Playing Hookey

I have lots of half finished blog posts that may never be posted. One day, this will be called the gap in blogging at

Anyway, I could not let the 30th anniversary of the WWW go by without saying something. Or re-posting something, at leaste.








Happy Birthday to the World Wide Web

Sidebar: There was something about the SNL PowerPoint skit last Saturday that made me think about the early days of the web — or, in general, the early days of the graphical interface. Here it is.


The Internet Archive Liberates a Mountain of Materials Published Between 1923-1941

Why they are calling it The Sonny Bono Memorial Collection.

The Internet Archive (in my book, one of the few “wonders of the internet”) is now using a little known, and perhaps never used, provision of US copyright law (Section 108h) which allows libraries to scan and make available materials published 1923 to 1941 if they are not being actively sold. (Note: While I am not an anti-copyright advocate, I believe that certain types of copyrights should sunset in 14 years, renewable once if the copyright holder took actions to renew it. That’s 28 years. Okay, round it up to 30. But forever? At the bottom of this post, there’s a link to two articles I wrote on about Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and their beliefs on the topic.)

Quote from the Internet Archive blog:

Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a copyright scholar at Tulane University calls this “Library Public Domain.”  She and her students helped bring the first scanned books of this era available online in a collection named for the author of the bill making this necessary: The Sonny Bono Memorial Collection. Thousands more books will be added in the near future as we automate. We hope this will encourage libraries that have been reticent to scan beyond 1923 to start mass scanning their books and other works, at least up to 1942. (…)


If the Founding Fathers had their way, almost all works from the 20th century would be public domain by now (14-year copyright term, renewable once if you took extra actions).


Some corporations saw adding works to the public domain to be a problem, and when Sonny Bono got elected to the House of Representatives, representing part of Los Angeles, he helped push through a law extending copyright’s duration another 20 years to keep things locked-up back to 1923. This has been called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act due to one of the motivators behind the law, but it was also a result of Europe extending copyright terms an additional twenty years first. If not for this law, works from 1923 and beyond would have been in the public domain decades ago.


Today we announce the “Sonny Bono Memorial Collection” containing the first books to be liberated. Anyone can download, read, and enjoy these works that have been long out of print. We will add another 10,000 books and other works in the near future.


Professor Townsend Gard had two legal interns work with the Internet Archive last summer to find how we can automate finding appropriate scanned books that could be liberated, and hand-vetted the first books for the collection. Professor Townsend Gard has just released an in-depth paper giving libraries guidance as to how to implement Section 108(h) based on her work with the Archive and other libraries. Together, we have called them “Last Twenty” Collections, as libraries and archives can copy and distribute to the general public qualified works in the last twenty years of their copyright.

Sidenote by Rex: Here are a couple of articles I wrote a few years ago for about the founding fathers, patents, and copyrights.

Benjamin Franklin Never Sought a Patent or Copyright

Thomas Jefferson’s Views on Patents and Intellectual Property Rights

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.

Read more “Competitive Outrage”

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.)