Unperson of the Year 2010

In the George Orwell book Nineteen Eighty-Four, an Unperson is someone who has been vaporized. Gone missing, moved, erased. Made invisible, banished. So good.

Since having read the interesting Time magazine Person of the Year issue – featuring Mark Zuckerberg – I've been toying with appointing my own. Our our own. A collective vote from round here for a hero. But then we thought (all my personalities, I'm split you know) that it would be much, much more fun to do a UnPerson. Someone who we do not wish existed. Someone who we could erase, vaporize. So, here goes... The 2010 UnPerson of the Year.

The 2010 UnPerson recognition goes to someone very similar to Zuckerberg in some ways. Some one who's very visible in media. Someone who could be a facebook friend to millions. And, of course. of course, like Zuckerberg, have a few enemies. Like me. And a few of my friends. The Unperson with Egg on Face goes to...

The media planner supreme – yes, senior level, who is unable to define creativity or grasp the fundamentals of planning in the digital age. The planner who, based on years of miscalculated experience, believes that creativity in media planning is about what you do on the contact point, solely. Execution. Not where. What.

The UnPerson for 2010 is the planner who uses and abuses the term 'engagement' – throwing tactical not strategic at the client and trying to win the pitch, the annual plan, the business based entirely on fancy circus trickery. Lo and behold, the banner that sings and dances on one leg on Yahoo. Watch her flip through the magazine and you can literally smell the aroma of your coffee – for she has discovered that one printer in Toronto who uses aromatic ink! Watch him use the newspaper belly band to belly dance at the pitch. Watch out then for what I call a crutch – a fatal dependence on execution. Sans any brainwork outside the proverbial plan excel sheet. Watch him hide same old same old behind a curtain of a touch screen mupi that has an augmented reality app built into it. Whoa!

Whatever happened to good old days? When planning was about reach, about target audience, and the power of frequency. Of copy wear outs and roadblock mapping? Why is there so much hue and cry about a facebook app with a game when the fundamentals of digital power – micromedia planning and thin slice targeting – are not in focus? How come these planners ignore Search and go for Destroy (the in-banner game) instead?

Why are media agencies becoming creative agencies with artwork and flash guys, with 110 slide presentations chock full of song and dance and no spine? Egg on face then to the planner who has forgotten fundamentals. Like Christmas built around Santa, the tree, Boxing Day sales and no Christ.

UnPerson then, to the dependent crutch clutching media personality. Walk. Try. Venture forth. Creativity exists in the world of the media agency – but it's creativity in the fundamentals, in the strategy, in the way you reach, dialog with, and engage people. And, no, you do not need Flash to do that.

# The Symbol of the Year

The first decade of our new millennium is coming to a close, and one key on our boards has seen a massive resurgence across the world. It's the humble #. What we call a hashtag in twitterspeak. Ever since the @ sign became the most used key on every keyboard, no other computer keyboard key has ever had such a front stage showing.

According to an article in The Guardian highlighting the symbol, the official typographical name for the # is an octothorpe. While globally, it's called a 'hash', in the US, things are different. The yanks used to call it a 'pound sign'! But now, with twitter, every one seems to know what it is (a 'hash' of course), and how it's used.

The # is the absolute sign on twitter – a marker that allows tweets to highlight a subject, to group tweets together, to track them down or comment, re-tweet and so on.

So, as the year and the decade comes to a close, here's to the humble #hashtag and new lexicon in our speak. Here's to #twitter!
Happy 2011 and have a merry #Christmas.

Even the Navy's changing

One of my all time favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs, Apple CEO and visionary. “Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?” It’s been a mantra around here, one I have used over the years to challenge our staff, inspire them about the possibilities of ‘digital’, and to have that one last awesome slide in winning pitches.

Pirates are quick, nimble bounty hunters. They go get loot, and lots of it. They’re romantic, they get movies made about them – and they’re pretty much an emblem for the ‘digital’ savvy, nerd, geek, entreprenuerally minded, i-Phone clutching new age guys. The new agencies. The guys who change the world. Guys who have 500 million friends. And a few enemies. You get the drift.

The navy is about big ships. Navies are about huge, widescreen, big scale, big corporate offices in ivory towers. They’re about large turning circles, routine, doing-it-by-the-book, mega budgets, massive media buys, sixteen departments, and an armada of suits. Navies are about big agencies. Big names, logos you’d recognize, people who are AdAge cover stories.

But not any more. The navy as we know it – the big advertising agency is about to change. Or has already, and you’ve blinked. In our industry (now is that advertising or engagement?) digital is no longer just a specialization. Digital is becoming core. No surprise there, because the very definition of mainstream media is changing. If people are spending more time and engaging in digitally driven activities, being social, searching, googling, texting, well, that’s going to redefine what’s mainstream. Does your target spend more time on facebook than watching tv? If so, is your agency properly equipped to communicate with and engage with that target? Or are they still turning around in big circles, not in high octane powered digital skiffs?

While there will always be specialists, always be catalysts who inspire and lead the others in the digital race, everybody today needs to grasp what digital is all about. The writer, the art director, account head, media planner – every one. And, vice versa. Those geeks, those digital savvy folk also need to understand how ‘traditional’ advertising works. Web content writers should understand copy writing for an ad. Digital planners need to understand GRP. And flash programmers need to understand consumer insight before making wow apps. Which means they need to work in one flow. One integrated solutions offering. One navy.

The big agencies that aren’t doing this are caught between the devil and deep blue sea. They’re themselves afraid of change, and they are standing back and watching the new ones, the nifty, nimble, new age engagement specialists steal valuable yardage. Yet, their inaction is what is the bigger fear.

Not that some of the agencies are not throwing digital into the mix. Digital is usually always on the agenda. In many cases it’s the last 20 minutes and 15 winning slides in a pitch. It’s there, but it’s a dummy. Unless digital is part of an integrated campaign, a real outcome, unless it’s driven through in the execution stage, what’s the point?

And the other big debate is what is digital? What are we really supposed to embrace? An iPhone app? A ‘like’ driver on facebook? A microsite? A blog? A tweet? Some of us seem confused. Let’s face it. In stark reality, it’s about using leading edge technologies and platforms to engage and interact with the consumer. And, in most cases, the more invisible the technology, and the more prominent the message and dialog, the better. Digital not as crutch or dependency, but as power, as catalyst.

Advertising is being redefined as we speak. The whole communications business model is shifting rapidly from mass media to micromedia for the masses. It’s moving from communications to engagement. From monologue and shouting to listening and dialogue. With user behavior tracking, deep insights available to us on individual likes and dislikes, it’s becoming more about individuality than about group behavior. More about you and me than about us as a demographic in general.

This means we need to understand the shift in how consumers are absorbing (or not) media. Trends like ‘snacking’ and ‘time-shifting’ are going to have a huge effect on media planning. The website as brochure and the banner as display are being seen as so 90s because today, it’s about how the consumer is controlling where, when and how they interact with a brand message – and how they’re reshaping that message, viralizing it, socializing it, or ignoring it.

We’re still in the ideas business, and we cannot forget that our business has always been about innovation. Decades ago, the VW Beetle Lemon ad was innovative. So is Jimmy Choo’s location based campaign today. The world’s second oldest profession isn’t going to be completely taken over by a Silicon Valley vc chasing a dotcom gold rush. The navy is still going to be around. But it’ll need to adapt.

Before I get blackburied by colleagues asking me to put my money where my mouse is, I’ll put my neck on the line. Yes, our agencies, are up for the challenge. We’re hiring pirates. We’re crowdsourcing. We’re turning vision into (augmented) reality. We’re recontextualizing at MCN. Yes. Even the navy’s changing.

Maps and teeth

We ate too much. We drank too much. We laughed too much. And, naturally, we will do this again. This was my tweet on a party I attended at Ajay Juneja's house last weekend. To celebrate Diwali (the Indian festival of lights) and in general, shining happy people. Ajay is a friend, but he's also a Specialist Prosthodontist, and a very good one. I met him over a very casual root canal, and now we're friends doing Diwali. So, you know he's good. Normally, the guy who does a root canal on you isn't quite on a 'make friends with' list. But Juneja was fab. And, no I'm not plugging him either (he does practise at the Dental Studio in Jumeirah, and since I am not plugging him, you'll just have to google it).

We arrived late that evening because Ajay decided he'd send us a map. Not one he printed off google maps, but one he had drawn, scribbled, corrected, sent a wrong one first, then a right one, and by then we didn't quite know right from wrong and left from right. He's very very good at making your teeth look very very Hollywood, but at maps? Challenged.

But that's what makes it all fun. He's good at teeth. And he's particularly good at what one of my favorite writers Jeremy Clarkson calls 'American teeth'. Clarkson once famously wrote "There are four different types of teeth. There are canines which are used for tearing of lumps of meat. There are incisors which are used for cutting it. There are premolars for crushing it. And there are American teeth which are used for appearing in Hello! Magazine" and while I I'm 100% that Dr Juneja is good at all four, I'm told he's an award winning dentist at American or Hello teeth. But not maps. So, I offered to do him one.

However, I know he already has one at home. All his wife's friends showed up on time, because she simply used a google map. But men don't do maps, don't do directions – give or take – and the Ajay set were all lost and late. But stylishly, and Hello-ishly to say the least. Cheers Ajay.

The Gemas Effies 2010

This year’s entries were fairly balanced. Some of the categories had very strong, result driven entries which harnessed solid strategy unfolded via creative executions. On the other hand some categories were hugely disappointing – and we were reluctant to honor the entries in those.

The successful and awarded entries were clearly the ones which had relevant insights, specially local insights – something special that the brand and the agencies picked up and worked with – and reaped the results in the market place. Today’s informed consumer recognizes a good product and resonates to a good campaign built around solid consumer insight. The winning entries reflected this.

Overall, this year, we saw a huge paradigm shift in consumer engagement. The most successful entries were (not surprisingly) ones that used the power of 360° engagement – and most often digital engagement played a key role in those campaigns. With today’s consumer ever increasingly being engaged, entertained and empowered by brands in the digital and social domains, it wasn’t at all surprising to see some of the winning entries being pivoted around where today’s consumer is playing – in the digital and social fields. (Clever) Local insight combined with 360° engagement – with an emphasis and a nod to digital – that’s what 2010 has been about.

Changes at MCN

Iain Akerman, editor of Campaign Middle East, in his op-ed 'perspective' piece in the 10.10.10 issue wrote about the changes at MCN – the Middle East Communications Network – where I spend my days. Tongue firmly in cheek he writes about how he nearly had his head kicked in by someone because he had written something that 'involved' FP7. Fortune Promoseven (or FP7, as it's known in the industry) is the flagship at MCN – the IPG operating company that manages other brands like Lowe, UM, Initiative, Magna, Weber Shandwick, MRM, Innovations etc. Long list of agency brand. Huge possibilities for drawing fire. But, Iain writes, changes are being made, he seems to see some light.

There's been some restructuring, some recognizing that perhaps a new generation were ready to take on the challenge, and they seem to have been empowered. How it all works out remains to be seen, but at least, someone's been working on ushering in change. MCN President & CEO Fadi Salameh was very open about it. After much introspection and in depth reviewing, the MCN leadership recognized the need for change. And Fadi hit the button. Right time too.

Every one was saying Fadi's on his way out, but he's still very much around, still piloting the agencies, driving forward. Fresh at the wheel, with him is Luca Lindner, president of McCann Worldgroup, Latin America, Africa and Middle East. And, phew, Luca is a breath of fresh Mediterranean air. With a bit of Brazil thrown in for good measure.

I was in there, in front of all the brand new heavies, discussing, presenting the digital way ahead for MCN. And if I may, digital is going to be the way ahead at MCN. As per the gospel of Luca. He, of course, has been there done that, having pushed digital to the front burner across Lat Am. And now, he's challenging us here in the Middle East to get with it. For the very first time, since we were acquired by IPG, we've seen someone who's going to be around these hallways knee deep in what we do. No helicopter piloting for Luca. He's hands on. He gets it. He gets digital. He understands social media, knows the future of interruptive advertising (as opposed to participatory dialog) is short sighted, and believes that we've got around five years to embrace the zeros and ones. Or fail.

Part of this big change is the change at the top at Promoseven. Tarek Miknas, is 2G Miknas. Father Akram Miknas founded Promoseven 42 years ago. Today, McCann New York long stint under his belt, an amazing couple of years as Chief Growth Offiver at Lowe also part of CV, Tarek steps up to the plate, ready. Ready when the crowd wants a homer. Ready, when every possible curve ball will be hurled at him.

I've known Tarek ever since he came back from New York, complete with dreads and a twang. He's passionate but balanced. Right brained but left brained too. He's a techie, and a people guy. And best of all, he's got intuition. Not just finger on pulse kind of intuition, but the uncanny knack of calling the cards right that slight second ahead of time. He'll do good.

MCN is a giant. FP7 is a big ship. The turning circle is large, and it won't happen by Christmas. No surprises from Santa there. But I've got this feeling, this is genuine. Because the effort's there, and the desire to change is from the heart. About time we embraced it. Or #fail.

Paying for Earned Media. How to get the Buzz going

I've been reading a lot recently about the buzz around 'earned media'. A lot of digital agency heads now write about developing beautiful social campaigns that replace 'paid media' with their organic social media efforts – which in essence uses the power of earned media. What I don't read as frequently however is their position on how they get the buzz going on these 'earned' campaigns. Do these auto-viralize? Are they so inherently powerful that there is zero effort outside the social campaign? Is it as simple as 'if you build it, they will come'?

While we all seem to recognize the power of social media, we haven't quite comfortably delved into the area about how to get those campaigns going. When a certain campaign runs around a powerful social platform – and this power can come from any part of it that gives it viral turbo charging – I can understand how it takes off. But when we agency folks have the responsibility of delivering campaigns that have to work with brands, and sell their products, we cannot simply fall back on auto-viral. Unless the campaigns have some incredibly funny elements that people feel compelled and proud to share (or they see a pot of rewards), it's not easy. If it has a social and moral push to it, even the funny bits are not needed. But brand campaigns that rely purely on earned media? Who knows then that you've built it? How will they come?

I feel it has to be a combo deal. Yes, we can rely on the power of social or earned pushes, but in most cases (yes, there are exceptions), a paid push is needed. If we have an idea that has viral potential, and we know in the gut that it will take off, and even early metrics show that it is on upwardly mobile mode, it's probably time to kick in with a bit of a paid spend. Take P&G's mega successful Old Spice social campaign built around the beefy Old Spice Man. P&G used a hefty $11 million+ to push the campaign. That's what helped create the buzz around the Man. Sure they used data in real time to make ads more sharable and interesting, but they put real dollars behind it. The result? Neilsen says they had a double digit increase in sales.

In the end, I come back to my favorite buzz word – integration. Consumers react better to campaigns that surround them across media. What they see on tv, hear on radio, see in magazines and newspapers – but which have the central pivot perhaps in the online domain – becomes an immersive experience. And they'll flow with it. As digital agencies, it is our responsibility to be true to the brands we service and go to them with real solutions that have genuine ROI. And the I in ROI is important. And the I in the ROI has often to be in paid media.

So, yes, we ought to work with our brands and develop creative social campaigns that have social viral power, but we have to recognize the importance of well thought out media planning and touch point strategies to enhance and multiply the power of a viral campaign. The more people who see it, the more the chances of them sharing it. It's simple really. This way, those of us in this business of advertising, no longer have to be held responsible for coming up pure earned ideas, because to earn something you have to work at it. And sometimes, working at it means planting the seed. And someone's got to pay for those seeds. There are no free lunches, and the last time I looked at the gardening section of my local hypermarket, there aren't free seeds either.

Is social media marketing overrated?

Today, I found a twitter link to a rather interesting post by Nagi Salloum on his blog titled "Is social media marketing overrated?" http://nagi.loomni.com/2010/08/26/is-social-media-marketing-overrated/. He makes some very solid points, and I couldn't disagree with his position or his opening gambit. He's left the forum open for comments, so I did. But so check out his blog as well. Here's my response...

This is an on-going debate, and I think the jury will stay out for a while. Good points made regarding twitter in the UAE. However, there are quite a few rather active tweeps who are very, very open to businesses/corporates reaching them. In fact, they almost feel compelled to help the cause. But, agree that we are not reaching a huge %age of the population. There are a few businesses who are doing ok, wildpeeta, thedubaimall, rakbank etc among them.

Facebook? Well, I've seen/heard different numbers and different claims. Globally, increasingly, corporates are engaging via facebook – because they feel that while the facebook audience is already in a fairly 'communicative' and 'receptive' mode, it wouldn't be such a bad idea trying to have a conversation with them.

Blogging? Not much there unless you're talking to niche and special interest groups. But overall, to dismiss social media as a possible and future-feasible marketing tool would be premature. I recall some pundits who had predicted that the internet would never take off in this country (too much of a mall culture, and people are not really online savvy. Wrong.). So, it is a wait and see game.

And who's the SM expert? You're right about the whole genre being so young, so unchartered. Yet, those who are shining, those who seem to possess some grasp of what's hot, what's not, are the early adopters. Those who've jumped in shallow end and kept swimming. Social media after all is about communicating and engaging in dialog. Those that are pushing marketing slogans down the consumers throats aren't experts. They're just exploiting the genre(or trying to). But those who really get it, are the ones who don't have huge expectations, who know the advantage of being first-to-market, and clearly, those who've realized that social media is about listening first, speaking after.

Social hibernation or rejuvenation.

Around four weeks ago (though it does seem like much, much longer) I did a ziplip, or a self imposed embargo on all social fronts, or at least on all fronts except on twitter. Truth be told, I went off it. Not sick of it, or tired of social, but just kind of decided to creep back behind a rock. I went off on holiday, and except for the odd tweet and a couple of foursquare updates, I laid low. And, frankly, it was a much needed hiatus. A sabbatical of sorts, where my only social activity was hanging out at clubs in Calcutta, India. Not night clubs. But clubs. The way old clubs used to be. Where you get facetime, not facebook. Where the only tweet you hear is of real birds on the moist green rain soaked 18th hole. Or the only uploads that happen are when elbows are raised and pints are downed. That kind of social. And I loved it.

Calcutta is very much there as far as tech's concerned. It's by no means behind any city here in the Middle East. There's plenty of bandwidth, more than a dozen service providers, and connections are cheap as chips. But, yes, while the online set do facebook, and twitter and foursquare and youtube, they also are truly social. They meet at the club. They do tennis. They golf. They laze around and have a tall scotch and water or a rum. They enjoy life. Outside the virtual. In the real. And, I fell into that pattern.

I met old friends, family, acquaintances, and made new ones. Even though I was nursing a pretty bad back problem, I found the trip down to the clubs so relaxing, so real. Real people, with handshakes and hugs, not updates and uploads. The club was the Wall, and everybody was on it.

Club culture is a social thing that we here in Dubai just don't have. And many a die-hard has told me that in India, Calcutta is surely the last bastion of the 'old Club way'. All are meant for members only, and most of them have been around for decades if not centuries. My club, where I grew up, the Calcutta Cricket & Football Club is more than 220 years old. It is the oldest cricket club outside the British Isles. But there's much more than cricket there, although the gorgeous and grand cricket ground is the centre piece of it all. Sourav Ganguly, ex Indian captain is member. As is multiple Grand Slam doubles title winner Leander Paes. That's where Leander learnt to serve and volley. And more. Other clubs I dropped into for a drink or a meal were the absolutely grand Bengal Club (very posh, very puccah and proper koi hai style), and the famous Tollygunge Club, where the greens stretch for miles and the lazy afternoon disappears amidst darjeeling tea, early shots of gin and tonic into a dusk that's just the beginning of hard partying.

I digress. So, the question I ponder of course, is whether I did go into 'social' hibernation, or was it really a rebirth of my social being, where I had human contact, where I met real people and not avatars. I love staying in touch with my friends across the world on facebook, I like tweeting, I love connecting via youtube. But give me a rugby game to watch, give me a table full of friends, a round of drinks, and I'll take that anytime. That's social. And I'm missing it.

Adidas scores one over Nike

Adidas are launching a viral (created by 180 Amsterdam) about a South African boy who keeps an accurate and obsessive count of goals scored by players wearing the F50 shoe. He paints the tally on to a wall poster for the shoe. Simple creative, but a nice play on the insight. Fact of the matter is Adidas wearers scored 63 goals (including 2 sad own goals), and thus were one ahead of Nike’s 62. Puma scored 9.

Nike however seemed to have scored on many other fronts. Eight of the winning Spain team were kitted in Nike boots. Iniesta, who won the World Cup with his last ditch gasp of a goal was in Nike. He wore the CTR360.

But what this is about is clever viraling. Adidas launched the Adizero F50 with a huge Facebook push, featuring greats like Messi, Kaka, Ballack, Simao and more – all touting how football is faster with the F50. To top the scoring chart is no doubt an interesting little ‘property’ to grab and then viralise, build on. That’s what social marketing is about today – finding something that may be of interest to the consumer and the fans and being able to create something around it. That’s a good goal, there, Adidas.

Corporate Social Media: Do you have a policy?

More and more brands are getting into Social Media these days here in the Middle East, and save for a few well organized ones, I've mostly seen fairly disjointed, unstructured, unplanned efforts. There seems to be a lack of social media policy. Which I just don't understand. Companies have a marketing policy, a marketing budget, a plan, so why don't they have a similar approach when it comes to drafting a simple, easy to follow, across-the-board social policy?

Brands are slowly getting to understand social. They're genetically used to shouting, not listening, not participating, not paying attention – but rather preaching the corporate gospel from a soap box. And their agencies have helped them along, providing louder voices to shout at customers, at consumers, to make themselves heard.

First of all, no one really knows today, who owns the social space. So, there seems to be a free for all atmosphere. Whether having a simple guideline on what's ok, what's not for employee social behavior (when it comes to corporate tagged social), or a fully documented policy paper coming out of marketing / corporate communications, it is increasingly a requirement that there are certain standards that are followed. There ought to be a corporate language and tone of voice, (and I don't mean language in the literal sense). There ought to be a common approach to the consumer, to the competition, to customer service, to beating the drum, or whatever is being done in the social sphere. Companies, brands, product divisions, agencies – all need to sing off a common song sheet, and this policy is crucial to maintaining an 'identity'. And, it's particularly relevant when an outsourced consultant or freelancer handles a company's social voice. That voice needs to be one voice.

Social voice is usually an extension of company culture, and there needs to be a strategy behind voicing and sharing that culture whether proactively or in relation to social voice out there. This is about responsibility and self control. It's about being able to judge crucially before a facebook update, a like, a tweet and a foursquare update (I'm at the F1 Super Deluxe Paddock Lounge' tweet or foursquare update when the company has just announced a economy drive is plain stupid).

After all, one needs to understand that several people from one company are voicing on social, each one thinks differently, each one has a different sentiment, but those are personal. If one has opened up their personal space and tagged it with a corporate identity, than that sentiment needs to be in line with corporate sentiment, corporate vision and mission.

Having a clear cut policy is not difficult. One needs to have a clear cut understanding of objectives that the 'company' has. These may be different from personal objectives, and in that case, one needs to define the fine line and cross over to corporate territory and safeguard it. One needs to understand different departmental goals. Different product managers have different goals. The CEO may say something that is totally big picture, while the product buyer, the art director, the front desk person may say something totally out of sync. This is where a policy helps.

Most corporate driven social voice out there in this region seems driven by brand, and the peripheral, the conversations around the product, the benefit, the lifestyle driven ones are ignored. This is a no-no. Policy should cover peripheral social voice. Policy should cover short term vs long term. So, if I work at a automotive dealership, my tweets on speed cameras, for example, ideally come under policy, because, while they're not about the new GT model on the showroom floor, they're somehow inter related. That's social. And that's why we need to have someone draft broad guidelines, without stepping on our freedom of social speech.

50+ surfers ride the new wave

In many a pitch, many a presentation, I've stood up and said "Online is bound to grow in our region (as in the Middle East) because more than 50% of our population is under 25. The youth naturally take up new media, new technology and new trends". Well folks, I was half wrong. Because, the latest numbers coming out, at least in the UK, show that online growth is being fuelled by the 50+.

Online audiences in the UK have grown by 5% over the past year, fuelled by increasing take-up by the over 50s, according to new research. The report shows: Almost two million more Britons are online than last year. Figures have swelled from 36.9 million in May 2009 to 38.8 million in May 2010, research by UKOM reveals. Those aged 50+ now account for 31% of total people online.

Men over 50 were responsible for most of this growth, accounting for 722,000 and 38% of new internet users followed by women who accounted for 284,000 and 15% of new users.

Health, video and community are the leading interest areas, and we find that quite natural. Alex Burmaster, analyst at UKOM/Nielsen, said: "The fact that one in four Britons who use the Internet today are 50- to 64-years-old proves it is no longer the sole preserve of the young and technical literati.

This really is a game changer as far as our online strategy goes in several genres. Take travel for instance. Here's a generation that probably has disposable time and money to go around the world and see the 200 places on their bucket list. Here's a generation that's ripe for online pharmacies. For insurance. Cards. Banking. Buying new cars. Upgrading. And, of course, for technology, hardware and software. Do Co Mo in Japan have figured this out quickly (Japan has the world's oldest population, I'm told). So, Do Co Mo are enabling (for free), photo sharing technology for the elderly via their photoframes. But that's another story, another post.

Split at IPG. No, not what you think.

Interpublic Group has launched a new creative technology unit called Split.

The venture is tasked with developing global partnerships with agencies and marketers and creating proprietary products.

While Split is an independent IPG revenue center, it is aligned with McCann Worldgroup.

Worldgroup CIO Greg Smith founded and heads Split, and has been working with McCann Erickson chief creative officer Joyce King Thomas in testing the concept at the agency's New York headquarters.

With about 30 employees, Split has brought in over $1 million in revenue from various projects and is currently working on new apps that will launch by month's end, as well as a social media platform that debuts this quarter, the company said.

A recent Split initiative was the mid-November launch, via Twitter, of the first Nikon Online Film Festival, a user-generated content contest inviting aspiring filmmakers to upload 140-second videos with the chance to win prizes of $25,000 and $100,000. Nikon spokesperson Ashton Kutcher, with 3.9 million Twitter followers, kicked off the contest by posting a link to his submission, a short film documenting a day spent in Africa. Split and McCann N.Y. created the concept and all campaign elements: social-media launch, a Web site, online outreach, TV and print.

"Creative technology, the pairing of content and code, clearly is an area with huge potential, including the ability to own 'reach,'" Smith said in a statement. "Split is a new model. It is a business within a business -- handling digital creative and production, and importantly also developing and leveraging our own software products that can be licensed to marketers or consumers."

Added King Thomas: "Split not only has given us sophisticated technological support, but has been a huge creative asset to us -- contributing to ideation, participating in new-business opportunities [and] producing some of our most innovative digital work over the past year."

Split will continue to work with McCann as well as other Worldgroup companies and IPG entities. In addition to its New York base, Split hubs are being formed in other markets.

courtesy AdWeek

Service, Social Media and Banking

To date, I've never used my blog for a rant. But since I speak and have a position on social media, because I preach the gospel of the power of the word of mouse, and I have a genuine beef, here goes...

A couple of banks here in the UAE have really worked hard on the social front. They've appointed social media agencies, they're responsive, they seem to have a good finger on the pulse of their customers and their target market. But what happens when their core social face – their real people, the customer service folks, their front desk people, their tellers fail them? What and how can they avoid the social repercussion?

My wife is at the moment a pretty irate customer at a local socially aware bank. They've pretty much mismanaged her hard earned and saved funds with them, not reporting fund changes, not bothering to tail the market movements, resulting in her losing a fair amount of green. Of course, there's always valid excuses, of course, Greece went down, of course, of course, of course...

But when she calls her so called Relationship Manager and asks to speak to a supervisor, and there's absolutely no call back, no 'how may we help?', no 'is something bothering you' callback, there's a natural response – which is negative. No one cares? Perhaps they do. Perhaps they're all really busy. And perhaps, they are all so busy that they didn't have time to follow the market and adjust her investments?

And thus, this pushes me to blog, to tell tales about the lack of responsiveness, the sheer absence of customer service. That's what pushes me to tweet, as I did: #Rakbank #fail

Nike breaks viral record

Nike isn't an official World Cup sponsor, but its three-minute "Write the Future" video broke the record for the biggest audience in the first week of a campaign with 7.8 million views. That record, incidentally, was by another Nike ad: the somber and strange "Earl and Tiger" ad, which debuted earlier this year with 6.3 million views in its first week.

Popularity of Nike's 'Write the Future' spot around the globe.
Nike's World Cup ad started a cast of international soccer stars including Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Franck Ribery and Christiano Ronald. (Mr. Rooney is shown a future living in a trailer if he fails to catch Mr. Ribery steaming toward England's goal.) As the chart from Visible Measures shows, the video truly has international appeal.
Interestingly, Pepsi also is not an official World Cup sponsor, but its "Oh Africa" has spent seven weeks on the Viral Chart.

YouTube is the platform that makes video powerful for viral ads like Nike's, so fitting on the week of its 5th birthday, YouTube landed its own ad on the chart, "YouTube Turns Five." Seven of the entrants this week are chart veterans, including Toyota, Old Spice, Evian, Gillette and Microsoft.

No. 10 is another newcomer, Canada's Fortnight Lingerie, with an example of an ad you probably wouldn't see on TV. It's almost not-safe-for-work content is excused somewhat by a public service in the form of a refresher course on CPR.


Courtesy of Ad Age

I just wanted to watch some football

The FIFA World Cup is just a few days away. I'm beginning to plan my schedules, pack my fridge with a few cases of Coronas, and look ahead to some football on the telly. Except, of course, until I had to go on twitter to find out how and where I could watch it in the UAE. I'm told it's going to be broadcast here by aljazeera for a $100 one time subscription, and I could get all the info on www.aljazeerasport.net

Well I did go online and checked. Considering a huge expat population of expats in the UAE are going to watch, I'm afraid the site isn't really doing a great job in trying to get us to subscribe. I could not find (may be I'm not following the wonderful user intuitive navigation journey mapped out by them) the 'English' button. So, something's really wrong out there?

This is marketing opportunity gone weird. I haven't seen an ad, haven't found banners online, no mailers have arrived at my door, and I haven't seen any one in a mall trying to sell me a on-tv experience of the year. Huh? And, then when I seek it out (thanks to my friends on twitter), and I go to the reference portal, I get nothing.

Two things happen immediately. I am afraid that my on-tv experience will be nearly just as bad as my online experience – perhaps all the commentary will be in Arabic? Perhaps the score line will be shown in Arabic? I am already turned off, tuned off. But because I have no alternative, no choice, I will have to keep looking, trying to find a way. This is pathetic marketing.

The other thing that I will seek out will be perhaps to try and find the game online via a subscription, or a hack. I know it won't be the same as watching it on my LCD, but at least I will get what I want, when I want, and have a cool hundred left over for a few extra cases of Corona.

Here, There and Foursquare

I normally don't jump on bandwagons. I also do not like to tell the whole world where I'm hanging out or doing business. I tweet very little of my personal life – I'm no celeb and my non 9-5 is mine. No one cares what I do, or so I hope, And, no I don't like being stalked. And I wouldn't want Joe Burglar (here in Dubai on a visit visa) to track down when it's really convenient for him to break and enter. And depart. So, no, I didn't foursquare. Up until now.

Location based apps are now everywhere, and they're usually quite useful. Yelp now has a 'check in' feature, but the biggest impact comes across (and into our part of the world, hello Dubai) from foursquare. Yes, just like that, one worded and so new age. Now that foursquare is beta'd on Blackberry, I thought I'd give it a spin.

It's quite simple to use, it can be fun, and no, you don;t have to be obsessive compulsive about being mayor or collecting badges. It's cool and easy to spot what others have to say about restaurants, clubs, hang outs, whatever, in and around the location you're in. You can find friends in the area, shout out to them (if they're foursquaring as well), so it's quite fun. Yes, it does work with twitter and facebook. And, already, I've been told via twitter, that my fave shawarma place in Jumeirah also makes great zingers.

Adding your favorite places is fun, and can get compulsive. The mapping is only as accurate as you make it, so I would say, that's a bit of a bug. More annoying are the people on it who check in multiple times, to say, a bus stop or an office building, just so they can get a mayor's badge.

Foursquare isn't one of those apps that will drop down. It has got genuine functional benefits, and for marketing folks like me, I can see quite a few programs that can ride on it. Also, I see it build up a huge database one day, and that is going to be bankable. A large volume of information, tips, find this here and don't go theres will also come in handy. And businesses are jumping in with prizes and discounts of those who check in, or check in often.

No, I'm not mayor of any place just yet. Not even my home or my villa compound, which I did track down and it wasn't yet mapped in. And i'm going to keep it that way for now. Thank you very much. I may be foursquare but I'm also paranoidround.

Facebook & Open Graph API

Facebook and founder Zuckerberg are moving in big time to make our world wide web a more social, more 'like' friendly ecosphere. The Open Graph concept, at the moment, is about aggregating what people see, read, review, interact with and recommend. This way, people like you and me, would better connect – not just with what brands are saying about themselves and our reacting to them, but also amongst each of us, and sharing that opinion. It's Yelp all over, in a way.

It's connected via umbilical cord to Facebook's new “Like” button. FB's "Like" icon (or button) is a plug in. It let's us comment on what we see, experience in form of any kind of web content and put a positive spin on it via the "thumbs up' or Like icon. For FB related developing, the code is provided for developers to drop into their head tags. Bingo, the functionality is auto-added.
Zuckerberg claims that 1 billion “Like” buttons will be clicked on within 24 hours of launch.

Facebook's “Like” button is really an experience enhancer – one that brings a feeling of true interactivity to the world of customer vis-a-vis brand/product. Simple Facebook actions like 'add' or 'join' (as in a fan club) becoes a lot more social and has a lot more impact and reach – including leaving an impression on that brand's page or website. Not sure where that would leave the Facebook Connect concept, because 'Like' has quite a wide ranging footfall across both brand and social ecosphere.

Facebook in a release said:
You’ll begin seeing “Like,” or in some cases “Recommend,” buttons appearing on popular websites spanning a variety of industries, including NYTimes.com, IMDb, CNN.com, TIME.com, LIFE.com, Fandango, NHL.com, USA Networks, Levis.com, Univision and ABC.com.

For example, if I like a pair of jeans on Levis.com, my action will be shared with my friends on Facebook, where they can comment on it. I can also see which of my friends like the jeans on Levis.com.

Advertising vs Engagement

You’ve heard it in seminars. Your board meetings sometimes veer off from talking about P&L and major corporate issues to focusing on digital. Your one tech junkie in the corner, the resident geek pops his head in and rants about ‘digital future’. Yes you kind of know about this. You acknowledge it. Yes, you recognize the writing on the facebook wall. Consumers are shifting their media consumption patterns in favour of the online world. Yes, in this part of the world. A little bit at a time. But yes.

But the reality is we’re mostly stuck in the traditional advertising vortex. Even online. We’re still so taken with creating ‘advertising’ that we forget that the dynamics have been shifted. The consumer has moved the goalposts from receiving one-way communications to interaction and engagement. They want to be part of the action, the give and take. And if you aren’t giving them relevance, experience, and a genuine value-add for their time spent with you, they aren’t taking the bait.

What we tend to forget is the fact that consumers have always been unpredictably outside thin slice channel silos. Our game has always been about value. Value in exchange for time. The digital marketing trick is about creating value – rich experiences, rewarding content, engaging, useful things delivered to them – where they want it, and when they want it. At their whim. At their convenience. Look at all the digital things we do every day – email, sms, phone calls, downloads, blogs, information gathering, googling – each one delivers something useful, something valuable. This is the core remote flick fighter. This is the new model. If you build this, they will come.

Engagement vs Advertising in digital code is Pull vs Push. Theirs vs Ours. The traditional online model (I know those two words together sound like oxymorons) is about awareness building. I have a new product, and here’s a ten page microsite that glorifies it, while also telling me about my vision, my mission, my CEO’s bio, and of course my ‘contact us’ details. And I have spent a considerable sum of my (miniscule) online budget on banners across various portals that I believe you go to, to drive you to my said microsite, and you better click through, or else. And, wait, since I am so 2010 ready that I have also put my microsite address on my print ads. Well, well.

No, because that just does not work. Well, it did nicely enough for a while, but it no longer cuts the ice. Today, it’s about building something that is interesting, something the consumer will gladly spend time with, and if done right probably even advocate. I’m not saying this is the death knell of all display advertising. Some display ads have a simple message ‘free upgrade’ , ‘5% interest’ and ‘$99 to London’ will get clicked through if it is in a relevant channel. But overall, our online communications needs to be way, way beyond advertising. It needs to be fresh, fun, fabulous as an experience.

What we tend to forget often that we are in the wow business. All of us. Offline maintsream creatives, suits, brand managers, CEOs et al. Brand-to-consumer communications is all about wow. We have a wow gadget, an unbelievably comfortable sofa, a juice so fresh it’s still on the tree, a free-lobotomy-with-nose-job offer, and for the CFO – yes, we’ve made a small but remarkable profit in the middle of a bust year kind of wow. So, the, how come when we tell people about all this, we forget the wow?

The magic of digital is the technology it sits on. Ever changing, ever evolving technology. The tech spine allows us to build a nice sexy body around it if we want. Use it cleverly and it can be rewarding – for both brands and consumers. Technology and the newness of it, the fresh wow bits it can deliver allows us to better entertain, better engage, better wow. Like the way Mini used augmented reality applications in their print ads – that led to quite a wow experience for the consumer (www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTYeuo6pIjY). And it doesn’t all have to be all tomorrow’s leading edge today. It can be simple like the first attempt by intel to engage the end-user in a fun way with their Five Note Symphony engagement idea (http://symphony.intel.com/).

Which brings us to my final point. We the guilty – the advertising fraternity – have so long ignored what the consumer wants to see, hear, feel, do and chased the Cannnes and other metalware glory , that we’ve lost sight of the consumer as creative possibility. Lo and behold the new creative director – the 19 year old YouTube upload kingpin out of Muscat. Guitar hero, garage band expert, iMovie editor and brand ambassador par excellence on YouTube. And, he is willing to work for you on a pro bono basis. And no, your brand does not have to be green or preach tree hugging, but just open. Meet John Doe or Salma the blogger or Sultan the facebook fiend – the social media sneezer. The one with self empowerment to make or break your brand. And he is a no-label free spirit who does not believe in advertising. But ask him to be part of your engagement plan, and he will happily take up your flag. The engager. The non advertiser. Your new ambassador. The new piper at the gates of dawn.

The Webisode: Here to stay?

A webisode is a short episode which airs initially as Internet television, either as a download or streamed content – as opposed to first airing on tv.

The format can be used as a preview, a promotion, as part of a collection of shorts, or a commercial. A webisode is usually part of an existing drama or series or it may consist of entirely original material. A lot of webisodes are now being produced as original 'made-directly-for-online' content.

A webisode is simply a web episode – collectively it is part of a web series, a form of new medium called web television that characteristically features a dramatic, serial storyline, where the primary method of viewership is streaming online over the Internet.

While there is no set standard for length, most webisodes are relatively short, ranging from 1–10 minutes in length. With the increasing popularity of online media consumption in the region, the demand for creating short duration video content for distribution via web is becoming prevalent. For well established periods in the calendar which are known in the region for media consumption on a daily basis – such as Ramadan, when the serial TV episode format is hugely popular, webisodes delivered across online will also become a commonly accepted format. Interestingly, webisodes are also available in a more compressed format, even further optimized – for mobile – and these are known as mobisodes.

Webisodes are also becoming a popular format for branded content – where either a brand's product is 'indirectly' placed in some form of drama or continuing story, or in a direct brand driven game or user-selected ending format are also becoming popular as new 'channels' or brand marketing opportunities.

Consumer centric advertising

For ad agencies like ourselves who work closely with multinational, regional and local brands, understanding 'consumer centric' is key. It's not a whole new mantra at all, it's always been around, but developing, engaging in 'consumer centric' brand communications is becoming a must have these days.

It's really about taking consumer insights and ensuring that brands can act on them, deliver their communications and their products and services to focus on those insights. It's about taking a long hard look at consumer behavior, needs, aspirations, time spend patterns, purchase behavior, social media engagement and comments – and then investing, changing, remodeling both organization and output (products!) to suit the consumer. The mistakes marketers make is to polish off the last mile – the product – to suit the customer, but at the core of the organization, at management, at R&D, at customer service levels, nothing changes. Consumer centric ideally means adapting to the lifestyle, attitudunal and behavioral patterns of the target consumer in all contexts.

As agencies, we've always relied on consumer insights. That's what account planning has been all about. And, today, more and more emphasis is being placed on taking those insights and combining them with traditional segmentation (demographics) and taking them a step further. Such insights not only help us in helping brands improve their end products but also help us in developing and crafting effective, resonating communications.

At the end of the day, it's all about engaging in dialog with the consumer and listening. And then taking those insights, those consumer voices and sharing them at all levels.

2010: What lies ahead

2010: what lies ahead

1. Advertising will go mobile. We've been seeing this trend being talked about a lot, but this year it seems it's going to finally happen. Accurate measurement of mobile and the exponential growth of the medium (blame it on the iPhone app explosion?), combined with mainstream agencies and brands finally understanding the potential of the 'third screen' is bound to see growth in advertising spends on that platform.

2.Online advertising will certainly (need to!) get more creative. This will mean that the 'banner' – plain, flat, just there waiting for a click – will die out. Consumer demands will drive increased creativity and content within the framework. Attention seeking content, including video, forms-within-banner, banners with built in games, total page takeovers and other interactive advertising on banners should become the trend.

3.Social media and networking portals will emerge as new marketing and sales channels for brands. Commercial possibilities across many social media portals will allow brands to play a far more active role in not just engaging in conversations about their brands, but also pushing sales.

4.Crowdsourcing, and not just online. Crowdsourcing – or mobilizing consumers, interest groups and followers to develop brand communications across multiple online and mainstream channels is emerging as a clear trend across the marketing world. Whether for research, developing consumer driven content on video platforms and viral channels, or brainstorming on brand ideas, consumers in a crowd out there are becoming involved - and at huge cost efficiencies across the board. From politics (Obama did this rather well) to software development, people journalism to activism, crowdsourcing is going to become a key resource for both agencies and marketers.

5.The world is flat and so will media content be. With the increasing absorption of media across digital channels, content will become 'channel neutral'. So, a tv spot will emerge on YouTube and be shared on Facebook and tweeted about. If the content is interesting to the consumer, these will take viral flight on multiple social media channels. In order for this long tail to happen, formats need to be easily convertible and accessibility for the consumer will become key. Borders and boundaries of format will give way to seamless usability across channels.

6.Analytics and performance measurement will emerge as crucial players in how brands will require agencies and suppliers to be transparent and answerable. And, no, this will not be limited to online. So, soon enough, brands will be asking what works and what doesn't, and often tying in sales to marketing efforts as KPIs. Online advertising and media planning has theoretically always been measurable. The dynamic shift will happen in mainstream media, where, increasingly marketing managers will look at connecting ad bursts and campaigns to direct effects on products moving off the shelves.

7.Cheaper. Faster. Better. And then some. The differentiator will need to be something beyond the obvious. Brands will need to compete at all levels for consumer attention, purchase, retention and loyalty. With consumers sluggish in recovering from a fairly big meltdown, and their purchase patterns affecting everything else in the business side, brands need to bring a lot more to the table than just cheaper, or claim to be better, or deliver faster. The 'and then some' factor will be crucial. These may include superb after sales service, attention to detail, consistent track records, consumer engagement in product definitions etc. But there will have to be an edge.

8.Advertising in traditional media channels will continue to rule – specially in our region here in the Middle East. While, yes, there has been a lot of conversations on the 'shift to digital', the most cost effective mass-reach model will remain in the broadcast and satellite driven tv channels. While consumers are looking for the convenience, the customization and the delivery of internet driven content, one cannot ignore the fact that while the consumer wants more, the desire for 'better' is yet to outdo the desire for instant. So, with the advent of HDTV, and the possibilities of 3DTV coming to our region by 2010, advertising spends in traditional mass mediums will remain hero.

9.Sponsored content and placement might rear its head as a big player. With many consumers channel surfing during ad breaks or TiVO-ing out ads to watch pure content, brands will increasingly look at 'placement' where their products are woven into the fabric of the programmed content. This has traditionally happened in movies, on tv programs and serials, and it will grow in the online domain as well.

10.The consumer will emerge as the true brand spokesperson. With market shattering news like the Tiger Woods issue, what with John Terry, and God alone knows who else, the consumer might emerge as a strong contender to the brand personality throne. More companies may start to opt for the average guy on the street and his positive reviews, his peer group pressures and his influence, rather than depend on the Tigers and the Terrys.