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Capitalism Saves Don Draper

Image courtesy of AMC

Who or what is Don Draper?  Is it a person, a name, an invention, a product?  Or is it all of the above?

At the end of Season 3, we saw the writers reset the show and strip Don of every foundation he might have had: his family, his career and his identity.  His wife leaves him, his company gets acquired and everyone knows his real name is Dick Whitman.  In the face of this upheaval, Don doesn’t try to maintain family unity or go back to work: no, what he does is start his own company.

Mad Men began as an exploration of identity; identity by birthrite and identity by name. Nowhere does the idea that capitalism is the only true force that can offer Don Draper a life and identity than in the last scene in the Season 4 premiere: it ends with a PR interview.   The real Don Draper isn’t interested in talking about himself, but nobody cares about that, so Don Draper  the person decides to weave a dramatic tale to the Wall Street Journal about Don Draper the product, not at all differently from the way he has done with all of his clients’ products.  Don Draper can’t get what he wants by being himself, but he can if he tells the world what they want to hear.  Cue the ironic music (Tobacco Road), but we know anyway that Draper is soon going to be an overnight, moneyed sensation.

Whether or not most of us want our jobs to define who we are, at least we always love a good story.


Consumer Reports is a Pawn in Apple’s Sophisticated Playbook

Synopsis: Consumer Reports has no influence over Apple, no matter what the New York Times might think.

In yesterday’s NY Times, The Media Equation’s David Carr attributes Apple’s latest response to the media uproar over the iPhone 4 signal reception as an influence from Consumer Reports.  Sure enough, during the special press conference held on July 16, 2010, the only media outlet referenced by Steve Jobs was Consumer Reports.  Carr says the reason the Consumer Reports review gets the mention is because of what it isn’t: one of the many latest-story-of-the-day digital tech media outlets like TechCrunch and Gizmodo.  No one would disagree with Carr that Consumer Reports is “a widely respected protocol of testing and old-world credibility,” but I would suggest that Consumer Reports has no hand in influencing Apple’s decisions or why it chose to mention Consumer Reports.

Apple has so much power and influence, that a single mention of any entity could carry tremendous credibility and weight.  As a result, Steve Jobs is very careful not to name any techie blog in public conversations. Imagine the boost in reputation and value of a single blog if Steve Jobs dared to say, “[So-and-so] said…”  Thus, no blog gets any mention at all, except for stodgy old Consumer Reports.  So while Consumer Reports receives a boost in reputation thanks to the benevolent acknowledgement from Apple, in reality, the publication didn’t do anything except review a product.  It just happened to have the qualities Apple’s PR machine needed.

To assess the situation further, Apple gets an additional benefit out of referring to Consumer Reports: a small, associated exchange with an older population. Let’s face it, the youth of the wired generation do not read Consumer Reports (if only because there are so many more interesting things to read first) and the majority are not interested in having FaceTime with Mom and Dad, let alone seriously consider the cost of owning an iPhone4.  So who does want FaceTime?  Based on Apple’s targeted commercials, some of these people are going to be grandparents that live in the boonies and anxious parents whose kids leave home for college. People who might be a little less confident around technology, more resistant to change and, erm, probably do read Consumer Reports. By giving Consumer Reports the nod, Apple earns just a few more stripes among this population.

Apple has built a following among designers, artists, college kids, young adults and  teenagers (to name a few). The older, family-oriented generation is a whole new group of folks to whom the company wants to get better introduced. Thank you, Consumer Reports, for being you, at just the right place at just the right time.


Facebook: No Place to Hide

Facebook’s latest privacy changes makes it impossible for users to hide their profile photos or searchability (within Facebook), and defaults some features as available to “everyone.” These changes are strategically made to turn Facebook into a worldwide conversation – much as Twitter is today.

From the standpoint of competitive advantage, each time Facebook pushes public visibility, it erodes the unique value it offers to users. There are over 100 million active users on Facebook, it isn’t obvious how many more they want before the company will be happy. Facebook’s popularity benefits from two things: firstly, it has essentially reached full adoption, and everyone is connected to one another. Secondly, thanks to privacy settings, Facebook gives its users respite from their professional and public life. Users use Facebook for private and personal social networking, and Twitter for personal branding. If that’s gone, that’s just one more reason why Facebook could go the way of Myspace.


Having Twitter Followers Doesn’t Necessarily Go Anywhere

Recently I ran a market research survey seeking responses from social media networks. In order to get a random sample, I asked one colleague with 2200 Twitter followers to tweet the survey request. The survey was philanthropic in nature, created for a non-profit and took a minute to take. We blasted the tweet twice; the first tweet garnered one result; the second tweet, “enhanced” with some urgent language, garnered 4. In total, that’s 2 thousandths of a 1 percent, or .0002.

I’m not saying that this experience is representative or that we wouldn’t have received more responses if we kept sending out the same tweet. But what it indicates is that there is much to be learned about what exactly is the value and meaning behind the number of a person’s followers on Twitter.

— Stella Tran

Thumbs Up for Tumblr

If you haven’t used Tumblr before, you’ll find it’s elegant, easy to use, and ad-free. LA Times writer Mark Milian recently covered the company on its intentional lack of advertising. It’s refreshing to know we have an online publisher out there making a concerted effort to find more innovative revenue streams than advertising. In fact, it’s even more refreshing that private investors aren’t putting the pressure on Tumblr for quick revenues. Blog advertising is no longer innovative as a revenue source since it became the norm, and anyway it got old fast.

It’s helpful for everyone involved with Tumblr to take a forward-thinking approach since it means it’s less critical for the company to win more eyeballs (for more adviews), and they can focus their energies on creating more value for their existing communities, and potentially become a model for everyone else down the line.

Real-Time Search and Trending: The First 3 Months

In November of 2009, Google began offering real-time search, while Microsoft’s Bing was the first to incorporate trending topics. Yahoo! recently jumped on board as well. And of course, they got their data and content from Twitter. In these first three months of adding real-time trending and results, there hasn’t been a lot of rainmaking in the way we communicate.

The most optimistic aspect, however, is that the addition of trending to major search engine results has not, thus far, resulted in abuse by marketing robots, which is very easy to do.

But, as a strategic marketer, what does it mean that trending still mainly revolves around celebrity gossip? Is it a letdown, and if so, what are the aspirations for real-time media? The general consensus is that there is value in real-time communication, but so far reality hasn’t proven that Internet users are doing a whole lot with it. As always, only time will tell who or what will uncover that value for us. The beautiful mystery in this is that it can be any one of us.

Facebook, the Great Networker or Micromanager?

“You haven’t spoken with John Brown in a while. Reconnect with him. Catch up. Write on his wall. Send him a message. He needs a profile pic. Suggest one for him.”

Facebook uses a lot of virtual real estate putting these ubiquitous mini-messages on everyone’s newsfeeds. So is Facebook the great networker or a micromanager?  As the old saying goes, people vote with their feet, so since Facebook’s efforts are largely ignored (the way we do our friends, apparently) it seems to suggest the latter.

But Facebook is in fact already a masterful network. We’re connected to old grade school friends, college buddies and learning a lot about co-workers that we never might have otherwise. Unfortunately, its parental messages undermine this aspect of itself.

— Stella Tran