Live By Your Words of Thanksgiving

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The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, to commemorate the harvest reaped by the Plymouth Colony after a harsh winter. In that year Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. The colonists celebrated it as a traditional English harvest feast, to which they invited the local Wampanoag Indians. By the mid–1800s, many states observed a Thanksgiving holiday.

For many of us the meaning of Thanksgiving usually includes feasting, four-day weekends, football games, floats, family gatherings, or the day before “Black Friday, the official start of the Christmas shopping season.  While diverse in our reasons, Thanksgiving Day is observed by all as a day set aside to reflect and express gratitude and appreciation for those many blessings we experience in our daily lives throughout the year.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.  At Junction Creative Solution we live for the opportunity to share with our team their talents and creativity and give thanks and appreciation for the love of our family, the comardry of friends and the respect of our associates.

Our sincerest wishes, to all, for a happy Thanksgiving Day!

Fact Or Fake: Trusting Online Reviews Can Be Tricky

Fake Reviews

Upon its recent release, BlackBerry’s BBM app was downloaded 10 million times within 24 hours, but at least on Android, some of its many positive reviews seem to come from a less than savory source.  Writer Matt Baxter-Reynolds has noted that a huge number of reviews contained the exact same praise for BBM.  A BlackBerry spokeswoman responded, saying the company had nothing to do with it. “We have recently been made aware of a number of potentially fake five-star reviews of BBM for Android on Google Play,” she said. “We do not approve of or condone such activities and are committed to working with Google to resolve this.”  Unfortunately for BlackBerry, the reviews cast some doubt on the 10 million download number it touted. There’s no reason to believe BlackBerry’s count isn’t correct, but astroturfed comments could also mean not everyone downloading the app is a fan of BBM.

Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message to give the appearance of it coming from a disinterested, grassroots participant.  Astroturfing is intended to give the statements the credibility of an independent entity by withholding information about the source’s financial connection. The term astroturfing is a derivation of AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass. On the Internet, astroturfers use software to mask their identity. Sometimes one individual operates over many personas to give the impression of widespread support for their client’s agenda.

Samsung Group was fined $340,000 by the Taiwanese Fair Trade Commission (FTC) for posting fake comments, favorable to Samsung and unfavorable to its competitors on various websites.  This is the second time this year the Samsung Group has been caught. Samsung is not the first company to be accused of doing this and more than likely will not be the last. Several online review sites such as Yelp, Google and Trip Advisor have been accused of this as well.

Fraudulent reviews are growing as more businesses become aware of the importance of social media and compete with rivals for public affection.  Consumers can be influenced to see the world through rose-tinted glasses. Of the top reviews on Amazon analyzed in a 2011 study by technology entrepreneur Filip Keeler and Trevor Pinch, a professor at Cornell University’s department of science and technology studies, over 80% were positive. The study, “Free Lunch,” concluded that 85% of the most prolific reviewers are part of “Amazon Vine”, the site’s “most trusted” reviewers, and received free products from publishers, agents and manufacturers. This, Kessler says, can make them unpaid agents rather than consumer advocates. “Consumers should not rely solely on Amazon reviews,” he says.  Recently a Harvard Business School study confirmed something long known: businesses that don’t have a good reputation online will try to create one by submitting phony reviews to web sites.

Eric Schneiderman, Attorney General of New York, has announced agreements with 19 firms that commissioned fake reviews and several reputation-enhancement companies that helped place reviews on sites like Citysearch, Google, Yahoo and Yelp. They were fined a total of $350,000.  As part of a year-long investigation, dubbed Operation Clean Turf, officials posed as the owners of a Brooklyn yoghurt shop that had garnered negative reviews online. Fake reviews, written in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe, were commissioned from reputation management firms for as little as a dollar a piece. The investigation found reputation companies even wrote fake reviews of their own businesses denying that they wrote fake reviews.

Agreements were reached with a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club. Schneiderman’s office found evidence that dentists, lawyers and an ultra-sound clinic had all commissioned fake reviews.   According to Scheiderman Edward Telmany, US Coachways’s chief executive, wrote to staff in 2011 warning them that online criticism was hurting their business. “We get bashed online,” Telmany wrote. “We are loosing [sic] money from this.” Telmany told his employees to write favorable reviews and posted a five-star review himself on Yelp that began: “US Coachways does a great job!” He commissioned freelance writers to write other positive reviews. The company agreed to pay $75,000 in fines and stop writing fake reviews.

A Harvard Business School Study from 2011 found that 90% of consumers say that online reviews influence their buying decisions and estimated that a one-star rating increase on Yelp translated to an increase of 5% to 9% in revenues for a restaurant.  In terms of trustworthiness, word-of-mouth from family and friends still trumps online reviews, but the latter is playing catch-up. Only 79% of people say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, up from 72% last year, according to the 2013 “Local Consumer Review Survey” by e-commerce company BrightLocal.

How can a user determine if a review is real or fake? How can consumers tell if the person writing the review is a competitor of the company being reviewed, an employee of the company being reviewed or just someone with an axe to grind?  The first thing one must realize is there are companies out there who will pay for reviews and there are people out there who are willing to write them.  Remember the saying, “If it seems too good to be true it probably is?”  This old adage can apply to website reviews as well.  If a review, whether it is for a product from Samsung or anyone else, restaurant or other business, is just way too positive, it might be a fake.  Cornell researchers found that if a review was fake, the writer used a lot more superlatives like “fantastic”, “awesome” and “the best I ever…” than did real people. They also noticed the fake reviews contained a lot of “I’s” and “me’s” whereas the real ones did not.  Read all the reviews, or at least a majority of them, and use an average.  If nothing but five star reviews are offered, question the veracity of these. Either the bad ones have been filtered out or the site has been peppered with good reviews. While it is possible something is so good it gets nothing but great reviews, more than likely they will have at least one bad one.

Another well-worn adage, “Consumer beware”, should be applied to all information offered up as testimonials to a marketer’s products and services.  All the algorithms and evaluation software cannot protect consumers as efficiently or effectively as savvy consumers look out for themselves.

Giant Advertising Agency Is Betting That Smaller May Be Better

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The largest agency holding group in advertising is seeking to revive its smallest agency network, United Network, in an effort to offer marketers a smaller and more creatively focused alternative to large, mega advertising firms.  WPP has announced the appointment of Matt Ryan, who most recently held senior posts at Havas Worldwide New York, as the new United Networks global chief executive.

The idea behind a smaller agency network is that it can be more nimble, and its principals can pay more attention to each client. Also, not every marketer needs a giant agency with scores of offices around the world staffed by phalanxes of executives. “Part of our armory at WPP is to have networks with various structures and various appeals,” Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, said. “There’s a segment of the market where clients want smaller networks, micro-networks, mini-networks. It makes sense for us to have a network like this.”  The eight offices that currently make up the United Network are in London, Madrid, Milan, New York, Oslo, Paris, Seattle and Antwerp, Belgium. They work for blue-chip marketers like AstraZeneca, Capital One, Coca-Cola, Ikea, Procter & Gamble, Red Bull, Visa and Vodafone.

The move by WPP to offer a downsized alternative to the mega agency networks comes after French advertising giant Publicis and its American rival Omnicom announced last August that the two firms were merging to create the world’s biggest advertising company, Publicis Omnicom Group.  That merger displaced WPP as the world’s largest agency holding group and spawned some industry professionals to express their concerns over the risk of potential client conflicts of interest and the likelihood of unrealized efficiencies of such mega organizations.

The future of small agencies may be a bit brighter due in part to giant, behemoth conglomerates who are motivated to leverage the relationships, investments and proprietary trading desks of their parent companies. The best innovation and creative ideas usually flow from smaller organizations whose growth projections are more focused on deliverable value and creativity.  Big is always bigger but is not always better and smaller, more creative, nimble and flexible agencies will likely find their niche.

Mr. Ryan said he believed that the United Network could use agencies in the Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe and Latin America regions, although he added, “It would be a big move if we went to 12 or 15” offices in total.  Asked for a time frame for revitalizing the United Network, Mr. Ryan suggested it would be “12, 18, 24 months” before big returns would be obvious.   Mr. Sorrell said the effort to revive the United Network was “independent of” and unrelated to the merger of giant Publicis and Omnicom.

Viewers Try to Keep Their Heads With The Success of Sleepy Hollow

TV Networks

It appears that in an effort to discover success in a made for television series, producers, writers and TV moguls of three major entertainment networks are reaching into the past and the vast library of fairytale literature to find another answer to capturing viewer ratings, an absolute fundamental in a networks ability to establish profitable advertising rates.  As is the case in most newly crafted ventures and inventions that are deemed to be worthy of even the slightest hint of commercial success, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, and the television medium seems to have firmly pronounced the fabled quote as their industries collective mission statement.

The Fox Television Network’s part-time-travel, part-conspiracy-theory-thriller Sleepy Hollow blew its competition away by pulling in 10.1 million viewers in its debut episode, making it Fox’s highest-rated drama premiere in more than six years.  From an advertising perspective, Fox pulled in a 3.5 rating among viewers 18 to 49, otherwise known as the people who advertisers care the most about because they’re more likely to buy things. The series is based upon the sci-fi, fable “The Headless Horseman”, and is not the first adaptation of fairytale literature to be mined and exploited in an interest to finding marketable, ratings success.

In 2011 NBC introduced Grimm, “a cop drama with a twist; a dark and fantastical project about a world in which characters are inspired by Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales.  The shows performance in its first two seasons has earned it a renewal for its third consecutive season.  Not wanting to be out imitated, ABC introduced Once Upon a Time, an American fairy tale drama series that premiered in 2011. The show takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, the residents of which are actually characters from various fairy tales that were transported to the “real world” town and robbed of their real memories by a powerful curse. Episodes typically feature a primary storyline in Storybrooke, as well as a secondary storyline usually from another point in a character’s life before the curse was enacted.  And what follows each truly ratings successful television series?  A spine-off of course; premier Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, offering similar virtues and vices of its predecessor, Wonderland takes the formers approach of combining characters from different stories into one general fantasy world.

Perpetuating a genre to ever more elevated heights is nothing new to the television  ratings gathering game, the strategy follows decades of successful examples like the multiple Law & Order Brands, the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) portfolio and the twins, NCIS and NCIS Las Anglos just to name a few mega, serial drama ratings hits.  The strategy goes something like this.  Take a proven winner, tweak a few features, add a bell here and a whistle there, repackage, rebrand where necessary, spread the clone across the entirety of the social and demographic spectrum and ride it into history. Caching!

The television entertainment industry has routinely and effectively mastered the art of giving its consumers more of what they want. Whether satisfying their penchant for drama, appetite for mindless and sometimes altered reality, unbridled appreciation for dance and musical talent and fascination with all things historic and antique.  The television industry has discovered the winning formula for delivering more of everything television viewers want.

Sleepy Hollow has benefited from a slew of early, positive reviews but with the shows Halloween feel and modern take on the age-old story of the Headless Horseman, will viewers continue to tune in after the holiday is over. Given the past success of supernatural hits such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Grimm, the answer is probably yes, indicating that you don’t necessarily have to keep you head in the heat of the ratings battle to be victorious.