Perhaps the coolest thing about the web, social media and the multi-billion dollar infrastructure (Google, the Cloud, 3G, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Skype) that is now available to all of us isn’t that we can simply connect with one another in more ways than ever, posting status updates, sharing funny videos, and uploading photos.
Nor is it the new power we have to generate content, hi-jack brands, or even become brands ourselves.
Rather it’s that we can actually do things of value. We can effect positive social change and make the world just a little bit better (or at least try) by uniting like-minded people, inviting participation, understanding the appeal of extrinsic rewards and leveraging the communities we join and build.
Here are four really great examples worth paying attention to. Note that I’m involved with two of them now, the Uniform Project to which I’ve been asked to be on an advisory board, and No Right Brain Left Behind, which I just signed up to support.
Ideo is a one of the world’s great design companies, taking on monumental challenges — access to safe drinking water, immunization delivery –from the perspective of design thinking, an approach that considers the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the criteria for success. But in the last year they’ve launched Open Ideo, an invitation to all of us to join together and design for the community.
Their first challenge, in partnership with Chef Jamie Oliver, was to raise kids’ awareness of the benefits of fresh food so they can make better choices. The idea is that rather than talk about obesity perhaps we can do something about it with ideas and solutions generated by those who have the most at stake — parents, families and even the establishments that grow, distribute and sell us our food.
What can we learn from Open Ideo?
- Ideas can come from anyone and anywhere
- You don’t need to be a professional designer to think like one
- Extrinsic rewards are as important as intrinsic rewards when it comes to motivation
The Uniform Project
Sheena Matheiken launched her social initiative last year as a fundraiser. She wore the same dress every day for year to make a statement about the value of simplifying your life and wardrobe. In the process she raised over $100,000 to send kids to school in India and learned that her fans and followers would help in a variety of ways — buying dresses, donating to causes, providing accessories, offering to spread the word. The support she encountered gave her the confidence to leave her day job and turn her passion into a new company with a model that proves, “You can do business while doing good.”
Now she is designing and manufacturing dresses using sustainable materials and techniques with a real focus on helping women both simplify their wardrobe and express their individuality. She’s found a new way to raise money for worthy causes, by inviting emerging “celebrities” to wear the same dress for 30 consecutive days in support of a charity. And she’s allowing customers to get involved by creating their own Uniform Project with a do-it-yourself program that includes everything you need to make a dress, host a site and get the word out.
What can we learn from Uniform Project
- Business motives and social good can co-exist
- There are multiple ways to involve your community — they can be customers, donors, participants
- The content you create is as important as the product you make
This is the latest from Alex Bogusky, Rob Schuham and their Fearless Revolution. After having spent a good chunk of his career selling burgers, fries and pizza, Alex has shifted his focus onto creating a new kind of relationship between consumers and corporations.
To his credit, he’s not simply talking about it or applying pressure to current companies to change their ways, he’s instead attempting to incubate future brands and companies that will embrace social responsibility as part of their core mission.
The Common intends to assemble a new kind of capitalist community, populated by all kinds of creative people. It will charge its members and participants with identifying problems, collaborating on solutions, “out-cubating” new companies, funding the new initiatives and spreading the word.
The Common is about transitioning from competitive advantage to collaborative advantage. In some ways a little like Open Ideo but in this case the desired outcomes are actually new companies.
Knowing Alex and his determination, this could succeed.
What we can learn from The Common (even in its idea phase)
- there are alternative ways to define a brand
- the web gives us new ways to collaborate
- there’s life after advertising
No Right Brain Left Behind
This very well might be The Common model in the works, also not unlike what Open Ideo strives to do. A bunch of creative types get together, perhaps inspired by the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, to overcome the “creativity crisis” in our public schools. Given that our schools have put all their emphasis on narrow definitions of intelligence and standardized test scores, neglecting to identify and develop all the other intelligence that are equally important, it’s time to come to the rescue.
So as part of Social Media Week 2011, NRBLB is asking the creative community — advertising agencies, innovation companies, design consultancies, and communication schools to submit ideas in the form of tools, applications, or products that might help school’s better prepare kids to solve 21st century problems.
The program (here’s the plan) already has media partners lined up and funding to pilot the best ideas. Whether we end up with a list of great ideas, or programs that actually get implemented remains to be seen. (Anyone who’s taken on teachers and education in America knows it’s an uphill battle.) But it’s a great idea on many fronts.
What we can learn from NRBLB
- people are willing to come together for good cause
- it’s easier than ever to organize and unite a community
- inclusiveness is the best invitation you can issue
Hope you’ll find a way to participate in some, if not all, of the above projects. Or better yet, create your own. Thoughts?
Brand Bowl 2011 launches today with a pre-game site showing last year’s winners and spots. The official game site goes live on Friday, Feburary 4.
For the last couple of years Mullen has invited anyone with an opinion about advertising to join us on Super Bowl Sunday for a Brand Bowl, a Twitter based social media party to celebrate or condemn traditional TV advertising.
For despite all the growth of social media, user generated content, conversation marketing and the mega-force known as Facebook, we still like a good TV commercial.
Two years ago we served up Trash Talk from the Twitter Section. It was an early, if not rudimentary, effort to tap into Twitter. And it was pretty successful in that it introduced an awful lot of Adland to the new frontier of social media. (Hard to believe now, but back then there weren’t very many advertising agencies, or advertisers for that matter, embracing either Twitter or SoMe. We actually had to create an instruction manual on how to use Twitter.)
Last year Mullen launched Brandbowl2010, taking the experience up a notch thanks to our partner Radian 6, who added real time analytics so we could actually rate the commercials for sentiment and frequency of mention. More than 10,000 people chimed in. We analyzed over 100,000 tweets. And Brandbowl remained a trending topic for virtually all of the game.
For 2011, we’re being even more ambitious. Once again Radian 6 will still provide the math and our friends at Hulu will feed us the commercials as they become available. But the big news is that Boston.com, the The Boston Globe’s online site, has agreed to host the site and help promote it. That, of course, could make Brandbowl huge.
For fun we’ve also thrown up a Brand Bowl YouTube channel so you can add your video predictions, show off your Superbowl party, or upload anything you want to be included on the channel. If it’s really good – entertaining, funny, original, parody – we’ll include it on the site itself.
Here’s how Brandbowl works. The stream appearing on Brandbowl2011.com displays tweets that are posted from the main site, or our new mobile version, along with any tweet that includes the hashtag #brandbowl. If you tweet from Brandbowl2011.com the site automatically includes the hashtag for you.
The rankings, however, represent an assessment of every Superbowl ad-related tweet, whether it included the hashtag or not. As long as a tweet mentions a brand that’s advertising on the game, or refers to its specific commercial, we can include it in our analysis, thanks to both a pre-game and in-game compilation of relevant keywords that we determine refer to the advertising.
No doubt there will be other social Super Bowl experiences. Some of the ads themselves will have social aspects to them. But we hope you’ll join us on Brandbowl2011.com. It is, after all, the original Super Bowl social media party.
Forgive me if I use space on my personal blog to celebrate Mullen’s most recent accomplishment. But we just made Ad Age’s A-List, coming in third place behind well-deserved winner Wieden and Kennedy and second place McGarryBowen. It’s a pretty cool accomplishment given that Ad Age conducts a rigorous review of the nation’s agencies and picks only 10 to be on the list.
“When Mullen last year scored JetBlue’s creative and media account after a highly competitive pitch, it was a confirmation that its late 2009 win of customer-favorite Zappos account wasn’t a fluke. Mullen had successfully evolved its reputation from a safe choice for marketers into a contemporary, forward-thinking shop valued by challenger brands.” via Ad Age.
I get asked a lot how it is that Mullen transformed itself over the last couple of years, evolving from a “traditional” ad agency into a firm that blends digital, social, media, creative, mobile and DR in a way that actually works, albeit with a bit of occasional tension and pain.
Here are what I believe has worked for us.
A philosophy summed up in a single word: Unbound
It was at an offsite a few years ago when our management team challenged itself to re-invent the company for a future filled with all kinds of changes — technology, social media, consumer behavior. We came up with the word Unbound to declare that we would not be restricted by our past, by the conventions of advertising, or even by our current skill set. Instead we would embrace — even more aggressively than we already had — the idea that the answer to how we build a client’s business wasn’t necessarily advertising. It might be a new product, or the way we gather a community, or how we construct new tools, apps and platforms.
An obvious emphasis on talent
We made an aggressive investment in new talent and got out of their way. We brought in a new ECD, now CCO. We hired a new leader for our account group. We added experience in our analytics group. We also created bigger opportunities for our existing stars. One of our key criteria was how hungry they were. Those of us who’d built the company from a small regional boutique into a national agency knew how far determination and passion can take a company. We wanted the same qualities in the next generation of leaders.
A relentless focus on the work
It should go without saying, but the fact is that everything from deadlines to approvals to expediency can get in the way of a relentless focus on great work. But Mark Wenneker, the agency’s creative leader, has taken the work up more than a few notches and more importantly gotten the entire company aligned with the mission. We’re not where we ideally want to be, but anyone who’s any good never is. The fact that creativity, in all of its manifestations, has the organization’s collective attention is likely to yield even better work in the coming year.
A willingness to push responsibility down
Mullen has always prided itself on a culture of “collective entrepreneurialism,” an oxymoron I coined years ago to describe our culture. When you’re a small company it’s a lot easier to recruit people who share the same mindset. The best way to find out of folks still have that quality is to give them rights and responsibility then hold them to it. The best people want that, even demand it, and the benefits to both clients and the agency are quickly apparent.
An environment that forces collisions
I can’t put enough emphasis on this. When we moved to Boston we intentionally designed an open environment that forced people to crash into each other. More importantly, despite three floors and multiple departments, we embedded a broad range of capabilities in the creative group, including social, connection planning, mobile, tech, UX, digital design and production. It helped foster a new kind of team, more diverse working sessions and an increased respect and understanding for every discipline.
A openness to experimentation
Finally, we made a commitment to trying more things for ourselves, in anticipation of client needs. John Moore, our media chief, built an emerging media lab and filled it with every new gadget, technology and platform. We created projects and reasons for everyone in the company to embrace social media, conceiving Brand Bowl (originally Trash Talk from the Twitter Section, which introduced much of the advertising industry to Twitter), turning our own site into a blog open to all employees, and experimenting with crowdsourcing.
I can’t say enough about all the people who worked so hard over the last two years to achieve this. Thank you Ad Age for the recognition.
Next month I have the honor of heading off to the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication where I’ve been invited to be an executive in residence. During my three days in Eugene, I’ll give a keynote, meet with faculty, work with students in a few classes and perhaps participate in a TedX conference.
But what I’m most excited about is that I get to come up with an assignment that students will work on in anticipation of my arrival. So here it is:
Assignment: Make America passionate once again about Innovation.
Not since the days of Sputnik and the genesis of the space program has innovation truly been celebrated by an entire nation. Sure we have Silicon Valley and Steve Jobs. But that addresses but a sliver of the problems and challenges that science, technology and innovation might actually solve – energy, health care, potable water, education, heck even longer lasting batteries for our iPhones.
Perhaps more compelling — despite a flurry of new gadgets, hybrid cars, and the Internet of everything – are facts like these:
- Most experts believe the United States is fewer than 10 years away from losing its leadership position to China and India.
- Those two nations are rapidly becoming the choice of global companies as they determine where to locate their R&D facilities, thanks to their emphasis on math and science education.
- America continues to see an increase in high school drop out rates, test scores that pale in comparison to other countries, and plummeting school budgets that don’t do much to help.
- It’s an epidemic at the college level, too. Consider that at UC Irvine, whose research labs detected the harmful CFC gases that deplete the ozone layer, the reputable program has lost $70 million for research, faculty, and classes.
- NASA’s budget is less than one percent of the total defense budget.
- Wall Street’s emphasis on quarterly profits encourages chipping away at R&D budgets in order to help bottom lines.
Last week, appearing on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, MIT President Susan Hockfield suggested that if we really want more scientific and technological breakthroughs — the kind that solve big problems (energy, education, health), foster social mobility and spur economic growth — we need a national passion around innovation. “The nation has to fall in love again with science and technology,” Hockfield insists. “We have the have basic elements, but we no longer have the focus.”
So what if we take innovation and make it cool. Turn it into a cause. Get everyone behind it — kids, parents, educators, small businesses, big businesses, government officials, taxpayers.
What if we created this movement by using some of the innovations we have seen in the last few years – Skype, Twitter, YouTube? Or used emerging marketing techniques to do it – gaming dynamics, crowdfunding, and user-generated content? Perhaps we should even invent new products and services as part of the campaign to demonstrate the challenge and the thrill of inventing?
I’m hoping that the students come up with something that makes the idea of innovation viral. Something we root for like a national sports team. Or at least a campaign that extends the conversation beyond the halls of MIT, the broadcasts of NPR and the offices of venture capitalists.
What do you think? Any ideas, links, leads, suggestions to help the journalism and communication students at the University of Oregon get started?
“The genius of these companies is that their users do most of the work and create most of the value; once the ball is rolling, it’s the users who keep pushing it along.”
That line is from a recent James Surowiecki piece in the New Yorker. He may have been writing about Groupon, but in the following paragraph describing the brilliance of the common model behind Facebook and Twitter, Surowiecki also explained why Quora is suddenly generating so much buzz.
“Most of the companies that have transformed the Web have certain things in common. They have distinctive technologies. They benefit from what are usually called network effects: the more people who use the service, the more valuable the service becomes. (You’re more likely to use Facebook or Twitter when lots of your friends have signed up, and the more people there are who use Google the more accurate its searches become.) Most important, they scale easily, meaning that they can grow very big without much additional effort.”
Unless you’ve been hibernating, you know that the new question-and-answer site co-founded by two early Facebook employees, Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, is the flavor of the day, week, month. Sign-ups are accelerating. Twitter is aflutter with links to answers – a brilliantly simple way to call attention to your answers, which promotes the site, builds your visibility, and, if your answer is any good, adds to your own personal reputation. And users aren’t just using, they’re blogging about using. Talk about getting the users to do all the work.
Right now Quora is at that weird moment when it’s popular enough for all the digerati and early social adopters to be there, yet young enough that people don’t totally get it. Then again, whatever there is to get is still TBD, for if Quora is to grow, prosper and survive, not only will users do the work of building it, they’ll also define what it can become, perhaps taking it beyond anyone’s initial thinking.
Will it be more a place to ask questions and find answers that are genuinely helpful? Or more a place to answer questions, perhaps helping discover new clients, expand your following, even secure speaking gigs.
Are you on Quora? What do you think?