Monday, August 11, 2008

Our Own Worst Enemy

In my last post I promised to follow up the previous commentary "Connected, Yet Unconnected." Which I fully plan on doing in the near future. However, I came across this article that has sparked a completely different conversation among Advertising professionals. Below is a summary:

Crest calls for slogan ideas on YouTube. Procter & Gamble's Crest Whitening Expressions brand toothpaste has been pegged to Emeril Lagasse's trademark, "Bam!" since 2003. But with the introduction of the brand's newest flavor, Wintergreen Ice, Crest is looking to YouTube fans to come up with a new catch phrase.

I understand that innovative ideas have the ability to emerge in the most unlikely of places. Personally, I don't think I am a big fan of the "ideas by committee" theory. Especially when it has the potential to make those that make a living off of creating ideas, seem inept. Then again, I also think it depends ou the creator's (on the ad agency side) intention. Some agencies use this method of user generated content as a way to create immersion, interaction and communication with a particular brand. In today's immensely competitive consumer landscape, it requires more than blanket messaging which most likely falls on deaf ears. Today's consumers require pampering and an intimate invitation to feel, smell, and taste a brands true essence. They no longer solely seek out the functional benefits of products, they also desire emotional satisfaction from the brand. Creating this brand satisfaction and then transforming consumers into participants or advocates is the responsibility we as Advertisers have been tasked with achieving for our clients' sake. In this case, such a consumer contest can prove to be both effective in creating new ideas for campaigns as well as inviting people to gain first hand experience with a brand.

As I always do, let's play devil's advocate. Has the so called infinitely deep well of fresh ideas began to run dry within the walls of Account Planning and Creative departments across America? It seems as if such methods of creating a new "catch phrase" should be left up to the professionals. Are we truly conformable with the possibility of a 14 year old high school frosh developing the next catch phrase for a major brand which may have years and years of shelf life? As Lewis Black states on his show "Root of All Evil," this is my ripple effect.. We (advertisers) create a contest that challenges anybody to create their own commercial for a brand, product or service. Someone decides that wouldn't it be great is they simply show 1 minute and 35 seconds of their baby laughing loudly while holding a puppy and titling the video "Britney Spears gets naked," then at the end of the "fo-mmercial" they tag it with 2 seconds of the brand name, since after-all it is a contest about making the brand the star. The video within one day, quickly gets to 10 million views on YouTube, MySpace, Yahoo! and numerous other video hosting sites. Within one week, 100 million views, then soon after is announced the unanimous winner of the video contest and has generated viewer ratings beyond belief for nearly zero cost to the advertiser. Wanting to get in on the gravy train, more and more companies are commanding their ad agency to follow the exact same strategy, creating a culture of unmotivated and uneducated advertising professionals fishing for ideas among the masses. Then someone comes up with the biggest idea of them all, "Why waste money on the production cost of expensive non-effective and traditional TV commercials? We should run user generated videos on TV, all the time!" So it happens, the death of the TV commercial as we know it, and the birth of brainless idiots jumping off rooftops and shooting bottle rockets out of their hind parts in order to possibly land their commercial on TV. Careful planning, strategy development and creative concepting are dead, random and talentless stars are born ----Oh wait, hasn't this already happened?

I'm nowhere near ready to admit such a disastrous event had already taken place, but my industry of talented and bright minds should be weary and educated before sourcing the great vast sea of people creating content. We have to be creators of our own ideas and regulators of everyone else's.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Connected, Yet Unconnected..

The Big Question:

As our lives become increasingly more integrated with new technology, should we begin to fear the gradual disappearance of actual human interaction?

The Small Answer:

First and foremost, I just want to state that I love social networking, both as a means to stay connected with my own circle and to monitor cultural trends, however, there's a devil's advocate for every issue. Here's mine.

I recently attended the 2008 AAAA Account Planning Conference at Loews Resort in Miami Beach, FL. This annual conference is always a wonderful retreat for me since it has the tendency to refresh my confidence in the bright minds, creative thinkers and innovators the advertising industry has to offer. For those on the outside looking in, this particular conference is for Advertising Account Planners, and if you happen to wonder what it is exactly Account Planners do, you'll have to Google it, because it is definitely a long story. However, it wasn't long before I realized that this years "theme" was centered around the new digital front, and more specifically social networking. As advertisers, it is essentially a vital part of our job to monitor pop culture trends and best understand how said trends have the potential to positively effect our clients' business; today, there's no trend more popular than social networking.

That being said, I began to truly put this relatively new genre of websites into perspective and what has dawned on me is that the advent of social networking has probably had the greatest impact on our social behaviors since the accidental creation of the Internet itself! That seems like a bold statement, but just think about this for a moment. My grandparents, my parents and myself included all grew up in eras personified by protecting our personal information. There was a strong sense of privacy and being let into one's inner circle took persistence and trust building. Now, fast forward to the new generation of Internet users, there is an accepted level of interaction and exchange of information unprecedented in our modern history. Never before have individuals been willing, excuse me, WANTING to share their lives and everyday actions with perfect strangers. Voyeurism is no longer taboo, it's mainstream! Don't believe me, last I checked MySpace and Facebook were the 3rd and 5th most visited sites in the United States and FB has recently recorded it's 90 millionth unique profile page (user); that's almost a third of our country's population.

Circling back to the question at hand, I believe although we have the ability to meet millions of perfect strangers across the county, the existing personal relationships we have in place have suffered due to this phenomenon. I remember as a young teenager, I had at best 20 friends whom I lived near and went to school with that I communicated with on a regular basis. Each relationship had substance and actual interaction, also since I only had 20 friends, spending time with each of them was possible. Now, observe the average user of social networking, they have approximately 188 friends according to a recent online study. Approximately one third of which they claim to communicate with on a "regular" basis. The shear volume alone can't possibly allow one to dedicate adequate time to developing a close personal relationship with any one of these friends, not to mention the time detracted from person's they interact with in person. I know what you're thinking, most people know each other before they connected online. Very true, but my original question asked about our future, not today. Should this trend continue, will there be a need for each person to take time out of their busy day to meet and greet another, especially when you can just send a short message requesting to get to know someone else on much more "no strings attached terms." Heaven forbid one should have to commit to being a friend permanently.

As always, I promise to dissect and explain the continued ill effects of social networking on our societies socialization, however one post at a time my friends...

*update: I just learned through the source comScore that Facebook has 132 million original users, however, 63% of which are from abroad. Originally, I stated there were 100 million user in the US, according to Facebook themselves.