Maybe we need an ‘app’endectomy!

I’ve been thinking about apps. Apps is an abbreviation for application. An app is a piece of software. It can run on the Internet, on your computer, or on your phone or other electronic device.

From games to geo tracking, with Google or Apple, on computers to smart phones: you name it, there is an app for that or will be soon. They are ubiquitous.

Social media maven, Alan Wolk (The Toad Stool, Kickapps, Hive Awards) was in our office the other day discussing apps and their implications to marketing communications, specifically the right and wrong ways to make apps. Clients are clamoring for apps, he said, but most of them don’t know why. They just know that apps are the new, new thing and they want one…or two…or a whole bunch. As you would expect, we agencies are creating them, often as willy-nilly as the demands. Alan calls it the “Field of Dreams” mentality. You know, ‘build it and they will come.’ Like all things Internet related, the apps debate quickly becomes one of utility vs. beauty. Like all things marketing related, the obvious answer is they gotta do both.

But I wonder about apps. If there are currently three million of them (a wild guess) I’m not so wildly guessing three million nine hundred and fifty thousand of them are relatively pointless. Maybe even more. I say relatively because once someone downloads an app, pointless or not, it has proved beneficial to its creator.

But then what? My kids download countless apps (hopefully free) only to banish them within 24 hours into the nether regions of our family’s computers. Like fireworks, once ignited they are immediately forgotten. Like fireworks, we want to see another and another and another…

Ah, you say, but if the app is useful then that won’t happen.

Alan provided an excellent anecdote to illustrate this point. Upon arriving in Chicago, he had an hour to kill before his presentation. He fancied a latte from Starbucks but, alas, he did not know where one was. So, he was forced to ask someone. According to Alan, if he’d had an app for locating a nearby Starbucks he would not have had to ask someone for directions.

Two things come to mind. 1) What is so difficult about asking someone where the nearest Starbucks is and 2) even if he had an app for that wouldn’t he still have had to ask someone where the address actually was? (Sure, he could study the little map on his iphone but being ignorant of the city he’d probably want to be pointed in the right direction. Just to make sure. Wouldn’t you?)

Going one step further, isn’t communicating with people one of the joys of travel? Do we really want technology to take things like that away from us, those myriad small interactions that make us human? I’m already an introvert. With apps like these I may never talk to anyone!

Look, I realize I’m essentially wrong about this. (I remember all the rubes that said Twitter was pointless.) And even if I wasn’t wrong the app train has left the station. As I said, plenty of apps are worthwhile. No question companies such as Kickapps can help agencies and clients create them. Frankly, we’re talking to Kickapps about a project right now.

I’m no Luddite. I’d just like to think I could find a Starbucks without a goddamn app!


The bluebird of happiness aka “fun”

There’s been a lot of chatter about the efficacy and power of social media. Sometimes, it seems that’s all we talk about.

The discussion invariably revolves around SM as a tool of some sort, as if it were a digital Swiss Army Knife. Which it is. The debate is typically whether SM is truly useful to marketers, scientists, researchers, lawyers, teachers and more. Which it is.

Probing deeper, the conversation quickly turns to more ethical questions: Does SM impede our ability to process information and sort through ideas? Will it overtake legitimate analysis? Does it hurt our children? I myself recently asked, Have we become content zombies?

Yes, no, maybe so.

But one thing has been completely overlooked, if not lost, in these myriad discussions. And it is perhaps the biggest thing of all. Namely that social media –all social media- is fun.


Think about it. Facebook was created to make “friends.” Myspace exists to share music -things that are fun. (Ostensibly, both help folks ‘hook up’ and last I checked that was fun too.) It’s called Twitter for Christ’s sake. You don’t name something Twitter and give it a blue bird (of happiness) for a logo unless you want it to be fun.

Revelation! Social media was created to have fun. Its usefulness, immense as it is, came after the fact, making those aspects secondary.

So, next time you’re at a social media conference, digital summit or whatever the hell they’re calling it, have a good time. The guru blathering from the podium sure as hell is.

Follow me on Twitter

The Happy Soul Industry website

Links or spam?

File this next report under living and learning on the Internet. I have been blogging for about two years. Like most of us, I jumped in the pool headfirst. I’d been talking social media to my clients for years and it was high time I walked the walk. Having run websites for my novels, I assumed blogging as a logical extension. I figured I could swim as well as the next guy. Besides, I’m a big believer in on the job training. It was time.

Two years in, I couldn’t be happier. Gods of Advertising has changed my life. It keeps me writing. It keeps me informed. It keeps me relevant. It also provides its share of “teachable moments.” I’ve willingly shared my foibles with you because not only do I believe in transparency whenever possible but I also want my readers to learn from my mistakes. It’s the least I can do for all the insight and wisdom you’ve provided me!

So here’s the latest…

A few days ago I was called out for linking my blog in the comments section of various other blogs. The reader, “Ponce” accurately noted that I’d left more than one similarly phrased remark across numerous advertising blogs, pasting the same Gods of Advertising story in all of them. Ponce called it spamming.

Spamming. That’s like a felony in the blogoshere! If I was guilty, I needed to fix this ASAP. My credibility and piece of mind were at stake. I certainly had linked my site in other site’s comment sections. My reasoning was that since their stories related to mine it was okay.

That said I also had a hunch I was being naughty. Like many creative people, I am an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. As I’ve already learned, with regard to promoting my novels, any form of self-promotion is asking for trouble. When Ponce called me out I instantly got that queasy feeling in my gut, kind of like when I was busted for shoplifting in grade school. Instead of defending myself or issuing a denial (what I wanted to do) I intended to face the thing, own it and then fix it. Writing this piece is part of that process.

I decided to ask a few experts for their opinions on the matter. With much gratitude, I offer you their sage advice…

From Alan Wolk of The Toad Stool: It’s never good form to leave a link back to your own blog unless you write a fairly detailed response that contributes to the conversation. It’s also not good form to leave any sort of link on a blog to which you’re not a frequent contributor or friend of the blogger.

It’s okay, in the course of a comment to mention that you’ve done a post on the topic on your own blog and to provide the blog’s name, but you should not make it look like you’re trying to get people to go to your blog. Give the reader the option of going to read the longer version on your blog but don’t make it sound like a blatant sales pitch: you want to contribute to the conversation on the current blog, not siphon away readers.

From David Burn of Adpulp: I don’t know that I’d say it’s Spam, but you do want to be careful about over promoting yourself. For instance, when you leave a comment on AdPulp, it’s almost always a redirect to your site, with or without an actual link. I’d recommend mixing it up a bit. Comment just to comment, then come back and redirect, so there’s some balance.

From Hugh Mcleod of Gaping Void: As long as what you’re linking to is relevant to the conversation, I don’t consider it spamming. But some folk are fussy and passive aggressive.

The area would appear to be gray. It appears one has to rely on their own good judgment. While blogging (or doing many things really) if I get that queasy feeling in my gut it probably means I should reconsider my actions. What do you think, Gentle (or not so gentle) Reader?

Spam my Twitter!

Steff interviewed
“And then when I was nine…”
Steff Panel
“I was told I’d be the only bald guy.”

The New York Festivals International Advertising Awards launched its World Tour showcasing the World’s Best Advertising™ in Chicago on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Yours truly spent a better part of the day participating in the festival -first as a panelist during an afternoon discussion and later as an audience member during the actual ceremony.

Personally speaking, there were three highlights: the panel discussion, actually winning an award, and the Lifetime Achievement accolade given to famed commercial director, Joe Sedelmaier.

Let’s start with the Sedelmaier prize. If you’re in advertising and ignorant about whom this man is shame on you! Do some digging. In the eighties, Sedelmaier was widely considered to be the premiere director of funny. His fast talking Fed Ex guy and Clara Peller’s “Where’s the beef?” commercial for Wendy’s are icons of the form. There were others: a “Russian Fashion show” mocking the brutal sameness of fast food, a Southern Airlines commercial depicting coach class as a Jewish ghetto. Many of these can be found online. I’ve attached one below.

As was acknowledged by Sedalmaier’s son, JJ and guest presenter, Bob Garfield from AdAge, the thing Joe did better than anyone was finding and using REAL people. Very real people. Often older and comically unattractive, Joe’s cattle call was welcome respite from the very beautiful and mostly fake actors representing most advertising during the glitzy Reagan era. When I started at Leo Burnett, everyone –and I mean everyone- wrote (or tried to write) in the brutally funny style that Joe Sedalmaeir made famous. Good to see him being recognized.

The panel discussion, entitled “Is craft dead?” was about whether or not the aesthetic quality of creativity suffered given the influence of social media, the recession and other mitigating factors. Internet wag, Alan Wolk moderated the group. Other panelists included the Chief Creative Officer of Element 79, Dennis Ryan and Tribal DDB’s Managing Director, David Hernandez. We covered a wide range of topics, including viral videos impact on TV commercials, crowd sourcing (good or evil?) and even the Zappos RFP fiasco. I hope the audience got as much out of it as I did.

After the discussion, panelists were interviewed for a segment on WCIU TV’s “First Business.” If you’re surfing channels next Saturday morning, try not to hurl your Cheerios.

Euro RSCG Chicago took home a Silver medal for Valspar paints. This integrated campaign continues to be our creative front-runner at my agency. Bravo team!

Had fun visiting with the many Burnett people attending the ceremony. My beloved, old agency won a handful of prizes, including a much-deserved medal for Hallmark Card’s “Brother of the Bride.” I adore this commercial and, frankly, the entire long-running campaign. Hallmark and Burnett have been making these beautiful long-form stories for decades. If craft is dying elsewhere it’s alive and well here:

The many other winners can be found on their website: New York Festivals

Finally, a special shout out goes to NYF’s Gayle Mandel. Lovely woman, the green ensemble she donned for the ceremony was damn near worth the price of admission!

yet again on Twitter

That’s me in the corner…

Last week Alan Wolk wrote about the unpleasant phenomenon of schadenfreude, where one relishes the pain and suffering of others. He was particularly concerned about it as it occurs in Ad Land. It was a strong piece of writing. So much so, Agency Spy posted it on their popular site.

The ensuing comments were a revelation. One reader, by way of example, took umbrage at something I had written… In my recent posts about the collapse of JWT Chicago I’d taken some heat from an anonymous blogger. Childishly, I chose to fight back using my own ugly language and ideas.

Bad idea times two. First, I should not have used vulgar discourse against one of my readers. After all, I’d invited him on to comment. This is no way to treat a guest. Secondly, I should not have tried to explain or defend myself on Agency Spy.

What was I thinking? In recovery programs the troubled soul is taught, among other things, to promptly admit it when he is wrong and to make amends as soon as possible. Good medicine for someone who acted impulsively…twice. So, that is what I’m doing. I’m sorry for my bad behavior. I became what I despise: a slime ball on the Internet! As amends I vow not to allow vile commentary on my blog ever again or to spew it myself.

I’m no more or less thick-skinned than any other creative person, which is to say not very. I’m still learning the protocol of blogging, if not being a good person, and this was a great lesson.