Monthly Archives: April 2012

Enough With The “Build It And They Will Come” Mantra!

With the winding down of the Digital Content NewFront (DCNF), one thing is clear – there is a lot of compelling video content.  The question remains – will enough people find it? Online/Mobile video providers are not the only ones confronting this dilemma. A multitude of options are available for audiences of all shapes, sizes, colors, etc. and that hasn’t changed – other than just getting larger by the day. While TV content providers had to go through a phase of dwindling audiences and learning to be able to deal with it, publishers of digital content never had anything but a diverse, wide and scattered environment with which to service. Those in the space always knew that while we could track more information and produce content more inexpensively – but it would be hitting fewer people than the broadcasters and many cablecasters were.  That scale was the first challenge that I think we have collectively gotten over.  Perhaps the biggest hurdle moving forward is the limited perspective usually found in dealing with everything surrounding the actual content creation and the driving of eyeballs to content. It was kind of understandable why many people thought they could build something cool, slap it up on the web and generate some traffic or buzz back in the day.  Before Social Media came on, that was certainly easier – not always completely effective, but more effective than it is now. Today, while many marketers talk about the need for Social integration with their brands and their digital marketing products, its frustrating to witness how many people are still mired in the ideal of “Build it and they will come.”

We see many instances of digital products that take off and generate buzz in a timely fashion, but only tick off one or two boxes out of the five that they could have hit if planned and produced fully across all channels and divisions. Many success stories are achieved almost by accident and many marketers jump on to take a part in its glory. It should no longer be acceptable for a marketing team or vendor to engage on a project based solely on a cool idea if they do not have an executable plan for reaching the right audience.  When setting KPIs or projecting ROI without a clearly defined smart distribution/seeding plan, you’re working in a “fingers crossed” capacity.  Some feel that by creating something cool and putting media behind it, they will be successful.  They will probably be more successful than if they just placed the marketing product in the digital realm, but it’s still not as strong as it can be.  And, that’s why strategy goes beyond any individual campaign and looks to leverage all existing distribution/seeding outlets.

Bringing it back to DCNF, Google/YouTube is the last presentation and will be touting the deeper opportunities with channels – where users can delineate what they are most interested in and have those videos come up in quasi-curated groupings. This might make things a little easier – especially on the video platform that serves up 3 billion hours of video a month. But, for the content creator and any advertisers who are paying for product inclusion within the content, there still needs to be some sort of engagement that actually drives the eyeballs to the content.

While it was nice to see some interesting content presented during DCNF, there’s still a huge lack of compelling discussion of how users will be drawn specifically to this content.  If they are just relying on the conceit that viewers are organically drawn to the affinity channels they most associate with, then they’ve had their eyes closed for a while.  On television, there are MANY channels that I have an affinity for. Yet, there are maybe 15 channels that I will flip through when not watching something in the DVR. Studies have shown that I’m not alone.  So affinity alone does not hold too much water when discussing the introduction of new shows and the generation of viewers.

Moving away from video and focusing on digital marketing products, it’s the same thing. A close friend of mine, Jo Oskoui, told me about an experiment his team just completed that speaks directly to this dilemma.  His company, Oskoui+Oskoui, will be publishing a study that delves deeper into the specifics, but the gist is that they had produced a piece of content and originally posted it only on their blog.  They posted the piece in Q3 2011 when there was a lot of buzz about the related product – a product with a huge cultural value that happened to have a major consumer product release at the time. Their blog gets decent traffic for a blog of that type, but they wanted a limited posting and then see what happened. The basic creative element got less than 50,000 views since posting on their blog – OK but not much.  More than six months later, they completed their experiment by engaging their proprietary social distribution and seeding network to distribute the same exact piece of content and were able to garner over 3 million views with a high rate of re-posting in only one week.

This exemplifies the importance of having a whole plan surrounding any digital marketing product launch. There is too much happening in the digital realm – without even get into the today’s crazy buzz about George Zimmerman’s legal defense team launching a site and social media outlets – nobody can rely on just placing content in the digital realm and expect people to find it.

The good news is that there are many cost-effective options for creating that holistic marketing execution. In fact, I would push vendors to not only come up with the creative idea, but the sound executable plan for generating the distribution that’s required to make a difference (and establish the parameters of success.)  Many companies already engage separate vendors to do creative production, social strategies and implementation, and publicity, but they don’t do a great job of keeping every group up-to-speed – leading to less effective campaigns and wastes of money. So, even if the creative agency isn’t a one-stop shop, that doesn’t preclude the marketing team from engaging all groups internally and externally to set the stage for a whole campaign.

We know that we won’t strike gold every time, but we’ll certainly do better if we go out with a smart strategy and ensure that the strategy and products are communicated across all parts of the company – not just putting content out there and crossing our fingers that people will find it.   FIELD OF DREAMS is a fictional story and we know that the famous line,”Build it and they will come”is just a piece of dialog – we just need to act like we know that when launching our campaigns.

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Begging the Question – Is Questionable Execution Worth A Good Buzz?

Just like most marketers, I’m always looking for innovative ways to draw attention and get the message out.  Sometimes, a bunch of buzz is generated for an execution that seems – on the surface – like it is a brilliant use of the technology.  Unfortunately, when you actually check it out, it leaves a little to be desired when it comes to actually conveying the product’s narrative.  One such case is the French adventure/outdoor products company, Quechua, and the Facebook Timeline piece they launched yesterday to launch their new commercial. The concept was cool, but in practice, the experience was clunky and actually acted counter to the product they were trying to promote.  It certainly begs the question whether buzz about marketing products is good even when that execution is not all it can be.

The Quechua Experiment is getting buzz specifically as the “First Scrollable Commercial on Facebook Timeline.”  I don’t know how much people were waiting for that feat to be attained, but the buzz it’s generating is technically correct. In this case, is that such a cool thing or just a media hook?  When a user goes to www.facebook.com/QuechuaExperiment, they are asked to scroll down on their timeline and push the equivalent “more” button 15 times.  Once at the bottom, press both the SHIFT and SPACE buttons to start the frame-by-frame movement upwards through the images in the Timeline.

Essentially, they are trying to explain the benefits of their 2 second tent with a web mechanic that, annoyingly, takes much longer to experience. When you look at the “video”, it provides beautiful imagery that makes people want to camp out in the wilderness and, at the end, shows how simple it is to break the tent down when you are done. It’s frustrating because we always talk about how interactivity makes the experience deeper for the user – yet this interactivity takes away from the original source of the information, which is the beautiful video.  If all you are getting is another version of the video, is it worth it? It should have been as quick and simple as the “flick of a wrist” that it takes to set up the tent…

Courtesy of Quechua

The company seems to be cutting-edge in general – not just in the materials they use, but in their marketing.  One such example is a beautiful commercial for their products – melding the campers and the environment beautifully – and then enabling a rich behind the scenes environment through technology to explore more. I give them and their agency, Fred + Farid credit for trying new things with this Facebook Timeline execution, but I think the actual mechanics of it miss the mark.

I can’t fault them as they are getting buzz about it. I’m just saddened when a good mechanic is not optimized to become a great marketing product.  With the emphasis being placed on being the first ones to try something, you really want that “first time” to be something really special.  I don’t feel they’ll get anything negative from this and I definitely wouldn’t have known about their products had it not been for the buzz – so that’s a positive for them.  I’m just looking at it as a marketing product, and the full mechanic didn’t convey the product benefits as best it could have. I almost would have rather them had a tongue-in-cheek message that it will take longer for the user to experience the marketing than it would to either set up the tent or take it down.

In the end, I would rather the good buzz support a good marketing mechanic – something that better conveys the product. Additionally, except for in the most extreme cases, buzz is mostly good for a product. I’m always up for some good buzz – I just get disheartened when it leads to a marketing execution that is not all it could have been.

Apple Changing Direction With Celebrities in Ads? That’s Funny…

Often, our memories escape us when thinking about our beloved brands.  Certainly, some commercials and jingles that we’ve seen for brands will be etched clearly in our memories.  For others, that might not be the case.  Perhaps that’s why – as Apple’s better-than-expected quarterly earnings announcement continued the upward climb of its stock price – the buzz of discontent with the star-studded iPhone 4S commercials is reaching a crescendo.  In a couple of instances, I’ve even seen people lamenting that Steve Jobs must be turning in his grave with this supposed about-face. The funny thing is that they’re lamenting the use of celebrities in Apple ads, as if they’ve never been used before, when they’ve been doing so all along.

Perhaps the biggest concern for people is the use of Zooey Deschanel in a rainy day commercial showcasing the Siri product. One of the more succinct critiques abounding can be found on the Death + Taxes blog. I actually think the spot goes along with her established character and almost seems like a co-brand for her television show, THE NEW GIRL. I was a little more wierded out by the use of Samuel L. Jackson in another commercial – where he was using the assistance of Siri for gazpacho. Perhaps it is still within his “character” too, but his “brand” is emblazoned in my mind as bearing guns and dropping plenty of F bombs.

But, while Apple has set itself up well recently as a series of products for the everyman and made its largest statement with its ground-breaking 1984 commercial, they do have a history of using celebrities to pitch their wares.

They have ranged from the iconic musicians (U2, Eminem, Bob Dylan, etc.) in silhouette for the iPod release, to the celebrity as “A Mac” against the PC (Justin Long – pre Barrymore relationship and starring roles), and even “actor as geek” (Jeff Goldblum explaining simplicity of the iMac – funny to see phone jack for modem…) On a different note, but somewhat related: While doing the research for this, I even found a commercial for the Apple Lisa product featuring Kevin Costner before he became famous.

William Wei of Business Insider put together a 60 second history of Apple’s use of Celebrities in their ads. Does it say something about the company or brand that we can think that their history does not rely on celebrity if Goldblum was used and the iPod campaign was a little groundbreaking in itself? Check out the video to get caught up on their history.

As a brand, it is something to weigh when people have certain expectations of not just your products, but the way you market them. I think what sets Apple so far apart in this realm of “confusion” about celebrity usage is the fact that they have done such varied campaigns over the years. From groundbreaking TV ad creative to groundbreaking online advertising (remember the ESPN.com page that shifted and broke apart as a game was played on the iPhone a number of years ago? Their recent billboards around big cities show only an iPad and a finger reaching out to touch it.

Apple found itself in trouble a number of years ago when their computers were reaching only 3% of the market – in part because it was relying most heavily on the design and graphics community.  Since they have really broadened their product offering and communications to enable use by many different kinds of people in many ways, the change has been evident in their stock rising about $600 per share.

Are these celebrity spots the exclusive way they will move forward in the future? Probably not.  Will every Apple marketing product be fantastic? I would be shocked. If you look at the wealth of campaign elements for the iPhone 4S and Siri, they have had more annoying spots (remember the Rock God one?) than the better ones that show many more good reasons to have Siri (when it works.)

The key is, they keep trying different things and are seemingly able to hit where they need to hit.  For that reason, I can’t see Steve Jobs turning over in his grave.  I just think its funny that such a large number of Apple lovers would think so.

Culturally Crossed Fingers Surrounding Olympics Streaming

Last Wednesday marked the 100th day mark until the opening of the 2012 Olympics in London. The news was filled with announcements about the coverage on NBC in the US as well as other coverage announcements by other sports news outlets. Suffice it to say, there will be more opportunities to keep track of what’s going on that ever before. With NBC’s promise to stream 3500 hours of coverage live over the internet, access (and data usage) will be wide open. Hopefully, the excitement and engagement will equal the level of access.  It’s success in both content presentation and quality could provide key insights into the streaming possibilities for future events that are not as big as the Olympics. With that being said, I am still crossing my fingers for something connected to the Olympics but often overlooked – the Olympic Cultural Festival. I have tickets for the Olympics but I will not be able to attend any of the cultural events surrounding it – and that is what my fingers are crossed for, in terms of streaming.

Alongside every Olympics, the hosting nations present a large and varied cultural arts festival. These festivals not only present the opportunity to experience the arts in new ways – they provide a platform for artists to reach an audience in ways like never before. Perhaps even more than the actual Olympics, they give a clearer view into what the hosting country is all about.  As such, I want to see more. I’ve checked out the many of the 364 events that are promoted on the London 2012 Festival site with shows ranging from Art to books, to music, to food, to fashion dance and theatre with a bunch of other things sprinkled in.

Beyond the presenters and participants, larger organizations and companies are getting involved. Eurostar – one of the larger European train companies – is sponsoring a stage in Granary Square. Panasonic is sponsoring a program to bring young people into the art of filmmaking through “Film Nation: Shorts”. BP is causing a bit of a row with their participation due to concerns of gas/petrol and environmental issues, but I applaud them for their sponsorship of programs with the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Museum – mostly to engage younger audiences. And, BT is sponsoring a number of arts events with a series of music events at its core.

So, here’s where the rub is. If BT is the communications partner for both the Gamesandthe Festival. And, if they profess that they are “responsible for providing the communications services and infrastructure to make London 2012 the most connected Games ever, but it’s not just about the sporting action – we’re enabling people to have a fantastic London 2012 experience through music and art too.” Then, shouldn’t we be seeing some major announcements about their streaming of many cultural events on the internet and through mobile?

Perhaps its unfair to call out BT on this, but they seem to be most primed to make this happen and I guess this is now a plea for them (or anyone) to do so.  After seeing the artists at Coachella agree to have their performances streamed live, it seems a no-brainer for artists and organizations to do the same from the London 2012 Festival. Why not share something that is seemingly so fantastic?

Again, the Olympic Games themselves have some minor differences based on where they are hosted, but the Cultural Festivals that run alongside act as a true emblem of what the host country has to offer.  I’m fortunate because I am able to be in London often and get to experience this first-hand, but I know I’m part of the relative few who are able to. And I’m saddened that I can’t be there to experience one of the great by-products of the games.

Yes, I will enjoy the Olympics whether I am there or in Los Angeles watching, but the Festival makes it so much fuller. Wouldn’t this also set the ball rolling for future Festivals when technology is even stronger?  If the Gymnastics competition will be providing users the opportunity to view from a number of angles based on their choice, why can’t we take in some of the cultural events before and after?

I would say that somebody now has 93 days (til the Opening Ceremonies) to figure this out, but the official start date is actually June 21st (with many events already beginning.) Until the streaming cultural event announcements start coming, I don’t think I can risk holding my breath. But I can certainly cross my fingers.

Through a Haze, Sometimes The Most Lame Things Seem Brilliant

I’m sort of sad that I missed the announcement on April 20th about an online game celebrating the Grateful Dead.  The timing of the announcement and the official launch was the only thing that really makes sense to me. Though it is a little too “spot on” with a release on that date for a jam band that was as much known for its relationship to drugs as it was for the actual music, the annual date celebrating marijuana (4/20) is perfect for them. Sadly, by my missing that date, it sheds a light on everything that is not right with the product itself. But as I’ve maintained a lot over the years, staying true to the story is the most important thing. This one really makes me question whether it is really brilliant in being lame…

Adam Blumenthal, a representative of the game’s creator (Curious Sense) seemed to echo Rhino’s aims of staying away from the drug references and going after a younger demographic:

“There’s nothing explicit,” said Blumenthal, who was bound to keep the game family friendly. “The visuals are psychedelic, they’re fantastical, they’re colorful, they’re whimsical but no drug references.”

That’s fine if the primary goal weren’t to collect “seed” to be able to deal with obstacles and get to the next level. In Blumenthal’s defense, he didn’t say that there was nothing implicit. Beyond that, the gameplay is somewhat old-school and I don’t know that it would actually draw in a younger audience that the gatekeepers are looking for.

But, you could argue that the game, the music, the release date and much more work perfectly as extensions of the band.  The game creators even declined to have an end to the game specifically because it didn’t make sense to – in relation to the band and its music. The band and its followers (Dead Heads) were always thought of as being salt of the earth-type people, so the simplicity of the game might have something to do with it. In reality, the music was something that you could just drop into and stay within for days. It wasn’t about the long jams alone – it was about the type of music and the people who followed it. The game makes use of music from ten concerts that are thought to be some of their greatest.  As you travel through the levels, players are treated to huge amounts of those jams.

It wasn’t unusual to run into Dead Heads who followed the group around for tens of shows or more in a row. The scene surrounding the shows were almost as entertaining as the shows  themselves. Were they the best band ever? Doubtful.  But the vibe they presented was something else that brought a type of fan that is rare.

So, if the game makers and the gatekeepers of the Dead were looking to extend the essence of what the Grateful Dead was all about for a new audience (and even re-invigorating the old audience) – where you can lose yourself for a number of hours – they seem to have pulled it off brilliantly.

Jumping Above the Bottom Line To Make Change…And Grow

For some agencies or marketing firms, the ideas may come freely with the sky being the limit on creativity.  Then they run into the actual limits of clients and budgets. Mix that creativity with the need to keep a staff engaged, the business development needs regarding technology and the move to make a difference, and you have the model for something special. I came across an iPhone game that AdWeek wrote about.  It’s not that the game is going to be a huge business – or is even that original.  The excitement is in who it’s for and how it came to be. The game, called Pain Squad, is specifically for the treatment of children going through Cancer treatments. The company that built it is not historically know for App development. The greater upside from the partnership between the company, Cundari, and the hospital, University of Toronto-afilliated Hospital for Sick Children, is priceless. Providing Pro Bono creative and technical resources for real-world philanthropic change extends far beyond the bottom line.

In this case, Cundari built a game App that provides an incentive for kids to track how they are feeling.  Currently, there are more systems that require the updates to be done in journals. And, as we’ve all experienced with journals as kids, we didn’t usually do such a great job of remembering to make our entries.  When it has to do with a person’s health, the mechanics of entry and remembering to do so are not much easier – but they are that much more important. Pain Squad provides a fun way for kids to keep up with something that isn’t that fun – logging the level of pain they are experiencing.

While agencies have been doing Pro Bono work for as long as there have been agencies, they are usually not thought of as capability development opportunities. Often, the agencies aren’t even asked to do these things because it is not thought to be something they offer.  In many other instances, agencies won’t engage in it for fear of putting something sub-standard out there. And probably the biggest reason that companies shy away from Pro Bono work is because they don’t want to take away from their “paying-gig” resources.

I’m not saying that agencies or companies step so far outside of their wheelhouse to the point that they might offer a sub-standard product.  And I’m certainly not suggesting that agencies “experiment” on Pro Bono products in ways that are foolhardy or detrimental to either organization. I’m suggesting that more companies develop products and offer either the entire product or sub-sets to charities or organizations as a way to give back. Though the elements of research should never be the main reason for doing this, that research of both the usage of your product and the setting of process could be a huge by-product of the experience. That by-product could lead to much bigger things for your company and the organization you are helping.

It is a sensitive proposition to do Pro Bono work – especially when you hear horror stories about the volunteer work being a larger drain on resources than the paying gigs.  That’s why you’ve got to be strategic in what you offer to do and who you offer to do it for.  While many elements are the same as other client-vendor relationships, Pro Bono work can easily get mired in that grey area. Make sure expectations are set both externally and internally so that no part of the process leads to disappointment.

If done properly, the possibilities for the endeavor’s partners are endless if done correctly and for the right reasons. Not only are organizations helped, but the people who benefit the most are the ones who need help the most. If it makes sense, jump at the chance to make a difference. And who knows?  Perhaps a solid byproduct will be the uplift in your bottom line.

Brands and Ramifications of Earth Day’s Collateral Damage

Earth Day has always been a peculiar holiday when it comes to marketing and promotional ties that are made to a day reminding us to honor the planet. Even though the tie to honoring nature was clearly evident in the film AVATAR, I still had a concern when we were promoting it for release on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.  I totally appreciated the strong message in the film and how it related to the holiday – I just wondered how people would react to the additional physical needs required for releasing on Earth Day (it fell on a Thursday rather than the traditional Tuesday release day and the amount of packaging manufactured was huge for the highest selling BD/DVD of all time.)  Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much of a backlash as I thought.  There was barely any. So, for all of the hubbub about Earth Day and the interests of brands in promoting their products in the spirit of the day, there is quite a bit of collateral damage.

Heading into Earth Day this Sunday, there are a number of companies tying themselves to the holiday – with Target being among the largest.  They are giving away 1.5 Million re-usable bags on Sunday and promoting a bunch of their ecologically sound products.  Other companies are doing their own twist on the theme with Disney Stores allowing guests to trade in 5 disposable shopping bags for a themed re-usable one, Origins is offering the opportunity to trade in existing skin care product for one of two Earth-friendly products at Macy’s stores, and Pottery Barn Kids providing sunflower seed packets.

The value and awareness that is brought by large retailers and brands doing their own bit to celebrate the day are great and definitely needed.  Perhaps it could become the exception when a company is NOT doing something in support of the day. Partnerships with eco-organizations are the easiest ways to both make a statement and increase awareness.  There are definitely a large amount of non-profits that fit the bill.

The bizarre thing is what I refer to when mentioning Collateral Damage – the ill effect that some programs have on the environment.  While Target is doing their huge program and increasing awareness by fostering a strong partnership with Recyclebank, an organization that is working towards a world without waste by rewarding people for taking everyday green actions – like recycling and reducing water use – Target has created a huge opportunity for waste.  Don’t get me wrong.  They are doing something for the better good and they are not new to the game – they have been giving $.05 discounts to consumers who use their own bags since November of 2009.

Their true good has been made murky by the fact that they have created 1.5 MILLION bags – objects that would not have existed otherwise – and brought them into the marketplace.  The message is strong about helping the ecology, but what about the message of all the materials that went into that manufacturing?  Additionally, their promotion of savings on numerous eco-friendly products requires consumers to print out coupons on pieces of paper.  Couldn’t they just say that all those items are on sale on Sunday – no coupon/waste required?

Ultimately, it’s a challenge.  How do products that require manufacturing of some sort ever even themselves against any real or perceived destruction of the ecology?  I’m not saying that brands and retailers should throw up their hands and say its no use. It’s just the opposite.  They should be looking deeper into how they can make a statement – whether through packaging, year-long practices and the simple things like having items be on sale without requiring paper to be wasted in order to redeem the savings.

To some extent, we will always be playing a zero-sum game with the idea of consumption and preservation.  Perhaps we will get to the point where we are actually preserving and recycling at a greater rate than what we are wasting.  It is baby steps and we can only hope to keep the damage to a minimum – especially as we celebrate Earth Day.