Voice of America, Voice of Russia—February 2018

Image: Washington Post

The New York Times and other media report Russians’ use of Facebook to stir discord during the 2016 election. In reading this article, assess how outside parties can use Facebook tools to learn detailed personal data about users and target them with paid content. Assess the ability of these parties to generate content that appears to come from news outlets or independent interest groups.

Reporting on such Russian activity predates the 2016 election as Russia is known for its heavy use of Internet “trolls” and proxies to advance fake news and disinformation to destabilize leadership considered hostile to the Putin regime. It is important to study Russia’s actions in totality and juxtapose them with Soviet propaganda campaigns from the pre-digital age.

In 2004, I wrote an article for AdWeek about the need for a Department of Communications, establishing a cabinet-level presence to centralize and intensify America’s communication efforts. Some may argue that such a department could become a propaganda machine at odds with independent media. Others may say we need to counter the communications of America’s adversaries. Russia is conducting an information war. At its height, ISIS waged a pervasive information war that drew followers to its occupied territory and motivated others to commit terrorism around the world. Can America blunt these efforts without violating our principles?

Posted in Communication, Media, Public Relations, Social Media, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s an iPad Pro Ad?

In a class I’m teaching at North Central University, Principles of Advertising, we’ve discussed the recent television commercial for iPad Pro. A adolescent girl travels her neighborhood toting the device. Using the iPad Pro (accessorized with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard), she works on a project about insects while sitting in a tree, snaps a closeup of a praying mantis for said project, video chats with a friend, and writes long-form content.

A neighbor asks politely, “What are you doing on your computer?”

The girl responds guilelessly, “What’s a computer?”

Due to the above punchline/tagline, several of the students found the ad annoying. They are not alone. The media—traditional and social—have critiqued the ad with a collective “Really?” as Apple strives to present the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement. Imagine a world without “computers,” the ad suggests (just try balancing on a bough with a desktop). Gen Z and beyond would consider them equivalent to pay phones and CD players, both of which Apple has helped cast onto junkpiles.

My students have asked if an “annoying commercial” is counterproductive to a marketing campaign, an excellent point. The ad is triggering social media conversation and media coverage, desired outcomes on their face. We discussed the iconic HeadOn commercial that garnered abundant attention for its sheer obnoxiousness. In fairness, the iPad Pro commercial is vastly more artful and features a product known to work. To determine if the ad repels or attracts customers, we must first examine the iPad Pro’s target marketing.

In Q4 2015, the debuting iPad Pro targeted business professionals—larger, more powerful, more useful with a growing array of work-oriented apps, and compatible with a full-size keyboard. This extension of the then-five-year-old iPad line hoped to counter overall declining sales and the perception that iPad was built for media consumption not media creation, meaning “serious work.” This target corresponded with projections that business users would constitute 20% of the tablet market, customers who would demand the superior performance and features emblematic of the Apple brand. Per our class’ learning from Advertising and Integrated Brand Promotion, it is sound practice to target a numerical smaller market that can be served more expertly, increasing profits and brand loyalty.

In recent years, Apple expanded the iPad line to encompass different tablet sizes, capabilities and pricepoints. The strategy has been successful as sales rose. However, analysis shows models other than iPad Pro have driven the rise; Apple does not officially break out sales of individual iPad models.

With Apple also targeting customers who want less expensive iPads, another question arises: Is Apple trying to change the target for the iPad Pro to a younger, less business-oriented market?

And one more query: Is Apple simply trying to get people to think differently about iPad Pros and traditional laptops? If so, are they using a “next generation” message with the commercial’s young protagonist?

Back to the first question: Will Apple’s “annoying commercial” hurt sales? It will be hard to tell without separate sales figures for the iPad Pro. But as a happy iPad Pro user and member of the original business professional target market, allow me to be a one-person focus group. The ad does not turn me off the product. If using iPad Pro makes me cool, hip or edgy, then I’ll have to deal with the unexpected consequences.

Posted in Marketing, Media | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quoted in U.S. News & World Report


Susan Milligan reports in U.S. News & World Report about the state and effect of the Trump brand in politics. I am quoted at the beginning of the piece.

Posted in Marketing, Public Relations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment