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Sunday, March 04, 2012

50 SXSW 2012 Panels Worth Getting Excited About

Here's a sad fact about SXSW - at any given time there are at least 16 other talks, events or meetups that you could be attending besides the one that you do make it to.  That's assuming you even make it to any events at all.  But whether you are ambitiously aiming to make it to a long list of events, or not going to SXSW at all ... the fact is that the range of talks offers a really interesting spotlight into trends and insights for anyone working in a digital or business role today. 

Some are good world changing ideas, and others are the worst kind of introspective navel gazing crap you would expect from a big interactive conference filled with people who spend way too much time idolizing one another. To help bring attention to some gems amidst the noise, here is my list of great panels happening at SXSW this year. I know I won't make all of them, but these are the ones I'm really excited about and highly recommend. In case you're interested, check out my full virtual schedule for SXSW, including other events outside of panels here.

Also, here are a few places where you'll be able to see me for sure in case you're going and would like to meet up:

  1. MEETUP - The "Get Ready For SXSW" Meetup For 1st & 5th Timers (And Anyone In Between) - (Friday, Mar 9th at 3pm) Co-hosted with Charles Duhigg, Author of The Power of Habit (currently #12 in Books on Amazon).
  2. PANEL - How To Be Strategically Unlikeable Online (Monday, Mar 12th at 9:30am) - my talk at SXSW, which will be the biggest panel at SXSW thanks to a big surprise we'll be unveiling on stage.

Friday, March 9

  1. OMG Your RFP Is Killing Me (2:00pm) - As someone who has suffered through trying to respond to more poorly written, confusing and contradictory RFPs than I care to admit, I am thankful for this panel.  Anyone working in a consulting or agency role should be too.
  2. The Accidental Creative (4:00pm) - A session I am looking forward to from a book I really enjoyed. The biggest takeaway from me about what it takes to be continually creative ... fill your brain with knowledge from outside your industry, and let your mind make the connections itself.
  3. Why Happiness Is the New Currency (5:00pm) - This is a topic that is seeing more attention from multiple places these days - which is a great thing since most of us don't spend enough time understanding what really will make us happy and how to get there. The cure to rising social media jealousy?  Find a better metric for happiness.

Saturday, March 10

  1. Digital Vertigo (9:30am) - A sneak peek at the new book from Andrew Keen (author of Cult of the Amateur - a great commentary on the downside of social media). This is a preview of his latest book Digital Vertigo - and someone who has managed to piss off as many "social media gurus" as he has is worth a listen ... even if you might not agree with his point of view.
  2. Crowdsourcing a Revolution: Can We Fix Healthcare? (11:00am) - One of the most exciting things about SXSW this year for me is how so many panels on the topic of healthcare are now integrated into the main program at the event. This is one of the first, and looks to be one of the best that I highly recommend checking out.
  3. The Power of Fear in Networked Publics (11:00am) - A great session from Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd on how fear is such a pervasive part of our culture and how it impacts our behaviour.  I imagine this session will give me lots to think about in terms the positives and negatives of using fear as a motivator for anything.
  4. The Complexity Curve: How to Design for Simplicity (11:00am) - The title says it all for this one - if you do any design for anyone, you should go to this talk.
  5. Likeable Social Media (11:30am) - A talk from my good friend and fellow believer in the power of likeability, Dave Kerpen. Highly recommended.
  6. Not Just Tech Support: Online in India (12:30pm) - India is finally emerging from beyond the outsourcing reputation, and this panel is one that I'm really excited about attending because of how it is one of the few panels focusing on India and its role in the the future of business and social media.
  7. Catch Me If You Can: Frank Abagnale 10 Years Later (3:30pm) - I am a fan of this movie, and intrigued to hear what Frank Abagnale is doing today.  Beyond that draw, he seems like a super interesting guy and one worth listening to tell the story of his life.
  8. The Curators and the Curated (3:30pm) - A great session on a really popular and important topic, this is part of the Future of Journalism track that I hope to spend some time attending at SXSW.  Plus the speaker list including David Carr, Maria Popova and Noah Brier are all worth listening to.
  9. Not Your Mommy's Blog: The Evolution of Dad Blogs (3:30pm) - If you are a Dad working in marketing, it is easy to feel ignored because everything seems so focused on the moms.  Sure, they make most of the decisions and buy most of the stuff - but we matter too, don't we?  Dad bloggers get the short end of the stick when it comes to visibility and attention too.  And in case that's not enough of a reason to attend this session, you might just find out that Dad's can be a good target market to sell your stuff to as well.
  10. FOMO: How Can Brands Tap into Fears of Missing Out (3:30pm) - I have read plenty of great insights from Ann Mack at JWT in the past, so to see her giving a session like this was enough reason to put it on my short list.  The FOMO trend is one that definitely matters when it comes to consumer behaviour in an age when everyone shares everything they are doing ... especially at SXSW.
  11. Priming Audiences for a Truly Social Olympic Games (5:00pm) - I am surprised that there are so few sessions devoted to Olympics considering it is coming up in just a few months, but this one promises to be a great sneak peek at some of the very cool social engagement programs that will be coming during the London Games in August.
  12. The View from Inside Rainn Wilson's Brainstem (5:00pm) - Um, Rainn Wilson - Dwight from The Office and author of the amazing SoulPancake book ... do you really need more of a reason?
  13. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think (5:00pm) - I had the chance to get an advance copy of Peter Diamandis' new book that this talk is based on, and it will be worth attending.  Even though he is up against Rainn Wilson, definitely try to check this out.
  14. Beg, Borrow, Bribe: Startups in Emerging Markets (5:00pm) - A great and important session from G Kofi Annan on emerging markets and startup culture.  The insights in this session will be super useful if you do any work in this area, or care about how to support more innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging markets.
  15. Enterprise Social Media: Five Emerging Trends (5:00pm) - A super relevant session from two leaders at IBM about trends in enterprise social media.  This will likely be very applicable if you do any work with social media and driving its strategic use and adoption in large enterprise cultures.

Sunday, March 11

  1. Can Gaming Make the World Better? (9:30am) - Gaming is definitely a hot topic, but the quality of the speakers on this panel makes it a must see on my list, and it should be on yours as well.
  2. The State of Social Marketing (9:30am) - Another session with a great list of organizations represented, including Eloqua, Jess3, The Next Web and Unified.  I've heard almost all these speakers or know them personally, and this should be a great panel.
  3. Food Trucks Share Social Media Tips (9:30am) - A perfect topic for a panel in Austin, food trucks sit perfectly at the intersection of so many hot topics in social media today ... dining and reviews, geolocation and mobility, and experiential marketing.  The insights in this session should be applicable to a wide range of businesses and industries. 
  4. Friending Pharma: Patients, Industry & New Media (9:30am) - Another healthcare session worth checking out, and one of the only ones to even mention Pharma in the title.   
  5. Pitching Start Ups to Ad Agencies and Clients (9:30am) - The main reason this one is on my list is because I am one of those agency guys heading to SXSW and open to being pitched by startups. One of the biggest reasons I return year after year is because it is one of the few events where I can get some face to face time with people doing interesting things with startups.  
  6. Socializing the Presidency: Digital Politics 2012 (9:30am) - There are lots of political panels happening at SXSW this year thanks to it also being an election year. This one stood out to me because of the quality of the speakers - Christina Bellantoni from PBS, Craig from Craigslist, Heather Smith from Rock the Vote and Maria Teresa Kumar from Voto Latino. Check out this panel to help get ready for what will be the most social media enabled election in history.  
  7. Mother Goose Got Punked: Next Gen Visual Stories (11:00am) - Not only do I love the fact that this storytelling session focuses on nonprofits, but the majority of the speakers are photographers and videographers themselves - which means that this should be a highly practical and informative session for anyone in the nonprofit world looking to get better at telling engaging stories.  
  8. Discoverability and the New World of Book PR (11:00am) - Having met or heard a few of the speakers on this panel before, anyone considering writing a launching a book should put this panel on your list.  Not only should get a lot from the discussion, but the Q&A should offer a great discussion and some highly useful tips to take away.  
  9. The Science of Habits: Why We Do What We Do (11:00am) - This is the official session for Charles Duhigg, who will be co-hosting a meetup with me on Friday.  In case you don't make it to our meetup, or even if you do, I highly recommend seeing Charles talk about his amazing book in person.  
  10. FILM - Decoding Deepak (World Premiere - 11:00am) - This is the only film that made my list (in case you forgot, SXSW is also a huge film festival!).  It is the world premiere of a highly engaging film from Gotham Chopra, Deepak Chopra's son.  I have corresponded with him in the past and seen the trailer for the film (which you can also watch here) and it is pretty amazing. For anyone who has admired Deepak Chopra from afar, or ever considered what it would be like to be the kid of a famous person ... this movie brilliantly deconstructs the experience. 
  11. How Brain Science Turns Browsers into Buyers (11:00am) - I have read several of the books from the speakers at this session and just having AK Pradeep (author of The Buying Brain) and Roger Dooley (author of Brainfluence) - two of the leading minds in studying how our brains control the buying decisions we make - is enough to make this panel worth attending. For anyone who has a website or business to optimize based on real research from leading researchers studying the brain, this session should blow your mind (um, pun intended).   
  12. Open Art, Open Audiences: The Edinburgh Festivals (12:30pm) - The Edinburgh Festival is one that I have admired from afar for some time and always thought about making it to. This session should be an entertaining chance to go behind the scenes.  
  13. How We Do It in Brazil (12:30pm) - Once again SXSW is very thin on panels with a global focus, but this is one that made my list. It's focus is doing business in Brazil, which should matter for many businesses because of the size of the country and economy, but also because it will be hosting the Olympics in 2016 and the FIFA World Cup in 2014.  
  14. Everybody's a Bloody Entrepreneur! Or Are They? (12:30pm) - It doesn't take much these days to call yourself an entrepreneur, and this panel focuses on the good and bad of that.  It is enough to make this panel interesting, but also love that it is a panel full of successful female entrepreneurs, but that the focus of the session isn't on women in business or women in tech. We often pay too much attention to that, and not enough to the credentials and expertise of the speakers themselves. This is a session filled with four super successful entrepreneurs. Period.
  15. The Payment Revolution is Coming: Welcome to Interchange Zero (12:45pm) - Telling you to go to a keynote talk doesn't really offer much - they all should be good. But this one with Scvngr founder Seth Priebatsch is on such an important topic that it really is a can't miss session. The future of money, digital wallets and virtual currency all are hot topics this year. I can't make every session about those, but this is one that I plan to be at.
  16. What the Internet Finds Funny: Creating & Covering Humor Online (3:30pm) - The powerful role the humor in marketing and advertising can take in actually punching through and being effective.  The only reason I think we don't see more sessions on this is because of how pitifully bad most marketers are at it.  
  17. Reprogram Your Yard, Then Eat It (3:30pm) - This is not on my list for any social media or professional learning, but instead because I'm just so interested in the idea. Can I learn to grow my own food, get over my own mental barriers and actually make myself healthier in the process?  If there is any talk on the list that should immediately be turned into a DVD and made required viewing for at least half of America, this would be it. 
  18. Digital Immortals: Preserving Life Beyond Death (5:00pm) - This was a hot topic last year and seems to have died down a bit since then, but is no less relevant as a trend or important topic that we should all pay attention to.  For anyone who has wondered what happens to your Facebook page after you pass away, and all the other issues around "digital death" - this panel should be a good one.
  19. PostSecret + BLUEBRAIN: A Multimedia Presentation (6:30pm) - If Frank Warren were showing up somewhere to read random entries from Wikipedia, I'd probably show up ... and pay good money for a ticket too.  In this session, the creator of PostSecret will go interactive and do something new and different with his amazing content.  If you don't have this on your list to attend, you need to add it.

SXSWUnlikeableSessionImageMonday, March 12

  1. MY PANEL: How to Be Strategically Unlikeable Online (9:30am) - This is my panel, so obviously I'm biased ... but I'm planning something unexpected and it should be a lot of fun, and educational too.  I hope you do show up, and in case you are planning on it, here's a page where you can RSVP to attend.
  2. Branded Documentary: Cause Marketing's Best Media? (11:00am) - Ever since the success of Inconvenient Truth, this has surely been a hot topic for nonprofits - so I love the idea for this session.
  3. Invention & Inspiration: Building a Better World (11:00am) - If you care about innovation at all, seeing Dean Kamen has to be on your short list.  His bio describes him as a "prolific inventor who has been compared to Edison."  In his case, it isn't just ego or exaggeration.
  4. Shut Up & Draw: A Non-Artist Way to Think Visually (11:00am) - Dan Roam and Sunni Brown in one panel session? There's only one word for that ... WOW.  This panel needs to be on your short list because both of them are amazing people and talented communicators as well. This will be an amazing session.
  5. HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything (11:30am) - I loved Dov Seidman's book and his important message about "corporate virtue" is an important one for any business to hear.  This is a book reading that should be worth the time to see.  
  6. The Business of Kevin Smith (12:30pm) - As a media pioneer, Kevin Smith has launched plenty of firsts in the film and entertainment industry. His view of the world is one that I can't wait to listen to.
  7. #140conf @ SXSW 2012 (3:30pm) - Jeff Pulver is a master community builder - which is why every one of his #140 events are such a hit. He is running an abbreviated version of one of his events at SXSW, and one that you should try to make it to - especially if you have never made it to one of his #140 events before.
  8. Africa, Tech & Women: The New Faces of Development (5:00pm) - This panel brings together several under represented topics into one - which alone makes it interesting enough to make my list. 
  9. Timing is Everything: How to Maximize Your PR (5:00pm) - I have long believed in the power of timing to make marketing and PR more effective. In fact, it is a topic I devote an entire chapter to in my upcoming book. This will be a great session and reminder that if you haven't got the right timing, you're just preparing for failure.  
  10. En/Forced Femme: Sex Workers and Social Media (6:30pm) - A topic that we don't see enough conversation about is the role of social media in enabling forced sex workers. This should be an interesting session on the topic from a sex worker who will have a unique point of view. I love that this is part of the scheduling at SXSW.

Tuesday, March 13

  1. I May "Like" You, but I'm Not in Like with You (9:30am) - There's been a lot of conversation lately about how much a "Like" on Facebook really matters. In many cases it doesn't. This panel should bring that conversation up in a timely way.
  2. China: Creators and Consumers of the Future (9:30am) - There are many panels this year on China - and this one looked like one of the most promising because of its dual focus on creation and consumption coming from China.  If I make it to one panel focused on China, this should be it.
  3. Who Needs a Fashion Cycle? I've Got Social Media (11:00am) - A great panel focused on the intersection of fashion and digital tools.  Social shopping will be part of this and is a hot topic for the coming year. 
  4. Philanthropy for Everyone: Community Grantmaking (11:00am) - Some of the biggest crowdsourcing examples today are in the community grantmaking space, so I really like the idea of bringing microlending to smaller regional areas - including Detroit. This session should offer some great discussion about the next phase of Community Grantmaking.
  5. The Future of Work and the Free Radical (12:30pm) - How we work is changing, where we work isn't. This great panel should offer a new look at how the future of work will be dramatically different primarily because the things that matter to the work force are dramatically changing.
  6. Social Media & Young Children: Our Kids' Futures (3:30pm) - Now that my older son is 7 years old, he is starting to use the computer by himself ... which is a freak out moment for me because I know all the crazy stuff online.  As he gets older and starts using social media, I'm sure I will start to panic even more - so this session is super relevant for me, but also for anyone who has young kids today.  
  7. Digital Debauchery with Anthony Bourdain (3:30pm) - I wish I was still going to be in Austin to be able to attend this one, because I love the viewpoint that Anthony Bourdain has offered through his travel shows.  He not only goes to interesting places, but he the best kind of adventurer, who doesn't need to dive off cliffs or climb into a cave with spiders to show us all the wierd and wonderful things that our world already has in it.

Of course there are probably a bunch of great panels that I missed.  In case you happen to be leading one, or have one that you're particularly excited about - feel free to add it in the comments.  And in case you didn't already realize, I only included the panels and talks during the Interactive part of the festival!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

How MindValley Is Building the Next TED (Only More Useful)

IMB_TEDRobotThis morning I watched an amazing TED video of flying robots that can operate autonomously and collaborate with each other at the same time. It is exciting technology ... just the kind of thing you would expect to come out of a TED event. As I write this, the video (and its big finish where the robots play a song together) is rapidly going viral online, and I have to admit I love watching things like this. The only problem is, I'm not sure what I can do with this mind blowing example except to share it with friends. It is great to get me thinking about the world, but not immediately easy to apply to my daily life. 

IMB_VishenLakhianiEarlier today on stage at the Underground Online Seminar 8, Vishen Lakhiani had a collaborative idea of his own to unveil. In a conference room filled with over 500 online entrepreneurs - many of whom have made their entire fortunes selling advice online - his announcement was unexpected, to say the least. As Co-Founder and CEO of a company named MindValley that publishes personal growth products, Vishen fit right in with the group of internet business owners packed into the crowded Crystal City hotel ballroom just a few minutes outside Washington DC. 

His company MindValley has a bold mission to help help people achieve their dreams through offering them the tools and resources to inspire them to get there. The products the company has launched are among the most popular and best selling in the personal development space. The company has won multiple awards as an amazing place to work, takes their entire 75 person staff on an annual retreat to an exotic island, and works with speakers and visionaries in many different industries.


When Vishen took the stage, he talked about a common problem that any online entrepreneur will recognize - that great ideas are quickly and shamelessly stolen and copied. For MindValley, that meant that everything from copywriting to the design templates were being ripped off by their competitors and used to get results for themselves. Instead of getting angry, or speed dialing his lawyers (as other entrepreneurs might do), Vishen and his team embraced the copycats. And then they made a big promise.

Starting today, MindValley will be one of the first companies to be completely devoted to sharing everything about their business in an open source model. This means every template, every meeting, every spreadsheet about how they run their business will be shared online. The website just went live about 8 hours ago, and the site is filled with videos, written articles, advice and tips. The site promises a treasure chest of information on everything from hiring and retaining great people to effective branding. 

Why would they release all this material for free? Unlike many others, the motivation isn't what I often call "karmic kickback" - a term that describes people who only do something for the expectation of some future return of positive karma. Instead, it is part of a bigger world view that Vishen and his entire team share.  He often speaks about "why happiness is the new productivity." The more you learn about MindValley, the most this announcement feels like the perfect fit for their mission of touching 500 million lives through their content by the year 2050.

In the months to come, it will be interesting to see how MindValley Insights evolves. For now, I highly recommend bookmarking the site and returning often to consume the great content there. It will help you hire better people to create a stronger business and find more happiness and fulfillment. Not to mention we'll need all the free advice and insights we can get just in case those autonomous collaborating robots finally figure out the nuclear launch codes ... 


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Likeonomics, Linsanity and Why The Oscars Really Matter

IMB_OceansElevenJerry Weintraub, the producer of Ocean's Eleven, has a dirty little secret. When he talks about getting the first of the Ocean's movies made in 1998, he admits it had very little to do with the script and everything to do with the first two people that he convinced to agree to being part of the project ... Director Steven Soderburgh and actor George Clooney. The two of them used their personal relationships to recruit the rest of the dozen actors who would make up the all star cast which included Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and others. Each agreed to be part of the ensemble cast at a fraction of the rate they are used to making so the film could afford to be made. 

Tonight as the stars rolled in for the Academy Awards, screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin was asked an interesting question by the reporters doing the pre-show coverage. "Will you make any deals tonight?" Sorkin's answer was "probably." Or something like that. It's not surprising if you think about it. When you get that many influential people in a room, of course they will make connections that lead to new films and creative projects. It always happens that way. The lasting effect of the Oscars go beyond just the winners and losers. In Hollywood, personal connections lead to million dollar deals.

IMB_JeremyLinOn the basketball court over the past several weeks, we've been hearing a lot about "Linsanity" - the craziness surrounding the rise of a new NBA star.  Jeremy Lin, according to Nielsen research, now officially has more marketability than Kobe or Lebron. A big part of his appeal, aside from being Asian, is his humble and likeable nature in a league known for big personalities and egos. 

What's the connection? One of the things I have spent much of the last year working on is understanding the huge role that our personal likeability has on our success. It is the focus of my next book called Likeonomics, which will be coming out in May. Tonight as I multitask watching the Oscars and writing this post - all the pieces started to come together. 

People connect with people they like on a human level. Almost every brand today wants to find ways to be more human. When you can create a more human brand, you build stronger connections with your customers. When you have a stronger connection, your customers talk about you more. When your customers talk about you more, you sell more. We see this every day in business. 

Tonight was a moment the same thing happened in Hollywood.  We may not have seen all the deals or big ideas that were sparked tonight.  But I imagine we will see them in the coming years. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Paulo Coelho Can Teach You About Storytelling & Writing

IMB_PauloCoelho1Sitting in a hotel room tonight putting the finishing touches on a presentation I am giving today on storytelling, I got an irresistable update to a new blog post over on Tim Ferriss' blog featuring a podcast interview with one of my longtime inspirations as a writer - Paolo Coelho.  His book The Alchemist is a life changing experience for anyone I know who has read it (including me). So when Tim published his interview, I immediately listened to the whole thing. I highly recommend it. 

In the midst of finishing my presentation and also putting the last edits together on my second book, the timing was perfect for the interview ... which perhaps explains why I've spent the last hour procrastinating on finishing my presentation and writing this post instead. But if you aspire to write anything from a book to a great blog post, I guarantee that some of Coelho's tips below will help. Here are his frequently "tweetworthy" quotes that I wrote down from his audio podcast:

On Inspiration: "I procrastinate, check some emails ... then I start. I write my books very quickly because I cannot stop."

On Confidence: "You cannot sell your next book by underrating your book that was just published. Be proud of what you have."

On Simplicity: "What counts in a good story is the person inside. Keep it simple."
On Trust: "Trust your reader. Don't try to describe things. Give a hint and they will fulfill this hint with their own imagination."

On Writing: "I write the book that wants to be written. Behind the first sentence is a thread that takes you to the last." 

On Expertise: "You cannot take something out of nothing. When you write a book, you use your experience."

On Critics: "Writers want to please their peers. They want to be recognized. Forget about this. Who cares? You should care to share your soul and not to please other writers who will write a review that nobody is going to read."

On Overcoming Stagnation: "If I don't feel inspired, I need to move forward. You need to have be disciplined."

On Research: "If you overload your book with a lot of research, you are going to be very boring to yourself and to your reader.  Books are not there to show how intelligent you are. Books are there to show your soul."

On Notetaking: "I use notes to take them out of my head. I will never use them the next day - they will be useless."

On Story Arcs: "There are only four types of stories: lovestory between 2 people, lovestory between 3 people, a struggle for power, and a journey."

On Style: "Don't try to innovate storytelling. Tell a good story and it is magical. I see people trying to work so much in style, finding different ways to tell the same thing. It is like fashion. Style is the dress, but the dress does not dictate what is inside the dress. What counts is the person."

On Notetaking: "If you want to capture ideas, you are lost. You are going to be detached from emotions and forget to live your life. You will be an observer and not a human being living his or her life. Forget notetaking. What is important remains, what is not important goes away."

On The Alchemist: "I wanted to write a story about my life. But I don't know why I chose a shepard. I've never been a shepard. When you write a book in one act, it is not such an effort to write it."

Thanks to Tim for offering up access to the mind of one of the most prolific and inspirational modern fiction writers - and to Paolo Coelho himself for taking the time to sit down and take all of us behind the scenes on how the magic really happens. 


Monday, February 06, 2012

The Best And Worst Of Super Bowl Marketing Strategy 2012

I couldn't help but feel sorry this year for anyone who only watches the Super Bowl ads for entertainment. Perhaps the most defining feature of all the ads this year was how uniformly uncreative and dated they were. Marketers turned to old and obvious gags like girls in bikinis and dogs (lots of dogs) to try and carry their ads. The result was a very disappointing collection of ads for anyone who loves marketing and the hype of Super Bowl advertising. Still, there is plenty of marketing to learn from all the efforts this year, so let's get started in breaking down the strategy behind the ads and my picks for the biggest winners and losers this year.


For months now, Samsung has been running a brilliant series of ads poking fun at all the "iSheep" obediently waiting in line overnight for the latest Apple product with their tagline "the next big thing is already here." Boosted by their recent announcement of record profits last quarter from strong sales of mobile devices, they are one of the small few mobile devicemakers who offer a viable alternative to the iPhone. What made this ad so good is how it took the message from previous ads and changed the "us vs. them" dynamic of the guy in the know about Samsung to give everyone in line the Samsung. Filled with celebrity cameos and lots of product shots, the ad got their overall strategic message across ... the next big thing is indeed here, and it is a Samsung.


This year Budweiser had 6 spots and all of them inspired more confusion than anything else. In half they focused on the heritage of Budweiser and how they have been around for a really long time (long enough to be served by bars after prohibition was lifted). In two they introduced a new kind of beer called "Platinum" which I think you might be able to earn airline miles for drinking. Or maybe it was a luxury version that they plan to offer in high end restaurants. No one was really sure. And just in case the lull wasn't complete, they even went for the "dog gets guy a beer" gag. If there was a strategy behind any of these ads, it was surely tough to pick out. That alone isn't unique for Budweiser, but at least in previous years they managed to entertain us and make us laugh. Not this year.

BEST AD - Fiat Seduction

My pick for the best ad of the night comes from Fiat with their ad called "Seduction" for the new unique looking Abarth. Unlike so many other ads this year, Fiat didn't feel the need to put a hot girl in a bikini and have her play the part of dream girl. Instead, they create a sense of mystery by having her speak in Italian, make her clearly in control of her interaction with the guy in the ad, and use the familiar experience of the first time you see an unforgettably beautiful woman to explain the feeling of seeing the new Fiat Abarth for the first time. The connection was easy to understand, memorable and fit perfectly with what looks to be a great car.


Um, a kid runs around trying to find a bathroom and ends up going pee in a swimming pool ... and this relates to taxes how? This was easily the dumbest ad of the night, not remotely strategic and completely unfunny. When drunk guys at home watching the SuperBowl tell their buddies they could create a better ad for $2 million, this is the ad they probably point to.


Throughout the night, there were a few examples of what is becoming a great trend in business which I have written about before - the rise of humanity. The way it came out through the Super Bowl was in more focus on real people and the things they are doing. I agree that on a day like today, the ads that took this approach were probably a bit drier and not likely to show up on a USAToday poll as favourite ads. But in terms of marketing strategy and demonstrating a real and human side to the brands, they were big wins. Best Buy, for example, featured real entrepreneurs who created mobile apps and tools (earning them great social media cred and buzz). GE featured real people in their two inspiring ads that continue to position GE as a brand that puts their employees front and center. The last great example was the NFL running their ad featuring players going to fan's homes and offices to sing their own rendition of "wind beneath my wings" to thank fans for all their support. Whether humanizing employees, NFL stars, or visionary entrepreneurs ... the ads that chose to do this universally worked on a strategic level.


Let's just count the things that dogs did this year in Super Bowl spots:

1. Dog wins race wearing Skechers running shoes.
2. Dog buries cat and buys owner's silence with Doritos.
3. Dog gets Bud Light beer.
4. Dog loses weight then chases car.

Add them to the clydesdale horses and cheetahs and it makes for a slate of Superbowl ads that would make the Humane Society proud. Unfortunately, none of them stood out as anything more than ordinary.


In case you forgot that the Superbowl is actually a football game, Bridgestone was one of the few advertisers to remember that - using the idea of optimizing the balls for all sports as the background for the great creative concept in this ad.  Using their high traction material to make footballs and basketballs was a great example of how they made their technology relevant to football fans and watchers in a new way.


Seriously Pepsi, haven't we seen the "guy with the Coke shirt/hat/truck drinks Pepsi" gag before? This ad has marketing executive unwilling to pay for a new creative idea written all over it. 

BIGGEST WINNERS - Adriana Lima and NBC

After the big game, one of the biggest winners are likely to be Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima who was featured in both the Teleflora ad and the Kia Dream Car ad. To be the leading girl in two Super bowl spots in a single year is unheard of and I am sure she is already seeing a big awareness bumb in her personal profile and career.  The other big winner will likely be NBC, who filled the broadcast with ads for their own new and upcoming shows. Everything from Celebrity Apprentice to The Voice to 30Rock was promo'd for the world to see.

BIGGEST LOSERS - GoDaddy & Budweiser

After a few years of sticking with the same gag of almost naked girls and the promise to "see more online" it is starting to get old. The live commentary recorded the same kind of sentiment. These were both traditional Super Bowl advertisers that seemed to be advertising again more out of tradition than any real strategy.


There were a few ads that pointed backwards in time, from Honda's Ferriss Bueller remake to Budweiser talking about their long history, or the NFL showing an ad called timeline that looks at the evolution of the NFL. The best of the lot was Acura's use of Seinfeld, where the ad took moments from the show that fans would recognize and incorporated them into an entertaining spot.

BEST CASTING - Dannon Oikos Yogurt

The Dannon Oikos ad with a woman head butting John Stamos for a yogurt was funny on its own, but to choose a dreamy actor who people haven't seen in a while (and one with a Greek heritage!) was a perfect choice for promoting greek yogurt to women. Not over the top like the David Beckham underwear ads from H&M, but just right. Oikos itself may have been an unexpected brand to advertise, but one who likely did a lot to reach their target audience by remembering (unlike all the bikini-featuring brands) that plenty of women watch the Super Bowl too.


Picking the funniest ad of the night is not a hard choice. Only one ad all night actually made me and several friends laugh out loud while watching ... the brown M&M spot. Maybe it was funnier because I'm brown myself, but this was perfectly scripted and executed.  The animated dancing of the creepy "naked" red M&M who strips off his red was perfectly done - and a great usage of the M&M candy personalities.


Calling attention to the controversy of player head injuries and the dangers of football was a bold move for the NFL. In Evolution they offer up the timeline of everything that has happehend to help protect players through time and point the spotlight at the fact that they aren't done yet. It was a risky move, but one that I think will pay off as a powerful reminder of how seriously the NFL is taking player safety as an issue.


while some have already objected to the underlying message of this ad (that flowers on Valentines will lead to getting action), the timing of this ad stands out only because no other advertiser seemed to realize that Valentine's is less than two weeks away.


For more than a dozen ads during the pregame show, Century21 played ad after ad showing their agent up against some recognizable celebrities in a few different categories. Each ad hyped their upcoming BIG ad that would play during the third quarter and warned viewers to watch out for it. The actual ad itself had been so built up, you were expecting something significant.  The ad it self was little more than something ordinary. We get it, you can pay some celebrities to show up in your ad. Any other time, that would be cool. For the Super Bowl, we kind of expect that.


The whole connection of the dog losing weight both in the actual VW ad and the "prequel" ad that was released several days ago was stretched. While their Star Wars themed ad with the kid dressed as Darth Vader was a hit last year, this year just seemed like they were trying too hard to be just as cool. At the end of the new ad, the guy at the bar said the "Vader kid was better" ... he was right.

BONUS ADS - 2 Non-nationally Televised Ads Worth Watching (SeaWeb + Kaufmann Foundation)

Often cause related ads don't get the national spotlight because of the high price tag, but do get shown during pregame programming and regionally. Here are two that stood out for me - one for the message (which I truly believe) that entrepreneurs can change the world.  The second from an organization that I have worked with in the past which used the bold strategy of fading to black for 5 seconds in their 30 second spot to illustrate the power of silence when used creatively. 

Friday, February 03, 2012

What The Amish Paradox Can Teach You About Marketing

IStock_000012334464XSmallLast year on a trip back to the US from South Africa, I picked up a magazine about a topic I knew very little about. It is of the common tricks I use to learn about different industries outside of the ones I work directly with – and in this case, the magazine I ended up with was called Farmer’s Weekly.

The content was as you would expect, advice for farmers on techniques, information about regulations that will affect their industry and ads for tractors and things like that. In the middle of the issue I picked up was a feature article about what the author called the “Amish Paradox”

This paradox describes the unexpected methods that the Amish use when farming their land that are working so well that they are continuing to run their farms profitably without interruption while many other farmers are struggling to make ends meet and often going under as well.  What makes the Amish technique so special?

They rotate their crops consistently (planting different items at different parts of the yar. They never use chemical fertilizers and use something called “legume-based pastures’ to keep the fertility of their land. They tend to grow smaller fruits and veggies (which some say they are tastier to). Perhaps most importantly, they do what is called “adding value” – by producing additional products such as fresh cheese.

In an industry facing increasing pressure from large industry leaders to plant more genetically modified crops, and focus on volume above all else … the Amish philosophy stands out. What can you learn from their lesson, even if you are not in farming?

  1. Stick to your ideals. For the Amish, their farm culture is mixed together with their religion and belief system. Few of our small businesses take such a principled approach, but if you do – it can help serve as a guidepost for what your business will do and how it will evolve, and what you will avoid.
  2. Think longer term. One of the biggest challenges in any business is to think of the long term and not of today. Crop rotation, for example, is a principle focused on making sure that land remains good for cultivating crops far into the future. Sometimes what it requires is passing up the opportunity to simply plant the most profitable thing every time.
  3. Avoid following the “experts.” The Amish philosophy goes against many experts in the farming industry who push for higher production and instead follows their more traditional path. This tends to draw many critics and also probably causes them to have lower revenues from their crops.  Yet this goes back to point #2 – and how your priorities tend to be different if you focus on taking care of your land for future generations instead of just maximizing profit today.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The 4 Principles Of Delusional Economics

IStock_000009238415XSmallWhen it comes to economic theories, there is plenty of fascination in the business world around how to explain what drives business and purchasing activities. Behavioural economics, the field of economics concerned with examining why people behave the way they do when it comes to their purchasing behaviour, is hot right now.  Bestselling books like Freakonomics and Predictably Irrational dig deep into the psyche of people to try and explain seemingly illogical actions.

My own upcoming book called Likeonomics, to some degree, looks at a similar theme of why we do business with people and businesses we like and what impact likeability has on building a trusted business. As part of the research for that book, I have come across a disturbing number of examples of a new type of economic philosophy which is becoming sadly common, and which cannot be explained by modern economic theory.

I have started referring to this philosophy as Delusional Economics – a new economic principle which explains the growing number of businesses who expect some type of unreasonable behaviour change or act of altruism among their consumers in order to help their business succeed.  This is not a strategy for success, even though sadly many businesses fall prey to it. Here are what I believe the four key principles of Delusional Economics are, and how you might avoid applying them to your own small business:

  1. Change a customer’s worldview. A worldview is generally how a person sees the world around them, and it is usually the toughest element of perception to change. It is why people vote the way they do, why they sometimes blindly believe something or someone, and why they approach life in the manner that they do.  To attempt to change how they see the world as part of your business strategy is usually a waste of time and effort.
  2. Getting people to pay for something that is currently free.  When a customer has become used to getting something for free, you really need to offer a compelling reason about why they should pay for something similar. Is it better, faster, more complete or more premium? Whatever the benefit, you need to make sure it is truly compelling to move people past the hurdle of being free.
  3. Basing a business model on revenue from nonexistent advertisers or customers.  More than one tech startup has been launched over the last several years with an extremely naive view of what advertisers will pay for.  They have a revenue model based on advertising, but no pipeline or ability to get those customers.  The end result is that their entire business success hinges on being able to connect with a key audience that doesn’t even really exist.
  4. Overestimating a customer’s ability to appreciate value worth paying a premium for.  A common problem with products or services targeted to the higher end of the market is that people in general are not that good at being able to detect what value is worth paying for. If I told you a bottle of wine was $100, you would assume it was great wine. If a wine bottle cost less than $5, it probably wasn’t. This is fine when it comes to wine, but in your business and industry it is probably much harder for a customer to discern the real value that they get and understand that it may be worth paying more for.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

FinnAir, Republic Day & Why Celebration Is The Best Marketing Strategy

A few weeks ago it was my birthday. The day before on a Saturday morning, my two boys came leaping into our room very excited to wake me up. It wasn't so much about my birthday, unfortunately, as it was about getting ready to do their favourite thing on a Saturday morning: going to IHOP for pancakes. And when there is a birthday involved, it is an even bigger deal. Your birthday is a celebration there. They bring over at least 6 of the wait staff to sing their own version of the birthday song to you. You get ice cream for breakfast (what kid wouldn't love that?).

People love celebrations - and they love to be at the center of attention. Birthdays are easy. Probably any restaurant would do something special for your birthday. But what about the moments that people forget to celebrate? 3 days ago was the first day of the Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Dragon. What did your business do to celebrate? Unless you happen to be Chinese, probably nothing. 

Life and culture gives us plenty of moments to celebrate, but often we let them pass without doing anything. If we could, however, it would be an unexpected delight. Today FinnAir offered a perfect example of that - as they filmed and posted a video on YouTube of their cabin staff performing a surprise Bollywood dance on a flight from Helskinki to India in celebration of India's Republic Day:

South Asians and anyone with a passion for India (or marketing) have been sharing this on Facebook and talking about it all day today. It is going what you might call "micro-viral." In other words, it is going viral among the exact small target community that a marketing team should care most about - people highly likely to travel to Southeast Asia. The timing is perfect too, as one of the things that many South Asian families start to think about at the beginning of the year is planning their travel for the rest of the year. And flights to India get booked far in advance.

So this surprise dance has a potentially beautiful marketing payoff - to get people who are considering travel to India later in the year to consider using FinnAir to get there. As of now the video only has a few thousand views. Perhaps it will never get a million or more. But by offering an unexpected celebration, they have positioned their brand as one that offers a connection to India (literally and figuratively). My guess is that it is already paying off.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Honda Masters The Art of Marketing Timing

IMB_CRV_LeapList1Every year at the start of the new year there is something that most of us do without realizing it. It is related to making new year's resolutions, but it is more about sequencing your long term goals into the order in which you want to achieve them. One example might be saying to yourself, "I want to be married and then have a kid before I turn 35." Life is full of these little promises. So full, in fact, that often we make them to ourselves without even thinking. It raises an interesting marketing question as well.

What would it take to get a customer to reevaluate the life sequence they have already set for themselves?

It becomes a particularly important question when you consider a brand selling a product that is all about fitting into the right stage in life. A product, for example, like a car. When you consider when people buy new cars, it is very much about life's stages. Graduating from college, landing a new job, getting married or having a kid. Each of these life changes can often be triggers to consider buying a new car.

IMB_CRV_LeapList3Honda's new campaign for the CRV may have found one way to solve that challenge. With their Honda LeapList campaign, they encourage consumers to go online and make their own lists of what they want to accomplish before they turn 30, or what they want to do before they get married. It is a brilliant way not only to encourage people to dream and perhaps even act on their longstanding dream to travel the world, but also to encourage them to think about how getting a new car might fit into that sequence. The underlying message is a perfect one for their consumers: why wait? You can do all the things you want to do, and you can do them on your own time. But maybe you should just think about buying that car right now instead of waiting.

Sure it's clearly a marketing message - but what they perfectly prove is something that any marketers would do well to remember. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do to sell your product is help your customers to imagine exactly when they should buy it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

How “HateSurfing” Can Help Your Small Business

IStock_000003795732XSmallMost of us have heard the statistic that it is about ten times more likely that someone will post a comment online about a negative experience than a positive one.  It is not hard to believe if we just imagine our own experiences.  When we are a satisfied customer, usually the easy thing to do is go merrily on our way.  If the opposite happens, however, human nature is to seek retribution and the web is the perfect conduit. 

Negativity is super easy to post online, and irresistible because of the side benefit of being able to influence people who you have never met.  Add in the simplicity of Twitter and how it allows a constant stream of 140 character rants … and anyone could be forgiven for describing the Internet as the biggest complaint box the world has ever seen.

Most social media advice you read will tell you to start by listening to what people are saying about your brand online. Find the negativity and you can engage people and hopefully turn their experience around. What if you took an even more extreme approach and dived headfirst into the negativity?

“HateSurfing” is a term that describes the act of going online specifically to read as many negative comments, blog posts, tweets and messages as possible to generate insights that can help you run your business better.

A simple example is going to any product’s page on Amazon and only reading the 1-star reviews. Or you might do a targeted search on Twitter for “hotel” and “hate” to see what people are talking about that they hate about their hotel experiences, no matter where they are staying.  There are three core principles that can help you effectively use hatesurfing to find useful insights for your business.

  1. Find the best keywords. Depending on the industry you are in, people will often use different language to complain. They might share that something “sucks” or that it was a “rip-off” or they might use emotional words like “hate” or “ignored.”  Whatever the lingo, you need to get a good sense of what it is online so you can search most effectively.
  2. Choose the right platforms.  In every category, there are places where people congregate to discuss products or services. The travel industry has TripAdvisor, retail products are reviewed on Amazon, and restaurants have Yelp. Facebook and Twitter cross boundaries and be a good place to start for any industry.
  3. Spot the insights. Amongst all the negativity that you start finding, the real value to your business will be to find the complaints which might lead to new ideas for your business. This might mean a new feature to add to your business which no one else has, but that consumers are demanding. Or you might change a business practice of yours that you currently have after you see lots of complaints about it (not necessarily directed at you).

The ultimate benefit of hatesurfing is that it can help you to run your business better, and spot the opportunities to delight customers which your competitors might be missing.