Cruising for a bruising

The latest shiny object to catch the eye of today's digerati is Empire Avenue. The service markets itself as "The Social Media Exchange – buy and sell your friends and own anyone on the social web!"

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The concept of a virtual stock market assigning values to people and properties isn't new; a similar concept called the Hollywood Stock Exchange has been in operation since 1996. But just as multiple stock exchanges exist in real life – NYSE, NASDAQ, London, Tokyo, Deutsche Boerse – it makes sense for multiple virtual exchanges to exist and serve niche interests.

I don't think investing time into Empire Avenue right now makes sense for most brands or individuals. Make a small investment by claiming your favorite handle, but then set that investment aside while the market develops. Some people will emerge as market makers and your efforts are better spent on higher return investments.

Empire Avenue will ultimately fail, given its weak value proposition to businesses. 

  • Person-to-person networks for communication already exist with scale, i.e. Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Services for measuring influence are less mature but have momentum, e.g. Klout and network-specific metrics (like followers and fans).
  • Advertising dollars may materialize, but brands have better places to experiment with game mechanics, e.g. FourSquare and Gowalla.

As with all online services, the key question to ask is "why would users want to do this?" Ego indexes come and go, mainly because there's little that an ego score enables a person to do in real life. Picture this:

You're in New York and thirsty. You Yelp the closest and highest rated bar. When you get there, you check in on foursquare. You walk in and order a drink; while you're waiting, the person next to you looks familiar. Oh yeah, it's because s/he's checked in here too and you saw the fingernail-sized avatar. As you grab your drink, you lean towards that person and say, "hey, I noticed that you're checked in here. My stock price just hit a new high on Empire Avenue."

Really? Of course not, but Empire Ave must integrate with other services in order to make its currency worth anything. Until then, users are cruising for an ego bruising. It might be fun, however, to hear social media gurus hold shareholder meetings to try and explain their valuation fundamentals.

[For alternate takes on the service, here's what Joe ChernovJeremiah Owyang, David Armano, and Scott Monty think.]


WiiI bought two new pieces of consumer technology this weekend.  One, I returned.  The other is now on display in the middle of my living room.

I bought an iPhone from the Apple store on Friday night right after 9 pm.  I cancelled the next morning given that it would take 2 – 4 weeks to ship and they’re readily available at all six Apple stores near me.  Plus as predicted all is not going smoothly with activations.

On the other hand, I decided it was time for a Wii.  The last console I owned was an Atari 2600 (not counting my PSP).  I thought that enough time had passed since the Holiday 2006 shortage and I could just walk in to any big box retailer and buy one.  Wrong.

How can you get one? I think your best bet is to call your local electronics retailer and find out what day they usually get stock.  You can call the night before, usually after 6 pm, to find out if they actually have any to sell the next day.  If so, show up early and queue; the numbers I hears were typically 4 – 7 units per store.  BTW we found a Best Buy that’s newly opened – it’s on the site but not listed in general searches like Google Maps – that helps too.

Kind of backwards…but makes me wonder.  Maybe Apple/AT&T should have staggered the release of iPhone supply in order to stretch out demand, increase desirability, and better handle system loads…

Sucrology and game mechanics

Max Kalehoff wrote a post in June about "Game Mechanics Applied to Marketing And Brands."  The idea has recently gotten some mainstream attention highlighting a framework of five key tenets explaining why people enjoy games – and how the same principles can be applied to marketing (more on this in a second).

On an Aer Lingus flight in November from London to Shannon, I read an interesting article in Cara about sugar collecting.  And given that the sugar packets in Europe tend to be different than those in the US, I figured it was a good place to start – with pictures.  (Otherwise, I’d probably be collecting a bunch of insects somewhere in my house as well.)

Little did I know there was an actual term for this practice – sucrology.  And by creating a group on Flickr, there’s a way to make it a more interesting experience as well.  It’s a place for:

  1. Collecting:  posting pics of packets I run into
  2. Points:  members, page views, discussion threads
  3. Feedback:  comments on member pictures
  4. Exchanges:  sharing pics with others
  5. Customization:  Editing the group page and related properties, like the wikipedia entry, future blog, etc.

That’s the best part of social computing – IT’S FUN.  (Ever think about why you blog?)

BTW – if anyone can help get a copy of that article, it would be very much appreciated!

Machinima goes mainstream

Brentter has posted an ad by W+K in GTA style, as part of the Coke Side of Life campaign.  Awesome.

More companies need to pick up on this and other emerging design treatments – this is advertising that consumers will want to watch.  Might not make you buy more in the short term, but definitely moves the needle on the brand.

UPDATE: More on the background to this ad, including storyboard  – from the W+K Portland blog.

Inflation-adjusted game console prices

Great information from Curmudgeon Gamer.  The pic at left shows inflation-adjusted game console prices from the past thirty years.  Thinking about dropping around $600 an xbox hd dvd 360 or ps3?  Just think about that Atari 2600 you used to play pitfall and yar’s revenge on – $659.41 – and rationalize away.

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A guide to gaming for marketers

Josh Larson, director of industry products at CNET’s Games & Entertainment group, has a great article in the spotlight over at iMedia Connection.  He uses examples to illustrate different types of marketing opportunities in games:

Looking forward to the followup article later this summer, which will outline how to select the right opportunity for your brand.  Josh is a sharp guy and we went to school together at Darden.  Great insights on how to think about incorporating gaming into your marketing mix.

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Show me the machinima

Another feature in the March issue of Wired discusses "rotoscoping" – the process of painting over live actors to create cartoon characters with realistic movement.  Charles Schwab had used this treatment in 2005 and I think another FS company has been using it recently (Citibank?). 

It’s great to see more creative treatments making their way to the 30-second spot.  After Blair Witch, we saw a lot of documentary-style spots, like Toyota’s recent Tacoma ads.  We also did manga-style campaigns at PUMA for our 2002 football advertising.

As gaming goes mainstream – with corporations finally wake up to the huge untapped potential therein – it’s just a matter of time before we see more machinima-style TV ads.  It would make perfect sense for brands that have crossover with a hardcore gamer audience – like Mountain Dew, Nike, or Scion, not to mention the console manufacturers.  Some companies have gotten close – I remember a Volvo S40 ad with some in-game footage – but there’s an execution using a FPS approach out there just begging to be created (that doesn’t promote a video game).

Oh, and if you’re reading this and can point out examples where it’s already happened – please post links!!!

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Valve v. In-Game Ads – It’s a Bluff

If you’re a gamer, you’ve read about Valve vs. Subway, Engage, et al. and ads in Counter-Strike.  Is Valve really upset?  It’s all a bluff.

How did CS originate in the first place?  Through consumer mods that were so popular, they commercialized it.  Hmmm, sounds like the story of Red Hat and Linux.  With all the talk about violating the EULA via commercialization – of course it’s OK, as long as Valve gets a piece of the action.

It’s part of a trend that Forrester calls "Consumer-Focused Innovation" where "consumers play an active role in process redesign, product development strategies, and new channel development."  Outside of software and CPG, you see this in automotive as well.  Aftermarket mods are being pulled forward and offered as options on new cars.

It would be great to see what happens with in-game WOM advertising – I’d hate to be on the wrong end of that transaction.