Thursday, January 23, 2014

World Economic Forum 2014: Sharing is Caring

I can remember sitting at the dinner table as a small child, crying, because there was a small pile of lima beans placed in front of me. 
"It's what's for dinner, so you will eat it if you are hungry," my mom would tell me, "There are starving children in this world that have real reasons to cry about food."

"But mom," I would argue through very real tears, "I am not that starving child. All I am is me and I KNOW I hate lima beans, so that's why I am crying. It's all I know."

Of course, it hardly ever worked, but my point was there. And continued to be there through other life events that presented themselves to me; events and situations where I KNEW I shouldn't be upset because my level of suffering was literally and figuratively NOTHING compared to the global injustices and harm and pain that others felt every day. At the end of the day, though, all I have is me. My way of understanding the world is all formed from my personal experiences. I knew that at a very young age and I continue to believe it with each passing day. 

Enter the idea of globalization. (A timely topic, no doubt, because the World Economic Forum is taking place this week in Switzerland.)

Globalization is defined as 
"processes of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture. Advances in transportation and telecommunications infrastructure, including the rise of the telegraph and its posterity the Internet, are major factors in globalization, generating further interdependence of economic and cultural activities."

On the same day of the first day of the summit, Branko Milanovic, lead economist of the World Bank's Research Department and Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins University, wrote an interesting -- if not difficult to decipher if you are a word and not a numbers type of person -- article that appeared on HuffPo. Milanovic named the winners of globalization as the rich and the Chinese middle class while the losers are the American Middle Class. 
So it's no real surprise that the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Reports basically says the same thing. The Risks Report was published before the forum so that folks could have something to talk about. A recap of the results as well as ongoing content coming out of the forum appeared in the special section of the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The results of the risk report indicate a dangerous trend where the richest 1% will continue to grow at a rate that will diminish the global income growth of the middle class; a class that compared to the majority of humanity has it pretty good, but as the disparity continues, will fall farther and father behind. This "squeezed middle," as the WSJ writer Stephen Fidler calls it, will ultimately oppose globalization and will someday -- sooner than later if the trend continues -- refuse to aid global economic progress and will instead focus more on doing whatever possible to attain capital (mostly real estate.) Which is another way of saying, "I understand that kids are starving in the world, but it really sucks that I've worked my ass off and all I have to eat is lima beans. Screw it, I'm not eating the beans and I'm not going to continue to work my ass off for beans I won't eat." 
Which, of course, makes me look at the digital and social landscape that act as the backdrop to all our happy -- and tragic -- experiences. I mean, if there is one place to really examine the socioeconomic indifferences in American culture, you need not look farther than American-made media.

Let's start at the bottom; we've got the Kardashians. 'Nough said. Then we've got the Rich Kids of Instagram, Honey Boo-Boo, Justin Beiber and Teen Mom 2 battling for air-time and branded dollar paychecks against the likes of Kate Plus 8, a van full of drunk housewives, or some poor little teenage boy swinging on a wrecking ball. That's not good. In the middle of the masses is the technology options (necessities to some) that act as equalizers. Having the same iPhone as Beyonce signals something alright. Following her on Facebook means something too. Making your own Twitter handle that says "LoveBeyonce" or "Beyoncesgirl" or whatever else means something even more. It means we are desperately clinging to the idea that one day we can be part of the ultimately popular and ultimately successful 1%. Of course, near the top we celebrate those who are not afraid to celebrate themselves in all their lux galore. I'm talking about celebrities. I'm talking about the world's billionaires. The more time spent in the middle, the more we care about these people. Why? Because we are stuck in the middle and can't find a way out. Watching star-studded televised award ceremonies and political shenanigans may not place us in the throws of such extravagant lifestyles, but it reminds us of the possibility. 
It reminds us that we are actually a lot closer than the majority of people on this planet, so for that we should be happy. But at the same time, we should be sad that we are not doing more to help those who can't help themselves and who wouldn't know Michelle Obama from Beyonce if they were to meet on the street. 

Which is a perfect time to tell you that after thinking long and hard about those starving children who didn't have any lima beans of their own, I remember gobbling up every last one in my tiny hand, placing them carefully in my pocket so later I could send them across the world to where they would be loved. Because I was lucky enough to know that sharing is caring. 

How do think American media affects globalization? What role does technology play in creating a more balanced playing field for world economies?

And finally, who really likes the taste of lima beans? I mean, really. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ditch being disruptive, collaboration is the new black

Fast Company design recently reported on how smartwatches will never disrupt as much as smart phones. The article makes a case for how wearable devices will never see the amount of popularity as mobile phones, because the technology and the appetite isn't there. 

In a rebuttal of sorts, WSJ reported on what it looks like when a handful of Olympic hopefuls wore a Fitbit for a week. Fascinating.

Regardless of whether or not you think all wearables are for "fitness freaks" alone, you have to agree with two things; the weeklong trial had some pretty cool results PLUS let's face it; disruption is dead. Corporate speak may come and go, but lets face it, the very idea of being disruptive has enjoyed newfound fame in the digital and social realm. It's all over Linkedin as a primary profile descriptor. It's embedded on job boards as a requirement for out-of-the-box thinkers who know the industry capabilities enough to push forward into new chartered territory. It's especially popular among middle grade CMO-level executives who are surprised and delighted that they made it that far in a career built mostly on going with the flow. So, really, we are not talking about disruptions the way disruption really happens.

Martin Luther King was a disruptor. Gloria Steinem was a disruptor. Agree with him or not, Edward Snowden is a disruptor. Aaron Swartz was a disruptor. Mark Cuban and Richard Branson are a couple of disruptors. For reasons I'm sure he is somewhat ashamed to admit, Mike Tyson is a disruptor. Good or bad, disruption occurs when everyone takes notice of how things were not done according to the norm. So this pesky little trend to label a person, place or thing as authentically 'disruptive' is really more about damaging the definition of being truly disruptive. 

You know who else endures their unfair share amount of disruptions? The average parent. Try taking an unruly kid to the doctor, the grocery store or hell, even to school on time while you ready for your own day. Dare, if you may, packing up a bag full of snacks, toys, books, prizes for a short car trip or a meal at a friendly local restaurant. There is a good chance you will witness the same kind of disruption as when baby Jesus himself parted the Red Sea. 

Taste that kind of disruption and you will agree; collaboration is the new black. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Google Hangouts Could Lead to More Justice For All

I used to work the cops and court beat of a medium-sized newspaper. It was all glamour, baby. One time, upon visiting the circuit court jail, an incarcerated person threw their own feces at the glass wall that divided us. It was horrific, but not nearly as upsetting as the meth-lab dad of four who blew up his kitchen (and his face) and then forgot to go back inside to rescue his kids from his burning house. The kids were saved by the local firemen, but the arresting officer had difficulty containing the rest of the family members who appeared in court. 

I worked odd hours when I first started; mostly nights and weekends. Friday and Saturday were particularly busy for offenders; especially for alcohol-related, domestic battery and misdemeanors. It was also incrementally busier because our judicial system was on a circuit, thus district courts that were closed for the weekend relied on our circuit court house for their initial appearance or arraignment. People picked up for various crimes around the region were transported by police escort to our local courthouse for arraignment because their own small-town local courthouse was closed. After the short trip, they were escorted back to their original jurisdiction, again with adequate police escort. And I drove my company car back to the newspaper to write up my nightly report. 

So imagine now that this process could be carried out via Skype or Google Hangout. That's exactly what is supposed to be happening in Mumbai, according to an article that first appeared in Press Trust of India. Late last year, mainstream press in the UK reported that Skype and Facetime may start to play a cost-cutting role in their legal proceedings as well. Now there are hints that this may become a more common legal occurrence, as introduced in a recent article that was published by the New York Law Journal.

Thanks to televised panels of legal gawkers across the networks, consumers and professionals alike are growing more comfortable with the idea that stories are better told in a video diary style than piles of manilla folders or printed word. (See images from CNN and Fox News that showcase video teleconferencing as a mainstream media tactic). We are used to this format, so why not take advantage of the technology and save some tax payers dollars from paying for the transportation and lodging of all our weekend circuit court offenders? 

What's more is the potential to really affect global policy and policing issues that are to blame for injustice when it comes to swift action in identifying, arresting and arraigning possible offenders. And moreso, protecting victims that need the protection of time and space that Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts can afford. My visits to the courthouse never really put me in danger, but the stories I've read about other reporters or worse, victims getting shamed, threatened and not getting even the slightest chance of justice makes me think that social teleconference may be a solution to build upon. Follow Nicholas Kristof, a prolific New York Times writer and one of my favorite crusaders for peace on the planet, for a little more understanding into the culture of rape we are dealing with on a global basis. (Be sure to check out his bio, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+).  I challenge you to think about how using social forms of communication, like Skype and Hangouts and others, would help victims tell their stories and make court procedures more accessible for the masses and affect change at the ground level, where it so desperately needs to happen. It's not always about just telling a story, but there is always a story to tell. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Recent Celebrity Rants and PR Stunts Leave a Chill in the Air

Hurry up and get in like a lion, 2014. It's too damn cold to stand here holding the door open. Just yesterday it was -15 degrees and this weekend it doesn't look much better. I mean, the forecast is calling for much higher temps and a chance of rain, so there is that. But all in all, when the rest of the world starts labeling your area as "Polar Vortex," you know you are in some serious shit.

In other fun news, there is no time like this time (cabin fever) to read up on all the colorful news. Not the regular local news, weather and sports, mind you. The good stuff that gets stuck between your teeth like a tiny piece of gristle. You find it later and are so glad you did but could not believe you waited so long. That type. 

Like, the new story about Meryl Streep. Her rant about Walt Disney and his "alleged sexist and anti-Semitic views," said Oliver Gettell of the  Apparently, Streep attended the National Board of Review awards gala to present an award to Emma Thompson for her performance of the creator of Mary Poppins in "Saving Mr. Banks," a particular drama about how Walt Disney persuaded her to make the story into the classic it is today. 

Not one to stand down for the fight for equality, but come on Streep. Have you SEEN any of the stories that make up the Disney Empire? The mom never lives. The damsel in distress always gets saved by her hero. It's a formula Walt himself invented and one that never fails. So your rant is a dollar short and a day late. Not to mention the noticeable bad-timing for delivery of a message, when another rising female actress is receiving an award that did not go to you. 

And then there was Michael Bay at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. Big time show, big time stuff, big time people. You know the drill. Expensive setups, performance powerpoints set to music and incredible lighting displays and even more expensive celebrity endorsers of products but also brands and messages. Katie Couric, Sarah Silverman, Macklemore, John Legend and others made appearances next to products that won't hit the shelves much before Christmas 2014 if at all. Fancy costumes, pranks, branding jobs and jabs...all in a battle of escalating marketing and public relations costs to one up the next. 

One particularly clever point was made by Jean-Louis Carrara, a VP at SK C&C USA, who said in an interview with Olga Kharif of Bloomberg about CES, "It's so big, if you want to be noticed, you have to be out there." 

That's what Michael had to do. He had to be way the hell out there or he ran the very real risk of getting overlooked. He wasn't hired to produce the next mini-Transformer ala CES, though. He was hired to set up a brilliant introduction of a product so that everyone would talk about it when it actually becomes available on the market. Wa-Wah. His task was daunting...or was it? He needed to dream up something spectacular and deliver it without a flaw, leaving people with a story worth sharing. Hmmmm...makes me think that's exactly what he did. 

And then, there is Dennis Rodman. It's less of a story, really, that some of us are following, and more of a desire to understand the legality of it all. And then, of course, there is the continued drama that which makes this human cartoon character so alluring. Is he joking? Is he for real? Is he really that stupid? Is he ever sober? The fact that he could be committing treason or acting illegally is less a piece of the story as is the fact that his life continues to be interesting well after his 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol promised. How is that possible? 

Just today, Rodman's camp issued an apology for his latest rant, with him admitting that he had been drinking. My personal favorite part about this story is two-fold...that Chivas is the advertising partner to this piece of content (see image below) and that we are expected to believe that Rodman had been drinking. Alcohol should not be blamed for the level of incoherence and ignorance displayed. It had to be drugs, and really serious drugs at that. Rodman was as high as a kite when he flipped his lid with CNN's Chris Cuomo after being questioned about his friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, a rather unsavory individual, even compared to the likes of Walt Disney. 

And don't even get me started on Kraft Food's recent press release on a shortage of Velveeta. It's NOT EVEN CHEESE PEOPLE. I can't. I just can't.

So, the question is, how effective were these rants and raves or were they really much ado about nothing? 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Top Ten Lists of "Top" Lists for 2013

Everyone looks back. Some of us dwell, but rest assured, all of us look back. The start of a new year and the end of the old means one thing that we can all agree on; the making of a top ten list. Or two.

The Top Brands of 2013, as published by Interbrands back in September, reported that Apple had bumped Coca-Cola from the first place position after 10 years of holding the top place as the #1 brand. Google, IBM, Microsoft, McDonald's and Samsung round out the top ranked companies for 2013.

The Top 50 Facebook brand pages for 2013, according to Ignite Social Media, include Facebook, Coca-Cola, YouTube, MTV, Disney, Red Bull, Converse, and to a different degree for increased growth over the past year Adidas Football, Pepsi, National Geographic. 

If the past is a true indication in the direction of the future, it's important to look back to see what will move ahead. In such a case, be sure to read up on the list of People To Watch in 2014, according to Advertising Age.  Leaders at JcPenney, Snapchat, General Motors, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Draft and FTC will have a year that is sure to be scrutinized and analyzed by stakeholders and indistry-watchers alike.

Techland's Top Ten Games of 2013 saw Grand Theft Auto V listed as number 1, if that is your sort of thing. 

And now, for the good stuff, I present to you, a few more noteable top ten lists to ponder as we set into the new year with a new song on our minds. Good luck, y'all.

  • Top Ten Slept-on R&B songs of 2013, according to Robert Carter of NPR, whom we can all agree has rocking good musical taste. 
  • Who doesn't need to read the "best and worst bacon brands of 2013," right? Head over to HuffPo to check out what makes a grocery store bacon product yummy or glummy. 
  • David Letterman's Top Ten Christmas Songs by Josh Groban 2013 is a total bore, but I dare you not to at least pretend to be interested. 
  • Not to be outdone, Fortune Magazine published the Top 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2013. Impressive list, lucky employees, right? Here's to another year of good fortune to those who have tasted it, and passing the plate to those who need it now. 
  • Okay, so maybe the Fortune list can be outdone as Time released it's annual Top 10 of Everything list for 2013.  There are lists of best movies, best tweets, worst apologies, best memes, highest paid CEOs, biggest IPOs, coolest cars, best apps, and more, more, more. Just like America likes it. 
  • And now, the very most important list of anything, anywhere...the Top Searches for 2013, according to God, er, Google. Enter Google Zeitgeist: 2013. Enjoy! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Take 2014 Personal. And other things we learned from ad winners in 2013.

A fun part of closing the door on a year passed is taking one last glimpse at what was so great, or in some cases, ghastly. 

Thank goodness the media agrees. Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a quick wrap up of the Best and Worst Ads of 2013, by Suzanne Vranica. 

My favorite part is, of course, the ad by Goldie Blox. Goldie Blox is a company whose mission is to make sure more girls get the chance to experience science as a gateway to the amazing world of engineering, as opposed to playing with Barbie's until they turn into one. Founded by a female Stanford engineer, the inaugural commercial rocks. I only wish the Beastie Boys would have allowed their song to go along with the idea, but I guess some boys are intimidated by strong females. Too bad for them.

Other things that are too bad are the losers; namely Samsung, Kmart, Chipolte and Mazda. But let's not focus on boogers. That's not the proper way to attack a #NewYear. Instead, let's focus on winners: Chrysler with it's poignant To the Farmer in All of Us commercial, Unilever with it's heart-breakingly honest and beautiful Dove ads, Goldie Blox's pledge to innovative girls everywhere and Google's story about how a product can make the most humane connections possible. 

In looking back and learning from what has passed, it's important to try and glean facts from the experience. Keep in mind that ad buying is more of a science than an art, and that anyone can purchase YouTube views, so that's not a real indication of success. Instead, the actual art of a good story and the act of actual connecting is what these winners do. When the stock price goes up, when the media writes stories for free, and when social content gets shared and when people buy more widgets, then we can measure just how much of an impact a brand story had on an intended audience. Or go ahead and take it personal. Ads that worked in the past were ads that made a simple human connection seem like a brilliant thing. For 2014, let's look for that in ads and real life. My hunch is that the data will prove this theory is a good thing for all parties.