Tuesday, January 26, 2010

direct mail is alive and well and going to college

Direct mail marketing may be in decline in most places, but it's thriving in a sector that has only recently accepted it: academia.

According to the front page of today's NY Times, some colleges spent over $1 million last year to market themselves to prospective students. The University of the Pacific in Stockton, California sent out bright orange packets hawking : "Waived application fee!", "No required essay!" Inside, a letter congratulated the recipient for having "earned an opportunity that is reserved for only a select few high-priority students."

The truth is, there is no application fee for anyone applying, and thus no fee to waive. And the "select few" students who received the packets were a list of 30,000 names compiled by Royal & Company, a Richmond-based marketing company that employs veterans from direct mail campaigns for long-distance phone providers and banks.

Why are providers of higher education resorting to marketing themselves like a credit card or dog food?

One answer is, schools need help landing applicants in a recession and are looking to broaden the pool of candidates who apply.

But surely the decision has something to do the fact that marketing campaigns tend to boost schools' rankings in US News and World Report, generally considered the blue book for college shoppers. The rankings depend, in part, on how exclusive a school is, based on acceptance rate. Naturally, the more applicants a school receives, the more it rejects. And that means higher desirability, at least for those who value exclusivity. And, what proud parent seeking the best for a child doesn't?

Which brings me around, once again, to the overpromise metrics.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

no status update = new status symbol?

At Digital Hollywood this year, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel with Flint Dille, game designer and writer who's brought complex worlds to life on the screen. Flint raised an interesting question this week while talking to Stuart Volcow's UCLA Transmedia class, about the possibility of a rising backlash against tech media and the sheer cerebral velocity of our lives. I joined the discussion when he moved it to Facebook. (Btw, checked your privacy settings lately?)

I, too, sense a rising resistance to life lived constantly connected and at cyberspeed. Several friends tell me they're getting off Facebook because they're tired of being bombarded with friend requests from people they "didn't like in 3rd grade and surely don't want to be friends with now." One respondent told Flint that she'd started "conducting periodic 'e-fasts', 'fasting' from all e-stuff (phone, e-mail, internet) for a few days at a time" which she reported to find tremendously refreshing.

Studies show, if you're trying to be creative, uplugging for a while is the right idea. An essay in today's NYT Book Review by Jennifer Schuessler says researchers found that when your brain is in quiet mode, undistracted (like when you're under an MRI scanner, for instance, yikes) the brain is in fact firing away, with greater activity in creative areas like autobiographical memory and conjuring fictional events. Ironically, quiet mode is the precise opposite of the setting in which most of our brains are trying to be productive.

Aren't you a tiny bit jealous of the guy you can't call because he doesn't carry around a cellphone? The friend you see only on Skype now and then because he's holed up in Istanbul writing the Great American Novel...on a typewriter?

It used to be that 24/7 connection meant status, but now I suspect that stepping away from the digital world for a while is becoming a luxury that privileged few can afford. Having people manage around you, without your having to conduct a cyberlife, is becoming akin to the royal option of shopping without carrying a wallet. Ironically, it may also explain why Bill Gates is only now discovering twitter.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

where to find what you lost in the 60s

Sadly, another casualty of the recession is Alphaville, home of the best collection of vintage toys and collectibles this side of 1963. How many trips down memory lane I took there while waiting for showtime across the street at Film Forum. Now, alas, it's going out of business which is good news for you. The smart looking book bag you always wanted? The neat-o Skipper stickers your sister swiped to wallpaper the dollhouse? That issue of Jack and Jill you lost at Girl Scout camp? Those and other artifacts of childhood can be had at half-price. No online orders. (True to the era, the only web presence at checkout is Jack.) But you can let your fingers do the walking. 212 675-6850. Doors close next Friday. Right after Gunsmoke.

Nope, this isn't a pay for post. It's a post for love, kids.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

transmedia messaging--Santa's been doing it for years

Typical shoemaker's-kids-going-barefoot-problem: Haven't had time lately to update my own blog, but happily made time to update someone else's. Alan Wolk, creator of the new Hive Awards, kindly invited me to contribute to the show's excellent site. I wrote about how transmedia messaging (or deep media as some call it) may appear to be a new and complex marketing idea...but, really it's as old and simple as the selling of Santa. Read full article here.