Our 56 pound 9 year old can beat yours.

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Here on Long Island lives a little phenom by the name of Victor M. De Leon III (don’t forget the III part.)  Victor is a 56 lb. 9 years old and though that almost sounds sub-Saharan, he is a very healthy kid.   What makes this little boy unique is that he is quite the gamer.  If you know what Halo is, you probably know “Lil’ Poison (his gamer name.) When I was 9, I couldn’t spell poison.
 
While most 56 lb. 9 year olds around the world are foraging, this little dude is kicking some major ass in his Holbrook basement. Oh yeah, he also has just about paid for college with gaming tournament winning. He’s been on “60 Minutes.” And he has more frequent flier miles than your average business exec.  Today his amazingly determined face is on the front page of the New York Times.
 
While the adults are debating whether Victor will grow up to shoot people in the head with real bullets, or become an anti-social nerd with half a friend, Victor is taking the world by storm. Who deserves the publicity more, Lil’ Poison or Paris Hilton (also about 56 lbs. and sitting in a basement.)? Go Victor Go!
 

Avandia

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I’m sure glad I don’t have type 2 diabetes. If I did and was taking GlaxoSmithKline’s medicine Avandia, I’d have to be doing a lot of talking to my doctor according to the drug’s safety information. It said so in a letter published today by GSK’s chief medical officer Ronald Krall in which he states that Avandia is safe as far as he knows.  Except, that is, for the swelling, brittle bones, exacerbation of heart problems, swelling in the back of the eyes, pregnancy complications, breathing issues, etc.  
 
So let me get this straight — while I’m sitting for an hour in the doctor’s office waiting to  see the doc and the pretty young women with the pearly whites and tray of luncheon meats cuts the line , she’s telling the physician about all of these side effects?  I don’t think so.  That would be bad for sales. GlaxoSmithKline is putting it on me to know all the side effects of its products? I’m supposed to play 20 questions with my doctor? Pharmaceutical companies can’t publish pages of side effects and expect normal people to read them. Somebody is not doing their job and I’m betting it’s the FDA.
 
There was a time when my doctor knew if a medicine was safe for me. Not any more.
 

Are you a poster or paster?

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There are two primary types of people involved in social computing today: posters and pasters. 
 
Posters generate original content for the Web. Many are bloggers. They write about themselves, their experiences, opinions and values. Posters may create and edit videos. Posters are also artists. They share their photography, paintings, music and other musings. (One of my favorite posters is Brooklyn’s Marie Lorenz of the Tide and Current Taxi http://www.marielorenz.com/tideandcurrenttaxi.php.)  Posters are responsible for the surge in consumer generated content found all over the Web and are the lifeblood of social computing.
 
Pasters, on the other hand, are the people who search the Web for interesting stuff so they can share it. The first people who sent jokes and video around the Web were pasters. Today’s pasters are Web filters and repurposers — finding, cutting, pasting and mashing up content. They have websites, social networking spaces and are voracious communicators.  Pasters may also be bloggers; they just aggregate and post content others have written. Think of them as reporters. Pasters may not be the lifeblood of social networking, but they are certainly the body. Pasters are the mass in the massively growing social computing phenomenon.
 

A good ear for PCs.

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Todd Bradley, the head of Hewlett Packard’s PC business has affected quite a turnaround at a company that had for too long on run on printer powder. Business journalist accounts of the turnaround are manifold; many of which pin the success on a renewed retail strategy. I, for one, believe the turnaround is due to the man in charge. When Mr. Bradley stepped in, he left the comfort of his office. He toured production facilities, talked to production teams, suppliers, channel partners and consumers. He asked questions and then listened for the answers. When patterns of information started to form, the big picture issues emerged and he began to made decisions. Where are we weak? Where are we strong? What can I fix near-term? Long-term?  What do I want to be known for tomorrow? What do people want today?
 
Here’s a man who knew what questions to ask and to whom he should address them. And he listened. In deference to multivariate statistical analysis, sometimes a good ear is all it takes to turn around a business.
 

Facebook Will Be Schooled Eventually.

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Facebook yesterday made a big announcement about opening up its social network (of college students) to better compete with MySpace. What Facebook has done will cut into MySpace’s market share by providing a level of functionality unavailable there — today. MySpace is not going to sit still, however.  In fact, I learned yesterday that some music artists on MySpace are selling music through partners. Quietly.  
 
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has made some smart near-term competitive decisions but he’s also opened up Pandora’s Box. His franchise is college kids and those who want to be college kids. High school kids want to be college kids. Post grads want to be college kids. Hell, I want to be a college kid. Mr. Zuckerberg owned this social networking franchise but has decided to give it away in favor of providing unbridled technology and functionality to everyone. He is now selling a platform, not a college way of life.
 
Facebook will steal MySpace market share. It will grow. Then it will slow down. And then it will grow again because it will improve its mobile package. But then it will slowdown as the competitive field grows and Facebook loses its meaning to franchise users. Some smart entrepreneur will have gone to school on Facebook and provide a better social computing environment for Facebook’s core user. 
 

Ask About a Mensa Virus.

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Here’s an experiment. Please go to today’s New York Times (May 24) and read the dense, full page “Ask” ad on its search technology. It was written for about sixty people. It is for the Mensa- smart with inside references to the “Fields Medal” and “Hermann Mudgett” and sprays hoity language and formula’s that will curl your hair. That said, there is some wonderful writing here as well, e.g., “To search effectively in these circumstances, you’d have to don some serious math goggles and take a look at the big picture.”

For the sixty people in the target, here’s the essence of the story (the algorithm): “For each query, and index G of Web pages is found. For each page p, you associate a non-negative authority weight a(p) and a non-negative authory weight h(p). This will lead you to the rather obvious conclusion that when p points to lots of pages with big a values, it should get a big h (inverse weighted popularity). And when p is pointed to by lots of pages with big h values, it should get a big a value (weighted popularity.)” I’ll stop here, but the explanation goes on.

So here’s the test. Will this ad work? Will sixty people — who I’m guessing will really, really like and, more importantly, understand this ad — begin to use Ask as their search engine? In spite of its rather populist name? And will their viral power set Ask off on an upward trajectory? (My bet is yes.)

Watch Craftsmanship

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Side-by-side comparison ads, if done well, are still a powerful form of communication. The old Rolling Stone “perception-reality” campaign comes to mind. In today’s Wall Street Journal is another example worth mentioning. It’s a watch ad by a company called A. Lange & Sohne. On the left side of the half page horizontal is a very impressive black and white picture of a Lange Double Split (perfectly named) wrist watch. On the right, a picture of the innards. Okay, the manufacture movement. Okay, the “symphony of horological artistry.”
 
The picture of the inside of the watch looks like a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
 
Upon reading the copy you realize this watch is one of man’s true feats of engineering. A point hammered home by the fact that I have no clue what a rattrapante is, and I’m still interested. The rattrapante, two actually, is the ad’s subject. (I think it means stop watch hand, but don’t quote me.)
 
In a society that will spend $2,000 for a sport jacket made of (tah-dah) cloth, this simple ad is going to ring up some serious sales. For a product that is a throwback to times of great craftsmanship, this ad is a throwback as well. Just perfect.  
 

Dogs sell…and smell.

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For as long as I’ve know them, Orsun Munn and Peter Rabot of Munn Rabot www.munnrabot.com have had a nice hand with their advertising. Always elegantly designed, often driven by a strong idea, these guys get it.
 
It’s an old advertising maxim that pictures of dogs and babies generate readership. One of Munn Rabot’s biggest clients, New York Presbyterian, uses two cute little white doggies as the focal point of a current print ad next to the headline “Amazing Things Are Happening Here.” The copy points out that NYP is using dogs therapeutically to help lower blood pressure and relieve depression, which is not really big news, but it goes on to offer that “dogs have even displayed an ability to provide early cancer detection through scent.”   That is news. That’s amazing. That’s an ad.
 
I often go on about how great copywriters and great planners find the brilliant kernel of information that can create a truly winning selling message. Whoever found this kernel earned his or her paycheck.
 

Cisco — The Human Network?

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Cisco System’s advertising campaign is very well produced. In fact, the production is so good it hides the fact that the idea is weak. The implied strategy of Cisco’s “human network” effort is to showcase all the good that happens over the internet and take credit for it. As the Internet infrastructure market leader, Cisco has decided to put a human face on the Internet and reap its benefit. It’s there way of showing Cisco is not a “cold technology” company and that applications drive technology.
 
The problem with glorifying humans, their actions, ideas, and deeds in your advertising is that you don’t differentiate the product. You celebrate it but don’t differentiate it. Certainly this builds awareness, familiarity, and a degree of loyalty, but the real kernels of differentiation that bind consumers to you are lost.  It doesn’t pass the “Why do you like Cisco so much?” test. Were a new hardware vendor to come along with a faster switch, many of Cisco’s fans would be happy to listen.  This campaign is the equivalent of the old AT&T “reach out and touch someone” campaign, which was great monopoly advertising. 
 
The human network is an idea. And it plays well in the media.  But it is not a branding idea.  
 

Art

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What’s my art?  I think it’s creating and recognizing powerful selling ideas. I borrow the term “selling idea” from a planning and strategy hero of mine Peter Kim, now deceased. In Peter’s world a selling idea was an ad strategy but on a macro level it could also be branding idea, the overarching organizing principle for a brand’s marketing and communications. 
 
My blog is not really my art but an extension. A PR friend, Shelley Spector, once  described my blog saying “You are  the Andy Rooney of marketing.” Images of McNasty eyebrows aside, I guess she’s right. I’m sort of cranky and don’t suffer foolish marketing well. Good bloggers try to be more then commentators teaching through inference.  They highlight rules and exceptions and provide advice for practitioners. Good bloggers need to encourage, be positive, and set an example.  
 
Seth Godin does a good job with this — translating his art into a blog. He’s instructive, thoughtful and insightful. I promise to better represent my art in my blog. It’s going to be tough though.