Mar 31, 2008

FIOS Report


Several of you have asked me to report on my FIOS experience. FIOS, for those of you outside the US, is a fiber optic internet/cable TV/phone service from Verizon (a major US carrier) that’s gotten much praise for the quality of the infrastructure and speed of the internet.

Here’s my experience, as a series of bullet points.

SIGN-UP
Verizon made a major push in my area, sending out door-to-door salesmen (mostly college students) to sign people up. They were also offering free 17 inch LCD TVs or $200 gift certificates to Best Buy. Comcast, the entrenched local cable provider seemed to just throw up its hands in defeat and made no attempt at counteroffers.

INSTALLATION
Installation was a little rocky. There were a series of mishaps involving a last minute call from Verizon trying to reschedule, a technician who never showed up and a missing piece of equipment. Plus a lot of time spent on the phone trying to iron everything out. But in the end, the service was installed and everything was up and running by the time I got home from work that day. FULL DISCLOSURE: One of my Twitter followers is a corporate blogger for Verizon and he offered to help smooth out the process. I don’t know much his assistance helped smooth out the rough patches, but there were definitely more rough patches than I would have liked.

USING IT
Verizon FIOS promises “blazing fast internet” and it delivers. My DSL speed, as measured by Speakeasy.net, was about 4000 on download, 2500 on upload. With FIOS, it’s about 14000 on download and 5000 on upload on a wireless connection. More importantly, you can actually feel the difference: sites load faster. There have been a few instances where speed has dropped off considerably, and I'm definitely keeping an eye on that, especially since we're connecting through a Verizon wireless modem and not an Airport.

HDTV
The TV service is also quite good, with clear pictures (no noticeable difference from Comcast HD) and a good range of HD channels. In addition, there’s a robust menu that lets you search both saved, on demand and live shows simultaneously. Right now it’s a bit overwhelming, but I suspect that as I get used to it, it will be useful.

My only complaint about the TV service is that there is no HD On-Demand (which Comcast has a large selection of- both feature films and TV programs) though the FIOS website says that HD On-Demand will be rolled out at some point this year.

All told, so far so good, though I'm keeping an eye out for those times the speed drops off.

Breaking 200

So for the first time (to my knowledge, anyway) - The Toad Stool has broken through the 200 barrier, landing at #181 with a bullet.

Thanks to all of you for your loyalty and support.

Mar 30, 2008

The Evolution of Twitter

I’ve been wondering how much usefulness Twitter is going to have as a conversation device. I mean I like it a lot and all, but I do wonder if other people are going to start using it to send each other links to articles about Britney’s newest hairstyle or to live tweet from a Jonas Brothers concert.

Maybe. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they did, if Twitter took off and became the most social of all social media.

But I have my doubts. You see, the same way most people don’t want to “create content” they don’t really want to take the time to constantly update Twitter and/or read other people’s updates. As I expounded upon in Social Media Is Only Social If You’re Alone, most people are in actual daily contact with the people they care about most. The phenomenon of living thousands of miles from your nearest and dearest is largely confined to the BoBo classes. (And the immigrants who work for them, but that’s a different story.)

So one way I can see Twitter evolving (a thought inadvertently spawned by a comment from one of Steve Rubel’s followers) is as a forum for experts. You sign up to receive tweets from experts in various areas of your choosing and they provide you with a certain number of expert tweets during the day. Links and/or advice.

A system like that would work either by charging a flat fee (e.g. $10 for 3 experts) or letting each expert define his or her own value and seeing what the market would bear. “Expert” itself would be defined fairly loosely, from a marketing “expert” like that Tangerine Toad guy to an expert bridge player to an expert in knitting or embroidery. In the latter, “how much can I charge” system, anyone would be able to be an expert, so long as others were willing to pay to for it. Factor in the “free-conomy” theory, and you could start giving your wisdom for free until such time as people are willing to pay for it.

And then, finally, there’s the distinct possibility that both systems could exist concurrently- that Twitter will evolve into a two-headed beast with both peer (conversaton) and expert areas.

We’ll just have to wait and see how it all play out.

Mar 28, 2008

Friday Fun



Someone sent me this video, which was allegedly done by a 20 year old as part of a contest for the AARP (American Association for Retired People)

Watch it with the sound ON and watch it all the way through.

Very nicely crafted.

UPDATE: Thanks to Paul Soldera and TSR for pointing out this Argentine political spot (and Silver Lion winner at Cannes 2006) that may have provided the inspiration for the AARP spot.

Mar 27, 2008

Whose Kool-Aid?


So yesterday, sometime around noon, Steve Rubel (the PR guy, not the late Studio 54 owner) tweeted about my "10 Things I Hate About Twitter" post and all hell broke loose.

Okay, not really, but The Toad Stool was getting about 400 hits an hour for the next few hours off of this five word tweet. (That's at least 10 times the normal amount for that time of day.)
At first I was thinking it was proof of the growing popularity of Twitter, but upon reflection, I'm thinking it's as much due to that as it is to the cult-like status of Steve Rubel.

Among the many comments I received, there was one that got me to thinking. One of Rubel's minions, while chastising me for having non-utilitarian Twitter friends, mentioned that he only links to people who provide him with great insights via their useful links.

And that lead me to wonder if the ultimate path of Twitter is to be a place where we learn from experts, rather than share with friends. I mean at some level it makes sense: Twitter, by virtue of its non-reciprocal Follower/Following paradigm, could allow us to follow people we deemed experts and leaders. Which could be anyone from Steve Rubel to Steve Jobs to Steve Nash.

They'd send out links, wise thoughts and whatnot, for their followers to absorb on a daily basis. Heck, we could even monetize it and charge a fee for their wisdom. I've suggested that using a celeb's tweets from a relevant event would be a good marketing use of Twitter, so why not take it to the next level?

Worth contemplating.

PS: A formal thank-you to Brian Morrissey and Bill "Make The Logo Bigger" Green, who jumped onto Rubel's Twitter thread to point out that my post was tongue-in-cheek and not a Luddite screed from a true hater.

Mar 26, 2008

Corporate Blogging Conundrum


Where's My JetPack? always has some of the best cartoons on the web. He does them himself, too.

I particularly love this one he did about the potential pitfalls of clueless corporate blogging.

Mar 25, 2008

Spy On Toad


Or, more accurately, Toad on Spy.
Agency Spy, that is.

She's been running a great series on Social Media, featuring Strawberry Frog, Brian Morrissey, Ian Schafer and now, yours truly.

Check it out here.

Or read it here:

Social media… is it the Saviour or the Antichrist? Who knows? So far, we’ve got three parts to this tale of woe:

Part 1- A look at StrawberryFrog’s new social media campaign for Scion
Part 2 - AdWeak takes a look at the troubles of measuring the metrics
Part 3 - Deep Focus’ CEO shares some details about his agency’s social media practice

This morning, we decided to ask Tangerine Toad, an advertising blogger who spends oodles amounts of time blogging about social media, to take a stab at creating a primer of sorts about brands and social networking sites.

“Social media can prove to be a real landmine for marketers who cling to old ways of thinking. They’ve failed to grasp the crucial fact that while traditional advertising is all about delivering product news in an engaging manner, social media is all about delivering customer utility in an unobtrusive manner.

As a live demonstration of this sort of utility, I’ve pulled together a quick primer for those who are afraid they’ve missed the boat:

Your Brand Is Not My Friend

Remember this above all else. I am on Facebook or Twitter or a community message board to commune with my friends. Not your brand. And it’s kind of creepy when you insist on interrupting us with your unwanted presence and unwanted messages.

Unless, of course, you are a Prom King Brand. Prom King brands are those brands inexplicably imbued with a sense of cool (Apple, Starbucks, Virgin et. al, plus most any movie, TV show, sports team or music act.). I actually do want to hang out with those guys and be their friend. I’ll gladly add their badges to my Facebook page and even wear a hat with their logo on it. So they get to play by different rules.

If you’re not a Prom King brand, you’re not totally screwed. You just need to find a way to provide people with something they actually want. This is a tough one for most traditional marketers since they (a) have trouble accepting the fact that people don’t really feel passionately about their brand, and (b) nevertheless insist on inserting the brand’s granular offline marketing message into the social utility space where no one wants to hear it.

Now a good example of a non-Prom King brand that’s done Social Media right is TripAdvisor.com and their Cities I’ve Visited Facebook app. (Which is just that—an interactive map where you can kill an hour or two checking off all the places you’ve been to and then comparing it with your friends maps.) There’s no obsequious branding message lurking about the app and popping up like some latter-day Uriah Heep—the only message is that travel is a lot of fun and the only branding is a TripAdvisor logo. That’s it. They make their point, get out of the way and let you enjoy yourself. At its peak, the app had over 7.8 million users.

Social Media is a great research tool. As Ian Schafer mentioned in his previous piece, people actually say what they think about you and what they say isn’t always flattering. But you need to hear it. Need to hear that your new product isn’t as great as you think it is. Or that the only thing you’re doing right isn’t the thing you suspected. It’s where you want to start having conversations with your consumers and not dismissing them as “cranks.” Because a brand that listens to its customers is a brand they may someday call a friend.

Social Media is still in flux. We’re all still figuring this out daily. Unlike Web 1.0, most of the change in this space is driven by new technology. That means you have to stay up on what’s going on (e.g. do you know what Kyte is?) and keep an open mind as to what each new technology might make possible. Or, to put it another way, to always bear in mind that YouTube was originally supposed to be nothing more than a simple site where you could post videos for your in-laws.

Good luck.”




Mar 23, 2008

10 Things I Hate About Twitter


So I’ve kind of gotten addicted to Twitter over the past few weeks. At its best, it’s like an ongoing coffee break that you can pop in and out of over the course of a day and find out all sorts of interesting gossip, not to mention articles worth reading and other time sucks.

That said, there are a number of things I find frustrating about it and given that Twitter is still in its nascent stage, I thought I’d put them into the ever popular list form. (Hat tip to Brian Morrissey for his input on this.)

1. I WISH I had the ability to temporarily turn certain people off. Especially people who feel the need to live-tweet an especially boring commute to the office or conference or concert or something else I am not interesting in learning about in 5 minute intervals. (That said, I wish I had the ability to produce cogent, lucid, amusing grammatically correct live tweets the way some people do. I completely lack the ability to be completely in the moment and participating in the event while simultaneously outside of it and commenting on it.)

2. I WISH I didn’t have to hit “Refresh” on the Twitter.com web page every time I wanted to see an update. Not a tech genius here but can’t imagine an auto-refresh feature would be that difficult.

3. I WISH there was a good Mac-compatible app for Twitter. I’ve been using Snitter and testing Twitterific, but they both have their faults. I don’t mind Snitter’s functionality, but it has the (fairly major) flaw of sometimes talking hour-long breaks from providing updates, no matter how many times you hit “Refresh.” And Twitterific loses me with those god-awful bird noises. (UPDATE, November 2008: I have been a big fan of Twhirl for the past several months. It's exactly what I was asking for.)

4. I WISH I was able to IM with people on Twitter. Sometimes someone brings up something you want to discuss with them in private and the back and forth Direct Messaging is just way too slow. Even a built-in link to an external IM app would help.

5. I WISH making my Twitter-stream private didn’t result in the odd-yet-annoying technical glitch of forcing me to follow every single person who elects to follow me.

6. I WISH the logical next step of the aforementioned problem—to remove all my new-but-unknown followers from my “People I’m Following” list—didn’t automatically result in their simultaneous removal from my “People Following Me” list. (Note: If this has happened to you, I swear it was not my intention to remove you, so please feel free to re-follow me- I’ve made my feed public again.)

7. I WISH people would stop welcoming new followers: this isn’t AM radio.

8. I WISH people would realize how odd it sounds to twitter about how you are currently playing with your children. Children are sentient beings who get that Mommy or Daddy can’t simultaneously be playing with them and typing about it on Twitter. Not to mention that (to paraphrase Chris Rock’s famous routine) you’re a parent: You’re supposed to be playing with your children. This is also true of people who twitter about how they are currently at dinner with various friends and relatives. All I can think of is 7 other people sitting there aghast as you blithely type new Twitter updates throughout the meal. (SEE ALSO: Wolk, A.: Social Media Is Only Social If You’re Alone.)

9. I WISH people would not feel the need to tell me what they are eating for lunch every day. Unless maybe it’s something really gross or unusually delicious. I mean I’m just as guilty of the occasional mundane tweet as the next guy, but some people's need to go into detail about the minutiae of life is indeed baffling.

10. I WISH I had the willpower to turn off the Twitter feed during the day. It wastes so much time. Yet it’s always so much more interesting than whatever else I’m doing.

Mar 21, 2008

Finally, Someone Is Listening



Courtesy of my other British blogging buddy, LunarBBDO, is this TV commercial from VW that is all about their new UK website.

You read that correctly. Finally, someone has figured out that if you have a website that you actually use to sell things, a place where someone will go TO ACTUALLY BUY YOUR CAR, that it makes a whole lot of sense to drive as many people as possible to that website. And that TV is still the best way to drive a whole lot of people anywhere.

Even better, from a Toadian perspective, is that the spot alludes to the utility of the website, comparing its functionality and ease of use to the VW's functionality and ease of use. (People like easy-to-use, highly functional websites better than ones with lots of cool-looking flash.)

It's pretty revolutionary, given that most companies (and agencies) still subscribe to the "Clicking Through The Internet" theory that says if you put something up online, people will be clicking though the internet the same way the click through their cable TV line-up at home and eventually find the site.

For real.

Kudos to whoever did this.

Weekend Haiku Fun




My British blogging buddy Scamp, aka Simon Veksner of BBH London, has a post this week where he invites his readers to submit haikus about advertising. It was a lot of fun and I thought I'd extend the opportunity Stateside. (That's how we cool global citizen expat-wannabes talk, you know, we say things like "Stateside.")

Anyway here are three from me, which I'm sure you can all beat:

Your brilliant spot's on
Forty minutes to watch Lost?
Must press fast-forward

Cool new Facebook app
But Your Brand Is Not My Friend™
I never use it.

Social Media
Everyone is loving it
How to monetize?

Mar 20, 2008

On The Other Hand



So remember how I was dissing Hulu the other day?

Well, maybe they're not so bad after all.

Mrs. T was trying to explain the old "Cheezburger, Cheezburger" SNL skit to the Tadpoles just now and I suggested that she might find it on Hulu.

And there it was, along with a few hundred other classic SNL skits. (The skit is officially called "Olympia Restaurant" and was inspired by a diner the cast used to frequent near the studio. Places like this were fairly common in NYC in the 70s.)

Hulu makes it easy to link and share and embed all their video, so I'm posting it here for you. Some of my readers may be too young to remember this, but it was one of the skits that made Saturday Night Live famous back in the day. Take note of the people smoking in the restaurant and other period details... and also how not-that-different-than-2008 it looks otherwise (this is from 1978, I believe)

Enjoy

UPDATE: Seems you need to watch a :15 or :30 pre-roll commercial first. Curious as to your reactions to that. And if you click on the video as it opens, it will take you to the actual Hulu site where you can watch it full screen.

UPDATE 2: Seems that Hulu doesn't work in certain other countries. Or anywhere outside the US. Let me know if it blocks you like it did Dun.

Mar 19, 2008

Film Making 2008


I have a cousin who's a college freshman and I sometimes check out what he's up to on Facebook, just to see what the kids are up to these days and all.

Mostly he's just joining some group specific to his particular university or one of the many "Brandon lost his cell phone again. Send him your numbers" groups his friends seem to form. (Don't these kids know how to save their address books to their computers?)

But this week I gained an insight into how kids are using the new media landscape to make and promote their own films these days. It's an enlightening look into how a process (film making) that used to require a series of overloaded credit cards, a rich relative or both-- is now accessible to just about anyone with a video camera and a computer.

Some friend or acquaintance of his has made a film called Silhouettes and Cigarettes that's being marketed as a two hour movie that's also available as webisodes. Now the movie itself is a fairly well done student film with the usual earnestness, angst and got-my-friends-to-help-out acting-- but what's fascinating is the marketing these kids have already done.

There's a YouTube group where you can watch the webisodes. A Facebook group with various updated versions of the movie trailer. And a website/blog where you can comment and follow the film's progress along.

Now as someone who spent much of college writing short stories on a word processor (remember those) and passing around increasingly frayed copies, this represents a quantum leap in technology.

It's also probably the future of "user generated content" - a way for talented or interested amateurs to get their work out there and let the marketplace decide what's worthwhile.

March Madness Facebook App Update



If you recall, I installed four different March Madness* apps on Facebook last week and had the basketball-obsessed eldest Tadpole check them out.

His preference for the CBS Sports app was reinforced yesterday as we filled out the brackets. Not only was the interface more intuitive and easier to use, it was the only one to feature pop-ups. Mousing over a team's name calls up a brief overview of their strengths and weaknesses with the option to see a daughter window that highlights some key match-ups. (See screen cap above.) This is particularly useful since even a basketball-obsessed Tadpole is not intimately acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of all 64 teams.

More updates to come as the tournament begins.

Sidenote: There's something very Facebook about all four apps. I mean as compared to MySpace. Maybe it's the nature of a bracketed tournament, but they all seem to mimic Facebook's clean lines and easy functionality.

*"March Madness" refers to the annual NCAA men's college basketball tournament that's become wildly popular in the US.

Mar 17, 2008

Get Sharp Teeth



I just finished reading a phenomenally great book called Sharp Teeth, a video excerpt of which you can see above. And the experience was made all the more phenomenally great by the fact that I actually know the author, Toby Barlow. Toby and I worked together at JWT (back when it was still J. Walter Thompson) and were simpatico enough that we could actually take turns rewriting a single script or piece of copy until we were both satisfied with it.

Only now he’s gone on to write a critically acclaimed book which is way beyond my meager talents. While the book is technically a werewolf story, it’s a werewolf story the way John Gardner’s Grendel is a monster story. Sharp Teeth is deep, lyrical, moving, well-paced and beautifully written. One of those books you’re sad to get to the end of because you so enjoyed visiting with the characters every time you picked it up.

Toby—who, in addition to being a nice guy, is currently a Creative Director at JWT in Detroit , as well as a regular on the Huffington Post—has gotten some major props for this book, from people as diverse as Nick Hornby and David Mamet. He’s also received rave reviews from publications as diverse as The Wall Street Journal, The Independent (UK) and New York magazine.

And if I’ve gotten any of you interested in buying his book, you can just CLICK HERE to buy it at Amazon.

Should you need further convincing, you can check out the other except on YouTube and then, when you're done watching CLICK HERE to buy it at Amazon.

Hulu Hoops



Man, how corny is that headline ;)

Seriously though, I've been playing around with the alpha (as opposed to beta) version of Hulu, NBC's new online video watching service and I am underwhelmed.

Here's what I'm not digging:
  • No ability to download. This is the killer for me. I often decompress from work by watching TV shows on my MacBook on the train during my commute home. Easy to do on iTunes. Easily worth $1.99. Would gladly watch a few commercials for the privilege. Impossible on Hulu.
  • Poor video quality at full-screen. (Even on my 13 inch MacBook)
  • Full seasons not available: Pysch the comic crime show on USA Network, is one of my guilty pleasures. No longer on iTunes, but the full season is not on Hulu. Or at leas it doesn't appear to be because...
  • User unfriendly interface: Those for-fanatics-only snippets (e.g. "Writers discuss the pilot") and whatnot aren't housed in a separate tab or anything-- they're mixed in with the shows. It makes it difficult to figure out which is which and also to find what you're looking for.
  • Doesn't download smoothly: Still encountered a number of lags, where I was waiting for the download and it was going way too slowly. Enforced time outs like this are more annoying than commercials.
I suspect I'm not the only one who likes to watch video away from an internet connection. And is willing to pay for it. I understand Jeff Zucker's "trading dollars on TV for pennies on the internet" concern, but maybe the solution is to make the shows downloadable with commercials. Someone like me isn't going to take the time and hassle to find the software to remove the commercials before I watch the show. I mean Psych is fun and all, but just not worth the trouble.

Mar 14, 2008

Well At Least It's Topical


Props to both Engadget and Matt Dickman (via Twitter) for calling my attention to this ad that Virgin Mobile Canada is going to run next week.

Headline-tweaking ads like this can work for a cheeky company like Virgin. And they sure do get people talking. Even people in the non-digital media, if their respective PR teams can work it right.

Mar 13, 2008

Beyond The Jetsons: Voiceless Speech Becomes Real



Hat tip to Techno//Marketer's Matt Dickman for this video of an incredible technological advance that was unveiled last month.

The device actually intercepts your thoughts on the way to you vocal chords and translates them into speech.

As Marc Andreessen (the guy who invented Netscape) noted on his blog: "I have a feeling that someday, this may be up there with "Come here, Watson, I need you.""

The video above shows an actual phone conversation between two people, one of whom is equipped with a wireless neckband. He thinks his answers and they are spoken by a synthesized computer voice.

If that wasn't mind-blowing enough, another possible application for this is mentioned: expanding human intelligence. You're walking down the street. You wonder (to yourself) "where's the nearest bus stop?" A device translates your thoughts into words, searches the collective intelligence available on the internet and reports back to you with bus stop locations.

Yup.

PS: Further props to Matt Dickman for coining the phrase tradigitalist to accurately describe what it is I do for a living.

Mar 12, 2008

NOKD: Class Divisions In Teenage Internet Use


Those of you who are frequent readers of The Toad Stool know that the widening class divide in America has long been a favorite topic of mine. I’m one of the few geeks who anxiously devoured Danah Boyd’s epic study Viewing American Class Divisions Through Facebook and MySpace.

But I was reminded of Boyd’s work the other day as I was reading Ian Schafer’s recap of SXSW panel discussion on “What Teens Want Online & On Their Phones.” The teens in the study reported that they didn’t use IM and preferred MySpace to Facebook. This runs contra to most of the anecdotal evidence I have (from relatives and the teenage children of my friends and neighbors in our upscale NYC burb.)

I suspect that much of that difference is rooted in the class divide. Teens who have their own computers in their own rooms are more likely to use IM, which they can do privately. (Privacy being the driving factor in all teenage communication sessions.) Whereas teens who are using the single “family” computer that sits in the kitchen or living room are not going to want to conduct conversations in full view of their parents and will spend most of their time texting, which they can do privately.

Having one’s own computer is a completely different experience as well. It means you can have an intensely private experience, one that’s very different from the experience you’d have on a shared machine. And given the popularity of the MacBook among BoBo teens, that intensely personal experience can happen just about anywhere in the house. This is a very significant differentiator for teenagers, for whom (if you remember back to your own youth) something as innocuous as checking the weather forecast can take on serious privacy issues.

Mobility is another issue: texting can be done from just about anywhere and given that teens are far more mobile than desk-bound adults, this takes on greater importance. The inability or unwillingness of cellular providers to port IM programs to mobile devices is also at play here.

The other issue the panel discussion touched on was MySpace vs Facebook, with more panelists having MySpace accounts than Facebook ones. Now Boyd’s thesis states that Facebook is the network of choice for college-bound high school students, especially those with mainstream interests and parentally approved extracurriculars, while MySpace was the destination of choice for working class kids and the outsiders among their more affluent peers.

Again, my own anecdotal (as opposed to scientific) evidence seems to bear this out. None of the teens in my “control group” are active MySpace users – they’re all on Facebook, collecting friends, joining groups, adding apps—different groups and apps than adults, but they’re using it nonetheless. And questions about MySpace seem to invoke the same expression as questions about WalMart and other things hopelessly downscale and uncool: as Boyd's study showed, there's a clear demarcation in their minds between Facebook and MySpace users.

The implications are pretty major. There was a period, right around the time cable went mainstream and everyone watched MTV, that American teens all enjoyed a pretty identical experience, regardless of where they lived or how much their parents made. (Carson Daly, the great leveler of class divisions.) There was one pop culture, which meant one generational touchstone-- even online, AOL had mass appeal.

But the current bifurcation means that our class divisions start earlier on. That the children of the BoBo-ocracy enjoy one type of online experience, while the rest of America experiences another.

How this plays out as they reach adulthood will be worth keeping an eye on.

Mar 10, 2008

The Great Leap Forward


Brian Morrissey has a great piece in Adweek today about how agencies are discovering the value of utility on the web vs. trying to build some sort of not-very-novel “engagement” site.

Finally.

This is something you’ve heard me go on about for some time now. The whole idea of how online (social media in particular) is all about providing utility for consumers who are online to actually do something. Versus offline media, which is mostly about providing consumers with news in a (hopefully) entertaining manner. How the only brands that can expect consumers to willingly engage them are the dozen or so “Prom King Brands™” and how everyone else is just waving a flag in the dark because (all together now) Your Brand Is Not My Friend™. How many traditional agency folk have this notion I call “Clicking Through The Internet” where they really believe that if you put a site up online people will magically find it as they “click through the internet” the way they click through their cable television line-up. (No utility or drive-to vehicles needed.)

And so on.

One excellent example Morrissey (my new Twitter friend) points out is the Dominos site developed by Crispin Porter. Which is just a nicely designed, easy-to-use (let me repeat that one: easy-to-use) site that lets you custom design a pizza and then (surprise!) actually order it. Because that’s what Dominos does: deliver pizzas. And that’s why I go to Dominos.com: to order pizzas. Not to play an online game called “Find The Anchovy.” Not to upload wacky videos of myself eating Dominos with my friends. Not even to recount my funniest pizza deliveryman story. No. I go there when I’m hungry and want to order pizza. And if you can make my pizza-ordering experience an easier and more enjoyable one, you’ve done more than any $100 million ad campaign could.

Now traditional agency folks are often baffled by this line of reasoning and with good reason: it totally makes what they do for a living totally obsolete. It puts experience front and center and sticks clever entertainment somewhere on the way back burner. The notion is not brain surgery: it’s what Whole Foods and Starbucks and Virgin did in the bricks and mortar world: made the experience satisfying enough to command loyalty. Not to mention higher prices.

This transition from entertainment to utility, from “what I want to tell you” to “what you want hear” is the single most important thing that’s happening in advertising and marketing in the past 100 years. It’s a huge transition and it’s bigger than the introduction of television and the rise of the internet. Those that get it and make it happen will thrive in the years to come.

Mar 8, 2008

The First Viral Blog


So there's this blog called "Stuff White People Like" that's become wildly popular over the past month or so with exactly the sort of people it mocks: upper middle class BoBos. (David Brooks' nickname for the Bourgeois Bohemian class of liberal arts graduates that comprises a goodly percentage of the American upper middle class)

It's become popular for good reason too- it's very funny and consistently well-written, even after close to 90 posts. There are many lines that literally made me laugh out loud ("White people love to believe in magic teas" - a reference to natural remedies, being just one example that comes to mind.)

Now what's fascinating here is that this is an actual functioning blog that's gone viral (it even popped up in the "Most Popular Things Posted To The New York Network" on Facebook.) And a blog has never gone "viral" before. I mean that really wasn't on most people's radar. But there it is, on Wordpress, with literally hundreds of comments on each post. (The comments range from the banal to the inane, with lots of input from (a) people who thought "Stuff White People Like" was a site for other right-wing racists and are disappointed to find that it's about BoBos, and (b) the type of people who read something like "asking teens to give up texting is like asking Brits to give up tea" and feel compelled to comment that "I am one Briton who does not like tea at all, nor do most of my friends." But I digress...)

Other blog-like sites that have become wildly popular-- Gawker or PerezHilton, for instance-- allow comments and follow a blog-like format, but since their main purpose is to report (celebrity) news, they're really more in the vein of online magazines than actual blogs.

Stuff White People Like is a true blog however, and its success gives us a whole new medium to work in and a whole new way to look at blogs. A strong POV and unique content presented without video, flash, enforced interaction and other assorted bells and whistles, can attract a wide and loyal audience.

Which is something all people should like.

Mar 6, 2008

Final Four Facebook Follies


Actually there's no folly involved. Not yet, anyway. I just liked the alliteration.

But I've downloaded four Facebook apps around the 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, known colloquially as "March Madness" or "The Final Four." (For my UK, Swedish and Bulgarian readers, this is a big deal in the States and consumes much of the latter end of March. It also gets a cross-section of fans from current student to alumni and local residents.)

The apps are from a range of providers: There are two from companies who have a clear connection to an NCAA basketball tournament: CBS Sports (they're televising the event) and Sports Illustrated magazine. One company that has a clever ad campaign but no tie-in to basketball (Geico, using their "Caveman" as the host) and one Bracket Buster that's a unbranded app.

I'll be reporting from time to time on their utility, ease of use and overall fun factor. The eldest Tadpole, a rabid basketball fan, will assist me in this task and I'll offer his POV as well.

And of course they'll be brackets.

My initial impressions:

CBS Sports is the only one that doesn't push you to invite your friends. It's also the only one that's holding off until the 16th (that's when the teams are announced) to actually have you start in with any kind of guessing. It's the simplest one to use and seems to have the most utility. And their "Trash Talk Wall" and Team Pages seem to have already built up some traction.

SI is holding out the lure of winning money - up to $15,000. Moderate push to invite friends.

Bracket Buster is all about "points" but one way to plus up your point total is to invite your friends, so there's a big sign-up push.

Geico is also pushing you to invite your friends (pick the friend who does the best in choosing winners and you could win an iPod) and is also pushing Geico big time, asking you to become a Geico fan right in the instructions. Lot of action on their "Smack" message boards.

Any readers with any input on these apps-- please feel free to post your comments.

March Madness starts in 9 days.

Mar 4, 2008

Your Strategy Is Not My Friend Either


While I’ve discussed how a lot of the push back against social media comes from the creative department, another large pocket of resistance is planning.

Planners come up with all sorts of brilliant brand strategies that work wonderfully in areas where consumers are looking for news, especially news that’s delivered in an entertaining manner. But their strategies often prove too granular for media where people are looking for functionality delivered in an easy-to-utilize fashion. Broad-based strategies work best when you’re designing a social media application.

Take a look at TripAdvisor.com.

I’m guessing they have an advertising strategy that goes something like “TripAdvisor is the easiest way to research, book and review all your travel plans.”

But their very successful FB app "Cities I’ve Visited” is just what it says it is—a mash-up of Google maps that lets you tick off all the cities you’ve traveled to. The strategy here is broad and simple: Traveling is cool.

Now I suspect some overly zealous planner might try to put a stop to the "Cities I’ve Visited” app because it doesn’t strictly adhere to their carefully developed brand strategy. But that’s the thing about Facebook apps and similar tools: they’re not advertising. They’re branding. Think of them as being a new form of product placement or sponsorship and it all starts to make sense.

Or not. People who are invested in the strategic advertising platform aren't going to give up that easily. They'll pull out the “Subservient Chicken,” example and point out how this brilliant solution actually adheres to a brand strategy, skipping over the part about how the “Chicken the way you like” strategy is a lot broader and a lot less granular than the strategy they're pushing. I mean I can just hear the creative team that came up with "Cities I’ve Visited” being told that they "just need to think about it harder” until they come up with something that's based off the strategic platform because "right now all you're doing is selling the category."

Now what this line of reasoning ignores is the inconvenient reality that no one really cares about your brand or its strategic platform. At least in this space, where they’re just looking for utility. Remember-- Your Brand Is Not My Friend™. And your strategy isn't either. I don’t want to hear an advertising message from you when I’m socializing on Facebook. Give me a branded app that’s as useful or enjoyable as an unbranded app and I’ll gladly use it. I’ll probably even remember it’s from you and think of you favorably next time we meet. But that’s as far as I’ll go. I’m not going to engage with you if you’re clearly trying to sell me something, clearly trying to hammer home a “brand message” that lays out a "unique selling proposition."

I’ve got better things to do.

Mar 3, 2008

Your Facebook App Is Not My Friend


There's a fantastic article about Facebook in BusinessWeek (of all places) that David Armano tipped me off to on Twitter just now. It contains a review of about a dozen branded Facebook widgets, done by Armano himself, Sarah Hofstetter from 360i and Eric Weaver from Brand Dialogue. (NB: Their reviews are in the pop-up slideshow at the bottom of the page)

For those of us familiar with social media, it's vindication, plain and simple. All the things we've been telling people these past few years, laid out in plain English. (Example: Hofstetter notes that "when a branded version goes up against an identical nonbranded app without an extra value or nuance attached to it, nonbranded will win every time.")

But for those of you working at the agencies that consistently push these kinds of solutions-- and for the clients who aid and abet them-- this is a must-read article that explains the common sense reasons why Your Brand Is Not My (Facebook) Friend™ and why the mere act of making a Facebook app does not guarantee success. You've got to understand the medium before you use it.

Fortunately, in the case of Facebook, that's not all that difficult an assignment.




Whither TV, @ MP Daily Fix

More Toad over at Daily Fix:

There’s a great piece in this month’s Atlantic Monthly (a magazine I’d forgotten how much I liked) by Michael Hirschorn about the eventual evolution of television.

(And it’s hard not to like an article that starts out, “One of the most exhausting things about new-media Moonies is their cultish conviction: either you “get it” or you don’t.”)

Read the rest over at MP Daily Fix

Mar 2, 2008

Pinball Wizardry



Since we've been discussing this spot in the thread about the Mini's leave-behind kit below, I thought it deserved a post of its own.

From Butler, Shine & Stern, and shot by red-hot Happy, it's a great product demo that continues the Mini tradition of standing out from other car commercials. That is, it looks nothing like other car commercials. (In a good way.)

I've seen this one on the air and even though a Mini is not in my immediate future, I was immediately struck by the underlying tonality of the spot: there's a real sense of fun and joie de vivre here that's (a) very much in the Mini's heritage and (b) often absent or forced in so many other car spots.