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Note: This blog post is not meant to pass judgment on the events that took place in Ferguson, but is rather a mass communication analysis of the responses from both mainstream and social medias. Death is always tragic, and this post is not meant to downplay the loss of life.

On August 9, Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer. This just about ends the list of things that everyone can agree on. There have been many conflicting reports about the circumstances of the shooting, and as a result, the public has been subject to many different interpretations by the mainstream media.

With regard to communications, agenda setting refers to the ability of the media to shape what people talk about and value as important by devoting space/time to certain stories; a second tenet of the theory is that the press does not necessarily reflect reality accurately. And what about images? It’s been long since established that images are more persuasive than text in the context of news. And while undoctored photos cannot lie, they most certainly can be misleading. The pictures shown in news reports can have a significant impact on how the viewing audience consumes the content of the stories.

After the initial coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown, some online commentators took issue with the photo of Michael Brown used in news reports, citing that it was deliberately chosen to depict some version of the scary black man trope. See below for an example:

In response, Twitter users began utilizing the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown to express their dissatisfaction with how the media negatively portrays black men.

An example from Twitter of the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag
An example from Twitter of the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag

Some also likened it to the coverage of another black teenager who was recently killed. In 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman in Florida. As a result of the 24-hour news cycle, we all became painfully aware of the “Stand-Your-Ground” law, and were exposed to many photos of Martin that were less than flattering; this included photos of him flipping the bird and smoking marijuana.

As time passed, those photos were largely replaced by this one:

The most commonly shown Trayvon Martin Photo in the news
The most commonly shown photo of Trayvon Martin in the news

However, the above was a (then) 5-year-old photo of Martin. Was it a conscious decision to use an outdated photo in order to play up the differences between Zimmerman and Martin? Or was the media overcorrecting on their previous coverage? Either way, it leads to biased reporting. Zimmerman’s lawyer Don West even made this joke during his client’s trial:

While the joke itself was pretty cringeworthy, he did have a point. Anyone who had even watched a single news report about the Martin/Zimmerman altercation already had their understanding of the events shaped by the media.

Sure enough, the new “default” photo of Brown seen in most news reports changed to the one below where he looks younger and less “offensive”:

Photo of Michael Brown circulated on CNN
Photo of Michael Brown shown on CNN

But was this photo any more accurate? The photo was also not that recent (dated January 2013 according to his Facebook). The photo that the media originally showed (of Brown throwing up a peace sign) was actually his default/public Facebook photo (as of July 8). Occam’s razor would posit that the media ran with the “peace sign” photo because they didn’t bother doing further research (and if we wish to be more raffish, we can also invoke Hanlon’s razor). Perhaps it was a kneejerk reaction to call the use of that photo racist?

In stark contrast to how the media has portrayed Brown, here are security footage stills of Brown robbing a convenience store the same day he was shot:

Security footage of Michael Brown allegedly committing a robbery
Security footage of Michael Brown allegedly committing a robbery

The iffy timing and the horrible damage control by the Ferguson Police Department notwithstanding, this set of images definitely tells a much different story. In this footage, Brown is an imposing 6-foot-4, 295-pound man, and not an innocent child. If this image of Brown were also presented with the original news coverage, how would public opinion differ? Would that have quelled the accusations of discrimination? Would it have prevented riots?

At the end of the day, journalism should be about reporting truth. So which image is a more accurate depiction of Michael Brown? As is typically the case when extremes are involved, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Maybe #iftheygunnedmedown is actually presenting a false dichotomy; Michael Brown could have simultaneously been the recent high school graduate and the man who robbed a convenience store. As consumers of the news, we have a responsibility to be more critical of what’s presented to us. In real life, narratives are not as cut and dry as they are in cartoons. Or on CNN.

I was invited to attend the Mobile Media Upfront presented by the Mobile Media Summit in New York City on May 19. There were many presenters from my employers’ family of companies (GroupM and WPP) as well as some who worked with my clients. There were many recurring themes, including current deficits in mobile analytics, the need for stronger cohesion in media tactics, the fact that mobile should be measured through its own metrics, and the general notion that mobile’s time is now and it’s here to stay.

Below are a summary of some of the favorite tracks I attended, as well as some live Tweets. As always, the points and POVs presented below belong to the representative speakers and inclusion does not indicate an endorsement.

Featured Fireside Chat: Babs Rangaiah, Vice President, Global Media Innovation & Ventures, Unilever
Babs Rangaiah (Unilever), James Smith (Verve)
Babs shared insights into Unilever’s mobile strategy, including both strengths and weaknesses, and where the future of mobile marketing is from a global perspective. He shared the difficulties involved with marketing across different regions, as well as unique marketing opportunities that are available only in developing markets.

App Marketing Done Right
Spencer Scott (Fiksu), Jonathan Anastas (Activision), Stuart Meyler (Beeby Clark+Meyler), Lewis Goldman (MetLife), Ian Beacraft (Leo Burnett)
This was a great panel with tons of actionable insights on how to coordinate all marketing channels and efforts to connect with users throughout their consumer journey, and not necessarily via a mobile-first approach.

Brand Experiences in the Mobile World
Sal Candela (Undertone), Andrea Wolinetz (PHD Network), Eric Korsh (DigitasLBi), Amanda Zaky (Mars Chocolate N.A.), Danny Englander (Mobext)
This panel focused on the importance of context when marketing in the mobile space, without overstepping the bounds of users’ “personal time”.

Creative in a Mobile World
Harry Kargman (Kargo), Mark Jackson (McCann Worldgroup), Eric Weisberg (JWT New York), Glenn Sheehan (GSD&M), Gregg Colvin (Universal McCann)
This track focused on creative solutions for bringing brands to the mobile consumer (not exclusively within the bounds of digital ads). In addition to the points below, Etsy was brought up as a disruptive service, WWF was brought up for their Snapchat campaign for endangeres species, and Kit Kat was praised for its partnership with Android.

Survivor was the first hit reality show in the United States (if you don’t count MTV’s The Real World), and with it, came many implications for the way viewers consumed content. Outside of news and game shows, it was the first time a lot of consumers were actively watching “real” people – People they could connect with and relate to. It made for more engaging television.

One could even say that the logical extension of this was the celebrity-obsessed culture in which we currently live. Millions hang onto every letter of Lady Gaga’s Tweets. The President of the United States was elected partially as a result of his campaign staff’s ability to reach young voters through new media. Television shows invite people to live Tweet to feel like they’re part of the show.

But before Twitter was invented, and before Survivor aired on CBS in America, there was a different type of television entertainment that blurred the lines between reality and entertainment, where the viewers “knew” the people they saw on the screen. This medium was professional wrestling.

In professional wrestling, there’s a script and there are actors (both in-ring wrestlers and outside talents, such as managers, interviewers, etc.). Wrestling differs from a lot of other types of performance art because the action doesn’t just take place on stage (i.e. the ring). Instead, viewers are privy to backstage segments, where they can learn how feuds start, see who books the matches, and even witness the preparation that wrestlers have to undergo before and after their matches. And all throughout, they are in character. Imagine if you watched a Shakespearean play on Broadway, and then were able to see the actors backstage preparing to enter the scene. Except they wouldn’t be actors playing the characters; they’d be the characters themselves.

The term “kayfabe” was invented to describe the act of purporting all on-screen wrestling events as real life. This extended beyond the ring and beyond pro wrestling television programming. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T appeared on late night talk shows in character to promote the very first WrestleMania (Hogan also infamously choked out Richard Belzer and was successfully sued). It was a big deal when the public learned that Hacksaw Jim Duggan (a “babyface”, or good guy) and Iron Sheik (a career “heel”, or bad guy) were travel buddies and drove together to events (this was an example of “breaking” kayfabe). And in possibly the most famous example of kayfabe dedication, Jerry “The King” Lawler had a feud with Andy Kaufman, which saw them meeting in the ring across various territories, appearing together on late night talk shows (which resulted in fisticuffs), and Kaufman taking with him to the grave the degree to which all of it was scripted. It wasn’t until 11 years after Kaufman’s death that it was revealed with certainty that the feud was a “work”.

Jerry The King Lawler delivering a piledriver to Andy Kaufman

So how does this relate to marketing? Let’s use Samsung as an example. As of late, they’ve been insistent on blurring the lines between reality and marketing. The Oscar selfie with Ellen DeGeneres was probably the most popular instance. The actual photo, along with many of her shout-outs to the brand during the Oscars, were just part of a well-coordinated promotion for the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone. That selfie also broke all sorts of Twitter records.

Even more recently, “Big Papi” David Ortiz signed a private deal with Samsung prior to the Boston Red Sox’s trip to the White House. When Ortiz met with President Obama, he asked for a selfie; this selfie was taken with his Samsung phone. The White House was not pleased after finding out that the POTUS would be used as part of a marketing campaign without his or their consent.

In these two instances, Ellen and Big Papi took these selfies in kayfabe. We were led to believe that Ellen genuinely wanted to make social media history by taking a photo with other celebrities. We were made to believe that David Ortiz simply wanted to document meeting President Obama (Samsung denies asking Ortiz to take a photo with the POTUS). Both of these tactics worked, and got Samsung the type of buzz (and notoriety) they presumably wanted.

But sometimes, when you break kayfabe, it has severe repercussions on your brand. Another top Samsung spokesperson is NBA star LeBron James. He has starred in commercials for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which portray him using it in everyday situations. But the audience knows that the LeBron featured in those commercials is putting on a show because it’s clearly a product ad. So what happens when LeBron’s Samsung phone malfunctions in real life, deletes all of his data, and he Tweets about it to his 12 million followers? Well, for one, some quick social media backtracking. And then damage control by Samsung.

LeBron James' now deleted Tweet

In professional wrestling, there’s always an assumed suspension of disbelief on some level. Otherwise, how would it make sense that two guys who hate each other will wait every week and travel hundreds of miles to fight each other in a squared circle via non-lethal means in front of a referee?

This new type of reality “viral” marketing is essentially real-life product placement. Maybe it’s time that all consumers start sharing the same level of skepticism.

Here’s a recap of my thoughts on the commercials that aired during Super Bowl 48. Overall, I thought it was a pretty lackluster year. I went out of my way to not watch any of them beforehand (except some for work). Thoughts below:

  • Most of the car commercials were weird for the sake of being weird, or just complete misses.
  • Microsoft had a pretty damn heartwarming commercial (I actually recognized the cochlear implant clip from reddit a few years ago).
  • I don’t know who Cure is, but I hate them.
  • Budweiser went for half quality, half quantity. The Arnold ping pong and the homecoming one were the better ones.
  • Fox did a pretty good job at building interest in the new season of 24.

November 21st, 2013
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Boy meets girl. It’s a classic (and boring) story, but like most things, the Internet has drastically changed and arguably streamlined the process. According to a recent Pew Internet study, one in ten Americans have used online dating or a mobile dating app. 7% of smartphone owners have used a dating app.

“Frictionless” is not typically a term we commonly associate positively with dating. But in the world of online dating apps, the recent trend seems to be towards removing steps between discovering that someone exists and meeting them. Sometimes, this process even skips using words altogether. It’s a strange new world for digital savvy singles.

In this blog post, I’ll be detailing several dating services and apps that I’ve used in the past. I think you’ll notice a trend as you move down the list. And please note that I will be using the term “dating” liberally.

High Effort: OkCupid (website)

OkCupid was founded in 2004 and firmly staked its claim in the market based on its statistical prowess (after all, it was formed by the same guys who created The Spark, a personality quiz site) . With the advantage of having talented engineers and mathematicians on board, OkCupid also ran a (now defunct) blog called OkTrends. This blog helped reinforce OkCupid’s unique selling proposition of using a superior matching system compared to everything else on the market because they had multitudes of user data and algorithms that adjusted to (and were influenced by) their research. It also helped that their main target demographic skewed younger; these users would appreciate these nuances and efforts more.

OkCupid was my first real foray into online dating, and it was a lot of work. Using the website consisted of the following steps: browsing/finding matches (sorted by various dimensions, such as distance, employment, race, availability, etc.), looking at photos/reading profiles to see if you’re interested (this step is totally optional), and then messaging them directly. Typical millennium-era dating website stuff.

OkCupid took a lot of time, since I was under the false assumption that longer messages would garner the best response rates. Live and learn. Then stop trying so hard.

Medium Effort: HowAboutWe (site and app)

HowAboutWe launched in April 2010 with a simple premise at heart: instead of singles sending messages back and forth before setting up a date, why not just let them agree on a date first? Basically, users complete the question “How about we _______?” If a date idea piques a user’s interest, he or she can reply that they’re intrigued.

Screenshots of the HowAboutWe App

Putting the cart before the horse? Perhaps, but at least the date ideas that you formulate tell people something about you. The website and app work basically the same way. The main drawback for both is that in order to send someone a message (or to read the contents of your inbox), you need to pay for a monthly subscription.

Lowest Effort: Tinder (app)

Tinder is perhaps the lowest effort dating service out there. It took the dating scene by storm when it gained popularity in 2013 (its spiritual predecessor was Grindr, the popular gay/bisexual location-based app). Unlike OkCupid and HowAboutWe, Tinder is currently only available on iOS and Android smartphones; there’s no desktop functionality at all.

Screenshots of the Tinder App

Remember how your parents told you not to judge a book by its cover? Well, that all goes out the window with Tinder. With Tinder, you’re shown pictures of users in your area (it accesses your phone’s GPS), and you’re given two options – pass or like. If you “like” someone, they won’t find out unless they mutually “like” you and then you can message each other. If you “pass”, it’ll be like the person never existed at all. And if this process didn’t seem simple enough, you can also use touch gestures in order to swipe people into your list of people you like or people you dislike. It’s like a cross between the technology featured in minority report and the lazy perversion of Jabba the Hutt.

Somewhat Low Effort: The OkCupid App

Not to be outshone, OkCupid also has similar “low effort” dating functionalities within their app. The first is Quickmatch, which is basically like Tinder. You swipe left or right depending on if you like someone. The second function is Locals, which tells you who’s near you, but you still have to rate or message them yourself. In terms of flexibility of use, the OkCupid App definitely takes the cake.

Screenshot of the OkCupid App

Everything else

From conversations with friends and coworkers, I’ve learned that other services have evolved over the years. Plenty Of Fish now has an app and is no longer just a poorly designed website (circa 2009). Younger people are now on Match.com and eHarmony, and it seems the stigma of online dating has slowly been lifted. Actually, a close family friend of mine met her current husband on eHarmony, so it can work (they were an older couple though).

By now, you’ve probably noticed the aforementioned trend of dating services increasingly migrating to our handheld devices. There are many possible rationales behind this – personal GPS availability makes finding dates easier; people’s fond attachments to their phones translate to dating apps; people are using desktop computers as their primary internet access device less frequently than they were last decade; the social media generation is impatient and are all about instant gratification. No matter the theory, online dating was originally created to connect people in a way that’s much easier than actually going out and meeting strangers. And now, dating apps and online services have taken out even more barriers to entry (sometimes to ridiculous extremes). Is this a good or bad thing? Can it ever be too easy to meet people? I guess we’ll find out in 10 years when Pew Internet conducts an online marriage divorce rate study.

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