content:
As you design the flow of your content and its user interface, follow these guidelines to build in simplicity and ease of use:
- Make it obvious how to use your content.
- Avoid clutter, unused blank space, and busy backgrounds.
- Minimize required user input.
- Express essential information succinctly.
- Provide a fingertip-sized target area for all links and controls.
- Avoid unnecessary interactivity.
Other insights, which seem unintelligible to many other companies, come from a different document Design for Your Users:
“… If you’re designing an iPhone web application, it’s appropriate to go further in defining your audience and ask yourself what traits might set your users apart from all other iPhone users.
Are they business people, teenagers, or retirees? Will they use your application at the end of every day, every time they check their email, or whenever they have a few extra moments? The more accurately you define your audience, the more accurate are your decisions about the look, feel, and functionality of your user interface.
For example, if your application helps business people keep track of their billing time, your user interface should focus on making it easy to enter times and rates, without asking for a lot of details that aren’t central to the task. In addition, you might choose a subtle color palette that appears professional and is pleasant to look at several times a day …”
Sure, the Apple kingdom is a dictatorship, but Steve Jobs knows how to keep the engineers in line.
h/t to basement.org
March 22, 2008 by Colin
Which popular game is a stunning combination of multi-level marketing, addictive design and the worst of subscriber-based advertising on the ‘net?
In the Tim Horton’s game, each coffee purchase gives you a chance to roll up the rim of your paper cup to win prizes like free coffee, donuts, coffee cards, boats and cars. The chain asks you for no personal information and does not sign you up for subscription services.
In the Facebook application, gullible – even stupid – users sign up for an app that rewards you with “Brimbucks,” which are used to buy the online cups needed to “roll the Brim.”
Am I being harsh? No.
In order to keep playing the game, you are provided with several options to earn Brimbucks:
- recommend the app to friends
- invite friends to install the app
- become a fan of the app
- return every 4 hours to “earn” more
- vote for Brim as the app of the day
- fill out “surveys”
What kind of surveys? What about “want to know what your future holds“? Clicking on the link takes you to a site that offers your daily horoscope by text message – all you have to do is enter your mobile phone number.
Stop and read the fine print, though, because you’ll also be signing up for your daily horoscope, delivered by text message for only $1.25 a day.
Or sign up for a book club – or a DVD club – anything that commits you to repeated payments.
Oh – and you’ve already agreed to let Facebook share your profile information and Facebook activity with the application developer – a second year college student from Fanshawe College in London, Ontario and his friends.
At its best, this game gives you several minutes of mind-numbing clicking and the false promise of gift cards “for your favorite coffee shop.”
Roll the Brim to Win player = sucka!
With 49,000 users and 17,000 fans … that’s a lot of morons.
I can’t decide if the corporate folks at Tim Hortons should be worried about this or not. A solid number of the comments on the app page refer to Timmies and Tims – common colloquial references to the chain. The fan photos are almost all images or products featuring Tim Hortons trademarks.
Still, it may not be worth the effort to shut down this app, especially given the millions of real Roll Up the Rim to Win cups distributed during each Tim Hortons campaign.
[tags] Tim Horton’s, Timmies, donuts, Brim, rim, contest, facebook, mlm [/tags]
March 19, 2008 by Colin
You know, I’m beginning to think we’re due for a big shakeout – and untested social media tactics will be the first things to be thrown off the boat.
The economic indicators are there. Credit crunch. Everyone running to the security of gold. Drops in same store sales. The convergence of climate change worries with $100 oil.
When consumers decide to moderate their spending, where will companies cut their expenses? Bodies.
Bodies that do not have a quantifiable impact on sales.
Have any of your pitches included “starting a conversation” as a goal lately?
Are you REALLY looking for input from your consumers and stakeholders? Or does your idea of consumer generated content really just mean getting internet geeks to design edgy YouTube videos for you?
In a recession, co-creation can be another way to hose your ad, marketing and public relations agencies.
I’m arguing that companies under the gun, facing the knife, don’t really give a f*ck about what the public has to say.
They just want you to buy jars of tomato sauce, BeDazzlers and environmentally friendly printer paper.*
Sure, they’ll play along – but only to avoid product safety claims, grief about shift firings and to avoid repaying tax concessions granted when they built the local plant.
Consumer contact will revert to market-testing, sampling and insincere gladhandling on the shop floor.
Oh – and if you’re a new hire in a PR firm, I hope you’ve been developing a diverse skill set. It would suck to be the new “social media star” that gets thrown out with the bathwater.
*if you believe that there’s any such thing as enivronmentally friendly printer paper, you’re an idiot and a sucker.
[tags] conversation, cluetrain, customer service, recession, economic downturn [/tags]
March 18, 2008 by Colin
While I’m on a publishing bent, I think I’ll resurrect something I first prepared in the fall of 2005: Incorporating Blogs into the Marketing Mix (.pdf)
The examples are a little stale, but the rationale underlying this 10 page booklet still makes sense.
“… Viewed single-mindedly, blogs are an entryway to an active conversation about your products, your pricing, your retail outlets, or your brand. Bloggers are dissecting your hiring policies, your new store placement, your holiday specials and the nutritional content of your new sandwich.
Bloggers’ll turn on you like a hungry ‘gator
Marketers, however, have to approach this group carefully. Following in the path lit by the Cluetrain Manifesto, bloggers and their readers value transparency, honesty, two-way conversation and above-board behaviour. Any attempt to illicitly manufacture buzz, if discovered, can provoke a maelstrom of negative chatter – which can eventually generate enough interest to be picked up by more mainstream outlets. They aren’t your usual consumer: they won’t be herded, and they won’t eat everything you feed them …”
March 17, 2008 by Colin
This will be a first. Faced with economic contraction and consumer apprehension, how will companies increasingly focused on service, brand differentiation, environmental qualities and aspirational marketing react?
How will consumers react? Unlike the last two economic slowdowns, consumers are feeling the credit crunch in their pocket book. Will they change their spending habits? Will they lower their expectations from products, brands or companies?
Or would they expect companies to eat the economic difficulties (including the downstream costs resulting from soaring prices for staples like grains and oil) and spare them the pain while continuing to deliver the quality?
Starbucks has sent a signal: it is slowing the opening of new stores in the United States. Frankly, Starbucks has overpopulated so many neighbourhoods with outlets it could probably close hundreds of stores and maintain its volume.
(Well, maybe. My assumption only works if people are going to Starbucks for its aspirational qualities, not simply convenience. If they think McDonalds or a local coffee house has an equally good morning coffee, Starbucks sales could fall)
Last night, John Moore asked “if Walgreens went out of business tomorrow, would any of us care?”
No. Not really. Just like we didn’t care that Pier 1 and Bombay Co. stores closed. Did YOU notice that Restoration Hardware was in the toilet?
Difference is, I don’t look for aspirational values in my drugstore. I look for cheap children’s Tylenol and brand name toothpaste. And maybe a wide selection of Mother’s Day cards late at night.
Forward-thinking companies like Target have been trying to find a price-sensitive but fashion-forward niche in the general merchandise market. Kohl’s is trying the same trick by hiring Dana Buchman. Ralph Lauren is creating a line of goods for mass merchandisers, with a separate identity from his bread and butter lines.
If the credit crunch continues, and the US dollar continues to be battered in comparison to international currencies, consumers may face a difficult choice between affordable products and all the wonderful product qualities they have come to appreciate and flaunt: environmental sensitivity, design, flavour variation, international influences, and individual portion sizes.
In the end, which comes first: value-added attributes, the pocketbook, or government cheese?
[tags] recession, aspirational marketing, consumer choice [/tags]
March 15, 2008 by Colin
Well, I’ve finished work on it. A handy little guide for exploring the world of social media and building support for social media in a large organization.
I think the advice in this 23 page guide to secretly implementing social media in organizations could be equally useful for any government employee looking to try out new technologies – I’m pretty certain on that point, since I’m a government employee in real life.
You can find the guide at this link, and please feel free to share it with your friends, colleagues and bosses.
Here’s an excerpt, from the introduction:
How do you do it? How do you bring a spirit of innovation and experimentation to the communications shop of a large organization?
I’ve worked in a large organization – the government – for the last ten years. You can find bright, creative and resourceful people around every corner, in every department.
During the course of their careers, many of these people have thought of a move that could improve their work or their environment.
From experience, we all know that small changes in process or presentation are easily won. After all, it’s just another line on an approval sheet, or a tweak on the website.
Large organizations can also be convinced to launch a large-scale overhaul of their systems – whether it’s a supply chain, assembly process or online order system.
But it’s a real pain to get them to rethink their relationship with humans outside the security fence. After all, our customer service reps seem to be doing a good job, right? That sales force really does have a handle on the needs of the community, doesn’t it?
In speaking to hundreds of workers and managers for large organizations (government and private sector), I’ve been asked the same questions, over and over:
• How do you convince your boss to even experiment with social media?
• Doesn’t it mean a lot of extra work?
• Isn’t this sort of stuff blocked by our organizational policies?
This Secret Underground Guide to Social Media for Organizations is meant to help you answer some of those questions.
[tags] guide to social media, instruction, dummies guide, introduction, organizations, government [/tags]
March 12, 2008 by Colin
You get used to hearing Kirsty MacColl and Cara Tivey singing accompaniment to a pop classic, and then a bright new star comes and shakes it up.
Kate Nash and Billy Bragg teamed up to perform their mutual hits, Foundation and New England, at the NME Music Awards a few days ago.
A brilliant combination – even if the song is older than Kate herself.
[tags] Kate Nash, Billy Bragg, Foundations, A New England [/tags]
March 10, 2008 by Colin
You can just smell it in the air.
What? Virtually anything, but mostly febreeze and scented candles.
Why? Because the 53 centimetres of snow we got on the weekend have wiped out any trace of naturally occuring scent – decaying leaves, tepid water, roadkill …
“Can Al Gore come clear my driveway?” – Facebook status update
Along with the early arrival of Daylight Savings Time, it feels like we’re turning a page into Spring.
Next up is the fundamental soul searching: just as nature breaks out anew, showering us with crocuses, buds, tiny twittering birds and a plague of rabbits, we begin to question our own existence.
The options on the table, once the last slushy puddle has evaporated:
- have I fooled myself into liking this job?
- have I fooled myself into believing this company has a future?
- will a gradual training program really prepare me for the Terry Fox Run?
- I want to frolick in the flowers. Is my significant other really a frolicker?
- Is the Shamrock Shake the first step in a widening slide towards jammer shorts and oversized tshirts at the beach this summer?
- why don’t I look for a nice quiet job in policy?
- I think I’ll paint the shutters – after the Stanley Cup
- I should shake things up – by taking an earlier bus
- Wow. Interest rates are really low. Maybe I’ll jusy renew my ARM.
- This is the year me and the band pile into the Prius and … Dammit, vans are carbon pigs!
- Time to start training HARD CORE for ultimate!
- in three months, I could be a word of mouth expert!
- I will buy every album recommended by Pitchfork and Gorilla vs.Bear
- Team Lohan returns!
- Harold and Kumar Go To Where?
- I will never leave a meeting without posing a rhetorical question
- Ties are for situations requiring hand shakes
- I will not eat in a food court this summer
- Pink shirts are for real men
- When in doubt, shout it out.