MK 354 Spring 2010

April 26, 2010

Social media to the rescue

Filed under: blog #10 — kathrynflynn @ 7:53 am

Justin Herman is a retired first lieutenant and public affairs officer in the U.S. Air Force. He, like every person who is honorably discharged, was promised a stipend to pay for his continuing education from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, or the VA, as part of the recently past G.I. Bill. Therefore, when he returned to his hometown of Seacoast after his final tour, he promptly enrolled in classes at the University of New Hampshire, under the impression that he would be receiving his benefits directly deposited into his bank account. However, after the first few weeks of the semester, Herman realized that his stipend was not coming.

He attempted to contact someone at the VA to inquire about the missing funds, afraid that any payment delay would result in termination of his studies.  “Herman repeatedly called the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, but could only reach a recording instructing him to call back another time” (Kanner). He quickly realized that the VA hotline for dealing with such issues was unstaffed. Shortly after, Herman realized that the money that he thought would be deposited directly into his account was actually being sent in check-form to his parent’s address. Then, upon complaint, the attempt to fix this problem resulted in his stipend being directly deposited into a bank account… just not Herman’s.

Desperately in need of the money, and getting nowhere trying to contact the VA directly, Herman made a bold move. “On April 5, Herman decided to begin posting about each of his VA conversations to his followers on Twitter, also posting them to the Veteran’s Affairs Twitter page…Before long, dozens of veterans and families from all over the country were re-tweeting his messages and tweeting about their own similar problems, creating thousands upon thousands of imprints. Herman vowed not to stop tweeting about the situation until his questions were answered” (Kanner).

Did it work? Absolutely! The power of his Twitter conversation was enough for him not only to receive a phone call back, but an invitation to Washington D.C. to discuss his grievances with the U.S. Senate staff, and of course his promised educational stipend. And on top of all of that, he gave veterans in similar positions a voice; he gave them a method of communication that is slowly but surely allowing all the hundreds of thousands of ailing veterans to be taken care of, and receive what they are owed. It is phenomenal that today we have tools, like social media sites that can so directly influence the world around us.

The other, equally, if not more, phenomenal part of the story is how negligent the VA is when it comes to adequately caring for veterans. It is constantly preaching about all the good things it is doing, and while I recognize that no organization can be perfect, I want this post to be my contribution to the social media ‘attack’ on the VA.  Realistically however, this is not intended to do anything more than continue the current conversation.

Kenner, Matt. “Seacoast soldier turns to Twitter trying to get G.I. benefits.” The Wire. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2010. <


April 12, 2010

Filed under: blog #9 — kathrynflynn @ 6:59 am

Five years? What can happen in five years? Well, apparently all homelessness in the veteran population can be eliminated. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how a certain senate hearing was interrupted after the health care reform bill passed. United States Senator, Daniel K. Akaka, a democrat from Hawaii, who is the chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, held that senate hearing. It was to address the VA’s five-year plan to end veteran homelessness.

Over the past few days, many international news sources have had a heyday reporting on the large number (greater that 100,000) U.S. veterans on the American streets today. The fact that anyone who has served this country in uniform is homeless is such a tragic problem. “VA is so concerned about the problem it has implemented a program to eliminate it – in the next five years. The association doesn’t just want to provide beds for the veterans, but wants to tackle the root cause of homelessness among former U.S. troops, and extend its reach to education, healthcare, and the provision of jobs.” (Pakistan)

The causes of homelessness in veterans are complicated. In order to eradicate them, veterans must be provided with adequate healthcare and also education. “85% of VA’s budget request for the homeless program will go toward medical services to confront substance abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other issues linked to homelessness.” In addition, “The new Post-9/11 GI Bill signed into law in June will make education more accessible for more veterans, as well as a broad range of other VA-funded educational programs.” (Pakistan)

This is an exciting proposition for both veterans, and also those who have been working to eliminate homelessness in the veteran population. The most successful institutions working on combating veteran homelessness address the same issues that the VA is focusing on. Successful centers for homeless veterans are more than emergency shelters; on top of providing veterans with a bed, a warm shower, food and clothes, they offer clinical services and an educational program. They aim to end the cycle of homelessness by addressing the factors that led to homelessness in the first place. My fingers are crossed that the VA will succeed in doing this on a massive scale. “More than 100,000 homeless U.S. soldiers roaming streets” April 9, 2010.

April 5, 2010

VA knows best?

Filed under: blog #8 — kathrynflynn @ 6:46 am

I have a boyfriend in the military, and let me tell you, the random drug testing and the severe punishment for testing positive for marijuana is a very serious reality. So then how would you think Veterans’ Affairs, or the VA, would deal with veterans asking for medical marijuana? They would approve of it? Wrong.

New Mexico explicitly allows the use of medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of post-traumatic-stress-disorder, or PTSD. Unfortunately the VA (also, the health care provider for many veterans) is forbidding doctors to sign the permission forms.

The VA’s position is this: using marijuana is a federal offense. When grappling with the topic of medical marijuana, the VA must examine it on a national level. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that marijuana, under any circumstances, remain unanimously illegal, in accordance with federal law.

Paul Culkin, a New Mexico resident who returned from Iraq after serving with an army bomb squad, has a different opinion.  ““Oh my God, it would be so helpful,” said Culkin, 30… If the VA handled all needs — including medical cannabis — care for veterans would improve, he said… “If these guys fought the hardest they could, why not give them the best medicine, or an alternative medicine you can?”” (Holmes)

It is true that untreated or untreatable PTSD is a major factor that contributes to homelessness in the veteran population. I think that the VA realizes that if there were an easy way for veterans to cope with the symptoms, it would be foolish not to make it readily available. However, on the other hand, the VA must recognize and respect federal law.

This debate is just starting to be vocalized.  I am curious to observe how the government deals with emerging evidence of the effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating the symptoms of PTSD.

Holmes, S.M. (2010). VA doctors prohibited from prescribing medical pot. The Associated Press, Retrieved from

March 28, 2010

VA Hearing Interrupted

Filed under: blog #7 — kathrynflynn @ 8:09 pm

The US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, or the VA, works tirelessly to provide services and benefits to veterans. United States Senator, Daniel K. Akaka, a democrat from Hawaii, is the chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  On March 24, Akaka held a senate hearing to discuss the VA’s five-year plan to end veteran homelessness. The hearing compiled witness accounts from veterans in transitional housing programs, community providers that fight against veteran homelessness and witnesses from US Departments of Veterans’ Affairs, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development.

Unfortunately, the hearing was abruptly cut short “after opponents of health insurance reform objected to allowing most committee hearings, including the Veterans’ Affairs hearing, to continue.” (Hawaii 24/7) Akaka, who had high hopes for the hearing stated, “The Senate should be a place for debate, but I cannot imagine how shutting down a hearing on helping homeless veterans has any part of the debate on the health insurance reform. I am deeply disappointed that my colleagues chose to hinder our common work to help end veteran homelessness.”

This setback is a detrimental to the VA’s future attempts to rid the nation of veteran homelessness. Veteran homelessness is a terrifying reality that stems from negligence by the government. It was government’s responsibility to provide the veterans who returned from Vietnam, Korea and other war zones with the aid that they needed at the time. These vets were suffering from new and severe mental illnesses. The government fell short on this issue, therefore it now has to claim responsibility for the factors that lead to veteran homelessness, and strive to end them.

This attempted Senate Hearing was a stride in the right direction. Smaller centers that focus on reversing the causes of homelessness in the veteran population, and integrating them back into civilized society, such as the New England Center for Homeless Veterans and Liberty House are working hard from the ground up. Veteran homelessness is a huge problem, and I am glad that although the hearing on the VA’s plan was ended, the nation is no longer turning a completely blind eye.


March 21, 2010

The Songs tell Stories

Filed under: blog #6 — kathrynflynn @ 9:28 pm

I bet that there are few people at Emerson College that have listened to as much country music as I have. Not to be cliché, but growing up in Texas meant that I was surrounded by it: in stores, school and of course on the radio. Country music has sustained the spirit of the ‘downtrodden south’ for generations. Some religious listeners of country music couldn’t tell you why they love it so much, and others hit the nail on the head. It is because the music tells stories.  The lyrics talk about nothing foreign or unnatural, but rather it glorifies the little comforts and interactions between small-town people. The listeners of country music can relate to the words sung to a familiar melody. The people listening can care about the ‘characters’ in the song. The lyrics tell a story that is an escape from listener’s lives that can simultaneously reaffirm and teach them about the way that they live.

As it is with almost all genres of music (thus it has ‘magic’), the stories that songs tell have managed to encourage many generations of people who are dealing with hardship. The stories in the songs are like “chicken soup for the soul.” The stories in country music, and perhaps music in general, not only have the ability to lift spirits, but also teach. The importance of stories is proven in that they follow almost all of Chip and Dan Heath’s ‘sticky idea tactics.’ A story is usually simple, concrete, emotional, credible and has unexpected elements. Stories allow people to learn lessons by illustrating a point that would otherwise be overlooked. Country music songs are not only inspirational but also can be educational about life lessons.  The folklore embedded in the music told in the form of a story is amazing, and sticky.

March 1, 2010

Come On Airlines!

Filed under: blog #5 — kathrynflynn @ 8:42 am

An old advertising adage states that you have to spell out the benefit of the benefit of your product, or service, for your consumers. One industry that has a definite need to sell not just its service, but also the benefits of its service, is the airline industry.  When someone buys a ticket on an airline, what he or she is paying for is not the stiff, leather seat or the re-heated food, but rather that person is paying for the opportunity to see someone face-to-face, or to experience a new place.  In a world of video chats and Google image searches, it is easy to justify not spending the large some of money required to fly somewhere else to make a business deal or see an old friend, when those things are possible instantly and for free in every person’s home or office. But flying gives people the opportunity to go out for drinks after a business deal or give a loved one a hug. That opportunity is what people buy when they buy an airline ticket; they do not buy a flight.  So why do airlines continue to advertise their fights and not what they are actually selling? Why does no airline actively sell a handshake or a hug?

It seems to me as if no service provider is more poised for such an effective emotional campaign than an airline. While most airlines do show pictures of glitzy Caribbean resorts or ski slopes, I was unable to find a campaign by JetBlue, Delta, American Airlines, United, Southwest or Continental Airlines that showed the personal connection that their consumers gain by flying. All campaigns revolve around “Lots of leg room!” and “9” TVs in the back of every seat!” or “Helpful and experienced crew!” And while these things might make me more comfortable while flying, I would hope that the fact that there would be a “Helpful and experienced crew” on board my flight goes without saying.

People want to fly on the airline that can get them safely to their grandkids, or can get them on time to a corporate office, or can allow them to see their boyfriend after he’s been deployed for 18 months. The potential emotional weight of a campaign like that is awesome. One might exist or have existed that I am not privy to, which is unfortunate, because I fly across the country at least once a month and I am definitely in the target audience.

February 22, 2010

Jaqui’s Story

Filed under: blog #4 — kathrynflynn @ 8:56 am

What did you have planned for your high school prom night? For me, it was all about going to the solon and getting my hair and nails done, dresses, dates, dinner, the limo and of course, the dance itself.  However, my plans didn’t end there. For me, and for the majority of other high school seniors, what I had planned for after my prom involved alcohol.  Growing up in Texas meant that the idea of public transportation or a taxicab was unheard of to me, and so the inevitable mixture of drunkenness and driving was a real threat.

Fortunately, my high school had a trick up its sleeve in an effort to prevent drunken driving. Two weeks before our early-June prom, it hosted a mandatory drunken driving assembly. It started with the same statistics and dull facts about the dangers of drunken driving that I had already heard a million times from parents and teachers alike. Every senior gathered in the gym to sit through the same assembly that we had seen every year since sixth grade. Now, as twelfth graders, it was more of an excuse to skip class and talk to friends than an educational program.  We had also all seen posters around our middle school and high school showing the picture of a terrifying looking girl named Jacqui who had been burned all over by a young boy who was driving drunk. To all of us, she was merely the over-used face of our schools’ ‘don’t drink and drive’ efforts.  Her elusive character was easily overlooked in our hallways.

About mid-way through the allotted assembly time, the presenter paused long enough to get the majority of my class’ attention. I looked at the presenter and then at the overhead projection screen that he was using to display the statistics that he was spewing. The familiar, mutilated face of Jacqui was on the screen. The presenter then calmly said that he would like to introduce the real Jacqueline Saburido to us.

At this point, every person in the gym was intrigued. I remember thinking, ‘Yeah right! She doesn’t exist.’ I can still recall the silence of my class and the skeptical giggles that broke that silence and seemed to say, ‘Ok, you cannot fool me that easily. This is lame.’ After all, she was only a two-dimensional, exceptionally ugly face.

Then the door to the gym opened, and in came the most pathetic and yet powerful figure I have ever seen. It was almost revolting.  A man escorted her to the microphone, and then she spoke to us. Jacqueline Saburido introduced herself in a soft voice, and then without pausing, she told her story. She stood in front of a receptive and horrified audience and spoke about how her life was changed by a drunk driver.  She was like a celebrity to us; we had all seen her picture everywhere. Similarly, we had all heard her story before, but seeing her in front of us made everyone in the room listen with compassion that we never new we had.

Her story and pictures can be viewed here:

To this day, seeing and hearing Jacqui was one of the most resounding experiences of my life.  This is due to two things having to do with how concrete and real her presence was.  First, simply seeing the effects of drunken driving first hand made its danger and risk so real (and so avoidable). This realization scared me to tears. Second, we actually listened.  Jacqui’s physical, concrete and unexpected presence made us so impressionable that we sat there and took in everything she said. Two years later, I still remember it. Her story and her face pop into my head when I think of anyone driving drunk, and she has effectively kept me from ever doing it.

Prom night was different that I had initially planned. There was no alcohol.  We realized through Jacqui’s painfully concrete example, that driving drunk is never worth it. However, I still had fun on prom night. And the best part? I have no regrets.

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick, they discuss the power of credible sources in effective communicating.  For them, as it is for me, dry and intangible statistics have infinitely less power to convey an idea than a concrete authority or antiauthory does.

February 16, 2010

Can You See the Green?

Filed under: Uncategorized — kathrynflynn @ 12:18 pm

What can a breath mint possibly tell you to make you think that it does a better job of giving you nice smelling breath than all the other mints? Certs mints were the first breath mint to be marketed in the United States. However, its stand-alone presence was short lived. As we all know, the marketplace quickly became very saturated.  The makers and marketers of Certs breath mints needed to find something to do that would make the mints continue stick in the consumer’s mind as the most effective mints. Simply telling its consumers that their mints were the best mints was too abstract of a concept.

Certs decided that they needed an effective differentiator. So the makers of Certs mints created a signature, concrete depiction of their effectiveness. The solution they came up with was Retsyn, the concoction that supposedly makes Certs work. Certs developed the elusive Retsyn (made of copper gluconate and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil) and advertised it as a ‘secret, magic’ ingredient in the mints that you could actually see! Retsyn is green; you can point to it; you can see it and you know that only Certs mints have retsyn in them. The green flakes make the mints taste good and freshen your breath and no other mint has green flakes of retsyn.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath stress the importance of providing tangible, concrete things for the consumer. It is essential that the marketer not assume that just because they, themselves know why the mint works that the consumers will also know and believe in the product. If, however, the consumers can see what makes the product work and they cannot see what makes the competition’s product work, then isn’t it obvious what they are going to choose?

A purchase as routine as breath mints might seem like a decision with little risk of dissonance, but that is not entirely true.  For instance, you never know when you are going to run into your future significant other. Certs incorporated this concept into a campaign that: 1. Showed the concrete schemas, or real life situations 2. Why it was crucial that Certs was the mint to have, and 3. Showed exactly what made Certs the best mint to have (which is, of course, the retsyn).

Certs created a concrete thing for their consumers to grab onto, and low and behold, 50 years later, Certs is still a household name.

February 8, 2010

What is Next? Apple Inc. Will Surprise You

Filed under: blog #2 — kathrynflynn @ 1:01 pm

There is one brand today that has an uncanny ability to crawl inside its consumers’ heads and figure out what they want before they even realize that they want it. When Apple Inc.’s innovative technologies are introduced to the market, they change the world and fill a need for their consumers that they didn’t know they had. It helps that the ipod, iphone, ipad, etc. are very functional and good-looking, but consumers need them because at their core, those gadgets are unprecedented, unexpected and exciting.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath focus on the importance of mystery in order to grab an audience’s attention and keep them hooked. The Heath brothers say that teachers and other effective communicators often employ mystery in order for their audience to stay captivated. This strategy works because the communicator makes the audience realize that there’s a gap in their knowledge. The audience needs to fill this gap; they want to know the outcome of the mystery. Similarly, Apple creates a mystery situation surrounding their products.  Apple makes it apparent to its audience that they are missing something that they need. (Like a tiny device that can hold all of their CDs and play them clearly to you as you go about your day).  Apple’s audience’s attention is grabbed and a desire to have the product is stirred in them.

Apple makes its consumers believe that they need their products, just like when watching a crime show, people need to know how it ends. The unexpected nature of Apple’s technologies is what makes it so successful and impressive.

February 1, 2010

Got a Core Message?

Filed under: blog #1 — kathrynflynn @ 12:15 pm

If I were to tell you that the most effective advertising campaigns have a simple message and use a simple way to deliver that message (which is true), there would be many examples that might pop into your head. The simple message at the core of an ad campaign is appropriately referred to here as the ‘core message’. One of the strongest instances of a well-delivered, compact core message is in the National ‘Got Milk?’ Milk Mustache Marketing Campaign.  For those of you that do not know, this is the campaign where famous people are photographed with milky white mustaches. All the print and out of home ads ask, “Got milk?”

I mean, is there any question as to what the core message is in this campaign? No, it’s obviously that people need to ‘Drink more milk.’

The creative people that worked on this campaign for the California Milk Processing Board must have asked themselves, “How could we get people to drink more milk”?  The result was a campaign that uses credible, loved community members and a small story in their words ending in the signature line, “Got Milk?” Two words. Could it be simpler? The success of the campaign, launched in 1993, is remarkable. The idea stuck. Everyone, nationwide, has heard of Got Milk? There are trafficked websites such as,, and of course, promoting the campaign and trying to get people to consume more liquid cow’s milk (a kind of gross concept, if you ask me).

So if the aim, or core message, is to get people to drink more milk, then the celebrity who is being photographed with the milk mustache can say what he or she wants to say as long as it fulfills the core idea. This is brilliant! Taylor Swift is not going to have the same voice or perspective as Serena Williams, but as long as they both can get people to drink more milk with what they say, then it’s all right.

Basically, what I am trying to get across is this: the National ‘Got Milk?’ Milk Mustache Marketing Campaign continues to have success after 15 years because it’s core idea is sticky.  It is simple and their employees/models can easily relay that message to the campaign’s target audience.

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