Tuesday, May 27, 2008

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

This is a story of how ethical marketing can become a lightning rod for critics.

Unilever has scored at the top of global ethical and sustainability indexes in the past year, but because activists believe that they get the most traction (and news coverage) by aiming at the biggest name, the company is being attacked because of the public stances it’s taken on environmental and social issues.

Case in point: Greenpeace named Unilever -- along with its global Dove agency, Ogilvy & Mather, and some U.K. PR firms -- as killers of Indonesian orangutans because the company buys palm oil from palms grown where rain forests have been destroyed. (Palm oil is supposed to be a healthful alternative to transfats in food as well as a cheaper alternative to other grain-based oils, as the U.S. government drives up grain prices as a result of its biofuel initiatives.)

Greenpeace sent people in orangutan suits to scale the company's London headquarters last month and unleashed sophisticated parodies of Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" on the London Underground and YouTube. I just saw a really scary YouTube video produced by Greenpeace about the Unilever’s responsibility for the deforestation of Indonesia.

I thought about what counsel I’d give to Unilever under these circumstance. I saw that the company responded swiftly on its website, with a video outlining its major new commitment to ensure that all its supplies of palm oil come from sustainable and certified sources. Unilever could also:

  1. Meet with representatives from Greenpeace — invite them for coffee — to find out what actions they think are necessary.

  2. Bring in an expert on the Indonesian rainforest expert to explain sustainability and describe how economic benefits can be delivered without endangering the environment.

  3. Start a reforestation program to make up for what has been lost (if this is really true!) to support orangutan survival.

  4. Promote the company’s standing on the GE+S Index — and all of its support activities to keep that standing.

  5. Build and train an army of third-party advocates to counter the attacks by Greenpeace.

Technorati Tags: Unilever, Greenpeace, Dove, Ogilvy & Mather, Indonesian orangutans, palm oil, Campaign for Real Beauty, business, communications, public relations

Monday, May 19, 2008

Social Media: 19th Century Style

In this Age of the Internet, when information is being disseminated at the speed of a "zillion" words per minute and crises and scandals can start with the click of a mouse, we understandably forget the 1800's, when social commentators used the medium of paintings to communicate societal concerns... making art among the "social media" of its day.

I was reminded of this when viewing "The Sleeping Spinner" (1853), among other paintings at the outstanding Gustave Courbet exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The painting depicts a well-dressed, plump, middle class woman, yarn in hand, with a spinning wheel nearby, having fallen asleep in the midst of her work. A middle class woman spinning was against the conventions of the day, when such work traditionally was done by the rural poor. Falling asleep in the midst of your labors was a revolt against the work ethic of the day.

Another Courbet painting, "The Peasants of Flagey Returning From the Fair" (1850-55), which caused a scandal because of its huge size (almost 7'X9'), depicts commoners walking through a park, when previously paintings of such size were reserved for historical events. Treating such subject matter in a painting that monumental gave new stature to commoners.

In fact, Courbet became recognized for using paintings to challenge social conventions. Were he alive today, he might well have been a pioneer with a blog or a podcast, as well as a brush.

Technorati Tags: social media, social commentators, painting, Gustave Courbet, Metropolitan Museum of Art, work ethic, social conventions, business, communications, public relations

Monday, May 12, 2008

What's happening to the English Language?

? where r we mtg 2mor pm
404 SIG2R SUITM :-)

This is an example of a kind of linguistic shorthand commonly used by young people on cell phones, in instant messages and in emails. In plain English, it reads:
I have a question. Where are we meeting tomorrow afternoon?
I don't know (code: 404). Sorry, I've got to run. See you in the morning. >smile<

In his technology blog last month on WSJ.com, Ben Worthen quotes James Billington, the librarian of Congress, who recently expressed concern about what he called "the slow destruction of the basic unit of human thought, the sentence."

Worthen asks the inevitable question: "With these young people set to join the workforce over the next decade, are we headed towards a dystopian office culture in which employees turn in reports and make presentations full of abbreviations and emoticons?"

My opinion? I think chat acronyms are okay for text messaging or informal emails. Teachers and businesses should not accept them. This is possible only if our institutions hold fast to standards.

Technorati Tags: English Language, instant message, WSJ.com, Ben Worthen, James Billington, librarian of Congress, chat acronyms, emoticons, business, communications, public relations

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Social Media Glossary – Part 1

Before I wrote my first blog, I spent a lot of time looking at other blogs. I found that one of the most daunting aspects of negotiating the blogosphere was the entirely new language you had to master in order to understand what everyone was talking about. (Yes, folks, there was a time when I couldn’t tell an RSS feed from a wiki.)

I would bet that’s true for many CEOs … at least those of us who are not “techno-geeks.” So, in the interest of public service, I thought it might be helpful — and fun — to periodically showcase acronyms, words and phrases that have their own special meaning on the web. Today’s selection:
  • Aggregator: Also known as news aggregator and feed reader; a tool for gathering updated content from blogs and other websites and posting it to a single location for easy viewing. My Yahoo! and Google Alerts have built-in aggregators.

  • AstroTurfing: A fake grassroots initiative designed to generate online “buzz” about a product, service or idea. Typically the authors of this kind of campaign try to remain anonymous.

  • E-mail Bankruptcy: The condition of being so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the email in your inbox that you just delete or archive everything without bothering to read it.

  • Folksonomy: Also known as social classification and collaborative tagging; the use of tags, labels or keywords by creators and consumers of content to classify information. Flickr and del.icio.us are examples of websites that rely upon folksonomy to organize their content.

  • Googleganger: A person with your name who turns up in the search list, when you Google yourself. (I don’t have one myself; but my assistant, Helene, has a googleganger who’s an award-winning weaver in Wisconsin!)

  • Linkrot: Links that formerly worked, but no longer do, because the original web page has been moved or deleted.

  • Lurk: To read without contributing or adding comments to online communities, thereby being effectively invisible to the rest of the group. Lurking can be a good thing, enabling you to learn the culture and unwritten rules of the group and the personalities of the other members before you make a comment.

  • Meme: An idea that seems to propagate itself within a culture or from blog to blog.

  • NSFW: Not Safe For Work; used to describe Internet content that’s inappropriate for the workplace

  • SEO: Search Engine Optimization; techniques designed to improve the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines using targeted keywords

  • Technorati Tags: blogosphere, techno-geeks, aggregator, feed reader, news aggregator, AstroTurfing, e-mail bankruptcy, folksonomy, social classification, collaborative tagging, googleganger, linkrot, lurk, business, communications, public relations