Aug 30, 2010

The Sweet By Design Experiment

Author and Euro CCO Steffan Postaer is trying an interesting experiment with his latest book, "Sweet By Design."

He's posting chapters online, inviting comments and also allowing anyone who is so inspired to post their shot at the book's cover.

Postaer reports that the experiment has succeeded beyond his expectations, drawing over 10,000 in 25 days. Pretty impressive, given that only the first quarter of the book is available and the book cover submissions are (by and large) polished and professional looking. (The prize for the winning book cover is an iPad... and the chance to get published. That sort of crowdsourcing has drawn much debate, but Postaer does not seem to be hurting for submissions.)

As for the amount of traffic: this is not Postaer's first published novel, and fans of his previous work may account for some of the traffic, but as the author himself notes, it's still pretty remarkable. On the other hand, Dickens published his books in installments in magazines (which likely upped the anticipation level) so perhaps Postaer is on to something.

You can check it all out here.

The Value of Entertainment Value

One of the most notable things about television advertising over the past several years is how bad it had become.

From a pure entertainment perspective, anyway.

Whether it was fear from clients, a lack of effort from agencies or just a general mood that precluded creativity, most of what was on the air was something of a wasteland. Yes, the usual suspects had the usual clever spots, but most of the time we seemed to be fast-forwarded through pods of pharma commercials with attractive 50something women doing tai chi.

So it's with great pleasure that I am sharing two spots that have made me laugh over repeating viewings and--- in a feat that's not all that easy to accomplish-- seem to appeal to the whole family. (e.g. it's not the sort of hipster humor that wins ad awards but leaves Grandma scratching her head.) And that, I'd have to say, is the real achievement here: two clever spots that can pretty much run on anything from ESPN to Disney Channel to Lifetime without skipping a beat. That's a huge accomplishment. And, I'm hoping, a signal to brands that this sort of across-the-board humor is indeed possible.

The first is from the long-running Geico campaign, but this is definitely one of the best. The casting and script are just brilliant.

The next is from a new campaign for Chef Boyardee, a childhood favorite that's gets pushed to the wayside as kids hit their tweens and teens. What's nice about this spot is that you can sort of see the brief (if you work in the business, anyway) but the spot is just so clever, you don't mind.


Aug 25, 2010

Living In Twitter

There was an article in the Times magazine a few weeks back on how much the notion of "living in public" affects our lives even when we're off line. The author was recounting how she found herself ruining a sweet moment with her daughter reading books out on the lawn by thinking how she would phrase the tweet... or if she even should tweet about it.

I've noticed myself doing this in a number of situations ever since and I suspect many of you have as well.

It's the downside to living a web-enabled social life and I do wonder how the experience eventually affects everything we do if, after a while, no one sounds truly authentic, but rather like a self-conscious public version of authentic.

Particularly because so many people don't do self-conscious very well. At least not yet. All too often there's some cringe-inducing verbiage signaling the speaker wants to remind us that they're a truly deep thinker. The underwhelmed endorsement of something the endorser suspects they should be heartily endorsing. Or the blatant attempt at currying favor with someone whom the supplicant thinks will make them seem hipper or at the very least smarter.

And these are people, not brands.

What do brands get to sound like, especially because they do need to be eternally self-conscious?

For many brands, spontaneity is not an issue. They are in more or less perma-response mode, answering questions/dealing with problem from their audience and providing a "helpful" response. We have zero expectation of spontaneity or authenticity from brands online, though there are admittedly times when we'd like to see someone do a Steven Slater and tell a difficult customer where to go.

But since that's not happening, all we're left with is the nearly identical voice of brands all trying to be cheerful and helpful and likable leavened by the occasional rogue CEO (think Gary Vaynerchuk or Mark Cuban) who've made themselves the brand.

I'd argue that's still a big improvement: I'll take the uniformly perky voice brands adopt online today over the deafening silence of the last hundred years.

As for people... it may all go back to the "village" theory, which basically says that for thousands of years we all lived in little villages where everyone knew everyone else's business 24/7/365 and that it was only the brief period following the Industrial Revolution where that rhythm got disrupted and that our current American lives, filled with anonymity and reinvention are not that healthy and actually somewhat deviant.

And so it may just take us some time before we get used to living in "village" mode again and not caring that everyone is going to know what we're up to before we regain our ability to live unselfconsciously, albeit publicly.

Aug 20, 2010

Why Doesn't This TV Have A Pause Button?

The NY Times Sunday Magazine is running yet another story about those Wacky Millennials and how darn ornery they are.

Though at least this time the author has the common sense to admit that (a) similar stories citing fairly identical attributes have been written about every single group of twentysomethings since World War II and (b) all these stories tend to focus on upper middle class kids, since they’re the ones with the financial resources to take their time settling down and starting their adult lives.

(Sidenote: given Google, you'd think the people who write the myriad "millennials are changing the workplace/world" articles would do their homework and reference the identical articles that were written about Xers and Boomers back in the 60s, 70s and 80s.)

From where I’m standing though, the biggest shift in the white collar workforce happened sometime in the mid-late 1980s or thereabouts, when PCs were introduced as standard equipment. Suddenly, no matter what industry you were in, you had people who could compose directly on the computer and print out their own documents. (Prior to this, you were either composing with a pad and pen or you were dictating. If you’ve ever tried to dictate a letter, it’s definitely a lost art and not an easy skill to learn.) This meant an end to mad typing skills, and, ultimately, the “typing pool” -- a room many larger organizations had where the fifth iteration of a document was retyped quickly and flawlessly.

But corporate structure aside, the ability to conceptualize on a computer screen, even a black one with amber or green type, was a huge shift in the way people worked with and thought about media in general - screens had previously been a place where we watched video as part of a shared experience, so reading and writing on them was a huge leap. Trite as it now sounds, word processing in many ways set the stage for our comfort with the internet, another place where we interacted with type on a screen.

The next paradigm shift in media is likely to come from the generation that’s currently in elementary and preschool, kids born after the year 2000. Many of whom (the upper middle class American ones, anyway) don’t remember a world without 3G internet connectivity from mom or dad’s smart phone, which means that for them, the internet truly is “like air” and they see it the way the rest of us see electricity or running water. That means everything lives in the cloud for them, nothing is locked into a time-based schedule and that’s got to signal a shift in how they experience the media they're consuming.

That shift, what it means and how we can start preparing for it, is the topic of my proposed SXSW panel this year, entitled “Why Doesn’t This TV Have A Pause Button?”  You can see all the details around it and vote for it here (voting counts for 30% of the decision.)


Aug 10, 2010

The Next Part of the Journey

It was three years ago that I first wrote a blog post entitled “Your Brand Is Not My Friend” that proved to be the launching pad for my career as a strategist.

The premise behind it was that people primarily use social media sites like Facebook for socializing and don’t want to hear brand messages when they’re on there. (There are exceptions for “Prom King Brands” - brands with a cool factor - and for brands that have managed, a la Old Spice, to provide something uniquely entertaining.)

So it’s with that thought in mind, that I’m announcing the next step in my career. I am now the Managing Director of Social Media Strategy for KickApps, helping to start up their strategy consulting practice.

KickApps, for those of you unfamiliar with the company, lets brands build, maintain and manage custom social media solutions. That means everything from Facebook integration to video to comments to community, all of them residing right on the brand’s own website. My charge is to add strategy to the mix, to help KickApps’ clients figure out the “why” in addition to the “what” and “how.” In that endeavor, I’ll be joined by the very able Justin Chase, a Digitas veteran who tweets as @JC6451 (in case you wanted to start following him or something.)

I’ve known the team at KickApps for some time now and have spoken at a number of their events (along with the likes of Charlene Li, Mario Armstrong and Sandy Carter.) So I’m excited to be starting up a strategy consulting arm for them, as in many ways this a logical next step for me, particularly because their focus on letting brands own their own social media data is something I really do feel strongly about.

On the off chance you were worried, I will not be abandoning this blog (if anything, I’ll be posting more frequently) and I wanted to thank all of you for your support over the years: the readers, the retweeters and above all, the commenters. You’ve been what's kept me going and what makes writing this blog so much fun.

I hope you’ll stick around for the next part of the journey.

PS: You can find the full press release here, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Aug 3, 2010

The Overthinking Trap

One of the more notable things about the Old Spice social media videos is the speed at which they were produced.

This is a credit to everyone involved: the actor, director, agency team, even the client, because pulling off something that good under such a tight deadline is no mean feat. That said, I'm sure there are dozens of things the agency creatives would have changed if they'd been given an extra 24 hours.

There are always are. It's in the nature of creativity to never be satisfied with the final product.

Which is why one of the more radical changes wrought by digital culture is the notion of the acceptability of the imperfect, the idea that being first is better than being flawless, because flawless is nothing but an unobtainable ideal. It's why the thirty-third iteration of a script or headline rarely looks any better than the sixth. Different, maybe, but rarely better.

Which is not to say that anyone should be embracing mediocrity. Just that in a medium like advertising where every impression is purposely fleeting and impermanent, the notion that we are looking at version 2.1.4 of a video campaign should not seem any odder than looking at version 2.1.4 of a mobile app.

It will be interesting to see if this is a trend or an anomaly: video is notoriously expensive to produce, so I wonder how many marketers will feel comfortable giving up their traditionally lengthy production cycles.