Monthly Archives: October 2010

The future of Playboy Bunnies with your brand tattoo

Forgive us for showing you German Playboy Bunnies preparing for a shower while having pillow fights, but there’s important news here: video alteration, baby.

You see the “Lockermann” tattoos on those ladies’ hips and breasts (yes, safe for work)? Or the guy in the photo on the woman’s necklace locket? They don’t exist. They were digitally inserted post-production, similar to the yellow lines on football fields or the faked billboards glowing behind the batter in baseball broadcasts. The seamless alteration of video has arrived, with a level of 3-D accuracy and speed which could revolutionize advertising.

We know this because we got a call today from a contact who is about to launch such a service in the U.S., and details are under wraps, so let’s game out the scenarios as a series of questions: Who would spend money to insert images or messages in a new way inside video? (Advertisers). Who has had problems monetizing first the Internet and now mobile video formats? (Advertisers.) Who loves new forms of intrusion that spur real impressions on the frontal lobe? (Advertisers.) And what form of media is expected to grow exponentially in the next few decades as consumers and organizations get cheaper, faster content production? (Video.)

So if you connect the dots, you can see an enormous market for the manipulation of moving images as video reality becomes whatever advertisers want it to be. The question is, will consumers rebel if what they want to see as supposed recordings of reality change into what marketers want them to see? What will be the right balance?

Social media, the new TV channel

Only 23% of U.S. participants on social networks describe themselves as “creators” of content, according to a new global study by Forrester Research. Less than a third engage in conversation, and more than two-thirds watch passively. GigaOM notes this should be no surprise, since another recent study by Harvard found that “90% of the content on Twitter is created by 10% of the users.”

The implication is that as social media goes mainstream (Facebook is now the No. 3 website among U.S. adults age 45-54), more users are spending more time watching and less submitting. This may be good news for advertisers who seek to use social channels as a push medium for their message, and not-so-good news for those who believe everyone wants to actively engage in a two-way conversation with their brand.

The formula for going viral (or Twitter failure)

One reason marketers are fascinated by social media is the promise of “going viral,” or achieving “earned media,” in which positive conversations about your brand blossom among customers without you spending a dime. Everyone, from corporations to individuals, secretly longs to become the next cultural meme, to have your tweet retweeted and scaled until the world receives your message.

A recent study by Sysomos shows how difficult this can be. Sysomos examined 1.2 billion tweets and found that most died quickly, with 92.4% of any retweets happening within 60 minutes. About 6% of Twitter messages were retweeted, and 1.53% of all tweets had “three levels,” or bounced back and forth between Twitter users three times. Dirk Singer of UK PR firm Rabbit points out that 1.5% is a relatively high level of engagement compared to other marketing metrics, yet the issue is complex.

Why viruses stop

To understand why even this is failure, consider the formula for viral propagation. For your message to spread, the passalong rate must be higher than the absorption rate over a given period of time; that is, if only 1 person passes every 1 message along, and then every 1 person stops action, you’ll only have a linear path of meme sharing, and you’ll never reach more people than 1 at a time; you need 1.1 people to pass your message along vs. the 1 person who then stops after sharing for the message to continue to scale upward. Antivirus companies such as Symantec use similar models to predict how computer bugs spread. The formula is this:

Viral spread = (Message generation rate – Absorption rate) * Cycle time

So back to Twitter. If most tweets die shortly within 60 minutes, and only 1.53% make it three ripples deep, and most ripples are replies back to the originator, what we have is a half-life — a period of time in which the message must decay, similar to a radioactive material decomposing into something less dangerous. Even if a message does have a passalong generation rate greater than absorption, it will scale to thousands or potentially millions … but inevitably fading consumer interest means the absorption rate grows higher, and the fad dies off. This is why young businessmen no longer ride Razor Scooters in Manhattan, or why Skittles is no longer a discussion topic inside Twitter. Even memes that flare will fade.

There are few cultural messages that continue to spread for more than weeks or months. Religion is famously one; the recent Tea Party viewpoint, which has struck a fertile environment in the anger among recession-hammered Americans, is another. Marketers who seek long-term persuasion of the masses might consider more how to find a cultural niche that will support long-term passalong, instead of the tools such as Twitter that can seed the campaigns. Sustained success in bending the public to your conversation requires more than a hook; it requires a mathematical generation that beats the cold hand of absorption.

Image: Miles Smith

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