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RIP, Steve Jobs

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

My dad was a PC before being a PC meant being John Hodgman. I’ve worked on a Windows-based computer since I was playing Commander Keen as a three year old. We never had a Macintosh, but I do remember using iMacs in 4th and 5th grade. Even to a PC, losing the co-founder of Apple is a pretty big moment.

Yesterday, my generation’s visionary died, and we’re a little broken up about it. You can see it in the flurry of sincere tweets, obituaries, and blog posts from a normally-disaffected generation. He was our John Lennon, a dreamer who seemed to believe in himself and his own ideas on a supernatural level. I saw more than one tweet fly by into the ether last night about how losing Steve Jobs is my generation’s version of losing Walt Disney, someone else whose ideas were so brilliant and so new. People are actually laying flowers for Steve Jobs, a former executive at Apple stores he helped create. That is absolutely unheard of in an era whe

re our nation’s youth are protesting in front of Wall Street, an era where we distrust anyone wearing a suit and cast shame on executives across the country.

Steve Jobs showed us why we should Think Different. He hired the brightest people and expected them to make the best products. He pushed his employees to the edge because on the edge, legends are born. He proved to us that breaking the rules isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the only thing to do. We learned from Steve that if you’re good enough, you make your own rules. Through his work, he taught us that simplicity in design trumps complexity every time. His products showed us that ease of use is a beautiful thing.

Steve Jobs taught us that sometimes, things break, and the world will crush you. He also taught us that there’s freedom in losing everything. After being fired from Apple in the 80’s, he could have sat on his couch, wallowing around with a bag of cheetos and daytime TV like the rest of us. He started Pixar instead. He taught a generation of underpaid, underemployed, and overworked people that life is too short to work in a job you don’t like. We learned from Steve that settling for a life we don’t want is far worse than feeling lost for a little while, and we each take that lesson with us well into our twenties.

The fact that the majority of my generation probably heard about his death via one of his products says more about the impact of Steve Jobs than words ever can. But Steve Jobs means more to us than the phones in our pockets, laptops in our backpacks and music in our ears. He showed us what we could be if we were brave enough and heard our inner voice in a clear and resonating tone. He was a genius, someone who changed the world, and he will always be an inspiration to each and every one of us.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.

Generation Meme

September 27, 2010 2 comments

On a particularly moving episode of Mad Men this season, Don Draper fell apart. The only woman who ever truly knew him (Spoiler alert! He’s not actually Don Draper) had died, and he was having a very hard time dealing with it. For the first time in the series’ run, Don Draper broke down and cried.

12 hours later, an image of Don Draper crying exploded across the internet. Within hours of its creation, Sad Don Draper was the internet flavor of the week. It became an internet meme.

What’s a meme?

According to the term’s originator, Richard Dawkins, you should think of a meme as a tiny bit of culture that gets passed along like a gene. A meme is a cultural virus. It is passed between humans in person, through word-of-mouth, and through various forms of media until it remixes itself or reaches extinction.

An “internet meme” spreads primarily from the ground up on the internet. This means that memes don’t usually originate from Google or Facebook, but rather 4Chan, the lawless, “international waters” of the internet.  It then “infects” others through word-of-mouth, email, blogs and social media. Memes are all around us.

If you’re my age, you probably remember the Hamster Dance (and the mere mention of it probably brings back that horrible, horrible song). More recent memes you’re probably familiar with include The Rickroll (click the link, I DARE YOU), The Bed Intruder Song, Keyboard Cat and, of course, LOLcats.

Sounds quite a bit like going viral, right?

Yep. “Going viral” simply refers to a meme’s ability to infect culture online, often with a brand message. The most recent (and largely successful) viral campaign was the Old Spice Guy, Isaiah Mustafa. While that campaign was the result of previous paid media (TV ads came before the viral phenomenon), Old Spice’s viral Youtube campaign will go down in advertising history.

Brands understand the power of viral videos; word-of-mouth spreads, and consumers trust other consumers more than advertisers. While most word-of-mouth is still spread offline (the proverbial “watercooler” is still alive and well), viral videos have a large impact on offline culture. This is why Tosh.0, a show devoted to viral videos and internet culture, often gets bigger ratings than The Daily Show. Internet culture has become our culture. Like it or not, we are Generation Meme.

Let’s use memes to sell stuff!

Naturally, brands are trying to capitalize on our love of memes. They’re trying to find out what makes something go viral so that they can create the newest viral masterpiece. Some advertisers are beginning to use viral stars in their ads; most recently, the The Double Rainbow Guy was featured in an ad for Microsoft. So, will we continue to see more and more memes show up in ads?

It really depends on how fast the advertisers can react to culture. Old Spice’s viral campaign was about as low-latency as it gets; people were sending out questions via social media to Old Spice, and within a day an ad had been made and aired on Youtube. However, this isn’t the norm. By the time a lot of advertisers will have devised a script, developed a budget, and produced the commercial, the meme would already be decreasing in popularity or extinct.

The cycle time for a meme (from initial discovery to extinction) is getting much shorter. As soon as one meme pops up, another will soon follow. Memes are popping up weekly. This means that advertisers are going to have to get the approval of clients and create an entire ad in very little time. This is not easy to do.

For advertisers, it’s really a race to see if they can put together a coherent ad before the meme loses its place in pop culture. If there’s one thing worse than not making an ad at all, it’s trying to capitalize on pop culture after the fad is over and looking uncool and out-of-date (though, sometimes that’s the point).

I guess the real question is whether or not memes will stay around in culture long term. Is Sad Keanu going to be our generation’s Mona Lisa? Absolutely not. But for now, they make us laugh. As long as the internet allows us to share all the strange and wonderful things we find, memes will have a place in our funny bones.

What do you think: Are memes now a part of pop culture or are they just odd spasms of internet weirdness? Can advertisers use them without “selling out?”

Crowdsourcing in the Idea Mosh-Pit

August 18, 2010 1 comment

Sometimes, the internet reinforces my belief in humanity because of the vast amount of creative energy and raw intelligence that I see while surfing. Everywhere I look, there’s an idea being hashed out, a hilariously unexpected joke created, and something new being created. There are people with great ideas all over the internet, but the only place they are able to express these ideas is in the comments section of blogs or on their own blogs and social media accounts.

Advertisers and creative think-tanks are providing a new arena in which people can let their creative juices flow: crowdsourcing.

Regardless of what you call it (apparently it’s now called “creative collaboration”), crowdsourcing aims to take the creative energy of the masses and focus it on brainstorming, innovation, and other projects. Think of it as mass freelancing with even less commitment. Basically, crowdsourcing is outsourcing a project to a large amount of people through an open invitation to collaborate (often on the internet). Crowdsourcing is a major trend in advertising and marketing, and I think it can be beneficial for both parties. Here’s how.

Agencies

Crowdsourcing can be a valuable and worthwhile practice for agencies. Don’t believe me? Here’s a snippet from the website of a crowdsourcing ad agency in Boulder, Victors and Spoils:

“Current factors such as radical transparency, the consumer’s demand to be more involved and a growing cost consciousness regarding clients’ budgets have all made crowdsourcing especially timely for today’s marketers”

Let’s touch on each one of those points:

-Radical transparency, as I’ve talked about before, is really popular with my generation. We as consumers want to know what is going on with the brands we buy. What’s more transparent than consumers actually having a part in creating the ad? Brands can gain consumer’s trust by using crowdsourcing principles.

-Because we want greater transparency, we want to be involved. Consumers just like to have a say in things. Just look at how many people vote for the next American Idol every year. People want to participate. Again, this allows the ad agency and brand to gain the trust of the public.

-There’s a famous quote: “Half of all advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” These days, it’s even harder to determine the return on investment of your advertising (though there’s a surplus of “experts” out there who can do it for you). This makes clients even more wary of spending their money on advertising.

Individuals

Crowdsourcing can also be beneficial for people wishing to get their ideas out there. As I said before, people just want to participate and help out. Crowdsourcing allows individuals to let their voices be heard. Here are some other reasons why I think the masses want to join in:

-Foot-in-the-door: It’s a tough job market out there. Anything an individual can do to stand above the clutter is great; your chances of being noticed in the ad community would definitely increase if you showed off some of your work in a crowdsourcing contest.

-Practice: Participating in crowdsourcing also allows you to hone your creative skills. If you join in, you can work on many different projects; use this to your advantage. Play around with different writing/design skills; you know you can’t get fired, so you can really go big or go home. Practice working on real brands and products with real briefs is important, so you should take any opportunity you can to hone your craft.

-Rewards: Sometimes, brands will crowdsource ideas through a contest. Netflix did this about a year ago when they wanted a new recommendation algorithm. The prize was $1,000,000! Crowdsourcing can be quite lucrative for the winners of these contests. Even if you don’t win, you still get some practice in your field and some notoriety in your industry for trying.

Counterpoint

Of course, there are going to be some horror stories. Vegemite tried to crowdsource a new name, and the crowd picked “iSnack 2.0” as the new name (seriously). Agencies can’t let the crowd do everything; copywriters and art directors are hired for a reason, and many in the crowd simply aren’t as good as agency staff. Crowdsourcing is great for brainstorming new concepts, ideas, and rough drafts, but agencies probably shouldn’t crowdsource an entire project. Brands still want an agency’s expertise.

Crowdsourcing obviously isn’t the solution to every brand’s problem, but it is an interesting new way to think about innovation and brainstorming. Once we learn how to effectively tap into the internet for ideas and we learn how to incentivize those participating in crowdsourcing, I see it becoming an even bigger trend. Ideas are all around us; it’s just up to us to find out how to use them.

What do you think? Is crowdsourcing worth it? I’d love to hear your responses.

(Photo via)

Marketing Lessons From Bob Dylan

August 14, 2010 3 comments

I love Bob Dylan’s music. I once tried to turn in a paper relating “Like a Rolling Stone” to colonialism (it didn’t go over so well). For most of college, I lived and breathed his story, his music, and his life. There’s something so hopeful, so invigorating about some kid from Minnesota moving to New York with nothing but a guitar and a head full of ideas and somehow succeeding. His music always spoke to a greater understanding about the world than one person could ever have; the melodies he creates and words he links together evoke the past, present, and future of America. Here are a few lessons about marketing that you can learn from Bob Dylan.

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Social Media: Expectations vs Reality

August 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the summer I’ve been managing the social media accounts of clients in a wide range of industries, from restaurants to spokes-rappers (seriously) to professional organizers. I’ve learned some things along the way, and since I’ve written about using social media as a business before, I think I’ll make some observations about how it works in reality. I’ve been on the frontlines of the social media landscape, and from my trials and tribulations come the following lessons.

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“Spice”-ing Up Advertising

July 13, 2010 3 comments
(Disclaimer: This was written on the morning of Old Spice’s Social Media Assault, right before the whole thing exploded. That’s why it is barely discussed)

By this point, you’d have to be under a very large rock for a very long time to have missed the Old Spice ads. The campaign went viral when it began and continues to garner a lot of attention with each new ad. The campaign managed to get star Isaiah Mustafa a deal with NBC. It also won the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, which is sort of like the Best Picture Oscar. Additionally, the ad was recently nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial, and will most likely win (with their momentum, none of the others can really compare). So, what makes this ad campaign so special? Why does it connect with us, and why did it go viral?

Awe-Inspiring

The New York Times ran an article that says we share things that inspire awe. It states that in order for something to inspire awe, “Its scale is large, and it requires ‘mental accommodation’ by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.” Now let’s look at the Old Spice ads. They definitely have that “how did they do it?” quality that many viral ads have. Curiosity piques interest. However, the ads aren’t doctored. They are well-known to be authentic and shot in one sequence. It was all done without CGI or any digital funny-business. This is certainly awe inspiring, because it makes us view the world of commercials (in today’s digital age) in a different way; we’re so used to over-the-top CGI effects (thanks, Michael Bay and James Cameron) that a spectacle like these commercials (without the help of CGI) is certainly interesting. The scale of the commercials is definitely large enough: TV ads reach a huge chunk of the population.

They’re Actually Funny

I don’t know a single person who doesn’t smile every time they see the commercials. I’ve seen most of them many, many times and I still laugh. The commercials are so over-the-top ridiculous that they’re incredibly funny. They take every Fabio-esque stereotype of male masculinity (including an un-ironic love of mustaches and riding on a white horse topless) and throw it in your face. It would be annoying, but Old Spice is aware of the stereotypes and understands the ridiculous nature of them, so it is able to make fun of itself. This sort of humor connects directly with our generation; we love satire, and we love to see big corporations not take themselves so seriously.

Sharable: These ads are inherently sharable. Just from personal experience, it had a TON of morning-after watercooler buzz in real life, and it went viral on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the internet. They’re short enough that anyone (even those of you at the office) can view it without getting into any real trouble. The Old Spice phenomenon got so big that if you didn’t know about it, you felt left out.

They Listen and Respond

Old Spice has a Twitter account (@OldSpice, naturally), and they LISTEN to us. We know this because the account tweets back at individual users. The brand has even started to respond via personalized YouTube videos. The takeaway here is that if you want to get and KEEP our attention, you have to listen to us and respond within a reasonable time. If you do, your brand will seem more personal and authentic. We like that. It also helps that the replies are pretty hilarious.

Of course, as with any cultural phenomenon, the ads have their detractors who say the campaign is good for quick laughs but may hurt the brand in the long-term. Others cite that all the awards and buzz doesn’t always translate into sales. Even if it hasn’t exactly rose sales yet, ask anyone which brand of deodorant first pops into his or her head and I would bet Old Spice is it. Many companies would kill for that top-of-mind brand recall and awareness. Whatever the case, these ads have bored a vuvuzela-sized hole in the zeitgeist and have made advertising a little more fun. Well done, Old Spice.

Update: 8/25/2010

After the social media blitzkrieg, Old Spice’s sales soared. Mustafa eventually won the Emmy, and everything about this campaign was deemed a success. There have already been a number of copycats, but none have matched up to the original. This campaign is sure to ride off on its white horse (in only a towel, of course) into the annals of advertising history.

(Photo via Urlesque)

RIP Privacy, Hello Transparency

May 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Mark Zuckerberg is watching you. Facebook has been getting a lot of negative buzz lately because of its privacy settings and how intrusive they seem. Facebook also added the ability to “Like” things all over the internet, meaning it can see and aggregate all of your likes together and hopefully derive some meaningful insights from them (like the Black Keys? Here’s an Ad!). If this seems a little Orwellian, you’re probably right. Zuckerberg thinks that privacy is dead, that it’s something we no longer really desire. I think there’s a little bit of truth to that.

Think about your life online. You probably have a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn account if you’re my age (or at least one of them). You’ve probably shared most of your public contact information (email, phone number, Skype/AIM name) with something on the internet, and you probably also skipped over the legal mumbo jumbo that tells you how they are able to use it. Anytime you send an email, researchers can scour them for keywords and use that data. Here we are, in the age of rabid transparency.

In this strange new world of transparency, how you interact on the internet will be remembered forever. The pages you view, the comments you make on youtube, the tweets you send out. It just makes me happy that I barely missed the age of putting your baby doing stupid stuff on Youtube (I’ll take 5 sets of eyeballs over 13 Million, thank you very much). These things are all being archived (if they aren’t, somebody is missing an opportunity). Eventually, this archive will be a time capsule, a small look into our lives in the new millennium (BEFORE everyone had hover cars and jetpacks and sentient housemaid robots). But now, it can be used for research and meaningful insights, delivering you targeted advertising based upon your internet habits. What we’re seeing now is a rise in accountability. Your 15 minutes of fame have been extended indefinitely (Andy Warhol would have loved the internet). You can’t burn your online diary, shred your emails, or hide the video tapes Watergate-style. Once it’s on the internet, it’s there for good.

So, what do you do to hide from Big Brother Facebook? You could just avoid the internet completely (Brother Jebediah), but that doesn’t seem realistic these days. The key to surviving this new world is to manage your online presence. Make sure that nothing too inflammatory comes out of your keyboard, keep the dirty pictures out, and watch where you visit. Make sure everything you do online is really just an extension of who you are. If everyone’s watching, at least wave your flag.

All this being said, I think this transparency is a good thing; it makes us look more human when some of our failures are up on the internet. It’s also nice to know that most of the time when you’re giving out information, you’re not really your name. You’re just an 18-34 year old male from Wisconsin. None of the personal information is collected; your likes, dislikes, and visits are aggregated to form a larger data set. This data is then used to figure out what advertisements to send you, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just an internet experience catered to you. So, the key to surviving the brave new world of internet transparency is the same advice your mother has been telling you all of your life: be yourself.

The Case For Twitter

May 16, 2010 Leave a comment

We’ve all heard the complaints about Twitter. Why do we need to know what Kim Kardashian had for lunch? Why join a network where Ashton Kutcher is the most popular? Who the hell is Justin Bieber and why is he ALWAYS “trending?” Ok, I’ll admit it, these are all very valid questions and very valid reasons to be apprehensive about Twitter. However, once you get past these inane ramblings of celebrities, you’ll learn that Twitter does matter, especially for your company. Here’s why.

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Rebranding Isn’t Just For Brands

May 13, 2010 1 comment

Where you come from is gone, where you’re going to was never there, and where you are ain’t no good unless you can get away from it
-Flannery O’Connor

As I sit here on Graduation-Eve Eve, desperately trying to study but ultimately failing (I’m listening to music and my test is about music, so….win?), I find myself thinking about the future. Monday, May 16th is LITERALLY the first day of the rest of my life. Everything’s changing. The only world I know is going to be gone (though I’ve still got plenty of debt to remind myself of college). It’s a little terrifying, but it’s also new, which is incredibly exciting. So, instead of mourning four years of my life that will rank as the most enjoyable, wild, and exciting ever, I might as well see the positive sides of graduating.

Congrats, class of 2010! We each get a graduation present: the opportunity for reinvention. The best brands, products, and services adapt based on changes in culture, trends, and technology. Unless you’re Coca-Cola, you don’t stay relevant for so long by being the same. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to rebrand ourselves.

Rebranding. Don Draper did it (yes, he’s a TV character. I watch TV. Get over it). Dick Whitman didn’t like who he was and where he was from, so he changed into Don Draper. He took the hidden parts of his personality and projected them. Robert Zimmerman did it, too. Here’s a kid from northern Minnesota who decided there was something better out there, picked up his guitar and moved to New York to become Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is the best example of personal rebranding I can think of. Musically, he went from folk and blues to protest music to surrealist electric rock to country. And that’s only the first decade of his career.Hell, if the Rolling Stones can make a disco album, you can change too. Become someone new. Reinvent. The world is dynamic. Not even your personality should stand still.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t whitewashing the past. It’s not even really about looking more appealing to recruiters and higher-ups at your job. It’s about the opportunity to let others see you in a different way. We’re in for a lifetime of first impressions, but in these next few months and years we’re going to be experiencing a TON of them. Make them count. Play around with different sides of your personality, see which one fits. Nobody said you had to figure out who you were yet, so use that to your advantage.

I’m not talking about some extreme, Britney-Spears-shaving-her-head change. This isn’t Urkel making a machine that turns him into a suave, debonair Stephan Urquell (not all the TV I watch is high quality). This is about is taking existing parts of your personality and messing around with the percentages a little bit to let other aspects of your personality shine. Become more outgoing by forcing yourself to speak up at group events, even if it’s a little stressful. Tell more jokes. Argue with people. You’re no longer bounded by everyone already knowing who you are, so there are very few preconceptions about you. Use that. It’s a wonderful gift.

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