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My wife is a daily reader of obituaries because she always learns some interesting bits of local, national, or personal history about the decedent. I am the opposite. Reading obituaries causes me to check my pulse.

Some weeks, however, the pace and nature of the obituaries can’t be ignored.  I’ve been intrigued for days about the passing of  conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart, who died very suddenly at age 43 walking home from a local bar. I was glad to see this account because it could help nip conspiracy theories in an election year that is already generating its share of sideshows. Breitbart was a Zen master at driving the Left crazy and exposing their worst practices. When I heard that Matt Taibbi, Contributing Editor of Rolling Stone and a firebrand in his own right (left?), had written this provocative headline and account (very bad language alert), I was prepared for the worst of where this country was in terms of politics and personal destruction. To his credit, Taibbi captured why Breitbart successfully got so far under his skin and offered grudging admiration for his fearlessness. For that (and because too many never read beyond the headline), Taibbi (and his family) were repaid with digital mischief and angry death threats. It is a sad coda, because it underscores how badly we continue to treat each other over political disagreements.

If you need further proof, just plug in “Rush Limbaugh” as a search term on Twitter. This week, Rush has generated a firestorm of anger, hate, and threatened advertiser boycotts following his taking the Congressional testimony of “reproductive rights activist” Sandra Fluke to its logical economic and marketplace conclusion, converting $3,000 in annual contraception costs into sex as an occupation. While I am agitated myself at the transparent attempts to spin the Obamacare provision of requiring religious institutions and employers to pay for health benefits that is against their religious tenets into a personal right to have an employer pay for contraception, and the use of this young woman as a political prop, I am troubled at how this has now devolved into a war of insults and righteous indignation. I may not agree with Sandra Fluke, but how is calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” even in exposing the absurdity of her case, going to advance the strong “on its own merits” case against this provision? Here is Limbaugh, in his own unapologetic words, making his points again. As Taibbi and Limbaugh learned this week, it is painful to be a lightning rod.

Co-creator of the Berenstain Bears with late husband Stan, Jan Berenstain passed away this week.

Co-creator of the Berenstain Bears with late husband Stan, Jan Berenstain passed away this week.

That brings me to the first obituary of the week, which is the local loss of Doylestown, PA-based Jan Berenstain, creator with her late husband Stan, of the wonderful, long-running Berenstain Bears children’s book series. There was a time when our older kids were younger that I under-appreciated the Berenstains’ books, because there were just so many of them.  I had the impression that they were cheap and mass-produced and Mr. Rogers corny. Then, I read a few of them to my boys at bedtime. Each one was lovingly and intricately illustrated in a style whose graphic consistency corporate brand managers could learn a ton from. Didn’t hurt that they had a Random House editor and mentor by the name of Theodor Geisel. The stories were always engaging , humorous, and each one taught meaningful, universal life lessons and the importance of  family, friends, neighbors, and respect for one another. The inherent decency is easy to dismiss, but as evidenced above, we are in desperate need of it in the adult world. Jan Berenstain will be sorely missed, but thankfully, she and Stan, in addition to building a model marriage, a joint career, and an entire industry, managed to also balance a family life, and have two sons, Michael and Leo, who are carrying on the Berenstain Bears brand and business.

I was also amazed to learn of another local loss. First, I was amazed to hear about the sudden passing of Davy Jones of the Monkees fame, then to discover his long-time local connection.  This link will take you to a phone interview by the King’s College radio station in Wilkes-Barre, on Friday, February 24, just days before his passing.  Jones talked about his PA ties, having seen a house for sale in Beavertown (Snyder County) in 1986, where he split much of his time between there, Florida, and the road (touring). Mike Sisti, who works with Newton on new business development, confirmed all this, having run into Jones in a Selinsgrove “pub” but didn’t know it was a brush with fame at the time. He wondered who was this guy in the heart of PA Dutch country calling everyone “mate” and was stunned to learn he’d met a Monkee. Biography just reran an earlier feature that included Jones’ purchase of an old country church in Beavertown. He wanted to revive the beautiful building and said “Everybody has to have a dream.” From his King’s College interview, you can tell that Jones was full of life and still living his dream until his heart gave out last Wednesday.

Hug your spouse and kids every day. Multiple times. Treat with respect even those with whom you adamantly disagree. Think and live large. Carpe diem!

Update: We all live in Internet time and before the day finished, Rush Limbaugh decided a personal apology was in order for Sandra Fluke. The blogosphere and twitterverse were buzzing about the squashing of free speech, but I really believe that Limbaugh recognized that he’d allowed his anger to get the better of him, losing sight that he had misdirected some pretty ugly invective at a young woman.

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The Mütter Museum is a Philadelphia Must-See.

The Mütter Museum is a Philadelphia Must-See.

If the question is “May I take photography inside of all your marvelous medical oddities, curiosities, and maladies?”, the answer is a definite no. But actually, my question is “Can I blog about Philadelphia’s infamous Mütter Museum?”, and I’m just going to plunge ahead, not waiting for an answer, and beg forgiveness later.

If you are a Philadelphia area resident and you have never ventured to 22nd Street between Market and Chestnut, to the College of Physicians’ amazing, disturbing, and eye-opening (and in some cases, oozing) Mütter Museum, you owe it to yourself to put it on your New Year’s Resolution list. A visit will cure you of thinking hypochondriacs are crazy, it will give you new respect for the medical pioneers who have helped us achieve the healthcare available to us in the 20th Century, and it will create empathy for some remarkable people who have had to endure some physical handicaps, indignities, and challenges that underscore the strength of the human spirit.

If you are from outside of Philadelphia, I have good news for you — the Mütter is now available to you every Monday via its very own YouTube channel with a video minute starring its current curator. I would like to salute the Museum’s marketing team for its social media inventiveness (you can also connect with the Mütter via Facebook and Twitter). They are leveraging digital and social to connect in an educational and entertaining way with a wide audience of museum members, followers, and potential new converts. Marketing creativity has long been a strength of the Mütter, however. A good many years ago, a former curator was a semi-regular guest on David Letterman’s show. Earlier this fall, the Mütter premiered an art film by identical twins, the Quay Brothers, who were likely drawn to the collection by the saga of conjoined twins Yang and Eng. The museum really understands that its halls are filled with exhibits that are offbeat at best, off-putting at worst, and that it needs to play to its strengths, but with 365-days-a-year unconventional outreach.

As great as the new YouTube channel is (deep, too, with around 100 videos), you need to visit in person to get the full Mütter experience. The Soap Lady needs to be seen in the flesh (or in all her saponified glory). There are several preserved ovarian cysts that are (I’m not exaggerating here) larger than our Butterball Thanksgiving turkey for 12. Then, there is the mega-colon (also preserved and on display) from a man whose bowels’ nerves were contributing to the worst constipation problem anyone could ever possibly conceive of (until you see it on display). Perhaps the most amazing thing I learned was that the Hahneman of yesteryear found nothing they could do, so they discharged the poor man (not the hospital’s finest hour).

The Mütter is a tourism treasure of the City of Brotherly Love and needs all the love it can get. Here is a holiday card in the form of a very entertaining Gamestop commercial from Christmas season 2010 that has nothing to do with the Mütter, but as you’ll see, everything to do with the Mütter:

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The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

This week, it dawned on me that the world of digital advertising has become a morning commute from hell. I envision sun glare, tractor trailers overturned on off ramps, gaper delays, highway construction crews, crumbling infrastructure, and side streets not designed to handle the traffic they are swollen with.

What led me to that conclusion was sitting in on the excellent, well-attended Digiday Agency conference on Monday. Digiday assembled a sterling lineup of industry experts from the agency, publisher, and technology sides who made individual presentations, participated in panel discussions, and offered wide-ranging articulate opinions on the landscape of all things consumer digital advertising. I was probably the only business-to-business guy and one of the few creatives present, so I came to listen and learn. Here is what I came away with:

  • Things continue to morph faster than anyone can keep up with, let alone get ahead of. Digital now encompasses digital display, search, social, video/rich media, mobile, and more across a vast span of publisher and affiliate sites, plus desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphones that accept advertising. Throw in TV advertising that leverages and attempts to cross-link digital, social, etc. and you have media planning that often collapses under its own cleverness and targeting potential.
  • Analytics and metrics are overrated. One of the more incredible statements of the conference was a derisive one about digital display advertising measurement being still stuck in the stone age — specifically, the continued importance placed on click-through rates. The speaker noted that the demographic of those most likely to click on display ads is populated with low/no income types, online gamblers, and assorted tire kickers.
  • Video, Social, and Mobile are the future. Pretty obvious shift driven generationally and by tablets and smartphones. Of course, by the time that the ad industry sorts it all out, we will be on to other new technologies and tools.
  • Remarketing (retargeting) via browser cookies of those who visit advertiser web sites is only going to get bigger. A number of speakers used the funnel analogy of awareness advertising at the top and very targeted, directed messaging at the bottom to catch buyers when they are now informed and ready to make a purchase.  The theory is great. I just don’t believe that ads relentlessly targeting people whom cookie data has identified as hot prospects is going to be ultimately successful or a great idea. I still believe that the average person is suspicious of Big Brother approaches and privacy concerns trump marketing opportunities.
  • Digital media buying has been reduced to an RFP process. Publishers spoke about how hard it was working with agencies in digital space because the media planning contacts are all junior people and there is a revolving door between agencies. Not much time or room for relationship building and value adding when it becomes a “give me your best deal” RFP request.
  • Agencies are being courted as digital advertising venture capitalists. That seemed like a completely foreign concept to me because running lean and mean continues to be the norm outside of Madison Avenue; however, a number of shops spoke very intelligently on this subject.

Ironically, a couple of days after the conference, I came across this article on Adobe investing heavily in traditional agency territory and challenging Madison Avenue in the data sweepstakes of this space. There were a lot of technology companies like Google present at the conference, but Adobe wasn’t one of them. I suspect they will be heavily discussed when Digiday holds the west coast version of this event in Los Angeles in early 2012.

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Olive Garden has a social media firestorm on its hands.

Olive Garden has a social media firestorm on its hands.

Hell hath no fury like an 80-year-old Kiwanis Club member denied the chance to proudly display the American flag during the Club’s meeting/meal. Just ask the Olive Garden restaurant chain, which is learning unexpected lessons in handling crisis PR and social media wildfires following the incident and subsequent flare-up. Here is a link to one of the original news accounts, which took place at an Alabama location of the restaurant chain, not exactly the heart of PC policy USA.

Once this news hit the local news, it became a sound bite headline that spread nationally to places like the Drudge Report. By the time I saw the story, the Comments section on the page was loaded with angry posters, many of them Facebook commenters, who had already decided they were done eating another meal at ANY Olive Garden. What struck me was the explosion of the myth that social media, is wholly owned and operated by Generation Y. This is not your son’s (or grandson’s) Facebook network anymore. There are Hank Williams Jr. lookalikes looking like they just got the opportunity to defiantly stick it to ESPN. There are grandmothers forming a solidarity movement with the Kiwanis Club lady. The common theme was that an American corporation had knowingly decided to tread on Old Glory (or at least banish it from their premises) and each poster was weighing in as a former customer (with plans to virally make family and friends former customers as well). Ouch. Some posters noted that Olive Garden is part of a larger restaurant group and they named the other affiliated restaurant chains. The potential for business damage here remains huge.

Many Olive Garden customers are angry over the flag incident.

Many Olive Garden customers are angry over the flag incident.

At this point, I visited the Olive Garden Facebook page and corporate’s web site home page. Both contained the following explanation/apology intended to contain the damage and assure customers that this was not corporate policy and it truly was an isolated, unfortunate incident brought about by one manager or staffer acting in the absence of policy.

Official Olive Garden response to the "flag" incident.

Official Olive Garden response to the "flag" incident.

The following day, Olive Garden announced to the news media that the CEO would be personally apologizing to the Kiwanis lady. Given the heat and the fury out there, I suspect neither of these steps individually or together will be enough to undo the damage.

Lots of "tweets" about Olive Garden after the "flag" incident, too.

Lots of "tweets" about Olive Garden after the "flag" incident, too.

I predict that Olive Gardens will have to start couponing deals like crazy to win back lost customers and flying a flag twice the size of the ones at Perkins Pancake Houses outside all locations. This isn’t a case of isolated anecdotes about bad service or a cold meal. It is much more visceral and hits at the heart of American culture and patriotism. It isn’t clear what the decision-maker at the Alabama Olive Garden was thinking, but the default corporate answer to most such “special” requests these days is “No.” Sometimes the perpetual worry about offending “someone” clouds your ability to see you might wind up offending “nearly everyone.”

Does anyone still doubt the power of social media, especially when triggered by news media? Does anyone want to bet against civics lessons being added to corporate managerial training at every restaurant chain and retailer in America after this?

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Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

No wonder advertisers get confused about how to allocate media dollars. It is an absolute free-for-all. A day does not go by without another news item suggesting how one medium or platform is overtaking or supplanting another. I routinely remind myself of the progression that TV did not kill radio when it came on the scene, and likewise, the Internet did not replace TV. Every form of media is still in active use (papyrus scrolls and carrier pigeons excepted). I see latest Conan TV ads feature blimp advertising blended with mobile platforms. As a big fan of Team Coco, I am hoping for Goodyear associations, not Hindenberg.

A quick sampling of recent stories should give everyone pause about claiming superiority over another medium or about writing a competing medium’s obituary.

This intriguing story from Advertising Age suggests Facebook is voraciously eating the lunch of major magazine brands. It left me scratching my head about how Burberry, frozen in my own brain as a conservative British purveyor of fine raincoats, has attracted over 8 million followers on Facebook. I visited their pages and came away still scratching my head. This Google search revealed a few clues — fashion launches via Facebook and iPads, free samples of a new fragrance, interactive videos, and easy-to-follow followers like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Still, that is a staggering number of followers, but more power to them. Whatever Burberry is doing, it’s working.

Next up, two stories from Digiday. One reveals how Google is preparing a full frontal assault on newspapers’ biggest cash cow — Sunday circulars. Imagine a digital version of a circular that gives a retailer all kinds of local control to customize content by store, pricing, and product category. Also from Digiday is a rather depressing, confusing  picture of the landscape of digital advertising tech companies. The bar is low for entrants. The result is a mixed bag of options and results for advertisers. Not sure who is being served by this.

This week, New York magazine devotes an extended article to Twitter and whether it is becoming too big for its 140-character britches, er tweets.

If you’re not completely boggled yet, here is video reporting by the print-based Wall Street Journal delivered online from their web site to explain how tv ad spending can be rising as viewership is dropping. Got that?

My next media recommendation? Burma-shave style billboards but delivered with a twist — constantly changing messaging on a series of digital billboards. The product? Attention-deficit disorder drugs.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqIP6xVB6U8&feature=player_embedded

Two weird copycat cases in the business world this week. Both are hard to get your head around because each is very different and covers new ground.

In the ad world, Old Navy is running a new commercial starring a Kim Kardashian doppelganger named Melissa Molinaro, then tweeting about it. Kim’s response — sue the retailer for blatantly trading on her appearance and pop culture identity. Lookalike models have been employed for years to sell product. Sometimes in person and sometimes in TV spots. This case is a lot more complicated.

It would have cost Old Navy hefty upfront money to hire the real Kim Kardashian as a spokesperson or performer in their new commercial. So, the retailer staged its own music video spot and used an unknown dead ringer instead. When the double takes started, they could have claimed coincidence about the model’s striking resemblance to Kim. Instead, they went on social media and tried to create additional buzz by getting fans’ reactions to the new ad. One tweet read  “@CBSNEWS reports that Old Navy’s Super CUTE star looks like @kimkardashian. #LOL. What do you think?”

Hard to quantify what the real Kim Kardashian would have delivered to Old Navy; however, she and her attorneys are projecting 15-20 million dollars in lost revenue that Old Navy should have delivered to her. That’s a lot of tees and khakis.

Clearly, the retailer is trading on Kim’s popular persona. So, why not hire the real McCoy? Was Old Navy intentionally trying to save money or to be cheeky (pun intended)? Likely, they were trying to do both. But it may wind up costing them a lot more money in the long run. Even deceased celebrities, whose visages have been resurrected for commerce (Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner comes to mind) had their estates compensated through licensing arrangements. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, but Kim Kardashian has a compelling argument.

TV commercial lookalikes are one thing. How about an entire retailer that has been copied right down to its wholly unique store layout, customer support system, and point-of-purchase branding? Forbes and other major news outlets report that someone is opening computer outlets in a remote part of China that are the spitting images of Apple Stores. Counterfeit retailers selling counterfeit hardware and software.  Shiver me timbers! How can that be anything but a blatant act of piracy?

Apple’s Board of Directors is currently looking at succession plans for when Steve Jobs leaves the company. Perhaps they should worry that he not be kidnapped, then cloned. Originality is still to be admired and protected.

Update: From Reuters comes news that the viral nature of the fake Apple store story has created a point-of-sale frenzy of angry customers confronting belligerent employees. It is still unclear whether the products being sold are genuine Apple products or knockoffs, but it is abundantly clear that the store is not an official Apple retail outlet in China. Caveat emptor. And once again, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

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I often marvel at how advertising media planners never reach the saturation point. There is seldom a lack of worthwhile media options for an advertiser. There is almost always an overload of places to advertise on a limited budget.

As noted in last week’s post, that is definitely the case these days on the local level (any business with a well-defined geographic territory).  Even that is changing — for example, Mallon’s, a wonderful Ocean City, NJ bakery used to rely on summer vacationer business; now, it does e-commerce and I can arrange to ship its marvelous sticky buns to my aunt in Texas.

Matchbin is helping local media and local advertisers leverage digital.

Matchbin is helping local media and local advertisers leverage digital.

The other month I responded to a print ad in the Norristown Times Herald advertising a free online and search engine marketing seminar. I was curious about what a local newspaper might say on the subject. Turns out, a lot. They, and all of the Journal Register newspapers locally (Pottstown Mercury, Lansdale Reporter, Phoenixville Phoenix, West Chester’s Daily Local News, The Trentonianthe Delaware County Daily Times, and others) are wisely partnering with Bountiful, UT-based digital media company, Matchbin, to help expand their traditional media options to local advertisers.

There isn’t anything unique that Matchbin is offering that advertisers can’t find elsewhere in some form. It is the scope of content management system-based offerings that Matchbin has, enabling a local business to manage its marketing and online business across multiple media and outlets.

Through the Times Herald (and other Journal Register papers), advertisers can continue promoting via print, web, or a combination, plus get featured status in an FYI: Central Montco Online Business Directory. To this, these businesses can add a range of Matchbin tiered programs to match needs. To boost local Google rankings, they can create a templated landing page or mini web-site that through Matchbin’s network will put them on the first page of Google search, so local prospects can find them. If they want to promote via video, there’s a video package. If they want to launch e-commerce, there is an e-commerce package. If they want to set up and manage multiple social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.) and business reputation, they can via one dashboard. There are additional options to set up blogs, to create couponing and special offers, to promote via testimonials, and to reach out to prospects and customers via mobile phone marketing.

The Journal Register papers can help advertisers find a Matchbin program that fits their needs and budget (the tiered programs are priced right). And local businesses can more easily manage their marketing and business-building without taking them away for extended “hands on” periods from their businesses. These are not one-size-fits-all solutions — they are well-thought-out programs to help local businesses that don’t have Coke’s global marketing budget to raise their profiles dramatically within their communities (geo and social).

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Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" 2-minute SuperBowl spot

Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" 2-minute SuperBowl spot

Originally, I was only going to devote one post to SuperBowl commercials. However, a lot of blog-worthy controversy erupted over two banned spots going into the game. By last Sunday, the majority of spots were posted to YouTube and elsewhere prior to the game that I was able to blog about my favorites even before kickoff. This week, on to other marketing matters. Well, not quite.

Last Sunday’s SuperBowl set the all-time TV viewership record, 111 million viewers, eclipsing the prior year’s Saints-Colts matchup of 106.5 million viewers, which had finally beaten the long-held record of 106 million viewers held by the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H. Wow, now that’s 222 million eyeballs (give or take a few fans who may have finally dozed off during the Vince Lombardi trophy ceremony).  I would say that all those advertisers who shelled out $3 million per 30-second spot got their money’s worth in viewership.

Well, maybe not, and that’s the reason for Part III. A week later, people are still talking about SuperBowl commercials on talk radio, in social media, around the water cooler, but not especially in a good way.

It’s not like 1984 when Apple’s vision of the digital future smashing an Orwellian present with a Thor-like hammer seized everyone’s attention and imagination. This year’s conversation was all about specific “what were they thinking?” controversies.

The spot that I think came closest to a “1984” statement was Chrysler’s 2-minute gritty ode to the resilience and spirit of Detroit, featuring Eminem, unidentified at first, as he drove viewers around his hometown and the voiceover narrator shared some pretty inspirational thoughts. It resonated with me and a lot of other viewers. At least until I multiplied 30 seconds times 4 and arrived at a $12 million advertising media price tag for a car company that just two years ago was getting bailed out by Uncle Sam. Hard to make those numbers add up. The line between “warm and fuzzy” and “fuzzy math” got a lot blurrier.

Creatively, my favorite work from the SuperBowl is still Audi’s, although not a huge number share my opinion. I hope the car company sticks with this campaign and gives it the exposure it deserves. I posted a link to last week’s blog in five different ad and marketing LinkedIn groups I belong to as a way to get discussion going about the SuperBowl spots. A lot of people weighed in with their own favorites, thoughts on the controversies, and insider baseball. Kerry Antezana, a Creative Director from Seattle, shared this particularly good link to the BrandBowl site that blended stats from Twitter responses to pick ad winners (Chrysler for overall, so maybe that $12 million was well spent).  There were a lot of comments that everyone was underwhelmed by the creativity of this year’s spots, but that even the lamest spots resonated more than social media’s role in all this.

Edginess of spots did not automatically mean people were talking about them. Doritos scored more for their amazing pug on a hunger mission than the cringe-worthy ad where a cheese-flavor-obsessed Doritos lover sucked the fingers of a co-worker and pulled the cheese-dust-covered pants off another.

However, Pepsi Max managed to turn edgy humor into racial controversy on the floor of the U.S. Congress when Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee denounced its stereotypes as a sorry distraction from Black History Month. I don’t think most viewers saw it that way. It was more about relationship humor, but it was neither funny enough nor edgy enough to register much on either the laughs or controversy scale.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O89q-RDHRjc

The biggest controversy belonged to Groupon, who sought to have some snarky fun with the seriousness of social causes, by having Tim Hutton flip the mention of political turmoil in Tibet around to this week’s Groupon deal for Tibetan restaurant cuisine. Tasteless? Yes. Intentional? Yes, in a Saturday Night Live commercial parody kind of way. Successful? Obviously not, in light of the nearly universal righteous anger it generated. Some of the posters in the LinkedIn discussions noted that it may not have affected Groupon as much as originally predicted, but by week’s end, the company pulled the offending spot.

Closing thoughts. When you are spending $3 million per 30 seconds of SuperBowl time, a little more spent for a focus group might be warranted (not to tweak creative, but to act as a canary in a coal mine). As for the impact of all this? Put in the context of events in Egypt this week, it’s a little silly and a lot self-important. The freedom we have to enjoy the NFL, commercials, and commerce should not be taken for granted. Here’s hoping for a better life for Egyptians, Tibetans, and the rest of the world.

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Capture The Tag is the first great cross-media marketing campaign of 2011.

Capture The Tag is the first great cross-media marketing campaign of 2011.

This week, we got a call from long-time friend of the agency, Lee Wojnar. We and Lee go back a ways, to when he was a terrific professional photographer and early digital imaging pro with his own studio on 4th Street, just down from Philly landmark, Jim’s Steaks. After giving all that up (even the cheesesteaks) and saying Westward Ho for major responsibilities at Intel, Lee moved up a few times since, and is now VP of Marketing for the O Bee Credit Union in Tumwater, WA (the thriving credit union of the once but now defunct Olympia brewery). He has always done great work, and is always looking to leverage new technologies, but this week, he really hit his stride (although it isn’t an overnight success — he confided he has been putting this together for the past six months).

Newton helps Lee with occasional PR and such was the case for this new promotion he has launched with several partners in the Olympia area. You can read our official news release on “Capture The Tag” here.  But more significant is the instant buzz this promotion is generating. Incredibly, over 360,000 pages of coverage posted already according to Google.

Capture The Tag's announcement has already generated over 360,000 pages of coverage.

Capture The Tag's announcement has already generated over 360,000 pages of coverage.

The reasons are many. “Capture The Tag” is a fun variant of the old camp favorite, but updated for everyone armed with a smartphone. Nice cash prizes and iPads are the incentives to participate, but to win you have to collect all 30 Microsoft tags located at businesses around town (each tag leads to a new clue). Some of the tags are tags for that business, but there are also 10 tags devoted to short videos on personal financial education. To win, you also need to be present at the drawings of confirmed 30 tag collectors, at a large-scale party and networking event.

The promotion leverages latest technology and social media to attract Generation X participation (a demographic group sought by so many businesses, but not easily cracked). Lee chose Microsoft tags because he preferred the added functionality they offer over QR codes. Microsoft tags are 2D barcodes that connect real world objects to information and interactive experiences when scanned via the Tag Reader app on smartphones. In addition to the “Capture The Tag” web site, the tags lead participants to Facebook and Twitter pages and YouTube videos.

“Capture The Tag” also leverages traditional media. Two of the sponsors are the leading local radio station, 94.5 ROXY, and the leading daily newspaper, The Olympian.

The real meat lies under the surface, however. “Capture The Tag” feeds useful personal financial tidbits to make the audience smarter about credit, fraud, and saving, lessons in short supply these days. The promotion and the educational component have the backing and sponsorship of the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.

The ultimate purpose is local economic development. The promotion brings participants into the “bricks and mortar” locations of 20 area businesses to collect their Microsoft tags. “No purchase necessary” to scan their tags, but while in these shops and restaurants, game players just might buy a thing or two. Or come back again (and again).

Last year, Old Spice scored big points as a marketing campaign that leveraged new and old media in clever ways on a national level. With “Capture The Tag,” O Bee Credit Union just showed you can do the same on the local level, connecting a tech audience with local businesses, teach a few financial lessons, and have great fun in the process. It is wildly original, but deserves to be copied, so its benefits can trickle out to many more communities. We always knew Lee Wojnar was smart and creative. But he just hit a tape measure “thinking outside the park” home run.

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Twitter remains the most intriguing and confounding of social media sites.

Twitter remains the most intriguing and confounding of social media sites.

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter remains the most intriguing and the most confounding. What can you say in 140 characters? A lot if you are a good self editor. But half the fun of Twitter is following drunken celebrities who tweet first, retract or paraphrase later.
Twitter is not for everyone, but it is certainly a great diversion for everyone with a mobile device and time to kill. Over 100 million new users jumped on the little birdie bandwagon this past year. What is Twitter’s real value? Whatever someone is willing to pay for it. Twitter just got a major round of investment bringing its Wall Street valuation to $3.7 billion. Not bad for a company that has yet to turn a profit and only sold $50 million in ad revenue in 2010.
I am concerned here with Twitter’s marketing value, however. I have been trying to get my head around Twitter for a long time and while I appreciate its many virtues, I am still perplexed by what it all means. When I first started this process, I tried to read as much as I could on the subject of Twitter. Then, I stumbled onto a videotaped guest appearance by the CEO of Twitter at a tech lunch and replayed on C-Span of all things. I listened intently and came away just as mystified as when I tuned in. Despite an interesting talk, and a lively Q and A with Twitter users, its CEO failed on the 5-minute elevator pitch. After a year as a Twitter user myself, I see why.
There are numerous examples out there where Twitter’s real-time tweeting has been an essential news communications tool for street level eyewitness reporting on everything from civilian demonstrations in Iran to the Mumbai hotel terrorist attacks. In the entertainment world, every reality show cast member has a Twitter account and an absolute compulsion to call unwarranted attention to themselves. A-list celebrities use Twitter to self-manage and self-publish announcements about themselves. Conan O’Brien has elevated one-liners to an art form while transitioning from the Tonight Show, to Twitter, back to his new cable show.
But are there any great marketing case histories on Twitter that can serve as business development models? I have read a few, such as the coffee shop owner who was able to respond to one of his regular customers (and who happened to be a Twitter account holder), who tweeted his order several blocks away prior to arrival at the drive-through window. After that, the coffee shop owner started reaching out to other followers in his zip code, then tweeting daily specials to everyone.
Since conducting my own year-long user experience experiment, I have little beyond dabbling and diversion to show for it. I have attracted 558 followers at last count, which sounds impressive until you routinely run across others who join your parade who have 28,932 followers of their own. Who are all these people and what motivates them to follow anyone’s feed on Twitter? As Twitter has grown up, it is easier than ever to find like-minded, hobby sharing, sports fandom in common, fellow tweeters to connect with. My proudest moment is when I started following Yoko Ono’s Twitter feed and she returned the favor. That balloon deflated quickly, however, when I learned she graciously follows every single person who follows her. By contrast, Conan O’Brien randomly selected one young fan from over 2 million of his followers to follow (the related tweets about that decision were more comedy grist).
My own tweets tend to fall into several typical user categories: smartass comments, sports team cheers, political rants, music fan appreciation, and via AddThis, a link to this blog’s latest posts. I have met some intriguing people from all over the world. Some have great non de plumes like Funkwell Jazzbacon (since it’s Twitter, maybe that’s non de plumage). Some of them are clearly on Twitter for purposes of commerce, although in 140 characters and brief follow-up messaging there is not a room for high-pressure or even low-pressure selling.
There are all kinds of apps, platforms, tricks, and techniques to help you build a bigger and more engaged base of followers on Twitter. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way by just launching a Twitter account, being yourself, and having some fun.

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