Where There’s New Media Smoke, There’s Usually a Smoke Machine

I modified a JFK attributed quote for this title. But also thought another modification explains a lot about one of the biggest hassles in modern marketing:

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually deep pockets writing a check.

Marketers today are pummeled with smoke — especially about new media, brand love, and about big data. And there’s a reason the smoke is so thick… There’s a set of big companies, venture startups, and VCs that think they can make big money by selling these ideas. And that opens their checkbooks wide.

But just because the checkbook is open doesn’t mean they’re selling anything important. All it means is that a pile of VENDORS stand to make big money if they can only convince you that what they have is important. (Most often they’re the ONLY ones making money through the idea.)
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Cable Cutting & Self Righteous Attacks on TV

I get pretty miffed when the “cable cutter” enthusiasts try to argue that online video will drag society out of the depths of depravity found in TV programming.

After all, what are most teens watching online? You can bet it’s NOT Masterpiece Theater or Nature. More likely they’re watching video’s of guys becoming eunuch’s when skateboard tricks land them on handrails.

This attack in TV is nothing new. I remember making it a few times in youthful enthusiasm while in college. Still, proponents of new media too often sound like sci-fi books — promising a “glorious future” where the internet changes mankind. (They are, of course, merely the latest to claim to remake humanity in thousands of years of such movements.) Read more of this post

Mid-term Status on Web Delivered TV – Chaos Only a Geek Could Love

My family upgraded to a beautiful new 55″ flatscreen, moved over our Comcast and TiVO, then added an AppleTV and upgraded our sound system. And, so, in one grand swoop, we became a modern TV family.

How is this new world? No longer needing to go to the video store for old movies is quite nice. But prepare yourself for four types of chaos.

Content Chaos

You’d think that a monthly Netflix subscription would deliver everything we need. But Netflix streaming has massive content holes. Even worse, there’s no way to predict whether the content you want will be available or not. Besides, Netflix only has old stuff. Old movies. Old reruns. And Disney isn’t on Netflix – at all.

So how about Hulu? The Blazer’s playoff game bumped 30 Rock. Of course, this season isn’t on Netflix. I find it on Hulu – the paid version (cha ching). We have a monthly now, but we really don’t need Hulu. Our cable/DVR combo is much better except for those few times there’s a problem with the cable feed.

Ah, but what about new movies? They are not available on Netflix. That means we have to either seek them at Redbox, TiVO them from the HBO feed, or pay through Comcast OnDemand or AppleTV. Hmmm, $4 a pop.

So we thought we’d figured a lot out. But then the Bin Laden raid pre-empted The Amazing Race. But who wants to miss that episode. So, we dashed off into Digital TV. Where to look? Netflix? Nope. AppleTV? Nope. Hulu? Nope. CBS’ website? Not on my iPad. Ah, its on the website if we choose to access it with my wife’s laptop. And as long as we wait some period of time after it was supposed to have aired.

Format Chaos

Before content chaos we confronted format chaos. These devices bombarded us with format options. HDMi or RGB? Svideo or RCA? 720p or 1070p? HD or SD? And each device (except AppleTV) has a huge range of input or output settings. Which one’s work well together? My former network manager wife shook her head as we tried to sort out the alphabet soup.

Remote Chaos

After basic setup, we entered “The Remote Zone”. Our TV is surrounded by 5 devices – each with it’s own unique remote. Then, I remembered a programmable universal remote I’d been given. About 3 days of tinkering later and one remote carried the whole system. Whew.

Reliability Chaos

So we get this all cobbled together… And then there’s an unreliable signal. With Netflix at least once or twice per movie or rerun we lose lip synch and have to restart. At other times Netflix stops in its tracks and pops us out. This didn’t happen wtih – what’s do you call that not so old way – cable?

Not Ready For Consumers

This world is far, far from a consumer quality world. Why?

Too complicated. You REALLY have to want to watch something to figure it out. (And, no, this won’t be fixed by making it 100’s of times more complicated with Google searching on the web.)

It is waaay too expensive. 10 monthly bucks here and there. Then little bits of $4 to get one movie at a time. So right now we are probably paying $30 to $40 per month over our cable bill. But Cable offers more and is easier to use.

With all this in place, we still mostly watch Cable using our DVR – a simple system that is cheaper and delivers the vast majority of what we want.

My kids watch the most on these digital gizmos. It seems to fit their developmental stage interest in watching the same basic program over and over.

And yet, have the digerati claimed about all this digital so-called freedom? That it’s simple and less expensive. NOT IN MY EXPERIENCE!!!

A Call To Action: Fix It

It’s true – none of this was possible 6 years ago. But that’s not the point.

Right now Netflix is real, but Hulu and most of the other options are toys. For them to move beyond this stage, they must rise to mass consumer quality. Consumers won’t pay extra monthly fees without getting far more in a far easier format.

The way things are going I expect we are entering a period with 5 years of bankruptcies, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. Then, maybe someone will bring it together under one roof.

Who might that be? Love ’em or hate ’em, my guess is that it’s the cable providers (e.g. Comcast) who are going to create a unified system. And given their track record for making easy-to-use technology, that should probably concern us all.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

DRTV Finds What Nielsen Misses: An Audience That Will Take Action

Nielsen ratings are often attacked for a variety of problems with their statistical reliability and I certainly don’t disagree with those challenges. Yet, I give Nielsen credit for reasonably estimating what is entirely unmeasurable: random acts of private TV viewing by more than 300 million Americans in more than 100 million homes on over 250 million TV sets.

In truth, Nielsen critics should dig deeper, because there’s a more fundamental problem. No rating system, Nielsen or otherwise, can help you find the media that most cost effectively reaches an audience that will go out and buy your product.

Enter DRTV – the surprising modern media engine that drives big change more cost effectively than any other TV. How? In part, by measuring how effectively each time slot on your TV schedule reaches an audience that will take action.

Let’s Review Traditional TV Measurement. Traditional TV metrics start by giving us demographic descriptions of audiences (yawn) – and these descriptions dominate ratings. But the truth taught in advertising courses around the country (like my courses at Portland State) is that demographics are the least effective way to locate a target consumer that will take action.

This is a well known problem. So traditional media planners have developed much more sophisticated ways to describe and target audiences. They’ve been helped along this route by research firms and the networks themselves who analyze viewer psychographics, lifestyles, behaviors and geography. Traditional planners try to buy based on these criteria.

But notice what’s missing: there’s no way to know predisposition to take action.

By Contrast, Consider DRTV. In DRTV, we do some planning with traditional audience criteria. But within 2 weeks of starting a campaign, we’ve looked at phone and web results and adjusted our media buy by targeting the media that drives the most cost effective action. Later we evaluate our buy for the impact we’ve had in traditional media terms like reach & frequency, classic target market descriptors, and more detailed impact at the retail store.

For example, Atomic ran a cookware campaign where we found the most cost effective results on Lifetime Movie Network. By contrast, several “traditional planning” networks performed quite poorly – Oxygen was 250% less, Food Network 400% less and HGTV 800% less effective at reaching consumers who would take action. So after only two weeks, we removed those networks from the schedule.

The result? With a budget under $1M we drove the biggest cookware introduction at Linens-n-Things in their history. Let me say that again: we introduced a product nationally for a major retailer with under $1M in media spending and the result was the biggest cookware introduction in their history.

In fact, over a 20 year DRTV career, I’ve worked with client after client who turns to DRTV after getting minimal results from spending over $10M in traditional TV. And when they turn to DRTV, they usually drive 10 to 20 times the unit sales at retail with less than half the spending.

Why Does Predisposition to Action Matter This Much? Let’s assume we randomly select 100 people who fit your best and most in-depth target market description. How many of those are likely to be brought to action? A half? One? Two? Perhaps three? Experience shows that if 3 out of 100 people from a target market are ready to take action, you’ve got astronomical market potential.

Now remember that you are choosing how you spend millions (or even hundreds of millions) in media without knowing whether the people you reach are the same ones that will move to action. If we choose American Idol because “that’s what our target watches”, that’s also all we know. We know nothing about how cost effectively advertising on American Idol will reach people who are likely to take action.

A company with media money to burn can choose to ignore this reality. No one else should.

Use DRTV for Higher Impact from TV

If you want to cause change for your company’s fortunes – if you want to make something big and exciting happen, take a long look at DRTV.

In case after case, DRTV campaigns drive massive results at retail. These campaigns reveal that the media purchased based on traditional planning is often the LEAST cost effective. And when DRTV is effective at driving direct and retail sales, we find it is also highly effective building brands or changing brand perceptions – achieving more, faster and at lower cost than with traditional media.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Wishing it was true? Internet TV advocates trumpet flawed research.

There’s a survey circulating right now by a group named “Say Media”. I won’t link to it because it’s irresponsible to circulate mis-leading research.

Scoop is that Internet TV advocates are shouting that the survey shows that around 1/3 of the adult population in the US has turned off cable in order to get their TV online. (To be fair, the Say Media report doesn’t say this.)

Are some advocates so desperate that they’ll believe anything? This research is seriously flawed. To begin, it relies on…wait for it…online surveys. Yikes. Doesn’t anyone pay attention to methodology anymore?

So, an online survey finds a larger portion of 1100 people are more active…um…online by using more online TV. THEN, those results are projected to the entire US population (and we’re given the usual drivel about +/- to make it sound like solid research).

To understand how flawed this is, let’s look at a similar hypothetical. If you stand outside the stadium at a Lacrosse game and interview sports preferences among those leaving the stadium, you will find that most of your interviews prefer Lacrosse to American Football (especially if your wording encourages that answer which is common in this flavor of research).

And if you can find enough people to interview, then you can get some statistician to give you +/- error percentages so that you can claim that you found that the majority of Americans prefer Lacrosse to Football.

And, you would be entirely, wholly wrong. But that’s essentially what it looks like they did in this survey.

In addition, the “researchers” observed their online habits. (Huh – take people who claim that they went off TV but you only watched them online?)

And, they did eight (8) in-depth interviews too. Eight? They probably found those eight among their friends.

What else might be wrong here? For decades people have lied about their TV habits – minimizing the amount of time they watched. Because it’s an issue where social pressure suggests they’re “bad” if they watch too much TV. In order to accurately guage TV habits, research has to be extraordinarily sophisticated. The best work invades people’s homes.

Just for fun, let’s try to figure out what they really found out with the research.

– First, they only interviewed people online. It looks like only 70% of US adults are online.
– Second, of that 70%, only about half will participate in online surveys. And, that half is likely to be the most online savvy.

In other words, their survey applies to the most online savvy 35% of US adults. Of that 35%, 13% were disconnected and 20% were connected, but reducing their viewing. Except, it’s reasonable to guess that half exaggerated their disconnectedness.

SO, they found a small group (6%) of adults that are disconnected. Yawn. Oops. I mean “write a big press release. Because we just found out that what we’ve known about TV for 50 years is still true. Not everybody watches.”

Until we can learn more, put a massive RED WARNING FLAG on this research. Significantly more reliable research has shown that there is no degradation in TV viewing habits – only an increase in viewing now that people can view it on their mobile devices.

So we have to wonder about the motivations of the groups that cobbled together this marketing masquerading as research. Is it possible that it’s VC funded to make certain that investments in GoogleTV pay out? Possible. But we don’t know.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

Does iPhone 4 Review Say More About Consumer Reports than Apple?

The perception of Consumer Reports is that it’s an organization dedicated to thoughtful reviews that help consumers sort through complicated purchases. And because of thoroughness, neutrality and independence, consumers came to trust them like no other organization or printed publication in the US.

But I’m not so certain any more.

Consider the recent CR coverage of the Apple iPhone 4. What CR said was that the iPhone 4 is the best phone out there. But because there is a possible problem with the antenna, they do not recommend anyone buy them. Huh? Did they talk to anyone who actually used the thing?

I have been reading online. The vast majority of people who own the iPhone 4 love them. Most consumer written reviews note that they didn’t even know that holding the phone wrong while holding something metallic could cause a call to drop until the press told them. In other words: they weren’t having problems.

As a measure of this problem, Apple has sold 3 million phones. Of those, 1.7% have been returned. By comparison, 6% of the iPhone 3GS were returned in the same timeframe after release. Hmmm. Big problem? Not seeing it yet.

Even more confounding is the video from today’s Apple press conference. Apple shows us that hand position affects signal strength on every smart phone in the market. (How did CR miss that?)

We shouldn’t be surprised. After Apple expressed a direct opinion about Flash’s weakness for mobile devices the technocracy pummeled them. Then we learned that NONE of the smart phones support flash today and Adobe’s scrambling. Why is it that the supposed “evil empire” turns out to be the one that really knows what’s going on and is willing to say it?

Given the antenna truth, Consumer Reports was very, very sloppy here. But is that unusual? I think they’re struggling far more than one Apple review. In fact, I’m hearing very intense manufacturer dissatisfaction with CR – intensity that has grown more over the past 20 years.

In part, they’ve found that CR teams often start reviews with too many predetermined opinions and predefined criteria. This is a problem when an industry grows and changes. It means CR is slow to grow with it. It also makes it a struggle to get a serious evaluation of any product value that is outside of their assumptions – especially because in a smart effort to maintain neutrality the manufacturer has limited contact with CR.

I’ve also noticed that CR puts an outsized weight on low price so important value added features can end up instantly discounted. And if there’s a hot PR issue, rather than publish neutral discussion, somehow CR seems to seek to leverage that issue.

A couple of these fit the iPhone 4 quite well. Because of prior press, CR focused on the iPhone antenna and missed the problem in all the other phones. This is a disappointing failure.

Beyond Apple, I’ve seen these problems with CR work out in tool reviews, appliance reviews, and even vacuum reviews. Since my agency usually works with premium manufacturers who make superb products, I’ve all too often encountered their default to low price as a dominating factor.

The Electrolux vacuum had this problem in a review in the mid 1990’s. But, there was no option to put the product in context for the CR reviewers. They’re on their own so the manufacturer is stuck with pre-conceptions.

CR isn’t alone. Product reviewers of all variety have similar risk. We see it in reviews of woodworking products, electronics, and appliances. But only CR has the bully pulpit to project their mis-judgements internationally and overnight. And that means CR should be holding themselves to a higher standard.

So what do I think all this means about CR? (I take this seriously – because consumers need a solid and reliable operation like Consumer Reports was when I was a kid).

…It seems that CR has strategically sold out to the modern media culture right now. What’s next? A Whale Wars style reality show based on Consumer Reports? It’s probably in the works somewhere.
…It seems that CR may have lost their clout. I cancelled my subscription years ago because they no longer provided information that was really helpful. And Apple has sold 3 million iPhone 4’s despite this horrible review.
…CR must be getting intense competition from the internet. Sites like Edmunds.com have taken away their highly profitable auto review business. Unfortunately this may leave them too hungry for money.
…The internet can even supply all the reviews a consumer might think they need. It’s not clear that CR has found a solid role for themselves in this new world. (And consumer tabloid doesn’t jive with what I expect from them.)

All in all, this is quite sad. The internet isn’t a reliable place. It’s filled with company sponsored “reviews”. It’s filled with people who grind an agenda. And it’s filled with horribly misleading information (there’s a reason consumers often avoid company websites).

So we NEED Consumer Reports. But we don’t need what this iPhone review was about. We need a CR that is a thorough, neutral, and balanced evaluator of products. And that will take a concerted effort on their part to re-establish trust in the quality of their reviews.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

My Ipad – Post 10 – iPad Input Strengths and Press Misinformation

We simple citizens expect that major news organizations work hard to find the truth about topics. And we expect they won’t pass along mis-information coming from competitor’s attack machines.

But it doesn’t work that way. In politics, Clinton’s 1992 team found that the first story to be filed almost always established the one “storyline” coming out of a speech. The rest of the press would repeat that storyline – no matter what else important Clinton might have said – thus creating the surprisingly bland range of topics covered by news outlets.

This press laziness is the only thing I can find to explain the miserably poor coverage of iPad “input”. Following the Apple announcement, pundits formed a theme that “there’s no input to the iPad”. And that theme appears in nearly every article about the iPad.

Except, it’s not true. Consider all the input options:

…The on-screen keyboard is far better than the frivolously shallow news reports would suggest.
…Using a full size keyboard (dock or Bluetooth) is so effective you can write books on the iPad.
…There are many options for getting files to and from the iPad (email, iTunes, FTP, document sites, etc…).

Whats unusual is the approach to files. Apple turned files on their head. On a desktop or laptop, we seek out the file to open the application. On the iPad, the application keeps track of the files. So we open the App in order to get to our files.

Why? I don’t know – they didn’t consult me. But this shift delivers simplicity. Files don’t only live in the app. They get to the iPad through an iTunes file cache, through email, or downloaded from the web. From that point, they live in the app.

It works quite well once you get used to it. And it gets me thinking that a file driven system is pretty archaic. (How many times do you need to open Word files in Excel?)

The lack of a USB port seems to confuse techies. My guess is that adding a USB would add an entire level of complex structures to make files independent of programs. Not a good trade off when you already have simpler options.

Fortunately, the storyline hasn’t caused a problem for Apple yet (they’ve sold plenty). But I still think Apple should confront the issue.

How? First I’d put an iPad in its keyboard dock in each store so people can use it. When people use mine, it takes about three or four keystrokes before their eyes open wide in surprise. (“Its just like a computer!”)

And, Apple should work with press outlets to get the story right. They’re leaving an information void on the topic. Information voids usually fill with damaging information.

Lacking an Apple response, their competitors are using the press to great advantage. Bill Gate’s comments on the iPad last week brilliantly capitalized on this storyline. And with the predictability of cattle returning to the barn, the wire stories about Gate’s comments picked up his erroneous comments unchallenged.

Sadly, though, the technology press only rarely suffers for being wrong.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett