Thursday, November 20

Understanding Motrin: Without The Headache

The message on front page of Motrin has changed, but the original message speaks volumes. Motrin might have missed the mark on targeting moms, but they do understand crisis communication reasonably well and have made some effort to start making amends with some individuals direct.

"With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you. On behalf of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and all of us who work on the Motrin Brand, please accept our apology. ... We are in the process of removing this ad from all media."

The advertisement, if you did not see it, was a snarky play on the idea that moms who use baby carriers and slings are making a fashion statement that "totally makes me look like an official mom." The adverse response — that many moms, most writing on Twitter, were upset by the advertisement — was driven home when the first rebuttal YouTube video went up over the weekend. In sum, Motrin offended a large segment of moms who use baby carriers.

The Motrin Ad Reaction

Not everyone sees it that way. With just more than 1,000 votes in a USA Today blog, only 31 percent of the respondents said that the ad went too far. A few people, claiming to be moms, say they do wear their baby as a fashion statement. Steve Hall at AdRants speculated that America has lost its sense of humor. Dave Winer, who helped pioneer weblogs and was offended by Sarah Palin praising the patriotism of small towns, seemed offended by those offended, saying "Advice for the angry mob: Pick your battles. This is stupid."

On the other end of the spectrum, public relations professionals and communicators were all considering how Motrin might have avoided the crisis all together. Focus groups seem to be a popular choice. But as Frank Martin correctly points out, focus groups only deliver a "maybe."

Monitoring consumers was also a popular solution since it took some time before Motrin knew there was a real problem. Lisa Hoffman and Mack Collier made this case, though it didn't address how the problem could have been avoided. Even with monitoring, the ad was still a keg of gunpowder, playing and waiting for one or two or three voices to spark a social media explosion.

David Armano made some good observations too, including that Motrin's Web site was down for far too long while its communication team coordinated a response. The down time only fueled speculation that the site was either mobbed by traffic, presumably angry moms, or the company was "hiding" (neither was true).

The Reality of the Motrin Case Study.

While it might seem so on the surface, this case study is not at all similar to Mars Inc., Nike, Heinz, or Verizon, all of which were forced to react to varied activist groups that considered their advertisements offensive. On the contrary, Motrin missed the mark on the very target audience it was trying to reach.

In fact, the only thing that may have prevented the advertisement (which ad folks generally loved) from being produced would have been common sense. One person needed to ask the right question. That's right. No focus groups or consumer monitoring would have been needed if even just one person had asked the obvious.

Do these 'baby wearing' moms identify with it being a fashion statement or do they identify it with bonding to their babies?"

Imagine how one simple question may have changed the direction of the entire creative brief. As refreshingly snarky as many (especially ad guys and gals) thought the online ad really was, copywriters must always consider the audience first. If you cannot connect with them, you're dead and your is client too. It's about that simple and it has always been that simple.

"Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon." — David Ogilvy

Sure, any of us who write copy for this ad and that ad, might come up with something funny to push around the office and chuckle about. But the fundamental objective of advertising is not to be self-congratulatory about our ability to amuse and bemuse our peers and spectators. The real work is about balancing the messages that stand out while connecting with the audience we are trying to reach. Usually, that doesn't include poking fun at the qualities the audience holds most dear, like baby bonding in this case.

So am I saying humor doesn't work? Sure it does. Check out the parody ad Ike Piggot found and posted in support of his idea for a Motrin's "spoof our goof" contest. Maybe that is what the doctor ordered. It relaxed me.


Wednesday, November 19

Removing Customers: They Don't Want You

Ever since Blu-Ray started selling 100 units for every 98.71 units of HD-DVD last year, the writing was on the wall. There was going to be change. And for some, change for the sake of change would be painful.

Earlier this year, Netflix sent some consumers in a tail spin after announcing that it will carry high definition videos in the Blu-Ray format backed by Sony and others, but not in the HD-DVD standard once backed by Toshiba. Today, in what appears to be a licensing deal gone temporarily wrong as opposed to an answer to Microsoft's Xbox Live campaign, the Xbox 360 will not stream Sony Columbia Pictures Films. (Sony Pictures Entertainment movies are still available.) Sony Columbia Pictures Films doesn't want Xbox 360 customers.

Did you get all that? Netflix didn't want Toshiba customers. Now, Sony Columbia Pictures doesn't want Netflix customers, at least not those using an Xbox 360. And, long term, it seems doubtful Netflix will want Blu-Ray customers because the adoption rate is less than stellar.

Sure, Netflix remains vigilant in communicating that the company's current business strategy is still firmly rooted in DVD technology, but most weeks it communicates a growing number of streaming deals. However, when you compare a few choice quotes from Netflix, they don't add up:

"There are 100 million DVD players in U.S. households. If you really think people are going to stop renting DVDs, you need to lie down until that thought passes.” — Barry McCarthy, CFO, Netflix.

"As watching instantly becomes a more prominent part of the Netflix service, our goal is to have all of our streaming content licensed for all of our partner devices. We're doing well in this area, but it will take some time before we fully achieve that goal." — Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications, Netflix.

More and more, it seems electronic companies keep asking consumers to replace hardware at a dizzying pace just so they can replace all their media content once again (just in time for the next new hardware) or, perhaps long term, only allow them to borrow content from time to time for a monthly subscription price model that made cable companies profitable.

So what are they really saying? Your children's children won't know what a DVD is (or Blu-Ray for that matter) and they might not know what a book is either. While we keep aiming to make content more portable, the side effect might be that content becomes increasingly controlled and temporary. That will be painful. But as mentioned, change for the sake of change is always painful.


Tuesday, November 18

Bucking The Conversation: Ted McConnell

"I have a reaction to that as a consumer advocate and an advertiser. What in heaven's name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?" — Ted McConnell

That's right. McConnell, general manager-interactive marketing and innovation at Procter & Gamble Co., is bucking the social media conversation, especially as it pertains to social networks like Facebook. According to AdAge, he doesn't want to invest in advertising dollars where people are trying to talk to someone, saying "we hijack their conversations, their own thoughts and feelings, and try to monetize it.”

He's mostly right. Companies that push and prod their way into personal spaces can be annoying (it became the death knell for AOL chat for those who remember), especially when the intent is to overtly or covertly steal them away to see a sales pitch.

Most don't mind the overt promoters so much (as long as they can be unfollowed on Twitter or assigned to junk mail). It's the covert operations, shrouded in idealism, that makes some people wonder.

Where McConnell might be right.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines. More than one social media expert has caused a raised eyebrow after offering up a few runaway comments and quips.

"The critics don't pay my bills."

"By elevating my personal brand, more people will read my blog when I write about my client."

"I engage them in conversations with the hope they click on my signature, which takes them to my client."

"They probably won’t answer you, but that’s okay. All you want to do is appear like you have a relationship with them to enhance your credibility."

Keep in mind, these are the same folks who claim it's not about the money. They generally promote authenticity and transparency, state that their purpose is to shape social media for no other intent than to move their industry forward, and encourage that everyone should engage in social media just like they do.

Yet, if you read between the lines, you learn that the only reason critics (not trolls, mind you) are shunned is because they might hurt the bottom line. Whereas critical review tends to be more welcome in academics because the pursuit is about truth and knowledge over personal brand.

Or, you might learn some public relations professionals are pushing press releases as posts. Or, that online conversationalists really want you to buy a duck. Or, that someone's popularity was contrived from the very start.

This isn't the only area where McConnell may be right. He seems to be right that the infinitely thin targeting is creepy; limitless inventory will dampen publisher profits (until value finally beats reach, assuming it ever does); and that just because it moves, doesn't mean you have to monetize it. Don't misunderstand him. For all the criticisms, Procter & Gamble won't leave Facebook all together, because he does see value in social media. He just seems to see that the value is being applied to the wrong places.

Where McConnell might be wrong.

For all his good points, McConnell questions whether social media is media. Yet, it is a medium, even if it is different from other mediums.

Where he seems most mistaken is that it's not the participation that makes it media as much as it is the platform where that participation occurs. You also can't discount that tremendous number of voyeurs who treat the participation of others as their preferred consumption. And, in order to support these public platforms, someone has to make a nickel sooner or later (people generally accept this, especially when they have the choice of ad supported or premium ad-free services).

Besides, we've monetized almost everything anyway. Take a walk outside sometime and you can see it. People break up under billboards that line our horizon all the time. However, other than that small discrepancy, McConnell seems to touch on a subject that needs to be touched on. You see, while people might break up under billboards, those billboards don't generally shout down that they can help.

Online, they certainly seem to, especially when a marriage counselor, divorce attorney, fashion consultant, and dating service all become part of the break-up conversation between two people. Is that what people really want? I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not.


Monday, November 17

Scripting Nonsense: CafePress

You won't find an explanation in a news release. You won't find one on its blog. You won't even find it in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blast e-mails it recently sent out to select members. But on Nov. 13, CafePress removed designs bearing likenessness of Martin Luther King, Jr. without any attempt to clearly communicate the circumstances whatsoever.

Never mind all the communication vehicles at its disposal, the only attempt to communicate was sending a pre-written generic marketing-laced "Content Usage Policy (CUP)" e-mail. That e-mail communicated nothing:

Dear Shopkeeper,

You can view all the images which have been pended by clicking on the following URL (or copying and pasting this URL into your browser): link

Images Pended: XXXXXXXX

Thank you for using!

As you may know, provides a service to a rich and vibrant community of international users. From time to time, we review the content in our shopkeepers accounts to confirm that the content being used in connection with the sale of products are in compliance with our policies, including our Content Usage Policy (CUP).

We recently learned that your account contains material which may not be in compliance with our policies. Specifically, designing, manufacturing, marketing and/or selling products that may infringe the rights of a third party, including, copyrights (e.g., an image of a television cartoon character), trademarks (e.g., the logo of a company), "rights in gross" (e.g., the exclusive right of the U.S. Olympic Committee to use the "Olympic Rings"), and rights of privacy and publicity (e.g., a photo of a celebrity) are prohibited.

Accordingly, we have set the content that we believe to be questionable to "pending status" which disables said content from being displayed in your shop or purchased by the public.

You may review the content set to pending status by logging into your account and clicking on the "Media Basket" link. The content set to pending status will be highlighted red.

Please visit our Content Usage Policy (CUP) for additional information regarding your use of the service. Once there, you may access our Copyright, Trademark & Intellectual Property Guidelines and FAQs for more detailed information regarding Intellectual Property Rights.

We apologize for any inconvenience that the removal of your content may have caused you. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.


Content Usage Associate

While it would be pretty easy to critique the e-mail point by point, it might be more effective to rewrite it. After all, even instructors sometimes surrender to the idea that guidance might not be enough. Sometimes being explicit is a must.

Dear Shopkeeper,

It has come to our attention that the usage of Dr. Martin Luther’s King Jr.’s likeness on mugs and T-shirts without the consent of his estate may constitute a violation of their right of publicity in Martin Luther King Jr. Center For Social Change v. American Heritage Products, 250 Ga. 135, 296 S.E.2d 697 (Ga. 1982). As a result, we are temporarily placing all merchandise with the image of Dr. King's likeness with a "pending status," which removes such content from being displayed in your shop or purchased by the public.

:::insert links to pending merchandise:::

We also appreciate that some shopkeepers may have already obtained permission for specific usage of Dr. King's likeness on such merchandise. If this is the case with your images, please respond to this message so we may reinstate such content as soon as possible.

If you would like to know more about how we are cooperating with The King Center to preserve the image of Dr. King, please visit our blog or press center. Thank you for your understanding and for continuing to use


Content Usage Associate

Effective communication is clear, concise, accurate, human, and conspicuous. Had CafePress appreciated effective communication, shopkeepers who had permission (like myself) would have had their images reinstated by end of day.

Instead, CafePress only demonstrated an inability to respond appropriately to its customers and, perhaps, an increasingly common but incorrect interpretation of the DMCA. It might even be worth mentioning on an online radio show this Tuesday night.


Saturday, November 15

Killing Communication: CafePress

In what can only be described as a panicked reaction to an Associated Press story (and perhaps a cease-and-desist letter), placed a hold on and/or removed all merchandise bearing the likeness of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The AP story, which appeared in hundreds of newspapers, reports how the family of Martin Luther King, Jr. is demanding proceeds from the sudden wave of T-shirts, posters and other merchandise depicting the civil rights leader alongside President-Elect Barack Obama (and not alongside Obama for that matter).

CafePress members weren't notified with such a specific reason. Instead, CafePress simply sent a message with its prewritten policy rhetoric: "We recently learned that your account contains material which may not be in compliance with our policies."

As this wasn't the first time I've had to provide expressed documented permission to CafePress over its "hold first, ask later" policy, I e-mailed a brief message back outlining how we have permission for the usage. Doing so usually generates a ticket code and assigns you a "content usage associate," who tends to be a bit more attentive than a form letter. Not today.

Your use of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s likeness may violate his right of publicity. As outlined in our Intellectual Property Rights FAQ's, the Right of Publicity clause makes it unlawful to use another's identity for commercial advantage without permission.

Except, our use of Dr. King's likeness was not employed without permission. Our use of his likeness was in cooperation with the Corporation for National & Community Service and the Points of Light Foundation for the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. "Day of Service." Affiliated centers, such as the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada, were granted rights to use the image as part of a public service campaign, which is posted here. Our company receives no commercial advantage and confined such usage to the "Day Of Service" image.

Thank you for contacting! I apologize but it is not in our power to restore your images and host them on our site at this time. The only way we can do so, is if you obtain an authorization for commercial resale from his family.

When a company ceases two-way communication with a customer, it's time to consider another company. So while we always appreciated better print quality on paper items, it might be time to consider alternatives prior to an upcoming facelift on an experimental blog and on-demand store.

I might be wrong, but I do not believe for one minute that The King Center meant to block an approved national public service campaign that endears a prolific civil rights leader to a people. And if I am wrong, I will reluctantly start finding another Republican to write about every January.

So how could CafePress have handled this crisis communication issue? More on Monday.

Friday, November 14

Entering Social Media: A Book Store Example

Demonstrating the general validity of social media is easy; applying it to small business is case specific.

After coming away from what became an hour-long presentation and discussion about social media with the Southern Nevada Chapter of SCORE, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, I believe the above statement has never been more true. The buzz about social media is overshadowing its practicality as a viable communication tool. The remedy is a reminder that simple beats social.

What if an independent book store wanted to add social media to its marketing mix?

The existing mantra — find people who read/sell books online, listen to them, join their conversation, inflate your presence, and become an expert — falls short in terms of answering the most basic of questions … "to what end?" For small business, it's always better to consider social media especially as a communication tool that augments other marketing efforts rather than as a manifesto of magic beans. Using an independent book store as an example, here are ten basic considerations in adding social media, specifically a blog, to the communication mix.

1. Assess the business. On the front end, never mind listening to other people as social media experts recommend. Like any business, the book store needs to determine its value proposition, unique selling point, core message, or whatever else it might employ to help determine how it differentiates itself in the marketplace. While the message will evolve over time, all companies need to start somewhere.

2. Define the marketplace. Unless the book store is considering an overtly lofty goal to knock off Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, or AbeBooks, the marketplace is not defined as the entire world. Most brick and mortar stores need to think about proximity — the radius surrounding any retail establishment. Not only are people who live in close proximity the most likely customers, they are also those people who are critical to achieving brand dominance, which is partly defined by a 90 percent awareness within the establishment's proximity.

3. Determine The Voice(s). Before starting a blog, the book store would need to identify and determine who the voice(s) will be. With the exception of basic communication and announcements, individual voices tend to work best. It could be the owner, manager, or any number of staff as guest posters. Just keep in mind that the voice(s) need to be chosen like any spokesperson — with extreme care.

4. Bring An Audience Online. Never mind looking for people online. Try looking and listening to the people who are already in your store! They are your customers and, very often, the best online promotion is done offline. Even in-store fliers tucked inside book bags as they leave might be all it takes to introduce them to the store's blog, providing an opportunity to engage existing customers when they don't have time to visit in person.

5. Differentiate The Communication. Before starting a blog, determine what communication assets might best lend themselves to the audience without adding to the noise. Almost every company or individual has a unique voice or perspective, but the most successful online communication efforts also find common ground between a value proposition and the conversations already taking place.

6. Original Content Is King. Original content remains the king of online communication. Book reviews (especially those that are missed by the mainstream media), book signings, special promotions, rare titles, and author interviews are just a few content ideas that no other book store could provide. Local, independent stores (or even local stores that belong to the big chains), also have an opportunity to identify and promote lesser known local talents. Over time, this may help develop a secondary audience that exists only online, but never lose sight of those primary customers — those folks who come in once every two weeks or so.

7. Don't Drink The Kool-Aid. The biggest mistake being made in social media today is reinforcing the idea that the bigger the buzz, the better the communication. Almost every online measure reinforces this idea with "reach, reach, reach" being heralded as the new "location, location, location." Baloney. No one needs to reach all the people. They only need to reach the right people. Complementing that misconception is the other mistake that leads people to be trapped by industry bubbles: while it may be beneficial to share ideas with other book store owners, they are not your customers and they don't know your customers. Never forget that.

8. Expand The Online Presence. As a book store establishes its online presence, then it might be worthwhile to explore other social media options. Since there are so many social networks, it becomes critical to pick the right ones where the target audience is most likely to be, not simply the most popular ones. One of several reasons I frequently advise a blog as the most appropriate starting block is because it provides a useful home base, allowing future social media connections an opportunity to learn more about what the individual or the store is about.

9. Evolve With Opportunities. As the book store establishes its presence, other opportunities might present themselves. As long as those opportunities are consistent with the original core services established by the owner, it might make sense to pursue them. Of course, sometimes those opportunities fall outside the boundaries of success. For example, someone contacted me yesterday to discuss writing a pilot for a network television show and we set an appointment. Someone also contacted me yesterday to serve as their literary agent. I understand the work, but I'm not a literary agent so I declined. I also can deliver pizzas, but I'm not likely to add that to our services anytime soon.

10. Outcomes Determine Success. Outcomes do not have to be merely measured by sales alone. Outcomes could be as simple as a book store owner never hearing a customer say wish they had heard about a book signing that took place the week before. It all depends on how you define outcomes on the front end.

See? Demonstrating the general validity of social media is easy; applying it to small business is case specific. Simply put, these considerations were drawn from some basic tenets of strategic communication and not a social media manifesto. The difference might seem subtle at times, but the approaches, objectives, and results are vastly different. Always keep that in mind.


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