Let’s talk brand, shall we?

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Over on CNET, Elinor Mills appears to have been wildly unimpressed with the conversational marketing summit. While there’s some interesting stuff to chew on in what she has to say, I’m surprised and a little taken aback by how aggressively Mills rejects the idea that brands are conversations:

And what’s this with the slogan of the conference—”Brands are conversations”? No, they aren’t.

The phrase “brands are conversations” is shorthand. Unpack the catchy soundbite a bit and you get something like this: the tools of mass communication are no longer limited to one-to-many broadcast, but rather support a many-to-many network. Furthermore, that network undercuts companies’ ability to “own” their brands as they could in a purely broadcast world.

Thirty years ago your company had the only megaphone in the room, and it could drown out conversations. Today? Well, you’ve still got that megaphone, but people are sitting in that room browsing the Web and texting one another as you talk. And it’s good odds that they’re talking about you and your dumbass megaphone.

Put in the most mercenary terms, “brands are conversations” acknowledges that people are getting input regarding your brand from a lot of sources that aren’t you these days, and that your best chance at shaping your brand now comes from listening to—and then trying to work with or gently guide—that public exchange.

Failed marketing stunts like the ill-fated Chevy Tahoe campaign that Mills cites are a dramatic expression of this dynamic, but it’s something that happens much more quietly every single day. The idea that companies even have the option of not “giving Internet users a way to ‘interact’ with a brand” is absurd.

Just go ask Sony. Or Microsoft. Or Noka

The Barnum Perversion

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…or, “What Fresh Hell is This? On my Discovery of Whois Spam.”

A year or so ago I first encountered user agent spam, and was nonplussed: did someone really think that an admin (i.e. someone who might actually be running through server logs) would react positively to spamvertising “an interest free line of credit of upto [sic] 100,000,000.00″ in server logs? Even for spammers the logic behind this approach to “advertising” seemed highly suspect.

And now we have another development in the world of bizarrely spamtastic advertising: whois spam. For reasons too boring to explain, I ran a whois on google.com last night, and the listing seemed curiously long to me, so I piped it through less to take a closer look. And here’s what I saw:

Whois Server Version 2.0

Domain names in the .com and .net domains can now be registered
with many different competing registrars. Go to http://www.internic.net
for detailed information.

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.ZZZZZ.GET.LAID.AT.WWW.SWINGINGCOMMUNITY.COM
   IP Address: 69.41.185.195
   Registrar: INNERWISE, INC. D/B/A ITSYOURDOMAIN.COM
   Whois Server: whois.itsyourdomain.com
   Referral URL: http://www.itsyourdomain.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.ZOMBIED.AND.HACKED.BY.WWW.WEB-HACK.COM
   IP Address: 217.107.217.167
   Registrar: ONLINENIC, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.OnlineNIC.com
   Referral URL: http://www.OnlineNIC.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.WORDT.DOOR.VEEL.WHTERS.GEBRUIKT.SERVERTJE.NET
   IP Address: 62.41.27.144
   Registrar: KEY-SYSTEMS GMBH
   Whois Server: whois.rrpproxy.net
   Referral URL: http://www.key-systems.net

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.VN
   Registrar: ONLINENIC, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.OnlineNIC.com
   Referral URL: http://www.OnlineNIC.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.UA
   Registrar: DIRECT INFORMATION PVT LTD D/B/A PUBLICDOMAINREGISTRY.COM
   Whois Server: whois.PublicDomainRegistry.com
   Referral URL: http://www.PublicDomainRegistry.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.SUCKS.FIND.CRACKZ.WITH.SEARCH.GULLI.COM
   IP Address: 80.190.192.24
   Registrar: KEY-SYSTEMS GMBH
   Whois Server: whois.rrpproxy.net
   Referral URL: http://www.key-systems.net

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.SPROSIUYANDEKSA.RU
   Registrar: MELBOURNE IT, LTD. D/B/A INTERNET NAMES WORLDWIDE
   Whois Server: whois.melbourneit.com
   Referral URL: http://www.melbourneit.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.SA
   Registrar: OMNIS NETWORK, LLC
   Whois Server: whois.omnis.com
   Referral URL: http://domains.omnis.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.PLZ.GIVE.A.PR8.TO.AUDIOTRACKER.NET
   IP Address: 213.251.184.30
   Registrar: OVH
   Whois Server: whois.ovh.com
   Referral URL: http://www.ovh.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.MX
   Registrar: DIRECT INFORMATION PVT LTD D/B/A PUBLICDOMAINREGISTRY.COM
   Whois Server: whois.PublicDomainRegistry.com
   Referral URL: http://www.PublicDomainRegistry.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.IS.NOT.HOSTED.BY.ACTIVEDOMAINDNS.NET
   IP Address: 217.148.161.5
   Registrar: ENOM, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.enom.com
   Referral URL: http://www.enom.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.IS.APPROVED.BY.NUMEA.COM
   IP Address: 213.228.0.43
   Registrar: GANDI
   Whois Server: whois.gandi.net
   Referral URL: http://www.gandi.net

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.HAS.LESS.FREE.PORN.IN.ITS.SEARCH.ENGINE.THAN.SECZY.COM
   IP Address: 209.187.114.130
   Registrar: INNERWISE, INC. D/B/A ITSYOURDOMAIN.COM
   Whois Server: whois.itsyourdomain.com
   Referral URL: http://www.itsyourdomain.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.DO
   Registrar: GO DADDY SOFTWARE, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.godaddy.com
   Referral URL: http://registrar.godaddy.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.BR
   Registrar: ENOM, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.enom.com
   Referral URL: http://www.enom.com

   Server Name: GOOGLE.COM.AU
   Registrar: PRIMUS TELCO PTY LTD DBA PRIMUSDOMAIN/PLANETDOMAIN
   Whois Server: whois.planetdomain.com
   Referral URL: http://www.planetdomain.com

   Domain Name: GOOGLE.COM
   Registrar: MARKMONITOR, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.markmonitor.com
   Referral URL: http://www.markmonitor.com
   Name Server: NS1.GOOGLE.COM
   Name Server: NS2.GOOGLE.COM
   Name Server: NS3.GOOGLE.COM
   Name Server: NS4.GOOGLE.COM
   Status: clientDeleteProhibited
   Status: clientTransferProhibited
   Status: clientUpdateProhibited
   Updated Date: 10-apr-2006
   Creation Date: 15-sep-1997
   Expiration Date: 14-sep-2011

  [...]

Holy crap. Checking yahoo.com, aol.com, hotmail.com, myspace.com, flickr.com, and pretty much any other big domain that came to mind I found the same thing. What the fuck is the objective here?

It’s definitely time for a new coinage — this sort of crap is the reference implementation of the Barnum perversion:

The Barnum Perversion
An attempt at marketing or advertising that takes the maxim “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right” (attributed to P.T Barnum, among others) to its absurd and illogical extreme; the belief that getting the name of one’s company or product “out there” is an end that justifies any and all means, commonly paired with an inability to understand why others (such as potential customers) might take a different view of these actions.

Zune: words fail me

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Administrative note: I know you feed subscribers are getting a double dose from my earlier del.icio.us link, but this is so sad that it bears repeating: Zune marketing continues its unhinged, erratic lurching towards absurdity.

Microsoft note: Look, make me a reasonable offer and I’ll take on Zune marketing. Come on, it could be fun — and could I do any worse?

You can get all the details here at wakeupmicrosoft.com, but the basic story appears to be that at 3AM this past Sunday, a Zune-branded truck stopped outside of 178 Ludlow Street on Manhattan’s lower east side and blasted the area with club music Justin Timberlake over its “competition grade stereo system.”

Oy. Whose idea was this? Microsoft does have employees in New York City, right?

  1. Manhattan? Not so big on the dB Drag Racing circuit. There are many areas of the United States where this “shiny SUV with loud stereo” thing would be well received. Ludlow Street, still largely residential, is not one of them.
  2. The jukebox at Max Fish (the bar at 178 Ludlow) has been well-respected since the early ’90s. While I haven’t been there in years, bass-thumping club music was not well represented on the playlist the last time I checked. You do the math.
  3. Based on the hipsterrific flavor of the Zune’s branding thus far, you actually wanted to be in Williamsburg, or possibly even Bed-Stuy, not the lower east side, anyway. Your music scene intel appears to be a wee bit out of date.
  4. If the Zunemobile isn’t already on its way back to CA, think Daytona Beach. Please.

Now, before the video, I’ll present an exercise for the student: which marketing project makes you sadder…the Zune truck blasting Justin Timberlake at 3AM in an effort to attract indie hipsters, or the Zune sponsorship of a UPenn frat party? 250 words or less, please.

And if you’re actually interested, here’s the video:

No, no — what’s wrong with U, Microsoft?

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…or…Just stop whining and buy the fucking XBox, bitches.

Maybe there’s just some cultural subtlety that I don’t get, but it seems a little weird to me that Microsoft is running a site that’s apparently supposed to help them figure out why the Asian market isn’t buying Xboxes hand over fist, with a marketing spin of “what’s wrong with you?”

Yes, whatswrongwithu.com is the site and the (english version) text of the site — in its entirety — is: Xbox has got it all! What more are you looking for? (Well, okay, there’s also a marketing-department generated list of things that the Xbox already offers that people can ask for. While providing their email address.)

I just don’t know what to say. Please, somebody tell me that the Xbox is marketed in Asia as the Ubox, or that “what’s wrong with u” somehow conveys a message of “please help us offer you a more appealing product” in a way that my North American perspective doesn’t grasp. Seriously, unless I’m missing something here, this is Howard Hughes-level unhinged.

Thanks to Blackfriars for the pointer.