Showing posts with label case study. Show all posts
Showing posts with label case study. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 18

Hearting Apple: Adobe Wants Some Love

What started as a tongue-in-cheek response to a letter from Steve Jobs that was arguably reminiscent of high school, the "Adobe heart Apple" campaign has taken on a more serious tone. Adobe, which originally admitted it could improve Flash to meet iPad standards, is still working hard to stir up consumers.

The first round of advertisements, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, state, “We ♥ Apple” in large, bold lettering. The second round dumps Apple in favor of "We ♥ Choice". Adobe also spells out its position on its Web site.

Adobe's Ad Gamble Worked.

The ad campaign was a gamble, given that the stakes for Adobe to retain Web video dominance is high. And there is no denying that it has paid short-term dividends in some sectors.

First, it gave Driod fans something to talk about. Second, Citi maintained a 'buy' on Adobe Systems Inc. and a Citi analyst concluded that catalysts are biased to the positive side. Third, the campaign afforded Adobe an opportunity to put itself in front of the classroom.

But about that third win. It might have worked too well.

Adobe might have had the players in place to speak, but its message was deep enough for the "lights, camera, action" sequence that followed. Sure, the company was well-prepared for first tier questions about whether Apple is stifling creativity. But it wasn't so prepared on second tier questions tied to what Adobe might do better.

Adobe's Win Becomes A PR Challenge.

It's difficult for any company to win a long-term public relations battle based on "openness" while erecting walls at the same time. And in this case, it's hard to miss that Adobe is all too comfortable saying it will stick to "its facts" while Microsoft and Apple can stick to "their facts." Let the media and consumers decide, they say.

The net result has become a debate of sorts between some writers at BNET and ZDNet and two camps of consumers. But as far facts go, Adobe is the more selective storyteller.

At the beginning of this year, only 10 percent of the video content on Web was HTML5. That figure has changed dramatically, with as much as 26 percent of online video HTML5. If change can occur that quickly, video market share dominance is moot.

Sure, Adobe can favor choice. But it might as well admit that choice is working against it. So is its message to investors. During an earnings call (hat tip: ReadWriteWeb), Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen told investors that Flash was "synonymous with the Internet and frankly, anybody who wants to browse the web and experience the web’s glory really needs Flash support."

Where is the choice in that?

It seems to me that the dvertising campaign seemed to work in that it sparked the conversation that Adobe wanted to have. But as an integrated communication strategy, Adobe is coming up short. They aren't prepared to have open conversation.

It even makes me wonder whether Narayen ever learned that oh-so-valuable lesson from first grade. When you hope to look smart by being the first to raise your hand, always keep in mind that the teacher might call on you.

Oh, if you do want to view Flash on an iPhone, there's an app for that.

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Wednesday, May 12

Closing Out Cows: Final Lessons From A Dead Network

Once upon a time there was an increasingly popular social media network that resembled Twitter. It had a memorable name. It had a lovable mascot. And its member base seemed to have a mission to make it a "Twitter killer."

Truth be told, very few network knock-offs, even with slightly enhanced services, ever have a chance of supplanting popularity. While it may change one day, numbers attract numbers. But even so, we had placed the network on a watch list because the application did have something that Twitter didn't. It had better multimedia functionality.

But then something happened. In September 2008, Utterz changed its name to Utterli. It traded in its mascot for something resembling a Sprite logo. And its members were surprised, and then disgusted, by the lack of communication about the change. It was a disaster and I had no problem calling it as such.

"As much as you might characterize it as a 'disaster,' our customer base has grown substantially since the change - and the growth rate is rising," said Michael Bayer, CEO of Utterli. "That's GREAT! I call that a success."

Bayer went on to say that I was fishing for attention. He said I insulted him. And he insisted that despite community feelings, it was his decision to make. Besides, he implied, my round-up of member feedback wasn't enough. I wasn't a member anyway.

After that, we tracked the steady visitation decline that followed in the six months after its claimed "successful" name change. We almost followed up on the post then too. But it didn't seem worthwhile to re-engage a defensive CEO. So I promptly forgot about it. So did everyone else.

In fact, I hadn't thought about Utterli again until reading Doug Haslam's post that Utterli was dead. In truth, it had died in September 2008. And, almost sadly, a short one-and-a-half years later, Utterli didn't even have time to say goodbye.

As for all those promises that Bayer made about enhancements that would carry the service forward? According to the ByteMonkey Chronicles (which is also credited with the image accompanying today's post), it was very much the opposite. ByteMonkey says even then there was an underlying feeling among the users that the company wasn't quite doing so well.

Lessons For Networks And Participants.

Networks. While seeing what could have been a successful service come and go is never pleasant, there are a few lessons that can be taken away. For network owners, it' simple. I've said it before. Unlike product companies, you are only as successful as your members. And without them, you're nothing.

So abrupt change is bad. Sure, Twitter and Facebook can get away with it nowadays because they've reached a critical mass of sorts with no clear alternatives that support the numbers. But in the case of a brand like Utterz, improper communication with the community is a killer. Never mind what Bayer said in response to my critique on his company's rebranding roll out, the truth was that they didn't do any of it (and if they did, then they did it all wrong).

Add to that knowledge that anything done for investment capital or with the hope of being sold is generally a bad idea until you have the cash in hand. And even then, the guidelines for operating a successful venture after a sale or infusion of cash doesn't replace the community commitment. There are scores of social networks that have failed. And, there are more that will eventually fail or fade away too.

Participants. If you continue to rely on network tactics alone, one day you may find yourself with nothing. As reported by ByteMonkey and Haslam, Utterli isn't just dead. All of the member content and contributions are dead too.

So too is any need for Utterz tips and Utterz tactics that are useless because that community is no more.

In other words, don't fall in love with any network unless you can back up your content. Case study closed.

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Wednesday, May 5

Playing Catch Up: Olympus Cameras

Despite a steady decline in online conversations about cameras as most tech buzz is about testing for kinks in Apple's armor (yawn), the hierarchy of camera manufacturers remains unchanged. As conversations move, they all move together with no one really making gains or losing ground.

When you look at the landscape, Canon and Nikon lead the pack, with Sony in the ball park (mostly because the general brand name gives it a boost). Somewhere on a lower plane are the next three: Olympus, Samsung, and Panasonic. It has been this way for some time, with Canon and Nikon as camera market share leaders.

The reason is pretty obvious. Nikon and Canon made an early push into social media, seeing the significance in an online world that loves photos. Olympus missed the window, and has been playing catch up for a year. It might take ten.

To do it, Olympus tapped Mullen to develop a 10-step solution for social media. I've listed the steps, but you can read the rationale on Mullen's 10-Step Social Media Plan For Olympus.

Mullen's 10-Step Social Media Plan For Olympus.

1. Make A Commitment.
2. Define The Community.
3. Determine Objectives.
4. Engineer A Presence.
5. Build A Following.
6. Inspire Participation.
7. Get Attention.
8. Mobilize Community.
9. Measure Results.
10. Keep going.

Yep. There are some critical elements missing. There are some steps patently out of order. And with the exception of a stated commitment, I don't understand why they are still going through the motions. It's a scripted tried-and-tired social media plan.

Unfortunately for some, social media is adaptive. In fact, about the only thing that hasn't changed is that social media skews toward front runners. Nobody likes that fact, but it makes sense. It's news when you launch the first social media campaign in an industry. It's not news when you launch the first campaign for a company.

So, how does this plan execute? Here we go.

The Latest Pitch For Olympus.

The latest pitch for Olympus from Mullen is pretty standard fare. It consisted of a faux personalized hype e-mail about a "pretty awesome contest" that they call blogger outreach. Oh, golly gee. They told be about a contest and that it would be perfect for my creative-minded readers. Um, that would be you? And it might even be perfect for me. Ho hum. Not me. I get paid to do that stuff.

So here is the skinny minus the hype (and there is plenty of hype). You shoot a video (probably with a Flip or Sony or whatever) about what you would do if you had the new Olympus PEN E-PL1 and a $5,000 budget. Then upload it to YouTube. The pitch says that the Olympus community will pick the finalists. From those six, they receive an all-expense paid trip for two to New York, where whatever they shoot with the $5,000 budget will be displayed at the U.S. Open. Pretty simple.

A Few Areas Where Things Get Muddled.

Let's start with the contest voters. They say the community will judge it so it might make sense to know who this community might be.

Well, you won't find social media links on the Olympus Web site, but you can find a community of sorts. It would include 5,700 people on Facebook, 500 members on Flickr, 500 subscribers on YouTube, and 4,100 folks on Twitter. If we skew for multiple account holders, it might consist of 7,000 (some of whom know each other). Okay, it's small. If you're new, it's a disadvantage.

No worries. As it turns out, the Olympus community doesn't really pick the winners. Only the YouTube account holders vote. And those voters won't vote for 20 semi-finalists. They only influence who might make it the final six.

So how does it really work? The six finalists will be determined by judges based on creativity, quality, and contest theme. YouTube members will still get to vote, but their votes only count for 49 percent of the tally. The same goes for determining a finalist, except the finalist videos will be about what finalists did with the Olympus PEN E-PL1 and $5,000 budget. The finalists have about a month (maybe two or three weeks depending on how fast they get the camera) to complete for the prize.

If you poke around, you'll also discover that the community is young, with the number one question about the contest being tied to the age requirement. Most can't enter. What they don't ask about is the total prize, which includes two lenses, a stereo mic, extra battery, and camera bag for a estimated retail value of $6,200. That's not bad, along with $5,000 cash.

If you're wondering why there is an emphasis on the U.S. Open, a quick search reveals that Olympus is a sponsor. Otherwise, there is no connection to the contest.

Chances For A Social Media Win With This Contest.

While anything can happen online (sometimes marketers get lucky), the chances of Olympus gaining ground with this contest is marginal. Sure, Olympus cameras usually have an advantage for lightweight travel and stabilization built into the camera body, but Nikon and Canon dominate every other category, including the pro line, market share, ISO performance, and expandability.

But beyond that, the problems can be found in the approach. There are plenty, but we'll stick with the basics today.

1. Olympus started out of the social media gate slow because it entered the game so very, very late. But worse, it's relying on contests to introduce products to a community that just doesn't exist. Seriously, with the exception of huge brands, contests work better as an engagement tool than an introduction vehicle (unless the prize is HUGE or the community is established).

2. Olympus didn't compensate for the lack of community by leaning on the networks or communities where they participate. Specifically, this contest could receive a boost from three groups: YouTube members (assuming it's heavily promoted), amateur photographers (since pros have settled on Nikon or Canon or both), and tennis fans.

3. Coincidently, this also underpins one of several problems with the ten steps from Mullen. If they had laid out all of the assets and defined their objective first, these three audiences (maybe more) would have been obvious.

4. It seems pretty clear that the primary objective is pinned to generating "awareness." Almost every seasoned communicator ought to know by now that awareness is not objective. In one case, Mullen even counted a "See Also" link mention as an actual "awareness" result.

5. It seems likely Mullen adopted the very trendy "load and launch" approach to social media at the start. They call it engineering a presence. But basically, they chose a few popular platforms and launched accounts. This tactic also forces the social media team to build four communities at once with no central hub. Really, entering social media almost always works better one platform at a time because a percentage of your first platform will help populate the second, and so on.

6. There is also too much emphasis on influencers. While almost every program includes some influencer consideration, over emphasizing influencers inserts too much emphasis on building relations with "seemingly" popular people. If you're lucky, they write what you want them to write about. If you're not, they write about the campaign. Worse, it positions someone between the consumer and the product. Think about that.

Conclusions Before A Living Case Study.

Hey, I'm all for being wrong. And maybe I am. The only way to be sure is to track the results as part of a living case study, with this post serving as the backgrounder and indication of how far Olympus has to go to gain any ground. It looks uphill.

However, if you are interested in the contest, you can find the details on the GetOlympus YouTube Channel. Just make sure you watch both videos. The videos have a weird early 90s throwback vibe, which is probably the only time I owned an Olympus camera. More importantly, you'll discover another problem. I don't think they know who their audience really is.

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Tuesday, April 20

Swirling Communication: A New Ning Taste Test

What's in the promise of a lollipop? Something sweet? Something sour? A little swirl of both?

Messages are often like that. And Jason Rosenthal, chief operating officer at Ning, Inc. (Ning), which is a platform that once allowed people to develop their own social networks for free, provides a near perfect illustration of a candy-coated message that only looks sweet on the surface of a plastic wrapper. Let's open it up.

Hi Everyone,

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes sour.
2. Aftertaste: Most networks only post salutations when things are bad. Very, very bad.
3. Verdict: By everyone, Rosenthal means people who pay and 60 percent of employees who still have jobs.

As many of you know, we made a decision yesterday to focus 100% of the company on enhancing the features and services we offer to paying Ning Creators.

1. Flavor: Sounds sour. Tastes like unsweetened cocoa.
2. Aftertaste: Surprisingly bitter about the reaction to date.
3. Verdict: Ning has no empathy for anyone who doesn't pay. It's a brave new network.

The tens of thousands of you who already use our paid service represent over 75% of our traffic, and we’ve heard repeatedly from you ways that we can deliver a killer service to help make your Ning Network more effective.

1. Flavor: Sounds sour. Tastes like orange peel.
2. Aftertaste: Did he really call Ning a killer service after killing the service?
3. Verdict: Ning has/had 2.3 million networks. It intends to keep a small percentage of hundreds of thousands.

Some examples of things we are working on that you’ve asked for include new APIs, a new mobile experience and new advertising and revenue opportunities.

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes laced with MSG.
2. Aftertaste: Chemically altered air, with a hint of chalky residue.
3. Verdict: There will be more space for new programming features once the deadbeats who made us popular are gone.

As part of this change, we’ll be phasing out our free service. On May 4, 2010, we will share with you all of the details of our new offering, including features and price points, through a series of blog posts, emails, and conference calls.

1. Flavor: Sounds fresh. Tastes stale.
2. Aftertaste: As dry as coarse sand.
3. Verdict: They've been plotting the demise of freemium services for almost two years; spam to follow.

We recognize that there are many active Ning Networks for teachers, small non-profits, and individuals and it’s our goal to have a set of product and pricing options that will make sense for all of them.

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes metallic.
2. Aftertaste: None, beyond utter numbness.
3. Verdict: It's alway pointless to sound altruistic when you plan to squeeze blood from stones.

For Ning Creators using our free service who choose to move to another service, we will offer a migration path and time to make that change. We will still continue to allow free trials and test networks on the Ning Platform.

1. Flavor: Sounds hearty. Tastes like nine parts water.
2. Aftertaste: A hint of ice cold chicken stock.
3. Verdict: The moving truck will be here soon so we can make room for transient renters.

We look forward to talking to you further on May 4th.

1. Flavor: Sounds like peppermint. Tastes like uncrushed pepper.
2. Aftertaste: Acidic, causing indigestion.
3. Verdict: They haven't figured out what to say, but someone is hoping people cool off by then.

Jason Rosenthal

1. Flavor: Sounds savory. Tastes like an imitation.
2. Aftertaste: Sometimes the messenger is the message. And Rothenthal isn't a co-founder.
3. Verdict: Given his experience being on the acquired end of acquisitions, the writing has been on the wall for almost two years. Marc didn't write this one for a reason.

Ning is no more. At least not the Ning you knew.

There is much more to the story, enough to constitute a living case study as it seems pretty clear the company's communication is already past the expiration date. No one seems capable of talking their way past the plastic wrapper. It seems obvious someone wants the company primed up and ready to sell. But there is a good chance all these plans will backfire.

After all, Ning doesn't seem to consider how often paying Ning social networks recruit new network members from non-paying networks. And, in addressing the future migration solutions, they've already set themselves up to break another promise. They know any such move will hardly be seamless. In the meantime, here are five more voices.

Re-Align-Ning: Is “Free” Eroding? by Doug Haslam
Ning and Customer Betrayal by Valeria Maltoni
Ning Reneges On Its Core Promise, Shatters Customer Trust by Shel Holtz
Traffic Isn’t Revenue: Twitter and Ning Reach Different Crossroads by David Crotty
• The Free Internet Loses Another One: Ning by Alexa Salkever

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Tuesday, April 13

Closing A Case Study: Tiger Remains Virtually Unchanged

Not everyone believed that Tiger Woods might escape relatively unscathed despite departing from the traditional tenets of crisis communication. But the outcome was already set. When one aspect of a brand is large enough, all other aspects can be spun away leaving the core unchanged.

At his core, Woods is a golfer. And as he walked from the 11th green to the 12th tee, men and women of all ages rose by the hundreds and greeted him with a warm, crackling roar in the backwoods. Never mind the back story.

All Woods had to do is prove he still had what it takes to put the ball in the cup at the 2010 Masters Tournament. And by all accounts, he did just that, finishing fourth along with K.J. Choi.

Suddenly, no one much cares whether the Rasmussen Reports found only 43 percent regarded the golfer's public apology as sincere. And hardly anyone will remember the creepily exploitive Nike advertisement that accompanied his return to the tee.

No matter what you thought of the affairs or how they came to light, Tiger Woods is still a professional golfer whose achievements to date rank him among the most successful golfers of all time. And since his other exploits are unrelated to his golfing career, none of what he did has any affect on that fact beyond changing how he is presented as a brand.

The loving husband image is gone, but the guarded golfer lives on.

If public relations professionals underestimated anything about Woods, it was how much his brand was related to what he did on the golf course as opposed to off of it. Sure, some people felt he was big on selling himself as a family guy. But most Americans only know him as a golfer who putted against comedian Bob Hope on national television when he was 2 years old.

For those preplexed by it, the Fragile Brand Theory sheds some light on the subject. Some people like Tom Cruise crash for far fewer transgressions while others, like Woods, won't.

Public perception plays the role of setting expectation as, for whatever reason, the public saw Cruise as a package with his boyish charm turned “rugged good looks, flashy smile, and three Oscar nominations.” Actor had equal weight or even less weight than all the other messages that revolved around him. Woods, on the other hand, had two huge attributes: private and golfer. As long as those remain in tact, Woods will remain in the game.

Sure, some brands bolted, but only those that enjoyed those lesser messages. Nike, on the other hand, had no qualms about keeping him. Woods is an athlete. Nike is about athletes. The only prerequisite Nike has is that the athletes are good. Had Woods finished 30th or if his infidelity had something to do with steroids or sports wagering, then they would be less inclined to stick with the cooperative brand relationship. It's about that simple.

That still doesn't excuse the ad as a "Just Don't Do It" moment.

Sure, it's creative. There is no mistaking it as divergent thinking. It takes a wild twist of thinking to get a golfer to surrender audio tapes of his dead father to overlay on top of his near expressionless, somewhat brooding likeness. I don't have any reservation saying it would have never occurred to me.

All that aside, it's an ad that only advertising and public relations professionals would like. For most people, they just walked away from it confused or disgusted.

THAT is the measure of an effective advertisement. It's never about what the ad gurus and communicators think. It's always about what the public, specifically the intended audience, thinks. The question isn't whether it's creative. Creative is easy.

The questions are: Does it make you want to like Woods and Nike? Does it make you want to buy shoes? Did Nike learn anything? I suspect it learned that other than the parodies, the Nike ad helped make the entire sordid affair seem old.

And if that was the intent, they did a fine job. If the intent was to sell Nike products, it fails twice. It doesn't make anyone want to buy a product. And while it shows Nike will stick by Woods, it disrupts the Nike brand in that no one ever anticipated the company would would fund the production of a tasteless, despite being creative, commercial. Yawn.

See what I mean. It's a tired tale. Case study closed.

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Tuesday, March 30

Fighting Words: Dish Network vs. DirecTV

If anybody is wondering whether the Dish Network or DirecTV will win their respective legal fights, the answer seems obvious. Only cable stands to win as the two satellite companies tie each other up in court.

The allegations erupted last month when DirecTV sued Dish Network for claiming it was cheaper. The Dish Network filed suit last week alleging DirecTV is misleading consumers by claiming it offers more HD channels than it actually carries.

This fight seems a little bit meaner than the tug of war between AT&T and Verizon. But ironically, neither of these companies have too much to gain, given that most cable networks have accused satellite of misleading customers for as long as I can remember.

DirecTV has gone as far as devoting an entire section of its Web site to the kertuffle, asking "Who do you believe?" before dashing off a paragraph with more footnotes than copy points. Meanwhile, Dish is sticking with its commercial that DiretTV costs a much as cable whereas Dish Network offers virtually the same package for approximately $20 less (although newer commercials have changed up the price point comparison). None of it is as ugly as the comparisons outlined on a Web site run by a Dish Network authorized retailer.

The weakest part of the new Dish Network argument is that it overreaches. One of its complaints is that the new DirecTV advertisements "mimic look and feel of certain ads in Dish Network's Why Would You Ever Pay More For TV campaign." They do not. Not by a long shot.

Two years ago, Campbell's and General Mills taught each other a similar lesson after launching a battle over which soup line contained more MSG. No one won, except the agencies asked to produce the ads.

I'm fond of reminding advertisers that the first rule in advertising is that there are no rules. However, there are some general principles that have have stood the test of time — never overreach in your advertising. In order to develop an effective contrast, it's always smarter to stick with a competitive comparison you can accurately win. Case study on Thursday, with an emphasis on how to develop a better product contrast.

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Thursday, March 11

Choosing The Truth: Take Your Pick

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” — Galileo Galilei

Except, fewer and fewer people seem the least bit interested. Take the recent settlement between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 35 state attorneys general, and a company accused of deceptive business practices for making false claims. The outcome is cast in a rainbow of colors. If you happened to catch them all, you can pick and chose a truth for you.

There is the FTC truth. The LifeLock truth. The other LifeLock truth. The David Cowen truth. Confused? Here's a summary of the links sourced above.

The FTC Truth.

LifeLock, Inc. has agreed to pay $11 million to the Federal Trade Commission and $1 million to a group of 35 state attorneys general to settle charges that the company used false claims to promote its identity theft protection services, which it widely advertised by displaying its CEO’s Social Security number on the side of a truck.

In one of the largest FTC-state coordinated settlements on record, LifeLock and its principals will be barred from making deceptive claims and required to take more stringent measures to safeguard the personal information they collect from customers.

“While LifeLock promised consumers complete protection against all types of identity theft, in truth, the protection it actually provided left enough holes that you could drive a truck through it,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

“This agreement effectively prevents LifeLock from misrepresenting that its services offer absolute prevention against identity theft because there is unfortunately no foolproof way to avoid ID theft,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “Consumers can take definitive steps to minimize the chances of having their personal information stolen, and this settlement will help them make more informed decisions about whether to enroll in ID theft protection services.”

The LifeLock Truth.

LifeLock, Inc., the industry leader in identity theft protection, today announced that it has signed an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and several State attorneys general which closes a compliance inquiry by setting advertising standards for the company and establishing regulatory guidance for the identity theft protection industry.

"LifeLock is pleased with this agreement, which, for the very first time, works to set advertising guidelines for the entire industry. We welcome federal and state efforts to regulate our industry, because doing so helps to protect consumers from the risks of identity theft," said LifeLock Chairman and CEO Todd Davis.

"Because of LifeLock's marketing efforts over the years, many more Americans now know of the risks of identity theft," said Davis. "More than one and a half million consumers rely on us 24 hours a day to help protect their identities."

The Other LifeLock Truth.

LifeLock cofounder Davis said yesterday that the company had already abandoned most of the practices outlined in the FTC's complaint and settlement agreement.

"Today's agreement makes absolutely no impact on our business as it runs today, in our service or our advertising," Davis said in a phone interview.

Davis said LifeLock's revamped service, in place since the fall, didn't rely on fraud alerts. Instead, he said the company had partnered with other technology companies to develop "our own unique LifeLock identity alerts" designed to give customers early warning of identity theft and related frauds.

The David Cowen Truth.

The truth is that the FTC doesn't care whether consumers need protection from LifeLock's ads. The FTC has clear direction from President Obama to demonstrate its dominion over financial services as he campaigns to establish a consumer protection agency, and so the FTC is prepared to enforce and potentially litigate even in cases it knows it can't win. LifeLock understood this, and so even though $12 million is a LOT of money, it's nothing compared to what the lawyers will charge over the next five years to successfully defend against an FTC crusade.

A Recap Of Choices

So which is it?

Was LifeLock barred from making deceptive claims and required to better safeguard the personal information it collects?

Or, did LifeLock work hand in hand with the FTC to set new regulatory guidance for the identity theft protection industry?

Or, did LifeLock agree to a $12 million settlement to atone for past mistakes that it had already self-corrected last year?

Or, was LifeLock singled out because the FTC is following a mandate by President Obama to demonstrate dominion?

There are plenty more truths if you turn to the press. However, the vast majority of stories seem to be simply rehashing what everyone else said. How does this serve the public? We have no idea.

Based on these stories, please help us find the answer by choosing what you think is the truth below. The poll will close next Wednesday, and then we will publish the results along with our best assessment on what the truth might be. Vote for one.

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Tuesday, February 9

Moving Sideways: Toyota

"You're always hearing these very silly PR people when a crisis hits dive in front of the camera and dish out this ridiculous cliche that if you just fessed up, the problem would go away." — Eric Dezenhall, CEO of Dezenhall Resources.

Two days after investing $3 million on a Super Bowl recall advertisement that flatlined with viewers who were using an online dial testing system to determine their level of interest, Toyota announced the recall of 437,000 Prius and other hybrid vehicles worldwide. It is yet another bump in a series of what the company has called a lapse in safety standards.

High Points Of The Toyota Recall

Overall, Toyota has done a fine job managing most elements of its recall communication, including the development of a recall page on its Web site. One of the best elements includes videos that identify three problem areas that led to the recall and a detailed stopping procedure to minimize driver risk while they return their vehicles to the shop.

Another bright spot is the Toyota recall plan. Within days, Toyota introduced a recall plan to notify owners, schedule an appointment with some dealers offering extended hours of operation, and reinforcement that some trained technicians are making repairs.

The recall communication effectively focuses on what is important: identifying the problems, offering immediate solutions, outlining what owners need to do, stopping production until the problem is fixed, and providing updates on the repair status.

This had led Eric Dezenhall, CEO of Dezenhall Resources, to conclude that the situation is manageable, even if the company didn't start well out of the gate. The problem many companies face, in part, he says, is that they communicate too fast.

Low Points of Toyota Recall

In an effort to respond rapidly, Toyota catered to the American appetite for an apology, with Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. While there is nothing really wrong with an apology (despite being confusing in exactly what the apology is for), branding the recall a "sticky pedal situation" was probably not the best choice of words. (His appearances on news programs are smart.)

Another low point is the decision to cash in on the reputation of the company too early. Much like the Super Bowl ad, Toyota is delivering a message that claims for more than 50 years safety has been the highest priority. The advertisement then reveals that "in recent days" the company hasn't been living up to those standards.

This recall communication focuses on accepting responsibility, admitting guilt, and promising to never let it happen again. Unfortunately, Toyota had not yet identified the extent of its recall. So as these messages move forward, additional recalls seems to contradict the message. This is the third time in recent months that Toyota has contradicted itself.

This had led Gene Grabowski, chair of crisis and litigation practice at Levick Strategic Communications, to dub this recall as the worst handled in history because consumer anxiety persists and the messages have been mixed. The problem, in part, he says, is that Toyota was too slow in taking action.

Initial Outcomes Of The Recall

Like many recalls, the Toyota crisis plan has been a mixed bag. The truth is somewhere in between the assessments by Grabowski and Dezenhall. Dezenhall is right in that recalls are not all public relations. There are mechanical and operational considerations. Grabowski is right in that Toyota was too slow to take action with what is shaping up to be a slew of problems.

The real damage to Toyota is impossible to assess at the moment. The number of recalls, especially those unrelated to the original problem, further erodes the company's credibility. And with every new apology Toyota issues now, each subsequent apology means less and less.

In this situation, Toyota would have been better served confining its initial communication to the recall at hand before accepting what seemed to be an across-the-board lapse in safety on one issue. Had they delayed an initial apology that isolated the problem to a single flaw, the company may have discovered there were several more recalls ahead and used the initial recall as a catalyst for investigating every detail.

Specifically, Toyota could have used the "sticky pedal situation" as a catalyst for an investigation, and then breaking the news (as the result of that investigation) that safety standards were not being met across the board, including accelerator pedals, brake pedals, steering columns, and who knows what else.

Meanwhile, instead of producing commercials attempting to cash in on the company's credibility bank, the crisis communication team ought to have been investigating exactly who knew what when so new stories do not undermine current efforts. For instance, breaking today, State Farm says it warned Toyota about an accelerator defect in 2007.

We'll provide some crisis communication points as it pertains to this situation in days ahead, including on how this plan would differ from the introduction to crisis communication boiler plate. Otherwise, there seem to be only two factors saving Toyota at the moment.

First, the problems did not result in an epic number of fatalities. Second, all automakers generate some negativity nowadays.

How negative? Of all the manufacturers with ads that aired during the Super Bowl, only two vehicles weren't dialed down when the brand was first revealed in the commercial. Those two brands: Volkswagen and Kia. See for yourself.

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Monday, January 11

Looking For Up: Public Optimism

Americans might be less optimistic now than they were six months ago, but an overwhelming majority (94 percent) believe that optimism is the most important attribute in creating new ideas that can have a positive impact on the world. And a majority (66-70 percent) now believe that such ideas will not come from public figures but everyday people "like you and me."

Those were among the findings from a new survey conducted by StrategyOne, a full-service independent research firm, for the Pepsi Optimism Project. The project aims to track the national level of optimism based on a composite score.

Highlights from Pepsi Optimism Project Survey

• 72 percent said that the best is yet to happen despite uncertain times.
• 60 percent believe the best ideas come from family and friends over public figures and managers.
• 70 percent believe that ideas from everyday people will become more meaningful in the next decade.
• Two percent believe that the best ideas will come from authority figures, perhaps the lowest score in history.

The survey strikes at one of several reasons social media has become increasingly important for marketers despite marketers not necessarily becoming more important to the general public. People are looking for answers and ideas, but they are no longer looking to authority figures within their companies or public figures outside their companies.

Of course, this is not to say that social media has caused the shift in sentiment. The general concept that leadership can come from anyone has been around for some time. It's a concept shared by diverse people that have included Steve Jobs, Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, Lao Tzu, John Maxwell, Ayn Rand, Donald McGannon, Max Depree, and a host of others.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

What social media has changed is increasing the potential for good ideas from everyday people to reach more people. It also presents a more challenging environment for companies and organizations to communicate with credibility.

For communicators, it means people are influenced by ideas over authorities. For marketers, it means their message and/or method of delivery needs to change. For public relations, it means less reliance on third party endorsements from "experts."

Pepsi seems to have adopted this mode of thinking as a mantra for marketing. It seems to be the cornerstone of a new campaign to help regular people put ideas into action though the Pepsi Refresh Project. The refresh project awards millions of dollars in the form of grants to help fund ideas submitted by everyday people, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Will it work?

As much as we love the campaign — empowering regular people to submit ideas for grants (with the grants being awarded by public vote) — we're less certain it will raise soda sales or improve soda market share. We're not even convinced that it will help Pepsi meet its long-term objective to reposition its identity as an innovative manufacturer or optimistic soft drink.

Contrary, it seems likely to prove that Pepsi is still overdosing on crowd sourcing. But at least in this case, the experiment might produce something positive even if it doesn't boost the always number two carbonated beverage brand.

It also provides something for marketers and public policy makers to consider. Americans are convinced that the ladder hoisted up by their leaders is leaning against the wrong wall. And, you know, they are probably right.

Tuesday, December 15

Looking For Market Share: Verizon

In 2006, beginning with a boost from rumors of the iPhone, AT&T accomplished something few would have thought possible. It captured market share in a field that was once dominated by Verizon.

Everyone knows the primary reason. The iPhone was the only smart phone capable of turning the tables on the cellular selection process: Whereas most people chose a carrier and then a phone, Apple and AT&T convinced people to buy an iPhone regardless of the carrier.

Today, the iPhone commands about 23 percent of the market share, which undoubtedly keeps AT&T in the lead position as a carrier. The effect on Verizon has been profound.

After grossly underestimating the impact of the iPhone and serving up a series of distress campaigns, Verizon has finally decided to draw a line in the sand and set its sights on clawing its way back to the top.

In 2009, Verizon invested heavily in a multi-front comparative attack against its competitors that now rounds out three of the top ten most expensive attack campaigns this year: $100 million to introduce Fios against Comcast (unrelated to the AT&T spat); and $100 million to introduce the Droid as its weapon of choice against AT&T.

Framing Up The Verizon vs. AT&T Smackdown

Saving the Comcast battle for another time, the two-prong iPhone/AT&T attack seems to be working but not in the way Verizon anticipated.

While it has gained ground, it has yet to recapture significant market share away from AT&T. It is also a long, long way from generating profit on smart phone sales given that Verizon spends about $100 per $199 Droid for advertising and offered customers a $100 rebates.

In terms of awareness, Verizon's attack against AT&T and AT&T's counterattack have generated brand awareness for both companies, with Verizon eking out a slight lead.

In terms of market share, the Droid seems to be capturing people who decidedly wanted iPhone features without (less so) the Apple brand and/or (more so) AT&T service. Still, in the third quarter, AT&T signed up 2 million new subscribers; Verizon signed up 1.2 million new subscribers.

In term of public relations, Verizon clearly comes out on top despite consistently fudging facts. What is interesting is that AT&T has a better network, but public perception consistently positions AT&T as an inferior network. (Here is the truth that was buried beneath the bad publicity generated by an ill-advised lawsuit against Verizon).

In terms of marketing, AT&T seems to be relying too heavily on its ability to be exclusive iPhone carrier. If the contract ends in 2010 or 2012, AT&T will be forced to find new solutions ... unless it can reverse its partly undeserved image. (While most consumer reviews place AT&T second in terms of dropped calls, people talk about it as if its last. It's not.)

When you add it all up, AT&T will be in a real fight next year to retain what began as Verizon's unwillingness to meet Apple's initial conditions to be an exclusive carrier. While AT&T previously held a better marketing strategy and still holds the superior market share, it has yet to communicate tangible consumer benefits in terms that resonate with the public.

*Comparison chart by Gigaom.

Tuesday, December 8

Being Run In Circles: Zhu Zhu Pets

Within hours after the GoodGuide, an environmental and social consumer advocacy company, issued a release that some of the hottest toys this season contained levels of antimony and chromium that exceed federal standards, the Internet lit up with with searches for Zhu Zhu Pet recall information.

Except, consumers couldn't find much credible information beyond opinion and speculation. There was no recall.

The truth was that Cepia LLC, the manufacturer of Zhu Zhu Pets, had met federal standards and stricter regulations overseas. And in response, the company immediately issued a statement that Mr. Squiggles and Zhu Zhu Pets are “absolutely safe and has passed the most rigorous testing in the toy industry for consumer health and safety.”

The statement went on to provide a detailed accounting of testing procedures, which include independent tests several times during production and again before the items are shipped from the factory. It also included CEO Russ Hornsby's personal assurances that as a father and toy maker with 35 years of experience in the toy industry, that the company not only strives to meet U.S. and European standards, but strives to exceed them.

However, even with the statement, it took two days before Zhu Zhu Pets would be exonerated, with the GoodGuide retracting its release after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said the toy was in compliance. The discrepancy was in the testing methodology, with federal standards employing a soluble method and the GoodGuide using a surface-based method.

In one of the better accounts of the testing discrepancies, Jennifer Taggart, the founder of The Smart Mama, helped set the record straight. She points out that the U.S. standard is 60 ppm soluble antimony in paints and surface coatings used on children’s toys, not antimony as found with the Niton XRF analyzer used for testing surfaces. She goes on to conclude: "I call out greenwashing all the time. It goes both ways, you know?"

In an era of infinite information, inaccuracy spreads fast.

Even after the GoodGuide results were refuted, some news outlets still ran with the initial, erroneous release. Bloggers, unaware of the retraction, are still advising parents to think twice.

One suggested parents avoid the toy because antimony limits set today will likely be lowered tomorrow. Another suggested that because they are made in China, they are tied to impoverished and exploited people. And yet others doubted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation and clearance, given that GoodGuide was once featured on Oprah and, supposedly, is conducting a more rigorous test (even though they are not).

In a summation of all the content, most opinions were wrong and most coverage, even by news outlets, were nothing more than a reactionary game of "he said, he said." Specifically, news outlets covered the allegation, the response, outside opinions, and eventual retraction with most never investing any time in researching the truth.

Antimony is not a random chemical as many inferred. While dangerous in concentrated doses, it is a metal used to meet other safety standards as a flame retardant. It is frequently added to children's clothing, toys, crib mattresses, aircraft, and automobile seat covers. It is also used in electronics, paints, rubber, ceramics, enamels, and some drugs. So while GoodGuide still maintains it is cause for concern in any amount, its presence does not mean the toys are unsafe.

Federal testing methods (soluble) consider how much of the substance could be removed by dermal, ingestion, or inhalation at 60 ppm. The GoodGuide testing methods do not. While the GoodGuide regretted the error, it hasn't come close to offering an apology to the company or consumers nor did its retraction statement mention the toys by name.

GoodGuide makes everyone run in circles for little or nothing.

The general predisposition of the public is that companies, for love of profit, are bad; consumer advocacy groups, despite being profitable, are good; and news organizations vet the facts. Sometimes, this is true. Other times, with increasingly regularity and in this case specifically, it's not.

However, with the adoption of infinite information as a model, things have changed. Here, the advocacy group sensationalized erred testing methods, which mainstream and social media helped propagate at the expense of what appears to be an honest toy manufacturer with the biggest hit of the season. The lesson here is that the quantity of information doesn't always lead to more truth but rather popular opinion regardless of the truth.

The lesson that has yet to be learned is how future public relations professionals will be taught to manage this information. By our count, most are too busy rushing to social media in the hopes of becoming client cheerleaders and influencer relationship brokers.

While Cepia LLC did a better job defending its product as safe than the GoodGuide did in in admitting it was wrong, the erred information outpaced accurate information via social media. Most news outlets have reported follow ups, but few have amended their original stories.

Incidentally, the Bakugan 7-in-1 Maxus Dragonoid and the Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Learning Farm were also included as hazardous in the original GoodGuide release, but escaped the same scrutiny.

Thursday, November 5

Crowd-Sourcing Responsibility: Pepsi

As a marketer, PepsiCo appears lost. As a company, it might be in trouble.

While there is something to be said for experimentation, PepsiCo has canned more marketing misses than hits in the last year. In an effort to continually target the next generation, it seems to have forgotten how to be a business. In fact, if it wasn't for its salty snack holdings being considered a staple, we suspect its fizzy drink section might start to dry up.

In some ways, it has. In October, PepsiCo Americas Beverages unit reported a 6 percent drop in volume and a 9 percent revenue decline. According to some analysts, the result reflects a change in buying habits as consumers shifted toward juices and teas and away from soft drinks. That might be true, but 6 percent is twice the drop experienced by Coca-Cola.

Marketing Mistakes Are Clubbing PepsiCo

In most circumstances, we think it's great when companies turn to crowd-sourcing for a single campaign. It helps many of them steer clear of isolated creative ideas that don't resonate with consumers.

PepsiCo has had its fair share of those: identity redesign, election revolution, Tropicana rebrand, iPhone app, and, well, you get the idea. (All of it might not be so bad if it wasn't for its negative publicity, but there has been some of that too.)

So, in an effort to put its product marketing back on track, Pepsi is pushing to try something new. It will put the reigns of creative control in the hands of consumers who will be charged in choosing which advertising agencies will handle three product launches. Say what?

In a contest beginning this month, Mtn Dew (Montain Dew for those unimpressed with the stylized abbreviation) will hand off marketing duties, at least temporarily, for a $100 million-plus business to several potentially unknown players selected by consumers. The concept, if you can call it that, is an extension of DEWmocracy, which allowed consumers to determine the flavor, color, packaging, and names of the new products.

"If we're going to have a dialogue with consumers and have consumers play a role in dictating the future of our brand, they've got to play a role in all aspects of it," Brett O'Brien, Mtn Dew's director of marketing, told AdAge. (One commenter on the article suggested they open up marketing director recruitment to crowd-sourcing too.)

Crowd-sourcing Runs Amuck With Pepsi

While Mtn Dew will retain BBDO Worldwide, which was part of DEWmocracy from the beginning, the agency will not comment on the process. For the efforts of DEWmocracy, Beverage Digest reports Mtn Dew is one of the few soft-drink successes, with a volume increase of 1 percent. However, it's unclear if DEWmocracy had much to do with it despite what's being said.

In some cases, DEWmocracy consumers seem to be experiencing brand fatigue, with drop off at each stage of the contest concept. (Some people even speculate that Pepsi stacked the odds for the company favorite.) On Facebook, every few posts also contain consumer comments that lament over the loss of their top choice. ("Any chance to bring Pitch Black back?"). And like many social media efforts, the fans are mostly left on their own, which is usually a mistake.

That's not to say that outsourcing the creative selection process to consumers is all bad. It clearly makes the marketing department not responsible for the $100 million decision. It truly leaves the consumers in control of the product, which means their relationship to the contest and each other may supersede any relationship with the product. It also places an emphasis on "I like it" advertising, which is best described as a three-second knee jerk reaction, without considering things like, er, sales.

Of course, there is always the chance that the finalists will not only be good, but be better than a one hit wonder. They'll almost have to be better once Pepsi funds the three finalists to produce a :15 TV DEW spot (assuming oversight doesn't dampen their spirits). And, they might also do better than what pushed Mtn Dew to this point before settling on Distortion, WhiteOut, and Typhoon as product names.

Anything is possible, right? We'll see. If nothing else, DEWmocracy makes for an interesting case study in consumer crowd-sourcing despite its similarity to gambling at a roulette wheel. Then again, we suppose it couldn't get any worse compared to some of the other company's marketing mishaps of late.

Tuesday, October 20

Being Punked: CNBC, Fox, Reuters

Yesterday, Fox, CNBC as well as the Washington Post (which deleted its report) and The New York Times via Reuters, all went forward with a news release stating the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had reversed its position on climate change.

The fraudulent news release, issued by The Yes Men, was part of an elaborate hoax to draw attention to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's environmental position. The hoax included a fake press conference that was disrupted when real representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce showed up.

While The Yes Men claim to be activists known for posing as corporate executives in order to reveal how corporate greed negatively influences public policy, they have also used the opportunity to plug their documentary film, The Yes Men Fix the World, which opens at the Avalon Theater in NW Washington this Friday, Oct. 23. According to their site, they collaborated with and DC Climate Action Factory, a semi-autonomous group sponsored by

Since, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued a statement that it intends to ask "law enforcement authorities to investigate this event." However, the statement smartly seems to stop short of pressing for legal action or a civil suit.

The post-hoax reviews are mostly positive. The San Francisco Chronicle lamented that the release was not real. Grist called it brilliant. Bloomberg reported the facts. And The Hill pointed out how various organizations might have been keener on recognizing the release was a hoax.

While hoaxes are hard to condone, this one certainly reinforces a weakness in modern reporting. The acceleration of communication continues to undermine reliable information and the public is increasingly fickle in which side it might take. The Balloon Boy hoax was billed as pathetic while The Yes Men are made media heroes, at least for a day.

Friday, August 28

Inventing History: Malleable Memories

David DiSalvo, freelance writer and self-described research wonk, nicely summed two studies from the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology that suggest what we remember may not be reality, especially when presented with evidence that seems to support what did not happen.

Can false memories be adopted?

After participants were asked to perform a computerized multiple choice gambling task, they were prompted to withdraw money from a bank when they answered correctly and deposit money when they answered incorrectly. At the end of the task, researchers told participants that they were caught cheating. Some participants were told that there was video evidence showing that they took money (but were not shown the video) after answering incorrectly while others were shown false video “proving” that they cheated. In a second study, participants were accused of cheating more than one time.

The results of both experiments were surprising. When shown fake evidence, nearly 100 percent falsely confessed, and 67 percent (Experiment 1) and 73 percent (Experiment 2) believed they committed a false act. But even when subjects were told that video evidence existed, nearly 100 percent falsely confessed, and 60 percent (Experiment 1) and 13 percent (Experiment 2) developed false beliefs.

In a similar study, participants conducted the task with a second person and were then told the other person had cheated and asked to sign a witness statement. In the second study, nearly 40 percent of the participants who watched the video complied. Another 10 percent signed when asked a second time. Only 10 percent of those who were only told about the video agreed to sign, and about 5 percent of the control group signed the statement.

How does this apply to communication?

A significant amount of communication happens in real time or near real time. In some instances, participants may debate or disagree about any number of issues and topics that sometimes evolve into a drama. However, not all dramas may be legitimate, even when evidence seems to support them as such.

John Mackey's Aug. 11 opinion in the The Wall Street Journal may qualify as a fitting example. While there was no outrage in his opinion piece that offered alternative ideas to health care reform, the retelling of false inferences combined with content taken out of context as evidence has fueled some odd and fabricated outrage.

Today, there were about 100 stories with continuing coverage about the boycott, with an emphasis on a Facebook group dedicated to boycotting Whole Foods. There are about 30,000 members. (There is also an anti-boycott group growing at a faster pace, if you can believe it.)

By comparisons to other cause-driven efforts I've covered — ranging from the cancellation of Jericho and Veronica Mars to outrage over Motrin or push back on United Airlines, any fire behind any boycott seems overblown no matter how some agenda-driven proponents attempt to fan it.

Still, both Whole Foods and Mackey have exhibited some regret over the piece, with Whole Foods apologizing while clarifying that Mackey's opinions are not the official stance of the company. In a way, they've accepted an erred definition that providing any opinion was ill-advised.

It really wasn't ill-advised. But with the case being made with the thinnest of evidence, it may be remembered as such. Weird.

Of course, if anyone prefers a simpler example, consider how an old friend might share a memory we don't recollect. We may accept their account, even if they made it up. And, we're even more likely to accept it if they have a photo or video that offers any evidence, even if the evidence is only implied or supportive without a direct correlation to the story. Malleable, indeed.

Tuesday, August 18

Measuring Impact: Nielsen

In May 2008, fans of a cancelled television program, Jericho, dumped more than 4,000 pounds of peanuts on the doorstep of Nielsen Media Research. Shipping peanuts had become the statement of choice for the fans, who had secured a truncated second season after sending more than 20 tons to CBS.

But the nuts sent to Nielsen were different. The statement wasn't a call to action as much as it was a measure of their displeasure with the people who control what people watch based exclusively on the viewing habits of a shrinking few. They blame a flawed and antiquated rating system for the demise of the series. And they are not the only ones to feel that way.

This week, there was more talk about dumping. And this time, fans of television shows weren't talking. According to the New York Times, it is the owners of the four major broadcast networks; cable channel operators, including Viacom and Discovery; three of the country’s biggest-spending advertisers, Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever; and two of the biggest advertising agency holding companies, GroupM and the Starcom MediaVest Group unit of the Publicis Groupe. And the conversation did not include dumping peanuts as much as it included dumping Nielsen.

Nielsen, which possesses a monopoly on the rating system for television, would not comment. It has been trying to prove its ability to catch up on the measurement curve for years, with plans that it once said would take five years or even a decade to execute.

But times have changed. It only took Facebook nine months to add 100 million members and Apple to celebrate 1 billion application downloads for the iPhone. In terms of communication, especially social media, we frequently talk in terms of what can be accomplished in 90 or 180 days. So it's no surprise that words from the CEO of Nielsen say old world to many of them.

"Innovation is a process," says Dave Calhoun. "And it has to be a well-defined process."

Translation: It will take a long time. And it may take long enough that the opening of his story in Fortune last year might not read as funny as it did then. Not much has changed. If anything, it has gotten worse outside and inside as indicated from this internal memo sent to employees after the Financial Times had broke the story (hat tip: James Hibberd's The Live Feed)...

"As you know, our Company is committed to measuring across all screens – known in the industry as “three screens”: television, computer and mobile – as part of our long-term strategy. Over the last three years, we’ve invested more than a billion dollars in research and development as part of this effort. As with all of our measurement science, we’re working closely with our clients, whose input and engagement has been consistent and constructive.

You may have read the Financial Times article published late last week, or the subsequent articles appearing in a number of publications over the weekend, about the potential formation of a new three-screen consortium. While our Company policy is not to respond to speculation or future announcements, we have been in direct contact with many of our clients, including some cited in the original article. Much of what was reported by the Financial Times remains unclear, and many of our clients are themselves looking for answers to questions raised by the story. What is clear, however, is that three-screen measurement is at the center of our strategy. Just as clear is the commitment of some of our largest clients who have recently renewed multi-year contracts with us for television, online, mobile and other measurement services.

We continue to move forward helping our clients understand and measure media consumption anytime, anywhere."

Of course, nobody would have understand media measurement if, you know, Nielsen could count everyone. You know, like Arbitron (no, not seriously).

Tuesday, August 11

Being Generic: RadioShack Becomes The Shack

When most people talk about "The Shack," they are probably talking about the controversial book by Paul Young, except in Santa Monica.

In Santa Monica, "The Shack" probably means a place to party with wings, burgers, and other things, except basketball.

If you mention "The Shaq" within a context even close to sports, social networks, or down-to-earth celebrity, there can be only one.

And yet, for the strange oddball "rebranding" reason, RadioShack, an international chain of electronics retail stores, hopes to break into millions of brains and reshuffle their indexing system. When we hear "The Shack," they want us to think about them.

Ironically, the abrupt identity change last week has done more to reinforce the electronics chain as an out-of-touch brand.

Although the company's push claims to be a "legacy" brand trying to put a cool, hip spin on itself, "The Shack" is about as hip and cool as being called "Siffy" or forgetting that the orange juice you make is not from concentrate. Worse, the communication plan calls for the company to retain "RadioShack" signage on retail stores in an effort to "hold onto its brand heritage and attract more tech-savvy shoppers."

Brand heritage? They must be kidding.

Not only are the dual objectives in conflict, but one can easily argue that RadioShack's brand image is what earned it an "F" from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) last April. Since, it has made amends with the BBB to receive the much better grade of "C-."

If they really wanted to capture any semblance of brand heritage, they would have to go all the way back to the days when Isaac Assimov endorsed them or well before the near-bankruptcy that convinced the Tandy Corporation to buy them in 1962. Back then, "Realistic" meant exactly what it meant. It meant "generic," which is exactly why all the other brand names — Presidian, Accurian, Optimus, Enercell — that RadioShack has invented have never become household names when compared to any number of greats like Kenwood, Pioneer, JBL, Bose, and a host of others.

A campaign launch on Times Square has about enough chance to change that as passing out T-shirts to employees and calling it an internal rebranding effort designed to change corporate culture. A much more appropriate T-shirt would have read: "My employer spent $200 million on rebranding and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." And on the back: "And a travel mug. Oh boy."

The truth about names and branding is branding better come first.

It's really very simple. Branding makes a name. Naming does not make a brand.

RadioShack's half-hearted rebranding campaign "Our friends call us The Shack," complete with an ugly thumb, is not likely to recapture the $1 billion in lost revenue over the last four years. If anything, it's likely to accelerate the problem created by inflated pricing, lackluster customer service, and "it's stupid" being the most common consumer reaction to the new campaign. If RadioShack wants to save itself before it goes belly up like Circuit City, the most obvious first step is to retool the entire company starting with the people who thought "The Shack" was a good idea.

It seems clear enough that not everyone liked it. If they did, "The Shack" wouldn't be a campaign nickname. It would be the new name. But even if they did commit, it would still have a long way to go before advertising could reverse the mess they made of a once viable company. Nowadays, the only distinguishing feature for this defunct company seems to be that it is a defunct company.

After all, while Best Buy isn't everyone's favorite big box electronics retailer, it does have an image that beat The Shack on price and people some years ago. Meanwhile, Fry's Electronics seems to have the stronger position on staffing knowledgeable people and offering a diversified product. While those two are among the best known, there are more than two dozen other retailers looking to make the The Shack nothing more than a stepping stone for their success.

Want more about The Shack attack? It's not pretty.

"Radio Shack rebranding to 'The Shack'?" by Joshua Topolsky for engadget.

""Yeah, RadioShack is turning into the Shack" by John Biggs for CrunchGear.

"Bringing Down The Shack" by Blake Howard for Matchblog.

"RadioShack, er, the Shack makes its case for relevancy" by Dan Neil for The Los Angeles Times.

"Radio Shack rebranding: Why? Why!?" by John Biggs for CrunchGear.

Thursday, July 16

Impacting Everyone: FTC Aims To Regulate

According to Dow Jones Newswires, Lifestyle Lift released a statement yesterday that any complaints were related to the period before the current management team took over and that Lifestyle Lift “regrets that earlier third-party Web site content did not always properly reflect and acknowledge patient comments or indicate that the content was provided by Lifestyle Lift.”

The statement was attributed Gordon Quick, president. We can then only assume that Quick, who became president in February 2008 after working as a executive consultant and mentor, isn't aware of dozens of Web sites created on behalf of the company, including Dr. David M. Kent's Lifestyle Lift Fact, which attributes the cause of complaints to patients with unrealistic expectations and astroturfing by competitors.

"The Internet is filled with misperceptions perpetuated by companies that call themselves 'real this' or 'real that', diaries and '' of all sorts," it reads. "Lifestyle Lift is not the only firm being targeted by these unscrupulous websites that profit from sensationalism and hype."

"In the past at Lifestyle Lift, we have had a small number of patients who elected a procedure for the wrong reasons. These patients, although they have no medical problems, tarnish the image of Lifestyle Lift and our Doctors on the Internet," another section reads. "These unhappy patients will often complain of long recovery times, no change in their appearance,'scar for no reason', pain, missed work, unhappiness, scarring, 'no one cares', 'no one noticed me' etc."

The publication date is 2008. Most other sites that look as if they are patient generated (except for disclaimers) were also published in or after 2008.

How It Affects People Beyond Cosmetic Surgery

Lifestyle Lift isn't indicative of all cosmetic surgery or all social media. However, it's fair to assume their online approach sets the tone of the Federal Trade Commission, which has proposed new rules that could take affect this summer.

Most of the changes are harmless. Bloggers would be asked to disclose any relationship they have with a sponsor, any compensation received for a specific post, and whether the product they received was free. All of these changes follow standard ethical guidelines observed by most social media participants.

The one change that might not be harmless, as described by, is bloggers would be held liable for making false or unsubstantiated claims about products. Companies paying bloggers could be held liable too.

The policies would not be exclusive to cosmetic surgery or anonymous posts by executives, but everyone who endorses businesses and plays video games. Unfortunately, regulation of the Internet is problematic, potentially infringing on free speech and censoring honest opinions (good and bad).

Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission is still seeking public comment. You can find those guidelines here.

Several Stories Related Astroturf And The FTC

"FTC Launches First Wave Of Smackdown On Scammy Loan Consultants" by Chris Walters, The Consumerist

"The Plaintiffs’ Bar’s Covert Effort To Expand State Attorney General Federal Enforcement Power" by Victor E. Schwartz and Christopher E. Appel, Washington Legal Foundation

"TripAdvisor Warns Of Hotels Posting Fake Reviews" by Melissa Trujillo, The Associated Press

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