The Future of Advertising?

Some two decades ago, writes Michael Serazio for The Atlantic, in a sly yet silly vignette from Wayne’s World, Mike Myers and Rob Lowe exchange testy remarks about a sponsor’s gauche intrusion into Wayne’s cable access show. Reclining nearby in mullet-to-toe Reebok gear, Garth, Wayne’s companion and co-host, laments, “It’s like people only do things because they get paid. And that’s just really sad.”

This weekend, Morgan Spurlock, documentarian provocateur last seen eating his way to angina in 2004’s Super Size Me, gives that same joke full-length treatment in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a film financed by and about “advertainment”—the increasingly pervasive nexus of commercialization and entertainment.

Knowingly or not, Serazio writes, Spurlock’s wink-wink meta-narrative on promotional culture speaks to a much more serious, simmering crisis of faith in the media industry today. No longer able to depend on traditional institutions of advertising to get their message across, corporations need a vessel. No longer able to depend on the publishing and programming apparatus that long supported them, creators of pop culture need a patron.

And thanks to profound economic and technological transformations, audiences’ ability to filter out advertising from their lives—via TiVo, satellite radio, national Do Not Call registries, spam filters, and the like—may one day result in all content becoming branded content.

On one level, Serazio writes, we have no one but ourselves to blame. The more we steel against marketer entreaty in familiar venues—armed with our DVRs and pop-up blockers—and the more that we refuse to pay for editorial content, be it entertainment or journalistic, the more the media and advertising industries will need to wind up in bed together in order to survive.

And the ongoing development of such branded material could be a harbinger for how these businesses are funded and managed—redefining their roles in, rules for, and relationship to popular content.

But if advertising is, indeed, “geographically imperialistic,” and the growth of word-of-mouth marketing over the past decade is any indication—whereby brands try to seed buzz in our everyday conversations—we may well be facing the next creepy horizon of commercial colonization: “real life product placement.”


When Will the Left Stop Whining about the Tea Party?

I read yet another left-leaning article today whining about the Tea Party and their organizational practices.

Written by Stephanie Mencimer and published in Mother Jones, the article aims to discredit the Tea Party by comparing their organizational practices to the Herbalife weight-loss company.

What do they have in common? Both organizations hold massive rallies, distribute yard signs and flyers, they constantly recruit new members, and have a decentralized leadership structure that empowers individuals.

Duh!!!  That’s exactly what an effective grassroots organization should be doing!

All of these tactics are essential in the development of an effective grassroots movement. If the left would simply emulate these strategies, rather than engage in these kinds of meaningless attacks, there would perhaps be a vibrant grassroots movement on both sides of the political debate.

Pizza (and Other Ideas for Raising Epilepsy Awareness)

I’m in Long Beach, CA at the Epilepsy Foundation’s annual Leadership Conference.  The meeting provides skill-building workshops for staff from the organization’s 50 affiliates and national office.

I led two sessions, including one on the upcoming National Epilepsy Awareness Month (November).  Our goal is to make 1 million Americans “Seizure Smart.”

My message: Stop relying on the “mass media” in to raise awareness about epilepsy.  Focus on getting people with epilepsy to spread the word. That means DIY (do it yourself).

“Grassroots” conversations are so more effective than the mass media.  They’re more persuasive, and they stand out from the 3,000 marketing messages we receive every day.  That’s more than 1 million messages a year!

During our brainstorm session, we came up with three great ways you can put the Foundation’s Seizure Smart Quiz in people’s hands:

  1. Ask your local pizza parlor to tape the Seizure Smart Quiz on every box that leaves the store in November (other merchants can put them in bags).
  2. Distribute the Seizure Smart Quiz to everyone at work, school, church and anywhere else you can imagine.
  3. On Election Day (November 2nd), recruit a few people to hand out the Seizure Smart Quiz at your local polling location.

By doing these three things, any person can easily reach 250 or more people.   And with 3 million people affected by epilepsy, we should have no problem finding 4,000 people to take action and reach our goal.

Got any more bright ideas?  Send ’em my way!

PNC Bank Risks Thousands for a $75 Payout

It's not what you say, it's what you do that matters.

If “happy customers are your best advertising,” as Andy Sernovitz writes in Word of Mouth Marketing, then it follows that unhappy customers are your worst advertising.

While this is a basic rule of marketing, it’s one that companies constantly fail to follow.  As a result of their poor customer service, or misguided policies (or both), they create mounds of negative advertising that damage their reputation, but also their bottom line.

While I typically write and teach about grassroots communications, I have the current misfortune of being a highly dissatisfied customer.  It’s become a case study for my Grassroots Communications course on poor customer service and its consequences.

Here’s a quick recap: I closed my business account at PNC Bank in December 2009.  In February 2010 PNC honored a previously authorized electronic transaction in the amount of $472.50. This caused “my account” to be overdrawn.  According to PNC, I now owed them $75 in fees and overdraft charges.  Pure profit!

Six months later, despite my best efforts, this matter remains unresolved. I’ve made dozens of phone calls, visited three branches and in May (against my better judgment), reimbursed PNC for the original transaction (less fees and penalties).  PNC’s response?  They failed to cash my check and reported me to a collection agency.

It was only until I filed a formal complaint with the US Comptroller of the Currency, and threatened a lawsuit, that PNC began to respond in earnest.  Six months later.

What’s amazing to me is how much PNC is willing to risk for a measly $75 in fees.  I’ve since shared this horror story with dozens of people, all of them potential PNC customers. Think of all the time PNC employees have spent trying to collect this money or resolve this problem of their own making.  That cost alone must run into the thousands.

PNC’s behavior stands in stark contrast to that of my current bank, Burke and Herbert.  Customer service is one of their core marketing strategies and it was on display when I recently visited their Monroe Avenue Branch.  The manager could not have been more helpful in my efforts to resolve this matter with their competitor, PNC.

And come to think of it, that’s why I moved my money there in the first place.

Are You a Connector? Daniel Poneman Is!

Last week I got the following message:

“You all don’t have to believe me on this, but I just posted a ridiculous score. I knew I would crack the 100’s, and knew I was a connector, but didn’t realize my true social impact until taking this test… i got a 149.”

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes how he gave the test 400 times and only 4 people scored above 100. Daniel also has 4,079 Facebook friends (4,080 if he accepts my request).

What’s he do? “I feel blessed to say that I have never held a “real” job in my life and hopefully I never will have to. My job entails watching basketball, talking to people about basketball, providing basketball content for my website, and helping college programs find the best basketball players for them, and helping young men find colleges to play at. It’s a lot of fun.”

Are You a Connector?

Connectors are people specialists, those with a large circle and network of friends. Malcolm Gladwell writes about Connectors in The Tipping Point, his thought-provoking book on how information spreads.

“Identifying Connectors and getting them talking about your cause, company or candidate is critical,” said SparkLight Communications President Joseph LaMountain. “Since they know everyone, they can begin to spread the word and start to generate word-of-mouth conversations.”

Gladwell developed a simple 5-minute test to determine if someone is a Connector. He’s given the test to more than 400 people and scores have ranged from a low of 16 to a high of 108. I scored a 52.  Where do you fall on that scale?

When Things Break Down, Grassroots Survives

Grassroots and word-of-mouth communications are the oldest form of communications.  That’s because they do not require the use of mass media like advertising or public relations.

So when communication networks break down, grassroots and word-of-mouth communications are often the only communications tools left standing.

The recent situation is Haiti is a good example.  According to an article published by Voice of America, grassroots communications are playing a vital role in the dissemination of information and helping people connect with their loved ones.

Brooklyn-based Radio Soleil is on the leading edge of this effort.  “The communication system has broken down entirely in Haiti,” says station manager Ricot DuPuy.  “The phone has been ringing non-stop” with people looking for information about their loved ones.  Radio Soleil then broadcasts the names of the loved ones they are looking for, hoping that somehow they will find a way to tell [family members abroad] ‘I am still alive.”’

DuPuy says many relatives, both living and dead, have been located in this way and the station continues to act as a clearinghouse for listeners and walk-ins from the community.  Click here to read the complete article.

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