Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Social Reality Data Collection Resumes

How does your brain decide how dangerous the world is?

What role does television play in that decision making?

These are questions I have been trying to answer since Fall 2001. The quest began anew Monday, as we started collecting data on a pen-and-paper replication and extension of past work.

A computer-based replication last fall presented us with entirely unexpected results. Now we simplify and try again.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Science Publishing: Ideas or Dollars?

Myriad problems plague the academic publishing model. Quantifying success with numerical indicators encourages scholars to publish for publishing's sake.

Likewise, publishing in academic journals is prized far more than books or book chapters. In no small irony for faculty researchers, publishers make money on journals. Researchers can only make money from books and book chapters, which are less valued.

Reading the Chronicle of Higher Education, I ran across this article.

Publishers' Group Reportedly Hires P.R. Firm to Counter Push for Free Access to Research Results
The Association of American Publishers has hired a public-relations firm with a hard-hitting reputation to counter the open-access publishing movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available to the public, the journal Nature reported on Wednesday.

The firm, Dezenhall Resources, designs aggressive public-relations campaigns to counter activist groups, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit organization that monitors the public-relations business.

That's right. Hire an attack dog to tackle those radicals suggesting that science -- of all things -- should be about ideas rather than profits.

A few minutes later, I saw that my former colleague Matt Nisbet also wrote about high priced journal subscriptions today. Nisbet references an excellent article in the Washington Post titled, "Publishing Group Hires 'Pit Bull of PR."

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

NFL Markets Football to U.S. Hispanics

The free market does not discriminate. This story on the marketing of football caught my interest today.

Dr. Felipe Korzenny, of Florida State University, will give a lecture on Hispanic marketing at Texas Tech University on Feb. 9th. Our college is strongly involved in the growing area of scholarship.

The Associated Press

MIAMI - For 14-year-old Emanuel Arrosa, life is about playing or watching "futbol." Like millions of Hispanics whose passion is soccer, the son of Argentinian parents can't remember a time when he couldn't dribble a ball with his feet.

About American football, Arrosa is less enthusiastic. "It's OK, but it doesn't take the same agility. You just hit people."

Yet if the NFL can work its Super Bowl magic Feb. 4, Arrosa might join the growing legion of Hispanic fans who love the choreographed violence of American football as much as the fancy footwork of soccer. The NFL has stepped up efforts in recent years to market the sport to the children of Latin American immigrants, and as Super Bowl XLI approaches, the league is going all out in its bid to win over the Hispanic community.


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Hispanic Health Interest Increasing

One of the many things that attracted me to Texas Tech was our Institute for Hispanic and International Communication (new Web site pending).

Prior to graduate school and a faculty position in the mid-west/east coast, I spent seven years in the Southwest, and I was anxious to return. In part, the psychological processing of media messages across multiple language and multiple cultures interests me.

At present, I am playing a small role in an internal Texas Tech grant to study a health campaign aimed at preventing/treating diabetes among Hispanics in West Texas. The problem is dire. I do not have the statistics at hand, but I am told that this looks to be the first generation of people in America whose life span is shorter than that of its parents.

Friday morning we had a meeting to plan the second phase of grant applications. Usually I hate meetings, but I walked out of this meeting totally energized. We have assembled an amazing interdisciplinary team of scholars from across the campus and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

The work we're planning is meaningful. It is important. And it has the power to improve / extend / save lives. This is an opportunity that comes across too seldom in communications research.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Negative Is Intense; Positive Is Frequent

Almost every time that I read a "classic," I am pleasantly surprised. Those old guys (and gals) were pretty damned smart.

I'm not talking about Homer.

I'm talking about research.

I was preparing for my undergraduate research methods class on Wednesday, and I needed a nice, simple research concept to illustrate theories and hypotheses.

The problem in mass communications, however, is that there are insufficient theories, and many of those that exist are bad. And I couldn't invest an entire class period explaining the theory. It was supposed to be about the concept of theories.

All of a sudden, the "mere exposure effect" popped into mind. I've talked about it a lot, but I am never read the seminal work. Thanks to the Internet, I had the piece within a few minutes. Officially, it is:

Zajonc, R. B. (1968) Attitudinal effects of mere exposure, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2), 1-27.

And it's awesome to read. Several studies. Very clever. Even used skin conductance.

The gist is that if I show you something with no pre-existing semantic attachments, the mere exposure to the stimulus will create positive affect toward it. They did this with made-up words and Chinese characters (among non-speakers).

For several stimuli, there was an almost linear increase in positive attitudes withe the logarithm of frequency exposure. So, if you saw the Chinese character 5 times, you attributed positive meaning to it. However, if you saw it 25 times, you attributed even more positive meaning.

All of which is cool. But intermixed in the article was an even cooler finding, which I had never heard about. If you take some corpus of language, the good words appear more often than the bad.

For almost ever pair of words tested in a semantic differential (e.g., good _:_:_:_:_:_:_ bad), the positive word was far more frequent in the lexicon than the negative word.

Too, cool, right? We know that "negative information weighs more heavily upon the brain," but positive information weighs more frequently upon the brain.

But have we all become cynical bastards since 1968? To test this, I used my new favorite tool, the Icerocket.com trend search. I did a trend search for "good" and "bad." The results are below. So even though the blogosphere is often thought to be reserved for rants and political attacks, we still say "good" more than twice often than "bad." It's a fine day to be a scientist, friends.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tech Basketball Takes Away Blog Time

No time for a "real" post today.

Texas Tech 70, #6 Texas A&M 68

This after Saturday's upset:

Texas Tech 69, #5 Kansas 64

Wreck 'Em Tech!

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Shameless Plug for Icerocket

In part, this Weblog is the continuation of a stimulus-response research project that started when I wrote a weekly column for the New Mexico State University student newspaper, the Round Up.

It never ceased to surprise me what topics stuck a cord with people, and how people interpreted my words.

That continues here with the things that I hear from colleagues and from comments, which I enjoy.

Recently I wrote about the creepy Redenbacher popcorn ads and the response to them on the Web. To illustrate the buzz on Weblogs, I included a trend search from uber-cool company, Icerocket.com.

Those posts have funneled dozens of people to this Weblog. And the amusing part is that Statcounter.com keeps the search terms people use to find this Weblog. Not surprisingly, people got here by Googling "Redenbacher" and some negative adjective. This means that people thought the ads were bad, and they wanted to see who else did.

But the tangential mention of Icerocket.com led to a surprise. It led to a comment by Blake Rhodes, of Icerocket.com. He said thanks for using and suggested a new tool they have. So I Googled the guy's name.

He's the bleepin' CEO. Wow.

Now that's how you run a company based upon Blogs. You check out what people are saying about you. You monitor the buzz.

Good show, Mr. Rhodes. I wish I had some money to invest in Icerocket. With this kind of attention to detail, good things are sure to come.

So, dear reader, please accept my shameless plug for Icerocket.com. It's a super cool tool, and you can lose a few hours just playing with the trend tool.

As a media consumer, Icerocket is cool. As a media scholar, I think it is a powerful tool for understanding this new medium.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Tech Ad Students Make Us Proud

From this morning's weekly College of Mass Communications newsletter:

"Two advertising undergraduate students, Kelly Donaldson and Jason LeMaster, along with their faculty advisor Ann Rodriguez, submitted a script and storyboard for a television commercial for the Super Bowl contest that Chevrolet was holding last October. Although their ad was not chosen as one of the top five entries to be produced by Chevrolet, they were invited to further animate their storyboard for an opportunity for the ad to be highlighted on CBS’ The Early Show in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. They accomplished this feat with the help of graduate student Mike Devlin (not the one arrested last week). They were informed last week that their ad was indeed chosen to be featured on The Early Show and that it will air on January 24."

Way to go!

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Have Stood at 18th and Vine

I grew up in Kansas City. I loved that town. When anyone talked trash about K.C., I used to attack as if someone had insulted my mother.

I'm not sure what my parents did to instill this pride, but I loved that town. I can remember riding ski lifts in Colorado as a teen or pre-teen extolling the virtues of Kansas City on some poor stranger.

I spent almost every free minute from ages 15 to 18 (a weird farm-based quirk allows kids in the Sunflower State to get a restricted license at 15) driving the streets of that city. That's almost all we did was drive. Here. There. Everywhere.

I probably should have been mayor of Kansas City.

In the spring of 1992, my dad took a job in Phoenix, Arizona. Things had not been going well in life (a story for another day), and an 18-year-old version of me decided to abandon my hometown and move to the Southwest with my parents. Luckily for me, my eventual wife, Emily, decided to join us for the move.

Reading this, you probably think, "people move." And it's true. And that makes it especially difficult to explain how unlikely it was that I would ever leave Kansas City. I remember the stunned reaction of a close friend at the time.

"But you love Kansas City," she said when learning of the pending move.

Emily and I overloaded her Chevy Cavalier and headed down I-35 on July 18, 1992. Although we were excited about the adventure, it was a difficult drive.

As you may know, Phoenix has many paradise-like qualities, and there was much to love. But given the depth of my roots, there was much to miss.

Already a Chiefs fan, the football team somehow came to embody my hometown. The more I missed home, the more the Chiefs came to represent what I left behind. I lived and died with the team that year.

They don't carry many Kansas City games on television in Phoenix. And that was before ESPN.com even existed (I think). Our house in Scottsdale was well beyond the Chiefs radio network, so I was stuck watching the stupid 10 minute ticker during some other NFL game that meant nothing to me.

One day I ventured to a sports bar with my half brother Lance. We watched the Chiefs play Denver, which was a mistake. Denver is far closer than Kansas City to Phoenix, and neither Lance nor I are what you would call "good sports." He and I are pretty different characters, but he is one person that I know detests losing as much as me.

The Chiefs seems to have it wrapped up at Mile High that day, but John Elway did what he always seemed to do to Chiefs' coach Marty Schottenheimer. There were a lot of obnoxious Denver fans there, and I am still not sure how we got out of there without coming to blows. I don't watch many games at bars anymore.

The Chiefs had a decent season, finishing 10-6 and headed to San Diego to face a Chargers team they had twice defeated during the regular season.

If that game had been at a Vegas table, I would have been "all in." I overinvested in that game like an Enron pension fund.

Of course the damned Chiefs lost. They got shut out, 17-0. It killed me.

When paired with my existing homesickness, that game caused some serious depression. I wasn't myself again for weeks. I worked for Super Shuttle at the time, and I can remember standing on the curb at Terminal 2 shortly after the game (it may have been the same day; memory fails me). As sophomoric as it may sound now, it seemed difficult to avoid assault incoming passengers from San Diego.

As someone who studies media effects, I try to never forget that experience.

I wrote this post as I watched the Chicago Bears advance to the Super Bowl. Congratulations, Chicago (star linebacker Brian Urlacher grew up in Lovington, New Mexico, just 2 hours from here). It struck me when the announcers said that Chicago fans had waited 21 years to return to the Super Bowl.

That rung a little hollow to me. The Chiefs have not been to the Super Bowl in my lifetime, and I'm just a bit older than 21.

Three times in recent years the Chiefs have gone 13-3 during the regular season only to lose their first playoff game, twice to the Indianapolis Colts. On my pessimistic days, I think that the Chiefs exist solely to torture my soul these days.

Two weeks ago, the Chiefs lost again to the Colts in the playoffs. I couldn't watch. You see, I learned something that day in January 1993. There's only so must emotional angst to which I will voluntarily expose myself. When I expect to lose, I don't watch.

Sports media research does not get much respect. I still say that it should. Very few things in life reach right into your core and pull you around like strong identification with a sports team. And the media link us to those teams.

If you ever get the chance to go to Kansas City, I recommend it. It's not the hick cowtown that you might think. More fountains than any city other than Rome. The Plaza shopping area is an outdoor shopping area patterned after the sister city in Seville, Spain.

I like the place. I still read the Kansas City Star 0nline every day.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mark Cuban Is a Clothing Genius

Perhaps never in the history of the Internet have I ever agreed so completely with something as I do with fellow IU alum Mark Cuban's rant about suits.


Creepy Popcorn Ad Has Blogosphere Buzzing

It is often quoted that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

This, obviously, is not true. Just ask Gary Hart. Or look at the summer 2005 Carl's Jr. advertising campaign with Paris Hilton (a blend of sex, eating a hamburger, and washing a car; view it here). It created a lot of buzz, but it didn't sell any burgers.

One of my favorite tools in the "new media" world is Icerocket.com's trend tool. This allows you to see the trend of how often a phrase is mentioned in the Blogosphere.
Icerocket allows you to take an instant pulse of the online community.
Friday I addressed the creepiness of Orville Redenbacher's new ads. I was not alone. Lots of people were saying bad things about these ads. But was the important part the mere fact that we were talking about Orville Redenbacher popcorn?
Television time is very expensive. A single 30-second spot in national prime time is often more than $300,000. Thus, it is a beneficial advertising strategy to air ads that will generate their own buzz. If you can air ads just a few times to solicit people to search them out online (where viewing costs you next to nothing), then you have saved a lot of money.
As the figure here illustrates, the creepy ads created a spike in blog talk about the popcorn (blue line). For reference, I included a competitor, Jiffy Pop (red line). No such spike these. Hence, we have some evidence that the spike is due to the ads and not some national discussion about popcorn.
Yet it remains to be see the effect on sales. Using either Icerocket's search engine or Blogger's, almost every post I saw was negative. It's hard to imagine how this will translate into sales, and I know that I will specifically avoid buying Redenbacher after these ads.
I still refuse to buy Duracell batteries after their weird clay-mation ads of the mid-1990s. We'll see whether Joe Consumer will punish the popcorn giant.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Redenbacher Resurrection Ads Disturbing

I was watching television with the wife last night, when I was suddenly driven into a week of nightmares by the ghoulish Silly Putty-esque remake of poor Orville Redenbacher. The ad (by creative guru firm Crispin) is creepy and unrealistic.

Here's what Ken Wheaton had to say on Adage.com:

"When Crispin first won the account, I joked privately that they'd dig Orville Redenbacher from the grave. Well, that seems to be exactly what the agency did, presenting an unsuspecting audience with an iPod-wearing, dead-eyed zombie.

"Firstly, the Orville zombie sounds nothing like the original. More important, it is visually jarring ... my emotions ranged from "this is amateurish-looking crap" to "holy jeebum crow, this scares the hell out of me" -- especially near the end, when the Orville zombie's shoulder start hitching and it looks as if he's about to hack up a hairball."

I saw Mr. Redenbacher in person once at some sort of chili cookoff in Phoenix. Poor ol' Indiana guy never could have seen this one coming.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Emotional Power of TV Still Amazes Me

I spent a lot of years trying to find a job that I loved. I gave up along the way and went back to graduate school. Then a funny thing happened: I accidentally found a job that I love.

I spend my time trying to understand the power of TV's emotion. Why do silly stories written by people I'll never meet move me so?

Sometimes when I am writing a manuscript, it will feel as if I am overstating things. And then I watch the television, and I understand that I am overstating nothing.

Grey's Anatomy was on tonight. George O'Malley's father dies. My father was in the hospital this month (he's better now). That made the fictional TV show a little too real.

I survived tonight's episode only by silently repeating "it's only a story" in my head over and over. It also helped to read the scrolling school closings along the bottom of the screen.

When I took introduction to theatre at NMSU, they talked about the "willing suspension of disbelief." It seemed plausible at the time.

But now it is completely absurd. When you sit down in a theatre or in front of a TV, the narrative starts to grab a hold of you. Eventually it will get you, and you will be sucked in. The suspension of disbelief is automatic. In fact, you have to work damned hard to keep the disbelief going.

This is an endless fascination to me. I'm like a kid in a candy store. Figuring out how this works in the brain is too cool.

P.S. I was over at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center today, and none of those people looked like the people at Seattle Grace. Hmmm. They might be lying to us. Well, there was this one really cute nurse.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Flank Right, Wee Man

"Flank right, Wee Man," are perhaps the most profound words uttered on television thanks to CBS's new reality show, Armed and Famous.

Muncie, Indiana, will never be the same.

Runner-up for the night was a drunk automobile passenger telling WWE star Trish Stratus, "You're a sexy bitch."

Culture at its highest, I tell you.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Panasonic Viral Video Tacky, But I Laughed

Be warned. This "viral" video by Panasonic is very tacky, and at least PG-13.

You can see the punchline coming well before it arrives. But I laughed anyway.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Red Lobster Placement Almost Clever

I don't mind product placement when it's clever. Tonight I am torn.

Throughout tonight's episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine, there was a running Red Lobster theme. Throughout the episode, Julia Louis-Dreyfus craved their seafood.

Interestingly, the product placement was not entirely flattering. Old Christine kept trying to scam a free birthday cake, and there were no blatant Red Lobster logos. One might even have wondered whether it was a product placement.

Going into the final break, Matthew (Hamish Linklater) offers to buy Christine a "whole bucket of fish."

Fade to black.

Fade to ... Red Lobster commercial.

Almost really clever. But also kind of cheap.

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Mean World: Local TV No. 1 News Source

It is often said that if you typed up the entire script for a 30 minute television newscast, it would equal fewer than two pages of a daily newspaper.

This, in part, is why I am a print guy. I read the Avalanche-Journal almost every day. In contrast, I watch local TV news less than once a week (in some irony, it is on now).

Recent data suggests that I am alone. The Gallup Poll reports that, "Local TV Is No. 1 Source of News for Americans" (I believe this link will become pay only in a few weeks).

According to self-report data, 55% of Americans get their news from local TV news every day, whereas only 44% get news from local newspapers every day. Nightly network news is third with 35% of Americans.

There are so many interesting issues inherent in these data. Foremost is the weak link between TV news exposure and learning from the news. Some studies have even found a negative correlation between TV news exposure and current events knowledge (for example, see work by my former Ohio State colleague Gerald Kosicki).

Inseparable from this is the linkage between media usage and socio-economic status. In general, "elites" use print media, whereas those with lower incomes tend to get their news from television.

I get most of my news from the Internet (although most often the Web sites of print newspapers). Only 22% of my fellow Americans get news from the Internet every day, another connection with socio-economic status (the so-called digital divide).

The dominance of TV news is troubling for multiple reasons. First, there is my own bias (yeah, print!). More concerning is the brevity with which news items must be covered on television. There's no time to talk about a story for five minutes.

Covering issues with brevity makes issues especially susceptible to how they are presented (for example, framing). It logically follows that if I get only a few sentences about a given issues, then those sentences will be especially influential in my thinking about that issue.

Interestingly, this trend is static over time (see above chart courtesy of Gallup).

I was involved with studies examining the cognitive processing of local TV news while at Indiana University. In one study (Lang et al., 2005) , we found that faster pacing (i.e., more frequent camera changes) increased evaluations ... especially among younger viewers (you can find a link to this channel changing research study here).

Perhaps most helpful to local news producers are Annie Lang et al.'s "7 rules" for making news memorable without sacrificing factors that influence positive evaluations (Lang, Potter, & Grabe, 2003).

No matter how memorable local news can be, it's still not your daily paper. As a society, there is some cause for concern that the majority of Americans learn about the world from local newscasters.


Lang, A., Potter, D., & Grabe, M. E. (2003). Making news memorable: Applying theory to the production of local television news. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 47, 113-123.

Lang, A., Shin, M., Bradley, S. D., Lee, S., Wang, Z, & Potter, D. (2005). Wait! Don't turn that dial! More excitement to come! The effects of story length and production pacing in local television news on channel changing behavior and information processing in a free-choice environment. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 49, 3-22.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Political Strategies of Terrorists

A story in today's New York Times suggests that the Pentagon and CIA are looking into Americans' bank records in terrorism-related investigations (read about it here to avoid NYT logon). Privacy-related concerns will have many balking. The begs the question of how to crack down on would-be terrorists without turning citizens against their own government.

As much as I hate waiting for the future, I enjoy looking back at the past. I like the twists and turns my life has taken.

In the early 1990s, I was a political science major. At New Mexico State, they called it government ... like Harvard. I ended up changing my major, but I completed the coursework for a minor in government (however, due to an oversight apparently on my part that was discovered years after graduation, I took a required class pass/fail and did not officially "get" the minor).

One of the first courses I took at NMSU was introduction to political science (GOVT 110G) with Neil Harvey, Ph.D.

Harvey's research focus, in part, involves Chiapas, Mexico, and we talked a lot about Latin America in that class.

Although it was fall 1994, I think a lot about that class these days. One of the things that we talked about in that class was the goals of terrorism. It seemed largely tangential at the time, but I learned something that I remember these many years later.

Most Americans, it seems, feel that the true goal of terrorism is evil. Among other things, this is illogical. Many evil people fill the history books, but few of them achieved evil for evil's sake.

Consider the Sept. 11th attacks on World Trade Center, Pentagon, and flight 93. Although the means could not be more deplorable, the goals are legitimate political goals. The means are evil. But the end is not evil. Instead terrorism is a political weapon of the weak.

I am a pack rat, and I save things. I still have all my notes from my undergraduate career. Thinking through 12+ years of haze, I looked up my notes on terrorism from Prof. Harvey.

On Nov. 14, 1994, I wrote in my notes, "What are the tactics? Small groups with few resources: bombing train terminals, kidnapping, blowing up airlines. Puts fear into people and makes the government more repressive. Single, young, better educated males. Misfits. Can't see the different between the good and the bad within the system. Fanaticism based on hatred. The cause may not be so relevant. Democracies are particularly susceptible to terrorism."

The part that stuck with me is in the middle. Terrorism makes the government more repressive. In a free and open society such as the United States, it is easy to move around. This freedom makes us susceptible to terrorism. When a major terrorist attack occurs, fear spreads. More importantly, however, the government almost inevitably begins to constrict.

Patriot Act.


Sound familiar?

Terrorism puts an administration in an extremely unenviable position. With no restrictions, it is difficult to curtail vulnerability to terrorism. Suffer a repeat attack, and public opinion is sure to turn against the administration.

Hence the fact that most governments will begin to become more repressive. As the fear from an eminent terrorist attack subsides, citizens begin to chafe at the new restrictions. Their ire drifts away from the terrorism and toward their own government.

In a small Latin American country, this discontent might be sufficient to lead to an overthrow of the state. This is virtually impossible within the United States; however, recent mid-term elections suggest that a vote-based coup may be under way.

Consider that a recent news release from the Gallup organization reported, "But in the latest poll, his approval rating on terrorism (44%) is roughly the same as his 45% rating on the economy. The 44% terrorism approval rating is one of the worst of his presidency ..."

As a communications and cognitive science scholar, I will leave it to others to debate the policies. My over-arching question is that if even I can remember this terrorism-repression-discontent link, why was that not a major talking point from Washington?

Instead of pushing the Patriot Act (for example) as a necessary evil, it seems to me that a more effective communication strategy would have been to come out saying, "One of the goals of terrorists is to drive a wedge between a government and its people over security policies. We are going to make our country safer, but we are going to balance safety with the civil liberties of our citizens."

I understand that hindsight is 20/20, but it seems with all of the hundreds of advisors in Washington, someone could have done a better job.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Looks As If You Are an Ad Agency

This week I criticized Advertising Age for naming "you" the agency of the year. Among other things, I felt it was too similar to Time's person of the year.

Yet the general notion persists. Doritos is airing an audience-generated ad during the Super Bowl, and the NFL is running a contest, too.

OK, so be it. But this trend toward free labor continues.

As I pulled up Youtube this afternoon, I see an ad for a Dove Cream Oil contest. You can win a contest if you come up with the best 30 second ad for the body wash. Importantly, however, many of the ads are likely to end up on Youtube, where countless viewers will see it.

It will be interesting to see how this fad pans out. Much of Youtube's popularity is based upon viewers posting response videos. If advertisements elicit this type of competitive creativity, it could be quite lucrative for brands.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Dropping Cingular Brand Still a Bad Idea

AT&T is making news this week for their still idiotic decision to abandon the Cingular brand. I criticized dropping Cingular when first announced, and I still think it is a bad move.

According to today's Detroit News, Cingular is the No. 1 cell provider in the nation. AT&T is old school. It is history. Most importantly, it is irrelevant to today's most prized demographics.

The land line is like the buggy whip. It's going away. They took the land lines out of Texas Tech dorms this year. Gone. No more.

AT&T's brand is not worth much to Gen Y, but Cingular is. Earlier, Advertising Age reported that $4 billion had been spent establishing the Cingular brand. That's billion with a "B."

This is an arrogant decision by a company run by a board of directors that I will bet is predominantly run by old white guys (yup, 11 out of 17 are old white guys; all look well beyond 40; and several look as if they were actually present when Alexander Graham Bell uttered the words, "Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you.").

Memo to AT&T directors: the world has passed you by. To quote Eminem, "You're too old. Let go. It's over."

Cingular is the future. AT&T is the past. The students in my college class look at your technology much like I looked at two cans connected by a string.

So you're trashing $4 billion to revive a dying brand. Foolish.

Imagine someone buying the fledgling automobile company from Henry Ford, trashing the name and instead calling it the Summers' Buggy Company.

"No," you say.

Yes, sadly.

It's a bad move. To try to undo the $4 billion brand name, AT&T will be using both logos, the orange jack and the deathstar in coming months. They ever have some clever ads that will use themes from past Cingular ads.

In one clever ads, tractors that formed the "bars" image in previous ads will now form the deathstar logo. Albeit clever, it assumes a lot of memory on the part of viewers.

Verizon (No. 2 carrier) says they are not changing their strategy. If I were an existing cell phone brand, I would launch a full out assault. The brand switch will create confusion, and I would attempt to capitalize on that.

If it were me, I'd rename AT&T to Cingular. That's progress. That's future.

I'm not predicting that the behemoth will go under, but it's a huge waste of money. If I were a major stockholder, I would be furious.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Role of Weblogs in Academic Careers

Some incidents occurred today that made me think: Is this Weblog really a good idea?

More than a year ago, my colleague Dr. Robert Potter pondered about whether Weblogs might jeopardize a career. He talked about a Chicago Tribune article (the link is expired, the archives cost money, and the piece is not on Lexis-Nexis) titled, "Did blogging doom prof's shot at tenure?"

As I have discussed before, there is a constant tension over what to include. I know that if I am a complete industry wonk, I will lose readership. Our field is great, but it's not fascinating every day. So I post stupid pictures from my trip to Mexico.

More importantly, I talk about the good times (here and here). And mostly my professional life is really good. But it's not always good. So I talk about the bad times, too (here and here). I also criticize the field (here and here). And therein lies the danger.

I teach advertising. I grew up in an advertising agency. My parents still run an advertising agency, and I was there last week helping out in a very small way. But I am trained as a journalist. I bleed ink. I get excited by the smell of a printing press. And I profoundly believe in the Fourth Estate.

And that means balance. I have to tell both sides. Whatever this Weblog is worth, it is worth nothing to me if it's just some public relations organ. It is what it says it is: Communication, Cognition, and Arbitrary Thoughts. Rob Potter introduces his Weblog saying he will, "also likely comment on what life is like for a professor who teaches undergrads in Electronic Media Programming Strategies, Advertising, and Media Management."

I believe in that. I believe in public science -- and I talk about my work here -- but I also talk about my life. Some people who read this are my Ph.D. buddies who will be going through these same trenches in a matter of months. They might learn something and avoid a mistake if I give a complete picture. Heck, you might be some completely arbitrary person trying to decide whether graduate school is for you. And this is where I think the truth matters. The whole truth.

But I might want to be a department head, a dean, or even the president of a university some day. And perhaps complete honesty is not the best policy. I would argue the other side, but I saw my friend and former NMSU president J. Michael Orenduff fired for supporting free speech.

It's too late for me, really. I wrote an opinion column for two years at the NMSU student newspaper, the Round Up. And I said some incredibly stupid things (hey, I was young once). And although my columns are not online, they exist on microfilm and in the Round Up morgue (and I have copies). If anyone wants to crucify me for my ideas, ammunition exists. Yet only these thoughts can be found on Google.

So it comes down to this: I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in ideas. I believe in the right to be wrong. And I really, really believe the right to update your theories in the face of new data (we call it science).

Sure, someday down the line, something I've said here might cost me a job or a promotion. But that's probably not a job I wanted anyway. I'm a real person ... complete with faults (just ask my wife). If someone hires me, they're hiring the whole person. If I pick up a life of crime, I understand that they might want to rethink my employment. But if someone does not want me around because I admitted that some days just suck, then I probably do not want to be around.

This goes beyond a self-centered rant. I believe that Weblogs are still defining themselves. I believe that it is an open question about how much personal information belongs here. And I think I'm right that the entire Weblog medium calls for more than pure wonk content.

Nonetheless, it's author beware.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's Your Year; Ad Age Says So, Too

In science, we attempt to build knowldge through programmatic steps (see Structure of Scientific Revolutions for more depth, here). We need to know about the work of others in our field.

However, when I am trying to do something creative, I never want to know what other people are thinking. When I used to write headlines for newspapers in New Mexico and California, I hated suggestions from other people.

As soon as an idea is out there, it cannot be retracted. It is like an anchor in space (indeed there are some cognitive theories that use this notion of anchoring), and you cannot avoid it. Now you must either embrace the new idea or avoid it altogether.

And this is true even if you would have arrived at a very similar idea independently. Imagine your friend buying a new blue Honda civic hybrid. Even if you were going to buy a silver version of the exact same car, you cannot now do so without looking as if you copied the idea.

This is OK in many aspects of life (e.g., I hope physicians copy clever ways to diagnose disease), but it's no good for creativity (see thoughts on creativity here).

Rewind a few weeks, and Time magazine names you the person of the year for the growth of Youtube, etc. (see my thoughts here).

OK, I thought the idea was lame. But it seemed original. Until this week. Now you are ALSO the advertising agency of the year.

Come on, people! Really! Can I also be the Motor Trend car of the year?

The voters at Advertising Age noted, they thought about changing their minds when they saw the Time magazine selection ... but they did not.

I get their point. But still. They come off as cheap and duplicative.

"We threw around more agency names but kept coming back to that idea of consumer as agency. The arguments piled up: Lonelygirl15; the Mentos/Coke experiments; TBWA London asking the public for ideas; recognition of the importance of consumer-to-consumer communication; marketers' oft-stated belief that the consumer is in control. Of course, consumers aren't agencies, but they have become arguably the most effective creators and distributors of commercial content. If we were ever going to do something different with our selection, this was the year to do it."

I agree with all of this. However, it still could not be you. They should have made Lonelygirl15 the agency. Or any of the others. But not you. This is advertising, people. We teach positioning. If some other brand takes the position first, you lost it. Sorry. Burger King does flame-broiled.

You may make some pretty-good flame-broiled burgers. But you cannot own this position. Sorry.

If you want to see some good consumer-created content, look at the Doritos ads here. Just don't name me anything of the year anymore.

P.S. For example, I had the smart alleck thought about listing the "Person of the year" thing on my resume (called a CV in academe). But my former colleague Matt Nisbet beat me to it, so all I can do is give him props.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Do Not Rely on Media for U.S. Border Opinion

Some people believe that an alien spaceship crashed in the New Mexico desert in July 1947 (read more). Given the remote location and sparse population, few people have any firsthand experience. Therefore, almost all of our knowledge is mediated.

I thought about this while driving through Roswell on Saturday. When you drive through the heart of town, everything is tourism alien-themed. We went to the International UFO Museum and Research Center a few weeks back (read here). This leads to complicated questions from the children, such as "What do aliens do to you?"

My children must suffer through the academic answer. I tell them that we have very little evidence that any alien lifeform has ever visited Earth. I do, however, spare them the mathematical details about the vast number of planets in the universe that are similar enough to Earth to support life as we know it.

The point is that most people have an opinion about what happened at Roswell, even though none of us was there. We have learned through the media.

Let me use a more concrete example. No matter your political persuasion, you probably believe that President Bush actually exists. However, of the 6 billion people on this planent, perhaps 1 million have ever actually seen the man in person (including rallies). So as far as you know, there is no real person, and all of the TV coverage takes place on the sound stage next to the one where they faked the moon landing (kidding).

My point is that we lean pretty heavily on the media to shape our reality, even though we do not think that we do. This is true with the U.S. border with Mexico.

While reading the news this morning, I came across a CNN.com story under the headline, "Minuteman supporters protest at Columbia University." And I have some pretty strong opinions about the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the middle of July 1992, Emily and I packed up our Chevy Cavalier and headed for Arizona. We both were born in the Kansas City area, and we had lived our entire lives in the Missouri/Kansas area. This was a big move.

My dad had taken a job in Phoenix, and we decided to try something different. "Why not go to college in Arizona?," we asked. So began this great adventure.

Living in Phoenix is great. To borrow a metaphor about Anchorage, you're only 30 minutes from the Southwest. That is, Phoenix is a massive city, and there is no forgetting that you live in a massive city. And most of the people who live there are like us and were born somewhere else.

Phoenix was big, scorching, and crime-filled. We burned out pretty quickly. So in March 1994, we went on a tour of the Southwest looking for a "better" place to go to college. I was very ignorant about what made a "good" university, so we were swayed by silly things, such as mountains and foreign language requirements.

We drove to see Western New Mexico University (Silver City), New Mexico State University (Las Cruces), New Mexico State University at Alamogordo (Oops! A two-year school), the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque), and New Mexico Highlands University (Las Vegas, N.M.).

I had high hopes for Highlands. It sounded so "old west" to me, and it was my early favorite. Thankfully, however, the town is not all it could be. UNM was a close second, but it seemed much more like an urban campus. So we settled on Las Cruces, some 65 miles south of Truth or Consequences, where my dad took his first radio job in 1949 (irony).

The move was only slightly less random than a coin flip, but it was one of the best things that we ever did.

As I mentioned, Phoenix is not the Southwest. It's like Chicago with cactuses. The culture is strictly American. Las Cruces was different. Shortly after moving to Las Cruces, we went to the Fourth of July-related Electric Lights parade. There we sat on the side of El Paseo Drive and watched the parade.

And we sat shoulder-to-shoulder with people who had lived in Las Cruces their entire lives. And the residents of Las Cruces are a majority Hispanic, according to one estimate. This experience allowed me to gain a real appreciation for another culture -- one completely different from my midwest roots.

That first summer (1994), I took a NMSU class titled, "U.S. Military History" with professor Sadler. Since his expertise focused on the border, we learned a lot about that. It was a great education experience, even if it did mark one of the two "B's" I got at NMSU.

New Mexico State's traditional three-triangle logo (see above) represents the blending of the three cultures, Hispanic, Native American, and Caucasian (interestingly, I can find little documentation on this).

On this account, NMSU was a great place to be. We learned a lot about other people with other pasts.

We also were 45 miles from the Mexican border. It was not some distant other. It was not something we knew only through the media. It was a part of our lives.

We travelled to Juarez often. I spent time off the main beat photographing the city for my photojournalism class. I learned a lot.

Sadly, however, large border towns are not especially representative. Juarez is much different than Cozumel, where I visited as a teen-ager. You can get a better glimpse of the border if you travel west from El Paso, Texas.

There you will quickly cross into New Mexico. Continue west on N.M. state highway 9, and you will travel parallel with the border for almost an hour. It is an amazing experience. There is no river. There is no wall. In some cases, there is almost nothing except a small post delineating the border, which is somtimes just yards away. There is just unwelcoming desert.

Driving that highway has changed me. You spend your whole lives learning geography through maps. And those lines look real. But they're not really real. There are artificial, politically created boundaries. I just had the good fortune to have been born on the economically advantaged side of the line.

Of course, this highway was not always next to the border. The border used to be in Las Cruces. The small "suburb" of Mesilla once was in Mexico. During the Gadsden Purchase, however, it became part of the United States. Overnight, those residents changed citizenship. They said, "We did not cross the border. The border crossed us."

Those years in Las Cruces did change me. I just do not see they border as a hard line on a map. It's a living, breathing thing. And I never would have felt the way I do if I had not experienced the entire picture firsthand.

I'm not trying to change anyone's opinion here. Really, I'm just commenting on the role of the media. I will argue that you do not have a real opinion about immigration if you've never been there. Unless you've stood on the side of highway 9 looking south into the unfriendly desert, you have an uninformed opinion.

Sitting in Iowa, or Minnesota, or Ohio, it's easy to have an opinion about the border, perhaps. You might see opportunists darting across a small stretch of river to take advantage of your tax dollars. But in my experience, it's not like that. Instead it's the dozens of Mexican citizens who have died in that desert looking for a better life. Trying to do jobs in a meat packing plant or cotton field that I do not want to do.

I respect your opinion, whatever it is. But before you declare certainty that you are correct, take a trip to the border. Meet some people. Drive over to Columbus, N.M. Park your car. Walk across the border there to Palomas. Talk to some people. Do not rely upon the media. Experience it yourself.

P.S. I would love to post some photos here, but all of my work then was done with slide film, and I do not have a slide scanner today.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Why Do I Care About Coaching Searches?

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- It started with Roy Williams. Round 1. You remember, the time he promised to stay at Kansas. And then did. And then left a couple of years later for North Carolina.

I will always hate Dean Smith for that. He was a Kansan. He grew up a Jayhawk. He played at KU. Won a national title after playing in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. But in the end, his loyalty was with his adopted home state. So he guilted Roy Boy into leaving. In doing so, he denied Roy Williams the opportunity to have the legacy at Kansas that Smith enjoyed at Carolina.

Nonetheless, I sat glued to the Internet this morning waiting for Nick Saban to go to Alabama. The wait was killing me. And now I know. Having read the Internet and watched ESPN much of the day, Saban either did the right thing or is the worst thing to come around since the black plague.

Seems trivial now. But I wore out my F5 key this morning.

Ugh. Media dependency.

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Monday, January 01, 2007


Congratulations Coach Knight.

See all of the photos at: flickr.com

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