Showing ReSTRAINt In Outdoor Advertising

FX launched their new series THE STRAIN last night to solid critical response and viewer numbers. With a creative force behind the basic cable series of Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse, it certainly deserves a look.  Unfortunately, at least in Los Angeles and New York, that look was forced upon us in the guise of a disgusting worm coming out of an eyeball in large outdoor displays. As has been seen over numerous posts in this blog, outdoor advertising is something to be celebrated when used correctly, but I wish there had been some restraint with this campaign.

TheStrain

Beyond the unsettling nature of the image – and unsettling isn’t always a bad thing when trying to enter the cluttered fray of advertising – the placements were far too many when considering not everyone wants to see something graphic like this.  It hit home for me when my five year-old daughter started questioning why a worm would be coming out of an eyeball. While we’re able to control what our children see on TV and online, it’s not easy when driving around our neighborhoods. And, parents shouldn’t have to be concerned about where they drive to steer clear of disturbing advertising.

A blog entry on MoviePilot was published on the 30th of June stating that FX had called a mea-culpa and was going to take down the advertisements, but as of today (two weeks later) there hasn’t been a noticeable reduction in the outdoor impressions around Los Angeles. The reason probably had a bit to do with cost, but more so with the buzz that was being created and wanting to keep the awareness up until the series premiere. From a business perspective that could be well and good, but from a responsibility one, does it?

Certainly, advertising falls under freedom of speech and there shouldn’t be any censorship of what is displayed and what isn’t.  The problem is, if we as an industry don’t take responsibility or show restraint, others will come in and attempt to do it for us. If the trend keeps moving toward disturbing outdoor advertising and more parents start complaining about having to explain things to their kids before the time that it is reasonable to do so, there will be additional strains that curb creativity and revenue generation.

TV Ads Score Supreme During A World Cup Of Fewer Ads

It is easy to get caught up in the fervor of the World Cup as hundreds of millions root for teams from around the globe. Many of those viewers may be seeing ad styles that they’re not used to seeing if they are not already watchers of Soccer/Futbol – with no breaks other than half-time. With that being said, it’s interesting to see the quality of the futbol-themed ads and the alternative viewing data that’s revealing itself in this first week of competition. Tubefilter reports that 1.2 Billion minutes of World Cup adverts have been watched on YouTube alone in the first week. What was refreshing beyond the numbers was the opportunity to see some great spots in a language I don’t fully understand when watching games on Univision – where the advertisers have really score in producing strong ads with emotional strings that defy language.

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While there are many good spots that capture the great skill of the sport in a technical sense as a solid celebration of the game, the strongest visceral response I had was to McDonald’s “House Divided” spot in Spanish.  Honestly, I even had a little letdown when I saw it in English as it changed the resonance somewhat.

What does seem to be the case is that the general public gets an opportunity to see ad creative surrounding the Beautiful Game that they otherwise might not get a chance to see.  In the case of McDonald’s, they’ve gone to an agency they’ve had strong history with from an emotional perspective tied to futbol the Alma agency based in Miami.  Alma created another futbol-based winner for the golden arches in February of ’13 with their Ancha spot.

World events like this have that great by-product – love ‘em or hate ‘em – of TV ads that can truly connect emotionally.  Even with the limited opportunities for running within the matches themselves, their strength and emotion reign supreme during this Beautiful Tournament for the Beautiful Game..

Navigating the Space Between Idea and Verb

There have been many companies that have launched and succeeded (or failed) who would have dreamed of their company name or product becoming a commonly used noun, or even better, a verb.  People refer to facial tissues as Kleenex, soda pop as Coke and, within the past decade, taken on Google as a verb meaning “to search.”  Google can have a hard time coming to grips with the use of their product as a verb – as shown in this Google blog entry from 2006 – but becoming the next verb is the Taj Mahal and driving force within many start-ups.  The problem is, most don’t realize the factors necessary to make the transition from Idea to Verb a reality.

GoogleVerb

In the case of Google, they came to be when there were numerous search engines and within a few years, the others had fallen by the wayside due to Google’s solid product.  Bing is now the only one close and a lot of the reasons for their still being around is marketing and integration with the operating system that is most prevalent around the world.  As seen in the blog entry, Google itself was not so keen on becoming a verb unless it was specifically about the use of the product itself. Either way, pre-verb, the seemingly most important thing to Google was to become the single best service available and that is the thing that most people who strive to be a verb overlook.

Striving to be included in Websters or some other dictionary means that you’re missing the point.  Certainly, such an inclusion would mean you’ve done something right, but it shouldn’t be the goal. Whenever a client asks for this, I have the same response as we’ve all had when asked by someone to create something viral.  In both cases, the importance should be placed on creating the best product possible and hoping that the winds blow the right way to create the perfect storm that allows your creation to become viral – or a verb. If the expectation that largess and notoriety will come from a strong marketing or publicity campaign, then there must be consideration for the fact that audiences have changed over the years. The main change in the audience is that they expect delivery on promise.  If they don’t get it, they will run. If a company pushes to become anything more than a solid product, people will run.

Much of the navigation between the time of the idea and the possibility of becoming a verb requires a lot of smart, strategic thinking and damn fine product development. Without those actions, you’re destined to be lost in space.

The Growth Of Disrespect Between Two Ferns?

With over 12 Million views in about a day, there is no doubt that President Barack Obama’s appearance on Zach Galifianakis’ BETWEEN TWO FERNS was a bold move by a savvy Administration. The Administration has always been forward-thinking and intelligent in the way they have reached out to a connected generation. Until Ellen’s Tweet during the Oscars, Obama had the most re-tweeted entries – maybe this video will have some record-breaking implications.  One thing it does challenge is the norms for public-facing relations with a President.

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BETWEEN TWO FERNS on Funny or Die is well established as an off-beat comedic interview format that heavily relies on Galifianakis’ brand of comedy. It is certainly a great platform for the Administration to reach a constituency that they might not otherwise easily be reached in the communication of healthcare benefits. For that reason, it was a win.  But, it was bizarre to see a President put himself in a position to be disrespected in any way.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the humor.  I laughed a couple of times knowing that the President was treated with the same disrespect as every other guest on the show. President Obama also showed some strong comedic chops as well – only breaking a smile once. It was for comedy’s sake and it was successful in that respect. It just comes down to interpretation by the target audience as well as others’ response to that treatment of the office.

The end goal is driving healthcare for a younger, healthier demographic that is integral to the program’s success. The Administration deserves credit for being resourceful and smart in their placement. It remains to be seen whether the healthcare registrations will come at a high enough rate to quell any concerns or bad buzz about the treatment of the office. Overall, I think it was a solid get, but it certainly opens the Administration and the aura of the President in the future to distraction.  The worst would be is if it is the opening of the floodgates of disrespect for the office.

What’s Up With Narrow-Mindedness When Judging Technology Firms?

With the brewing storm of excitement/dismay/wonder surrounding Facebook’s acquisition of What’s App, the disconnect between expectations for – or public perception about – large conglomerates and new technology business seems to have widened. Much has been discussed about melding What’s App into Facebook’s interface or bringing advertising into What’s App’s in or just a Big Data play.  Perhaps it’s much simpler than that and has nothing to do with UX or building up the Facebook product.  Perhaps it has to do more with smart business and diversifying offerings. It just seems funny that the initial response is narrow-minded in relating the technology as merely an opportunity to bolster a company’s product.

Perhaps a lot of the thinking is related to Facebook’s relatively recent acquisition of Instagram.  Almost immediately, the photo service seemed fully integrated into Facebook.  But, to be fair, it was already there and there is still easy integration with other platforms that Facebook doesn’t own.

The thing is, would anyone question if Unilever or Nestle or some other company that owns a diversified group of products were to buy another relative upstart – especially if they had so much cash lying around?  The only concern people could or should have is the valuation placed on What’s App. That too can come back to the consideration of development resources and user base.  What’s App might not have been hugely known in the U.S. but it is around the world and by anyone who has family, friends in colleagues in other countries.

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In this connected world, we can no longer just focus on what’s happening in North America. Whether people realize it or not, most web-enabled products (websites, apps, software, etc.) have no borders. The use-cases might be different from market to market, but they each gain hold for very real business reasons.  In the case of What’s App, one direct reason that folks in the States don’t realize the value is that all-you-can-eat data and mobile packages are not commonplace around the world. It can be quite cost-prohibitive to send texts to your friend down the street, let alone around the world.

Another key piece is the fact that What’s App has moved into the subscription realm. As more offerings move behind a paywall, the lessons that can be learned from What’s App success in subscription could prove invaluable to its owners. The data is certainly not available to those who are not and if subscription-based usage come further into the market, those with real data are in the driver’s seat.

While Google has huge development teams working on disparate products and they still go out and acquire business that fit their portfolio, it should come as no surprise that others shouldn’t do the same.  Google has long been less defined by their search product than their suite of technologies that assist in many parts of consumers’ lives.  Facebook should not be any different.

The great thing about technology development (or any business development, really) is that code and process can be duplicated in other areas – if done correctly. Just because someone makes it big with an app or single product doesn’t mean that should be the end-all – no matter how successful it is. There is no such thing as growth while remaining flat. Any company with flat growth is actually shrinking. Once the business survives its start-up phase, growth is the hardest part. It doesn’t matter who you are or what technology you created. Sometimes you just have to grow by acquisition.

Who knows if the $19B is too much for What’s App. Looking at the $10B value associated with Instagram after Facebook paid a “measly” $1B for it, we can’t underestimate Facebook. There’s a clear reason why What’s App’s investor, Sequoia Capital thought it was worth it. The reality is that new technology companies and the products they launched with have matured more quickly, perhaps, than any other businesses in the world. We’ve got to stop being narrow-minded in our judgement of why they should be any different from any other traditional business.

Digital Upgrade At Your Own Risk – Brand Be Damned!

It seems that many apps and digital offerings have been updated since the beginning of the year – and an interesting trend has taken shape. What once was so wonderfully free – with few ad breaks and just slightly more privacy – has turned the corner and has become, well… less. Additionally, a huge sector of mobile users that excitedly upgraded to Android 4.3 before the end of the year have only further lamented the multitude of issues they’ve encountered since (with battery life reducing drastically being a consistent theme).  All of this leads to the question – To Upgrade or Not To Upgrade?  Unfortunately, in many instances, the consumer never gets the chance to question and the brand is damned to stumble.

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The gray area is meant to have content served within.

 

In the case of ESPN, they chose to re-brand their scores and news app to be more aligned with their colossal SportsCenter brand – changing it from Scorecenter to SportsCenter. That change makes sense – as does the twitter feed from their on-air personalities.  What’s more challenging is that the app is much more volatile (see above) with nothing showing much of the time.  Even more annoying is the fact that users now have to log in or register in order to automatically keep track of their favorite teams. For most, this might not be an issue, but for those trying to hold on to the last piece of privacy, that component might be a deal breaker. The fact that there’s now far more advertising with page overlays and in-feed ads only adds salt to the wound.

Diminished revenue generation is definitely an issue for all content providers, but it will be interesting to see how conversion plays out as more and more previously free apps move into the paid model. Since the new year, at least 4 of my news apps have moved behind a paywall – with only headlines available for free – rendering it useless. Hopefully, we’ll soon see the ramifications – one way or the other – on this change soon. We’ll definitely see if people have an appetite for paying in multiple places for content.

Even in the free realm, questionable choices have been made:

  • ABC force upgraded the app leaving users with a lot less content choices and a lot more ill will. Checking the ratings on the App Store and Google Play shows a very large distaste for something that was the standard bearer for innovative video presentation. With the previous usage and inability to skip through commercials, it made sense.  Who knows what will happen now.
  • Yahoo! changed their mobile product to supposedly simplify their content delivery. The only problem is that the UI leads one to believe that if they click on search, they’ll be able to search within the category (i.e.,Entertainment, Sports, Life), only to find that it takes them out of the app environment and to their general search interface.
  • Sporting News is struggling to keep from crashing as they deal with issues stemming from iOS 7 in their newest update. The fix might come with the supposed release of iOS 7.1 in March, but that brings us to the next issue.

With all of the concerns users have with upgrading already – and the worries of what they will have to learn or not have access to – is the update to iOS 7.1 or Android’s 4.4 KitKat one that people will venture into widely or quickly?  Microsoft is having it’s own issues getting consumers to upgrade Windows OS – especially as people realized how much was still left to be done with each release. Is the same lack of concern for the user experience – and the interest of meeting ambiguous deadlines worthwhile for consumers who are quick to pull the trigger and move elsewhere? A concern is that, among developers, there is an excuse permeating that everyone expects issues. How sad is that?

The debate can continue as to whether it’s human nature to always want the new bright and shiny object. But, it is pretty clear cut that when forced to the new, something good should be delivered.  If companies/brands keep forcing the issue, they might be damned to losing the loyalty of those who just want to keep interacting the way they always have.

Aside

The growth and breadth of items showcased annually at CES has led to the attendance of more than sellers of electronics – it’s caused an ever-growing onslaught of entertainment marketing folks to jet over to Vegas. Wayne Friedman of MediaPost questioned the value for marketing executives attending and I responded in the comments, but I wanted to offer those comments and a little more context on this site in order to convey the true marketing value that CES provides.

Samsung presented some great commercial solutions for video walls at CES2014

Samsung presented some great commercial solutions for video walls at CES2014

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While LG was in the sad position of having one of their panels continuously go dark as an engineer stood by with a remote in hand to reboot every few minutes…

A lot of what Wayne points out as being of questionable meaning to marketers is in the main halls of CES and what is shown there does not always translate to what would work in the real world (marketing or otherwise). After a number of years attending CES as a marketer and a producer of immersive tech solutions, I appreciate the concept that there’s a lot shown in CES that acts just like concept cars unveiled at auto shows. Those give a vision of what could be in the future – some make it to the real world and some don’t. Sure, I love seeing curved OLED TVs that look phenomenal and will most likely never get into more than a handful of homes. Or 4K/8K content that will mostly be filled with up-rez 1080P content because too few content providers produce 4K content. The same could be said for 3D and gesture-based navigation of TVs and Appliances. As a marketer, where I think the value of CES lies is in providing a vision of the ways we’ll be able to communicate and interact with consumers in the future.

The true benefit  for marketers is not just the main halls, but the other halls with smaller firms and innovation. While I did see some great stuff as part of the larger booths – like Samsung, Sony and DTS for large public-facing displays, interactivity and delivery of content.  There is just far too much canned content that is not ready for actual use.  In some cases, companies really shoot themselves in the foot by not presenting their products in the best light – figuratively and literally. A literal example was one company who was showing off a video within a mirror – nobody thought about what happens when you shine a light directly onto the mirror and what that might do for the experience.  Additionally, there are far too many staff members who might have just finished studying for an exam at UNLV prior to being hired for a few days to look good in front of electronics.

I find great benefit in checking out the small booths in the outlying halls. There, I’ve found providers selling technology that lets marketers embed postage-stamp LCD displays in magazines that loop video spots. Or, the company Ablecomtech who was showing off their Visual Light Communication (VLC) which utilizes light (either an actual ceiling light or an LCD TV’s backlight) to trigger interactions with smartphones or more without Bluetooth, NFC or RFID.

In CES’ innovation halls (named Eureka Park) I was able to chat with the creators of products and find out the real deal behind their products and discuss marketing, timing, etc. in more real terms.  Remember, these folks are relying on actually selling their products quickly so they can hope to make some of their money back.  Here’s a couple that caught my eye:

  • One company, Displair, was introducing a system that projects video onto mist AND allows interaction with it by touching the mist screen. While it is interesting, the execution is not 100% and it would be hard to reach the scale a marketer needs – especially at a cost that makes sense…
  • Memory Mirror was interesting in that there were no illusions that it was a mirror instead of a display.  It allowed the user to try on multiple outfits, capture the video and then compare those outfits side-by-side at the end to figure out what pieces they wanted to buy. Supposedly, it would also allow the user to store the information so that they could call the retailer later and have all the data handy for processing the purchase.
  • While this company’s products were cool, it was more interesting to find out how PowerPot utilized Kickstarter for three of their power generation and metering products. Certainly, sales distribution was a part of it, but they also ended up with solid market research based on it – proof that Kickstarter or other crowdsourcing sites need just be for raising funds.

And, there are so many vendors offering cost-effective technology items for use as promotional items beyond a branded pen, cooler or USB thumb drive. Certainly, many of these things might not be compelling, but there are certainly diamonds if you take the time to see and talk.

As usual with technology and creativity, with the help of a marketer and a visionary campaign or use case, there is an opportunity for partnerships that can bring the technology into the real world – and create a future slam dunk for the marketer.