Tag Archives: Consumers

Is 2015 The Year Of Hope For Net Neutrality?

As we have entered a bright, shiny new year, 2015 has us looking forward with hope and wonder about what BIG events will alter our futures the most. I’ve been thinking (and hoping) for quite a while that the most influential technology and business event of 2015 will be the solution of the Net Neutrality conundrum.  I inserted “hope” above because I don’t think it’s going to resolve itself anytime soon, but there is a huge amount of success or failure relying on a resolution.

Part of the problem is the confusion about whose responsibility it should be in the first place.  I don’t even claim to know all of the intricacies, so forgive me if I come across as naive in trying to simplify. There are certainly many (like Nick Castelli) who have different takes and do decent jobs of laying out what’s at stake. You can always do more research and come back to straighten me out…

To me, one of the main issues stems from the following:
In the United States, laws were set in place that – when telecom companies laid down cable, fiber, networks, infrastructure, they need to allow other companies to make use of their infrastructure. The companies using the infrastructure may be paying to use the pipes, but it was found to not fully cover their part of the costs – especially when they are able to offer services utilizing those infrastructures at a lesser cost than what the bigger companies paid to have them laid in the first place.  What happens is that any incentive to upgrade services is diminished because competitors can utilize those very same upgrades almost immediately with no capital expenditure. Because of this, you can find areas in major metropolitan cities who don’t have fiber network access and, therefore, slower connections than individuals or businesses residing just blocks away.

On the other side, we consumers don’t want to pay more to get the things we feel we’re entitled to. As has proven  lately, this is great when there is an entity willing to foot the bill (i.e. advertising supported) but not so good when the financial support dwindles so as to be inconsequential. This leaves entities searching for other forms of revenue – whether it be only providing content by subscriptions or fees.

Companies are jumping into the fray from left and right to serve the needs of the public and businesses via the internet – with huge distribution expenses offset by existing infrastructures. The concern is, the longer the lack of clarity continues, we’ll be seeing more executives like Reed Hastings of Netflix paying ISPs for a perceived fast-lane from one hand while lamenting the position ISPs are putting us in on the other. The confusion leads to many disjointed decisions that look to solve current issues (fleeting as they may be) and, perhaps, setting bad precedent for the future.

Ultimately, the question of Net Neutrality is much broader than who raises prices and who gets stuck with the bill.

Going to the basics of broadband, there have been studies on the effects of faster internet connections on the GDP, education and society. In 2013, Ericsson published a study with Chalmers University of Technology and the Arthur D. Little organization that pointed to a direct growth in GDP of 0.3% based on the doubling of broadband speeds between 2008 and 2011. Beyond the growth in GDP, there were other bumps that benefited society in ways that are harder to quantify.

Property of Ericsson, Chambers University and Arthur D Little. From the 2013 publication, ANALYZING THE EFFECT OF BROADBAND ON GDP.

Property of Ericsson, Chambers University and Arthur D Little. From the 2013 publication, ANALYZING THE EFFECT OF BROADBAND ON GDP.

In some ways, I question the wholeness of the data based on the years they were measuring.  For instance, South Korea had already installed a phenomenal broadband infrastructure that was inexpensive for it’s people and provided speeds far beyond most other countries. One example of the difference was illustrated when, in 2006, I was checking paid media creative maximums in many of the key countries I was working with around the world.  In the US and UK, the heaviest K size for standard banners was 12Kb.  In South Korea, it was 400Kb.  The reason is because their pipes were so wide, 400Kb needed as little load time for their consumers as it did for consumers in the US, UK, DE and most others. But, even in its simplest form, the study proves a point that there is much more benefit to fast connections than just being able to watch movies (or make more money for the ISPs.)

Now comes the part where my naivete or idealism comes into play – the truth is, I’ve been trying to find alternative solutions in my own head since before the United States Supreme Court struck down net neutrality rules in January of ’14.

As broadband is key to growth for any country – not just for GDP, but education and society as a whole, it seems that there needs to be a solution that the government foots most if not all of the bill. I get that there should be a true opportunity for industry to grow and not be dragged down by the masses, but in this age, the hottest commodities are digital solutions and the distribution and development of those products.

We usually get into trouble when we bring up politics and not just because of its divisive nature. It’s because politics has become more of a game of sportsmanship trying to move everyone toward their ideal – whether it be governmental or industrial. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.  We can’t abolish Net Neutrality AND feel that we are doing a service for the greater whole.  The wealthier will be able to pay for and get what they want and the large corporations will be able to quash the opportunities for upstarts to make a mark on any given industry.

Until there is clarity on the future (or not) of Net Neutrality, industries will be stunted in their ability to set strategy on how they address their business models and digital distribution of their product, content, marketing, communities and much much more.

With all of that being said, the ISPs should be paid to deliver the required broadband infrastructure that allows for as good of Net Neutrality as we can hope for. The government may be the only entity that can “afford” to pay for this deployment and convey whatever modicum of impartiality they attempt to convey at this point. If that doesn’t happen, 2015 will just be another year on the road to removing hope for most visionaries, innovators and hard-workers about reaching their dream (American or other.)

Tesco’s American Invasion Was DOA

UK grocery company, Tesco, has decided to pull out of their American Invasion and take a $1.8 Billion write-off (with the favorable UK exchange rate – only 1.2 Billion Pounds – it still doesn’t soften the blow of the astounding loss.) Tiffany Hsu’s LA Times article points to Tesco’s misunderstanding of what the public wants and the dire consequences of trying to compete with the Wal-Marts, Costcos, Trader Joes and the like. If Tesco believed those were their competition, their analysis was very off – regardless of recession or not. Tesco saw themselves as something they were not – and in America, it’s foolish to think that customers will save bad branding by finding the hidden gems behind whatever facade is presented. Any way you slice it, its unfortunate that Tesco’s invasion of the American market was dead on arrival.

Courtesy: Freshneasybuzz

Courtesy: Freshneasybuzz

It had a lot more to do with branding, design and store locations than what Americans do or do not want. Admittedly, my exposure is limited to their locations in the Los Angeles market, but it quickly became very clear how Fresh & Easy was positioned counter-intuitively and ineffectively.

The first store I visited was a huge space on heavily trafficked tourist destination Hollywood Boulevard. It was large, dark and depressing. Another location was also in midtown on a heavily trafficked car artery with no abundance of parking spaces. And the last one I was in a week ago was probably the best model of what they should have been doing all along – a small, bright and colorful store in a heavy pedestrian area near USC.

Beyond their questionable locations and early dreary decor, they should have positioned themselves as the perfect last minute spot to pick up quality prepared meals and sundry items on the way to work or on the way home for dinner. They couldn’t/shouldn’t have felt they could compete with the established big markets.

The article compares them to a Wal-Mart, but Tesco should have positioned Fresh & Healthy as more akin to a refined and healthier 7-11 – like their own Tesco Metros back in the UK. That healthy option would have been the right aspirational touch – especially in Southern California.

Fresh & Easy might have worked if they had stronger positioning. It seems they were even unclear on who they were meant to be. Because of that, their marketing never worked. It’s a shame, because if you look at their location near USC, they could have focused on smaller spaces in higher foot-traffic (or more easily accessible) areas to create something akin to the Marks & Spencer Simply Food product in the UK. Another similarity to M&S in the USC location was the automated tellers that allowed staff to be focused around the store to help out in ways you certainly don’t see in a 7-11.

The promise of getting in and out of a market in five minutes with inexpensive essentials and healthy prepared meals would have been something that might have made it a success.

Short of that, its another example of a move that a company should have never ventured in the first place. Or, its an example of a good thing that never had the required clarity and forethought to drive success. Fresh & Easy is Dead. Long Live Fresh & Easy.

Packaging And What Nots

Just a few quick hits…

SOUP & WARHOL

Campbell’s Soup is effectively double-dipping into the oeuvre of Warhol’s “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans” by trying to generate a buzz about the pieces of art that were created 50 years ago.  They have released four limited edition cans in Target Stores commemorating the release of those prints in a gallery. What once might have caused some members of counsel to put in long hours to determine whether  Warhol’s depiction of the soup was legal has now been turned on end in the attempt to generate excitement where there may have not been some otherwise.

I don’t even believe that Campbell’s believes it will have that big of an effect on their bottom line – as reported in this Newser piece – but they can’t be blamed for going all out on this opportunity to get themselves out there.  In addition to the products in Target stores, they have created a Facebook page to allow fans some type of 15 minutes of fame, and they are also sponsoring MOMA’s “Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” exhibition that opens on September 18th.

Interesting that Campbell’s had to get approval from the Warhol foundation to create the special edition cans…

ARE WE READY FOR SQUARE BOTTLES?

Still on the packaging path, there was coverage about a prototype that will surely cause many beer drinkers to pose the proverbial, “huh?”

Are beer drinkers ready for a bottle that’s not really a bottle?  Will they care that packaging will enable more cost-effective shipping? And, will people want to look like kids with alternate versions of juice boxes in their hand as they pound them down?

The Heineken Cube concept, designed by Petit Romain. (Petit Romain)

This prototype by French company, Petit Romain, offers that opportunity.  Who knows when we’ll see the format hit our shelves?  Maybe it will be in limited quantities – like the soup above – but will it be used for more than a try?  I don’t know how a bottle opener is going to work, or how my nose is going to feel mashed up on my last swig.  I give them props for looking at packaging alternatives and hooking coverage by outlets like the Los Angeles Times

LASTLY, WHAT NOT TO DO…

When I read about Walmart’s plan to accentuate the price difference with their competitors, I was confused because it seems like such a late date to roll out April Fool’s jokes. As mobile options to check around for lowest prices in a matter of seconds, I was taken aback by Walmart’s planned service to receive emails from consumers and send back an email in a few days to alert the consumer how much they could have saved.

Perhaps it is pure genius, but it is more likely a reflection of what Walmart thinks of its customers.  They obviously feel that their consumer would not be privy to the newest technology and would be OK with waiting a few days to see if the prices received were, in fact, the lowest. available.

What concerned me the most was that their customers might be so willing to bring personal information to Walmart’s door.  A company’s offer of a loyalty program as a way to generate knowledge about their consumers is one thing.  To create something that aggregates shopping information about a consumer’s shopping at all stores seems a little duplicitous.  Whether they can provide a value to the consumer in lower prices for the next time they shop is fine, but they must be doing it for the bigger “get” of finding out more about their consumers than perhaps they should.

Walmart will rightfully never share how many people participate in this low-tech  offering, but the implications could be big if a larger amount of people participate.  Hopefully, they are smart and sharp enough to not participate – trusting other resources or their own noggins to get the best pricing without giving up their personal preferences and habits.

It Sucks When You Stop Showing Up To The Party And Nobody Cares

After a ten-day blackout of Viacom-owned cable networks on DirecTV, the sides finally announced this morning that they have come to an agreement. It may be a while before it is absolutely clear what the real impact of this standoff was. During the blackout, there were measurable elements that fluctuated but the real ramifications could be much more than ratings or stock prices. It wasn’t surprising that Viacom took the position that they were in the driver’s seat or that DirecTV engaged in a publicity campaign to ensure that its viewers believed that the negotiating stance was there for the consumer.  What was enlightening was the general ho-hum response by the general public and the nod to what the future holds – both in entertainment outlets and negotiating tactics – as the multitude of choices in channels and consumption platforms is not just a cliché but a reality.

Courtesy Deadline.com

First off, what I found interesting is that the DirecTV subscribers are not in Viacom’s wheelhouse demo. From a non-scientific analysis, it would seem that the majority of the people who are paying for DirecTV are not the ones who are the target for much of Viacom’s offerings. The assumption is that the kids are interested in the Nickelodeon and MTV channels and they aren’t paying the bills. But that’s obviously not entirely true as the bigger issue for Viacom is that there are so many ways to consume the content. They went so far as to remove the online episodes of the grown-up or bill-payer shows (such as Jon Stewart’s Daily Show), only to make those available days later. But, there’s not much new product in the summer to drive demand or viewership. My kid loves a Nick Jr. show, but there were enough episodes in the DVR that she had no idea there was a blackout – let alone have any clue what it means.

Besides the opportunities that consumers have to find content elsewhere – (DirecTV has a whole array of extras that allows viewers to watch content through YouTube and similar online outlets on the TV) how can the sold advertising be allowed to not be shown? The quick-response viewership decline that Deadline pointed out – “Live, full day ratings in the target demos for its channels were down 27% in the week that ended July vs the same week last year – the previous week, before the loss of DirecTV, they were -14%” – only tells half the story. If advertisers are able to, they’ll capture how much of an effect the loss in advertising had on their actual sales.  Perhaps the biggest losers are studios who are trying to promote their films to the key movie-going demo watching Viacom’s channels. But, again, the timing is bad – I don’t know that the demand for the next Batman film is lessened because DirecTV viewers couldn’t see the spots on a few of the many more outlets they access regularly.

The worst by-product of this for Viacom, and perhaps even DirecTV, is that the absence of something provides an opportunity for people to find alternatives. The timing of DirecTV’s addition of Disney Jr during the blackout opened up eyes to the possibility of an alternative for any child who couldn’t get their Nick Jr fix. If the loss was to something outside of the media environment, can anyone be so sure that they will come back?

I’ve been in Paris during a strike by the Metro and museum workers. My feet killed me from so much walking and I ate very well as an alternative to museums, but there is no doubt I would be returning once the trains were running.  Disruption in access to a few channels leads to much less discomfort than the loss of transportation. Viacom and other content providers and carriers should keep that in mind as they threaten tactics like this in the future.

The hardball tactic is fine from a negotiation standpoint – with its true business value debated. But, the risk to the ultimate bottom line of consumer’s interest is a different story that nobody can ill-afford to take lightly. Because, if you’re not around, there’s no certainty that anyone will really care.

Brands and Ramifications of Earth Day’s Collateral Damage

Earth Day has always been a peculiar holiday when it comes to marketing and promotional ties that are made to a day reminding us to honor the planet. Even though the tie to honoring nature was clearly evident in the film AVATAR, I still had a concern when we were promoting it for release on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.  I totally appreciated the strong message in the film and how it related to the holiday – I just wondered how people would react to the additional physical needs required for releasing on Earth Day (it fell on a Thursday rather than the traditional Tuesday release day and the amount of packaging manufactured was huge for the highest selling BD/DVD of all time.)  Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much of a backlash as I thought.  There was barely any. So, for all of the hubbub about Earth Day and the interests of brands in promoting their products in the spirit of the day, there is quite a bit of collateral damage.

Heading into Earth Day this Sunday, there are a number of companies tying themselves to the holiday – with Target being among the largest.  They are giving away 1.5 Million re-usable bags on Sunday and promoting a bunch of their ecologically sound products.  Other companies are doing their own twist on the theme with Disney Stores allowing guests to trade in 5 disposable shopping bags for a themed re-usable one, Origins is offering the opportunity to trade in existing skin care product for one of two Earth-friendly products at Macy’s stores, and Pottery Barn Kids providing sunflower seed packets.

The value and awareness that is brought by large retailers and brands doing their own bit to celebrate the day are great and definitely needed.  Perhaps it could become the exception when a company is NOT doing something in support of the day. Partnerships with eco-organizations are the easiest ways to both make a statement and increase awareness.  There are definitely a large amount of non-profits that fit the bill.

The bizarre thing is what I refer to when mentioning Collateral Damage – the ill effect that some programs have on the environment.  While Target is doing their huge program and increasing awareness by fostering a strong partnership with Recyclebank, an organization that is working towards a world without waste by rewarding people for taking everyday green actions – like recycling and reducing water use – Target has created a huge opportunity for waste.  Don’t get me wrong.  They are doing something for the better good and they are not new to the game – they have been giving $.05 discounts to consumers who use their own bags since November of 2009.

Their true good has been made murky by the fact that they have created 1.5 MILLION bags – objects that would not have existed otherwise – and brought them into the marketplace.  The message is strong about helping the ecology, but what about the message of all the materials that went into that manufacturing?  Additionally, their promotion of savings on numerous eco-friendly products requires consumers to print out coupons on pieces of paper.  Couldn’t they just say that all those items are on sale on Sunday – no coupon/waste required?

Ultimately, it’s a challenge.  How do products that require manufacturing of some sort ever even themselves against any real or perceived destruction of the ecology?  I’m not saying that brands and retailers should throw up their hands and say its no use. It’s just the opposite.  They should be looking deeper into how they can make a statement – whether through packaging, year-long practices and the simple things like having items be on sale without requiring paper to be wasted in order to redeem the savings.

To some extent, we will always be playing a zero-sum game with the idea of consumption and preservation.  Perhaps we will get to the point where we are actually preserving and recycling at a greater rate than what we are wasting.  It is baby steps and we can only hope to keep the damage to a minimum – especially as we celebrate Earth Day.

Digging Under The Shady Surface of Tracking IQ

In what is most likely just the tip of the iceberg, last week saw some serious drama play itself out between a mobile tracking company, Carrier IQ, and a security researcher, Trevor Eckhart.  The software is used by a number of mobile carriers on a number of mobile phones to track information that the company says help the manufacturers and carriers refine their products.  The bad thing is that most consumers have no idea what it is – and because it is tremendously hard to remove the program, its purposes and “spying” or tracking ability makes it that much scarier. It truly poses the question of whether consumers should know what they are getting into with technology or not. What really stinks is when the consumer is not given the choice to opt-out.

Added to the elevated concerns about privacy is the questionable tactics Carrier IQ took after Eckhart originally posted his findings under the name TrevE.  He was served with a Cease and Desist order from Carrier IQ and the threat of a lawsuit. Perhaps they could have learned from Forever21’s misfortunes of legal responses and the negative implications they caused in the social stratosphere.

Just using YouTube as non-scientific barometer is quite telling about how big of a hit Carrier IQ (and possibly the carriers and manufacturers) is taking. The video Eckart posted has received over 1.5 million views, but anything the company has posted in response has earned views that are miniscule in comparison.  Even the follow-up videos by other outlets announcing both the subsequent cease and desist and the ultimate apology garnered more views than the company’s response.  Adding insult to injury, an edited mashup of the company’s response video is getting up there in views.

Now, there is buzz about this around the world and the US government has gotten involved – with Senator Al Franken calling for the same answers the general public is asking for.Whether or not there is anything malicious or unethical in the program and its findings, the fact that the information is being tracked even in relatively unconnected phones and the difficulties in removing the program or just opting out is quite disturbing.  Working in the technology business, Carrier IQ should have been ahead of the curve both on the PR side as well as in the option to opt-out.  To have a force quit button that does nothing is unacceptable.

Quite honestly, I had seen the App listed in my phone as HTC IQAgent when I was trying to figure out why my phone is saying it’s always at capacity.  Perhaps I stupidly trusted it because it had the name HTC in front of it.  The whole event causes me to trust HTC even less.  I wish I knew what HTC programs were truly for my benefit and which were not.  Perhaps it is time to switch to another model and even another carrier. If HTC really wanted to see what issues I was having, they could contact me and allow me to tell them what the problem is.  At this point, I don’t believe that the program is just there to help fix issues automatically without bothering us as the stickiness, battery and storage issues I have been having for months still occur. 

I do not plan to drop my phone in water as some YouTube vides suggest, but I definitely have more questions that I want answered and Eckhart’s 4 questions at the end of his video really only touch the surface. The time for arrogance by technologists and companies when it comes to privacy and tracking has got to be curbed – or those scary things we saw in movies and wrote them off as science fiction will become all too real…

The Hypocritical Conundrum of Media, Marketing and Youth

A mantra among social marketing mavens is Relevancy and Authenticity. The message does not mean a thing if it doesn’t use those elements – and perhaps a few more – to engage or connect with the members of the community.  But what if the community is being joined – rightfully or not – by the youth that might not be old enough to participate in the conversation? Is it OK to just figure media, marketing and messaging should be accessible to kids just because they have more access than ever before to the distribution points? And who is responsible for those viewers? A recently released study sponsored by Microsoft and a few universities point to the challenges of determining responsibility.

The focus of the study’s report was on parents’ involvement in allowing under-aged children to lie in order to get around Facebook’s ban of users under the age of 13.  The delineation of 13 is based on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that was enacted in 1998.  COPPA sets regulations for commercial websites regarding serving information to users under the age of 13 and the collection of data.  Effectively, it requires the consent of parents for any child under the age of 13 with screening mechanisms in place.  At the time the US Act was passed, it is questionable whether anyone envisioned the type of information that would be collected in the future via sites like Facebook.  In the report, you can see the high level of parents who either knew their child was active on Facebook or even helped set up their account by lying about their age.

This could be a problem for companies if they knew that kids under age were using their sites without the proper precautions, but the fact that kids (and/or parents) are lying about it does remove some culpability from the owners of those sites.  It just brings the question of what is right and what controls should be in place when it comes to access for the youth of today.

There are certainly many outlets for children to access secure, relevant and authentic content.  Perhaps the content and interaction on those outlets are presented in a “social” way, but the fundamentals of social engagement seem better learned through real-life engagements. In the case of social media, is access best served to kids who have not even gotten the fundamentals of social behaviour crystalized? It would be easy to state that it should be up to the parents, if only the parents could really be held accountable.  As we know, parents are not always able to educate, guide or safeguard children in all instances – regardless of intent, concern or compassion. It is questionable whether parents (or the entire public for that matter) understand or recognize exactly how much private information can be gleaned from the internet quickly and easily, so to expect that they would govern their children’s online use based on that might be expecting too much.

The following passage from the report “Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age” authored by Danah Boyd, Eszther Hargittai, Jason Schultz and John Palfrey relates to children under 13 accessing the Facebook site.

The bottom line, however, is that youth under 13 appear to be on Facebook in large numbers. And while Facebook takes steps to remove underage users, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated at a talk on education that Facebook only imposes the under–13 prohibition because of COPPA’s restrictions (Lev–Ram, 2011). He argued that younger children should be allowed to get on Facebook because doing so is an important part of the educational process. With regard to COPPA, Zuckerberg stated, “That will be a fight we take on at some point” (Lev–Ram, 2011).

There is a problem with just deciding something is good for children because it is “part of the educational process.”  Just as we wouldn’t let children walk about town at night alone to learn what happens outside of the home after dark, why would we do the same here? While there are absolutely huge differences in the examples, the core is the same – just because its educational, doesn’t mean its right.

We joke that the paperwork and security checks are more daunting in order to adopt a dog from the ASPCA than it is to have a baby of your own. Or, more to the point of this post, there is a more challenging test to see if we are fit to drive a car than there is to see if we are fit to raise a child – of course there is none for the latter.

That is what makes this entire concept of access for youth even harder to get our arms around.  Most parents would want to believe their children are mature enough and more ready for access to sites like Facebook. Yet they have no way of keeping tabs on the situation or even being sure what their children might come across – much less educate them on the granular details of what they can come across on social networking sites.  Will the “Birds and the Bees” conversation be evolving in the 21st century to cover social networking as well?

There is a balance between too much regulation or restriction and the access and opportunity to make our own choices that we fight for as a community.  Hence, we have a conundrum because we have to recognize that we still need to protect our children (and I believe there should be protection in place even for those between 13 and 18) while still providing all opportunities for them to safely experience things.

When COPPA was devised, it was meant to ensure that information was not gathered on children under 13 and a byproduct was that they would be able to interact with on those sites with age-relevant content.  Back then, the communication was much more heavily directed at the user – with much fewer opportunities for user-generated content to be a part or the core of the content mix.  As we all know, the playing field has shifted. Responsibility needs to be assumed by all, but with a heavy weight on the parents. 

For those 7 of 10 parents who opened a Facebook account for their under-age children, let’s hope that they take responsibility for the “educational process” and not blame it on the companies maintaining those training grounds.  As for the companies – specifically Facebook – if we are going to fight to ensure access and less regulation, let’s really focus on meaningful education of both parents and children on privacy and social participation to ensure that the best choices for individuals are truly being taken.

Surely, the convergence of Media, Marketing and Youth and the speed at which that is evolving leaves us fully engaged in an “educational process” that has no end.