Viral or virus?

To view consumer generated content (CGC) as anything more than consumers itching a creative scratch is silly. That’s not to say consumers can’t do a good job of entertaining and/or even selling a product or two. But if they are not making deposits in the “brand bank” they may actually be diluting brand values.  
When this CGC contests are run and “aired” on paid media, good brand managers will select only the efforts that best deliver the brand promise, but they should not overlook all the people generating “off brief” creative and sharing it on their own. If this happens, a brand manager isn’t managing the brand, s/he is monitoring it. And that’s when viral turns to virus.  


My favorite new product in a while is Heelys (– the sneaker with the wheel in the heel.  It’s a spectacular product with a great name. Imagine being in the early development meeting with the lawyers, though, trying to explain the upside of a sneaker with a banana peel on the heel? This is was bold play.
As is the case with Burger King, whose broiled burgers you experience anytime you’re within an 1/8 of a mile of the store, Heelys are a walking, talking billboard of self-promotion. Have you ever seen a kid go gliding by on Heelys without a smile on his or her face?  Plus the way the kids ambulate is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  It’s absolutely mesmerizing.
But one of the best parts of the product launch is the name.  Heelys.  It’s descriptive, fun, memorable and meaningful.  The name really delivers.  

J.C. Penny’s idea.

I’ve never been a fan of Penny’s though I certainly know the store and have shopped there.
The Saatchis are launching a new campaign around the idea “Every Day Matters,” a welcome change from the old effort “It’s all inside.” “It’s all inside” was not an idea, it was a tagline. The only way if could have been an idea was as a consolidation or a one stop shop strategy, and that’s no way to build a brand. Where’s the aspiration? Where’s the consumer? If there was a double meaning in the line, a la it’s all inside the human spirit, I thing DDB fell short. The musical device build to present the line was a keeper, I will say, but that’s it.
“Every day matters” is own-able and deliverable. Most important, it is an architecture for an ongoing, meaningful, consumer-focused story. Let’s hope the Saatchi’s can deliver. 

Obfuscation or planned confusion?

So, I’m reading the New York Times over the weekend and I hit upon a sentence that causes me to vigorously shake my head to clear out the cob webs. I read it again and again and still couldn’t wend my way though it’s mash-up of double and triple negatives. Here it is:
“…he opposes (first negative) a ban (second negative) only if it failed (third) to include an exception (fourth) to protect the life of the mother.”
When they write this stuff, are they smiling?
This type of obtusion (Is that a word? It should be.) is what keeps people from reading. Have you ever, I mean ever, read a user license agreement on a Web site?  Or read a prospectus?  How about an annual report financial section?  Is obfuscation a cottage industry? (Tax preparation, is no doubt a billion dollar business.)
I’m not for dumbing down the written word, or journalists writing to a 6th grade reading level, but come on people. Can’t we all just try to communicate a little better?  

Simpler times.

Imagine a time in the 1700s when America’s green tea came from a single company with two ships sailing back and forth to China. Following a 7-month sail, the green tea arrived in lower Manahattan, was offloaded and brought by horse drawn wagon over bumpy cobblestones to a warehouse near Wall Street at which time the shipping barrels were broken open and the tea transferred to smaller dry casks for shipment to points north, south and west.
After stops at two more transportation points, a barge ride, and a jaunt in a rain-soaked buckboard wagon, the green tea arrives at the local mercantile. Taken out of its wooden  cask, smelling oh so rich by the way, it is then put into 3 glass jars with metal claps and cloth seals.
You, the store proprietor, must charge $.75 for a half pound of the green tea in order to make a little money, which is quite a high price when considering sugar is $.08 and flour is $.04 a pound. Here in Bumpus Mills, MO green tea is a relatively unknown luxury, and perhaps the most expensive product in the store on a cost per pound basis. Which promotional route do you go? Point-of-sale? Or word-of-mouth?   

Where is the middle?

Social computing has grown in many directions: social networks, social media, personal homes pages, start pages, just to name a few. There seems to be a crazy gravitational force developing, though, that is pulling everyone toward the middle. Those who have stuck to their core technology and/or mission have reaped the biggest revenue benefit. eBay is still tight. Google is tight. Flickr is tight. YouTube and MySpace are tight. But even these companies are beginning to look beyond their missions. They want more pie and they are greedily pursuing it.
The more they target competitor’s customers and develop competitive functionality, the more they lose focus and differentiation. They are all moving toward the middle. What will we call the middle? How will consumers describe the middle? 

Will every main social computing company have so much pie on their face that they become unsightly? Will all those cherries and blueberries and peaches and custards and apples turn into one brown sticky mess?

Billy Bob Thornton’s “Uhhh huhh” comes to mind.   

Cathy Horyn

Cathy Horyn is the New York Times fashion reviewer.  I always look forward to Fashion Week in New York because of Cathy’s column.  She’s a brilliant writer!  I want to wear women’s clothes when I finish her column.  Never will I be confused for a Fashionista, but I often wonder whether her pen can make or break collections. What kind of power does she wield? Carolina Herrera must feel she’s important, she’s banned the NY Times from her shows.

Power or not, Cathy is both fun to read and thoroughly convincing.  Check out her prose all week long in the New York Times and at her Blog

When is funny not funny?

Was there one Super Bowl commercial  (Am I allowed to use the word Super Bowl without paying a licensing fee?) that wasn’t designed to make people laugh? It seemed that every marketer cared only about creating a humorous imprint on consumers rather than selling a little product. Don’t get me wrong, I love humor. But in the comedy club that has become the Super Bowl I’m afraid consumers are beginning to judge the work, rather than respond to it. The messages are getting lost in the humor.
The ad I remember most over the last couple of Super Bowls was the one in which soldiers returning home from Iraq were met with spontaneous applause in the airport. That was powerful. And though I’m not 100% sure it was Budweiser, I’m going to give them credit. While I’m giving Bud (not Bud Light) credit, I’m going to like them a little more as a company, albeit not in any thirst-quenching manner. 

On what is supposed to be advertising’s finest day, I think we’re losing our way.

Dell Diving

Michael Dell’s announcement to run the company again is a good one, but not if he takes his eye off the ball and decides to build revenue through increased focus on business services/consulting. The direct-sales business model works. The market has never been more conditioned to buy things direct. Dell’s problem is HP, who is really cutting into its share. Mr. Dell should focus on building a better product than HP and maintaining a lower price point. He should also amp (sic) up the design of his notebooks. Dell once owned notebooks, now the gene pool is being diluted. (After ten years with Dell I’m working on a Toshiba, and though I keep typing Stege instead of Steve, due to the funky keyboard, I’m happy. The screen resolution is terrific.)
If Dell decides to focus on business consulting rather than building low-cost, good product with good design, they will gateway right out the door…Steve        

Bud A Dud?

Anheuser-Busch has looked to one of its ad agencies, DDB, to create a Super Bowl spot aimed at the younger target. Let’s call them 21+.   In this age of ceding control of the creative product to anyone who will listen, DDB has decided to enlist interns to come up with this spot, but that’s a topic for another day. AB’s goal of making Bud more relevant to the younger target, is a very good one.
Bud is getting killed–at least in the NY Metro area–in the 21-34 year old demo. 
Have I dialed into Beverage Industry newsletters and trade pub data for this insight?  Nope. I went to a Pearl Jam concert at the Meadowlands last year and while the beer lines were 40 feet long at the Guinness cart and the other domestic beer carts, Bud devotees could grab a quaff in seconds. It was unbelievable. It was like the Bud cart repelled people. Perhaps my email of this market research study-of-one got through the firewall to AB’s Bob Lachky.