all of this makes me love you more

The older I get, the more I believe that the secret to staying young is finding excuses to party.

This Friday, I went to the Yelp Elite Event for January at Revolution Fitness, a gym within walking distance of my office. Revolution has done its best to combine the “basement gym” look with the “boutique gym” feel. The layout ranges from intimate studios for the de rigeur yoga and pilates classes to a row of fluorescent-lit weight racks in front of mirrors. And there’s a room off to the back with reinforced rubber walls and a mess of equipment that you can just play with. Like a 150-lb tire to flip end over end, or rings to hang on, or medicine balls that you can fling at the wall while screaming. You’re encouraged to experiment.

Saturday was the Snowflake Social, hosted in Arlington. Friends and locals threw a party to raise money for Haiti, dressing up in formal wear and dancing the night away. I posed for prom photos, slow-danced with several friends and drank at the Elks bar. We retired to a friend’s house afterward to have a few more drinks and chill out until the evening crept up on me.

As grown-ups, we look for reasons to put on nice attire and go out dancing: weddings, family affairs, holiday parties and school reunions. If we brought that same questing sense of experimentation to everything we did, how much quicker would it go, and with what energy? Crank up Shaimus and dance with your baby on your hip while you put away the laundry. Invite half a dozen friends over to write with you. Title the next work meeting that you’re responsible for “Awesome Fiscal Responsibility Fun Times 2010.” Smile at strangers. Adopt antiquarian politeness. Open your face to the world.

(This is more a reminder to myself than the rest of you, but let me know if it works)

different strokes for different folks

If you’re curious about what I do for a living, or about internet marketing, you might find the following post interesting.

Companies love internet marketing – search engine ads, banner ads, e-mail newsletters, etc – because they can track it with greater clarity than any other form of advertising. Advertisers like Nielsen and ClearChannel may provide estimates of how many users see a TV ad or a billboard. And those estimates might even be accurate to a statistically significant degree. But they can’t say with real certainty how many people follow up with the sponsor because of that ad. They can guess, and they’ve grown really good at guessing. They can post a special phone number or URL that only people who’ve seen that ad would use. But it’s not precise.

Internet marketing stomps on that limitation. We can tell where you were when you saw an ad. We can tell when you clicked on it. If the ad popped up in a search engine (a Google ad, a Yahoo! ad, a Bing ad), we can tell what you were searching for when the ad surfaced. If you click on the ad, visit the sponsoring website and don’t buy, we can tell which other sites you visit afterward. All of this, and probably more, we know. Not about your demographic, or about your personality type – about you, personally, the man or woman doing the browsing.

(Clearing your cookies prevents this, though technology to get around that will soon be widely available)

Very few agencies manage all of a company’s advertising, however. A company might do SEO in-house, contract out for search ads, buy banner ads direct from the publisher, use e-mail marketing templates and trackers from a small agency, and get one overworked intern to handle social media. So you have data streams pouring in from half a dozen different sources. But these data don’t all represent separate people. A lot of these data points might cover the same person.

For instance: you’re thinking about buying a new car. You do a Google search for “used sedans in Boston.” You see an ad in the Sponsored Links column (on the right) for certified pre-owned Hondas at a dealer in Quincy, MA. The “Honda” grabs your attention, subconsciously, because you’ve been seeing a lot of banner ads for a Honda year-end sales event. So you click on the dealership ad and poke around at some of the models they list. You visit several other sites that same day, either by searching or by clicking through sponsored links on trusted sites (like the Boston.com/Cars page).

A few days later, you see a banner ad for the Honda dealership in Quincy you clicked on first. This isn’t a coincidence. You’ve been retargeted – cookied and triggered to serve banners from a site you visited but did not buy or sign up from. The ad mentions one of the models you were looking at (the Accord, let’s say) and says there are some new cars in stock. You click through and look around. Sure enough, there’s an Accord that meets your needs. You fill out the online form to get more information.

A detailed quote is sent to you from the dealership. This puts you on an e-mail list. A week later, the list sends you its weekly e-mail, listing a handful of used cars that have just arrived in the showroom. You click through on one, decide you like it, and call the showroom to arrange an appointment. The customer service rep asks where you heard about the car. From the e-mail list, you say.

For that one transaction – getting you into the showroom – you’ve touched on the following marketing vertices:

  • Banner ads (Honda year-end sales event)
  • Search ads
  • Placement-targeted links (from Boston.com/Cars)
  • Retargeting
  • E-mail marketing
Five different forms of marketing, advertising or lead generation. The ultimate goal here is to get you into the showroom so the car salespeople can go to work on you. Which ad gets the credit?

The e-mail marketing? That was the last thing you touched before calling customer service. Technically you could have gone to the showroom at any time, but you weren’t compelled to until you saw an e-mail you liked. But you never would have signed up for the e-mail if you hadn’t revisited the site and filled out the form. And you never would have revisited the site if you hadn’t been retargeted – meaning you needed to visit once and get cookied. And so on, and so on, and scooby dooby doo.

Does the last touch get credit? The first touch? Do we evenly distribute credit among all marketing efforts? Marketing departments need to know this in order to know who gets more budget next year. And if they don’t get a compelling answer, they’ll guess.

In the above example, the e-mail marketing clickthrough was the only behavior that got you to sign up for an appointment. Through a glass darkly, the first banner ad looks useless – you didn’t even click on that! No revenue generated by the banner ad, so cut display advertising for next year. But without that Honda year-end sales event banner ad, you wouldn’t have clicked on the Google ad. Fewer display impressions means less brand awareness, fewer clicks on search and fewer visitors to the site. Then marketing comes back to you next year, asking why the hell traffic to the Quincy Honda dealership website is down when search volume is higher than ever.

What you (the ad agency) need is a way to integrate data from those five different sources into one single platform. That’s called attribution analysis. There are a few companies that offer this as a service. A lot of companies try to do it in house, integrating their display reports with their search reports and their e-mail reports and mixing it into a bowl. There’s no definitive method – yet. But the demand is growing. Because after 2008 took a dump on everyone’s budgets, every marketing department in America has had to do more with less. They want to spend their budgets where they’ll do the most good. For that, you need a holistic look at all marketing data from all sources – online and offline.

What I’m doing currently (among other things) is researching attribution analysis providers. There’s no one-size-fits-all program: different companies need different attribution systems. For some clients, we might recommend a trusted partner agency; for others, we might do it ourselves. But we need to know more about the state of display, offline marketing and attribution management before we can recommend anything. That’s where I come in.

… I said you might find this post interesting.

it is not dying; it is not dying

I Still Like Him Better Than Steinbrenner
For my Don Draper costume, I had to shave my sideburns off for the first time in at least six years. This took considerable effort, as attacking six years’ growth with a disposable razor will, and left the skin underneath a little raw. But it looks fine now. Shaving since then has been disconcerting, however, since I typically start at my ear line by muscle memory alone and have now had to start cutting even higher.

I put little effort into the costume itself (nicest suit I had, dress shirt, conservative tie); the accessories made it work. I showed up at the office Halloween party with a highball glass full of “scotch” (ginger ale) and a cigarette dangling between my fingers (unlit; borrowed). Most people identified me on their first or second try.

Full Dance Card
Counting work, I hit up five Halloween parties this weekend, including:

  • 90s Night at Common Ground, which gave away $100 for the best 90s costume. Logistics proved an issue, as management couldn’t convince Allston’s drunkest hipsters to circulate before the judge’s table, parading their wares. A horde of kids surged at the DJ booth, waving their hands and squealing like teenage zombies. I thought the kids in the Nickelodeon GUTS outfits had it locked, but Carmen Sandiego stole it.

  • Joanna and Brian’s Halloween party. I knew which subway station they lived nearest, but didn’t know if it was on the Cambridge or Somerville side of the border. I guessed Cambridge at first. My GPS promptly led me to a Jewish dorm outside Harvard.

  • Katie and Sylvia’s Halloween party. I wore a different suit for the Don Draper costume – double-breasted, even less period than the first. But people still got it, especially after I borrowed another cigarette. Half the party circulated in the kitchen, eating delicious sweets; the other half planted in the living room, watching The Craft. Remember those quaint days when Wiccans and goths were exotic?

  • The Gorefest cast party. I congratulated the players on another successful and blood-drenched show. Our host baked a plate of monkey bread – essentially, a massive pile of butter, cinnamon, sugar and dough. We picked at it like savages until Paul challenged everyone at the table to eat one last piece and then stop. An hour later, three people were sitting on the floor with chunks of butter-soaked dough clenched in their front teeth (but not swallowed) and there was a pot of sixty dollars. Let no one say improv people don’t know how to party

monkey-bread

The Patriot Marked for Death is Hard to Kill Under Siege
After a brief hiatus, I returned to the Overthinking It podcast last night. We planned to talk about Halloween costumes, haunted houses and the cultural rituals surrounding scaring each other. Then someone brought up Steven Seagal. Guess what we spent most of our time discussing.

you told me again you preferred handsome men

And Who Are You Supposed To Be?
How good was this past Sunday’s episode of Mad Men (“The Hobo and the Gypsy”)? So good that I don’t know if I want to go as Don Draper for Halloween anymore. That’s how good it was.

I probably will, anyway, as I’ve reached that point in my life where I pick Halloween costumes by cheapness and the breathability of the fabric. I already own an appropriate suit: I just need to shave my sideburns, slick my hair into the part I wore for the first quarter century of my life, get a pocket square and walk around with half a glass of scotch. And I already do half of that the other three-hundred and sixty-four days of the year. You know I’m all about the pocket squares.

“The Gypsy and The Hobo” put me in such a mood that I not only questioned whether I want to adopt this fictional protagonist as a costume, but what I’m doing with my life. But that’s what happens whenever I watch a good TV show, or a well-framed movie or a really moving song. Good art has the power to throw me in profound and unexpected moods. I’m a blank slate on which media gets to draw.

Which is ironic, because not only is that what Don Draper’s about (advertising and shaping the popular consciousness), but that’s what “what Don Draper’s about” is about. Jon Hamm’s character is popular because he looks like an alpha male who gets to drink all the time, screw around, dismiss his underlings with casual contempt, and luck his way into the halls of power. Every guy wants to be That Guy. Don Draper is selling an image. Matthew Weiner, producer of Mad Men, is selling Don Draper. So I applaud this fictional character’s ability to sell because I myself have been so thoroughly sold.

All that aside, dressing as a tormented ad executive for the company Halloween party would be too meta to pass up.

don-draper

I’m Not Here to Tell You About Jesus
I got my opportunity to play Don Draper at an on-site meeting for TVClient in New York yesterday. Our travel arrangements required that I be up by 5:00 to catch the Acela Express from South Station by 6:00. I’ve taken Amtrak several times in the last few years, but never the Acela Express, with its unfolding business class tables and spacious cafe car. The four of us did some rehearsing for the work presentation, then shared war stories for the rest of the ride.

My role doesn’t put me in regular contact with the clients; I’m more akin to Ken or Peggy than Don. But I still speak in meetings, and yesterday I spoke to a conference room full of website developers on how we could work better with them. I fielded some technical questions, improvised my way through some new slides, and avoided stammering. Things to work on: eye contact, not clearing my throat.

Our cabbie from TVClient to Penn Station murmured something under his breath the entire time he drove us. Every ten seconds, he would click a handheld counter that he cupped in his palm. Prayers? Pedestrians he refrained from killing? We’ll never know.

The Acela Express seats aren’t quite tall enough to support my head and don’t recline far enough to let me slump. I slept with a stiff neck on the train ride back. When I got back to Davis, the sky was as dark as when I’d left.

there’s someone in my head, but it’s not me

While visiting Chicago, waiting for a bus at Addison with my man Hawver, two street hawkers approached us. “Would you like to try some Laughing Cow light swiss?”

“Sure,” I said, being hungry. One handed me a sample pack of swiss cheese, about the size of my thumb; the other, a pack of crackers the size of a matchbox. I also got a coupon for $1.00 off a pack of said cheese.

It was tasty enough that I bought a pack the next time I went grocery shopping, to see how well it would complement my lunch. And that went so well that I’ve bought Laughing Cow several times since, even without a coupon.

I had next to zero consciousness of Laughing Cow cheese before this, my primary exposure being the yellow Vache Qui Rit bowl Fraley kept in our cupboard when we lived together. A free sample and a coupon converted me from agnostic to believer in about a week. Four months ago I had no desire for this product; now I have a modest desire. A corporation paid some marketers to sit around a conference table and instill in me a desire where none existed.

As a marketer myself, I find the process curious. As an amateur student of autoepistemology, I find it absolutely fascinating.

This desire for Laughing Cow cheese was created in me by someone else. I can track the steps that it took to happen. Which other desires of mine originated in someone else’s mind? What about my preference for Coke Zero over Diet Coke? My taste in beer? My willingness to drive a rusting import rather than trade up for a newer car? My desire to live in Cambridge? My impulse to live alone? My need to write? My preferred self-image? My religious beliefs, or lack thereof? Who put these thoughts in my head?

Really radical progressives blame modern capitalism for about half of the above. “The consumerist market,” one might say, “encourages people to buy things they don’t need. It touts conspicuous consumption as a way to distinguish yourself from your neighbors, or to alleviate the stress of your job. Consumerism obscures your true desires.”

The funny thing is: I’d agree with them. Up until the last sentence.

Most of us believe in some notion of an ego, or a soul, or some inviolate core that makes decisions. It sits inside our body, either in the center of our brain or in our (metaphorical) heart, and “watches” what happens to us, as if on a screen. When we make a decision, the ego or soul sends instructions to the limbs to move. Descartes didn’t invent this theory of consciousness, but, with the whole cogito ergo sum thing, he made it most popular.

The problem is: (1) the idea of an ego/soul that’s separate from the body it inhabits has no empirical grounding, and (2) it’s not even a satisfactory explanation.

I’m paraphrasing Daniel Dennett here: suppose there is an ego/soul, sitting inside our body, responsible for making our decisions. The answer to the question, “What’s going on in my head?” is “a mini-self is pulling the levers.” That doesn’t answer the mystery of consciousness, though. It merely raises another question: “okay, how does the mini-self make decisions? what’s going on in its head?”

Dennett offers an alternative: there is no one “seat of consciousness” within the brain:

The book puts forward a “multiple drafts” model of consciousness, suggesting that there is no single central place (a “Cartesian Theater”) where conscious experience occurs; instead there are “various events of content-fixation occurring in various places at various times in the brain”. The brain consists of a “bundle of semi-independent agencies”; when “content-fixation” takes place in one of these, its effects may propagate so that it leads to the utterance of one of the sentences that make up the story in which the central character is one’s “self”. Dennett’s view of consciousness is that it is the apparently serial account for the brain’s underlying parallelism.

“Interesting stuff, Professor,” you’re saying, “but what does this have to do with cheese?”

If what we call “consciousness” is really the body carrying out the instructions of different agencies of the brain at different times, then there is no central ego/soul. If that’s the case, then there’s no distinction between the “true desires” of the self and the “false desires” implanted in us by corporations, politicians, churches, peer groups, etc. They’re all equally legitimate inputs. My desire for Laughing Cow cheese, which I was barely conscious of six months ago, is no more artificial than my desire to hang out with a new friend, whom I hadn’t met six months ago.

I’m still not settled on what this means for my decision-making process, except that it makes my job as a marketer easier to swallow.

I’ve got that rock and roll; I’ve got that future flow

We’ve Got The Beat That Bounce
Watching the video for “Boom Boom Pow” this weekend – just because, okay? – raised the obvious question: what do the other two guys in the Black Eyed Peas do? Why are they there? You’ve got Will.i.am producing the songs – and as little as I like their songs, “Boom Boom Pow” has a really catchy beat to it. You’ve got Fergie on vocals and eye candy. While the latter trumps the former in most pop acts, she has a good voice in her own right.

But then there’s the other two guys: the ugly one and the guy with the samurai topknot. What do they add? They’re not very talented rappers. I can’t imagine they have a lot of female fans screaming over them. Now that the Black Eyed Peas have become world-class superstars, why are these guys around?

The world seems to have answered that question for me, in that Will.i.am has made tentative crossover steps (like his role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Fergie has a solo career. Whereas no one cares about Taboo’s aborted solo projects, or his role as Vega in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. So, asked and answered.

Of course, it would be rather mercenary for a band to drop its less attractive / useful members once it achieved superstardom. And since pop music isn’t known for its mercenary attitude, I suppose we’re stuck with those two until the end of time.

Things Not To Say, Even At A Whisper, In A Conference Room Full of Coworkers When You Realize You’ll Have To Present First
“Balls.”

Have You Come Here For Forgiveness? Have You Come To Raise the Dead?
U2 played at Foxboro Stadium, south of Boston, this past Monday. I did not go to see them, though I had ample opportunity. At least three friends e-mailed me, forwarding along info from friends who were trying to offload tickets. One of them needed to get rid of a dozen club-level seats (private bathrooms, free snacks, etc) at $250 a pop.

I like U2 as a concept; I’m glad they still exist. But I have no real desire to ever see them live. Certain bands generate an energy when heard live that trumps any of their albums. I can’t imagine what hearing U2 live would add, other than “more fireworks” and “Bono’s face on a Jumbotron.”

Here’s some anecdotal data: I’ve gone to karaoke probably one hundred times in the last three years. My favorite haunts all have very extensive songbooks. But I have never heard anyone sing a U2 song from later than 1996. And if we exclude the one time somebody covered “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (from the Batman Forever) soundtrack, no one goes more recent than Achtung Baby. That’s eighteen years of irrelevance.

I Guess I Thought You Had The Flavor
In conversation with a friend recently, I realized how much the question, “Why do I always want what I can’t have?” answers itself. You want what you can’t have because you don’t have it. If you had it, you wouldn’t want it any more – because you’d have it. This is true whether you’re talking about romantic partners, careers or a 42″ plasma TV. Wanting what you can’t have doesn’t make you weird or broken or hopeless – it’s part of the human condition.

“Why do I always want what I can’t afford?” is an interesting question. But wanting what you can’t have is normal. There’s a reason Buddhists say not wanting is such a big deal: because it’s really, really hard.

and I’ll try not to sing out of key

After careful consideration, I conclude that there’s no nicer (alcoholic) high than the high you get from red wine. Beer makes you giggly, liquor makes you sloppy, but only red wine – in conjunction with the proper food – can produce that feeling of warm camaraderie. It subdues the running commentary in the back of your mind, producing rare moments of pure joy at the present moment.

My former manager K. had the whole team over for dinner last night at her place near the North End. We met her husband and her 2-year-old, snacked on rice cakes and potato puffs with cumin, then tucked into a meal of savory chicken and a variety of curries. Work crept into the conversation, but in a laughing, relieved way – like the way you can joke about the brakes failing on your car on a steep hill the day after it happens. Fortunately, we spent most of the time talking about travel, and family, and where to find good food in Boston.

At the wine tasting with The Second Glass, one of the aficionados made the point that a good glass of wine should appeal to all the senses beyond taste. You should like the way it looks, get a good sense of what it smells like, note its texture while you’re drinking it, etc. Wine snobs dress all those aspects up in a lot of jargon, but that’s not necessary. Just acknowledge the wine’s impact on your other senses, touch on it lightly, then move on.

To those five senses I would add a sixth: the kinaesthetic awareness of the people around you. Wine takes me out of the analytical mode that I spend 20 hours of the day in. I relax more, I laugh more, I speak freely. A good red wine transforms me, until I’m like the wine itself: I become fluid, hearty, flushed and a little sweet. I hold up a glass of California cab, noting its color, and say, this is my body.