December 2008

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Thank you Oprah for priming the pump of digital book sales. She plugged the Amazon Kindle in October and sales have taken off.   By some accounts, Amazon has sold a million Kindles. Oddly, they won’t announce how many. I wonder if their reticence has something to do with the number of digital books sold. Hmmm. For instance, if 1 million Kindles have been sold, but only 1.1 million digital books, at $11.00 a pop, that would suggest people don’t like the medium. They are not coming back in other words.

Anyway, the Kindle and competitors, which now include the iPhone, will change the book market, no doubt.  Even a geeze like me expects to be a user soon. But book publishers must look out for piracy or they’ll end up like their music counterparts — not making money on their art, but on book signings (digital, of course). The pirates are out there. And even Oprah won’t be able to stop them. Peace! And happy holidays!

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Chrysler Says Thanks

 

“Thank You America” is the headline on a Chrysler print ad in today’s New York Times. The line sits atop a picture of a huge group of employees, 2 paragraphs of copy, the logos of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep and Robert Nardelli’s signature.

After first wondering if spending $50,000 on a print ad is the best use of corporate bailout funds, I’ve decided it is a smart move. Sometimes people just need to hear “Thank you.”  No rationalizations. No explanations. A contrite thank you, said in the right tone, can go a long way.

This was a classy gesture and hopefully the first step in Chrysler’s long road back.  Chrysler owes us…and if it remembers this each and every step on that road back, it just may have a future.

 

 

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Adamo by Dell

Last week I vented again about Dell’s fall from grace, saying it should spend more money in R&D and reinventing the PC, rather than focus on supply chain management. Well, the rumor mill suggests Dell may have been doing just that, creating a form for a new PC that may be slimmer than the MacBook Air. It’s code-named Adamo (silly name, sorry Frank). If Dell can re-capture the mantle of price-leader, this new product should be a real winner for them. Too bad it’s not in time for the holiday season.

This rumor has be true. Dell can’t have slept through this market with its sole innovation the last 3 years being the red laptop with burnished corners. The slim, sleek Adamo should be here soon…and it will be a difference-maker. Take that HP!

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Bravo FedEx.

What’s the idea with FedEx? In these tough times when it is easy to cut headcount or RIF (reduction in force) workers, it’s nice to see companies like FedEx taking a smarter approach. They’ve cut the CEO’s salary 20%, top-tier officers 7-10%, white collars below the vp level 5%, and no cuts for hourly employees. (Per comment below.) All 401K contributions have been suspended and though it’s not a happy time everyone in the company feels the punch. This approach brings the entire company together, encouraging every employee to work harder. No part of the company is left to sulk in the corner. No spiteful anger out on the street — because fewer people are let go.

A few years ago, I’m told, FedEx took this same approach when things were badand they turned their business around nicely. This is leadership. This is shared responsibility. This is the way to enlist an army to turn things around. Bravo FedEx. 

 

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As of this year, there are 78 million baby boomers in the U.S. and many of them have living parents. The aging population is huge. I’ve been doing some planning in and about this sector and having spoken to dieticians, nutritionists, gerontologists, physicians, nursing home execs and those tangentially allied with the pharmaceutical industry, I can safely say that we, as a society, are prolonging life and suffering beyond what is necessary and it’s not a good thing.

The suffering hits three bull’s eyes. First, the aging patient him or herself. Second, the caregiver who is typically a family member providing ongoing care and assistance. And third, the pocketbook of all Americans. If the aged weren’t ready to go, there would be no such thing as Do Not Resuscitate or Health Power of Attorney. Many elders who are ready to go, only agree to stick around because they feel obliged to, enduring undo pain and suffering to keep others happy.  Caregivers, bearers of the biggest burdens and most anguish, are quitting and losing jobs to help their infirm loved ones at home, rather than send them to homes.  And lastly, though the pharmaceutical business is doing some wonderful things, some say they are not so much looking for cures as looking for ways to prolong treatment.  Total healthcare dollars spend in America are like 20+% of the GDP and they are often spent so efficiently.

Read a brochure on aging or hospice or end-of-life and you often see the word dignity. There is no dignity in wasting.  We can’t legislate solutions, but we should be able to talk about them and keep from causing loved one so much undo pain.

 

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Good Brief.

I sometimes wonder how creative people can write ads or other selling pieces without trying or using the product. It happens often. One can write a TV spot for a heart operation without having undergone surgery certainly, but for the most part good creative people use the products they sell and competitor’s products. Some creative people feel they know their craft so well, however, that product usage is not important. They are mistaken.

That said, where copywriters, art directors and producers get to truly understand products is through the creative brief. The communications strategy on the brief is a single, focused selling statement which guides the message, but inspiration for the creative idea can come from anywhere on the brief.  A good brief, as the first Peter Kim used to say, inspires creative ideas. A good creative brief gives provides idea stimulation.  A good brief helps creatives live the product. Good brief, good ad. Peace!  

 

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The problem with manufacturing companies whose sole focus is to be expert in supply chain management is that they tend lag as innovators.  They rely on other people’s parts (OPP).  Some end up as middle of the pack companies growing through acquisition. Dell is in this position right now.   One could argue, but for me, Dell made its mark by being a low-cost, high quality computer provider.  Sure, you could order models with tailored features, but when push came to shove, consumers believed Dell drove price points for laptops below the $1,000 mark and was a great value.

For Dell to keep its quality up and its prices down, it needs to do more than find the best circuit manufacturer in China or motherboard maker in Taiwan. It needs some R&D breakthroughs of its own.  And patent it needs to patent them.  Change the form of PCs. Change the interface. Act like a design and component innovator.

Over the past 8 years, to keep revenue up, Dell went into corporate services, then TVs and MP3 players, now they are on a buying jag, looking to purchase other companies.  Back in the day, before supply chain was the pop manufacturing science of the day, American companies invented — and created differentiation through research and development. Peace.

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Claim and proof.

 

My wife has kept the coffee in the freezer for years. This morning I went to make a pot and it’s not there. Why?  Because a woman with whom she works said it is not good to keep coffee in the freezer.  My wife changed her behavior for one of two reasons: the woman is a known, recognized coffee expert or the woman said something that led my wife to believe that putting coffee in the freezer hurts the taste. I suspect it was the latter explanation. The “something” she told my wife had to carry some weight. In advertising or marketing changing behavior requires claim and proof. Just saying it “tastes better if you don’t keep it in the freezer,” is not convincing. Especially to someone who has done it for so long. The claimant needed to persuade or convince through reasonable, explainable proof.  Not “taste test” proof, but scientific sounding, plausible evidence. 

Claim and proof is what selling is all about.   (I’m off to get my first cup of non-freezer coffee in years. Wonder if it’s going to taste any different.) Peace!

 

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Art vs. Craft

What’s the idea with Bob Lefsetz? I’ve seen music blogger Bob Lefsetz in person and he’s a trip. At Canadian Music Week earlier this year he was talking about the draw and star power of today’s musicians and asked a packed house “Would you fuck Feist?”  Point made. Today his post starts with “Fuck Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is a pompous…”

With Lefsetz it’s not about the f-bomb – though, there’s a lot of that – it is about his in-your-face attitude, question-everything-mentality, and amazing prose of the day. There is no better blogger. He gets today. He gets his readers.

Check out his rant today about the poor state of the music business. Piracy and bad management aren’t the problem, he argues, lousy music is.  He’s so right. There is too much craft and not enough art in music today.  Art is personal and it comes from the depths of the heart. When the heart and the guitar throb, the music tends to be powerful. Listen to Janis Joplin or early British punk. When Janis wrote and sang her art she wasn’t thinking of tax-deferred annuities or who will be handling the catering at her shows.  She was feeling it. Lefsetz is art, other music writers are craft.

 

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Cows are fed antibiotics to make them less likely to become sick, making them a more cost-effective food source. The result of this is that antibiotics are being passed on to humans who, in large part, are becoming resistant. This will change when the government gets it act together, but it makes we wonder if all the bad advertising out there today is making humans resistant. I think it does. We’ve seen so many brands flinging around superlatives and “me, me, me” communications that we’ve become resistant to this strain of selling. So as practitioners we’ve moved on to newer forms: viral, word-of-mouth, experiential, online.     

The good news is that people are still watching TV, listening to the radio and reading. And when good advertising comes along it gets noticed. And talked about. And it works. Advertising is not dead. It’s just on antibiotics. Peace!

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