Many Functions, Shrinking Sizes, Clever Marketing

Watch the 3-minute video at the top of Expand Furniture’s Smart Space-Saving Ideas page. Don’t multitask; you need to see people going through the few seconds of converting a piece of furniture from one use to another, or storing it in tiny spaces when it’s not needed.

This entire product line is an excellent example of the principle of one part, many functions (which I discuss in Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, BTW). If you want to create a green business, one of the planet-saving tricks is to build for multiple uses. It’s also an example of miniaturization; when not needed, these chairs, tables, sofas, and storage units take up almost no space.

Think of the all-in-one printer/scanner/fax as one example that’s gone mass-market. A smartphone is an even better example because it’s far more universal AND and embraces miniaturization.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, portable communication existed in concept and showed up in comics, science fiction, etc. (Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone, Dick Tracy’s walkie-talkie). And so did the idea of all-powerful computers that contained the world’s knowledge.

But combining those two concepts into one device that fits in a pocket—WOW! I don’t think I came across anything that even hinted at this until the Apple Newtown and Palm Pilot PDAs in the 1990s, and I don’t think either of those had Internet access.

Now, think about the video. Most of the furniture ideas are not really a new concept. William Murphy received his first patent for a “disappearing bed” in 1912 (and the concept predated him); modular sectional sofas and tables with self-contained expansion leaves have been on the market for decades.

The one really new product is that miraculous looking couch that seemed to pull out of a twisted piece of foam. It’s actually paper, and you can get a better look at it here and in this post’s photo.

Expand Furniture's FlexYah bench is made from paper

Expand Furniture’s FlexYah bench is made from paper

Yet this gets only a few seconds in the video. The rest of it is simply doing more with ideas that have been around forever.

Some of the other designs could be called “deep Kaizen.” The Japanese concept of “continuous improvement,” Kaizen got very popular in the US business world a few decades back. So yes, we’ve had Murphy beds forever—but have you ever seen a Murphy bunk bed before? An ottoman that holds a set of five padded folding chairs? A coffee table that can transform in under a minute into a full-size dining room table?

And this brings up another principle: repurposing. Ask yourself what do you already make or sell that could be used differently? I ask my consulting clients this question regularly, and it opens up many conversations about new markets and new ways of marketing to them. Expand has identified several target markets: condo dwellers and people living in Tiny Houses, among them. But some of the marketing photos and videos deploy the pieces in massive, spacious living rooms, too. The company understands that a photo like that changes the way people think about their products and make it attractive to a whole different sector.

How will you take these insights into your own business?

Posted in Abundance and Prosperity, Advertising, Branding, Demographics/Psychographics, Entrepreneurship, Green Living/Green Lifestyles, Green Marketing, Innovation, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Technology Tagged with: , , , ,

Is Thought-Leadership an Outdated Cliche?

Some marketers are engaged in a vigorous debate between people who identify as “thought leaders” and those whose skins crawl when they hear the term.

Whether you love or hate the term, “thought leader”, marketing  by showing leadership through content and letting people meaningfully engage with those ideas is undeniably powerful. 

That type of marketing hooked me when I first tried it, as a 15-year-old 3rd-year high school student, and I’ve been using it ever since. First, I used it only to spread my ideas. Later, I also marketed products and services based on those ideas. And those ideas built me a decent following—sharing them through my books, articles, presentations, interviews, media coverage, etc.

This takes time and energy, and I know many people who do it better than me. But it certainly can be done. One of my book launches garnered over 1,000,000 short-term Google hits (for the book title, an exact-match four word string that wouldn’t show up in any other context). It’s the only time anything I’ve done go a million hits on Google.

I’ve even managed to help shift several mindsets at the international or national or local level.

My biggest success was changing the attitude about a proposed local mountaintop housing development from “this is terrible but there’s nothing we can do” to “of course we’ll win! The question is how.” This campaign took over a year and used everything I knew in 1999-2000 about marketing AND community organizing (and the knowledge/labor of many others)—but the mindset shift took only four or five months. And that mindset shift created the conditions for our victory.

Lawn sign from the Save the Mountain campaign in Hadley, MA, in front of Mount Holyoke (a state park next to the mountain we saved)

Lawn sign from the Save the Mountain campaign in Hadley, MA, in front of Mount Holyoke (a state park next to the mountain we saved)

I also like to think I helped change the idea that business has to be evil. Of the five books I’ve published since 2003 (and the 10 since my first book came out in 1980), four show how business can profitably address issues ranging from business ethics to ending poverty—while reversing environmental destruction. I’ve given dozens of “Making Green Sexy”, “Impossible is a Dare,” and other talks on how business can be heroes.) And it’s been years since I’ve heard “business ethics? That’s an oxymoron!”

I like to think my activity is part of WHY I no longer hear that horrible sentence.

Leading with ideas means finding others who will amplify those ideas. It’s not a coincidence that I actively seek out media coverage, endorsements, and more. 

My latest book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World has a blurb from Chicken Soup’s Jack Canfield on the front cover, another from Seth Godin on the back, and some 50 endorsements on the front pages. It has 4 guest essays from best-selling authors. These are some of the ways I’ve built credibility and gotten people interested, even though the book no longer has a current-year copyright.

My most recent review for that appeared 17 months, after publication—and I’ve gotten reviews on books that were up to eight years old at the time. When you write about issues and do so with substance, your book can attract interest for years.

Of course, events can shift the relevance. If you try to repurpose articles on how to survive the coming Y2K crisis on books on the presidencies of Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, or Al Gore, thought leadership is not the image you’ll project. 😉

Posted in Activism, Branding, Copywriting, Environment, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Marketing Trends/News, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Net Neutrality: Read FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s Dissent

Thank you, Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel for speaking truth to power. Since this is published on the FCC website, Clyburn’s is an official federal document, and thus automatically in the public domain. Please reprint widely. Rosenworcel’s may be as well, but I found it on CNET so am linking, not reprinting.

Note: I met Commissioner Clyburn several years ago when she addressed a National Conference on Media Reform. I was impressed with her as a speaker Now I am impressed with her as a writer, too.

DISSENTING STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER MIGNON CLYBURN Re: Destroying Internet Freedom, WC Docket No. 17-108

Dissenting FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in 2014 (courtesy Wikipedia)

Dissenting FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in 2014 (courtesy Wikipedia)

“I dissent. I dissent from this fiercely spun, legally lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order.

“I dissent, because I am among the millions who is outraged. Outraged, because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers. Why are we witnessing such an unprecedented groundswell of public support, for keeping the 2015 net neutrality protections in place? Because the public can plainly see, that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC is handing the keys to the internet — the internet, one of the most remarkable, empowering, enabling inventions of our lifetime — over to a handful of multibillion dollar corporations. And if past is prologue, those very same broadband internet service providers, that the majority says you should trust to do right by you, will put profits and shareholder returns above what is best for you.

“Each of us raised our right hands when we were sworn in as FCC Commissioners, took an oath and promised to uphold our duties and responsibilities ‘to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination… a rapid, efficient, nationwide and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.’ Today the FCC majority officially abandons that pledge and millions have taken note.

“I do not believe that there are any FCC or Congressional offices immune to the deluge of consumer outcry. We are even hearing about state and local offices fielding calls and what is always newsworthy is that at last count, five Republican Members of Congress went on the record in calling for a halt of today’s vote. Why such a bipartisan outcry? Because the large majority of Americans are in favor of keeping strong net neutrality rules in place. The sad thing about this commentary, it pains me to say, is what I can only describe as the new norm at the FCC: a majority that is ignoring the will of the people. A majority that will stand idly by while the people they serve lose.

“We have heard story after story of what net neutrality means to consumers and small businesses from places as diverse as Los Angeles’ Skid Row and Marietta, Ohio. I hold in my hand letters that plead with the FCC to keep our net neutrality rules in place but what is striking and in keeping with the new norm, despite the millions of comments, letters and calls received, this Order cites not even one. That speaks volumes about the direction the FCC is heading. That speaks volumes about just who is being heard.

“Sole proprietors, whose entire business model, depends on an open internet, are worried that the absence of clear and enforceable net neutrality protections will result in higher costs and fewer benefits because you see: they are not able to pay tolls for premium access. Even large online businesses have weighed in, expressing concern about being subject to added charges as they simply try to reach their own customers. Engineers have submitted comments including many of the internet’s pioneers, sharing with the FCC majority, the fundamentals of how the internet works because from where they sit, there is no way that an item like this would ever see the light of day, if the majority understood the platform some of them helped to create.

“I have heard from innovators, worried that we are standing up a mother-may-I regime, where the broadband provider becomes arbiter of acceptable online business models. And yes, I have heard from consumers, who are worried given that their broadband provider has already shown that they will charge inscrutable below-the-line fees, raise prices unexpectedly and put consumers on hold for hours at a time. Who will have their best interests at heart in a world without clear and enforceable rules overseen by an agency with clear enforcement authority? A toothless FCC?

“There has been a darker side to all of this over the past few weeks. Threats and intimidation. Personal attacks. Nazis cheering. Russian influence. Fake comments. Those are unacceptable. Some are illegal. They all are to be rejected. But what is also not acceptable is the FCC’s refusal to cooperate with state attorney general investigations, or allow evidence in the record that would undercut a preordained outcome.

“Many have asked, what happens next? How will all of this — net neutrality, my internet experience — look after today? My answer is simple. When the current protections are abandoned, and the rules that have been officially in place since 2015 are repealed, we will have a Cheshire cat version of net neutrality. We will be in a world where regulatory substance fades to black, and all that is left is a broadband provider’s toothy grin and those oh so comforting words: We have every incentive to do the right thing. What they will soon have is every incentive to do their own thing.

“Now the results of throwing out your net neutrality protections may not be felt right away. Most of us will get up tomorrow morning and over the next week wade through hundreds of headlines, turn away from those endless prognosticators and submerge ourselves in a sea of holiday bliss. But what we have wrought will one day be apparent and by then, when you really see what has changed, I fear, it may not only be too late to do anything about it, because there will be no agency empowered to address your concerns. This item insidiously ensures the FCC will never be able to fully grasp the harm it may have unleashed on the internet ecosystem. And that inability might lead decision-makers to conclude, that the next internet startup that failed to flourish and attempted to seek relief, simply had a bad business plan, when in fact what was missing was a level playing field online.

“Particularly damning is what today’s repeal will mean for marginalized groups, like communities of color, that rely on platforms like the internet to communicate, because traditional outlets do not consider their issues or concerns worthy of any coverage. It was through social media that the world first heard about Ferguson, Missouri, because legacy news outlets did not consider it important until the hashtag started trending. It has been through online video services that targeted entertainment has thrived, where stories are finally being told because those same programming were repeatedly rejected by mainstream distribution and media outlets. And it has been through secure messaging platforms, where activists have communicated and organized for justice without gatekeepers with differing opinions blocking them.

“Where will the next significant attack on internet freedom come from? Maybe from a broadband provider allowing its network to congest, making a high-traffic video provider ask what more can it pay to make the pain stop. That will never happen you say? Well it already has. The difference now, is the open question of what is stopping them? The difference after today’s vote, is that no one will be able to stop them.

“Maybe several providers will quietly roll out paid prioritization packages that enable deep-pocketed players to cut the queue. Maybe a vertically integrated broadband provider decides that it will favor its own apps and services. Or some high-value internet-of-things traffic will be subject to an additional fee. Maybe some of these actions will be cloaked under nondisclosure agreements and wrapped up in mandatory arbitration clauses so that it will be a breach of contract to disclose these publicly or take the provider to court over any wrongdoing. Some may say ‘Of Course this will never happen?” After today’s vote, what will be in place to stop them?

“What we do know, is that broadband providers did not even wait for the ink to dry on this Order before making their moves. One broadband provider, who had in the past promised to not engage in paid prioritization, has now quietly dropped that promise from its list of commitments on its website. What’s next? Blocking or throttling? That will never happen? After today’s vote, exactly who is the cop of the beat that can or will stop them?

“And just who will be impacted the most? Consumers and small businesses, that’s who. The internet continues to evolve and has become ever more critical for every participant in our 21st century ecosystem: Government services have migrated online, as have educational opportunities and job notices and applications, but at the same time, broadband providers have continued to consolidate, becoming bigger. They own their own content, they own media companies and they own or have an interest in other types of services.

“Why are millions so alarmed? Because they understand the risks this all poses and even those who may not know what Title II authority is, know that they will be at risk without it.

“I have been asking myself repeatedly, why the majority is so singularly focused on overturning these wildly popular rules? Is it simply because they felt that the 2015 net neutrality order, which threw out over 700 rules and dispensed with more than 25 provisions, was too heavy-handed? Is this a ploy to create a ‘need’ for legislation where there was none before? Or is it to establish uncertainty where little previously existed?

“Is it a tactic to undermine the net neutrality protections adopted in 2015 that are currently parked at the Supreme Court? You know, the same rules that were resoundingly upheld by the DC Circuit last year? No doubt, we will see a rush to the courthouse, asking the Supreme Court to vacate and remand the substantive rules we fought so hard for over the past few years, because today, the FCC uses legally suspect means to clear the decks of substantive protections for consumers and competition.

“It is abundantly clear why we see so much bad process with this item: because the fix was already in. There is no real mention of the thousands of net neutrality complaints filed by consumers. Why? The majority has refused to put them in the record while maintaining the rhetoric that there have been no real violations. Record evidence of the massive incentives and abilities of broadband providers to act in anti-competitive ways are missing from the docket? Why? Because they have refused to use the data and knowledge the agency does have, and has relied upon in the past to inform our merger reviews. As the majority has shown again and again, the views of individuals do not matter, including the views of those who care deeply about the substance, but are not Washington insiders.

“There is a basic fallacy underlying the majority’s actions and rhetoric today: the assumption of what is best for broadband providers is best for America. Breathless claims about unshackling broadband services from unnecessary regulation are only about ensuring that broadband providers have the keys to the internet. Assertions that this is merely a return to some imaginary status quo ante, cannot hide the fact, that this is the very first time that the FCC has disavowed substantive protections for consumers online.

“And when the current, 2015 net neutrality rules are laid to waste, we may be left with no single authority with the power to protect consumers. Now this Order loudly crows about handing over authority of broadband to the FTC, but what is absent from the Order and glossed over in that haphazardly issued afterthought of a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU, is that the FTC is an agency, with no technical expertise in telecommunications; the FTC is an agency that may not even have authority over broadband providers in the first instance; the FTC is an agency that if you can even reach that high bar of proving unfair or deceptive practices and that there is substantialconsumer injury, it will take years upon years to remedy. But don’t just take my word for it: even one of the FTC’s own Commissioners has articulated these very concerns. And if you’re wondering why the FCC is preempting state consumer protection laws in this item without notice, let me help you with a simple jingle that you can easily commit to memory: If it benefits industry, preemption is good; if it benefits consumers, preemption is bad.

“Reclassification of broadband will do more than wreak havoc on net neutrality. It will also undermine our universal service construct for years to come, something which the Order implicitly acknowledges. It will undermine the Lifeline program. It will weaken our ability to support robust broadband infrastructure deployment. And what we will soon find out, is what a broadband market unencumbered by robust consumer protections will look like. I suspect the result will not be pretty.

“I know there are many questions on the mind of Americans right now, including what the repeal of net neutrality will mean for them. To help answer outstanding questions I will host a town hall through Twitter next Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET. What saddens me is that the agency that is supposed to protect you is abandoning you, but what I am pleased to be able to say is the fight to save net neutrality does not end today. This agency does not have, the final word. Thank goodness.

“As I close my eulogy of our 2015 net neutrality rules, carefully crafted rules that struck an appropriate balance in providing consumer protections and enabling opportunities and investment, I take ironic comfort in the words of then Commissioner Pai from 2015, because I believe this will ring true about this Destroying Internet Freedom Order:

I am optimistic, that we will look back on today’s vote as an aberration, a temporary deviation from the bipartisan path, that has served us so well. I don’t know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered.

“Amen to that, Mr. Chairman. Amen to that.”

Posted in censorship, Consumer Issues, Democracy, Ethics in Government, language, National Conference on Media Reform, Politics, propaganda, Social and Economic Justice, Technology, Web 2.0/Social Media Tagged with: , , ,

Dear Time Magazine, Your Interface is Horrible

So, great—Time Magazine wants public feedback on its 33 finalists for Person of the Year. I love to share my views, so of course I clicked over to participate. But I couldn’t find a way to see the list of nominees without scrolling through 33 yes-or-no votes, one at a time. Not knowing the full list, I don’t want to vote prematurely. Doesn’t look like there’s a way to go back and undo a choice.

Time Magazine's Person of the Year poll doesn't let you see the choices before voting

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Poll Doesn’t Let You See the Choices Before Voting

I’d ask them but can’t even find a contact page except for subscriber support (and I’m not a subscriber). 

Besides, if you only want to (and are eligible to) vote for one, why would they make us go through 32 no votes? It would be very easy to have a grid of 33 captioned pictures, and you could click on the one you want to vote for. It also doesn’t say as you’re voting (or even when you’re done) whether a later yes vote invalidates the earlier one. If it doesn’t, that would justify the format, but they should explain this. If it does, it makes the situation even worse.

This is so lame, and I feel so disenfranchised! You’d think Time would have better user interface design. Ugh!

Oh, here’s the secret, which I discovered when I went back to grab a screen shot: There’s one little red line to click, directly beneath the huge graphic, if you want to see the results so far—and that shows the list.

Time's Person of the Year Poll—secret key to see the list

Time’s Person of the Year Poll—Secret Key to See the List

Still have to make the ridiculous 33 checkmarks and 76 unnecessary clicks, but at least you can cast an informed vote. Saudi Arabia’s power-grabbing prince is currently well in the lead. I cast my vote for the #metoo hashtag, even if the idea of a hashtag being a person is almost even stranger than the idea that corporations are people.

It’s good to see a good spectrum of cultural and political diversity in the finalists, from low-income people of color to rich white men with reactionary views. Other nominees I could have supported included San Juan (Puerto Rico) mayor Carmen Yulín, Colin Kaepernick, Pope Frances, and the Dreamer kids. Surprisingly, Standing Rock Water Protectors were not on the list.

Time Poll—First screen of the list

Time Poll—First screen of the list

For decades, I’ve felt that if I got to make the rules for life, one of them would be this: no product goes to market until its designers had lived with it for 6 to 12 months and tested it thoroughly. From a user point of view, this poll is a perfect example of why we need a rule like that.

Posted in Consumer Issues, Customer Service as Marketing, Democracy, Diversity, Ethics in Government, General Commentary, media-general, Politics, poverty, Shel's Personal Life, Technology, Web 2.0/Social Media Tagged with: , , , , , ,

The Good Side of “This Call May Be Monitored…”

You know all those messages that say “This call may be monitored or recorded to ensure quality?” I always used to wonder what that actually meant. My best guess was that it was to make sure customer service reps (CSRs) toed the party line.

Yesterday, I found out.

I called my cell phone provider to complain about hundreds of dollars in international charges. Back in May, before my wife and I went traveling abroad, I’d called the company to ask about what is or isn’t chargeable when traveling out-of-country, before the first of several trips abroad.

At that time, the customer service person assured me that any call made TO a US number would be free. But our bills showed charges of 20 cents per minute, and my son was on a three-month European tour as a traveling musician this fall, and because we thought it was free, he used the phone. A lot!

The writer's son checking his phone (at the Women's March in Washington, January 21, 2017)

My son checking his phone (at the Women’s March in Washington, January 21, 2017). Photo by Shel Horowitz.

The first person I spoke with yesterday told me it was only free over wi-fi. This was very annoying, because I had switched to this company largely because of the promise of seamless international service. When I got put through to a supervisor, he told me he wanted to track down the original phone call and listen to it. He called me back about an hour later with the good news that he was crediting everything I asked for. Here’s a piece of his email confirmation.

Hi Shel,

It was good speaking with you earlier. I know these past few bills caught you by surprise, but I am so glad I could help you out with some of these charges. I have submitted two requests to cover these charges that came out to a total of $419.58. The first request will remove $229.28 from your latest November 14 Project Fi bill. I have also submitted a request to refund a total of $190.30 from your previous two Project Fi bills.
I did suggest that the company be considerably more forthright in its marketing, and the supervisor said he’d run across other similar situations and agreed. But I certainly can’t fault the customer service, and am very happy to learn that recording a customer service call actually can lead to happy outcomes.
Lesson for the future: any time I am in a customer service dispute involving an oral promise, I need to remember that *I* can ask them to go back and listen to the original call. The worst they can say is no.
Posted in Advertising, Business Ethics, Consumer Issues, Customer Service as Marketing, Shel's Personal Life, Transparency vs. Secrecy Tagged with: , , ,

Celebrate the Victories—and “Inject Backbone 3x a Day”!

As progressives and liberals breathe a big sigh of relief this morning after racking up victories in yesterday’s election, my Facebook feed is full of chatter about how the Democratic Party is not dead after all, though it’s still very ill.

I responded to one such post thusly:

Curable. Inject backbone 3x/day until they run candidates who stand for the people, give them the support to win, and stop backing down at the first hint of disagreement. Dems should have learned this lesson in 1988 from the disastrous Dukakis campaign. I kept waiting [after George HW Bush kept repeatedly accusing him of being a liberal] for Dukakis to say, “Yes, George, I’m a liberal. Liberals brought us the 8-hour day vs. 10 or 12 hours. Liberals protect the rights of people of all colors and gender identities. Liberals fight for the planet so we can all live healthy lives. Why aren’t YOU a liberal, George?” I think he’d have won with that approach. Instead, he kept doing this horrible, “Gee, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be a liberal” crap.

Yup. That time, as so many times, the Dems slunk away with their tails between their legs to count their losses and blame it on not being centrist or rightist enough. And they still seem to believe that rot.

When ordinary people can’t easily tell the Democrats from the Republicans by their positions, the Republicans will win, because being a true  Republican is more convincing than being Republican-lite. But being a true Democrat who is seen as standing for the people (rare thing!) generates far more excitement than being a true Republican and a toady to Wall Street and the ideology that puts money ahead of people, rights of the already privileged above rights of ordinary people, and voter suppression ahead of real democracy.

Despite his centrism, Obama was able to portray himself as a man of the people and generate that excitement. And he won, twice.

Gore, Kerry and Hillary Clinton never got this, despite pressure from the Left in the form of mass defections to Ralph Nader, Howard Dean, and Bernie Sanders. Sanders was able to move Hillary and the party platform well to the left, but she was unconvincing. And even when Sanders beat her by 13 points in the Wisconsin primary, she still took the state for granted (never campaigned there in the general election).

The lack of candidates with actual spine and the ability to energize the masses will continue to be a problem until the Dems remember their working-class roots. When they run charismatic progressives in places where the ballots are counted fairly and the populace is not prevented from voting, they tend to win. We get the Cory Bookers, the Barack Obamas, the Elizabeth Warrens.

When they run nonentities, they lose, even in my own very liberal state of Massachusetts. Martha Coakley ran a terrible campaign to keep Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat Democratic, and it went to Scott Brown. But then along came Elizabeth Warren, and boom! Brown ran a nasty campaign, Warren portrayed herself as a people’s champion on economic issues, and she won. And she has kept her promise, expanding it as one of the most pubic opponents of the current regime.

For the most part, the Dems’ lack willingness to take bold positions. Worse, they also lack the spine to challenge Republican-initiated disruption of the electoral process—which is the Democratic Party’s hospital bed, and could become the party’s grave. After narrowly stolen elections in 2000 and 2004, the party didn’t fix the plague of voter suppression in 2009 when it had the chance. And thus the election was stolen again in 2016.

The new governor-elect in Virginia is a centrist who probably won largely on the basis of being far less bad than his openly Trumpist opponent—and because Virginia went back to paper ballots, which cannot be so easily hijacked as electronic-only votes (unlike the recent Congressional race in Georgia, for example). How much stronger the victory if there had been a candidate who truly engaged the populace?

A voter marks a ballot. Photo by Kristen Price.

A voter marks a ballot. Photo by Kristen Price.

Today is not only the morning after the election. It’s also the one-year anniversary of the theft of our democracy in the 2016 election. While some of the loss is because Clinton was uninspiring, tainted with scandal, and vulnerable to accusations of her loyalty to Wall Street, at least as much was the result of a failed constitutional process that allows candidates with fewer votes to win, big-time voter suppression of likely-Democratic voters, probable fiddling with the results in electronic-only ballot areas, the interference of a foreign government, and other factors that seem to add up to a big fat case of fraud.

I will commemorate this disaster at an impeachment rally in downtown Amherst, Massachusetts, at noon on the corner of Amity and Pleasant Streets. Hope to see you there!

Posted in Activism, Democracy, Diversity, Ethics in Government, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Marketing Trends/News, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

A Non-Christian’s Perspective on Christmas

Here it is only just past Halloween, and already the cheering section for Christmas is getting in gear. A friend posted on Facebook that she wished Christmas music was all year long.

That touched a nerve for me. I was raised in super-multicultural NYC, but when I moved to Western Massachusetts in 1981, I felt intensely isolated in a community that at that time felt almost entirely white and Christian.

My birthday happens to fall on Christmas Eve. I will never forget going out into the streets that year trying to find a place where my wife (girlfriend, at the time) and I could eat out on my birthday. I think we ended up at a Christmas dinner for the homeless and downtrodden because no restaurants were open. It was a bitterly cold, windy evening and there had been snow a day or two before, which was already dirty and blowing around. The streets were almost deserted, except for someone driving around in a pickup truck shouting “Merry Christmas” through a megaphone when she saw one of the rare pedestrians. I felt like I’d moved to a foreign planet.

A few months later, we got involved with a group of progressive Jews that among other things, took on the cultural identity problem. Two years in a row, we organized a Jewish Cultural Festival that created a lot more visibility for us. I also started freelancing for the local paper, and made it a point to cover a number of stories of Jewish interest. Also, over time, the community became more diverse. And the pressure gradually eased.

But still, as late as 1988, I felt a need to write an op-ed that got published in several newspapers around the country over the next few years. Our local paper ran it first, under the headline, “When Christmas Becomes Oppressive.” Here’s are a few excerpts (with the then-current spellings):

Imagine for a moment that Ramadan, the Moslem holy month, is the major cultural holiday of the United States. For three months before the holiday, every radio station plays Ramadan music; the newspapers and TV are full of special Ramadan sales; and all over town are pictures and models of the Prophet Mohammed rising up to heaven.

A mosque at night. Photo by Ramzi Hashisho, freeimages.com

A mosque at night. Photo by Ramzi Hashisho, freeimages.com

As a non-Moslem, you are offended by all this. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Ramadan is so much a part of our culture that even the most religious symbols associated with it have become secular. Therefore it is not a violation of church and state separation to display them even in front of government buildings…

You’ve just experienced a taste of how non-Christians experience Christmas. Christmas has been transformed from a religious holiday into a mass celebration of both commercialism and Christianity. It is ever-present, unavoidable, and total.

And the message it gives to others is, “You don’t fit in. you’re an outsider”…

Ultimately, [Chanukah] decorations are tokenism. They say, “You don’t have to be Christian to participate in this orgy of buying.”

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that anyone abandon Christmas. I have been to many of my friends’ Christmas parties and enjoyed them. But these gatherings are celebrations of a personal religious holiday in a private home. I enjoy their traditions, just as I enjoy sharing my own culture with non-Jewish friends on “Rosh Hashana or Passover. And that’s how Christmas should be celebrated—in homes and churches, not as “secular” symbols thrown into the faces of nonbelievers.

29 years later, I still think it’s great when Christians celebrate Christmas. I attend the neighborhood Christmas party every year unless I’m traveling, and I happily go to Christmas events. What I object to is the assumption that everyone is Christian, that this is a universal holiday, and that other cultures don’t count (or are tokenized with e.g. a menorah in a store window along with a dozen or more Christmas symbols). Thus, even in 2017, when I saw my friend’s post, I felt I had to respond with this comment:

Not to be the Grinch here, but as a non-Christian living in a largely Christian community, I feel very marginalized at this time of year and don’t need it to start any earlier then it does. I get annoyed when I hear Christmas music before Thanksgiving is over. I would have a higher tolerance if more Christmas music was less sappy and commercialized. Or if there were more acknowledgement of the many non-Christian holidays this time of year, including the rather minor but 8 day long holiday of Hanukkah that I celebrate. I do get happy when I hear a good old carol done in an authentic and acoustic rendition, or silly ones like Blue Christmas. But I could totally live my life happily without ever hearing Jingle Bell Rock or some of the really schmaltzy Santa stuff.

Interestingly, I haven’t felt oppressed by Christmas when I’ve spent the season in overtly Christian Latin America. Maybe some of the reason is that the music is better. Instead of sappy commercialized crap, the airwaves a full of carols and church melodies that are pleasant to the ear.

And maybe it’s also that Christianity is the official religion in those countries, and I get to visit Christianity on its own turf. But if the US celebrates the separation of church and state, why is it OK to have creches on courthouse lawns? How does that do anything other than establish a connection between Christianity and government? I raised that point in my 1988 article, and have seen nothing to change my mind.

These days, I as a Jew can walk down the streets and see many acknowledgements of Chanukah (a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, despite its eight-day run—made important in the secular world only by its proximity to Christmas and its adoption of the custom of giving gifts). Yet, obviously, I still feel like an isolated minority. Imagine, then, how it feels to be Muslim, or Wiccan, or celebrate Kwanzaa. After all these years, the US still has to do a much better job of acknowledging and celebrating its pluralism. As militant, violent white separatists become emboldened by a president who openly ran a hate campaign, this is more urgent than ever.

Posted in Activism, Branding, Demographics/Psychographics, Diversity, Ethics in Government, General Commentary, language, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s Make Puerto Rico The Poster Child for 100% Fossil-Free

Seize the opportunity!

Tragic as it is, the wipeout of Puerto Rico’s fossil-based infrastructure via Hurricane Maria creates a powerful opportunity to do it right the second time. With its vast solar and wind resources, why not make this sunny, breezy island the pilot project to develop 100% renewability in buildings for a populous island—using microgrids to build in resiliency, so if part of the system goes down, the rest still delivers power?

A storm-damaged pier. Courtesy freeimages.com

A storm-damaged pier. Courtesy freeimages.com

There’s already at least one island country we’ve all heard of that is near-100% renewable if you don’t count vehicles: Iceland (hydro and geothermal). Solar/electric entrepreneur Elon Musk has already converted several tiny, obscure islands, like Ta’u in American Samoa, and he says he can scale up to serve the 3,670,243 Puerto Ricans.

Of course, converting PR to renewables requires the re-invention of funding. We need mechanisms that allow a bankrupt country (technically part of the US) to front-load a huge infrastructure and then repay out of savings even when many pressing needs will be competing for those funds. The private sector won’t step up if they don’t have complete confidence that they’ll get paid back. Eco-economists, this is your moment!

But also, justice demands that a big chunk of financing come from outright grants, from the US government and various foundations and disaster relief agencies—just is occurred in storm recovery after other superstorms like Katrina, Rita, Sandy, and Irene. Even the heartless occupant of the White House, possibly the least compassionate and least competent man ever to hold that office, must not be allowed to marginalize Puerto Rico just because the population is Latina/Latino and the language is Spanish.

And wouldn’t it be cool if someone (Elon Musk perhaps?) stepped forward to fund a switch of the vehicle fleet to non-carbon-emitting sources? If the island had solar on every sunny room, it would be easy enough to supply the vehicles as well.

In some ways, converting the entire island to clean, renewable, resilient energy would actually make rebuilding cheaper and easier. Fossil fuel infrastructure is expensive, complex, and subject to environmental catastrophe. But if the money that would have gone to build tanker ports and refineries went to establishing on-island solar panel factories and training installers and to bringing in the raw materials to make millions of high-efficiency panels to deploy in every neighborhood in the Commonwealth, it’s doable.

I’m not the only and certainly not the first to say this. In addition to Musk, Time Magazine, Renewable Energy World, safe energy activist/author Harvey Wasserman, the deep-story news outlet Democracy Now, to name a few, have all said this is possible and desirable.

Posted in Abundance and Prosperity, Corporate Social Responsibility, Eco-friendly, Energy & Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Green Business, Green Living/Green Lifestyles, Innovation, People Helping People, Politics, Social and Economic Justice, Socially Responsible Investing, Technology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Melania, Dr. Seuss, Racism, and Class Issues—What a Kerfluffle

This post was going to be about political correctness overreach and a children’s librarian calling Dr. Seuss racist.  That’s the story as a lot of right-wing bloggers and media outlets tell it.

But the real story is about something even bigger: the need to discover the truth. And sometimes that means we have to go to primary sources. Several pieces are in play here, and most of the news coverage is focusing on only one (different sources, different pieces). I thank my journalism training for preventing me from embarrassing myself

Yes, A Librarian Refused the Donation

Melania (the current US First Lady) donated books to one school in every state.

Melania's letter accompanying the book donation

Melania’s letter accompanying the book donation

Most of us will agree that’s a good thing. But as Newsweek reports,

Liz Phipps Soeiro, the school librarian for Cambridgeport [Massachusetts] Elementary School, announced in an open letter to [Melania] that she would not be accepting the gift because her school was not in need of the additional books, also telling the first lady that “Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché.” Dr. Seuss!

But Soeiro Had a Good Reason to Refuse the Donation

But here’s the part where I agree with Soeiro, and I had to go to the original Horn Book post to find it: Melania selected only one school in each state. Soeiro found the criteria on the White House website:

“working with the Department of Education to identify schools with programs that have achieved high standards of excellence, recognized by State and National awards and Blue Ribbon Awards…”

Soeiro quite appropriately criticized this process, noting that it transfers more resources to those who already have the most, while schools that would be desperate for books and thrilled to get this donation—schools that are educating their kids with a fraction of the resources wealthy Cambridge (home of Harvard University and MIT) can deploy—are left out because they don’t win awards for excellence. In my opinion, this is like so much else in the DT family agenda. The rich get richer and the poor have 30 or 40 kids in a class and low-quality instructional materials.

Soeiro says,

Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control? Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos? Why not reflect on those “high standards of excellence” beyond only what the numbers suggest? Secretary DeVos would do well to scaffold and lift schools instead of punishing them with closures and slashed budgets.

And she mailed back the books to the White House.

But wouldn’t it have been more effective to mail those books to one of those deserving schools that don’t win awards? Soeiro could have mailed them, just as publicly, to one of the districts she cites as suffering—Philadelphia, Chicago, or Detroit—or to an underserved community right in Massachusetts, like Holyoke, Springfield (whose mayor said publicly they’d be glad to have the books), or Lawrence. She could have been just as public and gotten just as much attention. Melania will just give them to the next rich runner-up.

Yes, Soeiro Claimed Seuss Promoted Racism

That Newsweek article doesn’t quote another part of Soeiro’s letter, published as a blog on the Horn Book children’s lit site (though this article attributed to Newsweek but published on Yahoo does)—but this is the part that has conservatives in a dither:

Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes. [emphasis mine]

OK, let’s talk about the difference between opinion and fact. A fact is something that can be proven (and there’s no such thing as “alternative facts”). A person may have a viewpoint about that fact, and that’s opinion.

Sometimes people discover that their “facts” aren’t actual facts. When my house was built in 1743, the accepted wisdom among colonists of British ancestry was that tomatoes can be lethal, and nobody can go faster than a horse. Anyone stating otherwise would have been called insane.

Of course, these turned out to be opinions. Wrong ones. We know now that tomatoes are not poisonous—and humans can fly around the earth (in the space station) at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

The fact: Seuss’s post-WWII illustrations demonstrate a wide diversity of races and cultures, including many “races” that he made up entirely. Taking his work as a body, humans are only a modest portion of his characters, even his main characters.

Soeiro says his books are based on stereotyping. That’s her opinion and that of the scholars she cites. My opinion is that his books were promoting cultural diversity, acceptance of differences, and a society based in cooperation. I base this on reading many of his works. I’ve read Dr. Seuss books that ridicule…

  • Racism (The Sneetches and Other Stories, published way back in 1953)
  • Dictatorships (Yertle the Turtle)
  • Conformism (Horton Hears a Who)
  • War (The Butter Battle Book)

I’ve also read a number of Seuss books that defend underdogs and the environment (The Lorax)—to name just four of his many books espousing a progressive agenda.

And just as Soeiro cites sources that bolster her opinion, I can cite sources that bolster mine. For example, this profile of Seuss in Tikkun highlights many of his progressive activities and works (although it acknowledges that during WWII, his drawings for adults had a distinctly racist cast when it came to the Japanese. I’m not excusing that but the evidence is strong that he grew out of this attitude, especially in his horror over the Hiroshima bombing).

One not-so-nice thing about our world is that things get all out of proportion because the Internet amplifies opinions better than it amplifies facts. But one very good thing is how easy it is to go to the primary sources. Even if Newsweek hadn’t included the link, it was easy to find Soeiro’s original piece in Horn Book (it came up in the same search results page as the Newsweek article, in fact). And it was just as easy to find the Tikkun piece that mostly supported my position.

So…in any controversy, before you jump up and down and wave banners, take a couple of minutes to determine the facts. Look for coverage in reputable mainstream media whose trained and experienced reporters are vetting stories. Use a fact-checking site like Snopes. And do your part to keep the society-wide conversation focused on the truth and not on wild accusations. Often, as in this case, things are much more nuanced than they seem.

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Diversity, Environment, General Commentary, language, Politics, poverty, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Is Your Advertising or Marketing Working AGAINST You?

I received a fund appeal from a climate-change nonprofit asking for money to put this ad on the air. I was so appalled that I sent this letter:

[Subject] THIS AD WILL DO THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE WANT Re: Enough tiptoeing around it

[Body] No, and here’s why: This ad shows an astonishing ignorance of the deep triggers that change or reinforce behavior.  You pit an audio track that is 100% climate-denier against visuals that fail to make a connection between the catastrophes shown and climate change.

For climate skeptics, this will not only not change their mind, it will REINFORCE the idea that climate change is a hoax. They will focus on the audio. Those of us who understand that climate change is real will focus on the visuals, and will be able to make the connection that climate change worsened the storms—but we’re not the ones who need to be convinced.

As a marketer with over 40 years experience who believes strongly in the ability of marketing to create social change, I think this ad will do more harm than good and should not be released.

Please don’t run it!

We’ve known about the difference between how the brain processes the obvious and the subliminal  messaging in an ad for decades.  I think I learned about this when I started reading a lot of marketing books, back in the 1980s. We’ve also known about “social proof” (the idea that because other people are doing something, you should too) going back to early-20th-century advertising geniuses like John Caples and Edward Bernays.

Edward Bernays' secretary Bertha Hunt smokes in public at Bernays' 1927 "Torches of Freedom" march

Edward Bernays’ secretary Bertha Hunt smokes in public at Bernays’ 1927 “Torches of Freedom” march

And we’ve known about the negative impact of negative images about the environment since at least the Cialdini study of 2003 (which showed that people are more likely to litter after watching an anti-littering video showing lots of people littering) and probably much earlier. So why would any marketer script an ad like this?

By contrast, consider how the super-successful anti-littering campaign “Don’t Mess With Texas” rallied people around state pride. Cleverly, the ad agency didn’t even announce it as a clean-up-the-state program at first. Aiming at the demographics that were most likely to litter, they handed out bumper stickers with just the slogan, then later introduced commercials that tied it to the real purpose: stopping littering. And Texan litter rates went way down!

We’ve also known for many years that cultural and language differences have a lot to do with any marketing piece’s success. I’ve written often about the way companies sometimes market the same product differently to different nations or subcultures, or how a company can even change up its whole product line for different markets. Here are two examples from very different industries (breakfast cereal and luxury cars) in an article I published five years ago on an Australian website.

Don’t make the mistake that Chevrolet made when it tried to market the Nova in Latin America. In Spanish, “no va” means “it doesn’t go.” Oh, and look at every possible way to break up a website or product name into separate words. Unintended consequences of a badly-chosen name are still consequences, as that link demonstrates extremely well.

Have you examined your own marketing to make sure the subliminal message, the obvious message, and the goal are all aligned? Do this right away—or contact me. I’d be happy to do it for you, at very reasonable prices. I’ve written eight books on marketing including several that won awards, were translated and republished overseas, and/or made some best-seller lists—note that I’m using social proof here ;-)—and have studied marketing for more than 30 years.

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Copywriting, Demographics/Psychographics, Eco-friendly, Environment, Green Marketing, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Marketing Trends/News, Politics, propaganda, Psychology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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