Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Welcome to the New World Web

We are ubiquitous.

Think of people as pixels (or vice versa). The semantic web is taking on new life beyond artificial intelligence – it is incorporating real human sentiment and building personality into its own evolution. Scary? Perhaps. But perhaps it’s better to give rise to human growth, not just the machines. Case in point: online ads no longer follow ad inventory, they follow people -- tribes of them. The point is that we must move with markets. Ubiquity will also give us better opportunities to self-regulate, so even if we are followed (and we interact), we don’t take offense. On a more positive front, we are on the verge of profound, sweeping changes... All of which are activated in the ‘real’ world. As one might say, “You may be on, you may be off, but where you are right now can be anywhere.”

SaaS has evolved into multi-dimensional PaaS, Enterprise & API suites.

Google Wave is just one example of where web utility is meeting universal connectivity. Now we can not only aggregate content, we can create it, rate it and edit it before, during or after we share it. Look for brands via super-user communities to evolve as the new publishers, as well as those that turn brand content into adoptable vehicles that any user can shape and add to as their own. A further extension would be more active product development -- advocates using brand materials by way of network publishing tools to create and distribute their own products. The development community never mattered more than right now. And it’s not just about the cloud, it’s also about redefining culture. Want to be a great developer? Get out from behind the keyboard for part of the day and look around you... The world needs you. Seriously.

Transmedia is the high standard for planning & content development.

Speaking of culture, it’s time to start thinking from the perspective of the other side. If we truly want to remove the notion of ‘them’ from the equation, then we need to start thinking about how ‘they’ think... and why. Brands, communities, companies, countries, governments and new societies need to be shown commonality. Many-to-many means a one-to-one synchronicity involving a deeper understanding of language and action, knowing their differences, and marrying them accordingly. Media matters greatly in this mix, media of all types, and it all comes down to building strong, spreadable stories that can live on as currency beyond campaigns and cultural mores. Sure, choosing channels is important, but in the greater context of life, what we say is as important as how we say it (or maybe the other way around...). Bottom line: people are media. Give them a better voice and empower them to use it. Right now.

Research is not just a marketing function, it’s an inevitability of life.

The social web is teeming with truth. But understanding the truth is not only a product of how we listen, but what we actually hear. Predictive is one thing, adaptive is another. Can you handle the truth? (Sorry, had to go there...) Stop talking so much and listen in. YOU are lucky to be the topic of conversation, and if you’re not, you should be just as lucky to find out that your category has a reputation. Brands can take years to build, and mere seconds to destroy. Why? Because if your industry is a target, so are you. The Dominos YouTube Debacle wasn’t really about two knucklehead Dominos employees, it was about two people who were bored out of their minds in a pizza joint, desperately needing to express themselves and find a purpose behind their work. This could’ve happened to any franchise. Companies need to think more seriously about the bigger picture – their investment in human capital. As for brands, if you want to join in the conversation, and come away with real insights, you better bring something cool to the party. Try this on for size: instead of marketing brands, we really should be branding markets. Who’s better at this skill will boil down to contributors versus followers. Technology alone will not get you there, for the simple fact that you cannot automate sentiment, you have to cultivate it. Which is why ‘brand monitoring’ is a wholly deceptive term.

Brand (and product) collaboration is key.

Contrary to popular agency belief, crowdsourcing isn’t such a bad thing – we’ve been doing it for years whether we chose to accept it or not. In fact, cavemen and women were great at it. And while Neanderthals still exist within some of the higher agency ranks, there are plenty more brilliant people coming up through the ranks who recognize that real collaboration leads to catharsis, not calamity. The difference between yesterday and right now is that we need to guide it and make it our own. This requires a shared responsibility that balances wants and needs with healthy sacrifices for the Greater Good. As marketing agents, we must be better at shouldering this responsibility in the near term, and in the longer term, empower consumer groups to share along with us by giving them tools and information that have real cultural value. Turn breweries into learning centers. Make local reps into national icons. Use sporting events to inspire creativity in the darkest and loneliest of places. Think big and do better – together. And as brands, walking before talking means that we can be objective while still being ourselves. After all, people sell products to other people.

Utility is uniquely portable & competitively shareable.

Look for fixed, destination-prone, ad-like objects such as microsites (at least as we know them) to take a significant back seat to things like ‘dynamic content packets’ (formerly known as ad units) in which the extensibility of informational content can adapt to the needs, desires and passions of common interest groups. This will create a new media paradigm, as well as a much larger cultural one. Yes, all this talk about culture might conjure up images of a Petri dish, but great tools mean game-changing and life-changing offers, borne from brand stewardship, yet made by the people, for the people. Where does advertising fit into this mix? As culturally-relevant value adds (not ads), that take the ‘text’ out of contextual messages and turn them into conversations that are ongoing. You want to break through? First ask yourself the Nick Law question: “How do you fit in?” Fitting in entails that brand utilities actually change our daily lives in acutely powerful ways. Nike and Target have been doing it, other brands like P&G are working hard at it. Here’s something to chew on: even competing brands (like Coke and Pepsi) can share a voice – even complementary roles – in creating utility. Why? Because their legacies are everlasting, unlike many of their products. How? By acknowledging that brand loyalty is really about sharing consumer needs and experiences, and accepting that this requires the commitment of more than one company in the same category.

Mobile means a lot more than a platform.

Forget 3-screen thinking for now (and perhaps forever), there’s this thing called ‘content connectivity’. Set-top boxes aren’t just boxes, just like PDAs aren’t just devices – they’re assistants. Geotilities and purchasing apps like Red Laser are guiding us in ways that not only call retailers out on their bullshit, but are showing us that consumers have ultimate power in making the decision to purchase, as well as how to purchase. Preference-based platforms are enablers for this movement, although, as we’ve seen with large cable providers, not necessarily the gatekeepers. Comcast made this mistake, but wisely got hip to the way the game can be better played. Again, shareability is everything, especially to the bottom line. Perceived failures, such as Slingbox, provide windows into the truth about how we consume both media and product (or media product). Another thing to take note of: mindshare is collectively owned. The next time you make a trip down the aisle (no, not that aisle...), you may come to the realization that your friends are better to you than you might’ve thought. Ralph Lauren understood this before and after technology came along, which is probably why the brand uses it so well.

Good content is good content.

Here’s the shameful thing about Hollywood. Most movies are pieces of crap. Even worse, good movies often don’t make money, and bad movies most often do. Okay, that’s fairly subjective (not really), but you get the point. It shouldn’t be this difficult to create and distribute good content. Well guess what? It really isn’t. Video networks are overtaking cable nets in both viewership and engagement. Even better, we’re seeing strong correlates between TV viewing and online participation. This tells us that if we can’t provide people with entertaining and fulfilling content, they’ll either get it from somewhere else, get it from multiple places at the same time, or they’ll just make it themselves. Now of course, there is a ton of mediocre content on offer as well, but the extension of the mid-tail is creating – actually forcing – a higher demand on quality. Further, the intricacies of a channel experience demand that a story arc is told specifically to that touch-point. In other words, you better know your medium before you start delivering a message. When most internet marketers started touting that video ads were the Second Coming, they failed to realize that message and medium meant the same thing: good content. Further, things like curtains and overlays are interesting, but they don’t hide shitty content, nor do they sell ads. So, when we say that the origin of content shouldn’t be a deciding factor as to why we watch or engage with it, we must always pay our respect to the value of ideas and hope they can be adopted through stronger distribution channels. Which, by the way, might explain why MySpace has one of the best video platforms few people seem to know about or use.

There are new channels out there, just waiting to be discovered.

Actually, they’re not so much ‘new’, so much as they are ‘over there’ or ‘right here’. God has a wicked sense of humor. It’s called irony. There are 1.6 billion Internet users, yet 95% of the Internet is hidden from us. Tim Berners-Lee created the greatest Divine Comedy imaginable. Or maybe he, like God, wanted us to use our hearts and our imaginations to seek out more equitable paths in our communications. Heard of micro-financing? Well, you have now. A few Wall Street groups and foreign banks are using it to subsidize our future, by putting control and moderation back into the hands of the people. Notice a theme here – people. People are going to build infrastructure and create jobs. People are the ones who are willing to put money in the hands of other people, knowing that they can gut check their own agendas. What’s even more incredible about this, at least from a technology and media perspective, is that these channels will reveal themselves as carriers of new currency that can adapt to market fluctuation and asset flow. In vaguer English, communication is not limited to what see or hear, and it is often activated by what we don’t see or hear. Which is precisely why, in a social context, we have to earn media before we can share it. More importantly, this means that the next big media channel could be you and your peer group.

Networks are becoming truly interchangeable.

Here’s where the fight for world domination seems so glaringly pathetic. We no longer need to squabble over bigger pieces of the pie, we just need to create bigger slices in order to make the pie bigger. For more historical reference, hark back to the early 90s, when U.S. car companies colluded and created an enterprise fulfillment exchange so that parts suppliers wouldn’t gouge them on price or inventory. It worked, and this type of thinking rarely seen within the automotive classes saved the industry at that time (unfortunately, as we know, they now face much bigger challenges). Cut to present day, where ad networks face a similar dilemma over inventory and demand. The larger solution is to work together, and the smaller solution is to figure out how to enable the little guys to become more valuable. Users are no longer loyal to places, but they are loyal to information. Go where they go and help them get there, especially if it means crossing borders. Look, even Google is shrinking its mighty algorithm to serve the needs of the people, and ultimately recognizes that people make for the best publishers. And who has a renewed opportunity to play a mighty role here alongside Google? You guessed it – The Purple Cow. No need for pink elephants in the room, or on the network.

Embrace the human condition with real-time social search.

Attention brands (and agencies): you no longer own search. Repeat. You no longer own search. In some ways, you never really did, which is why it can cost so damn much. This might have something to do with the fact that people own brands, and more specifically to do with the fact that more and more search queries are user generated. Think about it – social sites and related content comprise a majority of the ‘webiverse’, not to mention that they fulfill both ends of the conversation loop. The funnel is stretching sideways, folks, and doing so in a way that is turning the Long Tail into a new mass market. Tipping points aside, what will come of paid search? Well, ask yourself this question: Do you own language? Maybe you do, but keywords don’t really live inside of ads, they thrive inside of conversations. If you want to send a message, write about it and be sincere. If people like what you have to say, they’ll share it (and index it). Look at everything they do, or you do, as a ‘Twiggle’ or ‘FaceFeed’. Sounds silly, but so is paying someone to wait in line.

Good marketing means improving the world. Period.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Facebook Causes is one of the largest active platforms around (well, actually it’s an app – which makes it even more impressive) with 75 million registered users. Consider the the three “Es” of social change – economics, environment and empowerment – then consider this: if you want to be relevant in the world, you’d better help improve it. Global brands like Dove, Kellogg’s and even Aflac (quack-quack) are leading the way. Why? Because they’ve realized and embraced the fact that brand equity is as important as product quality. Further, brands are not only the expectation of things to come, they are the projection of what we can be. At the end of the day, doing good is profitable. Really, it is. Now hold out your hand and open your eyes.

Welcome to the New World Web. What can we do together?

Posted via email from goonth's posterous

Friday, September 18, 2009

Before media can be earned, we must earn each other's respect...

[Image created from a painting by Stephanie Ramer]

Just this week it dawned upon me that the social web is an amazing albeit tough place. Just looking at the blogosphere alone, the new and profound shift in conscious communications brings with it a rash of harsh criticism, personal attacks and digressions that often seek to well up emotional sores as opposed to cultural mores that can be collectively challenged in more positive ways.

When we think of earning media – what the social web mandates in our interpersonal exchanges – we must also consider that respect is a core value that has somehow gotten lost in the frenetic race to stay ‘ahead of the social curve’ (if that’s even possible).

Maybe we need to understand, or reacquaint ourselves with, what respect really is.

So what is ‘respect’?

According to Wikipedia, it is esteem for, or a sense of the worth or excellence of, a person, a personal quality, ability, or a manifestation of a personal quality or ability. In certain ways, respect manifests itself as a kind of ethic,  or principle, such as in the commonly taught concept of "[having] respect for others" or the ethic of reciprocity.

Esteem for, or a sense of the worth, or excellence, of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability, for example, "I have great respect for her judgment."

Deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment: respect for a suspect's right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly.

Three things immediately jump out at me: esteem for others, what ultimately amounts to self-worth, and the ethic of reciprocity.

It’s funny because in the social media world, we talk about things like reciprocity in terms of transparency and authenticity, but rarely, if at all, do we discuss self-worth and esteem for others. Sure, we express mutual admiration, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is an attribute that primarily exists out of self-interest. For example, and at the risk of being cynical, if I commend you on something over, say Twitter, I am really soliciting you to commend me on that acknowledgment.

There’s nothing wrong with mutual admiration, by the way, but I’m trying to make a larger point which is that we often lose sight of the substance and inherent value behind our communication streams by virtue of how we actually engage in these communication streams.

As for esteem and self-worth, well, those are things we need to work on within ourselves so that we can evolve along with everyone else. There is a certain amount of heavy lifting we need to do in the way of self-introspection so that we can present ourselves to each other on the social web in a way that is emotionally resonant and contextually relevant. Perhaps technology has enabled us to cut some corners here.

So back to respect.

For purposes that hopefully extend this position beyond semantics, let’s reframe what respect can mean, or better yet, be, to us within a social context. Let’s make it all about reciprocity, about sharing something of value pretty much every time we come to the table with a desire, a need or an inquiry, so that when we share media – and all that it represents to us – we not only understand its value, but we then know that its discourse does not lose sight of its purpose... Which is to build trust, a primary tenet among many other things.

If we can accept that people are media, then respect is the foundation of successful relationships not only with brands, but the things that brands represent in the larger context of the world around us. In turn, the media that we earn then allows us to make a real difference in our lives, and, gives us real purpose behind our purchases.

So, perhaps we can reframe respect as a function of true reciprocity.

Enough of my pontifications... What do you think?

Posted via email from goonth's posterous

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Revolutionary Power of Transmedia Storytelling

The following is a cover story article that was published on iMedia Connection on September 8, 2009.

The revolutionary power of transmedia storytelling

September 08, 2009

Article Highlights:

  • Unlike widgets or individual pieces of content, transmedia elements can be experienced an infinite number of times
  • Transmedia is more than an integrated campaign, as each channel needs its own voice in the story arc
  • Successful transmedia narratives make consumers hungry for the other elements while driving them back to the main product

Next in media planning & buying

There has been quite a bit of talk in recent years around the concept of transmedia storytelling. Few of these narratives have actually been implemented, but a select number of companies have chosen to satisfy consumer affinities, put great ideas on a pedestal, and think of creative ways to proliferate those ideas through carefully chosen channels.

On a deeper level, transmedia narratives strike an amazing balance between medium and message. In doing so, an exposition can carry out a story arc through application and dialogue that transcends all media execution. Whether you are a brand, an agency, a studio, or a publisher, transmedia storytelling is and will be an integral part of our future success as media entities and content providers.

Transmedia's history
So just what is transmedia storytelling, and why hasn't it been fully adopted?

For starters, it represents a process where integral elements of a fictional narrative get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience, as defined by Confessions of an Aca-Fan.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the concept of transmedia storytelling was formally hatched by Henry Jenkins, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and author of the groundbreaking "Convergence Culture." In the book, Jenkins deftly deconstructs not only the inefficiencies of media influence and consumption (or what we might regard in this context as "confluence"), but also identifies most advertising outreach as communications streams that are significantly limited in what he describes as their "hypersociability."

Hypersociability is a term used to represent the conversational -- or what Faris Yakob has coined as the "spread" -- nature of content. So the idea is that if we can create a true story arc around or within an idea, the scalability of that currency (what we share) is virtually limitless. In effect, it takes us from passing along a piece of content, an application, or a widget (which may die on the proverbial vine), and allows us to engage and participate in a phenomenon, and do so indefinitely. Case in point: "The Matrix", along with many of its associated harbingers, will be the topic of discussion at cocktail parties and dinner tables for as long as the media world exists in its own vacuum.

Transmedia development emerged along with the advancement in digital storytelling, but as Ivan Askwith, senior director of strategy at Big Spaceship, points out, it was also partly cultivated as a means for solving the problem of marketing and licensing excess. This has been a particularly frequent issue with feature film franchises, but has reared its head across a variety of media.

Askwith actually studied with Jenkins and earned his masters at MIT. His thesis was an exploration of how television programs use transmedia extensions as part of a larger attempt to create audience engagement -- a means for allowing viewers to stay personally invested in a storyline. He also did work on alternate reality games (ARGs) as part of a separate research effort completed at the institute. Alternate reality solutions have been around for some time, but have only just begun to reveal themselves in a more seamless format.

Putting theory into application
One of the more famous case studies that blends content from a television property and utilizes (in part) ARG extensions is the hit series, "Lost." In addition to the popular television series, the creators of "Lost" have produced a wide range of narrative extensions, including original webisodes featuring the main cast; numerous websites for fictional organizations featured in the show, such as Oceanic Airlines and the Hanso Foundation; a bestselling mystery novel that was published as a final manuscript by a character on the show; a video game that lets players explore the island and interact with the characters in an original storyline, and much more.

"Lost" is a perfect example of transmedia as marketing technique because it blurs the line between advertising and product, according to Askwith. "While most of the transmedia extensions around 'Lost' are ultimately intended to drive viewers back to the mothership of the television series, some viewers might just as easily (and legitimately) feel that the show is driving them outward, to seek out the other pieces that complete the narrative," he says. "So all of these other pieces might be advertising the show, but they're also advertising themselves -- and, increasingly, providing the ability for content creators to tell more complex stories, while generating new sources of revenue."

Coca-Cola's 2007 campaign, "The Happiness Factory", brought out the true narrative potential of what originated as a purely advertising-based vehicle. Inspired by the success of an award-winning television spot depicting the fantastic world and creatures that exist inside each Coca-Cola vending machine, Coke has expanded "The Happiness Factory" into a full-fledged transmedia franchise. This comes complete with an interactive website and "Open Happiness," a new commercial song featuring several popular music artists.

While brands like Coke are far from deficient with respect to their media budgets, it seems they may be challenged with finding more objective and resourceful solutions such as those provided by Starlight Runner Entertainment.

Jeff Gomez, Starlight Runner CEO and a pioneer in developing transmedia content for a number of Fortune 100 brands, including Coke's Happiness initiative, knows that this is no easy feat.

"There are short stories and multi-volume epics; transmedia narrative is a way of conveying messages, themes, and stories -- a tool or methodology if you will," he says. "Smaller efforts may become as ephemeral as a tale written in a magazine, while truly grand and artful ones will aspire to epic literature. We try to distinguish transmedia narrative implementation from standard terminology such as advertising campaigns, although the two can co-exist or overlap."

One example of this type of real-world integration is Dove's now famous initiative for Real Beauty. When you think about it, Dove took a very transmedia-esque approach. With the simple core insight that women of the world don't describe themselves as beautiful, Dove deconstructed our media portrayal of beauty, uprooted messaging geared towards women that has been ingrained since their childhood through multiple sources, and quite effectively, defied cultural mores and peer pressures associated with those deeper messages.

According to Gomez, this is an approach that demands a kind of brand discipline not associated with most initiatives. "[It] requires a combination of diplomacy and a fierce loyalty to the tenets of the IP or brand itself above all else," he says. "Studios, agencies, and publishers that are not doing this are finding themselves trailing the frontrunners."

Spreading the love
Askwith and Gomez are two early adopters who have taken this phenomenon to new heights, but there is a host of emerging players who have not only made their mark with distinctive and groundbreaking creative strategies, but who have endeavored to offer scalable business models that serve a higher purpose.

One such play is "Humanitainment," the brainchild of Michael Fox.

What started with a successful viral campaign for Barack Obama (featuring 5 No. 1 viral videos including "Baracky" and "The Empire Strikes Barack") that helped to define the Obama brand and shape the 2008 election, has evolved into an innovative transmedia branding model that organically fuses commercial entertainment with socially-relevant messages. It's what you might call pop culture... with a purpose.

As Fox -- a former entertainment attorney turned cause advocate -- explains, "We are living in a time where technology enables us, and the state of the world requires us, to use new media not only as a revolutionary marketing tool, but as a way to galvanize the consumer to participate in transforming the future. Twenty-first century branding is not just about making consumers' lives better... it's about making the world better."

Reconstructing cultural paradigms
Goodwill and great intentions have been necessitated by tough economic, environmental, and social times. To the extent that we can seek out powerful interpersonal connections within the transmedia landscape, we also have to account for what type of thinking is required and retool the processes by which we implement this thinking. You might look at this as a hybrid of management consulting, technology development, creative ideation, and hub-and-spoke deployment.

The reality is that many agencies are not equipped or set up for success in this regard. Transmedia vehicles cannot be confined to a predetermined media plan or buy. And, as Conn Fishburn, a former senior partner at Ogilvy and recent head of partner innovation at Yahoo, points out, this is an inventive methodology that takes us far beyond creating just an ad campaign.

"Transmedia programs are inherently about the creation of culture. About understanding the living story, how it is picked up and adopted by people who add to it, shape it, and make it their own based on a core brand DNA," he says. "Agencies typically make static objects that have no history or future and represent ideas that are somewhat plastic. Great ideas must weave themselves into the broader cultural zeitgeist."

Further, all inter-agency departments need to be able to ideate and touch the work in a truly collaborative mindset, and this must translate well past coloring ad units, websites, mobile apps, advergames, or outdoor elements with the same brand palette.

Transmedia development is not a repository for the window-dressing that has become a host of fairly innocuous integrated solutions. What we're really talking about is building conversational elements with their own personalities that are endemic to a particular touch-point in which each channel has its own voice in the collective arc of a storyline.

Following audiences and moving with markets
Let's also not forget a paradigm that has left us all scratching our heads in the search for a viable solution: branded content and product placement. Many talent agencies and creative shops have scrambled to monetize content within very challenging and shifting models. Transmedia narratives have the potential to create greater opportunities by extending stories, reaching multiple platforms, and enabling better audience targeting when done right.

"Audiences are more willing to engage in a number of different ways now," according to Jesse Albert, senior new media agent in the Global Branded Entertainment division at ICM. "Loyalty is given to entertaining content and not to distribution, and audiences will look to find that content wherever they can or please. With transmedia, brands and IP can take advantage of the consumer's willingness to explore distribution channels by extending content offerings across the spectrum."

Loyalty is the operative word, and a formidable hurdle, when we consider the advances that new technologies are making to bring content to us. Retargeting, for example, presents a seesaw battle between what is intrusive and what is seamless. As content providers, when we move with people and not with ad inventory, we have to be very careful about how we extend invitations to interact with content.

As Albert explains, "Content only becomes of interest to consumers when there is something unique to each medium that extends the value proposition of the core IP offered, rather than simply replicating it. Above all, we must reward the true fan who follows the IP thru all channels with wholly unique offerings."

Marketing and development functions
What Albert and Fishburn allude to are actually two fundamental parts to transmedia: the marketing functions and the development functions of a rollout strategy. This requires a bit of reverse engineering, to say the least.

The marketing functions would serve to optimize a media plan or spend (in other words, reduce waste), or, from the ground level, would build out a framework that serves a market need -- in effect, putting the consumer front and center. The idea behind this is that we would actually brand markets, not market brands per se, so that common interests would supersede age or economics. So, in this sense, we are talking about developing initiatives in a true psychographic and technographic capacity as opposed to a mere demographic one.

The development functions would serve to build a mythology around IP. You could take your favorite CPG or electronics brand and build a storybook around its core DNA that is rich in lore, platonic soft text, amazing iconography, and a suite of virtually endless outcomes -- think of video annotations without a set number of second or third acts.

You can then take tools that are already on offer within the semantic web (artificial intelligence) and build layers that extend these stories out into the world, free of dictation, compartmentalization or even language barriers. Subsequently, you'll be creating a seamless, organic and highly collaborative experience.

In conclusion
We are literally looking at a global shift in the way we view ourselves and the way we relate to others in our natural environments, all through the possibilities and intricacies of our own imaginations. Picture this: Using a transmedia narrative to engage and build a new set of cultural values for a society completely different from our own, and creating an entirely new ecosystem in the process. Or perhaps it would call competing brand environments into gamesmanship.

Imagine Adidas's latest declaration that "Impossible is nothing" joining the ranks of Nike's "Just do it" on a wondrous stage blending fantasy and real human emotion.

What this means for advertisers is a potential windfall of consumer engagement and advocacy, or true "super-use." What this means for consumers are potential gateways of self-expression that can be mass adopted and at unprecedented scale. What this means for media is an adoption of content generation that breaks down silos and gives rise to human growth (not the machines).

With this type of quenchable mythos, anything is possible.

Gunther Sonnenfeld runs his own digital media consultancy, ThinkState.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Hate Social Media (Well, sort of...)

I make my living , in large part, from social media. It's not specifically what I do (that still remains a big question to many, including myself), but it is a catalyst or a major complement for what I can do as a strategist and a technology developer.

What I've really come to realize is that social media - and all of the respective channels - represent so much more than what we make them out to be. In many ways, we’ve compartmentalized and siloed social media as a practice that is supposed to operate like another form of advertising outreach. Further, it’s become such a buzz term that it’s gaining popularity at an exponential rate... in spite of itself. And, to top it off, most brands and consumers don’t really know what it means or is supposed to represent, other than the experiences that are unique to each and every one of them.

Let’s lose the term. I hate it. It’s complete bullshit.

With all due respect to the early adopters – no doubt some very bright and very influential people who I admire  – how do you honestly ‘evangelize’ human behavior? How are you an ‘expert’ in culture? Are you an established sociologist or pathologist or social archeologist? A behavioral scientist? Are you Nostradamus? Do you know something that the rest of us don’t? Are you somehow the online world’s ‘social chairman’? Better yet, were you even popular in high school?

My point is that all media is inherently social.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’m certainly not the only one to say it. You can argue with me all you want on this (I hope you do), but the fact remains that conversations happen in and around TV ads, print ads, pre-rolls, posters, banners, in-store displays and a whole slew of ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ media. This isn’t any real mystery or revelation. ‘Word of mouth’ has been around since cavemen and women could grunt and point, hunt and procreate.

We’ve already reached an inflection point with the ‘social media revolution’ -- every Mike, Maggie and Martha is waxing poetic about “10 ways to optimize your Facebook fan page”, “6 ways to get more Twitter followers”, “27 ways to build an online community”, “42 ways to be an effective blogger”. To boot, most social content these days is regurgitated and redistributed to the point that parity and duplicity are afterthoughts. What about originality?

Let’s be honest, social media is about culture. It is culture. Plain and simple. The value is in what we talk about, not so much how we talk about it. More important, it’s what we are prepared to do as people, members of society, who are responsible for one another. Fathom that.

If you consider brands to be people, or owned by people, then why all the convincing that this is such a viable method of engagement? People shouldn’t have to look any further than themselves for the answers... Other than, of course, the meaning of life (and even that’s debatable).

Ok, so we don’t live in a perfect world. I’m not suggesting that we now establish a new term for ‘culture’ and add to the hyperbole we throw out at clients and partners that makes their faces scrunch, their brows furrow and their throats dry up. What I am saying is that we need to get real about our intentions and the substance of what we’re trying to say. Advertisers and agencies alike have incredible power in creating and influencing people in positive ways. But most often, they treat this as a right, not a privilege.

Well, I say fuck that. You want to get into ‘social media?’ Step down from the ivory tower and get creative in empowering culture. That’ll create something everlasting... Oh, and dare I say, improve the bottom line.

Posted via email from goonth's posterous

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What does advertising really mean to us?

Having grown up as Gen-Xer, it’s been fascinating to witness the transformation of media in everyday life. It’s crazy to think that when I graduated from college in 1994, I didn’t have a mobile phone or an email address, and any ‘computing’ I did happened on a funky, bulky box that ran on MS-DOS. It’s even crazier when I realize that the Internet has officially been around for 40 years (3 years longer than me).

In looking back at my own unconventional and sinuous career path, I’m actually glad I was somewhat slow to adopt some of these technologies early on because it forced me (by default) to make a commitment to understanding, and contributing to, the integrity of a story. When I was creating on-air promos at the TV network, for example, I would often fight with executives over copy lines that lasted 5 seconds or less. I thought that my tiny little contribution to the passive viewership of America would somehow shine brighter because of a few word choices. And perhaps it did. Or maybe my eggshell ego deluded me into thinking otherwise.

Or maybe I just took this for granted. I gave up. I let myself get beat down by the system. But I also didn’t have the benefit of technology to tap into the consciousness of those who shared my common interest, those who could somehow acknowledge or validate my efforts.

Today, this is a double-edged sword. As much as I am an advocate of the digital revolution, I also believe that advertising has used technology as an excuse to defray our thinking and persuade us that we need things that ultimately don’t matter.

The problem with advertising is that it has evolved into a discipline that often presupposes a need for manipulation, not meaning, and meaning is sculpted by conversation.

The problem with media is that they are often self-serving, despite the fact that people crave sociable content that doesn’t confine them to channels. The hubris of media confines brands to the products they represent; case and point, you can sell a product any number of times and not have a successful brand.

We live in a sell culture. As long as a I can remember, we always have. But what happened to the iconic experiences from our youth – the Mikeys and the Cal Worthingtons and the Smith Barneys of the world – people or experiences that we could actually relate to, no matter how odd or funny or mildly endearing or even silly they were, and affinities we developed that stood for something apart from the brands being spoken for?

Further, even if some of those icons exist today, where do we possibly think we can go if conversations, by nature, must live beyond campaigns?

You see, there is great power in advertising, just as there is great power in technology. I’m talking about real power – the kind that is not only transformative, but ubiquitous. But in order for us to bridge the gap between delivering messages and creating conversations, we need to create real meaning – a higher purpose – behind our purchases. It starts with the little things that we’ve done in an edit bay, a programming bullpen or a conference room – the same things that must be done for, and must be accessible to, the people who consume media or buy the products we sell to them. It will continue to evolve with initiatives that aim to empower people in making this world a better place.

If this sounds lofty, then so be it. Our cynicism has only inhibited our desire to innovate. And to affect change.

This is why I build social technologies and help brands understand the value of connecting all the dots of their outreach. And this is why many of my colleagues – whether they are planners, buyers, designers, creative directors, developers or operators – do what they do despite all the fragmentation, fussing and hype that we are exposed to on a daily basis.

Bottom line: we are making a return to the truth, and harkening back to a time when marketers would hand out flyers at train stations and people would talk about the things that mattered most to them in front of a company representative or an entire executive team. We are coming full circle because consumers are letting us back into their lives, and on their terms.

The question remains, what roles will we play in this new transformation?

Better yet, what role will you play?

Posted via email from goonth's posterous