MK 354 Spring 2010

April 26, 2010

Canada’s Environment-Saving Machine

Filed under: blog #10 — morganhowell @ 10:33 am

Canada is the largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S., and has been for some time. It’s an industry that makes big bucks for our neighbor to the north, and that industry is about to get a little bigger. In addition to being an oil superpower, Canada is also an environmental superpower. For the past few years the Canadian government and the private sector have been developing methods to capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2), a chemical that is responsible for large amounts of global warming. Last Monday, the first mobile CO2 capture and compressor unit was completed.

So what does this mean for us? We don’t want CO2 in the atmosphere, but we also don’t want a buildup of it taking up room on the ground either. Well Canadian scientists have been thinking about that too, and they’ve developed at least one use for it so far. CO2 can be used to enhance oil recovery. And while I’m not entirely sure what that means, it seems like an environmental solution to our cycle of oil use.

Our cars emit CO2, which can then be captured by these newfangled Canadian machines, put into barrels, and used to get more oil for us to put in our cars. The Canadian’s consider this a potential goldmine, and I’m sure we’ll all be hearing more about it.

April 12, 2010

How Boston Can Get Rid of Millions of Plastic Bags

Washington, D.C. has a new program to clean up its rivers and improve the environment. At the beginning of the year, the local government instituted a bag tax on all bags, both plastic and paper, given out by convenience stores, grocery stores and liquor stores.

If a customer chooses to take a bag, he or she will be taxed five cents per bag. One cent goes to the business, and four cents go to the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund and will finance cleanup efforts, installation of garbage traps, planting indigenous plant life that will naturally clean up the river, environmental education programs, and the continuation of the program.

The program has already earned $150,000 in revenue and decreased the number of bags used monthly 50 to 80 percent—that’s about 18 million bags a month.

While some people are unhappy about the tax, authorities continue to reiterate the many benefits of the program. It will not only clean up the Anacostia river, but the number of plastic bags strewn around the city will decrease exponentially, and tax payers will save millions of dollars on state-sponsored cleanup programs.

It’s high time for other cities to follow suit. I’m sure nearly everyone has seen plastic bags blow around his or her local parks, or float down neighborhood streams. The Charles River, for example, is a pretty clean river that typically gets water quality ratings good enough to boat in, and sometimes even good enough to swim in. But lately, those numbers have fallen, and neither boating nor swimming is safe.

There’s been no talk about instituting a similar bag tax in Boston, but if you think that needs to change, contact your local city councilor through this link.

April 5, 2010

Volcano Trumps Carbon Emissions

Filed under: blog #8, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — morganhowell @ 9:21 am

It turns out global warming isn’t the biggest issue affecting the earth’s weather any more. Liberals rejoice! No longer must we strive to be “environmentally conscious.” Now we can drive the biggest, oldest and clunkiest cars as fast and as far as we want, leave the lights on and the water running, and let the AC blare. There’s a volcano in Iceland that’s about to blow, and when it does we’ll be sent into a mini-ice age, according to a scientist at the National Weather Service.

Actually, a volcano already erupted in Iceland a couple weeks ago. That volcano, eloquently named Eyjafjallajokull, isn’t the real problem though. Katla, the active volcano next to Eyjafjallajokull, which is being subdued by an overlaying glacier, has a historical record of spewing ash into the atmosphere and causing earth’s temperatures to plummet.

Another historical trend: the only thing that is unclear whenever Eyjafjallajokull erupts is how long it will take for Katla to follow suit.

Not everyone agrees though. Since the initial eruption, which caused 500 nearby residents to be evacuated, tourists – like the one that took that video – have been hiking as close to Eyjafjallajokull as possible in order to get the best view of the volcano, which continues to spurt lava. In fact, the spokesman from the local Civil Protection Department, Vidir Reymissom says no one in the area is in danger, despite a second fissure opening up and causing ash to now flow in two directions. No one definitively knows what will happen, so the only thing to do is wait.

Whether this nice weather we’ve been having in Boston will last is still up in the air, but either way, I say get out and enjoy it.

March 29, 2010

Plastic Beaches

“Don’t mess with the Texas.” That was the slogan for a marketing campaign in Texas that was started in 1986. Since then, the phrase has appeared countless bumper stickers, souvenirs, and the crest of the USS Texas submarine. It is one of the few marketing efforts that can be truly considered timeless. But what was the campaign about? Littering. And, mind you, it is one of the most successful anti-littering campaigns to date. So 24 years later, and Texas is a cleaner state, which is great. The only problem is that it doesn’t translate well across the state border, and most of the world is getting consistently more dirty and polluted. I’m not talking about the obvious places (like China, for instance, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), but places like England are being hit hard by humanity’s discharge.  A recent BBC article discusses the extent that litter, especially plastic litter is effecting the environment, the ecosystem, and us.

The Marine Conservation Society just got the results back from its 15th annual beach clean up in 2009. Overall, there was less litter than in 2008, but let’s not rejoice yet. There was 77 percent more litter than in the first clean up in 1994, and 63 percent of it was plastic, more than ever before. An MCS spokeswoman explained why this is important: “Plastic does not biodegrade but breaks down into small pieces that will last for hundreds if not thousands of years. In parts of our oceans there are now six times more plastic particles in the water than plankton.” In addition to that, toxic chemicals attach to the plastic, marine animals eat the plastic, and the chemicals move up the food chain to us.

This article is only the most recent in a long list of warnings that our lifestyles are damaging the environment. Articles have been written, movies have been made, TV shows aired, and speeches delivered, but perhaps the most blunt warnings are those we witness first hand. I was at the Charles River Esplanade the other night with a few friends. It was a beautiful, clear and slightly chilly night, and we were the only ones there. Some of us brought drinks and snacks for everyone. The esplanade is a public park, so there a number of trash cans around. Yet for some reason that I have yet to understand, one of my friends decided to throw his empty Gatorade at some passing Canadian Geese. Then a wrapper blew into the river. And when we walked back I saw another empty drink and a bag of pretzels, both that came from us. And nothing I could say motivated anyone to even pick them up on the way back, so I did it myself. My point is that in a group of seven people, it is lucky for just one of them to be at all environmentally conscious. I assume this number is higher in a place like Texas, but people still mess with Massachusetts and England and nearly everywhere else. Thank god for groups like the MCS in England, but no matter how much trash they pick up, the best thing we can do is not litter in the first place.

March 22, 2010

Filed under: blog #6 — Tags: , — morganhowell @ 11:55 am

I know a few people that everyone seems to like. They all share a few qualities, such as being out-going and friendly, things one might expect. But more than anything else, they know how to tell a good story. It’s not only that they can actually tell an entertaining story but they can spot an entertaining story. Now, when it comes to marketing, each quality is important for a story to catch on and have influence over a target audience. A month or two ago I saw an ad in the New York Magazine that didn’t quite make the mark.

Magda Kristoff no doubt had an inspiring story to tell, and almost just as undoubtedly, she told that story to someone at the medical center. But the inspiration seems to have been lost in translation. A cancer patient, Magda had to go through chemotherapy, surgery, unimaginable pain and god knows what else. And the treatment she received helped her survive. How much of that story appears in the copy? None, really. Her story is boiled down to a point where it can just act as a transition to Langone’s state of the art facilities and exemplary patient care—simulation and inspiration are lost. “Our doctors and researchers work together to develop innovative therapies that aren’t the exception, but the rule,” is a great piece of copy, but not too useful in this context. That’s lead worthy, even worthy as being the Commander’s Intent for a whole campaign. But this campaign is story-based. Magda Kristoff is only one of 11 people whose stories are told, yet after reading her ad over and over I know very little about her experience at the Langone Medical Center.

So it’s my guess that whomever was in charge of this campaign is of the same school of thought as the Subway national marketing director who didn’t want to use Jared’s story—that you can’t sell medical care with an inspirational, emotional story. Or maybe Langone had just updated its facilities and they felt that had to be highlighted. Either way, they took a story with a challenge and connection plot and made her into a run of the mill spokeswoman with nothing unique to say.  Langone spotted a good story and watered it down with promotional mumbo jumbo when all they needed to do was convey Magda as a real and relatable person whose cancer Langone cured.

March 1, 2010

Negating Emotion

Filed under: blog #5 — Tags: , , — morganhowell @ 12:01 pm

When it comes to emotion, few things engender more of it than death at a young age. So when Allstate set out to make an ad to convince teens to drive safer, they had all of that emotion on their side, right? Yes, they did. And they did a good job of communicating it:

“Every year, 6,000 teens go out on a drive,” says the announcer, with a pause for emphasis, “And never come back.” Well jeez, that sure is powerful. And look at all those cars! Look at the naïve teens, driving to certain death, without a care in the world! If I were a parent that sure would make me want my teenage son or daughter to drive safer. But I’m not a parent—I’m one of the teens! And for all I know, the next time I sit behind the wheel could be my last! That should be enough motivation for me to slow down, right? Well, maybe.

This ad came out late in 2007, when there were just fewer than 5,000 teenage driving deaths, according to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the statistic cited in the ad was apparently incorrect, as I found that there hasn’t been close to 6,000 deaths since 2002). And in 2008, there were just over 4,000 deaths—the number went down, so the ad was at least somewhat effective, right? It’s hard to say. The number of deaths has been decreasing since the late 1970s when the number was nearly 10,000.

Judging from the hard data, the Allstate ad, while emotionally powerful, can in no way be responsible for preventing very many deaths. But why is this? Well, it seems to me like Allstate didn’t know its target market very well. Teenagers have a deep-rooted distrust of authority, be it their parents, teachers, or insurance company. Just like the “Please Don’t Litter” signs in Texas, this ad is preaching to the choir. To pierce through a teenager’s tough and distrusting skin, you have to be more cunning. You have to make a personal connection without sounding like someone’s mom or dad. You have can’t sound preachy or judgmental. You have to utilize the antiauthority, focus on an individual, and not sound like a broken record (maybe something like, “Hey I’m Chris, I used to snowboard and skydive and do tons of crazy shit. Then one day, when I was driving to a friends house to play a video game…”). Kids are a tough crowd, especially when it comes to convincing them to stop doing something fun. If that’s your goal, the worst mistake you could make would be to tell them not to do it—everyone who’s ever been 16 understands that. Unfortunately, we’ve got to get past the Curse of Knowledge first.

February 22, 2010

Do the Test

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — morganhowell @ 11:13 am

In 2008, 716 bicyclists were killed in traffic accidents in the US, and another 52,000 were injured. These are powerful statistics, but are they effective statistics? Do they get people to “Share the Road,” or “Give Three Feet,” as the Department of Transportation urges us? My guess is no. As the Heath Brothers explain in Made to Stick, “Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves.” So how does one go about communicating the importance of watching for bikers in a way that will not only get people to listen, but also get them to alter their behavior?

The answer comes to us from London, England. In 2008 Transportation for London aired a very successful PSA. It opened on 8 basketball players, 4 in black and 4 in white. The announcer says, “This is an awareness test.” He then asks you to count how many passes the team in white makes. The players stop, and the announcer tells you the answer. He then asks the audience something unexpected (and the real awareness test): “Did you see the moon walking bear?” The clip rewinds, and clear as day, a man in a bear suit walks right across the screen while doing the moon walk. The PSA closes by saying that we often miss what we’re not looking for, and asks that we look out for cyclists. Watch it for yourself here:

What makes this an effective PSA is that it doesn’t mention statistics; instead it relies on the audience for credibility. It is simple, but with a twist: it challenges the audience’s intelligence, which earns the audience’s attention, and then gives a credible and concrete reason to look out for bikers. But it also makes you want to watch it again, to make sure that there really was a moon walking bear. Then it makes you want to show it to your friends, and then it makes everyone laugh. Since this video was posted on YouTube in March of 2008, it has received 8.2 million views. But more importantly, the campaign yielded results: this campaign, in conjunction with other campaigns to convince more people to use bicycles, has decreased the percentage of bicycle related fatalities and accidents in the UK, according to the UK Department for Transport and other organizations. And because of its viral success, it has undoubtedly affected bicyclists the world over.

February 8, 2010

Cars.com Wonder Child

Filed under: blog #2 — morganhowell @ 1:23 pm

Yesterday, I joined 150 million Americans sitting in front of their TVs to watch the one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Like many of the people watching, I have no interest in football—I was watching for the commercials. And as I watched, I became more and more unimpressed. The millions of dollars spent to just get a 30-second spot seemed wasted. Then everything changed. Everyone went silent as a little boy expertly put out a fire with baking soda, and then he hopped on his bike and began riding with hardly a word of advice from his dad, nonplussed, in the background. He moved on to neutralizing a jellyfish sting, birthing a Bengal tiger, and rescuing a squad of cheerleaders from a tornado. Every one watching was perplexed and eager to see what would happen next, to find out what company employed people like this child—perhaps it was American Express, highlighting the type of people it employs, or maybe it was a coke commercial, showing the miracles one could perform with the aid of the delicious and refreshing beverage. This mystery company had surprised us with a miracle child performing tasks that kept me on the edge of my seat and it created a knowledge gap that kept me guessing at what sort of forward thinking company created this masterpiece. The commercial then showed this boy as a grown man, standing in a parking lot, looking perplexed. By now, this company had almost created the perfect ad: the audience had been surprised, impressed, and now, perplexed. Our schemas were momentarily broken: what was it that had finally stumped this wonder child? The mind raced. And then we all stopped dead in our tracks and erupted in a cacophony of exalted disgust. It was the prospect of buying a new car that stopped this boy genius in his tracks, a goddamn car. The announcer tells us how cars.com helped this man regain his confidence and buy the perfect car, and that we could do the same.

And despite the disgust that everyone felt for this anticlimactic commercial, most of us remember not only what happened in that commercial, but what company it was for. The Heath brothers open up chapter two of Made to Stick with another superbowl commercial that they thought missed the mark.  They said that what happened in the commercial did not seem to relate to the company that produced it. So does this cars.com commercial fall into the same category? Does a commercial really need to satisfy all of the Heath brothers’ criteria? I have to say no, because while people were left unhappy with the outcome of the commercial, the majority of my friends remember that commercial today, and I’d be willing to bet that when it comes time to buy a new car, superbowl fans will visit cars.com as a source of advice.

Watch it for yourself here:

February 1, 2010

Did you hear about that nor’easter coming down from Canada?

Filed under: blog #1 — Tags: — morganhowell @ 12:33 pm

When it comes to conversation there are few topics more clichéd and overused than the weather. There are people with whom I have had very few conversations with about anything other than the rain in Spain or when the next snowstorm will hit. To be honest, I have never had a serious conversation about the rain in Spain. But the fact remains; the weather is a popular and overused topic of conversation. It’s a pretty simple topic also: it is something everyone is affected by, something that anyone can relate to.

When it comes to the weather, there is one definitive source, trusted above all others. For the past 28 years, The Weather Channel has been broadcasting weather forecasts on TV, the radio and the Internet, twenty-four hours a day. Yet for some reason, when an advertising team approached The Weather Channel with a campaign built around that simple idea of weather as the conversation topic of any circumstance, the idea was killed. I came across this ad campaign on KilledIdeas.com, a website that compiles the best of the worst—the killed ideas that really shouldn’t have been killed in the first place. The “Commander’s Intent” of the campaign is clear and simple: weather is always a safe topic that can rescue us from the most uncomfortable situations.

What makes the directive shine, is that it can be handed out to anyone on the marketing team, and he or she can create a script that will enhance the brand image, engage people with a solution to a real-life problem, albeit a slightly exaggerated problem, and help get the company in the consumer’s head.

KilledIdeas.com provides three storyboard examples, one of which is shown below.

When Jan mistakenly congratulates her friend’s overweight friend on her pregnancy, things get awkward. It’s a fairly common comedic situation, yet never before has one successfully used the weather to diffuse it. Yet Jan, quick on her feet as always, remembers the nor’easter she heard about on the weather channel, and a mutual dislike for Canadian’s and their weather makes Jan and Sara fast friends.

Admittedly, it’s a pretty unlikely outcome—and I embellished it a bit myself—but since I came across that ad, I’ve found myself watching The Weather Channel more, and using—or at least trying to use—the weather to get out of sticky situations. So why is this now filed under “killed ideas?”

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