25 August 2011

‘Today’ Promotes Curry to Hot Seat as Surging ABC Closes Gap

Story first appeared in the Bloomberg News

Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) -- NBC’s “Today” show, making its biggest talent change since Katie Couric left in 2006, heads into the new television season with its 15-year dominance of morning TV challenged by a resurgent ABC.

Ann Curry, 54, joined Matt Lauer as “Today” co-host in June, moving from news reader to replace Meredith Vieira, who held the job since Couric left. While both “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” attract more viewers than a year ago, NBC’s lead has shrunk to a four-year-low, Nielsen Co. data show.

“That’s a little bit of a P-R blackeye,” according to Horizon Media, a New York-based advertising company. He predicts NBC will promote “Today” and Curry more heavily with the new season, when viewers return from summer vacations. “She didn’t start at an optimal time.”

The shows are significant profit contributors for both networks because their audience of 25-to-54-year-olds attracts ads from automakers, drugmakers and foodmakers. according to Shari Anne Brill, an advertising consultant. ABC and NBC are third and fourth in prime- time ratings, respectively, putting more of the profit burden on the rest of their schedules.

Since Curry became co-host, “Today” is averaging 5.03 million viewers daily, up 6.7 percent from a year earlier, according to Nielsen data through Aug. 14. “Good Morning America” is averaging
4.46 million, up 15 percent, according to ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co. That puts NBC’s year-to- date lead at its smallest in four years.

News Audience

NBC, part of Comcast Corp., has done a better job protecting its lead in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic group targeted by news advertisers. “Good Morning America” is up 8.2 percent in that group and “Today” is up 7.1 percent. With a larger audience base, NBC has widened its advantage by 22,000 viewers since June.

“Ann wasn’t a big change in co-anchor chair,” says an investment officer at Omnicom Group Inc.’s PHD USA media planning and buying unit in New York. “It wasn’t as big of a switch as Katie Couric leaving and Meredith Vieira coming in.” As news anchor since 1997, “Curry was already known to the ‘Today’ show viewer,”.

The gains by “Good Morning America” have been driven by its guests, including President Barack Obama, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Donald Trump, according to Keeshan, whose clients include Safeway Inc. and HBO.

On July 11, the show outdrew “Today” by airing parts of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jaycee Dugard, the Northern California woman who was kidnapped as a child and held for 18 years as a sex slave.

“It’s all about the ‘gets,’ and who has the best musical guests,”.

Revamped Show

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, hosts of “Good Morning America,” are connecting with audiences after the show’s long-tenured hosts, Charles Gibson and Sawyer, left in 2006 and 2009, according to James Goldston, who took over as executive producer five months ago.

Goldston said “Good Morning America” has revamped its cooking segments and other standing features to make them less predictable and more distinctive. The program has also introduced a daily entertainment segment.

Ad Rates

NBC, with a half-million more viewers in total and a similar advantage in the age demographic, commands higher ad rates. A 30-second “Today” spot was priced at an average of $67,900 in May compared with $41,400 for ABC, according to Nielsen data supplied by Adgate.

“Today” has seen its lead dwindle with past talent changes, only to recover later. The show will enjoy a unique promotional opportunity next July when NBC airs the Olympics from London, according to Adgate.

“The only number that matters is the demo,” reports an executive producer of “Today,” in an interview. “Our advantage over our competitors since Ann joined has only grown. I’m not sure what further evidence we’d need. That’s a resounding endorsement.”

17 August 2011


Story first appeared in USA TODAY.
Isabella Sweet doesn't wear a target on her chest. But kid marketers covet this 9-year-old as if she does. Perhaps it's because she's a techie.
The fourth-grader from Davis, Calif., spends almost an hour a day on the Webkinz website. The site charms kids by linking Webkinz plush animals — of which she owns 18 — with online games that encourage kids to earn and spend virtual money so they can create elaborate rooms for virtual versions of their Webkinz pets.
The site does one more thing: It posts ads that reward kids with virtual currency when they click. Every time a kid clicks on an ad, there's a virtual ka-ching at the other end for Ganz, which owns Webkinz.
At issue: With the use of new, kid-enchanting technologies, are savvy marketers gaining the upper hand on parents? Are toy marketers such as Ganz, food marketers such as McDonald's and kid-coddling apparel retailers such as 77kids by American Eagle too eager to target kids?
At stake: $1.12 trillion. That's the amount that kids influenced last year in overall family spending, says James McNeal, a kid marketing consultant and author of Kids as Consumers: A Handbook of Marketing to Children. He says that up to age 16, kids are determining most expenditures in the household, and this is very attractive to marketers.
It used to be so simple. A well-placed TV spot on a Saturday-morning cartoon show or a kid-friendly image on a cereal box was all it took. No longer. The world of marketing to kids has grown extremely complex and tech-heavy. Marketers that seek new ways to target kids are aware of new calls for federal action — including voluntary marketing guidelines that would affect food marketers. Kids, who are spending less time watching TV and more time on computers or smartphones, are becoming targets online.
Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a watchdog group says that marketers are getting more and more devious, and with the growing use of smartphones and social media they have new avenues for targeting children that parents might miss.
Even ad-savvy parents are sometimes unaware how marketers are reaching out to their children.
Getting around ad blockers
While on the Webkinz site, Sweet recently clicked once a day for seven days on an ad for a film trailer that was posted for Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer. She says that she wasn't really interested in the movie. But each day that she clicked it and answered three questions, she earned a virtual lime-green dresser and bulletin board for the rooms she created online for her Webkinz.
This kind of marketing to kids drives Isabella's mother crazy. She says they're doing this right under the noses of parents. Even so, she says, she had no idea about the video ads on Webkinz until her daughter told her. She said this whole planting of movie videos in the online game experience is new to her, and what bothers her most is that when she first signed up for the site, she thought it was OK.
Sweet has an ad-blocker app on her browser. These movie ads are woven into the site content in such a way that her daughter sees — and responds to them — anyway, she says.
Ganz said that they occasionally introduce limited-time promotions so that their Webkinz World members can enjoy fun, unique activities and events.
But Elizabeth Sweet isn't the only parent who's unhappy with how and what Webkinz markets to kids.
Last month, Christina Cunningham, a full-time mother from Port St. Lucie, Fla., happened to look over as two of her daughters — ages 9 and 7 — were signing onto the Webkinz website. On the log-in screen, an ad flashed for BabyPictureMaker.com, which nudges consumers to download pictures of two people — promising to send back a picture of what a baby they might have together would look like.
She said that this is not acceptable, shooed her kids away from the site and fired off an e-mail to Webkinz. When she didn't hear back, she sent another. Again, she says, she received no response. But McVeigh says Webkinz e-mailed Cunningham responses, twice. A frustrated Cunningham contacted Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The group contacted Webkinz, which removed the ad.
The fast-food connection
Webkinz declined to share the outcome of this investigation— nor would it explain how the ad got on the site.
But in the eyes of some parents, no one goes more over the top in marketing to kids than the big food sellers — particularly sellers of high-sugar cereals and high-fat, high-calorie fast food.
That's one reason the Obama administration is proposing that foodmakers adopt voluntary limits on the way they market to kids.
These proposed voluntary guidelines, to be written by a team from four federal agencies, have set the food and ad industries howling — even before they've been completed.
A spokesman for the Grocery namufacturers Association commented that he can't imagine any mom in America who thinks stripping tigers and toucans off cereal boxes will do anything to address obesity.
But Wayne Altman thinks the voluntary guidelines are critical.
He's a family physician in the Boston area who has three sons ages 13, 5 and 4. He's particularly concerned about Ronald McDonald. He stated that we know that children under 8 have no ability to establish between truth and advertising, so to have this clown get a new generation hooked on a bad product just isn't right.
He added that because of the obesity, heart disease and food-related illnesses fed partly by savvy food marketers such as McDonald's, we have a generation of children that is first to have a life expectancy less than its parents.
Plenty of others think as he does, even though Ronald is regularly used to promote Ronald McDonald House Charities. Ronald also shows up in schools. He's got his own website, Ronald.com, where the clown promises that kids can learn, play and create while having fun. And he's the focal point of a new social-media campaign that nudges kids to download their own photos with images of Ronald and share them with friends.
More than 1,000 doctors, including Altman, recently signed a petition that asked McDonald's to stop using Ronald to market to kids.
McDonald's — which recently announced it will modify its Happy Meals in September by reducing the number of fries and adding apple slices — has no plans to dump Ronald. McDonalds CEO said Ronald McDonald is an ambassador for McDonald's and an ambassador for good and he is not going away.
77kids entertains shoppers
But American Eagle is going somewhere. And if any retailer exemplifies the techie new world of marketing to kids, it may be 77kids by American Eagle.
The outside-the-box store that it just opened at New York's Times Square sells midpriced clothing targeting boys and girls from toddler to 12. But the heart of the target is the 10-year-old.
Getting a 10-year-old's attention is all about whiz-bang technology — like the chain's virtual ticket to rock stardom.
In the center of the Times Square store sits a "Be a Rock Star" photo booth. It's all about music and tech. The booth has a big-screen TV that shows a video of a rock band composed of 10- to 12-year-old kids singing I Wanna Rock by Twisted Sister. Any tween, with parental permission, can download his or her photo and substitute it on the screen for one of the rock stars.
Each 77kids store also has two iPad-like touch-screens that allow kids to virtually try on most of the clothing in the store. Who needs a dressing room when you can download your own photo and have it instantly matched online with that cool motorcycle vest or hip pair of distressed jeans? The same touch-screen also allows kids to play instant DJ, where they can mess online with the very same music that's being played in the store — slowing it down, speeding it up or even voting it off the playlist.
Nearly nine in 10 kids who shop at 77kids try one of these technologies while visiting the store.
The company makes no bones about laser-targeting 10-year-olds. They said the point is to keep a kid engaged so that shopping is enjoyable, and that kids are looking for entertainment when they come to the mall.
Ex-adman wants change
Marketers, in turn, are looking for kids. And profits.
It isn't just advertising watchdogs who think it's time for a change. So does the guy who two years ago was arguably the ad world's top creative executive, Alex Bogusky. The agency that he has since left, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, has created campaigns for such kid-craving companies as Burger King and Domino's. Now, with the ad biz in his rearview mirror, Bogusky suggests it may be time for marketers to rethink.
He recently posed the questions of what if everyone decided that advertising to children was something none of us would engage in anymore? What would happen? A lot of things would happen, and almost all seem to be for the good of society.
Babies as young as 6 months old can form mental images of logos and mascots — and brand loyalties can be established as early as 2, says the watchdog group Center for a New American Dream. McNeal, the kids marketing guru, says he consults with companies that are constantly trying to figure out how to get inside day care centers and bore their images inside the minds of preschoolers.

08 August 2011


Story first appeared in USA TODAY.

Gap, the nation's largest clothing chain, on Monday is rolling out a marketing campaign that features 30- to 90-second online documentary-style videos centered around the goings on at its denim design studio in Los Angeles called the Pico Creative Loft.

The series of about 30 videos shows designers talking about what it takes to create the Gap's 1969 denim line, which has been expanded with stretch leggings, corduroy pants and other offerings for between $59.50 and $89.95. The campaign is the first major marketing push by Gap, since a management shake-up in February ended with a new brand president, chief marketing offer and ad agency.

Gap's campaign comes just as the retail industry is bracing for a back-to-school season in which consumers are expected to cut back spending because of economic woes and rising prices for everything from clothing to food. The campaign is critical for Gap, which used to be a retail darling but is struggling to regain its cachet after merchandising misfires, slumping sales and shrinking profits that began well before the recession.

The company's Gap division hasn't posted a sales gain on an annual basis since 2005. And In Gap's most recent quarter, revenue in stores open at least one year — considered a key measure of a company's financial health — fell 3% at Gap brand stores, 1% at Banana Republic and 2% at Old Navy.

Seth Farbman, the chain's new CMO since February, says the campaign is not a quick fix, but an effort to drive sales and revive Gap's image, which he says has lost a bit of relevance. Farbman says the focus of the campaign — jeans — is appropriate because they have been one of Gap's strengths.

He said this is the start; one step. This campaign begins to put them on the right course, and longer term, it starts a conversation about the brand.

But one analyst said it will take much more than a marketing blitz to turn things around at the chain.

He stated they have larger merchandising problems, and he just doesn’t think they've had the right sizes, fits and colors within the women's business, and there's a lack of interesting products in the men's business.

The campaign follows a series of management and organizational changes Gap made this year. In February, Art Peck became the brand's president, its fifth in nine years. The company also established a Global Creative Center which consolidates all of Gap's design, marketing, fashion public relations and production in New York. It hired Farbman from Ogilvy & Mather in New York and shifted marketing duties to that advertising agency from longtime agency Laird & Partners. And in May, it ousted the, design director for the Gap chain.

The campaign features videos that show shots of the airy, loft-like denim design studio with its hardwood floors and exposed brick walls. In the videos, Gap workers talk about the process of making certain jean styles and washes and why they love their jobs.

The videos will air on a dedicated Facebook page, YouTube, on sites like Hulu, and embedded in banner ads elsewhere. The campaign also includes print ads and "Pico de Gap" taco trucks with celebrity chefs that will hit New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco beginning Monday and broadcast their location via Twitter. The tacos will be $1.69 but free if you show Gap clothing.

Gap would not disclose how much it is spending on the campaign, but said it was similar to what it spent last year, except with a much heavier focus on social media and the Web. Farbman said the online push is a way to reach Gap's new, slightly younger demographic — a highly connected 28-year-old — rather than Gap's traditional focus on people in their early 30s. Although, he adds, the broader target is anyone with a young American mindset.


Story first appeared on WSJ.com
News Corp. and Elisabeth Murdoch have shelved plans for her to join the board of the media giant for now, as the company attempts to defuse shareholder concerns about its corporate governance.
The 42-year-old daughter of News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, Ms. Murdoch was expected to join the board as part of her return to the company through News Corp.'s acquisition of the Shine Group, the television-production company she runs.
Mr. Murdoch said in a news release in February that he expected her to do so when the £415 million ($680 million) deal was completed. The deal closed in April.
News Corp. independent director Viet Dinh said in a statement Friday that Ms. Murdoch suggested she felt it would be inappropriate to join the company board at its annual meeting later this year. Mr. Dinh said the company's independent directors agreed.
The eruption of a years-long phone-hacking scandal at the company's U.K. newspaper unit has raised shareholder concerns that the board is too beholden to Mr. Murdoch. The Murdoch family maintains a 40% voting stake that gives it effective control of the company, which owns The Wall Street Journal.
Three Murdochs—80-year old Rupert, 38-year old James and 39-year old Lachlan—already serve on the company board. In all, seven of the company's 16 board seats are held by Murdochs and News Corp. executives.
The Shine deal has also been a lightning rod for corporate governance complaints.
In March, several News Corp. shareholders sued the company in Delaware Chancery Court, claiming the takeover of Shine was a sweetheart deal for Mr. Murdoch's daughter. Among other things, they sought to block her appointment to the board, according to a copy of their complaint.
News Corp. filed a motion to dismiss the suit.
Mr. Dinh said the board and Ms. Murdoch hope the move reaffirms that News Corp aspires to the highest standards of corporate governance and will continue to act in the best interests of all stakeholders.
A spokesman for Ms. Murdoch said she had no further comment beyond the statement from Mr. Dinh.
In recent weeks, pressure has mounted for the company to overhaul its corporate governance.
Some institutional investors, such as California Public Employees' Retirement System, have made public statements criticizing the company's ownership structure and expressed a desire to meet with executives.
Ms. Murdoch's brother James has had to fend off calls from some BSkyB shareholders for him to surrender his chairmanship of British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC. The U.K. pay-TV system is 39% owned by News Corp. The BSkyB board recently reiterated its unanimous support for James Murdoch.
News Corp. directors are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Los Angeles, ahead of the company's fiscal year-end earnings release the next day, according to people familiar with the matter.
The board is expected to discuss what to do with the nearly $12 billion in cash the company had on its balance sheet as of March.

04 August 2011

Ferris State Participates in Google Maps Street View Partner Program

Story first appeared in Ferris State University's University News.

Ferris State University is participating in the Google Maps Street View Partner Program, which provides interactive 360-degree ground-level photos of special attractions around the world.

A Google Street View team visited Michigan last week to capture imagery of the Ferris campus that will be stitched into immersive panoramic views and viewable directly on Google Maps in the coming months.

The Google Street View crew spent the day on campus with a vehicle called the “Street View Trike,” a three-wheel pedi-cab with a camera system on top that is pedaled through pedestrian walkways and paths, automatically gathering images as it goes. It weighs about 250 pounds, but its small size enables maneuvering and access to places not accessible by cars.

“We’re so excited to participate in this free program that provides a wonderful opportunity for prospective students and their parents, in particular, to get a unique perspective of Ferris’ Big Rapids campus before coming here. It also gives alumni, who may not have visited Ferris in a long time, a glimpse of how the campus has changed over time and to reflect on their fond memories of the University," said Shelly Armstrong, associate vice president for Marketing and Communications.

Armstrong said the campus locations captured by the Google Street View team were pedestrian-only areas, enabling Ferris’ facilities and grounds to be showcased in a very personal, up-close manner for those who may never set foot on campus. “We have no doubt this will be a valuable tool to anyone who wants to explore the Ferris campus virtually and will be especially helpful to those who are planning a visit. We can’t wait to see the final 360-degree panoramic images on Google Maps and to be able to make the campus available to the world,” Armstrong said.

25 July, 2011

01 August 2011


Story first appeared on WSJ.com.

CNN said it is standing by television host Piers Morgan amid growing media scrutiny over his past as a tabloid editor in Britain, where a widening scandal over reporting tactics has led to a re-examination of the tabloid-newspaper industry.
Mr. Morgan launched a 9 p.m. show in January on Time Warner Inc. cable network CNN, transforming himself from tabloid journalist and entertainment host into a more serious prime-time news figure, interviewing celebrities but also covering major news stories such as the U.S. debt crisis and, earlier this year, unrest in Egypt.
But a scandal over voice-mail interceptions at the News of the World, a tabloid recently shut down by News Corp., has put a spotlight on U.K. tabloid tactics. In the process, media attention has turned to Mr. Morgan's past in the tabloid trenches now that he is a TV celebrity and a familiar face from his gigs on "Britain's Got Talent," "America's Got Talent" and "The Celebrity Apprentice."
News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Morgan, who had a brief stint editing the now-defunct News of the World in the 1990s, spent most of his tabloid newspaper career editing the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004. The tabloid's owner is conducting a review of editorial practices at all its newspaper titles. It has called allegations in the U.K. media of phone hacking at the Mirror totally unsubstantiated.
Last week, several news outlets resurfaced an audio recording of a BBC interview Mr. Morgan gave in 2009. In the interview, Mr. Morgan responded to a question by the BBC about dealing with people who rake through garbage bins and tap phones for tabloids. He said not a lot of that went on...A lot of it was done by third parties rather than the staff themselves. That's not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work.
Mr. Morgan, 46 years old, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of or involvement in voice-mail interceptions in public statements and interviews, and he reiterated such denials after the BBC interview resurfaced.
A spokeswoman for CNN said Piers Morgan has been firm and specific in his denial, and we continue to be supportive of his program. The cable-news channel declined to comment further.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Morgan declined to comment beyond prior public statements, including his response to the resurfacing of the BBC interview.
Two people close to CNN say that there has been ongoing discussion about the situation internally at the network, and Mr. Morgan has repeatedly reassured executives that he never hacked a phone or did anything illegal.
Meanwhile, late last week, Conservative member of parliament Louise Mensch apologized to Mr. Morgan for misquoting his memoir and using it to wrongly accuse him of admitting to hacking phones. In a letter, she said she had misread an article in the Daily Telegraph on which she based her allegation.
CNN hired Mr. Morgan to succeed Larry King and he has since become a key part of the network's prime-time lineup. Before signing him, CNN executives carefully read his books and thoroughly questioned him about his journalistic habits and ethics, a person close to the network said. A lot of the questioning, this person said, surrounded not telephone-hacking practices but Mr. Morgan's firing from the Mirror in 2004, after he authorized the newspaper’s publication of photographs showing Iraqis being abused by British soldiers that the British army alleged was fakes.
Since CNN was hiring Mr. Morgan to host an interview show, rather than cover breaking news, the discussion focused on Mr. Morgan's methods for booking guests for the show. CNN wanted to ensure that Mr. Morgan would never pay for interviews, this person said, and were satisfied with his answers.
One person stated that he wasn't hired to be a news anchor or correspondent; he was being hired as a personality—that dictated the standards. They added that he came off as a guy who had been chastened by his past and as someone who had the intelligence to grow and learn from it.