Tag Archives: Community

American Express Taps Into A Legendary Community?

All brands are looking for ways to tap into large communities.  In some cases, it is simple enough to buy your way in through advertising, sponsorship or promotions. In some, there’s a number of hurdles a company would have to jump through in order to associate themselves with that coveted community.  Imagine working to tap into a highly-coveted group of 30+ million millennials who are part of a passionate community that has defied normal convention by building via social and word of mouth.  It’s no longer hard to imagine as Riot Games is allowing American Express to tap into their League Of Legends community with branded pre-paid Amex cards.

AmexLeague

 

While American Express did create a co-branded card for a program with Zynga in Spring of 2012, many would argue that Zynga’s games were open to such intrusion of branding since corporate logos had been incorporated into gameplay since the beginning.  We don’t even know how successful that program was and how many points were recorded through the branded cards. A relationship with Riot is completely different and exciting.

Riot differs from Zynga in that they have not incorporated logos into their actual gameplay.  There is brand incorporation via sponsorship of their competitive eSports teams – where teams of five get together to compete in round-robin tournaments for major prizes and international coverage. But that’s almost an entirely different experience than the 5 million-plus daily players experience. In effect, Riot is taking a big risk here as such a large corporate partnership could possibly lose favor among the deeply entrenched players – those who are more interested in an unblemished world.

Something that Riot has done extremely well is build on the idea that it is created by gamers for gamers. As such, there is a community pride in the fact that you could play a very long time without spending a dime, so therefore, they are willing to put some money in (a lot of money in) to enhance their experience.  But, that “consumerism” is all in the spirit of gameplay and community.

Will this partnership turn on deaf ears – even with loyalty rewards being offered? Or, will this be a huge play for penetration into the highly-sought millennial market? That is where the excitement comes in.

If American Express is able to penetrate this community, it would be a huge win for them as they attempt to increase brand awareness and loyalty for a finance firm that traditionally plays to much older audiences. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out and whether they tap in or trip out.

The Tensions Surrounding Negative Aspects In The Evolution Of Social Media

We’ve all benefitted in some form or another from the advances in technology made by industries that are all about destruction.  One simple example is the proliferation of navigation systems in our cars and mobile phones – made possible due to the military’s development of the satellites and the underlying technology. But, it can be alarming and scary if we look at how social networking technologies and platforms may be fueling the players of destruction. Such an example of this is going on right now in the tensions surrounding Gaza – with both sides utilizing Twitter for building awareness and fear.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas are both sharing text and imagery via Twitter that range from threats to eliminated targets to missile launches.  I would imagine that these purposes were never thought of as use patterns for Twitter or any other social network when the founding developers were starting out.

Many around the world praised the capabilities of social networks in bringing the Arab Spring to reality – but those sentiments were all about the joy of re/building and connections.  The underlying thread of the Arab Spring was destruction of the status quo and the oppressive powers, so we could look at some of those posts filled with destructive notes and threatening natures as bad.  But, the general take on them was of positivity.

Can we do the same while evaluating the use of social networks by Hamas and the IDF while embroiled in a form of war?  So far, it is all about marketing/publicity/propaganda for each of these sides. In what I’ve read, it is hard to tell whether the posts are meant more as tactical communications of events or inflammatory railings meant to incite more support for either side.  The mere act of threats, taunts and destructive actions from organized military has got to be a major concern for Twitter’s legal team who developed the platform’s Terms & Conditions as a form of protection among individuals. I can’t imagine they ever thought this could have happened, or could they have?

As quickly as Twitter exploded onto the scene, marketers were trying to figure out how they could harness its power.   In parallel, the T&Cs have been steadily augmented ever since their first version upon launch as use has evolved. Without getting into the details of the conflicts in the Middle East, the reality is that the conflict has evolved over the decades (centuries, millennium) so that perception (or marketing) is key.  While bombs can be volleyed from one side to the next, the spin or marketing has become as important – if not more.

This development of marketing in the conflict is the one that is truly concerning. In war, the facts of the battle are often lost in the marketing of it.  We used to only be swayed by the victor after the battle has long been won and the victors have written the “history.”  Now, we have social networks that can shape that same history on a real-time basis.

We have become numbed by the images and tag lines that flicker across our devices 24/7 with there being very little difference between the image of a military commander who has been assassinated and the latest contestant to be voted off of American Idol or Survivor.

When real battles are being fought and lives are at stake, the comparisons to marketing – and its inherent luxuries – should come to an end. Twitter and similar platforms have quite a dilemma to resolve when evaluating whether these types of destructive and incited uses of their product should be allowed.  The answer is not as easy as a “Yes” or “No” because social has become such a large part of society and communications are not so easily removed once they’re out there. And, there is no discounting how much of an impact – positive and negative – social networking has made in our world.

As a community, we were too slow to respond to hatred and bullying by individuals via social networks. Now, we are moving into a much more official use of social networks for inciting fear. Before we know it, the line will be blurred beyond comprehension in relation to how social media changed our world in positive ways versus negative.

As a community, we need to move to make sure that the lines are drawn quite clearly. Perhaps it is a natural advance in evolution, but we should be pushing for positive use… If the difference between positive and negative is even that clear…

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.

Coachella Fix Served by YouTube and State Farm

There is the saying that nothing beats the real thing, but sometimes what you have to settle for ain’t to shabby. This was the case with the Coachella Live site on YouTube. For those who were not lucky enough to get tickets nor able enough to take off for a weekend of all the crazy things that happen over the course of the weekend on a Polo field, this presentation sponsored by State Farm insurance was fantastic.  Sporting three live streams on a dashboard that included thumbnails of what you’re not watching, Facebook/Twitter/Google+ and a schedule of what’s to come, there was no lack of exploration and enjoyment possible. YouTube really showcased a phenomenal product and Coachella was able to serve the fix of a much larger audience to celebrate the music exploration and wonder that is Coachella.

There were a number of elements that really made this content great:

  • The interface was simple, clean and clear;
  • The production quality was strong throughout. The on-site direction and coverage was comprehensive and, in some instances, rivaled that of a well produced concert video.
  • The streaming quality was better than I had expected. In most cases, both the small and full screen versions were very clear. Sometimes, the images were getting pixellated, but there was no rhyme or reason that I could make out. When the image quality was good, it was great and when it wasn’t, it wasn’t that bad.
  • The sound quality was clear and consistent throughout – even when the picture was not.
  • The Chat was extremely active with very little delay.  Unlike previous versions of this type of thing that I’ve seen, you could see songs, comments or lyrics presented on stage referenced almost immediately in the feed. The fact that three major social networks were incorporated  for ease of entry and use seems like a no-brainer. It’s surprising how many feeds choose not to use more than Facebook and Twitter…
  • State Farm’s sponsorship was persistent, tasteful and refined while not interfering with the content.  Meaning, they didn’t pause sets to show a graphic in-stream – or some other annoying ad mechanic.

Though there was mention of the live streaming on YouTube and the Coachella site, I didn’t see any wide mentions or promotion for the feature.  Perhaps I missed it and imagine there could have been some artist relationship elements to consider.  Ultimately, the people who were most interested were able to find it – either by searching it out or finding it organically through friends’ social activity.

Talking about artists relations, I was impressed that the artists allowed it – and even more impressed about some of the artists that participated. With the point of the weekend(s) being music and the exploration of new music, the site makes perfect sense.  I was able to check out a solid mix of acts I knew and had even seen live before with a healthy dose of new acts.  I know that the experience is not the same as being there, but I am sure that Coachella Live viewers were able to jump from stage to stage much more quickly and easily than anyone who was physically there. The fact that I could jump from a great view of Miike Snow to the pit of Radiohead without leaving my chair was awesome.

On a personal note, My commute home after Radiohead’s late set on Saturday and Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg’s star-studded show to close it all on Sunday night was much more comfortable than driving home from Indio.  And, the fact that I already have State Farm insurance made me feel that I wasn’t just being a freeloader – I might even feel a little bit more loyalty to them because of it.

Hopefully, this becomes a trend for more live events as it really extends the community and the technology has come about to enable that like never before. The technology upgrades has made the experience drastically different from when I spent hours in front of the television watching Live Aid as a kid.  Who would have thought then that we could control what we were watching without having to suffer through commercials and annoying MTV VJ commentary?

Props to Coachella and its partners for taking the festival to the next level by making the experience extend beyond the 180,000 people who actually get to go to the two weekends in the desert.  The fact that YouTube is now hosting some of the full sets, it really extends beyond the desert. And, you get a chance to see some freaky cool things like the holographic Tupac performing. Thanks for providing the opportunity for many more people in many countries to get their fix…

USA Displays Character To Overcome Key Challenges

One of the challenges in entertainment is building a brand.  On the theatrical and home entertainment side, the titles change and it can sometimes feel like you are starting from scratch with each new release.  Disney may have a leg up on everyone else because of their overall brand and audience recognition, but often even that doesn’t work (see JOHN CARTER, SORCERER’S APPRENTICE.) On the network side, unless your programming is all about the same thing – like food, home and garden or cartoons – you often have to rely on marketing your shows as mini-brands.  Sometimes you can get away with promoting comedy night or reality night, but with those, its hard to differentiate one network from another.  USA Network has overcome that challenge and has been doing well since they established their core with Characters Welcome in 2005 and have been expanding on it ever since.

Perhaps it started with the syndicated airing of MONK episodes – a heavy character piece starring Tony Shalhoub – was one of their most-watched shows. They not only focused on the strong character theme in their marketing, but in their programming.  With a string of original shows featuring strong characters, starting with PSYCH in 2006, through to other shows that were light on drama and heavy on character (BURN NOTICE, IN PLAIN SITE, ROYAL PAINS, SUITS) – not only did the audience know what they would find, it was clear what the network executives were looking for in both original programming and syndication.  With the emphasis on character, it isn’t totally about programming fads or copycat programming.

That consistent, clear direction works throughout its marketing as well.  Wayne Friedman talked about network branding in his blog yesterday, focusing on the non-scientific polling of his wife.  When he asked what her favorite network is, she took a moment to scroll in her mind through all the programs from disparate networks, hemmed and hawed, and ultimately stated, “No, wait. It’s USA. It’s about the characters. The shows are fun and light.” Friedman was right that her response is derivative of the network’s content and tag line, but much more of it comes from their consistent messaging and experiences in their marketing extensions – and it goes even further than that…

Everything ties to character.  They have won awards for their digital extensions of the theme and keep pounding away at the character moniker throughout their messaging. So, that consistency alone should be enough, but they leverage the messaging to actually go above and beyond in ways that help their bottom line.

They extend the theme into non-profit and PSA territory in a way that’s organic and meaningful.  They have shown the spotlight on characters that make a difference through their Character Project – a series of short films – and in their PSAs under the Characters Unite campaign.

The PSA series has been USA’s campaign against prejudice and racism and promoting tolerance and acceptance.  An interesting point is that they are able to involve celebrities that are not even on their network for the cause, bringing in different viewers than usual.  One key example is the involvement of NFL players though the network has no NFL connection.  There is even a city-to-city tour going on right now that brings celebrities around to live events as part of a national storytelling tour.

In the end, they leverage every opportunity to prove that Characters are Welcome and key to their existence.  It helps across the board as everyone knows what they are getting then they either go to watch shows or sell them to the network.  It is certainly easier for a more pointed network to pull this off than a broadcast network that needs to be broad in its nature.  The same could be said for studios that have to have somewhat of a broad output of properties. What stands out is that USA not only defined a tag line, but a governing rule of thumb for their entire being.  The campaign has been going for 7 years and does not seem to have any signs of stopping.  You’d be hard pressed to find another example of that overall branding success for a network or studio. In doing so, USA overcame the inherent challenges in branding entertainment and even took it a further step beyond.