Bank of America's sponsorship of "The Story of Us"

Posted by: Helen Walters on May 3, 2010

Who's been watching "The Story of Us", the documentary series recounting the history of the United States? I caught a couple of the shows and was both entertained and underwhelmed. The story of the U.S. is certainly rich in drama, intrigue, heroism and violence, and there were some interesting details I hadn't known about. But I was also struck by the program's breathless account of a passionate group of rebels sticking it to a large, organized, well-disciplined army girding against them. Sound familiar? As the saying goes, the victors get to write history. With everything going on in the world right now, it gave me pause to consider how the present time will be considered by future generations. I don't think that was at all the intention of the series, mind, but definitely a thought-provoking byproduct.

Meanwhile, do check out Burt's article in the current issue, which digs into Bank of America's $4 million deal to run two-minute spots throughout the programs.

Inside the OK Go / State Farm Deal

Posted by: Helen Walters on March 3, 2010

What do trendy musicians OK Go have in common with insurance mega-giant State Farm? Turns out, more than "not much". But this is more than just another version of the "corporate brand meets hipsters, falls in love" story we know so well. Rather, this highlights how proactive creative types are looking beyond traditional parameters to get support for their work. And brands are biting. In this case, State Farm paid to have a place at the creative development table as the video for the song This Too Shall Pass was storyboarded. The result: a walk-on part in the delightfully chaotic promo, embedded below—note the State Farm van that literally kicks things off and the State Farm teddybear, seen fleetingly. The insurer gets a shout out screen at the end of the video: "OK Go Thanks State Farm for making this video possible". And State Farm paid an undisclosed sum to ensure that fans can embed the YouTube video of the song on their own sites.

This is a bigger deal than you might imagine, one that points to the ongoing turmoil within the music industry. As it happens, label EMI disabled the embed function on OK Go's breakout video hit, Here It Goes Again, which involved the musicians cavorting on treadmills and which has been viewed some fifty million times on YouTube. As the band's lead singer Damian Kulash outlined in a February 19th New York Times op ed piece this decision was disastrous.

This isn't how the Internet works. Viral content doesn't spread just from primary sources like YouTube or Flickr. Blogs, Web sites and video aggregators serve as cultural curators, daily collecting the items that will interest their audiences the most. By ignoring the power of these tastemakers, our record company is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Todd Fischer, manager of national sponsorships at the Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm, was keen to assert that EMI had been "at the table" throughout the negotiation process on this latest video, which started back in fall of last year. But clearly he's also more than happy that State Farm gets to play the part of forward-thinking innovator, working to supply fans with what they really want and need (the ability to take the video and include it on their own sites). In supporting a band that epitomizes the DIY, can-do, I'll-take-it-and-I'll-mash-it attitude of contemporary culture, the insurer taps into a young audience in a cool, appropriate way. The band, meanwhile, gets to make another fantastic video, harness buzz and win over new fans: the film had nearly 1.4 million views in less than 48 hours.

The Onset of Augmented (Hyper) Reality

Posted by: Helen Walters on February 5, 2010

Keiichi Matsuda is currently finishing up his architecture master's degree at London's Bartlett School of Architecture. He created this intriguing, beautiful and somewhat unnerving vision of everyday life in the future, as embellished by augmented reality that, he writes, "may recontextualize the functions of consumerism and architecture, and change the way in which we operate within it." I'm not entirely sure why we'll need disembodied voices to explain how to make a cup of tea in the future, but I thought the film was pretty nicely done. [Hat tip to CR blog, which also has a pretty good discussion about the film going on in the comments section.]

Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

Seth Godin on being indispensable

Posted by: Helen Walters on February 4, 2010

This morning, I headed to Soho House in Manhattan to hear Seth Godin talk to an assembled audience of 100 or so ad/brand/marketing/design folks. The $195 a ticket event, organized by hip trendwatchers, PSFK, was a way for Godin to tout his latest book, Linchpin, the subtitle of which asks the question, "are you indispensable?" Godin, who is clearly in his element in this type of scenario and whose shtick blends just the right amounts of self-deprecation, flattery of his audience and nimble wit, had some stern words for anyone whose instant response to the question was less than flag-wavingly affirmative. In fact, he offered four main calls to action for those within branding and marketing who are looking not merely to exist in the modern world but to thrive in it and shape it for themselves:

1. "If there is a map or a set of rules, reject it. You will not get paid fairly if all you do is follow the rules."

2. "What you must do is [create] generous art, gifts that change people, connect with people, lead with people, make change that matters."

3. "Ship it."

[This referred to the tendency we all have to talk ourselves out of doing something, instead convincing ourselves that it's too soon/not ready/not a good time/we'll be laughed out of town if we try it now, clearly we should delay. From the nodding heads and murmured approval around the room as Godin described this concept it seemed like a familiar problem. And, of course, the idea of shipping something that might not be perfect isn't just creatively liberating, it's really the only way to exist in a world where if you don't launch your great idea, you'll miss your moment altogether.]

4. "Treat the platform as an opportunity to give gifts and make change, not something to survive to get to tomorrow."

Smart food for thought, as well as a copy of the book that all attendees left clutching. I'm looking forward to reading more.

Oh, and in case you missed it, do check out our interactive, talking Seth Godin action figure. Makes me laugh every time.

Consumers Don't Dig Apple iTunes

Posted by: Helen Walters on January 13, 2010

Forrester just released its annual Customer Experience Index, a ranking of some 133 companies across 14 industries. The firms were rated by regular users according to three principles: whether the service met the customer's needs; how easy it was to work with a firm, and how enjoyable a customer's interactions were with the company. Barnes & Noble topped the list, with Charter Communications TV and Internet service provider taking last place for the third year in a row.

Bruce D Temkin is VP and Principal Analyst of Customer Experience at Forrester and responsible for compiling the report, and he pointed out a surprise in the ranking, which is determined by votes from 4,600 U.S. consumers. While online retailers Amazon.com and eBay did well, weighing in at #4 and #14 respectively, Apple's iTunes came in much further down the list at #46.

Interesting. iTunes is often held up as being the cornerstone of Apple's innovation, way more important and influential than the beautiful looking music-playing devices themselves. And it's the iTunes system that has enabled Apple to disrupt the music industry so thoroughly. But on a user experience level, this cross-section of the American population is voting thumbs down (or, at least, not deeming it entirely excellent -- it just scrapes a "good" rating in the survey). iTunes can be confusing, overwhelming and often less than entirely elegant. As such, it really doesn't live up to the sophistication of the company's other lauded design and branding elements (mind you, the offline company experience came in at #35, also a "good" verdict). Temkin points out that many of those participating in this survey are casual users, not the hardcore tech geeks so often associated with Apple products. But even so, Apple's branding watchwords of simplicity, elegance and its intuitive design appear to be MIA in the iTunes context. What do you think?

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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