Monthly Archives: February 2008

Show, don’t tell

I’m sure most of my English teachers said it, but I only actually remember it from one. She said it constantly.

And it’s true – when conveying something in the form of a message, or a movie, or a feature story – the real beauty comes from letting the audience experience it for themselves.

If I tell you that someone is an arrogant asshole, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Or I could show you, as in this excerpt from a fiction story I wrote:

Alan’s kidneys were screaming. He slid around the side of the garage and relieved himself on the bushes, aiming for the sleeping butterflies.

This alone may not say much. I’m sure you can be a butterfly sniper with your pork sword (thanks Juno) without being a full-fledged a-hole.

But it’s showing stuff like this that adds up to telling good stories.


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Filed under Writing

On blogging: Tearing down the stage

Early on in this journey, I’ve found that problem with blogging is that it’s hard not to feel like you’re on stage.

The problem with being on stage is that it gives you the urge to be a character.

But in reality, we don’t really converse with those on stage, those characters – we watch them from a distance (assuming we’re interested at all). But my goal in blogging is to contribute meaning through conversations about ideas, people and experiences. Conversations require real people talking to real people.

Besides, in life it’s hard enough to act independently and to resist the urge to play roles. I guess in the permanence of the blogging world, it all seems magnified.

That’s why I’m extra appreciative of those genuine bloggers out there who seem to break through that urge of being a character.

It’s tricky, and I’m not sure I’m there yet. But this is a start, eh?

It was my good buddy Lucas’ post today over at Citizen-and-Soldier that got me thinking this. It’s not necessarily that he wrote anything earth shattering, but when I read it, I couldn’t help but smile and think, “That’s Lucas.”

His other posts tend to be great introspections on the difficulties of being so far away from home and friends. As a soldier deployed in Iraq, he’s brave in more ways than one.

Rock on, big guy.

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Filed under Branding, Life, On blogging

People are laughing at your brand, where are you?

If you haven’t seen it – or want to laugh again – check out this classic Jim Gaffigan bit on Hot Pockets.

Great huh? I’ve probably seen this skit about a dozen times now – but for whatever reason, this time I wondered how the folks at Hot Pockets saw it.

And there’s no doubt they see it – a Google search of Hot Pockets returns Gaffigan at #3! The video itself has 1.5 million views on YouTube.

After doing some digging, I was able to find an interview with Gaffigan at Brightest Young Things (apparently written by another Cale):

BYT: Have there been any serious talks with the Hot Pocket people on being their official spokesperson or anything like that? Or have you heard from their lawyers yet?

JG: Nope. Some people that work for Hot Pockets came to my Denver Paramount Theater show. They brought these hot pocket boxes the size of suit cases for me to sign. I wrote “these are WMD’s” on the boxes. The HP people seem to have a good sense of humor about all of it.

But other than a few Jim Gaffigan fans from Hot Pockets getting some autographs, the brand largely seems silent.

How should they respond? Should they at all?

I say, why not?

And I say it because Todd Defren – the PR and social media guru at PR-Squared – convinced me with his thoughts on how in the age of social media, brands no longer control the message. And while you may not be in control, it doesn’t mean you have to sit on the sidelines. Check out his post on how “participation is marketing.”

So, Hot Pockets, why not treat it as an opportunity? Sure, Jim slams your product for a solid 5 minutes – but there’s always a way.

For starters, why not fight fire with fire? How about making a humorous video response that’ll show up when I search for Gaffigan’s Hot Pockets bit?

Off the top of my head, I imagine the message could have some good-spirited fun with the fact that Gaffigan pretty much lives off his Hot Pockets skit, or it could call out his inner monologue. Or maybe it could portray Gaffigan as the young boy who pulls on the hair of the girl he secretly crushes on – exposing his “true love” for the Pocket!

A supplemental strategy could be to offer assistance on some of the issues Gaffigan points out – namely, how the product comes with this funky sleeve and it seems like the only two forms to consume it in is either center-frozen or “boiling-lava hot.”

So why not let us know, what’s with the sleeve? Any tips on how to avoid the frozen core or the tongue-scarring heat?

Those are just a couple of opportunities I see. Ultimately, I think it’s important for the Pocket folks to take a moment to admit that Gaffigan – like any good comedian – is funny because his work resonates with an audience. A big, big audience.

So why waste the opportunity? Why not join in?

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Filed under Branding, Marketing

Google: First on the scene

How many times have you seen a TV news channel claim to be “first on the scene” at various events?

The idea being, if you’re choosing between what news channel to watch, you’ll probably go with the one most likely give you the scoop first.

But being “first” in journalism doesn’t inherently equal the best coverage. Being first has nothing to do with research, with finding good sources, with telling a good story.

It just means you’re there first – and to so many news outlets, it’s considered crucial.

Enter Google’s Hot Trends.

Hot Trends shows the current most popular Google searches. In this month alone, it’s where I first learned about the NIU shootings, the lunar eclipse and the B-2 Spirit crash.

When it comes to speed, how can a news organization compete with the thousands of bloggers, searchers and camera phones? And really, why bother?

From my mainstream news outlets, I want depth, accuracy and intelligent analysis. Speed is something I don’t expect them to logistically be able to compete on.

So instead of constantly checking CNN, The NY Times or The Huffington Post, I start with Google’s Hot Trends.

I’ll let Google (or the searchers?) be first on the scene, and then look to the journalists to do what they do best.

Note: Here’s a more in-depth analysis of Trends, straight from Google.

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Filed under Journalism

Goals and processes

This is something I try to live by.

When you’re talking about accomplishing something, about introducing something, about changing something… whatever – you’re really talking about one thing, and one thing only:

The goal.

And that’s it. Everything else should be considered a process toward achieving the goal.

The problem with doing significant things is that there is often a lot of process involved. There is planning, configuring, testing, construction, destruction, explanation, revision, authorization…

Process often equals complication.

Of course, without a means, there is no end. But I encourage you to constantly step outside whatever process you’re in, as that’s where the real innovation lies.

The goal is not to write a glamorous proposal, the goal is to make a sale.

The goal is not to create a newsletter, the goal is to communicate.

The goal is not to solicit donations, the goal is to serve.

So, what are you doing? Why are you doing it?

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Filed under Uncategorized

Do you believe what you sing?

Hugh Macleod posted a podcast with him and some fellow thinkers weighing in on some marketing and communication issues – namely, the curious reasons why some things become popular, while others are doomed to obscurity.

About 40 minutes into the podcast, Hugh shares a little story about a 1930’s mobster seeing a young Frank Sinatra singing for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

After seeing him on stage, the mobster is blown away by his performance, saying, “Holy cow, that kid sings those lyrics like he means them.”

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Filed under Branding, Marketing

We all get one ballot

One of the best parts of my job is that I get to meet a lot of interesting people. Working around sales guys, I’m often interacting with interesting people from various industries.

The other day I tagged along as a consultant toured our facilities. His job is to help companies of all sizes develop and achieve their business goals.

We’re talking everything from garage-based start-ups to multi-billion corporations. We’re talking expertise in everything from writing successful business plans to consumer marketing.

What I’m trying to convey here is that if anyone should know a winning idea from a loser, I would think it would be a guy like him.

So I was blown away when he said that one of the biggest realizations in his career was when he discovered that it didn’t matter what he thought.

He gives himself one vote, just like everyone else.

Of course there a ways to give your wonderful idea a better shot (otherwise, nobody would hire consultants).

But the reality is that it’s nearly impossible to say if you’re talking about the next Pet Rock or the next Webvan. Ultimately, it comes down to consumer “votes,” and as marketers or entrepreneurs or teenagers – we all get a single ballot.

You can look at this in two ways:

1) It doesn’t matter what you say.


2) It doesn’t matter what they say.

So, how are you going to look at it?

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Filed under Marketing