Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bringing Sorry Back

"I'll do this when I'm
lying. ... No, my arm won't
get stuck this way!"
FOX Network’s Shepard Smith and Doping Network’s Lance Armstrong are on opposite ends of the sorry spectrum.

When FOX inadvertently broadcast a live shot of a deadly shot at the end of a car chase, Shep immediately apologized, explained how they had screwed up, took personal responsibility for it, and pledged that it “won’t happen again on my watch.”

A solid 10 on the sorry spectrum. In the apology game, Smith is your Shepard.

Lance, on the other hand, didn’t have the … the courage to own up to years of doping, lying, and bullying until he saw a chance to cop a plea with his mea culpa.

Lance has one. Not two. Just one. And we’d take that one away if the scale went any lower.

The esteemed magazine The Atlantic falls somewhere in the middle of this sorry spectrum for their heart-felt—but quite late—apology for allowing the Scientologists to slip one past the goalie. The cruise-controlled cult posted an online ad touting their creamy goodness, but they designed it to look like a genuine news article (in much the same way they try to make themselves look like a genuine religion).

The Atlantic gets a 5.75 on this one. It would have been a solid eight if they had apologized immediately instead of posting some corporate-speak placeholder for 24 hours as they tried to get their act together.

And finally, an “Honorable Mention” to Reed Hastings and the Netflix gang for one of the most entertaining videotaped apologies in modern history. If you squint, you’d swear you were watching Joe Isuzu trying to sell you a Trooper.

You’re going to screw up someday. Trust me. When you do, take the hit as a gift. The manner in which you accept (or don’t accept) responsibility for your actions will define you. It will enrich your story—for better or for worse. So do the right thing. Take responsibility. Apologize. And promise to not do it again. Folks'll love you for it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Picture Imperfect

No need to Google it.
This is a Stygimoloch.
My silhouette portrait taunted me for years.

My mom made portraits of all four of us kids when we were very young and hung them on the dining room wall. Mine was the only one with the Dennis-the-Menace cowlick sticking straight out of the back of my head. I looked like a Stygimoloch.

One day when my mother was replacing the faded construction paper backdrop, I begged her to fix the imperfection. After a lot of foot-stomping (on my part--I was around 10 years old at the time), she cropped it--and I knew immediately that I’d screwed up. This new and improved portrait was a fugazi.

But apparently Stalin-izing a photo for a more perfect version of reality is no big deal in the digital age.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi defended her decision to photoshop four congresswomen into the sort-of official photo of the women of the 113th Congress as, “an accurate historical record of who the Democratic women of Congress are."

An accurate record? Perhaps. An accurate depiction of reality? No.
pelosi jesus
It's almost never a good idea
to improve on an original.
There are a couple of important lessons to be learned from Pelosi's Kodak moment. First, if you plan to edit a photo, understand that the original will pop up moments after you upload the forgery. The Internet never forgets. And it doesn’t like a cheater.

Second, if you must photoshop your pictures, tell your audience that you did. Be specific. And attach that disclaimer to the photo every time you post it. People will not be happy if they think they’ve been lied to.
And finally, get an expert. These gals look
like they're seven feet tall.

The Turn(er)ing of a Page

"That meant going
after the kids."
An icon of 20th century storytelling died this week. You may not recognize Fred Turner's name, but you’ve heard his stories many, many times—whether you wanted to or not.

Fred Turner was chairman of the board of the McDonald’s fast food empire from 1977 until his retirement in 2004. Crowned “The Adman of the (1980s) Decade” by Advertising Age, Turner was a masterful 20th century marketer. And his success was, in many ways, attributable to the storytelling elements he applied to McDonald’s marketing strategy.

He identified and focused on his target audience. As America’s nuclear families radiated out to the suburbs in the 1960s, Turner directed his troupes to follow them. “Our move to the suburbs was a conscious effort to go for the family business. That meant going after the kids.” – TIME 1973

He focused on character and the most effective medium. “We decided to use television, so we created our own character Ronald McDonald.” – Ibid.

He was a master of detail and specificity. “Mr. Turner wrote what was known internally as ‘The Bible,’ documenting McDonald's pioneering food production. French fries had to be cut exactly 0.28 inches thick. Burgers went on the grill in six neat rows.” – The Wall Street Journal.

And he made sure his audience heard McDonald’s story.
CAUTION: May cause earworms.

The trouble is that Turner’s 20th century application of traditional storytelling elements—reaching every suburban kid with relentless television ads featuring a freaky two-dimensional clown—actually backfired in the digital age. (Check out Erik Sherman’s insightful analysis of the McDonald's hashtag #McCalculation at

The monolithic monologues that replaced traditional storytelling in the 20th century have themselves been replaced by richer and often more personal stories shared by smaller communities through an array of interactive media.

Turner’s marketing gifts were awe-inspiring … for his time. But technology has forced corporate America to mothball most of its 20th century marketing techniques. And that’s OK, because we all deserve a break today.