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It may be obvious by now…

That On Demand has been neglected by its only contributor. @robnorman, as the author is sometimes known, would like to apologize to those that care and invite them to follow his tweets which could most easily described as ‘on demand, but less so’.

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Social creativity

Messaging in the stream. Not a new Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton collaboration, rather the aspiration of marketers wishing to bathe in the warmth of earned media. The idea goes like this. The brand creates a social home that people can join, like or check in to and as a consequence allow the brand to join their news feed and the streams of those they know. This feels good. “N” people take an action and “N x friends of N” are potentially exposed to the resultant flow of comments or messages. This makes for a fine CPM calculation and thus one rather “media like” basis for valuing a friend or a follower.

Am I alone in finding this a little unsatisfying? It pays to spend a little while in brand sponsored social environments, before gifting your client virtual Kool Aid, simply to follow the type and volume of exchanges that take place. The sad fact is that most of it is somewhere between lame and prosaic and its disemmination is unlikely to be of any real value.

The wise Miles Young CEO of Ogilvy has taken to quoting Abraham Lincoln on the subject of social media. Lincoln posited that “character is like a tree, reputation is like its shadow”. This is a useful reference and pushes one towards the necessary question “what does your tree look like?”.

If you are Pepsi (Refresh Everything) or American Express (Members Project) you have a pretty good answer to the tree question. You have created participation with purpose. The same is not true for everyone and suggests that more time and energy needs to be devoted to developing a real social strategy in which participation in the stream creates value for the participant and the interlocking streams of their social graph.

This brings us to the question of “what is social creativity?” put simply it’s  creativity that people want to keep and share. It does not have to be social as in socially responsible but that’s as good a space to start as any. It can also be socially valuable; inside information that it’s worth being on the inside of (Bergdorf Goodman for example) or service / experience enhancing (Best Buy, Dell, Jet Blue, Macy’s, Starbucks). All these cases are ones where the value exchange between the brand and its friends are clear.

The attraction of these strategies is also that they support long term marketing effect objectives in a channel that has been dominated by short term strategies and the pursuit of the last click. The good thing about trees is that they live long lives and cast long shadows.

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A touch of the West Bromwich Albions – guest post from Adam Samuel

There are many fine sports commentators.

However, only a few act as the soundtrack to one’s childhood. One of them, Bill McLaren died last week.

He created the language of rugby and in doing so greatly enriched English as a whole. McLaren painted pictures using words or phrases which developed their own meaning. Since rugby is a fast moving game and the quality of camera work was sometimes less than great, his work had almost more in common with radio than TV. All the obituaries reminded us of the immense homework, McLaren did, the pack of cards with which he practiced the names of the players in forthcoming matches. This was vital to the execution of the piece. However, my great memories are of descriptions of beautiful aptness. “A man covering a substantial acreage”, “built like a brick outhouse” or “like a double-decker bus”. There is an almost Homeric use of epithets in expressions like “the Waikato farmer, Colin Meads”, said with a combination of awe and menace. McLaren had a respect for the big men who dominate rugby forward play. Besides which he forced the middle classes to work out what a brick outhouse was.

McLaren had been robbed of a Scottish cap as a wing forward by TB. He knew where the forwards came from: coalmines and steelworks in Wales, the Border farms of Scotland and perhaps strangest of all, the London and Irish medical schools. When rugby’s leviathans boiled over, it was a “bit of argy-bargy” not foul play at least until the referee called it that. McLaren understood. He didn’t just describe; he commentated. And yet, McLaren’s real delight was in great back play. He coached in the Scottish Borders where till the 1990s, there was a constant conveyor belt of quick passing, thinking players, some of whom like Tony Stanger he coached. Listening this weekend of the charming 1971 Scotland-Wales game you find the McLaren commentary almost like a rhythmical accompaniment to the exquisite Welsh inter-passing. All the same, one learns clearly who has the ball at each moment and a joy at seeing it handled and run onto so beautifully even if it was at the cost of McLaren’s Scotland.

I only ever wanted to impersonate two commentators: John Arlott, the cricket specialist, and McLaren. However, a listener knew accurately from cadences of his voice that Arlott was a difficult man, not at ease with himself. By contrast, McLaren lived a life of joy, not because his life was materially different but you could tell it from his language, the excitement at good things. As a child, I wanted to be McLaren. He could feel how ordinary listeners would be seeing a game while leaving us comparing gorgeous phrases used to describe his favourite players. The Bill trademark “xyz school will be very proud of ab, one of their former pupils” and “they’ll be dancing in the streets of” whichever town a star player or winning team just reflected this. A little bit of our childhood moved on last week.

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3D or DoubleD – take your pick

The Consumer Electronics Show and the Adult Entertainment Expo are running concurrently in Las Vegas. The technology folk are in the main Convention Center, the early adopters are in the Sands Convention Center a mile or so away.

CES is a remarkable experience, an assault on the senses in its own right magnified by the sheer ‘ubergauche’ of Vegas itself. There’s lots there but it seems like the new new thing is 3D and the assumption is that Avatar has acted as the launch pad to take home theater and gaming into an extra dimension. Personally the 3D experience makes me nauseous and I am also quite fond of multi-tasking (nachos, beer, salsa, Blackberry etc) while watching TV and that’s tough when wearing the required eye glasses.

Outside of 3D my sense was that everything else was notable largely for being either smaller, thinner or bigger than that which preceded it. All in all there’s not a whole lot of difference between the shows other than pocket protectors at CES and some other protection down the street, it’s also not hard to predict where 3D will penetrate first.

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Bribery and corruption

Google is a very smart company. Their lobby runs seamlessly from Madison Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue. The picture to the left shows they will stop at nothing.

The way to a media buyer’s heart is through his dog and, on behalf of Alfie and myself’ we say thanks to the Googlers for this splendid coat and hereby declare a conlict of interest!

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2010 – new decade, new rules

Somewhere in the ancient scrolls of American media and telecommunications two truths are written:

1. cable companies shall not pay broadcasters to carry their signal
2. manufacturers of mobile devices will sign exclusive distribution agreements with phone networks

By the end of the first full week of the decade we will know if Fox will have forced Time Warner’s hand on carriage fees and if Google will really launch the unlocked Nexus in a challenge to Apple, AT&T, Verizon and the rest.

These two events along with potential charging for online content from News Corp, Hulu and others, the publishing industry’s e reader initiatives, Apple’s tablet, the continued drive to addressable television and the FTC’s decisions on Net Neutrality suggest that a broad ranging exploration of the economics of content, devices and distribution will dominate the media news of early 2010.

For the most part advertisers will sit on the sidelines of these issues which is not to say that they won’t be impacted by the outcome. As the economics of communications change so does the way consumers receive and interact with content and that includes advertising.

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Interruption, avoidance, compulsion?

We all know the challenges presented by the decline of the interruptive advertising model and the threat of ad avoidance enabled by complex technology like the DVR and the simpler notion of having better things to do.

One of the more surprising resolutions to the issue may be inherent in a patent applied for by Apple that will disable the functionality of software unless its user demonstrates attention to the advertising carried by the application in question.

Apart from sounding more like a lemon than an Apple this idea is as flawed as every other bribevertising model ever created. Forced consumption of advertising simply does not work. The battlefield of the web is is littered with the grave markers of ‘click on ad, earn points’ businesses that produce splendid volumes of enquiries and dismal levels of conversion for the simple reason that the click was driven by desire for points and not by interest in the product advertised.

Advertiser patience for non-converting inquiries is somewhere between momentary and non-existent and such programs end up in the same bucket as click fraud in short order.

Businesses file patents all the time that they don’t intend to use or of which they make think better. This one seems different because it’s Apple that has applied for it. Despite that my guess is that wise heads will prevail and that Apple won’t corrupt its unique status in the brand pantheon with such an ugly resolution to a business problem.

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Bent out of shape

Now that the registered user numbers of Facebook and Twitter have reached a target audience of all bipeds it may be time for a bit of illumination. That illumination is about the frequency distribution curve of actions among their usage base.

Put simply what % of all tweets are accounted for by what % users and what % of all tweets read are read what % of users. In the currenncy of Facebook, what % of all status updates, wall posts and other actions are accounted for what % of registrants. What would would we think if the answer to any of the above was 5%.

These data will go way some to revealing the real social significance and commercial potential of these two phenomena of our time. Significantly it will reveal the relationship between the players and the spectators and start to separate the potentail influencers in the pool for those that might be influenced.

In the event that my reader has any insight into the above please feel free to comment or to publish what you know to a wider audience than mine.

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Biting the hand that feeds you.

“Best Buy is even using one of the creepier technologies out there known as retargeting. If you shop for blender online but don’t buy it, you may well be surrounded by blender ads on other Web sites.”

The quote above appeared in the New York Times yesterday in an article about Best Buy’s truly innovative and bold use of social media in its holiday ad campaign. The article written by the highly respected Saul Hansell focuses on the companies rapidly developing ‘Twelpforce’ which is a fine contribution to customer service if not the English language (the much lamented William Safire will be turning in his grave).

Saul, through his choice of language, has not helped the debate about the application of data to increase the efficiency of advertising and his use of the word ‘creepy’ (see under Letterman, allegedly) has just the wrong emotive and alarmist tone and has no relation to any identifiable harm to the consumer. If you browse an online store for blenders it would imply that they were of interest to you and at the very worst being exposed to blender ads (‘surrounded’ might be pushing it) on other sites might be of little value but creepy they are not.

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Strategy and tactics

I had the mixed fortune of being a media buyer on the Virgin Atlantic account in the very early stages of their international expansion. We, the agency, were constantly minded to develop strategy and were frustrated (albeit sometimes delightedly so) that the airline’s communication strategy comprised a series of one-off ads and the high profile antics of its founder. Sir Richard Branson truly was social media and viral marketing in human form. Eventually someone sagely observed that it was “quite possible for an aggregation of broadly related tactics to be a strategy”.

Wither digital media. Many bemoan the lack of proven brand effect of digital media in general and social media in particular. The argument goes that newness produces impatience and a lack of tolerance for the long game. As a consequence there are hundreds of executions -  measured on highly short term metrics - but few stories for sellers and buyers to use that compel clients into long term, programatic and strategic use of the platform.

To me the channel is in transition. It has moved beyond experimention, it is also established as a direct channel  but very few advertisers have a fully realized vision of how their digital presence and subsequent interactions impact brand health and long term vitality. To do that requires three things:

  1. A well ariculated strategic framework through which to execute specific programs
  2. A set of measurement criteria that can disaggregate the effect of the digital strategy from the surrounding noise
  3. The courage to recognize that greater commitment of time and money is required to measure effectiveness and value over time

Long term effectiveness and the creation of demand is at the heart of marketing. It needs to be at the heart of digital strategy.

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