I believe the children are our future
Young people now consume, remix and propagate ideas in a participatory fashion, Faris Yakob writes. By looking at how they interact with media, we can identify how brands will work in the future.
'The future is already here - it's just not evenly distributed'1
In which we consider prospection
Prospection: the act of looking forwards in time, is a quintessentially human endeavour. In fact, some even consider it the quintessential human endeavour:
"The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future."2
Daniel Dennett has noted that "the fundamental purpose of brains is to produce future ... brains are, in essence, anticipation machines."3 We spend much of our time projecting ourselves forward, and we do this to motivate ourselves to reach towards our desired future, using the lens of that future as a way to understand what we should be doing now.
However, we don't only do this individually; we do it collectively - we are not only the ape that looks forward, we are also the "super-social ape".4
Both of these activities are enabled by our imagination, a blessing of our frontal lobes. We can imaginatively project into the future, and enjoy this application of abstraction, or "daydreaming", and we can imaginatively model the reactions and thoughts of others, and thus function in multiple, complex, social groups.
Rather than a redundant interrogation, the preceding paragraphs introduce concepts that will be crucial when charting the future of brands.
First, the brief is an expression of the industry's collective desire to steer its own path into the future. As Alan Kay said, the best way to predict the future is to invent it. We can motivate ourselves by imagining less pleasant tomorrows, of eroding relevance and margins, and thus engage in prudent, prophylactic behaviour.
Second, imagination is the defining faculty of communications. As an industry, it is the source of all the value we add to our clients' businesses as it allows us to create ideas. It is also the realm in which these ideas operate and that realm is projective and collective.
It is only by exploring how ideas function, how ideas such as brands can influence or create behaviour and culture, and how this is changing in the face of a new kind of consumer, that we will be able to explain that the future of brands is, quite literally, in the hands of the kids.
I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE
In which we examine the titular proposition and also consider the pitfalls of prognostication
Although phrased as an ironic tautology, the fact that the children are our future establishes a crucial distinction: the kids are different, in a very specific sense, which is why communication thinking has to evolve. Except that evolve may be exactly the wrong word, as it implies an incremental change over time.
Oscar Wilde said that after 25, everyone is the same age. By the same token, everyone under 25 is different. I believe a generation has risen since the emergence of the internet that is fundamentally different in the way in which it consumes, manipulates and propagates ideas, and that the way that brands express themselves must change in response to this new kind of "idea consumer".
Any attempt to look to the future is usually flawed. When we project ourselves forward, the imagined results are always tainted by our present feelings - we are unable, imaginatively, to feel any different. You can easily prove this to yourself by going shopping twice, once when you've just eaten, and once when you are hungry, and comparing what you take home.
This has also been the case throughout the history of futurology. The bias of presentism ensures that the novelty of the future is always underestimated. Examples of this abound5 and it leads to thinking that extrapolates from the present and makes things bigger.
This extrapolation, if we look to the population as a whole, in statistically robust national research, will lead us in a similar direction when looking at the future of brands. The power of television advertising has been eroded, but it still functions much as it ever has.
But if we look to those who are under 25, we see not incremental but qualitative shifts in behaviour. The generation gap has never been wider, because children can control their own experiences of ideas in a way the generations that grew up before never could.
Therefore, the form that ideas such as brands must take in order to be successful must change.
We will demonstrate how this shift in behaviour will affect the future of brands by addressing the following:
- The new active idea consumer.
- Why the shift to active consumption is a discontinuity, which has created a digital divide.
- What a medium is, and how this has changed.
- What communication is.
- What ideas are, and what makes them successful.
- What kind of ideas brands are.
- How the form of a successful idea is dictated by its context.
- What the new characteristics of successful ideas are.
- What this means for communication planning.
- What these ideas look like.
- Why this will require new success metrics.
- What the implications are for the structure of agencies.
THE KIDS ARE ONLINE
In which we establish that the young have grown up digital
We now spend more time than ever consuming media. This year, Americans will spend nine-and-a-half hours out of 24 with media, the seventh increase in as many years, and by far the most time spent on any daily activity.6 The young are the heaviest consumers of media and, since there are a fixed number of hours in the day, they have outstripped previous generations by consuming multiple streams simultaneously.7
They "consume their media very differently to the rest of the population" 8, consciously meshing media together. They are also digitally inclined: "Young adults (16 to 24) have embraced new technologies to a much greater degree than the general population, while they use the more traditional media of television and radio considerably less."9 The internet is the most used and most important medium for youth10, and using it has led to the breaking down of traditional media boundaries: for youth "all media is digital"11 since they increasingly use the same devices to access content traditionally reserved for discrete platforms.
What's more, they don't just consume media, they also produce it. One third of 14- to 21-year-olds have created online content.12
These factors are indicative of a seismic shift in the way in which young people consume media. They mix and blend, surf channels and create their own because their relationship with media is active rather than passive.
For the first time in history, a generation is in control of how it experiences ideas, and they are constructing their own mediascapes, individually and together. The needs of humanity remain the same, but they are combined with entirely new behaviours; we are "running with the rapid feet of new technology, yet carrying the same ancient and unpredictable human heart". 13
THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
In which we argue the shift to active idea consumption is a discontinuity and meet the Passive Massive
In 2001, a challenge issued to the American educational system introduced us to "Digital Immigrants" and "Natives". Today's students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, nor simply changed their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously. A really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even go so far as to call it a "singularity" - an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back.
This so-called "singularity" is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century.14
Interactive communication technologies have fundamentally altered the way in which thinking patterns developed in the generation born since their widespread adoption. Rupert Murdoch popularised these terms when he used them as the basis of a speech:
"A new generation of media consumers has risen, demanding content when they want it, how they want it, and very much as they want it."15
When looking to the future, we need to consider just how the digital generation responds to ideas, and what is the nature of the paradigm shift that has occurred.
However, for the medium term, the communications industry needs to consider the fact that there is now a bimodal consumer base. For some, we need to consider the brave new "world of platform-agnostic content (and the) fluid mobility of media experiences"16, but the majority will continue to operate much as they ever have. Having grown up with an essentially passive relationship with media, the shift to becoming an active consumer of ideas is neither likely nor desirable.
So, when planning for mass-market brands today, we need to keep the Passive Massive in mind, but we shall leave them here as a remnant of the present and continue our journey in the future.
THE NEW MEDIA
In which we establish that a medium is a vector for ideas and suggest that interactive is different
The adoption of digital technology in the late 20th century triggered a number of rapid changes in the nature of media, but before we begin to look at these, we need to agree on what a medium is.
Similar to a great deal of the key terminology of commercial communications (brand being the other major culprit, which we will look at later), a medium is a poorly defined concept. This is partially due to the narrowing of its meaning that came from the appellation of media agencies, which unconsciously began to establish the idea that media referred to the five traditional broadcast channels of brand communication; partially due to confusion with the broader concept of the media and, probably in some measure, due to confusion over the word being in the nominative plural (which we must assume is what led to a debate entitled The Battle of the Mediums at the Media 360 conference in 2005. No-one channelled the dead. Magazines won).
For our purposes, a medium can be considered a technology for storing or transmitting ideas - these are principally made up of language, text, sound and audiovisual imagery, although increasingly diverse iterations of these vectors are beginning to develop - ask yourself if a game or an event sits comfortably in these categories?
Hyper-fragmentation was the first effect of digitisation. It's been discussed extensively before, so we won't dwell on it, but it is important to consider since it begins the journey towards consumers controlling their experience of ideas: fragmentation leads to choice, and choice requires volition and action.
With the emergence of interaction, a host of new cultural behaviours began to develop that changed the way people dealt with ideas - media changed from being passive to being active. Once ordinary people were able to take control of the means of production and distribution, what had once been the mass media, became the media of the masses.
The important aspects to consider when looking at the media landscape are the behaviours it engenders, and not the technologies themselves. There are distinct behaviours, changes in the way that ideas are consumed, that have been brought about by these technologies.
In order to demonstrate how the changes have in turn changed how ideas are consumed and propagated, we need to establish how ideas worked in a pre-digital culture. We need to understand what communication is, what made ideas successful before, how this applies to brands, and then look at how this has changed since the filing system Tim Berners-Lee invented changed the world.
COMMUNICATION IS PERSUASION
In which we suggest all communication is persuasion
"Go ye ... into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature."18
The communications industry concerns itself with a specific subset of communication. Communication in its broadest sense can be defined as any means by which "one mind may affect another". This covers language, art, and all human behaviour.
Commercial communication can be described as the "dispersion of persuasive symbols in order to manage mass opinion"19. However, this persuasion element is, in fact, embedded in the notion of communication.
Humans have an inbuilt desire to spread their own ideas. There are compelling anthropological reasons for this. We pass on our ideas in order "to create people whose minds think like ours"20 because this delivers an evolutionary advantage: there is safety in numbers.
Any time we communicate anything to anyone, we are attempting to change the way their brains operate - we are attempting to change the way they see the world so that their view of it more closely resembles our own. Almost every assertion - from the abstract notion of a deity to giving someone directions - attempts to harmonise the receiver's beliefs about the world with the transmitter's.
Therefore, all communication could be understood as persuasion, rendering the idea of "hidden persuaders"21 either nonsensical or absolute, depending on your point of view. Even when stating a fact, you are attempting to make someone believe you.
Every communication interaction is structured to optimise its persuasiveness - the form, language and structure of this paper is a specific attempt to make you, the reader, agree with the ideas that are being proposed - and that structure needs to be tailored to the audience:
"If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words."22
If we are to understand how to successfully persuade in the future, we need to think the thoughts and speak the words of the young, but first we need to establish a criterion of success, and then analyse what has allowed ideas in the past to become successful, in order to then demonstrate how this is changing.
In which we look at what ideas are and establish what success is
"And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them into shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name"23
Ideas are specific thoughts triggered in the mind, the desired product of any communication interaction. Due to the objective of commercial communications - to influence mass behaviour, usually purchase behaviour - the sort of successful ideas we need to understand are ones that establish themselves firmly into the collective consciousness, propagate themselves and influence behaviour as they go.
The oldest and most successful idea in history provides a perfect example of how ideas worked in a linguistic culture. The principle of reciprocity, also known as The Golden Rule, is a fundamental moral principle found in all major religions and cultures in almost exactly the same form:
"Treat others as you would like to be treated."24
Its prevalence is a clear indication of its hold on the collective and, as the foundation underlying every major religion, it is quite difficult to envisage a more potent agent of behavioural change.
Similar to many of the ideas that have stuck25 for thousands of years, The Golden Rule is aphoristic. Proverbs are the oldest class of successful ideas, nuggets of wisdom that transcend centuries and cultures: versions of the proverb "where's there's smoke, there's fire" have appeared in more than 55 languages.26 The success of these ideas is driven partially by function and partially by form.
In which we see that the function of successful ideas is to save us from decisions
Choice is paralysing. We believe that we want the freedom to make our own decisions, but giving us a choice makes us anxious and it also leads to seemingly counter-intuitive behaviour.
One psychological experiment gave students the choice between attending a lecture by an author they admire, who is only visiting for one evening, or going to the library to study: 21 per cent decided to study. Suppose instead there were three options:
- Attend the lecture.
- Go to the library.
- Watch a film you want to see that is only on for one evening.
When a different group of students were given these choices, 40 per cent elected to study - double the number who did before. Giving students two good alternatives to studying, rather than one, paradoxically makes them less likely to choose either.27
This effect has also been observed at the point of purchase. A supermarket study in 2000 that involved choice of jams showed that although more shoppers were attracted by 24 varieties of jams in one stand, only 3 per cent of them bought any of the jams displayed. On the other hand, 30 per cent of the shoppers who stopped by the stand that offered only six varieties of jams bought some.28
Proverbs are successful ideas because they are helpful in guiding decisions. While expressed simply, they often contain complex ideas that function as heuristic devices for situational decisions. The Golden Rule is so profound it can influence a lifetime of behaviour. It is compact enough to be sticky, but also meaningful enough to make a difference.
At the supermarket, brands perform the same function.
THE ROLE OF BRANDS
In which we challenge the myth of simplicity
"Things should be made as simple as possible - but no simpler."29
There's a notion that communication must be simple. This idea is reductive and misleading. While proverbs have simple forms, they contain complex ideas. Cervantes called them "short sentences drawn from long experience"30, a description that also applies to a well-honed brand proposition.
The myth of simplicity has led us inexorably to Lord Saatchi's One Word Equity concept of brand positioning. In 2006, he proposed that in this world of fragmentation and clutter, brands had to be honed down to a single point, a single word. A single word without context is both too open to interpretation and too narrow to be meaningful. Brands have never been simple.
A proverb simplifies choice, is expressed simply but contains complex ideas that build on what people already know (in the case of the Golden Rule, it relies on someone knowing how it feels to be treated themselves). By leveraging lower-level cognitive schemas, they can express higher level ones succinctly. When expressed abstractly, as in the proverb "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", they function as generative metaphors, a term which is used to describe metaphors that generate "new perceptions, explanations and inventions".
Similarly, brands are ideas that simplify choices, compress complexity and build on what consumers already know. They are traditionally compact and abstract, taking complex notions and packing them down; sidestepping into other territories to make them more tangible, they enable people to avoid making decisions from first principles, and they take on symbolic associations that allow us to employ them in the construction of our own identity.
Brands still need to tap into the "ancient and unpredictable human heart", providing the same successful functions all the way up Maslow's hierarchy, but the form in which they will need to iterate in the future will have to change, because of the way in which the new active consumer consumes ideas through media.
IDEAS MADE FLESH
In which we analyse the form of ideas and determine how, over time, this has changed
We have established the underlying function that successful ideas, proverbs or brands, share. However, the forms in which these ideas are communicated are very different. Aphorisms are specific expressions, ideally suited to propagation by word of mouth in pre-literate cultures and on into today by the same mechanism. They are dense generative metaphors, phrased in order to optimise storage in the mind and spoken transmission - having a consistent and mellifluous form, they are Homer's "winged words", flying from one person to another.
The form successful ideas take is delineated by the dominant communication technologies of the age.
Writing and the printing press enabled significantly more complex ideas to propagate across time and space, but they are still relatively inefficient technologies for storage and retrieval.
The development of mass media heralded the Golden Age of brands, and the forms that developed then are the forms that we still recognise today - advertisements.
If a brand proposition is a proverb, an advertisement is a parable; it applies narrative or abstraction, or both, as devices to bring ideas to life in a memorable way.
Print advertising developed first as long-form copy. Classic print ads, such as "Lemon", rely on body copy to communicate. However, it is not solely the medium itself that dictates the form that ideas need to take; it is the context in which they operate.
Thus, following the advent of audio, and then audiovisual mass media, print ads began to evolve to keep in line with the dominant modes of idea transmission. Print ads now more often resemble posters, reflecting the reduced levels of attention available. Indeed, the same executions are often used for both, with long copy reserved for direct response advertising.
The form is also delineated by the relative scarcity of the vector - commercial broadcast time is limited, and so ideas are packaged into 30-second soundbites on radio and TV.
The arrival of the internet as a dominant communication technology thus affects not just how ideas are made flesh online, but also how all other channels will be used. The relative scarcity of media through which to communicate ideas has begun to vanish, and we have an extraordinarily efficient way to store, access and transmit ideas. Rather than media, in the digital world, attention is the scarce commodity.31 Correspondingly, the way in which people interact with ideas has undergone a change.
Just as the internet allowed retailers to service the long tail of retail by removing the relative scarcity of shelf space, so it will allow us to develop the "long tail of brand-building"32, creating more complex brand ideas that earn attention, rather than interrupting it.
TRAITS OF THE EMERGING MEDIA LANDSCAPE
In which we propose the new characteristics of successful ideas
The emerging media landscape, the context in which ideas exist, is qualitatively different from what has gone before because it is intrinsically active. Brought up online, the young naturally construct their own paths through media, branching hypertextually34 from site to site. It follows, therefore, that the future of brands is intrinsically participatory. There are some additional key characteristics that will define the form of ideas, and thus brands, in the future:
- Convergent: every idea, image, story, brand and relationship will play itself out across the broadest range of channels, requiring a corresponding increase in the complexity of brand narratives, tapping the long tail of the brand.
- Recombinant: "The remix is the very nature of the digital."35 Normalised via Ctrl C and Ctrl V, a generation has emerged that naturally treat ideas as themselves recombinant, and as inputs to further remixing.
- Networked: media technologies are increasingly interconnected, allowing the effortless flow of content from person to person, or increasingly from many to many, replacing the sender/receiver mainstream media model of old.
Additionally, the internet has triggered a dismantling of the notion of authority that is also pertinent to the future of brands. The internet disrupts the notion of the expert, since all information is now accessible to all, and the increased transparency it has brought about has been accompanied by an erosion of trust in traditional authorities, such as government, corporations and traditional media, with a corresponding rise in trust in other people.36 Thus, traditional singular authorities have been displaced by the authority of the collective.
Further, the advent of interactive communication technologies such as video games have led to a gradual increase in the explicit complexity of ideas embraced by the young.37
In order to create ideas that leverage these new characteristics, we need a new model for communications planning in a converged culture.
In which we propose a new model for communications planning and use it as an example of a successful idea
In October last year, I wrote a post on my blog38 that outlined a new model for communication planning. The idea was built upon the concept of transmedia narratives proposed in Convergence Culture39 combined with Steven Johnson's complexity arguments. An edited version of that initial post follows. Henry Jenkins, the director of comparative media studies at MIT and the author of Convergence Culture, describes The Matrix as a transmedia narrative - a story that unfolds across different platforms.
Rather than there being a film narrative that has spin-offs, key elements of The Matrix story are in the video game, the animations, the comic books. He argues that few consumers will be able to dedicate the time required to get the whole picture, which is why transmedia storytelling drives the formation of knowledge communities - communities that share information - and triggers word of mouth.
Since there are so many elements to the story, every member of the community is likely to have something to share, some social currency to trade, so communities form and information is passed around the network.
How then might brands operate in this convergence culture?
The model that has held the industry's collective imagination for the past few years is media-neutral planning. In essence, this is the belief that we should develop a single organising thought that iterates itself across any touch point - this was a reaction against previous models of integration that were often simply the dilution of a television idea across other channels that it wasn't suited to.
How media-neutral planning looks is shown above right.
The point is that there is one idea being expressed in different channels. This is believed to be more effective since there are multiple encodings of the same idea, which reinforces the impact on the consumer.
Now let's consider transmedia planning. In this model, there would be an evolving non-linear brand narrative. Different channels could be used to communicate different, self-contained elements of the brand narrative that build to create a larger brand world. Consumers then pull different parts of the story together themselves.
The beauty of this is that it's designed to generate brand communities, in the same way that The Matrix generates knowledge communities, as consumers come together to share elements of the brand. It generates endogenous word of mouth40 by giving people something to talk about.
An illustration of how transmedia planning looks can be found below.
Alternate reality games are early examples of this form of communication. While some brands currently lack the depth that this model requires, I think that in a convergence culture, this is how converged brands will have to engage with a new kind of active media consumer.
The idea was then picked up by another blogger, who built on the initial post in a follow-up post that developed the idea further and into different territories.41
From here, it gathered momentum and spread among a defined audience, the communications industry. The original post was voted "Post of the Month42" and was covered by dozens of blogs from around the world. The idea was presented at the APG Battle of Big Thinking, where it began to evolve into a separate strand called Propagation Planning43, based on the second half of the idea about tapping into consumers who are actively passing on brand messaging to each other. It was featured in an article in Campaign, and has since been written about in the trade press in places as far away as India.
At the time of writing, there were nearly 1,000 separate incidences of the expression "transmedia planning" found on Google, a term that did not exist before the initial post.
Jenkins picked up the idea and posted about it on his blog44, where he further developed it:
"Will transmedia planning make a lasting contribution to contemporary marketing theory? It's too early to say. As an author, I am delighted to see some of my ideas are generating such discussion. As someone interested in marketing my own intellectual property, these discussions are themselves a kind of transmedia branding: after all, the more people talk about my book, the more people are likely to buy it. I don't have to control the conversation to benefit from their interest in my product. The key is to produce something that pulls people together and gives them something to do. In that regard, the book may have had greater impact on the discussions of branding because I didn't fill in all of the links between branding and transmedia entertainment, leaving the blogosphere something to puzzle through together."
Agencies have begun to implement the idea for clients, and Mark Earls has asked to incorporate it into a forthcoming MRS paper.45
In which we validate the new characteristics of successful ideas
Transmedia planning has successfully propagated itself and elicited behavioural change. An analysis of the idea will help to substantiate the proposition that the characteristics of the emerging communication technologies define the form of successful ideas.
The idea is convergent - while initially iterated in one channel and one place, it has spread into print and presentation, and the idea itself concerns convergence. It is openly recombinant - it is assembled from other ideas, which lend it credence by opening up the authority from the individual to the collective. Furthermore, it has been contributed to, modulated and passed on by interested parties. In a digital culture, "ideas need other ideas to tell them what they mean"46.
It is networked - its propagation relied in the first instance on a "single to some" transmission, from which additional nodes rebroadcast it out further and further into their networks. By putting the diagrams up and allowing them to be repurposed under a creative commons licence47, the idea gave people the tools to propagate it.48
We can hone our success criteria into a list based on the characteristics of participatory ideas:
(1) Converged - or transmedia - ideas that spread complex concepts across channels in the same way the young consume media, not reiterating the same thing endlessly in different ways. Narratives such as these are interesting enough that consumers reach out towards them, and thus they don't rely on interruption media, although they may use it as a channel.
(2) Recombinant and iterative - both in content, drawing on established ideas, and in form, allowing recipients of the idea to modulate it and pass it on. To use Jenkins' words, it "pulls people together and gives them something to do" because it isn't a complete text - there are spaces it opens that others can explore. By relaxing control, individuals can modulate the form of the message and, therefore, have a vested interest in its propagation.
(3) Networked and collective - reaching into the collective for authority, not relying on a single authorial voice, and empowering the collective to propagate the idea further, using its own media. "The less control a company has over its marketing message, the greater its credibility."49
IDEAS FROM THE FUTURE
In which we highlight some examples that leverage these characteristics
A number of successful brand ideas in recent times can be seen to exhibit some or all of these characteristics.
Alternate reality games, such as Audi's "art of heist" and Sega's Beta7 are transmedia ideas - they break down the story into different elements and push them out into different channels. The Mini Robot created a form of interactive fiction to kick start the development of an urban legend. It is based on a character named Colin Mayhew who, hoping to make roadways safer, starts building a humanoid robot from parts of Mini Coopers. It was brought to life through films, via a fictional book launch, through a webring that seemed to validate Mr Mayhew's existence, conspiracy sites countering the story, press insertions, and finally through consumer-generated sites around which communities developed to piece the story together.
The rise of the recombinant can be seen in ideas such as "Trailer Trashing", re-editing film trailers to change the nature of the plot, and web 2.0, the foundation of which is the atomisation of data and open standards that allows users to build ideas on top of others, mashing up their own data into Google Maps, for example.
Brands have also embraced the remix. Old Spice gave consumers the tools to remix one of its commercials50, and Mountain Dew produced a viral that taught you how to make your own mash-ups.51
Seeking out collective authority is perhaps the most salient and discussed development in brand communication this year - it's called "user-generated content" and is currently being leveraged by brands including Channel 4, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Sony Pictures, and pretty much everyone else.
Whether it's Dove asking consumers to make its next ad52, or Nokia seeding new handsets to bloggers53, this activity is an attempt to overcome the erosion of trust in conventional, singular authorities by reaching out to the collective for their blessing, and leveraging the media of the masses in the process. They are no longer a target audience; they are our "partners in communication".54
SONY BRAVIA - A FUTURE BRAND CASE STUDY
In which we demonstrate how this new model has been put into practice
This thinking has already begun to be implemented within Naked, most recently on the campaign surrounding the launch of the Sony Bravia television commercial "paint". Working with a team consisting of clients, Fallon, Freud, Tonic and OMD, we carefully planned, orchestrated and executed a campaign to turn the television commercial into a transmedia idea, leveraging the power of the collective and the recombinant.
Different channels were loaded with different information, and the process of making the film was opened up to interested parties in a way that added intrigue to the ad. News of the director was leaked to the press, as was the shoot location to the local media.
And so people were invited to participate right from the outset, attending the shoot, capturing it on cameras and camera phones, footage which then went straight on to Flickr and YouTube, two of the pre-eminent propagation platforms.
By building a transmedia narrative around the ad, and dripping developments online, a specific attempt was made to engage people in "an open and transparent conversation with the brand."55 Bloggers responded well and, as a result, built up anticipation for the ad.
The film was first released online, and then screened on television, consciously catering to the differing needs of youth and the Passive Massive. Online, the assets of the film were made available for remixing. The campaign was transmedia, recombinant and collective. But was it successful?
In which we propose new behavioural diagnostic metrics to evaluate the success of new ideas
In order to determine the success of these new types of ideas, we need to create some new metrics to add into the traditional basket. There are two classes of measures tracked in relation to communications: evaluative and diagnostic. Ultimately, all measures of success need to demonstrate a return on marketing investment to the bottom line.
However, it has been recognised that "advertising pay-offs can seldom be demonstrated in the short term". 56 The value of marketing is only accurately reflected when it is considered an "investment in the long-term health of the brand". 57
Most measures tracked by agencies are diagnostics that are confused with evaluative measures. Since the total contribution marketing makes cannot be demonstrated in the short term, even with regression analysis to help untangle the solus effect on sales, advertisers began to analyse intermediate measures to understand what effect communication was having on the mental brand equity of consumers, as this can give "indications as to the future profit trends"58 and provide inputs into strategy, unpicking how communication shifts perceptions that lead to changes in purchasing behaviour. The confusion arises when objectives are confused with diagnostics - shifts in these "magic numbers"59 become stated objectives.
Cognitive measures tracked by surveys all suffer the same flaws: they require consumers to tell us what they think and they analyse individuals and aggregate data to give an overall picture. Even ignoring that "the gulf between the information we publicly proclaim and the information we know to be true is often vast"60, attitudes can only be used to "predict behavioural intentions, rather than actual behaviour."61 Perhaps more importantly, "individual tendencies do not necessarily extrapolate to group behaviour"62.
Studies have demonstrated that image measures tend to correlate to previous rather than future behaviour. While they may give an indication of predisposition, they ignore what may be the most important drivers of purchase decisions: collective perceptions. Behavioural economics indicates key drivers of purchasing include other people's behaviour - people do things by copying others.63 Earls has posited that "the most important characteristic of mankind is that of a herd animal".64
It has been shown that a single word-of-mouth interaction can overthrow the entirety of pre-existing brand effect on purchase intention.65
Brands do not only influence consumers directly but by introducing a "persuasive influence into the network"66, the more virulent the brand, the greater the number of transmissions, which is a measure of collective brand salience. This transmission is often the result of certain individuals, known as "super-spreaders". 67
In an age where half of all consumers actively avoid advertising68, another newly relevant measure is approaches to the brand or accessions.
The emergence of web analytic tools enables agencies to measure both transmissions and accessions69 - not all occur online, but effects measured on the web aren't restricted to it. Google is a "barometer of cultural interest"70, and research has shown that online transmissions are a powerful influencer of brand perceptions and purchase behaviour.71
Returning to the Bravia example, we can utilise a basket of metrics to determine its success. Blogpulse72 enables us to track transmissions.
Google Trends73 enables us to track accessions.74
Opinmind75 shows that transmissions were overwhelmingly favourable, more so than mentions for "Sony".
In addition there were:
- 168 separate uploads on YouTube.
- 19 remixes.
- Hundreds of thousands of online views76.
- 655,000 web mentions77.
- 49,744 links to the Bravia ad site.
So the communication has driven a substantial number of positive transmissions and accessions - it was modulated and propagated by the collective - but did this actually translate into financial return?
"Strong sales of Bravia LCD televisions contributed to the TV business as a whole being profitable for the quarter."78
Sony's share price has risen by 40 per cent since the campaign began.79
By measures of both effect and effectiveness, the campaign has generated a positive return in short-term sales, collective brand salience, favourability and shareholder value.
THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY
In which we propose a new model for an ideas agency
An industry that developed in the age of passive idea consumption will need to undergo a similarly seismic shift in order to successfully connect brands to active idea consumers.
The agency of the future will need to be built around the value of ideas.
While we have always dealt in ideas, "we have allowed the emphasis, the value, and the fundamental business model of our industry today, to shift away from ideas and to focus predominantly on execution".80
The new agency model needs to move the value away from execution and back to ideas.
First, this will require us to find new ways to value and monetise the intellectual property we produce, and second, to outsource the production of these ideas. This will refocus agencies on their core product - ideas - and allow us to respond to the rapidly changing communication technologies by recruiting experts in any field.
Increasingly, this will shift how we work towards the model of film-making, constructing bespoke teams to solve client problems, with ideas companies at the heart of a hub-and-spokes model, such as the one proposed by Scott Goodson at the Future Marketing Summit.
The process needs to be collaborative and iterative at every stage. Ideas don't flow in one direction; and suppliers will be able to advise agencies on what is possible and what will work in their fields.
An understanding of the active mode of idea consumption will have to underpin the development of these ideas, since they accommodate complexity, tap into the long tail of the brand, and equip themselves with propagation mechanisms.
The rate of change in communication technologies is going to increase over time, and the only way for agencies to keep up is to outsource production to specialists, just as production companies currently make films.
Technology will continue to drive changes in the way ideas are communicated. While the Passive Massive will remain with us for the medium term, the impact of developments thus far will continue to spread. The impact of developments just around the corner is difficult to imagine.
"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run."81
THE FUTURE IS NOW
In which we entrust the future to you
As the writer William Gibson pointed out, the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed. Young people today have grown up with digital media, and so they have an intrinsically participatory relationship with ideas.
They need to be catered for differently than the Passive Massive, and transmedia planning is a new model for creating ideas that will engage them. By looking at how young people are consuming, remixing, producing and propagating ideas today, we can chart how brands will operate in the future, and begin to change how we create ideas accordingly.
1. William Gibson, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William Gibson
2. Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, Page 4
3. D Dennett, Consciousness Explained, http://www.princeton.edu/(approx)stcweb/html/pope02essay.html
4. Mark Earls, How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing our True Nature, Herd, Chapter 1
5. "Heavier than air flying machines are impossible." Lord Kelvin, the most lauded physicist of his day. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943 See http://www.anvari.org/fortune/Famous_Last_Words/for dozens more examples
6. Communications Industry Forecast, Veronis Suhler Stevenson http://www.vss.com/pubs/pubs_cif.html. This covers all forms of mediated content including broadcast, mobiles, gaming, etc.
7. "It's a Broadband Life". Yahoo!/Mediaedge:cia Summit Report
8. BBC Commissioning Research http://www.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/marketresearch/audiencegroup2.shtml[Q Q] 9. The Communications Consumer, Ofcom Report http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/cm/overview06/consumer/
10. "Truly, Madly, Deeply Engaged", Yahoo!/OMD Summit Report
11. EIAA Mediascope research report http://advertising.microsoft.com/uk/ResearchLibrary/ResearchLibrary.aspx ?Adv_ResearchReportID=218
12. Guardian/ICM Poll http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1586639,00.html#article_conti nue#article_continue
13. YorramWind and Vijay Mahajan, Convergence Marketing: Strategies for Reaching the New Hybrid Consumer, page XIII
14. "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants", Mark Pensky, from On the Horizon, NBC University Press http://www.twitchspeed.com/site/Prensky - Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants - Part1.htm
15. Speech by Rupert Murdoch to the American Society of Newspaper Editors http://www.newscorp.com/news/news_247.html
16. The end of TV as we know it: A future industry perspective http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/index.wss/ ibvstudy/imc/a1023172?cntxt=a1000062&re=endoftv
17. Mark 16;15
18. Warren Weaver, recent contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Communications,
19. Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication, John Durham Peters, page 11
20. Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, page 215
21. Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders
22. Cicero, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicero
23. William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream,
24. This maxim is often attributed to Jesus Christ, but is much older, recorded at least as far back as 500BC in the Analects of Confucius, chapter 15, verse 23
25. The middle section of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is called "The Stickiness Factor" - ideas that stick are more likely to propagate and effect change, although Gladwell never examines what makes ideas sticky. This is beyond the scope of his epidemiological analysis of culture.
26. Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Made to Stick, page 12
27. Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Made to Stick
28. S S Lyengar. "Choice and its Discontent," Hermes, http://opus1journal.org/others/killerapps/paralysis.html
29. Albert Einstein
31. The Attention Economy, Wired Magazine http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.12/es_attention.html
32. The Elongating Tail of Brand Communication: An approach to brand building incorporating long tail economics, Mohammed Iqbal, O&M
33. The Elongating Tail of Brand Communication: An approach to brand-building incorporating long tail economics (January 2007), Mohammed, Iqbal. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1007403
34. In computing, hypertext is a user interface paradigm for displaying documents which, according to an early definition (Nelson 1970), "branch or perform on request." The most frequently discussed form of hypertext document contains automated cross-references to other documents called hyperlinks. Selecting a hyperlink causes the computer to display the linked document within a very short period of time. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/hypertextuality
35. William Gibson, author of Neuromancer
36. The Edelman Trust Barometer has shown consistent decline in traditional authority. The 2007 edition showed 44 per cent trust conversations with friends and peers, while 33 per cent trust articles in papers.
37. Stephen Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter
39. Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
40. In Herd - How to change mass behaviour by harnessing our true nature, Mark Earls makes the distinction between endogenous word of mouth, which naturally occurs within the system, and exogenous word of mouth, which is when brands attempt to artificially cultivate buzz using agents, such as P&G's Tremor network.
41. Transmedia Planning and Brand Communities, Jason Oke, Vice President, Strategy, Leo Burnett, Toronto, on Fruits of the Imagination http://lbtoronto.typepad.com/lbto/2006/10/transmedia_plan.html
43. http://theapg.typepad.com/battleofbigthinking/2006/10/thoughts_from_i.ht ml
44. http://www.henryjenkins.org/2006/12/how_transmedia_storytelling_be.html[ QQ] 45. E-mail to the author, 16 January 2007
46. Michael Lewis, The Future Just Happened, page 143
47. The Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organisation devoted to expanding the range of creative work available for others legally to build upon and share. The organisation has released several copyright licenses known as Creative Commons licenses. These licenses, depending on the one chosen, restrict only certain rights (or none) of the work.
48. Cuttings above can be found at the following URLS: http://www.influxinsights.com/servlet/ShowComments?id=1007, http://whistlethroughyourcomb.blogspot.com/2006/10/ transmedia-and-knowledge-economies.html, http://interactivemarketingtrends.blogspot.com/2006/11/ transmedia-planning-my-arse.html
49. The Economist, 31 May 2005
53. http://blog.experiencecurve.com/archives/ nokia-sending-phones-to-bloggers
54. Ivan Pollard, Propagation Planning, Campaign
55. David Patton, chief executive, Grey London, previously the senior vice-president marketing, Sony CE Europe
56. C McDonald, Is your Advertising Working?, page 8
58. Measuring brands and their performance, CIM http://www.cim.co.uk/mediastore/Brand_eGuides/eGuide7.pdf
59. R Shaw and D Merrick, Marketing Payback (Demonstrating Success)
60. Levitt & Dubner, Freakonomics, page 84
61. M Fishbein and Ajzen, Belief, Attitude, Intention, and Behavior: An introduction to theory and research
62. Philip Ball, Critical Mass, page 395
63. Behavioural Economics, New Economics Foundation
64. Mark Earls, Advertising to the Herd
65. Decision Watch UK, MRS Conference Paper, page 6: "Gary had been considering purchasing a Toyota Rav 4 and liked both the look and styling. The price was also within his budget. However, just before purchasing he saw a vague acquaintance of his driving one in the village and asked him how it was, Gary said 'apparently he wasn't that happy so I went off the idea'. The extraordinary power of WOM became obvious."
66. W Collin, "God, Galileo and Google", Campaign
68. Fifty-four per cent of consumers agreed they try to resist being exposed to or even paying attention to marketing and advertising, 69 per cent said they are interested in products that enable them to block, skip or opt out of being exposed to advertising, Source: Yankelovich Omniplus. http://www.magazine.org/Advertising_and_PIB/engagementguide.pdf
69. The act of coming near; approach. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=accession
70. "What happened when Honda started asking questions?" IPA Effectiveness Award Gold, 2004, Stuart Smith
71. 40 million US consumers changed their minds about brands as a result of online information. 60 per cent of those consumers switched brand at purchase, whether that purchase had been made online or offline. Source: Dieringer Group: American Interactive Consumer Survey
72. www.blogpulse.com is a tool for tracking the content of weblog posts. Each post that contains the specified brand or term is considered a transmission.
74. Search engines are one of the key channels through which consumers seek out brands. As Google dominates the search market, tracking the number of Google searches gives a clear metric to establish trends in accessions.
75. www.opinmind.com, a tool that measures mentions of the brand in proximity to positive or negative value statements and shows the results as a percentage split.
76. It is hard to arrive at a complete number since the film has been posted multiple times on dozens of video-sharing sites.
77. Tracked on Google Sony Bravia "paint"
78. Q3 FY 2006, ending 31st December 2006. Results available here http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/IR/financial/fr/viewer/06q3/
79. Share price rose from approx $37 at campaign launch to $53 now. While share price responds to any one of an infinite number of influences, the Bravia campaign was the highest profile Sony communication campaign in that period. http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=SNE&t=1y&l=on&z=m&q=l&c=
80. Change the Model, Change the World, Keynote speech, Future Marketing Summit, 2007, Scott Goodson, founder and chairman, StrawberryFrog
81. Roy Amara, past president of The Institute for the Future.