Over the years, I’ve had more than one love affair with a TV show, but no matter how much I’ve enjoyed epic hits like 24, Alias or Joey Grecco’s Cheaters, none of them have been able to generate the level of excitement that I feel when I watch Survivor. I’m not sure if it’s the Machiavellian nature of the show or simply being able to watch an assortment of characters who are so wacky that they end up making Gilligan Island look like the Love Boat, but I love the show so much, that I even organized a home version of the game with my family over the holidays (I ended up getting voted out 2nd for trying to emulate Russell Hantz’s bulldog strategy)
Because it is the number #1 show on my Season Pass priority list, you would think that I would never miss an episode, but every year, Survivor changes the name of their show just a little bit, so that DVR subscribers have to resubscribe to each new season. I’ve gone as far as sending angry emails to the Tribune company (the supplier of TiVo’s guide data), but to no avail.
While this may or may not be hurting Survivor’s DVR ratings, the fact that the producers of the show haven’t noticed has always baffled me. It would be like me changing my RSS feed every six months, so that only my superfans could easily follow my blog. Unless you like languishing in obscurity, this isn’t a very good strategy for retaining an audience or capturing people’s attention.
Recently, Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor, launched a blog to promote the show and other charitable causes that he cares about. On his site, he solicits questions from fans and answers the more common ones. While all tidbits about the show caught my attention, one particular answer jumped out at me. While answering the question of how long will Survivor continue to run, Probst says that the survival of Survivor is dependent upon live viewers because “TiVo doesn’t help our ratings.”
Now Jeff Probst certainly isn’t the first one to appeal to their fans to ditch the DVR, but I think that his pleas are at least a little bit misguided. I’m not sure whether it’s because the producers of the show don’t care about the DVR ratings or the advertisers themselves, but either way I think that there is a lot more value to a DVR viewer then his answer would suggest.
Over the years, I may have fast forwarded my way through more than one commercial break, but I haven’t been able to avoid the product placements that are embedded in the show. I don’t know whether or not the show makes more money from these ads, but I would suspect that they do.
Whether it’s Sears demonstrating the utility of their Craftsmen line of tools or Sprint demonstrating how you can keep in touch with loved ones on their new fancy cell phones, throughout a season there are many times where branding creeps into the show. While some may find this an annoyance, I actually enjoy this type of advertainment and it undoubtedly makes me more willing to spend my money on a brand.
During 2002, 24 introduced several cars during their program and I can tell you with 100% certainty that seeing those cars zip around in that show is what made me seek the out and ultimately buy my Thunderbird. When was the last time anyone could say the same thing about a car commercial?
Furthermore, even though I TiVo the show to watch later, because the program always leaves me wanting more, it drives me to the CBS website where you can view all kinds of clips and interviews that don’t make it to television. Unlike viewers who are tuning into the show online instead of live or on DVR, these clips are additive and include lots of spammy pre-roll ads that I wouldn’t put up with if I didn’t stay excited about the show.
It could be that Survivor is so good that they don’t need to rollover their DVR viewers every season, but by ignoring this opportunity, they are losing the ability to turn their more passive fans into passionate ones. With DVR penetration now exceeding 40% of all viewers, this kind of backwards thinking will ultimately hurt them and the show’s long term chances. So while I can appreciate that a live viewer may be worth more money to the show, I’m going to continue to time shift it, so that advertisers can learn how much more valuable it is to capture my heart for 44 minutes, then it is to hold my attention hostage for 60.]]>
I managed to get stuck in traffic during the middle of the day today and had the opportunity to listen to
old people talk radio while I waited. There was some cranky guy on who was clearly worried about his own job in media. During the program he bemoaned Facebook’s $50 billion valuation, the demise of newspaper circulations and the end of the good old days when we used to have to pay travel agents $100′s of dollars to buy tickets for us.
Even though I didn’t agree with his bleak sentiments, it did make me reflect on how technology has managed to eviscerate one industry after another. Some of these trends caught on like wildfire, while other ideas were forced to lay dormant for years while the rest of the world caught up. Whether you’re talking about landlines, photo processing booths or Blockbuster Video, sooner or later good ideas have a way of replacing yesterday’s technology.
Normally, I expect to see new innovators challenging the status quo, but one industry that is experiencing it’s own “life changing” moment right now, is actually being led by the incumbents. Most people think of billboards are being somewhat of an eyesore. If you’re located in an area where you spend a lot of time, then you know what it’s like to have to look at the same old ad for months and months. By the time they do update the ad, the old one is usually halfway peeled off. Advertisers may be able to reach millions of people with a campaign, but it limits the value when they have to plan their campaign months in advance and when the presentation makes their brand look so tattered.
Over the last year, there have been two improvements in the signage industry that have impressed me a lot. The first has been how effective Lamar Advertising has been at using their digital signage portfolio to make a splash in social media. When Ashton Kutcher was trying to hit 1 million followers on Twitter, the company cashed in by giving away free exposure to @aplusk. When the goons at NBC butchered the Tonight Show by bringing Leno back, Lamar used outrage over the incident to reach the heart and souls of TeamCoco fans. While neither of these examples netted the company any serious cash, what they did prove was how much the internet/media/consumers will freak out over billboards that mention current buzz. With most companies clueless about ways to drum up buzz, Lamar’s portfolio offers an easy way for their customers to inject themselves instantly into any social conversation. Even if the sign is only up for a day, it will live forever online. With the TV advertising industry ready to pop, there will be a lot of money available to businesses that can provide this kind of immediate reach and response.
The other signage company that has really caught my attention is Clear Channel Communications. The company may be a dinosaur and burdened with way too much debt, but over the next 2 years, they plan on deploying 300 interactive displays that can only be described as life sized iPads. So far the displays have been a huge hit at San Francisco bus stops and I think that they are the real deal. Before the holidays, Digital Signage Insights posted a comprehensive behind the scenes view into how they work and their capabilities,
“The content management system, graphics processing unit, and real-time measurement application built into each digital bus shelter are capable of producing 3D graphics and immersive content the likes of which have not been seen in the digital out-of-home media sector. Clear Channel and its partners have just begun to scratch the surface of what these systems are capable of. The “Yahoo Bus Stop Derby” is a crowning example of what can be achieved at the convergence point of creativity and technology. San Francisco’s interactive bus shelters have been built with the future in mind. Owing to Clear Channel’s and Obscura Digital’s views on the expansion of the web into real world environments, the units allow for seamless scalability and back-end cloud networking. From supporting cinema-level 3D graphics, processing interactive 3D visualizations, to offloading real-time rendering to the cloud, San Francisco’s new bus shelters can do everything short of driving you to the office. On top of that, the shelters have been equipped with a real-time user-metrics collection system that provides advertisers with actionable intelligence throughout their interactive campaigns. The granular behavioral data that the units capture can be used to optimize applications in real-time, so to achieve the highest level of user engagement.”
The outdoor signage industry may seem as quaint as using your spare change for the payphone, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the industry is evolving. Whether either of these companies have the balance sheet or wherewithal to move past their debt issues is another story entirely, but I certainly can’t fault them for creating new and innovative ways where advertisers and consumers can connect on a more emotional level.]]>
I may have less brand loyalty to any one particular publication, but thanks to the magic of Google, it’s a lot easier to find a diverse set of opinions on topics that I care about. For the most part, I think that Google is the best thing since sliced bread, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t improve their product.
As the media landscape has gotten more competitive, I’ve noticed that publications are becoming increasingly aggressive at trying to monetize the eyeballs that they do get. This really started with the pop-up ad, but after the web browsers figured out how to turn this control over to the users, news companies seem to have switched tactics.
The latest trend is to insert an interstitial ad between you and the content. Usually, there’s some tiny link where you can bypass it or it auto-forwards after 30 seconds, but anytime I’m forced to watch an ad before knowing how good or bad the content actually is, it creates a lot of frustration with my web experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a strong supporter of smart and innovative ways that advertisers can bring their messages to the public and I’m happier than most to support newspapers who are creating great content, but with so much bad content out there, I don’t feel that consumers should be forced to roll the dice, when there’s no payoff on the other end.
I could probably list a dozen major companies who are offenders, but my biggest beef is actually with Google. If I know that someone uses this type of aggressive advertising, it’s easy to quit visiting their site, but because Google is indexing billions of web pages, there’s no way to know which link is going to take me to real content and which link will take me to an ad.
As an example, if you search for the phrase “hardware spec for Microsoft’s pink phone” the first result is a story by ZDnet showing the first line of the blog post, but if you actually click on that link, it takes you to a page that is missing the content and only displays an ad instead. If you wait long enough you will be forwarded to the right destination, but isn’t this false advertising on behalf of Google?
If they know that someone’s browser is going to be hijacked, then why are they taking you to a different page instead. It’d be one thing if Google was trying to actively stop the process, but they’re actually helping publishers create more of these roadblocks on the web.
While Google is free to advertise (or link to anyone) that that they see fit, they should realize that this harms their own user experience while benefiting no one but spammy news publications. If a company like Bing or Ask.com were to come out with an interstitial ban, it would take me about a half a second to change my default search engine. It may be that this isn’t seen as a big enough annoyance to do anything about or it could be too late and is considered an industry standard now, but to show one search result and then take a user to an entirely different page (albeit temporarily) feels an awful lot like a bait and switch tactic to me. What do you think, would Google be better off banning these ads from their search results or is content from newspapers so valuable that it would do more harm than good to blackball offenders like Forbes and ZDNet?]]>
When e-commerce started to become a reality, some were nervous about trying new companies online, but I had no reservations about being one of the first ones
in online. While I still miss my Webvan and Kozmo.com deliveries, no one can say that I didn’t do my part to support the shift from bricks to clicks. Given my preference for the online experience, it would be easy to conclude that for traditional retailers, I’m a lost cause. Yet, recently I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the biggest weaknesses of the online experience. For as fast as all those ones and zeros move, when it comes to instant gratification, you still need to wait a few days to receive most purchases.
While I do tend to plan ahead, there are times where I’m willing to pay a premium to have something right away and while it’s easy to transport media over broadband connections, when it comes to physical goods, you typically have to wait for UPS or the post office to stop by. This is a huge advantage for traditional retailers, but it’s one that I don’t believe that they are leveraging enough. Certainly, they do their best to draw traffic into their stores, but if they want to court the internet generation, they’ll need to use technology to better highlight this advantage.
Recently, I was in the mood for a little bit of world domination, so I set my sights on a lengthy game of Axis and Allies. For those who aren’t familiar with the game, it’s a complex simulation of world war two that is a ton of fun and can take all night to play. While there are digital versions of the game, it can’t fully replicate the real world experience of the board game.
It may have only taken me 10 seconds to find a copy of the game online, but when it came to finding out which local retailers carried the game, it was almost impossible to find. After a half a dozen phone calls to all of the usual suspects, I finally tracked down a copy that was over 40 miles away
In this case, I was so motivated to play the game that night, that I begrudgingly made the long journey to get it that day. While real time search has seen huge improvements over just the last year alone, when it comes to searching retail inventory, it’s almost unheard of to be able to check availability before driving to a store (let alone to be able to get that information in real time.) Yet, many companies employ expensive sophisticated inventory management software, that allows them to know exactly what’s sitting on their shelves, what’s being delivered via truck and what needs to be ordered pronto, just so that it can be restocked in time.
Despite this wealth of information though, unless you’re an employee inside of one of these companies, the data more or less doesn’t exist to the public. While there may be some competitive reasons to keep sensitive inventory data out of the hands of the public, I think that retailers are missing a golden opportunity to use that real time inventory data to draw online adopters like myself, back into their real world stores.
In the case of my situation, I would have gladly paid 50% more for the game, if I could have found it within 10 miles. Instead of being to forced to compete by heavy discounting, local stores could compete using their greatest advantage, the instant gratification that the internet simply can’t provide.
While i don’t expect that we’ll see this void filled in the near term, I do think that the firms who sell real time inventory solutions could easily become the next Google, by negotiating to list their client’s information online. Not only would retailers be able to charge different prices based upon distance or availability, but they could allow consumers to reserve and purchase the item before they even got in their car. If one of these real time inventory firms could get just a handful of major players to participate, it wouldn’t take long before real time inventory software went from being an efficient. but expensive luxury to a lucrative revenue source for their clients.]]>
When Copywrite.org stumbled onto the Belgian DVD company, DVDPost, he noticed something eerily familiar about their website. Over the years, Netflix has inspired their fair share of copycats, but DVDPost had cloned more than just their business model, they completely ripped off Netflix’s website as well.
The similarities between the two sites made Copywrite wonder if Netflix was running a secret European division or if this was just a cheap international counterfeit. While the conspiracy theorist in me desperately wanted to believe that Netflix was using Belgian subsidiaries to expand internationally, deep down inside I knew that this was just another internet knock off. It wasn’t the first time that Netflix’s website had been copied and it probably wouldn’t be the last.
My gut reaction was to start blasting DVDPost as a fake, but luckily I decided to do a little research first. Instead of finding another internet scam, I found a renegade DVD company that has been trying to make a name for themselves, by stirring up controversy in the media.
DVDPost first struck publicity paydirt, when they ran a commercial for a spoof company named Rent-A-Wife. The ad featured a man tying up his wife and trading her for a new one DVDPost claimed that the ads were meant to be light hearted, but critics felt that the company had gone too far with the shock tactics. After local media pressure, DVDPost yanked the Rent-A-Wife website, but followed it up with an equally tasteful ad, featuring Osama Bin Laden as one of their customers.
While it’s possible that DVDPost is trying to fool consumers into thinking that they are somehow related to Netflix, I think its more likely that their recent web redesign is part of a PR campaign. Normally, I try not to fall for this kind of PR bait, but I found their marketing techniques too entertaining, to resist commenting on this latest guerrilla ad campaign.]]>
Unfortunately, Fox Business News has turned out to be a big joke and continues to lose credibility on Wall St. Since launching the channel, I’ve seen three of their stories to go viral, but instead of giving me a reason why for why I should be tuning in, the stories have been about embarrassing gaffes by the channel.
The first story involved an anchor who incorrectly reported that Apple had purchased an 8% stake in AMD. Even after discovering the mistake, Fox compounded this error by misreporting that it was the “Arabs” who had purchased AMD instead.
A few days later, Fox followed up this viral hit with another blunder, after they rushed to report that HP had missed their earnings estimates, when in fact they had easily beaten them.
The latest story to hit the innerweb, involves a man on the street interview with a planted shill from the National Retail Federation
I don’t know why Fox is having so many problems getting their news right, but these types of stories are having a serious impact on their credibility. “Fair and balanced” may work for their political reporting, but when traders are betting millions of dollars on breaking information, they expect their news to be accurate.
While it’s easy to blame these PR errors on clumsy anchors, I think that Fox’s PR failings have more to do with their web video strategy. These may only be a few isolated events, but without positive buzz, it leaves people with the impression that Fox gets things wrong, more often then right. I don’t think that Fox can prevent future goof ups from going viral, but by making it easier for the web community to share their reporting, they could begin to repair their tattered reputation.
When it comes to premium content, it’s understandable that the studios would be reluctant to move it to the net, but when it comes to business news, it’s an entirely different animal. You don’t need to watch Heroes live, in order to extract value from the content, but breaking financial news isn’t the sort of thing that people time shift.
Because the information is time sensitive, it protects business channels from the DVR effect, but it also limits the monetary value of their archived content. Even though people won’t pay for a Squawk on the Street DVD box set, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t real marketing value locked up in the business news vaults.
The problem with Fox’s web video strategy, is that they are trying to control what goes viral, by only uploading certain highlights to their website. This might help to beef up the content on their site, but it doesn’t make the best use of their archived footage. I believe that the stock market is the ultimate example of the long tail in action. The large cap companies may get all the press, but there are an unbelievable number of companies out there and each one has an eager audience. By making it easier for the long tail community to easily share their reporting, I believe that Fox can strike a body blow against their CNBC rival.
Over the last year, Sling Media has been working on a clip and sling service, that would allow their customers to snip certain sections of a program and send them to people in their social network. Sling hasn’t released very many details on the software, but it’s already stirred up some controversy among some of the media companies.
Instead of fighting this technology, Fox should be using it as a weapon against CNBC. If Fox were to run a 20 minute delayed feed and let viewers clip and share the news within their social circles, they would soon have an army of volunteers creating a massive and valuable advertising platform for them. It may only be a 60 second clip talking about an obscure company, but that clip would get included in email groups, message boards and blogs, that are devoted to these subjects.
By running the news at a 20 minute delay, it would also encourage people to watch the channel live, so that they could then jump online to share the video. It would also help the home viewers have a better understanding of how breaking news impacts the markets. With most online quote services being 20 minutes delayed, sometimes its hard to tell why a stock is jumping or falling without the live data. If home viewers had a way of syncing the business news with their delayed quotes, it could help them to make better sense of the trading activity in the markets. A 20 minute delay would also give Fox enough time to at least spin/correct any mistakes, before the bloggers jumped all over them.
Giving up this type of control can be scary for big media companies, but Fox has already lost control of their live video. If they have a major screw up, someone out there will take the time to get that footage onto YouTube because scandal sells and people love to gossip, but if they have an interesting interview with an exec, someone needs to be really motivated before they can share that content with their audience.
Instead of fighting this trend, Fox should accept that they can’t suppress live video and instead make it easier for people to share the good reporting that is also going on. Instead of limiting their videos to mainstream content, Fox should be opening up their programming to the entire web, so that they can leverage the marketing power of the content. When you only hear about the negatives, it’s hard to put a lot of value on Fox’s live coverage, but if people started to see content that was relevant to them, it would make them think about how they would have seen it live, if they were only watching Fox business instead.]]>
“A method wherein contents of DVDs may be restricted based upon purchased certificates is provided. The certificates allow for secured information on playback. Specifically, whenever a DVD is to be played, a certificate is consulted to determine whether the content of the DVD should be played with or without commercial interruptions. If the certificates provide for commercial interruptions, then commercials can be obtained from an online service that renders commercials on demand, or from the DVD itself. In such a case, the content of the DVD may be interspersed with commercials.”
I’m usually a fan of new DVD technology, but I’ve got mixed feelings on this one. Every now and then, I’ll come across a DVD that won’t let me skip past the previews and it drives me absolutely nuts. If I’ve already paid for my content, then should I be forced to watch advertisements? It makes me feel like the studios are double dipping.
On the other hand, I could see plenty of advantages to having ad supported DVDs. There are a lot of people who aren’t willing to pay money, in order to watch a DVD. If they can catch up on a series by dealing with the ads, then this technology could introduce time shifting to an entirely new audience. It could also open up new distribution channels for content providers. For example, if McDonalds included ad supported Disney flicks in their Happy Meals, I’d wager that they would reach more viewers, then Friday nights on ABC.
With advertisers already scared to death of the ad skipping powers of the DVR, I could see studios adopting this as a way of shoring up advertising revenue. I’m certain that the TV producers would prefer live viewers, but if a consumer ends up watching the ads eventually, then why should it matter, when they see the program?
One of the more interesting components to the IBM application, was it’s focus on internet delivered advertising. Whenever I’ve been forced to watch previews on DVDs, it’s typically been for movies that were released a long time ago. While the previews may have been relevant seven years ago, they seem a little outdated today. I don’t think that the free DVD consumer market is going to have the latest internet connected DVD players, but I still found it interesting to learn, that IBM is working on a solution to this problem.
I don’t see this patent making it all the way through the application process, but I do expect that we’ll see more of these types of advertisements in the future. The optimist in me, would love to see this technology used to reach new consumers, but my inner cynic knows that the studios would rather unleash ads on paying viewers, then risk cannibalizing their precious DVD. I don’t fully understand IBM’s motives for filing the patent, but thought that it was an interesting solution for bringing entertainment to the masses.]]>
I love being able to time shift my television and take full advantage of my fast forward button. If I absolutely need to see something live, I’ll still wait 20 minutes, just so that I can skip past the commercials. Over the last six years, I’ve been every marketers worst nightmare and yet, there has been one company that I have never been able to block.
Sleeptrain Mattress Centers
It’s not a major company, but this sleepy little company has been able to outsmart the DVR, by exploiting the very fast forward feature, that I love so much.
When you are fast forwarding, you don’t know when to stop until after your program has already started. Because of this, TiVo has built in a feature that starts playing the program a few seconds before you actually hit the play button. The idea is to account for the time that it takes your brain to tell your finger to hit the button.
When I bought my first TiVo, I did a good job of fusing with the skip back feature. By instinct, I knew the exact moment that I needed to hit play, in order to achieve TiVo nirvana. It sounds funny, but there is a certain sense of satisfaction, in starting a program exactly as a commercial ends.
It wasn’t until I “upgraded” to a cable company HDTV-DVR, that I lost my TiVo mojo. The fast forward speed on the generic device was beyond ridiculous and I had a hard time adjusting. Add to this the lag time, whenever you hit play anyway and it was easy to go 15 minutes into a program, before I could regain control of the DVR. I don’t remember the exact timing on the cable skip back, but it seemed much shorter then TiVo’s and required lightning fast reflexes, in order to get right.
When I upgraded to a TiVo series 3, I thought that my commercial skipping rhythm would return, but sadly, I haven’t been able to make the adjustment back. I’m still trigger happy when it comes to hitting play and start things far too early. I’ve thought about using hacks to shorten the length of the auto skip back feature, but would rather try and adjust to the default if I can.
Because I’ve had difficulty hitting the TiVo sweet spot, it means that I catch the end of a lot of advertisements. There aren’t a lot of companies that have focused on this, but over the years I’ve noticed that Sleep Train Mattress Centers seems to be at the end of a lot of commercial pods.
At first, I thought that this was a random thing, but I’ve also noticed that they buy time at the 30 minute marks, so that their logo is the last thing you see, when you delete a lot of programs from your DVR. As advertising continues to adjust to a DVR world, we’ll see more companies begin to pay a premium, in order to capture even a few seconds of a viewers attention.
In thinking about DVR advertising, there are two key spots. The first spot following a commercial and the very last moments before a program starts. The first spot is important because the advertiser has a chance to convince the viewer to watch. It’s like a home version of the Gong show. The minute you realize it’s boring, you hit fast forward and are back to your program. Sometimes, if it’s a movie preview or an especially creative ad, they can convince me to watch, but most of the time, I’m fast forwarding the second I know that it’s not part of the show.
With all of the middle ads being largely ignored, those last few seconds of a pod may be the only other chance for an advertiser to reach a fast forwarding public. I haven’t seen a lot of companies take advantage of this, but give kudos to Sleeptrain for having taken early advantage of this. They may not be able to convince me to buy a new mattress, but through the use of micro commercials and smart placement, they have succeeded at burning their logo into my brain, every time I hear a train whistle.]]>
I’m not sure why we haven’t seen banks ask more creative questions, but I like Om Malik’s suggestion, that it’s time to come up with new secret password questions. In a post raising the issue, he suggests alternatives like what is your World of Warcraft name or who was your first online date?
The World of Warcraft suggestion is probably a little weak because outside people can figure that out, but I’d argue that the first internet date question, is probably a much bigger secret then the last four digits of someone’s social security number. Since most of Om’s suggestions were geared more towards the Web 2.0 crowd, I decided to put together a list of my own questions, for digital television enthusiasts. Feel free to chime in, if you have your own suggestions.
1.) What show do you always record, but never find the time to watch?
2.) Name a TV show that you love, but would never admit to being a fan of?
3.) What is the worst show on television?
4.) What operating system do you use for your television (ex: TiVo, Media Center, Xbox 360, etc.)?
5.) If you had to remove one button from your remote control, which one would you give up?
6.) How many hours of TV do you watch each week?
7.) What time is prime time for you?
8.) What’s a show, that you make sure to always watch live?
9.) How low do prices need to get, before you’d be willing to pay for VOD content?
10.) What is your favorite TV channel?
For a few of these, it would be hard for a bank to implement them because they don’t apply to everyone, but I still like the idea of tougher security at the banks, even if they don’t end up using my digital TV questions. It’s strange that you have to change your banking passwords every 6 weeks, to something that is alphanumeric, contains wacky symbols and is only 8 – 10 digits long, yet all it takes is the city of your birth and someone can change your mailing address or gather information about your account.
The banks would benefit more than anyone, from better security questions and I see a real marketing opportunity for the first institution to step up and take Om’s suggestion seriously. If someone agreed to add, even one of his (or his readers) questions to their password reset screen, they’d get a lot of viral love highlighting their commitment to protecting their customer’s identity. In the end, it’s up to everyone to keep an eye on their own accounts, but by making the security questions more personal, it would make it a lot harder for fraudsters, to gain unauthorized access.]]>
TiVo released a video of their HD start up animation online and I think it’s really creative. I haven’t seen this show up on my series 3 yet, so it makes me wonder if this is what people are seeing when they boot up the new HD TiVo? I like how they were able to use different TV shows in the animation.
As an added bonus, I also found an advertisement for TiVo and Sky+. The ad is very surreal, but I like it. I think that the ad was originally produced as a trailer in UK movie theaters in 2000, although I’m not 100% on that. After getting used to hearing the “TiVo Gets Me” tagline, it was interesting to see a more British version of “TiVo Understands Me” on this clip. Oddly enough, I think I prefer the British tagline over the American.]]>
In fairness to TiVo, there is evidence to suggest, that they had intended these ads to carry a sponsored by TiVo disclaimer, but due to quality control issues at Pay Per Post, the ads were leaked without the proper disclaimers.
Even though I think that TiVo made a mistake by partnering with Pay Per Post to begin with, killing the campaign was the right antidote for dealing with this poison in our community. There will always be times when companies make mistakes, but it’s how they react to those mistakes that define who they are and in this case, TiVo made the right move by deleting the campaign.
By moving quickly to kill the campaign, TiVo demonstrated that they are willing to listen to their community and take action, even when they’ve misjudged the rules that their community plays by.
In the long run, this won’t represent more than a five second skip back in the history of TiVo, but I do think that other companies can learn a valuable lesson from TiVo’s experience.
User generated content is sexy and it’s tempting to try and manufacture buzz, but sooner or later, your customers will find out that you are gaming the system and they will attack. Steve Rubel said it best, when he recomended that marketers be careful about trying to manipulate the social web.
“Digg, Reddit, del.icio.us and other collaborative news sites are like Bengal Tigers. They’re beautiful to look at and admire, but they’re very dangerous to touch. If your stories end up landing on these sites, then terrific. Be happy. Include the metrics in your coverage reports. But seeding PR links is trouble waiting to happen, especially as these communities become barraged with spam and the users’ sensitivity meter goes to code red.”
If your brand has no value, then there may be no place to go but up, but if you think that there is any equity in your brand, then smart marketers will think twice before supporting this tumor on the world wide web.
Even if there were an upside to astroturfing YouTube with fake ads, this controversy alone should make companies rethink their support for the Pay Per Post brand. If by partnering with the company, you end up damaging the reputation of your brand, then what have you really gained by paying people to create fake testimonials?
If I was an ad exec and my marketing consultant suggested Pay Per Post to me, I would fire them and find a marketing firm that has better ethics and an understanding of what it really takes to build grassroot support. Instead of uploading fake ads to YouTube, TiVo would have been better off, by having someone search YouTube, LiveJournal, Blogspot and MySpace for real TiVo testimonials and then leave comments thanking them for the support.
There are lots of times when I make suggestions for TiVo and while not everyone of them is a great idea, I can tell you that I would freak out if someone who worked for TiVo, left me a comment validating an idea and promising to consider it as a future development. Even if TiVo never implemented my idea, knowing that someone from the company took their time to consider it, would be exciting enough. This isn’t astroturfing, this is interacting and responding to your customers.
Fake ads, will always run the risk of blowing up on you, but by being open and transparent with your fan base, it’s not that hard to turn happy customers into viral customers. Instead of supporting companies like Pay Per Post, businesses should instead be thinking about how to engage their existing fans.
While you may or may not agree that the ethics behind Pay Per Post are deplorable, it’s clear that the company is a lightning rod for criticism. Whether or not that criticism is fair, should be irrelevant to marketers. There are some who believe that even bad publicity is good publicity, but I don’t think that anyone wants to see their brand dragged through the social mud. It’s exciting to see grassroots support for your products, but if you are going get into the same cage as the tigers, then you shouldn’t be surprised when they turn on you and attack. If some PR hack recommends Pay Per Post as a way to build buzz, do yourself a favor and go hire someone who knows what they are talking about.]]>
Despite my normal enthusiasm for TiVo’s PR stunts, their latest campaign has been a little over the top, for even my tastes. It started in late August, when TiVo issued a press release that declared that their new TiVo HD box, had all the features that people expect from a perfect companion. When I first read the release it was so syrupy, I could barely finish it.
I even almost wrote a snarky blog post, where I was going to point out that despite their claims, I’m actually looking for something a little bit different from my “hook ups”, then the family friendly criteria that they included in the PR fluff. Things like someone who won’t freeze up on me after I had been out drinking with the boys or someone with a pair of really big hard drives or a companion that doesn’t get jealous when I play video games.
I ended up getting distracted and never wrote my post, but when I saw TiVo issue another lovefest press release, I just rolled my eyes and figured that I was in the wrong demographic to ever understand this one.
Normally, I wouldn’t have thought much more about this campaign, except while I was surfing YouTube, I came across several clips that appeared to be fan made videos expressing their excitement for the HD TiVo product. At first I actually thought that these were made by TiVo customers. There is definitely an indie feel to them. One of them actually does an amusing simulation of the world from TiVo’s perspective It wasn’t until I got to my my favorite video of the bunch that I finally figured out why there was such a sudden rush of TiVo videos on YouTube. Of all the clips out there, this is the only one that I could find, that was honest enough to at least identify that it’s part of the Pay Per Post program.
Pay Per Post has been a very controversial company from the start. Because they pay individuals to make fake user generated content, that are really covert advertisements for sponsors, the FTC has even expressed some concerns over the truth in advertising issues related to their service.
Now I don’t think that there is anything wrong with TiVo paying someone to make commercials for them, but there is something wrong with conning consumers into believing, that they are witnessing legitimate testimonials when in fact, it’s really just a shill that is being paid to tout the product. If TiVo were requiring these video bloggers to put Pay Per Post on every video, I wouldn’t even see this as controversial, but 5 of the 6 ads that I saw, carried no warnings.
In the past, I’ve appreciated TiVo’s edginess in how they advertise. It may not always be to my liking, but I don’t mind them taking risks. This time though, they’ve crossed the line. By not clearly identifying this content as an advertisement, they have insulted the grassroots community that already spends so much time and effort evangelizing TiVo’s brand. By polluting their community with this vaporous buzz, they damage the credibility of every piece of user generated content, even if it really is being made by a legitimate fan.
If TiVo already had a terrible reputation or couldn’t get buzz to begin with, I could understand why they would stoop to this level, but their customers already love their products and spend plenty of time gushing over each and every little development. With as PR savvy as TiVo has been, it puzzles me why they would risk this kind of damage to their reputation, just so that they could get a few more videos up on YouTube?
If they really are proud of supporting these artists, why not put a big TiVo logo on the front of every clip and let YouTubers know that they are watching paid programming? If this was on the up and up, TiVo wouldn’t be hiding this, but because they want it to appear authentic, they’ve choosen to support Pay Per Post and let them do the dirty work.
As a member of the TiVo community, I love it when I see cool fan creations. It’s neat to be able to connect with other people who feel just as passionate about the TiVo experience. Over the years, TiVo has gotten a tremendous amount of grassroot support from the social net and to betray that trust is a huge blunder. By choosing to “hook up” with Pay Per Post for their latest ad campaign, they have introduced a toxic poison into the TiVoSphere that can only make it sick. TiVo needs to end this questionable form of guerrilla marketing, before they damage the credibility of their fan base any further.]]>
I suspect that NBC is hoping to build a strong subscription base for the shows, so that they can then try and pitch companies on paying for ads by the download. There may be some advertisers that will be foolish enough to accept these arrangements, but over the long run, the advertisers will figure out why it’s doomed for failure.
Right now I would estimate that I record 80 GBs of content each week. I watch a lot of it, but most of it is junk and ends up deleted. This digital waste doesn’t matter though, because there is no variable cost tied to my recording the content. The cable company is broadcasting the signal no matter what. I could delete all of it and it won’t cost them a penny more.
When it comes to downloads though, it’s a different story. Now there is no way for me to know how much NBC really pays for their downloads, but if we assume that they pay .19 cents per GB, it would cost them $15 a week, just to offer the choices and convenience that my TiVo provides. Even if you assume my estimates are high, start multiplying this out by millions and things will start to get expensive.
This wouldn’t be a problem is you were watching 80GB’s worth of commercials, but it creates huge waste, if you end up deleting most of it. As is, advertisers are upset that DVR users are skipping through 50% of their commercials, but if you assume that consumers are deleting 50% of your paid download to begin with, how will they be any better off?
In the near term, these types of developments make for great headlines, but if this gets any kind of real traction, I have no doubt that NBC will cancel the downloads or restrict demand by offering limited content. I’m expecting a long beta on this one. It’s a neat little Jedi mind trick, but I think marketers will be more savvy and will demand greater accountability.]]>
On top of the number of unique hits, their average visit was over 9 minutes long. To help put these numbers into perspective, the site was able to generate 3 times as many unique visitors as Google finance and was able to capture 4 times as long of an impression as About.com.
Considering that they charge $40, for all three reports, this looks like a good racket to be in on. What I can’t understand though, is why anyone would pay anything, when the credit agencies are required by law, to provide you with a copy of your report anyway. All you have to do is go to ANNUALcreditreport.com, input your information and in less than five minutes, you’ll have easy access to your credit history. No messy credit card charges, no auto renewal, just one free copy on demand, from each agency, once a year.
When you log into the site, you’ll have the choice of looking at any or all, of the three credit agencies. If you are considering taking out a loan or making a big purchase, I’d definitely check all three. If all you want to do, is keep an eye on your history, instead of paying FreeCreditReport $12.95 to give you unlimited access, set appointments on your calendar, to check a different agency, every four months. This enables you to keep a quasi-close eye on your credit, without having to pay Experian $150 a year, to make sure that they don’t screw up.
If you haven’t checked your credit score in a long time, I’d take advantage of the real free report and make sure that things still look OK. There is a lot of identity theft out there and it’s important to fix things quickly, so that it doesn’t threaten your access to capital in the future. There are also many interesting little details in the report, that make it worth checking out.
When I looked at my most recent report, it was really fascinating to look at all of the different addresses, of places where I’ve lived. In total, they are tracking 23 different locations for me, but I know that they are missing at least 2 places where I lived off the grid. Since I will be moving in 2 weeks, it should put my count at 26 shortly. Some people prefer to stay put in life, but my philosophy has always been that a rolling stone gathers no moss.
While AnnualCreditReport doesn’t get the sexy “free” domain name or the marketing budget of a company like Experian, it is a much smarter way to keep track of what businesses know about you. You may not be able to stop companies from reporting on your every move, but you at least have some rights for making sure they get the details right.]]>
After doing my research on GrowthStockGuru’s most recent hot stock tip, I contacted the business press and asked for comments on why they would run an ad for a microcap company, whose former Director is married to a convicted stock promoter? I emailed Business Week twice and Smart Money once, but neither of them seemed to feel it was important enough to reply to. Forbes and Investor’s Business Daily did reply though and unfortunately Forbes said that the print ads had gone out, but that future ads were being discontinued.
“Thanks for your note- we obviously take this very seriously given our
reputation in the industry. Just so you know Forbes.com and Forbes
magazine are separate organizations with separate sales teams. I had
some people here at Forbes.com run a check and it appears that we’ve
never shown those ads online. I can confirm that there had been ads run
in the print mag in the past but from what I’m told those are going to
While, it’s unfortunate that Forbes ran the ad to begin with, I can understand how they could miss some of the details behind GrowthStockGuru’s tip. Digging through the SEC files was like peeling an onion, the more I read, the more I wanted to cry. Forbes willingness to re-evaluate the history of the company and their decision to discontinue future ads, demonstrates that, while careless, they do care enough about their readers trust, to understand that the easy money, isn’t worth the hit to their credibility.
Investors Business Daily on the other hand, did not seem to think that there was anything wrong with advertising a penny stock, in order to increase “awareness” of the company.
“Thank you for your email regarding the advertising from GrowthStockGuru. Investorâ€™s Business Daily does have a policy in of rejecting display advertising that promotes penny stocks. Display advertising refers to the ads that are placed throughout the newspaper.
The ad you referred to ran in our Corporate News section. This is classified advertising section designed as a forum for public companies to increase awareness of their stock. Most of the ads that run in Corporate News are penny stocks. Many of our readers regularly read this advertising feature searching for new and interesting investment opportunities. The section is labeled as advertising and in no way is an endorsement by Investorâ€™s Business Daily. We also run a small disclaimer in the section stating that we can not guarantee the accuracy of the information in the ads.
Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with us. We value your input and take all suggestions and comments very seriously.”
After reading IBD’s email, I was really surprised to learn that advertising “classifieds” of penny stocks is part of their business model. I’ve always thought of them, as being one of the top five business publications for Wall St. investors. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the print ad personally, so I don’t know about the disclaimers there, but on their website, they are still running the growthstockguru ads and I don’t see any disclaimers. In order to get to this ad, you click “corporate news” from their home page and then you see a summary of the stocks being advertised. If you click through to the third page, you finally see an “advertising” logo, identifying the piece as pay for post content.
Since IBD seemed to feel that the stocks being advertised were “new and interesting investment opportunities”, I decided to take a closer look at some of the opportunities, that they were showing their readers. In order to find out how good these picks have turned out, I picked a semi-random sample of companies and took a look at the performance of their stock price, after the ads. Thanks to the magic of Archive.org, it was pretty easy to find the past advertisements, but tracking down the prices was a different story.
The methodology I used for my study was to take any stock under $100 million that was advertised in IBD’s “announcements” section of their “corporate news” service. I then found seven stocks that actually had historical prices and figured out what long term “INVESTORS” would have made, had they bought and held the stocks, at the time they were being advertised. For the stocks that I couldn’t find pricing on, I think it’s fair to call them a failure, but I’ll leave it up to my readers to decide, what they think those returns would have been, if investors had access to historical information.
You Can Get Better Odds In Vegas
On March 1st, 2005, Investor’s Business Daily ran “classifieds” for BSDM, IGTN (now IGTG), AHCKF, GMED and TNSX.
BSDM was a bio-tech play, the company’s seems to think that they have microwaves that can cure diseases. When IBD readers were being tempted to buy in, the stock was at .14 a share, today it closed at .055. A loss of 60%. I couldn’t get pricing on IGTN, but typically when a company changes their symbol, that’s not a good sign. Since being listed as IGTG, the company has gone from 0.15 to .0525, a loss of 65%. AHCKF was another stock that did not have historical information. Currently, the company is priced at .01 per share. After the ads ran in IBD, their auditor started raising questions about insider compensation and the company was issued a cease trade order by the British Columbia Securities Commission.
GMED, I was able to find pricing on. They trade on the pink sheets and on the day the ad ran, they opened at $0.083 per share, today they are at .01, a loss of 88%. TNSX is also a healthcare play, but they use software instead of microwaves. They closed at .14 on the day the ad ran and finished at .055 today, a loss of 60%.
In 2005, this section wasn’t called “corporate news” yet, it was called “investor newswire” and to be fair to IBD, it was listed under the advertising section on the main page. Sometime later, they changed the site and made it so that you have to click to the third page, before you know that you are reading an ad.
On 01/01/06, they ran ads for three companies that I could locate. TLPE, LNXGF and ANSW. TLPE is a “wireless telecommunications provider”. On the day the ad ran, the stock was at .27, today it’s worth .028, a loss of 89%. LNXGF was a mining play, but I’m not sure why they picked their name. Less tech savvy investors may have thought that there was a connection, but Linux Gold Corp. had nothing to do with Richard Stallman. They just look for mines. Things weren’t so golden though, after IBD’s ad. The stock has gone from .35 to .18, a loss of 48%.
Of all the microcap stocks that I found, ANSW has been the only one to actually finish in the black. Had you gotten in on their ad, you would have paid $11 and today it’s at $14.50, a positive return of 31%, albeit for a considerable amount of risk. Even though, ANSW has finished positive, it’s also been a very volatile ride. Earlier this month, Eric Savitz’s at Tech Trader Daily, wanted answers on why ANSW was seeing such wild trading, it wasn’t their fundamentals, it was advertisements. A few days after ANSW hit $12.50, WallSt.net announced a partnership with them and the stock took off. WallSt.net specializes in providing “promotional” help to small stocks in exchange for cash or shares. There were no details about any advertising relationship mentioned by Answer.com or WallSt.net, but over the next few weeks, Answer.com mysteriously saw it’s stock price run to $17.15, before crashing on heavy volume. Today it’s back at $12.54. Three days after the sell off, WallSt.net ran a second press release announcing the integration of their bookmarking tools into ANSW’s site.
On March 1st, 2006, IBD advertised “classifieds” for BGES, PTGC and a company named Plasticon International. BGES is another bio-tech play. On the day it was advertised, the price was $1.80 and today it’s at $1.00, a loss of 45%. PTGC was tougher to track down. I knew it’s starting price, but like many stocks that take severe nose dives, they changed their ticker symbol to reflect “a different direction” for their business. In this case they used PEYG. When companies do this, Yahoo! finance and other sites drop the past pricing and hit reset on the historical pricing. It puts the regular investor at a huge disadvantage because they don’t know the trading history on the stock. One way that the SEC could help to prevent these things, is to require that historical pricing be available, if a company wants to change symbols.
I did a little digging and luckily, I was able to track down the SEC document where they report a 5 for 1 reverse split. From there, I was able to figure out that on a split adjusted basis PEYG was at $1.95 on the day the ad ran and today it’s at $0.43, a loss of 78%.
Unfortunately, I could not get historical pricing on Plasticon, but of all the companies, it was by far my favorite. Their CEO should be writing a blog, instead of trying to replace steel with plastic. I would subscribe just for the entertainment value. One of ads featured the CEO wearing a superman suit, it was a hysterical read, even though I would never have invested in his company. It’s hard to believe that even cheesy copy ads seem to work. Unfortunately, for Plasticon though, they weren’t able to leap over creditors in a single bound and filed bankruptcy on May 25th of this year. Their stock is currently worth $0.0001 per share.
Had you gone out and invested $1,000, into just the seven companies that I could find pricing for, your $7,000 investment would now be worth $3,630. You would have taken a 49% loss from buying these stocks, that you saw advertised as a “corporate news” on IBD’s website.
Now I realize that my sample size is too small for this to be a scientific study, but I feel fairly confident, that if you take a closer at the other ads that have run, you will find a similar failure rate, among the businesses being advertised. Maybe I was naive for not knowing that the business press was selling out their readers for penny stock ad money, but I find it outrageous that these “respected” business tabloids run ads, that are very likely, hurting their readers financially.
To make matters worse, this problem appears to be more widespread than just Business Week, Forbes, IBD, & Smart Money. It also appears that Reuters runs ads for microcap companies too. Right now they are featuring an ad from a company, named “lil stock investors”. I took a closer look at the companies that they are advertising and sure enough, GrowthStockGuru’s hot stock pick is one of them.
The business press is very quick to get lathered up about the latest stock scam convictions, but they refuse to acknowledge the role that they are playing in some of these very promotions. When your ads can influence the price of a security, the media owes it to their readers to do their due diligence. When someone knows that a stock will fall, after an ad ends, it might just be insider trading. Why won’t Business Week and “Smart” money return my emails about their relationship with GrowthStockGuru? What is it that they are afraid of? There is clearly a conflict of interest here and if people don’t speak up, the press will bury this, because they have a financial stake in making sure that people don’t know about the cesspool advertisements.]]>
(Click on the links to see larger images of the slides: Cover, Avalon, Global Telcom Holding Ltd, Godels, Solomon, Barber & Co., International Tea Company, Technology Resources Inc., WES Consulting, Contracted Services, Inc, MCG Diversified Inc., Electro Energy, Ivecon, Diane Harrison, Randall Drake)
One of the problems with stock spam, is that it preys on the get rich quick mentality. Investors are encouraged to act right away and to take claims at face value. I’ve never been opposed to investing in high risk investments, but you can bet that I do my homework before I jump in. Unfortunately, too many investors don’t take the time to read the SEC filings, before making an investment and when the hype dies down, they get hurt.
Another problem with stock spam is that sometimes the companies being promoted, are as much a victim to the fraud, as investors are. Some microcap companies will even issue press releases warning investors that spamming is going on. Even though these companies temporarily benefit from the attention, for legitimate businesses, the volatility can create real problems in the long term execution of a business plan.
Because GrowthStockGuru was willing to pay bulk postage rates, just to get my attention, I wanted to take a closer look at the people behind Guangzhou Global Telecom (GZGT), just to make sure they weren’t a victim, in all of this. The deeper I dug, the more ugly things looked.
It All Started With $100
In order to better understand the prospects for GZGT to succeed, you need to look at the qualifications of the key players behind the business. Because the company was formed as part of a reverse merger, it’s important to look at the pieces that make up this puzzle before the company merged. Even though, GZGT is being promoted as a Chinese stock market play, a Florida real estate company named Avalon Development Enterprises played a more important role, in creating the company.
Avalon was first formed in 1999, after Charles Godels, invested $100 into the company and filed the appropriate paperwork. Shortly thereafter his wife, Marguerite Godels also purchased 100 shares for $100. Between Aug. 2004 and and Feb. 05, the company must have needed more capital because they had another underwriting where they sold 3 shares a piece at a $1 valuation and brought in 44 more investors.
On 12/5/05, the company did a forward stock split of 4500:1 and overnight, investors saw their 332 shares turn into 1,494,000. They also filed a registration, that would allow them to sell their shares at .50 cents a piece to other investors. At this valuation, it meant that on a split adjusted basis, their $1 share price was now closer to $2,250.
On 01/08/07, Charles P. Godels, Diane J. Harrison, Madanna Yovino, Michael T. Jones, and David E. Dunn all resigned from Avalon’s board of directors. At that time, Allen S. Greenberg officially took over as the company’s president. Two days later, they entered into their merger transaction.
In the footnotes of the 8k filing announcing the resignations, I noticed something about Mr. Greenberg’s biography that raises some interesting questions about where the money is going to.
“from 2005 until the present, Mr. Greenberg served as the Operations and Customer Service Manager for Global Administrative Provider in Costa Rica. In that capacity, he was the client service contact for all investment advisory firms, was responsible for setting up offshore investment structures for clients, oversaw all incoming and outgoing wires via international custodian banks, and oversaw all company invoicing.”
Avalon was supposed to be a local Florida Real Estate company and yet, they brought Mr Greenberg’s in, in order to set up offshore investment structures from Costa Rica? As a Chinese company, I can understand why there would be some need for this, but while doing my research I found several offshore accounts, that can be connected to different players behind Avalon Development. I also found an alarming amount of small shell companies, that are either currently trying to get listed or who have tried, but failed to go public. If GZGT really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, why have so many investors utilized accounts, that are beyond the immediate reach of the US Government?
Investors Cool To Hurricane Real Estate, China Gets Bubble Fever
Investor were tuning out Real Estate, so if Avalon wanted to make a splash they needed access to a hot sexy growth market that investors like right now. They decided on a Chinese phone card company and agreed to buy them out with stock. In order to get access to Global Telecom Holding Limited,(herein referred to as GTHL) Avalon issued 39,817,500 of restricted common stock, in exchange for 100% of the company. During the merger, the company also executed another forward split, this time at 8.75 – 1.
After completing the merger, they had 52,890,000 shares outstanding and could authorize up to 75,000,000. Based on Friday’s closing price of $1.95, this means that on a split adjusted basis, the original $1 per share investment is now worth $77,000 per share. Mr. Godels initial $100 investment is now worth $7.6 million or $15.2 million if you include his wife’s shares (assuming that he hasn’t sold anything along the way, of course ). Not a bad return, given that Avalon admits that Florida real estate wasn’t much of a business in their 10KSB filing.
There isn’t a lot of information about GTHL, in the SEC’s database, but we do know that GZGT’s CEO Yankuan Li was by and large the largest beneficiary of the acquisition. He ended up with about 12.3 million shares (about $23 million based on Friday’s close) When all the dust was settled, GTHL ended up with 51% of the company, but a lot of it was in restricted shares.
Investors Get Caught In PacificNet’s Tidal Wave
In Mr. Li’s bio, it’s disclosed that he worked at PacificNet (PACT) from 2004 until 2005. During that time, the company experienced unusually high trading volume and went from $2.50 a share to as high as $13, before crashing back down again to $7 per share. These gains occurred largely in late October of 2004. According to Bloomberg, Sept 04′ was the highest activity of insider buying, in PACT’s history. Currently, PACT is delinquent in their SEC filings due to back dating issues, which occurred during Mr. Li’s employment with the company. I do not believe that this will end up being a slap on the wrist, there was a lot of insider selling at the top. The company has claimed that they relied on the advice of their auditor, Clancy and Co., P.L.L.C., who has since been forced to withdraw their certifications from that time.
Three months before PACT saw their share price spike and than drop, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) performed an audit of Clancy and Co. During that Audit, they reviewed 6 of Clancy and Co’s 15 clients. I don’t know if PACT was one of those clients selected, but the PCAOB’s review did find 14 serious issues with their auditor, including “failure to properly perform procedures related to consideration of the possibility of material misstatement due to fraud.” None of this suggests, that Mr. Li was personally involved in any shenanigans, but it does raise some important questions about the corporate culture at his previous employer.
The Bankers, The Bean Counters And The Ambulance Chasers
In order to be able to underwrite stock to the public, there are a few key pieces you need in place. Mostly, bankers, attorneys and most importantly, the auditor. Information about GZGT’s banking relationships are scarce, but there is an SEC filing that references a company named Zenith Capital Management, who has agreed to buy 200,000 shares at a price of $2.50 per share. They only committed part of the money up front, which for me, would raise questions about Zenith’s credibility and their intentions to make good on these pledges, especially if GZGT falls apart, before it can get back to $2.50.
When Avalon did their 4500:1 forward stock split, Diane J. Harrison was the attorney who wrote the consenting legal opinion. Charles Godels audited the books himself, (under small business rules that allowed him to avoid an independent audit) and later on, the company brought in Randall N. Drake as their official auditor.
Mr Drake’s name shows up as the auditor in many of the companies mentioned in this article. In 2001, he audited the books of Mobile Area Networks Inc. (MANW.ob) Investors may have been hoping that MANW would make them rich, but it turned out to be a belly flop. After MANW went public, it briefly kissed $4.87 before it came crashing down to $1.00 over the next month. Today, the stock is at $0.10.
Of all of the characters in this bizarre story, Diane Harrison is the one that raises the most eyebrows. She is the attorney. She helped create Avalon. She has been involved, either as an investor or as legal council, in many different penny stocks that can be linked to Godels or his partners. On 10/27/06, the Secretary of Avalon resigned and Harrison was official brought in as the new Secretary and as a Director. Her role at GZGT is unclear, but two days before Avalon’s merger, she resigned from the board. In 1999, her husband, Michael J. Daniels, was convicted of securities fraud and spent 6 months under house arrest and 3 years on probation. He is now officially classified as a stock promoter under the SEC rules.
Daniels has had no direct affiliation with GZGT, but he can be connected to Godels through an auditing relationship with Godels, Solomon, Barber & Company, L.L.C. Before Avalon, Daniels tried to raise financing for a company called MCFTY National. The company was originally a mailbox etc. type business, but later tried to cash in on the vitamin water craze and changed their name to the International White Tea company. When Daniels and Harrison started the company, they also brought in Steven A. Sanders and Robert Bedore. Both Sanders and Bedore have also been classified as stock promoters by the SEC.
Over the last several years, Ms. Harrison has helped to set up several other companies with Godels and/or his partners. These include WES Consulting, Ivecon, Harcom Products, Technology Resources Inc. (herein referred to as TRI), and Contracted Services Inc.
What is interesting about all of these companies, is the number of related transactions between the different individuals involved. They would not only hire each other’s employees, but there was also money changing hands, between various companies. At one point, Godels CPA practice was a significant contributor to Avalon’s revenue. Even after studying the SEC documents on these companies, I still cannot sort out all of the different players involved. If you look at the shareholders, of these investments, there does appear to be another layer to this mystery, but for now, these players are beyond the scope of my discussion on GZGT’s business.
In trying to unravel this complex piece of financial engineering, it didn’t take me long to figure out that, everything always ends up coming back to the Godels. Whether it’s the high number of family members who were shareholders of Avalon, or tracing the cash from the different related transactions, the Godels’ family name keeps popping up. It’s as if they are trying to build a dynasty for the entire family. Interestingly enough, in the GrowthStockGuru newsletter, the anonymous author who wrote the report hints that a family may be behind GZGT’s marketing attempts, by using the name Aharon Bronfman.
The Bronfman family is a famous name on Wall St. In the 1920′s, they made their fortune selling bootleg liquor to the Northern United States. After prohibition ended, the Bronfman family distilleries were some of the most profitable in Canada. Later they would buy Segrams from the Segrams family and made a killing off the whiskey. The family’s history has always been checkered with allegations that their fortune was linked to the mob.
There is no way to know for sure, whether or not the Godels are connected to Mr. Bronfman’s marketing campaign, but the subtle undertones of the alias, raise suspicions that Mr. Bronfman might be working on behalf of a family that is willing to do whatever it takes, for them to build their own dynasty.
Electro Energy Shocks Investors
Given the level of sophistication involved, in this sort of transaction, it came as no surprise, when I learned, that this wasn’t the Godels first reverse merger. They got their first taste of the profits that could be made, when they first set up MCG Diversified Inc. The company was created by the same players who keep popping up again and again. Diane Harrison wrote the legal opinion on the common stock and Randall Drake provided the auditing.
MCG was supposed to be a human resources company. A lot of their revenue came directly from Avalon. Human resource companies seemed to be a common theme among the various public filings. On most of the filings they do not include information about partnerships, but it appears that some of the recruiting gong on, was just individuals shuffling from one company to another.
Marguerite Godels owned 50% of MCG and from the filings, you can sense that she was eager to cash out. Things were on track for MCG, but they almost ran into a disaster, when Mr. Drake made a mistake that almost scuttled their plans.
Somehow, he had managed to let his registration with the PCAOB lapse, but still filed audit reports for Technology Resources Inc. and for MCG, at that time. The PCAOB denied his application for a new license, after he agreed to a settlement, where he would be allowed to get his license back, in another year.
Frustrated, with their attempts to get listed on the bulletin boards, the Godels turned their sites to the white hot alternative energy market and in 2004, they executed a reverse merger with Electro Energy. (EEEI) In exchange for the access to income statements with real revenue, MCG was forced to take a 30% position, following the completion of the merger. Even at 30% though, they still realized obscene profits, considering how little they had actually contributed to MCG’s capital. When EEEI announced their change of auditors, they never mentioned that Mr. Drake’s license was no longer current.
After the reverse merger launched, stock promoters immediately jumped in. Had you invested at the first trading price, you would still be down 79%, but if you listened to the hype, you would have lost even more money faster. On 10/11/04 Stockwire issued a press release advertising EEEI’s stock. If you jumped in then, you’d be down 84%. On 11/04/04, Capital Investor Forum Growth, suggested that you look at the stock. Had you taken, their advice you would be down 90% right now. A year later, a firm that that continues to pop up on my radar, WallSt.Net issued a press release showcasing EEEI. Had you listened to WallSt.net’s analysis, you would be down 72%.
During this sharp run up, EEEI insiders took advantage and sold out. According to SEC form 4 filings, between 10/19/04 and 11/01/04, Assari Farhad sold a significant amount of stock and options. Given the question marks surrounding the promotional activities going on while he was selling, I thought that it was notable that his form 4 filing reporting the sales, was not filed until 12/04/04.
Perhaps, the strangest part of this whole story, isn’t that someone would want to sell inflated stock, it’s how Mr. Bronfman is going about generating the hype behind this bubble. Instead of the traditional email spam, they have been targeting investors by advertising in respected business magazines. On the Friday, that the Investor’s Business Daily ran their ad, their stock jumped very sharply before seeing heavy selling at the end of the day. IBD should be ashamed of themselves for not researching the company further. Their readers trust them to provide excellent financial advice and yet, they are willing to take money from a reverse merger penny stock, without hesitation. If IBD does not issue an apology, then they have lost all credibility in my book.
So far, the only mainstream media outlet to pick up on GZGT’s innovative marketing attempts, has been Kiplingers. When the company was first approached, they knew something didn’t look right and took steps to warn their readers. Unfortunately, other business publications seem to be more than willing to sellout. Business Week and Forbes have both agreed to run the ads, regardless of how questionable this might be ethically. I would encourage both publications to take a closer look at GZGT, instead of their advertising revenue, before putting the company in front of their readers.
Just because the bulletin boards are the wild west of the investing world, doesn’t mean you still can’t arm yourself with a six shooter. Six months ago, digging through these SEC files would have been much more difficult, but thankfully, the SEC has recently released a full text search feature on their website. It didn’t getting any buzz from the press, but by building the search tool, the SEC has turned over an exponential amount of data to the public. It is a powerful tool and an important development in making sure that the public has access to good data. There is a tremendous amount of information out there, but you need to read it, especially if you are acting on a tip, that someone paid money, in order to give you.
In Mr. Bronfman’s report on GZGT, he says that GZGT’s management has a tremendous track record, but when I look at the track records of the investors involved in them going public, I see a very different picture. Many of the companies that they have been involved with have turned into a pile of rubble, after the promotions die down and the stock has been diluted. If investors want to play with high risk investments, that is OK, but just remember to do your homework before jumping in.
Disclosures – I have no positions in any company listed in this article. To the best of my knowledge, no one that I have ever come into contact with has ever invested in or shorted, any company mentioned in this article.]]>
I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to upgrade each year, but for the last decade, I’ve purchased an EA title at least, once every three months. A few of these have been new games that EA has come out with, but by and large I’ve mostly stuck with the tried, but true sport franchises.
I like the sports games the best because they allow me to play a quick game without having to keep track of what’s going on. I’ll usually start with a season mode and by the end of the real life season, I am wrapping up the playoffs. When the online capabilities started to come out, I was pretty fired up about being able to skool other gamers with my mad John Madden skillz, but as a casual gamer, I quickly found out the hard way, that I was no match for the caliber players, who have the time to play online.
Right now my lifetime winning record for all Xbox Live games is under 10%. These days, I tend to stick to playing the computer, but every now and then, I’ll still log in, just so that I remember what it’s like to take a beating.
EA knows that they make their bread and butter on customers like myself. Most of their titles are franchise oriented, which allows them to have a neverending game pipeline in the works. In the past, I thought it was silly to upgrade from one title to another, just for the updated player stats, but each year the subtle differences in the gameplay was enough to convince me to keep upgrading.
Normally, overpaying for a game that I won’t play very long, isn’t really all that big of a deal, but over the last few years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend at EA and after continuing to be disappointed with their products, I’ve finally decided that enough is enough.
Every since I first bought my Xbox 360, I’ve noticed that EA sports has been building in planned obsolescence into their franchise titles.
My first disappointment came when I purchased Fifa: Road To The World Cup. This game was one of the first few titles that came out for the Xbox 360 and as a huge World Cup fan, it was immedietely on my must have list. After getting the game, I quickly set up my franchise and ended up picking Sweden to try and take to the World Cup. For the next few months, I played my season diligently and finally made it to the end of the qualifiers. I had a lot of tied games, but was able to successfully make it into the World Cup tournament.
It was then that I found out, that my game wasn’t FIFA World Cup it was only “the road to the World Cup.” If I wanted to actually play in the tournament, it meant that I had to pay another $60 to EA, just so that I could get the follow up title that was released shortly thereafter. I did end up trying out the real World Cup game and other than the tournament, it was exactly the same game.
As a customer, this is really frustrating because it would have been easy enough for them to include a playoff round in the game, but instead they wanted to resell the same game to me a second time. Had I known about the subtlety, I probably wouldn’t have bought the game, but you never really know what a game will be like until you’ve already purchased it and it’s sitting in your console.
After being disappointed with the FIFA game, I decided to try out NBA Live 2006. At the time, the basketball season had already started, but I was eager to see how far Kobe could take the Lakers without the help of Shaq.
After buying the game, I loaded it up and was excited to try it out, but quickly found out too late, that EA had removed the franchise option from the game. The franchise has always been my favorite part of any sports title and often times, I would build up a promising, but young team, only to sim 3 or 4 years, so that I could play my players in their prime.
While I enjoy the actual gameplay of NBA 2006, trading players and adjusting the starting lineup can be even more fun for me. Even though this feature has been included in every NBA game that I can remember, for some reason EA left it out. Given their history, it makes me suspect that the reason why they did this was so that customers would have an added incentive to upgrade in 2007.
With both of these games, I was willing to cut EA a little bit of slack. When the Xbox 360 came out, there was a rush to get the games out. I could see Microsoft making them release a stripped down version of their games just for the launch. I kept buying titles hoping they would get better, but finally, my patience wore down. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the ultimate EA franchise game of all time, John Madden’s football.
I’ve been playing this franchise longer than any game I own today and every year I’ve felt really good about making the upgrades. There were some years that they would tweak the controls a bit and it would drive me nuts, but year after year, I’d see little improvements and the game only got better. Then all of a sudden, EA decided that they needed to take away past functionality that their customers had gotten used to. In this case, they decided to kill the ability to do a fantasy draft at the start of your franchise.
The fantasy draft was my favorite way to run a franchise. Not only could I make sure that my favorite players ended up on my team, but it also introduce parity into the league. When you combined the initial fantasy draft, with the college draft at the end of each season, it allowed a user to take over the general manager position and try their hand at managing a team from the executive level. Now it could be that I’m misinterpreting EA’s intentions, but given how popular this feature has been with players, the most logical reason to take the feature out would be if they wanted to build in an automatic reason to upgrade, for the next year’s game.
I don’t mind when EA adds new features that don’t turn out to be so great. I also don’t mind, if they kill features because they are terrible or because of outside legal considerations, but when they make their games intentionally defective, it doesn’t make me very happy about upgrading year after year. It would be one thing, if I had the option to take a bad game back, but most retailers have strict rules about returning lame games, after you’ve opened up the package.
Because I’ve become convinced that EA is intentionally making their games bad, I have stopped purchasing their titles unless someone makes a personal reccomendation. The strategy may ensure that more people upgrade each year, but by watering down their games, they’ve lost at least one important customer from being so short sighted.]]>
Last year, I signed up for Google’s personalized search program and after a year using the program, I’ve got to give it mixed results. This program has been a little bit controversial, because it allows Google to tie your search results to a unique profile.
Overall though, I don’t tend to worry too much about Google abusing this power and having access to filtered personalized search results, along with trend analysis on my queries, more than makes up for the small piece of my privacy that I have to give up.
In looking through my search stats, it wasn’t surprising to see TiVo and Netflix as my top two most requested results, but I was shocked to realize that I’ve searched Google over 22,000 times, in just the last year alone. The bulk of these searches were made during prime time television hours, which I found to be a little bit surprising. I’m not sure what it can tell me about my internet usage, but with 15,000 of my search queries coming during prime time hours, it highlights how much of an impact TiVo and the internet have had, on my television watching.
While Google’s personalization technology has largely improved my search experience, there is still quite a bit of room for improvement.
What I like about Google’s recommendations, is that it learns which sites I have a bias towards and will rerank my search results, according to my own personality. The downside to Google’s personalization program is that there is no way to tell Google, when they get a search woefully wrong.
The more powerful that Google has become, the more that people have tried to game the system. Whether it’s blackhat SEO tricks or coordinated Google bomb campaigns, it’s important to remember that Google’s results aren’t always unbiased. They can give a higher weighting to sites that you have already been to, but there is no way to tell them when a site is really search spam.
There are a lot of times that I am searching and an About.com article will pop up near the top. Now I know some people like the site, but I think About.com has to be one of the most worthless places on the net to find information. It is an ad factory that is highly dependent on Google for their profits. Google should give me a nuclear button that I can hit, that would permanetely ban About.com listings from any of my future search results. If enough users started banning a site, they could adjust their alogrithm to take into account the liklihood, that the result was really search spam.
Google’s About.com results are so bad, that someone actually took the time to write a Greasemonkey script, that will strip out the About.com results from Google, at the browser level. While this does offer me a way to remove About.com from my internet life, it’s really not a mass market solution and it doesn’t solve the countless other lame search results, that pollute what you’re really looking for.
I’m glad that Google is out there innovating and I see a lot of positive benefits to using their recommendation engine, but Google needs to do a better job of harnessing the power of their readers, to help make our search results even more relevant. Giving users the ability to blacklist a site from Google would be extreme, but with the SEO firms able to automate massive amounts of fake content, it is going to take the help of the masses, if Google wants to take control back.]]>
Skeptics tried to call me a conspiracy nut, when I exposed how far TiVo is willing to go, in order to accomplish their master plan of controlling a robot army, but the skeptics were wrong and I now have video evidence of this plot in action! The YouTube clip embedded above was emailed to me by an unnamed source, who has been working deep undercover at one of the iRobot factories. It is perhaps, the most terrifying four minutes of video that has ever been uploded to YouTube, but it offers undisputable proof that TiVo has been quietely plotting their robot invasion.
The movie is actually a sequel to an earlier segment, but this Roomba strikes back clip is far more entertaining. In the first clip, Roomba fell in love with an obsolete vacuum and learned an important lesson about love, loss and the price of having to serve demanding human masters. In this clip, it is the humans who learn what happens when you abuse our robot overlords.
Recently, I was actually given a Scooba and I have been excited about trying it out, but after seeing this video, I’m thinking that it may be safer for me to stick with iRobot’s pool cleaner and just use it for my bathtub instead. On the other hand though, if I could figure out the backdoor hack that tells Roomba how to fetch me a beer, the risk of being attacked in my sleep may be worth the benefits . . .]]>
TiVo has launched a new ad campaign emphasizing the many different ways that you can personalize your TiVo. They’ve already uploaded a couple of the new commercials to YouTube and have also launched a website where they are encouraging users to share how TiVo is unique to them.
On the website, fans can upload photos of themselves and they will add a TiVo attenna to your picture I uploaded my own photo, but sadly it still says pending when I log in. Later, I received an email that said my profile was being “moderated”, so I’m not very optimistic of my chances of sneaking an upset Kidzone Davis past their ad agency. In all fairness though, I was going to title my profile Mom won’t give me the password to get out of KidZone, but there wasn’t a place to add it on my profile.
One of the concepts that I love about TiVo, is that even though all of our television feeds are so different, everyone still gets to see exactly what they want to watch. There are some people who would look at my Now Playing list and hate it, but because they are shows that I have personally told TiVo to record, it brings me more enjoyment then any Thursday night lineup ever could.
To help build buzz for their new campaign, TiVo has announced a a user generated contest where you can upload your own TiVo videos to YouTube, for a shot at winning a TiVo series 3 + a lifetime subscription + a 42″ plasma. The professionally produced TiVo ads are funny, but I will be more excited to see what shows up on YouTube. Never underestimate the power of collective intelligence. Already there are plenty of fan videos on the site, but with the added bonus of a series 3 at stake, I bet we see creativity step up another notch. I will be looking forward to watching the contest.
It’s hard to tell whether TiVo’s new message will resonate with consumers, but the campaign does do a good job of explaining the major differences between TiVo and their generic competitors. It’s hard to emphasize the more subtle advantages (like being able to stop at the right moment when you hit play), but TiVo continues to innovate and it’s good to see them showing off, all of their hard work.]]>