An Old Medium Is New Again

I’ve designed more than my share of direct mail pieces over the years. Some years back I did one for Philips Publishing that ended up being mailed over 20 million times and served as their “control” for several years.

But it seems that now direct mail is “old hat,” if not prehistoric. Right?

Not so fast, sports fans. Adweek has just published a piece (advertorial perhaps?) by Christopher Karpenko, Executive Director, Brand Marketing, for the United States Postal Service. Granted, he has an obvious agenda—pushing the use of the U.S. Mail. Nonetheless, he points out that combining direct mail with contemporary digital media tools can make a lot of sense. Check it out:


Virtual Reality Game Relieves Stress

The Wall Street Journal has published an article reporting on the use of a virtual reality game being used to help people manage stress. Because WSJ is behind a paywall, I can’t give you a direct link but the Journal does allow me to upload the piece to my Facebook page, so here is the link. Let me know what you think!

Old and New Media Both in Trouble

Adweek has published some interesting statistics:

“Hard times for publishers and platforms

“The media business, which was ailing prior to the pandemic, has been struggling to survive amid Covid-19 due to declining advertising spend and revenue. This week, a disheartening wave of furloughs, layoffs and salary reductions struck a number of print and digital publishers. Condé Nast furloughed or laid off nearly 200 staffers, The Economist laid off 90 staffers and suspended the print edition of 1843, Vice Media laid off 155 staffers, Quartz Media laid off 80 employees, most of which were in its advertising department.”


With so many companies pulling back on their advertising budgets in the face of free-falling conumser demand, it’s not surprising that this is happening. Print newspapers are in disarray. Meg Whitman’s new short-form digital media platform, Quibi, is well-behind projected subscription numbers.

A rapid economic recovery is not likely to take hold if consumers don’t get on board with the idea and resume patronage of traditional social venues like sit-down restaurants, entertainment venues, live-action sporting events, and so many more. Psychology portends two possible emotional scenarios: fear or courage. Which will prove to be the winning feeling?

It has often been said that the human being is an innately social animal. Perhaps that’s the way to bet. I would argue that we cannot let fear rule the day.

Great Billboards

Here it is the last day of the month and I have not posted anything so far in April. Well, I refuse to let a month go by without posting something of interest that has piqued my interest in media and I hope in yours as well.

Usually, I have an article that’s come to me by way of one of my many email and RSS feeds, an article that is almost always about what we call “new media.” Today, however, I am posting a link to 30+ terrific billboards. As you may know, billboard advertising dates back to at least the last days of Pompeii. When archeologists excavated the city out from under its ashen blanket, one of the things they discovered was the presence of advertising on building walls exhorting passersby to visit such-and-such inn or bathhouse. Billboards are about as traditional and old-timey a medium as there is.

But at the same time, as these examples prove, they also can be as fresh and creative and noteworthy as any contemporary Super Bowl spot.





What Does a Screen Do?

Slate published an article this month in its “Future Tense” section with that headline. The subheadline is quite provocative, asking, “The dangers linked to screen time for babies, kids, and teens are well-known. But is screen time really what’s causing them?”

The article is primarily about smartphone usage. Here’s a sample:

We know, for instance, that smartphone use is associated with depression in teens. Smartphone use certainly could be the culprit, but it’s also possible the story is more complicated; perhaps the causal relationship works the other way around, and depression drives teenagers to spend more time on their devices. Or, perhaps other details about their life—say, their family background or level of physical activity—affect both their mental health and their screen time. In short: Human behavior is messy, and measuring that behavior is even messier.

Slate author Jane C. Hu goes on to note that trying to conduct a double-blind study of screen time usage would very likely fail to meet the rigorous standards imposed by guidelines governing human subjects research. The article discusses research done at Texas Tech by Eric Ramussen and Jenny Radesky at Michigan. Interestingly enough, Radesky’s work led her to hypothesize that…

children’s temperament and behavior affected the amount of screen time they were exposed to, and screen time, in turn, affected their temperament and behavior; for a fussy toddler or preschooler, screen time might be a must to keep parents sane, but that screen time might also displace opportunities to learn self-regulation skills that would help them be less fussy over time.

In other words, it’s a two-way street.

The article is well worth a read. Here’s the link:

The Mom Effect

MIT Technology Review posted an article back in November headlined “Two studies lay the blame for childhood screen tie at moms’ feet.” One study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. (JAMA), the other was published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), The former used survey data to check on preschoolers screen time to see if World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines were being observed and the latter looked at how children adopt screen viewing habits.

MIT Tech Review notes, “Moms bear the brunt of the blame in these studies because that’s how this kind of research has always been done.” The article also goes on to note that not all screen time is the same; some is good, some not (as I noted in my post just prior to this one).

It’s a quick and interesting read.

Here is the URL for the article:


Not All Screen Time Is Equal

An op-ed in the journal Nature by two Stanford professors asserts that much of the research around the effects of “screen time” is inherently flawed because of its reliance on participants’ self-reports of time spent viewing their screens. As one of the op-ed’s authors, Thomas Robinson, notes, there are different varieties of screen time that are capable of producing quite different effects.

To see the problem, consider four adolescents. The first spends three hours a night playing video games and chatting with fellow gamers on Discord. The second spends three hours browsing and posting on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. The third spends three hours passively watching Netflix and YouTube. The fourth never sits down with a device for longer than 20 minutes at a time but gets notifications on their phone every five minutes throughout the day and typically spends only a few seconds or minutes responding to each.

Co-author Byron Reeves (who also co-authored, with Clifford Nass, The Media Equation [1996]) discusses a new research approach that is more invasive but likely to be more informative and reliable. The Medium article by Will Oremus that covers the op-ed is here:

New Study Shows Weaknesses in Research About Screens and Teens

Amy Orben at Cambridge University has conducted an exhaustive analysis and meta-analysis of studies looking into the effects of adolescent use of digital media and screen time. Her conclusion is that the research overall is far from definitive and often flawed. Her study concludes with suggestions for improving the methodology. Here’s the link:

This is an open-source site and you may download a PDF of the study.

Social Media and Eating Disorders

Well, here’s an interesting Medium article by a pediatrician discussing a link between social media use and eating disorders in young people.

A more direct source for the study is here:

And apparently, it’s not just the female gender that is affected. Lead investigator Wilksch found 45% of male adolescents in the study were affected.

Can Scary Movies Be Good for You?

It seems that scary movies may have therapeutic effects by way of relieving anxiety. It may seem counterintuitive, but some recent research is now weighing in on the subject:


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