Direct Mail is Still a Viable Medium

Adweek has published a nice little article about how Panda Express used direct mail to bring about a BIG increase in sales at outlets that lacked a drive-through window during the pandemic. Although Panda Express had not been using direct mail in its media mix for some time, it pivoted back to DM for this situation and it proved very successful, driving people to online ordering including home delivery with offer redemption rates as high as 33%!

Author Weiss reports, “Panda Express’s online business from the direct mail campaign was up 20% versus its national digital sales, which is about 10%.”

Here’s the link:

How Panda Express Reversed a Sales Slump With Direct Mail:
https://adweek.it/3pm1PLa


Rush to Judgment on Facebook?

The “exposé” on Facebook and supposed negative consequences for female teens who use it have certainly resulted in a firestorm of media coverage and now Congressional inquiry. The “studies” that are referenced by the Wall Street Journal in its series of articles seem quite damning and they have put Facebook into a seemingly indefensible position.

So, one thing to consider is the quality of those studies. And it turns out that not only is the quality quite poor but other observations suggest that they are in no way reproducible to any country outside the U.S.A. Regular readers of my blog know that I am no fan of Facebook’s business model.

Nonetheless, in the interest of the pursuit of facts, I would urge you to read this op ed from Dr. Chris Ferguson that appears in the Orlando Sentinel.

https://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/guest-commentary/os-op-facebook-research-screentime-flawed-20211004-weotjnc6zngdjb27ox3in3muw4-story.html


There needs to be a law!

I have had it. I am getting over a hundred spam emails every day claiming they can help me with my prostate, my blood pressure, tinnitus, weight problems, medicare, car warranty, cheaper gas, home insurance, auto insurance, windows, tech goodies…you name it, I’m getting it.

Over 90% of these end up in my “suspected spam” folder where I need to vet them all because sometimes legitimate email ends up there, too, thanks to AOL’s fairly crummy spam detection algorithm. Any spam that I detect as spam, I highlight the sender’s email address and select “block sender” and then delete. But spam from clearly-labeled blocked senders keeps showing up anyway. At least they are now highlighted in blue so I don’t need to vet, just delete.

What’s the use?

Plus, the blocked senders then also send more of the same, identical spam messages using a different email sender’s address.

Responsible email marketers always include a way to “unsubscribe.” Spammers never do.

We need a law that requires all email marketers to include an unsubscribe option and it needs to STICK. Violators should be subject to $500 per omission fines. The FCC should be empowered to prosecute repeat offenders, ban them from sending any email, and have the discretion to levy jail time.

ISPs should be required to develop screening algorithms that would automatically prevent any such spam from being delivered, period. And spam that slips through and is labeled “block sender” by the recipient should be flagged so it never ends up in anyone’s in box or spam folder again.

Legislators at ALL levels need to respond to this. If California can pass a privacy law, they can pass this law too. What do you think?


Seth Godin’s Comment about the Media

I’ve been getting marketing superstar Seth Godin’s posts daily for over 10 years now and they are something I always look forward to reading. This morning he made an observation about how the media tend to think of us, their audience. It struck me as especially relevant to what’s goiinng on these days and I am reproducing it here for your edification and enlightenment.

We are not astronomers 

Unlike most of the sciences, astronomy is always done at a distance. You can see the stars, but you can’t do anything about them.

Sometimes the media would like us to believe that we’re all astronomers, simply passive witnesses in a world out of our control.

But the world is never out of our influence.

Remembrance, connection, possibility, invention, empathy, insight, correction, care and justice are all up to us.

We not only observe, but we make changes happen. Our participation (or apathy) leads to a different future.

The ocean is made of drops. And the drops are up to us. Who else is going to care enough to make an impact?

—Seth Godin


Will China’s Online Gaming Restrictions Actually Work?

Is there anyone out there who does not know that China’s rulers have declared that those who are 18 years old or younger may not engage with online gaming more than three hours a week, something that the country’s rigorous user-identity-registration infrastructure certainly has the technical capability to police. One question that remains to be answered is how effective enforcement of the edict will prove to be.

According to Statista, a little over 5% of China’s total population is 15 to 19 years old and almost 5.5% are 10 to 14 years old. These young people are the primary target that China’s rulers have in mind. Given China’s current population of roughly 1.4 billion people, that means 147 million or so young people to monitor and to sanction if found to be disobedient.

If China’s overall national culture were more like America’s, I would not hold much hope for enforcement to be effective. However, as we know from research done by Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede and colleagues, China’s national culture is (a) much more willing to go along with authority and (b) much less likely to engage in non-normative social practices. On the whole, due in no small part to its Confucian heritage, China is much more collectivist than we are.

But might these strictures have come too late? The influence of exposure to content on the world wide web on China’s people has been being felt for well over 20 years already and was well entrenched prior to the Xi regime coming to power. And as we are sometimes only too painfully aware, China has some of the most talented hackers around.

Perhaps what we will see is an ongoing episode of “whack-a-mole” as young hackers continue to deploy workarounds to authoritarian software, which is then countered with more centrally dictated tech mods.

Knowing what we know about networking theory and analytics, perhaps there will be a sufficient number of young rebels already culturally “infected” by Western thought and practice, who will act relatively independently and with loose ties and who are able to constantly frustrate the authoritarian and highly centralized network of government enforcers with close ties.

It will be interesting to see how this all turns out over the next two or three years.


On Ron Popeil’s Passing

A pioneer of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) has left us but his legacy will live as long as there are people and companies that want to sell to other people and other companies.

I got to know Ron back in 1982. A long-time friend of mine, a fine graphic designer who had helped him create spec sheets and promotions for many of his products, needed a medical procedure that was going to prevent her from helping him out for a while. She turned to me to ask if I would step in and fill in for her until she could resume her usual activities on his behalf. I said I would be happy to do so.

She brought me to his home and office complex off Coldwater Canyon and introduced us. In the few weeks that followed I helped Ron introduce the Rat X pest eliminator, the Whiskee cordless and rechargeable kitchen whisk (“If you cook or bake, you need one!”), and assisted on some other products as well. That man was truly a ball of energy and remarkably creative.

I did the pre-production marker comp packaging for the Rat X that was going to be shown to the distributors and I wrote all the recipes for the Whiskee recipe book, which I designed, along with a full-page ad for Bon Appetít.

It was a brief tenure but I learned a lot about sales and media from him at a time when I was a full-time creative director for a small Hollywood ad agency. I still apply those lessons today and I am forever grateful to the friend who made it possible and to Ron for schooling me.

Adweek, Ad Age, the Wall Street Journal, and others have published obituaries on him and I am taking the liberty here of publishing two URLs of YouTube videos starring Mr. Popeil.

One is a segment from an appearance he made on Conan O’Brien’s show:

The other is a video interview that Adweek included with its coverage:

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


Can Facebook Ever Be Fixed?

MIT Technology Review has just published a book review article by Karen Hao entitled “Review: Why Facebook can never fix itself.” After reading it, my question is: Can Facebook ever be fixed? Period.

I’ve posted here previously about the problems with Facebook, with one especially critical post that cited Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger McNamee (2019).

Ms. Hao’s article is a review of the newly published book, An Ugly Truth, by investigative reporters Sheera Frankel and Cecelia Kang. The book apparently reveals more bad things about Facebook and its dynamic duo at the top, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

July 21, 2021KAREN HAO

Ultimately, the core problem is still what McNamee identified: Zuckerberg is all about profit over people. Read Ms. Hao’s review; it’s a well-written piece that deserves wide distribution.


Why Gen Z Falls for Misinformation

MIT Technology Review has published an article by Jennifer Neda John, a research assistant at the Stanford Internet Observatory, whose findings point out that the Zs tend to prioritize identity over objectivity when it comes to the content they access on social media. When they are offline, they are much more likely to rely on sources that have established real credibility based on relationships and experience. But when they are online, they relate more strongly to those who post who seem to be a lot like them. In a word, “influencers.”

John notes:

Offline, when deciding whose claims should be trusted and whose should be ignored or doubted, teenagers are likely to draw on the context that their communities provide. Social connections and individual reputations developed through years of shared experiences inform which family members, friends, and classmates teenagers rely on to form their opinions and receive updates on events. In this setting, a community’s collective knowledge about whom to trust on which topics contributes more to credibility than the identity of the person making a claim, even if that identity is one the young person shares. 

She continues:

Social media, however, promotes credibility based on identity rather than community. And when trust is built on identity, authority shifts to influencers. Thanks to looking and sounding like their followers, influencers become trusted messengers on topics in which they have no expertise.

Here is the link to the article:

https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/06/30/1026338/gen-z-online-misinformation/


Technology as a Tool to Do Great Harm

Today I read an article in Time magazine about how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under the thumb of that reincarnation of Adolph Hitler, Xi Jinping, are using high-tech tools to completely obliterate entire cultures of people who reside within the country’s borders. Here’s the link:

It’s nauseating. George Orwell’s 1984 has clearly served as a starter manual for Xi and the CCP. I say “starter” because the PRC, taking advantage of the latest in high-tech innovations, has clearly revised and updated that manual, achieving a level of fascist, totalitarian political and social control that is hard to imagine.

To all the captains of American industry and pro sports teams who continue to dodge the issues involved here, I say it’s time you grew a pair. Get out of China. Now.

China can take its domestic market and lower labor costs and put ’em where the sun don’t shine. Engagement with such a regime is the height of hypocrisy and shareholders need to wake up and smell the rotting carrion. The rest of the world should boycott the country’s goods and services and sever all partnerships.

Shareholders of American companies with entangling relationships with PRC-headquartered firms need to short their shares and find less fetid fields for their investments. It’s past time.

Xi will never admit it, but he needs us a lot more than we need him and his insane, ego-driven destruction of what was once a proud country on its way to integration with the world that surrounds it.


TikTok Addiction and Usage

According to a new study, users are more addicted to TikTok than they are to YouTube in the United States. AppAnnie’s latest research

(https://www.appannie.com/en/insights/market-data/mobile-market-pandemic-recovery-signs/)

as reported by Digital Music News

(https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2021/07/07/tiktok-youtube-engagement-2021/?mc_cid=b891cdc3cf&mc_eid=adc94e7246)

shows how usage varies among three countries: the USA, the UK, and South Korea. I personally wonder if the very great difference in Korea might not have something to do with the fact that TikTok is owned by a company (ByteDance) headquartered in the People’s Republic of China, the country that tried its best to impose North Korea and communism over the entire peninsula back in the 1950s.

The report also notes that TikTok collects a LOT of user data and since it’s not bound by U.S. laws, it does not bother to limit what it collects. The fact their collections would violate numerous American state and federal laws about privacy does not seem to concern them. It needs to be said that this only applies to those who create videos and upload to the platform, not to those who use it only for viewing. Viewers do not need to register, so they do not provide any personal information.

You may recall the Trump administration accused the company of being an information conduit to the Chinese Communist Party, which TikTok’s ownership disputes, noting that its servers are in Singapore and the USA. Both Microsoft and Oracle drafted offers to purchase TikTok’s U.S. operations. As of the fall of 2020, Microsoft’s bid was declined and Oracle was still in the hunt, but I see nothing more recent than that.

In the meantime, parents of younger social media users may want to heed the advice given by Karen North, a professor of social media at the University of Southern California, as reported in USA Today

(https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/08/06/tiktok-any-worse-privacy-and-data-mining-than-facebook/3311726001/)

and not let their children download and use TikTok.


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