November 17, 2007
FoE2: Advertising and Convergence Culture

The second panel of the day was on Advertising and Convergence Culture. Speakers included Mike Rubenstein of the Barbarian Group, Baba Shetty of Hill/Holliday, Tina Wells of Buzz Marketing Group, Faris Yakob from Naked Communications, and Bill Fox of Fidelity Investments.

The panelists talked about the challenges and successes that they have encountered as marketers and advertisers in a convergent media environment, the problem of relinquishing total control over brands, user generated content and social media.

Live blogging for this session are Kevin Driscoll, Xiaochang Li, and Eleanor Baird.

Joshua Green: I'd like to start out by having each of you tell us, in this environment, what's keeping you up at night?

Mike Rubenstein: The biggest thing for barbarian group right now is switching gears, getting into massive minds much faster. That's, whatever, video games and stuff.

Bill Fox: Manages inhouse ad agency at Fidelity, and manage relationships with external agencies. What keeps him up at night, works at financial services -- and how to keep on top of serving the needs of a diverse group of customers, ranging from young folks to those 77 years plus, how do you keep it real from media perspective, how do you keep the language right and keep up with language changes. Making the connection is good for the company, and we need to keep ahead of the curve.

Faris Yakob: Normally my job at Naked Communications is to pretend to understand how the interactivity impacts what we do. The internet and how we fit in. How can we learn the allocation of attention in order to sell products.

Tina Wells: What I think about is what do teens, tweens, and young adults want from marketers? Why do 10 year old girls like High School Musical? What makes things cool or uncool?

Baba Shetty: represents Hill/Holliday. I think about the way we structure things there; is we've got this full service media offering, and how we try to incorporate digital and social thinking into that group Instead of separate silos, we try to think of it as all one offering. What keeps me at night is how to manage the whole situation - there are lots of cool things going on, and the key question is picking the path that's going to help a big agency with existing clients and manage the transition. Recruiting "ninja-like" people is a critical part of what we need to do.

Joshua Green: How do you think convergence is affecting value of different ad sites? In some sense, is it bringing them together?

Baba Shetty: When I came into the business, people were just realizing media could be anything. There are elements that are not as welcome, like ambient invasion and urban spamming that have had an impact on the thinking. People have a presumption of control over their collection of stuff. In some ways, the Internet diminishes value of individual sites.

Mike Rubenstein: From the brand side, people are more protective of how they convey themselves. YouTube associates videos with other videos, and they don't want that association. It's hard to find that middle ground where people feel their brand is safe.

Bill Fox: You don't want to abdicate control of your brand. In convergence it can dilute and build up again - it's all very fluid. At the same time, you want to get out there because you want to create that viral aspect, and it can create buzz, but the threat of negative buzz is always there too. Assessing value is a hard concept to reckon with because it can change within the same day, within the same hour. It's hard to put the word value in that context. Doesn't stay steady long enough to put a value quotient on it.

Tina Wells: We're finding out that to get the same number of eyeballs, we have to go to twenty places instead of one. When you're looking at brand equity, these shows themselves are the brands, however they were consumed. You're talking about brand compatibility. Looking at questions such as, what does our brand stand for, and what are the brands of the channels we're broadcasting on? When does it get to a point where it's appropriate it and how do we monitor it? What if something happens in ways that we can't control? What are my brand attributes and what are these different channel attributes?

Baba Shetty: Value is very important. We've heard today about the dominance of Nielsen, the notion of big audiences for impression delivery, and their singular value. There is a difference on the spectrum between impression and behavior, but the truth is that when you're in an over-scheduled world in which people are constantly making decisions about what to choose to do next, we look for a common vocabulary. It gets dumbed down very quickly.

It's common to go into a client discussion where you can have a half hour about how you're going to spend 6m dollars on television, and it's like: These spots. These programs. What do you think? Great!

On the other hand, a social media effort often takes ninety minutes of discussion for and hour and half discussion that's inconclusive, and where the outcome might be to spend $200,000.

Joshua Green: You guys all have very, very different clients, could you talk about a success you had and how you approached them?

Mike Rubenstein: was a challenge and a success because it was a different scale, a different kind of site for us. It was really interesting because they have this fan base, people who are really enthusiastic about their products and enthusiastically want to talk about the brand. They're really cool because they're into figuring out what people like and don't like, and are committed to talking with customers about their brand. It's really cool to see an enthusiastic group of people, and to have something there is that back and forth. It's great to see.

Bill Fox: One interesting example is the active trader summit. The people who trade like hell all the time some for livelihood, others as a hobby. It's a subculture with a whole different language and we need a different way to approach these folks. We get these people to come to these seminars is through direct mail and email. They're constantly on their monitors, constantly looking for research, constantly looking for an edge and new ways to understand market and market dynamics. They love to dialogue face-to-face and be online. It's multitasking on steroids. We have to be very careful of what we use because of legal restrictions. It's been interesting, the dynamics, it's also a case study in just how much we can't bring the culture together and diffuse that info and make sure that info isn't taken out of context so that the company doesn't get in trouble by having it's name attached to bad advice. It's wonderful case study in terms of looking at direct market and real info exchange.

Faris Yakob: I try to get my clients to abandon this idea of control. Right now, it's about re-appropriation of 'brand text' to make things more interesting and more valuable to the audience.

[Shows video of a case study of broadcaster -- a program on E4 in the UK] In some ways it was really easy for that kind of activity to work because Skins, that particular show, was written by people under 21 years old and allowed audiences to engage with it in a way that made sense. Enabling audiences to re-imagine a logo is something that brands are reluctant to do because their brand image is wrapped in this sort of crystalline structure, but letting people do what they want with it is richer.

Tina Wells: Worked with an MTV music awards sponsor, where the goal was to get people to download content and get a free trial certificate. Last year we spent 4 million and only had 5000 downloads. There we saw the need to do something different, and viral. They created Hampton High, not a webisode but anadvertorial called a "stylisode". To drive people to the website and getting them involved, they posting on blogs and created events on Facebook. Now they have 40,000 downloads.

Initially it was a problem of engagement, and it wasn't clear how to engage people and what to do once they were engaged. When you're online, and you have to click through to one more page, it makes sense. You don't necessarily want to go to your computer when you're watching TV. PNG is going online for tween girls. We still need tradition and we still need TV obviously, but we also need to broaden it with what we do online to make it make sense.

Baba Shetty: We've done a bunch of programs that point to solutions. Just to get a corporation to open up two-way communication with a community that isn't scripted is really hard, because there are no established rules around it. The notion of control -- a lot of good marketers have to reconcile themselves that they don't have control anymore. We listened to how early efforts work, how people used and appropriated it for their own purposes.

A challenge we faced is that insurance is a low-interest category -- there are not a lot of insurance fanboys. A couple of structures are in place in the conversations around insurance -- like the parent and child interaction. Allstate approaches it as a "we'll take care of you" message. But if you don't care as much about it, the GEICO approach of "get a quote, get on with it". And the caveman is very entertaining and attracts attention.

There's an opportunity for an adult-to-adult conversation around insurance - it's a pretty serious thing. Liberty Mutual's headquarters have stone mantra in their lobby. Their campaign was primarily traditional, but it had participatory components., was created to promote questions about what is the right thing to do, versus the easy thing to do. There were skeptical clients at first, but you had thousands of people weighing in. They got that people do want to engage. We had a couple of classes who remade the spot in their classroom. There was a kind of complete, unstated reaction to the prevailing winds of consumer culture, not necessarily celebrity obsessed. It's not a bright, shiny object. It is the core of their campaign, a multi-part, very transmedia of associating this company with this value, creating community around that.

Joshua Green: Question from the BackChannel: "The more advertising shapeshifts into entertainment, how 'qualified' is the audience as potential customers? e.g. I love Bud.TV's 'Swear Jar' video, but I wouldn't drink Budweiser if they paid me." (Dan Sicko (see-koh), Organic) What are your comments on that, the relationship between advertising messages and content?

Tina Wells: The climate for this discussion is the writer's strike. We keep hearing that content is king, and we keep hearing about the idea of branded entertainment and what it means. What's the role that advertisers could play? Why are creatives giving money to networks when they can go to a company and say that they have an idea for a show and ask the advertiser for funding. A client at a consumer packaged goods company said they might not go to upfronts anymore - it's just a way that networks try to get us to spend money.

The advertising community is thinking in a new way, because this idea of content is really important. We're trying to get our clients to think of shows as brands, and that you can watch ads many times, but not ever buy the product. The message needs to get out, but there are only so many channels -- branded entertainment might be one of them.

Joshua Green: Will exclusive Gossip Girl content drive people to add VCAST service to their mobile plan?

Faris Yakob: One fundamental thing is moving towards branded entertainment. Models were to interrupt entertainment, but now the tools are there to skip those disruptions, so you invade the entertainment space. But that's not necessarily useful either. We have to deliver some other value to earn that attention. People don't read ads, they read things that interest them and sometimes those things happen to be ads. The other thing, perhaps more fundamental thing, is does generating attention, familiarity, actually led to sales? It's hard to answer, we can show you that people like it and that it's selling, but connecting the two is difficult.

Bill Fox: If the entertainment value is great, but doesn't mean anything unless it has relevance. For example, if a non-beer drinker is entertained by a Bud ad, they still aren't buying the beer. If they're seeing it, that's great, but the advertiser is trying to gain a sale. It does build up. If that person non-beer drinker mentions the ad to a beer-drinking friend, value is added. The point is just to make sure that there's not an improper balance of entertainment versus what is relevant and what you're trying to sell.

Faris Yakob: But that model is breaking down. The gorilla commercial, destroys that completely. [Shows Cadbury Gorilla commercial.] What do we sort of do now?

Mike Rubenstein: There a lot to be said for just generating goodwill. At least getting people to feel neutral is still something positive.

Baba Shetty: The line that agency has used for years to clients, is the economic leverage from creativity. There's a lot of similarities for political decision making. For example, there's the model of the voter as a rational policy wonk who engages in an issue-by-issue evaluation. But what really happens is some sort of emotional connection that happens very quickly and intuitively. Policy matters but for many voters there is an important subtext. It's not just about what the stump speech says. And that's true for what brands and advertisers do. Consider that moment of truth when someone is about to buy something. Afterward, people will tell you why they did it, but they make stuff up. They're not really sure why -- it's somewhat complex. There's a thing about having some humility in the advertising world. There is amongst clients of a view of pulling the puppet strings and beaming stuff into people's heads. But people don't feel that way. One of the big transitions in marketing is not just saying stuff, but doing stuff.

Joshua Green: We're oscillating around a proposition about brand entertainment. Take a minute to talk about potentials and opportunities.

Bill Fox: We aggregate info from sites. The line is drawn when you are making a recommendation to somebody. You want to outline choices and options, educate folks. A lot of folks want to think about it until they have a life-changing event. Once they are in the Fidelity fold, people tend to refer back to financial websites. We like to educate, we don't want to tell people what to think, we want them to educate themselves and figure out what to do, with a specialist. There's a social responsibility there too.

Joshua Green: Keep seeing a question on the board - in early days of TV we had branded entertainment, are we returning to that, and might it be different than in the past?

Tina Wells: We've been talking to clients about mindset marketing and they've begun to understand this. It started 5 years ago about the urban consumer -- we had to talk in mindsets -- it's beyond demos, a way of doing things. We must investigate the mindsets of consumers, and plan around those mindsets. What's most important for the consumer -- do they want to be entertained? They will go into stores when something there is of interests. Soap operas came from the branded entertainment model. Agencies help to translate dialog to content that targets the consumer.

Faris Yakob: There are increasingly diverse iterations about what all of this is trying to achieve - to deliver value and do stuff. We want to contribute to people and do nice things - so don't be capitalist tools. It's about branded utility - service value in the form of marketing, which should not just be adjacent but part of your brand. For example, Charmin toilets in Times Square are very powerful. Also, Nike in London started running communities and clubs and sells trainers in a way that delivers value to people we want to talk to.

Bill Fox: We never moved away from notion of value. Think of branded stadiums, e.g. Gillette Stadium. Ads do what branded TV did, not owning outright but own segue into it -- many entertainment vehicles are part of the equation. The medium has shifted, but none of the elements have gone away. It's just that before television, radio had the same thing. It's just the medium has shifted, radio to TV to internet and other channels, but it hasn't gone away.

Baba Shetty: In the past, things were more heavily branded than they are now, written into the script and promoted in obvious ways that would make our skin crawl today.

Faris Yakob: This very postmodern thing happening when you are watching something and know that it's sponsored. What's different about this? The thing that's different is that we don't have to do it. The same tools of production that work for the consumers also worked for the agencies and the marketers. An example is the big directors they got for BMW films without involving studios, networks, and distributors. Is it fraught with peril? Yes, entertainment is hard to do and do well - you need only look at the "batting averages" of the people that have tried to do it. You have to think about building and collaborating.

Mike Rubenstein: It's not just about owning the show anymore, but it's much more about including aspects of the brand throughout the show. The shows not just brought to you by, but the show is ABOUT who it was brought to you by.

Mike Rubenstein: An example is Subservient Chicken: they were trying something new, something that engaged people, very lightly branding and making something cool just for the sake of being cool and trusting the value there to make the brand popular. That's all there is to it. [Describes Subservient Chicken site, we pull it up on screen.] The idea is you come to a site with almost no branding on it, and make it intriguing enough so people want to come back again. How much time do you want to spend on a site, and do you send it to your friends? There are ways you can count that and ways that you can't. It comes back to making that experience interesting and fun. You can't fool people too long. They need to be really drawn in and engaged on a pretty substantial level.

Bill Fox: It's so underproduced.

Faris Yakob: The aesthetic is kind of like porn.

Mike Rubenstein: The interesting thing about this, you've got the copyright and you've got Burger King . But it's there and it is what it is.

Joshua Green: But what is the value of this, what is it good for?

Mike Rubenstein: For us as a company or...? (Laughter ensues.)

Mike Rubenstein: It's about goodwill. People think, "Burger King is cool." There must be value in seeing the success of one thing and then building a franchise around it.

Joshua Green: If the purpose of something like this is just to create buzz, why is negative buzz a problem?

Tina Wells: We work for people who spend every day of their life crafting a brand, and the brand is who you are. It's important. Maintaining that differentiates companies from one another. It is who they are.

Bill Fox: It takes so long to dig yourself out of a hole. There's a real inherent conservativeness. If you create a situation with your audience and you bring it down, they get angry about it and it's hard to bring it up again. One negative experience can override many positive experiences.

Joshua Green: I often hear that this is a conversation. If so, why is the brand the only party who gets to talk?

Faris Yakob: We're shifting from monologue to dialogue. If you ask people to contribute and talk to you, and you don't act on that contribution, it's worse.

Faris Yakob: I recommend to all clients that they type their brand same plus "sucks" into a search engine and see what people are saying about them. You'll probably find out about hundreds or thousands that have a problem with you - some are legitimate complaints that you can engage in dialogue, some are not. Why is Nike associated with child labor and not Adidas?

Bill Fox: Fidelity very famously ignored a blogger with a problem, we're not listening, we're not paying attention. Today, they have a very public blog. If you're really listening and the only way you're responding is marketing, it's not really listening.

Joshua Green: What's the role for user comments? How do you manage brands in social media?

Tina Wells: How do you get product information? Kids are getting sophisticated information with regard to ethical spending from the web now. It's a discussion that we didn't have before. The question is how do I protect what I've created over here while making sure you're still engaged?

Bill Fox: At Fidelity, we talk often about retiring baby boomers. It's a great vehicle for us but it tells us how much we
don't know about that space. For us it really is a way to understand what it is that folks don't understand.

Mike Rubenstein: User-Generated Content -- we don't have a great way of dealing with that yet. Everyone wants it but no one has a way of dealing with it. How much do you want the visitors on your site exposed to the bad reviews? You can have someone moderating 24-7. A lot of it comes down to the brand. Some are able to take the bad with the good, but it's constantly tricky. I don't think anyone is comfortable enough with the reality to go forward with it.

Faris Yakob: It's misguided. The tools of creativity are democratized, that's true, but creativity is hard. If you can provide people some content and dismantle it to give them the opportunity to re-imagine it and remix it. That has more currency than saying "can you make me an ad so I can get rid of my expensive agency?"

Tina Wells: And it's about how do we have that conversation. There is a recipe but how do we start talking about that? And who is to say what ingredients go into it?

Faris Yakob: It's about the process more than the product, and how we incorporate people into what parts of that process.

Tina Wells: This is an interesting moment. People are very voyeuristic and curious about the private lives of public individuals. This has an effect on their experience of content.

Joshua Green: How to we have to shift to deal with the reality that people are going to dig and find things out and pick things apart? How does it change things?

Faris Yakob We like giving names to things because that's what we do.

Baba Shetty: Much of the user generated content is coming from people who want to break into advertising and filmmaking so it's not really democratic. On social networks, the notion of showing things on your profile is really different then just saying to people - OK, now you do it.

Baba Shetty: Social media thing is really broad, and lots of people are jumping in without really knowing what it is. Facebook is really interesting. Collaborative filtering, and what Facebook's genius is, is the newsfeed - you can see what all of your friends are doing. Brand interaction in that context could count as a type of referral.

Mike Rubenstein We've seen a lot of Facebook activity. You get brands who, before they made the leap into UGC, looked into what these things were and how to protect themselves against it, then campaigned strategically to meet those potential issues.

You need to be able to change your infrastructure to respond to these things, but before that, you need to have a strategy to deal with it, because it will be said. You can't just be the way you are - you need to move with change.

Tina Wells: One of the most interesting conceptions of the market is that we are overmarketing - people want smart engagement, they want you to make their lives easier and give them what they want. Kids are okay with coke machines in schools because they gave them something that they wanted and made their lives easier, they didn't
have to sell coupon books or candy to play sports now.

Faris Yakob: Have ability to allocate large amounts of money to do things with social relevance and help people.

Joshua Green: What about Tide though? It's detergent. Where is the social purpose?

Tina Wells: Why can't Tide, if I'm a new college student, tell me how to not turn my white clothes black in the wash. For example, CSG sites like, are providing information that the audience wants and needs. It's about providing people what they need.

Bill Fox: I'm a little skeptical of corporate advertising - kids are really brand sensitive. They are skeptical, they have more information, and they are becoming savvy enough to sift through it, and they are resistant.

Tina Wells: Young people are cynical, skeptical, savvy. They know which brands they want.

Faris Yakob: Brands are established cultural references, so they can do these things - they are part of the landscape and useful references for delivering messages. We can't go back to the 60's and say "Brands are bad."

Tina Wells: Young people are searching for identity. It's about how they define themselves. Kids are defined by what they wear, and advertising won't influence that much. Ask a 16-year-old boy to wear no name sneakers. Branding is part of that formation of identity. There is a site that allows people to decide what advertisements they want on their page. This also brings in the creative element for young people, brands are really important to kids that age.

Mike Rubenstein: Bring it to people's level - give them something they want to talk about. Most satisfying is work that is targeted to people with similar interests to core audience - message going to peer group.