Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Branding Case Study: Paris Hilton vs Kim Kardasian

While celebrities and celebrity culture is a topic usually best left for the tabloids, gossip blogs, and SEO link-bait, sometimes celebrities and their media entourage provide good case studies in modern media communications and PR. For example, I still hold some sense of shock and amazement over learning that Kim Kardasian was using Twitter for sponsored tweets as $10K a tweet.

Setting the Stage for a Branding Case Study
Apparently, Paris Hilton appeared on Good Morning America recently and was asked (more or less), "aren't your 15 minutes up?" She walked off the set. Keeping in mind that both Paris Hilton and Kim Kardasian launched their brand at a similar time and through a similar path, it's an interesting comparative analysis between the two celebs and their brands:
  • Why is one still viable while the other has jumped the shark? 
  • Are there differences in programs and practices that have driven the success of one or the failure of the other? 
  • Are there specific PR or branding blunders that stand out? 
Anyway, that's enough celebrity culture for me...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Techcrunch Redesign: Yet Another Reason Why Some People Think All Marketing Is BS

So I was running through my Twitter feed, scanning for potentially interesting reading. I happened across a Techcrunch post on their site redesign, so I thought I might dive in and see if I could get more of an explanation.

Based on the content from this post, Redesigning TechCrunch: We Picked This Logo Just to Piss You Off by Dave Feldman, this redesign was largely dictated by AOL's office of consumer experience. Really.

Check out a couple of these quotes from his post:
TechCrunch is bold. It’s raw. It’s fast-paced.
I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to the recent Gawker redesign — mostly fear that we’d follow their lead. I think we’re all too hard on Gawker: they saw shortcomings in the traditional blog format and decided to try something new, something app-like. They got a lot of things wrong. But the core idea is an intriguing one, and I applaud them for taking the risk. That said, the Gawker approach wasn’t right for TechCrunch. If they ran away from the blog format we doubled down, addressing those same shortcomings by refining and extending it.
The overall look & feel reflects the bold, sometimes irreverent nature of TechCrunch. It doesn’t hold tea parties in the backyard or hang out with the black turtleneck crowd at the hippest art galleries. It’s a design that breaks more news than its competitors, that loves the code junkies working 22-hour days to build world-changing products.
It's a good thing he sold me on the lifestyle connection to the look and feel, otherwise I might have just gone with my gut reaction that it sucks. Instead we get an Arty Fufkin / Social Network mash-up explanation of how craptacular design is the new black -- or something.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The New Techcrunch Site Layout is Awful

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been busy with a couple of big projects, so I haven't had much time for online reading. As a result, I'm not sure about the exact date when they rolled it out, but -- in case you might have missed it -- Techcrunch has redesigned their site. As my old friends in the south might say, it's godawful.

There are so many aspects of this design that Fail. While I can appreciate the hipster sensibilities that bring us retro 8-bit icons and imagery, design is closely coupled with functionality. In this case, Techcrunch has gone from a site design that made news and content very accessible to one that has become virtually unreadable. If I didn't know better, I might suspect that the real driver behind the redesign was a desire to sabotage the property and the AOL portfolio. Unless, of course, the design originated from within the AOL group, which one also might suspect of being capable of something so bad.

Seriously though, when I first started reading it, I first thought that the site problems might be a result of using an old version of Firefox and html 5. Sadly, all of the modern-standard upgrades couldn't rescue it from the craptacularly awful. You really have to ask yourself, does this signal the death of tech blogs and online media as the go-to news source?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Amazon Cuts Affiliate Programs As California Enacts Stupid Anti-Affiliate Internet Tax Law

Last week I received an email from Amazon notifying me that they would be ending their affiliate programs for any publisher that resides in California. If you haven't been following this issue, you might be surprised by the news surrounding this story. For me, the biggest surprise is that the State of California, home of Silicon Valley and the heart of Internet innovation, could find itself going down such an idiotic path.

What's Behind the Anti-Affiliate Tax Law
In theory, sales tax rules are supposed to be pretty simple -- if you buy something from someone, then the state gets the merchant to collect a percentage based on that sale. Of course, the actual laws are much more nuanced than that, but that's the principle in a nutshell. When it comes to buying stuff on the Internet companies like Amazon have essentially said, "we don't have any operations in the state, so we're not going to collect sales tax on sales that get shipped to states that we don't have operations in." In that way, Amazon and many Internet businesses have used operational location and sales tax to strategically eek out some competitive pricing advantages.

As states like California find themselves sinking deeper into a revenue hole, victims of the crappy economy and the economic catastrophe macro forces, they're scrambling around looking for any sort of revenue life raft that they can cling to and might float politically. It's worth noting that this whole situation is exacerbated by the anti-tax Republicans and their jihad against government -- they've taken the ship of state hostage and will blow it up unless we all fly to anti-tax fantasy land.

The Challenge of Taxing Internet Sales
Over the past ten years, more and more people buy stuff over the Internet. Often, people will go to brick and mortar retailers, look at products, then price-shop to find the lowest price and order it online. That includes no sales tax and free shipping. It's unfair to local merchants and it's just one of the reasons why we've watched local specialty retailers become an endangered species. But the problem isn't Amazon or the Internet, it's that as the world grows flat, interstate and international commerce lines become incentive zones.

The problem isn't the Internet. The problem is that now, for many items that you purchase, the point of sale approach to tax has undergone the same transformation as local newspaper classified ads. In short, it doesn't make sense as an instrument of revenue generation. Instead, it becomes a disincentive for businesses to attempt to compete in brick and mortar businesses in local markets unless there is an inescapable local component to the product or transaction. This legislation is like trying to tax Craig's List in order to subsidize the world's local newspapers.

Since businesses like Amazon don't have operations in the state, the state decided to change it's tax code to consider Affiliate marketers to be "operations" any money paid out as a sales commission, as though, by publishing links to Amazon products for sale, we bloggers and web site publishers are suddenly different from publications that run print advertising. Consider, what's the difference between a print advertisement and an affiliate advertisement except compensation at a Pay Per Click level instead of what's basically a PPM advertising model in the print world?

By attempting to use affiliate marketing as the lever into online transactions, California closed the books on the Amazon affiliate program -- and anyone in California who received income from this (and payed corresponding state income tax based on this revenue). Essentially, they just killed some number of Internet-based jobs. And they knew that it wouldn't work. Prior to California signing this into law, Amazon has actually shut down the Associates program in Illinois, Hawaii, Connecticut and North Carolina because of similar legislation.

The Heart of the Problem
While the anti-tax Republicans might want to look at this and wave it as a "taxes are job killers" bloody shirt, the real root of the problem goes back to this Republican anti-tax anti-government jihad. California has been in this budgetary hole for many years. From the state's education system to our social infrastructure, we watched as so many of the institutions that were the gold standard for the US and the world deteriorate under the influence of the greed-heads that only want to ask, "why should I have to pay for that?"

In this case, it didn't matter that the law doesn't work because California state government can't discuss possible solutions that might work. They can't negotiate raising revenue with the anti-tax terrorists. Instead, this budget driven law was more like Maxwell Smart trying to balance the budget and stop the impending explosion with yet another attempt to push out the problem a bit longer. "Would you believe several hundred million dollars in tax revenue from internet sales tax on Amazon? Would you believe several million Farmville bucks? How about a couple of free items in World of Warcraft?"