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Stan's betaBlog: media marketing communications culture
Friday, 28 November 2008
Wazzup redux
Topic: Online marketing

Another one that I’m probably way late commenting on. But this is so well done… and I found it sweet that my 16-year-old son showed me this first. Neil was eight when the original came out.

The lingering power of a great ad. . . hard to believe the original film, and subsequent Bud spot, appeared before 911.


Change is gonna come.

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 3:37 PM EST
Updated: Friday, 28 November 2008 3:58 PM EST
Lost in the Flood
Topic: Online marketing

I know this is sooo last week, but the contretemps over the Motrin online ad that offended a small group of “mommy bloggers” with active twitter accounts earlier this month (Ad Age is calling it “Motrin-Gate”) is emerging as an early case study in the perils of over-reacting to online social activism.

Topline reacap: Johnson & Johnson launched the online campaign targeting young mothers for Motrin, and created through the New York office of the
Canadian agency Taxi, at the end of September. The voice-over of the video featured a mom who said she carried her baby in a sling in part because she sees it as “a fashion statement” and made her feel like an “official mom.” It garnered reasonable traffic at, but really hardly any notice until Nov 15, a Saturday, when a woman in Colorado commented negatively on the ad on her personal blog (she apparently found it condescending). Within hours that post cascaded into a couple of other blog posts and hundreds of twitter tweets per hour, which then got amplified by the original bloggers and picked up by the mainstream media, including a New York Times blog, the WSJ and Reuters. A day later –we’re talking Sunday- J&J pulled down the site. It reactivated the site the next day with an apology to anyone who was offended. At that point, the rest of the media had piled onto the story.

But as Paul Harvey used to say, “and now… the rest of the story.”

The Globe and Mail’s Mathew Ingram, writing a wrap-up analysis a whole four days later suggested J&J jumped the gun by yanking its ad. He termed the outcry a social media “flash flood” –essentially a dramatic, but temporary, storm that came and went within 72 hours that left very little lasting change in the overall environment.

Ingram also pointed out that a closer examination of the twitter posts showed a good proportion of them to be positive and supportive of the Motrin vid. A second Ad Age piece on the controversy this week expands on Matt’s thesis (and gives him props for coining the apt “flash flood” metaphor). It suggests best evidence is that there were probably only just over 1,000 people commenting on the whole Motrin question on Twitter –which it archly notes at this stage only accounts for “generously” 0.15 of Internet users in the U.S. – and of those only 35% were overtly negative, with the remainder neutral or positive. It calculates the total equivalent media value of all the online talk was no more than the cost of one 30 second spot on a cable news network.

Marketers and communicators are constantly being told they need to watch what’s being said about them in social media and react in real time. But the Motrin case underscores that there is perhaps such a thing as being too reactive.

Easy to say, mind you. When you’re in the middle of storm it’s hard to think straight. Especially when you’re not sure if you’re about to be hit by a temporary flash flood or by a Katrina-sized levy breach.

One of the people quotes in Ad Age suggests part of the problem for J&J is they may not have had systematic measurement tools and processes in place to figure out just what the reaction on things like Twitter really is.

Getting those kind of thing in place is a good start, although it probably won't help a whole lot just yet. At some point, there will be a commonly accepted understanding of how these things normally play out. Until then, we’ll likely see more situations like this.

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 3:14 PM EST
Updated: Friday, 28 November 2008 3:29 PM EST
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Obama drives online marketing innovation - and sells newspapers
Topic: Online marketing
Aside from all the other heartening historic aspects of his big electoral win in America this week, much has been said and written about how the Barak Obama team made great innovative use of online communications tools, including Facebook and Myspace, to drive both record fundraising efforts and grass roots campaigning.

Diane Mermigas gave a great round-up of what occurred and some of its implications in her Election Day blog at Media Post. I recall CP+B’s Chuck Porter predicting last year that we’ll see another wave of innovations in ’09 and
10, as what got perfected in this election cycle marketing, especially in below the line direct and interactive activities, gets quickly disseminated into the general business world when all those campaign activities and consultants take “real” jobs in the private sector –for a time at least.

Meanwhile, daily newspapers took an unprecedented bounce on Wednesday as people rushed to snap up mementos of the historic day. The New York Times went to town on this, with a sweetly ironic piece that leads with the line: “For a day, at least, newspapers were cool again.”

I guess a screen capture of a Web portal news page doesn’t have the same keepsake appeal as yellowing paper.  But can you rebuild a publishing industry model around once a generation historic events?

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 10:12 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 6 November 2008 10:20 AM EST
Monday, 20 October 2008
Election 08: Proof advertising works - and negative election ads work best
Topic: Advertising

Stéphane Dion did as expected this afternoon and called it quits as Liberal leader less than a week after leading the party to its worst electoral showing ever and less than three years after winning the leadership.

It was quite the historic blow out, obscured in its enormity only by the fact that the Conservatives failed to win a majority at the same time. And really the outcome of this fall’s national vote was determined long before it was officially called in large part by the aggressive negative advertising from the Conservatives positioning Dion as weak leader. It wasn’t pretty, but it was masterful.

I’m not talking just about the summer-long radio campaign mocking Dion’s prized central platform plank, the Green Shift. The Tories started running those ads mere days after the Green Shift was unveiled in June. (If you don’t listen to drive time commercial radio you missed it-but if you do, you couldn’t miss the fake call-in show spots where just-folks savaged the policy and Dion as a joke).

No. The Conservatives were running “not a leader” radio spots with in months of Dion taking the Liberal leadership by default in December 2005. These were ham handed, hokey messages, hammering at Dion on several fronts. I did a series of CBC radio interviews on the unprecedented non-election period political ad campaign back in the spring of ’06 and the hosts invariably asked/stated, in effect, ‘there’s no way stuff this blatant and transparent works, right?’ But, I had to assure them, yep, it does. Especially if there’s a vacuum of information about the leader, as there was then about the then still relatively unknown Dion. Especially if the ads go unanswered. And these ads were never answered. Not even in the campaign.

Acting as the clichéd rational intellectual, Dion apparently never considered there was a need to deign to refute or even acknowledge such ridiculous statements and claims. So the Tories got to define Dion, and the central leadership question long before calling the vote. Save for a few days there after the worst of the market machinations and Stephen Harper’s empathy lapse, the result was never really in question-just the exact extent of the loss for the Liberals.

On the flip side, it’s clear the Conservatives fumbled in not doing enough to position their own guy all those months in advance. Sure, by not turning into wild eyed barbarians while in power for more than three years, the Conservatives had positioned themselves as more centrist than expected-but the lingering fears of what they do with power unfettered by minority status were enough to hold them back. And the perception of Harper as a control freak with a nasty temper was never really countered.  (And here again, on the negative-advertising-works thesis: the most effective opposition statements and advertising tapped into those pre-existing concerns.)

That said, the Conservatives nearly pulled off the cardigan-clad typical suburban dad positioning of Harper in their early post writ spots. Fifteen seats shy of a majority is tantalizingly close. That’s just eight seats going the other way- something  easily achieved if a couple more suburban Ontario ridings tipped their way and the impressive gains in popular vote even in 416 Toronto had translated into wins. And if they been able to make a significant breakthrough, as they seemed poised to do, in Quebec, there’d have been no stopping the Tories. (In my view, Harper’s sneering shots at the whining arts elites did in fact work - in English Canada. But in Quebec, where culture is seen as something actually important and central to identity, the BQ was able to use Harper’s gibes to position the Conservatives as les autres –outsiders who don’t get “us.” )

I always find it almost endearing, if not frustratingly naïve, when commentators and reporters whip them into a frenzy at the first hint of a dread NEGATIVE POLITICAL CAMPAIGN AD. It happens every election without fail. It’s like they somehow believe that if it wasn’t for those awful advertisements from parties saying mean and nasty things about their opponents, elections would be the reserved, reasoned high minded affairs they were meant to be and all platforms and policy would be debated earnestly and nary a harsh word would be exchanged.

Come on folks. Get a grip.

Our elections are intended to be nasty affairs –a substitute for the truly nasty stuff that armed conflict brings- in which everyone takes their best shots -over and over again-  and the participant with the fewest bruises at the end is generally declared the winner. Advertising merely crystallizes the lines or argument in their simplest terms. Frankly, anyone who can be sunk by a catchy slogan and a couple of cheap shots in 30 second broadcast spots doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader who can marshal the hearts and minds of a nation. They shouldn’t win.

Stéphane Dion can whimper all he likes about being done in by “propaganda,” but whose fault is it that the other guy's message stuck better than his?

Advertising, of course, does not work in a vacuum. It is most effective when it syncs up with the actual product offering. And negative election advertising, works best when it taps into existing mindsets. The Conservatives won the positioning and advertising wars in election ’08, but weren’t quite good enough at it to take home all the marbles. A maimed Liberal party, and a not-quite-enough-for-total victory Conservative win, feels about right.

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 9:45 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 24 October 2008 9:37 AM EDT
Monday, 29 September 2008
The Brave New Client
Topic: Marketing

David Friedman, president of Avenue A/Razorfish, Central Region, closed out today’s Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada’s Toronto opening stop in this month's MIXX Canada 08 coast-to-coast speaker series with a refreshingly clear-headed talk on “The Client of the Future”. Given he’s an agency guy, mind you, it wasn’t quite as no holds-barred as it might have been. Still he offered some realistic recommendations on how marketers should start thinking and organizing themselves for the new digital world. (And the Successories-style parody image here from Friedman’s PowerPoint captures the cheeky Dilbert-esque tone of much of his talk.)

It may have struck a special chord with me as I’m moderating a panel on essentially this very question later this week- The Canadian Marketing Association’s Digital Leadership Forum at the Harbour Castle Westin Oct. 2, featuring Doug Checkeris, CEO, MediaCom USA –Canadian boy made good in the Big Apple- , Goodwin (Goody) Gibson, President, MacLaren MRM and Tammy Scott, Vice-President, Marketing, Telus. (I have a preview post on the CMA’s blog with more details).

Friedman’s four key points to build the better Client of the Future:

1) Identify One Customer

Surpassingly –or maybe not- most companies, if you look close enough, don’t have an internal consensus of who their customer really is. Is it the end consumer, the channel, shareholders? It often depends on the department. And even if everyone is agreed that it’s an external end consumer, who that actually is if often different in the minds of each internal division.

Having a clear common vision of whom you are speaking to is essential.

2) Focus on Experiences Instead of Messaging

Marketers needs to change how they think about talking to that one customer. The TV age, which is -make no mistake- ending, meant developing 15, 30, 60 or occasionally longer videos with a fixed message.

Consumers now “experience” the brand and organization far more often than they learn about it through paying attention to any messaging from it. And this trend will accelerate.

(In a way, Friedman noted, this is the biggest stretch for the marketing communications people in companies. Many other disciplines like retail channel folks and in store and promotion marketers, have always been all about the “experience.”)

3)  Conduct the Agency Ballet

The pool of specialist –and generalist- agencies working for a marketer all have to perform in harmony. And it’s up to the client to choreograph that dance.
Friedman used the example of AT&T, which has every one of its many roster agencies at the table for the same briefing, and then has every agency back at the same time for a full presentation of each shop’s contribution to the overall marketing show.

A key, however, he said is to ensure that every agency has a defined role and task that no other player will be allowed to pitch or poach away.

4) Reach Détente with I.T.

Companies have to continuously work to bridge the marcom –information technology chascim that exists in almost every organization.

This one was in some senses the most controversial recommendation Freidman made. As IABC president Paula Gignac was quick to point out, several other presenters during the MIXX day had advocated outsourcing projects and digital experiments to avoid the roadblocks that intransigent IT teams seem to inevitably throw up.

Friedman pointed to JC Penny in the U.S., which has apparently had some success at getting IT and marketing working in harmony. Although he conceded, this has been a decade-plus exercise, and in the early going (as in first 5-6-7 years) would use outside suppliers to “prime the pump” and show what was possible in Interactive.

But ultimately, if digital marketing is to become a core driving principle of business, an organization is going to have to embrace it across the board with every department buying in and working together to common goals.

It’s all easier said than done, but all does need to be done.

How to get there?

Friedman recommended companies create a digital plan, and to use a cross-functional and cross-departmental committee (with both digital believers and skeptics involved) –that reports to the highest-level management committee- to do it. This committee should assess what’s needed now and in the future and develop a road map to achieve it. And, as almost every one else speaking at MIXX also recommend, he urged companies to experiment with new digital tools and tactics wherever possible.

Friedman cautioned, however, that there’s “almost no point” in even bothering with this kind of exercise if the CEO hasn’t bought in and isn’t prepared to actively support it. But there really is an opportunity to use the changes the new technologies are bringing to the table to leverage total system and DNA changes in organizations.

Despite the opportunities, you get the feeling a lot of agencies won’t be holding their breaths for a sea change in human nature and corporate behaviour. As one agency CEO pointedly said as they waited for the Carlu elevator at the end of the day, the old saw is true: clients really do get the agencies they deserve. Based on evidence to date, the CEO implied, the best the industry can hope for is a wave of early retirements at the C-suit level -including among CMOs- so that a new generation of more digitally savvy marketing people can get at the challenge as soon as possible.

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 7:57 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 1 October 2008 10:00 AM EDT
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Maple Leaf Forever
Topic: Marketing
It might still be a tad early to say it, but the Maple Leaf Foods Inc.’s handling of the listeriosis outbreak, from a crisis communications perspective –and, since in this kind of case words and actions must be in total sync, in terms of actions too- has been nothing short of masterful. I don’t think they could possibly have managed the situation any better.

Obviously, I have no insider information to say this. But certainly, that’s the consensus view of senior people in the Toronto public relations community I’ve talked to in recent weeks (and I’ve talked to a lot of them). In fact, no one I’ve spoken to has a disparaging word for the issues management efforts from Maple Leaf and its advisors, primarily it seems Fleishman-Hillard, lead by CEO Linda Smith.

One doesn’t want to glib about these things, but when you consider the death toll from this food poisoning outbreak -17 confirmed as of this writing- has exceeded those from Walkerton or SARS, the tone of the extensive media coverage has been far more measured and calm. That’s no accident.

Openness, accountability, fast response, and precise communication in all channels (the company’s postings of product recalls on its website were particularly effective) all worked to reduce the potential for misinformation and hysteria on the part of the media and public.

Issues watchers could sense this was going to get big from the moment the first stories started to emerge in mid-August. I took note that it was Smith, the senior lead on the Maple Leaf account for years, was the “company spokesperson” right from the get go. I wondered at first if that wasn’t a signal that uneasy company management was trying to distance itself from the mess. But it turned out it was more of a strategic move to save the top brass for when the going really started to get tough.

A few days into the crisis, CEO Michael McCain stepped forward with that measured TV and online video and became available to the media in extensive press briefings. He convincingly conveyed the message that the company was concerned, engaged and taking appropriate action with the safety of consumers as the first priority. The follow up video this month, and the purchase of a sponsored link for the Maple Leaf Action Plan on the top of the Google search engine, once the apparent cause of the contamination was found have reinforced that.

There’s no double going to be more twist and turns in this story, and the repercussions of the outbreak are going to echo for the entire food industry for years to come.

Let’s hope, however, that Maple Leaf ultimately emerges as strong as ever, and that the company and its advisers show the same frankness and bravery in sharing the entire story of how they handles this crisis. This is one for the text books.

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 11:08 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 16 September 2008 11:16 PM EDT
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
How does it feel to be on your own...
Topic: Media

"All the news that fits" indeed. Rolling Stone magazine has announced that it is giving up its over-sized format for a more conventional 8 x 11 size in October.

I’m sort of sad about this. On one level it seems like hearsay, or at the very least the loss of a uniquely identifying characteristic that helps Rolling Stone stand out in a crowded marketplace. But what this is not is any fin de cicle changing of the guard. As my good friend Gary writes in reaction:

“Sadly, Rolling Stone stopped being Rolling Stone, a long time ago. I was a near charter subscriber to the Stone and watched its Gibbon's-like fall into ruin and ashes with dismay and anger ineluctably morphing into the 20th century's great disease: apathy.”

On the other hand, you have to admire Jann Wenner’s bravado-and staying power. There’s a reason Rolling Stone continues to thrive as a business, instead of being some kind of historic relic of the hey day of Haight-Ashbury (which the original long abandoned RS culture that Gary rightly mourns actually is). Wenner’s always followed the money, and in that sense he’s always been more attuned to the self-centred, coolly calculating Boomer generation than that cohort with its mythical peace, love and freedom rep would like to admit. This quote from the New York Times piece this week about the change says it all: “All you’re getting from that large size is nostalgia.”

The Times reports that Rolling Stone’s current 1.4 million paid circulation is the highest in its history. But newsstand single copy sales, always a key barometer of publishing buzz, have tumbled from 189,000 in 1999, to 132,000 last year. “Magazine racks at bookstores, newsstands and checkout counters tend to be made for the standard dimensions, and if Rolling Stone is there, it is often on a high or low shelf, out of eye level, or even on its side or folded over.” This aims to fix all that.

By the way, the latest data on Canadian magazine newsstand circulations, also out this week, are fairly distressing. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, single copy newsstand sales are down a precipitous 22.3% this year over last, with total circ down 6.3%. There are methodology nuances that might be at play here, but this is yet more hard evidence of which way the wind is blowing. And, to paraphrase another iconic voice from the 60s, you don’t need a weather man to tell you that.

But in case you do, Bruce Claassen, chairman of Aegis Media Canada, and CEO, Genesis-Vizeum Inc., told Marketing Daily the other day that a single year drop like this is “in and of itself is not something for publishers to get alarmed about,” but...

“Consumers are much more comfortable reading digital products than they once were and publishers need to find a way to both track those readership numbers and generate revenue from online content. The big challenge for publishers is how do we work on multiple platforms and how do we monetize that content.”

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 2:20 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 13 August 2008 2:32 PM EDT
Thursday, 7 August 2008
Sanyo rules - my happy customer service moment
Topic: Marketing
Customer service is becoming a lot like the weather – everyone talks about it, but nobody ever seems to do much about it.

The Globe and Mail’s Peter Cheney had a major take on the decline of customer service this week, but you know, in the end it read like one long mid-summer thumb-sucker. Yeah, service sucks all over, and people aren’t gonna take it anymore – although, really, most people are taking it, and those that do complain doesn’t seem to make much difference- and oh yeah, here’s some really egregious service horror stories. I almost felt sorry for poor old Air Canada, which -natch- was the subject of Cheney’s opening anecdote about the guy who was stranded in Turks and Caicos without his luggage for 12 days last month and got no help from anyone at the airline until he got an e-mail through to president and CEO Monte Brewer. It’s getting to the point that picking on Air Canada on service is like shooting fish in a barrel.

All that said, it is true that good customer service breeds hugely valuable positive word of mouth. And it is the small stuff that people notice. This may be because it often doesn’t take a lot to impress us anymore, but it also has a lot to do with the easily grasped symbolism of the small gesture.

So in the spirit of encouraging better customer service by praising the good stuff when I see it, here’s my small story from this week.

We (okay, I) broke the glass turntable thingy in our microwave. It’s a Sanyo and an old model –actually a hand me down- dating from 1990, but still works just fine. I didn’t want to throw it out, but figured it would be a trial to find the right part for such ancient a model. My cursory glance at the Sanyo Canada Website on the long weekend only added my fears. No obvious link to order replacement parts on the top couple of pages, and the link to service sent me to two out-sourced suppliers, one in California and one in Maryland.

Not promising. So I put it off doing anything.

I remembered a day or two later, and figured I’d just call the Canadian company and gird for voice-mail and hold hell. Yes, I was greeted by an automated voice mail on the mail number posted on the Sony Canada Web site (which I was encouraged and frankly surprised to find so easily- many companies don’t post a phone number, implicitly telling you they don't want to hear from you). But when I opted for an operator I got a live person on the first ring.

I told her my problem, expecting to be greeted with consternation and confusion. She quickly put we right through to the parts department. They picked up on the first ring. Bill told me sure; they have parts and can ship them out no problem. I, of course, didn’t have my model number, so I took his number.

I called back direct the next day with the model number. Again the phone was picked up on the first ring. It was a different guy; I think his name was Matt. His comment “Oh, that’s a really old model” when I gave him the model number had me worried again. He put me on hold. Less than 10 seconds later he was back. Yep, they had it. For $11.90 and a $9 shipment charge, they would send it out right away.

Less than 5 minutes on the phone, and my problem was solved.

I've gone on way too long for what this is worth. But the encounter was, is… so unexpected.

Maybe I’m a pessimist. In this day and age, I just expect mundane little tasks like sourcing a broken microwave part for an 18-year-old model long discontinued to be a marathon of problematic hurdles, bureaucracy and dead ends.

Small, simple things that work just make me happy.

I’m going to find out what else Sanyo makes and buy it.

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 6:44 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 7 August 2008 6:51 PM EDT
Monday, 7 July 2008
Walking the talk on Word of Mouth
Topic: Marketing

Word of mouth or viral marketing has always been with us, although it clearly has been given a massive boost in the Web era. When everyone can tell everyone about anything instantly, the ability of an organization to hide from –or ignore- word of mouth (WOM) is greatly reduced. On the plus side, the opportunities to amplify positive buzz are also enormous. Either way, it all means the best way to operate now is to be pretty darn good, and empower everyone in the organization to put their best foot forward.

WestJet VP of Culture and Communications Richard Bartrem crystalized this for me at the Canadian Marketing Association’s Mass to Grass World of Mouth Marketing Conference at Ontario Place last month. In his talk, “Caring Owners: Driving Word of Mouth through Employee Empowerment and Engagement” Bartrem came off like a West Wing character: one of those handsome and fast talking, but witty and smart, people dedicated to doing good in a tough, but ultimately collegial environment filled with other fast talking, smart, caring people.

Okay, I admit I’ve been spending too much time with the full season box sets of Aaron Sorkin’s great TV series about life in the White House lately (it truly is a great primer on public policy, politics and issues management-and still relevant nine years after the first episodes aired). By even making the comparison here I’m playing into Bartrem’s and WestJet’s evil WOM propaganda plan. But if the shoe fits... The talk rang true with my perception of the WestJet culture, and there’s no question that it really set the tone for the whole Mass-to-Grass day - not a presenter or panelist on after him that I saw didn’t reference his comments glowingly.


The key to successful manufacturing positive WOM Bartrem said is to distinguish yourself to be a story worth telling. Logistics and channels etc. are all secondary to having something to say. “We can’t make you speak, but we hope we’ll make you want to speak.”

And Bartrem and WestJet clearly believe that stories worth telling happen when front line staff is “empowered to do things beyond expectations.” That might include having staff dressed up as Elvis greeting passengers on the first day of service to Los Vegas, giving check-in employees the discretion to waive excess baggage fees when they see fit to regularly allowing “guests” to propose over the in-flight intercom (432 engagements on planes as of June 11).  

It doesn’t hurt that WestJet has as its primary competitor a company that consumers have extremely low expectations of (expectations that are regularly confirmed). But WestJet does have an obviously funky, informal culture. Bartrem characterized it as being simultaneously “loose and tight:” tight on take off and safety procedures, but loose on the other stuff.

One area WestJet pays careful attention to is language. Staff are “Westjetters” not “employees.” It has “team leaders” rather than “supervisors,” “passengers” are “guests” (and definitely not depersonalized acronyms like “PAX” or “COWS” as is common with U.S. carriers) and instead of “polices” the company has “promises. (This might be called corporate speak, as per my last post, but it is notable-and I think laudable- that this approach to language is about jettisoning jargon for clearer, simpler –and yes kinder and gentler- verbiage.)

But WOM all comes down to having stories to tell. At Mass-to-grass Bartrem told the story of the autistic kid who got kicked off an Air Canada flight out of Moncton but who WestJet found a way to accommodate to illustrate the bottom-up “promises” vs. the top-down “polices” approaches to employee engagement.

The child was upset and nervous and apparently couldn’t be calmed down. After a short time Air Canada made the call that the child wouldn’t be able to take the flight. The mother walked over to the WestJet gate, explained the story and the airline immediately started to work to find a way to make it happen. The child and parent were boarded first and given more than a half hour to acclimatize to the plane, which included getting to spend some time in the cockpit. It ultimately meant a 45-minute delay in take off, but all the passengers were told why. Naturally, the incident made it to the press –and naturally, WestJet came off looking better than Air Canada.

“This where stories happen,” he said and “136 people on the plane can tell the story.”

And Bartrem can also tell it -again and again- at industry conferences.

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 2:23 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 7 July 2008 2:29 PM EDT
Thursday, 3 July 2008
Corporatespeak 2.0

This is humbling.

I like to think of myself as being a pretty good writer, but novelist and Globe and Mail columnist Russell Smith has pricked my inner writer’s self-conscious paranoia with his smart column today on corporatespeak, or “crapspeak” as he puts it.

Even the headline “Going forward, rise up against crapspeak” leaves a mark. I’ve found myself using the “going forward” phrase often, and a few of the other offending turns of phrase Smith rants about.

Impassioned treatises about how business and political leaders pervert language to disguise their true meanings rather than to clarify their intent, come along every few weeks. And they go back decades if not centuries. George Orwell was writing about “double speak” in the 1940s, and the “big lie” was perfected (and decried) by totalitarian regimes in the 20s and 30s.

Smith also references another engaging rant on the topic, this one by Financial Times of London management columnist Lucy Kellaway in the BBC’s online magazine.

“The really lethal thing about the whole language of business,” Kellaway writes “is that it is so brainlessly upbeat. All the celebrating, the reaching out, the sharing, and the championing in fact grind one down. Several decades too late, it is as if business has caught up with the linguistic spirit of 1968. The hippies got over it, but businessmen are holding tight.”

I don’t disagree that companies and politicians try sometimes too hard to keep to the sunny side and underplay any negative consequences to their actions by being coy with language. But not always. It’s a complex and nuanced world out there, and sometimes you need to use complex and nuanced words to describe it.

And there’s nothing wrong in saying the same old things in new ways. For starters, this is the basis and rationale for most media. I happen to think, for example, that “granularity,” a common business buzz word that Smith professes is new to him, is actually pretty darn descriptive and evocative.
Besides, Laurie Anderson wasn’t the first to declare “language is a virus” that mutates and evolves with astonishing speed.

But maybe I’m just rationalizing here.

Anyway, a couple of good reads.

Posted by sutter or mckenzie at 5:29 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 3 July 2008 5:35 PM EDT

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