Jun 29, 2009

Field of Dreams Redux

Many of you are familiar with my Prom King Brand theory, which states that a handful of brands have so much social currency (e.g. “cool”) going on, that all they have to do is show up and people will start interacting with them.

How that plays out in the real world sometimes seems to get lost in translation, so I wanted to give some concrete examples of what I’ve been seeing:

John Smith, CEO of Acme Widgets has heard that social media is the next big thing. He knows that Oprah Twitters and people have told him that not only is Social Media the next big thing, but it’s free. So Smith talks to his people and they decide to build an Acme Widgets fan page on Facebook and to launch a blog and a Twitter account. His marketing department has pointed out to him how brands like Apple, the New York Yankees and several HBO shows put up Facebook fan pages and, voila!, within days they had hundreds of thousands of fans signed up who were doing all the work for them. How easy is this social media stuff?

What they forgot though is that Apple, the Yankees and Entourage all have lots of social currency. People think it’s cool to be a fan. They don’t think it’s cool to be a fan of Acme. So Acme’s got to do something to bring the fans in.

The good news is there’s a whole lot of something Acme can do:

(a) Entertainment, e.g. something their audience would watch even if it didn’t have an association with the brand.

(b) Access or Information, e.g. everything from behind-the-scenes footage of a popular show Acme has a sponsorship agreement with to links to relevant and useful articles about widgets.

(c) Utility, e.g. something that the consumer can actually get some value out of when they use it.

(d) Value, e.g. a coupon, discount or other financial incentive.

(360i’s recent Social Media Playbook does a great job of explaining how all this works in context.)

So it’s not that non-Prom King brands can’t play in social media. It’s just that they can’t show up in social media and expect to be instantly popular.

Just like the real world, they’ve got to work at it.

Jun 27, 2009

Porn, Kittens & Your Remote

Mike Arauz had a cute post up last week, reminding people that their online work needed to pass the "I'd rather be watching porn" test. (Or, for the less pruriently-oriented, the "I'd rather be looking at pictures of kittens" test. (In other words, remember, there's a lot of stuff people would rather be doing online than looking at your brand-sponsored content-- ads included.) It's a basic message, but given how frequently it's ignored, it's well worth repeating.

To that end, I'd like to introduce the corrollary: if you've created a TV commercial, all it needs to do is pass the "I really need to find the remote" test: if it's not awful enough to make the viewer go scrambling for the remote so s/he can change the channel or fast-forward, well, then you've got yourself an impression.

Bottom line is that despite popular perception in certain quarters, it's much tougher to make a splash online. Your competiton's much stiffer.

Jun 23, 2009

Bean Cast II

The Bean Cast, hosted by Bob Knorpp, is, hands down, the best advertising-related podcast out there and yesterday I had my second opportunity to be appear on the show.

My fellow guests were Jonah Bloom, Editor-in-Chief of Ad Age and producer Hal Goodtree from Goodtree & Company.

Topics ranged from Cannes (and the growing movement against the glitzy award show) to MySpace (how to reinvent/save it) to contextual advertising.

A rollicking conversation, well worth an hour of your time (if I say so myself.)

And if you just can't get enough Alan Wolk, I'll be on a panel at OMMA Social in about 2 hours, 9:45 AM at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square.

You can download the BeanCast podcast here.

Jun 17, 2009

Boardroom Broadway

I’m convinced that one of the reasons we wind up with so many overly clever and completely useless websites is that the wrong people are often assigned to handle the projects.

As James Hipkin sagely noted in a comment here the other day, one key factor is what he calls “Boardroom Boredom” – the fact that what entertains attendees in an otherwise dry meeting to discuss media expenditure is rarely the sort of thing consumers are looking for in a website.

Now part of this comes from the agency wanting to put on a fun show. But if you're running a brand, ask yourself how much of if comes from the make-up of your marketing department: are you heavily invested in ex-agency people, whose experience has been in launching TV commercials, print ads and flash banners as opposed to websites? (And remember, it’s not the same thing: the ad’s job is to get you to consider making a purchase. The website is for when you’ve already decided you’re interested and want to find out more or actually buy the thing.)

Utility doesn’t have to equal dull and boring. But it does have to, you know, provide utility. Not bury it inside a cutesy video that made everyone laugh during the meeting.

Jun 13, 2009

The Revolution Will Be Twitterized

Rioting has broken out in Teheran and other Iranian cities today in response to yesterday's election results.

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, YouTube and other 2.0 technologies, we can now follow along in a way that was previously impossible.

On Twitter, the hashtag #iranelection has an incredible mix of photos, live reporting and videos interspersed with tweets from Americans telling their friends about it. (Or you can follow @mousavi1388, @StopAhmadi, @tandmark or ABC Reporter Jim Sciutto

On Flickr, there's a photostream from mousavi1388 that has some eyeopening photos of the rioting.

And HuffingtonPost reporter Nico Pitney is liveblogging all the news-- he's got a lot of video on his site.

It's a long way from the last Iranian Revolution, back in 1979, when you had to wait for the 11:00 news or the next morning's newspaper

Jun 10, 2009

Your Brand Day

Remember that "Your Brand Day" meme I took part in last year, the one started by Canadian blogger Jane Sample?

As I mentioned a couple weeks back, it's enjoying a renaissance of sorts, due to a post on BoingBoing, a very popular techie blog.

Adding to the buzz is a new app from Scott Davis and the William Burk Agency called Brand My Day. It's a web-based app that makes it easy for you to create your own Brand Day.

Should you, you know, be inclined to do so.

Check it out here.

Jun 8, 2009


People don’t live a purely online or offline life, though far too many marketers and ad agencies act as if they do. Online initiatives rarely (if ever) receive offline promotion beyond a throwaway url hidden at the bottom of a print ad where the 800# used to be, despite the fact that people who read newspapers and watch television also use the internet.

The primary reason I hear bandied about for this lapse, from people who readily admit it makes no sense, is that it’s just too difficult to coordinate budgets between the various divisions. It seems the digital budget is separate from the offline budget and don’t even get them started on social media because that’s a whole different group of decision makers and getting everyone on the same page is just about impossible.

It’s a pretty compelling argument. If your end goal is to eventually go out of business.

Otherwise, I can’t imagine it’s all that difficult. Companies that continue to place marketing and related activities like customer service and design way down on their list of priorities are going to pay for it sooner than later as the Service Era makes them seem even more out of touch.

Not to mention extremely lazy.

Five To Follow/TBuzz

So after weeks of tenacious campaigning by my cohort Ana Andjelic*, the forces that be at Adweek's Tweetfreak blog have finally let down their defenses and named me to their Five To Follow list along with Jeff Jarvis (who has an actual Wikipedia entry) and several other industry luminaries.

It's nice to be recognized by my peers and all that, but I did want to give a big hat tip for my recent tweetage to a sweet app I discovered called TBuzz.

TBuzz is a bookmarklet that sits in your browser's toolbar. When you are reading a story you like, you click on TBuzz and a little window pops up that lets you tweet the story without having to deal with opening Twhirl or Tweetdeck or is.gd or bit.ly or anything like that. It automatically shrinks the url for you. What's more, it shows you who else has tweeted the story and what they had to say about it.

It has truly become my new favorite piece of technology.

*No, not really

Jun 4, 2009

Give The People What They Want

One of the biggest disconnects I find when working with traditional ad creatives is their firm and unwavering belief that everything a brand puts out needs to be clever and entertaining in a way that creatives steeped in traditional advertising define as clever and entertaining.

Not the consumer.

The root of this problem is a misunderstanding of the web as a medium: it is not primarily an entertainment device, like television or radio. It is a tool, albeit one that can sometimes allow us to find entertainment.

Since it is a tool, the average user primarily uses it to find information. And while that information does not have to be displayed in a dry and dull manner, it’s far more frustrating to users when the information is buried inside an overly clever little video, whose full 200 seconds must be watched in order to glean the one bit of information they’d been searching for.

Similarly, the notion that different brands engender different behavior is often lost on people whose frame of reference is TV. Certain brands (e.g. Prom King Brands) naturally create more interest and more desire to play around with funny little videos than others. And while it may seem obvious to some that people play around with say, the Norelco Body Hair Grooming videos for their risqué content and the overall prurient nature of the product itself, the TV-centric idea that “you can create a great (e.g. funny and clever) commercial for any product” seems to drive many ad agencies into pushing similarly over-the-top videos for things like hand cream and staple guns.

The solution, again, is not about boring the consumer to death. It’s about listening to the user experience team (or actually hiring one) and creating something that’s in line with why users are going to that particular patch of the web. Sometimes it’s just to buy something, sometimes it’s to learn more about specific features, other times it’s to check out pricing and options. It’s rarely (if ever) to watch a really funny three minute video at a microsite featuring nothing but other really funny three minute videos.

So why do we keep heading down that road?