Radar Love

22 06 2012

In days of old, the only way we knew if an acquaintance were nearby is if we actually bumped in to him or her. It was a completely random crap shoot, much akin to traveling to Chicago only to find your third cousin walking down Michigan Ave. At the same. Exact. Time.

Yeah, pretty random.

More recently, the social graph and mobile devices have combined forces to let our friends (or us) check in at places, and then this breaking news appears on Facebook and Twitter feeds. If you happen to have your settings for this person assigned to All Updates, or have chosen them as a Close Friend, this stunning announcement of whereabouts will pop straight to a user’s smartphone. How easy it would be to stalk people and…um…casually drop in at a bar or restaurant 15 minutes later. “Oh, what a surprise! Fancy meeting you here!”

But now it is getting way too easy to not only know if a friend or acquaintance is about to cross paths, but also people of like interest. You know. Strangers.

Jeepers creepers.

The advent of SoMoLo (social, mobile, local) apps like Highlight and Glancee. Better start wearing a disguise if you don’t want to keep running into people you know. Or who want to know you.

So significant is this trend that Facebook bought Glancee on 4th May 2012 (right after Instagram, but before Karma). It plans to shutter Glancee and roll it completely into the FB experience, software engineers and all.

I suppose we had better get ready for a new-and-improved Facebook location-based service coming soon. This will make Timeline seem like a breath of fresh air.

Of course, this will bring another series of changes in privacy settings. Every time there is a new feature, FB manages to make it a little more difficult to not broadcast your entire life.I can only imagine the uproar that will ensue when this goes live to 900 million happy people.

From a marketing perspective (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), it presents numerous opportunities for precision ad placement. For example, suppose that the Glancee/FB feature sense your best friend is right around the corner. Knowing what it already does about both of your likes, past check-ins, etc., it could easily serve up an ad that is a good match for an impromptu dinner and drink (because it knows you will bump in to said person).

Furthermore, the whole concept is similar to developments in near-field communication (NFC) in which we are constantly being monitored by our service provider or other app. Basically, GPS is a two-way transaction, not just data we are pulling down. We are unwittingly pushing it back up. “Hey there, ATT! I’m headed south on Soncy…it’s 5:15pm…there’s gotta be a Starbucks around here somewhere…”

Wait. That’s ATT’s job…tell you about the Starbucks next to Sports Clips, and, oh, here’s a little coupon for your next purchase. “Turn right after the 7 Bar & Grill, Nick. Hot coffee. Mmmm.”

I have mixed emotions about all this right now, but I also did when LBSs like Gowalla and Facebook entered the fray a couple of years ago. Now I check in fairly regularly on FB. I was a little squeamish when I saw how well FB could geo-tag my photos, but I got over it. In fact, photos are probably the most frequent thing I post.

Which is another way of saying I will probably learn to embrace Glancee when Facebook unleashes its power. And if you don’t want to run into me when we both round the next corner, either learn to run fast, or start carrying a disguise.

And as for total strangers who might share interests in me (thank you very much, Facebook), I can always pretend to speak only German, or, better yet, scare the daylight out of them by launching into a fit of fake glossolalia. Just a glance of them getting out of Dodge would be the highlight of my day.

Dr “Off The Radar” Gerlich

Rested Development

22 06 2012

I have heard it said that USAmericans are exposed to as many as 5000 ads per day. They come at us from a variety of directions, some subtle, some in your face. Broadcast. Print. Online. Outdoor. Mobile.

Some are so subtle that they fly under the radar. For example, last summer about this time we went to see the Padres and Nationals at Petco Park in San Diego. Other than possibly being the perfect cure for insomnia (two lousy teams duking it out for the honor of being the league’s doormat), it was a nice evening spent in the cool June Gloom of Southern California. Little did I realize I was being marketed to at every turn.

Corporate naming rights are now being sold for anything and everything. Stadia are perhaps among the more common, but universities as well are getting in on it (thanks to state governments decreasing funding for higher education). But now it appears that we may have one more location in which to soak up monetary messages: highway rest areas.

If anything, rest areas have remained virtually ad-free for decades. Sure, there might be vending machines and state tourism attendants, but it’s pretty much virgin territory for marketing. If the recession has taught us anything, though, it is that governments either cannot or will not continue to pay for the things we once took for granted.

So imagine taking the freeway exit and being confronted with signage like this: Welcome to the Coca Cola Rest & Safety Park! Park your car. relax. Stretch your tired legs. And have an ice cold Coke!

Yeah, it could happen. Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but with state budgets getting ever tighter, and now a few states willing to give this notion a whirl, it could happen.

It’s something that should have been considered in Texas. In the last year, TXDOT shut down dozens of small picnic areas, citing budget problems and escalating upkeep costs. Imagine if these picnic areas had been sponsored instead by companies? They could have remained open…and continue to provide not only a place for a family snack, but also a safe place to take a rest from driving.

I am sure that some social critics will find this reprehensible, but it is something we must come to accept in the future. I would not be surprised to see bridges and entire road segments underwritten by corporations.

Heck, it’s already happening to some degree. For example, Zappos.com, the Amazon shoe subsidiary headquartered in Las Vegas, has paid handsomely to be the exclusive Adopt-A-Highway along I-15 from the California state line all the way to Sin City. Every mile, in both directions, there is a nice blue sign saying that Zappos is picking up your litter. The irony is that Zappos hires another company to actually do the dirty work (all that bending and bagging takes time, you know, plus it sounds a bit like work). Drivers along that stretch of freeway are peppered with little Zappos reminders every 50 seconds (or less, depending on how much of a maniac you are).

Having grown up among tollroads in Chicago, I am also very familiar with the companies that paid significant sums to have the gasoline and fast food exclusives. Somehow, we did not mind all that commercial activity along I-294. It was just part of the landscape.

There are lots of untapped opportunities for marketers along our nation’s highways. Numerous states provide free wifi at rest areas. Why not let companies underwrite that? The opening screen could be all advertising as you look for the TOS box to click. Bathrooms and picnic benches could be sponsored. CoinStar could place Seattle’s Best coffee machines (caffeine is a great waker-upper, and thus ties in nicely with highway safety).

Let’s take this a step farther. Why not see if Petco would be interested in sponsoring the doggie runs? It seems like a natural fit. And I guarantee it would be more fun watching dogs fight over bones than viewing a couple of last place teams vie for obscurity.

Dr “Play Ball!” Gerlich

Karma To Go

22 06 2012

Everyone must want good karma these days. First there was the Karma app that launched in February (and was purchased by Facebook on 18th May). And now there’s the Karma mobile wifi hotspot. Later this year, folks will be able to purchase the Karma device for $69, and then share hotspot access for up to eight other users. It runs on the Clear backbone (i.e., Sprint), and the catch is that people who hop on can get a pay-as-you-go plan for only $14 per gigabyte.

Here’s how it works: Your Karma hotspot is basically a public access point. And users are not limited to a specific location or device…it can work if they hop on someone else’s Karma elsewhere. It also functions a lot like Dropbox.com’s model in that for every person you sign up, you get 100 megabytes of data. Sign up a hundred people, and you’ll be cruising along nicely.

On paper, this sounds like a great idea. It can be much cheaper than having monthly plans for similar services. Plus, it is a heck of a lot better than either not being able to find a public access point, or, worse yet, getting dinged for $15 a night at a hotel.

But it is not perfect. Yes, I suppose you can be building good karma by being that nice provider of wifi among total strangers in your proximity, but what if you decide, “Hey, gotta go!” Suddenly your karma account goes negative when you pull the plug on other people busy working.

Furthermore, it is dependent on you being in one of the 80 US cities in which Clear operates, and…and this is the most important part…it’s not much different from being an early mover in the fax business. You need others have to have this device. Lots of others. Otherwise, this is not going to work.You may have paid your $14, but if you are in Amarillo TX (one of the 80 cities) and no one else has the device, you are out of luck.

“Can anyone help this guy find a coffee shop?”

If the Karma device takes off, though, it could make public internet a reality for more and more Americans. Even still, though, there is an upper limit. It’s kind of like those crazy multilevel marketing gimmicks. If everyone is selling Shaklee, then no one is really making any money (or racking up megabytes of data). You will wind up paying your own $14/GB fee just like the folks you are supposedly banking karma with.

As for me, I am all to happy to keep my Sprint wifi hotspot. I know that it will work for me regardless, be it 4G or 3G. I do not need to worry about finding a public hotspot, or, more importantly, a karma capitalist. I am also willing to share my hotspot with my friends and colleagues (it supports up to five users).

And the best part is that I have no karma expectations. I mean, unless they want to take me to dinner or something. A bowl of karma sounds pretty good right now, to be honest.

“Here, let’s see what Triple-D places are nearby.”

Dr “Smother It In Chocolate Syrup” Gerlich

Let’s Get Sociable

22 06 2012

Once upon a time, in a state far away, in a time long before cell phones and ubiquitous internet, I had an undergraduate major in economics. I found the theory of the dismal science to be much to my liking, and thought that it complemented my marketing major nicely. Never mind that econ majors are able to understand the evening news in all its gory detail. Knowing some economics simply helps explain everything better. After all, it governs our daily lives, from paying bills to being gainfully employed to saving for retirement.

One thing I noticed early on is that as an industry matures, it almost invariably heads toward oligopoly, which is when a handful of companies completely dominate a category. There may be dozens of hangers-on, but they have little or no power in the grand scheme; the elite powerful rule the roost, and their decisions become mandate for the smaller companies trying to survive.

In the case of social media, the case is becoming even more intensified, with Facebook and Twitter comprising a duopoly. The two combine for well over one billion users worldwide, and make it very difficult for others to compete. Which explains why I found it refreshing today to read about ten niche social networks still very much alive and well.

Never mind Instagram and Pinterest (with a combined 40+ million between them). No, these are much smaller yet, and serve very specialized interests areas. Like Moms. Athletes. And beer drinkers.

I’ll let you figure out which one I use.

Some may wonder how in the world these upstarts could ever hope to make it to next month, much less than 2013. Some may also wonder why we need them in the first place, especially since Facebook has evolved so quickly into a network of networks. I belong to many public and private interest groups on Facebook, and interact with people on those networks who are not my “friend” at the top level. Why do we really need a separate social network for runners? Couldn’t runners simply all hang out in their own FB group? Perhaps more importantly, in how many social networks can a person possibly remain engaged?

Economics, though, also helps provide an answer to the first question. If a company becomes too successful, it can attract the attention of the Department of Justice, who might stage an inquiry into antitrust violations.

Yes, there are select companies that are allowed to have true monopoly protection (our basic utilities are good examples), but otherwise, the government frowns upon such market power. Oligopolies are allowed to exist as long as one company does not get monopoly power. And if Facebook doesn’t watch it, there could be trouble.

It is little different from the power Walmart is accused of having. It is little different from the problems Microsoft had defending itself from similar accusations.

But it could be worse for Facebook because it has become a parallel internet. The internet itself is a digital entrepreneur’s paradise, while Facebook is a private party. And while companies and organizations can still create Pages at will for no charge, advertising on social networks is becoming increasingly concentrated on Facebook.

Herein lies the rub: Just like it is in Walmart’s and Microsoft’s eternal best interests to have some competitors trying valiantly to compete, it is good for Facebook that there are alternate social media sites. If anything, it can keep the DoJ off its back.

Sure, Facebook could offer the same functionality and features to users of these niche sites. And Facebook may very well be interested in buying one or more of them in due time. But life will be better for everyone if the competition isn’t all gobbled up.

There is also the possibility that handsome profits can be realized by residing on the long tail of computer mediated communication (see Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail for inspiration). A well-managed FastLoop.com or Untappd could provide not only benefits and enjoyment for users, but also pay dividends for owners.

And that’s an economic story I’d like to see on the evening news.

Dr “Sign Me Up” Gerlich

Point And Shoot

22 06 2012

I remember about 10 years ago telling my students that, one day, we would watch television and be able to buy things we as we viewed them. Point. Click. Cha-ching. You know. Kind of like seeing the Cannondale bike hanging in Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment, and buying it without benefit of a test ride. An objet d’art on Frasier’s bookshelf that you just had to have. Or a lamp in Joey and Chandler’s apartment in Friends.

Wait. Those two guys didn’t have anything worth buying, other than maybe the foosball table.

But for some reason, click-to-buy never really took off. Sure, it all seems pretty reasonable given that we already had the web interface to purchase similarly from a computer. So why not grab the remote control and point at that thing that looked so appealing?

Maybe it was just a little too scary for consumers, knowing that every show could turn into a video catalog with carefully placed products that companies had backed with thousands of advertising dollars. Maybe people did not trust their ability to say no. And maybe people simply did not wish to marry shopping and television viewing.

The fact of the matter is, though, that click-to-buy is not only still alive, it just got a big shot in the arm with a joint venture between Tivo and Paypal.

To be fair, it is not exactly how it was all envisioned a decade ago. In fact, it really only amounts to commercials being clickable, as opposed to full programs. Furthermore, they are not the normal commercials, but special ones that would appear when the viewer pauses a show they had recorded for later viewing.

In all honesty, I did not even know that Tivo was still with us, especially since so many cable and satellite providers provide integrated DVRs in their set-top boxes. But there are still 2.5 million Tivo subscribers, enough, apparently, to get this test airborne. And Paypal (owned by eBay) is hungry to be the payment gateway for anything and everything. While the project is still rather limited, I see this as a sufficiently huge step forward as to breathe new life into an idea that should have blossomed a long time ago.

There are others watching this closely, and in some cases, also forging ahead with similar efforts (think: Apple and Google). I have no doubt that full-on program-length commercials will be the next frontier in sales efforts. Heck, it has worked for cartoons and their affiliated products, so why not let the adults be able to buy that objet d’art?

Just don’t the cat walk around on your remote. You might be surprised the next time the UPS man rings.

Dr “By The Buy” Gerlich

Another Round Of App-lause

22 06 2012

It’s another one of those exciting days in Tech Land in which Apple announces what it is doing next. Rumors have been swirling for days amid the hype and hoopla leading up to today’s WWDC. The only thing missing was Steve Jobs himself.

Among the announcements concerning all the bells and whistles, new features, and retina screens coming to MacBook Pros, there were some very cool numbers trotted out. Apple lives and dies by numbers. Well, mostly lives. And profits handsomely. In fact, today an analysts predicted that Apple stock will hit $1650 by 2015. What I found more compelling, though, were the stats about apps.

Recall once more that the iPhone has only been with us for five years. During this time, some 650,000 apps have been introduced, 30 billion have been sold, and Apple’s App Store has 400 million customer accounts.

That’s a lot of credit cards on file.

Sure, Google’s Android Store went from 0-to-60 faster (500,000 apps and 15 billion sold in 18 months), but one would expect that from a follower. After all, Apple paved the road on which Google cruises.

But the very subject of these apps is one screaming for a closer look, which is code for academic research. “Ah…now I get it,” my students sing in unison. “That’s what that survey invitation was all about!”

As I discussed yesterday, five years ago no one knew how this thing was going to unfold. We knew the paradigm was shifting, but we didn’t where or how. Our goal in the study is to try to get a better idea of how people use apps on both smartphones and tablet devices. While there is some overlap in the Venn diagram of apps, there are also a lot of distinct uses that keep the two categories of devices separate but related.

There are many areas ripe for study, such as how much money people are willing to spend on an app. For example, is $1 the new dime in terms of risk assumption? How long do people use an app before they forget they even have it? And how many apps do people have on their phones and tablets (I have well over 200 on my phone, but probably only use a dozen or so with any regularity).

As for Apple, they are beyond “getting rich.” No, they are bloody stinking rich, and only getting richer. Google’s foray into mobile devices is much like the Microsoft model, in which an operating system and software are offered but little else. Apple, on the other hand, is perfectly integrated and sells the OS, software and hardware. While Google and Apple are running neck-and-neck right now in terms of current stock price, the future is much rosier for Apple because of its revenue model. Google makes about $10 for each Android installation, with the remaining profit going to the hardware maker. Apple keeps it all.

The numbers guy in me loves today’s report, because it means that, if we consider only the USA, 96 apps have been sold to roughly every man, woman and child. That’s a lot of apps. That’s a lot of things we do with our phones and tablets. And that is one hell of a paradigm shifted in only five years.

Dr “What’s Your App-titude?” Gerlich

A Smarter Smartphone

22 06 2012

When the iPhone was introduced in July 2007, everyone was in agreement that it signaled a paradigm shift. A new way of doing old things. A new way of doing new things. And a convergence of a whole lot in the process.

The only problem was that no one was exactly sure how it would be used, including Steve Jobs. It was a grand experiment, a noble product launch that, in true Apple fashion, addressed needs we did not know we had.

As it turns out, two of the most popular uses of the iPhone (and most other smartphones, for that matter) have been mapping and photographs. In the former, uses include GPS, mapping and directions, and basic trolling for general types of places (trying entering “Mexican food in your map app and see what happens). In the latter, it includes everything from taking the pic to editing and sharing it, by email, social media or SMS.

Oddly enough, Apple has utilized a Google-based mapping application, which is kind of like pre-loading a MacBook Pro with Microsoft Office. But tomorrow, this will all start to change when Apple is predicted to announce both new mapping and photo-sharing features with the upcoming iOS 6.0.

And it makes good sense, since these are two hotly contested applications on our phones. We have done away with our Garmins and TomToms, and in other case, quit carrying heavy and expensive cameras. Our phones can do it all. It just makes sense for Apple to ditch arch-rival Google and offer an improved mapping interface, especially when Google is also upping the ante with its own maps on Android phones.

As for photos, I for one never saw it coming. While I am an avid amateur photographer with nice gear, I still use my iPhone to shoot things. Lots of things. OK, almost 5000 things.

But here is the big take-away: mapping and photography are inexplicably intertwined, and everyone has been leaving advertising revenue on the table. Sure, Google has sold some minor mentions in its map app (like when you look for a Red Robin but instead get a pin for an Applebees). But this is small potatoes.

Recall that our smartphones are GPS-based. The map app needs location services turned on in order to work. And we geo-tag our pictures without even knowing it (on your iPhone, while looking at your Camera Roll, tap “Places” at the bottom to see what I mean).

OK, so why don’t Apple and Google start selling location-based ads for their phones? Imagine opening up your map app, and, after typing Red Robin, receiving not only a map with directions, but also a coupon. Or, for that matter, when you shoot and share a pic within proximity of, say, Abuelo’s, getting a Happy Hour reminder and promo?

Yeah, now you have it. They really have left ad money on the table.

Before everyone excoriates me for opening the door to ever more advertising, allow me to remind you that I am the marketer here, and it is my job to show my students how to make money. There. Absolved from all wrong-doing and sin with one pithy little statement. Don’t you just love pith?

I am excited to see Apple and Google ever refining our smartphone operating systems, as well as features. Look how far we have come in just five years. And try to imagine a life in which you did not have your handy little portable brain in your pocket or purse. Good luck there.

As this refining continues, we need to expect not only improved services, but also more precision marketing aimed specifically at an audience of one. Yes, that would be you. And me.


“Hello? Oh, just a sec.”

I think it’s for you.

Dr “Map My Life” Gerlich

Veni Vidi Vended

22 06 2012

I continue to be amazed by no matter how far we reach into the future, we continue to find ways to keep the past alive and well. One of my more vivid memories of childhood is dropping a dime into a soda machine (yeah, that says something about getting old there…) and getting an ice cold Coke. Slip that coin into the slot. Open the door. And pull out my chosen bottle of instant gratification.

My memories are so fond that a little over a decade ago, I purchased a restored 1950s-era Coca Cola Cavalier vending machine. I don’t use it (even thought it works perfectly). I just admire it and let my skin tingle in the glow of nostalgia.

Earth to Nick…Earth to Nick…

Surprisingly, vending is still alive and well. And you know why? It meets a need right where it is happening.

In this era of streaming everything and e-books consuming my iPad, it is almost refreshing to see throwback vending machines still flourishing. And there is none better than the machines owned by Coinstar.

Yeah, the company whose machines take your coffee cans full of coins and convert them into less cumbersome and less clanky paper money. And the company that owns RedBox, the ubiquitous DVD vending machines everywhere.

And now the Seattle’s Best coffee kiosks.

Stock tip of the day: These guys are hot. And they totally get it, continuing to expand in their area of expertise and where they already have an established footprint.

Think about it. Ever so quietly they are encroaching further and further into your supermarket…first with coin redemption machines, then movies, and now coffee. Shear. Genius.

We may ask why did not Starbucks, owner of the Seattle’s Best brand, do this, but it makes much more sense for Coinstar to simply license the name. SBUX has zero experience in vending, while Coinstar is a pro. It was a big stretch (and a coup in itself) for SBUX to get on supermarket shelves with its packaged coffees. But servicing and placing vending machines requires an entirely different level of expertise.

And with prices starting at $1, it’s hard to go wrong here.

At the core of this success story is one simple word: Convenience. And convenience trumps technology, social media, the internet…all of the above…simply because it makes our lives easier. Think of what you will be able to do on a visit to Walmart: get your groceries and other stuff, unload a bunch of coins, bring home a movie, and reward yourself with a coffee.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Dollars and cents.

The more we evolve, the more we de-volve. Turns out the old road may take us there just as fast, if not faster. And while living on land may be nice, sometimes the water is just better.

I just wish I could still get something for this thin dime.

Dr “Coffee Black, No Cream Or Sugar” Gerlich

The Lady Is A Brand

8 06 2012

Throughout the history of rock and pop music, there have been a handful of artists who completely understood that music is a business, not just a hobby or lifestyle. It is much more than merely selling records or CDs (or in this era, downloads). It is about image. It is about positioning. It is about a promise. And, most importantly, it is about branding.

Among the best in the music business are Jimmy Buffett (who is synonymous with margaritas), KISS (whose album and merchandising sales put Max Factor’s kids through college), and Sammy Hagar (there’s really only one way to Cabo). They understand that, with proper strategy and planning, their brand can be bankrolled far beyond just getting platinum status. Merchandising. restaurants. Liquor and beer brands.

But while artists like these leveraged old-school methods to their benefit, the playing surface has changed. Today it’s all about how one uses social media. I know a local dude who is a ghostwriter for several artists, writing their tweets and status updates. And while that is certainly all part of the picture, it goes far beyond just a periodically dropped 140-character social blasts.

Say hello to Lady Gaga.

Say what you will about her music and appearance (heck, my parents though KISS was pretty bad as well), but Lady Gaga has among the very best handlers in the industry. Her social media strategist, Jaunique Sealey, recently came clean on how she orchestrated the release of the fastest-selling album of 2011.

How does 1.1 million copies in the first week work for you?

While music industry critics and pundits will argue that there’s no money to be made in album sales, and that the real money is in concert tickets and merchandise, the fact remains that each album sold reinforces the brand. It draws people in. It gives them one more reason to shell out $100 or more for tickets, and $35 for a t-shirt. Oh, and it may spur them on to join Lady Gaga’s fan club, more glue to keep it all together.

So how did Sealey manage this coup? Simple. She not only knows what can be done, but what should be done. And the two are often different. Specifically, she worked with social gaming company Zynga to create a parody game called Gagaville. It resonated with Gaga’s key demographics, provided the stickiness needed to retain eyeballs, and then rewarded players with special access. Score!

Of course, it takes money to just whip together a new social game, so indie bands are probably not going to be hopping on this train.

Naysayers might also argue that the “other” lady in the house…Lady Antebellum…has not resorted to such marketing shenanigans, letting their music do the selling. For that matter, the very ladylike Taylor Swift has done equally well without pretense or smoke and mirrors. Maybe Lady Gaga is just a brand, kind of like The Monkees were a brand in the 60s, along with all the many boy bands to follow (and to be fair, let’s not forget Spice Girls either).

So will we one day crawl Las Vegas’s Strip and enter Gagaville for dinner and drinks? I bet she could find a vacant spot somewhere between Margaritaville and Cabo Wabo. Is there enough to her brand that can give her staying power? Or is her brand just a bunch of very effective marketing covering for a playlist full of hook-laden pop music that will be forgotten by 2015?

Call me Dr. Buzz Kill, but I was born that way.

Still, I must give credit where it is due, and Gaga and company (for she is a company) have struck pay dirt. Sealey scored a grand slam with the release of Born This Way. I may cringe every time my oldest daughter gets on a Gaga kick in the car, but it’s a successful and viable brand for today.

It just makes me wonder if things would have been any different for Buffett, KISS and Hagar had social media existed in the 70s and 80s. Or would they let their music do the build the foundation for their brands and subsequent endeavors? For that matter, the Baby Boomer in me likes to think that Gaga is just the Pop Rocks of the moment, while the above messieurs are the Snickers bars that have stood the tests of time. You know. Real brands. Real music.

And real artists who don’t play games.

Dr “Poker Face” Gerlich

All Gone To Look For America

7 06 2012

I am a hopeless sentimentalist. As much as I proclaim to be this great futurist, I must be honest and say that I get a rash of warm fuzzies from pondering the past. If time travel were possible, I would want to go backward, not forward. Marty McFly may have spent most of his time back in the future, but I prefer the rear view mirror. I want to see life through the eyes of Ricky and Lucy. Experience the novelty of TV dinners once more. Open a beer can with an opener. See Buddy Holly (he died the day before I was born).

Not that I am not completely, head over heels in love with tomorrow myself. I love helping carve a path to the future. But tucked away in my zeal for the New is an insatiable desire to (re)live the Old. Which probably explains why I am totally into starting a writing project involving my 91-year-old Dad and his exploits with two pals in 1955 as they drove Rt 66 from Chicago to LA.

And it also goes a hell of a long way toward explaining why I was pumped to get an out-of-the-blue email yesterday from Katie Nelson, the girlfriend and partner-in-crime of Chris Robleski, author/photographer of Polaroid Photos From Route 66. Chris and Katie run Fading Nostalgia, a home-based business whose mission is to preserve our memories of yesterday. As urban photographers (and specializing in retro-chic Polaroids), they are fearless as they gaze through the viewfinder.

Ah yes, he found some of his own kind. You get it now.

I caught up with them while they were at a McDonald’s in Grants NM. Turns out Katie and Chris were traveling to eastern Arizona specifically to try to photograph the long-abandoned Painted Desert Trading Post (I have a nice shot of it as my Cover Pic). I had just visited this crown jewel of Rt 66 lore, and had to engage in a little risky behavior of my own (I think they might call it trespassing, but I digress).

They had heard of my accidental encounter with the Cow Boss on the ranch that is currently under lease along that stretch of abandoned highway, and how after 15 minutes of sweet-talking, I had gained an invite to return. To an open gate this time.

But Chris wanted to shoot the PDTP under the light of the full moon, and all they needed were specific driving directions to the gate and advice on how to get down to the trading post on foot. We all presumed that only cattle would be roaming the range in the middle of the night. So I talked while they noted, and by 3am, the photoshoot was done. See it. Frame it. Shoot It. And get the hell out of there.

I have been an admirer of Fading Nostalgia for a couple of months now, and have an autographed copy of the book on my shelf. I am in love with this on so many levels…shared interest, urban (and desert!) adventure, photography, home-based business. Oh, and from my lofty perch in the halls of academe, I applaud their use of everything new to promote the “everything old” that they do.

In fact, it was through their use of social media that I found out about them in the first place, which then led me to their website and blogs. While I spend the bulk of my time in my Evolutionary Marketing class extolling the virtues of everything fast-forward and future tense, the fact is that there are plenty of opportunities for new businesses that embrace both the old and the new. And Fading Nostalgia is the perfect marriage of the two. I only wish I had thought of it sooner (insert applause for Chris and Katie!).

For my students, the message is clear: Follow your passions, whatever they are. And never forget that what goes around, comes around. Even Polaroid cameras. Use the latest tools of your trade, whether you are peddling widgets or whatchamacallits, or trying to develop the Next Killer App that Facebook would want to fork over a billion dollars to call its own. See it. Frame it. Shoot it.

The lens of opportunity has never been clearer.

Dr “Be Careful. His Bowtie Is Really A Camera!” Gerlich