Thursday, October 30, 2008

CNN irks me

Next week is going to bring closure to a lot of issues floating around in my head right now and quite frankly next week can't come soon enough. Whether it's assignments that I'm waiting for clarification on or the upcoming TA strike at York University which will likely have a significant impact on B!G's operations (and my commuting patterns...), it will be nice to finally see this long October finally closed out and some heavy considerations resolved in my mind.

The biggest consideration for me right now is the US presidential election and the figurative chickens have not yet figuratively hatched. So let's not count them.

I'm watching Larry King Live now and he's barking on about irrelevant issue - the Elizabeth Dole 'godless' ad and the article in the LA Times about Obama's dinner party six years ago with a member of the PLO. Michael Medved is making some bizarre point and Arianna Huffington, Ben Stein, and Paul Begala are all screaming over each other. It's mania. Larry (shown left), is barely controlling this shrill circus of rehashed points and nonsensical spin.

CNN at times attracts and repels me - there's a definite repulsive force, especially reeking from Wolf Blitzer, CNN's best doddering time-filler. At times the network can show real strong integrity and despite a pervasive liberal slant, can appear non-biased and truly representative of some Pollyanna'ed ideal of good journalism. Campbell Brown and Anderson Cooper are strong cards in their hand.

Then there are times when they bring out the touch-screen electroral map. I know maps, but this one boggles the mind. Today Miles O'Brien and Wolf Blitzer (gee, what a team) put up a graphic on the map illustrating the location of polling stations across the country that used different types of voting interfaces (paper ballot, electronic, etc)'s really painful to listen to news being made up as the broadcast goes along.

I guess this ramble is just reflections brought on by a fatigued brain, a hectic week, and a basic all stop in consumer culture to focus on the specifics of this campaign (and HSM3, which I'm seeing this weekend). Seriously, not much has happened in the world of consumer culture lately and there's been a real adjustment of focus toward McCain and Obama.

...oh thank God, Larry just announced that his show will have "double election coverage" next week.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Liveblogging Obama's primetime infomercial

I haven’t done liveblogging since this blog’s inception back in May 2008 when I wrote about American Idol as it was happening. Remind me again who won? Oh yeah, that big headed guy…damn, what’s his name again?

So tonight is President Obama’s – premature, I know but appropriate nonetheless – infomercial of his candidacy. Earlier this week he presented his ‘closing arguments’ and is ending the race with a strong focus on positive positioning. The issues have been discussed, the challenges have been faced. It’s now an appeal to very guttural, atavistic beliefs in voters that a) something is wrong with the current situation, and that b) he is the best person to fix it. I’m really looking forward to this 30-min tv spot because it’s a package of branding wrapped up nicely with a big bow. It’s also got huge visibility and I’m curious to know Obama is using this unique (and crazy expensive) form of PR to his advantage.

If this was an infomercial, we’d probably see this running across the bottom of our tv screens:

"HOPE! for only $29.99. Act now and we'll also throw in CHANGE YOU'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR!"
(Thanks Peter!)

So on with the show:

8:01pm: Waving seas of wheat pan to clapping children. Nice portrayal of Americana! Obama's voiceover sounds scary - almost like Morgan Freeman talking as President at the closing credits of Deep Impact. 'Need to keep faith', and 'real and lasting change' are good lines!

8:04pm: Obama is going to share stories of real Americans. The first story is a woman from North Kansas Missouri - God, everything sounds awful about this woman's life! She's probably hardcore Obama at heart, why else would she decided to participate in this masturbatory session of political branding?

8:05pm: I really love the soothing fadeouts between clips and scenes. He's doing a great job tying these 'stories' (really more like sad YouTube clips...) to his issues and platform positions.

8:07pm: the acoustic guitar is putting me to sleep. Candid (scripted) interviews with prominent politicians are helping to build him up and position him as safe, experienced, and credible.

8:08pm: Doesn't this guy playing slide guitar remind you of the guy in those arthritis commercials?

8:10pm: Obama is back. Looking me right in the eye. That's good. He's connecting.

8:11pm: I really want Sarah Palin to do something like this, imagine the winking and finger-shooting...she's a maverick you know.

8:13pm: Wow, Eric Schmidt (Google CEO) just gave a clear endorsement. The focus of this chunk of clips is apparently on energy and the economy.

8:14pm: Juliana's son, Adam, looks like Napoleon Dynamite. The music is real lethargic and sad, this is a heartstrong story.

8:15pm: the music is uplifting, shots of children - children are the future! Oh wait, the music is slower now, Barack is talking about his deadbeat absentee dad. HAHA - photos of young Obama!

8:16pm: Ok, the tone is really shifting now, it's positive. Enough with the sad stuff. He's smiling and the future looks bright. I wonder who directed this...?

8:20pm: Clips of "the road", clips of his mom. How do I feel now? Well, I support Obama anyway but the brand is really taking on a human tone. There isn't the elevation and deification typical of other politicians. This infomercial is showing him as being really down to earth.

8:21pm: Biden is introduced. Great images and old stock footage, "Biden has never forgotten where he came from"

8:23pm: Average Joe is introduced who lost his manufacturing job. I actually have a major beef with this. Workers have lost jobs and those jobs are never coming back. Those jobs are in China now and despite all the promises Obama (and McCain) are making to bring back real manufacturing jobs, it's just not going to happen. The best option is developing new industry. Clean energy maybe?

8:24pm: Obama's grandmother defeated fascism? Wow, really?

8:26pm: The military will apparently be rebuilt and increased. Is this new or was I just not paying attention before? Photos montage of Americans (notice they're all White...) suggest that Blacks and Hispanics are already voting for him.

8:27pm: things are wrapping up. Clip of him giving a speech that sounds like he's basically laying himself bare as a real guy, who offers a promise of a better future.

8:28pm: Whoa, he's live now!

8:29pm: this crowd is going nuts. Wow, what a great speaker.

8:30pm: it's finally over! I can stop liveblogging!

Ok my thoughts:

  • This was perfect for primetime. It was highly produced, easily digestible, and very focused.
  • He positioned himself, his brand, as human and real
  • The affiliation with both real people and politicians was effective, but I'd like to have seen more showcasing of individuals from diverse background. I suspect however that the choice of 'stories' was highly politically influenced to appeal to independent or swing voters, e.g. the white mom in the Midwest.
  • Overall, this was an innovative spot which I think ultimately might have been unnecessary, but gave American voters a better perception of him, not only as a person, but as an ideas-driven brand.

Update: Obama primetime commercial

Stay tuned later tonight for my liveblogging of the Barack Obama 30 minute commercial. Apparently it's going to be a few statements of him and endorsements of his candidacy by influential people and clips of real Americans. It's a great exercise in branding and something innovative IMO.

I'll be liveblogging this starting at 8:00pm tonight.

Hopefully it will be a lot like this:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Selling Yourself on Facebook

We all know that we should maintain good online profiles that advertise our brand and convey a sense of professionalism in case that job recruiter ever goes hunting for you online (which they will). We know that your Facebook profile needs to be polished, and any Google searches for your name had better come up squeaky clean. i.e. there should be none of this:

But what about instead of passively maintaining one's image online, you go out there and actively pursue recruiters on that ever-so-fickle Facebook? I read about a great experiment last month where five students created Facebook ads to try to land themselves jobs. It sounds a little bit far-fetched at first --isn't Facebook supposed to be the thing that makes people lose their jobs, not get them? Well, the idea actually turns out to be one of the smartest ones I've heard in ages: Use a well-targeted Facebook ad and a great online profile to reach out to the exact companies you want to work at. As a marketing student who is really interested in high tech marketing, I figured that using this technique to advertise myself would 1) Highlight my understanding of social media and marketing and 2) Demonstrate that I'm a creative marketer. 

So I decided to try it. 

And it WORKED. Last Friday, I created an ad that linked to my VisualCV telling employers that I wanted a job (paid for with $100 in ad credit from Visa). By Saturday night, I had a response from someone in the exact program I am looking to get into. How's that for effective networking? 

However, it's not as simple as creating an ad that reads, "I want a job!" Nobody will click through to your personal website or resume with a tagline like that. Facebook advertisements are like any other type of advertisement: they work best when they are positioned correctly and obey the first commandment of marketing: target, target, target. In my case, I identified the company and position I wanted and wrote my ad around that. If you were to write a great ad to land a position with the Bright Ideas Group, it should look something like this:
(It works really well when your picture matches the Facebook colour scheme.) 

The beauty of Facebook is that you can target your ad to the exact employer and geographic location you'd like to work in. Want to work for Google in San Francisco? Sure! What about Toronto? Just change the geography setting! 

The rules: 
- Target! This strategy works best when you address a specific company --people are much more likely to click through when they see their employer's name. Targeting by location will end up being a waste of money as people click through and find out that you're not what they were looking for.
- Include a photo: Based on my personal study of "things I like to click on," adding a picture helps draw attention to an ad.
- Have a killer link: I like VisualCV because it's so customizable and it tells you what pages people are visiting you from. 
- Tweak the ad: Make sure you're looking at the tracking so that you can see who is clicking and when. Change your target if it's not working.

I can't say that a Facebook ad is going to get me the job I'm after. That's what the interviews are for. But it has gotten me a good contact, and hopefully will help bring my application to the attention of the right people.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The weekend links

So the results of our previous poll show that 'being Hindu' is among the hot trends for November...please check out the latest poll for other hot trends in November (I'll write this post on Oct 31st).

Alright, on with the links:

Last quarter sales show Apple iPhones dominating the handset market over Blackberry. No wonder. They look better and have better voice quality on calls. However, analysts said that both phones have serious problems with facial grease on the phone surface.

Digg is a hoot but it's only as good as its viral traffic. See the 8 stories that made Digg bigg.

I kinda feel about the recent WSIB ads the same way I do about the Saw movies. It's a genre called 'torture porn' - they're just viscerally gory and graphic for the sake of shock value but they're not actually scary. I really don't like the WSIB ads - they're sensationalist and not very clever. Do they make you think about workplace safety? Yes, but do you think more about the disgusting ad or about how you're going to actively improve safety in your workplace?

Clever print ads and commercial images from around the world, courtesy of Dark Roasted Blend.

The 2009 Jaguar XF is stunning. Read a comprehensive review.

Inconspicuous guerrilla ads for libraries are cool.

Speaking of guerrilla, it's time that corporate PR departments actually started saying what they mean! (btw, this is precisely why I love modern art)

Add to my Christmas wishlist the drippy table and/or the table that looks like it's walking away. See these and other amazing furniture designs.

Angus Young is my favourite in the top ten rock and roll guitar faces. Him or Eddie Van Halen.

And in homage to my stellar performance of Jimi Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady' in the car on our way to Mississauga on Friday, here's Garth from Wayne's World...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bad Ad Rodeo: Ontario Toyota Dealers

More for ouy? Is that pronounced like 'gooey' or like 'we'?

This FULL-PAGE ad for Ontario Toyota dealers appeared in the Toronto Star's Wheels section today, Saturday October 25, 2008 with a spelling mistake that should have read 'more for you'.

Wow, how coud such a collosssol speling mistoake have gone unmoticed?

I'm wondering whether the heads that roll for this are going to come from Toyota's marketing department or from the proof-readers at the Toronto Star. They must have proof-readers for the ads, especially for large corporate accounts like Toyota.

This doesn't exactly support the claim that Toyota is known for quality!

Brand identity analysis with Wal-Mart

I love Wal-Mart, I think it’s a great retailer and a terrific example of good, old fashioned marketing. Great brand too and I love the direction it’s now being taken into sustainability and environmental stewardship. Seriously, stop laughing!

It’s also a good case study to analyze brand values (core values, extended values, and the brand essence). It also helps to have written about Wal-Mart for an assignment in my brand management class and getting the class’s top grade on the assignment! So let’s dissect their identity:


Now their core values are easy to pin down, Start thinking about what they stand for, their lasting, permanent qualities of the brand that it stands for and cannot live without.

What are Wal-Mart’s core values?

  1. Customer empowerment. Wal-Mart helps their customers lead better lives. The always low price guarantee is a statement of the brand’s ‘you first’ belief.
  2. Customer satisfaction. Superior value for customers with satisfaction guaranteed. Wal-Mart stands behind their products to a degree that I’m not sure many other retailers their size can approach. As clich├ęd as it may seem, when you buy an item at Wal-Mart, you’re really buying a guarantee of satisfaction.
  3. Price leadership. Strong differentiation from competitor brands based on low prices. Wal-Mart’s brand is truly inseparable from its price.

Core values are things that every company employee would be able to tell you about the brand without missing a beat. You ask them, ‘what does your brand stand for?’, ‘what kind of person is your brand?’ Another useful question is the Mars Approach, which posits ‘if you were to take employees from the company and have them open a store on Mars, what are the qualities you want them to take there?’


The extended identity is not quite core, not quite ephemeral. The identity is broader, still relevant, but flexible. Here is where new values come into the brand sphere and are adopted through legitimate and sincere actions taken by the company.

What are Wal-Mart’s extended values?
  1. Community responsibility. Wal-Mart acts responsibly in its customers’ communities. Forget about claims that Wal-Mart shuts our local merchants and kills Main St. (however true this may be!). Stores are active focal points in the community and the company takes a responsible approach to integrating themselves into the community-lives of their customers.
  2. Personality. Employees personify Wal-Mart’s friendly, helpful, and approachable brand. As often as we’ve all had confused and distant responses from Wal-Mart employees to ordinary questions such as ‘where are the lightbulbs?’, brand personality is a quality Wal-Mart strives to emphasize
  3. Environmental sustainability. Wal-Mart utilizes green and energy-efficient practices. This is an important new concept for them, especially with the opening of new greenfield Supercenters and renovations to existing stores.


So, Ok. There’s the values. But what gives these values gravity and context? Is there anything arming Wal-Mart holistically to create a strong and supportable unique value proposition? That is to say, what does Wal-Mart really mean?

This rhetorical question is key to understanding the brand essence.

Wal-Mart’s brand essence is ‘
value for life’, a phrase that captures the soul of the brand: value in the price and quality of goods sold and the comprehensive selection offered at Wal-Mart stores.

Ultimately, the brand bullseye supports a relationship a brand develops with its customers founded on a unique value proposition. Wal-Mart’s relationship with customers is that they are family and the company strives to treat them with respect and give them an honest shopping experience with satisfaction guaranteed. Wal-Mart succeeds because through these key brand values and the brand essence, Wal-Mart customers understand the price, convenience, and empowerment benefits that the brand gives them. Shopping smart gives customers personal satisfaction knowing that they are getting good value for themselves and their family.

This post has likely caused a lot of eye-rolling and skepticism from readers but doing a brand value analysis is not about ripping into a company’s operations, their corporate strategy, or performance. I’m a marketer and I’m good at understanding consumer behavior, not supply-chain logistics. Brand value analysis is about image and trying to pin down what exactly makes them successful with customers. I’m not even a Wal-Mart customer but for this company, its brand values are crystal clear.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Robyn loves Gossip Girl

So we're trying something new here: Julia suggested we write about 'Gossip Girl' tonight, a show she adores. I don't know anything about Gossip Girl, other than its show that Gen Y girls love and say is really awesome.

So I sat with Robyn and told her about Julia's suggestion.

ROBYN: 'Gossip Girl?? I LOVE Gossip Girl!'

MAX: 'Ok great, you're going to talk about it while I dictate everything you say!'

So here are Robyn's thoughts on Gossip Girl, completely unedited, and spilled up on the blog!

“I don’t like it anymore. Yeah, let me think about it...

It’s because the characters aren’t being written well anymore, it’s not the same old shit. I just don’t enjoy it like I used to. The GOSSIP is gone, actually! I don’t know where it went! There’s no scandal, there’s no intrigue!

So where did they leave off from the last episode I watched….?

I don’t remember, I only watched it this week, I should remember this….

OH RIGHT! It’s just all bitchy back-stabbing and fighting now. There’s no gossip and scandal, it’s just two girls fighting each other now. There was a scandal three episodes ago, but it’s resolved itself. Like really, what are the writers doing. Really…yeah because the show was interesting at first because it was NYC’s elite fashion upper east siders and there were a million stories going on, a million scandalous stories, and the ‘gossip girl’ is gone – the voice of gossip girl – when she comes into speak it’s like “yeah we were already thinking that." Normally she was witty and she had some kind of insight about what was going on.

‘S&B don’t like each other!’

I think it’s just the low point in the season, I’m waiting because I know November sweeps are coming up so I’m waiting.

I love Chuck. Chuck is such a good character. He’s the rich father’s son, he’s got so much money. He basically rings up girls whenever he wants and has ridiculous nights out, is constantly at the bar, ran a little burlesque, he’s your classic privileged rich kid, up to no good. And he’s evil, he’s complex, whereas you have his best friend on the show – no longer his best friend on the show….he I don’t even remember his name. He’s boring, has no depth anymore.

Nate needs to be killed off the show right now. He’s so boring. They tried to make him dirty when he had this affair with this old lady but they resolved that problem. Now he’s just the rich kid and they’ve written any complexity out and he’s bland.

Basically, Nate says to Chuck ‘you’re not a nice guy, sorry I don’t want to be friends with you anymore. I want to be friends with Dan because he’s wholesome and good. He’s the poor kid on the show. And yeah, the actor sucks who’s playing him. He’s a CK underwear model and that’s where he should stay. He should stay inanimate, on a page. That’s how he acts.

This is the only show I watch right now. I only watch this show, and it’s only because I started watching in January when I had nothing else to watch.

…but I love the fashion.

What else do I think…..the whole Serena-Blair dynamic is going to get really old real soon, I don’t know how long I can keep this up.

Serena: ‘I’m better than you’
Blair: ‘Ok, Serena thinks she’s better than me, I’m going to do something to bring her down’

But then they talk, and their friends again, and we’re only 1 and 3/4 seasons into the show!"

MAX: 'How do I conclude this blog post, it’s a ramble fest.'

ROBYN: 'It IS a ramble fest! BTW, you know I now come up on Google when I search for myself? Seriously, recruiters are going to look at this!’

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Periodic table of branding

Things are getting a little wacky this week. B!G presentations, projects, and many separate deliverables have all come together and are due this week - Hell Week. I'll write a longer post tomorrow - a day when I'm not in school for 15 hours - but I thought that this was a good quick link to share!

branding definitions

Pretty cool eh?

I like the categorization, it's got a greater strategic focus than a lot of the other marketing glossary of terms out there in the interweb.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The weekend links

Hi all, hope your weekends are going well. Undergrads, have you finished midterms yet? Not to sound like a bastard, but I don't share in your pain because I don't have any midterms!

On with the links:

Analyze the Presidential candidates advertising expenditures. This is a pretty cool interactivity from the NYT.

Faces after the crash. Does anyone else feel a little schadefreude?

Customization helps sustain Mars M&M candies. Awesome marketing strategy, classic and relevant.

I really disagree with some of the top ten worst Halloween candies. I think Tootsie Rolls are great, same with Necco wafers and Laffy Taffy!

Damn, it feels good to be a banker, - Thanks Steph!

I think the new campaign for Dentyne Ice, 'Make Face Time' is really clever and a good example of a well-thought out marcom. It's clever and original, mostly because it's not like most other candy commercials with stupid situations and methed-up main characters. BTW, kudos to Dentyne Ice for not doing another awful commercial; they've redeemed themselves! I hope Cadbury Adams fired their old agency for that dreck.

New tires look to bees for inspiration. Cool stuff!

Another disagreement, I think that most of the top 10 epic website failures on this list are correct, but is actually a really good search engine. Their images search results functionality is easy to use and is lightyears beyond Google. BTW, where's Kuil on this list?

And finally, close your eyes and try to tell that this isn't Steve Perry singing. I am really loving the new Journey with Arnel Pineda.

Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Consumers beware of scary marketing

Journalism can sometimes sound really terrifying and kinda miss the point. It's like so many Republican spin masters and commentators being interviewed on AC 360 recently who are making these pronouncements like the US Congress needs a thorough evaluation, constituent by constituent to determine who is pro-American and who is anti-American.

Really....?...REALLY.......? This matters now?

Now, I like CityNews. I think it's a good local news platform and the broadcast is definitely exciting, entertaining, and hopefully relatively unbiased and informative. It's always had sensationalist news stories, 'Find out which foods you're eating right now are killing you...after the break!' or 'Is the TTC killing you?' or 'Why Ontario's education system wants to kill your kids!' - I just made these up, but are they really too far-fetched? lol.

However, a recent piece on the website by Michael Talbot, 'Have advertisers gone too far?', makes it clear to me now that their online platform has wholly mirrored their television broadcast for devoting attention to eye-catching but paper-thin news stories.

Citing examples of obnoxious, out-of-home, experiential advertising (including Boston's video box scandal and SMS campaigns coinciding with the launch of Dexter's new season), Talbot asserts that advertisers (no Michael, they're marketers who dreamed these up...) have "delved into shady realms" and are engaging in sinister tactics to "pry your hard earned money away."


So I'm in this profession because I like to sell people things they don't need and I want to impoverish them?

Of course what's not being emphasized is the considerable new value that consumers are realizing in marcoms that are relevant and meaningful to them - value derived from new technology that can touch the consumer on a one-to-one basis. And consumers are responding! There's a reason why viral, P2P, guerrilla, and SMS are done - it's because (if done well) they are effective platforms for creating buzz and awareness. The interactive forms are also strong mediums to enhance consumer relationships with brands. So why is this so scary?

Evaluate the news a little more critically - that goes for you too Michael Talbot.

(i just think this is a funny picture!)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Simian warfare ads

We watched a series of these in class today. They're awesome...Trunk Monkey is an ape that lives in your car and protects you from car break-ins, handles difficult situations of road rage, and bribes police officers!

Trunk Monkey thrives in dark habitats with minimal air circulation and unstable movements. Trunk Monkey's loyalty to you as the driver of the car is based on a finely-tuned sense of smell and a conditioned imprinting of your voice when you curse out other drivers.

Trunk Monkeys are bred and trained by the Suburban Auto Group of Sandy, Oregon and were originally groomed to act as weight distribution systems for Subaru off-road rally cars. Although Trunk Monkeys continue to offer optimal driving performance by a acting as trunk ballast, their primary role is best defined as an 'automobile enforcer' and a fierce compassionate passenger for your daily commute.

Add Trunk Monkey to the list of things I want for Christmas!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Marketing student time management

Time management is crazy. It's a weird skill because it's about prioritizing things and accepting that which you can't control. I've gradually learned to accept that not everything can be accomplished and to therefore manage expectations - including client expectations!

Here's a quick handy way to manage your time, especially if you're a student.


Make a list of everything you need to do in the foreseeable future.


Go down the list and rank each task according to how soon it needs to be finished.

1 = 'dude, you've gotta finish this right now, or at least before 5pm today!'
10 = 'dude, relax, you've got plenty of time!'


Go down the new time-ranked list. What are really important tasks?

A = 'dude, this is super important and you've gotta work on it today!'
B = 'dude, this is important'
C = 'dude, this needs to be completed, but it's not really important right now'
D = 'dude, relax, this probably won't get done!'


Rank according to A-D of importance. The things you've gotta do today are all the 'A' tasks, and you'll do them in the order of the due date.

Awesome, so now I have to actually get motivated to complete these tasks!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I vote for Jessica Alba

I’m torn when I reflect on the drive to encourage Gen Ys to vote and contribute to the democratic process. Don’t get me wrong, I really like democracy, I like what it stands for and I like the egalitarian ideals that are the foundation of the US constitution….it’s just the seedy and irrelevant way it’s being packaged to youth.

Take, a “nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-year-old in America to register and vote in the presidential primaries and 2008 presidential election.” As much as I’d like to try to be controversial and brand this as campaign as frothy, feel-good clusterf*ck of Gomorrahian proportions, I really respect the integrated marcom aspect of the whole project. DeclareYourself has strategic partnerships with key media, retail, and tech companies and the campaign is ubiquitous in online Gen Y social spaces. Check out some of the partners:

  • Cricket Wireless
  • Yahoo
  • MySpace
  • ComedyCentral
  • ClearChannel
  • Starbucks
  • American Eagle
  • Van’s Warped Tour
  • Seventeen Magazine
  • The WB Network
  • Google is also a terrific website. The FAQs are really clear and answer any stupid questions that newly-legal Gen Y might have about voting, such as “who are the main political parties” – yes, it says this! The site is well-designed and encourages a lot of user interaction and dialogue in the form of forums, social network affiliations, blogs, and a bunch of videos.

Ok, but here’s where it goes off the rails for me…it’s overdosing on celebrity endorsements and the frame of reference is moving out of focus. Voting is about people. The site is about young people voting. It’s about you and me and exerting our democratic freedom to elect political officials. It might be about the issues, it might be about the candidates. Either way, wants you to vote.

So why is there so much interest and vocalization of the whole platform by celebrities? It’s sickening to see the commercialization and packaging the presidential election as if Nov 4th doesn’t correspond to the general election, but rather to a movie opening. It’s not fair that the main character in the movie isn’t the newly-minted 18 year old who can vote for the first time in their life, but Jessica Alba.

It’s a movie and all the stars are invited to the premiere!

And the movie certainly has great commercials:

In fact, nearly all the video clips sponsored by DeclareYourself feature celebrities.

Really, it doesn’t matter what celebs say and frankly a lot of Gen Y – especially the ones smart enough to actually vote! – would tell you that they’re 0% influenced by what celebs do, say, or advocate.

Jessica Alba has nothing to do with me voting, so why is she the star of the movie?

And DeclareYourself isn’t along in superficial endorsements. Here’s Adrian Grenier showing his chops for RockTheVote.

Doesn’t that seem a little self-indulgent?

Contemporary marketing is about measurability and effectiveness. Fortunately for DeclareYourself, these celebs have likely offered their endorsements for free since they have nothing else to do all day. They’re working pro bono to assure themselves that they’re performing a valuable service to society and are atoning for generally being brainless pillheads. But how is anyone sure whether their endorsements and appearances at events and in videos are serving any purpose?

Again, the democratic process is beautiful. It’s a wonderful thing that DeclareYourself is so committed to getting a new generation familiar with their rights and proud of the electoral system the US has in place. It’s marketing platforms are strong through the use of integrated media and online channel promotion direct to Gen Y. I’m just skeptical about how tarnished the message can become when it’s no longer about young people, it’s about Jessica Alba.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The weekend links

Happy thanksgiving everyone.

Ok, so this totally puts me in my place!

Required test for all MBAs and BBAs. Lemme spoil it for you now, you're all going to fail.

OMG, it's Lego Porn. The images get a lot worse!

Proof that just about anything will find traction on the democratic, superficial internet. It's about socializing in different and profound ways - even if you're ranting about how fatigued you are.

Wow, Lunchballz are awesome. So you mean, they have a soda and protein inside?

Corbis has some awesome images. Fodder for our Ad team.

Thank you Google for looking out for my best interests. This might not be functionally useful and widely adopted, but it's proof that Google still doesn't take itself too seriously!

I like the Putin's Reserve. For a minute I thought these were real wines!

View my masterpiece, 'Symphony in Mauve' and try you hand at sand art.

The keffiyeh and other super-lame indie styles. This is pretty funny!

So are we advertising practitioners? If so there might be a small credibility and trust issue!

Cool post, cool marketing guy. I completely agree with the "meeting the needs" part. It's about honestly and realism, not being a schyster or sycophantic 'next big thing' seeker.

And finally, Ana was a huge help wit tonight's blog post. Ana, this video is for you, hilarious and i know you'll get all the jokes!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Value chain analysis stumps all

I’m addicted to this song right now since hearing the techno remix of it on the indie radio station in my car. Enjoy while reading about how to strategically evaluate a business value chain, I don’t know, perhaps it’s fitting!

I was caught in a funk today in one of my meetings. I was doing some primary research and asked the question ‘how does your company add value in the services it performs’ to two middle managers and the conversation kinda stalled. It wasn’t a particularly difficult question (and perhaps I should have phrased it as above in far fewer words than I did!), but still we stumbled through the conversation. Is business strategy really that difficult to conceptualize? Best practice would suggest that business strategy is well-understood by all employees in the organization but in reality it seems that only executives understand how the business functions and what processes contribute the most value. Even then it might be an idealized view of how the business should operate and can lack real cohesion and rigor about how business strategy gets implemented.

But today’s snafu made me reflect on business strategy. Understanding holistic value in business is a really tricky task. It requires enough perspective to see the end to end process yet still parse operations into discrete components and see the individual operational workings. And furthermore, how do we identify which process is critical to the business before we even undertake reverse engineering to see where the most value is added? Significant value will inevitably derive from the synergy of all processes at once or in sequence. Cost efficiencies, knowledge spinoffs, internal organizational development result from the greater operational process which can, in its own, be considered as a piece of the value chain.

Let’s take B!G’s projects:

Dollar for dollar, we derive the greatest return from our in-house advertising and design competencies. These are our highest margin services. If we break these down it’s difficult to determine where we are strongest at adding value to the client. It could originate from customized brand design services or it could arise from on-campus advertising campaign execution. Looking at the more consulting-oriented aspects of our business, these are our lowest margin services and in some instances loss-leaders to establish credentials and recognition for the business (to say nothing of the tremendous personal soft skills development we get from the consulting work). If we break down our marketing consulting services into its constituent parts, value chain analysis is even more challenging. How can you accurately measure whether the greatest shot of analytical nitrous comes from the primary client research we can perform or the composition of all learnings into a single deliverable.

If I can’t really answer these questions, then no wonder I stumped the middle managers I spoke with today with what I perceived to be a simple question about the most valuable part of their process. They’re a massive agency with a global client roster.

It’s difficult to manufacture the necessary competing perspectives – top-down and bottom-up – necessary for an effective analysis of a firm’s operational value chain. As marketing consultants we strive to approach each project with fresh eyes and objectively determine weak links from crucial points. However, this is a valuable, if headache-inducing, exercise to perform. Value chain analysis gets everyone thinking about what the organization does well and where its core strengths lie.

But a question unanswered is a problem unsolved. An evaluation of business strategy must carefully determine the point of greatest operational impact. You find this process by asking ‘if the business can only perform one action before it dies, what is it?

So what’s the heart?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Best toy ever: Kota the Triceratops

I want this.

Kota the Triceratops is an moving, roaring, bouncing toy for preschoolers. I mean, check this out and tell me it doesn't sound fun!

  • Kota roars when you roar
  • Kota chews leaves when you stick them near its mouth
  • Kota plays music so when you sit on its back you can go on make-believe dino adventures
  • Kota wags it tail, blinks its eyes, and chats in dino-speak when you scratch its chin or rub its belly
I imagine sitting on top of Kota, crushing the delicate plastic assembly with my adult weight, laughing hysterically and singing while we go on dino adventures together!

Awesome toy. Please, please, please buy it for me. I want it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Meme is the word: social marketing for Gen Y trends

Inspired by Sunday night’s Family Guy episode – after which everyone started proclaiming that ‘bird is the word’ on their Facebook status updates – this post is about modern marketing memes.

Memes are “ideas or behaviors that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, gestures, practices, fashions, habits, songs, and dances. Memes propagate themselves and can move through the cultural sociosphere in a manner similar to the contagious behavior of a virus.” (Wikipedia)

Right now I’m sitting in class and thinking about all the behaviors that we’ve individually learned from each other. It’s a weird dynamic here at Schulich because with so many diverse backgrounds and experiences, it’s hard to not take best practices, ideas, or perspectives from others and co-opt them as your own.

We’ve all seen examples of a meme in our classes. Look at the one student in the class who seems to know what they’re doing when it comes to writing a case or an assignment. Doesn’t everyone go to that person and ask them questions about how they completed it so that you can mirror their work? In this vein it’s social Darwinism at work: rapid social adoption of the ‘best herd practice’, or at least the practice seen to be most popular by the other members of the herd.

So memes are odd – it’s not always the best practice, not always the most popular idea. Instead, it’s an idea that has catalytic value and is able to be communicated and adopted easily by others. Consider these modern marketing memes:

  • "Oh my god, my business needs a website because everyone else has one!"
  • "It’s about relevance, not volume"
  • "Brands are dying, consumers are only loyal to themselves now"

As a card-carrying Gen Y, I love memes. Why? Cause like most Gen Ys, I’m social but independent, extroverted and networked yet individualistic, and brought up by parents who encouraged free and creative thinking. Sharing and contributing to social discourse is therefore only part of the game. Consider these Gen Y memes:

  • Talking politics when you enter college– especially if you go to an arts school, not a business school!
  • Wholesome pop (the packaged reaction to the late 90s trollop pop), including the Jonas Brothers, High School Musical, Tokio Hotel, Hannah Montana
  • No-barriers sharing. One’s whole life, friends, pictures, secrets, ideas, and interests are on your Facebook page
  • Lolcatz, pwns, fails, YTMND

I don’t pretend to be a social anthropologist or expert semioticist, but I can analyze content and culture. It pays to keep your ear to the ground and understand memes for their power to influence people and, in turn, be shaped by people. Memes are particularly germane to contemporary marketing because of their importance in the lives of Gen Y consumers. Creating value with young consumers is a two-way street and necessitates an honest and fun approach to relationship building.

In theory, memes could act as jetpacks for brands or people to attach themselves to to quickly reach key influencers and adopters. Ok good, but how about being a meme yourself? Why mimic when you can lead?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The weekend links

Last night's Nuit Blanche was amazing. I was walking around the city from 8pm to 630am when I stumbled back home. I've never seen so many people downtown crowding the streets - it was wild! Interesting art installations too. Here are some pictures:

'Into the blue' in the middle of the Eaton Centre

Olga and Max go into the blue

This massive wall of letters was screaming nonsensical sentences in Liberty Village

Rubber ducks in Rye Pond

Did anyone else think that the Waterfall was kinda overrated?

So Nuit Blanche was a hoot. Some of the installations were lazy while others really engaged people. It sounds like I'm from Haight Ashbury when I say this, but it was great to experience everyone experiencing everyone else. Tremendous energy that whole night.

One of our city councillors and organizer of Nuit Blanche, Kyle Rae, said on the news that the purpose of the event was to get ordinary people to consider different perspectives on the city, themselves, and culture. The event is like an art installation in itself - getting people to reflect.

But oddly enough, some of the most poignant, reflective moments of the night for me came not from an art exhibit but from unique moments in the night that were unexpected or intimate. Weird moments like:
  • Stumbling upon a massive guerrilla skater dance party in a parking lot behind Grange Park
  • Seeing the hardest black leather goth kids I've ever seen texting on Blackberries on the Queen streetcar
  • Walking with Amanda and her cat Jib and listening to her stories about living in a squat and panhandling
No surprise that these did more to shake my perspectives on live than a crowded art exhibit at Yonge-Dundas Square.

This musical garbage can did stand out though. it was at Dundas and Bay and it blew smoke, flashed lights inside, and played Prince's 'Delirious'. Really bizarre!

Anyway, on with the links:

Clever camapign using beer bottle tops for drunk driving.

Smart cars transformed with body panels. I want a Smustang.

Strange commercial ads from the past. I'm confused, are they selling weenies or sweaters?

OJ Simpson guilty on 10 counts including armed robbery and kidnapping. Send this slimy cretin away for good.

Awesome chairs that are artistic but crunking ugly.

Strange bags, Olga Ivlev maybe this interests?

Wow - the Japanese voice actors who voiced Pokemon!

And finally, congratulations to Howard and Beth!

Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Terrible questions and the terrible interviewers who ask them

B!G, like many clubs at Schulich, just finished interviewing and recruiting new associates. Well B!G got associates, everyone else got members who forked over $20. Not that it makes them any less cool – or less wealthy. We got a pile of applications, sifted through them and, yes even I took a break from my daily activities of the outermost importance – like lolcatz – and conducted some great interviews.

Alright, so I was only allowed in on one interview but I am delighted at the associates we got on our team. They have already proven their hard work and dedication.

I was always impressed with the level of talent on B!G. And I can attribute a lot of this to our recruiting processes. Without argument, the most important part of any recruitment process is the interview. You can’t control the candidate’s answers, but you’ve got a good handle on things from your side. It’s almost amusing how easy it is to screw up such a vital part of growing your enterprise. So easy, in fact, Bristol Palin could do it if the only thing she learned was “Just don’t!” The issue of only saying "No." Maybe we should institute some sort of secondary method?

Mistake #1: The Power Trip

I really wanted this to be structured as the worst questions to ask at an interview but this specific aspect of an interview cannot be conveyed with just one question mark. I remember my first year in university, there was one club (we won’t mention which because it is under “new management” and everyone deserves a fresh beginning) that took itself a tad too seriously. They warned that their executive interviews were really tough and they really wanted to make people cry.

First thought that comes to mind: WTF!???? (note the need for several question marks)

Making candidates cry doesn’t say anything about the candidates. To be frank, it only illustrates what a huge douche you are. The interview is not about you. It’s about your team and its future. I understand the importance of bringing on sturdy folk but at a certain point you are sacrificing quality and creativity for sturdiness. Really, how sturdy do they have to be at a university club?

Ikea furniture is not the sturdiest, but it provides comfortable seating and it's pretty.

And how low is your self esteem to make others cry?

I think B!G had a great solution this past few semesters to examine the quality of our candidates and their ability to integrate into our team. You see, B!G isn’t about busting others’ balls (pardon my language.) We don’t need to. You wouldn’t either if your’s were the size of watermelons. (I know, eew.) We like to welcome people (with a slice of watermelon, perhaps), have them relax and really reach out to the person, their hopes and aspirations, where they’ve been and where they want to go, what they know and what they want to learn. After all, we’re all going to be working together so for me to crush your individuality even for a few minutes is not the way to make progress. I can just give you a case study and leave the room for half an hour, maybe get some cheezburger.

We can review your answers, discuss your logic and ultimately see if we’re the right fit for one another in terms of skills and opportunities. It’s about fit, not ego.

Mistake #2: Reaching deep into the past. Elbow deep.

The question: When you were 5 years old, what did you want to be?

The answer: If your candidate is honest, it will not be Investment Banker, Corporate Tax Attorney, Marketing Analyst or Chartered Accountant. This same honest candidate will say something like farmer, candy maker, veterinarian, chef, painter and dancer. I write this one off because it’s a dead end question. Like what would the follow up discussion sound like? “Why did you want to be a candy maker?” Because I liked candy. Still do.

Every five-year-old's dream job.

Some may think that all these little details are part of shaping the behavioural profile and will provide some grand insight into the subconscious of the candidate. But do you really think that you’re trained to accurately interpret such tiny insights to really enrich the selection process?

Mistake #3: Navigating the Negatives

Question: What is your greatest weakness?

Answer: There are only few answers deemed appropriate by candidates. One is that the candidate is a perfectionist and has trouble letting go of a task. The others are its variations, essentially being too hard working, too perfect and taking all of the responsibility on your own shoulders. Bottom line is that no one is going to badmouth themselves too harshly in an interview. They will, however, provide you with areas where they want to grow. No, not improve. Grow. Branch out. “How would you like to expand your skills?” For example, they may want to gain more technology skills or international experience or broaden their marketing skills to several industries. You kill two birds with one stone: expansion and, ever so subtly, improvement.

Mistake #4: Ask no question and you will be told no lies. Especially these kinds of questions.

Question: What would your friends say about you?

Answer: Really, what do you expect? "I’m a drunk, I give great lap dances to strangers, I never call the girl back the next morning, I steal from the library. But I'm really good about it and it has helped me develop some overlooked skills. Like subtlety." Such questions will get you absolutely nowhere. I can see what kind of insights you might be seeking in this, to become intimate with your candidate. Does the candidate really want to become intimate with you or do they want the position? Probably the latter. To get such personal insight, a great number of questions are necessary and some quick on-the-spot thinking. "What do you do in your spare time?" A likely answer would be "read or watch movies." Alright, so go with that. "What are some of the latest books you've read?" Now you get to judge here and it really depends on what your company culture is: Shopaholic vs. Black Swan vs. War and Peace. You're getting a clearer picture and it's a harder answer to prepare for because you could very well respond "I never read War and Peace. What's it about?" A candidate can't bullshit that one and you can always check your facts later on .

"Let's discuss the books you recently stole.. err... read"

Mistake #5: We all know why we're here.

Question: Why do you want to join XYZ?

Answer: To have a paying job or an extra paragraph on the ol' resume. But no one is going to say that. I get it, it's really a "why us, and not them" question. I think Robyn got the same point across really well in a slightly different question. "How do you want to benefit from B!G?" Candidates say that they want to learn more about marketing strategy and get the practical experience, something very few student organizations offer. These are perfectly acceptable answers; we pride ourselves on these qualities. And by asking straight forward questions about which of these wonderful qualities attracted the candidates to us, we open the door to the most honest answer.

Mistake #6: The feeble attempts to incorporate the "Interesting Factor"

Question: If you were an electrical appliance, what would you be?

Answer: Who cares!? Unless your organization is experiencing a high rate of members turning into electrical appliances, this question is not relevant. Anything would be better: what voltage would you be or would you turn back into yourself after midnight? At least this helps you plan for the future.

Could these be your future employees?

This is usually the last question at an interview and it's really an attempt to bring about the "Interesting Factor." But leading someone to compare themselves to a George Forman grill is not interesting or original.
Why not leave the "creativity" behind and just say "What is the one thing you want me to know about you?" Maybe they have this great stamp collection, run a soup kitchen or participate in Medieval jousting competitions on Saturday nights. Now that's interesting and insightful! No matter how much lean mean you slap on it, won't make a good employee.

The goal of a great interview is to pave the way to the most honest answers and get to know the real person, because that's who's going to show up every morning and plop themselves in the seat next to you. The only way to do this is to make the candidate feel fairly comfortable with the interviewers, just enough to show off their skills and provide a view into how they operate. Put thought into the questions and test them out on yourself - what answer would you give? It's about fit and synergy and leaving your egos at the door and making progress. Make sure there is structure to your interview and make the best showing of your organization. And making people cry, just doesn't do it.