April 16, 2006


In this attention seeking update....

- William Uricchio on networks and attention
- MySpace develops own economic ecosystem
- Nostalgia ads target baby-boomers
- Orb puts TiVoed content on cell phones
- Attention everyone: C3 Conference coming up soon!

by William Uricchio

Attention. It's something we all want, whether as advertisers or teachers or simply interlocutors. Think of how we put it: "give me your attention!" "I'd like to have your attention!" "Your attention, please!" We want attention, but so do a lot of others. By one count, we are exposed to some 3,225 commercial messages per day, each fighting for our attention. This (with apologies to the creationists out there) is where evolution comes in: after a few generations of ever-increasing exposures, we have developed a thicker skin when it comes to message penetration. The steady decline in 'day after recall' rates from close to 35% in 1965 to something closer to 5% today (NAB/Nielsen) offers one measure of the change. But for advertisers, something far more menacing looms on the horizon: the activist consumer, aware that attention is limited, highly prized, commodified, and therefore something to be considered, negotiated, strategically offered or held back, but not simply given away.

Non-profit movements such as attentiontrust.org ask fundamental questions: whose attention is it? Who should profit from it? Can we empower the consumer by working out a payment system for attention and still have our economy flourish? Thanks to the seismic shift in media technologies and use patterns signaled by DVRs like TiVo, cell phones and the Internet, most of us are already plugged into potential 'people meters' Measuring individual exposure patterns is theoretically no great challenge. Indeed, the old logics of statistically based metrics for attention are looking increasingly weather beaten. We continue to rely on them, of course, because like gold, they offer a universal metric even if they have no intrinsic value. But as the potentials of data feeds from cable television and the Internet turn into realities, and as the media market not only continues to fragment but becomes increasingly social, the discrepancies between statistical extrapolations and individualized data feeds can only lead in one direction.

You've read it here before… in a world where audiences increasingly manage, direct and re-define when and where they experience media, how they share it, and what it means to produce and consume, we need to think about cultural processes in dramatically new ways. The shifts from analog to digital, from centralized to dispersed, from mass media to social media, from information transmission to collective intelligence, from old statistical extrapolations to new data feeds, all point to media use that is social by design, not social by default. The descriptors used by Tim O'Reilly and others for Web 2.0 are revealing: 'an architecture of participation,' 'harnessing collective intelligence,' 'exchanging,' 'pooling,' 'collaboration.'

Whether we look to social media communities such as technorati, or social networking sites such as friendster and myspace, or media fashion communities such as digg, we see new logics that have to be understood if we are to make use of them. I'd like to borrow a term from the worlds of biology, neurology, and computer science that speaks to these new conditions: high connectivity. High Connectivity in these various domains refers to dynamic networks, high magnitudes of contact among many nodes, and both interactive and iterative behavior. And it seems singularly appropriate as a way to think about the digitally networked world of branding.

The just mentioned sites and many others like them don't just get attention, they require the attention of their collaborators. Their very being is a testament to the active participation of users. Attention is freely given, is both directed and focused, and is socially amplified. Attention invested results in commitment, attention shared results in community, and if we consider that this takes place in an environment where there is no gap between exposure and action, the power of these new models is evident. The culture of push is slowly and surely becoming a culture of pull.

Consider Yellow Arrow (www.yellowarrow.net), a branding practice and branding community lacking a commodity dimension. It is a trans-media phenomenon (cell phone, Internet, newspaper, urban architecture and artifacts) existing in the spaces between commercial media. It is emphatically social, and all about a community formed on the basis of tagging and exchanging meanings. And it’s a brilliant and increasingly global participatory campaign that redefines the relationship among urban inhabitants, between people and the spaces they inhabit, and between producers and users. A self-proclaimed art movement, Yellow Arrow might just as easily be understood as a post-modern gesture, or as the death throes of a brand-saturated culture. I’ll leave aside for the moment a reading of Yellow Arrow and movements like it (Obey www.obeygiant.com) as instances of culture jamming, and instead mention that they might be seen as instances of brands peeling free from a commodity base. Think of the steady progression of branding in the fashion industry, from tags hidden inside a garment (Arrow shirts), to discrete logos on the garment (Levis, Lacoste), to the entire surface of the garment (Louis Vuitton, Fendi)…in some sectors, the next step might indeed be the liberation of the brand from any relationship to an object (Harley Davidson perfume comes close for me, though others might read it as creative brand extension).

The point, however, is that the new processes of social organization and meaning enacted through the networked circulation of and creative interaction with symbols – whether brands or popular movements such as Yellow Arrow and the like – suggest a way to solve the attention problem. Properly positioned, brands can function as an element in a dynamic network environment, speaking to the synergetic project of collaborative user appropriation and creating value through increased circulation and personal investment in this multi-nodal and increasingly connected environment. High connectivity speaks to the place of brands, of symbols in the new media economy, and their circulation and use by consumers in the construction of non-traditional social identities and communities. And by implication, it calls for an end to business as usual and the development of new conceptual models and operational strategies.

As attention becomes ever-scarcer, whether because of adaptive behavior or an increasingly activist and enabled cohort of consumers, brands will have to find new niches in the interstices among media forms, new social and lifestyle spaces, and new logics that empower users and encourage commitment. Think collaborative community, collective intelligence, P2P… Yellow Arrow. High connectivity is manifest in new cultural attitudes that encourage people happily to invest in community projects without hope of economic reward. Instead, the desire to leave a trace, to signify, to join and belong supercedes the ambition simply to have. High connectivity is about the conditions that encourage attention and amplify it through networked community participation and creative collaboration. It provides stakes, meaning, and a reason to give attention in a very demanding world.

William Uricchio is Professor and co-Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and professor of Comparative Media History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Connect with William, live and in person, at the C3 Conference at MIT, 27-29 April 2006!

--------------- TRANSMEDIA ---------------

-- In the wake of the announcement that ABC will put online free episodes of Desperate Housewives, Lost and other hit shows along with un-skippable commercial breaks, a blog compiles and compares the many alternative ways people can get the same content.

-- Financial Times says that these live online TV services will put strain on the Internet infrastructure and that the quality of the streaming video will be too low for the demanding audience.

-- Forbes writes about how MySpace is creating its own economic ecosystem, populated by small businesses that do everything from helping users decorate their profiles to creating tools that let advertisers target MySpace users.

-- Yet, MySpace, Facebook and similar social-networking sites are struggling to prove that they can move beyong the hype and into mainstream marketing.

-- This year will be the first when Emmy awards will be given for outstanding original programming for computers, cellphones and other hand-held devices. Tune into your PDA on April 22 for the name of the winner.

-- Disney is launching a massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on the Pirates of the Caribbean.

--------------- ADVERTISING ---------------

-- MySpace has been hosting live music concerts - "secret shows" - relying solely on word-of-mouth promotion. To receive tickets and notifications for secret shows, which are not recorded or broadcast, users must add the "SecretShow" profile to their list of friends and place in a "top 8" position.

-- Seattle PI looks into what makes nostalgia ads tick.

--------------- TECHNOLOGY ---------------

-- A web design blog looks at the future of a more connected web and wonders about the new search engines, an online marketplace, and solutions for phishing and spam.

-- A South Korean company called Iljin Display has developed a coin-size laser video projector module that can fit into portable gadgets such as mobile phones and digital cameras.

-- Orb released new DVR Everywhere technology: "Now TiVo DVR users can play and program their television recordings for free anywhere in the world from a wide range of networked devices -- including work PCs, WiFi-enabled laptops around the home, and mobile phones on any carrier network."

--------------- QUOTE OF THE WEEK ---------------

"As Marshall McLuhan taught us, the medium really is the message. TV sells TV, Paris Hilton sells Paris Hilton, and sneakers sell sneakers. TV's liberation from advertisers shouldn't have sent brands running to find a new unrelated medium on which to promote themselves; their panicked migration to the Internet, cell phones, or movie product placements only bespeaks a lack of faith in the selling power of the products, themselves."

Douglas Rushkoff

--------------- C3 CONFERENCE ---------------

Do confirm your attendance for the C3 conference at the soonest possible. We're looking forward to seeing you at MIT soon!


Thursday, April 27

MIT Museum.

2 pm – 2.20 pm. Opening Remarks
Welcome address by Henry Jenkins (MIT) and Beth Coleman (MIT).

2.20 pm – 3 pm. Session 1: Media in Transition
Looking back… looking ahead, with William Uricchio (MIT).

Bartos Auditorium, The Media Lab.

5 pm – 7 pm. Session 2 (CMS Colloquium): Notions of Loyalty within Brand and Fan Cultures
Ian Condry (MIT) and Robert Kozinets (York College, Canada) tell us why companies should adopt a collaborationist rather than prohibitionist logic in responding to their most committed consumers, in a session moderated by Henry Jenkins.

R&D Pub, The Stata Center

7.30 pm – 9 pm. Opening Night Reception

Friday April 28

Tang Center (Building E51), Room 315

9 am – 9.30 am: Breakfast

9.30 am – 10.30 am. Session 3: Changing The Way You Think of Us
Shenja van der Graaf (London School of Economics) discusses how web 2.0 is impacting content creation, delivery, marketing, and consumer relations, identifying some of the pioneering companies playing in this space and the best practices which keep them ahead of the game.

10.30 am – 11.30 am. Session 4: Of Brands and Sailing Ships
Grant McCracken offers us a "sailing ship" model of the brand.

11.30 am – Noon. Coffee & Conversation Break

Noon – 1 pm Session 5: Niche Try!: Minority Taste, Minority Politics
Long Tail economics depends on targeting ever more precise niches of consumers. But how well do media companies know the people who are consuming their products? And how can they align their interests with those of their consumers? Hugo Liu (MIT) and John Campbell (Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania) dig deep.

1 pm – 2 pm. Lunch Break

2 pm – 3.30 pm. Session 6: I'm Getting Desi: The Globalization of Media
American television flows East and Asian media flows West. But what does it all mean? How can we predict what content works and what doesn't as we move into a global media marketplace? An Australian researcher, Joshua Green (Queensland University of Technology) tells us what it means to watch American series from an Australian perspective, while Aswin Punathambekar (University of Wisconsin, Madison) tells us how and why Bollywood Inc. is now a major player world-wide and how it can take the next steps and reach an even broader audience.

3.30 pm – 4 pm. Coffee & Conversation Break

4 pm – 5.30 pm. Session 7: Doing Business in Multiplayer Game Worlds
A discussion about the challenges and opportunities of marketing and branding within MMOPRGS with David Edery (MIT), Paul Hemp (Harvard Business Review), Ilya Vedrashko (MIT) and Chris Weaver (MIT), moderated by Henry Jenkins.

5.30 pm – 7:00 pm. Session 8: Closing Brainstorming
A free flowing brainstorming, led by Beth Coleman.

Saturday April 29

Stella Room, Rogers Building (Building 7) Room 337
9.30 am –10.30 am Networking Breakfast
Informal breakfast and networking session.

Compiled by Ilya, Geoff, Sam and Parmesh
Edited and signed off by Ilya (ivv@mit.edu)

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