Archive for the 'New Media' Category

Second Skin and We Are Wizards

Two of my favorite films this year from the Film festival are documentaries with many parallels. The first, We Are Wizards, takes a look at the subculture of hardcore fans of the enormously popular Harry Potter book series, mainly the ones who create their own new content in the form of themed bands or blogs. The other film, Second Skin, follows the stories of a group of people obsessed with Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft and Everquest.

I’m not as much interested in writing reviews of these films, although both were excellently made and produced. I do find it interesting that the people in We Are Wizards were shown to be highly creative, working within the world that author J.K. Rowling created. The people in Second Skin, on the other hand, were shown to have more of a true addiction, where isolation, weight gain and loss of family and friends were all symptoms.

But what intrigued me the most, and why I think these films have an interesting connection to corporate branding, is a little vignette from We Are Wizards. Heather Lawver, a 16-year-old, created a fan website called The Daily Prophet. She then received a letter from Warner Bros, who owns the rights to the Harry Potter franchise, making it quite clear that it was doing what it could to shut her site down because it infringed on its intellectual property. So Heather became part of Potterwar.org (the site is now gone, but the manifesto still exists) calling on a ban of all things Harry Potter, save for the original books. Heather was one of many people, many of them children, who all had Harry Potter fan sites that were served legal papers. Potterwar garned enough signatures over time to force Warner to drop most of the challenges. But the fact still remains that Warner Bros is very, very protective of all aspects of the Harry Potter brand.

Contrast that with a company like Blizzard, makers of World of Warcraft. They arguably have just as rabid (if not more rabid) fans and all the similar fan extensions you find with Harry Potter – the blogs, the conventions, the forums. But you never hear a peep from Blizzard in any way, fighting to protect their intellectual property.

Obviously, part of it might have to do with money. Advertising Age estimates the Harry Potter brand to be worth about 15 billion dollars. Blizzard made 1.1 billion dollars last year, largely from sales of WOW. But I think the main fundamental difference is what Brian Oberkirch alluded to in our Advertising Anarchy interview about companies of the web as opposed to those merely on it. Warner Bros., despite their web presences, is still a traditional media company. Blizzard’s entire income almost comes exclusively from a made-for-web game. Blizzard’s intellectual property is more of the framework, rather than the meat– that’s because it’s the users of the game who create their characters, names and adventures.

There are plenty of arguments (some successful, some not) about the healthiness of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. But no one can argue that companies like Blizzard don’t understand, and respect, their most rabid fans.

Where Have all the Party Photographer’s Gone?

One of the big things I’ve noticed this year at the late night parties is not a presence, but an absence. The last few years all of the mega-hyped parties featured an official “party photographer.” Guys who label themselves under names like “The Cobra Snake” and “Last Night’s Party” are two good examples of this. (Just Google them. Warning- sometimes their stuff is NSFW). They’re pseudo-celebrities who can give a party just a little more weight in credibility by documenting the party with spontaneous portrait photography and then uploading the photos to their respective sites.

Except none of them are here this year. That’s not to say they’ve disappeared all together, but the trend seems like it’s waning a bit. What I have noticed at the parties is, tucked away in a corner, a makeshift “portrait center.” These usually involve a backdrop and, sometimes, even props / wigs. Simply grab a group of your friends, stand in front of the backdrop and get your portait taken. The photos of the night are then usually accessible by a website the following day. It’s kind of like a hipper Sears Portrait Studio, set up right in the middle of a really cool party. Politeinpublic.com is a good example of this.

Why this subtle shift? I think part of the reason is that, with the potential for all photography posted on the web to be seen by anyone (bosses, friends, mothers), it’s actually smarter to exert a little more self-control now. You choose to get your photo taken or you choose not to. Those party photographer websites can sometime seem like the hipster version of Girls Gone Wild, which is a strange mix of youthful party exuberism contrasted with tinges of regret. Remember, if a photo is put up on the web, it will always stay on the web. The party portraits show a marked restraint.

But perhaps the biggest reason is that party photography has totally integrated into Web 2.0. On Flickr, Facebook and (now) MySpace, individuals can post their own party photos and then “tag” all the people within it. Plus, commenting on photos are always encouraged. So rather than having a party photo of you on a static “party photographer” site, you now have that similar-styled photo on your good friend’s Facebook page, tagged back to you and commented on by all the people you care about anyway – your good friends.

Basically the party photographers are now out of the equation. The new party photographers are now you and all your friends.

*Party portrait courtesy of Allison Narro.

Why I Bought a Tiny Computer

The interactive portion of SXSW devotes days’ worth of panels to emerging technologies, almost all of which focus on the web. The most compelling applications are the ones which bring web-enabled content and flexibility away from the desktop and into the real world. There has been a lot of talk about things like Twitter, though currently in its infancy and only used by alpha geeks, is definitely a sign of things to come. Twitter’s concept is that meta-data stored on the web can in fact be useful in people’s day to day lives. And customers are only going to demand more and more complex data as people begin to realize the actual value of ubiquitous information.

One of the choke points, however, and something that SXSWi largely glosses over, is the hardware that enables this technology. Text messaging is the first step, naturally, and most of the interesting mobile technologies are built on it. But cellphone manufacturers have been fiercely competing to add more “computer-like” features to each new generation of phone. Blackberry cornered the business market with an array of web and enterprise features. The iPhone then exploded the reach of the smartphone by making it cool and convincing a generation of the tech unsavvy that they need to check their email in the grocery store. Now that nearly every handset user has these capabilities services that make use of rich content have a platform.

But cellphones fall short in a lot of ways: they are underperforming, and suffer from usability issues, particularly related to display and input. Any writer on earth (including those weirdo Japanese text message novelists will tell you that tapping out posts on an iPhone is less than ideal. A very interesting little gadget emerged in the last year to bridge the gap between the smartphone and the laptop. Asus’s eee PC is an adorable little ultraportable that hits the sweet spot of features, flexibility, price and style. It is a cheap, powerful machine optimized for new web technologies. For example, it sacrifices a hard drive for a small flash storage instead relying on things like Google Docs. It also plays on another trend: hackability. It has an expansion bay in the back in which hardware hackers are stuffing GPS, wireless modems and just about every other technology one can imagine. Needless to say, it’s been great for blogging this festival; it’s portable enough to lug around all day and not make you miserable.

With hardware costs edging lower and lower and more demand for mobile web applications, I think we are going to see a lot more devices like this coming down the pipe. HP has already released a competitor being sold through Wal-mart. Personally, I would be shocked if a certain fruit company based in Cupertino, California didn’t release a device very similar to this in the next year or two based on iPhone and MacBook Air technologies.

 

Ever-evolving Digital and the Consumer

Ahhhh..a room full of agency people for this panel, it was great—I felt right at home. They were speaking my language discussing the challenges and obstacles a traditional agency might have in this continually evolving digital world. This is a topic I have thought a lot about in the last two years. As a “traditionally” trained media planner how will I ever be able to be a digital expert? There is new information bombarding me everyday, new websites, new ad networks, new behavioral targeting, new social media tools with a cool new application, new mobile advertising functions. How do I keep on top of it and bring it to my clients who need and want to be in this space to drive their business?So I finally felt at peace with myself when I connected with a statement from the panel, “the transition comes from how you think and align around the idea as an agency team.” It’s true, it all starts with the idea and believing in the best way to communicate with your audience. We will thrive in this digital world from staying media agnostic. Forget about the medium and develop ideas for ways to have great communication with your audience.

If we continue to focus on consumer insights, reaching them in this new age will come naturally. We all have to be in tune with what consumers want in a brand experience. Today its about interaction, communication is a two-way street, its less about what you say and more about what you do to create a conversation with your audience. A few brands come to mind that are doing this, Dove Body Wash, which is asking consumers to share their shower experiences and how Dove Cream Oil Body Wash makes them feel by creating :30s spots. This encourages consumers to think about their shower experience with the brand and what this moment means to them and share it with the world.

Another brand is Nike, launching Nike+. It not only got consumers back into running, connecting with each other through the Nike brand, it’s actually making an experience that some perceive as awful–exercise–fun! Of course both of these brands had digital aspects in their plan such as online banners/video, blogs, etc. While digital will be a part of our communications plans, we still must build a meaningful relationship with the customer.

Talking Shiner Beer & PR with Eric Webber

Eric is managing partner of Austin-based Webber/McJ Communications, an agency focusing on communications consulting, public relations and reputation management.

Door Number 3: What plans does Shiner Beer have for SXSW? Is it tough to compete with the “official” beer of SXSW? How do you position a beer like Shiner?

Eric Webber: Shiner sponsors a party (two actually) with Bloodshot Records at Yard Dog. We’re also involved in a deal with ME TV, and Shiner Records (a small label owned by Shiner Beers) has a party featuring their artists at Waterloo Records. We try to keep it about the music and the musicians more than about the beer. We do run print ads reminding SXSW-goers that Shiner is a small, independent brewery and so understands the challenges of independent labels and the bands trying to gain recognition. It’s not tough to compete with the “official” beer in that way. Miller merely buys the sponsorship, but their connection to the event, musicians or labels doesn’t go any farther than that. I think there’s an unfortunate disconnect between a mega-corporate brand like Miller being a sponsor of an event like SXSW, but I certainly understand why the organizers want and need deep-pocketed companies like that.

What are ways in which you get the word out about a brand during SXSW, given that the environment is already so saturated with messages?

We try to do it subtly. Partly because we don’t want to clash with the official beer sponsor, partly because that’s Shiner’s style and also because we don’t have a lot of money to spend. One thing we developed last year, which we’ll use again, was a “musicians survival kit.” We used Shiner Bock six-pack containers, but only one can of beer was in it. We filled the other slots with a t-shirt, a pair of Shiner logoed tube socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bottle of water and an assortment of pain relievers. We tried to think of some of the things needed by struggling musicians who might be traveling lean and sleeping on couches during the festival. Again, it was about demonstrating that we understand them. At the parties we mostly rely on signage, including a very cool retro-poster for the Waterloo event that’s plastered all over town. And, of course, giving away free beer is always a hit.

How are the tactics to get buzz around a movie different than, say, a new mobile device or a website?

The tactics about getting buzz for a movie aren’t very much different than for, say a website. You want to get influencers on your side and let them help you with the heavy lifting of getting the word out. So you offer to give some people a preview peek, and then you hold your breath and hope they like it. That much hasn’t changed in a long time in the movie publicity business. But you know we also have the power of social networking working in our favor. So influential bloggers are important as mainstream media. And you should have had a MySpace and Facebook presence for months leading up to the debut so you can build interest and a fan base. You can work multiple angles in that regard. If music is a key to the movie, then you can talk it up among the music crowd. Or if addresses a particular social issue, you can hit it from that angle. You don’t want to only speak to movie enthusiasts. And did I mention that you have to pucker up and hope people like it?

The whole Zuckerberg interview drama unfolded in real time – on Twitter and Meebo, liveblogging and then video. How could a PR firm do damage control on a situation like this?

I’m not sure that just letting that particular fire burn out on its own isn’t the best approach. Nobody looked very good after that train wreck. The reporter came of as arrogant and ill-prepared, Zuckerberg didn’t do anything to shine either, and the audience mostly came across as churlish and immature in a lot of ways. For the reporter, she violated a number of rules that PR pros would have advised her about. First, she didn’t seem to know her audience. She said as much after the interview. That’s a cardinal sin. Second, she didn’t adapt to the changing tone. You could sense that things were going poorly, and she just forged ahead anyway. In preparing someone to be interviewed, you always spend some time talking about worst case scenarios and how they should be handled. You can’t always anticipate everything, but you can make a pretty guess about what the most obvious speed bumps are going to be.

Speaking of Twitter and Meebo, are more real-time communication tools being used for public relations? Are traditional media formats still the most important?

PR pros who don’t recognize the potential (good and bad) of real-time communications tools are, well, tools. The principles of PR haven’t changed much at all, but the speed at which information is disseminated and the channels available seems to be changing about every day. Blogging allows everyone to be a journalist, or at least for everyone to think they are. That’s a potential opportunity, but also potentially very dangerous. At the very least, companies have to keep an eye on what’s being said about them in the webular world, and be prepared to respond quicker than they would have in the past.

Social Media Tools & Manners

Throughout SXSW Interactive fest, every panel is hosted on Meebo or accepting questions with Twitter.  At an interactive festival where 50% of the discussion is social media, the presence of these social tools is a given. It’s been interesting to read the Meebo chat rooms from panel to panel and also great looking back at discussions on panels I couldn’t catch. The increased use of these tools during real life events does have it highs and lows.On the plus side it makes it a lot easier to communicate with anyone and everyone in an instant. Whether it’s sharing ideas, giving feedback, asking questions, or making snide comments about a panel (saw that a lot)…its all instant gratification for what one is looking for at that moment. People are able to establish connections with peers that share their same interests and professions, which also allows networking through your fingertips during industry events.  The downside I see is using these tools during public forums can be distracting and rude to the speakers—we aren’t giving the respect to these speakers that they deserve for sharing their time and knowledge. With all the social tools abounding, of course they will be used more and more in this way. However, I believe people will still crave human, in-person connections and discussions, in which the transparency that was established in the digital world will and can still be there.

2008 SXSW Web Awards

The SXSW Web Award Winners were announced last night, spanning 20 categories – from Activism to Business to Technical Achievement. Here are a handful of victors that especially caught our eye.

Amusement : Elf Yourself
http://elfyourself.com/

Who doesn’t remember uploading headshots onto Office Max’s microsite this past holiday season? Yes, we were all sucked in by the novelty of watching Grandpa and the family dog dance around in little elf costumes. Fun stuff, for sure. You have to hand it to the creators of this site – they nailed the art of going viral.

Technical Achievement : Twiddla
http://www.twiddla.com/

As business goes global, we’re always grasping for new ways to stay connected. Much like “Telepresence” Video Conferencing – here’s a tool to stay linked to those far and wide. Participants can jump in the sandbox and draw together in real-time as they chat. You can mark up websites, photos or just about anything else. And here’s the best part…no plug-ins or downloads. Woot! Woot!

Motion Graphics: HL2
http://www.hl2.com/

No matter how crazy cool a site is, I get kind of pissy when I can’t quickly figure out who or what it’s for. I’ll save you some digging and tell you that they’re an ad agency. Frustrations aside, they created a very cool site centered around a human heart.

Personal Portfolio: Jlern Design
http://www.jlern.com/

Here’s proof that menus do not have to dwell on the borders of the browser. This website’s center-of-the-page rotating menu is as cool as the work being featured within it. A simple little thing completely reinvented. This designer should have more than a few job offers once this site gets passed around.

Art : Viscosity
http://windowseat.ca/viscosity/

Self-proclaimed as the “modern art generator,” Viscosity is kind of like a web-based empty canvas for the everyman. I jumped on and created a really ugly piece of abstract art in about two minutes. From there, I was able to watch my pointless blob move around and even share it with people who have way too much time on their hands. I’m not sure what the future of this site is but the level of interactivity was completely new to me and that alone makes it worth sharing.

Check out all the winners here: http://2008.sxsw.com/interactive/web_awards/winners/


SXSW is an Austin event. And Door Number 3 is an Austin advertising agency. We're interested in how new ideas in advertising, media and branding will be presented during these 9 quick days. From inside the lecture halls where top specialists present their thoughts, to out on the streets where advertising is put to the test on tens of thousands of festival-goers. We'll be there with the complete coverage, reports, photos, editorials, and perhaps some tricks on how to sneak into a few sweet afterparties.

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