Are Facebook and Twitter the virtual Starbucks?

Look at any major retail area and you’ll find a Starbucks somewhere in the mix.  Starbucks was, for some time, such a draw that mall owners would give them incentives to open stores.  After all, with a Starbucks in their complex other retailers would benefit from the people seeking a latte.  Facebook and Twitter are becoming online equivalents.  Imagine you launch a new smart-phone and you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter app?  Well you just wouldn’t.  There aren’t many apps that are essential for smart-phone vendors but access to Facebook and Twitter top the list.  Imagine that Facebook decided only to offer an official version of its app to say Microsoft.  It wouldn’t hurt Apple much right now but it could be the kind of move that could put Microsoft back in to the smart-phone wars.  They wouldn’t do that surely.  But imagine if they did.

Lines for Apple products are another’s opportunity

It seems that whenever Apple intros a new version of the iPhone or the iPad customers are prepared to camp out overnight just to be one of the first to own such a product.  While I drove past the Palo Alto store yesterday and studied the line I couldn’t help but think that these lines were a marketing opportunity for someone.  I could easily see an app vendor creating some stunt that gave the first 100 people in each line a free copy of their app, so that their app instantly became a hit just as the new platform comes out.  I could see consumer brands such as Dr Scholls (the people who make foot care products) creating ‘Apple Line Waiting’ gift bags.  I could see Starbucks offering a ‘mobile (get it?) latte service’ for the people stuck in line.  Right now the only people benefiting from the lines is Apple.  With lines formed in major cities across the world, surely there’s an opportunity for someone to capitalize?  Come on all you creative consumer marketers, get your thinking caps on.

Is Advertsing better at PR than PR?

PR awards are much sought after by agencies.  They are meant to show off the talent an agency has.  So it’s perhaps surprising that TBWA/Chiat/Day (an advertising agency) should win the PR award at the Cannes Lions.  The campaign was a great idea: Create a rematch for two high school football teams who  have one of the longest on-going rivalries in the USA and who played to a 7-7 tie on Thanksgiving Day in 1993 (see video here).  In other words it was a classic PR stunt.  Except it was apparently created by an Ad agency.  This proves once again that what really matters is a great idea, and a client that is smart enough to embrace that idea, not what kind of agency created it.  Watch out PR agencies, the advertising world is on our turf.  Of course we can also go play on theirs…

Why Facebook needs to take a break

TV shows like 30 Rock, The Office, Modern Family etc have all come to an end for the summer and will kick off again in September. The break is a well established system for sitcoms and drama series.  It gives the actors a chance to have a break and the writers a chance to create new material during the months where viewers spend less time in front of their TVs and more time outdoors.  For those still glued to their screeens there’s plenty of reruns to keep them happy.  At least that’s the theory. But with more and more people spending time online versus sitting in front of their TVs and with more people using their smartphones as a means of accessing the internet, there is a real danger that during this summer hiatus, viewers will find more reasons to avoid their TVs and unlike migratory birds, not return.  After all, Facebook and Twitter don’t show rerun updates and tweets over the summer.  Can you imagine of they did?

For this reason I wonder whether the networks need to rethink the summer hiatus.  I can see it being tough to change and it brings with it a fresh set of challenges.  One of the benefits of having short seasons and breaks is that low quality content and production values get the boot.  We’ve all noticed when a show runs out of ideas – Happy Days, invented the expression ‘Jumping the shark’ which means a show has taken things too far and lost the plot, when it had the Fonzie, literally jump a shark on water skis.  We can also tell when actors tire of a role.  So perhaps there is a role for the break.  Perhaps the formula is what needs a rethink.  Instead of putting all the best shows in the Spring and Fall, they could experiment by putting some of the stronger shows during the summer to keep the eyeballs on the TV and off their computer screens.  After all, I’ll say it again, can you imagine if Facebook and Twitter took a summer break?  Bring on the re-retweet.  Not.

Twitter – tweets versus trends

I am user of Twitter.  Most of the people I follow are sensible about their volume of tweets.  I used to follow Robert Scoble but I found all I got were pages of his tweets that told me about his daily routine and little else and it annoyed me.  A few hundred people are foolish enough to follow me and they get a mix of inane remarks and links to content I find interesting and amusing.  In short I’m a pretty average user of Twitter.  I got followed by someone today who follows literally thousand of people.  I tried to imagine their Twitter inbox.  It would be updating every second almost, making it all but impossible to really follow anyone.  The only real purpose I can see for following such large numbers isn’t to really follow a person but to follow either a group of people or a conversation.  In other words you are not trying to see what Tim Dyson is tweeting about but rather to find out if a topic is popular on Twitter.  I can see why this is valuable but it made me think that Twitter should develop a different kind of inbox/account for these users of Twitter.  Their feed shouldn’t show the tweets but instead simply the trends and the data behind those trends.  In other words the trending topics section should be the main part of the page.  I also feel you should be able to tell which users are really following and which are ‘trending’.  I’d be curious to know how many of the 480 or so people that follow me actually read my tweets and how many of my tweets are simply used to help create stats.  Maybe these trend scoopers could be called flockers.  I know I’ve called them something similar.

Why Apple can’t launch the Verizon iPhone

As the media speculated about the launch of the iPhone 4 there was a lot of chatter about them also launching a Verizon version of the new phone.  Rationally this was never on the cards for a few simple reasons:

1.  AT&T has really struggled to provide reliable service in two major metros (New York and San Francisco).  If Apple had opened the door to Verizon, customers would have fled from AT&T at an alarming rate.  I’m pretty sure AT&T knows this and will have been negotiating with Apple to keep the exclusive arrangement until its coverage issues are resolved.  According to Mr Jobs that should be by late summer if his answer at D8 is to be believed.

2.  The Verizon version of the phone uses different technology.  One presumes that the engineers at Apple will want to get the version they know working before they introduce an alternative.

3.  Apple actually likes the single supplier deal it has with AT&T.  Apple never went down the clone route because it loves to control as much as it can.  Having multiple carriers isn’t something Apple wants as it gives them more risk.  Apple signed up single carriers in lots of other markets – eg O2 in the UK.  They’d prefer to stay single carrier as long as they can.  Multiple carriers makes life more complicated and unless they need to do it, they won’t.

Don’t get me wrong, at some point Apple will let other carriers in, not many but some. But right now it is no hurry.  It can sell all the iPhones 4s it can build.  Pre-orders on eBay are already going for over $1000.  If they open up now they will simply have two channels they can’t fill.  They are much better waiting ’till the buzz has died down around the 4 and then introducing it on Verizon.  My guess is late this year…

How to make people pay for media

We all consume media on a daily basis.  We love the stuff but we are paying less and less for it as our parents die and we all get our content online.  And as we all know, news online is almost all FREE.  Free isn’t a business model that really works for media.  Good journalism is expensive and tough to support through online advertising.  Rupert Murdoch has responded aggressively to this by putting a charge on many sites such as  This hasn’t worked too well in part because you can still get to the content through a Google search for free.  He’s threatening to change all that though for the simple reason that they are struggling to make the economics work even with an online subscription model in place.

I have a suggestion for Mr Murdoch and other media moguls.  In the same way that we pay a cable fee in this country and even a TV license in the UK, why not charge a monthly media fee that would enable you to access all the media without having multiple subscriptions.  You’d need an aggregator such as Apple’s iTunes to get in to the mix but I’m pretty convinced that in the same way as people will pay $10 a month for satellite radio, they’d pay $10 a month to access the top 100 publications in the US.  Now there’d be a challenge figuring out which magazine or newspaper got what out of that $10 each month but I’m pretty sure it could be worked out.  It would also enable one player to take over the challenge of managing the online advertising for a host of publications, instead of having a fragmented model as they do today.   It would also mean as a user that you would only need one login.  I’d almost pay $10 a month just for that as I keep forgetting what username and password I have for various online titles.

US and EU trade places

For years the US has been the new kid.  Europeans have been quick to ridicule the gauche antics of Americans and demonstrate the value of experience and tradition.  It’s amusing therefore to watch as the Euro, a currency that would only be in middle school if it were a child, and the EU in general,  struggle to find their footing.  The Euro’s sudden demise has exposed the lack of union in the European Union and has put it at an awkward crossroads. European heads of state are quick to dismiss any talk of the unwinding of a single currency.  It is after all, the most tangible demonstration of the EU to the rest of the world, even if there are some European countries, like the UK, that have not signed up.  Yet the price of keeping the Euro could be one that Europeans in countries such as Greece, Spain and Ireland are not prepared to pay.  America has dealt with similar issues over its life.  Indeed there are often calls by small portions of the population for their state to secede from the Union.  Nobody takes such calls seriously though because the US is a truly integrated economic block unlike Europe.  Put another way, this is one of the rare occasions where the EU needs to look to the US for experience on how to handle the evolution of its political and societal future.