August 2007

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There was an Associated Press news item today about a huge once-in-a-lifetime spider web in Texas. It measures close to 200 yards. The web is by some accounts world’s largest mosquito catching device. Where am I going with this, you ask? Well, if you read my post yesterday and that of Nico MacDonald on whether or not the Web (cap “W”) can change society, you might ask yourself “Why don’t spiders work together more often and create an easier food source?”  They certainly have the technology.  It would seem they just don’t have the “societal” desire for change. Hmmm. Society changes society, not technology.  Score another point for Nico.

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Today I received an email from Nico MacDonald which pointed me to an important post he wrote on whether or not the Web can change society. I plan on reading Nico’s blog moving forward. The guy is a thinker.  This particular entry can be found here: 
 
 
I agree with much of what he says: society changes society, technology doesn’t. But look at this simple act of communication. I found Nico, read him, learned from him, and have been inspired by him to opine. And, I’m not doing it in a one-to-one email. I’m doing it on the searchable web. Society does changes society. Absolutely. However society is made up of people, and as the Web allows more and more of these people into the process of governance, the change may change.  Or, inaction may turn to action. 
 
Our loftiest goal at Zude (my employer) is to give the Web to all the people. Where a kid can write a school paper about the invasion of Normandy and get first-hand information, through a dialog, with someone who actually landed on the beach. This can happen not just because of search, but because a new class of people — those who heretofore have not had a web presence – can now have a tool by which to publish their thoughts online. The Web can break down social gerrymandering on a massive scale if used correctly.  (Why do you think North Korea is so afraid of the Internet?)
 
Democracy gives all the people a voice and a vote. The Web and Web 2.0 technology brings more people into the process. 
 
Stay tuned for more on how the Web can create societal change. And thanks Nico.
 

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Tactics before strategy makes me crazy. Today’s digital world sometimes creates this environment. I read yesterday about H-P’s new $300 million dollar advertising effort to promote its printer business, and though I read about the effort in national newspapers and an advertising trade weekly, never really understood the idea. Goodby? H-P? What’s the idea?
 
One item that was reported and was apparently newsworthy was this:
 
“For out of home, there will be electronic billboards in Las Vegas and New York’s Time’s Square. In New York, users will be able to build their own (Gwen) Stefani doll and e-mail it to their cell phones. In Las Vegas, they will be able to move around a stream of digital photos that center on Stefani and Burton (the CEO of Burton Snowboards).”
 
Need I say more?
 

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There were two interesting announcements today that point to trends in the marketing world and both originate in China. Tsingtao Beer profits and sales are way up, due to increased consumption of brew in China and Chinese car companies like Great Wall Motor and Cherry Automobile Co. are growing faster than expected — and not just because they are selling to a new, emerging class of Chinese with disposable income. It’s because other developing countries, such as those in Africa, are finding value in Chinese automobiles. A new car in Africa doesn’t have 10 airbags or new age catalytic converters (not that there’s anything wrong with them), so their prices are lower and they’re outselling US and European brands. China is growing, consuming and growing smart.

 
I was driving around Puerto Rico a couple of months ago and was amazed at the number of Suzuki cars on the road. They outnumbered other brands 4 to 1. Now Suzuki’s aren’t Chinese, but they are a value brand and though the Puerto Rican economy has been dinged lately, by and large it’s doing okay. Many of these Suzukis were new. Clearly, Puerto Ricans want value. And the leading local beer in Puerto Rico, by the way, is Medalla. Why does it lead the market? It tastes good and costs less.
 
As China goes on line (not online) with more and more low wage jobs pushing out mass-produced products of value, we need to carefully watch the lower end of our market. We have only scratched the surface of what’s to come from China and other foreign-based value brand marketers. If you want a case to study, check out the growth of the Hyundai automobile brand in the U.S.
 

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A GfK Roper Consulting study just reported that American brands are taking a major image hit around the world. Iconic brands like Coke, MacDonald’s and Gillette are losing their luster, while BMW, Sony and Honda are gaining. Could this be tied to our foreign policies around the world? Of course, it is.

 
The Ugly American was once cartoonish notion of boisterous, demanding tourists. It was almost real enough to be true. Today, however, it’s different.  Abroad, American’s are being painted with a single ideological brush and, fair or not, it is rubbing off on our products. If our products are become negative symbols of America and American culture, things are starting to go downhill fast. 
 
It’s every American’s responsibility to improve our country’s image. Let take control of our image. Leadership begins at home. The home where you park your car.
 

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Chrysler’s new Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl Meyer has been brought in to energize this bobbing-in-the-water brand. Her background with Lexus and chops in luxury marketing is supposedly her edge. If she can actually come into Chrysler and affect real change, she may be successful. But frankly, it comes down to the cars…to the design. 

 
Go into any mall parking lot in America and look around. Do the Chryslers stick out? Can you even see them or are they invisible? A Sebring may catch your eye, but that’s about it.   My 16 year old son likes the Chrysler 300, but I don’t see it. To me, it looks like every other Chrysler, only 5 inches taller.
 
As any marketer knows, marketing starts with the product. Chrysler needs a design point of view. I’d like to hear Ms. Wahl Meyer articulate a mission statement for the Chrysler brand and therefore for the design team. That would be a good start.  Marko-babble like “burnish the image,” and “understand our consumers,” and “focus our marketing approach” sounds like someone without an idea. 

Hey, Ms. Wahl Meyer. What’s the idea?

 

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If you’ve heard about Kid Nation, the new CBS reality show beginning in September, you know it has been discussed recently in the press because of parental concerns about how the kids were treated during production. The show sounds like another installment of Survivor, this time with teens and tweens. Check out a promo video of the show at:

 
 
I may tune in, being a big Survivor fan, but it looks like a weak, predictable premise. It did, however, inspire an idea related to the war in Iraq. How about CBS stage a season of shows in which 40 kids try to solve the morass that is Iraq?   Let’s have America soldier kids get together with Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurd kids and try to find a way out of the conflict. Add to the group some America contractor kids (lots of them), a smattering of (What were they called?) coalition kids and some outside, fanatical sympathizer kids and see what they come up with as a solution?
 
It would not only be good television, we’d probably have 40 survivors and an ending.
 
Are you listening CBS?
 
 

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Dumb Roll Please.

If you play or work in or about the online advertising community you know what pre-roll is. It’s a commercial that appears before a video. There is also post-roll — a commercial that appears after the video. Now there is mid-roll. Mid-roll began when TV channels replayed their episodes online, separating viewing segments by :30 spots, as on TV.

 

Today, YouTube and Google announced a mid-roll unit that begins 15 seconds into a video, and appears silently on the bottom 20% or so of the screen as an overlay.  It is a quiet, see-through video banner ad that clicks through to a longer form selling story. Yahoo and Google have both tested the unit and predict it clicks through at rates 5-10 times higher than banner ads.    

 

To quote Zack de la Rocha “Oh sh*t I got a head rush.” This is a Pandora’s Box that is about to make serious waves in the business of social computing. It seems like an elegant solution, e.g., silent, small, short in duration, but I’m betting there will be user backlash if this approach becomes too ubiquitous — and it’s not going to be pretty for Google. Google, don’t forget from whence you came. 

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Retro Geek

I’m on a plane to San Jose, sitting next to a rather geeky young lady and she’s typing in a foreign word processing application.  I squint and squint and finally figure out it’s Notepad, or Wordpad.  Bare bones typing.  Then I show up at Dave Berlind’s Mashup Camp the next day and happen to sit next to another nerd — a consultant of some sort — and he, too, is typing in Notepad. Weird.

I’m in the heart of the tech country (Stanford, Google, etc.) and people are typing in a foreign, retro and presumably hard-to-use word processing app.  I gotta know why.  A few days later I mention it around the office, and the geeks think I’ve been smoking something, so I remain quiet.  I know what I saw.

Today, many weeks later, I decide to go to Wikipedia and look up Notepad.  You know what it said?  Notepad is a non-formatted text application that removes all tags and format from copy cut and pasted from a website. And vice versa.

Clearly, the people I espied were heavy web users/publishers and found it to be a much more facile approach.

Ergo, I am writing this document in Notepad and will paste it right into LiveJournal.  I’m betting that instead of my normal formatting problems — cutting and pasting and taking extra steps — copy will slide right in.

Of course, as the world’s worst typist, speller and editor, this excercise might be a major mistake.  Let’s see.

 

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What is it about this marketing stuff that is so hard? Sergio Zyman once said marketing is about “Selling more product, to more people, more times, at higher prices.” Why can’t we just focus on that?
 
The Journal today discusses how Phillips-Van Heusen is using social networking and Ellis Island in its latest marketing campaign as a way to sell more Arrow shirts. Either I’m missing something or this is a barrowed interested stunt to get visibility.  And I’m not even saying it won’t work. They may indeed get good visibility, with this tactic de jour, and sell a few cotton oxfords. I don’t see any pink polo shirts moving, but that’s just me. Long term, this is just a mistake. 
 
It’s clearly one of those programs where someone in the company, or at the agency, said “Hey, social networking is big today, let’s build a program.” Clearly the mobile marketing idea (cell phone) didn’t rise to the top of the planning session.
 
These men and women should have taken the $50M they are spending and hired a great shirt designer to invent the next belly shirt or something. Or how about men’s underwear that is “A” cup, or “B” cup. Now there’s an idea.
 
Marketing tactics without strategy dilute brands.
 

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