31 08 2012

Unless you have been living in a cave, or visiting a third-world country without modern communication, you know that US cycling legend Lance Armstrong has been in the frying pan. Last Thursday he announced that he would not longer fight the USADA’s allegations of doping; in so doing, he effectively relinquished his seven Tour de France victories. The maillot jaunes he fought so hard to win are no longer his.

The only problem is that, while Lance remains fabulously wealthy, he heads a prominent non-profit leading the fight against cancer. Armstrong formed Livestrong after his own miraculous return to form following a nearly-deadly bout with cancer. But with a tarnished career (not an admission of guilt, but it may as well have been), how does one even begin to market after the flame has gone out?

Like this.

Gone are the Lycra jersey and shorts of a cycling champion, replaced by the all-business starched white shirt and tie. Never mind that, for many fans, Lance is still a demi-god, the victim of a witch hunt guided by motives still unclear. In fact, last Friday, the day after he walked away from it all, donations to Livestrong jumped 2500% over those of the day prior.

Not bad in light of the controversy.

But Livestrong needs to keep people in the mood of donating. Friday’s flurry of giving was no doubt inspired emotion, and likely consisted of one-time givers showing their support for the man and maybe not so much the cause.

Lance’s video shows him to be a man about his greater business, though. He acknowledges that he has been through the fire, but that the work goes on. Cancer does not stop just because a career has ended, trophies returned.

Furthermore, since the act of donating is one of utmost personal volition (it is voluntary, unlike buying groceries and other necessities), Armstrong knows his foundation is extremely vulnerable.

And perhaps no other group knows this better than another cancer-related charity, the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Earlier this year, SGK announced it would cease funding Planned Parenthood; PR hell broke loose on the media and social graph, the result being significant drops in donations and race participation. Oh, and a completely unintended consequence occurred when Planned Parenthood noted an increase in donations.

I told you these things can be emotional.

Armstrong, though, is handling things much better than SGK. Sure, there are still many nagging questions about Lance’s guilt or innocence, but he is not letting that cloud interfere with Livestrong’s business.

And for that I doff my helmet to the man who won his own battle with cancer, tore up the French countryside, and dedicated himself to finding cures to far greater problems than allegations of his own improprieties.

That’s a win in my book.

Dr “Long Live Mellow Johnny” Gerlich

Ink Stains

30 08 2012

We live in dangerous times. In days of old, whenever we experienced something with which we did not like agree, we simply told our friends, family and acquaintances. These stories spread slowly, if at all.

Today, all it takes is a few posts and it’s Katie bar the door.

As a researcher of corporate communication crises, I have seen a lot. Last December, Lowe’s Home Improvement got its backside kicked after it dropped its ads on TLC’s All-American Muslim. Thousands and thousands of people posted their (dis)approval on the Lowe’s Facebook page, with the vast majority being those who despised the action. What did Lowe’s do? It ran from the controversy and simply deleted all 28,000 comments.

Yeah, smart move. Lowe’s a bunch more heat, and then wound up launching a new thread with a fresh apology for the initial debacle.

A few weeks later, the Susan G. Komen Foundation stepped on a landmine when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood. Once again, the social graph lit up and howled its disapproval. SGK more or less ignored it, and to their great harm, for donations and race participation this year are down up to 30% in some markets.

The latest to fall into the social media trap is Bic with Bic For Her pens. While they have been available online at Amazon for nearly two years, it is only recently that citizen reviewers started lambasting Bic for insulting women with special pens. Worse yet, Bic has no Twitter presence, and has thus far ignored comments on Facebook.

To ignore social media in 2012 is courting disaster. Companies cannot afford to dwell in the halcyon days of a Facebook-free internet. It is here, and it will hurt you if you do not attend to it.

Never mind what the heck Bic was thinking in the first place by offering pens for females. Are women somehow unable to write with “man pens?” Do women need different colored pens? In other words, are there legitimate reasons why women would prefer these pens over, say, a regular old ballpoint pen?

Now before you start citing instances in which companies have successfully marketed male and female versions of similar products (Bic comes to mind, in fact, for male and female razors), it is highly unlikely that there are sufficient differences between the sexes to warrant a full-on marketing effort to sell gender-specific pens.

If all Bic wanted to do was perhaps appeal to women with more “feminine” colors, they could have done so without drawing attention to the packaging. Lego made a similar mistake earlier this year when it launched a line of pastel-colored blocks for girls, but made a big deal of it. The simpler path would have been, for both companies, to just sell the same product in multiple colors. End of story. Let the boys and girls figure out what they like. If a little boy (or grown man) prefers softer colors, so be it, or if a little girl (or woman) likes bold colors, then more power to her.

But for Bic to be completely aloof in the social media era is just risky business. The biting sarcasm on the Amazon page is telling, and Amazon is not appear to have any intention of removing those comments.

And if you’ll be careful to not slip on the irony, in many ways Bic is penning its own future. Except that they handed the writing instrument over to the masses. Allowing them to write the ending to a story is just plain stupid.

Dr “Write On” Gerlich

Generation Gapped

29 08 2012

Those who know me are already convinced that, while my furrowed brow may signify 50-plus years, I refuse to sit idly by. I sang along with Roger Daltry back in the late-60s when he rhapsodized about hoping to die before getting old. Besides, I get paid to stay current on this stuff. If I were to give up, I would have to go back to teaching more mundane subjects.

That said, the differences between the generations is growing exponentially. Just last night this all became crystal clear to me when 14-year-old Becca came to me while I was catching up on work emails.

“Dad, I want to buy something.”

Uh-oh. That always involves me. “Um…what did you have in mind?”

“I want to buy this shirt at Wet Seal.”

“Well, why don’t you just buy it in the store?”

“Because they don’t carry everything at the store, Dad. I’ve been looking at their website on my iPad. See?”

“Yep, I see it,” as I checked to see if my wallet was still there. “Hey Becca, have you ever bought anything online before?”

“Nope, Dad. That’s why I need your help.” Code words for “Dad’s credit card.”

“Wait…you’ve downloaded hundreds of songs and apps to your phone and iPad. That’s not the same.”

I thought for a second. “Hmmm…you’re right. Those only involve entering my iTunes password.”

So I handed to keyboard to Becca and let her navigate through the shopping mall that the members of Generation C (as in “Connected”) know. She quickly found what she had seen on her iPad, and I walked her through the process of buying a pair of jeans. Sure, we could have done it on her iPad, but I wanted her to get the full e-commerce experience the way we old timers have known it.

I then retired to bed, only to be awakened by a bright light (wait…had I died and begun my walk to the other side?). I was brought to consciousness by a loud announcement informing me there were more things to be purchased…at American Apparel and PacSun.

Isn’t it fun having a teenager?

The Dad in me secretly loved the whole exchange, though, for Becca learned some valuable things in the process. She has learned how to pre-shop (on whatever device is handy), she learned painfully that her desired item was not available in her size (necessitating a search for something else, lest Dad’s credit card go unused). She had already observed that many retail stores do not stock everything in their BAM storefronts, and instead use their websites as superstores with many times the product choices.

And finally, she learned that shopping is just much easier when you don’t have to actually go anywhere. No traffic. No crowds. No cute outfits and make-up (for her, not me).

Yeah, it’s a whole new world out there, and I am thrilled to be a part of it. Never mind my membership in the Over-50 Club, I dig this as much as does Becca. I only wish I could let my Dad pay for it all.

Dr “Folks Who Bought This Also Bought…” Gerlich

Prints Charming

28 08 2012

Film is dead. Processing is dead. Heck, Kodak is almost dead, too. But printing is a whole other proposition. Turns out there is still a present and a future in printing photographs.

Anyone who visits my office will instantly see my walls covered with gigantic canvas prints of my photography made by and Just the other day, I saw a campaign for a startup called Instacube, through which users will be able to wirelessly beam their Instagram pics to a desktop digital viewer. And then they can contact CafePress to order canvas prints of those same Instagram snaps.

Yeah, we really are enamored of our photographic skills, aren’t we? Ansel Adams would have loved living today.

So I was instantly intrigued this morning to read about the new Walgreens Facebook photo app in which you can send your Facebook photos to Walgreens, and it will even include all the Likes, Shares and friendly comments.

“Hey, there’s your next canvas!” my research partner and most excellent friend Dr. Kris Drumheller poked.

“And then again, maybe not,” the nonplussed Marketing professor replied.

But it’s interesting nonetheless. Photography took a sudden turn around 1996 with the introduction of digital cameras. Film, processing and printing started a precipitous decline. Apparently we secretly yearned for printed pics, though, even if all our pics were reduced to a bunch of code. And that’s how and why companies like CafePress and PictureItOnCanvas are doing gangbuster business.

Except for one little problem, in my estimation. Who wants their photos, complete with artistic angle, sepia tone filter and tilt shift blur, to be printed along with FB commentary? I’m not sure I want that on a 5X7, much less a 24X30 canvas print. Furthermore, I’m not sure my FB friends want their comments hanging on my wall, either.

But I do have to credit Walgreens for a very clever app, one that leverages the changes around us, the technology, and the highly social aspect of our computing lives. This is a home run, even if it is near the foul pole.

Sure, some will cry they have been quoted without permission, but that’s the risk we all take with social media. If you don’t want others to Share or Retweet, then don’t post it. Which means that given this latest wrinkle in FB partnerships, we had all better be a lot more careful with what we say in response to other people’s pictures. The last thing you want is your so-called friend with a drinking problem to print pics from your last party together. Worse yet, let’s just suppose you replied with a hearty “Party on, dude! That was one awesome night!”

So as we continue to evolve in the social media era, let us use more caution in all that we say and do, and especially what we do in front of someone else’s camera. While I still applaud Walgreens for a timely novelty, there are some things that you do not want or need to be in print. Or one someone’s desk or wall.

Because your future should not hinge on a photograph from the past, no matter how witty your comment may have been.

Dr “Present Tense” Gerlich

We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

27 08 2012

Often, it is hard to know how far you’ve come until your look over your shoulder. It’s kind of like going mountain climbing. The path is steep and rocky, and the air getting thin. But just one look back affirms everything as you see the trail behind vanishing into .the blur of horizon.

Kind of like how things are with the Internet.

Of course, for those of you keeping score, the Internet has been around a very long time. Electronic computers, introduced in the 1950s, and ARPANET, developed in the late-1960s, have both evolved to the internet we all now take for granted. But even the last 10 years have produced an enormous amount of change. Just take a look.

Hey, is that our path I see way off in the distance?

It really is hard to believe we once lived in a land without Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Blogs. If we wanted to share something, we had to meet at the grapevine, or forward it to all of our friends. Liking something meant holding an intense affinity, and more than likely just keeping it to yourself. And real comedians appeared in comedy clubs and occasionally on television. Heck, now they think they are rock stars and have their own YouTube channels.

But perhaps most importantly, it means that everything has changed for marketers. Gone forever are the days of traditional media only campaigns, like TV, radio, print and outdoor. Sure, we still use those media, but nowadays companies hire social media managers to oversee all of the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube feeds the company runs. Oh yeah…and let’s not forget Instagram and Pinterest.

Must be nice to be 22. They’re the ones getting all those cool jobs.

Let’s not forget shopping, either. While BAM (brick-and-mortar) stores will probably never go away, their roles are being redefined. They are becoming more and more showroom, and less and less inventory repository. Which is another way of saying that Amazon is kicking some major league booty these days.

Today’s marketing-savvy professional cannot afford to be without social media nor mobile devices. Anyone wishing to call him or herself a marketer must be on the cutting edge of technology, not the dull back side. Any company wishing to prosper in this hyper-advanced internet era must embrace the changes, or risk losing everything.

And while the path feels like it is only getting steeper, turning around is an option reserved for those whom we otherwise know by this word: Quitter.

Yes, that’s a hard pill to swallow, and perhaps I am being harsh, but this is the new reality. Ten years ago you could get away with having an e-commerce site, and quite possibly nothing at all.

The rarefied air of today’s high-altitude internet may cause us to stop to catch our breath, but it’s the only choice we have. Keep climbing. Suck some air. Trip every once in awhile. It’s OK, because we’re all in this together.

And that really is our path way down there at the horizon. Doesn’t it feel good to have come so far?

Dr “Three Miles High” Gerlich