Thursday, July 31

Pulling Under Pressure: Mars Inc., Nike, Heinz, Verizon

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which is a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, has convinced Mars Inc. to pull an advertisement running in the United Kingdom.

According to the HRC, the ad featured a man whose appearance and actions – speed walking in an exaggerated manner – conjured up stereotypes of gay men. Worse, they say, that the advertisement portrays homosexuals as second-class citizens and that violence against GLBT people is not only acceptable, but humorous.

Although the HRC praised Mars Inc. for the decision, it seems getting the advertisement pulled was not enough. They lamblaste Mars Inc. for another Snickers advertisement that ran in 2007. Ironically, that advertisement seemed to poke more fun at men who were more homophobic than homosexual.

The Guardian, which posted the commercial, has a different opinion. It called the HRC claim — that the speed walker in the spot is homosexual — preposterous. The article suggests that Mars Inc. might listen to Mr. T rather than coddling what seems to be sensationalized oversensitivity. Apparently, Mars Inc. is not the only company.

Nike also pulled advertisements, which can be seen at the Gawker, because it was claimed they carried an anti-gay message despite the context. Verizon also pulled an advertisement under pressure from another activist group.

Meanwhile, Michael Wilke, executive director of Commercial Closet Association, which advocates and honors advertisements that feature gender identity/expression and sexual orientation issues, laughed about the advertisements being pulled.

Bill O’Reilly commented as well. He reminded viewers of a Heinz Company advertisement that was pulled for the opposite reason. It featured two guys kissing. Heinz caved, he said.

All of this sounds familiar to me for some reason. Oh, right.

“… minorities, each ripping a page or paragraph from a book, until one day the books were empty and the minds were shut and libraries were closed.” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Ho hum. I’m starting to wonder if I have to write another post about the difference between a writer implying context and a reader inferring context.

You know, based on the release from the HRC, I’m not so sure that Mars Inc. communicated sensitivity to the issue as much as it simply demonstrated its willingness to be browbeaten. And maybe the same can be said for Nike and Heinz and Verizon.

In fact, I’m not even so sure the activists communicated sensitivity to their own issues. It seems to me they all promoted the adoption of inferred stereotypes as identification. And that’s bad for everybody, equally.


Wednesday, July 30

Spinning Yarns: Assemblywoman Francis Allen

You can always tell when early voting is in full swing by the amount of political mail stuffed inside the mailbox. My mailbox is no exception. It’s stuffed.

Every few days, I receive one or two campaign mailers from Assemblywoman Francis Allen, who I mentioned on Monday. Allen’s campaign is struggling this election cycle after six years of credibility erosion.

While I supported Allen during her initial run years ago, I am supporting one of her primary challengers this year. The campaign mailer I received yesterday reinforced this decision. The piece lacked credibility.

Political lie detector or poorly disguised mud slinger?

The mailer, entitled “Political Lie Detector,” is meant to resemble a rebuttal piece, which would normally point to errors contained in an opponent’s piece.

Generally speaking, a truthful rebuttal is smart when time and money allow. However, when rebuttals strain to spin the story, it doesn’t work very well.

Where does Francis Allen’s last minute rebuttal mailer go wrong?

Missed Opportunity
Allen says her opponent lied about her being charged with battery domestic violence because the case was dismissed. However, she was charged, the prosecutors are reportedly not letting it go, and her challenger never attacked her on that point. The missed opportunity? The rebuttal doesn’t claim innocence nor did Allen the last time she was asked.

Record Misrepresentation
Allen said her opponent lied about her position on taxes, citing a newspaper editorial that says Allen was a reliable vote against taxes years ago. However, Allen has voted on bills that have allowed for tax and fee increases.

Games With Numbers
Allen said her opponent lied about the number of bills she sponsored. It seems her challenger did not count resolutions, revisions, and bills that didn't represent her district. You can find them here.

Factual Misrepresentation
Allen said her challenger lied about the cost of a bill she sponsored. She said it cost taxpayers nothing. But what many legislators fail to tell voters is that every bill they sponsor costs time and money.

Demonstrative Ignorance
Allen said her challenger lied about her sponsorship of a controversial homeowner’s association bill that would have allowed HOAs to raise fees every year without a vote by those paying HOA dues. But she did. Fortunately, the bill was vetoed.

Overreaching Stories
Allen then overreaches, claiming her opponents placed trashy literature on parishioners’ cars at her church. It seems unlikely to me that any of the opponents she is facing would do that. The risk vs. reward just isn’t there.

In the very next sentence, she reinforces her pledge to run a clean campaign. However, the reality is that Allen has never been known to run a clean race.

Most politicians ask voters to verify facts and Allen is no exception.

So why would someone like Allen put out a piece that misses on every point? Although I do work on select political campaigns from time to time, this is one area of politics that never really sat well with me. But it is what it is.

It seems that Allen is banking on two assumptions: that her challengers have not raised enough funds to correct these errors and that voters will not check the facts.

Whether she is right on either point, I have no idea. We’ll know on August 12.


Monday, July 28

Eroding Brands: Credibility Gaps

Erosion can be caused by many factors, including manmade. Trampling, for example, can reduce vegetation until the topsoil is removed. Then, as the underlining rock bed is exposed, pathways turn into gullies until they become impassable.

Credibility behaves much the same way. Once admired brands can become unsightly, devalued, and destroyed over time.

A few months ago, we began tracking how the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada mishandled its crisis communication plan shortly after it became responsible for the largest hepatitis C scare in the history of the country.

There is no more Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

Instead, a quick search on the Internet will redirect you to a special section of the Southern Nevada Health District’s site, which provides some details about the ongoing
hepatitis C investigation and recommends that former patients receive testing for hepatitis C as well as hepatitis B and HIV.

It didn't happen overnight. As bad as the initial crisis was, it was an ongoing communication lapse that widened the gap. And as the path between the initial story was tread upon over and over again — the initial denial, the lack of empathy in a newspaper ad, the refusal to comment on evidence, and the alleged plans of the primary owner to leave the country — the center's credibility eroded until there was nothing left to believe.

The latest damage? One of the patients was proven to be a known carrier of hepatitis C. That means both the health care provider and the patient knew the virus was in the patient's bloodstream and yet, the flawed and unsafe procedures at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada were allowed to continue, which is why the infection was spread to others.

The gap — an "isolated incident" as originally suggested by the practice and knowingly following unsafe procedures even while treating a carrier of hepatitis C — is now impassable.

There is little chance Francis Allen will be re-elected.

While unrelated, there is another story in southern Nevada that continues to leave some people treading the same ground. A few weeks ago, Nevada State Assemblywoman Francis Allen was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence after her husband had filed a police report stating that she stabbed him with a steak knife.

He quickly recanted the report after learning Allen would be charged with a felony. While the case was dismissed, prosecutors are reportedly seeking a grand jury indictment.

A few of my neighbors asked why the alleged, now recanted, story had convinced so many insiders that Allen cannot be re-elected. Easy.

The stabbing isn't the first phase of erosion. It's one of the last phases. The odd stabbing story might have garnered sympathy on its own, but not when paired with a questionable voting record, numerous ethics complaints filed against her since 2002, and campaign messages that don't match her actions while in office. Even her Photoshopped campaign photo bears little resemble to her likeness or mug shot for that matter.

So the problem isn't the stabbing story as much as it is that voters are tired of treading the same ground over and over again. It's virtually impassible anymore, except to new residents who might believe the myth contained in her campaign literature.

Only the first few stages of erosion seem convenient.

It’s something to keep in mind when it comes to crisis communication, even in social media. There is seldom a single catastrophe or issue or disagreement that will create a credibility gap (even though some people act like it). It's all those future issues that tend to pile up.

Ask President Bill Clinton. Hot button topics like Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky seem easy to escape. Some people even said it made him more human. The constant critiques about him during his wife's campaign proved much more problematic.

One CNN poll suggested his approval rating among Democrats had dropped 9 percent from 60 percent in the short course of one year. It's the price he paid for being too political while on the campaign trail, some say. It's the widening of a credibility gap, I might say.


Thursday, July 24

Marketing Talk: The Recruiting Animal Show

You know I’m meaner now, don’t you?” — The Recruiting Animal

This was the opening sentence in an e-mail that invited me back as a guest on “The Recruiting Animal Shoooow!” While it might have warned some people away from the shock jock of recruiting radio, it didn’t phase me.

Sure, there might have been a time that I would have raised an eyebrow, but not anymore.

When it comes to social media, The Recruiting Animal has branded himself apart from many other people who blog and talk about recruiting by being a little more free spirited, straightforward, sometimes grittier, and always funnier than others who write and talk about similar topics. I respect that.

Some professionals and companies do not. They tend to shy away from social media because they are too afraid of what other people might think, say, or do. Personally, I think that’s baloney. If your professional or company message cannot stand up to a challenge now and again, then your message probably doesn’t have much merit at all.

Maybe that’s why if any central theme did emerge from the show yesterday, it was that most companies, and maybe recruiters, do not know what differentiates them from others in the marketplace, which basically means they don’t have a message.

Right. Simply saying “I’m a recruiter” is not really a message; it’s a job description. So while that might hold up in a casual conversation at a bar, it doesn’t do much to help a prospect decide why they might choose to work with one recruiter over another. It doesn’t hold up very well under a challenge.

Too many people are still putting the cart before the horse.

The problem isn’t exclusive to recruiting. It’s in every industry. It seems most people have no idea what sets them or their company apart from anyone else. Worse, many tell their customers that they want to emulate someone else without any thought given to how they might be different. It even sheds some light on a Twitter comment Animal pointed to just prior to the show.

“I love it when marketing people have NO idea what their client does.” — Yin Chang

Of course marketing people don’t have any idea. Not all of their clients know what their companies do either. And when that is the case, they become delusional and begin to think that simply outpacing the competition’s media buy will be enough. Um, sometimes. Maybe. Not really.

A clear contrast between people or products can help customers, clients, and consumers make the best choice for them. And until professionals and companies begin to define what those contrasts might be, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to fill up space simply because it’s there. It might even be better to stay home if you don't have a message.

The bottom line: if companies invest more time in understanding who they are and what differentiates them in the marketplace, it might become significantly easier to determine where to invest their marketing dollars.

At minimum, it could help a company manage its communication instead of avoiding social media all together or, worse, allowing the long tail of social media to wag the company dog.

Sure, some people claim it was “gutsy” for Chevy Tahoe to “take control of their brand.” When it was brought up during the show, it seemed to me allowing consumers to “control” a brand seemed kind of silly, especially because it put their customers in the line of fire.

But the more I learned about the Chevy Tahoe contest, it didn’t take long to see that GM never gave its brand away to social media as some seem to claim. And, upon closer review, there was hardly ever a crisis.

GM simply engaged consumers and allowed them to make their own commercials. Then, when a small number of people decided to provide an environmental context instead of a commercial context, GM had an opportunity to talk about their increasingly green focus.

So did they ever give control of its brand to someone else? I think not. It seems more likely they were managing their message all along, which is what Steve Hall seemed to conclude as well.

Not that it matters. The Chevy Apprentice contest is over and other than a few ads still appearing on You Tube, all the content, good and bad, is gone.


Tuesday, July 22

Dialing Up Everything: Blog It

BlogTipz, one of several blogs dedicated to blogging, has been running a series on the growing number mobile blogging applications for the iPhone. While the overviews mostly recap the software features, the posts provide a nice round up of applications.

WordPress and TypePad were among the first to provide custom applications. Since Blogger has yet to offer an iPhone application (though it does offer mobile blogging via text messaging or e-mail), BlogTipz suggests Blog It, which is a multi blog and presence application platform offered by Six Apart.

Setting up Blog It via Facebook is easy enough. Setting it up via the iPhone browser takes a little more time, but only because Blog It doesn’t allow a direct connection to Blogger like it does through Facebook. As an iPhone browser application, you have to use OpenID or one of four other account options.

Of course, mobile blogging is easy enough just signing onto Blogger via the browser. So the true benefit, at least from the Facebook version, is that Blog It makes it easy to update multiple accounts, including: TypePad, Blogger, FriendFeed, LiveJournal, Moveable Type, Pownce, Tumblr, Twitter, Vox, and WordPress. Of course, Blog It is still not a replacement for Twitterific (which also has an iPhone applicaton) or Twitter thincloud (browser application) so it’s not really a replacement for presence platforms.

How Phone Applications Impact Marketing

The applications reminded me of a Media Snackers post written back in November. There is little doubt that social media is changing some aspects of communication, especially as applications become simpler and more streamlined.

In less than a week after 2.0 software was released, my dentist concluded that he would be taking all his banking mobile. He also mentioned how easy it was for him to see that that the future of computing will rest in the palm of our hands. Yep. That is the way Apple innovations are steering the industry.

When you add message mobility to the list of six ways social media is impacting communication as I offered up in the Media Snacker post, the most effective communication will trend simple, not complex. In other words, if it takes too long to load on a phone, fewer people will be reading.

Technology isn’t the only driving force for simpler, more direct, and authentic messaging. Consumers are asking for it. As everyone is impacted by more and more messages every day, our patience to wade through long leads is over.

Whereas it used to be only 25 percent of the population wanted cut to the chase, most customers today expect any product contrast points to be delivered up front. It makes sense.

All of us are being impacted by more and more messages every day in every facet of our lives. Our patience to wade through a long lead is gone. In fact, other than a few people who have incorporated the long lead into direct sales-driven Web sites, the only remaining advocates seem to be a few old school direct mail shops.


Monday, July 21

Catching New Fans: Rob Thomas

When you visit the Web site of screenwriter and producer Rob Thomas, his work is divided into sections: Books, Film, Television, Music, and Personal Info. But one more category remains on the top of a site that hasn’t been updated since one of his projects received the green light for season two — and that would be Veronica Mars.

By all accounts, Thomas seems as dedicated to Veronica Mars as the fans are to him. I know the fans are, because every few weeks they send me an update on their activities to grow a show that was prematurely cancelled after its third season.

Sure, fan outcry from cancelled television shows has become commonplace, with everyone from Moonlight to October Road giving it their best shot. But there is one thing unique about Veronica Mars fans. They remain optimistic realists — people who accept that Veronica Mars is unlikely to return to television, but may one day see a second life with a Veronica Mars movie.

The secret to their continued success? They have several small but memorable programs in place. I was introduced to one of them last March when they asked me to “try watching three or four episodes” and see if I wanted to watch the rest of the season.

Although the question was padded, because I was already watching season three via iTunes, I gave season one a shot. Four busy months later: my family couldn’t watch three or four shows. They had to watch them all.

They are now waiting for me to order season two from, which will be right after I send the “loan it forward” DVD set to its next destination this week. It’s headed cross country to a blogger who might appreciate the high touch approach to consumer marketing if not the show on its own merit.

If he watches a few episodes into disc two, he might become another fan and then “loan it forward” again. After all, there is something smart about the writing in this enduring series as the primary story arches develop. Coincidently, I felt the same way about season three. The set-up doesn’t seem as strong as the middle, but it eventually becomes vital to the underlining story.

Is it working? Considering one of the fans recently presented actor Jason Dohring (he portrayed Logan) with a scrapbook full of fan letters and artwork and the fact that Veronica Mars is still being positively mentioned in the press again and again, they seem to be doing something right. And in some ways, perhaps, better than anyone else.

Sure, our friends and Jericho fans are still sending nuts, but the Veronica Mars campaign continually captures more fans and friendly media attention without the hazard of having already had its second chance.

But more importantly, after watching two seasons of Veronica Mars, I’m won over with the logic that it just feels like big screen material. Provided Rob Thomas is in the driver’s seat and some of the cast continues to show an interest before they get too old to play their parts, it really could work as an alternative to the consistently typical summer blockbusters that tend to grace the screen.


Friday, July 18

Wrapping Whimpers: Biegel vs. Dentsu

I’ve received several e-mails during the last few weeks asking if I was ever going to close the case study on Biegel vs. Dentsu after an attorney-infused circus side show ended in an anticlimactic settlement. What’s to write about? Everybody lost.

After months of double talk, with some participants pandering and dismissing blogs at the same time, the two parties tied to the case have agreed nothing happened and no one said anything. Um, you know, it’s almost like calling for a do over without the group hug.

"As a result of this settlement, those allegations and claims have been dismissed, including any potential counterclaims that have not been asserted by Dentsu. Both parties retract all public statements."

Steve Hall at Adrants offered the perfect summation in his first sentence: “Yawn.” Catherine Taylor, who writes adverganza, wondered about reversals and blanket retractions. And most, including me, said nothing at all since both parties have agreed not to disclose or discuss anything else.

However, one might wonder whether the unnamed “advertising company” described as a “discrimination re wrongful termination” case and listed on The Dwyer Law Firm’s Web site is coincidence or not. The amount, which would include attorney’s fees, costs and interest (according to the site) was $55,000.

Of course, if $55,000 was the undisclosed settlement amount, and I’m not saying it was, then the personal brand and credibility damage (despite blanket retraction) was obviously not worth it, which was my original point. Case closed.


Thursday, July 17

Accounting For Brand: McDonald’s

In Nevada, a large McDonald’s franchisee pleaded guilty to supplying illegal workers with false identification and agreed to pay a $1 million fine.

Surprising to some, the franchise, which was raided last year, is located in Reno, Nev., where illegal immigration tends to be less of a hot button issue than it is eight hours south in Las Vegas.

While the owner of the franchise was not charged, the company's current director of operations, Joe Gillespie, and former vice president, Jimmy Moore, could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The franchise has since promised it will never allow this to happen again.

In a statement, McDonald's Corp. has already said the case "was an isolated incident and not part of any ongoing investigation into McDonald's USA."

The case does, however, mirror another odd story where the manager of a Minn. McDonald’s allegedly turned down a Hispanic applicant after he revealed he was born in St. Paul, Minn. According to the story, the manager said he only hired Mexicans from Mexico.

While McDonald's Corp. handled the issue appropriately from a crisis communication standpoint, its at arms-length handling of franchise owners seems slightly off center of its longstanding brand protectiveness. After all, it was Ray Kroc who once said "the basis for our entire business is that we are ethical, truthful and dependable."

The trend to allow increasing autonomy to franchises began in 1991.


Monday, July 14

Advertising Conflict: TBWA Worldwide

Omnicom Group Inc.'s TBWA Worldwide is discovering just how difficult it can to be a global company without a consistent message. Two of its offices produced two different advertising campaigns for the Olympic games.

As covered by The Wall Street Journal, its Beijing office is running a campaign on Chinese pride for Adidas while its Paris office worked on another for Amnesty International that showed Chinese athletes being tortured by Chinese authorities.

According to the story, Chinese bloggers, spurred by a report in state-run media of the Amnesty campaign last week, are now calling for a boycott of all TBWA ads, among other measures.

While Amnesty International decided not to run the ads throughout the Olympics, they did give permission for the agency to run them one time so the agency could enter them in the Cannes competition. Yep, another award blunder. The TBWA ad won a Bronze Star at Cannes.

TBWA’s headquarters in New York has since dismissed the advertisement as “the action of one individual at our agency working on a pro bono account." But some people have pointed out the obvious. More than one person was credited with the Cannes win. And that is nothing compared to the timing of the debacle — TBWA’s major stake in the VISA account is undergoing a global ad review.

Times are changing. As advertising becomes more personal (in part because of social media), consumers seem to want the message makers to be as transparent or at least as authentic as the clients they are writing for — a trend that originally began with consumers scrutinizing which marketers supported (or did not support) which television and radio programs. I’m not always sure this is such a good thing, but it is what it is.

Even more obvious to me, once again, is that agencies and clients lose anytime the decision to do something is tied to awards. Awards are easy. Results are not. While these ads were creative, all they really succeeded in doing was damage everyone involved. And no matter how you spin it, that is not very effective at all.


Friday, July 11

Paying For Politics: Hillary Clinton

Ever since online merchandising became possible, candidates have been looking for ways to employ it for fundraising purposes. According to the Tribune’s Washington Bureau (hat tip: The Hotline), at least one candidate is looking to push the possibilities.

Hillary Clinton is hoping to erase $20 million from her campaign debt by selling a T-shirt that was originally meant to raise campaign funds. The T-shirt is “limited edition” and costs $50. Clinton promoted the T-shirt in an e-mail blast to supporters and the New York Daily News has a shot of her pushing the shirt, mentioning how it sounds a little bit like a Budweiser rip off and what the contest-winning designer has to say about it.

A Clinton spokesperson would not comment, nor has there been much mention that a good part of that debt is money she loaned herself and shirt purchases could detract from fundraising efforts by Sen. Barack Obama or other candidates, regardless of their party affiliation. Of course, Obama doesn’t seem to mind. He is also urging supporters to help his former rival out.

While there is nothing wrong with helping to retire a candidate’s debt, some people might wonder what’s wrong with a little fiscal restraint before asking voters to foot another bill caused by too much spending. Oh right, never mind. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted by the T-shirt site.

Now if only some politicians would propose a T-shirt to help erase the United States’ national debt then they might be onto something. Now that one really would be for you.


Thursday, July 10

Marketing Softly: Apple iPhone 3G

Apple's new iPhone 3G will be in stores tomorrow, and its newest product represents a continued shift in marketing as much as computing infused telecommunication. In a little less than 30 minutes, Apple illustrates what’s new and improved on the iPhone 3G in a guided tour.

Adweek, speaking to Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research, points out the obvious — it's advertising. Not only is it advertising, but it also makes several references throughout the tour for existing iPhone customers who might be less quick to buy a new phone.

In addition, Apple provides more information about iPhone 2.0 software that will add many of the same features sported by the new phone, including its ability to add applications and display iWork and Microsoft PowerPoint files.

Equally striking, there is no hard sell nor does there need to be. Apple casually presented information in a “matter of fact” style that makes sense without being boring. So sure, Apple might be criticized for not approaching social media the way some might think it should, but it really has been blurring the lines between marketing and customer service, using social media tools and real people to do it.

Does it work? Considering most advertisers struggle to capture customer interest in 30 seconds, I’d say engaging someone for 30 minutes is pretty smart. As for Apple being criticized for not having a transparent social media outlet? Well, it seems to me that its customers do a fine job of filling that so-called absence.


Tuesday, July 8

Thinking About Socialprise: Geoff Livingston

Have you ever joined two different forums on the same topic and had different experiences? Most people have, but few ever consider the reason.

Both forums create their own unique cultures, which is largely dependent on preexisting but unwritten guidelines within those forums. You know, the communication that takes place there.

In most cases, it’s defined by the participants. In some cases, it’s defined by volunteer moderators. And in a few cases, it’s defined by the developers who interact with the population. But what most people do not realize is that the forum owners, even if they do not know it, have a choice.

Communication defines cultures, online and off.

It’s not just forums. Walk into two convenience stores with the same name, and you might have two different experiences. Walk into some coffee shops with the same name, and they feel somewhat the same. It has nothing to do with proximity, and everything to do with the communication structure.

Geoff Livingston touches on this in his newest white paper on social enterprises, which is very close to being right. The next step goes well beyond implementing two-way communication models across multiple departments.

The suggested shift swings too far.

It seems to me that the only real challenge is some people apply too much prevailing social media think, which was largely driven by Shel Israel and Doc Searls, on a model that was meant to be two-way communication, but not customer-driven one-way communication. As Livingston points out...

… “Shel believes that companies need their people to act as individuals on behalf of the corporate entity in socialized worlds. Because of the very nature of social media, it will be much harder for companies to diffuse their messages as an entity.”

… “In the “Cluetrain Manifesto,” Doc Searls said there’s no market for messages. Ten years later this still holds true. Canned messages meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product are disregarded.”

Because these ideas are only half right, it’s driven some to conclude that the customers always need to drive the company. And a lack of messages will surely help drive a company in that direction.

Can messaging work in the world of two-way communication?

It’s essential that they do. No, I do not mean “canned messages meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product are disregarded.” But messages that provide a context for the culture they hope to create are vital to a vibrant company. When it’s done right, it’s natural — not necessarily top down, but always from the inside out.

If more companies realized that they can have the best of both worlds — authentic two-way communication between top management, departments, and the company and its customers as well as a manageable (not controllable) message that helps define the company — then social media might not seem so unmanageable. At times, it can seem like a free for all, but it does not have to be.

The challenge isn’t so much controlling the message. It’s defining “what” or, more precisely, “who” the company is to its employees and customers. If a company can get what I call its core message right then the rest is much easier. As authentic messages move from the inside out, it can help create a culture for the company internally and externally.

With such a center — a properly (and accurately) defined company — then the rest is always easier. Ironically, most companies, even Fortune 500 companies, don’t really have one. In fact, it’s one of the very reasons the top five toughest interview questions remain “what does your company do?” and “why should anyone care?”

Don’t believe it? Go around the office today and individually ask several employees those two questions. At most companies, you’ll find as many different answers as the number of employees asked.

Socialprise, as Livingston has adopted it, is worth taking a look at. Yet, until companies have a working definition of “what” or “who” they are, the concept falls flat (but not because the concept is flawed). Why? Because it’s not just the conversation or the engagement alone. It’s also about the context in which they occur.

Monday, July 7

Advertising Engagement: Pod-busters

The New York Times is featuring several commercials that may have set the pace for the 2008-9 television season. Called pod-busters, the goal of these new commercials is to introduce more pull marketing by producing advertising that is tied to the program.

While the New York Times features Last Comic Standing Honda commercials, AT&T’s “The Office” video, and Ford’s Knight Rider commercials, the original success of reintroducing programming-infused commercials seems to be American Idol. American Idol frequently featured campy music videos centered around a product and the concept dates back as far as 2005.

Joe Uva, president and chief executive of Omnicom Group’s OMD, which buys ad space, told the Wall Street Journal it was all about “what the content inside the pod of tomorrow will look like.” You’ve already seen the direction...

• Mini-sodes sponsored by marketers.
• Clips that blend in program elements.
• Promos that occur inside another program.
• Matched commercial content to program content.

While there are different approaches, commercial content is shifting to be more engaging, entertaining and educational, which matches the trend toward advertising frankness. Customers don’t want to be “SOLD!” as much as they want to be sold.

By presenting some common sense that seems to fit the content, pod-busters represent the bridge between marketing engagement and spots that entertain without connecting us to the company.


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