A DE-vangelist In The Chapel of Outrage

28 08 2008

UPDATE 9/3/08: Added an interview with Chris Brogan, so we can hear the other side of this debate.

UPDATE 8/28/08: Clearly, this post about @amandachapel hit a nerve. My blog traffic is insane today. If we can get the level of rigor about Social Media to match the level of passion about Social Media there’s real hope. For people who are scandalized by @amandachapel, I’ll offer this piece of advice from Mae West: “Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.”

==

Twitter is a gathering place for a lot of interesting people.

Among the most interesting is an acid-tongued critic of Social Media evangelists who goes by the pen name @amandachapel. The photo here certainly isn’t “her”. And if you believe this bio (“I am 5′ 4″ tall, athletic, Pantene shoulder-length black hair, perfect perky boobs.”) I have a fantastic bridge I’d like to sell you.

At first I confess I dismissed @amanda as just a troll with a better-than-average sense of humor.

But, then something happened. The questions got tougher and more pointed. Many were very basic and jugular. The replies got angrier, but — even from some obviously smart people — they didn’t get more substantive.

I’ve come around to the POV that @amandachapel is exactly the sort of “DE-vangelist” that marketers should listen to closely before investing time and effort in a social media program.

In fact, the venom @amanda is spewing may be exactly the tonic Social Media needs if it hopes to grow.

For the record, I’m curious about SM and think it may have some smart applications. I’m not against Social Media. I’m against doing it (or anything else) blindly, just because it’s “hot”.

Below is an exclusive email interview given by @amandachapel with iCPG. So, let’s get to it.

==

@tjcnyc: You’re one of the few voices on Twitter that actively questions the value of social media programs. What made you decide to do this?

@amandachapel: I am motivated by outrage! The movement is 99% hype, and bad hype at that!

Regrettably, social media was/is about wildly questionable empowerment first. It gave/gives any knucklehead with a computer and web access an instant global stage and the ability to flood business communications with bogus opinion and faux credentials.

In the face of that wave, a few of us (from Strumpette.com) gave voice to reason. Variously, some of us continue to repeat some pretty basic questions: What am I using the tool for? How much does it cost? What do I expect in return? What are the risks and potential downsides? Is it ethical and aligned with the greater good of my marketplace long term?

Bottom line: I think we’ve been successful. We’ve made a difference. Even the movement is now scrambling for real business cases and rationale.

@tjcnyc: How would you define Social Media?

@amandachapel: Social media is the widely-celebrated fad that has elevated idle chitchat to quasi religion. It is the abandonment of commonsense business that was once ruled by presentation and meritocracy. It is a stage for a cult of amateurs empowered to act out Lord of the Flies. It is the great Cluetrain wreck.

@tjcnyc: Some people find your comments very combative and personal in nature. Are you actually angry, or is this Amanda Chapel persona something you have adopted for entertainment value?

@amandachapel: Couple things: I am absolutely aggressive and competitive. So is business. I play hard. I play to win. With regard to being personal, I do heckle now and again. It’s strategic. It takes opponents out of their game. I admit that also makes the game kinda fun.

That said, most importantly, I go after issues. It just so happens that underneath those issues, especially in social media, there is always a huckster whistling on his/her way to the bank. At Strumpette.com, we considered that collateral damage.

@tjcnyc: You seem to have put some fairly well-known Social media people squarely in your crosshairs. Who do you tend to target, and why?

@amandachapel: I target the “A-Listers.” To a person they are evangelists each with an agenda. Not coincidentally, the faux gospel they preach is also the snake oil they sell.

@tjcnyc: What value, if any, do you assign to social media? Is there anyone who’s doing it well today?

@amandachapel: Value is mostly TBD. Funny, a number of evangelists have now bastardized ROI to be Return on Interaction. Subsequently, I coined ROP, i.e. Return on Prayer. That’s far more accurate.

With that in mind, let’s put this all in perspective. The technology is inevitable. Sure some could argue that there have been technologies that humans ultimately decided they couldn’t manage. I think we will learn to harness social media.

But the only way to do that is to first understand the model and how it behaves. It’s not a 2-dimensional channel. It’s not a hyper telephone. It is a platform that essentially hyperlinks “like minds” to form instant virtual churches. Its power is based on the human attraction to codependency. Its byproducts include the safety and luxury of favoritism, as well as the abject human thrill of being able to freely express bigotry.

Fundamentally, these groups behave predictably: they like to trespass; they like to circumvent authoritative decision making; they also like to circumvent the idea of a meritocracy.

What’s troubling is that contradicts what our system is based on. Having just witnessed the French Revolution, the authors of our Constitution were terrified of this very kind of populism and tyranny of the mass.

So… the question is: does a company or organization have a role in that system and if so where?

That said, there are few people I’ve met along the way that I think understand and can answer that. I highly recommend Joel Postman, Jen Evans, and Lori Laurent Smith.

@tjcnyc: If you had a marketer friend who was actively considering a Social Media program, what are the five things you’d warn them about?

@amandachapel:

  1. Beware of social media cancers. Know that by participating in social media you invariably expose yourself to and empower the virulent haters of your company or organization;
  2. Beware of the demagogues. People and competitors are just waiting for you to make a move for them to leverage;
  3. Beware of the SEC. Talk to an expert in SEC law to understand the long-term implications of “open communications;”
  4. Beware of market pressure to relinquish control of your brand. Once it’s gone, you ain’t getting it back;
  5. Beware of hucksters. I’d warn them about ROP (see above). You can and should predetermine precisely your expected real Return on Investment.

@tjcnyc: What’s the story with the panty-flash Twitter icon?

@amandachapel: It’s the leftover artwork from an ad we were going to do for a line of merchandise, Strumpette Couture. In the context of Twitter, it is a subtle protest to “Naked Conversations.” We thought it demonstrated the power and importance of “seduction”.

==

I’m hoping this will spark some good conversation. What’s your opinion?

If you’re a social media true believer, can you offer data that explains your passion? I’m hungry for more than anecdotal stories, and for programs that influenced millions rather than hundreds of people.

If you’re a social media non-believer, do you think @amandachapel’s “politics of outrage” approach works?

All comments are welcome. After all, this IS social media 🙂





Chaos Theory and The Italian Tourism Website

27 08 2008

CONFESSION:This post does not, in fact, have very much to do with CPG and digital marketing. But… it does speak volumes about culture, and why progress is often so difficult even when (especially when?) everyone seems to want it.

If you substitute individual city names or regions with “department” and the Italian Government with “top management”, this story may seem uncomfortably familiar.

I couldn’t love Italy more.  My wife and I got married there. The country is beautiful. But the government may be the world’s most fascinating trainwreck.

Here’s something I just read about:

Five years ago, Italy decides “let’s build a tourism website”. How hard could it be?

So far they’ve spent $66 million dollars.

Of course, the site still doesn’t work.

They can’t customize their homepage. They have two main databases; each flatly refuses to talk with the other. One assumes that if a conversation did become possible, it would quickly degenerate into an argument over wine, Sophia Loren, or the proper way to prepare veal.

When the Web site went live in February 2007, the first name of director Federico Fellini unaccountably became “Gioacchino.” Nobody knows why, or how.

Typical seafood dishes from the coastal region of Marche featured “pork roast with prunes.” Hugely popular in Poland. In that region of Italy? Not so much.

It’s hilarious and odd and feels entirely Italian; in fact it may be impossible to really understand unless you’ve been there.

Read more here.


P.S. Why is the Italian government such a mess? Maybe because while the history books claim Garibaldi unified Italy, each town still considers itself to be the center of the universe. And even if Reunification actually DID happen, nobody is sure when. Scholars think it started around 1815. When did it end? Was it around the 1871 Franco-Prussian War? Maybe. Except for the fact that the last città irredente did not join the Kingdom of Italy until after World War I. 

P.P.S. The photo is of an authentic Italian traffic jam, caused by an Italian trucker strike. It is not Photoshopped. More photos here.





Twitter In Plain English

26 08 2008

If you’re been hearing about Twitter, but haven’t joined up yet, this well-done Common Craft video can help you get oriented.

How do you find interesting people to follow? A shortcut I took was to follow a few friends and just follow whoever they were following.

If you want an even faster shortcut, just follow me on Twitter and follow who I follow.





CPG and Channel Migration

25 08 2008

Why are your sales at Wal-Mart down, but up at other places? Is it your advertising?

Is it your social media programs? Is it your new packaging?

As usual, the answer is simpler than all that. It’s consumers watching their gas tanks.

We’re all looking for customers, now more than ever.

This PDF from IRI tells us where they’ve gone.

Get the PDF here.
(Registration required)





Does Social Media Matter? Does It Scale?

22 08 2008

Peter Kim is my new hero, and somebody you should definitely read.

He’s written two consecutive important blog posts that I wish I had written:

There’s a lot of breathless hype out there about social media marketing right now.

What’s needed is a counterbalance: a few smart people asking simple, sober, pointed, jugular questions.

Peter Kim is one of those smart people. His blog rocks. I strongly suggest that you read what he has to say.





Indie-Film Marketing For CPG? Crest Weekly Clean’s Unconventional Launch.

21 08 2008

Here’s an intriguing little tale of bloggers and bicuspids. molars and marketing, word-of-mouth and Wal-Mart.

Can you launch a new, unconventional product — one that requires consumers to adopt entirely new behavior, no less — with 5 second TV tags and a whole lot of blogging?

P&G sure seems to think so.

According to an article in today’s Ad Age, they’re launching Crest Weekly Clean (a “weekly addition to daily tooth brushing, giving a ‘just-from-the-dentist’, smooth, clean feeling”) mostly via sampling to bloggers and P&G’s Vocalpoint buzz-marketing program.

Is This Indie-Film Marketing Applied to Consumer Packaged Goods?

Launching a new product at mass retail is not for the faint of heart, or light of wallet.

Consolidation at retail has given retailers unprecedented power. Today, one in four dollars spent at retail in the U.S. is spent at Wal-Mart.

What this means that a product launch today is like marketing a Hollywood film: if you don’t have a ginormous opening weekend (first few months of sales), you’re in trouble.

This makes me wonder whether P&G isn’t deliberately stealing a page from the indie-film marketing playbook.

First, work hard to generate some buzz and groundswell.

Then, air commercials as if you’re shocked by the early “spontaneous” buzz: “Gosh really, our little brand? How nice of everyone to notice. We really weren’t expecting this, are we blushing?”

I’m as big a proponent of interactive as you’ll find in any CPG company. But still, mass retail demands fast product turns and has little patience for waiting around for a new product to find its customers. If I’m honest, I’d have to say I’m not sure I’d have the guts to launch a product like Crest Weekly Clean using online only.

Can A Major Marketer Wait For The Groundswell?

If there’s not a 1-2 punch planned (buzz marketing first and TV second), I’ll be very surprised.

More than that, I’ll be watching it very carefully. If P&G can pull off a product launch with only a smattering of TV, that changes the game quite a bit, doesn’t it?





Four Ways To Be Astonishing

21 08 2008

Jim Dietzel posted this Victor Wooten performance of “Norwegian Wood” in the FriendFeed Jazz Lovers room today. It was so great I had to share it.

Why is this performance so astonishing?

  1. Surprise – He takes things we thought we knew (a classic Beatles tune, and the electric bass) and reminds us that there are always new creative possibilities.

    What could you do — right now — to reinvent something you’ve been thinking about the same old way?

  2. Solo – Victor plays this entirely on his own. It’s a risk. Will people understand the song right away? How far out can he stretch the melody until he loses us?

    How many of us are hiding behind the rest of our group, because we’re afraid to step out and take a chance on our own?

  3. Soul – Virtuoso technique is obviously a big part of what’s happening here. But it wouldn’t be compelling if we couldn’t feel the emotion underpinning it.

    If your work doesn’t reflect who you really are as a person, it may be technically perfect but it will always feel impersonal and unsatisfying to the people around you.

  4. Smile – I love Victor Wooten’s smile at the end of his solo. He enjoys his work and it shows.

    The Dalai Lama (who isn’t half the bass player Victor Wooten is) says, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”.

    We should all play more. If we did, we’d smile more.