I Am A Capable Strategist and Thoughtful Person

09/09/08

Let me begin by drawing an analogy: this will prove you and I have a common cultural frame of reference that allows me to effectively explain a contemporary but minor development in the evolution of social media in a manner that you will understand and find appealing.

This cultural frame usually revolves around one of three axes:

  • 80s movies or music (of which John Hughes and New Wave are subsets)
  • A citation from one of: Office Space, Glengarry Glen Ross, or the Judd Apatow oeuvre
  • A reference to a similarly obscure yet momentarily popular applications from either 2005 or 2000.

Now that we have a shared understanding, I will support my argument by making a tenuous link to social theory, literary criticism, existential philosophers or post-modern artists. This will reassure you that I can move beyond simple analogy and am capable of applying cognitive frameworks to the issue under consideration.

If I’m unsure of my interpretation, I will link to a Wikipedia article or mention that I last studied the point in university.

At this point, I will need to tie my budding argument into a contemporary narrative. After all, you the reader needs right here, right now to keep on reading. This means one of two things: a link to a more prominent blog that has already staked out ground and an opinion on the issue, or a direct citation from a report in a mass media publication.

Unless I’m an economist, you will never see me link to a more considered examination of the issue in an academic journal. This is largely because academic journals are long and hard to read, but can also be explained by the firewalls that keep me from reaching subscription-only material.

Anyway – back to the contemporary narrative. If I have bounced onto this issue from an MSM report, I will take issue with the reporting. There is no value to me, my reputation as a capable strategist and thoughtful person or my employer in reaffirming the work of a more informed and professional reporter.

If I’m deriving inspiration from another blogger’s insight, I will take one of two tacks: I will be 87% in agreement, or I will cockblock their argument. In either circumstance, I will be demonstrating that I am, in no way, a dogsbody or a yes man. I am a man of ideas, a man of thought, a man to be considered a thoughtful and capable strategist.

Having established that I am well informed, educated enough to draw historic comparisons and critical enough to avoid parrotting the work of others, I will present a thesis for why the issue under consideration has arrived at this point. This thesis will draw upon three things:

  • my experience, however limited, with a particular technology still in alpha
  • my conversations with other strategists and gurus
  • trends derived from online analytical apps

This thesis will present a forward-looking statement that is sufficiently vague that I will not get in trouble with the SEC nor anyone who decides to conduct a semi-annual retrospective evaluation of my predictions and assessments.

IT WILL, however, claim that the issue under consideration will have significant impact on the future prospects of a) the public relations industry b) publicly traded consumer goods companies c) the future of one politician in particular or d) the advertising industry.

Now, as a capable strategist, I will take a moment to point out that others have taken issue with the position I am currently arguing. I will reference a high profile blog, even if I have to dig deep into the comments to find a point contrary to my own.

I will then hurredly summarize my position, for a variety of reasons:

  • it’s a wobbly house of cards, truly understandable only when read on a smart phone in traffic
  • I cannnot extend the argument without revealing that it was lifted directly from Wired and the Economist
  • if I stretch the logic of my main thesis much farther, it will disintegrate like a stick of chewing gum from a pack of 1983 O-Pee-Chee’s
  • the Lavalife commercial just came on tv.

Having established my bona fides with my insightful and prescient thinkpiece, I will tend to the comment fields like a Chinese democracy activist who had the temerity to actually apply for a protest permit during the Olympics.

There, people of a similar mind will be in 87% agreement, or will cockblock me. Or, if they’re Amanda Chapel, they will actually make constructive comments that point out the holes in my argument and question my ability to wield a keyboard without significant instruction.

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An anthropologist’s look at artisinal branding

11/12/06

Grant McCracken casts an anthropologist’s eye on the contemporary fondness for hand-crafted and (seemingly) rough products, like artisinal bread. While I think his analysis is accurate and insightful, I love how he slipped a joke about Karl Marx into the text.

” … This is really an odd one for we are still a culture that treats brands as navigational devices in a turbulent culture. But now cheese from a farmer’s market is better for the fact that it is not branded. This too takes as full circle, for in 18th and 19th century America, consumers were buying from barrels. Brands came in as a welcome innovation.

It turns out that Marx was right. (Finally.) The meaning of the object comes from the act of manufacture, not the act of marketing and consumption. And now I have a lovely bridge I’d like to sell you. For the artisinal movement is yet another act of meaning manufacture, driven perhaps by new enthusiasms but shaped at every step by marketing. For starters, this thing we call artisanal production almost certainly relies on mechanics, scale, and artifice. The “artisanal” is yet another cultural meaning that marketers assign to goods. ..”

Three hundred years ago, the brand characteristics attributed to bakers, butchers and spice merchants were also based on product reliability and artisinal reputation: this reputation was built upon an extended history of not killing clients through botulism, food poisoning or contamination with animal and human waste. It was assumed that every merchant had rats.

Today, we want the best of both worlds: the feeling that our products have a home-hewn quality, while we also seek the reassurance that all workers involved have followed thorough instructions for hand-washing after using the washroom.
[tags] artisinal bread, free trade, whole foods, brand [/tags]

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Are you a PR “strategist”? He thinks you’re “toast”!

02/20/06

Julilan Henry, in the Guardian, launches a broadside against every “specialist” in public relations who doesn’t actually come into contact with the media, the customer, or the public:

    “Most of the major PR agencies in the UK construct their business around writing strategies, drawing up Q&As, drafting positioning statements, scripting advertorials, collating briefing packs, printing press kits and countless other bits of waffle that underpin our daily trade. This rationalising process gets charged to the clients, who in most cases seem happy to pay for it as they have been told that these are necessary building blocks in the construction of the great PR event.

    Get rid of all this stuff and you would demolish half the industry at a single sweep. All those miserable pen pushers down at HQ who are kept busy filling out evaluation forms all day? They’d be out the door. And the trends analysis team who sit stroking their chins and flicking through fashion magazines? Well, sorry, but they’re toast too.

    If you were to reduce the role of the PR consultant to its most basic function what do you have? The man or woman on the phone whose job is simply to offer a description of their client’s product in a topical, creative and engaging way.

    It’s a horrible truth that the more you work for major brand clients, the more likely you are to be dragged away from this pure and poetic form of public relations and sucked into an awful machine that denies spontaneous thought and starts the process of immediate corruption of intent. …”(Guardian, reg. req.)

Technorati: public relations Julian Henry public relations strategy

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the threads that link you and The Economist

07/02/09

You could say the wire walker in this short film has intense short term focus, but is easily distracted by new opportunities. You could say that he is agile enough to react to changing situations, but acutely aware of the many competing interests around him.

If you’ve met me, or know my job, you could see why I feel some affinity for that wire walker.

In fact, if I was the type to build some sort of horribly overextended and barely consistent business talk out of the correlation between my personal life, professional life and this wire walker, I could type out three or four overwrought and barely personal posts meant to inspire you and increase my subscriber count. After all,  I AM a capable strategist and thoughtful person.

His name is Florent Blondeau, and he wants you to “let your mind wander” – or at least that’s what The Economist magazine would like. This 70 second clip is the centrepiece of a new campaign that hopes to remind Brits that The Economist covers topics they seem to be interested in: domestic politics, world affairs, business, and travel. Apparently, surveys have identified 3 million of them as flighty, brainy or shifty enough to be targeted as potential readers.

I’ve read the magazine for nearly 25 years. Strangely enough, I appreciate it most for it’s dry and sometimes wry sense of humour. That’s hard to accomplish while discussing Indian economic reform, you know.

The campaign, to be launched on July 3, will play primarily in theatres. I have to imagine the clip will play much better on a large (or as large as a multiplex will allow) screen. (Faris has added his own thoughts about this and past campaigns.)

In 2008, Blondeau and some colleagues from the French wire walking fraternity (apparently, there’s a close kinship between the wire walking fraternity and the clown school alumni) showcased their skills in a regional performance called le fil sous la neige – a brief excerpt can be found just below.

Le fil sous la neige
by contactvillette

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Humour, genetics and innovation

01/12/09

Those wacky geneticists. Sitting in their labs all day using million dollar computers, ultra high power microscopes and all sort of CSI-like technology to mess with the sanctity of life …

When they eventually arrive at an innovative finding, geneticists sometimes let their sense of humour slip into their naming conventions.

Take this extract from Your Inner Fish,

“Just as paleontologists get to name new species, geneticists get to name new genes. The fly geneticists who discovered hedgehog had named it that because the flies with a mutation in the gene had bristles that reminded them of a little hedgehog. Tabin, McMahon and Ingham named the chicken version of the gene Sonic hedgehog, after the Sega Genesis video game”

What seemed funny in a fruit fly, however, can be impolitic or even rude when applied to a human condition, as the New York Times noted a few years ago:

“… Many of those genes were given weird names when first discovered. Scientists have come up with names for genes in fruit flies, for example, that may be mystifying (“faint sausage,” “fear of intimacy”), cute (“tribbles,” “groucho” and “smurf”), or macabre (“sex lethal” and “death executioner Bcl-2.”)

…The human variant of the fruit fly’s “hedgehog” gene … has been linked to a condition known as Holoprosencephaly, which can result in severe brain, skull and facial defects.

“It’s a cute name when you have stupid flies and you call it a ‘turnip,’ ” Dr. Doe said. “When it’s linked to development in humans, it’s not so cute any more.””

You can find a flash version of Sonic Hedgehog here.

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On the French fondness for big personalities

11/29/08

On the occasion of Claude Levi-Strauss’ 100th birthday, a quote about the great anthropologist:

“Roger-Pol Droit, a philosopher who read from “Tristes Tropiques,” said that he “would have loved a text from LĂ©vi-Strauss today saying, ‘I hate birthdays and commemorations,’ just as he began ‘Tristes Tropiques’ saying, ‘I hate traveling and explorers.’ “

“This is all about the effort of making him into a myth,” Mr. Droit continued, “because that is what we do in our time.” (NYTimes)

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Sound in public spaces: the Strasbourg Tram

10/20/08

There are many positive qualities to the tram system in Strasbourg: new trams, wide windows, efficient and predictable schedules, broad green tramways and a simple fare structure.

More remarkable, however, is the inspired effort to weave the network into the spirit of the community.

Artists were commissioned to create static and multimedia installations that warmed the relationship between an infrastructure project and the Strasbourgoeis: custom tickets for the “A” line, stations as a subtle artistic canvas, intentionally manipulated compasses scattered along the system, art incorporated into beams and columns, and a charming and lighthearted project to humanize the otherwise mechanistic station announcements.

Rodolphe Burger, a French composer and musician, created Vox Populi – a series of interstitial melodies, backing tracks and station announcements which were completely enchanting during my stay in Strasbourg this week.

There is little more surprising than hearing a small melody, performed by the Conservatoire de Strasbourg, precede a small child announcing the upcoming stop for La Cour europĂ©enne des droits de l’Homme – an institution that defends the rights of young and old throughout Europe.

As Burger told an interviewer in 2001, a hundred people from 4 to 82 recorded station names and standard safety and information messages::

“… Plus de cent personnes ont Ă©tĂ© enregistrĂ©es, pour introduire le maximum de variation dans les voix, les timbres, les accents, etc …

Quand un supporter annonce le stade de la Meinau, quand un professeur cĂ©lĂšbre annonce « Université », quand un habitant du quartier de l’Elsau annonce le terminus en poussant une sorte de cri de joie, quand une interprĂšte anglophone du Conseil de l’Europe bute sur la station
« Alt Winmarick », s’excuse (lĂ , apparemment, d’aprĂšs les Ă©chos que j’en ai, lorsque cette annonce tombe, c’est l’hilaritĂ© gĂ©nĂ©rale dans la rame), etc …”

Burger also referred to the influence of singing and chanting traditions among the Aborigines of Australia and the Navajos of North America – where direction and instruction were communicated through tone, rhythm and personal voice.

“… Ça me fait penser au Chant des pistes de Chatwin, dans lequel il explique comment, chez les aborigĂšnes, la carte et le chant sont liĂ©s. C’est prĂ©sent aussi chez les Navajos. Les chants sont des chemins dans un paysage …”

The key is to create intertwining narratives and story lines, preventing each trip from becoming a routine and numbing experience framed by monotone announcements and mechanical chimes. It certainly works, as I noticed the distinct voices and musical combinations when arriving at each station on the “B” and “E” lines.

While I didn’t have the time – or the inspiration – to look for the other artistic elements on the line, a different report emphasized how the various projects worked together:

” … Il faudrait aussi Ă©voquer les projets affectant l’ensemble de la ligne B : les dessins d’Alain SĂ©chas dans les caissons lumineux des colonnes des stations, les boussoles de Jean-Marie Krauth incrustĂ©es dans le sol des vingt-quatre stations et le traitement de l’ambiance sonore des rames par Rodolphe Burger …” (Vacarme)

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Ants under your feet

09/22/08

I can enjoy a recent note on the work of Marko Pecarevic, a Croatian biologist who just finished up a Master’s at Columbia, for a number of reasons: he thought up an interesting thesis subject that dug into intensive behaviour that occurred daily right in front of millions of oblivious humans; he made up a uniform that would allow him to poke around unfettered, and he managed to make ants interesting.

“… If people, viewed from a great height, look like ants, do ants, viewed at close range, look like people? Of course not. Ants have six legs, compound eyes, no lungs, and impossibly narrow waists, and they tend to hang around with aphids and mealybugs. Still, behavioral similarities make them excellent analogues. Ants, like humans, are into career specialization, livestock herding, engineering, climate control, in-flight sex, and war; for them, as for us, free will may or may not be an illusion.

… Employing Google Earth (forgive him, he’s from Zagreb), he chose three median-rich stretches—Park Avenue, the West Side Highway, and Broadway—then made himself an official-looking ID, dressed in parkish green, and started collecting ants, travelling the city with a duffelbag of garden tools and Evian bottles filled with antifreeze. No one bothered him …” (New Yorker)

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Use of Space in the Olympics Bird’s Nest

08/08/08

SPOILER ALERT: for those of you watching the Olympics Opening Ceremonies on time delay (courtesy of NBC), you may want to skip this post.

I was truly impressed by the use of space during the Olympics Opening Ceremonies this morning/evening. The Bird’s Nest is already an impressive facility, but the three hour performance managed to maximize use of the stadium – and the neighbourhood around the facility.

We’ve come to expect Olympics Opening Ceremonies to include several stock scenes:

  • shots of the Jacques Rogge, master puppeteer and apologist for bullies
  • shots of the head of state waving
  • several nods to the cultural history of the host country
  • panoramic views of the happy audience
  • a tip of the hat to the previous host country
  • an endless parade of athletes, some breaking the fourth wall by filming the jumbotrons that are showing the broadcast of the athletes themselves
  • Prince Albert of Monaco

Today’s performance moved well beyond that setlist, and even made the aerial acrobatics from Athens seem like a second troupe Cirque de Soeil performance.

To begin with, the Bird’s Nest was treated as an essential component of the fireworks show – at one point, the outside overhead view made it look like a flaming volcano – rather than simply a reception stand for the show itself.

29 fireworks displays, shaped like bare footprints, ignited in sequence to draw a physical link between the Forbidden City and the stadium – an important consideration, given the standard flyby helicopter shot would not have worked at night.

I admit, the hundreds of traditional drummers, while impressive, were a tad imperialistic. The raising of the Chinese flag was definitely militaristic – although I think some of those soldiers keep in shape by speed walking (it’s got the same unnatural hip movement).

The use of dancers and an illuminated and moving scroll, however, took the action off the stadium floor, as did the flying Olympic Rings.

Similarly, the salute to the invention of movable type avoided the routine floor-level spectacle so common at Super Bowl halftimes.

Let’s not forget Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman performing the predictably saccharine Olympics theme atop a giant lantern – which was later the set of mid-air routines reminiscent of the opening sequence of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

All in all, an engrossing performance that set some new and outrageously expensive standards for future Olympics.

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Favelas – a dynamic but challenging community

05/28/08

Even while GPS allows geographers, archeologists and sociologists to map neighbourhoods, slums, suburbs, abandoned developments and ghetto encroachment onto parkland, the characterization of each block and community escapes standardization. As Daniela Fabricius points out in Harvard Design Magazine, the same technology that offers great promise for social scientists may also fall into more misguided use, like the geolocation of protests by police in Rio de Janiero.

On the other hand, civil society groups have used commonly available GPS equipment (like your phone) and online mapping technology to track human rights abuses and the consequences of disasters in remote areas like Burma.

Fabricius’ essay on the development, perception and possibilities of the favelas in Rio provides a novel and wide-ranging look at the development and expansion of these communities, providing a political, economic, geographic and sociological insight into these vibrant slums.

“… When it comes to favelas, which by definition evade or exceed administrative or bureaucratic oversight, both the efficacy and the politics of conventional mapping (and of statistics and demographics) must be questioned. Statistics, etymologically a “science of the state,” have historically been an instrument of power. The indeterminacy of data on informality makes it particularly vulnerable to fabrication and manipulation. Census taking in favelas provides a notorious example. Population estimates for individual favelas vary widely, with differences between what the city declares the population to be and what the citizens themselves claim—usually a larger number that would give them a greater opportunity for political agency. The favela of MarĂ©, for example, has even set up its own information-gathering center, which takes unofficial but probably more accurate census data of the neighborhood. Using this information, those in the center have argued that the neighborhood should be eligible for greater political representation and state funding.

This is the geography in which informality has emerged, beyond modernity’s peripheral vision. Informal housing and markets have found a basic grid of support in the architectural ruins of incomplete or abandoned projects of modernization, whether in Modernist housing projects designed to Athens Charter specifications, infrastructural objects and large buildings that have fallen into disuse, or what remains of social services like schools and hospitals, built in more optimistic times. These housing projects, highway overpasses, warehouses, and even high-rises are modified, mutated, adapted, and inhabited. Even if favelas form a close symbiosis with late-capitalist cities, they are not restricted to one urban typology.

Premodern and colonial cities, modern cities, and postmodern cities can accommodate the favela’s flexible typology. This is one reason it is difficult to situate favelas historically. On the one hand, they are very much a product of modernity, and particularly of the unprecedented scale of urbanization happening all over the globe. Favelas are not the product of “primitive” or premodern societies, like many of the urban typologies studied by Team 10 members in the 1960s, but are instead specifically related to industrialization and modernization. On the other hand, they bear no ideology of progress or marks of newness.

Even though they are very much a product of modern economies and social formations, favelas are still associated with an abject, primitive, or regressive form of urban life. Even if Rio’s favelas were once visited and celebrated by figures like Le Corbusier and Marinetti, they remained an image of counter-modernity, particularly in a country like Brazil, which developed a strong Modernist ethos. Favelas are frequently misunderstood as a transitional urbanism, a phase of the urban form as it evolves from a premodern to a modern civilization…

Cities like Rio de Janeiro and, perhaps more urgently, cities like Lima, which are more than half informal, must be represented in new ways. Informality requires a rethinking of mapping, both of informal areas and of the city as a whole. The invisibility of the informal sets it apart from other modes of urban life and produces a different and problematic relationship to representation.

Since it evades “the bureaucratic gaze,” it also has forms of citizenship that fall by the wayside but that must be recuperated in some way. The geography of informality—its enclaves and networks or islands and currents—presents barriers to political representation and social inclusion. But in the many ways in which the favela and the informal exceed the boundaries and borders that seem to contain them, they also present the potential for forms of community solidarity and the claiming of the “right to the city.” …”

[tags] favelas, slums, urban development, geography [/tags]

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Indiana Jones Sabotaged by Brand Manager

05/18/08

Crispy Mint Indiana Jones M&Ms

They suck.

It was to be expected.With the new Indiana Jones movie due to come out on June 22, the cross-branded products are beginning to emerge.

Already in the market for a M&Ms from the candy machine here at the sports complex, I came across a bag of M&Ms with old-school Indiana Jones on the package.

What are the brand attributes commonly associated with Indy?

  • gruff
  • gritty
  • confrontational
  • quick to the mark
  • witty

Seeing Indy on the packaging, I honestly expected the candy to have some variety of nut – maybe a brazil nut, a little darker and more flavourful than the run-of-the-mill peanut? Maybe even a praline.

Wrong.

Crispy Mint Indiana Jones M&Ms, seems to have no association with Indy. The candy embodies these attributes:

  • light, in taste and in heft
  • minty
  • a wisp of a crunch
  • a selection of pastel green shells
  • a slight aftertaste

This is not Indiana Jones’ candy.

If I could imagine any Indiana Jones character eating this stuff, it would be:

  • the Gestapo agent from Indy I
  • the French Archeologist
  • the double crossing German archeologist
  • the advisor to the teenage Indian Rajah
  • Kate Capshaw

In fact, I half suspect that Mars is just tricking us into buying old Shrek merchandise.

[tags] M&M, branding, Indiana Jones [/tags]

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Toasty toasty meat and 8 ton signs

05/03/08

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You, staring at me on the bus

04/11/08

Hi It may appear that I am outrageously distracted. I have a book in my lap, a BlackBerry in my hands, and earbuds up top.

That must be why you’re staring at me.

Rest assured, I’m using my time productively, and I don’t have some form of attention deficit disorder (at least not clinically diagnosed, anyway).

The book? A galley copy of Rob Walker‘s Buying In. All he asks is: are you the master of your consumer environment, or are you the bitch of marketers, pop psychologists and retail designers?

How did I get a copy? Here’s the explanation. Should you buy it? Yes, or read several chapters for free first, then buy it.

The BlackBerry? In the thirty minutes it takes to get downtown, I’ve checked my morning clippings, clicked through on a Google Alert produced by my vanity search, checked a couple of work-related blogs (Hi Kady!) and sent an email to my assistant. Oh, and I sent off a half dozen or so tweets.

The earbuds? Covers of 80s songs. Jose Feliciano. Petra Haden. Ben Gibbard. Harvey Danger. Spek. And a bunch of other stuff not so lame. It’s all better than the low rumble of diesel engines, the rattling of aging bus bodies and the snoring of middle-aged bureaucrats.

All in all, a very productive bus ride.

Don’t think I didn’t catch you sneaking a peek at your BlackBerry just as we approached downtown.

But what’s the use of that? It’s too late to actually respond to any emails, but early enough that you begin to worry prematurely about the workload that facing you at the end of that elevator ride up to your office.
Either use the BlackBerry effectively, or don’t wield it at all.

[tags] BlackBerry, commute, productivity, work/life balance, Buying It, Rob Walker [/tags]

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Brand Power – no flashy copywriter needed

03/30/08

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.

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Brand differentiation in the battle zone

03/29/08

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.

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Info links for government communicators

02/29/08

I had a chance to speak to a passel of Canadian government communicators about social media yesterday, and I promised them I would post a number of useful links to help them work around implementing social media in their workplaces.

So here goes:

I’ve obviously missed a lot of resources, and I encourage my readers to mention more in the comments, so I can pass them along to the more disadvantaged. ;-)

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Grocery TV: This is your programming day

02/25/08

In-store television channels are not a new development, but I will grab an opportunity to riff on a tactic wherever possible. Kroger has just announced that they have built a television network (KTV) to serve the internal communications needs of their central division.

“… Each store has two servers with storage capacity and on-demand video, Kroger spokesman John Elliott said. Programs will include anything from quarterly financial messages from the company president to safety instructions for meat cutters …” (Rockford Register Star)

This may be some programming you could expect on similar channels:

  • The 5 Second Rule and the Safe Handling of Meat
  • Your 401(k) and Your Future: We’ll always have hours on the night shift
  • Wax on, Wax off: Entry Level Jobs
  • Channeling Bob Ross in Bathroom Decoration
  • Creative Accounting in Determining Expiry Dates
  • Our New CEO is Better Than Our Old One
  • Cashier and Stockboy: A Story of Forbidden Love
  • The Grocer’s Chiropractor: One Box Too Many
  • How To Spot A Mystery Shopper
  • My Barbie Oven is My CoPilot: a Food Sampler’s preparation guide
  • Bleach and Ammonia: A Shortcut to the Cemetery
  • How to Detail a Buick – your manager’s Buick
  • That Market Analyst Is A LIAR
  • One Lick Too Many: One night shift employee’s mastery of Guitar Hero 3 – and resulting unemployment

[tags] in-store tv, internal communications, grocery [/tags]

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Old Communist Apparatchiks – I miss them!

02/19/08

Corporate communications specialists would recognize a lot in the tactics and strategies of old line Communist apparatchiks.

Fidel Castro, Ken Lay, Bernard Ebbers, Roger Smith, Yuri Andropov – who doesn’t remember the stonewalling, the suspicion and the sense of entitlement that seeped through their public words and actions?

When threatened, they would respond with indignation and counter-accusations.

Pity poor Fidel. He’s finally gotten so sick he can’t manipulate the tendrils of power and propaganda anymore. Even he (or his nurse) has recognized that the glorious facade has faded, and people were doubtful he would ever reappear in public.

Another Communist lion fades into the brush.

That leaves the Chinese, the Vietnamese and the North Koreans. And a gaggle of former Soviets.

Not a whole lot of effervescent personalities in that bunch.

What has happened to all the old Communist apparatchiks? Gray suits, gray hair, a posse of similarly gray doppelgangers, all piling out of four door sedans to appear at a Worker’s Rally or May Day parade.

A real cottage industry had developed around interpreting the symbolism of their spoken and written word: what did that headline in Pravda really mean? If the Second Assistant Prime Minister delivered a speech live on prime time television, did that mean his career was on the upswing?

These kremlinologists were our guides through the thicket of jargon, gestures and grimaces in search of political, economic and social insight.

I seem to remember watching former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov looking sickly and weak at a May Day parade – the resulting speculation about his tenure as leader was confirmed when he died within a year.

What’s the modern equivalent? A financial analyst? In many ways, their professional value is built from the implied ability to read the movements and twitches of the market.

There’s been discussion this week of a gentleman who’s built a habit of inflitrating quarterly earnings conference calls, simply to ask semi-literate questions about Six Sigma and process re-engineering.

Financial analysts are genuinely puzzled by his behaviour: it isn’t overly disruptive, and doesn’t appear to be prompted by malice.

If we lived in a more suspicious time – and if his interventions were more inventive – we might suspect this mystery caller of disinformation or economic espionage.

Instead, we’re simply wondering out loud why anyone would want to play in the dry world of financial communications.

Still, it’s notable that some analysts are disturbed that someone is toying with their conventions, processes and playground.

Difference is, this guy won’t get grabbed off the street, bundled in the trunk of a four door sedan, and get buried under the Louisiana Superdome.

[tags] kremlinologist, financial analyst, corporate communications [/tags]

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I wish I was bathed in Marmite

02/14/08

Cross-promotion in support of a cross-promotion campaign!

The gist of this lengthy post: take a negative, add some humour and ingenuity and make it a positive!

God bless Rax from Splendid Communications. His agency has the Marmite account, and as part of their follow-up to a cross-promotion campaign earlier in 2007, he sent me this little note:

Canuckflack, Oh Canuckflack,
How we all love Colin McKay
So we’re writing him this romantic note
Because it’s Saint Valentine’s day!

His quirky take on the marketing world
Fills our lives with daily mirth
Which is why he is without dispute
The most gorgeous blogger on Earth


You’ll always be our classic rock
As you guide us through what’s new
The communications industry has found itself
A poster boy in you.

Colin – a man like you, who knows his stuff
And can talk all things social media
Fills our minds with many naughty thoughts
About how we want to feed ‘ya


So we’d like you to try new Lovers’ Marmite,
Which is laced with a bit of Champagne
You should have fellow citizens wondering
About that nice smell on the O-Train


And so when you’re chomping on your morning toast
Before you head out to Uppertown
Don’t forget to reach for the Marmite jar
But you don’t have to put the butter down

Happy Valentine’s Day from Marmite
You’re our perfect date
Thanks for showing us some love
Instead of choosing to hate!

What cross-promotion, you may ask?

The fabulous Paddington Bear preferring Marmite over Marmalade ad:

But what’s the second level of cross-promotion?

Some little thing called “Lover’s Marmite” – a special blend of Marmite and Champagne only available for a limited time, with a special label on the back. A label where you can write the name of your special darling, as you hand them a jar of yeast extract that says “I Love You” on the front.

The only thing better would be used undergarments from your solo vacation to Thailand.

If that image wasn’t disturbing enough, take a look at the advert for “Lover’s Marmite”:

Honestly, I don’t know why I obsess over Marmite (the product), but Marmite (the marketer) has bowled me over twice in six months!

[tags] marmite, blogger relations, blogger outreach, Lover’s Marmite [/tags]

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the long and short of being an omnivore

02/06/08

What are the desirable qualities of an designer? How about a creative generalist? How about an unceasing appetite for information, for synergy, for identifying relationships?

Here are two takes: a short answer from Steve Portigal, and a long exposition by Steve Hardy, the Creative Generalist.

What is it that makes a great design strategist?

A great design strategist may not see themselves as a design strategist. They’re probably someone who has had a few different professional identities and gets excited by the spaces where disciplines, schools of thought, and methods overlap. They are curious and easily intrigued: they like to observe what’s going on around them and they’re good at listening to people.

And they know how to use all this data to synthesize new patterns and communicate them clearly to a range of audiences. Charlie Stross, in the sci-fi book Accelerando, describes the profession of a “meme broker” and the intense amount of content they have to assimilate every day in order to do this.

Bruce Sterling calls this activity “scanning“ looking at all the sources one can and constantly asking what does this mean for my clients. Being able to work through all those data sources and pull out the implications is crucial for design strategy.” (Influx interviews Steve Portigal)

And here is the nub of Steve Hardy’s long but fantastic post:

I’ve identified five core areas at which Creative Generalists excel. They are:

‱ Wander & Wonder – finding possibility
‱ Synthesize & Summarize – presenting information
‱ Link & Leap – generating ideas
‱ Mix & Match – connecting people
‱ Experience & Empathize – understanding worldview

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Many flavours of McLuhan

02/02/08

Instead of a hagiographic shout-out, or a far too quick reference to the great man, why not take a moment to consider Marshall McLuhan, the colleague, friend and neighbour?

In the Garden with the Guru, a short essay by Bob Rodgers in the Literary Review of Canada, serves up some personal anecdotes and a reference to the academic environment that surrounded McLuhan’s work in the 50s.

“…A published statement by a hugely influential classicist from Yale is not untypical: “There is afoot a mindless orgy of trend-catching anti-literacy, best typified by the appalling popularity of the jargon-laden, hyped-up, and profoundly ahistorical works of McLuhan, designed to flatter just about all the prejudices of a TV generation in which functional illiteracy is already well advanced.”

McLuhan can be many things to many people, simply because he was either so wide-ranging or enigmatic. It’s interesting to note how different bloggers have drawn quotes from Rodgers’ piece, from Hidden Persuader, to Chicken Scratch, to Sans Everything, to the Banana Peel Project. Was the man a futurologist, a floor dwelling aphorism machine or what?
[tags] McLuhan, U of T, medium is the message [/tags]

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Plaxo, Scraping and Data Portability

01/03/08

Some of you may know, during the day I work with a great bunch of privacy advocates. So I’ve got some opinions about the Scroble scraping issue of the day.

Just ask yourself: let’s say large consumer product company X had created a fan group in Facebook. This morning, they decided to launch a new promotional campaign aimed at just these fans, but needed the contact information. Finding Plaxo’s cool new tool, they then simply scraped the name, addy and preferences of all their “fans.”

Would that be acceptable? No. Damien Mulley has it right. It could be considered data theft.

And we would all be justifiably outraged about it.

It’s the idea of scale. You move the information of your 20, 50, 100 or 200 close personal and business contacts, you’re only maintaining your records.

You move 1,000 or more – you’re maintaining a mailing list.

The idea of data portability is that users, consumers, geeks have control of their OWN data. In this case, users entered into a relationship with another user (Scoble) where they shared access to their mutual Facebook profiles.

Facebook, for all its weaknesses and commercial impulses, does have a limited level of privacy protection. The embedding of personal email addys in an image is one. If you want to send me an email from outside the walled garden, you have to take the time to copy the addy by hand.

It’s one protection FOR ME to avoid having my addy scraped and sold off.

So when Plaxo tells Jeremiah Owyang that their new tool is all about data portability – they’re full of crap. It’s all about data collection. Here is an excerpt from a quick interview Jeremiah conducted with Plaxo today:

“…What else should we know? In 2008, data portability thrust is where we want to head, we want to turn the model upside down, so instead of widgets going to the social graph, we would like to make the social graph very portable. This is an area where Plaxo as more depth than anyone else.” (Jeremiah)

In the comments that follow, there is a good discussion of the social contract between “friends” when exchanging access rights and personal information.

Part of this contract, in this case, involves the privacy protections and restrictions put in place by Facebook. Facebook is a wide-open app with a lot of publicly available information, but that doesn’t mean that informed users don’t expect a level of considered behaviour on the part of their “friends.”

When you decide Facebook isn’t the most appropriate tool for you, you can’t attempt to migrate your mass of friends by breaking those protections and restrictions.

Sorry that it’s inconvenient, but that’s the playground you chose to play in.

And if you’re a commercial company that develops a tool designed to rip personal information out of proprietary social networks, don’t tell me you’re doing it in the name of the freedom for information to flow freely. There’s a commercial application behind the motivation.
[tags] data portability, data protection, identity theft, Facebook, Plaxo [/tags]

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More of Imperial Nostalgia – and some anti-consumerism

12/26/07

Well, with the oldest-living Queen launching a YouTube channel* in time for her Christmas Message, I’m feeling more than a little flummoxed. This sure isn’t the tradition I remember from my childhood – which was more along the lines of “What do you mean, she’s on all FOUR channels!!!”

Over at Crying All The Way to the Chip Shop, Lee spent some time earlier this month discussing why Britain doesn’t have the same great tradition of “road songs” as the United States. There are obvious geographic limitations – what with Britain being tiny and all – but he argues that there is also a cultural and spiritual chasm between the two countries as well:

“…The truth is, we (Brits, that is) don’t look at life and see endless bright horizons and dream big dreams, we’re a gloomy, glass-half-empty kind of people and who find idealistic American positivity a little embarrassing and phony. Americans, bless their hearts, do still say things like “you can be anything you want to be” and believe it (despite evidence to the contrary) because they’re happily unburdened by history while we’ve had way too much of it and frankly can’t work up the enthusiasm for anything anymore as a result. We built an empire and won a bunch of wars and now we just want to put our feet up and enjoy England’s plucky failures …

These days the stubborn refusal to “have a nice day” feels like a defiant poke in the eye of today’s noisy, amped-up consumer culture (created by America, of course) which bangs you over the head with its global franchises, useless gadgets, trashy television, and blinged-up celebrities. In the face of that, being miserable old bastards may be the last thing we have to hold on to that’s truly ours”.

Here in Canada, we have the worst of both worlds: a faint tie to British history and past glories, a tremendously long and expansive horizon, and very little history of our own.

That means we measure our voyages in hours (“How far?” “About four and a half hours.”) and our travelogues tend to be overladen with descriptions of the scenery (“Trees. Loads and loads of trees. Oh, and an iron mine.”).

Unless you’re driving through Saskatchewan, which is three hours of flat. And a uranium mine.

We’re really into that whole consumerism thing, though. And the franchises. A mall or a neighbourhood can’t really be considered to have “made it” until it’s overburdened with American franchises.

*or ,as The Register notes, “One would like to wish you a Happy 2.0 Christmas”

[tags] England, Half English, nostalgia, Empire, Queen, consumerism [/tags]

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Media Snackers: they’re just not filling

11/01/07

The premise, as posited by Jeremiah, Kami, Kevin and others: content generators need to develop materials and vehicles that communicate effectively with “media snackers,” those new economy animals who bounce from medium to medium picking up information and filtering it.

That means short blog posts, interactive web tools, podcasts of varying lengths, videos, Twitter streams and anything else that two guys withs seed capital can think up.

I see a strategic weakness in this premise, however: just because people want their media quick, easily digestible and interactive doesn’t mean we should abandon context and overlook longer term tactics.

That’s because I’m an old school media snacker. Not as old enough to be a Reader’s Digest subscriber, let’s get that out of the way.* But old enough to know how to follow Usenet threads. Old enough to have thought PointCast was going to revolutionize our world.

I think we run the risk of over-simplifying our tactics and under-estimating our readers/listeners/viewers: they don’t come to the dim sum buffet for the individual dish, they see ach piece as part of a larger meal.

You see, I’m not a media snacker, I’m a media aggregator. I may bounce from source to source and from one format to another, but I have one (or several) topics that I’m tracking.

I am picking up tidbits, thoughts and observations, and integrating them into internal narratives, or adding them to databases on issues I am following, or marking them as useful for work I am doing at the office.

The danger with the “snacker” meme is that we may see our readers in too simplistic a manner: as someone dropping by for a visit, or someone not really engaged in the process.

We have to make sure, as communicators, marketers, public relations hacks or community builders, that we integrate our “snack media” into a more comprehensive communications and marketing plan.

And that doesn’t mean a cool splashpage made in flash.

It means some sort of community hub, where all these snacks can be displayed on a big buffet table (or, given that most “media snacks” are ephemeral in time and place, a warming table). A touchstone for your “lifestream,” so to speak.

And then our reader, community member, stakeholder – whatever – can pick and choose the tactic that most suits them.

*You realise, of course, that Reader’s Digest was the original media snacker’s resource.

[Tags] media snacker, twitter, meme, community, interstitial, lifestream [/tags]

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An imperfect list of irritants

10/08/07

Colin Clarke is a British sociologist who happens to have a personal blog, and he asked his university class:

“…‘What really gets on your tits?’ as I rather shockingly asked them (it was meant to come out as ‘what really gets on your nerves?’ but I think my own nerves got the better of me and I fell back into that horribly familiar Scottish uncouth street-talk I can be prone to…”

There are dozens of responses over at And Before the First Kiss, but here are a few:

  • Global warming
  • Drunk drivers
  • Sectarianism
  • Drugs / addiction / dealers / parents who are addicts
  • Pretentious youth
  • Reality TV / Big Brother
  • Inequality
  • Packed and expensive trains / late busses
  • Dishonesty
  • War in Iraq
  • Selfish pricks
  • Political correctness
  • Racism
  • A fish and chip shop with no chips at lunch time!
  • Smug Scumbags (e.g. Gerry McNee)
  • People who always feel sorry for themselves
  • Really ignorant customers in supermarkets
  • Tesco / Asda
  • The greed of Russian billionaires in football
  • That wee bam at the bus stop
  • A bad pint
  • Advertisements presented as art
  • People who aren’t ‘down with the kids’ but think they are
  • The Pope / The Queen (‘in equal measure’)
  • Living on the 5th floor with no lift
  • Scientology
  • Roadworks
  • James *unt

Looking through the list, there are a lot of consumer, marketing and advertising activities or behaviours that apparently are “getting on their tits?”

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Social media glitterati in Ottawa – Third Tuesday

09/18/07

Another season of Third Tuesday Ottawa social media get-togethers opens with a sought-after star: Mitch Joel. You may know Mitch from such previous work as his Six Pixels of Separation podcast or his Twist Image blog.Mitch will kick off this year’s Third Tuesday Ottawa season on September 25. A kick you in the ass kind of speaker, Mitch will discuss marketing, social media and web 2.0.
Free registration can be found over on the Third Tuesday Ottawa Social Media Meetup group.

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Confirmed: Ocean Pacific not cool anymore

08/29/07

“Op is a youth brand focused on the surf lifestyle,” said a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. “It will help expand the range of our apparel offering as we leverage the brand equity to address this growth lifestyle.” (Women’s Wear Daily)

That’s right. Wal-Mart has entered into a distribution contract with the holding company that now owns the Ocean Pacific brand. If you were holding out any hope that your rainbow-coloured board shorts and windbreakers, originally bought in 1982, were cool – forget about it. Unless you live in Japan. Don’t ask me to explain the Japanese retail market. Please.

In the rest of the world, Ocean Pacific’s old position as market leader in the “scruffy yet cool surf wear” market segment has been sucked out to sea by Hollister.

Still, some retail experts are holding out hope for Wal-Mart – if they handle the launch and the brand management right:

“It’s an incredible opportunity for Wal-Mart,” [former OP CEO Dick] Baker added. “To have a brand like this, a true American lifestyle surf brand, as part of their stable is great. … My only issue is if you look at the landscape of mid-tier and mass retailers, there’s been a lack of execution with these brand deals over the last 10 years. The good [deals] have been Mossimo and Target because there was a lot of product and brand strategy that went into it, and the Candie’s strategy with Kohl’s. Other than that, there’s a lot of roadkill of brands that attempted to fit into the retailer’s domain.”

Roadkill. Ouch. How about a rope-a-dope metaphor:

“… Harry Bernard [who] worked on research for Op’s repositioning by Baker … called the deal “a fascinating combination of totally different cultures. Wal-Mart has been hit across the bridge of the nose enough times to figure out they can’t do it on their own …

“They’re going to make it what they want to make it,” Baker said of Wal-Mart’s handling of Op. “If I were them, I would put a lot of time and effort into positioning and strategy. It’s an iconic American brand. If they do it incorrectly it will be an injustice.”

A final note: at Dick Baker’s house it seems that the easy and laid back nature of the surfer is not appreciated. This from an O.C. Register article about his wife’s otherwise very stylish redecoration of their house:

“…No eating on the couch: Key thing in my house: We only eat in the eating areas. If you are hungry in England or Italy in the middle of the day, you go to the kitchen, you have tea and you have a sweet, and look at a magazine. Or, if someone is there, you chat. You don’t zone out in front of a TV. Also from a cleanliness standpoint, you get kids and pizza and popcorn and a sofa, you’ve got a disaster.”

[tags] Wal-Mart, Ocean Pacific, OP, surf, Hollister [/tags]

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The clinical and the amusing take on life in advertising

08/15/07

Two very different takes on the world inside an advertising agency, both with quite amusing passages.

The first is e, an older book about life in a London advertising agency. Full of backstabbing, deceit, clueless managers and fickle clients. Matthew Beaumont structured the narrative around the flow of emails among the copywriters, creatives, account managers, admin assistants and executives in the agency. And it’s hilarious.

Here’s an excerpt.

The second, less hilarious, is Conflict and Confluence in Advertising Meetings by Robert J. Morais. Morais was trained as an anthropologist, but has been working in advertising for the last 26 years.

He’s written a far more clinical, logical and balanced account of how an advertising agency tries to work together to win an account.

You can find that article in the Summer 2007 edition of the journal Human Organization.

Here are some choice lines:

… When viewing an array of creative ideas, clients will rarely say “None of this works: go back to the drawing board.” Instead, they declare, “This is an interesting range of ideas,” which is code for, “I don’t like anything you have shown me.”

… Experienced account managers know the difference between what clients say and what they mean. When a client asks, “Why did you choose that particular graphic,” it is code for “I dislike the graphic.”

… When senior agency executives select flanker positions to the far left or right of the conference table they do so to stress their separateness from other agency staff and to occupy a perch from which to offer commentary during the creative meeting. Their distance from the fray carries other symbolism: it is a vantage point from which they can make the “big picture” statements that demonstrate a mastery of the full business context of the creative work.

… Clients also know when agency executives exclaim “I agree with everything you have said,” they are about to disagree and prolong a discussion.

… Agency executives understand that advertising may be at the intersection of commerce and art, but commerce is the main drag, and clients control the road.

And what is so appealing about fiction that simply recreates your everyday office life? The Guardian Arts discusses.

[tags] Matthew Beaumont, Robert J. Morais, advertising agency, inter-office politics, team [/tags]

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Social media, online identity and privacy

07/22/07

I’ve been doing some thinking about data collection and personal privacy lately, and it’s struck me that a lot of early adopters, online cognoscenti and bandwagoners are rushing headlong into a world framed by the overarching principles of transparency, honesty and personal interaction – without thinking of about how much of their personal information they are leaving exposed.

This isn’t a new development. Without understanding something of how customer relationship marketing, market segmentation and direct marketing works, the average person really doesn’t understand how their personal information swirls in currents and eddies of databases, mail lists, dodgy piles of index cards and thumb keys.

I’ll give you an example: at the right is a set of keys. Attached are the key tags for four loyalty programs: Albertson’s grocery, GNC vitamin shop, Ace Hardware and some Canadian chain. To the key’s owners, those tags are worth 5% off purchases.

To someone with access to one or all those databases, those tags represent a considerable amount of detail about the key owner’s shopping habits, product preferences, fondness for discounts or particular brand names, and even their travelling habits.

With that information, marketers and political strategists can micro-market to increasingly targeted segments of the population – and your neighbourhood. And your group of friends. And members of your family.

But we’re only discussing information consciously handed over to marketers and consumer companies in exchange for quantifiable benefits: I’ll let you track my shopping patterns in exchange for a discount on bulk purchases of panty liners; I’ll sign up for your program so I receive advance emails about Memorial Day sales.

What about the personal information you leave hanging, for all to see, in your online profiles?

  • your birthday
  • your home address
  • your kid’s names
  • your vacation schedule

Would you post a picture of your driver’s licence? Considered as individual data points, this information does not seem like much. In total, you are giving out far more information for free – and to everyone – than you would agree to let a marketer collect.

I’ve already posted about the dangers of mistaken or outright stolen identity online. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that social media is evil.

Instead, we all need to get into the habit of maintaining an inventory of our online identity. Nothing complicated, just a personal awareness of how much information you’ve revealed, and to who.

Even on social networks that are password protected and offer tools to restrict access to your profile information, you may end up “friending” people who you barely know. And that increases the risk.
After all, you need to be aware whether some hacker knows more about you than your best friend.

And you better not lose that keychain.
[tags] facebook, identity theft, online identity, personality [/tags]

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Can you really claim to be a “strategic communicator”?

04/10/07

Steve Postrel left some incisive comments on Grant McCracken’s This Blog Sits At, building on Leora Kornfeld’s question:

Why does everyone call themselves a strategist nowadays?

“Just for laughs, when someone claims to be a strategist, you could ask them which tradition of strategy they represent. Economic? Then ask them to define a Nash equilibrium and see how they feel about Cournot vs. Bertrand models. Military? Then ask them about Clausewitz or John Boyd or Edward Luttwak. You can do the same thing with sports, chess, marketing, or any other domain they claim that has a tradition of strategic analysis. …

As a rule, I am opposed to credentialism, especially in ill-defined areas such as strategy. In fact, there really is no body of knowledge whose possesiion truly entitles one to claim “I am a strategist” or whose lack bars that claim. But it sounds like people are pretending that such a credential exists and then further pretending that they possess it. For a modest fee I’d happily prick that double-bubble.”

Ouch, I have two degrees in International Relations and consider myself well-educated in the areas of military and economic strategy – and I don’t think I could meet Steve’s standard.

Grant, naturally, digs into the question in a separate post. He rightly points out that many marketers, communicators and other of our ilk claim strategic skill and strategic insight – despite having no education in the field or demonstrable experience as a strategist.

“And then the question is, why should this rhetorical misbehavior be necessary? I am quite sure that other professionals do not suffer the temptation. Lawyers, doctors, civil servants…they don’t use the term. (“What kind of medicine do I practice? Oh, I do strategic medicine, you see. I don’t just identify symptoms. I think about them.”)No, the buzz word abuse that Leora spotted is a symptom. The field of marketing and the fact that it is not in fact a profession at all …

Without sorting, we are reduced to making boosterish, self aggrandizing claims, dressing ourselves up in the dignity of someone else’s language.

It’s not clear how we solve this problem. I agree with Steve that certification (or credentialism, as he calls it) is probably impractical. Reputation helps of course. It would help even more if those of us in branding circles had the depths of knowledge that distinguish the McKinsey consultant.”

Of course, the trend towards ostentatious titles may be a lingering backlash against the more outrageous job descriptions adopted during the late 90’s tech boom. After all, once you’ve lost hundreds of millions of dollars, you’re less likely to place your faith in:

  • the Chief Dog Walker
  • Founder without Title
  • the Head Dreamer
  • Spiritual Co-Creator
  • Creative Imaginatist

[tags] Strategic , Strategic Communciations, Strategic thinker, credentialism [/tags]

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Some more love for the political hacks

02/23/07

  • Brief profile of Laura Bush’s press secretary, Susan Dryden Whitson. Interesting fact about her life? She was American Idol winner Taylor Hick’s Grade 9 english teacher. (she’s had her rough patches – and I’m not counting the twin’s old partying habits)
  • Jimmy Camp, Republican campaign activist, ne’er do well, punk rocker and accomplished singer/songwriter. Can you believe he opened for Willie Nelson, David Crosby and Huey Lewis & the News? Part I and Part II
  • Confessions of an Ex-Pollster – the Op/Ed editor of the LA Times. A touch of self-immolation, but it balances out at the end. First lesson as a new pollster: “What I failed to grasp was that the primary purpose of our business was not to learn what voters think — but to determine how they could best be persuaded.”

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PR picks its’ fights – a lot of them

02/22/07

Have you noticed that public relations and marketing specialists tend to let criticism run off their backs like water off a duck? One psychologist, Karl Weick, has an explanation:

“…Generalists, people with moderately strong attachments to many ideas, should be hard to interrupt, and once interrupted, should have weaker, shorter negative negative reactions since they have alternative paths to realize their plans. Specialists, people with stronger attachments to fewer ideas, should be easier to interrupt, and once interrupted, should have stronger,more sustained negative reactions because they have fewer alternative pathways to realize their plans. Generalists should be the upbeat, positive people in the profession while specialists should be their grouchy, negative counterparts.

Wow. That pretty much describes almost every interaction I’ve had with an engineer, economist or regulatory specialist. Haven’t you found it hard to prepare comms materials that are both understandable to the general public and acceptable to a technical specialist?

Quote singled out by Bob Sutton.

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Blistering Barnacles of Graphic Illustration Goodness!

02/20/07

TinTin Exhibition - Pompidou CentreWell, we all missed it – the Tintin exhibition at le Centre Pompidou. Even the online site is very sparse, but Dan Hill over at City of Sound has provided a precis and some high quality photos. To the left is a timeline showing which characters make an appearance in which book, presented chronologically.

In the comments, Martin Belam points to his previous discussion of the boats found in Tintin, and an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. Martin rightly highlights the sometimes overstated political or cultural messages occasionally found in Herge’s work.

Even more information at the Tintinologist.

An index of the cars featured in Tintin is also available.

Insults uttered by Captain Haddock, but only found in the Turkish translation of the books. (In the name of typhoons, I am going nowhere with these mobile fire extinguishers!)

[tags] Tintin, french cartoons, Herge, design [/tags]

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Prepare for the risks of social media – and keep your job

01/30/07

social media sometimes has hidden costsIn the evolving world of social media, it’s the wild fliers you have to look for, you know. That solid homerun with the unintended consequences. Like a blogger relations strategy that goes hinky. Or a word of mouth campaign that slowly builds up some substantial and negative street-level karma.

It’s like going to a baseball game with the gang from work and witnessing a homerun derby – then discovering that one of the homeruns went through the windshield of the boss’ Escalade.

What’s the point of selling the management team on a new and innovative strategy if you don’t outline some of the risks that may accompany it? A capable counsellor always tempers their pie-in-the-sky projections with a dose of reality. For example: our blogger relations program could help influence online opinion of our new program – or it could really irritate one particularly influential commentator.

Preparing the groundwork before launching your new communications strategy will insulate it from unintended consequences.

Some ways a social media strategy can go hinky:

  • You target bloggers with an unrelated interest or specialty, and they write about it
  • Your new campaign comes with eau de toilette: the specialists you hired have screwed up so many campaigns in the past their work is automatically discounted
  • Over-hyping your innovative new outreach strategy to the traditional media alienates social media and online outlets
  • Hip to be square: trying to look edgy and innovative never sells as well as you’d imagined
  • The bloggers you target aren’t transparent about their relationship, but the blame blows back on your company
  • That new car smell: the executives get so excited about trying something new that they overlook the poor fit with actual business strategy. They later abandon the project without support
  • One of your executives tries to influence the company’s Wikipedia page
  • Your street team hires a: felon/female impersonator/ladie’s man

How to prepare for potential risks:

  • Make sure the pitch for the business includes a dose of reality
  • The social media evangelist should be accompanied by a strategist who can draw the whole media picture. A sober second voice, if you will. Maybe even a planner…
  • Follow up on that dose of reality: schedule a discussion of how past social media campaigns have rolled out – including the unmitigated disasters
  • The strategy should dentify how to respond to possible complications/crises. This will force everyone involved to work through responsibilities and roles before the crunch comes.
  • The customer relations team/call centre HAS to be briefed on the strategy: they’ll be the first to hear of any problems

Any other suggestions?

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Adliterate on the benefits and orthodoxies promoted by blogging

01/17/07

Dammit, I like Richard Huntington’s Adliterate post on the benefits of blogging for planners.

“… I have often joked that it is only planners that blog in advertising because account people have nothing to say and creatives have better places to say it but maybe its more that blogging was built for us. … Blogging has given us planners a way to show we are good and create influence within our agencies, the broader community and potentally with our clients. “

I’ve long had an affinity for planning.  As a government communications strategist, I’m expected to maintain a wide-ranging interest in and knowledge of popular culture, public policy, media trends, new technology and strategic insight – but feel very little of the love regularly thrown the way of the “civilian” public relations community. (ha! right.)

Richard touches upon some of the scepticism still directed at blogging and social networks, particularly among “more established” planners and executives, but isn’t shy about recognizing that

” … the community, like all communities, has begun to coalesce around specific ‘new marketing’ ideas that are in danger of becoming of becoming an orthodoxy every bit as dangerous as the antiquated ideas about brands and communications that it is seeking to replace. Specifically it encourages a view that the marketing landscape has already reached a kind of utopian future without offering any clues about how brands and the clients that own them should get there. …”

[tags] adliterate, media planning [/tags]

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Polling 101: Random Digits vs. Lists

12/29/06

Pollster.com guest poster Amy Simon explains the benefits and possible pitfalls of random digit dialling versus registration-based sampling in polls. She focuses on their application to electoral cycles, but her analysis is useful for anyone looking for insight into polling methodology.

[tags] polls, polling, elections [/tags]

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Benchmark your pay as a government communicator

12/12/06

Are you a government communicator – particularly in the United States? Then benchmark your pay scale against the pay of senior communications staffers in Congress. A database put online by LegiStorm makes this available. Try, for example, these employees of the last Congress:

In Canada, the Treasury Board sets general guidelines for staffers in Minister’s offices: up to $124,100 for a Director of Communications.

Feel like contributing the guidelines or examples for your country? I’ll add them to this post.

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Hedonic groceries … shopping carts and cucumbers

12/06/06

New in the world of market research and evaluation: testing the efficiency of shopping patterns in grocery stores. Still unexplored: the intended and unintended impacts of in-store media and marketing on the same shopping patterns.

Relatively novel research by a group of Wharton marketing academics attempts to gauge the efficiency of routes taken by grocery store patrons. The economists’ approach begins by applying the travelling salesman problem: what is the shortest route necessary to reach a list of destinations? This problem is evaluated using a multi-node database collected with the help of RFID-equipped shopping carts and register receipt analysis.

“We see that the produce and tobacco categories are over-represented in the [efficient] group. On the other hand, canned, ready-to-eat, and frozen food, among other products, tend to be over-represented in the [inefficient] group.This indicates that on average, shoppers who purchase prepared food products are generally less forward-looking than other shoppers when they construct their shopping paths.

At the surface, inferences like these may seem only tangentially relevant to managerial interest; however, if retailers can influence [shopper route efficiency] through advertising, in-store signage, etc., and hence affect the profits associated with various look-ahead patterns, this can become a useful managerial tool.”

Despite all their economic models, these researchers have yet to win any insight into how I navigate a grocery store. Driven by a basic list of essentials, I am also influenced by end cap displays, on-shelf couponing, private label discounting, a sketchy memory for shopping lists and a dangerous sense of adventure when it comes to sauces and bastes. Or maybe they do know me:

“Some shoppers may be hedonic browsers … who like to wander around the grocery store and derive utility in ‘window shopping,'” …

“Other shoppers may not have enough knowledge of the store to remember where the products they wish to purchase are located.”

The researchers acknowledge that more nuanced data could significantly affect their findings:

“…An important dimension that we did not address in this paper is the
amount of time that shoppers spend deliberating about their purchases, or aimlessly loitering, within a given zone. We can not address this issue with our cart-based RFID data because we do not observe the shopper’s behavior directly. But as data collection technology further matures (e.g., using video recordings instead of – or in addition to – RFID tracking), this time dimension can fruitfully be explored.”

Sounds like they need to speak to some anthropologists … or Envirosell.

The Travelling Salesman Goes Shopping: The Systematic Inefficiences of Grocery Paths,” excerpted in Knowlege@Wharton.

For you operations research junkies: the Travelling Salesman Problem Generator.

A heavily edited sworn statement on the marketing of salty snacks at a grocery store.

….

in the supermarket vegetable section]
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Mine’s bigger.
Marion Wormer: looks questioningly at him
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: My cucumber. It’s bigger.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: I think vegetables can be very sensuous, don’t you?
Marion Wormer: No, vegetables are sensual. People are sensuous.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Right. Sensual. That’s what I meant. My name’s Eric Stratton. People call me Otter.
Marion Wormer: My name’s Marion. People call me Mrs. Wormer.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Oh, we have a Dean Wormer at Faber.
Marion Wormer: How interesting. I have a husband named Dean Wormer at Faber. Still want to show me your cucumber?

[tags] operations research, grocery, trip chaining [/tags]

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Government Blogging: the sweet spot

10/20/06

We can imagine plenty of rational reasons why governments shouldn’t blog. There are far fewer good reasons. Especially if the bureaucracy serves a largely retail function:

  • plenty of personal contact with citizens, customers or clients;
  • a relatively flexible and responsive organization;
  • little if any policy-making authority;
  • direct effect on people’s lives

In practical terms, this means the government organization:

  • speaks to humans on a regular basis
  • can turn around a question or a comment in hours, not days
  • does not interpret information, only provides it
  • works in fast-moving crisis, health or consumer communications

We can all recognize a personality type in these points: attentive, responsive and committed.

This sort of organization is already used to receiving a number of different requests for information, filtering multiple streams of information, and clearly defining how it is involved in the situation.

In most cases, it has already installed a case management system and has developed a database of frequently asked questions. When it comes to public enquiries, the organization has already fine-tuned its response process (and shortened the approval chain) and can respond quickly and confidently.

Ideally, the organization is also used to speaking openly about its function, the details of its work and the limitations of its authority. If you stop to think, you can identify several government organizations who work this way, in areas like public health, consumer products, financial oversight or accident investigation.

Although hampered by the usual inability to communicate in plain english, you can also count government scientists and researchers as possible contributors to a more specialized government blog. (They do all sorts of interesting things – like destroying cars on video (episode 58))Â

The trick, of course, is that most government organizations have a particular interpretation of retail service: help yourself, find the cash register, we don’t take credit and we’ll need to check your bag.

The bureaucracies ready to blog right now have already worked through their significant information bottlenecks, have instilled a sense of customer service in their workforce and know the benefits and limitations of their work thoroughly.

THAT’s the sweet spot for government blogging in the short term.

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Government communications doesn’t suck. I mean it.

10/07/06

Agency vs. Corporate. One is more flexible. One is better paying. One offers a greater variety of projects for new associates. The other likely has a better health plan. I’m here, folks, to argue for another employer for young public relations and marketing types: the government.

Yes, it can be tradition-bound. Yes, your friends likely do not think it’s cool. Chances are, one of your managers will be wearing a short-sleeved shirt – in winter. Your business cards are certainly boring. There will be no fancy lunches …

Still, there are very good reasons to give some thought to working in government communications.

(This is the first of an irregular series meant to argue for a career as a government communicator – written by a government communicator.)

Argument 1: Variety is the spice of life.

I often hear the agency vs. corporate argument framed as a choice between creative opportunity and stifled imagination. My impression is that government communications is subject to an even more cocked eye.

Truth is, the apparently generic job of government communicator can touch upon all of the following tasks during a career. Or in one month:

  • Media analyst
  • Public opinion research analyst
  • Communications strategist
  • Speechwriter
  • Spokesperson
  • Policy analyst
  • Consultations expert
  • Publications project manager
  • Risk communicator
  • Internal communications
  • Senior counsel
  • Brand manager
  • E-communications specialist
  • Events manager
  • And many more …

These roles are available to the new graduate as well as the experienced communicator: while government demands hierarchy, it also produces learning plans, training funds and opportunities for growth.

Next argument to be covered: government work doesn’t mean professional or personal stagnation.

[tags] government communications, agency, communicator [/tags]

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