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These Webb Cookies Go Deep Undercover

These Webb Cookies Go Deep Undercover

This month’s Epicenter blog on wired.com discusses Flash Cookies, an online tracking mechanism similar but far less known than the more commonly-recognized internet cookie.  Both operate very similarly to store user data, but there are signifigant differences.  Perhaps the biggest difference is storage capacity: HTML cookies can save up to 4 KB of data while Flash cookies can hold nearly 100 KB.

Oh, and there’s one more thing: when you choose to clear the cookies from your browser, you eliminate the HTML ones, but you don’t touch the flash cookies because they aren’t stored in your browser.  Actually, they are part of the Adobe Flash Player and you can find them through the Settings Manager.  Generally, they have an .sol extension.

Viewed positively, Flash cookies keep track of things like your volume settings for YouTube videos, high scores on flash games and user data for sites like Amazon.

Viewed suspiciously, they are shadowy spyware, implemented in a manner that runs counter to the transparency that characterizes the best web behavior.  Some paranoid programming and tech savvy types conjecture that Adobe intentionally tries to deflect privacy concerns by locating these files in disparate tab locations within their software, under unusual labels like ‘storage’ instead of more straightforward headings like ‘security’ or ‘privacy.’

Unfortunately for marketers and online data crunchers, most people do view cookies negatively.  According this article in today’s New York Times, a study from Penn and Cal Berkeley shows two-thirds of Americans object to online tracking.  It’s even becoming an issue on Capitol Hill as various representatives are considering legislation to address the issue.

I am not anti-cookie (or Local Shared Objects or DOM Storage Objects).  They make many things far more convenient and I’m willing to sacrifice some measure of privacy in exchange for their usefulness.  This compromise also drives things like my use of Catalina Marketing’s discount card at the grocery store and my daily use of Facebook; I’m willing to let marketers learn more about my behavior in exchange for coupons and free services.  And you can always turn them off.

But first you have to know they exist.  And reside in a different directory.  The disturbing point at the crux of the blog post was how nearly half of the web’s most popular sites use these cookies, yet very few mention them in their privacy policies.  That’s wrong, plain and simple and people have a right to be suspicious of these site’s intents.  Remarkably, the list of offending sites even includes whitehouse.gov.

Of course, if you grew up watching the Watergate Trials, that will just confirm years of suspicion.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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The people over at Tribune Media just debuted chicagonow.com:  a new blog network launched two weeks ago after three months in beta as chicagosbestblogs.com.  Aggregating seventy+ blogs that loosely share a Chicago-centric theme, this site aims to attract young, digitally-savvy readers uninterested in their daily paper and fill the widening hole in the Tribune’s demographic mix.

All News (and opinion and jokes and gossip) Is Local

All News (and opinion and jokes and gossip) Is Local

I wish them well, though I’m clearly not in their demographic.  I subscribe to the Trib and until someone comes up with an elegantly-interactive digital crossword, I’ll stay analog.  Moreover, I like the illusion that my news at least postures as objective; the injection of obvious left or right bias in every item both exhausts and depresses me.

ChicagoNow appeals to its nascent audience with a pretty wide variety of News and Opinion, Life and Style, Arts and Entertainment, and Sports blogs–category headings seemingly taken right off their print mastheads.  A quick skim of their content reveals a largely newspaper-like tone, albeit with the amped up personality and opinions of the individual bloggers.  For me, the reading experience was not unlike an evening of Chicago Improv: a few remarkable moments separated by a lot of meandering development.  Then again, the analog version contains a lot of material I skim or ignore as well.

The word ‘community’ appears repeatedly throughout the site’s background pages; something that will prove simultaneously crucial as they pitch potential advertisers and challenging as their biggest potential stumbling block.  The best online communities build organically (for perspective, check out this month’s Wired magazine’s article on Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist).  As Clay Shirky writes, Web 2.0 means we no longer need organizations to organize.  Moreover, the user experience needs to come first and foremost and on that count, ChicagoNow seems to be doing it right.  You don’t need to register to access the content, but it does unlock other features like comments.  The ill-fated, arrived too early, saddled-by-regulatory redtape Bud.tv ultimately collapsed due to those onerous restraints as the hassles to the user outweighed the benefits of the content.

Will ChicagoNow take off and ultimately fill the expanding gap in the Tribune’s audience with new, revenue-generating readers?  It’s too early to say, but as a fan of newspapers, I hope it does.  And if nothing else, good on them for trying.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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This morning, an article in Advertising Age landed in my e-mail no less than four times before 9am.  Mike Wolfsohn, the Executive Creative Director of Ignited wrote a strong blog post on his agency’s site outlining his frustration with the Zappo’s RFP process.  He describes how Ignited analyzed the actual time spent with this potential client’s review of their comprehensive response and took issue that it amounted to only five page views averaging fourteen seconds each.Picture 3

The key issue amounts to the trackability of interaction, which Mike understandably views as cursory.  Given Zappo’s hard-earned reputation for outstanding customer service, he believes their consideration to be woefully inadequate.  In Zappo’s defense, they opened up this review to what essentially amounts to agency crowdsourcing. and given their desirability as an attractive roster client, they underestimated the overwhelming response they would receive.  By Brandweek’s estimation, more than 104 agencies responded to their very detailed RFP and the sheer volume of material that reached their small marketing department could probably fill a wing of the Library of Congress.  As it turns out, that estimation was low: in his thoughtful response to Mike’s post, Zappo’s head of Business Development Aaron Magness cited the number of actual respondents as 170.

As someone who has some experience with crowdsourcing, one of the biggest negatives about getting all that freely generated material is the respondents’ need for feedback, which can all too quickly bury the organization behind the effort.  Anyone who gives a brand their time and thinking rightly expects some sort of response for their efforts and when they actually do get it, the work improves substantially.  But it is a very tall order to respond to every submission with meaningful and focussed feedback.  If you’ve ever lived through an all agency creative gangbang, you know the problems.

The simple fact is that our society has recently and powerfully evolved to embrace a Web 2.0 empowered two-way marketplace.  We expect to give and get feedback.  When the demand for that feedback grows too large, the sheer manpower demands to answer chokes most organizations.  This is not simply a Zappo’s issue; this will be a growing issue for all marketers and one that will demand we evolve our organizational structures to answer.  The real convergence today is the rapidly colliding worlds of advertising and word-of-mouth PR outreach.  Marketing organizations need to create mechanisms not just to send messages out, but to prepare for meaningful, ongoing consumer dialogue and engagement.

The outcome of this particular situation remains to be seen.  But as one of the agencies who responded, I want to wish Zappo’s good luck with this challenge.  Of course, I would also be more than happy if anyone there wants to call me for advice.  Element 79 loves that brand.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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I’ve read and heard hundreds of definitions of brands over the years and while many of them are compelling in one way or another, most of them get bogged down in intellectualism.  To me, the definition is simple: brands are opinions.  

Of course, thinking of your brand as a collective opinion of your market reveals the classic notion of brand management as a rather hollow conceit.  Today’s socially-networked, highly-viral world enables the exchange of opinions with unprecedented reach and speed, thus the idea of ‘management’ overpromises; a more precise word would be ‘advocacy.’

How You Feel About a Brand = The Brand

How You Feel About a Brand = The Brand

Further, the Web 2.0 revolution means we no longer control every brand conversation.  To be truly effective today, we must move beyond the static concept of reporting structure management to a more nimble, balls-of-your-feet stance. Protecting and advancing consumers’ often quicksilver opinions demands we stay highly aware, consistently focused, and quickly responsive.

When I first started this blog, the convergence of digital and traditional advertising seemed critical to this changing industry.  Yet despite all the jawing and posturing, that is currently well underway; digital agencies are hiring traditional agency people and digital people are increasingly mainstreamed within traditional agencies.

Nevertheless, convergence remains the central issue, but it is increasingly the convergence of advertising and public relations.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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People like Ad Age’s Randall Rothenberg certainly provide good, informed opinion and perspective around this whole marketing convergence thing.  Today, he posted a long, incredibly thoughtful, and refreshingly blunt assessment on Interactive Advertising Creativity.  Or rather, the horrific dearth of it.

...But Not Daniel Pink's

...But Not Daniel Pink's

Randall cites a number of valid reasons for this medium’s anemic achievements as a creative medium, starting with the direct marketing culture bred into its DNA.  From the outset, the web has been a metrics maven’s dream, easily measured and quantified. On one hand, we should take comfort that the industry avoided making up putative measures of creativity and imagination like so many over-reaching testing methodologies in the traditional ad world.  But still, the accepted practice has been an over-reliance on the logical, the rational and scientific, as opposed to the magical, the thrilling and inspired.

The industry’s finest mind, Bill Bernbach, nailed it years ago when he wrote:  “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  Amen sir, amen. It’s too bad the logic-bound left brainers insist on grafting intellect into every sell, when the most fundamental decisions of humanity belie this conceit.  I did not marry my wife for measurable reasons like her IQ or her time in the mile–I fell in love and changed the course of my life based on the emotional imperative of passion.  Lucky thing too.  We go to war, we choose religions, we get surgery for dying pets for entirely emotional reasons: how can a logical mind dismiss emotion’s impact on buying decisions?

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.  Do yourself a favor and read Randall’s blog.  It’s smart.  And timely.  And a clarion call for a resurgence of creativity in online.

You know, the kind that would come if traditional agency creatives focused their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

Or rather, the kind that WILL come WHEN traditional agency creatives focus their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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My friend Stephen Riley sent me a link to a post on Adam Singer’s remarkable blog “The Future Buzz.”  This particular post listed a remarkable string of numbers quantifying the impact and pervasiveness of some of the biggest social networks.  A few posts back, I posted about whether or not we may someday look back with a bit of nostalgic horror at how this particular community captured our collective fancy in much the same way the Members Only satin jackets seemed to rule the 80’s.

Frankly, that may still be true.  But right now, Facebook deserves the attention. Consider these numbers:

150,000,000 – number of active Facebook users

170 – number of countries/territories using Facebook

35 – number of different languages used on Facebook

2,600,000,000 – total number of minutes global users spend on Facebook daily

100 – average number of friends per user

700,000,000 – number of photos added to Facebook monthly

52,000 – number of Facebook applications currently available

140 – number of new applications added per day

Nascar Nation?  It's Hardly a Principality...

Nascar Nation? It's Hardly a Principality...

About six years ago, I began following Nascar because a few clients and the sheer number of racefans demanded I do.  I did it gladly and felt more informed as I cheered Jimmie Johnson and Team 48 to three Championships.  

Interestingly, the total purported number of fans that comprise the Nascar Nation equals about seventy-five million.  

That’s only half the number of Facebook’s active community.  One half.

What’s another name for something twice as big as a nation?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Admirably Old School  

Draplin Design Co.: Admirably Old School

Seriously, surf over to the Draplin Design Co. website and you will not be disappointed.  Aaron Draplin is a compulsive blogger and designer with a strong bent for mid-century American graphics.  I’ve visited his site daily for months, compulsively reading his opinionated ramblings and perusing the odd ephemera uncovered by his rabid curiosity.  I look forward to every new post.

It’s remarkably powerful, the relationship between inspiration and ideation.  Everytime I drop by, his offbeat images spark my imagination. For instance, one of his links led to this stunning image.  Another led to this remarkable Flickr collection of shots of an old Kansas City Star newspaper press.

Which got me thinking how easy and fun it would be to assemble a collection of the most oddball hairstyles ever captured by film or pen and post them as a Flickr set provided by Supercuts.  It may never gather a huge audience like a TV spot, but it could earn a cult following.  And unlike TV, it costs virtually nothing.  As does a YouTube page, a Wikipedia entry or any of a hundred other new media opportunities.

In our Web 2.0 world, these kinds of innovations will grow increasingly critical to maintain meaningful engagement with our far-flung consumers.  Keeping a watchful eye on some of the most accomplished and interesting creative minds working the web today makes it far easier to integrate these ideas into our daily worklife. 

So thanks Aaron.  Wherever you are.  I’d really like to meet you someday.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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