Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead


I’m a huge fan of science…I have a degree in it. Way back when I was working for a tech company installing and training an editorial system at a news paper deep in the heart of Lakeland Florida I heard a night editor muttering to herself about “them making us run false stories.” Out of interest I asked what she had a problem with, it turns out the article at hand was about the discovery of a new dinosaur which moved the age that this particular species to a much earlier period. Not a very interesting story…certainly not more than a couple of column inches. Her problem was that she honestly believed the world was only 6,000 years old as did the vast majority of the other twenty to thirty somethings working in the news room. She thought the story was a plant put there by the scientific community to mislead the people. It was such a cognitively dissonant experience. Here was a room full of what appeared to be nice educated folk who drove cars packed with micro processors to work where they worked all day with complex design and assembly systems who had no problems with the laws of physics and electronics the product of which surrounded them had a problem with my part of science….biology.

It boggled my mind then and continues to boggle it that a nation which such a strong love affair with all things tech can think it’s just fine to pick and choose which parts of science they choose to “believe” in. The poster child for this anti scientific ‘just coz I say so” nonsense is Jenny Mccarthy. The ex nude model turned D list celebrity has managed to parlay her looks and marriage to Jim Carrey into enough juice to campaign against vaccination for children. I understand the pain and frustration of having a child “on the spectrum” (there are several in my immediate family) but that’s doesn’t give you the excuse to make science up. The mere fact that the single study linking autism to inoculation was subsequently proved to be a hoax which led to the Dr. involved losing his licence hasn’t stopped her and her fellow ignoramuses from campaigning against this important part of keeping our kids safe. The body count of preventable deaths sparked by her tomfoolery varies according to who you believe but it’s well on the way to 1,500…all kids whose deaths can at least indirectly be linked to her efforts.

So I was delighted to read today that she has been fired from The View. I have never seen the program but giving her any kind of platform is ridiculous and I’m delighted her short lived tenure has ground to a halt. Apparently everyone on the show hated her. I doubt we will be so lucky that she will now just fade into well deserved obscurity but we can hope. I actually have a theory about her demise. Her network is part of Disney. The attributable body count is about 1,500 and rising and at some point some smart attorney was maybe going to start a class action suit against Disney for allowing her a platform to hurt children. It’s a stretch for sure but I have been sued on more spurious grounds…anything is possible. Would the case prevail…probably not but it would be a PR nightmare for Disney so just maybe the lawyers are the good guys in this case and had her removed as a preemptive strike.

The Great AntiFoot Hoax?


Every so often you come across a marketing story which is so clever you really have to wonder if it actually happened. Such a story of sweeping through the media and chatterati of France. It’s World Cup season worldwide (everywhere except here in the US that is) and those very clever folks at Orangia have announced and claim to be selling the Orangina Antifoot…this has nothing to do with athletes foot I’m pleased to report.  The commercials show some boffins adding electronics to an Orangina can which allows the smart lady in the bar who doesn’t love ‘the beautiful game’ to surreptitiously turn off all the TVs in the bar. Such devices do exist…indeed a few years back when I was traveling a lot more than I do now and was tired of endless commercials and CNN news loop repeats being played at my poor head I did invest in such a device and it will indeed turn off any TV from 30 feet away..it’s a kind of universal off remote and yours for just $20.

What’s so clever about this campaign is that is that apart from the one pictured in the commercial nobody (that I have read about) has been able to get hold of the real thing.  It looks like it’s simply a very clever commercial hoax masquerading as reality.It’s technically feasible and makes for a hilarious commercial but the amount of adverse publicity it would cause if actually used …let alone the spontaneous outbreaks of mob violence against anyone caught drinking Orangina leads me to think that it never went into actual production or sale…which is a pity.

A French Suggestion


In a news day ranging from Oprah Winfrey putting in a bid to buy the Clippers to the south east of our country enjoying weather straight out of a Roland Emmerich movie it’s the story out of Oklahoma that gives me most pause. In case you missed it, it’s the gruesome tale of a botched intravenous line which turned a new lethal injection drug into cruel and unusual punishment.

I love this country but man do we like killing guys. To be more accurate we like killing mostly black guys aged between 18 and 30 in a handful of God fearing flyover states. The guy who was incompetently poisoned yesterday (until a massive heart attack finished him off) was guilty of a horrible crime…as was the other guy whose sentence was delayed while the powers that be went back to their lethal drawing board. It’s an apparently irrefutable fact that the guys on the gurney yesterday are best monsters who had it coming…but at what point does a civilized society say enough?

Part of the problem is that the preferred source of the lethal cocktail is no longer available it was manufactured in Switzerland and the manufacturers were unable to assure Swiss authorities that it would not be used to kill people so they quit making it forcing the prison authorities to the lethal equivalent of making it up as they go along.

Where I come from back in the day we used to hang folks for pretty much anything….we also used to burn cats alive for entertainment (I kid you not) and bait bears. As our society “matured” we still hung ’em high but on a declining basis. The last people to go to the noose in the UK were executed in 1964. Even then the public appetite for hanging was waning and the pretty clear mistaken execution of James Hanratty in 1962 set the path towards abolition. Most other European countries followed suit although France was still using the guillotine as late as 1977…the French are famously fond of tradition and never believe in changing a winning solution to a problem.

Clearly a good handful of US states are keen to maintain the death penalty in spite of the fact that it offers no proven deterrence, is heavily skewed towards poor young men of color, it’s becoming more and more difficult to do in a clean “humane” way and fairly often kills the wrong people. If we are determined to keep the death penalty because we see it as divine retribution (or some such) and the rest of the civilized world is making it hard or impossible for us to get hold of the drugs needed for us to do it quietly behind closed venetian blinds maybe we should take a different approach.

Old Sparky is still on the agenda in some states but rather than risk slowly frying the condemned alive I was thinking that we might want to take a leaf out of the French play book. Back in revolutionary France there were real concerns about the spectacle of poor folks being bludgeoned to death on the wheel or unceremoniously hacked to bits by an often drunk axe man when the rich and nefarious were given a swift death with a single blow from a sober swordsman. Dr. Guillotine proposed a mechanized clean death to be delivered to all offenders regardless of their rank or privilege. It was a huge success. The technology was still working back in 1977 and no pesky Swiss government will be able to stop us from carrying it out our beloved executions. We could even sell tickets. If that sounds absurd…why does it? It’s a clean reliable instant death…if we are going to kill hundreds of young men each year let’s at least do it in a humane reliable way…vive la France!

Tainted, Shamed and Unrepentant?

I was at a Tech Conference recently and I enjoyed an entertaining session about reputation management.  The speaker was expert and erudite, one of his strongest takeaways was whilst you can mitigate somewhat how your reputation is seen reputation management won’t change the fundamentals. If you are a mean company who only puts up with customers and really thinks we are all there for your exploitation no amount of reputation management can fix that.
We have seen recent examples where very public mismanagement of self inflicted wounds rapidly developed into a social media circus. As I type we are witnessing the well deserved public destruction of the owner of the LA Clippers. That a curmudgeonly old coot who was “dating” a mid 20s gold digger could be taped by her saying bad things about the very people of color who have made him rich and successful is interesting…but this guy has been found guilty on several occasions of racial discrimination in property letting. That’s a serious offense which he has been fined for. It happened before social media so that apparently gets a pass. If we are going to hold folks like Donald Sterling responsible for socially foul actually illegal acts of discrimination he should have been drummed out of the NBA years ago.
An even more spectacular example of reputation management not being enough to cover real sins happened last week when an unidentified genius at the New Your Police Department asked the public to post pics of them interacting with members of the police.  The only people surprised by the avalanche of pics of police people beating up abusing and generally manhandling members of the public they were supposed to be serving and protecting were the police themselves. It’s shocking that they honestly though that we the people might want to post smiling pics of happy citizenry with jovial cops.
I live in SoCal where the police are what amounts to an occupying army. There are daily stories of the acts of abuse,stupidity and over reach perpetrated by the local police on we the occupied people. Yesterday I watched from the sidewalk as two motorcycle cops in perfect uniform complete with reflective sunglasses purred in perfect harmony along one of my neighborhood streets. As they past me and my dogs the both glanced (again in harmony) in my direction…it was a frankly scary moment (and I’m a middle aged white guy). The SoCal Cops don’t ask questions they empty their guns….as do the New York Cops. The difference is that nobody in the corridors of power in SoCal is dumb enough to pull the same stunt…they know they are widely loathed and are apparently at peace with that.
The problem with social media (as has been discovered by several dictators who have been recently over thrown by their people who used it to inspire, inform and organize) is that it’s not owned or controlled by the government. It’s not possible for the mayor to lean on Facebook or Twitter to play down a story or bury a lead. In the same way that.
In the same way that a bad plumber or purveyor of tainted meat can try to mask their bad acts with carefully placed positive reviews so our governments and their hench-folk can attempt to put the social Jin back in the bottle…fortunately for us it’s already too late for that.

The Amazing Hedwig

I appreciate that the protocol is that nobody reviews a Broadway show until it officially opens…but permit to break with tradition and give you my 2c on the reboot of Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Neal Patrick Harris which is currently in Previews “Broadway Adjacent” at the Belasco theater New York. Given that the original run has already sold out and the extended run through the end of June is also pretty much also fully sold I could officially declare the show a heap of garbage and not impact the ticket sale one iota….but I won’t.  The show is brilliant…nothing more or less…just brilliant. We saw what had to be the fourth or fifth night of previews. The show was was technically pretty much perfect, nothing needing apparent work anywhere.  Hedwig is one of my most favorite shows.  I saw the original production maybe three or four times back in the late 90s as it was on the way to cult status. The show is essentially a one man act backed by a four part rock band. I loved it then, I love the new version more. Musically this performance is faster, louder and more punk than the original. Although the original was also pretty punky, it leaned more towards Bowie than the Sex Pistols. This version is straight out punk rock. At a couple of points Hedwig even spits at the audience which in of itself is a very punk throwback idea. The show has updated perhaps ten minutes of content amounting to a dozen or so jokes and most of them work really well. They have added half a song which is related to the new “venue” which doesn’t really work…and imagine may not make it into the post preview version.

The audience cheered every song and seemed to get most the jokes….they missed the “I love a good Scrim Job” line probably because almost nobody outside of the theater would know what a “scrim” is. Clearly a lot of the audience were there for NPH rather than Hedwig, some of the older audience members may well have thought that they were actually in the wrong show…but everyone seemed to enjoy the production none the less.  NPH takes the role on full tilt and absolutely destroys.  He doesn’t chew the scenery, he’s appropriately over the top without being self-indulgent or mawkish. If I could be so bold as to criticize anything I wasn’t completely sold on the performance of his sidekick. She just isn’t that convincing as a guy and the transformation/reveal at the end feels a bit forced. That may not be her fault though, I always thought that part of the original plot was a little patchy.  It’s hard to pull off a funny, camp, dramatic musical and sustain for a full 100 minutes….Rocky Horror falls apart after 20 minutes. These are micro nits which I probably shouldn’t pick at all…and might well be fixed by the time the show opens for real. All in all this is a fabulous powerhouse performance illustrating once again what an amazing talent NPH is. I hear that the creator of the original show is now working on Hedwig II the sequel…I’m not convinced that’s a great idea…but we shall see.

Welcome to the Casino…Have a Nice Day

I’m not good with Casinos….I’ve been to Vegas any number of times and on the last half dozen visits I don’t think I’ve gambled more than five bucks.  It’s partly that I don’t trust myself to get into something that addictive…part that I worked hard for that money and part that I’m just not good at it. There is a giant casino out there where the punters are playing marketing dollars for sales and it’s called Google. Historically Google has largely been the resort for large rich companies with teams of marketing professionals like us pitting their wits against the house.
Whilst Google has been doing very well of late with ad revenue up nicely in Q4 last year, the average click value declined 11% in the same period. What’s diluting the click price is the massive growth in mobile device clicks which (as yet) aren’t as valuable as desktop clicks. The problem Google has is that mobile clicks have already surpassed desktop and show no sign of slowing down.
So whats a giant Casino to do when the punters are growing in volume but avoiding the high stakes tables. The Casino either gets the same punters to spend more time at the high stakes table…or attract a bunch of new punters…hopefully without as much expertise as the existing crowd. I live in SoCal and we have an amazingly large number of Indian Casinos in our region (I know a guy who services slot machines and he has over 100 locations he serves within driving distance). What the Casinos do is bus punters from location to location all day long.
Yesterday Google’s Chief Business Officer made some interesting statements to the financial world at a Morgan Stanley Conference. Disambiguating these kind of statements is tricky…but several points seem to be emerging through the linguistic fog of Google speak.  
Google sees small local businesses looking to reach local customers looking for local customers on their mobile devices as the next influx of fresh meat to their Casino
It thinks this influx will drive the value of mobile clicks to “become a multiple” of the comparable desktop clicks…..which would nicely solve the problem of mobile clicks driving down average click value.
That’s a really interesting set of statements. We already see the impact in local businesses (most of whom aren’t online marketing experts) joining the casino. Online advertising isn’t a sport for the inexperienced…it’s incredibly easy to put money down and blow through it in perhaps seconds without the advertiser seeing a single cent of return on their investment. We know from our own efforts that tracking the ROI for local businesses can sobering.
The risk is that Google will continue to market aggressively to local businesses who will show up at their Casino slap the college fund down and leave never to return because they simply didn’t see the value. Google has recently been telling the cohorts of marketing professionals who have been spending with them for many years to look beyond the obvious conversion event and look for value driven by search all over the web. It’s possibly a good argument to make to Nike or Apple…it’s much tougher to convince a roofer or dentist of almost invisible value.  

Our business is based on driving proven ROI in the form of tracked calls.  The mess created by local businesses headed into the Google casino is likely to make businesses even more suspicious of everything online…which might be great for us long term it puts many of the tables out of reach for the professional gamblers amongst us.

Local Online Confusion

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The chances are that you are reading this on your smart phone or tablet or perhaps you are taking a break from your phone to read this on your computer or even on that charming ‘dead tree product’ called a magazine.  So much of how we live and shop has moved online.  Large companies with massive marketing budgets now have teams of online experts figuring out how to reach their audience through the complex web of new media often in tandem with traditional media.

Now answer this question: When was the last time you interacted with your yellow pages?  I don’t mean when you picked it up and walked it straight to your recycling bin, I mean when you last used it to find a local business. Thought so…me neither.  There was a time quite recently when your Sunday paper had to be lowered buy winch onto your front porch…now, if you still get it all, it’s clearly been on a severe diet.  We have been living through a massive realignment of media…print media has been vaporizing before our eyes.

What hasn’t changed anywhere near as much is the rest of our every-day issues.  We still get tooth aches, leaks in our pipes, pest infestations and we get married.  We still use dentists, plumbers, rat catchers and party rental stores.  The massive real world operation which is the twenty million local businesses in the US still do business every day.  What went away is the way those businesses use to get new clients.

It used to be that owning a home and sending your kids to college was the American Dream.  Those have become much closer to the new normal for many Americans, now owning your own business has become for many a new part of that dream.  The BIA Kelsey organization, experts in all things local, tells us that each year roughly half of all business done by local businesses is new business.  Local businesses get that and are desperately trying to come to terms with a radically altered local advertising environment.  It’s no longer good enough just to have a basic website, local businesses really need a social media plan, they may have to manage their online reputation, they may even tweet!  The complex and rapidly changing world of online media is tough for a freshly minted MBA who went to school to learn this stuff – it’s simply impossible for the average local business to navigate.

Clearly this presents a problem to a large and growing segment of the US economy.  Interestingly, a solution has emerged in recent years and Search Initiatives, Inc. is leading that revolution.

Most local businesses don’t value “clicks” to their websites, “likes,” “tweets,” or “reviews.”  Most would much rather get a telephone call from a potential customer looking for a quote or to schedule a service.  People certainly do research online but when it comes to get serious about the project at hand many shoppers would rather speak to the company involved.  That makes the 100 year old telephone a critical part of the new media economy.  Local businesses have figured out that rather than pay a marketing company, yellow pages or newspaper for websites or clicks they would rather pay for calls from potential customers.  Those customers may well have come from ads seen on search engines, social media even banner ads…but that’s not the concern of the local business who only pays when the phone rings.  Those businesses are more than happy to pay a premium for those calls.  A dentist may pay $40 for a new customer a home security company may pay over $100 for a call from a potential client because they recognize at a profound level that the potential customer on the phone is a much better prospect than any other kind.

Interestingly, these local businesses are still being sold to by the same yellow page or news print reps but instead of just selling print they are being sold online visibility packages which typically include a website, social media management and most importantly a certain number of leads delivered by tracked telephone calls.  This has driven a massive growth in the “Pay per Call” industry and Search Initiatives is leading that sea change.

Local businesses need to advertise, yet they are unable to navigate the complex world of new media effectively.  There is a pent up demand in the form of the billions of dollars which have fled traditional print media and have not yet found a place in the new media world.  What Search Initiatives does is use the complex and challenging tools presented by new media such as SEO, SEM, RTB, FBX, PPC and a dozen other acronyms which you will hopefully never have to come to terms with to drive new customers to local businesses via the paid phone lead.  It’s a concept which any local business can understand and embrace.  They only get changed if a potential new client is brought to them…if we can’t deliver we don’t get paid.

Search Initiatives has deep roots in new media and local business.  We work with the people who sell to local business to deliver the calls they need.  That means we have almost no cost to acquire a new customer.  Our millions of advertisers are managed by our marketing partners.  They provide all the customer support to our advertisers.  That leaves us free to focus on what we do best; driving thousands of valuable leads to local businesses in massive volume.

This new version of local advertising uses the kaleidoscope of new media to drive customers to local locations   Search Initiatives is ideally placed to be the one stop solution for all things local.  It’s a multi-billion dollar opportunity which represents the last green field opportunity in new media and Search Initiatives is ideally placed to lead that revolution.

Google Goes Dallas

Amanda RosenbergIt’s probably fair to say that compared with many industries, Silicone Valley in general and Search in particular just doesn’t get the kind of tabloid attention lavished on others. We don’t typically bounce with joy on Oprah’s couch or get caught in Latin America with a mistress when we are supposed to be hiking the Appalachians. All in all, we are pretty dull. However the latest machination of one of our brightest and best has garnered the kind of attention more typically reserved for Scientologists or boy bands.

I speak of course of Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google, 40 year old, 25(ish) dollar Billionaire and all round Silicone Valley Poster boy and his lovely (presumably soon to be ex wife) Anne Wojcicki; who are according to everything D entering splits ville.  The Wojcickis are Silicone Valley royalty. It was in the actual garage of older sister Susan that Google was first established, and she went on to be (still) the most senior female employee at Google… running all things advertising.

Where it goes from a sad story (there are kids involved people! but apparently there was a pre-nup so this won’t shake the corporate control of Google) to soap opera is in the other cast members.

If reports are to be believed (and the Brit press is going nuts on this story… a fine example of Schadenfreude if ever I saw it) the new squeeze in Sergei’s life is a lovely 26 year old Google Glass marketing manager, Amanda Rosenberg (allegedly). At pretty much the exact same time that the lawyers hit the fan on the Brin breakup of the former boy friend of Rosenberg (also a top Android dog at Google), announced that he is leaving Google after five years to join Chinese smart phone manufacturer Xiaomi who has been lauded as the Apple of China. Xiaomi is a huge Android client so he’s staying in the family… so to speak.

In our real time media soaked world driven by the ubiquity of what used to be mostly private information, indexed and made available to all by Google, we perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised that the mighty at the mother ship themselves have fallen ironic prey to their own machine. But hey!… I wasn’t using my privacy rights anyway! When the music stops the person left holding the largest pile of Google stock is the winner.

Google… Game On?

NFL Sunday Ticket Google

Unlike most red blooded males in this fair country, the start of the football season does nothing for my blood pressure or happiness quotient. I will admit that when I lived in New England a few years back, and when the Patriots were pretty much unstoppable, I did join the party… but it was much more for the chips and dip than the sport. However, in a year or so I may be forced to pay a tiny amount more attention than usual to football. If you are a hard core NFL fan you may well have bought the DirectTV package in good part to gain access to the NFL Sunday Ticket package. That deal expires at the end of the 2014 season so it’s understandably already in-play and one of the earlier suitors is none other than our good friends at Google.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that may have legs. Google has been scratching (mostly with moderate/no success) at TVs for many years. They purchased YouTube back in 2006, and have built it into the second largest search engine, they have also built the monetization pace, especially in recent years. Other forays into more traditional TV have been markedly less successful with the debacle of Google TV in 2011 being the crowning ‘achievement’. Since then we have seen a plethora of TV devices from Apple TV to RoKu or Boxy boxes which have gained traction in good part because they give easy access to huge amounts of high quality lower priced streamed content. The recent over night success of Google’s Chrome Cast, which sold out in one day may have Google looking at this space more carefully.

The Chrome Cast widget is the size of a USB thumb drive and plugs right into the HDMI socket of your TV. The price point of $35 seems to have cleared the ‘low enough not to be an issue’ hurdle nicely. It plays the content Apps like Netflix and Hulu+ in HD beautifully, so adding an NFL Google App which only runs on the Chromecast widget might be an effective way to drive both Chrome Cast sales and the presence of a Google content App to act as a De-facto Google TV station. With the right Apps, you can live without live TV and you really don’t need a cable TV bill.

If you look at the recent media landscape, you see media giants burdened with traditional production and distribution costs, advertising commitments, and increasingly fractured audiences (TV and radio alike) competing with non traditional upstart content delivery platforms like AppleTV and Chromecast which can deliver HDTV over broadband distributing high quality low cost content to both wide spread and highly targeted audiences. Much of the best TV programming is coming from high cable number independents like AMC, even as the PodCast is pulverizing the smoking remains of ‘terrestrial’ radio. There are a lot of viewers out there who would never fully cut the cable TV cord because there are a few things which they really want to see which are exclusive to cable. If Google could secure an NFL deal, maybe that’s another well deserved nail in the coffin which contains the bloated remains of traditional media.

That’s Huge!

Google announced good but not spectacular Q2 numbers last week (if you can call $14Bn revenue “not spectacular”), and the Wall Street pundits will no doubt gnash their teeth over what could be considered a minor miss. I thought the fact that big G. is spending roughly $3Bn in revenue shares to publishers was fascinating. That’s a number they could so easily increase, and in doing so, drive their top and bottom lines even higher. However, instead of opening the flood gates a little wider and allowing a few more publishers to dine at the top table they remain determinedly focused on keeping as many marbles as they can, which in return limits their ability to grow as fast as the market would like. Truth be told, there is actually a ton of great traffic and revenue out there (including mobile) which Google is not taking advantage of. I completely understand and respect that they hold the quality of the product they offer to their advertisers sacred, but with the extreme checks and balances they have a place to be secure. The purity of the church could allow more in to dine, and greatly increase their own revenues at the same time.

The other striking Google data point is that it now serves roughly 25% of all internet traffic in the U.S. That’s kind of amazing… over 60% of us use at least one Google service every day and they serve more stuff per day than Facebook, Netflix, and Twitter combined. At peak usage (the evening movie spot), Netflix takes up about 30% of the US Internet. However, I guess if we average it all out and add in YouTube, it makes sense that Google does indeed carry that much load. That entire cost is essentially funded by Google Ad revenues, which has been under pressure of late… another good reason why the powers that be, might take another look at letting a few more of us mere mortals dine at the top table.