Category Archives: Marketing and Media

Lawmakers Left and Right Shake Hands to Eliminate a Surprisingly Sinister Bias

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Washington, D.C. – in an increasingly rare act of bilateral cooperation, legislation was recently introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives to remove long-standing institutional bias against left-handed people.

Sistine

Adam – the first Lefty

With broad support, House Resolution 23B, titled “Leave No One Left Behind”, was reportedly instigated by prominent left-handed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with behind-the-scenes lobbying from current U.S. Senator Rand Paul and former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, both also left-handed.

RBG

While unable to comment due to conflict of interest issues, RBG discussed the subject at length in an appearance on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart in 2012: 

People identifying as other-handed are 11% of the population, and while some extremely accomplished people are or were left-handed — for example Barack Obama, Leonardo da Vinci, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Jimi Hendrix, and Keanu Reeves — most walk amongst us largely unseen, unacknowledged and disempowered, and face bias every single day.  

Many civilizations’ conventions have ancient roots – – personal hygiene with the left hand, eat with the right, those sorts of things.  This was a necessary approach when washing one’s hands was not as easy as it is now.

However, a remarkable amount of bias remains, from the design of commonplace household objects, to the more insidious prejudice in our very language – – ‘left-handed compliment’, ‘left behind’, ‘on the right side of history’, for example – – and extends even to institutional infrastructure such as driving on the right side of the road and handshakes only with the right. 

Those identifying as left-handed, as well as ambidextrous (who are usually referred to as ‘ambi’), and even so-called cross-dominants, have long had to deal with challenges that most people don’t even think about.  While we are thankfully past the age when left-handers were forced to unnaturally mold to the societal ‘norm’ of being right-handed, the world is presumably more enlightened, and I think before I leave the Court there will be legislation to right this wrong – – excuse me (laughter) – – I mean correct the situation”.

The sweeping House Resolution comprises a broad range of recommendations, including:

Left-handed mug

Proposed left-handed mug

  • Requirement that every manufacturer producing right-handed oriented products also produce versions designed for left-handed consumers, as well as ‘ambi’ versions. This would include things like scissors, video game controllers, computer keyboards, tools, musical instruments, weapons and coffee mugs.  Included also is a mandate that makers of ink pens use only smudge-proof ink.
  • English words that have evolved from the word ‘left’ in other languages to more negative connotations will not be permitted in U.S. government activity, and following a 5-year transition period, will be illegal in all U.S. educational systems – including textbooks.
    This includes words like sinister, gauche, as well as phrases such as ‘left-handed compliment’, and other words such as ‘southpaw’ that could be felt to be demeaning.
  • Included is a provision that in all domestic U.S. Government meetings, whether internal or with suppliers, at least 15% of handshakes would be left-handed.
Left-handed shake

Left-handed handshakes may present challenges for some

  • All professional sports teams would be required to include at least 15% of members identifying as ‘left-handed’ or ‘ambi’. Corporations would have the same requirement for composition of Boards of Directors.
  • A large-scale initiative would require retrofitting every mile of the U.S. Interstate Highway System and all state highways to accommodate those wishing to drive on either the right or left side of the road, with completion targeted by 2030. This would be accompanied by a requirement that all automobile manufacturers doing business in the United States must make available right-hand drive vehicles.  The rapidly evolving driverless car technology will be counted on to facilitate this transition.
4-way stop

Future 4-way stop – CAD rendition

The cost of these changes is estimated to total roughly $20 trillion over the next 10 years.  And while this is broadly acknowledged to be a significant strain on the already burdened U.S. economy, there has been unanimous support from U.S. lawmakers, on both the Right and Left, particularly those facing re-election.

light switches

As a sign of gathering momentum, popular culture has taken up the cause.  As one unnamed self-identified ambi celebrity commented: “God didn’t just make ‘on/off’ switches – she made a good number of dimmers as well.  Regardless of where one may identify along the spectrum of handedness, a civilized society should be ready to accommodate everyone, whatever the cost”.

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Does Your Marketing Have Holes You Can’t See?

You may have seen this interesting visual story recently as it made the rounds.

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It is a diagram of a World War II Royal Air Force plane showing where bullets had hit the plane.  The purpose was to direct where extra armor should be placed to protect other planes.  Makes sense, right?

Abraham-Wald-left-is-credited-for-saving-many-American-planes-and-pilots-based-on-his

As Mother Jones magazine puts it – ‘Obvious but wrong’.  Hungarian-born mathematician Abraham Wald explained that because all of the studied planes had returned, the study ignored those planes that were shot down – – and therefore where the true vulnerabilities were (the engines).

This is a pretty good metaphor for a classic error in marketing – focusing on the easily studied while ignoring what really needs attention.

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It’s like the guy looking for his keys under a lamppost rather than in the field where he lost them: “Yes, I did lose them over there, but the light’s better here”.

Studying only data at hand means you could be ignoring bigger opportunities that you can’t see.  For example:

  • Optimizing Instagram or Pinterest (or Google AdWords) can be of little use if your most valuable customers don’t go online that much
  • Segmenting your target based on demographics can be very ineffective if your target is attitudinally defined
  • Orienting marketing messaging to older buyers can be largely wasteful if the key influencers are their children
  • Paying attention to only those customers who Opt In in LeadGen may be ignoring higher potential customers who are too busy to be bothered and for whom email may not be the best approach
  • Spending a ton of money optimizing a trade show space may be less useful if only a small % of decision-makers still attend trade shows
  • etc.

Portrait of the artist as a shadow of his former self 1969-72 by Keith Arnatt 1930-2008

 

The solution is to make sure you truly understand your customer, their key attitudes, influences, preferences and pain points. 

Target customer

Only then can you put your reinforcement where it really counts – – and sometimes it’s the customers you can’t see.

Don’t Overlook Podcasts!

I’ve been wasting valuable time listening to podcasts, and I bet your target audience has been, too.  Why not take advantage of this and reach out to them?

Last Podcast on the Left

In the ever-shifting world of digital advertising, podcasts – serialized audio shows – are a fast-growing medium worth considering:

  • Allows targeting by attitude / preference / affinity rather than simple demographics
  • Highly engaged (addicted) audience – self-selected by interest in the subject matter
  • Loyal audience – regularly tune in to serial episodes – facilitating multiple exposures
  • Multi-platform accessibility – web, mobile, etc. – because listeners need continuity
  • Personal reading of ads by host(s) – ideally live reads – are more authentic and compelling
  • Bite-sized – typically 15-60 minutes per episode

SerialFor example, I listen to Casefile, one of the many true crime podcasts.  The ads seem to fit the tenor of the podcast, and because they are read live in a conversational style by the host, they seem more genuine and less likely to be skipped.Casefile_A_True_Crime_Podcast

My behavior has changed because of this podcast – – I’m more likely to walk the dog (plus!) for some alone time with my podcast.  More likely to ignore family members, professional obligations, personal growth (minus!) by finding excuses to listen to my podcast.  Ultimately, though, I’m listening attentively to who murdered whom, and I pay more attention to the ads than I would in other settings.

According to iab research, podcast advertising spending is growing fast – – from $169 million in 2016, it almost doubled to $314 million in 2017, and is expected to double again to $659 million by 2020.  At some point it will level off, but for now it is an evolving advertising option in growth mode.

Planet Money

Podcasts can help you get smart (or distracted) on topics ranging from personal finance to true crime to trends in medicine to true crime to politics to true crime to business to true crime.  Not surprisingly, podcast audiences vary widely by subject matter.

Stitcher is one of several sites that rank listenership of podcasts, among other things. Most podcasts have well-defined audiences. Top-rated My Favorite Murder, for example, has female hosts and skews highly female, while its true-crime male-hosted counterpart Last Podcast on the Left, skews more male. Mostly because those guys can be pretty disgusting. https://www.stitcher.com/stitcher-list/all-podcasts-top-showsFreakonomicsMore interesting, podcast audiences also vary widely by geography.  Why Illinois prefers Felonious Florida and neighboring Indiana prefers Stuff You Should Know, may remain a mystery.

Podcast Ranking

At any rate, mark this as a medium that’s on the rise.  If you haven’t listened to a podcast, audit one from the Stitcher list.

MyFavoriteMurder

One caution – normal FCC language restrictions don’t apply.  So be careful – – some of these podcasts can get quite earthy.

An additional trigger warning: they can be addicting.  My 20-something daughters referred me to the aforementioned My Favorite Murder, hosted by two very talented female improvisational comedians, and which consists of 50% true crime and 50% random stuff that women apparently discuss among themselves and which should have zero appeal. (“ate 2 pints of Halo Top, stayed in my sweats all day, that’s ok, right?”,  etc.)

Rationally I shouldn’t be that interested.  But now I need my fix.

Which is great for the dog, and great for advertisers.

Having fun can be good for business – seriously

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Sometimes, as marketers, we take ourselves WAY too seriously.  Having a little fun can be a great way to break from the pack and enhance your brand identity.

wheres the beef

Overly serious messaging with the tonal equivalent of sucking a lemon can get a message across but can also miss a great opportunity to connect with the audience and to break through in a crowded environment.

I’m not talking about Bud Light ha-ha slapstick funny – there’s lots of that out there (and a lot of it is not particularly funny).

I’m talking about funny that connects to someone as a person.  There’s a difference.

  • When done right, viewers are thinking “they get me! – they’re talking to me”

Exhibit A – Sprinkler Supply Store

I ordered replacement gaskets online from a sprinkler supply company.  They arrived and all worked out.  End of transaction.

  • Then I got their ‘welcome’ email with ‘Huge Announcement’ in the subject line, signaling that I was now in their database
  • This should have been an invitation to unsubscribe, but the way it was done, I now look forward to future emails! I like them!  How did that happen?
  • Here’s the copy:

    “Listen up folks! David is joining us from…

    but no one could hear the rest of the announcement over the clamorous applause. Bells were rung. Balloons were dropped. “It’s Raining Men” blared from every speaker.
    Simply put, adding you to our Sprinkler Supply Store family was cause for immediate celebration, everyone is thrilled you’re now a customer. Thank you!”

  • It made me laugh – – and it worked (actual email below)

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 3.25.12 PM

Exhibit B – UberConference – World’s Best Hold Music!

If you’re waiting for other people to join your UberConference call, you will hear music about…being on hold.  First time I heard it, I laughed out loud.

Here’s a company that essentially force-feeds hold music saying “hey, we rely on hold music and even WE think it sucks!”  In other words, they get it.

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 10.26.35 AMI’m On Hold” was written and performed by Alex Cornell, an UberConference exec.  Sample lyrics: “Well, I’ve been sitting here all day/I’ve been sitting in this waiting room/And I’ve been waiting on my friends/Yes, waiting on this conference call – all alone/And I’m on hold, well yes, I’m on hold/I hope it’s not all day”.

Check out the YouTube video below, and check out the comments.  That’s a great connection.

 

Exhibit C – Sheetz (a 600-unit, 65-year old mid-Atlantic convenience/gas chain)

Convenience stores connected to gas stations are many, varied, and mostly interchangeable.  Not this one.

  • Sheetz prides itself on its Made To Order food and has long taken a light touch with the family name, selling “Shwingz” (wings), “Shmuffinz” (breakfast sandwich), and “Shweetz” (baked goods). Their ads have historically been funny.
  • But their recent “I Want it All” (Queen cover) regional ad is an over the top statement that they’re different – – complete with air guitar – – and that they get where you’re coming from (we all know it’s just a convenience store – – lighten up – – ours is pretty good)
  • It made me laugh – – and it worked.  Official video inexplicably not available – – bootleg version here.

 

 

Exhibit D – Buick Enclave

I am not a Buick guy, but I did a double-take with a current spot.

  • In the base spot, a suburban dog-walking woman corrects the Buick owner by identifying her dog as a ‘Bernie-doodle’, a nice send-up of dogs as status symbols

Base version
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA-I-cN9mh8

‘Dog Walker’ version

  • In this pool out, they up the ante on the dog owner status. Fido is now a “Golden-English-Labra-Irish-Bernedoodle Retriever–with the temperament of a Pug

screen-shot-2018-07-02-at-7-52-49-am.pngScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.53.51 AMScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.54.04 AM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYoq2epAXG8

  • It’s funny! I know lots of dog snobs – – hey, I’m one myself!  And it worked to give Buick a more relatable identity (the only Buick owner I know is Mom).  Without the gag I would have not paid attention.

Exhibit E – Southwest Airlines safety announcements

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.58.10 AMScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.58.53 AM

  • Everyone is familiar with these (classic example in the video).
  • We all know that pre-flight announcements are routine and that no one listens anymore. Southwest has always done a great job of using humor to relate to its customers on an equal level, rather than a formal ‘we’re in charge’ approach, and in addition to being fun, it breaks down the barriers that might otherwise exist in a sometimes stressful activity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07LFBydGjaM

Great marketing messaging creates a connection with the viewer – – to demonstrate that the advertiser understands who their target consumers are, and what they feel and need – – and that this empathy presumably translates to a belief that they can better meet your needs.

Humor, in addition to helping break through the clutter, is a very good way to create that direct connection, and maybe help bring that prospect a little closer to being a customer.

Of course, there are some situations where humor is just not appropriate – – serious life issues, mean-spirited, sexist or condescending humor, things that appeal to only a miniscule narcissistic sub-segment of society (copywriters), and stuff that’s just not funny.

Funny-and-Clever-Spicy-Food-Ads-11

So remember that, like hot sauce, while it can spice things up, not everyone likes humor the way you do, it doesn’t go with everything, and if used too aggressively, it can ruin what you were trying to improve.

Facebook is Actually Not Free

This is our monthly installment of ‘Delayed Grasp of the Obvious’.

Just before Facebook Week last week I volunteered a point of view that was posted in Kevin Coupe’s excellent retail blog MorningNewsBeat.com, questioning that as FB doesn’t charge, how can it compensate users for breach of their private data?  (the letter is shown below).

Fair enough question and we saw Zuckerberg, Sandberg & Co. take some baby steps last week after the Congressional rotisserie.

But I made a huge error when I said “Facebook is free already”.  Palm to forehead.

Facebook is not free.   Nothing is free.

As has been famously stated and variously attributed, ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.  Meaning, there’s always a hidden or implied cost or quid pro quo with anything positioned as ‘free’.

In Facebook, you don’t pay cash, you pay with something much more dear:  YOU.

In fact, Facebook, and all other ‘free’ sites, are not benevolent social facilitators, they are essentially match.com-like dating sites that try to hook up advertisers with hot to trot consumers.  Except you don’t volunteer things like ‘long walks on the beach’.   All you do is go about your daily life, posting and clicking, and your profile is created in the background, with data you didn’t even know was being collected.

Basic stuff, but really brought home by the latest Facebook issues, which look to become a watershed moment in privacy practices.

As a marketer doing anything online, understand that your future efforts to connect with consumers is going to have to deal with increasing amounts of skepticism, where consumers make a more informed decision about whether hitting that last click-bait article, or signing up for something that looks free.
– and increasing privacy laws will likely mean greater disclosure and more overt opt-in requirements.

As a consumer, realize that online you are first a commodity, not some company’s friend, and you need to take exceptional care of YOU.

The days of ‘free’ services are waning.  And this is not just another conspiracy theory.

MNB_Logo1_257x98
April 6, 2018

I liked this email about the Facebook situation from MNB reader David Tuchler:

So here’s the thing: any normal business that screwed up or compromised its customers’ privacy or violated any other customer rights would be compelled to offer some sort of make-good (morally if not legally). If the laundry scorches your shirt, they cover the cost of the shirt or give you a credit. Even Equifax offered a identity protection service, even if it was sort of a ‘honestly, you can trust me again’ thing. The point is that the injured party is somehow compensated.

Facebook is different – it does not collect revenue from its consumer users. So even with millions of its users’ confidential data breached and a market cap of $464 Billion (that’s over $200 per user or $6000 per affected user), does Facebook have a responsibility to somehow make things right? And how would that even happen? In-kind gestures (we’ll extend your subscription another 3 months) doesn’t necessarily work here – – not only because FB is free already, but I don’t want any more FB – – I actually want less.

This is one of those areas where the law hasn’t kept up with the fast-moving nature of online activity (sort of analogous to the online sales avoid sales tax loophole). To the extent these social media companies have no avenue to make things right, I would have to agree with the European direction of requiring more strict and obvious safeguards and opt-in mechanisms so that risks are made clear and users can make a more rational judgment on whether to join or not.

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‘Facebook Real’ can help you handle fake news – – from your friends

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As you may have heard, social networking giant Facebook today quietly announced the test marketing of an updated version, called Facebook Real, with the stated objective of improving the Facebook user experience.

Facebook ratings

Facebook has always taken some flak about its negative effects, so this seems a worthwhile goal.  But cynics as we are, The Armchair MBA feels Facebook Real is just a misdirection play to divert attention from the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal (CEO Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the US Congress in the near future).

In any case, this is an example of how a seemingly innocuous reason-for-being (exploit the constant human needs of attention and affirmation to create an online community and attract eyeballs) can instead have the opposite effect (while also creating an international political scandal).
In today’s online world, nothing is 100% predictable.   Or even 50%.
——

Since its founding in 2004, Facebook in 2017 has reached over 2 billion active users and a market value of over half a trillion dollars (although the recent scandal chopped about $50 billion – !! – off its market cap).

Along the way, however, the effect of never-ending positive posts from friends combined with lack of personal interaction has drawn increasing criticism for its negative psychological effects – – leading to a press release in December 2017 from Facebook’s own researchers admitting that sometimes people “felt worse” after spending time online.

FB Research

Facebook has itself experimented with a ‘dislike button’ (which they call a ‘downvote button’) to give users some measure of control.  But this hasn’t gone anywhere.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/facebook-is-testing-a-dislike-button-called-downvote-with-select-users

Downvote 2

How will Facebook Real be different?
Facebook Real is a different way to help some users better cope with a continuous stream of positive posts, while still staying connected.

It is well known that the carefully curated posts of acquaintances’ positive experiences – – an accomplishment, a great vacation, a financial windfall, a celebrity sighting, etc. — are in reality your friends’ personal Highlight Reels.  No one has a life as fabulous as any single person on Facebook, let alone everyone combined.
Indeed, as the Facebook researchers noted, “reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison” – – in other words, feelings of relative inferiority.

 

Facebook Real takes a different approach that is elegant in its simplicity. It essentially attempts to make feeds more representative of real life, including the ups as well as the downs – – and relies on Facebook’s seemingly endless personal data trove, combined with some remarkable algorithmic programming.

FacebookReal

In the test, every 2 or 3 actual positive posts from a person will be supplemented by one ‘fake’ post that is designed to reflect the realities of life. These ‘reality’ posts will be woven into the feed naturally, based on what Facebook knows about you.

For example, if Person A posts ‘my daughter is on the honor roll’ followed by ‘my husband just achieved his karate green belt’, or ‘got first row tickets to the Final Four’, it will be followed by a random post that Facebook has created but which is based on the person’s actual life.
If Facebook’s data shows that this person has, say, experienced a drop in credit score, a mortgage default, a threatening blackmail note from a spurned co-worker, a pet that failed obedience training, or a child that was recently bailed out of prison, this will be skillfully used to create a real-looking post sent from that person.  The ‘sender’ will not be aware of this ‘faux post’.

fb - final

The result will theoretically provide a break from the incessant stream of positives and show that everyone actually deals with real life, leading to a more interested, engaged and stable universe of Facebook users.

The downside is of course that Facebook Real relies on leveraging ever-increasing and ever-intrusive data on its users, which is not consistent with current attitudinal trends.

Look for more information on Facebook Real in coming weeks, and please contact The Armchair MBA if you suspect you may be in the test group. We’ll (anonymously, of course), provide an update in a future post.

Super Bowl Ads – The REAL Best and Worst – – and why

A week ago the impossible happened – a Super Bowl that was WAY more exciting than the ads.

Still, duty calls – – it’s taken a week to fully process the advertising train wreck but the result is worth the wait.

The Armchair MBA carefully analyzed the reviews of 10 respected entities (plus a timid peep from Harvard Business School), summarily ignored them and can now announce the REAL best and worst ads of 2018.

SB 2018 Montage

Super Bowl spots, in particular, need to stand out in a hyper-charged environment, create water cooler (social) chat to extend the brand, and ultimately move the brand forward.

Clicking on this chart will blow it up so you can see where everyone came out.

Included at no extra charge – charming, witty, pithy bons mots!  It’s so worth it!

Super Bowl 2018 ads

We generally subscribe to the ADPLAN evaluation system set up by the Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Attention, Distinction, Positioning, Linkage, Amplification and Net Equity).

Tide

First, a few general observations:

  • When everyone does anthemic feel-good ads to set themselves apart from the competition, everyone starts looking the same.  In some cases I was moved almost to tears and had no idea which brand I should hug.
  • I have a dream that in the future, companies won’t feel compelled to stretch to co-opt (read: exploit) a universal good (cancer research, disaster relief, first responders, and BABIES!) to draw attention. Winner (loser) by a long shot in this category – – Ram Trucks.
  • LCD humor apparently remains a reliable go-to for advertisers (see: Febreze, M&Ms).
  • Not as many animals this year (no Clydesdales, Doberhuahua or Puppymonkeybaby), BUT we still had more than enough with Yellow Tail’s ‘Roo, TurboTax’s monster under the bed…and Steven Tyler.
  • Personality counts a LOT! Morgan Freeman continues to define ‘Maximum Possible Q Score’, Peyton Manning is a reservoir of humor and credibility (especially since the divorce from Papa John), and Eli, he of the permanently blank expression, will always be the little brother.

Selected Best Ads

  • Echo (Amazon) – – witty, creative, great cameos, and the product is the whole point
  • Doritos/Mtn Dew — great pairing, both products and performers, with a high fun factor
  • US Olympic Committee – – in the grand tradition of Up Close and Personal, terrific effort at personalizing the competitors (particularly important in light of current controversies).  Incorporating childhood photo/video a big plus.
  • Tourism Australia – – in a head-fake worthy of Doug Pederson, grabs your attention and keeps it
  • Tide (It’s a Tide Ad) – – P&G threw a long ball with several executions of this campaign spoofing other campaigns (see above), and scored. The premise of ‘if it’s clean, it must be Tide’ could not be more spot-on (pun intended)
  • Rocket Mortgage – – humorous, relatable, and highly relevant to the product
  • Sprint – – a bunch of robots who make the logic work, and then crack wise, make it a strong spot

Selected Stinkers

  • Ram Trucks – – #1 stinkeroo. Someone thought it would be a good idea to use the words of MLK Jr. to elevate…a truck. Shame on Ram Trucks, and shame on the MLK family, for that matter.
  • Squarespace – -in a way, they’ve become sort of a reliable companion in the stinker category.  This year, we had Keanu Reaves riding a motorcycle standing up and…pontificating.
  • T-Mobile – – a high-concept ad which pans over a multitude of infants, and unsuccessfully tries to make some sort of connection to the product. Creepy.
  • Febreze – – ironically in the stinkeroo category. Maybe the man’s *** don’t stink – -but that doesn’t mean the copy is something you want to be around
  • NFL – – I’m apparently a voice in the wilderness here. Most people found the Eli/Odell pas de deux a charming play off the iconic Dirty Dancing scene. I just thought it was forced, clumsy and unfunny.  Plus, not sure what the message was.

Maybe like the E*Trade commercial says, I’m just getting old.