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.

 

 

 

 

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:

AndoDoodle

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

MyDoodle

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.

Be vewy quiet; the FCC is hunting wabbit ears

Over the weekend, Outside the Beltway had an excellent critique of a New York Times op-ed from Helen Rubenstein, who was suddenly upset that she couldn’t siphon internet from her neighbors.  Rubenstein is a Brooklyn college professor (thankfully of writing and not ethics), and apparently feels that she should get a service for free that other suckers pay hundreds each year for; OTB rightly calls her out for her self-centered attitude.

Buried in her complaint letter to no one in particular, though, is a hint that his is more than simply an op-ed from a spoiled academic who demands everything for free:

In an ideal world, the Internet would be universally available to anyone able to receive it. Promisingly, the Federal Communications Commission in September announced that it would open up unused analog airwaves for high-speed public wireless use, which could lead to gratis hotspots spreading across cities and through many rural areas.

In 2011, there may be similar announcements to the one Rubenstein references.  The Obama FCC makes no secret that they like the idea of pushing broadcasters off the airwaves to make sure there’s more room for the internet.  Their vision of the future would keep traditional TV stations on cable, but would limit their ability to broadcast over the air.  (If you don’t use rabbit ears, you might not notice; if you do use rabbit ears, it would be time to call Comcast.)  Wireless internet providers and cable companies would win; traditional over-the-air broadcasters would lose.

The sales pitch to the consumers will likely be similar in tone to Rubenstein’s op-ed: Wouldn’t you love for the internet to be everywhere, like TV is now?

Notably, the FCC’s goal of replacing over-the-air TV signals with internet signals isn’t due to a lack of available bandwidth, but because the segments used by television is the prime segment of the broadcast spectrum (or, as a former FCC official once described it to me, the broadcasting equivalent of “beachfront property”).

This is a Washington, D.C. policy battle where a five-member panel will determine winners and losers.  Voters can expect both sides trying to drag them in – and whether or not she was recruited by the proponents of re-allocation to pen her op-ed last week, Professor Rubenstein has kicked off the fun.

(Disclosure: I previously worked at a public affairs firm that represented the National Association of Broadcasters – who, as you might expect, were and are very concerned about this issue.  I don’t work for that firm anymore and NAB is not a current client. Sure, I sympathize with them… but they haven’t paid me to do so.)

Why 2010 is the Year of Facebook

Time Magazine ignited some controversy this month by naming Mark Zuckerberg their Person of the Year.  Zuckerberg deserved the award, said Time, for “connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them, for creating a new system of exchanging information and for changing how we live our lives.”

Indeed, Zuckerberg did all that – but he arguably did so in 2003, when he invented Facebook in his Harvard dorm room.  So why is he the person of the year seven years after actually making this contribution to humanity?  Or did Time discover Facebook only weeks after their grandmother, as “Julian Assange” suggested?

There are actually two questions here, so there are naturally two answers.  Question 1 is why Time gave Zuckerberg the award this year; and Question 2 is why 2010 is The Year of Facebook.

Culturally speaking, the last half of 2010 is a perfect storm of Facebook hype.  The Social Network was a big hit and created some preliminary Oscar buzz.  The next time you watch live TV, watch how many commercials end with URLs for a Facebook page.  And Zuckerberg scored headlines with his pledge to donate half his fortune to charity and $100 million to Brick City, NJ.  The success of social gaming in 2010 is linked directly to those games using Facebook as a platform for popularity – even non-gamers have seen their friends’ Farmville, Cityville, or Mafia Wars updates pop up in their own news feeds.

In short, Facebook is everywhere in a way it hasn’t been in years past.  But why is 2010 REALLY the Year of Facebook?  It turns out, there are some numbers to back it up.

Facebook’s traffic numbers surpassed Google’s in 2010.  That indicates a huge difference in how people are consuming information – instead of searching the internet and relying on Google’s algorithms to tell them what’s important, they are relying more and more on friends (a point I made yesterday in a post on Pundit League).  Trusting friends is something people are most likely predisposed to do; Facebook makes it easier to do that.

More important, Facebook continues to report increases in ad revenue.  It’s one thing for a website to have a good and popular idea; it’s quite another for a website to make money.  That Facebook has proved it could do the latter is no small feat and guarantees solvency for the foreseeable future.

So 2010 was more than just the year when America collectively noticed Facebook; it was the year when Facebook set down stakes as a permanent entity that gave legitimacy to its foothold in the public consciousness and culture.

And for that, Mark Zuckerberg really is the Person of This Year

Al Franken’s comical take on net neutrality

If you thought Al Franken would give up the laughs just because he sued his way into the Senate, think again.  The SNL alum has some of his best writing since the Stuart Smalley movie up on CNN.com, which gave him a platform to discuss internet regulation:

“Net neutrality” sounds arcane, but it’s fundamental to free speech. The internet today is an open marketplace. If you have a product, you can sell it. If you have an opinion, you can blog about it. If you have an idea, you can share it with the world.

And no matter who you are — a corporation selling a new widget, a senator making a political argument or just a Minnesotan sharing a funny cat video — you have equal access to that marketplace.

An e-mail from your mom comes in just as fast as a bill notification from your bank. You’re reading this op-ed online; it’ll load just as fast as a blog post criticizing it. That’s what we mean by net neutrality.

So here’s the internet we have: a free and open landscape where the merit of ideas matters more than how much money you have.  So we want to oppose net neutrality legislation and regulations that would change that landscape, right?

Apparently, not in Al Franken’s world.  Franken likens the evolution of telecommunications companies to his work on network television, and the media consolidation that went on in that medium.

Back in the 1990s, Congress rescinded rules that prevented television networks from owning their own programming. Network executives swore in congressional hearings that they wouldn’t give their own programming preferred access to the airwaves. They vowed access to the airwaves would be determined only by the quality of the shows.

I was working at NBC back then, and I didn’t buy that line one bit. Sure enough, within a couple of years, NBC was the largest supplier of its own prime-time programming.

There are two rebuttals to this.  First, networks buy programming from other providers all the time.  In fact, one of the biggest hits NBC had this decade, Scrubs, was produced by Disney ABC.  The second point is… well, how is that all-Universal-produced prime time lineup working out for NBC right now?

Today, if you’re an independent producer, it’s nearly impossible to get a show on the air unless the network owns at least a piece of it.

True, but has getting a show “on the air” ever been less relevant for success?  An enterprising content producer wouldn’t get the same audience online that he or she might get on a broadcast or cable network, but they aren’t being shut out of the media landscape.  If that’s the yardstick for success, wouldn’t we have to say the internet as it is works just fine?

Franken starts to make an analogy between internet services providers and cable companies – which is, incidentally, the argument on net neutrality’s side that makes the most sense.   But that assumes the market stays static – that is, that everyone continues to have a wire coming into their house, hooked up to their desktop computer, delivering the internet for the whole family to gather around.

But that isn’t where internet consumption is going.

At the risk of using myself as an example let me use myself as an example: in the morning, I usually check work and personal email on my Blackberry before rolling out of bed.  I check my home computer to see if the Yankees won the night before.  At work, I check sites like Politico routinely, and if an issue I’m working on is about to come up for a Congressional vote I might dial up CSPAN and watch online.  After work, I might go over to Starbucks with the laptop to work on a post or answer emails, using their WiFi.  Count ’em up – that’s four internet providers in a single day.  If I was traveling, there might be more connections – airports, hotels, even planes.   I dare you to try to keep content away from me.

The internet is not a utility like cable, it’s a communications infrastructure.  The providers can’t afford to simply keep content from you, because you can figure it out and change easier than you can if, for example, Comcast refuses to put the NFL Network on a basic cable tier.

Regulating the internet like telephones, or cable, or even broadcast radio and television doesn’t work because those are different technologies and consumed differently.  But don’t blame Franken’s lack of insight on the fact that he made his bones in old-school broadcast network television.  After all, he’s been trying to appeal to net neutrality cheerleader Google to wire Duluth for broadband.  Maybe he’s just trying to scratch their back in hopes they will return the favor later on.