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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Habit. The prize for first movers

The I Pad will save the publishing industry. Steve Jobs says so and he has found an ever growing band of publishers to follow him to the promised land of media that people will pay for, that advertisers will embrace and the tantalising propsect of minimal manufacturing and distribution costs for the former and unlimited creative and commerce opportunities for the latter. Truly, it does not get better than that.

Naturally in all good things there is the odd tiny wrinkle to overcome. Let’s ask ourselves a question; how many I Pads and their kin do there need to be in the market in order for them to be taken seriously as needle moving mass penetration media? For the fun of it let’s say 2o million. Sounds like a big number and one that will keep Apple’s stock price where the air is thin but still way less than 10% of the population. Anyway, assume that’s OK and given advertiser interest so far it will make for a lively market, but consider this. By the time 20 million tablets are in the market how many apps do we suppose there will be in the app store? I, of course, have no idea but guess it won’t be less than 500,000.

If that turns out to be true it will make the notion of 500 channel television with which we concerned ourselves not long ago a rather nostalgic and quaint thought. It might also be a source of learning. The 500 channel universe did not quite wreak the havoc on television that most of us predicted as it became evident that the paradox of choice applied and that individuals soon found a low double digit number of choices that consumed the vast majority of their viewing time. Outside of 20 or so channels the long tail of television is very long indeed.

For Mr Jobs to be right in his predictions of salvation the paradox of choice needs to apply again. Publishers, content developers (call them what you will) need to establish themselves as part of the short tail of media choice and hope that habit becomes the barrier to entry that maintains the size and the attention of their audience.

The big question is ‘how do you do that?’ In my mind this is a simultaneous equation of managing distribution and content. To succeed in distribution publishers need a combination of promotion and packaging. It helps that people know your app exists and it helps also if it’s seen as a value purchase. The former will require a willingness to spend money and to risk self cannibalization. The latter will require innovative pricing and bundling models as it seems likely to me that people will more likely buy content bundles than individual issue or single title subscription access. In such an environment certain titles will anchor packages and to those (as with ESPN on television) will go the richer share of revenue.

On the content side the solve is every bit as complex. Editors and publishers need to look at the purpose of their product and why it is valuable to its audience and to reimagine that purpose in the context of multimedia, immediacy, depth and interactivity. They need to ask the question as to the degree and the occasion in which each of these add value and apply them judicously. It must be tempting, for example for Sport Illustrated to get into the breaking news and live scores business but can it ever compete in that area with ESPN and or MLB ? I think not. SI to borrow a phrase, is, like Time, the first draft of history. They are providers of depth, analysis and context in a world increasingly distracted by generation blurt. The I Pad allows them to pursue that mission with more depth and more multimedia but there is little value in adding immediacy in their case. You get the idea.

When do I matter most? How can I matter more? Two questions that the content owner needs to focus on, the rest of us might think about that as well. Advertisers have a history of embracing media that matters to its audience, despite the increasing trend to separate audiences from context there will always be a market in reach, attention and influence. Publishers around the world know a lot about all three of those and those that execute have the opportunity to establish audience habit which is the ultimate first mover advantage.

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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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Lights go out on Beckham

I was charmed by this. Beckham and the LA Galaxy defeat the Houston Dynamo 2-0 but only after an incident that caused some consternation for the sponsor of the stadium. According to ESPN…

“Play was suspended twice after the stadium lights went out because of power dips, a release from the Home Depot Center said. The game was stopped for a 18 minutes in each half.”

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Two degrees of separation

The separation of audience from context is a much discussed if unresolved argument. The general thesis of the ‘pork bellies versus diamonds’ debate is either that context amplifies the value of messaging or that audience is everything and the cost and targeting advantages more than offset the specifics of contextual relevance. The seller community is neatly divided on this issue with producers of original content on one side and ad networks, by and large, on the other. Readers will be relieved to know that this post is not on that topic.

A more profound degree of separation may be the idea that the commercial message no longer requires the carriage vehicle of media at all. This argument was made at an IAA gathering in Tokyo by Masataka Hosagane an executive creative director at Dentsu. Mr. Hosagane showed some creative work for a PS3 game, Last Man Everywhere, and an innovative hybrid of a children’s book and an I Phone (called PhoneBook of course) and described both of them as communication ideas ‘beyond the frame’.

Without doubt, both were compelling and both seemed to be independent of any given distribution channel. The specifics of these pieces are less important than the growing notion that there are more and more marketing communications in the form of seeded video in general and applications in particular that are intended for peer to peer distribution and thereby bypass paid distribution channels and, by extension, the invoicing departments of media vendors. The most obvious manifestation of this trend is the spawning of brand owner iPhones and Droid apps from a raft of advertisers big and small that fill the marketing trades on a daily basis.

The problem, however, is this. Firstly it is hard to really gain traction in an environment shared with 100,000 other apps, secondly all the data suggests that even the most successful apps with significant download volume trail off in usage with a rate of decay that is alarmingly precipitous. Finally, consumers en masse don’t read the marketing trades. The maintenance of reach, recency and frequency remain an essential plank of any brand marketing strategy that depends on durable visibility and it’s simply not possible to maintain a flow of apps and sustained usage that can fulfill this role.

As a consequence the frame remains central to the message distribution process and those applications that break out should be celebrated as a supplement but not relied upon as a replacement.

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