January 28, 2008

On Reading

Filed under: Technology — Emily Reeves @ 12:06 pm

I’ll admit it. I bought the Amazon Kindle, the electronic reader that received much hype and not-so-great reviews. And, I’ll admit that I love it. But, I am a reader. I read a lot and I read fast. I also travel pretty frequently. So, the idea of a device that holds 200 books that I can purchase for $9.99 each was appealing to me. The device has its faults (clunky page turn buttons that are too easily pressed mistakenly, the cover sucks, the power switch is on the back), which I am sure will be repaired in the next generation. I am a little self-conscious using it in public places because it is not that common and people tend to stare (and, I am a little embarrassed about how much I paid for it). But, nonetheless, I love reading from it–it is lightweight, easy to hold, doesn’t hurt my eyes, and holds more books than I can read. The New York Times has even said that “Amazon’s device could turn out to be the iPod of the written word.” I would agree, except supposedly no one reads anymore:

When Steve Jobs “was asked two weeks ago at the Macworld Expo what he thought of the Kindle, he heaped scorn on the book industry. ‘It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is; the fact is that people don’t read anymore,’ he said. ‘Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.’” Jobs, however, is not always right: “a survey conducted in August 2007 by Ipsos Public Affairs for The Associated Press found that 27 percent of Americans had not read a book in the previous year…the same share–27 percent–read 15 or more books. In fact, when we exclude Americans who had not read a single book in that year, the average number of books read was 20, raised by the 8 percent who read 51 books or more. In other words, a sizable minority does not read, but the overall distribution is balanced somewhat by those who read a lot.”

“The book world has always had an invisible asset that makes up for what it lacks in outsize revenue and profits: the passionate attachment that its authors, editors and most frequent customers have to books themselves.  Indeed, in this respect, avid book readers resemble avid Mac users.

“The object we are accustomed to calling a book is undergoing a profound modification as it is stripped of its physical shell.  Kindle’s long-term success is still unknown, but Amazon should be credited with imaginatively redefining its original product line, replacing the book business with the reading business.”

Dying Young

Filed under: Current Events — Emily Reeves @ 11:44 am

From left: Chris Jackson/Getty Images; Legends Archive/Reuters; Bettman/Corbis

As we mourn the recent loss of Heath Ledger, his “transformation is already under way, from acclaimed actor to most-searched Internet term, from film start to cultural touchstone” reports the New York Times.

“The unintended death of someone with so much to live for captivates the public…In generational terms, the death of a contemporary most frightens the young.  When one notable lifetime ends, that generation begins to end, too.  The death of someone cut down in the prime of life brings home our own mortality.  Maybe our rendering them immortal is our way of not facing that inevitability.”

After Ledger’s death, “the blogosphere went into overdrive.  In two days his memorial page on Facebook had over 30,000 members.  The entertainment Web site TMZ generated over 74 pages of user comments.  Hundreds of eulogies for the 28-year-old Australian appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald’s site.”

Everyone mourns or shows their respect in their own ways.  I planned to do this by watching Ledger’s movies again and appreciating his talent.  I went to Netflix to add them all to my queue.  I guess others had the same idea: all of his movies now have a “long wait” on Netflix.

Boys Do Cry, But Only At Fiction

Filed under: Culture,Marketing — Emily Reeves @ 11:20 am

In BusinessWeek: “They may say they hate chick flicks, but men can enjoy stories about sacrifice, love, and empowerment, a new study shows. The key, say three marketing professors in February’s Journal of Consumer Research, is keeping the story unreal. The researchers had undergrads read adaptations of poignant stories by O. Henry and others, presenting them as TV scripts. Males showed more empathy and involvement when told the tales weren’t true. Men ‘need to know beyond a doubt that it’s fiction,’ says Jennifer Argo of the University of Alberta School of Business, one of the study’s authors. Exiting reality, she says, ‘is an excuse to relax gender stereotypes’–and emote. Women preferred true stories. The study’s advice to entertainment marketers: Emphasizing that a weepie is fictional may bring in more males. And get a few real men to cry.”

The Oscar Economy

Filed under: Advertising,Business,Current Events — Emily Reeves @ 11:15 am

Reported in BusinessWeek:

“There’s big money at stake if the Feb. 24 awards ceremony gets scotched.

  • $4 million worth of post-Oscar parties.
  • $5.5 million in media coverage.
  • $26.5 million in limos, security, personnel, and gifts for the nominees.
  • $51 million for the main broadcast in the Kodak Theater, along with side events.
  • $54 million in spending on radio, TV, print, and outdoor campaigns by studios competing for awards.
  • $100 million in publicity generated for companies who clothe and bejewel the stars.

Gen Y’s Work Style

Filed under: Business — Emily Reeves @ 10:36 am

We have had a lot of discussion lately in our agency about the differences in the work styles of the Gen Yers (born since 1980), also referred to as Millennials, verses the rest of the staff. This is especially important to us, as advertising tends to be a young person’s business. Evident of this growing concern among businesses, this month’s Harvard Business Review included a brief article on the subject as one of its “Breakthrough Ideas for 2008.” According to this article, “Generation Y workers clearly prefer jobs defined by task, not time. They want to be compensated for what they produce.”

“Many younger employees find they can complete tasks faster than older workers, perhaps partly because of technological proficiency but even more…because they work differently. They spend less time scheduling and are comfortable coordinating electronically. They resent being asked to log hours and stay in the office after their tasks are done, and the idea of face time really annoys them. Ys love to work asynchronously–anytime, anywhere.”

“Going forward, we can devise a better model of how to define work. Think task, not time:

  • Articulate the results you expect–and tie accountability to getting the job done.
  • Make physical attendance in the office, including at meetings, optional.
  • Gauge performance on the quality of the work performed.
  • Help managers and employees learn to measure dedication in ways other than face time.
  • Use today’s networking capabilities to allow employees to work from anywhere.
  • Support the changes by creating drop-in centers, team spaces, and open work areas.”

I am right on the edge between Gen X and Gen Y, so I can see the benefits of both traditional work styles and Gen Y work styles.  Regardless of personal preference, companies need to be equipped to accommodate both if they want to recruit and retain talented employees.

Power Women

Filed under: Business — Emily Reeves @ 8:57 am

When making a job switch, women are more likely to bring their success with them to the new company. Unlike men. At least according to an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review:

“Unlike their male counterparts, female stars (189 women, 18% of the star analysts in the original study) who switched firms performed just as well, in the aggregate, as those that stayed put.”

“Though female stars adopt these career strategies as a way to overcome institutionalized norms that put them at a disadvantage, their strategies are not a second-best alternative. Rather, they constitute a powerful skill set from which any manager would do well to learn. The star performer study focused on one labor market–Wall Street analysts–but the challenges these women face are similar to those in other knowledge-based industries, such as management consulting, health care, public relations, advertising and the law. Some of the female stars’ actions were designed to help them advance within their firms, and only incidentally increased their portability; others were deliberately adopted to ensure that they would be able to succeed elsewhere. Either way, the strategies of star women can help both men and women enhance their ability to shine in any setting.”

What makes the difference? Why are women more capable of building skills that can travel from one employer to the next?

(1) They focus on building relationships outside their current firm, rather that relying on internal relationships. “By contrast, male analysts built up greater firm- and team-specific human capital, investing more in the internal networks and unique capabilities and resources of the firms where they worked.”

(2) They take greater care when assessing a prospective employer. “They evaluated their options more cautiously and analyzed a wider range of factors than men did before deciding to uproot themselves from a company where they were already successful.  Female star analysts, it would seem, take their work environment more seriously yet rely on it less than male stars do.  They look for a firm that will allow them to keep building their successful franchises their own way.”

Although it unacknowledged, the bottom line is that there is still sexism in the workplace.  To overcome this persistent inequality, women must employ “creative strategies” to succeed.  One of these creative strategies is finding a wardrobe balance.  As ridiculous as this is, “women in positions of authority, from Washington to Wall Street, face fashion scrutiny that’s so intense it can border on comical,” according to an article in the Wall Street Journal last week.

“The attention brought to clothing is a two-edged sword for authoritative women everywhere.  A style misstep can be career-limiting.  Yet paying too much attention to one’s appearance risks accusations of frivolity–which is equally career-limiting.”

With the challenges that face women in the workplace, it is a wonder we have ever succeeded.  But women are intuitive, smart, and adaptive; if we figure out what we want, we will figure out how to get it.  I have seen the evidence.  Our agency, Stone Ward, is woman-owned and Millie Ward has overcome these challenges to build a successful advertising agency.  And, I am proud that we have a viable female candidate for president this year.  Maybe one day we won’t have to have discussions about the different challenges that men verses women face in the workplace; instead we will just have discussions about workplace challenges.

January 25, 2008

Viral Marketing Campaign for the Dark Knight to Continue?

Filed under: Current Events — Emily Reeves @ 12:22 pm

 

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article in yesterday’s issue: Will Marketing Change After Star’s Death?  The article does a nice job of summing up the viral campaign used to promote the next Batman installment, The Dark Knight.  The studio used Health Ledger’s “playful but psychotic” The Joker character as the star of the viral campaign, despite the fact that Christian Bale returns as the title character.  And, “Mr. Ledger isn’t featured just in the online campaign.  The movie’s current poster includes a ghostly and haunting image of Mr. Ledger in his Joker getup, with the tag line ‘Why So Serious?’ scrawled in red.”

The question is, with the untimely death of the movie’s featured star/character, will the studio continue this successful viral initiative?  The studio hasn’t responded to the status of the film or marketing campaign, they have simply released a statement expressing its condolences on Mr. Ledger’s death.  A source quoted by the Journal recommends that “the best that could happen is that all this marketing stuff just goes on and the move and the campaign don’t turn into some kind of grave marker.”  

All of Ledger’s fans will just have to wait and see, but the viral campaign has certainly intrigued me into anxiously awaiting the film’s release this summer. 

January 21, 2008

Are Influencers Unimportant?

Filed under: Advertising — Emily Reeves @ 1:21 pm

We have all read Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and latched on to the idea of spreading trends by reaching key influencers and leveraging their word-of-mouth to propel the brand we are marketing. We love this idea: spend the precious few marketing dollars that we have targeting only those people who will help us maximize those dollars by spreading the word of our products’ greatness for us. Now, according to an article in this month’s Fast Company, a network-theory scientist–Duncan Watts–is debunking the idea of influencers as a key marketing tool:

“Watts believes…a trend’s success depends not on the person who starts it, but on how susceptible the society is overall to the trend–not how persuasive the early adopter is, but whether everyone else is easily persuaded.”

While this may be true, even Watts’ own research proves the effectiveness of influencers and word-of-mouth, evident by his experiment using new, unknown music. He recruited two groups of people for his study: one group ranked the music based on their own likes without knowledge of what other people thought, while another group–subdivided into eight “social groups”–ranked the music in an environment where they were able to see what others thought about that music. “In the merit group, the songs were ranked mostly equitably, with a small handful of songs drifting slightly lower or higher in popularity. But in the social worlds, as participants reacted to one another’s opinions, huge waves took shape. A small, elite bunch of songs became enormously popular, rising above the pack, while another cluster fell into relative obscurity.” However, “in each of the eight social worlds, the top songs–and the bottom ones–were completely different.” Watts’ analysis of these results: “Word of mouth and social contagion made big hits bigger. But they also made success more unpredictable.”

Inability to predict and see regularity in what was going to be popular in each of the groups does not debunk the role influencers play in starting trend; it actually proves their importance and influence. Each group was influenced by the influencers.

While Watts’ computer generated models of social behavior are impressive, they certainly aren’t convincing when not tied back to real world examples . The Tipping Point is so convincing because the theory can be tied back to actual social and cultural events.