THE AWE OF THE AD AGE

As the fifth season of Mad Men opened last week, many people are reflecting on the terrific job that series has done in bringing the awe of the 1960s ad age to life.  Never before in the history of television has a series so thoroughly captured the nitty-gritty, wild, whacky, world of advertising during that turbulent, sometimes tragic, decade.

Newsweek magazine has dedicated a special double issue cover story to the celebration of Mad Men and advertising (“Welcome Back to 1965” 3/26/12 and 4/2/12).  In so doing, Newsweek has produced many exceptionally insightful articles drawing truths from Mad Men and shedding more light on the advertising business yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  The Newsweek issue addresses the 1960s culture with all its attendant volatility.  The highlights and the lowlights of the day are studied.

For anyone wanting to understand Mad Men and its context better, I highly recommend that Newsweek issue.  And just for fun, to put the reader back into the 1960s, Newsweek has retrofitted the entire special double issue to the advertising and design of that day.

Because that Newsweek issue does such a magnificent job, several of my blog posts in the coming days will engage its contents.  As always in this blog, my aim is to speak to business or business-related events or truths.  And believe me, having read the entire Newsweek special double issue cover story, we have much to explore.





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WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Recently a federal microbiologist coined the term, “pink slime.”  It refers to the lean, finely textured beef that is extracted from the small bits of meat and bone left over during various steps in normal meat processing.  The microbiologist was grossed out by the appearance and hence the unflattering name.

Long story short—Pink slime is not bad for you; it is good for you.  Pink slime represents increased efficiency and effectiveness in extracting the full value of the meat via its processing.

What this situation so well illustrates is the power of words and the ensuing power of people’s perceptions.  When I initially heard about pink slime, I pictured all kinds of gross, dirty, toxic materials mixed into my hamburger.  Yet the more I researched the topic, the more I found that was not the truth.

Great power resides in names, labels, titles, and terms.  Sometimes that power works productively.  Sometimes that power wastes everyone’s time and resources.  For good or for bad, public relations people know this all too well, and so should the rest of us.

Words have meaning.  Words are powerful.  Nevertheless, instead of immediately relying on the initial impact of the words, we are wise to reserve judgment.  Sometimes words are served up with a spin.  By seeking the truth behind the words, we arrive at reality.

Where’s the beef?  Right where it has always been.





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GIVING TO GET

The March 26, 2012, Dilbert comic strip gave me quite the belly laugh.

Dilbert explains to his pointy haired boss a competitor has purchased 10,000,000 copies of their software.  The reason?  The competitor plans to give them away free, anticipating the software’s poor quality will drive each recipient to buy the competitor’s software.  Dilbert explains his company has unwittingly become part of the competitor’s “Freemium Strategy.”  Now that’s a marketing plan!

We’ve all heard of “loss leaders” to get customers in the door, but this one takes it to a whole new level.

Think about it!  Can you imagine buying massive quantities of your competitor’s product, freely giving that product to your prospective customers, and then reaping the reward as they respond by willingly purchasing your company’s product?

Can you imagine being the sales rep who receives that call?

SALES REP: So you want to purchase 10,000,000 units?

CUSTOMER: Oh, absolutely!  How fast can you ship them?

SALES REP: Well, I’m sure we can have them to your location within a couple days.  And hey, with the size of this order, we’ll just go ahead and cover the shipping for you.

CUSTOMER: Wonderful!

SALES REP: Well, it’s the least we can do for a great customer like you.  So, you really love our product, don’t you?

CUSTOMER: Oh, yes.  Your product is our cash cow!  We are going to give them out free to all our prospects.  After they experience your product, they will be begging to pay us for our version.  Thanks again!  [Click]

Although this is obviously a joke, as is so often the case with humor, it derives its punch from the grain of truth.  Dilbert is funny because the outrageous humor contains that grain of truth.

Think about all those free pieces of software or free online services you have willingly received.  In many cases, the free version slowly whets your appetite for the more full-throttled version.  Cha-ching.  The company makes a new sale and you’ve just been converted to a paying customer.

Think about all those times you chose to purchase one company’s product or service, but after experiencing it, you decided to switch to a competitor’s product or service.  As consumers and as business owners, our experience predisposes us to action.  One action might be to stick with an excellent product or service.  Alternatively, because of our bad experience, another action might be to switch to the competitor.

Well, now I’m waiting for the day when a company does try the “Freemium Strategy.”  Hey, it just might work!  When it does, you’ll hear me laughing.

And I have to confess, my laughter will be tinged with just a hint of admiration.





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I NEED YOUR FACEBOOK LOGIN AND PASSWORD

If you haven’t caught it yet, you probably will.  Much has been written in the last couple weeks about companies asking job candidates for their Facebook or other social media login data.  Their explanation is simply this information is one component of candidate screening.  In some cases preexisting employees are being asked by their employers for the same.  Again, the employer claim is simply this information is one component of ongoing employee evaluation.

I totally understand the need to use every possible resource to assess a job candidate.  Performing due diligence before you bring someone on the payroll is in everyone’s best interests.

Nevertheless, certain standards of decorum and civility must never be ignored.  The job candidate still has a right to privacy.  He or she should still be treated with dignity and respect.

Because the real world is the virtual world and the virtual world is the real world, whatever the job candidate puts out there in the online public domain is fair game for any current or prospective employer.  Have at it.  But the key word there is “public.”  Companies should not be asking people for their personal login data.  There is no excuse for that.  Login data is the sacred key that unlocks the door to the candidate’s entire online life.

Thankfully, Facebook has responded by further clarifying its user agreement to protect against these kinds of violations.  Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, has stated, “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”

Abusers, be warned!

I am amused and impressed by some of the creative, thoughtful responses I have come across in the online debate.  One person said he would write down his Facebook ID and password, fold the paper in half, and then slide it across the table to the interviewer.  Before releasing his finger from the paper, he would look the interviewer in the eye and ask, “May I now have your Facebook ID and password?”

Another person had a brilliant, ironic, and stinging comeback: “I would, but it violates my Facebook user agreement.  Certainly an HR manager such as yourself can understand my wanting to follow the rules.”

Another response could be, “If I give you my login data, you would have access to information that answers questions that are illegal to ask in a job interview.  I’m sure you wouldn’t want that to happen.”

I think any company that engages in this unsavory practice will be exposing itself to tremendous legal liability.  Any job candidate facing this sort of inquiry should immediately withdraw from the interview process.  Why would you want to work for a company that is willing to violate your privacy?  You have to question that organization’s ethics.

It will be interesting to see where this goes.  I think the fight hasn’t ended.  Once again we see that companies evaluating job candidates must tread very carefully on exactly where they draw the line between what is fair game and what is not.  Drawing that line will become even more complicated as our online world evolves.

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9225504/Facebook_tells_employers_not_to_ask_job_seekers_for_log_in_info.





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DOING IT RIGHT: TIME WARNER CABLE

It may seem like a small thing but small things often contribute to big things when it comes to customer satisfaction.

I have been with Time Warner Cable for my ISP (RoadRunner) for about seven years.  Overall, I have been extremely satisfied with TWC.  Nevertheless, one particularly frustrating item has been TWC’s choice of Computer Associates as the free provider of the subscriber antivirus utility.

Over the years, the CA Antivirus has been the source of many PC glitches and IT headaches among my various PCs.  The product never earned high marks when reviewed against its competitors.  In some cases, because of the mission criticality of a particular home office PC, I spent the extra money to go with a superior competitor antivirus utility.  In each case I was glad I did.  But that still left me with some older Windows XP machines that I allowed to run on TWC’s freebie CA Antivirus.

At various times, I strongly communicated my dissatisfaction to TWC about the CA utility.  I know other TWC customers did too.

Well, perhaps TWC has finally listened to all that feedback.  TWC RoadRunner customers received an email last week explaining that CA Antivirus was being replaced by McAfee Antivirus.  I am thrilled.

For my affected PCs, I immediately went through the online process to have my CA Antivirus uninstalled and replaced by the McAfee product.  Not only do I now have a superior antivirus product, but I have a couple PCs that boot faster than they ever did, are no longer plagued by a bunch of strange systems glitches, and are no longer fighting the resource hog that CA Antivirus was.

Companies so often hear from customers when things go wrong.  Therefore, I made a point of calling not one, but two separate people in key TWC departments to express my strong affirmation of their recent decision.  They did share with me they had been listening to all the customer feedback.  They had also been watching industry ratings for antivirus products.  Based on all the evidence, they made their decision.  Obviously it was the right decision.

Thank you, TWC!





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