Supercommittee: A name doomed to fail.
Did anyone else wince when they first gave the Supercommittee its name? What an incredibly inept choice. In the realm of organizational titles, it may be the most tin-eared naming decision in recent memory. As a writer who works on creating brand names for clients, I’d like to offer Congress some advice. And some options.
Leave “Super” out of it. Dear Congress, have you seen your latest polling data? One poll had you at a Berlusconi-esque 9% approval rating. Are you Superficial? Yes. Supercilious? Absolutely. Beyond that, leave super out of it.
Managing expectations. Guys, when your brand reputation is in the chemical toilet, it’s not the time to make promises about your capabilities. The name “Supercommittee” in effect says to the public, “Wait. You’ve got us all wrong. And we’re going to prove it this time.” The subsequent thud we all heard was Charlie Brown’s brain stem hitting the dirt and Lucy, you have a massive amount of explaining to do.
“Committees” are where useful time goes to die. Committee-level work is necessary, even critical. But it’s also synonymous with pettiness, polemics, and meetings so stultifying that one should not operate heavy machinery afterwards. Congress, we recognize you have lots of committees. It’s one of the things we hate about you. Don’t remind us.
And please, God, not another Blue Ribbon Commission. Is there a more self-congratulatory name than the Blue Ribbon Commission? It speaks adoringly of the elite pedigrees of the hand-selected participants, each of which brings deep wisdom and visionary problem-solving skills to the table. Name the last BRC to do anything important and I’ll personally bake you a pie.
The options box. Enough with the criticism. It’s time to consider a more creative and contemporary approach to the issue. Instead of “The Supercommittee,” how about:
• Response Team Charlie Foxtrot. It has a serious, military sound to it. It also has legs. For example, it could be the title of a reality TV show based on the lives of powerful Congressional members. We could tune in to witness them wielding gavels, bloviating, and molesting interns.
• The Vitalis Brigade. There’s still a lot of hair tonic in politics. It didn’t go away with Donald “Bay Rum” Rumsfeld. We should embrace the tradition of white men who use bad hair products and give the old guard a retro identity they can build on. If a product as bad as Old Spice can do it, so can Congress. Maybe.
• Club PoopyPants. Polls indicate a plurality of Americans perceive Congress as a group of dysfunctional, infantile egomaniacs incapable of finding their own fannies with two hands and a flashlight. Why not give the committee the name we use to describe obstinate, grumpy, ill-tempered children who act like they just fudged their undies?
Looking at my options, I don’t really like any of them. But if anyone agrees with me that our elected leaders should demonstrate more aptitude with the language of leadership, I’ll chair the committee that takes the matter under advisement.
Digital magazines have been enjoying some prom queen status recently.
And it’s easy to see why: a digital publication (look at Z-Mags) where you can converge imagery, text, sound, video, sharing, and all manner of interactive content can be very cool and very meaningful to people near the bull’s eye of the brand.
Digital magazines can be optimized for tablets. They can be archived. And they carry advertising. Look at some of the really cool DMs. They feel like an editorial arcade game. http://cnettv.cnet.com/best-digital-magazine-ipad/9742-1_53-50088770.html
To understand how long this will last and prepare for what’s next, there are two truths worth remembering.
1. A page is a page is a page. Let’s admit that many of the 1st websites developed by clients felt like filing cabinets, and possessed all of their charm. Then, as content management systems helped agencies and clients move to more of a publishing platform to manage brand content, websites started to look and feel like publications. Hence a return to the core ideas of what makes a page look good: Negative space. Message clarity. Type hierarchy. Subheads. Eye flow. The fundamentals of a brand’s visual vocabulary. Digital magazines owe some of their appeal to the fact that they reconsider the visual field as a blank sheet of paper that needs to be designed.
2. “We surf the internet, but we swim in magazines.” This headline, which I love, ran in a print ad sponsored by an association of magazine publishers who could not contain their glee that magazine readership has increased 1% each year for more than a decade – largely overlapping the evolution of the web. The reason: Magazines – digital or otherwise - are unique, deep, content-rich environments for people who are truly engaged.
There’s still much that DMs need to address. How can they be optimized as commercial platforms, for example? Their prom queen status will be in jeopardy if they look good, but can’t really dance.
For now, though, long live digital magazines. In today’s terms, that could mean 3 years.
It’s loud. It’s out of date. Its programming is crammed with ads that run 6 spots deep, and now that Clear Channel has tilted the field toward the 30-second spot, the broadcast radio advertising environment is more chaotic and neurotic than ever.
Broadcast radio is still hanging onto its credibility with marketing terms left over from the 1990s: “Awareness…buzz…word of mouth.” But broadcast stations have a hard time proving they deliver on it – because reach of message does not mean engagement. Yet the reps keep calling and many clients keep spending on commercial radio, often, in our experience, because having a broadcast radio buy in the mix is an article of faith.
So let’s talk about what’s next.
1. Don’t produce spots. Run sponsored content instead. If you absolutely have to be on commercial radio, consider the Talk format if it can work for the brand. And sponsor content that’s meaningful and relevant: Traffic, weather, news, opinion. Be an integrated part of the value the station delivers.
2. Don’t think radio advertising. Think branded audio. We don’t always spend enough time talking about how a brand should sound. It’s a good discussion to have, and it can take you toward podcasts, sound icons, and original sound design. And we avoid jingles because they’re dead as disco.
3. Put the radio production budget into Digital Video. Thou Shalt Have Quality Video on thy Site, sayeth the gods of Current Wisdom. So let’s cut the radio buy by 50% this year and shift dollars into video production.
4. Check out internet-based radio. Look at some of the numbers. Internet based radio is growing fast . Talk is the number one format nationally. And there’s data you can look at for how spots perform, because streamed spots are sold with other interactive promotional content on the station’s site.
5. PYO (Produce Your Own) radio show. Sites like Voice America are making it fairly easy and affordable to produce your own talk radio show for online distribution. You can create a conversation all your own, cast talent, encourage audience call-ins, alert customers via e-blast, and repurpose the show via podcasting.
To all radio reps, station GMs, studios, and VO talent who have done great work over the years: Loveya. But our digital cheese has been massively relocated, and we need to move on.
The slammer, or exclamation point, is being used in many social media circles by people who think louder is better. It isn’t. And it’s time to maybe calm down, have some juice and crackers, and establish some guidelines.
1. The reader isn’t deaf. I tell students who take my copywriting course at the University of Hartford to think of exclamation marks as writing for the hearing impaired – it’s just not necessary to yell at someone in print to get their attention. Calmness is cooler. And more convincing.
2. Overprinting the currency devalues it. Ever listen to a comedian who drops an F-bomb in every sentence? It loses its punch fast. Ever see a powerpoint slide with 25 bullets? They lose impact in a hurry. Same with slammers, less is more.
3. Try italics. Granted, styling type isn’t always possible, but when it is, see how italics and boldfacing can apply emphasis without upping the decibel count.
4. Graphic litter. A row of 6 slammers looks like a picket fence got installed at the end of the sentence. It’s confusing. And it robs the actual text of clarity.
5. Pissed? Focus on words. I had an English teacher who disallowed students from using the word “thing.” Her issue was that 95% of the time there’s a more precise word. So if you’re writing in anger, annoyance, inconvenience, or another unbalanced state, get the words down first. They’re the tone and music of your copy. Turn up the volume if you must. But volume distorts at high levels.