Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Switch to Bond Investment in the Fall

OK, so I won't really go into it here, but Black Monday 1987 was a pretty formative day in my life. It set some key values and ensured I would never be a stock trader.

Watching this current economic situation, not being an economist, listening to some economists arguing against the bailout, I have been wondering what we really should do. Smart people make a convincing case on both sides, and public opinion is on the no-bailout side.

Then I wondered, "What caused Black Monday in 1987?" So I fired up my old friend Wikipedia, and searched Black Monday 1987.

And the answer is not particularly interesting to me.

But I did note that it was: October 19, 1987.

I also noted that there is some disambiguation with Black Monday and Tuesday 1929, which were October 28 and 29.

And I thought: both in October. Hmmm.

And we're almost in October. Hmmm.

All three in the first five weeks of fall, which is like another word for crash.

So, I say damn you Autumnal Equinox!

March, heck! Beware the Ides of October.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

PR Case Study: Don't Anger Comedians

When I was undergraduate, we looked at a few case studies in a public relations course I took with Dr. Mac at NMSU. It seemed that when you looked at 60 Minutes ambushing a CEO, there was almost no way to look good.

However, when you expect to get grilled by a CBS program, you do not expect to get grilled by David Letterman.

This happened to Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain when he canceled his Letterman appearance purportedly to head back to Washington to discuss the Wall Street bailout.

As you can see, that angered Letterman, who felt that a vice presidential candidate should be able to step in.

However, when Letterman found out that McCain did not head back to Washington and instead was in a different CBS studio, taping an interview with Katie Couric. Letterman's jest toward McCain turned far more pointed.

It shows that comics who usually use their sharp wits can be more acerbic when they feel it is appropriate.

One has to wonder whether Letterman's widely reported rant is part of the reason the democratic candidate Barack Obama holds a large 8 percentage point lead (50% to 42%) according to Gallup's latest three-day tracking poll.

No matter how this election turns out, I think that "campaign suspension" decision and related handling of the press will be taught as a PR case study one day.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Real-Time Debate Emotion Fascinating

Last night I watched much of the John McCain / Barack Obama debate on CNN.

During the debate, they had continuous response measurement data across the bottom of the screen. That tracked real-time emotional responses (positive versus negative) across the bottom of the screen with separate lines for Democrats, independents, and Republicans.

Having collected such data in the lab, I was at times more interested in the lines than the candidates.

It also reminded me what a complicated topic emotion can be. Consider the case when the candidate you like (i.e., a positive emotion) attacks the candidate you do not like (i.e., attacks are a negative emotion).

In order to be able to respond in real time, you have to parcel out the good from the bad. And in the end, these voters exhibited that pattern. When McCain attacked, the red line went up. When Obama attacked, the blue line went up.

The critical line, I suppose, was the green line for independents. That line consistently but slightly favored Obama.

In fact, I was pretty amazed that all three lines tended to be slightly higher (I don't have access to the statistics) for Obama than McCain. These were voters from swing state Ohio, so this trend may be indicative or may represent the small sample. There is no way to tell.

Another interesting trend was all three groups' reactions to McCain's repeated pattern of insisting to talk after Jim Lehrer tried to cut him off. It seemed that no matter what McCain said, all three lines stayed low, seemingly punishing him for violating debate etiquite. Again, there is no way to know what they were thinking, but it was a rather consistent trend.

I may tape CNN next time and watch on another network. I like to see the CRM data, but with limited cognitive capacity and all, it is difficult to fully process the arguments while simultaneously tracking three groups' opinions.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Howie Mandel Can Save Our Economy

I thought, perhaps, you could use some levity amidst all this talk of $700 billion, financial bailouts, and potential great depression.

If this Weblog is famous for anything, it's for the formula I calculated for NBC's game show, Deal or No Deal. It is far and a way the most popular thing I have ever written, and a day does not go by without several people searching out my regression formula.

In fact, if you Google "deal or no deal formula" right now, this blog is the second thing that comes up. It was No. 1 for a long time, but Yahoo! answers has beat me out.

At any rate, when someone searches this page through Google and loads it, their IP address saves in my StatCounter file. I almost never look at it, and I did today.

And I saw: "treas.gov," which means that in the middle of all this talk of doom and gloom, some Treasury employee was Googling the formula for Deal or No Deal.

And it made me laugh.

Until I wondered: "I hope having the country go on the game show is not our real bailout plan."

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brands, Clutter, Web 2.0, & Ambient Awareness

There are some people in the world that I want to know what they're doing.

Not BFFs or anything like that. Just interesting people. So we're friends on Facebook, or I follow them on Twitter.

Since I'm a mass communications prof, I like to keep up with opinion leaders in the new technology field.

Today, one of the almost complete strangers that I follow on Twitter posted (or Tweeted, but I hate that word) this: "Tackling Social Media Strategy :: how do you use social media to create ambient awareness with journalists, publications & influentials?"

And I thought, "ambient awareness"? I was pretty sure I could figure it out, but I direct messaged her to see just what she meant, and she was nice enough to write back.

She pointed me to this awesome story by the New York Times.

Apparently those people about whom I want to know a little bit are those about for whom I have "ambient awareness." OK.

But does that translate to a company?

I talk a lot about Lovemarks (official site), so I know that we care a lot about the perceived personalities of brands. But do we really care about the companies?

I love Tide. But I don't much care what's going on at Tide right now. This may be different for a service company -- especially a Web 2.0 service company, such as Google or Digg. However, that's a pretty narrow sector of the economy to devise a marketing strategy for.

So if you were to reach out to me through the social networks, dear Web, would I care, or would it be yet evermore clutter in the advertising landscape?

So, do you care what's going on with the companies you love? Comment here!

Probably, only Tim will comment. But he has good things to say. So read his hopefully inevitable comment and leave a comment yourself.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Morning Is the Devil: It's in My Genes

I hate mornings. Sure, they're beautiful. Sure, I like the quiet. Sure, it seems as if you should be up early.

But I hate it. I mean, I really, really hate it.

For the past year or so, I have used a light timer as an electric lamp. This is based upon some vague notion that by using light to wake up, I would help stimulate my circadian rhythm to be more of a morning person.

It doesn't help much.

This morning, I dialed my light timer back to 6:20 a.m. -- the earliest time of the semester.

A few minutes before 7 a.m., my wife yelled, "Your light has been on for an hour [exaggeration], are you ever going to get up?"


A few minutes later, I wandered into the kitchen, looked outside, and saw that it was still too dark out to water the grass.


Why in the world do people choose the make the world "happen" while it is still dark? I love the dark ... if I can watch it get that way. The other way around is just not natural.

So while eating my lunch today, I did some Googling. And I found a brilliant article from Slate, titled, "Can a Night Owl Become a Morning Person? A Slate experiment."

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Remember This: Your Brain Is Cool

I spent much of Friday night and Saturday in the office analyzing data for a study we conducted on in-game advertising (the lead author is Harsha Gangadharbatla, now of the University of Oregon).

During the course of the racing (car) game, participants drove under five billboards. They were not told anything about the billboards, and the idea was to check whether they noticed. We measured physiology to determine whether they were subconsciously noticing (they were), and we later measured their memory to see whether they actually stored the brand names.

First, participants were asked to freely recall the brands that they saw. Performance on this task was not especially good (16%). Later, participants were asked to recognize the brands among other brands in the same product category. Performance on this task was about 40%.

The main points of the study are pretty interesting; however, one little observationt that will not make it in the final paper was pretty interesting.

For each of the five brands, participants could either recall it or not. Furthermore, they could recognize it or not. Obviously, some people were more likely to pay attention to the driving (gamers, it turns out), and some people were more likely to pay attention to the billboards (nongamers, it turns out). Harsha knew this would be the case, but I did not.

For each brand, we could examine whether the probability it was recalled was related to the probability that it was recognized. Perhaps participants good at recall were simply good at recognition.

But this was not the case with our data. For each brand, the probability that it was recalled was significantly correlated with the probability that it was recognized. Furthermore, for each brand, the probability that it was recalled was most strongly related to its own probability of recall.

It could be the case that recalling Brand A was most strongly related to recognizing Brand B -- perhaps even by random chance. But this was not the case. In every case, A was most strongly related to A, and so on.

In many ways, this should be the case. But the fact that it was consistently the case suggests that our measurements of recognition and recall were indeed indexing how well these brands were encoded, stored, and subsequently retrieved from memory.

One kind of memory for each brand was strongly related to another kind of memory for that same brand and only weakly related (at best) to memory for other brands seen perhaps a minute before or after.

When you're trying to understand this limited-capacity attention and memory system of ours, such data are helpful.

Although this, too, will not make it in the paper, visual inspection of the physiological data (cardiac response curves) suggests that participants had an involuntary reflex associated with sensory intake for the brands the recognized but not as much for those that they did not recognize.

This tidbit is pretty awesome, but it will also not make the final paper due to how we analyze data. Although the most appropriate statistical test backs up the "story" told in the preceding paragraph, the highly specialized nature of that particular test makes it seem as if we are being disingenuous in looking for statistical significance. Thus, it is easier to omit than to justify.

All of this continues my respect and love for the human brain. What an amazing device.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Turn Radio Off for That Sweet Sound

It may seem silly, but perhaps the best decision I have made of late is to drive to and from work with the radio off. Just silence. Me and my thoughts.

My Missouri colleague Paul Bolls did an entire media fast. I could not make it for a week. But having 20-30 minutes a day of silence is surprisingly refreshing.

It was very difficult at first. I can drive to work in under 15 minutes, and I must have automatically turned the radio on four or five times every trip.

It's nothing against the radio. It's just some small fight against the urge to be (media) stimulated every moment of every day. I think our brains have way too much background noise.

A little silence is golden.

My apologies to the Audio Prof.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Grass Seed, Floods, and Other Joys

It seems that each promise to be a more regular blogger leads to fewer posts.

But I miss this thing, so I'll do better if for no other reason than to exercise my voice.

On Friday, Lubbock recorded the most rain it has ever had in a single day. It was a 100 year's flood.

I thought that had done away with all of my grass seed -- the watering of which has taken away from this blog.

Through some miracle, the Hydromulch survived the flood without an ark. I offer an ardent testimonial if you're on the fence about Hydromulch: awesome! And perhaps floodproof, too!


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Self Publishing and the Marketplace of Ideas

Well, I'm getting called out for not blogging. Shame on me, I guess.

I'm still thinking about on demand publishing.

I mentioned this last night to a well-published colleague, and he said, "The problem is that nobody reads it."

That's a match point, really. And it's eerily similar to my first thoughts about Weblogs. If everyone's speaking, who is listening?

Yet blogs are working. They are extremely influential. So much so that Procter & Gamble wanted to bring Mommy Bloggers to Cincinnati in order to influence these influencers.

So will a book that you write and publish yourself ever be read? For less than $700 (if I understand correctly), you can publish a book, register the copyright, and have it listed on online booksellers, such as Barnes & Noble.com.

Then it's up to the power of the Internet -- and if you're lucky, Oprah -- to get the book sold.

Unlikely, you say?

Well, on August, 25, 2008, I wrote about "On Demand Publishing," and today there are 5 ads on my blog for various publishing services. The Internet works.

If you have something people want to hear, they will find your content.

And rather than vanity publishing, this, to me, is the best case of the marketplace of ideas. Literally, you are not bound by an agent or a bookseller's notions of profitability. You are bound only by your ideas and your ability to come up with $500 to $700 in upfront capital.

If your idea sells, you will make back the initial investment and then some. If not, you paid perhaps $700 for the privilege of getting it off of your chest.

But the point is that the idea is out there. It is, quite literally, part of the marketplace of ideas. Some of the best ideas of all time were not popular at the time they were conceived.

Unpopular -- and even revolutionary -- ideas are just that: unpopular. If they're controversial, they are unlikely to sell many copies. Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of the great books of all time and sometimes referred to as "the most widely read philosophy book, ever" but was rejected by 121 publishers.

Pirsig persisted. How many others did not? Would the book had caught on if the advances of the digital press made on demand publishing earlier? I do not know.

But I think humanity must be better served when the questions begins with what people need to hear rather than what idea can be sold for a profit.

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