Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Good people are hard to find

Not to wallow in self-pity, but finding good people in the Communication Strategy discipline is pretty damn hard. I see a number of challenges. 

First, I prefer people who have experience of a creative agency environment. As the big media shops came to dominate media planning, about 10 years, the pool of people with both media and creative experience has dropped significantly. Pure media people can migrate into a creative agency, but it is much tougher.

Second, as the media landscape has radically changed, I do not feel straight media planning has kept up. Right now, being able to think about an idea and how it lives in the world is far more important than knowing how local cable works. That level of strategic visions is not shared by everyone, or even that many....

...but third, big thinkers who are not prepared to understand local media are not helpful either. We have plenty of creatives who think way big, what we need is people who can take on those thoughts and add potential to where they live in the world. You need to comprehend the dull, detailed mechanics of individual media. I need creative media people, not sub-par creatives.

So the perfect candidate is smart, creative, detailed oriented, and prepared to use excel a lot.

Know anyone? E-mail me: joshspanier@gmail.com

Sunday, August 17, 2008

That's a lot of eyeballs!

The Olympics has been great for truly silly stats and facts. For example, how many Chinese watch their top-rated business talk show? A truly mind-bending 400,000,000! So, about 20x the number of eyeballs as typically watch American Idol. I know, China is big, but it takes stats like this to bring it home. 

I am pretty fascinated by the mechanics of this. How much does one spot cost? I am guessing most advertisers buy regionally. Also, creatively, how do you craft a message that could resonate so broadly? By comparison, it makes the US market look almost cute in its smallness. 

If there is bigger thought here, perhaps it is simply the no matter where you are in the world, having a clear picture of you target audience and objectives is critical. I see so many bad US campaigns where the brief is confused and objectives unclear - which results in poor marketing and wasted money. I guess getting it wrong in China just means inefficiency on a whole new scale.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

If you lie, don't lie about the lie

The controversy coming out of the Olympics opening ceremony brings up an interesting debate for brands.

It turns out the super-cute 9-year who sang, was in fact lip-syncing. The real singer was 7, and deemed not attractive enough to be on camera. A secondary issue is that some of the fireworks were digitally added to the live TV feed. So viewers at the event did not see many of the effects that TV viewers got to see. No one knew the truth of these two things till these leaks emerged.

Are either of these controversies? Brands, and the Chinese government is a brand of sorts, do what they can to put themselves in the best possible light. Everyone knows that the cover stars of magazines are air-brushed, and no one seems to care. It is expected. Certainly, it detracts from the stunning nature of the ceremony. I now want to question what else was fixed that up till now I thought was amazing. That is not a good thing for sure.

So far I quite admire the Chinese response, which has been, "deal with it". If this escalates, perhaps they will become more contrite, but what I like is the simple explanation and honesty about their dishonesty. Rather than evade or excuse, they have simply said, we thought this would make the event better. Bizarrely, by telling the truth about why they lied, it could defuse the whole situation. How many other PR crises are made worse by the desperate flip-flopping and justifications? (Wide-stance anyone?)

For the record, I do feel pretty bad for the denied 7-year old. That was pretty cold. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

3D cinema and learned behavior

I listened to an NPR story yesterday about 3D technology and cinema attendance. Movie studios are betting big that the next generation of 3D will keep movies exciting, and widen the experience gap that in-home viewing that plasma screens, HD and Blu-ray have currently narrowed.

What was most interesting to me was the interview with a social psychologist. He offered a counter intuitive viewpoint that going to the movies has very little to do with the screen and audio fidelity. He spoke about how going to the cinema is a social and behavioral experience. It fits in with peoples needs to share, and also simply as a destination to go to. Physically having a place to go, a routine for our time, fulfills a basic need we humans have. Staying at home does not  always deliver. Therefore, the cinema chains should invest in bars, food and anything that makes the theater a destination over just better screen viewing.

I find this very interesting. Mass media audiences have fragmented, but total audience are not - in fact they are rising. Can brands create events, or experiences which tap these deeper psychological needs? I know that many events, concerts etc already do this, but my eyes were opened by the interview. I am going to read up on this subject and see what I can find.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I did an online interview with BNET yesterday evening. Here are the questions, and my responses:

Q: What's happening with online display advertising?

A: It continues to evolve and improve. We have only scratched the surface. Increasingly, what you can do within the banner is taking precedence over just running a message. To that end, rich media is getting ever richer. A challenge though is the lack of standards. Creating a super-rich unit that most sites can not run, is a waste of resources. We need standardization, but of course without limiting creativity.

Q: What digital agencies are thriving? 

Some digital agencies do fantastic work, R/GA, AKQA for example. The challenge though, across the board for digital agencies, is staying relevant and cutting edge as everyone else catches up. Digital agencies provided expertise that traditional shops lacked. However, as digital has become the norm, that skills gap has closed. The lead agency for a brand usually has first crack at creating work. If the lead can plausibly delver in the digital space, why would clients need another agency to manage digital? Of course, there is no reason why digital agencies can not become the lead partner. Ironically then, the potential block holding back digital agencies is their lack of non-digital experience which is necessary take on total ownership.

A: Are sport events safe for television advertising? Is there any
chance online and DVRs will erode that market?

Sports are safe. The leagues are built on the massive revenue TV broadcast deals have provided. They are the golden egg, and the leagues will aggressively protect the viewing experience such that advertisers and marketeers will want to participate. That might involve online streaming, or other distribution options, but it will continue to be geared for brands. The great news is that digital technology actually enables more valuable content to be created. I am following the NBC efforts at the Olympics very closely. This is a forerunner of the digital exploitation of sport.

Q: Can the market bear so many online ad networks? Is there a round of
consolidation coming?

A: Yes. Buying and planning online is so labor intensive, the media buying business will drive this consolidation.

Q:When does mobile advertising take off? What needs to happen to make
this marketplace more viable?

A: Every year since 2002 has been the year when mobile is going to go huge. I am positive that we are really close now. Three key factors are driving this.
1) Phone ownership saturation means that the big carriers have to exploit their current customers to grow revenue, as just adding new customers is no longer an option. They have an incentive to educate and promote rich, data capable phones and services. That will benefit advertisers.
2) 3G or better technology. Make it fast, fun and worthwhile. The technology up till now has always lagged the potential for branding (or anything).
3) Rate plans from the carriers, such as the current "Simply Everything Plan" from Sprint*, that does not penalize unlimited date usage. Consumers are so scared of overages, and hidden fees that they shut down and reject using their phones potential. The all you can eat plan gives people freedom to play.

* Sprint is a client of our agency

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Passion of the Trash Can


I often hear strategy people say they want to work on "exciting accounts". Translated this means something cool, stylish or sexy - packaged goods need not apply. I find this weird, as I have learnt throughout my career that anything can be fascinating. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if the team on Lexus are bored out of their minds. I mean, sexy cars for sure, but that brand and strategy is fully baked. How many different ways can you say luxurious?

The wonderful part of the media landscape today, is that we can now connect with the core, passionate group for anything. And they always exist. Case in point, this post from a product review on Amazon.

When someone tells you they could not live without a garbage bin, that is when I know it could be fun to sell trash bins, and more importantly, though smart media we could connect with them. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

How not to impress me!

I got this email blast from ELLE magazine:

I find it so weird that a media owner chooses to celebrate their success by trumpeting how cluttered their property is. Good for them to be +10% in revenue, (not that I care or need to know), but as someone who has to evaluate each and every media vehicle, this is all wrong. I get that ELLE thinks this is a sign of vibrancy and momentum - marketeers are voting with their wallets. Still, the average time consumers spend reading an issue of ELLE is well under an hour, and that covers all the editorial and those staggering 420 pages of ads. Chest beating in this manner makes no sense.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Small, but perfectly formed


I take the casual car-pool into work. Here is how it works. The Bay Bridge connecting Oakland to San Francisco charges a $4 toll to drive across. However, if you have 3 riders in your car you get to cross for free, as well as using the much faster car-pool lanes. Anyone can go to one of a number of meeting points, and then jump into the car of someone who needs a couple more riders to qualify for the car-pool lane. People outside of San Francisco often find this a weird idea. Yes, you really do just get into the car of a complete stranger.

On the corner where everyone alights after having crossed the bridge, is a bank. Up till now, I had registered a bunch of plasma screens in its windows, but had never given whatever loans or offers displayed, or the bank overall, a second glance.

However, on Friday, I was totally stopped in my tracks. Some bright spark at the bank had changed all the screens to simply say "Thanks for sharing your ride". That was it. A tiny note, aimed perfectly at all the casual carpoolers, designed to make them feel good.

What a simple, yet smart thing to do. With just a couple strokes on a keyboard the bank, (New Resources Bank ) is able to ground itself into its local community, further exploit an asset they have invested in, and most importantly, send a resonant message to the 1000 or so business people communting in everyday. Sure, this is not going to win any big awards, or make or break the banks revenue for the year, but it made the bank visible, relevant and interesting to me. Use what you have, and be smart about it. I like that.

One final thing. The car pool ends at 10am, so from that time on, the screens just revert to their normal messaging, Smart use of day-parts as well.