ObaMac

Millennial sensibilities appear poised to determine who our next President will be. All of the research has been showing us that Millennials are diverse, are brand oriented, are media savvy, and most importantly, public spirited and community oriented. So it shouldn’t surprise us that they’ll begin to flex those muscles in ways that will impact the culture in far more significant ways than clothing styles and music genres.

Several articles in the press recently underscore the arrival of this Gen-Y phenomenon in our political decision-making process:

Is Clinton a PC and Obama a Mac?

Clinton as PC, Obama as Mac

The important thing to emphasize here is that indeed Obama is a Mac. His website reflects his brand – cool, intuitive, imaginative, well-designed, interactive, respectful, authentic.

Hillary’s website, by contrast, lacks the Apple-esque human engineering, the sensibilities that show careful listening and an ethos that is comfortable with handing the keys to the Millennials to let them take the culture for a spin.

I concur with Noam’s assessment, as well as the article by Doug Kendall which triggered this current media stampede.

Not from a political perspective, mind you, but from the jaded mindset of a branding guy and marketer-to-Millennials. The reporters have done their homework, and their assessment rings true. I predict it’ll play out that way in the political process … though I claim no expertise in that arena.

Another incisive commentary by Frank Rich adds observations about the impact of Millennial ways of thinking on the McCain candidacy. He says,

Whatever the potency of his political skills and message, Mr. Obama is also riding a demographic wave. The authors of the new book “Millennial Makeover,” Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, point out that the so-called millennial generation (dating from 1982) is the largest in American history, boomers included, and that roughly 40 percent of it is African-American, Latino, Asian or racially mixed. One in five millennials has an immigrant parent. It’s this generation that is fueling the excitement and some of the record turnout of the Democratic primary campaign, and not just for Mr. Obama.

Even by the low standards of his party, Mr. McCain has underperformed at reaching millennials in the thriving culture where they live. His campaign’s effort to create a MySpace-like Web site flopped. His most-viewed appearances on YouTube are not viral videos extolling him or replaying his best speeches but are instead sendups of his most reckless foreign-policy improvisations…”

Barack compared the Boomers to the Moses generation, and the Millennials to the “Joshua” generation which followed it — doers instead of idealists. Of course, this could all be empty rhetoric, and I’m not personally interested in the politics. I’m interested in the branding. The point is that the Obama brand does seem to fit the style of both the candidate and his helpers, while the attempt to fly a “change” flag appears ineffectual from a branding standpoint when either Clinton or McCain make similar claims. You can rely on the Millennials ability to interpret visceral media signals, in deciding whether a candidate’s message and person align with their stated brand. And it appears like Obama will definitely win that battle.

Whether the Millennials will display historic perspective, or political wisdom, is another question entirely.

For colleges, the lesson is clear. Make sure your brand is clearly and authentically implemented in your website and your use of media.

Unreason and me(dia)

This video is the latest YouTube example of what Susan Jacoby writes about in her new book, The Age of American Unreason. The question is, are Americans hostile to knowledge?

What do you think I am? A clique chic geek? How should I know?!!!

Vision of students – video reply

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Michael Wesch’s video on the state of student learning in Web2.0 America has been augmented by a remix that adds the racial dimension. Michael responds that they considered including racial statistics to the original but felt it was too emotional of an issue and would “draw attention away from some of the other points we were trying to make” … such as technology, boredom, and learning in an environment where only 18% of the profs know your name and Facebook is more compelling than the instructor. I’ve included both videos for your enjoyment.

What I find most interesting is the way in which video is increasingly becoming the medium of communication. Yes, it does have the ability to transmit serious ideas, just as your car can be used to bring home the groceries…. at least once in a while. 🙂

The remix:

The original in case you haven’t seen it:

And here’s a link to a better version of the original in case you want to use it in class:

WMV   Quicktime

One idea that is intended to be prominent because of its placement at the beginning and the end, but is actually not well developed, is the idea that the chalk board was a major technological development in 1841 but is still in heavy use today. Hmmm…. not unlike cave walls, huh? Still relevant after all those years…. because it’s low-tech, convenient, and strips away everything but the presenter and his content.

So what is Wesch and his class saying? That classrooms need to use more video or web technology to better communicate with our rich, distracted students? Based on the MacLuhan quote at the beginning, it would seem that’s the point.

Having sat in an auditorium full of 3000 people who stop breathing in order to hang on every word and gesture of Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain Tonight, I would say the problem is not technology. It may be the quality of the instructor, and it may be the listening skills and inner motivation of the students.

Humor as perpetual emotion

An open letter to Andy Beedle…

I’m an Andy Beedle fan. Love your sense of humor, admire your ability to assemble a creative staff and deliver a measurable marketing success to college clients.

I share your commitment to the college market, and share your perspectives on many issues related to marketing to Millennials, including the value of authenticity, self-deprecating humor, and the major wrong-headedness of the Appalachian State “HOT HOT HOT” video.

But I think you’ve gone a bit overboard in your latest email, Andy…

Every week, I get several calls from College and University enrollment folks wanting to talk about having us do a new and innovative project for their institution. I also get slightly fewer calls from other higher ed marketing firms that are intellectual property fishing trips disguised as “partnership explorations” where they ask questions about how we come up with our ideas for online campaigns and I say non-committal things like, “We work hard on a collaborative and generative process that is informed by the interests of the target demo.” I have no idea what that means, but it makes those calls mercifully brief.

[Andy then proceeds to advocate ways of achieving viral marketing clout through humor, humor, and more humor.]

First, Andy, I want to say that going viral via humor is a very dangerous branding strategy for a college. Yes, some of your efforts on your web site are laugh-out-load funny, including the Stickman animations for Kettering, and the George Mason mascot video. Brilliant. But Beedle, you’re a Boomer, and while Millennials crave immediacy, Gen Y literacy, individualism, and social interactivity (according to Forrester), they are not the irreverent rebels you and I are. They get along with their parents (80-90 percent), buy brands (90 percent), tolerate and even desire supervision and protection, build communities rather than protest injustices, respect branded institutions if they sense authenticity, and are in many ways much more conservative than we are from the inside out.

For that reason, while there’s no doubt they love to find goofy junk on YouTube to laugh at with their friends, they are not necessarily going to be dismissive of a credible, authentic presentation about a school. They seem to be much less hypocritical than we are about getting an education and a job. We cry “down with the establishment” while we build the most materialistic lifestyle in history; they are often turning away from lucrative positions in order to find meaning in volunteering or other lower-income pursuits.

Second, your attitude toward other marketing approaches feels like smugness. Ideas, freshness, have never been a challenge for me personally; speaking for myself along with you and your staff and many other marketers I know, there are plenty of folks who feel relentlessly creative and have no problem coming up with fresh, prescriptive ideas to suggest to clients. Those of us who choose to specialize in the college marketing arena do so, I would guess, out of a desire to focus on a demanding niche that requires a very refined and nuanced level of creative precision. As a class, college marketers from A-beedle to Ztories (my tiny company), and all the Lipman Hearnes and Stamats in between, have much more trouble getting their clients to take risks than they do finding fresh creative ideas to suggest to their clients. [Am I right on this, fellow marketers?!] So, Andy, my hunch is that lots of college marketing consultants have got to feel the same as I do, impressed with your creativity but not necessarily your artistry.

Third, and most important, humor can attract attention, but it can also cheapen the brand of anything that purports to be worth a $120,000 price tag. Does Michelin go for humor? Cuteness, friendliness, family values; but not funny. Do Lexus and Volvo attach humor to their brands? No, good quality is not funny. Safety is serious. A quality diploma is no laughing matter.

And so for getting unqualified, happy-go-lucky leads, your viral yuck-it-up stuff can fill an inbox. Maybe even bring in a bumper crop of applications. But if you want those Kettering applicants to matriculate, and stay for 4 years because it was a good fit, it seems to me there needs to be a serious and credible set of messages that address substantive issues with the kind of immediacy and Millennial literacy that other schools are able to do through more dignified marketing efforts.

When I scratch below the brilliant, viral Kettering search effort, I see media which fails to bolster its most basic claims vis-a-vis dynamic, engaged applied science. Nor does it authentically address the tough situations students who actually go there must face in an economically distressed community. Should colleges take a caveat emptor approach to their image, or should they attempt to be more transparent about their actual weaknesses as well as strengths?

And the chemical activity level of the humor I’m seeing here can produce unexpected results. It would be damaging to a school like Whitman to make fun of liberal arts as an aspiration. It would be destructive to a Hillsdale to get funny about its preoccupation with politics. These are critical dimensions, august ideals, which fill the very air at these institutions. For me, the essence of brand elucidation requires colleges to begin treating 17-year-olds as adults who are going to be making serious decisions based on reason and, yes, the western rational tradition rather than some funny but ultimately senseless zinger by the school’s mascot.

Has the bump in interest provided by Stickman been a benefit to Kettering? Short term, it seems positive, but how will it play long-term? Here’s my concern: the downside of associating Stickman to a college brand, is the junk which has now been attached to Stickman at the top of the search engines: Subservient Stickman.

No, I’m not advocating stuffy, predictable bureaucratese. Most college videos I’ve ever seen are unendurable. I’m advocating truthful and memorable storytelling. I have seen the benefits of credible, compelling, immediate, socially-interwoven rich media that builds brand equity.

“Authentic” and “sarcastic” are not synonyms. Making it authentic does not mean making it disrespectful, irreverent, or ironic. It means making the claims precisely and demonstrably true, without hubris or puffery. And communicating effectively with rich media requires an emphasis on appropriate emotion, not “facts”. It means story-telling with just the right mixture of humor, humanity, and gravitas.

Will these kinds of weighty communication efforts go viral? Not often. But they’re worth paying for because they have value.

Ultimately, aspiring to get the marketing equivalent of perpetual motion is not just fraught with risk; it could be downright foolish and create a perpetual emotion, a damaging double-entendre that sticks like glue and measurably hurts the most important thing a college has: its reputation.

PS — Andy, I hope to meet you some day and settle this little disagreement over humor methods with a friendly (and funny) contest… hot-dog eating? jousting? inflatable Sumo smackdowns? Or we could have a recite-off of our favorite aphoristic writers. I elect Alexander Pope, Francis Bacon, Mark Twain and Piet Hein… 🙂

Facebook vs. porn

Here’s another interesting trend, as revealed in Time:

… after other social networks, the most clicked-on category of sites was search engines, with 11.6% of all downstream visits. Web-based e-mail services were next with 8.5%. Blogs came in third in popularity at 6.1%, claiming more than four times the number of visits to traditional news sites, which logged 1.5% of downstream visits.

Perhaps a more interesting — and more accurate — way to figure out where college students are going online is to assess which of the 172 web categories tracked by Hitwise get the most hits from 18- to 24-year-olds. Here’s a shocker: Porn is not No. 1. I’ve actually been puzzled by the decrease in visits to the Adult Entertainment category over the last two years. Visits to porn sites have dropped from 16.9% of all site visits in the U.S. in October 2005 to 11.9% as of last week, a 33% decline. Currently, for web users over the age of 25, Adult Entertainment still ranks high in popularity, coming in second, after search engines. Not so for 18- to 24-year-olds, for whom social networks rank first, followed by search engines, then web-based e-mail — with porn sites lagging behind in fourth. If you chart the rate of visits to social-networking sites against those to adult sites over the last two years, there appears to be a strong negative correlation (i.e., visits to social networks go up as visits to adult sites go down). It’s a leap to say there’s a real correlation there, but if there is one, then I’d bet it has everything to do with Gen Y’s changing habits: they’re too busy chatting with friends to look at online skin. Imagine.

One question left by reading Bill Tancer’s article is: though social networking enjoys a higher percentage than porn at present, has the actual visiting of porn sites dropped among Millennials? Or are they just visiting Facebook more… in other words, more internet activity?

Facebook sharkbait

First, what the press is saying: “Facebook has turned all the people who rooted for it into a lynch mob….from media darling to devil. The most interesting thing about Facebook right now is who will replace it.”

My take: Millennials at their core are civil libertarians, but not in the way Boomers are. Unlike Boomers, they trust some things: family, community, human nature … even certain institutions. Yes, they also distrust hype and hubris. But not with the revolutionary, righteous indignation of us boomers. I perceive their attitude to be more like “Duh, so you like, were expecting a corporation to be truthful and protect your information?!! Of course they’re going to screw you if they can.” Reputations don’t have as far to fall, because expectations are lower and cynicism… no, that implies disillusionment; an absence of illusions is much more prevalent.

On the other hand, a strong reaction is possible to this Facebook thing, because once the exodus starts among friends, it will quickly accelerate. Because in my view Millennials to a large extent have not yet discovered how dangerous and vulnerable their reliance on digital media and identities can be. When they realize they’ve been stalked by info profiteers, I think there’ll be a backlash and a switch to something that makes the virtual community they desire easy while decreasing the actual commitments and facts they have to share.

All of this confirms my belief that colleges should go slow on being too diabolical with the info harvest methodologies. Be careful about the microsites that tie in email compaigns to a unique URL for each prospect. Bear in mind that when you as a frosh prospect get a postcard in the mail that shows a photo of a volleyball player at some school, pulled from a database because you are tagged as a volleyball player… and that what you’re thus experiencing is not a legitimate personal interest in you… When you finally see that XYZU was simply including you in a numbers game, as a calculated effort to catch your attention…. well, you may wonder why you ever expressed an interest in XYZU. You’ll feel hustled — invited to the dance through an impersonal marketing effort, made possible by combing through your digital life for hot buttons to push.

Ultimately I think the pendulum will settle closer to the gravitas of authenticity … of colleges simply being who they are, and letting prospects pick their school based on how that fits with what feels right for them.

Rhythm and contrast

Here’s a link to something fun for a former typesetter like me.

Helvetica Happy 50th excerpt 1.

The first one has a fun visual montage. The 2nd one talks about the importance of type to design and the emotional impact of such subtle designer’s choices. For me, the movie illustrates the relevance of a designers ethos in communicating to today’s young people. Our Millennials are the most media savvy generation ever; and yet they seem to have no awareness of the diabolical machinations behind the media efforts that shape their perceptions of reality. Fortunately, all the college admissions marketers that I know take their responsibility seriously… and try to deliver reality, not just an advertiser’s agenda, to their audience.