Inexpensive LEDs

$60 for a light bulb? Sure, it’s an LED-based bulb and will save you real money — and last for ten years.  Using gallium nitride (GaN), they can last for sixty years, but costly to manufacture.  Work by the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride is about to make a real difference. The news, via EE Times:

Cambridge University’s Centre for Gallium Nitride has developed a new way of making GaN which could produce LEDs for a tenth of current prices and may see household lighting bills reduced by up to 75 percent within five years.

Based on current results, GaN LED lights in every home and office could cut the proportion of UK electricity used for lights from 20 percent to five percent. That is equivalent to eight power stations.

The Cambridge researchers have developed a method of growing GaN LEDs on silicon wafers. The lower cost method could enable cheaper mass produced LEDs becoming widely available in the next five years.

Read the press release from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for details.

Now, here’s the question: who’s willing to make and sell a product that will last for 60 years?

Frozen Smithsonian

You never forget your best moments in life (hopefully). I have many fond memories from all the places I’ve worked, including Smithsonian magazine.

Just read about how the new Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, G. Wayne Clough, was officially installed earlier this week in a ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian. Clayton Old Elk, a member of the Crow Tribe (and a health system specialist with the Indian Health Service) performed a welcoming prayer.

In his speech, Secretary Clough touched upon three great challenges faced by the Smithsonian: American Identity & Diversity, Education and Climate Change & Biodiversity.  Ironically, he’s a member of the international advisory board of the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals in Saudi Arabia.  He’s careful with his words all right:

Through the long-standing efforts of our scientists, the Smithsonian has been among the leaders in understanding climate change and biodiversity issues. Now we need to take two more steps. The first recognizes that these problems are not simple, and that communicating the complex science behind the dynamic processes is difficult, but necessary. Now is the time for the Smithsonian to extend its reach by communicating the research in such a way so that our political leaders and the public can understand it, so that global action can be mobilized to help our planet become more sustainable. This will position the Smithsonian to increase the impact of the remarkable efforts of our scientists. The second step is to bring our world-wide commitment to sustainability to our doorstep. We will commit to an overarching approach to sustainability for our museums and facilities here on the Mall and wherever in the world the Smithsonian has a footprint or a building.

The Washington Post chose to lead with the Smithsonian’s hiring freeze and banishing of bonuses:


The newly installed secretary of the Smithsonian Institution announced yesterday that he has implemented a hiring freeze and eliminated salary increases and bonuses for one class of its highest-paid employees. G. Wayne Clough has also asked several departments to reduce their current-year budgets by 5 percent to 8 percent.

The action, taken because of the decrease in the Smithsonian’s endowment by 25 percent last year and the uncertain economic future, follows a similar hiring ban, started last October, in the ranks of employees who are paid by the federal government. The Smithsonian, the largest museum and research complex in the world, is financed through private money and public appropriations from Congress. Public funds account for 70 percent of its $1 billion annual budget.

“We are concerned about our financial situation,” said Clough, who after six months on the job was officially installed yesterday as the 12th secretary of the Smithsonian. The freezes went into effect Jan. 16, and involve 67 staff members paid by private funds rather than taxpayer dollars. The departments asked to reduce their budgets are not federally financed and include the central development office. They do not include the museums.


Yes, its newsworthy, but I’m getting tired of reading about “the economy” and how bad things are getting. When will newspapers begin printing some good news on their pages?

Zombie Alert in Austin

Nice hack, but potentially dangerous.

Somebody in Austin, TX, hacked a roadside construction sign to read “Caution! Zombies Ahead!”

Fox News picked it up:

Austin Public Works spokeswoman Sara Hartley said the incident was not initially reported to police, but will be shortly. The sign was reverted back to its original message within hours, according to Hartley, who insisted the signs are tamper-resistant and equipped with external locks.

“This sign was broken into, it was not just a ‘walk up and change the sign’ kind of thing,” Hartley told “This is a new one for us, we’ve never had it happen before.”

She said she did not know whether any other signs in the area had been altered.

According to the blog, some commercial road signs, including those manufactured by IMAGO’s ADDCO division, can be easily altered because their instrument panels are frequently left unlocked and their default passwords are not changed.

“Programming is as simple as scrolling down the menu selection,” reports. “Type whatever you want to display … In all likelihood, the crew will not have changed [the password].” warns readers not to try to alter the signs, which cost roughly $15,000.

ADDCO Chief Operating Officer Brian Nicholson told that the company is sending out notices to customers on the potentially dangerous security flaw.

“It’s incumbent upon users to change the default password and secure the sign with a padlock,” Nicholson said. “We’re having our engineers review this information.”

Click here to learn more about ADDCO’s mobile signs, and here for an inside look.

Jäger Bombs

Jägermeister has become quite the popular liqueur of late. They broke new ground in the 1970s in becoming jersey sponsors in the Bundesliga (with Eintracht Braunschweig), and now we see them as presenting sponsor of a new TV show on Spike: “Toughest Cowboy.”

Emanating from venues in top major markets including Chicago, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Columbus, Raleigh, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, “Toughest Cowboy” features twelve daring competitors in one of the world’s fastest-growing sports. These fearless cowboys must ride in three dangerous disciplines each night – bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding – an unprecedented test of endurance in modern rodeo competition. One competitor will be eliminated each week in a Knock-Out elimination bull ride match. The ultimate “Toughest Cowboy” Champion crowned in the last tournament will win his dream—the deed to a spectacular ranch in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming.

Emmy-award winning producer Mark Burnett, behind such landmark series as Survivor and The Apprentice, serves as executive producer for “Toughest Cowboy”. “Toughest Cowboy” marks the first series to emerge from a pact between Mark Burnett Productions and AEG announced earlier this year.

Jagermeister is the most popular shot brand in the United States. Considered a tough competitor in bars and nightclubs, Jagermeister is excited to bring that competitive edge to rodeo.

So how does a German herbal liqueur get interested in rodeo? Well, there’s a special drink called the “Jäger Bomb,” consisting of a half-glass of the energy drink Red Bull and shot of Jägermeister.  No slouch when it comes to marketing, Red Bull is modern marketing success and prominent sports sponsor around the world.

Great idea and good work putting it all together. Winning a ranch in Wyoming is a good incentive, too. Bull riding is more responsible than sponsoring Jäger Bomb Dominos world record attempts.

Pharma Ads Work

Well, now if I were the president of this land
You know, I’d declare total war on The Pusher man.

From the Steppenwolf song “The Pusher” (Words and music by Hoyt Axton).  We’ve got a new president, but I doubt he’s ready to review the direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. Maybe after he’s read the New England Journal of Medicine’s 2007 report on the topic he might reconsider:

Since 2000, direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs has continued to grow both in absolute dollars and relative to other forms of promotion. Although the evidence base is growing, there are few data to support an assessment of the balance of the costs and benefits of such advertising. The debate over whether and how direct-to-consumer advertising should be more tightly regulated takes place against a backdrop of growing concern about the growth of health care spending, particularly in the Medicare program. Gaining a better understanding of the effects of direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs has important public health implications not only for the United States and New Zealand, where such advertising is also permitted, but also for Canada and the European Union, where such advertising is banned but has been subject to recent challenge.

Yes, advertising does move pharma product. Take, for example, the phenomenal growth of ED drugs. Barry Silverstein’s pun-filled piece in suggests we won’t soon see the end of this type of advertising.  He offers these suggestions on how to make their brands more distinctive:

Barring governmental intervention, if drug companies continue to utilize DTC advertising, they will have to find ways to make their brands distinctive, if not memorable. That presents them with a number of challenges:

  1. Pharmaceutical brand names are vague and often meaningless. They do little to distinguish one brand from another. Consider such popular drug brand names as Celebrex (arthritis), Lunesta (sleep aid) and Vytorin (cholesterol). What do these names say about what the drugs accomplish?
  2. Drug advertising is, for the most part, dull and unexciting. It is a category that could use new, more effective ways of breaking through.
  3. Regulatory restrictions, no matter how lax, will continue to make it difficult to advertise drugs without including a list of side effects. Sometimes the recital of the list itself creates an unintentionally foreboding or even humorous aspect to a drug ad.

Ads for ED drugs does prompt a joke from the TV viewing audience. But for a real laugh, watch this clip of Robin Williams.

YouTube: YouSell DVDs

Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Remember that British import from the 70’s? We’d watch it religiously on the local PBS affiliate in the New York (WNET, “channel 13”).

A couple of months ago, Monty Python launched their YouTube channel and it’s become rather popular. The YouTube blog post on their “click to buy” program is getting results, specially for Monty Python:

We’re happy when we can help YouTube users enjoy the content they love, and we’re happy when we can help our partners build their businesses online – but we’re happiest when we can do both.

That’s why last year we launched our eCommerce platform for YouTube, which allows users to easily “click-to-buy” products — like songs and movies — related to the content they’re watching on the site. The past few months have demonstrated that great content on YouTube leads to increased sales. For example, when Monty Python launched their channel in November, not only did their YouTube videos shoot to the top of the most viewed lists, but their DVDs also quickly climbed to No. 2 on Amazon’s Movies & TV bestsellers list, with increased sales of 23,000 percent.

Nice sales increase.

Having clips up on video-sharing sites is good for business. Relentlessly pursuing “takedown” requests, one might argue, is counter-productive. I know I’ve had such requests in the past on clips I got from NASA, which is in the public domain. They’re still up, but the takedown requests can be a nuisance.

If people are profiting from pirated content, well that’s clearly a crime…

We The Internet

Should Internet access be an entitlemet? I think it should be and some day, it will. The President’s plan to make it available everywhere may be challenged by preferences expressed by those who are supposed to benefit. Maybe they don’t get it — or just don’t care.

Today’s Washington Post has a piece on a report issued by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Broadband costs more, and that’s holding people back:

According to the survey, 13 percent of non-users said they don’t use the Internet or e-mail because they can’t access broadband. Nine percent of those surveyed said they find e-mail and the Internet too difficult to use, 7 percent said they are too busy or don’t have time, and 4 percent said they don’t have access to a computer.

For those with dial-up Internet access, 35 percent said prices for broadband — which average $34.50 a month — would have to go down for them to upgrade to high-speed cable, fiber-optic, or DSL Internet service, according to the survey.

“The problem with price has to do with competition,” said Andrew Schwartzman, president of public access group Media Access Project. Schwartzman said that users are typically forced to choose between two to three options for high-speed Internet service.

The nonprofit group One Economy has urged lawmakers to include provisions in a stimulus plan that would renovate public housing so that all units in a building would have access to a shared data network, thereby reducing monthly costs per home by several dollars a month.

What if the FCC frees up so-called “white spaces” of radio spectrum and use it for free Internet access? Great idea. Finally, a modern version of the Minitel — only wireless.

Interesting results:

What is the MAIN reason you don’t use the internet or email?
(asked of non-users) Non-internet users = 25% of all adults
% of non-users     % of all adults
Not interested in getting online         33%             8.3%
Can’t get access                                      13%             3.3%
Difficult                                                   9%             2.3%
Other reason                                          9%             2.3%
Too expensive                                        7%             1.8%
Too busy/no time                                 7%             1.8%
Waste of time                                        7%             1.8%
Don’t have computer                          4%             1.0%
Too old to learn                                   3%             0.8%
Physically unable                                3%             0.8%

White House Blog

Minutes before the Oath of Office was taken by Mr. Obama, the new White House Web site went live, and the first blog post

Just like your new government, and the rest of the Administration’s online programs will put citizens first. Our initial new media efforts will center around three priorities:

Communication —
Americans are eager for information about the state of the economy, national security and a host of other issues. This site will feature timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date and educated. Check out the briefing room, keep tabs on the blog (RSS feed) and take a moment to sign up for e-mail updates from the President and his administration so you can be sure to know about major announcements and decisions.

Transparency — President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. You can also learn about some of the senior leadership in the new administration and about the President’s policy priorities.

Participation —
President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.

Gotta love a President who blogs.

The Super Bowl

What do I like about the NFL’s Super Bowl? The ads, of course. When the whistle blows and network cuts to a commercial, I’m the one who “shushes” the room so I can hear it.

The AP ran a story yesterday how the ads will be toned down, but it’s still big:

The Super Bowl remains a unique marketing vehicle because it’s known as much for its commercials as the game itself. A TNS Media survey released this month confirmed that people watch commercials throughout the game, instead of switching channels.

“The Super Bowl remains as truly the only property that has the ability to reach the largest mass audience across all demographics at one time,” said TNS Media CEO Dean DeBiase.

The Hyundai spot featuring Yo-Yo Ma, and the ensuing user-generated content, ought to be interesting:

“I think the people that will respond to the Yo-Yo Ma piece when watching the Super Bowl won’t necessarily be classical music fans,” Goodby, Silverstein & Partners creative director Jim Elliot said. “Within the context of all the other advertising, which can be so chaotic that it almost becomes white noise, a quiet, gorgeous solo cello moment can be very arresting.”

Let’s hope it doesn’t backfire like the Chevy Tahoe “make your own” promotion in 2006.

Budweiser will be there. Remember the “wazzup” spots from 2000? Here’s one of the original spots, followed by an Obama presidential campaign spot from the same actors, eight years later:

So Long, Sucker City

Back in August, Circuit City ordered all copies of Mad Magazine removed from all their stores that sold magazine (only 40 of 700) because of this spoof:

Initial reactions around the Web at the time concluded it was an embarassing moment for Circuit City, especially after laying off senior employees in 2007 attracted criticism. That was my opinion at the time, too, and I bet both the departing and remaining employees were unhappy. I should know: I’ve been through a couple of job-eliminations.

But Circuit City recovered. While I was vacationing in Ukraine and Romania in late August, the “Sucker City” story became a public relations case study. Via PR News (registration required):

The Crisis
On August 4th an operations employee at Circuit City noticed that the current issue of Mad Magazine, sold in select Circuit City stores, had a parody in it called “Sucker City.” She didn’t find the parody funny, so she sent out the following note., a popular and well-traveled consumer complaint site, got a hold of this e-mail and posted it on their Web site.

From: Elizabeth Barron, Corporate Operations
Approved message.

Immediately remove all issues and copies of “Mad Magazine” from your sales floor. Destroy all copies and throw them away. They are not inventoried, and your store will not incur shrink.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this!

One page of the parody was available on Mad’s Web site as a preview to induce you to go buy the issue. By trying to suppress the parody that would have otherwise languished in an issue, the objection increased its exposure. This is affectionately referred to as the “Streisand Effect,” so named for Barbra Streisand’s campaign to take photos of her house off the Internet. Her campaign has had the unintended result of disseminating those photos even further by giving them more notoriety.

The Circuit City story had two sides: tiny-classic-humor-magazine-past-its-prime versus big-dumb-retailer. Because both sides had been defined (as a result of the leaked internal memo), the chatterati began their work in earnest. As you can see from the timeline above, over one hundred blogs and Web sites picked up the story in the first 24 hours.

The Reaction
Jim Babb of Circuit City’s communications team first heard about the Sunday night story through e-mail. “The issue came to my attention first thing Monday morning. Someone sent me an e-mail about the posting on, but I probably would have spotted it on my own pretty quickly.” Jim and his boss, Bill Cimino, quickly drafted a response specifically intending to incorporate the humor necessary for the context.

Getting it approved is a different task, and required going to executives higher than themselves. “Bill […] helped me get on executive radar quickly. There was immediate agreement that we needed to respond not only quickly, but also in a manner befitting the subject matter. That quick access and approval made all the difference in responding.”

Here’s the response they sent to Consumerist’s editor Ben Popken, which was posted Monday afternoon about 24 hours after the original Consumerist story broke:

Hi, Ben,
I spotted the article about Circuit City and MAD Magazine on your site.

fyi, I became aware of this “situation” only this morning, and I have sent a note today to the Editors of MAD Magazine.

Speaking as “an embarrassed corporate PR Guy,” I apologized for the fact that some overly sensitive souls at our corporate headquarters ordered the removal of the August issue of MAD Magazine from our stores. Please keep in mind that only 40 of our 700 stores sell magazines at all.

The parody of our newspaper ad in the August MAD was very clever. Most of us at Circuit City share a rich sense of humor and irony…but there are occasional temporary lapses.
We apologize for the knee-jerk reaction, and have issued a retraction order; the affected stores are being directed to put the magazines back on sale.

As a gesture of our apology and deep respect for the folks at MAD Magazine, we are creating a cross-departmental task force to study the importance of humor in the corporate workplace and expect the resulting Powerpoint presentation to top out at least 300 pages, chock full of charts, graphs and company action plans.

In addition, I have offered to send the MAD Magazine Editor a $20.00 Circuit City Gift Card, toward the purchase of a Nintendo Wii….if he can find one!

All the best,
Jim Babb
Corporate Communications
Circuit City Stores, Inc.
Richmond, VA

Editor Popken then added his pithy summary of why he thought this was such a good response. These points should be drilled into PR people daily as advice for handling reputational crises such as this one:

1. Admit you were wrong
2. Stop doing the wrong thing
3. Make a material gesture of apology

Circuit City got their response out as fast as possible, but not fast enough to catch an Associated Press story that hit the wires and was automatically published on hundreds of news Web sites across the Internet. Over the next 24 hours, the Associated Press would update their story with Circuit City’s clever apology, but it would be picked up by an additional 100+ Web sites in the process.

Analysis and Lessons Learned
Given that this kerfuffle didn’t actually touch the core values of Circuit City, some communications professionals might have suggested that this would blow over quickly enough. “I knew immediately there was no upside in taking on Alfred E. Neuman” said Circuit City’s Babb. “Beyond the obvious ‘this cannot be ignored’ element, the situation frankly called out for immediate action to correct the original mistake. We responded quickly because it was the right thing to do, and because it made sense from a PR point of view.”

By intervening and correcting the overly thin-skinned order of another employee, Circuit City sought to change the tone and direction of the coverage to come. By the time they saw it, there was no way to stop the media and the blogosphere from talking about it, so Circuit City’s efforts could only slant the coverage in a positive manner and hopefully let the story die as fast as possible.

By resolving the conflict and providing a sufficient mea culpa, they helped the story go away as quickly as possible. You can see from the graph above that it worked, and the story died within 36 hours.

Note that, at about the same time the apology letter was published on, the Associated Press put a story about this on the wires. This is awful, as AP immediately promotes the issue from “online kerfuffle bandied about the blogosphere” to “light sarcasm for mainstream media.” It’s the perfect story to make your audience laugh while poking fun at a large retailer that nobody is likely to defend. You can see from the next-day spike of television, newspaper, and radio station Web sites that the AP article gave the story an enormous follow-on audience. This is partially due to the fact that so many media Web sites simply run AP stories without much review.

However, the apology does seem to have resolved the issue, ending any further interest from reporters or the public in the story. It quickly dies one day later. The smartest thing Circuit City could do is to cease discussing it any further.

What should you learn from this?

Monitor the net for your brand: If you don’t have a formal monitoring system in place for your brand that would notify you within 12 hours of a high profile complaint, you need to get one immediately in place. You can’t do it manually, and why would you want to? Many services scan the Net and send you e-mail once a day (or more often) for not a lot of money. “We normally check out the environment with the usual Google & Yahoo searches,” said Circuit City’s Babb, “but we also have a search engine that crawls the Web and sends us Circuit City references that it picks up.”

Remember the three lessons from As the editor of Consumerist recommended: Admit what you did. Stop doing it. And apologize in a material way for it. Circuit City’s response covered all three of these bases. They admitted making a dumb move, ordered the magazines put back in stores, and offered a gift card to the editor of MAD.

Keep a sense of humor: Perhaps most important, Circuit City recognized what their Operations employee didn’t: Some things about Circuit City are ripe for satire—a characteristic that sets Circuit City apart from roughly zero other companies out there. And they appropriately responded with sincerity and self-deferential humor rather than PR jargon. The new “cross-departmental task force” is arguably as clever as anything in the MAD spread that originally started all this.

Well now they’re shutting down and liquidating, sucker. Does this change the case study’s conclusion?

My experience with Circuit City was OK, but not all good. Recently, I vowed never to shop at Best Buy again (15% restocking fee did it for me).

Best experiences from national chains includes Radio Shack, but if UPS can ship it, online is the way to go. Face the future.