Category Archives: Mullen

Is it advertising vs. social, or advertising plus social?

Edward Boches, the chief social media revolutionary in residence at agency Mullen, has once again posted slides suggesting consumers have radically changed the power structure of advertising since now they want to create and share, not listen. The concepts are intelligent yet we think Edward takes his logic too far, so we disagreed via this response.

Provoking. I couldn’t hear your voiceover (wish I could), so I do have one quibble: Is advertising communication vs. customer engagement really an either-or proposition? You say in these slides that customers don’t want to receive ads, instead they want to engage, yet Mullen’s own successful Brand Bowl forums show how much customers do enjoy receiving ads… and then a fraction of them talk about them.

Put another way, communications should fit the ecosystem reflecting how consumers behave. As Wired co-author Kevin Kelly recently noted, the vast majority of media consumption today remains television, with wired/mobile/social media usage only a fraction of that time. This is not to suggest that social networking or consumer co-creation isn’t powerful and potentially more effective … but marketers sipping this Kool-Aid should remember that all media channels work together.

My belief is humans have three fields of personal space that drive our communication, dating back to cave men. Distance fields 10 feet+ (camp fires, TV, movies); work fields 2-3 feet (hammers, saws, laptop screens, tablets), and intimate fields (whispers in your ear, mobile). Social fits very well into our personal fields No. 2 and 3, but we have an innate need to lean back and listen to stories from afar as well. Advertising and social work together to fit both needs. It is a mistake, however, to assume that one need has supplanted the other.

Image: Tueksta

Behind the bubble, creativity has always existed

This is our response to a thoughtful post by Mullen’s Edward Boches, who suggests that Gen Y will change media and marketing forever.

Let me suggest the radical answer of “No.”

Yes, marketing will evolve, but I think, Edward, you take today’s tech trend line too far. Let me challenge your hypothesis that “as the first generation of so-called digital natives gets older … their media habits will force marketers to change strategies and tactics even more rapidly.”

First, social media is not replacing mass media. The social media Kool-Aid drinkers should pause and reread that line. Adults 18-24 today watch 210 minutes of live television a day — vs. 336 for adults 45-54 and 421 minutes for adults 65+ — less than their older peers, but not nothing, and still an almost obscene amount of 3 hours and 30 minutes a day. This represents almost one-half of all young adults’ media use. Now, within the migrating wave of social media, much of it is similar entertainment — consuming videos on Hulu and YouTube, watching video games as they wiggle controls. It’s important to look at the entire entity of consumer behavior when building campaigns, and old media cannot be ruled out as “replaced” by new media. Instead, much of what we see are simple shifts in formats, with similar consumption modalities inside.

Second, there is no creativity revolution. Why? Creation and collaboration have always been part of human activity — this is nothing new. The pianos people once circled around in homes in the 1920s were devices people used to make music; churches were the weekly aggregation of storytelling and pageantry; dances are where people used to throng to express themselves. Humans have always had two concurrent needs, to watch entertainment from afar (campfires and TV) and to share stories and create their own entertainment (guitars and YouTube). If anything, sociologists could worry that modern Americans are *less* creative than their forebears because they spend more time passively watching video and playing video games than running outside to create their own entertainment, or playing instruments that require hard practice.

So the real answer is more nuanced. Yes, media is changing, because it always has. Yes, humans create and share, because we always do. The fragmentation of television in the 1980s forced marketers to consider one-to-one marketing in the 1990s; the rise of millions of sites on the Internet in the 1990s led marketers to chase content portals or search engines in the early 2000s; the rise of simple social-media creation interfaces in the past few years has people now worried about curation and viral propagation. These are all important steps forward. The challenge for us in the ad industry is not to believe every minor shift is a paradigm revolution, because today’s Twitter is tomorrow’s fax machine, just another tool for people to do what they’ve always done. Watch and share.

Image: Brian Richardson

The noosphere of margins

If you don’t work in advertising or communications you’ve likely missed the enthusiasm among middle-aged men who wear jeans and black T-shirts about crowdsourcing — the idea that masses of people can be sorted to build better solutions at lower costs. It’s a play off the “wisdom of crowds,” where groups of people, each of whom has partial information and can make an informed best guess, often when averaged together can find a near-perfect answer. The world is filled with examples, from children trying to guess the number of marbles in a jar (the aggregate answer is almost always spot on) to markets of investors trying to gauge the future value of a stock (speculative bubbles aside, the way prices of pieces of companies adjust nearly instantly to new information is almost miraculous). Crowdsourcing expands this concept by making it an economic model: You set a prize, encourage thousands to contribute an answer, and after judging the collective input, opt for the top one. That is, instead of selecting the middling average of the response curve, you cherry-pick the best outlying result on the fringe.

Want a new cell phone design? Instead of paying teams of internal engineers, throw a contest, and some brilliant young design student from the crowd will raise her hand to knock your socks off.

All of this has excited the ad industry because it provides a fundamental restructuring of human creativity (the most positive reason) while also greatly reduces costs (useful if you’re managing agency human resources). Futurists also dig it because it pulls deliverables out of the noosphere — the “global consciousness” concept by Vladimir Vernadsky that we are moving into a third phase of the Earth’s development, after physical formation and biological evolution, to a higher form of collective intelligence. This feels trippy, perhaps, until you look out the window of a plane landing in JFK and see how tiny swarms of humans are acting collectively to terraform our planet, and then, holding that perspective, realize our species may be acting like bees with a hive mind. No less an organization than Princeton has set up 65 devices around the world that randomly generate numbers — and is monitoring them to see if some form of global consciousness is making those numbers less random. Really.

Crowdsourcing employee firings: A thought experiment
The trouble with group consciousness is sometimes it moves in ways that hurt individual participants. Here’s a thought experiment we’ve posed with Edward Boches, the Mullen agency creative chief who is a strong proponent of crowdsourcing: Imagine you run a business with 50 employees, each of whom you pay $52,000 a year or $1,000 per week. One day you decide to fire all your employees and instead hold a weekly global competition for each of their jobs, with a prize for each winner of $100. Thanks to nearly perfect information systems, thousands of people apply for each job post, and you have no trouble filling each slot. (There are lots of smart people starving in the world; now you find them and they find you.) Training would be required of course, but as part of your competition each winner must agree to conduct three weeks of home study, so all the fresh employees hit the ground running. Then, every future week, you fire everyone again, hold another competition, and hire a new crew of winners — ensuring a constant flow of improved ideas and talent, at a 90% payroll savings!

If information systems were perfect enough, this model could become real. But is it fair?

The economic challenge that few raise about crowdsourcing, or Chris Anderson’s broader theory that all services want to be free, is that there is some value in inefficiency — a value extracted from imperfect exchanges that is passed onward to support society. Your business exists because it charges a profit margin, and that profit exists only because you build and defend fiercely some form of inefficiency between supply and demand. If customers could get food teleported to their kitchen table from the farm fields in California, all the inefficiencies of transportation and packaging and storage would be gone — and all the margins of those businesses in the middle also. If your own customers could get what you produce without touching your operations, your source of income disappears. Do we want to live in a world where there is perfectly seamless transfer of goods, services and information? Or the real question is, can we?

Image: Pensiero

When we have telepathy, who will own your mind?

Who owns your social graph? According to Super Bowl fans, anyone can. According to Forrester Research, only your employer — or at least your boss owns a big chunk of your personal human network.

We’ll start with football. On Sunday ad shop Mullen and social-tracking service Radian6 captured up to 0.7% of all tweets with their clever BrandBowl 2010 advertising portal. The site, if you missed it, used Radian6 monitoring to rate chatter about Super Bowl ads. But beyond buzz, BrandBowl also illustrated an agency and software firm co-opting the Super Bowl social experience.

What did Mullen and R6 really do? They didn’t take over the sports brand. And this wasn’t about content. They borrowed someone else’s audience. And if you think about it, far more than a brand or product, an audience is the most valuable thing anyone can create, because only your customers are a source of inflowing value.

Social networking has destabilized customer bases because now anyone can find a way to pull an audience to their own hub. In the past, the only way to watch a national football game was to dial in to the correct TV channel; today, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, LiveFyre, and soon Google Social Gmail create fluid hubs that carry conversations elsewhere. A smart marketer has an opportunity to build an axis that spins another brand’s existing audience. Or, in financial parlance, it is now possible to steal someone else’s customer stock portfolio.

Forrester says, no way

Many businesses with customer equity, such as Forrester, aren’t keen about this. When the superbly talented Jeremiah Owyang left Forrester last year to move on to a consulting role, Forrester asked his replacement, Augie Ray, to shut down his prior marketing blog and only post comments related to marketing on the official Forrester sites. It’s hard to peek behind Forrester’s curtain but outside data shows traffic to its main web site down about 50% from summer 2009, so we understand why Forrester is building a wall. Augie appears happy to do so and has defended Forrester’s policy as a basic intellectual property agreement.

According to 20th century business logic, Forrester is absolutely right. IP produced by employees, or even the client roster an employee builds while working there, should belong to Forrester. But the real question of Forrester’s wall is not who owns content or IP, but who controls an audience. Augie’s past blog, according to Quantcast, reached about 1,200-2,400 users per month — not a large crowd, but likely highly influential in the marketing industry. The real risk for Forrester is Augie becomes the next go-to social media star like Jeremiah and then leaves, taking his fans with him.

So who is right? If the issue is not your product (services, methodology, thoughts, blog writing) and really your audience network, should a brand be able to own that as well? What if the audience is following your persona as the center more than the illusory corporate brand?

It’s a serious issue because as networking technology improves, you, dear individual, will become the center of everything. Another Forrester ex-strategist, Charlene Li, has proposed social media will soon “become like air“. Imagine Facebook in the year 2030 when a chip in your ear and webcam on your wrist allow you to post videos of your every thought to everyone in the world, and social media approaches telepathy.

Who owns your mind and its human connections then? And can you take your own brain with you when you change jobs?

It’s been said open systems flourish and closed systems stagnate. Social media systems, on the other hand, simply rewrite the rules of business.

Mullen tells you which Super Bowl ads work

If you want to learn if a $3 million pop on a :30 second spot while overweight men wrestle in spandex is worth it, social media can explain the reaction. Last year, for instance, Teleflora won the Super Bowl. The flower delivery service had a 14-fold lift in online mentions on Twitter after its ads ran during the big game, while chatter about many other brands that advertised went down.

This weekend, ad shop Mullen and social media monitoring service Radian6 will expose buzz to the world with a web site tracking which brands get the most chatter after their Super Bowl ads run. Mullen creative chief Edward Boches explains it wasn’t easy:

“We’ve studied lists of spots and scoured the web for any information that would help – celebrities appearing in spots for example – and then created combinations of words to increase the likelihood we don’t grab anything that isn’t a comment about a commercial. In addition we’ll monitor the game throughout, modifying keywords based on the storylines in the commercials.”

There are now scores of services that watch social media buzz, usually focused on quantity of chatter and “sentiment,” or whether the talk skews toward love or hate. On the plus side, it’s cheap consumer research; on the down, it remains to be seen if short spikes in consumer interest — such as the waves of response in social media that typically crest and fade within two weeks — really influence sales. Ken Burbary, digital strategist at Ernst & Young, has compiled a comprehensive list here, and many of the tools are free. It may be worth seeing how your brand scores among the public, too.