March 2008

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The Huffington Post’s tagline is “The Internet Newspaper.” It’s awful.  Unless Arianna Huffington plans to removes herself from the masthead and make the property more selfless, the HuffPost should not water down its brand meaning with this lazy tagline. 
 
Using the word “newspaper” as a contextual reference is a mistake. Ms. Huffington can’t compete there. And who would want to? Newspaper ad revenue is down over 9%. Adding the word “Internet” to the line doesn’t make it any better.
 
The Huffington Post is a post — a place for people to post; staffers and non. It has its center of gravity, as does the Drudge Report, and should build around that gravitational pull. Ms. Huffington needs to look within, recognize what makes her property unique and different and deliver more of it. Becoming an internet newspaper, if that is indeed her mission, will only dilute the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post IS an online news and opinion property. What it DOES (the brand promise) is less well articulated. A tag that highlights the “pull” is needed.

 

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There were some serious rock stars at yesterday’s PSFK planner and strategy conference in NYC, but the best part of the conference is trying to figure out who they are. Some guest speakers have done great things, others represent successful coms, edus and nets, still others are emerging – not fully baked. You judge them by their deeds, what they say, the insights they provide and, frankly, their salesmanship.
 
Eric Ribert, an executive chef at Le Bernardin, is a rock star. Putting him on the program was the work of a rock star.  Eric’s gem? “I don’t use customer feedback” to help me decide gastronomic direction. “I do it to please myself.” (Dude, that’s art.) Artists drive culture, if you ask me.
 
A young man from ETSY.com, Robert Kalin, was smart, confident and a hip-shooter. He started out by saying Second Life sucked (my words) and, little did he know, the unflappable gentleman to his left from NASA was about to present the merits of Second Life in his strategy (oops.) Mr. Kalin never missed a beat, never backed down. Rockstar.
 
Steve Bryant NY editor of the Thrillist.com, Mike Hudack founder of Blip.tv, Noah Brier, planner at Naked and Marc Schiller CEO of ElectronicArtists also answered the rock star bell. I liked their freshness of thought and foresight.
 

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Our government promises Americans “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which is exactly what many American’s were aspiring to when taking advantage of sub-prime lending rates to buy their first homes. As it turns out, many of them will lose those homes. 
 
Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain said yesterday “it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.” Niiiice.  Is he saying small borrowers should be penalized for their pursuit of the American dream because of predatory lending practices? It is not the government’s job to watch out for these practices, prevent them and help solve them when things go awry? I think it is. 
 
McCain is trying to make some noise here for his party. Getting the “reds” (sorry) to nod their heads and remember why they are Republican. But it’s a mistake. If we can’t protect our own people in their pursuit of happiness then we’re off course.
 
And that pursuit of happiness thing? It’s a good marketing goal. What pursuit of happiness will the purchase on my product further? That’s a good question for a creative brief.
 

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I’m a brand and marketing planner and one thing I often come across, especially with new ground-breaking products, is mishandling of the is/does. 

 
The “is” is a description of the product. Levy’s are jeans.  MySpace is a social network. Hoegaarden is beer. With a new invention, the “is” is very important. To those who are first-to-market falls the definition of the product and product category. They are responsible for the “is.” The education associated with defining the “is” can be costly, but if the product is indeed a breakthrough, the press and word of mouth will help.
 
The “does” is where marketers often have trouble. The does, is typically framed more in terms of user benefit. Coke is a cola soft drink, but what it does is provide refreshment. Marketers tend to muddle the does, because they are sellers. They can’t stop selling so they pile them on.  
 
Another problem in new product marketing occurs when marketers don’t explain the “is” and go straight to the “does.” Oy. 
 
For mature products, the fight is always the “does.” Tide Extra Strength makes your clothes brighter. Everyone knows what Tide is, so it’s a “does” story. But if the reason Tide makes the clothes brighter is because of a new, breakthrough additive then you are back to the “is” again.   See why this is difficult?
 
Here’s a question: When launching the iPhone, what did Apple think their product was? I finally figured it out.

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Progressive Insurance is sponsoring the Automotive XPrize which will award 10 million dollars to teams that develop a car that exceed 100 miles per gallon. It is a multi-year competition that seeks to spur lots of global design teams to develop fuel-efficient, low emission, commercially viable cars. It’s the kind of thing capitalists can dream up but governments can’t.
 
An X prize competition was established in 1996 to create a “private race to space” and a $10 million prize generated $100 million in contestant investment in the technology. This is the goal of Progressive Automotive’s efforts. 
 
 
What does Geico stands for? Certainly car insurance. 15 minutes saves you 15%. Geckos. Neanderthals.  Fill in the blank. But now I know what Progressive stands for. They are progressive.  Their website says Progressive has a “proven tradition of innovative thinking” and “long history of industry firsts,” but that’s all marketing palaver. This contest is real proof or progressiveness.  It’s believable proof. 
 
If given the opportunity to spend my hard-earned with a marketing juggernaut or a progressive company — prices being equal — I’ll opt for the latter every time.
 

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Newsday is America’s 10th largest daily newspaper with the bulk of its readers on Long Island, a long Island abutting New York City and home to just under 3 million people if you don’t count Queens. Newsday is part of the Tribune Company which was recently purchased by Samuel Zell, the real estate magnate.
 
It was reported today that Newsday is going up for sale and the three likely bidders are News Corp., owner of The New York Post, Mort Zuckerman owner of the NY Daily News (NY’s Home Town Paper,) and Charles Dolan, the godfather of Cablevision.
 
Unfortunately, I don’t get a vote but if I did it would be for Mort Zuckerman. The New York Post has grown circulation the last few years and cut into the lead of the Daily News but is still hemorrhaging money. The Dolans have had some hits and misses over the years but don’t get the news business. Their Cable TV channel “News 12 Long Island” is unwatchable. It reminds me of a news program one might see in Bumpus Mills, TN. 
 
The Daily News is all about the news. It cares about the news. Its plan is to build circulation by focusing on the communities it serves – the boroughs.  Newsday’s way forward is also to better serve the many LI communities it serves.  I wrote a brand position for them a number of years ago which should be their mantra: “We know where you live.” If Newsday delivers on that promise and hooks up with smart newspaper people, its future will be bright.
 

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Technologies, less than a year old, is making it so just about anyone can carry a video camera.
 
The Flip costs $120 and is the equivalent of a point and shoot camera.  But easier. As David Poque of the NY Times says, this camera is not burdened with “feature creep,” so anyone can master it. Or as we like to say at Zude the market extends “from geeks to grandpas.”  When you make something easy for everyone to use (read Nintendo Wii,) market share follows. The Flip already owns 13% share. The Flip has no tapes or disks. No menus. No settings, video light, special effects, headphone jacks. It just works…and works well.
 
The instructions read: Recording videos: 1. Press record button to start/stop. 2. Press up/down keys to zoom in/out.  Playing videos: 3. Press play button to start/stop. 4. Press left/right keys to play previous/next.
 
Technology companies are beginning to catch on that simplicity is in great demand. Now everyone can play a video game. Everyone can make a video. Everyone can build their own website.
 
As more and more Flip Videos make it into pocketbooks, backpacks and pockets, we are going to find that video recording of events will grow exponentially. Unit sales will soar, the universe of buyers will increase, and we’ll see some things that will make your hair curl. 

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One idea or two?

As you may know, I’m a big advocate of the “idea.” Most advertising usually goes way beyond one idea, trying to stuff 3 and 4 key take-aways into an ad, which invariably makes the advertising fail. 
 
Ford Motor Company is trying desperately to work its way out of a tail spin. Truck sales are still keeping Ford alive, but the new leadership has recognized they need to focus on cars to make a come back. The smartest thing I’ve read about Ford in the last twenty years I read today. All Ford advertising is charged now with doing two things. Not one. And though that makes me a little uneasy and will require great creative discipline, I like what I read. 
 
Ford ads must make drivers “feel something” about Ford and “do something” about Ford. These simple directives are important because they allow the ad makers and ad approvers to look at the work before it’s produced and ask those 2 questions: “What does this ad make me feel? And what does this ad make me do.” If the answer is unclear, the work should be killed. Not having written the brand plan for Ford, I can’t say what the “feel” planks are, but this directive is a great start. And, frankly, oh so simple.  
 

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I’m in Austin at SXSW Music. It’s part Mardi Gras, part Woodstock,
part college cut day. All fun. Musicians from all over the world have come to
be discovered and signed…and drink a little Shiner Boch. REM played at a
barbecue place last night.

The city is filled with taste-makers. Every kid with guitar or
pair of drum sticks is betting his or her career on the art they’re performing
down here. Lots of edgy people. One trend I picked up on is fan dissatisfaction
with paper. In the convention center, not too far from where the welcome bags
are given out, is an alcove filled with printed paper. When I say filled I
really mean strewn. It looks quite cool but is definitely a protest.

My SXSW welcome bag must have weighted 8 pounds: It had 3
newspapers, 7 magazines, and countless flyers and cards. Kids and smart adults
today don’t want to see paper wasted. They want to opt in to paper, not
opt-out.

Functional anthropologists might attribute this opt-out statement
to people not wanting to schlep the weight around, but the pile’s prominent
display says protest and speaks to the preference for all things digital.

Oh yeah, and there were also many CDs in the welcome bag. In a couple of years,
they, too, will make the pile.

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AIDA

AIDA. Not the opera, steps to a sale. Awareness. Interest. Desire. Action. That’s what marketing is all about. If you are hiking and come off the trail parched and hit a roadside store for water this process goes very quickly in the water section. If you’re shopping for a car, it goes much more slowly and thoughtfully.

 
Targeted selling has changed through history. Not to go all pony express on you, but from storefront to catalog, to door-to-door and print media, then electronic, DR and now online — things keeping creeping toward targeting perfection. As the large cable companies get together through Project Canoe trying to figure out a way to maximize ad serving on TV, the business is on the verge of another whoosh in ad ROI.
 
We at Zude (the social computing platform I work for) have in our future an even greater plan for targeting ads. Each Zude page contains a multitude of objects. Text is an object, pictures are objects, video, audio, etc.  By knowing what these objects are and analyzing them, we can serve up pretty tight ads. An example: if you have a Zude page with lots of hiking pictures (many labeled “trail”) we might serve up a tent ad. We promise to make it non-obtrusive and welcome.  More efficient ad serving, shrinks the AIDA process down, and gets consumers to Action faster.
 

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