How to Help Victims of Typhoon Haiyan

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Typhoon Haiyan has devastated the Philippines this past weekend, causing a 20-foot rise in sea waters with winds of up to 150 miles per hour.

Officials fear there are thousands dead in the Philippines (more than 10,000 people are believed to be dead in the city of Tacloban alone), and millions more will need basic aid during the rescue and recovery process.

World Vision has worked in the Philippines for more than 55 years, and is currently mobilizing nearly 500 staff around the country to assist in the relief effort with food, clean water, hygiene kits, emergency shelter and more. To donate to the relief effort click here.

For those personally affected by the disaster and currently searching for family members or friends Google’s open source web app, Person Finder, has been launched again. The application was previously used during the Boston Marathon Bombing and Hurricane Sandy and will help individuals search for the status of a person affected by the disaster. Users can click on “I’m looking for someone” to insert a name or can click “I have information about someone” to insert that data.

Hurricane Sandy – One Year Later

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“Why don’t we get some chili before this thing gets out of hand?” So said my cousin prior to rounding the corner of our street in Breezy Point directly into a fantastic rush of sea water. We sat there for a minute with our mouths open – up until this point we had treated the impending hurricane as a joke. Just minutes before he picked me up I stood on my parents deck in a light drizzle thinking “some disaster this is”. And now here we were in serious trouble. We reversed direction to pick up my grandfather so we could regroup at my parents house which was situated a little higher off the ground than his small bungalow — there was no time to save anything, the water was waist high within minutes, and evacuating was now out of the question. Soon after reaching the house we quietly watched my cousins Jeep and my own dear Chevy Cobalt float away down Utica Walk. No doubt it was going to be a long night.

Hurricane Sandy was merciless in its devastation of Breezy Point – not a single home or family was spared. As of today only half of the 2,837 families who live in the community have been able to return home. The rest are facing an uphill battle with insurance companies, with the prospect of having to spend $60,000 to raise their homes after receiving FEMAs Zone A designation, and with the government as they wait for approval on permits and plans that stand in the way of starting construction. It’s clear the town will never be what it was – but despite the hardship and destruction not a single life was lost in Breezy during the Hurricane and for that, we consider ourselves blessed.

As for my own family, they officially moved back into their new homes in Breezy on May 15 2013. This was due in no small part to the very generous financial, emotional, and physical assistance rendered to us by TargetCast for which we will be forever grateful.

Sandy 1


Sandy 2


sandy 3


Sandy 4

Black Friday or Gray Thursday?

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Traditionally, the post-feast hours of Thanksgiving Day were spent lounging with your family, watching football, and even napping. But the monstrous phenomenon that has become known as Black Friday has turned these precious hours of relaxation into the calm before the storm. This larger-than life event may even come a day early this year, as major retailers continue to battle for that first opening time slot. Is this constant jostle between major big-boxes driven solely on the desire to protect their own market share, or is there a larger threat in the works here?  The ever evolving presence of 24/7 online retail shopping has led to the dawn of the monster that is Gray Thursday. Brick and Mortar outlets are fighting to extend their opening hours all in an effort to leave a shorter window where consumers only shopping option is online. What’s the only way to achieve this? Forget the midnight opening we saw from retailers like Best Buy and Kohl’s last year. Outlets like Toys “R” US and Target are raising the bar once again, with 8pm and 9pm respective openings.

The only question retailers now face is “How do we convince shoppers to choose our store?” Wal-Mart opted to advertise some of the most outrageous sales seen to date, offering a 50-inch HDTV for $429 and laptop computers for as little as $300. Macy’s chose a different route, using the AMA’s recently crowned Artist of the Year, Justin Bieber, to continue his “wink,nod,smile” campaign.

Justin Bieber Macy’s Commercial

All of this indicates that the industry has no rules, and that B&M retailers will do whatever necessary to overcome the growing presence of online retailers. Even by creating a new monster: Gray Thursday.

Summer Olympics: Cheers, London!

in Current Events, International, Just for fun, Olympics, Online, Social Media, Television No Comments

Did anyone else eagerly tune in to watch the closing ceremony of this summer Olympic Games on Sunday night? Leading the way with 104 medals, 46 of them gold, USA stood proud and closed out the Olympic Games in the number one position.

Maybe it was the Fab 5 taking the gold or watching Ryan Lochte smile at the cameras, but the London games increased Olympic viewership 12%, specifically in the 18-49 year old demographic. The closing of the games brought in an additional 32% viewership as compared to the Beijing games. Fans could connect to the Olympics by watching on TV, following their favorite athletes’ twitter accounts and checking out news sites. But what truly accounts for the increase in ratings, especially for the savvy demo of 18-49, is the ability to connect digitally, anywhere you go.

For the FIRST time ever, it was possible to live stream any event online via your smart phone or tablet (as long as you have a subscription to MSNBC or CNBC). On top of the option to live stream, there were also two official apps available for Android and Apple mobile devices free of charge. Apps shared news, results and video highlights (no live streaming).

If watching the events wasn’t your thing, audiences could at least look forward to glimpses of British royalty, the drama that unfolded over Gabby Douglas’ hair, and of course musical performances by George Michael, The Spice Girls (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), One Direction and The Who, among many others.

If you’re still craving news on the London Olympics, check out more info and stats here:

TargetCast Visits the NYTimes AdLab

in Advertising, Creativity, Current Events, innovation, Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized No Comments

Last week, some lucky TargetCasters had the opportunity to visit the New York Time’s AdLab, located at their headquarters on W 43rd street.  From the buildings unique all-glass architecture to the awesome technologies found within, the whole experience felt like a trip to the advertising equivalent of Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (the Gene Wilder version of course).

Stop 1: Is there any way of knowing, which direction tweets are going?

Our tour started with a demonstration of the AdLab’s “Cascade” data visualization tool, which visually mapped @NYTimes tweets as they spread they were disseminated across the Twitterverse in-real time.  Cascade not only displayed how many times a tweet was retweeted and clicked on, but created visual webs of interaction and sharing, identifying influential retweeters and related groups the tweets resonated most with.   It looked awesome, and it would be interesting to see the technology used as an audience discovery tool for brands.

Cascade in action!

Stop 2:  Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of ubiquitous content

The next stop on our tour was a demo of new connected technologies, including a next-generation 3DTV, a mirror that allowed you to surf the web, connect with social media, and watch video with voice activation, and the newest version of Microsoft’s Surface, a dining table with iPad-like functionality.  While each of these devices was impressive in their own right, what was most exciting was the possibility of combining all of these devices to create a truly ubiquitous content experience.  Imagine engaging with an article throughout your entire morning routine:  from brushing your teeth in the bathroom mirror, to eating cereal at the kitchen table, to finally finishing the article on your phone during your morning commute.  If the technology found in the AdLab was any indication, that dream will soon be a reality, and not only change the world of content, but digital advertising as well.

The gang sees the future of 3DTV

Microsoft's Surface

Stop 3: Media’s certainly not showing, any sign that it is slowing!

Our tour concluded with a presentation in the New York Times Idea Lab, where we were shown examples of how both brands and marketers were utilizing technology to tell richer stories, along with a presentation on emerging social media habits amongst the general population.

Presentations in the Idea Lab!

Overall it was an exciting trip; offering insights everyone could take back to the office for future campaigns, while also giving us a taste of what’s to come.

Headlines make good copy, but do they tell the whole truth?

in Advertising, Current Events, Facebook, Social Media No Comments

Headlines in both the public and trade press have shouted that “GM says Facebook ads don’t pay off.”  However the headline is only part of the story.

While this news certainly puts a negative spin on the efficacy of this social media network for General Motors, it should not be implied that all advertisers have had the same results from their advertising efforts on Facebook.  Other car manufacturers are not dropping Facebook but, in fact, are continuing to monitor their efforts to determine if their anticipated return on investment is achieved.

We are in the very early stages of understanding digital media, and in particular social media, advertising impact.  The back end analytics needed to fully determine which advertising platform is most effective, which platforms work best together and what types of advertising units are best on which platforms are in their infancy.  And while other media have years of benchmark analytics which provide marketers with confidence in the effectiveness of the medium and their content, the newer construct of the relationship between paid-earned-owned-shared media has thrown even these data into question.    

While advertisers have come to understand certain aspects of display and search media and their impact on consumer action, the medium has also been saddled with the phenomenon of “instant results” based on direct response metrics and the focus on the click. While mid-course corrections can be affected based on consumer response to a particular offer or brand message, we still know relatively little of the impact of digital media, and even less about social media, on long-cycle brand building or consumer action. Certain products, including automobiles, which are highly considered and involve major cost outlays, may need different exposure levels and/or varying consumer messages to move product. 

Digital media, and especially social media sites such as Facebook, need to work with advertisers to develop the most effective ways to measure the use of each outlet to meet various marketing objectives.  Ad units, interactivity capability and timing requirements all require research to determine the best ways to use these platforms, alone and in combination, to motivate consumer action.

We really do not know all the marketing reasons which resulted in General Motors moving away from advertising on Facebook.  Perhaps the pull-back is related to other marketplace realities, and Facebook is the public “fall guy”.  In any case, one advertiser’s action, re-action should not deter experimentation and testing of new platforms; the learning we might take from this is that we all need to plan our experiments carefully, with goals and measurement from the start.  After all, 900,000,000 people make up the Facebook community – and if they all just reach out to one person on your brand’s behalf, that’s pretty huge.  Not to try and figure this out would be the greatest failure of all.

Google “Freshness” Algorithm Update – November 2011

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Google has had an ongoing problem with providing fresh content and until the launch of the “Freshness” algorithm earlier this week they didn’t have a solution – only a series of quick fixes.

During 9/11 when there was a massive number of searches for “world trade center” related terms nothing showed up except outdated informational pages about renting office space and tours. As a result they had to add links directly from their homepage to news sites to divert users away from using their search features.

On the more recent side of the war in Afghanistan we saw better but still flawed search results from Google when news broke about the death of Osama Bin Laden. Google began putting “Google News” in search results years ago to provide up-to-the-minute content at the top of search results that were tied to current events but this fix is only a band-aid on a larger issue.

If you look at the screenshot below (source: Search Engine Land) you will see that while Google News provided people with fresh content the actual algorithmic search results below were about the White House Correspondents Dinner and one of President Obama’s past budget speeches although the user intent was clearly focused on what had just gone down in Pakistan.

Google started to get into a bit of a rut with its search results, pushing down the actual results with Google news, Twitter updates, and other additional features to liven up the search results pages but not the actual search results themselves.

Earlier this week Google announced an actual fix to the problem of outdated content- a “freshness” algorithm update was launched on Monday building off the infrastructure established by the Google Caffeine update. Caffeine did not change the actual search results, it was a new way to collect and index information on the web.

Caffeine was designed to radically change the way that Google indexed content, giving them the ability to quickly index frequently changing content. The update that Google released on Monday is an algorithmic change that will utilize this high-speed indexing system to provide fresh search results.

What impact does this change have? It allows Google to respond to three separate scenarios where fresh content is necessary for a good user experience, impacting 35% of all search results in the process. Quoting from their announcement:

  • Recent events or hot topics. For recent events or hot topics that begin trending on the web, you want to find the latest information immediately. Now when you search for current events like “occupy oakland protest”, or for the latest news about the “nba lockout”, you’ll see more high-quality pages that might only be minutes old.
  • Regularly recurring events. Some events take place on a regularly recurring basis, such as annual conferences like “ICALP” or an event like the “presidential election”. Without specifying with your keywords, it’s implied that you expect to see the most recent event, and not one from 50 years ago. There are also things that recur more frequently, so now when you’re searching for the latest “NFL scores”, “dancing with the stars” results or “exxon earnings”, you’ll see the latest information.
  • Frequent updates. There are also searches for information that changes often, but isn’t really a hot topic or a recurring event. For example, if you’re researching the “best slr cameras”, or you’re in the market for a new car and want “subaru impreza reviews”, you probably want the most up to date information.

This is a seismic shift in the SEO world, but it wasn’t unexpected. It has been clear for many years that Google wanted to move in this direction for those of us that were prepared the changes have provided a nice boost to organic search traffic.

Regardless of industry there are ways to provide fresh content whether it be starting a company blog, releasing a new product line, or finding some other way to engage your users.

Through this update Google has made it clear that if you don’t start paying attention to your content, you will be left behind.

Netflix…how could you?

in Advertising, Current Events, Mobile, Movies, Online, Technology, Television, Video No Comments


Talk about a back fire. Only one month into the company split of Netflix (into Netflix – Streaming and Qwikster – DVD’s), the once skyrocketing video entertainment powerhouse has lost over 1 million subscribers. Also, they have employed a more than backwards business strategy. Netflix CEO is effectively eliminating his core business prospects from the funnel, making it more difficult to convert new users. If Netflix remained as just Netflix, cross selling opportunities or possibily upselling opportunities would have remained from DVD to Streaming. Now, a user of Netflix DVD is automatically enrolled in Qwikster DVD, not only losing brand loyalists, but also making it more complex to be signed up for both services. Two companies. Two contracts. Too many issues. Without the brand Netflix for the DVD business, there is an increased concerned that users will become brand agnostic and switch to a different provider.

Check out the articles here

Google Acquires Zagat

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Today Google acquired Zagat, the trusted and influential source for consumer-survey based reviews.  According to Google’s blog, Google plans to collaborate with Zagat “to bring the power of Google search and Google Maps to their products and users, and to bring their  innovation, trusted reputation and wealth of experience to our users.”

The partnership between the two strong brands seems to be a great fit.  By combining their resources and platforms the two companies are able to offer new ways for consumers to express their opinions and make informed decisions.  I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for a Zagat rated restaurant on Google Maps next time I’m looking for some good eats in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

East Coast Earthquake – 5.9 Mag

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5.9 Magnitude earthquake from the Virgina area felt here in NYC.  Very surreal experience to feel the aftershock.

Hope all are well.

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