Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Brain Tumors, Reaching Nirvana & Cellphones

Brain tumors have been on my mind lately. First came the diagnosis of Ted Kennedy and the overwhelming media attention focused on his surgery, recovery, and future in the Senate. Then, a Sunday New York Times article featured the inspiring story of Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard neuroscientist who lost the use of her brain's left lobe from a burst blood vessel and experienced something not unlike Nirvana, a feeling of connectedness with the world and a total loss of ego and analysis.

That story got me to watch an inspiring video from the TED conference featuring Dr. Taylor. The implications for how our dual-processing right and left brains impact our consciousness was truly enlightening and I encourage you to watch (you will be moved).

Flipping though the channels around this time I caught an episode of Larry King Live in which three famous neurosurgeons told Larry that they did not hold cellphones next to their ears. The form of brain cancer linked to Kennedy is a glioma, and that's commonly associated with cellphone use. The scientific studies that could link cellphone use to brain cancer are incomplete because the data hasn't yet been gathered for heavy use. Young adults are seen to be even more susceptible.

Bluetooth headset manufacturers don't have the solution either, as the Huffington Post picked up the King story and wrote: "Use some form of headphone or earjack but not a Bluetooth, which places the transistor right in your ear.”

As a consumer of media in the modern age, I'm susceptible to receiving news on all fronts and having the news mutate and multiply like a cancer and spread -- from a glimpse of the front page of a New York Post in a hotel lobby featuring Kennedy, to the Sunday Times, Internet video, CNN, and the Huffington Post. This phenomena of news repeating through all the possible channels is hardly new. But when you start to see similar stories repeating again and again, it gives them more weight.

While the science is still out, the cellphone companies and Bluetooth headset manufacturers will continue to get a free pass. Eventually they may wind up just like the automakers who sold SUVs and are now suffering because of high gas prices and the impact of non-hybrids on the environment. What looks safe now can sometimes wind up having dire consequences.

The result is that I've ditched my Jabra and am using my cell on speakerphone now. But, if using my cell to my ear could someday help me reach Nirvana (on the left lobe side, of course) I may have to reconsider.

Digital Video Killed the PR Star

No, I’m not changing the lyrics of the 80’s new wave pop music hit “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. That incredibly catchy song, which made its debut as the first music video on MTV, forever altered the landscape of the music industry. For the first time, consumers had images to go along with the music they heard on the radio, and a commercial art form was born. Artists who weren’t as photogenic as Madonna or Prince were going to be passed by when it came time to see as well as hear them. Certainly some artists without singing talent, but with a great image, would benefit from this new medium.

Now, just as that first music video opened the floodgates that made videos an integral part of packaging musicians and marketing to the masses, we’re at the dawn a new era for online digital video. Today, all marketers are talking about how digital video is going to radically alter marketing as we know it. Consider these stats: 80% of Millenials say that their computers are more of an entertainment device than their televisions; and U.S. online video viewers grew by 46% since 2006 and 73% of active web users watched online video in December (source: eMarketer and Nielsen Online). The tide of digital video users is rising like the flood waters of Katrina.

Just as the transition from silent pictures to “talkies” made stars out of some actors but ruined others who had weak voices, the adoption of digital video for marketing will leave some companies behind while others rise on the tide. Yesterday Google announced Google Video for Business, a new application that enables companies to distribute video internally among their employees, enabling the same YouTube experience to a closed corporate audience. Last week, Nikon announced the D90, a Digital SLR camera with interchangeable lenses that, for the first time, can record digital video. From both an online interface as well as a product perspective, digital video is growing by leaps and bounds.

So, where does this leave PR professionals and other marketers? Well, there are some companies like Blendtec ( that are the gold standard in using digital video to showcase products. And for every successful online video that is produced, there will be many more that are unsuccessful. That reality doesn’t stop clients from desiring a hit “viral video” that will be passed along to millions of viewers. But there are no guarantees that a video will catch fire on the Internet like Matt Harding’s dance video (

The growing prevalence of digital video presents both an opportunity and a challenge for marketers. Clients will rely on their agency partners to help them navigate the ins-and-outs of scripting, producing, shooting, editing, hosting and distributing video content. All agencies must understand how and when to deploy video content. If they are not smart about digital video, and willing to adopt it as a new tool in the communications toolkit (like the venerable press release), they will be doing their clients (and themselves) a huge disservice.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Was (Not Was) Perform One of Their Hits

Caught a great show last night by David Was (Weiss) tech reviewer for National Public Radio and sometime reporter for New York Times, and all around great guy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Attack of the Camera Blogs!

Nikon has expanded their Web 2.0 marketing from microsites and Flickr to their own blog. Not missing a beat, Kodak announced the promotion of Jenny Cisney to Chief Blogger of their own site. It was sort of like a movie, perhaps "When Jenny Met Joe"?

The media universe is increasingly digital, and as the layoffs from mainstream media continue, and bloggers, podcasters, and other social media properties gain more traction online, marketers are faced with navigating new ways to touch the public. Those companies that learn to dress like blogger wolves in consumer sheep's clothing will be able to take advantage of these new tools.

It is said that the Internet has eclipsed friends and family as the most important source for researching and selecting mobile devices (Forum to Advance the Mobile Experience). When it comes to promoting digital technology, companies like Nikon and Kodak are showing that they have the tech savvy to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. They're having a one-to-one relationship with their customers and fans that's more valuable than a 30-second Ashton Kutchner ad on TV.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Blogging Kills

It's official (because reading about it in the NY Times makes it so): blogging kills.

The article "In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Til They Drop" reporter Matt Richtel describes the insane world of blogging and how one tech blogger for Gizmodo, Matt Buchanan, lives off of a "protein supplement mixed into coffee."

Before we go to the local Starbucks to get a shot of espresso and 'roid rage, it's important to consider the role that the fast-paced news cycle plays in marketing. The competition among these mostly young reporters who are paid by the post to get a scoop is enormous. With that pressure, it's understandable that Gizmodo would fire off what it calls "Lightning Reviews" of products. They simply don't have the time to engage with gear long enough to figure out how to work out the kinks and get to the right settings and menus.

Tech marketers beware. In a world where first impressions of products are formed online by twentysomethings buzzing on coffee and human growth hormone, it's quite possible that if your product takes more time to understand than it takes to whip up a meth milkshake, it will suffer the fate of not being explained for what it is.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Hands-Free Legislation a Boon for Bluetooth Headsets?

Cellular safety got some recent media attention from New York Times (“Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)” 3/9/08). In the article, Ben Blanton, student at Vanderbilt University, was quoted as saying, “I can text without looking at the phone. It’s definitely not safe. Sometimes I’ll look up and I don’t remember where I’ve been driving.”

The next day, the USA Today reported in “Merely listening on phone shown to distract drivers” that, according to Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association,
“Allowing hands-free phones really gives drivers a false sense of safety." The article went on to say that he had seen no evidence that bans on handheld phones have prevented accidents.

These articles point to the dangers of texting or talking while driving. Several states have enacted legislation to ban hand-held cell phone conversations. Phoenix is the first city in the nation to ban texting while driving.

Marketers in the Bluetooth headset space have caught on to the timeliness of this legislation and the role their products will play in helping consumers continue to talk on their cell phones with both hands on the wheel. For instance, in a Mobile World Congress announcement for the Plantronics Explorer 360A, Plantronics wrote:

Enhancing Driver Safety

With an increasing number of U.S. states and municipalities enacting legislation that requires drivers use a hands-free device while driving, Plantronics is also bundling the Explorer 360 with a unique “elbow” car charger that fits within most car cigarette lighters. The Explorer 360A with car charger delivers a continuously charged Bluetooth headset that is always within easy reach and line-of-sight for the driver.

Plantronics has also published Safe Driving Tips on their website.

Motorola has also come out with information as a part of its Drive Safe, Call Smart program. But the reports coming out claim that any conversations while driving -- whether those are hands-free or hand-held -- are dangerous to drivers. According to the USA Today article referencing the journal Brain Research, MRI brain scans of drivers found a 37% decrease in perietal lobe activity for drivers while talking on cell phones.

So, on one hand legislation is favoring the providers of hands-free Bluetooth headsets (Jabra, Plantronics, Logitech, Jawbone), but the news is reporting that any coversation on a cell phone is going to weaken a driver's abilities regardless of whether both hands are on the wheel.

The communications challenge for any of the headset providers: if they come out strongly for their products as the solution for those who don't want to get ticketed in New Jersey and other states for talking on the phone, then they risk going against scientific findings that any communication is risky.

Challenges are opportunities for companies to become thought leaders. And crafting a strong message about overall cellular safety is something that Bluetooth headset manufacturers have yet to really do. As long as they continue to maintain radio silence on this critical issue, they risk appearing like opportunists who are taking advantage of legislation to sell more products.

In Europe, legislation has already banned almost all usage of cell phones in vehicles (hands-free or hand-held). If the US decides to follow their lead, what will the repercussions be for providers of this bridging technology?