The other day, on behalf of Mr. Bubble, I sat through three full-blown new business pitches designed to increase preference for this nostalgic brand.
Three agencies, Evolve, Pulp and Milk Street rolled out their A teams and put on a show, bringing to life the brand, its consumers, and unveiling social media ideas that would build community, inspire conversation, and connect with Moms on their terms and in their space.
Bet you didn’t know six brands are battling it out for bubble bath dominance. Or that Johnson and Johnson is the biggest threat to the playful pink bottle. Or that even today’s Moms are influenced by their own mother’s recommendations.
But Mr. B doesn’t have to worry. Why? All three agencies know exactly how consumers interact with both the category and the brand and more importantly how they use social media as it relates to to personal care and bath products.
They search “bath time” and “bubble bath” for information and ideas. They research products and their safety, relying more on blogs than the brands’ websites. They socialize their own findings and opinions on content sites and across networks.
And while there may be some obstacles – Moms are time-starved, brand awareness is very low among Moms in the 33-42 age range – the agencies have ideas to overcome that. From very cool “bubble yourself” apps, to crowdsourced videos documenting creativity, to my favorite: Bubbleduck, a pink rubber duck that travels across the country virtually and physically, all while encouraging Moms and their kids to have fun and inspiring them to use the product.
Oh, I almost forgot. We even have measurement and analytics programs that track everything from traffic to engagement to brand preference. Not to mention modeling to predict sales increases.
Now for the kicker. Mullen interns, half of them still in college, comprised the three agencies and made all of the above presentations. They did the research, the consumer interviews, the strategies, the videos, the social media campaigns, the search optimization, and the analytics. They did it mostly by themselves. And they presented it all with such authority that if no one had told me they were interns, I may not have known.
These students and recent graduates get it. They don’t think in terms of advertising or PR or social media. For them it’s all mashed together, united by the web, digital technology and their own media habits. They’re comfortable thinking in the space, creating in the space, connecting in the space.
This is the future. These guys are coming. My suggestion? Take advantage of them. Hire them. Put them to work. And get out of the way.
How many young people do you have in your organization? Are you giving them real responsibility?
“Who’s Paul Silverman?”
The sudden death two days ago of my former partner Paul Silverman, 69, inspired a number of conversations around the office about life and careers. Paul was unarguably one of advertising’s best copywriters, a brilliant strategist, and someone who helped put Mullen on the map.
“Get me Paul Silverman?”
In his time crafting ads, winning awards and helping grow an agency, Paul was pretty well known. He didn’t really work at it, but certainly enjoyed the recognition.
However, there are many people in advertising and related businesses (digital, PR, social media) who do try. For some reason, it’s not enough to make our clients famous. We strive to be known ourselves. We believe that our name in the back of an award show book, or in the headlines of a trade magazine, or featured on a creative website actually matters. Add to that the fact that we now live in an age of personal branding, pressured to measure our worth by the number of people who follow us, or RT our content, and that quest for fame is magnified even further.
“Get me a young Paul Silverman.”
The night before I heard about Paul I had drinks with another ad-famous (if that’s even the right label) copywriter and creative director, Scott Wild. He shared a story of attending the One Club Hall of Fame induction for Tim Delaney. (That probably makes Tim, famous, too. Though when I asked young writers and art directors if they ever heard of Tim, or for that matter Ed McCabe, Hal Riney, or Tom McElligott, the answer is often the same, “Who?”)
Scott went on to recall sitting in a room filled with a bunch of self-important ad people admiring themselves and celebrating one of their own and thinking, “My God, is this the pinnacle, to be anointed by this insular group of people known only to them?”
Many of us are consumed by this nutty industry. We typically work days, nights, weekends.
Sure we have lots of reasons. We do it to fulfill a need to create, to make a living, to build a business, to help grow brands we believe in, to share what we know with others, to mentor the next generation, maybe even to get famous ourselves (even if we’re only legends in our own minds).
But it strikes me that the last reason matters the least, an unworthy goal in and of itself.
“Who’s Paul Silverman?”
I would guess that today two-thirds of the employees in the company Paul helped build don’t even know who he was. I’m also pleased to say that others remembered him fondly. Yet based on their comments, it wasn’t for what he did, but for who he was.
Which brings me to another thought. This one from Jim Mullen. “Life is for the living. Live large. Live strong. And most of all, live kindly.”
What will you be remembered for?
The following post was written by my Twitter friend, @adamwohl. A non-blogging copywriter, screenwriter, and willingly helpful social media participant, Adam accepted my offer to post this article here.
By Adam Wohl
A few days ago, I was horrified to hear about the passing of John Hughes. A gifted storyteller whose grasp of teen angst was unequivocally spot-on and who made kids everywhere who felt out of place aware of the fact that even if we were weirdos, we were actually in the majority and certainly could overcome it. A day later, I was blessed like so many others to have been allowed to read the blog post of Alison Byrne Fields, a twitter friend of mine kind enough to share her anecdote about her relationship with John.
The ensuing viral attention that her post spawned and the wonderful story it conveyed made me realize how much her experience is transferrable to the world of social media, not just as an example of how something becomes a viral phenomenon, but how the introduction of an idea and the conversations that follow can change the perception of a person, an entity, a brand.
So am I really about to use the passing of a hero (mine too) to illustrate a point about social media? Yes. I’m recycling. And I think there’s something to be learned here; this is a shining example of a tenet of social media.
It’s not deep analysis – quite frankly I’m a bigger fan of the simple and think most are. So I’ll try to be brief.
Hopefully, you’ve read Alison’s blog post about her pen-pal relationship with John Hughes. To me, it revealed a new perspective of the great director. He already had my respect for his body of work, but the blog portrayed a different side; a man who was encouraging of and inspiring to a young writer, and at the same time a man seeking inspiration and acceptance himself. And it’s my opinion that this different view is what so many people have been drawn to. Not just the sycophantic desire of people to be in the know and to have access to information that sheds new light on a celebrity, but also a strong desire to hear happy stories about the positive influence we have over one-another, in this time of dread and recession, unemployment, etc.
So, how does this translate to brands and business? I think the application is best used to convey the power of social media to disbelievers:
Ask yourself this: How did you perceive John Hughes before you read Alison’s post?
Most likely, you saw him as a quality writer and director whose movies you enjoyed more often than not. That sounds like a brand that makes a quality product.
And now after the post, how do you feel about him?
Maybe you see him as having been a little more caring, more accessible (even if to one fan), more vulnerable, more human. Now that sounds like a brand that cares about its customers. A brand that is interested in what they have to say and wants to cater to and develop for its customers, because the brand recognizes that customer loyalty=brand livelihood and survival.
And what happened after this blog post that revealed this newfound humanity? The conversation started. People shared their thoughts about Alison’s post and this new perception of John. Twitter went mad. Trending topic. Conversations started about what an incredible guy John was to befriend and encourage this young girl. It spread like wildfire.
Disbelievers, I can hear you. “It’s just Twitter. Adam, you’re in a vacuum. It’s your small circle of friends talking about this.”
Maybe that’s how it started, but then it jumped to Facebook. And MySpace.
I honestly believe those who have read Alison’s story will never think of John the same way again. That’s a change (unintentional, in this case, I know) in brand image.
Sure it’s a big dose of apples and oranges here. And the last thing I intended to do by writing this post is trivialize the death of an artist. But I still think there is much to glean from this story, and hey — before John ever made it as a screenwriter or director, he was an advertising copywriter in Chicago, responsible for the Edge shaving cream ‘credit card-scraping of the cheek’ campaign.
never underestimate the power of a customer’s perception of a brand,
never underestimate the power of customer to customer conversations,
and most importantly, never underestimate the ability to change the perception of a brand by starting conversations with and among customers using social media.
These conversations are inevitable, and yes — it cuts both ways; if a brand’s product or service takes a piss, people are going to talk about it. And I’m not saying brands should rig the game by planting conversations or swaying discussions by asking questions like, “What was the best experience you had with brand X? “ Further, brands will NEVER be able to keep a grasp on everything that’s said about them. But not taking the initiative to contain, moderate or focus the discussion is a mistake that in time will not only be measurable by Google analytics, but also by the cash register.
Speaking of money, I’d like to pass along the same links Alison posted in her follow-up blog post. If you were as touched by John Hughes’ passing as I was and feel like he provided you with plenty of hours of joy and laughter, do something about it. Make a donation of money or time to:
826 National – an organization that works with young people (ages 6-18) and teachers to encourage writing.
As you probably know by now, John Winsor (author, entrepreneur, innovator, director of strategy at Crispin Porter Bogusky) and I did a session yesterday on crowdsourcing. We had a great time. There was a big audience, lots of discussion, and, thank goodness for the sake of dialog, some disagreement. Thanks to all of you who participated.
Here is a summary of what we learned in the process and would like to share.
1. Crowdsourcing isn’t simply about competitions
In our business, everyone thinks about crowdSpring logo design or Poptent video competitions. There’s only one winner. But why not focus more on co-creation and ideas that incorporate input from lots of people. BBH Labs Sour video, our own Bread Art Project, and American Express’s OPEN Forum for small business are all examples of the crowd contributing content to create the whole. The crowd can be your cast, your creators, your medium and your content.
2. Determine if you want an open or closed process
Anyone on the web could participate in the the first three examples listed above. But for competitive reasons, there may be times you want a program to be private, limited to customers or a particular market segment. With the right platform you can make it closed and even unsearchable.
3. Learn about the platforms
The host of last night’s event, Chaordix, offers a turnkey service for you to harness the potential of crowdsourcing. It includes tools to: identify the right participants; structure the assignment; initiate the process; collect feedback; allow the crowd to participate in identifying the best idea(s); and help participants feel valued.
4. Be kind to your crowd
Crowdsourcing works because people want to participate. But it’s our responsibility to reward them with: a way to build reputation; the satisfaction of having a voice; honest feedback; and maybe even money. One current criticism of the competitions is that they are turning creative people into serfs. Filmaka, which helps source new filmmakers, works incredibly hard to respect the participants. We can all learn something from them.
5. Know the difference between community and crowdsourcing
A community is unmanaged. It goes where it wishes, talks about what it wants, and follows no leader. That won’t get you to your intended goal if you’re looking for a new product, a solution to a troubling challenge or even an ad campaign. Crowdsourcing needs a leader, someone to define the challenge, focus the crowd and determine the criteria used to evaluate ideas.
If you consider that thousands of your customers would love a say in your next product, that untapped creative talent is everywhere, and that there’s a community of people not only willing, but excited to share, respond, answer, invent, and even compete, it only makes sense to play around. Start inside your own company. Or simply begin making better use of Twitter by building a real following and asking them questions.
What do you think? Did we leave anything off the list? What will your next crowdsourcing project be?
Tomorrow, I interview John Winsor on crowdsourcing. I’ve been working on this for a while now: I’ve read Jeff Howe, checked out numerous crowdsourcing sites, exchanged emails with BBH Labs, and interviewed the CEO of Poptent. There are more crowdsourcing examples surrounding us than you might imagine. Some represent true peer production (Library of Congress); others are closer to open competitions (crowdSpring).
But clearly numerous companies (at least the forward thinking ones like Dell, Starbucks and Proctor & Gamble) embrace it; others like Threadless.com (tee-shirts), Kompoz (music), Forvo.com (language), and Filmaka (film and video) have launched businesses based on it; and thousands of individuals have found it a way to create, join, compete and participate.
Anyway, here is our discussion guide for tomorrow, subject to change.
What are the best examples of crowdsourcing that you’ve seen?
We’re probably all familiar with the creation of iStockphoto, Threadless.com, My Starbucks idea, Dell’s Idea Storm. Do others, less known but just as innovative, stand out?
What are the most obvious applications?
It seems the obvious application, and the one most prevalent, is simply fishing for creative ideas from a larger pool of alleged talent. Doritos’ Superbowl spot for example, and clients’ use of services like Poptent and 99 designs come to mind. In some cases these are just publicity stunts, but in other cases they really work, for both the marketer and the creator. Would you agree?
BBH Labs used crowdSpring as an experiment to create its own logo
They claim that, “In the not-too-distant future, creative agencies will resemble expanded networks with core teams overseeing expansive partnerships rather than the more vertically-integrated models existing today.” Let’s talk about how soon this might happen.
At the same time there’s some controversy.
Google the term “crowdsourcing is evil,” and you get 75,000 results. Most of it is in response to services like crowdSpring, which stands accused of devaluing graphic design. Even AIGA has weighed in with an official position essentially opposing spec work. So, is crowdsourcing evil?
AIGA’s position opposing spec creative is on behalf of professional designers.
Jeff Howe’s entire CS thesis is based on the fact that the gap between amateur and professional has narrowed and that in an economy that forces us into specialization, amateurs find joy, participation and release in other endeavors. So they emerge as designers, scientists, bloggers, and inventors. Isn’t crowdsourcing being driven as much by the desire of the creative person to participate? You mentioned this in your Business Week article.
So, is this an opportunity or a risk for agencies?
Historically agencies want to be the source of creative ideas and output. Should they crowdsource content? Change their business model as BBH suggests will happen anyway? What are the ramifications of doing so?
Typically agencies tend to resist this stuff until they’re forced by clients to change
But by then they’re way behind the curve. Obviously clients want more options for less money. But at the same time, isn’t this a way for agencies to get into all kinds of different businesses? Product development? Communispace-type communities? The building of advisory panels? Consumer generated stories that might inspire agency created-content? Or, closer to using crowdsourcing as it was first intended: exploring ways to tap into collective knowledge to create a bigger idea or solution.
I interviewed the CEO and founder of Poptent earlier this week.
Neil Perry’s business model is simple, yet brilliant. Big brands need creative content in numerous places and don’t want to spend big bucks on fees or production for most of it. So, Poptent delivers produced video for between $25 and $30,000, sourced from the crowd of content creators, videographers, and creatives who aren’t (and probably never will be) commercial directors, but who can create better than decent content. His clients include Bud Light, Old Spice, Stouffers, Nestle. Can’t agencies tap into this? Or even replicate the model themselves?
Let’s talk about some misconceptions.
Everyone thinks this is cheap and easy. But it takes time, organization, and planning to make it work. What are your thoughts on the effort required? Can we measure or place a value on the time and energy?
Then there’s Sturgeon’s Law
The process will generate 90 percent crap and only 10 percent good stuff. And that’s if you’re lucky. What can a brand or advertiser do to increase or manage the odds?
How about incentives for the crowd?
Again, the new company trying this out might think it’s about money. But in many cases it’s creating ways to build reputation and gain personal fulfillment? Are there best practices we can replicate?
Perhaps the biggest challenge is this:
As our business becomes more and more about collaboration, far beyond the writer/art director, but to teams that include programmers, user experience professionals, designers, SFX creators, social influencers — often all working together to amplify an idea — won’t crowdsourcing pose all kinds of new challenges for those managing teams that are interdependent?
There are some cool things getting done that should inspire us
There are examples from years ago, like Awesome, I Fucking Shot That, the 2006 Beastie Boys concert where they gave video cameras (rented and returned after the concert by the way) to create footage for a documentary. Simple idea. Then there’s the more recent video for Sour. The BBH-created video includes fans from all over the world who submitted video of themselves via webcam. It’s a celebration of the band, of music, of inclusions, of technology. It may not be a business example, but reduced it to its essence, it’s simply an invitation to the crowd to join a brand and co-create content. What can we learn from these creations?
And finally, of course, there are your questions. Some incorporated already. Others on index cards ready to go. Your thoughts? What will you use crowdsourding to accomplish?