Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Is it too late to change my vote?


Getting It

Earlier I wrote about how (most) newspaper publishers don’t seem to understand what business they’re in. They think they’re in the printing business.

The New Yorker gets it. They're in the content business.

You can buy the mag at any newsstand for $4.50. If you like it, you can subscribe and get it for (according to the blow-in) a single American dollar per issue. That's how I get my favorite Dirty Hippie Magazine every week.

Or, you can browse their Web site for (almost) everything in the current issue. Oh, yeah: for FREE.

They alsso have no problem with the writers on their masthead reprinting their New Yorker work on their personal blogs.

And for a hundred bucks or so, you can get everything they’ve ever published – ads included – on a digital drive to read at your leisure.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hannah Montana is a Slut

That seems to be one mini-narrative of the day.

Another is that she was duped by Annie Leibovitz.

... or something.

Disney’s in full containment mode. But are they really? Their statement criticizes Vanity Fair for ‘‘a situation created ... to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines.’’

At least Disney would never sexualize the image of a 15-year-old.

What’s with all the apologies, anyway? Who actually believes there wasn’t a Disney Channel representative IN THE ROOM when those photos were taken?

Let’s break down the play:

Miley/Hannah’s narrative is all about a pretty, wholesome and innocent – but mostly regular – girl who just happens to be a pop star. Affirmed.

Vanity Fair’s dominant narrative is all about provocation and art. Check.

Disney’s is all about marketing. Oh, and control of the brand image.

Sounds like four-for-four.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Message Force Multipliers

In SoCal they’re looking for a Killer Shark. Way back in the sleepy summer of 2001, before the Terrah sucked all of the oxygen out of everything else, there was Gary-Condit-and-predators-among-us, and there was The Summer of The Shark!

Despite all evidence to the contrary, shark attacks were on the rise. Everybody knew it.

I hear about it all the time this year. When have you ever heard of so many shark attacks?

That’s what we call a classic dominant narrative. It may or may not have any basis in fact, but if that’s what your audience knows, it’s their truth. It’s the environment in which you operate.

Hook your message to one of these dominant narratives and your message gains a force multiplier.

Summer is always the silly season: in politics, in finance, in news and in branding. It seems to be starting early this year with the Rice Shortage [that phrase ought to boost the ol’ google numbers]


The grainy fun begins at about 4:02

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Freakin'

... or Funkin' in this case.

I just got an email from from Sherri Friedman. If you don't know Sherri, well ... you should.

Anyway, she works with a very creative and constructive NFP in my hometown, but they have operations in cities across the country. And they're looking for more (hint).

Here's the deal.

Here's the org.

Here's the funk:

Great Juxtapositions in History

From Media Bistro:

Head down to the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Center on Saturday from 2-6 PM to play Mario Kart Wii against actor and racing enthusiast Jason Priestley.
Yup, as in Jason Priestly from Beverly Hills 90210. We are sooooo there!

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media
Just sayin'

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Graphic Design ...

... is a profession I have never loved before as much as I do right now.

From The Register:

In April last year, London design outfit FHD proudly announced it would be rebranding the UK's Office of Government Commerce (OGC) - the HM Treasury tentacle "responsible for improving value for money by driving up standards and capability in procurement".

The result:

Now turn your head slightly to the left.

via KO

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

AP Hearts Zombies

Even when the National Association of Realtors comes clean, the established dominant narrative lives on.

Though disproved, some narratives persist. I blogged about NAR and their Tinker Bell strategy earlier, but now the Associated Press is repeating the association line in filling out their story.

The March decline, which was in line with expectations, followed a 2.9 percent increase in sales in February.

The Power of Story: Once it's loosed on the world, you can't stop it with a gun.

Pic Pinch

Protect Your Narrative

Nobody but you will look out for your good name.

I just posted a picture of al Zawahiri.

Monday, April 21, 2008

What Will We Tell the Neighbors? or …

When Narratives Collide

The FLDS goes on the offensive.

The question is: Will the well established and proto- dominant narrative of motherhood overcome the competing ick-factor?

Ick is always a hard out.*

*gratuitous baseball reference

When Your Client Wants the Sky …

This is one of those new tactics that seem to be an object of conversation for a while. Six months later it will be trite and then in a year or so almost quaint.

Unless the lawyers get a hold of it.

Flogos has figured out a way to combine the bubbles you blew as a kid with helium to make resilient floating logos that the company promises are environmentally safe. At about three feet in maximum diameter, you need almost perfect weather to make a serious impact, but what interests me more is its usefulness as a guerilla tactic.

In some dark basement on K Street there’s probably already a group of legislative affairs gurus discussing how they can monetize the airspace above the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, as these guys build bigger and bigger machines, expect good paydays for selected litigators.

You thought I was going with Joni Mitchell, didn’t you?

Via LiveScience

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hello, (Dominant) Narrative

Richard speak.

You Listen.

Pic pinch.

Update: Richard's comments seem to be slow to post. Feel free to flame me here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The DNT two-fer

It seems it takes more than new messaging to shift a narrative in your favor. BP and The New Republic learned that lesson through the oil giant’s advertising contract with the formerly traditionally liberal magazine.

BP has invested millions is cleaning up its image relative to some other energy companies, but when they put their logo on TNR’s Environment and Energy blog, readers cried foul.

Nobody’s pure, and if they were they probably wouldn’t need – you know – people like us. But the lesson here for BP is that you can’t just buy a dominant narrative. You have to earn it.

For TNR it’s simply that if you continue to appear to sell out your brand for short-term profit, you’ll end up losing both.

Still, if BP has its corporate heart set on the whole blog sponsorship thing, I can be reached at the email link above.

CJR via Romenesko

Friday, April 11, 2008

Olympic-size Pool of Dominant Narrative at WaPo

The Dean is what they call him in Washington. A couple of days ago he seemed to wax nostalgic for bare-knuckle boxing, cock fighting and maybe even gladiatorial combat.

What was once a competition of individual athletes of sublime quality has become a race for medals among the superpowers and a stage for fighting out the issues that statesmen and politicians cannot resolve.

Image courtesy of Bob.

Friday Freakin'

Love songs about infidelity.

What d'ya got?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The NASCAR Movement

Heh indeed.

No entity has benefitted more from the mojo of a favorable dominant narrative than the Olympics. Every four years that mojo tells us that we need to “keep politics out of the Olympics.”

“Respect the Olympic ideal” (whatever the hell that is).

Protests around this quadrennial festival of sportsporn are hardly new. The Olympics are – by definition – a political exercise. If the IOC wants to put its money where its mouth is, stop playing national anthems and choosing up teams based on political boundaries.

Let everybody pick their own teams.

I call dibs on LeBron. No wait, Yao.

Photo credit.

*OMG - I just linked to Frank DeFord.

UPDATE: There seems to be some misunderstanding. The poster is actually a protest image from the Netherlands in 1936. Perhaps I overestimated the number of native Dutch-speakers in the crowd.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Zombie Stupid

You just can’t kill it.

Image pinched from these nice people. support their ads, will you?

So, How Do You Like Your Eggs?™

Scribbled this during a brainstorming this morning.

My father-in-law (yes!) gave me some advice that I actually took. Before the wedding he told me, “If you ever feel like you’re in a 50/50 relationship chances are you’re not doing your part.”

That advice applies to many, many relationships: not just your spouse but your client (or your agency), your customer, your boss, your employee, neighbor, that guy in accounting …

But not your printer. We have to draw the line somewhere.

Notice neither player is specifically labeled in the elegant tableau above.

We are in an era of sophisticated consumers who demand value. If your customers – internal or external – are just getting their money’s worth, they’re not getting enough.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Price You Pay*

Kevin asks an important question for any PR practitioner [note to self – new discussion idea: can we come up with a one-word term for ourselves?].

They say money talks, but at some point you have to draw the line. This became relevant to me twice recently. About a year ago a recruiter asked me point-blank* what accounts I would refuse serve. Then this week a prospect asked me why I wanted to work on that particular account.

In the second instance I couldn’t wait to answer. This is an organization about which the dominant narrative is decidedly unfavorable. It’s a perfectly honest company in a legal business but people are accustomed to hearing bad things about it.

“You guys are getting a raw deal and that offends me as a PR guy,” I said.

OTOH: A few years ago I worked (very)briefly for a company that made an “herbal tea.” The tea was basically a diuretic designed to help the user pass a urine test for illicit drugs. For a time, I rationalized this because it was, after all, legal. I became uncomfortable when the client paid the retainer in cash and refused a receipt.

So the question is this:

Whose money is no good to you?

[*Because reader YD asked for more gratuitous Springsteen references]

The F-15 Project™

The F-15 is America’s proof to the world that if you put a big enough engine on it, you can make a brick fly.

A retired F-16 jockey-cum-airline pilot told me that once. Okay, he probably didn’t invent that line and it probably didn’t start with this particular aircraft but it is what it is.

Anyway …

Welcome to the F-15 Project.

If you go to business school (I didn’t) they tell you on like the third day that sunk costs are not a consideration. Sunk costs are just that: sunk. That’s money you spent last year. It ain’t comin’ back.

If you stay in this business long enough – say a month or two – you will find yourself in a meeting where somebody makes a case for driving a product by sheer force of will.

And promotional budget.

Remember this guy?

Any others?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Livin’ in the Future

I grew up in electoral politics. Those who knew me then might say I didn’t grow up much, but it is what it is. It’s touchy because I try to stay away from politics (here) because it gets in the way of discussing, you know, the whole Dominant Narrative Theory thing.

This is not a post about politics.

Still, politics is a great laboratory for marketers because the stakes are so high. Launch a new product in an existing segment and garner a 30 percent market share out of the box? You’re a star. Run against an incumbent city supervisor in Wabash Wis. And get 49.8 percent of the vote? You’re … what’s the word? Oh, yeah: unemployed.

One of the iron-clad laws of politics always has been to find the natural crowd. It’s like story of jumping to the front of the parade and then “leading” it. You go to the community council meetings. You go to the garden club. You hand out fans at the county fair (did that), wear the jersey of the neighborhood team (ditto) and generally CONTROL THE MESSAGE. Karl Rove (who is a genius) understood this. James Carville (who is a genius) understood this. You know this instinctively because you’re, well … you already know that

Here’s the new reality. It may be fortunate or unfortunate, but you no longer control the message. YOU do not own the brand.

THEY do.

Who are they? The people who relate to it, who participate in it and who share it with their friends and neighbors and colleagues and …

Sorry. Rant over.

You get to tell them what the message is, but then, as any copyright lawyer will tell you, the idea belongs to the world.

He may win or he may lose, but Barrack Obama gets it.

Does that make him a genius? No. A couple of people listed to the upper right of what you’re reading right now have been getting it for years. But it’s the way campaigns will be run in the future, whether they’re political campaigns or marketing campaigns.

Letting go isn’t easy and there absolutely will be mistakes.

Welcome to the future.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Tinker Bell Marketing™ Part Dos

Adding, if somebody starts changing the metrics once the results start coming, you could be heading for Never-never Land.

Gee, we didn't really increase sales appointments but we collected a lot of new email addresses!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Tinker Bell Marketing™

Today we welcome a new member to the pantheon of bad freaking ideas. Congratulations Tinker Bell Marketing™.

The Dominant Narrative Theory (which is a theory in the sense that gravity is a theory) states that a narrative must be repeated in order to become what we call “truth.” Truth, in this sense, is distinguished from fact because people use facts in many different ways. Still, your case for a narrative must have some basis in this third little element of the story we’ll call … for lack of a better term … Reality.

Here’s the background: If you’re less than 103 years old or have had young child in your life in the past 103 years, you’ve probably seen a stage play or two about Peter Pan.

At one point in the play, Peter’s little fairy friend Tinker Bell starts to … well (cover the kids’ eyes) … die. The only thing that can save Tink is if the children believe in her. Peter asks the kids to clap if they truly believe. Eventually (in most productions) he downright holds them responsible for her living or dying. [Uh, Mom? Peter Pan’s taking hostages.] “Clap louder!” Peter shouts at the audience. Once it’s established that all the kids believe, all is of course well.

That’s the way some marketers think. If you only believe enough, everybody else will believe too. Then it will be true. Then all will be well.

Our exhibit today is the National Association of Realtors. In the midst of a housing slump no Realtor practicing today has ever seen, the NAR sends out a news release with this headline:

Existing Home Sales Rise In February

Kinda makes you want to sing “Happy Day Are Here Again,” doesn’t it?

The release leads off this way:

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2008 - Sales of existing homes increased in February and remain within a fairly stable range, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Yes! I knew it I knew it I knew it would end soon! Let’s read on …

Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – rose 2.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate (1) of 5.03 million units in February from a pace of 4.89 million in January, but remain 23.8 percent below the 6.60 million-unit level in February 2007.

WTF? Over January? I thought the whole idea was that we measured sales in a similar area and in a similar period year against year. Isn’t that what all that year-over-year stuff is about.

Of course nobody ever will believe any of this. At least not for long.

Hey, you! Clap louder!

Next: The F-15 Project™
Then: The Flying Submarine™

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fool's, Right?


“The Short Trip with Long Memories”

David Wells gets this wrong. It’s easy (and I have to admit, fun!) to take potshots at marketers while they’re putting together a new campaign, but this is a cheap shot. Sure, right now it could mean anything, but the tagline alone isn’t supposed to mean anything. It never will mean anything until the campaign behind it plays out and the whole idea is given some context. Virginia is for Lovers or What Happens in Vegas … only have meaning once they’re supported by …

… wait for it …

… a narrative.

Fifteen years ago I marketed this game. It’s a trivia game in which players are provided with a tagline. To advance they have to know – or guess – the brand or product advertised. We promoted it with a teaser edition that included 10 or 12 sample questions sent to drive-time radio talent. Among them this one:

Whitens teeth. Freshens breath.

Nobody got that one.

Google makes it easy now, but out of context that line is meaningless. In the context of a narrative that tagline carried weight for many years.

A narrative gives a message context. A dominant narrative creates an idea in many people’s minds that shapes any and all new information. They can’t shake it.