March 12, 2004 by Colin
Victor Gruen was the designer of the first modern enclosed shopping mall, Southdale, outside Minneapolis (the original news release can be found here). Malcolm Gladwell has profiled the architect and his impact on North American consumer culture in the most recent New Yorker.
Fifty years ago, Victor Gruen designed a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping complex with a garden court under a skylight—and today virtually every regional shopping center in America is a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant complex with a garden court under a skylight. Victor Gruen didn’t design a building; he designed an archetype.
I know I’ve been a little mall-centric this week. The places just fascinate me – espcially since I live a stereotypical suburban life, and must recount my weekend activities by listing my visits to the stores, theatres and services only found in nearby malls.
… well-run department stores are the engines of malls. They have powerful brand names, advertise heavily, and carry extensive cosmetics lines (shopping malls are, at bottom, delivery systems for lipstick)—all of which generate enormous shopping traffic. The point of a mall—the reason so many stores are clustered together in one building—is to allow smaller, less powerful retailers to share in that traffic. A shopping center is an exercise in coöperative capitalism. It is considered successful (and the mall owner makes the most money) when the maximum number of department-store customers are lured into the mall.
March 11, 2004 by Colin
… offer information on candidates’ stances on issues. Users also could request voter-registration forms. And the service will offer a candidate matchmaker quick quiz, which asks users for their opinions on major issues and tells them the candidate most in tune with them. Users also would be able to query their phone to find their polling place on Election Day. And … [receive] get-out-the-vote pleas recorded by rock stars.
How does this mesh with Joe Trippi’s observation to the NYT that
…cellphone text messaging didn’t work the way we had hoped. We really went after that hard. It went, but just didn’t really do anything … ?
Maybe Rock the Vote has focused on the two elements essential to the success of an SMS campaign: immediacy and personal relevance. Companies and marketers in Europe, India, Malaysia and Japan have discovered that sales can be increased if SMS messages are properly targeted and provide value to the consumer.
In England, Orange is launching a promotion giving customers who text a company number two-for-one movie tickets. Some retail chains in Japan are experimenting with texting coupons to registered customers – as they walk past individual stores. In Canada, beer companies had consumers sign up to receive exclusive invitations to parties and events.
MTV, Motorola and Rock the Vote seem to recognize that young voters will need an active exchange of information, targeted to their needs but offering tangible benefits. Who wouldn’t want a voice mail from, say, Bono, to keep on their mobile phone?
SMS isn’t really an organizing tool – yet. But it could provide that extra push for young voters to maintain an interest in the election and actually turn out in November.
As for Trippi’s plans – he had unnamed but glorious ambitions, but they were shortcircuited by reality:
… Trippi’s plans for SMS extend beyond just the surface and may have an impact on the election in ways unseen. Though he is unable to discuss the details, he [told imediaconnection last August], “We intend to use text messaging strategically in key caucus states.”
Here’s a recent Poynter tid-bit on SMS use in elections around the world.
BTW – the Rock the Vote campaign’s privacy statement is pretty lame.
March 11, 2004 by Colin
Avril Lavigne’s turned to some tried-and-true promotion tactics in support of her new album. She has announced a whirlwind live performance tour, featuring six song acoustic sets at venues easily accessible to her core audience – malls.
The promo people at Arista are even trying to give her tour an air of immediacy and exclusiveness by giving fans only 48 hrs notice of the locations and times of upcoming performances. Eager fans are supposed to pre-register, and will then receive an alert by email or SMS with all the information.
Ummm. When a major record label is arranging flash mobs, does that mean they’re as out-of-date as trucker hats? Also:
… how cool is it that mall operators, publicists and journalists twice as old as her fan base already know before her fans did?
… her record label … is maintaining the veneer of it still being a “surprise” tour … Anthony Facchini, general manager of Toronto’s Fairview Mall, was at least doing his part. He said he was under a gag order and couldn’t tell his retail tenants until 48 hours before she would play the mall’s large, indoor-court area.
In a marketing stunt that could have been dreamed up by shopping mall pop queen Tiffany and Internet savvy political operative Joe Trippi, singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne this spring will take part in a “flash-mob” concert tour. The appearances — to be held in shopping malls — are part of the publicity blitz surrounding her next record, “Under My Skin,” which will be released in late May.
The real genius behind this campaign is the online pre-registration. Targeted and up-to-date contact information is being collected at the website by the record label, instead of being lost on slips of paper by call screeners at radio stations and clerks at record stores. Arista is building buzz, goodwill AND a viable and nation-wide database of Avril fans. That alone is worth the cost of the tour.
March 8, 2004 by Colin
I ran across a piece with that title a while ago, and it’s prompted a few thoughts about “astroturf” – the practice of creating an apparent grass-roots movement through subterfuge, careful marshalling of opposition, and the construction of apparently independent third-party coalitions and organizations.
Of course, whether it’s Kentucky bluegrass or astroturf is in the eye of the beholder. There are always two sides to a story – but money (or lack of it) is usually a high hurdle for one side in an issue campaign. Campaigns with well-integrated advertising, lobbying efforts, sophisticated and well-maintained websites and apparent widespread grass-roots support are sometimes viewed with suspicion. The charge of astroturfing, because it requires relatively large amounts of money, is frequently associated with big business or right-wing interests.
Way back in 1997, Mother Jones ran an examination of the astroturf organizations being coordinated by the Global Climate Coalition, an umbrella group apparently organized by the Washington PR outfit Ruder Finn.
Of course, astroturf campaigns can also benefit from charitable organizations and their in-house capabilities. (for example)
A non-smoker’s rights org has prepared a clear guide (.pdf) for activists trying to track the money, organizations, lawyers and lobbyists working for the tobacco lobby. It’s also a quick reference for any effort to uncover astroturf organizations.
A radio ad has been running on Chicago radio for the past few weeks, opposing an upcoming change to the fire code. The ads make a passionate and credible safety argument, and close by pointing the listener to a third-party site. Jumping to the site, you can see it’s sponsored by the firefighter’s union and others. I know nothing about the issue, but alarm bells always seem to ring when the safety card is heavily played in an issue campaign.
The shareholder uprising at Disney has been branded a “grass roots revolution,” but is it? Roy Disney and Stanley Gold have spent a lot of money convincing the public that their fight with Michael Eisner is over corporate strategy and proper governance mechanisms.
Their campaign has relied upon a sketchy protest website, a growing irritation in the entertainment industry towards Eisner, and Roy’s goofy but familiar features – which certainly remind me of good old Uncle Walt and his Sunday night TV program. But is it really a grass-roots revolution?
March 8, 2004 by Colin
There’s one in every city – a big name retail or fast food outlet that’s undergone a quick and shoddy conversion. A letter’s been changed in the name, the ubiquitous “arches” are cut in half, the drive-thru sits unused – but the window still advertises $5 pizzas.
In Scarborough, people don’t seem to have a problem with Funeral Hut (really called the Scarborough Funeral Centre).
As Bill Walsh, who recently held a memorial service for his father at the building, told the National Post: ” … everyone knew where it was, so it wasn’t a hassle to give directions.” These, he admits, consisted of: “Where the Pizza Hut used to be.” (sub. req.)
Take a look at www.notfoolinganybody.com. It’s a noticeable collection of renovated/reused/appropriated brand identities. The site’s well worth the visit, even if they use the term “economic gestalt” in their manifesto.
Want the old-style Kentucky Fried Chicken, with a little more bite? Try Monte Vista Liquors. How about an Oreck Floor Care Centre? How about a Gilstrap Chropractic? Bet that isn’t covered in the brand identity manual. And what does it say about the longevity of your franchisees?
Of course, other brands suffer retail reno ruin as well. Dairy Queen musn’t be too happy about Big Bites – where they still sell ice cream and other treats. What do you bet they use the same machines?
There are two observations to be made about these sorts of buildings – they usually relate to a long-disappeared version of the brand identity, one that is ten, twenty or thirty years old, and they are stand-alone buildings constructed specifically for the franchise.
Their age means they came along before the popularity of the “pad” installation of box-style fast food outlets at retail “power centres.” Have you noticed how easily YUM Brands converted their pad Wendy’s into combination Wendy’s/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut locations? It’s much easier if all you have to do is change a sign and drive-thru awning.
There’s a flip-side to the replaceable identity. If your marketing campaigns rely upon static appliques and pop-up Disney tie-ins, your customers don’t really need to invest any effort in developing an allegiance to your actual products. After all, doesn’t everyone have white meat chicken nuggets?
Consumers are now used to finding a “chain” restaurant available in every new power retail development. It doesn’t matter what chain, as long as it’s quick, cheap and reliable. Take a look at the exacting requirements revealed when a Virginia paper surveyed local residents about a new development:
… informally surveyed about three dozen Lake of the Woods residents about new businesses they would like to see in the area, a majority of the responses centered on food. Most wanted more sit-down restaurants with a pleasant ambiance, offering lunch and dinner and a variety of cuisines. Other suggestions included ice-cream and pizza parlors.
Many also mentioned a more upscale supermarket … Some suggested a hotel and a boutique. A fitness center was also a popular request, with some specifying one with an indoor pool exclusively for fitness.
Fitness centre? What, was their Mom listening in on the other line? “Yeah! I’m looking for a Chinese buffet, a pizza place, maybe somewhere with a Tuesday shrimp special. Oh, and a pool. Gotta watch the weight!”
March 6, 2004 by Colin
The Sony AIBO, a tiny robotic dog, has been a popular item in Japan (although it has found limited success in the US and Europe). This month’s HBR outlines the design and marketing strategy behind the release of the expensive toy. (sub. req.)
“… Sony made a conscious decision to manipulate the framing of its product and turn the robot’s shortcomings into attributes. Rather than develop a household helper that would fall disastrously short of expectations, Sony realized it could create an entertaining and lovable pet that no one would expect to be useful …
Framining AIBO as a pet enabled Sony to get the biggest bang out of minimal functionality. … Sony created public excitement about household robots and generated internal momentum to drive the product’s development.”
Despite this framing, consumers have two very different opinions of the little dog. In the US and Europe, it is seen as a piece of technology. In Japan, there are much deeper attachments.
At least that was the explanation given when Sony decided to stop selling the little critter in Japanese stores:
“The main reason is that we have a very close relationship with our customers who buy Aibo and we feel it is important to enhance the relationship and consult with them rather than just sell Aibo in mass retail shops,” said Harumi Asai, a spokeswoman for Sony.
Japanese customers get very attached to the robot so it is important for Sony to remain in touch with customers. In Europe and North America the robot is generally viewed more as a piece of technology. The affection that owners feel for their Aibo is not as strong overseas, she said.
March 5, 2004 by Colin
Mercer’s just released a white paper on “Strategic planning redux: but this time linked to funding and everyday execution.” It’s a quick read with some frank and useful observations about the strengths and weaknesses of strategic planning processes.
Thanks to the FC blog for the pointer.
March 5, 2004 by Colin
Kettering University has approached its online communications the right way: instead of targeting alumni perceptions when preparing its online recruitment material, it has commissioned School Daze, a flash cartoon (like it was drawn by kindergardeners) aimed at undecided high school students. It’s irreverent and engaging, and the script is lighthearted and amusing. It even appeals to Area 51 and Belltower conspiracy buffs!
March 5, 2004 by Colin
If you’re new to this whole online environment, Revolution magazine has published a handy guide to the aspects of online PR, including positive and negative case studies. (sub. req., sorry)
March 5, 2004 by Colin
Kitchen Stories focuses on the life of a single reclusive Norwegian farmer living in the 50s, and how he deals with the constant but incommunicative presence of a bland observer sent to live in his kitchen by a home-science company. (Here’s a picture of the ridiculous situation)
The company hopes that this observer, and many more spread out across Norway, will stumble upon the hidden habits of single men – habits that will help them build a better kitchen.
And that is the link to PR, dear reader. How many times have you stood behind a two-way mirror, muching on a muffin, critcising the responses of focus group participants? As director Bent Hamer (doesn’t that sound like a porn name?) slowly reveals (too slowly, according to some reviewers), the observer’s constant but irrational presence inevitably has an effect upon the farmer – prompting the man to change his routine and his habits, to the point where he no longer cooks in the kitchen.
Inevitably, the farmer eventually has a similar effect upon the observer, and the supposedly scientific experiment breaks down as a friendship of sorts develops.
The expectedly pretentious National Post points out that this is a manifestation of a corollary to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – that the observer of a system must invariably affect that system. Or, as exit poll takers would tell you, people sometimes just don’t want to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
March 4, 2004 by Colin
If you’re relatively lazy, unimaginative, or are looking for an “unusual” present for a friend, this website will apparently change your life.
There are some imaginative features, like “is your name on the net?” and “change your life NOW!”
The site’s an online companion to This Diary Will Change Your Life, which came out late in 2003. Written by two erstwhile copywriters, the diary has turned into a treasure trove for Ben Carey and Henrik Delehag, who already have contracts to write a 2005 diary and The Kamasutra for One. The two
… had worked together in advertising for three years and described themselves [in the Liverpool Post] as being like “some sort of married couple”, were disillusioned with what they were doing and felt it was time to create some anarchy.
Carey says: “Most of our ideas were too risky for our advertising clients to take in. For instance, we created a campaign for Hula Hoops Shoks featuring electric eels coming out of toilets. We received 177 complaints in a week and an immediate ITC ban from children’s TV as kids refused to go to the loo. We soon realised our thinking was not mainstream enough for advertising.”
… “Some Americans get it and some don’t,” says Carey.”They are refreshingly un-ironic about these things. They don’t get all of the irony. But they are also very big on self-improvement. Anything they see to change their lives and better themselves is a potential hit.”
If you do happen to be a lackadaisical and unimaginative sponge of a human being, you might just want to rent Something Wild, where Melanie Griffith leads Jeff Daniels into a much more North American expression of individuality – a raucous road trip.
March 4, 2004 by Colin
Okay. I admit it. I get the large part of my news analysis from Jon Stewart and his bunch of late night lunatics.
Apparently, there are a lot of people like me. The Pew Center’s tracking has revealed that 21 % of youth aged 18-29 learn about the presidential campaign at 11pm, from the Comedy Network.
What does Jon think?
“A lot of them are probably high,” Stewart cracked. “I’m not sure, coming off of robots fighting and into our show, what we’re dealing with out there.”
Nonetheless, AP reveals more and more people are tuning in:
As if to drive the Pew survey’s point home, “The Daily Show” reached a ratings milestone during the two weeks of the Iowa caucus, New Hampshire primary and State of the Union address. For the first time, Stewart’s show had more male viewers aged 18 to 34 than any of the network evening news shows.
And here’s a relevant Stewart entry rescued from my crash:
“I’m actually far more interested in the media’s responsibility than the politicians’,” says Stewart. “To me, the most interesting shot in the documentary ‘Journeys With George’ is from behind the horde of reporters going to a staged event. You ever see 8-year-olds play soccer? It’s just this weird clump of legs, and then all of a sudden the ball will fly out and with no strategy or game, they just go ‘Ball!’ That’s what the media is.”
March 3, 2004 by Colin
Heavy words lightly thrown is a new book produced by a London university librarian which exposes the seamy and laviscious history behind many children’s nursery rhymes.
While people already know that Ring a Ring o’ Roses refers to the rash displayed by sufferers at the time of the Great Plague, it is less well known that Oranges and Lemons, a guide to the City of London, doubles as a lewd wedding song, [said the author].
Oooh. And there’s much more to delight and captivate you. Here’s a link to the publisher and some extracts.
March 2, 2004 by Colin
Prime example? Henry Blodget, who has crawled out of the bog of Internet shame to reprofile himself as a judicial and financial insider by reporting from the Martha trial for Slate. (Here’s a quick blogbite contrasting Blodget’s work with Michael Lewis’ coverage of the Microsoft anti-trust suit)
March 2, 2004 by Colin
Rick Mercer, Canada’s pet political satirist, is asking any and all viewers to submit yearbook photos of prominent political figures.
Be aware that we also accept photos of said individuals drinking beer in meadows when they were 18, in full drag at Halloween and or standing around watching mom’s silverware heat up in the burner. Together we can make a difference.