Friday, May 30, 2008

Southampton Airs Its Dirty Laundry

Here's a funny post from an interesting blog, The Stiletto Blog, that occasionally deals with branding issues.


In 2002, the Southampton (NY) Town board banned hanging clothes outside to dry after several homeowners complained that the sight of their neighbors’ bloomers flapping in the breeze was déclassé, reports The Associated Press. But the Tide has turned, and the town council made a Bold decision to repeal the ban – which many residents didn’t think was a Fab idea and ignored, despite the threat of a $1,000 fine or six-month stint in jail. All is well now, and Southampton is of good Cheer because of the Gain in personal freedom.
- The Stiletto Blog, May 30, 2008

My response: That's ALL the news that's fit to clean! Seems like Southampton has entered a new ERA, and shows that the only people who should be living by the SURF are MR. CLEAN. That's not surprising since it costs an ARM & HAMMER to live there. The real question is: Will the Town Council put a BOUNTY on those who hang clothes outside to dry?

Pop Psych at Chicago Trib's "Pop Machine" Column -- what's the fuss?

In his "Pop Machine" column in the Chicago Tribune, Mark Caro wrote about Steven Spielberg and some movie that you may have heard about. The column was called "Indiana Jones and That Spielberg Ending," and the thesis is that "Almost every movie, no matter the genre, explores the same issue with a similar resolution: the repairing of the fractured family." It's available here.

I thought it was a decent column, and that his points were good ones.

Yet there were a lot of posts that seemed to think Caro's thesis was controversial and wrong.

I don't get the anger or fuss.

Sometimes I think that's what's wrong with blogging and commenting on other's blogs: it gives people the opportunity to rant, pointlessly.

You may consider this posting to be pointless, too.

On the other hand, it gives me the chance to mention Indiana Jones, and thereby may increase my visibility on Technorati.

Should the Business World Merge with Virtual Worlds? (Part II)

SLCN brings virtual television -- a professional video network designed to expand the in-world audience as well as deliver virtual entertainment to the real-world. SLCN has become a virtual entertainment conduit of Second Life programming.

As with traditional TV segments, SLCN segments feature talking heads -- of the avatars, that is. The avatars move around, but their mouths don't move, one of several reasons these segments are disconcerting. One

In one segment about IBM's Second Life outpost, IBM Business Center, what's odd is that the interviewer, Cybergrrl Oh, and Joanne Bald, Program Director, move to several locations around the IBM Business Center. Rather than cutting to the next location, the two avatars fly -- that's right, like super heroes, they fly from location to another, and Cybergrrl actually -- no, make that virtually, says, "Up, up and way!" (Apparently they decided against teleporting.) At one point, when they land, they're still talking with each other, but aren't in the same picture because one of the avatars landed in a different place. (They eventually find each other.) When they walk around the center, at one point, one of them walks backwards or zig-zags across the floor.

There's no one in the IBM Business Center, staffed 24/5, except for Cybergrrl Oh and the IBMer. Well, there's a concierge -- staffed by an IBMer volunteer from somewhere around the globe -- but he doesn't interact with the two guests.

There's even an online game for teens.

Seems like a lot of time, resources and effort has gone into developing the IBM SL site. It looks really cool. I wonder if it's generating any business for Big Blue -- or is the point of it not sales leads at all (though they spend time on information that can be downloaded). If the purpose is a recruiting tool to show that IBM is cool, then I think on that level, the IBM Business Center is a success. They did say there was a seven-month breakeven point.

By the way, most of the content available for download on SL is available on IBM's regular website.

For Part II about business and virtual worlds, check out my post from 5/22.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

To Vlog or not to Vlog

Went to a new business pitch on Tues. in NYC, and the topic came up about podcasts. We noted that their competitors were all using video. The conversation then turned to vlogs -- video blogs and video podcasts.

The conclusion? Vlog is a temporary term.

This seems to be validated by a discussion on Twitter that suggests the same thing.

And, yes, I've joined Twitter, but remain skeptical about its value.

The Deal Knocks the Journal on Top Business Gurus

In a recent article, The Deal takes the Wall St. Journal to task for ranking top business gurus. Entitled, "The wisdom racket (updated): The Wall St. Journal Discovers the Ingredients for Gurudum: Thin, Trendy, and Obvious and M&A Reporters Offer Dueling Punditry," The Deal said it noted "three signs of the apocalypse in a single story" because the Journal:
  1. Presented the entire article on the front page of the Journal's Marketplace section.
  2. The methodology behind the ranking, which basically consisted of tallying up the "Google hits, media mentions and academic citations" scored by a list of influential business thinkers.
  3. And then the list includes NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, in spots No. 2 and No. 4, respectively. Meanwhile Michael Porter and Tom Peters, who topped a similar list in 2003, fell to Nos. 14 and 18, respectively.
Ok, I don't agree these are signs of the apocalypse, but I do have to agree that ranking based on Google hits isn't necessarily the most scientific method to ranking gurus by impact.

The article is available here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Definition of "Frivolous Lawsuits" Depends On the Eye of the Litigant

In politics, words take on different meanings depending on who's talking.

Take "activist judges" -- always considered to be a bad thing, apparently. Yet the definition of what constitutes "activist judges" is this: judges who decide cases against my beliefs. Republicans decry "activist judges" who, in their view, have made bad liberal choices. Democrats decry "activist judges" who, in their view, have made bad conservative choices.

Or "special interests" -- always a bad thing. "Special interests" always belong to the other side while our side supports important issues.

The latest entry is "frivolous law suits." According to BusinessWeek, former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork condemned frivolous suits in a famous Washington Times op-ed in 1995.

In 2006, while speaking at the Yale Club in NYC, Bork fell while walking to the dais. He sued the Yale Club for more than $1 milllion. Here's BusinessWeek's take: "Asked if there was an inconsistency in championing the curtailment of litigation and then pursuing his own, Bork told BusinessWeek: 'That’s idiotic. I never said nobody should be able to sue for injury.... I was talking about frivolous lawsuits.'

Apparently, Bork considers "frivolous lawsuits" to be those brought by other people. By definition, his lawsuits are not frivolous. Good to know. The next time you hear someone talk about frivolous lawsuits, ask yourself: WWBS -- What Would Bork Sue?

To Twitter or Not to Twitter

Last month, the Boston Business Journal (BBJ) ran an article, "Twitter away: PR pros mix business and pleasure."

I understand the need to embrace Web 2.0 and social media as a way to understand and evaluate it -- hence, as one initiative, this blog.

But I haven't seen a lot of business from the dozens of social networking communities to which I belong or have monitored (LinkedIn, Facebook, Plaxo, MySpace, etc.) There's a point at which those sites have been mildly fun -- Facebook's quizzes -- and mildly useful in finding or keeping track of former classmates and colleagues. And then it doesn't take much more for the time invested in these sites for me to feel like I must have something better to do. Like managing some of the back office work I should be doing.

For the time being, I'm not going to Twitter more time away. But I'd be interested to hear what the point of Twitter is from a business perspective.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Another day in the newspaper business, more layoffs

General Media, a holding company that owns television stations and newspapers including the Winston-Salem Journal, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Tampa Tribune, announced yesterday that it will layoff 11% of its workforce -- about 810 jobs.

Most of the cuts will come from its publishing division, which will lose 745 jobs. The newspaper business is taking a significant hit from:
  • Declining advertising purchases.
  • Higher costs that include newsprint, transportation costs, etc.
  • Declining readership.
Interestingly, its broadcast division will lose just 45 jobs. Keep in mind that broadcast networks/stations have seen declining viewership for years, exacerbated by the lengthy mid-season writers' strike.

Corporate will lose 20 jobs. No explanation needed as to why there are not many cuts here.

Even more telling in terms of the future of the media business is that all is not bleak for Media General in terms of hiring.

Media General announced that it will add -- yes, add -- 60 jobs in its interactive media division.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Businesses, Virtual Worlds don't mix

Interesting Wall St. Journal article about virtual worlds and businesses. Apparently they don't mix.

The article, "Businesses Take Avatars, Go Home," (available at, found that 90% of businesses fail within 18 months, according to Gartner.

I'm not surprised that so many virtual world initiatives fail. Most people go to virtual worlds to avoid the real one. There was an amazing Journal profile last year of a man who spends hours and hours in Second Life, spending time with a woman who is not his wife -- even though he's married, in fact something of a newlywed. (His real-life was none too happy about his past time.)

What I did find surprising is that Gartner predicts that 70% of businesses will have their own virtual branded worlds -- and that these will be more effective than placing a brand in the context of some other company's virtual world.

Makes sense from a branding perspective. But that means there are more virtual worlds trying to grab people's attention. There are already too many social networking sites.

My prediction: the future will belong to mashups that combine social networking sites with virtual worlds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The trouble with newspapers

With the baseball season in full swing, we have a habit in my family: my boys will open the front door in the morning, and pick up the three newspapers we get in order to steal the sports section to see how the Red Sox have done.

The other morning, my older son looked up from the sports section and asked me how much the Boston Globe costs each day. After I told him (without going into the higher cost for the Sunday paper), he asked me how much it costs each year. I gave him an estimate.

He then asked me a question that points to the problem facing newspapers everywhere: "But if you read it on the Internet, don't have to pay for the Globe -- right? Why don't you just read it for free on the Internet?"

I love reading newspapers, leafing through the pages even if they leave ink on my fingers that smudge on everything (as my wife points out). It can be easier to read the entire newspaper when it's available on paper, something more comfortable than the endless clicking on a computer.

Yet I realized I didn't have a good answer for my son.

It would be cheaper and would reduce smudges at home if I got in the habit of reading the online versions of the Globe, Times, Wall St. Journal and the 30 magazines.

Which is why newspapers are shrinking. Yet only the Journal has had a successful online subscriber base.

Guess my boys will have to learn, too, to log on first thing in the morning to check out the scores.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Young Franken-Brand

The New York Times Magazine published an interesting article about branding. "Can a Dead Brand Live Again" looked at efforts to revive so-called ghost brands that are no longer available (except, perhaps, on eBay) like Brim, Nuprin and Underalls.

Companies by the names and sometimes the formulas for the products and try reviving them. Sometimes the new version shares only a few things with the previous iteration...For the newly relaunched Salon Selectives hair products, the products shared the same color pink (but differently shaped) bottles from the original and contained a similar aroma as the original.

This remaking or updating of a ghost brand is actually standard procedure. That's why I called it Franken-Brand. (it has nothing to do with Al Franken.)

The idea is that people will have faulty memories but will recall the brand image established by million-dollar ad campaigns that are decades old and will buy the new products. And it seems to work. That's why I did not describe the product categories for Brim, Nuprin or Underalls -- I think most people reading this will be familiar with them.

The article, written by Rob Walker, is worth reading. Walker writes the Consumed column for the New York Times Magazine, and wrote, “Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are.”