Monday, December 22, 2008

Next year: it's gonna be big

It's going to be a big year for brand entertainment in 2009, so I'm taking some time off to finish my new Christmas album and indulge in some festivities.

See you in the new year. Bright and early.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mad Men and Twitter: it's a great story

I just can't get enough of the conversation around Mad Men and Twitter.

It's not just that I happen to be watching the show myself right now. Or even that I work in the industry.

It's just that what's unfolded has all the hallmarks of a great story.

Great stories change the landscape.

They create new ways of looking at the world. They spawn copycat followers. Give birth to new genres and hybrids. Invent different ways for us to watch and engage. And generate legions of hungry new fans intent on gobbling them up.

I think the Mad Men and Twitter story falls into this category (it also has exciting implications for the way brands can interact with their audiences through an entertainment vehicle).

David and Goliath style legal wrangles (AMC vs fans). Characters cut down in their prime (@PeggyOlson). The triumph of the 'little people' over the establishment (@Peggy_Olson).

There is a report you can download at We are Sterling Cooper which provides a fantastically detailed overview of the whole thing.

And look out for Ben Cooper's upcoming article in Inside Film.

Ben, any relation to the Cooper in Sterling?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Since when did ads become 'digital films'?

There's been lots of interesting rants and observations recently about the misuse and appropriation of labels like viral and social media.

I thought it was high time I chimed in with my own.

I'm not against labels per say. 

They can be oppressive, and inherently construct a definition of 'the other' through exclusion. They can be used by the dominant culture to maim minorities.

But they can also engender a sense of pride and belonging, and help us 'identify' with ourselves or others.

In the world of communications, labels can cut a useful swathe through language, improve group comprehension and contextualise human behaviour.

One label that has caught my eye recently is digital films.

Since when did ads become digital films? 

Since TVCs found their way online, online production budgets opened up and content became 'cool'.

I don't want to be a hand wringing pedant but an ad is an ad is an ad.

At what point can we say something is a film versus an ad?

Film is an artform. If you believe Wikipedia, it's also a 'cultural artefact' that reflects and affects the world around us.

I like my filmic friend Jaydub's thoughts on this subject:

A film tells a narrative to entertain, explore the human condition or make commentary. That's not to say an ad can't tell a narrative or any of the above, but if the biggest point of an ad is to sell a product, calling it a film is fanciful self promotion and an insult to the institution of scriptwriters, directors and film industry professionals.

The democratisation of production and distribution means that the art of film making is no longer just the domain of industry.

It means brands have a role to play too.

But that doesn't change the basic nature of what connects a film to its audience. 

In simple terms, a brand funded film needs to have the entertainment and the audience as the primary concerns - ahead of the brand. 

Otherwise, it's really just an ad.

So agencies, choose carefully and claim with pride. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Twitter, TV and social consumption

Over the last few weeks, my television viewing has become much more social.

Rather than being due to an influx of visitors, it's because I’ve been watching with one eye on Twitter and the other on the remote.

Monday night I was just getting into Dexter (and discussing the merits of the opening credits with Stan, and series bingeing with Zac) when MadeinMelbourne started her inimitable Twitter ‘ticker’ commentary on ABC series The Howard Years.

After a fleeting moment of indecision, I stayed with Dexter, and continued checking on MadeinMelbourne’s suitably outraged observations. I felt genuinely connected to both series at the same time, but in very different ways.

 Twitter is influencing the way we involve ourselves in entertainment. For recent discussions on this, check out Ben's conversion to Mad Men and  Fallon's work with the Sci Fi Channel and Eureka.

Importantly, Twitter is also changing the way we physically consume entertainment, as my Monday night experience showed.

MTV recently took this a little further when they launched The Hills Back Channel, where fans can simultaneously watch the show and comment in realtime. 

All this has got me thinking about the potential of the Twitter TV combo. About how it will help redefine the concept of the attention span. 

From mass consumption to multiple consumption.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Don't they know it's entertainment

When we talk about user generated content or consumer created entertainment, we're generally referring to the digital species.

Saturday's Do they know it's not Band Aid Christmas Spectacular not only raised more than $2,000 for Icee, but reminded me of the joys to be found in content creation of the old fashioned kind.

This was no loser generated content effort. Oh no.

With a little help from their friends, Emma and Sonya put on a spectacular night of 80s tunes, and not just from the DJ booth (thanks to Chris aka one half of the Pedestrian boys).

Hosted by the charming, disarming and generally hilarious Kate Smith, talented friends performed numbers by artists who were part of the original Band Aid - Bob Dylan, Bowie and The Bangles.

Of course, we all knew where the night was heading. We were hurtling happily towards a We are the World group sing-along with Bob, Bono and the rest.

Willie made an appearance too

It did get me thinking about what can enable this sort of entertainment - the kind that is enjoyed by a few friends, in a little gallery in Darlinghurst, for a good cause.

And even though there's something nice about the homespun variety, the world of digital means that if we really wanted to, we could turn our little concert into something much bigger.

Hey, who knows, next Christmas there could be groups of people all over swilling cheap wine and singing red faced as they clutch their Stevie Wonder cut out and sway in unison.

p.s Thanks to Emma B for the great pics

Saturday, December 6, 2008

One brand or many? That is the question

The question that many clients are asking themselves at the moment is ‘should I go brand entertainment alone or partner with others?’

There is no right answer, but there are a few questions you can ask.
1. Who are you talking to? 
What do you know about their attitudes towards entertainment; their needs and behaviours?

You might be chatting to young men with an interest in sport.

Now these guys are well used to a bunch of brands loudly waving and jumping around in their sport. And not always in the most subtle fashion. Logos on jerseys, giant signs, branded cars, halftime sponsored entertainment. This is all part of any sporting experience.

In the last year, they’ve probably watched Nutrigrain in Football Superstar, lapped up brand soaked films like Dark Knight and The Incredible Hulk, and bobbed around at the V Festival. Just for starters.

Some audiences are more amenable than others. 

2. What kind of entertainment are you exploring?
Equally, the rules change depending on the game. The type of brand involvement audiences will embrace in reality based entertainment for example, differs from what they might accept in documentary style film making.

Think about the conventions of the genre. You don’t have to be wholly obedient but be aware of what’s gone before you and what people expect. Be aware of where brands can add value or credibility versus where they might be seen to be detrimental or intrusive.

3. What’s your entertainment challenge
Ask yourself things like….

Are you in a low interest or highly cluttered category? Do you need to ‘borrow interest’ from another brand?

Have you lost relevance or credibility? What friends and associations might help your cause?

Can a friendly retail brand help extend your distribution footprint?

How can other brands help YOU solve your problem.

4. What’s your budget?
For brands with a small budget, inviting few friends along for the ride can help make that dollar go further. A social media campaign might also develop TV and event legs with some extra cash.

It’s important that you don’t spend all your funds on production and leave nothing for your campaign. Entertainment with no audience is really just content.

Sharing funds can help reduce the perceived risk associated with a discipline which still makes some marketing folks (and CEOs) nervous. And if it’s still new for you, it’s a good way to dip your toe in and experiment.

5. How will other brands help you involve the audience?
How can they stimulate conversation? Inject interest? Provide a reward? Help you to leverage their audience relationships?

Or quite simply, ask yourself how can they make your brand more entertaining?

Monday, December 1, 2008

An audience led model for entertainment

This is one of my favourite Stickywood tools. It's ridiculously simple and really useful.

Clients usually go 'aha' when they see this.

So I thought I'd share it.

The layers in the circle represent the different ways that audiences can engage with content and entertainment (in the broadest sense). The closer your brand is to the centre of the circle, the smaller the distance between you and your audience.

Broadcast entertainment consumed in a passive way. Stuff people watch or 'eat up' (e.g traditional TV).

This denotes a level of interaction. Audiences can play with the entertainment (e.g music festival, mobile game)

The audience can influence the content (e.g ARG, user generated content)

People are enabled to share the content with others (e.g video sharing sites like Youtube)

Eat. Play. Shape. Share.

It's a handy matrix when exploring ways that audiences can engage with entertainment.

Use it wisely.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What if brand entertainment took over?

As I was walking to work this morning, I had a thought.

What if every single brand in Australia that currently talks (or even shouts) at its audience with television advertising, turned to entertainment and conversation instead.

Does anyone know just how many advertisers that would be?

We'd be swamped with witty brand repartee and genuine responses to our gripes. We'd have games coming out of our ears and reality TV burning holes in our eyes. User generated content would be waking us up in the morning, and provenance documentaries would be sending us to sleep at night.

As brand entertainment further encroaches on marketing, ideas like Spreadable Media (thanks Faris) and the Natural Selection of Interesting (thanks Laith) will become increasingly important.

Ensuring you're delivering against a consumer need will be just as paramount.

And enabling your audience as curators, consumers, creators and conversationalists should be a no brainer.

A love story that's not about chocolate

Check out Loveatfirstsite, a Lacta chocolate online entertainment effort from the Ogilvy Worldwide team in Athens.

The thing I like about it is there is a clearly defined role for the brand aka "Lov it, Lacta". It's not a love story about chocolate. Or about people who love chocolate. Or who are stuffing their face with chocolate while pursuing love.

It's a genuinely entertaining love story and Lacta is the architect, the entertainer, the enabler - the brand is ultimately what allows you to progress the narrative (unique codes on pack can help you unravel the trickier bits).

It feels like they've missed a trick with their Facebook effort. They could have really engaged people in the telling of serendipitous tales of love and "whatever happened to that guy I met on..." kinda stories.

Still. I like it. What about you?

Friday, November 21, 2008

The year sponsorship dollars migrated to the virtual world

Sport and music. These passions help define us, connect us with likeminded folks, enable self expression and generally make us happy. They also happen to be squillion dollar industries that attract major sponsorship dollars from brands around the globe.

With the launch of Football Superstars and Music Mogul, 2008 just might go down as the year traditional sponsorship dollars began migrating from the real world to the virtual world.

Football Superstars is a massively multiplayer online game, where fans can emulate the on and off-pitch lives of footballers they've long envied. Alongside thousands of fellow players, they can train, create their own side... maybe even work their way to the top of the ladder and indulge in the hedonistic lifestyle enjoyed by their offline heroes (WAGs, virtual scandals etc etc). Its currently recruiting enthusiasts at a rate of 3-4,000 a day.

Sponsors who've signed up so far include Puma and more recently Reebok. While Puma's brand integration sounds very Second Life, Reebok will bridge the virtual-real world divide with its ambassador program; a search for real world amateur players who will compete for sponsorship.

Last week, Music Mogul announced its arrival. A team of video game and music industry heavyweights are behind this online virtual music world gearing up for its first preview this week. Set in a virtual LA, Music Mogul will provide music wannabes with an industry backed Idol style competition. Described as 'a virtual world with real world benefits', users will also be able to share performance videos, attend virtual album releases, undertake missions to earn real world rewards, and well, live life like a rockstar. No brand partners have yet been announced.

Unlike worlds like Second Life and Habbo Hotel, Football Superstars and Music Mogul are built around existing offline passions and as such, have ready made, highly involved tribes prepared to spend time and money on their hobby.

Sports and music fans are willing participants in both the community and commercial aspects of their passion. And they will no doubt be attracted to the idea of converting their real world aspiration into a virtual reality. It's this connection to aspiration that has long fuelled the sponsorship strategies of brands from Coca-Cola to Adidas.

The challenges for brands partnering with virtual worlds are not unlike those they face in the world we know. Creating a global platform while building local programs, enhancing the consumer experience, broader business integration, and delivering the right return on investment.

Still, it will be interesting to see which ones get it right.

p.s I visited Music Mogul last week and it was nothing more than a holding page, but there was no tool allowing me to sign up. Opportunity lost. Poor first experience. I emailed them and was told "Thankyou for your interest. The site will formally launch on Nov 24 and you can register then". Yeah but...oh don't worry about it. I'm betting the experience will improve.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Too many entertainment choices: and not just for audiences

This is a list of just some of the entertainment vehicles brands now have at their disposal.

Some list hey?

You can see why marketers might be overwhelmed.

Here's a list of all the things you need to think about when sifting through the opportunities

OK so it's a tad more complicated, but people tend to skip this bit.

Start here and you're on your way.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Postsecret and my first i-pod

Starting a blog is a little bit like the first time you get hold of an i-pod. 

You find yourself spending hours downloading all your CDs, and scouring the web for old faves. Then there's the joy of new discoveries. And remixes. At parties, you're the one leading the music charge and the i-pod war. 

In quieter times, you retreat for many hours beneath a set of little white headphones (much to the chagrin of some).

The best bit is when you dust off an old favourite and rekindle the flame...that tune you'd forgotten you even had. The one that reminds you of...oh..never mind.

That happened to me in a blogging sense today when I dug out my old and almost forgotten friend, Postsecret

If you don't know it, get acquainted. I also recommend the books by Frank Warren.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Planning your brand entertainment experiment

Over the last week I've been checking in on the Corolla Ninja Kittens post on Campaign Brief. It's the comments that got my attention with no less than 94 opinions shared - it's essentially a tirade of negative sentiment punctuated by some congratulatory chatter and inside info on a creative honcho's penchant for dwarfs and strange animals. Tough audience.

Expect more of the same from this audience because traditional marketers are becoming more willing to experiment with brand entertainment. They're sticking their heads above the trenches.

This is in part driven by digital media taking some of the guesswork and much of the expense out of this kind of experiment. What's more, digital transparency means even the crudest measurement efforts can generate useful learnings. And quickly.

As we move into an era of experimentation, we can look forward to a few Eureka moments and plenty of false prophets. And no doubt we'll be hearing about it on Campaign Brief.

So here's a few questions to ask yourself when doing your laboratory testing. I'm not sure if this will help you avoid an industry caning but it might improve the results of your experiment.

1. Understand your audience' entertainment needs
It's not enough to produce something entertaining and spruik it in places where they spend time. Think about your audience' needs and behaviours around entertainment. How do these play out in the context of different channels?
2. Know your place
Identify a clear role for the brand in the entertainment, and the place for entertainment in your communications. If you don't have a reason to be there, audiences won't have a reason to stick around.

3. Define your entertainment challenge
We talk about this one a lot. Entertainment can do and be lots of things. What's the central problem your entertainment strategy is going to help you address?

4. Build your strategy
Apply the same rigour here as you would to your communications strategy. What's the solution to your entertainment challenge? What contact points should you be exploring? How might the brand behave in these environments? What kind of social object are you creating? How will you engage the audience? As curators, consumers, creators and conversationalists?

5. Pick your partners
What creative partners will help you realise your ambition? Do you need help to create an idea from scratch? Or the right producer to turn your idea into a viable entertainment concept? Think about specialist skills you require. A television comedy series is a long way from a narrative driven game.

6. Don't build it if they're not going to come
The content cesspool means there's no room for a 'build it and they will come' mentality. What does your distribution matrix look like? What distribution partners do you need? How does your commercial model stack up? How might other brand partners help you deliver against your entertainment challenge, offset financial risk or help extend your distribution?

7. For good measure
How will you know if you're successful? This should clearly link back to your original challenge and strategy. Do you need to undertake an assessment 'pre, during and post'? What tracking tools might be required?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Honey, the infomercial is the oldest trick in the book

If you were wondering what became of home shopping posterchild Honeyshed, check out this post from Greg Verdino - it's a nice little survey of the site's potted history and new ambitions.

Honeyshed has relaunched, and while it might be NEW and IMPROVED I'm not sure it comes with a MONEYBACK GUARANTEE.

Sorry. I can't help but use bad home shopping analogies.

Honeyshed is billed as 'home shopping' for a new generation, but you know, a steak knife is still a steak knife. And while infomercials have sold plenty of those over the years, the question is whether it's relevant to the 'digital generation'.

While the jury's still out, I'm looking forward to ordering my Alexander McQueen gut buster.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Brand entertainment on the rise

Is it just me or...

Last week, creative outfit Three Drunk Monkeys emerged as the brains behind 30 seconds. Carat has just poached Tim Flattery (ex Mitchells, Becker) for its branded content post. Tooheys is launching a reality TV show with Radical Media. TCO is flying (as always) with a Sam Smith announcement. And Samedi is teasing us with a few videos uploads on said youtube channel (more on that later).

Is brand entertainment in Australia about to grow up? I think yes.

Anyone know of any other exciting new announcements which support my humble theory?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tooheys and its six beers of separation

Check out the hyper produced super slick website for Tooheys Extra Dry's new 6 Beers of Separation campaign. Nice hey.

It borrows from the six degrees idea. Essentially they're looking for four new reality TV guinea pigs. To enter, you nominate your hero, and the five people that will get you there 'within six degrees'. If you win, you go off travelling about the place, meeting each of your chosen ones (over a beer of course). They'll send a crew with you and hey presto...there's your TV show.

Feels kinda loose. To take a leaf out of
Clay Shirky's blog, maybe that's a good thing
It's a topical play on a social convention
Nice fit with the brand
Six degrees is a social media marketer's wet dream (whooh Tooheys)
Content is in the hands of consumers (go Tooheys)
Hey they're doing something in brand entertainment. That's a tick.

They've been doing a bit of forum spamming (oh no Tooheys)
Entirely talent dependent. Could go either way. But I kinda like that.
When asking people to really get involved, it helps to demonstrate what you're asking them to do
Where's the social media bit? (oh woe Tooheys)

Tell me there's a social media bit.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Product Placement 101: make it believable

Interesting piece from Madison & Vine on Coke, Mercedes and a new film called Slumdog Millionaire. It seems the squalid shantytowns of Mumbai did not add up to an ideal backdrop for either brand.

In this instance, the filmmaker utilised the brands in shot and then 'allegedly' asked permission from their owners. Permission was refused, so he dropped the Merc from the slum scenes and removed the Coke label from the bottle.

There you have it: product displacement.

M&V also commented on the challenges of product placement in blockbuster films:

Slumdog presents an entertainment marketing conundrum: Only a handful of companies have the global presence to benefit from the worldwide exposure that a motion picture generates.

I think the real quandry is that unless product placement is contextually relevant (or culturally resonant), it struggles to do anything much. Particularly for brands like Coke and Mercedes. Especially in a mass platform like a global film release. Certainly not as a standalone piece of communication.

It has to be believable.

One of the most enduring entertainment marriages is that of 007 and his faithful Aston Martin. The car has featured in no less than five Bond films, including the just released Quantum of Solace.

Interestingly, Jam has taken a look at the buzz generated by brands who've spent 50 million pounds getting Daniel Craig to call on that phone while driving that car and sipping on that drink. On the surface, it appears that at least one brand - Ford - is generating considerable talkability. But scratch below, and the plot thickens. Amongst both die-hards and mainstream audiences, the tone of conversation around Ford's involvement is overwhelmingly negative.

Having Bond speeding away in a Ford is akin to him sleeping with a cardigan clad house frau.

People just don't buy it.

Update: There's a series of opinion pieces on product placement in this month's Marketing Magazine. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sarah Palin, comedy and election 2.0

It's the race that stopped the nation and I'm not talking about the Melbourne Cup.

There's been lots of insightful discussion about Election 2.0, and for me it's been interesting to see that it's tickled America's funnybone. Not only have Americans re-engaged with the politics, they've been laughing all the way to the polling booth.

Tina Fey's uncanny Sarah Palin impersonation has sent Saturday Night Live ratings soaring, Paris gave us a giggle with her views on 'fo po' and late night politically comedic shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have had a field day.

As plenty of commentators have pointed out, there is no shortage of material. But I also wonder if it's symptomatic of America's gloomy mood? After all, history has shown that in difficult times, people turn toward entertainment to 'forget their troubles and get happy'.

Have performers hit comedy gold or does it signal something more?

Either way, for Sarah Palin, sketch show parodies and prank phone calls have created a pseudo entertainment campaign. The defining kind, but the wrong kind.

Update: The laughs continue with Palin's aides revealing she thought Africa was a country

Friday, October 31, 2008

why brands are the new entertainers

Back in the 1880s, the industrial revolution meant at least two things for Americans. They had cash and they had time. This in turn meant they wanted a little entertainment. And regular like. Vaudeville evolved from the old variety show format to meet this need for good wholesome entertainment. The kind you could afford, and take your family to.

These days we've got more cash, less time and we're more entertainment-addicted than ever. Brands, take your places please.

At last week's L21 conference I talked about why brands must become the new entertainers (alongside those other maestros of the time, audiences). The new vaudevillians if you like. And why marketers need to be both masters of conversation and mistresses of entertainment.

In the spirit of a good list, here are 5 reasons to support this:

1. We expect to be entertained. All the time. And in a way that's convenient, relevant and personal.

2. We don't forgive interruptions to our entertainment experiences in the way we once did simply because we don't have to. We can go elsewhere.

3. Our lives are becoming more defined by entertainment. This is reflected in the increasingly social and experiential nature of our entertainment consumption.

4. We're in the age of conversation and entertainment is at the heart of most conversations that happen online. Not to mention at the watercooler.

5. In the 'content cesspool' that is the internet, it's trusted brands and people that can help us both wade through the muck and amplify our entertainment experience.

This isn't an exhaustive list so feel free to add your own No. 6.

If I were Jane McGonigal, I would also talk about the way that brands can engineer happiness by creating an alternate branded reality that's better than our unbranded reality. But I'll leave that to the brilliant lady herself.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Are brands the solution to the content cesspool?

A few weeks ago, Google CEO Eric Schmidt imparted this observation to an army of magazine executives visiting the Google campus:

"The internet is fast becoming a cesspool where false information thrives....brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

With 12 hours of video being uploaded to Youtube every minute (the equivalent of 250 always on channels with no repeats) you can see why it's on the man's mind.

It's also been on mine - it's going to be interesting to observe the evolving role of brands in creating and curating entertainment that resonates with audiences (if you missed Jane McGonigal's fantastic presentation on 'The Rise of the Happiness Brands' you can view it here).

Within our own networks, people we perceive to possess real social capital directly influence the entertainment we consume. I trust my friend Sonya's advice on anything fashion-ish and the cARTel's* advice when it comes to art gallery stuff.

But brands can help too - particularly online. If I know a brand suggests something edgy (American Apparel) or just plain interesting (HBO); if it represents credibility within a certain subject (like Johnsons does in baby) then that trusted signal can steer me through the cesspool and straight to the good stuff. And, it helps me build my social network capital.

I reckon it's a win win. What do you reckon?

*If you're wondering about the cARTel, it's an art buying group made up of 4 like minded ladies (including me). Together we buy contemporary art with an eye to the market and art that is visually interesting or provocative or beautiful. Most of all we buy it because we like it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nescafe Goldblend - a story from the 80s

I had to share this.

I was scratching around for examples of episodic short format content when I came across Nescafe's Love over Gold campaign from the 80s.

I have to say it's really good. This tension-filled love story between a foxy fellow (so English) and his classy looking neighbour had me hooked.

Sometimes my job is really fun.

An epic brand entertainment campaign

Today I presented at the L21 Rebranding and Repositioning conference in Sydney - a day too early to see Tourism Australia's MD present on 'Rebranding Australia'. This is without a doubt, the biggest brand entertainment campaign of the year.

Scale, ambition and sheer opportunism
Gratuitous product placement in the film (it's so right)
Epic romanticism
Partnership strategy (20th Century Fox, Qantas etc)

Whether it will resonate with international audiences
The 'closed set' nature of the campaign.

I think a campaign that draws on themes of self reflection/personalisation/release AND 'borrows interest' (to quote Faris) from a much anticipated film launch is missing something by not enabling greater participation from audiences.

When I think about what inspires me to visit far away places it's generally the lure of old friends, a cheap deal, a deepheld curiosity, romantic belief or lust for adventure.

But it's the stories - personal tales, inspirational photos - from friends and likeminded folk, that can turn a twinge of fantasy into a trip across the world.

The person who signs off on the marketing activity for Tourism Australia

Update: You know I just had an idea thanks to Faris' comment. Tourism Australia are spending $40M on their advertising campaign right? We're not talking spare change here people. And we know distance is a significant barrier to people travelling to Australia...

What if they cut their budget in half and gave away $20M worth of flights? Think of the word of mouth, free PR, the stories, the feel good factor! It would be huge! And they'd still get thousands of visitors spending their hard earned currency on our shores.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The rise of social media entertainment

I've just spent two days at the SPAA Fringe Conference in Sydney and I have to admit I've come over all inspired. For two days at the Chauvel Cinema, a throng of rowdy film makers, TV types, producers and the rest gathered to share ideas, swap stories and rub shoulders with the funding bods and those that make decisions about the projects gracing both our big and small screens. (Watch out for Rendered Life - winner of the SDA pitch competition, it's a story set inside the internet about the adventures of two postal workers who actually deliver all our mail).

Towards the end of Friday, I began to get a bit twitchy. I started tapping my foot at the roundtables and fidgeting in the plenarys. Because if there was one thing that was notably absent from discussions it was....audiences. That's right, the very people we were ultimately gathered together to serve and who are in effect, the executives with real power in the entertainment business.

Thankfully, the awesome Gary Hayes turned up bright and early on Saturday morning and gave an enthralling talk on social media entertainment and the rise of virtual worlds. You can see his presentation here.  

The other surprising thing was even after admitting my branded intentions, no one hunted me down in the bathroom and held me hostage under the hair dryer. In fact it prompted some unexpected conversations including one with Mike Cowap from Screen Australia on his organisation's view of funding models which incorporate brand involvement.

Well done to the SPAA folks for a really stimulating couple of days.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The writing process and the art of the screenplay

I'm still a pretty green blogger and so every day is akin to peering under a rock in a forest and uncovering a whole new world of interesting thinkers and writers I didn't know existed. One of the things I'm enjoying is learning more about people's writing process (check out this great post from Laurel Papworth on how she typically attacks a blog post).

I'm also reading a great book at the moment by intellectual gymnast, acidic commentator and writer David Mamet. Bambi vs Godzilla is a series of tell-all-tales on the nature of Hollywood.  His blatant disregard for the titans of the movie business makes for some sharp and funny writing. In addition, Mamet provides some fascinating insights into the art of the screenplay - below are the questions he believes every scene in your film must answer:

1. Who wants what from whom
2. What happens if they don't get it
3. Why now

The simplicity of a great story.

This little film inspired the book's title. A classic animation from 1969. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Have you seen somebody else's phone?

Nokia has just launched TV ad in the UK as a lead in to their online drama Somebody else's phone. I'll be watching this one with interest.

Firstly because it's designed for global interaction appearing in 10 different languages. Secondly, because they've introduced it with a TVC rather than using digital media to enable discovery and pull us into the story. Thirdly, because they're using a mix of digital and more traditional media like outdoor and radio. And last, because I'm looking forward to observing how they utilise social media (so far I've just checked out Jade Yu's facebook page).

The drama unfolds over six weeks after which time "the characters' stories will confront crucial decisions that will affect their future."

I've had an initial look at the website but it's hard to get a picture of the interconnected lives of the characters and who they are. Maybe this is just the beginning.

Here's the ad.

Let me know what you think.

Update: I wanted to like this. I really did. But I've given it a crack and it's like reading through a random bunch of text messages from people you don't know and aren't necessarily that interested in. I think the important thing in narrative driven games is to enable both shallow and deep participation, but I can't find the right entry point for me in this one.

Give your category a shot in the arm

One of the simple (and often overlooked) virtues of brand entertainment is its ability to influence category growth. Brand entertainment can be very effective in stimulating consumer demand and giving the category a leg up.

A good example of this is The Block, 'the original' Aussie renovation show. Crass and gratuitous product placement eventually sent its ratings into freefall (who could forget the chocolate cameos) but at its peak The Block was delivering 3million + viewers.

The program tapped into our burgeoning obsession with home renovation and spawned a bunch of copycat formats. It picked us up off the couch and sent us rushing off to purchase matching tablewares. It inspired bathroom makeovers and kitchen refreshers. Not to mention our greedy appetite for home lifestyle magazines.

Similarly, UK hardware retailer B&Q invested a million pounds several years back in a DIY show for ITV. Due to the UK's hefty restrictions on in-program advertising, its association was limited to run of the mill sponsorship benefits. However B&Q's primary purpose was to drive growth in a flat category. The company knew they would directly benefit from the flow on effect in sales.

The deteriorating economic situation means some categories are already under pressure. This is the ideal time for brands to explore entertainment opportunities which might give their category that much needed shot in the arm.

Friday, October 17, 2008

That's entertainment...or is it?

Entertainment is an impossibly broad term that means different things to different people. It might be anything from a film, a sudoko game or a social experience, and it can invoke any number of feelings in us like amusement, connection or pleasure. For me the commonality in the expression relates to how it makes us feel.

My definition is an experience you actively choose to engage with because of the feeling you derive.

This may be still too nebulous. It's hard to capture the meaning without being too broad or too narrow.

I'd love to hear some other thoughts or alternative expressions?

p.s take a look at Natalie Wood playing Gypsy Rose Lee, the original mistress of burlesque and a lady born to entertain

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

We're living in an entertainment culture

This piece in the New York Times highlights how much the place of advertising in culture has changed. It talks about the release of Nielsen delayed viewing figures for the big new season shows in the US. While popular shows like Greys Anatomy are doing pretty well, the numbers for shows targeting younger audiences make for interesting reading.

The article notes that for the 18-49 demographic, Heroes and The Office are delivering between 42% and 48% of their audience numbers respectively, via delayed viewing. For 90210 this figure is more like 53%.

That's means around HALF the audiences for these shows are recording their favourite programs, watching them later, and more than likely skipping through the ads.

We might be watching more TV but our viewing behaviour has changed dramatically. We're no longer willing to forgive the interruption of advertising when tools like PVRs mean we don't have to.

Brands need to work harder to understand the entertainment needs of their audiences. We live in an entertainment culture, and if audiences are the new entertainment executives, brands are queuing up to audition.

Anti-poverty campaigning the old way

A few years ago, I spent 6 months (0ver 2 years) volunteering and writing a research paper at an NGO in Phnomn Penh, Cambodia. Womyns Agenda for Change worked incredibly hard to support the empowerment of local sex workers and garment workers - ordinary, brave women burdened by poverty and weighed down by the responsibility of caring for their families. Some were still in their mid teens.

"Empowerment" is an oft quoted, and rarely substantiated characteristic of Western aid programs. But in this instance, thanks to the right support (and the amazing Rosanna Barbero), the women themselves made this a reality. Previously isolated and stigmatised, they began to join forces in a grassroots movement to agitate for social change, dignity, rights and a life free from discrimination and harassment.

My researched centred around the sex worker program - Women's Network for Unity. At the end of my time there, a splintered, geographically isolated group of women had morphed into a social collective numbering more than 5,000. Through this grassroots network, they provided each other with emotional support, education and assistance. They came together for collective decisionmaking, lobbied government, campaigned loudly on World AIDS Day and celebrated with each other on International Womens Day.

All this against a backdrop of poverty and adversity. And all without the tools of social media that have become so central to the modern day notion of a collective. It was one of the most inspiring times of my life.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Can brands help break the mould?

David Dale's piece on network copy-catting highlights an opportunity for brands and TV programmers to work together. Sounds crazy but it's true.

Brands spend millions of dollars a year in understanding what consumers want, need or at least might think they need (Proctor & Gamble alone spends $200m annually). A lot of time is spent exploring how these insights intersect with wider trends in culture, changing social norms, the socio-economic landscape and category developments. Launching a product because you can is not reason enough. Just ask Google. Its 'always start with the user' mantra as been a formula for success.

This approach contrasts markedly with the way networks launch new programs. As David Dale points out:

Television programming has always gone in waves - a station notices that another station has a hit, assumes that represents a trend in public taste, and copies what it imagines to be the most appealing details.

Network product launches revolve around the latest trends at sales conferences, what's working for their competitors and largely superficial observations on why a format has sparked interest from audiences. I'm not suggesting we research the bejesus out of everything. We all know that's a recipe for the death of original ideas. Only that more often than not, networks are second guessing the needs of their viewers.

TV programmers are extremely skeptical about what role brands have to play in developing television entertainment (other than they're paying for it). Yet it occurs to me that brands (and their agencies) have oodles of expertise in understanding consumer behaviour. This is the ammunition they have to blast us with new products and ideas.

Surely there's an opportunity for brands to work with networks to better understand their audiences and support the development of ideas that break the mould or even just entertain us. At the very least, it might give us a break from the CSI franchise.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bland should be banned

Part of me wants to applaud a brand in a fairly dull category for doing something different. But Noble Rise's Blandaid campaign is what gives brand entertainment (and social media) a bad name. It's advertising masquerading as 'content'. And worse, it's not even funny.

It's a series of ads posted on Youtube. About which I'm not allowed to comment as the 'add comments' function has been disabled. If you don't want people playing with your idea, don't take on social media.

The brand makes a feeble attempt to recruit me in its efforts to 'take a stand against bland'; a movement which is basically meaningless and culturally irrelevant. Its ultimate failure is the refusal to let me get involved. What kind of cause is this? Blandaid ignores the concept of community inherent in a channel like Youtube. It breaks with the conversational nature of social media, effectively hijacking it with a one way message. I know this post is harsh but in the words of J'aime "no offence but it's true". And I for one, am taking a stand.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The return of the hidden persuaders

Subliminal advertising? Have we returned to the era of The Hidden Persuaders? Network Ten has had an official rap over the knuckles from the ACMA for their use of 'subliminal advertising' in last year's ARIAs broadcast.

I find Network Ten's role in this B-list scandal to be bizarre. First, because this kind of simplistic trickery is hugely devaluing for brands in an era of transparency. And second, because it's a technique that came under fire decades ago and has never really been proven effective. Hopefully, in 2008 Ten will find more interesting ways to add value to sponsors of the ARIAs.

How do you engage an apathetic public in politics?

Paris Hilton apparently. The political hopeful has just released her second "fake" presidency bid video on Funnyordie. Is Paris the panacea for an apathetic country where only 64% of people voted in the last general election?

With an election campaign of movie length proportions, an entertainment driven tactic to engage voters feels appropriate. Yes. Let's make voting fun!

The more I think about it, the more I like it. It really plays with some of the conventions of a traditionally "serious" category.

Obama clearly wins the prize for his social media nouse. Let's see how Paris and her quest for "fake" campaign unfolds. And whether they've thought beyond a couple of spoof videos, into how it might really permeate culture and increase voter turnout.

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

'Perfect' but at what expense?

My colleague Rob Perkins kindly pointed me in the direction of this interview with Clay Shirky on brands and the way advertising can undermine their human qualities. His point is that brands (and agencies) often focus on the endgame of high production values in a super slick ad at the expense of being a little 'rough around the edges' and inviting dialogue. Would it be that bad if brands weren't perfect? Just like us inferior humans?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Media owners need to let go...but not at any cost

Too many brands are frightened of "letting go" but I thought this was an interesting example of a media owner allowing readers to interact with and shape its content (good) but in a way that undermined its own credibility (bad).

O Estado De S. Paulo
, a major Sao Paulo daily asked readers what news and pictures they'd like to see gracing the front page of their Sunday paper. Sunday subscribers received a blank front page one week with a kind of "fill in the boxes" challenge which readers could complete online. The following Sunday, those that submitted their own front pages were sent personalised editions of the paper (around 1,000 people). It was sponsored by Nissan as part of its 'escape the pattern' campaign. Interesting media tactic, but at what cost to the masthead?

In recent years, there's been a trend for publications to invite readers to take
on editorial roles (Girlfriend's reader produced issue being a notable example).
Only this isn't about entertainment consumption, it's about news. Who would
you trust to bring you the most relevant news of the day? A credible (?) daily
newspaper or you at your most imaginative from a week prior? Has anyone
seen a good example of where an initiative like this has added real value for
both a publication and its readers?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A gentle breeze is blowing in TV land

If you haven't seen it already, Paul McIntyre wrote this piece in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald outlining four reasons why the networks are "learning to love branded programs". I don't know if you could call it the winds of change, but there's certainly a gentle breeze in the air. The network players are (albeit through gritted teeth) slowly coming around to the idea that brand entertainment will play a bigger role in their business. Seven has recently set up its own brand entertainment department and Nine is making a few more noises in this arena. I just know that if I were a network, I'd want to be first in the line.

No more posters

Last night I saw the gentle, wild and kind of eccentric ingenue Goldfrapp at the Sydney Opera House. It was pretty sublime. I actually resorted to doing a little mobile filming which a) I never do and b) looked pretty crappy from all the way up in the nosebleed section. The point is, I wanted some way of reliving the experience. I came out of the concert and was greeted by a dull dull dull range of merchandise at the desk. The very same stuff that's been selling at gigs for decades. I realised merch-makers still have their heads in vinyl.

What I wanted was a personalised souvenir from the experience. Poster schmoster and I can download the album on i-tunes. Why not text me a link to download a clip from the night? Enable over the top hyperbolic gushing with other fans. Or give me a little post concert grab that really captured the moment for the band - they were clearly overwhelmed by the crowd's reaction. This idea of helping us relive the experience is something not just the music industry but brands could really learn from. The experience doesn't have to stop there. Help me keep it going.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Taken Off

­For any ladies already burdened by the weight of the man drought, Taken Out would have been a frightening experience. Some of the blokes on trial made Willie Mason look like Alain de Botton and while it sounds as though the folks at Fremantle struggled with the casting, I’m still pondering why anyone ever thought this show would be a success.

It doesn’t have any roots in contemporary culture or draw on any really juicy truths. At best it borrows from the superficial art of selection that characterises online dating. But c'mon... romance…it’s seriously rich territory.

There is a huge public appetite for this kind of fodder. We’ve got more than a million singles on RSVP, a million more unmarried adults now than a decade ago (just ask Bernard), and a heap of yummy mummys and dapper daddies on the hunt for a shiny new partner.

I’d like to see RSVP make the first move and put a dating show at the heart of their marketing strategy. Imagine how much they know about the modern day mating game. And what it could do for their brand.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Starting out

It's been 3 weeks and 3 days since Stickywood emerged from its planning cocoon. It's giving me the odd sleepless night but mostly I'm excited about all the great stuff we've got simmering away on the stove. And so far we've received some great feedback from clients. It'll be time to make an announcement real soon.