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

London Calling

3 07 2012

I remember watching the 1968 Summer Olympics that were hosted by Mexico City. My family and I would gather around the 19″ black-and-white television in the basement den my parents had built. That Olympiad is remembered today for the Black Power salute, which at the time came amid much racial strife here in the States. The reception was fuzzy at best, yet I marveled at the notion of being able to watch coverage that originated all…the…way…down in Mexico.

Go ahead and give a bored-to-tears 21C slow clap.

Last year, I was fortunate to visit London with two colleagues and a couple of dozen students. We were treated to tours of the Olympic village, and got to see first hand how $16 billion can be used to host what amounts to the world’s largest sporting event. In a few short weeks, the entire world will be watching the Summer Olympics, not on miserable little black-and-white televisions, but state-of-the-art flat panels.

And mobile apps and online..

NBC, the Official Broadcaster of the Olympics (or whatever their title is), is pushing 3500 hours of live streaming video to a special website as well as mobile apps. Which is another way of saying that NBC is making sure we’ll be able to watch from wherever.

Dang. Too bad they don’t have curling in the Summer Olympics. I’d be all over that.

But NBC is also adding a huge social component to its coverage, which has both positive and negative implications. As we all know, using social media is the fastest way to attract bees to honey. Their admission of turning this into a Twitter Olympics says that NBC is committed to putting international athletics into the hands of everyone.

But it also says that NBC really does not understand social media, because these things can get out of hand. When Alan Wurtzel said, “…and we’re going to spend a lot of time trying to understand how people are connecting with each other, and what it means,” he was really saying, “We have no idea what’s going to happen here, but we think it could be big.”

Yeah, like inviting matches to a refinery.

NBC had better tread carefully, because Twitter is the internet’s loose cannon. Lowe’s learned this the hard way last December when it canceled its ads on TLC’s All-American Muslim,” and Twitterers created the #loweshatesmuslims hashtag. The same thing happened after Susan G. Komen made its bonehead move earlier this year. Oh, and when McDonald’s put its own hashtag on the griddle and served it between two buns.

Einsteins, all of them.

As long as NBC social media managers monitor things, they might be able to utilize social media for its strengths. But if Twitter users around the world unite for a gigantic bitchfest over who won or lost the gold, it’s a riot waiting to happen. And faster than Usain Bolt can run the hundred meter.

While I praise NBC for pushing the limits this year, I have to say a silent prayer for them. This one could be tricky.

Kinda makes watching it in black-and-white sound like a pretty good proposition after all.

Dr “Medal Head” Gerlich

Just Checking

22 06 2012

After I received my drivers license and became preoccupied with sowing the wild oats of a misspent youth, my parents still required me to check in. Of course, back then we did not have cell phones. It meant that I had to either use the phone at a friend’s house, or be sure to carry a dime with me.

You know. Pay phones. Those were the original mobile phones, because it meant you weren’t at home.

Today, “checking in” has an entirely new meaning, thanks first to the likes of Gowalla and FourSquare, and more recently Facebook and GetGlue. The social graph is alive with posts from our friends who are apparently living far more exciting lives than are we.

But now there’s another twist on the check in, one that involves shopping. Checkpoints is a mobile app that rewards users with points for checking in at stores and for examining products. Check in at the store as soon as you walk in, and then the app takes over, telling you specific products to seek out. Of course, we can cross-post to Facebook and Twitter, and rewards can be redeemed in a multitude of locations.

And if you are on the same wavelength as me, your initial response might be, “Oh my God, this is GENIUS!”

This is better than paid product placements. It is better than the new Tivo/Paypal point-and-click TV ads. Why? Because it puts products in your hands that you might not have otherwise ever given the time of day. You behold it. You scan it. You engage with it. And hopefully, you put it in your basket.

Checkpoints has been used primarily with new consumer product introductions, mostly because it is a great way to acquaint shoppers with something they may not have even heard about yet. It can be used with any product, though. As long as manufacturers are willing to pony up money to Checkpoints, any product can be featured.

The cynic in me, though, says that shoppers go to Target because they already have a shopping list, and do not have time to merrily waltz around the store scanning every item that Checkpoints tells them to find. The vulgar side of me says that shoppers may even be whoring themselves for the possibility of a free meal at Chili’s. I guess if you’re hungry you might do anything, but the last thing I want to do is go on a Checkpoints Scavenger hunt.

Still, for those who are willing to participate, it truly is a genius plan. Gaining product trial is a daunting task for marketers. Giving stuff away in sample sizes is costly. But enticing people to actively look for your product helps overcome some of those roadblocks. Maybe scanning the item results in an instant coupon, thereby giving instant gratification. Perhaps it causes you to add the item to your choice set for future consideration. Maybe you will one day purchase it.

For those without a smartphone, though, Checkpoints is a moot point. That leaves out 50-percent of the US population. You’re on your own, pal.

And while I seldom have time to just be entertained at the store, I think I am game for a test drive…all in the name of research, of course. Something tells me that this thing could take off, in spite of my naysaying. I’ll meet you over in Aisle 7.

Dr “By The Buy” Gerlich

Make A Wish

22 06 2012

They are the bane of our Facebook existence. Friend Requests are fine (well, most of the time). Shared pop art, while often lame, is still acceptable. Heck, even the ads are OK.

But really riles us all up are the incessant invites from people to join their app. No, not games. Apps…like MyCalendar, Flixster, BirthdayCalendar, and BranchOut. I ignore them. All of them. I appreciate the “invite all of your friends” sentiments,” but no thanks.

Today, though, was different. I received my first invite to join Wish, an app whose tagline reads “Discover products you”ll love. Share with friends. Unlock special offers.”

Well, if that doesn’t have “Marketing” written all over it, I don’t know what does.

Basically, it is like a digital hope chest (hmmm…I think I have said the same thing of Pinterest before also). But Wish takes it a few steps farther by keeping tabs on the things for which people are pining, and then tries to negotiate deals with vendors to help connect all the dots (and credit cards). Naturally, Wish stands as an intermediary ready to take its share of the transaction, an agent in the newest sense of the word.

At first blush, this may seem like a valuable service. Let’s take our consuming desires (wait, maybe it’s the desires that are consuming us!), make them social so others can tag along, and then see if we can broker a deal on a truck load of them. Everyone wins, as the Wish website happily proclaims.

I am not sold yet, though. Why should we tell the world (and Wish, Pinterest, et al) everything we want? They are not Santa Claus, and in fact will unleash all manner of insidious marketing attacks upon us. It reminds me of one of Gary Larsen’s best Far Side comics. “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal, one deer says to another.

So why paint the bullseye on ourselves then?

My business sixth sense says this app just might fly, though. It is human nature to want to share our wants among friends. The question remains whether we will do it on Facebook, because that’s the only way this app works.

As for me and my invite, I declined. Nothing against my friend. I am just not into FB apps. I mean, unless, I go on to develop one of my own. I’ve got a few ideas, and more than one of them center on photography.

Hey, have I told you about the new camera I want?

Dr “Canon EOS-5D Mark III” Gerlich

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

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’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