Saturday, July 24, 2010

How Crowdsourcing & Transmedia is Recreating the Ad Agency Model

I was listening to old podcasts of NPR’s Fresh Air and heard two quotes that reminded me that great advertising taps into something deep and thick but in a simple, accessible way.
I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction's job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction's purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in their own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves.” David Foster Wallace as related by Michael Chabon
A patient came to me years ago and she said, I feel like my soul is a prism, and everybody I know only sees one color, and nobody sees the whole prism. And I thought, that's the way to be a good therapist. That's the way to be a good parent, a good spouse, a good lover - is to see the prism of somebody else's soul.” Dan Gottlieb
“Find the simple story in the product,” Bill Bernbach said, “and present it in an articulate, intelligent, and persuasive way.” A way Leo Burnett said, “so interrupting, so daring, so fresh, so engaging, so human, so believable and so well-focused as to themes and ideas that at one and the same time, it builds a reputation for the long haul and produces sales for the immediate present.”

But as Howard Gossage once wrote, “Nobody reads advertising. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.”

But people do read great stories, and great ads are best when they are simply stories well told.
According to Seth Godin, there are eleven criteria of a great story:
  1. Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences.
  2. A great story is true. Not necessarily because it’s factual, but because it’s consistent and authentic. Consumers are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies for a marketer to get away with a story that’s just slapped on.
  3. Great stories make a promise. They promise fun, safety or a shortcut. The promise needs to be bold and audacious. It’s either exceptional or it’s not worth listening to.
  4. Great stories are trusted. Trust is the scarcest resource we’ve got left. No one trusts anyone. People don’t trust the beautiful women ordering vodka at the corner bar (they’re getting paid by the liquor company). People don’t trust the spokespeople on commercials (who exactly is Rula Lenska?). And they certainly don’t trust the companies that make pharmaceuticals (Vioxx, apparently, can kill you). As a result, no marketer succeeds in telling a story unless he has earned the credibility to tell that story.
  5. Great stories are subtle. Surprisingly, the fewer details a marketer spells out, the more powerful the story becomes. Talented marketers understand that allowing people to draw their own conclusions is far more effective than announcing the punch line.
  6. Great stories happen fast. First impressions are far more powerful than we give them credit for.
  7. Great stories don’t always need eight-page color brochures or a face-to-face meeting. Either you are ready to listen or you aren’t.
  8. Great stories don’t appeal to logic, but they often appeal to our senses. Pheromones aren’t a myth. People decide if they like someone after just a sniff.
  9. Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone. Average people are good at ignoring you. Average people have too many different points of view about life and average people are by and large satisfied. If you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one. The most effective stories match the world view of a tiny audience—and then that tiny audience spreads the story.
  10. Great stories don’t contradict themselves. If your restaurant is in the right location but had the wrong menu, you lose. If your art gallery carries the right artists but your staff is made up of rejects from a used car lot, you lose. Consumers are clever and they’ll see through your deceit at once.
  11. Most of all, great stories agree with our world view. The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.
Great stories are similar to great scripts, which my brother, producer Jeff Graup, says, need to contain “A unique voice. Not writing down the middle. Something that has distinct characters, dialogue and that something special in the script that speaks to me.”

The reason clients come to agencies is their ability to tell stories. “They want you to tell them what their story is. Then they want you to tell that story to the public,” says Mark Fenske from VCU. But, “until a client has a story they believe in, you're wasting your time trying to sell them ads. They can get ads from their brother-in-law for an extra turkey wing passed under the table at Thanksgiving. What's hard to get is a good story.”

Importantly, just having a conservation with consumers doesn’t amount to communicating a story. According to William Charnock, chief strategy officer at R/GA, “Stories are different from conversations or experiences. Stories are conversations that others find have value and take, edit and own. Stories, not conversations, are what get passed from one to another and get modified for different audiences and communities. Like the web, there are millions of conversations and experiences that happen every second but only a few graduate to be the stories we all know. That’s the challenge of digital communications today in a nut shell.”

The challenge that Fenske and Charnock point to amounts to the biggest challenge to advertising agencies today: technology has gotten so cheap and accessible that everyone can be a content producer. Everyone can write a story. Take a high resolution picture and manipulate it. Further, as Clay Shirky points out in Here Comes Everybody, “We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.”

Clients don’t need agencies to create, produce or share ads. And they don’t need agencies to tell stories, have conversations and experiences with their users.

But there are two emerging trends that are pointing the way to a new possibility for ad agencies: Crowdsourcing and Transmedia.


In December 2006 Time magazine voted ‘you' - that is, the consumer - as its Person of the Year, based on the growth and influence of user-generated content on the internet, and in January 2007 Advertising Age followed suit when it named ‘the consumer' as its Advertising Agency of the Year, on the grounds that consumers generated more compelling brand communications in 2006 than any single agency. For AdAge, "The question for 2007 (was) whether marketers and agencies find ways to harness that consumer-bred creativity...and deploy it to the service of brands."

Actually, harnessing user-generated content (UGC) began much earlier than 2006. In fact, the genesis of the term “crowdsourcing” came out of a discussion between Wired writer Jeff Howe and his editor Mark Robinson revolving around a Converse ad campaign created by Butler, Shine & Stern. In August 2004, Converse gave Butler Shine the task of reinventing the iconic Chuck Taylor brand. Butler Shine responded by placing ads in alternative weeklies soliciting 24-second spots from budding filmmakers and anyone else capable of wielding a camcorder. The shorts had to somehow convey a passion for Chuck Taylors, but that was it. You didn't even have to to show the shoe. Within three weeks the company had received 750 submissions.

Of course, one can argue that crowdsourcing grew out of outsourcing and freelancing, especially talent aggregator platforms such as eLance and Guru. Or even out of simply asking multiple agencies to provide free spec work. (Even older: ye old employe or customer suggestion boxes.) And there was plenty of precedent for crowdsourcing in the arena of open source software development.

In 2005, Per Hoffman launched AdCandy, “the world's first virtual agency.” Per Hoffman, ad Candy’s founder said, "Creativity doesn't need credentials. Anyone who doesn't believe me can take a look at the New Yorker caption contest." His “Newtonian moment where the apple hits you on the head” was hearing a friend come up with a great tagline. "People always have these ideas, but at the individual level, there is little you can do with them. But on the aggregate, national level there has to be some value there."

Other similar UGC ad platforms such as Revver and Vitrue also were launched during this time. Said Reggie Bradford, CEO of Vitrue (and an ex-client at Miller), "We're just taking advantage of a couple of trends that are already underway: The explosive growth of video on the Internet; the growth in social networks; and the growth of consumers wanting to participate with brands."

In 2006, ad agency TBWA launched a thing called “The Big What Adventure.” It was billed as "An experiment whose goal is to both seek out and nourish creativity, wherever it may be." The TBWA site invited visitors to "submit ideas for real briefs", and come up with creative concepts for ad campaigns. The site promised a "reward" for anyone who comes up with an idea which is used.

The year 2006 also brought about the launch of Holotof, "the creative department of the new millennium." Started by Robby Ralston, a longtime agency veteran in Lima, Peru, Holotof had a network of 900 advertising professionals who take piecework that clients post on Holotof's site.

And plenty of plenty of clients have come to use crowdsourcing/UGC, either on their own or through platforms such as Adhack, Brickfish, Cambrian House, CrowdSpirit, Current, Idea Bounty, Innocentive, Kluster, Poptent and, or Zooppa; for example:


(Check out Snoo which tracks UGC content )

At some point, I expect some sort of shake-up and/or consolidation of platforms, especially since they seem very similar to crowdsourcing/UGC-related agencies such as:

   Design Outpost
   Genius Rocket

Many have tagged crowdsourcing as a fad. In 2006, Ben Wiener, CEO of ad agency WONGDOODY, said, “In some ways, user-generated advertising is this year's BMW films. That was brilliant, but after it was copied a few times by other advertisers, it began to become awful and played out. You can't have other marketers piling onto the bandwagon and expect to have the same success, although that's what usually happens with these new ideas. The success of user-generated campaigns is partly due to their content, sure, but also partly to their novelty. And that's wearing off."

And crowdsourcing has had its failures: Chevy Tahoe.

“Crowdsourcing” might not even be the best term. According to Dan Woods of Forbes, “There is no crowd in crowdsourcing. There are only virtuosos, usually uniquely talented, highly trained people who have worked for decades in a field. Frequently, these innovators have been funded through failure after failure. From their fervent brains spring new ideas. The crowd has nothing to do with it. The crowd solves nothing, creates nothing. What really happens in crowdsourcing as it is practiced in wide variety of contexts, from Wikipedia to open source to scientific research, is that a problem is broadcast to a large number of people with varying forms of expertise. Then individuals motivated by obsession, competition, money or all three apply their individual talent to creating a solution.”

In reality, the crowd is not so crowded. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1% of Wikipedia users (pointed to as one of crowdsourcing’s biggest successes) are responsible for about half of the site's edits. The site also deploys bots—supervised by a special caste of devoted users—that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. For Slate’s Chris Wilson, “This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.”

Tom Powell of Co>Innovative echoes this sentiment, “Crowdsourcing or collaboratively creating content of any kind becomes dicey very quickly and the odds of creating something greater than the sum of its parts are low. In fact, creating by committee generally leads to utter crap. But with collaborative sites and, in my view, a talented orchestrator, it might be possible to create something of quality or, at least, facilitate an interesting experience, regardless of the end product.”

And the first chaperone/curator/orchestrator that the ad industry took notice of, really paid attention to, was John Windsor (and Evan Fry) who left the comfort of Crispin Porter to form Victor & Spoils.

Victor & Spoils (V&S) claims to be “the world’s first creative (ad) agency built on crowdsourcing principles.” They’re able to say that because unlike the quasi agencies above, V&S employs an agency-like staff. In an interview Windsor explained it thusly: “We feel like an ad agency. But we work like a crowdsourcing platform. At the core of our agency is our creative department. A creative department made of everyone from art directors and copywriters to strategists and producers who come together to solve strategic problems. A global digital community that will not only be rewarded for the solutions they develop (both individually and as a group) but also for participating in the community itself. Companies need an alternative to both current ad agencies as well as current crowdsourcing platforms. One that offers the strategic direction, engagement and relationship management that agencies deliver today, but one that also delivers the engagement, cultural relevance, results, and return on investment that crowdsourcing (if managed and directed well) can deliver.”

From V&S CCO Evan Fry: “V&S is different from the current crowdsourcing platforms in several key ways: as opposed to simply facilitating projects, (we) manage, direct and curate the whole process, from the very beginning of exploring with the client WHAT to crowdsource, to the nuts and bolts of the process - managing the entries, managing the briefing, keeping the overwhelming parts away from the clients and only showing them what is on brand, on strategy, and smart."

The V&S global digital community is not only rewarded for the solutions they develop (both individually and as a group) but also for participating in the community itself. The idea being that there are always multiple ways to win. So not only do the monetary 'Spoils' always go beyond first place (V&S awards for 2nd, 3rd, etc), V&S also rewards for participation, all of which builds each creative's V&S Reputation Score, which will in turn help determine a share of the revenue for each project. "It's a model we'll be building every day, and we believe that it combines the best of what a creative agency can do and the best of what crowdsourcing can offer to arrive at solutions for brands that are strategic, forward thinking and most importantly, effective.”

Notably, V&S is using existing crowdsourcing platforms such as Genius Rocket, InnoCentive, 99Designs and CrowdSPRING.

“Technology,” says Windsor, “is driving change in the workforce. Transparency is flattening organizations as walls become more porous. A digital workforce has the latest tools and can work anywhere at any time. The rise of the curator class has created a new generation of social and creative directors and editors. And the economy has accelerated the death of the middle man. Together, these disruptive forces could spell the end of the old agency model, which is based on bringing talent and resources together in one room to get the job done.”

For Emma Johnson of Quirk eMarketing, “Whether clients and agencies want to face it or not, crowdsourcing seems to be the next stage in the evolution of marketing as supply and demand has evidently changed. It allows the clients to be exposed to a limitless number of fresh, innovative marketing ideas and presents an opportunity for PR, whereby clients have the added benefit of direct interaction with those who matter most – their consumer base. This is an avenue for unexpected insights on a global scale.” 

BTW, crowdsourcing not only applies to marketing communications and advertising, but it is also working on the product design side, e.g., Threadless, Infectious, Quirky, along with Starbucks, and Dell's Ideastorm; even crowdsourcing CAD/CAM is being explored.

Which spells the possibility that David Armano's experience and storytelling worlds could be brought together under one crowdsourcing-based agency.

Transmedia Planning

The idea for transmedia planning came out of Henry Jenkin’s book Convergence Culture and folks involved in MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium (C3), including Grant McCracken, author of Chief Culture Officer. (See Jenkin’s explanation)

The basic premise of transmedia planning is that rather than using different media channels to communicate the same idea, you can use each channel to communicate different things. There’s still an overall brand promise, but there are multiple core ideas. According to Faris Yakob (then at Naked), who really pushed Jenkin’s idea into the media world, the difference between transmedia planning and media neutral planning can be explained thusly:
"The model that has held the industry's collective imagination for the last few years has been media neutral planning. In essence, this is the belief that we should develop a single organising thought that iterates itself across any touchpoint - this was a reaction against previous models of integration that were often simply the dilution of a televisual creative idea across other channels that it wasn't necessarily suited to...The important point is that there is one idea being expressed in different ways. This is believed to be more effective as there are multiple encodings of the same idea, which reinforces the impact on the consumer.

Now then, let's think about transmedia planning. In this model, there would be an evolving non-linear brand narrative. Different channels could be used to communicate different, self-contained elements of the brand narrative that build to create an larger brand world. Consumers then pull different parts of the story together themselves. The beauty of this is that it is designed to generate brand communities, in the same way that The Matrix generates knowledge communities, as consumers come together to share elements of the narrative. It has a word of mouth driver built in."
“The most interesting part,” for Jason Oke of Leo Burnett Toronto “is that this pulling together doesn't necessarily have to be done by one person - social relationships can help forge those connections, forming a brand community that shares and builds on each others' experiences with the brand. I've seen the advertising, you've been to an event, she's tried the product, he's had a good experience with an employee, and we all compare notes.” All of these story threads spread across multiple channels create an incentive for what Mimi Ito calls “hypersociality,” The more people get absorbed into putting together these scattered bits of information, the more invested they are in the brand/product narrative. And thus, the more likely they are to explore, discuss, share and build upon the narrative.

Put together Sami Viitamäki's FLIRT model, along with Mullen's Marketing Ecosystem, Faris Yakob's transmedia diagrams, and Forrester's Social Technographics and you get a view where professional and amateur creators and critics gather through crowdsourced-based ad agencies to create (and often non-linear) different brand experiences and stories which are then vetted, edited, managed, and modified and communicated over various channels to creators, critics, spectators and the rest of the online crowd individually and/or through communities who then digest, explore, share and modify those stories in a cycle that builds brand loyalty over the long haul while selling overnight.

Which fits in perfectly with great ideas being great storytelling. “Nobody learns everything all at once,” says Seth Godin in All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. “The story has to begin with something compelling enough that you want to learn more about the story. The mistake marketers make is that they tell all the story at once, take it or leave it. People need to realize they have to ensure a unfolding dialogue.”

And thus this new form of ad agency is “now in the business of starting stories, not attempting to nail them down from beginning to end. Letting stories take on a life of their own, to be played with, passed around, modified and enriched by the audiences they’re developed for.”

Which reminds me that great advertising can tap into something deep and thick but in simple, accessible ways. Which is why I'm in the business.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Luxury Redefined

I've been doing a lot of work in the luxury marketplace over the past few months and this is what I've seen:
July 8, 2010: Slump in Luxury Retail Sales
"MasterCard Advisor's SpendingPulse reported late Wednesday that luxury spending dropped 3.9 percent in June from a year earlier, the first decline since November."
July 8, 2010: Retail Surprise: Luxury Beats Discounters
"The most striking trend in June retail sales figures released today is by how much pricier department stores and luxury retailers beat expectations. Discounters, meanwhile, largely disappointed investors. Overall in June, same-store sales at department stores rose 5.9 percent, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, and same-store sales rocketed 8.8 percent higher at luxury chains."
It's been a tough, confusing time for retailers of luxury products with conflicting data appearing side-by-side, even on the same day!

According to Bain & Company, in 2009, the worldwide luxury-goods industry fell 8 percent, to under $230 billion. And yet luxury sales online were forecast to grow 20 percent. According to the Luxury Institute's State of the Luxury Industry 2009 Survey, 77 percent of respondents said “luxury is less important in today's economy.” Fifty-eight percent said they are "spending more on essentials rather than on what they want"; 56 percent said they are "being more practical about spending."

When times are trying, the focus turns to value. The "status premium" people are willing to pay shrinks, whether the product is a high-end lipstick or a gas-guzzling vehicle. And with awareness that neighbors are suffering, conspicuous consumption becomes less comfortable.

“I recently made a small purchase at Hermès," writes blogger Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology, "and I was asked if I would prefer to carry it in a plain brown bag without the famous logo. I was somewhat taken aback, and on further inquiry, the assistant replied that I would perhaps feel more comfortable with anonymity. Something as simple as a bag, that only six months ago was the essence of a status symbol now might be considered a liability.”

Tom Bodenberg, chief consumer economist at Unity Marketing says "Right now the luxury market is at a pivotal point. On the positive side is the recent good performance of the stock market which reflects an underlying optimism of the future prospects of the economy. But on the other hand luxury consumers are more committed than ever to saving over the next 12 months."

"The luxury brands are all trying to reinvent themselves and deliver a better experience," says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute.

This new world of luxury is less about designer labels and glitz and more about shopping savvy and an I-feel-good-owning-this mentality. Pure luxury is out, but premium/quality is still a justifiable expense. Consumers are not unwilling to spend, but they are demanding better reasons to buy and they are becoming more thoughtful.

This new re-defined luxury will not depend on the usual ‘high’ price tag, the must-have ‘it’ item and its corresponding ‘scarcity’. The new definition of luxury is all about how rare something is. So while it may use expensive materials, the real value is in the time and amount of thinking it took to create. The new luxury is a highly intimate experience not dependent on the ‘lifestyle’ but on the ‘personal experience’ the individual has with the product.

Lucy Johnston, editor of the Global Innovation Report says that, "The golden world of aspirational brands and beautiful products will emerge once again to be embraced, but the rules of etiquette have evolved. Gone are consumers’ desires to express themselves through a brand label alone. Waning is the notion of 'exclusivity' as defined by price or limited quantity alone. And fading is the one-design-fits-all product that was lusted after but contributed nothing to individual expression. In place of these attitudes will emerge a leaner, more cognitive brand equity that recognizes the intelligent value of refined skill and impeccable service, of provenance and exploration, of genuine innovation, vision, and a good story well narrated."

"It’s not that people won’t consume. It’s that people don’t need assets anymore. They’re gravitating more toward experience than assets and goods.” says Pedraza.

We’re recognizing that lasting memories of an enjoyable, meaningful life are what we have at the end of the day.  We're all incredibly busy these days.  And when we do have time for ourselves we want to spend it well.  Not look back and think our experience was a waste time. In a way, this is a softer, more authentic version of aspiration that creates a deeper sense of permanence. Consumers now seek a sense of significance and permanence not merely by purchasing well-crafted goods that they can pass on for generations, but by creating their own unique stamp on the world around them through meaningfully rich, full, positive experiences.

And time well spent is the ultimate experience. The ultimate luxury. Tying a brand to quality time is a concept with huge implications.

In a sense, the communication objectives for luxury brands goes from selling social status to telling social stories.
“Luxury brands are more than the goods. They give people the opportunity to live a dream. The goods are secondary because first of all you buy into a brand, then you buy the products.” Robert Polet - CEO of Gucci
“When the times are hard people really like or need to dream more, and luxury products are never more necessary as in the tough periods.” Benoit Gouez - Chief Vintner MH
For Knowledge Networks Patricia Graham and Marcus Matthews, "Success in luxury branding increasingly will be less about identifying and providing the trendy 'things' important to people and more about understanding the role 'things' play in people’s lives. The modern hallmark of luxury will be goods and services that enable individuals to achieve self-fulfillment and self-realization in a busy, noisy, fast- paced, and cluttered world. Luxury is becoming a concept rooted in our modern drive to find personal meaning and satisfaction about finding ways to feel good about ourselves apart from the list of exclusive and select things we possess."

"Any luxury-goods marketer needs to start with the knowledge that no one needs your stuff, anyway. You have to transform your good into an experience to make a difference to a consumer," says Pam Danziger President of Unity Marketing and author of Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need. “When we talk about luxury from the consumers’ experiential perspective, the brand becomes irrelevant. What matters is how the brand delivers the luxury experience it promises.  In other words, ‘old luxury’ is about the thing (i.e. a noun), while ‘new luxury’ is about the consumer experience (i.e. a verb)."

So what kinds of media works in this new re-luxury world? Here are a few that make sense:
  • In-Store: Your physical store design is your most valuable communication device. It can do more than convey information about your product and the personality of your brand. Done well, it creates a relationship with your customer and links their values with yours.  In a recent interview with editor, Dolly Jones, Marigay McKee of Harrods talked about the transformation luxury stores have gone through from ‘schools’, educating shoppers to hospitals, ‘prescribing’ purchases to the ‘homes’ they are today. McKee’s view is that effective retailers must now play host to consumers. Think about integrating hospitality, relaxation and comfort into your retail outlet. Lifestyle merchandising should now go hand in hand with an in-store lifestyle experience. In addition, luxury retailers are allowing allowing market by market customization. Look to Rocco Forte whose hotel chain is consistent but always geographically and culturally adapted or Paul Smith whose retail outlets are diverse but always full of targeted character. The British designer and businessman allows the managers of each retail outlet to control their own buy because he believes that they understand their customer best.
  • Website Design. “The classic luxury brand Web site is basically a Flash site with lots of beautiful imagery, but no one ever goes to it,” said Aaron Shapiro, a partner at Huge. To solve that, luxury websites should take advantage of newer technologies such as zoom, videos and live help. They can also create an online retail presence.  But, they should also be designed to motivate people to visit in-store. 
  • Mobile: Luxury marketers need to work with ad agencies, ad networks and mobile marketing and commerce firms to begin incorporating mobile into multichannel efforts in time for the upcoming holiday season. The iPhone and other smartphones allow for deep and rich experiences within rich media, in-app and in browser. When you have a premium product to showcase, you need a canvas that can bring out the luxury feel.
  • Social Networking. Be careful using social media. In luxury, the perceived value of some brands is inversely correlated to the number of people who know about or use them. The users of these brands often want to limit the number of other users – exclusive or limited access - either because a greater number detracts from the cachet of the experience or makes it more difficult for them to enjoy it (e.g., there’s more competition for appointment times or limited availability of stock.) They want to feel they are part of a limited group in the know. Therefore social currency may actually be a negative for some luxury brands. Thus, instead of using mass social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, luxury brands Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Burberry have launched their own social networks or added social components to their existing websites. More exclusive social destinations within corporate sites enable them to extend their brands’ stories and promises to customers. Other brands have taken care of niche communities such as Weardrobe , Modepass , and Lookbook.Nu . Or have partnered with fashion-oriented sites like Polyvore for sponsoring on-brand contests.
  • SEO: More and more people are using search while on the go. Make sure your local search listings are optimized and consider purchasing local search ads.
  • iPad: It’s clear that iPads and other tablet devices are not just a fad. We’re already starting to see brands using them as part of their in-store experience. Luxury brands that want to communicate a unique social story are a perfect fir for the iPads med-rich experience. A recent PSFK report, however, indicates that top luxury brand website do not work on the iPad.
  • Twitter: Use Twitter to have a two-way conversation with current and prospective customers. And make sure you understand what voice you want to use. Luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman (@Bergdorfs) takes on a young, chatty, fashion-forward persona. Apparel brand DKNY (@dkny) takes on the personality of “DKNY PR Girl” who shares her experience working in the fashion industry while simultaneously giving a behind-the-scenes look at what’s in store for DKNY shoppers.
  • Location-based Marketing: Location-based sites such as Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla allow users to see who has visited a particular establishment and go even further by incorporating game-like elements of rewarding those who “check in” with points and badges. One brand that has recently made use of Foursquare’s competitive nature is Jimmy Choo. In their @CatchAChoo campaign in honor of their new sneaker launch, they created a hunt around London. Followers would see where the sneakers had checked-in and if they got to the venue in time they would win the Choos. During New York Fashion Week, Marc Jacobs and Foursquare created the “Fashion Victim” badge, which allowed Fashion Week attendees (and others) to “check-in” at any Marc by Marc Jacobs stores in New York and around the country to unlock the badge. Four people who unlocked the badge in New York were randomly chosen to receive tickets to the Marc Jacobs show. The partnership provided both Marc Jacobs and Foursquare with word of mouth marketing.
  • Style Bloggers. There are thousands of style-related blogs on the web these days. Gala Darling, Bryan Boy, Tavi, Satorialist and Garance Dore participated in fashion design collection collaborations and received front-row, international Fashion Week seats. It is important therefore to identify those bloggers that are fit your brand and will be able to influence the audience you care about most.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Social Web, Storytelling and Brands

From Mel Exon, Managing Partner at BBH Labs:

Welcome to Optimism

Just 22% of voters now approve of the California Governor Schwarzenegger’s performance and just 16% approve of the way the legislature is doing its job.  Schwarzenegger’s current approval ratings equal the lowest ever given a sitting California governor in the more than fifty years the Field Poll has been conducting these job assessments. The poll also finds that an overwhelming majority of voters (79%) believe that the state is seriously off on the wrong track.  Just 13% think the state is moving in the right direction.

Looking at the National data, the outlook is the same.  Across five different National polls, only 31% say that the country is going in the "right direction." (Cool charting tool is from

Combine those numbers with the unemployment rate and you have a prescription for pessimism.  In fact, if you look at the more "realistic" unemployment data, especially U6 (which includes discouraged and marginal workers who are both not working and not looking for work but have looked in the last 12 months and say they would like to work and part-time workers which includes currently employed people who want and are available for full time work but who have had to settle for part time employment), the view is particularly bleak - U6 currently stands at 16.8%. (Gallup's measure of underemployment is even higher at 18.3%.)

The big, and obvious, implication for marketers: it's a tough time to sell.

But from a messaging standpoint, how can we best leverage this pessimism? Using the Crispin framework: how can we create a dialogue with customers over the tension created by this pessimism?

My belief is that we need to use American's eternal sense of optimism?  Americans want to be optimistic even in the face of bad news. The 2009 Pew Economic Mobility Survey found that "most Americans believe hard work as opposed to luck or circumstances will lead to its achievement; and two-thirds are still at least fairly confident that they will reach the Dream even as they rate its condition mediocre or poor."

In March 2010, a Pew report found "just 22% say they can trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time, among the lowest measures in half a century." (And as I've written earlier, Americans have lost trust in the other sorts of institutions they looked to for support in the past.) So, the optimism that marketers need to try and participate in is a personal optimism. A sense that the individual can make a difference. Which fits with the notion that brands should have a take on the world that is "built on cultural and social missions, not commercial propositions."  And as Colin Powell once said, "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier."

So, to steal an old Wieden idea: "Welcome to Optimism."

For if there is one thing Americans can agree on with their British counterparts, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty" (Winston Churchill)  And the times they are a difficult.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Middle Aged Brain

This explains a lot. Barbara Strauch, a former deputy science editor at The New York Times, has written The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.

In it she explains the hiccups the middle-aged brain takes. Our brains slow down. Our processing speed declines from our twenties on. We get more distracted and we get distracted more easily. "What is happening, [scientists] think, is that you can suddenly — as you age — fall into what they call sort of a default mode. This is kind of a daydreaming mode. It's kind of an inner dialogue. And what they think happens is that you tend to fall into a daydreaming default mode more easily."

Our short-term memory also gets a little dicey. Episodic memory — the memory we have for things in context — tends to falter. For example, forgetting the name of someone you're talking to or drawing a blank when trying to come up with a book title. Those names are not really lost. They're just kind of temporarily misplaced. The way that they're stored in our brain — the sound of the name and the information about what that name is — is stored separately and it takes a well to retrieve the pieces and put them back together.

Sorta of sounds like my old Mac Powerbook. It starts up slow, drifts off quite often and finds it difficult to find data that I’ve saved.

And it means that advertising to the 40-65 year old crowd needs to be well crafted and to the point.

However, long-term studies of us over 40 year olds show that in many areas, including reasoning, our brains actually function better.

We get happier
Youth is the key to happiness, right? Wrong. Neuroscientists and psychologists are discovering that we are actually happiest in middle age. Even with all the life stresses, we become more optimistic. And this shift comes from how our brains develop. In middle age, our brain cells begin to respond more to the positive and less to the negative.

We see solutions
Middle age adds life experience, better judgment, and perhaps a little wisdom. Science has a word for this: gist. Gist is that intuition, that gut feeling that proves to be right. It’s the way the brain, with all its experience, has learned to recognize the patterns, see the connections, and move quickly to a solution, consciously or even at an unconscious level.

We start to use our brains differently—and better
The younger brain does have a higher processing speed, but the middle age brain is adaptable and finds ways to function at a top level. We use both the left and right sides of our brains on tasks once done by only one, and we call upon reserve brainpower to help ward off diseases that occur in later life.

We’re smarter than we think
Everyone worries about those common middle-age memory lapses—where are those keys? What is his name? But these are actually not serious and they are not dementia. While we may tend to forget things, we do better in areas such as logic, deductive reasoning, verbal skills, and even spatial reasoning.

The long-held assumption that we lose thousands of brain cells as we age is false
Our brains (as long as they are healthy) continue to develop, change, and adapt. Growth of white matter and brain connectors allow us to recognize patterns faster, make better judgments, and not only find unique solutions to problems, but be more creative in a range of areas.

We can keep our brains in top shape
Physical exercise protects the brain, and what we eat may make a difference in brain health. For the first time, scientists are zeroing in on what it is about exercise that helps us remember where we put the keys, and what exactly in a glass of red wine or a handful of blueberries helps brain cells.

Dementia is not inevitable
We now have enough people living long enough to prove that dementia is not inevitable. There is an increasing number of “pristine agers’’ whose brains remain intact well into their nineties. And for the first time, science is able to study them.

And this means that advertising to the 40-65 crowd can be nuanced — no need to dumb down anything, no need to speak slowly.  I get it. Just don't expect me to remember your name.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

FEED: The Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report 2009

FEED is Razorfish’s annual study charting how technology is changing the way consumers engage with brands. Always interesting data.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ingmar's Guide to Brand Utility

Back in 2006, AdAge published "Consumers to Brands: Make Yourselves Useful." In the article, Benjamin Palmer of Barbarian Group was quoted as saying, "I believe the next stage of brand advertising is going to be in the realm of 'branded utility.' Creating something that people need, not aping existing applications because you can, is key.  For the same budget and energy as we expend on current forms of advertising, we could be making something more tangible, useful and reusable that plays a more integral part in the consumer's life. This is 'interactive,' which is not synonymous with 'online,' by the way."

Ingmar de Lange, founder of Mountview, recently put together the following guide to branded utility:

DDB on Transmedia Narratives

In Transmedia storytelling, content becomes invasive and permeates fully the audience's lifestyle. A transmedia project develops storytelling across multiple forms of media in order to have different "entry points" in the story; entry-points with a unique and independent lifespan but with a definite role in the big narrative scheme.

Here's DDB's take at using transmedia narratives in marketing:

SMRB Social Media Report

Interesting data from Experian-Simmons (the old Simmons Market Research Bureau):

Forward thinking marketers leverage the power of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and more to connect to consumers in a more personal and meaningful way. That's why Experian Simmons is focusing on social networking in this issue of Consumer Insights, featuring the freshest insights available from the latest Simmons New Media Study.

The 2010 Social Networking Report provides the hard data behind this consumer revolution, including the fact that fully 66% of online Americans use social networking sites today, up from just 20% in 2007. Social networking is an increasingly addictive activity, with nearly half of those who access such sites (43%) reporting that they visit them multiple times per day. While users of social networking sites may have initially signed up to better keep in touch with friends, a growing number say they now use sites like Facebook to connect with family members. An astounding 70% of social networkers keep in touch with family via their various online networks, up from 61% a year ago.

Fully two-thirds of all online adults today have visited a social networking site in the last 30 days, up from 53% in 2008 and 20% in 2007. Social networks have most thoroughly penetrated the young adult market, as nearly 9-in-10 online 18-to 34-year-olds visit such sites today. But even older Americans are tapping into social networks, with 41% of online adults age 50 and older making monthly visits to sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

The rise of social networking tracks closely with that of Facebook. As of April 26, 2010, 46% of the U.S. online adult population reported having visited Facebook in the past 30 days.

While keeping in touch with others is an important part of social networking, the popularity of games like Farmville and Mafia Wars illustrate that fun is a big part of the appeal of social networking.

(HubSpot did a Webinar a short while back that included some of their data.  The following chart is a nice addition to the SMRB data.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Taking and Managing Creative Risk

Taking and Managing Creative Risk

Lately, the news has been littered with companies who suffered the consequences of mismanaging the balance between risk and reward.

Although the world of advertising doesn't use advanced financial equations or formulas to calculate risks, the same relationship between creative risk and potential reward holds.  That is, potential return (awareness, familiarity, attitudes, stickiness, sales, etc.) rises with an increase in risk. Low levels of risk are associated with low potential returns, whereas high levels of risk are associated with high potential returns.

When a client asks for advertising, they are asking to break through the clutter and grab the attention of a possibly disinterested target. This usually involves taking some sort of calculated risk.

But as David Martin states, the risk involved in advertising is a different sort of animal. 

“Most business decisions are made after studying a set of quantitative facts.  These facts lead to rational conclusions.  Advertising, on the other hand, is the odd ball that defies quantitative analysis in advance.  It is a subtle and mystifying force that can be sandpapered into sameness and dulled by excessive testing and second-guessing and a desperate attempt to be scientific.  By attempting to reduce risk, clients and agencies risk running advertising that will be ignored—and with high awareness essential to the brand’s future, that’s the greatest risk of all.”

So, the key question is, “How do you best manage creative risk?”

1.  Start with Brand. 

A brand is more than a name, logo or symbol. At its simplest, a brand is the promise a company makes to all its stakeholders, employees, customers and partners. A promise made, and a promise kept. A brand differentiates an offering and serves as an assurance of quality or service at a given level.

Brands should be verbs rather than merely nouns. They should have energy. Brands should stand for something instead of everything. They should have a social mission, not just a commercial proposition.  Brands have the opportunity to turn the mundane into the precious.  The commonplace into the unique.  Brands break through commodification.  They create value.  They create connections. They create belief.

Further, the value of a brand as a shareholder asset has been widely recognized. A strong brand produces more than awareness; in a market of heavily commoditized products and services, it actively influences the purchase-decision making process. It reduces risk by making the product- or service-selection process easier for the customer and can also help the uptake of new products in new markets.

An example:  Living Harvest Tempt

Last year, Gauger+Associates helped launched Tempt Hempmilk.  After much work with the client, the decision was made to focus the brand vision on championing a movement to put hemp foods in every kitchen.  The team truly felt that the hemp seed has the power to change the world. It is sustainable, rich in easily digestible, high-quality protein, with all 10 essential amino acids, and an awesome source of Omaga-3 and Omaga-6 essential fatty acids. And yet hemp has been beset by myths, stereotypes and misunderstandings.  Thus, part of the brand platform built was to question convention: because if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had. 

Thus created, this brand platform allowed us to take a bit of a risk with communication:

2.  Focus on How Consumers Interact with Your Product. 

The most important aspect of brand is how the underlying product or service connects to a human need.  As Bill Bernbach famously stated:

“At the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his actions, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him. For if you know these things about a man you can touch him at the core of his being”

Part of this, is thinking beyond the product or service itself to encompass society, culture and human potential.  (As we see again and again, over time product features can be copied and improved upon.)

Hugh MacLeod in the Hughtrain:
“Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential. What statement about humanity does your product make? The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become. It's no longer just enough for people to believe that your product does what it says on the label. They want to believe in you and what you do. And they'll go elsewhere if they don't.”
“Our focus,” Henry Jenkins author of Convergence Culture, says, “should not be on emerging technologies but emerging cultural practices.” Or as Clay Shirky puts it in Here Come Everbody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, “A revolution doesn't happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” 

Visualizing Complex Data

Americans spend three out of every four waking hours being bombarded by some form of information, according to a study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego called, How Much Information.

The report says that the average American consumes 34 gigabytes and 100,000 words over the course of about 12 hours every day. Nearly half of that time is spent watching television; about a quarter on the computer; and the rest on radio, print media, telephones, computer games, recorded music, movies and other sources.

An earlier How Much Information report back in 2003 from researchers at UC Berkeley stated that "the world's total yearly production of print, film, optical, and magnetic content would require roughly 1.5 billion gigabytes of storage. This is the equivalent of 250 megabytes per person for each man, woman, and child on earth." 

Wow. Lots of info. Given at this stuff bombarding us, it's great to see websites trying to make all this data useful through infographics and other visualizations.

For example, Cognitive Media does a fantastic job turning presentations into easy to understand visuals (scribing).  Here they are taking notes on a presentation by Daniel Pink (author of Drive).

I love how Gapingvoid and Indexed use cartoons (and comedy) and simple charts to make complex points.

And some of my favorite infographic sites: Flowing Data, Cool Infographics, Visual Complexity, Information is Beautiful, Simple Complexity, Chart Porn.

Here's an infographic turning the Internet into a visual from Medical Coding (via Simon Law). 

The History of RickRolling

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Inside the Mind of the Anonymous Online Poster"

Interesting article in the Boston Globe: The paper decided that they needed to figure out who their anonymous posters were to and what motivated them. (Talk of the Nation on NPR interviewed the author as well.)

"Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster"
By Neil Swidey, June 20, 2010

These users comment on everything from today’s news to hotel rooms. Many are harmless. But some are ruthless. Who are they exactly, and why do they do what they do?

On Monday, May 17, at 2 p.m., a breaking news article headlined “Obama’s aunt given OK to stay in United States” hits the home page of In a matter of seconds, the first anonymous online comment appears. A reader with the handle of Peregrinite writes, “of course she can . . . can someone appeal.”

Certain topics never fail to generate a flood of impassioned reactions online: immigration, President Obama, federal taxes, “birthers,” and race. This story about Obama’s Kenyan aunt, who had been exposed as an illegal immigrant living in public housing in Boston and who was now seeking asylum, manages to pull strands from all five of those contentious subjects.

In the next few minutes, several equally innocuous posts follow, including a rare comment in favor of the judge’s decision. Then the name-calling begins. At 2:03 p.m., a commenter with the pseudonym of Craptulous calls the aunt, Zeituni Onyango, a “foreign free-loader.” Seconds later comes the lament from Redzone 300: “Just another reason to hate are [sic] corrupt government.”

News websites from across the country struggle to maintain civility in their online comments forums. But given their anonymous nature and anything-goes ethos, these forums can sometimes feel as ungovernable as the tribal lands of Pakistan.

At, the website of The Boston Globe, a team of moderators – or “mods” – monitor the comments. Actually, with just one or two mods on per shift, and an average of more than 6,000 comments posted every day, on every corner of the site, the mods could never hope to monitor all the simultaneous chatter. Instead, they focus on evaluating the “abuse reports” that commenters file against one another. For Steve Morgan, a veteran editor who coordinates the monitoring, the color of trouble is red. The crimson message at the top of his computer screen keeps a running total of the abuse reports that are awaiting action. Some complaints don’t ultimately turn up abuse – coarse language, ad hominem attacks, and the like – but rather just a political stance that the person doing the complaining doesn’t care for. So a mod needs to evaluate each complaint and decide either to remove the comment or let it stand.

Over the next two hours, the comments about Obama’s aunt keep flying, the abuse reports continue to climb, and the mods scramble to remove the many posts – both conservative and liberal – that they determine have crossed the line. Some comments are enlightening, on both sides of the issue. (Madriver1 offers statistics showing that, of nearly 40,000 asylum requests filed last year, more than one-quarter were granted.) Some are unintentionally funny. (GLOBEREADER83 chastises another commenter for having written “good grammar” instead of “proper grammar,” but in both cases misspells it as grammer.) And many are not just mean, but make-you-want-to-shower nasty. There are references to Muslim bombers, Somalian pirates, “teabaggers and xenophobes,” America becoming “a 3rd world socialist hellhole,” and crude comparisons between Aunt Zeituni and James Brown, and between the first family and farm animals.

At 3:41 p.m., when the commentary has degenerated into all-out combat, hummlarry writes, “Obama is Kenyan and he is illegal and president. We have been invaded by non-americans and the liberals are to blame. I hope that one of the liberals feels the pain by being broken into by a needy illegal and then maybe they will get it. Deport them all.”

Not long after that, staffers take the drastic and relatively rare step of turning off the comments function on that particular article. (For certain types of stories, such as those involving personal tragedies, the comments section is turned off from the start.) Poof – hundreds of comments about Obama’s aunt disappear.

Too many abuse reports had been pouring in; by day’s end, the total number would be 1,330 – twice the daily average for the previous month. More than that, the commentary had reached its tipping point. The pros of hosting a robust, freewheeling conversation had become outweighed by the cons of all the venom and nastiness, by people who are allowed to name-call without any obligation to reveal their own names.

* * * * * * * * *

The raging commentary on Obama’s aunt is a microcosm of the thorny problem many websites are grappling with right now over what to do with anonymous comments. At many of these sites, executives have begun to ask themselves: How did we get into this thicket, and is there a sensible way out? But a more basic question needs to be answered first: Who are these people who spend so much of their days posting anonymous comments, and what is motivating them?

Newspapers find themselves in a strange position. People wanting to have a letter to the editor printed in the paper have long been required to provide their name, address, and a daytime phone number. Yet on the websites owned by these same newspapers, all it usually takes to be handed a perpetual soapbox is an active e-mail address.

After years of letting anonymity rule online, many media heavyweights, from The Washington Post to The Huffington Post, have begun to modify their policies. The goal is to take the playground back from anonymous bullies and give greater weight to those willing to offer, in addition to strong views, their real names.

Others, like The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, are probably wishing they’d taken that step earlier. In March, the paper outed a local judge for allegedly posting comments on under the handle lawmiss that included critical commentary on cases and individuals appearing before her in court. The judge denied authorship and is now suing the paper and its affiliated companies for $50 million. Her denials might seem a smidge south of persuasive, and The Plain Dealer may well have been journalistically suspect had it not gone public with the information once it discovered it. But the judge has a valid point about her expectations of anonymity.

In another suit, a Louisiana public official sued 11 anonymous posters last month for comments on The Times-Picayune website that he said were malicious and untruthful. (He didn’t sue the website – under federal law, sites are generally not legally responsible for defamatory postings by readers – but rather asked that it disclose the commenters’ names. He later dropped the suit.) No matter who you believe in each of these cases, it’s a haunted house that anonymity built.

Anonymous commentary is a push and pull between privacy and trust, and the implications extend beyond news sites to include Web reviews for everything from books to technology to hotel rooms. Online postings can sway political opinion and heavily influence whether products or businesses thrive or fail. They can make or break reputations and livelihoods. On one side, anonymous comments give users the freedom to be completely candid in a public forum. On the other, that freedom can be abused and manipulated to spread lies or mask hidden agendas. With all that in the balance, the thinking goes, shouldn’t we know who’s saying these things?

Clearly, anonymity is under attack. Even the Chinese government has had enough, announcing last month it would begin a push to end unnamed online comments. And, really, there’s not much that officials in Beijing don’t already know about who’s saying what within their borders.

Still, the nameless nature of the Web is so embedded in the culture that it will be hard to change the rules now. And as newspaper websites struggle to maintain their central role hosting the community conversation and work to increase the time users spend on their sites, scrapping anonymity isn’t such a clear-cut call.

I’ve always loved finding the hidden gems in online comments – the surprising slice of data that makes me question one of my political assumptions, the pithy one-liner that makes me laugh out loud. But those gems seem increasingly rare amid all the yelling and hollow rage and predictable talking points.

If we hope to clean up the online conversation, we need a better understanding of the select group of people doing most of the talking. Studies have shown that participation rates in online social communities tend to follow something called the “90-9-1” rule. About 90 percent of the people are “lurkers,” that is, watching but not actively contributing; 9 percent are infrequent contributors; and 1 percent are, to borrow a term from the fast-food industry, the heavy users.

McDonald’s and Burger King have teams of researchers who do nothing but try to understand the patterns, desires, and quirks of their heavy users, their best customers. However, yet another unfortunate byproduct of anonymity is that news sites know precious little about their most active commenters.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Elements of Great Communication+Design

I'm often asked what attributes drive good communication and good design.  I like the four Alex White uses to purely describe graphic design: Space, Unity, Page Architecture, and Type, but the following seven are those that I come back to again and again.

simplicity: although simplicity is an overused buzzword, good messaging, branding and design should contain nothing that doesn’t serve a specific purpose. if you strip away all the visual clutter and extraneous elements, you can communicate what truly makes a brand special much more effectively.
“It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

human-centered: the idea of human-centered design is to tame complexity, to turn what would appear to be a complicated design into one that fits the task, that is understandable, usable, and enjoyable.  the starting point of the process is to examine the needs, dreams, and behaviors of the people we want to affect with the solutions we create. (see the IDEO human-centered design toolkit, Bas Leurs' toolkit and the writings of Donald Norman and Jakob Nielsen.)

insightful: an insight is a revelation that produces great work. you only need one.  tbwa/chiat likes to talk about disruptive ideas. crispin, ones that create psychological, social or cultural tension. (adapted from Simon Law's thoughtful presentation on insight. also see Pink Air's post as well as Jeremy Bullmore's post.)

emotion: good communication, good design must generate a genuine emotional response from consumers. we want to engage peoples’ hearts as well as their minds. Donald Norman in Emotional Design says:
"The three levels at play in design: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. Visceral design is about how things look, feel, and sound. Behavioral design is about getting products to function well, and about making that functionality easily accessible. Reflective design is about the meaning of things, about message and becomes more important as products mature."

authenticity: if people believe a company, product or service is authentic, they will buy and support it. if they think the company, its products and/or services are inauthentic, the firm is labeled a fake and is headed for failure (see Pine and Gilmore's book, Authenticity, Boyle's, book Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life, and the Fast Company article, Who Do You Love?).

relevancy: if you are not relevant, you're dead.  122,743 new UPCs were sold through U.S. grocery, drug and mass merchandiser channels in 2008.  46,852 items await the consumer in an average supermarket.

clarity: it has been estimated that the average consumer is exposed to 5,000 messages a day. 72% of shoppers wait to make their purchase decisions in-store.  clarity means thoughtfully, rigorously and beautifully crafting every detail. if you don't know who are you and what you stand for, you'll never be clear.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Digital Strategy

Under the heading, "the best things I've said have come out of other people's mouths," here are two thought provoking decks on digital strategy.  The first comes from Aki Spicer, head of digital strategy at Fallon. The second from Gareth Kay, director of brand strategy at Goodby.