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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Side effects of Wired’s “Best Accidental Discoveries”

Catching up on reading this weekend – page 28 of the March issue of Wired has a list of "The Best Accidental Discoveries."  The top ten:

10.  Potato chips
9.  Silly putty
8.  Vulcanized rubber
7.  Brandy
6.  Microwave ovens
5.  Artificial sweeteners
4.  Penicillin
3.  X-rays
2.  LSD
1.  Viagra

These have done the world more good than harm, but I thought of a list of "The Side Effects of the Best Accidental Discoveries," not directly correlated with the list above, but rather in order of severity:

10. People mocking your sense of style
9. Dirty hands
8. Half hot, half cold food
7. Blurred vision
6. A bad trip
5. Heartburn
4. Elevated cholesterol
3. Cirrosis
2. Allergic reaction
1. Cancer

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Sponsorships have saved and ruined the Olympics

A fun read over at ESPN from Darren Rovell on the top 10 worst Olympic marketing moments.  Sponsorships involve risk and over the past twenty years, sporting goods manufacturers have clearly become more risk tolerant in placing their bets.  Beginning with Barcelona 1992, we have entered into the corporate-era of the Olympic Games.

As recent occurences of Olympic games have struggled with financial concerns, corporate dollars have crept into more and more aspects, even changing rules on amateur status.  The effects of these dollars have also meant rising expectations of athletes, to the extent that anything less than perfection seems disappointing.  Barcelona was the first appearance of US Basketball’s Dream Team – would anything less than gold be acceptable?  (We blamed it on the "international rules" in Athens).

Rovell’s list includes examples exclusively from the corporate-era Olympic Games.  I think what most people see in today’s athletes is an aspiration to cash in on endorsements.  Prior to the corporate-era, we had the cold war-era games.  Heroes were unexpected and imbued with every-person qualities that kids and adults could aspire to becoming.

So it doesn’t surprise me that media coverage focuses more on the negative than positive stories coming out of Torino.  I see more about Bode’s 0-for-5 than Shani Davis’s medals.  Or more focus on paparazzi story angles than performance highlighted.

You’ve never heard of Shani Davis?  That’s what I’m talking about.

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Yahoo bans trademark keyword bids

Cross this one off of your guerilla marketing to-do list.  According to CNet and other sources, Yahoo will prevent advertisers from bidding on competitor keywords starting March 1st.

My understanding, mostly derived from hearing Alan Rimm-Kaufman speak on the subject, is that current law is meant to prevent deceptive or misleading advertising – like if you placed a paid ad that was titled "Bentley" but led you to the Mercedes site instead.  The way Mazda and GM did it – and are still doing it when you query "pontiac" or "kermit" on google – seems perfectly legal.

Then again, I’m no lawyer, so don’t take my word for it – check with someone who’s got proper credentials.  Is it just a matter of time before users start tuning out search ads?

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Staples easy button – some background

Adrants previews a new commercial featuring the Staples easy button – kind of silly but humorous nonetheless.  Now you can buy your own for $4.99 online and Staples has also turned it into an desktop marketing tool – smart.

However, in the beginning, Staples had no intention of doing anything with it, aside from being a fictitious device in commercials.  Then they noticed that someone outside the company had made them and was selling them on eBay.  Store managers were also reporting that customers were coming in and asking for them.  Staples put in a PO for a limited production run in China and they sold out quickly – and you can guess where the story went from there.

Sometimes in merchandising, you just never can tell!

UPDATE:  If you’re trying to buy an easy button, you can get them from the Staples online store.  [follow the link]

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KFC’s “no-skip” ad

Good PR for KFC regarding their "anti-TiVo" commercial (WSJ, PVRwire, AdJab).  Although the technique is neither new nor foolproof, it’s a great hook to get exposure for the client and agency.

I’d love to see advertisers experiment with some other tactics:

  • US TV networks vary length of ad slots, adopting European/Asian 7", 10", 15", and 60" lengths to combat the 30-second skip
  • Like a Mad magazine gatefold, there’s one message at regular speed and another when compressed – only at the proper ffwd rate
  • Use more subtle lead-ins to the commercial break, like the Chevy/NBC Las Vegas execution.

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Starbucks and one-way brand expansion

Thinking about Starbucks recently – reminds me of a theory I have on how brand extensions can work.  It’s much easier for a premium brand to extend "downscale" and retain its core/prestige than it is for a mass market brand to reposition itself as upscale.

I recalled this after reading a couple of interesting mentions about Starbucks.  The first was a post on Laura Ries’s "Origin of Brands" blog, discussing the SBUX distribution of Laurie Berkner DVDs.  The other was a news article about increased presence in New England and Northeastern grocery stores.  Reminded me of their kiosks popping up in airports and highway rest areas.  Taking a quick look at their FY05 10-K, 85% of revenue was derived from company-operated retail, the core of the brand.  These business model extensions appear to be successful as the company reports consistent margin and ROE growth since 2002.

It seems pretty clear that Starbucks should be a brand to emulate when considering business model expansion; they continue to grow their "core of coolness" (own stores) while monetizing the brand through licensing and alternate retail outlets.  So why isn’t anyone crying "foul" or "sell out?"  Because the moves make sense and allow them to successfully retain their premium brand while enjoying mass market distribution.

Brands RARELY succeed trying to claw their way upscale.  More on that some other time.

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Do-Not-Email “child protection” registries – suspect timing

Interesting timing on this topic, as we approach mid-term Congressional elections in the U.S. this year.  Two states have implemented registries (Michigan and Utah) while five other states are considering similar programs (Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, and Iowa).  An assortment of trade and advocacy groups are opposed to these efforts, including the ANA.  Even the FTC hasn’t been too positive on the concept of a national registry, citing the likelihood of more harm than good.  For an example of how the system could be compromised, check out this post from the Freedom to Tinker blog.

Even if the privacy retention issues get worked out, it seems pretty clear that the big losers will be large companies who need to pay to comply with registries.  Spam will continue as malicious individuals find ways to out-spoof and out-proxy law enforcement.  And in many cases, many spammers won’t be worth pursuing, as only large violators (like DirectTV in telemarketing) will have enough $$$ to make the effort worthwhile.  There might be some smaller "make an example of you" cases like in music sharing but these registries will make the problem worse before it gets any better.

It would be tough for any congressperson voice dissent – even the DMA is not joining the lawsuit against the Utah registry.  This may be in part because the lawsuit was brought by an adult entertainment group; but in any case, opponents can always argue that "it’s for the kids" and it’s difficult to cut through the clutter on that message in an election year.


Helio + MySpace: more light than heat

I thought this was an interesting announcement, coming so close on the heels of Mobile ESPN‘s launch the day after the Super Bowl.  There’s been a flurry of press but I’m not seeing a lot of analysis, even from some names like Om Malik…maybe people are holding their breath until the service actually launches.

Going after new customers with these types of co-branded services makes sense.  For existing customers, the switching costs would be steep – especially if you’ve already invested in equipment and accessories along with a long-term service contract.  So the experience needs to be pretty enticing, right?

On the same day as the Helio/MySpace partnership announcement, the Wall Street Journal published a review of Mobile ESPN.  Some interesting facts:  IM and email are disabled; access to some sites is blocked, e.g. the competition; and the service can cost up to $224.99 a month[!].

Don’t get me wrong – the Hero and Kickflip are pretty cool looking phones.  But it looks like Helio will fall short of the level of integration that Mobile ESPN has with Sanyo.  There were no quotes from MySpace in the press release – don’t both parties usually want air time in partnerships like this?  I think we’ll see that this is a temporary exclusive and the portal will expand to other carriers and devices.  No way News Corp will limit MySpace’s over 50 million users to one type of device – the community would inevitably force expansion once users get turned on and demand a mobile interface.

Will advertising ruin consumer-generated content?

I was asked recently if advertising will motivate more users to generate content and ultimately lower the quality of content online. 

Some thoughts:  Social computing already has a lot of momentum.  Getting paid may eventually become a competitive differentiator for companies that rely on user-generated content.  However, being paid is unlikely to become the primary force driving the growth of user-generated content online.

Adding a financial incentive to participate (i.e. getting paid) won’t hurt quality, but I think this will be a long-tail case where many will be paid a little bit and only a prolific few will reap large benefits.  Participation takes a lot of time and effort because it can’t be faked – look at Yahoo Answers – as of today, no one has reached their highest participation tier.

Most of these companies are running on a revenue model driven at some level by advertising.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing – overall, advertising expenditures are at historically high levels, rebounding from a dip in 2001-2002 post dot-com crash, 9/11, etc.  But you know what happened with the bubble before and I think we’ll see a lot of crazy ideas before any shakedown occurs.

Without getting too deep into the psychology of why people do/don’t participate, social computing sites like Squidoo, Kaboodle, LinkedIn, Yahoo Answers and mySpace fulfill user needs.  Users typically obtain value from the exchange of information.  The sites also reduce the "free rider" problem by requiring users to create a complete profile or participate in order to obtain greater access/benefits.  The quality of information is also tempered by systems like peer ratings, so spam won’t necessarily be rewarded.

Boing Boing had a post recently called Why people tag.  The reasons applied to real-life taggers, but they suggested thinking about internet taggers; I think similar reasons apply to bloggers.

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