Gadget Geeks Rank World-Changing Devices

Posted on October 12, 2011 by Comments Off

While channel surfing the other night I came across “101 Gadgets That Changed the World” on History. Television, by the way, ranks No. 3 on the list. Not bad for a “traditional media” in the digital age.

Spoiler alert: The top 10 are revealed below.

Wake up!

“Gadget” may be too flip a word for some of these radical inventions that have shaped and reshaped human culture. Popular Mechanics staff and guest experts weighed in to compile the complete list — beginning with duct tape, always a good thing to have on hand.

Here’s the countdown, with my editorial comments:

10-Light bulb. Let there be light, so factories can run after dark.

9-Alarm clock. Also No. 1 Most Annoying Gadget.

8-Phonograph. From wax to vinyl, still revolving after all these years.

7-Rotary telephone. Black, iconic, clunky, revolutionary.

6-Air conditioning. Created cities amid the cactus.

5-Personal computer. I’d rank this at No. 3 instead of TV.

4-Hypodermic needle. Nothing else on this list prevents suffering, disease and death.

3-Television. Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it.

2-Radio. It provides words, our minds provide pictures.

1-Smartphone. Someday this will seem quaint; see No. 7.

How would you rank these choices? What did the experts miss? Add your comment.

Image: alancleaver_2000

Winning ‘Jeopardy!’ Is Elementary, Says IBM’s Watson

Posted on February 16, 2011 by Comments Off

IBM’s Watson supercomputer has become a publicity-generating dynamo this week. As Watson rules on TV’s “Jeopardy!” game show, the human champions arrayed against it are in peril. The match of men versus machine has everything a PR pro — and TV viewer — craves in a great story: a quest, a conflict and, in tonight’s final episode, a resolution.

Jeopardy!Watson isn’t perfect: It badly flubbed a Final Jeopardy answer. But it is impressive. It’s amazing that the IBMers have created a machine sensitive enough to play TV’s brainiest game. Watson must distinguish subtle and multiple meanings of English vocabulary, yet be robust and lightning-fast to access its memory for Beatles lyrics or names of U.S. airports. That’s no trivial pursuit.

Game-show host Alex Trebek is the perfect impartial storyteller and referee for the match. He is credible and familiar to people across North America. IBM couldn’t ask for a more populist voice to convey the capabilities of Watson and the skills of the team that created it. Trebek’s presence makes Watson seem friendly, despite its intimidating speed and knowledge.

All-time human “Jeopardy!” champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings can be excused if they feel like John Henry racing the steam drill. Against Watson, they may die with their hammers — er, buzzers — in their hands. Day 1 ended in a tie between Watson and Rutter, then Watson raced more than $30,000 ahead on Day 2.

Let’s summarize. IBM gets great publicity. “Jeopardy!” gets a spectacle. The TV audience gets heroes and villains (they choose which is which) to root for or against.

If the “Jeopardy!” writers have a sense of humor, then tonight’s final answer, framed as a question, will be, “What is the HAL 9000?”

(Full disclosure: Unlike the loser in Weird Al’s song, I am a former “Jeopardy!” champion, although not in the same tax bracket as Jennings and Rutter, and spent my prize money long ago.)

What does the story of Watson versus the humans mean to you?

Image by Justin Levy.

Doing Something Is Always Better Than Doing Nothing

Posted on January 27, 2011 by 6 Comments

I don’t agree with Jonathan Sanchez’s smart post on the ghost of PR’s future that our industry is killing its value by productizing its processes. I think that greater transparency in what agencies do for their clients is always a good thing unless you are doing shady things.

I also read an underlying fear that the way public relations and communications has been done over the last few decades remains unquantifiable. And now that digital communications brings a new set of data points, it will create a greater pressure for quantifiable results. Likely both of these realities are true.

But we are in a time of change in communications. Digital and social media are adding new demands to communicators, and both agencies and clients are working to figure out how to change the way they have done things.

That’s uncomfortable, and often we hear that because new communication methods are unproven or the measure of success remains murky, new tactics are shunned for more trusted and comfortable efforts.

Isn’t that the same as doing nothing and ignoring the changes that have and will happen? Just because we aren’t sure what the measure of success is doesn’t mean new things shouldn’t be attempted. And anything new we do now just speeds adaptation for the future, especially when it comes to digital communications.

The future is going to come whether we’re comfortable with it or not, shouldn’t we be prepared?

Looking Back at 2009

Posted on December 29, 2009 by 1 Comment

Kevin Murphy, Digital Experiences Director, WE Studio D 

I already posted my 2010 predictions, so let’s take a look back now at the top digital marketing stories of  2009.

Adobe Acquires Omniture

Adobe’s acquisition of Omniture helped reinforce the notion that analytics is still in its infancy and that data is the new creative. The acquisition paves the way to giving analytics and KPI a bigger voice at the creative table and will hopefully lead the discussion away from views and visits. When it comes to analytics there are only three things you need to measure: something to measure performance, something to help understand your audience and something to help make your content or site better. Everything else is just a fancy chart to share with execs. Oh, and Adobe gets a stable recurring revenue stream from SAAS.

Iran Elections

Social media for social change finally reached a macro level when it seemed like everyone turned their avatars green, but it also showed the growing global influence of social media beyond entertainment. It’s not every day the State Department asks you to postpone scheduled maintenance so as not to disrupt communications.

CNN Goes Full Out on Digital Media

A lot of media companies are combining video, podcasts, slideshows, etc. But CNN, the New York Times and BBC introduced news, games and other new tools this year. CNN really embraced all things digital – for good or bad – including user-generated Photosynths, shows based entirely on Twitter content, and content designed specifically for Facebook.

Burger King Bribes People to Ditch Facebook Friends

Burger King Facebook promoSo this campaign was short-lived, had no discernible impact on burger sales and didn’t introduce any groundbreaking technology, but when was the last time you were asked to quantify the value of a friendship? It also reinforced the fact that we play on social networks at the permission and pleasure of those networks. The content and connections we create on those networks aren’t our own. Bonus prediction for 2010: Marketers will spend a lot of money trying to figure out how much value there is for each friend, fan and follower.


A new search engine is newsworthy, but the long-term impact  comes from the wake-up call Bing gave Google. Microsoft’s reentry into search has created a new round of innovation in how people use the Web and has pushed Google to continue to innovate and invest.

There’s An App for That

We’ve been waiting for the mobile Web to really come to fruition for almost 10 years. The success of the iPhone and the App Store not only brought the mobile Web, but changed the approach that marketers use to deliver content to mobile devices.

Innovation That Matters

Posted on October 19, 2009 by Comments Off

Arran Riddle, Director of EMEA, WE Studio D

Waggener Edstrom boothWe talk a lot about influence in this blog, and this week I was at (arguably) the most important hub of influence in Europe — the European Parliament in Brussels. Waggener Edstrom took part in the first European Innovation Summit, an event that drew together policy makers, some of the region’s most innovative companies and other organisations that have a stake in Europe’s innovation policies.

Unsurprisingly, the conference topics regularly linked to issues at the heart of the Brussels dialogue — regional competitiveness, equal access, climate change.

Everywhere I turned there was another fascinating story — about turning desert into arable land; about encouraging creative works (such as music or films) through copyright protection while acknowledging people’s inclination to share stuff they love; about enticing young people to enter fields such as energy, aerospace and agriculture — areas where the number of experts in Europe have been dwindling.

Given Waggener Edstrom’s mantra of “influence” and our tagline of Innovation Communications, I found this all to be rich ground for stories that could be brought to life digitally. On the other hand, I was also proud to represent Waggener Edstrom as an innovator in its own right.

No, we’re not inventing ways to store summer heat in underground cisterns to warm buildings in the winter. But we are inventing new ways to communicate and to manage communications campaigns in a digital world. For example, an enhanced version of our widely praised Twitter sentiment tool, twendz, is soon to be released. We have a social influence system in its final stages of development and a portfolio of other products and methodologies that enable our clients to maximise the impact of their communications.

For me, the summit reinforced the fact that influence does not work only one way. Our Brussels practice wields influence differently from our public relations or analyst relations practices, and they all have distinct audiences they are reaching both online and offline. What’s exciting is that, by representing innovative companies, every day we play a role in bringing the possible to life through clear, creative and smart communications that shift people’s perceptions.

Photo by Arran Riddle

Everyone Can Take Action on World’s Biggest Issues

Posted on October 2, 2009 by Comments Off

Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO and President

Last week I attended the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York, the fifth and largest of the annual gatherings hosted by President Clinton and attended by numerous government dignitaries, business leaders, distinguished press and celebrities. With 1,500 participants from 84 nations, it was exhilarating to be in the presence of so many smart and driven people from all over the world.

There were many highlights starting with President Obama’s opening remarks to young African women entrepreneurs (see below) who never dreamed they would stand on stage to share their success stories. I take that back, maybe they did dream it.

Doing well in business by integrating “doing good” into an organization’s strategic core is a necessity that no CEO can ignore. It was great to see a number of our clients, including Chevron, Mercy Corps, Microsoft, NetHope and Sustainable Food Labs, up on stage participating in the dialogue and making their public commitments.

This year’s CGI meeting focused around four themes. Two of them, “harnessing innovation for development” and “building human capital,” were particularly meaningful to me.

Every CGI participant believes that innovation is a key ingredient to solving the world’s thorniest issues — and so do we — especially at the sweet spot where business, government and society intersect. Giving voice to innovation is our vision and, pragmatically, our job. Whether it is technology serving new users or better methods of farming arid land, if we make sure people know what resources are available to them, we help move innovation into the hands of those who need it the most.

The other key theme, building human capital, is something I’m super passionate about both personally and professionally. My colleagues at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide have overwhelmingly supported our commitment to give back to the community 1 percent of our revenue.

Microsoft helped demonstrate a great example of investing in girls and women. In the opening plenary session, three young women from Kenya shared their story of social and economic empowerment. The Global Give Back Circle helps disadvantaged girls further their education and improve their circumstances. Microsoft provided funding and donated technology to a computer lab in Kenya.

I’ve had a chance to see firsthand how innovation can help solve basic issues like hunger, poverty and health. In Ghana I have had the opportunity to build a middle school complete with computers, as well as helping another school build its library and computer lab. In Ethiopia I am working with the organization Women in Self Employment (WISE) both on my own and through Mercy Corps. Among many inventions they have brought forward, one of my favorites is a clean-burning fuel briquette made from garbage. We absolutely cannot pretend that we can do as individuals what big companies can do, but the point is that everyone can take action.

Speaking of taking action — On Oct. 1, Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, discussed their new book, “Half the Sky,” on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” It is igniting a worldwide movement, and we feel honored that we could help. WE created the “Half the Sky” Web site, part of a digital strategy WE recommended to Nicholas and Sheryl. I applaud Nick and Sheryl on their phenomenal book, and I encourage everyone to not only read it, but to pause on page 251 and engage.

Image credit: Microsoft

Cereal Brand Puts the “No” in Innovation

Posted on July 16, 2009 by Comments Off

Erik Bergman, Senior Editor

I’ve seen too many diet plans and so-called collectibles hawked in Parade Magazine to raise my pulse. But Sunday’s ad for Post Shredded Wheat grabbed me with its headline: “Beware of New.”

Shredded WheatNow, a print ad in Parade defines the term “old media.” A print ad for a 117-year-old breakfast cereal surely defines as goose quill and parchment. If Parade is your grandfather’s magazine, then Post is your great-grandmother’s cereal.

My Web search hasn’t turned up a copy of this print ad, which is appropriate, so I’ll sum up Post’s rant against modernity with some quotes. The Shredded Wheat folks sound a touch grumpy here: “Being new is not always a good thing. In fact, “new” is usually a fancy way of saying untested, untried and unready.”

True, something new is not necessarily better or best; it is merely novel. Classic example: New Coke, a brand debacle.

But then Post’s copywriting grows testier. “Some proof? Instead of creating more free time, new technologies have made it harder to leave our jobs at the office.” (This, BTW, smacks of heresy to those of us in digital communications.) Further, these curmudgeons claim, “new shoes always give us blisters.”

When they go on to say, “Why on earth would anyone unleash something new?” I can’t tell if they are pulling our legs or acting out their passive-aggression. The tag line boasts, “We put the ‘no’ in innovation.”

The related Web site,, is the clincher, though, that the Post creative folks have their tongues firmly in their cheeks (along with a cud of Shredded Wheat). The videos that riff on progress (and why we don’t need it) are a hoot. Well played, Post Shredded Wheat, well played.

What PR Can Learn From Nine Inch Nails

Posted on June 11, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

Trent ReznorIf this guy gets it, then surely you can too. Despite his appearance, his lifestyle or your opinion of his music Trent Reznor is a very savvy business person. He’s an even better marketer.

Faced with the decline of the recording industry the complete disruption of the business model and the rise of social media Reznor took the smartest approach anyone could have taken:

I found myself realizing that for me to have any concept of how to interact with the community and know what they might want / what they find appropriate, I need to immerse myself in that world and live it for a while. The reason no record label knows how to market anything to new media is they don’t live there. They don’t get it because they don’t use it.

If you have not yet adopted this approach for you and your team you’re being left behind.

Ultimately Reznor decided to leave Twitter because it wasn’t providing value. Along the way he discovered a lot of useful tools, including building his own social network for his fans and an iPhone app that pulls content from that site along with music. But he wouldn’t have known what would work until he tried it.

Neither will you.

Barriers Can Help You Create Innovative Communication Programs

Posted on June 11, 2009 by Comments Off

Pam Edstrom, Executive Vice President

One important factor in creating innovative communications programs is the presence of a critical barrier or blockage to the channels you need to communicate. When there is a legal, cultural, social or technical barrier, you are forced to think more creatively. You are pushed into a corner so you must innovate to get out.

One example of this is the Edwardian suffragettes. Their problem to solve was to raise awareEdwardian Suffragettesness, educate and recruit so that they could achieve voting rights for women in England.

In 1903 London there were many very widely read newspapers available. The problem was that none of these news outlets nor the power structure that controlled them believed that women’s suffrage was a credible issue. The suffragettes were viewed as a manic fringe group.

How could the suffragettes reach people, especially the middle-class women who were predisposed to listen and believe? How could they reach these listeners to say:

  • This is an important issue!
  • We are having a meeting tonight.  Come hear our message!
  • Come join our cause!

So the suffragettes invented new ways to communicate to get their messages out.Dirigible

They were the first group to leaflet London in 1904. They hired a dirigible and dropped leaflets to provide education about their cause.

They chalked sidewalks with the time, place and location of their meetings.

Finally, they used the strategy of getting arrested  to bring their messages into a legitimate venue: the courts.

Once they were arrested and tried in court, the news media had to cover the trial, as the courts were a legitimate subject for news.

The suffragettes used the system that wouldn’t acknowledge them  to get their mSuffragette Arrestessage out in a very creative but difficult way.

Being denied access to the legitimate channels of communications the Edwardian forced the suffragettes to be creative and innovative to get their message out.

I have more examples, which I will share on an ongoing basis.

But meanwhile, think about what you would do if you couldn’t access some channels of communication. This is actually happening today with a lot of our traditional media. and Knowing the Difference Between Innovation and “Bright & Shiny”

Posted on April 2, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

economy word bubble

Vanity Fair blogger Michael Hogan augments Mark Bowden’s story of New York Times on the precipice with a critical kick at the paper’s sometimes frenetic efforts to reinvent itself online. Although is arguably the best newspaper website going, Hogan asserts that its dabbling foray into social media with interactive tools — such as with the economy word bubble featured earlier this week — is a foolish investment:

“What, exactly, is the point of this digital toy, which asks readers to describe their feelings about the economy in one word and then posts the results in size-weighted fonts? Sure, it’s kind of cool to look at. But does it really do the Times any good? Does it have anything whatsoever to do with delivering the news of the day?”

This raises two very important — though sometimes at odds — points, which are universal to all brands, not just the imperiled Gray Lady:

1. We mustn’t be transfixed by the bright and shiny. Never should a tool or tactic be executed because it’s cool or buzzy. What are we solving for? Strategy planning should start with a question, not an answer. Social media is not a strategy.

That said, I’d argue that does in fact have a strategy driving this so-called “digital toy.” I’d posit that it is articulated as some variation on Drive Audience Engagement. By encouraging audiences to lean in and participate with the content, rather than passively consuming it, the newspaper brand is taking incremental steps toward building an invested relationship with its audience.

This strategy should be obvious to those of us in PR and marketing, and the fact that the New York Times gets that in an online world, publishers must learn to think more like marketers is — in my opinion — a glimmer of hope toward successful reinvention.

But the second point that Hogan’s argument reminds us of — by virtue of omission — is this:

2. We mustn’t overlook Return on Innovation in our mad dash for Return on Investment. Innovation is hard, and its rewards aren’t immediate. But innovation has the potential to pay dividends, hand over fist.

The New York Times is not going to succeed in this new free, digital, social media- and search-driven world by stripping itself down to its most bare news essence. The New York Times is going to succeed by exploring new models and testing new paths of information delivery. The fact that social media is not yet monetized does not mean that it won’t be.

This is true for all brands. Of course we are feeling more risk-averse than we did eight months ago, but if we’re going to weather this storm and come out stronger, we must continue to innovate and try new things, even if we don’t right this minute have all the answers.

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