Does America Know What We Want?

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Since summer of 2013, Google has been working on an ambitious goal, called Project Loon: to provide balloon-powered internet for everyone.  Of a couple of worthwhile benefits identified:

  • Farmers: the better weather forecast producers have access to, the more food supply available.
  • Small businesses: by putting businesses online, more opportunities would be made available
  • Ad revenue: the more people online, the more opportunity there is to charge for eyeballs on ads (ideally, for the servicing of needs through effective ads)

I stumbled across a promotional video by Project Loon, showing how they are bringing opportunity through connectivity in a rural area in Brazil:

“This is the only way they’re going to grow, not only as students, but as human beings with the ability to contribute knowledge to their community.”

It struck me: sure, perhaps this is just an idealistic teacher of a small community out in the brush somewhere… but she has vision for her students, and perhaps they have more initiative and hope than we do here in the United States. How dull and uninspired are the majority of Americans? We have so much access to amazing technologies and resulting opportunities, but what are we doing? Do we have an imagination left of what we could contribute?

At least from what I can gather, it seems like our society revolves around immersive entertainment.  I would like to trace how many of my weekly activities are either entertainment, or are me laboring to product some form of entertainment.  But ultimately, what is there at the end of the day other than seeing or learning the way someone else views the world?  Whether through our natural world of the outdoors, pigments to illustrate environments, or through our built world of music or things of the internet, these are all activities of experiencing what is already around us.

Where is the line between experiencing what is already around us and entertainment?  Passiveness.  Does the experience:

  1. Help us pass time
  2. Illuminate our minds
  3. Provide inspiration for our own creativity

May we have more of the last two than the first.

From being surrounded and saturated with tools and methods to contribute to our society, it can be really easy to deflate their value.  But for someone who has never had the experience, we can only imagine the energy around new horizons of possibility.

Is Product Placement in a Digital Age Bad?

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ofcom product placement PFor a Consumer Behavior course I am taking over the summer, in our forum discussions we were prompted with a UK regulation from 2010 concerning product placement in British programming. Put into effect in February 2011, the UK regulator Ofcom now permits product placement in programming only with the prominent display of their designated “P” (alliteration unintended) at the beginning of each segment, as a heads up to viewers that there will be product placement at some point during the show.

As a class, we were challenged with discussing why this was an appropriate time for this new regulation to occur, and whether or not it was justified. Working in Price Per Click advertising for a little while, and an active consumer of online content with all of its delights and woes, I feel elated at seeing trends of how online advertising can become more and more precise in how with available data, content can become more and more targeted for a relevant audience. Of course this comes with privacy concerns from borderline intrusive messaging, but as an optimist I think that it is a very bright time both for marketers to share their content and messages, and for consumers to be open to relevant products in their lives.

Is Product Placement Really a Desire of the Public?

From the verbiage in The Independent, their language suggests that lobbying from advertisers pressured the government to allow for product placement for the first time.  This suggests that the prevailing British preference was to not have outside brand messages interfere with the programming that they are watching, and that they see that their goods and services as removed from the experiences they watch in their shows.  This would be the only point of concern, but I think that this regulatory change was implemented in a historic time that makes this concern irrelevant.

For values towards brands outside of the United States, this situation reminded me of a passage I read (written in 1989) about neighborhood businesses called ‘Third Places,’ much like a local Starbucks or neighborhood bar.  In discussing the French culture of cafés, Ray Oldenburg (The Great Good Place) points out that in their concern for the invasion of market forces, they don’t even name many of their local businesses. He more-eloquently describes their dynamic:

“Naming something is the first step toward advertising it, and the French have always been admirably suspicious of advertising—only in recent years have they permitted it on television.  But the major reason for not naming a bistro is simply that the neighborhood café does not need a name.  Its patron has filled a local niche and is content with his small, steady business.”

For the sake of contrast, I would argue that television is fundamentally different.  Television programming spans distance of neighborhoods, and of course now with the internet, we are no longer limited to media catering to the local tastes and desires in the city of our residence.  We are now able to pick and choose the cultures that we desire to reinforce or be influenced by, so theoretically every channel and programming block will only become more and more relevant to particular audiences.

As part of our course outlining literature on self perception through consumption, “symbolic self-completion” theory and the concept of the “extended self” both suggest that “we are what we consume.”  Since I am not very familiar with British culture, I am unable to make assessments on what types of products Britons use and prefer, but given the backlash of at least The Independent, it seems as though the British (at least in 2011) preferred to live the way they did and use the products they already used.  However, assuming that the nature of the networked world will influence consumer behavior in the UK as it has in the United States, these consumers will understand that new possibilities extend past their own local customs and products, and that to a certain extent they already participate in ‘cultural selection’.  Also, assuming that marketers in Britain are conscious of their target markets, then they will find ways to interject their messages only in the places where they will effectively influence those who will be likely to benefit from that messaging and use of their product.  This should not make product placement much less an issue of unwanted obtrusion, and sure enough it seems most of the critical articles on product placement center only around 2011 when this change first occurred.

As one last point of potential contention, there may also be concerns that product placement would start invading every area of life.  From the same article in The Independent, this interjection of product placement is restricted only to programs other than “children’s programmes, news and current affairs, consumer advice and religious programmes made for UK audiences.”  Each of these prohibited spheres I think are reasonable ‘socially sacred‘ mediums where commercial interests are not appropriate and should not influence civic life, and I think that this was a very tactful decision from Ofcom.

‘Product Placement’ Can Now be a Celebrated Thing

So justifying of product placement aside, I think that on the contrary the cultural lifestyles promoted in media is actually welcoming of product placement, just not in the way we traditionally think.  With nearly every human activity revolving around using products that others manufacture, it is arguable that every form of media is some type of advocacy for a certain lifestyle with certain products.  Whether this is overt or covert is one thing, but the line of what products are intentionally promoted and which are accidentally featured is only going to be more and more blurred.


Top Gear, from

More recently in September of 2013, the BBC show Top Gear had inadvertently crossed this line.  As a show that praises the craft and even art of various automobile manufacturers, their use of man-made products is very apparent.  In one episode, brands of seats and harnesses were unintentionally displayed, and following from Ofcom’s 2011 regulation they were penalized for their failure to display the product placement P. In the producer’s words “We have never given them prominence over the years because we have different manufacturers for Star in a Reasonably Priced car.  This slipped under the radar.”  This suggests that his use of brands is so engrained, that their use wasn’t even thought of as product placement in his eyes.

More generally, how often do sophisticated crime/law/government TV shows feature a curiously slim aluminum-and-glass laptop, sans a glowing Apple in the back?  Or banner ads with people using a smartphone with a cover, that has a hole for the camera lens distinctively in the far top-left corner?  To identify with their customers, marketers acknowledge that Apple holds a 41.4% marketshare on smartphones in the US.  And how often have you seen younger models in ads wearing a certain type of plain, dual-paneled canvas shoe (TOMS)?  Or a professional carrying a white coffee cup with green highlights (Starbucks)?  These products are simply part of our culture’s lifestyle, and in connecting with consumers, this is a great chance for marketers to help reinforce what their brand’s culture stands for, and how it can fit in with what their consumers already do.  It is only when a brand is overly blatant about it, or it doesn’t match the environment that product placement seems off-putting and irrelevant, but the ‘invisible hand’ seems to ensure that brand use is done tactfully for the most part, not requiring legislation to prevent its abuse.

There has recently been contention around advertising on Facebook, since it is now grown to such prominence to even be referred to as a ‘social utility.’  But as advertising can get more and more targeted, we will have less and less ads shown to us about mortgage refinancing etc., but will have more relevant ads shown to us.  I think YouTube has already proven that targeting is possible, and most video ads that are presented to me on YouTube I have found to be quite relevant… and in some cases even enjoyable!

As long as we as marketers can find ways to take advantage of Big Data becoming more and more available to us, the more effective we can be… and the less annoying we will be to other consumers by taking them out of our line of fire.

Eyes On The Prize (No, Not To Maximize Shareholder Wealth)

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As a twenty-something trying to find his way in the world, I have been reading a book on work called “Every Good Endeavor,” by Timothy Keller.  The book talks a lot beyond the goals of individuals and building your career, and ultimately drives to the heart of why we’re organized to produce good: to serve the interests of a culture, and the sets of values surrounding that culture.  He warns, however:

“We should expect, then, that each culture’s emphases have some beneficial influences on work and yet at the same time harmfully distort it.”

When we drift away from what we are building and constructing–e.g. focusing simply on maximizing shareholder profits–we neglect the very value of what we are creating.


“For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

Think past the cliché for a brief moment, and think about the Great Recession on Wall Street.  Enron.  Watergate.  These were all efforts of individuals and organizations that were in their own right relatively successful, but over time as they started to push the boundaries of what they could extract from it personally, their schemes started to blow out of proportion because their constituents no longer were receiving the value that was once promised to them.

-Getting new Industry partners: why not simply show them where we’re at, and have them help accomplish our mission? Is it membership revenue?

Once you start heading towards the line, it’s hard to know when you cross it

Corruption is sneaky, because it’s a very subtle distortion of absolute truth.

So: Are You A Brand, Or Do You Sell Widgets?

Our post-industrial economy is moving past simply having the cheapest gadget or the most convenient location.  We are moving into an era of Seth Godin’s idea of tribes, where transparent values are what will connect companies’ products with their users.  This is the new value proposition.  “Here we are at the core, here’s how we’re similar, and here’s how we can help you come alive.”

KEEP VALUES (organizational as well as personal) IN VIEW AT ALL TIMES

Communication Cures Confusion (Celebrate Collaboration!)

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We’re all different.  We all have different perspectives.  How do you coordinate this variety to actually do something useful?

I was talking with a friend who is reading a book about methods of gaining and acquiring power. One of them includes being aloof, and withholding information. This leaves the other party in the dark to a degree, and creates a reliance on you–the beholder of knowledge–to bequeath to them what they desire when you see the time is fit. Ok, not the most ethical, or maybe not even the most mature, but I can see it.

In practice however, at my current internship and in my numerous group projects in business school, I’ve been frustrated with not being in the communication loop, but not for the reason of this method of acquiring power. I have also found myself on the side of unintentionally siloing information from group members, and feeling anxiety of them inevitably lashing out in distress… or just falling off the boat completely.

My experience both at my job and in group projects has been misdirected efforts, and frustration from incompatibility with pieces constructed in isolation. I’m sure this isn’t much of an off-beat observation. So while we don’t always have to disclose every detail, I am resolving to communicate intent and direction at every opportunity to ensure we’re going the same direction.

A quick caveat: I’m a middle child, I’m all about trying to blaze a new path and be original, be it in rhythms for a music setting or finding a new PowerPoint template that everyone hasn’t already used. Moreover, I firmly believe in diversity, where different elements coming together creates an amalgamation that is greater than the sum of the parts. So my approach to being different isn’t just to successfully find my ecological niche for survival, but because I’ve experienced that this posture of contributing something original is better for all.  This is the ideal I’m holding onto, at least.

Sample of my TEDxEMU talk

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I submitted an application to speak at TEDxEMU 2013. Pending my acceptance to speak, here’s a preview of my talk “What I Learned About Fulfillment in Large Organizations”:

As an out-of-state student, the unionized, entitled, myopic mentality of a large portion of the Detroit metro area hit me in an uneasy way. I am continually learning what changed to devastate a once-booming industry, from a micro perspective in individual companies.

I attended a recent conference with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship that refreshed my view of my Christian tradition, in light of how our invitation is not only to love, but to work. Amongst 20,000 other students from all over the world, as well as alumni from as far back as 1948, I felt in good company, and that there was a real legitimacy to the efforts by an institution established 2,000 years ago by a man called Jesus Christ.

What I realized is that daily, Christians pledge to the work of furthering a kingdom, and the frame of existence is in the greater mission, no matter where the individual is in the social strata. I realized a difference between this religious paradigm and a corporate wage earner is where the focus is while working. One is on the goal, the other is simply on the wage and benefits.

Personally, I’ve found an enormous amount of joy in partnering not only with God’s mission, but in my new relationship with my boss and her objectives and even with family. And if our human desire of fulfillment is to be fully utilized, this principle of submission to a higher mission–while perhaps old-fashioned–could be a refreshing, new way to approach our roles in daunting organizations.

Blog Take 2

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Since creating this blog for the first time, I have upgraded to a better web server, a revamped personal website, and a much more sane frame of mind now that one of my most difficult semesters is over. And I also accidentally deleted what I had worked on so far.

Additionally, all the quirks I learned about web hosting and how to run this blog have been figured out, and having redone the process of re-setting this blog back up, I hope that you will appreciate its efficiency and organization! There is much more to come, and here is my list of what I desire to write on soon:


What I wouldn’t have learned if I WASN’T at Eastern
  • Strong bonds/connections/reliance on family is not weakness
  • When it all shakes down, it’s not about doing… it’s about being (with people, and with God)


An Entrepreneurship project–more conceptual than anything at this point


Ray Oldenburg’s “third places
Two papers for my Finance class:
  • Ethics, a trader getting into medical marijuana
  • International business


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