Friday, March 28, 2008

REALTOR Commercials Reek of Desperation

For the past year or so I've seen a few different commercials for REALTORS (henceforth referred to as just "realtors", lower case, here... sorry, I just want it to seem like I'm SCREAMING at readers). To me, these commercials just reek of desperation.

Maybe it's the stiff, overly business-like actors that have no real personality other than trying to professionalize an industry that is largely wide-open in terms of personalities. Let's face it, real estate agents are often real characters, and that's probably because they have to be in order to sell homes through think and through thin. But I definitely don't associate a realtor as being a corporate suit, which is the image that these commercials are going for.

Add to that, these realtor commercials remind me of what the gasoline industry is trying to do... pounding the airwaves with ads that are really veiled attempts at public relations. All of a sudden, gas companies are the Earth's best friends: researching new "clean" energy, giving tips on how to improve gas mileage, and showing what the "green" future holds in the world of energy production. All so friendly and glistening. And all too phony for me to believe it's really happening.

In my humble opinion, I think that the real estate industry is trying to cling to an outdated, dying industry. Or if it's not dying, it will soon be changing.

Having recently purchased a home for the first time, I found the process rather daunting, from soup to nuts. A good realtor, to his/her credit, guides a homebuyer (as my realtor did) through all of these obstacles and answsers a lot of questions along the way and gives worthwhile advice. To get paid, the real estate agent simply has to sell houses for high values (that increase over time) in order to absorb high commissions.

But as I see it, and as Seth Godin talked about in this great post, this formula will be changing in due time. As housing prices rise higher (okay, maybe not at the moment, but over the long run), commissions will also be rising for agents, while their amount of work performed, in theory, won't. So either an hourly rate or a flat selling fee will eventually come in to play, I would theorize. Or more people will take things in their own hands and buy/sell on their own.

On that note, with the advent of the internet and with the pressure that has now come on homeowners to do more thorough research, the average homebuyer will be able to easily obtain important information that otherwise would have come from the realtor. In other words, information is becoming more readily accessible via the internet and other sources, meaning the realtor's competitive advantage will likely gradually decline.

So getting back to the commercials, the National Association of REALTORS has it in its best interest to try and preserve that image of the realtor being the all-knowing confidant that you absolutely need to buy or sell your home. Maybe that's the case today. But in the long run, that sounds like an uphill battle to me. And desperation is no place to be in the world of advertising...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Volkswagen Ad: Bad Sounding?

My last post centered around the poor timing of Verizon ads, which give me the creepy feeling of "Big Brother is Listening to Me".

Today I'd like to write a blurb about how annoying this new Volkswagen commercial is. At least I think it's a VW advertisement, but to be honest it annoys me so much that I can't even stand to pay attention to it enough to look at what company is torturing me.

So here's the summary of the commercial:

Guy and gal are in a car showroom (how innovative).
They see a car they like and start to get close to it.
The car's alarm starts up and car starts beeping obnoxiously.
They back off.
Alarm goes silent.
They step forward again.
The alarm blares again.
Guy and gal can't figure out why, but they keep inching in towards car.
Turns out-- are you ready?-- a buyer upstairs is hitting the alarm button on the remote just to mess with them.

So not only are the people looking at the car complete idiots (is that the kind of message you want to convey about your customers? -Ed.), but the commercial insists on blasting the horn repetitively.

Sorry folks, but in my book it don't get much more annoying than that. Most people that drive hear horns every single day and don't particularly want to come home, relax on the couch, and get hit with them from a lame commercial because some marketing flunkie misread the focus group reports that people really "Don't like to hear horns repetitively."

That's my sound-off for today. Thanks for tuning in. Next time I'll try to focus on something more positive and less headache-inducing.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Verizon Ads: Bad Timing?

These Verizon commercials that are all over the tube nowadays have me wondering if perhaps they're giving the wrong subliminal message at the wrong time.

The gyst of the commercials is that wherever you go with your Verizon cell phone, the entire Verizon company will be there to make sure your call goes through successfully. Each commercial depicts a scene of somebody on the phone in a public place and then shows a flood of Verizon workers following him or her around. I suppose it's a pretty good metaphor for what they're trying to convey.

But in recent months (years?) we've been hearing more and more about the government's controversial act of performing wiretapping to monitor potential terrorist phone calls. So these Verizon commercials almost give me a "Big Brother" is watching (following) you.

Obviously Verizon is not intending on this mental connection for its potential and current customers, but I can't help but be a little skeeved out when the Verizon spokesperson asks the person on the other end of the line "Can you hear me now?"

"Yes, I can hear you now. But who else can here us now?"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Giving Praise Where Sprays Won't Do

I preface by saying I love my cat. She's a friendly, funny, and obedient cat, all things considered. However, she's had her moments of eliminating liquids on various spots of the carpet in various areas of the house. I don't know why she does this, but my wife and I have just come to expect it, despite taking various precautions.

Over the past couple of years that my cat has decided to make the carpet her occasional litter box, I've tried countless products to try and get rid of that lovely pee smell. Urine, in case you forgot, does not just magically lose its smell as time goes on. It tends to foment.

I can't even remember all of the carpet cleaning products I've used to try and counteract that pungent urine odor, but I'll try to name some of the few that come to mind that basically just covered up the smell for a while but didn't do anything in the long run:

-Woolite spray
-Some kind of oxy powder in a big white tub
-Stanley Steemer stain remover (although Stanley Steemer did have another spray that seemed to work but you basically have to soak the carpet to get it to work and I don't think it's a cheap solution)
-And the list goes on, but I can't recall the products' names at this time

So after my cat's latest urination episode this past weekend I went to Target in desperation to try and get the smell out of the carpet. I picked up Arm & Hammer's Pet Fresh Odor Eliminator powder. I brought it back. I followed the instructions of sprinkling on the carpet, letting it sit and vaccuuming it up.

It worked.

It actually worked!

I must say that I'm still shocked that the smell hasn't returned, but I kid you not when I put my nose to the carpet and I don't smell the cat pee anymore.

Granted this is a one-time success story, but I see no reason why it wouldn't work in future instances here and in your house, if you have the same problem.

I'd be interested in hearing your success and failure stories in cleaning up pet odors. (Just in case the smell does come back!)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Philly vs. AC: Who wins the gambling battle?

A lot has been made in recent months about how the introduction of legalized gambling in Pennsylvania has put a damper on the "winnings" of the Atlantic City casinos. The reports are out there about how the recent months represent the first time in the history of legalized gambling in Atlantic City that the gambling empire there has not made more money in the comparable period last year. But my sense is that this won't last for an extended period of time.

To me, the slots machines are just the sideshow when it comes to the potential that AC has in its future. Sure Philly and the Poconos and other random places throughout Pennsylvania will have slot machines, but no place in Pennsylvania can compare with what Atlantic City has to offer... a growing resort for vacationers.

In AC there are dozens of hotels of varying quality and price, there's a variety of game tables, there's the beach, a growing outlet mall, themed buildings that are popping up left and right, celebrity sightings, heck, even a wind farm. Where can you find all that in just a few square miles in Pennsylvania? Nowhere.

If AC plays its cards right (yeah, I just had to say that), it will definitely win this game in the long run.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Where to Put Your Money in 2008 (A Novice's Observations)

Important disclosure: I am NOT a financial advisor, or in any way a formally educated professional in the realm of economics. Marketing is more my territory, which pretty much resides at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to finance. However, I do like to watch my money and make sure I'm doing the best I can with it, so I'll read various prudent publications, including, Money Magazine,, and so forth. (For the record, I focus on reading about investing "basics" such as saving money, avoiding debt, investing in the stock market, and home equity issues. I personally don't have the time or desire to get into more complex and exotic financial alternatives like options, municipal bonds, futures, etc. Those are way above me at this point in time.)

And from what I've been reading, there isn't much that's enticing about today's financial markets as we look at the strong possibility of a pending recession. So here's the situation we're in, as far as my amateur financial mind sees it:

-Stocks are taking a plunge.
-Housing prices are dropping as foreclosures go up and fewer people are moving in general
-Interest rates for CDs, savings accounts, etc. have dropped in recent months
-People are generally not spending much
-Debt levels for households seem to be rising, and many banks are in a credit crunch
-Taxes are historically rather low, but likely will be rising in the next few years as we have to pay off many expenses, such as the war we're in now, social security, etc.

All in all, not much to smile about there. But this leaves the important question: Where should I invest my money in 2008? Here are some possibilities:

-Invest in stocks. The market could keep dragging for a while, but the rebound could be here in the next few months, meaning you'll have a strong chance of getting a surge somewhere down the road. Stock investing is always the best long term plan for most people, so ignore current trends and just keep investing over time regardless of what Mr. Market is doing.
-Pay off debt. If you're not intrigued by the stock market for the short term, perhaps now is a good time to focus on lowering your credit card or other debt payments. This is a must if your interest payments are high to begin with (say 4% or higher), but even if they're lower, perhaps it's a good idea to get a head start since saving your money in CDs or money markets doesn't pack as great a punch as it did a few months ago. Chipping away or eliminating credit card debt or high-interest loans will go a long way to helping you, plus you'll feel less stressed about having to pay the bills.
-Put more money in your home equity. I've heard the expression that paying off the principal on your home is kind of like forced savings, and perhaps now's a good time to build on that. Doing this allows you to invest in yourself essentially, though the returns over the long run will not be as strong as investing in the stock market.
-Put it all on "black". Hmmm, okay, gambling probably won't get you ahead anytime soon so you might want to ignore that suggestion. But hey, it's your money.

Hope you enjoyed these random, simplified thoughts. While I'm no expert, these ideas could serve as a starting point for further research in your monetary plans. Good luck!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My Gripe with Email as an Internet Pioneer

As a teenager in the early 90's (yikes-- was it already that long ago?), I was quickly fascinated by the development of the internet. I used it virtually every night on the old dial-up modem (yes, that really DOES seem long ago!) and cruised around for a variety of different things, ranging from sports updates to chat rooms to online gaming. In retrospect, it was very much a frontier time as the internet landscape was so new to everybody that just doing things online was pretty fun and exciting in and of itself. Some of that charm has worn off, but now most of us probably would have a very difficult time living without the internet for more than, oh, 24 hours. It's become that embedded in our lives.

Unfortunately, us early "internet pioneers" didn't really have much of a guidebook and now people like me are dealing with relics of the past that are hard to shake. One of the biggest faults in the internet, in my opinion, is that of the scattered world of email. To give you an understanding, here's a brief history of my email account usage, to the best of my recollection:

-Netcom: My family and I used Netcom as our first and longtime home internet service provider. So this was my first real email account. This lasted for a few years, but at some point we stopped using them and thus lost the email account. This was a sacrifice of being an internet pioneer.

-Hotmail: This was my first "free" email account, and currently serves as my main account since that's where my email history is headquartered. Unfortunately, I've gotten frustrated with Hotmail and I'm desperately trying to figure out a way to leave it without losing all of my old emails, addresses, and account signups. (I'm open to any ideas of how to break free!)

-Yahoo: This account I use whenever I sign up for a newsletter or something else that I'm unlikely to read. It's basically a depository for junk email that I don't want to receive on my Hotmail account.

-Comcast: Comcast is my current internet service provider and I set up an account that I use whenever I want to give a more "formal" email address since my Hotmail name is just a silly one I picked and Comcast email addresses sound a bit more professional than Hotmail. Unfortunately I can't stand Comcast's email platform (even moreso than Hotmail), so this has become a rarely used email address for me, though I still have to check it occasionally to see if I have any important emails.

-College: I used my Penn State email address as my primary address during college, but lost it once I graduated. So that was kind of a bummer. I think I could have kept it as an alumni but I never followed thru with it, so it basically just disappeared.

-Care2: I liked the idea of having a free email account that also managed to encourage me to help the environment, which is what Care2 is good for. I tried to make this my main address at one point, but I just didn't get used to it and I really don't like the platform here either, not to mention the fact that I get boatloads of spam on this account. This email account sits pretty vacant now.

-Gmail: Last year, I set up a Gmail account with the hopes of making this my central email account since it seems fairly easy to use, but Hotmail won't let me forward my email there, so my Gmail account now sits idle as well, rather than trying to switch everything over. That to me is a major pain in the butt.

-Work: Over the years, having switched jobs multiple times, I've been through a good 4-5 email accounts for my various jobs, and I've learned to keep my personal stuff separate from my work stuff for several reasons... 1. in the event that anybody sees my personal stuff on my work email, that could be problematic (not that I've got much to hide, but I don't want people all up in my biz!); 2. once you leave a job you lose that address, so it's silly to give people your work email address since they'll have a harder time keeping in touch with you; 3. mentally I need to keep the two separate or else I'll never get any work done!

Ok, so for those of you still reading, you earn a gold star! Quite an exciting subject huh!?! At any rate, you can see why email account setups can be an important life decision nowadays... if you go with the wrong one you can be screwed! And if you set up too many, like I have, you can lose your mind trying to keep up with them all.

If only I knew back then what I know now...