Friday, May 30, 2008

The "Incriminating" Photo

Love Dunkin', overlookin' the so-called Kaffiyeh.

Rachael Ray in a Kaffiyeh?!

Recently in the news... Dunkin' Donuts pulled an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray after complaints that a fringed black-and-white scarf that the celebrity chef wore in the ad offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism.

First, some background for those who may not be familiar with this issue. Then, an opinion.

The coffee and baked goods chain said the ad that began appearing online May 7 was pulled because "the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."

Critics, including conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, complained that the scarf wrapped around her looked like a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress. Critics who fueled online complaints about the ad in blogs say such scarves symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism.

The kaffiyeh, Malkin wrote in a online column, "has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

A statement issued by Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Brands Inc., said the scarf had a paisley design and that a stylist chose it for the advertising shoot. "Absolutely no symbolism was intended," the company said.

Malkin, in a posting following up her initial column, said of Dunkin's decision to pull the ad: "It's refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists."

Now, an opinion.

While I certainly have no sympathy for Muslim (or Arab) extremism, it's clear that complaints about the scarf's use in the ad demonstrate misunderstandings of Arab culture and the multiple meanings that symbols can take on depending on someone's perspective.

While some extremists and terrorists may wear kaffiyehs, to reduce their meaning to support for terrorism both has a tacit racist tone and demonstrates a highly simplistic view regarding a exceedingly complex issue.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Now is NOT the Time to Reduce Your Marketing and Advertising Investments

If you think the economic slowdown or recession (yes, the dreaded ‘r’ word) forces you to reduce your investment in advertising and marketing, you’ve adopted a flawed line of reasoning.

I say this because it’s a proven fact that the best time to pick up market share is in a recession, when—as budgets tighten—your competitors become more vulnerable.

According to a 2005 report from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, certain prescient firms see the downturn as an opportunity and increase their marketing spending. Consider these examples: Proctor & Gamble pushed Ivory soap during the Great Depression, Intel launched "Intel Inside" during the 1990-1991 recession and from 2000-2001, Wal-Mart check-mated its competitors with their “Every Day Low Prices” campaign. You may recall those campaigns because, oh, their messages stood out in a less competitive climate.

Just recently, Kraft Foods and Kellogg Co. told analysts they will boost their ad outlays despite drops in net income. According to Advertising Age, they instituted broad-based price increases in 2007, responding to higher commodity costs. Kellogg CEO David MacKay was quoted as saying that the company is sufficiently strong to withstand some consumers migrating to private label brands.

If you’re among the trend followers who are considering reducing your investment in advertising and marketing, take a moment to consider or measure what you’re really cutting out of your budget. Are you just cutting costs? Or, are you cutting audience share, slashing your messaging and slowing your hard-earned momentum? Marketing and advertising budgets seem like an easy place to eliminate costs, but in the end, the only thing you’re cutting is your business.

A slowdown or recession doesn’t necessarily equate to long term economic disability. We know the economy will rebound. It always does. The aggressive positioning you take today will pay off tomorrow.

Those who maintain marketing and advertising spending will be positioned as leaders when the bust goes boom again. Don’t plan to survive. Plan to thrive.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Oil-Industrial Complex Strikes Again

In hearings on Capitol Hill today, oil executives said:

1) "We cannot change the world market. Today's high prices are linked to the failure both here and abroad to increase supplies, renewables and conservation." (Robert Malone, chairman and president of BP America Inc.)

2) "The fundamental laws of supply and demand are at work. The market is squeezed by exporting nations managing demand for their own interest and other nations subsidizing prices to encourage economic growth." (John Hofmeister, president of Shell)

This is the same old song and dance. During the past year or two, the "Oil-Industrial Complex" has reaped unprecedented profits. When the public asks why, BO representatives like those quoted above say it's the nature of the business: severe weather, wars, terrorist attacks, supply and demand. Many reasons and variables affect the bottom line.

Unlike most businesses, BO has figured out how to profit EVERY TIME from adversity, whether man-made or natural. In fact, the worse the adversity, the higher their profits.

Big Oil conglomerates like Exxon-Mobil claim they neither set prices nor control the market. That's laughable. Exxon-Mobil operates in nearly 200 countries or territories, exploring for and producing oil and gas. Exxon-Mobil's oil and gas fields, both domestic and abroad, produce more than four million oil-equivalent barrels per day in 24 countries including but not limited to the U.S., West Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

Exxon-Mobil has interest in 46 refineries in 26 countries, more than 25,000 miles of pipelines and 45,000 gas stations, under the well-known brands of Esso, Mobil and Exxon in more than 100 countries. Exxon-Mobil is simply the world's foremost manufacturer and marketer of petroleum products. From that lofty perch they cannot help but wield considerable price setting influence.

Here's a hypothetical. Pretend for a moment that with all these oil wells, refineries and pipelines around the world, Exxon-Mobil really doesn't have any significant influence. Let's look specifically at the domestic oil market.

Forty percent of the oil consumed in America comes from America. In the 1970s it was profitable for the oil companies to produce and market oil in the range of $22 per barrel. So why is it that the major oil companies were recently charging more than FOUR TIMES THAT AMOUNT per barrel for domestic oil?

America has for years been subsidizing oil wells. We pay for this up front and at the pump but the government claims this is a free enterprise and it cannot interfere.

I am as much a Capitalist as the next guy, but Big Oil is lying when they say they don't have price setting influence. Big Oil should stop hiding behind catastrophes, crises and the threat of crises, and simply say: "This is a business. America was built on business. Shareholders want more profits so we're going to give them what they want. If you don't like it, don't drive."

Monday, May 19, 2008

THe PR Holy Grail: A Wall Street Journal Hit

These days in PR everyone is a-twitter about twitter, manic over microblogging, nuts over social networking and ya-ya over YouTube... but there remains no substitute for a placement in the venerable Wall Street Journal. While the venerable New York Times is adulated as the Grey Lady, serious PR pros know that getting the attention--and the incredibly valuable print or electronic real estate--of a Wall Street Journal reporter represents a jewel in the crown of a PR career.

In my career I've earned placements across all media--print, radio, TV, online--but a Journal placement had until this weekend eluded me. That changed this Sunday, when--after months of courting Carl Bialik (aka "The Number Guy") about cellphone research, polling, and other matters relating to Market Research--he covered one of my clients (the Council for Marketing and Opinion Research, CMOR) in his blog.

Here's the link:

Yes, PR is about knowing your media target, tenaciously pursuing him/her and following through frequently but not annoyingly. There's also a healthy dose of luck involved--in many cases a news issue will come up at the same time your voice mail or email hits the reporters' in-box. You can't predict that, but you can position your client so that the reporter knows he/she is available as an expert source. That's what I did with Mr. Bialik and CMOR, and it got CMOR a nice one-paragraph mention in Mr. Bialik's blog.

Back in January, responding to a column in which he covered the polling industry’s debate over dialing cellphones, I sent The Numbers Guy an MRA press release on polling and pollsters. When polling or surveying issues arose in the ensuing months, I followed up with several voice mails in which I referred him to CMOR’s work in this area. My PR savvy paid off on Sunday with the blog entry.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy 15th Birthday, Internet!

Last month, the Internet turned 15 years old. To refresh your memory, it was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (NOT Al Gore), who invented the "web" idea. The Internet as we know it today (from the mid-1990s) has its roots in a Defense Department project in 1969. The subject of the project was wartime digital communications.

The decision to make the code underlying the web free and available to all was perhaps one of the most momentous in recent business and social history.

As much as the Internet progressed technically in the 1990s, it revolutionized human communication and interaction. In just 15 years, the Internet has become part of the international vocabulary and is clearly destined for even greater prominence. It has been accepted by the business community, with a resulting explosion of service providers, consultants, books, and TV coverage.

Here are 20 “facts” that demonstrate the growing power and pervasiveness of the WWW. Caveat emptor: Each “fact” is subject to a great deal of discussion and argument so I welcome your research-based corrections.

1. Twenty percent of the world’s population, 1.17 to 1.33 billion people, use the Internet. North America (72%) has the highest penetration; Africa (5%) the lowest.

2. Only 30% (380 million) of Internet users are English-speaking, 14% (180 million) speak Chinese, 9% (113 million) speak Spanish. 46 million Internet users speak Arabic.

3. China’s Internet population increased by a third in 2006. According to state news agency Xinhua, the total number of Internet users in China has reached 132 million, of which 52 million have broadband connections. [Source: Guardian, December 2006]

4. Google’s market capitalization is around $180 billion, nearly three times the size of News Corporation. Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon are all in the Fortune 150 list.

5. According to Zenith Optimedia, between 2007 and 2010, Internet ad spending will increase by 69% and raise its market share from 8.1% to 11.5%. About $36 billion will be spent on Internet advertising globally in 2008, an increase of 24%.

6. YouTube is the world’s third largest site, behind Google and Yahoo. One in five of the world’s Internet users visit YouTube each day. Nearly half of US Internet users report visiting a video-sharing site like YouTube at least once.

7. Britney Spears was the most sought after celebrity on Google in 2007 and pilates was the most popular search in the fitness category. The most popular who, what and how queries were ‘Who is God’, ‘What is Love’ and ‘How to Kiss’.

8. Social networking is the fastest growing part of the Internet. There are 70 million active users on Facebook (the 8th most popular site in the world), more than 14 million photos are uploaded daily. The fourth most popular country for Facebook is Turkey with 3.3% of users. Australia is 6th with 2.7%. A Sophos poll of 600 workers found that 43% were unable to access Facebook at work, while an additional 7% reported that use of the site was restricted.

9. In 2007, global digital music sales rose 40% to $2.9 billion, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Downloaded music now makes up 15% of the recording industry’s sales.

10. Movie downloads could grow tenfold by 2012 and reach $6.3 billion worldwide during that period, according to a 2007 report by British market research firm Informa Telecoms & Media.

11. The iTunes store was launched on 28 April 2003; it has since sold more than four billion tracks and over 125 million TV episodes worldwide. It now rivals Wal-mart to be the biggest music retailer in the US. 150 million iPods have been sold worldwide since the device first appeared in October 2001. Nearly 40% of Americans now own an iPod or other mp3 player.

12. Wikipedia is the world’s 7th most popular Web site. The English version of Wikipedia has more than 2.3 million articles. Over a third of online US adults consult Wikipedia.

13. There are over 100 million Web sites, of which 74% are in the commercial or .com domain.

14. Total e-commerce sales in the US for 2007 were estimated at $136.4 billion, an increase of 19% from 2006. Total retail sales in 2007 increased 4% from 2006. E-commerce sales in 2007 accounted for 3.4% of total sales. E-commerce sales in 2006 accounted for 2.9% of total sales.

15. Core search engines Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, and collectively increased 15% in December 2007 in searches performed, compared to a year earlier, serving 9.6 billion searches in December 2007.

16. Since the beginning of 2007, Sen. Obama has raised more than $100 million online from Americans contributing $200 or less at a time, according to data compiled by the Campaign Finance Institute (Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2008)

17. In 2006, the average corporate email user received 126 messages a day, up 55% from 2003, according to the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto market research firm. By 2009, workers can expect to spend 41% of their time just managing emails. (Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2007)

18. More books are sold on the Internet than any other product and the number is increasing, research suggests. Polling company Nielsen Online surveyed 26,312 people in 48 countries. 41% of internet users had bought books online, it said. The largest percentage of people buying books in any country was South Korea at 58%. Twenty percent of US book sales and 17 percent of UK book sales are now made online.

19. Nielsen says more than eight out of ten Internet users purchased something in the last three months. That is a 40% increase on two years ago, to about 875 million shoppers. (BBC, January 21, 2008)

20. Newspapers’ online audiences are rising at twice the rate of the general Internet audience. Newspaper Web sites attracted more than 66.4 million unique visitors on average (40.7% of all Internet users) in the first quarter of 2008, a record number that represents a 12.3% increase over the same period a year ago, according to a custom analysis provided by Nielsen Online for the Newspaper Association of America.