Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flattery or Irreverence: Getting Close to Culture

Although it is not the topic of this post, we collected data yesterday on our 60th and final participant for our research project involving rural West Texas Hispanics and anti-Diabetes public service announcements (PSAs).

We wrote and produced the PSAs, and we took some care to make them culturally relevant. One of our experimental manipulations involved culture. Some of the PSAs stressed maintaining eating habits that were part of the culture. Other PSAs stressed changing behavior (e.g., Hugo) that are not part of the culture.

While shooting one of the PSAs, one of the actors (we'll call him Johnny, since according to our scripts, every male Hispanic is named Johnny) kept cracking jokes. He'd say things such as, "This house is way too clean to be a Hispanic's house."

My favorite was: "Where are the channel locks on the stove if this is a Hispanic's house?"

Johnny was hilarious.

And somehow, obviously, he was closer to real Hispanic culture than we were.

Yet, there is no way we could have gone where he went.

That is, Carlos Mencia can make jokes that we just cannot make. And I get it. And I respect it.

But as a scientist, it drives me crazy! What defines that line?

More specifically, how do you best market to Hispanics? We were culturally sensitive. We used Hispanic actors and actresses. We had culturally relevant items, such as a decorative tortilla press, but we clearly did not dress the actors in serapes and sombreros.

With that in mind, consider the following campaign for NaCo, a hip Mexican clothing company looking to make it big in the U.S. market.

According to a story in Advertising Age, "In Mexican Spanish, naco is a derogatory slang term for lower-class tackiness, but NaCo has reinterpreted it as an inside joke that treats kitsch as cool. The Spanish-language slogan the company hopes to also use in the U.S. if enough people here understand it -- a topic of debate within NaCo -- is 'Ser naco es chido' ('Tacky is cool')."

NaCo is purposefully going after irreverence. Here is one T-shirt that got pulled from the 17 Texas and Atlanta Macy's stores carrying the $25 women's shirts:

"Brown Is the New White"

"Estar guars" (Star Wars)

And my personal favorite:

"M is for Mija" (Note to self: Wes's birthday gift)

According to Ad Age, the goal of the merchandise and related marketing is to "appeal to emotions ranging from self-mockery to nostalgia."

The verdict is still out. Not surprisingly, Fox "News" reacted violently , which led in part to the pulling of the "Brown Is the New White" shirt. Other similarly minded viewers likened Macy's red star to communism, according to Ad Age. [Seriously, people?!?!?!]

I don't know the answer. Irreverence is a delicate matter. The line between clever and mean and/or racist is a fine one. Yet the fact that these T-shirts made it into the market suggest that there is an underlying market to be served.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Thinking of Home: Can You Smell the Folger's?

Fifteen years ago this month, Emily and I packed up her car and left Kansas City.

In many ways, it was a sad day. As I've written before, I was as big an advocate for Kansas City as you'll ever find. I suppose that if I were still around, they might joke and call me the "mayor" of Kansas City the way I make that same joke when someone knows everything about Lubbock.

But events broke as they did, and we took off that July morning for the dry heat of Arizona.

So began the great journey of our adult lives.

It's been almost half of my life since leaving K.C. It's been long enough that I've worn out two Royals ball caps. It's been long enough that I haven't replaced the second one.

In a complete coincidence, I am wearing an old, tattered Chiefs shirt as I type.

Emily have been bi-coastal since leaving the Heartland. We lived in California. We lived in upstate New York. Perhaps as a testament to our Midwest roots, neither stay lasted long.

This past weekend, Kansas City Royals radio announcer Denny Matthews was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Star carried a nice story this morning. Thanks to the Internet, they also carried sound clips.

Listening to them is like the past 15 years never happened. Like I am a kid again. Things were right in the world. George Brett was over there on third base, like he should be. Frank White was on second. Kevin Appier was pitching, and Jeff Montgomery warmed up in the bullpen. More importantly, the Royals mattered.

A sound can take you back. So can a few lines of well-crafted prose. Here are a few words from the Star's Joe Posnanski this morning in a piece about Matthews. Those of you from Kansas City will understand the relevance:

"Denny Matthews is, I believe, a very good baseball announcer. He doesn’t stumble. He tells you about the game with an economy of words. He slips in some funny lines without making himself the show. He may not always sound entirely thrilled to be watching another 12-3 game, and he may not sound excited enough when the Royals hit a big home run. I like what Denny says about that. He says, “How about this: I’ll call the game. You scream.”

"But, more than any of that, he’s Kansas City’s baseball voice, as much a part of the city as the humidity, the backup going into the Grandview Triangle, the mansions along Ward Parkway and the smell of coffee as you pass the Folger’s Coffee Company downtown."

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

What I Look Like in Simpsons' Springfield

Here is the latest installment of fun viral content meant to hype something.

As part of the Simpsons' new movie, you can Simpsonize yourself.

You upload a photo, and voila, you have completed the first step in becoming a Simpson character. Admittedly, they were a bit lazy in their programming, because other than sharing a "Y" chromosome, I don't have much in common with this guy.

There is also much Burger King propaganda on the Web site.

And I have to admit that I am a bit bitter about not having had time to drive to Dallas to see the 7-Eleven turned into a Kwik-E-Mart.

Thanks to my friend, Joy, for blogging about this and bringing it to my attention.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Discovery Channel Seeks Emotional Connection

Shameless TDF plug from Velo News.

More businesses are getting it: emotion is what counts!

From an Adweek story:

"The Discovery brand 'is still caught up in the intellectual space,' said Dan Bragg, Discovery Channel client vp and creative director. 'The brand itself is not as heartfelt as our programming. So the marketing will try to move the brand to being more culturally relevant and more emotionally engaging.' "

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Grad Students Fun for Me, Boring for Reader

Once again I am a poor poster.

Spending a lot of time with graduate students, which is awesome and really stimulates my brain. But it would make for lousy reading for you.

In the meantime, may I suggest that you read my colleague Rob Potter's account of his trip to Korea (here and here).


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Industry, Academics Still Not Talking

I am increasingly frustrated by the chasm between academic research about the media and industry research about the media.

The chasm is in readership, not interest or topic. We could learn a lot from each other, but we don't. We cannot learn from industry because their research is proprietary, and, frankly, they won't share.

Why they chose not to learn from us is another matter.

Reading today's Daily News from Advertising Age, there is an interesting story on video game advertising.

One of the subheadlines reads, "Interactivity, motion work best."

Yup. I could have told them that. I've done a little bit of research on video games, and I've done quite a bit on various forms of media. These two principles are pretty much gimmes. Obviously people more senior than me have done far more research.

But it has been my experience that industry does not pick up the phone. They do not pick up the journals. They just reinvent the wheel. And although we can be eggheads in our ivory tower, we have the added benefit of time and perspective.

We can take the time to build theory. We can look at the bigger picture. This is seldom the case in industry, where researchers have to satisfy this client on this day.

There are so few actual obstacles that preclude working together, yet so many seem to remain nonetheless.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Smoking Conquered; Obesity Is Next

In this screen capture from a Family Guy episode, a young "Death" wears a T-shirt that reads "Smoke Cigarettes." From many popular culture references such as this, it is evident that most people realize the health dangers from smoking. A recent Gallup poll suggests that Americans are now realizing the dangers of obesity.

Regular readers know that I have spent the better part of the past two months indirectly fighting diabetes. Not for me, but for rural Hispanics in West Texas.

We are currently testing public service announcements (PSAs) that we created over the past few weeks.

In the current experiment, we are showing the anti-diabetes PSAs along with some filler PSAs about smoking, AIDS, marijuana, and cocaine.

During an experiment the other day, master's student Wes Wise remarked that the battle on smoking was pretty much won. Now, he predicted, more efforts could be targeted toward obesity and related health problems.

Turns out that many Americans are at least acknowledging the danger of obesity. A recent Gallup Poll shows that Americans acknowledge that being significantly overweight is just as harmful to your health as smoking.

Of those polled, 83% said being obese was "very harmful" to your health, whereas 79% of Americans said smoking was "very harmful" to your health.

When we surveyed rural West Texas Hispanics earlier this year, we found that about half were overweight according to the Body Mass Index, and another quarter were overweight. That's more than two-thirds of those polled.

Echoing the diabetes problem, many of our experimental participants are self reporting family members with serious diabetes-related health problems. Many of the participants report having lost a loved one to diabetes.

According to the Gallup poll, 28% of Americans report that obesity has been a cause of serious health problems within their family. I would venture to guess that this number is higher among our populations of rural West Texans (of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic descent).

Although we will learn something from the current endeavor, PSAs will not be enough. Our focus group data has shown that there are two major causes of the current eating concerns: economy of time, and economy of money (thanks again to Wes Wise for coining these terms).

It's faster and cheaper to eat at the dollar menu. You can walk out of McDonald's absolutely stuffed for about $3.21 in Texas. Just order two double cheeseburgers and a 99-cent order French fries.

It's a lot of food. It's also a lot of grease. I just looked up the nutrition facts online. Each 99-cent double cheeseburger has 440 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 11 grams of saturated fat. Those 11 grams of saturated fat represent 54% of the recommended daily allowance for a 2,000 calorie a day diet. The medium fries add another 380 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 4 grams of saturated fat.

So your $3.21 bought you 1,260 calories, 66 grams of total fat, and 26 grams of saturated fat. With that one meal you have 128% of the saturated fat you were supposed to eat for the day.

It is almost impossible to get that much sustenance for that little money in any other fashion. And when you're broke with a lot of mouths to feed -- and I've been there -- it's difficult to look at the single bunch of broccoli that the $3.21 will buy.

Add to the fact that for most people, those fat and carbohydrate grams taste really good. There's a reason they taste so good: you get the most energy (i.e., calories) per gram with those molecules. When you're just trying to survive, fat and carbs keep you alive.

When I was a little kid, our house backed up against the old Missouri River bluffs, and much of that land was a park. Since the bluffs made a cliff, it was basically our private park since no one climbed the cliff to get there.

My father used to like to photograph the wildlife, so one day he put out a dog food bowl full of bacon grease. The animals went crazy. I believe raccoons would just lay by the bowl lapping up that congealed bacon grease as if it were pure heaven. Scavenging from trash cans had never tasted so good! [If dad will send a picture, I will post it here].

Their bowl of bacon grease is our dollar menu and all-you-can-eat buffet. You cannot get much more appetitive than that. And unlike illegal drugs where you can get arrested right now, the danger from overeating is distant. Your heart does not stop today. You do not have a stroke today. You do not lose your foot to diabetes today.

So you eat from the dollar menu today. You'll eat right tomorrow. Sadly, for too many Americans that healthy eating tomorrow never comes.

I'm not picking on McDonald's. They claim to be committed to Hispanics, and I am sure that they mean it. But combining the dollar menu with any economically disadvantaged population does not and cannot encourage healthy eating.

Our research project is funded by the West Texas Rural EXPORT Center, however, opinions shared here are solely my own.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

I'm Done Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood

Update: Chili's chicken ranch sandwich tasty as always.

So long, Applebee's.

It was fun while it lasted. Reasonable food at reasonable prices. Balloons for my kids. The Brewtus beer when I was an undergraduate.

Applebee's was one of the first chain restaurants in Las Cruces, so we'd eat there as undergraduates. We also spent many happy hours there after working at the NMSU student newspaper.

To tell you the truth, I always liked Chili's better. The food is a lot better. In fact, we may have to go to Chili's for lunch today.

But until this week, Applebee's was a Kansas City (metro area) company. And I'm a Kansas City guy. Born and raised.

[ More fountains than any place other than Rome! ]

So I felt some loyalty to Applebee's. In part, I still have Sprint cell phone service largely for this reason.

Anyway, this week it was announced that IHOP is buying Applebee's for $2.1 billion.

What? IHOP?

I hate IHOP.

Their food is mediocre and overpriced, and their service is worse. And now they want to franchise out most of the company-owned Applebee's restaurants.

Great! Lousy service!

Actually, to be more fair, the franchising means completely unpredictable service.

Take McDonald's, for example. You might walk into a McDonald's and get great service. But if you walk into a McDonald's in Lubbock, Texas, Santa Rosa, N.M., or Roswell, N.M., the service will be awful. In fact, the average jellyfish would provide better service than McDonald's employees in these three cities.

Even worse, IHOP is headquartered in Glendale, California. No loyalty there.

So, my kids' love for your 2 cent balloons and my hometown roots used to get me in the door.

That's over now. Just another corporate takeover killing off the identity of a brand. I get profits. I am a capitalist. But to me, as a consumer, almost nothing good ever comes from these giant mergers.

Indirectly, perhaps, I get some benefit from my retirement mutual funds. But as a consumer, I see little benefit.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Subliminal Ads: Coolest Video Ever

If you have 6 spare minutes to have your mind blown by Derren Brown:

Thanks to Wes Wise for bringing this to my attention.

Let me also give a shout out to Brown's soon to premiere show on the SciFi Channel, Mind Control with Derren Brown. Watch for it on July 26, 2007. I just added a season pass on my TiVo!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Experiment Running Decimates Blogging

Interesting statistic of the day: There is a strong inverse correlation between hours devoted to preparing and launching an experiment and frequency of Weblog posting.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mountain Town Wi-Fi: A Sign of the Times

I am on vacation in Red River, N.M., and I cannot help being struck by the number of signs around town touting Wireless Internet.

This is not a major resort town like Vail, Colorado. It's still very much a sleepy mountain town.

Yet free wireless is everywhere. Indeed I am writing this using free wireless.

I just hope people keep hiking and do not forget the beauty of this place.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Penney Eyes Lovemark; You Download Song

There is a great story in the New York Times about J. C. Penney's new emotion-based advertising campaign through agency Saatchi & Saatchi (read Lovemarks).

"And the message is resonating: one of Saatchi & Saatchi’s first television commercial for Penney, a series of fast-moving domestic vignettes that celebrate family moments big and small, has won praise from critics and viewers. The original song in the ad, 'So Say I,' has been downloaded 75,000 times on iTunes."

You will even be able to watch Penney-based Web reality shows on Penney's site.

This is more evidence, I hope, of emotion winning the day. Meanwhile, the ad/music/download nexus continues to be a fascination to current Texas Tech master's student Wes Wise.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Facebook: Addictive, Fun, Maybe Profitable

I was not the first of my friends to have a CD player back in the 1980s.

I was not the first of my friends to have a cell phone. Heck, my current cell phone is from 2003 (ancient!).

Former communication scholar Everett Rogers chronicled the way we pick up new technologies in a 1962 book titled Diffusion of Innovations. Rogers stated that the pattern with which we adopt technologies roughly fits the normal distribution.

Here is an approximation of the normal distribution, or bell curve.

Rogers argued that innovations would be adopted (i.e., diffused) at a rate that is consistent with this distribution.

Thus, imagine that time runs along the X axis (the bottom), and the percentage of people adopting an innovation at any given time runs along the Y axis (the side).

So when a new innovation is launched (far left, bottom), a few people jump on board.

This always reminds me of the humorous line, "Who bought the first fax machine?"

At any rate, Rogers argued that 2.5% of people were innovators (I am going to quote the figures from Wiki since I do not have the book with me). These people were ahead of the curve, pardon the pun.
Next come the early adopters, which represent 13.5% of the population. Still not me.
These are followed by the early majority, which represent 34% of the population. At this point, half of the population has a microwave.
I'm pretty much an early majority. I started this Weblog, for example, well after lurking and watching the experiences of IU professor Rob Potter. Nonetheless, this site was up well before many people jumped on the Weblog parade.
To quickly round out Rogers' theory, next came the late majority (34%) and laggards (16%).
All of this makes for a long introduction to the point that I am a relative latecomer to Facebook, which now boasts 29 million subscribers.
My students at The Ohio State University warned me that Facebook was addictive. That is, perhaps, why I stayed away. I had no time for yet one more technological time sink.
Then a bunch of my friends from NMSU started a group on MySpace. I resisted at first. Then I relented. I started a MySpace page.
Now, I must say, that MySpace is a whore-like Tammy Fae Baker approach to social networking. In "pimping" your page, you make everything ugly and trashy like, well, Wal-Mart clothing.
Meanwhile, several faculty members at Tech were starting Facebook pages. I resisted.
Then former Ph.D. colleagues trumpeted the superiority of Facebook. I resisted.
Finally, one day, curiosity got the better of me. I signed up. And it's pretty addictive, I admit. You can quickly keep tabs with people and see how they choose to present themselves to the world.
You can also see many pictures of your students in all kinds of drunken debauchery, which is amusing by itself.
Some readers (i.e., late majority) must be reading this and saying, "Yes, but what is it?"
I'll let Advertising Age explain:
"All of this works, Mr. Van Natta said, because Facebook inhabits the intersection of the web and real life, and its connections are between real people who know each other."
When I got up to enjoy my first cup of coffee this morning, I had two traditional e-mails. But I have three messages in my Facebook inbox.
I could see that one of my friends was "happy," another has a birthday tomorrow, and one of my former students is leaving Spain. Just like that.
Ad Age's article says Facebook's power has even Google worried. You see, Google is the undisputed king of searches (and they power this Weblog). Our research also indicates that Google is a Lovemark.
But your Google results and my Google results are isolated beasts. There is no connection. Yet my nascent Facebook account has 77 friends. And I'll bet with some six or so (think Kevin Bacon) degrees of separation, I am connected to all 29 million users.
Just that quick.
We'll see whether it pays off in the long run ... for me or for Facebook.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Advertisers Come Around: Brain Matters

If you know anything about advertising, you probably know that television ratings drive advertising costs. The premise is simple, the more people watch, the more a "spot" costs.

But what do ratings really translate to? Eyes on screen. And we've been dissing that measure for years.

Over here in the psychophysiology world, we want to know how much attention you're paying and what is happening with your physiological arousal.

Now advertisers have discovered, kind of, these measures. They're calling it engagement (See the article titled "OMD Claims to Know How Rapt Audiences Stack up Against Your Average Eyeballs" at AdAge.com).

"Completed by OMD and presented to an Advertising Research Federation forum late last month, the research indicates that not only does consumer engagement with media and advertising drive sales, but it also can drive sales more than media spending levels. That suggests even a relatively small media outlay could work wonders should the ads draw keen attention from consumers within media they also find engaging, said Mike Hess, director of global research and consumer insights for OMD."

Well, of course!

Pick any metaphor you want, but it always holds true. Consider teaching. Is it more important to know how many students are in the class or how many students are paying attention to the teacher?

In his book, Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide Saatchi & Saatchi, said, "I'm looking for research that counts the beats of your heart rather than the fingers of your hand."


And you do not need to pay OMD for their proprietary engagement tool. That's just foolish. Engagement equals:

positive affect + attention + arousal

It's just that simple. It's not what your eyes are doing. It's what your brain is doing. More specifically, it's what the combination of your brain and body are doing.

If all of your physiological signals indicate that you're getting ready to jump out of that chair and smother the television with a big, wet kiss, then the ad probably worked!

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

I Never Wanted an iPod, but the iPhone ...

Photo courtesy of SFgate.com.

From 1995 to 2001, I was an Apple guy.

Then graduate school and statistics programs brought me back to the PC world.

After editing video for the past week ... and having my curiosity piqued by the iPhone, I am contemplating a Mac in my future.
Thanks, Wes, for planting the cognitive "seed," so to speak.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Aluminum Beer Bottle Surprisingly Cool

A little more than a month ago, I was sitting defeated in the Lubbock "International" Airport. On our way to San Francisco, we had taken off for Dallas. Halfway there, storms closed the airport. So we circled back to the LBK.

Already not a fan of flying, I had reached my limit. Along with travelling partner, Wendy, I looked toward the airport bar.

It was packed.

We retreated to the food court. There I spotted a $5 aluminum bottle of Bud Light beer. For airport prices, this was a bargain ... especially considering the full 16 oz. "Tall Boy" quantity.

Before we finally took off again for DFW, we cleaned out the food court's meager supply.

And I must admit that I have been taken by the aluminum bottle. A simple concept, really. But I find it fascinating. And at least in Lubbock, it's a unique selling proposition.

So, thanks, Anheuser-Busch. This Bud's for you.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lubbock, Texas, Gets Pretty Cool Clouds

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day 2007

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Anti-Diabetes PSA Filming Concludes

Now more than ever I appreciate how much work goes into a 30-second commercial.
Thanks to all of the great people who helped with this project, especially the citizens turned actors and actresses who recited their lines time and time again.
Also thanks to local production house Digital Base Productions, which did a great job.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Having Fun Shooting Anti-Diabetes PSAs

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Over-regularizing the English Plural

We have three gigantic dice. I don't know where they came from. One is red, one is white, and one is blue.

Today my 3-year-old was playing with them. I grabbed two of them.

"Give me back the dices," she said.

As a cognitive scientist, I was very proud.

It took a lot of processing to apply a rule where it didn't belong.

Seventh grade English be damned!

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