Competitive Outrage

My outrage is more legit than your outrage!

I haven’t commented on the outrage of the week, the killing of Zimbabwe’s “most beloved lion,” Cecil, by a big game hunting dentist from Minnesota named Walter Palmer.

By the time I was aware of the Cecil killing, the internet outrage was far more than anything I could come up with, so I passed even tweeting about it. Besides, the only thing I could think of to say that I hadn’t seen before was how white the dentist’s teeth were — obviously, a Photoshop job.

The competitive nature of internet outrage is fascinating.

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In praise of a banner ad

aflac banner ad

This post is a review of this banner ad, but clicking on it won’t take you anywhere.

I feel fairly confident this post marks the first time in this blog’s near decade-long history that I’ve written a review of a banner ad.

But first, I have a disclosure. While I have no, none whatsoever, nada, association with the company Aflac, I did, however, grow up eating scrambled dogs (scroll down to Georgia) at the Dinglewood Pharmacy, directly across the street from its headquarters in Columbus, Ga.

With that disclosed, I feel I have enough objectivity to observe a tiny blip in the gigantic advertising efforts of the company that was known as American Family Life Assurance Company (thus, AFLAC) during the era when I was eating those scrambled dogs. Unlike when small companies decide to do it, when large brand-dependent marketing companies shorten their names to initials (IBM) or portmanteaus (FedEx), they realize their customers won’t immediately associate the before-and-after (although FedEx actually followed its customers in shortening its name — I don’t recall Coke’s or Bud’s shortening, but I’m guessing those, too, were customer initiated).

In reality, it often takes years — and untold millions of dollars — for a company to pull off the transition from name to initials. In Aflac’s case, the initials formed an acronym that, when read as a word, sounded to someone like a duck’s quack. Rather than fight it, the company boldly decided to follow an advertising agency’s advice and establish its brand with a massive advertising campaign based on the onomatopoeia of an acronym — and thus, AFLAC became Aflac, and a duck became the quacking pitch man.

Over the 12 or so years of the campaign, we’ve seen the duck evolve from a live duck actor (with Gilbert Gottfried’s voice) playing a crotchety old(?) man(?) (although, I understand that in Japan, the duck has been a kinder, gentler bird) into a more robotic-seeming duck that sometimes, at least to me, seems to drift into the uncanny valley, to a cartoon character that has become a part of Aflac’s logo and the version of the duck affixed to the 99 car in the company’s NASCAR (Nascar?) sponsorship. (Think, Donald Duck with no clothes.)

And then, today, I ran across this banner ad on the Wall Street Journal’s website.

I don’t even know where to begin describing the heroic, stylized interpretation of the Aflac duck that appears in that ad. To me, it’s right up there with the Obama campaign poster, except in this case, Aflac actually owns the intellectual property on which the work is based. And the ad’s approach to using an IAB standard format as a canvas for an animation-free exploration of negative and positive shapes strikes me as a bold declaration that there’s a higher calling for the banner ad than the crap usually jammed into one.

Well done, Aflac. Even though I didn’t click on it, that banner is almost as good as a Dinglewood pharmacy scrambled dog.

If ‘advertising’ is your middle name, your surveys will always suggest the solution is …

But who is going to bell the cat?

I have a theory that goes something like this: If the name of your organization is Interactive Advertising Bureau, any study of the needs of internet marketers is going to suggest that “advertising” is the solution. According to my theory, such a study will focus on how media companies should involve getting a salesforce of “category experts” and interactive marketing gurus who can help develop more “engaging options and formats.”

So, having this theory, I’m not in the least bit surprised that a new study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Bain & Company suggests the following:

*Online ad formats and creative have not evolved to meet marketers’ needs

*Media companies lack category expertise when they sell to brand marketers and engage with them too late in the media planning process

*Marketers want integrated campaigns instead of platform-specific media programs

*While marketers see high value in online advertising and believe that it could be effective at all stages of the purchase funnel, current industry practices inhibit greater investment of brand ad dollars

*Marketers express needs for differentiated services for their brands and believe that media companies and agencies have to meet those differentiated needs for online advertising to grow.

Nor am I surprised that the study recommends “media companies” need to take six steps, based on the needs expressed by marketers:

*Create segmented offerings to meet the separate needs of advertisers who are focused on building brands and those who are looking for direct response

*Make brand-focused marketers a priority by building a sales force of category experts who respond directly to those marketers’ specific needs

*Develop a full range of solutions with more engaging options and formats, including social networks, video and other rich media

*Offer deeper service and support customized to vertical industries, to help advertisers plan, create and measure the brand impact of online ads

*Optimize the ways that ad inventories are sold, with a range of approaches from full-service to self-service to partnership with ad networks and resellers

*Enhance organizational effectiveness by setting the right priorities, clarifying internal roles and accountability and investing in sales staff skills and incentives

Wow. I wonder how much the IAB paid Bain for that? Here’s the reality — free from me having to convince marketers that “advertising” is the solution — as “Rex” is my middle name, not “advertising”:

*If you’re a media company, chances are, you don’t think of yourself as a marketing services firm, so therefore the solutions you will develop will be programs to utilize the media properties you own. If you’re a media company, you have a certain DNA that prevents you from suggesting that even a portion of the clients’ “advertising” budget goes to the competition’s URLs, even if its in the best “branding” interest of the client. Perhaps Bain and the IAB can come up with a commission structure for selling the competitor’s URL’s inventory. Maybe there will be talk about such, but push-comes-to-shove, whose property are you going to suggest — the one that serves the marketers branding needs best, or the one that serves your shareholders and personal bank-account’s best? This reality is why the entire institution of “marketing agency” exists. As much as traditional media companies want to be in the marketing services business, the “brand” they market best is their own.

*That “the thing formerly known as advertising” doesn’t fit neatly into formats — or, at least, a set of formats that can ever be standardized

*That “marketers” who create awful advertising in all the current formats will create awful advertising in any new format.

*That coming up with recommendations like the IAB/Bain’s is akin to the Aesop fable about the National Mouse Association who commissioned Bain to do a survey of mice recently eaten by a cat. (Short version: Bain survey suggests putting a bell around the cat’s neck to serve as early warning signal that the cat’s around. In the parable, a mouse blogger then asks, “But who’s going to ‘bell the cat'”?)

With my own “bell the cat” suggestion, here is all that marketers need to do to succeed in using advertising or un-advertising, no matter what the format or who’s selling it:

*Create great products and services that a specific group of people believe are great.

*Talk constantly with those people

*Find where those people are talking with one-another, join in

*Find where those people are talking with people who haven’t yet discovered your product

*Spend your marketing budget supporting those places: Providing great sponsored content, hosting events, underwriting whatever you can, paying for free wifi at airports for those people. Make those people think you are everywhere, because you are everywhere they are. Oh, and buy lots of banner ads in those places, also.

*Wake up each morning and go to bed each night reminding yourself this: The passion for my product and service is bigger than any one URL

*Fill your own URL with great content that supports those people’s use of your product or service. Give them how-to support and finger-tip access to any question they could ever dream of having about your product or service. And did I mention that such content should be filled with words and terms that people use when searching for information about your product or service?

*Find ways to enable them to share knowledge about how to use your product or service better than you could ever tell them — you just make it, they’re the ones using it all day.

*And always remember, advertising is not just a format.

*Get a clue

(Cross-posted on the site of Hammock Inc., a content marketing and custom media company filled with people who understand un-advertising.)

When you live in a culture of fear, even student hugs and helpful teachers are viewed as threats


I’m bothered when I read that some schools are banning students from hugging and (via danah boyd – and be sure to read the comments) other schools are banning any contact between students and teachers during “off-hours,” including any contact via non-school-hosted online forums (i.e., Facebook).

The assumption that hugging is aggressive behavior and the presumption of deviant motives of any teacher who would make themselves available to answer questions from students on Facebook are just two more examples of how fear-based regulations and rules that are instant responses to “crises” — real or imagined — often crush opportunities and positive results that could be achieved if cooler, more reasoned heads prevailed.

Are those schools trying to protect students who don’t want to be hugged? Are those schools trying to protect teachers who don’t want to be bothered by students outside the classroom? If so, they’ve chosen a rather ham-fisted solution.

Let me get this straight: I’m in no way suggesting that real issues — real deviant adults and real aggressive teenagers — did not create situations thatled to the specific hugging and friending bans reported in these two accounts. What I’m saying is this: I believe that bans on all hugging and all teacher-student “off-hours” collaboration will result in far more harm than good.

To parents of teens, read this

I get asked lots of questions (from parents) about how teens use the Internet. Typically, the questions are phrased in such a way as to imply the Internet should be added to the list: sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. I can understand the concern. Among people I know, I’ve heard of some incredibly cruel and hurtful web-based acts among teens. Then, again, I’ve heard of similar acts that didn’t involve the web, so I’m not so sure it’s the web that’s the problem.

I’ve also been a part of many discussions with students and other discussions with parents about the appropriateness of things like “friending ones parents/kids” on Facebook. (Personal observation: Neither teens or parents understand how to use the privacy settings on Facebook.)

Despite having a teen and recent-teen in my in-house focus group, my answers to such questions are typically based on whatever danah boyd says. danah has spent the past several years researching how teens use the Internet, especially social networks. (Heck, I even have her PhD dissertation loaded on my Kindle.)

Yesterday, she invited the 11,000+ people who follow her on Twitter (@zephoria) to ask her questions about current web practices by teens.

She then compiled those questions and her answers into this extremely informative post.

In the immediate future, I’ll be using danah’s post as a crib-sheet to answer questions related to teens. However, if you want to cut out the middle-man, I suggest you bookmark that page for yourself.