Add My Number to Umberto! (You Spin Me Right ‘Round Like a Record)

10 Oct

My assignment this week:

Newspaper columnist Charles Krauthammer believes that print will all but vanish within the next hundred years. “The Gutenberg age will end with the twentieth century,” he says. “First to go will be the newspaper. Then the magazine. Then the book. Their paper versions, that is. They will all find a new life on screen, on disk, online. What is dying is printing, not writing. It is our way of transmitting words – not words themselves – that is obsolete.” Novelist Umberto Eco, writing in the World Press Review, said that “The appearance of new means of information does not destroy earlier ones; it frees them from one kind of constraint or another.” Eco notes, for example, that painting and drawing did not die with the invention of photography and cinema. From the perspective of a direct/interactive marketer, are print media worth saving? Take a position and back it up with research, facts and figures.

My response:

I’m with Eco here. The emergence of new media does not necessarily spell the doom of the old. In fact, I’d argue that the evolution of new forms of media serves to help us in targeting.

Follow me on this: I’m going to assume that I’m in the minority among members of this class by owning a record player. Most of you probably listen to music via digital download. But that doesn’t mean nobody’s listening to vinyl.

According to the Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2012 Music Industry Report, vinyl album sales reached 4.6 million and that number has climbed consistently for the past five years. Granted, vinyl albums only account for 1.4% of all album sales (2.3% of all physical album sales).

But consider this: 

“Vinyl sales remain a tiny percentage of overall album sales but represent a steadily growing niche feeding audiophiles, collectors and superfans” (Smith, 2013).

A “steadily growing niche?” Sounds like a pretty desirable and definable market segment to me.

But the question, as worded, is “is print worth saving?” This is sort akin to asking if dinosaurs would have been worth saving. I don’t think any medium is worth saving. A medium will either survive or it won’t. I can’t see any savvy business reason for a marketer to “save” a medium that has no return on investment. There’s nothing noble in wasting a client’s money just because a marketer “likes” print.

I think the better question is “will consumers save print?” They’re the ones who vote with their dollars. And I think the answer is in my record analogy.

Audiophiles tend to like records because:

-they are of a higher perceived sound quality

-they perceive surface noise as part of the texture of the experience

-they evoke a sense of nostalgia

-they provide a tactile experience

-they are collectible and valuable

A vinyl record delivers musical content in a unique way that no other medium can. And that’s why, as long as the message is relevant, print will never die.

I want to go back to one of our first week’s assigned readings. 

Brian Fetherstonhaugh argued that direct mail has “four massive strengths which separate it from other media and make it valuable in a marketing recipe:





Here’s the line from Fetherstonhaugh that drove it home for me in Week 1:

“When people stop using direct mail for wedding invitations and send an email, then I will believe direct mail is dead. Until then, it conveys importance like no other medium” (Fetherstonhaugh, 2012).

The other important word Fetherstonhaugh uses is “recipe.” It’s an ingredient in a campaign, not the whole campaign. If Sony BMG decided they would release their entire 2014 catalog exclusively on vinyl, they’d go broke. But vinyl is an ingredient serving a niche, a segment, a target.

USA Today’s Steve Straus espoused the additional values of print: “it is highly targeted, it does not evaporate, it is great for branding.”

“Because there are fewer businesses advertising in print now, and fewer ads in any given publication, your ability to stand out has increased. Fewer ad pages mean your ads can be stars. All of this is not say that online advertising is not important; it is. But by the same token, as we rush to understand and embrace this new world of e-advertising, let us not forget that print can play a significant role in the mix. Indeed, ideally, print ads can and should empower your online ads. Research indicates that a not insignificant portion of online searches stem from offline ads – people see and ad in a newspaper or magazine and then search that topic on the Internet.” (2010).

Or this analysis of print in Forbes Magazine (2012): “Although it is likely that most emphasis, in terms of advertising, will be executed online, there still exist those who revel in the glory of the printed page and it’s important to reach them.”

My verdict: so long as a percentage of our target audience is “living in the print space,” the medium will save itself.


Featherstonhaugh, B. (Oct. 1, 2011). Don’t count direct mail out. DMNews.Com [online edition]. Retrieved August 21, 2013 from

n.a. (June 28, 2012). Print is dead? Not so fast. Forbes. [Online edition]. Retrieved October 9, 2013 from

Smith, C. (January 8, 2013). 2012 top 10 selling vinyl albums in the us and uk as sales rise. [Weblog]. Retrieved October 9, 2013 from

Straus, S. (May 3, 2010). Ask an expert: print ads can work well with your website. USA Today [Online edition]. Retrieved October 9, 2013 from


“New-stalgia”–Sharpening Up the Ol’ Cutting-Edge

16 Jul

It’s 1986. I’m 13 years old and have just discovered alternative music. I’d heard The Clash on the radio, but didn’t yet know enough to know they were punk.

In the small town of Philippi, W.Va. where I grew up, there was no alternative radio station. The only way to hear music from the underground was to try to pull in the college radio station from Morgantown (my beloved U-92, which I can practically see from my new office window), or by watching MTV’s late-night alterna-block 120 Minutes.

That’s where I first heard “Don’t Let’s Start” by Brooklyn-based They Might Be Giants.


Their self-titled debut was available at the Camelot Music and I dropped an astonishing $13 on it.

ImageTucked away in the minuscule liner notes printed in the cassette case’s J-card was a strange call-to-action:

Dial-A-Song: (718) 387-6962

Could it be that there was even more music to be heard…over the phone? In actual fact, there was, as I tested the following Sunday. Not wanting mysterious charges to show up on my parents’ phone bill, I grabbed a pocket full of the remaining change I had from the 20 dollar bill I’d broken to buy the tape, ducked out of church and used the payphone outside the courthouse across the street. Here’s a picture of the actual payphone:


For nothing more than the cost of a long-distance call to Brooklyn, I got to hear a brand new song from my new favorite band. I remember it perfectly. It was a low-fidelity recording of “Stormy Pinkness” most likely recorded directly into the answering machine the band used for this service.

It was a decidedly low-tech method of fan engagement, but there was something so intimate about it. I’ll never know it for a fact, but I always believed it was possible that John Linnell or John Flansburgh were right there when my call rang in to their answering machine on that Sunday afternoon.


Flash-forward several decades and an enticing message  in my email inbox.


DC-based Dismemberment Plan (another favorite of mine) are rolling out their first new recorded material since 2001…and, if you remove the Twitter and Facebook “share” links, it’s essentially the Dial-A-Song model of fan engagement boomeranging back.

By dialing the number, you can hear a studio recording (voice-mail quality) of their new song “Waiting.”

Online music bloggers took note of the throw-back technique of introducing the new material. As Josh Modell of the Onion A.V. Club wrote today:

Back before the Internet happened, if a fella (it was mostly fellas) wanted to hear a new song by his favorite band, he had to see that band live in concert. Later, as technology developed a bit, bands would set up special telephone lines to debut new material. Perhaps in a nod to their storied history in this fast-changing world, The Dismemberment Plan are looking back to those heady days by offering up “Waiting”—from the upcoming Uncanney Valley, due out in October—via a recorded phone message. So if you’d like to hear a new D. Plan song in just slightly better fidelity than the versions that were going around YouTube last year, dial (252) 64-DPLAN. You’ll be treated to “Waiting” as your on-hold/only music.

Modell’s blog linked back (the “special telephone lines” hyperlink) to an article about Dial-A-Song.

Despite the fact that this was a brand new product being delivered to me through technology, this was a clear-cut example of nostalgia marketing.

According to an article in AdWeek from a few months ago, nostalgia marketing is working for companies that you might consider too modern to evoke strong feelings of about the past. Some of those brands included Microsoft, Herbal Essences, Old Navy and Sony PlayStation.

In a study of brands that had consumers buzzing during the first quarter,NBCUniversal Integrated Media noticed that those connecting to the past resonated strongly with consumers and shot to the top of its Brand Power Index (BPI). Every quarter, the BPI ranks the most talked about brands as determined by factors like social media buzz and online searches, comparing their scores to the previous three months.

How can we be nostalgic about Microsoft Windows? After all, here I sit in 2013 blogging away on a laptop running Windows. Here’s the thing, dear readers: we did get old and we do feel strongly about these things. Whether we like it or not and whether we know it or not, we’ve got strong relationships with those brands and we are more than willing to be transported back to the time and place where we were when we first encountered them.

It’s a powerful force, and marketers know it. As Mashari al Onaizy wrote for the Startup Q8 blog:

Nostalgia marketing is marketing that is aimed at evoking a feeling of nostalgia in your customers. Nostalgia is

“a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

And it can be triggered by all the senses. Whether it is a smell that reminds you of the cookies your mom used to bake, a song you danced to in high school, the taste of the ice cream you used to eat as a child, or a clip of a movie you used to watch in college. Even touch can evoke nostalgia (it is one of the reasons grownups still enjoy popping bubble wrap).

For me, today,  it was the experience of mashing a land line phone receiver against my ear, closing my eyes and listening to a low-fidelity recording of something new from one of my favorite bands.

With great respect to the Dismemberment Plan, this may have been the most effective and interesting bit of nostalgia marketing I’ve ever been hit with. Assuming I’m the target, this was a bulls-eye.

I say “with great respect” because I would hate for the guys in one of my favorite bands to think I was accusing them of using cheap shill tactics.

Quite the opposite. I found this experience to be delightful, entertaining and informative about their new product.

Consider me a satisfied message recipient.

I knew you were going to Tweet that…

15 Jul


Nine weeks ago, as my classmates and I started studying emerging media and the market, we were presented with a clip from 2002’s Minority Report in which hypothetical emerging media targeted the holy heck out of Tom Cruise’s character with marketing messages.

This week, science fact leap-frogged science fiction in yet another echo of Minority Report: precognition.

The film (and in the Philip K. Dick short story on which it’s based) centers on the concept of “precrime.” Law enforcement, through ESP-enhanced “precogs” can determine, with relative certainty, if you’re going to commit a crime and simply arrest you before anyone gets hurt or ripped off.


Today, a group of researchers at U.C. Santa Barbara presented research that suggests you don’t need to be a mutant soaking in rubber cement to predict a person’s future behavior. All you have to do is follow their hashtags. According to the MIT Technology Review:

Today, Petko Bogdanov at the University of California Santa Barbara and a few pals take a new, genetically inspired approach to this task. They say every person has a fixed set of interests, called their social-media genotype, which determines their pattern of behaviour on networks such as Twitter. What’s more, they say that once these genotypes have been discovered, they can be used to predict an individual’s future behaviour.that users tend to adopt a stable pattern of hashtag adoption by these topics. This is their social-media genotype.

“That’s a powerful trick to pull off. The ability to predict the behaviour of individuals on Twitter is worth its weight in gold,” Technology Review said.

You can download the entire study as a .pdf file here.

First and foremost, some basic genetic terminology so we can try to better understand the metaphor. The City University of New York-Brooklyn defines a genotype as:

the “internally coded, inheritable information” carried by all living organisms. This stored information is used as a “blueprint” or set of instructions for building and maintaining a living creature.

Some examples of genotype:

  • The gene responsible for eye color
  • The gene responsible for hair color
  • The gene responsible for height
  • The gene responsible for how your voice sounds
  • The gene responsible for certain diseases
  • The gene responsible for certain behaviors
  • The gene responsible for the size of a bird’s beak
  • The gene responsible for the length of a fox’s tail
  • The gene responsible for the color of stripes on a cat
  • The gene responsible for the spots on a dog’s back
  • The gene responsible for a person’s shoe size

While this metaphor may be a little stretched (and, I don’t know about you, but it makes me a little squirmy) my interpretation of their findings is that they may be on the threshold of finding something a little more enigmatic, more subtle and yes, more predictive than what we already know about the dynamic between content creators and their followers.

Here’s the key question taken directly from the study:

Which followees are likely to influence a given user to adopt a hashtag of a certain topic and analogously which followers are likely to adopt a hashtag? This question is of paramount importance from both research and practical perspectives. On one hand, uncovering the provider-seeker influence will further our understanding of the global network information dynamics. On the other hand, the question has practical implications for social media users offering guidelines on following high-utility sources or keeping the follower audience engaged.

I have a vague grasp of the research methods employed in this study, but I won’t pretend to fully understand them. As a student of emerging media and the market, the crux of the study is in those last five words “keeping the follower audience engaged.” I could pontificate on the marketing value of this phrase for paragraphs, but for me and my classmates, it’s not necessary: we are always trying to boost engagement through greater audience understanding.

The marketing implications are Tom Cruise blockbuster-sized. So are the corresponding ethical questions. But beyond asking “is it right?” we should also be asking “will it work?”

Part of the reason audience research has to move so quickly is because audiences aren’t predictable. They may behave in ways from which we can infer patterns that may have a predictive function that helps us craft a message they’ll be less likely to ignore. That’s my abbreviated understanding of audience insight. When we venture into the realm of “audience foresight,” confidence levels will drop.

Again, from the Tech Review:

…as other groups have found, it’s one thing to demonstrate this predictability on a test data set. It’s quite another to do it with a live feed from Twitter. The acid test will be whether Bogdanov and co can predict a real individual’s behaviour tomorrow with the data they gather today. If they can, the road to the future will be paved with gold. We look forward to seeing the evidence in the not too distant future.

Philip K. Dick’s vision of the future in The Minority Report questioned the existence of free will and also questioned whether we’d really want to know if there’s no such thing.

Marketers (and ethicists) need to be paying attention to this study and results of the aforementioned “acid test.”

If our audiences don’t have free will on social media, will they resent our exploitation of it? And, more importantly, will they resent us for figuring that out?

What do you think? Is this just a natural extension of audience research or are we wandering into some creepy-freaky ethical territory?

Your comments are welcome and pre-approved. I already know what you’re going to say anyway.







Who’s the Boss? Time for Social to Leave the Marketing Nest?

12 Jul


For the past nine weeks or so, I’ve been blogging and studying the role social (and other emerging) media plays in the integrated marketing communication (IMC) process.

So I was shocked and stunned to read Forbes contributor and social guru Gretchen Fox had suggested that it was time for “social” to move out of the purview of “marketing.” 

Getting Out From Under The Marketing Department: The Case For The ‘Chief Of Social’

Here’s part of what she said:

The only way we are going to get to the full vision of social is if it becomes its own department — with a Chief of Social title reporting directly to the CEO. This is the only way social will have the ability to impact: brand and product reputation; consumer happiness; data generation (purchase/interest/social graph); lead generation (email addresses, mobile numbers, Facebook likes, Twitter followers, etc.); product; marketing and sales; business development, PR, HR and operations — truly all aspects of the organization.


The name of the course I’m taking is Emerging Media and the Market. From my seat in the student’s chair, the concepts of marketing and emerging media are inextricably entwined and the idea of removing social from marketing seems crazy.

Except it doesn’t.

I’m in the eighth week of a nine-week long course, and it seems that the stealthy underlying message of the curriculum is that emerging media’s role in the market is not constrained solely to marketing. 

This example, given by Ms. Fox in her article for Forbes drove it home for me:

For example, the COS guidance would create the strategy, guidelines and tools necessary to empower employees to engage on behalf of the company online; define the kind of social data required to enable a customer service associate to know if a caller is a nice person (who should be given leeway) or a jerk who complains incessantly on the internet; and identify the system, process and keywords for the PR team to receive immediate alerts when there is an uptick in negative brand mentions on Twitter.

These example social initiatives are typically beyond the marketing team’s purview–and metrics. Marketing is usually measured by traffic and sales goals, and as any executive knows, if something isn’t part of how your success is being measured, it isn’t going to be prioritized. Social affects the entire infrastructure of the way a company could and should do business, and a COS is the only way social will have the impact (and metrics) necessary to affect change across the entire organization.


This sounded a bit familiar to me, so I looked back on a classroom discussion I had in this class’s first week, reposted here in boldface:

Consider “ScuffGate,” the scandal that marred the release of the iPhone 5, which included a video demonstration of a two-year-old girl showing how easily the metallic case of the new model could be damaged by a fistful of car keys.

See the video here.

The official response from Apple’s SVP of Marketing follows:

The email went viral and was shared not just by social media between users, but also by a few slick-looking blogs that took Schiller to task for being so dismissive in his response–and remember, this was their MARKETING guy.

The email is very short (17 words!), so we’re loathe to read too much into it — but it does seem to give off a feeling of condescension, or perhaps nonchalance. The original email also asks Schiller if there is any plan to fix the scuffing issue, but Schiller ignores that in his response, which could well mean that Apple doesn’t plan to replace or recall damaged iPhone 5s.It’s possible that Schiller, being a marketing guy, doesn’t understand the interplay of aluminium and anodization on the iPhone 5′s back and sides — but really, if that’s the case, should he really be replying to scuff-related emails in an official capacity? (Anthony, 2012).

Schiller’s response seems, in hindsight, both tone-deaf and ill-advised–especially considering that it was immediately shared and judged to be condescending by online influentials.

I hope someone at Apple was savvy enough to tell Mr. Schiller that, in this day and age, “move along, nothing to see here” is a foolhardy response.

Better responses (from your armchair quarterback of IMC):  Explain why they used anodized aluminum:

“Dear Alex. Sorry your new iPhone is already scratched. The good thing about using aluminum in our cases is that it’s light, durable and will protect the delicate electronics inside your iPhone from serious damage under normal daily use. Our R and D guys experimented with dozens of other alloys but everything else was either too heavy (imagine carrying a lead brick in your pocket) or was light, but way too soft (one alloy actually melted under the heat of the backlight inside the phone). Right now, we have no plans to replace the iPhone 5, but we are constantly looking for ways to improve it. I’m hanging on to your email address and if there are any major developments in the types of metals we use to make the case, trust me: as a loyal Apple customer, you’ll be among the first to know about it.

What do you think? Am I way off-base here? Obviously, this sort of response isn’t going to satisfy every customer (or maybe any customer), but it seems a heck of a lot better than just shrugging it off and saying “sorry about your luck, but that’s metallurgy for you.”

I think the lesson here is that it’s not enough to just listen to and offer some sort of response to a customer concern. You’ve got to really think about it. I don’t know the Alex that wrote this email from Adam. But he seems like a reasonable guy. He’s not swearing or threatening me. He’s not slamming me or my company. He’s bummed out that his new phone is scuffed. Empathize with the guy. He obviously is enough of an Apple loyalist to care enough to write the company. He’s earned the right to a little engagement.

Back to your regularly-scheduled blog here–I acknowledge there’s a bit of a leap between my first-week observations and what Ms. Fox is suggesting (and a massive leap between my observations and her expertise), but there seems to be a parallel–and it’s surprised me that a forward-leaning company like Apple could have allowed this to happen. 

A Chief of Social would have been able to look at this picture across marketing, CS and PR functions and perhaps have foreseen a problem with this sort of response.

And just like that, her suggestion to move social out from under marketing makes complete sense. 

I’d also suggest reading her more recent Forbes article, which is something of a sequel to the one to which I referred earlier. It assumes that the reader has already built a social business and shows the potential emerging technologies and the next wave of emerging media has for B2C communications.

And it’ll scare you right into speeding things up a bit. 

Move it or lose it.



Culture Clash: Is This Punk Rock Marketing Campaign Tone Deaf?

3 Jul

There’s no band whose work I admire more than The Clash. The globally-conscious punk rockers also introduced me to dub, reggae and the concept that punk wasn’t just about shouting, it was about saying something.

That being said, I’m experiencing a bit of a disconnect between the band’s current marketing campaign for a discography box set called “Sound System” set for release on September 9th, 2013.

Read the press release here.

Box sets are nothing new, especially for bands that have a deep catalog or who are no longer producing new music. Since the death of Clash frontman Joe Strummer in 2002, the surviving members have sworn they would never again perform as “the Clash.”

So what’s a musical brand to do to remain relevant when there’s no new music? The box set is the obvious answer. You bundle up remastered versions of existing albums, clean up unreleased tracks, thrown in some related ephemera (buttons, stickers, etc.) and put the whole think in a slick box and market the hell out of it.


The surviving band members have endorsed the release, and even participated in producing it and marketing it, so it’s not as if this is a “cash grab” by a money-grubbing record label (seen as the pinnacle of all evil by the most rabid punk rock fans). Although SONY, the parent company of Legacy, the imprint releasing Sound System, is probably going to make a buck or two off of it.

Ironically, a Clash lyric condemning consumerism goes like this:

Give me Honda, give me Sony

So cheap and so phony!

But something funny is happening in the Web 2.0 world with this emerging media marketing campaign, although it’s not unique to emerging media: Brand disconnect.

Fans/friends of “The Clash” on Facebook are not all reacting positively to the release–mostly because it’s so expensive–almost $200 for music they already own.

“Well this is for the upper class Clash fan. The middle class Clash fan can get the 5 disk collection that isn’t remastered that comes out the same day and is a bit more than 1/4 the price. The working class Clash fan can always listen to the Clash on spotify” wrote John Ebejer on The Clash’s Official Facebook page.

Others are skeptical about the concept of remastering music so closely identified with a more raw sound.

“(D)oes ‘remastered’ simply means +5dB RMS ? in my short life I haven’t heard a 1 album which sounds superior after ‘remastering process, it’s always just louder, compressed/limited version of original and always much much worst (sic)” wrote Mel Quiades, also on the band’s official Facebook page.

These customers are clearly experiencing a brand disconnect. The Clash, as a product, are associated with the Do-It-Yourself culture of punk rock. These fans seem to be suggesting that, as part of their punk identity, it would be better to steal the music via illegal download (or listen for free on Spotify) than to shell out more cash for more Clash.

The “box” itself, the one that contains this box set, is designed to look like a boom box, and a bootlegged cassette is shown inserted into the tape deck. This is a true clash of ideas. Low-fidelity cheap, sharable content (the bootleg cassette) on the packaging of a remastered and very expensive product (the $200 box set).

What causes brand disconnect?

Brand identity designer Mash Bonigala identified 6 Signs You Might Be Experiencing a Brand Disconnect. 

I won’t rehash his entire article here, but here’s my summary:

  1. You don’t have customer data. As Bonigala writes: “The best thing to do in this case is to collect as much relevant information as you can about your customers, and tweak your value proposition and message in order to appeal to what your customers consider important.”
  2. Marketing is operating in a vacuum. Although this doesn’t seem to be a problem in the Clash Sound System campaign. Marketing seems very aware of what it’s selling and has taken great care to play up the participation of the surviving band members. However, there’s a good lesson here: “Any oversights can lead to misleading claims and false advertising, the repercussions of which could be fatal for a growing business.”
  3. Your product lines aren’t consistent. Bonigala compares this sort of disconnect to a pet store that tries selling auto parts. The Clash example isn’t quite that extreme, but the box set is a product that seems a little confusing and disorienting to some fans. Again, Bonigala: “If you do have an idea for a new, unrelated product, it might be a good idea to develop a separate brand identity specifically for it and its market. That way you can go ahead and promote it without having to worry about whether or not it clashes with your core brand image.”
  4. Your marketing isn’t targeted. “Marketing messages work best when you’re speaking to a specific audience and catering to their specific needs,” writes Bonigala. And it’s at this point that I start to realize that maybe this campaign isn’t quite as off-the-mark as it appeared at first glimpse. More on that later.
  5. Your customers speak, but you don’t listen. “If what you value differs from what the customer values, then cast your ideas aside and listen to your customer,” (Bonigala, 2012). There are plenty of customers sounding out their disappointment, but the campaign has not changed its tone or strategy much since it was announced May 21.
  6. You’re shooting from the hip. What Bonigala means here is that “Brand identities are crafted over time, and every move your company makes either adds to or takes away from it. The more you plan your company’s actions, the more chances you have of building a brand that both you and your customers will fall in love with.

So here’s my observation about all of this. I understand the disconnect and have felt it myself. I won’t be shelling out $200 in September for my favorite band of all-time’s latest release.

However, as I read Bonigala’s symptoms, diagnoses and remedies for brand disconnect, I don’t know that the marketing strategy for this product is too far off-base. Clash fans are older and may have more disposable income. They also may be less savvy about how to download music, or may just not want to bother. They may be willing to shell out $200 on a product that they see as enriching their own personal brand (they may want to brag on Facebook to their other gray-haired fans that “I just got Sound System and it’s AMAZING!”

There’s an important voice missing from the discussion. In a promotional video that launched the campaign for Sound System, the surviving members of the Clash are heard discussing the box set while cardboard cutout puppets’ mouths move in synch with the dialogue. There is a puppet of the late Joe Strummer, but, of course, he’s silent throughout.

vevo image

I can’t help but wonder if he might have been able to bridge the messaging gap between this product and the disenchanted fans…or if he would have endorsed it at all.

Punk rock and marketing have always had a tenuous but undeniable relationship. Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren manufactured them, (like some sort of edgy Monkees) to help sell clothing at his girlfriend’s shop in London. Famed punk club CBGB no longer exists other than as a brand name on T-shirts. Hot Topic stores market pre-made punk outfits in shopping malls.

The trick for bands and brands looking to maintain their credibility is to know how to walk that razor’s edge.

It remains to be seen which side of the razor Sound System will fall. It’s currently #2,890 on Amazon’s music best-sellers. (electronica duo Daft Punk holds the current #2 spot).

If Sony/Legacy’s marketing materials are to be believed, this is what the fans want.

“Prompted by demand for a complete collection, Sound System is a powerful reminder of The Clash’s enduring legacy,” reads the press release.

The impact this product will have on the Clash’s enduring legacy also remains to be seen.


“Look jerky, I don’t need to podcast to you!”

16 Jun

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed, two self-described “low lifes from Queens” became an early viral sensation with a series of R-rated prank telephone calls later branded under the name “The Jerky Boys.”

The Jerky Boys – The Super Across the Way

Tape recordings of the provocative (and, if you’re like me, still funny in a very juvenile way) calls were shared at parties by fans who had a love for lowbrow humor and a tape-to-tape deck in their stereo.


The recordings were an underground phenomenon until Howard Stern (in his terrestrial radio days) started playing the calls on his show.

Just like that, the Jerky Boys were big business. Select Records released an “official” Jerky Boys album (of roughly the same audio quality as the bootlegged cassettes). It rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts and was certified double-platinum by the RIAA.


Several more albums (and even a feature film–I saw it–IN A THEATER!!!) followed, but eventually, creative tensions between Ahmed and Brennan forced the duo to split in 2000.

Other than leaving the occasional Jerky-themed voicemail message on my brother’s phone, my relationship with the Jerky Boys brand had essentially come to an end.

That is, until I was searching for a particularly silly call on iTunes (Roofing–the language is raw–you have been warned) and I learned that Brennan had, in 2011, started a Jerky Boys podcast in which he explained the back stories behind the characters he and Ahmed had portrayed on the calls and explained the complex licensing arrangements that had to be made to get the “victim’s” approval to be included on the records.

I’m not exaggerating. It was fascinating. It was like a really good DVD “director’s commentary.” Brennan, whose characters were abrasive and weird, was ebullient and engaging with the fans who called in to share stories of how the duo’s records had helped them survive some pretty dark times through humor.

It was powerful stuff, but the podcast was short-lived, cancelled after 17 episodes.

I was unable to find an official statement about why Brennan stopped doing the show, but a visitor to a prank call forum (I love you, Internet) who claimed to be Brennan posted last April about why he had not been turning out new material (including the podcast):

“You have to try and understand what it’s like to sell 8 million CDs and have almost nothing to show for it. This is why you have not heard a new prank in forever. I figured I’d just get f***ed all over again.

This legitimately was a test run. I have 2 children and I’d love to do things just for the fun of it, but I can’t. I literally cannot. I wanted to see how the MP3s sold so I knew it would be worth it to go out and begin doing this again.

Also, I understand Podcasts are free, and I will probably start it up again for free of course, but the company putting them out certainly was making money off of it. I know what you are saying about Adam Corolla, but he does read ads. Sideshow Network was making money off me, I got nothing. I understand what you are saying but I’d rather use that time for new calls. I wasn’t well known for my radio persona.”

Working backward through the forum, I learned that Brennan was responding to a critical review by one of the forum’s administrators, who goes by the name “Carlito.”

In the meantime, Brennan has announced the cancellation of his short-lived podcast because there is “no money in it.” He also claims he will release more “new” prank calls if a lot of people pay for this current batch of 5.

Ask any podcaster out there – there is no money in it. The most successful comedians-turned-podcasters out there (arguably Adam Carolla, Joe Rogan, Kevin Smith, others) do this to get their name out there more and boost up their turnouts at appearances in other projects.

Maybe they’ll push Netflix or Gamefly promo codes also to defer production costs, but the point is the ability to keep fans engaged and have them support your other projects in a venue that YOU control.

Johnny, instead, seems he was trying to just continue his career on it. It doesn’t work like that. You use the podcast to rally your troops, then get out there and do your good work. It was working…there were a lot of excited subscribers to his new podcast.

Apparently those numbers didn’t equal direct dollars. You start to get the feeling that Johnny Brennan and his people just don’t get it.

As a marketing student focusing this semester on “Emerging Media,” it’s a pretty fascinating cautionary tale.

From my perspective, Brennan seemed to be doing everything right. His podcast was sponsored and had distribution on the Sideshow podcasting network. He frequently referred to his own Facebook page, the Jerky Boys official Facebook page and to the Jerky Boys official website from which his albums and other merchandise could be purchased.

The lesson here, at least as I see it, is that a podcast doesn’t guarantee, as Carlito suggested “direct dollars.”

Podcasting expert Patrick Flynn would seem to side with Carlito.

In a guest column he wrote for Gruber-Jaramillo Marketing, Flynn said that his podcast, while requiring a lot of effort, did not translate directly into dollars. However:

Ever since starting the podcast, I have noticed a higher average of new daily subscribers. In fact, before the podcast, I was averaging about 15-20 new subscribers per day. Now seeing numbers 25, 50, 100 new subscribers per day. My free ebook has been downloaded more than 20,000 times and I recently hit the 50,000 mark on my subscribers list. 

The other problem Brennan may have encountered is on the supply side. With no (or limited new material to offer his fans, the podcast may have had a limited life expectancy to begin with.

Don’t feel too badly for Johnny Brennan. He’s got legions of fans and continues to find work as a voiceover artist. You may have heard his voice on the Fox Network’s “Family Guy” as neurotic pharmacist Mort Goldman.


I’d be interested in your thoughts. Did Brennan “hang up” on podcasting too soon (prank call pun there) or was he right to abandon this method of promoting his unique services?

Post away there, Liverlips.


Disney’s ‘Club Penguin’-Where Youth Marketing Ethics Aren’t Always Black and White

4 Jun

Do the names “Puffle,” “Rockhopper” and “Herbert T. Bear” come up in regular conversation in your family?


If not, chances are there is not a child between the ages of 6 and 14 in your home. These are all part of the flora and fauna that populate Disney’s massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) “Club Penguin.” ( or

The game is set in an icy world in which players, represented by a colorful penguin, can play Flash-based games and interact in a closely-monitored social media environment.

The game, which is free-to-play, is enhanced by purchasing a monthly membership (between $5 and $8 per month, depending on the number of months purchased) which allows players to outfit their penguin avatars in a variety of customizable costumes and to build and furnish an igloo in which their penguins can live, keep their possessions and raise a small furry pet called a “puffle.”

Ethical marketing?

It’s clear that the site exists to generate revenue for Disney. While the free-to-play version is robust and can provide hours of entertainment for children, the site’s special section for parents acknowledges that children would prefer a paid membership. Under the heading of “Get More With Membership”, is the following paragraph:

Has your child ever said “I-need-a-Membership-‘cos-my-puffle-needs-a-new-hat-and-I’ve gotta-get-to-the-fifth-level-of-System-Defender-or-Herbert’s-gonna-take-over-the-WORLD!”? Allow us to translate. As a member your child can explore endless possibilities to be exactly who they want to be.


There’s a raft of ethical questions about a product which is free to play, but requires a monetary investment in order for a child to become part of the preferred class and eventually become “exactly who they want to be.” That’s a pretty high-pressure sales tactic on both the child and the parent who holds the purse-strings.

As The New York Times’ Mireya Navarro reported:

“(S)ome parents worry that the games are extensions of marketing plans to hook children on brands, to teach them how to shop and to turn them into what Ms. Perle of Common Sense Media called “gimme machines.” (2007).

On the other side of the coin, the free-to-play site does not subject children to third-party advertising. However, ads and in-game promotions for the latest Disney media property is present.

For example, promotions for the movie “Monsters University” recently replaced a Marvel Superheroes theme (a recently-acquired Disney property) which featured penguins dressed as Spider-Man and other costumed good guys and bad guys. So while the site is not completely free of advertising, parents can be fairly confident that the messaging targeting their kids is “Disney approved.”


However, there’s a wrinkle that removes some of the content control from Disney’s grip. Club Penguin, as an MMO, is also a social experience. That means anyone of any age or motivation, can engage a child in conversation within the game. Disney employs paid live moderators to monitor in-game chats for inappropriate comments and offers monitoring tools for parents. “We strive,” says the site, “to be the safest place on the Internet.”

However, as The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan noted “these protocols only highlight the paradox at Club Penguin’s core: It’s certainly the safest way for unsupervised children to talk to potentially malevolent strangers—but why would you want them to do that in the first place?” (2007).

Promotion and justification

As mentioned earlier, the site is an effective vehicle for delivering advertising messages to children about new Disney products and media offerings. According to the most recent available data, Club Penguin has 12 million active users and 700,000 paid subscribers (Walmsley, 2007). In exchange for that audience’s time and attention, the Club Penguin site offers its young users games that it claims promotes motor skills, creativity, teamwork, money management, global awareness, socialization and responsibility.

Questions and concerns

Besides Flanagan’s social media safety concerns and Navarro’s observations about marketing to children in general, other analysts have questioned whether Club Penguin really does promote the aforementioned skills. Some have questioned whether the payment model creates a world in which creativity and problems solving will only get a child so far in the virtual world and that those behaviors will carry over into the child’s real-world experiences, encouraging children to “spend their way out of trouble.”

Other critics have expressed concern that this sort of gaming experience encourages children to seek other quick-fixes (raising a puffle to maturity takes a lot less time and effort than raising a real-world puppy). Others still have suggested these games encourage cheating.

But as Navarro wrote, “even…critics argue that these games are really nothing new; they are, they say, just a different medium for the commercial pressures parents have always faced” (2007).


Benderoff, E. (March 8, 2007). Cheating a real problem in Club Penguin’s virtual world. The Chicago Tribune [Online edition]. Retrieved June 3, 2013 from     ,0,7203137.story

Flanagan, C. (July/August, 2007). Babes in the woods. The Atlantic [Online edition]. Retrieved June 3, 2013 from

Navarro, M. (Oct. 28, 2007). Pay up, kid or your igloo melts.  The New York Times [Online edition]. Retrieved June 3, 2013 from

Walmsley, A (Oct. 24, 2007) Kids’ virtual worlds are maturing nicely. Marketing. Retrieved June 3, 2013 from