Monthly Archives: November 2011

Developing The “Concept Car” Of Digital Marketing

The Los Angeles Auto Show just rolled through and there were a few concept cars being shown.  They weren’t as far-out or exciting as the fantastical concept cars I remember from the past.  Some were not really true concept cars, but just a year or two away from production.  Some bystanders were swearing to the fact that BMW’s i series would actually not change much prior to production – glass sides and all.  In the past, you would look at concept cars and guess what components would actually make it to the car dealer lots.  In the case of Digital Marketing, we can rely on the innovation of the larger companies to derive the same knowledge and foresight.  Perhaps Kraft’s innovations can serve as our “concept cars” to derive the future from.

Kraft has always been good at taking chances in bringing things to the market.  One of my favorites of theirs was an early iPad App, Big Fork Little Fork.  It was perfect for the medium and was also one of the first native Apps out of the gate.  At the beginning of this year, Kraft introduced their Meal Planning Solution that they developed with Intel.  Here is a video conveying its main features:

When this was released, they were pitching it to a number of grocery chains with the promise they were going to roll out wide.  From my understanding, they might have only reached a few test locations.  8-9 months later and they’re nowhere to be seen.  Perhaps they were too big and costly.  Perhaps they couldn’t secure enough placements to bring the per/unit costs down.  Perhaps grocers did not want to have such a large semi-permanent footprint for one company (an installation that reduced the threat of moving the company’s items from an end cap to the bottom shelf…) I’m sure there’s numerous reasons why we’re not seeing the cool kiosks all over the place.

But, there were a number of great elements they developed that could provide solid opportunities if used on their own – with or without changes.

  • The ability to interact with the screen was good, but the multitude of steps and choices were a bit too involved/complicated for my tastes.  So many selections to go through in an environment that usually doesn’t allow for mulling around brought somewhat limited rewards.  But, if there were quick responses or activities based on reading your loyalty card code – basing suggestions on previous purchasing habits or not – that could be cool.
  • The provision of samples is also a strong plus.  It allows brands to distribute samples with descriptive text or videos without having to pay or train a person.  Additionally, there’s a stronger defense against loss due to the fact that you can control how many pieces a user gets based on the requirement that they swipe a loyalty card.  It’s also a nice additional incentive to sign up for the loyalty card.
  • The seasonal theming via video/digital is a nice touch.  There are in-store solutions like PRN to provide seasonal elements like this, but those experience are usually at the end of the shopping and not before it – where you can influence purchase better.
  • Menu options are nice as well, but they need to be quick and then perhaps coupons should come with it for the multiple ingredients.
  • Their interface with Kraft’s shop assist app was a nice touch, but if users don’t have that, it requires even more time for download.  Could there be a more generic form of adding to the shopping list?  It could even be sent via bluetooth so the customer at least has the list and perhaps coupons on their phone.
  • The video capture is nice to get the basics of demo without asking for it and then capturing use patterns across all users.  I just think that having the user manipulate the photos is a bit of a waste of time – again, we don’t go to the grocery store to mess around.  It is one more thing to add time to the experience and you really want to process users through as quickly as possible.  If there’s a line, most people won’t even bother. The interesting thing is that much of the buzz in January was that the camera would scan your face and figure out what you want to eat.  I think some bloggers were misreading the technology as Kraft or Intel did not present this auto decision maker as part of their program.  From my understanding, it was just for recognition and tracking.  How wierd to think that a computer would deduce what you want to eat just from scanning your face…

Perhaps the best future solution doesn’t even stand in Kraft’s court.  Maybe this kiosk is a sound solution for a third-party to place in the stores so that brands can book time/representation and the stores can get a piece of the profits.  Maybe strong elements of this are presented in a way without the kiosk – perhaps through marrying a bluetooth or Near Field Communications execution with a loyalty program would allow specials to be sent to your mobile when you enter the store so that you can view as you are moving through the store.  To save the sample solution, there could be a distribution box that is triggered by scanning whatever was sent to your mobile as you walked in the door.

Perhaps I’m riffing on Kraft’s concept and laying the groundwork for a succesful company of the future… The reality is that technology is not linear and much like the auto industry puts out a whole concept and then pulls parts from it or uses the concept to inspire their designers, we marketers should be looking to do the same.  Yes, we may come up with some bombs or cool products that might be “too soon,” but to not look smartly for innovation is lame. Just as we can learn from everything, we can pull pieces apart and engineer them in different – hopefully better – ways. Who knows how todays concepts will turn into reality and change our world?

C’Mon Now! Are We Really That Dense To Take This Path?

Sometimes, something so cool is handled in such a way that it just feels so wrong.  On Black Friday, two malls – one in California and one in Virginia – ran a test using a new product from Path Intelligence.  The product, FootPath, enables tracking of people and tendencies in a physical location to better understand what might make them enter one store over another.  In ways, it is the real-world equivalent of the cookies and other tracking mechanics that have been used online for quite a while.  It all sounds great until you realize that in order to opt-out of the program, you must turn off your mobile phone.  Are you kidding me?  Did the mall operators and Path Intelligence (the product’s developers) really think that would be OK?  By making this boneheaded assumption, it has changed the campaign from an interesting pilot to a fiasco.

Sen. Charles Schumer has gotten involved and raised a stink about it – and he doesn’t represent either of the States where the test is taking place!  Mall operators have got to know that the mobile phone is a way for families to keep in touch in their malls in the least and their center of communication at the most.  Why would they think the option of turning off the phone is OK.  The only thing I can figure is that they assumed people would either not notice or not care.  It is assumptions like this that will cause much more regulation and dampen development of tools to help businesses and the economy alike.

Path Intelligence had to know this would be an issue.  They’re based in the UK – where privacy concerns are even more prudent than in the States.  Is that why they ran the test in the States, because they knew there was not a chance that they could get by without being slammed in Europe?  What about the tracking of minors?  In the States, mobile phones are effectively what walkie-talkies used to be for kids to keep in contact with parents.  By blindly tracking them, did Path and the mall operators make the conscious decision that they wouldn’t care about the age of the consumer? It doesn’t matter how vague the information is that you are tracking, people don’t like being tracked – you can’t hide behind levels of privacy – you are either tracking or your not.  Own up to it.

Image of Warning Sign on mall map. Courtesy of Forest City

It all really stinks.  They took an interesting technology execution and shot themselves in the foot.  Had they taken the time to really think it through, they probably wouldn’t have to deal with the mess they have gotten themselves into.  The Temecula Mall operators have provided a mea culpa of sorts and have additionally given Senator Schumer control (and a platform) of something that he has questionable reason to be involved in.

Of course Path and the mall operators realized they had very little chance of success if they asked people to opt-in (or they were just too smug to think that should be an otion.)  With proper thinking and planning, there could have been strong programming to incentivized participation in this pilot program.  When looking around the mobile environment, there are check-in applications seemingly popping up every other day.  Path should have been offering that option for opt-in – and neither should have thought that turning off a mobile phone is an option.

There are many cool technologies that are looking to see the light of day.  Most of them require some form of faith or trust from one of the parties that what they don’t understand is OK.  That makes it that much more important to present ethical programming so that people/businesses/brands don’t shy away from the new products for fear of being bitten in the ass.  We could go on and on listing out the ways that this thing is crap.

This story has been picked up by outlets as far as the Middle East.  We can’t be thinking of these things as insular tests anymore as any items only spread quickly.  Of course, the players in this test only wish a positive outcome had spread so quickly.  Let’s not hurt ourselves by not thinking through our programs and ensuring as best as possible that we will not do something as un-intelligent as this FootPath pilot program.  We owe it not only to our clients/stakeholders, but to ourselves.

Mobile Retail Opportunities Missing Until Future Developments

From all accounts during the weekend, Black Friday and the weekend sales did pretty well – even with the pepper spray.  One report stated a 24% uptick on Black Friday compared to 2010. Where there are still opportunities for growth and development are in mobile.  It was a bit frustrating to see that a number of retailers I checked Friday through Sunday were not optimized for viewing over mobile phones.  In the case of Office Depot, it was even more confounding that they would force users to a mobi site that only said they could not shop from mobile, only desktops.  It was bizarre and an opportunity lost that they didn’t provide a click to the web version for people with smartphones.  It makes you wonder how many other mobile transaction opportunities were lost.

Numbers of smartphone browsing and purchases were most-certainly higher than they were last year and will continue to grow. With that huge potential, retailers have some time to build and refine their mobile offering, but they can’t be too slow.  Steve Smith reported in an Online Media Daily post that mobile was responsible for 14.3% of all online shopping traffic on Black Friday and 9.8% of all retail transactions based on a report from IBM Smarter Commerce.  Perhaps the 41% bounce rate they reported was due to a larger number of retailers not allowing for a full shopping experience via mobile.

IBM pointed to eBay’s products (the actual eBay App and RedLaser, their owned price comparison app) as examples of the overall success.  I think using eBay’s properties might be too narrow a spectrum to claim mobile shopping was a success for the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend.  Yes, it was better than the year before, but could it have been bigger?  Must users already have apps installed to be able to really take advantage of the retail experience?  Probably not.

The simple step would be to ensure that available technologies are sniffed prior to loading a mobi or WAP page, so that those who can handle the full site don’t have to be downgraded – and potentially lost.  For those retailers that are reliant on Flash, change quickly.  There’s no reason why HTML5 versions cannot be instituted.  Some would say that HTML5 is not used due to browser and platform compatibility, but that doesn’t ring true anymore as vendors are already proving that myth wrong – at least back to IE6 (which is questionable whether you want those consumers anyway.)

There are some good mobile retail sites – most notably, the Gap who was the only retailer to earn a nomination for Best Mobile Website at the 2011 Meffy Awards – but there are still a lot left to be desired.  With the migration of consumers from desktop to mobile platforms, sales numbers will start to be affected if more retailers don’t step up to make the shopping experience simple on mobile.

Image Courtesy of Mangatelier

Thankful For a Green Thanksgiving

Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, there are many thing to be thankful for. A great family, exciting times and Muppets.  OK, there’s other things to be thankful for, but one of those smaller joys is the opportunity to share something that I loved as a child with my own child.  As times have changed and very little seems the same as it used to be, sports and the arts are some of the few things that are still very similar – if not just more expensive.  With that, we look forward to going to see THE MUPPETS on Friday with our daughter.

It will be interesting to see how well it does.  There is certainly a phenomenal marketing and PR campaign.  The buzz and other elements that Disney has less control over are even running rampant.  Our friends at Oskoui+Oskoui went so far as to create some magazine covers – as if there weren’t enough images of Kermit, Miss Piggy and Animal staring out from the newstand already.

What’s interesting is that Jim Henson started the deal with Disney prior to his untimely passing because he thought they would be the best suited to manage the brand and characters, yet the company has seemingly just dabbled with the brand.  There are features at the theme parks and they released a couple of new pieces of content in the way of TV shows and the like, but they never seemed to feel fully comfortable with the property.

Now, they have gone full-bore with the property and have – for the most part – kept with its satirical roots. With a fun set of satirical videos created by the agency, BuddhaJones, and the treatment of the characters as “real” across numerous Disney-owned properties like ESPN, it seems like they’re nailing it.  Perhaps there was a timidity in deference to Jim Henson or the original creators themselves.  Frank Oz, Henson’s partner in the creation of the property, respectfully stepped away from the project and there was rumored to have been some challenges in having non-puppeteer crews work effectively with the puppeteers.  One recount of filming that I’ve heard is that there were process conflicts throughout principal photography and they did not really get into a rhythm until  re-shoots.

I’m hoping the fact that someone (Jason Segel) who grew up watching and loving the show as a kid actually wrote and stars in this version makes for a strong movie.  It certainly seems that Segel’s involvement reinforced the idea to just go for it – and it seems to have worked.  The franchise is one that I’ve always loved.  I was so happy to watch THE MUPPET MOVIE with my daughter and to hear her laugh at the same things I did.  Now, every time she sees one of the characters, she calls out that its “one of Daddy’s favorites.”  Whether they are a favorite or not, it’s still pretty cool to hear your child say that.  I was happy for a friend of mine, who is one of the film’s producers, that he was able to participate in a franchise like this one as the opportunity does not come around often.

Perhaps the songs might not be as memorable as “Rainbow Connection” or “Movin’ Right Along.” Or, maybe the characters won’t act or sound exactly like we remember.  But, the chance for adults to share something like this with their kids is special. 

From a marketing perspective, it will be interesting to see how it does at the box office.  As stated before, the promotion of this film has been top-notch and the team couldn’t be faulted for low numbers. For the sake of the franchise, this will do phenomenally well at the box-office with Black Friday becoming Green Friday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

An Audit That’s Even More Unforgiving Than The IRS

While there have been a number of interactive features and Apps that have used Facebook Connect to draw in your Facebook information to complete an immersive experience, the ways in which you can interface with that information is becoming even more fascinating.  Ultimat Vodka just launched a Social Life Audit.  This feature’s ability to rate you based on your photos and face recognition mechanics are definitely more unforgiving than an IRS audit – which at least allows you to present your side.

We used the basics of Facebook Connect when it first came out in connection with the marketing of the Blu-ray release of FIGHT CLUB.  It wasn’t the first to do so – a video game had done a version incorporating only images – but we took it to the next level by incorporating some contextual components.  That site from late 2009 is still live at

Since then, the technical capabilities using the interface have grown even stronger – perhaps even a little scarier.  Intel offered the “Museum of Me” experience that has nearly 900,000 Likes, but it also pushed the limits of Facebook Connect by requiring the ability of Intel to post comments as if they are the user.  I stopped short of allowing that because I just don’t care to have someone else posting on my behalf.  The latest buzz about the same type of feature came in the form of the equivalent of a PSA warning people about the dangers of sharing information online.  To give you and idea of Take This Lollipop‘s reach, it has 10.6 million Likes but is now offline.  It effectively illustrated how getting personal information from people online is like taking candy from a baby.

This latest feature brought to us by Ultimat Vodka analyzes check-ins and photos we’re tagged in to gauge whether we’re happy or sad, with a bunch of people or not, where we are and assigns scores to a number of parameters to measure whether we pass the social audit or not.  The cool thing is that they reward people for actually stepping away from their computers (but not their mobile) and interacting with people in the real world. In my case, I’m sure I don’t score that well because I don’t really post a bunch of photos or check-in.  Luckily, I guess, I did pass with some of the good things being that 63% of the people I’m with are happy, my crew is decent sized at 5.1 people, I’m tagged with 101 other people and – though it knows I’m married – suggest that I’ve got good “hook-up” potential…

They do a nice job by incorporating Black Book’s list of hot spots to determine some key factors in the audit and also provide suggestions on how the audit numbers can be raised. For some, I guess that would be useful.  It is certainly not a “deep” grading system as I was considered a Player for having a “hot body” in one image while I was deemed to be bored in another image taken on while discussing a shoot with my director on a set – luckily not many points (5) were taken away for that incorrect assumption.

What gets me the most is that I had so many points taken away because of images of my daughter – where they deduced she was not happy.  How can anyone remove points for a spectacularly executed “Stink Face”?

In the end, it was a fun little excursion that didn’t require much time and gave me the option of not having them take over my Facebook Account.  It gave me the opportunity to engage as much or as little as I wanted without reducing the effect of the sponsorship.  Yes, it is a little scary how much information people will provide online and how much of that information can be culled for any myriad of reasons.  I’m sure someone will be very happy to be a high scorer on this audit.  Luckily, I am not one of those people.

The Streaming Could Get Deliciously Messy

Late Friday, Netflix announced that they had struck a deal with 20th Television and Imagine Television to create new episodes of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT beginning in 2013.  This could have huge repercussions across the board.  Netflix assuredly hopes that this makes people forget about their recent mis-steps and Hulu has got to be wondering how they missed getting a seat at the table. Does it also get messy when formats and structure change to enable the best streaming experience?

Over the past few months, the murmurs had been growing that there would be a feature version of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT with a limited series of sorts to lead up to its release.  The fan base for the show is strong and had been clamoring for something like this for some time.  The show does well on DVD and via streaming because of that fan base and the fact that the rest of the sitcom universe caught up to what AD was doing years ago.  When the show came out, there were few single camera sitcoms and the type of comedy was more “mature” than most – not in terms of the M rating for nudity, language and such, but just perhaps more cerebral.  Now, there are at least a half-dozen shows on broadcast and cable that carry the same tone and style finding high ratings and an enlarged fan base.

Image Credit: Everett Collection

Are there other shows that might have been ahead of their time that could find a second life on streaming sites?  Perhaps there are, but wouldn’t it have to be considerably different in this new form?  On FOX, AD had the standard three act structure to allow for commercial breaks. Does it change when it no longer has to work on the structured timing of act breaks for commercials? Does it even keep to a 22 or 24 minute length like on broadcast for streaming or does it get shorter or longer?  Do they have the budget to create episodes like they used to?  Of course, a lot of this has to do with the terms of the deal (which we don’t know yet) but I can’t imagine it will be the same as it was – with a cast whose rates have risen since they were last on the show.  I can’t imagine that Netflix would add commercials in there as this would be part of their premium offerings.

Netflix seems to be trying to follow the lead of HBO when they started creating original content in order to generate more subscribers.  It worked so well for them that other premium movie channels followed suit.  The latest is Starz – now headed by Chris Albrecht who was the architect of the original content movement at HBO more than two decades ago.  Netflix had already committed to 26 episodes of HOUSE OF CARDS starring Kevin Spacey.  It’s a remake of a 1990 BBC miniseries about British politics – but they’ll change the locale to the US.  In neither case has the licensing terms been made available, so we won’t know what the creative execution will look like until late 2012 – when HOUSE OF CARDS premieres.

Another element of the messiness is the fact that Hulu is supposed to be so closely tied to 20th Television through their parent, News Corp.  We still don’t know if they were even at the table offering such a licensing deal, but this could end up to be like egg on the face if it helps push Netflix that much further ahead as a streaming content destination.  The act of a studio placing shows on a competitor’s network or outlet is certainly nothing new – it is done all the time and effectively acts as a counter-balance.  Years ago, ABC decided to allow CBS to air the new show CSI because it meant that the financial risk was minimized.  It ended up to be huge for CBS, but it has also made huge amounts of money for Disney. But, those financials were different and it was not in an environment of competition where the stakes are whether your outlet (HULU, Netflix, etc.) will survive if people stop going there.  For all intents and purposes, the financial model is completely up in the air. A show like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT would be a huge platform for any video site – Netflix seems to have won this battle.

Ultimately, it will take quite a long time to figure out whether this was a smart deal or not. Two years are an incredibly long time in this environment.  Who knows what form Netflix will be in by then? whereas TV provides the opportunity to think in 24 month increments (or longer), the digital pace is much quicker than that.  It could be even more messy if the financials are skewed further in one party’s favor by the time the episodes are produced.  In theory, I think that Netflix’ strategy is a sound one using the model of premium cable.  Except, the world is changing so much – so quickly – that this time horizon may be too long to be succesful.  It will be interesting to see if it ever really comes to fruition or if it just becomes another messy lesson in streaming.  Only time will tell, and 2013 might be too long in this environment.

Warning! Budget Advertising May Induce Claymation Vomit

Sometimes, you come across campaigns that are so hard to believe because they are to true to their company’s core. A campaign by an Amsterdam hostel, The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, seems more like a joke than a true marketing presence.  There’s been many fictitious campaigns that reveal in the end that the location was actually an entry point to show off the trailer.  Imagine the surprise when finding that these Hans Brinker elements are not sets or jokes, but marketing elements from management who proudly offer that their accommodations are a fine alternative to sleeping on a park bench.

The way I found it was through a YouTube campaign that offered to pay anyone who posted a video that mentions Hans Brinker Budget Hotel AND got more than a thousand views would receive 10 Euros.  The video itself seemed too lo-fi to be true.

But when you check out the YouTube page, it is legitimate.  Granted, there’s not a bunch of entries and it seems like only one video other than the challenge video has received more than 1000 views. The YT page does show their classic Brinker commercials – one of which provided my first opportunity to experience claymation vomit.  On its own, the competition is somewhat lame and you really can’t tell if it’s for real or not. 

The thing is, the management seems to be OK with that.  Its consistent with the rest of their marketing.  On the home page of their site, the proudly begin with the copy;

The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel has been proudly disappointing travellers for forty years. Boasting levels of comfort comparable to a minimum-security prison, the Hans Brinker also offers some plumbing and an intermittently open canteen serving a wide range of dishes based on runny eggs.

There’s no photos to speak of, but they have created quite a bit of content on their site to show off how bad they are:

All of these pieces make for a fun waste or diversion from mundane lives. But it is still a mystery whether this place is for real or not!  Kudos to the management and their agency who seemingly have a bunch of time to waste.  In all seriousness, the campaign seem perfectly suited for their target consumer. It is refreshing to see that they have truly embraced what they are and don’t try to sell themselves as something more. The big travel brands could possibly learn a thing or two from them.