Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vinyl Lust Changes Record Sales

Cultural Consumer Hot Trend:
In the 1980's, nagging could be silenced by, "Hey, you sound like a broken record." It may be an antiquated diss, but for the record, vinyl sales are up a record 80%. A rising class of audiophiles devoted to the warmer, richer sound of vinyl are a growing force. Once seen as a micro-niche served by dusty little indie shops, now they are a target for mainstream big boxes. Best Buy has just announced a pilot program to return vinyl albums to some of its stores this summer. And last week, EMI announced it would reissue a whole slate of albums on vinyl starting Aug. 19

photo courtesy of Focus/Chicago

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Are You Happy?

Is happiness the newest measure of success? Meet Adrian White, a social psychologist from the UK. White analysed data published by UNESCO, the CIA, the New Economics Foundation, and other sources to create a global projection of subjective well-being: the first world map of happiness.

The meta-analysis is based on the findings of over 100 different studies involving 80,000 people worldwide. For this study, data has also been analysed in relation to three biggies: health, wealth and access to education.

There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people. Maybe not. When people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good health care, a higher GDP per capita, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy.

"We were surprised to see countries in Asia scoring so low, with China 82nd, Japan 90th and India 125th. These are countries that are thought as having a strong sense of collective identity which other researchers have associated with well-being.

"It is also notable that many of the largest countries in terms of population do quite badly. With China 82nd, India 125th and Russia 167th it is interesting to note that larger populations are not associated with happy countries."

So, who's happy now?
The 20 happiest nations in the World are:
1. Denmark

2. Switzerland
3. Austria
4. Iceland
5. The Bahamas
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Bhutan 9.
Brunei 10.
Canada 11.
Ireland 12.
13. Costa Rica
14. Malta
15. The Netherlands

Other notable results include:
23. USA

35. Germany
41. UK
62. France
82. China
90. Japan
125. India
167. Russia

The three least happy countries were:
176. Democratic Republic of the Congo 177. Zimbabwe 178. Burundi

Source: Science Daily

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Worst of Times The Best of Times for Creatives?

The trouble with making a living in marketing is that it can be pretty tough to conjure a meaningful existence during shadowy economic times like these. How much hair gel can we sell to resurrect the dollar? Can a new breakfast cereal prop up Wall Street? Can a five-blade razor restore our faith in the future? Probably not. Yet, creatives love what they do. And I’ll venture reasons why: we are creative—meaning that they are driven to do original work and they like helping clients succeed. It is these two impulses that will give marketing new relevance over the next decade as our culture dies and is reborn.

Our unraveling economy is part of a deeper cultural metamorphosis. From the restructuring of home values to the reorganization of mass communications, we are witnessing the disruption that occurs when the dominant civilization loses its relevance and another rises to replace it. We are moving away from a civilization defined by its destructive powers, writ large by the military industrial complex, and toward one defined by its creative powers, facilitated by the Internet. We are becoming a renaissance generation—RenGen, a generation that is smart, self-expressive, idealistic and cynical all at once.

How do we create meaningful campaigns when so much is up for grabs?

There types of brands will hold appeal in these times:

Idea brands
Idea brands, like Apple, use magical thinking to appeal to consumer intellects. Many of you will balk at this. Because you know that emotions sell products. But the RenGen uses the mind to conjure feelings of emotional well being. In the same way that physical exercise gives us a high, scientists have discovered that a stimulated mind triggers a similar sense of happiness.

Compassion brands
As uncertainty grows to the point where people feel personally threatened, they’ll seek comfort. This goes beyond warm and fuzzy. Compassion brands deliver love, kindness and even a little catharsis. Kleenex could have capitalized on the anxiety of the cold and flu season, but opted instead for the brilliant “Let It Out” campaign that crosses gender, class and age demographics, inviting people to cry their hearts out.

Anxiety brands
People are fearful. It is possible in such an environment to win by offering a sense of protection or an anchor to which people can cling. But anxiety brands can backfire. Note the reaction to John McCain is an anxiety brand. Barack Obama is an idea brand. A wise marketer will infuse a little compassion or magical thinking into the anxiety messaging or else the consumer will become overwhelmed with negativity and shut down. FedEx is a good example of an anxiety brand that infuses its service-ethic with compassion saying, “We are in the peace of mind business.”

As you read this, please keep one thing in mind: our worldwide situation gives us all the chance to reinvent who we are and what we do. We can be more honest. We can stop grinding out the same exaggerated spin aimed at a psychographic that no longer exists. In the RenGen, there is no safe passage for brands that are willing to insult the intelligence of consumers who are awake, increasingly expressive, inner-directed human beings.

RenGenners are aware, for instance, that the environment and our survival in it are interconnected in perilous ways. They are aware that the misguided foreign policy of one country can fuel terrorism in another. They are aware that world financial markets are linked and interdependent in ways they never have been before. This may feel like a point of crisis. But in fact, it looks a lot like what happens right before a renaissance and marketers can play a critical role in ushering in the RenGen.

In these times a creative industry can shine. Our talent is for helping create a context for people. We put them in touch with their aspirations. We inspire, we motivate, we sooth. We are needed now more than ever.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Branded Empire: Obama the Olympic Sponsor

It's a done deal. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama is the first candidate to purchase a major Olympic package. His campaign will be among the TV sponsors of NBC Universal's Olympics coverage. Obama's campaign bought a $5 million package of Olympics spots that includes network TV as well as cable ads.

Source: Advertising Age
Photo of Obama created out of flags thanks to Tvevis at Flickr

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Home Grown

For over a decade, "eat local" has been the mantra of enlightened consumers. Now it's gone mass. Because specialization always follows expansion, the high-end chic for organic vegetables is now "home grown." It's even made the front page of the New York Times. Yes indeed, a cultivated garden is the new Mercedes. The stroll out back to pull your dinner from the dirt is the new trip to Barbados.

I gave up my vegetable garden three years ago. My head bowed, I threw in the trowel. Who was I kidding? I had no time to garden. To compensate, I became a fan of farmer's markets. But the fuel crisis has sucked the virtue out of them. Farmers have to travel a distance to market. Many have to choose between sacrificing their margins or staying home. Many stay home.

Our newest Culture Scout, Karen Hanrahan, had the passion and follow through to plant a modest garden this year. Welcome, Karen. I admit it. Your tomatoes make me green with envy.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Coke Sponsorship Drenches Beijing in Red

Coca-Cola is painting the town red. Beijing that is. Coke is spending an estimated $70 million to $75 million to be a four-year Olympic sponsor and $5 million to $15 million to be one of three sponsors of the torch run. Additionally, they'll pop for three to four times more on Olympic advertising to promote their tie to the Olympics.

Coke is working to embed its brand into Chinese culture. It has kicked off a campaign called "Year of the Shuang," a Chinese word the company translates as a "physical and emotional state of refreshment." Extensive outdoor advertising including kiosks, logos on cafe furniture, directional signage, and artwork by Chinese artists for posters and Coke cans it commissioned proves the beverage giant is covering all its bases.
Coke's Internet strategy allows people to pass "virtual Olympic torches" through instant messaging. At least 58 million people have so far received the virtual torches.

Besides ubiquitous outdoor advertising, Coke will run three “centers.” The 40,000-square-foot Shuang Experience Center on the Olympic Green is essentially a museum dedicated to Coca-Cola. It features a gallery about Coke's history, a theater showing a film about Coke's sponsorship of the Olympic torch relay, a section on Coke's charitable activities and a "perfect serve" bar where visitors will receive a perfectly chilled bottle of Coke.

To liquidate a portion of its sponsorship expense on the Games, Coke expects to sell about 26 million beverages sold through concession stands. It will host 10,000 VIP guests, about 8,000 to 9,000 from China. Coke also expects about 250,000 people to pass through the Shuang Experience Center.
Air quality issues and Dream for Darfur protests aside, let's hope things will go better with Coke.
Photo courtesy of Sinosplice

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Rituals and Resilience

What makes us resilient? I'm starting to pay attention to customs and rituals that leave people feeling more resilient. Tapping into resilience can help a brand forge a deep emotional bond in these transitional times.

I've started asking people what they do to strengthen their capacity to ride the roller coaster of these times. I'm hearing answers like these:

1. I walk barefoot on the beach as often as I can

2. I jog through the woods every morning

3. I meditate

4. I get a massage weekly

5. I read 3 books to my kids every night

Even more elaborate are ritual baths, group meditation clubs, prayer circles, routine pot luck dinners I'm hearing about. I am gathering more and more stories that about how rituals create resilience.

With gas prices sky high, the dollar weak, the future uncertain, consumers will look for new ways to build community, shop, and find solace. They need emotional support. Rituals play a role. I want to find out which ones are the most rewarding in uncertain times. If marketers can play a role in supporting their customers with meaningful rituals, they provide a serivce that runs deep.
Many of the tactics for creating emotional bonds in the marketers tool box are linked to aspiration. But consumers have stopped associating what they buy with the achievement of status. In the RenGen conspicuous consumption is just plain gross.

Any one out there witnessing the emergence of rituals, or the resurgence of traditional rituals? Shoot me a line. Tell me what you are seeing.

photo courtesy of PrAsGaM

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Starbucks Smooths Out

Starbucks' recent move to feature healthful smoothies is a good bet. So, when Matt Andrejczak from MarketWatch called to discuss it, it gave me a chance to re-consider the idea of "meal replacement."

A few years a ago, my firm worked with a candy maker on a yogurt confection infused with vitamins and nutrients. The product was a response to the obesity crisis. Our job was to help bring it to market. We considered a meal replacement strategy. Harried consumers will grab a semi-healthful, filling item to replace the meal they didn't have time to sit down for. If the item is filling enough, and healthy enough, a consumer will pay more for it because, hey, it replaces lunch.

The last few weeks, I've changed my mid-day routine. Gym, shower, then to the local coffee bar for a blueberry protein smoothie. I skip lunch. I am not alone. Other men and women drop by, and local teen athletes have discovered them, since the athletic field is a block away.

After Matt and I spoke, I went back the next day and asked the proprietor if people were buying smoothies and sandwiches, or salads. Sometimes, she said. Mostly young fathers with kids who use the smoothies to appease the tots while their sandwiches are prepped.

Breakfast sammies didn't thrill Starbucks customers. Smoothies are a better bet. It's a meal in a cup. And that's worth making a second trip to Starbucks for later in the day.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Obama Eyes a NASCAR Deal

Sports Illustrated's website posted a blurb about the Obama campaign considering a NASCAR deal. Obama has built his brand on earnest smarts. So it makes you wonder how his brand finds value in a NASCAR deal.
Consider the downside:
1. Gigantic carbon footprint. NASCAR vehicles get on average 5 MPG. Average race is 500 miles. That's a lot of fuel to drive in circles.

2. Brand confusion. Obama's advisors may think this reaches out to a working class constituency, but it's also a heavily Republican segment. The driver Obama is considering, Ken Schrader, leans right...far right. In fact Schrader and his wife are Bush supporters, having made donations of $1,000 and up in the last election.

3. Not Made in America. Schrader drives a Toyota. Although Toyota has had operations and created jobs in America for two decades, still, the rank-and-file in auto unions see it as a foreign brand, as do many Americans.

Okay, so help me out here. What does Obama get out of this deal but a lot of confusion and potential heart burn? Couldn't he get something more American, more wholesome from sponsoring Major League Baseball?

What's his upside?

Well, I guess he gets to look like every other guy who gets snookered by NASCAR. Paying too much for too little and buying into the smoke-and-mirrors demographics that simply don't exist. Yep, Obama can finally shed his arrogant veneer and appear as unimaginitive as everyother NASCAR sponsor.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why Some People Succeed Where Others Fail

Yes...yes, yes, yes. I had a meeting yesterday to present an entirely new, untried concept to a potential collaborator. He listened. Asked a handful of tough questions. Voiced his reservations. Requested specific follow up and then he said the magic words: "Yes, I want to pursue this further."

I approached him in the first place because he is very accomplished. He has led his economic development organization with an intense ambition that has helped him make his mark at a young age. By all accounts, he is successful.

I get asked often to describe what it takes to succeed in these tough, transitional times leading up to the renaissance. While there is no singular recipe for success, despite the volumes of self-help books that try to tell us otherwise, there is a spirit we can adopt that will move us ahead in these times. Say "yes" more often than "no."

At Second City there is a rule: never say "no." It sucks the oxygen out of the room. No kills. Always go with the flow, but cover your ass by replying, "yes, and...." Tack on any questions or additional ideas. Build upon it. Set boundaries following the "and." But it's all in the spirit of creating possibility.

It's Friday....I'm saying "yes, and" to some fun this summer weekend. You?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reading Tom Peters's blog this morning put me in mind of Starbucks. Peters talks about companies that put a premium on learning and treat customers like people. Sounds like Starbucks.

A few years ago, I visited Starbucks HQ in Seattle as part of my research for my book. I was struck by the energy of its people and the compassion they exuded for their baristas and their customers. The sentiments expressed by management felt real, not programmed. I remember thinking that this is a company that sees people as whole human beings.
Starbucks has fallen on tough times. Haven't we all? But unlike many leaders in business, Howard Schultz has accomplished a rare feat that will sustain his brand over the these tough, transitional times.

People will root for Starbucks.

Steve Jobs achieved something similar with Apple. But Apple sells larger ticket items. The bigger the ticket, the deeper the purchase consideration, the more you can tap into identity and loyalty. Mass market products have a harder time with this. That is what is so remarkable about Starbucks' achievement.

Starbucks identified early with the cultural consumer. Okay, so they mis-stepped by trying to sell them CDs. No biggie. Why? Because Starbucks built a brand that is a friend, not a father. We forgive our friends their mistakes, especially when they confess them as openly as Schultz has done. And because Starbucks believed very early that the average Joe in America is not below average, and therefore deserves a premium cup of Joe served with heart, it won us over. Starbucks built a brand based on respect for the consumer as a human being--not a target. And they reflected this persistently in their service, products and policies.

I'll drink to that!
Photo courtesy of Umsizzle

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Consumers Will Pay a Premium for Privacy

Consumers are willing to pay extra to buy items from online retailers when they can easily ascertain how retailers' policies will protect their privacy, shows a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University.

In a report released on June 6, 2008, participants in the laboratory study used a Carnegie Mellon shopping search engine called Privacy Finder,, that can automatically evaluate a Web site's privacy policies and display the results on the search results page. The study, led by Lorrie Cranor, director of the Carnegie Mellon Usable Privacy and Security (CUPS) Lab, found that people were more likely to buy from online merchants with good privacy policies, which were identified by Privacy Finder. They were also willing to pay about 60 cents extra on a $15 purchase when buying from a site with a privacy policy they liked.

The study is the first to suggest that people will pay a premium to protect their privacy when shopping online. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Google has begun linking it's privacy policy right off the home page.

Monday, July 7, 2008

BlogHer Announces Sponsor Line Up for 08 Conference

BlogHer's annual conference announced its list of premium sponsors for its 2008 blog conference., one of the top women's online networks and the Web's number-one guide to blogs by women, draws more than 1,000 bloggers to its annual event, to be held in San Francisco later this month.

BlogHer 2008 sponsorship efforts include four key programs: going green with GM, a blow-out closing party at Macy's, co-sponsored childcare service for attending mothers and a parallel conference in Second Life. The full sponsorship list for the three-day conference tops more than 40 well-known brands looking to engage with the Web's most powerful consumers. This assumes reasonable price-points for sponsors looking to dip their toes into blogwater, but also raises the question of too much clutter?

GM returns as the platinum sponsor for its third year in a row to support BlogHer in going green by sponsoring the conference's Green Guide for attendees. GM is offering a carpool program that will provide bloggers driving to the conference with hybrid vehicles for their travels as well as pay for the first tank of gas. Continuing the green theme, Michelin is calculating and offsetting the conference's carbon emissions, Zwaggle is providing a recycling center for schwag and other conference materials and Waste Management will feature its new green Web site

The closing party on Saturday, July 19 will be led by premium sponsor Macy's who will host a private party throughout its flagship store in Union Square with other brands sponsoring specific departments. Brand stations include:

--K-Y Brand is hosting a party station in the lingerie department, offering discounts and product demonstrations.

--BlogHer is conducting signings of its inaugural book Sleep is For the Weak in Macy's furniture department. The book, a mommyblogging anthology, features a foreword by Redbook Editor-in-Chief and BlogHer keynote Stacy Morrison, and essays from some of the most talented mommybloggers in the blogosphere.
--Catering to its diverse community of women, BlogHer will also be offering childcare services for women bringing their children to the event with co-sponsors PBS Kids, and LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. And in true BlogHer fashion, the conference will once again be held in Second Life for those unable to attend the event in-person, thanks to sponsors CNN's iReport and
The three-day conference, held at the Westin St. Francis in downtown San Francisco, will feature technical labs, educational workshops, immersive discussion sessions, premium sponsors, keynote speakers and a number of opportunities to network and socialize with bloggers, brands and media executives. Additional sponsor programs include:
-- Gold sponsor iRobot, is sponsoring an Internet Cafe and Bookstore, in which it will demonstrate the latest Roomba robot products.
-- Gold sponsor John Wiley & Sons, Inc., is publishing a special edition BlogHer Heroes book for conference attendees.
-- Microsoft is sponsoring an "Ask an Expert" breakfast for technology advice.
-- BOCA is sponsoring a morning yoga class for interested attendees.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Carfi
SOURCE: BlogHer, Inc.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Information Privacy and The High Cost of Free

This week, we staged a thought-leader event on the topic of Information Privacy at the American Library Association's annual conference. (Full disclosure) Dan Roth from Wired, Beth Givens from Privacy Clearing House and author/blogger Cory Doctorow took on the issue that every one said was dead. That is, does information privacy matter any more? Or have we become so addicted to free access, free information, and free content--that we are blind to the social costs of life in a completely unregulated information society?

Jenny Levine, Jessamyn West and Kate Sheehan were on hand to live blog and pose questions on behalf of their readers.

Panelist remarks that provoked a lot of
Tweets, hallway chats, and blog posts included:

Dan Roth took the business angle. He talked about how hard it is to get his fellow journalists to care about information privacy. Roth exposed the superficiality of Chief Privacy Officers. When companies were asked what they do with the private information, privacy officers said they didn’t share any of it. But talk to the people in marketing and 80% of the marketers said they share it. A whopping 30% of marketers said they share user social security numbers.

Hello? Anybody nervous about this?

Beth Givens chided industry leaders like Scott McNeely for flushing people's privacy rights with geek-machismo remarks (my qualifier, not hers) such as, "There is no such thing as privacy, get over it." Givens suggested that these attitudes reflect the brash capitalism of the information pioneers. It reminded me of the remarks Henry Ford made in the early days of the automobile industry's rise. Perfect segue to Cory Doctorow.

Cory Doctorow, author of the bestselling YA novel, Little Brother, is a force of nature. He stepped to the mic sans notes and unleashed an eloquent storm of arguments for why we need privacy regulations now, and how business is likely to resist. Drawing an analogy to the auto industry, Doctorow reminded people that Detroit argued that people would never want their freedom to be hampered by seat belts. Car makers insisted people didn't want seat belts and wouldn't use them. As for safety glass windshields, car makers cried foul--safety glass would make cars too expensive. Consumers demand low-cost vehicles, they argued.

It's true. Consumers like freedom, convenience and most anything that's free. The Internet has delivered all of that. But the price is that we've lost all control of who knows what about us. A few key strokes can make us a prospect over at Doubleclick or a suspect over at Homeland Securities.
Doctorow's larger point is pivotal. That information industry leaders who insist that no one cares about privacy, keep the information society in a dark age. “You can lay the blame at the feet of the people who’ve established norms where we give up information,” adding that “the systems we build will determine the societies we build,” Doctorow said.

It's time we as marketers gave a little thought to this. Imagine the uses for the Internet that will go untapped if we don't establish some privacy boundaries. What if, for instance, the Web where secure enough so that people could vote online?

This is not a matter of having to give up the luxuries we love about the Internet, like being able to shop in our pajamas. As Doctorow remarked, "Privacy needn't be a hairshirt." It's a matter of waking up to the reality that without any sense of privacy or baseline protections for things like your social security number, we are not more empowered.

Consider that while traditional marketers from CPG and durable goods categories are struggling to manage the newly "empowered and opinionated" consumer, companies like Google, Facebook and ISP's are enjoying the profits of different side of the same consumer--the supplicant who willingly hands over all that can be known about them in exchange for some free technology. In this compact, we compliantly surrender our rights to be curious, discover new things and express ourselves, free from surveillance.

Long term, this business model based on intellectual profiling is dubious, because it erodes trust between the user and institutions, that includes companies. Enlightened marketers will see the fragility of an online business model premised on exploitation of user information and will set and display real standards on their sites. They will seek to become the user's friend, not Big Brother.

The debate is heating up. In the meantime, our search habits create marketable intellectual profiles over time. Forever archived. These profiles can be compiled handily by employers, creditors, law enforcement, and even potential lovers.

As Dan Roth said, "What you give up at 17 can make you un-datable at 27."

Photo courtesy of Shoseph at Flickr

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Selling Sponsorship in July

July is crunch month in the sponsorship business. Most marketers are hustling to complete their planning. Upfront media buys have already occurred, and now there are residual dollars for some sponsorship buys for those stand-alone deals that are not already bundled with media packages. Here’s how to go after what’s left:

Go where you are known and loved. Make appointments with existing sponsors or immediate past sponsors. Success breeds success, so even if your event or cause-related program just wrapped up and you’re exhausted—get back to sponsors in July if you hope to land renewals for next year. Now is the time to present your final report with ROI metrics and invite the renewal.

Get close to sponsors. Selling is a contact sport. July is a good month to do alfresco lunches. Push your Board for invitations to social events and golf tournaments. For some of you this may feel like foreign territory. Seriously, you can skip the 18 holes and show up at the clubhouse and still make the connections you need. Or, host your own “friend raising” BBQ and invite prospects and happy sponsors and have them mingle.

Stay focused. Choose a business sector and work it. Financial services, automotive, telecom, whatever--by focusing your effort you’ll be learning from every call you make and building expertise in that sector that will pay off. When you can understand the issues and follow the news in just one sector, you radiate both competence and compassion for the buyer.

July is the last hurrah before most sponsors submit their final plans and budgets and head for the beach. Set aside all your other tasks. Forget the long-range planning. Dig in and start dialing. There are dollars to be had before the dog days of August.