The History of News in Five Minutes
We sat down with NYU Journalism and Mass Communication Prof. Mitchell Stephens to talk about the news — why we share it, how we’ve shared it, and what it is today.
We’ve come full circle, he says, from marketplace conversations being a main news source in agrarian and preliterate societies to today’s personal newsfeeds and amateur-led sharing. We relied on each other to share news before large organizations and reporters packaged it for us, and we are beginning to rely on each other again with the internet. We are freer now to make the news about our lives than ever before and that, he says, is mostly a good thing.
In China, the rich and powerful can hire body doubles to do their prison time for them.
The practice of hiring “body doubles” or “stand-ins” is well-documented by official Chinese media. In 2009, a hospital president who caused a deadly traffic accident hired an employee’s father to “confess” and serve as his stand-in. A company chairman is currently charged with allegedly arranging criminal substitutes for the executives of two other companies. In another case, after hitting and killing a motorcyclist, a man driving without a license hired a substitute for roughly $8,000. The owner of a demolition company that illegally demolished a home earlier this year hired a destitute man, who made his living scavenging in the rubble of razed homes, and promised him $31 for each day the “body double” spent in jail. In China, the practice is so common that there is even a term for it: ding zui. Ding means “substitute,” and zui means “crime”; in other words, “substitute criminal.”
The ability to hire so-called substitute criminals is just one way in which China’s extreme upper crust are able to live by their own set of rules. While Occupy Wall Street grabbed attention for its attacks on the “1 percent,” in China, a much smaller fraction of the country controls an even greater amount of wealth. The top one-tenth of 1 percent in China controls close to half of the country’s riches. The children and relatives of China’s rulers, many of whom grew up together, form a thicket of mutually beneficial relationships, with many able to enrich themselves financially and, if necessary, gain protection from criminal allegations.
(Source: Crime Economist)
Klimt’s Scientific Influence
While I was reading about the influence of golden-age Vienna on modern medicine and painters like Gustav Klimt, I discovered that Klimt’s trademark patterns (the “blobs” and orbs you see above, from Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I) were influenced by early studies of cells under the microscope.
Carl von Rokitansky founded the Second Vienna School of Medicine and eventually befriended Klimt. Rokitansky was a huge influence in the early days of modern science-based medicine, and allowed Klimt to view some of the tissue and bacterial slides from the medical school. It’s a fascinating story, check out more in this interview between Eric Kandel and Jonah Lehrer.
We can talk at length about the similarities of science and art, but this is one of the finest examples of where each feeds from the other. To quote Eric Kandel again, in a note to paste on your wall:
“…[artists] have insight into the human mind that often precedes the insight that scientists have, because scientists need to design experiments, and then carry them out in order to do it. They cannot do it by intuition, alone, as can writers and painters.”
I’d like to see them bring Tug of War back.
And Mental Floss doesn’t reference them here, but a few other discontinued olympic sports include the rope climb, solo synchronized swimming, the horse long jump and a swimming obstacle race. Hmm…
I finally got around to reading (and greatly enjoying) Robert K. Massie’s biography, “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman”.
Since it’s publication in November, I’ve seen several articles and blog posts about using Catherine’s leadership cues to survive your own job and win the proverbial game of life. These are all quite lovely and can be emulated to some practical extent. However, I want to look at a slightly different angle.
Some of these insights hold true inspiration when looking to win over clients or a target audience for your clients. And sometimes, winning over clients or consumers can take the opposite measures that you might use for personal gain.
When 14-year-old Catherine was summoned to Russia from her German home to marry the heir to the throne, she did not speak a word of Russian. Yet she knew that to win over the Russian people, she would at least have to speak their language.
Well, she didn’t just learn it. Catherine won hearts by contracting pneumonia after pacing the cold stone floors of the palace late at night earnestly learning Russian.
With this insight, I get why many are advocating the effort of ‘speaking the language’ in getting ahead in your own career or personal goals. Plus, effort is rewarded in your personal career and in life. But let’s be honest - there is nothing more annoying in today’s commercial world than a brand that tries too hard. While you can appreciate the effort, you like people who already speak to you in your own terms.
Too many campaigns are overly calculated attempts to win an audience by using its own language. Yet those in the target audiences of today’s market are all too conscious of commercial efforts of corporations and businesses.
Whether it’s being conscious of the efforts of brands or staking out your own personal territory of favored brands, one thing is true - language is not the only winning aspect. Now, before I inflame copywriters everywhere, this is not to mean language is nothing. It’s very important. Use language to get your message across. Use it to be relevant and convey the values, the advantages, the perks of your brand. Use it to adapt to the communication platform.
Just don’t try too hard. Consumers will smell it a mile away. Be yourself and what is important to you. You’ll attract those who agree. Leave those who don’t for someone else.
Which brings me to…
What values are esteemed by the contemporary culture?
In Catherine’s time, she was widely criticized and gossiped about for her array of lovers. Called “favorites,” these gentlemen that shared Catherine’s bed and her confidence ranged from trivialities to having a hand in Russia’s national history. While Catherine utilized the strengths of her favorites politically or personally, she never felt the need to answer for them.
Today, the number of a woman’s lovers is less of a conversational topic. And rarely does anyone expect a woman to be virgin upon marriage (Catherine was, but that didn’t stop later chatter about her lovers). There are still other topics that consume contemporary conversation.
Traditional family or single or divorced parenthood? Youth worship or reverence for experience? Skinny jeans or wide-legged jeans? Cowboy or industrialist? Full flavor or low fat? Low price or VIP extras?
You can’t be everything to everyone. Stake your ground and stick to it. In the long run, you’ll weather some storms at times, but you’ll also frolic in the sunshine. Caving to whims of outside influences will never be respected though.
Oh man, do we ever like our CTA’s. If only we had consumers who eagerly fulfilled them every time we threw one out. But one of history’s greatest leaders we are not.
So how do we develop CTA’s that our consumers would get excited about?
An aide to one of Catherine’s lovers-slash-chief military advisor told her grandson, the future Emperor Alexander of a conversation he had had with the Empress:
“The subject was the unlimited power with which the great Catherine ruled her empire… I spoke of the surprise I felt at the blind obedience with which her will was fulfilled everywhere, of the eagerness and zeal with which all tried to please her.
“It is not as easy as you think,” she replied. “In the first place, my orders would not be carried out unless they were the kind of orders which could be carried out. You know with what prudence and circumspection I act in the promulgation of my laws. I examine the circumstances, I take advice, I consult the enlightened part of the people, and in this way I find out what sort of effect my laws will have. And when I am already convinced in advance of good approval, then I issue my orders, and have the pleasure of observing what you call blind obedience. That is the foundation of unlimited power. But, believe me, they will not obey blindly when orders are not adapted to the opinion of the people.”
Do your homework. Get feedback. Use CTA’s if consumers would actually benefit from it.
And while you’re at it, think about if that CTA is something you yourself would do. Would you ‘like’ a brand of toilet paper on Facebook? Would you follow your favorite cereal on Twitter? Probably not. But you might logon to get coupons, find a local event, get more answers or share and find reviews.
Upon her engagement to the heir of the throne and becoming the future Queen (at least) and a future Empress (in reality), Catherine converted from her childhood Lutheranism to Russian Orthodox. Her father did not approve.
Russian officials made their case by having religious leaders point out the inherent similarities between the tenets of the two faiths. Catherine subsequently converted to please the current Empress Elizabeth, as well as the Russian people. Like the language, she was enthusiastic to adopt the ways of the country she saw herself ruling later.
And just like language, you could say her religious views were pragmatic.
“At the famous Pecharsky Monastery Church of the Assumption, Catherine was awed by the majesty of the religious processions, the beauty of the religious ceremonies, the incomparable splendor of the church themselves. ‘Never in my whole life,’ she wrote later, ‘have I been so impressed as by the extraordinary magnificence of this church. Every icon was covered with solid gold, silver, pearls and encrusted with precious stones.’
Impressed though as she was by this visual display, Catherine never in her lifetime was devoutly religious. Neither the strict Lutheran beliefs of her father nor the passionate Orthodox faith of Empress Elizabeth ever took possession of her mind. What she saw and admired in the Russian church was the majesty of architecture, art, and music merged into a splendid unity of inspired - but still man-made - beauty.”
Creative executions are extensions and public manifestations of a brand’s core beliefs and values. Define those underlying values and worship them.
Furthermore, when attracting and engaging with consumers, cut through the crap and find the similarities, the foundations, that they - and you - have in common.
Who do you look up to? Who do you aspire to be even half as great as? Align yourself with those figures and continue their work in your own way.
Catherine had Peter the Great and the figures of the enlightenment, the latter with whom she corresponded regularly and throughout her life. She sought approval from enlightenment leaders and sought to incorporate these beliefs into her reign.
Combined with her ambition and political acuity, her principles ensured her place in history alongside her idol, Peter the Great.
“In the history of Russia, she and Peter the Great tower in ability and achievement over the other 14 tsars and empresses of the 300 year Romanov dynasty. Catherine carried Peter’s legacy forward. He had given Russia a ‘window on the West’ on the Baltic coast, building there a city that he made his capital. Catherine opened another window, this one on the Black Sea… Peter imported technology and governing institutions to Russian; Catherine brought European moral, political, and judicial philosophy, literature, art, architecture, sculpture, medicine and education. Peter created a Russian navy and organized an army that defeated one of the finest soldiers in Europe; Catherine assembled the greatest art gallery in Europe, hospitals, schools and orphanages. Peter shaved off the beards and truncated the long robes of his leading noblemen; Catherine persuaded them to be inoculated against smallpox. Peter made Russia a great power; Catherine magnified this power…”
My dad always had this concept he called the Balance of Benefits.
He always liked to simplify things and this was the basis of his concept. No matter what he was doing, he always looked at both sides of the equation. If both sides of a deal weren’t finding an equal give and take of advantages, then something was wrong.
Furthermore, no one should finalize a deal that isn’t equally beneficial to both parties. When that happened, one side would become taken advantage of or unhappy. It could work in any part of life, with the benefits not always being financial.
A few simple examples of how he looked at the Balance of Benefits in action:
1. Employer / Employee
2. Company / Customer or Consumer
3. Business / Vendor
4. Coach / Player
5. Husband / Wife
6. Pet Owner / Pet
7. Government / The Governed
8. Friend / Friend
And so on. It was very simple.
Dad was in sales and he too often saw salesmen get caught up in meeting their own quotas. When they weren’t looking at how the customer was going to benefit or looked at only how they would benefit, they would lose the deal.
Sometimes, they were going after the wrong customer and lost the sale because it was just irrelevant to the customer. That time, effort and rejection could have been saved from the start by going after those who would truly benefit on the other end of the handshake.
As a kid, my version of the Balance of Benefits was way more globally extended. I stretched the concept in my imagination to include aliens and Earth (obviously). “No wonder aliens wouldn’t be interested in contacting us,” I thought, “we have nothing to offer them.”
“But what about an alien invasion?”, I continued. “What if we as humans didn’t have anything to offer them, but our planet did?” Countries might disagree and go to war now, but maybe not if there was a threat bigger than the nations themselves. Then the benefits of working together against a common enemy (and saving the very life on Earth that was squabbling before) would outweigh any benefits of fighting aliens on their own.
I was certain that if NATO focused on possible alien invasion scenarios, then we could find what was really important for world peace.
Since then, I’ve developed a more practical and less alien-involved look at my dad’s Balance of Benefits. It’s helped me simplify multi-platform projects into one concept: why is the consumer going to be interested in this?
Instead of saying, ‘this is what we do and it’s super cool and we’re going to do it for you’, let’s think about what we do as tools to get our consumer’s goals accomplished. They may not need every tool in the shed. The tools they do need, though, must be sharp.
There are too many powerpoint presentations with stats and facts and cool graphics, too many charismatic persuaders without substance and certainly too many focused on “entering the conversation in social media”.
All those things might be necessary - but only if the end result benefits your consumer. And if it’s not benefitting your consumer, it’s not necessary.
It’s as simple as that.
Science journalist Joshua Foer talks about the power of memory and how to cultivate and train your own.
Memory isn’t just a tool you can develop for yourself, though. Brands and their agencies can use this information to help people remember them.
We’ve learned that repetition is important when it comes to branding, marketing and advertising. However, even more important, is creating a memorable experience. All the repetition in the world won’t touch a truly memorable moment or interaction. And at worst, it could just keep reminding people of a bad memory.
But back to Foer. Look at how he remembered his speech: nudist bike race, cookie monster and Mr. Ed, Britney Spears, the characters of the Wizard of Oz. He talks about getting creative with the associations you make with what you want to remember. The crazier, the smellier, the more silly, the better.
In addition to what you’re repeating from the rooftops, take a moment - or a few - to think about how you can create associations for your audience. What can you tie to your message to help them remember it?
In the spirit of March Madness, I thought I would reblog The Atlantic’s look at the geography of successful teams in sports. Enjoy.
Geographically speaking, one thing is abundantly clear: The majority of March Madness teams hail from small and mid-size metros (those with less than one million people) and college towns. Roughly 60 percent of this 2012 NCAA tournament teams come from small and mid-size metros. Just 10 percent hail from the nation’s ten largest metros. Only one of the top 16 seeds, Georgetown in Washington D.C., comes from a top-ten metro. All four of the top seeds—Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, and Michigan State—are located in small and mid-size metros.
At first blush, this makes sense. Lots of college and universities, after all, are located in college towns.
But big cities boast large numbers of colleges and universities and have tremendous numbers of students enrolled in college. Greater New York alone has dozens of options for the college-bound, and hundreds of thousands of students. The same is true of Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C., and of course Boston. In fact there was a time not too long ago when big city teams did dominate college basketball. UCLA, with 11 titles, is the all-time leader in NCAA championships.
The pattern holds not just for college sports, but for sports across the board. You would think large metros with big pro sports franchises, superstar payrolls, state-of-the-art stadiums and arenas, and gigantic media markets would dominate the sports economy, but they don’t. The fact of the matter is that small and medium-sized communities have much higher economic concentrations of sports occupations, even when pro sports and every other kind of sports is taken into account.
What lies behind this pattern?
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Orwell or Huxley? Depending on whose literary vision you see as more prophetic, there are many tools both in the present and in the making that would fulfill Big Brother’s needs.
What those needs would be exactly, vary between Orwell and Huxley. In yesterday’s installment of GalleyCat, Editor Jason Boog gives an apt summary of the difference:
“In 1932, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, a novel about an ominous future where the government keeps the population under control with drugs and entertainment. In 1949, George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel about an ominous future where the government keeps the population under control with oppressive surveillance.”
Whichever version lends itself to today’s reality, the tools available certainly make you wonder about possibilities. That said, I’ve always been of the thought that tools themselves are not inherently good or bad. It’s how they are used and the user’s intentions that make their use good or bad.
A great example of this is the recent Philadelphia Cell Phone Jammer. Known as “Eric”, this man was caught by police (after numerous complaints by citizens about a loss of reception) for using a cell phone jammer device on public buses, specifically the SEPTA route.
Annoyed at people talking loudly on their cell phones and ignoring the irritation of those around them, Eric thought he would take the law into his own hands. Taking out the hand-held device that resembled a walkie-talkie, but with four antennae, he would simply press a button and shut down these conversations.
This, of course, is illegal and Eric has since ceased his cell phone jamming activities. Though there are always the possibilities of other tools and other people’s intentions behind them.
For example, another tool bound to have legal ramifications is a new speech-jamming gun. ExtremeTech reports that Japanese researchers have developed a ‘gun’ of sorts that will jam the speech of someone who is more than 100 feet away.
It works by “listening in with a directional microphone, and then, after a short delay of around 0.2 seconds, playing it back with a directional speaker. This triggers an effect that psychologists call Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF), which has long been known to interrupt your speech.”
While researchers maintain that DAF is not physically painful or uncomfortable, losing your ability to speak for any amount of time would be stressful.
The tool was developed with the intention of keeping quiet spaces quiet (like libraries) and to control conversations so that louder voices (people) can’t dominate an exchange for their own benefit.
Naturally, there are numerous more applications both good and sinister for a speech-jamming gun. The use of it has the potential to infringe on others’ first amendment, for starters.
Like the cell phone jammer though, it’s just another tool that can be helpful in some cases, or make the user the bigger tool in other cases.
Iconoculture is a company that is great with market and cultural insights. One thing they do is share very general trends via emailed newsletters - Iconowatch - to give you an idea of what they’re currently thinking about. Even if their emails may offer just the tip of the iceberg, they are still emails that I actually read. As a research and cultural insights junkie myself, they tease me with leads to research for myself or new angles to trends we’ve all heard about.
Today’s email was no different. I’ve included it below:
MUCH ADO ABOUT BABYCCINOS
By Becky Sun, Sr. Editor, Global View
The preschool set in Brooklyn is foaming at the mouth, apparently, and so are some indignant adults. The hot story that was brewing in February started when the Brooklyn Paper published a story about how parents in fashionable neighborhoods are ordering babyccinos — small cups of decaf lattes or steamed milk — for their toddlers. Scores of writers were full of eye rolls and barely suppressed groans over this too-precious trend. One journalist found very few babyccinos in Brooklyn cafes and called it a nonstory.
Regardless of whether Park Slope parents with their designer strollers spend $2 to buy a kiddie drink, Iconoculture’s Cultural Fluent in Australia, Katharine Milner, was amused that this decade-old menu item is new to the US. “It’s cute and a little outrageous to charge money for a scoop of milk foam with chocolate powder on top. But that’s what all the littlies get at cafes here.” She adds that a few coffeehouses in Sydney and Brisbane even make doggycinos (with lactose-free milk and maybe a shot of liver).
At some Australian cafes, the babycino (Australians spell it with one “c”) is free with an adult beverage. They come plain or with a variety of additions: honey, rainbow sprinkles, syrup or marshmallows. Kids love their mini-me drinks, and parents appreciate the five minutes of peace and quiet that a cute bevvie can buy. These drinks are so popular that Aussie parents can even buy Bubucino — instant babycino from an aerosol can.
What does this mean for marketers?
Want my business? Love my kid, be it human or furry. Remember the days when children got lollipops and dogs got biscuits at the bank drive-through? Consumers eat up things like that. It’s usually the small touches that make an impact, like a filled water dish for Spot at an outdoor cafe, or a free baby frozen yogurt with an adult purchase. Such gestures, which cost businesses only a little more time and resources, go a long way in creating retail loyalty.
I could not agree more with Iconoculture’s “what does this mean for marketers?” Just the other week, my boyfriend and I went out on date night to Cactus, a restaurant in the South Lake Union area of Seattle, WA that specializes in Southwestern fare. We picked it because it was close to where we had tickets to later and had decent reviews on Yelp.
As new transplants to Seattle, it was our first time there. This of course, was answered as soon as our server asked if we had been there previously, before she told us what their more popular dishes were. It was again verified when she asked for our IDs when we ordered drinks.
She did a couple little things that really made us enjoy our visit to Cactus. When checking our IDs, she commented on where we were from and asked us about it, as well as what made us move, what neighborhood we moved to, how we were liking Seattle and where else had we visited so far. She spent more time at our table than she needed to, just to get to know us a little more than what we wanted to eat.
Then, at the end of dinner, she really surprised us. She brought out a dessert - flan with two spoons - that we had not ordered, for free. She simply said that it was a ‘welcome to the neighborhood’. We were floored. That certainly hadn’t happened to us anywhere else, and we joked that we should use the “we’re new” line more often. But you know what? We remember her, and we remember Cactus and despite only going there for the location at first, we will certainly be recommending its food and its service to others.
Whether it was our night out or what Iconoculture describes, adding the little things to your clients’ experience isn’t just confined to Food & Bev or the bank drive through. What are the little things that you can include that would show just a little extra effort? That little bit will make the difference when what you already offer is as good as the competition.
Iconoculture, a Corporate Executive Board company, is the leading global consumer research and advisory services company, delivering comprehensive consumer insights to Fortune 1000 corporations and agencies quickly and cost-effectively. We integrate consumer information from multiple data sources and combine it with expert interpretation and analysis by the industry’s largest global Advisory Services team to produce targeted insights. Iconoculture illuminates not only what’s important to consumers worldwide, but also why it’s happening and where it’s heading. For more information, contact Iconoculture at 1-866-377-0087 or visit us online: www.iconoculture.com.