Lucky for Spiro T. Agnew, he did not live in the age of the Internet Meme. That’s not to say he wasn’t able to fail just as spectacularly at the hands of old media.
In fact, the history of epic fails begins long before even when old media were new. It is replete with wars gone wrong, products that bombed, and politics most foul. And when something fails utterly, it often becomes part of the lexicon:
- The Battle of Waterloo
- New Coke
It could be argued that collectively we have met our social media Waterloo in our endless desire to promote our milestones, our accomplishments, our hobbies, our travel, our ideal mate, and our adorable cats via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, LinkedIn, Tinder, Tumblr, and YouTube.
As we continually up the ante with posts designed to brag, promote, and burnish our individual and our business reputations, we run the risk of crossing a personal Rubicon. Bill Cosby being the latest object lesson.
Last month, when Cosby’s PR team decided to have some fun with the comedian’s social media image – and perhaps make him a trending topic – by posting his photo on Twitter and urging followers to “make me a meme,” they were stunned at the almost instant negative response.
Dozens of allegations that Cosby was a rapist, plus a link to comedian Hannibal Buress’s recent rant about Cosby’s past, forced Cosby’s team to take down the Twitter feed. And, as we well know, the controversy has raged ever since, resulting in Cosby being dropped from NBC and Netflix projects and resigning from his alma mater’s board of trustees.
Most of us won’t try to turn our public persona into a meme by trying to spread our image and personality across the Internet. But, the temptation to promote businesses or services via the meme/hashtag/viral video route is strong.
Show me a PR professional who hasn’t had a client say, “I want our video to go viral,” and I’ll show you one who doesn’t have any clients. It’s a “careful what you wish for” desire.
Who wouldn’t want their roast beast recipe or their reindeer-neutering how-to video to become trending topics – to be featured on CNN, Jimmy Kimmel, and Taylor Swift’s Twitter feed?
It’s best to have your creative team focus on your business’s strengths – maybe even produce a clever, well-made video – and use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, et al to tell that story.
It might not be sexy, it might not go viral, it might not trend, but chances are it will shield your business and you from the twittering nabobs of negativism.
Nielsen’s quarterly cross-platform report was just released and it revealed that (no matter what their weight) Americans still are heavy television viewers – if you include digital viewing.
As Dounia Turrill, Nielsen’s senior vice president for insights, wrote. “Today we are challenged with an important transition in how media is consumed. Overall time spent with media content has increased. While traditional television viewing is down, especially among younger viewers, overall media consumption is up and growing, driven by an impressive growth in digital video viewing.”
Among the findings:
- The average viewer watches more then 4.5 hours of television every day (yes, every day)
- Traditional TV viewing is down among young consumers, especially 18-to-34-year-olds
- That same demographic increased its digital viewing by 53% in the past 12 months
- Digital viewing among 35-to-49-year-olds grew 80% in the past year
- Digital viewing among 50-to-64-year-olds grew 60% year over year
- With smartphones and tablets near 70% and 50% penetration, respectively, the growth in digital consumption will only increase
It’s important to note that while digital viewing is increasing, the bulk of video viewing is still via that 50-incher in your den. But because older viewers are rapidly embracing digital viewing, and iPads and iPhones are so ubiquitous, you need to rethink the ways you reach your customers.
It’s no longer sufficient to cut a 30-second TV spot, place it on local TV and local cable, post it on your website, and use the voice track for your radio buy. More than ever, you need to engage the viewers who, when they decide to watch something they see on Facebook or YouTube, want to be entertained first, informed second.
The recent – and brilliant – Ikea “bookbook” ad is a case in point. It not only spoofs Apple, it also compels you to watch all two-and-half minutes. There isn’t a false step in the humor or the presentation. Best of all for Ikea, it has gone viral, as evidenced by the fact that it has replaced the Ice Bucket Challenge as the most ubiquitous post on your Facebook feed.
This is not to suggest that you need to invest six figures in a slick commercial, but you do need to know your audience. That may require distinct approaches for TV, radio, print, and your website, blog, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube outlets.
Let’s say you own a travel agency. A 50-to-64-year-old traveler might respond more readily to your promotion of a trip to Venice Carnival 2015 while an 18-to-34-year-old customer might be more enticed by your offer of limousine service to Burning Man. The Venice Carnival trip might be perfect for broadcast and print promotion, but Burning Man will likely resonate more effectively on YouTube and Twitter.
As consumers continue to migrate from broadcast and print to digital, you need to as well. Think of how you (probably):
- Watch TV when you awake
- Listen to the radio on your drive to work
- Check your smartphone and laptop for Facebook, Twitter, and news updates multiple times a day
- Post on Instagram while you prepare dinner
- Check in with your iPad while you watch Boardwalk Empire or Bachelor in Paradise
You are not alone. Your customers are also engaging in a variation of this multi-platform ritual – well, except maybe for watching Bachelor in Paradise.
Self-driving cars are the latest shiny objects on which the Silicon Valley magpies have set their focus. What a triumph it would be to perfect a vehicle that didn’t have to be driven by a human, that could be programmed in your garage to take you to work, to Costco, to church, to a concert, and then return you home safely and in regal comfort.
It’s an appealing proposition for people who find driving boring, fraught with frustration, or who would rather text, watch the terrain pass by, or catch up on Orange is the New Black than keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
For people who enjoy driving, however, and who like to flex their driving muscles, and – occasionally – take a car to its handling edge, autonomous vehicles are like microwave dinners – they turn an adventure (eating or driving) into a joyless experience. (Trader Joe’s mac & cheese being the exception.)
Recent research by the University of Michigan Transportation Institute shows that 57% of Americans surveyed have a favorable opinion of self-driving cars. That doesn’t mean they want one. More than 75% of respondents say they are concerned about safety.
It’s been argued that self-driving cars will make our highways safer because we’d eliminate human error, that congestion would ease, and pollution would be reduced. And for soccer moms who hate to pilot their Pilot, a computer-programmed vehicle would be more welcomed than Spanx. Plus, it could be argued that fly-by-wire computer-programmed jet aircraft have made commercial flying safer and smoother.
The problem, of course, is that computers are fallible. We can’t escape Microsoft’s blue screen of death, Apple’s spinning beach ball, Netflix’s buffering video, or Sirius-XM’s dropped signals, so why should we expect the fusion of computers and cars to be any less reliable?
As for the jet-plane analogy, if the 767’s computer screws up, there are at least two experienced souls in the cockpit who have enough professional insight to avert disaster. The same can’t be said for your Great Uncle Fitzie whose forte is not getting out of a four-wheel slide if his autonomous car’s computer decides to buffer just as it hits a patch of ice.
Then there are the proposed “smart highways” that will ostensibly guide the self-driving cars. But that will require a level of sophisticated maintenance to which most municipalities would never endeavor to aspire. Plow the snow away from I-95’s autonomous-car sensors, pick up the trash that’s covering The Jersey Turnpike’s lane-discipline computers, repair the GPS antenna that was knocked down by a rogue driver? – sure, we’ll get to it no later than Wednesday.
Self-driving cars may indeed be the future, but not without fits and starts, and lots of mini – and not so mini – fender-benders and flying PlayStation Portables when your Chrysler Town & Country’s self-driving computer pauses to download software updates and you rear-end the car in front of you.
And so, object lessons for your business brought to you by the specter of self-driving cars:
- Don’t roll out a promotion, product, or service until you’ve tested it thoroughly
- Don’t let your tech guy’s innovations eclipse your focus on what customers really need and want, which leads to:
- Don’t assume that your clients will care about, let alone pay for, your quest for technical innovations
- Don’t discourage innovation, just make sure it doesn’t create more problems than it solves
As with running a business, it’s tough to succeed if you take your eyes (and hands and feet) off your goals.
As some you may have noticed, in addition to naming the Honda Pilot, and Chrysler Town & Country, I have also used the proper names of car brands and models as common nouns. For those of you who’d like to play the home version of our game, here’s where you can find them.
- Paragraph 1: Ford Focus, Triumph, Buick Regal
- Paragraph 2: GMC Terrain
- Paragraph 3: Ford Flex, Ford Edge
- Paragraph 5: Honda Pilot
- Paragraph 6: Ford Escape, Ford Fusion
- Paragraph 7: Kia Soul, Honda Insight, Kia Forte
- Paragraph 8: Smart, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Rogue
- Paragraph 9: Honda Fit, Mini, Chrysler Town & Country,
- Paragraph 10: Mitsubishi Eclipse, Ford Focus, Nissan Quest
Last week, a friend of mine suggested I comment on the word “disrupt.” She noted a biographical résumé entry of someone in her industry that described him as “A leading thinker on driving innovation via personal disruption.” My friend is an Emmy-winning television producer, director, and on-camera host, so she’s not a thin-skinned whiner whose sensibilities are easily ruffled.
She has reason to be stirred up, however, about “disrupt.” It and “pivot” and “change agent” and “six sigma” and “democratize” and “mission critical” and – heaven forefend – “productizing” are some of today’s buzzwords that rankle, that make us want to knock some common sense into their advocates.
Back before Tony Soprano was whacked to the strains of Don’t Stop Believin’, we thought the term “low hanging fruit” was “cutting edge.” That we could “monetize” the World Wide Web simply by “thinking outside the box.” That “positioning” a “brand” would generate enough “eyeballs” to get it out of its “beta” phase. That investing “sweat equity” into a project would result in “more bang for the buck.”
But jargon is generally an insider’s club. If you don’t know what “gamification,”1 “DRI,”2 or “marketing puke”3 means, you’re viewed as being in the wrong meeting/company/career. If you can’t keep up with the (mostly male) Silicon Valley “brogrammers” who have “diasporaized”4 their jargon to the corporate culture at large, then you’re categorized as a bag-phone-and-dial-up-Internet loser.
Greg Baumann, the Editor in Chief of Silicon Valley Business Journal, wrote last December “Disrupt [is a] great, active verb that has been spavined5 through overuse and made foul. Let’s drive it to extinction. The next time you use it, send an invoice to AOL, or TechCrunch … because you’re doing their conference marketing for them.”
Jargon does have its place. It can clarify and condense a concept. But the “helicopter view” of the “cubicle farm” is that workers need to think creatively and stop falling back on supervisor-generated clichés and lazy exposition if they hope to “get their ducks in a row” in order to “push the envelope.”
And when crafting your résumé, corporate biography, or just posting your profile on OkCupid, try to refrain from being that guy who’s so full of himself that he thinks he can “personally disrupt” anything other than his finely-honed image as a boor.
Now that would be a “win-win.”
1. Game design used in non-game situations to encourage users to adopt them or influence how they are used.
2. Directly Responsible Individual
3. Someone (usually in marketing) who doesn’t understand a product or a service and instead uses buzzwords and catch phrases to cover up.
4. A word I made up. From “diaspora”: The movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established homeland. Merriam-Webster.com
5. Bauman is most likely using “spavined” to mean “made lame” since the word actually refers to the swelling of a horse’s hock-joint which results in lameness.