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Posts Tagged ‘Rob Walker’

Rob Walker’s Unconsumption Project

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2009 at 9:41 pm
Excuse me, while I recycle this guy.

Excuse me, while I recycle this guy.

You know Rob Walker from such journalistic outlets as his Murketing blog, the terrific book, Buying In, his NY Times Magazine column, Consumed, and, of course such films as Earwigs: Eww! and Man vs. Nature: The Road to Victory. Oops, sorry that’s Troy McClure.

Rob’s got a new thing cooking that you should definitely check out. It’s a new blog called Unconsumption. Here’s Rob to describe the project a little bit:

Consumption is a word used to describe acts of acquisition – generally, the acquisition of things, in exchange for money. Unconsumption is a word used to describe everything that happens after an act of acquisition.

Unconsumption is an invisible badge. Unconsumption means the accomplishment of properly recycling your old cellphone, rather than the guilt of letting it sit in a drawer.

Unconsumption means the thrill of finding a new use for something that you were about to throw away. Unconsumption means the pleasure of using a service like Freecycle (or Craigslist or Goodwill) to find a new home for the functioning VCR you just replaced, rather than throwing it in the garbage.

Unconsumption means enjoying the things you own to the fullest – not just at the moment of acquisition. Unconsumption means the pleasure of using a pair of sneakers until they are truly worn out – as opposed to the nagging feeling of defeat when they simply go out of style.

Unconsumption means feeling good about the simple act of turning off the lights when you leave the room. Unconsumption is not about the rejection of things, or the demonization of things. It’s not a bunch of rules.

Unconsumption is an idea, a set of behaviors, a way of thinking about consumption itself from a new perspective. Unconsumption is free.”

Here’s some more details on how you can contribute/participate. Image above is from iri5’s Ghost in the Machine series on Flickr. A must see.

NY Times Magazine Thinks There Might Be Something To This Whole Social Media Thing

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Here’s a sneak peak at the Sunday, Feb. 15 New York Times Sunday Magazine:

Illustration by Peter Arkle for NY Times

Illustration by Peter Arkle for NY Times

Page 14: William Safire takes a look at the etymology of the words mash-up and remix in his On Language feature.

Page 15: In The Medium, Virginia Heffernan muses on writing a Facebook Status Update.

Page 17: Rob Walker’s Consumed column uncovers the artist behind Twitter’s Fail Whale. 

Next week: A fashion spread with pre-eminent bloggers/supermodels Greg Verdino, Adam Broitman and Geoff Livingston.

Burger King and the Politics of Social Media Transparency

In Ideas on January 15, 2009 at 9:35 am
All hail his Royal Twitterness, The King

All hail his Royal Twitterness, The King

My Twitter exchange with @TheBKLounge last week didn’t just lead to my first purchase of an Angry Whopper, it also sparked an interesting conversation with Warren Sukernek, regarding Social Media transparency. I’ve got a lot of respect for Warren (he is, after all, the Twitter Maven), but we had a difference of opinion that I thought was worth discussing in a more open forum – it was, after all, about transparency. Warren questioned whether the @TheBKLounge Twitter account was being run by Burger King’s ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, or by a Burger King employee. I’ll let Warren put forth his argument in just a moment. First, here’s my take…

Transparency is a legitimate issue in PR in general, and especially so in Social Media where the engagement with consumers is so direct. However, I think this particular case is an exception to the rule, and here’s why:

1. Consumer advocacy isn’t an issue

Consumers aren’t being defrauded nor is their trust being compromised. If Crispin Porter set up a Twitter account called @The_RealBarackObama and then tweeted: “Man, I love Burger King,” that would be fraudulent. Or if Alex Bogusky went on Twitter and said, “The Whopper is the best burger ever,” but didn’t divulge that his agency worked for Burger King, that would be deceiving.

2. The King is a fictional character

The avatar for @TheBKLounge is The King. A fictional character and the brand persona of Burger King. I would argue that not only does it not matter whether CP+B or Burger King corporate is behind the account, but that actually knowing would break the illusion. The best storytelling requires a suspension of disbelief, whether a movie, book or in some cases, Social Media engagement.

3. What’s the difference between CP+B and Burger King?

Ostensibly there is little (no?) difference between a CP+B employee and a Burger King employee in this case. Either way, the person running the Twitter account is working on behalf of Burger King, with Burger King’s consent. Last fall I participated in the Mad Men on Twitter Social Media event. It would be completely fair to argue that I should have had a disclaimer saying I was not affiliated in any way with the show, because I wasn’t. But in this case I don’t see the issue. Twitter is a loosely regulated environment right now and the natural inclination, especially among the most exemplary of Social Media custodians may be to go by the letter of the law. But I think we need to allow for some creativity, and yes, a little magic.

Long live the King!

And now, let’s here from Warren…

First, Rick thanks for inviting me to discuss this important issue on Eyecube. Social media is all about relationships and engagement with our customers. In order to achieve that engagement, consumers must trust us. We help to build trust by being transparent and authentic. If we cannot be authentic, then how can we engage with a customer with honesty and respect. One of the tenets of social media is the Cluetrain Manifesto by David Weinberger (@dweinberger), Doc Searls (@dsearls) , Rick Levine (@ricklevine), and Chris Locke, whereby markets are conversations. To me a conversation with a character managed by an ad agency does not seem like it’s following the Cluetrain Manifesto. I really think the practice of using a fictional character to represent a brand on Twitter is a slippery slope, especially since the brand has no other presence on Twitter.

1) But enough about my ideas and thoughts, let’s see what Twitter had to say. I asked Twitter, “Is it ok for an ad agency to bring a client’s character to twitter and tweet as if they are that character, as if they are the brand?”

And here were some of the answers:

Jay Gaines (@Izjay) said, Not sure if it’s okay, but I know it’s not a good idea.  Better to find a smart/passionate employee who will actually connect.

@Bluemedia I think if the agency has a deep understanding of the brand it is fine, but there is a VERY thin line that must not be crossed.

PR Pro Aaron Blank (@seattleblank) said, only if they are transparent.

 Tyler Hurst (@tdhurst), huge gray area. as long as you are honest, sure. we all know this was going to happen sooner or later.

Michael Troiano @miketrap If it’s 1958, sure.

Former Apple Director of Advertising Michael Markman (@mickeleh) Can’t tell you if a brand character sock puppet performed by an agency is OK. I can, however, tell you it would make me puke.

 To show how @mickeleh really feels, check out his next tweet, “Hi, I’m Charlie the Tuna. Follow me on Twitter and we can be fishy BFFs.”

The issue about always being in character is suspect. Just a couple of weeks ago, @thebklounge sent a Cease and Desist notice to a fan who had brandjacked, @whoppervirgins,

If @thebklounge is always in character, how are we to take this seriously?

3) As Mark Drapeau said in his provocative Mashable post, Twitter is about people sharing information with other people.

Who would you rather talk to on Twitter, a brand’s character or someone directly working at the brand?

4) Kate Kaye also writes in Clickz about best practices that some leading brands are implementing on Twitter to engage with their customers and solve marketing, customer service or relationship issues. She states,”[Regardless of how brands are using Twitter], “there is some consensus regarding the need to take a personal approach”.

Sorry, Twitter (and social media for that matter) is not another just channel for brands and their ad agencies to push out their message. We want to engage with brands, but in a realistic, transparent, and honest manner.

Ok, Round 1 goes to Warren and his army of Social Media guardians, well played. But hold on, let’s hear from some other voices. First, here’s Fernando Rizo (@fernandorizo), a PR pro at Ketchum…

Now, with regard to the @theBKLounge there is a great deal of room for criticism. Warren, it seems to me, though is missing the forest for the trees. When we’re talking about a fictional character created by an ad agency, there’s no need for the sort of “transparency” that Warren is demanding. If there was a Twitter account that was @NYSGovernorsOffice, we could and should demand to know who are the people manning that account. If the account was called @GovernorDavidPatterson, even more so. Or what about @LeVarBurton? We’d all be heart-broken if there was a publicist at the helm of that account, and not LeVar himself as it appears.

But with @theBKLounge, this level of transparency is neither required nor useful. The King is a character invented by Crispin Porter, and it seems rather obvious to everyone that that account has a CPB person running it. But there’s no deception here – no one actually thinks that The King exists, therefore no one is going to be heartbroken or feel misled when it turns out that the The King himself is not punching the keys. The account might as well be @SantaClaus.

Furthermore, suppose that CPB notices the demands for transparency and obliges. A press release comes out revealing that Account Executive Sarah Smith of Miami, FL is the voice of @theBKLounge. Where does that leave us? We’ve learned no useful information and (importantly) the way that we approach the account and the information coming out of it does not change one iota. Calling for transparency just because we’re Web 2.0 PR people and that’s our mantra is just dogmatic. In the case of this Twitter account, transparency gains nothing for the consumer. 

So that’s the trees, where’s the forest? In my opinion the biggest reason to criticize @theBKLounge is that it doesn’t really scale well does it? The account has accrued a little over 700 followers. You might argue that these people are influencers, but a quick perusal of the list shows that that doesn’t appear to be the case. If our assumption is right and this is a CPB tactic, they’re getting some wonderful engagement with users, but it’s got to be a pretty low ROI figure for what they’re spending.

Thanks Fernando. And now, here’s another perspective:

Saman Rahmanian is an Interactive Art Director at CP+B – the agency responsible for Burger King’s Whopper Sacrifice campaign among others. Here are his personal thoughts on the issue of Social Media transparency:

When Fiction Blurs Reality

The Twitter account @theBKlounge has sparked a social media debate between advocates of transparency with those of… well, storytelling.

The first group reasons that social media should not be abused by masqueraders and that the source of information should always be apparent. The second group takes a different approach arguing that the information per se is what matters, not where it comes from.

In the past, social media channels that are intrinsically transparent and authentic in nature (MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter,…) have seen numerous examples that have gone against the norm. Helga from the VW ads with her MySpace page a few years ago comes to mind or lonelygirl15 who had a terrific success on YouTube with her video posts on such topics as her lazy eye. Fake Steve Jobs with his hilariously insightful blog was a more apparent example of a fictional character entertaining the crowd.

So why do people follow these characters? Because people love entertainment. To be exact, people love stories. In some instances the very question of whether a character is real or not becomes the story, as in the case of lonelygirl15. But what truly makes this hype work is that people can now become part of the story they love. Let’s take Donald Duck. We all know him. We all know how he dresses, in what town he lives. We know the names of his nephews, and we even know which girl he fancies. But before social media came to place, this story – whilst being a great one – could only be unidirectional. We could only sit back, enjoy and find out more about him. It was not possible to converse with him. This can change with social media.

Now Donald Duck could have a Twitter account (I don’t think there is one) and people would be on the same level with him. He suddenly becomes a buddy who you can talk to and who you can ask questions that have always lingered in your mind (like “why do you wrap a towel around your waist when you come out of the shower while you normally don’t even wear pants?”).

So if it’s the story that people are after, why are people so concerned about the source? What difference does it make whether the agency, the company or a BK fan is behind @theBKlounge? And while I respect @warrenss and his views on authenticity, quite frankly it doesn’t matter. As long as people love the story, they will follow. And because I like @warrenss, I will give an educated guess on the authenticity of @theBKlounge: Has the King ever talked?

You can follow Saman Rahmanian on Twitter at @saman325.


UPDATE 1/16/09 5:00pm: Rob Walker, author of Buying In, writer of NY Times Magazine’s Consumed column and author of the Murketing blog was kind enough to add his thoughts:

I guess that as always I’m less interested in this stuff from a marketing tactics point of view than from a consumer point of view. As in, why would a regular consumer (who is not in the business of persuasion, as it were) want to “follow” the king on Twitter?

Possibly they expect to get some kind of payoff in the form of, I don’ t know, special offers or maybe services or something that only King followers would know about.

Possibly they just think Burger King advertising is kind of funny/weird/whatever and expect that the King’s tweets would live up to that. In a way, the King having a Twitter feed seems to me at least on some level to be a satire of celebrities having a Twitter feed. If Shaquille O’Neal, why not the imaginary Burger King? In other words, it’s all just a goof. For kicks. Like that.

So I don’t think they’d care if the tweets were written by an employee of BK, CPB, or by a robot. As long as they got what they wanted — some kind of deal, some entertainment, whatever. I’m not sure what engagement people would be looking for beyond that — I don’t think anybody would expect that much of a mascot’s Twitter feed. But then I’m not a certified Twitter expert, so maybe I’m wrong.

I really can’t thank Warren, Fernando, Saman, Rob and the other participants enough for their thoughtfulness and passion. This is a worthy discussion and I hope it continues –  in the comments below, on Twitter and hopefully in other forums and outlets.

A comment on comments

In Ideas, Insight on September 23, 2008 at 10:47 am

Marketing types, and I’ll generously include myself in this group, like to talk about ‘the conversation’ and ‘the dialogue’ between consumers and brands. I try to read a variety of marketing/branding/PR/Advertising blog and have noticed something: Many of the blogs have very few comments. Here’s a very unscientific survey – I looked at the front page of several blogs, looked at the number of posts and the total number of comments:

PSFK: Posts:36, Comments: 57 (Avg. # comments per post: 1.58)

Brand Autopsy: Posts: 30, Comments: 192 (Avg. # comments per post: 6.4)

Influential Marketing Blog: Posts 10, Comments: 36 (Avg. # comments per post: 3.6)

Murketing: Posts 15, Comments: 7 (Avg. # comments per post: .47)

Grant McCracken: Posts 14, Comments 65 (Avg. # comments per post: 4.64)

Eyecube: Posts 10, Comments 7 (Avg. # comments per post: .7)

Online Marketer Blog: Posts 5, Comments 24 (Avg. # comments per post: 4.8)

Again, this is a rather arbitrary analysis. I think all of the above are super smart people who all have a different approach and style.

Let’s take a look at the Top five blogs on the AdAge Power 150 to see what that looks like under the same litmus test:

Read the rest of this entry »

Authorian Legends

In Innovation on July 16, 2008 at 12:14 am

Yesterday I shared my experience at an event for Stefan Fatsis’ new book. Rohit Bhargava, another author, and fellow PR blogger, also has a recently published book, *Personality Not Included.  He sponsored an event Tuesday night and asked his readers for ideas on how to drive book sales at the event and in general generate buzz in what is a tough situation.

He ended up creating a nametag2.0, which is a pretty clever idea. Rohit has done several really innovative tactics for his book promotion, as did Rob Walker for his recent book, Buying In.  Attention is a precious commodity today and with dozens of books coming out seemingly every week in the marketing/culture/consumer trends category alone, authors have to work very hard, and very smart, to get any traction. 

But the law of diminishing returns are going to set in soon. The novelty of blog book tours and other web 2.0 tactics that seem so fresh right now won’t next time around.  I’d like to see an author bring readers into the process earlier, not just after the book is printed and ready to ship.  Can a social network be created around a proposed book? How could the ‘wisdom of crowds’ help direct the creation of a book, and how could readers have a sense of ownership? Is that possible, or even desirable?  Perhaps a blog about the creation of the book – a sort of ‘behind the scenes at the sausage factory – from writing to working with the publishers to the book tours.

I think we soon going to be talking about the promotion of books as much as the books themselves very soon.

Geico – Narrative Dissonance

In DINU on July 10, 2008 at 10:13 am

I’ve written about Geico in the past, admiring their ability to maintain multiple personalities. However, the latest Caveman ads have me scratching my head.  Geico has spent a lot of time creating a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU) in which the Cavemen are smart, uber-hip guys. Roast duck with mango salsa, anyone?  Now, take a look at this new ad:



Now the Caveman is just another dorky white dude that can’t dance. What happened to this guy:


So cool he uses an old school wooden racket.


So, for me at least, there is narrative dissonance. I’m invested in the concept, through the commercials and even the TV show, that the Cavemen were cool dudes. Now, I’m not sure. Do I want to buy car insurance from guys who dance badly (like me?).

Let’s go back to the original premise, as reported by Rob Walker in April of last year. Here’s how the campaign concept was described by Steve Bassett, of the Martin Agency, who created the ads:

[T]hree well-dressed cavemen hang around their sleek, urban apartment. “Obviously, they’re with today’s technology,” he [Steve Bassett] says matter-of-factly, “so they’re on their laptops.” They see a Geico ad — and they’re insulted. The third spot was at a nice restaurant, where a Geico spokesman apologizes to two urbane and plainly appalled cavemen. Funny.

See, much different than the awkward, white-guy-at-a-wedding Caveman we see in the most recent ads. Geico’s brand is very strong, so I don’t imagine there will be a big impact from this narrative dissonance, but I hope we see a return to the cool Caveman we came to love.

The Nike-ization of Converse?

In DINU on July 1, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Can’t wait to see what Rob Walker makes of this. That’s one of what appears to be many Converse movie shorts. Converse, which was bought by Nike, has developed a massive short film portal that plays to a very edgy audience. A too cool for school, young audience. Other films have titles like “Kissing with Ross”, “Out of Your League Girl” and “The Best Pick of the Draft.”

This seems like a really bold departure for Converse which has relied on its tradition and heritage for it’s marketing. They’ve also tied in rather aggressively with Target.


So, where does Converse fall in the Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe matrix? This will be an interesting period for Converse as they try multiple approaches. Target gives them mass, they will probably still hang on to a segment of the anti-corporate/punk rock/DIY/no leather crowd, and this new online short film initiative could appeal to a different group. I think creating a compelling story with those disparate elements will be a challenge.

Interestingly, none of those groups includes athletes, the brand’s original core demographic. I think it’s difficult to have multiple stories out there. Does the uber-cool kid that these movie shorts will appeal to want to wear the same brand that can be picked up at Target?  Do these movies take the brand too far away from its plain, simple roots? 

Converse is a great brand with tons of equity, this new online execution will be worth following to see if it connects with consumers or is dismissed as being too far away from the brand’s DNA.


Our world, summed up in one photo

In Insight on June 30, 2008 at 5:15 pm

I love this photo, courtesy of Arkitip (hat tip to Rob Walker for calling to my attention):












It says so many things to me:

I’m so rich, even my trash bags are Louis Vuitton.

Our consumer culture is just so much garbage.

Spending money on fancy labels is like throwing money away.

Just because it’s trash, doesn’t mean it has to be junk.

Whatever you do, don’t let the neighbors know you have garbage in your house!


I’m sure there is a not insignificant portion of our society who would see a photo like that as aspirational. If you are LVMH, the owner’s of the Vuitton brand, what do you do about this sort of thing? As a PR professional I always bristle at the “any publicity is good publicity” line. No one ever says, “any advertising is good advertising,” and this is the perfect example of why brands want to control their marks, and why doing so is impossible.

Nike, Tiger and the Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe

In DINU on June 19, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Yesterday I wrote about the Sony Ericsson WTA tour and their need to connect with the casual tennis fan. I recommended they work on creating a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU) that goes beyond the excellent tennis action they offer.

Also yesterday, Rob Walker, posted on a recent Nike ad featuring Tiger Woods that ran in conjunction with the recent concluded U.S. Open. Walker explains that the ad was seen by some as risky; if Tiger lost the ad could have flopped (Woods won the tournament). But Walker saw it differently:

“But — what if Tiger wins? If he does, surely the coverage will be all about his awesome mental toughness and so on. Just like in the Nike ad! In fact, the ad would seem like part of the narrative of the tournament, almost like real-life Tiger was taking his cues from the inspiring marketing campaign.”

Bingo! Nike created an ad that didn’t just run alongside the tournament, it complemented the narrative of the tournament. That’s the essence of the DINU concept. Now Nike his woven its brand, the Tiger Woods brand (and the difference between those two is, to borrow a Walkerism, murky) and the U.S. Open into one narrative for consumers. If you are invested in the U.S. Open, if you are invested in Tiger Woods then you are now invested in Nike. Here’s the ad:

Now, maybe you’re brand isn’t Nike, and maybe your spokesperson isn’t Tiger Woods and you may not be a sponsor of the U.S. Open, but the concept is still the same. Take the time to develop the back story, provide rich, vivid details and infuse your brand with emotion.