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Eight lessons marketing professionals can learn from Kolaveri

The digital world has so disrupted the business models of newspapers, radio, television, music and even Hollywood that the yin and yang of mass media and mass marketing are flying apart. We are in the midst of total collapse of the media infrastructure we have taken for granted for 400 years.

– Bob Garfield Advertising Age Columnist in The Chaos Scenario, 13 April 2005

Aye, have you heard this weird song. Kolaveri, Kolaveri? Is got close to a million views on YouTube. Is it Malu or what? What does Kolaveri mean?

– Digital Dude Aged 24, 17 November 2011

Screen grab from Youtube

Six years after Bob Garfield provoked the marketing and advertising industry with his seminal piece in Advertising Age, Digital Dude (quoted above) discovers that Kolaveri Di has gone viral on YouTube. Dude does not know Bob Garfield nor has he read The Chaos Scenario. But he is among the millions who have given Kolaveri another view, helping to further shoot the video on to the centre stage of India’s pop culture and unwittingly endorsing the premise of Bob’s book.
Now clients want agencies to do a Kolaveri like video for their brands. Yes we got two briefs in the last two days and are struggling to explain why we cannot do a Kolaveri. What we do have are some lessons from the said video and similar memes.

Lesson 1. You don’t make a Kolaveri. It happens. Amen. Here are, one, two stories from the guys at Jack in the Box, the digital agency behind the viral on how it happened.

Lesson 2. You can’t separate marketing and PR from the agency anymore. Being a movie based video Kolaveri has an advantage over traditional marketing content. Yet reading the agency’s POV on this, PR was strategically used to give the video the traction.  Starting now we need to create all kinds of synergies to get people’s attention. Marketing, PR, HR, sales, service working together, in tandem…

Lesson 3.  Speed is the new element in a marketing person’s arsenal. To read Dhanush’s interview post the success of the song and to believe that the song was written in some 6 minutes. Well that’s as much time it takes to find an empty conference room these days. Speed was on display when W+K decided to bring on the OldSpice Man on to Twitter and YouTube. 180+ videos created in two days. Wow!

Lesson 4. YouTube is the TV channel for urban Indian youth. Mahesh Murthy (look up his 20 new rules of marketing here) and Reem Syed are some of the prominent voices in India who believe how lopsided marketing budgets are with respect to digital media. The impact of Kolaveri Di should put an end to that discussion. In fact this Google Trends comparison between two recent hits, Airtel’s Har Friend Zaroori Hota Hai and Kolaveri shows you that without a dime spent on TV, Kolaveri has blown past an ad that was heavily promoted on all channels, online included. Even in places like Ludhiana and Chandigarh,  Kolaveri beat out the Airtel ad.

Lesson 5. In a low friction world,  we learnt a great idea will have imitators like in the case of Cadbury’s s Gorilla. In India we have struggled to get people to create interesting content that feeds off a rage. Kolaveri is showing us that good ideas will be copied and remixed in real time. What are we agencies and marketers doing to create memes that can be remixed?

Lesson 6. Hum-ability counts, not meaning. Cartoonist Hugh McLeod had something fundamental to say  in this cartoon. Most marketing messages are so overloaded that they lose any humanity whatsoever. The lyrics in Kolaveri are so nonlinear that they start a conversation and further its spread.  RIP Link Test?

Lesson 7. Ideas like these can spawn real time marketing opportunities. Pepsico’s Digital Marketing Head talks about how the best marketing in the future will need to grab real time opportunities that could come by. A viral the scale of Kolaveri could have spawned many opportunities. A line of Kolaveri Di Tshirts. A promo around the song. A smart entrepreneur could have started a Kolaveri Di FAQs page and made some money from placing Ads on the page. Missed opportunities.

Lesson 8. The long tail brings interesting content back into circulation. This one has nothing to do with Kolaveri. But another video that’s been doing the rounds recently, the  flash mob in Mumbai Central has been doing the rounds. The Youtube video has already notched up an impressive 200,000+ views in two days. On the back of this, an older, forgotten one from May this year is getting a second life, for free. The Internet never forgets, but no ad that’s shown on TV can ever have a second coming without the advertiser wanting to rerun it.

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Digital story telling. View from a massage table.

Come on. Dim the lights. Bring out the aromatherapy candles. Play some soothing Thai spa music. Lower the volume just a bit. Oh yeah!

I can barely see the warm tubs of oils, hot stones, moist towels, the steam rising. Not to let my mind wander though. I am at work. Need to complete a strategy note by EOD.

You know why I am advertising, don’t you? It’s mid-afternoon, I am lying on a couch in a posh spa getting pampered. The Mad Men days may be over for our business. And anyway, I am a digital guy.

I am putting together a strategy presentation for a new client. And I am soaking it in, the brand experience. Exploring options, feeling the stuff, poking, prodding and getting my thoughts ready.

As the masseur’s trained fingers run up and down my back tickling out hidden knots and pockets of stress, I am thinking of the brand story. A spine, as it were, around which this luxury spa brand will unravel it’s POV to the world.

Ah! I love my job.

The client will see no numbers, click thru rates, fan counts and such in this presentation. This is higher order stuff. The foundation of a brand, built around its brand story, its truth.

What’s the big deal, you may ask. Any good advertising person is supposed to experience a brand, live the experience, use the product and come up with a POV. What’s new?

Well, digital needs brands to be richer. Offer multi-layered story lines that get played out depending on the channel that is being used. More importantly, since brands can own media platforms on the digital channels they operate in, they can tell longer, more detailed stories unlike with traditional media, where they are constrained by sizes or time limits.

So how is this story coming along? Let’s for argument sake call the spa at home brand “Soul” and imagine that I am putting together this multilayered brand story document for them.

Let me begin with the brand proposition. Soul. Luxury spa at home. Hmm nice. Looks like new territory for me. I begin to construct the brand’s story.

If you have, like me, been lucky enough to interact with a smart lady called Story Ninja you too would have learnt a few things about stories. The theory around stories. About concepts like the Monomyth and The Heroes’ Journey as propounded by Joseph Campbell. In conversations with Story Ninja I have come to learn that there are basic patterns that can be found in all universal stories. And as I construct a digital strategy for Soul, I dive in to build a compelling, multi-dimensional narrative that can make deep connections with people.

Additionally, I reach out to the teachings of former MIT Professor Henry Jenkins and his wonderful approach called Transmedia Storytelling. Or, how in today’s world with multiple digital and traditional media platforms stories can play out differently, across these platforms and yet create a powerful and unified whole as the participants in these stories (people) put them together. Advertising planner Faris Yakob has taken this thinking and furthered it for use in advertising, which he calls Transmedia Planning.

So as I think of the brand story for Soul I am constructing a simple, universal narrative from within the Heroes’ Journey and then use transmedia planning to play it out to the world.

I can’t disclose the brand story that is coming alive in my mind (NDA and stuff my friends) but I can share the platform thinking. From the company’s website, to the many digital and social media channels that are available to brands these days. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, 43 Things, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin. Throw in a porn site even, YouPorn, why not? For a brand that makes massage oil, let’s have some sensual “how to” videos up there too.

Told you, love my job…

So I can see the streams coming together. Soul: Luxury Spa at home, if that is the proposition. Unlike a traditional advertising, where I will be constrained by ad sizes or spot time limits, I can think free. Have long sensuous videos play out on video sites. Seed them across the web using Facebook and Twitter. Build a good profile of the company using a smart website to help Soul come across as a solid and reliable brand. Talk about individual products and their secrets using blog posts. Show beautiful images of Soul products and how they can be used, on Instagram and Pinterest. Build the reputation of people behind the company on Linkedin. Cross link stuff around so I can optimize the company’s site for search engines. Sweet! I can see this working on me. Not the massage, silly! The startegy.

Apart from the cost of building the Soul website and some monies incurred in production, I have not spent a dime in media costs. So while historically a brand would have a 90:10 split between media and production, all that Soul is incurring is in production costs, and of course the fat fees they pay me for helping them get their digital act together.

So before I doze off, and if you are still with me, here are the take outs. In the world of digital brand building, we need to imagine richer, multilayered brand stories. While executing these stories don’t worry about space and time constraints. Instead think platforms. So what you do on YouTube need not be what you will do on Pinterest. Each platform has a grammar of its own. Consider that when building brand stories. People who are on these platforms expect a certain behavior from others around. So instead of thinking traditionally and narrow casting your brand around one line, or around a slogan, think wider. Think richer.

Finally. There are a few kits of Soul that my client wants to give away. Would you like to receive one? Post a comment below and I will reach out to you. Brands in the digital world are all about giving.

Backing up your brain. One little app at a time.

A few weeks ago I celebrated by birthday. While I am not an 8 year old anymore to care about birthdays, what struck me most was the number of good wishes I received. From a dozen or so greetings a few years ago, I received hundreds, perhaps a thousand messages this time.

So what has changed? Facebook, obviously. Those useful little notifications that appear on the right top of our streams. Sure. But that’s missing a broader trend.

Einstein’s telephone number. The story goes that when someone asked Albert Einstein his phone number, Einstein replied that he didn’t remember it. This startled the man who was well aware of Einstein’s genius. Mr Relativity had to then clarify that when his phone number was easily available in a telephone directory, there was no point of him remembering it and crowding up his memory,

Remembering to forget. Starting with a telephone directory to new digital platforms like Facebook, Google and Outlook calendar, apps like Rememeberthemilk and programs like Basecamp we have started to slowly outsource our brain. By setting up alerts and reminders we are using technology to help us forget days, times and activities that would have otherwise added noise to our already overwhelmed brains.

I don’t bother to remember to pay my utility bills anymore as I have set them all up in the automated system that my bank provides. With SMS messages that arrive month after month, I only keep a notional track of bills that have come in and have automatically been paid out.

I have gone further, with tools like CarLocator that helps me remember where I parked my car in a busy parking lot.  Or whosthat?, an app that I, err, use discreetly, to help me remember names of people who I have met, and may have forgotten, and therefore avoid real world social embarrassments.

Carbon meets silicone. The brain outsourcing business is still in its infancy with simple apps that need our intervention to take over things we want them to. But this could soon change, with scientists finding ways to connect carbon based humans and silicon based computers seamlessly. British Scientist Kevin Warwick has been working on wiring silicon based interfaces that can send signals between a human body and a computer. In fact he has had a chip implanted in his own arm more than a decade ago and has been experimenting with ways to turn analog signals from his body into little pieces of digital software that once activated on a computer will be able to create a reaction in his body.

Others believe we can take it further. With inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil foreseeing that we will, in our own lifetimes, be able to download our memories, thoughts, emotions and consciousness into a hard drive. He has written several books on the subject and at 63 is working towards being one of the first humans to be able to seamlessly move from being a man to a machine. Computers are already better than humans at logic, he says and it is just a matter of time when we will be able to transfer our emotional intelligence into a computer.

There are others too who agree with the Kurzweil line of thinking. Ian Pearson, head of the futurology at British Telecom has put a date to when we will be able to seamlessly download minds into a machine. 2050, he says, if you are rich enough, add another 25 years for poor guys like me.

I have seen heaven. So what does happy birthday alerts and online bill payment systems tell us about longevity and immortality? That, unbeknownst to us, we have started our journey from being creatures of carbon, to having our memory and our consciousness preserved in a server farm somewhere. With Apple launching iOS 5 sometime in October, and the promise of free or low cost digital storage on iCloud and elsewhere, we are slowly and steadily uploading our lives onto silicon. With his ongoing battle with cancer, Steve Jobs may not make it. But his vision could help me live forever, in silicon heaven, on a cloud somewhere.

This story appeared in FirstPost. You can read it here 

The Joy of Failure

In most agencies Digital is cool these days. And as a digital guy, you can walk around with this smug,  know-it-all expression. Augmented Reality? No problem! Shoskales? You should ask me! SEO? I know abbreviations!

Or you can expect to be branded a heretic and be ready to be foisted onto a stake for giving clients and agency colleagues the feeling that something complex can be done, without actually having done it before.

I must admit that I have been at the receiving end lately. Accused of being a complete loser who jumps onto new technology bandwagons (Hype Cycle, as Gartner puts it) because it’s out there waiting to be done (a campaign on Percolate anyone?). Or plunging smooth running client relationships into crisis by trying to do audacious things.

Frankly I’d rather die a trapeze artist trying to do one new stunt after another, rather be a Spanish goat herder stuck by lightning while he took a midafternoon siesta. Yes! More than ever…

Since the early seventies theorists have been postulating the emergence of the Attention Economy, where for brands and ideas, getting people’s attention is going to be the biggest problem. Traditional communication models like AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) are being threatened because of our reducing attention spans and the proliferation of devices.

While old theories are being laid to rest every day, ideas that once sparked and shone are biting the dust more often. This is not just true for traditional advertising ones, but for newfangled digital and nontraditional ones too. While Coke’s Happiness Machine version 1was a viral rage globally, attempts to recreate the magic have not been as spectacular. The original Old Spice Man Twitter response campaign got far more traction digitally than the recent shootout with Fabio.

But that’s not the point.

The point frankly is that we don’t know. We don’t know for sure what will work, and which ones won’t. And we have to believe that this to be the first principle of our business. Be prepared to throw away rule books, process documents, research methodologies and more in today’s over communicated world. Many ideas that fall in within our brand and communication comfort zones right now may not make any impact at all amidst all the noise around us.

Sure not every idea will be worth people’s attention. And that has always been the case. But to believe that tried and tested approaches will work again and again is to believe in the value of diminishing returns. I think we in agencies and at client offices have to build a culture of trying new things time and again. Create ideas that can creep into people’s attention spaces that may not necessarily fit within the boxes of advertising or marketing. So even if they are too busy to pay any attention, the sheer novelty of these ideas mean they get seen, heard and discussed.

Now there’s so much more motivation to step out and swim across to the unknown. The Cannes Lions Advertising Festival broke the rules this year renamed itself to the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Awarding ideas that refuse to be contained in neatly defined boxes and silos that fall in our traditional comfort zones.

What would you call the Bing J-Z Decoded campaign or Tesco’s tryst with stores in the subway? Or the exceptional work done by the German agency Kempertrautmann for Hamburg Philharmonic? Here even the conductor agreed that the idea was crazy, when she first heard it. How would you measure such ideas even before they are approved and executed? What frameworks would they fall in?

We may want to pause and reflect on this.

Are we asking enough questions about our ideas, when we complain that are 99% of all advertising campaigns don’t cut it creatively? Why are we satisfied with just 2%, .2% or .02% banner clickthru rates? I could go on…

While attention is scarce on one hand, we are spending more time to seek out things that really interest us. Surely some of this can be advertising. Additionally, in this age of wonderment, most of the magic is being created outside departments that may not be designated creative. Also, the landscape of communication is being disrupted even by little kids armed with a computer and an internet connection.  As organisations that are being looked at as places that produce new and breakthrough ideas, we need to step right back in and claim our position. Whatever it takes.

As author Kathryn Schultz celebrates so evocatively in this TED talk, On Being Wrong. “Our capacity to screwup, it is not some embarrassing defect in the human system, something we can eradicate or overcome. It’s totally fundamental to who we are.” So if you have 20 minutes to spare. And it is not totally wrong to spend some time watching TED in office, maybe worth jumping in and listening up. Steve Jobs urged the class of 2005 at Stanford to stay hungry, stay foolish. Maybe we should too.

Advertising. Not Like the Music Industry.

There have been many stories in the media in the last few weeks about the decay of advertising. There was this long one about The Future of Advertising in Fast Company. BusinessWeek countered it with this one on how Big Dumb Agencies may not be going away anywhere soon. The most provocative one, however was by Adaptive Path’s Peter Merholz. It was a brutal piece, one that tore apart our business as one with a “poisonous core”. While there has been a lot of debate and discussion around the post – in fact Peter has posted a rejoinder explaining various points on his original one, I thought the last item on his first rant to be a bit off key.  Advertising Agencies are the New Music Industry, he wrote.

I am not sure if the music industry analogy is the right one for the advertising business. While just like the music business, traditional advertising is being run over by the arrival of the Internet and other digital mediums, unlike the music industry, which went down primarily because of the growth of file sharing, I think advertising will evolve thanks to a combination of many smaller changes.

Search Marketing. While Google and others in the search marketing business are seeing exceptional growth, search marketing alone will not end advertising as we know it.

Social Media. Yes it is hot at the moment and will be extremely important in the years to come. Social media engagement will be one of the many things that marketers will need to help manage a brand.

PR. For years PR was a discipline that marketing had little influence over. Bougsky’s allegedly famous quote “…write me the press release” aptly describes how PR has become an important mover of marketing messages. Recently Pepsi’s Shiv Singh tweeted about wanting a partner who was a combination of a digital agency, a traditional agency and a PR company.

Video. BMW films showed us what can be done when branded messages are played out in digital media. There have been many experiments that have followed. The age of video, though, is just beginning to play out.

Mobile. Mobile devices will have as much or more impact on the marketing business as computers, TV and radio have had in the past. Always connected, always on phones are a tsunami that will change traditional messaging, but will need to do more to completely annihilate brand messages.

Location Based Services. These new and emerging concepts will add another dimension to real-time marketing. There are some simple and straight forward “Minority Report” kind of possibilities that location based messaging can do. These concepts will evolve and amaze us in the years to come.

Reality Enhanced. Ideas like augmented reality are just being experimented with at the moment. There will be more we will do by overlaying smart digital ideas over real things in the future.

Gaming. In an attention starved world, inventive new branded or brand embedded  games will give marketers access into the minds of people.

Crowdsourcing. Not so much a concept as much as an approach to producing ideas. Crowdsourcing will chip away advertising agency strongholds and change advertising in many ways.

Amazement. For decades, advertising had this knack of creating jaw-dropping moments. Not anymore. Anyone with a digital camera can now. Ads now have to fight even harder to be seen and talked about.

Marketers, marketing messages and the ones who create them, advertising agencies, will have to change to stay in touch with people who have lot more to do. The reason for this change will be many. All of them equally relevant.

Ask The PM

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s has a YouTube Channel that features exclusive content online. The interesting bit about this experiment is that he gives ordinary people the ability to ask questions which he will respond to on the channel.

Praise Divers. Why people collaborate for free.

BusinessWeek Magazine tries to get under the phenomena on why there is so much of free stuff that people are creating online. And boils it down to the reward economy. Will work for praise. Beyond brand-hungry strivers, masses of free laborers continue to toil without ever seeing a payday, or even angling for one. Many find compensation in currencies that predate the market economy. These include winning praise from peers, earning an exalted place within a community, scoring thrills from winning, and finding satisfaction in helping others. From universities to the computer labs of Internet giants, researchers are working to decode motivations, and to perfect the art of enlisting volunteers. Prahbakar Raghavan, chief of Yahoo Research, estimates that 4% to 6% of Yahoo’s users are drawn to contribute their energies for free, whether it’s writing movie reviews or handling questions at Yahoo Answers. One of the interesting things about the free collaborators is that not all of them are in this game for money. The article points to this experiment by CommuniSpace, a company that has an army of volunteers who talk about their experience with products and services. In this private community, rewards in cash seems to be a taboo, as they found out in this experiment. Participation rose when volunteers received a token $10 gift certificate as a thank-you. But raising the value of the certificates made no difference. According to Manila Austin, psychologist and researcher at CommuniSpace “People want the validation that they are being heard,” volunteers appreciated the gesture, but didn’t want payment. More In BusinessWeek.

Designing For The Mobile Web

One of the biggest challenges that web companies will need to brace for is the coming mobile web. Websites will have to be smaller, cleaner, load faster and easy to navigate. While Apple and Adobe have collaborated long and hard on design and word processing platforms, Flash the chosen motion add-on for the web, is still not available on the iPhone. So designers will have to think up new ways to deliver visually enhanced experiences on the device. Smashing Magazine has a wonderful story on how to design for the mobile web. A must read for anyone who is interested in connecting with people in the coming year. Couched as a trends article, this is more a how to, with loads of very important insights on how the phone and its user are different compared to when he/she uses other devices. The story points to 5 key differences that a designer has to keep in mind when designing for the medium, including lack of white spaces and images. On the technical front, look out for the use of sub domains rather than use .mobi as a TLD, it’s a lot easier to manage content delivery on different platforms, we suspect. Another important trend that’s being noticed is the need to prioritise content for visitors. Show only what is important seems to be the mantra of the best sites, which means even ads are out for the moment. Mobile as a platform for delivering web sites is still evolving. Music and movie makers seem to have a leg up at the moment as people using their phones as music players and mini screens for watching things is already firmly in place. How to deliver easily navigable websites and corporate borchureware, now that’s another challenge. The Smashing Magazine story is here. How NY Times redesigned navigation for the iPhone is here.

Website Urges You To Look At Your Spending

Here’s a wonderful Brazilian site that helps young people understand how much little acts like talking over their phones, buying clothes and spending time in malls can dent their savings. Seen through the mirror of two young people, the engaging site tracks these people as they go on doing things they would do normally, yet end up spending considerable sums over a period of time. I Can Bank It.

What Gets Clicked

Do the colour, font, image and message of the ad induce online visitors to click ads? A new bunch of companies are trying to find out just this. They are creating hundreds of versions of clients’ online ads, changing these basic elements to see what combination draws clicks on a particular site or from a specific audience. Two companies, Adisn and Tumri are trying to find out, for example, if an ad for a baby supply store is more popular with young mothers when it features a bottle instead of diapers. They have the technology to assemble ads on the fly and have them come up when people are searching. For example for their work on cleaning brand Simple Green, if it’s a woman looking at a kitchen with a stainless steel refrigerator, they can show a stainless steel product. While a basic use of the concept could help identify which version of the ad works best, what advertisers are finding is that the appropriate ad is not static, and changes all the time as content on the page changes. Read more in Ny Times. Also in Wired Magazine, Online advertising. Survival of the fittest. If you are still reading this story, you may want to check out Yahoo Smart Ads.

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