Archive | January, 2012

SOPA is Dead. Now What?

24 Jan

                Old school Washington just got a lesson new school democracy. 

                The outcry over the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and the January 18th internet blackouts lead by Wikipedia was the information age equivalent of the shoot-out at the OK Corral.  This time Wyatt Earp was armed with a computer and millions of social media followers all firing cyber bullets at will.  The McLaury Brothers in congress never stood a chance.  SOPA and its companion Senate bill PIPA have been sent to a Boot Hill grave site.  Don’t expect daisies to pop up anytime soon.

              Social democracy won.  But perhaps just as important is what lost—intellectual property.

             The arguments on both sides were focused and compelling.  Among the most articulate voices against SOPA is a brilliant Twin Cities internet and social media entrepreneur, Tyler Olson of SMCpros.

             “SOPA fundamentally changes the internet,” Olson argues.

             What frightens Olson and thousands of savvy internet consultants and entrepreneurs like him is that SOPA would have allowed the U.S. Justice Department to shut down internet sites that unbeknown to them contained or linked to copyrighted and protected material, be it movies, music, books, software, or other creative content.

             “When the government, companies, individuals can request that anything be taken down it becomes an issue of freedom of speech, it becomes an issue of the Great Firewall of China which will now be potentially in the U.S.,” said Olson.  “And those are the things that go against the democracy of America.”

             Olson’s views have sympathetic support from at least one prominent media law expert.  University of Minnesota Law Professor Jane Kirtley says SOPA goes after a critically important issue in an unfocused way.

             “It’s using a sledge-hammer where a stiletto would be more appropriate,” said Kirtley.


             But lost in the outcry over censorship and First Amendment rights, were the rights of people to also protect the things they create.   Steve Cole is a jazz musician and recording artist who’s most recent album Moonlight has topped the Billboard jazz charts.  Cole is also chair of the music business department at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota.

             “Of the music that is distributed through various channels only five percent we’re able to monetize.  So, if that doesn’t give you an idea of what a herculean problem internet piracy is I don’t know what would,” said Cole.

             I’ve included extended video Fox 9 interviews of both Kirtley and Cole making their arguments.

             The main target of the SOPA legislation was overseas websites that steal and distribute copyrighted material that have been untouchable to U.S. regulators. 

             “We’re trying to fix a system that is broken.  We’re trying to protect ourselves against violators of our intellectual property and their distribution too, and we don’t have a mechanism for enforcing that for overseas violators and this legislation does give us that ability,” said Cole.


             The SOPA legislation was largely backed by institutional content providers including the man who ultimately helps me may my mortgage.  (Disclosure statement: no one in my organization has been told to support a particular point of view on SOPA) NewsCorp Chairman Rupert Murdoch has been an outspoken supporter of SOPA for the same reasons as Cole.  As the owner of 20th Century Fox, Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch believes SOPA is needed to combat a growing culture where people believe everything on the internet is free—or should be.

             But there’s also another take on the debate and it come from James Allworth and Maxwell Wessel in the Harvard Business Review.  Their analysis is that the media giants are pushing SOPA to protect business models that are no longer nimble and innovative. 

             “SOPA is a legislative attempt by big companies with vested interests to protect their downside,” Allworth and Maxwell write. 

             Had SOPA passed congress, they argue it would likely cripple emerging digital businesses. “Start-ups will be less competitive in the United States and we’ll have effectively disabled one of the few remaining growth engines of the economy,” said Allworth and Maxwell.

             Every voice raises a significant issue.  In the end, creative content should and must be protected.  Our younger generation of internet users has to understand that not everything is free for their taking, copying, and sharing unless the creators of that content say they can.

             Which brings us back to the OK Corral.  Wyatt Earp won the day, but there will someday likely be another shootout.  Let’s hope congress, as Professor Kirtley suggests, comes to the corral with a scalpel instead of a sledge-hammer.

Star Wars Sequel: VW Strikes Bark

20 Jan

            Volkswagen has done it again.  The same folks that gave us the Beetle and Farfegnugen have collided Das Auto with Star Wars and once again have succeeded in creating a memorable brand experience.

             The venerable VW has just released a pre-quel to its 2012 Super Bowl ad and it successfully uses a pack of dogs to bend the Star Wars meme from its wildly popular and successful 2011 Super Bowl ad.


             The deliciously wonderful ad by VW’s agency Deutsch is no accident.  It’s a smart and highly purposeful means of communication.   It targets a specific audience and asks them to take a specific action.  Here’s the strategy:

  • Target Market Audience:  Speaks to everyone who LOVED the 2011 Darth Vader ad.
  • Desired Response:  SHARE IT and watch the new Super Bowl ad.
  • Competitive Frame:  All other Super Bowl ads.
  • Message Argument:  It’s entertaining.
  • Rationale:  It builds anticipation for the new product ad and reinforces the intangible value of the VW brand.

             It’s clear the creative forces at VW/Deutsch wanted to borrow from the momentum of the most shared advertisement of 2011.   The Passat ad cleverly used two strong replicators in a child and Darth Vader.   They created an emotional force that caused viewers to watch, enjoy, and pass on.


             This time, VW has kept the Star Wars theme but replaced a child with an arguably stronger replicator: dogs.  Will it take off?  Three million YouTube views in the first 24-hours suggest it’s already in another galaxy.   And all of it with no media buy.   If the most valuable commodity on earth is attention, VW is getting it.

How Rick Santorum Pulled off the Iowa Caucus Upset

7 Jan

                The fall harvest in Iowa is long over, but GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum managed to winnow a few extra bushels—of votes.   The caucus night celebrations and day-after headlines that trumpted Mitt Romney as the victor have been nullified by a certification count that  awards Santorum the winner by a mere 34 votes.   The history books will record Mitt Romney as the loser of the Iowa Caucuses and cast Ron Paul as the candidate who finally gained legitimacy.  But, Santorum’s last minute surge will likely be studied by campaigns and political scientists for years to come.

GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum

                From a marketing communications point of view, Santorum’s first place finish is a lesson in the importance positioning strategy, tactics and luck.  Santorum and his campaign successfully positioned himself as the social conservative who was consistently on message and disciplined enough to avoid mistakes.   In the words of my grandfather, a lifelong dairy farmer, Santorum avoided stepping in too many “sugar daddies.”  If you look at a perceptual strategy map of the major GOP candidates, Santorum carved out and maintained a unique position. (Figure 1)  He occupied the space on the map necessary for a candidate to succeed among Iowa’s GOP activists: consistently conservative and gaffe free.

Figure 1 - GOP Perceptual Map of Iowa Caucus Candidates

              It’s no accident that Romney, Santorum and Paul all finished in a near dead heat and everyone else as “also ran’s.”   That’s where a little bit of luck played a significant factor.  Michele Bachmann may have staked her claim as the most conservative candidate and an effective debater, but her perceived missteps on vaccines and other issues gravely affected her position on the perceptual map in the minds of voters.  Texas Governor Rick Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich didn’t fare any better.

             Santorum’s finish is also remarkable given the fact that he had little to no brand awareness in Iowa.   His surge in the weeks leading up to the caucuses came as a result of what marketers call an effective execution of product news and product experience.  In other words, his campaign staff and volunteers were able to effectively reach party activists with a message of how he was different and relevant.   Furthermore, his personal appearances gave potential voters a chance to experience the candidate and size up his message against their own values. 

Figure 2 - Google Trends Data Leading up to Iowa Caucases

             In my most recent post, I noted how Ron Paul was far and away leading the pack in buzz.   This too is another essential marketing driver.  The metrics in Iowa as measured by Google Trends showed Santorum gaining more web searches in the days leading up to the caucuses. (Figure 2)  It’s an important metric because it shows that people are yearning to discover more about the candidate.  In the end, Santorum was perhaps able to convert or activate more of that buzz into votes than was Paul. 

             The challenge now for Santorum and his campaign is trying to compete in two new markets.  New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida are a long ways from the corn fields of Iowa.  Their voters have a different conservative value proposition will have their own perceptual map of where the candidates align.   In New Hampshire, every indication is that Mitt Romney has strong brand awareness and emotional bonds with GOP activists.  Those are powerful drivers for any challenger to overcome.  But Santorum clearly now has a degree of buzz.  What his campaign does with it and how it responds to the new scrutiny that will come could very well determine how long it takes for republicans to settle on a presidential nominee.

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