Firetruck

You can only control so much of what your kids see and hear. Once they’re in school, your kids’ vocabulary gets mashed up with others, resulting in, for example, first graders learning “firetruck” is a substitute or code word for “the F word.”

How and where do 1st and 2nd graders get that? At home?

Yes, I’ve changed. Parenting will do that to you. Indecent language is an interesting topic and it concerns the highest court in the land — and Rupert Murdoch.

The case before the Supreme Court (FCC v. Fox Television Stations, 07-582) had this ruling being issued recently, as reported by TV Newsday and the AP:

The Supreme Court ruled narrowly Tuesday in favor of a government policy that threatens broadcasters with fines over the use of even a single curse word on live television, yet stopped short of deciding whether the policy violates the Constitution.

In six separate opinions totalling 68 pages, the justices signaled serious concerns about the constitutionality of the Federal Communications Commission’s “fleeting expletives” policy, but called on a federal appeals court to weigh whether it violates First Amendment guarantees of free speech.

Yes, the FCC rules over broadcast television and radio. Kids watch TV and listen to the radio (mine listen to satellite radio in the car, but I know which stations to avoid and which are “safe”). They’ll hear the bad words from others, but not at home. There are no “fleeting expletives” here.

Well, guess what? My kids are on the Internet, doing searches. We watch what they do and where they go, but it only takes a few seconds to click on an “indecent” link. I think “decency” varies from one culture to another, and, as any anthropologist will tell you, culture is always changing, adapting, evolving.

I was listening to George Carlin’s “Class Clown” album at age 12 (with my brother, who was 9 at the time) at my neighbor’s, who had older siblings. It was their record and we got a kick out of the “seven words you can’t say on television.” See that? That was 35+ years ago. Think it’s easier now? Hardly.

Personally, ads for ED drugs and some personal care products don’t belong on TV between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Portfolio P&L: $100 Million Loss

Condé Nast’s business-with-style magazine, Portofolio, is going away forever, via BtoB:

Condé Nast dropped a long-anticipated ax on Condé Nast Portfolio this morning, shutting down the expensive, ambitious effort to build a business magazine with a stylish presentation, according to a report by Advertising Age, a BtoB sibling publication.

The move affects more than 85 employees, already down from a peak of 140 after a retrenchment last November, including Editor in Chief Joanne Lipman and Publisher William Li, who are both leaving the company.

The last issue of Portfolio is on newsstands now.

Condée Nast is closing the Portfolio.com Web site as well, although there are discussions inside the company about eventually reviving it in some way.

The news seemed to emerge first on Twitter, where All Things D blogger Peter Kafka posted word Monday morning.

David Carey, the group president and publishing director who launched Portfolio two years ago, called the decision to give up an agonizing one.

“I just left the staff meeting,” he said. “This is a business that we have liked being in. We are proud of the product, which is nominated for three Loeb awards.”

The economy’s collapse, however, cut both ways—ultimately for the worse. It heightened interest in the economy, but it also submerged five categories of advertising on which Portfolio depended: financial services, corporate branding, business travel, auto and luxury.

“Even if the economy starts to recover, it’s likely the advertising is going to lag it,” Carey said. “The gap between where we needed the business to be in 2010 and 2011 proved to be too large.”

Although Lipman in particular received regular criticism on blogs such as Gawker and in the pages of the New York Post, Carey said he admired the Portfolio team, which at one time included a raft of famous writers.

When this book was first introduced via a Sunday press release in June of 2006, I thought it was going to be near impossible to make room for another business magazine.  Business Week, Fortune and Forbes — those are the big three. Inc. and Fast Company come to mind as the “others.” But maybe they can make a go of it. Remember: Business Week started publishing just as the stock market crashed in 1929. Now they’re arguably the most successful business magazine around (disclosure: I’m a regular reader).

The observation from Tech Crunch is spot-on:

Portfolio saw itself in the same vein as the Fortune magazine of the 1930s, filled with lush photographs and long narratives. But that formula doesn’t work in an age where business is about speed, not leisure or luxury. It also doesn’t work in an age where monthly magazines in general are increasingly challenged by the wealth of instantaneous business news available on the Web. (And you thought the daily newspapers had it tough). Portfolio’s insistence on favoring its print over its Website content also helped to hasten its demise. If you are going to start a magazine these days, the Website has to come first. The magazine companies still don’t realize this simple fact.

How much longer will the other “glossy” magazines in the Condé Nast newsstand survive without any advertising growth?

Touch-Screen Monster

I remember reading about Microsoft’s touch -screen table a while back and thought it was very cool.

Seeing it featured on Engadget was entertaining:

Yep, you read that right — Microsoft’s $17,000 big-ass touchscreen table requires a keyboard and mouse to set up, something which isn’t noted in any of the marketing or manuals. Ouch. Hopefully that’ll get fixed before this thing ships to consumers in 2011…

I don’t get it.

Let Design Do It For You

Interesting pitch from Jacek Utko on how to save newspapers.

MyOracle

IBM‘s offer of $6.5 billion deal to buy Sun Microsystems was rejected recently.  In comes Oracle for $7.4 billion, via The Register:

“The acquisition of Sun transforms the IT industry, combining best-in-class enterprise software and mission-critical computing systems,” said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

“Oracle will be the only company that can engineer an integrated system – applications to disk – where all the pieces fit and work together so customers do not have to do it themselves. Our customers benefit as their systems integration costs go down while system performance, reliability and security go up.”

“We expect this acquisition to be accretive to Oracle’s earnings by at least 15 cents on a non-GAAP basis in the first full year after closing,” said Oracle President Safra Catz, in a statement today.

“We estimate that the acquired business will contribute over $1.5bn to Oracle’s non-GAAP operating profit in the first year, increasing to over $2bn in the second year,” Catz said.

Today’s announcement was sketchy, with little mention of what Oracle plans to do with Sun’s hardware business, and no reference to Sun’s MySQL’s open source database.

In a message to Sun staff today, Jonathan Schwartz said: “This is one of the toughest emails I’ve ever had to write. It’s also one of the most hopeful about Sun’s future in the industry.”

He said: “Oracle’s interest in Sun is very clear – they aspire to help customers simplify the development, deployment and operation of high value business systems, from applications all the way to datacenters. By acquiring Sun, Oracle will be well positioned to help customers solve the most complex technology problems related to running a business.”

He added: “A combined Oracle/Sun will be capable of cultivating one of the world’s most vibrant and far reaching developer communities, accelerating the convergence of storage, networking and computing, and delivering one of the world’s most powerful and complete portfolios of business and technical software.”

Ellison and McNealy were two of the prime movers behind the anti-Wintel coaliton which pushed the Network Computer. This was launched with much hoopla back in 1995. It’s nice to know they’ve finally got there.

I can only imagine the chatter in Santa Clara at the MySQL Conference & Expo.

The rationale is clear, via VentureBeat:

Oracle pointed to two key software assets that will give it an advantage in serving customers: Java and Solaris. It said Sun’s Java programming language and software will be the most important software Oracle has ever acquired. Oracle Fusion Middleware, Oracle’s fastest growing business, is built on Java, and Oracle can now continue to invest in Java technology for the benefit of its customers, it said. Java is used by million of businesses. It powers billions of mobile phones and consumer electronics.

The Sun Solaris operating system, meanwhile, is the leading platform for the Oracle database, Oracle’s largest business. With Solaris, Oracle taps into a high-end server platform that enjoys a reputation for quality.

Mid-engine Pick-up Truck

Elad Barkin’s Counter Balance is different. A pick-up truck with a mid-engine design.

Got written up in the NYT Wheels Blog:

Designed as a midengine truck, the Counter Balance is smaller than either a Ford Ranger or Chevy Canyon. It is slightly less than 16 feet long and has a V-8 engine that sits under the rear seat.

The front trunk is 20 inches long by 60 inches wide and 30 inches high. The Counter Balance also has a deep bed — 30 percent deeper than other comparable trucks, according to Mr. Barkan — so it can hold more cargo. Its rear seats are elevated above the engine to give back-seat passengers better views. The pickup also has an expandable bed that can go from from 5 feet to 7.5 feet.

And because everyone is talking about alternative energy, the Counter Balance is capable of running on hybrid power, hydrogen biodiesel fuel and other technologies, Mr. Barkan said. “I designated a special area under the bed for either tanks of hydrogen or ethanol or even a pack of batteries,” he explained. “It has the possibility to run on any alternative energy I choose.”

As for the Counter Balance’s unique exterior?

“Don’t judge it by its looks,” Mr. Barkan said. “The styling is secondary to what the truck is. Once you live with it, then you can get to know it. It might be love at first sight, but if it’s not, it might be love at second sight.”

Pausing briefly, Mr. Barkan allowed for a third possibility.

“Or maybe not at all,” he said.

Detroit needs something radical like this: a complete re-think of the pick-up truck. Check Fark.com for comments.

Me? I’d get Ringo Starr to sing the jingle!

Oragutans and Social Media

Some of what I’ve seen from mainstream marketing is mostly “monkey see, monkey do” when it comes to social media. “What’s your social media strategy?” is the question they get from each other and outside consultants. I’m amazed at how many companies remain as clueless today as they did five years ago (that’s approximately 20 years in Internet time). I disagree: it is not a “strategy.” Social media is another tactic in a well-planned, integrated marketing communications plan.

Last week,  Unilever CMO Simon Clift  gave an excellent presentation at the Advertising Age Digital Conference (reported as “What Orangutans Taught Simon Clift About Social Media” by Ad Age):

Mr. Clift acknowledged that in social media, Unilever — past digital accolades or no — has fallen back at times on the same one-way-communications mind-set it’s long applied to traditional media, only to learn that one-way communications are impossible. “We may be ahead of some of our competitors,” Mr. Clift said. “But we’re most definitely behind consumers.”

Case in point was the hijacking of “Onslaught,” Dove’s follow-up to the massively viral “Evolution” video, by Greenpeace, which produced a parody, “Onslaught(er),” that skewered Dove and Unilever for their role in razing Indonesian rainforests through their purchases of palm oil. Mr. Clift became aware of the issue when he saw Greenpeace protesters in orangutan suits scaling the walls of the company’s Lever House headquarters in London last summer. Ultimately the parody got 705,000 views to the original’s 405,000 — and helped lead Unilever to talk with Greenpeace and adopt new targets for sustainable palm-oil sourcing.

“The speed of change really has far outpaced our ability to accompany it,” Mr. Clift said. “I, for one, am in awe of the new challenges that the media revolution poses. But … I believe it can force greater change on the conventional marketing model than most people in consumer package goods actually believe.”

Today’s Forbes interview with Mr. Clift touched on social media:

How is Unilever using social media?

We’re extending a toe into social networking. We realize that it’s not up to us to determine the conversations. The consumers will determine the conversations, and the best we can do is be transparent. We’re working with the Rainforest Alliance to certify that Lipton Tea is environmentally responsible. So we invited some American and Canadian journalists to come pick tea at our farm in Kenya. The trip got lots of good coverage. But we found one blogger who was really skeptical and took issue with the fact that Lipton paid for the trip. So the Lipton brand manager logged on as herself and responded to him. It was a bit scary. And consumers were surprised that a real person joined the conversation.

Here’s the Greepeace hijacking:

And here’s the Dove video that went viral last year…

…and one of many parodies…

Changing Local News

Busy day in Utica, New York.

When I lived in the mountains of Upstate New York in the early 80’s, we didn’t get to watch much TV. Unless you lived in a lucky spot — or had a very tall rotating antenna — you got zero reception. Zero. Big C-band satellite dishes? That cost a few thousand dollars, which I didn’t have. When I did get a signal, I had one or two stations from Albany, and one from Utica.  The Utica station had three guys presenting the local news — all named Bill.

Local news departments are taking a hit in smaller markets. Take WYOU in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market. Broadcasting & Cable reports they’re shutting down:

The end of local news came quickly at WYOU in northeastern Pennsylvania. On the afternoon of Friday, April 3, the station announced that its news department had been dismissed, and that day’s newscasts would be the station’s last. “The viewers have spoken, letting us know that WYOU is the station they rely on for entertainment,” Dennis Thatcher, EVP/COO of station owner Mission Broadcasting, spun in a statement.

WYOU’s news ratings, or lack thereof, had spoken as well, with its household ratings consistently in the 1s. WYOU’s news, which was produced by Nexstar’s WBRE, clearly was not reaching much of an audience in Wilkes Barre-Scranton.

“It’s not like we weren’t trying,” says Thatcher, reeling off a list of attempts to invigorate local news. “I’m not so sure it came down to people not liking WYOU news. They just like WBRE’s and WNEP’s better.”

Operating in the #54 DMA, the CBS affiliate may be the highest profile station to scrap news in years, a move that saves Nexstar about $900,000 annually. But indications are it won’t be the last.

With local television going through the worst slump of most any broadcasting veteran’s career, station insiders say numerous groups are taking a hard look at underperforming news departments. While local news represents a hefty chunk of revenue, it increasingly doesn’t pay to keep a fourth-place outfit afloat.

Local TV news, like local newspapers, is something people will miss dearly if it went away.  Stations need to find a way to keep people tuned in, night after night. Or change the way you reach out to your audience. The station in Utica mentioned above is WKTV and they’ve come a long way since I watched last. You can find them  on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Change the way you present the news to your audience. Having your guests pass out on the air, however,  is not the way to go…

The Link Economy

So the Associated Press is gettng serious about charging for content:

A.P. executives said they were concerned about a variety of news forums around the Web, including major search engines like Google and Yahoo and aggregators like the Drudge Report that link to news articles, smaller sites that sometimes reproduce articles whole, and companies that sell packaged news feeds.

They said they did not want to stop the appearance of articles around the Web, but to exercise some control over the practice and to profit from it.

As always, an excellent discussion on Charlie Rose the other day, with A.P. chief executive officer Tom Curley and Arianna Huffington.

A Different Kind of Car

Brilliant TV spot from Hal Riney & Partners for Saturn, a modern marketing success — for a while at least. Too bad the brand may go away, joining the recently-departed Oldsmobile and Plymouth brands. I think the Saturn experience is different. A real sense of community was built around it  — both natural and manufactured. Remember the Saturn Homecomings? With thousands of people showing up, some called it “Saturnstock.” Sadly, they’re a thing of the past now.

If you remember how exciting it was watching GM create a new brand in the late 80’s and early 90’s, then you simply must read Newsweek’s excellent piece on the topic:

Saturn was hardly a panacea. But its fall to earth, more than $5 billion in GM money later, is about far more than the flameout of one brand. In the eyes of some automotive analysts, Saturn represents a major missed opportunity for Detroit to place a sustained bet on fuel-efficient cars that would compete with the Japanese—and to recalibrate the bitter business-labor relationship in ways that could have had far-reaching implications for the entire industry. Saturn was never able to surpass the Japanese in technology, as Smith had hoped. But the competitive knives Saturn faced within GM did far more damage than any threat from overseas: execs who felt the auto giant already had too many brands and factories; dealers resentful of Saturn’s product-development dollars; and a labor union whose leadership came to regard the brand’s workplace innovations as collaborations with the enemy. It did not help matters that from the mid-1990s until just recently, Americans turned away from small cars in favor of trucks and SUVs.

How will this chapter of GM’s history be written?