Monthly Archives: December 2007

Dear Pontiac: What a spec ad is …

… is not for the squeamish. Spec ads are not real ads, but things you create to try to show what you could do if someone hired you. Check out this brilliant, disturbing spec ad for Pontiac that probably will never see the light of TV, but, damn, if it did, no one would ever forget it.

Wouldn’t it be great if automotive ads showed something other than cars zipping down Route 1 south of San Francisco?

(Tx to AdGabber. And if you’re looking for a job in advertising, read about spec ads here.)

The open market niche: Profiting from environmentalism

Here’s a feel-good idea for the New Year: What if you could make money by saving the planet?

Recycling gadgets will get more attention in 2008, as 70 million TV sets go obsolete. By February 2009, the FCC will force all TV broadcasters to convert to digital signals, turning millions of old cathode ray tube sets into pretty black glass boxes. Many of these old TVs have 4 to 8 pounds of lead in the screen. You better believe recycling gadgets will hit the major news wires by next fall.

Consider the 500 million used cell phones in the United States, with a combined total of 312,000 pounds of lead. Dump them all in local landfills, and that lead heads for groundwater … and we were worried about Chinese toys? Cell phone batteries also contain cadmium, a human carcinogen that causes lung or liver damage.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if a company had the foresight to profit in advance of an environmental concern? What if a Sony or Apple or AT&T repositioned themselves as a national resource for gathering old gadgets, beyond their own products? We bet they’d make a boatload of money in new gadget sales.

Until then, we offer four ways to clean out the junk drawer for the New Year.

1. Drop off old cell phones at a cell phone store. Most carriers will recycle them, or even donate the old phones to victims of domestic violence. Verizon, for example, has a HopeLine recycling program that has kept 200 tons of electronic waste and batteries out of landfills.

2. If your old gadget seems to still work, punch it in to This web site will give you a quote to actually buy your old technology, and if you accept, it will send a free shipping label for you to drop it in the mail.

3. One of the best things you can do is find out where to take old batteries. About 3 billion batteries are sold in the U.S. each year. Call to Recycle offers locations for battery recycling nationally.

4. For general information on recycling, the web site Earth911 lists local resources that will accept batteries and all forms of electronics.

What if the next iPhone update was universal remote control?

What if instead of selling us something new in 2008, Apple simply updated its 1 million+ iPhones already in circulation with a little gift: Universal remote capability? If all those iPhones suddenly could control your DVD and cable and stereo with a few glowing icons, purchasing Apple’s new video players might be more appealing.

The thought is spurred by a Fast Company article, which throws cold water on Apple noting that Steve Jobs has his work cut out to outdo the iPhone hype. The big problem, FC says, is that Apple’s current stock momentum is based on the rare luck it had by breaking both the MP3 player and music download market at the same time. Back when the first iPod and iTunes were released, there was a huge vacuum in the entertainment content market and Apple filled it. The iPod took off, then the iPhone, and Apple’s computer sales have rode the wave. Now, with the market awash in good technology and with videos all over the web, video entertainment won’t be so easy to dominate. If Apple doesn’t do something brilliant soon, its momentum may run dry.

Which is why we find it interesting Apple has filed patents No. 20070189737 for a Multimedia Control Center and No. 20070230723 for a Portable Media Delivery System. The first is a method to manage different devices with a media control center; the second would help current Apple products talk to non-Apple products.

Are iPhones a Trojan Horse for Apple to gain access to your beloved living room? Would a million users given sudden access to a remote that actually ran everything be more interested in downloaded Apple iTunes videos for the Apple TV system? Just a thought. This may sound radical, but then, so is an MP3 player that talks to your Nike sneakers.

Hello, Mint. Good-bye, checkbook.

If you do nothing else this year, check out It’s a free web site that automatically pulls together your entire financial life — credit cards and bank accounts — sorts the data, and presents you with summaries without you having to lift a finger. The beautiful site, unlike other complex personal finance programs, does everything automatically.

The site launched in September as the brainchild of Aaron Patzer. His mission is to help the under-34 crowd, especially the college kids with ADD who have $21k in loans and $3k on credit cards by the time they graduate. Unlike Quicken, Mint doesn’t require data input. You don’t have to hold on to receipts, type in numbers, or sort your spending into categories. Instead, Mint automatically pulls information from your cards or bank using the same backbone technology as Bank of America, so your information is always secure, and sorts the data for you.

We tested Mint out after reading a glowing review in Fast Company. Setup took 3 minutes … we punched in an email, password, picked the names of our major banks and credit cards, put in their passwords … and were done. Mint sucked information from each of the accounts into a series of simple tabs. One web page showed spending categories. A second showed us how we could easily save $500 a year.

Mint has many cool features, such as the ability to send you a text message when your bank account is low. Its pie charts and graphs break your spending down into categories, so you can easily see if your gas and food costs are rising or falling each month. It also has a few bugs — the most obvious being it double-counts what you spend within a credit card account and what you spend from your bank to pay off the same credit card.

And yes, Mint exists to make money with ads or “savings recommendations” that refer you to new banks, but those are easily ignored.

But damn, it’s brilliant. In 2008, thanks to Mint we may never balance our checkbook again.

Walt Mossberg and the future of video: Beauty or the beast?

We love Walt. But watching the WSJ guru on camera makes us wonder: Why is so much web video still so bad? It looks like Walt forgot to clean his office before this take.

We wonder if the emergence of video — yes, real democratized video input will soon be here, with every cell phone inputting images to the web once the U.S. finally gets high-speed mobile figured out like Europe — will threaten old-school writers who, while brilliant, don’t have the anchorman smile of standard TV production. Or maybe viewers will lighten up and learn to enjoy a more gritty world where content, and not beauty, drives communication images.

Wanna bet?

The British monarchy’s little shackles on YouTube

Elizabeth II, the Queen of Britain, has posted her annual Christmas message on YouTube this year. 2007 will be the year when video officially moved to the web–with even conservative government leaders recognizing it as a major channel. Trouble is, the monarchy has blocked the ability of users to share this content with others.

Big mistake. Video content works best online when you give up some control. For example, the latest report by Pew shows 64% of online teenagers engage in some type of content creation–and that means pulling, posting and sharing information.

The survey found that content creation is not just about sharing creative output; it is also about participating in conversations fueled by that content. Nearly half (47%) of online teens have posted photos where others can see them, and 89% of those teens who post photos say that people comment on the images at least “some of the time.

Think of the marketing power behind this. No longer do you have viewers sitting passively in front of TV just watching your ads or message; you now have avid fans reposting, distributing, and commenting on your communication. This builds impressions, can go viral to reach millions, and empowers your users to engage in a conversation.

Giving users such freedom can be scary. We’ve noted that when big organizations or traditional media players (such as the British Monarchy or Oprah’s Harpo Productions) move online, they typically try to restrain the content distribution. Alas, put brakes on it and you stop the impact. That’s why you can’t see the Queen’s message, above, since we could only grab a screen shot. The Queen has disabled the YouTube features that would allow users to share her video or even write comments about it.

Dear Elizabeth II, happy new year. Here’s hoping in 2008 you set your message free.