Sunday, April 30, 2006

Coca-Cola Launches Blak 'Extension'

Count me among the ranks of the viral marketers. Several months ago, I read of Coca-Cola's intention to launch a new product that combined Coca-Cola and coffee flavors. Yuk, I thought. Almost everyone I know had the same reaction. Yet somehow I was intrigued.

Coca-Cola Blak launched in the United States on April 3. I just downed my first bottle today, on April 30. Was it "the refreshing taste of an ice-cold Coca-Cola that finishes with a rich essence of coffee," as Katie Bayne, senior vice president, Coca-Cola Brands, Coca-Cola North America, said on a corporate news release?

Well, kind of. It tastes like eating one of those candied espresso beans and taking a drink of Coke. My other test taster, however, had a gag reflex. For $5.99 for a 4 pack of 8 oz. bottles, gagging is not what you want.

As an advertising professor, Blak might just make a great case study. Their rollout embodies many of the principles I am teaching in my principles of strategic communication class. The image above comes from their "viral marketing" attempts. Once you log onto the Coca-Cola Blak Web site, you can send an e-mail to your friends.

Furthermore, the Blak rollout appears to be following another trend: the introduction of new brands with precious little media support. National television support came in the form of a teaser ad (another concept we teach) during the 78th Annual Academy Awards on ABC. The ad plays on the red carpet theme, and it also can be viewed on the Web site.

Furthermore, Coca-Cola is firmly committed to integrated marketing communication, as the news release states, "Additional support for the brand will include a fully integrated program featuring both traditional and non-traditional media, including television, print and outdoor advertising, in-store displays, and targeted sampling programs designed to engage consumers and pique their interest in Coca-Cola Blak."

It will be interesting to see whether this product survives. Coca-Cola Blak will be competing with the likes of Red Bull, Starbucks Double Shot, and myriad other newcomers to the energy drink category. Rather than the taste of the product, it appears that it will be Coca-Cola's ability to generate a buzz that will determine the product's future.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Attitude Research over Time

We all know the importance of first impressions. But I am increasingly interested in how we form attitudes about brands over time. And here I use a pretty broad definition of brand.

There are many products that you will begin using 10 years from now. They are available now, and you cannot possibly avoid hearing about them. Some of that information is being stored in your neural network. We know, for example, of mere exposure affect. Even minimal exposure to a stimulus can produce mild positive affect -- even if you are not aware of it.

How much of a role does this play? Is there a flowchart in your brain such that an early negative encounter -- even a very trivial one -- makes it highly improbable that you will ever adopt that brand? Conversely, I wonder what happens to that little kernel of positive affect. Does it lay dormant in your brain like some kind of antibody ready to spring into action the moment you start using that product category?

Furthermore, how do these things relate to identity. As expressed here earlier, I have data that show that we strongly identify with the brands we like. Does our self concept continually update itself with respect to the things we like? Does this enable that dormant positive affect by subconsciously reinforcing it?

In academics, almost everyone will tell you that we need to do more longitudinal work. But the schedule is not conducive, and today never seems like the appropriate day. Thus, for many of these questions, I am left to wonder.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Career Shifting to West Texas

I firmly believe that there are a handful of moments that define one's life. I have written about defining moments here before.

This spring marked another important defining moment. I have an excellent rapport with my school's director, Carroll Glynn, and she has given me every possible resource to succeed as an academic. However, since I moved to Columbus, I have realized how difficult it is to be 1,700 miles from one's family. This is especially true when one's parents begin to have health problems.

So I started looking at job opportunities in the Southwest. One program really stood out: the new College of Mass Communications at Texas Tech University. They appear to have an ideal blueprint on how to build a program.

Within the past two years, the program has become a stand-alone college, and it has developed a Ph.D. program. More importantly -- to me -- is that Tech has an extremely impressive, collegial faculty. Their growth has led to an infusion of young talent, and it is a very exciting place to be. But it is a fun place to be.

I had a great time in Lubbock during my interview, and I am lucky to have been offered a position in the soon-to-be department of advertising. I will have a great dean, a well respected department head, and wonderful colleagues. It is an ideal situation for a young scholar.

More importantly, it is going to be fun to recruit people to West Texas. It may sound like the end of the Earth to some folks, but it's a great place to study mass communications. Lubbock is a city of about a quarter million, and the major markets of Dallas and Houston are a short flight away. With the faculty in place at Tech, I believe our Ph.D. students quickly will be welcomed as faculty members at the "old guard" programs.

It is difficult to leave OSU, with its own blend of excitement and growth. However, the chance to be a 5 1/2 hour car ride from home and just one hour from the New Mexico border was just too much of a pull. Kids who grow up in New Mexico don't call it "The Land of Entrapment" for nothing.

Finally, this move completes my retracing of coach Bob Knight's steps. He earned his degree and played college ball at OSU (I'm here), won three national titles at Indiana (my Ph.D. graduation ceremony was just under those championship banners), and he now coaches at Tech (is it too early to order season tickets?).

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mid-Terms Slow Profs, Too

Three straight weeks of travel ... and now a mid-term. Unfortunately the Weblog is suffering. Dedicated readers stay tuned.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hotel Mattress Marketing Sells Me

During our recent trip to Kentucky, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza Campbell House. When I got in the room, it was quite nice, and I noticed an advertising-type flyer on the bed advertising that it was a Tempur-Pedic Swedish mattress. Big deal, I thought.

A few hours later I returned to the room, and I found out why they had the flyer. What a mattress! I cannot quite explain it, but the Tempur-Pedic mattress kind of cradles you. They say the mattress does this by "conforming to and supporting the body perfectly." It does.

The advertising guy in me wonders what the deal was to place the flyer. Were the beds cheaper if the hotel placed the flyers? Normally, you wouldn't think much about a comfortable bed. We had great beds at the hotel we stayed at in San Diego in May 2003. But that's all I know.

Thanks to the flyer, I know the Tempur-Pedic Swedish Sleep System. The in-room ad broke through the clutter and left a lasting impression.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Paradox of Health Messages

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It has been an enjoyable time at the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication. During an excellent talk by my OSU colleague, Dr. Michael Slater, something he said caused me to pause and return to a thought I have had many times before: most campaigns attempting to alter health behavior are unlike most other campaigns.

Almost all advertising attempts to get you to do something. Most health messages try to get you to not do something. These are fundamentally different, of course, and surely several hundred people have already acknowledged this fact in print.

However, I believe the notion bodes well for my research family tree. While at this conference, I was part of a panel organized by Dr. Annie Lang (my Ph.D. advisor). The panel centered around measuring motivational activation. That is, we are working toward measuring how things appeal to people and how things drive people away. We believe there are two systems, are we study them both every day.

This dual system approach is, I believe, ideal for examining advertising and health messages. This approach will allow us to tease out -- theoretically -- where the advertising approach should inform health communication and where they should be quite opposite.

I enjoy days where the future looks this bright.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Headed to Kentucky Conference

My newfound love of traveling has me headed to meet the Indiana gang in Kentucky for the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication. I will try to have something to say from there.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Starbucks Really Gets It

I wish I had bought stock in Starbucks. They really understand branding.

Standing and waiting for my coffee today, I noticed their application for employment. It included the usual questions. It also asked (approximately):

1) What do you like about coffee?
2) Have you ever been in a Starbucks before?
3) Describe the experience.

You see, it's not like McDonald's or 7-Eleven. It's about an experience. And you have to understand and appreciate that experience to create it. They get it.

Integrated marketing ... all the way down to the job application.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

Hopefully you're as lucky as me today. I am spending time with family and friends, and it is a rare occasion where neither communication nor cognition are especially on my mind.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Advertising Driven Video Games

I am both intrigued and amazed at the lengths advertisers will go to to get their message in front of the consumer. While talking to a "principles" class the other day, I showed new advertising messages being printed on the white lines between parking spaces in parking lots.

Today I read on that a former Maxim editor-in-chief is working on advertisements embedded in video games. This is not a new concept, and I once worked on a research project on this topic with my colleague Byung-ho Park.

But this new concept is different. The game is called "The DinoHunters." writes, "The new game, which will be free to play and funded by advertisers, follows a group of time-traveling hunters who bring modern weapons into the past for prehistoric safaris -- and have their progress filmed by a TV show on the fictional Total Hunting Channel. To pay the bills, the show requires its stars -- that is, the people who play the game -- to film commercials for its real-world sponsors during their expeditions."

It seems magazines just were not getting through to young males, so perhaps video games will get the message across.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

It's Not That I Have Nothing to Say

It's that I have nothing interesting to say. And a bit of food poisoning, which does quite little for creativity!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Book It: Consumer is King

I read the following on today:

NEW YORK ( -- ABC fleshed out details of its new online service of free programming today, outlining exactly how advertising will be embedded in broadcast video versions of its TV programming. As first reported by Advertising Age on Feb. 9, the Walt Disney Co. network will become the first broadcast network to offer a raft of top entertainment shows online for free.

Viewers can watch the entire episode online, but won't be able to skip ads.

I'm all for new avenues for content. But it worries me that networks are designing ways to force commercials upon viewers rather than trying to find creative (and less paternalistic) ways to make marketing content that viewers want to see!

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Quick Thought on Genetic Algorithms

I love genetic algorithms (GAs). They are a clever, biologically inspired way to solve a problem. I have programmed a couple of GAs, but I have not actively incorporated them into my research.

Although there is not time here, genetic algorithms encode some traits into a genome (often 1s and 0s). Then particularly "fit" individuals can be selected from the population, and their genomes can be combined to create genetically new -- but related -- offspring. In addition, it is pretty simple to implement mutation and crossover, which more closely approximates our DNA. In addition, crossover and mutation allow completely new genomes, which result in new species, so to speak.

The other day, my colleague, Dr. Ed Palazzolo, passed along an interesting genetic algorithm problem posted to a message board. The question involved a GA that would assign a bunch of tasks to a bunch of individuals. Not every individual need have a task, but each task had to be assigned among the individuals with equal probability. And it should be equally probable that each person have each numbers of tasks (i.e., person 1 should not routinely end up with more tasks, which actually better resembles your actual workplace).

The solution is pretty elegant, although imperfect. If you use binary code
to assign each task, then probabilities are even. The problem is that you
have to a priori define the size of the universe.

000 = person 0 assigned
100 = person 1 assigned
010 = person 2 assigned
110 = person 3 assigned
001 = person 4 assigned
101 = person 5 assigned
011 = person 6 assigned
111 = person 7 assigned

Here there are 8 people, are each has a 12.5% probability of having the task
assigned to them. If you have 4 tasks, you have 4 x 3 genes, or a 12 unit genome. If one "parent" workplace had the genome 000000000000, then person 0 would have all four tasks. Say workplace 2 had the genome 111111111111, then person 7 would have all the tasks.

If we combine these genomes with crossover at the middle, we would get 000000111111 and 111111000000 (if we have 2 offspring, a computational convenience). Thus, in each of the "offspring" workplaces, we would see individuals 0 and 7 each with 2 tasks. Now we throw in some small probability of mutation, and perhaps we see one child become 010000111111. Here, mutation has switched a task to person 2, something that had not happened in the original world.

Perhaps this would allow for a particularly "fit" workplace, and this mutation would proliferate in the population. At any rate, this is what I am thinking about for fun today.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Video Game Elevates Sexual Content

I will again stay out of the judgment business, but video games are again boldly going into the arousal generation business.


NEW YORK (AP) -- Online games have so far mainly revolved around the killing of fantasy monsters. The occasional fight with a Stormtrooper provides some variety.

Companies are now developing a handful of games -- though calling them that is a stretch -- designed to give players a very different option: making love, not war.

In "Naughty America: The Game," set to launch early this summer, players will assume the forms of alluring but cartoonish people who meet, flirt and have sex with other player characters.

Characters will have their own apartment, but the world will have also have "public sex zones" and themed rooms, said Tina Courtney, the game's producer.

"We've got the cowboy room, the make-your-own-porn room ... it doesn't just have to be 'Your place or mine?"' Courtney said.

Flirting and dating have been rife in online games like "Everquest" and "World of Warcraft" -- even leading to marriage between players -- despite a lack of romantic or sexual features in the games.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Concept of Four

On Thursday I was helping my kindergartener with her homework. One of the assignments was to circle all of the four letter words. At first I smirked, "what kind of homework is this?" Of course I was thinking of those other four letter words.

Of course, my daughter had to count the letters for each word. As a cognitive scientist, I sat there looking at the poem. The four letter words just jump out. I don't have to count. I seem to be able to recognize the concept of fourness.

I cannot really talk about the concept of fourness. It is procedural knowledge rather than declarative knowledge. As I sat there longer, I wondered how to "teach" the concept of fourness to my daughter. How could I get her to recognize fourness in the world without counting?

While she worked on the third paragraph, I thought about this. Then I decided that four is most easily conveyed by two pairs. So I showed her how if I hold up two fingers on each hand, each hand had a set of "partners." Then I slid my hands together to show her the four fingers. We can call this the two sets of partners theory of fourness.

Then I showed her the words she had already circled. I showed her how each word had two sets of partners. Then I asked her to circle the four letter words in the fourth paragraph without counting ... and she did it! With that simple little lesson, she was able to recognize the concept of fourness in the world.

The mind is a wonderful thing!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

April Is a Complete Blur

In order to get this To-Do list done, April needs to have approximately 100 days.

On top of the upcoming trip to Kentucky, teaching, and getting two journal articles out the door, I have to spend all my free time editing video, as we have human subjects approval to run the next startle study.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Catching Up with Indiana Friends

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Today was a great day catching up with old friends at Indiana University. As is always the case, the time was too short. I wished that there had been more time to talk about ideas.

Being back here reminded me what a great intellectual community this is. I genuinely feel lucky to have received my education here. The programs in telecom and cognitive science are first rate, and it is impossible not to love Bloomington on a sunny day like today with flowers everywhere. Today, it was good to go home again.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Data Illustrate Reach of the Web

This Weblog has been an educational venture. It has been interesting to watch it develop, and I offer thanks to my colleague, Dr. Rob Potter, for blazing the trail. I know that many of my close colleagues and/or friends read the Weblog, because they often comment about things I have written.

Interestingly, the comments have waned as of late. There are fewer comments these days. I am not sure exactly what that means, but it indicates that the interactive component of this Weblog (N = 1) has lost some of its appeal.

The newest development to the Weblog is the stat counter at the bottom. This gives me a rough approximation of the number of people coming through. This Weblog averages about 13 unique visitors every day. Although readers are anonymous, it is not surprising that most of the page loads come from the states of Ohio (where I live) and Indiana (where most of my colleagues live).

The stat counter also has told me something about social networks. Again, users are anonymous (so don't stop reading), but if users get to this Weblog by clicking on another link, then the counter records that referring page. A good proportion of my readers get to this site from Rob Potter's The Audio Prof Weblog. Since his Weblog predates mine, it makes sense that some readers began reading his site regularly and then added this one to their routine. But it was their habit to begin with professor Potter, and they have continued that.

About two weeks after adding the stat counter to this Weblog, I added it to my main Communication & Cognition Web site. This site is more than two years old, and it generates much more traffic. It took a long time for to become listed on Google, but now that it is, the search engine sends me a good bit of traffic. Right now, if you Google search "communication" and "cognition," this Weblog is the fifth thing that comes up [click here]. Of course, that will change over time as the search algorithm updates. If you Google "communication" and "psychophysiology," my Web site is the ninth thing that comes up [click here].

Since midnight, there have been page loads from India, Australia, and Turkey, each of which came from a search engine. PDFs of my research are posted on my Web site, and these data suggest that the site is doing a decent job of getting the work "out there."

The combination of the Web site and the Weblog appear particularly helpful. So, thank you, Rob, for blazing the Weblog trail for the Annie Lang family tree. The data also help understand the medium, which, I believe, is one of the reasons Rob started his Weblog.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Even White Collar TV Crime is Violent

Television never lets me down. In a recent posting, I examined how recent data collected in my lab again show that TV viewers over-estimate the proportion of crime that is violent. For what it's worth, arousing content draws us to the screen, and keeps our eyes on that screen. Ratings go up; advertisers pay more. And violence is a cheap elicitor of physiological arousal.

On Friday night, my wife and I were watching the CBS drama Close to Home. The show started with a case involving real estate fraud. I thought the set-up was interesting, but my wife quickly told me she was bored with the show since "there was no murder or anything." Hmmm.

However, television did not let her down for long. White collar real estate fraud apparently not interesting enough, and quickly one of the witnesses was murdered. Aha! Violence. Ratings.

This is just one exemplar of television's "take" on reality. Although I am sure that white-collar witnesses do get murdered from time-to-time, it cannot be the regular occurrence it is on television, or justice would grind to a halt.

This episode of Close to Home is just one more example of the TV reality that not only is white collar crime underrepresented, it is often accompanied by a far more violent development.