Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Loch Woebegone

Last summer, while vacationing by a Scottish loch, I felt a deep sense of unease as I watched the British reality show, “Who Do You Think You Are?” This was not only because I feared that yet another horrifying UK reality show was about to jump the Atlantic. It was because this particular episode touched a nerve.

It was about being part of an industry upon which the “sun is setting”.

The show traced the demise of one family’s fortune to a single economic event: the sunset of the hand-made walking stick industry, thanks to the advent of the machine-made version. Working in a traditional advertising agency, this really affected me, as I had been seeing more and more of my clients leaving for digital and other specialized agencies. As a life-long change agent, this was the first time it hit me that change doesn’t always lead to better circumstances.

My memory of the Scottish loch came flooding back as I read a recent
Vanity Fair article about the uncertain future of the New York Times. A key tenet in the article is that the company’s failure to fully embrace the digital world, combined with some bad investment decisions, led to its current financial downfall.

The author, Mark Bowden, contends that although the
Times has developed one of the most successful news sites, the site is emblematic of the company’s less effective “bolt-on” strategy for the Internet. He feels the Times merely produced a “digital edition of the product” rather than creating something that fully leveraged the new capabilities of the Internet. True innovators, he argues, fully “exploit the technology of a new platform.”

Bolting-on also implies that the new technology is cordoned off, its mind-altering impact unavailable to the larger organization. As Marshall McLuhan said, “media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought.”

I stumbled upon this quote in an
Atlantic Monthly article by Nicola Carr, entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The article cites a number of examples of our brain’s malleability –from the development of different circuitry resulting from the study of Chinese to the change in Nietzsche’s writing style as his failing eyesight caused him to switch from pen to typewriter. The segregation in this case deprives the larger organization of the opportunity to learn how to think digitally.

Which brings me back to my moment of panic by the loch. I was reminded of all the traditional agencies that had employed this “bolt-on” strategy with digital rather than fundamentally changing what they thought and produced. They simply continued doing what they had always done – with TV and print executions as the centerpiece, but with a few widgets and micro-sites tacked on the side.

Since Mark and I formed Extrovertic, I can’t say that there haven’t been any panic-stricken moments. There are always those nagging questions: Will social media and other non-traditional solutions ever really occupy a central role in consumer health care communications? Sure, clients (and signed POs) are starting to accumulate, but never as fast or for as much as we had hoped. But at least we know that it's no more comfortable on the traditional side. So why not take a walk on the wild side? Using a machine-made walking stick, of course!

Let us know what you think. Have you seen a traditional agency truly transition successfully to the digital age? Have you seen a digital agency branch out to occupy a brand stewardship role?


Bookmark and Share

Saturday, April 25, 2009

When Is Social Media No Longer Social Media?

We had a great discussion yesterday with a prospective client who raised a few interesting questions:

If social media is all about authenticity and transparency, can a campaign have a promotional component to it?

Can it be augmented with other media or must it rely strictly on existing peer to peer channels?

Or are these things anathema to the very notion of social media?

I know through my experience in direct marketing that there are those who are almost Taliban-like in their insistence that a creative idea only gets in the way of the offer. That there simply is no room for creativity in D.M. (To put it gently, I am not a fan of this approach.)

Might there be a similar philosophical disparity when it comes to the purity of social media?

Curious to hear your thoughts.


Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When the Extra Cheese Isn't Cheese

By now you've probably heard about those two fun-loving Dominos workers who filmed themselves playfully putting cheese up a nostril or two before adding it to a sandwich, using a dishwashing sponge where the sun don't shine and generally just having a good ol' time with various bodily orifices, fluids and gasses as they prepared one tasty meal after another for their valued customers. Then, as if to bring new meaning to the term "viral video", they brilliantly posted their doings for all to see on YouTube.

Well, it wasn't long before a few viewers contacted Dominos, who quickly responded by firing the workers, pressing charges against them (tampering with food is a felony), and putting out a response video.

And where did Dominos post its video? On YouTube, of course. It put the good news right where the bad news was discovered. Then it quickly got the word out on Twitter, where negative sentiment was spreading like wildfire.

There's a lesson to be learned here and Dominos sets a great example: Companies today need to pay close attention to how they are being portrayed on social media sites. Not only will this help them to respond quickly as Dominos did when their brand is demeaned or maligned, but it'll give them a way to really understand how their consumer base feels about them.

In this case, it was learned that most customers don't want anything extra on their pizza.



Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Earth’s Plates Weren't All I Felt Shifting

Last week, I took my family on a vacation in Italy. We were asleep in our hotel in Rome when the earthquake struck in Abruzzo.

While the area of the worst destruction was about 60 miles away, the force of the quake was enough to wake us at 3:30 am.
Once our room stopped shaking (which seemed a lot longer than the 30 seconds it actually lasted), my first impulse was to turn on the TV. There was nothing about it yet on the news. My next impulse was to grab my BlackBerry and check search.twitter.com

I entered “earthquake” and “Rome” and lo and behold there already were dozens of Tweets, mostly of the “Did you just feel that?” variety. But by the time the story hit the web and TV, it had already started coming together through the Tweets.

With Twitter, we can now report and read about news in real time.

The change is seismic.



Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gates Getting Deeper Into Healthcare Communication

You know healthcare communication is getting hot when even Bill Gates is getting into the act. I was fascinated last December by the announcement of the Gates Foundation's funding of healthcare coverage for major news outlets such as "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and the funding of healthcare journalism scholarships. Gates also provided funding for a University of Southern California program that advises television and film writers on medical issues. (New York Times, "Gates Foundation Gives Millions for coverage of World Health".)

Now the Gates Foundation is investing even more in their belief in the power of popular culture to change health behaviors. (04-02-09 NYT,  "Messages with a Mission".)  It's working directly with Viacom to embed health messages into popular television shows. The recent episode of ER that featured the return of George Clooney is an example of this initiative. It is the philanthropic corollary to product placement deals. The foundation will provide funds to third parties that create content for Viacom. This underscores the importance of popular culture as a vehicle for healthcare messages and a potentially influential venue for healthcare marketers to explore.



Bookmark and Share