Monthly Archives: April 2011

The moral ethos, tantric lust and fakery of Instagram

The Ten Commandments are imperatives followed by the Jews, Catholics and Protestants for happy life — don’t steal, cheat, lie — set down by Moses and immortalized by the tanned Charlton Heston in the 1956 film by Cecil B. DeMille. The idea, of course, is that delayed consequences typically outweigh the pleasure of the moment; sleep with the hottie next door and oh, what a tantric afternoon, but when you lose your beloved later to a lawsuit you won’t feel so fine. Of these laws, the most interesting perhaps is “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Idols. We wonder, of course, at the meaning — no, this isn’t a blog about God, but instead of communications value. So why would a multi-thousand-yearlong meme about spirituality suggest that “idols” are as bad for your soul as sleeping with your neighbor’s spouse?

We live in an age of idolatry, from the obvious American Idol and reality-TV-flavored New Jersey housewives with plumed bosoms to iPods that cocoon us in artificial music and laptops that pull us to friends we have never met. Instagram is the latest invention, a seven-month-old social network of photo sharing that allows a snapshot of lackluster scenery to become a minor work of art.

Boring reality

For example, see the photo above. This was shot quickly on a cycling trip as the image of a tree before a cloudy sky caught our eye. The actual image wasn’t impressive, but we thought, “we can do something with that.” A crop, alignment, filter, and viola — colors bloom.

The expression of the human soul and hunger for connections have been with us for generations, but we are evolving to the point where technology can distort the world around us. Instagram is the latest addiction; a wonderfully clever service that ties quickly into Twitter to give your existing social graph a new overlay, photos you can edit into almost any creation. So we feel more connection to the world around us that doesn’t quite exist. The pastels of unreality are wonderful. What happens when technology embeds filters in our contacts, and artificial overlays make any image appear more what we want than what it is? Eventually, we can turn anything into a beautiful construct. Are fake idols good for us, too?

Until we figure it out, we’ll play on Instagram. It has more than 2 million users already, and is attracting 130,000 idolaters each week.

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.

Warner Brothers spins someone else’s web

Way back in the old days, say, 2008, people worried about losing their personal identities and companies fretted about competitors gaining their customer lists. The new valuable asset in play is your personal social network.

Case in point: Warner Brothers, eyeing the $59 billion in annual U.S. TV advertising up for grabs as consumers shift from cable, is about to launch a “Digital Everywhere” network that allows you to aggregate your entire video library in the cloud. Digital Everywhere combines flavors of iTunes (you buy or rent movies and TV shows), Amazon Cloud Drive (you store your stuff online), Netflix (the service personalizes recommendations), and Facebook (it pushes recommendations to your friends). If that sounds confusing, think of Digital Everywhere as a new hub that links to all your other entertainment hubs — a Dyson vacuum to suck up all your cluttered video content so you can find it in one place. Warner Brothers has a vast library to stir interest: everything from Peanuts, Sesame Street, Looney Tunes and Charlie Brown to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Austin Powers, the Harry Potter film series, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Mad Magazine and Ocean’s Eleven.

Groovy, except this brings up an interesting competitive point. This app works with the rest of the entertainment industry, but also lifts data from those players. CNBC reports that if you plug in your password to Netflix, Digital Everywhere can scrape your history there to personalize recommendations. Digital Everywhere also plugs into iTunes and Facebook, where it can parse all the purchases you made through Apple and then share what you’re doing with friends.

In essence, Digital Everywhere is building off the entertainment and social networking equity competitors have accrued elsewhere. Often, this “network scraping” technique helps new services scale — Instagram, a clever social media photo application, grew to more than 2 million users in just 6 months by linking seamlessly to Twitter, for instance. Riding the web of others is a fast path to growth. The hard lesson for companies like Apple and Facebook rushing to build the future’s new entertainment platform is if they build wide enough, competitors may not stand on that stage — they may draw a circle around it and push a new platform under it.

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.

Image: Zxgirl

Fake tweets and the future of AI

Way back in 1950 early computer scientist Alan Turing suggested that machines would eventually think. Since judging “thinking” is a tough dynamic, he suggested a related test: Have both a computer and a human respond to questions, and if another human observer could not tell the difference in answers, then the computing machine would be “thinking” — hey, faking it is as good as the real thing. The so-called Turing test became a benchmark of artificial intelligence, and today machines still fail it, as witnessed by the comically smart but subtly off IBM machine Watson who recently won against humans on the TV game show Jeopardy.

But surprise, surprise: a new Twitter mashup comes close. That Can Be My Next Tweet pulls phrases from your recent Twitter missives to spin a new message you can send out to your thousands of followers, and the results are astoundingly insightful. We’re not sure what algorithm powers this, but it’s clever, and damned if the tweet generated didn’t sound a bit like us. Perhaps AI when it arrives will simply recast bits from preceding human minds, a curating intelligence that collates others’ thoughts, so it doesn’t have to start from scratch. Social networks provide plenty of input. Google is transcribing every book on the planet. Experian and Facebook are mapping all human data connections. Free apps can combine all the messages. Watson, are you listening?

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.

YouTube’s attention deficit disorder

About $59 billion is spent on television advertising in the U.S. each year, so it’s stunning to realize it’s all going into play. TV is changing in two fundamental ways — tablet-type devices now put enjoyable video streaming in your lap, and the next generation of TV sets is being built, finally, with connections that hook you into the Internet. This means that online video sites have a rare opportunity to smack cable companies and snag billions in ad dollars — if they can use the new gadgets or TV screen access to change consumers’ video behavior. About 2% of U.S. cable subscribers “cut the cord” in the past three years, and that may just be the beginning.

Alas, YouTube may have missed the lead in this new advertising landscape. Today is the top video web site in the U.S., with between 111 million or 130 million monthly uniques (comScore and Quantcast differ slightly in their reports). Yet the time spent on YouTube per user is a fraction of competitors’. ComScore reports the typical YouTube viewer spends 2 hours and 14 minutes a month watching its videos — about 15 minutes per day — while Hulu captures each user for 5 hours and Netflix for more than 9 hours and 15 minutes. People like YouTube, but only for video snacks, not for full-course entertainment meals.

Yes, YouTube is still growing — its audience is up 25% in the past 12 months — but it needs more time from its shallow users if it’s going to attract bigger advertising dollars. To help, Google, which owns YouTube, recently announced it will spend $100 million to build richer, longer, professional video content. YouTube also recently launched YouTube Live, a service meant to lure you in longer, although the initial content we found at seems lackluster (tobacco education and cricket games, anyone?).

It won’t be easy. “We are not good at creating content,” Tom Pickett, director of content at YouTube, told Ad Age in March. The only way to get viewers to stay is to build content with a reason.

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.

Image: César Augusto Serna Sz

Observational bias

Market research is a nuanced field, and to suggest that the people leading it find what they want is fraught with peril. Yet observational bias exists. Here’s one potential example (emphasis on “potential”). ListenLogic, a social media intelligence and analytics company, has published a report that suggests that 25% of shopping conversations are posted online while consumers are in a store, via mobile handsets. Egads, you think — 1 out of 4 consumers is talking about my brand while IN THE STORE! We must improve customer service! And learn how to monitor real-time consumer conversations!


Social media intelligence has extreme value, and we don’t suggest you not hire services such as Radian6 to see what the public thinks about you. But dig into this study and you’ll find of “16,500 public online and social consumer conversations” what was observed were consumers “discussing their shopping experiences.” As in, honey, I’m shopping, can you meet me at the store? ListenLogic reports, “Conversations in the Q1 2011 study ranged from comparing pricing, seeking assistance, checking-in, ‘meet me here,’ and interacting with staff.” The kinds of things you’re most likely to do in the store.

It is important to note that this stuff happened. But to conclude that 25% of all shopping-related conversation happens beside the mannequins at Macy’s … well, that is not the case here, when what we’re listening to is a very specific subset of consumer online posting behavior.

We’re certain the study is well-intentioned, as most research is. The takeaway for marketers is: Are you allowing your bias on what you want to find to discolor your research results?

HT Dirk Singer of the UK agency Rabbit.

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.

Beyond ZOMG: cell phone tracking and Color’s new business model

German Green Party politician Malte Spitz is concerned about privacy. So to prove a point, he sued Deutsche Telekom to have them release six months of tracking information collected by his cell phone; Spitz then gave the data to Zeit Online, which made a freakily accurate animated graphic of Spitz’s exact travels over six months. The map shows Spitz as a dot moving from meeting to meeting, stopping to sleep … and by combining the phone data with publicly available information from his tweets and web activity, observers can determine much of what he was thinking and doing throughout each day.

Of course a normal reaction is ZOMG, cell towers are watching us. Once you get past this, the next reaction is to wonder, how could consumers be protected while putting such data to beneficial use?

In marketing, for instance, personalization is something consumers long for (see: the success of Netflix) but something marketers fail miserably at (mainly because each consumer has thousands of different modalities that manifest themselves almost randomly, e.g. you could be a hipster and father and lover and friend and cycling enthusiast and researcher of pharmaceutical meds, all at different times in one day). Truly accurate geolocation tracking, coupled with data feeds that flag or predict your consumption modality, would allow advertising to be tailored to what you really want, when you want it. Such personalization would fill the very basic marketing gap — blindingly obvious, once you think of it — of digital coupons at checkouts tailored to something consumers really want but haven’t purchased yet (as opposed to current couponing in U.S. grocery stores, which offers you discounts on products you already bought after you pay the clerk, doh).

Personalization, perhaps the real play for Color
Tailoring offers at the point of decision remains excruciatingly difficult, which is why marketers have failed to make so-called 1to1 personalization happen. Better tracking systems could finally make personalization possible.

App upstart Color could be a player. Robert Scoble noted this week that Color, the much-ballyhooed and confusingly designed photo app, launched to apparent failure … but has location technology behind it that could make future use more interesting (and worthy of the $41 million VC investment). Scoble wrote, “for instance, when you take a photo [Color] measures the audio profile of the room, captures the compass reading and other sensor readings, and pretty accurately knows other users in the room at the same time.” At face value Color creates a new type of spontaneous social network, useful for sharing pictures with strangers at a rock concert. But imagine deploying Color’s location sensors to reach groups of consumers passing through the mall on Black Friday, parsing which people are leaning to your retail location … and tying that back to past individual consumption histories to predict what they want, with photos of products and associated discounts popping up on their handsets. Unlike the social couponing aspects of Groupon, a geo-location discount from Color would not try to get someone in the door, but rather influence consumers for more sales once they are at the store. The leverage there is exponentially higher.

The data is out there, and businesses are just beginning to learn how to use it. The future of personalization may finally arrive. Of course, that also means not freaking you out with marketers who know when you’ve been sleeping and know when you’re awake.

(It’s worth playing with the cell phone data map here to see the tracking experience yourself.)

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.

Via Groovemonkey.

Progressive watches your driving, Google watches your face

“Good drivers finally get the savings they deserve.” That’s how Progressive pitches Snapshot, its new optional device that goes inside your car to monitor how far you drive and how hard you brake, the idea being if you are a good driver, Progressive will use its remote watching to reduce your insurance rates.

It’s part of a trend of consumer tracking that can be both beneficial and freaky. Google (no April’s Fool joke) is working on a facial recognition mobile app that could use a photo of your mug to automatically link to your online profile, very useful at business conferences and extremely worrisome, say, to women who may not want men finding their home address after shooting their image at a bar. (Google, recognizing the privacy concerns and recently stung by its Buzz data debacle, is said to be making the app opt-in only at first.) The convergence of online personal profiles, ubiquitous cameras, location-based services, and algorithms that can convert images to data means consumer sharing may be everywhere … and consumer privacy may be a thing of the past.

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.

Image: Iris Shreve Garrott