Friday, August 30, 2019

At It Again 

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden is at it again.  He has been long known for his gaffes on the campaign trail and for making things up.  Now comes a tale of awarding decorations to a soldier in Afghanistan.  The Washington Post reported that it didn't happen the way Biden said, and he appears to have conflated three events into one.  This raises a serious question about his veracity.  We have already in the White House an occupant who is a sociopathic liar.  Do we need another?  Biden's reputation can take a self-defeating hit if the media continually check on his statements.  It's poor PR on his part and a terrible strategy, if it even rises to that point.  American citizens need a dose of accuracy and truth, of telling about things as they are and not as one would have them.  It's understandable that in the heat of campaigning one might say things he would later regret, but, if so, an apology is in order and then a move onward.  Biden apparently is not given to apologies -- yet.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


A Monmouth University poll showed Biden plunging in voter estimation.  It made headlines.  Now the university is backing off.  It calls its poll an outlier.  In other words, it was wrong.  These things happen in the survey industry, especially since people are more difficult to contact randomly than ever.  Kudos to the university's director of the polling unit for coming clean.  However, the Biden camp has reason to be unhappy.  It was a blow to the campaign's effort to keep the candidate above the fray.  Even with an admission, the mistake is a reputation hit to the university.  It might need to change its procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


There is little that is quite as embarrassing than to be shown your product doesn't work.  Consider, for example, a highly secure lock that isn't.  A locksmith opened a Turbolock in a matter of minutes by removing screws that held it together.  All it required was a single tool.  The company is now faced with a redesign of the product or bluffing it with the public that its door lock is secure.  Either way, it is a blow to reputation and the brand.  One might ask why the engineers who designed it failed to notice the fundamental fault with its security.  Surely the company's executives are looking into that.  Meanwhile, denizens of the web know a Turbolock is anything but.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Future Hurts 

Who would think that speech to text software would run afoul of copyright law?  This is a legal battle Amazon is facing.  Its new Captions feature translates audio to text and lets readers follow the written word while hearing it.  The software is intended for students in public school settings.  Publishers will have none of it.  They are saying in legal filings that it transgresses the distinction between audio and text, and Amazon's approach is giving away textual copies of books.  What's to prevent one from listening to War and Peace then filing it away on a Kindle without paying for it?   Or worse yet, selling a printed copy?  This not the first time the publishing industry has defied the future.  Amazon unveiled text to speech some years ago that publishers nixed because it crossed the bright line between audio and print.  There are bets that Captions won't last either.  

Monday, August 26, 2019


Vaping has been controversial since its beginning.  While it gets rid of tars that coat the interior of lungs and promote cancer, it is an efficient nicotine delivery system, an addictive substance.  In addition, teenagers have taking to it in spit of efforts by vaping vendors to stop them.  Now comes news that vaping is harmful to health. The Center for Disease control has identified 193 cases of lung illness due to vaping and possibly one death.  Vaping manufacturers, like Juul, have a crisis on their hands.  While they promote vaping as an alternative to smoking, it seems it is harmful in other ways, and there might not be a solution for it.  It is marginally safer than cigarettes but not completely so.  This raises the specter that the CDC might bar vaping altogether as a health hazard.  While Juul has taken steps to limit youth vaping, it so far has no answer to a larger question.  Is vaping safe?  The company has a PR and marketing challenge, which it might not meet.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Smart PR 

Google's Waymo company has made freely available a huge amount of data for self-driving cars.  It's not the first to do so, but its contribution to research is more nuanced than what other companies have provided.  Waymo is the acknowledged leader in automated vehicles, so it is giving researchers a view of how far it has come and how far it needs to go.   Researchers have learned to their chagrin that software can go only so far in steering and braking an auto safely.  There are still too many variables that humans can handle and software not.  By putting its datasets into the public arena, Waymo has a chance to advance the science and make some of its solutions standards in the industry.  It is smart PR and recognition that together the industry can make progress.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

And So, They Fall 

There is another dropout among Democratic candidates for President -- Jay Inslee.  That makes three with many more to come.  It is a sign of hubris for so many to be in the race.  They should have known the chances of rising to the top were slim at best.  Yet, they launched political marketing organizations and spent millions -- all for naught.  They all seem to have had the same idea -- oust Trump, who is becoming more vulnerable daily -- yet the political calculations were against them, if not mathematical ones.  It takes ground-level organization to win the nomination for President -- and that's expensive.  Candidates have been able to tap into small-dollar donations but there is a limit there too in how much people will give.  Look for a dozen or more to give up by early next year.  Once the primaries start, the public will have its say, and there will be no where for candidates to turn.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Political Publicity 

Presidential candidates and their minders are quick to pick up on any medium that gets their names out to voters.  Now they are concentrating on podcasts and YouTube shows, media that barely registered in the last election.  There is a good reason for doing so.  They reach more young voters than any other type of broadcasting.  As the story says, "YouTube claims to reach more of those voters in an average week than every cable network combined, citing Nielsen data. By 2020, those age brackets (millennials combined with Generation Z, roughly) will be the largest voting bloc in America."  There are other advantages to using this publicity channel.  Candidates are not caught on an overloaded debate stage trying to shout down others while speaking in sound bites.  They can take their time and discuss issues in depth.  It won't be long before politicos at all levels seek to use these outlets.  Can the mainstream media keep up?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

How Long Will This Last? 

The CEOs of 200 companies have issued a new purpose for the corporation that gives shareholders a back seat.  It's heartwarming publicity but the proof will be in performance.  Will it last only as long as the next stock meltdown and pressure from institutional investors?  A CEO of a troubled company would be foolhardy to ignore the primacy of  owners.  It might cost the executive a job and a career.  From a PR perspective, what the executives want to do is on the mark, but the world intrudes quickly, especially in an era when large shareholders have become activists about company performance.  Will the CEOs get sustained board support for their new view?  Time will tell.  Pardon me if I'm skeptical that this pledge will be kept for the long term.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Stepping In It 

Twitter has inadvertently inserted itself into the Hong Kong protests and not in a good way.  It has run advertisements from the Chinese government condemning the civic action.  Since Twitter is banned in mainland China, the ads appear to be targeted to the world at large and set the stage for intervention if the protests don't stop. By all accounts, the latest of a million citizens was peaceful, but that is not how the Chinese government viewed it.  Twitter has a crisis on its hands, and it needs to respond sooner rather than later.  In the firm's defense, this is a fraught situation in which is easy to step into trouble.  The company should have seen that it was coming, but no matter.  It needs to correct the error -- and quickly.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Limits of Planning 

Disney, hotel operators and everyone connected to its amusement parks thought the new Star Wars attraction would be a smash hit.  So far, they are wrong.  The 14-acre section of Disneyland has been an early flop.  What happened?  And, if Disney, the entertainment giant, can't get planning right, who else can do better?  Disney, after all, has grown to a mighty company through understanding and fulfilling the desires of the public.  How could it have missed so badly after the hoopla of building and promoting Galaxy's Edge, the formal name of the exhibition?  It is a reminder that the "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley, " as Robert Burns penned.  That doesn't mean one shouldn't plan, but in marketing and PR, one should always allow a huge risk factor and fallback if a "sure thing" turns out to be a dud.  Disney fanned expectations, as only Disney can.  It raised prices to deter the mob of early attendees.  Local hotels did the same.  Everyone waited for the crowds to come.  They didn't.  The might eventually.  Meanwhile, Disney has a futuristic white elephant.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


For decades, the gold standard of scientific papers was the peer-reviewed journal printed on paper and expensive to publish and purchase.  With the internet, this has changed and printers of these scholarly works are feeling the heat.  Scientists are revolting against the cost and slow pace of publishing.  They get much of their information for free now although it might not be peer-reviewed until later, if at all.  Academic publishers are dinosaurs lumbering to extinction.  There isn't much they can do from a marketing perspective.  They have to prove they are worth their cost to deeply skeptical customers.  So far, they haven't done so.  The academic journal is as much a racket as text books.  But text book publishers are moving online to cut costs and to update their works regularly.  Universities are struggling to contain costs and are no longer a cash-rich field for printers.  It's about time.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Serious Danger 

Airbnb, the online home-sharing service, is in serious danger.  The threat is bed bugs.  Users have been afflicted with bites, welts and rashes while sleeping in rooms let through the company. If Airbnb can't control the spread of the creature, it will lose its customer base.  The challenge is that the company does not have direct control over lodging.  It can give advice to homeowners or drop them from its service.  Meanwhile, the burden of controlling an outbreak belongs to the owner who might never have had an issue until renting through Airbnb.  It is expensive to get rid of them and the homeowner bears the initial cost with a make-good from Airbnb.  The ongoing challenge for the company is that bedbugs have been around for tens of thousands of years, and they are not going away even with strong efforts at extermination.  The company must be vigilant and fast-acting when receiving reports of infestations.  It is an essential cost of doing business.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Priceless Publicity 

Porsche has always been a master of publicity and this is no different.  It let an auto journalist test its new EV over and over in fast acceleration. Not surprisingly, the vehicle performed extraordinarily well, launching time after time from 0 to 220 Kilometers per hour.  In other words, the car is pure Porsche.  It meets the requirements of a sports machine but without anything related to a reciprocal engine.  Typical of Porsche, the company's engineers redesigned everything to optimize performance.  The car has two motors and a liquid cooling system to avoid early battery exhaustion.  No word yet on the range of the vehicle, but it is likely to be as good or better than a Tesla.  Buyers will pay a hefty price for its performance, but they will have a lot to show off and brag about.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Testing Limits 

Hong Kong's protesters are testing the limits of China's patience.  They might yet find themselves in a police state without any freedoms they are striking for.  It would be terrible PR for Beijing to order troops into the city, but it might not stop them.  One can't forget Tienanmen Square where activists were mowed down by police bullets. The open questions are do the strikers understand how far they can go, or are they living in the moment without concern for what China's leaders might do?  It would be a pity if the city and its environs were cordoned off and turned into a controlled environment.  China is doing that already with Muslims in the Western part of the country.  Protesters need to keep a weather eye to the west and know when to pile their signs and go home.  

Friday, August 09, 2019

Suspect Marketing 

Amazon has formed partnerships with police departments to give them access to its Ring video doorbell recordings.  The company considers crime prevention a good marketing strategy.  The problem is that Amazon didn't make it public that it was doing this, and it didn't ask householders whether they are willing to cooperate although the police will need to do so.  Moreover, some police departments were offering the video doorbell at a discount or free to homeowners as long as the homeowners give up their video.  The potential for invasion of privacy is enormous.  Someone at Amazon should have thought of this before launching what is now a suspect marketing campaign.  The online universe has taken the company to task, and there have been numerous stories about the partnership.  Look for Amazon to back off.  It is a creative idea badly executed.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Long-term Crisis 

How could a shoe company be involved in a long-term crisis?  If it had a tannery and used dangerous water-proofing chemicals on its shoes.  This is the headache Wolverine Worldwide is suffering in its home town of nearly 140 years.  The company regrets the problems it is facing and is suing the vendor of the chemical, 3M, for compensation.  It's a fair bet that if Wolverine wins, the money will go to remediation.  Almost certainly when 3M sold the chemical, it wasn't aware of its toxicity, and when Wolverine used it, it thought it was providing its Hush Puppy customers with a differentiating advantage.  But good intentions aren't enough in the long run.  The companies today have serious reputation issues and ongoing negative PR.  One might say it isn't fair, but the counter from the citizens of the town would be, "Is it fair that we are poisoned?"  There is no good answer except an extensive and expensive clean-up.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Great PR 

Range has been a major concern with electric vehicles -- just how far they can go before needing recharging.  That's why this is great PR.  To get across the country in just 45 hours from coast to coast, 3,000 miles, is a feat for gas-driven cars.  There is no indication that Tesla sponsored the runs, but it should have.  It's proof that range is no longer a concern for the EV.  There are enough charging stations across the country, the time it takes to refill the battery is nominal and speed is not a concern. (Teslas will do 90 mph.)  The more drivers who repeat and lower the transcontinental time will only enhance the point that EVs are here to stay. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Intrusive Marketing 

Restaurants are beginning to Google customers to learn more about them.  The claim is they can serve their patrons better.  On the other hand, it is intrusive marketing.  Do you want to know that your background is a factor in the attention you get in a fancy restaurant?  One would expect the same level of service for everyone.  Also, is there really a need for an establishment to know that much about you?  Nevertheless, some are doing it and customers need to get used to it.  

Monday, August 05, 2019

Maybe Now? 

The National Rifle Association has had a PR and power lock on Federal and state legislatures for decades.  But, it is in turmoil internally and externally, mass shootings have awakened citizens.  Maybe now, legislation can pass to keep guns out of the hands of the disturbed, and perhaps, even register them so they can be tracked in the event of crime.  The NRA looks with horror on any attempt to control the spread of weapons.  They threaten congressmen and senators who dare to take the subject up.  The organization's lobbying and PR have been successful for too long.  It's time for another take.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Seemed Like A Good Idea 

Kudzu, the invasive, fast-growing vine that has blanketed the South, was not an accident.  It was marketed in the mid-20th century as a way to combat soil erosion.  About three million acres of it were planted by 1946.  Today, it is the all-consuming plant, swathing trees, telephone poles, anything left on the ground.  No one seems to know or remember that it is a desired plant in Japan from whence it came, and it has uses in food and textiles.  In the US, it is a classic example of a marketing campaign that went wrong.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  It wasn't.  There were no natural pests to control it in the US, and once it took off, there was no way to stop it.  We know better now, but it is too late for kudzu.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

End Game? 

This author is predicting a severe downturn for the beef industry in the US as plant-based burgers take meat's place. Farmers are fighting back and trying to convince state legislatures to rule that veggie burgers are not meat and shouldn't be advertised that way.  The plant-based burger is growing rapidly.  The companies making them are enlarging capacity and alleviating shortages.  Fast food chains are adopting them and experiencing strong sales.  Soon, the plant-based burger will be sold in supermarkets alongside beef.  The meat industry isn't going to go away but it needs to develop an answer to the plant-based burger.  Right now, it has none.  Over time, the plant-based burger will shrink the meat industry and put farmers out of work.  This will radiate through slaughterhouses and processors and impact local agricultural economies.  The public won't care as long as it doesn't affect them.  The beef industry is facing a difficult end game that it can't afford to lose.

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