Let's All Embrace the Clarity of Clog

With Tribune Rebranding as Tronc, Should Crain Follow Suit?

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I don't get a lot of things. I don't get, for instance, why there was so much derision over Tribune Publishing's move to change its corporate name to tronc.

The beleaguered media company only wanted to adopt a name that more aptly describes its new mandate: Tribune online content. Seems logical, even inspired, to me.

What's wrong with telling the world that you're aiming to be a cutting-edge digital company, with no need to hook up with those pushy guys at Gannett?

The Trib's new moniker got me thinking about the name of our own media company, Crain Communications, this year celebrating our 100th anniversary.

We need a new name that more precisely describes our mission, so all our employees, readers and advertisers know what we are striving so diligently and earnestly to accomplish.

So I am proposing (you are the first to know) we hereafter call our company clog: Crain's legacy of greatness. As we stride confidently into our second century, why not emphasize that we're not only great but that we have a legacy of being great? Isn't that a noble goal for the next 100 years?

I know you'll all agree with me, but I just hope all my own finicky relatives in our family company will come around to seeing the clarity of clog.

I also don't get why State Farm wants to be more than an insurance company. Its new slogan, "Here to help life go right," aims at turning State Farm into a financial solutions company, not just one that handles car wrecks and fires. It's new pitch: Even if insurable calamities would somehow go away, State Farm would still be there, helping with your kid's college tuition and first car.

I get the impression that State Farm, after 94 years in the business, is a little tired of mundane insurance and wants to be known for nobler pursuits. Reminds me of how BP's "Beyond Petroleum" slogan signaled to the world that it didn't want to be known as an oil company but had graduated to a higher environmental calling.

Just like BP should have concentrated on being a better oil company, State Farm should concentrate on its heritage. If it wants to be an investment advisor, start another company. And they can use their great old slogan, "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" to sell people whatever else they want to buy beyond insurance.

Here's another thing I don't get: In our recent TV issue, we talked about how data enables marketers to pinpoint viewer demographics with greater sophistication than ever before. "Every spring now brings a new bloom of data products that let marketers better find audiences with very specific characteristics, like families with a household income over $100,000 with two kids under the age of 5," we reported.
I've always been suspicious when ad guys talk about how they can locate consumer characteristics from relatively small samples of people. When Obama was reelected, his media buyers bragged about how they were able to track down potential Democratic voters by buying ads on late-night reruns. I got the feeling that these guys were trying to set up business opportunities for after the election. If they could find Democratic votes on late-night TV shows, couldn't they do the same for dog-food buyers?

Here's another possibility: What if the Obama campaign's famous "optimizer" TV buying scheme was a smokescreen to get Republicans to waste their money in the 2014 midterm elections? How could there be enough big data in the world to accurately match voting preferences with the watchers of lightly viewed TV shows? In one instance cited in an Ad Age story, only about 10% of voters were correctly matched with addressable political ads. Color me skeptical.

But what really gets me to question the value of all this data manipulation is that TV media buyers continue to make selections the way they always have. Do they know something we don't know -- that all this data isn't really changing old habits?

How can it be that all this data shows that the older people who watch the evening network news only buy prescription drug products? I wonder if these drug ad buys are made, as they have been from time immemorial, by 23-year-old kids who can't imagine older people do anything but take pills.

Even the most rudimentary data would show that older people spend on a wide variety of things. One factor explaining why media buyers keep making the same mistake might have to do with the rules that govern gender discrimination. In an article in The New York Times on women's lack of progress in getting ahead in advertising, some women said gender discrimination showed up when looking at the ads that agencies produce. Many ads, they asserted, portray stereotypical gender roles, with mothers in the kitchen and men driving cars.

"If all the advertising is being created through that dominant lens and you look at what the result is, there's a bias in that there's only one perspective," Jean Batthany, executive creative director at DDB Chicago, told the Times.

Maybe the same sort of stereotype prevails in other areas, and maybe all the best data that behavioral science can produce can't dislodge those prejudices. If politicians can use data to locate voters who watch late-night TV shows as Obama supposedly did, why can't they use data to show that people who watch the evening news buy more than drugs?

Political operatives made the point that Obama got the votes because of his broad appeal and ability to communicate, but his superior data helped locate voters on the margin wavering between voting and staying home.

But discovering that older people are good prospects for a wide variety of products isn't a marginal call. Unlike the 1% or 2% of voters who might make the difference and who are difficult to locate, viewers who watch the evening news are right out there for the picking.

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