I read with interest remarks by Maurice Levy (pictured) on how he thinks about life after the failure of the Omnicom -Publicis merger.
“We have a strategy, and we will accelerate that strategy. It calls for strengthening our digital operations to reach 50% of our revenue [from 40% currently], and investing in big data and accelerating the capabilities we have in integration.”
Levy knows much more about the industry and about Publicis than I ever will and I defer to his greater knowledge. But I have to say these remarks sent a chill through me.
There’s no question that the digital revolution continues and that it will change everything we know about marketing, advertising and communications.
It is also true, as I have been laboring to show the last couple of days, that there is a revolution taking place in old media as well. TV is changing at light speed. (See posts here, here, and here.)
It looks as if Levy is concentrating more on the digital revolution than the TV revolution. To be sure, this is a bias that has swept through the advertising business. A new generation came up, insisting that it was now going to be all digital advertising all the time, that the 30 second spot was done for, and that TV was now just another victim of the technological revolution. New media fundamentalists scorn old media and especially TV.
(Just to be clear, I am no old media apologist. My book Culturematic assumes new media. No culturematic is possible without new media as a means and an end.)
The trouble with new media fundamentalism is that it misses what is perhaps the single biggest story concerning popular culture in the last 10 years. Against the odds, and in the teeth of the hostility of the chattering classes, TV got better.
And this revolution means several things. That consumers as viewers are getting steadily smarter. That they are now accustomed to and expectant of a new order of story telling. I think it’s far to say that old media is still better at telling stories than new media. This is another way of saying that old media (both TV and advertising) may have been trailing new media…but that they suddenly caught up.
I know some readers are going to take this as the voice of reaction, an attempt to return the old order to former glory. So just to be clear. I’m NOT saying that old media is better than new media. What I am saying is that those who now diminish old media because of the rise and great success of new media are missing something. And just to be really clear: as cultural creatives, as content creators, whether they like it or not, new media fundamentalists can’t afford to make this error. They are after all in the business of NOT MISSING THINGS, ESPECIALLY THINGS AS BIG AS THIS. Sorry for shouting, but there is a new media orthodoxy in place and shouting is sometimes called for.
And no, this is not an argument that says advertising was perfect just the way it was. There is work to be done in the world of old media, lots of work. Remember when the ads on a show were often better than the show? These days have mostly passed. Now the ad surrounded a show looks shouty, simple minded and a little clueless. Like it doesn’t know what is going on around it. Like a revolution took place and the brand and the advertiser didn’t notice. Oh, if there is something that is NOT ALLOWED in the branding and advertising business, it’s not noticing.
So it’s not as if anyone wants us to go back to old media circa Mad Men and the 1950s. Old media must now evolute as ferociously as new media. To catch up. To keep up. That revolution on TV tells us that our culture is changing in ways no one anticipated at speeds no one thought possible. And anyone in the communications game (using old media or new media) is going to have evolve in something like real time.
Our culture is becoming a hot house. Those who want to contribute will have to flourish to do so. It makes me think of that Wieden and Kennedy moment after a recent SuperBowl. W+K had floated that Old Spice ad and as they looked at the tidal wave of online content they have provoked, they thought, “Damn. Better get on this.”
A group of them retired to a building somewhere and just started turning stuff out. Call and response. Call and response. Real time marketing.
This may be where we are headed. There are so many things in play, and they are moving at such speed, concatenating in ways we can’t anticipated, this is perhaps not the time to up your digital bet, Mr. Levy. In this very dynamic world, we want to use all our media all the time.
I am doing a Culture Camp in London June 13. Here’s the description. Please join us!
This culture camp is designed to do two things:
1) expand your knowledge of the big changes transforming culture.
2) develop your ability to put this knowledge into action.
Culture is at the core of the creative’s professional competence. It is the well from which inspirations and innovations spring. It’s one reason startups and corporations need the cultural creative. This culture camp is designed to enhance your personal creativity and professional practice.
1. Knowledge of culture
We will look at 10 events shaping culture.
Half are structural changes.
1.1 The end of status as the great motive of mainstream culture.
1.2 The end of cool as the great driver of alternative culture.
1.3 The movement between dispersive cultures and convergent cultures.
1.4 The movement between fast cultures and slow cultures.
1.5 The shift from a “no knowledge” culture to a “new knowledge” culture.
Half are trends:
1.6 transformations in the domestic world (aka homeyness to great rooms)
1.7 transformations in the scale and logic of consumer expectation (from the industrial to the artisanal)
1.8 shifts from old networks to new networks (especially for Millennials)
1.9 shifts from single selves to multiple selves (especially for Millennials)
1.10 [this one is ‘top secret’ and will be revealed on the day]
2. Using our knowledge of culture
2.1 how to discover culture (using ethnography)
2.2 how to track and analyze culture (using anthropology)
2.3 how to hack culture (making memes)
2.4 how to build a brand
2.5 how to make ourselves indispensable to the corporation
Culture Camp is being sponsored by Design Management Institute and coincides with their London meetings. It is also being sponsored by Truth. (Special thanks to Leanne Tomasevic.)
The image is from Yanko Tsvetkov’s Atlas of Prejudice 2. I am keen to stage the culture camp in Tomato Europe, Wine and Vodka Europe, Olive Oil Europe, and of course Coffee Europe. Please let me know if you are interested in participating or sponsoring.
Culture Camp will be held 9:00 to 5:00 on June 13 at the Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, as below. (Register for the Culture Camp here. You don’t have to be a DMI or RIBA member to do so.
And he’s right. We act as editors for one another. We see something, we say something…on Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, LinkedIn and elsewhere.
But he’s wrong. I bet he misses things. I know I do. Plus, some things can’t get into new media. They just don’t.
Take TV. We watch a lot of TV. And my Netflix research winter tells me that we watch this TV with new attention to detail and a deep inclination to talk about it. We find favorite scenes, brilliant bits of acting, very special effects, but all of this remains locked in the box. It just isn’t “spreadable,” to use the language of Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Josh Green. (That’s their book cover above. Highly recommended. Forgive the Italian subtitle. Buy the book here.)
This is a classic case of the old media failing to seize the opportunities opened up by new media. Imagine how many of the shows that failed this fall season might have made it if their early fans could have got the word out.
What we need is some tech overlay that makes clipping and sharing easy and possible. Build it into the remote control. Put on an IN button and an OUT button and a CLIP button and a SHARE button.
I am sure there are legal issues here, but I am equally certain Lawrence Lessig or Jonathan Zittrain could sort them out over lunch time. The copy right holders are, after all, deeply incented to permit the passage of small clips. Permit? What Jenkins, Ford and Green say about spreadable media, applies especially to every new season of television. If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.
In the meantime, we can resort to efforts of our own. Here’s a clip from one of my favorite shows, Being Human. This is Sally, a ghost, explaining how she intends to protect the house from sale. (Remember, she’s a ghost and therefore invisible to mortals.)
I shot this with my iPhone. Something less that stellar quality. But good enough for the internet, as they say. Some people are put off by Being Human because it’s on SyFy (they don’t like science fiction) or because the show has such a weird premise (the creatures “being human” are a ghost, a vampire, and a ghost). But I think this scene takes us beyond odd premises into the heart of the show. Several “barriers to entry” fall. SyFy wants this clip to click.
God knows, we have quite a lot of content circulating on line. The numbers are simply breathtaking. But the fact of the matter is that TV preoccupies us. And it’s getting better. As it stands, this part of our culture is excluded from the conversation. This should change.
Here’s a post I recently published on PSFK.
I argue Mr. Williams’ recent public service message suggests a failure to grasp the significance of new media.
At the invitation of Bob Barocci, I gave a presentation at the ARF meetings Monday. For reasons that are still not clear, I came to the aid of the creative industry, to the defense of the traditional 30 second spot.
Naturally, my timing was appalling. This meeting probably marks the first in which virtually everyone in attendance “buys” the social media proposition. So just when the late adopters arrive, yours truly stuns them with a defense of the old media. Grant, fine work!
You can see the Volvo ad in question, by going to YouTube. Click here.
Hats of to the team from Euro RSCG Worldwide: Global Chief Executive Officer: David Jones, Chief Executive Officer, NY and San Francisco: Ron Berger, Executive Creative Director: Jeff Kling, Creative Director: Nick Cohen, Art Director: Julie Lamb, Copywriter: Risa Mickenberg, Contributor: Sharoz Marakechi, Jackson and Amy Richardson. Business Manager: Deborah Steeg, Talent: Dawn Kerr, PRODUCTION CREDITS, Production Company: Furlined, Director: Pekka Hara, Director of Photography: Joaquin Baca-Asay, Executive Producer: David Thorne, Producer: Rob Stark
For more on this approach to advertising, see McCracken, Grant. 2005. Culture and Consumption: markets, meaning and brand management. Indiana University Press. (and especially the last chapter)
I attended the Advertising Research Foundation meetings today and had a chance to listen to Jeff Bewkes as interviewed on stage by Guy Garcia.
Bewkes is now the CEO of Time Warner, but his remarks were devoted especially to his days at HBO. And well he should. Over the course of 10 years, Bewkes and his colleague Chris Albrecht changed TV extraordinarily. They changed a lot of American cutlure in the process.
So when Bewkes began talking about the HBO program The Wire, I leaned in. As did everyone in the audience of 300 people. The oracle was about to speak.
Two things struck me. It sounded as if Bewkes was saying that HBO quite deliberately broke with the rules of mass media. Traditionally, TV shows have proceeded extensively. They seek a nice broad proposition in the hopes of attracting as large an audience as possible. The Wire seemed to proceed intensively. It traded away lots of viewers for a more vivid, visceral relationship with a smaller audience.
Normally, this would look like self indulgence and a kind of ratings suicide, except that something in the world had changed. There was now a new kind of viewer, more mobile, more questing, more prepared to find a show wherever it was and then patient enough to let it build a connection. In this sense, one of the necessary conditions of the rise of HBO was the rise of a new audience out there. Whether anyone at HBO was reading Henry Jenkins was not made clear over the course of the interview, but I must assume someone was.
But then a second, more seditious thought occurred to me. And this was not proposed by Mr. Bewkes, and no one should blame him for my moment of delirium. I thought to myself: listen (I have to get my own attention somehow), this new, more mobile, more literate viewer holds a more revolutionary promise. If and when most viewers are active and engaged in this way, wouldn’t this spell the end of influence?
Here’s what I was thinking. As and when viewers become more free wheeling, more curious, more prepared to stop in at obscure places and to bear with difficult shows, the "early influencer" matters less and less. Viewers will be possessed of the ability to find their own shows and make their own choices. They will not look to others to identify and vet shows for them. Every viewer, or at least more viewer, would act as "masterless" men and women, making their viewing choices by their own lights.
And this would mark an interesting development in the world of media and marketing. After World War II, the assumption was that in an era of mass media, it was really enough to fill the advertising and production cannons and eventually our messages and show would find their audience. We might emulate those above us in the status hierarchy, but really the very point of the era of mass media was that it was now possible for Hollywood and marketers to make direct contact. But as audiences fragmented, it was increasingly necessary to have some viewers leading other viewers. Someone to play the role of the early adopter. Hence the work of Gladwell and the buzz students. Hence all that talk of activating chains of influence. Early adopters were now key to the viewing community, and increasingly key to the advertising research community.
But this is perhaps a temporary condition. As viewers get better and better, influencers matter less and less. In a weird way, we will return to the world of mass marketing. Not because there are fewer, louder media, but because they viewer is so mobile, so charged with his or her own taste, so motivated by his or her interest in what TV has to offer, that the only person most viewers will be listening to is themselves.
It’s just a thought, really.
Note: This post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle. It was reposted on December 26, 2010.
Someone on Twitter recently defined himself as a "word herder."
"Clever," I thought, "but wrong."
Bloggers and twitterers are not herding words. We are choosing words and combining them. And in a more perfect world, we would take inspiration from those who are good at this very difficult task.
I have two candidates for our admiration.
Leah Greenblatt offers this review of Contra by Vampire Weekend in a recent Entertainment Weekly. Notice the "slaphappy dazzle" of her prose.
With the band now a known quantity, sophomore album Contra inevitably lacks the slaphappy dazzle of breakout singles like ”A Punk” and ”Oxford Comma.” Still, the album, recorded in Brooklyn and Mexico City, stays largely faithful to the sound they’ve built, with the international-groovy experiments of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel still clear signposts — Simon’s almost glaringly so. On summery first single ”Horchata,” singer Ezra Koenig gets drunk on multiculturalism, (loosely) rhyming the Mexican rice beverage of the title with ”balaclava” and ”Masada.” If the lyrics sometimes seem to showboat their 10-carat educations (look, Ma, three continents!), the music remains happily inclusive: somewhere between limbo contest on the lido deck and cocktail hour in Cape Cod.
And here David Denby of The New Yorker write richly and admiringly about Avatar even as he exposes its weakness.
Science is good, but technology is bad. Community is great, but corporations are evil. “Avatar” gives off more than a whiff of nineteen-sixties counterculture, by way of environmentalism and current antiwar sentiment. “What have we got to offer them—lite beer and bluejeans?” Jake asks. Well, actually, life among the Na’vi, for all its physical glories, looks a little dull. True, there’s no reality TV or fast food, but there’s no tennis or Raymond Chandler or Ella Fitzgerald, either. But let’s not dwell on the sentimentality of Cameron’s notion of aboriginal life—the movie is striking enough to make it irrelevant. Nor is there much point in lingering over the irony that this anti-technology message is delivered by an example of advanced technology that cost nearly two hundred and fifty million dollars to produce; or that this anti-imperialist spectacle will invade every available theatre in the world. Relish, instead, the pterodactyls, or the flying velociraptors, or whatever they are—large beaky beasts, green with yellow reptile patches—and the bright-red flying monster with jaws that could snap an oak. Jake, like a Western hero breaking a wild horse, has to tame one of these creatures in order to prove his manhood, and the scene has a barbaric splendor. The movie’s story may be a little trite, and the big battle at the end between ugly mechanical force and the gorgeous natural world goes on forever, but what a show Cameron puts on! The continuity of dynamized space that he has achieved with 3-D gloriously supports his trippy belief that all living things are one. Zahelu!
Surely, this is another relationship to establish between the old and the new media, that we the noisy rabble may take guidance from our betters.
Denby, David. 2010. Going Native. The New Yorker. January 4, 2010. here.
Greenblatt, Leah. 2010. Vampire Weekend. Entertainment Weekly. January 15. p. 72. here.
Note: this post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle of last year. It is reposted December 24, 2010.