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.