Advertiser Shout-out

A hat tip and a thank you to AdLab's very own advertisers:
  • DoMedia, who keep a database of offbeat out-of-home vendors, 
  • LeaderPromos, who sell promotional products,   
  • Marler Haley, who make banner stands,
  • and Max, who paid for the space but is keeping it ad-free

Next Business Day

Remember Dell Hell?

In 2005, Jeff Jarvis got a lemon of a laptop and made the story of his customer support tribulations public on his blog.

The saga eventually came to a seemingly happy end, with Jeff getting a refund (and happily spending it at an Apple store), and leaving the company's CEO with this parting bullet-pointed advice:

1. Read blogs.
2. Talk to bloggers.
3. Blog.

In other words, "join the conversation your customers are having without you."

And Dell did, and apparently so well that Jeff wrote the congratulatory "Dell Swell" piece in Business Week two years later, wondering "whether Dell had even become a Cluetrain company". Dell itself blogged about it.

If what Jeff wanted was revenge for all the hold music Dell had made him listen to, he couldn't have planned it better.

Last week, my laptop broke. A nameless thing, pictured above, that holds down the screw that holds down the heat sink on top of the video card got unglued from the motherboard, causing the video card to overheat and the computer to keep shutting down abruptly.

An unpleasant defect, I thought, but luckily I had bought that expensive three-year warranty, which is still good for another year.  The warranty that promises an on-site technician the "Next Business Day, Includes Nights/Weekends".

That very warranty that Jeff had.

I called the tech support last Friday, on Christmas day. The helpful guy on the other end of the line said he'd ship a new motherboard and a new fan, and I'd get an appointment call on Tuesday (that is, today) from a technician.

Today, I got a robocall saying the parts are on backorder and there would be a delay. This being another holiday week, I don't really expect the computer to get fixed before mid-January. In itself, it is an inconvenience, sure, but not a big deal.

What is a big deal, and more for Dell than for me, is the "next business day" promise.

A brand is a sum of our expectations about a product or service. These expectations are based on our own past experiences, other people's stories, media reports, and all those promises a company makes through its own communications.  When the reality fails to live up to our expectations, the brand suffers. When our expectations fall below the product's price, we walk away.

And when we walk away, the company can end up with a stock chart that looks like this:

So what happened when Dell took Jeff Jarvis's advice, hoping to become, in Michael Dell's words,  "a better company by listening and being involved in that conversation?"

We started to believe in a promise of "a better company", to trust that what had happened to Jeff was in the past and wouldn't happen to us. Our expectations went higher, only to fall harder and crash against the reality. Today, almost five years after the original Dell Hell (and a decade after this open letter), the "next business day" still means daysweeks, or months.

The only advice the company really needed in 2005 was not to make promises it couldn't keep.  What it got was "blog".



This post went up at 5 in the morning. At 9, the post got a Radian6 hit. At 10, a technician called and said he'd be here by 1. He showed up at noon, with new parts. Half an hour later, everything was fixed.

If this is the kind of service that everyone gets, I apologize and take it all back.

And if you are reading this from New Brunswick in Canada on your Radian6 dashboard and it was you who gave it an extra push, thank you.

Read about how Dell "answers the social phone" with Radian6 on Radian6 blog and on Dell's blog.

Alfa Romeo's Billboard Sinks to New Low

This post is worth writing for the headline alone.

If you liked the series of underwater billboards, here's another one for you, via AgencySpy:  AlfaRomeo is viralling a video of its billboard being lowered into the Challenger Deep (wiki) in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth at some 11,000 meters (36,000 ft).

But is it real?  I don't think so. Jalopnik points out certain inconsistencies, but here's, I think, the real tell -- the rope.  There's no way for the 11,000 meters of rope to fit on the spool of the size shown in the video.  See for yourself with this handy spool capacity calculator. I'm assuming (generously) the 3mm fiber diameter, 20" for traverse, 10" for barrel, and 15" for flange. The most you can fit on the spool of that size is 3,577 meters, and the spool in the video isn't even full.

Gamespot's Awards for In-Game Ads Done Wrong

GameSpot's 2009 "dubious honor" awards for most despicable in-game ad placements, the only award show AdLab faithfully covers every year, are in. And either the Gamespot editors are getting soft, or there wasn't a whole lot of interesting (or annoying) ad stuff going on in games this past year.

The winners are Pepsi machines in Bionic Commando. They don't look really all that horrible (but yes, somewhat out of place in an post-apocalyptic world), and it's not even clear if they are product placements at all.

Gamespot writes: "The game doesn't just feature Pepsi machines--it features multiple machines within a few feet of each other. It doesn't seem likely that the people of the near future will need so many carbonated beverages in such a small area. It's also ridiculous how pristine most of these machines look when surrounded by postapocalyptic debris, as if the Pepsi machines of the future were constructed out of an indestructible alloy while the rest of the world burned to the ground."

But Destructoid says the machines are not a paid placement, but a tribute to the brand by the game's developers. Plus, they dispense free drinks if you shoot them just so.

Other interesting nominees:

T-Mobile's Sidekick phone in Tony Hawk Ride, a title Gamespot gave only 3.5 points out of 10. The reviewer hated the entire game, and the Sidekick controls, while not helping, hardly were the $120 game's biggest problem.

iPhone in Mysterious Island 2.This one isn't actually a placement paid by Apple at all; it's a promo for the related puzzle mini-games available in the App Store:

"One moment you're bungling in the jungle with Jep [a monkey sidekick], and the next you're staring at an iPhone that has popped up out of nowhere. You can't use it, either. It just appears on the side of the screen, sticks around for a little bit, then vanishes. This icon actually indicates that you can port a puzzle out of the PC game to solve on the go with your iPhone, although if you don't own Apple's latest must-have device, this comes off as nothing but an out-of-the-blue product placement."

The (Augmented) View From My Window

I've always thought windows have a tremendous potential to become an important screen medium, and it looks like the right pieces of technology are slowly coming together. We played around with a few ideas, mostly around windows as AR displays. Here are some of them.

Two Handjobs For the Price of One

Because it's Friday. I wish they had an affiliate program.

Dell's @delloutlet Earns $4.5 Million in Six Months

It's been widely reported by now that Dell's @delloutlet Twitter account that broadcasts deals on computer equipment has earned the company $6.5 million. The more interesting part, and the one that's overlooked, is that $4.5 million of this money was earned between June and December. In June, the company said the account had brought in just $2M since the its launch two years earlier (or, they say, $2M in outlet items and another $1M in new products, but they don't break down the $6.5M number). Last December, the amount was at $1M.

So, it took Dell 18 months to earn its first Twitter million. Then it took just six months to add another million to that. And the next six months brought in $4.5M.

Twitter Bombs and the Real Time Tweets on Google Results Page

Oh, wow, pretty impressive. Tweets show up on Google as soon as you hit the "post" button (see the official announcement). I tried searching for a client brand, and sure enough, a scrolling stream of tweets containing the brand name showed up on the first page of results.

Is ranking on the first page that easy now?

How long till the first Twitterbomb -- tricky twittering for the sake of landing (and staying) on the first page for a search term?

Dear Future Astronaut

As Virgin Galactic unveiled its spaceship, I reached for an old email I had received from the company five years ago and still keep neatly folded in a folder.

The letter was addressed to "Dear Future Astronaut."  Me, that is.  How cool is that? Not "dear subscriber".  Not "dear first_name, last_name". Not "dear customer".  Future astronaut.

And it was signed not by some "Head of Customer Service" or "Chief of Client Affairs".  No, it was signed by the "Head of Astronaut Liaison".

When you sell someone's dream, you treat the dream with the respect it deserves. You stay in character. Even on an automated form letter.

10 Tips for Viral Marketers From a Military Propaganda Manual

Do you know that signature line from Henry Jenkins about how if it doesn't spread, it's dead?  Yes, well, this is the "if it doesn't spread, you are dead" kind of thing: a military rumor manual dated 1943, now declassified, and unearthed by a colleague of mine.  Plenty of solid insight for the designers of spreadable media, some already familiar from the books like Made to Stick and Rumor Psychology, written more than half a century after this document. My top ten favorites follow, mostly verbatim.  And I really like how they  use of "design" and "rumor" in the same sentence:

1. Effective rumor design requires special kinds of intelligence on Rumor Targets.

2. The design of a rumor is largely determined by the job it has to do. The slogan-type rumor ("England will fight to the last Frenchman") is especially adapted to summarizing opinions which are already widely accepted.  Narrative-type rumors, on the other hand, aim at introducing information which will create or shape new attitudes.

3. The successful propaganda rumor is self-propelling in a high degree, retains its original content with a minimum of distortion, and confirms to strategic requirements.

4. The form and content of a rumor should be tailor-made for the channel through which it is to be initiated. (The best type of rumor to be spread through diplomatic circles: clever epigrams.) Different channels of rumor initiation and dissemination frequently require different forms and contents for the rumor.

5. A successful rumor must take advantage of the state of mind of the people for whom it is intended.

6. The rumor should be sufficiently brief and simple to survive in memory of successive narrators.

7. The rumor's plot should recapitulate precedents and traditions in the history and folklore of the group.

8. A successful rumor is a function of the momentary interests and circumstances of the group. It provides justification for suppressed fears, hatreds, or desires.

9. Unless most subtly handled, counter-rumors may emphasize and increase the effectiveness of the rumor to be countered.

10. Design different rumors that reveal the same "information".

Friends With Benefits, and Other Data

I love how Razorfish makes all of the charts from its Feed report available zipped up in one convenient folder -- with all the powerpointage going on, it makes the brand very spreadable. Separately, you have to admire the effort that went into illustrating each of these reports (I already did last year).

On a note unrelated to this post, this graph above pulled from the report by Thought Gadgets is awesome. See how 25.5 is visually larger than 74.5?  If Tufte were dead, he'd roll in his grave.

Some numbers raise questions. Do you include a brand into your consideration set after you've "friended" it, or do you friend it because you are either a customer, or are already interested in the product? Or maybe, as the next graph shows, you are in it just for the price deals, promos and coupons? (The awkwardly phrased questions don't help: "when you follow a brand, does it generally // recommend the brand to others".)

You know these graphs will end up illustrating an argument like this (they did):  "The true power of Facebook lies in what happens AFTER someone becomes a "fan" of your page. A study from eMarketer shows that over 60% fans of a brand usually or always recommend that brand to other people - and 60% of fans usually or always make a purchase from that brand."

Some rain on the pARade (clever, huh): 71.70% of the respondents in the sample (all on broadband) have never tried "an augmented reality experience". (Although, to be fair, some probably have without knowing what it's called.) One other thing people say they haven't done: using tag clouds (59.80% never).