female duckThe assaults on our privacy come in so many flavors. I recently spoke to a couple of high school classes and a university class and admonished them for giving up all their privacy with nary a whimper. Forty years ago people would have been rioting in the streets over the NSA revelations, but Facebook did them the favor of slowly eroding our privacy and so nothing feels particularly amiss.

Of course, not all our information is swept up for nefarious gain (at least initially). Take ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision). These are the codes that caregivers use to describe the medical services they provide to patients. The old system had 14,000 variations. The new one has 70,000. So the good news is that there is now a specific code if you are burned as a result of your water skis catching fire (I’m not joking) (I’m also wondering what the heck people are getting up to for such a possibility to come about, or the need for a second code for “subsequent encounter”. Lightning striking twice sounds commonplace by comparison.) Similarly, if you are “struck by a duck” or “injured by a macaw” each will have its own code. Finally we will get some insight into which of our birds is the most malicious. Evander Holyfield will be happy to know that ”Open bite of left ear, subsequent encounter” is waiting for his next Tyson imbroglio. And if you get tagged with a few “walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter” codes, well what does that say about you?

What, indeed…? And that is where I begin to ask what is going to happen with all this information. The insurance companies will get a very detailed profile of everything you do that sends you to a doctor. As is oft the case, there is a good side: dangerous large-scale trends can be spotted. But this has to be balanced by the fact that it can be tied back to you. The credit card companies know everything you do with a credit card. The phone companies know everywhere you go and with whom you are communicating. This information will all be compiled to tell your story better than you yourself know it. At which point, manipulating you will become child’s play. In some ways it could make my job easier. Advertising firms would be able to discern exactly what makes you (literally, you) tick and tweak messaging accordingly. But at that point how far can we be from the “pre-crimes unit“?

So grab back some of your privacy. Start with resisting the urge to tell me what you had for breakfast as a Facebook post. That way we both win.

— Simon Dixon

The Dot Dash

dot dash blog post image_cropped2I went to a Ray Kurzweil lecture a couple of years ago and remember him saying that we often view our kids’ relationship with technology as just a step more than our own. Perhaps a large step. But his view was that it is magnitudes larger and frankly just different. For our kids, the speed of evolution of today’s technology is not something that grew slowly during their lives but was present from day one.

I think of this as close to 1,000 new TLDs have begun to reach the market. Top Level Domains are the letters that come after one’s web address, such as .com or .gov or .co.UK. For some years now there have been other TLDs available but almost all have been geographically driven such as .fr (France). Now you can get .careers, .travel, or .tattoo, and hundreds more are coming.

Dot com has had such value given to it – it is of course currently the generic name for the whole internet industry – but my guess is that in a few years that advantage will evaporate. There will be so many new options for companies to take TLD’s with their preferred name in front instead of the one they compromised on due to the lack of available .com addresses. With 252 million names already registered it will be good to get some breathing room.

Now that there will be so many more options for “peteswidgets dot whatever” to exist on the net, the value of search engines will only increase. And the algorithms they use to rank searches will have to be rethought. For businesses that have relied on securing the preferred .com address as enough of a brand separator, there will now be the need to make sure that your “peteswidgets” quickly differentiates from the other 15 “peteswidgets” that come right up in the rankings. Being the first to dot com used to confer status – I believe that will significantly erode in short order and fairly soon disappear.

The millennials and coming Gen Z that drive so much of the net just won’t care. But they will still care about how they feel about you – and that comes from your brand communications. This would be a good time to assess how strong your company’s brand message is.

— Simon Dixon

Thank you for being a friend…

Water Bottle with HeartMy friend Lindsay Mask, Founder of Ladies America, sent along an interesting HBR “Daily Stat” article to me, which came from a paper entitled “Can Our Favorite Products Provide Emotional Support?” The study showed people making positive emotional attachments to a new sparkling water brand that they consumed while watching a horror movie. This is very intriguing although I would caution that it may be a risky proposition to try to emulate in a real-life marketing campaign.

However, when a brand is expressed correctly, it takes on manifestations of a real-life character. I often say, to drill down to what a brand is about is to ask, “What do people think about when they think about X?” (“X” being the brand in question). So in this case, because the brand has a “personality” it makes some sense that one might positively attach oneself to a “person” that one went through an ordeal with. One may derive comfort and trust from the “shared” suffering. Just don’t give your Pellegrino its own seat at your support group; that would be weird.

— Simon Dixon

“Bad Idea on Line One”

Being English, I am no stranger to self-effacing humour (and in my case I have much to work with…) but as a rule I don’t agree with it in advertising.

Screen shot 2014-03-21 at 8.20.33 AMA case in point is the recent advert for RadioShack that debuted during the Super Bowl and that they have decided to stick with. An employee takes a call and says, “It’s the ’80s, they want their store back,” followed by a lot of ’80s icons charging into the store and clearing the shelves, and then it cuts to a new store at the end of the advert. Entertaining, I agree. And yes, I get it, they’ve made their stores all nice and new. Buuuuut, they’ve have also just told all the customers that were loyal and stuck with them that they are some kind of loser that likes to shop in out-of-date stores. Perhaps they can tell them they smell bad and dress funny too. (And BTW, the biggest ’80s problem RadioShack has is the name RadioShack – unless they can pull off a Chuck Norris-like uncool=cool trick, there is not enough lipstick in the world for that pig).

RadioShack sales are down 14% and they just announced plans to shutter 1,100 stores. With Amazon flirting with a resurrection of, I’d say their best bet is to unfold a “go where they ain’t” plan in small towns which have less big-box and instant delivery competition.

I remember a decade or so ago, Southland Corporation rolled out a very ill-advised campaign to have 7-Eleven compete on price. It did not help sales and lost them money. Because, guess what, no-one shops at 7-Eleven for deals; they shop there for convenience. So 7-Eleven gave away profits no-one had a problem with them making. And they changed zero shopping habits.

It’s always a good idea to figure out why people do and do not conduct business with you – it’s the first step of every Brand we build – but making fun of your current/old self and thus your loyal customers is not the next step toward success.

— Simon Dixon

Super Bowl Musings

Well once again, it felt to me that everyone was trying too hard to win a poll instead of making a great commercial for their clients. Overall, my sense was that with essentially unlimited budgets it was pretty sad that this was the best people could come up with.

Biggest winner: Budweiser's "Puppy Love"

Biggest winner: Budweiser’s “Puppy Love”

Biggest winner: I’d say Budweiser. Say what you like about the unapologetic cheesiness of their ads, they know their customers.

Biggest loser: I’m inclined to say Maserati. Beautiful footage, but the message was lost (and was silly anyway). Frighteningly, it reminded me of the launch of Infiniti cars.

Here are a few observations after a couple days of mulling.

Doberhuahua“: that Audi should stoop to this unadulterated pablum is pretty sad.

T-Mobile: if they can just get people to believe they’ll actually get a signal, I think their “no contract” approach could become a major force. I preferred the simple ad more than the Tebow one – it stood out from the over-produced everything that was the rest of the day.

For Coke and Cheerios, it bothers me that they purposely push political buttons just for the hype. But they sure do get people talking.

Chrysler 200/Bob Dylan: I have loved this series of spots. I love the imagery and the emotion (note to Coke and Cheerios, Chrysler celebrates the cultural diaspora of the U.S. without hijacking people’s struggles for commercial benefit). Sadly, Chrysler drops the ball on the 1-yard line… “American import”?! So after spending 2 minutes extolling the virtues of America we are nonetheless told that “import” is the gold standard? Way to put Toyota back in your ad.

Sadly, no super-ad like the Google “Parisian Love” commercial of a few years back. Oh well, could be worse – at least I was rooting for Seattle. :)

Silence is not always golden

In 1988 I was racing in the Reston triathlon in Washington, DC. Swimming was my weakest leg and I was stroking along breathing only to the left keeping the marker line in sight. Suddenly I saw a body go limp and sink. Or at least I thought I did. The water was murky and I immediately lost sight of whatever I thought I saw. I stopped and dove down a couple of times and saw nothing. I looked over at the safety teams and realized if I shouted out that the race would come to a halt for 500 people. I thought, “if someone was in trouble they would be flailing.” I dove down again and decided I had seen a reflection or something. So I pressed on. And I had a tremendous race. And I crossed the line proud that my girlfriend and brother, visiting from England, were there to watch me kick butt. But as my brother congratulated me he said, “they have divers in the lake – someone did not come out.” I have crushingly revisited that day so many, many times. Wondered if Curtis Silvey died to protect my potential embarrassment. I have no idea if that young man who had a seizure and drowned could have been saved if I had screamed for help. I never will. But as I often tell students in my lectures: by and large in life you will regret the things you don’t do far more than those you do.

I think of this when I think about bullying. The scars of bullying can last a lifetime. Let’s not have our kids live a life affected by bullying when we can do something about it. I am proud of the work the IE team has done and continues to do in this arena. And I just ask of all of us: if you see it in the schoolyard… or in your office, or on the street, stand tall and let your voice be heard. Silence can be a hard weight to carry — for all involved.

From left to right: Poster, Cyberbullying brochure, Fotonovela, Spanish logo

From left to right: Poster, Cyberbullying brochure, Fotonovela, Spanish logo

Wall of No’s

Recently I was visiting a non-profit client’s new facility. It was beautiful. As I walked through the lobby I saw a common sight: a “wall” of glass tiles with donor names etched onto them. Impressive. As I continued to walk I saw a second “wall” – this one was covered with completely blank un-etched tiles awaiting sponsor names. I am sure that the client saw this as a wall of opportunity; an invitation to potential donors to put their name on the wall. To me it was something different. It represented a Wall of “No’s” – all the people who had no doubt been asked to give money but had declined to do so. Made me wonder if those people knew something I didn’t…

I have no doubt that you have seen this effect when you walk into a restaurant and see that they have several “Best Of” awards but the most recent was from, say, 3 years ago. What does that mean? They forgot to put up the most recent accolades? They now suck? Well we don’t necessarily know, but as I often remind clients: “if you fail to put out a message, one will be put out for you” – perhaps by your competitors. (Their message might not be as friendly as yours.) So for those of you who have “specials” pages that are blank, “news” pages that never get updated, or a donor wall/path with 10 bricks, or a brand that has not been audited for a while (or at all…): it’s not that you are not saying something; it’s that you absolutely are saying something – it’s just not good.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO