Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Unfortunate ad placement of the week

From the LA Times, yet another example of how we don't have that whole online thing figured out quite yet.

Hat Tip: AdRants

China's great leap forward in higher education

If you've watched the Did You Know 2.0 video from Shift Happens, you know the world is changing in ways that will have a dramatic effect on communication. Here's more evidence of that, and of some of the challenges the U.S. faces, from this BBC story:

  • China is now the largest higher education system in the world: it awards more university degrees than the US and India combined.

Of course, this is partly a matter of the sheer size of its population. But it is not just that. The rate of university expansion has been beyond anything anyone in the West can easily imagine.

University enrolments in China have reportedly risen from under 10% of young people in 1999 to over 21% in 2006, a phenomenally fast expansion.

  • As recently as 1996, China produced just 5,000 PhD students a year. That was only about half the number in the UK, Japan or India. Since then, China has overtaken every other country in the world except the US in terms of the numbers of doctoral degrees awarded.
How will this affect all of us? No, it's probably not going to lead to a global communist takeover, brought to you by Coca-Cola. But as our position as the world 's higher education superpower is eroded, we certainly could see major changes in how we communicate, and how we do business, in today's global economy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Where communication, the law, marketing, and fragmentation intersect

A miscommunication horror story from Michigan. How does something like this happen? Well...

  • Imprecise language. If you advertise it as "MIKE'S LEMONADE," don't blame people for thinking it's lemonade. The sad truth is, the root cause of the problem was probably just a lack of space on the sign to call the product what it really is.
  • Beauracratic idiocy. O.K., this one's off topic--but c'mon. This is just stupid.
  • Marketing. Lemonade's tasty, and it overpowers the alcohol. Great combination, right?
  • Fragmentation. We have unlimited choice in products, which makes it impossible to keep track of everything. Why hadn't this dad heard of this particular product? "Nobody in watches much television."
The lesson in all this? I dunno. Always check the label? Watch more TV? Drink more water? Get a bigger sign?

Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press
Hat tip:

Sometimes the best marketing ideas are the simplest ones

Like this. How will people spend their economic stimulus checks? It's hard to say, but it's almost certain that after reading this news, a lot more people are planning on spending some of their windfall at Kroger and with other retailers who are handing out a little something extra.

Photo: sufinawaz on stock.xchng

Vintage political ads: the good--and bad--old days

Despite the battle on the Democratic side, this campaign season hasn't yielded much in the way of landmark political advertising. A compilation of old political ads on, however, shows that every election year offers the chance of spots that are good, bad, and ugly. For every "Daisy Girl" or Willie Horton ad that shakes things up, there's an Adalai Stevenson or "Ike" Eisenhower jingle to drag things back to earth. It's good to know that while things may not have gotten any better, they haven't necessarily gotten much worse, either.

Monday, April 28, 2008

More on the success--and future--of outdoor advertising

This 3-minute AdAge" video interview with Richard Schaps, CEO of Van Wagner Communications, is a great overview of current trends in outdoor advertising. And if that's not enough, check out this April 15 SBB post on the same topic.

Bonus coverage: an Oct. 2007 interview with Schaps, who appears to have done pretty well for himself in the moolah department.

Photo: XsurrealX on stock.xchng

Death, or a resurrection?

Today, began a new series called "The Newspaper Death Watch," a "look at the thought leaders in the industry, their attempts to leave the past--and even formats--behind and their strategies for finding new business models." The first post is full of bad news for newspaper execs, most of which points to the fact that the good old days are gone for good--unless the industry is ready to reinvent itself.

And while it may sound like newspapers are dying a slow death, today also brought some news about where things might be headed. The New York Times reports on the future of The Capital Times, a Madison, WI, daily that's moving to an online format in response to a declining subscriber base:

[I]n recent years, the paper’s circulation dropped to about 18,000 from a high in the 1960s of more than 40,000.


The Web strategy, while seen as a long-term solution, is still a work in progress, [editor Paul] Fanlund says. It revolves around a portal,, which is owned under the same joint arrangement mandating that both Madison papers share revenues, though they are editorially independent.

The Capital Times will operate a nearly continuous Web newsroom...

“If there is a window of opportunity for newspapers on the Web, it is locally,” said James L. Baughman, director of the University of Wisconsin journalism school in Madison. “The reason the online version of the Cap Times may have life is that opportunity.”

As I've discussed previously, I think this format makes a ton of sense. In fact, given The Capital Times' position in Madison--the afternoon paper in a two-newspaper town--it would seem that a certain local paper might want to think about making a similar move. In fact, they already may have considered the idea, if that's the "alma mater" Nancy Nall mentions here.

And while
The Capital Times may indeed have a "very, very murky" future, as Nall suggests, one thing's certain: any change is better than standing still, hoping things will get better. Because unless the newspaper industry makes some serious changes, AdAge's "Newspaper Death Watch" may outlast the medium itself.

Hat tip on the Capital Times story: Brian "Stimpy" Engelhart

NBA Playoffs ads kinda cool, kinda creepy, kind of cliched

I'm not much of a basketball fan, but this is a decent concept. However, with too many cliches in the copy like "the dream could die," "you dig deeper," and "some dreams fade over time," its effectiveness is a split decision.

Bonus coverage: AdFreak on the similarity between these ads and a recent Time magazine cover.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Megabrands: better red than dead to China

A Wall Street Journal story repeated in today's JG discusses the China Olympics ad strategy of such megabrands as Coke, McDonald's, and Pepsi. Their efforts prove two things:

1. Megabrands have only one consistent loyalty: their loyalty to the bottom line

2. Times sure have changed if Coke can run a campaign in China with the tagline "Red Around the World" and not get lambasted from the McCarthyism crowd. 50 years ago--hell, even 20 years ago--people probably would have accused Coke of promoting a global communist plot. It's a good thing we've moved past that kind of paranoia.

Oh. Wait a minute...

The Good City on TV's role in building community

Good post over at The Good City about the ways in which a shared media experience helps create community. While today's unlimited choice is a boon to media consumers, it comes with a big trade off: we have increasingly less in common with others.

When it comes to our media consumption habits, about the only nearly-universal shared experience we have left is the Super Bowl. Now I don't want to return to the days of three networks, but in those days, when the State of the Union speech was on, it was the only thing on. That led to a lot more water cooler conversations about the State of the Union speech, and the state of the union in general.

So Jon's wife is right when she says, “Television actually can help you make connections with strangers.” But it's less likely to happen today, and it's probably going to be even less likely tomorrow.

My Hulu experience: better TV, without the TV

I watch about zero TV. But last night I wanted a quick entertainment hit, so I clicked over to Hulu and watched a couple episodes of The Office. The experience was phenomenally better than watching TV on the old way. Why?:

  • My schedule, not theirs. I watched two episodes, back-to-back, on a Saturday, instead of the only broadcast option, Thursdays at 9. No need to put my life on hold for the networks.
  • Great interface. Hulu offers a clean, user-friendly interface, with easy rewinds and fast-forwards. The only thing missing is an "always keep window on top" option so you can multitask without toggling between applications.
  • Limited commercial interruptions. Yes, I work in advertising. But that doesn't mean I think the interruption model is the only way. Hulu gave me more evidence that fewer commercials is better for everyone. Because of the limited clutter, I saw spots for only one brand: Healthy Choice. And I never would have remembered seeing their spots if I were watching TV the old way.
  • 43 minutes, not 60. Maybe the biggest benefit of all is that I gained back 17 minutes of my life. Limited commercials mean less time spent in front of the monitor, giving me more time to do important, high-level stuff like blogging about watching TV.
What did I miss about watching TV on my TV? Nothing. And that's why we're seeing a shift in viewing habits that promises to transform the medium.

Despite political ad windfall, local TV stations' ad revenue down

The Wall Street Journal reports that even during a contentious political primary season, local TV stations' ad revenues continue to slip:

This year, political advertising pumped about $216.1 million into the local TV ad market in the first quarter, more than double the $99.7 million in the first quarter of 2004, the last presidential election year, according to Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of the Campaign Media Analysis Group at TNS. Even so, overall revenues are down, in comparison to the 8.7% rise in local ad revenue the industry saw in the first quarter of 2004.
The problem? Well, just about everything else is going wrong: real estate sales are down, car sales are down, and advertisers are continuing to shift dollars elsewhere. As the story suggests, 2008 should be an interesting year, given that the presidential election, local elections, and the Olympics will boost ad spending considerably. Will it be enough to offset the overall downturn? Tune in later to find out.

Photo: Romexico on stock.xchng

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Teens' writing not so Gr8

Good AP story in yesterday's News-Sentinel: "Teens' writing is more informal." As e-mail and texting become the written language of choice, abbreviations and slang are making their way into more formal communication:

Despite best efforts to keep school writing assignments formal, two-thirds of teens admit in a survey that emoticons and other informal styles have crept in.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project, in a study released Thursday, also found that teens who keep blogs or use social-networking sites like Facebook or News Corp.'s MySpace have a greater tendency to slip nonstandard elements into assignments.
Here's the thing: using informal language is fine is you're writing in an informal environment. But when you insert a sideways smiley face or sign off with a "c-ya" in a document written for school or work, you risk losing some respect. If you're comfortable with that, fine--but recognize that you'll also have to be comfortable missing out on some opportunities that might come your way if you write in a more formal style.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Typ-o! say can you see

Still think typos don't matter? Well, try telling that to the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), which is in the midst of the 2008 Typo Hunt Across America. This week, for example, they've been in Montana, where they discovered this little stinker:

Restroom’s what, I ask you? What belongs to the restroom? Perhaps the state of punctuation in America?
Maybe a certain Fort Wayne blog knew TEAL was headed toward Indiana, and decided it would be best to shut things down for a while.

Photo: the Typo Hunt Across America blog

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Primary doing a number Indiana TV ad inventory

The May 6 primary is severely limiting TV ad inventory--good news for broadcasters, but not such great news for advertisers. The bottom line is that if you're interested in being on the air in the next couple of weeks, you're out of luck--and even if you've already booked space, you still may be out of luck.

The reason? Political ads preempt everything else, regardless of when you reserved your space. If the Clinton, Daniels, Long-Thompson, McCain, Obama, or Schellinger campaigns want your time slot, it's theirs--and there's nothing you can do about it.

One example: we had booked space for a southern Indiana client a few weeks ago, and we found out yesterday that 15 of the spots were being preempted. Our only option was to reschedule them for after the primary if we wanted them to run at all.

Expect the same problem in October, as the general election draws near. That means rates will be high, and you'll want to have a Plan B. In fact, if you don't have to run TV spots in October, it's probably a good month to avoid altogether.

"Telling me what you don't know makes me trust you": Remarkable Communication on communicating with your customers

Great list from the Remarkable Communication blog on Monday: "50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew." The whole list is worth reading, but here are my favorites:

  • Telling me what you don't know makes me trust you.
  • Your employees treat me about as well as you treat them.
  • My life is really stressful. If you can reduce that stress, you become immensely valuable to me.
  • Once you've won my trust and loyalty, the truth is you can screw up once in awhile and I will forgive you. If I don't think you're taking me for granted, that is.
  • When I refer my friends and you give them exceptional service, that makes me look and feel smart. I love that.
  • I'm lousy at admitting I was wrong, but I respect you when you do it.
  • There's no worse feeling than feeling like I was suckered into trusting you. If I'm screaming at you or one of your employees, that feeling is probably behind it somewhere.
  • Our relationship isn't equal and it never will be.
  • I hate salespeople, but I really like to buy things.
  • I want to buy your product, but I need you to help me justify it to myself.
  • I want you to do the hard work for me. Even better if I can get all the credit.
  • I'd rather do it the convoluted hard way than learn something new.
I'll add one more: If it's important to me, you better at least pretend it's important to you. I'd prefer that you think it's important, too, but even pretending to care is better than not caring.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New to the blogroll: AdVerbatims

This morning, a friend sent me a link to the "AdVerbatims: Overheard in Advertising" blog. A sample, and evidence of why it's more-than-blogroll worthy:

#384 - "Overall, it's a great ad. But I don't like the headline, and I don't like the layout" - "What do you like? The border?" - "Well...yes" (Conversation between Client and Agency) social NOTworking

Yes, I've ranted about before, but they just keep asking for it. Today, I received an e-mail from them with the following subject line:

Important announcement from Classmates, Anthony
Now, about the only "important" things Classmates could say at this point would be:

1. We've decided that our site is really lame and we're shutting it down, or

2. Hey! We've finally realized that in a Facebook world, no one is crazy enough to pay to read e-mails, see photos, or browse their friends' profiles. We're dumping user fees and going to an ad supported model.

But that wasn't their "important" news. Instead, here's what they had to tell me (emphasis and redness theirs):

Want to talk with people from Salem State College? Now you can! For a limited time, post your thoughts, opinions, and news on Classmates message boards—for free.
So, let me get this straight: I can, for a limited time, do something for free that I can do for free and for an unlimited time on just about every other social networking site?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Customer service is really just a matter of good communication

Seth Godin posts about a mistake companies make all too often when customers complain:

Arguing with a customer who takes the time to write to you does two things: it keeps them from ever writing again and it costs you (at least) one customer. Perhaps that’s your goal. Just take a moment before you launch an unhappy former customer into the world.
And B.L. Ochman proves that every now and then, a company gets it right:

I called New Balance. I left messages on a few executive's voicemails, escalating my way up to the president. Lo and behold, he answered his own phone. Now that's pretty impressive in itself. But it gets better.

He listened to my story, said he was sorry I had that experience, and promised to call the store owner to tell them to exchange the shoes for me. When would he do that? Immediately.

I am impressed as hell so far.
What's the common denominator here? Good customer service is really just a matter of good communication. It's the right person saying the right thing at the right time. As simple as that is, it's amazing how infrequently it happens.

Bonus coverage: Yeah, I'm a New Balance fan. While means I'm also a giant cliche.

Photo: pennywise on stock.xchng

More great speech prep advice from Six Minutes

Rehearsing your presentation is obviously crucial to your success as a speaker. But according to Six Minutes, there's a time to put down your notes and invest your time on some other key preparation techniques, like:

  • Arriving early to get comfortable with the room/logistics
  • Meeting the audience and building rapport with them before you start
  • Listening to other speakers who precede you on the agenda so you can make your speech relevant to what they've already said
It's good advice, and it's the kind of stuff that often gets forgotten in favor of one last practice run through your speech. Remember, if you practice enough before you get to the venue, a last minute walk through won't make much of a difference.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Facebook Chat beta tester discusses pros and cons (mostly cons)

I'm a big believer in the power of social networks, and I'm convinced we're seeing a shift in preference toward IM over e-mail. Now, the Personal Branding Blog reports, those two worlds are colliding in a big way, with this month's launch of a Facebook Chat beta. Does this tester like what he sees? Well, not all of it:

I can see there being problems with the new IM feature. People or stalkers will have an easier path to harassing others. Also, don’t you think we already know enough about people and when they are online? Now you are going to let us follow people and contact them at free will! Anyways, any move you make on Facebook will be shown to your network and those outside of your network, so try and set privacy and be careful of this new IM feature.
Do you share these concerns? If you're a Facebook member, do you plan to use Chat?

Bonus coverage: Facebook's Josh Wiseman on the Chat beta

Mark Cuban on interruption vs. engagement

Mark Cuban is right when he says that turning up the volume is one of the fastest ways to get people to stop listening to you.

Almost without exception, a well-placed whisper is more effective than random screaming.

Photo: kk+ on Flickr

Think you've seen it all? You probably haven't seen this.

Looking for a way to rise above other marketing messages? Well, there's something new in the air: Flogos.

These floating logos (hence "Flogos") are a modern skywriting of sorts, but with shapes, not words. They're also more environmentally friendly since they're dispatched from the ground, not the sky. According to the Flogos website, they're made of soap, foam, and
"lighter than air gases such as helium." Shapes can be customized to 24" or 36," and you can have any color you want, as long as you want white. More size and color options are allegedly on the way.

Does this mean we've run out of places to advertise on the ground? Not quite. But it probably means the future of advertising as a whole--not just billboards--may be up in the air.

Hat tip: AdFreak

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Niche social nets better for advertisers, AP story says

Today's Journal Gazette includes a great AP story on the shift from macro to micro social networks. A sample:

MySpace, Facebook and, to a smaller degree, Bebo may be getting most of the attention, but social-networking sites geared toward hobbies, sports and other specific interests – alongside those targeting certain age groups, ethnicities or diseases – are finding growing success as supplements to the larger online hangouts or even as replacements.
In addition to benefiting their members, these niche networks also benefit advertisers by providing them with access to a targeted audience, which in turn allows the sites to charge a premium for ad space:
As the larger sites struggle to capitalize on their diverse membership, the specialty sites believe they can offer advertisers a smaller, but passionate audience for which they’d be willing to pay more – as much as 10 times more...
So the next time you're considering buying ads on MySpace or Facebook, dig a little deeper. If you've done an adequate job of defining your target audience, there may be a better choice out there.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

PTOS--and everywhere else

According to a Washington Post story repeated in today's Journal Gazette, we're moving from PLOS to PTOS--Parent Texting Over Shoulder:

[P]arents are...becoming the fastest-growing demographic in text messaging...

In the past two years, use of the technology by those ages 45 to 54 increased 130 percent, according to M:Metrics, a market-research firm. By comparison, those ages 13 to 17 increased their text messaging by far less, 41 percent.


“Parents like the immediacy of it and that it is not intrusive. ... It’s become an important way of communicating with their kids,” said Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T Mobility, the nation’s largest wireless carrier. Children are introducing their parents to the technology; in a 2006 study commissioned by AT&T, 50 percent of adults who text messaged said they started because of their children.

Two trends are contributing to this shift in how parents communicate:

1. The slow growth of text messaging as a replacement for e-mail

2. As mentioned in the story, a growing desire for immediacy. We love e-mail because it's simple and convenient, but it's asynchronous, meaning there's no expectation it will be replied to immediately. That's not true of texting, of course.

If you're a parent, do you text your kids? And if you're a kid, ru ok w/dat?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Subtle. Great.

What's makes this Avis spot so great? It gives you exactly the right amount of information (the accents, the Yankees mugs, the red tie), without giving you too much. Genius.

Hat tip: AdFreak

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What's Noo? on an old problem

Two reasons why people still can't stand techjargon:

1. The way it's used by IT people like Saturday Night Live's "Nick Burns, Your Company's Computer Guy," and

2. Ads like

If automakers can come up with decent brand names for cars, why can't computer companies do the same with PCs?

Earning the !

I attended the Fort Wayne AdFed lunch today, which featured a presentation by Clint! Runge of Archrival, a "youth branding agency" in Lincoln, Neb. Let's start with that exclamation point: yes, it's really there at the end of his first name. When I first saw it I thought it was some cheesy gimmick that he used as a substitute for doing anything worthy of an exclamation point.* However:

1. Turns out that it's the name his mother gave him (or at least that's the story he's telling, which makes it much more palatable than if were just a cheesy gimmick), AND

2. This guy definitely deserves an exclamation point or two

Why do I say that? Well, a few takeaways from his presentation which focused on marketing to millenials/gen Y:

- If you're a Gen Xer (like me, and Runge), you're A LOT different than a millenial. So while you might think you can predict what they'll like since you're fairly close in age, you can't. Don't try. Instead, TALK TO THEM. Listen to them. Find out what they like, and why. And then...

- Be authentic--and you can't fake authenticity. Milenials won't even glance at a marketing message that seems contrived. They're not immune to marketing, but it has to speak their language and respect their low tolerance for artifice.

- Increasingly for everyone, but certainly for millenials, the cell phone is the "first screen," much more important to them than a computer. Marketers should be thinking well beyond simple web pages to consider how their content will translate to a mobile world.

- It's no longer true that cool starts on the coasts and moves to the center. Because of technology, what's cool in New York and L.A. is cool in Fort Wayne and Lincoln, Neb. pretty much simultaneously.

- Millenials want to be part of something bigger than themselves, which helps explain their connection to causes like the environment and the Barack Obama campaign, as well as the growth of social networks

- Niche social networks are capturing more and more of millenials' attention. I was already convinced of that, but it's good to know that I'm not alone.

- Urban gaming is on the rise. And I wish I had thought of Pacmanhattan. So does Runge, but the difference between him and me is that...

- He did come up with National Collegiate Rock Paper Scissors Tournament, which I only wish I had come up with.

All in all, pretty exclamation point-worthy stuff, and a good use of an hour or so, even on a really busy day.

*This would be the typical Gen X skepticism/vitriol rearing its ugly head. Just so you know.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The future of billboards is up in the air

Billboards are hard to like. They clutter the landscape. They can distract drivers. And when they're bad, they're really bad.

But here's another thing about billboards: when done right, they can be tremendously effective.

Outdoor advertising is enjoying a resurgence of sorts, especially compared to TV, radio, and print. While other media struggle with changing consumption habits, and as audiences discover new ways to avoid ads, billboards remain as conspicuous as ever. There's no way to change the channel or fast forward past a billboard, making them an increasingly attractive option for advertisers looking to maximize their return on investment.

Outdoor advertising companies are looking to capitalize on this recent success by employing new technologies to give advertisers even more options. One trend, discussed in a recent article on, is digital billboards. Instead of using paper or vinyl, digital boards consist of nothing more than pixels, meaning the production cost (other than creative) is $0, and the message can be changed in seconds. The Fortune story details some of the benefits:

Rather than a business of months-long contracts and time-consuming ad installations, billboards would become real-time competitors to local newspaper advertising (as if newspapers needed yet another headache). Instead of alerting drivers to a Denny's restaurant three exits away, billboards could advertise a nearby open house scheduled for that day or a sale at a local supermarket or a public service announcement. Reilly notes that the Cincinnati Reds used digital billboards to announce its starting pitcher for a same-day game.
There's one downside not mentioned in the Fortune story, however: when you advertise on a paper or vinyl board, you own the space all day and night for the entire length of your contract. With digital boards, your ad rotates with other messages, meaning that traffic can miss it depending on the number ads in the rotation (the fortune story says the ads change every 6 - 10 seconds).

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ind., on I-65, and saw a couple of new digital boards firsthand. My take is that given the additional expense associated with digital board space, they only make sense for advertisers who have a time-sensitive message, and even then the pros and cons should be considered carefully. This is especially true for Indiana advertisers: because digital boards are fairly new to the Hoosier state, digital board availability is scarce. That means you'll pay even more for the seconds of exposure you'll receive.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ad critics lament depictions of men as "idiots," create new stereotype of men as joyless buzzkill artists

I'm all for civility in communication, but I also think this column is a bit over the top. While I agree that we need more male role models, I also think it's important to laugh every now and then. According to the authors, however, I'm just being a typical stupid guy:

In a TV culture like ours, the fact that the only fathers one can see on TV are buffoonish (at best) does influence young people's perceptions of fathers.

For young men, it makes it less likely they'll aspire to be fathers, see their own value as fathers or, as [syndicated columnist Leonard] Pitts explains, want to do the "hard but crucial work of being Dad." For young women, it means they'll be more likely to be misled into thinking that their children's fathers aren't important, that divorce or separation from them is no big deal, or that they should, as is the increasing trend, simply dispense with dad altogether and have children on their own.
Sheesh. And you thought it was just a harmless Cheetos commercial.

So what needs to be done to restore the male to a more dignified place in society? The authors have a few suggestions, including this one:

As we consider whether it's wise to make men the butt of every joke, we should also consider the joke itself. Many see the 1960s as the golden age of advertising. Those who crafted the ads of that era created work of superb quality, seldom if ever resorting to the contempt, shame and aggressive ridicule of today's ads.
Well, I don't know about that.

If you ask me, men get their fair share of the sarcasm stick, right along with women, youngsters, oldsters, and everyone else. But even if not, and the trade-off is fewer dad-as-doofus spots in exchange for a kinder, gentler, "Butterfly Kisses"-ier tone, count me out. I'll be over here in the corner, wearing the dunce cap and the "I'm with stupid" T-shirt.

Photo credit: I like on Flickr

I just can't help myself

Of course, if your interruption problem is your own short attention span, and not Outlook e-mails, you might want to try LeechBlock. Lifehacker has the details, download instructions, and--if you're beyond help--links to hundreds of other posts that will suck hours out of your day.

Pardon the interruption

Tired of hearing a ding, buzz, or beep every time you get a new message in Outlook? Simply GTD has a 25-second tutorial that shows you how to turn off notifications, while still receiving e-mails.

Another idea I like even better, and one I use myself: set your default Outlook status to "offline," so you can manually send and receive e-mails. This allows you to have full control over when messages flow into your inbox and from your outbox, which eliminates many interruptions altogeth
er. You can focus on the task at hand, and deal with e-mail in "chunks" instead of one at a time.

How do you set Outlook offline? Just right click on the status box on the lower-right- hand corner, and change the setting (see below). Then when you're ready to accept more messages, just hit the send/receive button in the header.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

McCain takes a licking, but built Ford tough

According to a Washington Post story printed in today's Journal Gazette, Barack Obama's not the only presidental candidate with a differentiated brand:

A pair of market research firms in South Carolina polled voters there in April and September and concluded that if [John] McCain’s brand were a product, it would be part Ford pickup, part Wrangler jeans and part Timex watch.

“His brand strengths were identified as: trustworthiness, looks presidential, prepared for the job, has relevant experience,” said Mark Newsome, a senior vice president at Chernoff Newman, which conducted the surveys with MarketSearch. “He’s really resting his laurels on his own brand.”

But the firms also concluded that McCain’s brand has weaknesses: a striking lack of warmth and personal charm. And Democrats insist that there are opportunities to attack the building blocks of the McCain brand, especially his assertion that he is a moderate.

So, what about Obama and Hillary Clinton? What do you see as their primary brand strengths and weaknesses? And if their brands were products, which products would they be?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I recently wrote a three-part series on branding for Business People magazine. The first column, shown below, appeared in the March issue. The April issue, which came out this week, includes the second segment. I'll post parts two and three here, too, after they're published.

Understanding Branding
Knowing what branding isn’t helps you define what it is

Branding is one of the most misunderstood aspects of marketing—and that’s unfortunate, because branding is integral to every company’s success. In this first of three ProSpeak articles, I’ll discuss some of common misconceptions about branding and define what it is by explaining what it’s not. In the process, you’ll learn how your company can use the different components of your brand to tell a story that cuts through in today’s cluttered, chaotic communication environment.

Let’s start with the most common misconception about brands.

Your brand is not just your logo. There’s a good reason why logos and brands are often confused with one another. The marketing definition of “brand” is derived from the “brand” that ranchers use to identify their cattle. It’s a mark of ownership, a distinctive visual clue of what belongs to whom. Your logo has a similar function, but as a result it’s limited in its ability to tell a comprehensive story. You should think of your logo, then, simply as a tap on the shoulder that reminds people your company exists. But the impressions they have about you go well beyond the logo itself.

Your brand is not just your company name. Your name should be just as distinctive as your logo, but it doesn’t always tell a story—nor should it have to. As brands change over time, it often makes sense to change your tagline, your logo, or your advertising, but it’s rarely a good idea to change your name. Why? It takes a long time for a name to gain traction, and you don’t want to squander the equity you’ve earned unless your name has a strong negative connotation (one example: the change from “The Phillip Morris Companies, Inc.” to “Altria Group, Inc.”). Also, your name no longer has to be descriptive in and of itself: after all, does the “A & M” in “Texas A & M” have any meaning today? Is the scope of IBM’s products and services limited to the manufacture of “business machines”? Today, it’s just as likely that a successful name—“Google” or “Starbucks,” for example—says very little on its own about what you offer, until your audience is informed by the larger context provided by the brand.

Your brand is not just your mission, vision, or values statement. Mission, vision and values statements should be written for your internal audience (if they’re written at all). They are the traffic signals that tell your people what you stand for and what they should focus on. However, they won’t—nor should they intend to—replace well-crafted marketing messages designed to make an emotional connection with your audience. That’s where a tagline comes in. However...

Your brand is not just your tagline. Nike says “Just do it.” For McDonald’s, it's “I’m lovin’ it.” And for Target, it’s “Expect More. Pay Less.” These taglines often summarize a larger message about the brand, but they’re merely a jumping off point. The tagline often creates a question in the consumer’s mind (Just do what? I’m loving what? Expect more of what?), with the answer inherent in the context provided by the brand.

Your brand is not just your advertising. Advertising certainly helps you tell your story, but it’s a one-way conversation. Think of your advertising as the first thing you would say when introducing yourself to your customers, and your brand as the rest of the dialogue. One important note about advertising: even if it’s great, there’s no guarantee your audience will continue the conversation. That’s because...

Your brand is not something you control. Today, the consumer is in charge. As suggested above, your advertising, your logo, or your tagline may start a conversation with your customers. But their experience with your product or service—and the experiences others have shared with them—are what gets them to either continue the conversation or end it on their own terms. This word-of-mouth is what truly defines your brand. And while you should do everything you can to make customers speak well of you, they alone have the final say.

Now that you know some of the things your brand isn’t, let’s move on to what it is. First of all, your brand is everything mentioned above, and more. It’s the colors you use in your marketing materials. The media coverage you receive. The way your employees dress, speak, and respond to concerns. Perhaps the best definition is that your brand is a promise—the net impression that your customers have based on what you and others have told them, and what they’ve learned from their own experience. If they see the value in that promise, they’ll interact with your product or service. And when their experience is consistent with that promise, that’s branding at its most powerful. That’s when you start turning your customers into advocates for your brand, and when they become your most valuable asset.

So, how do you build a world-class brand? Next month, I’ll discuss some brands that have succeeded by making, and keeping, differentiated promises. What you’ll discover is that it doesn’t take an enormous marketing budget to build a great brand—but no matter how much you spend, it’s worth every penny you invest.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday's AdFed meeting to focus on youth marketing

Click to enlarge

I'm planning to attend this one. If you're going, too, remember that it's at USF this time.

Addition by subtraction

Want to make your writing more powerful? Cut unnecessary words--like these, as suggested by Daily Writing Tips.

It's Friday, and "Yass" is a city in Australia

Hat tip: Billboardom

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What "awareness" really means

What does it mean when advertisers say they're trying to "increase awareness"? Sometimes, of course, it means just that--they simply want people to know about their product or service. But more often, it means they don't know what they want to accomplish. No one wants to admit that, of course, so they say they're striving to "increase awareness," knowing it sounds better than "I don't know."

The problem is that while "increasing awareness" sounds impressive, "awareness" is almost impossible to measure. And since it can't be measured, it also can't be deemed a failure--which makes "awareness" advertising seem like a pretty safe bet. This leads to even more "awareness" advertising, and before long, you've convinced yourself that you must be increasing awareness--after all, look at all the ads you've run!

So the next time you hear someone say they're trying to "increase awareness," ask what that means. It may be that they actually want to generate inquiries, or increase sales. If so, measure that. But if not, dig deeper. If it can't be measured, it may not be worth doing at all.

He's got the Brazen Careerist's vote

Slate doesn't like the new ads for Johm...make that John...McCain. And the typo shown above is just one of the reasons.

Penelope Trunk is on the McCain campaign payroll.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Mattel tries to beat Scrabulous at its own game

Remember the Scrabulous Scuffle? Well, Mattel decided to take the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" route...for a while. But now, according to a Monday New York Times story, Mattel is rethinking its strategy:

RealNetworks is quietly introducing a version of Scrabble...despite pledging to save Scrabulous, the wildly popular, unauthorized online version of the board game.

In recent weeks, Gamehouse, a division of RealNetworks, introduced “Scrabble by Mattel” on the social networking site Facebook.
So far, though, Scrabulous continues to beat Mattel at its own game:
As of Sunday, the official Scrabble game had attracted fewer than 2,000 daily Facebook users, in contrast to more than 600,000 on Scrabulous.
Mattel seems to be making the wrong move once again. I still think the company is justified in claiming that Scrabulous is infringing on its copyright, but they're not putting themselves in a position to elicit a lot of sympathy. By continuing to set their opponent up for the branding equivalent of a triple-word score, Mattel is playing a game it can't win.

Bonus coverage: Click here to see what Facebook users are saying about Scrabble by Mattel. It may just be a coincidence, but it only takes seven tiles to spell "You suck."

OJR calls for death, resurrection of newspaper industry

Earlier this year I discussed the opportunities newspapers have today, given their unmatched ability to link an audience to local news and content. Of course, capitalizing on these opportunities will require a complete reinvention, where the primary product becomes local news and information offered exclusively online, in near real-time, along with video, social networking capabilities, and true interactivity.

Today, The Online Journalism Review argued in favor of a similar type of shift, requiring the death of newspapers as we know them. The skinny:

Words matter. So long as newsrooms see themselves as "newspapers," the needs of that medium will dictate the organization's production process. And things like online community management will be left to automated tools, and, maybe, a few supplemental staffers.

I'm not arguing that newsrooms should stop printing papers. They should continue, as they should offer their work in any medium for which there is significant public demand. But the day quickly approaches when successful news businesses will liberate themselves from the term "newspaper company."

Only then can they end their focus on the old way of doing things and fully accept the possibility of a completely new one. One where reporters become as mildly concerned with production of a printed newspaper product as they have been with the production of the online one until now.

Great content and great tools are not enough to build the large, habitual audience that content publishers will need to maximize their opportunities to make money online, through advertising and sales. Even more than those two things, a website needs great engagement with its readers. And engagement with the public is something that's been budgeted out of too many newsrooms over the past generation.

It's time to bring that back. It's time to do that online. And if a beloved label needs to be sacrificed to inspire the innovation that will enable this effort, so be it. It's time for the "newspaper" industry to die. Because we all need the news industry to survive.

If newspapers put their online product first and made print supplemental (or got rid of print altogether), would they succeed? Well, given the problems they're experiencing today, it's about time someone gave it shot.

Hat tip:

A Trunk-load of bad advice

Penelope Trunk, the self-proclaimed Brazen Careerist, has some advice about typos that goes beyond brazen right into just-plain-bad territory. After making some good points about how typos in blog posts and reader comments aren't a big concern, she has this follow-up in the comments:

I actually think that a few typos in a resume are fine. It’s too hard to not have typos if you’re customizing your resume to every job. And, it takes such insanely careful proofreading to catch typos in your own resume, that maybe an error-free resume is a sign that someone is an obsessive-compulsive and not a good hire. Just a thought.
"Just a thought." But not a very good one.

The problem with Trunk's advice (spelled out more completely in her 2006 post, "You sent your resume with a typo? Get over it") is that it encourages people to be lazy with a key first impression. Her post was likely a response to a 2006 study (or one like it) concluding that 84% of executives won't consider candidates whose resumes have a typo*. Trunk's erudite response?
I don't believe it.
That's great. When the research doesn't agree with your need to say something controversial, just ignore it. More good advice.

I may be more sarcastic than others, but I'm not alone in my criticism of Trunk. One of the best arguments against her advice, for example, comes from
Vigorous Writing:

[I]f Trunk simply argued that commenters on blogs shouldn't worry about correcting the author's grammar, I'd be in her corner. But, she took this legitimate argument and ran with it to an unattractive and dangerous place, namely that it's okay to use incorrect grammar in most kinds of writing because the only thing that really matters is the argument.

As a career advice columnist, Trunk certainly has to know the importance of a job interviewer's appearance and presentation. A candidate may be highly qualified (similar to a strong idea) but if he doesn't present himself very well (similar to a post with several grammar typos), then he's hurt his chances at getting the job (similar to people ignoring your great idea because they're distracted by your typos).
The bottom line is that you can believe Trunk, and take risks with your resume, or you can do the difficult work it takes to get it right, which includes:

Running spell check before you print/send. Sounds obvious, but still worth mentioning.

2. Having someone else proofread it. As mentioned in a previous post, good writers know that they can't catch all their own errors, so they have a trusted proofreader give it a second look. It's a step worth taking, even it means you can't send your resume right away.

Striving for perfection. You may not always get there, but it's an important target to aim for when you're sending a resume. Why? Prospective employers are looking for an excuse to put your resume in the "no" pile. A typo doesn't guarantee that's where it will land, but it sure doesn't help your cause.

4. Or, hiring someone to do it for you. I do agree with Trunk on this one: if you can't write a resume that's error free, you might be better off leaving the details to a professional. In fact, this is one the best arguments against Trunk's claim that details don't matter. If they didn't, why not just wing it yourself?

As Trunk states, "not all typos are created equal"--and that's why it's so important to avoid them on your resume. If you're a blogger, typos won't completely ruin your rep. If you comment on blogs, people probably should cut you some slack if you include a few typos. But remember, in most cases, your resume acts as your surrogate, a first impression designed to get you in the door. As such, there are few pieces of writing that demand a higher sense of urgency with the details. (And as one commenter mentioned on Trunk's blog, Seth Godin's post last week about "scraps" is worth keeping in mind.) After all, if you can't get it right on your resume, why should an employer expect that you'll get things right if he or she gives you the job?

*The post this links to is signed by an "Anthony J.," but it's a guy named Anthony Meany, not me. Why does Anthony Meany go by "Anthony J."? I dunno, but you can ask him.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Clinton ad begins Tuesday; Obama debuts new spot; SBB yawns

The first Hillary Clinton TV spot to run in Indiana will debut on Tuesday, four weeks ahead of the May 6 primary. Today's Journal Gazette reports that the ad carries an endorsement from Sen. Evan Bayh:

On TV ads that will appear statewide beginning Tuesday, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., says Clinton has a “spine of steel” and will change the North American Free Trade Agreement that cut barriers to trade with Canada and Mexico.
Here's the ad:

Does the spot work? Well, if you like Evan Bayh and you like Hillary Clinton, you'll probably like it. If you don't like either one of them, you probably won't. If you like Bayh but not Clinton, then you'll probably still like Bayh despite his endorsement of Clinton. (I know--this is exactly the kind of insightful commentary you look for from SBB. I aim to please.)

And if you like Barack Obama, you'll probably like his new spot:

True to the consistency that brand Obama has demonstrated throughout the campaign, the new spot is very similar to his prior Indiana ad:

My take is that both Obama ads and the Clinton ad are pretty ho-hum. No one's taking any chances. No one's telling us anything we don't know already. And no one is likely to change anyone's mind.

The biggest impact these ads probably will have on Indiana voters, in fact, is that they'll make air time much more expensive, and inventory much harder to come by, during the next month. The big winners, then, are our friends at 21/33 and 15.

Hat tip: Taking Down Words

Fast Company on the Obama brand

On Friday, after Barack Obama's visit to the Fort, I posted about "The Obama Brand"--the marketing behind the campaign. That very topic is also this month's Fast Company cover story. A sample:

The fact that Obama has taken what we thought we knew about politics and turned it into a different game for a different generation is no longer news. What has hardly been examined is the degree to which his success indicates a seismic shift on the business horizon as well. Politics, after all, is about marketing -- about projecting and selling an image, stoking aspirations, moving people to identify, evangelize, and consume. The promotion of the brand called Obama is a case study of where the American marketplace -- and, potentially, the global one -- is moving. His openness to the way consumers today communicate with one another, his recognition of their desire for authentic "products," and his understanding of the need for a new global image -- all are valuable signals for marketers everywhere.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Forvo: sounds like a good idea

One limitation of traditional dictionaries is that written word pronunciation suggestions can be pretty cryptic. Forvo offers something a lot better: audible pronunciations of words from more than 170 languages. A couple of caveats:
1. There are less than 1,200 English language pronunciations available so far, most of which are useless, and
2. The pronunciations are user-submitted
, so proceed with caution.

However, it's open source, so you can add your own and
police any blatant mispronunciations. So even if you don't know how Wikipedia is pronounced, it's kind of like that.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

How much has changed in 50 years?

Great collection available online from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas: two years of The Mike Wallace Interview. From 1957-60, the 60 Minutes vet hosted a series of sit-downs with everyone from Salvador Dali to Eleanor Roosevelt, and UT has made select 1957-58 clips available. The one that piqued my specific interest was Wallace's interview with Edward Weeks, editor of The Atlantic. It's a discussion of communication, culture, business, and advertising, and most of it sounds like it's from 60 minutes ago, not 50 years ago. The failings of the big U.S. automakers. Media consolidation. "Those dreadful singing commercials." It's all there. Check it out for the latest lesson in how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Obama brand

A friend pointed me to a Brian Collins interview in Wednesday's New York Times that praised "Barack Obama’s sophisticated typographical design scheme." In Collins' words:

[T]he Obama campaign really stands out. From the bold “change” signs to their engaging Web site to their recognizable lapel pins, they’ve used a single-minded visual strategy to deliver their campaign’s message with greater consistency and, as a result, greater collective impact.
The NYT piece follows a March 30 Los Angeles Times story that says each campaign has done well, stating that "Clinton's friendly serif, McCain's classic Optima and Obama's newcomer Gotham are [all] on message." But according to Collins, Obama is the hands-down choice--not just from a typography standpoint, but when it comes to his campaign's overall brand:
Barack Obama is running the first real transmedia campaign of the 21st century. His people not only understand how media has splintered, but how audiences have splintered, too. Cell phones, mobile devices, Web sites, e-mail, social networks, iPods, laptops, billboards, print ads and campaign events are now just as important as television. The senator’s design strategy has given these diverse platforms (and their different audiences) a coherence that makes them all work together. I’ve worked with giant, global corporations who don’t do it this well.
This integration gives Obama a significant edge, but his campaign enjoys some other benefits from a branding perspective. First, he's doing well with young voters, over whom branding has the greatest influence. What they lack in money they make up for in incredibly large, viral social networks, and they have the most diverse media consumption habits as well. They also know technology, and use it well in communicating messages that they believe in. That makes Obama seem omnipresent, at least among voters under 40.

Another thing about those young voters--they generally like great design. And when your brand has a strong visual message, your audience is much more likely to share it, wear it, and display it. One example: I was walking down Wayne St. today, and there was a large, Shepard Fairey-designed "Hope" banner on the east side of one of the buildings. And my first thought--the same thought I have every time I see it--is how striking it is. Now I think the comparisons to Soviet-style icongraphy are accurate, which makes it a risk, but the fact that first-run "Hope" posters are selling for $1,500 on eBay indicates that it's hitting a nerve.

Sure, fonts by themselves don't win elections, and neither does great design. But strong branding can impact a
political campaign in the same way it impacts consumer preference. JFK understood this. Reagan got it, too. We can debate whether or not that's a good thing, but it sure isn't going to change anytime soon.