Prime-al behavior

Amazon held its now-annual Prime day this week. Three years in, it’s safe to assume the tradition isn’t going anywhere soon; Sales were through the roof, and other retailers even started to piggyback their own deals off Amazon’s hype machine.

Other big shopping days are big shopping days because of consumer behavior. Black Friday became Black Friday because it was a weekday most people had off without any holiday obligations. Car dealerships and mattress stores, who both sell things you want to see and test before you buy, know you have some extra time over a three-day weekend, so they run promotions during Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.

Prime Day is different. Amazon created a big shopping day at a time when people specifically do not typically shop. Now that news outlets pay attention and other retailers circle the day on their own planning calendars, you could say Amazon has created a holiday out of thin air.

So is Amazon controlling our brains?

Maybe a little bit, but not any more than any other retailer.

A store (that isn’t going out of business or trying to liquidate inventory) generally has two reasons to put out a “Sale!” sign: 1) Everyone is shopping and they want to entice people in; or 2) No one is shopping and they want to entice people in. Amazon clearly opted for the latter – and as the world’s foremost digital retailer has a near-limitless variety of things to put on sale

Amazon clearly opted for the latter – and as the world’s foremost digital retailer has a near-limitless variety of things to put on sale to lure people in off the metaphorical street – a near limitless number of people they can reach, to boot.

A more direct comparison might be so-called “Hallmark Holidays.” Some are lame even if well-meaning. (Grandparents’ Day never really took off, did it?) But look at how Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day affect consumer behavior and cultural trends in February, May, and June, respectively. Mother’s Day offers a particularly good example – after a Presidential proclamation made it “official” in 1914,

Mother’s Day offers a particularly good example of how a made-up holiday can take off. Within a decade after a Presidential proclamation made it “official” in 1914, the mother of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, bemoaned the “profiteering” and opportunism around the day.

It’s easy to say the public is duped into spending money on these days. But the genius behind Hallmark holidays and Prime Day isn’t in creating demand, but focusing consumer behavior. Most people want to express their appreciation for Mom, but Mother’s Day gives them a specific day to do it. Amazon knows that people are usually motivated to buy with good deals, they just picked a day.

Amazon knows that people become motivated to buy stuff when they find good deals. They just picked a day. Now everyone is along for the ride.





Crummy Little Podcast Episode 3: Todd Van Etten

There aren’t many people who can keep up with the ever-evolving intersection between technology and politics. Todd Van Etten, Chief Digital Strategist for The Herald Group, is one of them, and he does it well. He’s this week’s guest on the Crummy Little Podcast, chatting about online politics and advocacy.

You can download/listen here or through iTunes.

Birthday Ramen!

Did you know that today is Momofuku Ando’s birthday? He’s the guy who invented instant ramen, and he would be 105 if he was alive today. You might have learned all this if you’d clicked on the Google doodle that most people saw today:


I didn’t see that.  Since I share Momofuku’s birthday, I saw this:


The alt text – “Happy Birthday, Jim!” – confirmed that this was for me. It’s no mystery how Google found out – I’ve probably volunteered the information dozens of times given all the Google products I use. It was still the creepiest happy birthday I got today.

The political “digital divide” is closing – but not because of this

Politico pointed out that Republicans lead Democrats in viral videos this election cycle:

By generating hundreds of thousands of clicks, the Republicans’ digital success represents a remarkable tech turnaround compared with 2012, when President Barack Obama’s campaign easily outpaced Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP field in the production of the most popular Web content.

That’s right and wrong at the same time, which is really tough to do.

A higher click total is not a sign of better use of technology, but a sign of better use of message. The article goes on to talk about why the Republican message has been so video-friendly, which underscores the point.

The technology to make an online video is pretty simple, any yahoo with a Mac can make something that looks pretty decent. Clicks come from content – what the video says is more important than Politico lets on.

If you want to know why Republicans have closed in on the Democrats’ tech advantage, look at the actual technology and how it’s being used. For example, i360, a data firm that caters to conservative movement organizations, and DataTrust, the data wing of the GOP, are sharing their voter data. If one of those companies found out that you’re an independent and the other one knows you’re left handed, campaigns would have access to both tags and could use both to shape how they talk to you. That’s a legit tech upgrade over the sloppy, fractured Republican data infrastructure of the past.

Facebook officially goes to Washington

Since at least 2009, Facebook has kept an office here in Your Nation’s Capital, but the company became an official part of the DC community this week when their PR consultant got caught trying to recruit bloggers to write anti-Google stories.

As consulting snafus go, this is pretty mild – especially when a reading of the original emails suggests that the PR consultant was not doing anything wrong, underhanded, or illegal.  This isn’t Jack Bonner’s “contractors” cooking up fake letters, it’s a PR person recruiting someone to sign an op-ed – in other words, exactly what they are paid to do.

The problem is they asked the wrong person.  Sure, Chris Soghoian lists himself as a “security and privacy” researcher.  But the name of his blog is “Slight Paranoia.”  That’s the type of blogger who asks questions about why you’re barking up his tree and encouraging him to take a public stance against Google.

The situation highlights how  trying to wage public affairs battles anonymously can backfire.  Clearly, Facebook wanted to sling mud without getting their hands dirty.  But they had a legitimate point about Google and privacy.  Google collects an enormous amount of information on people, many times without users understanding how they are sending that information.  People have had beefs with Facebook on privacy, but the information you put out on Facebook is information you actively put on the internet; if the world suddenly knows you like My Little Pony and Elmer’s Glue it’s because you signed up for a Facebook account and clicked “like” on those pages, you sick, pathetic degenerate.

Facebook isn’t the only big player going after Google; both MicroSoft and AT&T have put big money into public policy campaigns taking shots at everything from privacy to intellectual property.

Like those other companies and many others in all kinds of industries, though, Facebook figured out that the government’s activities could impact their business.  Because they tried (through their PR agent) to get too cute, Facebook’s message on privacy is obscured because of a tactical misstep.

Welcome to Washington.

The shrinking relevance of power centers

In a guest post on Social Times, entrepreneur Elle Cachette talks about her experience moving her business out of Silicon Valley.  The business has since thrived, to the surprise of those who advised her that technology companies could not exist in the outside world.

In hindsight, Cachette finds the Valley overrated:

Stop digging. What you see is what you get – there is no gold in ‘them waters. Silicon Valley is the Hollywood of tech, where every waiter is an entrepreneur and every app is the next blockbuster… When you are in Silicon Valley, everything in the media environment confirms that you are indeed in the center of the universe. But similar to a communist North Korean regime,  Silicon Valley drinks much of its own Kool-Aid.

First, it is ironic that in the geographic region that created so much of the technology that Americans now use to telecommute and communicate across great spaces there exists a culture that highly values proximity to a geographic region.

Second, the success of companies beyond places like Silicon Valley is another demonstration of the new realities of work – that almost any job can be done anywhere.

Third, if you substitute “Politics” for “Tech” and “Washington, D.C.” for Silicon Valley, the post would still make a lot of sense.

Boehner rejects technology. Good for him.

In a minor story this week, Speaker John Boehner rejected CSPAN’s request to install robotic cameras in the House of Representatives.  In doing so, Boehner follows in the footsteps of previous Speakers – and makes the right decision.

CSPAN wanted the cameras to spice up their coverage of the US House – capturing wide shots of the arena and getting reaction shots from Members of Congress who aren’t speaking at a certain time.

If you want an example of what such a broadcast might look like, the Super Bowl kicks off in a few hours.  If Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger throws an interception, Fox’s cameras will capture them on the sideline, shaking their heads or talking to coaches.  If a kicker – whatever their names are – misses a field goal, you’ll see the typical lingering shot of them staring at the goalposts and shaking their heads, followed (or preceded) by a shot of the coach looking at the kick, preparing to raise his arms before dejectedly slumping his shoulders.  When a defensive player blows a coverage, you’ll see his coach glaring at him from the sideline.

Fox isn’t just broadcasting the game, they are telling a story.  It’s one reason why sports is interesting to watch, and CSPAN wants to do the same.

But if CSPAN is telling a story about Congressional debate, who gets to write it?  And why stop at jumping around during floor debates?  Why not give individual Representative theme music and bring in Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler to add commentary, WWE style?

The extra cameras that Boehner rejected would have allowed CSPAN to create their own filter of the coverage, instead of simply showing the debate.  Yes, it’s dull, but CSPAN isn’t supposed to be engaging all the time – it’s supposed to be a stream of raw information.