Monday, November 30, 2009

Who Really Wants A Touchscreen? Really?

On my plane to California, I read the December issue of Wired Magazine and it was filled with ads for PCs and laptops with touchscreen capability and I just have no idea why anyone would want to make this purchase.  Moreover, why are computer manufacturers are using this as a key selling point in their marketing of their products?

Please allow me explicate my problem with this situation in my special rambling way that I only I can.

Awhile back, I wrote that I am over this whole tablet computer thing, and I still am.  I like my iPhone fine, but I need a keyboard to type.  The idea of tapping away on a sheet of glass to write my blog posts seems going for a bike ride (something that I occasionally like doing) on one of those fixed gear bicycles (something that gets you from point A to point B, but makes it unduly harder).  It would take me longer than usual and by the time I finished I would not feel the same sense of accomplishment.  Then there's the fact that I don't know how many times I day I find myself rubbing my phone against my shirt to wipe away the dirt and oils that accumulate on the screen.

But shouldn't I like touchscreens?  I like using my fingers on my iPhone to move around more than the trackball that was on my old Blackberry Pearl.

Nope, not at all.

First off, the ellipticals and treadmills at my gym have touchscreens and they don't work at all.  I wouldn't hate them if I just used the touchscreens to set the time and speed, but they're supposed to have televisions built in and you cannot change the channel with any bit of efficiency.  It recently took me six minutes to get to ESPN because I really wanted to watch something that had ended by the time I got to it.  Plus, why would I want to touch something that is covered in other people's sweat repeatedly?

Next, I cannot tell you how much I hate when someone touches my computer screen, or anything else that I might look at or through for that matter.  I am by no means a neat freak (my girlfriend and former roommates will all sign sworn affidavits stating such); however, I will go apeshit on your ass if you leave a fingerprint on my monitor.  TAKE THE MOUSE AND USE THE CURSOR TO POINT AT WHATEVER YOU WANT TO SHOW ME.  A touchscreen would just invite everyone and their mother to come over and put their hands where I don't want them. 

Finally, I do not see any value the functionality of zooming in on an image on a computer like I do on my iPhone.  If the touchscreen zoom was such an innovative concept then why is Apple not integrating it into the design of their computers?

It's the same reason we don't drive Pontiac Aztecs.  Everything in our lives does not need to be a Swiss Army Knife.  Tacking on a function to a computer may get a small group of people interested in brands like MSI, which I had not heard of until the Hackintosh craze started, but there is no value in that interest in the long run if you do not create something that people really want: a computer that is reliable.

I guarantee you that if a computer brand other than Apple started to advertise reliability as its primary function then that brand will become instantly successful in the American market compared to brands that are manufacturing demand by attempting to create want for something where there is no want.  This may seem like I am going against the tenets of marketing, but companies who are introducing touchscreen functions are ignoring the most important rule and that's knowing the consumer.  They are making the tragic assumption that if the consumer likes something in one place then he or she will love it in another. 

Get back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Are The Networks Tricking Us Into Watching Award Shows Again?

It wasn't that long ago when people cared about award shows.  Of course, people primarily cared about the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and - to a lesser extent - the Grammys.  In fact, people cared so much about these award shows that the networks and big production companies decided it would be a worthwhile venture to make more award shows, which turned out to be a successful venture.  MTV discovered that they can boost their ratings with the Music Video Awards and Movie Awards, ABC and Dick Clark manufactured the American Music Awards and (I believe) the People's Choice Awards.

Anyway, people seemed to have smartened up a bit over the last few years and the ratings for the nonsensical award shows began to fall.  And, just when I thought it was safe to venture back into pop culture observation Kanye West decided to go nuts in front of the country and award shows became culturally relevant to watch again.  (Now, when I say culturally relevant I mean pop culturally relevant as most of these shows really give accolades to what most would consider art.)

So, I wasn't surprised in the least to discover that there was some controversy from the recent American Music Awards.  Apparently, Adam Lambert did something overtly sexual and the social conservatives got aroused, which means they instantly have to complain to ABC. 

I have absolutely no doubt that ABC and Dick Clark Productions hoped something like this would happen.  After all, if audiences begin to believe that crazy things are going to occur during live broadcasts than they might actually tune in, which would drive up the price for ad space. 

Does this mean that we're entering a new age of more horrible award shows?  I guess we'll have to just wait and see.  I think there's a greater chance that there will just be more heavily marketed live events.

Google and Tivo Team Up

While this is hardly a newsflash, Google is positioning itself to take over the advertising universe.  What's their latest move?  MediaWeek reported this today (read the whole thing here):

"Google has signed a license agreement with DVR company TiVo that enables the Internet search provider to integrate TiVo set-top-box viewing data into its measurement of audiences for ads sold through the Google TV Ads platform.

The deal adds approximately 1.6 million subscribers to the universe of set-top boxes that Google TV Ads has to draw on to analyze second-by-second TV viewing behavior of audiences. Google also has a deal with Dish Network and access to more than 13 million set-top boxes via the satellite carrier."

So What Does This Mean For TV Ad Serving and TV Ratings?

On one hand, this is a step toward the inevitable destruction of Nielsen Ratings by Google.  While Tivo customers are a smaller group than cable subscribers with DVRs, 1.6 million people is a big enough sample to make a huge difference for anyone who is gathering behavioral viewing data.  This data will help Google build even smarter profiles of segments.  Smarter profiles mean a greater likelihood of an ad reaching the right segment, and advertisers are willing to pay more.  If the advertisers like what Google is doing for them, they will begin to tell the media companies like Time Warner, Comcast, and Viacom that they want the same service that Google is giving them for their ad buys.  This will then force the media companies to either tell Nielsen to up their game and get the same viewer data, or the media companies and the advertisers will finally force Nielsen out and Google will replace one monopoly with another. 

On the other hand, this is a step in the wrong direction for Google if they really want to crush Nielsen.  As much as I love my Tivo, if Google wants to become the number one ratings research center and ad server then they have to introduce their own DVR and free service to consumers.  This is the sort of slap in the face that only Google can do to cable providers.  Right now cable providers have Tivo on the run.  By partnering with retailers to sell their services in stores, cable companies are getting retailers to exclude Tivo from their shelves and it's working.  (As a bit of anecdotal evidence, my girlfriend and I had to go to three different stores before finding our Tivo at a Best Buy.)  Plus, Tivo has the additional roadblock of the monthly subscription fee.  Some consumers would rather just have a DVR fee tacked on to their cable bill and not think about what they are not getting by owning something that doesn't work as well as a Tivo.  Google is the only entity that could get away with introducing their own DVR and taking away cable providers' revenue from DVR by promising higher ad revenues in return.  Besides, the cable providers would be able to save on the maintenance fees of their extremely cheap and poorly crafted DVRs that they currently have.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Well, My Crazy Rants Were Right!

Hey check this out!  According to the Financial Times, I'm smart:
Microsoft has had discussions with News Corp over a plan that would involve the media company being paid to “de-index” its news websites from Google, setting the scene for a search engine battle that could offer a ray of light to the newspaper industry.
Read the whole article here, read my previous rant on the issue here.

Why I Don't Care About This Verizon/AT&T War (And You Shouldn't Either)

I could say (with a bunch of anecdotal evidence) that these Verizon map ads are a load of hoo-ha.  I've driven from both Houston and Chicago to New York City using my Google Maps app to get me there with little or no problems.  I used my iPhone, which is on AT&T if you didn't know, to not only guide my way but also find food, gas and lodging along the interstates of this country.  But, if I were to go into greater detail it would just sound like I am some sort of first mover who is scrambling to justify my purchase to the rest of the world.

I could also say that the court controversy marks a seminal moment in advertising and media law, but when it comes down to it I really don't care right now either.


First, I don't understand why Verizon is using a national ad campaign to say that AT&T's 3G coverage is spotty in various localities.  I think it's extremely foolhardy and a massive waste of money to run these ads in major metropolitan areas where AT&T is popular and works.  The fact of the matter is that most people do not travel enough to see the effects of the coverage map (if there are any) in their daily lives to justify switching phone companies.  Most people only care about the area they line in, and if they're on the road they want to make sure that they can make a phone call and not surf the web.  Seeing that roaming charges are a thing of the past as long as you subscribe to a national carrier, your phone will work wherever anyone's phone will work.

Second, I really don't understand why AT&T is wasting their time and trying to answer to these ads.  I should say that there is a reasonably good chance that they think they are going to lose customers over this campaign, or that people are actually calling them and tying up their customer service lines asking if these spots are true; however, acting on stuff like this is just as foolish.  While there is an increase in the purchasing of smart phones, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that "By April 2009, 19% of Americans said they had yesterday accessed the internet on their mobile," which is up 8% from 2007.  Of course, "accessing the internet" can mean something as simple as checking email.  Compared to the proliferation of other technology based behaviors, this is surprisingly low.  This leads me to believe that most people are buying smart phones for the full keyboards to make texting easier.  (I will admit to having that thought as well.) So, what about the 81% of phone customers who are just using their phones to talk to people?  What about the people are who are having a hard time making ends meet and need a flexible, affordable phone plan?  Why are you wasting your money on this AT&T?  The best advertising is a happy customer base in the cell phone business.  Are these ads keeping your customers happy AT&T?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Complaining About Some Horrible Ads Again

I don't know about you, but I really dislike this new Cisco Telepresence ad featuring Ellen Page. 

Am I supposed to know that Ellen Page is from Nova Scotia, or do I need to watch this ad a hundred times to notice the sign in front of the doctor's office?  I think the people who made this spot took way too many liberties in assuming the audience loves Ellen Page.  I mean I like her, but not enough to care about her doctor visits.

Plus, this ad is supposed to show the benefits of Telepresence in health care. Does it even really succeed at that? From the point of view that video conferencing used to be 10 frames a second with huge delays, I guess it succeeds; however, this ad makes me not care.

Now just when I thought this was my least favorite spot on television, I see this.

While this ad follows the Gap's successful formula of showing people dancing around in their clothes, I find this whole cheerleading meets "America's Best Dance Crew" thing to be obnoxious. Would it be better if they played holiday song in the background rather than the cheering? Probably.  The combination of voices barking "GO CHRISTMAS! GO HANUKKAH! GO KWANZAA! GO SOLSTICE!" at me is horrifying.

As a kid, I might have been happy to see that Jews (like myself), African Americans and agnostics or atheists were included in this ad. I would have felt that it was an invitation to celebrate in this season of giving along side everyone else. As a disgruntled adult with a weary eye toward consumerism, I find annoying that they think they need to pander to people like me in hopes that I'll come into one of their stores and assimilate even more than I already have.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Warren Buffet Reads My Blog... Well Not Really

So, it's starting to look like the folks at Goldman Sachs are paying attention to the PR people that they have hired to help repair their image.

Today the New York Times reported the following:
"After first staunchly defending its outsize profits and pay, and then bristling at calls for restraint in these tough economic times, Goldman is trying a new tack: It is apologizing for past mistakes that led to the financial crisis — and sharing at least some of its riches.
A little more than a week after Goldman’s chairman and chief executive drew fire for saying the Wall Street giant was “doing God’s work,” the bank said Tuesday that it would spend $500 million — or about 3 percent of the $16.7 billion it has so far set aside to pay its employees this year — to help thousands of small businesses recover from the recession."
You can read the whole article here.

Is this a victory for smart image control?  We'll have to wait and see.  I feel that this is a step in the right direction; however, is $500 million really enough? (Yeah, I just asked that.) 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thoughts on Murdoch's Proposed Ban of Google

“We’d rather have fewer people coming to our Web site but paying.”

On Monday, Sky News Australia (one of the many parts of News Corporation) released an interview with their chief Rupert Murdoch.  Among the many topics he discussed that day, Murdoch talked about the possibility of blocking Google from searching their content.

If Murdoch were to pull his content from Google it would be the first real power play against Google in some time.  Looking at the News Corporation roster of publications, publishers, networks, and social networks, one can see that it consitutes gigantic chunk of the internet landscape.  Can Google afford to lose the traffic of people searching for something a person saw in the Wall Street Journal, NY Post, etc.?

Murdoch has a pretty good search engine in Factiva, thus people can find most of his news content online with some ease (obviously, it's not free).  Factiva is not as easy to use as Google in some aspects, but better in others.  Plus, this could give Murdoch the opportunity to forge an allegiance with Yahoo/Bing which would definitely add to the value proposition to consumers who are searching for certain content.  Therein lies the most critical issue for Google.  If this were to happen, could it be possible that a this partnership could challenge Google's dominance in their field?

Coca Cola Brands Buskers?

In a past life not so long ago, you might have caught my friends and me on a street corner trying to earn some beer money by hammering through a bunch of songs.  Busking - as it's called to those who don't know - is a fun way for musicians to test market new material.  If people stop and listen you know that you're on the right track.  If they throw in some change you're even better.  (Of course, you are then obliged to play a request.)

So, it was with some surprise when I discovered at that
Coca-Cola will be throwing their money into the guitar cases of London's Tube Buskers throughout the holiday season to push Coke's jingles.  I could go on some diatribe about how corporations are stepping on artistic integrity, but this is so much better than Christmas carolers.  Besides it's a brilliant move.  Whether in New York, London or any other metropolitan area, buskers play a key role in the aesthetic of the environment.  They have the ability to turn the mundane commute into a new (and usually positive) experience.  Cheers to Coca-Cola for trying something different.

And The Heads Rolled...

Hey party people it looks like I was on to something with my gripes about Pepsi's "Amp Up Before You Score" App.  Commence the gloating!

"NEW YORK ( -- PepsiCo is making some major changes to its digital-advertising roster, and its traditional agency partners on beverage brands are conspicuously absent
Meanwhile, PepsiCo is conducting a digital agency review for its Amp brand; R/GA, an Interpublic-owned agency, previously handled the work, but not under an agency-of-record distinction. R/GA was responsible for the controversial "Amp Up Before You Score App," which Pepsi dumped last month. According to an executive familiar with the matter, R/GA resigned the business before the release of that app."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rebranding Wall Street Part Two

Rebranding Wall Street Part 2

In my last post I talked about the need for Wall Street firms to rebrand themselves and what they had to do to internally to begin the process. Compared to the suggestions that I made for that part, the external changes are going to be a cakewalk.

So, here are my thoughts on what Wall Street firms can do in an external rebranding effort.

Step One: When Your Executives Give Interviews, Hire Some PR People To Prevent The Following

The Colbert Report
Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Goldman Sachs Does God's Work

Colbert Report Full Episodes
Political Humor
U.S. Speedskating

Seriously, what were the Goldman Sachs communications people thinking?  It doesn't matter if the comments were taken out of the context, which they were in this case. (Read the full interview here.)

Of course, Blankfein did not do everything wrong.  In explaining the purpose of an investment bank he states the following, "We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle."

It's okay to speak with candor, but you have to be careful.  In the end, people are not going to hear that investment banks grow the economy.  They are going to hear that the execs think they are doing "God's work" and they will assume the worst about the people at the helm of the economy.

Step Two: Make (New) Ads

Yup, that's right they need to make new ads, or ads for the first time.  Ads that say, "We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth."

Although, I wonder about the word "wealth."  Seeing that most Americans lack wealth, it might be good to use a word like "opportunity."  While Bank of America is currently trying to make themselves "The Bank of Opportunity," it's a good word and there are plenty of other synonyms that can be used to convey the same notion.

Step Three: The Big Media Buy

A big media buy is not about getting more clients or growing the business.  This is purely about defining the term "investment bank" to the American public, which is a great opportunity.  Why?  Because, in reality, there is not a definition outside a finance class that a person takes in college.  This economic meltdown is making the average citizen curious; thus, most of them turn on their televisions or their computers to figure out who these investment bankers really are in relation to their own lives.  Right now, a big media buy, can steer the opinions of a larger group of people than any other period in history (in regards to the idea of an investment bank).

As I said in the first post on rebranding Wall Street, the internal branding efforts are going to be more difficult.  The external portion is really as easy I just described.  Obviously, each communication strategy will need the careful handling of professionals, but now is the time to act.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rebranding Wall Street

GAAAAHHHH! I hate Wall Street! Or, at least, I think I hate Wall Street. I really don't have any contact with them other than my bank account, which isn't really a Wall Street firm and wasn't bailed out. In fact, the only contact that I do have with them is all the news that I watch. So, I guess it's pretty easy for me to dislike them right now along with a majority of Americans.

Early in my career, I worked for a company that prided itself on not being well known outside of their industry and the investing institutions. They had been burned in the past, and it was understandable that wanted to reposition their brand to speak directly to specific groups of stakeholders who did business with the company on a regular basis. Personally, I don't think it was the best strategy in the world, but it worked. It built up the credibility among those who needed to know and turned them into advocates for the organization.

Unfortunately for Wall Street, this strategy will not work for them and it probably never would have in the past. The financial crisis exposed a crisis in branding that no one could have ever expected. In a way the brand of Wall Street was somewhere between the gold plated, tacky world of Donald Trump and the actual Wizard of Oz (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain). There was wealth, power and a mystique that outsiders would never really understand. And, it worked. It attracted top talent from universities and other industries and created machines whose only purpose was to print money. It worked so well that they became the keystone of our economy. Whether you were starting a business that made tangible objects for other human beings to consume or refinancing mortgages, the money passed through Wall Street in some way.

Turning every person on earth who handles currency or eats rice into a stakeholder, Wall Street had a lot of people to answer to when the economy went down the toilet and they didn't. They relied on mystique elements of their brand and said, "Don't worry we'll figure this out and after we save ourselves you will magically be okay." Now, their credibility is gone and it's time to build a new promise. But, it's going to take more than a new logo and a few ad buys. There has to be an inside out rebranding.

So, here - without further ado - is what I would do to fix Wall Street's image.

Part One: The Internal Struggle

Corporate culture plays a key role in branding. The people who make up the organization and their attitudes toward create an often neglected element of the brand. For example, if everyone hated working for Berkshire Hathaway or Google or Microsoft the information would eventually get out, especially in the digital age that we are living in, this information would eventually reach the other organizations that the company does business with and make these companies think twice about doing business with them. This phenomena is magnified if everyone who works for a company is -pardon my French - an asshole. I can remember conversations with a few people in the risk management industry telling me stories of how a certain underwriter was filled with employees who were less than savory individuals. When that company found itself in big trouble and needed to assure clients that they were stable it was difficult fight not only because they had to explain their financial stability but also pretend like they were buddy-buddy in the past.

Therefore, the first step in rebranding Wall Street is probably the most difficult: they must change the internal attitudes of employees to show that they care a little about what happens in the world outside of Lower Manhattan. In an interview with Fresh Air on NPR, New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin discussed how then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson viewed his former company Goldman Sachs. For better or worse, Paulson saw that if his old ship sank the next big company to fall would not be another bank, but General Electric. This egocentric attitude turned out to be a good thing in that we avoided an even greater catastrophe; however, I could not escape the thought that it takes time to nurture such ideas within an organization. Plus, once these concepts take hold they begin to steer that company's outlook.

But, how can you humble a bunch of hotshots?

As it turns out, it's not about humbling. It's about instituting the idea within this organization that they are connected to the economy and their communities. When I worked for Dow Chemical, they had nurtured the idea that each office and plant - wherever they might be - plays a role in the day to day lives of people that they don't see. Rather than purchasing logo space on European soccer jerseys or buying the naming rights to a building to get their brand out, they helped their brand by treating their employees well and helping them get involved with simple things like charities. Each community then viewed the employees like a normal neighbor and opinions of the organization as a whole went up.

So what can a Wall Street firm do?

Right now, things are going to have to be drastic. When it comes to topics that anger the common person like myself, nothing boils my blood more than bonuses. (I can understand that the company wants to reward its employees for a job well done, but just giving the money to those behind the wall isn't changing my perception of them.) Substantial portions of gigantic bonuses at the top will either need to be returned or donated. Then the company has to announce that they will consider reinvesting the quarterly profit in the economy to continue growth, rather than just giving to themselves money to buy yachts. After all, these companies are investment banks and they should be investing.

Next, the companies need to focus on their personnel by instilling a culture of responsibility and integrity. In the wake of the Enron collapse, anyone who dealt with energy trading in any form had to go through serious training to eradicate the bad behaviors of the past that had gone unmitigated. In addition, energy trading floors hired an equal number of risk managers to traders. This quickly killed the casino mentality that once ruled the room. (Now, I am not saying that it was a panacea but it definitely helped.) The problem personnel either quit or were fired because of their behavior. If the investment banks took a harder line on their individual risk management in their day to day operations, it might bring back the rational notion of slow, strong growth to the business as opposed to the overnight success stories they loved to tell.

What will happen if they don't make these internal changes?

If Wall Street is unwilling to change its ways the people are only going to get angrier, and in the short run this won't mean a thing because we cannot do much about from the outside. What the angry mob can do is vote and elect leaders who will place restrictions on these companies that will be more cumbersome and more irrational than any controls that they could put in place on their own. Yes, these banks have plenty of money to pay for lobbyists but there will be a tipping point. All Wall Street needs to do is look back a few years the collapse of the big accounting firms like Anderson to see that if the government steps in again, they are going to get a Sarbanes Oxley before another bailout.