Posted: January 17, 2012 | 9:28 ET by Nick Parish
Greetings, and Happy New Year. Hopefully the social tides have pushed our annual holiday tribute, Most Contagious, your way. If not, here it sits, in all its glory. Each December we publish a carefully condensed review of all the most interesting cultural and technological currents we've had a chance to observe over the year, free to all. This year's edition has been met with the same hearty acclaim. If you haven't had a chance to read it, consider this strong encouragement. You’ll likely want to pass it along. It's spurred many great conversations within companies about focus, change and developing standout ideas in the year ahead.
In this month's column, rather than address a specific collection of work, we wanted to focus on a discussion happening for some time now on the nature of technology in marketing communications. Contagious first started thinking about this when multichannel, integrated campaigns became widespread and the parameters of a standard media campaign got wider. A checkbox system began to emerge. The campaign had to have print work and TV spots, something interesting out-of-home, a website, a social media play and some interesting banner ads. The idea, the consistent element between these platforms, glued everything together.
But the platforms kept coming. A lovely statistic to help illustrate this comes from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in the UK. The IPA runs an effectiveness award, which tries to determine what advertising actually works. Over the last 20 or so years, the number of media channels used by its most effective campaigns has grown, as you might expect. In 1990, the average effectiveness-award-winning campaign touched two different media. In 2000, that was four. In 2010, it was nine.
We're at the point where there's an overwhelming rush to pragmatic positions in these media and technologies. They exist, so we must be there. Very many augmented reality and QR codes ideas saw daylight in 2011 because of this tendency – something we dubbed the ‘dude we should do…’ philosophy.
However, despite the excitement of ad practitioners testing out the hot new technological thing, frequently the sheer scope and unfamiliarity can be alienating to the consumer who happens to be on the receiving end. It can seem like an awful lot of work to download a special app to read a QR code, just to see an additional video from a bus shelter poster's funny headline, or a product shot. An SMS-based response would probably do.
Meanwhile, the 'innovation lab' was the offering du jour in 2011. This saw marketers, agencies and media companies trying to slough off legacy baggage and forge stronger bonds with startup culture, allying themselves with a Rolodex of potential collaborators, sequestering their personnel in locales designed for lateral thinking, and even taking steps to develop the capacity to directly invest in brands. This isn't a bad thing--our company's lifeblood comes in encouraging risk taking and creating environments for experimentation. We've even helped set up these sorts of environments for major CPG brands through our Insider consultancy division. But frequently these ambitions include a desire to create platforms, based on existing places people congregate on the web, or existing technologies.
Innovating Meaningful Interaction
Perhaps it's time for advertising to come at the problem from the other end.
We see new things aimed at being places for us to communicate inside all the time. Hundreds of platforms make their debut every month, but few become dominant. They all scream out for attention, for users to cultivate their presences. Only a very select few become truly useful tools in connecting and conversing, worthy of the presence of our big ideas.
One successful example is Sneakerpedia, created by Sapient on behalf of Foot Locker. The minimally-branded site seeks to be the Wikipedia for sneaker freaks, to help them identify and classify all makes, models and colors of cool kicks. Foot Locker benefits by creating a community playground it can monitor for new stylistic interests, shapes, colorways—basically understanding which direction the most intense patrons are shifting.
From a beta group of 350 users and no paid media, the brand built a community of 7,700 in the first six months, with over 10,000 sneakers uploaded and 1.2 million page views. The launch brought over $1,000,000 US in media coverage.
It's up to the advertising industry to identify the traits successful platforms have in their ability to sustain communication and the fecund attention environment, and feed them with the right type of fuel. Owning an emulation of that platform, or a cousin, does little good. It's up to us to understand what people's behavior on the web can tell us about how humans work, and how that insight can make our messages clearer and easier to be transmitted between people.
Brands should be asking one big question about emerging technology: How can this help people to meaningfully connect and converse with each other? In seeking to understand the depth of this question, first and foremost, we can create tests for what's next, and apply our knowledge to the cold engineering of the web. I'm reminded of Uber, an up-market cab-calling service that ruffled feathers over New Year's Eve when its 'surge pricing' stuck riders with absurd bills for short journeys. Someone with a better sense of marketing would understand memories of a celebratory evening would be quickly soured with a $63 bill for a trip down the block, and that mentioning the pricing structure a few more times in more visible ways would be prudent before the NYE.
This is the communications industry's power over the world of technology: its ability to interpret the complex ways people understand signals and communication, and properly craft the messages. It has always been its role, though the industries commanding our sense of innovation and wonder have come and gone. Ad agencies haven’t ever tried to make cars or petrochemicals, but they’ve helped tease out the bonds people have to Marlboro and Shell. Technology is no different.
If you find this is an interesting line of thought, there's more where it came from. On Monday, January 23rd, I'll be in Toronto chairing Yahoo’s Provoke panel during the Advertising Week speaker’s series. It’ll delve into the question of how technology can help us meaningfully connect, with all the attendant baggage.
Joining me will be Nathan Martin, CEO of Deeplocal, a firm of hardware hackers in Pittsburgh that builds things like Nike's Chalkbot, James Milward, founder of interactive media production company Secret Location and Mavis Huntley, director of digital innovation at john st. All of these people have created stunning technologically-enabled communications work, and will bring a unique perspective to the discussion.
< Next PostPrevious Post >