Category Archives: Barack Obama

Obama launches, the great threat to advertisers

Liberals will love it. Conservatives will hate it. Advertisers will have heart attacks.

Tomorrow The New York Times technology section and will be reviewing the new web site, which launched today to showcase how the stimulus funds are being used to perform CPR on our economy. It has some nice touches: Omnipresent web video, registration for email updates, chance to share your personal stories, a timeline of activities. MSNBC will run a puff piece and Rush Limbaugh will have histrionics.

But the real story is advertisers are scared, because is one more illustration of how large and complex organizations (such as the federal government) are bypassing traditional media sources (CNN and Fox News) to speak directly to the public. And when big players talk to small consumers directly, the old model of third-party interception with advertising gets pushed aside. The issues driving this are manifold:

+ Low-cost mass media — the White House can set up a web site anyone can access for a few thousand dollars.
+ Almost-perfect access to scheduling — news of new information sources travels extremely fluidly, so consumers know almost instantly that a major new source ( has launched without reading TV Guide.
+ A plethora of free media platforms — YouTube, Twitter, Blogger — give enterprises of any size free video and text publishing tools to set up their own transmissions.
+ Growing consumer comfort in finding, sharing, and adding to source material — perhaps the biggest trend of the past 5 years is people yearning to participate directly in how information is shared.

It’s a lovely move, watching people become more creative with more access to more programming. Except it is squeezing the financial sources that make it all possible. With nary an advertiser in sight.

Obama puts weekly speeches on YouTube

Slate beats up on Obama for moving a weekly radio address to YouTube, but we think this is pretty clever. As you’ve probably heard, the president-elect begins posting speeches to the nation today on the video-sharing site, turning what Reagan started on the radio in the 1980s into a multi-media opportunity.

Slate notes this won’t increase transparency — a speech after all is a carefully crafted reveal of what you want people to hear — but YouTube offers an unprecedented viral opportunity. After all, have you ever tuned in to a presidential radio address early on a Saturday morning? Didn’t think so. Most people prefer to watch Sponge Bob. But now we can look for presidential updates on YouTube, or, when we feel like it. Liberal fans can embed the speech into their blogs, and conservative critics can do the same to throw rocks at it. Obama is pulling many online levers to get the message out; our personal favorite is this photo set on Flickr showing the behind-the-scenes tension on election night as Barack and his family waited for the election results.

Nicely played, Mr. President-Elect.

The woman who is Intel’s ‘That Guy’

We were reading a cheerful Bloomberg forecast about the U.S. ad industry being pummeled by recession until 2010 and noticed a banner ad for the Intel “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign. It’s a clever comparison of obnoxious colleagues with obnoxious non-Intel computers.

Problem is, the “That Guy” in the Intel ad is a woman.

We raise this not to suggest Intel is sexist but rather that the English language is still damn awkward when dealing with modern diversity. Anyone who has suffered through a college writing class or AP Stylebook knows the tangles of talking about a hypothetical individual and how he or she needs to do something. Generations of language use have bred iconic sayings, such as “Don’t Be That Guy,” but now the singular subject of course may be a woman, who isn’t a guy at all.

Humans seem to need to tag things simply; Barack Obama is termed black while he is really half African and half Caucasian. Somewhere we read a study that 20% of whites living in the United States have a recent African ancestor. Geneticists have determined that all of humanity was the offspring of a single woman, called Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in what is now Kenya, Ethiopia or Tanzania. If you do the math, today’s diverse humans are all closely related — go back 30 or so generations and you have more great-grandparents than people who lived in the world at the time, meaning we are all each other’s cousins.

Our simple terminology tags must now include multiple variables, recognizing the sensitivities of modern diversity. The unfortunate result, Guy, is ad copy that makes no sense.

What McCain and Obama hostility means for Amtrak

Tim Siedell, the design guru behind the Bad Banana Blog, shared this “vote with your gum” poster that strikes a chord as Americans come to grips with who won and who lost. What we like about it is the pure form of collecting anger — pick what’s wrong, please. Very few organizations have a simple complaint-discovery system in place.

If you think about it, almost all marketing systems are designed to track responses — but not avoidances. How do you uncover the people who hate you and may pass that message on to others?

A few years ago we got a phone survey from Amtrak, after taking the Acela express train from New Haven to Washington D.C. on a regular basis. The research firm asked questions on food, comfort, prices, then ended the call. We gave Amtrak high marks in every category. What the survey forgot to ask was about the conductors, whom we found the rudest of almost any customer-facing personnel in the universe. You see, Amtrak has a simple business process problem — it expects passengers to close the overhead bins after putting luggage in them, but passengers are trained by airplanes to have flight attendants walk the aisles and close the bins for them. So instead of understanding this confusion, Amtrak conductors loudly chastise the train full of adults to snap to attention and close the bins — rudely.

As the train lurches forward, you can see business professionals and parents looking at each other in surprise — wow, those conductors sound hostile.

Amtrak, like many organizations, could use a simple tool to figure out who hates what, and perhaps it’s something simple it could fix. A little complaint discovery goes a long way.

Obama launches, redirects fund-raising to hurricane victims

Damn. Barack Obama has the internet wired. Today he launched, a microsite with complete information on how the president-elect is managing the transition to the White House. The site includes crisp overviews of five major initiatives, such as how to end the war in Iraq, a directory of future cabinet members, and several calls for feedback — as in please, Joe the Plumber, just tell us what you want.

And over at his main site, Obama flipped on a splash page today to request donations for victims of Hurricane Gustav — which socked the Louisiana and Texas coast back on Aug. 25. Obama has created an online fund-raising engine that churned in millions of dollars and had to stop raising funds for himself on Nov. 4; rather than shut down the engine, he’s simply redirected the horsepower.

Industry advocacy groups, such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, have even begun emulating Obama’s online presence. Whatever your politics, Obama has shown the way to master internet marketing — don’t have a web site; instead, build an entire web presence.

McCain wins! And Obama wins! With Schrödinger’s cat.

Tomorrow both John McCain and Barack Obama will be victorious. Because for every possible world, another world is possible.

You see, we have this little problem in physics. When you measure small things, they move really fast — think you vs. bees — and the really tiny things such as photons (subatomic particles of light) act super strange. They can be in two places at once.

This little mind trip is called quantum mechanics, and it starts with a classic experiment. Head down to a physics lab and set up a light gun to shoot one itty-bitty particle of light (a single photon) at a time through a series of slits. The particle should hit the film on the other side randomly. But as you shoot a series of single photons through, first one, then another, each wavers on its way, as if a second photon in an alternate universe were acting on it at exactly the same time. Shoot a series and you get a classic wavelike interference pattern. Physicists believe the particle actually takes both paths at once — and only lands when you, the observer, observe it forcing the universe to land on one option.

You catch that? The universe is constantly splitting into options, and it only settles down when you pin your eye on it to measure where it is. Uh-huh. You really did go out with that hot guy/girl in high school, and if you can’t remember it, you’re just stuck in the wrong universe.

Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger pointed out the silliness of this subatomic duality with a thought experiment now called Schrödinger’s cat. In this, a subatomic particle could decay or not with equal odds, and its decay is tied to a vial of poison inside a box with a cat. If the particle moves the wrong way, the cat dies. But because subatomic particles do two things at once, the cat is both dead and alive inside the box at the same time — until you open and observe it. We think Schrödinger may have been smoking when he thought that one up.

We note all this because the U.S. electorate has become obsessed with polls lately, and the poll numbers have been all over the map. Obama is up, but McCain is closing fast. Early voters account for 30% of the electorate, leaning Democratic, but voters on Election Day may lean Republican. The strangest thing is both Obama or McCain could fairly win the election depending on the day the vote is taken (McCain would have won easily days after the RNC convention), and the randomness of Nov. 4 falling where it does seems a strange way to pick the future of our land. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics holds that both outcomes are true.

So it’s President McCain. And President Obama. In a world where you left high school at age 16 to become a famous rock star with that hot girl/guy in tow. Sleep tight, Americans, and see which universe you wake up in.

The power of finding and forwarding any video clip

Darryl Ohrt over at Brandflakes notes YouTube has launched a new feature allowing you to link to any point within a video. At first glance, this seems like just a clever new web trick of the week.

But consider the implications: Free-flowing video search will soon become video broadcast, where anyone can forward almost any video moment in history. Sure, there is demand for this. On the consumer side, there is huge pressure for music and video content to move to the free; MTV just launched MTVMusic, a service similar to Hulu with lots of free content. On the journalism side, FoxNews and CNN are this week scouring for stories on Obama and McCain, often resorting to seven-year-old clips to find new “news.” Everyone wants instant recall.

We’re not sure if instant retrieval of every clip is a good idea. Remember that bachelor party? Or the night on the town in college? Or the first letter-to-the-editor you wrote 20 years ago? Now imagine if those instances of youthful indiscretion were captured in video and could be pulled up at a moment’s notice. Kind of makes you feel sorry for anyone running for President.

Why political attack ads no longer scare you

The Wall Street Journal noted last week that 2008 may have more negative ads than any U.S. presidential contest in history, and yet few consumers seem to care. Why? The first rule of negative campaigning, WSJ suggests, is it must be about an issue that already worries voters. Both Obama and McCain have gone negative; Obama has tied McCain to the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s, and McCain (and Palin famously) have accused Obama of palling around with old terrorists.

Voters are scared, all right — about losing life savings and their jobs. In the limited attention span that Americans have for politics, they want to know who will solve their fears. Bringing up old radicals or scandals from decades ago just won’t stick, when the worrying rungs in our mental ladders are already full. The attack ads appear to have backfired most for McCain, who has been running more of them and still falling in the polls.

Photo: Thomas Hawk