Reputation Meets the C-Suite

After scrolling through all of the iPhone hype, I came across an interesting one in the NY Times today. More and more organizations are adding Chief Sustainability Officers to their C-Suites.

These CSOs, or “environmental chiefs,” are leading the charge in helping companies go green. But as the story notes, their role is becoming much greater…even wielding some power over advertising campaigns and brand management. Why, you may ask? The key driver here is reputation.

Not so long ago, corporate social responsibility was the buzzword in the industry. There is increasing debate over the bottom line value of CSR, but many will argue that there are direct ties between social responsibility and profitability. Add Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth to the mix, and you have a compelling reason for organizations to consider making environmental responsibility a full-time job. CSOs are more than watchdogs for the environment, they are also making sure that the company’s efforts in environmental responsibility are accurately reflected in all they do.

It’s a good idea too. Messages of environmental responsibility will only increase as we move closer to the presidential election. An organization that responds by putting an environmental watchdog in top management is making a strong statement to stakeholders: good for the environment; good for reputation management; and critical for the bottom line.

$385 million in sales for the first weekend of a product launch? That's marketing!

The latest sales estimates for iPhone’s first weekend are now at 700,000 units and most buyers are buying the more expensive $600 8 gig model. The number in my headline does not take into consideration the value of an annual contract which, even at the lowest price plan, would add another $504 million in gross annual revenue for the Apple/AT&T partnership. With nearly a billion in revenue from two days of sales this has to be the greatest product launch in history and one of the least expensive. Let’s take a quick walk through it:

  • January Steve Jobs keynote announcement creates incredible desire among the Apple congnoscenti
  • No commercials are run until June and even then the buy doesn’t look huge
  • As launch date approaches news of feature improvements and service plans are released in carefully planned dribbles: battery life, Internet included for free, etc.
  • Blogs are practically required to write about it even though virtually no one has seen or touched one
  • 4 tech reporters are given advance looks and threatened with death (not really, but ticking off Apple when you’re a chosen one would mean losing that fabled status) if they reveal before the chosen review day. Reviews come out simultaneously and are immediately covered as new stories by the rest of the press.
  • Geeks start waiting in line a week ahead and they are covered live on the web via video

As of today, a search on iPhone on Google News returns 22,000 stories. This is the press, not the blogosphere- Google Blog search returns 674,000 results. That is some pretty good PR.

The marketing types, myself included, are going to be dissecting this for a long time. And yes, I am going to buy one.

What can The Sopranos teach us about design?

To honor the finale of HBO’s The Sopranos, Design Observer shows us what lessons designers can take from what went on inside the walls of the Bing.

On aesthetics:
“Not in the face, okay? You give me that? Huh? Keep my eyes?”

Designers like to think that it’s not about how it looks. It’s about how it works, or how it communicates, or how it changes the world. All true, except it’s also about how it looks. The artifacts we make are the Trojan Horses that deliver our ideas to an unsuspecting public. Making them look beautiful — or engaging, or funny, or provocative — is anything but a superficial exercise. We all get whacked now and then. Just make sure you get to keep your eyes.

Before you read it, it’s worth noting that it wouldn’t be Sopranos without a little NSFW language.

Bad Typography Etched in Stone

New Jersey has a 9/11 memorial in the works across the Hudson from lower Manhattan, and according to a description I stumbled across the other day, the names of the 700 New Jerseyans are to be set in Times New Roman and etched 4 inches tall into the stainless steel walls. This irks me bad. Not the memorial itself, but the bad typography.

This might not really be news since the winning design was chosen back in 2004, but nonetheless it deserves criticism. Times New Roman is not for printing. Nor is it suitable for 4-inch engraved letters for that matter. Times New Roman is a font that was adapted for Microsoft from Times Roman; a serif typeface designed by Stanley Morison in the 1930’s for a london newspaper. It’s generally an awful default font that should only be used on a computer screen.

Frederic Schwarz Architects, the memorial’s designer, claims it’s a ‘familiar and easy to read typeface’ and should be used on the memorial. I think this was a very poor decision that involved little or no thought. The original Times Roman is a printable typeface and there are cuts of TNR that are fit for print, but it’s just bad taste to use it in this application and to claim it will work because people recognize it from the everyday use of their PC apps. This pretty much serves to reverse all the work we designers have done to make positive contributions to our visual culture and educate others on good design. Just my opinion. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Behavioral Targeting: Have you experienced it yet?

“A large (ad serving) network can anonymously track a user as they move around the internet, recognizing them to be the same person when they show up at different sites across the network. They then use this data to target ads more effectively on “lower value” sites, thereby increasing the value of the ad inventory. So for example, a user who had previously visited Autoblog gets a Lexus ad when they show up on a MySpace page, even though the Myspace page has nothing to do with cars. This has become standard procedure at many of the big networks.”

The Lightspeed blog has an interesting viewpoint on behavioral targeting (described above), a newer online advertising  model made possible by ad serving networks. We’re wondering how many of our readers, if any, have noticed this in your own surfing? For example, have you visited a site and then noticed an ad related to that site on another site you surfed to later?

The article quotes a Wall Street Journal article (sub required, no link) that states that these targeted ads tripled click-throughs for the launch of a new vitamin water drink. They set up the system to track people who visited fitness and health sites and then showed them ads on later sites for the water.

Many people have ethical issues with the degree of information these companies are gathering on our personal online habits. While they cannot tell who you are as you surf, an astute data researcher who has access to enough info about your preferences might be able to put a name to the pattern. Interestingly enough, there is some evidence that younger people assume this will happen and live with it while the older users tend to see it as an invasion of privacy.

It’s a topic you’re going to see a lot of dialog about in our business.

The Official Blog of Martino Flynn