Archive for May, 2008

Hugo + the creative consumer

Today I encountered the third Hugo campaign based around creative consumer participation in as many months. I keep finding them in spaces where I expect Scion, Red Bull, or Diesel, but wouldn’t have guessed Hugo until recently.

There is a definite pattern: pick a creative space (design, music, and writing so far), provide an opportunity for exposure as the carrot, and promote via MySpace, YouTube, and similar channels. On the most recent two, they’ve introduced the idea of giving away fragrance samples, which is a good way for them to tie-in the product. They’re providing an opt-in product experience rather than blatantly just shilling the product, although there is still a bit of that as well.

Nothing hugely innovative in isolation but I like the overall approach, it’s great to see them experimenting with creating value for their customers and focusing on active engagement. I’m interested to see what comes next.

Hugo Create

Graphic design contest incorporating the Hugo bottle, using either downloadable design elements or a custom generator on the site.


Hugo Urban Rules

Urban music talent search, with gigs, MTV appearances, recording sessions and radio play for the winner.


Hugo Say It Spray It

“You say it (and it’s good enough) you get to spray it on a choice of NYC billboard”

HUGO Say It.jpg

Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden


Video is a bit slow to get started, but stick with it.

Epic. And the best part is this release is was created purely for the love, using RPG Maker. And it’s a free download.

resurrection of the YouTube famous

So after South Park killed off the stars of YouTube, Weezer has brought them back to life. And made a rock video with them.

Tay Zonday, Numa Numa Guy, Chris Crocker, Afro Ninja, and a few South Park missed. And loving the cameo from Miss South Carolina.

Talk about a video designed to be viral. And it’s actually working: just released today and 200k views already.

Levi’s adapts to success

Whether it’s in the form of a brand onion or a GANTT chart, it’s easy to become slaves to plans.

Even in these heady early days of the digital age, it still seems like the way things too often works is: a big idea is envisioned (or more often than not, a big idea is fudged), a TV spot commissioned, a few print executions crafted, and then almost as an after-thought a range of online banners are churned out, adapting the TV spot and print ad creative and completely missing the point and opportunity provided by the medium.

For many agencies and brands, the idea that communication can come back the other direction is a new one. You simply didn’t get that with TV. Focus groups are rightly derided, because the feedback is subjective and the sample size too small. But the reaction of your actual brand audience can give you insights that are worth their weight in gold.

This is why I like Levi’s response to the unexpected success of a viral teaser they’ve created. Instead of just saying "cool, let’s amplify that", they’ve also said "what does this reaction mean for our strategy?".

I think there are at least three key points from this which other brands and agencies would do well to incorporate into their thinking:

  • Unlike TV, the web allows you to cost-effectively try out different ways of reaching your audience, and effectively trial what engages and what doesn’t, with real-time feedback.
  • A strategy should never be set in stone and held up as sacrosanct. Strategies are created by people, based on theories and assumptions and information available at that time. If a reaction comes back from the other direction from the people you’re trying to reach that changes those assumptions or provides new insights, it’s well worth revisiting the strategy and seeing what the implications are.
  • It’s wise to leave space in your planning and budgeting process to be flexible with your tactics based on the results of any marketing activity.

brands as media round-up

Ed Cotton over at InfluxInsights points out two nice examples of brands as media which I hadn’t seen before: Bacardi signing Groove Armada, and Ikea integrating into The Sims.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this lately as well, especially off the back of the Nike 1/1 project I’ve been working on at AKQA.

This got me thinking to a few of other examples I’ve seen lately that have inspired me or at least got me thinking:

This is obviously very far from a complete list, and would be great to get comments on any other examples to add to the collection.

As Ed says, there is a big shift of behaviour just beginning as brands begin to act more like media, and these are just the first of many intriguing experiments to come.

games with a purpose

The last two weeks have seen the launch of GWAP (Games With a Purpose) and Noah Brier’s Brand Tags.

GWAP is a project by Carnegie Mellon which uses the results of your game playing to “help computers get smarter”, automatically refining their algorithms based on collective human input. Noah’s Brand Tags project aggregates our instinctual responses to brands, providing fascinating insights into our collective impressions of these brands as the output. Both remind me of the Free Rice game, which improves your vocabulary while serving ads which pay for rice donations to the UN.

All projects with very different goals, but what do they all have in common? Although only one is called GWAP, effectively they are all games with a purpose. They are all also great examples of other ways to better utilize our cognitive surplus, as so brilliantly explained in Clay Shirky’s recent talk at the Web 2.0 Expo.

As Clay points out: “the Internet connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. One per cent of that is 100 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation.”

With the internet opening up all sorts of potential connections and opportunities for creation and interaction, how could we better use that time while still fulfilling the need to relax and stimulate ourselves?

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preference, advocacy, loyalty

Tom Asacker over at A Clear Eye points out that anyone in the design and marketing field should consider themselves a Choice Architect, as ultimately that’s our job: influencing consumer choice.

At my previous company I spent a lot of time trying to push viewpoints in a similar direction: ultimately we should be aiming to create preference for a brand, advocacy of that brand, and loyalty to that brand.

Seems obvious right? The problem was those attitudes and actions are a lot harder to measure than the traditional metric of awareness, which takes a single survey. Often agencies wouldn’t even bother with the survey, and just rely on metrics like reach and impressions. The problem is that measuring reach and impressions tells you very little, and awareness not much better. None of those things actually tell you what if any impact the marketing is actually having. I can be aware of the Ford brand, but it definitely doesn’t mean I prefer it, and the comments in this AdAge article really show the difference.

For brands to be focused on awareness as a goal in and of itself seems like a colossal missed opportunity. Start from the place you want to end up, and then build your brand with that in mind. If you want people to advocate and continue to purchase your product over your competitors, then you need to look at providing a customer experience that is positive from start to finish. Marketing fits into that — it should add value to the customer somehow rather than just adding to the existing signal pollution like most ad campaigns still do.

If you start from the premise that all you want is for customers to be aware of your ad campaign, then don’t be surprised when that’s the sum total of the business impact you’ll have.

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Radiohead shows brands how it’s done

Over at Threeminds, Bryan Fuhr makes a very astute observation about Radiohead. Their launch of In Rainbows has been a master class in how to create buzz and engage an audience, using a single (if very good) piece of content as the basis:

It’s a really nice campaign by any standard, and it’s been done without label support.

I also like how they’ve smartly leveraged partnerships rather than trying to go it on their own. The stem downloads was conducted in partnership with iTunes, the animation contest with Aniboom, and the music video in collaboration with MTV.

The exception to the partnership approach was the initial launch of the album itself, but I think having that homegrown-looking site could’ve easily been part of the initial strategy and positioning of Radiohead as putting their middle finger up to the music industry.

And they are bucking the system, but not in quite as radical a way as it initially seemed. It’s more an evolution, and it seems much more grounded in PR and marketing than a deep anti-corporate reaction. But it’s been a great strategy and execution so far, and looking forward to see what comes next.

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Yale says synthesis is a core skill in the information age

In a world awash with information, the skill of the decision maker is not just based on making the right analysis and deriving the correct conclusions. Prior to that, you need to find the best way of distilling the torrent of source material down to the essence, to give you the basis upon which to perform your analysis and develop your strategy.

The idea of synthesis as a core skill in the digital age is not a new one, and David Armano had an excellent post on synthesizers last summer.

However, Yale’s assertion that these days part of the case studies should involve the synthesis stage itself is an interesting validation from an elite b-school of what many of us working client or agency side would agree with.

If you plan on analyzing any competitive space, getting your head around a consumer or market, or identifying opportunities in a market place for a brand, one of the hardest tasks is sifting through all the information and being able to process it into a crystallized output which forms a solid basis for all the ideation to come.

In addition, if you are able to do that more quickly and accurate than the next guy, that puts you at a distinct competitive advantage. Your speed puts you in front, and the volume you’ve processed makes your conclusions more accurate, your insights sharper and your ideas more fully formed. And it means that you’re less likely to spend six months developing something before you realize you were missing a key piece of the puzzle.

Grant McCracken rightly points out that Yale are not exactly without vested interests in having the format of the case study changed away from the HBS standard, but it’s still a clear sign of the times.

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aligning yourself with the big issue


We’re moving into an age where consumers are demanding more responsibility from their brands. Whether labour practices or your green policy, being a good global citizen is now essential for brands that want to compete.

The next step beyond that is about customers rewarding brands who find clever and effective ways to do good.

Smart brands and agencies know this, and we’re going to see a lot more of alignment with causes big and small, especially in the wake of Dove’s success with the Real Beauty campaign. Recent examples I’ve seen of the trend include Nokia’s association with Pangea Day and Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles.

However, Influx Insights points us to the strangest example I’ve seen yet, AEG-Electrolux’s noise awareness campaign.

On some level, you have to respect the attempt at differentiating their product through a big association with an issue that no one “owns” yet. The problem for me is not even necessarily with the strategy of aligning against noise pollution, it’s that the execution falls a bit short.

The whole campaign is based around interactive billboards that report decibel levels in high traffic areas. Linking this back to my washing machine is a bit of a stretch. But worse, my overall impression is this is more an advertising campaign with a slightly disingenuous cause tacked on for PR’s sake and to dramatize the product message and make it seem more important than it is.

As a proof point, see AEG Noise Awareness blog. This is purportedly about the larger issue of noise awareness, but over the course of six weeks they’ve managed just two posts: the first is a blatant promo for the billboards, and the second is a more sneaky promo for, well, the billboards. They’ve used social media to create an ad for an advertisement, and there’s still no sign of attempting to do anything about the issue at hand. But hey, did we tell you our washing machine is really quiet?

The microsite? They’ve taken the high-concept domain of, but the content is much the same. Here’s our billboards. Here’s a token link to Noise Awareness Day that someone else is organizing. And here’s our products.

I would’ve actually been much happier if they’d just done the billboards and left the whole “we’re promoting a big cause out of it”, because it’s seems from what I’ve seen so far that they don’t genuinely care about the issue beyond their immediate product messaging needs. Something that should be a positive thing for the brand instead comes across as disingenuous.

Oh well, it was an interesting idea, and I’m sure we’ll have lots of both good and bad examples of brands attempting to associate with a big issue in the coming days.

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