Monthly Archives: January 2008

Voyeurism, adventurism, and mental stimulation

The willingness to take risks is required in reproduction, evolution, creativity, communication and business. None of us would have left the womb if we’d carefully weighed the odds. So we shouldn’t laugh to hear that some German tourists are now flying absolutely nude on an airline sponsored by travel agency It seems there is an entire movement in Germany of free body culture in which clothes are, uh, too confining.

We shouldn’t laugh because our management team is taking a flight ourselves (fully dressed) to get away to a warmer clime for a business planning powwow. A quick scan of Google finds there is an entire consulting-travel industry that facilitates corporate offsites. Yep. Our minds will think deeply on how to steer the economic ship, and we may end up drinking to our future in a big blue pool.

Why do humans long for green fields far away? Why do we surf the web at lunch, watch drivel on TV at midnight, travel to sunny lands to think business, and deep in our hearts know that, in another life, it might be cool to strip bare-assed on a plane? It’s not sex or lunacy. More likely, modern civilization has our brains so wound tight with Twitter-recession-smartphone-Obama-blogging-Bernanke-RSS-iPhone feeds that we all just long to go away. Turning the brain off is a good way to turn the mind back on.

Impressions recalling impressions

Robert Krulwich tells an eerie story on NPR tonight of David Stewart, a man who slowly went blind over five decades due to a hereditary disease. Then one day in his 80s, Stewart was listening to a book on tape about George Washington’s adventures on the Hudson River. And right before him, a sailor appeared in the room wearing a blue cap, looked him in the eye — and winked.

Scientists say this type of extraordinary hallucination is common among people who, like Stewart, once could see but now are blind. The phenomenon is similar to amputees who feel the aura of a missing limb. The newly blind have vivid impressions of people, flowers, art, that are amalgams from their memories. Apparently the cells in the brain that once received signals from the eyes have nothing to do, so may misfire and tell the mind that new sight images are arriving.

Stewart’s brush with phantoms reminds us that all impressions are interpreted in the eyes of the beholder. Two consumers can see exactly the same commercial and one may laugh while the other is affronted. Even the logic of communications can be disputed based on our differing histories. Will the use of a racial image offend? Is the business deal a conflict of interest? Are you really sure we look good in plaid?

Next time your marketing team or agency falls into debate over which creative message is right, think back on David Stewart, and remember: Everyone will see something slightly different. There is no clear image. Because every mind designs an answer based on its prior perspective.


So we’re watching American Idol with the kids tonight (bear with us, they want to be musicians when they grow up) and while we’re enduring this pure drivel suddenly a talented teen auditions in front of the three judges and Randy Jackson gets a weird look in his eye. We think we remember it.

The look of sincerity.

Under all the glitter and staging and Paula Abdul coming in late perhaps hung over, when pure talent raises its voice, the judge Jackson suddenly peers seriously, and we see a human soul acknowledging another without pretense or deceit. It lasts about 2 seconds … and then the music blares again and the nets cut to commercial break.

Andy up in Vancouver posts a similar recorded incident, this one back from 1969 with the great Fred Rogers asking for PBS funding in front of a Senate subcommittee. If you watch this 6+ minute video, you’ll see Mr. Rogers wasn’t an act … he was a real guy with a quiet voice trying to help children build self-esteem. The curmudgeonly senator on the other end of the pitch softens and softens and then finally approves Rogers for millions in funding. There’s not much of this type of honesty in communications today. It works. See if you remember how to do it.

Microsoft chases searchers with WSJ

Microsoft is a distant third in U.S. web search traffic, with its 9.8% share far behind Google’s 58.4% and Yahoo’s 22.9%. To catch up, MSN just won a gold medal.

Information Week reports that Microsoft has landed the paid search business for the Wall Street Journal’s web sites, which include the sweet properties Barrons, MarketWatch, and AllThingsD. Advertisers who discounted MSN as a why-bother-me-too search option must now rethink that strategy, and as more money pours into MSN’s tiny text ads, the search results may get more relevant to consumers … creating a virtuous cycle of growing market share.

Or that’s probably the plan. All we know is one avoids the WSJ’s affluent audience at one’s peril. If your business thrives on paid keyword search listings, it’s time to look again at MSN.

The Root fulfills dream of national black newspaper — only online

If you’re interested in the politics of race, guruship by Malcolm Gladwell, African-American genealogy, and Obama vs. the Clintons, then you’ll like The Root, a new web-only publication by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.

The Root launched yesterday with star power, an innovative business model, and close promotion with Co-founder Gates notes that “since 1827, black journalists have dreamed of creating a national black newspaper.” The web magazine offers political and cultural commentary, plus a unique tie-in to, a genealogical charting and mapping effort. And in a twist sure to get buzz, the service allows readers to send in their own DNA samples for analysis of their country origins.

The strong web-only stance is going to get noticed. The closest competitor we see reaching out to affluent black consumers with similar news and analysis is Advertisers, take your marks.

The rare brilliance of Darryl Ohrt

We say rare, because we know this guy, and he’s not always so articulate. But damn. Don’t miss Darryl Ohrt of Plaid being interviewed by Laura Newman on the future of the internet, advertising, and how agencies should work with clients. He must have had a Red Bull, because this is genius.

Our favorite bit is Darryl talking on how business strategy must evolve:

“The internet has changed our relationship with our customers dramatically. Some have said ‘Google is God.’ Meaning that Google is all-knowing, and finding everything that you do. You should expect that everything about you and your brand will eventually be accessible via the internet. Run your business accordingly. I believe it comes down to three simple words:

1. Honesty. Be proud of who you are. Accept your shortcomings. Don’t try and be someone or something that you’re not. If you’re a small company, be proud of that. People will love you for who and what you are.

2. Integrity. When you make a mistake, admit it. Stand behind your products or service offerings. Do it well, and your customers will become evangelists.

3. Sharing. Blogging, Twittering, Facebook – all excellent tools to share with your audience. But it’s more than just using the tools of the moment. What are you sharing? Is it of value to your audience?

You’d think that these three things have been a part of the business community for ages – but it’s not so. The internet has put every pixel of information at our fingertips. Which means that the brands who are trying to hide something, or twist a story will always be found out. The age of ‘spin’ is over.”

Free Kiwee undercuts designers and a whole lot more

You can almost hear Hallmark wincing. Kiwee, a social expression site in which users can customize and forward free content such as greeting cards and widgets to friends, has surpassed 1 million users in six short months. The users have downloaded content 500 million times … or, if you consider that all those greetings used to generate $2 each in cards, envelopes and postage, that’s a billion dollars moved from content sales to free media.

Kiwee is a case study in how advertising-supported “free” content is disrupting entire markets — in this case, greeting card makers, graphic designers, stock photo companies, and the United States Postal Service.