7 Ways to Avoid a Lance Armstrong-Like Credibility Crisis

Every organization makes mistakes. These mistakes often cause harm to others. Most of the time, they are unintentional, sometimes a wayward employee, associate or even a win-at-all-costs owner does something dishonest, immoral or unethical. Maintaining credibility and reputation in situations like these is difficult, but we can certainly learn the best way to handle them, or not to handle them.

Now that the (former) 7-Time Tour de France winner has finally (somewhat) admitted to doping (who saw that coming?), we offer 7 Lessons in Credibility from the Fall of Lance.

Lance Races in the Tour of California

Lance Races in the Tour of California

1. Time Causes Untreated Wounds to Fester, Not Heal

Was he hoping the accusations would just go away? They’d been calling Lance Armstrong a doper for over 10 years.   and every couple years, more damning evidence would surface, followed by denial after denial. The audacity to address and deny the allegations in a commercial for NIKE

Finally, in August of 2012, Mr. Armstrong stopped fighting the charges, while still denying any wrong doing.

“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ’Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999.”–Lance Armstrong. August 23, 2012.

 

And finally this week, the truth emerges. Most of it, anyway.

What good did a decade of denial do him? The Court of Public Opinion (see tip # 6) had convicted him a long time ago. Ten years is too long a time to learn that it’s not going to go away!

Lesson: When it’s a big deal, waiting it out is a terribly strategy.

2. Shooting the Messenger Can Backfire

Many of the accusations against Armstrong came from fellow cyclists, such as Floyd Landis. Lance did what many people do–fire back and try to question their accuser’s credibility.

““It’s our word against his word. I like our word. We like our credibility. Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago.”

–Lance Armstrong, May 2010.

Now Armstrong is being sued by Landis. I’m hope he still like his word against Landis’. I’m not sure a jury will.

As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports puts it:“Armstrong isn’t necessarily a bad guy for doping. He is a bad guy for the way he used his immense power, fame and fortune to attempt to ruin anyone who dared to speak the truth to his avalanche of lies”

Lesson: The coverup often hurts more people than the scandal. It can cost more too.

3. Truth and (Possibly Less) Consequences

The reason people keep secrets in the first place is probably because the consequences (real or imagined) of telling the truth seem more distasteful than keeping it under wraps.

In Lance’s case, he almost certainly would have lost his Tour de France titles after having admitted to doping. He would have lost some respect. But he also would have been able to move on with his life and win back much of that respect if he made himself part of the solution instead of dragging the world through a slow-motion train wreck of denial.

The consequences are real. You are correct to evaluate and try to minimize them, but you will not avoid them altogether. However, the longer the denial and cover up continue, the more damage is done and the less forgiving people are inclined to be.

Lesson: Consequences of lies and deceit only get worse with time.

4. You Really Can’t Keep a Secret

It’s very rare for one person to be the only one who knows something.

 

You probably won’t be the weak link that lets the secret slip, especially if you’ve decided the consequences of telling the truth are too great. But you’re not dealing with just you. Even small organizations have a myriad of people (present and future) who will uncover the company’s dirty secrets by being “read in” to the situation, stumbling on it by accident or searching for dirt.

Even people who pinky-swear to keep your secret are not always reliable. Not that they’ll fink on you on purpose, but people

  •  love having the scoop
  •  want to look cool to others
  • often forget what they’re not supposed to say

Lesson: You may be able to take a secret to your grave, but the odds are against it.

5.There Will Always be Someone Who Knows

You.

Guilt is a great way to drag your self-image down, which has repercussions in all areas of your life.

 

Most likely some of your employees or associates (even if they only have suspicions).

Keeping a secret is expensive. It requires time and brainpower (and sometimes money) to keep the dirty secret locked up. It distracts from more important pursuits.

Also, one is usually not enough, and the culture of secrecy can hamper your ongoing success (see tip #7).

Lesson: Even Secrets that never get out are harmful.

Lance Races in Australia

Lance Races in Australia

6. How to Win in the Court of Public Opinion

Imagine how Mr. Armstrong’s public perception would be today if in 2005 he had issued this statement:

In an era of cycling rampant with under-the-radar PED use, I was sadly no exception. I was motivated by my desire to win, which drove me to use unethical means to increase my performance. Many of my fellow cyclists of this era used these same tactics. I deeply regret the negative publicity my actions have brought upon the sport. I am cooperating fully with US Cycling, the USADA and Tour officials and am working with them to improve detection of these substances during testing. To those who looked to me as a role model, I hope you will emulate the passion, relentless training and fighting spirit that saw me through cancer and back to professional cycling.”
–Lance Armstrong’s Better Alter Ego, c.a. 2005 or earlier
 

Many people make the mistake of adopting a criminal court mindset. One that says “If you can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, then I’m not guilty.” Such an attitude may keep you out of the slammer, but it won’t help your credibility very much in the court of public opinion.

I will be the first to agree the public wrongly convicts many people in their court. I will side wholeheartedly with those that say the media whips up a frenzy over small matters to boost ratings without regard to the harm their often-over-dramatized accusations may cause. But the truth is, another person’s decision to buy from you, associate with you, support your cause, or spread your message is almost always based on feelings and opinion over fact.

Winning in the court of public opinion requires one of two strategies.

  1. If you are truly, 100% innocent of the accusation, prove it beyond all doubt.
  2. If you even partially guilty, admit it in a way that acknowledges fault, sets up a mechanism to make it right and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Lesson: “You can’t prove it” serves a silver-platter confession to your prosecutors in the court of public opinion.

7. Moving Towards Lasting Success

You have to care, and you can’t fake it. If you don’t care about the harm, you’ve done to others intentional or unintentional, then you will one day be exposed as the fraud you are.

 

Assuming you do care, what can you do to make sure the situation that got you here doesn’t happen again? Is it a personal failure, a personnel failure, a procedure failure, the lack of a moral compass? (In Lance’s case, seemingly all of the above).

You can redeem your organization’s reputation and credibility. Second chances are just about that, though. Make the same mistake repeatedly and any amount of well-written PR-crafted apologies will exposed for the insincere spin they are. Fix the problem, be better for it, and move on toward success. You’ll come ahead in the end.

Lesson: Fix the problem. You can’t talk your way out of the same problem again and again.

Bottom Line

Your organization may not be on the world stage. You may not have the relentless media drumbeat of speculation, intrigue and frenzy.

 

You will have failures. You will make mistakes. You organizations will fall short of the standards your customers and constituents expect of you from time to time.

 

The problem isn’t being human and making mistakes. The problem isn’t even messing up and being a spiteful, selfish human from time to time (though that’s usually how the trouble starts).

 

The problem before you is how to deal with it when it mistakes do happen and people get hurt.

 

Caring enough to handle it right is a great place to start.

Photo Credits:
“Lance Armstrong Races in Australia” : Flickr User AngusKingston
“Lance at the Tour of California”: Flickr User ChuckThePhotographer

It’s a Wonderful Life (for second adopters of technology)

 

Didn't know about this bonus feature on the DVD, right?

Didn’t know about this bonus feature on the DVD, right?

Behold the technophile, shiny new whatsit in hand, regaling you about the benefits of living on the cutting edge of techn–

“whoa, wait a second, gotta download another update to stay ahead of the crowd.”

Is it any wonder that technology intimidates so many people? No matter how hard you try to learn, there will always be thousands, if not millions of people who have just found something faster, leaner, better, prettier.

 Our Noisy Earth

The world is a noisy place these days, and no industry creates buzz (a.k.a. noise) than the tech industry.

I’ve had 70+ year olds asking about “The Cloud.” (That’s another topic, by the way, cloud computing is useful, but has been marketed as magical). Because of this ever-increasing glut of tech products and programs, many people simply don’t bother to keep up at all.

For fear they’ll have to do it all, they do nothing.

Here’s a message of hope for those of you feeling discouraged about not living on the cutting edge–life’s a lot better for second adopters of technology than the first.

Why It’s Better to Be Second

There are some exceptions to this rule, of course. If you work for an R & D department, Wired Magazine or your business model is based on technology that just became available last week, by all means, you should investigate all new relevant developments.

But for the majority of businesses and organizations who just want to use technology to connect with and serve their customers, being the first adopter of a brand new technology is often an commitment to slog through buggy-ness and low utilization. Let those passionate about that particular type of technology suffer through that period for you. It’s not your cross to bear and you have very little to gain by being first.

 Business may be a sport, but since the technology you use has no finish line, you’re far better off drafting just behind the masochists in first place.
Photo Credit Snappa 2006, Flickr

Photo Credit Snappa 2006, Flickr

The trick is to get in after the service/product/program has proven it’s value and worth. Most of them follow a shallower version of the Bell Curve.

technology bell curve

You want to get in early, but not first. And then only if it makes sense to your business model. This allows you do get the maximum return for time and resources invested in the technology and encourages higher utilization rates.

Say you are a realtor with a new whiz-bang program that allows users of mobile devices to find home listings near their current location. That’s a good concept, but are your customers going to use it? You could end up spending lots of money on a service that your customers may not be familiar with or use. Knowing your target audience is always good advice, and it applies just as much to technology deployment as it does to content creation.

After all you could create a social media network for retirement home residents (the day is fast approaching where that will make sense, I’m sure).

How to Know When to Jump In

 

Questions to ask yourself before investing time and money into a new technology:

  
  1. What are first adopters saying? What flaws are there, can I live with them?
  2. Do I have a plan on how this technology will be used or am I just doing it to “see what pens?”
  3. What is a reasonable utilization rate to shoot for? What’s the cost (in both dollars and time spent setting up and maintaining the technology) as compared to the rate?
  4. Does this technology duplicate something we already do? Will it replace an old system or add to it?
  5. At what point would continuing use of the technology make sense? (Inevitably that day will come, a decision to pull the plug may come faster if the technology is particularly expensive on a per-user basis).

Summary

 

Just like making the decision on what forms of Social Media to use, what content to create online, or deciding what products and services to offer, choosing new technology for you business cannot be a “do it all or do nothing” proposition. Using technology as a second adopter when you have a good business case will give you the greatest return on investment. Adding technology for technology’s sake is a very inefficient (and often ineffective).

It’s all about having a plan, and being On Purpose.

9 Reasons Your Website is so 90s

1. Your size is optimized for a 640 x 480 DESKTOP monitor

Old CRT Monitor

If you zoom in, you can see they’re using Corel WordPerfect! (from MorgueFile.com)

Back in the 90s, cell phones made phone calls, provided you were outdoors, not in a valley, and were able to pay 50 cents/minute. Today, mobile browsing accounts for 14.6% of all web traffic, and tablet traffic makes up another 5.6%.

There are two primary methods to right-size your content. Responsive Web Design takes page content modules and prioritizes them–helping the page layout re-arrange and (if necessary) degrade gracefully as it appears on smaller screen. Another method is to create a mobile-centric theme on your content management system and then employ a switcher to direct mobile and desktop users to their respective versions.

2. You are using the Homer Simpson approach to GIFs

Dancing Jesus from the Simpsons

Dancing Jesus. High-tech, eye-catching, probably sacrilegious.

Today’s websites are expected to have graphics, but these aren’t it! GIFs were a welcome, if overdone, change for 100% text-based browsing, but they had some nasty side-effects such as page clutter, extreme motion distraction, and low image quality.

Instead of using a GIF for a graphic, use quality clip art or stock graphics. (Bad clip art was another bane of 90s websites and desktop publishing). Better yet, have a professional photographer take some good pictures and make your own. Animations are best left to either HTML5 or JavaScript , video, or even Flash (though Flash is increasingly looking like a dead end for long-term development).

3.Page Elements Overlap Poorly

YouTube's Original Page

Even Youtube was guilty of this when they started

In the days before Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) were widely used, table-based designs were the norm. This contributed to very “boxy” layouts, which have long since gone out of vogue. To be “cutting-edge” many companies experimented with putting something other than straight lines in their design, which often led to elements having unsightly overlap or being misaligned within a page.

Sites built with WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) web builders such as Microsoft Frontpage were extremely difficult to get any consistent alignment of elements in without knowing HTML and editing the source code (defeating the purpose). We could forgive text overlapping pictures, mixing straight and curved lines and general page chaos in the 90s, now it’s an almost unpardonable sin that make your site look very old.

4.”Best viewed with Netscape” is still in your footer

Netscape Navigator Logo

The Browser Wars of the late 90s between Netscape and Internet Explorer were more than just jockeying for market share–there were terribly large differences in how both browsers rendered HTML (thus making your page’s appearance anything but consistent).

The only way to truly cover your bases was to make two completely separate sites for both Netscape and IE. Most people did not have the time or wherewithal to create and update two separate sites–so the compromise solution became putting a notice in the footer of your page that it was “best viewed with [insert browser] and [insert screen resolution].”

Thankfully, today’s major browsers do conform to a set of standards covering the majority of HTML and CSS rendering of your website. Internet Explorer is the largest outlier, often requiring patches for functions that work correctly in other major browsers. Thankfully, these patches only require a skilled coder who cross-browser tests and understands the limitations of certain browsers, not an entirely different web page.

Today’s customers require that you meet them with the technology they already have and it almost certainly can handle your website. Test this to be sure and then remove the notice from your footer. If there are cross browser issues, still remove the notice from your footer and get in touch with a good designer.

5.You blast your visitors with music immediately upon entering your page

(bonus points if it’s copyright infringement)

Muted Sound Icon

Turn off that infernal racket!

As 28.8K modems transitioned into 56K modems (and a few cutting edge geeks got DSL),  humans began to realize that sound could also be transmitted on the internet–and not just dial-up modem noise).

Dial Up Modem Noise

The unfortunate tendency become to automatically start the sound as soon as the user entered a page, preferably, in the background without controls (or at least well-hidden controls).

The conversation usually went something like this:

Boss (while logging on to website): “We have this background music on our site…”

(music blasts from speakers and boss hits “stop” on the player).

Boss: “I’ve had at least two  tons of people tell me ten years ago they really like it, it’s ‘cute’ and they listen to it every time.”

(Boss clicks on page again, music starts, boss mutes)

Boss: “But if Disney ever calls, we’ll tell them it was an accident and we didn’t know it was there.”

 

By all means, have music if it is applicable and relevant (you’d better be a band or something), but let the user choose to hear it. Remember, many people may be browsing your site on the QT at work…do you want to get them fired? How will they afford your product or service then? 😉

 

6.You Use a Wheat-Color Background

 

Wheat Color HTML

It isn’t white, and the soft contrast really does make you feel warm and fuzzy, no?

Back in the 90s, computer screens did not really render a clear picture. The pixelation and distortion that came standard issue on CRT monitors made white look more blue-ish than anything. Many people simply put up with this inconvenience, but others bravely ventured into alternative background colors. The two that emerged as victors were “wheat” and black. While most people quickly realized the terrible readability of black background and light text (especially on the poor-rendering monitors of the day), wheat color became an over-and-mis-used way to use a non-threatening light background color.

Needless to say, if wheat is anywhere in your color scheme–even if you are a wheat farmer–get rid of it. Or show me a compelling design with wheat and make me eat my words (I still won’t eat the wheat, however, I’m allergic to gluten).

7.You have a hit counter on your site

Hit Counters

Ooh…shiny.

Hit counters of the 90s and early 2000s served a dual purpose.

1)Track how many people were on my site

2)Tell everyone how many people were on my site.

Hit counters were a great way of validating the usefulness of the Web. They publicly answered the question “is anybody out there?” With the advent of Google Analytics and other web analytics software, the mere number of “hits” becomes much less relevant when you can know unique users, geographic locations, pages viewed, time on site and get it all in real time.

As to the second point–do you really want people to know how many visits you’ve had to your site? If you have a new site and only a 1000 hits, but are an expert in your field, should  your opinions be discounted? If you’re a crackpot who has had a rant site up for 15 years and has 100,000 cumulative hits, should you be given credence? Many local businesses will have excellent sites that serve their customers and market their business, but never get more than 1000 unique visits a month–it’s just the limited nature of a local market.

Bottom line–track your stats on the back end–brag about those you want to, at the right time, in the right context. Or leave your counter where it is, and if it doesn’t go up very fast I’ll happily source a tumble-weed GIF for you to put above it.

 

8.You use Comic Sans…and lots of it

Comic Sans Coffee Mug

Available for sale at Zazzle

This 90s holdover is prevalent both on websites and on desktop-published marketing material of that era. Both Comic Sans and Papyrus are often used by non-designers in an attempt to be “fun,” “cute,” or, in the case of Papyrus, “historical.” Had they been used sparingly, for those purposes alone, graphic designers today would be less apt to vomit at the very mention of those fonts.

The key is not simply the avoidance of Comic Sans, the key is thoughtful, appropriate and (at times) consistent use of fonts in on and offline marketing. Graphic design, by nature, will tend to use typography to convey the feel of a piece. While the fonts in your logo should almost always remain the same, the remaining fonts in each design will change to fit the message.

You should, however, have consistent fonts and type-sizes that you use website-wide (and, ideally, in emails and print correspondence). Always go for readability over style. Cursive fonts are cursed with difficult readability and do not add “aura” in most cases. Going for something unique is OK, but remember, the purpose of text is to be read, above all else.

9.You Have Useless Tiny Thumbnails Pictures that No One Can See!

Tiny Picture Gallery

Another product of slow modem speeds in the early days of the Web was slow load times for pictures. Because of this, web sites that cared about their load time would painstakingly produce a thumbnail and full-size version of each photo and link them together. Eventually, someone got the bright idea to create a program that created a photo gallery for you with a separate HTML page for each picture. Needless to say, this caused more clutter and navigation problems than you can imagine.

Thankfully, photo-rich websites do just fine for most users today, and the advent of high-quality gallery plugins for WordPress (and even scripts to pull Flickr photos to a static HTML site) make photo management very easy.

Note–There is some merit to create a thumbnail and full-size version of each picture for use in a responsive mobile design. There are scripts available to automatically re-size your photo so the mobile browser doesn’t waste time downloading a picture 4 times bigger than it’s total screen size.

Bonus: Lack of Header/Navigation Consistency

When every page was generated in raw HTML, any change to the header, footer, sidebar or navigation meant that any changes to those elements had to be done for every single page on the site. Even with copy/pasting the code into 5, 50, or 500 pages, mistakes were likely to happen.

Sometimes a site owner would create a new site and keep the old site on the server as a backup. If they forgot to update even one of the navigation links, it would be possible to end up on the old site, from which, due to lack of links (obviously) to the new site, there would be no escape. [Insert maniacal laughter here].

There is Hope

Most of these famous websites began in the 2000s, and they still look pretty horrible compared to today. Design is important, so long as it complements and grows with a solid business model. (Check out Amazon’s first site in the link above to get an idea of where they’ve come from).

If your business model involves online sales or marketing, commit to creating a plan to grow and change with technology. This does not mean investing in every bell and whistle or even being an early adopter of technology, but it does mean a consistent plan to create fresh, usable content. Or you can you can let your site serve as a crumbling museum of a bygone era. It’s up to you. Why not start today?

Customer Loyalty and Playing Games

Oh the inalienable right to win!

Competition is a sure-fire way to up the ante on human interaction and drive people to passionate, even insane behavior.

In a recent post “For a Bit of Colored Ribbon , Jeff Atwood of Stack Exchange  talked about his manic efforts to lower his energy consumption to beat the average on his energy assment report from Pacific Gas and Electric.  Despite having taken many time and resource-intensive measures, his home remained at 33% above a “similar” home in the neighborhood.

He knows it’s all a game–and probably a fixed one at that–but he still can’t help but want to win.
Guy crossing finish line with no on behind him

Are there others racing, or is he competing against himself?

How do business use this competitive drive to their advantage?

The Easy Way

We can choose to exploit customers by selling hype and meaningless points. We can create loyalty programs that do very little for the customer. We can force competition, fake scarcity (hurry, supplies won’t last), and create hype.

And it will work, because that is the norm.

It will keep customers running on your hamster wheel, but what it will not do is turn them into your best salesperson. When was the last time a friend told you that you should sign up for a loyalty program?

Rat in a Hamster Wheel

Captive customers might pay up, but they don’t sing your praises.

The Winning Way

Use these same tactics, but adapted to customer-centered marketing. Create programs and systems that generously reward your customers–it doesn’t always have to be money. Discounts are great. They move the meter on the “purchase now versus later” scale. But in almost every case, competition on price alone is a race to the bottom winnable only by the largest company with the widest selection and the highest negotiation power.

Here’s How to Play the Game

You and your customer are on the same team–a win for them is a win for you

Make the game fun–known rewards gives something to work towards

Make the game dynamic–unexpected rewards are even better

Don’t make up rules as you go along–unless those rules are a benefit to the customer

Share what you’ve done to get clients on your team in the comments below. 
Photo Credits
Man Crossing Finish Line Flickr User eagle102.net
Rat in Hamster Wheel from MorgueFile

Adsense Roulette

 

AdSense Roulette Graphic

Original Photo Credit Robert Nelson via Flickr

Many small business owners, looking to make the web pay off for them, and motivated by a few true stories of AdSense millionaires, jump into the advertising business.

Sadly, the common approach is to past the Adsense code in the site and wait. Maybe a few people do click, but their check in the mail for $5.67 at the end of the month simply wasn’t worth letting other marketer’s steal the show on your website.

Even with the best configuration of Adsense, you cannot 100% guarantee that an ad for a competitor won’t show up, or an ad that doesn’t reflect the values of your business is displayed, bringing down the ire of your customers on you, even though you have no control of the situation.

Put another way, having Adsense ads on your business page is like arranging to have a mystery person come into your place of business and stand by the door greeting everyone who comes in while offering to sell them a product or service that your company doesn’t (or worse, does) provide. You might get a professional in a nice suit who’s services complement yours nicely (even then, it’s still a distraction), but you could also get an intimidating, fast-talking man with greased hair and halitosis pushing diet pills, political agendas or tips on how to stock up before the world ends in a few weeks.

Want to play Adsense roulette now?

“The Next Big Thing is Already Here”–Samsung Galaxy S III Campaign Review

 

While wasting investing some quality time watching the season premiere of NCIS: Los Angeles on CBS.com, my commercial blindness was lifted long enough to notice an noticeably-long (90-second) about people waiting for the iPhone 5.

Because I wasn’t paying 100% attention  in the beginning, it actually took me a second to catch on that this wasn’t an Apple ad. After all, with all the buzz being generated about the long lines in store for those who waited with bated breath the latest revolutionary upgrade to the iPhone family, I could see Apple sharing some of the product-launching excitement with those of us who have day jobs couldn’t spend 8+ hours in line.

Stealing Apple’s Thunder

My gut reaction to the ad falls well within the intended response that Samsung planned. I’ve since enjoyed seeing both the 90-second and 30-second version of this ad several times, and each time I am (mildly) amused and am reminded that the Galaxy S III is comparable, if not superior, to the iPhone 5 in quality, and it doesn’t require waiting in a long line with a bunch of sheeple.

The Apple Crowd Dynamic (On the Other Hand)

The unanswered question in all of this is: why do thousands of Apple fanatics wait hours in line when they could simply pre-order the phone like 2 million other people who didn’t stand in line?

Aside from those who paid to have their spots held, why did thousands of adults raised in the instant-gratification culture willingly, even excitedly wait for hours to upgrade their phones?

Why are Apple’s products so compelling?

Would people have waited in line for the Galaxy S III?

Extra! The Newspaper Is Cutting Prices Like It’s Going Out of Style

(And it is…the newspaper, that is, not the price cuts).

Here’s the mailer that showed up in my mailbox a few weeks ago:

Front

  • Inside

  • Back

    The Theme

    The theme is very consistent and colorful. It’s eye-catching. It begs a second look among the dozens of other junk mail pieces I receive in a given week. Having not been alive in the 60s, this mailer confirms for me that it was a colorful (if not slightly garish) era.

    One of the few weaknesses in the design was the fact that it was printed on a card stock-type paper, which made the color and contrast far more fuzzy than I would have liked. At the same time, however, I may have ignored the glossy stock because  of it being the apparent standard in direct mail marketing.

    Another weakness is that the reply card was not perforated. It actually told me to cut it out with scissors. Maybe the coupon clippers of yesteryear still have scissors within close reach at all times, but even if they’re only an arms-length away, it’s effort the prospective customer shouldn’t have to expend.

    The Scheme

    When I’m confronted with 40 or 50-year low price, I stop and look. I love the fact that they were reasonably specific and used a rather amazing statistic to get my attention.

    Of course the irrepressible nerd in me had to look up the value of $25 in 1969 (since I’m guessing they used nominal dollars as opposed to an adjusted figure. Per this site, $25 in 1969 is $146.97 today. (Which at $2.82/paper, seems more like a very pricey newsstand edition, but I digress).

    So in reality, this deal sells a Sunday paper in all it’s insert-full, special-section glory at a mere 48 cents.  It’s really tempting actually.

    Except for the fact that…

    The “Dying Newspaper” Meme Seems…

    …true.

    I think this is yet another harbinger of the demise of printed papers. Who cares if the paper is on sale, except for people who came of age in the 60s?

    How much farther can they go with deal-making until it becomes impractical. I know their revenue comes primarily from ads and not subscriptions, but this price may not even cover the cost of printing. I’m guessing this campaign really about increasing the subscriber count to boost ad revenues for the print edition. This may work temporarily, but the print news medium will never be what it once was. Advertisers are realizing this (though seemingly at a slower rate than the general population) and at some point the economics stop working. They already have for many major and minor papers.

    So congratulations Knoxville News-Sentinel. You employ some very competent designers who almost made me, a new-media-saavy-penny-pincher, buy a newspaper. Almost.

    Have an opinion about this (I hope you do!). Please share below.

    Twitter, Eh?

    Disclaimer

    The use of the politeness marker “Eh” in the title is in no way meant to poke fun at Canadian speech patterns–no matter how off-centre or colourful they may be. As an American with some Canadian ancestry and a great appreciation for the country, I recognize their right to write their own grammar of the English language.

    Music, Technology, and What’s for Sale

    Most music for advertisements and public relations pieces is sourced from generic “buyout” CDs of music that can be used royalty-free (or royalties are managed through a central location). Some spots do have original music made for them, and others use popular songs as there soundtrack, but most rely on ready-made “ad” music. In this spot, I think they were looking for a “hi-tech” vibe , but the first 20 seconds almost have a suspenseful/creepy sound to me. More like robots ravaging the streets than computers peacefully…umm…computing.

    The technology of the Twitter storefront is at the center of this spot, and the video does show the technology quite well. The vision is summed up by creative director Cosmo Campbell in an article for Adland.TV. “Bringing what’s happening online to the street, the live billboard is a streaming representation of Canada’s endless to-do list of destinations, cultural experiences and vacation packages. The digital storescapes are unexpected to passersby and the amount of content happening about Canada is also intriguing.

    Cosmo is correct–the Twitter storefront is bustling with loads of real-time information, but what do the pictures and posts say?

    “During my stay in Canada the trees in my yard grew so I couldn’t go out by the car, but I trimmed them quickly in therain. Fun :D”–One visible tweet on the screen.

    (No…this picture wasn’t really posted with that Tweet)

    What qualifies a tweet as being “about Canada?” Is there a system in place to determine what content gets shown on the street? I appreciate the new media norms of interactivity and openness, but I can’t help but wonder if using an open forum in this case is the best possible solution. After all, what holds people’s interest (after the intial “Holy Cow! A Live Twitter Wall”) is good content; and while the video may be promoting their Twitter storefront, the product they’re selling is not high-tech street marketing, it’s Canada.

    The Human Element

    The video poses the question of how to market Canada to busy Americans, but I couldn’t help but noticing that most of the busy Americans walked by without a second glance. The guy in the white shirt with the pony tail couldn’t seem to decide whether the display was safe to touch or not.Those who did stop and look were encouraged to interact by staff in blue shirts.

    Here’s one potential downside that might arise–interacting with a huge display like this in a public place requires effort and a confidence that you won’t make a fool out of yourself trying to operate it. With the “blue shirts” present as well, I can’t help but wonder how many people chose not to interact for fear of being given a sales pitch (the bane of crowded streets in major cities).

    The Final Word

    Lest it should appear I’m being nit picky with our neighbors to the north, let me close on this note: I think that Travel Canada has done an outstanding job trying something that I’ve never seen done before. They are indeed helping to bridge the gap between the online and the street, and I congratulate them for stepping outside of the box.

    In research for this post, I also perused Travel Canada’s website, Facebook and Twitter sites. The website was very well designed and helpful, and the Twitter and Facebook pages were quite active and well-updated.

    The slogan “Keep Exploring” is a great fit for the organization. It applies to the millions of tourists who get to experience a wild, diverse, wonderful country first hand, and it applies to the staff of Travel Canada, who aren’t afraid to try new things. Sure, there are tweaks that could be made, but overall, a live Twitter wall was a great idea. And for what it’s worth–I’ll pay a friend to look after my landscaping the next time I go to Canada–gotta keep that car accessible!

    Please chime in with your ideas on how to make the Twitter storefront marketing campaign even more successful!

    Radio, Market Thyself! (well)

    This from the Cincinnatti Radio Consortium…(possibly in cooperation with WKRP)

    [audio:http://www.adoptimus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Cinci-Radio-Consortium.mp3|titles=Cinci Radio Consortium]

    OK, first the audiophile in me has to pick nits with the production values. The water sound effect sounds much more like a creek than a leak or an overflowing toilet.

    Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move onto the tangled logic of the copy.

    Scenario

    A woman has a bad leak in her home and needs a plumber. She reaches first for the yellow pages, but finds that there are too many choices (20 pages according to the spot). She then remembers a certain plumbing company and even knows the owner’s name. She then reveals that she heard of this plumber on…..[awkward .75 second pause that could really use a drumroll] radio.

    Then Mr. Professional Voice Guy tells listeners that the five stations in the metro area reach over a half million listeners each week, and four more reach over 400,000. Then he mentions how radio is the most affordable tool and closes by saying that this entire 30 seconds of your life that you can’t get back was brought to you by the Cincinnati Radio Consortium, “and this station.”

    Sending a Message “From  This Station”

    Here’s a gratuitous injection of personal opinion–when I hear the words “brought to you by” or “a message from ____________ and this station,” what I really here is “the preceding was of low importance and was stuck in the ad rotation to fill time or fulfill our mandated commitment to public service.”

    But just what kind of a message is this?

    A group of radio stations is trying (I think) to get businesses to advertise on radio. After all, that’s how the bills get paid on every station north of 92.1 on the dial. So they paint a picture of a frazzled consumer with a problem–a problem a plumber who has advertised on radio for years can fix. However, radio apparently fails the top-of-mind awareness test because Mrs. Consumer looks to the Yellow Pages (it’s that book-looking thing you use as a door stop) first to find a plumber. Being overwhelmed by the horde of lemmings that still advertise in Yellow Pages, she defaults to a plumber she heard about on radio.

    Next, our smooth-talking persuasive announcer tells us about the fantastic reach of some of Cincinnati’s  biggest radio stations. He never mentions any station specifically, or that most stations, even in a large market, don’t have 500,000 cumulative listeners. He also doesn’t mention the rates that those big stations can command. Rates that are generally far out of each for anything but a large chain plumbing operation. However, potential clients are assured that radio is the “most affordable” marketing tool, which should set them at ease, because the type of clients every station wants are those that are concerned only about keeping their advertising costs to a minimum at the expense of effectiveness.

    A New Message

    I think a successful rewrite of this ad hinges on four main things.

    First, emphasize return on investment. It’s not about how little you can spend, it’s about how much you can get back. People only have an issue spending money if they think they won’t get something of greater value in return.

    Second, show radio as being core of top-of-mind awareness. Have the woman do a web search for a company she heard about on the radio. Show how the name of that plumbing company has subconsciously become a part of her life over years of consistently hearing their name on the radio.

    Third, tell a real story, preferably with real people. Some of the most effective radio self-advertisements are business owner testimonials–talking about how the station is a great fit for their target customer, how their sales have increased, and how people found them because of radio.

    Lastly, either use real station names in the ad, or at very least personalize it to the station it’s airing on. If you just tell a potential advertiser that “radio” is a good advertising tool, do you think they are going to call the 20-30 or more radio station in a big town? That’s about as overwhelming as the woman looking through 20 pages of plumbers.

    If Not You, Then Who

    This radio station is asking businesses to entrust them with their very precious resources in hopes that advertising will pay them a dividend. These potential clients have to trust that the radio station knows how to market their type of business, especially if that business does not use an ad agency or in-house creative department. If this ad represents the product of a bunch of professional radio marketers, would you, as a business owner, give them one red cent? If a group of radio stations in a major metro can’t put together a convincing ad that markets their services, then who will trust them to market anything else?

    Please share your thoughts on this ad below!