Archive for June, 2008

Thank you to MediaPost for publishing a version of my “Magical Parallel Universe” rant…

Did the title of this post pique your interest? Good. This is a hot topic of conversation.

Are you a traditional marketer or agency person, or even a digital agency person who is frustrated at the new crop of “social media elite” who claim that they know all the answers? Or…are you a social media marketing maven who is frustrated that the rest of the industry just doesn’t get it?

Ok, be forewarned that this post is a little bit of a rant. I straddle both sides of this argument, but I’m equally invigorated, frustrated and amused at the state of affairs in the marketing industry today. This battle between the old guard and those who are trying to become the new guard is a repetition of history and has created more confusion than it has solved.

Does the following sound familiar to you?

Agency Person or Marketer:I’ve read a lot of research about how consumers are spending uber amounts of time in social media environments. How do I engage [or insert other descriptive verb here: tap into, leverage, reach] consumers within these environments?

Social Media Maven:OMG you used that verb? You clearly don’t understand what social media means. Let’s look into my crystal ball and I’ll give you some clues.

Agency Person or Marketer:Ok so I get the fact that social media is different, but how do I measure this? How do I understand what return I can get?

Social Media Maven: Hold me back, I think I’m gonna hurl. ROI? You actually think that I can clearly explain to you how to measure social media? You have so much to learn grasshopper.

Agency Person or Marketer: What about your clients? How are they engaging consumers in social media? Are they?

Social Media Maven: If I filled you in on all the details I’d have to kill you, sorry.

Agency Person or Marketer:But I’m running a business. I measure everything. Just because I want to measure the return of a marketing investment doesn’t make me a direct marketer. I measure my TV, I measure my online advertising, I measure our existing research projects, heck, I even measure the impact of using different materials to build our products and what it means to our business. How is social media any different?

Guys and gals I got news for you – the internet and it’s diverse sub-segments are not magical parallel universes, rather, an extension of the world we live in. Granted, social media growth is the biggest shift in “media behavior” since search (or maybe video was the next after search). But truth be told, the social media mavens are right in stating that it’s not really media at all…well, not in the way we used to look at media, as a channel to distribute messages to audiences (advertising). But that doesn’t mean that you can’t advertise in social media environments. It means that this is just one cog of a much bigger picture. Are the integrated deals on MySpace not advertising? Sure they are – yes I know, it’s marketing not advertising, but isn’t there an advertising component to it? Why do we argue that aspect of the merging of various marketing disciplines?

A Celebration of Integration
Let’s also not forget that all of this fits into the bigger picture of a multi-platform marketing communications plan. Integration with the bigger picture is a point often left out of the social media conversation, and I think that’s a big mistake. Ultimately the barrier to big agencies and brands understanding how to include social media in their marcom is simply an acquisition or the hiring of a few people who have experience. The theme of the times is centralization and integration. Clients do not want the splintering to continue. Might we take a step backwards before taking two integrated steps forward? Maybe. So be it. It’s bound to be where we will end up.

A New Discipline?
Is social media a new discipline? Maybe. It certainly represents the blurring of media, marketing, creative, technology PR and research. One of the challenges this presents is where the budgets come from and whose responsibility it is to manage. Don’t forget that 10 years or so ago many marketers were still challenged with figuring out whether their “online budgets” came from IT or marketing. We can now look back and laugh at that position. Social media will present an additional hurdle of meaning different things to different brands, based on what your brand means to the consumer. But the benefits of potentially connecting with consumers on a deeper level is huge, and truly the fact that the social media evangelists are trying to convey – observe, monitor, and listen before trying to become part of the experience or conversation.

Ode to the Old School
Agencies and brands don’t fret – you are not crazy nor are your years of marketing experience not translatable to an understanding of how to work in the social media ecosystem. Sorry if my social media brethren offer such elitist views at times. I’ve had too many discussions and overheard/observed/read too many conversations posts from bloggers and the growing “Twitterati” (who often spend more time tweeting amongst themselves than actually DOING anything) about how ten relationships are innately worth more than a million impressions. How arrogant and uninformed to think that this rule can be universally true. It all comes down to the definition of a relationship and the quality of the consumer feedback. For many marketers, this will be a factor of what their brands and businesses mean to consumers. Social media becomes a valuable feedback loop or research base for some brands, and for others it’s insignificant. Yeah I said it – social media can be insignificant for many brands. Are a small group of influencers truly worth that much more than the masses of followers who can be reached via many means? The majority of your brand’s consumers and potential customers will never interact with you nor the posts of the influencers within social media. Deal with it. Those evangelizing social media are all vying for the same clients. The largest brands with the strongest brand personality, the brands that consumers are already proud to be associated with, who stand the most to lose or gain by working within or ignoring social media. The other day an industry colleague, Alan Wolk, referred to these brands quite accurately as “Prom King brands”, I’d recommend reading the Ad Week article here.

Research, PR, Damage Control
Social media as a research lab? Sure, go for it – but the value is relative to the investment and commitment to striking a balance between an authentic experience to the consumer and to providing benefit to the brand. So maybe the question marketers should be asking is not how to use social media, but how much to invest, which again, is a function of how consumers perceive our brands and what social media means to THEM – not to US. No matter how hard we try to be consumer centric, it seems that it always comes back to that being a bigger buzz-phrase than any other. So social media as a research lab seems like a good starting point for any brand.

While it’s great to see brands create new social media extensions to monitor and deal with consumers’ feedback and complaints, don’t forget that you can’t please all the people all the time. Any researcher would largely discount the feedback of the polar ends of positive and negative opinion, which does not represent the market as a whole. This is not to say ignore the customer. It only means that you must manage investment in the polar ends of opinion.

All Roads Lead to Rome
Seriously guys – we shouldn’t worry about measuring investment return? If I hear that one more time, I’m going to get sick. The purpose of all marketing investments is the same. To sell stuff. The only difference between disciplines is where in the influence and decision cycle the investment impacts consumers and how easy or difficult it is to measure the potential impact. No marketing investment is made for fun, whether branding, direct response, relationship marketing, research, PR, social media or otherwise.

I promised a bit of a rant here, so there you have it. I’m frustrated that some of us make it so complicated for agencies and marketers to try to understand rather than working hand in hand to play nicely in the sandbox, experiment further and keep the consumer as the focal point of our decision making process. Agree, disagree? Have some great case studies you want to share? Connect with me on Twitter: @JasonDPG or on Facebook. Hey look ma, I’m using social media!


As if the fragmentation of media itself wasn’t enough, agencies these days are wrought with such a hyper-evolutionary state of marketing disciplines across the board, it’s often mind boggling. So today I want to revisit one the fundamental reason why I started this blog – to focus on the blurring of media, marketing, creative & technology.

The New Agency Structure

The new agency will emerge from the old agency structure and will be similar, except it won’t. Continued consolidation and agency service re-bundling will be driving the charge forward. To a degree agencies are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Reinventing yourself takes time and money. In order to prevent an agency’s value from being commoditized and to compete against a swarm of small and nimble specialists in the market requires experience and attentive focus on the details and nuances of each channel and discipline. To date most of the major agencies who have accomplished this have done so via acquisition. Some have attempted organic development, but rarely has organic growth in specialized digital marketing proven to be successful (prove me wrong). But for mid-sized agencies, the newer marketing specialties are predominantly outsourced, thus eroding their market potential and margins, and ultimately the perceived strategic value to clients. It is essential for agencies to have a well rounded suite of digital services. As clients become more savvy, and more emphasis shifts to digital over the next several years, this will increasingly be the case. Particularly because of the blurring of once linearly separated disciplines.

Media is changing drastically (I know, a resounding “DUH” is reverberating in your head after reading that statement of the over obvious). But articulating how it has changed and what it means to the development of your agency is the key to successfully changing along with it. Whereas, generally speaking, the application of marketing within media would fall into clearly defined pillars of “advertising” or “PR”, each with some subsegments that were somewhat also clearly defined. We are now entering a chaotic era of something beyond fragmentation – it is the splintering of media. A special note for the digirati that read my blog, this pertains to all media, not just what we now refer to as digital channels – ie: there are more out-of-home and broadcast opportunities than ever before, and VOD is bound to become true iTV one day in the future as well. The introduction and mass adoption of social media tools has created a market of engagement and conversation that cuts across the lines of media, creative, technology and PR. Social networking, blogging, microblogging, reblogging, lifestreaming (ok, so some of these activities are not yet “mass” as we would define the term) create the need to monitor not just measure, they create the need to immerse vs. flight campaigns, they ultimately force marketers to participate and actually become consumer centric, finally. Online macro and micro communities that may be relevant to your brand or product will congeal and self perpetuate within the context of a lifestyle or topical interest that can involve your brand or product, positively or negatively, whether you like it or not, with or without your involvement.

Consumers have the ability to interact across platforms and channels (social media, mobile, IM, email, etc) and this has far reaching implications on how agencies need to restructure to assist clients in producing content, distributing marketing experiences, and measuring the return of our collective marketing efforts. The silos are breaking down. “Integration” and being “consumer centric” can no longer be buzzwords, these phrases must be mantras. Agencies must do what it takes to manifest these mantras across all staff and processes. You may need to take a step backwards to take two steps forward, by investing in training and education, and investing in staff or acquisition. The margins and strategic value to clients are worth the investment. Have you focused on the right investments over the last 3 years? Will your business fail without the proper investment and effort? Not yet, but eventually natural selection kicks in.

Disney Sharkfin Artwork by Geert-Jan VonsThis is from an email that I just sent to Disney’s investor relations department. I am now publicly posting it as a letter to Bob Iger and the board of directors at The Walt Disney Company. Are you listening?


To: Bob Iger, The Board of Directors & the CMO of The Walt Disney Company –

It has come to our attention that through your subsidiary ESPN, that Disney is supporting an environmental atrocity. You are violating the three pillars of your stated environmental responsibility code – Conservation, Education & Action. In fact, you are accomplishing the opposite as detailed below. This is unacceptable and must stop.

From your code of ethics:

“Environmentality was established as a fundamental ethic designed to blend the company’s business needs with the corporate-wide conservation of natural resources. Adherence to this philosophy helps us attain our strategic goals while demonstrating that environmental stewardship can work-in-hand with the protection of Disney’s assets and enhanced profitability.”

ESPN2 has a smoke & mirrors shark tournament series called “Quiznos Madfin“:

This series claims to be friendly to the sharks because it is all catch & release. This is nonsense. Most of the sharks that are released will die slowly of starvation from damage from the hooks that end up in their stomachs or ripping apart their jaws.

You can read about the damage that the image of shark tournaments here.

Granted – the ESPN2 tournament is not as visually brutal, but what you do not see in your own footage is what we are concerned about – again, many of the sharks will still die. Also, this sends a message that shark tournaments are morally acceptable when indeed they are outrageously unacceptable.

This is not the first time that the Walt Disney Company was involved in a shark related issue. Just two years ago, Disneyland Hong Kong was also in violation of the corporate code of ethics, although at odds with local tradition, for serving shark fin soup at its restaurant. The soup has since been removed from the menu after a backlash from consumers, the media, and stockholders worldwide, and likewise – This program must be pulled from the air and the web.

I have included senior management from the Humane Society of The Unites States on this communication. I am working closely with them on this particular issue.

I will be dumping my Disney stock and I will be telling everyone I know to do the same. I will not support Disney and will ensure through my many media contacts that this story is exposed as Disney’s involvement in an environmental atrocity. I expect a response with Disney’s position on this matter. Please first confirm receipt and acknowledge that this email will be delivered to Bob Iger and the board of directors as well as your CMO and environmental compliance officer.

I am a well respected long time executive in the media business. I am prepared to take this message public, as well as Disney’s lack of response if that turns out to be the case. At the very least I expect an official position to my inquiry within 7 days.


Jason Heller

Are you listening…

(Disney Sharkfin Artwork by Geert-Jan Vons)

JerkVery rarely do I comment on the writings of others in the marketing industry. This may be one of the first in the history of my blog (ok it’s not that long a history, but still). Then again, it’s very rare that I feel a piece that is equally as insightful as it is well written and even entertaining, all at the same time. I have to give my colleague Kevin Ryan kudos for an article in Search Engine Watch today (apparently a rebuttal to an earlier story by another author), which accomplishes this rare feat.

I have to admit, I have heard it referenced once before, but I wasn’t familiar with John Gabriel’s Greater Internet F*ckwad Theory. Basically his theory is quite hilariously (or sadly, depending on your outlook) accurate in many instances, and it goes a little something like this:

“Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total F*ckwad”

So – what does this have to do with digital marketing?

Well, in the context of social media, it is indicative of the type of personality that can crash the the online conversational party with other consumers and ruin it. It is yet another reason to monitor social and blog activity, and to ensure that your business provides good service and is transparent, and minimizes the potential of turning a normal customer who has received a less than optimal brand experience into a proverbial f*ckwad.

Commit to being committed to monitoring the ecosystem, develop a plan on how to deal with each broad type of situation. Plan for scenarios. F*ckwad-proof your business.



Associated Press Bloggers FiascoJust a quick update on the AP fiasco…

The AP actually wants bloggers to pay for quoting as few as five words. This war on bloggers and “fair use” is going to get uglier before it gets resolved. The AP is really shaking up the blogosphere. There are ten’s of thousands of outraged posts about the AP’s assault on “fair use” and the spirit of digital information dissemination.

I’m not sure if this pricing structure was out there prior to the Facebook-beacon program-esque fiasco of this past week, but I found the schedule for “Excertp Web Use”, which includes excerpts as low as five words. In a previous statement from the AP, even a well crafted headline has vast intrinsic value and would be considered an infringement of copyright.

The basic priciple of a big traditional media company like AP creating their own rules creates an emotional reaction. The restriction of free thought regarding third party content will stifle and limit content distribution. This alienation of bloggers may cause irreparable harm. Continue reading my last post for more on this topic…

AP Muscles BloggersOver the last few days, the Associated Press has caused quite a stir in the blogosphere, strong arming bloggers for doing what they do best – promoting other content, and then back peddling in apology mode after the repercussions reverberated through the blogosphere. Since Friday they have went from “Say hello to my little friend”, to “Can’t we all get along”. Or maybe not. It seems that while apologetic in tone, the position and intentions of the AP has not changed much since their initial statements of last week.

The spirit of digital media, the growth of blogging and the new mechanics of information dissemination is predicated on quoting (even partial copying) and linking by bloggers and websites. However, the AP went on the offensive last week, threatening to litigate the Drudge Retort (yes Retort not Report, different site), for including quotes and links to AP content, and then backing off a bit after feeling ‘a disturbance in the force’, a/k/a the power of the blogosphere.

In a NYTimes article today, Jim Kennedy, Vice President & Strategy Director stated:

“Cutting and pasting a lot of content into a blog is not what we want to see,” he said. “It is more consistent with the spirit of the Internet to link to content so people can read the whole thing in context.”

Kennedy states:

“As content creators, we firmly believe that everything we create, from video footage all the way down to a structured headline, is creative content that has value,”

As a content creator myself, I couldn’t agree more. Content creators should have the right to protect their copyrights and assets. The point that Kennedy & the AP misses here is that the exceprts and links from blogs and other sites only increases that value. How can they not understand that so much progression in information dissemination is being driven by an increasingly “open source” world.

But the real issue at hand is AP’s clear and willing desire to set and litigate against standards that go above and beyond the fair use doctrine within US Copyright law.

A description of fair use from the US Copyright office:

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

I’m trying to stay objective on this topic. I am a supporter of the fair use doctrine, I am also a supporter of content creators’ rights. However, should the AP leverage their financial wherewithal to continue down the path of muscling bloggers to recind quotes and links to content, the equivalent of the RIAA suing grandmas, little kids and homeless people, they will lose the support of bloggers the world over, who may also stop supporting the major news outlets who purchase content from AP. This support has fueled shifts in media consumption, search engine visibility, and general transparency and distribution of information – a major consumer benefit.  So hence the AP’s desire to define and interpret fair use wages a war against bloggers, and the spirit of digital media itself.

My thoughts from an earlier blog post were published in MediaPost today:

“Social media growth is one of the biggest media trends in digital media history. Marketers and agencies want to simply “fish where the fish are.” But the problem is that consumers aren’t fish, and social media is far from a simple habitat. Tapping into this exciting media shift is not as simple as moving to a new fishing spot and bringing along the right bait, but rather living in the ocean and becoming a fish yourself. Social media marketing is a commitment to participation, immersion, transparency, engagement and authenticity.”

Enjoy: MediaPost