Say it ain’t so

September 8, 2012

“So” is to 21st century professionals as “like” was to valley girls.

So… have you noticed how everyone starts their sentences with “so” these days.  This is not soley the purview of sloppy speakers.  EVERYONE is doing it.  Including me.  Which ticks me off.  But I can’t seem to break the habit.

Here’s a Man Who Knows How To Write

June 5, 2011

I missed the debut of the Sunday Magazine’s latest makeover, so I didn’t realize till this week that Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the NYT, is apparently on tap to open each issue.  What a gift.

If you enjoy good writing, check out his essay this week: A Theory of Conspiracy Theories

My favorite turn of phrase (after his quoting from an email whose author is sure that Kennedy wasn’t killed by Oswald!!)

… even if you regard the liberal use of exclamation points as a symptom of emotional instability….

And it just gets better from there.  Here’s a taste, but you really need to read the whole thing.

Humans live along a continuum from doubt to faith. Wander far enough in the direction of faith and you reach the land of Nostradamus and of the Rapture (recently postponed). Wander too far in the other direction, past cynicism, through misanthropy, and you get to more or less the same zone of credulity: Osama bin Laden isn’t dead, President Obama isn’t American, global warming is a hoax.

Is it the copywriting? The coupon? Or the beginnings of a neighborhood?

May 30, 2011

The headline and lead in the Sunday NYT business section naturally caught my eye. 

Funny or Die: Groupon’s Fate Hinges on Words

The e-mail marketer hopes that its staff of 400 writers and editors will keep it one step ahead of its discounting competitors on the Web.

I’d love it if catchy copywriting could carry the day for coupon web sites.  But I don’t believe it will work, and I don’t honestly believe it is the core of Groupon’s competitive differentiation strategy. 

With sales promotions, it’s all about the offer, and being clear about the offer.  Clever copywriting may have helped Groupon create the category, but it won’t be enough to keep them on top.

Compare Groupon’s headline today

71% off Seattle Drum School

With Social Living’s (the competitor from Amazon)

Chef Shop , 2.5 Hour Cooking Class, $33

Both headlines are basic, and Social Living’s offer is actually clearer.  Whether I even bother to click depends partly on my interest in drums vs. cooking, and partly how much time I have to screw around that today.

Groupon’s email teaser copy is a little more clever, but I don’t even know what the specific offer is until the second sentence.

Playing a musical instrument is a skill that will serve you throughout your entire life, like safe cracking, horse whispering, and puppy juggling. Add to your resume with today’s Groupon: for $40, you get four 30-minute private music lessons on…

Social Living’s attempt at clever is awkward but it gets the point across.

Hey, good lookin’. Whatcha got cookin’? How’s about cookin’ a little somethin’ up with us when you get this brand-new recipe for great savings out of the frying pan and into the oven? Heat things up with a 2.5-hour cooking class from ChefShop and you’ll be dazzling your dinner guests…

The NYT article hints that Groupon knows it needs a more robust idea going forward, and this idea is intriguing

The hope … is that its users will eventually perceive it as an impartial guide to a city or a neighborhood, somewhat in the manner of the local paper’s weekend section.

Back in the saddle

June 6, 2008

The news was announced today that I’ve joined Naverus as Chief Marketing Officer.  Naverus designs and deploys high-precision, highly efficient flight paths for airlines.  It’s a little hard to explain the business to those not in the airline industry (I’m working on that) but suffice it to say that Naverus saves airlines fuel on every flight.  With oil hitting almost $139 per barrel today, that’s an exciting place to be.


This blog has been quiet for awhile, but I plan to re-activate it as I begin the journey at Naverus.

In honor of my mother

March 20, 2008

My mom Ella Hall died of lymphoma in 1975.  She was 53, the age I will reach this year.  So on Sunday, to honor her memory, I did the Big Climb here in Seattle, which is a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and involves climbing the stairwell in Columbia Center, Seattle’s tallest building – 69 flights, 1311 stairs.  My time was 20 minutes, 6 seconds, which is by no means a record breaker but very satisfying to me.  More importantly, through sponsorships, my climb has thus far raised $3,990 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  My great thanks to those of you I hit up for this cause; you have been exceedingly generous.  Now I’d love to break through the $4,000 mark by the April 4 deadline.  If you’d like to contribute, you can do it very easily online at my personal Big Climb sponsorship site. 

Smarter or dumber than I was in high school?

February 27, 2008

A couple of weeks ago I signed up to receive The Official SAT Question of the Day via email.   It’s a lot of fun.  And it has confirmed what I pretty much knew to be true already – if you don’t use it, you lose it.  When I took the SATs in high school my score was pretty decent. Most pertinently, my math and verbal scores were almost identical. 

Now most of the math questions seem impossibly difficult.  Two recent examples:

What is the volume of a cube with surface area 54x2?


A woman drove to work at an average speed of 40 miles per hour and returned along the same route at 30 miles per hour. If her total traveling time was 1 hour, what was the total number of miles in the round trip?

(didn’t I learn how to solve that second one in 6th grade?)

In contrast, the language ones seem exceedingly simple.  I haven’t missed one yet.  Two recent examples:

Part of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A.

Since William the Conqueror in 1066, every British sovereign has been crowned in Westminster Abbey except Edward V and Edward VIII, neither of them were crowned.

A.           neither of them were

B.        neither were

C.       neither of whom was

D.       with neither being

E.        with neither who had been


The alarm voiced by the committee investigating the incident had a ——- effect, for its dire predictions motivated people to take precautions that ——- an ecological disaster.

A.           trivial . . prompted

B.        salutary . . averted

C.       conciliatory . . supported

D.       beneficial . . exacerbated

E.        perverse . . vanquished   

So some days I feel really smart and other days not so.  But it’s fun to compare my performance against others and also to track my cumulative score.  I recommend it. 

Why marketing agencies need clients (besides the obvious)

February 1, 2008

As a group, ad agencies and design firms have among the worst web sites of any category of company.  I realize that’s a gross generalization but it is true much more often than not.  I know because I visit a lot of agency web sites in search of resources for my clients.   

The most egregious missed opportunity:  The number one thing a prospective client wants to see at an agency’s web site is examples of their work.  Yet, way too often the portfolio is unorganized and hard to view.  Check out Publicis’ web site to see just one example — what I think of as the “filmstrip approach.” You have to scroll sequentially through the myriad panels of individual images, most of which do not make sense out of context.   Yes, you can click on any frame to see more but the individual images don’t tell you enough to even know who the client is most of the time.   

The problem, I’ve concluded, is that when agencies develop their own web sites there is one essential piece of the equation that’s missing – the client.  The client is the one who insists that the creative work serve a purpose, the one who measures each creative concept against an articulated strategy.  What I too often see in these sites is creativity run amok, cleverness for its own sake that makes me think less of the agency instead of more, even from agencies that otherwise do great work.   

I used to use a creative firm’s web site as a litmus test for the quality of their work, but I’ve abandoned that notion because I’ve found there isn’t a strong correlation.  And I’ve resisted the temptation to link to many of these sites for the exact reason that I do work or will work with lots of these folks.  What I do, is point out to my clients that they play as critical a role in creative work as their agencies do.  To get great work, you need both.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water

January 28, 2008

From today’s NYT:  In reply to a blogger’s complaint about a current Target ad, Target sent an email to the blogger that said “Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets.”  (emphasis mine). 

Wow!  The notion that any company has the chutzpah to completely disregard a major communications channel takes my breath away.  I’m not commenting on how seriously they should take, the founder of which sent the complaint — I don’t anything about that particular blog, though I’d guess they’ve had record traffic today.   

I do know that “conversational marketing” is the most fundamental shift in marketing that’s happened during my career.  To eliminate all blogs – one of the major manifestations of conversational marketing — from consideration, with the arrogant-sounding, broad-brush, across-the-board statement that Target used makes me wonder what they’re doing over there in the marketing department.  (Jeez guys, at least don’t say it that way, even if that’s what you’re doing.)

Figuring out how to “participate” with the blogosphere is hard.  It requires resources and it’s messy because there’s no control on the number or quality of bloggers.  It requires a willingness to slog through a lot of meaningless drivel to make sure you don’t miss the important stuff and to engage on some issues that normally wouldn’t get your attention. 

When giving credit, get it right

January 22, 2008

Mitch Kapor, in Jim Fallow’s blog, has weighed in on who did what back in the early days of spreadsheets.  While I gave him credit for being the first to adapt the spreadsheet to the IBM PC, Mitch points out that both VisiCalc and MultiPlan (Microsoft’s first spreadsheet product) were available for the IBM PC before 1-2-3 shipped in January 1983.  He’s right of course and I should have remembered that. Thanks to Jim for straightening that out.

Dan Bricklin and  Bob Frankston’s distinction stands:  they invented VisiCalc, the original spreadsheet product for personal computers and one hell of a killer app.

Give credit where credit is due

January 20, 2008

In the category of “this really bugs me.”  In his NYT tech column today, G. Pascal Zachary credits Mitch Kapor with inventing the spreadsheet.  Specifically he says: 

While at the Lotus Development Corporation, Mr. Kapor created another such “killer app,” or application: the spreadsheet for the PC.”

He is just plain wrong.

That distinction goes to Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, the inventors of VisiCalc for the Apple II, which was singlehandedly responsible for moving the Apple II into widespread business use.  Lotus’ 1-2-3 was notable as the first spreadsheet on the IBM PC.  It propelled PCs even more into the mainstream of business and that was a big deal but not close to the level of innovation in the original invention. 

I know this first hand.  I was one of the original editors for Computing Retailing magazine when VisiCalc was introduced (yes I know this dates me).  Much later, Dan, Vern Raburn, Tom Byers and I started Slate Corp., one of the early efforts at software for the pen interface.  Bob Frankston joined us there soon after and I have very fond memories of working with both Dan and Bob.