Monday, March 15, 2010

Flavor of the week

Mid-terms, Comprehensives, Searches, oh my. Some idle speculation on these busy days.

Its funny what a difference scarcity makes even in this bold intangible online frontier. Remember when Google Wave was first rolled out? Everyone was either begging for Invites or rationing them out like it was a bread line? I'm willing to bet half the people asking for them didnt even know what Wave WAS much less why they wanted to use it. All that mattered was being in that shiny circle, to be one of the first to see this newest Google Wundertool.

Now months later please a show of hands, who actually USES Wave? I'm interested what the metrics of use actually are but I know I have a large list of contacts and nobody ever has the little green "Online" ball next to their name.

I am smarmy enough to say that I do actually use it. I run a small online RPG on it with three of my friends playing. It offer a nice venue to run the game at a relaxed pace and all of us ostensibly have fun with it. There is a handy program to roll dice and all the rest is our own prose narrative. Not exactly the Cutting-Edge collaborative environment Google had in mind but we have our fun.

Conversely, who here uses or even liked the idea of Google Buzz? They roll this thing out with little fanfare and opted everybody in and the prevailing response was "What the hell is this?" Perhaps if they'd made it a limited invite only people would have clamored more. Some social network type should capitalize on this, a Social Net like Facebook that you can only get in if you're invited. The online equivalent of the No Girls Allowed Tree Fort.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Research Redux

Pardon the prolonged silence, final semesters tend to be the busiest and I have not been idle.

Since my graduate school experience is winding down I've changed my intended research project a bit to allow for time to collect and analyze the data before the May deadline. The new project will be examining the woefully understudied intersection of marketing and virtual agents. Virtual agents are any digital representation of a nonhuman entity, usually a computer program but also potentially a brand or a company (Think of Clippy from MS Word, or, more malevolently, HAL 9000.)

One of the things we see often with Facebook and/or Twitter is companies interacting with their consumers on a more individualized level. It may be one very busy person or a team of social network experts but either way, these interactions put a more human face on the company, and often that face is a virtual agent, a digital avatar through which the company interacts. My goal is to see whether the qualities of that avatar affect how people see the company or brand.

It was surprising to see just how little research there was on the subject. I suspect there is simply a backlog of articles on social networks still waiting to be published. One of the joys of the peer evaluation system I suppose. I'll provide periodic updates as things progress. The first step is to get all the IRB work ironed out. Have any opinions on the subject? Ever have a good (or bad) interaction with a company via Facebook or Twitter? Comment away!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Commercial Holiday

While only recently have I begun "following" football I've always liked to watch the Super Bowl both for the pageantry of this uniquely American spectacle and for the commercials. This years crop was fairly hit or miss. I can only imagine how much money was invested by the beer companies this year though all their ads seemed to boil down to "find beer; begin party."

There was also far too many unattractive people in underwear (two was two too many) though I wouldn't be any sort of Grad Student if I didn't immediately check into the Free Pants thing.

On that note: I have a birthday coming up next Wednesday so I might have to look into that Denny's breakfast dealie. Haven't been to one in ages but a free meal seems like a good reason to go back. So hey, mission accomplished gentlemen.

The standout favorites for amusement value were the Doritos commercials, especially the one with the weight room and the Doritos samurai armor. Of course I don't eat Doritos and thats certainly not going to get me started.

Whatever you think of government spending, the Census commercial was weak and probably a waste of money. As a stats loving guy I am all for promoting the census but jeez they could have done so much better.

Little bit of misogyny going on with the Dodge commercial. Will Wheton said it best on Twitter: "Buy Dodge, because that bitch you call a wife makes you put the seat down." Little bit of castration going on with the portable TV commercial and the guy who gets dragged shopping during the Super Bowl.

Go Daddy is still annoying. the Betty White commercial was funny but I've already forgotten just what product they were pushing so that's a failure. I'm not touching the Focus on the Family issue but to say that taking one's mom down with a flying tackle was a strange visual message to send. I was already going to see The Last Airbender and I am absolutely going to see Prince of Persia.

And that's all I can remember at top of mind without looking back at the commercial lists so obviously all the rest failed to get my attention.

(I've decided to move this What I Learned experiment to Twitter, seems like a better place to share links and info. I'll stick to full length posts here.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What I Learned 2/3/2010

1) Google and Apple are having a hissy-fit at one another. Google is implementing multi-touch into their Nexus One despite a supposed "gentleman's agreement" that they would not be implementing this technology. Apple meanwhile is locking out Flash, ChromeOS, and other "unsoftware" from the iPad, continuing their trend of controlling their content as much as possible. Also there is rumor of a Google Tablet device in the works. As I've mentioned I am a Google fanboy so I obviously have a clear preference, on the whole though, competition is good for the consumer.

2) It is apparently Social Media Week which makes me wish, not for the first time, that I was in New York right now. There was an interesting panel at JWT in NYC which contained a couple of names from my Twitter feed that I was looking forward to hearing from. The panel was on crowdsourcing, which can be briefly defined as letting consumers come up with advertising/marketing messages for ones brand (Think of it as a "Design our new logo" contest on a larger scale.) The panel was quite interesting to watch (the video can be found here for those who are interested. It can best be summed up with this quote from Michael Liebowitz "I like the wisdom of crowds, I don't like the output of crowds."

3) RPG Publishing company White Wolf, who make some of my favorite TT role playing games, seems to be transitioning to a pdf based business model. They have not released many new physical books the last few months but there have been a plethora of more narrowly targeted pdfs being put out, with the newest one today being a pamphlet given out for fictional soldiers in their Exalted setting. There's some debate as to whether White Wolf is pioneering the future of the RPG industry or merely floundering and unable to put out the products they were once known for. The optimist in me leans toward the latter. TT RPGs are a niche industry to begin with and putting out pdfs is a hell of a lot less overhead than a print run of physical books would be. It also lets them produce these narrow-focused products that would be too expensive and risky to do as physical books. The fact that this is another brick in the foundation of digital books being the future is purely coincidental I am sure.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sufficiently Advanced Technology

Remember in the Harry Potter movies how all the pictures in photographs and newspapers would move and wave at you? Or in any sci-fi setting where they had datapads of the latest newspapers and magazines? One of the visual design decisions made for Star Wars was that there shouldn't be any paper to reinforce the futuristic feel (A Long Time Ago). Thats what I first thought of when I heard about the iPad. This article by jawbone (tweeted to me by BBH Labs) about Augmented Books seems to be coming at it in a different direction though one no less interesting. Using a simple setup (which helps with immersion/presence) they add some digital animations to picture books to enhance whats on the written page. Its only a matter of time before some innovating (and enterprising) author releases a book intended solely for e-readers that has these sorts of animations fully embedded and integrated into the narrative. Faris recently had an entry where he mentioned that a young child looked at her father's Kindle and called it Daddy's Book. All this conjures up images of a parent reading a bed time story to their child, nestled together around the glow of a touch screen as a Hungry Little Caterpillar munches on various foodstuffs across the screen.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What I Learned 2/1/2010

So here are the ground rules I'm laying for myself. On days where I don't have a full entry I'm going to have a "What I Learned" post. Each such post will contain three bits of information I learned that day, ideally relating to media, marketing, or tech (or all three these days.) I'll also post some of my own thoughts or reactions to each tidbit to train myself to think critically about what I am reading. To my loyal audience (both of you) by all means toss in your own comments and opinions about whatever I end up posting. So without further ado:

What I Learned Today

1) Bravo TV is teaming up with FourSquare to get people engaged with the network. When people go to certain locations significant to Bravo TV shows they get special badges and potentially some benefits/coupons from certain advertisers. Seems like a neat way to drum up interest in the network though I'd imagine it would only really speak to people who were already loyal Bravo watchers. Still I'd be interested to hear how it works for them and I am ALL in favor of media companies making use of Social Networks intelligently. Would set a good precedent and gets people thinking of new ways to utilize these resources.

2) The overwhelming bulk of literature suggests that people find hard copy text easier to read and more understandable than electronic text. To have a study worth doing I'd need something new to contribute to this body of work and I am not entirely sure yet. I WISH I had an e-reader or funding to use one. I'm willing to bet there's little to no research done on those...or at least none published yet.

3) Steve Jobs is very unhappy with Google and their Nexus One phone. As a Google fanboy that makes me laugh. I'm still waiting to see what the shakedown between the iPhone, Droid, and Nexus One will be. Currently I'd want a Nexus One on principle alone since I trust Google to deliver a good product even if they are sniffing at all my packets. Of course nothing is going to happen until they all get a deal with Verizon (and I get the ability to pay that monthly bill.)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Non IRB Approved Qual Research - BBH Labs

Today's Non IRB approved qualitative research comes from Mel Exon, Managing Partner of BBH Labs who, along with Ben Malbon (who kindly passed my questions along) and Patricia McDonald, talk about new models of engaging brands and audiences. Read on!

Guru in Training:
Before making a blog post it helps to have something to write about. So,
how do you find your news? What are your sources of information both online and off?

Mel Exon: A real mix between work and thinking that bubbles up across the year at Labs and BBH around the world, plus an ever-growing, broad range of favourite blogs and sites whose latest posts are sucked onto my desktop via Snackr. I have other sources like Delicious, Google Reader and RSS etc, but Snackr is a tailor-made, live ticker tape of new content running along my desk top, impossible to ignore. Then Twitter of course for latest snippets of what's interesting out there, a real-time stream of opinion and news from a much broader group of interesting people we follow.

GiT: There's only so much content you can squeeze into an entry. How do you decide which piece of news or personal experience makes the cut as being "blog-worthy?"

ME: Tough one, but we tend to only blog about "news" if we're very early to it or we have a point of view that's not been heard yet. It's got to have some relevance to brands and commercial creativity. We'll usually have some key points or provocations we are interested in hearing people's opinion on. We are pretty disciplined in the topics we write about - see below.

GiT: Some people use blogs as personal journals, some as news sources, others as hubs for discussion. What role do you see your blog as having or what goals do you have for it? What sort of audience do you have in mind as you write?

ME: BBH Labs blog is where we share stuff we've found provocative or inspiring. It's also where we share emerging thinking, opinion and new work for discussion and debate. Its focus is wholly around innovation: new and emerging agency models, creative outputs, platforms, tech, processes - from inside and outside the marketing industry.

In terms of goals, the ensuing debate around our posts always improves the quality of our own output and, we hope, contributes to industry debate and the solving of broader questions facing us all. The blog also builds a reputation for Labs as a source of all the above for our core audience: a broad range of other like-minded agencies, collaborators and partners, ad schools, clients and our friends inside BBH around the world.

It's also strictly business. I have a personal blog which is where I stick the stuff I've come across, like and don't want to lose, or personal material I want to share. There's some cross over with work, possibly we take a longer term view for Labs, my personal blog is a lot lighter.

Git: Considering the name and goal of this blog, Guru In Training: How did you get your start in Marketing and Technology and what advice would you give to someone trying to enter the field?

ME: Keep your eyes and your mind open. Vary your stimuli and more interesting things happen. Right now, when it's often hard to know where to start however experienced you may be (in fact this may be *more* true the more experienced you are), I think it's useful advice to "try to learn something about everything and everything about something" (Thomas H Huxley).

Git: And finally, how did you decide on the name for your blog?

ME: It's named after the business, so that was easy. We did debate whether to call Labs something else, our code name before launch was Black Labs - Black for black/secret ops (tongue-firmly-in-cheek); Labs for experimental, forward reconaissance unit. BBH also has a thing for the word 'black' - it means uncompromising, "great, not good" in our culture. There are a one or two bits of trivia from that pre-launch stage, the black dog that is our twitter avatar is a limited edition black labrador toy from Germany that I gave Ben when we launched, for example. We went with BBH Labs as a name in the end, it seemed to make sense to us to leverage the agency's name and we wanted to be as nimble as possible, so were keen to avoid any trademark-related red tape.


Thank you to Mel, Ben, and Patricia for your time and insights! It's been quite interesting to see how bloggers think about their blogs, entries, and audience. Not mention that twice now I have been encouraged to always be reading and always learn something new. I plan to take this to heart and energize my own blog by making a daily record of new and interesting things I've seen, read, or been part that relates to media, technology, or life. Keeps me writing, thinking, and hopefully interesting.