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If like me, you are getting weary of TV ads that misuse and abuse hashtags, and get excited about those that do it right, then read my opinion piece published today in B&T magazine about the do’s and don’ts of ‘hashtag marketing’.

And as nothing beats walking the walk, I have even thrown in some best-in class examples for good measure (and much needed inspiration on this side of the world).

I would love to hear from you about your own experience (and perhaps frustrations) of being subjected to hashtag madness, and of any good or bad examples you may have come across recently – whatever part of the world you are in, get in touch!

Here in Beautiful Australia, advertisers and agencies are still getting to grips with it. They will get there eventually. Thanks to those of us who know better, stand up and shout.

I recently listened to an interview with Film Director Danny Boyle, held at this year’s SXSW.

He spoke about the democratization of film-making, how easy it is for a new generation of film-makers to distribute their content on the web direct to the public (which I liken to self e-publishing for wannabe writers), and the fact that anyone with a smartphone camera can now create footage on the fly that may well end up one day on prime time TV news.

One other comment he made that resonated with me was his prediction on the future of movie-making.

According to him, soon, we will be given the license to re-edit movies ourselves, potentially leading to a ‘’whole new art form” – just in the same way as we are able to create new music tracks by remixing existing ones. This point reminded me of what has started happening with crowd-sourced advertising.

Crowdsourcing of user-Generated Content (UGC) for advertising or promotional purposes is nothing new. However, it was recently taken to another level by Ford and Coca Cola. These 2 companies are empowering their fans on creating content in new and bold ways, whilst being careful to retain some control over the final outputs.

At the start of the year, Ford announced its plan to recruit 100 new brand ‘’agents’’ (as they are known), all handpicked and socially-connected, to produce the next campaign for its 2014 Fiesta – that is 12 months worth of ads entirely generated by consumers…! Daring and ground breaking at the same time. And this is where it all starts if you wish to put yourself forward as a wannabe ad exec: simply go to fiestamovement.com to register (good luck! ☺).

This move stays true to the car marker’s existing reputation as one of the most social marketers. I see it as the natural continuation of its Ford Fiesta Movement kicked off 4 years, when 100 social “agents” were then recruited within the target audience to create content about their own driving experiences for seeding on social media.

This year’s campaign however ups the ante as it empowers the selected lucky few a lot more than previously. Their video clips will not only appear on social media but also on other media. They could be used as TV or online commercials, repurposed as digital, social media or press ads (generating substantial production cost savings in the process no doubt). Obviously, the casting of these agents is managed tightly by the advertiser as a number of filters and parameters for recruits to work within will apply. These are necessary to ensure all content created is indeed on brand and achieves the campaign objectives in terms of awareness, social media buzz (shareability and virality), hand-raisers and ultimately sales wins. However Ford also insists that it will be careful not to interfere too much with the creative process by giving its agents greater ownership and license than usual.

Meanwhile, Coca Cola also appears to be on a mission to redefine UGC as it continues to seek to create closer ties with its target audience by crowd-sourcing pop song writing in its latest campaign, the Perfect Harmony Programme. The programme was developed in partnership with Fox’s “American Idol” and lets you create a song with pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen. Each week you can vote on which of the proposed lyrics you want to see featuring in sections of the song, and each vote unlocks exclusive content. You also get entered into a prize draw for a chance to win a trip to the “American Idol” season finale and other related treats.

… And as I threw my vote in for week 1 of the campaign, I couldn’t help notice (with great delight!) that at any time Coca Cola didn’t force me to like their Facebook page to participate. Consistent with Coca Cola’s approach to creating genuine connections with its fans.

Now, let’s go back to Danny Boyle’s comment on the future of film making with both of these examples in mind.

I would say that the future of film making will not only be about empowering fans and wannabe film makers to remix existing movies, but also about letting fans and the public at large contribute to creating an entire storyline from scratch, in partnership with a brand, established film studio and/or film marker – with this collaboration simply enabled by the web and social media.

And this has already started happening to some extent. CollabFeature has been leading the way by allowing a collective of independent film makers all over the world to co-create, co-direct and produce feature films by simply collaborating online via a bespoke platform. Their first film, The Owner, won the German IPTV award for innovative format in 2012 and beat the Guinness World Record for most directors of a film with 25 directors directing from 13 countries.

The next logical instalment of this could be to see a brand (Red Bull and its media & content division, Red Bull Media House, come to mind) partner with an established film maker (or music artist) on crowdsourcing a storyline (or lyrics) for a feature film (or song) in a similar fashion i.e. by completely opening up the content creation process to their fans and wider public – not just to a limited crowd of professionals or within constraining parameters (e.g. choosing from ready-made lyrics). The idea would be to let the consumer be in the driving seat with the brand and film maker (or music artist) providing guidance only.

You then end up with a three-way partnership between an advertiser, a film maker (or artist) and their fans and consumers co-creating entertainment together for the enjoyment of the wider public. The key challenge will be to let consumers drive or at least have an equal share of voice in the project. This also throws all sorts of questions over whom ultimately owns that content. However the legal hurdles seem to be worthwhile as to my knowledge, this type of partnership is unheard of (let me know if you know otherwise) and yet, is in my view the ultimate brand-consumer connection to aim for.

A couple of weeks ago, I touched on Coca Cola’s latest foray into social TV with its 2013 Super Bowl’s Mirage Big Game ad campaign. Although it did experience a few glitches on D Day, there is no doubt Mirage is one of the most sophisticated and successful social TV campaigns to date, having generated over 11 million fan engagements according to Coca Cola.

In a nutshell, the campaign starts with a TV ad that kicks off a story (the story of 3 teams competing for an iced Coke bottle in the middle of the desert). That story is in fact a game that unfolds over 3 stages (pre, during and post Super Bowl game), and plays out simultaneously across the small screen and the social Web, as TV viewers get to choose how the story ends by voting for their favourite team on the campaign site and the brand’s social media channels.

Before Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz used Twitter in a similar fashion in its UK #YOUDRIVE TV advertising campaign at the end of last year. The campaign let viewers choose the ending of a 3-part story on the new A Class model that played during commercial breaks in the “X Factor” show. According to research conducted by Twitter UK, Mercedes Benz and ITV, the integration of Twitter into the TV ads had a positive impact on the brand’s metrics and 71% of the tweets generated contained the campaign hashtags with 1 in 4 wanting to find out more about the car.

By combining dynamic story telling, gamification and social media interaction, both campaigns are great examples of TV ads linking to a social conversation – and back. Traditionally a passive consumption experience, they reinvent TV advertising by letting the audience take control of the content and viewing experience.

These campaigns are just two examples of how social TV works. There are plenty more as social TV tends to vary in complexity of the execution and may extend out beyond Twitter and Facebook to include advertiser-owned platforms.

At its most basic – the broadcast of tweets in real time during a TV programme is one of the most prevalent forms of social TV e.g. when the ABC’s TV programme Q&A takes questions and reactions live from TV viewers via Twitter back onto the small screen – a simple yet effective way of maximizing audience participation.

At the other end of the spectrum – we have companion apps such as Zeebox or Yahoo7! Fango that go a step further by centralizing all social conversations about one or multiple shows in one place, serving up related content in real time, and rewarding users for their loyalty with exclusive content or prizes.

Whichever way you go about social TV, the one common denominator and pre-requisite to its success is the brand’s ability to tell a compelling story that everyone wants to talk about. In other words, without cut-through content there is no social buzz, no social TV.

Why is social TV so much on the rise? (and here to stay.)

It leverages what has become second nature to most of us: our second screen behaviour. Or put simply, the fact that most TV viewers are using a second screen (tablet, mobile or desktop) whilst watching TV.

Which begs the question: what do they do on that second screen?

According to a recent Yahoo!7 survey into the viewing habits of Australians, 43% use social media whilst watching TV, with a large number of them posting on Facebook about what they are watching.

Twitter is the other big favourite destination for our TV-related banter to take place – so much so that it fully embraces TV as an integral part of its corporate future – why buy Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics start up that tracks conversations about brands and TV shows, if for no other reason?

In other words, Facebook and Twitter have become the perfect companions to TV shows and ads. By enabling a shared viewing experience with friends, likeminded fans and viewers as well as 1:1 conversations with our favourite brands and shows, they have in essence redefined the home entertainment experience for most of us.

But are all brands equal in front of social TV?

At first, it appears not. A recent report reveals that Television shows are amongst the most liked Facebook pages, closely followed by Retail fashion and Food brands. This makes social TV an opportunity not to be missed for brands in these categories given their target audiences’ propensity to congregate in social forums.
However, thinking about it some more, it is not so much the category that is a driver in my opinion, but I would argue the brand’s ability to effectively use social media in the first place.
If the brand does a great job out of it i.e it has a clear, single-minded social media strategy and purpose (e.g. promote the overall business – ref. Shell, provide customer service – ref. US retailers, promote a lifestyle – ref. Red Bull etc.) and the resource behind it (talent and $$), then any brand can have a shot at social TV.

And how about measurement I hear you say?

As the TV viewing experience evolves to integrate social media platforms, measurement metrics for TV programmes and ads have to evolve too.

Audience reach can no longer be judged on traditional TV ratings only; new measurement metrics need to be introduced to capture user engagement across social media platforms and devices as the story plays out on the small screen and triggers conversations on the second screen (Nielsen US is ahead of the pack in that respect as it makes it its mission to devise new metrics for TV consumption).

All in all, I think social TV is brilliant news for advertisers, creative and media agencies alike.

Not only does it give TV as a medium greater accountability and further proof that the (costly) investment is worthwile, it also gives TV advertising and the TV viewing experience as a whole a new lease of life.

A lot of ink has been spilled in the press on Microsoft’s lost decade (and also on its unpopular leader’s antics). Nowadays, the once game changer is mainly known for loosing the race against innovation with its underwhelming product launches and poor attempts at copying others with inferior products. And so with this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to read about the latest proof of concept from its research team: IllumiRoom – a technology that “augments the area surrounding the television screen with projected visualizations”. The pilot premiered at the CES last month and if it ever goes to market, it may well redefine not just the gaming experience but also home entertainment as a whole – I am no gamer but I could see myself watching Avatar in 3D IllumiRoom-style and loving it!

How successful the technology will be largely depends on which commercial uses Microsoft intend to make of it, its mass appeal and adoption potential by content creators amongst other hurdles. For now however, it is said to be the most advanced and user-friendly use of immersive imaging compared to earlier efforts reliant on similar techniques (e.g. see the over-the-top Peugeot Emotion & Motion show, or check out Sony’s DIY AR-room projection videos here).

Here is to hoping that something good comes out of Microsoft’s latest effort, that its concept sees the light of the day and gives the giant some of its past glory back…

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