Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category


October 16th, 2012

They tried to make me go to (media) rehab, I said NO! NO! NO!

I have just returned home after a 3 week sojourn in a Turkish haven of tranquility, where I have spent time recovering from an addiction I never knew I had. Three whole weeks with scarcely a media touch point in sight (nor sound). It was tough, but once the withdrawal symptoms wore off, I was able to approach the real world with a renewed sense of engagement and a clearer perspective. Cold turkey in Turkey, in fact.

I should explain. My family and I stayed near a small fishing village, which has never seen an English language newspaper or magazine. The internet connection in our small resort complex was as unreliable as the local transport and the nearest bar to offer wi-fi was a 40 minute boat ride away. 3G connections were similarly unreliable, as well as ridiculously expensive. We had satellite TV in our apartment but apart from the news channels, it was exclusively foreign language programming. (Incidentally, why are specialist news channels the only English language services in international hotels and resorts, when the Italian, French and  German speakers can usually get their entertainment channels, such as  RAI, TF1, RTL and ZDF?)

Pretty much the whole resort gathered around the bar’s TV screen for Mo Farah’s 5,000 metre race, but it was interrupted on Turkish TV for the bronze medal tussle in the Greco-Roman wrestling – or, as my wife described it, two very large kittens fighting in a cat basket! – but otherwise the TV screen stayed reassuringly blank.

So, like my fellow media addicts, I spent the first week fretting about the dried-up supply chain (apparently, if you arose at 6.30 am and waved your laptop in the right direction, it was occasionally possible to get 20 minutes’ worth of Facebook) and talking wistfully of times past. We would laugh as the new arrivals to our therapy group would turn ashen-faced as they realised their laptops and ipads would remain unconnected and they would have to make the Weekend Guardian they bought on the way out last them the whole fortnight. And slowly, very slowly, we flushed away the need for constant updates and wall-to-wall entertainment media and found our true selves again. Real-life conversations, interactive fun (i.e. diving off the boat jetty) and savouring the simple things of life took over. The Sky EPG, Times leader column and Twitter trending became a dim and distant memory.

However, despite the eventual success of my enforced media rehab programme, it was obvious that the cycle of addiction was not completely broken; I would still find myself watching the BBC World news cycle several times over, wave my ipad in futile attempts to get a signal and re-read the Weekend Guardian’s travel section article on singles holidays in the Ukraine.

As always, it was harder on the little ones. When we asked our son;s teenage friend Jack if he was looking forward to going home later that day, he replied “well, yes and no”. When pressed, he admitted he would miss “all of this”, gesturing vaguely at the sun-soaked holiday paradise around him, but he then qualified his remark by saying he couldn’t wait to get back to his satellite TV and wi-fi connections. Plus ca change…


Social beats ‘The Long Tail’ by more than a short head

October 26th, 2011


I have it on good authority that Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, recently prepared to present a ‘TV is Dead’ presentation at a major international conference, only to be given a last minute jolt when he was told that many of the assumptions he had made in his speech – such as a major decline in TV ratings and revenues – were completely at odds with the accepted data. From what I understand, he made the speech anyway!

Of course, Chris is well known for his book ‘The Long Tail’, which foresaw a major shift from the mass market towards more personalised, niche content, aided in large part by the distribution economics of the web. It was powerfully argued and, to an extent, true; it is much easier nowadays to access long tail content and I know of several friends d’un certain age who have re-discovered niche interests (music, fashion, hobbies) from their youth and have the internet to thank for their continued ability to indulge them.

Although a shift towards more niche content has been a feature of the past couple of decades, we need to be clear about two things;

1.    The long tail is not a new phenomenon; people have engaged with niche content or experiences for ever. My teenage obsessions included Northern Soul, obscure Subutteo team kits, the works of Charles Bukowski and learning to read Tarot cards; all very long tail and yet also easily accessible, if one was passionate enough.

2.    Although there has been a shift in the economics of manufacture and distribution of long tail product, it has not so far been the revolution that had been predicted. Long tail does not trump the hits in any of the major digital markets I can name, with the possible exception of music (which has always had a sturdy long tail anyways).

I think online has transformed access to the long tail, making it quicker, easier and cheaper, but we’re not necessarily using all of that saved time and money to widen our consumption of other long tail ‘stuff’. My theory is that we only have so much time and resource to indulge our niche interests and personal passions. In fact, our inner, personal lives appear to have only limited influence on the lives we live. This is why I believe sometimes the benefits of personalisation can be over-hyped (especially amongst the media and technology communities).

Meanwhile, there is a counter pressure coming from our outer, social selves which can be far more forceful in influencing our behaviours and use of time and money.

I’ve always been convinced about the power of social in our lives, and Web 2.0 has both turbo-charged it and made it more transparent. I read an excellent article by Mark Earls and Alex Bentley in ADMAP this month, entitled “I’ll have what she’s having”, in which they point out the numerous ways that our families, friends, peers and the people around us (in real life and on screen) shape our decisions, especially the 90-95% of decisions we make implicitly and/or sub-consciously. They point out that very few decisions are taken using cold, rational analysis whereas the people around us can influence us both directly (word of mouth) and indirectly (“I’ll have what she’s having”) in numerous ways.

And, guess what? These influences appear to be moving us back to the hits. We’ve seen it with television over and over; whether it be catch-up TV, Facebook chatter or Twitter trends, it is the big shows that seem to benefit most. We’ve seen it with cinema, where the blockbusters are more dominant than ever before and the room for the niche and independent movies appears to become ever smaller. We’re seeing it with gaming, with the top titles becoming more ‘must have’ when all your friends are playing it online together. Many of our more socially-based activities appear to be consolidating exactly around the big hits that were expected to whither on the vine.

I see no contradiction between a rise in consumption of the long tail together with a corresponding move towards big, shared, socially-driven experiences. Some of the middle ground may suffer, but I think the power of social to shape our lives will help most existing media channels (TV, cinema, radio, magazines, and even newspapers) to survive and carve out their own destinies in the digital future. Their survival will not depend on them covering more and more niche, long tail content, but in providing coverage of the stuff that everybody is talking about. In other words, the hits.

Sometimes we are individuals, sometimes we are social animals (in one sense or another) and most of the time we are both.  It’s not that they are in conflict, but on the whole personal – social dimension within our lives, I would argue social has the most influence, even in our individualistic western societies. That is why it is not long tail vs. big hits; there is room for both, but the power of social is in consolidating our experiences around the big, mass market content that we simply know other people will want to talk about. In fact, as they used to say at Tamla Motown, the hits keep rolling on!


A load of WOM-bull

September 12th, 2011

 A Thinkbox blog by David Brennan for Brand Republic

 March 30 2010


As Uncle Bulgaria could have told you, it’s a lifetime’s work clearing up the rubbish that litters the marketing landscape.  One of the current topics flapping annoyingly in the breeze is all the nonsense uttered about ‘word of mouth’, or WOM for short.

Most weeks you’ll find a story about some brand abandoning brand advertising and instead investing in a WOM strategy.  Last year, I attended two conferences where the same speaker – a renowned expert in the social media space – put up a chart headed “Word of mouth is the new television”.

It’s difficult to know quite where to start with such a statement, but I’ll have a go.

It makes the frankly barking assumption that the ‘old’ television – i.e. real television – is being replaced; it thinks of media experiences as neat little silos that don’t overlap; and it fails to recognise that ‘word of mouth’ of any significance cannot exist in a vacuum and relies on the media it is apparently ‘replacing’ to provide the oxygen.

Part of the problem is that practitioners in this space see WOM as a new media channel, primarily via social media online.  But WOM has existed since the dawn of language. It has always been part of the marketing ‘eco-system’ and it is indeed very important.  At least we can agree on that.

New research from US WOM specialists Keller Fay puts the debate into focus. They have produced a WOM monitoring tool, based on the reported conversations of over 36,000 people. Not only does the research demonstrate the huge influence WOM has on our brand perceptions and experiences, it also highlights where these conversations are taking place and which brands they feature, as well as what causes them.

Only 6% of brand-related conversations take place online.  A further 15% are conducted on the ‘phone, whilst over three quarters are conducted  via our preferred social media platform: face-to-face.

Another sobering thought is that the conversations digerati might be having among themselves are not necessarily a reflection of the wider world. The top categories for brand-related conversations are food and dining, followed by media and entertainment. Technology is sixth on the list. Similarly, the top five talked about brands are Coke, Pepsi, Wal-Mart and two telecoms companies; not a Twitter or Apple amongst them.

But perhaps the most exciting finding for those of us in the marketing industry is that almost half of all consumer brand conversations refer directly to those brands’ marketing or media activity, and that the biggest single factor influencing those conversations is good old brand advertising.

If we bring into the mix TV’s ability to create talkability and ‘buzz’ around brands (as demonstrated by both the IPA ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ study and YouGov’s Brand Index data) then we realise how much we need tools to identify and optimise these amplification effects.

Our recent research with Facebook started to explore the rich rewards available to brands which recognise and nurture the relationship between TV ads and facilitated WOM.

The good news is that the IPA Touchpoints study will be including metrics based around the Keller Fay findings in this year’s data. I’m looking forward to using it, not least to  finally bin the ridiculous notion that TV and word of mouth are unrelated and replacements for each other, rather than the fabulously complementary phenomena that they are.



A Pepsi challenge: make ‘friends’, lose customers

September 12th, 2011

A Thinkbox blog by David Brennan for Brand Republic

April 5 2011


There have been some shenanigans across the Atlantic that have seen social media’s power to impact on the bottom line being put under a glaring spotlight.

Pepsi had been gearing up for a major social media push for quite some time, calling for ideas as far back as 2008. Its main activity in this area kicked off early last year: the Pepsi Refresh Project funds small public projects based on online votes. The Project was funded primarily – and very publically – with money taken from Pepsi’s TV budget. TV had been sacrificed for social media.

A couple of weeks ago, PepsiCo’s CEO reported on progress at TED. The site now attracts more unique users on a monthly basis than other sites with which the brand would previously have considered purchasing display advertising.  In addition to this, the sites accrued more than 7,500 applications in its first year, and 80 million votes. Meanwhile, the brand’s “likes” on Facebook have increased from 225,000 to well over 3 million in that period, and its Twitter following (600,000) and YouTube presence have also grown.

Big online numbers; they sound fantastic and Pepsi has certainly been praised for the social good that many of these activities create.

However, not everybody is happy – especially Pepsi’s shareholders. They have seen their main brand drop to an unprecedented third in cola sales, falling behind Diet Coke for the first time in history, and with an overall sales slump of over 5%, which is worth up to half a billion dollars. This has been commonly attributed to the lack of branding or even visibility in the market, allowing Coca Cola to steal market share at an unprecedented rate.

‘Whoops’ doesn’t quite cut it. Here is a genuine Pepsi challenge.

I think this is a great example of the binary thinking that still too often exists in the digital world. One thing HAS to replace another; the ‘social media is the new television’ kind of mantra that ‘herdistas’ continue to preach is just one example of this. It is cutting off the nose and spiting the face. Marketers need to concentrate on and, not or. (Thinkbox firmly believes in and – we welcomed Facebook’s David Parfect to speak at our youth event last week and he was very clear about this complementary relationship; he pointed out that it isn’t just the number of fans you get, it is the about the level of engagement you create and this is where TV works so well with social media).

Meanwhile, if we look at the winners in this carbonated spat, we can see what happens when binary thinking makes way for a more nuanced and integrationist approach.

It wasn’t as if Coca Cola merely responded by betting the kitchen sink on TV, indeed it has been rightly praised for its social media presence even whilst Pepsi was floundering. But, Coca Cola conducted social activity in line with its TV activity and worked hard to make the two work together. A good example is its ‘social zone’ in support of its sponsorship of the NCAA tournament. The result has been a highly visible presence, a well-understood brand position (The Happiness Factory) and a boost in market share.

Of course, this does not mean the end of ‘social media’ as a marketing channel – that would be a ridiculous conclusion; but it should hopefully hasten the end of the ridiculous binary approach. We need to think very seriously about what social media means and how it is best integrated with more established marketing channels, rather than seeing it as an alternative to them. It is well-documented that a significant amount of our social media conversation about brands is inspired and encouraged by their advertising and marketing content.

Conversations don’t happen in a vacuum but this kind of binary thinking may well create a vacuum in terms of brand visibility and emotional engagement.