Brand Cultures

October 18, 2012

FOE6 - Registration still open/Videos from Transmedia Hollywood 3: Rethinking Creative Relations

Registation for FOE6 is still open. Please join us in a few weeks in Cambridge!


Nov. 9-10, 2012

Bartos Theater (Wiesner Building)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Cambridge, MA

Registration is available here. Also, note there is a pre-conference MIT Communications Forum free and open to the public on Thursday, Nov. 8.

At the two-day conference, each morning will be spent discussing key issues faced by media producers, marketers, and audiences alike, at the heart of the futures of entertainment. Each afternoon, we will look into how some of those issues are manifesting themselves in specific media industries.

More information will be released regularly from @futuresof on Twitter.

Also, in anticipation of FOE6, we are finally archiving the video from Transmedia Hollywood 3 here at the FOE site. Transmedia Hollywood is our sister event, held annually in the spring at the USC or UCLA campus. A description of Transmedia Hollywood and the videos can be found below.

Transmedia Hollywood 3: Rethinking Creative Relations

As transmedia models become more central to the ways that the entertainment industry operates, the result has been some dramatic shifts within production culture, shifts in the ways labor gets organized, in how productions get financed and distributed, in the relations between media industries, and in the locations from which creative decisions are being made.

This year’s Transmedia, Hollywood examines the ways that transmedia approaches are forcing the media industry to reconsider old production logics and practices, paving the way for new kinds of creative output. Our hope is to capture these transitions by bringing together established players from mainstream media industries and independent producers trying new routes to the market. We also hope to bring a global perspective to the conversation, looking closely at the ways transmedia operates in a range of different creative economies and how these different imperatives result in different understandings of what transmedia can contribute to the storytelling process – for traditional Hollywood, the global media industries, and for all the independent media-makers who are taking up the challenge to reinvent traditional media-making for a “connected” audience of collaborators.

Many of Hollywood’s entrenched business and creative practices remain deeply mired in the past, weighed down by rigid hierarchies, interlocking bureaucracies, and institutionalized gatekeepers (e.g. the corporate executives, agents, managers, and lawyers). In this volatile moment of crisis and opportunity, as Hollywood shifts from an analog to a digital industry, one which embraces collaboration, collectivity, and compelling uses of social media, a number of powerful independent voices have emerged. These include high-profile transmedia production companies such as Jeff Gomez’s Starlight Runner Entertainment as well as less well-funded and well-staffed solo artists who are coming together virtually from various locations across the globe. What these top-down and bottom-up developments have in common is a desire to buck tradition and to help invent the future of entertainment. One of the issues we hope to address today is the social, cultural, and industrial impact of these new forms of international collaboration and mixtures of old and new work cultures.

Another topic is the future of independent film. Will creative commons replace copyright? Will crowdsourcing replace the antiquated foreign sales model? Will the guilds be able to protect the rights of digital laborers who work for peanuts? What about audiences who work for free? Given that most people today spend the bulk of their leisure time online, why aren’t independent artists going online and connecting with their community before committing their hard-earned dollars on a speculative project designed for the smallest group of people imaginable – those that frequent art-house theaters?

Fearing obsolescence in the near future, many of Hollywood’s traditional studios and networks are looking increasingly to outsiders – often from Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue – to teach these old dogs some new tricks. Many current studio and network executives are overseeing in-house agencies, whose names – Sony Interactive Imageworks, NBC Digital, and Disney Interactive Media Group – are meant to describe their cutting-edge activities and differentiate themselves from Hollywood’s old guard.

Creating media in the digital age is “nice work if you can get it,” according to labor scholar Andrew Ross in a recent book of the same name. Frequently situated in park-like “campuses,” many of these new, experimental companies and divisions are hiring large numbers of next generation workers, offering them attractive amenities ranging from coffee bars to well-prepared organic food to basketball courts. However, even though these perks help to humanize the workplace, several labor scholars (e.g. Andrew Ross, Mark Deuze, Rosalind Gill) see them as glittering distractions, obscuring a looming problem on the horizon – a new workforce of “temps, freelancers, adjuncts, and migrants.”

While the analog model still dominates in Hollywood, the digital hand-writing is on the wall; therefore, the labor guilds, lawyers, and agent/managers must intervene to find ways to restore the eroding power/leverage of creators. In addition, shouldn’t the guilds be mindful of the new generation of digital laborers working inside these in-house agencies? What about the creative talent that emerges from Madison Avenue ad agencies like Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, makers of the Asylum 626 first-person horror experience for Doritos; or Grey’s Advertising, makers of the Behind the Still collective campaign for Canon? Google has not only put the networks’ 30-second ad to shame using Adword, but its Creative Labs has taken marketing to new aesthetic heights with its breathtaking Johnny Cash [collective] Project. Furthermore, Google’s evocative Parisian Love campaign reminds us just how intimately intertwined our real and virtual lives have become.

Shouldn’t Hollywood take note that many of its most powerful writers, directors, and producers are starting to embrace transmedia in direct and meaningful ways by inviting artists from the worlds of comic books, gaming, and web design to collaborate? These collaborations enhance the storytelling and aesthetic worlds tenfold, enriching “worlds” as diverse as The Dark Knight, The Avengers, and cable’s The Walking Dead. Hopefully, this conference will leave all of us with a broader understanding of what it means to be a media maker today – by revealing new and expansive ways for artists to collaborate with Hollywood media managers, audiences, advertisers, members of the tech culture, and with one another.

Once the dominant player in the content industry, Hollywood today is having to look as far away as Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue for collaborators in the 2.0 space.

Moderator: Denise Mann, UCLA


Nick Childs, Executive Creative Director, Fleishman Hillard

Jennifer Holt, co-Director, Media Industries Project, UCSB

Lee Hunter, Global Head of Marketing, YouTube

Jordan Levin, CEO, Generate

In countries with strong state support for media production, alternative forms of transmedia are taking shape. How has transmedia fit within the effort of nation-states to promote and expand their creative economies?

Moderator: Laurie Baird, Strategic Consultant – Media and Entertainment at Georgia Tech Institute for People and Technology.


Jesse Albert, Producer & Consultant in Film, Television, Digital Media, Live Events & Branded Content

Morgan Bouchet, Vice-President, Transmedia and Social Media, Content Division, Orange

Christy Dena, Director, Universe Creation 101

Sara DIamond, President, Ontario College of Art and Design University

Mauricio Mota, Chief Storytelling Officer, Co-founder of The Alchemists

A new generation of media makers are taking art out of the rarefied world of crumbling art-house theaters, museums, and galleries and putting it back in the hands of the masses, creating immersive, interactive, and collaborative works of transmedia entertainment, made for and by the people who enjoy it most.

Moderator: Denise Mann, UCLA.


Tara Tiger Brown, Freelance Interactive Producer/Product Manager

Mike Farah, President of Production, Funny Or DIe

Ted Hope, Producer/Partner/Founder, Double Hope Films

Sheila C. Murphy, Associate Professor, University of Michigan

By many accounts, the comics industry is failing. Yet, comics have never played a more central role in the entertainment industry, seeding more and more film and television franchises. What advantages does audience-tested content bring to other media? What do the producers owe to those die-hard fans as they translate comic book mythology to screen? And why have so many TV series expanded their narrative through graphic novels in recent years?

Moderator: Geoffrey Long, Lead Narrative Producer for the Narrative Design Team at Microsoft Studios.


Katherine Keller, Culture Vultures Editrix at Sequential Tart

Joe LeFavi, Quixotic Transmedia

Mike Richardson, President, Dark Horse Comics

Mark Verheiden, Writer (Falling Skies, Heroes)

Mary Vogt, Costume Designer (Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Men In Black)

April 12, 2011

Why Your Brand Doesn't Need Bieber

The marketing industry has been whipped into a frenzy by a 17-year-old Canadian pop star. Justin Bieber has been hailed as Master of the Twitterverse while most brands are still trying to figure out what a Twitterverse is. A quick tour of Google yields pages and pages on social media marketing a la Bieber, creating Bieber-based marketing strategies, and adulations of Justin Bieber as an "Internet Marketing Guru." While many of these articles contain not entirely un-useful platitudes along the lines of "listen to your customers" and "respond to your fans," the fact is that brands simply shouldn't try to out-Bieber Bieber.

Continue reading "Why Your Brand Doesn't Need Bieber" »

April 16, 2010

The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood

Today, I'm sitting at Microsoft NERD attending the MIT Business in Games conference. This morning, I attended a presentation called Hollywood, Music, & Games (which skewed toward just "Hollywood & Games"). The panel included:

Chris Weaver (MIT & Consulting Researcher for C3)

Mike Dornbrook (Harmonix)
Paul Neurath (Floodgate Entertainment)
Mark Blecher (Hasbro Digital Media & Gaming)
Ian Davis (Rockstar Games)

The panel talked about cross-platform narratives, how franchises span games and movies, and the problems that game creators have faced dealing with Hollywood executives and movie producers (as well as the implications that these problems have had on "good games").

My notes follow after the jump!

Continue reading "The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood" »

February 25, 2010

Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer

A few weeks ago I attended C3 affiliate Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer Boot Camp in New York. The boot camp was a day long session on McCracken's new book Chief Culture Officer, which you should definitely check out.


Continue reading "Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer" »

January 5, 2010

Industry Innovation, User Loyalty, and a Phone to Rule Them All: Google and the Nexus One


For the past two years, rumors have been swirling around the Internet regarding a potential attempt by Google to compete in the cell phone industry. Today, the monolithic company has entered the ring with its new product, the Nexus One smartphone superphone. You can read more about the new phone by visiting Gizmodo's succinct coverage page.

I spent a good portion of the afternoon today watching a live feed of Google's official presentation of the Nexus One. The phone is certainly faster, prettier, and boasts a number of new features, but I hesitate to agree with its manufacturers that the Nexus One -- "the Google phone" -- would be the smartphone to blow away the competition. The Google representatives at the event continued to emphasize the vibrant ecosystem that exists between Google, its phone application producers, and its app-store customers, but it's really nothing new considering Google's first venture into the phone sector with the company's application of its Android operating system to the HTC Dream (commonly known as the G1).

Many of the circulated rumors a few years ago focused on the implementation of the Google Voice service into a Google-produced cell phone, which would allow for free calls (therefore eliminating the necessity of paying for a yearly phone service). Back in March, the New York Times covered the threat of the Voice service in its article, Google's Free Phone Manager Could Threaten a Variety of Services , where Phil Wolff (editor of Skype Journal) states:

I would consider Google to have the potential to change the rules of the game because of their ability to bring all kinds of people into their new tools from their existing tools.

The potential for Google to change the rules of an entire industry is what most people expected from the Nexus One. However, Google made little surprises this afternoon, and this absence of novelty seems to have spurred a much different set of questions, away from new features and pricing schemes, in the question-and-answer session after the presentation.

In the Q&A session, a major concern of the audience centered on the difference between Google as a company and Google as a service. Mario Queiroz stated during the presentation that anyone who visits is a Google customer. However, Siva Vaidhyanathan argues in his CMS lecture, "The Googlization of Everything" (you can listen to the podcast here) that we are actually Google's users and hence product, instead of the company's customers. We produce information for Google's services and algorithms, while at the same time we interact with Google mainly in a non-monetary relationship (in that we do not spend money on most of Google's services and even in some instances are instead paid).

The concern of the audience, then, seemed to point out that with the Nexus One, Google is now attempting to act as a retailer. Google makes an effort to argue that they are not the manufacturer of the Google Phone hardware and instead are only the distributor of it. But this relationship between producer, consumer, and distributor is beginning to shape the web ecosystem in a new way.

The Nexus One's motto, if you visit the webpage, is "Web meets phone." But I would argue that Google's strategy is instead pushing their phone to meet the Web. If we consider the motto, Google has already put the Web -- especially the Google-mediated Web -- into the G1 and its brethren. So what do I mean by drawing an antithesis with "Phone meets Web"? In the past, Google has made its services and Android system available through cell phone providers' phones. However, with the Nexus One, Google is attempting to push a phone under the guise of the Google brand to encapsulate its existent services. The previous Android-utilizing phones were associated with Google, but were not emphasized as Google-sponsored phones. However, now that Google is marketing the Nexus One as its own product, it is creating a new relationship with the customers who buy the phone. In its most basic form, Google is the producer and its customers are the consumer. But as I mentioned previously, Google is trying to avoid being associated at the phone's makers, thereby identifying the company as the phone's distributor. The company is distancing itself from the product but maintaining a relationship with the phone, hence drawing in Google loyalists or general users that trust in the Google brand.

This distributor identity has already appeared across the Web in many forms. For example, take Hulu as a case study: Hulu is maintained by a partnership of large television studios, but avoids direct association with those companies (eg., NBC) by sustaining the Hulu name. Therefore, users of Hulu associate the content available on the website with Hulu instead of television networks. Differently, though, Google occupies both spaces: with the Nexus One, it acts as a distributor of the phone, but as a monopolizing company (with the many pre-phone services that people associate with Google) Google still acts as the producer of those services. The problem, therefore, derives from the conflation of Google as both maker and deliverer. This distinction is important, though, because it affects how Google's users/customers/products associate with the company, which subsequently affects user loyalty.

July 22, 2009

Selling Out on YouTube: vloggers weigh in on brand integration online

Recently, a string of prominent vloggers on YouTube have been having a conversation about advertising, product promotion, and the notion of 'selling out'. This was triggered by their experiences with various companies who courted them to help promote their products amongst their viewers and community and generated a lot of great conversation around how to intergrate brands into their videos.

The first video was one by UK vlogger Alex Day (nerimon), who called on vloggers to discuss the topic of "selling out" after turning down an offer from Sanyo for a free camera and 1000GBP (~1700 USD) in exchange for sticking a 15-second spot in one of his videos:

Continue reading "Selling Out on YouTube: vloggers weigh in on brand integration online" »

April 16, 2009

Spread of #amazonfail

Unless you had real compelling plans for this Easter Sunday,and even if you did, chances are that you caught wind of the "twitstorm" surrounding Amazon's de-ranking of books that could allegedly fit the "adult content" category. Whether this indefensible act was intentional or not, caused by a glitch, sabotage, hackers or aliens, is still not clear. Lucky for us, that is of no concern to this post, the reactions elicited by the event, are. More specifically, I'm interested in looking at how users leveraged the different roles they play in relation to the store and how obfuscating discoverability has come to be synonymous with censorship.

Continue reading "Spread of #amazonfail" »

March 4, 2009

Branding in Bahia: camarote T-shirts and Spreadable media made (literally) material

For details about how Carnival works in Bahia, please refer to Ana Domb's post.

It's fitting that we're closing in on the end of our Spreadable Media white paper series on the blog just as Ana and I begin to discuss our experiences and research in Brazil, beginning with our time spent in Salvador for Carnival. In Spreadability, we propose a model of thinking about media brands and properties as not only consumer products, but as symbolic goods that circulate and thrive due to the adaptability and customizability of their social value. That is, media is spread when we can make personal and social use of it.

In addition to being an unparallel social and cultural event, it was evident from the 500% hotel mark-ups and tightly and intricately produced events that Carnival is also very much an industry, especially in Salvador. And much of that industry has to do with event-based advertising and sponsorship. Thus, advertising at Carnival serves as a provocative example of precisely this hybrid social/commericial space, as Ana suggested in her post with the notion of "brand syncretism," in which brands provide rich materials for cultural expression and the articulation of community or loose social affiliations.

Continue reading "Branding in Bahia: camarote T-shirts and Spreadable media made (literally) material" »

March 2, 2009

Skittles, Spreadability, and the question of social media authorship

[Note: this was originally written for and posted at]

A funny thing happened on my way to check out the new Skittles homepage-as-social-media-experiment that's been generating all sorts of attention over my twitter feed. I went to the homepage, and in my sleep deprived idiocy, entered today's date in their terms of service agreement instead of my birthdate.

And since Skittles decided to take my word for it that I was born today, it deemed me underage and thus not the appropriate audience for it's free-for-all social media aggregation scheme.

While it was indeed my own oversight that got me blocked from their page, the block speaks to the underlying problem with this stunt, which is that while the idea seems interesting, the execution and practical application might fall somewhat short of potential.

There is, of course, the technical side in which their terms didn't manage to catch that I'd entered an impossible birth date. But beyond that, there are other practical issues, such as the overlarge navigation console pointed out by Stan Schroeder at Mashable. Moreover, as Christopher Carfi astutely observes in his blog, with no way to regulate the signal/noise ratio, the site runs the risk of people loosing interest because of the sheer volume of content.

However, what interests me is that my mistake this morning presents a dilemma that has yet to be discussed in the first flush of interest and excitement over's new strategy. For all intents and purposes, in aggregating this content through their site, and thereby putting it under their terms of service, they are effectively taking content that is otherwise open to and created by the public -- what is essentially public discourse -- and branding it, then resetting the parameters for access.

Continue reading "Skittles, Spreadability, and the question of social media authorship" »

February 24, 2009

Live from Bahía

Remember when a few days ago I was telling you about all that research we were going to be conducting in Brazil? Well, I didn't tell you the whole truth. My colleague Xiaochang Li and I accepted an invitation from IG, one of our two Brazilian partners, to come to Carnaval in Salvador da Bahía. It has been an invigorating experience.

Bahía is located in the Northeast of Brazil, and besides being known for its natural beauty it is also one of the most artistically prolific states in the country, and that's saying a lot. Salvador gave birth to Joao Gilberto, Dorival Caymi and Vinicious de Moraes, fathers of Bossa Nova, but also to the more disruptive tropicalismo movement; this is the hometown of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, María Bethania, Gal Costa and many more. This brief paragraph doesn't begin to describe the richness of this town's musical heritage, for now, I can say that I'm in awe.

Continue reading "Live from Bahía" »

February 20, 2009

If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead (Part Five): Communities of Users

This is part five of an eight part series. The report was written by Henry Jenkins, Xiaochang Li, Ana Domb Krauskopf With Joshua Green. Our research was funded by the members of the Convergence Culture Consortium, including GSDM Advertising, MTV Networks, and Turner Broadcasting.

Communities of Users

Rethinking the Individual Consumer
So, does it make sense any more to speak about media audiences or for that matter, consumers in this brave new world of spreadable media? Probably not. Witness the profusion of new terms which seek to describe "those people formerly known as the audience." (Rosen, 2006) Some call them (us, really) "loyals," (Jenkins 2006) stressing the value of consumer commitment in an era of channel zapping. Some are calling them "media-actives," (Frank 2004 stressing a generational shift with young people expecting greater opportunities to reshape media content than their parents did. Some are calling them "prosumers," (Toffler 1980) suggesting that as consumers produce and circulate media, they are blurring the line between amateur and professional. Some are calling them "inspirational consumers" (Roberts 2005), "connectors" or "influencers," suggesting that some people play a more active role than others in shaping media flows.

Recently Facebook was struggling with definitions such as these. In an aim to separate the users from the businesses, Facebook created a new profile category called 'pages'. When relating with a business' page, instead of becoming a friend, in usual Facebook fashion, the user becomes a fan. Six months after Facebook launched this new category, the terms are already starting to become murkier, and now in the users profile it no longer says "Jane is a fan of" but "Jane's Pages", the term is more open yet also more ambiguous. Andrew Lockhart, at the Thinking Interactive blog, suggests that companies might want to allow the user to define what type of relationship they want to have, between, for instance, fan, advocate, friend, coworker. Such a move would also give businesses a better understanding of how these users want to engage with them. Sometimes we just want to buy things which are adequate to the purposes we want to use them for but not so vital to our sense of ourselves that we want to proclaim them to other people. The Facebook interface offered too limited a range of options for expressing our diverse affiliations with brands. Even where consumers actively seek to spread your content or advocate for your brand, they want to do it on their own terms and may be very particular about the kind of language they use to describe this relationship.

For some time now it was thought that the way to insure this success was by reaching the so-called "influencers", this term comes from Malcom Gladwell's (2000) book The Tipping Point. As Gladwell puts it, "What we are really saying is that in a given process or system, some people matter more than others." Gladwell's "influencer" model has become almost an article of faith in most discussions of viral media. The most widely quoted example is the comeback made by Hush Puppies shoes, according to Gladwell, due to their adoption by specific Williamsburg tastemakers. He bases his theory on Stanley Milgram's 'Six Degrees of Separation' study, where 160 Nebraskans were instructed to send a letter to a particular stockbroker in Boston by giving it to someone they thought was socially closer to that person. As is now widely known, it took roughly 6 people for each letter to reach its destination. When Gladwell analyzed the study he discovered that it was the same three friends of the stockbroker who provided the final link, and this is where the "influencers" theory comes from, determining that certain connectors are more important than others.

For the past seven years, network-theory scientist Duncan Watts (Dodds, Muhammad and Watts, 2003) has been studying these results and running other experiments of his own. After testing Miligram's theory with 61,000 people he confirmed the average length of the chain was in fact six links, but he did not find any evidence of "influencers". There were as many chances for a message to get passed by a "super-connected" person than by an average one. Messages move through society from one weakly connected individual to another. So the question now becomes, not how to reach the influencers, but how do individuals choose to behave in a networked society and what kinds of social structures best support the spread of content.

Yochai Benkler (2007) argues:

Human beings are and always have been diversely motivated beings. We act instrumentally, but also noninstrumentally. We act for material gain, but also for psychological well-being and gratification and social connectedness.
This seemingly simple statement further more complicates the idea of a networked society and hinders attempts to predict the way communities of users will act. On the other hand, this more nuanced vision allows us to have a deeper understanding of the diverse online behaviors. For instance, there are countless explanation for why people might join a particular social network or make the decisions they do when they come there.

According to Benkler, this shift into a networked information culture does improves the practical capacities of individuals in that:

  1. It improves their capacity to do for and by themselves.

  2. It enhances their capacity to do more in loose commonality with others.

  3. It improves the capacity of individuals to do more in formal organizations that operate outside the market sphere.

It is because of these empowered individuals, their new capacities, and their desire for social interactions that spreadable media is possible. If the technology was available, but society hadn't undergone any cultural changes, we would still be operating exclusively under a sticky model. Benkler has observed that this new society gives "individuals a significantly greater role in authoring their own lives, by enabling them to perceive a broader range of possibilities and by providing them a richer baseline against which to measure the choices they in fact make."

Consumers are choosing to be part of participatory culture in diverse and fluid ways. Forrester Research has developed a useful taxonomy of the types of participation that occur in networked environments; it starts with the most passive users and finishes with the most active participants that publish their own content at least once a month. It's important to note that while this ladder helps us visualize a complex process, users don't necessarily adhere permanently to these roles, and more than likely, behave in different manners within different communities. Moreover, seeing it as depicting a process of ever more intense engagement with media content may mask the degree to which it also describes an economy, with each rung of the ladder performing tasks which are needed to support those below and sometimes above them. So, even some one who is a lurker may provide a sense of empowerment to contributors by expanding the scale of the community and thus motivating them to put more effort into their work. Someone who is a critic may create value for creators but so may someone who collects what the creators create. And the interplay between these different kinds of cultural participants creates opportunities for communication to take place and thus for content to be transmitted.

Rethinking Communities

Such communities are also quite diverse in themselves. In fact, games scholar James Paul Gee (2004) has defined some of these groups as "affinity spaces," affinity that is, for a common endeavor. He argues that the romantic notions of community do not apply here as engaging with one another is a secondary objective, if it exists at all, in some cases, though it may be a primary objective in others. Gee is interested in the kinds of informal learning which takes place in the cultures of gamers, for example, which depend heavily on the sharing of knowledge towards common if sometimes contradictory goals. Such "affinity spaces" can provide greater motivation for the production and circulation of information, may offer a "hothouse" context where new ideas may emerge, may offer motivation for people to intensify their participation. We form non-exclusive relationships to these kinds of "affinity spaces": we may have multiple interests and thus we may engage with multiple different "affinity spaces" in the course of any given day. Older notions of community often started from assumptions of exclusive memberships, whereas this focus on social mobility and multiple commitments helps us to understand how content might spread quickly between different "affinity spaces" as members trade information from one site to another. Not all "affinity spaces" operate according to the same social dynamics. Lara Lee, from Jump Associates, has offered a promising typography for thinking about the social structures of different kinds of communities:

  • Pools: Here people have loose associations with each other, but a strong association with a common endeavor or with the values of the community. Most brand communities are pools, so are most political organizations.

  • Webs: Webs are organized through individual social connections, so the ties with each member are stronger and they operate in decentralized manner.

  • Hubs: In a Hub, individuals form loose social associations around a central figure, as in the case of fan clubs. Hubs may form around brands but they are more likely to form around dynamic figures who embody the values of their company -- a figure like Microsoft's Bill Gates, say, or Virgin's Richard Branson. Such strategies only work when there is a clear connection between the brand's values and the personality of this central figure.

Each of these social structures may be valuable from the point of view of a brand or a media franchise. Hubs are most likely to be influenced through dominant figures, whereas the other two may be shaped by any member. Media content which supports shared activities is most apt to circulate through pools, while that which sustains social connections is most apt to be valued within webs.

Lee's taxonomy seek to understand what motivates our membership in particular kinds of shared social spaces. Others have sought to explain the different barriers to entry which shape alternative kinds of communities:

  • Open: These spaces do not require any registration in order to participate. Users can leave anonymous posts, as is the case on some kinds of blogs or online forums. However, without some form of reputation system, the possibility of engaging in a common endeavor is more limited, resulting in short lived communal experiences. Members feel little or no strong emotional ties to such communities which they enter and exit on a whim. They may move through many such social spaces in the course of a single session online.

  • Free registration: This is the most common way of implementing a space for a community exchange, it's present in the majority of social networks (the ones that operate by outside selection are the exception) and most blogs and message boards. This model has given sites like Amazon the necessary data to customize itself to its community's and individual user's needs. It's in these open and free communities where the spread of media is possible and successful.

  • Purchase: These spaces function within the logic of a sticky model. They operate under the assumption that once you buy your way in, you will stay in. Evidently most of the content within these spaces is proprietary and its spread is limited. The transmission of desired content beyond its borders poses a threat to its subscription model, though closing off that content from wider circulation often makes it harder for potentially interested consumers to determine the value of what it has to offer. These spaces tend to be hubs with very little interaction between the users and it is this lack of strong social ties which has led to growing skepticism about so-called corporate communities.

  • Outside Selection: These are closed spaces with gatekeeper. Their value is in their exclusivity and specificity, but due to their closed off nature, they don't encourage the spread of media, although they might generate buzz.

Although we've used the concept brand communities a couple of times, it's important to reiterate that communities aren't created, they are courted. Most brands will need to court a range of different communities and travel across pools, webs, and hubs if they want to reach the full range of desired consumers. To achieve that, they must embrace what filmmaker Lance Weiler calls "The Scattershot Approach." The idea is to be available for your users in whichever way and every way they deem appropriate, be it through a web site, widget, RSS feed or embeddable video, making the process of finding and communicating with you as easy and enjoyable as possible. That may be the strongest incentive for shifting from a sticky paradigm, which often is a one-size-fits-all model, towards a spreadable paradigm, which allows consumers with diverse interests to retrofit your content to serve their local needs and interest. Your job is to make it available to them in a form where they can deploy it and often to provide them with the tools or widgets required to make it accessible to others within their communities.


Benkler, Yochai (2007). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Networks Transform Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Dodds, Peter Sheridan, Muhammad, Roby and Watts, Duncan J. (2003) "An Experimental Study of Search in Global Social Networks." Science, 301(8), pp. 827-829.

Domb, Ana. (2008) "Bringing Awesome to Self-Distribution," Convergence Culture Consortium Blog,

Frank, Betsy (2004). "Changing Media, Changing Audiences." Remarks at the MIT Communication Forum, Cambridge, MA. April 1.

Gee, James (2004). Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling. New York: Routledge.

Gladwell, Malcolm (2000) The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference. Boston: Little Brown.

Jenkins, Henry (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Lee, Lara. (2007) "Lara Lee on brand Community Pioneer Harley-Davidson." Boston University.

Lockhart, Andrew (2008). "The 9 Types of Brand Community Expanded." Thinking Interactive.

Roberts, Kevin (2005). Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands. New York:Powerhouse.

Rosen, Jay (2006). "The People Formerly Known as the Audience." PressThink, June 27.

Toffler, Alvin (1980). The Third Wave. New York: Morrow.

February 13, 2009

If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead (Part Two): Sticky and Spreadable -- Two Paradigms

This is part two of an eight part series. The report was written by Henry Jenkins, Xiaochang Li, Ana Domb Krauskopf With Joshua Green. Our research was funded by the members of the Convergence Culture Consortium, including GSDM Advertising, MTV Networks, and Turner Broadcasting.

Sticky and Spreadable - Two Paradigms
From Viral to Spreadability
It is not hard to understand why the idea of both memes and the media virus would be attractive to marketers. If the right meme was deployed, theory suggests, it would successfully acquire people, reaching more and more possible consumers as goes. Similarly, Rushkoff's notion of "viral" circulation appeals to advertisers because it allows them to give up control over little more than the specific path of dissemination. In this scenario, they are cast as purposeful agent zeros, unleashing a message that spreads through its own volition, the instructions of replication imbedded in the DNA of the campaign.

But if the rising anxieties over brand equity, appropriation of content, miscommunication, lack of communication, and the ultimate value of viral campaigns is any indication, many advertisers are well aware that this model of "viral" media, which doesn't account for individual or social agency, does not accurately reflect the present media landscape. The idea of the "media virus" breaks down because people are making conscious choices about what media they are passing along and about the forms within which they are circulating it. As we saw in the discussion of the LOLcat meme above, the core message may be manipulated or turned against the original authors as it spreads across the internet. Consumers have shown a remarkable ability to turn advertising slogans and jingles against the companies that originated them. Fans have highjacked popular stories to express profoundly different interpretations than those of their authors.

Metaphors of "viral media" and "memes" emerged during a period of transition in the relationship between consumers and producers: first, this terminology reflected a shift away from the push-based model of the broadcast era towards the pull-based model of the early internet (characterized by talk of "stickiness"); second, the teminology maintained use value as we moved from an era of personalized media towards the increasingly communal practices associated with the rise of social networks and the emergence of what industry guru Tim O'Reilly (2005) identified as "the architecture of participation."

It is somewhat ironic that the idea of the media virus emerged at the same time as a shift towards greater acknowledgment of consumers as participants in meaning making within the networked media space. Shenja van der Graaf, in her 2003 article "Viral Experiences: Do You Trust Your Friends?" maintains "the main feature of viral marketing is that it heavily depends on interconnected peers. Viral Marketing is therefore inherently social" (van der Graaf, 2003, p.8). van der Graaf uses "viral" to describe a condition of movement and distribution of content that is linked to network behavior, and cites participation within a socially networked system as a central requirement of "viral" behavior.

Each step along this process made media companies more dependent upon the active engagement of their consumers and increased the urgency of understanding how and why cultural content circulates. Talk of "memes" and "media viruses" gave a false sense of security at a time when the old attention economy was in flux, resulting in widespread uncertainity about what might motivate consumer "engagement" in this new context. Such terms promised a pseudo-scientific model for thinking about consumer behavior, one which kept power firmly in the hands of media producers. In practice, they simply mystified the process, limiting the industry's ability to understand the complex factors which now shape the creation of value through the circulation of content within these new social networks.

We believe that the confusion wrapped surrounding the concepts of "memes" and "viruses" are not going to be easily resolved. As we have seen, the terms are at once too encompassing and too limiting; they introduce false assumptions about how culture operate; they distort the power relations between producers and consumers at a time when media companies and brands need to learn to respect the increasingly empowered roles which their users are playing in the circulation and production of meaning around their products. Given these limits, these words mislead more than they clarify and need to be retired. To put it bluntly, the viral is not only sick; it's pushing up the daisies.

For that reason, we are proposing an alternative terminology, one which we think allows us to construct a more effective model that might inform future strategies. Rather than speaking about "viral media," we prefer to think of media as spreadable. Spreadability as a concept describes how the properties of the media environment, texts, audiences, and business models work together to enable easy and widespread circulation of mutually meaningful content within a networked culture. Talking about spreadability invites us to ask four basic questions:

  1. What aspects of the contemporary media environment support the spread of media across different communities?

  2. How do consumers create value for themselves and for companies through their spread of media?

  3. What properties of content make it more likely to be spread?

  4. How do companies benefit from the spread of their content?

The concept of "spreadability" preserves much of what was useful about the earlier models -- the idea that the movement of messages from person to person, from community to community, over time increases their effectiveness, and expands their impact. It recognizes the ways that later theorists such as van der Graaf or Knoebel and Lankshear have revised the earliest, relatively static and passive conceptions of "memes" and "viruses" to reflect the realities of the new social web, while suggesting this emerging paradigm is so substantively different from the initial conceptualizations as to require a new terminology. This new "spreadable" model allows us to avoid metaphors of "infection" and "contamination" which over-estimate the power of media companies and underestimate the agency of consumers. In so far as these metaphors distort the actual factors shaping the spread of media content in a networked culture, they result in less than fully effective campaigns. In this emerging model, consumers play an active role in "spreading" content rather than being the passive carriers of viral media: their choices, their investments, their actions determine what gets valued in the new mediascape. Recentering the discussion on choices consumers make, rather than choices media companies make, forces advertising and entertainment companies to pay closer attention to consumer's motivations and thus to design content which better aligns with their interests; it will also allow companies to adopt policies which sustain rather than repress this desire to help circulate relevant material throughout their social networks.

While older models of "memes" and "media viruses" focused attention on how ideas replicate and propagate, a spreadability model assumes that value originates as much through the act of transformation as through direct circulation. Spreadability assumes a world where mass content gets repositioned as it enters into a range of different niche communities. When material is produced according to a one-size-fits-all model, it necessarily imperfectly fits the needs of any given group of consumers. As content spreads, then, it gets remade -- either literally through various forms of sampling and remixing -- or figuratively via its insertion into ongoing conversations and interactions.

Such repurposing doesn't necessarily blunt or distort the goals of the original communicator. Rather, it may allow the message to reach new constituencies where it would otherwise have gone unheard. C3 affiliated researcher Grant McCracken (2005) points towards such a model when he suggests that the word consumer should be replaced by a new term, multiplier, to reflect the fact consumers expand the potential meanings that get attached to a brand by inserting it into a range of unpredicted contexts of use.

There is something in the term that invites us to ask whether the product, brand, innovation, campaign does actually give the "multiplier" anything he can, er, multiply.... Furthermore, "multipiers" also bids us ask, down the road, whether indeed the product, brand, innovation actually produced anything in the world. Did the multipliers multiply it, or is it still just sitting there? Finally, the term multipler may help marketers acknowledge more forthrightly that whether our work is a success is in fact out of our control. All we can do is to invite the multiplier to participate in the construction of the brand by putting it to work for their own purposes in their own world. When we called them "consumers" we could think of our creations as an end game and their responses as an end state. The term "multiplier" or something like it makes it clear that we depend on them to complete the work.
We might compare these brand "multipliers" to "lead users" (Von Hippel, 2006): lead users (Ford, 2006) enable user innovation, helping to find and fix flaws, identify new markets, or model new uses of manufactured goods once they have shipped to market; these "multipliers" perform some of this same work for cultural goods, taking them places and deploying them in ways that would not have been envisioned by the people who produced them. Some of those uses will be tangential to the goals of the media companies; some may generate alternative sources of profit; some may expand the potential audience for entertainment properties or open the brand message to new interpretations and uses.

Consumers in this model are not simply "hosts" or "carriers" of alien ideas, but rather grassroots advocates for materials which are personally and socially meaningful to them. They have filtered out content which they think has little relevance to their community, while focusing attention on material which they think has a special salience in this new context. Spreadability relies on the one true intelligent agent -- the human mind -- to cut through the clutter of a hyper-mediated culture and to facilitate the flow of valuable content across a fragmented marketplace. Under these conditions, media which remains fixed in its location and static in its form fails to generate sufficient public interest and thus drops out of these ongoing conversations.

Spreadable and Sticky -- Two Models of Media Contact

We can understand what we mean by spreadablity by way of a contrast with earlier notions of "stickiness." A review of the top ten hits on Google for "stickiness" offers us a fairly consistent sense of the word's current functional definition. The term "sticky" first and foremost refers to websites which "grab and hold the attention of your visitor" (Meredian, n.d.). Some writers argue that "(customers will) come back and buy more goods, get more advice, and see more ads" (Sanchez, n.d.). Most others measure stickiness in terms of how long the visitor stays on a single visit or how many different pages the visitors looks at in the course of their stay.

Stickiness reflected the assumptions of personalized media: its central unit is the individual consumer. As one writer explains, "Measuring stickiness means that you'll have to track what individuals do, not just mass movements on your site. So you'll have to have them register or place cookies on their computers if you really want to know that much detail." (Nemeth-Johannes, n.d.) And stickiness is associated with pre-structured interactivity rather than open-ended participation with games, quizzes, and polls seen as devices for attracting and holding the interests of consumers.

This emphasis on "stickiness" was closely associated with the ongoing discussion of "push vs. pull" technologies: stickiness reflects anxiety about attracting and holding viewer interest in a world where consumers have to actively seek out the content they desire. Under the stickiness model, value comes either through charging for access to information (through some kind of subscription or service fee), by selling merchandise to consumers through some kind of e-commerce catalog, or by selling the eyeballs of site visitors to some outside party, most often to advertisers.

Sites such as Amazon or eBay represent the triumph of this "stickiness" model -- both sites depend greatly on the return of highly committed and strongly motivated consumers and upon multiple transactions per visit. Yet, even these sites depend on word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers, who more often than not discuss their interactions in other contexts, thus helping "spread" the word to potential visitors. As early as 1996 Amazon launched its highly successful affiliate marketing program, which offers designated 'Associates' as much as ten percent in referral fees for purchases made by visitors they helped to attract to retailer's sites. Consumers are encouraged to link their homepages or blogs back to Amazon, providing incentives for them to help increase their community's awareness of the site's products and services.

This program reflects the core insight that different books would be of interest within different communities, that people were more likely to buy books when they were recommended by people they already trusted in other contexts, and that discussion of books emerged organically in the midst of a range of other conversations and interactions. The Associates program, thus, reflects the value which comes in "spreading" one's message across a range of niche communities rather than seeking simply to attract and hold the attention of site visitors.

Put schematically, we might map nine core distinctions between Stickiness and Spreadability:

  1. Stickiness seeks to attract and hold the attention of site visitors; Spreadability seeks to motivate and facilitate the efforts of fans and enthusiasts to "spread" the word.

  2. Stickiness depends on concentrating the attention of all interested parties on a specific site or through a specific channel; spreadability seeks to expand consumer awareness by dispersing the content across many potential points of contact.

  3. Stickiness depends on creating a unified consumer experience as consumers enter into branded spaces; spreadability depends on creating a diversified experience as brands enter into the spaces where people already live and interact.

  4. Stickiness depends on prestructured interactivity to shape visitor experiences; spreadability relies on open-ended participation as diversely motivated but deeply engaged consumers retrofit content to the contours of different niche communities.

  5. Stickiness typically tracks the migrations of individual consumers within a site; Spreadability maps the flow of ideas through social networks.

  6. Under stickiness, a sales force markets to consumers; under spreadability, grassroots intermediaries become advocates for brands.

  7. Stickiness is a logical outgrowth of the shift from broadcasting's push model to the web's pull model; spreadability restores some aspects of the push model through relying on consumers to circulate the content within their own communities.

  8. Under stickiness, producers, marketers, and consumers are separate and distinct roles; spreadability depends on increased collaboration across and even a blurring of the distinction between these roles.

  9. Stickiness depends on a finite number of channels for communicating with consumers; spreadability takes for granted an almost infinite number of often localized and many times temporary networks through which media content circulates.

In short, for media companies to fully grasp the advantages of spreadability, they have to unlearn the lessons of "stickiness," lessons which may be less effective than they once seemed, as a consequence of the next phase of evolution in the media ecology.

Not surprisingly, many sites today struggle to balance between these two competing models, often resulting in disappointment. Consider, for example, the case of Sonific, an early experiment in adopting the spreadable media model within the music industry. In 2006, Sonific offered 'customizable, flexible, Flash-based music widgets' enabling users to stream one or more songs from the Sonific catalog to almost any webpage. Material from Sonfic's catalog could be included in nearly any web-based application -- from modest blogs to social network pages and slideshows. Users could customize playlists and embed music from the catalog into their sites.

Sonfic offered full-length-tracks as free, promotional streams, operating under the "You hear, you like, you buy," rule proposed by UCE Birmingham Professor Andrew Dubber. By early 2008 Sonific had licensed over 200,000 tracks and had 80,000 users, but as of May 1 the service has closed operations citing unworkable licensing with the major record labels.

It seems that the industry's major stakeholders still prefer this turf to remain unlicensed rather than to allow real-life, workable and market-based solutions to emerge by working with new companies such as Sonific. This is not the way forward.
- Sonific's CEO Gerd Leonhard, 2008.

The service's demise is certainly due, in part at least, to the recording industry's resistance to a spreadable model, a model that would actually encourage music fans to distribute content through decentralized networks. The music industry's anxieties about piracy lead them to want to lock down content rather than encouraging consumers to shape its circulation. All of this suggests a moment of transition: old assumptions are going to be hard to displace. For some industries and for some purposes, the sticky model will maintain even as other sectors of the branded entertainment sector are moving towards a more spreadable model. In the short term, we argue that companies need to know what model they are choosing and why.

The focus on spreadable media requires greater attention be paid to the social relations between media producers and consumers. There are significant differences between what motivates consumers to spread content and what motivates producers to seek the circulation of their brands. These differences can be understood in terms of the contrast between commodity culture and the gift economy.

Ford, Sam, with Henry Jenkins, Grant McCracken, Parmesh Shahani, Ivan Askwith, Geoffrey Long and Ilya Vedrashko (2006). Fanning the Audience's Flames: Ten Ways to Embrace and Cultivate Fan Communities, Report Prepared for the Members of the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium, Cambridge.
Knobel, Michele & Lankshear, Colin (2007). New Literacies: Everyday Practices & Classroom Learning. Open University Press
Leonhard, Gerd. "Sonific Goes Offline on May 1 2008", Sonific.
McCracken, Grant (2005). "'Consumers' or 'Multipliers': A New Language for Marketing?," This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics, November 10.
Meredian Design (n.d.) "Make It Sticky, Make 'Em Stay,"
Nemeth-Johannes, Cindy (n.d.) "Making Sticky Websites," The ABCs of Small Business.
O'Reilly, Tim (2005). "What is Web 2.0?," September 30.
Sanchez, Marcos (n.d.) "Eight Ways to Sticky Sites." Fuse.
van der Graaf, Shenja. "Viral Experiences: Do You Trust Your Friends," (author version), in Sandeep Krishnamurthy (ed.). Contemporary Research in E-Marketing, University of Washington. ed.. Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing, pp.166-185
Von Hippel, Eric (2006). Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge: MIT Press.

February 11, 2009

If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead (Part One): Media Viruses and Memes

Over the next few posts, I am going to be serializing a white paper which was developed last year by the Convergence Culture Consortium on the topic of Spreadable media. This report was drafted by Henry Jenkins, Xiaochang Li, and Ana Domb Krauskopf With Joshua Green. Our research was funded by the members of the Convergence Culture Consortium, including GSDM Advertising, MTV Networks, and Turner Broadcasting. The series will be cross-posted at my blog, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, as well.

I was able to share some of the key insights from this research during my opening remarks at the Futures of Entertainment conference last fall, where they have sparked considerable discussion within the branded entertainment sector. We are hoping that sharing this work in progress with you will spark further debate, allowing us to tap the collective intelligence of our readers. Green, Sam Ford, and I are developing this research into a book, which will further map how information circulates across the emerging media landscape.

Introduction: Media Viruses and Memes

Use of the terms "viral" and "memes" by those in the marketing, advertising and media industries may be creating more confusion than clarity. Both these terms rely on a biological metaphor to explain the way media content moves through cultures, a metaphor that confuses the actual power relations between producers, properties, brands, and consumers. Definitions of 'viral' media suffer from being both too limiting and too all-encompassing. The term has 'viral' has been used to describe so many related but ultimately distinct practices -- ranging from Word-of-Mouth marketing to video mash-ups and remixes posted to YouTube -- that just what counts as viral is unclear. It is invoked in discussions about buzz marketing and building brand recognition while also popping up in discussions about guerilla marketing, exploiting social networks, and mobilizing consumers and distributors. Needless, the concept of viral distribution is useful for understanding the emergence of a spreadable media landscape. Ultimately, however, viral media is a flawed way to think about distributing content through informal or adhoc networks of consumers.

Talking about memes and viral media places an emphasis on the replication of the original idea, which fails to consider the everyday reality of communication -- that ideas get transformed, repurposed, or distorted as they pass from hand to hand, a process which has been accelerated as we move into network culture. Arguably, those ideas which survive are those which can be most easily appropriated and reworked by a range of different communities. In focusing on the involuntary transmission of ideas by unaware consumers, these models allow advertisers and media producers to hold onto an inflated sense of their own power to shape the communication process, even as unruly behavior by consumers becomes a source of great anxiety within the media industry. A close look at particular examples of Internet "memes" or "viruses" highlight the ways they have mutated as they have traveled through an increasingly participatory culture.

Given these limitations, we are proposing an alternative model which we think better accounts for how and why media content circulates at the present time, the idea of spreadable media. A spreadable model emphasizes the activity of consumers -- or what Grant McCracken calls "multipliers" -- in shaping the circulation of media content, often expanding potential meanings and opening up brands to unanticipated new markets. Rather than emphasizing the direct replication of "memes," a spreadable model assumes that the repurposing and transformation of media content adds value, allowing media content to be localized to diverse contexts of use. This notion of spreadability is intended as a contrast to older models of stickiness which emphasize centralized control over distribution and attempts to maintain 'purity' of message.

In this section, we will explore the roots of the concept of viral media, looking at the concept of the "media viruses" and its ties to the theory of the "meme." The reliance on a potent biological metaphor to describe the process of communication reflects a particular set of assumptions about the power relations between producers, texts, and consumers which may obscure the realities these terms seek to explain. The metaphor of "infection" reduces consumers to the involuntary "hosts" of media viruses, while holding onto the idea that media producers can design "killer" texts which can ensure circulation by being injected directly into the cultural "bloodstream." While attractive, such a notion doesn't reflect the complexity of cultural and communicative processes. A continued dependency on terms based in biological phenomena dramatically limits our ability to adequately describe media circulation as a complex system of social, technological, textual, and economic practices and relations.

In the following, we will outline the limits of these two analogies as part of making the case for the importance of adopting a new model for thinking about the grassroots circulation of content in the current media landscape. In the end, we are going to propose that these concepts be retired in favor of a new framework -- Spreadable Media.

Definitional Fuzziness

Consider what happened when a group of advertising executives sat down to discuss the concept of viral media, a conversation which demonstrates the confusion about what viral media might be, about what it is good for, and why it's worth thinking about. One panelist began by suggesting viral media referred to situations "where the marketing messaging was powerful enough that it spread through the population like a virus," a suggestion the properties of viral media lie in the message itself, or perhaps in those who crafted that message. The second, on the other hand, described viral media in terms of the activity of consumers: "Anything you think is cool enough to send to your friends, that's viral." Later in the same exchange, he suggested "Viral, just by definition, is something that gets passed around by people."

As the discussion continued, it became clearer and clearer that viral media, like art and pornography, lies in the eye of the beholder. No one knew for sure why any given message "turned viral," though there was lots of talk about "designing the DNA" of viral properties and being "organic" to the communities through which messages circulated. To some degree, it seemed the strength of a viral message depends on "how easy is it to pass", suggesting viralness has something to do with the technical properties of the medium, yet quickly we were also told that it had to do with whether the message fit into the ongoing conversations of the community: "If you're getting a ton of negative comments, maybe you're not talking about it in the right place."

By the end of the exchange, no one could sort out what was meant by "viral media" or what metrics should be deployed to measure its success. This kind of definitional fuzziness makes it increasingly difficult to approach the process analytically. Without certainty about what set of practices the term refers to, it is impossible to attempt to understand how and why such practices work.

As already noted, the reliance on a biological metaphor to explain the way communication takes place -- through practices of 'infection' -- represents the first dificulty with the notion of viral media. The attraction of the infection metaphor is two-fold:

  1. It reduces consumers, often the most unpredictable variable in the sender-message-receiver frame, to involuntary "hosts" of media viruses;

  2. While holding onto the idea that media producers can design "killer" texts which can ensure circulation by being injected directly into the cultural "bloodstream."

Douglas Rushkoff's 1994 book Media Virus may not have invented the term "viral media", but his ideas eloquently describe the way these texts are popularly held to behave. The media virus, Rushkoff argues, is a Trojan horse, that surreptitiously brings messages into our homes -- messages can be encoded into a form people are compelled to pass along and share, allowing the embedded meanings, buried inside like DNA, to "infect" and spread, like a pathogen. There is an implicit and often explicit proposition that this spread of ideas and messages can occur not only without the user's consent, but perhaps actively against it, requiring that people be duped into passing a hidden agenda while circulating compelling content. Douglas Rushkoff insists he is not using the term "as a metaphor. These media events are not like viruses. They are viruses . . . (such as) the common cold, and perhaps even AIDS" (Rushkoff, 9, emphasis his).

Media viruses spread through the datasphere the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community. But instead of traveling along an organic circulatory system, a media virus travels through the networks of the mediaspace. The "protein shell" of a media virus might be an event, invention, technology, system of thought, musical riff, visual image, scientific theory, sex scandal, clothing style or even a pop hero -- as long as it can catch our attention. Any one of these media virus shells will search out the receptive nooks and crannies in popular culture and stick on anywhere it is noticed. Once attached, the virus injects its more hidden agendas into the datastream in the form of ideological code -- not genes, but a conceptual equivalent we now call "memes" (Rushkoff, p.9-10).

The "hidden agenda" and "embedded meanings" Rushkoff mentions are the brand messages buried at the heart of viral videos, the promotional elements in videos featuring Mentos exploding out of soda bottles, or Gorillas playing the drumline of In the Air Tonight . The media virus proposition is that these marketing messages -- messages consumers may normally avoid, approach skeptically, or disregard altogether -- are hidden by the "protein shell" of compelling media properties. Nestled within interesting bits of content, these messages are snuck into the heads of consumers, or wilfully passed between them.

These messages, Rushkoff and others suggest, constitute "memes", conceived by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 as a sort of cultural version of the gene. Dawkins was looking for a way to explain cultural evolution, imagining it as a biological system. What genes are to genetics, he suggested, memes would be to culture. Like the gene, the meme is driven to self-create, and is possessed of three important characteristics:

  1. Fidelity -- memes have the ability to retain their informational content as they pass from mind to mind;

  2. Fecundity -- memes possess the power to induce copies of themselves;

  3. Longevity -- memes that survive longer have a better chance of being copied.

The meme, then, is "a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds" (Brodie, 1996, p. 32). They are the ideas at the center of virally spread events, some coherent, self-replicating idea which moves from person-to-person, from mind-to-mind, duplicating itself as it goes.

Language seems to 'evolve' by non-genetic means and at a rate which is orders of magnitude faster than genetic evolution. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation (Dawkins, 1976, p.189).

Dawkins remained vague about the granularity of this concept, seeing it as an all-purpose unit which could explain everything from politics to fashion. Each of these fields are comprised of good ideas, good ideas which, in order to survive, attach themselves to media virii -- funny, catchy, compelling bits of content -- as a vehicle to infect new minds with copies of themselves.

We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep on humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban Legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information. (Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash, 1992, p.399)

Though imagined long before the rise of the Internet and the Web, the idea of the meme has been widely embraced as a way of talking about the rapid dispersion of informationn and the widespread circulation of concepts which characterize the digital era. It has been a particularly attractive way to think about the rise of Internet fads like the LOLcats or Soulja Boy, fads considered seemingly trivial or meangingless. The content which circulates in such a fashion is seen as simplistic, fragmentary, and essentially meaningless, though it may shape our beliefs and actions in significant ways. Wired magazine (Miller, 2007) recently summed it up as a culture of "media snacks":

We now devour our pop culture the same way we enjoy candy and chips - in conveniently packaged bite-size nuggets made to be munched easily with increased frequency and maximum speed. This is snack culture - and boy, is it tasty (not to mention addictive).

This description of snacks implies that they are without nutritional value, trivial or meaningless aspect of our culture, a time waste. And if this meaningless content is self-replicating then consumers are "irrational," and unable to escape their infection. Yet these models -- the idea of the meme and the media virus, of self-replicating ideas hidden in attractive, catchy content we are helpless to resist -- is a problematic way to understand cultural practices. We want to suggest that these materials travel through the web because they are meaningful to the people who spread them. At the most fundamental level, such an approach misunderstands the way content spreads, which is namely, through the active practices of people. As such, we would like to suggest:

  1. That "memes" do not self-replicate;

  2. That people are not "susceptible" to this viral media;

  3. That viral media and Internet memes are not nutritionally bereft, meaningless 'snacks'.

The Problem of Agency
Central to the difficulties of both the meme and the media virus models is a particular confusion about the role people play in passing along media content. From the start, memetics has suffered from a confusion about the nature of agency. Unlike genetic features, culture is not in any meaningful sense self-replicating -- it relies on people to propel, develop and sustain it. The term 'culture' originates from metaphors of agriculture: the analogy was of cultivating the human mind much as one cultivates the land. Culture thus represents the assertion of human will and agency upon nature. As such, cultures are not something that happen to us, cultures are something we collectively create. Certainly any individual can be influenced by the culture which surrounds them, by the fashion, media, speech and ideas that fill their daily life, but individuals make their own contributions to their cultures through the choices which they make. The language of memetics, however, strips aside the concept of human agency.

Processes of cultural adaptation are more complex than the notion of meme circulation makes out. Indeed, theories for understanding cultural uptake must consider two factors not closely considered by memetics: human choice and the medium through which these ideas are circulated. Dawkins writes not about how "people acquire ideas" but about how "ideas acquire people." Every day humans create and circulate many more ideas than are actually likely to gain any deep traction within a culture. Over time, only a much smaller number of phrases, concepts, images, or stories survive. This winnowing down of cultural options is the product not of the strength of particular ideas but of many, many individual choices as people decide what ideas to reference, which to share with each other, decisions based on a range of different agendas and interests far beyond how compelling individual ideas may be. Few of the ideas get transmitted in anything like their original form: humans adapt, transform, rework them on the fly in response to a range of different local circumstances and personal needs. Stripping aside the human motives and choices that shape this process reveals little about the spread of these concepts.

By the same token, ideas circulate differently in and through different media. Some media allow for the more or less direct transmission of these ideas in something close to their original form -- as when a video gets replayed many times -- while others necessarily encourage much more rapid transformations -- as occurs when we play a game of "telephone" and each person passing along a message changes it in some way. So, it makes little sense to talk about "memes" as an all-purpose unit of thought without regard to the medium and processes of cultural transmission being described. Indeed, discussing the emergence of Internet memes, education researchers Michael Knobel and Colin Lankshear (2007) suggest Dawkins' notion of memetic 'fidelity' needs to be done away with altogether. Defining the Internet meme as the rapid uptake and spread of a particular idea, presented as a written text, image, language, "'move' or some unit of cultural "stuff", Knobel and Lankshear suggest adaptation is central to the propogation of memes:

Many of the online memes in this study were not passed on entirely 'intact' in that the meme 'vehicle' was changed, modified, mixed with other referential and expressive resources, and regularly given idiosyncratic spins by participants...A concept like 'replicability' therefore needs to include remixing as an important practice associated with many successful online memes, where remixing includes modifying, bricolaging, splicing, reordering, superimposing, etc., original and other images, sounds, films, music, talk, and so on. (Knobel and Lankshear, 2007, p.208-209)

Their argument is particularly revealing as a way to think about just what comprises the object at the heart of the Internet meme. The recent "LOLcat" Internet meme, built so heavily upon remixing and appropriation, is a good case study to illustrate the role of remixing in Internet memes. "LOLcats" are pictures of animals, most commonly cats, with digitally superimposed text for humorous effect. Officially referred to as "image macros," the pictures often feature "LOLspeak", a type of broken English that enhances the amusing tone of the juxtaposition. On websites such as, users are invited to upload their own "LOLcats" which are then shared throughout the web.

Over time, different contributors have stretched the "LOLcat" idea in many different directions which would not have been anticipated by the original posters -- including a whole strand of images centering around Walruses and buckets, the use of "LOLspeak" to translate religious texts (LOLbible) or represent complex theoretical arguments, the use of similar image macros to engage with Emo culture, philosophy (loltheorists), and dogs (LOLdogs, see:

So just what is the "meme" at the centre of this Internet meme? What is the idea that is replicated? More than the content of the pictures, the "meme" at the heart of this Internet phenomenon is the structure of the picture itself --the juxtaposition, broken English, and particularly the use of irreverent humor. Given the meme lies in the structure, however -- how to throw the pot rather than the pot itself -- then the very viability of the meme is dependent on the ability for the idea to be adapted in a variety of different ways. In this sense, then, it is somewhat hard to see how contained within this structure is a "message" waiting to occupy unsuspecting minds.

The re-use, remixing and adaptation of the LOLcat idea instead suggest that the spread and replication of this form of cultural production is not due to the especially compelling nature of the LOLcat idea but the fact it can be used to make meaning. A similar situation can be seen in the case of the "Crank Dat" song by Soulja Boy, which some have described as one of the most succesful Internet memes of 2007. Soulja Boy, originally an obscure amateur performer in Atlanta, produced a music video for his first song "Crank Dat", which he uploaded to video sharing sites such as YouTube. Soulja Boy then encouraged his fans to appropriate, remix, and reperform the song, spreading it through social networks, YouTube, and the blogosphere, in the hopes of gaining greater visibility for himself and his music.

Along the way, Crank Dat got performed countless times by very different communities -- from white suburban kids to black ballet dancers, from football teams to MIT graduate students. The video was used as the basis for "mash up" videos featuring characters as diverse as Winnie the Pooh and Dora the Explorer. People added their own steps, lyrics, themes, and images to the videos they made. As the song circulated, Soulja Boy's reputation grew -- he scored a record contract, and emerged as a top recording artist. -- in part as a consequence of his understanding of the mechanisms by which cultural content circulates within a participatory culture.

The success of "Crank Dat" cannot be explained as the slavish emulation of the dance by fans, as the self-replication of a "compelling" idea. Rather, "Crank Dat" spread the way dance crazes have always spread - through the processes of learning and adaptation by which people learn to dance. As CMS student Kevin Driscoll discusses, watching others dance to learn steps and refining these steps so they express local experience or variation are crucial to dance itself. Similarly, the adaptation of the LOLcat form to different situations -- theory, puppies, politicians -- constitute processes of meaning making, as people use tools at their disposal to explain the world around them.

Next Time: We will compare and contrast "stickiness" and "spreadability" as competing paradigms shaping the practices of web 2.0.


Brodie, Richard (1996). Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme, Seattle: Integral Press

Dawkins, Richard (1976). The Selfish Gene, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Knobel, Michele & Lankshear, Colin (2007). New Literacies: Everyday Practices &
Classroom Learning
. Open University Press

McCracken, Grant (2005a). "'Consumers' or 'Multipliers': A New Language for
Marketing?," This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics,
November 10.

Miller, Nancy (2007). "Minifesto for a New Age," Wired, March.

Rushkoff, Douglas. (1994) Media Virus: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture. New York:

Stephenson, Neil (1992). Snow Crash. New York: Bantam.

November 7, 2008

Kpop Goes Global (part 2): SM Global auditions and transnational fan culture

In my previous post on the SM Global auditions, I talked about the complications within the very idea of "global" in the contexts of national markets and the anxieties or tensions surrounding the what is meant by the "global" stage, especially when "globalization" is used not simply as a euphemism for westernization.

In this part, I would like to draw out another, perhaps related, component, which was the function of the SM Global auditions as a transnational fan space. Rather than functioning as straight talent gathering, the auditions in fact worked as a sort of fan-relations event that not only did not require the presence of celebrities, but also worked to direct fan energy from the individual artists towards the larger company brand as a whole, a critical strategy in the development of new artists.

Continue reading "Kpop Goes Global (part 2): SM Global auditions and transnational fan culture" »

May 20, 2008

Kozinets on C3 Spring Retreat

Another note this early afternoon that I wanted to pass along to blog readers. Since my wrap-up on the C3 Spring Retreat last week, C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets wrote a blog entry detailing some of his experiences from the event.

Rob writes:

A number of great people from major corporations were involved this year, including people from Fidelity Investments, Yahoo!, MTV/Viacom, and Turner Broadcasting. Industry speakers included Brian Haven from Keith Clarkson from Xenophile Media, Matt Wolf from Double Twenty Productions, Forrester Research, and Judy Walklet from Communispace. And for me, it was a thrill to meet a who's who of fan community researchers--people who were absolutely fundamental to my thesis work and who built the universe of fan studies. These included Nancy Baym, Lee Harrington, Jonathan Gray, and Jason Mittell. I also had the opportunity this year and in the past to meet some excellent new scholars in the area, whose work is sure to open up many exciting new avenues of opportunity and insight. This people include Kevin Sandler, Derek Johnson, Gail Derecho, Aswin Panathambekar, Geoff Long, Sam Ford, and Ivan Askwith. And of course it was genuine pleasure to see my friend the esteemed marketing anthropologist and consumer culture icon, Grant McCracken, whose contributions are always elegantly-phrased and thoroughly thought-provoking.

Continue reading "Kozinets on C3 Spring Retreat" »

February 18, 2008

Fandom, Dialogue, and Independence

We spend quite a bit of time here on the Consortium's blog writing about and thinking about the relationship between producers and consumers, particularly in the media and entertainment space. As regular readers know, my own Master's thesis work at MIT dealt with how this relationship manifests itself today in the soap opera industry in particular (see here, for instance), and the energy of the Consortium and many people surrounding the CMS program here at MIT are often dedicated to these questions.

While I hold fast to the idea that companies must treat their fan communities with some esteem and pay attention to the discussion taking place around their product, perhaps even communicate directly with those fans, we also see that this desire to get closer to fan communities can quickly become a desire to control communities in many cases. It's quite a mistake to think that all fans want, through the social connections they form online around brands and media properties, is to get closer to the official productions of these shows. After all, that's one of the biggest misconceptions that caused some of the controversy surrounding, which we wrote about several times in the past year (see, for instance, here).

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February 17, 2008

Bickering between Dunkin' Donuts and Its Franchises

Some of you may have read my posts a few weeks ago about a local donut joint here in town called Linda's and the subsequent discussion regarding authenticity and chains (see here, here, and here.

A couple of the Yelp users I wrote about framed Linda's against the chain of Dunkin' Donuts, and in fact I got into a longtime discussion with the guy my age while I was visiting about Dunkin' Donuts, the value of their convenience, and what he felt was the declining quality of their product, in favor of proliferation and speed.

Compare this with our discussion with Joe Pine from back last fall, in which Joe referred to the Starbucks edict that "it should take time to get a cup of coffee."

Apparently, many of the franchise-holders of Dunkin' Donuts agree to some extent, that there is a point of too much proliferation. And that's not that surprising, considering that they have quite a financial stake into not seeing the Dunkin' Donuts brand extend too far...especially out of their stores.

Continue reading "Bickering between Dunkin' Donuts and Its Franchises" »

February 1, 2008

Authenticity, Grant McCracken, and Donuts

I've gotten a few e-mails regarding the piece I wrote a few days ago about Linda's Donuts and the search for authenticity. One of them came from friend and Consortium Consulting Researcher Grant McCracken, who turns out had written some on the subject of authenticity only a couple of days prior, in response to criticisms of the Dove and Axe Unilever campaigns, which many have had problems with because of what they identify as an inconsistency between the messages of each, with Dove stressing one's comfort with their own body in their advertising, while Axe emphasizes a more narrow form of feminine beauty in encouraging teenage boys to use the body spray to attract a certain kind of woman.

Grant wrote me wondering whether we might disagree, and I didn't answer him for a couple of days, as I wasn't sure if we were or not. And I'm still not.

I read his post before I ever wrote the Linda's piece, but it hadn't dawned on me that my points about authenticity might be in conflict with his, even though we both referred to Joe Pine and James Gilmore's new book Authenticity. Of course, in academia, one has a right---perhaps an obligation--to not always agree, and Grant and I have discovered in the past that perfect agreement at the expense of others can sometimes be downright unhelpful. I'm referring here to Grant's September piece on the nature and problem of scorn.

Continue reading "Authenticity, Grant McCracken, and Donuts" »

January 26, 2008

The Balance between Chains and Local Shops

In light of the previous post, I wanted to share with you an article I wrote back in the summer of 2005 for The Ohio County Times-News, for the column I write there entitled "From Beaver Dam to Boston." This deals with franchise chains and locally owned shops:

Over the past couple of weeks, Amanda and I were hosts to one of our English professors from Western Kentucky University, Dale Rigby, who was participating in a nearby writing workshop in Vermont. While Dale was here, we discussed Kentucky a lot. Dale has lived all over the country in his life: Ohio, California, Iowa and Missouri, before coming to Bowling Green.

He really enjoyed Boston and Cambridge, the chance to go to English pubs and play chess with strangers. That got us talking about the differences between the business culture and the culture of Bowling Green. Here in Boston, there are local businesses and restaurants on almost every block, each establishment with its own stories and its own history, and I think that should serve as a point of inspiration to the Bowling Greens and even the Beaver Dams I came from.

In cities the size of Bowling Green, though, there is just something increasingly generic about the city as it grows. I have worked with Bowling Green's Chamber of Commerce on various articles and know that there are many unique things about the local Bowling Green economy. But, for every Mariah's in Bowling Green, there's 10 Red Lobsters, good food but without any sense of local culture.

Continue reading "The Balance between Chains and Local Shops" »

Authenticity and Linda's Donuts

Sometimes, your life changes when you don't have a car. I decided to work from home one day last week, to do some writing from home. Now that I live outside of Boston and Cambridge, though, out in Belmont here in the Boston area, it's not quite as easy to run out for some lunch on foot. But I had dropped my suit off at the dry cleaners' on the corner, the one who waved at us when we drove by--a move that was so Kentucky-like in nature that we decided to give that particular dry cleaners--Hemmingway--a try.

A couple of blocks away, there's a small little restaurant I noticed shortly after moving in here last summer, but I'd never dropped in. The restaurant opens at 6 a.m. each morning, but it's always closed by the early afternoon. I had driven by on the morning commute and especially on weekend mornings and seen a virtual traffic jam around this place.

It's name is Linda's Donuts, and the store touts that these particular donuts are "hand-cut."

Continue reading "Authenticity and Linda's Donuts" »

October 23, 2007

Branded Services: The Way of the Future?

Even as television and other media forms struggle to quantitatively understand audiences as anything other than a mass of passive eyeballs, there is an increasing awareness among marketers that connecting with a brand is an active process not just for advertisers but for consumers as well. One of the ways this approach manifests itself is the movement away from traditional commercials and sponsorships and the movement toward a much different approach: branded services.

It's a concept that perhaps sounds novel and yet not all that surprising at all. Built off the backs of various goodwill and public relations initiatives that have long been a part of marketing brands, these newest moves are to offer services and experiences to potential consumers that in some way help promote the overarching brand.

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October 19, 2007

Live Viewing + 3 Days via DVR + Visiting Transmedia Brand Extensions = More Questions about Engagement

This week marked some significant events in the quest for a measure of engagement with and consumption of advertising. Announcements included the first round of C3 metrics, a new ad-insertion software company backed by some major players, and a partnership between Nielsen and ESPN on total audience measurement. These new developments bring them a number of new implications, but the old questions of what really constitutes engagement, and with what, remain.

A question raised in my mind about C3 is if we should be looking at engagement with TV programming or with ads, or both, and how could we be looking at those metrics in a holistic way? Although the collective effect of content and advertising may matter, there are still no guarantees.

Continue reading "Live Viewing + 3 Days via DVR + Visiting Transmedia Brand Extensions = More Questions about Engagement" »

October 2, 2007

Lowes (tm) Sucks: Consumer Criticism and the Lowes Trademark Fiasco

We write rather frequently here at C3 on issues surrounding Intellectual Property (as well as things that suck, come to think of it), though, admittedly, home improvement falls a bit outside the usual area of focus. But, given some of the implications, both disturbing and humorous, of Lowes Home Improvement's recent trademark controversy, it seemed time to learn something about fence installation.

A couple of weeks ago, the register ran the story of Allen Harkleroad, a man who, after being frustrated by what appears to have been epically bad service from Lowes Home Improvement, went and did what we've all done on occasion: he complained.

On the Internet.

Continue reading "Lowes (tm) Sucks: Consumer Criticism and the Lowes Trademark Fiasco" »

September 18, 2007

The C3 Team's Talk with Joe Pine (2 of 2)

The second part of our discussion yesterday with Joe Pine focused on his work with Gillmore on authenticity, which is part of a forthcoming book of his.

This discussion began with Pine describing the three aspects of a product that make people determine it to be inauthentic: the first would be in terms of popularity, in that products often become less authentic as they become more mainstream or taking into account mainstream interests; the second would be in terms of machine, as the lack of human crafting usually causes people to view a product as less authentic; and, finally, there is the aspect of money, in which the more lucrative a product is or the more the creation is perceived to be driven by profit, the less authentic it is.

Continue reading "The C3 Team's Talk with Joe Pine (2 of 2)" »

The C3 Team's Talk with Joe Pine (1 of 2)

Joe Pine of experience economy fame joined the C3 team and a few other interested folks for a discussion of his work yesterday afternoon, prior to his planned colloquium yesterday evening, for which the podcast will be available in the coming weeks. (Update: The podcast is now available here.)

C3 has encountered Joe's work on the experience economy in the past, although many of the arguments made there have become part of the ways in which may in the media industry think. On the other hand, Joe pointed out that, often, the problem was that the idea gets implemented in quite opposite ways in which it was intended.

For the next couple of posts, I thought I would share some observations based on our conversation yesterday, with this post focusing on our discussion of the experience economy, and the next one focusing on our discussion of authenticity, a subject which Pine and Gillmore are about to release a book on.

Continue reading "The C3 Team's Talk with Joe Pine (1 of 2)" »

September 14, 2007

SIGGART: Trying to Emphasize the Importance of Nimble UGC Campaigns

Last month, we got an e-mail from The Gold Group about an interesting project they had completed on behalf of SIGG Switzerland, which is an aluminum bottle manufacturer with its US offices based in Stamford, Conn., who are concerned about building their brand as being eco-conscious. The company solicited user-generated ideas, "crowdsourcing" a new design for their bottles. Based on the study, Gold wants to emphasize that the "wisdom of crowds" can generate interesting results, no matter which buzzword you use. The winning bottle design was produced and sold by the company.

A report that Jeff Greene, Executive Director of Client Services for the Gold Group, wrote, focused on the question, "Do social media outreach effects really produce word of mouth engagement? And, if they do, what are the most effective components of social media that should be incorporated into a campaign?"

Continue reading "SIGGART: Trying to Emphasize the Importance of Nimble UGC Campaigns" »

September 6, 2007

Would You Hulu? New Site Gets a New Name, But the Old Brands Are Conspicuously Absent

Earlier this month, I wrote a series of posts about what was then titled "New Site," the joint NewsCorp/NBCU online video venture.

As of late last week, New Site's real name was announced: Hulu. "Why Hulu?" asked the President and CEO of Hulu in an open letter posted on the site. "Hulu is short, easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and rhymes with itself...strikes us as an inherently fun name, one that captures the spirit of the service we're building." Funnily enough, I've heard similar things said about network branding campaigns. What's going on?

Continue reading "Would You Hulu? New Site Gets a New Name, But the Old Brands Are Conspicuously Absent" »

August 31, 2007

NBC Acquires Sparrowhawk: Conglomeration Marches On, But Where's the Brand Going? (2 of 2)

So, what's NBC to do, in light of what I wrote about earlier today?

The domestic and international markets are crowded with American programming, which is incredibly diverse. Even though NBC is the oldest American network, it did not enjoy a monopoly on American popular culture on television as the BBC did for many years, making an overall brand building exercise easier.

At the same time, NBC grew much more like the BBC, with interests in network TV and radio with a bigger and more general audience than Turner networks had, at least initially. As such, it is caught in an interesting situation: build out the overall brand, or concentrate on known "sub-brands" as it expands internationally.

Continue reading "NBC Acquires Sparrowhawk: Conglomeration Marches On, But Where's the Brand Going? (2 of 2)" »

NBC Acquires Sparrowhawk: Conglomeration Marches On, But Where's the Brand Going? (1 of 2)

Yesterday NBC Universal announced that it acquired Sparrowhawk Holdings, a global portfolio of cable television channels that will give NBCU a greater presence in markets in the US, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East with the Hallmark Channel.

Although the exact amount of money changing hands was not disclosed, one report put the figure around 175 million pounds, or just under $353 million. As you may have read in my post earlier this month about New Site, the joint venture between NBC and FOX to create a legal aggregator video streaming site for their content, Providence Equity Partners also has a 10% stake, worth about $100 million, in that project as well.

Why is this significant?

Continue reading "NBC Acquires Sparrowhawk: Conglomeration Marches On, But Where's the Brand Going? (1 of 2)" »

August 10, 2007

Social Networking and Social Marketing

As many of you know, we have been doing a significant amount of research here at the consortium recently in regard to social networking. While some of this has ben for a white paper shared internally in the consortium, our musing on social networks has appeared multiple times here on the blog in the past several months (see here, for instance).

Tied into those comments on social networking, though, are questions regarding social marketing, especially as we think about how brands co-exist in these online spaces. There are always a variety of opinions on what this means for users, what the correct balance between marketing and a lack of commercialism is, and...on the business side...what constitutes a worthwhile investment and what does not.

Continue reading "Social Networking and Social Marketing" »

August 8, 2007

The Problems with Measuring Reputation in the PR Industry

I've had the pleasure of being connected recently to some intelligent folks over at Peppercom, a public relations company that serves a variety of interesting clients, from The Columbia School of Journalism to Netflix to Panasonic to Tyco.

Ed Moed, who is one of the co-founders of Peppercom, wrote a piece recently about the public relations industry, focusing on the dangers of the way quantitative metrics are understood for measuring corporate reputations in the public relations industry.

Considering all that we've been writing lately about metrics in relation to the Nielsens, engagement, and both the television industry and the success of Web advertising (look here), I found his perspective on the dangerous assumptions always backing what are accepted as "hard numbers" to be illuminating.

In short, he looks at a recent study which measure company reputations on the basis of the amount of positive press that company has received. Ed's point, however, is that articles touting the release of some new product or service doesn't necessarily mean that readers, or the media itself, views those companies positively, just that they gave them some positive coverage.

Continue reading "The Problems with Measuring Reputation in the PR Industry" »

August 6, 2007

Harley-Davidson Provides a Window into Sturgis

For those who are interested in the mixing of brand planning and content distribution, brand exemplar Harley-Davidson shows once again how to make open content a meaningful part of the brand experience and to engage proselytism in the process.

It all hinges around the big bike rally in Sturgis, which--despite my uber-masculine lifestyle--I had forgotten was even coming up until a storyline on As the World Turns saw a kidnapping plot move toward Sturgis, as the kidnappers might be headed to the big bike rally.

Of course I should have remembered that this time of year equalled Sturgis from those terrible Road Wild pay-per-view wrestling events that WCW used to put on, held live from Sturgis and featuring a crowd full of bikers who both didn't pay to be there and didn't really have any product knowledge...Oh, and the 1998 Road Wild was one of the worst PPV events I've ever seen, especially with Jay Leno in the main event.

But that's a tangent. My point is that, while WCW didn't seem to get anything about Sturgis culture at all, Harley-Davidson has found another way to tap into that American cultural milestone in a way that meaningfully extends its brand.

Harley created a gadget that can be incorporated onto anyone's Web site that both featured a live feed from Sturgis, with the window branded by Harley-Davidson, as well as a variety of packaged videos from the motorcycle rally as well.

Continue reading "Harley-Davidson Provides a Window into Sturgis" »

August 4, 2007

The Importance of News Brands in a Convergence Culture

Earlier today, I was on a conference call espousing about how important a reminder it is to temper all this discussion about a transformation of journalism with the realization that the brand names of the most respected news, magazine, and industry publications still carry a lot of cultural cache, whether we want to proclaim the era of print as dead or not.

This was all driven by the news from a few news outlets recently that Second Life was losing steam and that it wasn't the business opportunity some thought it was. I wrote about those issues earlier today.

But this has been a longheld debate, whether it is Axel Bruns in Gatewatching or Dan Gillmor and his book, We the Media. I agree with both that there is something transformational in involving the collective intelligence of everyone by getting them involved with the news-gathering and reporting process and that it leads to a better information in the process. There has always been something a little murky about the intense "professionalization" of journalism, and it seems that the credentials of being a good journalism means that "the proof is in the pudding," so to speak. If we are to believe in a system where the best writing rises to the top, anyway, doesn't this mean that credibility still has to be gained on a micro-level, even in a much more decentralized news world?

Continue reading "The Importance of News Brands in a Convergence Culture" »

July 24, 2007

Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand

Over the past few days, there have been a couple of interesting ideas batted around by C3 consulting researchers and alumni on a couple of issues that I thought might be of direct interest to the wider C3 readership. With all that is happening in the fan fallout from Harry Potter, the repercussions and new business deals stemming from the upfronts, and all the issues we've been covering more regularly, I thought that pointing the way toward a couple of those pieces might be beneficial.

One is an issue that I've been following from afar. I've never been an avid Simpsons viewer, although I appreciate its place in popular culture. It's not even that I have any aversion to The Simpsons, but I've just never become a regular viewer. Nevertheless, I've been paying attention to the promotion of The Simpsons Movie, both in the transformation of 7-Eleven Stores to Kwik-E Marts and in the competition for deciding which Springfield is the home of the Simpson family.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Jason Mittell had published a piece on the Springfield competition. Now, Grant McCracken has weighed in on the Kwik-E Mart cross-promotion.

Continue reading "Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand" »

July 12, 2007

New Industry Deals Demonstrate Shifting Media Landscape

I wanted to mention a few news stories that passed my eye over the past few days that I thought would be of particular interest to C3 researchers and readers, especially taking into account links between online initiatives and traditional television and print properties.

The news includes a new deal between TV Guide and Maven Networks for powering broadband video content for TV Guide's Web site, a cosmetic change for the brand of Court TV to the new truTV, Joost's deal with VH1 to show a sneak peek of the premiere of I Hate My 30s online first, and Bravo's deal struck to do its advertising deals minute-by-minute with Starcom USA.

TV Guide and Maven Networks. TV Guide's choice to hire the technology provider to power its broadband video on its Web site indicates an increased effort to make TV Guide a brand based on more than the print product it is most closely identified with, especially as paper guides have become all but obsolete. Find more at The Boston Business Journal.

Continue reading "New Industry Deals Demonstrate Shifting Media Landscape" »

July 2, 2007

The Apple iPhone and Brand Fandom

I have mentioned here previously that I write about differences in my former life in Kentucky and life on the East Coast in a weekly column for The Ohio County TImes-News called "From Beaver Dam to Boston." I was in the process of writing my next column when I realized that it might be of interest to readers of the consortium as well, so I thought I would share it here:

My wife and I made a grave mistake. Seeing that I study media technologies, branding, popular culture, and the like, one would think I would be more in-tune with the craze that was taking the country over on Friday, June 29, but I suppose that I'm not as "in touch" as I would like to fancy myself.

Last Thursday, Amanda's laptop battery just quit working. The battery decided it didn't want to charge anymore, so when the computer ran out of energy, the only way that she could use it was to have it plugged into the wall. The battery had a little "X" in the middle in the spot where it usually tells us how much of her battery is charged.

Apparently, it was a problem with the MacBook model, one that they caught but which many users had not fixed in time to stop the computer from, as the genius at the help bar in the Apple store told us, "self-cannibalizing" itself. He claimed all one would have to do is switch out the batteries, but I can't help but wonder if there might be deeper issues that need to be resolved in cases of self-cannibalization.

Continue reading "The Apple iPhone and Brand Fandom" »

May 28, 2007

Concepts from the C3 Weblog

For the final post in wrapping up a look at the body of work the C3 team has aided me with in putting up here on the site, I wanted to point the way toward a few concepts that have been articulated publicly here on the Convergence Culture Consortium site through the blog in the past year to direct people to the posts explaining them in further detail, as well as terms or concepts from Henry Jenkins' work, and those of us at the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, that have made their way into our posts from time-to-time.

1.) Immersive Story Worlds. This is a concept that I developed in conjunction with my thesis work on looking at the current state and the future of the soap opera industry. The idea was to outline a category that explains narratives which are serial by nature, which have multiple creators, a sense of long-term continuity, a character backlog, contemporary ties to a deep history, and a sense of permanence. I included portions of my thesis outlining this concept--and how it relates to the Marvel and DC Comic Universes, the world of pro wrestling, and daytime serial dramas--here and here.

2.) Transmedia Storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is meant to indicate texts in which the story develops through multiple media platforms and in which new content in another platform is not simply a redistribution of the same content that has already appeared elsewhere. We have a whole category of posts about the topic here.

3.) Cross-Platform Distribution. As opposed to transmedia storytelling, cross-platform distribution is simply the reappearance of content from one platform in another, such as making broadcast television shows available in VOD, cable shows available on YouTube, etc. We also have a whole category of posts on this topic available here.

Continue reading "Concepts from the C3 Weblog" »

May 27, 2007

Understanding Celebrity Endorsements and Meaning Transfer

Perusing through April's edition of The Journal of Popular Culture, I found a particularly interesting piece by UT-Austin Assistant Professor of Advertising Sejung Marina Choi and Michigan State University advertising professor Nora J. Rifton focusing on the celebrity in American television advertising.

Their work is based on the definition of the celebrity spokesperson set forth in C3 Affiliated Faculty Grant McCracken's 1989 Journal of Consumer Research piece "Who Is the Celebrity Endorser? Cultural Foundations of the Endorsement Process," in which he he writes that a celebrity spokesperson is "any individual who enjoys public recognition and who uses this recognition on behalf of a consumer good by appearing with it in an advertisement" (p. 310).

This essay's premise is that, while work has already done on the effectiveness of these celebrity endorsements, there are still questions about "what constitutes those images and how the deconstructed elements influence advertising effects (p. 305). By focusing on Grant's work about how meaning can transfer from the celebrity to the product in the endorsement process, the study's raison d'etre is to create a quantifiable scale to measure the image of the celebrity and to understand how the image affects credibility.

Continue reading "Understanding Celebrity Endorsements and Meaning Transfer" »

May 26, 2007

YouTube Expands Role in Providing Branded Channels, Encouraging User-Generated Episodic Content

YouTube has launched two interesting recent initiatives, one encouraging its continuing process to be seen by media producers as a platform for the cross-distribution of extant media footage, and the other encouraging viewers to submit user-generated content for a contest. The two fronts demonstrate the continuing ways in which the Google-owned video platform is trying to deal with its positioning as both a forum for sharing video and a legitimate business model worthy of the hefty investment the company has made in it.

With National Geographic, YouTube has formed a partnership for short videos that the company has created for its Web site and now will allow for sharing among YouTube users as well. The content is available here.

Continue reading "YouTube Expands Role in Providing Branded Channels, Encouraging User-Generated Episodic Content" »

May 20, 2007

Media Industry Jobs in a Convergence Culture

Several of the researchers in C3 have just finished or are in the process of finishing their Master's thesis projects, which means many of us now have the prospect of graduation staring us in the face. Here at C3, we have had the great opportunity to not only work academically as researchers while graduate students but also to interact with the media industry and work with folks at our corporate partners on a variety of initiatives, meaning that a majority of the people coming out of C3 are interested in maintaining a relationship to both academia and the media industry moving forward.

But, as job hunts loom on the horizons and as colleagues start to land jobs elsewhere, we all have to consider what it means, in both the industry and academia, to come away with expertise in issues such as understanding fan communities, transmedia storytelling, new advertising models, and the variety of other focuses that C3 research has taken.

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April 20, 2007

Toshiba HD DVD Users Rallying in Support Behind the Format They've Invested In

Here at the C3 blog, I write a lot about media fandom and brand fandom, but not as often do I write about fans of media technologies themselves. Of course, some major media companies have developed their products as lifestyle brands as well, such as Apple, but I'm referring here to the fascinating campaign that has been getting some attention of late by HD DVD fans to support that format vis-a-vis Sony's Blu-ray format for high-definition DVD releases.

For those who have not heard about these campaigns, see a Web page like HD NOW Online, a site that features a petition for greater support of Toshiba's HD DVD format with a petition that has thousands of signatures on it. These fans of the HD DVD format are asking that more studios support the HD DVD format with more releases, touting it as "the best and most consumer-friendly next-generation video format" which is available "at one-half, to one-third, of the price of the 'other brand.'"

The HD DVD format dropped below the Blu-ray DVDs in the first quarter of the year but has since risen again, thanks in part to an organized support system for the release of HD DVD products. (See this commentary for more on HD vs. Blu-ray DVD sales from the slant of HD DVD activists.)

TelevisionWeek's James Hibberd provides a fascinating account o what he calls a staged "group buy" of new HD DVD titles in the past week, as proponents of the format wanted to give it a boost in sales for those who keep close track of the numbers. He writes, "The group claims to have purchased nearly 1,000 HD DVD titles from and, temporarily at least, catapulted HD DVD sales past the rival Sony Blu-ray format."

Continue reading "Toshiba HD DVD Users Rallying in Support Behind the Format They've Invested In" »

April 5, 2007

Cereality as an Interesting Example of an Experience Economy

I recently had some e-mail correspondence with B. Joseph Pine, who co-authored the influential book The Experience Economy with James H. Gilmore. Pine had read our recent series here on Kellogg's and the way the history of the marketing of breakfast cereals, including a multi-part look at the way modern breakfast cereals are marketed in the store and through Web extensions.

The series, called The Cereal Serial is available here, here, here, and here.

Pine pointed me toward a restaurant idea, launched in 2004, that makes particularly interesting use of this "experience economy" mentality, called Cereality.

In short, Cereality is a Cereal Bar, a breakfast shop decorated vaguely like a kitchen, with shelves and a pantry that features cereal boxes. The company calls their product "a new choice in fast food," serving cereal to customers and allowing them to choose from among their favorite cereal brands. The Web site touts that "Pajama-clad Cereologists fill the orders. And customers choose and add their own milk, just the way they like it."

Continue reading "Cereality as an Interesting Example of an Experience Economy" »

March 12, 2007

Fashion Brands and Branding Style: Looking at Reviews for Mark Tungate's Book

I've pointed out in the past that, whether one is interested in fashion or not, studies of clothing brands can identify some very astute observations about brand meaning and brand communities in general.

That's why I was particularly interested when I saw a review for Mark Tungate's Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara in the October 2006 version of The Journal of Popular Culture. The reviewer, Joseph Hancock from Drexel University, provides some nice details about Tungate's book, which I haven't read.

The book, published in London, focuses particularly on European brands and is written by a former journalist for the World Global Style Network. Hancock writes that the book provides "original insights into the world of trends, haute couture fashion, photography, modeling, and popular culture" (905).

Continue reading "Fashion Brands and Branding Style: Looking at Reviews for Mark Tungate's Book" »

February 26, 2007

Positioning Console Fandom Between Brand and Media Fan Communities: Reaction to an Essay from Elliot Panek

Earlier today, I wrote a piece which focused on the work of Suzanne Freyjadis-Chuberka and girl gamers' interest in Guitar Hero.

The piece appeared as part of a February special issue of Flow, the scholarly journal of television criticism out of UT-Austin, which focused particularly on video games.

Another fascinating study from that same issue of Flow is written by Elliot Panek of neighboring Emerson College, who writes, "Who Are Wii? The Study of Console Fandom."

Panek focuses on the brand communities surrounding gaming platforms, asking some intriguing questions: "Why do these objects mean so much to so many? Is console fandom something like other forms of media fandom? Is it akin to brand fandom, or something more like people's love/hate relationship with televisions?"

Continue reading "Positioning Console Fandom Between Brand and Media Fan Communities: Reaction to an Essay from Elliot Panek" »

February 7, 2007

Caveman's Crib: Developing Branded Entertainment for an Insurance Company

I've never seen a site quite like this one. If you haven't checked out Caveman's Crib, it's definitely worth a look, especially if you've enjoyed the recent Geico advertising campaign.

It's a visual indication of one of the oddest success stories in recent television advertising. It's the story of the Geico plans for a one-time commercial that has turned into a continued advertising campaign for the company that has now developed into transmedia extensons taking on a life of their own.

It all reminds me of an argument we've had about the 30-second spot for a long time and its assured demise. That hyperbole, some of which I've taken part in myself, exists alongside ad campaigns that are more vibrant than ever. But it emphasizes a message--people are still interested in commercials that are exceptionally compelling, that build a brand-based entertainment property, in this case, that entertains, that you stop your DVR for.

Insurance has always been a particularly tough nut to crack when it comes to creativity. The service companies like Geico provides is, first of all, one that most Americans despise having to pay and that many feel is a leach on their wallets, sucking money for no return. After all, the only way your car insurance is of great use to you is if you have a lot of wrecks...and if you have a lot of wrecks, no one wants to give you insurance.

Nonetheless, Geico has built its brand by emphasizing its low prices while creating ads that, while they don't completely take the focus away from the insurance, are entertainment-based rather than service-based.

Continue reading "Caveman's Crib: Developing Branded Entertainment for an Insurance Company" »

February 5, 2007

AOL Pointe Getting Strong Reviews in Second Life

The number of brands extending into Second Life in one form or another continues, with AOL launching its major foray into the virtual world.

AOL's site within Second Life, an island "for fun engagement and interaction around AOL content," features movie trivia, interactive competition areas for Second Life avatars to play lone games or in groups to win Linden dollars, and even skateboarding, according to the beta for the site.

AOL Pointe launched as a beta in late January and then launched as a full site at the beginning of February.

Reports from Tateru Nino on Wagner James Au's New World Notes site, providing first-hand coverage of Second Life, covers the beta test run at the time of AOL Pointe's launch.

For Tataru, the the AOL Pointe island gets a strong review. Tataru writes, "I was expecting a big business branding-exercise that would leave me with a bit of a foul taste in my mouth, and in that respect I was a bit disappointed-- within a few minutes I was entertained and engaged. There's no mistaking that it's AOL, but this doesn't seem to be basic push-marketing or marketing at all, in the conventional sense. Could this be someone 'getting it?'"

Tataru hypes the site as a theme park, feeling that it's providing for a niche that is missing in Second Life with that themed atmosphere and a wide variety of theaters and other public screens for media content to play on-demand in the virtual world, as well as traditional linear channels playing within AOL Pointe.

Continue reading "AOL Pointe Getting Strong Reviews in Second Life" »

January 31, 2007

Reverse Product Placement and C3 Members' Ideas in the Popular Press

Anyone see the C3-inspired article by Todd Wasserman with BrandWeek on reverse product placement this week, a process through which brands from a fictional world are made available as products in the "real world." The article stems from research from two of our affiliate research, Ilya Vedrashko and David Edery. The discussion of reverse product placement, particularly in games, has been a focus here at C3 throughout our formative years, as the quotes from Edery and Vedrashko indicate.

Edery, who now works for Microsoft's Xbox division and who has written about the idea of reverse product placement for Harvard Business Review, while Vedrashko is an emerging media strategies for Hill, Holiday.

The phrase "reverse product placement" is an interesting term to use to label the practice of marketing items out of a narrative world.

The idea of taking something out of a narrative world and making it available in the real world surrounded media marketing from the beginning. Wearing the clothes or buying the brands that one sees on screen or even reads in a book, as my colleague Ivan Askwith is fond of reminding everyone, stretches back to the work of Charles Dickens, and that desire to buy the brands of your favorite character is the drive behind product placement.

Continue reading "Reverse Product Placement and C3 Members' Ideas in the Popular Press" »

January 14, 2007

Implied Interactivity in Fan Site Toolkits

I recently wrote a newsletter piece on 'implied interactivity', i.e. decentralized forms of strategies involving the encouragement and indirect pre-structuring of user-generated content through structural properties of the media artifacts themselves.

An interesting case in point are toolkits, i.e. structured collections of materials to facilitate (and shape) the creation of fan sites. I will try to use the toolkit offered for the decent tactical shooter Close Combat - First to Fight (2005), a game focusing on and endorsed by the US Marines as 'brand' that is allegedly also used as training tool.

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December 30, 2006

The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency Previewed on Glam

This past week, the highest-rated show in the history of the Oxygen network, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, aired a preview of the first episode of its second season on the Web network Glam. While the episode will air on Oxygen on January 10, astute fans of the show and others interested in the show had the chance to view that second episode as a holiday treat.

I'll have to admit that I know nothing about the show, but I'm also guessing that I'm not in the target demographic. In return for getting an exclusive preview of the show, Glam is promoting The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency through online banners and e-mail correspondence with its network of bloggers, according to Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek.

Continue reading "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency Previewed on Glam" »

The Game Show Network, Transmedia Extensions, and Brand Building

The Game Show Network is attempting to expand its reach through a transmedia approach to games, making its Web site not just a destination for a different type of gaming experience but a place in which the network can further develop a brand identity that may be lacking from its game show lineup in the traditional channel alone.

The online site for the network has launched a series of games in recent months that has gotten the attention of the users of its Web site. The first such game was launched late this summer, when an animated online game that provided little in the way of intriguing game play but much in the way of commentary and parody of current events, spiking traffic from 444,000 in August to 654,000 unique viewers in September, according to information reported by Daisy Whitney in TelevisionWeek from Nielsen's online ratings.

That animated game mocked Mel Gibson's drinking, entitled "So You Think You Can Drive, Mel?" The object of the game? Why to "collect tequila bottles while avoiding Stars of David and Troopers."

Continue reading "The Game Show Network, Transmedia Extensions, and Brand Building" »

December 29, 2006

Pepsiman! Murray's Essay and Jenkins' Concept of Pop Cosmopolitanism

Noel M. Murray has provided an interesting review of a Japanese Pepsi advertising campaign and its implications on understanding advertising and the base of globalization, in the piece "Pepsiman! Toward a Theory of Symbolic Morphosis in Global Advertising".

Our interest in the many changes in the media industry surrounding "convergence culture" stretches far beyond new technologies but also encompassing the shifting ways in which international popular culture content takes hold. Globalization is perhaps such an overused term that it loses some of its meaning. Further, I've had a class throughout the semester at Harvard that has examined the challenging ways that globalization is examined from an anthropological perspective, as to whether popular culture can be studied and understood by academics and also whether globalization means the homogenization of international culture, presumably at the hands of Western imperialists who are practicing that new, and perhaps even more dangerous in the long run, form of imperialism--cultural imperialism, that eventually destroys indigenous cultures at the hands of the almighty dollar.

Continue reading "Pepsiman! Murray's Essay and Jenkins' Concept of Pop Cosmopolitanism" »

December 18, 2006

Branding Education: How Higher Education Is All About Brand Management

William Lozito over at Strategic Name Development had an interesting piece on Wednesday based on a Wall Street Journal story about branding for universities. In this entry building from that WSJ piece, the focus is on the branding of business schools and how that brand has increasingly become a part of MBA programs, in seek to increase recruitment, funding, etc.

The piece focuses on how schools are developing a niche for their particular brand, such as The Kelley School of Business at the University of Indiana, which considers itself as "the best MBA program for career switchers," or schools changing their names often to reflect prestigious donors.

Lozito writes, "B-schools have to think creatively about promoting their brand names. Sometimes that means engaging in some non-traditional advertising." The example he uses is the National University of Singapore, who has created ads like this to promote their schools.

Yet, what does something as highly subjective as branding a university mean in reality? One thing is for sure--universities spend big bucks protecting their name and intellectual property.

Continue reading "Branding Education: How Higher Education Is All About Brand Management" »

December 14, 2006

In Over Their Heads? Sony Finds Out That Astroturf Marketing Can Quickly Put You Out in the Weeds

When will people get the picture? Astroturf campaigns, as they are often called, make people mad. While there is some fun in playing with avatars and some degree of skill in trickery in taking on aspects of one's biography that may not be "true" in online spaces, there's a difference between my pretending to be Duane Gill in a chatroom and what Sony has apparently done. (By the way, as a complete aside, people actually believed my Duane Gill impersonation as a teenager, usually with the argument, "He must be telling the truth. What idiot would waste their time pretending to be Duane Gill???)

Blake Snow with Joystiq All I Want for Xmas is a PSP, in which two kids are trying to convince their parents to buy them the game console. Snow questions their authenticity just from the perhaps too stereotypical behavior of the kids. "The site only uses lower case letters, always references 'two' as '2,' embraces hip phrases like 'here's the deal,' publishes fake user-generated comments like "this is the best site ever" under the alias of True Gamer, and posts homemade rap videos full of stage props and trite 'izzies.'" He says of their YouTube video, "It just screams street cred."

The problem is that there's not much credibility at all in the fact that the video is posted on a domain owned by Zipatoni, a marketing company. Snow's words are actually pretty acerbic and at least sarcastic..."Dense marketers usually do an excellent job in fooling ignorant customers with such authenticity." Searching out the domain ownership, etc. Now, THAT's another good example of grassroots journalism.

And how does Sony react? Well, they are like those villains on Scooby Doo, when they inevitably have that mask ripped off of them at the end of the episode. So, here is Sony, in their best Miner 49er impersonation:

Continue reading "In Over Their Heads? Sony Finds Out That Astroturf Marketing Can Quickly Put You Out in the Weeds" »

Advertising Space in Second Life: How Brands Are Flooding to Virtual Worlds

A great piece from Laura Petrecca in last Wednesday's USA Today about Second Life and how the success of the virtual economy there is starting to drive significant business interest. We've written before about the Reuters Bureau in Second Life, as well as the Ninja Tune music channel. But this article highlights a variety of interesting ventures businesses have made into the online world.

Petrecca writes:

About 5% of Second Life's total "world" now is occupied by big brand names, she says. The creeping commercialism shouldn't offend anyone, she says. Players can easily move from area to area, "so they don't have to see anything they don't want to see."

Also motivating advertisers: Second Life has attracted a tech-savvy user base with an average age of 32. That's an audience increasingly hard to reach through traditional media such as TV.

Continue reading "Advertising Space in Second Life: How Brands Are Flooding to Virtual Worlds" »

December 13, 2006

Times Square: A Publishing Platform?

Many of you may have already ran across Louise Story's article in Monday's New York Times about the ways in which Times Square has become an important icon in viral marketing. The ads that appear in the famous Manhattan area are seen by millions of tourists but have their reach expanded even more now that publishing photos through blogs and sites like Flickr has become a more prominent activity.

The article attempts to give some cursory information about how prominent that reach can be and how far your message can travel across geographic boundaries just by making an appearance in Times Square.

Story writes that, as opposed to the ad campaigns that involve billboards, marketers are increasingly interested in "low cost, face-to-face marketing campaigns" which are more easily photographed and spread by passersby.

Continue reading "Times Square: A Publishing Platform?" »

December 7, 2006

Building Soaps as Long-Term Brands: A Diatribe on Laura's Return on General Hospital

Back on Nov. 8, I wrote about legacy characters in soaps, basing much of my writing about the short-term reuniting of Luke and Laura on General Hospital the iconic couple of days gone by in the soaps industry, going back to a time when soaps carried many more viewers. The post raised spirited debate, even drawing in the former head writer of the top-rated American soap opera, Kay Alden, who is also an advisor on my thesis project.

My intent now is to start with the comments generated from that last post to move into examining the limited success of the Luke and Laura reuniting and what the industry can learn from it and hopefully not misinterpret. The show re-inventing the Luke and Laura wedding did a 2.9, above the usual average for the show but below what some projected might be possible to reach. And, what's worse for some people, the ratings were back down to a 2.6 average for the show, still putting it atop some of its competition but not resulting in any major sustained growth. However, the reunion did post the highest rating in the history of cable network SoapNet, and it generated quite a bit of publicity.

Kay Alden wrote about how unique thinking about using older characters/viewers to help "reinvent the soap opera viewing audience" was a fascinating way to think about audience-building that the genre had not thought about. "The idea of actively rejecting the consistent concern with more and more youth, and instead reaching out for the multigenerational audience is one that we would be wise to explore and, frankly, exploit."

Alden writes, "No one in my experience has said, let's bring back this old person as a means of drawing old viewers back to the show and getting them re-involved, because these old viewers might be the key to drawing in new viewers from their own families, and helping to re-establish the tradition of soap opera viewing as a family affair, passed down from mothers to daughters to their daughters."

Continue reading "Building Soaps as Long-Term Brands: A Diatribe on Laura's Return on General Hospital" »

December 3, 2006

Convergence & Privacy, Redux

Clive Thompson at Collision Detection notes that the new Nike shoes that can broadcast your footsteps to your iPod (making it into a pedometer) can also be used to stalk you:

A group of computer scientists at the University of Washington wondered if they could build a simple device to secretly track somebody by the signal emitted from their shoes. So they set up a laptop, and whaddya know: It turns out that each shoe broadcasts a unique identifier, and it took the scientists only a few hours to write computer code that would sniff it out and track it. They wrote a report summarizing the stalkertastic possibilities raised by the shoes, as their press release reports:
A jealous boyfriend could track a woman's movements, or compare them with the movements of a suspected rival. And although a receiver only picks up the signal when a person is within range, a stalker could hide receivers near a home, a gym and a restaurant, for example, to closely monitor his or her target's movements.
Nice! Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. As more and more products are shipped with radio-frequency ID labels, it'll be increasingly easy for people to track where you're going based on the radio-ID being constantly squirted out by, oh, your cup of coffee.

Or, as Thompson goes on to note, your credit card.

November 24, 2006

Burger King Xbox games available

The Burger King Xbox games featuring "the King" are now available in Burger King outlets for $3.99 if you buy a value meal. Joystiq has the scoop, along with reviews of each of the 3 games.

November 18, 2006

FOE: Joshua Green's "Viscerality and Convergence Culture"

Joshua Green
C3 Research Director and MIT Comparative Media Studies post-doc Dr. Joshua Green opened the conference this morning with his presentation of "Viscerality and Convergence Culture." Ignoring the fact that "viscerality" is not a word, and Joshua revealed his blatant disregard for the English status quo, his talk focused on the ways in which people want to internalize and humanize technology, how the average person does not care about these technologies except in ways that they facilitate their desire for expanding and extending human contact.

The talk, inspired by a walk in the rain with his iPod, was fueled by an anecdote Joshua shared with the readers. New to MIT and the country, Joshua spent most of his life in Australia. Now, all that he brought of himself, in many ways, was that iPod. "I'm not a music person before, but now I care about it," he said. "I suck it in now and feel passionate in a way that I didn't before." He points out that, by moving to America for this job, he has left a phase of his life he cannot necessarily return to. "None of my things are there anymore, and that's not a life I can go back to. The place it does exist in now is in my iPod. I no longer have a home in Australia, just a room at my parents' house backed with boxes. And it's not the iPod, but that's the only thing I can pack my social existence into."

He points to a quote about the Zune in which it was called a "software experience." He says, "The sharing that the Zune enables requires you to play by its rules. And, in the conversion environment at the present moment, we don't play by technology's rules. We bash, smash, and hit technology until it plays by our rules." And that's where he sees the distinction between the Zune and the iPod. It's the difference in relationship that's perceived about being about software and one that is about social relations. He points out that his relationship with his iPod and MacBook Pro feels like a relationship because it feels social. "It is a device for sharing culture. The way in which I utilize this device is one to facilitate sharing culture."

On the other hand, he doesn't completely buy into iCult, and he makes the point that these opening remarks are not intended to be a celebration of the brand without reservations. "I enjoy my relationship with this machine more than the other Toshiba box I had before, but iTunes has DRM and now they've cornered the market." He said that it's not the technology but the social interaction that it enables and encourages. He says that these types of social interactions is what companies are starting to get, and he points to Comedy Central's recent assurances at not taking all Comedy Central clips off YouTube as an example.

He points to examples from various Internets as his example of how the technology is used as social relationships. In making fun of the Ted Stevens "tubes" reference to the Internet, Joshua points to the user-generated responses to his idea of tubes. One was very scientific, the type of industrial containers you would see around MIT with those danger hazardous stickers on them. The other model is Fallopian tubes. Hedescribed the top one as being about technology, while the ladder is about organicness and squishiness. He asserts that the increasing acceptance of identity politics and the politics traditionally ascribed to a female domain in consumerism and fandom, etc., makes the Fallopian tubes of the Internet perhaps a better analogy.

In addition to this discussion about tactile relationships and viscerality, Joshua discussed the distinction between impressions and expressions. Impressions, as the old model, is when we send messages out that leave impressions on to users that prompt them to do something. When you understand tactile relationships, though, Joshua said that you encourage audiences to speak in some way. "When the product is transformed from commodity to culture, though, you have to cede control because it's no longer yours," he said, "but it's okay."

However, Joshua's presentation was very visual in nature, very visceral as the very title implies, so the video will be essential when it is made available for viewing over the next few days. Check back here and at The Futures of Entertainment site for more information. Also, see Rachel Clarke's notes on Joshua's presentation at Licence to Kill. Also, Kent Quirk has his take of Joshua's presentation at Global Warming Can Be Fun. Finally, you can see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay.

Also, see a recent post and discussion here on the Zune's release.

November 17, 2006

FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction

The following is the C3 team's note from Henry Jenkins' introduction to the C3 Futures of Entertainment conference. For the conference's details, look toward its main page.

To open the conference, Henry Jenkins, the director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, gave some background information on what is being described as "convergence culture," to borrow the term from his book, that sets the stage for the various panels taking place here at Futures of Entertainment over the next two days. Also, see Steve Garfield's links over on Off on a Tangent.

Continue reading "FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction" »

November 11, 2006

Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material

One interesting online development worth noting is a new venture by one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, Turner Broadcasting. In the past two weeks, Turner has made headlines with its plans for a new broadband channel launched for comedy content, Super Deluxe. The project will be cross-platform, with plans to launch the content from the online broadband channel onto video-on-demand, mobile platforms (phones and portable players) and video game consoles. There are also plans to cross content from Super Deluxe into video sharing sites like MySpace and YouTube, although Turner promises to strictly monitor user-generated content on its site for potential copyright infringements.

Considering that this is one of the most ambitious broadband channel projects yet launched by a traditional cable company, I'm sure all eyes will be on Super Deluxe when it launches in January. It will join CNN Pipeline and GameTap, two other Turner broadband ventures.

Continue reading "Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material" »

October 22, 2006

Edelman/Wal-Mart Fiasco--The Changing Face of Public Relations

Considering our focus on grassroots marketing, empowering brand advocacy, and the like, it's probably a surprise you've not seen anything yet here about the Edelman/Wal-Mart scandal. David Edery alerted me to this a while back, and I've been following the way it has unfolded in the past week or so in the blogosphere.

To make a long story short (and there's a lot written about this one to sift through). A group of travelers decided to travel across America in an RV to Wal-Mart parking lots. They created their own Web site about the trip,Wal-Marting Across America, but also contacted the Working Families for Wal-Mart group organized by Edelman, Wal-Mart's PR firm, regarding their trip to make sure there wouldn't be any issues with their parking in the store's parking lots, talking to customers, and running this blog. Not only did Wal-Mart/Edelman not have a problem with it, but they even decided to sponsor the trip.

The problem was that the blog was not that open about the Wal-Mart/Edelman funding, so when people found out that this great piece of grassroots marketing was corporate funded, the blogosphere went nuts, calling out the creators of the blog, Wal-Mart, and Edelman.

The reaction in the blogosphere was strong.

Continue reading "Edelman/Wal-Mart Fiasco--The Changing Face of Public Relations" »

October 7, 2006

UHD Further Developing Its Brand

In his usual high-definition coverage that I've written about before, James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek wrote this week about the plan for Universal High-Definition, the UHD channel, to develop a brand of its own instead of just repurposing content from other sources within Universal.

The further cultivation of UHD branded content includes a stronger emphasis on movies and sports, which Hibberd considers "the two biggest drivers of HD viewership." Instead of using content from the Universal archives as its chief focus, the focus will go to more and more films, including the Back to the Future trilogy, among many other films.

The network originated as Bravo HD+ three years ago, then changing its name to UHD to promote various content from not only USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel. However, even as the company has developed a stronger emphasis on movies and sports to cultivate an image independent of other NBC Universal programming, it still will air the most popular television series from Universal networks, continuing "the current multimonth window between premieres and HD encores."

Phillip Swann with TV Predictions writes that "Universal HD, which is now available on satellite and some cable systems such as Comcast, has struggled to find its niche in the high-def world." There is some feeling that the rebranding will make a difference, especially as the novelty of HD starts to wear off as the product becomes expanded to casual television viewers and not just lead users.

The effort to rebrand high-definition channels is becoming more commonplace, as with Mark Cuban's HDNet continued development of original programming.

Fans are continuing to debate the meaning of the content on the HD channel, and some are hoping that WWE programming--with its high-rated shows on both USA and Sci Fi--will eventually land on the UHD channel, although WWE itself indicates it will be some time before that happens.

As for now, however, companies are realizing that it takes more than just having high-definition to create a sustained network.

October 2, 2006

PS3 Region-Free Gaming, Wii Flip-Flopping Generates Discussion

Very few things generate more discussion for gamers than the release of a new platform, and we are at another crucial time with the planned releases of the Playstation 3 on Nov. 17 and the Nintendo Wii on Nov. 19.

And this has generated further discussion of regional lockouts. One of the aspects of gaming that has the most significant impact on global gaming and global game fan communities is this issue of regional codes. Not being a gamer myself, I'm most familiar with encountering regional codes on DVDs, with most DVDs only being available for viewing within a particular geographic region, with players that are from that specific region. The intention is to keep regional markets from stealing each others' business, especially since the value of DVDs and DVD players will shift from region to region.

As the Wikipedia page on regional lockout points out, this is also a way to stagger the release of content from one market to the next, without the markets being able to share content with each other. According to the site, Nintendo originated this type of behavior in video games.

However, earlier this year, Sony announced that the PS3 would not include regional codes, meaning that games could be shared globally.

As IGN points out, "the one caveat of this new region-free structure is that games made for specific regions' electical and TV standards may have problems on your TV set." This decision to go region-free is based on the development of an HDTV universal standard that's being planned for the coming years, making many of these arguments about differences in regional standards to be less important, but interesting in light of the recent lawsuit to decide exactly what high-definition really is.

Meanwhile, the debate about Wii rages on. A Nintendo Marketing VP told Wired that Wii will be region-free, but then others said that Wii would be region-encoded, with Nintendo confirming.

What difference will the PS3's commitment to a region-free standard make to users? Xbox 360 is almost completely region-locked, with a limited number of games not having regional-encoding. And it seems that the implications on global gaming culture will be felt more with a universal gaming standard in the future, causing a lot of shifts in how games are marketed and distributed on the producers' end and how the games are played and shared on the users' end.

Thanks to David Edery for cluing me in on this debate.

October 1, 2006

FoxFaith Launching First Theater Release with Love's Abiding Joy

Back in April, I wrote a post about the formation and promotion of FoxFaith, the division of the Fox broadcasting company aiming particularly at a Christian niche market. This division includes a lot of famous films in its list, repurposed content that is more family-friendly or considered "classic," such as Oklahoma!, The Grapes of Wrath, and Cheaper by the Dozen...okay so the last one may not be destined for quite as revered a status.

The division has a listing of "family films," "kids films," and "Christian based" films and has already released some titles to DVD (some of which were originally television movies) such as End of the Spear, a story of a man investigating the death of his father and four other missionaries when he was a child; Mother Teresa, a biopic of the famed missionary's life; and Love's Long Journey, a story of a woman's travel to the western frontier. The division lists their offerings as "family and Christian films everyone can enjoy!" and include the stamp of approval from The Dove Foundation, which bills itself as "the reliable symbol of family-friendly entertainment."

However, the big move for their company is their first theater release this month of a film adaptation of Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy, focusing on the same protagonist as the earlier DVD release Love's Long Journey.

This Love series foregrounded Oke as a "pioneer" of inspirational fiction, according to her own site, and her first novel sold her one million copies, and her work has been translated into 14 languages and has sold more than 22 million copies worldwide.

FoxFaith, building on its earlier DVD releases and the build-in audience for Oke's product, is hoping to have success launching the new film, set to open Oct. 6 and appearing paticularly in Carmike and AMC theaters.

The hope is to bring in Christian movie viewers who may be turned off by many Hollywood offerings, and the company is hoping to be successful in theater runs as well as straight-to-DVD releases.

The film has another built-in major name in family entertainment, with the director and writer being Michael Landon Jr., whose father has been seen by many as a standard bearer in family television through Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.

The movie's official site features not only trailers and clips and directions of how to find a theater that is playing it, but it also includes various church resources as well, including Web baners, postcards, and a discussion guide for church groups.

According to the site, this is the first film released by the company into theaters but the fourth of the Love series on film. All of the previous three were written and directed by Michael Landon Jr. as well and "ranked as the 3 highest rated films in the history of the Hallmark channel."

Will that built-in niche audience lead to a successful theater run for Love's Abiding Joy and FoxFaith? We will find out soon...

Thanks to Henry Jenkins IV for passing this along.

September 20, 2006

U.S. Army's New Game Emphasizes "Real Heroes"

While The Marines may be aggressively exploring MySpace as a recruitment tool, the U.S. Army plans to build on its hugely successful new media tool to get the attention of young people: the video game America's Army.

The newest campaign is a new game based on the lives of eight actual soldiers who have fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan, to show the true "heroes" of the Army--and, to increase recruitment numbers, to encourage players that they could be one of these heroes outside of a gaming space. The new program is called America's Army: Real Heroes, using these characters for its Special Forces game.

According to a colonel who was quoted in the AP story, the initiative hopes to "put a face on soldiers so that kids can relate to them," with a product specifically aimed at attracting teenagers.

But, rather than simply acting as as free online tool to attract the interests of potential recruits, the Army is also using this as a fundraising technique, since the military organization is also launching a line of action figures to be in stores during Christmastime, thus taking a page out of the savvy business marketing of cartoons and films. The action figures (or dolls, if you want to make the Army folks uncomfortable) will cost about ten bucks.

The AP story emphasizes that the game costs about $2.5 million annually for distribution, calling it "a first-person shooter in which players go through a simulated boot camp or team up with other real players online in three-dimensional battles," and might even let his/her bias show a bit with the reminder that this is "a taxpayer-funded game."

Since recruitment numbers were down last year, there is some thought that the revamped version may be aimed at getting numbers back up, perhaps hoping that an even greater emphasis on "realism" will make the game more relevant to players.

While some real people appeared in the latest game, America's Army: Special Forces, the story emphasizes that they are not paid for their likenesses in the game, since it is distributed for free. And I saw an abnormal number of Kentuckians among the few soldiers depicted, so I guess I could really imagine myself as one of these real heroes.

I was initially somewhat concerned at the idea of players using these real players as avatars and then vicariously dying through them on the battlefield but was at least releived to find that "the idea is to provide an education experience in which gamers can meet the soldiers in a virtual recruiting office, ask questions about their various experiences and awards and get a better sense of Army life."

The game is certain to cause some critical attention. Those opposed to the recruitment tool are surely going to have a problem with further glorification of war, especially with the idea that teens should take on these soldiers as "role models," as one soldier suggests in the AP story, considering that this notion of heroism is tied up with the Iraq war that is part of an American public opinion divide. But, the Army and the game's many supporters make claims to creating a greater sense of what the Army is really like and a chance to communicate over these issues.

This is not a new debate; it's one that's been raging by academics, critics, and fans of the game since 2002. However, with the new insertion of "real heroes," I'm sure the debates over the importance of these games and their impact on recruitment and public perception of the Army will continue to be a source of controversy.

Thanks to Margaret Weigel for pointing me to this article.

August 20, 2006

Personalizing Colas and Ketchup Bottles

After Stephen Colbert's tribute to the Heinz Ketchup My Heinz campaign, in which consumers can purchase bottles of the ketchup with personalized messages on them, I thought this new brand marketing strategy and a similar one deserved some discussion.

I can remember in grade school how proud I was to find a place at Consumer's Mall which could personally put my name on every one of my pencils, so I took those pencils back to my fourth grade class and paraded them around. A similar feeling of glee must be what propels the folks who order personalized bottles of the ketchup to send messages to others.

I remember hearing quite a while back about the Jones soda My Jones campaign, which went a similar route except with allowing viewers to get a completely presonalized bottle of the soda, complete with a picture, etc. Several people have used the bottles of the soda for weddings or other special events, in which personalized bottles can be used.

This is far from the first instance at creating a viable keepsake out of what is generally a discarded container for a mass produced product. Landfills are lined with glass bottles and plastic ketchup containers, but the people who have these personal products made are likely going to keep the bottle. Of course, in the case of both products, the idea is that such an innovative marketing drive will lead to a stronger consumer connection with the brand.

At the very least, people will end up with my dad, who still has several cans of Kentucky Wildcat RC Colas sitting in one of his cabinets, even though I'm quite sure that 18-year-old carbonated beverages are not going to be that tasty--wer're not talking about fine wine, here.

In contrast to CBS's egg-vertising campaign, this transforms a utilitarian disposable container into a keepsake of its own. And, because the messages are open to anything, the personalized services allow the products to be viable for any number of uses, from the aforementioned wedding to a wide variety of practical jokes.

I'm already wondering how many people have proposed by passing the ketchup.

August 14, 2006

Mentos' Fresh Approach to Viral Marketing

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba at The Church of the Consumer Blog helps keep readers abreast of the latest in advertising and marketing. In the past couple of months, they have twice written about online campaigns in which mint-maker Mentos works with user-generated content.

Back in June, they wrote about how fans have been posting a variety of videos about how Mentos and Diet Coke can be combined. There was one video in particular in which a choreographed experiment led to a "fireworks-like display" of Mentos freshness. Such experiments were covered on an episode of the popular Mythbusters show on Discovery.

According to their story, Mentos made every effort to congratulate the experimentation, which led to free major publicity for the company, as traditional media picked up on the online distribution of the video. On the other hand, Diet Coke took a prohibitive stance, wagging its finger at the video makers for conducting experiments not true to the true nature of the Diet Coke brand, or what they call "the brand personality." They said they would rather people drink the beverage instead of participate in such "craziness."

Then, in a story a couple of weeks ago, they wrote about how Mentos has gone further with its embrace of "citizen marketers" with a contest dedicated around videos featuring the combination of Mentos and some beverage to create a geyser of flavor. After getting what they call a "free publicity tour" with the viral marketing of the Diet Coke and Mentos video, the company has built off the viral marketing push by inviting hordes of other videos through YouTube.

Here is the power of viral marketing, and it appears to be something Mentos gets and Diet Coke doesn't. Sure, giving power to the fans takes some of the power away from you, but fans are quick to notice which companies are good-natured and willing to take a little parody and fun, and which ones aren't. Does this mean that Mentos as a brand is going to skyrocket over Diet Coke based on this one incident? Of course not, especially since the Coke name has developed so much brand capital over the years. But capital is something that can be eroded and gained over time, and Mentos has gone a step further in gaining a lot of fan support for their brand as something beyond a mint candy.

In the meantime, an Internet search for Mentos finds many of the top hits about this Diet Coke phenomenon, and the "geyser" content serves not only to capitalize on making the candy company the "fresh maker" of viral marketing but also poking fun at Diet Coke for its backward thinking, by further emphasizing the issue. Even though it does not explicitly say so, the Mentos brand may gain further mileage by its being played off the parental Diet Coke, with their "thou shalt not" statement.

Thanks to Siddiq Bello for passing this along.

August 6, 2006

At the Bottom of the Branding Barrel

A few weeks ago, Grant McCracken wrote about what happens to brands when they reach the commodity basement. Well, I found brands at a different place, a place that actually holds a fairly esteemed position here in Central Kentucky, where I'm staying for the summer: the yard sale.

Yard sales (if they are inside any type of structure, they are garage sales by the way) are an important part of Kentucky life, and the newspaper is filled with reports listing the lawns which will be housing discarded junk on every weekend. Usually, these sales are on Friday and Saturday, and some families have them on an annual basis.

There's one man in McHenry who actually has a garage sale every weekend, and he puts signs as far as 30 or 40 miles away pointing the way to his weekly garage sales, a posterboard that he updates by pasting a new date on every week. I wondered how he could have so much junk inside his house to fuel a weekly garage sale, so I did a newspaper article on him and found that he went out to flea markets and everyone else's yard sales to collect enough stuff to fill his garage again every week.

But, whether it's a yard sale or it's a garage sales (we'll just call it a rummage sale for clarity's sake, which is what my grandma Beulah Hillard always called them--as in, you "rummage" through everything looking for deals), they are a cultural phenomenon. The one I participated in this weekend was a 5-mile long yard sale on KY 505, a stretch of road that connects Cromwell to Horse Branch. Every other family had yard sales or multiple sales set up.

But here's what I've found...there are certain items and certain brands that mean something at yard sales, and others that mean nothing. I had an Apple iBook laptop that got a lot of looks from lots of folks, but no one comes to yard sales prepared for $500 buys. I had a RAZR phone like new that I was selling for a couple hundred bucks that a lot of people looked at but no one wanted to come near. My fax machine and iPod and most name brand clothes in the sale suffered a similar fate.

But there was an ugly old painting that sold for a dollar. In fact, every piece of wall art and every mirror went without a problem. And I even sold an old Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association bag from the conference I went to a couple of years ago, which my mother-in-law had bet I couldn't sell...I had to throw in a hat for the quarter sale, but that thing went.

What's the point of this rambling sale? With all our talk about branding, I found one place where items are still not treated as commodity but where the name brand doesn't seem to mean much. No one cared about Apple...they cared much more about bargains and arguing people down on prices. Anything with a steadfast price is useless. In this case, it's not so much the items for sale but rather the feeling of getting a deal and the joy of arguing for prices that seemed to matter. Unlike Grant McCracken's finding a place where branded items become mere commodities, here the items and their use seems to not matter at all, but rather the act of purchasing, the fun in search and finding a deal.

But, fair warning for anyone who's never had a yard sale--the creatures come out before the sun even rises to rummage through your yard. And you usually have to close up shop shortly after lunchtime because it's gotten too bright for these people to be out. Maybe George Romero should make his next movie Rummage of the Living Dead.

July 29, 2006

From the Halls of Montezuma to Top 8s on MySpace

The director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, Henry Jenkins, has been publishing regularly on issues surrounding social networking site MySpace and the current plans in Congress that would call for a ban of the site in schools and public libraries.

But, while the government seeks on the one hand to eliminate the exposure of children to the site, another branch is trying to do everything it can to exploit MySpace in its recruitment of high schoolers to a branch of the United States service: the Marine Corps.

While the Army received a significant amount of attention for its America's Army game, the Marines are attempting to recruit by being everyone's friend on MySpace. According to a story from the Associated Press on Tuesday, the Marine Corps is the first branch of the U.S. Armed Forces to launch into the social networking site. The MySpace page for the Marines had already made 12,000 friends at the time the article was published.

The site includes an option to click called "contact a recruiter," which directs you to enter contact information so a Marines recruiter can set up a face-to-face meeting with them. In the article, Marines officials emphasized that they would never recruit someone directly through the site but would still have that face-to-face discussion. At that time, 430 people had already sent their information for recruiters.

The article also included comments from a group called the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, who (not surprisingly) attacked the recruitment methods for its creepy implications.

Now, it looks like the Marine Corps may have led the march into MySpace, as the army promises not to be far behind.

It seems that the military has been an early adaptor when it comes to using new technologies in recent years, and the Marine Corps move seems to have already been successful, no matter how you feel about the positive or negative implications of such a move.

And some other people's MySpace pages may be getting significant attention in the process. When I went to MySpace and searched for the Marines, I found a variety of other Marines pages, many of them set up by individual marines. In the process of the current attention directed to the marines site, these people have probably had increased traffic as well.

Will the Marines also draw other businesses and institutions toward using the site as a recruiting tool? We already have companies marketing, bands expanding their reach, religions proselytizing, and defniitely pornographic sites increasing their numbers through their spam invites. But the attention the Marines has received significant attention based on this decision, and that visibility may convince many other groups to follow suit.

What does the corporitization of MySpace mean for regular users? Increased opportunities or the selling out of the site, in the users' eyes? Guess we'll wait and see.

Thanks to Margaret Weigel for bringing my attention to this.

July 19, 2006

Using the Live Arcade model for Indie Filmmakers?

Edge Online had a piece on the X360 live arcade service in March, sketching Microsoft's business modell, its implications for independent game design and their outlook for the future. Even though the first XBOX-based live arcade was not quite successful and the concept seemed counterintuitive on a next-gen, graphics-oriented console, the idea of selling indie games (with an average budget of 100.000-500.000$), retro games and casual games (parlor games etc.) was a huge success since its implementation with 14 launch titles early this year.
The facts (as of March 2006) are striking - "many hundred thousand players" which apparently amounts to at least 30% of XBOX owners, an average of 4 1/2 titles per consumer (of 14 titles available at that time) and a conversion rate, i.e. the rate of trial versions upgraded to full versions, of 8.5% vs. 0.8-1% in reatil games.
Since the same titles were easily available before online, the key to this success seems to be preselection from an oversupply of titles, an easy interface, no extra entering of credit card data (which is already stored with the Live Arcade account) and, of course, the brand 'Live Arcade' combined with the MIcrosoft label resulting in a renewed interest by companies to produce 'arcade' game formats.
It would be interesting to think about whether and how this concept might be adaptable to indie video content which is still either available for free online or through file-sharing systems or other tools. The intriguing idea of LIve Arcade is to imbue the immaterial data (be it a game or a video) downloaded from the net with a profile and significance as well as to give it a product form. Content like the increasingly professional fan movies (e.g. Star Wars Revelations or the Lego movies from would lend itself perfectly to this kind of distribution and while free quality content is always a good thing, a royalty-based support model like the Live Arcade might still be able to boost both quantity and (at least technical) quality of independent filmmaking.

Wal-Mart Garners Attention with Social Networking Brand Site

Wal-Mart has gotten some attention this week with the launch of a social networking brand community site loosely based on social phenomenons like MySpace. The site--called The HUB--School Your Way--focuses on the impending back to school season and coincides with the launch of the store's school clothing lines. The likenesses to more general MySpace sites, for instance, are only a loose affiliation, however, as the site focuses on the back to school rush and Wal-Mart clothing lines.

Many responses to the release of the School Your Way site is based on Mya Frazier's scathing review of the site in Advertising Age. Among Frazier's gripes were the inauthenticity of the kids in videos on the site, the sanitzed and censored replica of MySpace that would not appeal to kids, and the focus around a clothing line that kids just don't see value in. Considering the strong degree of corporate backlash against Wal-Mart, especially by those that consider the low prices retailer as censors selling lower-quality wares, the response in the blogosphere is not surprising, and several bloggers have continued with Frazier's line of attack. Particularly, these folks are attacking the idea of trying to copy the success of a major social phenomenon in a watered-down product that only serves to make the brand seem more low-rent instead of "cool."

On the other hand, Seth Godin makes a compelling argument as to why the site may well work--even if it's not cutting edge in any way, Godin says, doesn't mean it won't work because "the early adopters out there will push hard," but "the middle of the market" is pretty profitable as well. For all the parents out there forbidding MySpace in their house, for kids who don't feel safe on MySpace after hearing all the news reports of the site's potential dangers, or for those kids who love the Wal-Mart brand (Frazier's choice of interview subjects for her story indicates that there are few teens that fall into this category, but she didn't present the most objective report, either), the site may draw well.

GSD&M, a partner here at the consortium, is Wal-Mart's ad agency. I'm not sure the involvement of the agency in this project and have not discussed it with them, but I think Seth's argument is a compelling one that we can't forget. Just because this doesn't reach out to the people in the blogosphere or to those of us who are LinkedIn and who have face time on Facebook or who have long been established in MySpace doesn't mean that there isn't a strong market out there for the product.

Of course, I'm no advocate for closely monitored censorship, even when it comes to teenagers, so I'm not so crazy about this controlled communication forum (if you aren't really allowing open communication nor private correspondence on the site, is it really a communication forum?). Wal-Mart's site may end up being successful, and it may catch a lot of new users uncomfortable with the jungles of MySpace or the more technical social networking sites out there for teens. That sanitized and protected and censored site is appealing to many parents and even teens. For the sake of trickle-down innovation, I hope the site does attract kids to the potential of social networking and encourage other old media companies to continue brainstorming ways to extend their brand into community forums. Let's just hope that the limits of the Wal-Mart site doesn't become the norm.

Thanks to C3's William Uricchio for drawing my attention to the current debate.

July 5, 2006

Sam Bond on Colonel Sanders

Yesterday in Louisville's The Courier-Journal, I was quoted on the transformation of the image of Col. Sanders for Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fast food chain is making moves to create a more youthful Colonel, including adding some color to his image which adorns all of their cups, advertisements, etc. The changing of the Col. Sanders picture was the focus of this article, but the company has also been utilizing a cartoon version of the colonel in its television advertisements as well. It's not yet clear if the old image of the Colonel will be replaced with the new one, but the paperwork has been filed.

I was quoted in The Courier-Journal as saying that the image of the colonel has evolved because a younger generation only knows the icon and not the actual human being. In old ads, an actual photo of the Colonel or actual footage of the Colonel might have been used, but consumers in their 20s or younger would not remember the actual Col. Sanders but only his image for the KFC brand. According to the story, by David Goetz, the move is "part of a strategy to reconnect with the baby boomers, who still have fond memories of the original Col. Sanders, while appealing to younger fast-food users who may not know who the old dude is but like his picture." Indeed, part of the interest in this new youthful image and the cartoon icon in the television commercials may be to redefine KFC as a multi-generational brand instead of relying on nostalgic images for older consumers. Putting more emphasis on Col. Sanders instead of Harland Sanders still respects his legacy while distancing the company from the man.

For those who don't know the backstory (as a Kentuckian, it's my duty to know about one of our favorite culinary sons), Col. Sanders owned a small restaurant that became famous for its fried chicken, which he then successfully franchised throughout the region before eventually being bought out by future Kentucky governor John Y. Brown Jr. Now owned by Yum! Foods, KFC is an internationally known franchise, with Col. Sanders retained as its creator.

The Col. Sanders icon has changed through the years as the company distances itself from Harlan Sanders but continues to celebrate his legacy through the Col. Sanders character (Sanders was actually a Kentucky Colonel, an honorary title here in The Bluegrass State).

When Sanders died, KFC no longer had the actual Sanders as spokesperson but instead a representation of him and, now, in their television commercials, a cartoon version. Through this evolution, you can trace Sanders' development from a human spokesperson, Harland Sanders, to a mythic figure, Col. Sanders. The new cartoon version of Sanders still references the immense history of the KFC brand through Sanders the character while creating a new version of the Colonel to further distance itself from the person.

While Col. Sanders' image is still used on every aspect of KFC merchandising, Wendy's has distanced itself from using founder Dave Thomas in commercials. Why? Maybe it's becuase, in order for KFC to remain Kentucky Fried Chicken, it needs to retain the authenticity of the creator of the food, who was actually from The Bluegrass State and whose food became popular through word-of-mouth. In other words, can it really be "Kentucky" Fried Chicken if the company moves from emphasizing its Kentucky roots?

Even though KFC doesn't include the creator's name in its title, like popcorn brand Orville Redenbacher, much of the company's legacy and brand still depends on Col. Sanders, if not Harland himself. While the company may be distancing itself from the actual creator as time goes by, they are as dependant as ever on the Colonel.

Last year, fellow C3 analyst Ilya Vedrashko blogged about this issue on the site that was a precursor to this blog, citing the company's interest in giving the Colonel a facelift to attract younger audiences.

Oh, and contrary to the CJ's story, my name is not Bond...Sam Bond. It's still Sam Ford, although I guess I could start branding myself as the 007 of convergence culture.

June 22, 2006

Game Producers as Lifestyle Brands?

One member of our C3 team, David Edery here at MIT, has published a piece entitled "Games as Lifestyle Brands" on Next Generation on Tuesday.

In this piece, Edery discusses the disputed definitions of the lifestyle brand, which can mean a product that becomes a part of your life, a product that you make part of your self-identity, a marketing campaign launched around a narrowly defined product that expands to all aspects of one's life (such as the Harley), or myriad others. Edery is right in that it's something that we know when it works, but we don't quite know what it is. For instance, I would argue that Target is not (ironically) targeted enough to be a "lifestyle brand" because it's a large retail store that distributes the products of hundreds of companies. It has elements of a lifestyle brand but just is not that concentrated enough.

In Edery's piece, though, he extends this argument to video games, about whether there already is lifestyle brands among video game publishers or not. Is EA Sports or Harmonix a lifestyle brand? It's an interesting discussion to have, and Edery's piece is worth taking a look at.

My take is that it's going to be just as hard for video game publishers to truly be lifestyle brands, just as it seems hard to me for movie production companies to be lifestyle brands--their products are often not concentrated enough to be a single statement and are not immersive enough. Sure, Harmonix has elements of a lifestyle brand, just as you may argue Lion's Gate has a certain feel to its films, but there's a major difference between publishers that release various titles and a store you go to regularly (The New Yorker), or a television network (MTV).

Whether your agree or disagree with me, the point is not that this makes video games less desirable to market. After all, even though I don't see Target, Starbucks, or IKEA as fully being a lifestyle brand, they still have many elements of a lifestyle brand that they incorporate into their marketing strategy that is beneficial to both producers and consumers. And, as David mentions, not every brand is or should be a lifestyle brand.

But incorporating more elements of lifestyle branding for video game production certainly helps labels develop a following. EA Sports comes as close as any video game label I can think of in that their product line is sufficiently limited and has video games at its core but extends to all sorts of ancillary products. But how can other video game developers copy or even build on that success?

April 17, 2006

McDonald's Breakfast Fanfic

Burger King may be entering the game space, but as reported via BoingBoing, McDonald's breakfast sandwiches now have their own fan fiction community:

This is a LiveJournal community for writers of McGriddle Fan Fiction, Breakfast Fan Fiction, and McGriddle Creative Writing. While our primary focus is on Fan Fic involving the McDonald's McGriddle, we extend membership to writers of any sort of breakfast food creative writing (i.e. McMuffins, Bagel Sandwiches, Pancakes, etc).

38 members so far, though -- as BB suggests -- I suspect this community is at least partly satirical. That said: would McGriddle/Croissanwich stories constitute breakfast slash fiction?

April 13, 2006

Play It Your Way? (The King Goes 360)

Two appearances for the XBOX on the C3 blog in as many days: Water Cooler Games reports that the King will be a playable character in several new promotional games:

Market research company Greenfield Online is preparing a plan for Burger King to sell promotional Xbox 360 games in their stores. The games would apparently riff off 'the most popular game types,' adding the super-creepy Burger King character to an action, fighting, and racing game; customers would have the option of purchasing one for $4 with any Value Meal.

Now, given that the only thing that has intrigued me about the XBOX 360 thus far is the presence of the Burger King in the photo-realistic Fight Night: Round 3, this is an interesting tactic.

On top of which, given the price of XBOX 360 games, who's really going to pass up games -- even ones that are almost pure advertising -- at $4 a pop?

Update: Apparently there was some concern that this was an unsubstantiated rumor, but the cease-and-desist that Kotaku received seems to confirm it.

March 13, 2006

WWE Attempting to Expand Brand to "Cool Hunter" For Young Men

It's no surprise that the WWE wants to expand their brand. In the 1990s, it was the failed World Bodybuilding Federation that they tried to expand with, followed by the XFL at the turn of the millennium. The WWE has since realized that the "WWE" brand name is an important part of expansion of the product and has cut down on their expansion. They nixed a WWE Records idea and are expanding slowly on the WWE Films project, primarily with films that star wrestlers on their roster.

Now, the company is planning a WWE men's lifestyle magazine to complement their WWE RAW and WWE Smackdown monthly magazines they currently published. Since WWE courts the young adult male category and those who aspire to keep up with the trends in that category, even if they are older, the magazine may hit the core demographic in a powerful way. Since I have heard very little about the project so far, I'm not yet sure what this means. But it should be an interesting story to follow.

In the 27 February 2006 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer points out that the company must be careful with ventures
into building brand awareness if they don't have a strong enough economic impact on their main product--selling pro wrestling. "A few years back, the WWE did its own Super Bowl commercial with the same thing in mind. In hindsight, the results of those adds were that they added nothing to company business, nor did they end up building any noticeable long-term awareness for the companies that purchased them. In many cases, tests showed consumers would remember the best ads, but would have no memory of who the ads were for and the companies gained nothing from them. Tons of research done to prove what should have been obvious from the start."

So this brings up the very real question at the heart of what we're doing here at C3...How do you build brand awareness, be creative, reach out to the fans, expand your product, etc., yet in a way that doesn't waste away major capital with no economic upside. In the case of the men's lifestyle magazine, it will likely be all in the handling. As Dave points out, the product must expand well beyond their core product of pro wrestling but contain enough markers back to their product that it makes it acceptable to their core base. This may be where WWE learned their lesson with failures such as the XFL and are hoping to improve by making WWE Films about smaller budget with WWE stars making appearances in the movie. The key is to find ways of expanding the convince the current fan base to be willing to expand along with the company, even while bringing in new fans with these expanding ventures.

March 3, 2006

My Alma Mater Getting (Unwanted) National Attention

All right...I've stayed silent on this one long enough.

For those of you who don't know, I am a proud graduate of Western Kentucky University. The school has a highly respected journalism program, a top-notch communication department and an English and film studies faculty that includes many of the brightest and most discerning minds I have ever known. And there are scores of other talented folks at Western who have been doing everything they can to foster the growing national reputation of the university, including President Gary Ransdell, who I have personally seen in action, dedicating both day and night to preaching the good deeds of WKU and doing more good for the university than anyone could have imagined.

And, then, there's the school's Alpha Chi chapter of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity who made national news while I was visiting Kentucky when police searched their fraternity house during a party and found a goat locked in the closet, the victim of several animal rights abuses--some obvious and some alleged. The goat is believed to have been used in hazing, although the extent of use is up for debate.

I don't feel like repeating the story again for the sake of all of us in the WKU community who are hanging our heads in shame and also those of us who are sensitive to animal rights issues. For those interested in knowing the full story, the multiple-time Hearst winner WKU College Heights Herald has given this story the most extensive and balanced coverage of anything I've seen, and those stories are available here (you may have to register with the site to view them).

As Andrew McNamara records, those at WKU feel that this is just the story that comedians are always waiting for to deride "The Bluegrass State" as being full of hillbillies who love on their sisters and their farm animals. And everyone--from late night talk show hosts to news sites around the world--have picked up on the story. Bloggers are having a field day as well. See this post from Sensible Erection, this post from Jesus' General and Bob Reno's Dumbass Daily. These are only a few of many examples of the blogs written in response to this story.

University officials have been scrambling to cover this the best that they can, and I don't post it in this venue to try to further the mockery of a great school like WKU but rather to bring the discussion to a community of branding experts. What do you do in this situation, when something happens that does nothing but reinforce the very worst stereotypes about a place you are trying hard to build up? So far, they have made it clear to distance themselves from and punish the fraternity involved and have otherwise kept their mouths shut. But this is the type of story that will stick in people's minds.

Sure, the story is already starting to die down to some degree, but it is not going to go away and will lie at the back of the public's memory because of the way it has been spun and because of the stereotypes it feeds off of. The fact that the goat was used for hazing in the first place is an example of a local group trying to play off their own stereotype--AGR was (not surprisingly, based on their initials) an agriculture fraternity.

The local AGR chapter is obviously all but done for and doesn't deserve saving. They have been suspended and denounced by the national AGR organization and suspended for three years as a fraternity by WKU. But the larger question is, from a branding perspective, where does WKU go from here?

February 20, 2006

Pop Secret Indie Commercials

Pop Secret, the General Mills popcorn brand, is sponsoring commercials for their popcorn made by independent directors, as a way to indirectly promote their sponsorship of the The Independent Feature Project Independent Spirit Awards. Pop Secret even sponsored a pullout "The Great American Indie Quiz" in last week's Entertainment Weekly, with the Web address to their site featuring the commercials.

It seems that this is the perfect fusion of commercialism and content, where independent directors are given a chance to produce content that is distributed by the company to help the director develop a name and film fans to get to see the work of unknowns, while also directly promoting the company. It's hardly an act of goodwill but is one step closer to a model of direct sponsorship. At this point, it seems to be a win-win situation.

Check out the Pop Secret page, and tell me what you think...

January 11, 2006

Unique Advertising in EW

This week's EW featured two powerful and interesting ads, I thought, from various perspectives.

The first comes at the beginning of the magazine and is a two-page spread advertising all of the various Law & Order shows on NBC. They have all the characters from all three L&O franchises stretched across the page, appearing as if they are in the middle of an investigation. Behind them is a facsimile of Times Square, with several media properties particularly noticable--a Virgin sign, Loews Theatres, Planet Hollywood, Marriott, Kodak, and Novotel, with two huge ads in the background for the iPod and Universal's King Kong.

The ad is a success in two ways--both as not just showing transmedia but as showing crossover within the various television shows of a particular media property, L&O, with all of the characters appearing in one scene, despite being on their various shows. Further, it has product placement within an advertisement, something that is more and more possible but has only been utilized occasionally. I don't know if it has ever been done quite so well as in this ad.

Similarly, I thought the idea from L'Oreal Paris was interesting. They provide a pullout ballot for the Golden Globe Awards, with four L'Oreal ads appearing on the backs of the ads featuring Beyonce Knowles and two models. I've already torn the ad out and plan to use it for the Globes, so it was at least somewhat of a success. This may feel a little more gimmicky; I don't know. But it's an effective way to make it feel as if the ballot is "brought to you by L'Oreal."

Celebrity iTunes playlists

The idea of cool hunters is not a new one, but one form of cool-hunting rising in popularity is finding out what tunes celebrities download to their iPods. A new form of marketing at least somewhat based on reality, the iPod playlists are simutalenously an advertisement for Apple's iPod and iTunes, the cool celebrity who is releasing the list, and all of the cool musicians on the list.

Case in point: in this week's Entertainment Weekly's "The Must List," a regular feature in the magazine, they list the top 10 things you must see for the week. Number three on the list is the playlist of Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live.

Is this just part of an iPod fad or a potential new avenue in advertising revenue, product crossover, etc. One would suspect this only works as long as you can be sure this is the authetic feeling of the celebrity and not something he or she is solely paid to say, but the trend is certainly getting the attention of consumers with placement like this.

December 29, 2005

Oldie TV ads

Oldie television ads continue to prove how powerful retroactive advertising and appealing to fans along the lines of history can be.

The use of vintage footage featuring Orville Redenbacher in advertisements is the focus of Brian Steinberg's article in last Friday's Wall Street Journal entitled "Why Oldie TV Ads Make Comeback."

Sure, part of this is a drive on the part of advertisers, but the more important question is whether this is advertisers trying to create a trend or something that fans desire, and it seems to me that retro advertising and reviving old advertising lines remains very much in style and in demand from fans of brand communities.

What is the appeal of retro branding? There have been some great minds, including one of our partners Rob Kozinets and others, who have examined some of these very issues...It seems that honoring history is an important part of many fan communities and that such ads both reward longterm fans who have a memory of the brand at the point retro commercials initially aired and that newer members of brand community might feel rewarded with understanding the brand more by seeing its roots, so to speak...where it came from.

What do you all think?

Technology Must Hold Up for New Media to Work

New media opportunities provide plenty of new ways to tell stories and to get fan communities interacting with media properties. However, as with any type of storytelling, the idea of convergence storytelling doesn't work if it isn't implemented well.

Sure, this seems like a no-brainer, but the fall in participation in fantasy football is proof of this. Fantasy sports, in theory, provide a great way to get fan communities actively involved in a media property, watching the actual games while strategizing and competing with their own fantasy teams.

But Kevin J. Delaney and David Kesmodel's article in last Friday's Wall Street Journal points out what happens when the technology isn't up to speed with the expectations of fans--it puts a bad taste in the mouths of fans who are starting to opt out of fantasy football, which was once the craze of many sports fan communities.

One has to wonder if fantasy football sponsored by ESPN, when the technology starts to fail, begins to have a negative impact on ESPN or on the NFL or college teams. How far does failure in one medium stretch over into negativity toward brands in general?

December 27, 2005

Holiday Insights from Grant McCracken

For those who aren't already reading C3 Faculty Advisor Grant McCracken's excellent blog, two of his recent posts are of particular interest.

First, he suggests that corporations have a need for outside consultants who can extract brands, ideas, and innovations which have languished for structural or political reasons.

Second, he plots out four models for the effects which the resurgence of enthusiasm for the internet will produce. Personally, my feeling is that the first three of his models are valid, just on different time scales. The more conservative models will come to fruition faster, while the third model (which predicts wide-ranging social change) has more cultural resistance to overcome. The fourth model can't really be evaluated, because it would entail a cultural singularity, beyond which nothing can be predicted accurately. Anyway, it's worth reading the whole thing.

December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays from C3!

cokemas.jpgAs the year comes to a close, and families gather with relatives and friends for their holidays of choice, we here at the Convergence Culture Consortium would like to take a moment to extend our warmest wishes to you and yours.

It has been a long, fascinating startup year for us, and we're looking forward to ushering in 2006 as your brand culture/fan culture/transmedia/advertising commentators of choice.

In the spirit of the season, it seems appropriate to honor the Coca-Cola Company for their effective work in colonizing Christmas: from their enduring depiction of Santa Claus to their furry friends in the Arctic, Coke has (for better or worse, depending on your stance) played a vital role in developing the modern Yuletide iconography.

If posts are a bit more sparse than usual over the next week or two, it's because we're taking a breather from our brand-monitoring posts to spend time with our respective families and friends. We hope you're doing the same!

Warmest Holiday Greetings, from all of us to all of you!

Apple Touts Its Brand Culture

macminibot.jpgJust in time for Christmas, Apple offers a new round of fan-created innovations: the Apple website for the Mac Mini has been updated to include a section entitled "Mac Mini - Big Ideas", where Apple profiles some of the more innovative hacks that diehard brand-fans have undertaken with the Mini.

The first round of projects include an in-car entertainment center, a digital art gallery installation, an entry in the annual "Self Driving Car" competition, an autonomous robot, and the Millennium Falcon Mini, a "a fully functioning Mac mini inside a model of Han Solo’s venerable spaceship."

(Via MacSlash.)

December 15, 2005

Intercultural Perspectives on Cellphone Cultures

An interesting way to look at the cellphone cultures emerging in the U.S. would be through the prism of similarly emerging cellphone cultures in other countries. I've been tracking the cellphone scene in India and other parts of the world over the past two weeks and am amazed at the diversity that exists, as well as the business opportunities that are rising, and the entrepreneurs that are moving in fast to satisfy the emergent consumer demands.

The common theme seems to be that in a scenario where technology will be ubiquitous, it will be the service, innovative brand-linked promotions and compelling content that will become the major product differentiators.

Let's start our journey from London. There's an innovative service that disseminates Shakespeare as TXT messages being provided by a cellphone company called Dot Mobile, that is aimed exclusively at students. Dot Mobile provides the Shakespeare messages free to its subscribers, that is, it is an innovation not for tangible revenue per se, but rather to build and build upon an existing brand affiliation.

This branding effort is replicated across the seas in the Indian market with is growing at a scorching pace of over 2 million new handsets every month (65 million so far). While mass brand Reliance is giving away free handsets to all and sundry (including prepaid subscribers), a company like Airtel is offering a service called "Hum it", which allows the user to simply hum or sing a song and use it as a personalised ringtone, and also, believe it or not, a ‘free flight’ offer, wherein its postpaid customers can avail of a free local airline return ticket on the national carrier, Indian Airlines (more).

Meanwhile Kingfisher, which is trying to brand itself as the premium upmarket airline in a very crowded competitive field, launches a service called King Mobile, which enables its passengers to get all the latest flight information on their cell phone, including their flight status, schedule alerts and and assistance numbers in various cities (more).

Videotones are all set to take off in the country and there is a range of companies at different consumer touch points that are quickly moving in to fill up this space with premium content, such as handset maker Nokia, cellphone service provider BSNL and specialist cellphone content company

Text messaging has already exploded massively on to the scene – and everyone is reaping the rewards – thus season two of India's Millionnaire-two shows, Kaun Banega Crorepati, has received 90 million phone calls/SMS messages already from participants eager to enter (in just 55 episodes; in contrast season 1, which was aired in 2000, before the Indian text messaging boom, received only 100 million entry attempts across 305 episodes), while the first 13 episode season of Indian Idol received 55 million phone call/SMS votes (source: India Today, October 31, 2005).

Another major growth opportunity is cellphone games, which have emerged as a significant phenomenon - both culturally, and as a space where lots of money can be made. And the big companies are lining up already.... smelling the money trail. For instance, Electronic Arts recently entered into the Indian cellphone game market by means of a distribution tie up with the country's leading game company, India Games (more). This is on the heels of their recently acquiring US mobile leader Jamdat Mobile; they're also scouting for similar acquisitions globally, especially in Europe and Asia (more).

Continue reading "Intercultural Perspectives on Cellphone Cultures" »

December 14, 2005

More on Ford

So, after a meeting with LGBT advocacy groups, Ford has reasserted its support for diversity in this letter. AmericaBlog summarizes the letter's contents as follows:

1. Ford announced that it will continue to support gay organizations and gay events in the coming year and beyond.

2. Ford is going to run advertisements in the gay media NOT ONLY promoting the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, but the ads will promote ALL of Fords brands, by name, including Jaguar and Land Rover.

3. Ford states unequivocally that it will continue to tailor its ads for the specific audience it is trying to reach, and then goes one step further. Ford challenges us to keep an eye out on their upcoming ads in order to verify that they will in fact be tailored.

There is no other way to read this than that Ford did the right thing. Whether or not an agreement was reached with the American Family Association - and the AFA has a record of crowing about such "victories" when no such victory occurred - Ford has rectified the real or perceived problem[.]

Obviously, this was as much a political issue as a brand issue, but Ford's response was the right one, both morally and in business terms. With the American auto industry already in dire straits, it would be foolish to alienate a significant number of potential customers at the behest of a group that uses "research" from a hate group as part of its attempt to influence corporate behavior.

December 10, 2005

Consumers Create Burger King Video iPod Ads

Sounds like Burger King may be positioning itself as an early champion in the convergence of brand culture and fan culture: they're apparently getting a decent response to their new campaign, which encourages fans to create their own BK ads for Apple's video iPod.
Although less than a month old, the video iPod is fast becoming a new advertising vehicle. Burger King is dipping its toes in the water by partnering with to offer consumer-generated videos extolling its brand icon, 'The King.' Burger King interactive shop WPP Group's VML in New York created the campaign in concert with, a youth-focused broadband video site that features a heavy dose of user-created content. sent out about 25 Burger King masks, created for Halloween by Crispin Porter + Bogusky of Miami, to the site's frequent contributors. It got back a dozen videos of The King in action, including one featuring him driving through a McDonald's drive-through wearing the mask and asking for Burger King menu items... "It's more about giving people something they'll find value in, tying it back to 'have it your way,'" said Jessica Brown, media manager at VML.

Read the full article: Consumers Create Burger King Video iPod Ads.

Lifestyle Gaming + Sports Gaming = Marc Ecko's Getting Up.

Marc EckoTo take my previous post in a different direction with a real world example, MTV Films just announced plans for the movie version of fashion designer Marc Ecko's Getting Up. From the official press release at

Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure adaptation as a feature project promises to be an homage to graffiti's rich culture. Told through an alternate reality in a futuristic universe, the game represents the culmination of seven years of story and character development by fashion pioneer Marc Ecko, the visionary behind several of today's most respected youth lifestyle brands. Mr. Ecko will serve as producer on the project with MTV Films' Gregg Goldin, who brought the project to the company. Jason Weiss and David Gale will be developing on behalf of MTV Films. "Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure" will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"When I first began working on 'Getting Up' seven years ago, I wanted to create a storyline that provided a rare look inside of one of the most influential, yet often overlooked, artistic movements in recent history. Today, graffiti is a global cultural phenomenon and few understand its impact better than MTV, pioneers in its use as a motion graphics tool nearly two decades ago. I am delighted to have the ability to bring the depth of our story to life on film and look forward to working with the great team MTV has assembled," added Marc Ecko. "Getting Up" drops in Feb. 2006 for PS2, XBOX, and PC.

The response on the web has been mixed. From Joystiq's typical snarky commentary:

We won't get into the reasons why fashion designer Marc Ecko has a videogame with his name on it in the first place, why anyone would make a movie based on a game that hasn't even come out yet, and why anyone would want to see said movie. Branding has become such a singular and overwhelming force in videogames and movies that it alone can get both made (even though some don't make any money). Expect plenty of finger pointing and scapegoating once this movie comes out. Expect people to say the game's (potentially) piss-poor story is responsible for the movie's equivalent lack of narrative. But we'll know better.

The comments thread at Joystiq is pretty interesting as well, with several people touching on Sony's previous graffiti PR problem.

For my money, while there's no mention of in-game ordering or other advanced advergaming implementation, I'm still quite interested to see where this goes. The mobile version already won Best Wireless Game at the Spike TV Video Game Awards, and the game's voice talent lineup alone is enough to make the scene sit up and take notice: Sean "Diddy" Combs, George Hamilton, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam West, Andy Dick, RZA, Charlie Murphy, and Talib Kweli. Wow.

December 9, 2005

More on Consumer Pressure (and Ford)

As I noted in the comments of Sam's post, below, AmericaBlog has been all over Ford Motors for caving to the demands of the American Family Association. Obviously, this is an area where brand cultures overlap with politics, as a look at the history of the AFA's attempts to influence Ford shows:

Some AMERICAblog readers uncovered an action alert the American Family Association (AFA) used to try to influence Ford to become anti-gay three years ago.

In that alert, the AFA uses the science of one Paul Cameron, the head of the Family Research Institute, an organization labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and whose "research" the SPLC says "echoes Nazi Germany."

...Specifically, the AFA is using Paul Cameron's fake "study" in which he determines that gay men die by the age of 40. I'm serious. (Cameron simply read the obituaries of gay men in gay publications in 1993, then averaged the age of death - really.) The AFA literally cited the results of this study in their action alert - I've been following Cameron's "research" and the religious right's use of him for the past 13 years.

In light of the tactics used by the AFA (as well as the PR implications of being associated with them) it's illuminating to contrast Ford's reaction to that of Kraft, which reacted quite differently to pressure from the AFA. An excerpt from Kraft's press release follows:

In recent days, the company has received many e-mails, the majority of them generated through the America Family Association, which objects to our sponsorship [of the 2006 Gay Games]. We also have received calls and e-mails - - not as many, but equally passionate - - thanking us for supporting this event.

...It can be difficult when we are criticized. It's easy to say you support a concept or a principle when nobody objects. The real test of commitment is how one reacts when there are those who disagree. I hope you share my view that our company has taken the right stand on diversity, including its contribution to the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago.

This is one case where I'm actually pleased that 'fan' pressure failed to achieve its desired goal.

December 7, 2005

Starbucks: Pitching to Unsuspecting Good Samaritans

Thomas Hawk recounts an interesting experience where Starbucks tried to get his attention by making him express concern for a fellow citizen. He thinks it's clever -- I think it's an uncomfortable trick to pull on your potential customers.

November 30, 2005

Luxe coverings for new iPods

As with their predecessors, the two new iPods are spawning a whole industry of accessories around them. Since I'm particularly interested in luxe, here are two recent gems, from Charles and Marie, that caught my eye recently.

For the iPod Video:

Nothing says sophistication and elegance like a unique iPod case made of wood: each piece is as unique as the piece of wood it is made from. Miniot uses maple, mahogany, pear, weng, and walnut to bring a bit of warmth to our technological age.

For the iPod Nano:

The case is handmade, and features a full silk lining for the utmost protection. Inside expect hand stiching, and a cover over the screen in a thick plastic, so no nicks or scratches get to your little gem ever! Each case is individually numbered, and you can choose from over 40 different exterior fabrics (wood leather shown) and 70 silk linings (silk 25 shown) as well as thread and trim colors.

November 29, 2005

Uberpremium vs. mere massclusivity

This month's Trendwatching newsletter focusses specifically on the increasing fascination that the very rich have with the uberpremium, as opposed to the massclusive longings that mere mortals have to contend with. What is uberpremium?

Well, for one, it's not the stuff that most members of the MASS CLASS in theory could afford, even if they'd have to actively 'trade down' for weeks or months. A Jo Malone candle selling for GBP 260 is therefore not UBER PREMIUM, but MASSCLUSIVITY. Same for Godiva's USD 100 a pound G-collection chocolates, even though they're billed as the chocolatier's ultra-premium, couture-style line of hand-made bonbons. It's not Dolce & Gabbana 's crystal-studded Mickey T-shirt, retailing for USD 1,400. It's also not Masa's USD 350 tasting menu, or Gordon Ramsay's new GBP 100 woodfire-baked pizza topped with shavings from a USD 1,400 Umbrian white truffle. Not even over the top A.P.O. Jeans, which can cost up to USD 1,000 a pair, qualify. So... UBER PREMIUM is everything that is truly out of reach of the vast majority of consumers. Not just financially, but also by not being invited, or by being too late. No wonder then that UBER PREMIUM is increasingly found in the experience part of the economy: an exclusive personal experience can provide for hard-to-imitate uniqueness in ways physical (and uniform) products can't.

For more, read here.

November 28, 2005

Has Apple Switched Sides?

From Scott Kirsner at SFGate, courtesy New Media Musings:

Some of Apple Computer's most memorable advertising campaigns have celebrated the power of the individual....

[But] As the company starts selling its latest iPod device, which is capable of playing video, and begins adding short films, television shows and music videos to its online iTunes Music Store, Apple is aligning itself with Big Media, rather than the ingenious individual. ...

The way the company treats independently produced audio and video in its iTunes Music Store has been surprising. Apple has decided, essentially, that major media companies should be allowed to charge for what they produce, but individuals ought to give their work away for free. That's a big deal for solo creative types who want to make a buck...

November 27, 2005

Point of Purchase

The 2003 book Point of Purchase was released by Routledge and was written by Sociology Deparmtent of Brooklyn College.

As with Branded, the book attempts to study the current pattern of consumption in America today and what might be driving this desire to constantly own and consume.

Marshall Fishwick, who is a retired professor of interdisciplinary studies at Virginia Tech and a pioneer in popular culture studies, reviewed the book for the September 2005 edition of The Journal of American Culture, praising what is a macro study of the compulsive consumption phenomenon in America.

However, once again, it appears the work looks at the advertising process and commercialism from a perspective that puts all of the power in the hands of the advertisers, with the drive for consuming becoming an obsession for customers who are ultimately not fulfilled by their constant rate of purchasing.

As with its predecessors, this book demonstrates the current lack of understanding of fan communities and the empowerment fans receive from these brands and properties.

Fans have gained many new ways and avenues to demonstrate their power through their use of brands in fan communities, whether that be fan fiction, discussion boards or clubs, videos, parodies, or the endless other ways fans have gained in power, sometimes much to the chagrin of companies who are uneasy with what fans might want to do with their copyrighted material.

Books such as Point of Purchase, despite their potential merits, demonstrate the lack in most analytical works at this point to look at fan communities in a meaningful way.

Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers

The 2004 book Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers, released by Perseus and written by Journal of Popular Culture, the November 2005 edition, by Richard J. Larschan of the English Department of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

The book is in the same line of Naomi Klein's widely read book No Logo in asserting a disconnect with the loss of public space and the continued branding of most of American culture.

Although, as with Klein, the book seems to present some compelling evidence of some of the negative aspects branding might have when entering schools, the book seems to be in the vein of most anti-corporate rhetoric in trying to separate commercialism from intellectual discourse instead of seeing brands as an integral part of contemporary American culture.

Although such approaches may be in many ways antithetical to many of the tenets of our labs and our projects, it is important to remember the concerns of the other side, those worried about the effects of branding on culture.

However, what this study ignores, in many parts, is the active ways in which people interact with brands.

Branded is not afraid to point out when people becoming active in demonstrating AGAINST brands, but it ignores the important ways that people actively become involved in fan communities.

The section which seems most beneficial for further reading is on "Peer-to-Peer Marketing," even though the work, on the majority, overlooks the varied ways people become involved with their entertainment and products. The link provides suggested assignments from the publishers of Branded that includes thoughts on the PTP marketing chapter.


My, oh my, how media savvy today's kids are! A recent Foxtrot comic strip offers a brilliant commentary here . (Thanks to David Edery for bringing this to our notice). It has Paige, designing her own ad campaign to get her parents to buy her the iPod for Christmas. Paige's ads are iPod spin-offs, and the text reads iPod+Paige = Christmas. And Daddy wryly comments, "Let's hope they skip the billboards this year."

November 4, 2005

Burger King, the Video iPod, and the "Cool Uncle"

Last year, Slate featured an article about Burger King's revival of the King mascot that remarked on the mocking tone of the recent advertisements. In the article, Burger King's advertising agency describes the advertisements as trying to appeal to the elusive 18-to-35-year-old male market - the "most cynical consumers out there" - by evoking "the cool uncle - the uncle who tells you how things really are, and lets you get away with a little more than your mom and dad do."

Today, MediaPost reports that Burger King, partnering with video download site, is sponsoring a series of free videos that can be downloaded and played on a video iPod. MediaPost calls the move "Madison Avenue's highest profile foray into the new medium yet."

In an interesting move by Burger King, some of the videos are user-generated, created by members who were sent Subservient Chicken and "the King" masks to use in their videos. The first result? A short video that shows a young man (wearing a King mask and robe) repeatedly requesting a Whopper at a McDonald's drive-through, giggling all the while. I'm sure the "cool uncle" approves.

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.

September 26, 2005

"Where Consumers Make the Ads"

MediaBuyerPlanner links to a MediaPost article about Geico's new website that asks consumers to submit short movies about the Geico gecko for a chance to win prizes. The article states that it "may be the first marketer generated effort to create a large-scale consumer generated media campaign promoting a brand." Geico's website can be found at

The article later mentions, a website that features user-submitted ads and ad concepts. Wired has a story about the Adcandy website, calling it "open source advertising." Companies can subscribe to Adcandy and tap into what Adcandy calls the "collective unconscious of the public."

I'm wondering what motivates the people who submit entries. Geico and the companies who subscribe to Adcandy probably hope that the user-created ads they see are the result of customer evangelism - customers who love a product and want to spread the word. But does offering prizes or other incentives also encourage submissions by people who simply desire to win, and don't feel strongly about a particular product? Would those kinds of submissions still be helpful?

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