Monthly Archives: November 2007

If the world is getting smarter …

… why is it so hard to keep up? New Zealand professor James Flynn believes human IQs are rising every generation, meaning you’re smarter than your parents and your kids will out-think you, and he has data proving that the average IQ around 1900 would equal a 70 on the chart today. Paradoxically, this means the average smarts of three generations ago would equal someone with borderline mental retardation by current standards. How did those idiots build civilization if they were so stupid?

The answer must be that these IQ gains are a new phenomena. We can’t possibly follow the trend line back, or Shakespeare would have been drawing on cave walls and Rome never would have been built. (Geez, and those guys in togas created Rome while drinking lead in their wine.) So something recent must be spurring people to score higher on standardized IQ tests.

We think it’s the Tufte effect — the visual display of quantitative information. Books, film, radio, TV, and now the internet are a very recent development, and today’s children grow up in a world awash with far more sights and sounds translating data than their ancestors a few generations removed. As we are barraged with information as babes, we learn to draw connections more quickly. Somehow all this hyperstimuli must be shocking our neurons into new activity.

Flynn says other things may be at work — better diets, smaller families, or perhaps we’re only just as smart as our great-grandparents but have become better at thinking abstractly. Ask a kid today how a dog and rabbit are similar, and she’ll blurt out “they’re both mammals” for a point on the IQ test. Ask a farm boy of 100 years ago, and he might puzzle, thinking realistically dogs are for hunting and rabbits are for eatin’.

Maybe we’re not so smart. Tell someone in the U.S. today to tie a knot, bait a trap, skin a deer, dig a well, or navigate by the stars, and the majority would look lost. If the outdoorsmen and -women of the 1700s gave us intelligence tests tied to their standards, we’d fail. If pandemic flu shuts down the world next winter, we’ll wish we knew more. Quick — any of you know how to build a fire?

Those with IQ envy should check out Seed’s crib sheets for the new century. You can carry around pocket facts on global warming, hybrid cars, and nuclear physics. (And thanks to More Intelligent Life for a fascinating profile on Flynn.)

The pitch

We’ve been thinking about business development lately, having won a few and lost a few. People who haven’t worked at agencies may not realize the amount of effort that goes into business proposals. On one hand, “selling” seems trivial, like the empty promises of a guy with greasy palms at a used car dealership … but in business sales, a team studies the client organization, maps out economic levers, makes calls to resources, sketches ideas, and begins developing the entire solution ahead of time … to try to convince the client that we’re worth paying.

It’s fascinating work that keeps the mind nimble, euphoric when it succeeds, and disappointing when it fails. It’s probably one of the greatest competitive forces in the new economy, as knowledge workers have to compete with each other to get the next contract or project. If you can’t really figure out how to deliver value and move the levers that generate results, you lose and the other guy wins.

Maybe all organizations should move to agency models, even inside their walls. Instead of having secure jobs, employees would have to pitch their bosses every day if they wanted to be paid. Employees would drive in on their commutes racking their brains for new solutions, instead of zoning out to the radio. And employers would be inundated with fresh visions every day.

A model of productivity for the new century: Business development.

Apple to launch faster iPhone. Early adopters cry.

Yeah, it’s official. Bloomberg reports at 3 a.m. this morning that Apple will sell an updated iPhone this spring, which will download the internet much faster using the 3G network. News came from AT&T’s chief Randall Stephenson.

Why on this good green Earth AT&T would say such a thing a few weeks before Christmas, with the holiday shoppers in full swing, is beyond us. Steve Jobs must be screaming now that word is out. Apple is targeting 10 million iPhone sales worldwide in 2008, which would give it 1% of the world’s mobile market. This won’t help sales.

It’s not a done deal yet, though. Apple has serious kinks to work out of the 3G upgrade, including battery life, since the high-speed data transfer can drain juice fast. Jobs himself noted Apple was having difficulty getting the battery life of a 3G iPhone up above 5 hours. The Samsung BlackJack, by comparison, uses the speedy 3G network and got slammed in reviews for a short battery run — what good is a sexy cell phone if you have to tether it to a wall outlet?

As for us, we returned our first iPhone in July. The guy at the Apple counter looked shocked, even after we explained we didn’t want to wait 2 minutes for every email with HTML to download. The current iPhone is a beautiful, glimmering paperweight. Can’t wait for it to work with the real internet come Easter.

Update: A reader notes Stephenson did not explicitly say spring, just “next year.” We bet spring anyway because now the news is out, iPhone sales will tank, and as the holiday spending frenzy ebbs Apple will need to juice its spring sales. If only we could get 3G for Christmas.

The humiliation of Nike Plus

We just bought the Nike Plus in-the-shoe-chip gizmo. It’s brilliant. One piece plugs into your iPod, and the second fits into your running shoe. The shoe chip tracks your stride, the iPod tells you your pace, and when you get back home and plug it all in to your computer, you can track your running progress on screen and invite friends to challenges. The whole thing is a clever loyalty device that entangles Nike runners in switching costs — why on Earth will we ever buy New Balance sneakers again if Nike has become our running coach? It also has a nice viral element, since you talk to your friends about it, and then set up web-race results, and then they recruit more friends …

We’re barely figuring this all out when a friend challenged us to a 1k run. There it was, in an email, a blatant provocation. She runs marathons. Our mutual scores will be compared on the web site.

We’re going to get killed.

Luckily, we have a solution. Since Force = Mass x Acceleration, and we’re heavy, and thus have more mass, and our running friend is light, and thus has less mass, obviously WE are expending much more force to accelerate. We’ll adjust the race results accordingly and demand that our speed by increased in line with our additional weight … or maybe just strap the chip to our Golden Retriever.

With all this talk about cigarettes, we bet she’s still interested

The advertising history of Camel cigarettes is a perfect case study in how to reach two demographics at once. Yesterday, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco said it will stop cigarette advertising in newspapers and consumer magazines next year, following protests that its Camel No. 9 ads targeted young teenage girls. Seems the ads, which ran in Glamour and Rolling Stone, had images of roses and lace and were a little too girlish.

This isn’t the first time Camel has been accused of dipping down into the young demo targets; back in 1991, the AMA found more children in the U.S. recognized the cartoon character of Joe Camel than they did Mickey Mouse. Joe Camel has been controversial on several fronts, not least of which was the phallic nature of his nose and chin …

Now, we can’t say for certain whom Joe Camel was targeting, and Reynolds claimed it was adults 25-49. Wikipedia reports internal docs from tobacco execs show they had a long history of targeted the 14-24 age group, called “tomorrow’s cigarette business” — since most smokers get hooked by age 25. In one lawsuit against Reynolds, an attorney claimed Joe Camel ads boosted teen sales of Camels from $6 million to $476 million from 1988 to 1992.

The No. 9 ads weren’t as aggressively youth-focused, but they did feature images of roses and lace … and ran in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and Glamour popular with teenage girls. Once again, critics said the ads really appealed to the younger demo. Reynolds has backed off by saying it won’t advertise in consumer print for at least a year. With TV, radio and outdoor also banned, now advertising will focus on direct mail and point of sale.

We find this entire controversy interesting. Smoking is bad for your health, understood. But the product is legal and manufactured and sold while tobacco companies and health advocates argue about how much communication should be visible to the public. Perhaps it is time to end all tobacco advertising completely … because all the talk about partial shackles on media sure makes for good PR, and we bet today’s rebellious youth will notice all the smoke.

And the feel-good campaign award for the holidays goes to …

… Oxfam America, for a brilliant, funny, charitable gift-giving web site. Google “silly gift” on a whim and the No. 1 pay-per-click ad is Oxfam, taking you to its web site where you can buy a camel for a country in need. Oxfam’s site makes charitable giving a blast, repositioning requests for aid as if you were purchasing a hot leather bag or pair of sneakers for a loved one. We love this idea, and how it integrates Google SEM with strong creative and simple web usability.

When you make a donation at Oxfam, your friend receives a gift card showing the “item” you purchased — say, a camel or sheep or emergency rescue kit or school uniforms. A donation for that amount goes to Oxfam, and eventually to the people in the world who need support. So much cooler than just giving cash.

Note how visible the customer support number is at the top right of the Oxfam web page. Take that, Amazon!

Our holiday gift to you: 1-800-201-7575

That’s the secret number for customer service. Write it down. You won’t find it on their web site no matter how hard you look. Because Amazon doesn’t want you to find it.

Search for “customer service” at and you get books on customer service, not helpful phone numbers. Click on “help,” and you get web pages that tantalize you with “contact us by email or phone” … but click there, and you get a screen saying you need to give Amazon your phone number and THEY will call you. So what if your order at Amazon goes wrong, and you want to talk to a live human being?

Slate tracked down the phone number by going to Amazon’s home page, then investor relations, then SEC filings, and then the last quarterly filing. The number has been working since 2003, just hidden very, very well. We’re sure that call center consultants from McKinsey, Bain, or BCG informed Amazon it could save $312.56 million (consultants always use precise forecasts) each year in service costs by hiding its phone number. You can’t fight the math.

But just in case you need it, it’s 1-800-201-7575.

See Dick run. See Dick watch video.

InformationWeek tells us sales of multimedia cell phones will reach 300 million units in 2008, exceeding traditional television sets. By 2011 90% of cell phones will play MP3s and video. This means movies soon will be in your pocket or on your wrist more than on big screens, and advertisers will continue to migrate more dollars to mobile video, search, and web formats. Media buyers should start testing mobile formats now to get ahead of the curve. Even if Ben Hur looks like Toy Story on your wrist.