Back from Antarctica

April 30, 2006

Incredible trip. Highly recommend it to everyone. Do your research first before going.

OK, back to blogging.

How Networks Erode Institutional Power and What to Do About It.

March 17, 2006

That’s the sub-title of the Forrester report on Social Computing that came out last month, and that I just got around to reading. Steve Rubel is right — it’s a great read. Charlene Li and Chris Charron do a terrific job of synthesis (disclosure: yes, I know the authors). Individual elements of their argument will be familiar to anyone with a newsreader, but collectively, woven together with great supporting evidence from their consumer data (the internet is the only form of media in which consumer trust is rising), the report serves as a must-read for understanding the cultural and economic impact of all the stuff (RSS, blogs, open source, P2P, tagging, etc.) that they call Social Computing. A sample:

Powered by the growing use of open protocols like XML and RSS, new applications like instant messaging, widgets, voice over IP, and blogs make user-to-user connections smarter and more frequent. One important example of a “smarter” connective technology: presence, the ability to see the online status of a person or thing. By knowing who and what can collaborate in real time, consumers spend 26% more time on communications like instant messaging each year. The social impact: By eliminating the drag on communications velocity, social forces move more quickly.

If you need to get the CEO of your organization smart fast, hand her a copy of this report.

What marketing podcasts should clients listen to?

March 9, 2006

Over the past year or so, probably everyone who works at a PR or ad agency has been asked by a client about podcasting. Today I was asked a slightly different question by a client. She asked, what marketing podcasts do you listen to? It wasn’t just a test either. She was about to go on a long overseas flight and wanted to fill up the iPod before takeoff. First off — kudos to a client for getting beyond the abstraction of “how are consumers using this stuff”, to “how can I use it.” Kick the tires, so to speak.

The two that I recommended were Across the Sound and Church of the Customer.
Other suggestions?

The false promise of consumer physics

March 2, 2006

Physics is a science that locks in on empirical truth. Physics explains itself via a language of equations, where variables plugged in at one end reliably return answers at the other. Physics is repeatable, predictable, unambiguous.

It would make life so easy for marketers if there existed a consumer physics. We could sleep well at night, because we’d know what inputs delivered what outputs. It’s a comforting thought — like “be good and Santa will deliver toys”. A lot of market research that companies pay for relies on self-reported consumer data to predict outcomes: the sample saw X, remembered Y, and claimed that next time they would buy Z. The results are reported in numbers (just like physicists use!) so we must be on the right track.


But I think consumer physics is more like alchemy or phrenology than it is like real science. In fact, all the real science around human behavior (in behavioral economics, sociology, and psychology) of the past few years seems to be pointing in another direction: that people are actually pretty faulty instruments of measurement. Consumers have poor memory, overthink answers to questions (to the point of inaccuracy), and can’t reliably predict what they might do, or even want, in the future.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized a lot of this thinking in Blink, and recent research summarized in Science seems to corroborate his premise:

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not always advantageous to engage in thorough conscious deliberation before choosing.

Named the “deliberation-without-attention” hypothesis, it was confirmed in four studies on consumer choice, both in the laboratory as well as among actual shoppers, that purchases of complex products were viewed more favorably when decisions had been made in the absence of attentive deliberation.”

So if consumers make better decisions without deliberation (without, it seems, paying conscious attention), what’s the value of their deliberate and considered answers to a market research survey about their buying decisions? Should we bet the farm on their answers?


Another point of reference. In a new book no doubt destined to show up on the desks of account planners all over the world, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert talks about our inability to accurately predict how well we’ll like some future condition:

We’ve all experienced illusions of perception (“Those train tracks appear to converge on the horizon even though they really don’t”) and illusions of retrospection (“Why can’t I remember taking out the garbage when I really did?”). In the last decade or so, scientists have discovered that we also experience illusions of prospection, and that’s what “Stumbling on Happiness” is about.

…as it turns out, when we look forward we are prone to many of the same illusions that bedevil our attempts to look outward and backward—and these illusions are explained by the same basic principles of human psychology.

So: faulty inputs equals faulty outputs. Being scientific about marketing means rejecting consumer physics.

“The alternatives to TV are abysmally bad”.

March 2, 2006

Says the always provacative Grant McCracken. His post takes a decidedly contrarian view to the doomsday vision most used when discussing the value of TV in marketing today:

“My argument is (a) that of all the old media devices at the marketer’s disposal, TV advertising created the most potent meaning and value for the brand, (b) that the new media forms of advertising are pretty modest meaning and value makers, and none competes with TV ads, and (c) that the move from TV to other forms of advertising may be expensive for the brand.”

I disagree with his assertion that the alternatives to TV are abysmally bad, but I enjoy his refusal to join the vast tide of “endism” about TV. I first came across that term in The Social Life of Information:

Social Life of Information

“New technology is widely predicted to bring about, among other things,

the end of the press, television, and mass media

the end of brokers and other intermediaries

the end of firms, bureaucracies, and similar organizations”

Social Life goes on to talk about the prediction by BusinessWeek in 1975 that the “paperless office” was close at hand. Not quite.

I think it’s much more interesting (though maybe less dramatic — and therefore less fashionable) to talk about the evolution of TV, rather than its demise.

What if Microsoft re-did the iPod box?

February 28, 2006

Seth pointed to it first. Watch it here. Another YouTube post. I’ll stop soon, I promise.

Un-pimp your advertising

February 25, 2006
Picture 6.png

When I started this blog I knew I wanted to stay away from any commentary about specific ads or campaigns. I hear a lot of that in my day job, plus there’s lots of people who make that their specialty. But the single most discussed campaign right now is probably the new CP+B campaign for VW, and I can’t resist. It made big news when Kerri Martin and the rest of the team at VW dropped Arnold of Driver’s Wanted fame a few months back for Crispin. This campaign has been anticipated ever since by ad watchers waiting to see if this is the beast too big for even mighty CP+B to slay. Kerri and I worked together at BMW, and I knew the one thing she would do above all else was make sure Crispin had room to be Crispin. Which means of course, nothing safe, nothing sacred. So the predicatably freaky campaign for the new GTI showed up, and there’s been the typical weighing in on it.

But VW is the people’s car, after all. So what do the people have to say about it? Here are the top video views of the week on YouTube:

YouTube top videos (Feb 25, 5:03 PM EST)

The number one video of the autistic basketball player is pretty unreal. Stop reading for a second and watch it (in a new browser window) if you haven’t already seen it. If you have, check out the next three videos. They’re all — that’s right — the new VW ads.

From a quick scan of it, there’s not another ad in the top 100 YouTube videos. By my math, VW has gotten 712,229 non-paid views of their advertising this week. And because the impressions generated online are fully intentional, with consumers seeking out this stuff, the comparison to paid TV impressions has to go through a correction factor to account for DVRs, channel flipping, multi-tasking, and bathroom breaks. Not to mention the additional word-of-mouth and enthusiasm advantage that fully intentional content has over randomly encountered content.

So what have we learned here?:

1) Online video sharing gives us a pretty cool advertising impact barometer.

2) Freaky, outrageous, outlandish content may seem inappropriate in a boardroom as marketing and agency execs talk about it. But your consumers might see things differently.

3) Nothing beats a great autistic basketball player story.

The Internet is one giant Tivo

February 25, 2006

I wrote that as the title of a slide in a media presentation about a year and a half ago. You could see it coming back then, especially if you knew how to use BitTorrent. But now, with YouTube (caution — addictive) and other video sharing services, it’s real for everybody with a browser.

Exhibit A: a couple of months ago U2 was profiled on 60 Minutes. I missed it. But of course, browsing through YouTube, there it was. All 14:42 of it — including Ed Bradley’s opening show teaser on the piece. Click the photo to see it.

Edge 60 Minutes

Alex Bogusky predicts the future

February 24, 2006
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Yesterday I sat in on part of spiffy ad industry event in a rooftop loft in Tribeca called The Future Marketing Summit. The thing that gave the event some credibility for me (and I bet 82.3% of the other attendees) was that Alex Bogusky was the event chairman and first speaker. Still I bet at least 48.2% of the audience felt pretty squeamish about the grandiose title of the event, even though they made the time to show up for it.

So it was cool (and inevitable) to hear Alex say in the first 2 minutes of his talk that he “made no claims on knowing anything about the agency of the future.” In fact, he said flat out he thought it was a “bad idea to model yourself as the agency of the future”. Not sure how specifically that comment was directed at the Anomaly and Amalgamated and Strawberry Frog people in the room, but he got in a jab at the agency establishment as well. He said there’s only really one big agency in New York — people just move around from one to
another. He did caveat that BBDO might be the exception.

So the percentages I used earlier were a riff on Alex’s presentation technique — not wanting to make any predictions that would turn out to be wrong he offered percentage estimates of various things being true in the future. Some of the one’s I caught (%’s paraphrased):

  • There’s a 99.3% chance the agency of the future will be in an office with open ductwork.
  • There’s a 0.003% chance we’ll get to the agency of the future in a flying car.
  • There’s a 99.9% chance the consumer owns the brand (to be fair, he characterized that most of the way this phrase has been interpreted in the ad business has been “total bullshit”).
  • There’s an 11.6% chance a brand can succeed without the consumer’s help.
  • There’s a 70% chance you will be the victim of brand terrorism (interesting but ugly concept — fueling social media in a way that works against a competitor)
  • There’s a 92% chance that product placement will be important in the future of marketing. There’s a 100% chance I won’t care.

Everyone a programmer — at least potentially

February 19, 2006

everyone's a network

Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo! makes a great point about how particpatory media allows audiences to cluster around shared tastes, essentially supplanting the professional programmers of traditional media:

In the transition from atoms-to-bits, scarcity-to-plenty, etc. instead of some cigar-puffing fat-cat at a studio or label “stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular songs” we’re going to have the ability to create dynamic affinity based “channels”. Instead of NBC, ABC, CBS, HBO, etc. which control scarce distribution across a throttled pipe… we’re going to have WMFAWC, WMNAWC, TNYJLC and a whole lot more. (The what my friends are watching channel, The what my neighbors are watching channel, The New York Jewish Lesbian Channel, etc.)

Everyone has the possibility to program, but as Bradley points out earlier in his post, in reality it’ll still be a small percentage of ‘creators’ (1%) and ‘synthesizers’ (10%) that provide the ‘programming’ for everyone else — the lurkers in his terminology.

Another cool point in a post chock full of them — you’d never want more than a small % of the audience to be active participants, because: “the hurdles that users cross as they transition from lurkers to synthesizers to creators are also filters that can eliminate noise from signal.”


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