sxc marketing

I am a futurist. I believe in the future and the ability to make our most optimistic ideas of the future a reality.

Bitcoin is arguably the single greatest invention of the new millennium. Its creation is so revolutionary that it almost defies logic. And like any inventive product, almost everyone I speak to has this automatic revulsion to the concept: “It can’t be real!” they exclaim into my face. “It’s for drug trafficking, contract killings, and money laundering,” are the standard trifecta response of those who have heard about Bitcoin through the media. It’s unsafe, volatile, and risky,” is the response from those who actually know a little more about it.

36140(1)Yes, as with anything speculative, it is risky. However, blaming illegal transactions on Bitcoin, which much of the mainstream media seems to do (with notable exception of The New York Times and Forbes), is like blaming the heroin epidemic on “cash.”

If we didn’t have cash then people would have to use a traceable form of payment. Then we would be able to track them down, and the use and abuse of illicit drugs would end. Unicorns and puppies would rain down in celebration, and Jesus would ride his white horse in exultation. Bitcoin attracts the same kind of logic argument: If Bitcoin did not exist, we would not have drugs or other illicit activities being sold online. The unfortunate reality is that people will find a way to get whatever illegal activity they want done. They’ll barter, sell, or trade anything to make it happen. Bitcoin just makes it easier to conduct an illegal transaction online, and yet, it is also one of the most transparent payment methods that exists. There is a false sense of security to people who are using Bitcoin for illegal purposes in cases like this. You hear politicians railing against Bitcoin and calling for its ban, as if it was the problem, and not the illegal activity. Janet Yellen, our current monetary mystic has said, “The Federal Reserve has no authority to regulate Bitcoin.” She understands, and is intelligent enough to realize, that as it is outside the banking system, it is inherently hard to regulate. Bitcoin has the potential to completely transform every aspect of the internet, marketing, content distribution, and third-world empowerment as we know it. And in the future, you will thank its mythical ghost creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, that it exists. However, before that time arrives, we must start with a question: What is Bitcoin?

 

Bitcoin 101

First, we have to get a handle on what the heck this Bitcoin thing is. The tech behind Bitcoin is so cool I personally get almost apoplectic when I think about it. It can be used not only for money, but for the transfer of anything that conveys ownership of property. However, this is the primary reason Bitcoin is failing. Techno-geeks tend to get wrapped up in the technology — not the conceptual potential — and end up talking about topics only a small group of people (other techno-geeks) can understand. To help better explain what Bitcoin actually is, take a $20 dollar bill (or any other amount) out of your wallet and look at it. What is it worth? “Well, $20 dollars of course,” is most likely the usual indignant reply. But what does $20 dollars mean? Where does it come from?

We all know The Federal Reserve issues all currency for the United States. And then further elucidate on how it becomes $20 dollars. Believe it or not, U.S. currency was created out of thin air. The whole value of our currency is a faith-based system. We all accept the same belief that it has value. And such it is with Bitcoin. All it requires is the belief in it. And as of now, a lot of people believe Bitcoin is about as real as a unicorn.

Although technically the Fed can create money out of thin air, the central bank cannot simply print money as it wants. As with anything that has a higher supply than demand, the value will go down. As long as people have faith in a currency, a central bank can issue more of it. Since Bitcoin has no central bank, there will only ever be the capped supply of 21 million bitcoins. That finite amount creates an inherent scarcity within the Bitcoin system, which creates value. Unlike gold, if Bitcoin does fail, it cannot be melted into a pretty piece of jewelry. So whether we are talking about gold or bitcoins, gold only has a higher “store of value” because more people believe it does, and not just because it can be made into something else. In reality, Bitcoin is no different than gold — a faith-based system with less followers. There is a floor to the value of gold because of that faith, but only from our perceived belief that mining has any value.

And if faith-based systems (like religion) have shown us anything, it’s that they have an amazing ability to survive regardless of the “reality” that tries to poke holes in its beliefs. However, because this little religion of Bitcoin has fewer followers and leaps-of-faith required to suspend logic, we can decide — en masse — not to believe in it. And then Bitcoin is just worth nothing. “Didn’t that Bitcoin exchange in Japan lose all of those peoples’ money? See it is unsafe!” The transparency of Bitcoin is actually far superior to our current banking models. In fact, it is now becoming clear that instead of following basic Bitcoin security and transparency practices, Mt. Gox (the oldest Bitcoin exchange that recently shut down) was operating in an opaque centralized model more akin to existing banking systems. Following the banking model and not the Bitcoin model is what led to its demise. This is where some people, who do not realize how our monetary system works, either get excited with me or want to shut me up for completely frying their synapses.

 

The difference between bitcoins and regular money

A notable difference between the U.S. monetary system and Bitcoin is that Bitcoin technically has no banking system. As such when people exchange the currency between each other there are no bank fees (or ones so extremely negligible as to have little to no fiduciary meaning). And that is where the first transformative aspect of the currency is. It’s like cash — when you exchange it with someone, there is no bank involved taking a cut. However, unlike cash, there is actually a simple record of the exchange — how much and between which wallets. There is a very public and transparent record of every Bitcoin exchange ever done. The currency is inherently more transparent than cash.

 

Why is it so transformative?

It’s transformative because of its two unique properties: no bank fees and no personally identifiable information being exchanged. And it is these two qualities that the U.S. banking system does not possess. To show you how transformative and powerful those two unique properties are, there are a whole range of possibilities. However, let me explain three business models and one unique group of people who will be profoundly affected by Bitcoin.

 

Publishing and content models

The internet was supposed to usher in a whole new era of publishing — and it did. But what that publishing model became was neither what we deserved nor what we wanted. What was supposed to happen, what we were promised, was that these new online content models would be micropayment based. We would only pay for what we wanted to consume. Publishing was going to produce quality because quality is what people would pay for. And the writers who produced quality work would be rewarded with lots of micro-payments that the publications and that writer would split. Unfortunately, that promise never materialized, and what we got was BuzzFeed.

The answer is simple to why this happened: our banking system and the cabal of MasterCard, Visa, and American Express. That system is not designed for small transactions. Have you ever seen a sign hanging in a business that said “Fee for charges less than $10?” That’s our banking system. It’s just old-broke-ass banking technology that has a stranglehold on fees. About 2.25 percent to 3.25 percent is the usual range for transactions. But for smaller or manually entered transactions, there is often a basic fee. For example, take Square. It has disrupted a lot of the businesses that sell systems to retailers by offering a simpler solution. It has changed a lot of small businesses, and yet, even Square has a 3.5 percent and $0.15 minimum fee entered for manual transactions, and a standard 2.75 percent for swipes.

But what if you are a columnist for an online publication and you write a really excellent piece, on, oh, I don’t know, Bitcoin? Now, no one is likely to pay for a monthly subscription to an online publication just to read that one article. So, it either has to be free, which means supported by advertising, or you have to charge a monthly subscription. Because we do not have the ability to pay in micro-payments for these content publications, we have to instead rely on advertising for income, which means they need page views — and a lot of them. It is not about the quality of the article, the long-form content, but merely the intrinsic curiosity behind wanting to click and see something. They cannot afford to invest in longer research articles, or in almost any research of any kind. They need to pull at our base instincts. Worse, because smaller publications have to rely on that advertising, the model is shifted toward that advertising, and not the quality of the content. Hence the 12 click-through pages of cats in compromising situations type banality masquerading as content. Bitcoin offers almost any publication a means to “pay as you consume” model.

Quality of content online may improve as a result, or it may not. Maybe the new model became too entrenched, but it would at least allow for some smaller quality publications to grow bigger, as opposed to those that concentrate on the size of Kim Kardashian’s butt.

 

Low-margin retail models

The grocery retail model runs on razor-thin margins — 1 to 6 percent — as does the hospitality industry, airlines, electronics retailers, and everyone from Amazon.com to Overstock.com. These businesses are being financially strangled by the 2.5 percent interest charges that Visa, American Express, MasterCard, Diners Club, Discover, and the consortium of financial succubi leach out of the system. If you are a 5 percent margin business, then you are actually a 7.5 percent margin business that is being extorted worse than the mob by the credit card and banking industry. That’s a 30 percent vigorish that could get a bookie in a lot of trouble for charging.

Bitcoin can make any low-margin online business instantly more profitable — not by a little, by a lot! And in addition they do not have to face one of the other horrendous effects of the credit-card consortium — credit-card fraud. With Bitcoin, there is no fraud, because there is no opportunity for there to be. There is no number to steal or card to duplicate — at least from you. Like with any bank however, be careful where you exchange your bitcoins, because if that exchange is not secure, bad things can happen. Startup BTC Trip is a travel site that exclusively accepts Bitcoin. Some major retailers like Overstock.com have understood that their margins can be greatly improved and are now accepting bitcoins. How would you like customers who are 30 percent more profitable for you for selling the same product to them? There are already myriad worldwide retailers jumping on the Bitcoin train. It’s is only a matter of time before Amazon.com decides to accept Bitcoin — it’s just too tempting not to.

 

Anonymity models

In my experience, I would have preferred some of my online accounts to have been anonymous. As any online account that delivers me goods that requires a credit card to complete a transaction, it also requires my name and address. There are accounts that just deliver me services. For those accounts I could probably use PayPal, and yet that is still not anonymous. Why do they need so much information from me?

I have a lifetime account at Penthouse.com. Before you start passing judgment, let me make my point here. I got the account when the service was fairly new. Playboy.com was one of my clients, and for competitive research I signed up for its “competitors” in the sin business. When I signed up for Penthouse.com, it gave me the option to get a lifetime account for $300. At the time that was around the same price as a year subscription, so I did it. And yes, I got to expense it — a strange perk in the advertising business. Now, I also have an account at Safeway.com. I view my Safeway account as inherently more dangerous to me than my Penthouse account. Here’s why. My Penthouse account is just porn. Yes, I have watched porn in my life. And so have most of you, I’m guessing. On the other hand, by checking my basket, and whatever is in it my basket at Safeway — condoms, alcohol, diapers, bacon — the danger is much more insidious. This data is dangerous to be associated with me personally because if a health provider or other insurance business gets that data, it can start to create profiles on me based on buying habits to assess risk. An actuary is buried in the back with algorithms calculating the exact date I am going to die and what the cost of that will be. And voila, personalized insurance. I am using Safeway only because I actually have an account, but potentially any retailer is getting more valuable information than you know. At least with Bitcoin I could just pay for the items. And then all they would have is the household and an attempt at a match, but my name would not be associated with it anywhere.

So why would grocery chains not want to have Bitcoin? Because you may not realize that they are one of the most pervasive users of database information anywhere. They sell your information any time they get to because whole food/grocery margins are extremely low. You didn’t think they were giving you all of those discounts when you used your club card because you are a “good” customer, did you? If I used Bitcoin for online services — in which nothing was shipped — there is no need for any personally identifiable information to be transferred when I want to pay for something. If I make my IP address anonymous and go through a proxy server, I start to become very invisible.

 

The unbanked and the third world

The two untapped groups of people most likely to benefit from Bitcoin are the 10 milllion unbanked U.S. households, and the vast group of people around the world who have no bank account because of the onerous fees and penalties. If you are poor and unbanked — anywhere in the world — your access to an easy system of payments besides cash is negligible. However, significant portions of the unbanked — even homeless — populations do have cell phones. For them, Bitcoin can be truly revolutionary. A Bitcoin wallet can serve this demographic with potential life-changing opportunities that would otherwise be impossible because of the lack of a bank account.

 

Conclusion

There is no real conclusion to this story, as this is yet the beginning. The promise of Bitcoin and the technology behind it is enormous. Yes, there are risks at this time, but I have personally not seen a technology this promising since I saw a demo Marc Andreessen gave of the Mosaic web browser in the early ’90s. It was but the beginning of the potential of the internet. A friend and I went back to our ad agency and said, “This is going to change everything!” There were others who chided us and could not understand how we would no longer want to make television commercials but would rather build websites. Unfortunately, for those that didn’t have the foresight then, they all see it now and are trying to translate their skills as fast as they can into something useful in the new era.

I never had that mind-obliterating “aha” moment again when seeing a piece of new technology. And I have witnessed them all — from working on the Palm Pilot as an agency for USRobotics to being a Google Glass explorer now. They have all been really cool technologies, but none of them have had quite the same impact as that internet product demo had. None until I finally understood how Bitcoin actually worked.

Mind. Blown.

Sometimes a product is so good that it elevates out of the need for advertising. It has something unique such as a taste, a feature or manufacturing process, or a certain great function that solves an everyday need. However, more often than not, most products are mediocre at best. What separates these products from the rest is the company that produces them — this includes the distribution chain, agreements with retailers, locations, and marketing. Companies wield unimaginable power with their advertising dollars to convince us of particular attributes they want us to see and mask their product’s glaring inadequacies. Much like art, a product’s merits are all about the lens you look through. Some will exalt the merits of Krispy Kreme donuts, while others swear by Entenmanns (which to me is sacrilege). Why would someone choose Entenmanns over Krispy Kreme? The lens we choose to look through defines how we view a product, a brand, and it’s advertising. Those who swear they are not influenced by advertising and attempt to buy products solely on their functional merit are these brands’ best customers. They are the sheeple who are not conscious enough to realize they are being conned, and this is their story…

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Before I go any further, I’d like to exempt an entire category from my article: Airlines. Whereas some airlines boast great advertising, without exception they are all mediocre products at best. In fact, we have become so used to the product being bad, that when Virgin America or JetBlue provide us with a modicum of something less painful we jump for joy. Flying is an exceptionally horrid experience where we are price gouged for the ticket, luggage fees, and change fees. We are strip-searched and frisk-raped through security while being forced to fumble with our belts, shoes, and jackets. Then we are price gouged again after we get through security for the food we buy while awaiting our — more often than not — delayed flight. After all of this, we are usually greeted by surly union flight attendants decades past their expiration date for kindness, and then charged for the alcohol we need to forget the whole experience.

Unless you are flying Virgin America out of terminal two in San Francisco, you don’t have a chance at happiness. Now some could argue that the airlines are not at fault, and there are companies like Virgin America that endeavor to make the flight experience a pleasant one. However, the whole airline “product experience” is the equivalent of being punched in the groin before sitting down at your favorite restaurant, and then sexually harassed by the wait staff while trying to eat your meal. It does not matter how good the food is, the product experience sucks.

OK, now that I have exempted an entire category due to its overwhelming incompetence at designing a pleasant people delivery system, on to my other victims. In each of these categories I am going to indicate the following three classifications:

  • The “loser” This is the brand that meets the wonderful criteria of having great advertising and a mediocre product.
  • The “also-ran” This is the company that — by mere dumb luck — benefits from the brand being known for serving up a lesser product experience.
  • The “winner” This is the brand that every company should aspire to be. This is a brand that has great advertising and respects the people who buy its product.

 

No. 1: Retail

Loser: JC Penny

I actually hate putting down JC Penny. I love its “Yours Truly” campaign, and I think it has done a marvelous job resurrecting a moribund brand from the dead. The advertising communicates not only a brand that cares, but one that has a clean fresh shopping experience — you know, like Target. Well, what else would a new logo and some catchy advertising signal? Unfortunately products often lag behind advertising, and it will take a couple years for JC Penny to update its stores, merchandise, and products to reflect this new image. In fact, it might never get there, regardless of its claims that the company will be here for the next 100 years. For now, this new advertising signals a stock price that has gone from $37.50 a year ago to $14.50 today. Comparable same-store sales for the third quarter of 2012 declined 26.1 percent and total net sales decreased 26.6 percent, from $3.9 billion to $2.9 billion. Ouch.

Also-Ran: Sears
Poor Sears. Its “The Beach” commercial was brilliant, and by controlling Kenmore (because Sears makes it) the company gets to say that it is the only place that sells the top 10 brands. Too bad the rest of the store experience is mediocre at best. It is an aging brand that is really trying hard to upgrade its image. However, in reality, Sears’ real estate is probably worth more than Sears is. In fact, unless you are actually buying appliances, you pretty much avoid Sears. I love Sears, I have fond memories of Sears, but I love it in the way you love that childhood sweetheart who gained weight, lost their teeth, and became a meth addict. You feel for them, you have sympathy for them, and you care about them, and occasionally you throw them some change. But you’ve grown up now and have decided to date someone who has a better sense of self-care.

Winner: Target
Target’s advertising is always fresh. The company’s stores were designed after the 1950s (unlike some other retailers), it boasts friendly staff members that are actually helpful and speak English, and it offers price matching policies. Target makes it fun to shop, or at least less painful to do so.

 

No. 2: Fast Food

Loser: Domino’s Pizza
Only Domino’s could get away with a whole ad campaign that basically proclaimed it’s product as crap. Domino’s built an empire on mediocre pizza; the company was just blind or willfully ignorant to what people really thought of its product. Domino’s was never selling pizza, Domino’s was selling the convenience of pizza. And over the years, a little cut here in ingredients, a little change there, and the slow death of what started off as an acceptable product eroded into the cardboard shingle of pizza convenience. Domino’s needed a turnaround. The advertising around changing its recipe and opening up to consumer feedback provided the emotional connection Domino’s needed to get its consumers back and to have them believe in the company’s product again. It was a great advertising strategy, combined with a connection to the people who make the product. Much like JC Penny, Domino’s is trying, and trying hard. I believe the company still has a ways to go to take its product from mediocre to great, but at least it is moving in the right direction. The redesigned pizza is a vast improvement over the previous product – if your local Domino’s has the type of quality procedures in place to produce it. Unfortunately, there are many Domino’s stores that have yet to get that memo, and one of them is in my neighborhood.

Also-Ran: Taco Bell
Taco Bell’s Super Bowl spot this year was one of the standouts, and with more than 2.7 million views on YouTube and counting for its “Live Mas” campaign, Taco Bell is generating the kind of buzz other brands only dream about. And then there is the product, which is “awesome-sauce” while drunk at 2 a.m. and at any other time is barely palatable.

Winner: Chipotle
Great advertising combines with the company’s “Food With Integrity” motto. Chipotle has made a commitment to farmers and organic products — proving that you can have both good advertising and a good product in the fast food industry.

DisclaimerAs a side note, I know that I will receive many emails about why I did not choose McDonald’s as the loser here. Well, for one, I do not think its brand advertising is particularly good — actually it’s always been rather sentimental slop. However, its digital efforts and the way the company is connecting with people through social channels is nothing less than extraordinary. McDonald’s is breaking down the barriers of negative memes one-at-a-time with its “Our food. Your questions.” campaign. (Also, check out what McDonald’s Canada has done wih this campaign.) McDonald’s understands that social media is all about emotionally connecting to your consumers. If you are a brand that gets regularly attacked, this is the strategy that you should emulate. Kill your internal compliance department of fear mongers and start connecting with the people who use your product. The compliance department, your legal department, and the other “risk” managers in the department of “no” that have inserted themselves into your corporate structure are not helping your company, they are fundamentally stifling your growth, your responsiveness, and your ability to connect with people. Heed their advice at your company’s peril.

 

No. 3: Bottled Water

Loser: Smartwater
From the beautiful Jennifer Aniston print ads to her Smartwater social-strategy pregnancy video, this brand knows how to appeal to people in a way that expresses that “its” water will have you satiated and wanting more. OK, great advertising, but how could this be a mediocre product? Smartwater is different. Smartwater water is “smart.” Um, no. It does not make you “smarter,” it just means that it has electrolytes which help prevent dehydration. It’s water. You know — that thing we used to get for free from any faucet until we ruined our municipal water supplies. Uh, wait a second. Smartwater is “vapor distilled water” which comes from — you guessed it — municipal water supplies. The company just heats it up, creates steam, compresses it to make purer water, and adds some ingredients to — poof — create “magic” water. Combine that with the fact that it takes two to three bottles of water to produce the bottle that the water comes in, and we have a massively wasteful, non-green, environmentally disastrous product that packages something we can get by simply throwing some salts into our water. If you transported someone here from 50 years ago they would fall over laughing at the gullibility and stupidity of our culture. If Nestlé had decent advertising it would have won this honor — or lost it.

Also-Ran: Every bottled water ever made in single serve bottles
This entire category is an advertising joke. If you are dumb enough to buy bottled water you can never claim you are not influenced by advertising.

Winner: Brita
OK, so the product might not be great, and it is not a reverse osmosis water filtration system. However, anything that helps us reduce the catastrophic number of water bottles being used is helpful to our environment. For some reason, with water, waste is particularly egregious. You can’t turn on your faucet and get beer or Coca-Cola, but almost everyone in this country has access to water, so buying it in plastic bottles is just so outstandingly bad.

OMG momentI would be reticent not to include this in this category.  Lithuania’s Vytautas Mineral Water is Earth’s juice is quite possibly the best water ad ever produced by anyone in the world ever. (Warning: NSFW)

 

No. 4: Energy Drinks

Loser: Red Bull
Red Bull has some of the most innovative advertising and marketing in the world. Red Bull regularly pushes the boundaries (quite literally) of what is possible in life, and in marketing and advertising, by taking a very long-term approach to supporting those who represent the company’s extremist and optimistic view of what is possible. All brands should be so forward thinking. The advertising and marketing is inspirational — it attacks life, almost a whole generation of alternative athletes, and inspires web-surfing geeks. These are all good things. Too bad the product itself is just fundamentally kind of lame. Red Bull is like Virgin but without Richard Branson — or a decent product. Advertising has convinced legions that this concoction is necessary in their lives. The Wired article “Meat Sugar, Caffeine, and Bile!” explains what is in this soup of an energy boost. Yes, Red Bull has its legions of supporters, and there are worse soft drinks and energy drinks you can take, but mediocre? Sure, it meets that criterion.

I applaud Red Bull the brand. I just wish — like Virgin — it would diversify and grow that brand into something other than something.

Also-Ran: 5-Hour Energy
Unlike its name suggests, it does not give you energy for five hours. It’s basically the same boost as a cup of coffee, and “little if any research” indicated that amino acids and B vitamins would result in a difference in energy level. However, those commercials? Can’t get away from them.

Winner: No brand meets the criteria of one to aspire to.

 

No. 5: Clothing

Loser: Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie built its modern brand on advertising that features sexy men and scantily clad female sidekicks. In 1992, the brand that had been making camping gear for Ernest Hemingway and Teddy Roosevelt turned into a teen emporium of sex. In a strange psychological twist, Abercrombie shifted focus from the brand products to the brand image. In a sense, the brand itself became a product as Abercrombie’s advertising became increasingly sexy. But brands beware: When that happens, you’d better resonate with whatever trend is currently in vogue — and sex, it seems, no longer sells a $30 T-shirt, regardless of how provocative the advertising. Abercrombie & Fitch’s product just became mediocre over the last 20 years, and now it is paying the price. I predict this storied brand with a 120-year history will be gone in the next 20 years. For 100 years it had a great product; for the last 20 it sold a mediocre product propped up with sexy advertising. Lesson here is that you can spike your brand and become hot through advertising, but if people connect to your advertising more than to your product, then you have to adapt your ads to the latest trends lest you become irrelevant.

Also-Ran: Most fashion brands and mainstream boutiques
Let’s face it. They’re all overpriced, usually have sexy provocative advertising that is effective and fun, and mediocre products of exclusivity. When you wear a $300 pair of Diesel jeans you are not broadcasting “These are the most amazing pair of jeans that fit me perfectly and make me look amazing.” You are saying “I can afford a $300 pair of jeans.” And yes, I own Diesel jeans, but at least I own them, know they’re overpriced, and for some reason I bought into their whole “stupid” campaign. Oh wait, I get it now. I’m stupid.

Winner: Patagonia
With its “Common Threads Initiative” and “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, Patagonia has put our planet ahead of its profits. All brands should be as forward thinking. All brands should stand for something progressive, something they believe in. Most don’t. Patagonia does.

 

And it gets worse…

There have been products for which the advertising is effective but the products are not just mediocre, but bad. True falsehoods and con jobs on the public. For this I nominate two products for the “Sean X Hall of Fame of Advertising Shame.” The following brands represent everything sad about society, the advertising industry, and the shear ability of companies to persuade people to buy products they don’t need and worse — that are ineffective at solving the one thing advertising has no control over: their low self esteem.

Loser: Enzyte
You remember “Smilin’ Bob,” don’t you? Turns out, so does the Better Business Bureau and federal agents who shut down the operation. It was probably one of the greatest ad campaigns for a product that did nothing and was scientifically proven to do nothing. No evidence existed showing Enzyte to be effective in any of its claims.

Runner Up: Airborne
The former owners were fined by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising and were the subject of successful class action lawsuits. There are no studies supporting Airborne’s effectiveness that meet scientific standards. To quote the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) senior nutritionist David Schardt, “Airborne is basically an overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that’s been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed.”

 

Conclusion

There is an erroneous mantra in our industry perpetuated by the quote “Nothing can kill a bad product faster than good advertising,” by Bill Bernbach, the B in DDB. It is a great little twist on words, and an aspirational belief that people are rational intelligent creatures who can spot a product’s inadequacies and will readily stop buying that product if it is not good for them. It makes sense. It makes advertising appear almost as a gift, a public service that our great work, no matter how creative, cannot convince people of untruths, cannot sway people to believe something mediocre is great. This quote is, in and of itself, the purest example of advertising’s ability to convince you of something that is not true. We can get you to believe that statement because on some logical level it makes sense. Unfortunately, it is complete crap. This is the ultimate advertising meme — our joke to the world.

Advertising sells products, period. But convincing creative that connects with people can sell products that people don’t want, don’t need, and can’t afford. If great creative is combined with a mediocre product, that product often wins against superior products. There are countless examples of this. Look at almost any highly processed packaged food product and this is evident. Packaged foods are veritable cornucopias of chemical soup — if you can even understand what the ingredients are. The product does not stand on its merits as food. It stands on ancillary benefits that we can convince you through advertising are more important (calories, taste, convenience). We create the need state through advertising.

Nothing kills a bad product better than great advertising? I doubt that. It is a catchy little quote and probably makes some green ad execs sleep well at night, being all bright-eyed and bushy tailed in their naivety. However, I have yet to have anyone provide me with a single example of a great ad campaign that failed because the product was not good. No, in fact, the exact opposite is true. If the advertising is good enough, we can actually persuade people to buy something they get for free out of their tap.

Bottled water? Nah, that could never happen. People are not that gullible.

Because of my last post many people asked who I voted for and what I believe. So here goes…

I believe in everyone having affordable health insurance. We are a nation of individuals, but without healthy citizens we are not a healthy nation.

I believe in raising our top tax bracket to 48% for those who earn over $5 Million, and to 38% for those who earn over $1 Million; eliminating tax havens and loopholes for people to skirt paying taxes.

I believe in using that money to fix our failing public school systems, but actually busting the teachers union which I believe is one of the impediments to that. No child should be forced to deal with incompetent teachers because a union makes it impossible to fire them. I then believe in doubling, that’s right, doubling teacher pay. Not administrators; I believe they should be paid less than teachers. I want the compensation to match the responsibility and respect teachers should command in our society. The first step however is you have to eliminate the union that drags down and forces out competent teachers, and protects those who should not be teaching our children. I believe that administrators should have the ability and right to expel any student they deem, and has proven themselves dangerous and threatening to other students and teachers. Education is not a right of a populace but a privilege we are afforded to avail ourselves of, and that teacher safety and student learning outweigh an individuals right to disrupt it.

I believe that anyone earning less than $40,000 a year should pay no taxes as I believe that shelter, food, and health care are basic requirements in any healthy society and that amount of money covers that base level for a year. I believe in reversing the Bush Tax cuts so that capital gains taxes go back to 28% if the money is taken out of a company in less than 5 years, and 14% if over five years, as this will encourage long-term investing in companies you believe in, but for those who speculate they pay a penalty.

I believe in drastically shrinking our military as it is currently beyond bloated as it was setup for cold war or deterrence, not fighting a “concept” or “ideology.” Therefore I have no problem with the sequester that will kick in with automatic across the board 20% cuts top our military spending on January 1st. I believe in further reducing it by 10% and using that money to massively expand the Peace Corps in which my mother is currently serving. I believe the only way you fight an ideology is demonstrating the good will of your nation, and not bombing people into submission. All of that does is instill a hatred that manifests in more militants opposing our country and its ideals. As I grew up overseas in Europe, the Middle East and Far East I believe I have a much better handle on our foreign policy and what is needed than those put in charge of it who have a nascent understanding of inter-cultural differences.

I believe anyone should have the right to marry. As a person who is not married with a kid in an open relationship I do not know why anyone would WANT to get married, but they should at least have that choice.

I am against abortion, but believe it is not my choice to make a law against what someone else can do with their body, and believe it is a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights to do so… and am therefore very pro-choice.

I believe that Global Warming, aka Climate Change, aka Not-Sticking-our-Heads-in-the-Sand-to-Science, is being influenced by man, and that the overwhelming evidence suggest that it is. I believe investing in the economy to combat climate change is good business, and good moral ground to stand on. I support massively increasing the taxes on Oil companies to make gas so unaffordable that clean options become more viable. I believe in funding this investment off of the Oil and Gas companies. I believe Natural Gas is a sham and that the hydraulic-fracking fluids used to extract it are decimating our natural water supplies.

I believe in protecting our wildlife, our national parks, and our wilderness, as we have but one planet and it would be a real bummer to kill it.

That is what I believe is good for our nation, our populace, and ourselves.

Worshiping the Earth does honor to its Creator… whichever God that may be. It is neither an idol, nor a substitute to one, but truly a magnificent creation that we should protect, for we have been blessed with the tools to do so.

When I hear people quote the Bible, or Koran, or other holy scripture and indicate we do not have to worry because “God guaranteed” we would have springtime on earth always, I sigh, not out of judgement, but of the blind faith to words on paper; words, regardless as to whether they were divinely inspired, that were penned by man.

We are such a flawed vessel of linguistic translation and semantically inaccurate interpretation. For if you believe in God, could we possibly precisely capture a literal interpretation of what the Divine meant in our puny languages? How supremely arrogant of us to think so… And yet we not only do, but are willing to kill ourselves over our belief that we have.

Maybe, just maybe, whoever blessed us with the Earth provided us the intelligence to ensure it would survive us, and that we would use our “free-will” to ensure its continued health.

We are but children to be entrusted with something so precious… our own continued existence. It leaves us with an enormous responsibility. To use that free-will to make conscious and thoughtful choices; measured choices on how we honor the Earth, and not just use its resources for our comfort.

God, gods or no god, whichever it may be, does not care if we have comforts. Does not care if we adorn ourselves with jewels and gold; have a nice house and raise our children in the best schools. Does not care if we raise our children to hate others. Or that we preach to those who do not believe as we do. No, that is our own doing, and is not the best example of what we can do with that free-will.

That is what free-will is. It is ours. We can ignore the responsibility, duck the importance, and hide behind books that tell us everything will be ok. Or we can think and use it to look at our world objectively at what is happening. What we are doing to it.

We can kill each other, repeatedly, and it does not matter. For in some way there is hope that some future generation will learn what we do not. That history will not repeat itself, and that we can get off this merry-go-round of judgement, hate, love, and apathy. But to destroy the Earth? To make it so that all future hope is lost? It is the much greater crime.

I do believe, with all the humility I can muster, that Earth is more precious than man, if only because it is the foundation on which man plays out our arrogant farce. As such I would not care if we never had another leap of “progress” toward anything but it’s caring. Who cares about electricity, schools, homes, if we are but left with an empty shell that we have burned and scorched in our arrogance? Who cares which “book” is “right?”

For what good is life without purpose? Purpose is not about acquisition, or about proselytizing, or converting to one narrow view based in fear or words written on a page, it is about conscience. Conscience is that feeling we have inside of us, when all is quiet and right in the world, when we act out of kindness, not judgement. When we think, and use that free-will to act against hate and ignorance of all kinds. It is when we stand up, not to scream, but to whisper our thoughts out load.

I do not care for climate fear mongers, or right wing conspiracy theorists. I do not care what side of the debate you are on. But if there is even the thought of a chance that we could be doing irreparable harm. If there is even the slightest doubt that we are changing the climate. If there is even a hint of us doing any of this then you, we, must act to protect our Earth.

I do not care for the politicking and the fear and the sticking the head in the sand to science. I just want to love the Earth for it has given me everything I am, if only via the proxy of a Creator. I do not care, but I hope. It is an absolutely amazing piece of work. A beautiful blue marble in the emptiness, and we should cherish it.

I VOTE today for the Earth. Will you join me?

I have seen the future, and it is infographics… shiny, shiny, happy, rainbow-colored, icon-encrusted, seizure-inducing infographics. In an age where everything is interactive, they seem an old-school, static, ever-scrolling throwback to an earlier time.

And yet, uniquely suited to our brains. Although we are entertained by interaction, we seem unable to absorb the deluge of information the Internet provides without containment; we need, nay, we crave the order and simplicity that an infographic provides.

To make an infographic, it requires a human to sort through the cornucopia of available information and elucidate the salient points. It requires omitting that which is irrelevant in order to ensure effective communication.

I have a son who was born August 18, and the sheer number of obnoxious clicks of the shutter of my “baby tv” had me thinking about what photo apps are best suited for which tasks… and so I embarked on creating an infographic about photo-sharing apps. I use Instagram when I am out with friends, SeeMail (a company to whom I am an advisor) when taking pictures of my baby and sharing them with family and Camera+ when I was recently out trying to take a picture of the space shuttle flying over the Golden Gate Bridge. I sought to see what other need-states other people would have for using these three photo-sharing apps.

I already curate a board on Pinterest on Digital Marketing Infographics, so I decided I would crowd-source a comparison of the three photo-sharing apps I use the most and make my own infographic. I wanted “need-states of consumers when using photo-apps.” People contributed what tasks they used each of the apps for, and where each of the apps for them rated.

I expected photo-journalism, sports photography, or even the best app to take a picture of your junk would be on the list, but, alas, I completely forgot how much people enjoy taking pictures of their cats. The devolution of society is now complete… with LOLcats, for which all photo-apps should apologize for enabling.

Through this process I learned four steps to creating an effective infographic:

  1. Position a product with other products in the same category. This creates something for each product to “push” against in the comparison.
  2. Frame the discussion for what will be compared. In my case, “use-cases” for the product. But it could as easily be “features” or “time-saved” at particular tasks. The framework will usually elevate out of real world use of the product. This is what is the emotional connection of people to a product.
  3. Gather the data for the framework. I crowd-sourced the data, but often the data is readily available in charts of features or you can run a focus group. If a product sucks, this is where it will show up. A combination of quantitative (numbers and stats,) and qualitative (how people feel about it) is most effective.
  4. Present the data in a format that is visually compelling, yet simple to understand, and communicates the framework you established.

I present to you… Which Photo-Sharing App Should You Use When?

[Click on Graphic for Full Size]

When pitching business remember that we are inherently storytellers. Connecting to the emotional is imperative. We do not tolerate Powerpoint presentations, and we have inherent ADD when being sold to. Tell a story, and captivate them in the first 60 seconds.

I’ve lost count of how many pitches I have done in my career as a creative in advertising, but my track record when appealing to the emotional aspects was probably over 90%, and when saddled with an ungodly Powerpoint deck closer to 20%.

All the technology details of the “how it will be done,” can be worked out later. As long as you know you can do it, ignore talking about it. If they are interested they’ll call you back and you can explain it all later.

“If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And here I make a rule – a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last” – John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Tell them… no show them and have them FEEL why you are the right choice. All the other stuff is just superfluous.

Why is your “viral video” just sitting there languishing in obscurity? You had such high hopes for it. But there it sits, gathering dust on YouTube like the kid who threw a birthday party and no one showed up. It’s not viral, it’s just a video, and that is an important distinction. So repeat after me: You cannot create a viral video. You can only create a video that Read the rest of this entry »

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  • The Nexus 7 Tablet Will Fail July 2, 2012
    I have asked myself why, with the greatest collective brain trust at a single company, Google continues to fail to develop anything new that drives revenue? And why do they have to give away products for free (Gmail), deeply discount them (Nexus 7), or fund them at a loss (YouTube) to buy goodwill. Fail?! How could I say that? Google is by far one of the mos […]
  • Social Media Is to Social Discovery, Like Porn Is to... June 7, 2012
    ...Well, good porn, I guess. The Glimpse Social Discovery Conference in San Francisco brought together an all day fest of experts in the Social Discovery space. Social Discovery is the new black, I guess, and that black is a better, one-more, one-louder version of social media; for it takes into account the core emotional benefit of Social, and that is […]
  • The Mobile Signature: 'Please excsue typoo's' May 9, 2012
    NOTE This is an iPhone email. The iPhone keyboard is, to say the least, persnickety. Since I have neither the thumbs of a newborn, nor the texting prowess of a 13-year-old, please excuse the occasional spelling mistake. And so reads my iPhone signature line. Why should this offend anyone? And what harm is it alerting someone of this possibility? Ah, therein […]

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    You send out your resume again and again, but no one responds. It's almost like potential employers are silently mocking you. Here's why they won't give you the time of day.

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    There are those other companies that have a unique something that has so much promise for reaching consumers in unique and new ways that are breakthrough, I am salivating at the prospect of using them.
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    #adtechsf Imagine that like the Post Office closing on Saturdays, that the Internet shut down for 15% of its ad targeting opportunities a week? Offline competition for advertising is going down, and it will continue to do so.

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