Archive for the ‘PR and News’ Category

Did you see the bit on HLN about bedbugs infesting firehouses in Albuquerque, New Mexico the other day?

What caught my attention wasn’t the bugs, which are popping up all over the place like Tea Party candidates.

Nor was it the fact that the Firefighter Wives Auxillary Association went to a national high end mattress company and asked them donate 170 mattresses to the firestations, which they did. (You can read the whole story here.)

What hooked me was that the mattress company has requested to remain anonymous.

That’s right — anonymous!

As some of you might know, I co-authored a book with Dr. Richard Steckel about cause related marketing titled “Making Money While Making a Difference: How to Profit with a Nonprofit Partner.”

The entire book is about the positive bottom line benefits of cause-related marketing, an absolute win-win when done right, and while I wrote it over a decade ago, I’m pretty sure I didn’t put in anything about the benefits of anonymous donations.

BECAUSE THERE ARE NONE! At least not to marketing or sales. There are the tax benefits, of course, which must be monumental for 170 mattresses. And as my wife suggested, there may be a religious angle, which I guess would be good for your soul and future accommodations in whichever afterlife you may believe in.

But you have to agree that it’s an unusual move, in this day and age when organizations from NASA to Oakley were falling all over themselves to milk the publicity from helping out the Chilean miners. (Can you say $450 sunglasses, or $41 Million in media exposure?)

I’m still dumbfounded by it. Companies are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to, well, make money while making a difference. Opportunities like this one.

Which leads me to wonder, can someone please explain whether I’m right, or whether I’ve become so jaded that I can’t see an act of charity as anything other than a missed marketing opportunity?

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Magazines come and magazines go. In the first 9 months of 2011, 110 new magazines began publishing while 127 closed up shop, according to this Oct. 11 press release from MediaFinder.com. (Both numbers are down from the same period last year, when 259 launched and 383 folded.)

But of all the new launches this year, the breakout title for me is Inspire, the magazine of al-Qaeda. It’s published in English out of Yemen and edited by a 24-year old Pakistani American from North Carolina, Samir Kahn.

The cover for the second issue of Inspire, Fall 2010

With catchy articles like “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom” and instructions for turning your pickup truck into a steel-bladed “mowing machine” for mowing down enemies, the magazine is sure to deliver a unique audience.

Good for Inspire. One of the only ways a magazine can succeed in the post-print era is by delivering eyeballs nobody else can reach. Find an under-served niche and exploit it. (Speaking of which, please don’t confuse Inspire with InSpire Magazine, the woman’s magazine published by, I kid you not,  Niche Publications LLC)

Does anybody know if Inspire sells ad space?

After all, there are plenty of companies that would want to reach terrorists and zealots. Fertilizer manufacturers, truck rental companies, used car dealers, explosive shoes, box cutter suppliers and backpack makers come to mind, but I’m sure there are others. (Quite a few of the magazine ad sales people I’ve known would sell their own mothers for the commission, so I can’t imagine they’d have a problem with this.)

I wonder what kind of added-value the magazine offers to its advertisers? Laminated copies of the ads with the words, “As seen in Inspire” slugged into the upper right corner? Free advertorials? Survey cards?

Maybe they let advertisers rent the subscriber list at a discount?

If that’s the case, can someone please explain to me how I can get my hands on that list? I can think of a Navy S.E.A.L. team that would love to hand deliver a special promotion to the readers.

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Two seemingly unrelated news items about the US Post Office and Google caught my attention today.

The first was an article in DM News that said that the US Post Office is intending to penalize mailers who don’t

“meet US Postal Service standards for updating mailing lists, according to Jeff Platt, director of solutions marketing for US mailing at Pitney. Those updates must be applied 95 days before the mailing. As of January 4, 2010, mailers that do not do so will be subject to additional postage of 7 cents per assessed piece.”

Previously, the USPS gave discounts to people who made their mail more efficient. Now they’re getting out the big stick and making people pay for their inefficiency rather than rewarding their efficiency.

And the second was the news that Google is changing their policy about free news content and their “First Click Free” policy. That policy says that if you find content on Google News and click on it, say, an article from the Wall St. Journal, you get to read that article for free. Click on the next article on the site and the Journal lets you know that any additional articles is only available for subscribers, and they’re happy to let you subscribe.

Google is amending their policy to allow publishers who charge for their content to “limit the number of accesses under the First Click Free policy to five free accesses per user each day.”

According to Google, “While we’re happy to see that a number of publishers are already using First Click Free, we’ve found that some who might try it are worried about people abusing the spirit of First Click Free to access almost all of their content.”

I say bravo USPS and Google.

Let’s start with the Post Office. When it comes to the USPS, like most other direct mailers I know I’ve railed against the ever-increasing fees and the amazingly complex discount and fee structure for business mailers. (If you want to wade through the 44 page PDF of the Jan 4, 2010 rates, here it is.)

As the director of integrated marketing at a channel-neutral direct marketing agency, I’m an equal opportunity employer of whatever works: direct mail, email, FedEx, twitter, text, search… you get the point. But if the post office went away, my job would get infinitely tougher.

This time, though, when the USPS institutes a fee that penalizes mailers who don’t engage in smart practices in order to help defray costs and stay afloat, I’m all for it.

Running your mailing list against NCOA won’t catch every piece of undeliverable mail, but it does catch many of them. It saves the mailer the cost of wasted printing and postage, and turns missed opportunity into the chance of a sale. Undeliverable mail that could be avoided is a terrible waste that increases the cost of mail by adding extra work for the mail carrier and the post office, all to no good end.

Now let’s talk about Google and free news. Don’t get me wrong… I get most of my news from Google, for free. I love the WSJ, and I’ll miss getting their content.

But free sample content from the WSJ, or any other publisher for that matter, has never enticed me to subscribe to that publisher, if there were a fee attached. If I encounter a fee, I just move on to the next one for free.

I admit it. I’m a freeloader. And I’ve pretty sure I’ve read more than 5 articles from the Journal over the course of a day by accessing them via Google News.

The discussion about the death of journalism has morphed into a discussion about what news organizations are doing to stay alive, and in some cases, they’re exploring pulling back their free content into models that provide better value for their value. They’re fighting for their survival, and like the USPS, my world will be worse off without them.

There are many models that can be applied to online news that don’t involve the reader paying for their content. I proposed a few here in my blog back in June. From crowdfunding (read this great piece in the Columbia Journalism  Review about the NY Times’ first crowdfunded article) to advertising-supported mega blog news sites like the Huffington Post, most  “alternatives” to traditional news still involve some form of cost defrayal.

In this ever changing world in which we live, one thing is becoming fairly obvious:  if we don’t start paying for what we use, we’re going to lose it.

We’re in the midst of one of the most challenging business cycles of our lives. We’ve seen business after business shut their doors forever. Costs are rising, credit is harder to find, competition is global and the rate of change threatens to swamp old business models that can’t evolve.

And yet there are people who complain about UPS and USPS raising their prices to reflect increased costs, or , god-forbid, a news organization like the Wall St. Journal wanting to get compensated for reporting the news.

Can someone please explain to me how you can be expected to run a business without getting fairly paid for your products or your services?

While I wait for your answer, I’m going to go out and buy a copy of the Journal. Heck, I may even decide to pay for a subscription so I can read it online — the way it should be read.

Have you ever eaten Scrapple? It’s gastronomically ghoulish, made up of pig or hog offal (liver, heart, head, and anything else left over) that’s smashed into a mushy paste, sliced and then fried on a grill slathered in fat.

I know, I know, you’re wondering  what could possibly make something that good tasting that’s also good for you be any less desirable?

The answer is:  Hoovers.

I was doing research the other day on Jones Dairy Farm and banged into the Hoovers profile for the company. You can read the public profile here. In that profile, Hoovers says that

The links on this company’s Web site are of the edible variety. Jones Dairy Farm produces sausage, bacon, ham, and more…In 1981 Jones Dairy Farm acquired Ralph and Paul Adams, Inc., which markets Rape Scrapple.”

Rape Scrapple?

Now some of you may know that I’m a mostly vegetarian, except for one day a year when I gorge on Hot Pastrami at Katz’s Delicatessen in NYC for my birthday, and maybe the occasional classic hot dog from a classic hot dog stand I may come across in my travels. But before I met my wife and became a vegetarian, I’d never met an animal I wouldn’t happily eat. So my vestigial meat-eater’s senses perked up when I read “Rape Scrapple.”

I had to know what tasty extras they put into ordinary Scrapple to make it into Rape Scrapple.

Alas, the truth is that the only way to make  Rape Scrapple is through typographic error.

It turns out that Ralph and Paul Adams, Inc. make Rapa Scrapple, not Rape Scrapple, and have since 1926. In fact, according to their website, they are the largest producer of Scrapple in the world. The name Rapa comes from taking a little bit from Ralph and a little bit from Paul and mixing them together, in not too dissimilar a way from the way they make the Scrapple portion of Rapa Scrapple.

Searching on Google turns up numerous repetitions of the Hoover’s Rape Scrapple error, passed blithely along to unsuspecting searchers by Answers.com, numerous contacts on DemandBase.com, AAAA’s Smartbrief, and of course, the ever popular but highly dangerous varta.rr.nu/germany-dialing/xionghim (NOTE: Don’t check this out: it’s a reported attack site!!!)

I think it’s safe to assume Hoovers made the first typo, and it was simply picked up by other companies that reference or license the Hoover’s information, since the Hoovers free profile says:

“Produced by Hoover’s in-house editorial team, the Company Description tracks ownership transitions, company progress via mergers and acquisitions, major growth milestones, and strategic initiatives, to provide a holistic view of Jones Dairy Farm’s evolution in the marketplace.”

Clearly Rape Scrapple is just a typo. Somebody inadvertently changed an “a” to an “e.”

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that Hoovers is a D&B company, and their stock in trade is corporate research. Hoovers made the mistake, and then they failed to catch it, and  it got picked up and repeated across the Internet (where it will most likely stay forever) by people who have reason to trust Hoovers to get it right.

Now I’m not suggesting that some potential investor or business person doing their due diligence will choose not to invest in or do business with Jones Dairy Farm because they make Rape Scrapple.

But can someone please explain to me why, if Hoovers can’t catch a simple error like this, we should trust them to get the financials correct? Or the media spend?  Or the annual sales?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to microwave a Morningstar Farms Vegetarian Sausage Patty and pretend it’s Scrapple. It’s not the same, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing.

News outlets make news. But to make money, they wrap that news in advertising.

Anybody else see a disconnect?

As we all know, advertising revenues are down as advertisers shift their dollars to more attractive media channels. And not every newspaper, least of all the NY Times, will be saved by the influx in erotic advertising that is resulting from Craig’s List’s ban described in this article on Adotas.

So I have a suggestion. Newspapers should climb out onto the leading edge of the micro-payments industry in this country and charge us for the news we so desperately need the same way they used to pay their reporters:  by the word.

I wonder what would happen if the NY Times wrote an open letter to all its readers in all formats (print, online, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) explaining that the old advertising model no longer supports the costs of news gathering, and asking us to opt-in to a micro-payments structure that has users pay for content by the word or article.

After all, we pay for our music by the song or album at iTunes and Amazon. Users pay for their apps, too, at the iPhone store.

Maybe our news will cost us 100th of a penny per word — I don’t pretend to know — but there’s a number that would be worth paying to get accurate, valuable journalism, fed into our brains by whatever method we choose.

Faced with the alternative — disappearing like The Rocky Mountain News, turning into an online blog like The Tucson Citizen, or going Chapter 11 like the Chicago Tribune — would the stakeholders of the Times keep the “Old Gray Lady” afloat?

Advertisers could play along too. They could buy prepaid content credits that they would give to their target consumers  — as premiums, promotions, free-downloads, usage credits, rewards points, membership discounts or rewards. When a reader used credits, if they were sponsored, they would see their sponsor’s message.

From a reader’s perspective, it would look like this: Whenever I logged onto the Times website (or followed a Twitter link (A Twink?) etc.) I’d get a screen with that day’s advertisers’ offers. I’d pick a sponsor, they’d pay, I’d get my news, and they’d get my eyeballs. Maybe by the article, maybe by the day, maybe by bandwidth, whatever. (Hey, if Bank of America brought me my NY Times content for free, I’d gladly sit through their pre-rolls.)

These prepaid blocks would represent reliable chunks of income that could be sold through a digital auction model or on an upfront basis, or a combination of both (digital auction for the any inventory left over after the up front sales). A major advertiser could work out a promotion with Amazon that every large format Kindle would come with a sponsored year-long subscription to the Times.

Forwards to a friend could represent extra eyeballs for the advertiser, or extra charges, depending on the media buy.

It is frequently said that people don’t value what they get for free. While that may not always be true, it is true that the Internet has changed people’s cost/value perceptions as it pertains to news.

I am a news junkie. I stopped reading printed newspapers long ago, mostly because they’re outdated the minute they’re printed. And I’m ingesting more of my news online or on my phone rather than be continuously disappointed by cable and network news (which I am watching less frequently). Online, I can get better news faster. And much of that news comes from the NY Times. But I usually only notice the publisher after I’ve read the article, if at all. I frequently don’t even notice whose article it is I’m reading on Google News. Or Digg. Or a tweet.

So, in my desperate search for news, would I be willing to pay for that NY Times article? I would if, like E-ZPass, it was effortless to do. Would I sometimes choose an article from the competition if it were cheaper? Depends on the organization. (After all, I have always had the option to buy a Post or Daily News rather than a Times, and yet rarely did so.) More importantly, would I sit through ads for the sponsored version if it were free? I would.

Format-wise, news gathering and dissemination is wonderfully adaptable to large-format Kindles, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, and more.

But what will happen to the dead trees, and all the personnel associated with their destruction, rebirth, and delivery as newsprint?

Since we’re attempting to reinsert value into the equation, let’s look at it in those terms. Would people find enough value in the printed version to pay more for it? Might the printed version of the Times became such a status symbol that some people would happily pay more to make a conspicuously consumptive statement?

Where is the tipping point? Could the Times sustain a print edition at $10 per copy? Remember, under this model they’re already paying for news-gathering and editing with micro-payments. The printed version just needs to carry its own weight. And if it can’t, then I’m sorry for all those workers along the non-value chain, but it’s time for retraining.

So what do you think? Am I crazy, or could this work? And if so, can someone please explain to me why the NY Times isn’t already doing it?

To a direct marketer, testing is vital. But it’s important to know exactly what you’re testing. If you’re not careful, what you think your test is telling you may not be what it’s saying at all.

It’s not just in direct marketing and business that testing matters, as you’ll see in a minute.

Evan Jones, my good friend and ex-Partner-in-Crime at our old game company, QED Games, Inc., is beginning to make a name for himself in an entirely new field, Climate Change. He’s about to be the “et al” in two scientific papers and was a key researcher in a current report to Congress.

Evan is part of a group led by meteorologist Anthony Watts (who writes a very popular blog, Watts Up With That, aTechnorati Top 5K blog with a ranking of 2083!) that is focused on a major aspect of Global Warming:  not whether it’s happening, but whether we know whether it is or not.

Evan and his colleagues have been examining the over 1200 U.S Historical Climate Network (USHCN) surface stations in the US that measure temperature. And what they’ve found is surprising. Nearly 89% of these stations are located in situations that render their data suspect or flawed according to the government’s own standards. Most of these stations were once fine, but encroaching urbanization has frequently turned an isolated station into one surrounded by heat sources. Add to this the fact that temperatures are recorded by citizen volunteers and are roughly 30% incomplete.

There’s more, of course. You can read about it here in this article from WBZ TV in Boston.  Better yet, WBZ did an interview with Evan while he was up in Boston assessing some of the surface stations there. You can watch the report here. And be sure to check out Anthony’s blog for even more examples of questionable data.

In the end it all adds up to one thing: the data doesn’t add up. It is, for the most part, not telling us what we think it’s telling us. For instance, when a station formerly situated in the middle of a field registers a temperature increase over the last decade but that station is now situated in a blacktop parking lot with an air conditioning exhaust unit nearby, is the planet getting warmer, or just the station’s readings?

Whether you’re building an online research survey, setting up a 16-cell direct mail testing matrix, optimizing a paid search campaign or collecting temperature data to prove or disprove global warming, you need to check your inputs, check your confidence in the amount and clarity of the data, and structure the test to actually answer the questions you’re asking.

It’s critical that your testing framework not be flawed or all of your results could be useless. It’s equally important that you analyze the testing results accurately. And if you go ahead and act on bad information, whether it’s a new product launch or an attempt to save the planet, you could be doomed to failure before you start.

And speaking of global warming and saving the planet, can someone please explain to me how anyone can be so certain of the truth when the tests themselves are flawed?

On a recent post I commented about CNN’s updated news crawl being a shill for their Twitter and other online efforts. Turns out, I was more right than I knew. Not only were they in the midst of a heated competition with their worthy opponent Ashton Kutcher to see who could reach a million followers first, but they were simultaneously reeling from the news that they were now, for the first time in their existence, ranked THIRD in viewership behind Fox and MSNBC!

Ashton beat them to the mil, but as Rick Sanchez so magnanimously said, “If you counted everything we do on Twitter we really beat him, but it’s all good.” or something empowering like that.

Normally I’d ignore his good sportsmanship except that I also read an article in Variety that said nearly the same thing. CNN spun their 3rd place finish in prime time into an ad for their multi-channel capability:

“Primetime is most meaningful to entertainment networks,” says CNN U.S. prexy Jonathan Klein, noting that his channel sells its commercial time in a more bundled, multiplatform way that differs from most cable networks, which deal more in the typical currency of primetime ratings points.

And that’s why, no doubt, during the middle of the day the other Friday, they actually showed Ed Henry interviewing somebody on CNN-Radio on CNN cable TV. There he was, boom mike dangling in front of his face, CNN Radio sign strategically positioned, except he was on the TV.

Multi-Channel is as multi-channel does. So CNN aims for the Twitter stratosphere,  creates partnerships with Facebook, takes on Talk Radio (“We’ll fight them on the fields, we’ll fight them on the shores, we’ll fight them in the air!”).

Or, to quote a more controversial character than old Mr. Churchill, “Get ther the fustest with the mustest.” (Be the first to guess who said that one and I’ll send you a Claxton Fruit Cake!)

We are watching CNN, the people who transformed television news by replacing the tyrannical scheduled reporting cycle (anybody remember the 6:00 News?) with getting their cameras wherever news was happening as it was happening (and using local network reporters when they didn’t have one of their own in place) transform news again. This time, they’re replacing the tyranny of platform exclusivity with the freedom of device. Klein continues:

“We sell against all of our platforms — TV, online, international — and it’s hard to say there’s one particular daypart or hour of the day that matters more,” says Klein… Our competition doesn’t have the resources to cover the news the way we do. They’ve actually ceded news coverage to us.”

Convergence doesn’t just happen. CNN is using their core platforms to advertise and drive their customers to their other platforms including Time Magazine. It’s a massive multi-channel marketing effort, it’s intrusive, and apparently, it’s working:  Follow us on Twitter — over a million Twitterers can’t be wrong!.

Recognizing, as CNN’s John King said, that they are “in the word business”, CNN is stuffing those words wherever they can … and monetizing their words along the way. Newspapers should take note:  you’re all in the “word biz” — not the dead tree biz or the radio wave business or the cathode ray business or the pixel business.

Of the last twenty or so articles I read from the NY Times, none of them were on newspaper, and I found them via Digg, Google News, and in emails from friends. The last radio program I listened to was on my computer. The last time I got a story from CNN I read it on my phone.

CNN won the first digital news revolution. They overthrew the powers that be and changed everything. Now that they’re the underdogs again, it looks like they’re sticking it to the man one more time — only this time, the man is Rupert Murdoch.

So, with CNN working hard to become the multi-channel newsroom of the next great era in journalism, with all their vaunted commitment to new media and the instant-dissemniation nature of Twitter, can someone please explain to me why in the last 24 hours, CNNBRK, their twitter account with 1,339,599 followers, had only two breaking news stories?

I recently shattered my right arm at the shoulder and spent two painful weeks on the couch. I mostly watched cable news, as the opiate cocktail I was on for pain precluded reading or anything else requiring actual concentration.

And while I’m normally a fan of the bloodsport that is cable news, merrily flipping between CNN and Fox with the occasional vacation to BBC, sort of like an endless intravenous drip of watered down news, CNN recently made an extremely annoying change that is so frustrating I’m even considering replacing them in the rotation with MSNBC. (Shudder!)

I’m talking about the “crawl” or “ticker” at the bottom of the screen.

I’ve always made fun of the crawl, riddled as it was with intriguing news tidbits that fly across the screen, tantalizingly brief and often never seen again — and sometimes not even retrievable online!  Short attention span theater, indeed.

As bad as it was, CNN recently replaced their crawl with something worse: a static parade of changing news items described in a maximum of 60 characters each, spaces included.

This leads to infuriatingly incomplete news bombs such as:

“Airline grounds 60 jets for safety inspections”

“Only 25 votes separate candidates in deadlocked election.”

“Investment firm charged in Madoff case.”

Which airline? What election? Which firm? C’mon, guys, you’re supposed to be delivering news, not vague murmurings worthy of Nostradamus!

Why would they do this? Branding? Innovation? To stand out from the competition? Is there some business purpose that I’m missing?

Perhaps the key to this change lies in the little “CNN.COM>>” that precedes each news bomb? Maybe it’s a cross-sell, and they’re trying to tease me into finding out more online. (I’d love to know how they would even track that.) This may be the likely purpose, since other CNN news shows sometimes use the space for fan tweets (Rick Sanchez) and newscaster tweets and teases (Anderson Cooper’s promise more at AC360.COM).

But what they’re actually doing is driving me into the clutches of the more informative news crawls on Fox and BBC. Because after all, if you’re in it for the long haul, it’s all about the crawl.

So can someone please explain to me what CNN hopes to accomplish with this new format, and whether it’s succeeding at anything other than increasing FOX’s ratings?

Have you seen the new commercials that look and feel like cable news programming?

I’ve seen at least three different variations for three different advertisers. The one I see the most is the most innocuous:  it’s for the “Mucho Money” show, a Jim Cramer “Mad Money” rip-off selling Optimum Online and related services. I say innocuous because nobody with half a brain could mistake it for a real news show. Not with the stock ticker at the bottom of the ad tracking the price of Mango Chutney and Waffle Irons.

But then there’s the “Breaking News from the TMU FHA Hotline” commercial that I think  sets dangerous precedents and needs to be taken off the air.

At the start of the commercial, the screen shouts “TMU” in huge type, then “Breaking News” in slightly smaller type. This is on for a a while, and then, in tiny print at the bottom of the screen for all of maybe 2 seconds, it says “The following is a Paid Advertisement brought to you by Topdot Mortgage.”

The rest of the commercial plays out just like a breaking news story on a cable news station. The ticker at the bottom of the screen says “Breaking News – Federal Government raises FHA Loan Limits…” and continues with newsspeak about loan rates, limits, etc.

The commercial ends with the “newscaster” saying “We’ll have more on this story and other developments on the next edition of the TopDot Mortgage Update.” This is followed by a screen that features TMU and a phone number and half a screen of incredibly fine print that’s up for all of maybe 5 seconds.

This isn’t the worst of these I’ve seen. The worst was one I saw on CNN one day while I was working out on the exercise bike in my gym. It started with the words “Special Report” and looked in every way like a cable news show and had absolutely no mention of an advertisement whatsoever. Unlike the comedic “Mucho Money” it was a serious attempt to come across as real news.

Having forgotten to stuff a fountain pen in my shorts, I couldn’t write down the name,  and I’ve been unable to find it since. (I think it said Investor Link Special Report, but I’m just not sure. If you’ve seen it, please let me know.)

I don’t do TV, so I don’t know whether these DRTV (Direct Response TV) ads are actionable or not. But I do create direct marketing print advertisements, so I have a standard to compare them to.

When we create print ads that take on an editorial look and feel, we add a slug to the ad that says “Advertisement” or “Advertorial” or “Paid Advertisement.” Even if we didn’t want to, the publications demand it or they won’t accept our ads. Some publications won’t accept an ad like that even if it does say advertisement clearly, just to avoid any potential confusion on the part of their readers.

But where was CNN when the “Special Report” ad ran? Don’t they bear some responsibility for airing a misleading ad that attempted to fool their viewers into thinking it was a CNN Special Report? Did USA think that the cursory notifications on the TMU “Breaking News” ad was enough to avoid confusion or worse in the minds of their viewers?

And more importantly, what was going on in the minds of the ad agencies that created these ads? Are they proud of their work? Did they beg their clients to clearly identify that these were ads, but failed to convince them?

Or did they tell their client, “Don’t worry, we’ll run it until we get caught, if we even get caught, then pay the minor fine and laugh all the way to the bank?”

We’re pretty safe in assuming that their clients don’t have a problem with taking advantage of gullible or vulnerable consumers. The greed and lack of moral responsibility exhibited by mortgage lenders and financial institutions is a big part of the reason the entire world economy is tanking right now. As one of the victims of the mortgage meltdown said on CNBC’s “House of Cards” said, “I may be stupid, but they’re guilty.”

But I really do want to know what the creatives were thinking. Can someone from the agency that created these ads please explain to me what you were hoping to achieve by running these misleading ads, and more importantly, how you sleep at night?

In honor of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday yesterday, I’d like to talk about survival of the fittest and the evolution of the media landscape.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called The Magazine as Metaphor. I talked about the three segments of magazines that added the most new titles in 2008, with Regional magazines in second place with  24 new titles.

Well, MediaFinder.com (as reported here on Marketing Charts.com), the place where I got my data, just reported that regional magazines also lost the most titles last year, losing 33 titles. Overall, 525 titles folded in 2008.

The Theory of Evolution says that the species best adapted to its environment is more likely to survive than those that are less well-adapted. In nature, this happens through natural selection and genetic mutation.

In marketing, it does too. You see, environment is a combination of factors, and sometimes the most obvious ones are not the most important ones, evolutionarily speaking.

Let’s look at Domino, the most recent home furnishings magazine to get thrown out with the trash. And thrown out it was, by Conde Nast.

You see, Domino seemed to be doing everything right. It had growing paid readership, newsstand sales were increasing, it had an integrated online presence, a thriving fan base that built blogs, social networks and even real-world social groups around it.

Domino appealed to the vast majority of Americans who shop in Target and want to live with style without selling our souls to afford it.  (For the whole story, see this great NY Times piece by Penelope Green called “A girl world closes, and fans mourn” here.)

One would think that Domino was perfectly suited to survive and thrive in the changing media environment.

But alas, it wasn’t Domino that was unfit to survive. It was its prehistoric business model that depended on ad pages to survive. And ad pages were down 26%. More importantly, it pulled in only half the advertising dollars that Architectural Digest gets.

For those of you who don’t know, now that House & Garden and Domino are gone, Architectural Digest is Conde Nast’s only remaining shelter book. If you didn’t know that, it’s forgivable. AD has a median readership age of 50, and if you can afford to emulate the lifestyles in that publication, you’re a bit above me and my friends on the socio-economic scale.

Just a few months ago, before the announcement to close Domino, Conde Nast was telling the world how successful the publication was. It was, to all appearances, healthy, on top of the world, the masters of their environment. Just like the dinosaurs may have seemed just before they all died.

It seems wrong that an otherwise healthy and thriving publication was brought down by dropping ad sales, especially in this era when ad dollars are plunging across the board.

But that’s the point. Evolution is heartless. Survival of the fittest is frequently determined after the fact. The advertising supported publishing model is dying, and while some dinosaurs may last longer than others, they are all doomed, in the end.

Maybe it’s size that is the defining factor. In this era where we’re discovering that “too big too fail” applies to more than just dinosaurs, banks, airlines and auto manufacturers, is small the new key to success?

Or are blogs the tiny, furry upstart mammals that will become the next dominant species in the media environment? Aren’t the best of them also dependent on advertising dollars to survive? Is media always destined to be chasing ad dollars, and it’s not the media that is at the top of the food chain, it’s the almighty ad dollar?

Even ad dollars are subservient to a greater force: the consumer. Ad dollars are spent chasing one thing: consumers. And consumers are finally beginning to realize how much power they really have.

They’ve saved television shows that were slated to be canceled. They’ve killed movies and products that were supposed to be the next big thing. They’ve put Hulu on the map. They’ve been the building force behind Google and Facebook and Twitter.

And they’re why even though Domino is gone, it’s spirit will live on online in blogs like Apartment Therapy.com, the 3,196th most popular site on the web with over 900,000 monthly unique visitors according to Quantcast. Which, by the way, is higher than Domino’s paid circ of 850,000.

But still, it’s sad that Domino is gone. It is possible that it could have been saved if Conde Nast hadn’t thrown the baby (Domino) out with the bath water (ad sales).Magazines and newspapers are going extinct all across the land even when they have loyal fans who want to devour their content.

So can someone please explain to me how many more otherwise healthy content providers must die before prehistoric publishers realize that it’s the ad sales based model that’s killing them and that it’s the publishers, not the magazines, that must evolve or die?