Buy American

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As a brand planner and marketer I have always wondered what it was that motivated a middle aged man in rural Kentucky to only put the highest grade motor oil in his car when on his dinner table he served onion greens and pork shoulder?  It didn’t make sense to me. Yet it was a reality. Many American’s today are still extremely brand loyal – in some cases, perhaps, to a fault. But they are not stupid. 

All of this pro-American advertising bullshit in the automotive category is pandering and silly. The reason Americans are buying foreign cars is because the cars are better. They perform better, they look better, and they handle better.  The reason we’ve maintained our lead in the truck market is because we’ve remained more competitive in trucks; our trucks are flat out superior. The wonderful “American” imagery and Bob Seger-ish music associated with truck advertising over the years is has been spectacular, but is is not a disguise for good product. The product design in the truck category was awesome, evolved, and in touch with it’s buyers.  General Motor and Ford trucks were well packaged and sold.

 
American car design is just beginning to make a statement. Let’s ride good product design for a while before we trot out the “Buy American” approach. And don’t think for a minute that the new Saturn ads aren’t buy American pandering. They protest too much, I sayeth.
 

Social or too social?

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By trade I am the marketing director of a social computing site called Zude. Zude is in private Beta right now, which means it’s open for business but in a controlled fashion. If you’d like to check it out or sign up, please leave me a comment.
 
So last night I was looking at a number of new user sites on Zude and found a band called the SilverSun Pickups. It showed a video and a song called “Lazy Eye.”  I was drawn in by the rock riff and a video story of two kids meeting at a bar.  The video idea was simple and powerful; an insider looks at the art (or randomness) of a bar pickup. Anyway, I spent time searching out the band and learned they are an indie band from LA, have been on late night TV a couple of times, and, overall, just had an excellent vibe. 
 
So I wanted to thank the person on whose Zude page the band appeared.  Now the dilemma – she (emphasis on the she) is a 29 year old. Talk about overthink. Should I or shouldn’t I? With a few beers in me at Mary Carroll’s, I would have said “who’s this” and “thanks” in a heartbeat.  But online? Creepy?
 
Well the music won out. I sent a little thank you. It was the “social” thing to do.
 

Words. Canon. Shot.

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My dad, Fred Poppe, who was a terrific writer and ad pundit, had a thing for one word headlines. They drove him crazy. Typically, these ads place a word like RELIABILITY in block letters centered atop the page. Lazy efforts like this are what give ad people a bad name.

My pet peeve is multiple word headlines with the words separated by periods. Like the headline of this blog post. Canon is running a printer campaign using one of these constructs: Produce. Persuade. Perform. On Paper.

This is not an idea; it’s not even 4 ideas. Whatever it is you can drive an earthmover through it. If there is an idea hidden in this campaign, it’s probably the last part of the word string “On paper.”  You just might be able to build a selling story around that, given the right strategy, but for the life of me I can’t tell what that strategy would be from what I read. 

The campaign runs on 4 consecutive half-page horizontal pages and tosses out words like: speed, quality, budget, quality, productivity, accuracy, quality, consistency, speed, accuracy and consistency. And just in case your brain wasn’t spinning fast enough, they repeat “Produce. Persuade. Perform. On Paper.” in each ad.

Here’s what consumers will say about this campaign in day-after recall copytesting: “I remember pictures on a table and lots of black space.” Props to the art director.   

Get a Life?

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The stores on Second Life are open for business. Or is that virtual business? Or is that experiential virtual business? Beats me. It also seems to beat marketers, not many of whom are actually attributing real product sales to Second Life shops. In fact, I wonder if fake shopping will have a negative impact on real shopping. Will it desensitize the shopper to a real purchase because play-acting a purchase just isn’t as much fun?
 
For instance, if I go to the Reebok store on Second Life and buy my avatar (a cartoon image/likeness) a plaid pair of high-tops with orange laces, am I building these sneakers because they are cool looking and I would wear them in public? Or am I trying to decide if they are cool and I would wear them in public? Or am I buying them because there’s no way I’d wear them in public, but can pretend I might? And do I even need sneakers at the same time my avatar does? 
 
Then the phone rings, someone asks me to go to the beach, I grab my flip-flops and say “Would I?”
 
Second Life might make sense for new, category-busting products, but I’m not yet feeling the love for traditional products. Not yet.
 

Foundation Fighting Blindness

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I went to a dinner last night celebrating the humanitarian efforts of Daniel G. Bergstein, a longtime activist and supporter of the Foundation Fighting Blindness. The foundation’s mission is to fund the science and research required to find a cure for retinal diseases. In his speech, Gordon Gund noted that when he began (with) the FFB there was more money than there was research projects to fund in retinal degenerative diseases. Today, only 20% of all available research projects are funded.   
 
This amazing event was held in NYC at Cipriani on 42nd street in what used to be the flagship branch of the Bowery Savings Bank. In its heyday that branch held hundreds of millions of dollars in deposits, but I’ll bet never before has that building seen more important money change hands as did last night.
 
Kudos to Dan Bergstein, Gordon Gund, Jordan Bergstein and Jim McNiel — beacons for all of us.
 
To make a donation, please visit www.blindness.org
 

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.