Welcome to Televution. My companies create intellectual property and provide services at the nexus of media, entertainment, marketing and technology. This blog is a personal perspective on those themes.


New Year's -- Our Greatest Personal Marketing Feat (Revisited.)

I originally wrote this as a blog entry a few years ago, and I thought it might be interesting to update it for 2012.


A snowstorm of white vows. I once read that phrase describing how most people begin the New Year. For some reason, we’ve come to accept New Year’s as new beginnings; more so than our own birthdays, anniversaries, or any other more personally signficant date.

What is it about the New Year that makes us stay up till 5AM, kiss strangers on the mouth, drink like alcoholic fish, make tons and tons of resolutions, and feel like we hve a new lease on life? A survey conducted by the Reader’s Digest in 2001 showed that 73% of American’s felt most “hopeful” on January 1. The same survey also showed that nothing significant ever happened in December to truly warrant that hope.

This is all, of course, rhetorical. We humans live for signs. Faith in symbolism is prevelant in even the least conforming of us. And “January 1” is about as large as a symbol or sign that one can put up anywhere—it is universal in its forgiveness, and unfailing in its approach. So much so that I know a gentleman in New York named Ken Walker who trademarked the date 01-01-00, and sued anyone who used it in the context of the millenium for royalties. Even hope, therefore, is marketable.

82% of Americans have some form of a “New Year’s resolutions” list. In their heads, on a napkin, in their diaries, on their hands, or in their hearts. Less than 2% of them will see all the resolutions through. Why? Life happens. Interestingly, though, it is us, as marketers, who cause most of the resolution drop-offs. That’s because the majority of resolutions Americans make have to do with restricting consumption of something (or someone.)

“I will stop smoking by March.”

“I will lose 30 pounds this year.”

“I will spend less on Internet porn.”

“I will pay off my credit cards.”

“I will stop making up with my deadbeat ex-boyfriend. “

I will… I will…

And then along comes temptation in the form of a credit plan with no monthly payments for eighteen months; in the guise of a buxom virtual blonde with “click me” streaked across her airbrushed torso; in the sweetness of fat-free yogurt (which, impossibly convinces most eaters that they will gain no fat by consuming it); and in the sight of two dozen roses on your doorstep from a man who fucked someone else just last week.

I’ve always maintained that marketers are born. That’s not because I believe there’s a specific, innate talent that some of us emerge without. It’s because we’ve been marketing to each other and ourselves all our lives. Every half-truth, every justification, every lie, and every blind eye we turn is part of our personal marketing plan. And New Years, my friend—note the capitalization—are our biggest personal campaigns yet.

Still, there is something romantic about the notion of creating resolutions that will probably never be carried out in their entirety. It feels good. It feels like you’re in the driver’s seat. It’s empowering. New Year’s bring about a sense of security and forgiveness. Not that you’ve forgiven anyone. It’s more like you tend to feel like you can contact that friend again, with whom you’ve had this horrible tiff, because she’s forgotten what a jerk you were last year. Or a perfect time to send one of those “sorry I dissappeared with your money” emails. This is us marketing to ourselves. We’re experts at it because, face it, no knows this customer better than we do.

 And so this year, I’ll make some resolutions of my own. I’ll lull myself into a mad dash of optimism about all mistakes being forgiven, and that anything is possible this year. So, in 2012, I resolve to:

  1. Lose 45 pounds, and get a six-pack.
  2. Take two vacations.
  3. Apologise to and make up with an old friend.

That feels good. That feels right. That feels like part of the battle is won. It feels “new”. So this year, here’s hoping that life is a panoply of pleasant surprises for you, me, and all the others we know and care for.

Dare I say it? Why not? I am, after all, feeling optimistic.

Happy New Year.


Why Pia Toscano will never become a MAJOR international star.

I’ve been watching and reading, with some puzzlement, this whole Pia Toscano affair on American Idol. What actually made this the national debate that it has become, is the judge’s reaction to her early elimination from American Idol. Jennifer Lopez appeared in shock, shed tears, and even gave Pia a “we’re-together-chica” send off, by talking about how often doors were shut in her own face. Steven Tyler said America’s “lack of passion was unforgivable.” Tom Hanks tweeted that there was no longer any reason to watch American Idol. Pia’s hometown is organizing an American Idol boycott.

And Interscope records, sensing blood in the water, is releasing chum in the form of a new Pia Toscano album, to the simple-minded consumer sharks that will undoubtedly feed in a frenzy, at least for a little while.

Pia’s elimination shouldn’t be a mystery. While tastemakers may have lauded Pia’s pipes (there’s a porn movie title, if there ever was one,) who are we kidding? The majority of voters on AI are young, teenage girls. And Pia represents everything they hate. She’s a beautiful girl, but am I the only one who found her completely robotic and lacking in any true warmth? Even her interviews seemed scripted, and there was nothing truly likeable about her persona.

And American Idol has long been a popularity contest, not a singing one. Sometimes, stars show up, and the entire context changes. Adults are compelled to come forward to vote. Young girls find an idol, and they vote. Sometimes, popularity meets talent, and a true star is born. It’s really only happened twice: Kelly Clarkson; and Carrie Underwood. Both of them transcended the usual popularity contest into one where they stood in a class of their own…which is what stars tend to do.

Pia Toscana may be the nicest girl in the world. And her pipes are amazing. But, she has no personality, and she has absolutely no star-power. Most importantly, she has no charisma. Which is defined as the ability to make someone else feel better about themselves. People with charisma make the experience of interacting with them (even through a television screen) a joyful exercise. Pia absolutely doesn’t have that quality.

Yes, she’ll release an album. Yes, she’ll sell records. Yes, she’ll make enough money and be seen enough to ocassionally make the pages of US Weekly. But let’s be honest.

She didn’t survive because the wisdom of crowds prevailed. 


Social Tax

So, I was bad this year, and filed my taxes at the last minute. And I mean, the last minute. Just a couple of hours ago.  Just a few hours before the deadline. For the past 13 years, I’ve filed my taxes myself, and I still haven’t stopped to let our accountant handle it. Look, I’m no handyman around the house, and I figure if I couldn’t bring myself to DIY with a hammer and nail, I could at the very least, DIY with a keyboard and a mouse.

So, after a few hours and what seemed like ten thousand new addition to the tax code, I was finally done. I was quite amused when I saw this on the final confirmation screen — the software wanted to know if I cared to “share” socially that I was done with my taxes.


I’m not sure what to make of that yet. I mean — taxes are a very personal, private affair. Is the fact that you’re done with them a shareable thought? I suppose it could be…I just don’t know. I would love to see the click-through stats on that baby.


5 Year Update -- "Things I Want"

Five years ago to the day, I wrote a post on my blog, called “Things I Want”. It was a technology-centric vision of everyday things, rooted in a bit of reality, but mostly wishful thinking. I thought it would be fun, on the 5th year anniversary of that post, to see how things have materialized.

I want my dry-cleaner’s to barcode all the clothes I send them, and scan it in every time it comes in. Eventually, I’ll have an online repository of all my suits and shirts, and information on when I bought them, and how often they’ve been cleaned. I can add notes on special care for individual garments on the secure page provided by the dry cleaner, and as a result, will not go anywhere else, ever again, for my cleaning. If I move, a consortium of cleaners could have access to my data, and I’d only want to move within that network, because I don’t want to lose the information on all my clothes and their care.

Sadly, the dry cleaning industry had done nothing to consolidate, or create this incredibly useful service on a national level. As I think about this again, I think in fact the service itself could be a data subscription system that multiple dry-cleaners could tap into. That way, when I move and have to change dry cleaners, I can still carry over my profile, preferences and other useful information to the new shop. All the system would need to do is tap into (or create APIs or) the few standardized dry-cleaning software packages that exist, and I suspect that over 60% of good establishments woud end up being covered.

I want Starbucks to mine its cash card transactional data and create a premier-customer line between 8:00am and 10:00am for high value customers, in select stores, reducing the wait time for these customers to get their coffee. Value could be determined by a combination of frequency, longevity and margin (some drinks make more money than others.) This will increase sales of the cash cards, where they’ll get better margins because of breakage, and it’ll push morning traffic to stores that can handle them better. Of course, all of this has to be done under some kind of new Starbucks loyalty program umbrella, and have other benefits as well. I’d recommend creating a program construct with only a few national benefits, like the coffee premier-customer lane. The rest of the benefits should be administered at the local store level, with benefits coming from neighborhood vendors who want to share in Starbucks’ traffic.

Well, it’s called MyStarubucks Rewards. And while they didn’t implement the “Fast Lane” concept, it’s a pretty healthy loyalty program, and it looks like the heavy local personlization I was asking for is available at their “Gold” level.

I want my local home improvement retailer to start a replenishment program so that I don’t have to go buy lightbulbs or filters anymore. I want a subscription to my every-week home necessities. Come to think of it, they could also send things like garbage bags, disinfectants, laundry detergent and toilet cleaner. I want to be able to manage my subscriptions online, and turn them off when I go on vacation. And when I move, I want to be able to go to my local home improvement retailer, punch in my new address into a kiosk, and have it spit out data on how often the house needed replacement bulbs, filters and other essentials.

I tried to get this implemented at The Home Depot for a whole year, but it never took — in all fairness, there were bigger fish to fry. I still think this could be a huge “auto-commerce” idea for trusted companies that deal with homeowners.

I want my wireless carrier to have a push-button option that allows me to upload all my phone numbers to some secure network location that they host. That way, if I ever lose my phone, (and I don’t backup my phone numbers to my computer,) I can use a simple push button with the same provider to download my numbers again. I’d pay for this service, but if I were my phone company, I’d give it to me for free—because with all my 600+ numbers stored securely on their network, I’m not going anywhere.

I have two words for you: Mobile Me. I pay for this service, too.

So, looking back — not a lot of progress on my things for the future. In reality, we’re not that far ahead from a commerce standpoint than we were in 2005. The past five years have all been about the growth of the social engine. The use of the cloud. Micro content. e-Commerce has taken a back seat, but I think that’s because companies stopped focusing on it. We’ve hired 200,000 new “social media managers” and haven’t paid enough attention to the basics — commerce.

Hey, at least I got one thing that I wanted. And look who gave it to me — Apple.