The reincarnation of Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse is the latest example of how sudden death ignites the career of a down-and-out, self-destructive artist. You see it happen time and again: a troubled celebrity dies unexpectedly. Said celebrity then realizes a surge in PR popularity and revenue.

I blogged about the phenomenon in 2008 in the wake of the death of Heath Ledger. And Rolling Stone more famously did so back in 1981 by analyzing the wild popularity of dead rocker Jim Morrison (“He’s Hot, he’s sexy, and he’s dead”)

And now Amy Winehouse – who only weeks ago was booed offstage in Belgrade – is a star again.

Her break-through album Back to Black, released in 2006, re-entered the Billboard charts, and her lesser known effort, Frank, saw a surge in units sold.

She has became a social media phenomenon, with her Facebook page gaining 200,00 fans a day, and Twitter reacting with a predictable surge of activity as people remember her (and breathlessly report her death long after her demise is patently obvious).

Meantime, Microsoft got itself a black eye for encouraging people to honor her memory by purchasing her music on Microsoft Zune. (Apple escaped criticism although it was featuring her music on iTunes.)

And you can be sure we’ll see some unreleased Amy Winehouse music on the market.

So why do self-destructive artists become so popular in death – especially the likes of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse, whose careers were obviously in decline at the time of their passing? I think Ryan O’Connell offers a telling perspective in his Thought Catalog post, “Why Do We Care So Much about Amy Winehouse’s Death?”

In American culture especially, we worship celebrities. They’re our version of royalty and I suppose that’s why we take celebrities’ deaths so personally. For some reason or another, their life meant something to us. In some ways, we might be more involved in their lives than our own. It’s for that reason that I found myself annoyed that people were going apeshit about Amy Winehouse dying. I felt like I and many others grieved her death out of some misguided sense of duty. It hit us so much harder because Amy Winehouse never got her shit together. Americans love to tear celebrities down (Amy included. I’m sorry but the American press and “fans” weren’t particularly kind to her. She was mocked relentlessly.) and then we love to bring them back up. We love a comeback even more than a downfall. And what’s perhaps most tragic about Winehouse and the reason why so many people flipped out over her death is that she never got her happy ending. We were never able to rehabilitate her and put a bow on her next album. That’s what we wanted most of all, right? To see her happy and healthy? But it’s hard to tell if those wishes were ever genuine. It’s hard to discern whether or not we truly gave a shit about Amy Winehouse or if we just needed her to fit the typical celebrity narrative.

Americans love the arc of the comeback story. When a celebrity won’t give us the comeback that we want, we create it ourselves.

Why Google wants you to win the zero moment of truth

Jim Lecinksi wants marketers to respect the power of the zero moment of truth. And he just conducted an interview with me to tell you why.

In his new ebook, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth, Jim, Google’s managing director of U.S. Sales and Operations, describes why you need to connect with consumers at the moment they research a product or service — or the zero moment of truth.

Before we get to the Q&A with Jim, let me give you a little context about the book. I believe every marketing executive should read Winning the Zero Moment of Truth. Jim articulates clearly why the act of researching a product (for instance, when people read customer review sites or simply use search engines to find information) is also an incredible opportunity for marketers to win  business. As he writes in his book:

Would it surprise you to know that a full 70% of Americans now say they look at product reviews before making a purchase? Or that 83% of moms say they do online research after seeing TV commercials for products that interest them? This is how consumers live and learn and make decisions today: from ratings and review sites, from friends on social media, at home and on the go, and (more than ever) from video.

He goes on to discuss how marketers can influence the consumer decision making process by being visible at the zero moment of truth – for instance, making it easier for people to find your website when they research products in your category or participating in the social sites where people talk with each other about products and services in your industry.

Jim was kind enough to answer some questions I posed about ZMOT and its importance to chief marketing officers. Here’s what he had to say:

What inspired you to write this book?

I think it started with search trends.  Particularly in the last few years, we at Google have seen a marked rise in searches for product reviews, coupons, and local information. This was the first bit of evidence that a significant change in consumer behavior was afoot, and it inspired us to dig deeper and learn more.

Your book defines the zero moment of truth – or ZMOT — as the moment when consumers research a product or service before purchase begins. People have been conducting researching prior to purchase for years. What’s changed?

Indeed, people have done their research before making purchases for quite some time.  The Internet — and access to the world’s information anytime, and virtually anywhere —  is the major shift that has made zero moments of truth so important for marketers.

Consider how you would have bought a car 20 years ago.  Twenty years ago, you would have talked with family and friends about cars they liked. Maybe you would have read some auto-specific magazines with reviews. You might also have read Consumer Reports.

After you had felt relatively comfortable with your choice, you would have walked into a dealership and made a decision based on factors such as the recommendations of a salesperson, price, or availability.

Today, the process is quite different.  You can still do the same things you did 20 years ago, but now you can read reviews on the web, browse a broad variety of car-related websites, and engage with your contacts online via social media to get their recommendations and thoughts.

You may turn to YouTube to actually see the cars in action, and you might strongly consider buying a car that you can find more easily online.  And you can do all this wherever you have access to the web — at home, from your desk, on your mobile device from the train.

Now you can show up at a dealership with a much richer, more defined sense of the car you want to buy.

Why should a CMO read Winning the Zero Moment of Truth?

ZMOT is an idea for the marketing world we live in right now.  The fact is, now that your customers can access the world’s information on the web — at their desks, at home, on mobile — they are smarter and more informed than they’ve ever been, especially when it comes to making purchasing decisions.

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Spammers, Baby Boomers, and Google+

Boy, do I feel like a digital slacker.

On June 28, Google invited me to a Field Trial of Google+ — and you better believe I interrupted a family vacation to get involved lest I miss out on all the fun.

But unlike Jay Baer and Chris Brogan, I’ve failed to contribute to the pithy Google+ commentary that has flooded the marketplace. (Reason: school’s out, which means more time with family, and less time for blogging.)

And at this point, I certainly am not going to write an opus on Google+ Instead I’ll ask a few somewhat annoying questions and provide comments smackng of personal whimsy:

  • Google+ is a boon for Baby Boomers like me. We like clean layouts, big pictures, and easy-to-read text. We are too tired of squinting to find content designed by people who fail to comprehend the fundamentals of an engaging user experience.
  • I love how you can add anyone to your Google+ Circle even if they don’t add you to theirs. I’ve always thought it disingenuous of Facebook to suggest friends to you and then ask, “Do you really know Mark?” when you follow through on Facebook’s suggestion. On Google+, I can pretend Mark Zuckerberg really is my friend even if he doesn’t add me to his Circle.
  • I am shamelessly promiscuous about adding people to my Circles. If Google thinks you can add value to my life by suggesting I add you to one of my Circles, I’m going to do so. I like the idea of having a river of ideas from all walks of life flowing through my Google+ stream. That said, as of July 27, I have 1,717 people in my Circles, and only 454 have added me. Does that make me a Google+ loser?
  • I don’t mind admitting that within 10 seconds of joining Google+, my first to-do was claiming my own vanity URL (
  • If you have created more than six Google+ Circles to curate your interests, you have way too much time on your hands.
  • I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to become a member of the Circle for CEO Celebrity Hedge Fund (gender: male; in a relationship).
  • I am learning more about Google+ from all the third-party commentary resulting from the Google Field Trial than I am from Google itself – and I’ll bet Google likes it that way.
  • Google has a chance to differentiate itself from Facebook by providing more personal service  on Google+ — like actually responding to you when you encounter a problem (unlike Facebook, which treats its members like second-class citizens). But I have a feeling Google will also take the DYI approach to customer service with Google+.

Finally, a word of sincere counsel: I keep hearing about people leaving Facebook for Google+. You’re seriously going to leave behind 700 million people? Sorry, but if you want to be active in social, there is no either/or choice – you have to find time for both Facebook and Google+.

Real-time marketing requires real talent

My employer iCrossing has been collecting digital executives. Thought leader Roger Wood joined the company’s digital media practice in May. Former Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein joined the strategy team in June. And, as announced today, former NBC Universal executive Tarah Feinberg has been appointed head of the Live Media Studio. So what do all these hires add up to?

Real-time marketing.

Real-time marketing is all about sharing content that engages people instantly. As I recently discussed with PSFK, brands ranging from Facebook to Toyota are practicing real-time marketing because they can become more nimble and relevant to their customers – a good example being Toyota’s use of a live-streamed event to promote the Prius.

As a senior executive at a Fortune 500 firm recently told me, “I became a believer in real-time marketing because I got tired of spending months formulating ideas for brand campaigns only to see that consumers had changed by the time I had launched the campaign.”

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AXE: sexy and useful at Pitchfork 2011

Want to make your brand memorable? Be useful. AXE just showed me how at the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.

Most of us know about AXE, the provider of men’s body grooming products, from its slick and sexually provocative advertisements. AXE also uses music to build its brand (in a more thoughtful way), an example being as the AXE Mystery Concerts to promote its Music fragrance.

At the Pitchfork Music festival, AXE was not only a sponsor but provider of a playful yet highly practical AXE Excite Sky Lounge to promote the new AXE Excite line of body care products.

On the day I visited the tent (July 17), Pitchfork was a mass of sweaty bodies watching bands such as Odd Future on a scorching hot day. It didn’t take long before the water refill lines became unbearably long, and security guards took to cooling off the crowd by drenching people with water from the various Pitchfork stages.

The AXE tent was like a godsend.

Outside the tent, the so-called AXE girls handed out free samples of AXE Excite and invited passers-by into the tent to hang out. Whereas I find AXE advertisements usually juvenile and anything but sexy, the AXE girls at Pitchfork exuded plenty of good old-fashioned sex appeal that comes with simply being friendly and smiling – not quite Doris Day, mind you, but more engaging than in-your-face silly.

And the tent itself was a refreshing change of attitude for AXE, with a focus on, well, utility, as demonstrated by:

  • A cool misting as you walk into the small tent.
  • Free stations to charge your mobile phone (incredibly useful for those of us wearing down our phone batteries by tweeting, texting, etc., throughout the day).
  • Portable devices to relax with video games.
  • Shade. And plenty of it.

The tent was playful, too. You could have a photo taken of you with faux Angels Will Fall backdrops and download them later (or have the photo emailed to you).

Or you could just hang out and do nothing.

For all the money AXE must pour into its high-concept provocative ads, I am most impressed with the side of AXE I experienced at Pitchfork: useful.

How a janitor and “Hotel California” shaped me

If I have enjoyed any success as a writer and marketer, I need to thank the guy who pushed a broom and carried out the trash at my junior high school in 1977. His name was Larry, and he introduced me to “Hotel California,” a rock epic that has influenced me for many years. Some of the lessons I’ve learned from that six-minute song might be useful to you, too.

Featuring blistering guitar work and a mysterious narrative that is part fantasy and part Raymond Chandler, “Hotel California” has captured the imagination of fans and critics for decades. The song and the album Hotel California topped the Billboard charts for the Eagles in 1977. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song Number 11 among the top 100 pop songs of all time.

“Hotel California” has also had an enormous impact on me throughout my career as a writer, book editor, and marketing executive (including the work I do today as vice president of marketing at iCrossing). How and why?

Thinking Critically

When Hotel California and its eponymous single soared to popularity in the summer of 1977, I was a lonely eighth grader living in the oppressively conservative community of Wheaton, Illinois. My family had moved to Wheaton in 1975, and with the dislocation came hardship. My parents’ marriage was unraveling before my eyes, my older brother was drifting away, and I was an outcast struggling against bullies.

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