July 31, 2009

Tech guys take centre stage

fiat-eco-driveRecently we’ve been seeing some very interesting examples of brand communication based on smart technology ideas. I’ve already mentioned the award winning Fiat Eco:Drive by AKQA in previous postings. In his recent blog post, “10 things to do for digital agencies”, Jerome Courtial suggests that we bring technology out of the technology department. He explains how the Fiat idea came from technologists who found the data and just thought it’d be cool to do something with it. And then got helped by planners and creatives to make it what it is now. Jerome also links to an interesting blog post from earlier this year entitled “creative technologists in brand advertising” where Scott Brinker says that “the elevation of technology talent in the agency world represents a tremendous opportunity for agencies — who need to address the disruptive innovation of online advertising with bold changes — as well as opening new career paths for technical professionals, especially those who blend engineering disciplines with creative and marketing business savvy. Marketing and computer science together in the spotlight”.

Take a look at the Chalkbot that accompanied Lance Armstrong during his recent Tour de France. Again, a group of technology guys come up with a brilliant idea that becomes part of a bigger marketing campaign. It’s a tradition in the Tour De France is for fans to write messages of encouragement on the road in chalk for the riders as they go by. Nike took the innovative idea of the Chalkbot making it possible so that anybody in the world can submit a message and have it written on the road. IAn internet-connected chalk tool that will etch people’s messages that have been submitted via Twitter or the website. Bannerblog describes it as “a great merging of the digital and physical worlds. Or a bridge between the two perhaps. It’s also a great example of how good digital ideas are light enough to travel around social networks, rather than the meat of it being based in a microsite”.

gubbeThere are other interesting examples too such as the Absolut Machines project by Teenage Engineering. Launched in 2008 this live installation allowed online visitors to control a choir of robots. While this was more artistic than commercial it showed how technology-led creativity can produce something truly memorable. So bring the technology guys out of the basement. They may smell differently and communicate is a strange language but they might just provide the spark for your next big campaign idea.

July 27, 2009

The Flame of Fame

30air600We live in the era of fame. Everyone seems to want to be famous. From Octomum to the girl on the bus dressed as Lady Gaga. The internet has amplified this desire and given everyone a chance to make a name for themselves through blogging, tweeting and sharing photos or videos. The Warhol 15 minutes of fame prediction is now a reality.

Needless to say, brands have jumped onto this phenomenon like flees onto a dog. Of course it is the job of agencies to tap into cultural trends but sometimes you wonder if the search for fame is just a little short sighted. Getting a lot of attention in a short space of time may not turn into more sales or loyal customers.

Air New Zealand decided to show their staff naked with their uniforms painted on – since they have nothing to hide. Is this a real differentiation or just an attention-grabbing ploy? No such doubts about their pink flight. What will they come up with next to rack up views of viral videos? Not all attempts to grab eyeballs work out though. Many brands use viral videos for instant fame only for it to fall flat. This blog post gathers a few of the worst recent offenders.

At the same time there are brands that recognise how fickle fame can be and are focusing on utility. Giving the customer something valuable and useful can often be a stronger argument for brand engagement. Fiat’s Eco:Drive or the Nike + platform (interesting article here) show how branded utilities can be the reason why customers choose one brand over another. A new iPhone app for Mastercard is another example of a brand offering a tangible benefit for customers allowing them to bookmark their favourite shops or restaurants then share them with their social network. Great idea (even though I’m annoyed since I proposed the same idea to another card company a year ago). Read about Priceless Picks on this blog post.

I’m not saying that fame is all bad. The biggest brands are famous ones. They just didn’t become famous because they sought fame. They had great products that were marketed to the right people in the right way. Advertising agencies that don’t make their clients famous are not doing their job properly. But an agency that just offers fame and nothing more (like delivering results)? Fame, like any flame, can easily sputter out.

July 7, 2009

Unique users


British artist Antony Gormley yesterday launched his new art installation on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square. But rather than sculpture he invited the general public to apply for a 1 hour spot – to be a living sculpture. It seems to really capture the spirit of the times. A mixture of reality TV, crowd sourcing and user-generated content. Now everyone is holding their breath to see who’s going to make the biggest fool of themselves. Just like on the web there are some things you just can’t control. Watch that space.

Read the article here.

July 6, 2009

Be kind (to brands)

be-kind-rewind-movie-10I missed it at the movies when it came out but finally saw Be Kind Rewind on DVD last night. Apart from being a great movie (like everything Michel Gondry does) it made me think about user generated content/campaigns online. Why? Well, if you haven’t seen the movie, a small video rental shop has all its tapes erased by accident and Jack Black & Mos Def remake the movies themselves in  a few hours. They called these “sweded” versions and the customers soon prefer them to the originals. In fact the shop’s customers end up starring in many of the movies themselves. The shop becomes highly popular with the locals because they’ve become creative stake holders. They feel part of the experience.

Many brands are experimenting with marketing 2.0 that allows customers to be part of the campaign. Take Ikea in the Netherlands. Their ‘Design Your Own Life’ campaign, launched a few months ago, created a user generated showroom of kitchens using IKEA products. With over 2000 entries, it instantly became the biggest kitchen showroom in Holland. They’ve now launched the follow up, Bedroom Secrets, in which you can have a look inside Dutch bedrooms.

Some brands have been successful while others have failed. According to Kate Richardson on her Stickywood blog there are a few basic rules. She said:

“…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”.

Kate (who is based in Australia) gave this example of a local campaign for Doritos where the audience was asked to create their own TV spots for the brand.

Another nice example of user involvement was this clock for Sprint where the viewer could become one of the numbers.

In many ways user-generated has overtaken viral as the must-have marketing tool, often used too much and when it is not appropriate. Clients can also be ill-prepared for the backlash and negativity that users can throw back when you give them a voice. But when it is right for the brand and for the audience it can be really powerful.

I’ll leave with this trailer for Be Kind Rewind – which, in the spirit of the movie, shows Michel Gondry erasing the real trailer and having to make a “sweded” version himself. If you haven’t seen the movie yet it’s well worth it.

July 3, 2009

Are you Technostalgic?

As we remember 30 years of the Walkman (see a great selection of 80’s ads here) and 40 years of the Moon Landing – it is clear that we are all suffering from a bad case of technostalgia. The British are gripped with 80’s technopop fever as musicians such as Little Boots and La Roux (probably not even born in at the time) cite bands such as The Human League and Yazoo as major influences. The iPhone might be the must-have gadget but people want to download simulators of ancient HP calculators or the yet to be approved Commodore 64 gaming app from Manomio.
504x_walkmantpsl2So why do so many people have such fond feelings for early technology? Was it the element of magic people felt being able to do things they had never been able to do before? Have we become so immune to wonder that any new gadgets that appear receive blasé comments about what they can’t do rather than what they can? When early electronic groups made whole albums on machines they built themselves and held together with duct tape there was a sense of awe. Now you can just switch on Garage Band and make a synthpop track in a few minutes.

Technostalgia may just be about simpler times when we were not so spoilt as we are today. Technology was something to marvel at. A computer with 128k ram was a minor miracle.

Will the younger generations be so technostalgic 30 years from now? Certainly they don’t display any sympathy for the technology of their parents. I just loved this article where a 13 year was given a Walkman for a week.

Be kind. Rewind…

July 2, 2009

Future Lions roar

futurelionFuture Lions began in 2005 to “give students a chance to shake up the advertising world at Cannes”. AKQA were sponsoring the event this year and recently published the winners’ work on the special Facebook site.

It’s a great initiative giving students a chance to show their work to the world’s leading agencies. The challenge was to develop an idea for advertising a global brand in a way that would not have been possible five years ago. This meant that many of the concepts involved mobile apps, social networks and other technologies that have become mainstream in the last few years.

My personal favourite is the work of Hallvard Fjeldbraaten and Morten Halvorsen for skateboard brand Element. By geo-tagging the locations of their stunts, and uploading the evidence, skateboarders are allowed to claim  and own the places where they made history. Others can challenge them and do more daring stunts (no doubt breaking bones in the process). Their idea really tapped into the mindset of the target.

Below is a video of their entry.

Congratulations to all the winners. Now somebody give them a job.