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Making the most of your Xiaomi Yi camera

I have been having fun with my Xiaomi (pronounced show-me) Yi, a GoPro knockoff I bought online for a little under $70. You can order on Amazon at prices that fluctuate, but always under $100, and there’s no reason not to get one of these and have fun with it and maybe even discover a practical use.


The two things I’ve been doing mostly are time lapse photography (see sample) and as an action cam that allows me to take it with me on forays to sandwich shops, farmers markets and potentially the Saratoga Race Course to document experiences for my food blog. You need some kind of mount for this purpose since your hands will be busy with your smartphone (iPhone or Android) which is how the camera is controlled. (At this price it does not have its own monitor screen.) So far I’ve acquired a head harness, chest harness and underwater mount (which blocks the microphone, so it’s not useful for above the surface work.) You’ll also need a mounting screw (it has the standard 1/4 inch receptacle in the bottom) and perhaps other hardware to attach to these setups. All of these are available at low cost on Amazon from Chinese companies that will take a couple weeks to ship to you. Also, you’ll need a micro SD card to capture your images and a USB external power supply if you want it for power intensive work such as time lapse photography.

I was initially self conscious about wearing the camera but folks don’t seem to care or maybe don’t realize it’s a real camera. I’ve used it on a selfie stick stuck out of my briefcase and on the chest mount, worn under a shirt with just the lens peeking out. Haven’t found the chutzpah to wear the head harness yet.

It’s oddly hard to find good info online about the extensive capabilities of the Xiaomi Yi camera. The manual is in Chinese and brief. The app is very good and frequently updated, but it’s not always clear what all the options are and how to use them. Here are a few random tips which I recorded simply because I didn’t see them anywhere else:

  1. How to know if you’re shooting video or still without looking at your smartphone? When you select video by pressing the front button, an additional light comes on, on both the top and bottom of the camera.
  2.  Wireless connectivity problems? Before you start the app but after turning on wireless on the camera, go to your settings and choose its network. You may have to enter a password which is 1234567890.
  3. There’s a function to transfer files from the camera to the phone (so you can watch them when the camera is not connected) but it takes forever. A much better tactic is to use the built-in micro USB jack to access the files from your computer and transfer that way.
  4. What’s the meaning of the colors on the front ring of the camera? It flashes when starting up then turns to a bright solid color. Blue fully charged, purple partway, red low battery. When hooked up via USB it is purple then red if you eject the card.
  5. The HDMI jack is for use with a monitor that broadcasts what the Yi sees, like for a security camera. Apparently it can’t be used to play recorded video/photos.
  6. Use the time lapse function under video, NOT under photo to make a time lapse movie. If you choose time lapse photos you will get a large number of individual stills which I guess are useful as a security camera. For time lapse you’ll definitely need external power (a brick that plugs into the micro USB port, which the Yi uses for charging) because time lapse is a huge memory hog.
  7. It was doubtless a cost compromise to use a removable cover for the area that houses the HDMI and micro USB jacks and the memory card and you are probably going to lose it. Don’t worry too much. None of these items is extremely fragile (no more so than the camera overall) so you’re unlikely to do serious damage if you’re taking good care of the camera overall. But at this price maybe you should just buy a second camera, just in case.

Stage management in your direct mail package

Mutual of Omaha teaser

OE teaser on Mutual of Omaha “keepsake” package

Direct mail has a unique benefit, compared to other direct marketing media: the opportunity for stage management. You can control the user experience by the way you design the components and deliver your message. You can decide what your user will see first when they open the envelope (which is why you should always give your mail house a folding dummy, stapled together with the components in the correct order) and then lead them through a compelling story.

Mutual of Omaha Keepsake

This is the Mutual of Omaha “keepsake”

This Mutual of Omaha burial insurance package has a great example of stage management. The OE teaser says, quotes included, FREE “Family Keepsake” ENCLOSED. I despise unnecessary quotes, which often make their way into peppy corporate manuals (e.g. “huddle” with your team) but here they have a place because they call attention to the rather intriguing phrase. I’ve got to know what this “family keepsake” might be so I rip open the envelope.

Mutual of Omaha components

Components of Mutual of Omaha “keepsake” package

Turns out the keepsake is a pretty two-fold on card stock which is for recording your family tree. Without commentary, on the flap Mutual Omaha provides some lines to write in the contact information for people who should be notified in the event of your demise. See what they did there? They got me thinking about my family and how they would be affected by my death, and I realized I don’t want them paying for my funeral out of pocket so I better buy this insurance.

Fresh Air Fund OE

Fresh Air Fund OE

In contrast, a missed opportunity for stage management comes from our old friends the Fresh Air Fund. I have to give credit, first of all, for a much better teaser than in past years. When I hold the package there’s an odd heft to it. Something extra is in there. I open the package and… it’s a note pad, with the logo of the Fresh Air Fund on it and nothing more.

Fresh Air Fund Notepad

Components of Fresh Air Fund package with noet pad on top

What else could they have done? Invite you to write down a message to the kid you’re sending to camp, maybe. (The first page would be pre-filled, then when you tear it off you’ve got a usable notepad.) Or ask you to write down your own favorite camp memories, which brings alive the value of summer camp in the same way the “family keepsake” brings alive the reality of funeral expenses. Plus they should have their contact info on there, since the note pad will stay around long after the other components have gone.

Fresh Air Fund tickets

Fresh Air Fund Tickets

In addition, the reply device is a series of “tickets”. That’s the right idea: your gift directly contributes to a child’s camp experience and this is the embodiment of that benefit. But let’s make them look like tickets, instead of calling them tickets and then making them standard response devices. For example, instead of

Good for: One Round-Trip Bus Ticket
Mr. Maxwell, please give a child a ticket to adventure!
Yes, I want to help send an inner-city kid to camp….
And help him or her discover hidden strengths and talents

It might say

Round-Trip Bus Ticket to Camp
Provided through the generosity of: Otis Maxwell
Please use my contribution to help send an inner city to camp.
[ ] $21 pays for one bus ticket.
[ ] I want to help more kids and I am enclosing my contribution of [ ]

Or, given a little more budget (which might be provided by eliminating the note pad) I might print very authentic-looking tickets without an ask, then put them inside a carrier sleeve of some kind. It would then be very credible and an involving experience to have the donor indicate on the sleeve how much they are giving and how they want the gift to be used. Stage management.

Salvation Army shows the perils of localized donor mail

Front page of Shield letter

Where’s my town in this localized letter?

I gave a fair-sized gift to my local Salvation Army this past holiday season, and was happy to do so. (I wanted a particularly enthusiastic bell ringer to get credit, so I found out his name, wrote it on the check, and dropped it off at the local center.) Inevitably, this has spawned a series of large donor mailings asking me to repeat with similar amounts.

I mentioned one of these mailings in an earlier post because the art direction on the outer envelope wasn’t particularly adept. But later I got a second mailing that caused me to dig deeper and I found some object lessons in what not to do if you’re a national not-for-profit and you want to customize mail for individual locations.

Why should you go to the trouble of localizing your appeal? Because local donors to a cause like the Salvation Army want to know their contribution is put to use in their community. Some years ago I did a localized campaign for the American Red Cross. It had an insert on emergency preparedness, which was variable. We didn’t talk about hurricanes in the Midwest, or rivers flooding in the Northeast. (With climate change, maybe we’ll soon have the same disasters everywhere and non-profits can save the money.) And there were statistics which were localized by county of number of people helped, first aid courses taught and so on. Even thought it was a national mailing, folks in Milwaukee would feel like it was about their local Red Cross.

Localization on page 2

Here it is… on the second page.

I expect the Salvation Army did some similar database research, but they don’t use it well in the copy. My own community of Saratoga Springs is not mentioned till the second page of the “if this shield could talk” letter. Who are the 125 hungry families and 70 people who eat breakfast? Is that in Saratoga? (To read this and other copy details, click on the images to enlarge them.) I suspect this is just a flub: the numbers are appropriate for a town our size, but somebody forgot to plug in the name of the town. As a copywriter I’m well aware that the story of Sophia and Anthony is not local, but blending in local statistics would have blurred that line and made for a more compelling narrative.

Processing Center

Institutional “processing center” language turns off donors.

I’m also not easy with the qualifying statement (on the letter and the response form) that “In order to save on administrative costs, all mail is returned to a centralized processing center. Please be assured your donation is being used in your local community.” Well, first of all, that processing center (bad word—as a generous donor I don’t want to be “processed”) is in Albany, the nearest big city, so I don’t have a problem with it. Second, why don’t you say “in Saratoga Springs” or “in Saratoga County” instead of “your local community”? I have a very strong hunch that including this statement, thus raising an objection where one might not have existed, results in fewer donations that a mailing without that statement.

Salvation Army Camp Mailing

Second Salvation Army local mailer

Then the second mailing arrived, which is about sending kids to Long Point Camp in the Finger Lakes. I’ve previously written about the difficulty of “send a kid to camp” programs—that’s a very hard sell compared to feeding a homeless family and you really have to paint a picture of the kid’s desperate situation. So now we have this outer with the message “Please Open!” (I think they could have come up with a better teaser, no?) and two white kids in a tire swing. Is this a variable picture? It’s true that my community is pretty lily-white so maybe so. But why a tire swing? Can’t they afford real play equipment at this camp, which probably isn’t very safe if they’re using discarded tires?

Salvation Army Long Point

Send a kid to Long Point Camp.. why?

Moreover, why are we sending them away to camp in western New York when Saratoga County is chock-a-block with camps and rustic destinations? Or to Lake George, next county up the Northway? I feel like this effort is probably designed for donors who live in a big city, so when you mail to a resort area it really exhibits a tin ear.

I don’t have it in for the Salvation Army. I love these guys. I wrote fundraising campaigns for them many years through the Grizzard Agency, and contributed a pro bono effort to get donations after the Los Angeles riots of the early 1990s. But they have offered up a picture perfect example of what can go wrong with a localized campaign, and I’m sharing it as a bit of advice as well as others who think about localizing their national campaigns.

If you can’t read the results, why test it?

FICO envelope front

Envelope variations for Chase Slate FICO package, plus duplicates received at my address

My early direct mail copy chiefs beat this mantra into me: only test one thing at a time. If you change the offer and simultaneously change the letter lead, how do you know which change was responsible for any lift?

I thought of this as the drumbeat of “Free FICO Score” offers from Chase Slate continued, and I realized one of the envelopes looked different. Same color scheme, virtually the same OE copy on the front but arranged in a slightly different way. The first really noticeable change is on the back. One says “no annual fee” and the other has a lineup of four unidentifiable awards. (We know which would win in that test, don’t we, since benefits always eclipse chest pounding.)

FICO envelope back

FICO outer envelope back with testing variations

Inside the “alike but different” motif continues. One letter starts “Transfer high rate balances from other credit card issuers and save money.” The other, “From balance transfers to new purchases, Chase Slate makes saving simple.” Exact same facts, but one is about “you” and the other about “the card” so again, it’s pretty clear which would win if tested on its own. (That old copy chief of mine would have had the second writer start over, rather than testing the two leads.) However, the “you” copywriter is paired with the art director who put the shields on the back of the OE, so we’re tied.

Two FICO letters

Which of these letters is more persuasive? Why?

And it continues throughout the package, with design and copy slightly different without changing the facts or the basic presentation. What’s happening here is that two teams were tested against each other to see which one is “better”—a costly experiment on Chase’s part. This isn’t the same as a direct mail package test in which creative teams come up with completely different ideas from scratch. It’s an expensive waste of time.

My advice to Florian Egg-Krings, who signs both letters (no testing variations there): test spelling out “credit score” on the OE rather than calling it “FICO score”. Take one key benefit—I’d probably go with the reasons you’d want a monthly credit report and how great it is to get it for free—and lead one letter with that, then keep the other about your laundry list of benefits. Now you’ve got something worth testing.

Who else wants to see their FICO score? (and other mailbox mysteries)

FICO mailing for Chase Slate

Where’s your list hygiene, Chase?

This credit card promo from Chase caused me to fire up the mailbox monitor. The premise is that you get a free monthly FICO report with the Chase Slate card. My household has been carpet bombed with these packages recently, both my wife and I receiving multiple mailings sometimes on the same day. There are a few things about it that make me wonder.

A memorable signatory

I’m Florian Eggs-Kring, and I approve this message.

First, Chase practices poor list hygiene which doesn’t dedupe recipients with the same or similar name, and obviously does not do its own credit scoring. Speaking of which, does everybody know what the promise of a “Free FICO score” means? Would it have been better to simply say “free credit report”, a term that’s used inside? And note the name of the signatory of the main letter. Florian Eggs-Kring is a moniker which would have the Monty Python lads doing backflips, which is my point. Might a more neutral pseudonym have been a better choice? I understand that Florian is responsible for this mailing, but if he/she loses even a few responses because of distraction it’s probably not a good deal.

One of my maxims is “if you see a mailing repeatedly, that means it’s successful.” But I have the feeling this package is the exception that proves the rule; someone had a huge budget and didn’t feel it was necessary to test. Florian Eggs-Kring, if you’re reading this please tell me I’m off base. (Of note, it’s not a Visa or MasterCard or Amex so it’s not going to wotk initially in a lot of terminals; maybe Chase needs to build a huge user base quickly in order to convince merchants to accept it.)

Salvation Army red package

Salvation Army package has a legibility problem

Let’s move on. The Salvation Army envelope, for a large donor mailing, starts strong with “If this shield” but then trails off because “could talk” is illegible in the mailbox (it looks much more legible in the photo than in real life). The problem could have been solved, or at least mitigated, with some adjustments at blueline stage or even on press (dial back the magenta). The lesson is, no matter noble your ideals, you have to follow through in production.

Parents Meeting teaser

Great teaser on a simple self mailer

The green “Important Parent Meeting” on this academic-green self mailer is simple and brilliant. No parent of a school age child can ignore an apparently official announcement of a meeting. This solicitation is for a seminar on how to get financial aid and I bet it’s successful.

AAA Term Life

Beautiful stage management in an AAA Life 9×12 package

Our final example offers some beautiful stage management for AAA Life. Note the three-dimensional effect of the mock-vellum certificate seen through the window, and the shadow behind the fake mailing label below. Inside we find a complete application pack which asks the reader to mail a check for term life insurance. This company is extremely thrifty and I can’t believe they would have approved this package if it wasn’t a winner in testing. I hope it is so we can keep this great designer working; you don’t see much direct mail created with such care nowadays.

Term Life AAA

Here’s the entire AAA Life package.

NOTE: as always, click on the image if you’d like to see any of these in greater detail, then click again to blow up the photo for a super-close up look.

Starbucks shows how not to go viral with #RaceTogether campaign

Starbucks recently initiated a viral social media campaign that flamed out immediately. Baristas were instructed to write “Race Together” on coffee cups to initiate a dialog about race and inequality with their customers.

An excellent LinkedIn post by UC Berkeley undergraduate Tai Tran describes the problems with this and the subsequent PR clusterf*ck, which in retrospect seems inevitable, along with the lessons to be learned.

First, the message didn’t fit the corporate culture. Starbucks tends to sell its expensive products in upscale neighborhoods to a non-diverse customer base. One critical tweet asked how many people of color work in Starbuck’s corporate office; another noted that all the hands holding cups in a SBUX promo were white.

Then, when outraged customers and employees began tweeting to Starbucks Sr. VP of Global Communications Corey duBrowa’s Twitter account, he responded by blocking them and freezing the account (it has since been reactivated).

An inauthentic campaign>handed down from on high>with backlash met with stonewalling instead of engagement and big time mea culpa=how not to go viral with a corporate social media campaign.

I’m summarizing here because I want you to go read Tai Tran’s full article. He describes himself as “ready to disrupt the tech industry with his infectious passion and energy for marketing!” Somebody, hire this guy.

Cadillac “Dare Greatly” ad campaign has an elephant in the back seat


During 2015 March Madness I’ve seen the Jason Wu Cadillac ad numerous times. Certainly it’s daring greatly to heavy up on a story about a guy whose mom gave him a sewing machine during the uber-macho celebration of NCAA basketball, and the ad is a great story. But what’s that vehicle rolling into frame at the end? Oh, wait, it’s a Cadillac… whaat?

I went googling and found Cadillac’s Dare Greatly page, which provides nice access to all the celebrity stories featured in the campaign. I watched the story of Jason Wu in full (that’s the video link above; the ad itself doesn’t seem to be available online) and also that of Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andme. They’re well done. The overall impression is of somebody who was immensely talented to begin with, but then took a career path that took them out of their comfort zone. Obviously that’s a great metaphor for a once adulated, now staid luxury car brand that wants to reinvent itself.

But here’s the thing. I can’t imagine any of these people actually driving a Cadillac, other than maybe Steve Wosniak who’s a car collector and something of a schlub. (In fact, if you can prove to me Anne Wojcicki doesn’t drive a Tesla S, I’ll send you a free copy of my book right now.) So the ads, while celebrating the daring and talented, inadvertently separate the product from the celebrity endorser.

This campaign is often compared to the iconic Chrysler spots featuring Eminem and later Clint Eastwood. But those gentlemen weren’t endorsing a car. They were endorsing a spirit: Rocky, relocated from Philadelphia to Detroit, the downtrodden American underdog rising from the ashes of defeat. You buy a car from these guys not because they drive one, but because it’s the right thing to do.

When Chrysler next hired Bob Dylan and turned him into an Ed McMahon-type huckster, it was cringeworthy. A better use of the celebrity as pitchman was the Lincoln ad with Matthew McConnaghey where he comes right out and says “I’ve been driving a Lincoln since long before they paid me to do it.” Anyhow, what all these ads had in common was that they make a direct connection between the celebrity and the car—in most cases, the spokesperson is behind the wheel in at least one scene. (I think Eastwood may have stepped from the shadows behind a Chrysler.)

And that’s the disconnect with Cadillac’s Dare Greatly campaign and its celebrities. In order to convince them to participate, Cadillac obviously told them they did not have to mention Cadillac, appear with Cadillac, or drive a Cadillac. So we have the choice of questioning the credibility of the endorsement, or realizing it’s not an endorsement at all.

Celebrities are infinitely useful as metaphors, especially if they’re dead. (Think of the “Here’s to the…” images in the Apple “Think Different” campaign.) But if you’re interacting with live ones you can’t put up a firewall. You have to ask them about the car. That’s the lesson here.

The creative parable of the 100 light bulbs

A creative director recently shared with me the parable of the 100th light bulb. It goes like this:

When you turn on the first light bulb in a dark room, the effect is transformative. Where before there was only darkness, now there is light. But by the time you switch on the 100th light bulb, the incremental difference is so small that nobody notices. The lesson is that there’s a point of diminishing returns where it’s not worth the effort to keep exploring new ideas.

I disagree.

For one thing, if your project is a web page or an email, turning on the light bulb is so trivial a task you shouldn’t give it a second thought. Through multivariate testing, marketers can not only turn light bulbs on and off, but move them around at will to see if one arrangement is better than another.

But beyond that, turning on the 100th light bulb is what we as creatives are paid to do, assuming we charge more than the journeyman copywriter who can take a brochure and turn it into a sales letter.

In the heyday of subscription direct mail, the 1980s and early 1990s, writers like Bill Jayme and Linda Wells were paid tens of thousands of dollars (1980s dollars) to produce circulation promotions that, if they were successful, might increase response rate by a microscopic fraction of 1%. But because the numbers mailed were so large, it was a savvy investment by the publishers.

I myself once wrote an ad that appeared in Computerworld, for a long departed agency and software client. They marketed primarily through direct mail, but some targets just didn’t ever respond. This ad won a new account from one of those targets, and the value of the business was such that it paid for the entire cost of the ad, including media, for the life of the campaign.

Was that worth the 100th light bulb? I think so.

Dealing with writer’s block

Early in my freelance copywriting career, I suffered three serious episodes of writer’s block. I no longer have any memory of the assignments or why I was stuck, but I have an intense physical recollection of each attack.

At the time I was living in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, just below the reservoir. First time it happened, I decided I would pace around the park as a way to calm myself down. I remember a beautiful day, warm sun beating down, and me miserable because I got nothin’. I’d give myself a few minutes of strolling, then go home and sit down at the typewriter (yes, this was a while back), flail, repeat. I put on a lot of miles and probably got some sun damage that day.

During the second episode I got so agitated I could not eat. I was subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches at that time and I made one and cut it into bites and left them on the wraparound butcher block counter of the kitchen. Each time I passed I’d grab one of the bites and stick it in my mouth without looking. Some made it down, some didn’t.

The third must have been years later because I had a daisywheel printer (remember?) and my downstairs office. When writer’s block attacked, I decided I would just keep writing till I got it right. When I was finished, or maybe gave up, I pressed the print button on my Mac Plus (remember?) and page after page of virtual identical paragraphs spat out, a piece of evidence I still have posted on an office bulletin board.

I’m remembering this because I had a near-attack the other day, the first in many years. I was working on a large-scale, long term project (doing a new draft of my novel after it came back from an editor, to be specific) and I got to a part and realized it wasn’t very good. I started in, got stuck like a car with bald tires in snow, took a deep breath and backed off. Then, within a few hours, a number of short-turnaround paying projects came to life and I knew I would not return to the big project for a while. I also knew, from experience, that when I did return I would feel blocked.

So I gave myself an hour to return to the troublesome episode, and write through it. I actually came up with a solution that I think will work, but that was a bonus. The main thing was not to find myself greeted with failure and a problem when I next approached this project. I went through the black hole and came out the other side. The key to this technique was that I did not require the section to be any good. It simply needed to take my main character from point a to point b.

There’s another solution to writer’s block, which is to stop as soon as you feel it coming on. But this isn’t always possible when you’re on assignment. How about you? Am I the only one this happens to? If not, you might want to get my book. There are several ideas for curing writer’s block in there.

The USPS delivered my package!

USPS takes out frustrations on packages

The package as it finally arrived, not a little the worse for wear…

6 weeks after shipping to the wrong address, I got a text from the people who live at that address. They had the package, delivered this past weekend. A few hours later, it was finally united with the intended recipient. The report: most contents were pulverized but nut butter and a jar of tomato jam were intact. Everything was covered in a strange brown powder, perhaps from what had once been chocolate biscotti.

Note the special tape: does it bother you as it does me that the Post Office has need for preprinted tape that says “RESEALED REWRAPPED IN THE U.S.P.S.”? You can see my original shipping label is intact, so they must have used box cutters to open it before resealing and rewrapping, then smashing many times, perhaps with trash compacting equipment, for good measure.

Thanks to the Postmasters and Postmistresses of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Bell Gardens and Richmond, California for delivering this Christmas miracle!

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