Links worth looking at

I am traveling, and I’m not sure what kind of internet access I will have to update. I’m offering up a bunch of interesting links to keep everyone busy in my (possible) absence.

1) The Children of War Rescue Project actually has a dayblog listing day-to-day activities. It is an amazing exercise in transparency, and also a great way for outsiders to learn more about what NGOs do. If you are thinking you’d like to work for an international NGO, just following along the posts is like a mini-internship.

The marketer in me thinks that they could be using this dayblog more for promotional purposes. Right now it doesn’t even have a link to their main project website. They should also explicitly describe it as an exercise in transparency, and have donors look at it to see what they do.

2) Paul Graham on the overlap between nonprofits and companies. I am consistently impressed by his ideas, and this is a great think piece on what makes a company and what makes an nonprofit. I have long held that the major difference between an international NGO and a company is tax status and no more. It is interesting to see someone else’s similar take.

3) Soap operas changing family size in Brazil. This article makes me twitch in different directions. On the one hand, it justifies the educational soap operas I used to help produce. On the other hand, what kind of unintended effects is TV having on our society? Since almost none of it is designed to do anything good. In fact it seems to me designed to make us meet more junk food and buy stuff…maybe I don’t have to just wonder what effect it is having.

on hallways

I am too cheap and too carbon-conscious to pay for bottled water. Instead, I walk to the water fountain every day with a quart-size glass bottle and fill it up. I keep a cup at my desk. I like it; it feels very civilized. It’s much nicer to drink from a cup than a bottle.

But, every day as I walk to and from the water fountain, I think about throwing the bottle down the hall. I consider the arc it would make through the air, the sound of impact, and the way glass would spray out and hit the walls. I try to calculate how hard I’d have to throw it, and how far it would travel down the hall, allowing for the weight difference between a full bottle and an empty bottle. I wonder if I could convince people it was an accident and just slipped out of my hands.

All of this makes it sound like I am fantasizing about acting out because I hate my job or some such. And here’s the thing. I love my job. It’s difficult, it’s engaging, and the work I do matters. I look forward to coming to work. I’m not daydreaming about throwing things because of suppressed hostility.

I finally realized – I walk down a long white hallway to go to the water fountain. I turn down another long white hallway. They have no artwork, no decor, and no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever. I dream of smashing things on their floors because I am bored. I crave stimulation.

Lesson: Change keeps us engaged. We can use change in our programs to hold the interest of the communities we partner with.

the Hanes ads

I did some googling about the Hanes ads that I find so reprehensible.

The ad types don’t seem to find them hateful. The comments on this post talk about the quality of the art and such, and generally come down in favor of the ads as important and edgy. It is in fact a real campaign from a real ad agency.

My gut feeling about this is that you do not use ideas and concepts this painful in order to sell products. It is morally wrong to do so. If you are an agency, though, I suppose you see ads as little artworks and don’t think there is anything wrong with putting together an ad with “impact.”

Before I went and became a world-saver, my first career plan was advertising. I think I am glad I went the way I did.

Blog round-up

Ethan Zuckerman is talking about Carl Bernstein and the “The best obtainable version of the truth.”

Kevin’s got some links to the international food aid conference coming up.

Leo Africanus would like to point out that the Masai do not belong in zoos.

And Naamen Gobert Tilahum posted about some Hanes underwear ads that are just so breathtakingly mean that I can’t even find words for them.

Target audiences

My mother received the email posted below this morning. She’s good with computers – she shops online, keeps in touch with her friends via email, and uses Google to look for medical information. She’s comfortable, in short, with the internet.

When she got this email, she was outraged. She thought it was an attempt to prey on the poor and uneducated, and that citing medical authorities must be some kind of unethical.

I thought it was hysterical, and asked her to forward it to me so I could read it and snicker.

To be fair to my mom, neither of us remembered it was April first. She might have had more of a sense of humor if she’d remembered. I’m not sure, though. I think this email was a misjudgment of their audience. Allegro medical sells home medical supplies like walkers, heating pads, and adaptive technology. Most of their target market is either old or sick. How many of them have the kind of lives that remember and enjoy April Fool’s day?

Lesson: Know your audience very, very well before you send your message.


From: Craig Hood
Date: 01 Apr 2008 00:17:25 -0700
Subject: Breakthrough Study Reveals Important Link

Hello Marylin,

The New England Medical Center in conjunction with the Harvard Journal of Medicine published a document today noting that people who shop at tend to be smarter and better looking than most. The control group of non-Allegro shoppers were also found to exhibit poor hygiene skills in addition to lower cognitive abilities. “More studies are required as we can’t yet pinpoint whether smart, good looking people simply choose to shop at Allegro Medical or people who shop at Allegro Medical somehow become smarter and better looking,” says researchers conducting the study.

Upon learning of this groundbreaking study, the team at Allegro Medical is here to celebrate your “smarterness” by offering all smart Allegro Shoppers $10 off their next purchase of over $100. It’s no joke, Just use the code “Smart10” today through Tuesday, April 8, 2008.

Good hygiene, like smart shopping is a learned skill. So if you know anyone suffering from poor shopping practices, help’m out by forwarding this limited time deal on to friends or family in need.


Craig Hood
Allegro Medical
800-861-3211 ext 121

Hopefully this is the most interesting email you have ever received. However, if you would rather not receive future e-mails or advertisements from me or the crew, please visit the opt-out link here: click here. Allegro Medical, 1833 W Main St, #131, Mesa, AZ, 85201
Please note that this message was sent to the following email address:

Information for Advocacy

Communicating complicated concepts in an accessible way is one of the most important things a project can do, and one of the hardest. It’s very easy to get seduced by a pretty graph and fail to realize that it doesn’t convey your information in a useful way.

Sometimes we are just too deep inside our topics to be as clear and succinct as we need to be with donors, stakeholders, host governments, or other people who need to understand out work. The Stanford Social Innovation Review refers to the problem in their blog.

This handbook – Visualizing Information for Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design is a great guide to presenting data in an effective way. The tactical tech website in general is a gold mine of useful advice. I also really like Security for Human Rights Defenders.

Is the tipping point dead?

Is the idea of the tipping point dead? In this article, Fast Company explores the research of Duncan Watts. Watts, using social modeling, looked at the tipping point theory, and came to the conclusion that it just doesn’t work.

The tipping point has been marketing gospel for years now; expounded in a book by Malcolm Gladwell, it argues, in short, that “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social skills.” (Summary here.) Tipping point theory has been very influential in viral marketing, particularly Gladwell’s “Law of the Few,” meaning that rare, highly connected people shape the world.

Watts disagrees. I if you want the details, read the article. It’s a well-written summary of the research, and the people who disagree with the research.

I think the article should be required reading for anyone interested in behavior change or social marketing. It’s got some really great stuff on how trends are born. Considering how much of the work we do in development relates to getting people to adopt something new, it’s extremely relevant. The comments on the article are really useful, too – they are a nice microcosm of the current debate on marketing and influence.