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Cube Grenades

In Innovation on June 9, 2009 at 9:37 am
Take that, status quo!

Take that, status quo!

Hugh Macleod is a renaissance man. Brilliant illustrator, agent provacateur and marketing wizard. Please, please tell me you have his site bookmarked and that you are following him on Twitter. Become a Crazy Deranged Fool while you are at it.

Hugh’s latest concept is Cube Grenades. What’s that? Here’s Hugh…

1. Like I said, my cartoons work best when they’re used as “Cube Grenades” i.e. small objects that you “throw” in there in order to cause some damage- to start a conversation, to spread an idea etc. But other social objects can be used as well- purple milk cartons, homemade cookies, funky mousepads, rubber toys, newspaper clippings etc. It’s the people that matter, not the object they socialize around. I don’t claim to have a monopoly.

2. Repeat After Me: Cube Grenades are Social Objects. Cube Grenades are Social Objects. Cube Grenades are Social Objects

3. All big change in companies come from the people in the trenches, who do the actual day-to-day work. To change their behavior, you have to change the way they interact. People interact around social objects. Change the social objects, and you change the company.

He continues the list and thought here. Well worth the read.  PSFK has further thoughts on the concept:

Cartoonist and marketing theorist Hugh MacLeod has been developing his concept of “social objects,” now reifined in the form of his “cube grenade” series of illustrations, which he believes are representative of the future of both brands and marketing as a whole. Though it may sound opaque at first, the concept of social objects can be summed up by MacLeod’s thesis that people socialize around objects in meaningful ways, and these peripheral interactions are far more important than the objects themselves.

Making and throwing your own Cube Grenades is a big idea. Maybe too big for you right now. But that doesn’t mean you should sit on the sidelines. Start by printing out on of Hugh’s pictures and put it up on your wall/cubicle/desktop. Start a conversation. Do it today.

Agency Nil, Crispin Porter + Bogusky & BBH Labs on agency models

In Innovation, Insight on June 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm
Angency Nil Manifesto

Angency Nil Manifesto

Upheaval. Turmoil. Paradigm shifting. Big words to throw around, but if you work at a creative agency (advertising, PR, digital, etc.) you’ve probably read, or been thinking, this for the last year or so.  So many factors, from the economy to an ever-expanding supply of, well, supply – there are a lot of agencies out there, from multi-nationals to one-person operations – have altered the landscape. As a result, agencies of all shapes and sizes have been rethinking their business models. I’m sure old-timers out there will tell me it’s cyclical, and that every 10 years or so we go through this, only to return to the tried and true methods.

Perhaps, but now talent can come from anywhere in the world, not just Madison avenue. And a kid in Bakersfield, CA (or Lahore, India) has access to sophisticated tools that not that long ago were only affordable for huge agencies. Add in the DIY creative trend that has consumers making the commercials and you can see why agencies are taking another look at ideas that would have been laughed at over a three martini lunch by Roger Sterling and Don Draper.

The Young Turk

Recent VCU Brandcenter grad Hank Leber has created Agency Nil, a haven for out of work and freelance creatives. The hook: They’ll do the work, you pay them what you think it’s worth. That’s the sort of bold thinking you’d expect from a guy just starting out in the business. (By the way, one look at their website and you tell can Hank and his guys are the real deal). Hank is clearly a take no prisoners-type of guy. He’s put his stake in the ground with Agency Nil and he’s putting his mouth where his ‘pay me what it’s worth’ is:

I’ve found this project particularly interesting because of the range of reactions it’s gotten.  Some people are very much against the “pay what you want” model, and others are totally for it.  I think I’ve pissed some people off – and that’s ok.  It’s to be expected.
A business model is a product of a market; it exists because conditions allow it to exist.  If those conditions weren’t there, then the model wouldn’t have had the environment to grow into reality.  There are no exceptions to this rule – only stronger and stronger cases.
New models are supposed to be disruptive.  If they didn’t disrupt anything, they wouldn’t be new.  It’s because of this truth that I can understand the opposition to Agency Nil.  It threatens the stability of the industry and causes people to rethink the way things are working. Maybe they should have been rethinking already.  At least now they are forced to.  Regardless, the conversation has been started, which is what I’m happiest about – ideas are contagious, and I hope more can come from this start.
Because things are moving so fast now and “disruptive thought” has become stylish,  we will see many more new business models challenge the way things have traditionally been run.  We’re seeing them pop up every day now, and many of them touch our daily lives, because they are smart and relevant.  These ideas and models will come and go as the world of commerce struggles to figure out what to do with the Internet and business, and their new thoughts – one by one – will be what shape the changes we get.
Free online content is ruining entire empires of media channels as we speak, and venture capitalists and those gripping onto an old system can only last so long.  It will be up to the lively brains everywhere, cooking up different ways to go about business to figure out what is next.  There is no way it won’t happen.
It’s about being fearless, optimistic, and confident that you can make it new – do it better – and show the world that you can.  Everyone’s a naysayer until it works, and then they cheer.  Wal-Mart, Hulu, Zappos, Amelia Earhart, Obama, and about a million others (or ten million). The examples are in front of us everywhere, every day.  It’s amazing that more people don’t take chances on a good idea.
Only time will tell if Hank’s theories regarding business models are viable, but there’s no doubt about his moxie, and from what little I know about the Ad game, that counts for something.
Ben Malbon of BBH Labs, who provided some early guidance to Hank, adds:
“Hank’s had a rollercoaster ride over the last few weeks. I’ve got 100%
respect for him because he’s trying something new at a time when it’s tougher than ever to break into the industry. He’ll put some noses out of joint and his proposition won’t be to everyone’s taste – but that’s far from the first time that’s happened in the ad world. Yet he’s already got a contacts book that make most of us look lame in comparison, is learning exponentially fast, and has resisted the initial wave of knee-jerk job offers that came his way. 
And despite all that, somehow he hasn’t yet ‘wrecked the ad industry’ as some commentators suggested he would when he launched a few weeks ago. Hank’s latest idea, ‘CrispinvsAgencyNil’ is just more evidence of his creativity and his determination not to settle for the status quo. I look forward to seeing what unfolds. He’s awesome.”
The (Burger) King of the Hill

On the other end of the spectrum is Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a well-established ad agency that has turned out some of the most talked about creative in recent years (I talked about it here, here and here). Recently CP+B had an intern auction on eBay, where brands could bid for the services of CP+B interns. Clever idea and it raised $17, 655 for the interns. So good at generating buzz for their clients, CP+B, did a bang up job for themselves on this one: AdFreak, UberFarm, SuperPunch, and Chris Rawlinson were just some of the blogs covering the story.  Here’s AdAge with a post-mortem on the event and the winner: Brammo.

Ultimately CP+B was having some fun (and earning some publicity) with the intern auction. Agency Nil jumped in to mix it up a bit and quite frankly, I hope they both turn out as winners in this (the interns too!). But the serious question of business models remains. I got in touch with Alex Bogusky of CP+B and he was kind enough to share some of his thoughts:

Eyecube: What if the winner of your auction is extremely satisfied with the results – Could that pose a threat to your traditional business model?

AB: Well first off let me comment on the traditional business model. First I don’t feel vested in it so any change that works better would be welcome. Second, the model that I believe is more broken is the corporate model and public ownership. That system has taken a hundred years to reach where we are now but it’s not a good place. The pressure of quarterly earnings combined with the limited liability constantly conspires and encourages short term and unsustainable behavior.

That issue is a lot bigger than the intern auction and as I think models for the future my head is more in that space. Now to answer your specific question I don’t think the intern auction could be a path to a better model. Unless the model was to have a steady stream of free/intern labor. I guess that’s possible but for a client looking for a long term partner that would be a frightening prospect. So from both the employee and client perspective I don’t think it’s a long term solution. The truth is there have been some agencies that have used pretty much all intern/free creative labor as a rule and it worked okay but they hid this reality from clients.

Eyecube: Could auction-based ad work be a viable biz model for an agency?

AB: I don’t think in the current environment it’s very realistic but certainly it works better for smaller clients than larger. Project based stuff can work this way. And right now the reality is all RFPs come down to a reverse auction. With the agencies all fighting to do it most affordably. Each intern will receive their share of the 17K. About 500 bucks before taxes for three months work. We’ll pay them more than they make from the auction. That doesn’t strike me as sustainable. This is about doing something special and fun for a great group of interns. I don’t think it’s more than that.

Eyecube: Does this risk commoditizing agency work?

AB: Probably. Sites like Crowdspring are probably the greatest risk. I’m curious to see how it pans out. People had the same fears with desktop publishing but they turned out to be unfounded. In the end the categories that become commodities do so because they in fact are a commodity. So we shall see. Is creativity a commodity?

Eyecube: If Agency Nil proves successful, could you see other agencies trying that model?

AB: Copying somebody else’s model is a lot easier than coming up with something new so I would say it will happen in a New York minute.

Hank and the Agency Nil gang, like all good Ad Men, know an opportunity when they see it. In response, they’ve launched CrispinvsAgencyNil, an open letter to the losing bidders in the CP+B intern auction. The offer? They’ll do the work for half of the $17,655, and they’ve offering this for two brands. So, Agency Nil sees CP+B’s clever and raises them one. Well played.

I hope my readers will continue this conversation here in the comments section. I’d like to say a big thank you to Alex, Hank and Ben who really made this post, your insight, time and contributions are very much appreciated.

Viral? Social? How about Shared?

In Ideas, Innovation on May 28, 2009 at 8:53 am

UPDATE: Some fantastic comments on this below, make sure you read those. Also, a related post today from Patricia McDonald of BBH Labs here.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Adam Broitman of A Media to participate in an article he wrote for iMedia Connection – Social Media: Whose job is it anyway? In addition to myself, industry heavyweights David Berkowitz, Shiv Singh, Michael Lazerow, Christine Perkett and Shel Holtz all contributed their thoughts on several thought provoking questions. It’s a way worthy read you should definitely check out.

After reading it, I got to thinking about one of the specific questions:

“In two years, will the term ‘social media’ still be relevant?”

My hunch is that the answer is “yes, it will,” but that doesn’t mean I think it is the most appropriate term. In fact, I think “Social” along with our dear friend “viral” both need to be rethought and/or scrapped.

Did you say Viral? Cough, cough, I’m feeling ill

Remember back in the day, you know, last year, when everybody wanted “Viral Videos” that would magically spread across the land, showering your with traffic, sales, etc.? Yeah, well then smart people like Mike Arauz, Faris Yakob and others shed the light on this concept and I’m not seeing the term “viral” used as much, at least not by Social Media marketing practitioners.  While I understand the original analogy, let’s be honest, who wants to engage in conversation or interact with a virus? Aren’t viruses things to be avoided? Come to think of it, that’s how I think of a lot of the “viral videos” out there now. Quite frankly, I don’t want to see another video of people dancing in a subway station; or kids lifting their eyebrows to the beat (see, I’m not even going to link to them, you know which ones I mean though).  I think the term “viral” has seen it’s time come and go.

Social Media? When was the last time you had a cup of coffee with a blog post?

Let me go back to the original article, in which Adam asked: What if the term “social media” is wrought with flaws from the onset?

 “In two years, will the term ‘social media’ still be relevant?” The alternative being that all media will inherently be social, and ultimately treated as such. The multiple choices were:

  1. Yes
  2. Yes, but I am not happy about it!
  3. No
  4. I sure hope not!

I was shocked by the response. All but one of the respondents answered “yes.” The outlier answered, “I sure hope not.”

It is my belief that the term “social media” will still be around in two years, but I hope the industry matures to a point where we realize that all media is inherently social, and that what was once deemed “social media” is now part of a larger trend in media — participation.

Let me reiterate: All media is social!

I’m not sure I agree with this, and here’s where I’m going to put forth my alternative term.

All media isn’t social, all media is shareable

I don’t think we can attribute a quality like ‘social’ to an inanimate object. To me, people are social (or not); videos, posts, photos, podcasts, etc. are simply content. Now, that content can generate social interactions between people – generate conversations, drive debate, challenge preconcieved notions – but the content itself is just that, content. If I write a blog post but never publish it, is it still ‘Social Media’?

I think the term Social Media still has relevance, when you add the word Platform at the end. A Social Media Platform (or Network) such as Twitter, Facebook or Flickr provides an opportunity for people to be social.

Shared Media – Now we’re talking

So what is good content? It’s shareable. In the PR industry they talk of earned media, as opposed to the paid media of the advertising industry (aside: Check out Greg Verdino’s take on earned media v. earned attention as well as Matt Hames’ piece on earned v. social). I think Shared Media fits nicely between earned and paid. Yes, your paid media can be shareable, but you have to earn the share by having quality content and by sharing it with the right people in the right way.

I think the term Shared Media also speaks more accurately to what is actually happening. When you pass along that great content you are sharing it. The content isn’t doing it (like in ‘Social Media’), the person is. It’s not inherent in the content (like the notion of ‘Viral Videos’), it’s based on how the content is utilized.

Let’s hear from Adam again from his Imedia article:

The word “media” itself involves two parties — a sender and a receiver. The word “social” is based on theories that involve the co-existence of people. If two people co-exist in an ecosystem and one does not respond to a message, there is still information that is sent back to the point of origin (the information being, “for one reason or another, I am not interested in your message”). Given the advanced nature of our information technology, the excuse, “I had no way of responding” does not hold water, leaving us in a state where the lack of a response is, in effect, a response.

Yes, but a lack of a response does take the ‘Social’ out of ‘Social Media.’ Shared Media allows for the possibility of one-way as well as two-way engagement.

I’d love to hear from the folks who participated in Adam’s article, as well as Adam himself, Mike and Faris too. And please share your thoughts here as well.

Terminator, Star Trek, The Watchmen: Can Free Will OR Fate exist in a Time Travel Universe?

In Ideas, Innovation on May 26, 2009 at 8:45 am
I totally knew that was going to happen

I totally knew that was going to happen

This has already been a good year for Science Fiction fans at the movies as The Watchmen hit the big screen, Star Trek got a reboot and The Terminator made its return, this time with Christian Bale. While they may not be Academy Award-winners, they were all fun enough. But in one manner or another, all three touched upon some deeper issues.

ALERT 1: This isn’t a normal Eyecube marketing post, so if that’s what you’re looking for, take a look around the archives. Today I’m unleashing my inner-nerd, but in a thought-provoking way (at least I hope).

ALERT 2: There will be what could be considered spoilers, so if you are planning on seeing these movies, be careful reading this post. Consider yourself warned.

Let’s talk about time travel. But not the way it’s usually debated. People smarter than me can explain black holes and worm holes, string theory, etc. Go read Godel, Escher, Bach if you want to try to figure out the ‘how’ of time travel. And for some mind-bending fun on multiple dimensions, watch this video:

Let’s, for the sake of argument, agree that time travel is possible. You have to if you are planning on seeing movies like The Terminator as the whole mythology of the story revolves around time travel. All these movies ask us to willingly suspend our disbelief and I’m going to as well. So, yes, time travel is possible. But I think that if we are playing along,  there are bigger ramifications here than just the ability to go back in time and put $10,000 on Google’s IPO. I think believing in time travel means the whole argument of fate (or determinism) v. free will is rendered moot.

First, you have to accept a different notion of time, and of how it is experienced. We tend to think of time as a singular point along a line that we experience as the ‘now.’ But with time travel you have to take a much broader view. Rather than looking at a timeline through a key hole, imagine being able to see all time – past, present and future – simultaneously. That’s what time travel would allow, for if future already exists, then the past must all be currently happening. But beyond that even, you would also have to accept that there are an infinite number of ‘nows’ and ‘future’ and ‘pasts.’  Not only is any event possible with time travel, every event is possible. Actually, it is bey0nd possible, even beyond probable, everything is actual.

Free Will

Let’s use the example of The Terminator movies as they provide the best platform from which to discuss this. The general premise is that killer robots from the future are sent back in time (to roughly our present) to kill someone who in the future who will defeat these evil robots. That’s not a bad plan if you are the robots – the ultimate pre-emptive strike if you will. But let’s look a little more closely: If you know robots from the future are sent to kill you, so you don’t kill them when you grow up, then you must be alive in the future and therefore are not in mortal danger right now.

After all, if the robots did kill you in your present, the future (their present) would potentially be so radically different that they (the robots) probably wouldn’t exist at all. And that takes us to our theory of time with an infinite number of timelines. 

In Terminator 4 the pretzel logic is taken to an even greater extreme. The hero, John Connor, is in his mid/late-30s. A subplot involves his desperate attemp to save Kyle Reese (who appears to be in his late-teens, early 20s). Those of us familiar with The Terminator movies know that Kyle Reese is later (in the Terminator timeline) sent back to the past (Terminator 1) to save John Connor’s mother. Reese goes on to become the father of John Connor.  If Connor doesn’t save his future father, does he (John Connor) just go “poof” in a puff of white smoke and disappear? Again, I’d argue that forces beyond his control govern his actions and the actions of those he engages with.

SIDEBAR: I know I said I wouldn’t get in to the weeds on time travel, but it’s funny when John Connor in T4 is freaked out by advancements in Terminator technology that are small potatoes when compared to the Terminators he saw in T2 and T3.


If John Connor actions didn’t really matter, then it must be fate? Not so fast. Once you have the ability to time travel you really start going down a slippery slope. If your plan to change the present by altering the past doesn’t work today, you can just time travel again tomorrow, and just go back an extra day (or week, or year) earlier. Now, again, we have to deal with the notion of infinite realities.  And in one (some? many?) of those realities the robots do kill John Connor. Can fate exist in multiple options? Sometimes it’s fate that he lives, and sometimes it’s fate that he doesn’t? That seems to go against the very notion of fate. If it is beyond our control, why would both options still be possible? For what ‘greater purpose?’

The “Poof” Corollary of Multiple Realities

So, you say, there aren’t multiple possibilities, just one possible timeline. Well, here’s another reason there must be multiple, infinite actually, realities. I’m going to call it The “Poof” Corollary of Multiple Realities. If there was just one possible timeline along which the universe flows, and if going back in time to change the future (or present, depending on your perspective) were possible, then there would be a lot of “poofing” going on. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say 20 years from now time travel is possible. My future self then goes back in time to 1989, the year I met my wife. But, future Rick monkees with something in 1989 and I don’t meet my wife. Now, jump back to 2009 and my five-year old son enters the room. But wait, I never met his mother: “Poof,” he disappears. Think of all the “poofs” there would be if time travel were possible (and we operated in a single timeline). So, if you are buying in to the concept of time travel, I think you have to acknowledge the existence of infinite realities. Either that or accept that your existence would consist of – and be subject to – a lot of potential ‘poofing’

Spock, you’re in violation of the Prime Directive!

Spock - Pleased to meet me

Spock - Pleased to meet me

Let’s jump over for a moment to our friends at Star Fleet. In this summer’s Star Trek, Spock, that Vulcan logician, appears twice: As a youngster, the chronological equivalent of his peers in the film; and as an older Spock – the one we know from the original TV series, movies, etc. (In fact, the older Spock is played by Leonard Nimoy, so we know it’s really the original Sp0ck).  Now here J.J. Abrams, producer of the film, really plays (I would say messes with) two really important issues: First, on the meta level, he allows the two Spocks to interact with each other. Maybe there are other examples, but that sort of thing seems to me to be a pretty big no-no in the world of Sci Fi. Coming in contact with your future self would so dramatically change the course of events, you’d pretty much rip apart the time/space continuum. And in the movie, as I recall, they even kind of ‘wink, wink’ this issue in the dialogue.

Now, from a Star Trek perspective, I have an even larger issue with Spock encountering himself (as well as a younger Captain Kirk). What about the Prime Directive? And I quote (from Wikipedia):

In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive, Starfleet‘s General Order #1, is the most prominent guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive dictates that there can be no interference with the internal affairs of other civilizations, consistent with the historical real world concept of Westphalian sovereignty.

Now of course you can argue that even being an observer can change reality (see: Observer effect from Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle), but we’ll take the Prime Directive to cover intervention (direct or otherwise), not observation.

And yet there’s (old) Spock, dramatically – if indirectly – affecting the outcome of events for young Spock and Kirk. But wait, it gets worse. There is in fact a portion of the Prime Directive specifically about time travel:

The Temporal Prime Directive is intended to prevent a time traveler from interfering in the natural development of a timeline. The TPD was formally created by the 29th Century, and was enforced through an agency of Starfleet called the Temporal Integrity Commission, which monitored and restricted deviations from the natural flow of history.[8]

As 31st Century time traveler Daniels revealed to Captain Jonathan Archer in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Cold Front“, as time travel technology became practical, the Temporal Accords were established sometime significantly prior to the 31st Century, in order to allow the use of time travel for the purposes of studying history, while prohibiting the use of it to alter history. Some factions rejected the Accords, leading to the Temporal Cold War that served as a recurring storyline during the first three seasons of that series.

For the nitpickers out there, my hunch is you can say that the Star Trek time frame would put the creation of the Temporal Prime Directive after the events of this movie. Now we can get into an argument over what constitutes canon in the Star Trek Universe, but let’s not go there.

Paging Dr. Manhattan

If I hurry, I can catch the 7:30 train... Oh, nevermind

If I hurry, I can catch the 7:30 train... Oh, nevermind

Now, a quik side trip to The Watchmen. Not surprisingly, Alan Moore, creator of one of Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 novels captures it beautifully. The most controversial character is probably Dr. Manhattan. It’s interesting to note (again from Wikipedia):

Moore sought to delve into nuclear physics and quantum physics in constructing the character of Dr. Manhattan. The writer believed that a character living in a quantum universe would not perceive time with a linear perspective, which would influence the character’s perception of human affairs.

One of the things that most clearly separates Dr. Manhattan from the other characters is his perspective on time:

After his transformation, Jon begins to experience time in a non-linear, “quantum” fashion. His already weak will becomes sublimated further during this time. It is implied that he does not so much perceive the past or future as directly experience them. He increasingly has difficulty acting in what those around him consider the present moment. This leads to many accusations and even the public perception that he is emotionless. However, during the course of Watchmen he displays powerful emotion several times. His apparent lack of sentiment is more a

Alan Moore - What time is it?

Alan Moore - What time is it?

matter of radically altered priorities.

Now see how this perspective of time alters his perception of all matters:

His precognition does not allow him to change events. He believes he has no choices for the large part of Watchmen. His total determinism of action and the implied amorality of such a position is strongly contrasted with his ability to do almost anything. In some sense, unlimited power has come at the cost of the total absence of responsibility. During the period where he fights crime, because his government told him to, he states that the morality of the activities escapes him. From his radically altered perspective, almost all human concerns appear pointless to him. This growing sense of disconnection is marked by his use of clothing which over the years gradually shrinks until he is naked by the 1980s.

His ability to see time from a larger perspective in part disconnects him from the free will v. determinism argument!

Unified Theory of Sci-Fi Time Travel

Back to The Terminator, John Connor dying as a teenager (in T2) would prohibit his older self from sending his father back in time to save his mother (inT1), rendering him ‘unborn.’ To me, that eliminates true choice (free will) from his actions. No matter what John did or what happened to him in T2, he was going to live. Otherwise there is no T2. Therefore he simply couldn’t have been in mortal danger. With iminent death bearing down on him, he could have calmly grabbed a cheeseburger. Someone or something was going to intervene on his behalf.

On the other side, we’ve created the “poof theory” so there must be multiple realities. And if everything can, and does, happen fate is really out of the equation, merely sitting on the sidelines.

But these two theories don’t currently disprove each other. What we need here is a Unified Theory of Sci-Fi Time Travel vis a vis the Free Will v. Determinism argument.

Ok, here’s the best I can do:

In fictional universes in which time travel exists, neither free will nor fate rules that universe. Rather, all possibilities exist across infinite, non-parellel, non-mutually exclusive universes.

The key here is that these multiple universes are not discreet. They do at times, to borrow a phrase from Ghostbusters, cross streams. These universes actually cross over each other quite often. Some differ for an hour or a minute or a second, then overlap again. In one I go to Wendy’s for a frosty, in another I don’t. But a few minutes later they are back together. In a third I’m in a car crash on my way to Wendy’s and in a fourth I get a salad instead of the Frosty, and in a fifth…

So, yes, John Connor can makes choices, but it doesn’t matter, because in fact he has made both choices – or both choices have been made for him.

I’d love to hear from experts and Sci-Fi fans alike on this, please share your thoughts.

Worst: A defensible branding position?

In Innovation, Insight on May 21, 2009 at 9:11 pm

I’ve said it before, you don’t always have to be the best, but you have to be memorable.  Take a look at this post from Rohit Bhargarva on a hotel in Amsterdam that markets itself as the worst hotel in the world. Or how about this God-awful t-shirt that Rob Walker highlights.

Rob writes of the Tee:

At first, it was simply a bad T-shirt. Then it became that bad T-shirt, the one that attracted a reviewer-flash-mob.

I’d take it a step further, not just that bad T-shirt, but THE bad T-shirt, the one by which all other bad T-shirts will be judged. Not that’s a defensible position!

Now, this approach isn’t for everyone. I don’t think the marketing folks at Tiffany’s or BMW are going to go this route anytime soon. But being the best is tough. For one thing, there is only one winner, one best in class. Also, everyone is gunning for you and everyone is rooting for you to slip up. Nobody likes rooting for Goliath (or Microsoft).

But Mr. Irrelevant, the last guy picked in the NFL draft? Who doesn’t want to see him succeed? But don’t misunderstand what intentionally being the worst means. It doesn’t mean simply being crappy, that’s apathy. It takes effort to be brilliantly awful, and imagination and dedication. There are hundreds of one star hotels throughout Europe, but only one that gets written about by marketers.

But I’m not really advocate that your brand/products should be junk. What I am saying, and these examples bear it out, you must be distinctive, a purple cow in Seth Godin’s words. Not everyone will like you, but that’s ok. Be distinctive and appeal to a certain segment. Treat that group special and nurture the relationship. Let them do the work for you after that.

Amusement Park + Content Marketing + DINU = Hogwarts

In DINU, Innovation on May 21, 2009 at 8:47 am
Harry Potter: Book, Movie, Amusement Park?

Harry Potter: Book, Movie, Amusement Park?

Yesterday I wrote about marketing programs and how some traditional marketing programs felt like a trip to the amusement park, while utilizing content marketing was like the Museum of Modern Art. I also acknowledged that I’m very much playing around with the notion of content marketing, seeing how it can stretch and twist to fit different  modes of engagement.

Well, the amusement park idea kind of stuck in my head. How would an amusement park be different if it was based on a content marketing strategy? Well, I think I have an answer…

Not since the creation of the Star Wars universe has there been a franchise so rich in content as the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The books and movies, along with ancillary products, have created a rich universe that has become a classic. 20 years from now nine-year olds will be discovering the books as if they were just written. But the series has in fact ended, there will be no more books. So, how can the franchise stay relevant beyond the page or silver screen? By creating a new kind of amusement park.

Right now even Disney, the best theme park operator going, has a rather disjointed offering (by design). Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland… there is no real connection between them. There is no over-riding narrative that connects the park together. But a theme park based on the world of Harry Potter would be like living in the books/movies. In fact, it could bring the books to life in a way that the movies never could because of the conventions of modern movie making (2-3 hour films).

Imagine shopping in Diagon Alley before taking the Hogwarts Express from platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station in London. You travel through the countryside before arriving at Hogwarts, an amazing castle. From there you interact with characters, go on rides, see shows, all the things you expect from a great theme park. But at Hogwarts, everything works together in concert and your experience becomes deeper and richer with every interaction at the park.

Perhaps you could sign up for special park tours that recreate the action from a specific book (sorry, I haven’t read them all so that may not be possible). You meet the teachers and characters from that book, this way you could come back to the park seven times, one for each book, and have a different experience every time.  There are several ways you could manage the experience, but to me the amazing thing is that you are harnessing the power of the content in a completely innovative way.

So, many of you are probably saying, “Yeah Rick, that’s a great idea, that’s why they are doing it at Universal Orlando.”

Yep, guilty as charged. I wrote this whole post, then just for laughs typed ‘Harry Potter Theme Park’ into Google. Oops. And if you watch this video, it sounds like they are planning on doing it the right way. Ultimately though, it’s still just a module inside a larger theme park, so you’ll miss some of the detail mentioned above in my concept (Hogwarts Express, Platform 9 3/4, Diagon Alley). But the plans they do have are indeed a departure from the conventions of traditional theme park fair. Perhaps this is a step towards the Content Marketing Theme Park of my dreams.

Your Brand Stategy: Six Flags or MoMA?

In Innovation on May 19, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Every day I become a bigger believer in content marketing. I’m still exploring what it means, or can mean, so I end up trying out a lot of analogies. This morning on the way in to work the following occured to me:

Traditional Marketing is like Six Flags, Content Marketing is like the Museum of Modern Art.

Traditional marketing so often relies on the Big Event. A launch with a celebrity, a big payoff at the end of a promotion. It can be like a ride on a rollercoaster for consumers. It’s exciting, then there is a big drop off; then it’s exciting again, then there is a drop off. Up and down, hot and cold, engagement and then no engagement.

Do you want your marketing to look like her...

Do you want your marketing to look like her...

And of course no trip to the amusement park would be complete without cotton candy. No nutritional value, no real anything except a sugar rush (and the subsequent crash). Sort of like those clever TV adverts with talking animals or other CGI graphics that you really enjoy, but can’t quite seem to remember what brand it was in support of.

Then, as you’re just about ready to leave Six Flags you stop to get a souvenir. Maybe a pin or key chain, or one of those wacky hats with a crazy brim. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the key chain ends up in a junk drawer and the hat is in the back of the closet.

Now of course, there’s the long drive back home. Plenty of time to think about the high cost of going to the amusement

...or this guy?

...or this guy?

 park. For a family of four admission can be $160.

When your Six Flags program is over, consumers might have had a good time, or they might have gotten sick on the teacups. Chances are they won’t give your brand a whole lot more thought, at least not until you figure out a way to get them back to the park.

But what if your marketing program was more like an art museum? What if, instead of putting your consumers on a rollercoaster, you walked them through room after room of deep, contextually-rich content? So much content in fact that most people couldn’t even take it all in in one trip? No long line to ride Colossus, just a leisurely stroll, at your own pace, engaging with the content.

Now take it to the next level – don’t just let your consumers wander aimlessly, provide them with an audio tour – a podcast if you will – or even better have a docent that can answer any questions (kind of like a Twitter feed).  Layer more content on top of the content, further deepening the connection with the consumer.

Now, before they leave, consumers should stop off at the museum store. No junk there, just beautiful books that they’ll leave on their coffee tables or fine art prints they’ll proudly hang on their walls. With the museum located in the city, it’s not too hard to get to, and kids under 16 get in free at the MoMA, so just $40 for the family. (Pssst, go on Friday night, 4-8pm and the whole family is free!)

But this isn’t about Six Flags and MoMA, it’s about content marketing and eveything good about Social Media: relevant content, engagement, sharing, even the free economy.  The amusement park model of marketing is broken, it’s time to provide museum-quality content and interaction.

Come back tomorrow, I’ve got an idea on how to radically re-think the amusement park by making the focus on content.