Sunday, December 27, 2009

Maybe It's Time For Ad Age To Change Its Name?

I logged onto for my weekly perusal and couldn't help but notice that there are basically only two types of stories on the home page.

One group of headlines focuses on the dire state of the advertising business as we bring down the curtain on the first decade of the millennium:

"Ad Spending Heads Into Tepid Recovery"
"2009 Set to Show First Revenue Decline for Nation's Top 100 Media Cos."
"More Firing Than Hiring at Ad Agencies"

The other is about everything in which the advertising business dabbles, beyond the making of ads, themselves:

"Five Best Branded-Entertainment Deals of 2009"
"Branded Virtual Goods are Presents for Marketers, Too"
"Five Keys to Branded-Entertainment Success"
"Twitter at a Crossroads: Audience Growth Won't Be Enough in 2010"
"Want to Innovate? Then Create a Rich, Holistic Brand Experience"
"Ad Age Launches Mobile App for iPhone, iPod Touch"
"GMC Partners With Social Network as More Marketers Target Christian Demo"
"Looking For a Second Career? Consider Being a Community Manager"

What does this tell me?

That what was once the future is now the present: Digital. Social Media. Brand placement. Brand experiences.

Advertising as we knew it is over. It sure was fun while it lasted.

And while old ad guys like me might shed a tear or two as the thirty second commercial goes the way of the Giant Panda, we should also keep our eyes on the bigger picture:

It's really not an end, but a new beginning. A whole new world of technology, insights and the myriad opportunities that come with both.

The king is dead.

Long live the king.

– Mark

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Logo? Or Loco?

Last month, after the FDA held its hearings on establishing guidelines for social media for pharma, I wrote a piece somewhat supportive of phARMA's suggestion that the industry establish an FDA "seal of approval"- type logo.

Since then, I've had numerous conversations on the subject with many very smart people who are either directly or closely involved in the FDA discussion and am starting to get more of a handle on how such a solution could possibly work.

As Dan Solomon, CEO of Virilion (the "V" in our new joint venture, EV Healthcare) points out, the electronics industry has long been policing itself for safety standards through the auspices of the independent product safety certification organization, Underwriter Laboratories.

Since the early 1900s, the "UL" logo has appeared on everything from fire extinguishers to washers and dryers, to show consumers that the products on which it is stamped have been proven to be in accordance with Underwriters Laboratories' strict safety standards.

According to the UL's own website, "The UL Mark on a product means that UL has tested and evaluated representative samples of that product and determined that they meet UL requirements. Under a variety of programs products are periodically checked by UL at the manufacturing facility to make sure they continue to meet UL requirements."

In turn, UL testing has to meet the standards set by the federal government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

So if the electronics industry, which bears the responsibility of preventing countless injuries and deaths of consumers by electrical shock and fire, can police itself this way, is it such a stretch to ask the pharma industry to do the same?

Couldn't pharma, in conjunction with the FDA, come to an agreement on what the standards of responsible marketing should be, and then create its own FDA-authorized governing body to uphold them?

And couldn't every piece of pharma-created marketing material – both online and off – proudly wear a seal of approval, stating that it meets the highest standards, and that the FDA is more than welcome to come kick the tires?

Just a thought.

– Mark

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sending Out an SOS to the World

This is an update to a post I wrote on September 26 about SingSOS! (sing Songs of the Spectrum), the incredibly caring and committed group whose members have been spending every waking hour of the week – month after month – for a couple of years now – putting out an album of songs they've written about the experience of living with a child (or being a child) on the autism spectrum. (Along with a specially selected treasury of must reading for anyone interested in this growing issue.)

Well, the songs have all been recorded by a fantastic roster of well-known and emerging artists, including Jackson Browne and Valerie Carter, Dar Williams, Ollabelle, Richard Julian, Teddy Geiger, Marshall Crenshaw, Jonatha Brooke and many more.

It sounds terrific, and looks terrific, too. Thanks to the many submissions received from some very talented artists with autism who vied to have their works chosen for the CD's cover, which has been designed by former Atlantic Records creative director Liz Barrett.

Now here's the real news: the SingSOS! site is now up and running. You can listen to and read about the songs, look at photos of the artists, click links to other informative sites, and most importantly, purchase the music –in your choice of digital download or physical CD package.

But you get to choose more than just how to receive the music. You can also choose which leading autism group gets your donation. All the major groups are represented in a drop down menu as you make your purchase. If your favorite group isn't there, there's a box in which you can suggest one to be added later. There's also a form for groups themselves to apply.

Ninety percent of all proceeds will go to these groups. All SingSOS! asks of them is that they promote the CD among their memberships. (The remaining ten percent goes to production costs and a war chest for another push in April, which is Autism Awareness Month.)

Great music and great information. All put together by people who really care about this growing issue.

Please buy the album. Or at the very least, spread the word.

Let's help these folks put out a much needed SOS.


– Mark

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

What We Were Hearing About the Hearings

On the 12th and 13th of last week, the FDA held its hearings on establishing guidelines for social media for pharma.

Or, as it was officially titled, the much catchier, "Promotion of Food and Drug Administration - Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools."

As expected, it was a big event for the industry, with over 800 people trying to register online for the 300 available seats and everyone and their mother offering opinions across the Twittersphere.

Ironically, though, nobody could tweet directly from the hearings themselves. There was no WiFi available in the room where they were being held.

The big news the first day seemed to be phARMA's recommendation of a "Seal of Approval"-type logo that would go on all social sites that meet the FDA’s guidelines for fair balance, non-promotion of off-label uses, reporting of adverse effects, etc. A very smart and extremely simple opening salvo by the industry.

Of course, to back this idea up, every pharma company would have to actively moderate every discussion and respond quickly and forcefully in the event of an off-label suggestion or the mention of adverse effects. It's where things are going any way. Might as well grab the bull by the horns.

From what I picked up, the second day of the hearings seemed to be a little more confrontational and less kindly towards the industry's point of view.

Considering all the data that shows how much people depend on the Web for their healthcare information, you'd think the FDA would want itself and pharma to all be on the same page when it comes to helping people make smart, educated decisions on what could literally be matters of life and death.

At least the discussion has begun.

– Mark

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ashton, Ellen and the Nation of Facebook

Perhaps you've already seen the terrific video for Erik Qualman's book "Socialnomics." If not, you should. It cites some truly mind-boggling data (all verified) to prove that social media is revolutionizing the way we communicate, thus providing a powerful new channel for marketers to engage customers in a more conversational and efficient way. It's a terrific tool for anyone who wants to spread the word about the incredible potential of this still evolving medium.

And fortunately for you, oh lucky reader, I've not only attached the video (below), but also cherry-picked and commented on some of my favorite examples for those of you with ADHD:

• With its current population of more than 300 million, the nation of Facebook would be the fourth-largest in the world (right behind the U.S.A.). I'm guessing it would also be the most opinionated nation in the world.

• Social media has overtaken pornography as the most popular activity on the Internet. In other words, more and more users are replacing one form of online intercourse with another.

• One out of every eight couples who married in the U.S. last year met through social media. No data yet on how many of those couples are straying through social media.

• Between them, Ashton Kutcher and Ellen Degeneres have more Twitter followers than the population of Ireland, Norway, or Panama. Imagine if Ashton and Ellen airlifted this army into Tora Bora.

• The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year-old females. Go Cougars!

There are many more such eye-opening facts in the video, presented in a graphically simple, yet exciting way. It should be seen by every prospective client. More importantly, it should be circulated internally at every client's headquarters, where those who propose new thinking often have a steep hill to climb.

– Mark

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Your Mark. Get Set. Get Set. Get Set…

While the real fun won’t begin until the FDA holds its public hearings on digital and social media guidelines November 12 and 13, you can almost feel the mix of apprehension and hope coming from pharmaceutical companies and agencies, alike.

At Extrovertic, we lean more towards the hope side.

Much like a dog that depends on his invisible fence collar to give him an audible warning beep before shocking the hell out of him, the pharmaceutical industry will ultimately find comfort in having clearly defined boundaries within which it can safely operate.

My partner Dorothy Wetzel likes to remind people that before the original DTC guidelines were established in 1997, it was perfectly legal for pharmaceutical companies to advertise on television. But they didn't, out of fear that they wouldn't handle the risk/side effect information to the FDA's liking, creating a messy and costly situation for themselves.

Unfortunately, the process will take some time. Comment letters will continue to be accepted through February 2010, after which it will take up to a year to publish draft guidelines, accept more comments from the public, and then publish final guidelines. This means it probably won’t be until 2011 the FDA sets its new rules in place. But it will be well worth the wait.

"The guidelines will provide some clarity around what pharmaceutical companies can and cannot do," says Dorothy. "Everyone is being cautious right now."

What companies should do in the meantime, is use this time productively. They should start building some simple pilot programs into their marketing mix, so they’ll have a healthy head start on those still waiting for the guidelines.

By limiting these programs to small markets and simple tactics, they can mitigate the risk yet reap the rewards of success. Not to mention all the learning garnered along the way.

They should also start educating – and yes, socializing – everyone within the company about social media. Suggest that everyone from the mailroom to the C-suite get familiar with Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr and blogging. Have them open their own accounts if they can.

While some may look to the guidelines negatively, as interfering with their business, those who think ahead will see it as a great opportunity and look to maximize its potential as soon as today.

– Mark

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sometimes the Way To People's Hearts is Through Their Ears

John O'Neil is a writer and editor at the New York Times. He's also the wonderful father of a wonderful son, James, who was born on the autism spectrum.

John's natural instinct to share his experience with the greater community resulted in a profile of James in the Times which earned him a Pulitzer nomination.

Later, he began scribbling poems about living in a household with autism on the train on the way to work. He emailed a few to Jon Fried, the father of his oldest boy’s best friend, and co-leader (with his wife, Deena Shoshkes) of the band, The Cucumbers, who set the words to music.

Over the next two years, the group was prolific, writing song after song, representing many aspects of the disorder and the challenges families face, expressed in as many musical moods. John’s son Chris, even added his own lyrics, articulating the fears and feelings of a sibling of a child with autism.

With nearly two dozen songs written, John and Jon sought out popular recording artists who would not only only bring their music to life but also inspire interest in the project, which they called SingSOS (Songs of the Spectrum). Those who graciously answered the call were Jackson Browne with Valerie Carter (both shown above), Dar Williams, Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Geiger, Jonatha Brooke, Richard Julian, Dan Bern with Mike Viola, Don Dixon with Marti Jones, Ollabelle, Christina Courtin, Ari Hest, Kelly Flint and, of course, The Cucumbers.

Funds were raised largely through concerts in people's homes on both coasts, where Jon and Deena performed the songs and John explained the genesis of the project.

SingSOS's message is striking a chord amongst both performers and listeners alike.

Dr. Ami Klin, Director of Research at the Yale Child Study Center, joined the SingSOS board after an in-home concert in New Haven, Connecticut. After one in L.A., Dr. Daniel Siegel, an author and psychiatrist at UCLA, offered to arrange for the group to present the material at the 2007 conference of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in Boston.

"Thank you,’’ wrote a single mother of a boy with autism on the group's MySpace page, “I feel less alone.’’

And Jackson Browne said the experience of recording his song was, “deeply spiritual.’’

To make the project even more inclusive, SingSOS also held a contest, inviting artists with autism to submit work to grace the forthcoming album's cover and booklet. The submissions are stunning and many are included in the video below, which sets them to the group's song, "One Went Missing," as performed by the popular New York-based folk band, Ollabelle.

The group is now looking at ways to get their music into people's hands, either through downloads or on CD.

All proceeds from sales of SingSOS music will go to groups working to raise awareness about autism and working directly with people on the autism spectrum, including Autism Speaks' global programs, The New York Center for Autism, the Alpine Learning Group, the McCarton Foundation and the Connecticut Center for Child Development.

That should be music to a lot of people's ears.

– Mark

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Hear That? It's the Sound of Everyone Jumping on the Bandwagon

There's an old maxim in marketing that, "in tough times, you should spend more on advertising."

It makes sense: in a quiet market the squeeky wheel gets noticed.

Of course, this rule is rarely obeyed, as advertising budgets are usually the first to get cut. It's hard to justify such spending to those tasked with keeping whatever money is left, under lock and key.

But a new study by the e-commerce consulting firm the e-tailing group and online customer review firm PowerReviews suggests that recession-strapped companies are starting to realize the power of social media when fiscal prudence is the order of the day. It found that three-fourths of the 117 survey respondents have committed some degree of time and money to social media in the past six months.

And they were rewarded for it. The companies that had the highest levels of social media activity and engagement increased revenues by as much as 18 percent over the past year, while those that didn't saw a six percent decline in sales.

The companies that scored highest have dedicated teams working the channels they use. These teams can be as small as one person, but the point is that someone is strategically managing the effort. And the most successful of these companies have also spread the gospel of social media internally, creating advocates all across their organizations.

Said Lauren Freedman, the president of the e-tailing group, "The integration of community and social networking within e-commerce has reached critical mass and as such is now a benchmark that we will be tracking annually. Customer engagement has become a metric to be reckoned with, where failing to engage consumers via community and social media will have brand and bottom-line implications.

"All merchants must test and understand how to effectively deploy it for their brands to retain customers, encourage sales, and avoid abandonment to competitors who've better embraced its marketing potential."

The study identifies three things that are driving the exodus to social media:

1- Brands want to be able to put their own spin on products and services and mitigate "brand degradation" from consumers already using sites like Facebook.

2- They want to be seen as up-to-date in their online presence.

3- They're afraid their customers will leave them for competitors with more socially engaging experiences.

Finally, businesses are realizing that they can drive massive amounts of word of mouth and brand loyalty effectively, efficiently and measurably, through social media – at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.

Which means that the old maxim needs to change to "in tough times, you should spend more on social media."

With this kind of data, even the folks watching the budgets can't argue.

– Mark

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Practicing What We Preach

One of the truths of social media that we've discovered is that you should never talk the talk without actually walking the walk.

Which is why, at Extrovertic, we truly enjoy rolling up our sleeves and experiencing firsthand the solutions we recommend.

This doesn't mean you can't mix business with pleasure. One of the best ways to experience these tools as a consumer would is to work them into the context of your personal, non-working life.

(Yes, I know, a personal, non-working life is hard to come by these days. But bear with me anyway.)

For example, not too long ago, Dorothy hosted a French wine and cheese party on behalf of the French government.

They were a client of House Party, a company that we're very excited about for its unique ability to create brand advocates via such events. (They generally orchestrate one thousand such parties on a single night.)

We strongly believe House Party has enormous potential for healthcare and pharma companies looking to reach millions of extremely qualified consumers (or patients) at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising channels.

Dorothy's trial party proved to us that it can be a lot of fun for those lucky enough to host or attend one of these highly engaging events. And that her guests all left highly jazzed not only about the products they had
just enjoyed, but the entire experience, itself.

But Dorothy doesn't get to have all the fun. I've been playing mad scientist in a lab of my own.

While in college in the late seventies, I played guitar for a punk band called Eddie Estrogen & the Hormones. We weren't bad, and played often at such seminal New York clubs as Max's Kansas City and CBGB's. (Perhaps a harbinger of my future interest in healthcare marketing, my nom de punk was "Marky Menopause.")

About 12 years ago, I had a tape of one of our Max's performances digitized and burned onto CDs as a gift for my former band mates.

Then recently, it hit me that I could make even better use of those songs and all of the photos I had been saving in an old scrapbook.

I learned how to convert the audio tracks into little films that could be uploaded onto Facebook, along with the photos. I wrote a little historical piece about the band and invited members of my alma mater's alumni association fan page to join ours.

Within a couple of days, more than 30 people signed on as fans. (Okay, that number includes a few sons, daughters, nieces and nephews of the band members, but who's counting?)

The thing is, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand how it feels to spawn a community. One that appears to be thriving at the moment.

I'm enjoying the experience of uploading a new song every day or so and watching the reactions, discussions and even submissions of our "fans".

I'm even enjoying the aspect of moderating the page, and occasionally omitting comments that seem – to my personal standards – inappropriate.

And while all this is fun for me, it's also a tremendous learning experience.

One that can help me talk the talk.

– Mark

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Social Media: Fountain of Youth?

Even as a true believer in the power of social media in healthcare, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a headline on a Web site that said, "Social Media May Increase Life Span."

Okay, I've heard that fiber may help increase your life span. And exercise. And a healthy, low fat diet. Even sex.

But social media? Come on, now. I mean, really.

Yet that's just what the story said.

According to a study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden; social media, email and sites like Google can help seniors to maintain their mental acuity.

The study says social isolation is one of the main causes of physical deterioration and major risk factor for dementia. And social media provides the old folks with an outlet to exercise their brains, connect to old friends and make new ones.

Of course, while they're reanimating their brain cells online, it wouldn't hurt for them to also take plenty of that fiber, exercise liberally and adhere to the aforementioned healthy, low fat diet.

Facebook's fastest-growing segment is people over 55. In fact, this group has grown more than 500 percent over the past six months and will eventually surpass high school students.

So perhaps it's no coincidence that my own father recently surprised me with an invitation to be his Facebook friend.

Here's to his health.

– Mark

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