Monday, August 27, 2007

Running Short on Propane? Call Fairy

In case you want to grill tonight and you might be a little low on propane, call Suburban Cylinder Express, and their "propane fairy" will bring you a new tank like magic.

Labels: ,

Sunday, August 26, 2007

We Love You Brand, But I Love Rival More

As I was speeding out of town two weeks ago to visit the Buchanan&associates advertising agency in Dublin, Ohio, I ran some quick analyses on our brand physiology data.

In this study, we measured psychophysiological responses to brand logos. In previous studies, we had found that self-reported responses to brands look a lot like self-reported responses to other emotional stimuli.

Admittedly, the early August analyses were fast and incomplete. But some of the results looked weird to me.

This first round of analyses compared physiological responses to the most-loved brands and the least-loved brands.

Collectively, we had both. There were brands that seemingly everyone loved and those that seemingly everyone did not love.

When I first saw the "weird" data, I had a thought. Maybe, I thought, we have a bit of a groupthink problem. Sure, the aggregate data suggest that the brands are loved. But some of the people among our 54 participants might not have loved those brands.

Let's take a look at that idea. For Texas Tech students, our five most-loved brands were Disney, Starbucks, Google, Dr Pepper, and Target. They stood alone. We called them Lovemarks after Kevin Roberts' term.

But let's look at the results by person. Every brand had a complement. That is, there was another brand roughly in the product category. When comparing attitudes (self-reported answers to 3 scale items), how many people picked the Lovemark? (Ties are excluded).

Disney had 32 fans, but 16 people preferred 20th Century Fox.
Starbucks had 48 fans, but 5 people preferred Maxwell House.
Google had 32 fans, but 11 preferred Yahoo!.
Dr Pepper had 33 fans, but 19 people preferred Coca-Cola.
And finally, Target had 39 fans, but 11 preferred Wal-Mart.

The majority always wins. However, with the exception of no-real-equal Starbucks, there were no runaway landslides.

You see, the group does matter. The herd defines the trail. But the individual matters a lot, too. Just because most of you love something does not mean that I do. I might like it, but perhaps I love a rival more.

We already had planned to measure responses to individual Lovemarks. In fact, it was a driving motivation behind the entire study. These data just confirm that it is the correct strategy.

If data show that a group feels a certain way, then a (quasi) randomly selected individual from that group is likely to feel that way, too. But that participant has lived her or his own life and has unique attitudes. We'll do a lot better if we give that individual some agency in measuring her or his attitudes.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hurray! We're Number 395!

After much thought, I decided to have this blog ranked as part of Advertising Age's Power 150. My thanks to Charlie Moran for getting the ranking posted so quickly.

The grand result: Communication, Cognition, and Arbitrary Thoughts ranks 395th out of (currently) 419 advertising-related blogs.

There is a moral victory in not being last place! Just kidding.

I need to work on the public science aspect of this blog. I've never been much into self-promotion, so I don't tend to seek publicity. The decision to rank was not automatic.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Take That Meeting Behind the Barn, Shoot It

This post on meetings from Ad Age's Small Agency blog pretty much sums up my Tuesday:


Monday, August 20, 2007

Day 5: What I Learned at an Ad Agency

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I spent one week in an advertising agency.

I watched. I listened. I interviewed people from different job areas. I talked to creatives. I talked to brand strategists. I talked to account executives.

They were all great. I have a lot to tell students.

"When people ask about this experience, what are you going to tell them?" asked agency head Jack Buchanan.

That is a difficult question.

Mostly, I am going to tell them that it so very important to be happy where you work.

Jobs are jobs. We all get that. We go because we get paid. Although some days are exceptions, even great jobs are not our hobbies. If we were not getting paid, we would be somewhere else.

Given that, work should still be a happy, fun place most of the time. Within the advertising world, most people are familiar with the stereotype of people working in the creative department. This is where you find lava lamps, beads hanging on doorways, and lots of interesting sounding books on anything but advertising.

We expect that of the creative types. They're different. They need to free their brains.

This is true at Buchanan&associates, but it is true for everyone who works there. One whole part of the agency is devoted to loosening up the thoughts.

My favorite is the beanbag toss, known as "cornhole" in Ohio. Above you can seen brand strategist and former communication and cognition lab member Tim Laubacher throw toward the opposite goal.

There are jigsaw puzzles. Hundreds of interesting books. More stuff than I even had time to look at.

And there is no time clock. There is no one jotting down when you come and go. Although there are no hallways to walk, there is still no one walking them to take attendance.

So if you need to walk down by the river to get an idea, so be it. Even if you're an account executive and not a copywriter.

As my department chair, Dr. Don Jugenheimer, often says, every job in advertising is creative.

If you river walk too much, you won't get your work done, and I assume that there would be problems. There was no evidence of that. With freedom comes responsibility, it seems.

There will be more insights that filter out from this experience over coming days and weeks. But this seems most important: leadership and motivation and crucial.

You can assemble great people, but you also need to foster an environment that makes them feel like great people. If you can do that, you will rarely be disappointed by the outcome.

I wish that every story had a poignant end. I suppose that this one did, too. But there was a detour along the way.

I woke up Sunday morning in a hotel in Springfield, Mo. A quick flip of the Weather Channel brought up a picture similar to this one, courtesy of

Tropical Storm Erin was sitting over Oklahoma, exactly where I had to drive to get home. Winds were in excess of 80 mph, and Oklahoma City was looking at a day-long tornado watch.

Not exactly my idea of fun driving. So it took a 120-mile detour up through Kansas to avoid the beast. Thirteen and a half hours after leaving Springfield -- and more than two hours behind schedule -- we finally arrived home.

Much like there is no crying in baseball, there should be no hurricanes in Oklahoma unless the University of Miami is visiting!

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, August 17, 2007

Day 4: How to Build an Agency

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I spent much of the day Thursday talking with members of the creative staff at Buchanan&associates. This directly relates to the mission of my trip since I teach copy writing and creative strategy at Texas Tech.

We did talk a lot about creativity. I wanted to know what they thought that students should have.

Their responses surprised and impressed me.

More than skills, more than software, they talked about fit. They wanted the personality to fit.

If the new person can get along, the employees here largely felt that creative skills could be improved. It was more important to be a good person than to have a great portfolio.

Being creative was more about a walk along the river than some natural ability.

Oh, and get an internship. Several people who work here started as interns.

I finished the day with a couple of books. One was Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. It has an interesting quotation:
The CEO of a major publishing house was concerned about the lack of creativity among his editorial and marketing staffs. He hired a group of high-priced psychologists to find out what differentiated the creative employees from the others.

After studying the staff for one year, the psychologists discovered only one difference between the two groups: The creative people believed they were creative and the less creative people believed they were not (p. 7).

It's an interesting idea. It ignores the possibility of a third variable: I believe that I'm creative because I am.

The focus on people here is impressive. If you work in advertising, you should want to work here. Really. If you run an advertising agency, you should want it to run the way that things run here.

The focus is on the people. This elicits a much greater attachment among the employees.

In many ways, this place reminds me of the family agency where I grew up. My dad always tried to do the right thing for the people who worked there. He tried to do the right thing for the clients.

He was an ethical advertiser, believe it or not. It seems to me that this place is full of ethical advertisers. They like what they do, or they seem to.

At the end of the day, these are the kinds of people with whom I'd like to hang out. And that seems like a pretty smart way to run a company.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Day 3: Taking Time to Think

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Few people would argue against stepping out of your daily grind from time-to-time.

Yet fewer people actually do so.

Gaining a new perspective motivated my trip to spend a week at Buchanan&associates, an advertising agency in a Columbus suburb.

By midweek the trip already paid for itself. My mind percolates with new thoughts, and my enthusiasm for my job skyrockets.

That said, the benefit of this trip increased exponentially at lunch Wednesday.

Several of us sat around a table at the Burgundy Room contrasting academic and industry research and contemplating future connections between the two. We talked about differences between the time pressures facing academic and those facing professionals.

And then agency head Jack Buchanan said that the benefit of academia is having time to think.

As simple as it sounds, it stopped me in my tracks. I'm not taking enough time to think.

My name will be on five journal publications and another edited book chapter during calendar year 2007. For a communication scholar, this is a great year. I'm proud of this year.

But what was the price? If you're always sitting at the computer pounding out a manuscript, you are thinking. But you're not thinking about the big picture. You're being a practical scholar but not really living up to potential.

During my master's program at Kansas State, Tom Grimes talked about the business of ideas.

And ideas drive me.

And somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that just a little bit.

I still spend a lot of time thinking, don't get me wrong. But my thinking has edged ever-so-slightly toward the model of Henry Ford.

Being a research professor is, hopefully, about thinking entirely new thoughts. That's harder to do when you're too closely focused on the next publication to go out the door. You know, something about the forest and trees.

So I am indebted to Mr. Buchanan for unintentionally reminding me that I was taking the best part of my job for granted.

I've got to run now. It's time to think.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Day 2: My 5 Strengths

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- During my time on location here at Buchanan&associates, the Gallup organization's strength finder program came up.

Texas Tech has invested in this program, called Strengths Quest in this version, and I have been meaning to fill this out for some time.

This morning I took the time to log on and acquire the license number. According to my answers, my five strengths are:
  1. Ideation
  2. Strategic
  3. Learner
  4. Command
  5. Self-assurance

Very interesting.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Obesity, Diabetes Continue Toll on U.S.

From the Associated Press today:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans are living longer than ever, but not as long as people in 41 other countries.

For decades, the United States has been slipping in international rankings of life expectancy, as other countries improve health care, nutrition and lifestyles.

Among the other factors:

•Adults in the United States have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Nearly a third of U.S. adults 20 years and older are obese, while about two-thirds are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Although the AP story does not mention it, many of the problems with obesity are due to diabetes related complications.

A graduate student recently predicted that perhaps in 20 years we will look at carbonated soft drink manufacturers the way we look at tobacco companies today. As these data continue to emerge, this looks increasingly likely.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 13, 2007

On the Job Day 1: First Impressions

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Today was my first day at Buchanan&associates, a Columbus, Ohio, advertising agency. I am spending the week in residence thanks to Texas Tech University's College of Mass Communications Partners in Scholars program.

The program sends academics back into industry so that they can bring more real world to the classroom.

Although I am exhausted from the trip and the switch to eastern time, it was a very energizing day.

It is refreshing to have a new perspective on some of my ideas. I really enjoyed presenting some of our work, and I designed two new studies on the side today (remembering them until I get home is another matter).

In a plug for my hosts, the agency seems to be a great place to work, and their intense focus on strategy is inspiring. The entire organization seems to have bought into many of the things that we try to teach undergraduates.

It's also pretty awesome to have an engaged audience. Unlike the disinterested classroom, everyone at my talk seemed genuinely interested in how the ideas could help them do their jobs.
If our students were as interested in what we teach, the classroom would be a lot more enjoyable.

Labels: , ,

To Rank or Not to Rank

Advertising Age is now ranking top "Media and Marketing blogs."

This idea intrigues me.

I cannot decide whether to ask to be ranked or not. It seems that this outlet crosses an entirely new threshold of seriousness if I were to do that.

I see both sides.

Somehow I feel as if goofy pictures from my road trip would no longer be appropriate. Yet when I read others' blogs, I very much enjoy the postings.

Perhaps it is time to serious up this outlet and create a more personal blog with a different address.


Labels: ,

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It's a Long Way from Texas to Ohio

In the Buckeye State ... at last!


Labels: ,

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Road Trip Continues Despite Heat Wave

The famed 6666 ranch in Guthrie, Texas.

After a long 12-hour day in the car, we finally cross over into Missouri.

It is insanely hot in Missouri.

Twelve more hours in the car, and we'll be in Ohio.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Road Trip Time: Columbus or Bust

Headed out. Talk to you soon.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Delusional Quotation: Big Head Barry

A blurry photo of "Big Head" Barry at bat against the Colorado Rockies on May 26, 2007. He grounded out as part of an 0-for-4 performance.

"This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period," a delusional Bonds said after the game. "You guys can say whatever you want."

Thanks, steroid boy. Thanks for your permission to point out the obvious.

You were on your way to being one of the best baseball players of all time.

Then you saw all of the attention directed at the also-likely-steroid-fueled attention directed toward Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Then you turned to the needle. Or "cream." Or "clear."

That was some flaxseed oil, BALCO Barry.

I've plotted Bonds' annual home run production versus his running average. Clearly, he was getting better as time marched on. Then something changed.

See if you can spot where the "Game of Shadows" began.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

May Lightning Strike Greedy NFL Network

Six months sped by since the last real football game.

Such a drought meant that even the meaningless Hall of Fame Game intrigued me. I was excited to watch it Sunday night.

Then I found out that it was on the stupid NFL Network.


And I do not blame my cable provider at all for not carrying this upstart attempt at blackmail. One hundred percent of the blame falls upon the network.

This is just another example of wanton greed and total disregard for the fans.

Damn you, NFL Network. Damn, you Big Ten Network.

All special sports networks deserve to fail miserably, and I hope that their sponsoring institutions suffer for creating them.

Without fans, sports mean nothing. It's time for leagues to start respecting that.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Irvin's Touching Speech Wins Over Detractor

A story I wrote in 1998 about former NMSU head football coach Jim Hess, who was then a scout for the Dallas Cowboys. Hess was in El Paso, Texas, for a scrimmage between the Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders.

There was a time when I hated Michael Irvin.

You see, growing up I never thought much about the Dallas Cowboys. They were in an NFC town, and I was born and raised in an AFC town.

If anything, I would have told you that the only real football team from Dallas was the Dallas Texans, who became the Kansas City Chiefs.

Then in July 1992, I moved to Phoenix. According to Google maps, it's a 1,067 mile drive from Dallas to Phoenix. So you might not expect to see many Cowboys fans there.

You'd be wrong.

I was amazed at the number of Cowboys fans. They were everywhere. Everywhere! To put it in perspective, the 1992 Cardinals averaged 33,911 fans in the seven home games that were not the Dallas Cowboys. For the Cowboys game, 72,439 people showed up.

And the Cowboys were good then, too. Damned good.

So as part of my fervent anti-bandwagon tendency, I ended up hating the Cowboys.

I was busy then, going to school, working, and getting married. There wasn't much Internet or sports radio to speak of then, so I didn't actually know much about the Cowboys and Irvin. And I certainly didn't read newspaper articles about them.

But I hated them.

Things got worse when I moved to New Mexico, which is really Cowboy country. Many of my friends from the NMSU student newspaper were Cowboys fans. They'd watch the games in the newsroom on Sunday afternoons.

I didn't see the games. As always, I was too busy working. Writing a column. Editing copy. Something.

Anyway, the Super Bowl victories fanned the flames. The hatred grew. I hated only the Oakland Raiders more than the Cowboys, as any Kansas City native will understand.

In some bit of irony, I covered a Raiders-Cowboys at the El Paso Sun Bowl in 1999 as sports editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News. As a journalist, I was forced to be neutral. Perhaps that began to soften the hate. Given the timeline, Irvin and I probably were on the same field that day. Sadly I just don't remember.

Fast forward to 2007, and in another small bit of irony, I'm living in Texas. I've grown to respect Irvin as I learned of his work ethic. It's hard to hate someone universally acclaimed as the hardest worker on the practice field.

Too many times these days, you read of millionaire prima donnas such as Allen Iverson who think that practice is beneath them.

Not so with Michael "The Playmaker" Irvin. His will to win was unmistakable. And I've just got to respect someone for whom the fire burns within.

Watching Irvin as a television analyst, I've gotten a bit more respect. Sure, he is guilty of catering to his cronies, but I enjoy listening to him. Perhaps due to his father's roots as a pastor, Irvin has an attention-grabbing speaking style.

Saturday night Irvin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He spoke for 26 minutes. Newspaper accounts say that tears began to flow during minute 21. That's just like a sports writer to note the clock on crying, don't you think?

Irvin gave a moving, impassioned speech. He could have ducked his many off-field troubles. He did not. As if he were facing a strong safety in the middle of the field, Irvin lowered his shoulder and went right through the tough times.

On the same night, Barry "BALCO" Bonds tied Hank Aaron's record for career home runs at 755.

These men could not be more different. Bonds is aloof, arrogant, and a detractor to the locker room. And he will not address the steroid allegations.

Irvin led the locker room. He "never let the team have a bad practice," as team owner Jerry Jones acknowledged during his introduction of Irvin.

So on Saturday he stood in front of the crowd and acknowledged letting down his wife, his children, and his family and friends. He spoke of his struggles to be a better father every day.

I was touched.

The last few shreds of hate blew away last night. In there place are respect and empathy. Everyone knows what it is like to let down those you love, and hopefully every parent knows what it is like to want to be a better parent.

I hope that a lot of would-be 14-year-old athletes were watching last night and learned something.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Girl Power: Working on Four of a Kind

We have a long way to go in terms of gender equity in this country.

In the meantime, I'm doing my part. We found out yesterday that our fourth baby, due in December, will be a girl.

I'm excited. I was pulling for a girl. Really. I'm not lying. I'm not putting on a brave face. I strongly wanted a girl.

There are a lot of reasons why.

It would be remiss not to mention my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I like things that match. I don't take much joy in "one of these things is not like the others." But that is, honestly, a small part of it.

Allow me to digress and tell you a bit about the conversations that a soon-to-be father of four girls has had over the past decade.

Ten years ago today, we were expecting our first child, which turned out to be a girl.

From the moment I mentioned it, people presumed that I wanted a boy. Really I hadn't given in much thought, and honestly being a pessimist, I wanted only a healthy baby.

But I was instantly amazed at the presumption and how comfortable people were talking about it. It never occurred to them that it might be sexist.

Fast forward two years, and we were expecting the second child. Then it really started. I was amazed how many people would say how much they hoped it would be a boy.

There was no modesty about it. No verbal tip-toeing. Just flat out, "You must really want a boy." Then looks of pity when I told them we were looking at two of a kind.

Three years later, with girl 3.0, it was even worse. Perhaps for this reason if no other, I decided that I really wanted that baby to be a girl. And she was. And she's great. They're all great.

So when my wife became convinced that we had to have a fourth baby (something about even numbers and ancient Pagan rituals), there was no question what I wanted: girl!

Yesterday we found out: girl! I'm happy. But I am saddened by how many people feel badly for me. So when I tell people, I have taken to this somewhat preemptive storytelling style such that I will not have to hear the same pro-boy comments that I have heard for a decade now.

I feel like the bizarre Seinfeld episode about denying being gay:

"Congratulations on another girl, not that there's anything wrong with that."

I'm really not doing it justice here. But if I get one more "you poor bastard" look shot at me, I might have to burn someone's bra.

And, oh yeah. Four kids later, and I still get to go into public restrooms alone.


Labels: , , ,