Does London 2012 Get the Gold for Web Design?

by Harrison Blum

Most bad websites are merely annoying.  They may load slowly because of too many scripts.  They may have loud and obnoxious music.  They may rely on flash or java, which don’t work well over slow connections and on certain computers.

Some bad websites, however, go beyond “annoying” into the realm of the truly infuriating.  These websites are so poorly designed and cumbersome that prolonged exposure can actually ruin the user’s day.  One such website is

Upon googling “Olympics”, a prominent banner on the results page leads us to the official Olympics site.  The site is incredibly busy (Figure 1), and if you don’t speak either English or French (particularly likely given that it’s the Olympics) you’re out of luck.  The best way to illustrate the website’s problems is to actually look for something.


Figure 1: Busy, busy, busy.

Let’s say we want to find all the medals up for grabs today.  Our first instinct is to click where it says “15 medal events today” in the “Latest Gold Medal” box.  But there’s no link there, so we click the name of the most recent medal winner.  This takes us to the results for that particular event, weightlifting.  Dead end.   We’ll either try the “Medals” or “Schedules & Results” tab next, but “medals” also leads nowhere, so let’s try “schedules”.

We arrive at a page that is incomprehensible (Figure 2).


Figure 2: What does it mean??

Let’s try the “List View”.  We get a very long list of every event today (prelims, quarterfinals, everything) that we must scroll through to pick out the finals (Figure 3).  What about the “Latest Results” tab?  Another complete list of events that we must scroll through to find finals.


Figure 3: It’s even worse if you expand everything.

Actually, the tab with information on today’s medal events in the most accessible form is “Full Schedule” (Figure 4), the least likely (from a user perspective) to contain such information.


Figure 4: Ah-ha.

What if we want to see how athlete Ryan Lochte has been doing?  We click over to “Athletes”, search his name, and find his profile (Figure 5).  What medals has he won?  Clicking on the medals icons won’t work, nor does it say anything in the long text-only profile.  We have to click over to each event he’s swimming in (some of which haven’t occurred yet) and search each results page for his standings.


Figure 5: And be careful, because this profile “has not been confirmed”.

Want to see what medals Team USA won today?  There’s no way to do this, other than by visiting the pages of every event the USA has placed in and finding the ones whose finals were today.  Want to look up the 100-meter dash?  Hope you know that it falls under “Athletics” sports, because there’s no way to search for specific event.

It’s important for a website to look good and appear in search results, but it’s even more important that it actually works.  The official Olympics site is a classic example of a site that values form over functionality.  It’s difficult to use even for patient, web-savvy users, and impossible to use for non-English or French speakers.  It does, however, teach us a valuable lesson: Even the most high-profile organizations in the world could sometimes use help with their websites.


August 8, 2012 at 4:23 pm Leave a comment

Success and Failure in Social Media: The Story of Skittles

by Harrison Blum

I’ll start with the Facebook page.  It’s actually pretty typical of corporate social media (albeit with penguins).  There are embedded commercials from YouTube, photos, upcoming contests, etc.  Interactive content is minimal, and posts by fans aren’t responded to.  But this is all okay, because where Skittles really shines is Twitter.

 Most marketing departments don’t know what to do with Twitter.  They don’t get it, so they typically just tweet their Facebook posts, with links to the Facebook page to compensate for the character limit. Before I explain what makes Skittles tweets amazing, check out the screenshots below.


See what I mean?  Skittles even responds to stupid tweets from random fans, and far from being bureaucratic about it (“Thanks for being a fan Jenn”), their responses are creatively quirky.  What Skittles has recognized is that Twitter is all about “one-liners”, brief messages that are both funny and sharable.  Twitter users are much more likely to follow you if they can re-tweet your tweets to their own followers.

And finally, the Skittles YouTube page contains all of the brand’s famously bizarre commercials.

This level of involvement in social media is far from the norm among candy makers.  M&M’s website requires you to be 18 to enter (which is just a little baffling) and comes with this charming legal notice right on the homepage.

If you want Skittles’s (bottom right) legal disclosures, just click on the bowtie link

Anyway, the numbers speak for themselves (ironic, given that Mars Inc. owns both brands).



The takeaway is that Skittles doesn’t just have an active and creative online presence.  Its social media pages, commercials, and website complement each other, working together to present a quirky, fun image that stops just short of being corny (your mileage may vary here).

But even the best aren’t perfect.

In 2009, Skittles replaced its homepage with its Twitter page, that is, tweets with the word “skittles” in them were posted directly to the brand’s website.  Skittles’s mistake was underestimating the depravity of internet users, who quickly realized that nobody was screening the tweets for objectionable content.   This miscalculation was ruthlessly punished as the Skittles homepage was flooded with obscenity and profanity (here’s a fairly tame sample).  There were so many tweets that Twitter briefly went down.

And then there came Trayvon Martin.  The Florida teen was shot while walking home with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Arizona Iced Tea.  The Arizona Beverage Company was largely spared any controversy, but Skittles became a symbol of the Trayvon Martin incident.  Protestors pinned Skittles wrappers to their hoodies; activists sent bags of Skittles to the Sanford Police Department.  With increased sales came demands for Skittles to donate its profits to minority groups or Martin’s family, and Skittles became a convenient target of anger for some.  It remains to be seen whether the crisis will have a long-term effect on the Skittles brand.

To sum up, Skittles is one of the best brands out there at managing social media.  But even it runs into trouble sometimes.  Even companies with a strong online presence have to be diligent, proactive, and quick-thinking to maintain that presence.  The price of failure can be irreparable damage to a company’s image and business.

July 11, 2012 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

Principles of Hipster Marketing

By Isaac Hellemn

We can all tell who they are: they’re the ones hogging the good chairs in the (free trade) coffee shop, using their MacBooks to update blogs about income inequality.  There’s no real definition of a hipster (unless you use’s “a person who is hip”); instead, hipsters are defined more by a constellation of shared qualities.  In general, hipsters are young, liberal, and trendy.  Their affluence makes them attractive to marketers, but their mistrust of corporations and conventional advertising makes them notoriously difficult for those marketers to reach.

And yet some have pulled it off.  Ray-Ban, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Converse were all aging brands in decline before what I’m going to call “hipster marketing” propelled them to new heights of popularity and profitability.  And contrary to popular belief, hipster marketing works just fine for major corporations.  Ray-Ban is owned by European conglomerate Luxottica Group S.p.A., the largest sunglass maker in the world.  Converse is owned by Nike.  So how do you make hipster marketing happen?

  1. Don’t Advertise.  There aren’t many demographics that enjoy advertising, but hipsters are one of the few that will actually hold it against you.  Pabst spends most of its marketing budget sponsoring hipster enterprises (independent publishers, art shows, music festivals, even bicycle polo tournaments).  But they’re careful to keep it small-scale; Kid Rock approached them with an endorsement deal, and they turned him down.  The one time they tried a formal campaign (advertising on alternative radio stations) the response was “mixed”.
  2. Involve the Hipsters (or pretend to).  Hipsters love to feel like they’re making a difference.  Pabst often holds contests for fans to design its ads (they don’t call it that of course, it’s “consumer-designed art”).   Converse opened a recording studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the hipster capital of the world) for “undiscovered artists” to use.  Ray-Ban did things a little differently; they put this video on YouTube.  It never actually pitches Ray-Bans, and it looks like a fan-made video (and it also happens to be pretty cool).  But it was commissioned by Ray-Ban’s ad agency, and a lot of thought went into it.
  3. Embrace Social Media.  In fact, move in with social media.  Get engaged if possible.  Converse has three times as many FB likes as its parent company, Nike.  One reason: Nike fills its page with pictures of pro athletes while Converse has user-submitted photos, singles from indie music acts, and “101 things to draw on your Converses” (#26 – Mini Animals, #72 – Monsters).  Pabst has a full-time social media manager.  Ray-Ban used Foursquare and Twitter to hold a national hipster scavenger hunt; fifty locations (clubs, comic stores, vintage music shops, etc.) were given limited edition posters to display.  The most active tweeter or Foursquare(er?) at each location won the poster displayed there, and the location with the most active fans won a party paid for by Ray-Ban.

Ambitious brands cannot afford to ignore hipsters (and their cousins, yuppies) as a consumer group.  The most effective, and possibly only, way to reach this group is through social-media-driven hipster marketing.

And while you’re digesting all this, here are some more hipster cats:

June 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm Leave a comment

Social Media, Vampires, and You


by Isaac Hellemn

Poking around Mashable the other day, I happened upon an article analyzing the social media success of True Blood relative to “competing vampire brands” Twilight and Vampire Diaries.  (I guess it was only a matter of time before we started seeing analyses of “competing vampire brands” and their audience shares.)  The important part of the article was hidden in a busy infographic further down the page.  And it is summarized thus: True Blood is really, really good at leveraging social media.

Examples help.  In September, HBO announced that if 50,000 of its True Blood fans checked into GetGlue for the season finale, then all of them would get merchandise discounts at the True Blood store.  To wit: True Blood got its fans to advertise the finale among their social networks so that they could then buy products from HBOTrue Blood doesn’t just have Twitter fans, it has a fan site for its Twitter fans (  You can even buy the True Blood from the show (although the consumer version is blood-colored orange soda and costs sixteen bucks for a four-pack, plus shipping).

They have a name for this sort of thing, “Interactive Television,” and it goes a lot further than DVR’s.  Professor Jon Taplin at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication is one of the academics who specializes in this new field.  Taplin got his start as a music and film producer in Hollywood (this guy produced Martin Scorsese’s first movie!), and then he took a break to do investment banking at Merrill Lynch.  Having seen both the entertainment and business worlds, Taplin has a unique perspective on the future of TV media.

The question people like Taplin are asking is “While I watch the Lakers game, can the Tablet provide me synced up stats of the game, instant replays and e-commerce opportunities?”  As HBO has shown us, this is already happening.  The lines between TV and e-commerce are fading fast, and the connection is social media.  GetGlue allows HBO to offer discounts to Trubies (True Blood groupies).  True Blood can offer sneak peek clips and exclusive content to its Twitter fans.

One of the most profound advantages of social media as a marketing tool is the sense of community that it creates.  You might be a park ranger living on the Alaskan tundra, but when you use your satellite internet to hit up the True Blood Facebook page, you become part of a group.  The fan who uses the True Blood apps, follows the True Blood Twitter feeds, and buys overpriced True Blood soda isn’t just somebody who likes the show.  This is a person who identifies at a personal level with True Blood, a Trubie, one consumer among many who share predictable interests, wants, and needs.

May 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm 1 comment

Find the Giggle button

Z Interactive

by Michael P. Grace

As a token of our appreciation… and as a way to show off our new fantastic website we’d like to give our loyal Facebook Fans and Twitter Followers a chance to win Frisco RoughRiders Tickets. That’s right! Z Interactive is giving away 4 VIP Frisco RoughRiders Tickets right behind home plate, with complimentary alcoholic beverages and food all night long! Are we awesome or what? It’s not as awesome as our new website but it is pretty close.

For your shot at the tickets, all you have to do is follow the 4 easy steps below. Then, just like that, your name will be entered into a drawing. We’ll also have a secret celebrity choose the name which we’re not allowed to disclose at this time because it’s top secret. Then on June 6th, 2012 we will announce the lucky winner, probably you. Sound easy? It is. So what are you waiting for?

To enter our Frisco RoughRiders drawing, follow the 4 easy steps below.

Step 1      Share on Facebook or Tweet on Twitter about the contest. You can do both to enter twice.

Step 2     Search our site and look for a teeny tiny button that makes a giggle noise each and every time you hover over it. This is breakthrough technology so please don’t tell anyone where it is once you find it … or else.

Step 3      Be the first to click the hidden sound clip link and you will find a page that provides your final directions on how to claim your prize.

Step 4      Bookmark and come back to on June 6th, 2012 to see if you’ve won the drawing.

Start on our Home Page. Good Luck!

May 16, 2012 at 8:56 pm Leave a comment

Pinterest: Why You Should Care About It

by Raecene Collins

There has been a new wave of social media websites over the past few months. Some sites take time to gain popularity and others take off right away. Pinterest has grabbed a hold of the public’s attention fairly quickly. Created in 2009 by Ben Silbermann, the website defines itself as a virtual pin board. Users can take ideas that they like from various websites and pin them for not only themselves to see but others as well. 

Other users who like that same idea can ‘repin’ the idea to their own board, much like a retweet on Twitter. You can also follow boards of friends and can view all pins those users post. You could say its Twitter with pretty pictures. You can browse boards by categories such as Men and Women apparel, Food & Drink, and DIY & Crafts. Many brides-to-be are now using Pinterest as a wedding planning tool.

So what does Pinterest have to do with social media and other industries like advertising and marketing? The answer is everything! Companies can use Pinterest as a tool to promote their brand. Whole Foods is one of many companies who have joined the movement. Their page includes 26 boards and over 600 pins. Under their ‘Sweet Tooth’ board, users can browse through dessert recipes that have been pinned.

When the pin’s photo is clicked on, it links back to the website the photo was taken from. That means traffic is being driven to that company’s website. With a few clicks, a company can post new products and consumers can purchase that product right after viewing it. Pinterest will also allow you to display the price of the item that has been pinned.

Social media news sites such as Mashable have exploded with article after article on information about the website. They recently posted an article about 8 strategies for launching a brand presence for Pinterest. According to the article, Pinterest has become a top five-traffic source for many apparel retailers.

Marketing professionals or users who are looking to drive traffic to their website should do the following: leverage your brand, think of themes and not product promotion, use hashtags, and engage with the community. But be aware of copyright issues. Adding your own content is fine, but if you are adding content from around the web, that is where the problem lies. No matter for what purpose the images are used, they should be reviewed with your in-house counsel.

Copyright is an issue that Pinterest has been dealing with. Thousands of photos being shared to thousands of people but the issue is who do these photos belong to? Pinterest asks their users to always credit their sources under the pin etiquette section. They have also offered websites who do not wish to have their photos from their site pinned an opt-out program.

Social media is ever-changing. Pinterest is a site that has truly changed how we do business. It is an easy way to boost traffic to your business by placing visual simulating photos to attract consumers and future clients. In a way, “If they like it, they will click.”

March 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm Leave a comment

MySpace Shows Brands Can Make a Comeback

by Michael P. Grace

Comebacks are synonymous with sports figures, fashion, and pop stars—and more recently, MySpace. The company’s announcement that it added 1M new users last month shows that digital brands can make comebacks too—massive comebacks.

MySpace was considered all but dead when Specific Media and singer and actor Justin Timberlake took it off News Corp.’s hands in June 2011. Now the company has revived itself and enjoying a daily sign-up rate of 40,000 new users. So, what prompted the resurgence in popularity? What “success secrets” can non-digital companies learn from such a comeback?

  1. Focus on Your Strengths. The new MySpace owners have stopped trying to compete with Facebook and other social networking sites. Instead, they have focused on MySpace’s superior platform for posting and listening to music and revamped the site as a music service—a strategy that appears to be paying off.
  2. Grow Your Digital Marketing Platform. Even if you’re not a digital brand, this is a critical component to success. Unfortunately, many companies are still timid about investing in their online and social media presence. With so many users on social media sites, there’s no question that sites, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are being used to learn about companies, products, and services and make buying decisions. Social media can be a powerful tool for any organization, both large and small, to interact and connect with customers and prospects in a more personal and powerful way.
  3. Understand Your Audience. This is marketing 101. The key is to expand your customer profiles to include their online behavior—what sites do they visit, what search terms do they use to find your products, what content are they looking for that you might be able to create. MySpace focused on what was important to its audience—offer an extensive library of music, keep the service free, and making it easily accessible.
  4. Integrate With Facebook and Twitter. We encourage all our clients to do this. Why? Referrals. According to By the Numbers: How Facebook Says Likes & Social Plugins Help Websites by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, the average media site integrated with Facebook has seen a 300% increase in referral traffic. One of our clients (The Villages at Allen and Fairview) saw an increase in referral traffic by as much as 638% by integrating social media with their traditional marketing and website. What type of traditional advertising gets you that kind of result?
  5. Use Social Media Across Your Company. Social media can be effective as a marketing tool, but keep in mind that there are also very productive ways to utilize social media for customer service, product development, sales, purchasing, and recruiting. By thinking of social media holistically, you’ll see how it can permeate every aspect of your company’s work.

Only time will tell whether or not MySpace’s strategy will return the company to its prior rank in the online world. I’m not a gambler, but I think it’s a safe bet that if the company continues to enlist solid business and social media practices (including the five tips I mentioned) they will continue to successfully grow. Of course, if Justin Timberlake has any questions on what to do next he’s welcome to give me a call.

March 2, 2012 at 9:22 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts Newer Posts

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,307 other followers

Twitter Updates

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

%d bloggers like this: