17 posts categorized "Advertising"

January 16, 2011

For the Movie Industry - Marketing is the Eye of the Storm



While the debate storm swirls around the issues of technology and its impact on the how and when people can access “mainstream” entertainment, the true “eye of the storm” may be a product of technology and its impact on how the marketing of entertainment (and the associated distribution of dollars and time) needs to be significantly re adjusted if not completely rethought.

So why “the eye of the storm?” 


While the eye is perceived as the calmest part of the storm, it is often the most hazardous and deceptive.  In storms over water, conditions inside the eye can include towering waves generated by the storm walls.  Over land, people wander outside to inspect the damage once the eye passes, thinking the storm is over, and then are caught by surprise by massive winds in the oncoming eyewall. Such it is with technology (the storm), distribution (the storm and eye walls) and marketing (the eye) in the entertainment industry.



What Does It Mean to Market a Movie?

Historically, marketing a movie, whether it is a wide release from a major studio or a niche ultra indie, is not the same as marketing a similarly priced consumer product (an item priced at about $10). Movies exist in an environment filled with a nearly infinite variety of creative choices for an audience that needs to make a purchase decision (and an often one time purchase decision) without trial.  They don’t personally know if they like it until they have actually tried/viewed it, and there are no returns.  For the studio, the value of that initial ticket purchase decision is non-trivial, as it has historically set the tone for the all important downstream revenue opportunities.

So how does a marketer make a potential viewer feel that “they know” the movie and become invested in the experience, and provide signals that raise the chance of ticket purchase, without giving away the creative surprise that is at the core of movie viewing?


“… marketing by its nature is an attempt to influence the outcome.” – Jeff Ulin

This is why the race should be on for innovative thinking and well-crafted and monitored execution, and dare we say “some calculated risk taking” in rethinking the appropriate media vehicles and digital-physical linkages for different stages of the marketing conversation. 


Seven Stages of the Marketing Conversation

Marketing needs to be thought of as an ongoing engagement process, not a sales spike only (push style) strategy.  Media and platforms chosen for one stage should setup and feed the conversation and engagement in the next.  The following seven activities propose one way of organizing the structure and flow of the marketing conversation.

  1. Research: Identifying potential audience groups, influencers and platforms
  2. Seed: Creating and placing media, experiences, conversations and platforms for exchange
  3. Discovery: Optimizing the opportunity for discovery, curation and sharing of content and conversation of interest to the potential audience
  4. Purchase: Creating ways that make ticket purchase easy, immediate and sharable
  5. Experience: Watching the movie in theater or unique location
  6. Share: Encouraging the dialogue of personal experience with the movie, between individuals and groups with both strong and loose ties
  7. Ongoing engagement: Aligning the movie with opportunities for ongoing conversations and media beyond the initial spike push to meet opening weekend reach and sales goals. Depending on the film and originator, this linkage might be with the brand, characters or related cause


Timeline of Marketing Activities for Theatrical Release

Today, there is no magic formula when it comes to the theatrical release. It’s not about “one from column A, and 2 from column B.”  Innovative and creative thinking, married with well-coordinated (but flexible) execution is as important in marketing as it is in the conception and production of a movie.

The table in this post is not meant to be a complete representation of all the possible tactics, nor should every movie use all the tactics listed at a high level in this document. It is meant to help frame some thinking about media and conversations in a time based manner – before , during, and after theatrical release – and begin to introduce some more thought around the concept of “continuity of brand over time” vs. “spike/push tactics to reach initial release reach and frequency targets.”


Page 1 focuses on the more physical space tactics where the majors have traditionally focused and spent - with the dominance of traditional sources like TV advertising (sometimes 80% of total media spend), but with the need for more creative use of digital.  Indies may use very little of the traditional (and expensive) media platforms on Page 1, but have great opportunity to creatively use their limited dollars against digital tactics and social platforms such as those on Page 2.


Disney spent $34M in the initial marketing of  “Finding Nemo” with more than $20M just for TV spots - this against an estimated  $536.7M initial gross.  (Source: Ulin book)

“The power of the Web to target messages to specific demographics is a marketer’s dream, and the budgets for online advertising continue to grow.  However, the percentages spent online and the migration of marketing dollars has not been as great or fast as one may expect.” – Jeff Ulin 


Timeline of Marketing/Communications Activities for Theatrical Release


Integrated Marketing Communications- Making the Digital and Physical Symbiotic


With the increasing pressure on traditional marketing tactics, there is a strong argument to be made for rethinking not only the timing of marketing activities, but also the need for:

  • strong thoughtful integration of physical/traditional media and digital/social platforms
  • increased digital spend with an understanding that those dollars are not just about ad spend with “risky non-standard platforms” (to the industry), but against new digital experiences
  • better understanding of how social platforms extend the “virtual” media budget for a film, but also require attention in dollars and resources beyond free “interns”
  • changed thinking that all activities on the Web, mobile or via apps are free for people to find randomly on their own  
  • an agreement that execution and luck do not “magically intersect” online  

The infographics that follow show snapshots of a theoretical movie campaign with both (1) a traditional media only approach and (2) a digital deeply integrated approach. Their focus is on the integration of elements and the time frame of elements is not identified (as was the purpose of the previous table). Much of the traditional marketing comes and goes, while the digital and social technology platforms can take on a more persistent continuity role before and after a particular release.


Traditional/Physical Marketing Only Approach

  PhysicalOnly_MovieMarketingInfographics(click for full size image)


The major elements are as follows, and can also be linked back to the previous table (page 1) in terms of general timing.  The major goal – to “push” awareness and traffic.

  • Advertising
  • Trailers
  • Press
  • Events
  • Posters
  • Merchandise
  • Cross Brand Promotions


Integrated Digital and Physical Marketing Approach
  MovieMarketingInfographics(click for full size image)


In addition to the major elements from the physical/traditional only campaign, other media/platforms/activities are integrated (and can also be seen in terms of general timing from the previous table page 2).


Additional elements to existing physical/traditional categories include:

  • Advertising – some digital push platforms
  • Press – seeding online and bloggers and digital EPKs
  • Events – virtual audience oriented
  • Trailers – the consideration of online only versions as well as digital distribution of theatrical trailers
  • Contests – digitally driven

New categories include:

  • Digital and social platforms
  • Online video
  • Apps


(1) Digital and Social Platforms

Creating brand specific digital platforms and leveraging those created by others that have garnered significiant (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and targeted (e.g. "vertical" blog networks) audiences create powerful amplifying nodes for content creation and distribution; curating, commenting and sharing; awareness and traffic driving; and reach/value extension for the traditional media efforts.

“For too long, we've tried to understand ourselves in isolation, as we test people one at a time in the psychology lab or rely on their past preferences to predict behavior. But these conditions and algorithms are artificial. In the real world, we are deeply intertwined with each other, dependent on our social networks for all sorts of advice. If it weren't for the buzz of strangers, we wouldn't even know what movie to pick at the multiplex.” - Jonah Lehrer in The Wall Street Journal


(2) Online Video

Online video can range from the creation of YouTube channels, integration and posts into Facebook groups, promotion and discussion via Twitter, stealth placements, and even syndication across "vertical" blog networks. Material can inlcude that created for traditional broadcast campaigns (e.g. talent interviews), but is even more powerful when unique digital-only content is created on an on-going basis that lets the potential movie-going audience connect deeply and personally with the brand in advance (e.g. behind the scenes, remixes with popular pop culture talent, ongoing Q&A's, digital only trailers). This can be content with high curation, aggregation and sharing potential.

“… the virtual community can scale and expand beyond what would typically occur in the physical world .. because the Internet has no geographical boundaries… It becomes a global, real-time conversation and online video is in many cases the catalyst that brings all these people together.” - Peter Levinsohn, President of New Media and Digital Distribution for Fox Filmed Entertainment


(3) Apps - Third Party and Original

Experimentation with apps has recently included the development of orignal apps and leveraging third party apps to directluy drive ticket sales:

"You now have a self-identified list of participants who are passionate about entertainment, and the event brand has even more value to them." - Jordan Glazier, CEO of Eventful in reference to the use of his company's app in the marketing of the movie "Paranormal Activity"


Three Case Studies

The series of posts that will follow will use the models and infographics presented in this post to look at the use and integration of digital platforms and content for three kinds of movies:

  • Toy Story 3: a major studio franchise release, the kind of movie where the amount spent on traditional media (largely TV) to open it is disproportionately large as theatrical launch is seen as the engine that drives larger downstream revenues.
  • Ready Set Bag:  the ultra indie passion project where distribution and helping theaters sell tickets has to be earned one geographic market at a time.
  • Waiting for Superman: the cause-related film where the key is knowing how to engage those already deeply involved with and invested in the topic and their surrounding communities. Favicon

August 18, 2009

Inspiration - Some Of The Best Ideas Come From Unexpected Sources


The items in the images on the left inspired the products and brands on the right.

In his 2005 book, "A Whole New Mind,"  Daniel Pink proposed that we have entered an era in which creative conceptual thinking has become increasingly important. Right-brain thinking that is emotionally and observationally based needs to take its rightful and valued place next to the left-brain thinking of logical analytical and theoretical thought. Both science and business often say that the result of creative thoughts need to contain both originality and appropriateness. To get to that final stage, there is a process (the 4I's) that takes inspiration into idea into invention and later into continuing innovation.

So with creative thought a valued process, where does the "first I of Inspiration" come from?  Some examples follow that demonstrate that some of the best ideas and solutions come from truly unexpected sources that are about as far removed from the "industry of record" as possible.  A humble kitchen. A walk with a dog. Street art in some dicey alleys.

1940’s - Velcro

The inventor of Velcro (Swiss engineer George de Mestral) was inspired by the burrs stuck in his dog’s coat.  Returning home from a hunting trip in the Alps, he noticed all the burrs, specifically burdock seeds, stuck fast to the coat of his dog. Examining this scenario under a microscope, he saw that the burrs had hundreds of "hooks" that caught on anything with a loop, dog fur for example.  Thus was revealed the seed of the idea for a new and simple way of binding two materials together if he could figure out how to duplicate the hooks and loops that he had found in nature (burrs and fur). Ten years after that walk with his dog, he submitted the patent for Velcro that was later granted in 1955.

1970’s - Nike

A waffle iron led to a revolutionary athletic shoe sole design and the birth of a global mega brand.  Track coach Bill Bowerman of the University of Oregon was experimenting with ideas for shoe outsoles that would better grip the newly resurfaced track at the university. One Sunday morning, he poured liquid urethane into his wife’s waffle iron.  This evolved into the famed Nike “waffle sole” which was first mass manufactured and distributed in the iconic Nike Waffle Trainer in 1974. In 2008, Nike’s revenues were nearly $19B. That’s a lot of waffles.

1980’s - MTV logo

On August 1, 1981 MTV launched on a small New Jersey cable system with a theme song in the form of a crunching guitar riff playing over a montage of images of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The MTV logo on the astronaut’s flag is the iconic symbol of the company that was inspired by the graffiti and street art that Creative Director Fred Seibert and his team would see walking the streets of NYC. Contrary to the “industry standard practice” of never touching a corporate logo/icon, the MTV logotype, true to its street art origins, is constantly changing and simultaneously existing in many different creative manifestations.



21st Century - Twitter

I'm not sure what the real story of the initial inspiration for Twitter is.  Maybe it's as "mundane" as some form of evolution of SMS.  But I am intrigued by a recent tweet from Twitter co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey that read:


Lesson?  In the creative idea economy, you never know what the source and timing of initial inspiration is going to be.  More often than not, inspiration springs from unexpected sources far removed from the confines of the particular business or problem at hand, which says something about the value of an "informed naivete" in the approach to the creative process ...well that, and taking a lot of walks and spending time in the kitchen. Egv_tiny_blogicon

April 19, 2009

Ashton Kutcher's Billboard - Possibilities Beyond Celebrity for the Future of Broadcasted or Public Social Media


One of the 1,133 digital billboards provided pro bono by Lamar Advertising in the race to a million followers against CNN. 

     -  From a story in Advertising Age

If you work in the social media space or are a CNN or Oprah viewer, it was nearly impossible to not know about the "race to a million followers" on Twitter last week between celebrity/entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) and CNN's newly acquired account (@cnnbrk).  Kutcher started the challenge slightly trailing CNN, but used YouTube-distributed videos and calling on his more engaged social media followers to surpass Larry King/CNN's cable TV promo efforts. The "celebrity" facts: Kutcher passed the million mark first and appeared on Oprah (@oprah) to be crowned "king of Twitter."

But what else might this mini-digital duel reveal beyond the obvious celebrity vanity stories and the growing importance of social media bylines?

Benefit for social ventures and charities

Consider that as part of the challenge, the winner agreed to donate 10,000 mosquito nets (the loser 1,000 nets) to April 25th’s 2nd annual World Malaria Day. That means 1,000s of people will have additional protection against a disease that threatens 40% of the world's population and  infects 500 million people a year. And Twitter is full of "tweets" about additional donations coming in from everyday people as a result of the awareness brought about by the race and subsequent interviews.  That's a win.

Other celebrities including Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) and social entrepreneurs have been using the platform as well to engage an audience predisposed to quickly responding to and sharing information.

Near future traditional/digital media mashups

Let's go back to the digital billboards at the beginning of this post.  Not sure in terms of any measurement that might exist what they contributed to Kutcher's tally.  But the more important aspects to consider are two fold:

(1)  Since the billboards are digital and connected to a network, the message/creative could be programmed and distributed (and theoretically updated/changed) nearly instantaneously to the 1,000+ screens.  No printing turn around time.  No guys on scaffolds with buckets of glue. The content was nearly immediate/real-time.

(2) Now what if (for safety's and reading time's sake) that the screens had been indoors, like those we see at Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, etc. AND that the screen network's application set was sophisticated enough to take both the simple "old school" billboard message and combine it with real-time information of interest via a feed. On the simple end this could just be a tally of number of followers updating, perhaps with an additional message encouraging peple to join in via their cell phones while they were waiting in line.  Something more complex would be a real-time "curated" feed overlay to the screen of the relevant "tweets" about both the "million follower race" as well as information about Kutcher's malaria cause.

All of the pieces to do this today exist.  If you look online at applications written off the Twitter API like Glam Media's Tinker or similar Twitter parsing/aggregation apps from Federated Media like ExecuTweets, you get a sense of what is possible through some design and then integration of an RSS feed into a public digital screen.

Below is an example of what the live Tinker feed looked like this morning for Ashton Kutcher.  Imagine what an "indoor billboard" at a coffee shop or train station might look like with the main visual of the billboard at the beginning of this post,  with an overlay in the lower horizontal part of the screen of the Tinker Twitter stream when the race was still on.


Other possibilities? 

Here's one. Given that Earth Day is this week - what about a brand doing an Earth Day promo with inspiring photos (professional images and real-time consumer photos) cycling through the screen and relevant tweets of what people were doing that day to help their local environmental efforts, as well as links to activities people could join, appearing simultaneously along the bottom of the screen. Egv_tiny_blogicon

April 06, 2009

Is This Advertising?


"Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image."

-  David Ogilvy

In this post, three categories of objects are considered: in public spaces, online, and even those that are purchased. Which of these do you consider to be advertising if we consider the following as guidelines? 

  1. Brand image lives in people's minds as a result of their direct and indirect (through media and other people) experience with the product or company.
  2. Advertising is a form of communication that typically attempts to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume more of a particular brand of product or service.
  3. Advertising provides some level of "experience" with the product before you buy it.
  4. Advertising is a paid medium; you have to pay to place it in the real world or digitally.

Objects Found In Public Spaces

Nike Logoed Shirt: If an athlete is wearing it as part of a paid endorsement, then it's advertising.  But what about when your favorite trainer or running buddy is wearing it?

iPod/iPhone White Ear Buds: In the billboard, TV and print ads, well, it's advertising.  What about the dozens of times a day you see those white ear buds coming down the street? You know what the product is without even seeing it.

Starbucks InStore Music Screen: In about 600 Starbucks stores in the US, there are flat panel screens that provide information on the music that is currently playing, and to my knowledge, not paid for by the music companies or artists.  But doesn't it serve the other "non-paying" criteria of advertising, and couldn't it become that?  Easy to make happen since WiFi is right there with easy one click access to the iTunes store for downloads.

Obama Poster: Post the election and pre-inauguration, Moveon.org raised money by selling postcards and posters, as well as limited edition version ($500) signed Shepard Fairey posters.  In many a window in San Francisco.  Good promo for brand Obama, yet initiated and paid for by others.

Planet Dog Sticker: Seen in the back window of many a station wagon, this sticker costs $2.  And for that you get to state your canine affiliation as well as promote someone else's brand of which you may or may not have purchased one of their toy products.



Objects Found Online

"Will It Blend?" YouTube Video: Well-known series of videos produced by the blender company that have pulverized anything from an iPhone to glow sticks, often at the request of fans.  Produced by the company with a "home-made" feel.  More than six million views.  Free distribution on YouTube and in many an article on "viral videos."  Blender sales conversion rate?

Rachel Maddow Show Facebook Page: 50,000 fans to go along with over 200,000 followers on twitter.  Experience brand Maddow through notes, video links for the shows; as well as other stuff she likes that never makes it to broadcast.

Twitter Page of Zappos CEO: More than 350,000 people can't be wrong.  And if sold one pair of shoes to each per year - that's millions.

Hunch Public Beta Invite: Great "welcome" letter/FAQ from Caterina Fake gets you interested in and sharing the "brand" before it even does anything for you.  And your participation is actually critical to building the functionality and value of the product.

HGTV Widget: Weeks on my Facebook profile page and I didn't win.  But did I think about HGTV each day that I logged in even though I wasn't watching cable ... yep.


Objects That Are Purchased

Whole Foods Shopping Bag: $2 to avoid paper bag shame and carry them into stores other than Whole Foods, even competitors. Sorry Mollie Stones.

Kleenex/Hannah Montana: I am sure that money exchanged hands here to place image and logo of pop idol on tissue box -- but which way?  Brand Miley may well have more power than brand Kleenex, so cash may have gone upstream instead.

"Unstuck" Book by Founder of SYP: A well written book on its own, but also a great promo vehicle for the SYP agency and great client pitch leave behind. Old school print version only; not on Kindle yet.

Starbucks Cup (old version with "The Way I See It" quote): I loved the old "The Way I See It" quotes on the Starbucks cups from people like Keith Olbermann and Jeffrey Sachs.  Currently they're using quotes from "real" customers.  See me with my soy chai walking down the street may not be 'advertising,' but if the cup is on a talk show host's desk?

What's The Point?

Lots of other examples to be sure. That SmartCar or Aptera parked on a busy public street. Those custom Nike ID shoes my trainer wears with a "swoosh" color of his choosing. The Motorola logo on the headsets the coaches are wearing on the sidelines at the SuperBowl.  When I change the name (or some form thereof) of a company to a verb such as “tweeting” or "googling" and use it in an email, blog post or magazine article. Other ideas?

Lesson Learned: Not everything that builds brands is paid advertising. Sometimes the conduit of the message is free or people might even pay for the message itself. Egv_tiny_blogicon

(Note: Thanks to friend Michael Markman for suggesting the iPod ear buds and SmartCar as examples in this post.)

February 20, 2009

Digital Screens Are Not Billboards


Digital Screen at Starbucks showing song currently playing in-store

They’re both rectangular, have images and text designed to catch your attention in a short period of time, and are built around a business premise of taking messages to places that people physically (vs. digitally) frequent.  But that is where the similarity ends… or rather where it should end.

Burma Shave and Route 66

Billboards have been around in some form since the mid 1800’s when Jared Bell began making 9’ x 6’ posters for the circus in the US.  Their numbers expanded in the early 1900’s when the Model T was introduced and more people took to the highways. Advertisers quickly saw the miles and miles of open road as an untapped promotional landscape, with cheap potential for increasing consumer reach. Billboards even began to achieve pop culture status when the 6 panel Burma Shave billboards began lining highways such as Route 66 in the mid 1920’s. 

(Does this not sound a lot like the Internet of late 1990s/early 2000’s?  And I won’t pull the cheap shot of referring to the … ah …. “Information Superhighway.”)

However, billboards are not, nor have they always been, welcome additions to the visual environment. (Kind of like the way I feel about pop-ups that are still around and clutter my screen on occasion.) Many cities in the US tried to ban them as early as 1909 - “visual pollution”; and they are currently banned in 4 states (Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii and Maine), as well as in some 1500 individual towns.


(These billboards and others can be seen at Toxel.com.)

So when do billboards work?  When they move away from some of the “in-the-box” thinking and premises of the media and embrace directions such as:

  1. Breaking the old 2D language: Adidas (top right) and Mini Cooper (middle right).
  2. Evolving the image (content) over time: Tide (bottom right).
  3. Integrating visual elements into the surrounding environment outside the billboard space: “Kill Bill” movie promo (lower left).
  4. Blending into the environment rather than encroaching on it:  Nike and its “gate billboard” at the opening of a park and running/nature path (middle left).

Evolution or De-volution?

So where are we now in the timeline of intelligent digital screens that are part of out-of-home networks?  How might they “break out of the frame” and “integrate with the surrounding landscape?” What are the rules they need to construct new creative/interaction models so they are not relegated to the role of disregarded chorus member in what some might call the growing cacophony of screen pollution.

Friend or Foe? Networked Digital Out-of-Home Advertising or Place-Based Media

Some might say that the whole host and variety of digital screens that we now see populating coffee and bagel shops, Nike stores, the window displays of brokers, airport terminals, and even doctors offices are the new millennium equivalent of twentieth century billboards, and with that they also bring with them the potential visual downside if misused. Like the drivers of the Model-T’s, out-of-home screens, are focused on marketing to consumers when they are 'on the go' – but now it is in high frequency foot traffic public places, in-transit queues, waiting lines and in specific commercial locations (such as in a retail venue).

 “In fact, billboards are not just for roadsides anymore. Advertisements have been popping up more frequently inside subways and buses, shopping malls, office buildings and airports.” 

- Jan. 2007 New York Times

But most are getting it all wrong.  Digital screens too often are turning into Route 66 billboards or an homage to “Blade Runner” with all of the associated problems in terms of consumer engagement or downright disdain because of ill conceived approaches and media that brings no personal value to viewers. With that, the opportunity could be lost to foster and grow a truly unique form of communication and connection.

Ported Static Ads vs. Dynamic and Personally Relevant Social Media Opportunity

We will concede that digital signs (even when approached like billboards) can offer what the industry may see as benefits over traditional static signage in that, depending on the intelligence of the backend network sending content to the screen:

  1. content can be updated and exchanged more easily, focusing on the day’s most important promotional item or message,
  2. content can be hyper-local parsing by zip code or other micro-targeting data,
  3. content can adapt to the time of day and audience profile with different programming cycles for different time-of-day experiences.

Unfortunately, the creative of many digital screens is populated by directly ported print ads or banners, TV ads and promo videos that do not take the full potential of the medium into consideration, and other creative that looks as if it was almost directly pulled from the Web, because … well … “It’s kind of interactive.”  Those translations fall short of what the medium (I am assuming there is an intelligent backend here) could be if it took but a few premises into consideration.  If we use the earlier model of the 4 points of “out of box” thinking around interesting and engaging billboards and apply it to networked digital screens:

1.    Breaking the old 2D language: The breaking out of the “self-contained rectangular frame” is in the potential for 2-way connection with people via their mobile devices.  This can include information that is downloaded (store and refer to later), information that is uploaded (consumer generated content) and two-way engagement (play). Examples might include: games and puzzles, download coupons and offers, bookmarking urls and downloading pdfs that relate to more info about on-screen content, consumers uploading content (a survey, comments, shout-outs, photo experiences) to the screen system on the spot, customers being identified through an integration of the digital screen and retail systems to display pre-approved personal information or offers.

2.    Evolving content over time:  By creating programs, events and initiatives, screen network providers, the venues that host them, or major brands that “buy space/time” on them – can create integrated campaigns in which content that people/customers actively create, contribute and comment on is an important element.  This provides ever-fresh and personally relevant screen programming that with more sophisticated two-way and database capabilities/applications could be set to trigger screens when the person who contributed or commented on the content arrives at the venue and activates a mobile device and their ”digital opt-in signature.”

3.    Integrating visual elements into the surrounding environment outside the screen: A website and mobile device outside the individual screens or screen network defines the person’s “surrounding environment” in this case.  Screens should not be seen as isolated uni-directional islands blaring propoganda.  Appropriate social media programs (per #2 above) means enabling people to create and upload, as well as download and experience – media related to the (perhaps shorter form) content of the out-of-home digital network screen on their own personal screens, tethered or mobile.

4.    Blending into the environment rather than encroaching on it: Simply said, the look and feel (UI) and nature of the content of screen programming needs to fit seamlessly into its physical environment and feel a part of it, not at odds with it.  It must deliver on the customers’ expectations of what any experience in that environment should be, in alignment with brand image, without being obtrusive or invasive.

In essence, screen programming needs to embrace and reflect the surrounding brand environment in which it exists (in creative execution and content) and be an integrated part of the kind of experience customers expect (even require) in that environment.  The programming experience needs to be personally meaningful to individuals at the point of physical delivery, but also provide information that can be taken with them when they leave the physical location (via their mobile device) or sent to their computer at home (mobile to screen while at the venue) for later engagement.

So screens are NOT billboards. Simple concept.  Takes some thinking and risk-taking (technically, creatively and in partnerships) to execute. Favicon-short

(Disclosure: Danoo, a Kleiner Perkins backed startup in the out-of-home digital network space is a client.)


February 04, 2009

Are Applications Advertising? - Examining the Nike+ Online/Real World Experience


"I do not regard advertising as entertainment or art form, but as a medium of information."

- David Ogilvy

In one of those moments of sublime serendipity, I recently received my Nike+ kit on the same day that I read a post by gaming industry advisor Keith Boesky excitedly documenting his achievement of reaching the 4,000 mile mark, as well as another post over at AgencySpy about the Nike work at R/GA. The intersection of the three made me think about the relationships between and relative value of advertising and applications, as experienced by individuals in defining their relationship with a brand.

If you already know about Nike+ and want to skip the background info in this rather long post and get to the core of the discussion, jump down to the subhead “Thinking About the Value of Application vs. Advertising.” Otherwise, some background on Nike+ and what these blog posts said that “got me thinking.” 

Nike+ Background

The Nike+iPod Sports Kit is hardware and software that enables you to measure and track the distance and pace of a walk or run (and as of this summer your workouts on some gym cardio equipment). A small accelerometer device is attached/embedded in certain Nike shoes and it communicates with some iPods during runs.  Software then enables that workout data to be uploaded to the Nike+ community website during an iPod sync.  Through the website, challenges can be issued (aka trash-talking) and awards for goals set and obtained.  Over 100 million miles have been logged on the system by over a million runners, half of those miles were accrued in the 8 months between February and October 2008.   That’s a lot of miles and a very engaged community.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Keith's Experience

From his post, Keith is an enthusiastic runner and goal setter.  Every time he runs, he now has a positive and highly personal brand experience with Nike that often inspires him to think about other achievements and learning’s in life (not just the run data that he is accumulating).  That’s a valuable personal and emotional connection for a brand to have earned with an individual. 

“I passed the 4,000 mile mark today with my trusty Nike +. I knew I was going to do it with this run, and I was excited to plug my iPod in to confirm my achievement. When I passed the last milestone, at 3,000, it was the highest category, I was certain I leveled to the highest class. When I plugged it in, I was taken back 22 years to Mount Fuji…”

The Post at AgencySpy re Nike+

This is what I read on the same day about the RG/A Nike+ work that made me think about the relationship between Advertising and Applications and the respective value of each. This is in the words of their unnamed “spy on Nike+ at the agency,” and to me clearly reflects a bit of an old school agency perspective as the inferred benchmark of “goodness” being “is it advertising?” (NOTE: The underlines that follow are mine.)

"It's a great piece of digital work, and it helps to build the brand, but it's an application, not really 'advertising'. That doesn't mean it should be dismissed, cuz it's clearly awesome but you can't build a brand on an app. I can't take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard. I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand."

Thinking About the Value of Applications vs. Advertising

What's Advertising?
(1) From the quote that started this post, David Ogilvy says that advertising is information.

(2) Wikipedia says advertising is:

“…communication that typically attempts to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume more of a particular brand of product or service … through the creation and reinforcement of "brand image" and "brand loyalty".”

(3) I’ll add one more thing to the definition, you have to pay someone to place advertising for you in places where people will be likely to see it – whether it’s a banner ad, a billboard, a radio spot, an interactive retail screen, the back of an athlete’s uniform or a multimillion dollar SuperBowl buy.

What’s a Brand?
We need to understand this if brand is what advertising is supposed to help define and build. (NOTE: The underlines that follow are mine.)

“Brand: a person’s perception of a product, service, experience or organization.” – AIGA’s The Dictionary of Brand

A “person’s perception” is about “emotional connection,” and that connection is informed by some mix of interpreted facts, personal feelings and experiences, shared “third party” experiences of others of personal influence/recommendation (delivered thru traditional media, tweet or blog), and expectations of things to come.

5 Evaluation Factors
From the definitions of brand and advertising above, 5 main factors of evaluation for “Application v Advertising” can be drawn. (Thanks to blogger friend Michael Markman for his feedback here.)

  1. It can facilitate some level of brand experience/perception before any direct experience or purchase of the brand product itself.
  2. Overall goal is to persuade to initial purchase or continue to buy more.
  3. You have to pay an "expert" (agency media buyer) to place it (professionally created content) before an audience.
  4. It is designed to create and reinforce brand image and/or brand loyalty to those who have already purchased.
  5. It can contain both factual information and emotional context that comes from individual interpretation as well as that from their influencers.

Here’s how the Nike+ application plays out when evaluated by these 5 factors

  1. It enables some level of brand experience/perception before any purchase of the brand product
    • Even though you can’t directly experience Nike+ without purchase, you can experience what other enthusiasts and influencers (who you may personally know – even better) say about it – as in the case of me reading Keith Boesky’s 3,000 mile blog post before starting to use my new Nike+
  2. Overall goal is to persuade to purchase or consume more
    • With Nike+, unless you loose or break the hardware, you are probably not going to personally purchase more, but you are going to persuade others to purchase – growing the market none-the-less.
  3. You have to pay to place it before an audience
    • You pay to develop the site and application, but that’s it – you own the end product and community.  It is not an outflow of cash to another entity.
  4. It is designed to create and reinforce brand image and/or brand loyalty to those who have already purchased
    • Enough said.  You are immersed in the Nike brand world with the community and application – reinforcing the message of individual initiative and achievement with group comradery and even “trash talk.”
  5. It can contain both factual information and emotional context that comes from individual interpretation as well as that from their influencers
    • The facts – your stats of distance, time and frequency.  The emotion – talk and challenges from others in the community to drive you on to better performance.

What the Application Has That Advertising Does Not

There are two key ingredients that Application has that Advertising does not – in terms of the value of building the relationship with Brand.  For this Nike+ application:

  1. There is a completely personalized experience – hence more meaningful information AND emotional connection.
  2. It can be solitary/omni- directional (as with advertising) or a shared (two-way) community experience depending on the user’s choice.
  3. The results of people/the community using the application could be taken into other media for pure distribution (eg mobile alerts for getting latest challenges or updates of teammates’ running), or in creating new experiences or content, such as a show about the experience of people on 5 different continents forming a virtual Nike+ running team.

So What's the Point?

Applications are both information and emotion - even more so than “traditional” advertising.  So let’s go back to the excerpt from AgencySpy and do some deconstruction:

  1. “… it's an application, not really 'advertising.'
    •   Yes and that’s where its additional value comes from.  Advertising should no longer be the baseline of effectiveness goodness for engaging an audience.
  2.  "...you can't build a brand on an app...”
    • Maybe only if you are Google, or we could name a few others in Silicon Valley  You can certainly build with both application and advertising.  Some brands initially built their value with no advertising (Starbucks).
  3. “I can't take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard."
    • Debatable these days about the value of some of these media; but you could actually take the result of the community content that comes from the app and make content/stories to be distributed by those media.  Current TV integrated application and broadcast with Twitter streams and the presidential debates.
  4. "I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand."
    • Not really – the information and emotional experience of the Nike+ app that these people experience on every run and share with a community of over a million people IS the brand experience

OK ... done typing now. Favicon


November 06, 2007

What Brands Can Learn from "Mad Men"


Can a TV show that has not actively courted product placement or product integration dollars provide valuable lessons to the same?  In the case of the show "Mad Men" on the AMC cable network, the answer is "Yes."

Created by "The Sopranos" writer and executive producer Matthew Weiner, the show is set in New York City ad world of the 1960's, and focuses on a high-level advertising executive and the people in his life in and out of his Madison Avenue office. While "Mad Men" showcases a variety of real world products, not all of them pay for the privilege.

Products within media (paid for or not) is not a new concept. We can look back to the first film to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture, "Wings" (1927), and see a scene with a young Gary Cooper eating and sharing a Hershey's bar with almonds with fellow pilots.  And who can forget the classic car chase scene (all 9 plus minutes of it!) in the 1968 Steve McQueen movie, "Bullitt" -  a 1968 Ford Mustang G.T.390 Fastback driven by McQueen chasing two hit-men in a Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum through the streets of San Francisco. (That Mustang became so iconic that 40 years later, Ford is showing a limited edition "Bullitt Mustang" at the LA Auto Show.)

While "Wings" and "Bullitt" are some great examples of product within media that makes sense and is natural to the story, many a modern day reality show is built around product placement that is painfully obvious and jarring.

Madmen_jackdaniels So what's the story with "Mad Men?"  In his October 1, 2007 podcast of the KCRW show "The Business"  (also available on iTunes), Claude Brodesser-Akner conducts an insightful interview into the topic of paid product integration (or not) with Matthew Weiner, the show's creator.  One would think that an edgy drama about ad agencies would be rolling in placement dollars.  Not so for "Mad Men" which to date can only count cash coming in from Jack Daniels.  A variety of other products - "free of charge" - are found in conversation throughout the show - including Dr.  Scholls, Right Guard, Alka Seltzer, Lucky Strike and Old Gold.

Weiner is clear in his views about the difference between a product in a show when it is placed as an ad substitute (let's find ways around those pesky Tivos) vs. when it is a natural part of human behavior and conversation.  He uses brands to move the story forward (JD at the local beatnik bar included) and as part of the natural cultural dialogue, whether or not any agency wants to give him money for showing off their wares. Using real brands (circa 1960's and many are still around today) in "Mad Men" keeps the viewer more in the show, as the use of fake brands would ring particularly false in a story that is immersed in advertising culture.

"I can see it (paid product placement). I can smell it. It makes me angry … I am filling my show with all of the items from real life … “

So what's the lesson?  Products in the hands of a gifted story-teller who is focused on narrative and emotional engagement first can not only enhance the manufactured reality of a TV show (eg Mad Men) or movie, but may sometimes even move the product to iconic status (eg Bullitt).  This is not always the case when the "integration" is forced from the agency side.

October 18, 2007

Lessons From the Dove "Evolution" Campaign

Even though the award-winning Dove Evolution video came out a year ago, an October 9th post in danah boyd’s blog got me thinking about it again and the power of “consumer forwarded” and “consumer generated” media, and what lessons can be drawn about audience behavior and digital engagement.  Specifically, where does a “viral hit with relevance” begin?  With the agency or brand, or with the audience?

A little background on Dove Evolution first, with the video below.

In this 75 second video spot, a woman (model) sits down for a rapid-fire makeup/hair session and photo shoot.  Her image is then taken onto a computer for some massive PhotoShop retouching – stretching the neck, moving the cheekbones etc.  We see the final image – which has little resemblance to the original woman - on a billboard for a faux beauty product.  This leads to the dramatic tag line: “No wonder our perception of beauty is so distorted.”

Here's the Dove Evolution Film:

Now the connection to danah’s post in which she talked about her own unexpected participation in the campaign a year ago, when she chose to scrape and share the video with others because it had such personal relevance.

"I saw the Dove Evolution ad and wanted it to be spread around, especially to the anti-violence against women folks … and the teens who I was talking with. I was pissed off that it wasn't on YouTube or in any embeddable format (at the time it wasn't findable, but since, it appears as though people did post it before me). I knew it needed to be embeddable to be spreadable. So, with the help of some tech-savvy friends, I scraped the Flash video from the Unilever site and uploaded it to YouTube. And then I posted it to MySpace. And then I posted it to other video sharing sites. And then I sent it to a bunch of friends. And then I blogged about it…I wasn't the sole contributor to its proliferation on the web. Other versions had more views and bigger blogs posted links to various versions. .... somehow, I was doing exactly what a good "fan" should do, even though I had never thought of it that way."

This peaked my curiosity to find out more about the backstory, so I wrote a friend at O&M in New York and asked her what she knew and to post her comments to danah’s blog. In essence, she told me that the video was indeed first posted to YouTube by the two women creative directors from Ogilvy Toronto who conceived and produced the film on a shoestring with no media budget.  They, along with a Unilever (owns Dove brand and Campaign for Real Beauty) product manager felt this conversation should be out in the blogosphere.

“This wasn't a crass commercial ploy and it wasn't all altruism either. It has sold a bit of soap, but it was grounded in something bigger and more important -- the belief that the world would be a better place if women were allowed to feel good about themselves … the fact that many people choose to spread the word and encourage the conversation, demonstrates that this was an idea that was much bigger and more meaningful than any ad campaign could hope to be.”

So who made this a piece of relevant viral content?  In my opinion, the creators AND the audience.  The creative directors made an amazing “mini documentary” that struck a powerful chord with women.  Without a media budget for the digital space, it went out into the blogosphere by its creators via YouTube and by engaged bloggers who may or may not have found it in shareable form, but scraped and posted their own version and embedded it in blog posts and a number of video sharing sites.

It’s interesting to look at the YouTube numbers as an example. The version uploaded by Ogilvy Toronto has almost 4.9 million views.  If you aggregate the views of other posts of the video by those outside of the agency relationship, you get another 4.9 million views: two uploads at 1.4M each, another at 1.7M, 229k and 85k (from the top search returns).  A total of 9.8 million to date.  Up from 1 million a year ago.  This conversation has legs!

Being interested in how influential the “official” post of the Evolution video on YouTube was in spreading the message, I ran the BuzzLogic enterprise software around the Boolean search phrase:

dove AND (evolution OR “campaign for real beauty” OR onslaught)

The data that is revealed is that 697 unique sites were involved in that defined conversation with 4,492 posts on the topics within the sites (meaning multiple posts on the topic per site).

And indeed, that one O&M posted YouTube video (Oct 6, 2006) was the single most influential piece of media. The influence map below around that single placement of content shows 716 posts linking to this one piece of content (remember it was posted in many other places).  If this doesn’t demonstrate exponential and organic spread of a message through influencer engagement, I don’t know what does.



Some food for thought and lessons to be learned.

1. In the online world, it’s not about set TV commercial timeframes of  :15, :30, :45 or a minute.  It's about setting the time that is needed to tell the story.  The Dove Evolution  spot online clocks in at over a minute, and its story clearly connected with the audience in a form (and length) they deemed worthy of sharing.

2. Relevance, emotional intensity and context, along with the right level of creative execution, is key in creating content that influencers will share and embed and that will be part of the conversation for an extended period of time.  Reading posts from a year ago about the Dove video on YouTube states a million views.   One year later, if you sum the numbers from the various YouTube only posts of the video alone, there are now 9 million.

3. It’s not just about one place, YouTube, but where and how people choose to discover, share and embed the content with their influence circles.   People don’t just go to YouTube to find videos, just like people don’t always go to the home pages of news sites anymore.  People are finding video content (hosted on YouTube) via the video being embedded in posts and articles from people they already read and trust.

4. User generated content isn’t just about knock-off videos. Sure there are parodies of Evolution, but the powerful UGC here was the text in the consumer audience’s posts and comments, as well as the (non-digital) water cooler conversation.

5. The metrics of engagement are not just about reach and page views, but are about all of the quantitative AND qualitative channels of consumer sharing and amplification as seen in blog comments, posts, and embedded links; chat groups and message board entries; email forwards; video responses and “favorites”; brand health surveys, etc.

6. The lack of a big media budget is not a barrier to success. Prior to the Evolution video, millions had been spent on a SuperBowl ad to promote the Dove Self Esteem Fund (some posts say $2.5M others say $3.75M).  Uploading to YouTube cost nothing.  The Evolution video generated the biggest-ever traffic spike to CampaignForRealBeauty.com, three times more than the Super Bowl ad and resulting publicity from the previous year, according to Alexa.com.

Dove Evolution worked (and still works!) because: 1) the brand had a clear mission and idea, 2) the idea had relevance to influencers, 3) influencers found the content, 4) the content was sharable and embeddable, and 5) the creative execution was remarkable.

Here's the Dove followup film called Onslaught:

October 11, 2007

Toyota and World of Warcraft - "I am the lawgiver."

With more than a million views in just a few days (if you aggregate all the various uploads of the clip on YouTube), the sharing and conversation that the "machinama-like" Saatchi & Saatchi produced Toyota Tacoma pickup ad, " Truck Summoner," speaks volumes about the importance of gaming culture and the media value of gaming  platforms (or simulating/exposing them in traditional media distribution platforms like TV) to gamers and non-gamers alike.

With broad dissemination and  discussion on advertising, car and gamer sites alike, AutoBlog called it "... one of the funniest car commercials we've seen so far this year, and we're surprised Toyota didn't save it for the Super Bowl."

The ad originally aired last weekend on CBS during various college football games, although all the buzz and conversation seems to be around people seeing and sharing it online. In the 30-second spot, a  Toyota Tacoma pickup is cleverly placed inside a convincing simulation of Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft game featuring voice chat (introduced in Patch 2.2.0 of the game) of  players talking strategy through their in-game persona-avatars.

Here's a brief synopsis followed by the ad itself.

As various participants choose weapons, one "Leeroy Jenkins-inspired" team member unexpectedly declares, "I'm going to equip myself with a little four wheels of fury!" The Tacoma materializes (It's his "mount" in WoW language) and he speeds off despite protests from his rigid rule-following teammates ("There's no trucks in World of Warcraft!") who then are forced to engage in a hot pursuit. (This loose cannon is spoiling their well-though-out plan, afterall.) A dragon consumes the Tacoma, which subsequently bursts from its chest with the slain beast's heart beating in the flatbed - demonstrating a big victory.

"Did you see me lay down the law?" I am the lawgiver!" is the definitive rebel's statement at the end of the commercial.  Followed by a humble "How do I get one of those?" by a previously unimpressed teammate.

So the traditional questions might be:

  • Is this an ad just for WoW players?
  • Do WoW watch college sports?
  • With 9 million WoW players and about 2 million of them in the US, is this a large enough market to target?
  • Aren't WoW just kids or college students with no real life or jobs to have the money to buy a new expensive truck?  Don't they just drive the 1985 Corolla they inherited from their mother?

Maybe ... but I don't think that is necessarily the thinking behind this creative or what is important. A more interesting discussion is around how this ad is already entering the cultural zeitgeist and generates conversation (positive and negative) and influence around the Toyota brand.  I have shared the story with friends even though I have no interest in a truck from Toyota, but I do like the Prius or a Hybrid Highlander.  But it contributes to my perception of Toyota as a creative entity with a sense of humor and a firm and fresh connection to the current cultural pulse.

Some additional information that may be helpful:
1. World of Warcraft is a MMORPG - a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.  As with other MMORPGs, players control a character avatar within a persistent game world, exploring the landscape, fighting monsters, and interacting with NPCs (aka Non player characters) as well as other players. The game rewards success with money, items, and experience, which in turn allow players to improve their skill and power. (from Wikipedia)

2. A mount refers to an item that, upon activation, depicts the character as riding a mount, as opposed to the normal movement of walking/running. Characters of certain levels and skill ability can acquire these mounts in order to increase their movement speed on land. Mounts can also be acquired via reputation with certain factions, completion of quests, or through special items produced in related material or as very rare loot drops obtained by defeating bosses in instances. (from Wikipedia)

3. The famous Leeroy Jenkins video ("A Rough Go") has in and of itself inspired numerous  parodies on various video sharing and gamer sites, as well as a question on the TV game show Jeopardy. Leeroy Jenkins has, in fact, become a meme - a unit/symbol of cultural information. There's an interview with Ben Schulz (aka Leeroy Jenkins )at BlizzCon and an extensive and well-written recent background article by Joel Warner.  Here is the original "Rough Go" video.

August 01, 2007

Making an Impression? - The Demand for Impressions vs. The Quest for Relevant Engagement

Many a creator of online programming and campaigns for brands have been feeling the increasing pressure to deliver real time data and performance “success” metrics far beyond those that would ever be considered (and would often be impossible to generate)  in the world of traditional media  - magazines, TV, radio.  You’re told: “Hey it’s digital, it should be “easy” to measure.”  But what is the appropriate “it?” And the metric – impressions -  that is referred to as having some level of “apples to apples” comparison value across traditional and digital media, is considered by many to have become a low value, if not meaningless, measurement of what works.

For impressions, the value and reliability is further diminished when advertisers do not (or cannot) place a different value on an impression generated from a link farm to that delivered from one embedded next to relevant editorial/creative content.  Also, context and immediate consumer relevance can alter the value of an impression within: (1) the same creative content/site for two different advertisers/content creators; and (2) different high quality content sites to the same advertiser/content creator. Impressions can’t differentiate any of this.

So what happens when there is the collision of a growing addiction to numbers, any numbers, without truly useful standards of measurement?  At minimum there is a misalignment between advertisers, content creators, and media distribution platforms.  And worse case: (1) there can be “rewards” to sites that “trick” consumers to get more clicks, or (2) great programming and creative can be axed because it is not generating the “right numbers” no matter how irrelevant the magic measure.

While it may not be about throwing away impressions completely - the future model may be to look for the development of metrics that are about relevant engagement and conversation, as well as softer measures of brand health –such as recognition and awareness – that are often generated in the tradition media world through panels and surveys.  In the digital world, there is potential access to significantly large numbers of individuals (much larger than most real world surveys) in dialogue around a variety of subjects, brands and programming included.  What is needed are the systems to engage and analyze those individuals and dialogues in a way that provides meaningful engagement and input for the refinement of creative programming and campaigns.

June 25, 2007

If You Build It (The Parts That Is) Will They Come?

In the 1989 baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” a disembodied voice keeps telling Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella: “If you build it, they will come.” Taking a bit of liberty with this piece of classic dialogue and framing it within the context of the world of video mashups, this might be rephrased and asked of brands and new media businesses: “If you build it – the video parts that is – will they come?”

Mashup_2 A video mashup is created by the combination of multiple sources of video (can also include audio and photos) that usually have no direct relationship to each other— and this combination forms a new “derivative” creative work.

Most often we think of mashups as underground, not officially sanctioned by the brands, artists or companies who originated much of the source material. As danah boyd said in her talk, “Film and the Audience of Tomorrow” at the Cannes Film Festival this year:

“Most remix, video mashups, animated music videos, and machinema (film made by "shooting" a video in a virtual world) is made by the under-25 crowd and it's increasingly underground because of pressures by the content copyright owners. This creative outlet is the result of a new form of consumption, a very active form of consumption. People are consuming cultural artifacts like film and regurgitating identity expression.”

But what happens if and when brands officially provide video bits and other elements and encourage audience engagement and “identity expression” in hopes of the creation of material that reflects back positively on them?  And what happens when people create it anyway – officially sanctioned or not – positive or not?

In looking at the “officially sanctioned” mashup side of the house, some food for thought in considering the initiation of such a campaign:

  • A brand needs to be comfortable with the premise that in a world of consumer-controlled content, the consumer can't be controlled. And not only be comfortable with that, but be able to embrace the probable outcome that some of the resulting mashups will be, on the surface, negative to the brand.
  • The content elements that a brand provides need to be worthy of a user’s time.  Mashups are an active form of media consumption, taking time and thought to create.
  • Any form of user-generated content campaign, mashup or not, will only work if it fits the product.
  • Mashups naturally blur the line between advertising and content.

Some Examples

Consumer Products - Chevy Tahoe
On March 13, 2006 -  Chevrolet introduced a Web site allowing visitors to take existing video clips and music, insert their own words and create a customized 30-second commercial for the 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe.  Not all of the 22,000 video remixes were glowing homages to the truck, and in fact, the negative parodies  garnered significant attention.  But negative on the surface may in the end be positive to the brand depending on how the reaction is managed. As Forrester Research’s Charlene Li said:

“While some people point to this campaign as an example of the failure of viral marketing and social computing, I think it points to a great success. Our definition of social computing is when technology results in power shifting from institutions (like Chevy) to communities (like customers). By losing that control over the brand experience, Chevy actually brought more people into it — witness the debate over the campaign itself. The environmental and SUV fuel economy debate has always existed outside of the Chevy experience, but by bringing it into chevyapprentice.com, Chevy has harnessed it into a promotional benefit ... Marketers that have the guts to turn over their brand to the public will in the end win over their customers.”

Movies – Star Wars 30th Anniversary
For the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, Lucasfilm has allowed fans to create mashups of the movie. In fact, they have gone beyond “allow”, encouraging it by making the source content available. At some level, they understand that allowing fans to interact with the material will ultimately enhance its value and reach.

Television - NBC's Heroes
Heroes has a campaign active now for fans to create their own comic book or music video as part of a contest leading up to the 2007 Comic-Con in San Diego.

Politics - Hilary Clinton/Barak Obama/Apple 1984 Ad Mashup
While not in the "officially sanctioned" category of the above examples, how can you ignore the power of a mashup example in which as of today there have been almost 3.5M views and  10,000 comments just within the YouTube environment – that is not counting links and conversation outside this space.

Without a doubt, uncensored user generated media, of which mashups are a part, are powerful, and often personal, forms of expression.  And where there is passion, creativity, and easy-to-use technology for creation and distribution  - it wil exist and thrive.  Using mashups as part of the communications media mix - be it for a brand, product, media property or politician - is for the consideration of the well-informed adventurer and those willing to engage in two-way conversation as opposed to one sided scripted "product lectures." 

June 13, 2007

What Brands Can Learn from Ze Frank

The Show with Ze Frank began on March 17, 2006 and ended exactly one year later. You can watch Ze's Zefranktitle sportracers (aka his viewers) giving their "I'll be seeing you's" in a compilation video with many homages to the past year of shows. Ze provided an easy way for fans to upload their videos  and see those from others. Don't miss Ze's final show.

Now imagine a brand creating a way in which it can engage its customers and influencers in as interesting and honest a way.

June 10, 2007

Relevant vs Mass - Choosing the Right Media Platforms

The days of one-way communication using only the 30-second TV ad and the glossy magazine spread have come to an end. In today's world, there are dozens of ways for companies to interact with people beyond old-school approaches. After all, what's the value of impressions if they don't lead to action? More and more, companies are learning that the most effective media isn't necessarily the kind that reaches the most people, it's the kind that reaches the right people.


In considering content development, distribution options, and audience touch points, brands today have a whole portfolio of solutions available to them. Some options may be just reaching the tipping point of mainstream relevance — like branded content, podcasts, digital micro-networks, blogs, and consumer generated media. Others are about having the vision to see new forms of programming that can be delivered via already ubiquitous mobile and gaming platforms. And some approaches may simply be about looking at radically new ways to use traditional media and integrate them with the digital world.

June 09, 2007

The Value of the Conversation is Not the Same as the Size of the (Subscriber) Audience

How do you value a passive versus an active audience?  Are 100,000 passive subscribers to a magazine as valuable as 1,000 readers in an active social network who pass and promote your ideas on to their respective inter-connected networks of 100 people each or more?  They represent the same number of “eyeballs”, so the old school math of Big Media – gross impressions – would probably count these as equal.  But I think that’s light years behind in terms of the truth about engagement and influence, although less so in terms of the ability to measure - which is still a challenge. 

In the traditional ad world, the following are among the various components of a quantitative value profile. But the don't really differentiate whether people have engaged with the message/content at all, or the level at which they have engaged.

  • Gross Rating Points & Total Rating Points
  • CPM (Cost per thousand views)
  • Total Impressions projected & delivered at the end of a campaign
  • The change in various brand health scores specifically modeled for the company (which assumes you have accurately defined the things that really move the needle with your audience in the market)

What do we have in the social media world?  It's not just about Page Views  (see Jeff Jarvis' Guardian column on "Death of the Page View"), or popularity/most viewed index (which many say can be manipulated) or the number of friends or connections someone lists in a branded network space (how do you know who the "real active connections" are?). 

Maybe it's about finding a new way to identify  (BuzzLogic is doing this) and then measure the value of  influencers (and the various levels of them) and the "network receivers" of their messages.  Is there a financial value that a brand can attach to the engagement of an influencer or receiver much in the same way that direct marketing campaigns measure cost of customer acquisition?   - essentially creating  the ROI of influence in a campaign.

In the end, I don't think it's about old vs. new media measures superiority to one other.  And the comparison is really apples and oranges - with contrived results bound to happen if one tries to equate the traditional value measures with new media measures.

(The painting/illustration is by Norman Rockwell - "The Gossips," 1948 .)

June 08, 2007

Viral vs Buzz vs WOM – Get Out Your Dictionary (or Wikipedia)

So what is the connection between viral, buzz, and word of mouth? Are they the same or are they completely different entities? Does one necessarily generate the other?  Or none of the above?  Not to get too hung up on language, but prompted in part by a recent read of a great Harvard Business Review piece, “Viral Marketing for the Real World”  by Duncan J. Watts  and Jonah Peretti, and  given some recent conversations, I think it is worth a few hundred words and a sketch of one model for consideration. 

Viralbuzzwom2_2 VIRAL

  • This is a tactic.
  • For brands it is usually a manufactured marketing message, but the Jonah Peretti's Nike "sweatshop" viral email of 2001 is a great example of how something unexpectedly takes off.
  • The content that is crated needs to be easy to share with transparency embedded in the media.
  • For Viral to translate to Buzz and WOM requires providing people with something directly relevant to the brand.  Just because something is Viral does not mean it will generate appropriate WOM that translates to brand movement.


  • This is NOT about a particular media tactic.
  • It is about conversation (digital or real world), but that conversation may not have brand relevance or personal experience attached. Otherwise, Buzz is just a lot of noise that doesn't move the needle.
  • For it to be effective, it requires providing something for people to talk about that is personally relevant and engaging. A good vintage example of this is the Honda Accord COGs video - which would also stand the "test" of Viral above.
  • For Buzz to move to WOM requires a brand relevant connection.


  • This is NOT about a particular media tactic.
  • It is about conversation that is about tapping into the power of people's personal networks in a way that is relevant and personally beneficial.
  • It can be stimulated but it CANNOT ultimately be controlled. Think early days of  American Idol and the Apple iPod.
  • WOM can create CHANGE if the conversation is fueled by meaningful stories.

In the end, what’s really important is not just about debating the words, but understanding the process of engagement. The end goal is about CHANGE of perceptions and actions.

June 07, 2007

Integrated Branded Content - It’s All About Engage vs. Tell

Boomers. GenXers. GenNexers. Regardless of the generation a brand is trying to reach, a relevant and emotional connection with the audience is the goal. With the proliferation of media vehicles that people have to choose from today - or perhaps more likely, that they are trying to avoid - brands must reach beyond the traditional and embrace new, powerful forms of storytelling communications.

Brands can create "branded content or entertainment networks" by creatively leveraging existing media assets, generating original programming, and encouraging user/consumer generated media. That programming can then be distributed in a number of ways — by the brand itself, via syndication with other sites and networks, or virally through the social media world. Finally, how individuals engage with that content should be monitored and measured in real time in order to inform changes that need to be made during the campaign.

These digital solutions can be integrated with more traditional media to create a powerful, effective and ongoing program that promotes the creation and sharing of content and story. Below is an example of this concept applied to a simple Branded Content campaign.


(1) An online web or podcast series (with or without gaming component) could drive awareness to a live event.

(2) The live event would provide press stories and additional content for more online programming distributed at the website and through partner sites, blogs and social networks; and with appropriate retail hooks, drive store traffic.

(3) Programming from the event and from seeded influencers could inspire a user/consumer generated media campaign, the unique and passionate stories of which would go on to fuel “traditional media” in print and broadcast coverage.

(4) Many of the elements can be designed to connect to affinity/loyalty programs that can facilitate deeper engagement and can feed directly back into the digital media and live event worlds with premiums, content and special access.

June 06, 2007

Does the Shape of a Network Influence Its Value?

Does the shape or structure (small/tight vs. open/loose) of a social network determine its usefulness to members and hence its value to a brand attempting to engage those members?

A tight/closed network could be seen like a “clique” in high school where friends only do things with each other and there are many redundant ties.  Once something is accepted by the group, it may be deeply embedded and universally accepted – but the ability to infiltrate the group with something new from the outside in the first place is small.  And the likelihood that it will be spread outside the group even smaller. More open “virtual or influencer” networks, where members have ties outside the ”branded space” into a variety of networks, and can bridge the two, may offer greater opportunity for the introduction of new ideas and conversations – and hence have greater value to a brand in terms of engagement.


If this is the case, those seen as popular within the confines of a “more closed” social space (those seen as power players with 1000 friends or 1000 connections), may not be as valuable as they appear on the surface if they are not also strongly connected to a number of “outside” networks. And in the case of an entire branded social network, its real value may not just be in the number of members (and we can always debate the total members v active members story), but also in the number of members with strong links outside the network.

Fewer friends, more outside connections -  may be more of the story of real individual influence and network value.


Liz Gebhardt

  • © Amanda Jones
    Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

    Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.