Anyone who read the previous post in this subcategory understands that I’m a big fan of a rather open market – including the online variety. Limiting a business’ means of making money stifles development and innovation. And in most cases, the advent of new regulations on revenue-generating arms simply drains tax dollars with no real benefits. The cost of violating some regulations is nothing more than a slap on the wrist.


With that being said, search engines are beginning to run into some troubles with their current business model – selling sponsored links on key word searches to the highest bidder. Misleading and some times flat out fraudulent services are snapping up sponsored link status and passing themselves off as legitimate. This disturbing trend is particularly troublesome in the technology sector, where so few (myself included) have a solid understanding as to what we are agreeing to as we download and install material from the Web.


Watch this video of a 12-yeard-old English lad discloses some of the dangers of pointing and clicking without CAREFULLY examining what is being presented. The screen is a bit out of focus and he gets a little flustered here and there, but his points are valid and he shows more Web savvy than a hefty number of far more mature Web surfers.



So how can we continue to utilize search engines, but do so safely?


Step #1 – Look before you leap

Check the url of a site to see its origin. If it doesn’t match the product on offer in some way or appears to originate from a country know for lax laws on spammers, skip it.


Step #2 – Think before you type

Ask yourself what you are really seeking. Formulate that concept into a short (three or four words) phrase. If you are looking for the most effective spyware removal tool, don’t search for the generic term “spyware.” Try “spyware reviews.”


Step #3 – Use what is given

There are plenty of resources available to the discriminating consumer. Seek them out and use them for all they are worth. Here’s one for searches …


More tips can be found at …


Final bark

Regulation isn’t the answer to safer and more relevant Web searching, an educated consumer is.  


Here’s a shocker – Search engines are businesses that require profits to continue operating.


To anyone more than a year out of college, that’s not much of a surprise. Those of us who have been working in the business world for a while understand the basic tenet of survival – to keep the doors open, a business must make more money than it spends. But some academics – you know, those folks who peered out into the real world for a week or two and then retreated behind the relative safety of the ivy – have been casting stones at search engines, demanding an explanation for this heinous behavior. So sayeth these sage media researchers, how dare Google and the rest poison the perfection of the World Wide Web with consumerism!


Simple reply: If they don’t, Google go bye-bye.


Google and other search engines initially started out with a business model that leaned heavily on banner advertisements. While the Web experts were busy cataloguing and ranking the world’s trillions of Web sites, the money side was trying to sell skyscrapers and banners to businesses interested in reaching the exploding variety and depth of demographics rushing to the Web to find everything from stock tips to celebrity gossip. Unfortunately, no one was buying. Then communications experts discovered Web surfers rarely click past the first page of search results. Businesses quickly realized there is a very real economic advantage to being listed first; simultaneously, search engines realized there was money to be made in guaranteeing top billing. Google, MSN, Alta Vista and the rest began selling businesses the chance to be listed first for a particular key word search.


Critics moaned the public was being duped into thinking the top search results were “organic,” techno-jargon for unpaid, when in fact the top listings had been purchased. Google and others bent a little and agreed to mark the paid listings as “sponsored.”


Now some are crying foul again, claiming the current system unfairly excludes small businesses and limits online competition. NEWS FLASH – the largest and wealthiest companies have always and will always maintain a clear edge in reaching out to consumers through existing and emerging media. The hippie-esque notion that the Web would be any different died the minute mainstream consumers started logging on.


Final Bark

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Get over it!

Parents beware! It’s not just a game — it’s finely tuned brand integration system designed to generate more frequent and more piercing purchase requests in grocery store aisles.

Advergaming — online games that feature brand elements, like slogans, colors, packaging and characters — are the latest tactic in a decades long campaign to attract kids, some of the most vocal and insistent influencers in the market place. From Skittles to Fruit Loops, new media marketers are urging children to score points, guide characters through mazes and solves mysteries –­ all while surrounded by brand touch points.

In a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a staggering 97 percent of the 500 advergames analyzed included at least one brand element on every screen of the game. Two-thirds of the games were described as “inundated” with brand identifiers, prompting the study’s author to note a child who plays the game to the terminus is essentially immersed in a sea of brand and product stimuli.

The impact of this extended interaction remains a hotly contested topic. While proponents dote on the relative innocuous nature of the games and underscore the lack of a direct sales pitch, family and consumer advocate groups maintain the depth and length of the connection forged during game play could unfairly leverage a child’s lack of a sophisticated message filtration system.

 Few, if any, of the advergaming sites included in the Kaiser study forwarded a blatant sales appeal. As suggested earlier, these games are about forging a lasting brand relationship with the targeted segment. Attention is the commodity on the block with these games, not actual sales, according to Samantha Skey, spokesperson for Alloy Media, a company that specializes in marketing to children. Skey added television affords about 30 seconds for a company to initiate and solidify a relationship with the viewer; advergames can be as long as 30 minutes, giving a company 60 times the opportunity to forge such relationships.

Companies that seek to leverage a child’s role as purchase decision influencer tread perilously close to taking advantage of the segment’s underdeveloped message filtration system. The real problem is no two parents or two marketing professionals are likely to agree on the break of that line. However, extremists on both ends of the spectrum should be shunted closer to the middle.

Marketing professionals who espouse an open-ended approach to youth marketing are ignoring the obvious disadvantages of their target audience. Children are not equipped to screen exaggerated benefits claims nor have they defined themselves enough to dismiss wild aspiration appeals. In short, they are kids and take messages and appeals at face value. Failing to acknowledge this fact and act accordingly is irresponsible marketing.
Equally irresponsible are advocate groups who propose an “ad-free” childhood. Marketing messages are part of life, ignoring them leaves the child woefully unprepared to handle the deluge that follows after the blinders are removed.

Final Bark
As marketing professionals flesh out new, more personal and more interactive means of addressing difficult to reach audiences like children, the peril of fielding these tactics lies not in the ultimate success or failure of the measure ­ this can be easily gauged in testing, but rather with the parents and child advocacy groups. In short, reaching the children may prove to be the easiest part of this equation, sidestepping a public backlash from frustrated parents and irate advocates will be the highest hurdle to clear. The influence of existing and potential backlash can already be found in the modern advergaming atmosphere.

Not long ago I climbed atop my soapbox and railed on the utter senselessness of Twitter, a social networking service that essentially asks participants to continuously update their response to one simple question … What are you doing now? I decried the narcissism that permeates from the notion that others would find your daily routines of interest and shook my head in disbelief as armies of people lined up to find out where their friend was shopping or who they just bumped into at the gas station.

But a colleague who read that post whispered an interesting response …

People aren’t just watching friends and family any more — today’s Twitter is all about the global personalities.”


The instant and real-time capabilities of Twitter represent the latest and most personal effort in our ever-evolving quest to nuzzle up with the rich and famous. Where we once scanned the society page of the newspaper, tuned into gossip radio shows or glued our eyes to such hard-hitting journalism as “Access Hollywood,” we now check our Blackberrys to find out what our favorite star or athlete is up to.


Name brands like Lance Armstrong, Shaq and Brittany Spears offer up personal revelations, inspirational snippets and other daily tidbits — of course, all of this deeply “personal” information is interspersed with commercial messages. Spears might tweet about heading to the studio; that update would be followed by a message about the pop princess’ latest release, including a link to a purchase destination. Shaq might bemoan the officiating at the game last night while telling folks tickets are still available for tonight’s match-up with the Utah Jazz.



The political sphere has taken notice of the public’s interest. Congressmen and women are stepping up their interaction with their constituents through the service. I say interaction, but it’s really a one-way conversation. The politicos aren’t getting any feedback, just dispersing talking points and rebuttals. It’s unlikely Nancy Pelosi is concerned that Joe Schmoe of Redding, Calif., is “still stuck in traffic.”

Final Bark
I suspect more and more of America’s glamour clique will discover the relationship-building power of Twitter and saturate the service with a mixture of pseudo-personal and marketing messages. The fad will burn itself out and the Tweet bubble will burst, sifting back down to small tribes of families and friends exchanging disconnected missives about their daily lives. Eventually, we’ll move to another more tedious form of mutual observation – I can hardly wait.

Amid one of the most important presidential addresses in the last 30 years, Congressmen and women on both sides the aisle were busy updating their Twitter messages. For those not wired into the ever-evolving world of mobile media, Twitter ( is a free social networking site through which participants answer one simple question – “What are you doing right now?” — in a myriad of agonizingly boring ways in small missives known as “tweets.”

But politicians aren’t alone in holding the misconception that people care to know what they are doing all day every day. Millions of Americans join the service each day — so many, the New York Times deemed it the most important Internet application of the last 5 years. That’s a strong statement considering the developments over that time frame.

Aside from knowing when your BBF (digital shorthand for “best friend forever”) is shopping at Wal-Mart, Twitter does have some practical uses for the masses. The Associated Press reported some newspapers are using the service to offer real time updates on widely watched trials. At least in Kansas, state judges offered no complaints and one federal judge has OK’d the service at that level.
Despite the relative popularity of the service — or because of it! — Twitter has spawned as much new media hate material as the big box chains. Check out this video …


… And the comments tagged with the videos are not much more flattering to the service or its users.

“Who are these narcissists who think we care what they are doing all day? Who are these morons who spend their lives keeping track of everyone else?”

“I don’t give a tweet about you … Why would you give a tweet about me?”

Final Bark
What do you think? Will people be tweeting long into the next year or is this just a fad destined for the same technical scrap heap as chat rooms?

The world is getting smaller — perhaps not physically, but certainly in terms of commerce and communication. Instead of the months, hours or even minutes that were once required to connect with clients, consumers and partners, we now possess the ability to exchange ideas, marketing messages and proposals instantly.


This shrinkage has also worked to soften — and some cases – completely obscure the arbitrary borders that have served to separate culture, race and religion. No where is that fact more apparent than in the U.S., where the distance between the traditional majority — whites of European descent — and minorities — African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and others – is swiftly closing. In short, the country is moving toward the melting pot we have long held ourselves as.

The relative melding of the American society hasn’t gone unnoticed by those professionals charged with reaching and engaging audiences with marketing messages. And for good reason — Hispanic consumers spent more than $700 billion last year and millions began adopting new and emerging media; African Americans dropped $860 billion into the national economy and while the segment remains slower to adopt new technologies, there are signs more and more black Americans are online and going mobile; and Asian Americans — the most wired and mobile of all minority segments — is driving to become one of the most affluent and thereby influential elements of the “new” American market.

So all of these very broad segments are opening their wallets and embracing new channels of communication — what elements of Web 2.0 have marketers leverage to engender relationships with these fast-growing segments?

To date, very few! Most firms and their marketing arms have been content to paint with broad strokes.

Hispanic consumers have been lumped together under a common language with Web sites simply translated from English to Spanish. While effective in communicating messages to new arrivals, studies show second and third generation Hispanics prefer to communicate in English. But even more importantly, the strategy fails to build on some key differences inherent in the Hispanic culture. Hispanics tend to value personal contact, are very spiritual and spend more time and money decorating their homes. Incorporating these kinds of widely held touchstones into marketing messages would help make the information far more relevant to the segment than simply translating English into Spanish. [For more information on Hispanic culture, visit]

Marketers appear to have resigned themselves to one of two approaches in reaching out to Asian and African Americans — either sprinkling diverse models and actors into presentations or perpetuating stereotypes. While reflecting the diversity of the country through inclusive representation is commendable, it fails to reflect the subtle and not-so-subtle differences that exist between ethnic segments. On the other hand, blindly reaching out with grossly misinformed stereotypes — like all African Americans place a high value on sneakers and Asian Americans are obsessed with finance – is irresponsible and ineffective.

Final bark

Merely translating tactics originally aimed at one segment into a new language or augmenting imagery with diverse models is not minority marketing. Additional research is needed to pinpoint cultural touchstones specific to a wide variety of ethnic segments. Marketers must use this information to fine tune messages for these groups. The sun has set on the days of shotgun blasting a broad and rather irrelevant message through mass media channels. Individualization is the wave of the future.

It goes everywhere he goes!

It goes everywhere he goes!

As if becoming the first black President of the United States wasn’t enough, President Barack Obama continues to make history — leveraging emerging media channels to reach Americans with a frequency and transparency never before witnessed.

Traditionally carried on the radio, Obama now speaks to the nation very week through a video released on The White House Web site — once the domain of historical information on the grand old structure and dry press releases — now features a section known as the Briefing Room

There visitors will find:

The Blog
Latest news and updates from the White House, including pictures and video, from a variety of personnel within the administration
Your Weekly Address
Text and video of President Obama’s Saturday morning addresses to the nation
Photos of recent administration events and announcements, as well as historical images
Text and video of major speeches by President Obama, the First Lady and members of the administration
Official Statements
Official statements and remarks from members of the administration
Press Briefings
Transcripts of press briefings and statements from the White House Press Secretary
Press Releases
Announcements from the White House Press Office
Presidential Actions
Executive Orders, memoranda and proclamations
The site also features a link to the Office of Public Liaison to further extend the reach of the administration in generating ground level support for initiatives, set up networks for the next election and cultivate relationships. Right now, the link includes an in-house e-mail system; the page promises to expand contact methods in the weeks to follow.
For the kids, Obama’s Web site includes colorful, animated facts and bios on the presidents as well as a slideshow of the first pets through history.

The Obama Administration also recognized the need for and advantages that will be gained with a supplemental site dedicated to the president’s economic recovery plan. The site details how the earmarked funds are being spent, a video message from the president as well as an important interactive feature — ordinary U.S. citizens are asked share stories about how the recovery plan has benefited them. No doubt these stories will be polished and pushed into media outlets at every opportunity.

Final Bark
Politicians of every stripe and level have begun to emulate Obama’s successful flexing of new media muscle in his run for the Oval Office, but will they be as quick to follow his lead in continuing the use of such cutting edge channels after actually getting into office?

Following BMW’s lead, Levi’s has produced a series of short films to connect with the artsy 20-somethings of the world. As if jeans aren’t ubiquitous enough with the demographic! In any event, the films are scripted reality – they are shot with handheld cameras, feature obscure struggling actors and the dialogue is freewheeling. All of which plays off the demographic’s love affair with real life captured on film.


In one film, “Helium,” a group of 20-somethings inflate a guy’s jeans with helium and watch him float around an abandoned lot. It’s an entertaining little episode but I find myself struggling with ROI. Can the producer connect exposure to some – heck, ANY – positive result for the company involved? These films are creative, they’re entertaining and some of them, like “Helium,” would and do make great TV spots. But what about the shorts that don’t make it to the small screen? Do they generate anything for the sponsoring company?


According to You Tube, “Helium” was posted in June 2008 and some 420,000 viewers have watched it since. That’s great … Did it cement a relationship with the brand in any of their minds? Did it induce any of them to buy a pair of Levi’s? Did any of them click to the Levi Web site after watching it?


Watch this video clip of David Skul, CEO of an interactive media marketing firm. In it, Skul discusses the potential for measurement attributed to new media.




Did you notice Skul mentioned umteen ways to COUNT or TRACK viewing and visitors but none of the discussed metrics followed the marketing tactic’s ability to impose financial consequences for the company? In today’s weakened economy and sharply competitive marketplace, it isn’t enough to simply count how many people watch the films or share the films with friends. It isn’t enough to know how they landed on the film either.


Final Bark

There is a push in marketing to move the discipline from the expense side of the ledger to investment. To avoid reductions in budgets and enhance the perception of the practice’s vitality to the success of a business, marketing professionals are trying to position their existence and their labors as essentials not luxuries. To do so, those of us in the field must clearly and succinctly demonstrate how each and every action forwards the company’s financial health.

When BMW raced to the forefront of the global consciousness with its series of films — aptly titled “The Hire” and directed by some of the most innovative filmmakers of the last half century — the buzz could be heard reverberating around the Web as well as the walls of marketing departments all over the globe.

The German carmaker is not the first to take aim at consumers with a story-driven spot; way back in 1939, Kellogg’s produced a short (one minute, 21 second) flick on Snap, Crackle and Pop tackling three thugs for control of the breakfast world. But BMW’s series does appear to be the first to take award-winning, critically acclaimed feature film directors and use them to produce a platform to discuss products and brands.

The Web site traffic, word-of-mouth buzz and media interest sparked by BMW’s efforts has — as one would expect — inspired a host of imitations. Just about everyone and their brothers are rushing to produce and post short films. To date, none of the films released in the follow-up wave have produced a tenth of the interest generated by the German carmaker’s pack-leading gamble. The innovation curve has past and the cluttered landscape – a YouTube search of just about any company name will turn up some kind of film — has already jaded many segments, including that elusive teen and 20-something crowd.

Given the relative blitz of short films as well as the stagnant economy’s impact on marketing spend, I’d be willing to bet short films will slow to a drip over the next five years. Still the tool does merit some discussion:

Marketing uses
— Slipping past their defenses
Audiences have been clamoring over the amount of ad rhetoric for decades. A scholar published an article all the way back in the February 1951 edition of Harper’s Weekly detailing the general dissatisfaction with the pervasive nature of advertising. I would imagine the good doctor’s head is spinning with the amount of channels and messages utilized today. Short films, which follow the arch of the traditional story, are frequently perceived as art first and ads second — thus sidestepping any knee-jerk rejection by
— Spreading like wildfire
Consumers are not apt to pass along traditional marketing messages, unless there is a humorous error or controversial material. People do forward engaging short films, thereby increasing brand awareness and expanding relationship potential.
— Standing alone
Shorts can be used to support existing campaigns, but they may prove more valuable as a means of reaching audiences not targeted by other campaigns.


There’s a great deal of confusion in the marketing world as to what defines a short film. There are plenty of TV spots that follow the story arch and exhibit dramatic elements; there are also lots of short films that are so centered on the product or brand that they feel like really long ad.

Here are my suggested guidelines:

  • Extended ads — Product or brand centric, audience called to some kind of action, less than 3 minutes in length, inclusion of logo, slogan or tagline.
  •  Short film — Story centric, longer than 3 minutes, brand or product
    identifiers invisible or nearly invisible, no call to action.


Traditional short films are expensive and time-consuming to produce: Lighting, sound, editing, director, actors, location, transportation, etc. add up to a serious investment. One alternative may be to put the campaign in the hands of artists struggling to make names for themselves. Known as crowdsourcing, many firms have solicited completed projects from amateurs or professionals on the rise. The process reduces cost but releases control of the content.


Final Bark

Although the outbreak of short films is likely to subside with the economic standstill, more thorough definition of the tool will make for more appropriate use in the future.


Nostalgia has always reserved a plate at the marketing table. Connecting with a shared past is one of the most fundamental means of engendering relevance in a marketing message. This is a fact the core of Generation X is beginning to understand. As the bulk of the segment moves into mid-professional levels, marketers are retooling their visual and auditory appeals with the hope of leveraging quintessential experiences of the late 1980s and early 1990s into purchases and loyalty.


Music from the time period is now selling everything from gum to cars and iconic imprints – like the Smurfs and the Rubix cube – are being paired with unrelated materials in an effort to attract the attention of this hard-to-reach but lucrative market. And all of this is developing as new means of connecting with audiences evolve almost daily.


No entity has done a better job at marrying Gen X nostalgia and new media than VH1 Classic. From traditional broadcast content to text tactics to iPhone apps, VH1 Classic is ahead of the curve.


It all starts with broadcast content. Fishing with this wide net, VH1 cultivates budding consumer relationships with vast blocks of relevant material. Saturday and Sunday mornings, VH1 Classic devotes more than three hours each day to classic 1980s hits. During the videos, viewers are encouraged to add he songs as ringtones on their phones via a text message. But that’s only the beginning of the mobile fun. Viewers are also urged to hop online visit the Vh1 Classic Web site, specifically a section designed expressly for the mobile-inclined consumer ( Here viewers can sign up for games, upload videos, register for content alerts and daily “blasts”, learn how to participate in discussions and even access specially designed “made for mobile” content. It’s a virtual cornucopia of mobile action!


One of the biggest complaints, even among educated cell phone owners, is a lack of understanding when it comes to available functions. Most with a BlackBerry of iPhone sheepishly admit they likely only use a fifth of the machine’s capabilities. Why? It isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they don’t know how. VH1 Classic has that base covered too! It’s simple: Click on your wireless carrier, enter your cell number, wait for a text offering more instructions and then start rockin’!


The final bark

I really have no interest in accessing a wide variety of content – or marketing messages for that matter – through my sadly outdated cell phone. The Internet and TV are enough for me. But, if firms are inclined to reach out with this new channel, they’d do well to take a page from Classic.