Friday, October 1, 2010

I made The Huffington Post!

Yesterday, a piece I wrote about Hillary's popularity in Pennsylvania, actually made it onto The Huffington Post. Could Hillary Save the Day in PA? Woot! While David and the rest of the SUPRC team certainly deserve just as much credit (if not more) for painstakingly designing and executing a great study, I'm also very happy that I was able to express our findings in a Huff-tastic way.

In short, we discovered that while across the board Democrats aren't doing very well in PA, that Hillary's favorability spikes with undecideds, especially for women and middle age voters.

"Among voters still undecided for governor, Clinton's popularity is 66% favorable to just 24% unfavorable, suggesting that she could make an impact in the Governor's race. Further, a majority of undecided voters for U.S. Senate have a favorable opinion of Clinton (52%), while just 34% have an unfavorable of Clinton..."

Can the Secretary of State campaign? Maybe, though probably not (be it legally prohibited or perhaps just in bad form). However, this certainly wouldn't stop Clinton from making an appearance, having a photo op and using that photo on a direct mail piece. Further, come election day a targeted robo calls as part of the Democratic GOTV effort could make a huge difference.

This piece was part of a larger strategy we're working on at SUPRC to help promote our Director, David Paleologos, and the work he's done here at Suffolk. More often than not Suffolk has been right on the money with our polling, beating more established, better known polling organizations in terms of accuracy. For the last few weeks we've been working hard to make David a new website and put together a blog to featuring the data from our state polls. And, we've just finished!

Check out his new blog, In reality, the real work has just begun, but it's nice to have the logos designed and a few posts up. And, scoring a piece on Huffington isn't a bad way to kick things off either.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Credit Card Minimums Killed the Radio Star

The corner store down the street from me in the North End recently raised their credit card minimum to $15. I like them and their prices are fair, but I often find myself schlepping to the grocery store or going without rather than spending the minimum. For the bakeries and sandwich shops near by it’s a similar story.

I want to shop these stores, but the high price of using my plastic keeps me away and that’s usually all I’ve got on me.

A lot of people are happy to shop local, they find real and emotional benefits from supporting their neighborhood stores. Further, most people understand that credit card companies aren’t exactly doing these business any favors. But, at the end of the day, especially these days, people are living on budgets and thinking with their wallets—and minimums are driving sales down and leaving customers with a frown.

It’s tough to compete with larger businesses like Dunkin Doughnuts and CVS that can absorb credit card fees. On the other hand, it’s tough for consumers not to get upset when they only want a Coke and an candy bar, but find themselves without any cash.

Until recently charging minimums has been against the contract that Visa and MasterCard make small businesses sign in the first place. Though it’s likely this rule will soon change. So that’s great news for small businesses, especially when you consider that according to The National Association of Convenience Stores: “its members paid $7.4 billion in swipe fees last year, making it the second-largest industry expense after labor.”

Then again, no one likes spending more than they have to. And, as people continue going cashless there is a simple problem facing these local businesses: the more customers are forced to pay minimums, they more they may choose not to shop at all.

On a back road in upstate New Hampshire I came across a small convince store with a very simple solution: “if you spend under $10 with a card,” a sign at the register read, “we accept 25 cent donations to cover the cost.” I was surprised and delighted with this option. I didn’t have to spend more than I wanted to, and I felt like I was investing in this store—who doesn’t like helping out the little guy?

These types of solutions are what small businesses need to retain and grow their customers. It’s great to appeal to the best in people, but it’s also offering a benefit for them. On the one hand they get their purchase relatively hassle free and on the other they have made an investment in your business they can feel good about.

Final Thought:

Getting a Facebook fan page or Tweeting coupons are both tactics in a larger strategy of engaging your customers in a more human way. But there’s no reason we can’t practice this idea more during face-to-face interactions as well. My advice on this, look your customers in the eye, explain the issue and let them into the solution.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Net neutrality, the free speech issue of our time.

The Internet is a series of tubes. Or at least it used to be. As the “information superhighway” emerges from adolescence, you and I may soon find ourselves relegated to the heavy traffic on the right, while those willing and able to pay more enjoy their own, faster diamond lane.

Simply, we have just lived through the Golden Age of the Internet. The days of free and equal access (to say nothing of anonymity) may soon whiz by us altogether.

You remember it, don’t you? The mid 1990′s through the 2010′s when “cyber space” was a wild west of land grabbing, domain name snatching, de-facto anonymity and poorly-designed websites. It was a place for chitchat on message boards, chat rooms and AIM, with few users (comparatively) and little corporate investment.

Today, clearly it’s more. Difficult to define, it is a resource, a commodity, a necessity. A more developed, faster Internet with a more tech savvy, e-literate audience has opened communication and increased information. It has reshaped commercial activity and social interactions. It has fundamentally altered the landscape of our culture.

It is inseparable from our lives.

When the buzz on Twitter makes the gossip columns, nightly news, and the papers, you know it ain’t how it used to be.

But, you knew all that, right?

Because until we admit to ourselves just how important the net has become, it’s impossible to understand the importance of net neutrality.

The New York Times explains it like this:

“The concept of ‘net neutrality’ holds that companies providing Internet service should treat all sources of data equally. It has been the center of a debate over whether those companies can give preferential treatment to content providers who pay for faster transmission, or to their own content, in effect creating a two-tier Web, and about whether they can block or impede content representing controversial points of view.”

The Internet’s future isn’t hard to predict in general terms. News, entertainment, opinion, discussion and commerce will continue flooding our screens and gushing forth from our notebooks, pads, desktops and phones.

You should care about this issue because it will determine if you get equal access to what others are saying, and that others have equal access to what you say. If net neutrality fails, in some instances, access to information online may become limited due to slower speed; in others, access may be denied entirely because of contractual disputes or blocked because of political disagreements.

I get my Internet from Verizon, and Comcast owns NBC. Unchecked, it’s possible that one day I could wake up and find I’m blocked from watching “Dateline” and “The Office.” Access to a political blog with opinions unfavorable toward Verizon could become subtly or blatantly blocked to me, too. My favorite “mom and pop” website will be outpaced by Target online.

Suddenly, that’s news, entertainment, opinion and products I’m unable to access.

I don’t trust anyone to tell me what I can and cannot read, watch or hear. Further, I don’t trust for-profit companies to care about my equal right to information. I don’t think they are inherently bad, they just really don’t care.

And that’s fine.

But, we need a mechanism to ensure that access to information, in terms of literal access and in terms of speed, remains equal.

In the future, speed will influence everything. And so even a subtle discrimination like lower speeds will, in part, determine access. And access determines which voices are heard and which are not. We have become our own editors, determining what we feel is important and sharing that with others. I don’t think many people would embrace going back.

Recently, Congress announced they would begin re-examining the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which essentially governs the entire communication industry in the U.S. The fourteen-year-old act barely mentions the Internet, and yet remains the regulatory framework for just about everything from obscenity and violence in the media, to telecommunication, broadcast and cable services, to anti-trust rules for the industry.

More recently, Google and Verizon together proposed a model for the future of net neutrality that have caused many to become uneasy. Especially as some claim that Google is back peddling from it’s former hard line position in favor of net neutrality.

As Congress begins to re-write these laws, and as interest groups and corporations begin to lobby for a new architecture and design for how we communicate, I urge you to think carefully about what net neutrality really means.

Senator Franken, an advocate for net neutrality, wrote his take on the issue for

“The internet was developed at taxpayer expense to benefit the public interest. If we let corporations prioritize some content over others, we’ll lose what makes it so valuable to our economy, our democracy and our daily lives.

Net neutrality may sound like a technical issue, but it’s the key to preserving the Internet as we know it — and it’s the most important First Amendment issue of our time.”

TL:DR – Here’s a fun video made by!!

Originally posted on tngg.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gen Y waiting for our defining moment

All the videos on YouTube are the same. There is no countdown, or fan fair, just late night TV that cuts to static at 11:59 p.m. A widely known, but ultimately little noticed, event last year was the switch from analogue TV to a purely digital system on June 12, 2009. The newly available frequencies will be used primarily for expanding wireless communication networks. Hooray for smartphones!

Flash back 24 years. Growing up in a thrifty New England household meant I never had cable TV. Instead, while nearly all my friends enjoyed cable, I became an expert at fiddling with bunny ears to catch those now non-existent signals for my Saturday morning cartoons. It was awful.

One unforeseen upside to this nine channel purgatory was an education in syndicated television. That is, the stories of older generations. The value of having seen nearly every episode of shows like M*A*S*H, Leave it to Beaver and All In The Family is an appreciation that the issues of the Boomers and Xers are no longer in Gen Y’s cultural lexicon, right along mimeographs

And thank god!

Further, most of us were too young to understand the real significance of even fairly recent shows like Murphy Brown and Will & Grace, which broke new ground with their portrayal of working women and the terribly controversial issue of gay-ness. To Gen Y these things are just the norm. Strong women and homosexuals on television have never been a “thing” for us the way it was for older generations.

Many important events from our early lives are not really part of our identity either. We never experienced the Cold War, the AIDS pandemic in its full swing here in the U.S., or the economic recession of the late 80s and early 90s. For many of us, 9/11 was our first defining moment. But, at that time the oldest among us were in high school or just graduating from college — and so I ask: how long did we truly live in a pre-9/11 world? I’d argue few Millennials ever really did.

We Millennials understand the world from the 2000s forward. And many of us don’t see the threads that connect us to the twentieth century. I blame the schools. When the Berlin wall came down, when the “third wave of democracy” was setting Africa on the right track, when globalization was the zeitgeist, we were playing with snap bracelets and Pogs.

Generations are united and defined by their collective experiences, and for Gen Y there isn’t a lot to point at, yet. If anything, we’re still constantly forced to deal with the cultural baggage of our predecessors. Though, what generation doesn’t?

The issues of racism and homosexuality that past generations dealt with have never been a cutting issue for us. Yes, immigration and gay rights are still heated topics here in the U.S., but you look a the numbers and Gen Y isn’t very split on these issues. According to Pew Research: “In their political outlook, they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.”

This isn’t to say that we don’t have our problems, we do. However, we are a group, with experiences, values and issues unique to our time. Gen Y begins in 1978 at the moment when the birth rate begins to increase again, indicating that we are the children of the Baby Boomers. A lot of people dismiss generation theory as silly, but I don’t think so.

We began how the world shaped us. That is, we owe much of our identity and values to the work and struggle of past generations. On the other hand, I think that we are something quite different because we have shed much of their baggage, and now look back on it with some amount of confusion. Our concerns are shaped by the subjects of “now” and “new”.

So go ahead and ask anyone in my generation: “Did you watch the TV go to static?” I bet I can tell you the answer.

Originally posted on tngg.

Photo by melisdramatic

Monday, April 19, 2010

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

From Troy Michigan to Mid-Town Manhattan, milk men are making a comeback. But home delivery is just part of a larger trend of people going local, and it’s starting to go big. Post-recession many attitudes have reset, and a growing number of people are becoming increasingly concerned about the health of the products they buy, the environmental impact of their lives and feel genuinely good about supporting local businesses and organizations.

It all started with food. And, while organic food has recently made it onto most grocery store shelves, the movement originally developed from locally oriented co-ops and communities supporting independent organic farmers. People concerned with natural food have been shopping at farm stands for years, and for this community local is a part of their DNA. And, now that organic has become mainstream these core values are making their way into the popular consciousness along with the products themselves.

The perceived benefits of shopping locally go beyond concerns of quality and freshness. The trend appeals to their attitudes about the importance of community and living green. Shopping locally mitigates the environmental impact of moving food thousands of miles and thus concerns about carbon footprints. It also fulfills a desire to support small farmers and the local economy. These “localvores” find practical and emotional benefits buying local.

Grounded in a strong core of “believers,” this trend is steadily growing. Beyond organofiles and environmentalists, foodies and moms are getting into the trend, too. Today, people shop 5,000 farmer’s markets across the country, the result of more than 5% annually for the past five years, and “nearly 60% of consumers say they try to shop at a farmers market.

But, local isn’t just for fruit stands and apple picking. A new and unlikely champion of the local movement, Walmart is stepping up its efforts to support locally grown food in order to compete with stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Aggressively supporting not only organic, but local farms as well, “Walmart says it wants to revive local economies and communities that lost out when agriculture became centralized in large states.” With major support like this, the local movement has serious potential for scale.

Beyond the dinner table initiatives are gaining ground encouraging consumers to buy locally grown goods and services. Earlier this year Business Week wrote that, “About 130 cities or regions now host ‘buy local’ groups, representing about 30,000 businesses, up from 41 in 2006.” Fueling this growth are organizations such as Local First, the 3/50 Project (begun just last March) and, which aim to educate consumers about thinking locally with their wallets and the big impact that small shifts in spending can have on their towns and neighborhoods.

Local is making waves in politics as well. A recent Zogby poll found that “52% [of people] paid the same amount of attention to local and national races,” and groups like Tea Party and Coffee Party USA show it’s clear people getting engaged, too. Spreading online, these organizations are growing locally with chapters and meetings in towns and cities across America.

Finally, from organic tea to tea parties, localvores and local activists may be more plugged in than you think. A recent study by Pew Internet suggests that, contrary to popular belief, “many internet technologies are used as much for local contact as they are for distant communication.” Further, evidence shows a strong correlation between digital literacy and local engagement that’s becoming increasingly apparent among young people, indicating some serious potential for continued growth. It's no secrete that services like CoupMe, Boston Tweet, Yelp and Four Square are making a serious impact by re-connecting people to their neighborhoods.

Implications for Brands:
1. Consumer’s have a new definition of healthy food. Beyond quality they are concerned with the health of the environment and their local economies.
2. Localvores derive real satisfaction from “living responsibly” and have a strong desire for community involvement.
3. Larger brands may find it particularly difficult to establish authentic and believable associations with locally minded consumers.
4. People are finding new ways to translate their virtual communities into real life groups, thus one of the best ways to reach locally minded consumers may be through Google and online forums.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Content is a right, not a DVD

How many times should I have to buy a DVD? In an ideal world, just once.

I don't look at movies or music the way I used to. I think it happened at about the same time I ripped all the music from my CDs to my computer, because suddenly I had two copies: one real and one digital. As long as it doesn't explode (fingers crossed), that content is on my computer forever. With everyone doing this now, I'm going to assume other people are seeing content differently as well.

Virtual and hard copies of content aren't on equal footing. Should my notebook burn down, I still have the CDs as back ups. iTunes not only doesn't send a CD (I mean, I'm paying full price and I'd just rip it anyways, so can you just send me the 15 cent disk?) or offer me more than a single download. Plus, my CDs have a sentimental value and they are something physical I can hold and love (unless my computer was burned due to a larger house fire...). No matter how digital I get, a hard copy is something I will value more because virtual content feels secondary, frail and less real.

As a result, I don't value virtual content very highly, and I'm often appalled when I see iTunes is charging full price. I think this is probably a big driver of illegal downloading--I don't know if people really feel they are "stealing" as digital copies are not considered as valuable--because, you can't download a real car, or a real DVD. I refuse to pay full price for a one time download.

If content is a right, not a DVD, I think we need to reevaluate some things.

Image: source

Monday, April 5, 2010

TV’s Missed Opportunity

video game night, invasion from space #2

Right now people are watching more premium content than ever, take Net Flix, Hulu, iTunes/ Amazon and then pile on illegal downloading and you have more eyes than ever before. This is an opportunity for premium content producers, e.g. TV networks, movie studios, but unfortunately it's not being framed that way. The business problem is how to monetize those eyeballs. And, while ad rates remain low on sites like Hulu it seems that pay walls are the only answer.

I'd argue that there is a better way.

First, I think sites like Hulu need to get more research on how their ads are watched. I've found that most people I know settle in to watch shows on Hulu, and the very same people that fast-forward on their DVRs are watching the two minute ads on Hulu. Further, most audiences accept that watching ads with your TV show is part of the deal, and most viewers are down with watching them.

Second, premium content needs a business model that's a little more creative. And, as content becomes increasingly detached from specific channels, there should be a greater focus on attaching ads and building revenue on the content itself.

For example, allowing for free downloads with commercial breaks built in, perhaps they could even update periodically? Or give users an interactive experience that unlocks programming via engaging with brands. We could create a whole new type of ad format/ interactive experience for online viewing--like movie trailers (very much enjoyed) make online ads part of the whole viewing experience. Lastly, could we reach out to people who have already downloaded illegally, asking them to register their copies if they enjoy the shows, or to watch ads to help support them?

Finally, people care a great deal about their shows. They feel a sense of personal ownership with the programs they love, and beyond just wanting free programming would also seek to preserve it if given a chance or a way to show their support.

My point is this. Consumption is up, way up. Along with these new habits people also have greater emotional investments in the programs and movies they watch. But, the more the industry denies access the more eyeballs they lose to illegal consumption. Instead, they need to harness the new passion for premium content people have and get creative about making money with all those eyeballs, whatever screen they are on.

Update: A great piece by Carol Phillips on Millennial Marketing cites my article on this topic recently published by TNGG.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Consumer Bashing


I get asked about my career choice a lot. One of the best moments in my life thus far was the first time I got to say, “I work in advertising,” when asked by a stranger what I did. One of the worst was right after, when he replied, “So, you’re into lying to people for a living?”

It’s no secret that advertising isn’t highly regarded as a profession. I could say that I agree, and that would be easy. Certainly there is enough bad advertising out there for me to point at and say, “no that’s not me.” And I often do. I read Ad Busters, and sometimes I agree.

On the other hand, I think it’s important to call some things out.

First, chill out, because bad advertising is nothing new.

And, I empathize, I really do. That Toyota, “Saved by Zero” ad was one of the most obnoxious things I’ve ever seen. But, it’s partly our fault as consumers that this happens. When we live in a country that freaks out over part of Janet Jackson’s nipple or with blogger moms offended by a Motrin campaign, it’s not exactly easy for agencies to convince their clients to go out on a limb creatively. Our society is just as much to blame for bad ads as advertisers themselves.

Second, people are really lazy. Consumers are so used to commercials putting information right in front of their faces, that they've grown to rely on it.

Standing in a CVS aisle looking for deodorant, apart from advertisements you’ve seen, how much independent knowledge do you have about the category? Almost none. Maybe you chose based on what your dad buys, the cheapest, the best looking label or the brand you’re used to—but you have almost no independent knowledge outside of what’s right in front of you other than ads. It’s like a 20-year-old shopping for wine. "Well I've heard of Yellow Tail..."

So, before you complain to me, just think about the last time you read up on toothpaste. I thought so.

Finally, not too many people pay for content. Anyone who has donated to Wikipedia can claim absolution here I suppose, but the rest of us just aren't supporting the things we like. We expect free, and ads come with that. Even on things like Facebook and Twitter, there’s no such thing as a free profile.

If you've made it this far without throwing your computer out a window, let me say, I’m not claiming that any of this makes up for all the evils of advertising, even if you do buy the “necessary evil” argument. Also, there is good advertising out there, and it’s worth your time. So go find an ad you love, and one you hate, then we can talk.

Edit: If you're still not convinced, check out some of these ads.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sex Ed vs Censorship

Sex and Gen Y is a messy subject, if only because not that many people want to be open and honest about their kids getting it on. My latest post on The Next Great Generation (TNGG), Does Pornography Always Objectify?, was posted as part of Sex Week -- where we explored some of the issues surrounding sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, relationships etc., for Gen Y. On the surface it may not appear that we ever had a 1960s style sexual revolution, but if sexting and internet porn are taken into account, we certainly had one and it was virtual.

There's a lot this revolution has influenced in terms of how Millennials think, and among other things it's led to a greater acceptance of sex on mains street. Though certainly not everyone agrees this is ok. The core idea of the article is, that while some of us disparage hyper sexual images in advertising and in the media at large, the fault is not inherent to the image. That is, there's nothing wrong with pictures of boobs... as long as we talk about boobs too.

And, while we must be cautious of things that may stunt or hinder the healthy development of girls, and boys (let's not forget them), that censoring sexual images is probably not the answer if we want real results: healthy, balanced adults. As a culture we run away from sex, but maybe if we just confronted it head on, talked about it, talked about our values etc.; we'd likely see much better outcomes than what we get from teaching our kids abstinence only or not letting them watch south park or anything on MTV.

Photo Credit: 8136496@N05

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dear Retailers: Your Biggest Fans are Working for You

Young people are typically treated as a disposable, easily renewable commodity when it comes to working mall retail and other teenager appropriate, "unskilled" jobs. Unfortunately, us kids have a reputation for being unreliable, and compounded by the fact that we're are available only during holidays and after school, it's no wonder employers don't see fit to invest more time and effort in us young workers.

But, one glaring misconception on the part of companies hiring gen y-ers is that we'd rather not be there. In truth it's quite the opposite. We're often your biggest fan!

I worked at a coffee shop when I was in High School and with only a few full time employees they relied heavily on a staff of young people. We were paid very little (around $6.50/hr), made to pay for our drinks and food, and no tips were allowed. In spite of all this we all loved our jobs and wanted the shop to do well. Yet, we were often treated by the management as if our next shift would be a "no call no show." Despite our friendship and desire to do a good job the attitudes of our managers became a self fulfilling prophecy and drove many people away.

Employers would do well to consider that often young people want to do well at their jobs and have a deep desire to establish a place where they feel they belong. We develop an emotional attachment to the store and the other employees we work with, but need to feel we are valued and respected as well.

I explore this issue in more detail and offer some suggestions of what employers might improve in an article published on,
Dear Retailers: Your Biggest Fans are Working for You. Check it out and leave a comment!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Online is Real Life, Too

Online or virtual life gets a bad rap for being less than real, which is weird as we're essentially labeling social media as antisocial. It keeps us away from our real life social circles and robs us all of face-to-face time the advocates of real life argue. And, while they make a good case, certainly some people are on their computers far too much, I think they also do a disservice to a very important point: real life and virtual life do not need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, they have great potential to augment one another.

Yesterday I spent just about all day inside my apartment working on writing articles, editing others and watching a good amount of TV with my roommate. Under normal circumstances I would have had contact with just one person, but instead I was periodically chatting on twitter, sharing articles to read and posting on a few friend's Facebook walls to touch base. What's so wrong with that? I think my life is considerably better as a result and I see these people much more in real life because of these interactions.

I've put down some of these ideas in a much more cogent form in an article published yesterday on, titled (the same as this) Online Is Real Life, Too -- If your'e interested check it out and leave a comment.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Since when is "social media" just a Facebook fan page?

Ad Age recently named Mother, New York agency of the year. And while the article covers much of their recent work, which is all very interesting stuff, one of their ideas in particular really caught my eye:

"For Target, Mother recaptured the marketer's design-oriented sunniness with a nine-faced Times Square billboard-turned-product. The agency recruited four New York artists to create the 20,000 square foot poster and then, adding a green/design/turn-your-marketing-spend-into-revenue twist, the agency repurposed the vinyl into 1,600 mini works of art, each available for purchase on, and then re-re-purposed each piece into a handbag designed by Anna Sui. The handbags sold out in a week."

On the same day, other news comes from Ad Age that P&G is planning to invest heavily in making Facebook a big part of its marketing plan.

“‘P&G's explicit goal for 2010 is to assure that each of its brands has a meaningful presence on Facebook, and they are willing to pay dearly for that,’ Mr. Hornik wrote. ‘And while P&G's thought leaders expressed some skepticism about the efficacy of Facebook's “engagement ads,” they certainly view Facebook as a must-have for digital advertising and brand building.’”

What jumped to mind after reading these two articles was that both of these “ideas” could probably benefit greatly from the other.

With a stronger Facebook strategy Target could have facilitates spreading news about their event/ stunt/ product to fans of the brand and a wider audience in general. I really like Target and I would have enjoyed hearing about this, but I didn’t. It’s a great story and there’s no reason they couldn’t have told it on Facebook and other social media platforms. Why limit the exposure of this event to NYC when your customers are all over the world and connected? Even if I don't buy a bag just knowing about them elivates the brand's identity in my mind.

On the other side, P&G might incorporate Facbook into their marketing plan, but unless they have something more to bring to the table other than a fan page, contest or quirky app I just don’t know if anyone is going to care. Why on earth would I friend P&G? Tide or Duracell? The unspoken transaction that advertising trades entertainment for attension is just as true online as off. People want something interesting and fun, and just because they are sitting at their computers all day doesn’t mean they want to feel that way. Social media is a channel or a tactic for disseminating a message, and not much of a message in itself.

I think this all ties back into the discussion of what creativity means in a digitally connected world. I don't think you need to be on social to be social--but, if you want to be successful on the social media channel it seems that we need to think about the conversation and what it means to be conversational.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Scion’s Missed Opportunity

It might not make sense for every brand to jump head first into social media and start conversing with their customers (though for many it does). Yet, with the widespread adoption of this new platform the dynamic of marketing has changed, and campaigns designed without the existence of these conversations and communities in mind will undoubtedly fall short.

Scion's marketing efforts toward hip hop and graffiti groups offers a great example of how misunderstanding the way targets interact online, even when engaging them elsewhere, can lead to negative results and missed opportunities.

What not to do:
A few years ago Scion rolled into Scribble Jam, an annual Hip Hop and graffiti festival, on a mission to promote their message of individuality. With several graffiti painted cars and carefully produced fliers about the 'indie-ness' of their brand, it was by all accounts a text book street-team style operation and a fantastic failure; the ‘graf’ community was underwhelmed, to say the least, at the relevance of Scion's message and its poor understanding their community.

Some background on the graffiti community:
To say they are rebels is an understatement. Getting caught for painting can easily lead to more jail time than a sexual assault conviction and the lengths to which these artists go to complete pieces in obscure, unreachable places is unreal. They put themselves at great personal risk for their art, their name, and “sticking it to the man.”

They paint, among other things, freight cars. And, most are careful never to paint over tracking numbers so that the cars keep running. As various pieces travel the country other graffiti artists, along with another group of people dedicated to tracking and documenting graf, snap pictures and post them online.

But they’re not posting on Facebook; the graffiti community was online before Frienster, using forums to trade painting tips and pictures. The online component of their community is largely responsible for the shaping and growing the real world community that exists today.

What could have been:
Graffiti artists are anti-establishment, read ad busters and have no love for marketing. And this is how I’d sell them Scion.

Arrive with a fleet of blank, white cars and offer them to the painters as open canvases. No brochures.

Take the best cars from scribble jam along with a few others tagged by well know graf artists and take them off the road. Place them in prominent spots where graffiti is typically found; under bridges, on the roofs of building, on flat bed train cars mixed in with freight. Then do nothing.

Because tracking and sharing found graf online is such an important aspect of the community there’s no need to build flashy micro sites or a fan page on Facebook. When members of the community see the cars word will spread. The unique look of Scions makes the brand unmistakable and the message is a powerful, silent endorsement of the community’s work and culture.

Take away:
I'm sure there are ways to drastically improve my plan, but the core of my argument is about the importance of research, and how online communities aren't just online. The media ecosystem is clearly more complex these days and the value a social agency provides is much more than creating a twitter strategy or improving SEO (though this is essential as well). An agency versed in social understands how social media networks work and how their target interacts with them. This is the type of insight your brand needs today.

Is your agency fluent in social?