Friday, October 31, 2014

Texas Vote ID Law

Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB14 into law in the summer of 2014. The new law was struck down as an unconstitutional poll tax by federal judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, then upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In an unexpected move, the Supreme Court ruled that the new voter ID restrictions can be exercised and applied during the 2014 midterm elections.

This misbegotten law has served to lock out about 600,000 people in Texas, preventing them from exercising their voting privileges. Many residents live in poverty. To obtain one of the six forms of acceptable I.D., they would have to spend money they don't have, take a day off of work and visit their Department of Public Safety to obtain an Election Identification Certificate or EIC.

Think about the roadblocks that Texas residents face in getting an EIC. Eric Kennie is one of these Austin residents. He collects recyclables for a living. At the end of an average month, he earns a little more than $620.00. What forms of ID does he have?

º Personal photo ID that expired in 2000
º His voter registration card

Because neither of these is an acceptable form of identification that would enable him to obtain an EIC, he won't be voting on November 4. Well then, what about his birth certificate? That won't work either because his birth certificate lists him as "Eric Caruthers," not Eric Kennie. "Caruthers" is his mother's maiden name.

What's more, Kennie has never even left Austin, his hometown. He has never driven. He has never held a U.S. passport. He has never been in the military.

Texas residents trying to obtain their EICs so they can comply with the law and vote are also faced with some considerable hurdles. If they don't own a car, they have to take a bus from their home to a DPS office. They have to wait for their turn – and hope that the forms of ID they have brought with them will be acceptable.

In a real statement of irony, this law, which by the way, is the strictest voter ID law in the country, would have forced Kennie to use the identity on his birth certificate. That action would defeat the "purpose" of this law, which is supposed to defeat voter fraud at the polls. Kennie won't vote this year. Once the election is over, he will resume his fight to obtain an acceptable form of photo ID.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

AT&T rolls the dice on virtual school

Is online education the wave of the future or is it merely a band aid for schooling today – the present and cost-effective way to get a substandard education? While the answer to that particularly loaded question might not be conclusively answered for some time, there’s no doubt many tech companies are looking long and hard at the profit potential of virtual school. Now AT&T has entered the market – at least tangentially.

Recently, Georgia Tech University began offering a major accredited online education program that is substantially funded by AT&T. While some claim that the company is not directly benefitting from the program, AT&T will certainly come out ahead should GTU’s program succeed.

AT&T is not trying to answer the pending question about what virtual schools offer today’s students. Instead, AT&T is poised to pick up where traditional schooling leaves off.

In today’s fast-paced, tech-saturated marketplace, job seekers and those interested in increasing their career prospects must have continuing education. AT&T wants to be on the forefront of providing that education and it wants to offer that product to potential students virtually. It’s a dynamic that takes one of online education’s worst commercial flaws – that it ends abruptly – and eliminates it. Instead of pushing through one group of students and then going after another group, in an endless cycle of marketing and obsolescence, online continuing education providers are hoping to gain customers and keep them coming back. Perhaps not constantly, however, in some form or fashion of continual education.

For now, AT&T funded the Georgia Tech University initiative to test how well the program can train the skilled workers of today and tomorrow. Once they have that down, they can begin working on what comes next. Because what is to come is the one and only certainty in technology – it will definitely change – and someone will need to be there to explain it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cola Wars Go Green?

Ronn Torossian believes it had to happen sooner or later. The world’s two top soft drink companies have gone green. But not in the way you might be thinking. Recently, both Coke and Pepsi have introduced new low-calorie drinks with one thing in common – Stevia, a natural-based sugar substitute sweetener. Something else these products have in common? Green labels, presumably to echo the “natural” nature of these soft drink options.

PepsiCo has announced that it will launch Pepsi True in mid-October, though it likely won’t be rolling out in stores anytime soon. For now, consumers ccccr US debut last August, and that was in a very limited capacity. But this November, Coca-Cola Life will be available nationwide.

Pepsi True will be available in the familiar 12-ounce cans. Coca-Cola Life will come in both cans and 8-ounce bottles.

Torossian says it’s important to note that, although these are “reduced calorie” offerings, they may not necessarily be able to be marketed as sugar free or “diet” soft drinks. It’s an interesting strategy for both companies. Finding a niche between niches, so to speak. Consider, the new offerings might appeal to regular Coke and Pepsi drinkers who are looking to reduce their sugar and calorie intake. And it might sound good to current diet soda drinkers who just can’t get past the taste.

Coke and Pepsi are hoping to attract consumers from both of these groups to create a market overlap that currently doesn’t exist. Sure, many folks will take either diet or regular in a pinch, but for the most part, these groups are strictly delineated … and by their own choice.

Torossian says that leads to yet another difficult PR risk. Both companies are risking splitting their own customer base. This is not the same as splinter groups, such as Mountain Dew drinkers or Mr. Pibb drinkers. How will the companies address the intentional sacrifice of both regular and diet customers in order to build a market for their stevia brands? It’s an interesting PR and marketing conundrum, but look for the market to provide an answer – and likely in a short period of time.

Like Crystal Pepsi and New Coke before them, new soda ideas that don’t immediately produce generally have a short shelf life.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

GM woes: Now the Corvette???

It might seem like piling on, but really, Ronn Torossian said GM is doing it to itself … and that may not be a bad thing. Aside from the Silverado truck, if anyone had to name an iconic GM model, there is really only one top contender. The Corvette. But now, the auto manufacturer has announced it will stop selling Corvettes. At least temporarily. Yes, seriously.

Sure the latest ‘Vette can go 0 to 60 in less than four seconds, but as far as driving one off the lot … well, you’re pretty much at a stand still. According to a recent press statement, GMhas told Chevy dealers to stop delivery of about 2,000 Corvettes in order to inspect them for a, quote, “suspicious part” that, apparently, has something to do with the driver’s side airbag. Further, GM has also stopped shipments from its Bowling Green, Kentucky plant, the place that has been building Corvettes for three decades. This issue has to do with the parking brake, which “must be inspected to ensure it works on both rear tires.”

Come again? The breaks don’t work and the airbag might be faulty? Oh, and this just in, the Corvette only makes up a few thousand of the 270,000 vehicles GM currently has on recall for a plethora of reasons.

Now, there might be two sides to this PR nightmare. Side one, GM is in it deep. Simple, and it’s likely the tactic Ford and Chrysler will approach. However, that’s not exactly a fair assessment. At the heart of all of GM’s recent troubles has been the fact that they were clearly lax and tardy in resolving an issue that has claimed (at least) nineteen lives. HOWEVER, here they are voluntarily recalling their MOST ICONIC automobile. I’d say that’s cause for an “atta boy.” Yes, recalls are common, and yes, recalls are responsible. But by now, even GM’s top brass have got to be thinking, “What now?”

No matter how they spin it, this will be difficult treading from a public relations perspective. They knew this before they released the statement – but they made the statement, anyway. This is clearly the action of a company that has seen its errors and is working hard to rebuild public trust.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The ANTI Position: How to succeed as the Alternative

By any conceivable measure, Facebook rules the social media world. It’s an uphill battle for similar competitors to find a market niche. Even when they offer a different, and, in some cases, superior experience. So, eventually, it had to happen. Someone had to come along and set up shop as the “anti-Facebook.” A company that offered a similar service, but without the things that people hate – but are forced to tolerate – about Facebook.

Enter “Ello.” The upstart social network is trying to get a skin in the game by capitalizing on the thing most FB users hate the most about the interface – advertisements. That, and the growing list of what some consider to be willful and excessive invasions of privacy. There’s precedence there. Not too long ago, Facebook made headlines for suspending several accounts because the people in question, all entertainers, were using pseudonyms or stage names.

Ello co-founder, Paul Budnitz, believes people may have had enough of Facebook’s Only Show in Town tactics. He is reporting up to 40,000 invite requests to the platform, which is currently in beta stage and very much invite only.

There’s a good reason for that. Ello’s developers are still trying to get the platform finished. They have several features left to complete, features that, if not done, could lead to downtime for beta testers.

There is one concern Budnitz and other developers need to keep in mind – is the buzz about Ello really a populist uprising against privacy invasions or is it just the most popular flavor of the week? That’s one danger in setting up shop as an alternative. When you are primarily “against” something, you tend to draw fans and followers who are also “against” something. They may feel you are what they have always been waiting for, but they may also turn on you as soon as you achieve a modicum of success. Especially if you decide to “go mainstream” or be “about something” positive. Just ask anyone who has ever achieved the double-edged sword of indie success.

The specter of downtime is troubling for a brand based on being something another brand is not. With a fan base already set on “FRUSTRATED,” downtime could be disastrous. So controlled expansion, which is common in social media, is the right move. The next step should be for individuals who have embraced the platform to become “about” something. To put their own positive applications out there in order to establish a place for Ello in the social media marketplace.

So far, step two is going gangbusters. Artists and other social activists have flocked to Ello, partially in response to Facebook’s “by the book” account deletion tactics. And that may be the best selling point of all for Ello. Even though people have to use their “real” names on Facebook, the fakeness of the interactions has become cliché. Unlike Ello, where people are already calling it the place they can really be themselves.