Stuff I’ve Said Other Places, Take 2

In Part Two of my preemptive strike against information decay, I go back to a piece that originally appeared on iMediaConnection May 13, 2005 entitled “The New Media ‘American Problem'”.

I recently and sadly missed my 20th high school reunion (though got a nice second hand experience via Facebook – no link embedded intentionally), so this ode to good ol’ Mr. Drake is coming back at the right time.

I’ve used the Moses analogy in here a number of times over the years, one of my faves.  And there’s even a reference to Subservient Chicken (see it here in all it’s swf-y glory or read about it here if you were too young or all the glitzy followers on to this have made you forget the original – or at least the originally hyped), a seminal event in digital marketing if there ever was one.  Enjoy..

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My senior year of high school, I took a class entitled “American Problems,” taught by Mr. Drake. It took a look at the complex issues of the day in our country, encouraging young, fertile minds to take a position and engage in healthy debate.

When things became especially heated, Mr. Drake would step in with a seemingly innocuous phrase that would make the quarreling parties stop and think — some sort of phrase that had been completely overused, that seemed to have lost its meaning somewhere along the way; something you really couldn’t respond to. Usually, it ended the debate just prior to the bell ringing. The man was a master manipulator that way.

Although the phrases seemed practically meaningless, a little meditation on what Mr. Drake said usually led you to realize you had the necessary intellect already in place to comprehend the issue at hand. I also liked the way it brought about the abrupt end to unwanted conversation.

Recently, these phrases got me thinking about the relationship between all things that are deemed “new media.” Right now, there is much consternation about what, exactly, “new media” is and how and when it should be used. Indeed, an “American Problem,” if there has ever been one. Allow me to share a few of these time-honored phrases and explain the connections I made.

“We’re talking chicken and egg.”

More than likely, when Moses came down from the mountain after carving the Ten Commandments, one of the wayward souls in the valley was probably angling for a way to sponsor this tablet that would obviously have such mass appeal. And, hey, it would allow Moses to cover the cost of the hammer, chisel and labor he’d just used to produce the document.

I use that example to point out the sacrilegious way we can tend to assume that every new device or mechanism for delivering and consuming media was put there for us to better reach our target audience. Also, to reinforce that although technology makes consumption and delivery of content seem “new,” when you boil it down, it’s still about reaching the correct audience at the correct time with the correct message.

Let us keep in mind that the best examples of devices and mechanisms for content delivery and interaction (the chicken) are created with the idea that it will be easy for the user to get to the content (the egg) they desire with as little impediment as possible. Keeping this thought in mind will allow us to stay consumer-centric, not media vehicle-centric, in our communications planning.

“Is that a means to an end, or are you justifying the end with the means?”

Doing something new because it’s new is not the answer if it’s not grounded in an over-arching objective. Additionally, latching onto a new media vehicle as a tactic then retrofitting an objective around it will not deliver against your clients’ desires.

In our post-Subservient Chicken media lives, let’s keep in mind that the idea (the end) was subservient to the execution (the means), and that when it came time to execute, there was a plan in place for getting it done.

“That’s neither here nor there.”

Once upon a time, there were simple rules to media consumption. Everyone watches weeknight primetime. Most people are listening to radio during their commutes. Newspapers are the best mechanism for fast-cume, daily reach.

Now we talk about things like time-shifting, co-media usage, on-demand, consumer-generated media, wireless access, content integration, and on and on. Our formerly rather stationary, predictable targets (we knew if they were here or there) are now empowered to have their media the way they want to have it when they want to have it (here or there could be practically anywhere at any given time). Oh, and now they feel so bold as to even create their own media (would that be it’s neither who or whom?).

Although this is a relatively new phenomenon, there’s no need to panic and start throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. We do plan media for a living after all. And, for the most part, we are rational people.

We simply have to put more thought into the context of the media usage as it is occurring and how our product or service fits into that context. Does the product or service contribute to or, at least, flow with the content being consumed? What is the target’s situation as they are consuming the message — in a taxi cab, playing a video game, at work, in a movie theater? And, for a common sense test, would you as a consumer be willing to receive a message on a particular device or via a particular medium at that particular time? No one likes a focus group of one, but sometimes common sense is a good gut check on your media tactics.

“It’s six of one, half dozen of another”

Our ultimate goal as media planners is to stimulate some sort of action or reaction from our intended target. If what we deliver is useful and in context, the target does not care that the message comes via their wireless device as they walk down the street, while playing a video game, prior to watching a VOD piece, or even within the confines of some sort of ubiquitous “traditional” media vehicle. If that target is engaged in an activity and receptive to the message being delivered while in the flow of that activity, we are providing a benefit to the target while achieving our objective. At that point, for our target and our media plan, it’s six of one, half dozen of another.

Mr. Drake, if you’re out there, you can be proud of my application of what I’m sure was an unintended lesson.

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Stuff I’ve Said Other Places, Part 1

Inspired by the recent piece on GigaOm about information decay, and perhaps due to a bit of laziness about posting something new more consistently, I’m throwing up a few things I’ve written that have shown up other places over the years in an attempt to not let my digital info decay.  Most, if not all, of what I put up originally appeared over on the website of my good friends at iMedia.

I’m finding it interesting that though this stuff is “old” (most of it from 7 years or more ago), the topics still feel, for the most part, of the now and, for the most part, not really resolved.  Lots of progress has definitely been made for sure, don’t get me wrong.  But not having full resolution on stuff from 7 years ago I don’t necessarily think is all bad, just that sometimes (frequently) the pace of change in the industry is such that we never really get things resolved before we move on to the next thing.  Or we evolve the thing we haven’t resolved to a new place somewhat compounding the lack of resolution.

Anyway, installment one of Stuff I’ve Said Other Places was posted on iMediaConnection back on August 19, 2005 under the title “New Media to Media Pros: Don’t Label Me”.  Ironically, I arrived back at this piece after numerous, recent email and in person conversations about the evolution of “social” and what, exactly, does “social” mean.  This piece was spurred by an article in Technology Review (read it in print) called Social Machines (the link isn’t dead and seven years later this is still a good, pertinent read).

In moving to a research firm, I have found the concept of The Mathematical Mind flourishes here as it does for the media strategists I was originally referencing.  Actually, I found it alive and well in my time on the client-side as well.  Maybe even more funny is that though “Web 2.0” feels so passe, when you look at how it’s defined, are we really onto whatever the next version is just yet?  Enjoy…

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The past couple of months have been an interesting time for me. I was entrenched in a couple of new business pitches, as well as in many discussions and presentations involving emerging media.

Now that I’m coming out of this intensive time spent primarily talking about the future of media delivery, media consumption and subsequent models for planning and purchasing said media, I’ve been reflecting a bit on what I’ve learned. Where I feel I’ve gained the most insight is in how our media minds need to evolve and adapt to these emerging media trends.

The Mathematical Mind

It took me awhile to put my finger on it, but I’d have to say the biggest drawback we as media people have in fully understanding and applying “emerging media” is a want, I would say a need, for specific order and categorization in our work. We may use big words and a lot of acronyms that many don’t fully understand, but in the end, we want nice, neat, simple labels applied to what we do and how we do it. Our logical, mathematical minds always want one and one to equal two.

Think about it: We do detailed analysis on target audiences so we can label them based on demographics and behaviors that will allow us to better decide the mix of media to use which are nicely separated based on how the message is delivered to the audience. Yes, from a professional standpoint, the majority of us are the dreaded “Type-A Personality,” seeking order and control in what we do.

Case in point:

As mentioned above, the current rash of hot emerging media trends has been the focal point of my professional life for the past couple months. Most of these things aren’t terribly new (especially things like mobile, blogs, podcasting, RSS, social networks, P2P networks, etc.) per se, but are emerging in terms of advertising opportunities. Most were developed on a “grass roots” basis by people reaching out to other people, not as a means to push messaging to the masses.

I was having a difficult time sitting in meetings where folks were trying to place them into unique, simple categories. My opinion was, and still is, that most of these things don’t live in a vacuum in the eyes of the consumer, and most consumers don’t see these things as “media” or media delivery mechanisms. Therefore, we shouldn’t be placing them in silos without context around how people are actually using these things: to be more connected with others.

It could’ve been I wasn’t as articulate as I needed to be in saying that. It could’ve been that I was fighting a losing battle against rooms full of Type-A Personalities. Most likely, it was a bit of both. Regardless, my point didn’t seem to resonate.

It’s about the community, stupid

Then, the August issue of Technology Review hit my desk and crystallized my point, as much as a publication from MIT can “crystallize” anything. The cover story, “Social Machines,” provides an in depth look at the phenomenon of “continuous computing” and what, exactly, that means. In essence, it means that “always on” connectivity between the slew of gadgets we now rely on has led to people’s use of technology as a means to develop communities — of family, friends, co-worker, or others they’ve never met in person but have strong ties to for one reason or the other. It talks about the phenomenon of “Web 2.0,” whereby what once was a repository of relatively static documents is now becoming “a platform for personal publishing and social software.” And the desktop and laptop computer are by no means the sole or primary devices being used to get at these platforms.

(Before I move on and tie this together, let’s keep in mind my initial pronouncement regarding media people’s need for categorically defining things. I’m about to make a couple of broad statements about mankind and a few thousand years of history that will, in short order, lead me to my ultimate point. I only insert this interruption to let you know that I do not completely stand outside of this need to have things labeled neatly, at least when it suits me. Anyway, back to our normal programming.)

I make no claims as a cultural anthropologist, nor do I claim expertise in the finer points of human interaction, but I feel like I can safely say over the course of millennia people have proven that they will use advancements in technology as a means to draw closer together as a community. Initially, that meant physically closer together. It could have been to get things to market; it could have been to simply get from Point A to Point B. Think of the wheel.

But when you think of communication innovations, such as the printing press, the telephone, or short-wave radio, it was about the community that can be built via shared likes or dislikes simply by having discourse with others regardless of location. And that is the mindset with which things like mobile, blogs, podcasting, RSS, social networks, and P2P networks, i.e. Web 2.0, have flourished.

Thoughts on moving forward

So what does that mean? It means that we need to redouble our efforts around being focused on business objectives, as well as be consumer-centric, not media-centric, in everything we do. Define the business objective, understand the audience, and then determine the channels for reaching out to that audience.

It means we’ve got some growing pains ahead of us when it comes to our want for simply defined buckets vs. actual consumer behavior. People are empowered now to NOT be easily placed into preconceived buckets of demographics, behavior and media usage. Linear usage of media is quickly becoming a thing of the past, if it hasn’t already completely evaporated.

It means we’re going to have to define the best ways to become part of these communities of communication where ideas are freely passed back and forth, not simply consumed. It could be we move from being advertisers within content to creators of content to best take advantage of some of these emerging media. That, in and of itself, is a pretty large shift in the way we think about the business our clients are in, and our jobs of planning their media and communication.

It means we’re going to have to seek units of purchase and measure that make the most sense in a new paradigm of media usage and creation. We’re going to have to question where “media” value exists — in the delivery of a large audience, in the inclusion and acceptance within, or maybe in the development of, a community, or at some other point.

Don’t be alarmed. Much of this work is already in progress, and that’s the exciting part. Right now, we’re in a time where we can say things like “a new paradigm of media usage and creation” and have it mean something. We can all participate in this new definition of what we do. It’s like we’re all one big community or something.

Then, when digi-pod-mobi-socio-blogging takes off in a few months, we won’t be trying to figure out under what line item on a media plan it should fall.

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Having watched High Fidelity for the umpteenth time

Did a lot of traveling this summer, including a couple of trips to Asia.  So I watched a lot of in flight movies and listened to a lot of music.  On my last trip to Asia, High Fidelity was in the movie queue and I couldn’t resist.

Truth be told, I’m a bit of a taxonomy nerd – though I don’t believe in a place for everything and everything in it’s place.  Maybe a topic I’ll come back to at a later time.  So Rob’s obsessive habit of making top 5 lists fascinates me.  With this last viewing of the movie, I became a bit fixated on Barry’s challenge to Rob – name the top 5 side 1, track 1’s of all time.

I’ve been playing around with this for the past few weeks in my head, been scratching notes down, even started an Evernote notebook on it.  I couldn’t get to just five.  So, instead, I settled on three thematic lists of the top 5 side 1, track 1’s of all time.

I’m sure Barry and even Dick would mock me.  In fact, I know that Barry would since I’ve included a track that he crucified Rob for.  Alas, though, I’ve got these lists out of my head and here in black and white so now I can move on.  So, without further ado…

Top 5 Side 1, Track 1’s Before My Time

Here’s my list for pre-1974….

  • Black Dog, Led Zeppelin IV.  “When it comes to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.”  Mike Damone, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Never worked for me personally, but I could see how it could…
  • Two of Us, Let It Be.  “Two of us wearing raincoats / Standing so low / In the sun / Two of us chasing paper / Getting nowhere / On our way back home.”  Not sure why, but perhaps my favorite Beatles lyrics.  Also something about the happy go luck-iness of the whistling at the end.
  • Hear My Train a Comin’, Blues.  Slight technicality here – it was released in 1994.  But Hendrix doing an acoustic, raw demo like this is just amazingly awesome.  Listen if you will and you will see why this technicality must slide.
  • Sunday Morning, The Velvet Underground & Nico.  “It’s just a restless feeling by my side.”  Andy Warhol.  Lou Reed.  So good.
  • Strange Brew, Disraeli Gears.  This may not have been on my list a few short months ago, but my guitar playing 12 year old son has me re-listening to a lot of stuff these days and Cream is one of them.  Unbelievably talented trio, amazing rhythm section – and Clapton (he is god according to the Brits and all).

Top 5 Side 1, Track 1’s of My Formative Years

More or less 1987 to 1995 or so.  From when I started paying attention to MTV (especially 120 Minutes) through college.

  • Teenage Riot, Daydream Nation.  “Everybody’s talking ’bout the stormy weather / What’s a man to do but work out whether it’s true?”  Exactly.  Great Side 1, Track 1, Line 1.
  • My Name is Jonas, The Blue Album.  I was hooked on the geek/math rock thing from this song forward.  Unfortunately, Rivers and the boys have moved to something else of which I’m not sure what it is, but this one remains in the iTunes forever.
  • Stop!, Ritual de lo Habitual.  My high school Spanish teacher had us translate Sting songs because he released stuff in Spanish and my teacher liked him.  This song, however, was the first time I willingly – and for no educational purpose – translated Spanish.  Again, what Perry et al have devolved to is sad – I’d never willingly want people to go back on heroin, but the music was better…
  • Ana Ng, Lincoln.  I am a Gen-Xer.  I like irony.  A lot.  Maybe too much.  They Might Be Giants bring it in all it’s glory.  Also the white boy sampling – “When I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge / ‘I don’t want the world, I just want your half.'”  If I ever get around to a Side 2, Last Track list, Kiss Me, Son of God from Lincoln will surely be on it.
  • Debaser, Doolittle.  Based on a Salvdor Dali movie – didn’t know that at the time.  It’s not like Black Francis churned out easily understood songs.  But, damn, they sounded good.  “Girlie so groovy / ha ha ha ho.”  Yeah.
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nevermind.  That 12 year old guitar playing son of mine asked me what I thought a great album was, so I bought him the 20th anniversary edition of this one and told him to pay no mind to the other Seattle bands of the time.  He tells me Curt is an underrated guitarist – I say his lyrics were great and what I always think of with this album is the rhythm section – Krist’s bass lines and Dave destroying the drums.

Oops, that was six…

Top 5 Side 1, Track 1’s In My Non-Formative Years

So the this is my I’m a grown up kind of list I guess.  Important to note, as you may have guessed from my formative years list, I’m not much of a Radiohead fan.  Not an apology, just letting you know that you won’t find them here.  I realize for many that’s a hard pill to swallow.

  • Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), Funeral.  The other album I referenced when my son asked me about great albums.  Also, if you’ve seen them live, let me know who is better live that still plays live.  I can’t think of anyone.  “We let our hair grow long and forget all we used to know / Then our skin gets thicker from living out in the snow.”
  • Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, White Blood Cells.  Could be the best Side 1, Tracks 1-4 (Hotel Yorba, I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman, Fell in Love with a Girl).  Had a hard time only having one White Stripes album on this list (not to mention The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather).  I think it came to this because it was the first White Stripes riff my 12 year old learned…he got into it after we watched It Might Get Loud together.
  • Third Planet, The Moon and Antarctica.  “The universe is shaped exactly like the earth / If you go straight long enough you end up where you were.”  Love that.  Had a bit of a moment with Modest Mouse when they were featured on The OC (maybe not as bad as the moment I had when The Flaming Lips were on 90210), but a moment nonetheless.  Both bands have returned nicely from these moments of randomness.
  • Caring is Creepy, Oh Inverted World.  That jangly sound of the initial cords is just so The Shins.  Maybe didn’t change my life as much as it did Zach Braff’s in Garden State, but good all the same.
  • I am Trying to Break Your Heart, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  Similar to one White Stripes album, same for Wilco.  Being an American aquarium drinker gets YHF on the list…

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Review of Suburgatory

Let’s see here. I have watched maybe bits and pieces of 4 episodes of this show so I am surely qualified to write the following in depth analysis of Suburgatory.

Precocious, world-weary, ostracized, street and school smart teenager who is also the narrator – check

Friend of teenager that is straight-laced and plays it by the rules – check

All other high school stereotypes begun in John Hughes films – check

Attractive single parent who is walking tight rope of being a friend or parent driven by guilt of divorce – check

Vain, shallow adult friends and potential love interest of single parent who say and do ridiculous things – check

Ex SNLers part of cast – check

Main missing component – mockumentary segments

Hilarity ensues.

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My Problem with Books about Digital and/or Social Media

I begin to read a book in some way related to digital or social media that seems to have an interesting or new premise and somewhere in the first few pages is a scenario that goes something like this:

Illustrative story about how a person, organization or business has used digital or social media to do amazing new things that it seems no one has ever done.

Now that everyone has everything in a device that fits in the palm of their hand that allows them to know anything they would ever want to or need to know about anything as well as share that unbelievable fount of knowledge along with their thoughts about said knowledge with everyone they know – and based on the illustrative story just shared – [insert ground breaking premise for book here].

And then usually this is followed with some historical reference to the fact that even before everyone had everything they needed in the palm of their hand this is more or less the way things always were – it’s just that now that everyone has everything in the palm of their hands that lets them know everything now and lets them share what they think about everything with all their friends things are faster/different/new/better (in a couple of books, worse) because [insert premise of book here].

And then I usually swear at myself for having bought the book, but rationalize it a bit because I used a device that fit in the palm of my hand to get the book which made it cheaper. So I use that device in the palm of my hand to peruse for a good novel or history book to get faster/differently/newer/better. And there really isn’t a historical reference for this that I can find since I would’ve been out more money or time otherwise.

Hmmm, may be a premise for a book in there.

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Additional or replacement social network? Me internalizing Google+

My initial thought on Google+ brought to mind my kids’ favorite cartoon – the evil Dr. Doofenshmertz on Phineas and Ferb.  I need a social media-stream-inator.  Something that will either truly and seamlessly join them all together, or destroy all but one.

After that, I thought perhaps Google+ can bring order to the chaos of my Facebook and Twitter mess.  Circles seem to more effectively allow me to sort out what Twitter’s lists didn’t necessarily do, and put more context around the hodge podge of friends that is my Facebook stream.  But do I want to start over?

 

Oh, yeah, Percolate can clean up my Twitter stream and let me know what I’m most interested in.  So do I just need to nuke Facebook?

 

Hmm, but didn’t I say I was going to nuke Facebook and just go Twitter a few years ago?  Or maybe just email lists again with a more true group of friends/colleagues based on true shared interests?

 

To that point, many shared interests I have with folks are professional.  So what about LinkedIn?  Would an “industry folks” circle suffice and knock another social net out of my life?  Or maybe I just need to BranchOut

 

Argh, I really do need a social media-stream-inator.

 

But then I realized I’d made some sort of prediction at the beginning of the year about how we’d be amazed, awestruck, etc. by new stuff, paradigms shifting and whatnot only to realize this is what we always do.

 

Made me feel a bit better, not as overwhelmed by it all, but, dammit, an effective social network is about scale, right?  So who really are my friends, where are they, and am I using the right social network with the right tools to get the most out of my network?

 

Now, hold on, I thought.  Is it scale or quality?  I mean email and IM are good, maybe a bit of Beluga and the new Gmail plug in suffice as long as I know what I’m interested in and I know who is interested in the same things…but I could miss something really important, new and/or earth-shattering (God forbid).

 

Blah.  I need a social media-stream-inator.  Or maybe just a cabin in the woods.

 

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Everything Right is Wrong Again

I had lunch today with an old – i.e. we did "online" business together in the last millennium – friend in the digital media industry today.  Aside from the nicety involved with catching up, we had an interesting chat about what we're seeing in the industry today which brought a circle around to some things we were seeing 10+ years ago.
 
The company he now works for could be considered a "network" as they sell their advertising solution across a broad range of sites that they don't own.  However, what he was excited about – and what I think is a good move for them and hopefully a trend to be seen in the industry forthwith since I'm aware of a few other digital media companies doing the same – was their move to invest in and develop "owned and operated" content sites.  Further, the O&O sites will be atalysts for conversation and, thus, more pointed and relevant content around the subject matter that the content sites are focused upon.  Relevant being the keyword there.
 
Earth shattering?  No.  But in a marketplace that has been perhaps unduly focused for a couple of years now on real time bidding against chunks of remnant inventory (call it what you will), it is refreshing to see a commitment to quality over quantity.  That's not to say there isn't room and/or need for exchanges (or networks for that matter) to deliver scale that can be finely cut as needed to deliver audiences and business results efficiently – and, of course, provide revenue opportunities to various parties trading in the inventory (who doesn't need to make a buck these days). 
 
But – and here's my point – if content is indeed king – as it has been stated over and over the past decade or more – millions (billions?) of eyeballs and the accompanying data that goes along with it perhaps needs to be just a prince of some sort.  More to the point, perhaps we should re-casts "content is king" to something more like, "the better your content, the better your data".  No?
 
We then meandered into discussing a stat we'd both heard that at some point soon (a year? two?) something like 70% (probably more) of a brand's content will be consumed outside of a brand's website (link intentionally not inserted, the fact check doesn't seem needed to continue on this storyline).  Frankly, I'd be surprised if that isn't already the case. 
 
Anyway, made us recollect about the good ol' days of the "AOL Keyword" tag that used to accompany so many "offline" media advertisements and the similarity to facebook.com/gohereformorestuffyouwontseeinthisad approach now all the rage.  I wonder if AOL ever tracked how much of a brand's content was consumed outside of the brand's website back in those days, or how people "engaged" inside the walled garden.  Would be interesting to see (once more, didn't seek to track down or insert link…just spit balling here, folks).
 
I won't recount our discussion of brand as publisher as I think where his company is heading is interesting and the right path.  Let's just say the following quote from a piece on today's AdAge sums it up nicely: "Just because the technology exists to allow you to broadcast to your customers doesn't mean that you should do it, because no models or new rules will make what you say true."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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