Archive for November, 2007

Millennials’ webnetworking and ethnicity

November 22, 2007

Interesting research at Northwestern finds a connection between ethnicity and the sites millennials choose for their social networking activity.

The research surveyed just over 1000 freshmen at my daughter’s school, UIC — which is in the top 10 nationally in terms of student ethnic diversity.

Facebook enjoys 80% usage, 75% frequently. MySpace is used by 54%, 40% frequently. Then comes Xanga, Friendster, Orkut, and Bebo, all of them at under 10% usage.

Whites disproportionally choose Facebook, while Hispanics prefer MySpace and Asians disproportionally choose NOT to use MySpace. Asians use Facebook, too, but also choose Xanga in disproportionate numbers. The study found no preference of one site over another among African-American young people. It also found that kids who live with their parents (which happens perhaps more at a commuter school like UIC) are “considerably less likely to use Facebook than their more socially connected peers.”

Even more interesting to me was a very strong correlation between parental education level and the choice of social networking sites:

Students whose parents have a college degree are significantly more likely to use Facebook than those whose parents have some college experience but no degree. MySpace users, on the other hand, are more likely to have parents with less than a high school education than those whose parents had some college experience.

The study confirms what we all know instinctively, that we are all influenced by our nurture…. If we are inclined to get involved, we’ll also get involved online. If we are inclined to hang out in certain circles as children, we’ll be inclined to run in those circles as adults, even if we have opportunities to change our patterns.

My biggest takeaway is this statement by the researcher, Eszter Hargittai: “Everyone points to that wonderful New Yorker cartoon of the dog at the computer telling a canine friend by his side that ‘on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog’. In reality, however, it appears that online actions and interactions should not be viewed as independent of one’s offline identity.” (Emphasis mine).

Another excellent writeup on this report is found on Associated Content.


VHS is dead

November 20, 2007

I don’t know of a single person mourning VHS. VHS RIPEspecially all those college admissions people who used to order them, store them, and mail them back in the 80s and 90s. When DVD arrived in 1996, the world switched so fast it made everyone’s head spin. For 10 years in a row, DVD became the fastest growing consumer appliance in history.

There were three bad things about VHS. 1. Size 2. Poor quality picture 3. Linear — remember rewinders?

DVD and its new iteration, BluRay, represent the most perfect communications device ever created by mankind, in my view. Small — 2 ounces. Awesome picture and sound. And totally non-linear — so you can watch what you want, when you want to. Add the ability to play on most computers and most home systems, and you’ve got one amazing use of lasers and a little plastic. This Thanksgiving, the final demise of VHS and the ongoing triumph of DVD are among the everyday miracles I’m constantly thankful for.

I’ll punt till later on why college use of video waned… but I’m sure the VHS format itself was a small but significant part of the reason.

Thanks to PVR wire for the illustration.

The Mystery in Love/Lovemarks

November 19, 2007

One of the 3 elements of a lovemark in theory is “mystery”. Dreams, symbols, metaphors, stories. Yep, I love stories etc. but let’s be serious about how it applies to the college marketing challenge.

Think about love for a minute. Does love revolve around mystery, or does true love grow with knowledge and emerging reality?

Blaise Pascal said “the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” So on one level there are mysteries involved in any decision of the heart. But Pascal also wisely said:

“Those who are accustomed to judge by feeling, do not understand the process of reasoning, for they would understand at first sight and are not used to seek for principles. And others, on the contrary, who are accustomed to reason from principles, do not at all understand matters of feeling, seeking principles and being unable to see at a glance.”

Sounds like love to me. Love at first sight is based on feelings, and when the mystery dimension is high the love feelings can feel strong. But as the relationship evolves, the mysteries are replaced with realities that often strain the relationship.

Which is why Madeleine de Scudery wrote: “Men should keep their eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterward.”

How do 17-year-olds judge what college to go to? I think … I feel 🙂 … that feeling trumps reasoning for kids. How about their parents? I think that parents are more focused on the reasons.*

Yes, the reasons can be feelings. “The feeling of the campus”. “The friendliness of the people.” “Such school spirit.” But effective marketing involves being reasonable and analytical about those intangibles, and learning to maximize them.

What’s the best way to communicate those mysterious feelings? Clearly, through personality and feelings that show in a person’s eyes or tone of voice. Personal contact is supreme… but surely the creative and lively arts of music and cinema ought to be able to get those feelings across well too… right?

*If there’s any useful research on this I haven’t found it yet. Here’s one survey that doesn’t seem to shed much insight for me.

A tribute to video guys…

November 17, 2007

On the other hand… 🙂

The skills of a disciplined, client-focused video guy are extremely valuable. Because while the director and producer (which is more my job description) are running around, thinking about angles and talent and time schedules and budgets, the video guys are watching the Ps and Qs.

It takes a good video guy on camera to get it level in one deft move, ready to shoot action shots with a level horizon.

It takes a good video guy to quickly snap in and get a crisp focus, and then hold that focus as the action moves.

It takes a good video guy to always have the right white balance, so that when you run outside to grab a shot you don’t forget to switch in the tungsten-to-daylight filter.

It takes a good video guy to get good clean audio, monitor it throughout the shoot, and make sure the right audio channels are going onto the tape or hard drive.

It takes a good video guy to keep the equipment working, to stay with an interviewee whose head is bobbing, to establish and hold a framing organically, esthetically, and technically, in one take… because most of the time video subject matter is unrehearsed. 80% of the time there will never be another chance to catch what just happened again.

And so I often depend on the skills of an excellent ENG or electronic news gathering crew — usually a cameraman and an audio technician. Without them, excellent, high-production-value footage would be unattainable.

Video guys (ugh)

November 16, 2007

I’ve never thought of myself as a video guy. And I don’t want to be thought of as one.

What is a video guy? To me, a video guy is someone who loves the medium of video, who wants to make videos, who likes technology, who enjoys operating cameras, who thinks its fun and glamorous to have a big camera and a big tripod and big lights and sort of be the center of attention at a scene.

Some video guys are “film guys”. They are identical to video guys except they look down their noses at the video medium and want to only shoot film or perhaps a high-def video camera that LOOKS like a film camera because of its lenses, follow-focus requirement, and matte box in front of the lens.

As I said, I am not a video guy. I don’t like to be obtrusive, though I’ve often said I’m not doing my job if I’m not obtrusive and intrusive. But I hate that about the medium. I hate to have to be so obviously part of a scene in order to capture what’s interesting and important about the activity.

I also hate the technology. The late Neil Postman, my favorite modern essayist who I would rank on a par with Francis Bacon, said that “the form excludes the content”. What he means is that TV/video are in a moving-picture form, which is great for observing action. However, the observable action form excludes, by its very nature, the unseen ideas that lie behind the action. The video medium thus focuses on the presenter rather than his or her words. It creates celebrities simply by putting faces on the screen, regardless of what they say or do or believe.

As a medium, video focuses on what the actor does rather than revealing why, the true motivation behind it. It is no accident that the ancient Greek word for “actor” is “hypocrites” — from which we get our word hypocrite — a person who thinks something different than he says or does.

ORK looking like a film guy So please do not think of me as a video guy (or a film guy). Professionally, my goal is to help colleges communicate the truth about themselves to the prospects who, realistically, would benefit from and enjoy the experience that institution has to offer. Period. If I could do this by a mind dump, or a post card, or a chalk board, I would do so. Instead, I have to use the medium, the cave wall, which has the most currency in our culture. And so I have to use video.

I greatly enjoy what I do, because what I am doing is capturing authentic people saying what they believe, and transmitting their facial expressions and actions and words and music to another audience in a way that is fun, inspiring, motivational, and serious all at the same time. To me that’s a useful thing to do, but it’s a lot harder than being a video guy.

Cinematic COW

November 15, 2007

On a slow college cave day I’ll upload one of my cinematic sheep experiences. But right now I want to talk about the cinematic COW, that is, what the creative Community of the World says about what makes for a cinematic experience.

This is important, because Millennials combine a passion for movies with an allergy to hype. What that means in practical terms is that their perceptions of reality are actually molded by the most adept hype-creation machine in human history, Hollywood. Today’s young people, whom colleges are trying to court, want to be romanced by no one except the real McCoy, their own true love Wesley with eyes like the sea after a storm. But most of what they know of Wesley has been shaped, not on the farm or by the sea, but by watching Wesley at the theatre. So Wesley isn’t Wesley unless he’s lit well, shot well, edited well, and delivers a smashing Oscar-caliber performance.

Here’s a list of cinematic ingredients that (along with great storytelling and a compelling plot) create that cinematic experience … something that involves today’s young audience “in a different world”. These techniques are mentioned by Creative COW but elaborated by ORK:

  • Simple, natural, organic transitions (cuts like a blink, fades to black as though closing your eyes)
  • Dolly moves to move us closer, because we walk closer or lean in, our eyes don’t zoom
  • Pans to reveal breadth of scene, much the way our necks turn
  • Tilt ups to reveal scale dramatically, as in real life our heads tilt up
  • Shallow depth of field, because our eyes do not focus on an entire scene at once, and because the physics of 35mm photography create shallow depth of field and use it to move our attention around a screen
  • Long telephoto or medium telephoto shots, because cinema uses them to compress depth in a scene. Video/TV has always used wide angles primarily, and this is the convention of news-gathering, not storytelling. Also, mediumtele shots make people look more attractive, and tight closeups rivet attention on the eyes and facial expressions of a character
  • Light for the real world … 3D, with patches of light and dark, not flat “soap opera” video lighting
  • I also find that most of the time it’s best to break the famous rule about “keeping the sun behind the camera”. It’s best to keep the sun behind or beside the character, so that they are rim-lit and as three-dimensional as possible.
  • Stabilize the camera, using either a counterweighted rig (steadicam) or a tripod or jib arm. Avoid hand-held work enless the scene is kinetic and emotionally calls for it. Movie example of when hand-held is great: “I am Sam”. But most of the time, COW says, “Everyone has seen the MTV jerky-cam moves. They’re so 1995.”
  • Simplify moves, and let the action prescribe the movements. Don’t call attention to the camera by the choice of framing or moves.
  • Use frame rates to soften action, rather than make it too crispy

The “cinematic values” can be taken too far, of course. Idealize it, over-produce it, edit out the warts, and suddenly the high production values become a monument to the self-absorption of the institution, rather than a window into its life and values.

Tomorrow I’ll reflect on why the personality of producers tends to get in the way of clear, useful communication on the part of colleges.

Making them weep

November 9, 2007

One of the goals I’ve always had in a fundraising video is to “make them weep”. An article in the Washington Post explores the reasons why the media is so effective at stimulating tears.

Desson Thomson compares the findings of two scientific studies that use movies to stimulate weeping. William Frey and Muriel Lanseth published their results in the 1980s, in a book entitled Crying, the Mystery of Tears. An article by Joe LaPointe in the New York Times July 9, 2003 quotes findings from Frey’s book as saying that men cry 1.4 times a month, while women cry 5.3 times a month. Frey found that crying releases internal toxins, and has a therapeutic effect.

Movies, of course, can make weeping a goal without apology. The purpose for attending a movie is to arouse an emotional response. In college communication, however, there is an integrity issue. We are speaking to an audience in order to present facts and invite their emotional involvement with us.

According to Frey and Lanseth, the reason for crying while watching a movie is empathy with the characters.

Tom Lutz, a sociologist quoted by Thomson, disagrees with the notion of a therapeutic benefit to crying. He says that the choke-up emotion arises when we are internally conflicted. Part of us is happy, part sad. The bittersweet conflict causes us to “strum a mental guitar chord that combines positive, major feelings with sadder, minor tones. And the tears flow before we know it.”

Mary Beth Oliver of Penn State says that tear-jerker media “cause us to contemplate what it is about human life that’s important and meaningful…. Tears aren’t just tears of sadness, they’re tears of searching for the meaning of our fleeting existence.”

Blogger A. Hart quotes Hubert Humphrey (“A man without tears is a man without a heart.”) and Washington Irving:

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of… unspeakable love.”

My view is that both scientific viewpoints (empathy vs. internal emotional conflict) are saying the same thing. Empathy with characters is our own mind relating our story to the story we see presented before us. Research into the amygdala shows that emotional memory is largely a pattern-recognition process. When we see a pattern on screen that jives with a pattern in our own emotional memories, the tears begin to flow.

That’s why I believe it takes a little time to develop a connection with the characters on the screen, learn their story and relate to the significant forces in their lives. I often see news accounts or other videos that attempt to short-circuit this process. Often, they’ll cue the violins or introduce the slow-mo as a manipulative effect, in order to drag an emotional response out of viewers.

It’s far better to refrain from overtly emotional trappings until the scene itself, the story we are telling, is authentically told and fully actualized. Then the reality of what is being witnessed can touch those soul-chords without making the audience feel as though they’ve been manipulated.

No question, strong visual memories such as graduation, victory on the athletic field, hearing the alma mater etc. are what make alumni vulnerable to manipulation in this way… so I try to reserve these tools for genuine moments when the stars are aligned and the logical basis for agreement is already established … the case has been made, so to speak, and now sympathetic or empathetic emotion has become appropriate without violating the integrity of the college’s communication effort.

Ranking rancor

November 7, 2007

USA Today did us all a service with a balanced treatment of NSSE rankings versus USA Today rankings. Be sure to peruse the database they supply … easily the most valuable piece for recruiting professionals.
I especially appreciated the page on  “What schools across the  USA are doing to engage students” High points:

Appalachian State’s Freshman Seminar uses systematic get-acquainted and accountability efforts to keep following up on each other. Grades are better, and satisfaction is up.

Wagner College (NYC) and Evergreen State (Olympia, WA) also use “learning communities” to enhance accountability, not just among freshmen.

Elon University (NC) and the University of Dayton (OH) ramped up writing requirements. At Elon, for example, a media writing course requires 14 to 16 news reports each term, usually assigned on a given day to cover an immediate news event, with a 2am filing deadline. Inaccuracy or tardiness nets a zero.

Miami University (Oxford, OH) offers 140 senior capstone courses, which usually have only 25 students engaged in cooperative learning projects. This is designed to meet the NSSE objective of “opportunities to integrate, synthesize, and apply knowledge.”

At Wabash College, (Crawfordsville, IN),  every senior takes both oral and written comprehensive exams to demonstrate what he or she has learned in the preceding four years. The formal oral exam takes place before a jury of three faculty members.

Other programs described in the article include practical opportunities for diversity education at U of Michigan, first-generation student support at Cal State, and innovative cultural activities at the University of Virginia.

How to build brand respect

November 7, 2007

As you try to build respect for your brand, be careful. You are seeking honor for your own institution. Increasingly, a jaded audience doubts any self-seeking claims, and looks for a self-effacing, even humorous kind of honor. They are looking for authenticity, and the best way to see that is in the praise of outsiders or students who presumably are not on the university payroll. So prospectives want to find honor that is bestowed by outsiders (including their peers).

Documentary-style interviews remain an excellent source of authentic testimony, if the interviewees are comfortable and the video is not over-produced. If you interview profs, ask them to talk about their research or the growth they see in their students. Don’t ask them to say how great the school is…

If you interview administration, ask them to talk about the students who define the institutional personality. If the Pres starts to make stump speeches about the school, your Millennials will tune it out as hubris.

Let the current students talk about the institution itself. (though you need to filter out simplistic, trite comments like “the profs really care” or “I’m not a number here”) And though you want deep thinking, articulate kids to talk, make sure they aren’t too perfect at towing the party line. Let diversity, surprises, and especially self-effacing humor shine through. In short, let people tell their stories in their own words, not the college’s. That’s the best way to build the respect… a brand your audience will embrace.

Lovemarks are for alumni

November 1, 2007

Here’s my take on how to apply lovemarks theory to college admissions or advancement. The X and Y axes increase in value as you go up and to the right. ORK’s Lovemarks diagramIf a college does promotions, creates buzz, projects hipness, starts fads, engages in window-dressing, etc., the students who respond will be showing love in the Saatchi sense: commitment without logical basis.

On the other hand, if the college emphasizes reasons, traditions, points of distinction… all the logical basis for selecting one school over another, and staking its brand claims on particular areas of excellence … then it would be building respect, or brand identity, in its prospects. In admissions marketing, the reality is that both approaches are probably necessary. Some students decide on the basis of a feeling, and some make spreadsheets and weigh the facts. Each college knows what it wants to hang its hat on — the traditions and values and facts, or the post-modernistic ethos that resonates with a certain mind-set. Using the principle of different strokes for different folks, build respect for your distinctives and traditions, while at the same time fostering buzz, Facebook networks, emotional tie-ins to various interest groups.

For alumni, the reality of your school experience is your ticket to a lovemark. In four years, a lovemark can develop. Every graduate who feels they got their money’s worth, they came of age, they met the love of their life, they were challenged beyond measure, or made life-long friends … will graduate with a loyalty that goes well beyond reason, and can guarantee the stability of the institution for years to come.