Posts filed under ‘intellectual property’

The technology is great, but the content is the key: are there publishers out there determined to use i-education as a base for maximum distribution?

Content is universal, or can be- there are price or border or language barriers for a good story and what we can learn from it.  The increasing use of technology in teaching both current and future educators, as well as students themselves, is obviously inevitable as Technology (all of it) evolves.  It is engaging and allows for more personal, adaptable and variable than traditional static media.

It seems the next challenge is how to level the playing field- all of these apps require devices and devices cost money, which the majority of the world’s schools are unable to afford.  Then there are the splintering and stratifying of content with exclusives and format preclusion for certain devices.

Dennis Duffy may have been onto something when he said “technology is cyclical….”  I think the more accurate statement would be “the advent of new technology inspires and pushes the evolution of existing technologies.”  Into this last category, I would most certainly include the good “old-fashioned” paper-based book.  The framework and methodology that eLearning brings to the world can guide the (r)evolution of existing educational models.

Some insight into mobile education via Fast Company follows.

The $64 million dollar question is: who are the educational publishers progressive and daring enough to look back and forward to make the absolute best and most accessible, successful eLearning titles?

A Is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution

By: Anya KamenetzApril 1, 2010

Kids, education, applications, technologyFrom Left: Angel Taylor, 6, Jose Becerra, 7, and Julissa Munoz, 6. | Photograph by Danielle Levitt

As smartphones and handheld computers move into classrooms worldwide, we may be witnessing the start of an educational revolution. How technology could unleash childhood creativity — and transform the role of the teacher.

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Gemma and Eliana Singer are big iPhone fans. They love to explore the latest games, flip through photos, and watch YouTube videos while waiting at a restaurant, having their hair done, or between ballet and French lessons. But the Manhattan twins don’t yet have their own phones, which is good, since they probably wouldn’t be able to manage the monthly data plan: In November, they turned 3.

When the Singer sisters were just 6 months old, they already preferred cell phones to almost any other toy, recalls their mom, Fiona Aboud Singer: “They loved to push the buttons and see it light up.” The girls knew most of the alphabet by 18 months and are now starting to read, partly thanks to an iPhone app called First Words, which lets them move tiles along the screen to spell c-o-w and d-o-g. They sing along with the Old MacDonald app too, where they can move a bug-eyed cartoon sheep or rooster inside a corral, and they borrow Mom’s tablet computer and photo-editing software for a 21st-century version of finger painting. “They just don’t have that barrier that technology is hard or that they can’t figure it out,” Singer says.

Gemma and Eliana belong to a generation that has never known a world without ubiquitous handheld and networked technology. American children now spend 7.5 hours a day absorbing and creating media — as much time as they spend in school. Even more remarkably, they multitask across screens to cram 11 hours of content into those 7.5 hours. More and more of these activities are happening on smartphones equipped with audio, video, SMS, and hundreds of thousands of apps.

The new connectedness isn’t just for the rich. Mobile adoption is happening faster worldwide than that of color TV a half-century ago. Mobile-phone subscribers are expected to hit 5 billion during 2010; more than 2 billion of those live in developing countries, with the fastest growth in Africa. Mobile broadband is forecast to top access from desktop computers within five years.

As with television, many people are wondering about the new technology’s effect on children. “The TV set was pretty much a damned medium back in the ’60s,” says Gary Knell, CEO of Sesame Workshop. But where others railed against the “vast wasteland,” Sesame Street founders Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett saw a new kind of teacher. “They said, Why don’t we use it to teach kids letters and numbers and get them ready for school?” Sesame Street, from its 1969 debut, changed the prevailing mind-set about a new technology’s potential. With its diverse cast and stoop-side urban setting, the show was aimed especially at giving poor kids a head start on education.

Today, handheld and networked devices are at the same turning point, with an important difference: They are tools for expression and connection, not just passive absorption. “You put a kid in front of a TV, they veg out,” says Andrew Shalit, creator of the First Words app and father of a toddler son. “With an iPhone app, the opposite is true. They’re figuring out puzzles, moving things around using fine motor skills. What we try to do with the game is create a very simple universe with simple rules that kids can explore.”

For children born in the past decade, the transformative potential of these new universes is just beginning to be felt. New studies and pilot projects show smartphones can actually make kids smarter. And as the search intensifies for technological solutions to the nation’s and the world’s education woes — “Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age,” as the title of a summit at Google HQ last fall had it — growing sums of money are flowing into the sector. The U.S. Department of Education has earmarked $5 billion in competitive school-reform grants to scale up pilot programs and evaluate best practices of all kinds. Major foundations are specifically zeroing in on handhelds for preschool and the primary grades. “Young kids and multisensor-touch computing are a huge area of innovation,” says Phoenix Wang, the head of a startup philanthropic venture fund called Startl — funded by the Gates, MacArthur, and Hewlett foundations — that’s entirely focused on educational investing. Google, Nokia, Palm, and Sony have all supplied handheld devices for teaching. Thousands of new mobiles — not just smartphones but also ever-shrinking computers — have come into use at schools in the United States and around the world just in the past year.

Angel Taylor, Jose Becerra, Julissa Muñoz
Photograph by Danielle Levitt
Angel Taylor, Jose Becerra, Julissa Muñoz (Click for slideshow)

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2010/03/26 at 22:04 Leave a comment

Listen up, retailers: brands DO matter.

The resurgence of Trademarks and brand names as drivers (rather than set price points): another sign recession receding.

From The Street.com

Retailers Get Push-Back as Brands Disappear

by Jason Notte
Saturday, March 20, 2010
provided byTheStreet.com

As evidenced by Wal-Mart’s (WMT) attempt to streamline its shelf space, even garbage inspires brand loyalty among American consumers.

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart returned Clorox’s (CLX) Glad bags and Pactiv’s (PTV) Hefty bags to its shelves after cutting them in February and carrying only S.C. Johnson and Sons’ Ziploc bags and its Great Value in-house brand. Wal-Mart says the Hefty and Glad bags and hundreds of other items were taken out of the mix as part of a remodeling effort, but the retailer replaced them when it became clear it wasn’t losing only a $4.99 single-item sale, but entire shopping excursions by people seeking specific brands.

“What we found is that you can discontinue items that don’t sell but get you a trip,” said Bill Simon, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Consumer Conference last week. “So, we’ve been through the business and put 300 or so of those items back into the stores that were removed. We believe that that’s going to solve some of those issues.”

Other retailers including the SuperValu chain and CVS Caremark (CVS) are pushing ahead and slimming their selection of stock-keeping units. Wal-Mart’s recent retreat may not be enough to mollify manufacturers from Pepsi (PEP) to Kimberly-Clark (KMB), who have the most to lose when stores slash SKUs.

“They would have to be nervous about it,” says Susan Reda, editor of STORES Magazine, which is published by the National Retail Federation. “It’s the manufacturer that has more to lose, and if you’re not a tier 1 or tier 2 company, you’re in a dicey state.”

One of the ripple effects of the economic recession was an almost industry-wide reduction of retail inventory. Wal-Mart, for example, trimmed its U.S. inventory by more than 7.5% last year, in part, to prevent the overstock and price plunges that punished the sector in late 2008. The result for manufacturers varied as widely as their products.

For instance, Colgate-Palmolive’s (CL) sales grew 12% last quarter, including a 5% jump in North America behind the launch of new Colgate products. Procter & Gamble (PG) and its Bounty paper towels, Duracell batteries, Crest toothpaste and Ivory soap, meanwhile, reported a better-than-expected 6% sales increase last quarter as its gross margins and outlook for the fiscal year improved.

“The whole idea of efficient assortment and giving more shelf space to the brands shoppers are looking for the most tends to improve visibility of existing and new items,” says Jennifer Chelune, a Procter & Gamble spokeswoman. “It favors companies that innovate.”

Meanwhile, Kimberly-Clark (KMB) and its Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and Scott and Viva paper towels saw sales rise 8.5% in the quarter, but the company reduced its 2010 earnings forecast as sales of core paper products fell 6% when consumers sought cheaper alternatives. Its stock price followed that downward trend. If that’s the pressure being felt by the maker of the tissue that the NRF’s 2009-2010 BIGResearch Consumer Intentions and Actions Surveys say is their favorite brand by an 18% margin, the burden on manufacturers that are lower on the food chain is even heavier.

“Unless you have come up with a product that’s such a standout and so different from the market, you’re not going to make it if you’re just another iteration of ketchup,” STORES Magazine’s Reda says. “If you’re number three or number four in that space, what’s going to set you apart from those other two?”

That fight gets tougher when store brands join in. According to the NPD Group, sales of private-label items increased 8.8% from 2008 to 2009 and nearly 18% during the past decade. Nielsen found that store brands brought in $86 billion in U.S. sales last year, up $14 billion since 2007. With Consumer Reports finding that store brands, on average, cost 27% less than their big-brand counterparts, such a surge can eat away at sales volume for companies like Del Monte (DLM) and Unilever (UN), with the NRF survey reporting that the No. 2 brands of vegetables and ice cream are store/generic products.

However, many retailers still depend on manufacturers to pay for displays at the end of aisles and other prime shelf space, making private-label products a limited option for retailers not named Trader Joe’s. While manufacturers tend to use this knowledge to their advantage and flood the floor with billboard-sized displays of their merchandise, a slimmed-down store selection can be easily expanded through E-commerce. Procter & Gamble, for instance, is using its eStore commerce site as an “online learning lab” to test consumers’ habits and relay that information to online retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon (AMZN).

“We are a house of brands,” Wal-Mart’s Simon said at the conference. “We prefer to sell national brands because that’s how we can differentiate ourselves in price better.”

Copyrighted, TheStreet.Com. All rights reserved.

2010/03/20 at 17:51 Leave a comment

Is true democracy happening now, on the web, and succeeding (no, Wikipedia does not count)

Firefox 3.5: The World’s Most Popular Browser

Firefox 3.5 is now the most popular browser worldwide, edging past Internet Explorer 7, according to analytics site StatCounter.

The timing has favored FF3.5, however: IE7 usage has died off as people upgrade to IE8, meaning that Internet Explorer’smarket share is currently spread equally across IE7 and IE8. Add together all versions of IE versus all versions of Firefox, and Microsoft’s browser is still leading the pack by a long way.

Nonetheless, the trend lines favor Firefox in the long run: IE’s market share continues its slow decline while Firefox has sustained steady growth.

One very interesting angle to this development is that Firefox, a product of the Mozilla open source group, is truly a people’s product- developed by, and with, input from various programmers who wanted to seize their browsing destiny from the mega conglomerates with the EURO billion R&D budgets and built it collaboratively and over time.
Wikipedia is a similar collaboration, but is not as pure- the content is often self-serving, and is only as good as the sources who post information- the reliability and knowledge of whom is always in doubt.  By definition, Wikipedia is a cross- cultural “democratic” project.  One we all heavily rely on, but its formula for success is also its achilles heel, especially as content curation (big buzz word for 2010) becomes more the norm and web content is held more and more to the standards of print media that it intends to replace.
Firefox is a gateway- its creators and contributors have their own agendas, but its function largely frees it from the bias and agendas that may bring down or “taint” other web phenomena.
Without budgets or campaigns, through word of mouth only, Firefox has passed Safari (which is backed by one of the worlds best branding and marketing machines) and if current trends continue, it will pass IE as the browser of choice.  The thing about grass roots marketing is that its success is the purest and most accurate to measure against ROI (or any other metric).  If it didn’t work, people wouldn’t use it, rave about it, and influence their friends and colleagues to do the same.

The understatement of the millenia would be to say that the web has changed everything, and leveled so many playing fields.  The success of Mozilla and Firefox, more than anything else out there right now, might indicate how and in what ways going forward.

Will traditional media (read: Apple and Microsoft, ha! what an indication of that massive change) be able to respond?  Will they throw money and campaigns and marketing gurus at the challenge, or will they change their models- working more closely with the net’s “everyman” programmers and creators?

2009/12/21 at 16:48 Leave a comment

10 Rules for Increasing Community Engagement

10 Rules for Increasing Community Engagement

Courtesy Mashable,

10 crucial things you need to do to keep your audience engaged with you and with your business/community.

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2009/12/16 at 18:26 Leave a comment

Hiding in plain sight- evergreen brands, evolutionary pace and the Wall Street Journal.

When Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal, liberals, old-school journalists and hard-core business-philes all bemoaned the end of an era, of an institution.

There was little doubt he’d leave his mark- Murdoch has never been known to be light-handed, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call him a 21st century William Randolph Hearst.

The majority  readers and admirers were sure he’d promote himself, his agenda (and that of his multitude of businesses).  Fluff pieces on his subsidiaries, corporate profiles of favored friends and partners, an uber-capitalist periodical containing promotional analysis and profiles of businesses that suited Murdoch’s taste.

The Journal has changed, to be sure, but in a much broader sense, inching closer to a right leaning NY Times than a business-anchored daily.  In the upper echelon of global newspapers, The WSJ enjoyed a well-earned spot amongst the elite of the top-tier dailies (elite meaning quality, not snobbish, but that’s a whole other bait and switch of title and subject).

It is increasingly about politics, splashy images and general interest content.  Yet, if you asked most people, including those who cried out at the time of the sale and since, they’d describe it as a business paper.  And that’s exactly what Murdoch and co. are counting on.

For so long, the Journal has been an institution, a cornerstone of commerce reporting and as steady and conservative- in its subject matter, not politics- as can be.  It is ingrained in the collective cultural conscious as such, but that consciousness no longer reflects reality.

How often does this happen?  And how long before we notice?

There are the business school anecdotes about Kleenex starting originally being marketed as a make-up remover, Crisco as candles, Kotex as surgical bandages, Silly Putty as a cheap war-era replacement for rubber, but this is the other end of the brand conversion curve.  Instead of starting out with marketing a product as a specific thing and then finding its unintended usage has far greater upside and viability, this is a brand that has been something for so long that it continues to be perceived to be what it was not what it is.

The reason is lifespan.  Consider TLC, “The Learning Channel,” sister network to Discovery and Animal Planet, it was originally stocked with educational fare.  It has since evolved or devolved into a reality based network with marginal educational value.  It is rarely referred to by its long form name as most people do not perceive it as an educational destination.

Then there’s KFC- formerly proudly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In the wake of the eighties health craze, 90s vanity and aughts obesity crisis, the company has gone out of its way to market itself as KFC, years before they had a non-fried option on the menu.

But the journal has been around for, well, for forever.  And its identity is so integrated into our cultural DNA that the general population hasn’t noticed that it really has changed. Like someone you see everyday who has lost a not insignificant amount of weight, or gone grey, but so slowly, with changes hardly noticeable from day to day, you don’t notice until you see a picture from last year’s company picnic.

The aforementioned bemoaners were right- they’ve just been lulled into complacency by the slow changes, an almost real life evolutionary pace- there was no relaunch, no rebrand no WSJ2.0 campaign here.  It’s a real and steady (d)evolution into a general news periodical with a right leaning agenda.

It’s just hiding in plain sight- behind its evergreen brand.

The Media Equation

Under Murdoch, Tilting Rightward at The Journal

By DAVID CARR

Published: December 14, 2009

There are growing indications in the news pages that Rupert Murdoch, a lifelong conservative, is looking to use The Wall Street Journal to play politics.

Sunday was the second anniversary of the sale of The Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Rupert Murdoch, a lifelong conservative, addressing the newsroom at The Wall Street Journal two years ago, when he took over

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2009/12/15 at 02:29 Leave a comment

ROI is King.*

* That’s not a cross-lingual pun, (roi meaning king in French) just a coincidence, but now doubly true, I realize.

As a burgeoning social media executive who comes from the international sales and marketing world (via licensing, brand and account management), I found this blog from Business Week exceedingly interesting. I twitter, I blog, I use Facebook to promote a photographer, a band and a South African safari camp and run a very successful industry group on LinkedIn.

I look for the “buzz-” the hits, the new members, the retweets, but often wonder how much of that is still just a simple click of a button. Is it the social media equivalent of reading the book jacket of reading a summary of the Odyssey in high school and then recommending it to others? Or is it actual viral promotion. Or: does it matter?

In my experience, and way of working, return on investment is what matters. Having been a licensing manager at an educational not-for-profit, with a zero dollar (0.00 USD or ZAR, EGP, CNY, RUB, BDT, etc.) marketing budget, I learned at an early stage in my career that return does not always mean revenue. Raising awareness, creating goodwill, gaining mind-share, PR, gaining outreach and ancillary educational partners, raising the perceived value of a brand’s equity, etc. could all be as valuable, or more valuable than immediate monetary return. But the question there, which resounds here, is what is that return? And how do you measure it? What are the statistics? Maybe even: does it matter what the metrics are?

I would argue that the last question is the 64 million dollar one. How do you know if what you’re doing is worth your investment (time, money, man-hours, tools) when you don’t have a simple, clear way of quantifying results? You may be gaining revenue, word of mouth, elevated goodwill or endless array of positive outcomes for your brand or product, but not be able to tell because it gets mixed in with the measurements from the more traditional methods. True action to outcome metrics really exist- how does one know that part of the spike in earnings during a tv ad push is actually incidental and comes from earlier word-of-mouth or viral efforts that are just now manifesting themselves in purchases?

Science (say chemistry, biology, mathematics) talks about direct, indirect, causal, related and coincidental relationships. The first three are generally the easiest to prove, but then, with science, it’s actually usually disproving that makes the advances. The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle rules: the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa. It goes on to state (paraphrasing, of course): one can never discover the empirical truth without setting up false or contrived boundaries to measure a thing. Like focus groups, or revenue return during an ad spend (the ad spend period being the contrived boundary- there’s no way to know that it’s advertising that’s the end-all, be-all cause of anything).

Apologies, the nerd in me took the wheel for a bit, but the point is this: true ROI can only be known, or more accurately, felt over time. In current global business, that’s the one commodity that almost no one is willing to spend. Metrics for social media effectiveness as regards business will be developed, refined, thrown out and the process started all over again as technology and consumer habits evolve (or change).

In the meantime, this week’s article by Steven Baker in Business Week raises some very interesting questions, but does not overtly mention the most important: What is ROI (in any given instance) and how does one measure that?

Beware Social Media Snake Oil

Hordes of marketing “experts” are promoting the value of wikis, social networks, and blogs. All the hype may obscure the real potential of these online tools

By Stephen Baker

For business, the rising popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media Web sites presents a tantalizing opportunity. As millions of people flock to these online services to chat, flirt, swap photos, and network, companies have the chance to tune in to billions of digital conversations. They can pitch a product, listen to customer feedback, or ask for ideas. If they work it right, customers might even produce companies’ advertising for them and trade the ads with friends for free. Starbucks (SBUX), Dell (DELL), and Ford Motor (F) have all testified to the magic social media can create.

But the same tools carry risks. Employees encouraged to tap social networking sites can fritter away hours, or worse. They can spill company secrets or harm corporate relationships by denigrating partners. What’s more, with one misstep, one clumsy entrée, companies can quickly find themselves victims of the forces they were trying to master. Thousands of bloggers attacked Motrin last year because of an advertisement from the Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) brand they found demeaning to mothers.

Over the past five years, an entire industry of consultants has arisen to help companies navigate the world of social networks, blogs, and wikis. The self-proclaimed experts range from legions of wannabes, many of them refugees from the real estate bust, to industry superstars such as Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk. They produce best-selling books and dole out advice or lead workshops at companies for thousands of dollars a day. The consultants evangelize the transformative power of social media and often cast themselves as triumphant case studies of successful networking and self-branding.

The problem, according to a growing chorus of critics, is that many would-be guides are leading clients astray. Consultants often use buzz as their dominant currency, and success is defined more often by numbers of Twitter followers, blog mentions, or YouTube (GOOG) hits than by traditional measures, such as return on investment. This approach could sour companies on social media and the rich opportunities it represents. “It’s a bit of a Wild West scenario,” blogs David Armano, a consultant with the Dachis Group of Austin, Tex. Without naming names, he compares some consultants to “snake oil salesmen.”

Critics complain that many of the new experts have adopted an orthodoxy that provides little flexibility for differing situations—or outcomes. Their pronouncements follow a rigid gospel: Be transparent, engage with your customers, break down silos. Yet these strictures don’t always make business sense. Adam Kmiec, director of interactive marketing at Marc USA in Pittsburgh, tells of a company he met with that got much of its revenue from the Defense Dept. and had allocated $4 million for social media. “What do you hope to get?” he asked them. Ultimately, the client decided the privacy-obsessed Pentagon may not be thrilled with a supplier publicizing itself through Twitter.

FURY VS. BUZZ

Scrutiny of the hype merchants is picking up. Rob Spencer, senior research fellow for idea management at drug giant Pfizer (PFE), mingles frequently with social media vendors and consultants as he looks for ways to amplify the company’s brainpower. He urges caution. “You have to tread your way carefully and have your B.S. sensors up,” he says. “I call them innovation hippies. ‘Here’s my book for free. Won’t you hire me for $500 to run some workshops?'”

Social media consultants’ own promotions can collide, on occasion, with those of their customers. Take the case of James Andrews, who was working early this year at the PR firm Ketchum (OMC). As a consultant, he helped companies such as Newell Rubbermaid (NWL), Monster Worldwide (MWW), and FedEx (FDX) work out their strategies for blogs and the microblogging service Twitter. On landing in Memphis for FedEx meetings, he says he had an ugly run-in with a racist at the airport and twittered that he would “die if he had to live” in the city. The tweet produced an outpouring of blogged fury from FedEx employees and a fast apology from an embarrassed Ketchum. But for Andrews, the tweet generated buzz and may even have boosted his brand. “It helps me today,” he says. “I use it as a case study. It creates authenticity.” In June, Andrews left Ketchum to launch a boutique consultancy, Everywhere. He helps Macy’s (M), CNN (TWX), and Jane Fonda promote their brands and monitor their audiences on Facebook, blogs, and Twitter.

Skeptics can draw from plenty of examples of social media experiments run amok. Consider Saatchi & Saatchi’s ill-fated promotion for the Toyota (TM) Matrix. Targeting young men, a demographic known to resist traditional advertising, Saatchi’s social media team last year created a campaign based on the pranks of the popular MTV (VIA.B) show Punk’d. According to the plan, a prospective buyer of a Matrix would single out a friend to be the target of a prank. The promise: a bit of fear, a lot of laughs, and perhaps a groundswell of free marketing across Facebook, MySpace (NWS), and Twitter.

Amber Duick, one of the targets in the short-lived campaign, says she received a series of e-mails from a fictitious British soccer hooligan named Sebastian Bowler. He said he was coming to visit her and bringing along his pit bull. He had a MySpace page where he bragged about “drinking alcohol to excess” and participating in riots. One e-mail Duick received was a fake bill for damage to a hotel room wrecked by Bowler. He had left her e-mail address, the message explained, as his contact info. Duick filed a $10 million lawsuit in October and says that to protect herself from the oncoming Bowler, she slept with a machete by her bed. “She was terrified,” says her lawyer, Nicholas Tepper.

In a statement, Saatchi and Toyota wrote that they would “vigorously defend against the claim,” which is “entirely without merit.” They said the plaintiff had granted “her permission to receive campaign e-mails and other communications from Toyota.”

CAN CHAGRIN BE GOOD?

James Cooper, Saatchi’s digital creative director, says social media, by their nature, are unpredictable, which makes them an easy target for critics. “Anyone who says ‘This is going to work’ is either lying or deranged,” he says. He compares the risk model with venture capital, where one bet out of 10 might pay off richly, while the others struggle or even bomb. And he stresses the difficulty of measuring results. “If something’s got 20 million hits on YouTube, that’s a good thing,” he says. “But what if half the comments are negative? I don’t think anyone’s got a long-term case study yet.”

Baker is a senior writer for BusinessWeek in New York.

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2009/12/04 at 18:19 1 comment

Be careful watch you wish for: what happens when your marketing campaign is *too* successful?

A really interesting post from Wired’s Epicenter and blogger Peter Kirwin about the problem everyone “wants to have:” a wildly successful marketing campaign that has taken on a life of its own.  Do you trade dollars for eyeballs- and is that just a short-term question?

 

Epicenter The Business of Tech

Wired-o-Nomics: Mad Men, Media, Marketing and a Fine Mess

Suppose they gave a marketing campaign, and everybody came?

Back in September, Hasbro launched Monopoly City Streets, a massive multiplayer online game that transforms Google Maps into a globalized version of the well-known board game. In the run-up to Christmas, the online game was supposed to promote a boxed version of the game that Hasbro sells for $40 list.

Three months on, however, Hasbro’s MMOG – constructed by ad agency Tribal DDB working alongside engineers from Google Maps – achieved something unexpected. It became vastly more popular than anyone expected. Monopoly City Streets now ranks as the world’s 12th-largest example of the genre, according to Matt Ross of Tribal DDB, attracting 15 billion page views a month.

Presenting his agency’s campaign at last week’s Creativity and Technology conference in London, Ross announced: “We’re trying to invent things that are useful to people. We never know if our stuff is going to work.”

“Now Hasbro don’t know what to do with it,” Ross said. “They have a kind of new product on their hands.”

Unexpected popularity has had unintended consequences for Hasbro. If it scraps the game next month, as planned, it risks alienating 1.5 million registered users. If it allows it to continue, it will need to find a way of monetizing all of those eyeballs that may cannibalize buyers of the game they want to sell who are happy enough with the online version it was supposed to promote.

Oh yeah — Ross also noted that his agency’s wildly successful campaign was achieved with “precisely zero media spend.”

Interesting things happen when advertising slips the moorings that have traditionally bound it to Big Media. In particular, Hasbro’s dilemma underlines the fact that the message-carrying capacity of traditional media has always been constrained. As a result, media owners have always carried promotional messages to audiences on a time-limited basis.

The cost of traditional media doesn’t decline appreciably during a campaign. Accordingly, the cost of reaching new consumers increases exponentially as a campaign proceeds. The risk of over-exposure increases, too.

Hence the advertising industry’s traditional ability to take pride in brilliantly crafted, but transient, promotional efforts.

So what happens when scarcity-based constraints disappear? What happens when advertisers and their agencies produce their own campaigns and distribute them on the web?

Attitudes change. As permanence becomes a possibility, pride in transience starts to look questionable. The ad campaign that Hasbro thought it was buying from Tribal DDB may yet turn into an enduring product. In a similar vein, Anders Gustafsson of Crispin Porter Bogusky Europe told last week’s conference: “The stuff we’re doing should last for years, not months.”

Several years after adland produced its first throwaway virals, this suggests that something much larger than frustration with search engines lurks on the horizon for Big Media.

For a century or more, the advertising industry and Big Media have operated on the basis of mutual dependence. Big Media offered unusually broad reach and attracted big budget creatives as a result. In adland, watching your creatives play out across major media was always a mark of high seriousness.

Now this historic pact is coming under pressure. In places, it has started to unravel. The crude appeal of banners and buttons remains important, but long ago ceased to be at the center of the digital action. For marketers who need to engage massive audiences, the web offers a genuine alternative to press and TV, one that allows advertisers to create their own content.

With no small sense of irony, last week’s conference of digital creatives took place at the galleries constructed by Charles Saatchi out of the elegant hulk of the Duke Of York’s barracks in Chelsea.

Yet the Big Media outlets that carried Saatchi’s inspired advertising copy three decades ago merited barely a mention. Among other things, delegates were asked to consider what might start to happen when we, our devices and the built environment become seamlessly networked.

Adam Greenfield, head of design direction at Nokia, describes one possible outcome:  an urban landscape filled with “dynamic advertising that covers every surface and knows everything about us”. He talks of a “shroud of awareness” surrounding shoppers and pedestrians with “dynamic advertising” constructed on the basis of “sensor readings that record place, time and event”.

The future of outdoor advertising has rarely looked so full of potential. The future of Big Media has rarely looked so marginal.

Kevin Slavin, another speaker at last week’s conference, lectures alongside Greenfield at New York University. He is also the co-founder of Area/Code, a New York-based hotshop that develops games on behalf of agencies and advertisers.

According to Slavin, “the idea of being able to see the value of everything all at once” is “grinding down” the price that retailers in particular can charge their customers. “Meaning,” he claims, is shifting from physical products to the “informatic layer” embodied in devices and networks.

This isn’t a particularly controversial notion. What is controversial is the conclusion drawn by Slavin: “If you’re in the consumer packaging and branding business, you’re fucked.”

Perhaps. But ubiquitous computing also represents a further threat to the historic pact between adland and Big Media. In the not-too-distant future, the cereal packets that contain my daughter’s Coco Pops may carry a cheap screen, wirelessly connected to the web, that plays cartoons across the breakfast table. As a result, BSkyB, the BBC and ITV will lose access to eyeballs.

Disintermediation of this kind is already a reality in some shopping malls, where retailers have started sending promotions to handsets carried by approaching shoppers. According to one analyst firm, 35 start-ups and established companies across Europe are developing technology for use in such digital proximity campaigns.

This won’t result in the death of retail advertising in the weekend editions of national newspapers any time soon. But there’s more to come. The next steps involve the gradual splicing together of three separate disciplines: mobile advertising technology, real-time search and the long-established science of retail footfall analysis.

Coincidentally, Twitter this week released its long-awaited geolocation API into the wild. In this context, one statistic is worth noting: according to the digital ad agency Razorfish, 44 per cent of US consumers who follow a specific brand on Twitter say they do so in order to gain access to special offers.

Campaigns that cut out Big Media with a mix of gaming, location awareness and social networking aren’t yet an established fixture in adland. But we might not have to wait too long. The iPhone’s crystalline screen was made for opportunities like these.

The fallout could make Rupert Murdoch’s dispute with Google look like the proverbial storm in a teacup.

Among the digital creatives who gathered together last week, a few are already looking toward the future. “Now that we’ve been invited to the party and have money, influence and power,” said Ian Tait of Poke London, “I worry we are like a bunch of kids with the keys to the sweet shop.”

Judging by the heady optimism on display at CaT last week, Tait’s concerns aren’t yet widely shared by his peers. But they will be – and soon enough. As Google knows all too well, disruptive power brings serious responsibilities in its wake.

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2009/11/30 at 22:47 2 comments

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