Posts Tagged ‘technology’

chroniclogo21From Paul Isakson. Found this at the top of Google returns for “future marketing”. It’s almost exactly a year old. Maybe I’m lazy for clicking on the first return; maybe I’m going undercover as a consumer. Who can tell? It advises against social networking marketing by “trying to be everyone’s friend”. It advocates an approach where the consumer doesn’t distinguish the marketing experience from the product experience. It quotes .. on the belief that brand and product have converged, and it advises all those who don’t have an interesting product in the first place to abandon hope.

Now, fairly shallow searching hasn’t yet yielded any particularly strong refutations of this argument, nor much that goes further on a theoretical basis. Paul Isakson had a post just the other day which asserted much the same thing:

“How should we leverage social media?”

paul isakson future marketing

Makes me think people haven’t been listening to him for nearly a year, or more.

The mutual backrub approach to marketing: if you give people something cool, they’ll talk about it. Reading about it made me think back to the quite parochial problem-solving I do with marketing in my blog. We wanted to get attention and an honest-endorsement from the administrator of a local-concern Facebook group. I went round and round in circles with myself trying to work out how to use our resources -free tickets to the event- to get the guy to mention it without seeming crass or setting off his antiflags.

Eventually we filled in with content expansion, something to make it worth a personal email, and I settled on cutting the tangible resources out of the equation, which allowed for a much simpler and more honest solution. An email bringing it to his attention and -crucially- asking for his advice on something (anything), and he mentioned the event with a simple endorsement on the group wall. Because he likes to feel like a broker in the community he started, and likes having something to talk about to endorse. This is the second magic spell that’s peculiar to community marketing: if you make people feel cool, they’ll talk about it.

That’s the magic behind “secret sellers” of the Pattern Recognition nightclub ilk, who drop brands into their otherwise rather extreme conversation. That’s the logic behind unique experience ARGs: cakes and honey. If ad eyeballs are the bread, then Unique Experiences are the circus.

They go beyond pattern recognition by persuading the experiencee to ignore the extent to which his experience is part of a pattern: instead, he is part of something special. The user may understand that he is a tesselating part of the pattern. “Groupmind” problem solving is a big part of current ARG design: the thinking is that people like to feel part of a group working towards a whole. But a large part of the power comes from the belief the user is if not indispensable, then at least special.


Of course, specialisation costs money, crafting specialised experiences moreso. That was easy enough in the event promotion example: we had access to a guy with some level of clout within a small community, and it was all conducted more or less at the “amateur” level. We find it useful to walk a line between having name-recognition and being ourselves a “local concern”, which is the balancing act of brand fandom.

Professional engagement with amateur-level talkers or mavens or group participants either has to be dishonest or very, very carefully handled.

penny arcade marketing shelly yu missfit forums boards secret preteen

It’s an extreme example, but my mind always goes back to those journalists (from all levels of the citizen-professional spectrum) who invited themselves onto the boards of Facebook groups formed in the aftermath of the VT Shootings. I did a bit of study on that while working as a freelance researcher, but at their height the comments were going up faster than I could read them. Still, journalists going on and asking for input were largely met with vitriolic backlash, no matter how carefully they phrased. They were Not Welcome on those public spaces.

Kids my age described feeling “violated” when our University authorities knew that they’d been at a banned party: they didn’t say so, but the Uni had clearly been “snooping” into publicly-posted photos.

Fooling some of the people

This has all been talked about before. “Make people’s lives better” says Isakson, and quotes a CEO on how “brand and product have converged”. You can’t sell it unless it’s cool, and if it’s cool enough it largely sells itself. And there is a balancing act for cool: you have to put yourself out there, but not so much that it irritates people. Marketing is the obsessive-compulsive running for class President.

Another quote from the shareslides above is about a consumer who “doesn’t seperate the marketing experience from the product experience”. That would be the dream of a product which literally sells itself, but it’s frankly meaningless when you’re dealing with the basic synaesthetia of advertising. That is to say, describing one sensation with analogy to another: scent with erotic image, for example, or excitement with beverage.

[I can’t find a link anywhere for the Sprite “great snowboarders” ad, which is stupid because it’s the only one of theirs I can remember. It went something like this: [Exciting downhill, exciting downhill] “What do all great snowboarders drink?” [Dude spills straight into sprite machine] “The same as all the not so great ones”.

Instead try this out:

nicely done, but to be honest why even bother with the titlecard at the end? Make it a series of four :30 spots instead, with the guy getting angrier and angrier, the bottle more prominent, forever uncertain whether the clip is corporate-made or not.

That uncertainty is what’s fun about the Trader Joe’s Song (Via Brand Autopsy). Maybe this time, you think watching it, someone earnestly, honestly loves something for its own sake. Life really can break out in perfect song and dance, this once. So you want to believe.

Image ads like these are one long excercise in making image and product inseperable. But image can only do so by obscuring the product completely, hoping no-one ever actually tastes the product but instead internalises the advert (like, say, Relentless). Or by building a consensus about the relationship between the brand and the product. And it’s marketers’ ability to influence that consensus that’s dissolving, as a tradeoff for their new tools.



Tim-Tam Slammers

Once again, these things have been talked about before. In an attempt to contribute to the worldwide brute-force attempt to solve these puzzles, I want to consider one small segment, from which we take today’s title: “The funny thing about my back is…”. It’s indulgence marketing, which I talked about a few days ago in connection with the Bourneville ad.  What would Utility Marketing look like when applied to the age-old technique of indulgence marketing?

Utility marketing is about providing a service that “gives people time back”, which is then associated in some way with the brand: it’s not about brand information as “pollution” or, in Anthony Lilley’s parlance, taxation. It’s part of the wider logic of making things easier to sell before you start selling them. Again from Brand Autopsy:

“Ask a Mighty Fine employee behind the counter how they’re doing and you’ll likely hear, “Mighty Fine.” They smile. They laugh. They look like they are having fun. Which all benefits the customer experience. Mighty Fine prides itself on hiring only “A Players” who are positive, supportive, and cooperative. To attract “A Players,” they pay above-average wages and offer much better than expected benefits. Mighty Fine knows by astonishing employees, they in turn, will astonish customers.

This is about a burger joint. But what would an A-player for the indulgence technique look like? Who is an expert in making you feel like you deserve that product, this once? Because whoever they are, they have an opportunity to provide a valuable national service by encouraging spending. More on Japan’s money-mattress crisis further down.

jell-o vintage ad racist hilarious jello mammy

Via Found in Mom’s Basement.

“Mammy sent dis ovah”

Jell-O is known to all sections as “America’s Most Famous Dessert.” In the South, for instance, it is inexpensive enough to be found in the cabins of old plantations. It is delicious enough to meet the standards of good living at the “Big House.” It is dainty enough for milady’s afternoon tea. It is appealing enough to turn the sinful, of any color, away from his neighbor’s melon patch.

It’s surprisingly racy, open-minded copy, after the manner of Spike Milligan: it challenges you with your stereotypes, offers up a bare-faced taste of the forbidden. And for getting past your effrontery, you’re invited to congratulate yourself, to indulge yourself. It’s a chauffeur-driven soup-kitchen dinner.

So how to think about this, in a modern connection? Advertisers no doubt already think about which poster will be placed next to which, or how ads are sequenced: they should start thinking about putting Organic Indulgence ads after car ads: Sustainable Furniture after overpriced cologne. They should identify through mutual rejection of excess, like the Obama-SUV ad.

It’s pointless to claim you’re thinking ahead of Google: I expect to soon see Gmail intelligent advertising responding negatively to keywords: charity donations or carbon offsets ads generated alongside emails with text references to “Vacation”, “Yacht”, “Promotion” or “Dubai”.

We know what an A-Player for a charity looks like: the magnificent Don’t Vote ads, or John Cleese on Comic Relief a few years ago staring in silence at the screen for upwards of four minutes while he’s “waiting for you to donate some money”, before shrieking “Oh get on with it, you cheap B*******!”

More than zero-footprint chocolate, I’m talking cocoa-bean picking vacations. I’m talking survival for indulgence: making your indulgence stores your personal Vegas.



Note that it’s official, according to the Economist: Japan’s economy is nosing.

japan economy spending nosedive crash slump

Combine that with the announcementa few hours ago of the resignation of Finance Minister Soichii Nakagawa, who the other day appeared to be drunk at a G7 crisis talks press conference. How Hilarity Ensued.

Maybe it’s the right time for this, via AsiaJin: Virtual Meat for Hard Times.

air yakiniku virtual meat

Air Yakiniku is a video sensory-supplement for cheap dining: beyond simple fake-sensation ads, it’s free indulgence. You set the table with rice and sauce and laptop, click to run the video of a hand sizzling and then picking up the meat, and then you chow down on a mouthful of rice, eyes fixed on the screen, senses hopefully totally fooled. Personally, I just bring a book to our canteen, and try not to look at what I’m eating. I’m currently reading the superb Eileen Chang. I figure I’ll try and get ahead of the Nobel Literature curve this once.

Lastly, today’s thumbnail comes from the Chronic Catnip Company, which has one of the most entertaining, well characterised pitches I’ve ever seen on an utterly useless expenditure.

I’m going to bed, then school, then work, then make-up, then to research how Nudges could influence the Wealth Effect.



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All right let’s do this

A few weeks ago, in a lecture for the BBC on the future of Public Service Broadcasting Will Hutton argued that in the Reith era, the early days of the BBC when bandwidth was scarce, it was vital (and enforceable) that those granted it were held to the highest standards.

An obvious answer for today occurs: in an attention economy so vast that published space can be given to any jumped-up oik with a grudge, it is vital that someone holds themselves to those same ideals, rising out of the mass of wholly marketised information trading. I am with Hutton to this point. The BBC is the jewel of public service in many ways (including its being glossy and expensive, and having regularly to be cut smaller to improve its sheen), but there are a couple of reservations which occur to me when people argue, for example, for a BBC which makes itself a pinnacle of the web, providing a gateway or a consolidated set of services, providing not just news but a ‘trusted guide to the web‘.

One problem is that Hutton associates the sprawl of ideal-less media about the BBC’s feet with the democratisation of truth, a doctrine he associates with former BBC and Ch4 exec Michael Jackson’s onetime argument that everyone has an equal, because non-existent, claim to truth and objectivity. Personally, having just come out of an arts degree I dealt with this, todestrieb’s sneaky cousin, every day, and have largely made my peace with it. Hutton asserts as an alternative to total subjectivity what might have been the motto of a Victorian-era society of cricket umpires: “there are truths about matters“. Hutton knows that few things can be founded without holding a few truths self-evident, nor can they usually be maintained without occasional reminders: without them, they are not matters: they do not matter.

Don’t get me wrong: Hutton’s sic probo for the Corporation is a fine piece for its conscience, well analysed and well put; I also greatly admire his work on China. I assume, perhaps unfairly, that the more technically-minded who propose a model of the BBC as a ‘trusted guide’ (‘BBC presents: the Internet’ reminds me of this*) are not the sort of ballsy public intellectuals who take it upon themselves to champion what Hutton acknowledges are slightly atavistic ideals of the Truth of Matters. These guys are more likely to be freedom of information idealists, which lends itself more to the subjective side. But the same problems occur.

Even if the BBC were to host a popular frontend, a gateway to the internet, we must acknowledge that it can only do so really by hosting or linking to content not its own, including others’ news and interpretations. The BBC can afford to be open-handed with its programming, and it might be best suited to the notion that an open-door approach to news, where you acknowledge the competition and link to differing accounts or citizen journalists wherever relevant. Denying the existence of the mass of contradicting material surrounding any story is underestimating the audience. Link-farming may be the new objectivity.


Always consider the source

There are two appeals of citizen journalism: one is that it adds more, or more authentic material to the mass of material available for interpretation surrounding an event. The other is the sheer excitement of the mobile phone footage of the guy who was actually there, the prospect of someone having got inside the sphere of bullshit and interpretation into the event, (or into the vents) This in itself is misleading. I once saw a high security barrier collapse in a gale and crush a couple of people: I helped many others lifted it, but then I hung about, chatting to people and taking surruptitious camera shots of the injured. I have never felt more simultaneous shame and exhilaration.

Like other News sources, the BBC’s need to have a Man On the Scene, in order to give the impression of reporting the truth of matters, is as false as it’s always been. They’re usually, notoriously, on the roof of the hotel. But if we can get excited about citizen journalism and its supposed authenticity, it’s only because we haven’t read very much of it. The deprofessionalisation of journalism is another way to look at it: we may have to read even more, not less, to feel we have a reasonable grasp of a news situation if we start to include the eyewitness accounts of anyone who can type. Some notorious pieces of citizen journalism, I agree, can convey a situation better than anything professional, like this hypnotic video, which still makes me feel ill. (video opens in player). But these things also contribute to the opaque sphere of information which forms around an event the instant it’s digg’d. The mass of comment and reportage shows the outline of the story, but the endless permutations of phrasing and interpretation obscure whatever reality it had. It’s possible to be more informed than ever before, but we are no closer to being ‘at the scene’.

It becomes harder everyday to crawl across and appreciate even a fraction of the surface of the information sphere around an event (though thank God for RSS). All we can really do is read so much that we begin to feel that we have grasped the outline of a story, built up from the minor variations between wire service accounts and the rabid semantic contradictions between mainstream reportage of an event. Or we can pick our news source, or sources, and stick with them. Some want to see the Beeb as a spike of decency on the surface of the internet, a single readable point of light which can puncture the information sphere and show the Real within. The trouble is that the BBC has never had a monopoly on truth, and cannot be everywhere at once, any more than can either Drudge or Huff. The consumer can, whether hopping between the news channels or online. So long as someone is there, and online.


Dead Boomers

We should consider ourselves lucky that none of the students trapped in lecture halls at Virginia Tech on (*) had a Blackberry and a journalist’s mind, or we would already have had to face these questions much more publicly. The BBC can never be the Authority on Everything; what it trades on more than anything online is its name. I’m ready to agree with * that the BBC is the reason that internet news became seen as credible, at least in this country (though the success of the Telegraph and the Mail online finally mark its integration into society for their massed readers, and a rather bitter vindication for the rest of us).

These sites are a good example: people either trust them and read little else, or don’t care, or include them in a cycle of three or five or fifteen different sources. It is now so easy to do the latter that cross-referencing becomes instinctual, as easy as typing- or it can be automated, as in the randomised computer editorship of Google News. The BBC, it could be argued, is in the best position to provide not just a frontend but a disinterested system of links, a mosaic of outside sources which gives the sense of a story. Disinterested- but a far cry from Google’s robot editors. But then, this means adding free advertising to the list of services BBC Online already provides to non-license fee payers who may hate it and everything it stands for. And online, advertising, or more accurately attention, is the only real currency.

If the BBC wishes to move into attention brokering, not just attention attraction, then it has seen the future beyond an economy based on the restriction of content: a future of informed, infinite, impatient demand. But if so it must know that it is going up against both the big boys and the whiz kids, from the Google empire to ClickUni. Surely, though a company which can stand above the concerns of such an economy is ideal for the purpose. A company somehow funded by the people, for said people. Which can, perhaps, take some of those whiz kids under its uniquely funded wing with something other than, or at least additional to, commercial interest. Well, all right. But unfortunately innovation and the net don’t discriminate, and the license fee does. And so do people.

An investment arm of the BBC as proposed years ago by Azeem Azhar among others would be a truly public institution, one which provides encouragement and support for nimble, ingenious little startups, introducing them to the right people then perhaps pointing others in their direction. But to beleaguered controllers this notion may appeal in the main merely as a means of offsetting the apparant contradictions of the success of the commercial arm in the eyes of critics of the license fee, and indeed in anticipation of potentially hostile Cameron charter review. Because an investment arm with a remit to provide truly altruistic support and encouragement to innovation, exclusively or in large part within the British economy, might seem asinine to you or I or our assumed shared consensus but to many such an institution would seem like a very suitable, clubbable thing indeed.

Such a thing would be utterly hamstrung in its economic purpose by the very forces that maintain its contradictory competitive noncompetition; in the same way that BBC, ITV and Ch4’s single-platform venture Kangaroo might yet be stillborn as a result of the delay of its referral to the Competition Comission. Apple is about to rollout its TV-on-demand iTunes iteration (complete with BBC archive material, for which openhandedness the Director of Vision may well be kicking herself now). This is crystal-ball stuff, but in this case we’re talking about the space of the few first key weeks of rollout. If Apple is given room to strut its stuff in the next few months then the unprecedented co-operative platform which Kangaroo represents will likely lose a deal-breaking share of the UK TVOD market to an American firm. And that seems hardly the point.


Counting them out

One of the classics of journalism under duress is also the best example of journalism under a cloud: Brian Hanrahan’s report from a carrier in the Falklands that he counted all the jets out, and counted them all back in. Hanrahan was operating within the deliberately imposed fog of war, not to mention the Navy’s notorious abhorrence of the press in general. Hutton raised this example as a high water-mark of the BBC’s reputation worldwide, and the existence of honest if incomplete reportage during war proof of the rightness of our cause compared to the Argentinians. Indeed, if the morality of a war is not in why it is fought but how, that principle must extend now to how it is reported. It was a part of that credibility coup that the BBC was operating not just in harm’s way, but in a state of potentially iconoclastic tolerance by the authorities. On the other hand, it is also an early example of embedding, and the rightly unambiguous bias that brings. Max Hastings’ dispatches from the Falklands and his memoir are unabashedly eneamoured with the servicemen around him.

Hutton contends that an independent and ‘truth-seeking’ media is under threat because of “today’s ever more strident commercial values”, and because governments are becoming more astute in hiding their interests. The first has a simple, almost childlike solution: Public Service Broadcasters are given money calculated to offset the commercial dead weight of socially responsible programming. But the BBC is not struggling to contend in the marketplace by most measures: instead it is struggling with the contradictory pressures of its stated purposes within the market. BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm, is doing too well selling properties abroad for many to consider the Beeb the nation’s museum anymore. ITV and Ch4 are held to the same legal Public Service standards but aren’t given public money. BBC has to compete for the same viewers, but with its standards, not theirs. And now it has to try to do the same online. And here is where the problems arise.

Cass Sunstein argued years ago that the internet is inherently radicalising: people are attracted to affirmation and thus find themselves drawn into communities of mutual radicalisation, developing a ‘Daily Me’ roll call of news sites attuned to their interests and prejudices. This is okay up to a point: the web is indeed the ultimate in the commercialisation of information, as well as the freeing of information: it’s an attention economy. But anyone who spent years reading how traditional print media discussed the web in its early days will find nothing new in the argument that the web lends itself not to extremism but to fetishism. Not necessarily to the extremes of the news spectrum, but to the depths of an interest: be it crocheting or nazi sex memorabilia; as deep into connoisseurship as you can stomach it. Whatever it is and whether you know it or not, someone has a page dedicated to your secret lusts; and if they don’t, you can always make it yourself. The Beeb, like Will Hutton, has to operate within the assumption that there are a few matters that everyone is interested in, or should be interested in, and that truth is foremost among them. Correct. Perfect. Yes. You and I and Ayn Rand can all agree about that.

Hutton derides the subjectivity of Jackson and the notion of an open-season on truth. The trouble is that cross-referencing is so integral to use of the web that that open-season is simply what truth on the internet looks like. The truth might be out there somewhere, but there’s no guarantee that site’ll have the scoop next time. Of course major news sources all catch up eventually on facts and figures, but like Hutton I’m talking about truth which can’t be tabulated; the report which gives the real, true impression of a situation, if you believe in that sort of thing.I believe with Einstein that nothing can be made more simple than it is. Which means the chances are that for a given story someone somewhere will have got it exactly right, not over-simplified nor over-egged, but told as it is. And if that’s the BBC one time in four, say, then the investment is worth it a hundred times over. But I’m skeptical whether it’ll be possible to justify a national tax (call it what you like) in order to sustain one reputable world news source among many. We should avoid the illusion that the ideals embodied in the net and its tech heads are from the same camp as the BBC’s. In many ways the net is a market like any other, with the exception that the only thing it can tax is your attention and your patience.

Ayn Rand’s eternal rage in her novels and philosophy is that ineptitude should exist and have its say. In a truth market on the net, ineptitude becomes almost immaterial. There are many, many adept communicators ready to provide whatever you want to see. This may be mediocrity, but so be it. And besides, in the cosmos of material online you can find something so perfectly keyed to your interests that the question of whether or not it was skillfully made so becomes irrelevant. Even mediocrity is not necessarily the problem. What the BBC has to deal with is an attention deficit. The BBC’s great unanswerable strength online is that people know it’s there; it is a go-to. But the endless iterations of specifics available online, and the lack of an absolute authority, is what makes Jackson-style cod-Saussurean total subjectivity so tempting when thinking about the net. Because it is possible to find something that looks so like the truth to you that the distinction ceases to be relevant.


True 2.0

If we argue that the investment is worthwhile to maintain BBC as one of the best, most regular hosts of the truth, the question still remains as to whether this justifies public subsidy. If with Hutton we assume that truth has an eternal commerical draw, then the BBC will have as its competitors more and more stringent adherents to that ideal every day. (So long as a site can still be discredited by claims of deceit. But that’s another question.) Of course, nothing stops these competitors being owned or influenced by a corporation. Perhaps that’s what the BBC is truly good for. But then, in order to fund its attempt to corner the market in truth, it has already sprouted breadwinning arms to get cash which, under the old system, it was told it could not need. It now has interests. If we find ourselves in a few years’ time looking back and able to say that the BBC weathered the darkest patch of License Fee Envy in its history, we should also appreciate that it the BBC’s future and the ultimate Moral victory will be defined not by its survival, but by how it fought its war, and what it chose to sacrifice.

Which is a terribly journalisty ending, not an executive one. Platitudes aside I don’t doubt that hard decisions will be taken, and taken bravely: the investment arm business would leave a bad taste in the mouth if required to be In The National Interest, but then the BBC has already suffered because the Competition Commission appeared to forget that it’s remit only extends to protecting the economy of the United Kingdom. The Beeb as well take advantage of the system in turn.

I won’t disguise the fact that when I imagine a future acclimatised to communication technology, I am looking for a place for PSB to exist within it. An instinct which probably owes as much to the sound of the late Today presenter Brian Redhead’s voice in the morning before school as it does to idealism.

The question I want to ask in this blog is how quickly things become second nature: when new developments become simply, solidly How Things Are. For young people this never happens; the older might be forgiven for feeling that this will never happen again. Forgiven, because every adult since the Middle Ages has felt the same. I’m a bit between those two stages, though I won’t deny that there’s far fewer things can be taken for granted than ever before.

When does the singular become second nature? I want to know how it looks frombove as new technologies roll out around the globe. I’m going to Japan soon to work, and I want to know if just seems foreign, or if it actually feels like the future, our future, late capitalist ennui and all. I can’t wait.

roll out and transform

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