October 28, 2005

Star Wars and the Director's Cut

There's a short article on CNN.com today (presumably inspired by the release of Revenge of the Sith DVD on Tuesday) about the changes Lucas has made to the original trilogy.

The article touches upon what we discussed in class yesterday - Lucas alters his movies because he wants them to conform to his vision, but fans may like the old interpretation or their own interpretations better. And now modern creative tools allow dissenting fans to do the same as Lucas and alter the movies to make them conform with their own idea of what Star Wars should be.

The end of the article discusses Star Wars as a transmedia property, saying

In fact, some of those stories may not be his, anyway. One of the charms of video games is that the player becomes a character in the story, and technology being what it is, the permutations are becoming endless. So, perhaps, "Star Wars" has become a classic sci-fi multiverse conundrum, with alternate histories and varied points of view.

...Of course, my cynical side is convinced that in 10 years Lucas will make the old versions available for an extra charge. Star Wars Classic, anyone?

October 24, 2005


In the latest edition of BrandWeek, Sonia Reyes writes about recent developments in the cereal industry to expand the brand. Since researching Kellogg's was a project of mine for a recent class, I was particularly interested to see what information the article had for the development of the cereal company. According to Reyes, profits have risen steadily since 2002 and are higher than ever in January through October 2005.

This is led by a development into healthy cereal lines, as Kellogg has put $15 million into a new Yogurt Bites product that will be marketed heavily, along with a Special K Fruit & Yogurt creeal. This is a big jump in health food cereals, which appears to be the big new market with all of the health (and weight) conscious Americans.

While this marketing strategy differs from their line for children, it does show how clearly products are marketed to different groups, despite all of it being cereal given to customers in boxes. The marketing and branding of these boxes, however, reflect the pervasiveness of cereal companies to produce products that reach almost every demogaphic.

Any thoughts?

The Wireless Frontier

An article by Brian Morrissey in the latest AdWeek entitled "More Agencies Probe The Wireless Frontier" looks into the addition of wireless campaigns in advertising campaigns, specifically through text messaging.

Advertising agencies are already starting to gather forces for new wings of agencies to cover the mobile technology front, and advertising through text messaging may triple to $760 million by 2009 if current trends continue.

The market seems to show the biggest potential for growth in the United States.

The question is whether traditional advertising agencies can handle these new campaigns or will the development of new agencies better handle these campaigns?

This potential for new marketing models echoes some of our prior reading, particularly at the intersection of Madison and Vine. With entertainment companies infiltrating marketing content as well, what might be the potential tie-ins in our future?

According to Morrissey, "Entertainment companies, which already have ready-made content, like music ringtones, have been the most active wireless marketers, but other brands are pushing their own content." What will be the intersection of these brands and mobile technologies in the future?

Any thoughts?

Black and Decker

At "The Next Big Idea" conference last week at New York City that I attended with Henry and Ivan, one company executive who specialized in product placement discussed a new automatic tape measure from Black and Decker that was sent to all of the sitcom producers for this season and was encouraged to have it used during products.

According to the product placement executive, the product has already appeared in two shows and will actually play a role in a storyline in a third.

I was just wondering how aware the class was of these attempts at product placement and the prevalence that these agencies have. Based on the models I've seen through Steven Johnson's < a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1573223077/103-2067775-3390264?v=glance&n=283155">Everything Bad Is Good for You, and J.D. Lasica's Darknet, etc., the traditional commercial may be on its way out and product placement here to stay. Do these firms stand to gain an early great footing in what may be the major emerging market of the future in advertising?

October 14, 2005

Passion Factor

This post may be evidence that my demented mindscape is expanding in strange and contradictory ways, considering my previous posts deal with pro wrestling and soap opera, but a thought struck me a couple of days ago while I was looking around Boston's Saks Fifth Avenue over at the Prudential Center.

No, it wasn't dismay at all of the goats around the store, tugging on the cashmere scarves of the mannequins, although I do admit it was a bit disorienting, but it was the prices, which were even more disorienting.

I was shopping for my wife's birthday, and I realize that, even if I wanted to channel all my funds into one particularly great gift, the prices were rising to the point it would be impossible. From Manolos to Puccis, the prices seemed to be up across the board.

But I think I gained a little insight while reading this month's Vogue (again, don't ask). The article, by Robert Sullivan, traced the path of a various buyers for trendy stores as they go to Europe to purchase outfits for the upcoming fall season, which has turned out to be one of the most expensive fashion seasons in many years.

One buyer, Jeffrey of Jeffrey's in New York and Atlanta, named not only a diminished "trendiness" of the dollar in Europe but also a rising desire to buy for their customer base fewer items but with higher quality, or, as he put it, a higher "passion factor."

"I had to really look for a passion factor," he explains. "I had to put myself in my customers' stilettos and ask, Would I pay $4,500 for those shoes, $1,800 for that boot? If I felt the passion factor was there, then I bought it."

This argument relates closely to the theory of the Experience Economy espoused by B. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore. Pine and Gilmore examine the need for companies to shift from selling goods to selling experiences in order to keep their product less like a commodity and more like a lifestyle. The clothing labels are understanding this and capitalizing on this more and more, it seems, and buyers are purchasing outfits with the experience in mind.

"I think price is an issue only when it's a basic replacement item, like a gabardine suit," another buyer, Penne Weidig of Tootsies in Texas, said. "If that was $1,500 before and now it's $2,000, there may be some slight rumblings. But if it's something that is fabulous and over-the-top and they have an immediate emotional response, then price is not going to be an issue."

Of course, this is a line of thinking that clothing brands have probably come to realize much sooner than most other companies. But the current patterns will likely continue. As Grant McCracken argues in Culture and Consmption II, pricing is a major way that companies can manage meaning, and a higher price simply means that the product is more valuable in the eyes of the consumer. While this line of thinking apparently won't work for such "commonplace" items as a gaberdine suit (I've always heard that men who wear them are spies), it apparently will work for those products that provide an emotinal response. And the companies that can manage to focus on that experience factor while adjusting pricing to manage their meaning, they will allow that "passion factor" to kick in, a frame of mind where customers will apparently "sell the ranch" to buy their daughters a wedding dress, as Weidig puts it.

Public Service Announcements as Product Placement?

I recently saw an interesting trend while watching As the World Turns, the CBS daytime serial drama.

One of the longtime characters on the show, Lucinda Walsh, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the show has frequently covered the real risks and medical procedures associated with the disease, followed by ending the show with a public service announcement.

In another recent case, a character who smoked and worked two jobs while pregnant followed several episodes with an ending PSA urging viewers to visit a Web site which detail the dangers of not taking care of one's self while pregnant.

This past week, the writers of ATWT went a step further in working a PSA directly into the storyline.

Dr. Bob Hughes was met at the hospital by his wife, Kim Hughes, who runs one of the major television stations in fictional Oakdale. She explained to Bob that she was had stopped by the hospital because she wanted to work on a PSA announcement for her station and needed a medical expert for the spot, clearly indicating her husband. She then went on to tell Bob that she was concerned about the continued epidemic of AIDS in Africa and had some startling statistics, which she read off to him.

Bob replied by saying that the numbers startled him and that, for the price of a cup of coffee, most Americans could probably make a real effort into testing and prevention education for these countries.

Kim said, "Now, if only I could have you come down to our station and say that on television. That's exactly what our viewers need to hear."

The self-reflexivity of the scene made me think that this might be more effective than just an end-show PSA announcement. Viewers wouldn't be able to as easily fast-foward through it, yet it was still worked effectively into the characters and their various stories.

While PSAs are different in advertisements in their purpose, they both still face continued danger of not being seen by consumers. So, similar to product placement in the fictional worlds, these embedded PSAs may start to take the place of the traditional end-show PSA announcements.

Want to know the reason? Go to the Web site!

For those who have been following any of my postings on professional wrestling through this site, I thought this past few weeks' events have been particularly illuminating with the WWE's use of its Internet site as a storytelling tool.

The WWE's announcer for the past several years has been Jim Ross, an Oklahoman who has been in the wrestling business for many years. Rumors abounded these past few weeks that others in WWE management felt that J.R. was not the announcer for the demographic they were hoping to attract anymore and the company did enter in negotiations with the head announcer of the UFC to bring him into the pro wrestling world.

The UFC announcer decided not to take the offer, but WWE played on all this on last Monday's RAW when Vince McMahonVince McMahon's family publicly fired J.R. and humiliated him in the ring. Because of all the stories of J.R.'s being demoted in real life, there was a great fan backlash to the storyline on all the fan sites.

So far, the company has played off this in several ways. They have used the scenario to make the McMahons into greater villains, with usually straight matriarch Linda McMahon explaining why she kicked J.R. in the groin at the close of Monday's show in a Web exclusive, revealing plot lines that were not explicit on the TV programming. Then, the WWE's Web site featured an exclusive interview with J.R., where he heavily criticized the company for several of the things that Internet fans criticize it for: treatment of women as sexual objects, etc.

Then, the company muddied the waters by announcing that J.R. would be undergoing colon surgery, beginning new rumors that this was all a "work," or a storyline, to begin with and that the whole thing was concocted because J.R. needed surgery.

To further the confusion, the company posted several fan letters on the front page of their Web site denouncing the company for its treatment of J.R., including letters saying that the company was despicable and that several viewers would never watch the programming again.

Basically, by doing all this on the Web site, the company has taken a storyline that detested hardcore fans at the close of Monday's show and created a new and fascinating blurring of reality and fantasy that has fans hooked. This is the aspect of WWE programming that Henry Jenkins IV writes about in Steel Chair to the Head, what Sharon Mazer writes about in her ethnographic studies of online wrestling fans, and what Ben Wright, in his thesis at Wake Forest, called "hyperreality" in wrestling--that questionable line between reality and fantasy.

The company is starting to realize that, by using its Web site to create new ways of transmedia storytelling, the television product takes on new meanings and nuances for fans who consume the online entertainment as well.

October 4, 2005

Internet video programming

Well, you all may have noticed that I trumped USA Today by about a week, posting about WWE moving two of its shows to exclusive Web-only content.

WWE has been a revolutionary Internet provider for a while. At first, it established a relationship with AOL and was one of their hottest "in-house" sites, with WWE chats from time to time even crashing the server and with a lot of downloads of themes, photos, etc.

Later, WWE.com became one of the most innovative Web sites. Vince McMahon's son Shane works with global expansion and new media, and he has pushed to take content and put it on the Web. The great move here is that the first hour of Smackdown mentioned in the article that got 500,000 views and the Velocity and HeatTV shows were not featuring a lot of big name stars. But, because there is an interest in Web programming, there is a good chance that moving them to the Internet could eventually make them MORE popular than they were.

On TV, these shows were the "B" shows. Now, they are the flagship shows of the Internet, giving fans a chance to see some of the smaller stars in wrestling matches that don't make it to the big show. The company is aggressively promoting its Internet now in a way that would fall right into the business practices suggested by the Pokemon movement, to make other flows of information coincide with and complement the main narrative.

By providing articles that give context to the main show, exclusive programming that complements the main show, etc., the WWE's Web site begins to function much like the Web site for Dawson's Creek did....It allows viewers the chance to choose what information they want to consume and to become lost in the fictional universe of the characters.

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