Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Things are changing around here

Dear loyal readers, young upstarts who've reminded me I haven't written a post in a good while, and the rest of you.

Yes it's been almost 3 make that 6 months since my last post. Somehow the world has continued regardless.

I've been utilising my 'blog' time in other interesting non bloggy ways AND I've been thinking about re-invigorating and changing the direction of this thing.

So I'll be back with the new improved version in 2010

See you then.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A blanket ban on brand entertainment

For decades, brands have appeared in, funded, produced, marketed and sponsored entertainment. Proctor & Gamble set up their own production company to create radio serials back in the 30s. Soap operas had an obvious beginning. Recently in a meeting with Reg Grundy, our most famous television pioneer explained how brand funding gave him a start in television. Graham Kennedy's paid for 'in program advertisements' where he pilloried products for minutes on end were legendary.

No one called this brand entertainment.

In recent years, we've witnessed a product placement juggernaut and a move towards more sophisticated attempts to weave brands into storytelling. Taking their cue from the sports sponsorship model, brands have also become smarter about leveraging the value of their involvement with entertainment.

Everyone (including me) has called this brand entertainment, or something similar.

But it seems to me, this is where the whole damn trouble began - the emergence of this now ubiquitous phrase, and the invention of this 'new discipline' has a lot to answer for.

Frankly the language seems outdated, and it's holding us back.

Because as more than one observer has noted, the term 'brand entertainment' still has a bit of a stink about it.

Not in the minds of audience or marketers necessarily. But certainly in the worlds of media owners, TV networks, major production companies etc, there is still an unwarranted stigma attached to the notion of brand entertainment.

There is absolutely no guarantee that because a production company, online platform or network develops a show, finds the brands and then dictates their involvement that a) the brand integration will be any more sophisticated or better executed than if a brand were to do it all themselves (with the right partners and expertise) and b) the entertainment values will be superior.

Look at Network Nine's homemade, I'd suggest it's fairly heavyhanded on the brand integration front. Only it's not badged as brand entertainment, as it's a network commissioned show. And given it's ratings performance, it's hard to say that it's delivering for audiences.

Brands invested 50 million pounds in Quantum of Solace but no one says 'oh yeah, Quantum of Solace is a brand funded movie'.

As I've written about previously, brand funded entertainment is not entirely blameless for the position it finds itself in. However, given it's burdened by a legacy of language, I've got a simple solution.

I vote we kill off these phrases - brand funded TV, branded content, advertiser funded programming, brand entertainment, branded entertainment.

What entertainment is not brand funded one way or another?

Let's return to one simple word.


Which is after all what we're all working hard to create.

I reckon that solves everything.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bill Wasik, Susan Boyle and Henry Jenkins

If you have a spare few hours, Henry Jenkins' eight part If it doesn't spread it's dead series makes for some fascinating theoretical reading.

But if you're on a lunch break, try this article from Salon.com on 'viral culture'.

It's an interview with Bill Wasik, 'internet instigator' and original inventor of the flash mob.

It's insightful, pragmatic. In particular I like his analysis of the Susan Boyle phenomenon and what he calls the 'nanostory' (there's a lot more to the article than SB but thought it worth mentioning).

"I define nanostory as the basic unit of this kind of churning viral culture. Susan Boyle is a classic example of a nanostory. She burst onto the scene. Not just in Britain but here in the U.S. with a few YouTube videos. And immediately what she becomes is not just a little celebrity but this giant symbol of all this stuff about the culture that people want to hang on her. Her age or her appearance becomes symbolic of cutting against this youth- and beauty-obsessed media culture. The sort of style of music she likes, these throwback Broadway songs, wind up being indicative of some kind of more transcendent approach to music.

She becomes this giant symbol and all this meaning gets heaped upon her. But then of course, there's nothing to sustain it. She became this giant micro-star at a point when she wasn't going to be on television again for many weeks. If you can't feed the machine, then it shuts down. We'll just be distracted onto the next thing if it doesn't give us more to keep us going. That, to me, is a classic example of a nanostory. It is a short-lived media phenomenon that is driven by the sheer quantity and speed of the contemporary conversation. So many hours of cable news to fill, there are so many blogs that need refreshing. Now there's Twitter and more. And so we seize upon these tiny little things and try to elevate them into sensations, but of course they can't bear up under the weight of it."

For a different viewpoint, you can check our Henry Jenkin's view here

Monday, June 15, 2009

Five great entertainment marketing blogs

The latest incarnation of the B&T Top Marketing Blogs list has inspired a little list of my own.

I thought I'd highlight five blogs which are a great resource for anyone working in the intersecting worlds of brands, content, filmmaking and digital media.

Gary Hayes' Personalize Media offers insightful, detailed and in depth posts on what might be dubbed the socialisation of entertainment (see his presentation here on 'The Future of Social Media Entertainment' and this post on the socialisation of TV and gaming). Gary's blog has an emphasis on quality rather than frequency - it's a great resource for anyone interested in gaming, virtual worlds and cross platform storytelling.

Christy Dena is an Australian cross media specialist and academic. Her 'corner of the universe' is a seemingly limitless resource for anyone interested in cross platform entertainment and ARGs in particular. Definitely one for a rainy day, you'll always find something to keep you interested.

NewTeeVee is a great source of news on the latest developments, launches, announcements from the world of entertainment, online video and related technologies.

Julian Cole's Adspace Pioneers often unearths intriguing memes and great examples of non professional content creators doing interesting things (especially Youtubers, see this post on Blunty3000 as an example). Julian also shares useful tidbits from both his workings with, and observations about, brands active in the social media space like this great post on some practical campaign learnings and this one which identifies film marketing campaigns that have utilised social media.

Chris Thilk's Movie Marketing Madness blog is a good resource for anyone working in entertainment marketing. He's a bit bower bird like in the way he collects bits and pieces from the world of movie marketing and advertising, and writes a good combination of news and opinion.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Top article from Mashable: the brands getting it right on Youtube

In this great Mashable article, Catherine-Gail Reinhard identifies five outstanding Youtub-ing brands.

While commending big glossy one like Quiksilver and Nike, Catherine also calls out the humbler efforts of brands like the University of Phoenix.

The point is, it's not about being big and flashy, but about being committed, true to 'thine own brand' and a publisher of regular, entertaining content that has inherent value for a specific community.

Somehow she manages to make it sound so easy, yet very few brands get it right.

Well worth a read.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

5 new examples of brand entertainment in 2009

This is a follow up to my February post - another 5 examples of brand entertainment efforts so far in 2009 (namely campaigns that have launched since Marh 09). These lists are by no means exhaustive, and if there's a big initiative you know of that should be included in this one or the next, please drop me a line or add your comment.

Only in a Womans World

Frito Lay's Only in a Woman’s World, is an online series designed to support a new range of female targeted er---um....chips. It's billed as an initiative that "humorously addresses and even celebrates the universal conflicts women feel" - read guilt around snacking. The campaign has been rolled out across a range of channels. Apart from the webisodes and online destination, it includes more traditional advertising elements such as print advertising.

While criticised for being cliched (it does perhaps take the 'start with your audience' mantra a little too far), audiences seem to have responded, with the videos generating some decent numbers on the Youtube channel (upwards of 500,000 views for the most popular).

Diet Coke and the Little Black Dress

This is a nice local one from my colleagues at Naked in Sydney. For this year's Rosemount Australian Fashion Week, Diet Coke commissioned a group of top Australian designers to re-imagine the 'Little Black Dress' with the classic contour bottle as their starting point. Designers such as Romance was Born, Alice McCall and Alex Perry designed a series of pieces for an exclusive catwalk show. Each of the designers also created their very own 'one off' Diet Coke bottle. This snappy little video from the talented folks at TCO (who produced all the content) says it all - it shows the way the content really amplified the partnership and turned up all over town.

PUMA, Ocean Racing and RipeTV

The PUMA team is competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, which means a gruelling nine months of racing 37,000 nautical miles between Alicante in Spain and St Petersburg. Seriously epic.

This is your classic naming rights sports marketing model, but they've leveraged it well and extended the reach of the partnership through RipeTV's reality based series, social media and mobile.

If you're a mad keen sailor you can read more and follow the trials and tribulations at the PUMA Ocean Racing blog, join the Facebook fan page, watch plenty of videos on the Youtube channel, and peruse the mobile site. They've also set up a dedicated media site (smart).

Married on My Space

Produced by reality giants Endemol, Married on MySpace kicked off in March with a call out to vote for which lucky couple would not only star in their own wedding, but in this 13 part online series. Users voted Elle and Tito as the bride and groom to be, and have since had a hand in all the decisions made along the way - including the wedding dress! The brand integration (talked up mightily in Ad Age) sneaks in pretty naturally through all the decisions that underpin any trip down the aisle - from buying the ring to choosing the location.

Sprite and a green eyed world

Sponsored by Sprite, this interactive reality series invites users to follow a bunch of unknown musicians in their quest for fame and fortune across the seas. The series consists of 5 "seasons", each focused on a different promising young star. Katie Vogel is first up, and you can start the journey with her at home with her family in London.

Users can interact with Katie via Facebook, as well as the Youtube channel. The level of integration between these two environments is quite seamless (and I logged on to Facebook directly via the Youtube page). Fans can add comments directly to the video via an embedded button located on the video itself. These comments then appear in a users Facebook news feed. According to Marketing Vox:

this is reportedly the first time that YouTube has allowed an on-screen prompt - other than annotations and advertising - and is designed to encourage social interaction around content outside of its own modules (i.e., video response, comment section).
The idea doesn't feel new, the content is just OK (and hey who knows whether it will sell soft drinks) but the integration between the two platforms is nice.

Update: Julian Cole of Adspace Pioneers has written a really really useful post with no less than 11 examples of musicians using social media.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pixar and collective creativity

"How Pixar fosters collective creativity" is a fantastically informative and inspiring article from the Harvard Business Review by Ed Catmull, co-founder and President of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

I've read it a few times over the last week and for me it lifts the lid on Pixar's magical fusion of commerciality and creativity. It really calls out Pixar's championing of ideas, free thinking and most importantly, people, all within a highly structured and carefully considered framework.

It also highlights the importance of trust and letting go of what you think you know - something that's incredibly challenging in any marriage of creativity and commercial thinking.

A must read.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Branded fun and games on Twitter

Image via PSFK

I'm still at the stage where stumbling across a brand's involvement in Twitter piques my curiosity.

Agencies haven't yet been struck down by the Twitter version of an affliction that hit them not so long ago called 'the answer to everything is a Facebook application'.

Maybe it's not far off but I'm still really interested in how people are utilising it in campaigns and otherwise.

Currently the @Ispylevis initiative is surprising smooth urban-y types on Australian city streets with free pairs of Levis - they've using Twitter to both post winner pics and announce their geographical location in real time (a bit like a digital version of the Black Thunders only cooler).

Last week Adage reported on Twitter's role in launching Eminem's new album Relapse. The magazine observed (with just a hint of hyperbole) that since first releasing the new album artwork on Twitter in April, @eminem has generated some impressive results:

By using Twitter to dispense short, often disturbing thoughts and links to multimedia components revolving around a mental institution, they've helped make the album the most highly anticipated hip-hop release of the year -- and set it up for a sequel in the second half of 2009.

Then today I saw this via @PSFK, a puzzle style Twitter game to help launch Sony's new Terminator film. You can check our their article here, or get involved yourself by following @resistance2018.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Change is a process: innovation in the minds of networks and kids

Lately it seems we've become even more obsessed with predicting the death of everything

Two things I came across on Friday brought to mind Mark Twain's much remarked upon quote:

Reports of my death are an exaggeration

On Friday I read this piece in the NY Times giving a roundup of the major announcements at this year's US Network Upfronts. In particular, it reported Network plans to both create and expand on strategies to link advertisers more closely with content. 

One example was Turner Network's TVinContext:

Turner’s “TVinContext” initiative will look to place advertising content adjacent to relevant scenes. For example, a scene in the theatrical film Hitch in which actor Will Smith has an allergic reaction to something he ate would be followed immediately with a spot for the allergy medicine Zyrtec.

The fact that this (hardly new) strategy is being announced as the year's big innovation, gives you a sense of not just where Networks are at, but to a degree, clients and audiences as well. It's also interesting in that the 2008 Upfronts were dominated by discussions about branded content rather than contextual or integrated advertising.  

Does this mean we're sliding backwards? More like sideways.

A few minutes later, I was reminded of this illuminating video from Peter Hirschberg's TED Talk on the future of TV and the internet (via avc.com)

Taking in these two things in quick succession, simply reminded me the pace of change is uneven and unpredictable, and that change is a process rather than an event.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Great Adspace Pioneers post: 12 films utilising social media marketing

Over at Adspace Pioneers, Julian Cole has assembled a list of 12 films utilising social media in their marketing efforts.

A great resource and worth checking out.

It's time for networks to change their attitude towards brand entertainment

One of the frustrations of working in brand entertainment space is that TV network programmers remain unconvinced of brand funded television's merits. It's something we're constantly banging our heads against.

While prime time shows like Australian Idol and Australia's Next Top Model are network commissioned, they are at the very least part brand funded when you consider the role that sponsors, contra and licensing play in generating revenue and saving dollars on the bottom line.

As programming budgets shrink, and audiences fragment, we'll see an increasing move towards the part commissioned, part brand funded TV model which is a great thing for this market. (Nine's Homemade is a classic example of this, although the response from audiences suggests they're not finding it overly entertaining).

Currently, in the minds of network programmers, '100% brand funded television' still equates to a fundamental trade off between entertainment quality and advertiser needs. It means off-peak scheduling and free programming for a slot they'd rather not worry about.

They're inherently suspicious, their policies around brand entertainment tend to change fairly regularly, and despite the obvious benefits (delivering value to audiences and brands, higher yields, lower programming costs), there is, as someone said to me recently, "still a bit of a stink" around it.

The most frustrating thing is the artificial dichotomy between the potential entertainment value in a commissioned show, versus a brand funded show. Small screen history is littered with discarded network shows that failed to rate and cost big money.

Who says a brand funded show can't be entertaining? Or can't deliver a big audience?

There's no doubt that brand funded TV producers are partially to blame for the 'down and dirty' reputation. In the past this kind of programming has been characterised by lower production values, a plethora of logos, and a crappy offpeak timeslot.

This was because producers were forced to monetise poor timeslots by over capitalising on the number of brands involved. They were often bending over backwards to squeeze dollars from skeptical marketers, who then approached the content as they would an ad - more logos please!

This paradigm is now old and outdated.

The reality is that there are many more places for producers to distribute brand funded content - in a sense, the TV element is becoming a launch-pad or marketing tool for a bigger content play online.

In addition, marketers are a hell of a lot more sophisticated. They recognise the danger of compromising the entertainment integrity, and the audiences' interests. If brands are not providing value for an audience, they might as well spend their money on something else.

Overall, if the dynamics of brand funded TV are to change, network attitudes have to change.

Network support = bigger budgets = better production values = better timeslot = better marketing support = better value for brands = less brands required to fund the proposition.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

V Raw: embracing your inner casserole

In these early wintry months I've been dusting off my big pot and making some tasty soups and casseroles (try this lovely Italian vegetable soup with celeriac and borlotti beans).

Without a doubt, these hearty dishes always taste better the next day, when the flavours have had a chance to infuse.

I think a few more marketers need to embrace their inner casserole and give their campaigns a bit more time on the stove (see this previous post on taking the long view of brand entertainment).

So it's great to see Frucor and OMD have brought back the highly successful V Raw campaign.

The strength of this campaign was always its insight around young people and their lack of access to creative industry jobs - something that is even more pertinent in this climate.

Once again, V has teamed up with folks at places like Diesel and The Glue Society to offer internships to aspiring young creatives.

Start knocking at that door.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Social Psycho: a fascinating experiment

I was giving a presentation a couple of weeks back talkin' bout entertainment, when a lad at the back made the comment 'apart from Tourism Queensland, which was largely international in terms of entrants, Australian's don't seem to have much of an appetite for getting involved in user generated content campaigns'.

There's plenty of evidence to the contrary. In other words, Australians are watching stuff, making their own, and talking about it. This can only mean that clients and agencies are failing to ignite interest from audiences.

I've said this before, I think there is a genuine interest in experimentation, but a lack of creativity, bravery and importantly an effort to understand the relationship between people and the environment. This has got us stuck in a rut where Doritos, Subway, Toshiba, Samboy and Nissan are the norm, and Six Beers of Separation is the exception (it's early days so we haven't yet seen them really take off but it's a much more interesting concept).

But here's one I'm really excited about. I'm completely intrigued, involved and plotting my part in this new creative commons project. It's called Social Psycho and in truth, there is not a brand in sight.

It's the brainchild of one Marcus Brown from Munich - storyteller, stirrer and tweet reader.

As the video above suggests, Marcus has unearthed a cracking premise:

What would happen when someone who had access to the personal data of hundreds or thousands of people completely lost it and became unhinged? What would happen if that said person was extremely web savvy, had accounts of facebook, twitter, friendfeed, blogs and knew their way around Google maps etc.?

Social Psycho is a work of fiction that intends to build on this terrifying idea and I'm inviting you to get involved. It's my new project. Although I will be mainly writing and developing the main character of the story, you are invited to develop sub-plots and characters in order to build stories of your own."

Marcus has set up a Google group and is inviting us to take on a character or help develop the story in whatever way we like - via blogs, videos, twitter etc. There are already some curious discussions and sinister ideas bubbling away on his murderous stove.

It's a project created by Marcus, with our help, and all for the princely sum of time and occupied minds.

Get involved. Experiment. At your peril.

And brands, take note.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Six Beers of Separation launches on Youtube

I wrote about this a while back, but the Tooheys Six Beers of Separation series is now up and running on Youtube.

Full episodes are coming soon, but check out the trailer below - if it doesn't make you thirsty, the top notch production values and a strong premise suggest it will be an interesting watch.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Coraline: building a beautiful story

Have a look at this beautiful looking film Coraline. Directed by Henry Selick, and based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, Coraline was released in February in the US. 

It's the first feature from animation studio Laika. The film looks to be a masterpiece of stopmotion animation - everything you see on screen has actually been handcrafted.

Laika is Phil Knight's post Nike plaything (he bought Will Vinton Animation Studios and renamed it Laika) and he tasked Wieden + Kennedy with marketing the company's first feature.

The campaign looks to have been both well crafted and respectful of its audience (both in terms of the marketing and the film itself).

One of the really cool things they did was send out 50 one off boxes to some key bloggers. Each of the boxes was handmade, totally unique and contained bits and pieces from the set. Who wouldn't want to get their hands on one?

You can read about the W+K story here and check out some of the artwork, or watch a delightful little trailer they've produced for the campaign.

HT @carlmoggy

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Content: what role should a brand play?

On Wednesday, I was part of a That's Advertainment panel discussion at AIMIA's V21 conference in Melbourne. I have to admit to really enjoying the experience of tossing around thoughts with three smart folks in Christy Dena (cross media storyteller and University of Sydney PHD student), Matt Houltham (Publicis Digital) and Frankie Ralston-Good (Naked's Melbourne MD). I thought it was a pretty vibrant discussion that happily bounced us around the brand entertainment space.

One thing that really resonated with me was an analogy Frankie used to illustrate the different ways that brands can utilise content to engage audiences. She argued that we're still applying old world thinking to new ways of doing things without necessarily "understanding that eco system and the role a brand should (versus could) play in that scenario".

Here is an excerpt from thoughts Frankie shared at the conference (inspired by a previous conversation she had with Brett Rolfe)

What we actually need to do is to think in different ways about brands and our interactions with people. As an example, imagine our consumers as a group of mates sitting around a camp fire sharing ghost stories. As a brand, how do you get involved? Are you a newcomer that sits down and joins the conversation? The fire that keeps everyone warm? Perhaps even the space in which everyone sits? Are you actually the story that is being shared? Or could you be the memory of the night's events that gets passed around and repeated in the days that follow?

If we don't develop new ways of looking at content, its creation, its consumption and distribution we will continue with a hit or miss approach. We know how badly things can go when brands and their advisors pick the wrong place to be. And if I may return to my camp fire, we should always consider the understandings and beliefs consumers currently have about us before we do anything. If a stranger turns up in the middle of a wood, and starts talking randomly about ghosts we are more likely to reach for a weapon than invite them into our tent.

p.s Thanks to Debra, Karla and Kylie from Ish Media for putting together an entertaining panel and awesome video presentation

brand entertainment: a bit of a stink?

I was in a meeting last week and someone mentioned they think brand entertainment in this market still has 'a bit of a stink around it'. 

We were talking in the context of television and in a way I think he's right.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Harnessing social media flash-fads

Into the Wood series part #2. Brett Rolfe - colleague, friend and inspirational t-shirt guy - imparts some wisdom on the topic of flash fads

Flickr: thenoodleator

Alright, who's old enough to remember 'All Your Base Are Belong to Us'? Back in 2001, AYBABTU was one of the first 'internet memes', fads based on creating, sharing and remixing content around a specific idea or theme. Since then we've seen everything from dancing hamsters and leet-speaking cats to Diet Coke+Mentos cocktails and the comeback of the most exciting and dynamic musical genius of recent times.

Digital media and the internet have provided us with easy means to make our own digital content and remix content from other sources. The advent of online communities and social networks has dramatically increased the ease with which we can share this material.

These technological facilities have fuelled our passion for participative fads. Driven by the desire to share rituals, to have a sense of belonging and purpose (however transitory and apparently superficial), we seek out new social content and forms of social play. The speed with which we can discover and exploit novelty has increased with each new form of social technology, compressing the adoption curve until we now move from inception through cool to lame in a matter of weeks if not days.

The integration of creative facility with social connection in digital platforms like facebook, MySpace and flickr allows anyone to spark a social fad that might be picked up and spread to social circles far beyond their own. Some time back it became all the rage to tag inanimate objects as your friends in facebook. More recently flickr and facebook have become home to a plethora of fake album covers created based on a simple random process. If you feel the urge to share a little something of yourself, you might alternately like to upload a photo of the books you keep beside the bed.

The important thing about each of these flash-fads is that not only are they interesting to participate in passively (are people actually still reading Nicholas Negroponte, at bedtime no less?), they are almost as easy to participate in actively. Perhaps the most challenging thing is to identify those things that have not yet climbed to the dizzying heights of fad-dom, and predict which have the qualities that will capture the imaginations of thousands of followers. In a recent glimpse into a facebook profile (hi Greer!), I stumbled across a remixed Mr Men graphic where you can tag each character as one of your friends... I'd never seen it before, but watch this space.

These faddish spaces provide a rich, fertile territory that is reminiscent of Barthes' notion of a ‘writerly text’, constantly open to interpretation and engagement. It is little wonder, then, that they are so appealing to communications professionals looking for vectors through which to deliver brand meaning. Those who remember cherishing their Coke yoyo will appreciate how powerful a tool these trend-based vectors can be. But what role can (and should) a brand play, in this environment? Where are brands welcome (and even invited), and where will their involvement be perceived as intrusive and unwanted?

There are perhaps three different points that a brand can become involved in a flash-fad, determined by what point the fad is at when the brand engages. Asking which point a brand should become involved is an important question, as different brands have different appetites for innovation. As Grant McCracken discusses in ’Flock and Flow’, some brands thrive on the cutting edge of trends, others are more at home with the mass consumption of the late majority. Misunderstanding the nature of a brand, or leaping onto a flash-fad at the wrong point can be detrimental to the image of the brand and its relationship with consumers.

For most brands, the most obvious approach with flash-fads is 'jumping on the bandwagon', getting aboard a fad-in-progress, and riding the wave to mass popularity. The challenge here is timing and brand fit - if you can locate a suitable trend, the window of opportunity is often narrower than marketing departments need to deploy a campaign. More ambitious is creating your own fad, wading into the murky social waters and sparking your own outrageously successful participative trend. History does not record the many (many) failures, but examples like Burger King's Simpsonize Me show that it can be done.

An interestingly post-modern twist is the option of critically re-interpreting (or remixing) a trend that has already moved through the innovation cycle. Public imagination was captured by Improv Everywhere's mass performance happening Frozen Grand Central. The act was clearly the inspiration for the less-than-inspiring promotional stunt for the launch of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening in Australia. That effort felt derivative, and in every way 'less' than the original. A much more engaging spin was T-Mobile's tongue-in-cheek dance commercial which remixed and responded to the original in an innovative and imaginative way.

With the creative and connective power of digital technology only likely to increase, it seems inevitable that flash-fads will become more common, faster, and more highly refined. The rewards for brand successfully engaging with these trends are real, but they are limited by the difficulty of meshing with unpredictable social mass behaviour, and ultimately by the speed with which such fads will fade from social consciousness.

Brett Rolfe is the Digital Communications Director at Naked Communications and writes his own blog at

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

User generated campaigns are only as good as the ideas behind them

Recent campaign launches from Samboy, Doritos, and Subway have stimulated quite a bit of chatter about the merits and downfalls of this style of campaign. Accusations of boring, lazy creatives, and scoring bigger agency resourcing budgets have been some of the criticisms levelled here.

I think these examples show a willingness to experiment, and to try something different.

But at the end of the day, this style of campaign is only as interesting as:

1. the idea itself - how compelling is it? what value does it offer?


2. the people you engage


3. the way you enable their involvement


4. the way they respond

Using social media isn't interesting. But ideas and people are.

Remember the whole world is your creative department. But give 'em something interesting to play with.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Clap Me Happy

For the very first post in the Into the Wood guest series, Annik Skelton goes undercover to review one of the biggest entertainment brands in the country.

Hope for my arse

Hillsong Church in Sydney sure knows how to draw a crowd - 20,000 per week to be exact. Growing up around Norwest in the late nineties, I was frequently urged by my Hill-Singing schoolmates to join them at youth group every Friday night or attend a Sunday service. At first I refused because I preferred to spend my weekends drinking with boys, then later in life I had a reputation to preserve. Besides, if I wanted to watch people swaying with arms outstretched and delirious expressions on their faces, I’d just go to Parklife.

As a kid, I attended a small traditional Anglican church in Northmead. But after fourteen years, I got bored and left. I disagreed personally with certain fundamental points of the Christian faith and quite frankly, I had better things to do with my time, like shoplifting. I didn’t believe enough to practise Christianity outside of church, and the services weren’t interesting enough for me to attend simply for the sake of it. Maybe they just weren’t trying hard enough to engage me?

Eight years later, I decided to check out the most notoriously entertaining church around – Hillsong. On Sunday night, my friend Julia and I headed North-West and pulled into a carpark buzzing with unusually good-looking, smiling people.

Straight ahead for the kool-aid?

“Welcome to church!” a man greeted us as we entered the building.

“Okay,” I replied as we made a beeline for the gift shop. Here we browsed the books, DVDs, stationery, and impressive selection of Hillsong music. I considered making a purchase, but then I figured I could just take a $50 note and wipe my arse with it.

Actually, it was roughly 5:50pm

“PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE AUDITORIUM WHILE THERE ARE STILL SEATS!” a voice boomed overhead, interrupting our shopping.

Inside, there was a mad scramble for seats. We shuffled down several rows, only to find that most of the chairs had been “reserved” with a bible, a jacket or a handbag. We pushed them onto the floor and sat down while the ushers weren’t looking.

Our father who art in heaven, guide me to a fricking seat...

The stage was lit up like a KISS concert, with four wide-screens above, and then additional screens placed throughout the higher seats on each side of the auditorium. Smoke machines billowed around the stage and several hundred young people stood crowded up the front. As Brian Houston walked towards the microphone, the room erupted with cheers and applause and immaculate orgasms. He smiled and informed us, “You have brought the presence of God here with you tonight.” I was pretty sure the only things I’d brought were a notepad and a packet of cigarettes, but whatever.

It’s the Holy Spirit! No wait, it’s just $100k worth of stage lighting.

Brian proceeded with his introduction, his voice gradually gaining speed and volume as one of the keyboard players added some dramatic strings in the background. “Tonight people will be healed. Tonight people will be touched! TONIGHT PEOPLE WILL BE SAVED!
The band hit it and we were away. I took a lot of notes throughout the service. Below are some points I jotted down about the presentation and format of the service:

1. Music – I counted nine songs during the 90 minutes before I bailed. During each song, they killed the house lights and brought the focus in on the stage where 20 odd musicians were spread out. The strobes and smoke machines kicked in and the screens showed a black & white live stream of the band members. The lights were carefully themed for each song and emphasised the music’s intensity impressively. For the final chorus, the camera zoomed in on the main singer’s chiselled face through the raised hands of those in the “mosh pit”. All very MTV. Hillsong has cleverly emulated pretty much every element of the soft-rock music industry. And holy shit, the kids love it and want to buy their records!

2. Tithing – this was opened by a cute little anecdote about the joy of giving (10% minimum, please, and we will accept various forms of payment including your first born child.) Again, the strings built tension in the background and the lights were dimmed and brightened in accordance with the speaker’s intensity.

3. Fodder – some cool videos were shown of “Church News” and “Church Life” describing upcoming events where we were urged to bring friends and family. Fuck, even I wanted to go to some of this stuff. They’ve got break-dancing and live album recordings and celebrities and free stuff. All you need is a hip flask of vodka and you’ve got yourself a pretty sweet Saturday night! Between each video, we were shown ads for Hillsong products or services. Because there wasn’t enough Hillsong branding around already.

The toilets in God’s house never run out of paper.

4. Speakers – each speaker used the same techniques to get the crowd hyped up. Sentences were heavy on verbs (empowerment) and abstract nouns (attainment), with constant mentions of eternity (where do you want to spend it?) Repetition is the key. Repetition is the key. They were fascinating to listen to as they gained momentum and intensity. I found myself wondering where it would end... Would Brian Houston’s head explode, splashing glitter and long-dead brain cells on those in the front rows? Would the devoted crowd, high on joy and conformity, lose control of their pent-up teenage lust and trample each other to death in a rush to get to the stage and touch Brian? Unfortunately, no.

5. Open prayer – okay, this was when shit started to get a bit heavy. The lady who introduced the open prayer time kicked things off by speaking to us in tongues. Apparently I was the only person who was bothered by this, as everybody else jumped up and reached out and started yelling and chanting and rambling in various languages. The lady in front of me was swaying and murmuring feverishly as she hugged herself. The boy next to me was on his knees with his hands clenched into fists high above his head, shouting “FOREVER YAHWEH!” I was playing Spider Solitaire on my iPhone.

I hope nobody notices I forgot to put on deodorant..”]

At no point during the service did I glean any learning of the Bible or the Pentecostal beliefs. I began to wonder what the whole point of the service was, other than the odd $50k I estimate were paid in tithes and listening to a pretty decent band. Every part of the night was structured with the intent to keep eyes on the stage – even the brief Bible reading involved dramatic background music, red lights and smoke machines.

As I walked out the door, a man stood at the microphone (strings in background) and shouted out:

“You didn’t come to a performance tonight! You didn’t come to a concert tonight! You didn’t come to a show tonight! You came to a CELEBRATION of GOD!”

Celebrate my arse.

You can find more storytelling goodness from Annik over at Hide & Neek

Sunday, February 22, 2009

8 big brand entertainment initiatives in 2009. And it's only February.

Despite the doom and gloom, it’s going to be a defining year for brand entertainment.

Here’s a quick look at some of the initiatives that have already emerged in 2009.

1.The Tmobile Dance
In January, over 350 dancers converged on Liverpool Street station to performed an inspiring routine for surprised morning commuters. The 3 minute
piece from their Life's for Sharing campaign, was filmed using hidden cameras so as to capture spontaneous reaction of commuters.

Not only did the ad go to air on TV within 48 hours of filming, it went around the globe. Commentators were divided on whether flashmobbing still has legs,
but did the ad seemed to strike a chord with punters? The video has attracted 4.6million+ Youtube views and stirred up

lots of chat and PR. On February 7 police had to close the station when flashmob of 13,000 turned up to recreate the Dance after responding to a T-mobile callout via Facebook. As to sales or any other measures, looking forward to hearing more.

2.Rexona's Greatest Athlete

Greatest Athlete pits eight of Australia’s highest profile athletes against each other in a “gruelling test of their physical prowess and mental toughness.” The platform revolves around an eight part television series on Network Nine, that leverages both Rexona’s performance credentials and its sporting ambassadors.

Some brands have previously made the mistake of throwing everything into production at the expense of a broader content marketing effort. There is a kind of 'holy grail' attributed to the creation of a television show. In this case, Rexona have focused on building an entertainment platform, which evolves across a number of channels. It's a lot more than a TV show. You can watch all the episodes here online.

3.Cadbury Eyebrows
The latest effort from
A Glass and a Half Productions has received largely positive reviews from some unlikely sources and more than 4 million views. Cadbury Eyebrows starts with two ten year olds waiting to be shot for the family portrait. When backs are turned, the children cut a range of eyebrow dance moves to the sound of 'Don't Stop the Rock' by electro-funk superstar, Freestyle. On the back of its success, Orange and Cadbury have teamed up to launch the ringtone (downloaded 125,000 times in the first 11 days).

Is it an ad? Is it brand entertainment? I reckon it's both, but most importantly, it’s about the surprise and childlike joy that defines the Cadbury chocolate experience.

4.Gatorade and the Quest for G
This one is a little more puzzling – it’s the latest TBWA campaign for Gatorade and it can only be described as 'a take off of a take off'. Its starting point is
Monty Python and the Holy Grail and it’s layered with references designed to appeal to the die hard fan. Produced to coincide with the NBA All Stars Game, it launched with short spot during the Superbowl - the full series can be viewed Youtube. When you work this one out, can you let me know?

5. Nintendo and the Wiinoma

In January, Nintendo announced the launch of Wiinoma, a dedicated Japanese broadcast TV channel. An internet connection is all Japanese Wii owners need to access original Nintendo produced content - from cartoons to cookery (hmmm not sure about that last one). There are plans for world expansion, potentially opening up 18+ million living rooms around the world. While Nintendo says the channel will "see it make the critical shift towards content-based revenues", it's really based on a traditional advertising model (Dentsu will produce the programs and sell the ads). Still, it's an exciting development - a heady mix of old and new that should make TV networks sit up.

6. King Gee Jack of all Trades
I wrote about Jack of all Trades in January this year, when the third series debuted on Network Nine with over 1 million viewers (thanks to its scheduling in the cricket). It's an entertainment platform model (similar to Rexona's Greatest Athlete) that aims to uncover Australia's greatest tradie. The fact it's in its third series is testament to its appeal to brands and audiences. Not bad.

7. Audi's Truth in 24
In March, ESPN will air a documentary called Truth in 24. The
production follows an Audi team's pursuit of victory at the infamous Le Mans race. The brand reportedly took a hands off approach to it's involvement in the film and there was no guarantee Audi would come out triumphant (still with 8 victories in 9 years, it probably had a pretty good chance).

Marketing Managers take note:

“There was an element of uncertainty with this film from the outset,” said Scott Keogh, Audi of America’s chief marketing officer. “But we wanted to honestly depict the drama, the triumphs and the setbacks of Le Mans racing and spirit of motorsports that is woven into Audi’s DNA. To accomplish that it was essential to let the outstanding storytellers at NFL Films do their jobs without interference and with unprecedented behind-the-scenes access before, during and after the races they filmed.” (Yep, especially of that last sentence)

8. Cheetos and Boing Boing
This is a good example of why a) partnerships make sense and b) it doesn't have to be complicated. Boing Boing have a big audience. And they have lots of sway due to their ridiculous level of credibility. Cheetos pays Boing Boing to create a video series they know will appeal to their hard-to-please-marketing-savvy-fickle-as-all-hell audience. And they take over advertising for the month. Boing Boing make some cool Cheetos content, tell people about it (and that Cheetos slipped them some cash) and Boing Boing, or should I say ker-ching ker-ching.

Got a campaign you think is worthy of inclusion? Let me know

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Two interesting reads: crowdsourcing and spreadable media

Here's two things I've been thinking a lot about over the last week or two.

First, Neil Perkin's 'crowdsourcing' project. Neil put a call out for people to contribute slides to a presentation on the subject of community. With the addition of bookends and a few tweaks, he 'sourced' a surprisingly cohesive, smart and by its very nature, authentic presentation, and I'm totally enamoured with the idea.

In a funny way, one of Neil's observations about entertainment sums up the whole presentation - quite simply it's more fun if it's shared.

The second is Henry Jenkins' eight part spreadable media serialisation entitled If it doesn't spread, it's dead.

I've only just started reading, but so far it's an interesting look at the concepts of memes and viral media, and the weaknesses of biological metaphors. It suggests that a theoretical emphasis on self replication comes at the expense of understanding the way ideas are transformed 'as they pass from hand to hand'.


Monday, February 16, 2009

How can brands stand out in the music space?

When it comes to brands, music is one hell of a crowded marketplace.

The two Cs - clutter and credibility - means that brands really need a reason to be in this space. They need to be involve audiences in the right way and genuinely enhance the music experience for the people that matter - fans and audiences. Otherwise there just ain't room.

Bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails understand this, but it's a more difficult thing for brands to differentiate themselves in this way.

My colleague Brett pointed this one out to me. Nokia's involvement in the Good Vibrations music festival is a good example of a brand doing smart things in music. Especially in a festival environment where signage, promo girls and water pistols are the norm.

Reason to be there
You could send an SMS and download the Nokia mobile festival guide with chances to win freebies, VIP passes (worth it for the loos), Nokia Comes With Music phones, and most importantly, the festival map and program. You know that bit of scrunched up soaked paper that you keep losing throughout the day, forcing you to talk to strangers and search underneath empty beer cans in the dark?

Genuinely enhance the experience
Nokia provided free WiFi access across the festival (apparently this was a little on the dodgy side).

Involve the audience
Nokia set up a Mobile ‘portal’ (available through WiFi) that provided info about the day and let you rate your favourite acts (good idea not to make it too hard). And if you enjoyed the music, they plan on loading up the top picks on a Best of Good Vibrations playlist available on the Nokia Music Store after the event.

What's your favourite brand in music example?