Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Social Reality Data Driving Me Nuts

I have a paper that I like. It's a nice paper. But it's not quite weighty enough for a top journal. So I decided to conduct a second study. Two studies would be weighty enough, I thought.

There should have been a bonus, too. The second study should have answered a nagging question that I had.

It didn't. Instead of clarifying one thing, it obfuscated another.

The study involves social reality estimates. That's not my main area. But I had an idea during a cognitive neuroscience class at Cornell in 2001. I had an idea about how the brain stored information about television -- and how we use that information in making decisions about the social world.

I think I'm right, too. The first study made it seem as if I were right. The second study was supposed to replicate another study and add an elegant new twist.

The elegant new twist is there. But the replication did not happen. And it should have. Damnit!

Why did data (about how scary the world is) from 7 years ago fail to replicate?

1) Young people watch different TV today. Reality TV scarcely existed in 1999.
2) We are at war.
3) September 11th.
4) Original data were collected in a blue state. I am smack dab in the middle of a red one.

This was supposed to be the end of my "social reality" career. Now I either throw away the paper or start testing the possibilities above.

Double ugh.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Academic Nightlife in Vancouver

Me (center) with former mentors Dr. Robert F. Potter and media darling Dr. Julia R. Fox.

At dinner at a Greek restaurant with doctoral colleagues Seungjo Lee and Narine Yegiyan.

Dr. Fox with my doctoral colleague, Dr. Mija Shin (of Washington State).

The view from the hotel room.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Coca-Cola Blak in Vancouver

Coca-Cola Blak is given away in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Coca-Cola Blak has been a personal case study for me. I used Coke Blak as a teaching point at Ohio State and now at Texas Tech.

This summer, some of my advertising students developed a campaign for Coke Blak. We talked about how buzz marketing would be important for the brand.

Seems Coca-Cola was thinking the same thing. We walked out of the Hyatt hotel today and there was a Coke Blak truck giving away samples. Buzz marketing. Not sure whether it will work, but it was nice to see.

My students still think Coke Blak tastes bad, which does not bode well for its long-term success.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oh, Canada

This is the week to write about going to Canada. Read here and here.

For those of you not keeping up on those Indiana-based Weblogs, we are headed to the annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research in Vancouver, Canada.

I am presenting research titled, Interactive effects of camera change induced orienting reflex and acoustic induced startle reflex in affective television content.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Open Letter to that Grass Over There

Dear Grass,

I see you over there. On the other side of the fence. Looking so tempting.

You look so green. In fact, many days you look greener than the grass on this side of the fence. It looks lovely over there.

I often find my mind wandering toward what it must be like over there. So green. Everything seems brighter on the other side of that fence.

But surely it's not. You see, I have jumped over the fence before. Same ol' grass. Sometimes you get stuck on the other side. And then, lo and behold, the grass starts to look greener on your old side.

Nowadays, I am trying to not even look at you. It's tempting, mind you. That grass seems quite lush. You could spread out a blanket, lie down, and stare at the blue sky for hours over there.

But that's just silly talk. The sky is wonderfully blue over here. The sun shines most every day. Sure, there are some weeds, but weeds are everywhere. And there are some rocky spots, but there are rocks everywhere, too.

So, grass, you just keep on hanging out over there on that other side of the fence. I'll stay here. I like my side of the fence. At least today I do.


- Sam

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hanging Out at a Hockey Game

Saturday night marked a "field trip" with my Advertising Campaigns class. It was the season opener for the Lubbock Cotton Kings, our client for the campaigns class. It was the season opener, against the Odessa Jackalopes.

In addition to the class members (not pictured here), fellow advertising professor Harsha Gangadharbatla (holding beer), doctoral student Wendy Maxian (also not pictured), and 67% of my children attended the game. Here daughter Chloe attempts to mask her disgust as Harsha shamelessly displays his "horns" in Raiderland.

The Cotton Kings choked up a 3-0 lead but won in overtime.

Hopefully the class learned a lot about hockey crowds! I, for one, was amazed at how many in the crowd had invested in a replica sweater (i.e., jersey) for a minor league team.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Jericho Best New Show of 2006

I like control. I do not like suspense. I enjoy the scientific method. I read nonfiction. I avoid roller coasters. I do not watch horror movies.

Despite the fact that I have a Ph.D. in television, I still close my eyes when social situations become extremely awkward on television. The movie Meet the Parents almost killed me.

So it is no surprise that I have never watched a single episode of Lost. Not my thing. I like CSI. Within an hour -- 45 minutes if I am using TiVo -- the mystery is wrapped up.

That is why I am mildly surprised that I enjoy Jericho. It's a bit of a lie for me to call it the best new show of the year, since it is the only new show that I am watching. (To get more information on the TV season, see my colleague James Angelini's Weblog).

But I am a child of the Cold War. I grew up in the age of nuclear threat. I was not allowed to watch The Day After, a nuclear mini-series also set in Kansas. It was too traumatic, my parents deemed.

So Jericho was compelling to my roots. But there's too much mystery for me. What's with the dude with the satellite dish in his back yard and his "compromised" rendezvous- point. Arrgh.

Who's the bad guy? In 1985, the bad guy was always the "Evil Empire." Today, however, political sensitivities make it a bit more delicate. The producers are better off not naming the enemy.

At any rate, I continue to watch. Jericho is not among TiVo's 25 most recorded shows for this week, so I may be the only one watching. It may soon be a fatality on part of my cancelled television shows research project.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Today's Dilbert Seems About Right

Monday, October 16, 2006

Journal Proliferation: Dilution or Improvement?

I received a bulk e-mail this week from Marquette Books seeking editor nominations for six new "low-cost" communications journals. I'm not sure what make of this development.

On the one hand, there is plenty of garbage being published in current communications journals. On the other hand, many libraries are being hurt by escalating journal costs.

I am especially interested in what my peers think about this issue. Will this just muddy the waters and confuse people? For example, one colleague wrote that the new Journal of Media Psychology may be confused with the existing -- and excellent -- Media Psychology. Such confusion is probably intended.

I am a frequent critic of the status quo. And I want to believe that this is at least in the direction of an improvement. But adding a journal version of the vanity press -- albeit an inexpensive one -- seems like no help at all.

Communication scholars, I want to know what you think. Click that little comment link below and give some feedback.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sports Weekend Shows Impact of Games

Covering sports a decade ago in the Las Cruces Sun-News, which has thankfully since given up the ugliest flag in the history of the Fourth Estate.

Sometime in January 1998 I had a difficult decision to make. Then Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News editor Harold Cousland and then publisher David McCollum were offering me two jobs.

First I could become sports editor. Or, second, I could become the editor of the Silver City Sun-News about 120 miles away. Granted, the Silver City job was a glorified edition, but I would have been the editor of a daily newspaper at age 24. Not too bad.

I always have had lofty career ambitions. That editor's job seemed like just the ticket. But there was one problem. My wife, Emily, was pregnant with a baby girl, and Emily had another year to go before she graduated from New Mexico State. I couldn't handle that kind of distance. So sometime in February, I became the sports editor.

I never was a "sports guy." Sure, I liked sports. But I did not live them. I always loved George Brett, but I still cannot quote you any of his lifetime statistics. This made it a little difficult for me to take the sports job. It seemed like the "toy" section of the paper.

During my short tenure as sports editor (career ambition soon moved me to The Albuquerque Journal, the flagship paper in the state), I came to realize something important. The sports section is the most important section in the paper.

I have no data, but I'd bet my last dollar that more readers pick up paper and turn directly to the sports section than any other section of the paper. Heck, I was Mr. Hard News guy, and even I did not read the city council stories.

The point is that sports play an important role in society. And we can all wish that hard news played a bigger role, but the one truth I know as a former journalist and recipient of three degrees in mass communications is that you cannot tell people what to care about.

Sports defines us. They often define me. Here's an idea of my weekend ... just to give you an idea.

  • Got a babysitter for my first official date with Emily in Lubbock. We went to watch Bob Knight's basketball team practice (I am a Hoosier, after all).
  • Came home to read about prep star Eric Gordon deciding to attend Indiana University instead of Illinois.
  • Woke up Saturday morning and watched ESPN's Gameday on TV.
  • Read the entire sports section of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (don't ask me, I did not name it).
  • Read the entire sports section of the Kansas City Star online.
  • Read about Gordon's decision to attend IU in the Indianapolis Star online. As an aside, more than 14,000 fans attended Hoosier Hysteria. That made me miss B-Town a lot!
  • Turned on ESPN2 to see Indiana playing Iowa.
  • Worked out at halftime while listening to Texas Tech pregame on KKAM 1340 AM.
  • Watched Indiana knock off Iowa, for the Hoosiers' first win over a Top 15 program in 19 years.
  • Fielded phone call from Tim Laubacher in Columbus, Ohio, about the Hoosiers' win.
  • Got e-mail from James Angelini in Bloomington, Indiana, about the Hoosiers' win.
  • Angelini said he could not remember the last time IU beat a Top 25 team. I reminded him that it was in 2003 over Oregon, when colleague Johnny Sparks drug us down to Kirkwood Avenue to celebrate. But being a basketball school, we were the only ones celebrating.
  • Turned on (and muted) the television to watch Texas A&M beat Missouri (Yeah).
  • Turned on the radio to listen to Colorado humiliate the Red Raiders (Boo).
  • Got asked by Emily whether I was distracted watching one game and listening to another.
  • Lost 5 minutes pondering the limited capacity ramifications of my task.
  • Decided that having the radio on the opposite side of the room as the TV made task easier.
  • Got voicemail from Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where friend Johnny Sparks and son Eli were about to watch Alabama play Ole Miss.
  • Got disgusted by Texas Tech's play and turned off the radio.
  • Dug my Hoosiers replica football jersey out of the closet for rare celebration.
  • Noted that I have three former or current students playing NCAA football Saturday. One at Indiana, one at Ohio State, and one at Tech.
  • Drove to colleague Harsha Gangadharbatla's house to watch Florida vs. Auburn football game.
  • Cursed at television when I saw that Nebraska beat K-State.
  • Lamented that Auburn won. I should not have been rooting for Florida, but I was anyway.
  • Tried to watch SportsCenter on TV, but Emily had finally had enough. Held on long enough to see that USC did pull it out. I hate USC but wanted them to win anyway. I do not claim to understand fanship.
  • Woke up Sunday, repeated routine of reading A-J in person, and the K.C. Star and Indy Star online.
  • Became saddened reading Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski's tribute to Kansas City legend and former Negro Leagues star Buck O'Neil. I am amazed at how many lives were touched by "Ol' Buck."
  • Still waffling on whether I will watch Kansas City Chiefs game later. The Chiefs are my first love, and I don't do well when they lose.
  • Lastly, I recall that Sparks has given up on his sports Weblog, and I vow to flog him for it the next time I see him.

So, you see, I seem to care about sports. And I know that I should care more about North Korea. But that does not make it so. Instead, it is sports that move so many of us. Sports journalists do not get the respect that they deserve, and certainly, sports research does not get the respect that it deserves.

Studying human behavior is more about what they do rather than what they should do!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Human Brains Are Curious Things

We are running an experiment in my lab right now that asks (randomly) some participants to "try hard" and some to "go fast." Mostly, it seems to work. The try hard people take about two seconds longer to answer each question than the "go fast" people. Cool.

Then, after that part of the experiment, we tell them (basically), "OK, we're done with that part. Ignore those instructions and just answer the rest of these questions like you normally would."

But they don't. The "try hard" people keep taking longer to answer the rest of the questions than the "go fast" people. And they seem to be answering the questions differently. Arrgh. Since they are randomly assigned to a treatment group, they should not differ on the other variables.

For other reasons, we have to ask the questions in the order they are presented. And we need both the "try hard" instructions and the "go fast" instructions.

Hence, experimental design remains an art.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Winning in the Short and Long Term

Some have argued that advertising is the business of brands. This appears to be more true today, as there is less and less genuine difference between brands. Research and development times have come down, and competitors are quick to copy a fad.

Employee pricing anyone?

If you are a chief marketing officer (whose average tenure is less than 24 months according to a recent Advertising Age article), you must be worried about selling product today. However, most tactics to see products today are in the disinterest of selling product 10 years from now.

In the principles of advertising course, we talk about the "sales promotion trap." That is, every company would make more money (i.e., profit margins would be greater) if every company would stop offering sales promotions. Coupons take money out of the bottom line. Just stop it, and the bottom line would be better.

But this is a free market. As soon as everyone discontinued sales promotions, that opportunity would be too great. Someone would rush in. And if you had the only coupon, you would do well. Others would follow. We'd be right back at square one.

How do you move product this quarter and build brand equity over the next decade? It's no easy task. Just ask the scores of fired chief marketing officers.

This conundrum makes it even more impressive to me when someone makes it. When you can do both, you have arrived. And it has to be about the brand. If you kill it today with coupons (or slotting allowances), then it will not survive to see the glory years.

Brand equity is a difficult topic for young advertising students to understand. Formally, textbook authors George Belch and Michael Belch define brand equity as, "The intangible asset of added value or goodwill that results from the favorable image, impressions of differentiation, and/or the strength of consumer attachment of a company name, brand name, or trademark."

It is a mouthful to be sure.

Yesterday I tasked my advertising campaigns students to extend a brand. I paired them up and sent one pair out the door every 60 seconds. Their job was to visit the vending machine in the basement and pick out a brand. Then, they were to go off in isolation and extend that brand. That is, they needed to come up with a new product that was in keeping with the current brand.

Whatever Snickers means to people, your new product had to mean that too.

Eight groups left, and much to my surprise, they picked eight different brands to extend. All of their products were pretty good. But only a couple of them were two brand extensions. Several involved changing an ingredient.

And brands are not about ingredients. If they were, we'd all just eat generics and save the money. You see, Snickers is about hunger satisfaction and getting you through. That's why the Snickers energy bar makes sense as a brand extension. Those two things go together. A Butterfinger energy bar just does not fit. It's just ingredients.

Too many people do not understand their brands. Poor Miller Lite just keeps switching campaigns looking for an image that has been missing for years. All the promotions in the world will not produce that image.

Instead, you need good ideas. Good advertising ideas. Consistent advertising images. You need to make Miller Lite my friend. My companion. It needs to have a story. That story has to be similar to my story. When you've done that, you'll have a customer for life. Until then you'll just have a bunch of unconnected, costly promotions that undermine the bottom line and devalue brand equity.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Media Special for Storytelling Ability

In the college of mass communications, we have many parts. Sometimes those parts seem to have little to do with one another.

To me, however, the common thread is narrative: we tell stories.

When I was a print journalist, I told stories. I loved writing feature stories, and occasionally I had some success. There is nothing more frustrating than going back to read old clips and seeing when I missed.

In my memory, I can remember the story. The drama. The thing that made it real. But sometimes I failed to get that on paper. Maybe there was not enough time. Maybe there was not enough patience to replace a pretty good word with the absolute right word. But it makes all the difference in the world.

This weekend, Kansas City baseball legend Buck O'Neil died at age 94. That fact alone saddened my heart, but the sadness was driven home by K.C. Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski. The night that O'Neil died, Posnanski wrote one of the most moving pieces I have ever read.

Put simply, Posnanski nailed the story. He captured it all. The words came alive. With a computer keyboard, Posnanski painted a picture so vivid, the colors come to life before your eyes. It's a skill that few writers have.

It's the same principle for writing ads. Sure, we are less noble than the Fourth Estate. We sell things for a living. But you cannot sell things that people do not want. Just try.

Instead, you can offer a competing product. And today more than ever, it is the story that sells the product. Starbucks is not about coffee. It is about an atmosphere. An experience.

Leo Burnett urged advertisers to find the "inherent drama" of a product. That's a concept that is difficult for me to teach. I stand in front of my advertising class, and I preach the story. And I get blank looks. It's just Coca-Cola, they say. Where's the story?

It's hard to find, I suppose. The story is there, however. It may be hiding. And it may be deep. But it is powerful once you have a hold on it.

Along with colleagues Wendy Maxian, Tim Laubacher, and Monica Baker, I submitted a paper on this topic to the American Academy of Advertising last week. The paper involves Kevin Roberts' idea of Lovemarks, or emotional connections with brands that go beyond reason.

Our data show that consumers do make these passionate emotional connections with brands, and I argue that only narrative can put these connections in place. Advertising that tries hard to sell a single Snickers bar today is uninspired.

A brand is more than that. It's more than caramel, nougat, peanuts, and chocolate. How incredibly simple is that? Too simple. Snickers is more than that. It is the story. The story of the inattentive groundskeeper painting "Chefs" on the field.

"Not going anywhere for a while?" the ad asked.

By consistently telling the story, Snickers has become the default candy bar. In the rare occasion that I eat from a vending machine, I first look for Snickers. It is the candy bar that will hold me over until dinner.

Silly? Of course. But it's there. Snickers is a Lovemark of mine. I'm not sure it tastes the best. I know it's not the most healthy. But it's always there. Like a friend. Because I know its story.

And telling stories is a fascinating thing to do. Thanks for reading this one.

Friday, October 06, 2006

I Feel Like Dilbert Today

Data collection continues here at Texas Tech. Fifty-one participants have come through the turnstiles. Just a mere 189 to go!

In order to facilitate the process, we have added a third data collection computer. In order to keep the participants private, we have added another partition. In a way, this reminds me of the old lab at Indiana.

However, in this version, the lab now looks like an office with a bunch of cubicles. And like Dilbert, here I sit in the middle.

Two people are signed up for the 3 p.m. Friday time slot. Any odds on whether they'll show?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Why Exactly Did I Design This Experiment?

We have completed 45 subjects. Only 195 to go. Ugh. Really, ugh! Hopefully, I will have my third MediaLab license up-to-speed soon. Then we can schedule three participants at a time.

I am really missing those 6 laptops now. I may have to make a lifeline call to Indiana sometime soon.

The worst part -- in addition to all of those hours in the lab -- is not knowing the answer. I really want to know the answer. This is a research question that has been floating around in my head (in some form or another) since fall 2001. And now it appears that we are 3 weeks away from the answer.

If it works, I will wax poetically about it here. If it fails, we will all cry in our beers!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Beauty of Within-Subjects Designs

All things today have culminated with experimental design. First, I am writing a conference paper on the statistical power of within-subjects experiments. Yes, I know. Nerd.

Secondly, I guest lectured on experimental design in front of Todd Chambers' graduate research methods class. It's always fun talking to young scholars. I remember that intro methods course like it was 1999.

Thirdly, I am sitting in the *$&#ing lab at 7:43 p.m. at night running subjects because I chose to do an inherently between-subjects design experiment. So we need 240 subjects. Ugh. Number 30 just walked through the door, and this is the end of the fourth day of data collection. I can do the math. I don't like it.

At Indiana (yes, it was a paradise), we had five laptops for these types of studies. Throw them in a room, and hurl five subjects at a time at the project. Things went quickly. Oh, how I miss those laptops.

My "slacker" co-author James Angelini could have been running the study at Indiana on the infamous laptops. But he is busy working on a dissertation, so I suppose he gets a pass.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I Vote for Experimental Research

Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 3, 7:47 p.m.

I admit it: I do not like survey research.

I will take the limitations and biases of an experiment any day.

During my research methods class this morning, we were talking about some of the many problems with surveys. One of those problems is response rate. We know so little about the people who will not fill out surveys because ... they will not fill them out.

Immediately after class, I open my e-mail to find the link to an Advertising Age story that warmed my heart.

"After all, no one really knows whether people who don't answer surveys are similar to those who do, because they don't answer surveys. But the industry does know nonrespondents tend to be disproportionately male, black, Hispanic and young," wrote Jack Neff.

The article continued, "Just 0.25% of the population supplies 32% of responses to online surveys, said Simon Chadwick, former head of NOP Research in the U.K. and now principal of Cambiar, a Phoenix consultancy, citing research by ComScore Networks. More broadly, he said, 50% of all survey responses come from less than 5% of the population."

Yes, I run experiments in a lab. I often use college students (having never been shown any evidence that their cognitive architecture is somehow different). But at least I admit my limitations to generalizability right up front.

In a grand bit of irony, I just discovered that my colleague, mentor, and friend Rob Potter (Indiana Telecom) also blogged regarding this article. It appears Dr. Potter needs to invest in Caller ID.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Volleyball Provides Father-Daughter Time

Two of my kids were invited to birthday parties on Saturday. So my wife suggested it would be nice for me to to something special with the third kid so she did not feel left out.

A nice marketing promotion -- free glow sticks -- led us to choose the Texas Tech Volleyball game. So after the great Tech football victory over A&M, we headed out to United Spirit Arena.

It was great to see the inside of the building in person for the first time. I had previously seen the building only on TV, while watching ESPN's Knight School and trying to decide whether applying for this professor position was the right thing to do.

This was Isabel's first collegiate volleyball game and my second. I admit that I know very little about the game. But it was a great time, and I have a lot of fun watching Isabel use her math skills to keep my constantly updated on how many points Tech needed to catch up with Missouri -- and how many points Missouri needed to win the game (it was a solid Tiger victory).

The advertising prof in me marveled at Isabel's interest in the rotating scoreboard advertisements. She kept me up-to-date on every ad.

"Look, dad! Sonic!"

After the game, Tech hosted a pizza party and autograph session. So we hung out, and Isabel added Domino's pizza to her hot dog and Starbursts. She got to say hello to a few of the players, and we visited with one of the players from El Paso, Texas (Isabel was born just up the road in Las Cruces).

It was a great night. The kind that continually leaves me thinking, "Why don't I do this more often?"