Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The hallway...

The hallway smelled like Russia today: one part borscht, two parts sweat and three parts aged must. There must have been a cosmic confluence, a meeting of minds, a wince at the prick, something flew in through a window not yet closed but still opening. There must have been a memory apart from the one remembering it. The hallway smelled like it was running down the stairs into the lobby and out of its mind. The hallway was a minute man left standing two minutes after the battle started. Alone is a kind of memory. Apart is a kind of art. Everything must smell like the Russia of a once was childhood. There are too many factories in my imagination, not enough building blocks for a fence when neither the moon or the sun will creep into bed. But something creeps and it doesn't smell like a childhood from another Russia...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

There really seems to be no justice in this world...

Benjamin Button was nominated for 13 Academy Awards?! You've got to be kidding me... and The Wrestler didn't pull a nomination for Best Picture?! Did I say you've got to be kidding me? Well let me say it again, you've got to be kidding me... Forest Gump was better...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama, Lincoln & The Separation of Church & State

It's January 21st and I'm sitting here and wondering if I feel any different now that Camelot has returned to the white house. Nope, I still feel mostly the same, mostly me and somewhat happier to be a citizen of the united states. Now I'm not so blind as to think that the wearing in of our first African-American president will solve all of our economic, political and social problems. Nope, not at all how I fell, but I do feel, for the first time in a while, that's it's OK to be American again. There were big ceilings shattered yesterday, big huge glass ceilings, not sure if this is restoration, but it is a mile stone, it does mean something beyond the scope of a new president and ending the Bush years that have eroded some of our most fundamental freedoms. I don't have any doubt that Obama will do his utmost to steer this ship as best he can, to be quite honest, I'll go so far as to say that Bush did the same thing or at least thought he was doing the same thing. He's a believer, one of those people that believes in divine mandates and metaphysical dictates from other worldly plains. This may explain quite a bit of how misguided things went during his tenure at the helm. Still, I don't think B.H.O. is the Messiah and I don't expect the blind to see, the infirm to walk and the dead rise from their graves in a messianic thriller. I am however hopeful that certain things will be better, and that the focus of this man will be on science, environment, civil rights, bringing equality to the corners of our society and improving the image of America abroad because of neo-con driven regime change. Finally a bit of regime change at home...

One thing bothers me though... this Presidential Oath we subject our elected President too. If the United States was intended as a place where there was a high and definite wall between Church & State then the entire inaugural process, the grandeur that was 1.20.09 was flawed and contrary to the spirit of what the framer's intended through the constitution. From the invocation by Rick Warren to the presence and use of the Lincoln Bible, for that matter any bible, during the inauguration is in direct opposition to the separation that is supposed to be present in our government. I think its fantastic that B.H.O. included a conservative pastor and a gay priest, however neither of them should've been included in what should be a civil engagement of state. Just as the word Marriage should be used for religious unions and civil unions be the only ones recognized by a state that purports to be truly separated from the offices of the church, so too should the inauguration of a President be free invocations by clergy or clerics, free of iconic books and oaths taken upon them. Why didn't B.H.O. swear on something like the original American flag, an Oath to the state and the people that came before, or on the Constitution itself, or better yet on the Bill of Rights, these are symbols and instruments of the state, a compact and legal contract between the office of the executive and the people that have elected him to govern the nation. Isn't this a more fitting symbol on which to stake the oath of office than a book, even as historically important as one belonging to Abe Lincoln, which carries with it the baggage of faith, division and sectarianism? Is not the constitution or the bill of rights a sacred enough document upon which to commit to the people of this great nation that you will do your utmost to steer this ship right and remain free of the influences of metaphysical deities, clerics and proselytizers? Is not the heart of the Oath to protect and defend the constitution and not the Bible? We are not inaugurating the next holy roman emperor, are we?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From My Working Life...

Design with the mangle in mind: E-mail creative tips

Nov 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Ken Magill

Ahh, if only we could go back to the good old days when designing direct mail collateral involved simple decisions such as paper stock, colors, fonts and where to put the “call to action.”

Enter commercial e-mail, the only channel in direct marketing history in which the designers must make choices based on the knowledge that a significant percentage of their messages will be mangled beyond recognition by the time they reach recipients.

With images and links turned off by default as the rule rather than the exception at most inbox providers — such as Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and Microsoft Outlook — commercial e-mail designers now face the task of simply getting their copy points to appear.

And even when e-mail graphics do appear — or render, as e-mailers prefer to say — they do so differently from account to account.

“In print design, you can go any which way your imagination takes you,” says Len Shneyder, director of partner relations and industry communication for e-mail deliverability consultancy Pivotal Veracity. “Your only limitations are the size of the page and how much it's going to cost. In e-mail there is a different problem.”

For example, he says, there's no standard governing how HTML graphics are to be rendered when they are received. “Every receiving body can render it differently and choose to support different aspects of the HTML standard,” Shneyder says.

As a designer you have a standard for how to code, but that doesn't translate into how it's going to display, he says. “And this is across the board for the entire receiving ecosphere, from mobile to desktop Web e-mail clients. They're all a little different.”

But there are some fairly simple techniques e-mail marketers can use to help them get their messages across to as many subscribers as possible.

Shneyder's first piece of advice will be recognizable to traditional direct marketers: “Test, test, test,” he says. By this he means viewing the e-mail on as many platforms as possible, such as Yahoo and Gmail accounts, an Outlook address, and on mobile devices. “You cannot rely on any single e-mail account as being the basis for display,” he adds. There are even display variations within various iterations of Microsoft Outlook, says Shneyder, though getting an Outlook 2003 account and an Outlook 2007 account will cover most of the Outlook market.

E-mailers can also gain insight into which e-mail readers they should be designing for simply by eyeballing their lists.“Understanding your demographic and where the majority of your e-mail is going to land will narrow down the scope of your design requirements,” says Shneyder. Pivotal Veracity has recently published an e-mail design guide for its customers that explains the quirks at the various ISPs.

Keep it simple

In e-mail design, less is more. “You don't have to package every offer under the sun,” says Shneyder. “Make sure your call to action is clear and keep it simple. Deliver a few choices, not so many that recipients will be prone to not making a choice.”

Shneyder also urges marketers to employ so-called ALT tags, or HTML instructions that provide alternative text to appear when graphics are shut off. For example, a “50% off shoes” graphic with an ALT tag would at least display the words “50% off shoes” if the graphic came through broken.

The number of people who don't use ALT tags is shocking, says Shneyder. “It's a second line of defense and it's so easy to do.”

You don't need to do this with every image, he adds, but if you have a main body graphic that's carrying your brand name, or a call to action, give it an ALT tag that explains what it is. “That'll be your next best way of conveying the message if the image is disabled.”

Another challenge for e-mail designers is the prevalence of preview panes, those little windows that show a portion of the message when the e-mail is highlighted but unopened in the recipient's inbox. A significant percentage of people read much of their e-mail solely in preview panes.

“You always want to put your branding and your prime content as far to the left and as far up as possible,” says Shneyder. “The default state of the preview pane is either under the list message view or to the right, meaning the preview pane will cut off things on the right and on the bottom.”

He also advises marketers to “get away from delivering a Web page to the inbox.”

But this bit of advice runs counter to a recent study by interactive agency eROI.

Just over 30% of marketers include navigation tabs from their Websites in e-mails, according to eROI. But of those who use it, 15% said site navigation tabs are better than the main content of their e-mails for driving clicks, and 11% said the tabs are better at driving conversions than the main content.

“Site navigation [such as, say, ‘shoes,’ or ‘shirts’ on an apparel site] is a familiar way to browse content,” says Jeff Mills, the head of research at eROI and author of the study. “If I can get better clicks and conversions from [including] site navigation, why am I not putting it in e-mail? I just think it's an opportunity, and that marketers should be at least testing it.”

The subject of subject lines

And speaking of testing, eROI found that just 25% of e-mailers test their subject lines on a regular basis.

Mills believes marketers' lack of e-mail subject-line testing stems from a drive to create the perfect message. “People want to create the perfect e-mail, and that means a perfect subject line,” he says. “Or it's simply a case of the CMO wants that subject line in there.”

He also says marketers will avoid A/B split testing because they're afraid half their campaign will flop. “But think of it this way: Do you want 100% of your campaign to flop?” he says.

Moreover, marketers tend to create the subject line at the last moment even though it is easily one of the most important parts of the message — if not the most important part.

“People get very focused on what the creative will look like,” says Ernie Vickroy, marketing director of Time Consumer Marketing. “A lot of times, we'll get down to the wire and people will say: ‘What's the subject line?’ ”

Vickroy is a vocal advocate of spending the time to craft subject lines and test them against one another.

The reason: As is the case with traditional direct marketing, the most effective subject lines are often not the ones a marketer would predict to win.

For example, Vickroy says, his firm recently tested its control subject line, “Your Subscription Information Page,” against “Manage Your Account Online.”

“You read so much about how the customer wants control,” he says. But the control subject line won by 25%. “I don't really know why it won, but it won again.”

He adds that marketers should treat their e-mail creative as they would direct mail.

“How much time would a direct marketer spend on an outer envelope?” he asks. “Subject lines don't get the same kind of attention. Yet they're just as important.”

Brevity is also important in a subject line. Pivotal Veracity's Shneyder recommends keeping subject lines to 40 characters or fewer if possible.

As for the “from” line, Shneyder advises branding the company in it and nothing else because the majority of people decide whether or not to open an e-mail based on who sent it. And no matter how strong the urge to start pitching, the from line isn't the place to do it, he says.

“Your from line is your calling card,” he says. “Don't turn it into a door-to-door salesman.”

There are some fairly simple techniques e-mail marketers can use to help get their messages across to as many subscribers as possible.

1. Test, test, test
2. Eyeball your lists
3. Less is more
4. Employ ALT tags
5. Keep in the confines of the preview pane
6. Test your subject lines
7. Brand your company in the “from” line

Friday, October 31, 2008

R.I.P. Studs Terkel

If you haven't read his book WORKING then you should, it's truly brilliant, especially the sections "The age of Charlie Blossom" & "From the Cradle to the Grave", on second thought, read the entire thing and ponder the interview with Mike at the beginning.

R.I.P. Studs Terkel

Friday, September 26, 2008

From My Working Life...

Youth and mobile philanthropy in Hollywood

Hollywood has a longstanding tradition of celebrity philanthropy, from Jude Law’s promotion and work in Afghanistan to Julia Roberts’ work with UNICEF.

A new campaign and foundation, launched Sept. 15, is tapping the latest mobile technology for nonprofit giving. Hollywood socialite Nicole Richie and her fiancĂ©, Joel Madden, have announced the launch of the Richie-Madden Children’s Foundation.

The foundation’s aim is to build a playground at Beyond Shelter in Los Angeles.

The concept is rather simple. If you feel like you are in a giving mood, simply text CHILD to 90999. A charge of $5 is added to your phone bill at the end of the month and you are part of a community of texting philanthropists.

The campaign has partnered with MySpace to promote the effort. The domain at http://www.richiemaddenfoundation.com redirects to a MySpace page.

The idea here is that teens and fans of Ms. Richie and Mr. Madden may be inspired to donate money to a worthy cause without the hassle and burden of paperwork, or for that matter, a commitment.

Or is there a commitment?

Imagine you are a parent who has three high school-aged children all duly armed with mobile phones so that you can get a hold of them anytime, anywhere.

The children in turn can text themselves into happy oblivion, keeping in touch with their friends in other classrooms when the teacher isn’t looking.

Do you have that picture in your head?

Well, now imagine what would happen if at the end of the month you receive your family phone plan and realize it’s $10, $20, maybe even $50 higher than normal thanks to your children’s generosity and your pocket book.

How would you react?

Sure you can take away their mobile phones or make them get a job to pay for their own data plan.

But, in reality, shouldn’t the mobile companies offer parents some level of control to prevent their children from spending Mom and Dad’s hard-earned money, even for a cause as noble as Beyond Shelter?

Now just to be clear, I don’t believe you have to take out all the swings and doo-dads on playground parks that could give a kid a bruise.

However, I do believe in allowing parents the right to moderate their kid’s spending habits and mobile phone use.

The target audience of the foundation runs the gamut, from preteen to young adults. This is nothing new when you consider mobile usage demographics.

Encouraging the youth to become philanthropic do-gooders with Mom and Dad’s hard-earned cash runs the serious risk of a backlash from parental organizations that want to control every aspect of their children’s lives.

What is of major importance – marketers listen up – is how mobile technology is being socialized and injected into fundraising and nonprofit arenas in order to tap a young generation.

I can almost hear JFK asking us what we can do for our country and inspiring rapid thumb movement donation.

Mobile is proving yet again that it is not elitist per se, but rather can appeal to a broad base through careful contemporizing of the message, content and mode of delivery. Ask yourself: Are you contemporary, or have you fallen behind the times?

Len Shneyder is director of partner relations and industry communications at Pivotal Veracity, a deliverability services and consultancy provider in Phoenix. Reach him at lshneyder [-aatt-] pivotalveracity [-dott-] com.

Friday, September 05, 2008