Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sincerity Crucial to Ads, PR, and Social Media

The first rule of getting noticed online appears to be "go comment on a lot of blogs."

I've been trying to increase my online presence this December, so I have been reading all the suggestions that I can find.

Each blogger has a slightly different take on the grand enterprise, but they all agree: comment on related blogs as if you were voting in Chicago: early and often.

To read the rest of this post, please visit the new site for this blog:

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Friday, December 26, 2008 Offers Tech Realted Podcast Fun

Note: This post is a reproduction of the original post on the new site for Communication & Cognition: After more than three years on Blogger, it is time to move to a self-hosted site. I hope you'll keep reading there.


Through the wonderful world of Twitter, I recently stumbled across I'm not a podcast guy, but something about the link caught my attention.

Once I arrived at the site, there was Geek Brief #481 (released Dec. 20, 2008). In this 4 minute, 50 second podcast, Cali Lewis (on Twitter) demonstrates a large green laser from Wicked Lasers called the Spider II GX (which costs just $1,699.99). According the Lewis (via the Guinness records folks), it's the most powerful hand held laser available.

This particular episode must be the Geek Brief version of Mythbusters, as Lewis puts the laser up to several tests:

  • After a long time, the laser eventually pops a balloon (presumably by superheating the air inside);

  • It ignites a wooden match;

  • It fails to light a candle, producing only smoke;

  • Illuminates steam over boiling water;

  • and makes a leather jacket smoke without leaving a hole.

After a brief introduction by Lewis, the podcast features an up-tempo professionally produced introduction. Lewis has a fun upbeat screen presence, and the podcast was lively and fun.

Mostly the podcast was interesting and self-contained, so one can watch without a serious time commitment.

And although I cannot tell you exactly why it was fun to watch, I am not alone. Lewis is a full-time podcaster with more than 25,000 followers on Twitter. I saw one estimate that each show receives between 200,000 and 300,000 views.

The laser was enough to bring me back, and I'm glad it did.

Briefs #482 (December 23, 2008), featured above, and #483 (December 25, 2008) tell the story of's origin.
In July 2005, [husband and co-producer] Neal [Campbell] heard Adam Curry being interviewed on NPR. Adam was talking about podcasting. I didn’t have a TV in my house growing up so I didn’t know Adam Curry from MTV and when Neal started telling me Adam said this and Adam said that, I thought he had joined a cult. Then Neal played an episode of The Dawn and Drew Show for me and I fell in love with the concept of podcasting. Dawn and Drew, a young couple who live in a farm house in rural Wisconsin were doing a show from their house and building a worldwide audience. Adam Curry was doing a show from his house and building the business of podcasting. We wanted in and when Dawn and Drew announced Drew was quitting his day job so they could do the show full time, we decided that’s what we wanted to do.

The first podcast was launched on Dec. 23, 2005, just a couple of months after I started this blog over on Blogger. Needless to say, they've done a much better job monetizing their idea than me.

As an advertising professor, this was a great new media story. These two podcasts should be required viewing for our Electronic Media majors.

The rest of the two briefs tell the story of their rather meteoric success. The first brief aired on Dec. 23, 2005, and they worked out a deal with what is now known as Mevio on May 23, 2006, to podcast full-time. That's an impressive five-month turnaround.

From their inspiration by Adam Curry to their adoption of a green screen and a teleprompter, their success story is briefly outlined.

It's a great story and the kind of thing the fuels the American Dream. Hard work led to opportunity -- the way that we hope that it always will.

Mevio's Web site claims to be the "Home of Personality-Driven Entertainment," and it's Lewis' personality that drives this show.

Her Twitter bio calls her a "shiny, happy geek girl," and the description is perfect.

She has on-camera skills without coming across as a stilted professional anchor. It's just the right mix of talent and whimsy. Lewis' look might be best described as "geek chic," and it's perfect for the podcast. Lewis has bloggers calling her "beautiful" while still looking as if she actually knows about technology.

And success has led to other Web ventures, as the main site also links to related sites, Dear Cali,, and

Whether you're interested in technology or a new media success story, I highly recommend!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

Hope everyone is enjoying Christmas, Hanukkah, or the holiday season in general!

Photo credit: The other Sam Bradley.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

High Life Delivery Man : Resonant Ad Icon

Effective brand advertising necessitates emotional connections. For this reason, I am completely "in the tank" for Saatchi & Saatchi, and their CEO, Kevin Roberts. His ideas of emotional connections -- Lovemarks -- resonate with my experimental research.

And I continue to believe in my heart and mind that long-term emotional connections beat out short-term ROI for the vast majority of consumer goods and services.

Then it's no surprise that one of my favorite television of ads of 2009 came from Saatchi & Saatchi.

While reading the awesome Dec. 15, 2008, "Book of Tens" issue of Advertising Age, I came across 10 "Ads Garfield Loved."

Although I don't always agree with their rambunctious ad critic, his No. 3 choice, Miller High Life, is dead on:
The High Life delivery man is the arbiter of down-to-earth beer drinking. He's angry, confused, joyous and charismatic all at once. In the baseball skybox, amid cheese-nibbling elites who aren't even watching the game, he is transcendentally appalled.
In addition to being a funny commercial and a nice piece of storytelling, this ad is the brand. High Life is a lower-priced beer, and there is no benefit in shying away from it. Instead, this ad and the broader campaign embrace the everyman theme of an economical brew.

Frustrated that corporate America is pricing sporting events out of your range? So is the High Life delivery man.

The ad resonates, we make an emotional connection, and the magic of Roberts, Ogilvy, and Burnett happens.

Santa, please bring me more ads like this in 2009!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

LPGA Commissioner on Social Media, Equality

5 Questions

Families are cutting their sports budgets in the face of a recession, and women's amateur and professional sports struggle for equality more than 35 years after Title IX was passed.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association continues work on equality and marketing their product in an increasingly online world.

Their commissioner graciously took time in the days just before Christmas to talk with the Communication & Cognition blog. We appreciate it!

CAROLYN BIVENS is the commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the first female commissioner in the organization's history. Bivens previously served as president and chief operating officer of Initiative Media North America, the largest media services agency in the United States and part of the Interpublic Group of Companies. Bivens also has held key positions at USA Today and Xerox. In 2002, Electronic Media magazine named her one of the most powerful women in television. Source:

1) What is the most important issue facing professional women's athletics today?
Equity and parity are two very important issues affecting future growth and success opportunities for women's sports. Whether it is playing the same courses (fields, stadiums, etc.) or the level of prize money and sponsorship dollars, women athletes and leagues must close the gaps with their male counterparts. We are making progress, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
2) What unique challenges do you face marketing international stars to a largely American audience?
The LPGA has an international membership, which we celebrate, and week-in and week-out the leaderboard is lit up with players from the United States and around the world. We must continue to build player profiles and awareness levels to help introduce the U.S. viewing audience to the great talent and personalities of the LPGA -- no matter where in the world they are from. World-class talent, engaging personalities and increased media exposure will help reach the U.S. audience. A consistent TV platform, which we are working very hard on for 2010 and beyond, would help immensely with these efforts.
3) How much will Annika Sorenstam be missed?
Annika is one of the greatest golfers in history, one of the greatest athletes in history, and one of the greatest role models in our sport. She continues to set the bar for excellence in all statistical categories, and yet to judge Annika only by her on course performance, is to miss the essence of a woman who is the ultimate role model. She's set an incredible standard for the talented young contingent of players who are following in her footsteps on and off the course. While we'll miss her in our tournaments and on our leaderboards, we will look forward to her continued contributions to the game – as a Global Ambassadors in support of the International Golf Federation’s bid to reinstate golf as an Olympic sport, a USGA ambassador, a host of a junior golf tournament as well as her many other business endeavors. As Annika begins an exciting new chapter in her life and in her career, we're also eager to enter a new chapter with Annika, who will always remain one of the LPGA's and one of our game's greatest ambassadors.
4) Is the LPGA involved in marketing through social networking sites?
We recognize the importance of reaching today’s youth and our global fanbase via social networking sites, and continue to explore opportunities for us in this emerging arena. We recently have established Facebook, Twitter and YouTube sites.
5) I'm the father of four young girls? Any tips for getting them interested in golf?
Golf is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It also is a wonderful family sport whether one plays or just watches. With four young girls, I recommend you bring them to an LPGA event where you can enjoy hours of family fun in the outdoors watching the best players in the world compete. Also, introducing them to the game via a junior clinic – at an LPGA Tour site or in your hometown -- can be lots of fun as they may make new friends while learning a new sport. I’d also suggest you reach out to your local LPGA Teaching and Club Professional who could perhaps create a family learning session where the whole family can participate together. It’s a sport of a lifetime, and although I didn’t pick up the sport until I was in my 20s I am so glad I did, for the benefits of health, friendships and business are worth it!

The 2009 LPGA schedule includes 31 events in 10 countries (learn more here). Hopefully you'll be watching. The season kicks off Fed. 12-14 at the SBS OPEN at Turtle Bay (Turtle Bay Resort, Palmer Course) in Kahuku, Oahu, Hawaii.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

3 Cognitive Tips to Build Your Brand in 2009

Using tools from the basic science of human cognition can help you differentiate your brand and get it off of the long tail (check out Chris Anderson's excellent Long Tail blog here).

In about 10 days, millions of people will celebrate and then crank out their New Year's resolutions. I say don't wait.

Today is the day to begin anew. Yesterday was the winter solstice, and today begins the best six months of the year: Every day will have more sunshine than the day before. What an exciting time to let science help build your brand and reach its potential.

This blog is about where the mind meets the message. In this case, the message is your brand. For many readers, their blog is their brand and their message. Make your brand effective.

1) Ensure that your brand has a personality

Stanford University professors Byron Reeves (my academic grandfather) and Cilfford Nass eloquently demonstrated in The Media Equation that people treat mediated messages just like they treat real people. That is, social rules apply.

Research in my lab and many others confirms that this extends to brands. We treat brands as if they are real people, and we form especially strong emotional connections when we feel that their personalities matches our own.

Seth Godin does a brilliant job with his blog. The blog has a personality, and that matches the personality of his books. It's a mixture of sagacity and informality (see the picture of half his head).

But Godin cannot simply pretend to be a sage, he must live up to it. He provides excellent insight, and he is a talented writer. If he had everything but writing skills, I assure you his pageloads would be far poorer.

His brand's personality is genuine. You have to mean it. As Lovemarks guru Kevin Roberts says, you must respect your customer.

So do some diagnostics. Ask people. If [my brand] were a person, who would it be. What would that person be like?

It may seem silly, but our data are always telling in this regard. Your consumers know your brand's personality. And if seven different consumers tell you seven different answers, you have an identity crisis.

Decide who you want your brand to be, and then make sure that everything that you do is "on message."

2) Pay attention to attention

I spend a lot of time studying human attention, and it remains one of the great puzzles of my lifetime.

William James said in 1890 that everyone knows what attention is, yet it's incredibly multi-faceted and complex to study.

Importantly, you should keep in mind that attentional capacity is finite. Every bit of your brand is competing with the rest of the world for attention.

You need to make brand communication compelling. Your message has to be the most relevant thing in the room, or you have no chance of keeping attention.

In the blog world, ProBrogger had a brilliant post about three ways to engage readers. Enagagement leads to attention. Find ways to meaninfully engage consumers with your brand.

3) Emotion tells your brain what to do

The overly serious ancient Greeks (and philosophers as recent as Descartes) that emotion and cognition were separate.

They're not. They are inseparable, and they are always working in concert.

You need to know that attention is motivated. Your brain may like to read literature, sip a fine French wine, and listen to Motzart, but it's number one job is to keep you alive.

So it is especially attuned to cues related to survival: food, violence, and potential mates.

Imagine that a naked person or a salivating tiger walked in the room right now. Regardless of how you felt, imagine not paying attention. Now look at standard book page with lines of black serif type against an offwhite background. Not so compelling, eh?

Sadly this is why there's so much sex in advertising.

I'm not urging you to add sex, but I do urge you to generate some excitement within your readers. Excitement leads to physiological arousal, which leads to attention (at moderate levels).

Don't be the News Hour of your product category. Be a little bit exciting. Understand that, for example, we like to look at people. So show people, for example. Find the appropriate emotional connection for your brand.

Just don't be boring. Attention is lost.

But don't forget about personality! Sex for sex's sake is stupid, and it draws attention away from your brand. Find a way to add emotion to your brand that is consistent with the brand itself.

Putting them all together

You still have to have a good brand and a good message. But getting your message noticed and remembered is no simple task.

Your brand needs a personality, and you need to be true to that personality. But if you pick a bad one, you're doomed.

Your personality and your message should be constantly engaging. There's simply too much world competing for limited attentional capacity.

Write from the heart, as Glen advises in an excellent post at PluginID about driving traffic to your blog.

Effective use of emotion will help you engage readers. Look at these human connections phrases in a recent post by eminent social media blogger Chris Brogan: "She remembered my name," "she was a book lover like me," "she loved hand-selling books," "She ...had lots of great conversational information," "I had a beer with him," "That is the feeling I want from social media." And finally:
It’s this thing where people can spend a few extra moments to make a human connection instead of an “off the shelf” connection.
That genuine human connection may be the most basic human emotion. Make those connections in a meaningful, genuine way, and 2009 will be a better year for your brand.

Finally, it's your turn to add to the conversation. How does your brand (or blog) make an emotional connection?

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Make Powerful Social Networks in The Sandbox

If a blog is to represent anything more than a digital pamphlet, it must be about conversation. We must talk and interact. You, dear reader, must be part of the conversation.

@mark_hayward has proposed The Sandbox as the place where we make those connections.

I like the idea, and I hope you'll join me there in seeing where it leads.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

5 Newsroom Tips to Improve Your Blog Today

Updated 9:51 a.m. Dec. 21, 2008: Reader response requested.

Very talented writers publish excellent blogs every day, but the training received by most members of the blogosphere came in the time it took to fill out the forms to create the blog.

This lack of training is little problem for people sharing recipes or documenting the first days of their newborn child. However, many bloggers aspire to make a living at the craft, and financial independence is extremely unlikely for untrained hacks.

The print newspaper is dying a rather fast death, but formal journalism training benefits storytellers. With that said, here are five news tips for Bloggers:

1. Don't bury the lead

If you pick up the newspaper or call up the New York Times online, you will notice that few stories are told chronologically. That's because boring stuff usually happens at the beginning. Journalists get to the point. What makes this post interesting? Get that up front, or your readers will move on. In traditional news writing, the first paragraph is called the lead (often spelled "lede" to differential it from the hot liquid metal, lead, from which papers were originally printed).

And good leads contain the most important information.

Embarrassingly, burying the lead came to mind because I got called on it last week by a friend and fellow journalist. D'oh. How could I have been so careless?

2. Write compelling headlines

Clever, well-written headlines draw readers into the story. This was true on newsprint 100 years ago, and it's true today. Every word counts. Take the time present the most important facts compellingly.

A good headline cannot save a bad post, but a bad headline can prevent a good post from ever being read.

When I worked the copy desk at the Albuquerque Journal, I viewed every headline as a contest -- a contest that I wanted to win. Every day I wanted to hear a colleague say, "great headline."

Most people think that reporters write headlines. They don't. At best they suggest headlines, but in my experience they don't even do that. Headlines are written by copy editors, who know the font size and the number of columns that the headline needed to cover. And they have lots of practice at writing good headlines.

Blogs usually have a single-deck headline of a fixed length. Although this is limiting, it is not an excuse for lazy writing (more advice I need to remember, too).

Bottom line: Never, ever write the headline first. The best headlines are written at 10 p.m. when the reporter has been home for four hours. And they are never written before the story.

3. Make every word count

One of the biggest blog problems is excessive prose. Even when newsprint was cheap, there was a fixed newshole. And when it was filled, you stopped. This blog post can stretch to infinity. That's not an advantage.

As an analogy, consider what a former friend used to say to robust women with bare midriffs.

"Just because they make that in a size 13, honey, doesn't mean you should wear it."

Likewise, don't writer every word that comes to mind because you can.

Try to write tight. Sure there's endless space, but extra words are bad. You're probably blogging during spare time, and you don't have a rim and slot editor to trim fat. Be concise anyway.

4. Add color to your stories

I'm not a gifted writer. On my good days, I am a trained writer who tries hard. When I see a writer use powerful, concrete language, I am moved.

You can feel it when just the right detail is added to a story. What is the single aspect of a person or a situation that is crucial to the reader's understanding? Find it. Write it.

Remember that a picture is worth, more or less, 1,000 words. Only you can see what you're trying to say. Fight for exactly the right words to convey that scene to the reader.

5. Avoid adjectives

Excessive adjectives are the comforting crutch of the lazy writer. Sure, even well-trained, dedicated need some colorful descriptive adjectives. But if you're using a lot of them, then you have simply failed to find the right nouns and verbs (hopefully the humor is not lost in this paragraph).

Mark Twain is reported to have said, "When you can catch an adjective, kill it."

Did you really need to say, "violent explosion"?

This would supposedly differentiate it from a peaceful explosion.

We may talk of "future plans," but there's one adjective too many in that sentence. Unless your time machine surpasses mine, future plans are the only plans.

Catch them and kill them.

I'll be a better writer tomorrow for having reminded us both of these ideas. But surely, you are sitting there thinking, how could he have forgotten ...?

So, tell me. What is the sixth blog improving tip that I should have included?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Learning good writing is not like learning to ride a bicycle (more on clichés another day). Good habits are forgotten. And writing well takes time. Take the time. Your readers will thank you for the investment.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Relationship Targeting: Know Your Customer

I'm always amazed when I stand in front of 170 young advertising students and talk about targeting for the first time.

Largely, this is lost on them. Sad, really.

Matching your brand to a small group of consumers may be the most important thing that you ever do.

My lab has done a lot of research of brand personalities, and to me the fascinating bit is just how easily people assign personalities to inanimate brands.

Right now I'm working on an exciting new project with Tim Laubacher. We're using Darwin's principles of natural selections to find out just what personality is attached to a given brand. More on this in coming months (read more on the underlying principles here).

What do targeting and personality have in common? Tailoring your target market. Sure, my last post blasted Burger King for too narrow a target, but most companies aren't Burger King.

In the Dec. 8, 2008, Advertising Age, there is an article amazingly buried on page 4.

Under Jack Neff's byline, "That 80% of sales comes from some 2% of buyers; Study: Package-goods brands' consumers bases very small, yet diverse."

Think about that. Two percent of all buyers make up the lion's share of your sales.
Numbers like those start to make a strong case for broader use of customer-relationship management among package-goods players who've questioned its applicability because of the high cost per consumer.
This means that even the narrowest of traditional markets are likely to fail. This small yet diverse bit is tricky.

Tools such as the one that I am developing with Laubacher will allow real-time diagnostics of a brand's multiple personalities. We can uncover these niche markets.

And then the real work actually begins. How do we reach these people when mass media will terribly overshoot and overspend. Then, how do we keep them among our 2%.

As Neff correctly identifies, relationships are the key. And compatible personalities are key to relationships. Think of this as a brand version of eHarmony: 29 dimensions of compatibility.

And you have to be careful not to drift. Once you establish your brand personality, you have to remain true to it. Google used to be one of my absolute favorite brands, but today I referred to them as the "Wal-Mart of the Web" due to their control of some of the features of this blog (Google owns Blogger).

I'm impressed with some corporate efforts on Twitter (e.g., @Starbucks). However, following 21,355 people (at present), this is more like a casual hook up than a committed relationship.

It's a great time to study communications. I'm counting the days until the word "Mass" is toppled from the front of my college like a statue of Lenin or Hussein.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: Burger King's Whopper Scent

During my first semester teaching at Ohio State, I shared with my students an Advertising Age story about Burger King's franchisees near riot over "the King."

The Oct. 25, 2005, story ran under the headline, "Franchisees turn on Crispin's King."

The problem is that BK is the No. 2 burger chain in the country, distantly trailing No. 1 McDonald's and barely leading No. 3. Wendy's.

Burger King goes well with their target market: young males. And although the King played well with that audience, he was not bringing in new customers.
Burger King is "highly effective with a very narrow target so the strategy is working, but is it the right strategy?" said one fast-food industry executive. "From a traffic perspective ... the answer is no. They're selling higher-priced products to fewer people, and that's where McDonald's understands that it's a volume-driven business."
This tension continued for more than two months:
Until now, the two sides would clash, but generally come to some form of compromise. But franchisees have recently balked at corporate plans with increasing frequency, with some criticizing the fast-feeder's focus on young males at the expense of women and families, a strategy forged in conjunction with its agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami. (Advertising Age, January 9, 2006, Peace breaks out: BK quells franchisee feud; Franchisee board renews relations after fights over chain's marketing tack).
Somehow these King ads managed to persist and even elicit imitations:
We can only imagine what the Burger King suits -- to say nothing of the entire creative department at BK's ad agency of record, Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami -- must be thinking every time they see one of a new collection of McDonald's spots featuring various kids and a plastic statue of the iconic Ronald McDonald seated on a bench. (Chicago Sun-Times, March 1, 2006, McDonald's serves BK leftovers)
Now more than three years later, the King persists. Clearly Burger King has access to proprietary data that I do not share. However, almost universally my discussions confirm the original franchisee concern: the ads play well to the target market are irritate almost everyone else.

Let's put it this way, since that original ad appeared, I have not once heard my wife suggest going to Burger King for a salad.

Fast forward to this week, and I see a Tweet by a former Tech Student @humbearto that read:
Hilarious: Click for the king. Oh Burger King, when will you stop outdoing yourself?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

5Q: Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty

In the world of text speak and emoticons, many think grammar is a thing of the past.

Not so, says this week's guest, Grammar Girl's author of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Grammar is still key to clear communication, as we hopefully see below.

Mignon Fogarty is an accomplished grammarian, book author, and podcast network founder.

1) Is "whom" really doomed?
Grammar Girl: People certainly exist who think “whom” should die a fast death. They'll argue that nobody knows how to use it anyway, so there's no point continuing to insist that they try to learn. To me, this smacks of the tyranny of low expectations. I still fight for “whom.” It's not as if it's that hard to learn the rule. Use “whom” when you're referring to the object of a sentence. If you can hypothetically answer the question with “him,” use “whom.” If we drop “whom,” what's next? “Lay”? “Set”? I tend to believe in people. I think they can get it right if they try.

2) Students' writing seems so bad today. Am I just old, or has something changed?
Grammar Girl: People have told me there was a trend in education in the '70s that got away from teaching the fundamentals of writing and instead focused on getting students to read. The assumption was that if students read a lot, they would absorb good writing skills. What seems even worse to me is that sometimes each student was encouraged to pick a book he or she though was interesting, so teachers would have every student in their class reading a different book. I don't know how a teacher would teach anything under those circumstances!

I hear that the trend is moving back toward teaching the fundamentals, but I also hear that young teachers who went through school in the '70s are struggling to teach grammar because they were never taught it themselves.

I'm sure this isn't the case in every school and with every teacher, but I'm willing to bet it's part of the problem you're seeing with students' writing today.

3) As "video killed the radio star," did new media kill the grammar star?
Grammar Girl: Gosh, I'd say that new media created the grammar star. Without new media, I would never have been able to make the kind of career I have teaching grammar.

Some people do think that new media such as text messaging is killing grammar because people are so tempted to use abbreviations such as “l8” and “u,” and those habits can spill over into other kinds of writing; but I tend to believe these are just new ways to play with language, and as long as people understand the difference between a text message and an annual report, we're going to be OK.

4) What made you decide to write the book?
Grammar Girl: Writing a book seemed like the obvious next step after my podcast became popular. Listeners were asking me to write a book, and publishers were approaching me about writing a book. It was a great experience. Although I enjoy producing my podcast every week and giving talks to organizations, there's something different and wonderful about having a physical thing you created to hold in your hands.

One of the best parts of creating the book was being able to see the characters I use in my podcast (Squiggly, a yellow snail, and Aardvark, a blue aardvark) come to life in the illustrations.
5) What makes your book a perfect gift idea?
Grammar Girl: It's inexpensive, entertaining on the first read, and useful as a reference book for years to come.
As a former copy editor, I am impressed. A fan of "whom" and skilled user of the semicolon!

And I offer a special thanks to Fogarty for answering these questions at the last minute due to the fact that the holidays subsumed other volunteers!

The book makes a great holiday gift. If you order by Thursday, December, 18, 2008, you can get a personally autographed copy of the book for $19! To get this great holiday gift, see instructions here. In fact, it's worth checking out the site simply for the humor about gift wrapping.

If you're not into the personal touch (or you missed the deadline), order the book at

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Newspapers RIP; Detroit Raises White Flag

I started my career as a newspaper reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. Before that I interned for The Modesto Bee, and I was the editor-in-chief of New Mexico State's student newspaper, the Round Up for two years.

The Round Up is/was/will forever be the best job that I ever had.

When I left NMSU with diploma-in-hand in 1997, I was as "print" as you could be. Man, did I love newspapering.

Read about how cult members become completely devoted to their cause, and that is how I felt about the institution of the daily newspaper.

It was my calling.

Veteran newsman Mack Lundstrom only intensified that love during my Dow Jones Newspaper Fund internship boot camp at San José State that summer. If you ever wanted to love a newspaper, just spend a few hours talking to Mack. He's still my hero.

Many fluke events led me away from the daily newspaper, but I have missed it nearly every day. And it has been especially sad to watch the industry die as the business model implodes.

But I have to admit that I wasn't ready for what I saw today on Twitter, posted by @MarketingProfs:
Detroit newspapers quit print home delivery:
What? How is that even possible? What? OK, maybe in 2018, but 2008? Twenty-bleeping-oh-eight?

It read like a headline from the Onion. But it was painful nonfiction.

According to the Wall Street Journal story:
The Free Press and the News would be the first dailies in a major metropolitan market to curtail home delivery and drastically scale back their print editions. Other newspapers are contemplating similar moves in response to the erosion of advertising and the rising costs of printing and delivery. In October the Christian Science Monitor said it will stop printing a daily newspaper in April and move instead to an online version with a weekly print product.
Insane. Just insane.

I get it -- and I'm even part of the problem with this blog, my Facebook and Twitter pages (follow me on Twitter). And I subscribe to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal only on Sundays. But I just cannot explain the gravitas with which this hits me.

Being in my mid-30's makes me feel antiquated and irrelevant, but this makes me feel as if I have one foot in the grave.

No home delivery -- even on most days -- is a white flag of irreversible consequence.

Internet, I love you. But you took just 14 years to deliver a coup de grâce to my first love. And for that I can never forgive you.

Say it ain't so.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Review: Socially Awkward Viral Pizza Ad

Why do people enjoy socially awkward events?

I spend a good portion of my life in an attempt to avoid these types of situations, and yet others flock to them in a mediated context. Why?

This Pizza Hut offering would have to be viewed as a success, as it currently has more than 142,000 views on YouTube and cost approximately $25,000 to produce (Advertising Age).

So congratulations to Pizza Hut for making me very uncomfortable for about three minutes. You've done a pretty good job of attaching negative affect to your brand.

That's what you were going for, right?

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Review: Dunkin Takes on Starbucks

Thanks in part to the insistence of a friend, I realized that the ol' blog needs an infusion of life. So I thought back to my newspaper days. What would help me publish more often? Regular features!

On Tuesday, I wrote about the new feature 5 Questions. The name is uninspired, but I have found that hastily coined names quickly draw my ire. I'm happy with the first post, and work on the future posts is going well thanks to suggestions by initial interviewee Bob Schaller. Believe it or not, I have some pretty cool interviews lined up, so stay tuned for that.

Another regular feature will involve current advertising reviews. I'd like to promise that it will be weekly, but I am perhaps not that brave.

This new feature also needs a name, so please feel free to suggest one. Every good "Ad Review" name that I can think of is taken.

Dunkin' Beats Starbucks

As one who came of age in the 1980s, I grew up with taste tests. It seems that Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi was omnipresent on television.

Since then, we have seen far fewer taste test ads. Perhaps this is because the gimmick was overdone and perhaps this was due to the fear that is omnipresent in comparative advertising: you're showing your competitor, too. Low attention viewers might see only the Starbucks logo.

Yet Starbucks is vulnerable, and the competitors are attacking. According to the Nov. 10, 2008, Advertising Age (subscription required), fourth quarter profits were down 97%, and same store sales were down 8%.

This comes in a year where the coffee giant already has delved into traditional advertising, closed for retraining, shuttered stores, and given away free coffee for voting.

McDonald's has been on the attack, putting up billboards outside Starbucks' corporate headquarters that read, "Four bucks is dumb" (New York Daily News). Another billboard claims, "Large is the new grande" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

Starbucks won't bite, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

"We're not going to get into that conversation. We're not going to get sucked into the, 'My coffee is better than your coffee,' price point type of coffee conversation," Starbucks Chief Marketing Officer Terry Davenport said. "We're going to play at a much higher level."

Dunkin' Donuts also is trying to capitalize on the vulnerability with their taste test ad.

"Try the coffee that beat Starbucks," the ad claims.

The ad employs a straightforward, direct appeal: Dunkin' Donuts' coffee tastes better. Whereas McDonald's is attacking on snobbery and price point, Dunkin' is going after taste.

This campaign likely will have some success in driving people to the store, but the claim must substantiated. In my case, I "bit" on an earlier ad. A regular Starbucks drinker at home and at work, I bought a pound (or what passes for a pound these days) of Dunkin' coffee.

It wasn't bad, but it didn't match my preferred Starbucks French Roast.

That's both the benefit and curse of a straightforward benefit ad: if consumers agree, you're likely to profit; however, there's nowhere to hide if your promise falls short.

See for yourself at the new Web site:

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Football and Research Money: Big Ten Wins

During a conversation the other night, we were debating the relative merits of the various university athletic conferences.

I work at Texas Tech, a member of the Big XII Conference. I grew up in Kansas City, which was the heart of the former Big 8 Conference. I also earned my master's degree at Kansas State, so I am partial to the Big XII. Bad news for me below.

My Ph.D. is from Indiana, and my first faculty position was at Ohio State, so I am partial to the Big Ten, too.

Some of my other colleagues are from Southeastern Conference schools, and I was talking smack about the traditional football powerhouse conference.

So I wondered how the conferences stack up academically. It's difficult to pick any one metric for academic success, but I decided to go with research funding. Research is the lifeblood of major universities, and funding fuels that research. I turned to the Center for Measuring University Performance and their 2007 Top American Research University Report.

So how do the conferences of the Bowl Championship Series stack up?

Well, it's not quite easy to tell. Apples and oranges, and something like that. Some university totals appear to include their medical school and some don't. So there's no total for Baylor University, which suggests they have less than $20 million in annual federal research funding. However, Baylor College of Medicine had $458,694 in research funding in 2005. To include or not include? Also, there is no amount for Boston College. Pittsburgh leads the Big East, and if it were not for Pitt (which surely includes their medical school), the Big East would average about half of the next lowest conference.

No matter Baylor's fate (I decided to exclude the medical college), the news is not good for the current top powers in football. The Big XII and SEC have the top four ranked teams in the land and five of the top seven. However, gridiron greatness does not translate to research power.

The Big XII is dead last among the six BCS conferences, and the SEC is fourth (if you include Baylor's medical school, the Big XII jumps to fourth).

The Big Ten, led by Michigan, leads the way. Although, the Big Ten is "down" this year, Michigan is the most successful program in college football. So these data may be spurious. Florida also tops the SEC in football and research dollars.

In rank order, here are the final data for average annual funding for each institution for 2005 and 2004.

Conference, Average Amount, Top Program
Big Ten, $477,259,000, (that school up north)
Pac 10, $422,266,000, UCLA
ACC, $296,778,000, Duke
SEC, $210,054,000, Florida
Big East, $209,668,000, Pittsburgh
Big XII, $201,376,000, Texas A&M

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

5 Questions: Author, Educator Bob Schaller

Today marks the beginning of a new weekly feature for Communication, Cognition, and Arbitrary Thoughts. I've decided the Weblog needs an infusion of new energy. So each week, I'm going to post a "5 Questions" feature with someone interesting.

I got the inspiration from Bob Schaller, who writes a number of "20 questions" features. Since Bob writes much faster than me, I decided to stick to 5. I also found it appropriate for him to be the first featured individual.

Bob Schaller is an accomplished author, educator, and journalist. He has published more than 35 books, including a recent biography on Olympic swimming sensation Michael Phelps titled, Michael Phelps: The Untold Story of a Champion (available at, $6.29). He is a staff writer for Currently a doctoral student in mass communications at Texas Tech, Schaller has worked at newspapers in Nebraska, Colorado and California. He also writes for Splash Magazine, published by USA Swimming.

1) What’s the most important characteristic for a writer?
Schaller: To respond to criticism well, to apply it, and always get better. The best experiences I have had always involve editors who take me out to the proverbial woodshed. My talent is marginal, but my work ethic is exceptional. I like that feedback because it makes me better. Also, write across different genres, not just one or two. If you want to make a living at it, that's essential, and it's also a great way to get better. There's a narrative arc even to explicating a technical writing project like explaining a digital camera. Though that's different from a biography, it involves a lot of the same critical-thinking and writing skills. Passion is awesome, and people should have that in whatever they do. But a lot of people who love to write simply aren't that good at it. It's tough, because writing is so personal -- we can all do it at the basic level. But to do it professionally is a whole new skill set. Hey, I can hit a running 12-footer, maybe even more often than Kobe, but the Lakers haven't called. Still.

2) You’ve taught print journalism and are writing a text on online communication. What must journalism students know today that wasn’t taught 10 years ago?
Schaller: There has been a move away from teaching -- in my brief experience -- storytelling skills. The new media present new challenges, and they require different skill sets to tell a story well across media. There are some basic components to journalism and storytelling that ring true across media -- get it right, be clear and concise, etc. -- but doing it on video, print, or audio are different skill sets. It'd be hard to be good in all three, but it shouldn't come at the expense of developing and honing one's skills. Being a jack of all trades and master of none means a small market, or limited opportunities. Or at least get good at one before moving onto the others. I like the idea of the multi-media journalist, but a lot more thought, planning and better learning outcomes are going to have to be developed before the new media journalist is part of the working world -- and curriculum. A big part of that is a lot of the good folks in academia left the "real world" before the Internet. It'd be hard for anyone to teach something they never experienced. The real-time news cycle is a foreign term to those who left the field before they had the pressure of which story to post, or hold, and when to update a Web site, how the news cycle changes fact checking and editing. Knowing how to use the bells and whistles on this new engine is awesome, but not if you are spinning your wheels. Everyone can produce media -- that's awesome -- but not everyone wants to read or hear what EVERYONE else to say. That was the big myth with the citizen journalist, that anyone would care about what others have to say. All the "interactivity" is nasty comments appended at the end of story and below YouTube videos. People want to express themselves -- cool -- but a rant or vulgar diatribe is not a form of journalism whatsoever. Now, if they have rhetoric skills, it's a different conversation -- speaking of which, those should be taught, too.
3) What do you wish that more freelance writers knew?
Schaller: That you are a contractor as much as a writer. You'd better market yourself if you are going to put food on the table. You can't believe in writer's block and be a real writer. Sometimes the words find you, but sometimes you have to find them -- I have repeated that several times teaching, because it's a craft. Someone goes out in the real world and Joe's PR Firm needs a release written by 5 p.m., and you say, "I can't do it, writer's block." Goodbye. Next.

Being a freelance writer is a great life, a life of dreams. But your name is your brand, so you'd better attach it to projects you are committed to do, and do well. Also, there's this myth about freelancing that you have no boss. Anyone who signs a paycheck to you is your boss, and if you make them mad once, you run the risk of never writing for that Web site or magazine again -- worse, it might extend to ALL the editors in that person's network, because we all know that word travels fast in these times. Also, don't ever miss a deadline. I try to "comically" beat deadlines -- to get the assignment done well and turned in as quickly as possible, so fast that the editor laughs because she or he "can't believe how fast'' I turned it in. Because when they need something under the gun in the future, they will remember you for that. And usually, with we-need-this-fast assignments, the pay is correspondingly higher because of the urgency.
4) You have amazing networking skills. What is the biggest mistake that recent graduates make in networking?
Schaller: Thinking people owe them something. I tried to help someone here, and they were so mad they didn't have an answer that week, that person stopped talking to me even when we passed in the hall. Think I will help that person again? Not likely. Also, remember that everything you do is an opportunity to network. Even if you are working for a poverty-level wage at a nonprofit (which is awesome, that's just not me), you are going to deal with big companies. Make connections, send a thank you -- send a resume and work sample. No is going to move you up unless you move yourself up. A lot of people love filling out applications online, and that's cool if it is asked for, but that's just getting you in line -- I want my students and friends at the front of the line so they get a shot, and what happens from there is up to them. Another important thing is that people think the opportunities are endless. They are, but if you get an interview, don't give it anything other than your best. You have a million arrows in your sheaf, but you only get one shot at most targets. Miss once, and that often is it. Also, don't ever react to a perceived (or even real) disrespect if there's a networking opportunity. Sometimes, people don't mean what they say, or they are having a bad day and take it out on you -- they'll remember the person who took the high road for all the right reasons, and you might get a job, and an apology, down the road. If you react, you just got to feel good for a second, and doors have closed. I'd rather chug a gallon of pride than throw away a five-figure freelance gig over ego.
5) If someone were to write a biography on Bob Schaller, what should the title be?
Schaller: Dumb luck uncovered: How do these things happen?

Thanks, Bob!

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Never Celebrate Semester's End Early

Ugh. The beat goes on. Ugh.

We popped a top too early.

Come on, posting of final grades.