Archive for September, 2019

Service of a Cheating Heart: Match in Dutch with the FTC

Monday, September 30th, 2019

Photo: quora.com

I had a crush on a boy in 11th grade. One of the girls I thought was a friend told me he’d asked about me when it turned out she’d made it up. I never trusted her after that [and clearly I never forgot]. The takeaway: Don’t fool around in matters of the heart if you want to keep a friend.

Match.com executives, adults I assume, never learned that lesson if the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] is on to something.

Photo: medium.com

Dave Sebastian wrote “FTC Sues Match for Allegedly Tricking Users With Fake Ads– Online-dating platform allegedly offered certain guarantees but failed to provide promised services” in The Wall Street Journal.

The most damming allegation in the article was far worse than scamming people to join up and not giving them an easy way out. Match.com dangled hope to the lovelorn when there was none. “Until May 2018, Match sent emails to nonsubscribers that said someone had expressed interest in them, according to the FTC. But consumers, many of whom ended up purchasing the subscriptions, were unaware that the emails received could be from scammers, the FTC said in its complaint.”

Photo redbubble.com

And then Sebastian added: “The FTC said Match found that nearly 500,000 subscriptions were purchased within 24 hours of receiving an advertisement touting fraudulent communication between June 2016 and May 2018.”

Sebastian quoted the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith who told him: “We believe that Match.com conned people into paying for subscriptions via messages the company knew were from scammers. Online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line.’ ”

Match owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid and other dating sites. I know people who have made magnificent matches via online dating services and am heartbroken to read that the mother company felt it had to cheat. If I’ve been to two weddings of couples who met this way and know several others with longtime relationships, didn’t a successful pioneer in this business have enough case histories to promote its services legitimately?

Have you tried an online dating service? Did it work out for you? If you never have, does knowing this make you be less likely to give it a try? Does it bother you that one of the top services cheated to get customers or is it par for the course for all businesses these days and worthy of no more than a big shrug?

Photo: familytree.com

Service of Pride of Place: NYC My Hometown

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

View from my apartment

Considering I was born in NYC, have lived here most of my life and I love the place I’m surprised that in the 11 years I’ve written this blog the city hasn’t grabbed even more lines.

New York is like anything or anyone I love: it makes me burst with pride and yet it can irritate me as well.

I was giggling in a Seventh Avenue subway recently because of the conductor’s quirky comments. As he announced each stop he also identified a lineup of key landmarks–which is unusual–and his comments were clever and refreshing. When I got out at 72nd Street heading for the stairs, as the car with his cubby passed me, I gave him a thumbs up. He smiled in response and tooted his horn twice. Made my day.

On the other hand, I don’t always have such luck with the bus system. Astronomical waits on major arteries and avenues followed by a clump of busses is trying. [If you live and work as far east as I do, the walk to the subway–my usual transportation option–doesn’t always make sense especially if your destination is also way east.]

In addition, identifying where the bus stop is can be a challenge. Last weekend I watched a local bus sail by on Madison Avenue as I stood next to a bus shelter [photo right]. Guess the shelter at that spot was decorative and had nothing to do with a NYC bus.

Bryant Park

When the subway’s executives whine about lack of funds, it comes as a surprise to see a very long line outside a booth with two windows and mics and only one MTA worker in it–as at a crucial hub: Grand Central/42nd Street. I was in that line recently and a tourist, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel I learned as we chatted, asked me in her charming Scottish accent: “Why is there only one worker in that booth?”  Good question given that 98 percent in the line were buying MetroCards. The do-it-yourself kiosks had even longer lines. Me to the MTA: Consider adding a few more kiosks where people are spending money, OK?

I’ve bragged previously about Bryant Park where I love to eat lunch. Once needle park, today the space welcomes locals and tourists who bring food–or buy a snack at a local takeout. There are plenty of trees, tables and chairs and a brisk turnover so it’s easy to find a spot.

I have an argument with restaurants and small retail businesses located on avenues here. Dollars to donuts they don’t identify the cross streets on their websites and it drives me NUTS figuring it out. Shakespeare & Co. does it right. They are at 939 Lexington Avenue and on the web they add “between 68 and 69th Streets.”

What is it about your town or city–or about NYC–that you love and what exasperates you?

 

Bryant Park

Service of Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose–Redux

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

Photo: saladcreative.com

Before a significant launch, a client invited the marketing experts who promoted his product to his conference room in the Pacific Northwest. He wanted us to hear and see others’ plans, to tweak ours if necessary, and eventually to coordinate and amplify the marketing effort to ensure we were all singing the same song. I was there for public relations and there was someone from direct marketing, advertising, graphics, customer service and so forth. My client was the puppeteer pulling the strings. It was years ago.

While he didn’t give it a fancy name–nor did he have access to the bells and whistles we now do–some 2019 jargon lovers might call what he did “360 degree marketing.”

Photo: quora.com

Its offspring is 360 degree digital marketing that too-frequently falls off the lips of [trying to be] hip PR folks these days. Here’s how Wheelhouse Advisors explains it: “a 360 degree approach is all about taking a broad and all-encompassing view of your entire customer journey, from discovery to purchase, across multiple devices and touch points.” Sound familiar?

Wheelhouse listed the basics [the words in parentheses are mine]: “SEO [Search Engine Optimization]; PPC [pay per click]; Customer Communications; Website; Content; Social [LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube]; Inbound Lead Nurturing and Outbound Email.”

The longer I’m in business the more I slap my head when I see decades-old strategies dressed up in buzz simply because a few more communications elements have been added. Clients went berserk when the web was in its infancy, tossing all their marketing dollars at their websites, leaving none to promote where to find them. [Customers with no access to the web at that time were briefly kicked to the curb.]

Photo: kakenzie.com

Another popular word that marketers love lately–borrowed from the world of medicine–is “holistic.” An awful like “360 degree” to me, and what primo marketers have been trying to achieve all along. In fact, if some businesses are zeroing in exclusively on 360 degree digital marketing today they are making a gargantuan mistake. You know who you are.

Are there attempts in your industry to dust off the old and give it a fresh coat of paint–I mean words–to make it seem cutting edge simply because some of the tactics have changed? Is it only the insecure, hip-prone marketing world that falls for/sells this gobbledygook based on the premise everything we do must seem new?

Photo: memegenerator.net

 

Service of Appearances Matter But Pick Your Battles Carefully When Contesting Questionable Choices

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Glasgow Prestwick Airport
Photo: glasgowprestwick.com

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings picked an example that, at first blush, looked like the Trump organization was yet again driving–and profiting from–government business at one of its properties while the head of the family ran the country. Digging deeper, while the situation doesn’t look right, the severity of the malfeasance is feeble at best.

Brigadier General Edward Thomas spoke with Lalita Clozel and Joshua Jamerson for their Wall Street Journal article “Air Force Reviews Travel Policies Amid Scrutiny Over Trump Resort –Aircrew’s March stay at Scotland resort followed guidelines, Air Force says; House Democrats probe the expenditures.”

Brigadier General Edward Thomas. Photo: af.mil

The general didn’t address the issue of the property’s owner. He said “U.S. Service members lodging at resort accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable.”

The general added: “We are not only stewards of American tax dollars but we represent our nation as we travel abroad.”

The fact is that the crew spent $30 less than the maximum hotel per diem allowed at the Trump Turnberry golf resort which is some 40 minutes from Glasgow Prestwick Airport. In addition, the reporters wrote that it was the cheapest option.

According to Clozel and Jamerson the president tweeted: “I know nothing about an Air Force plane landing at an airport (which I do not own and have nothing to do with) near Turnberry Resort (which I do own) in Scotland, and filling up with fuel, with the crew staying overnight at Turnberry (they have good taste!). NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.”

The reporters continued: “The C-17 plane and its crew were on a multi-leg journey that took them from Anchorage, Alaska, to Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, to Portsmouth, N.H., Glasgow and Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait and then back.”

Prestwick was selected as a refueling location in August 2016, months before Trump was elected, because it has better weather than Shannon, Ireland, is open 24 hours and doesn’t attract a lot of air traffic.

“Since October 2017, the U.S. military has paid the airport hundreds of times for fuel purchases totaling $11 million Cummings said. The U.S. government has also made tens of thousands of dollars in purchases at the Turnberry resort in 2018 and 2019, according to procurement records.

“Both the Scottish government-owned airport and the Turnberry resort have lost money in recent years, Mr. Cummings said in his letter.”

Since no laws or regulations have been broken and the crew spent well under the per diem hotel ceiling, should Representative Cummings look for a better example of the enrichment of the Trump empire while the company’s namesake is in office? Should the Air Force forbid crews from staying at any resort for appearance’s sake? Should there be a regulation prohibiting any government employee from staying at a property owned by a president, cabinet member, senator or congress man or woman?

Boeing C-17 Photo: af.mil

Service of Lag Time for Recognition: Are Geniuses Discovered More Quickly Today?

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Photo: goodreads.com

Fortunate is the artist, writer, scientist, poet or inventor who is recognized and reaps the benefits in his/her lifetime. There are so many who died on the equivalent of Skid Row only to be discovered once they were long gone. Just these few names that fit this tragic situation–Oscar Wilde, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Keats, Johannes Vermeer, Gregor Johann Mendel, Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Van Gogh–make the point.

Swiss-born photographer died recently at 94 and enjoyed a different experience. While his early and some say best work was widely criticized when first seen, it garnered the praise it deserved long before his demise.

J S Bach Photo: classicfm.com

In her Wall Street Journal article “Robert Frank, 1924-2019: He Saw America Without Illusions,” Mary Panzer wrote: “Published first in France in 1958 and the following year in New York, ‘The Americans’ was deemed mean and depressing by critics in the U.S. Popular Photography’s editors called it ‘a wart-covered picture of America by a joyless man.’ Reigning photography critic Minor White found it ‘Utterly misleading! A degradation of a nation!’ The book sold less than half the print run of 2,500 copies; the rest were remaindered. Within 10 years, the critical tide had turned, and today the book is considered one of the most influential art publications of the 20th century.”

Panzer reviewed highlights of Frank’s life in her article and concluded: “’The Americans’ remains Robert Frank’s most important legacy, a modest book with 83 photographs that changed the way we see and photograph the world around us.”

Gregor Johann Mendel Photo: biography.com

It only took a decade for “The Americans” to be reevaluated and admired. So it’s hard to argue that a short life is the reason for a lag in appreciation of seminal work.

Might it be that since the middle of last century tastes and mores changed more quickly than before allowing visionaries to see their work accepted? Do drastically improved communications tools help geniuses in arts and science spread the word to a wide spectrum of people allowing more to “get” what they do? Is there an historic or contemporary person you admire who wasn’t discovered during her/his lifetime or someone who isn’t yet and should be?

Edgar Allan Poe Photo: poemuseum.org

Service of What the Public Must Learn About People with Disabilities

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

Photo: medicalxpress.com

I suddenly went deaf in both ears and didn’t know why. It turns out it was a garden variety ear infection but I didn’t know that and spent three weeks in a silent world.

At the time I visited a boutique in Lenox, Mass. looking at blouses and a saleswoman came over. I assumed she’d said—“May I help you?” or something close. When I told her I was totally deaf and added “thank you, I’ll let you know if I need anything,” she looked at me with panic. I’ll never forget her expression of alarm.

You couldn’t tell by looking at me that anything was off kilter, yet this brief experience made me realize how people with permanent conditions must feel daily. So when Helen Rabinovitz suggested a post on what the public assumes about people with disabilities I accepted with enthusiasm.

This is what she wrote:

Lisa Rabinovitz with Ethan, the service dog she trained herself.

My 33 year old daughter has Cerebral Palsy. Lisa is beautiful, articulate and has a genius IQ. Yet people see her in a power wheelchair and assume she can’t communicate. It’s insulting that able bodied people think that people with disabilities are less than smart.

Rewind to middle school. My husband and I get called to the headmaster’s office three times. He said “Lisa isn’t trying,” or “She’s not participating,” for example. Finally on visit number three I said to him… “The problem is that her teachers see her wheelchair first and Lisa second. She’s smarter than they are so she’s bored!” No more visits to the office! When the school got computers, which were upstairs in a building with no elevator, administrators sat Lisa with an aide downstairs. She taught the aide how to use it.

High school…Lisa, her service dog and sister Rachael are in the hall and a teacher came over to chat. She spoke directly to Rachael and then said to be sure and tell Lisa what she’d said. Rae told her she could speak directly to Lisa. Embarrassed teacher!!

Just because a person uses a wheelchair or walker or crutches doesn’t mean they’re stupid. It’s important to treat everyone we meet, no matter how they get around, with the respect and consideration everyone expects.

Do you assume that if a person suffers from one affliction it impacts everything else about them? Are you uncomfortable around people with disabilities? Why do you think that is? What might be done to disabuse the public of their false notions about disabled friends, students, colleagues and strangers?

 

Photo: reddit.com

Service of Marketers Ruling the Roost: When Hip Overrides Clarity

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Photo: eyecatch.co

When service or communications are poor, customers must wonder whether an operation is being run for them, the owners or the staff.

It may be none of the above.

Frequently the marketers run the show. Many are enamored of technology, to heck with whether or not the hip, new effect does the trick. It’s more important to appear to be cutting edge. Take revolving digital screens that move so quickly that customers can’t read and/or absorb the information fast enough. This isn’t a good choice for a fast food restaurant–or for anything else if the fast-moving screen features more than a few words with an image.

Hot & Spicy McChicken Photo: McDonalds.fandom.com

Britton O’Daly wrote “Wait, Where Did That Burger Go? Diners Struggle With Fast-Moving Digital Menus,” in The Wall Street Journal. In one example a customer was frustrated because he didn’t catch the name of a new chicken dish at McDonald’s so instead of waiting for the screen to return–he feared holding up the line–he ordered a burger. I wonder why he felt he couldn’t ask for “one of those new chicken dishes?”

That customer may have been intimidated by marketers who are also in love with the cutesy names they give their products. To be considered “in,” there’s pressure to use them. I break out in a rash when forced to order coffee at Starbucks [I admit you rarely see me in there]. If I want a small coffee with skim that is how I will order it. You can keep your Grande, Venti and Trenta. Phooey.

Photo: pinterest.com

Back to the original subject. O’Daly wrote: “Digital billboards are now everywhere, and companies love them. The only problem: people have a hard time reading them.”

This harkens back to an amazing looking logo in an unreadable font that also irks me. What’s the point?

Why is the public intimidated into ordering food or drink using the names a company gives it? Why does management put aside common sense and allow marketers to incorporate the latest widget or gadget to communicate with the public even if the vehicle doesn’t do the job? And why does a marketing department, or its advisors, lead its clients down so many primrose paths?

Photo: eater.com

Service of Second Hand Clothes: Thrift in Unexpected Places

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

Photo: picclick.com

One of my office mates years ago owned an extensive collection of fur coats and jackets from ermine and fox to mink and beaver. She’d bought every one of them at a thrift shop.

In my early 20s I knew a woman whose very wealthy husband paid for anything she wanted. He kept a tight grip on her by giving her cash only if she’d tell him where she was going and what she wanted the money for. He’d know what she bought at stores by checking his credit card bills. Desperate for cash which represented a modicum of independence, she’d sell, for a few dollars, amazing barely worn clothes I couldn’t otherwise afford–a win and for me super win.

Photo: medium.com

Hand-me-downs are nothing new to kids with older siblings.

Even so, I was surprised to read Suzanne Kapner’s article–written with Micah Maidenberg–in The Wall Street Journal: “J.C. Penney Tries On Used Apparel.” That’s right: The store, which is suffering from plummeting sales and stunning losses is partnering with threadUP for the clothes.

So is Macy’s which, Kapner and Maidenberg wrote “reported a disappointing second quarter that sent its stock plunging.”

ThredUp bills itself as the “largest online consignment and thrift store” and boasts, on its website, that you can “shop your favorite outfits from over 35,000 brands, all up to 90% off.” It touts that it’s causing a resale revolution.

Photo: treehugger.com

As I write this I’m humming “Second Hand Rose,” a song that Barbra Streisand and before her Fanny Brice made famous. Written in 1921 by Grant Clarke and James F. Hanley the second verse about the “girl from Second Avenue” goes:

I’m wearing second hand hats Second hand clothes That’s why they call me Second hand Rose Even our piano in the parlor Daddy bought for ten cents on the dollar Second hand pearls I’m wearing second hand curls….

Auto dealerships sell second hand cars and customers don’t blink so why can’t department stores sell used apparel? Isn’t it ironic that the stores think they can sell used clothing when they are having trouble enticing customers with the new? I wonder what the Penny’s and Macy’s vendors think? Will shoppers leave the thredUp department and spend money in the cosmetics and accessories counters? Will they pay full freight for the new clothing in the stores? Can you predict the outcome of this trend?

Photo: thredup.com

Service of Should One Manufacturing Car Rule Fit All?

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Photo: ford.com

When it comes to rules governing clean air and other environmental issues, health care too, California has been ahead of the curve as long as I can remember. I’ve worked with associations and companies that would cringe when the state proposed a new regulation governing the industries in which they were involved because they feared it would cost them money and catch on universally.

The state currently has a federal waiver that allows it to set its own auto emission standards.

The Trump administration is proposing to ease fuel economy standards to save manufacturers money and encourage them to sell gas-hungry trucks and sport utility vehicles the public prefers. According to Ben Foldy and Mike Colias in The Wall Street Journal “the rollback being pushed by the administration is so extensive that car companies are worried it will set off a protracted legal battle with California—the nation’s most populous state and the biggest auto market—and ultimately conclude with manufacturers having to meet two different sets of requirements for selling cars in the U.S.”

Photo: bmwusa.com

Federal rules agreed upon in 2012 called “for increases in fuel economy annually through mid-decade to an average of about 50 miles a gallon.” The administration wants to freeze them at 37 miles a gallon.

Meanwhile Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW signed a separate agreement with California for standards more rigorous than this administration’s and not as severe as the last one’s. Mr. Trump reacted: “Car companies should know that when this administration’s alternative is no longer available, California will squeeze them to a point of business ruin.”

Photo: vw.com

Foldy and Colias wrote: “In a statement responding to the tweets, Ford said: ‘We have consistently supported one 50-state solution for regulating fuel economy standards, and this agreement with California provides regulatory stability while reducing CO2 more than complying with two different standards.’”

Its obvious why a 50-state solution is ideal. Tweaking cars for different markets is onerous and far more costly than, say, manufacturing pillowcases in different sizes for European and U.S. beds.

Other manufacturers that didn’t join the four wanted to wait for the final federal ruling anticipated for later this year. Foreign manufacturers didn’t participate in the pact, according to Foldy and Colias, was because they were afraid the president would impose tariffs on their cars as he’d threatened.

The administration also wants to “revoke California’s federal waiver to set its own emissions standards.”

Outlier GM is “pushing for rules to require car companies to sell battery-powered cars across all 50 states,” and feels that the Golden State doesn’t give “enough credit for sales of fully electric vehicles.”

Should car manufacturers be encouraged to produce more fuel efficient vehicles or is it better to loosen up the rules to keep them increasingly profitable so that they can share profits with investors and employees and in theory pay more taxes contributing to the greater good? Is the administration right to rescind California’s exemption from federal emission standards so that manufacturers can make one car that fits all rules?

Photo: hondanorth.com

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