26 February 2008


Menippean, collaboratively constructed, mashup. Political campaigns a la UCaPP!

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24 February 2008

Toronto Subway Dance Party

Via Torontoist and my daughter, Julie, yesterday afternoon saw the Toronto Subway Dance Party. About two dozen people boarded a train at Museum station and rode southbound all the way around to Bloor station. Each had their own music, each their own rhythm and moves. The result is yet another example of collaborative construction of culture in our increasingly hip city, via performance in public space.

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22 February 2008

Consumer Trends Forum in Boston - Notes from Generation Gap

I've just returned from a quick trip to Boston to give the opening keynote at the Consumer Trends Forum International conference. I truly appreciate the invitation, especially because it gives me the opportunity to expose some of the consequences of Valence Theory to people who actually have to develop and market products in the so-called real world.

Based on the overwhelming response I received yesterday morning (and through the break and later, during the lunch) I think they liked it.

For those who are interested, I've uploaded my talk notes here. These are more sketch notes rather than a completed essay - the earlier parts are very sketchy since I know the patter of the 3,000 years of the history of Western civilization according to the Toronto School of Communication. More fleshed out are the sections following the description of Valence Theory, that outline the evolution of the concept of mass media, the change in the relationships among employees, customers and suppliers, and the consequences for marketing. Especially important, I think, is my reconception of Brand, not as a manifestation of the company's vision - which I suggest is entirely the wrong sensory metaphor. Instead, I maintain that the dominant sensory metaphor in a UCaPP world is touch. Hence, it is the tactility statement - who are you going to touch, and how are you going to touch them, today - that is the basis of the contemporary Brand promise.

Thanks to the conference organizers for the invitation, for making all the arrangements, and for the very warm welcome you afforded me.

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20 February 2008

Requiem for a TV News Career, and Corporate Groupthink

Via Rob, this insightful entry from Chez Pazienza on his firing from CNN's American Morning for apparently blogging the wrong opinions.

One of the great myths of management in general (under the rubric of "transformative leadership") is that ideally, all employees of an organization should share the same vision and sense of purpose that has been established and handed down through the hierarchy by the leadership (who are seen to be the personification of the corporate consciousness, or some nonsense like that). The leaders hold the vision, inspire and lead the charge - corporate values become individual values in the transformative organization. People are then motivated to give their all, go above and beyond - you know, that whole 110% thing.

In a contemporary corporate landscape that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, this translates operationally to such things as, being "asked to complete self-evaluations which pressed me to describe the ways in which I'd "increased shareholder value."" Or worse, as in Pazienza's case, being forced on pain of firing to vet anything he writes about any topic in any venue with the corporate "standards and practices department." Not that the issue is that he is writing. "It's also, you know, the nature of what you've been writing."

The extension beyond the limit of capability (not to mention reason) of this myth of tranformative leadership - hence forcing its reversal - comes from crossing it with BAH - Bureaucracy, Administrative controls, and Hierarchy. Although the company does end up with a goodly number of mindless drones, the most insightful, motivated and driven among their employees will take their motivation and drive elsewhere. What is left is truly a drone - clearly evident in the moribund, 24-hour, television-news-as-entertainment business:
During my last couple of years as a television news producer, I watched the networks try to recover from a six year failure to bring truth to power (the political party in power being irrelevant incidentally; the job of the press is to maintain an adversarial relationship with the government at all times) and what's worse, to pretend that they had a backbone all along. I watched my bosses literally stand in the middle of the newsroom and ask, "What can we do to not lead with Iraq?" -- the reason being that Iraq, although an important story, wasn't always a surefire ratings draw. I was asked to complete self-evaluations which pressed me to describe the ways in which I'd "increased shareholder value." (For the record, if you're a rank-and-file member of a newsroom, you should never under any circumstances even hear the word "shareholders," let alone be reminded that you're beholden to them.) I watched the media in general do anything within reason to scare the hell out of the American public -- to convince people that they were about to be infected by the bird flu, poisoned by the food supply, or eaten by sharks. I marveled at our elevation of the death of Anna Nicole Smith to near-mythic status and our willingness to let the airwaves be taken hostage by every permutation of opportunistic degenerate from a crying judge to a Hollywood hanger-on with an emo haircut. I watched qualified, passionate people worked nearly to death while mindless talking heads were coddled. I listened to Lou Dobbs play the loud-mouthed fascist demagogue, Nancy Grace fake ratings-baiting indignation, and Glenn Beck essentially do nightly stand-up -- and that's not even taking into account the 24/7 Vaudeville act over at Fox News. I watched The Daily Show laugh not at our mistakes but at our intentional absurdity.

More on this theme, and perhaps even on Celebrity Apprentice, and why Donald Trump doesn't know the first thing about management (which is different from simply making money).

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14 February 2008

Why is Online Advertising So Effective?

Because it can be measured. Because the person paying for the ads can be presented with numbers that look big - doesn't quite matter what the numbers are, mind you, just that they're numbers. And they're big.

But certainly, for promoting brand awareness, for increasing offline sales, for "converting" clicks to credit card charges (unless you're in the identity theft business, which is a whole other story), online advertising is not very effective at all. A recent study on the behaviours of what it calls "natural born clickers," paints a gloomy picture for most conventional (that is, founded in a broadcast mentality by fogey marketers) digital branding strategies:
The study illustrates that heavy clickers represent just 6% of the online population yet account for 50% of all display ad clicks. While many online media companies use click-through rate as an ad negotiation currency, the study shows that heavy clickers are not representative of the general public. In fact, heavy clickers skew towards Internet users between the ages of 25-44 and households with an income under $40,000. Heavy clickers behave very differently online than the typical Internet user, and while they spend four times more time online than non-clickers, their spending does not proportionately reflect this very heavy Internet usage. Heavy clickers are also relatively more likely to visit auctions, gambling, and career services sites – a markedly different surfing pattern than non-clickers.

Further preliminary Starcom data suggests no correlation between display ad clicks and brand metrics, and show no connection between measured attitude towards a brand and the number of times an ad for that brand was clicked. The research presentation suggests that when digital campaigns have a branding objective, optimizing for high click rates does not necessarily improve campaign performance.
Time to rethink what branding is all about in the UCaPP world, boys and girls. And that, as it turns out, is one of the themes of the keynote I'll be giving at next week's Consumer Trends Forum International conference in Boston.

I won't spoil the surprise, but here's a hint: It's not about vision any more.

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13 February 2008

Breaking News: Snow in Toronto - A CBC Special Report


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Morgentaler and the Order of Canada

There are a lot of deserving people who don't have an Order of Canada. But among them Henry stands out as a giant. It's a monumental absence,” says lawyer, civil rights champion, and recipient of the Order of Canada, Clayton Ruby. "It's blasphemy that this hasn't happened, a national embarrassment,” says Cathie Colombo, Henry Morgentaler's long-time assistant. As reported in the Globe and Mail,
In an unprecedented move, Dr. Morgentaler's supporters have decided to catalogue past rejections and spur a public debate about why one of Canada's iconic figures has never received its highest honour. ... “Clearly, Henry Morgentaler is one of the most courageous Canadians of our generation,” [Clayton Ruby] said... It has been 20 years since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's abortion law.

The path to that decision arguably began in 1967, when Dr. Morgentaler presented a brief to the House of Commons health and welfare committee in which he urged that Canada's restrictive abortion law be repealed. The next year, he performed his first abortion and then, in 1969, he defied the law by opening a private abortion clinic. In 1970, the doctor was arrested and acquitted, but the acquittal was overturned and he served 10 months of an 18-month sentence in prison.

Legal battles multiplied until the issue made its way to the highest court. On Jan. 28, 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's abortion law, ruling that Parliament had a legitimate interest in protecting human fetuses but that the existing prohibition on abortion was disproportionate in its means and failed to protect women's right to security of the person.
It is because of the selfless struggle led by Dr. Henry Morgentaler - often putting his own life at risk - that countless Canadian women have been spared the butchery, shame, and often death that were often the prior results of a woman exercising the simple right of control over her own body.

Although detractors like Andrea Mrozek, founding director of ProWomanProLife claim that legal access to safe, medical abortions have "done women irreparable harm," on balance, their position with respect to honouring Dr. Morgentaler is perhaps understandable, but regrettable. Irreparable harm is what was perpetrated on young Canadian women who once were forced to seek out back alley abortionists, or turn to self-mutilation with wire coat hangers. By enabling and providing a safe medical choice, Henry Morgentaler saved young women from ever having to face this sort of grim choice, and for that he deserves to be honoured with the Order of Canada.

Do you agree? Then vote in the Globe and Mail poll, calling for Dr. Morgentaler's investiture in Canada's highest honour.

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11 February 2008

Good Quote on Power

Power is articulated through social practices that produce the “truths” that make up our self-concepts and the institutions in which our selves are embedded. Power is not exercised by sovereign individuals, but is located in social practices and the relationships on which such practices are built (Huzzard, 2004, p. 352).

Very Foucauldian.

  • Huzzard, T. (2004). Communities of domination? Reconceptualising organisational learning and power. Journal of Workplace Learning: Employee Counselling Today, 16(6), 350-361.

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09 February 2008

You Talking to Me? I'll Call an Election!

Friend Rob Hyndman posts on the parliamentary Afghanistan crisis, and I responded with the following comment that I think should be repeated here. In my view, the Tory position on Afghanistan has nothing to do with the issues of Afghanistan, and everything to do with the fact that they are champing at the bit to call an election over anything. If you don’t agree with Manley, we’ll call an election. If the Senate doesn’t pass the crime legislation within the next two weeks, we’ll call an election. Budget? Don’t get me started. What’s next in Stephen Harper's impersonation of Travis Bickle?

Today, a spokesman for Prime Minister Harper stated that if the Parliamentary Cafeteria does not serve Sloppy Joes on Tuesday, they will consider that Parliament no longer enjoys the confidence of the cafeteria staff, and they will take the menu issue to the people in a general election.

“Although we never considered him sloppy, we see the elimination of this dish named for a great Progressive Conservative Prime Minister, Joe Clark, as an affront to all Canadians, to our history and heritage, and to the parliamentary process itself,” said the spokesman. “The Prime Minster considers this a matter of confidence, and we are prepared to go the people.”

The Communications Director for the PMO, Sandra Buckler, was unavailable to provide further comment from the Prime Minister as she is still recovering from minor surgery to extricate her foot from her mouth.

In other news, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Michael Fortier, terminated the supply contract for hamburger for the Parliamentary Cafeteria, claiming that he no longer has confidence in the supplier, and that the cafeteria should elect to seek a new mandate for their menu.

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06 February 2008

Work-Life Balance for the UCaPP Generation

This is a short excerpt from one of my research conversations with the CEO of a for-profit (and profitable) corporation in an extremely competitive industry, based in New York City. Subjectively, I categorize this organization as being "more UCaPP," that is, having practices that are more consistent with what I would consider characteristic of the future of organization.

CEO: The question of work-life balance is a very different proposition for the more veteran people than it is for the younger generation. Their work-life balance has more to do with their contribution than it is about how many hours they’re not at work. It tends to get defined, at least in my experience, that for baby-boomers, work-life balance gets defined as how many hours you’re not at work. Theirs [the younger generation] is about what kind of contribution is it that I’m making.

Mark: So it sounds to me like for the boomer generation as you’ve identified it, there’s a clear distinction between work and life, and life is when you’re not in the office environment or workplace, and so you need to balance the time here and the time there.

CEO: Right.

Mark: For the younger generation, the more contemporary generation, they don’t see the distinction between work and life particularly, it’s all life. And it’s how well can I create this environment in which I’m living completely and totally.

CEO: Yes. I don’t know how broad-sweeping that is, but it’s my experience. It’s interesting. They’ll be the first ones out the door, if you’re assuming that they should know on their own that they should stay. And what I’ll hear routinely that I think is very powerful is, “yeah, I’m going to go home at five o’clock. I’ve been hear since nine o’clock. I’m going to go home at five unless you give me a reason to stay. But if you think that I’m going to stay because you think I should know to stay, because that’s the way the game is played until I get to a certain place, no, I’m not going to do that. But if you give me a reason to stay that is meaningful to me, that I know I’m making a contribution, I’m in.” It’s not about, I have to leave at five. It’s about, is it worth me being here?

Mark: And have you had any problem with this younger generation staying long hours when there is good reason? Any resistance?

CEO: No. There’s usually none. I think where the problem is, and I think not just our company but many companies have to work through, is how to get out of, “we paid our dues so you have to pay your dues.” [We have to be very conscious of] what is the value to them for them being here, not just, what is the value to me [as CEO of this company]? Because there can be a tendency, especially in this business, that someone can sit around for five hours waiting for you to get something off your desk, and traditionally, a lot of people will think nothing of that because, after all, “you’re a [junior, low-ranking worker] and don’t you know you have to pay your dues – I did it, you have to do it.”

Mark: So this is really about, not just what the company expects of you, what the company expects you to do, it’s what the individual expects of the company.

CEO: Yes. Absolutely.

Mark: It’s very much a reciprocal feeling that, it’s not that the company is demanding this, but the people themselves are putting demands on the organization.

CEO: Right. So that saying, you should be lucky to have a job?

Mark: Yes?

CEO: Totally needs to come off the table. That as soon as we go to this place of you should be lucky you have a job, that is, how much more can I get you to do for me.

Mark: Right. It sounds to me like the demand, the requirement of the organization is to truly have a respect and regard for the individuals.

CEO: Without a doubt.

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03 February 2008

Yes, We Can

An anthem for the Obama Campaign. And what America needs now: hope and inspiration.

It came from here.

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On Superbowl Sunday, The NFL Can Go To Hell

Really. I mean, if you believe in such things, it's not nice to upset a bunch of Christian Churches!

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