10 posts categorized "Pop Culture"

November 09, 2012

Technology and Live Events: Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013

  Framed_woodstock2012_h

The Question

What might one of the iconic music and cultural events of the past century – Woodstock – look like today with the integration of digital and social technologies, especially with Twitter as the network?  And how might this compare almost 20 years later to the first experimental integration of digital consumer technology into the 25th anniversary of that live event?  (If your reading time is limited, go to the sections in this post labeled "Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013" and "Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements.")

The Background

In 1969, Joni Mitchell said, "Woodstock was a spark of beauty" where half-a-million kids "saw that they were part of a greater organism." Without any real outside media coverage during the event, that experience was initially limited to those camped out for 4 days at the 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.  The true size of that “greater organism” and the full impact of the cultural experience that transformed and energized a group into the “Woodstock generation”  - came later, delayed by limitations in distributing and sharing the experience.

Cut away to the present time, and we see widely adopted consumer media creation technologies and platforms like Twitter that when creatively deployed (with smart production values and rock solid engineering) in areas such as politics, entertainment, and sports  - create real-time living breathing “organisms” (we might now say audience or community) that are “Woodstock worthy” in terms of the potential for impact - and that powerfully bridge the physical and digital worlds for both those at the event and others geographically separated from the event and each other by even thousands of miles.

So it’s not surprising that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently told the Wall Street Journal that the company is evolving to "more closely tie the shared experience on Twitter to the actual event that is happening."  And the proof of that is certainly found in the company’s track record of just the past 6 months as Twitter has made some bold and successful partnership and production moves into the live event integration arena with examples such as:

  • NASCAR – Launching a relationship with the first sports organization to create an enhanced live event experience on the platform.  (May 2012)
  • The London Olympics – Partnering with a major main stream media company, NBCUniversal, along with major brands such as GE, to create an infrastructure and experience that aggregated and parsed millions of tweets from athletes, fans, and commentators. (July-August 2012)
  • The US Presidential Debates and Election Night Coverage – Redefining the relationship between first and second screen in terms of information, conversation, and delivery of candidate announcements.  (October – November 2012) 

The Experiment

So what if we now take Woodstock - one of the most surprising and culturally redefining live music events of the past 50 years - and use the lens of technology powered media and engagement – to see how the spirit and experience of the 1969 original was translated with early digital technology in its first “reissue” at the 25th Anniversary in 1994, and what a “reimagined Woodstock” might be in 2013/2014 with the kinds of technologies and experiences we have today, with twitter as the empowering network.

A quick comparison table here with frameworks, specifics, and flowcharts following.   Download Woodstock Comp Grid

The 25th Anniversary of Woodstock 

In August 1994, the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock was held over a three-day period at the 800-acre upstate New York farm that had been initially intended for the first event.  This was the first time that the iconic brand had ever been revisited as an event, and the producers who had also set the stage for the original phenomena, wanted to remain true to that initial vision while also adding relevance for what they described as “a generation who was reading William Gibson and getting up on the Internet.”

(NOTE: This was quite a statement to be made at that time. In 1994, there were only 1500 Web servers online, the Mosaic browser had just come out one year earlier, Earthlink was launching, and Yahoo was about a browser and content index. No Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. There were no smart phones, and consumer digital still and video cameras were expensive and limited in resolution.  Platforms to distribute media were limited to videotape and CDROM, with containers and authoring systems being jerry-rigged around software such as Macromedia Director.)

But what was the same then versus now?  The drive to create and share information and experiences.

An 8-acre area of the festival field was carved out and named “The Surreal Field” with interactive experiences from artists like Todd Rundgren and Peter Gabriel.  This was also where a 4000 square foot tented production facility (plus an adjoining semi truck with mobile video editing bays) was built in which Woodstock concert goers could observe the behind-the-scenes creation of the twice-daily Woodstock News “video magazine” by a team of two dozen videographers, editors, animators, blue screen operators, composers, programmers, onscreen talent, field reporters, producers and directors working nearly round the clock.  Story types included Woodstock history and event pre-production, behind the scenes interviews, artist interviews, concert audience “ambush style” interviews, “question of the day” blue screen interviews, creative and gaming tech stories, and the concert schedule for the day.

Additionally, limited amounts of text-based reporting were sent out each day via an Apple Web Server.  Yes, limited Internet access was pulled into this portion of the 800 acre cow pasture for this purpose.

A simple flow chart (click image below for larger size image) of the creation of the Woodstock News in terms of people, equipment, and infrastructure. Almost two dozen people, more than 12 Macintosh computers and 24 monitors just to handle acquisition, digitizing, and output to a distribution format from “professional” sources.  No opportunity for “audience” contribution or feedback other than the limited offering in field interviews and blue screen “question of the day” segments.

Framed WoodstockProdFlow

 

  • Woodstocknewsroom
  • Woodstock_jumbo_Blog
  • Woodstock News Storyboard
  • *band schedule image
  • WoodQuestionDay 2
  • Woodpress
  • Woodstockk Logo
Woodstockk Logo

 

My observation at the time on the people and the technology, and live events as platforms for testing creative and technical boundaries. I think it’s very relevant no matter the year – then or now.

"Sometimes it’s almost more about how well your team will coalesce and how they will deal with the elements and difficult situations - mud, crowds, thunderstorms, close-quarter housing - than if the technology will work.  Rock and roll festivals are great places to test the boundaries of multimedia, both from a technical as well as a creative sense.  From a creative perspective, you have to create something that will really grab and maintain people’s attention - from the front row to the guy standing half a mile from the stage watching the Jumbotrons.  And technically, you never know what you might face in terms of the elements causing problems with your equipment - dust in the video deck heads, thunderstorms during which you have to power down, rain coming in through AC vents - and there is no local Apple dealer around when you are out in the middle of what is essentially an 840-acre cow pasture."

Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013

There are innumerable ways that one could reimagine and engineer a Woodstock  with the wealth of broadly distributed digital and social technologies available to both professionals and the “consumer” audience today, the user experience, design and technical skills that have developed from experiments on many platforms, and the mobile element – which did not exist for anyone at any price before.


Framed WoodstockTwitter2013Infographic

This is a simple flow chart (click for full size image) showing the sourcing of various forms (created by both pro and user) of media content and conversation directly and indirectly into Twitter, and then the moderation, curation, and filtration of that along with the tweet wrapper content itself -  based on both human editorial and rule sets – to create output, visualizations, and control streams back out to various distribution types, displays, and devices.

The description and schematic above in this post represent just one possible “reimagining” (with Twitter as the primary network).  It is meant more as a sketchpad for thinking more deeply from creative, technical and business perspectives of what we can do now in bridging the physical and digital worlds (in both real-time and asynchronously) in ways that were never before possible.  And those new kinds of experiences may well create the “sparks of beauty” and connection to a “greater organism” that Joni Mitchell talked about in the opening of this post. 

  • It  - and that which it surfaces and displays by separating the signal from the noise - can become part of the event/show itself;
  • It can take a deeper show experience to other people outside of the event space (geographic independence synchronously) and time (asynchronous);
  • It can change the “planned” nature of the event itself, by content and conversation created by the audience locally and in other areas;
  • It can spark unexpected cultural shifts.

Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements

(1) Content Input Sources into Twitter

How might media of all forms come into Twitter at a major live event such as a reimagined Woodstock?  Significantly different from the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock, media comes from both the pros and the audience.  And depending on the synchronous nature of the event, that audience may not be geographically determined or bounded.

From the event producers, pros, and the artists themselves, we might see:

  • Video elements such as live streaming, edited packages included historical and behind the scenes stories, video bits from location-based monitoring cameras (like DropCams), and timelapse;
  • Audio delivery via live streaming, asynchronous stream or download, edited and packaged interviews and commentary;
  • Individual iconic photos and high quality photo packages;
  • Engagement activities constructed around live tweet chats, polling, alerts, and announcements;
  • Information and data generating devices automatically generating data to a “Tweet card” output based on some behavior by attendees.

For the “audience” both geographically near and far, the ability to create media and commentary is unprecedented.

  • Visual media creation from smart phones, DSLRs, and GoPro cameras, loaded directly to Twitter or attached via intermediary site (e.g. video to YouTube or photo to Instagram).  Short video bursts via perhaps Vine or Viddy.  Longer form via YouTube, Vimeo, and other newly emerging video distribution platforms.
  • Comments and text posts

(2) Separating the Relevant Signal from the Noise

As software advances (including Mass Relevance and other custom software) and real-time human curation skills develop, the effective (from both production and engineering perspectives) moderation, curation and filtration of the vast sea of tweets and associated media from such an event can be parsed and routed to the right people and devices (both private and public) that not only enhance, but change the very nature of a live experience such as a Woodstock

(3) Experience Outputs and Destinations

Twitter content may then be filtered and edited into dynamic media packages, or the underlying data translated into infographics, guides, and maps.  For example:
  • Event page curation as was seen at the 2012 Olympics, with in the not too distant future, the option to add another layer of personal filtering based on geography, demographics, or interests;
  • Tweet streams, editorially selected tweets, and tweet visualizations sent to venue-based displays, as well as out to various broadcast and Web partners;
  • Tweet activity informing real time maps and “programming guides” to optimize the experience of both on-site attendees as well as those at a distance; (See Twitter's Director of TV Fred Graver’s talk including comments about Twitter creating real-time programming guides – a live event is not that different;
  • Tweet activity and conversation turning into data that controls onsite or remote devices, offering up new forms of activities and entertainments that the “Twitter audience” creates intentionally or unintentionally through it’s actions.

More than a moment in time. It’s a way of being in the world.

This is true not only for a major live event with deep cultural influence, but also for Twitter itself.

Beyond the ideas sketched in this post, fully conceiving a reimagined Woodstock size live event would also require looking deeply into engineering issues, brand engagement opportunities, and revenue models including and beyond creative advertising and sponsorship. This party is just getting started, so to speak.  

Favicon 

 

January 16, 2011

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

MovieMarketing_3Posters

 

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

GenericMarketingMatrix
GenericMarketingMatrixPage2


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

October 03, 2010

When A Comet Meets a Tornado – The Power of Creative Partnerships

 

CometTornadoFramed2

 

In a world that seems to crave the solitary archetypes of the lone hero, the rugged individual, the anti-social nerd and the alpha wolf, have we forgotten the magic, mystery and power that can be found in the story of collaborative creativity? How is it that two people or a “small” group, with individuals capable and talented in their own right, can create together what they could not have done on their own?  These are important questions for both the artistic and entertainment community, as well as that of science and commerce – both in search of “that which is the new” and the illusive innovative breakthrough.

Take, for example, the unexpected “love story” between Professors Randy Pausch and Don Marinelli, who together created the Carnegie Mellon (CMU) Entertainment Technology Center in a unique marriage of science and art.

 

Background

Many have heard of “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. Less known is the story of the unique partnership between Pausch and Marinelli (the Associate Head of Drama at CMU),  in the building of the CMU ETC.  Pausch (the comet – an illuminating astral body) and Marinelli (the tornado – a whirlwind of energy and creativity) were two dynamic men who met each other with polar opposite personalities, skills, life experiences and perspectives, but still found a way to powerfully join forces, create something much bigger than themselves, and unexpectedly change each other in the process.  Their premise: that the false divide that often exists between engineering and art could be bridged by showing that the two actually think surprisingly alike and can work together in trusted collaboration without mastery of knowledge in the other’s domain. Their work resulted in the definition of a unique interdisciplinary approach to the creation of technology-driven interactive entertainment founded on premises of team dynamics that provide valuable lessons for individuals and companies far beyond the walls of academia.

 “…while we were both alpha males, we were from vastly different cultures.  The battle for domination was essentially neutralized when we realized it wasn’t about which lion would rule the pride, because we were actually two distinctive breeds sharing the same enclosure.  And that environment was unfamiliar to both of us … “ - Don Marinelli (p. 42)

 

Defining the Individual

For Pausch and Marinelli, in order to understand and maximize the dynamics of the group, one had to first define two major dimensions of importance of the individual.

(1) Defining the value one uniquely brings to the team : A unique (self-understood) skill set and a predisposition to making others successful (vs just being smart) are paramount.

“Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 33)

“Smart isn’t enough.  The kind of people I want on my research team are those who will help everyone else feel happy to be here.’” Randy Pausch (p. 118)

(2) Acknowledging the value that “the other half” on the team provides: Defining what you don’t know, and that you don’t need to know it because other trusted members of your team have that knowledge.  Admitting the “lack of knowledge” held by “the other half” tends to clear away many of the opportunities for egos and attitude triggered by a fear of comparison.

“When we’re connected to others, we become better people.” - Randy Pausch (p. 176)

" When I collaborate with people, the further apart they are from me, the more I learn.” - Don Marinelli (p. 80)

 

Defining the Dynamics of the Group

Pausch and Marinelli believed that the best innovative (and inherently risky in terms of predicted outcome) work would be done by groups defined by a significant diversity of skills and experiences among members, mixed with a strong commonality of “teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship, the value of hard work, and ability to deal with adversity.”

“When we’re connected to others, we become better people.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 176)

"When I collaborate with people, the further apart they are from me, the more I learn.” - Don Marinelli (p. 80)

Married with this philosophy of the creative team, was a set of simple “rules” for optimizing group dynamics:

  • Meet people properly
  • Find things you have in common
  • Try for optimal meeting conditions
  • Let everyone talk
  • Check egos at the door
  • Praise each other
  • Phrase alternatives as questions

Equally important was a set of guidelines for giving and taking feedback.

  • On giving: “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 151) 
  • On taking: “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”   - Randy Pausch (p. 37)

 

New Research and Writings

Beyond the story of Pausch and Marinelli, there is some interesting new research and writing on this topic of “socially powered creativity” that echoes and amplifies their practical lessons from building the ETC.

Writer Joshua Wolf Shenk has begun a series of posts on Slate.com as well as a group page on Facebook to examine the story of “creative pairs”  (he’s limiting his “group size” to the number 2). His premise:

“The stereotypes of miraculous breakthrough moments—and the incessant drive to locate them in the head of epic individuals—are slowly yielding to a portrait of complex, meandering, inherently social paths toward innovation… there’s an experimental foundation now to demonstrate how our cognitive structures morph when we’re very close with other people, so that our ideas of “self” literally expand to include another person.”

Beyond face-to-face creative collaboration, some like Steven Johnson are writing about the amplification that the Internet provides in its role as a connector of diverse and remote relationships.

And others, like Daniel Pink in “Drive” are writing about what motivates us – and surprise – it’s not about “carrots and sticks”, but about mastery and purpose, something that Pausch and Marinelli learned early on in the forming of ETC.

 

Lesson Learned

So what happens when a comet meets a tornado – when the creative state successfully moves from the solitary to the collaborative?  In his relationship with Pausch, Marinelli observed that:

 “… (there is an) importance of being attuned to more than one’s personal desires and ambitions.  If you truly believe the answer is blowing in the wind, then you need to go outside to feel it.  I stepped outside my previous existence and, in doing so, discovered an alluring vortex.  The funnel-cloud of creativity would soon develop into a veritable tornado of innovation.”

When it comes to creative endeavors, we should all hope for this kind of “stormy weather.”  Favicon

 

Resources

Books

Video

Blog Posts and Groups

 

 

August 26, 2009

Twitter = LEGOs?

TwitterBirdLegoBricks

Twitter bird made of LEGO bricks that I commissioned from New York artist Nathan Sawaya

Some History

On January 28, 1958, Godtfried Kirk Christiansen (a carpenter who built a humble toy factory during the Great Depression) submitted a patent for the LEGO brick building system in Copenhagen, Denmark. Fifty years later, the core building block of the brick is virtually unchanged, as is the fundamental philosophy of the company – that there should be unlimited opportunities in play with the ability to build virtually anything from LEGO bricks (elements).

Almost 50 years later, in March 2006, Twitter emerged out of the company Odeo as a side project (when the first tweet came from Jack Dorsey).  In the three years since the first tweet and then its explosive growth in 2009, Twitter’s small fundamental building block – “the 140 character tweet” has remained unchanged, and an ecosystem of other “elements” (called applications) is growing around it.  Now that may not enable the building of “virtually anything” as in the claim of LEGOs, but what is evolving is much more than just 140 characters of random text.

A large part of the enduring appeal of LEGO bricks is that they are so simple and satisfying to use, and there is no age or geographic boundary to the appeal.  Anyone anywhere can take a bunch of bricks and build something with only their imagination and two hands.  In digital space, one might say something similar about Twitter.

So does Twitter = LEGOs?

Seven Similarities

1. Size doesn’t matter.
Both a LEGO brick and a Twitter “tweet” are simple and small, and yet have become iconic in their own rights. A LEGO brick is a small rectangular piece of plastic with 8 studs on the top (4 each in 2 rows) and a pattern of 3 tubes underneath.  A tweet is up to 140 characters in length, period. The simple and logical nature of both may be part of their power.  In the case of Twitter, the length limitation may actually spur use and the creative process, being less daunting than writing a blog post or creating a video.

2. The value of the sum of the parts is more than that of the individual pieces.
On a per unit basis, a brick and a tweet are both simple, but they are part of a bigger, more complex ecosystem. Some people might look at a box of LEGO bricks as a pile of plastic rubble, while others see the house, palace, ancient pyramid, or spaceship they dream of, and can finally build.  Looking at the scrolling screen of a Twitter client, the same conclusion might be drawn about a tumultuous narcissistic din, or about serendipitous discoveries and linked conversational threads. According to a 1972 LEGO catalog, LEGO was/is “as simple or as complicated as children wish.”  This is a very Web/”Blogish” philosophy that is in alignment with Twitter, and certainly isn’t limited to the kids.

3. It’s more than child’s play. Everyone’s invited.
There is not one psychodemographic group that “owns” LEGOs or Twitter. What starts in one place moves to another.  Bricks began with children and spread to the “other” adult population, including scientists and artists.  Twitter started with the geeks and professional tech insiders, moved to SXSW attendees and the enthusiastic amateurs, and now into the broader population.  Both products could be defined as having “it’s what you make it” and “who you are” kinds of experiences that differ between user groups.

4. If you build it, they will come (and make it more).
The didactic nature of the LEGO brick is similar to that of Twitter.  Each has an individualistic approach to problem solving and communicating. There is no one right way.  With Twitter, you can write a novel 140 characters at a time, tell a joke, share a photo or an important article, or organize an impromptu TweetUp. As a 1992 LEGO catalog said: “We’ve got the bricks, you’ve got the ideas.”

Similarly, neither is a fixed model, despite their simplicity. A LEGO construction set does not consist of one outcome, but of many possible combinations, even though each comes from the same basic element – the brick.  There are innumerable ways that Twitter “outcomes” have been expanded – 2500 and counting to be more specific using the Twitter API.  New applications and their outcomes enable people to directly donate money to charity, take real-time opinion polls, play games, share breaking news photos, and spread the truth despite the efforts of a repressive regime … in addition to talking about lunch and sharing puppy photo links.

5. Nothing that lasts forever stands still.
LEGO started as wooden toys and then moved to the plastic shape we know today, and that still remains as the brand and product foundation. New additions to the core brick throughout the years have included tires for vehicles (1961), human figures (1974), software (1997), robots with MIT Media Lab (1998) and a Spielberg endorsed movie-making set (2000).  Similarly Twitter remains the 140 character communication, and yet is changing from its origins both from the ideas and imaginations of its users, and also through technology improvements and new business practices and models in the near future (e.g. paid professional accounts).

6. “I am the only guinea pig I have.”
So said architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller in talking about personal experimentation and creativity. The brick is a creative material, an enabling catalyst for kids or adults to influence the world around them in some small, but powerfully personal way by making things once only imagined - real (and with their own hands).  Twitter, like blogging or video production, serves a similar purpose, although with the possibility of far greater influence, collaboration and  conversation.

7. Turn up the volume.
In terms of pure raw numbers, both LEGO and Twitter have some impressive ones to offer.

For LEGO:

  • 5 billion hours a year are spent by adults and kids playing with LEGO bricks (elements).
  • 36,000 bricks (elements) are produced every minute.
  • 19 billion bricks (elements) are produced every year.
  • There are 62 bricks (elements) for every person in the world today.
  • More than 915 million different possible combinations are possible from 6 bricks of the same color with 8 studs each.

For Twitter:

  • More than 23 million unique visitors and 153 million visits to Twitter.com in July 2009 (Compete.com).
  • 1,400% growth in Twitter users February 2008 to February 2009.
  • Estimated 1.5 million Twitter accounts added in “3 days of Oprah” (April 17-19 2009).
  • More than 3.5 billion total tweets sent to date.
  • About 20 million tweets/day by the end of August 2009. (That means in less than 178 days there will be double the number of tweets sent in the first 3+ years).

The LEGO List

Can an attributes list for a “kid’s toy” from 1963 provide inspiration for a Silicon Valley company and a technology entering the second decade of the 21st Century? The following is a list of the 10 characteristics of LEGO written by the inventor more than 45 years ago. What might this list look like for Twitter, now and in the near future?

  1. Unlimited play possibilities
  2. For girls, for boys
  3. Enthusiasm to all ages
  4. Play all year round
  5. Healthy and quiet play
  6. Endless hours of play
  7. Imagination, creativity, development
  8. More LEGO multiplied play value
  9. Always topical
  10. Safety and quality

Trans-Generational Longevity

Only a few products outlive generations, and the LEGO brand is one of them. Maybe in the digital age the definition for “generation” needs to change and be more like Moore’s Law (generation = 18 months)? In any case, can Twitter or any digital technology have the chronological longevity of LEGOs?  Or does the analogy, no matter how fun for fans of both, end there? Egv_tiny_blogicon


(Note: Sometimes posts are inspired by the oddest random and personal desires.  In the case of this one, I wanted to have the Twitter bird “logo” made out of LEGO bricks, in 3D.  So to justify that, I felt that I needed to come up with an idea in which to use that piece of art.  That’s the genesis of “Twitter = LEGOs?” which led to deeper thinking about the particular analogies shared above. If you love LEGOs or just design in general, there is an excellent book that was published in 2008 for the 50th anniversary of the esteemed brick, “50 Years of the LEGO Brick” by Christian Humberg.  The book itself is quite a piece of art with LEGO bricks and copies of the patent and early promotional materials - helpful research for this post - from 1963 to present included.)

   

November 06, 2007

What Brands Can Learn from "Mad Men"

Mad_men_4

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 23, 2007

Consumer Generated Media Is Not Just a Digital Phenomenon

Custom_jones Consumer generated media existed in the physical world long before the Internet ... and still does.  A great case in point is Seattle-based Jones Soda. Jones Soda has been enabling consumers (fans) to design labels and name flavors since 2000. And they have community, blogs, sponsored events and other activities that support their unique sense of brand humor and appeal to the youth market (or more broadly to those of  youthful spirit). But the final product is still physical, even though its creation is facilitated by the digital - a bottle with the consumer's photo and copy with the Jones Soda flavor of choice inside.

The Jones Soda Photo Gallery (with some current voting results below each photo) is where you can vote on the consumer-uploaded photos to influence the next set of product labels. There are currently 538,322 photos out of the 737,206 that have been posted.  (Submissions older than 6 months are archived).  That is quite an active fan base.

Jonesphotogallery2

For those who can't wait to see if their photo garners enough influence votes to sway Jones' choice (or who want something for a special event), the company initiated the MyJones program where for $29.95 you can create your own label on a 12 pack of product and have it shipped directly to you.

My recently submitted customized Jones Soda
order is below - in celebration of (e.g.) ventures' security dog, Zoe.

Jonessodascreen1_2

Pepsi recently launched a "Design Our Pepsi Can Contest" that offers the winner $10,000 with the winning design printed on 500M Pepsi cans.  Their promo material claims "the first time in history" that this has been done. So I think they must have missed what Jones has been doing for the past 7 years? Pepsi's 100,000 (less than 1/5th the size of the Jones Soda Gallery) entries have been narrowed down to 5 final designs that the public can vote on.

So what's the takeaway? Consumer generated media isn't just about digital video on YouTube. It can be something as simple as a message (a photo in this case) on a bottle.  As long as the brand and product in that bottle have relevant meaning and emotional value to the consumer.

 

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.
Toyota_wow2

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.

October 05, 2007

Doing "Nothing"

Trudeau and Doonesbury on "doing nothing."  Think about this when you realize you've just spent all evening updating your Facebook profile, et al.

Doonesbury_3

September 10, 2007

What Brands Can Learn from Dane Cook

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: This is not a post about whether comedian/actor Dane Cook is funny or not, whether he “steals” other comedian’s material, or if he answers his own emails on his website.  Rather it’s about what brands can learn from the role the digital world plays in the rise of Dane’s popularity and career - about the power of audience and influencer engagement fueled by access and the provision of content that is directly and personally relevant to them.

Danecooksufi_2 According to Wikipedia and his own website, Cook pooled $30k of his own money in 2000 and launched the site which now receives 500,000 hits per month. He also was one of the first celebrities to make extensive use of MySpace, where his profile page currently states that he has over 2 million friends. (Again, it doesn’t matter here if he personally or automatically adds friends’ requests). 

In what may seem like common digital strategy knowledge now, but is often not well practiced, Cook and team provides easy access to his content leveraging platforms and audiences that others have created and audiences they have aggregated, as well as his own branded space, with content including:

  • Video bits from his movie and TV appearances – with the ability to share with friends or embed in your own web pages
  • Digital downloads of songs and comedic bits
  • Podcast (the DANEcast)
  • E-cards and wallpaper
  • Links to articles aimed at different psychodemographics (from Men’s Fitness to The New York Times)
  • Links to ticket sales for his films as well as special offers for his comedy tour tickets

And with his creation of the “SuperFinger” or “SuFi” gesture, he has established a unique platform for consumer generated media - a visual metaphor or hook for fans to create and share their own homages and interpretations.  And he provides the space and platform for their posting and sharing where we can see the recreation of the gesture in everything from M&Ms to peanuts to body paint to carvings in a Halloween pumpkin.

In her September 2006 Salon.com article, “Overcooked,” Heather Havrilesky writes:

“The SuFi, in fact, embodies the appeal of Dane Cook. Short for "Superfinger," it arose from a skit about Cook's quest for an upgraded version of giving someone the finger -- with the thumb, middle finger and ring finger extended. The emptiness of the gesture sums up the frat-boy camaraderie among Cook's fans, and his popularity among college students. In college, after all, jokes aren't really jokes at all, they're just code words for shared experiences. It's considered funny to refer to Burger King as "The BK Lounge" or to refer to a sandwich as a "sangwich"  …..  Such multipurpose phrases are always vague, always applicable to almost any situation and always easy to understand when you're falling-down drunk. The content, in other words, is secondary to the fact that it's shared ... Pretty much everything that goes on between Cook and the audience is just another way of saying, "I hear ya, bro!" Far from banal, this for Cook constitutes "a holy shit moment," as he puts it on his Web site. He and his crew are quite obviously aware of the appeal of such code words…”

(Note: the emphasis in the above quote is mine.)

Currently on his MySpace page, Cook is in fact soliciting and promoting fans interpretations and photos of “SuFi”  and is encouraging them not only to send them to him, but also to make it the default photo on the fan’s MySpace profile page –talk about exponential distribution opportunity of a brand mark without DRM. Clearly he knows that people are as, if not more, interested in sharing what they create with their friends than in sharing that which is professionally created.

From Cook’s MySpace page:

“IMPORTANT NOTE: I really want to have an all NEW TOP 24 in the next weeks. Take a killer high quality photo and make it your default. It could be ANYTHING as long as the SU-FI is in there. If it's really inventive or sexy or just represents me and my stuff in a cool way I will randomly pick some people and get you some swag!

Take a HIGH QUALITY / ORIGINAL SUperFInger photo and make it your default pic on your MySpace page.

I get hundreds of these photographs every week. Here are some of the best SUperFInger pics. Enjoy these and check out my website for MANY MORE! Or you can email your own high quality SU-FI shot. Info on how to do that is at the bottom of this page.”


So What’s The Lesson? 

As a brand, what can you create that generates relevant and emotional engagement with your audience, and with baseline content provided by you,  inspires them to create and share experiences and personal interpretations with their friends in a non-walled garden environment?

June 11, 2007

Jericho Redux

Cbs_jericho_2 In this version of the biblical battle of Jericho -  50,000 pounds of peanuts and a deluge of passionate fan email that circumvented  CBS's online filters - played the role of Joshua's horn and brought down the walls around the network programmers.  Weeks after the series' cancellation, the decision was reversed with an announcement that seven new episodes of the post-apocalyptic drama would be back mid-season next year.

It's interesting to hear Les Moonves' comments from the Wall Street Journal D Conference about CBS and its online efforts and the Jericho fans, just days prior to the reversal.

On June 6, Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, posted a letter to "the fans of Jericho" on the Jericho message boards announcing that the show would be back.  In her message she wrote:

"A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show. But that community needs to grow. It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available. We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks."

Hopefully CBS has or can learn some lessons from the grassroots fans who brought the show back - find and engage the passionate influencers (how about starting with those who have already self-identified through this campaign!) in relevant ways that enable viral sharing; and not repeat its strategy of passively waiting for an audience to stumble upon its product.  And yes .. I TiVoed the show.

    Or

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.