Positive Reinforcement to Dissuade Bad Behaviors

A persistent problem of working for a client whose business is hijacked by pirates is how to convince people to pay more for the authentic product. There is no quick and easy answer, but the one we lean on the most is to admonish the possibility of using a counterfeit. So we end up with big campaigns slamming competitors or focusing on the dangers of not going for the real thing – which is a terribly predictable strategy and doesn’t give the creatives enough meat to work with.

I’m thinking of taking the opposite route and focusing the campaign on the positive reinforcement of the desired behavior. Of course there are marketing programs such as loyalty programs, frequent buyer discounts and promotions, but those fall outside of the scope of the ad agency.

Ideally, there would be little brand experiences that reward the consumer here and there for their decision. Maybe there can be subtle reminders of how much more they’re getting or the higher quality of the experience. Some brands have turned the authentication piece into status symbols like labels you get for designer jeans. Or maybe something like the Mini Cooper decoder that worked for a billboard.

The idea is that there are some loyal customers regardless and it might be worth it to pay more attention to them first and then use the ad campaign as a broader cover for the concept. Your best customers will be your biggest advocates. And since piracy is so rampant we’re tempted to win back our share through big gains, but it’s a harder culture/habit to break than we think.


Executions of Symbolism

I just found this little computer animated short created by a guy in China hoping to land a job as an animator. I can’t really say when or if I was ever impressed with animation from China, but this is one pretty good. It’s not as smooth as what we’ve expect from Pixar, but it’s only one guy doing it so we’ll have to cut him some slack.

One thing that was interesting was the way he used symbolism to get his anti-war point across. Depending on whether you come from a Western or Eastern sensibility, I’ll bet that you received the imagery quite differently. I caught myself doing that.

At first I thought it was too literal and insulted my intelligence. Then I realized that the execution of the symbolism was, in fact, very entertaining and the value of the piece was in the technique. The symbolism was just a platform to direct our attention to what the director really wants to showcase: his animation prowess.

I wonder if Michael Bay thinks this way?

Consider an Inside/Out Approach for Brand Repositioning

I’ve had the privilege to work on some pitches last year and it dawned on me that every big idea we come to the table with was consumer facing. In fact, in school we were trained to do that too, perhaps borrowing from the geometry rule that the short distance between point A and B is a straight line. However, I would beg to differ and say that while a straight line is the shortest distance, it may not be the more efficient or effective route.

I think it’s old hat to say that there are a gazillion touchpoints for a brand to influence in their favor, but it’s true. And the one we forget the most are the employees.

I believe that a brand’s most powerful advocates are the employees. I live with a roommate who works at Youtube and he’s probably the biggest Google fanboy you’ll meet, which means that I get personal recommendations and detailed arguments for why Google is so great every night I come home. Sure, this argument only has a very casual example as proof. But I know for sure that the employees are the easiest people to turn into brand advocates because there is a genuine shared interest and relationship that makes it easier to do so. After you get them, it becomes a word of mouth exercise to trickle into the public at large. I think this applies for larger companies who seem to have lost their way.

I don’t think this is a substitute for a communication campaign of some sort. But I think it’s a crucial first step that can be a more valuable and more effective investment of the money spent on repositioning a brand than a huge media buy upfront. With a solid evangelism within the company, we can give the ad campaign a tighter focus instead of trying to make it do more than it actually is designed to do (the result of which are those horrible anthem-ish commercial from the likes of giant tech and energy companies that read like an unfocused poem written by a space cadet).

TL:DR: Instead of asking: “what can get people excited about my brand?” it should be “what can I do to get my employees excited about sharing the company with their friends?”

I Think I Get it Now

When I saw this off of a co-worker’s blog, it connected a lot of things in my mind for me. I loved the original when it came out because like all good songs that we relate to, it says what we can’t say ourselves. In the original music video, there was this really intense feeling of getting screwed over that left a negative reaction in me about how relationships end. It’s quite possibly one of the worst feelings in the world because it compounds our insecurities when we’re the most vulnerable. The thing with Kanye’s music video is that it’s really good in telling this story. So good that it traps you because you’re so bewildered by the possibility of it happening, which unfortunately leads your anger to howl at the straw man.

The cover that the Fray did still leaves me with the same general impression (although in an emo/rockerish sort of way). But the video made a point that those feelings are juvenile and fleeting and the best way to deal with it is to live well. Something people hear a lot, but have to work really hard to do. I love the ending frame with the drawings (negative feelings/energy) off the paper (out of mind, not a distraction) and displayed beautifully (negative energy spent on productive activities) on the chalkboard (getting out there).

Ironically, I think this music video is the “pop art” that Kayne was trying to make with the 808s and Heartbreak album and probably with his videos. Maybe Kayne’s “Kayne-ness” got in the way, because it didn’t need a cover to reveal the true moral of the story.

Saving the World from the Bottom Up

After slugging it out on a cause marketing project at work, I’ve been taken away by how much change a non-profit can make on the world. I’ve also noticed that it always seems like saving the world is a grassroots effort instead of an initiative taken on by large powerful institutions such as governments and businesses that have the resources to make large-scale impact. Sure, a business could sponsor or donate to a cause, but it’s a relatively small amount.

There’s probably a conclusion in here about the inertia of government and the inherently evil nature of capitalism, but that not very interesting. What interesting is that it feels like it has become the responsibility of the individual to clean up the messes that large institutions make or issues that they are incapable of solving. What I think was wrapped up as our civic duty has now been exposed as the large institution’s incompetence, eroding the trust and confidence that we used to have in our government and businesses’ to get things done.

Perhaps that’s why open source and crowdsourcing have become such a force. But what seem to be different now is that these individuals don’t work underneath or in service of the institutions. If you want to draw a chart that illustrates power dynamics, the individual would be on par with the institutions. It’s a wonderfully empowering thought tinged with a bit of cynicism only because of what I think inspired this situation.

Destructive Objectivity


Over the weekend I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work at this lady’s house. We were there to help paint parts of her house, build a fence, clean out her crawlspace and such.

There was moment of the afternoon when she was looking out from her porch into the street where we had filled an industrial sized dumpster full of her old belongings.

“I’m exhausted,” she sighed, though she didn’t really do anything.

It was the army of strangers (though well intentioned) that stormed into her home and gutted the thing of all her memories. We were particularly destructive with our objectivity as we tried to figure out what was worth keeping and what was trash. I was guilty too. The happiest moment of the day for me was when I smashed an old dresser into pieces with a baseball bat.

At the end of the day she was relieved, probably coming to terms with the idea that “the things you own will eventually own you.” She probably feels like she can start fresh again.

But I think there’s something in how the things we own not only carry sentimental value, but they become something like memory markers. A lot of the things we own aren’t that particularly special – movie tickets, books, toys, clothes, etc. – but they become affirmations of memories that were interesting but not interesting enough for you to remember forever. Fleeting things I guess.

As we were enthusiastically chucking her things into the dumpster, we were throwing away all her little memory markers. When she tried to save something, we pushed back:

“You don’t need this.”

“It doesn’t even work anymore.”

I can see how that’s exhausting, but I can also see how she couldn’t have done it herself. Sometimes volunteers aren’t there solely for the manpower.

What Planet Do You Live On?

One of the few things that can instantly annoy me are right wing pundits. Whenever the Daily Show is featuring a clip from one of those guys, I cringe. Obviously, it’s because of my politics.

But I’m beginning to think about the people who agree with the likes of Limbaugh and O’Reilly and if this was ever possible before media fragmentation (I know, this idea is so 2 years ago).

My classmate had this idea that information creates communities, which until now, I did not understand the impact. While multiple viewpoints on a idea is ideally very good for the sake of getting the full picture, I think the opposite has happened. The communities that are created by this information are too strong. People simply choose the viewpoint they agree most with and shut off everything else. It’s the exact opposite impact that choice is supposed to have.

My problem with this is that now we can’t agree to one reality. Everyone is living in their own little world and when something comes up that demands discourse and debate, we spend all our time arguing about how to define the problem rather than fixing it. Nothing happens and everyone starts blaming each other. It’s a frustrating process that’s easier to laugh at than doing anything about.