I’m Back! Plus: Netflix Gambles, Wins Big

I know I’ve been a bad blogger lately. On all fronts.

But that’s about to change — with Advertising Week Europe all the way live in London, you’re about to hear a lot from me. And while nothing’s firmed up yet, I might have some exciting news to share soon on the contributions front.

Speaking of exciting news.

Since the last time we talked, I’ve been accepted into the VCU Brandcenter Communication Strategy program AND I’ve accepted a position as a summer strategy intern at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners in San Francisco!

Suffice it to say, I’ve been busy. And I’m SO excited to share all of my future learnings and such with you.

Now, let’s get back to business. I meant this for an AWSC post, but with the backlog that is #AWEurope, I figured I’d share here first.

Here we go:

I’m the biggest proponent of digital culture out there. I believe staunchly in non-traditional media. I cringe when that, excuse my language, asshat of a codger Tom Hammerschmidt tells Zoe Barnes, “Twitter, blogs, rich media, they are all fads. They aren’t the foundation this paper was built on.” But if you asked me whether Netflix’s $100 million gamble was itself one big flimsy house of cards, I would’ve said absolutely.

Now I’m 7 hours deep (upon writing, I was 7 hours deep. update: binge complete) into a Kevin
Spacey-fueled binge and kicking myself for doubting the online giant’s strategy.

Sure, this isn’t Netflix’s first foray into original programming (that distinction belongs to Lilyhammer); but it is the first time the company has taken a hands-on approach to production, tapping big names like David Fincher, who directed the series’ first two episodes.

Pre-release, consumers and pundits alike questioned the streaming service’s ability to succeed – and what’s more, to not lose money – by dropping an entire season at once. Blasphemy, said traditional media.

HBO, the reigning king of original programming, fails all the time. How could this “fledgling” hope to win by going all-in on the first try? They simply couldn’t, right?

Well I’ll be damned. This show is good. It’s really, really good. The acting is top-notch, the plot line is full of intrigue and beautifully developed characters, and the production quality is second to none.

And to those who questioned how “dumping” the entire first season of HOC out in the market at one time could possibly be the right move?

Don’t pull a Hammerschmidt.

This is the way of new media. We’ve grown up with DVD seasons, Netflix and Hulu binges, and the reliability of our DVR. Of course this would work. Appointment viewing has gone the way of paper-only reporting: it’s a relic. Sure, it’s still there, but it’s in no position to not take its newfangled “fad” competitors seriously.

Spacey’s Frank Underwood tells Zoe regarding Slugline (the series’ Politico 2.0), “If freedom and exposure are what they’re offering, I would say that is a meeting worth taking.” This same argument is valid for Netflix, who noted, “For viewers, Internet TV is a better experience because of the freedom and flexibility it provides.”

Steven Rosenbaum wrote for Forbes, “This is a series that deserves to be savored – not ‘binged’ on;” but he couldn’t have been more wrong. This is a 13-hour movie that people are dying to see, not to mention, a 13-hour movie that might just change the landscape of traditional television.

With House of Cards experiencing enviable success, and similar treatment coming for cult-favorite Arrested Development in May, Netflix is paving the way for an internet-TV revolution.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings explained to investors, “In baseball terms, linear TV only scores with home runs. We score with home runs, too, but also with singles, doubles, and triples.”

Well, Reed, you certainly knocked it out of the park with this one. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next.


Bring on the Tweet Seats

No, that’s cheap seats. I’m talking about tweet seats. Wait, what?

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis has begun offering special seats reserved for the social media addict. Likened to smoking lounges of old, the Theater’s External Relations Director Trish Santini told The Verge that the intent was not to cordon off these smartphone users, but rather, encourage deeper interaction with the show.

Other venues, including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Palm Beach Opera, New York’s Public Theater, and several Boston venues have launched – or at least toyed with – similar programs.

The idea is to embrace the mobile habits of today’s consumer, rather than discourage them: a move that’s strikingly modern for what some would deem ‘old time’ entertainment (e.g., Opera, the Symphony).

So what does this mean for the rest of entertainment venues?

In my sport marketing class, we talked about a similar situation on many occasions.

Wouldn’t it make sense, wouldn’t it add value if professional teams instituted a section where fantasy players didn’t have to be shy about rooting for a given player because they were on his roster and he was down 3.75 points?

A section like this in sport-specific venues would make even more sense than it does in the theater. Maybe the ticketed fans in that section would have access to wi-fi (or better wi-fi in the cases where stadiums have already implemented). Maybe their interactions with the team on social media would be spotlighted on the jumbotron at given points in the game.

And movie theaters? Another great opportunity, as my new favorite website Good.is points out:

Same premise, broader appeal. I wonder if you could even do a specific smartphone screening from time to time, where everybody in the whole theater knows what they’re getting themselves into. Maybe even project a Twitter feed on the wall next to the movie.

The idea of a social-only screening is so great. Basically a focus group for movie marketers, but on users’ terms.

Many purists might think all of this too much. But look at social tv and the success of platforms like Viggle.

It’s a bit like the outcry when the MLB tried to put ads for Spiderman on the hallowed ground that is the bases. While I’m with you on that one, this just makes sense.

We’ve got to change with the times. Digital and social are the new normal: so why not embrace it in a way that adds value, creates conversation, and encourages engagement?

It just makes sense. I say, bring on the Tweet Seats.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The Detroit Red Wings’ Vice President of Marketing, Rob Mattina, spoke to my sports marketing class last week because, really, what else does he have to do? Thanks, Gary Bettman.

In all seriousness though, he was a great guy and a very engaging speaker, but I was left with a gnawing feeling that sports (let me clarify: team) marketing, or at the very least, hockey marketing lags behind other industries – or doesn’t feel, perhaps rightly so in the case of the Red Wings organization, that innovation is necessary.

Mattina spoke a great deal about the contrast between his “above the line” and “below the line” strategies, that is, traditional broadcast and digital or alternative methods (read: social). In the strictest sense, “above the line” refers to broadcasted mass media, while “below the line” refers to more targeted, measurable channels.

In my opinion, and in agreement with Ad Age contributor Kevin DiLorenzo, this terminology is out of touch.  In today’s media landscape, there is no line. Consumers prove this when they tweet on their phones or tablets while watching live TV, or engage mobile apps at the point of sale. The “line” is merely an industry cliché that allows marketers to silo their budgets in various areas rather than achieving integration.

This blurring, or disappearance, of the line coincides with one of the overarching themes of Advertising Week – the increasingly fundamental nature of digital, mobile, and social media. The days of agencies outsourcing their digital work, or housing entirely separate digital departments, are no more. Instead, campaigns must be built with all of these “alternatives” in mind, utilized to enhance the traditional broadcast mediums, or altogether surpass them in importance.

How often do you see a Starbucks ad on television? I can’t recall the last time. But online? Starbucks is ubiquitous. They’re active on Facebook and Twitter, use Instagram better than just about any brand, and “Pin” brand-relevant items better than most (I’m looking at you, Marc Jacobs and Nordstrom – let’s just say excessive).  Placing far more stock in loyalty, mobile, social, and in-store programs than it does broadcast mediums, Starbucks has been able to take advantage of its fan following in more meaningful ways.

To me, these actions do a better job – proportionately, at least – of “brand-building” than any traditional medium could. Brand-building is about growing loyalty, awareness, brand consideration, and equity. In my opinion, the depth with which these “alternatives” reach brands’ core audiences is of far greater value than the breadth that might be targeted through traditional broadcast media.

What is ultimately of the greatest value, however, is integration throughout a campaign. Disjointed narratives do little to enhance the consumer experience, if not causing confusion altogether. For a message to resonate with the consumer, it must be both cohesive and engaging – difficult to accomplish in what I’ll call “static” fashion.

So let’s do away with “the line” altogether, and focus instead on how to engage consumers in both meaningful and entertaining ways. Creating just one loyal consumer is ultimately more beneficial than entertaining ten who can’t pair your brand with, “you know, that one hilarious commercial.”

Buying “Cool” and how MTV died with TRL

Today in my consumer behavior class, I watched a documentary (Frontline’s Merchants of Cool) that I’d seen before, probably in Comm 101 and possibly again in Understanding Media Industries, I don’t remember. Half paying attention because I could have recited bits of it, I started thinking about what it all means. Hey, at least it was productive daydreaming.

Three things stuck with me:

First, buying cool means killing cool. In other words, once something from a so-called niche hits the big time, the trendsetters move on. Fast. Can we talk about hipsters? Yes, I know, you were hipster before hipster became hip, but what’s that all about? Why does it matter? I liked the All-American Rejects when their self-entitled album debuted in 2002. Why does that mean I shouldn’t have liked the earworm Gives You Hell six years later? Maybe it’s mental, but we all do it. We love to be on the cutting edge – and we hate it when our thing becomes everyone’s thing.

Take house music. Majority of the pseudo cool kids today love it. Those who jumped on the bandwagon first? They’re pissed. Because all of the sudden their thing is parading itself around Lollapalooza and being blasted at so-and-so’s frat party pregame. It’s not theirs anymore, it’s everyone’s.

It’s the same reason we get annoyed when “x” song plays on “y” radio station over, and over, and over again. Sure, We Are Young by Fun. was great the first 15 times we heard it, but by time 467? Not so much.

So what does that mean for brands, for marketers, for advertisers? It means you need to know your consumers inside and out, you need to be able to spot the trends before they reach the mainstream, and you need to spot the next trend while you ride the wave of the first.

There’s a reason consumer understanding is such a vital part of account planning and strategy – and why I find it all so interesting. Without that knowledge, how can advertisers hope to develop a meaningful connection with consumers?

Second, Sprite has done really well. What do you remember about Sprite from your childhood? What do you associate with the Sprite brand name? For me, I’m thinking about hip-hop music and the NBA. I think every brand should strive to create a connection as strongly as Sprite has with urban culture. The Coca-Cola spinoff has activated this relationship by sponsoring the NBA Slam Dunk contest, pairing up with MTV for the “Sprite Step Off” series, hosting parties featuring big name artists, and producing spots that feature artists and athletes at the top of their respective games.

While Sprite was used as an example in Merchants of Cool, I think Mountain Dew has done an equally terrific job at ingratiating itself in the culture of extreme sports. Not only do they sponsor the Dew Tour – but they activate using the tour outside the tour. Just glance at the Mountain Dew website – you’ll hardly be able to separate the soda from its cultural identity.

We ourselves don’t necessarily have to buy into the culture in order to consume the product, but we do hold the association. Sprite and Hip-Hop. Mountain Dew and Extreme Sports. We remember that; and maybe that’s what makes the difference.

Finally, MTV died with TRL. For at least an entire generation and much of my own generation’s childhood, MTV defined cool. It’s where the music video debuted in an age before Youtube, where people stopped being polite and started getting real, and where the non-manorexic Carson Daly had quite clearly the best job in the world.

When TRL ended, MTV should’ve changed its name, having replaced music with so-called “reality” programming almost entirely. Since TRL’s demise in 2008, what has MTV been known for? Snooki? Awful dating shows? Also-rans from previous hits like my favorite, Laguna Beach, now call MTV their permanent home.

The “M” in MTV is what made it what it was, a cultural magnate that was able to determine what would be “cool” for millions of American teenagers. The culture that surrounded the music was equally as important, but music was at the heart. Without it, we’re left with GTL and not much else.

So what now, if not MTV, defines “cool” for the largest and most marketed-to generation yet? 

In this age, with social media, globalism, and segmentation down to the smallest of characteristics, it’s possible that no single entity could be so culturally significant again. My takeaway is this: understanding your consumer is now more important than ever. Generalizations are harder to make, trends are harder to find and faster to fall, and for a generation who thinks its smarter than advertisers? We have to be that much better.

It’s All About Platform (Bonus: Every Song of the Summer since 1962)

What so interests me about media and its connection to consumers is its ever-changing nature. To be part of something that is constantly in flux is exciting. And it’s important for those involved in the production or consumption of media to realize that it isn’t a static thing.

Yesterday, I read an article on the Huffington Post written by self-publishing author, Jane Devin, in response to this quote from Sue Grafton:

To me, it seems disrespectful… that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research… Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.

Devin’s, and my own, point is that Grafton is out of touch. She doesn’t realize that publishing has evolved and continues to evolve. Grafton argues that published authors are in an entirely different sphere, but does she realize that the publishing market today is so heavily influenced by celebrity, pop culture, and social media?

The market today is not driven by talent, but by platform – and self-publishing authors lack the built in platform that comes along with hundreds of thousands of twitter followers or a TV show. Merit does not always lead to publishing: Devin points out, The Help was rejected over 60 times; her eventual deal only coming together with the assistance of a Hollywood director and a screenplay.

If Grafton is using ‘publishing’ as the defining factor of what makes a ‘good’ writer, does she consider Snooki’s or Lauren Conrad’s books ‘quality’? Is 50 Shades of Grey ‘high literature’? It clearly isn’t; it’s glorified porn.

There is a great deal of bad writing – both published and unpublished. Indie writers, who lack the cult of personality of celebrities and other well-known authors, are hard-pressed to find a publisher willing to take a chance. Yes, it happens for some, but it can’t happen for all. They need to self-publish, often investing great sums of their own money, in order to build a platform for themselves. To make a blanket statement regarding the quality of their writing, and deem them ‘less than writers,’ simply isn’t practical in today’s media landscape.

Today, the New York Times wrote about a changing of the guard in music. What it boils down to, again, is platform. For years and years, pop radio has ushered in “songs of the summer” that have more often than not come from established stars, parts of the “old machine of radio and major-label promotion.” Think Katy Perry, Adele, Rihanna – or farther back, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson.

This year, the songs of the summer came out of left field – tracing their popularity to YouTube and Twitter rather than iTunes or the record store. Gotye and Fun. have put out records before, but they haven’t garnered the sort of attention that “Somebody That I Used To Know” or “We Are Young” have. These songs were helped along by social media buzz. With today’s teenagers (2/3 according to Nielsen) preferring to listen to their music on YouTube, “buzz” is more important than ever before. And it isn’t generated by label promoters, its generated by consumers themselves.

There is no better example than the perpetual earworm “Call Me Maybe.” Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit took off when Justin Bieber and friends posted a video of themselves lip syncing the song. Since then, countless renditions have gone viral – two of my favorites being Harvard Baseball and POTUS – launching the 26-year-old Canadian from obscurity to worldwide fame and allowing her to sign a major-label recording contract with Bieber’s help.

The likelihood that “Call Me Maybe” is featured on a VH1 countdown of One-Hit Wonders (if trashy reality tv shows haven’t completely overtaken by then)  in 10 years is extremely high. But that won’t change the fact that it was a megahit – propelled entirely by buzz and platform.

Songs of the Summer – Past and Present (a comprehensive mix)
A few of my favorites:

A Whole New World

Ok, so maybe it isn’t entirely new. But everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon lately – and in a very big way.

I’m talking about web-exclusive content, and it’s coming from several big names.


A few weeks ago, industry insiders reported that Twitter was in talks with several Hollywood producers and network execs about launching original video series via the social networking site. They are rumored to be pitching a select group of advertisers on a series that would be live on Twitter and enable real time user participation. The series would be similar to MTV reality shows – like The Real World – and may be distributed within promoted tweets or on a standalone page.

Twitter seeks to shake up the media space with this sort of platform. By “building content on top of Twitter…(the site) would serve as a distribution vehicle and advertising middleman,” according to an industry insider.

This further integrates the idea of social TV that I mentioned in an earlier post. Instead of a third-party app that facilitates social media interaction, the content would actually exist on the social media platform itself. The in-feed content would appear alongside user tweets, which (instead of acting as the usual social TV commentary) are rumored to potentially influence the show as it airs.

Huffington Post

On Monday, Arianna Huffington’s popular online newspaper launched HuffPost Live, a platform featuring 12 hours of daily video content. This socially driven approach to news is ambitious to say the least. Forbes lauded the launch, bugs-and-all, for its thought-provoking Huffington Post sensibility, energetic commentators, largely promising hosts, and running feed of comments.

Huffington seeks to broadcast content that doesn’t receive airtime on “the big 3” networks, and they, thus far, are doing so successfully. As the platform has only been live for a few days, there are obviously a few kinks to work out; but the premise is promising.

People today, especially youth, are consuming their news in a new way. I love The Huffington Post, and for the most part, I do not love broadcast news. The idea of creating a new sort of news network that is relevant to Gen X et al is the right one; and once the kinks are worked out, I am confident HuffPost Live will be as successful as its parent site.


Rounding out the trio of web innovators, Yahoo unveiled #HashOut this week. Big names such as Maria Shriver, “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, and prominent Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter – among many others – will be part of the show, which is being described as “the first talk show to be conducted over social media.”

The panel will offer viewers “a new way to talk about the news,” and is certain to be comprised of largely social components. A launch date and further details have yet to be announced, but you can sign up to be alerted here.

All three of these serve the same purpose: to further integrate social with media, in all forms. Services like Viggle add a social component to TV viewing, but these represent a true marriage of the two. As consumers become more and more interconnected, this is the next logical step – one that, hopefully, will prove successful.

Did I name this post A Whole New World purely in order to make this relevant? Yes, yes I did.




Campaigns Embrace ‘Digerati’ as They Lose Traditional Eyeballs

A study conducted by Say Media indicates more and more voters are going “off the grid,” increasingly less likely to view traditional television ads.

Zac Moffatt, digital director of the Romney campaign and co-founder of political research group Targeted Victory, has observed these trends through his own research. On the Democratic side, several research firms concur, with studies showing that “more than 40 percent of likely voters prefer alternative video sources to live TV.”

With the explosion of alternative viewing sources, smartphone usage, and social media, how can the campaigns hope to reach these “off-the grid voters?”

Traditional TV ads may still be the norm, but social media is gaining steam. President Obama won the social media battle in 2008, embracing the medium even before it became inherent to a campaign’s success; and thus far, he seems to be ahead of the game yet again.

Upon news of Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate , the Obama campaign took to Tumblr to educate voters on their newly introduced opponent.

Adweek writes, “In a little over an hour, the picture and caption have received nearly 2,000 notes on Tumblr (including reblogs and comments) and been passed around in political circles on Twitter. Plus, news organizations active on Tumblr have even reblogged the post with commentary.”

Tumblr has provided an opportunity for campaigns and news sources to get “casual” with constituents – photos, gifs, and irreverent humor are the norm. This sort of casual relationship may be key to attracting those who no longer consume traditional media, instead taking to streaming services like Netflix or their DVRs.

Politico has noted that the addition of Paul Ryan to the Romney campaign adds significant a social media presence, with Ryan quickly surpassing Vice President Biden in number of “likes.”

It remains to be seen how they will respond to this latest bit of snark on the Obama side, but it is clear that the battle will be fought in the digital realm, and quite possible that the election is decided in the same. With more than 40% of likely voters preferring to view their media in non-traditional ways, it is only fitting that the candidates invoke non-traditional methods to win their votes.