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Authenticity and Pedro


Napoleon Dynamite is a sleeper hit, a cult classic among teens. One of the most memorable images in the film is the shot of the "vote for pedro" t-shirt.

Pedro22So, it was no surprise at all when it became almost omnipresent. It’s all over the web. The shirt is supposed to look homemade, so it’s easy to make.

Now, explain to me why the officially licensed "costume" comes with the shirt to the right? A shirt that DOESN’T look homemade, that’s silkscreened and extra fancy, with a bonus quote on it, thus making it a souvenir, not a costume…Voteforpedro_1

I think the reason is that the mass market doesn’t always crave authenticity. Yes, the Star Wars geek wants a light sabre that’s the same. But the buyer at Toys R Us wants one that’s a little different, a little cheesier…

Years ago at Epcot Center, I overheard one tourist say to another, "This is great. Now we don’t need to go to Spain!"

I’m not sure why the mass market insists we dumb down stuff that’s already dumb, but it seems to be true.

Monetizing noodles

Not one minute after I hit "publish", the always remarkable Laurie Kalmanson sent me this link about a new book deal: mediabistro: GalleyCat.

I’ve been a reader (and card-carrying believer) of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a pastafarian, I guess, though without the hair) for months. And now he’s got a bigshot book deal.

Do you really think, in your most wild and cynical dreams, that Bobby Henderson, outraged by the knuckleheads on the Kansas School Board, chronicled the spaghetti revelations as a way of getting a book deal? Of course not.

I want an eye patch, Bobby.

Monetize this

I wonder how I can make some money off my friends?

I wonder how I can turn my blog into a profit center?

I wonder if I can get some of the kids at the playground to make me some money?

Americans love to monetize stuff. Why bother doing something if you’re not going to make a profit at it?

Erblog_2Tom Asacker has a noteworthy riff (which I want to disagree with–at least a little) about the "how much is my blog worth" button that’s traveling around (I stole this one from him, and he got it from Evelyn). I have no idea how much my blog is worth. I also don’t try to monetize my blog–that would ruin it. It would ruin it because most of my readers would leave, and it would ruin it because then I’d try to outdo myself and monetize it more and more and more.

Evelyn Rodriguez and other popular bloggers certainly agree with me. The George Washington icon is a joke–a reminder that the goal is not to turn around and sell our blogs to the highest bidder, but instead to enjoy the process of having people we respect hear what we have to say.

Do the people you work with assume that something has to turn a profit to be good?

It’s absurd to imagine someone trying very hard to monetize their desire to scuba dive once a week or write poetry or hang out with friends. People like to talk about their favorite sports teams or tech gadgets, but why do we have to be in such a hurry to turn that into a profit? And why is "just a hobby" a pejorative remark?

Isn’t the point of all the difficult work we do to earn the right to do things we enjoy?

One blog I used to read is now filled with nothing but aggressive links to buy more books and read more glowing reviews of the work of the blogger. How sad that the quest for cashing out turned something great into something to be avoided.

Is the web (or the blogosphere) off limits to making a profit? No way! It’s one of the greatest money-makin/marketing mechanisms ever. But the irony is that those that have set out to quickly turn a profit have almost always failed.

Saul Hansell’s piece on Google on Sunday buried the lead. The real revolution at Google is the way they sell their ads–something that both Sergey and Larry were against when it was first conceived. Not only wasn’t it their idea, but Eric tried to kill the innovation that completely overhauled the web. Google works for two reasons. First, because it’s great to use. And then, second (the "then" being important here) because they invented a brand new way to turn attention into revenue… a method that rewards the intelligence of the user without penalizing her.

Maybe Google should put up a statue in honor of Salar Kamangar, the guy who figured it out.

–yes, you have a brand, even if you don’t intend to monetize it.

–no, you don’t have to have a plan or an ulterior motive if you want to share your ideas. Just share them. It’s good practice and good for all of us.

–maybe you will, one day, figure out how to achieve the much-heralded monetization. But if that’s your primary goal, the compromises you make along the way will likely cause your efforts to backfire.

More on WOM

You could gloss over Ron’s checklist  (Create Advocates) or you could think hard about what you haven’t done. The key is to look at this list from the other person’s point of view, not yours.

the problem with word of mouth

James Shewmaker points us to the always-worth-reading: Brand Autopsy.

The major reason why word-of-mouth hasn’t taken off is not because marketers lack the metrics to measure it. It’s because most products, services, and businesses simply aren’t worth talking about. Marketers should worry less about the metrics of “WOMUnits” and more about the message of the word-of-mouth activity. The more compelling and interesting the “WOMUnit,” the more people will talk about it.

Selling Is Dead

Long live selling.

There are very few books that actually think about what it means to sell something. Marc Miller delivers one: Selling Is Dead.

Do you work for the highest bidder?

…should you?

Wal-Mart is hiring top political consultants with track records from the Reagan and Clinton  campaigns to coordinate a multimillion effort to discredit a new film about the company. Wal-Mart is entitled to be as anti-union as they like, of course, and entitled to work hard to get the word out about their point of view, but it’s surprising (at least to me) to see who is willing to help them combat those that would critize them.

Strange bedfellows, it seems.

Politicians (and especially political consultants) are a special breed. One day they crow about how something is essential ("give em an up or down vote!") and the very next day they take the other side.

But are they really a special breed?

Have you ever worked on a product or service you didn’t believe in? Marketed something with side effects (okay, there are no side effects, just effects) that you weren’t proud of? (To be fair, there are Kerry and Dean alum working just as hard on the other side…)

SankaFor a really long time, the discourse in the public space was assumed to be genuine. We assumed that if someone took a position, they actually believed it. (Of course, that was never true, but we liked to believe that it was). Today, as money further corrupts just about all of the systems we used to assume were pristine, it’s getting harder to make that assumption with any validity.

Where do you draw the line? How much money does it take to change your mind? What happens when we expose the data and label opinions or efforts as purchased?

The ideas that are being spread most often today aren’t ideas at all. They’re opinions. And we learned a long time ago that everyone is entitled to his opinion. But what if it’s not his opinion? What if the opinion belongs to someone else?

Welcome to the age of appropriate cynicism.

"I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV".

A million dollars here…

a million dollars there, pretty soon, it all adds up.

In 1997, Lisa Gansky (at GNN) and I (at Yoyodyne) put together the first million dollar giveaway on the Net. If I remember right, the hard work our teams put into it led to a annuity (probably still paying off) for a forklift operator who really needed the money.

That was eight years ago. It was a breakthrough gimmick because until then, the biggest prize ever given online was perhaps $50,000.

Over the last few weeks, the mail I have been getting the most often is about million dollar websites, RSS feeds and other advertising gimmicks that revolve around selling little bits of data to advertisers as a way of gaming the games of attention and search engines and traffic.

It seems like a million dollars is still a lot of money.

The problem with the Pet Rock is that you could only do it once. Sure, it sold a bazillion rocks, but what good did that do everyone else? It’s really easy to waste a lot of time chasing gimmicks, always arriving just a little too late to be the guy who breaks through.

The first million-dollar website, apparently, did awfully well. But who would be interested in the second one?

I think you can predict approximately where the next Purple Cow is going to be, but it’s more about trends (or anti-trends) than it is about topping that last guy’s gimmick.