Friday, December 21

Self-Regulating The Net: FTC


The Federal Trade Commission released five proposed principles and guidelines for self-regulation in the behavioral advertising industry, which includes the tracking of consumer activities online (searches, page visits, viewed content, etc.).

While the FTC has been looking at privacy issues related to the Web for more than a decade, it was expected that the high visibility of privacy issues recently created, in part, by Facebook, that the FTC would be taking a Facebook hard look at privacy issues in 2008.

In sum, the FTC suggests that companies involved in tracking and targeting consumers always inform consumers of the data they collect, how it is to be used, that they have a choice to opt-in, and that any changes to this agreement are stated, which would require their expressed consent.

Here are five principles for behavioral advertising (paraphrased):

Transparency and consumer control. Every Web site where data is collected for behavioral advertising should provide a clear, concise, consumer-friendly, and prominent statement that (1) data about consumers’ activities online is being collected at the site for use in providing advertising about products and services tailored to individual consumers’ interests, and (2) consumers can
choose whether or not to have their information collected for such purpose.

Reasonable security, and limited data retention, for consumer data. Companies should retain data only as long as is necessary to fulfill a legitimate business or law enforcement need. (The FTC staff is also seeking comment on how long companies should retain such data.)

Affirmative express consent for material changes to existing privacy promises. Companies must keep any promises that it makes with respect to how it will handle or protect consumer data, even if it decides to change its policies at a later date. Any changes in how collected data is used requires obtain affirmative express consent from affected consumers.

Affirmative express consent to (or prohibition against) using sensitive data for behavioral advertising. Companies should only collect sensitive data for behavioral advertising if they obtain affirmative express consent from the consumer to receive such advertising. (The FTC staff is also seeking input defining sensitive data and whether some data should never be collected.)

Call for additional information: Using tracking data for purposes other than behavioral advertising. FTC staff also seeks comment on what constitutes “sensitive data” and whether the use of sensitive data should be prohibited, rather than subject to consumer choice. (Comments will be received through Feb. 22.)

The latter suggests carrot dangling (perceived benefits) for sensitive information (like social security card numbers) might not be an option.

Overall, the FTC has been very balanced in its approach to online advertising, recognizing there is a fine between protecting consumers and allowing companies to develop advertising programs that fund content and benefits for consumers.

But what is most important is to consider that self-regulation is generally maintained by the willing participation of companies to adhere to these principles. Every abuse, especially by visible companies, will move these principles toward permanent federal regulation. You can find the complete FTC guidelines here.

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Thursday, December 20

Branding America: The Year Of Living Stupid?


It has been four long months since Miss South Carolina, Lauren Caitlin Upton, stumbled on the Miss Teen USA question that stated “one-fifth of Americans cannot find the United States on a map.“ Old news? Maybe.

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us."

While the fervor it created in the United States has mostly died down, it hasn’t slowed elsewhere in the world. On the contrary, old and new media continues to amass “evidence” that Americans aren’t so bright and the international community enjoys a good laugh about it.

So does Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, which placed Upton’s answer as the second most memorable quote of 2007. Her confused answer was bested only by “Don’t tase me, bro,” which was uttered by a Florida college student about to be removed from a Senator John Kerry appearance.

One frequently cited post from Aby The Liberal, a non-profit socio-political information Website, compiled scores of data to ask the question “Are Americans stupid?”

In June, it cited data from the book IQ and Global Equity that claims the USA scores the lowest national average IQ among developed countries. It then goes on to point out that we’re also low in science and math, and includes an old New York Times interview with Jon D. Miller, which includes “Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.”

In reviewing some of the methodology used in various surveys and polls, they seem questionable, which makes me wonder if the challenge is purely educational or mostly perceptual. But even so, it might point to a change in how we present ourselves.

It used to be that Americans tuned in to see intelligent people compete on Jeopardy. Now Americans are more likely to tune in “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” to watch people look not so intelligent.

Singer Kelli Pickler’s appearance on the show, which makes Upton’s answer seem brilliant, has been watched more than 2.8 million times, several million more if you count all the variations.

"I thought Europe was a country. Budapest? I've never heard of that. Like, I know they speak French there, don't they? I wanna say, is France a country?"

Beating out Pickler on YouTube, almost 10 million watched this gem, which seems to underscore why some people say 2007 will best be remembered as the year of being stupid in the States.

Do our entertainment choices — canceling smart shows like Journeyman and producing guessing games like Deal Or No Deal? give us a hint or is entertainment just more fun with no thought whatsoever?

Is it real? Or perception? And even if it is perception, are there long-term consequences to fueling such social cues at a time when globalization is imminent?

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Wednesday, December 19

Sneaking Peeks: Copywrite, Ink.

For the last month, we’ve been making changes to the Copywrite, Ink. site, gearing up for a great 2008. Some changes will begin spilling over here to our blog, while others simply demonstrate our continued experimentation with the integration of social media.

We’re not done.

But sometimes sharing works in progress helps inspire other people. And that is what I hope to do today. You see, there is one question I’ve learned that needs to be asked about social media by people who hesitate to include it into their marketing mix. The question isn’t “why?” The question is “why not?”



Why not begin to introduce videos using Revver or YouTube to introduce yourself or your work or something else?

Why not forego static profile pages and instead link to Linkedin, where clients and contacts can connect?

Why not skip those same old “menu bars" and make a Web site a gateway to everything else?

So that’s what we are going to do. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be asking “why not” a lot more often. Sure, our experimentation with integrating social media into a traditional Web sites will not work for everyone.

That’s the beauty of communication. One size does not fit all.

Of course, if you’re thinking this comes from someone who doesn’t understand the difference between small business and large corporations, please don't allow my sometimes relaxed nature fool you. It's exactly the opposite. We've worked behind the scenes with the 9-1-1 National Emergency Number Association, American Greetings, Fidelity Investments, GMAC, McDonalds, and the United Sates Air Force (to name a few).

Combined, our experience spans more than 1,000 accounts. Or, as we like to say, 1,000 secrets that very few people know about. Some of them do. And those that do also know our secrets can tip the balance between landing an account and seeing it slip away.

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Tuesday, December 18

Socking Steve Hall: Biegel’s Attorney


When Adrants posted a mud wrestling photo and colorful commentary related to the Steve Biegel vs. Dentsu lawsuit, it attracted some attention. Most notably from Biegel’s attorney, Andy Dwyer, who offered up his own sharp commentary in a comment. It was sharp enough to convince Steve Hall to strike through his post and proclaim himself an idiot.

“I find it incredible that Mr. Hall feels qualified to post on this case when (a) he has obviously never read any of the filings in the case, even though they are all publicly available on the internet, and (b) he has never bothered to speak to anyone involved on the side of the plaintiff, even though they can all easily be reached,” noted the Dwyer comment. “Mr. Hall erroneously relied on an article in another publication, and then bought their spin hook, line and sinker.”

However, given other comments were offered up from “Toyo Shigeta,” and “Denny Crane” and “Not Biegel’s Lawyer,” one never really knows if someone who comments is who they say they are. Right?

“Is there anyone in your industry who is willing to take the time to read the court file in this case before they publicly express an opinion? Or is that too much to ask? If folks in the blogosphere ever want their writings to rise above the level of graffiti, they are going to have to work a little harder at getting their facts straight before they post,” stated Dwyer.

Never mind that advertising folks read Adrants because it provides tabloid-style op-eds in contrast to more recognized advertising trade publications, one of which Dwyer claims erred in its reporting. Never mind that Adrants never attempted to establish itself as legitimate journalism that I am aware of.

Never mind, except I still took interest in exchange. Why? Because I had read the court file. And, although I mostly write on public observation, I wanted to find out if Dwyer made the comment. Maybe he'd even answer some questions I had about the case, I thought.

He did make the comment. However, he doesn't seem inclined to be interviewed about the case beyond the reasonably polite and extended commentary he e-mailed me, which says that he pretty much has “zero respect” for bloggers. According to Dwyer, he is not alone either.

“Interestingly, real journalists have written to me in response to my post on Adrants to applaud what I said, because they are tired of bloggers being compared to journalists,” he wrote.

Highlights From The Andy Dwyer E-mail

• He commented on Adrants because he says the statements made were “demonstrably false.” He said he was setting the record straight.
• He says that he and his client have refused to partake in the media battle, contrary to statements made by some bloggers (He says they have refused comment to some journalists, and he and his client has repeatedly denied interviews).
• He likens the anonymous comments to garbage, which “reduces blogs to little more than the walls of a bathroom, where any idiot can scrawl whatever illiterate nonsense pops into his head.”
• He finds it unlikely, “even if I gave the entire court file to a disinterested observer, he would not be able to understand it unless he had particular expertise in employment matters and/or the law.”

Dwyer raises some good points, and some not so good points. Obviously it is much too early in the case to call an outcome. But it is not so early to note that the media has shifted its angling from a Dentsu spectacle to Biegel’s credibility.

It is this shift in reporting, perhaps because Dwyer and Biegel are less accessible to the media, that makes it interesting. Perhaps if they were more accessible, the burden would still be on Dentsu.

Regardless, while Dwyer is right that the case is about the law, he is not so right in saying it isn’t about branding or communication. Sure, media coverage is not likely to impact the court’s decision, but the outcome of this case may have long-term consequences for Biegel and Dentsu.

And therein lies the rub. As much as professionals sometimes proclaim bloggers cannot understand their area of expertise, sometimes those who say so do not understand blogging or communication. Really, it’s not difficult.

Understanding Bloggers: Engagement 101

In a very broad sense, when it comes to cases like Biegel vs. Denstu, it is the media that sets the stage, leaving bloggers to pen op-eds based on the setting. Sometimes, the commentary reads not unlike radio talk shows, which do allow anonymous callers to chime in.

That understood, non-communication people hoping to engage bloggers, even to correct them, are best served by evaluating the individual blogger much like they would the radio talk show host.

You see, some bloggers lean toward journalism and some do not. Knowing where any particular blogger may reside on this invisible line dictates the engagement. And that can make all the difference.

For example, singling out Hall’s post made little sense to me because all it did was invite more of the same, not less of the same. Mostly, Adrants is an entertaining take on the advertising industry. And while correcting Hall may have been prudent, going beyond the correction to take a couple of extended swipes communicates something other than what was intended.

Sure, some may hold Dwyer’s opinion that even well-known blogs “inspire fear (e.g. the Drudge Report) are notorious for repeatedly stating things that are simply not true.” (Personally, I don’t think bloggers inspire fear. Fear has to exist in those who are fearful.) Yet, he is not so right in thinking that all bloggers do not investigate as diligently as journalists. It depends on the blogger.

Suffice to say, if there is anything to take away from all this (beyond attempting to understand a blogger before engaging them publicly), it might be to understand that social media didn’t create public commentary or opinion. That has always existed.

What social media did was extend that reach beyond e-mails and water coolers, making it more public, especially to those being discussed. Sometimes, it is a good thing. Sometimes, it is not such a good thing.

I think even Dwyer might agree with me here, given he closed by saying “none of the posts on any of the blogs will ever have any relevance, except perhaps to support our claims of retaliation by Dentsu.”

Ironically, this is precisely what used to be said about journalists before bloggers began sharing the spotlight (or lurking in the shadows, depending on where your head is at). For most people, the media’s credibility always seemed to be related to how closely aligned it was to the subject’s opinion. Go figure.

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Monday, December 17

Sharing Acts Of Kindness: Bloggers Unite


We purchased five books yesterday. And randomly selected five different cities. Within those cities, we chose five random addresses. And today, all five books will be packaged and placed in the mail. Five random acts of kindness.

Like messages in bottles cast out into the sea, we have no idea where they might go from there — or whether they will be read, or if they will be enjoyed, or if they will be shared as we intend — or even what their fate might be.

All we know is that somewhere in the weeks ahead, five people will each receive an anonymous gift, our random acts of kindness. And within each book, they will find an inscription that asks them to pass it along when they are done, from person to person, until the margins are filled with people who shared it.

Five books. Five cities. Five strangers.

Massachusetts. Someone in Boston will receive The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. It’s a story that reminds that reminds us that our lives are often interconnected in ways we never imagined.

Colorado. Someone in Fort Collins will receive The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. Warhol imparts a great deal of pop philosophy and little bits of wisdom on the world.

New York. Someone in Rochester will receive We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Zamyatin’s book left a watermark on Western culture and the world, inspiring everyone from Aldous Huxley to George Orwell.

Illinois. Someone in Evanston will receive the Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. It’s meant less as a statement for Taoism and more as an opportunity to share a charming and thought-provoking little book.

Arkansas. Someone in Fayetteville will receive Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman. His anecdotes add something more than an autobiography.

The inscription.

“You are receiving this book as a random act of kindness. Read it, enjoy it, inscribe it, and pass it along to someone you know so they may do the same.

Knowledge is the one gift that no one can take away. So we hope this book delivers something you are looking for, and if not, then perhaps for the next person you pass it along to. Until one day, this book may find its margins filled with the inscriptions of all those who shared it.”

Pay it forward.

The concept is not new…

“When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.” — Benjamin Franklin

… just the choices we make to make the world a better place. And today, those choices have made an impact as bloggers share their “Acts Of Kindness” stories from around the world. Amazing.

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Saturday, December 15

Campaigning Fans: From Jericho To Journeyman


Yesterday, Amy Vernon with Remote Access let Jericho fans know that Universal HD, a cable network owned by NBC Universal, is airing Jericho for two mini-marathons in high definition, starting tonight. One person commented.

A few days ago, CBS launched a viral YouTube video that is aimed at fans more than new viewers. To date, it has received less than 15,000 views, a fraction of what Jericho fans once mustered. Even the positive comments hint at frustration.

“Thank you, CBS, for finally letting us know what the freak is freaking happening.”

Despite still being the rally cry for consumers, with Charlie McCollum, The Mercury News, recently telling Journeyman fans “good luck with that although it certainly worked with ‘Jericho,’” Jericho prospects are tired of hearing about the campaign that saved the show and not the show. Meanwhile, even diehard fans are growing weary of carrying the rally banner for more than six months with the first real word from CBS arriving last week. Too little, too late? Maybe. We’ll know in February.

All fan campaigns have limits. For evidence, take a look back at the three we turned our attention to last June: The Black Donnellys, Veronica Mars, and, of course, Jericho.

The Black Donnellys (TBD), which was pulled from the air after the first five episodes (and even one of those was unaired), was the long shot. After placing their faith in sending 670 pounds of crackers to HBO (not NBC) to pick it up as a Sopranos replacement, TBD fans had nothing left to do when HBO politely said “no” just prior to the release of TBD DVD. The fans had the passion, but not the numbers nor a full season. Abandoned.

Veronica Mars fans surged in September prior to the launch of a Veronica Mars season three DVD. Since, sales have been admirable but not earth shattering and the fan base is somewhat hindered as people focus on the holidays. If there is any spark left that will carry the concept of a movie, it might be the abundance of DVD giveaways from places like Buddy TV. Not abandoned, but coming close to a closed case study.

Jericho has also seen its share of diminished fan interest despite the best hope for a full revival after CBS acquiesced. CBS will make good on its promise to air the truncated second season in February. However, the network not only missed an opportunity to engage fans, it may also be responsible for the discourse seen throughout the post-renewal campaign. The net sum of six months suggests the network’s half-action split fans into two groups: those who believed CBS will support the show, and those who did not. Alive and well, at least through April.

All three of these campaigns provide some great insights and case studies for fans rallying behind the newest show facing cancellation — Journeyman.

Immediately following the news that NBC allowed the deadline to pass for picking up the rest of Journeyman season one, fans began a campaign to save the show, which includes pooling funds to buy and send boxes of Rice-A-Roni to Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC. Why Rice-A-Roni? Journeyman takes place in San Francisco.

While I’m still being brought up to speed on the viability of the Journeyman campaign, it seems clear that consumers are increasingly prepared to pummel networks for quick cancellation of good shows. Sooner or later, networks might get the message: the old rules are dead. Nowadays, it’s better to feed shows on the bubble than let them fade quietly into the night because there is nothing quiet about vested fans and brands can only take so much.

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