Monthly Archives: March 2010

SXSW interview: How to cut through the hype

We were fortunate to interview a few bright minds at SXSW Interactive this year. Brian Morrissey is one such light, who as digital editor of Adweek has to sort through claims to seek the truth in emerging technologies. So we asked Brian: “Dude. How do you cut through all the hype?”

Stay tuned for more SXSW interviews this week with myself and Humongo hipster Darryl Ohrt. Vids will be cross posted at Brandflakes for Breakfast.

Nestle’s Facebook meltdown

Oops. Nestle, or whoever runs their Facebook fan page, stepped on a social media landmine this weekend with this update:

Nestle: To repeat: we welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic – they will be deleted. Fri at 2:26am

Nestle received 190 complaints within 24 hours on Facebook, and thousands of tweets reaching hundreds of thousands of consumers. You see, the surest way to tick off users of social media is to delete their comments. Yes, by the old standards of 20th century law, brands have a right to protect their intellectual property. But social media comprises fluid networks of users sharing and retweeting and mashing up material. Brands no longer command media channels or the spread of memes; if you want to win, you have to give users room to play.

Here are highlights from how it played out:

Paul Griffin: Not sure you’re going to win friends in the social media space with this sort of dogmatic approach. I understand that you’re on your back-foot due to various issues not excluding Palm Oil but Social Media is about embracing your market, engaging and having a conversation rather than preaching! Read and rethink! Fri at 2:51am

Nestle: Thanks for the lesson in manners. Consider yourself embraced. But it’s our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus. Fri at 2:53am

Paul Griffin: Your page, your rules, true, and you just lost a customer, won the battle and lost the war! Happy? Fri at 2:56am

Nestle: Oh please .. it’s like we’re censoring everything to allow only positive comments. Fri at 2:58am

Darren Smith: Honey you need new PR Fri at 3:20am

Jagos Golubovic: I was a big fan of your products, but now, when I saw what you guys wrote, I think I’m gonna stop buying them. Fri at 3:55am

Helen Constable: I’d like to know if the person writing the comments for Nestle, actually has the backing from Nestle? I doubt it. Even a dumb ass company like them would get such an idiot to be their public voice. Fri at 4:10am

Nestle: I think you missed out the ‘not’ there, Helen Fri at 4:12am

Hyra Zaka: is a nestle rep running this page????? Fri at 4:39am

Nestle: We welcome debate, @Hyra – from any opinion. It helps us to know what people think and feel. Fri at 4:44am

ymann Lee: WFT !!!! This firm is a ugly creep !! trafficking and now censorship of my personal life. it seems pretty nazi !! Fri at 5:19am

Fernanda Shirakawa: I’m not using your logo… Fri at 5:55am

Fernanda Shirakawa: You deleted my comment anyway… Fri at 5:57am

Damien DeBarra: What a total train wreck. Sorry Nestle, but you really don’t seem to get it do you? Social media provides you with an opportunity to engage with your customers – to listen to them, to show that you actually care about ethical issues in business. Sadly it seems you have precisely the opposite attitude and seem determined to be as aggressive, patronising and corporatist as you can. And practically guaranteed that folks will now start shunning your products. Fri at 8:00am

Mark Watts-Jones: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Case study in how not to engage with your customers. We’ll await the inevitable apology and climb down. Fri at 11:06am

Nestle: This (deleting logos) was one in a series of mistakes for which I would like to apologise. And for being rude. We’ve stopped deleting posts, and I have stopped being rude. Fri at 1:29pm

(Update: The prelude to all this was a coordinated Greenpeace attack on Nestle’s Facebook page, which helps explain why the FB community manager was defensive; Jeremiah Owyang has a summary here.)

Bicycle unbranded

So this sharp blogger named Dave Wilkie, who has self-branded as Jetpacks, has always hated those plastic license-plate frames dealers stick on the back of cars cheesily advertising their dealership, so yanks them off, and suddenly realized his beloved bicycle was also covered with logos. Trek. Bontrager. Shimano. Even emblems for the local bike dealer. So he painted over them all.

The resulting image creates a surreal branding negative space. Our reaction, upon seeing the stripped bike photo, was it looked like an unbike. Is it worth anything? Hard to judge. If you’re not into cycling components, brand logos help you ascertain whether there is expense here or not. Now we’re befuddled. Maybe it’s just a bike — a form of transport from A to B?

Fire and fertility

Which brings up the value of brands anyway. We’ve written before brands are a helpful mental shortcut in a world filled with too much information; illusory, perhaps, but also a quick scoring mechanism to tell you whether a thing has value. Branding focuses communication and can sway minds. Consider the “estate tax” vs. the “death tax” — same deal, but when conservatives began calling the former the latter, public opinion tipped away from such an evil thing. Liberals call conservatives they don’t like “tea baggers.” Conservatives call liberals they don’t like members of the “democrat party.” Names and icons have power, because our cave ancestors had to make quick decisions to survive, and rather than logically weigh the merits of every choice, they learned to follow brand images. Red = fire = danger = today’s stop signs. Green = fertility = happiness = today’s go signs. Brands are everywhere.

Jetpacks, we admire your cleanliness, but man, your bike is confusing.

Face time

Technology has a way of surprising us with simplicity. In the 1950s we thought by 2010 humanity would be flying around in rocket cars; instead, we’ve turned telephones into tiny typewriters. (We’re still a bit disappointed, really.) Augmented reality is getting hyperbole today, but one of the best uses of overlaying the Internet on objects may just be recognizing things — like people.

Darryl Ohrt points us to Recognizr, a mobile app that lets you look up people by snapping photos of their faces. Incredibly useful for business meetings, conferences, or reminding yourself of who that dude is at your high school reunion.

Danah Boyd and social network freakouts

Marketers are hungry to mine new social-network data: not just what you say, but whom you’re saying it with. There’s a homophily concept, you see, that birds of a feather buy together. A classic 2004 study by AT&T Labs Research found that people who chat frequently on the telephone are three to five times more likely to respond to the same marketing pitch. Twitter today has 75.2 million monthly users, and while 93% of them have sent fewer than 100 tweets, that leaves a population of about 5 million frequently updating their likes about brands, products and services, with visible connections.

Danah Boyd, in her SXSW keynote address, pointed out a nuance in networks, though, that should warn marketers to be careful before they toss offers based on sheer data. The concept goes like this: Imagine you know X people in the world and interact with all of them in some manner. Your behavioral network is everyone you touch somehow, which could be observed from the outside. Yet within this you may have a smaller group that you say you know — by pinning their names inside Microsoft Outlook, or Facebook, or your cell phone contacts — which is your articulated network. And within this, there is an even smaller group who are your personal network — family, true friends, or perhaps enemies, the intimates who touch your inner mind. These are not mutually exclusive categories; an intimate friend may not be someone you log in to an address book; but you treat them as three discrete concepts in your head.

Google’s Buzzworthy failure

Buzz was an attempt by Google to build a new social network; to scale it rapidly, Google decided to tie the on ramp to its Gmail. Gmail users who opened their web mail in February were greeted with a message touting how Buzz would share updates with their friends easily! Trouble was, the default setting in Google Buzz was public disclosure of the names of your Gmail contacts you communicate with most frequently. Want to catch a whiff of a competitor’s business development strategy? Hook in with Buzz and see who they’re emailing. Users could disable the feature, but it was complicated, an opt-out, and made some worry they might cancel their entire Gmail account by doing so.

Danah summed up Google’s mistake:

“Google collapsed behavioral and articulated social networks and presented them in a way that indicated that they might be one’s personal network. And for many users, this wasn’t quite right. You may talk to your ex-husband frequently via email, but that doesn’t mean that you want to follow him on Buzz.”

Metcalfe wants more

Technology companies are doing such things not to be evil, but to build networks with more utility that can be monetized at greater value in the future. It’s no mistake Facebook removed privacy settings by default in December, opening your updates to everyone (with the option to go back); the greater the nodes in the network, the higher the value to potential advertisers. This week Twitter announced a new @anywhere initiative that basically allows you to click on links in news articles to follow or retweet authors, publishers or brands — another way to expand its network nodes. Such pushes may indicate social networks are cresting in adoption; Twitter, for instance, should be concerned that 57% of its users have only 1-10 followers and 24% have no followers at all. If you run the network, you want it to grow and to be as open as possible — because that unlocks all doors to value.

But Google, Facebook and other companies that tap networks too hard without weighing the nuances of privacy are met with a fierce backlash. For marketers about to wade into the social streams, it’s worth considering more than the sentiment and volume of tweets about your brand, the connections between users that indicate their responsiveness, and the tactics you can deploy to get them leaning toward your message. You might also consider if your observant intrusion is going to freak anyone out.

Yes, soon you’ll own a 3-D TV

Technology is best taken with a grain of salt. We’ve written in BusinessWeek that widgets won’t work (wrong), Twitter ads will fail (right), and Google may get its search lunch eaten by mobile (the verdict is still out). But man. 3-D video may change the world.

We discovered this by entering a giant Panasonic booth at the SXSW trade show. Sure, we thought, another visual gizmo. Two guys in front of us were skeptical as well. “I mean, how much better can my eyes possibly see?” one dude asked. But inside the unit, a giant screen and battery-powered glasses gave the future game away. The technology works by flashing hundreds of frames per second on a giant high-def screen, with each frame alternating points of view; the powered glasses have lenses that shutter the left, then right eye rapidly in succession, so fast you can’t notice. The result is two angled images, just like real life, beamed to your brain by each eyeball. Whoa. Soccer balls soared past our head in high-def. Avatar aliens soared through trees. The biggest surprise was typographic and graphics — bright hard edges leap forward, making us wonder what salespeople will do with PowerPoint in a few years.

Panasonic and Sony are pushing 3-D hard. Wired has a complete writeup of Sony’s efforts, which include pushing 3-D into consumer cameras as well, so mom can watch little Johnny wiggle in the air. There’s tremendous energy behind this because Sony has missed some recent tech advances, such as the portable MP3 music market now owned by Apple (and lost a billion dollars in 2008 to boot); meanwhile the average U.S. home now has more 2-D televisions than people. But the real reason is the experience is nothing like you’ve seen before. A minor quibble; with some crowd scenes the people and objects look miniature, a bit of a tilt-shift camera effect that makes you feel like you could reach out and squash them. Guess you’ll have to spring for a big set.

The motives of futurism

Our friend Max Zeledon, likely annoyed by tweets from SXSW, grew sharp tonight. “I’m increasingly becoming bored with tech pundits,” he wrote, “who continue to overreach when it comes to the future, pretending to know what the next ‘big’ thing is when in fact nobody can predict the future.” We reflected:

We’re all guilty of this to a degree. Since we all write or speak differently, perhaps it comes down to motive. Some (I like to think myself) write about future trends because we’re curious, we’re challenged, we’re puzzled, we have questions and we’re trying to sort it all out. Others may do so for more purely self-promotional motives, riding the Gartner hype cycle to draw attention to their speaking or book deals. The problem is there is huge demand for this type of bullshit. Humans, business people in particular, are exposed to massive amounts of data and have a hard time ingesting it; we long for frameworks to help us understand the world; when someone gives us a new model to screen the noise of data coming in from the future, we latch on. It could be a survival instinct, a weather forecast for winter storms ahead, but there’s deep hunger for future predictions. The demand may come from fear we’ll fail, or hope we’ll win, so we buy into Who Moved My Cheese silliness to guide our next decision. I hope I’m not the guy feeding this to make money or to build a modicum of fame. I hope I just write because I’m trying to solve the puzzle in my own head. But thanks for the warning.

SXSW ideation: Ending hunger

The great irony of SXSW Interactive is most of its panels are one-way affairs with gurus broadcasting their business acumen at the audience. Which is why we found Scott Henderson’s We Can End This workshop on hunger relief fascinating. He asked his audience to roll up their sleeves and brainstorm ideas.

We sat through Hendo’s morning session with social strategist Geoff Livingston, Humongo agency’s Darryl Ohrt, Kyla Fullenwider of sponsor PepsiCo, product strategist Anne Mai Bertelsen, and others. Some, like Livingston, suggested using new social media tools to connect donators with food banks in local communities. We suggested another path — decrease the waste in our food system to fund hunger relief.

Billions of dollars now going in the trash

The United States, you see, tosses out 40-50% of food ready for harvest, and of the food we buy, half of that comes from restaurants outside the home. Americans spend $149 billion annually on casual dining and coffeeshops; increasing the efficiency of that market even slightly would free up billions to fill empty stomachs. To connect these dots, we’d simply (a) reduce restaurant food waste and use the economic savings to (b) fund hunger relief. The program could work like emissions trading for air pollution abatement:

1. Create a cap-and-trade system for food waste. A central body (government or national food association) would set total target limits on food waste, and issue credits allowing companies a certain level.
2. Measure food waste in restaurants — packaging, portions, food not consumed.
3. Restaurants that cannot reduce food waste would trade (buy) allowances.
4. Restaurants that do reduce waste would trade (sell) allowances.
5. This economic system would provide strong incentives for restaurants to reduce food waste — spurring marketing innovations such as menu items with smaller portions, similar to today’s “heart healthy” choices.
6. A commission structure could be set on market trading — a “tax” on each trade — to be used to fund hunger relief programs.
7. The high visibility of national restaurant chains promoting reduced waste/hunger relief would build consumer awareness as well — perhaps making the cause as popular as recycling, which has become the standard human behavior to reduce trash.

It’s just one idea, inspired by a truly interactive SXSW panel. SXSW organizers, we’d like to see more such real engagement next year. Learn more at We Can End This or submit your ideas at Goodzuma with the user name and password “SXSW.” And Scotty: Nicely done.

Image: Guuleed

Augmenting too far

We’re packing for SXSW Interactive in Texas, a conference dedicated to online evolution, so leave you with this: Is all this virtual stuff dangerous? Over at Slate, William Saletan brilliantly recounts the sad story of a young South Korean couple who spent 12 hours a day in an Internet cafe, caring for a virtual baby in an online game … until their real baby at home died allegedly from malnutrition and dehydration.

“Maybe this is just a weird story about a sick couple on the other side of the planet. But look in the mirror. Every time you answer your cell phone in traffic, squander your work day on YouTube, text a colleague during dinner, or turn on the TV to escape your kids, you’re leaving this world. You’re neglecting the people around you, sometimes at the risk of killing them.

“The problem isn’t that you’re a bad or weak person. It’s worse than that. The problem is that all of us are susceptible to being drawn into other worlds, and other worlds are becoming ever more compelling. In the old days, imaginary friends had to be imagined. Now you can see and interact with them. In cyberspace, they exist. They’re more alluring and less flawed than your friends in the physical world. And thanks to artificial intelligence and three-dimensional graphics, they’re becoming quite lifelike.”

Whoa. Time to catch some sunshine.

Chevy vs. pollution in the stream

Very few people who work in the ad industry have the balls to question the ethics of a campaign — ethics, in advertising? — because doing so could burn a bridge from a potential client. But what the hell — we’re not here to play nice, we’re here to advise our clients about what works, and that includes not making mistakes that damage their future reputation.

So let’s take a look at, oh, perhaps Chevy’s current SXSW campaign. Say hypothetically you’re a car company trying to boost sales among a younger demographic, and the MRI data shows these people are avoiding TV and spending more time in social media listening to peers. It’s really hard to buy advertising against that demo. And then your agency guru walks in wearing a black T-shirt talking about SIM scores suggesting there’s a way to “earn media” — and NOT pay for it — by letting a handful of young people borrow cars and drive to an uberhip conference, say SXSW Interactive in Texas, and broadcast their Chevy adventures along the way. And they’ll use a “hashtag,” something like #chevysxsw, that appears at the end of every tweet. A handful of cars, a dozen people times their few thousand followers, and suddenly you have an organic loudspeaker spraying Chevy messages to hundreds of thousands of people inside Twitter every day … for almost no marketing budget.

Is this a good idea? Does it help the Chevy brand? Do the thousands of people exposed to non sequitur messaging and strange #chevyreadthis symbols like the promotions creeping into their communication stream, and then think, heck, it’s high time to test drive a Chevy? And what about the broader ecosystem issues of what happens if such campaigns take off, and one day every other tweet from your own personal online community has a #brandmention attached because someone is getting a little free gift from a car or stereo or condom company? What happens to the value of the network then?

Is anyone thinking about the adverse impact of the people annoyed by messaging vs. the people who respond?

We’ve seen this before in the 1990s with telemarketing. For you young readers out there, telesales actually used to be a part of most business operations and worked well … until the aggregate calls got to be too much. Do Not Call lists were created, most Americans signed up, the government imposed heavy fines for any marketer who didn’t avoid calling DNC homes, and suddenly shilling via phone did not work anymore. You’ll still get calls from politicians or nonprofits who are exempt from DNC (love that, don’t you?), but even they have challenges making telemarketing work, because the only people who respond tend to be the less educated, less wealthy, less desirable consumers who haven’t figured out how to sign up for DNC.

The Scobleizer’s take on ethics

About a year ago we had the fortune to interview Robert Scoble for a BusinessWeek column, and he said something very smart. We paraphrase: Rules in business about conflicts of interest or partitioning advertising, he said, were not invented because businesses are run by altruists. The rules evolved because businesses screwed up, overstepped their bounds, lost customers, and realized they needed rules to keep operations in order. Advertising works best when it is kept in its box and labeled as such, because people know where it is coming from. Letting it creep into the stream makes the source hazy, adds a layer of confusion, and diminishes the value of the network.

So, dear #chevytweeters on Twitter and the ad agencies who promote such hoopla. We hope your campaign is a rousing success. We’re sure your social-media sentiment score will click up this week, and the metrics will look great in PowerPoint. But are you really thinking about the direction your car is headed?

Chevy campaign details here.