Category Archives: photography

Why Underdog flies (the formula for going viral)

A joke inside ad agencies is yes, we can make concepts “go viral,” but we charge extra for that. Last night Seth Casteel’s photos of underwater dogs started popping up everywhere in Facebook and Twitter streams, without agency help. Seth has been around for a while — his website has a quote from Cesar Millan, and Seth had a guest segment on the TV show Extra! back in November 2009.

So why now? Why, for a fleeting moment, are people crazy about sharing pics of dogs baring fangs underwater?

Back in 2010, I defined the mathematical formula for viral success.

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 first 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

The truth is no one can plan or predict how an idea will fit into the cultural context of the moment, or how the pattern of complex passalongs leads to the viral success where the share rate exceeds the stall rate of transmission. For people to get excited enough to share an idea, it has to resonate against a cultural moment, provide a frisson of entertainment or shock, and stand out from competing ideas. This is one reason why marketers spend north of $3 million for Super Bowl ads, because the consumer ecosystem is primed to act on exciting ideas and share them (but only if the ideas are exciting, unlike most ads in this year’s Super Bowl).

Yesterday was a cold February Friday in the Northern Hemisphere in the dead zone weeks after the Christmas holidays and weeks before spring. People are bored, and perhaps funny images of dogs in summery water gives us hope that blasé winter will end. So we share. No one knows why. You can’t predict it. Some things just make a splash.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Originally posted on G+.

NYT retouches Polaroid

Remember the days before Photoshop? When the photo you snapped was what you got? NYT reports Polaroid, bumping through bankruptcy, may be reborn in the Netherlands as a group of investors takes over an abandoned factory. The crux of it all is Polaroid SX 70 and 600 series film, required to make those sliding squares pop out of the instant cameras and about to go the way of dinosaurs, may come back.

The resurrection appears not done yet, so NYT is rallying a movement by inviting readers to email old Polaroid snaps (via scan, or photo of the photo) to This should be fun.

The view from our spaceship

William Castleman figured out how to film the center of our own galaxy as it rose over the night horizon in Texas. In case you want directions, here’s how he did it:

“The time-lapse sequence was taken with the simplest equipment that I brought to the star party. I put the Canon EOS-5D (AA screen modified to record hydrogen alpha at 656 nm) with an EF 15mm f/2.8 lens on a weighted tripod. Exposures were 20 seconds at f/2.8 ISO 1600 followed by 40 second interval. Exposures were controlled by an interval timer shutter release (Canon TC80N3). Power was provided by a Hutech EOS203 12v power adapter run off a 12v deep cycle battery. Large jpg files shot in custom white balance were batch processed in Photoshop (levels, curves, contrast, Noise Ninja noise reduction, resize) and assembled in Quicktime Pro. Editing/assembly was with Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9.”

Via The Denver Egotist.

Pixazza: A price tag inside web photos

James Everingham was watching his wife search online for the shoes “Sex in the City” star Jessica Parker wore in a photograph and realized, wouldn’t it be easier if photos carried embedded ads? His brainchild is now Pixazza, a photo-ad integration company that just scored $5.8 million from a Google-fed VC fund. When users scroll over online photos tagged by Pixazza, little price tags appear; move to a price tag and a window pops up explaining the product and where to buy it. Clever. Unobtrusive. Response rates won’t be high, but then, with banner ads they never are — so why not let those who really care find more info on the products pictured?

Seeing the negative space

Sometimes we get so caught up in internet ADD cool hunting that we fail to observe the real world around us, that thing with wind and trees and children and old lines from Shakespeare and coffee that doesn’t come in $5 cups but still tastes oh so damn good. The warmth of a shaggy dog on a cool spring morning. The smell of garden soil, or flowers, or the grass, or anything that doesn’t come in a bottle or filtered by indoor air conditioning. So we’re taking a brief vacation next week and have decided to free our mind from this media-technology obsession. No more buzzwords. No more ROI. For one week, no more advertising idiot savant.

We’ll write, but it will be about the space beyond our silhouettes. Or, to paraphrase Alan Wolk, the news beyond upscale urban 30something white male hipsters. Surely something is there.

Photo: Darwin Bell.

Hudson River plane crash: Almost out of time

Yesterday afternoon we saw this photo of US Airways Airbus A320 floating in the Hudson River and were mesmerized, upset, strangely euphoric. We saw it again this morning and thought, hm, already know that story. Reviewing it this afternoon we thought, ugh, the composition is horrible — and that cell phone camera has lousy resolution. What a crappy photo.

Why does the value of this image decay over time? Why is “news” more powerful when recent? Bill Green has a nice rant today about the rush for consumers to become reporters via Twitter, even if it leads to inaccuracy, with mainstream media reflowing the reports to get as close as possible to the actual moment of the news event. A picture of a bird being sucked into an engine would be powerful, but 1,000 times more so if posted online only seconds after the plane hit it.

Robin Le Poidevin of Leeds University wrote a few years back that human perception of time may be an actual sixth sense; even if your eyes and ears were shuttered, you’d still note the passage of time by the simple thoughts flowing in your head. He wrote “perception of temporal duration is crucially bound up with memory” — that is, your memory acts like a radioactive particle decaying slowly into the past. With every passing hour, your experience of the world moves from colorful reality to grainy, black-and-white ghosts.

Humans judge sensory input in context — so the closer something happens to now, the more powerful it seems because it is associated with all the recent, still-vivid memories flooding your mind. Our brains, of course, quickly forget things, even those that we manage to transition to long-term memory … so as our mental context to judge events degrades, we may devalue the events that happened next to them on the same mental clock.

A kiss this instant is exciting. A minute ago it’s a warm memory. A decade ago and the event dissolves into a story in some dry novel, barely worth a revisit.

Perhaps our modern itch to quicken the pace of news reports is more than media frenzies or technology enablers, but instead tied to evolution, the fact that what happens at this exact second — or close to it — may swing our survival. An inbound storm, a report of lions in the savanna, word that the clan next door is preparing for war are all threats our ancestors met and survived to pass their genes down to us.

So we watch what happens close to us in our random location on the spectrum of time. This explains why you throw out old magazines, even if you haven’t read them, or why grainy photos from amateur cell phones make Page 1 in national newspapers. We care about what is close, not distant, and that includes the vast fading spectrum of time.

Jamie Livingston took a photo every day, until cancer won

Photographer Jamie Livingston took a Polaroid picture almost every day for 18 years, from March 31, 1979 through October 25, 1997 — the day he died. The photos show him grooving at a concert, celebrating an independent film festival, stockpiling the photos themselves, getting married (above), and lying in a hospital bed dying from cancer. Before Blogger was born, Jamie had learned how to record and share a life.

We’ve thought recently that Twitter, the text-messaging-what-are-you-doing? service that allows anyone to share tiny thoughts with the public, is in essence a rolling memory bank for someone’s life. You can go to any person on Twitter, at (or whatever name), to see their thoughts, moment by moment, going back in time.

As video capture becomes more common, people will begin recording images of their lives, too. As we try to network and self-promote and communicate with each other, we’re etching a history of ourselves into the internet. Sort of like Jamie Livingston.

(Thanks to Make the Logo Bigger and Chris Higgins. Complete Livingston photo series, posted online by his friends, here.)