Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Mac at 25: Or the Glorious Anniversary of the Information Purification Directives

"Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology. Where each worker may bloom secure from the pests of contradictory and confusing truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!"

-- spoken by the Big Brother figure in the January 1984 TV ad introducing Apple's new Macintosh computer. (See the full ad in Quicktime or the YouTube version embedded at the end of this post.)

Apple's iconic, Orwellian advertisement -- created by the Chiat/Day agency and directed by filmmaker Ridley Scott ("Alien," "Blade Runner") -- was almost as revolutionary as the product it was promoting. The ad poked at IBM's dominance of the emerging PC market and aired once nationally -- on Jan. 22, 1984, during Super Bowl XVIII. So, like Lyndon Johnson's shocking "Daisy" ad, which similarly was only broadcast one time during the 1964 presidential campaign, the Mac spot's power came more from the buzz it created than the reach the advertiser actually paid for.

As influential as the Macintosh was on the direction of home and office computing -- particularly in terms of the adoption of easily understood Graphical User Interfaces -- it also radically changed how computers were marketed and sold. One major factor was the Macintosh's relatively accessible price tag: $2,495, or about half the price of the IBM XT that debuted the previous year. Of course, adjusted for inflation, the same money would buy you $5,100 worth of computer today. That's enough to pay for two souped-up 15-inch MacBook Pros now.

Apple's marketing is still among the best, but I have never seen another TV advertisement that could absolutely silence a room full of rowdy Redskins fans the way Ridley Scott's "1984" spot did 25 years ago this weekend.

Watch below and see how it holds up....

Friday, January 23, 2009

White House Upgrades: Party Like It's 1993

Bill Clinton was never much of a techie, but his vice president certainly was, as was much of their eager young staff. That may be why I hear echos from the Clintonistas' first days on the job 16 years ago in the digital dismay radiating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this week.

"It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari," White House spokesman Bill Burton told the Washington Post, which ran a front-page story Thursday on how President Barack Obama's webby warriors are struggling with the strict new security, software and hardware limitations that are annoyingly familiar to many government workers.

The Post's Anne E. Kornblut described the "technological dark ages" in which Team Obama suddenly finds itself: "No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking."

Clinton's staff was similarly frustrated in their first weeks in office in 1993. A couple of months into the new administration, I wrote a story for the Post that looked at how "many of the young campaign aides who came to Washington with... President Clinton to 'reinvent government' are still trying to adapt to the White House's aging, user-hostile phone and computer systems."

The March 29 article ran with the headline, "Under Clinton, The PC Is PC: Shocked White House Moves to Upgrade Archaic Office Systems." Vice President Al Gore's staff secretary, Michael Gill -- a management consultant who had previously worked on computer networks for private sector clients -- gamely posed for a photo in a closet stacked high with retired IBM Selectric typewriters. He explained his efforts to get his boss access to the same "high level of technology" they'd had during the campaign. Those efforts sometimes put Gill at odds with career staffers in the Office of Administration's Information Systems and Technology Division, some of whom later singled out the Gore aide's network and e-mail retention practices in affidavits filed as part of the endless legal wrangling that consumed so much of the Clinton years.

As it happened, Clinton preferred legal pads to laptops, one adviser said. But the president was nevertheless annoyed by the technology that was available to his staff -- as he made clear publicly during a Feb. 22, 1993, visit with amused high-tech workers in Silicon Valley:

"...When we took office, I walked into the Oval Office -- it's supposed to be the nerve center of the United States -- and we found Jimmy Carter's telephone system.... No speaker phone, no conference calls, but anybody in the office could punch the lighted button and listen to the President talk, so that I could have the conference call I didn't want but not the one I did. Then we went down into the basement where we found Lyndon Johnson's switchboard -- true story -- where there were four operators working from early morning till late at night. Literally, when a phone [call] would come and they'd say, 'I want to talk to the Vice President's office,' they would pick up a little cord and push it into a little hole."

In conversations, Clinton's staff was even more blunt about the technology they inherited from the staff of President George H.W. Bush. "No wonder they lost," one aide told me after being assigned an office equipped with a typewriter and a disassembled seven-year-old computer. "Speak up," another said in a phone call. "You know we only have a tin can and a wire here."

Some of the people who worked for the previous administration bristled at such descriptions. Kristin Hyde, then a 25-year-old former staff assistant in Bush's White House press office, said, "I never had any problems with the phones, other than they rang too much."

To be fair, e-mail was not exactly new to the White House either -- even in 1993. Just ask Ronald Reagan's national security team, who in 1986 tried to delete messages (later recovered from backup tapes) that helped reveal their plans to trade weapons with Iran and to use the profits to fund anti-communist fighters in Nicaragua.

But e-mail was not the widely used electronic tether it is today -- buzzing BlackBerrys on bedside tables across Washington at all hours of the night. In fact it was enough of a novelty 16 years ago that Jeff Eller, Clinton's first White House media director, developed a reputation as a futuristic communicator during the 1992 campaign simply by being one of the first people in politics to use e-mail to distribute position papers and press releases. Ross Perot's campaign staff, many of whom came from the independent candidate's technology ventures, also were early adopters.

Chatting via CompuServe, Eller mused at the time about how e-mail and other technology would eventually "allow us to make information from the White House more readily available to the general public." That vision clearly would resonate with the current White House team. The only difference: Most of the Obama folks probably do not remember what CompuServe was, and few, if any, ever used an IBM Selectric -- a great machine, by the way.

Since I've pulled out the time machine for this posting, let me add a couple of quick "where are they now" notes: Clinton media director Eller is now president and CEO of Public Strategies Inc., and Bush (42) press aide Hyde is the co-founder of Good Food Strategies, a Seattle-based public affairs and communications firm that advises clients involved in sustainable food issues. Both appear to be keeping up with the times: I spotted profiles for both on Facebook and LinkedIn, and Eller is even Twittering.

(Image above: a Selectric typing element from the IBM Archives. The March 29, 1993, Washington Post article from which I recovered many of the quotes above is available -- for a price -- in my former employer's online archive.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Anti-Viral Marketing: Spreading Drugmakers' Messages Online

Adapted from my "Futurist" column from the Jan. 19 issue of CQ Weekly.

Pharmaceutical advertising can cause drowsiness, irritability, mild confusion and occasional hypochondria. People experiencing prolonged humming of jingles derived from old Elvis Presley songs should consult a doctor. After all, getting you to contact your doctor is one reason drugmakers spend billions on all those ads, anyway.

Like most marketers, pharmaceutical companies are slowly shifting their advertising focus to the Internet. Changing media habits are a contributing factor: Web activity now rivals radio and print, and by some measures is gaining on television's reach, even when excluding at-work Internet use. Online marketing offers targeted audiences at a low cost, too.

But pharma's growing interest in online also relates to the distinctly stringent way direct-to-consumer marketing messages for prescription drugs are regulated, especially on U.S. television. With Congress expected to consider even more restrictions, creative Internet advertising looks more appealing than ever -- and poses challenges for the Food and Drug Administration, which already struggles with its responsibility to monitor the marketing of prescription medicines in all media.

This shifting media landscape helps explain how Debbie Phelps -- mother of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps -- ended up on Facebook last year, working as a paid spokeswoman for a new online group for parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The "ADHD Moms" page offers space to share stories, access articles and vote in online polls. The page shows up prominently when users search for information on the disorder on the hugely popular social networking site, and more than 7,000 "mombassadors" have declared themselves "fans" on their personal profiles.

ADHD Moms' sponsor is McNeil Pediatrics, a division of Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. Its role and logo are highlighted near the top of the page, but a user would need to click through to the company's Web site to learn that it's "a leader in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" -- a reference to Concerta, a commonly prescribed daily treatment for ADHD.

Parent company Johnson & Johnson has been in the vanguard of this kind of indirect, community-oriented online marketing for prescription medications -- setting up blogs, Facebook pages and YouTube channels to help extend its brands. Some drugmaker marketers see campaigns like those as the industry's future.

"The genie is out of the bottle," said Peter Justason, a global marketing director for Johnson & Johnson, in a recent TNS Media Intelligence report on using "social media" for branding. "Now it doesn't cost anything for a million people to get online and talk to each other. People are trusting people like themselves more and more, as opposed to some sort of third-party authoritative figure."

FDA's regulations for digital communications are the same as those for direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical messages in other media, including rules against promoting a product's possible off-label uses and requirements that drug companies clearly disclose potential side effects and adverse reactions. If anything, the Web may provide better opportunities for that kind of disclosure than the tiny type in magazines and the fast-talking voice-overs on TV. "It's hard when you only have a 30-second spot," says John Mangano of comScore Inc., a market research firm that advises pharmaceutical clients on online issues.

Nonetheless, drug companies have been slower than other industries to explore social media's potential. A key concern: "user generated content," such as the stories and comments posted on ADHD Moms. Some in the industry fear that user comments will dramatically increase reports of possible adverse reactions, which the companies are then legally required to document. (See Brandweek: "Why Pharma Fears Social Networking", Oct. 20, 2008)

Such worries have kept many drugmakers from doing anything more online than buying some ads and creating static, carefully vetted Web pages. But that could soon change. In a series of videos posted on his site, EyeOnFDA blogger Mark Senak notes that Congress is likely to consider imposing a moratorium on TV ads for newly approved drugs and restrictions on direct outreach to doctors and medical groups -- moves he predicts would accelerate the pharmaceutical industry's online shift. "Traditional concerns" about Internet marketing "actually crumble in the face of the fact that coming reforms are really going to demand new approaches," says Senak, who's an executive at Fleishman-Hillard. (Here's Senak's video series: "Changing Policy Landscape," Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Could increased online marketing of prescription drugs attract the same level of legislative and regulatory scrutiny that broadcast advertising has? Sure, but Senak thinks that's a long way off. And the FDA is far from ready to take on such a challenge. The Government Accountability Office has found that FDA's small staff for monitoring drug marketing has labored with the growing volume of industry submissions over the past decade, including 4,600 offline pieces and more than 6,100 online pieces in 2005 alone.

One way the agency might accelerate enforcement efforts is using social media. The FDA is beginning to develop a new "Web portal" to make it easier to report adverse drug reactions. A similar approach might allow consumers to report potentially illegal advertising, too. For now, however, the agency Web site provides only an elusive link -- with a phone number and a mailing address. (See the third-to-last answer on this Q&A from FDA's consumer guide on drug ads.) Very old media.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"The value for users of having one interoperable social network is so great that it's very hard to believe that you're going to end up in the next year or two NOT having fairly complete interoperability and visibility across social networks."

-- Tim O'Reilly, of O'Reilly Media Inc., speaking about the "future of of social media" on NPR's "Science Friday" last month. O'Reilly helped popularize the term "Web 2.0" (coined by his colleague, Dale Dougherty).