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C3 NEWSLETTER

March 11, 2009

Editor's Note

Welcome to another issue of the C3 Weekly Update. As Dan and Xiaochang have been meeting with our newest partners in Brazil, and Ana has been exploring the music scene in Belem conducting interviews with producers and fans, Sheila and I have been keeping the wheels turning back here in Cambridge and we await the insights from this trip.

This Opening Note for this week's newsletter is the second part of the essay by Jean Burgess and Joshua Green. Titled "The Entrepeneurial Vlogger - Participatory Culture Beyond the Professional-Amateur Divide", this essay is excerpted from a longer piece to appear in the forthcoming The YouTube Reader from Wallflower press, edited by Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau. Last week's installment looked at vlogging as a significant activity on YouTube. This week's installment considers the activities of entrepreneurial vloggers - those experimenting with the form and engaging with their communities for profit (as much as fun). While we originally promised this piece in two installments, we will be running a third next week that rounds out the essay.

The Closing Note this week is from C3 Consulting Researcher Robert Kozinets. A Professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, Rob's contribution discusses retrobranding as a strategy for brand re- invigoration and extension. Rob's piece, like many of those we have been running in the past weeks, are part of the further development of the ideas presented in the recent C3 white paper "If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead". This paper, like all of the Consortium's research, is available from the back-end of the C3 website. If you're interested in a copy, head over to convergenceculture.org and log-in.

This issue of the C3 Weekly Update was prepared by Joshua Green. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email him.

 

In This Issue

Opening Note

The Entrepeneurial Vlogger - Participatory Culture Beyond the Professional-Amateur Divide (Pt. 2 of 3)

By: Jean Burgess and Joshua Green

Last week's installment examined vlogging as an activity with a certain "YouTube-ness". In many ways YouTube's emblematic genre, the vlog capitalizes on the twin potentials of distribution and connectivity YouTube offers. This week's installment examines the activities of a specific set of vloggers - those who use YouTube as a platform for economic activity.

Entrepeneurial Vloggers

The channels in the "most subscribed" list reveal that, although the "vlog" form is grounded in ordinary, domestic creative practice, not all vlogs are purely amateur productions, created in bedrooms for the purposes of self-expression alone. Indeed, a number of prominent vloggers, or performers using the videoblog form, are quite clearly using YouTube in an entrepreneurial way. Exploiting a buxom figure and coquettish presentation, Marina Orlova's highly popular Hot For Words videos are a series of philological discussions that explore the etymology of common words and common expressions. According to her bio, Russian-born Orlova possesses degrees in "Teaching of Russian Language and World Literature Specializing in Philology and the Teaching of English Language Specializing in Philology from State University of Nizhni Novgorod Region in Russian Federation," and taught English for two years. Often appearing in pigtails and cleavage- bearing outfits, her videos are presented as simultaneously tongue-in- cheek titillation and education. Her videos, user-page, website, and press materials feature the slogan "Intelligence is Sexy", and her chosen topics for presentation highlight the marriage of the two. Her discussion of the etymology of "booby" starts with the Spanish word "bobo" from the late 1500s ("meaning, a stupid person"), works its way through the "booby bird" ("a very slow and stupid bird") and the Oxford English dictionary ("a dull stupid person…the last boy in the class, the dunce"), before arriving at the possible German root "bubbi" (for "teat"), all while Orlova affects coy confusion about why viewers might request such an etymological excursion.

Orlova's videos capitalize on the dialogic opportunities of YouTube. Addressing her viewers as "my dear students," Orlova petitions the audience to leave queries and suggestions in the comments to her videos, often setting them "homework" tasks such as guessing the correct definition of a word. Words are regularly submitted by viewers, and episodes often commence not only with an announcement of the word to be featured but also with an acknowledgement of each of the commenters who have requested discussion of that particular word. Orlova directly responds to particular queries, corrections and comments left for her in response to her videos, invites her viewers to join her next time, and ends her videos with the now common prompt to viewers to subscribe. Her blend of sexuality and smarts has made Orlova a YouTube success. Her channel ranks amongst the highest subscribed channels of all time, especially within YouTube's "Gurus" and "Partners" categories. She has been granted access to the company's revenue-sharing program, which extends a cut of the revenue from page views to prominent producers who create their own content -- a system that includes not only prominent YouTubers (such as LisaNova, renetto and smosh) but also "traditional media" producers like television stations and large rights holders. The significance of this is not lost on Orlova herself, whose bio mentions her channel is amongst the most viewed of all time -- "just ahead of Universal Music Group and the NBA."

But the attention Orlova garners is only partly due to her visual appeal. Orlova not only navigates YouTube's attention economy through regular engagement with her viewers and commenters, she has collaborated with a number of both prominent and less prominent YouTubers. These collaborations not only increase her visibility within the community, they constitute "shout-outs" to the YouTube community. Orlova is also sure to mention the YouTube profiles of users from whom she gets music for her vlogs, and maintains a list of these and her collaborations on her website hotforwords.com (where she also offers a 2009 calendars and "hot cards" featuring lingerie shots of herself). Orlova's success has resulted in a move into "mainstream" attention. Readers of Wired voted her one of the "sexiest geeks" of 2007, US tech television channel G4 have included her in their top-ten list of "Hottest Women on the Net" on more than one occasion, and Orlova has been subject of a number of profiles across the blogosphere (including men's magazine AskMen.com). Her prominence online led to repeated appearances on Fox New Channel's The O'Reilly Factor during the US election campaign to explain the origin of political terms, where the high numbers of views her YouTube videos had received were regularly mentioned to establish her expertise as a commentator.

With a rapid-fire delivery and acrid commentary, Michael Buckley's WhatTheBuck program has similarly brought the vlogger to the attention of the media industry outside of YouTube. Buckley's WhatTheBuck show -- which delivers regular celebrity news and pop-culture commentary with a decidedly camp affect -- is regularly in the top subscribed channels of all time. Buckley's YouTube success has brought him to the attention of executives at HBO, who in 2008 signed the comedian to a development deal with the network, purportedly to work on a project unlike his YouTube show. Aping the style of a news update, and following in the tradition of long-running US cable program Talk Soup (now just known as The Soup) and the footsteps of prominent blogger and pop-culture commentator Perez Hilton, who came to the attention of the mainstream press in 2005, Buckley's show provides celebrity news and decidedly bitchy commentary on popular culture.

Like Orlova, Buckley's success on YouTube stems in part from his engagement with the YouTube community. His program regularly responds to reader comments in program descriptions, and he includes discussion of some of the controversies and disputes that take place across the YouTube community, blurring the divide between notability in the YouTube community and the wider popular culture. Buckley rewards his viewers with regular celebrations of milestones in subscription; he celebrated 30,000 subscribers in August 2007 with a video reflecting on the evolution of the style of his show, and on attaining 100,000 subscribers he produced a show editing together the well-wishes of other YouTubers.

Not just representative of innovation on YouTube, both Orlova and Buckley have been recognized as representatives for YouTube itself. Both were engaged as backstage correspondents during YouTube Live, with Buckley fulfilling some front-of-stage MC duties. The event, a variety-concert-come-awards night in late November 2008, featured a combination of home-grown YouTube "stars" and what the company referred to as "real world personalities" -- performers and celebrities whose basis for fame lay in the traditional media or music industries, but who were also highly popular within YouTube itself. Drawing together "all that YouTube has to offer including bedroom vloggers, budding creatives, underground athletes, world-famous musicians, gut-busting comedians and more"1 the event was streamed live from San Francisco, in a stunt designed to promote the introduction of live-streaming functionality to the website. At its peak, the event drew 700,000 simultaneous viewers, and YouTube reported that videos edited from the original footage received 2,500,000 views in the 24 hours immediately following the live show.

Because of its "liveness", in the mainstream press the event inevitably drew comparisons with broadcast television.2 Peter Kafka pointed out that while these viewership figures might have been momentous for an online event, they were insignificant in the broader context of US broadcast television, where "a poorly performing show on network TV, by comparison, draws millions of viewers."3 Even moderately performing Saturday night programming, Kafka noted, can draw five million viewers. The issue Kafka suggested was that the "real world" personalities YouTube assembled just weren't enough of a draw, and that YouTube personalities appeal best when forwarded on through YouTube's viral channels.

But looking at the number of views alone may only tell half the story when considering what success on YouTube looks like. As we have argued elsewhere,4 it is the extensive "spreadability" of the ideas, styles and materials associated with YouTube's homegrown stars that make them important within the YouTube ecology. And the means of this "spreadability" can just as easily include parody as it does praise. For example, in her video "LisaNova does sxephil and HotForWords" fellow YouTube star LisaNova enlisted the help of fellow YouTuber Danny "The Diamond Factory" to parody both sxephil (vlogger Philip DeFranco) and Orlova. LisaNova's parody focusses on both cleavage bearing shots and Russian diction. It is introduced as a parody of "two of our favorite YouTubers" and included as part of a series of collaborations collected under the banner of "LisaNovaLive." LisaNova, in turn, is also the subject of the many parodic representations of YouTube "stars" produced by other members of the YouTube community -- and so on it goes. Indeed, we might view YouTube stars not only as moderately successful cultural entrepreneurs and performers, but also as a shared cultural resource for other YouTube participants; this is why the numbers of subscribers and video responses are so important in understanding how popularity works in YouTube. The YouTube "stars" provide markers for a sense of 'YouTube-ness' -- through their participation and ways in which other YouTubers engage with them, a sense of YouTube's "common culture" is created. It is above all this embeddedness within and porousness to the activities of the distributed YouTube community that marks out the difference between the practices of the "entrepreneurial vloggers" and most mainstream media uses of YouTube.

In our final installment next week, we'll look at what can happen when participants from "traditional media" spaces, such as Oprah, enter YouTube for "entrepreneurial" purposes. The response by a number of significant vloggers to Oprah's entry into YouTube provides a good case study for understanding the balance between entrepreneurial vlogging and professional media practice

References

According to the company's press release "Celebrities and YouTube Users Come Together at YouTube Live" 24 November 2008 [last checked 15 February 2009].
Matthew Ingrahm, "Was YouTube Live a Success? That Depends" NewTeeVeeLive 24 November 2008 [last checked 15 February 2009]. See also, Paul Glazowski, "YouTube Live! (But Dead on Arrival)" Mashable 22 November 2008 [last checked 15 February 2009].
Peter Kafka, "YouTube’s Big Live Debut: Pretty Small" MediaMemo 23 November 2008 [last checked 15 February 2009].
Jean Burgess, "'All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us?' Viral Video, YouTube, and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture" The Videovortex Reader: Responses to YouTube eds. Geert Lovink & Sabine Niederer (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2008).

Jean Burgess is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane Australia; Joshua Green is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Comparative Media Studies Program working with the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT.

Glancing at the C3 Blog


The Value of "Free" Content: Youtube Silences Music Videos in the UK after Licensing Dispute.

C3 grdauate researcher Xiaochang Li discusses the recent spat between YouTube and PRS in the UK, resulting in the removal of a large number of music videos from the UK version of the site. The disagreement provides Xiaochang with a launching point to discuss some of her recent thoughts about the value of "free": "By not charging licensing fees, record companies feel that they're giving away their music for "free." This has been the dominant discourse overall when media producers and critics alike talk about putting content on sites like Youtube or Hulu or last.fm. But we have to remember that just because you're not charging people doesn't mean you're not getting anything in return."

The Many Lives of The Batman (Revisited): Multiplicity, Anime, and Manga.

In a piece that originally appeared on HenryJenkins.org, C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins reflects upon the transmediation, transformation and re-interpretation of elements of the Batman franchise. "Rather than fragmenting or confusing the audience, this multiplicity of Batmen helped fans learn to live in a universe where there were diverse, competing images of their favorite characters and indeed, to appreciate the pleasures of seeing familiar fictions transformed in unpredicted ways."

Don't forget: you can read and respond to our daily articles and conversations on the C3 blog.

Closing Note

Retro: The Story at the Heart of Marketing

By: Robert V. Kozinets

Brand extension is the use of an existing brand name to introduce a new product or service. Brand extensions are an extremely important marketing tactic applied across a vast variety of market domains. Another form of brand extension strategy has gained prominence in which tired or even abandoned brands have been reanimated and successfully relaunched. Stephen Brown (2001) terms this a "retro revolution" in which the revival of old brands and their images have become an increasingly attractive option for marketing managers.

Noting the demanding standards of consumers, and the compelling combination of past imagery and present technical characteristics exhibited by actual retro goods and services, Brown, Kozinets, and Sherry (2003a, p. 20) define retro branding as "the revival or relaunch of a product or service brand from a prior historical period, which is usually but not always updated to contemporary standards of performance, functioning, or taste," seeing retro goods as "brand-new, old-fashioned offerings."

In a set of studies cutting across three different retro, "cult brand" products -- the Volkswagen Beetle, Star Wars, and Quisp breakfast cereal -- Brown, Kozinets, and Sherry (2003a, 2003b) sought to explain the underlying principles of retro-branding and the way consumers responded to it. In examining the sites of their investigation, it seems likely that the popular culture and entertainment associations of these three products are not coincidental. Consider that the VW Beetle was a popular car associated with the 1960s era, hippies, and also immortalized in Disney's Herbie films, a series of four films originating with 1968's hit The Love Bug (the series itself later updated and retro-branded into Herbie: Fully Loaded, a 2005 motion picture starring Lindsay Lohan). Star Wars is one of the most successful media franchises of all time. And Quisp cereal is an American breakfast cereal released in the 1960s using cartoon advertising created by Jay Ward, the creator of cult animation hit Rocky and Bullwinkle and employing some of the same voice talents. In each case, the entertainment connections of the brand seem to have helped spur a type of residual and actual "brand fandom" that led both to the possibility of a revival as well as to fan's eventual activism regarding the reworked retro relaunches. In the case of the VW Beetle, this was the 1998 launch of the VW New Beetle. For Star Wars, it was the much-maligned 1999 prequel The Phantom Menace. For Quisp cereal, it was the quiet and limited redistribution of the cereal into select markets in the 1980s, after it has languished without support since the late 1970s. As well, Quisp's fan-spurred and eBay-supported emergence in the mid 1990s marked it as the first so-called "Internet cereal."

This investigative work on retro branding bridged Brown's (2001) theorizing and retro marketing case studies with Kozinets' (2001) ethnographic research on long-standing entertainment brands, their ongoing extensions, and the role of consumer culture and subculture in this process. As well, the investigation sought to bridge research on popular culture with research on consumer and marketplace cultures. It deepened an exploration into the sources and implications of the convergence of fan communities with brand cultures.

One of the lasting findings of the research program is its delineation and explanation of the role of "the story" in the marketing (and re- marketing) of brands (and retro brands). Drawing on the work of cultural theorist Walter Benjamin (1973, 1999), Brown, Kozinets, and Sherry (2003, p. 30) argue that powerful brands, including those that are capable of being reanimated, possess their own detailed story structure: "Our study thus suggests that Aura (brand essence), Allegory (brand stories), and Arcadia (idealized community) are the character, plot, and the setting, respectively, of brand meaning." Retro branding research thus builds upon the idea that brand allegories are stories, narratives, or extended metaphors in symbolic form. Successful brand narratives will also possess an almost utopian evocation of past worlds and past or present communities. Using Benjamin's most celebrated conception, strong brands must possess a powerful sense of "authenticity" or a quintessential uniqueness that marketers would likely link to positioning or 'brand essence' (see Kelly 1998).

"Antinomy, the final element of our 4As abbreviation, is perhaps most important of all, for brand paradox brings the cultural complexity necessary to animate each of the other dimensions" (Brown, Kozinets, and Sherry 2003, p. 30). Antinomy, an irresolvable paradox at the heart of a brand, hints at the cultural complexity, ambiguity, mystery, polysemy, and open-endedness of the brand. Related to this, novelist Alex Shakar (2001, p. 61) postulates that every product has "paradessence," a paradoxical essence, whose nature in "two opposing desires" lies at the very core of consumer motivation.

Other, more recent, research conducted regarding Mattel's wildly successful American Girl brand finds the basis of its marketing lying in well-researched, moralistic, value-rich, historical stories to attach profound levels of complexity and moral meaning to the dolls, their clothing and accessories (see, e.g., Diamond et al. 2009; Kozinets et al. 2003). Each of the individual dolls in the American Girl pantheon becomes a storied brand containing its own rich Aura, Allegory, Arcadia, and Antinomy. Testament to the success of the dolls' collective stories is found in the fact that the original doll- and-clothing franchise has had its brand extended into a successful magazine, a library of 'how-to' books for girls, a set of made-for- television movies and, most recently, a hit major motion picture release (2008's Kit Kittredge: An American Girl).

The key to consumer engagement and involvement seems to lie in the rich telling of tales, a story that, in itself, is certainly not new to Madison Avenue. The role of the story in fostering emotional connection with the brand looms large in accounts by experts and insiders such as Sal Randazzo (1993), Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson (2001), Marc Gob (2001), Laurence Vincent (2002), Kevin Roberts (2004), Douglas Atkins (2004), and Alex Wipperfrth (2005). Advertising, branding and marketing practitioners are continually working with the entertainment industry, developing and hybridizing new forms in a dynamic environment characterized by rapid technological change, and the consumer-to-consumer interconnectivity of the Internet.

We see the results, as Hollywood remakes and refreshes old franchises, just as old brands are continually extended and renewed. Alongside, popular consumer culture and fan culture merge effortlessly one into the other, their possibilities continuously expanded and technologically accelerated. Old comic book characters become refreshed into new motion picture characters--think the Joker in The Dark Knight as a prototypical entertainment retro-brand. Characters like Heath Ledger's Joker become new action figures, puzzles, trading cards, and games, but the universe he and his cohorts inhabit also now engender transmedia, cross-product, and transbrand empires that reach from chewing gum packages and videogames to their own wikis, alternate reality games, virtual worlds, and social networking sites.

The emotional connection that propels this transmedia trajectory may be accounted for by the very same elements that kept Quisp cereal alive for forty years, the consumer-driven power of Aura, Allegory, Arcadia, and Antimony. Retro brands, those paragons of stalwart mythmaking, reveal the story at the heart of marketing.

References

Atkins, Douglas (2004), The Culting of Brands, New York, NY: Portfolio. Benjamin, Walter (1973), "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in Illuminations, Walter Benjamin. London: Fontana, 245-255.
Benjamin, Walter (1999), The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.
Brown, Stephen (1995), Postmodern Marketing. London: Routledge.
Brown, Stephen (2001), Marketing - The Retro Revolution. London: Sage.
Brown, Stephen, Robert V. Kozinets, and John F. Sherry, Jr. (2003a) "Teaching Old Brands New Tricks: Retro Branding and the Revival of Brand Meaning," Journal of Marketing, 67 (July) 19-33.
Brown, Stephen, Robert V. Kozinets, and John F. Sherry, Jr. (2003b) "Sell Me the Old, Old Story: Retromarketing Management and the Art of Brand Revival," Journal of Customer Behavior, 2 (June), 85-98.
Diamond, Nina, John F. Sherry, Jr., Mary Ann McGrath, Albert Muniz, Jr.. Robert V. Kozinets, and Stefania Borghini (2009), "American Girl and the Brand Gestalt: Closing the Loop on Sociocultural Branding Research," Journal of Marketing, May.
Gob, Marc (2001), Emotional Branding: The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People. New York: Allworth Press.
Kelly, Tom (1998), "Brand Essence-Making Our Brands Last Longer," Journal of Brand Management, 5, (July), 390-391.
Kozinets, Robert V. (2001), "Utopian Enterprise: Articulating the Meanings of Star Trek's Culture of Consumption," Journal of Consumer Research, 28 (June), 67-88.
Kozinets, Robert V., John F. Sherry, Stefania Borghini, Mary Ann McGrath, Nina Diamond, and Albert Muniz, Jr. (2003), "I'm an American Girl," (color videography, VHS, 20 minutes), exhibited at the 2003 ACR Film Festival, Toronto, Ontario, October, 2003.
Mark, Margaret and Carol Pearson (2001), The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes. New York: McGraw Hill.
Randazzo, Sal (1993), Mythmaking on Madison Avenue. Chicago: Probus. Roberts, Kevin (2004), Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands. New York: Powerhouse.
Shakar, Alex (2001), The Savage Girl. New York: HarperCollins. Wipperfurth, Alex (2005), Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing. New York: Portfolio.
Vincent, Laurence (2002), Legendary Brands: Unleashing the Power of Storytelling to Create a Winning Marketing Strategy. Chicago: Dearborn Trade Publishing

Robert V. Kozinets is Associate Professor of Marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto, Canada. In the past, he was faculty at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Business. An anthropologist by training, he also has extensive consulting experience. His interests include online community, consumer tribes, activism and social movements, technology, entertainment, branding, and retail.






This issue of the C3 Weekly Update compiled and edited by Josh Green and Alex Leavitt (aleavitt@mit.edu) for the Convergence Culture Consortium.

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