Friday, October 30, 2009
[image produced by Adam Goldberg, Principal & Creative Director of TRÜF]
This is part 1 of a series of posts that will attempt to support the notion of 'adaptive' versus 'disruptive' methodologies and media theories... I sincerely hope you find them engaging and helpful, as well as an opportunity to lend your perspective.
Recently, Optimedia's CEO, Antony Young, wrote a piece in AdAge challenging the TV everywhere model, and more specifically called out Hulu's content and distribution strategy. Mr. Young's piece -- in my opinion and that of many who spoke out in a rash of commentary -- was very myopic and self-serving; clearly as a media buyer he is threatened by the prospects, when in fact he should actually embrace them.
Here was my response to Mr. Young:
Interesting post, Antony. Your perspective is well articulated. My question to you is (and with all due respect), should the networks revisit their strategy, or should you?
If I understand you correctly, you're saying that this is an all-or-nothing proposition that should either embrace the traditional media model, or, the more 'chaotic' digital model. Yet there is plenty of research that shows a healthy, symbiotic relationship between viewership online, viewership offline and social participation. In other words, viewers are getting exclusive shorter form content they can watch online, that they are compelled to watch in longer form in their living room... and then talk about it before, during or after programming times. What this ultimately means is that viewers will tolerate advertising if it means they have access to new forms of entertaining content. This is not the death of TV, but rather, its rebirth.
If I understand the networks correctly, this is a way of holding audience retention across platforms, not a means for cannibalizing one channel against another.
There is no question that consumer demand must be managed, and in some cases, mitigated. However, people are still very willing to pay for premium content, and further, different kinds of premium content. If you think about it, what the networks are doing with Hulu isn't so different than the subscription model cable nets have used... so one might ask, if I know I can watch a movie a few months down the road for "free" (or a part of my sub), will this preclude me from going to a theater? Probably not.
On another note, it's interesting that you use newspaper publications as an example of digital eroding the traditional medium. While many publications have undergone a slow death, the fact remains that those who have been earlier adopters in the digital realm have been able to salvage their print businesses -- just look at pubs like the NY Times. And while less people are advertising in print and circulation is way down, this was an inevitability in marketplace shifts and economic variables, not a result of pubs going online.
At the end of the day, we do have to respond to consumer demand, and we can manage it, provided that we give people ample choices in their viewing experience.
Following this was another piece from Andrew Hampp on the everywhere model itself, and detailed in 8 distinct ways what the ad and subscription model might look like.
A gentleman by the name of "J Rosen" wrote what I thought was a thoughtful response, that articulated the delicate relationship between consumer choice and paid content:
I have mentioned in previous posts that the key to survival for content creators is to focus attention on giving the audience options and knowing who your audience is.
Hulu has done a fabulous job of maximizing the audience experience. They have brand safe content, a sleek functional design and have some of the most coveted content in the media world.
The Internet provides opportunities for companies like Hulu to set a precedent. Content IS NOT FREE. But that said, we as consumers deserve choices.
A balance can be struck to provide options for subscriptions, PPV or ad-supported consumption of digital media without having a minority of viewers subsidize the majority.
The Fair Market Value of a performance to an individual needs to be determined. This can only be done through advanced audience measurement. Until a process is in place to determine this value, distribution and pricing of content is simply a guess.
I have worked very hard to produce a process that strikes a balance of fairness for each of the constituents involved; the creators, the audience and marketers.
Perhaps with a little luck and persistence, I will soon have the opportunity to present my process to the powers that be.
The funny part about this is that Mr. Young did not respond to the thread generated by his own post, but did have the presence of mind to comment in this one, in which he acknowledged the viability of the TV Everywhere model... and then referred back to his own article.
This TV Everywhere model seems to offer a sound proposition for consumers, content developers, advertisers and the Networks alike.
The key is building a sound revenue model across all platforms.
I'm not sure Hulu is giving that to NBCU, FOX and Disney. bit.ly/3oksZ6
There are some insights to take away from these exchanges:
* Saddled by abject fear, hubris and management inertia, media companies have a tough time seeing the light in a multi-channel offering.
* Further, the complexity of content offerings and their distribution channels seems daunting to these companies in developing a transitional model.
* As J Rosen intimates, creators, audiences and marketers can and will exist in a symbiotic and harmonious way, it's just that media companies and agencies will have to 'monitor' and 'contribute' rather than try to 'control' this discourse.
* Ultimately, with better content, more channels and more dynamic forms of measurement, the revenue opportunities for brands and agencies alike will be tremendous, that is, if the agencies can adapt their models to consumer markets, as opposed to disrupting them.
What are your thoughts???
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Brands and agencies often talk about connecting with consumers as a means of disruption, or a way of cutting through all the media clutter.
However, R/GA’s Nick Law said it best: “Instead of asking ‘How do we break through?’, marketers should be asking ‘How do we fit in?’”
Here are what the differences might look like:
- rising up against the tide of consumer adoption, as opposed to riding along with it
- pushing underlying messages more so than creating conversations, or better yet, building brand stories
- looking at products as a consumer affinity, instead of value adds as a lifestyle choice
- exhibiting hubris – thinking that your brand destinations will guarantee engagement
- thinking of utility as a technology solution, not a cultural benefit
- deferring to shock value, instead of social value
- planning merely in terms of a campaign, instead of creating currency that can last indefinitely
- capturing consumer attention, not building loyalty
- thinking about all marketing functions as somehow cause-related
- bringing a higher purpose to all brand interactions and purchase decisions
- socializing all media efforts by creating experiences that can be shared, regardless of platform or channel
- enabling people to adopt brand stories as their own, or, collaborating with them to create new ones
- recognizing that people are loyal to information & content, not destinations
- moving with market demand, not ad inventory demand
- crowdsourcing product development & marketing outreach when necessary
- not being afraid to fail in the process of developing new consumer insights
Please, by all means, add to the list!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
In examining the three “Es” of social change – economics, environment and empowerment - economics are of course the foundation for spawning new growth in local communities. And while we are at odds with how to get there, and have been for quite some time, it seems that we've gone the way of 'micro-thinking' in just about every digital discourse... from tags, to content, media packages and payment systems.
And now, microfinance.
Microfinance is not a movement that was born yesterday. In fact, for some two+ decades, it has been implemented in carefully small successes in usury and heifer pools within areas spanning from Bolivia to Bangladesh. The idea was hatched as developing areas around the globe would desperately seek relief funding from banks that simply wouldn't lend to the poor or communities in crisis. As with any commercial lender, the primary issue centered around not having a way to collateralize loans with an asset base, or subsidies that could be guaranteed to those represented in outside investment. So, the very simple solution has been to enlist individuals in lending smaller increments of hard cash to these communities, and mitigate, as well as allocate, the risk across these groups.
Pundits have often spoken about the inevitability of corruption - extortion and collusion among them - as well as the larger threat of socialist schemes percolating these communities as the surefire argument against the microfinance movement. But the reality is that this method of fund raising is actually bringing the prospect of an acutely balanced, healthy return to the privatization of our banking and lending systems, and when you consider the parity we are experiencing across our global markets, perhaps we are staring a revolutionary new form of capitalism right in the face.
Case in point: Platforms such as CommunityLend, Lending Club and Zopa have managed to sidestep banks and build rich enough capital pools to strengthen local economies, and in some cases, save individuals and families from financial distress. The peer-to-peer model has even been extended to mid-size investment banks, private equity groups and special interest lenders that have been developing scalable solutions for international relief funds, educational centers and social reform initiatives involving select U.S. companies and more active players abroad.
And here's where things get even more interesting.
Cut to a certain corner of the world - Ontario, Canada - where a so-called 'socialist' economic system has kept a steady stream of academic and technology talent belly-full and wistful in creating a new cultural value system for current and future generations. Discussions with several of my colleagues there have shed light on the thought that we can not only use microfinancing models to engage whole communities of people in affecting social, political, educational and environmental change, but that we can develop whole new ecosystems in the process.
'Ecosystem' is the operative word here - representing the ecological and economic aspects of tying culture, commerce and common interests all together. Sounds like a load of verbage, but when you think about the fact that central banks can be removed from the development process, again, we are sitting on something of great value and worldly influence.
Think about it. Hollywood studios can barely support the arts, let alone themselves in getting movies and TV shows made. The recession has nearly killed off the entire independent film market, and TV shows are only getting harder to produce as private investment from independent entities is shrinking by the day. To boot, entertainment properties on the whole are still fetching up decent upfront advertising dollars, but the ad business has been plagued by commoditization, and consumers are tired of being fed thousands of messages a day. And where technologies have been able to abate the hemorrhaging by providing the promise of conversation, we are still stuck with the challenge of how to keep those dialogues ongoing and how to tell better stories.
Notice a theme here that we touched upon earlier: parity. More importantly, there is a clear symbiosis between the elements of storytelling, media influence and culture... the coursing thread of which is clearly economic.
So what does this mean?
It means that a good idea can be invested in. It means that technologies can be built to host, cultivate and help spread good ideas. It means that communities can adopt and shape stories as their own. It means that higher learning institutions, research facilities and entertainment arts centers can be built. It means that endowment funds don't have to wait on quarterly contributions to be redistributed to those in need. It means that global non-profit organizations can employ top-shelf private sector talent to run their divisions like real businesses.
It means that on the media side of things, we can tell stories the way we want to, and that we can be platform agnostic if we so choose. It means that we can create new channels if we so choose, and that we don't have to find ourselves beholdent to media models that only serve the needs of holding companies and upper management.
It also means, coming full circle, that we can monetize on our own terms, as well as build infrastructure that can create jobs and new economic opportunities. As a people.
Even better, we can get governmental support, and corporate participation, precisely when and where it is needed. This is not a party plan, or a special interest play... this is literally the manifestation of by the people, for the people, of the people.
So here's an abridged blueprint of how this might work in what can be considered a transmedia capacity, and know that in certain parts of the world... it is already happening.
A narrative is built around a cultural, cause-related need - be it educational, social, environmental, political, or perhaps all of these combined.
Communities adopt the narrative and shape it as their own; in effect, they tell their own version, and supply their own story arcs or touch-points.
The microfinancing process begins; incremental payments are made and moderated by community designates, those trusted by peer groups and with reputable track records in their respective areas of trade or interest.
Brands are recruited into the development process and are invited into the conversation, using their own stories to empower the process, supply their product as utilities to support it, or to fund further development as passive investors.
Collaboration ensues at scale, allowing others with like interests to participate. Jobs are created, and more stories develop.
Technology tools are built or provided to formalize this job creation and syndicate these stories. A thread is created between the jobs or tasks at hand, and the stories from which they are told.
'Spread' occurs. Adoption happens on a larger scale. The model is replicated to other communities who have similar needs, or those that can lend support.
Government is empowered to regulate, and reaps the benefits of a higher tax base, all streaming from the private sector. It then has the ability, and discretion, to develop new programs tied to the transmedia narrative, or, create new ones using a similar model to the previous one.
Brands who have been involved in the ebb-and-flow of development can then purchase pieces of the narrative that most accurately represent market needs and specific consumer interests; these are new currencies that will take on strong economic and social value.
A new media marketplace has been building; now, these currencies have a proven value, a 'convertible shareability' of sorts that move with markets, as opposed to pushing against them.
Creative development resurges; new artists of all types and backgrounds emerge into the fold, inspired by commonality and challenged to exceed the latest quality standard. Their efforts are measured by their true merit, and they are well compensated for it, along with others who have participated in the process.
If you believe in our future, believe in this. It is very real, and the possibilities are virtually limitless.
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might discover and create." -Albert Einstein
It's time to create.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
But those are the inherent challenges of working in a business where the bottom line can often drive us to forget the very reasons why we're here. The social web has introduced a great new way to remind us of why we're here, and the importance of making our decisions - whether personal or professional - count for something.
And then there's this thing called 'Multicultural Advertising'.
By definition, 'multicultural' means two things:
1. Of, or relating to, or including several cultures;
2. Of, or relating to a social or educational theory that encourages interaction in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.
Let's take a peek at what some of the top global brands have produced in the way of 'multicultural advertising'. Since I’m a digital guy and I believe this where the most progress or harm can currently be made, we’ll focus on websites.
In the spirit of the new FTC guidelines, quick disclosure: I was not paid by anyone to express the opinions you see in this post. However, when you see some of this so-called ‘advertising work’, you might be incensed enough to call the FTC yourself and have some of these brands sanctioned and put under review for unethical, and questionably illegal, marketing practices. I’ll go even farther out on a limb and say that I’m not sure that some of this stuff is even constitutional.
Let's start with one of the industry's more popular (and unsurprisingly controversial) efforts from McDonald's, called "365 Black".
As you can see, this is a real gem of brand innovation. Where do we possibly begin? Well, let’s start with the fact that if I am ‘black’, I get to be ‘black’ 365 days of the year. Well isn’t that progressive. But most importantly, the mighty Bodhi, or Baobab tree, tells me never to forget my roots. Wow. Truly inspirational, especially since the tree’s silhouette so brilliantly resembles an afro.
Now let’s move onto the wondrous 365 Black homepage that is “deeply rooted in the community” (trademark).
Gee, I didn’t know that cultural IP – you know, the stuff that you share every day – could be copyrighted. But have no fear, cuz you can have a “Flavor Battle” with your homies. How dope is that, yo? Spin some fresh shit and you get a quarta pounda! And don’t forget that Dwele got a lot new fans, you know, homies, after he started working with McDonald’s. I just can’t believe none of my ‘black’ friends are doing this.
Oh, and for you Far East types, the McDee offering gets even better with ‘MyinspirAsian’.
Dude — Dollar Menu Money Origami! Really??? And since so many Asians are lacking in real career opportunities, now they can take workshops that teach them how to make paper dragons, fly kites and spin wool. What a godsend! And if that’s not enough, you can shock your friends by mastering NEW Asian phrases, not to mention you can download event photos, cuz, you know, Asians like to take lots of pictures and share them with each other.
Hey, I’m lovin’ it. Let’s just call this new movement exactly for what it is: McOriental. Or just plain McTarded.
Moving on, here’s another gem of brand wizardry soon to come from American Airlines, called Black Atlas.
First of all, Nelson George, what the f&*# are you thinking? Do you really need the extra money to whore yourself and your ethnicity out to a brand that actually thinks that there is a unique and extraordinary travel experience to be shared exclusively through ‘sophisticated’ African-American (kudos for not saying ‘black’) travelers? And just what is the ‘black experience’? Are we talkin’ Soul Plane? Oh, I forgot, this is for the elite.
And to AA, might I ask, what exactly are the criteria for ‘sophisticated’ African-American travelers? That seems pretty inane, considering that not only excludes a large portion of the African-American population, but a large portion of the population in general. Oh, and in the hopes that something of merit might be explained away prior to Black Atlas’s launch, I read a PR posting on BET.com:
Hmmm. Nice headline. A wealth of information here. All the respective marcom agencies really thought this one out. Did anyone get the memo that there are hundreds of ‘Web sites’ out there, you know, things called social networks where people of all races, colors and creeds can share content, and if they want to join a common interest group, for say, travelers, they can? One really popular social site is called Facebook.
To make matters worse, the post had one comment, coming from an understandably jaded ‘black’ person:
He nails it right on the head: “I wonder what their motive is?” Ain’t that the truth. It sure as hell isn’t meant to inspire advocacy. I’m even willing to bet that not one African-American was even involved in the development of this priceless idea. I say priceless because, thankfully, this site probably won’t make AA a red cent. Or is that a ‘black’ cent?
I checked out least two dozen other ‘multicultural’ sites and discovered similar travesties. That said, not all of them are offensive. This effort from General Mills is at least a thoughtful attempt at treating a definable community as a part of the cultural mainstream.
No exploding pinatas here, or overweight senoritas cooking enchiladas for families of fifteen or more. In fact, the site would rather tell you how to reduce your cholesterol and provide expert advice on nutrition. This is a site that chooses to look at people for who they are: General Mills consumers, and family people that care about quality product and a better quality of life. They even have the decency to say what a rich life this is. Seems they are talking about culture at large. Fathom that.
If you run a Google search on 'multicultural advertising', you'll see a whole slew of marketing agencies, organizations, non-profit groups and educational entities listed right there on page 1 and 2. Yet not one of them seems to be influencing the majority of messaging and content on offer both online and off. Apparently, from various sources that I know, groups like the AHAA (The Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies) have been battling these issues for years, and have had to contend with the fact that ‘general’ marketing efforts eat up most ad budgets, leaving the ‘multicultural’ marketing groups in the lurch... Or simply fighting for the scraps.
Sounds logical, given how screwed up the system can be. However, money doesn’t have to be an excuse for poor strategy and creative execution. For one, building websites is far less cost prohibitive than it was only two or three years ago. For another, the social web affords us plenty of opportunities to spread messages and build real currency. In other words, there shouldn’t be any excuses. Not anymore.
Now, I'll also let it be known that I don't officially work as a 'multicultural marketer', but it seems to me that multicultural work should do three primary things:
1. Expose cultural mores and defy ethnic stereotypes.
2. Establish points of commonality and build mutual respect.
3. Embrace individuality, while buffering against group ambiguity.
Actually, this sounds a lot like what I do. When we socialize media, we set out to do exactly these three things. Further, when we run technographic, psychographic and/or ethnographic studies, we quickly realize that, in many environments, common interests often supersede age, economics and ethnicity.
So why then are specific ethnic communities targeted on their own?
Why are they targeted so poorly?
Most importantly, we are these efforts exclusionary?
Granted, we don't live in a perfect world. We also don't always share physical spaces with people who are different from us, or interact with them in the real world, in the ways that we probably should. But isn't the point of responsible advertising and marketing to change or influence these social dynamics in positive ways?
I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going to raise my children according to a world that knowingly chooses to identify people by their race, color, creed or sexuality. Some may argue with me on this, but as a person of mixed ethnicity and heritage (Native American, German Jew and Irish Catholic), I believe racism only exists if we choose to recognize it. And it seems to be pervasive in a lot of the advertising we currently see.
Time to wake up, folks. Time to take a stand. Cultural wealth and integrity is a shared responsibility, plain and simple.