Nuit Blanche, where were brands at?

For those unaware, Nuit Blanche is an annual art event here in Toronto that takes place one magical night in October,from dusk to dawn. It involves people roaming the city streets viewing and experiencing art installations. It goes by different names across the world but it’s the same concept.

This year while walking from exhibit A to a watering hole 40 mins away (public transit and cars were in major gridlock,hence), I found myself reflecting on more than just the existential crisis the world is experiencing, through quantification of a paradoxical analysis (art speak). I started to wonder why brands missed out on this chance to talk to their people on a night when they’re out and about, in no hurry to get to somewhere and with no particular agenda in mind. Now I know art purists are probably thinking – How dare! this is an art event, I don’t want to see no advertising hoopla! – But hear me out. I’m not talking about an in-your-face billboard trying to sell insurance while wishing everyone a happy Nuit Blanche. I’m talking about brands that could very easily engage in a non-intrusive, relevant manner. Some broad product categories that could have used this opportunity to say hello:

#1: Hydration brands: A hoard of people walking the streets for hours, common sense dictates they’re going to need hydrating. Every Shopper’s Drug Mart I walked past had people lining up to buy precious H2O. Where was Dasani/Vitamin Water? Being present when relevant shows brand care, few booths around town wouldn’t have hurt. On the same note, I’m sure coffee would have been much appreciated too.

#2: Active lifestyle brands: Something about all that walking makes you think about how you need to get more exercise – good time to be reminded of Adidas’ Fall collection of trainers. If Subaru could have a guy spray painting what they called “the art car”, I’m sure Adidas could have had a giant shoe installation. subaru

#3:Foot Care brands:  At some point I wanted nothing more than a quick foot massage – reminded me of OSIM’s foot massager chair – the type they have installed in some malls. What a great chance for a bunch of these to have been installed around town that night.

#4: Charging Stations:  Portable phone charging stations! It doesn’t matter whether a battery/phone manufacturer or Telcom took the initiative, but “my phone is dying” was the most heard line all night – why? Logical. People constantly had their phones out snapping pictures and tweeting their experiences. Nokia, you were a sponsor, why no friendly gesture of this sort?

Speaking of sponsors, Tourism Toronto was one of the sponsors – I couldn’t help thinking how a few interesting informational displays about otherwise sparsely ventured into neighbourhoods would have made a nice read, for locals as well as those visiting.

On a slightly unrelated note, it was awesome to see artists incorporating brands into their art, Vespa I hope you saw this creature someone created out of Vespa body parts (spotted around Kensignton)vespa

In the world of social media,what had me baffled was the official Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Twitter handle’s lack of response to questions asked. The account was only used to send out (albeit pre-composed) tweets all night, but not reply to any – this is the megaphone vs walkie-talkie approach some brands are yet to comprehend when it comes to social. Automation is NOT the way,especially when it counts the most. Also, why no app this year?

I’m sure there are a host of other ideas, and I agree, some of these ideas might not have been able to achieve much given the sheer numbers, but it’s the thought and presence that counts sometimes. I’d love to hear what you think – should brands have found a way to be relevant to this mass of pedestrians or would that take away from the art?

Instagram, not so insta anymore

instagram-video-appInstagram: the app that turned the average Joe into a pro photographer, boasts of over a 100 mn users as of February this year and was named app of the year by Apple in 2011(Source:Instagram blog). Its users have been snapping up their breakfast bagel, their awesome lives and even their bathroom tiles. Now, video comes to Instagram. 15 whole seconds of it. Suddenly the app’s Kaizen philosophy appears to have taken a detour.

In a scramble to have it all, the world of social media has progressively become somewhat akin to the Cola wars, with Facebook and Twitter at the helm. It started with Facebook buying Instagram and Twitter buying Vine. Then Facebook rolled out hash tags to get on par with its 140 character nemesis, and now, to take on Vine, Instagram launches video.

While this is all turning into one big content creation party, before you race out to shoot an #igram video to combat a burning FOMO starting to stir within you, consider this: it might not be watched.

The video app market is over fragmented with offerings, some merely differentiated by length constraints – there’s Viddy which allows upto 30 secs of footage, Keek, which allows 36 secs and Socialcam which is uncapped. Then there’s the recent Vine, which challenges your creativity with a 6 sec limitation,which in my opinion, can be fun if done right(my thoughts on Vine here).  Instagram brings its cache of awesome filters over to video, but has failed to ask itself a crucial question –is this just an attempt to compete with Vine and push a technology platform or will it enrich the current Instagram experience? I fear it takes away from it.

The platform might be amazing for its video shooting capabilities, I don’t doubt it. I can also see how this is a juicy bone for brands chasing the famed “content marketing” wagon. The caveat I offer to both would be, don’t bet on your friends/consumers being as amazed as you are with your #birthdayshenanigans and #soundsoftheocean clips, shot with the X-pro II filter.

micro-publishing media

In the online world of social publishing, there has been a gradual swing towards documenting micro-moments. Sharing is encouraged, but in mini morsels that can weave in and out of busy lives without being an interruption. Under these circumstances, 15 second footage of your life seems like a short film. More so if it’s shot in Lo-Fi. Instagram took the photo-sharing baton from Flickr and ran with it, when it comes to video however, the party may have moved elsewhere.

A sense of media fatigue has begun to set in; the popularity of Snapchat is right on the dime with the trend of see it and/or forget about it. Its ephemeral nature makes it interesting. Infact, brands looking to get on the next wave of social would do well looking into this app, especially for limited-time promo code offers and teasers.

What works for Vine is that it lined up with behavioural shifts (instant/fleeting/micro), Instagram-video is an offering that isn’t all that insta nor very differentiated and clutters an otherwise idle, scrolling user experience.

One can only hope there’s an opt out of the video stream.

Capitalizing on Piracy: turning a bad word into a useful arsenal

Its been done for eons now. My first tryst with piracy was before I even knew it had a name or was perceived to be a bad thing. As kids in school we were always compiling music CDs for each other – the source was usually a friend with a speedy internet connection who downloaded it off a torrent.

Not too long ago, getting content to an audience slowly started to become more important than monetizing it right away. The shift began with independent artists streaming their music online for free and encouraging listeners to pay what they could to download it.

Cut to 2013 and the era of Content being King. In the music world, it’s fast revamping the business model. Piracy implies getting something through illegal means/without paying for it – well, what if you remove the ‘illegal’ tag? It suddenly makes the act less enticing. Amanda Palmer says it beautifully in her TED talk, where she states “Don’t make people pay for music,let them”. The industry is moving from making people pay for content to allowing them the choice. It’s the best way to disarm the monster. Justin Timberlake for example, decided to stream his new album 20/20 online for free before making it available for purchase in stores. The zeitgeist has forked the business model – there’s now the free and the paid. And free isn’t hurting anyone’s bank account. If anything, allowing people to have something for free is turning passive listeners into supporters who sometimes choose to buy an album to show support for the artistDonating = Loving

It isn’t just the music industry that has realised this. HBO recently publicly declared that they consider piracy a form of flattery. Game of Thrones is among Pirate Bay’s top torrent download and the producers of the show aren’t afraid of it harming sales.

The obvious benefit is effective marketing and spreading to a wider audience base, but it also ups the pressure on content creators to increase perceived value of their offering.

What does this mean for branded content in other categories? I don’t have definitive answers, but here’s a few points to ponder:

- Hustlers inc: When you put the illegal tag on something, the offering becomes that much more sought after and knowing how to get it gives you social brownie points. In other words, holding back makes the offering sweeter for those who find a way to get it.

- Free for friends and family: Giving away something valuable for free makes people feel closer to you…you’ve invited them into your circle and made them a friend. This isn’t the same as promotional chachka, the consumer can tell the difference.

-Vulnerability is in: How can you let people support your brand? Showing vulnerability is one way of humanizing your brand and connecting with people. Like Amanda Palmer,like reddit or wiki, it’s okay to let people see you’re vulnerable and could use the monetary support. What incentive are you giving people for them to offer up some scrilla? (without expecting it as a given)

What once started out as a barter system of money for content is slowly evolving into an honour system, one that encourages the end user to come forth, be part of the creation process and make a contribution out of choice. The traditional purchasing model isn’t going anywhere, and shouldn’t either but maybe accepting piracy as a parallel model and embracing it won’t be such a bad thing. Thoughts?

Real Beauty still only skin deep?

A few days back a new campaign for Dove by Ogilvy Brazil began doing the rounds online. I am not going to feed the frenzy by describing it but its been wildly popular and has women sharing it to no end, upholding it like it’s the most liberating thing since the Bra Burning Movement of the 60′s. What this ad appears to give women is a sense of reassurance that they are more beautiful than they think. Typical Dove consumerist speak, nothing new there.
Earlier today I chanced upon a blog that put into words a nagging feeling that the video stirred up in me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The morally questionable aspects of this ad have been summed up well by the blogger. From an advertising perspective, the whole construct is on shaky ground.

A good insight that women are their own worst critics but the ad takes on a misleading execution. What about women being their own worst critics with their talents? Or with their careers? As a friend said to me “I generally feel very uncomfortable when people talk about beauty to describe only a person’s looks. So a whole ad about it feels very strange. I’d like to know more about her, you know?”  

What if Dove stood for empowering women to feel beautiful about themselves as a whole package? Why is beauty even being restricted to describing blonde hair and blue eyes? What this video did bring to light is how thick the smoke has become in this smoke and mirrors game. Our collective notions of what “beauty” is has been reinforced over the years, to a point where advertising is given a free pass to tell you that you’re actually an 8, not a 3 on this ‘beauty’ yardstick. And we clap for joy and feel empowered.

It raises some questions for the communications industry at large. In our efforts to dial-up the cause in cause marketing, are we sending out shallow messages wrapped in philanthropic outer wear? That video wasn’t created to push product, so no reason why it couldn’t push the boundaries. Have we lost our true north to craft communication that inspires and challenges obtuse thinking? Discovering a strong consumer insight is important, using it in an evocative and responsible way,crucial. There are brands that play within the boundaries of the Zeitgeist and brands that attempt to positively remould it; it would have been a thing of (real)beauty to see Dove do the latter.

BlackBerry10 saves the day?

It’s here. RIM, after months of being in hiding, has come out from behind the curtains and presented to the world, the BlackBerry10. Oh and they’ve changed the name of the company(to BlackBerry) while they were at it. Oh and they created a Super Bowl commercial too. If you’re reading between the lines, you might smell a faint whiff of desperation in the air. Classic case of rise of the underdog or the last cry of a falling empire?

For a company that was out of the scene for over 18 months(although they had a 4G LTE BlackBerry PlayBook launch at some point during this mobile market hiatus) and missed a big part of smartphone mania, to  launch a new phone and hope it turns things around seems like a tall ask. For a late-to-the-party entrant,it appears like this phone has alot riding on it – Brand Cachet. The company’s fortunes. Stocks. Consumer perceptions. Jobs.

While it may appear that I’m writing them off, I’ve been a believer in their offering. I’m aware there’s a whole market out there that loves their BlackBerry devices and swear by it, especially for its physical Querty keypad and efficiency in syncing business emails. Infact, that was a very good move to ensure there’s a non touchscreen variant(the Q10) as well – ensuring it doesn’t alienate its base consumer.

Although, I think their launch and marketing strategy could have been better. I’m going to take an objective stab at a few things I think they could have done from an advertising/marketing stand point

1. Superbowled?: While I thought the Super Bowl commercial was nice in terms of what it aimed to do(draw attention/cut through clutter), I’d like to know what metrics they were looking to affect. Awareness? Those who needed to know about this launch, already knew. And those who didn’t, weren’t going to stop right there and look it up. Afterall, this is at a point where consumer faith in the brand was fast diminishing. I feel like a constant reminder (Times Square activation for instance) might have possibly been better than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it superbowl attempt.

2. Built to keep you Moving: I liked this commercial for what it was trying to say – that this phone won’t get in the way of life(Reminded me of a old Windows phone commercial), however, without referencing BlackBerry Hub as the reason for this, it could get yawned at. Yes smartphones have moved from being just tech-packed offerings to providing smooth user experiences, but for a brand that’s been away so long, more focus on specs wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Another suggestion would be to have 15 sec spots created to highlight new product features.

3. So, who are you?: If a company is going to attempt to relaunch itself, after being incognito for a while, how about a branding commercial to go with it? Maybe a sneak peak into what goes on behind the scenes? A voiceover explaining what has changed? What this would do is melt the ice and bring a sense of relatability towards the company. Android,Apple(that’s the only time I’ll mentioned them in this post,I promise) and even Windows have built-up brand imagery; somehow BlackBerry falls short here.

4. Wow me: The BlackBerry Balance and Peek and Flow are two very unique and interesting features that could have used a little more spotlight. Put it down to Canadian modesty if you must, but the smartphone market is already divided between Apple, Android and lately, Windows; if you want people to talk about you when you haven’t been around for a while, you might want to blow your own trumpet a bit.

5. Hold onto the attention: BlackBerry needs a game plan for what they intend to do after the initial launch excitement dies down. They’ve managed to stir the market up quite a bit, it would be nice if they retained consumer attention and market buzz – either through teasing out the phone’s features through advertising, constant audience engagement or (like its PlayBook offering) look at branching out into other gadget markets?

I believe that the BlackBerry10 will be a good phone and live up to all that it promises. It looks poised to win a chunk of the Droid and Apple market over as well. What I’m rooting for however, is to see if the brand can make a full circle comeback. I’d like to see that happen. 

Digital gets real

The retail outlet has always been treated as an important touch point in communicating with the consumer. Then with the advent of e-commerce, the spotlight shifted to the online UI.

Real world experiences aren’t going away though, as the Retail Renaissance trend pointed out a while back; they’re re-emerging in a big way. Digital technologies are revamping traditional retail, and bringing it to life. Online is now driving the consumer offline. In fact the lines are fast blurring and brands that still silo the two are going to have to play catch up.

Digital for digital’s sake might not cut it anymore, digital strategists are fast becoming experience curators who have the discernment to weave uninterrupted brand experiences across platforms.

While digital offers convenience and technology, brick and mortar stores offer sensorial immersion. The sweet spot lies in the coming together of these worlds. The recently transformed Burberry flagship store in London is a great example. The store is transformed into 44,000 ft of digital wow. From mirrors that are motion sensitive and turn into runways, to live streaming of the London Fashion Show, this store is a living breathing brand world.

Then there’s Audi City, mentioned in my previous post as well, which is a first of its kind digital car showroom. With ceiling to floor ‘power walls’ that allow you to dream up exactly how you’d like your car to look, while letting you maintain a seamless experience from website to store and back to website.

While driving the consumer online was once the chosen path, bringing the online experience to stores is where digital truly comes a full circle.