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Preview: Conversations with G & T

Conversations with G & T

Coffee driven musings... on marketing, on brands we love, on brands we hate. Good ideas, bad choices. The reverse. Those 'what were they thinking??' moments. Steve, Howard, Howard, Oprah, Martha, NYT, WSJ, blogs, pods, mobs. Right wing, left wing, rear gu

Updated: 2018-03-05T15:26:33.601-08:00


Frauds and fakes


(image) I saw a play last night - kinda sorta about the JT Leroy thing, and the James Frey thing, and the Stephen Glass thing and a thing I hadn't heard of - the Nasdijj thing.

All literary fraud things. Fakes. Hoaxes, really. But...

I remember learning that George Eliot was really a woman who submitted her work as a man because she knew it wouldn't be considered for publication otherwise. And George Sand was a woman too - a Baroness, in fact. Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. (Alright, that's not exactly the same thing, but I wanted to throw it in there anyway, because I happen to remember his full real name.)

I'll grant you that they then wrote fiction that didn't depend quite so, er, significantly on their assumed persona as a teenage gay hustler (JT LeRoy); a recovered alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal (James Frey); a Native American raising a son with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (Nadijj); or a journalist reporting the news, supposedly (Stephen Glass).


Seems to me that these days, every week is a new episode of "Which Lie Did I Tell?" (thank you William Goldman), offering a strong lead-in to the latest and greatest reality show we're all watching, "Fess Up or Keep Lying?" which could re-use the Jetsons' theme (sing with me now): "Meet Bill Clinton... his wife Hill'ry. Congressman Craig. Gov Spitzer. Fess up or keep lyin'?"

Political fraud, literary hoaxes. Fiction doesn't hold a candle to the outpourings of courageous and valiant individuals who have suffered and survived, and who, by the way, know how to string a sentence together and have a tantalizing background story. And I'm not talking about the Bush twins.

(Note: Those aren't pictures of Britney - those are pictures of the girl who posed as the boy who was supposed to be JT LeRoy, who turned out to be a 40 year old woman named Laura. No kidding.)



The list (courtesy Real Simple)
Honeydew melonsCucumbers
MangoesGreen beans
NectarinesLettuce and other greens

Marquee this


This is a test

Metrics - look who's riding the pendulum now


Once, a long long long time ago, I worked at Citigroup. Honest, I did. And at Citigroup, 'metric' is a verb. Everything that happened, or that thought about happening, or that might happen, had to be measured, analyzed and reported. The trick was - once the data was sliced and diced and served on a silver platter, then what, pardon the word choice, happened? In the wise words of my very wise boss, we promptly and with gusto threw all that data on the floor, walked on it and stomped it into the ground. Hmmph.

But I did say that my boss (let's call her V) was very wise, and so she assembled a crack team (including yours truly) to develop a system not only to investigate and measure data, but to display that data in a friendly and supremely usable way. She developed a dashboard for executives that looked like the controls on a cockpit (just imagine all those suits with their own custom cockpit for their business units - they were in heaven!) and that functioned proactively. Let me repeat - the cockpit had its very own brain. This was more years ago than I'd like to cop to - but it was bleeding edge back then, and it's not all that commonplace now.

Why am I posting this history lesson? Well, everywhere we turn today, it's all about marketing metrics, and click counting, and data delivery. But T and I were at lunch yesterday, discussing the thought that although programs are reporting more metrics, and are counting every click every which way, our clients still are not in that much better of a position or more prepared to act on that data. Countless times we have delivered a database of qualified, enthusiastic and interested consumers to a client - only to have them say thank you and, metaphorically anyway, put it away on a shelf to gather dust. What is the post-activity activity? Who follows up on those addresses and emails and opt-ins and opt-outs? Who turns interested consumers into loyal customers?

Metrics are great, and they're certainly a huge step forward from the black hole of marketing (does this sound familiar? "I know that 50% of my advertising is wasted. I just don't know which half"), but they can also be just another safety belt. Just as you won't get fired for hiring IBM, you can rely on today's metrics to cushion your decisions ("but we saw an 80% click-through rate!"). The key really isn't the metrics, folks, but, as V, my very wise boss, realized oh those many moons ago, it's the action you take because of the metrics. All those suits may have had access to the data, in dry-as-dust 10" thick greenbar reports - but until V provided a simple (and fun, suits are people too) interface that not only reported the data, but more importantly, facilitated action based on the data (at the push of a button, minatory emails could be sent, limts could be changed, vendors could be challenged), no one was leveraging the data.

Marketing programs are no different. Metrics are great - but the best programs are the ones that take the metrics in stride and come complete with post-activity activity. 80% of your audience clicked through where you wanted them to? Fabulous! But in our view, only if the program continues to produce consumer activity (measurable to be sure: how many of them went on to sign up for that special promotion, how many of those resulted in a sale) is the program truly complete. Because, to murder the bard, the sale is the thing.

Our new favorite thing


So we all know, perhaps evidenced by the fact that we don't know, that Americans are not nearly as interested in SMS messaging as our counterparts in Europe and Asia (not really a newsworthy observation since 2003, when this was NEWS - see The Economist, Bluetooth News, etc.). And, T and I were no different. But then, aha!, along came GOOGL (or 46645) - the mobile 411. And I mean 411 as in the "down-low," the "info," the "story."

Want to know how many square feet in an acre? Text "acre to square feet" to 46645- and in seconds see

1 acre = 43560 square feet

appear on your phone. Want to know where and when "Inside Man" is playing near you (and you do... it's not to be missed). Text "Inside Man, 10023" (um, use your own zip code) and see

(1/3)Movies: * Inside Man 2hr 9min,R,Suspense/Thriller/Drama, 3.7/5 AMC Loews Lincoln Square 12 & IMAX 12:10 1:30 3:20 4:40 6:30 7:45 9:50 10:55 1998 Broadway

Is this great or what? And best of all, this spells the end of those $1.50 411 calls you make on your phone to get the number of that restaurant. Instead, text "Ouest NYC" to see

(1/2)Did you mean 'OUEST nyc'?
Google Local: Ouest 2315 Broadway New York, NY 10024 212-580-8700 5.2 mi, N

Does it get better than this? Okay, maybe just a hair - sports scores, please? Texting "GMU Uconn" returns Sorry, 'gmu uconn' did not return any results. For HELP on Google SMS, please reply with 'help' or go to As we know today, the results were extraordinary: the first result listed on Google reads UConn's luck finally runs out vs. GMU.

And, unlike American Idol's text-to-vote option on Cingular, GOOGL works with every carrier, every phone that is SMS capable. It's been said before, but we'll say it again, Google changes everything it touches. What can we say? Google's GR8

It must be nice to have a niche, or more thoughts on a long tail


Although I really hate to admit it, no one, not even we, can know everything. Honest - we can't. That is the only consolation I can offer T while we bemoan the fact that we have just come to learn about The Long Tail (according to Danny Sullivan, we are not the only ones behind the curve on this). And then today, I read Grant McCracken's blog on The Coca-Cola Company's shift to a long-tail model of marketing - it never ceases to amaze me that the instant you learn a new word (or phrase or theory), all of a sudden it's EVERYWHERE.So, there we were, discussing niche marketing after reading Saul Hansell's article in the NYT on slivercasting (today, you can find this article here, but with the NYT, access can become restricted), which led us to discuss Starbucks, one of our lovemarks (don't miss Grant on Lovemarks - it's blistering), which led us to discuss whether Starbucks, a $6.7 billion company, can really be said to have a "niche" market. And that led us back around to Saul's article and his reference to a 2004 article in Wired about "the long tail," a term that refers "to the large number of specialized offerings that in themselves appeal to a small number of people, but cumulatively represent a large market that can be easily aggregated on the Internet. Plotted on a graph along with best sellers, these specialized products trail off like a long tail that never reaches zero."And just like that, we were off. By that definition (requiring small numbers of people for whom specialized offerings can be aggregated on the Internet - and the mind boggles at ordering a Venti non-fat caramel latte, half decaf, easy syrup, online), Starbucks may not be in a "niche" per se - instead, and here we land on yet another of our lovemarks, Starbucks is an extraordinary hedgehog. The key is that their hedgehog is not the coffee, their hedgehog is the experience. But back to the long tail, the niche, and niche marketing... (Did I mention all this was taking place after we had just spent two days at the Nightclub and Bar tradeshow in Las Vegas? Just the place to find products including bottled high-quality olive juice (Dirty Sue), erotic vodka for women (no joke! X-Rated, "the first vodka created to delight women"), metal baskets made to order, lenticular cups (you had no idea, did you?) and more...) You can see how niche marketing was a natural topic of cocktail banter.What does it all mean? Well, being a hedgehog (not only knowing, but doing, the one thing at which you are great) and having a niche are not the same, although nor are they mutually exclusive. What the long tail ("which is about the shift from hits to niches") tells us is that today more consumers with less popular desires are able to have those desires met - by smart providers who will aggregate similar desires together to create that famous economy of scale. And, conversely, more consumers will be less willing to settle for the next best thing to what they really want. The smartest providers, or aggregators, are hedgehogs to their niche audience - creating a paradox that Chris Anderson, the author of the original Long Tail article, addressed last summer, concluding that the Long Tail of Aggregation is coming soon.Marketing is changing, and the consumer is driving that change in a way unimaginable 20, even 10, years ago. We want what we want - nothing more and nothing else. American Express is giving us commercials in which we can supply the message, iPod is letting us watch TV in the palm of our hands... we're all on Long Tails... the question we have is, what's the life expectancy of the Short Tails? and who's going to be left in the dust if they disintegrate?[...]

Helloooo, M. Night


Grant McCracken posted two great blogs about the M. Night Shyamalan American Express commercial - one right after the other. In the first, he highlights the ad's effect of causing him, the viewer, to "make stuff up." This, he argues, is a good thing: "When we unleash indeterminacy, consumers will rush in to make things up, including our messages and our brands." He has a point - American Express clearly has the confidence in its product to allow consumers to create their own brand message for the card. And from that perspective, mylifemycard seamlessly transitions into yourlifeyourcard. And further, AmEx has assembled as variegated a motley crew of icons and role-models as you could wish - if M. Night is not one on whom you can project your own message, surely you can find a hero among Robert DeNiro, Ken Watanabe, Laird Hamilton, Ellen Degeneres, Tiger Woods, need I go on?

And then it got better - Grant followed up blog #1 with blog #2, in which he notes "AmEx releases Shyamalan from the constraints of advertising that Shyamalan might release us from the constraints of advertising." Brilliant. And he goes on, "AmEx is so sophisticated on this score, they are not even jamming the brand into their own ads. In the evolutionary order of things, this is pretty remarkable. More important, it is, from a strategy point of view, exactly on target."

We stand revised.

Good night, M. Night


Ellen DeGeneres, he ain't. I loved Sixth Sense, I liked Unbreakable, I sat through Signs, I missed The Village, though I think it's somewhere on my NetFlix queue. He's talented, and even not a bad choice for a credit card company. But that ad! American Express - what were you thinking? What was M. Night thinking?

AmEx's mylifemycard promotion has been great - and different each time, which is a feat. There's the awesome "I can't believe he's doing a commercial" (Robert DeNiro - supporting New York, of course), the funny and infectious (Ellen, aforementioned and always fabulous ), the inspirational (Tiger Woods - you can't go wrong), the clever and hip (Kate Winslet, talented and appealing to such a large demographic)... Now, we thought this next point was Advertising 101, but maybe some folks missed that class. For those you who played hooky that day, let us "sum up" - your message should reflect your brand. Again, message = brand. And, for all the hype, Shymalan's 'two minute movie' is an exercise in discomfort and disease - not, one imagines, the message AmEx wants associated with its brand, card or the mylifemycard campaign. We love American Express, the brand, the card, the magazine, the black card, the archetypal green card, the super mysterious red card. But this, this is a miss. We just can't reconcile that ad with the image we have of American Express the brand, American Express the card, and certainly not with American Express, the card holder. The image they've spent years, mind you, creating.

Really, you got Robert DeNiro - how hard to get can Steven Spielberg be?

and the envelope went to...?


Okay, so who remembered that Morgan Freeman won Best Supporting Actor last year, until he presented, um... oh right, Rachel Weisz, her Oscar last night? And who else was pummeling their brain trying to figure out what the hell Nicole Kidman won Best Supporting Actress for last year when she showed up to give George Clooney his award last night? (for those who didn't race to to figure it out - she didn't win, Cate Blanchett won for playing Katherine Hepburn. Guess Cate wasn't available last night...)Don't get me wrong, I was glued to the tube, and for the life of me, couldn't figure out how I ever watched the Oscars before TiVo (TiVo, I bow before you, I worship you, I adore you... whatever happens in the corporate world, in the zeitgeist you are right up there with cell phones, microwave ovens and Chinese food delivery). But still... did Nicole win for Moulin Rouge or Cold Mountain? Or was it To Die For? Did anyone, anyone!, make a speech last night that was memorable, even charming? Actually, Three 6 Mafia, was elated and charming and pretty darn cool. But really, think about it - who will forget Cuba Gooding, Jr.? Or Julia Roberts - "put down that baton, I'm not done" Or Charlton Heston? Or even Hilary Swank, if only because she memorably forgot to thank her husband (the first time, not the second, let's be fair).Jon Stewart was funny - I'd ask him back - but he wasn't outrageous. And maybe that's what Hollywood was shooting for, at least I hope they were, because that's what we got.Back to our point (we did have one) - it's the ultimate paradox of ultimate TV (quick, who won the Superbowl last year? for that matter, who won this year?) -- the most-watched, most paid-for, arguably most anticipated (though the new season of The Sopranos may just be giving these old standbys a run for their money - maybe waiting 2 years between seasons wasn't such a bad idea after all) events on TV have the staying power of cotton candy in the rain - and the substance. What does that mean? That we're overloaded with information, with entertainment, with choices? Yes to all of the above. That we enjoy spectacles, especially without meaning - in this corner, let's give a hand to the Superbowl, weighing in at $2.4 million per 30 seconds and 130 million viewers and in the other corner, please pay your respects, we have the XX Olympics, weighing in at just 14 million viewers for the closing ceremonies, and asking just $700k per spot. And maybe that one-time events are just that, and we can and maybe should, just appreciate them for the 3 hours of entertainment they provide. I know where I'll be the first Sunday in March 2007... wondering who the hell won for best screenplay last year, and hoping for somebody, any body, to do something memorable.p.s. Nicole won for Best Prosthetic - I mean Actress - for The Hours in 2002[...]

Let's get Howard coming and going


CBS wants to have its cake and eat it too... after more than a year of holding Howard to fulfilling his contract and making him stay on the air, now they're suing him for what he said while on 'their' air - that is, promoting satellite radio, his eventual move to Sirius in particular. Vaguespace gets it right - CBS Radio has a bad case of sour grapes; “I’m the one who kept you on the air and I knew I could sue you afterwards,” Stern says Les Moonves told him.
Add CBS Radio's desperate need for some misdirection (as John Travolta says in Swordfish, "Houdini could make an elephant disappear in the middle of a theater filled with people, and do you know how he did that? Misdirection, Stanley, misdirection.") from their falling ratings (I'm sorry, did we say "falling"? We meant "catatstrophically plummeting") - what better way to move an elephant than to hide behind Howard's publicity and persona - it's larger than life, and it's certainly larger than their ratings.
CBS, move on... all you're doing now is providing MORE free publicity for Howard on Sirius, and cementing the perception that your radio programming is nothing without him (which, although maybe true, is not really the message you want to focus on sending, now is it?)

NBC & XX Olympic Games vs. TiVo


What were they thinking? NBC was behaving like Ozzie and Harriet - "You can watch all of it or you'll see none of it!" And guess what we kids picked? "None of it, thanks Mom." (Actually, many of us picked "American Idol".)
Happy now, NBC? Life (and TV - is that redundant?) just doesn't work like that any more. We can watch just what we want, when we want, and pretty much where we want too. So what happened? I missed the figure skating. T missed the skiing. Over all, viewership dropped 37% from the SLC games (and 45% in that coveted 18 to 49 demo). Why? Because NBC wouldn't tell us when what we wanted was going to be on. Don't you think we would have watched, or TiVo'd, from 10 to 10:45? Sure we would have. But try to make us sit through four, count 'em 4!, hours of lots of stuff we're not interested in, just to catch 30 scattered minutes of what we are? Are you nuts? Four hours today is a lifetime when everything is a nugget, a sound-bite, a clip, a blip.
You can't fight city hall, and you can't fight the new reality of consumer technologymediabehavior -- we consumers are, or we think we are, taking more control over our media experiences - TiVo, DVR, Podcasts, iTunes, blogs, cell phones, SMS, Slingbox, the list goes on...
Smart market makers are playing right to that, supporting it, fostering it, and gaining consumer allegiance as those others (ahem) lose out.
NBC - 800 days until your next chance? Use them wisely!

His and Hers Radio?


Here is XM, going after the men... after all, they signed Howard for soooo much money. And over there is Sirius, certainly not aiming at that 18-34 male demographic when they signed the big O, for not quite as much money. If they keep going in this direction, we could end up with Sirius-ly XM Satellite radio - all the programming he, or she, could ever want. Hmmm....