Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union Address.

No, I'm not taking sides in the political debate here. But, my word, when will we elect a president with the chutzpah to reinvent this tired format? The whole routine is ridiculous. Stand and clap, don't stand and clap, stand and clap some more. Do they really think any voter is taking any of this seriously? It's just another reason why it's so difficult to truly engage Americans in the political process.

Trite doesn't even begin to describe it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hockey fans embrace the new NHL game.

The National Hockey League didn't just evolve their brand this year. They performed radical surgery on it.

This season, hockey is exciting again after spending the nineties in a downward death spiral. Before last year's strike, sitting through a game meant watching a bunch of rather large men hug each other for a couple hours. While on skates.

Not surprisingly, fewer and fewer people were finding this exercise especially interesting. All that clutching and grabbing meant that the best skaters and the most skilled players rarely had a chance to entertain.

But after going for some fairly radical rule changes and a completely new approach to officiating, the results are brilliant. If it's been some time since you watched an NHL matchup, you should give it another chance. So far, an overwhelming majority of fans love the new game.

There's a lesson in there for brands. If it's in trouble, it's probably not enough to tweak it. Usually, you're better off blowing the damn thing up and reconfiguring it. Usually being a caveat, of course, since I'm sure there are more than a few examples when a bit of work around edges did the trick.

Still, many brands seem to die a slow death. I wonder how many would be reenergized with truly radical thinking and execution.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Ricky Gervais (from BBC's The Office) proves that podcasts work.

Jeff Jarvis over at Buzz Machine reveals that the Ricky Gervais podcast has now surpassed three million downloads.

I've listened to all of them — it's amazing that a few guys chatting can be so damn entertaining. Tough to pull off and not recommended for most podcasters.

Format aside, I think it's a good example of the potential of podcasting. Clearly, this show makes a ton of sense for the right sponsor. It's certainly good for The Guardian, the rare newspaper that seems to realize its future lies in being a content provider instead of simply a paper and ink company.

The barrier to podcast growth is that most people listen to a few and decide they're all crap. Indeed, most are — but they're not required by law to be that way. As more top talent gets involved, plenty of valuable online audio shows will flourish.

That said, I must add that for all the brilliance of Gervais, his podcast is still no match for The Curling Show.

Junk mail and financial services.

Back in early December, I decided to start saving all the direct mail solicitations I receive from American Express. My empirical research indicates that I have now received three fingers worth of their pleas.

Amazingly, I already have two American Express cards — one for personal and one for company expenses.

The demand for accountability in Web 2.0 communications is high. Why do the junk mailers get a free pass?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What's eating Janet? Or what in the world is Janet eating?

I usually try to keep a strict focus on communications issues on this blog. But my word, why is Janet Jackson trying to emulate the career of Kirstie Alley?

Simon Dumenco says blogs aren't that complicated. He's right.

Simon Dumenco opines in Ad Age that blogging is just writing. He's not wrong — good blogs are well-written and crap ones are not. I've often told business people who seem afraid of blogs that they're really not that complicated — they're simply applications that allow you to create dynamic, instant publishing Web sites.

What Dumenco misses, however, is the conversation that blogs spark. They not only start conversation in the Comments section on the sites themselves, but they fuel the spread of information around the web. Unti it's easy to shoot an opinion to a newspaper reporter — or a network anchor — that's a real point of difference.

Yes, most blogs are only as good as the content they provide, which usually means good, informative or entertaining writing. But one should not discount the fact that conversational media allows everyone to join the party.

I used to mourn the demise of raucous town hall forums and barroom debates about issues more serious than whether or not Peyton Manning really does suck in the playoffs. It seemed we were either getting too polite or too lazy to get off the couch and leave our cable TV universe. I, for one, am glad that conversation seems to have returned on the Internet.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Coke Zero blog shows almost zero understanding.

Ad Pulp points us to Coca-Cola's misguided effort to join Web 2.0 through its Coke Zero blog-like device. Naturally, the blogosphere — never a group to miss an opportunity for an online buzzkill — has jumped all over them.

What Coca-Cola fails to understand is that a blog is about conversation. They think it's about marketing. Just read the entries — full of Zero lingo created by some copywriter who made a bunch of money in the eighties. Of course, we don't know who is behind the entries — it just comes from the Coke Zero machine.

The bad news is that now Coca-Cola will say that blogs don't work. Wrong. A blog that tries to be a commercial won't work.

Of course, it's probably not just the blog that's the problem. It's always tough to sell a product that nobody really thinks they need.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why can't GM handle the truth?

What if General Motors told the truth? What if they hired Errol Morris and had him film a top executive from the company who can actually talk like a human being? There must be someone. Then Morris could have this executive look into the camera and tell the country, "Yes, we've screwed things up pretty royally. Golly, have we ever. Remember those Chevy Luminas you used to get stuck with at the car rental places? They sucked. They really did. And we're sorry about that. Fact is, we shouldn't have spent years making a bunch of lousy cars and a few really good trucks. That was really dumb even when gas wasn't well north of two bucks a gallon. But we're going to try and turn this thing around. After all, it's not like we have many other choices here. It won't be easy, but we think we can make things right again and we're trying do that with every new car we introduce. We understand if you're ticked at us, but we hope you'll give us another shot. At least think about trying something we make. Thank you."

No. it wouldn't be wildly conceptual. But high concept – and I'm a guy who loves high concept – is not what this company so desparately needs. Desparate times call for brutal honesty and Americans have always loved a good mea culpa. Just look at how well movie stars usually do when they come out of rehab.

It would be impactful and buzz-worthy. And I'm quite sure the car buying public would like it more than a B.S. line like, "America's No. 1 brand. America's No. 1 value."

Who does GM think they're kidding? Wait. Who am I kidding? This is General Motors.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Celebrity marketing at the Amway Grand Plaza.

Recently, I stayed at the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the lobby, I found this plaque that proudly listed all the, "Prominent people who have stayed in this hotel since opening on September 15, 1981."

For some reason, it hit the wrong notes for me. At first, it struck me as defensive – as if they were saying, "We are a very nice hotel. Really, we are. These people prove it."

Then it ticked me off just a bit. Isn't everyone supposed to be treated like a VIP at a fine hotel? Isn't that the whole point?

Finally, I was struck by the random nature of the collection of names.

Seems like a good reason to be careful with plaques.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Fish versus people.

On the way back from the UK, my wife, daughter and me spent a couple of days in Chicago.

We did the tourist thing and took our toddler to the Shedd Aquarium. Damn, that's a lot of fish. Big fish, little fish, in-between fish. Sharks. Frogs. Ugly fish and pretty fish. Amazing to think that all these specimens are inhabiting our planet's waters.

As I inched around the place – toddler speed, you see – I realized, however, that one creature was more popular than all the others.

Human beings.

Yes, every time there was a human swimming in a tank with a scrub brush or standing behind glass handling, say, a sting ray, the crowd loved it. And yet, I'm quite sure that when the creators of the aquarium were originally deciding which creatures to include or how to show them, they never imagined that a dude in a scuba suit would draw the biggest crowds.

There's a lesson in there for anyone trying to develop a new brand. Be prepared to zig when you thought you should zag – nothing goes quite as neatly as planned. The smart people bob and weave and find the best path forward.