Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

Real v. Manufactured Dance Flash Mobs

In Insight on June 10, 2009 at 11:52 am

Seen this one yet? Seth Godin and Faris Yakob have both featured it (and many others I’m sure):

Both Seth and Faris point out the subtle nuances that make this dance party take off.

For me, the big issue is authenticity. Would all those people have jumped up and joined in with a bunch of professional dancers? Probably not. As much as I love this Improv Everywhere-inspired bit from A&E, they are a self-contained group for the most part. Take a look at this recent MC Hammer-TV show promo event:

Fun stuff, but notice that no ‘civilians’ are participating. Some are bemused, some seem even a bit frightened at first. Compare that to the first dance video whic has a far more powerful vibe. You can feel the electricity and it isn’t manufactured, it’s real.  As I noted in my earlier post, experience is important and you can see the difference in these two videos.

The Importance of the Experience – NHL v. NBA

In Insight on June 10, 2009 at 9:37 am

So often we (marketing bloggers) write about the theoretical or our own experiences, which are influenced by the SocMed Marketing echo chamber we inhabit, that it’s nice to see a fresh perspective on things. Can’t get more fresh that seeing it through the eyes of a 10-year old.

My son and I can't wait till Friday! Go Wings!

My son and I can't wait till Friday! Go Wings!

Last night was a big one for sports fans, especially in the New York area. Mets v. Phillies and Yanks v. Red Sox would normally get top billing, but with the NBA Finals and NHL Stanley Cup finals in full swing, regular season baseball takes a seat in the back. So, I asked my son, “NBA Finals or Stanley Cup?” No hesitation – playoff hockey was his choice.

So, what factors led to this decision? Yes, I’m a Red Wings fan, but my son hasn’t seemed to pick that up as he has for the Steelers, a team we both root for. On the other side, he’s certainly gotten in to Dwight Howard of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, often asking if Superman (Howard’s nickname) was playing tonight. My son has played on basketball teams for a couple of years, but has never played hockey. On the surface it would seem to be a wash, with basketball maybe even having an edge. So, why the interest in hockey?

Back in February  my son and I went with some friends to a mid-season New Jersey Nets game against the San Antonio Spurs.  Spurs won easy against a Nets team that put little to no effort into the game, in front of a crowd that was listless at best – thus creating a symbiotic death-spiral of intertia.

Then in April my son had the opportunity to go to a New Jersey Devils game. An NHL  playoff game. An NHL Game 7 playoff game! The one where the Devils gave up to goals in the last 72 seconds to end their season. Probably the most dramatic sporting event, outside of a FIFA World Cup final, you can attend.

So, now my son has a school project – he decides to create a New Jersey Devils t-shirt. He has a choice of what to watch, he chooses NHL hockey. During the game he says he’s interested in maybe playing hockey too.

You simply can’t underestimate the power of a truly compelling live experience. Whether it’s an event or just the engagement a consumer has at your store, what are you doing to make it memorable?

Battle at Kruger – The best piece of shared media ever

In Insight on June 5, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I’m not crazy about the term viral video. It’s over-used and misused. I’ve talked a lot recently about why I like the term ‘Shared Media,’ but whatever you call it, the trend of massively viewed online video is real. We’ve seen all sorts of video become popular this way – from comic dancing to drumming gorillas; from Drama Queens (NSFW) to geographically-challenged beauty queens.  But for my money, The Battle at Kruger is the best piece of shared video ever.  Not familar with The Battle at Kruger? Take a couple of minutes and watch this:

Yes, amazing video, but why do I think it’s the best? It has so many elements of classic storytelling:

It’s immersive 

You feel like you’re in the car with the rest of the witnesses, part of their conversations. Very few videos give you that ‘you are there’ feeling.

It has classic narrative plot structure

You meet the protagonist, the antagonist is then introduced, followed by a surprise third party. The drama continues to build until it looks like our hero will perish, only for a dramatic turn of events at the last moment.

It’s unpredictable

Crocodiles? A water buffalo fightback? No way you saw those things coming. By the end I was ready Ninja Giraffes.  Unpredictability really is one of the key factors, and often an overlooked one, when brands create online video content. Content that makes viewers say, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!” is the type that gets shared.

It’s Unique

Make a funny song video and somebody else can make one too.  Got an adorable kid throwing a wiffle ball at his daddy’s groin? Get in line.  But Battle at Kruger is a virtually unrepeatable, unbeatable piece of footage. Can you imagine a more remarkable piece of “found” footage?

It’s Authentic

Alright, here’s what really separates Battle at Kruger from the rest of the popular videos for me. No staged comedy bits, no CGI trickery, no scripted dialoague. The reactions of the witnesses are real, and the actions of the animals are life & death-real.  No professional voice-over, no slick editing. Kids bouncing their eyebrows, keyboard playing cats, even Susan Boyle’s performance has a staged element to it.

So before you commit to spending thousands of dollars on your ‘viral video,’ keep in mind the elements that will appeal to viewers and connect with them emotionally.

Shared Media v. Social Media: A variety of viewpoints

In Ideas, Insight on June 3, 2009 at 8:43 am

Regular Eyecube readers (both of you) will remember my post from last week asking if the term Shared Media wasn’t more accurate than Social Media. It generated some good conversation here and on Twitter, so I felt it was worth exploring further. I reached out to several people I highly respect and asked for their thoughts on the matter. The results were as insightful as they were varied. I wanted to collect them here and share them with you in hopes that we can continue the discussion.

First, DJ Francis from the OnlineMarketerBlog lays out a really well-reasoned argument before ultimately disagreeing with me, stating “All social media is shared, but not all shared media is social.” Bonus points to DJ for this passage:

In a past life, I was an apostle of structuralist literary theorist Roland Barthes and his Death of the Author essay. I concur with Barthes that “[t]o give a text [or content] an Author” and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it “is to impose a limit on that text.”

Um, yeah, I was just discussing Barthes the other night while watching the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Right then, moving on…

Matt Hames, who writes a blog called People Like to Share will surely be on my side, right? Well, not exactly. He likes the term participation:

So instead of social media, or earned media, or interactive, or whatever title you want to put on this new world where people can share stuff, I say call it what it is: participation.

These day, things are obviously different, and we’re all working on a definition for that difference. But I think it’s simple: consumers can participate in an unprecedented way. They can review, comment, share, disparage, or celebrate a brand.

So marketers need to craft communications that encourage the participation that will work best. And here’s the best part: the place that has the least amount of silos has a head-start.

Patricia McDonald of BBH Labs (one of my new favorites) had some great thoughts on the subject:

I think Social Media is fundamentally about people. Social media doesn’t necessarily require content in any traditional sense, it requires a purpose for individuals to congregate around. That might be a piece of content to share but it’s just as likely to be a cause, a utility, a value exchange or a collaboration.

“Social media” is undoubtedly a seriously overused phrase right now-and when it’s used to describe any and all kinds of user generated content, it probably doesn’t fit any more. Is a blog really “social media” if it doesn’t empower the community to come together, act together and be more powerful and useful together than they are individually? My real bugbear though is that because its strongest association at the moment is with social networking, it’s hard for some businesses to understand the profundity of what’s really happening with things like social lending, social product development and do on.

I’m not a huge fan of semantic debate for the sake of it, but I do think there are some genuine nuances here that are worth exploring not purely for the intellectual satisfaction but because they come back to the fundamental question for all marketeers; what are we trying to achieve? What is the commercial imperative facing this brand, what is the role of digital in helping us solve it and what, therefore, do I need consumers to do differently? When we address those questions some of these distinctions do become important in practice not just in theory. So in some cases I may want to make my consumers my media channel and bring down the cost of paid for channels (earned media), in others I may want to build a utility my consumers return to again and again, driving frequency of interaction with the brand, in which case I may be in the business of social media. Nuance may actually become quite important in giving social or indeed shared media (which I do believe are different) a clear and demonstrable commercial effect. 

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Tips for 2009 PR Grads

In Insight on May 29, 2009 at 8:33 am
Hi, we were just wondering if you received our press release?

Hi, we were just wondering if you received our press release?

As many college seniors graduate this month and next, the marketing communications industry will be flooded with new blood. That, I believe, is a good thing. New minds bring new ideas, fresh perspectives and a hunger to succeed. With 12 years of marketing communications experience under my belt I’d like to pass on some advice to these new members of our industry. These aren’t things I’ve “learned over the years” but rather what I see as critical skills necessary to survive and succeed in today’s business environment:

1. Getting the job

Before we talk about what to do at work, you’ve first got to get the job. Two pieces of advice:

First, if you haven’t done so already, start building a brand. Note, I didn’t say start building your brand, I said start building a brand. Read my The Brand You is Dead post here. What do I mean by that? I’m not that impressed by the number of followers you have on Twitter, or how many Facebook friends you have. Those things are pretty easy to artificially manipulate. I’m talking about building something bigger than yourself. Show me the work you did in college to help a friend launch her website. Tell me about the weekly get-togethers you organize for your tribe of American Idol fans. It can be anything, just show me that you understand what it takes to engage people and pursuade them to follow your lead.

You’ll learn more creating and building your own brand than you will taking a class on media theory.

Something else you must decide: Do you want to be a marketing communications professional, or do you want to be a publicist? What’s the difference? A MarComm pro provides strategic counsel, based on research and consumer insights, to companies who appreciate what such a person can do to advance the goals of the brand. A publicist runs around cleaning up messes from ungrateful clients who don’t respect you. Your choice.

Once you’ve identified a job opportunity the next step is usually to send in a resume. Resumes are a dime a dozen and don’t really do a great job of distinguishing you from other candidates. Make your resume the equivalent of typing in your name on Google – it should just be a launching point for the real content. Make sure you provide, right at the top, links to your Twitter feed, Facebook and LinkedIn pages and blog. You do have those things right? If not, I’m already putting you in the B pile from the start. If you have those things, but don’t list them, you may still be in the A pile, but you’re an A minus.  If you do have other experience, internships at agencies or brands perhaps, provide appropriate links to things you worked on.

2. On the job

Congratulations, you got the job. Now what do you do? Show your value. Yes, do whatever you are asked, but instead of going out after work for drinks every night, go home early (or stay late at the office) once in a while and gain some knowledge. Real specific knowledge. For instance if the agency does a lot in telecommunications, become an expert in mobile marketing. Healthcare-focused shop? Learn WebMD like little girls learn Jonas Bros. songs. You get the idea, become the absolute expert in a super-relevant niche. Know more than your supervisor. Know more than the boss. Then, if/when things get tough and your company has to let people go, be nice to your former colleagues as you see them clean out their desks, you’re not going anywhere.

You’ve made the choice to be MarComm professional so don’t think like a publicist. Understand event marketing and direct mail; advertising and investor relations and most certainly Social Media (actually, I prefer the term, ‘Shared Media’).  All these things matter because clients aren’t looking for an “ad” idea or a “PR” idea, they’re looking for a great idea and they don’t care where it comes from. You’re not in the PR business, you’re in the great idea business.

So read books like Buying In by Rob Walker, and most definitely Putting the Public Back in Public Relations by Solis and Breakenridge.

Ok, now the lightning round:

  • Free your supervisor up to do higher level work and you can have her job someday
  • You don’t have to speak up all the time to show how smart you are, wait until you really have something to add
  • Remember, your supervisor is dealing with a ton of stuff you don’t even know about, cut him some slack
  • Take every opportunity to learn something from all your colleagues
  • Remember you need to pay your dues. I spent plenty of time making lists, pasting clips and doing research, you can too
  • Take a reporter to lunch/drinks when you can and find out what they need, rather than trying to jam your message points in their face


  •  Whatever you do, don’t end up here

So, good luck and please feel free to get in touch with me here or on Twitter.

Books as Marketing Tools

In Insight on May 28, 2009 at 11:10 am
Godin, Kawasaki, You

Godin, Kawasaki, You

Great post by Joe Pulizzi over at Junta42 on writing a book as a marketing tool called “Why You Need to Publish a Custom Book: Q & A with Eloqua’s Steven Woods.”

This is especially interesting to me as it’s a subject I’ve been considering. I feel that I’ve reached a certain plateau with eyecube right now. I’m looking at several things to help push me through the dip and on to the next level. Perhaps a professional logo (more on that soon), owning my own URL (in the works) but probably the thing I think would make the biggest impact woudl be publishing a book.

Joe’s interview has lots of great advice and tips. Because both the subject, Steven Woods, and Joe have written books, you’re getting great first-hand advice, this is not theoretical stuff.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

JP: Why a custom print book over something else?

SW: I think there’s still something about the format of a book.  Regardless of whether it’s a physical book, or on Kindle (we did both), the length of the format lets you dig into an area more deeply than you would if you were reading a one or two page article online.  We wanted to give marketers something that they could take on the plane, relax, and make their way through, getting immersed in the topic for a few hours.  I’ve had many marketers tell me that that was exactly how they read the book, and when they landed, they had a host of new ideas to take back to their teams and get started on.

I think each format has its own unique characteristics, and they work best when they are used together.

I encourage you to check out the whole post, but I also encourage you to take a shot at writing your own book. It doesn’t have to be a Seth Godin-best seller, but I think the process and the product will be beneficial.

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.