Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why did Cover the Night fail?

Joseph Kony
Joseph Kony

Jason Russell (who spearheaded the Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign and then single-handedly caused it to fail) should have consulted Randy Olson. 

Randy Olson, author of the book Don't be Such a Scientist, is a scientist-turned-filmaker who believes that the key to communicating complicated or controversial science topics to the public is made up of four principles: [1]

  1. Don't be so cerebral:
    • Just use normal everyday language that everyone can understand and relate to. And don't let your brain be the only organ you rely on (see the "head heart gut groin" concept below).
  2. Don't be so literal-minded:
    • Use the "arouse and fulfill" method.  Don't just jump straight to the answer. Make them salivate first. 
  3. Don't be such a poor storyteller:
    • Tell an engaging story without sacrificing accuracy. 
  4. Don't be so unlikeable:
    • This one explains itself.

Even though Olson was talking about communicating science, the general theory still holds for conveying any idea. The failure of the Cover the Night campaign can also be explained by the "head, heart, gut, groin" concept [1]: 
  • head (reason)
  • heart (emotion)
  • gut (instinct)
  • groin (sex appeal)

The lower you go, the more powerful and longer-lasting the connection will be. 

Presenting the plight of the children to the public using facts, figures, and interviews (head) moved people to want to do something to help (heart). 
But when the controversies came out, people had doubts (gut) and moved on. 
Our attention is better held by the concept of hundreds of people spooning simultaneously (groin) instead, on the date that Cover the Night would have taken place [3]. 

The follow-up video "Kony 2012: Part II - Beyond Famous" barely even got any attention. It tried to combat the doubts people had about the campaign by throwing facts and figures at the audience. 
According to The Guardian, the second movie "does not seem to have captured the public's imagination in quite the same way as Invisible Children's earlier video did." In fact, Google statistics show that the second film got less than 2% of the Internet traffic as its predecessor. [4]. Ouch.
I would have seen that outcome a mile away: the second movie stopped at the Head level, while the first movie tapped into the Heart. Everyone's Gut reactions against the first one also played a major role in biasing everyone against any sequels before they were even created.

So not only did viewers find reasons deeper than the Heart level to ignore the Kony 2012 campaign, but Russell just isn't that likable. It's kind of hard to take someone seriously after they have a mental breakdown. [2] Another pointer Russell could have gotten from Olson was that if you want people to listen to what you have to say, then you really ought to get them to like you first.

Now let's look at a more successful piece of advertising.

You may recognize that as a commercial for Nike Free Run+. The reason I call this commercial successful is because it actually made me consider buying a pair of Nike running shoes. (Which is odd, since I don't even like Nike shoes.) 
Don't get me wrong, they look cool and all, but I have never worn a Nike shoe that gave me the arch support I need. 
Those of you who know me understand what a stubborn hard-ass I can be. So saying that I almost bought a pair of shoes from a brand that I don't even like is saying something. Now that's some good advertising!

Looking at the YouTube video's page, it was published April 4, 2012. 
As of April 23, 2012: 

  • It has 1,291,411 views. That's an average of almost 68,000 views each day! 
  • The video has 6,877 likes and 148 dislikes. That's an average of more than 350 likes each day! Only 2% of the people who voted did not like the video. If 98% of people like a commercial, then I think we can safely say that the general population enjoyed it.

But why is the ad so successful?
The answer is easy; just remember Olson's tips.

  1. Don't be so cerebral.
    • The actors use the same language we use every day. They don't drone on about burning ATP to mobilize towards each other out of attraction! They say "I love you so I will run to you."
  2. Don't be so literal-minded.
    • It takes more then a five-second clip of each of them running to meet. As each development happens in each runner's route, we wonder what will happen next, and if they will actually be able to pull it off. (Oh my god, I think that guy really might die!) We are aroused as the runs unfold before we are fulfilled when they meet at the end.
  3. Don't be such a poor storyteller.
    • The "story" is engaging but still accurate: complications arise during each run that have believable outcomes. The girl asks the guy on the tractor for directions and he points out where she should go. The guy collapses in a puddle of his own vomit and gets rushed to the hospital. These plot points make for a good story because we can easily see those are things that could happen during a run across the country.
  4. Don't be so unlikeable.
    • Plain and simple: We like the runners. We can all relate to the problems the guy goes through during his run, though probably not quite to that degree of comic destruction. We find ourselves rooting for them to succeed. (Who wouldn't want two lovers to meet after a long and difficult, yet successful, journey?) And let's face it: that girl is smokin' hot. Who on earth doesn't enjoy watching a hot girl running?

The commercial also fulfills all four organs in the "head heart gut groin" concept: 

  1. Head:
    • The song is catchy and gets stuck in our heads, the rhyming is clever, and the guy makes a very logical point that they could have just flown instead.
  2. Heart:
    • Two lovers running across the country to meet each other? Dawww...how adorable!
  3. Gut:
    • We trust the believable outcomes of the obstacles in our guts, and we bust a gut laughing because the guy's fate in hilarious.
  4. Groin:
    • The girl is hot, and what happens after the commercial ends is "left up to our interpretation".

Moral of the story? Easy:
Aim for the nuts, and don't get caught ranting in public...naked.

[1] Olson, Randy. (2009). Don't be Such a Scientist. Washington, DC: Island Press. ISBN 13# 978-1-59726-563-8. http://www.dontbesuchascientist.com/HTML/SYNOPSIS.html
[2] Wikipedia. Jason Russell breakdown. Retrieved April 20, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Russell#Breakdown_and_hospitalization
[3] NPR. The Social Media Shuffle: From Kony to Spooning. Retrieved April 20, 2012 from http://www.npr.org/2012/04/19/150964208/young-people-turn-from-kony-to-spooning-record?ps=cprs
[4] Reception to Kony 2012: Part II. Wikipedia. Retrieved April 20, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kony_2012#Reception_2

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day!

April 22 is Earth Day!

Since 1970, today has been a day to raise awareness about protecting the Earth we call home.

There are many easy ways you can help every day by going green:

  1. Use less water
    • while you're brushing your teeth and shaving.
      • This will lower your water bill.
      • You really don't need the water running the whole time.
    • Take showers instead of baths.
      • Plus you won't be sitting in your own filth.
      • Save water: shower together! ;)
        Save water: shower together! ;)
  2. Turn off the lights when you will no longer be in the room.
    • Less energy used means lower emissions from power plants.
    • This will also lower your electric bill.
  3. Ride your bike to work, especially during the summer if you live close.
  4. Pie chart: How Americans get to work
    "Other means" = magic spells?

  1. Many stores sell durable reusable shopping bags for a nominal fee.
    • Most have cool pictures or slogans on them, meaning you can express your individuality and help the environment at the same time!
    • Picture: Reusable shopping bags
      Reusable shopping bags
  2. Starbucks sells reusable travel mugs so you can help the environment while you drink your coffee in style!
  3. Picture: Awesome Starbucks travel mug with dragon design
    Awesome Starbucks travel mug with dragon design
  4. The Lions Club has a program where you can donate your old eyeglasses to the needy.

  1. Save trees and landfills by using recycling bins for paper and plastic products.
  2. Office Max has a discount program based on how many ink cartridges you bring in to be recycled.

  1. Using a composter adds essential nutrients to the soil.
    • We put expired leftovers and grass clippings in ours.
    • This saves money on fertilizers and by growing some of our own food.
      • We get to enjoy home-grown garlic, chives, tomatoes, blackberries, and grapes whenever we want, for free!

  1. Volunteer for a local river or pond cleanup group.
    • You'll get to keep the environment clean, have fun, and meet new friends!

For more great tips, visit this EPA website.
For more information about Earth Day in general, see the Wikipedia Earth Day page.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

If you are reading this, then my blog post has successfully reached you in the future

Cyanide & Happiness, a webcomic by Explosm :)

Now that I have your attention, I can start geeking out. You may or may not know what a neutrino is. For those of you who don't know, a neutrino is an elementary subatomic particle. In English, that means it's “really freakin' tiny”. And by tiny, I mean that the squared radius of an electron neutrino is only 1.0E-33 cm. [1] For comparison, a normal electron has a radius of 2.8E-15 m. (The squared radius of an electron is about 78 million times larger.) And the electron neutrino is the largest of the three flavors – yes, physicists really do refer to the different types as “flavors”.

Before you navigate back to the awesome Hunger Games trailers out of boredom, let me explain why this post is about neutrinos.

Neutrinos are so small that they, logically, have very little mass. This allows them to propagate at speeds approaching the speed of light. (They were thought to be massless until they were found to oscillate.) However, there are some speculative models that show neutrinos as having tachyonic properties, meaning they can travel at the speed of light and possibly back in time. [2]

The prospect of traveling back in time has always been a closet fantasy of mine ever since I was a young child. While all the normal, well-adjusted children were playing tag or maiming each other in dodgeball, I was riding the slide over and over trying to get up enough speed to go back and see the dinosaurs. (I assumed I needed to be moving at least 88 MPH.) The possibility of watching an infinite number of Swat Kats episodes was also a factor.
More recently, however, my desire to travel back in time has deepened, fueled by the desire to stop myself from ever seeing Twilight. In my defense, it was only the last few minutes of the movie.
In the middle of the night, I still wake up screaming in horror, reaching desperately for a bottle of Captain Morgan rum hoping against all hope that I can forget. Unfortunately, as any vet from 'nam will tell you: “What has been seen...cannot be unseen.”

And it only gets worse. A few weeks ago, I heard that the OPERA researchers who did the neutrino-moving-faster-than-light experiment goofed up. I checked this article on Wired Science to find out more. Apparently, there was a loose fiber-optic cable, which made the time stamps from the master clock wrong. The margin of error was so small that the neutrino was only clocked as arriving 60 nanoseconds before it was supposed to [3], so I guess it's true: the size of your margin of error isn't important; it's the motion of your oscillation! HAHAHA! (crickets chirping)

At least that's what people keep telling...my friend. Anyway, another experiment conducted in the same laboratory earlier in March recorded neutrinos as moving at the speed of light. According to this article on BBC News, Antonio Ereditato (the head scientist of the original controversial experiment) has resigned.

Looks like I won't be going back in time anytime soon. Now not only will I never get to see my favorite dinosaur (the ankylosaurus) in action, but to add insult to injury it looks like I've lost my Man Card forever. My dreams of happiness and salvation now lay in shambles around me.

[1] Neutrino. Retrieved April 13, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrino.
[2] Tachyon. Retrieved April 13, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tachyon.
[3] Wired Science. Faster than light neutrino results may be due to faulty cables. Retrieved April 13, 2012 from http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/02/neutrinos-faulty-cable/.
[4] BBC News. Neutrino 'faster than light' scientist resigns. Retrieved April 13, 2012 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17560379