Wednesday, January 16

Ending Rumors: CBS Clarifies Release

If some fans are still wondering, and some of them are, CBS did release episodes of Jericho Season 2 to the media. But it only released these episodes to the media, which is a common practice in the industry.

This isn't a guess. CBS was kind enough to follow up today after I requested clarification. Given this, any speculation that the network intentionally leaked three episodes for general consumption and Internet download appears to be untrue.

Personally, I want to offer my kudos to Jericho fans for their resolve in promoting the show on their own, without links to the full episodes. Instead, many of them have sent invitations to watch the new season on Feb. 12 or asked potential viewers to visit the CBS Jericho site for abbreviated sneak peeks and promos.

Assuming there isn't another source that could have distributed these episodes, it does leave me wondering. How much has new media changed all media, when full length screenings can no longer be entrusted to critics without being openly released on the Internet?


Improving Advertising: Nine VW Rules, Revisited

On Monday, after alluding to advertising rule number 5 (people sometimes lie), which is simply meant to remind professionals not to follow qualitative focus groups or quantitative surveys on blind faith, I received an e-mail asking me what some other "advertising rules" might be.

I thought about posting a few, but then decided doing so deserves the same pretext I provide public relations students (sometimes public relations professionals write ads in a pinch). Before sharing any advertising tips, I always reference Fred Manley, then vice president and creative director of BBDO.

In 1963, Manley wrote “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad.” He didn’t use just any ad. He set out to apply "rules" to the 1960 classic “Think Small” Volkswagen ad, which many in the advertising industry and Advertising Age have since called the best ad of the 20th century.

There is also an Apple/Microsoft branding parody that conveys a modern take on Manley’s musings. You can find a link to it right here.

Both presentations are pointed, but Manley’s original and less available version, last republished by Communication Arts in March/April 1999, is exquisitely timeless. Here is a summarized version that strips away the satire, but, hopefully, still conveys the point…

Nine Rules To Improve A Volkswagen Ad

• Show your product as large as possible
• Include the product name in the headline
• Add in some “news” about your product
• Never use negative words in headlines
• Show people enjoying the product
• Make the logo as big as possible
• Add snazzy copy, bullets, and sales points
• Always localize ads, eg. make it American

In the article, Manley successfully transforms the classic headline, “Think Small,” into “New! From Volkswagen! A ’63 Sizzler with new sass and skee-daddle!”

Yes, yes, pretty heady stuff for an ad in 1960s. And yet, we still run into clients who tell communicators and copywriters stuff like this all the time, forcing their companies and brands to conform to rules invented for a medium. (Hmmm. Reminds me of … social media.)

So there you go. I’ll post a few smarter “rules” for advertising next week, but the most important rule is the one Manley conveyed so well. Advertising Rule Number 1: There Are No Rules.


Tuesday, January 15

Banning The Net: Survey Says 31 Percent

Every now and again, Ragan Communications hits upon a good story related to social media. Michael Sebastian did yesterday.

Less interesting are the feuding comments that followed, which do nothing more than polarize the issue into this or that, black and white. Despite the back and forth, everyone seems to ignore that lost workplace productivity, now blamed almost exclusively on social networks, predates the social network explosion last year.

In 2006, it was estimated that employees spent an average of 1.86 hours every eight-hour workday on something other than their jobs, not including lunch and scheduled breaks. Some of it was surfing the net. However, many attributed time wasting to socializing with co-workers, running errands outside the office, and "spacing out."

The Recap

Ragan Communications polled 430 professional communicators from North and South America, asking them if their companies permit access to social media sites. The majority said they did, but 31 percent are still left in the dark.

The list of banned sites includes just about everything: Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Squidoo, Second Life, blogs, podcasts, video-sharing sites, streaming, and, er, everything.

But does banning these sites from the office reverse wasted productivity attributed to “spacing out?” Probably not. Will employees be given enough to do to fill their time? Doubtful. Will leadership engage employees on a level that motivates them to excel? Unlikely.

Banning Abounds

The “workplace bans Internet” topic is being listened too despite being tired. Ironically, while Americans seem chafed that countries ban certain sites, they’re happily banning themselves under certain circumstances.

Not only at work, but more universities are continuing to ban Google and Wikipedia. It's common nowadays and hardly news.

While it is true that neither Google nor Wikipedia are adequate sources when working on "scholarly" papers (or client projects, I might add), banning Internet resources negates suitable uses for the tools, much like banning them at the workplace.

There is nothing wrong with using these tools to “source” for sources, in my opinion. Sometimes searching for key information is quicker, leading you to the appropriate journal, article, newspaper archive, published government report, interviewee, or lecture podcast from Harvard. And I guess that brings me to wonder ... why?

Social Media Is A Tool

I never understood the concept that social media is more of a lifestyle choice as opposed to a versatile tool, especially in academics and in the workplace. While people keep framing it up as "good or bad," it seems to me that it all comes down to acceptable usage and asking the right questions.

Do we want an air traffic controller surfing the net? Probably not. But open access to the net sure seems to make sense for an employee in charge of business development. Competitors have Web sites. And some of them have FaceBook accounts. So do prospects, I imagine.

So what’s the right question? How about … how do we teach students and employees to use the net for specific purposes that coincide with their assignment or job as opposed to overreaching or simply entertainment? And, if their productivity drops as the result of abuse or if they cite Wikipedia as a primary source (yikes!), what constitutes appropriate action? That seems more productive to me.

In contrast, blanket bans seem to limit how much material might be considered for a scholarly paper and/or dictate how you want your employees to waste their time, which they might just do anyway.

“We’d rather they just space out, Richard.”

Survey says … just space out? Six percent already do.


Monday, January 14

Employing Social Media: Del Monte Foods

According to The Wall Street Journal, Del Monte Foods employed social networking while considering a new breakfast treat for dogs. It sent out a note to its private online community of dog owners called “I Love My Dog," asking them what they most wanted to feed their pets in the morning.

The consensus answer was something with a bacon-and-egg taste, which led Del Monte to introduce its Snausages Breakfast Bites. They are flavored like bacon and eggs, and contain an extra dose of vitamins and minerals, which the dog owners said was also important to them.

"It is not just a focus group that you see for three hours; you are developing a relationship with these pet parents," Gala Amoroso, Del Monte's senior manager of consumer insights, told The Wall Street Journal.

As far as I know, Del Monte Foods doesn’t have a blog, but it is exploring social media in other ways. As Emily Steel points out in her article, using the Internet as a tool for consumer research is spreading to diverse companies such as Coca-Cola and Walt Disney.

Last year, Southwest Airlines, which does have a blog, did something similar when it asked its readership whether assigned seating would be a welcomed change. Their readership provided a mini-focal group, which overwhelmingly provided Southwest with an overwhelming “no.”

All of this adds up to some interesting approaches on how companies are employing various techniques and tactics with social media, some of which are not transparent but a step in the right direction. Consumer engagement is alive and well online.

Sure, there may be wrinkles at times. For example, the makeshift online input employed by the producers of the “camptasic” Snakes On A Plane didn’t necessarily help the movie with their experimental approach to engaging future fans. But that’s the way it is with focus groups, formal or informal.

Consumers and brand evangelists are great, often providing insights never conceived by those closest to the product or service. However, like traditional focus groups, they can also lead companies in the wrong direction for any number of reasons, including influencers who intentionally or unintentionally hijack a group, advertising rule number 5 (people sometimes lie), and my personal favorite, “developed by committee.” (Many of us know what that is like).

As with most things, objective reasoning provides the potential to carry the day. Somewhere in between the qualitative and quantitative research from consumers and individual experience and analysis is the truth. In other words, sometimes consumers know what they want and sometimes they really do not.

For Del Monte Foods, they seem to have a leg up on hitting the middle. Selected participants provide input, and then the company accurately translates it into a product that makes sense for everyone. Pretty smart, not to mention some interesting evidence that suggests companies are more engaged in social media than “blog counting” might lead some to believe.


Sunday, January 13

Leaking Jericho, Season 2: Three Full Episodes

In 2006, Jericho Season One was one of many new shows with its first episode or so leaked to the media and across the Internet for early viewing. The same now seems to hold true for Jericho Season Two. At least three episodes can be found on the Internet. Maybe more.

Post spoiler: if you are looking for a download link, you won’t find one here. I have verified their existence, but do not support the proliferation of what may be bootlegged content.

One of the earliest mentions of the leak popped up on TorrentFreak and then again by a fan from the United Kingdom on the CBS Jericho message boards, leaving others to wonder when, where, who, how, and why, but most importantly, will it help or hurt ratings come Feb. 12?

They are all good questions. And there are no easy answers, especially when it is uncertain who was the source of the leak and whether or not it was intentional. Regardless, releasing three episodes from a truncated seven-episode season seems to be severe by any measure.

Unintentional Leak

Reviewers and critics are privy to advanced screenings in order to give them a leg up on their publication deadlines. Sometimes, spoilers and advanced screenings are, er, accidentally leaked to the public. This can help a show, or hurt it. It’s a craps shoot.

Given Jericho is one of the few non-reality shows to have any unaired content while the writers strike continues, releasing three of seven episodes to anyone seems excessive. I’ll wait to be enlightened.

Intentional Leak

Sometimes, networks, studios and producers do leak information and complete episodes to generate additional buzz and excitement for a show, especially if they lack confidence in the product and/or promotion. (Then again, BitTorrent continues to see an increase in intentionally leaked network shows, regardless of merit.)

For me, there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason for CBS to intentionally leak Jericho, which has survived almost a year as the most-talked about show without a schedule in the last decade, maybe history. But that's not to say CBS doesn’t make mistakes now and again, especially when it treads the unfamiliar territory that surrounds this crazy town in Kansas.

If anything, an intentional and 3-deep leak for this show would have risked much more than it could ever hope to gain, potentially derailing all efforts that have been mounting buzz around the countdown. Worse, it could be a disaster if non-fans circumvent fan efforts by harshly critiquing these shows simply because they can.

As I’ve said throughout this campaign, there are some people who would like Jericho to fail, especially those who despise popular movements and, well, social media in general.

What To Do About It

From the fan perspective, pretend it doesn’t matter. Focusing on the leak is nothing more than a buzz kill for the countdown excitement, which is where it will matter most to capture Nielsen families.

If the leak becomes the only news, and it might, then it could trump consumer marketing efforts much like child labor law news damaged Kid Nation. In other words, staying the course seems smart for fans, even if it is only out of feelings for solidarity.

Besides, many fans have been working hard to drum up some interest on their own with some worthwhile ideas slowly taking hold as their first prize is only weeks away. I suggest people let them do it their way. It’s their show as much as anybody else.

Disclaimer: This is Monday’s post, leaked Sunday night. Darn.


Friday, January 11

Blogging For Kindness: Listening..Learning..Living

Sometimes a single photo can lend even more to a story, which is why Bokjae (a name given to him by his Korean business contacts) included this one with his post as part of a social awareness campaign organized by BlogCatalog. The campaign asked bloggers from around the world to perform an act of kindness and share a post, picture, or video about it.

Bokjae chose the picture of John Gebhardt comforting a young girl. She was the sole survivor after her family was executed by insurgents in Iraq. Here, she is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.

“In all honesty, we believe John Gebhardt is the real winner because he is one who cared enough to do what he did,” says Bokjae, who originally learned about the story from a friend. “He is the real hero and it would be nice to reference John and his wife Mindy.”

Absolutely. According to the story, the nurses said Gebhardt was the only one who could calm the girl down. So he took it upon himself to hold her every night until she was closer to recovery. It’s amazing story, one that Bokjae says “it touches our hearts and its more than kindness, it’s Love of God who works in willing vessels!”

Although Bokjae, a retired telecommunications manager and qualified electronics specialist, isn’t quick to recognize it, the same can be said about him. He is a full-time caregiver to his wife, who is a stroke survivor.

“At the encouragement of a friend, we started our blog to share our experience through the process of stroke recovery from a caregiver's and a survivor's point of view,” says Bokjae. “One thing we have learned is that there are many kindhearted people in this world who really care. It’s very encouraging.”

Although being homebound, Bokjae is no stranger to service. After retiring, he and his wife became very involved in their local church and several organizations, helping orphans, seniors, and people enrolled in drug rehabilitation programs.

It’s not uncommon in Malaysia, he said. Everyone gives generously to worthy causes, including the corporate sector.

“Malaysians are a caring lot!” explains Bokjae, sharing his enthusiasm for his country. “Malaysian bloggers are no different from those around the world, except for the nuances in expression and Malaysian way of using English!”

In fact, since he first started blogging, he continues to be impressed with the friendships he has made. Blogging, he says, helps break down international boundaries, enhances tolerance, and builds understanding between cultures.

These are also among the reasons that Bokjae decided to participate in Bloggers Unite. He said it was opportunity to contribute something positive to the world, never believing that the judges would select his post.

They did. As one good deed deserves another, he will receive a full page ad in Blogger & Podcaster magazine, an iPod Touch donated by BlogCatalog, and admission to the next BlogWorld conference.

Congratulations again, Bokjae. And on behalf of the judges, thank you for sharing this amazing story as well as your own. It makes us look forward to sharing five more Acts of Kindness stories in the weeks ahead.


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