Monthly Archives: September 2008

A film about the love that dare not speak its name

My friend and fellow social media blogger Susan Fitzgerald commented on my post from last week with a link to this provocative short film by Richard Herstek.  Apparently it has won a number of film awards, but I believe none of them are advertising awards.  It runs a bit over seven minutes.  At first the story is pretty heavy and you might be tempted to stop watching and move on.  But stick with it.  I guarantee you’ll end up laughing and be as intrigued as I was.  Then do me a favor and read my thoughts about it farther down the page.  I’d also really be interested in hearing what you think via a comment.

So what is this thing?  Is it advertising?  Is it art?  I am still trying to figure out how I feel about it.

On the one hand, it is just so well done.  The drama and the acting are superb.  They carried me along right through to the end, even after the “brutal truth” is revealed.  If the production had been of lesser quality, I think I would have stopped watching at that point.  But I was too caught up in the moving nature of the scene, as a boy reveals the deep, dark secret of “the love that dare not speak its name” to his mother.  It didn’t matter that at this point I knew the secret was that the boy prefers Dr. Pepper, not that he prefers boys!  It still continued to move me.  Yet I was laughing.  That’s what makes this film so masterful and original.  At one at the same time, it’s both serious drama and comic parody.  All the way through, your brain is going in two different directions at once.  But it works.

On the other hand, maybe it’s too well done.  A part of me felt cheated, manipulated, like my feelings had been tinkered with.  The film had drawn me into a profoundly human conflict.  I was certain a serious message was unfolding.  And then, suddenly, it turned out to be a parody.  A joke.  All for the purpose of promoting Dr. Pepper.  I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with that.  Still, overall, I think it’s brilliant.

Oddly enough, despite this being a thoroughly unconventional way to promote a soft drink, the film for all its edge still follows two elementary advertising principles that every brand manager can spout off.  First, make the product essential to the drama.  Second, use the drama to position the brand.  Pepper adheres to both.  There would be no story without the product.  And the drama positions Dr. Pepper as the taste of those who march to the beat of a different drum.  It calls to mind the 7-Up “un-cola” campaign from years back, but this is so much better.  7-Up advertising simply said the brand was the un-cola.  Pepper breaks the conventions of traditional advertising to make you feel that Dr. Pepper is the un-cola, while never actually saying it.

This has cult potential.  And if it begins to spread around and get talked about on the social web, that potential may be realized.  With business results to go along with it.

The makers have no connection with Dr. Pepper or its owner, Dr. Pepper Snapple group.  This raises several questions.  Who really owns the brand? What happens when creators unaffiliated with the marketer or its agency, create communication that has as much power as this does?  Does the manufacturer embrace it, support it, help spread it, pay for it, ignore it?

This link will take you to a page with the “official” Dr. Pepper spot.  It’s vanilla in comparison (even though it features Doctor J).  And vanilla is not the taste of Dr. Pepper.


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The antidote for the TV network is called the world wide web

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated.

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated.

Forgive me if I sound like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse.  But with all respect to Joseph Jaffe (social media maven par excellence and author of two terrific books — Life After the 30-Second Spot and Join the Conversation), I continue to struggle with the widespread assertion that the 30-second commercial has witnessed its heyday and will soon vanish from the face of the planet.  Note that I’m not saying 30-second television commercial.  The reason for the distinction will become clear.

I have written on an earlier blog post about how effectively this old format can tell a product or brand story in a remarkably efficient amount of time.  What’s more, while I am as excited as anyone by the possibilities social media and web 2.0 tools create for brands and “consumers” to engage on a much more personal level, we live in an and/and communications world.  Fact is, there are still times when people aren’t interested in a conversation (much less creating their own TV spot).  Conversation takes time, which is one thing most people have very little of.  If there’s a new, household product out there that is going to make my life easier, or if I’m in the market for a new mobile phone, then I’m not necessarily interested in a conversation.  Right now, I may just want to get a quick overview of the product choices available to me.  I want to hear what you have to offer — fast — and then get on with it.  A one-way message is just fine.

It’s simply not true that people have a problem with 30-second commercials.  They have a problem with bad commercials — ones that are unclear, convey no apparent benefit, or do so with an execution so tedious and irritating, they’d like to throw a brick through their TV screen.  Even more so, they have a problem with commercials, good or bad, for products or services that are irrelevant to them, and that show up as uninvited and disturbing interruptions to their favorite shows.

The problem isn’t the commercial, the problem is the distribution system.  Television networks are simply ineffective at delivering a specific message to the people for whom that message is relevant, and only to them.

Enter social media!

Marketers should think about online communities and networks as a new, superbly effective distribution system for their messages.  I don’t mean they should push commercials into online social networks uninvited, but instead enable individuals online to discover commercials that are personally interesting and relevant to them.  And then pass them along to others — friends, their communities, their blogging audience — for whom they think these will also be of interest.

A mom blogger who discovers a great new kids product will be connected to others who are in the same life situation, have similar needs and will also want to know about that product.  If she has access to a commercial that she thinks gets the product story across, especially if it’s executed in an appealing way, she will naturally pass it on.  All the more if she has tried and was happy with the product.  What she won’t do is share that commercial with her online connections for whom she knows the story won’t be interesting.  In this way the community becomes a self-regulating system that ensures the message spreads only to those people who will get value from it.  How cool is that?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be the traditional 30-second spot, although when people suggest to others that they take a look at a product message, 30 seconds are relatively risk free.  If, perchance, the story isn’t of interest, at least they only wasted 30 seconds of the their friends’ precious time.

So here’s something marketers ought to consider placing on the packaging of their next product launch, upgrade or line extension.  “If you like our product, please go to, upload our TV commercial, and share it with your friends online who you think would also be interested.”  If the expression “TV commercial” seems too pre-web 2.0, then call it a 30-second video if that makes you feel more in sync with the age of “YouTube.”

It can’t hurt.  And it just might get your message to spread across a network of thousands of interconnected, prospective buyers for whom it isn’t an intrusion, but a welcome source of news and information.

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What’s wrong with the social media “expert”?

The social media expert -- still learning?

The social media expert -- still learning.

I first became aware of this debate on an episode of C.C. Chapman’s podcast Managing the Gray.  C.C. expressed his reservation about being called a social media “expert.”  I can’t remember all the details, but I believe one of the points C.C. made was that the field of social media was so new, nobody could lay claim to the title of expert.

Shel Holtz subsequently chimed in with a different opinion.  He asked why anyone would want to hire you if you weren’t an expert?  The title didn’t necessarily mean that you knew everything about a particular topic, merely that you had acquired a good deal of knowledge to the extent that others could benefit from your “expertise.”  Through continued study, thought and action you deepened your knowledge and experience further and in so doing advanced the discipline.  On that basis, Shel concluded, C.C. absolutely deserved to call himself a social media expert and should wear that badge proudly.

Despite Shel’s logical argument, there was still something about that word that made C.C. feel uncomfortable.  Recently, another podcaster, I think it was Mitch Joel (Six Pixels of Separation) or Heidi Miller (Diary of a Shameless Self-Promoter) — sorry guys, I honestly can’t remember which one of you it was — also expressed reluctance to use the term to describe bloggers and podcasters who advise and comment on social media, saying that generally we don’t like to call ourselves that.

But why not?  Is this false modesty?  Or is there something more to it?  I’m not sure, but I gave it some thought and came up with a few reasons why some of us might still shirk at being called social media experts.

  • Social media is indeed new. There isn’t a whole lot of best (or worst) practice upon which we can base our opinions and recommendations.  What we normally think of as “expert opinion” derives from a depth and breadth of experience  on a subject that in the case of social media simply isn’t there yet.
  • Related to this is the ROI question. If we’re talking about social media in the marketing and communications context, a basic component of expertise will be defined by clients as the ability to advise them on what kind of social media initiatives will bring the best return on investment.  The parameters of social media ROI and tools for measuring have yet to be adequately defined.  Until they are, we will lack a key pillar upon which we can claim expertise.
  • The landscape changes so fast. Of course, all fields of knowledge continually develop and change, but that doesn’t stop them from having their experts.  Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that there are few things that evolve as quickly, as dramatically, and within such short time frames, as social media.  It’s hard just to keep up and understand the implications of these changes, much less build a foundation of knowledge and experience that one would traditionally need in order to be considered an expert.
  • You can’t be an expert in something as broad and complex as social media. In a previous life, I studied musicology.  A musicologist might be an expert on renaissance music, or ethnic music, or jazz, but he or she can’t be an expert on all aspects of music.  Social media comprises everything from communities, to corporate blogs, to consumer rating sites — and a whole lot more.  Perhaps there’s just too much to social media to say you’re an expert on the entire spectrum of it.
  • When the wisdom is in the crowd, who’s an expert? The phenomenon of the wiki and the power of the community is based on the notion that true understanding comes by listening to a range of opinions, interpretations and experiences from different individuals, rather than through the filter of expert opinion .  The wisdom of the crowd is at the heart of what makes so much of social media so potent.  What is the role of the expert in an online, interconnected world where we can learn so much that is meaningful from the experiences of many different people in situations like ours rather than from traditional experts?

What’s your take on this?  Are you comfortable being called a social media expert?  Whom do you consider to be today’s true social media experts?

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Heeding the call: Mitch Joel’s “best practice in social media” project

Last week, Mitch Joel, of Six Pixels of Separation fame, called on members of the social media blogging community to write a post about one social media best practice they especially hold in high esteem.  Mitch isn’t quite sure yet what he will do with these contributions, but the plan is eventually to edit and bring this collective wisdom together in some form on the web for the benefit of all.  If you would also like to make your voice heard, or just want further information, high tail it over to Mitch’s excellent blog at for details.

One best practice I became aware of was through an interview Mitch in fact recorded a few months ago for his Six Pixels podcast with Brett Hurt, CEO and Founder of Bazaarvoice.  Bazaarvoice designs and manages product rating and review tools for e-commerce marketers and retailers.  Analysis conducted by Bazaarvoice, as well as by Forrester Research, attest to the positive effect on sales when companies enable consumers to review and talk honestly — and unedited — about their products online, even if some of those reviews aren’t positive.  While Bazaarvoice’s research relates especially to retail e-commerce websites, I learned in a couple of email exchanges and calls with the company that the same principles hold true for manufacturer websites.

Here are some of the key things Bazaarvoice has learned that point to the beneficial effect of ratings and review on sales:

  • Product reviews boost conversion rates up to 90%.
  • Consumers actually prefer to share positive comments rather than negative ones.  (I find this especially interesting, as it flies in the face of the standard maxim that an unsatisfied customer will tell 10 people about his or her bad experience while a happy customer who will only tell one person.)
  • Those who review tend to be brand enthusiasts.  Which is probably why, according to Forrester, 80% of reviews tend to be positive (as reported in Groundswell, Harvard Business Press, 2008).
  • But negative reviews also reflect positively on the marketer, as they build credibility and show the company is confident in its product.

I think an additional take on this is that ratings and reviews are in tune with the importance that online consumers place on honesty, transparency and dialogue, especially from brands and companies.  People are going to talk about a company’s products somewhere on the web anyway, so why not encourage that talk to happen where the company can hear it and even participate in the conversation.  Negative points of view, of course, also provide opportunities for directly engaging with dissatisfied consumers, identifying genuine product issues, and addressing them.

So for my money, enabling ratings and reviews of products right on the company website is definitely a social media best practice.

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