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Help Wanted–publicists and designers

For some reason, people think I know who they ought to hire. In the last week, Corey and Will each asked me for a recommendation. I figured it would be neat to build a place where freelancers could find work.

Publicists, here’s a group for you.
and Designers, here’s one for you.

Go ahead and build a lens about what you do and what you know. Point to your site and your blog and your favorite ideas, books or competitors. The lens will automatically link to the group and people who are looking for you might find you.

Too important to be left to professionals

Robert DeNiro called me today. Or as his friends call him, Bobby.

Of course, I don’t call him Bobby because I’m not his friend. We’ve never met. He was calling to promote a politician. And it wasn’t really him, it was a tape. And I don’t know which politician because I hung up.

I’ve gotten dozens of phone calls over the last few weeks, including one just now from an eager fundraiser named Barbara. She explained that she’d even read my books, including Permission Marketing. "Even the part about spam?" I asked. I don’t think she got the point.

The point, folks, is that with all these strangers calling me, interrupting my day, giving me unanticipated, impersonal, irrelevant come-ons, not one person I know personally has called me. And not one of the callers has tried to enlist me to call my friends.

One call from a friend is worth 100 calls from an Academy-Award winner on tape.

The mistake politicians, like most marketers, make is that they think that what they are doing is way too important. Too important to leave to citizens. Too important to leave to ordinary people who happen to be big fans with organic, authentic networks of trusted friends. Too important to respect social boundaries.

If you’re in too much of a hurry to build a real network, you’re probably in too much of a hurry to get elected.

Will you be missed?

Tower Records is gone. I used to go there almost every day when I lived in Greenwich Village. I haven’t been in more than five years–pretty much since I started buying just about everything at Amazon. Obviously, I won’t miss it.

I haven’t been inside a bank in nearly as long. Why would I? The ATM is closer, faster and easier.

I haven’t read the classified ads in the paper in five years either.

None of these three activities were ever particularly emotionally heartwarming. And now that they’re gone, I don’t miss them.

So, here’s the question: When you’re gone, will they miss what you do? It’s not too late to change the answer…

Yes Substitutions

This, of course, is the opposite of "no substitutions".

I had lunch at the Pump in NY today. The Pump is about 350 square feet (total) and it’s a money factory. They have nearly 50 ingredients, all healthy stuff, and offer them in precisely 41,000,000 combinations. So, you can have whole wheat pita with egg whites, chicken breast and hot sauce, no onions. Or no pita, double egg whites, double hot sauce and brown rice.

People who care about what they eat go somewhere on purpose. People who don’t care, go close or cheap.

There’s a line out the door of the Pump every day at lunch. Why? Because people who love substitutions (the picky ones) go blocks out of their way to eat here. Is there anyone clamoring to get into the "no substitutions" place?

Ponzi, Pyramids, MLM, Ads and WOM…

There’s been a lot of angry mail about my mention of mmmzr the other day. "It’s a ponzi scheme!" several people say.

Actually, no, it’s not. It’s a pyramid scheme. They’re different, and it’s part of a spectrum, one worth understanding.

A Ponzi scheme is a simple scam in which a bankrolled, charismatic individual persuades some people to invest money in a financial instrument. The investors do nothing but wait for a return. Soon, they get paid off! The buzz is incredible. New investors come in. The scammer now uses the new money to give more returns to the original money. This increasing return further increases buzz, which leads to ever more money coming in, which he uses to pay off newer investors, and so on, until finally there’s a lot of money coming in and the scammer leaves town.

Everyone hates a Ponzi scheme. The only people who fall for it are the ones who don’t know what’s actually happening.

A pyramid scheme is different. That’s a scheme where the investors actually have to do something. There was a classic pyramid scheme floating around twenty years ago. You started as a ‘passenger’ and invested $1,000. Your job was to find five new passengers, which made you a ‘flight attendant’ and then a ‘co pilot’ and finally a ‘pilot’. I forget the specifics, but I think pilots ended up with $100,000 or so. Obviously, this can’t last forever, but if you can recruit diligent passengers, you can make it work (for a while).

Most people shy away from pyramid schemes. They seem too calculated and unfair and risky.

The next kind of pyramid scheme is certain kinds of MLM (vitamins, often) and yes, mmmzr. In this case, in addition to having the attributes of a pyramid scheme (the investors have to work), there’s also an attractive side benefit. You get the energy bars or the web traffic or the perfume or the herbs. The product often hides the underlying structure of the business, but in particularly loud versions, it’s pretty clear it’s just a pyramid scheme.

Once again, most people don’t like this. You cringe when your sister-in-law brings it up. You hide in the conference room when your co-worker takes out his sample case. It feels wrong, and it largely is. It is because the motivation of the seller is primarily selfish.

Selfish because she’s trying to build her downline. Selfish because the entire focus of the enterprise is to make the enterprise bigger.

I contrast this to more subtle projects like Tupperware or Avon, or various religions or things like Digg (when it’s used right). In those cases, the ‘side benefits’ are actually the real benefits. The commissions are just a side light. The word of mouth feels a lot more real, because the person you’re working with is obviously impassioned for the right reason.

Great real estate brokers already have enough money to retire. They’re not selling you a house just to make a few percentage points. They’re doing it because it actually gives them joy to get you into a better house.

Human kindness has always been in short supply. For millenia, you needed to worry when someone offered to do something nice for you. You needed to wonder what the ulterior motive was, what’s in it for them. As a result, we’re innately suspicious whenever we get sold something.

I had an interesting dilemma before I posted on mmmzr. I had a hunch it would work, especially if I pointed to it on my blog. Should I buy a bunch of boxes for some charities I support? After all, it would generate traffic for the charity, and probably pay off with money I could turn around and donate. But if I did, if I did that, then my newer readers would say, "hey, I knew it! You pointed that out because there was something in it for you…" So I didn’t.

Word of Mouth is a really fragile entity. Someone asked me at a recent engagement what I thought about various agencies that are paying people to shill for their products. I said something like, "Well, for a long time the oldest profession has taken money for what other people do for free. How do you feel about the difference between the two transactions? Which kind of person did you marry?"

At some level, at a very major level in fact, the way we feel about a transaction is more important than the transaction itself. Some people like a sporting event more if they got the ticket from a scalper, other if they got the ticket for free from their boss. Some people need to feel like they’ve taken the system (whatever the system is) for everything it’s worth. Others need to pay retail (especially on a wedding dress, cemetery plot or flu shot).

Marketers are working hard to corrupt the way we feel about our friends and the people we respect. I think, in the end, it’s not going to work. We’re hardwired to respect real authenticity, and at some level, that means trusting the motives of the person we’re listening to.

Bottom line: just because the net makes it much easier to measure things, share things, create downlines and hierarchies and yes, scams, doesn’t mean its the best way to make something that lasts.


If you live in part of the world where people change clocks, today would be a good day to do that.


Allan sends over a riff about iDogs and other oddball addons for the iPod. I write back and tell him I’m waiting for the iAmoeba. He builds one.

It doesn’t do anything much. But every once in a while it divides, and then you have two.

“It’s just business”

Nope, actually…

"It’s just life."

Anyone who is willing to lie to you, cheat you or treat you with disrespect because it’s just business is doing more damage to herself than to you.

Work takes too much time and too much emotion for it to be just work. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to spend time or money with anyone who has this particular attitude disfunction.

The manipulators

Nobody likes being lied to or manipulated. Marketers have done it for generations, and now they’re doing it online with more skill than ever before.

Where is Tania?

She just sent me the following note (slightly edited):

I am an intern at …My boss Laura just asked me to get the word out about our Podcast interview with … a Sausalito agency that is putting brands like Toyota, American Eagle and Adidas into the virtual world.

Laura told me that if I was cool about it then you might actually check out this Podcast at…

Look, I like this job so any help you can give me would be appreciated.



Is this spam? Of course it is. Targeted spam, but still spam. I wrote back to Talia… her email bounced. Is there really a Tania?

Then I found a blog that had hit high on Digg today. It was a rant about flooding YouTube with spam. The thing is, the rant was sort of dumb and ill-thought through, and the blogger had more than 20 comments, with more than 95% pointing out what a yutz he was. Yet he had hundreds of Diggs. How? He had manipulated the system, pushed himself up to the top of the chart in a successful attempt to get a bunch of traffic to his site (and probably to promote the very videos he was ranting about).

If you only need to influence 500 people (or 10 people pretending to be 50 different people each) in order to show up on the screens of tens of thousands people… that’s too tempting for most capitalists to ignore (politicians are next, for sure).

Every day, there are literally hundreds of ad agencies working hard, trying to figure out how to slip corporate ideas into the system under the guise of it being homemade and real. They don’t have remarkable products or services, they don’t have clients willing to reconsider what it is they actually produce, so they’re busy trying to break the community systems online to help them (selfishly) succeed.

When a kid in New Jersey does the Numa Numa song, it’s poignant and funny and yes, remarkable. When an ad agency creates 100 variations of a gimmicky video hoping to hit the Digg jackpot, it just feels wrong.

As the ‘bestseller’ lists on YouTube and Reddit and other places become more and more important, they’re also going to become less useful. Less useful because the manipulators are way more focused and earnest than the typical consumer, and they’ll figure out a way to get under whatever radar gets installed.

At some point, it’s going to come down to who we trust. We didn’t trust Beechnut after we find out they put water in the apple juice. We didn’t trust Audi for a decade, even though there wasn’t anything actually wrong with their car. And we won’t trust Enron, Worldcom or Adelphia with our money for a long time to come.

It’s not just that this sort of deception is morally wrong. It’s also stupid. It’s stupid because it poisons the water supply for everyone, including the marketers who are busy doing it. Instead of realizing that they have an incredible playground in which to launch things that are truly innovative, they’d rather kill it by bending (or breaking) the rules.

It’s too bad, really.

And the upside? The upside is that individuals (and organizations) that don’t stoop, that manage to figure out how to have influence without trying to profit from it, those brands are the ones that will last, that will thrive and that will bring the rarest commodity–trust–to the table.

The 249% solution

Usama Fayyad is a genuine rocket scientist. He now runs the Strategic Data Solutions (which includes data mining) division of Yahoo, and he shared some astounding numbers with me today.

There’s one big insight that ought to change everything for anyone who buys clicks online. Here goes:
If you run banner ads, one study for Harris Direct shows that you can increase your brand awareness about 7% after a reasonable buy of banner ads. That’s just fine, though I’m on the record as saying that most banner campaigns are a waste of money. The kicker? In the study, Harris did the banner buy and watched the number of clicks to their contextual ad (you know, the text ads) go up by 249% over the next week.


This means that someone answering the ‘brand awareness’ survey says, “no, I never heard of them,” but then, two days later, is more than twice as likely to click on their text ad.

More than twice.

I think that’s very cool.