Monthly Archives: December 2011

(Archive) The technology of love

Sarah Jamieson is a metro office worker who aspires to be a writer. She’s 24, slightly overweight, but knows she’s attractive because John at the front desk keeps ogling her chest. Sarah isn’t dating, though, because work is stressful and the hours are long and it’s just too damned hard to find time to go out. The last guy Brian was a jerk focused on unbuttoning her blouse, and is for losers — so a break is in order. Each evening after taking the G train home she cooks a microwave dinner in her apartment over a Brooklyn grocery, pours a glass of white wine, and retires to a wooden desk, a gift from her grandmother, to write a post for her blog While Sarah types, her Mac’s TweetDeck program flashes updates from online friends every 15 seconds or so — tidbits such as “RT @johnhenry57 Do you remember the first time you fell in love?” — and she feels the warmth of human connection, of belonging to a tribe, of knowing others who know her needs. John Henry lives in Britain, she thinks, unsure and too tired to click to his bio. She pecks out a final sentence, hits Publish Post, tells herself she’ll call her mother tomorrow, and goes to bed.

That story is fiction.

The reality is closer: Many people live two lives, one with a lover or cat at home and another far away in a fictitious corporate environment, a battle of spreadsheets for entities that exist only in legal documents with surnames such as Inc. or LLC, in small rooms under fluorescent tubes far from the sun. Hours there are traded for numbers, no more than ones and zeros, that flow like blood into electronic scoring tables called bank accounts, and then can be transferred for goods, food and shelter. Perhaps stunned by the fake ambience of math, these people take recess in online games that pretend to connect to other people, with scoring mechanisms telling them they are growing more popular.

This story is real.

How did our world splinter in two — a home life with flesh and blood, and a corporate matrix populated by artificial-numbered social reality? If veal is disdained by some who would never eat a calf kept in a small bin, not allowed to roam free, trapped indoors for life; then who would eat you? In the United States, 9 in 10 people commute to work by car, spending a collective 3.7 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, only to arrive at job sites that require 9 hours or more of input into devices that lead to numbers in banks. If humans are social creatures, driven by sexual urges to procreate and parental desires to protect our young, how did we mortgage our lust-and-love connections to spend so much time in artificial environs?

Why is that which is closest to our bodies now furthest from our souls?

Social scientist Geoffrey Miller posed in Spent that the world did not have to end up like this; rather, it was series of unforeseen inventions, some helpful — such as trading markets or artificial currency — that allowed us to build and buy self-pleasuring items such as tickets to Tori Amos concerts or Hummers with poor turning radiuses. Unfortunately, Miller suggested, these inventions pushed us away from the bucolic values that once kept tribes cohesive and love close at hand.

Yes, you own a shiny iPod that can pump emotional music into your brain to bathe you in warmth, but you can’t hug your wife or kids at 3 p.m. while flying to Dallas or typing downtown. Technology has expanded our need set; we can fill our lives with near-perfect entertainment tools, the equivalent of 300 plays running concurrently in any hour on our TVs, pre-cooked meals of any flavor, voice transmissions around the globe … and yet most of this time is disconnected from the children who make us laugh or lover who brings us pleasure.

Is this too negative? Look around on the highway in the morning, at the cars crowding you, each with only one person inside its steel box. We have mortgaged our lives, and the answer lies in our drive for loyalty, for the stability of people or places or things that we can count on that will do us no harm. We crave predictability, because it helped our ancestors survive. The best way to predict the future is to find environments that have repeatable events driven by loyal people we trust. As environments have become more artificial, they’ve also improved in stability — and we find that loyalty pleasing.

Consider what loyalty is. Psychology has defined three aspects of faithfulness: emotional attachment (affective), perceived switching costs (continuance), and feelings of obligation (normative). Fear of switching and feelings of obligation are two potential motives for our inertia in staying in jobs, in living the same commute, in not fleeing the business world to go build sea-shell necklaces on a beach in Mexico. The false thrill of numbers in a bank have given us 2 of the 3 loyalty mechanisms we need to stay put in evolving society — we fear switching, and we’re obligated to go on.

But what of the other: emotional attachment? The affective aspect of loyalty is harder to fulfill, because it resorts to such funny stuff as novelty, humor, friendship, compassion and love. You felt this as a child with your mother, and perhaps when dating as a teen or falling for your spouse, the incredible drive to stay forever with another being who is filling your emotional needs. Emotion is the strongest impulse for loyalty, for going on one path and neglecting all others.

About 15 years ago, technology began filling our loyalty gap.

Technology today has accelerated our fake relationships, the reinforcement of stability, of loyal beings who will give us what we need. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, email (yes), texting, video-sharing, or Flickr all allow us to connect with others who seem to love us. Of course, they don’t, because love requires commitment and true understanding, but technology appeases those flaws by allowing each user to set up self-filters to screen the content most likely to simulate affection. Twitter brilliantly imposed a gaming-psychology device, a number of “followers” at the upper right that each user can track to see how many connections he or she has, a proxy for requited emotion. Facebook has taken another approach, installing an EdgeRank algorithm that pushes only updates from friends it deems interesting into your stream (based on how often you communicate with them, how many others have commented on the post, and how recent it was). The result is a warm flow of material that seems addressed to you by others who care, each item surrounded by popular comments showing a community of interest.

You are embraced by others who love the concept of you.

Yes, this sounds dark. Grave. Abysmal. But consider the deeper question: if we have lived for 500 or so years trading fictitious currency as a sign for the value of goods, instead of swapping real grain and furs, has the new set of follower numbers and social content that emulate real relationships provided an even more compelling fiction, which will further remove us from the real world in our lives? Perhaps that view is wrong. Perhaps you, reading this, think you have your reality under control, that the emerging smart phones and tablets and social network apps are simple extensions of your communication, just as eyeglasses help you see and sneakers ease the pain of your run.

Maybe there is no seismic shift away from physical, flesh-touching, semen-and-tear-and-Band-Aid- stained reality at all. The glowing screens around us are only tools, not encroaching windows ensnaring us in false worlds. We’ll think of that as we turn off this computer and go kiss our kids in bed.

Originally posted at Sundayed in November 2010. Image: cambiodefractal

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.

2012, the year of the TV

For the first time ever, in 2012 the average U.S. home will have three television sets. What does that tell us about society?

It’s a paradox, really. Talk to many in the ad industry and you’ll hear “TV is over.” Gurus from Don Peppers to Joseph Jaffe have made livings suggesting the fragmentation of mass media has spread the disease of consumer inattention, an inability for marketers to maintain the push messaging strategies of yore. Bob Knorpp, a friend of ours who hosts one of adworld’s cleverest podcasts, The Beancast, expressed surprise a few weeks ago when someone mentioned TV ratings were up in 2011. “How is that possible?” Bob asked. “I thought TV was supposed to be dying.”

Yet what’s happening is more complex — time spent in front of TVs is at an all-time high, while within that time video fragmentation is making audiences more difficult to reach. If TV were a date, she’d be having more sex but with many different people. Our passion for television is hot, but alas, she has become promiscuous.

Here’s the good news for TV marketers:

+ The average U.S. consumer is exposed to more than 4 hours and 50 minutes of TV daily. Both web and mobile use, by comparison, rank under 1 hour a day. TV is the largest canvas to paint your brand picture.
+ 97% of U.S. households own TVs.
+ HD video has renewed interest in television, with 67% of homes now able to receive high-def video vs. only 14% four years ago.
+ The cost of TV sets continues to plummet, with high-def 60-inch LCD panels now below $1,000.

Yet big challenges loom:

– Advertisers push too many commercials out. In November 2010 an estimated 19,752 commercial messages of assorted lengths were played on TV during prime time, up 43% from 2000. Average commercial time per television hour is now around 18 minutes, vs. about 8 minutes in the 1960s.
– Consumers can’t possibly digest all those ads. The typical person in the U.S. is exposed to 166 television messages each day. Can you remember more than three TV ads from yesterday?
– Consumers are rebelling in two ways — either doing something else when ad messages run (typically “concurrent media use,” looking away at laptops or mobile), or using time-shifting tools such as TiVo and DVRs to record television and watch it later, fast-forwarding over commercials.

To say TV is dead misses the point; audience fragmentation does not mean audiences no longer exist. TV use is huge, yet consumers have found new ways to avoid ads. It’s easy to forecast statistics to paint too bleak a picture; years ago Jaffe, for instance, said that DVR use would be in 40% of homes by 2009, while Nielsen just reported that timeshifting viewing in 2010 was just 9% of all viewing (time-shifting is plateauing, a sign that consumers may be too lazy to push buttons to record and rewatch programming vs. just letting the blue glow of cable wash over them). Video use via the Internet is expected to challenge TV, but in 2010 young adults spent just 6 minutes and 51 seconds watching online video daily vs. more than two hours using traditional TV.

There is no question the television landscape is changing, but it’s been doing that since the 1960s. Marketers exploring television as an option just have to be smarter about planning how to reach their targets.

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: Al Ibrahim

Meme Christmas

Last summer we debated with someone whether memes exist — the Richard Dawkins’ concept that, because humans copy other human behavior, we thus store and transfer ideas, spreading cultural practices like genes until the winners evolve and replicate and become embedded in all of humanity. Certainly some ideas seem to unfurl and take hold — clothing such as ties for men and dresses for women in the West, the courtesy of saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes, and the winningest idea of all, God, who has survived for thousands of years as a concept in our heads relatively intact (Dawkins dismisses the idea of God, but that’s another story). Whether or not ideas can exist as large entities, or small atomic units similar to genes, is arguable, but they certainly get around.

So today, Dec. 25, if you turn on TV you’ll likely see memes in action: Jimmy Stewart looking crazily off the bridge in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or the glowing leg lamp of Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story.” The radio will play the old Bing Crosby tunes your parents heard as a child. The replayed cultural clutter of Christmas is a series of almost-baked memes that are trying to take hold — God, remember, is the winner, so holiday carols barely 50 years old are still young in the meme game (Mariah Carey is about ready to break through with “All I Want for Christmas” … geez). In a few days these newly embedded memes will fade, before recycling next year, and we’ll return to even younger ideas, fashion (knee-high boots for women are everywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line in the U.S.) or music (the damned Black Eyed Peas are still around and in February Madonna will play the Super Bowl). Newer baby memes will be born across the web in 2012, because the low cost of transmission on the Internet makes it a singles bar for shallow ideas to hook up; some advertiser will invent the next Old Spice hit, some other silliness will spread like cat videos via Facebook and Twitter.

And in truth, you’re likely trying to create a meme yourself. Please retweet me, you think. Take my creation or idea and share it. In all our hearts, we want our minds to live forever by becoming imprinted in all of humanity. Like the sex drive to mate, when we push out our ego-fueled thoughts, we are driven by lust unaware we really are a pawn in the race for human immortality. Wouldn’t it be great if once we’re gone from Earth, generations replayed our image/concept/blog post witticism forever, and we could leave knowing we shaped all of human thought?

All we want for Christmas is immortality. It’s a good idea. Pass it along.

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 Google+.

Ratings 101: Pandora opens the fiction box

As advertising evolved in the 20th century, every medium created its own measurement system to try to make itself look better. Advertisers, you see, don’t buy ads, they buy audiences, and if a media channel can make its audience look bigger, it attracts more marketing money. CPM, or cost per thousand impressions, was a benchmark for years in things you read (newspapers and magazines), battled by GRPs, for Gross Rating Points in TV or radio, the percentage of people in a local market population exposed to the ad message. CPM was a count. GRP was a %. You can already see the comic magic.

When the Internet arrived in the 1990s with more hard-wired metrics such as cost per click, traditional media panicked. Never mind that “clicks” or today’s Like “engagements” would become just as devalued; every nondigital medium went into defensive mode worried that it would lose ad dollars. Out of home moved from DEC to Eyes On measurement. Newspapers went from CPM tied to circulation to a fuzzy “readership” estimate that assumed papers were read by more than one person. And in our favorite move, Arbitron, the group that measures radio ratings, rolled out Portable People Meters that picked up actual radio signals to get a more accurate read on radio ratings than previously had been recorded by diaries. PPMs found that radio listeners skipped around the dial more than previously thought, likely triggered by commercials, so Arbitron in 2007 launched a campaign to media planners claiming 70 GRPs is the new 100. (To understand that ridiculous math, which tried to explain away weaker radio ratings, imagine you give me a check for $100,000. I’ll give you $70,000 back. But don’t worry, $70k is the new $100k, so you’re cool, right?)

So it’s even more comical that Arbitron is now upset that Pandora, a popular Web- and mobile-based music streaming service, is trying to explain its audience in traditional radio terms. Pandora used to play the web CPM game, but in the past few months it has started touting radio ratings. At first blush, Pandora’s numbers look good. In the New York DMA, Pandora adults 18-34 would have a 0.9 Average Quarter Hour rating — about equal to a mid-sized NYC radio station, with nearly 1% of the entire population listening for at least 5 out of every 15 minutes — and a 19.9 cume rating, meaning that 19.9% of that population listens to Pandora each week.

If Pandora can grab almost 1% of NYC’s young adults every quarter hour and reach 1 out of 5 in a given week, it’s a good advertising choice vs. radio, right?

Well, only if you believe those numbers. Arbitron whines Pandora’s “radio ratings” are inaccurate, suggesting Pandora listeners may step away from computers while radio listeners are really there. Either way, Pandora has an advantage that radio does not — to get on the radio in NYC, you have to buy a spot that reaches all of that station’s market, because only one spot runs at a time. On Pandora, you can spend less money out of pocket since different consumers are served different spots. Smaller entry costs could appeal to smaller businesses, or those just willing to test; Pandora also offers fewer commercial interruptions per hour, meaning listeners might actually listen.

Confused? Of course. The only way to find out is to test, measure response, and calculate if your cost per lead or sale from Pandora vs. radio is better. Ratings have always been a fiction, a form of currency used to plan choices among alternative media providers. With all advertising metrics on the decline, the only way to invest is to count your return.

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: Kayintveen

Send in the other you

Over at Businessweek, I predicted that someday soon you’ll have an Eternity App — a digital doppelgänger clone of you who will carry on conversations long after you’re gone, or potentially even replace you in the office. All of the technology to make this possible now exists, between voice recognition software input that can “listen” to questions, Siri-type artificial intelligence simulation output which can “speak” like a human, and data sets of your personality.

Where would the data come from to replicate you? Well, here:

Spend a few years using social media, and you’ll upload thousands of tidbits—each encoding your opinions, politics, wit, charm, clients, reviews, work accomplishments, debates, dumb jokes, frustration, and anger. The essential “data” of you has been captured. And what of your personality and relationships? Sentiment monitoring services, such as AC Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Lithium, and Radian6, already parse the tone and intent of conversations; Klout and Quora track your supposed influence; FriendorFollow and Twiangulate monitor your connections with others; LinkedIn knows your job skills. Facebook uses sophisticated face recognition software to help tag photos of your friends.

Nearly everything that makes up your human world is online, ready for data mining.

As I wrote this, I initially thought of the immortality angle — the ability to have my persona “live” forever, write columns, call home, offer advice to my children after I’m gone. But my editor at Bloomberg was most keenly interested in the social repercussions of using it today. After all, if you can clone yourself, why not send yourself in to work? Off to that client meeting?

Play this through, and it could become very dicey. Your virtual you would emulate your voice, image (with 3D projections coming soon), and mind (from your social media data set) — but it could also improve upon yourself. My new “mind” could tap into databases of every marketing solution ever known, so the New Ben Kunz in a client meeting would offer more-brilliant suggestions than plain old me. Your clone might learn wit, charm, or tantric sex advice to woo your spouse better than you. The new you would be more fun at parties, more knowledgeable in debates, savvier at investments, a better parent for your children. It would also likely be better looking; just as we post Twitter avatars showing ourselves in good lighting, we’d be tempted to add a tan or whiten the teeth of our digital double.

You are going to be so hot.

Except it won’t be you. The intersection of voice recognition and AI simulation means robotic avatars who mirror your being will be much better at, well, everything. You could take a nice vacation while the version of you goes off to run the world. The question is, will the other you want you around?

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: Alphadesigner

A debate on engagement, the fuzzy metric

Owen Lee, who is embarking on an ad career at Starcom MediaVest in London, has an intelligent post about the fuzzy metric of engagement. First he articulates what “engagement” is:

Think of the last brilliant dramatic film you went to see. One where all of a sudden you realise that your eyes hurt from watching the screen so intently. Now that’s engagement. That’s engagement to a point of personal immersion. Whilst this isn’t achievable (yet) at a campaign level, this example serves to show the extent of what a fully engaging experience can do to you. This is what the goal should be. Not the eye-watering part, but that feeling of unbiased personal connectivity to the previously unknown content put in front of you.

And then notes that while it now is difficult to measure this true immersion, current digital metrics on clicks and conversions aren’t enough:

Judging whether a user achieved this connectivity through examining whether or not they entered their details or clicked through is clearly insufficient…

To ask for performance metrics to be used on what’s been briefed as a solely branding campaign makes achieving communications goals tricky to say the least. Not only does it make digital teams less likely to choose more “engaging” rich media over its more ROI-friendly brothers of standard display, but it causes a lack of creativity.

I responded:

This is well done. I agree with the first half; however, not that current engagement metrics are preferable to CTR and CPA. Current engagement metrics are extraordinarily weak — “likes” and “retweets” etc. have little connection with user intent, as you allude to in the top of this.

The problem, as I see it, is we are trying to measure two paths:

1. Direct response: Impression > Click > Sale
2. Brand engagement: Impression > Interaction > Engagement > Rise in brand awareness or intent > Eventual sale

The first doesn’t work, because it neglects the huge additional value digital campaigns have in building brand engagement.

The second doesn’t work, because the steps from interaction to engagement (from retweet to really engaging) and from brand awareness to sale are both extraordinarily hard to parse.

So we’re stuck for now with direct response metrics that tell a portion of the story, and a brand engagement path that currently can’t be measured.

I think all smart marketers realize the overall pattern. And some of this can be parsed out via broader tools such as regression analysis, which look at overall lift from the entire digital prong as a variable against all other communication components.

It’s a thorny problem. If you can solve (2) above, you’d have a nice service, indeed.

Owen’s best point is an online campaign measured solely by digital response metrics removes creativity — the interactive and viral design elements that might make the message break through. Banner ads have become a commodity. Response rates are down. Not playing with the channel, format, or engagement structure means you’re likely to achieve only subpar, average response performance. That is the saddest part of this current marketing dilemma; if we focus too much on what we can measure, we may not do the things that truly drive results.

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.

Google Maps goes indoors … ooh, look, a sale!

The Holy Grail of marketing is the ability to influence consumers when they finally go into purchase mode — and today, in 2011, after all our decades of advertising influence, we still can’t do that. Walk into a wine shop or Victoria’s Secret and there is no voice whispering in your ear saying, please, buy this instead. Some mobile apps attempt this but most are cumbersome, filled with game mechanics of points and mayorships. Joe Sixpack is just too serious to adopt Foursquare games.

Google gets closer by bringing its Maps feature indoors. Users of Android handsets can boot up layouts of airports, malls, or stores (all in staged rollout) such as Home Depot and Macy’s. Google claims the GPS system is tuned tightly enough that it can even recognize your position if you move up or down levels in a store or mall with multiple floors.

If adoption takes off — dang, we want it already on our iPhone — consumers will tap a platform built for last-minute marketing offers. Tie it with a database on your preferences and value (information Google in partnership with merchants could access), and personalized offers designed to influence only you could finally arrive. “Turn right off the escalator, dear, instead of left. The lingerie is on sale, 50% off, but only if we walk in now.”

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.