Time magazine’s cover sells, enrages

I’m a great fan of and subscriber to Time magazine. I’ve been used to their shift to become more edgy over the past few years –perhaps in order to stay in business. But this caught me off guard.

Last Friday, when it arrived, I left the magazine on the counter, not thinking too much about the mother and child cover. Another mother’s day angle, I surmised. My wife was shocked, and my daughter probably was even more.

I could see the firestorm emerging. But it’s coming from several interesting sides, especially those enraged by the ‘Mom enough’ question, and also the challenging pose of the breastfeeding mom. The “this creeps me out” reaction from mothers was quite common, and I bet Time wanted This kind of reaction, as the buzz was good for newsstand sales.

Time magazine is not just a news outfit. It’s a marketing machine. I’ve noticed that recently it often makes a big point about how a story gets more web traffic than any other story, or has has more letters to the editor etc. I also get it. Covers need to be provocative, and even stimulate a conversation. But in this instance I think Time went too far. Here’s why:

The headline. Reading the article, it seems to have very little to do with adequacy or inadequacy of mothers, and their feeding methods. Connecting that headline to the stand-up feeding pose, seems like it is posing an unspoken question: “Would you be brave enough to do what I am doing? (with my one hand on my hip, too!)”

The eye contact. They probably took a lot of angles of this mother-and-child. (They had great inspiration, apparently)

Marketing through Robotics and Facebook

This caught my eye this week. A smart move by the promoters behind Ariel, who found a way to get people to play a game of shooting stains (jam, ketchup, chocolate) at items of clothing. The trick was to use Facebook as the interface, and an industrial robot to do the dirty deed.

The other smart move was using a public space such as a train station (Stockholm Central Station) to carry out this live ‘experiment.’

Top speakers at tomorrow’s Social Media event

Social Media AZ - SMAZ 2011If you had planned to do it and procrastinated, today (Thursday) is the last day for any discount codes for Social Media AZ (SMAZ)–the much awaited annual event.

The event is tomorrow and you may buy your tickets at the door, but it will cost ya! $225!

The keynote will be by Jay Baer (of Convince & Convert), and Amber Naslund (of Radian6). They will talk about their new book, The Now Revolution. All attendees will receive a free copy of the book! More background here when we interviewed Jay on our radio show two weeks ago.

Several speakers from other states will be presenting as well. They include:

  • Kamran Qamar the president of mobile development company.
  • Patrick Seaman (Mr. Broadcast.com himself!)
  • Christian Briggs (chairman of BMC capital)

Check out the line up of speakers, here.

In case you’ve been to a SMAZ event before, do note that there will be new topics this year covering mobile, location, search, and e-commerce.

Register today!

Will game mechanics be the new marketing?

What is marketing, if it is not a total experience –between buyer and seller, service provider and end-user? When I hear someone dismissively saying that marketing is a game, it often means one of three things:

  • Marketing companies have ‘fixed’ the system in a way that you have to abide by their rules. In other words, you are some sort of a victim
  • Marketing is a pretend activity where they make it seem that you get some value, and you pretend that you love the brand. The transaction is not exactly mutually respectful
  • Marketing is a product of a bigger manufacturing and industrial gaming complex. One has to hack the game in order to gain an upper hand. As in jail-breaking an iPhone, being persistent about getting your rebates etc.

You probably have a few more variations of this.

But when I like to think of marketing as a game, I like to think of it in a good sense. Market situations are very fluid. Demand and supply, customer loyalty and brand choices are a product of many other dynamic situations -climate, timeliness, scarcity, local needs etc.

In this situation, game mechanics in marketing might be a clue to the future of marketing, now that games are being seen as not just a down-time experience. Game Zicherman, writing for Mashable pointed to five trends in game mechanics, where he predicts health –“Gamified health” –could incorporate more ‘fun’ elements, with apps that tie in to achievement levels.

Games could be also considered scenarios, and do not need to be called, or look like games. I just had a conversation with someone who’s using scenario-based experiences in financial planning. We talked about systems thinking, and how marketing could become a collaborative discussion with dynamic scenarios built-in. Similar approaches — scenario-based methods in law enforcement, for instance -have been attempted.

“In scenario-based learning, the situation is always dynamic. The officer is interacting with live role-players, who react to what the officer says and does. That is why scenarios are such an excellent training tool.”

But with the advent of games such as FourSquare and Gowalla, and the increasing role of a smart phone as a market navigation tool, marketing will surely begin to embed game mechanics this year. In 2010, Gartner noted that games were the No. 1 application, identifying mobile shopping, social networking, and productivity tools as big growth areas.

Maybe your next marketing effort will incorporate systems thinking, where your customers will be able to say that marketing is a game in which the odds are not stacked up against them.

Digital media’s unpaved road

I get asked often how I would handle a situation in an organization that uses a smattering of digital media. The easy answer would be “It depends.”

Not to be facetious, but it not only depends on the passion and the inclination to wade into the confusing digital communication environment (using strategies around incorporating Slideshare, Twitpic, AudioBoo, MediaWiki, UStream etc).

It depends on the people on your team who have an appetite for this. Not everyone feels comfortable in this environment. I sometimes talk of one of the most cynical team members in an organization who has become a pro in using digital media. His concern (“I don’t need to know what someone is having for lunch” – a famous knock on Twitter users) was that it might be  a waste of time for him and the organization.

It helped that the organization thought differently, and it was my job to inspire him and others like him to take this unpaved road. Watch how Sean Smith, became a citizen reporter out of Vancouver, using nothing more than an Android phone. And yes, he began tweeting too, but not about his lunch menu!

Welcome to the discomfort zone!

If you’re in media relations or marketing, or even if you’re running a department that has nothing to do with PR, that road beckons. It’s still rugged, and may never be the smooth ‘superhighway’ we were once promised. But the traffic is building up.  No you don’t have to be a pro at producing videos, or writing blog posts. (That’s why citizen journalists have become such an essential part of the news cycle.) But you and your team do have valuable knowledge that’s worth sharing. “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department,” someone –perhaps Seth Godin–once noted. Ditto for PR and customer service. Ditto for content creation, and digital marketing communications.

Welcome to the unpaved road.

Stop worrying about the technology, and start thinking of participating.

Are magazines this desperate in tablet era?

I had meant to publish this last week. The topic been on my mind as the print vs digital tension grows every day.

Every time I travel I do an unscientific check of the readers on the plane. I always find that newspapers and magazines beat digital platforms. Twice I’ve sat next to someone with a digital device – a Kindle and an iPad — and one of them showed me how the magazine reading experience with the ads, photos and all was awesome. The features, too!

This kerfuffle over GQ’s photo spread seems to suggest something I typically refuse to believe –magazine junkie that I am –that magazines will try anything to stay alive.

The photos that have angered many, are part of a story on Glee, the TV show. Why? They a dangerously seem to promote pedophilia. The Parent’s Television Council (PTC) has come out strongly against the issue.

Are magazines that desperate? Or is being borderline something, anything the only way to stay relevant? This is not the stuff of controversial magazine covers, a common technique since George Lois’ time, and before.

Maybe some magazines are engaging this kind of  risky business as they find their footing in the myriad of digital platforms available. Two clues as to where this is headed:

  • New Niches: See this interview by  Tom Wallace, the Conde Nast editorial director. He talks about using digital to reach audiences that magazines have been unable to reach. Maybe next year this time my in-flight survey will have different results…
  • Rich Platforms: Apple may be offering struggling pubs a lifeline with their  ‘rich-media wrappers for e-books and e-magazines.’ The iPad is obviously a precursor to the new home of –and reading experience –for magazines.

So indeed, magazines need not be so desperate. For now, some of them are just borderline …obnoxious.

A formula for going viral? Picking Everett’s and Brown’s brain

I had a great conversation with Brown Russell, former Chairman of Gum Tech (GUMM:NASDAQ), last evening on our radio show.

Brown was behind (and by this I mean he led) the launch of Zicam –the cold remedy, medicine. I didn’t know this but Zicam was one of the fastest growing new cold treatments in recent history.

The reason I thought he would be a great guest was because of a book I noticed on his desk one day. It was one of those thick books on communication that communicators who have just graduated may have not even heard about: The Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers, first published in 1962. (By the way Rogers published 30 books in 15 languages.)

To put this in perspective this was before the Internet was ‘discovered.’ And some of the concepts Rogers analyzed presaged  viral marketing by what, 40 years, maybe?

How do ideas spread and products take off, I asked? Is the diffusion of innovations across networks (the unwired kind) dependent on a marketing and PR push? Derrick brought us a good point –that demand, could possibly be influenced by planned scarcity (as in Apple’s play); by game mechanics (as in earning rewards), and filling the need that nobody has quite recognized (as in Facebook).

Here’s the podcast, if you’re interested. http://bit.ly/your3bl11

By the way, if you occasionally use terms such as ‘early adopters,’ ‘late majority’ or ‘laggards’ you’ve been borrowing from Roger’s theory!

What’s your story? Dump the ‘pitch,’ find your story!

I’ve said it before: radio, which seems a lot like ‘old media’ has one leg up over new media because it’s where people come to expect to hear stories. Not sound bytes, not pitches, not bullet points, not all those forms of condensed communication snacks we have come to expect in every other form of media.

Don’t blame it on TV entirely. There are TV programs that refuse to do the truncated story, shun the fast cuts, and slick camera work so as to let the story unfold. We have ingested this packet switching mentality that the Internet brought with it, and forced our stories into the tiniest bits of content. It’s become the default format, and we go along with it.

But guess what? It is not the only format that works.

Exhibit A: I listened to a long segment today on a new trend Daryl Hall started, called Live From Daryl’s House. It’s an internet phenomenon. But if it hadn’t been thoughtfully told as a story by NPR reporter Robert Smith, I would have skipped it.

Exhibit B: Radio again. This time I have to bring in the show I co-host with Derrick Mains as an example of how we make  ‘talk show’ (in most people’s minds it’s where the hosts yak all the time) into a storytelling space. We bring people around the topics of business entrepreneurship, innovation and corporate sustainability, and let their stories unfold.

Everyone’s tired of hearing pitches. Too many people tell you what they do in that distilled, dehumanized format. Stories have a different pace, and in fact, different goals. Yet they break through the clutter in a more powerful way.

What’s your pitch? Could you turn it into a story? Try it. Record it and listen to it. You’ll never want to talk in bullet points again!

How do you market a BP gas station?

It must be one of the toughest brands on earth to market right now: BP gas.

Don’t you think this corny use of Elvis is a true mark of desperation?

Interestingly, boycotting BP gas stations may sound like the right thing to do -emotonally — but I’ve heard it said that BP actually sells gasoline to non-BP branded stations.

I wonder why the independent BP station owners have not come out with an information campaign about their local roots, to ward off more boycotts.

Meanwhile the BoycottBP Facebook page has some 800,0000 people ‘Liking’ it, and 26 albums of photos. Maybe it’s a toxic brand to even get close to, but I wonder why some PR firm doesn’t reach out and assist this helpless group of  independent station owners.

Quotes for the week ending 24 April, 2010

“But it’s when you become the punch line on The Colbert Report that you know you’ve made the big time.”

Bill Goodykoontz, columnist at the Arizona Republic, commenting on Stephen Colbert’s ripping of Arizona’s new immigration bill –that was signed by governor Jan Brewer into law on Friday.

“facebook seems to be down – mass suicides worldwide predicted – story at 11”

Tweet by mmelnick, (musician, vegetarian, animal lover, truth seeker) who also re-tweeted “Attention humans: Facebook isn’t “down”. It’s become self-aware & will soon launch nuclear weapons. I’m pressing the “Lik …”

“Trees are a renewable resource, and paper can be recycled, recovered and used to make paper again. … Make print a valuable part of your communications mix.”

The argument behind Print Grows Trees, a campaign by Print Graphics Association Mid Atlantic (PGAMA) a not-for-profit trade association

“…uncomfortably close to advocating sexting”

The creepy Kin video ad that Microsoft had to pull for obvious reasons

“I think smaller- and medium-sized agencies make the transition from traditional to social-enabled PR much easier than larger agencies.”

Jason Baer, in a Twintervirw with Bob Reed of PRSA, where he also talked about ‘the science and math of social media.’