Friday, August 31, 2007

The taste of brand... shaken, not stirred

Good Freakonomics post on why there are so many new competing brands of vodkas compared to other liquors. The consensus among the comments is that it's about brand and marketing vs. taste, since vodka is supposed to be as tasteless as possible.

Which makes for an interesting question for a marketing class somewhere: how do you differentiate a product that is supposed to be, well... perfectly un-different.

The answer, of course, is brand. When Absolut began its wonderful print campaign, they were in the relative basement of vodkas, to say nothing about booze preference in general. Within a couple years of that campaign's launch, they had not only increased their own sales immensely, but had increased the marketshare of vodkas across the board by 30%. Best of both worlds: they grew the pie and their piece of it.

It makes for a good way of starting one part of a branding brainstorm conversation. How would we brand this product if there was abolutely (ha ha) no product or service difference between us and the other guys? What role in customers' stories do we want our stuff to play? What kind of prop is it? How does it fit into their lives? What does our brand taste like?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Somebody at Playboy gets it

I read Freakonomics (WorldCat, Amazon) a few years back (as an eBook, btw), and really enjoyed it. Because of that experience, I now RSS the Freakonomics Blog (now owned by the NYT). In their most recent entry, Playboy editor Chris Napolitano answered questions from Freakonomics Blog readers: 36 questions. According to the blog's authors, that was all the questions he was asked.

I don't really care that it's Playboy, really. I never read the magazine, just bought it for the pictures of the naked women. What is great, though, is that Napolitano completely engaged the blog medium and has now, I would imagine, really impressed the hell out of at least 37 people (the folks who asked questions, and me).

If it had been 807 questions... well, that would be absurd. But 36 is within the range of "doable." And responding personally to that many questions, though obviously more time consuming than cherry picking (ahem) 3-5, really shows that he's using the forum the way it was intended at its best.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Worst blog footer ever

So I'm doing link jumping from a post on BoingBoing to a story about how "The Secret" is crap, and just generally glorifying in feeling mui superioso to those who write, market and spank this garbage. I got no beef with the poor people who buy these books; we all have to try lots of stupid stuff before we find something that actually has, well... any reality in it. The path to success, as The Beginner's Mind will show, is paved with stones of failure. So fail on! hopeful "The Secret" readers... the fact that you're trying is at least a step in the right direction (on a particularly obnoxious stone of failure).

Anyway... while doing so, I was checking out the writings and blogs of some of the people in what some of the lovely skeptical writers call the "New Wage Movement." Classic. One of these blogs -- the posts of which are almost all about the author's books, tapes, etc. and filled with links to his other sites -- had the following footer at the bottom of EVERY post:

All writings here are copyrighted by John Doe. You may not use them without written permission but you may link to the posts or give out a link to the posts.
If you like the free articles on this blog, let John know by buying him his all-time favorite gift - an Amazon gift certificate. His email is Click here
Wow. I mean, just... wow. First of all, I hope I'm not in trouble for "using" his footer without his permission. I did remove his name (it's not John Doe) and email address, as I don't want to give the site any more link love. But for a guy who's selling good-feeling, happy-happy new age drivel... having a copyright notice on every single post is, well... Not so touchy-feely. And a request to send him an Amazon gift certificate if you like the "free articles on this blog" is... well, I'm speechless. 

It's super that he gives us the right, though, to "link to the posts or give out a link." 'Cause, you know... if you don't say that, it's like, a violation of IP law to link to stuff. I bet you didn't know that. You may also not have known that anything you write is automatically copyrighted, even without a statement like that. On every post.

From a marketing standpoint, what does the above say about the author? Well, first it says, "I don't know much about copyright." Also, to me, it says, "I expect you to rip off my stuff, so... watch out!" Third, it says he don't know diddly about how people who actually do stuff on the Internet use links. Fourth, it says that he doesn't get what blogs are about, if he's asking for gifts for the enjoyment of same. Since he's hyper-rich, too, it's weird that he's begging for Amazon-bucks.

All in all, I just found this creepy bad.

This is where...

... all those "other socks" go when you lose one of them in the dryer.

Link, by way of Infocult.


Most excellent gaming blogger Amber Night gets animated at GU Comics. Way to go Amber! Next step: action figure with kung-fu typing skillz.


I teach history of advertising. One of the things we do is look for good and bad examples of various advertising concepts throughout history. I can't find a clip of a recent ad for the Heineken Draught Keg, but it goes into my book as an example of "badvertising."

If you haven't seen the ad, it's because you haven't been watching cable TV for the last two weeks. At all. I think I've seen the ad twice a day at least. And I don't watch that much tube.

Short version: A green-skinned, robotic, hot-pants-wearing cutie with a page-boy haircut does a kind of robot dance onto the screen. She does a couple mechanical "vogue" poses, then opens up her thorax, exposing some advanced, cybernetic innards that contain a Heineken Draught Keg. Video below:


Yep. Green, robot stripper girl with a mini-keg fridge where her heart, lungs, etc. would be. All to the beat of some indecipherable techno-tronics. Smiling the whole time as she opens herself up for our beer-drinking pleasure.

It is, frankly, horrifying. And horrifyingly bad.

I don't mind sexy ads. Or funky ads. And even if I don't like an ad, that doesn't mean I'll label it badvertising without a reason. But this one... yeegadz. List of things that are wrong with this:

  1. High-tech and beer don't go together. Beer is primal. Beer is low-tech. Beer is the reason we invented pottery, not the reason we go into space, create better garage-door openers, and splice genes.

  2. Beer goes from the outside of us to the inside. Seeing a very lifelike creature take beer from her inside, and bring it to the outside has two possible subconscious roots: urinating or vomiting. I do not want beer that has already been inside something/one else.

  3. Woman as objectified sex object is fine. Well, not fine... but it ain't going away. A beautiful woman bringing you a beer is as much a staple of American advertising culture as "shiny cars go vroom." But woman as beer container? Or fridge? Keg-support-system with great gams? It pushes the limits of even my caveman appreciation for reducing a person to an object.

  4. Green skin bad. Green skin sick skin. Maybe dead skin. Green skin goblin skin.

  5. Robot dancing bad. Robot dancing sick dancing. Maybe dead dancing. Robot dancing late 80's dancing.

  6. Robots can't get drunk.

  7. Sexy, fit fembots would kick your ass if you got drunk and tried to play them.

Heineken's brand is (or has been) very nicely handled in their previous ads where people do funny and/or slightly tawdry things to keep ahold of their Heinies. None of that here. No link to the old ads at all. Which isn't always bad. But in this case, well... The old ads conveyed a brand that was about a higher-quality beer; something to be relished and coveted. If I could pick one word that they seemed to be aiming at, it would be "premium." The ads were also quite funny.

The new ad isn't funny. I don't think it's meant to be, either. So no points off for bad humor execution, just for letting go something that was working for something that doesn't. The new ad doesn't convey a sense of quality... just... gimmickry. Which I had never associated with Heineken. Until now.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Blogging

A friend of mine loves wikis but hates blogs. Wikis are for getting things done. Blogs are for self-involved blather. So I was greatly pleased that she, while joking around last month, inadvertently provided me a topic for a post: The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging. Here we go.

Lust: Thou desirest link love at all costs. Not for the righteous joy of having pleased another with thy writing, but solely for the inbound traffic. Trackbacks also thou have left like chocolate and flowers on the mantel of thy desire for page views.

Gluttony: The lady doth posteth too much, methinks. Worthy thy words may be, but in excess flow they become as so much trifling spew. A picture is worth 1000 words; but the picture that your 1,000 words is worth may be this.

Greed: Thy blog's otherwise lovely face is marred by the gross, green eyes of Google Ads. You get less traffic than Bea Arthur immitators! You have 12 regular readers and 1 comment on your last 25 posts! Rid thyself of the false hope of making beer money from thy blog!

Sloth: Thou hast not posted in three months. We have given up on thee. Thou art banished from our RSS feeds.

Wrath: It is thy blog, indeed. But venting they spleen openly over; thy ex-girlfriend, ex-boss, job interviews, least-favorite WoW class, political enemies, or Disney musical is just pissy and (even worse) boring. Thou soundeth small and whiny, as the target of they wrath pro'ly ain't gonna comment on your stupid, %$#@! blog, you maggot.

Envy: If thou findest a good link elsewhere, and do not give credit, thou art a turd. Failure to give credit is a sign of blog envy, for thou wishest, clearly, that thy brain was as big as the originator of thy pilfered post. Downright plagiarism? For that, thou shalt get thee to hell.

Pride: Father of all sins. Guess what? Nobody cares about thy blog. If thou thinkest that blogging makes thee the shiznit, thou art a loon. Blog because it makes you a better writer, helps you keep track of your days, brings you a few Web buddies. Blog to get it off your chest (without wrath, please). Blog for your own enjoyment. But blog in humility.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Quantity of Mercy

Warning: this is a post about religion and faith. If you're here for the marketing, social networking, creativity and (supposed) humor, tune in next time.

This is a post I've been meaning to write for awhile. But a piece from ZenHabbits (by way of LifeHacker) about "Practical Tips for Living the Golden Rule" got me in the right groove.

One of the comments on the link at LifeHacker comes close to the point of my thoughts. ANDYFROMTUSCON says:

My view is that the golden rule is that it is not some goody-goody thing for patsys. The golden rule is the number one practical tool for getting things done... Every single thing you do depends on the cooperation of others in one way or another. People who are treated the way they like to be treated are more cooperative. The more cooperative the people you deal with are, the more you get done. Thats it.

If you do unto others as they do unto you (i.e. tit for tat, revenge, etc.), then you end up putting your time and energy into a contest of wills that may hurt the other person but will probably not have any tangible benefits for you... If you refuse to deal with people you don't respect then you are only hurting yourself. 

As I said... that's pretty close to where I want to go. But not quite.

We tend to think of many of the sayings and teachings of Christ as (to paraphrase the above) something for patsies, wimps, the bleating, passive, goodie-goodie sheep of God. "Yeah, yeah, yeah... The meek will inherit the earth. That's all well and good. But it'll happen in the Great Beyond. Or after the Second Coming. Or something. Whatever."

But what if the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount aren't all airy-fairy, pie-in-the sky stuff? What if they are, in fact, guidlines that are, as ANDYFROMTUSCON says, "practical tool(s) for getting things done"?

I think it all comes back to the concepts of mercy and grace. Mercy is, simply put, showing compassion. But it's more technical than that, I think. When you show mercy (or have it shown to you), you are allowing that it is better, overall, for a debt to go unpaid, or a wrongdoing to go unpunished or unreturned. The word itself comes from the Latin, "merces," meaning "price paid." That's interesting: not "price overlooked," but "price paid."

So the point is not that you simply forgoe your due... but that you behave as if the due was paid. You assume a balance that does not exist.

How is this a good thing? Why would we want to ever not get our due? Well, here we get into grace.  As a theological term, grace usually refers to the fact that God (in the Christian faith) provides salvation, though it is unearned. But it's also interesting to look at the more everyday use of the word. Grace and gracefullness refer to the ability to do something so well, that it seems impossible or at least unlikely. We don't expect people to walk and move like dancers or gymnasts; it's a level of expertise and beauty that surpasses the normal.

I believe that mercy is the mechanism by which grace is earned... both spiritually and in the very real, very mundane world.

Yes, it is Christ's mercy that delivers God's grace. And why would He do that? There must be some good, universal reason for saying, "Look. I'm not going to require perfection as the requirement of salvation. Just ask for mercy. Ask that price-paid be enough for you, too." 

In the "real world," though... what if mercy is just best-pracice, benchmark behavior in all cases? What if "the meek will inherit the earth" doesn't mean "in the sweet by-and-by..." but right now, today.

Modern marketing (oops... it is about marketing, too) strategists found out in the 60's and 70's that the cost of getting one new customer is about 6-times that of keeping a current one happy. And how do you keep the current ones happy? You adopt total quality processes; you have customer retention programs; you accept feedback and returns cheerfully. None of these is built into the official "price" of products and services. When you buy a widget, you have bought the right to use that widget. Not the right to quick service-after-the-sale, quality improvements, etc. etc. But businesses now provide those things as a matter-of-course because they've found that it makes better, practical business sense.

A merciful returns policy and customer service program will provide graceful profits.

I read "The Lessons of Terror," by Caleb Carr (WorldCat, Amazon), a few years back and was struck by the relationship of his findings to ideas of mercy and grace. Ths sub-title of the book is, "A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again." I won't go into details, but the basic premise is that "limited war" is more effective than "total war." The former restricts military action to military targets; yes, there may be collateral civilian casualties, but they are, to be repetitive, collateral to the mission. The latter involves any purposeful military action taken by a government or group against a civilian target; yes, this would include not only our modern, US ideas of terrorism, but the firebombing of Dresden and the atomic strikes against Japan in WWII.

His point isn't that limited war is better because it is more moral. He doesn't look at the morality of war or its types at all. His point is that total war just doesn't work as well. It doesn't provide as good long-term benefits. He looks at historical examples going back to the Roman Empire and shows, again and again, how total war ends up backfiring against the agressors.

It struck me that he was giving us another example of what I now think of as "the quantity of mercy."

The "Quality of Mercy" is, of course,  the famous Shakespearean piece from "Merchant of Venice." It describes mercy in poetic terms. Go figure. The Bard does say, "It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." So that's pointing at the "quanity of mercy," I suppose. But "blesseth" still feels kinda... patsy-y.

I'm looking for other examples of this all the time. Where mercy leads to grace. Where the mathematical equation "1 - 1 = 0" is replaced by "1 - 1 = chocolate." Or whatever it is that you love.

This is one of my main thoughts about the reason for God, Christ and all that other theological stuff. That Christ came to teach us not just about salvation in the long run, but about the best, most fruitful ways to run our businesses, lives and governments. I don't think the Big J would have agreed that there's a "good" or "better" way to run a war... and only killing soldiers on purpose may fall under the category of "less un-merciful" as opposed to actually merciful.... but it's still an equation I'm interested in pursuing.

What can I do to receive grace? To get more than I clearly deserve, or more than is even reasonable? I can extend mercy and be a conduit for it. Rather than asking for justice or fairness or equality, I can stop counting the cost, and just do... what is right for everyone concerned.

I don't know how practical that would be at the level of governments and nations... but we certainly see where "eye-for-an-eye" gets us. Maybe it's time for a Federal Bureau of Mercy, or a Central Mercy Agency. 

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Testing Zoho Viewer's document embedding function

With the Zoho Viewer, you can upload a document, get a URL for it, and keep it online to share, view, etc. And there's an embedded viewer that works on other pages. Like this.

That's just friggin' cool.

Wikipedia and the social OED

Good article on the NYT about the State Of The Wikipedia w/ an interview of Jimmy Wales. Read the article, I'm not gonna sum it up. The part that struck me was this line:

There are Polish history buffs out there. There are also people who say, “Give me a list and I’ll work on it.” Here is a list of all the mayors of Warsaw and I will go through and find what I can find.

He's talking about why people write/edit the Wikipedia. And it reminded me very much of the book, "The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary." (WorldCat Libraries, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.)Amazon)

The book chronicles the creation of the first OED. One of the differences (if you don't know) between the OED and other dictionaries is that the Oxford defines words partly by placing them in past written works. So, to help put together the first edition, the main editorial staff hired hundreds of amateur editors, all over England, to pour through previously published books and documents, looking for usages of words to which they'd been assigned.

The "madman" in the title is an American Civil War veteran who had been imprisoned for life for the murder of an Irishman. From his asylum, he proves to be one of the most prolific and accomplished editors. A total, tree-dwelling loon. But the chief editor of the OED didn't even know he was in an asylum -- the address was the name of the manor that had been converted into the facility -- until many years after the fellow had been contributing hundreds of words.

It was all done by mail, on wee cards. The OED, king of dictionaries, relied on hundreds of individual, amateur researchers and editors. And if that's not social networking, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Crappy for free is still crappy

According to this ZDNet story, Microsoft is going to release MS Works as a free or ad-supported program or service or something. Not too clear on the details.

That's "release" as in, "Release the sick deer back into the wild where it can become part of the circle of life... as dinner for a mountain lion."

My poor father has used the bass-ackwards, clapped-up, nasty word processor part of MS Works for, like, 20 years. Or it seems like that. To the kid in charge of technical services for the family. I want to put the guy back on Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS, 'cause at least that program worked and didn't eat so much of his memory that he couldn't run his screen-saver without going Blue Death. 

I have a definition of a user of a free or (god love 'em for trying) ad-supported version of MS Works: a sap who's never heard of Google Docs or Open Office.

Fairness Note: I don't mind MS Word. The new 2007 version does some cool stuff. But MS Works should be allowed to drift off into the ocean on a chunk of ice to be with its ancestors.