Future Schlock

This Minority Report scene with personalized billboards that recognize your retina get a lot of people excited and pointing towards the future, but it doesn't look like people in 2054 are paying any more attention to the smart billboards than they notice the dumb ones of today.

A Nice Automated Letter from Netflix

It is so infrequent that automated communications are nice that I enjoy celebrating every instance. I had put my Netflix account on hold last month, but mailed back what turned out to be an empty envelope. I assumed they had already charged me the $14 for the missing DVD -- how many companies would've done just that? -- but instead I get this reminder from a friendly robot.

Y Combinator Ad Innovation Conference: What Stuck

As part of Hill's Beacon initiative, I traveled to the Y Combinator's Ad Innovation Conference earlier this week to watch some 20 YC-funded start-ups present their technologies to a roomful of ad people. AdExchanger already has a nice write-up that explains what each company does, so that's not what I am going to do here. Instead, I will go through my notes trying to answer the question Paul Graham, the YC co-founder (pictured above with the glass), asked after the event: "So, what stuck?"

Here's what stuck.

Journalism's Primary Duty Is To Its Readers, Not Advertisers

"Henry Luce, a co-founder of TIME, disdained the notion of giveaway publications that relied solely on ad revenue. He called that formula "morally abhorrent" and also "economically self-defeating." That was because he believed that good journalism required that a publication's primary duty be to its readers, not to its advertisers. In an advertising-only revenue model, the incentive is perverse. It is also self-defeating, because eventually you will weaken your bond with your readers if you do not feel directly dependent on them for your revenue."
Time, "How To Save Your Newspaper", 2009 

I keep thinking about this quote but forgetting where I first saw it, so I'm parking it here. It's a good thought; probably applies to a lot of web and mobile apps, too.

Will Daily Deals Turn Newspapers Around?

"Groupon is Hastening the Demise of the Newspaper Industry," wrote a daily deals trade pub in April.

It could be the other way around.

The technological barriers to the deals space are pretty low;  Shoutback and Nimble Commerce  and many other companies are offering consulting and white-label systems to power deal mechanisms. And newspapers have other things many other Groupon clones don't -- large local audiences that are still used to turning to newspapers for coupons,  and a sales force with established local relationships.

The Boston Globe is offering its own Boston Deals (promoted on the home page, no less) after trying a partnership with BuyWithMe last year (and SCVNGR, also last year) as it moves to separate its online content from a potentially more lucrative e-commerce business.  Boston Phoenix offers deals,  Star Tribune in the Twin Cities offers STeals.

It's interesting how newspapers today struggle to make money on content -- putting up paywalls, repackaging it into single-device apps -- instead of going for an easier buck.   It seems like the newspapers should be able do a lot with the two things they already have -- local audiences and local sales relationships.  They could  do daily deals, for example, like The Globe, Phoenix and Star Tribune. Or they could aggregate local deals from Groupon and its numerous clones, Yipit-style. (Maybe they could also print some of these deals in Sunday circulars, for fun.)  Or maybe they could try getting some of the classifieds back from Craigslist -- has any newspaper really tried?

But even content -- what if they took their massive and rich content they have accumulated and repackaged it for a different, non-news market?  For almost everything a large newspaper touches there's a start-up that is likely doing for more money.  School ratings in the Globe? There's School Digger and Great Schools. "Hyper-local news"?  Neighborhood Scout.

A lot of tech start-ups are going to great lengths to produce content to attract people to sell their services to. With newspapers, it almost feels like they half-heartedly bolt on random third-party services (job search by Monster, auto listings by cars.com)  to attract people to read content off which the newspapers then struggle to make money.

It's easy to be an armchair strategist so I'll shut up, but I like newspapers and hope that maybe the Globe's and other publications' experiments with daily deals will mark the beginning of things turning around for them.

Movie Spectrograms

Every frame of Kill Bill vol.1 compressed into a spectrogram-like "barcode".  This and a lot of other movies on MovieBarcode Tumblr.

Kinect To Power TV Ads, Billboards

A Microsoft guy explains how Kinect and Nuads will add gestural and voice goodness to TV ads served through Xbox.

Would one have to be standing up for this? Are people's living spaces spacious enough to accomodate Kinect?   And would anyone care?

Kinect, though, would be a nice cheap addition for digital signage in public spaces, illustrated by this hack and this. Some ad shops are already experimenting. Wouldn't be fun to customize a billboard's message based on the onlooker's body type and gender?

One other thing Kinect would be awesome for is monitoring people's general usage of TV and other media in the device's vicinity by combining sound detection and recognition with body position identification, answering the "what's on?" and "is anyone watching it?" questions. It's such an awesome idea that I'm actually keeping my Kinect behind the TV and facing the wall when it's not in use, in case the idea has already occurred to someone else.

Looks like Microsoft has tested a Nuads-like execution with Chevy Volt last fall with the car placed into the Kinect-enabled Joy Ride.

SoftKinetic has developed and been using its own hardware to power up signage way before Kinect.

AdShip Adds Ads to eBay Purchases

Here's a way for eBay sellers to earn an extra buck by adding ads to their shipment paperwork and email confirmations: AdShip "dynamically inserts complementary advertisements on shippers' post-sale, customer-facing print and digital order fulfillment touch points."  Like this.

Did you know that eBay has its own app store?

YouTube Identifies Soundtracks, Creates Auto Playlists?

I was watching this mega-awesome video and noticed that YouTube identified the artist on the soundtrack (Hybrid) and linked the artist's name to a separate page containing more artist details including other tracks, a playlist button, upcoming events, and an info blurb.There's also an affiliate "Buy" link placeholder under the artist's name, but it was left empty. This seems to be a part of YouTube's Content ID program, but I haven't it in this type of action before.

Bonus track: one hacker explores how Content ID works.

CreditLoan.com Cashes In On Rapture

Love how CreditLoan.com jumped on the Twitter rapture train by paying to for the sponsored tweet in the #endoftheworldconfessions top trending topic. 150 retweets as of this post.

Casual Mobile Advergames - For Cats!

Puss In Boots, boot up your tablet - Friskies has released not one but three Games for Cats advergames playable in any tablet browser thanks to the magic of HTML5/CSS3. The games don't scale down to the phone screen size, though, so smaller cats are out of luck. The games are Cat Fishing,   Tasty Treasures Hunt, and Party Mix-Up. Cats like.

Now waiting for a study on the advergames's effect on feline brand recognition.

There Are No Insights, There Is No Research

Farrah Bostic points out that you can't have "insights" the same you can't have "intelligences":
"You can not uncover, seek, find, or land on "insights". Insight isn’t a noun in the sense that a car or a nickel or a pen are nouns. It’s a noun that names a quality or capacity, like beauty, intelligence, compassion. We tend not to pluralize and objectify these nouns, because they are not about objects.

Insight is a capacity to gain accurate and deep understanding of a person or thing. Insight, in other words, is what a good planner or creative – or hell, in a perfect world a good client or account manager – should have. The depth of this understanding should go so far as to seem intuitive. There are many ways one might obtain insight – through study, immersion, experience, interrogation, observation. And these are the standard tools of the planner or market researcher or strategist."

Ben McAllister warns about the dangers of "scientism":
"As an undergraduate physics major, I had grown to understand scientific research as a slow process that took place over years or even decades. Research, as I understood it then, was an attempt to deliberately advance knowledge by eliminating false theories. It was a difficult undertaking bolstered by rigorous debate.
In the business world, I later learned, “the research” is quite a different phenomenon. As my interview so nicely illustrated, “the research” is not debatable. Apparently it’s capable of predicting people’s reactions to decisions that haven’t even been made yet. In fact, “the research,” seems to be capable of making decisions all on its own."

Hashtagart Turns Twitter Profile Pics Into Beautiful Mosaic Art

Hashtagart creates elaborate mosaic art out of Twitter users' profile pictures:"Hashtagart has proprietary technology and a suite of apps that make it fun for consumers to spread a brand's message. Consumers are no longer advertised to, they BECOME the advertisement, and they have fun connecting with the brand."

The images above are 11am and 5pm  screengrabs from a new Dark Knight movie teaser done with hashtagart's Mosaic app. Check out their other projects for Roku, Window Phone 7, and MSNBC 2010 election coverage.

WSJ's Article About Spying on Internet Users Spies on Internet Users

The very first article in the Wall Street Journal's year-long series on online user tracking places at least 23 "pieces of tracking technology" from at least 10 servers, as identified by the Ghostery browser plug-in.

"One of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found, is the business of spying on Internet users," the first installment reads. One of the servers whose code lives on the article page on WSJ.com is from Bizo, an ad targeting company whose pitch is: "Powered by bizographic data on over 85 million people, the Bizo platform enables marketers, agencies, publishers, and ad networks to understand the "bizographic" makeup of site visitors, and precisely target and engage business professionals online."

The author mentions that "the Journal also tested its own site, WSJ.com".  Since she doesn't share what the study found on wsj.com specifically, I thought I would.

Money Can't Buy You Love, But "Likes" Are $2 Apiece

As far back as 2007, Facebook's terms of service prohibited using one's profile for ad purposes (such as embedding affiliate widgets, for example): "You agree not to use the Service or the Site to upload, post, transmit, share or otherwise make available any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising."

The TOS have since been updated, but their current version has a similar language: "You will not use your personal profile for your own commercial gain (such as selling your status update to an advertiser)."

Would "liking" Walmart's profile in its Crowdsaver campaign qualify as "selling your status to advertiser" and could getting a deal on a product be interpreted as "commercial gain"?  Tricky.

And it doesn't seem like the TOS is stopping a growing army of entrepreneurial individuals from mediating the relationship between people seeking online fame and people looking to make a buck. I easily found half a dozen services that are prepared to pay you for a range of Facebook feed-related activities, from posting  status updates to "liking" stuff.

Here, someone who seems to be an affiliate is promoting one such service with an ad on Craigslist.
The service -- a Facebook app -- promises that "from the moment you connect to this app, you can start receiving money when you SHARE videos. Simply keep on sharing videos with your facebook friends, just as usual. The only difference: You get to receive money."

A page on MyLikes says the service has 221,236 publishers (that is, Facebook or Twitter users) with an aggregate audience of 310,785,405, and has generate 43,023,415 clicks for its advertisers. The company has a write-up in the Crunchbase. Its Twitter account has over 31K followers. You can "Like" stuff on the go, too, using their Android and iOS apps. (The service is Twitter-centric, but it allows users to post their "likes" on Facebook even though it doesn't pay for any Facebook-originated clicks.)

PaidStatus offers access to "promotion-ready Facebook users". And at a $.85 CPM, it sounds like a good deal, too: "As at October 2010, direct exposure to 1,000 Facebook users works out at just 85 cents!"

VideoLikes specializes in promoting videos via "liking".

This Is Your Brain On Apple

A BBC Secrets of the Brands documentary looks into how one Apple fan's brain reacts to the brand's iconography. Turns out "the Apple products are triggering the same bits of [Brooks'] brain as religious imagery triggers in a person of faith."

Back in 2004, Douglas Atkin in his The Culting of Brands (aff link) drew similar parallels between religious cults and brands that enjoy very enthusiastic following, Apple in particular; I posted about the book here.


From the mailbox:

- Matt sent in this variation of a captcha ad where you have to click on the ad for it to reveal the security squiggle.  Why annoy your user once if you can do it twice?

- Buy cheap wooden furniture, not. Or else.

- People using Polyvore put together collections inspired by the royal wedding.

- Jared is hacking advertising.

- These Minis are actual cars.

Sofa-Shaped Popcorn Bags Sell Sofas

Sofa-shaped popcorn bags promote a sofa event at a department store in Brazil to the tune of a 17% increase in sofa sales, according to Ogilvy Brasil, the agency behind the stunt. Don't think I've seen popcorn bags used as an ad medium before. Very nice.

Make Your Own Facebook Book

Can't get around to writing that memoir of yours?  My Social Memories is an application by Deutsche Post DHL that rolls two years of your Facebook life into an 18-page printed book for about $30 plus shipping (I paid only shipping for mine thanks to a coupon included with the press release). Mine won't be particularly thrilling, I am afraid, but the app does a few neat things like calculating and laying out friend stats. It's not without its share of glitches: it put my hometown as Germany (not by a long shot) and it chokes on non-Latin characters. One genius move -- even though you can't embed the slideshow of the book, it does export a few pages as stills that it then places in your photo gallery as an album and posts it on your wall.

A French telecom did something similar last year, and you can order photobooks and posters of your friends' profile pics elsewhere.

The iPad and the Return of Tummy TV

One of my first iPad impressions last year was how different it felt to hold moving images in your hands: "Watching HD videos on the iPad gives a strange sensation you don’t get from TV or laptop, a feeling of proximity, almost intimacy." Adam Lisagor, in a much longer post, shared a similar feeling:

"The iPad is for the nightstand. And for the sofa, and for the places between where you stand in line and where you sit at your desk. That’s why every iPad poster and billboard features it on a lap or a knee. They’ve stopped short of showing it on a chest in bed, but that’s where mine gets its most use."
"To my mind, holding a 10” screen a foot from my face in a dark room is more immersive than staring blankly at a 40” screen twelve feet away."
"iPad. It’s TV for your chest™."
Which reminded me of an 1965 ad from Bernbach's book for the new 5-inch TV sets by Sony that had become known, likely thanks to Bernbach, as tummy TVs ("so that your wife can sleep, we also include a personal ear plug").

-- image credits: 1, 2. Also from the same Sony series: Pee Wee Tee Vee and The Walkie-Watchie

Branded Music Visualization Plug-In for Land Rover

I last wrote about branded WinAmp visualizations five years ago and haven't heard much since until today when I saw the Land Rover team released a visualization plug-in for Windows Media Player.
-- via

As Seen on Google

A site is using its top Google SERP rank as a seal of approval:  Google Ranks DynaSpy.com #1 for "Spy Camera"
-- banner on dynaspy.com  home page

11 Random Adlab Posts

Just that: 11 totally random posts from the past six years brought to you by the wonderful "Show a Random Post" button on the blog's right sidebar. Click here to subscribe to the RSS feed if you are new here.

Santa Bot Talks Sex, Swears (2007)

Study: Low Awareness of Brands in Second Life (2007)

Human Locator's Interactive Targeted Billboards (2005)

Data Transmission Through Visible Light (2005)

"Future of Advertising" Photoshop Contest (2005)

Military Recruitment Ads From Around the World (2008)

Imagining Apple TV (2010)

NYTimes on Military Analysts As Propaganda Proxies (2008; the author subsequently won a Pulitzer for his investigative reporting on the subject))

Diapers and Beer: The Real Story (2008)

Two Ad Agencies Announce Second Life Branches (2006)

Subliminal Spam (2006)

The Human "Million Dollar Home Page"

Remember the Million Dollar Home Page? Billy "The Billboard" Gibby (recently featured in Bizarre) has 32 tattoos of brands and websites on his body, and has a spot for one more, which he is selling on eBay with a starting bid of $300.

Or you can buy a package deal and get the tattoo AND the rights to change Billy's legal name to your liking (starting at $6K).  Right now, Billy's legal name is Hostgator Mel Dotcom, which he changed from Billy after Hostgator.com hosting company had bought the package last year and issued a press release.

So far, no bids with four hours left till the auction's end. Potential media buyers must be concerned about ad clutter.

Tattoo an Ecko Logo and Get 20% Off For Life

Speaking of branded tattoos: Ecko offers 20% off for life to anyone who tattoos its brand logo (the rhino or the shears) and presents the appropriately inked body part at the store.  There's fine print: "Tattoo must be permanent and provided by a professional third-party tattoo artist operating in accordance with applicable laws. Multiple tattoos does not entitle the consumer to more than one 20% discount. Not valid on bulk buys." -- found on one of deal aggregator sites

Also, Techdirt asks: is it infringement to get your favorite sports team logo tattooed on your body? (They aren't sure.)

Get Free Gas; Ugly Cars Need Not Apply

If you are "cool and responsible", work "in a busy retail location" and drive a "high quality stylish vehicle" (or "any nice truck if you work at a large home improvement store") that you routinely park at beaches, sporting events, malls and fair groups, then Take 1 If You Dare has a deal for you. You festoon your "stylish vehicle" with promo magnets, and the company pays for your gas. Which in the age of $4-$5 gas, might not be a bad deal.

And if you need help with your mortgage, there's a deal for you, too.

Amazon Kindle With An Ad for Buick

Buzzfeed's Jon Steinberg received his ad-supported Kindle today and snapped a picture of a Buick ad on it.

The First Digital Copywriter

It's Joe McCambley, who is listed as copywriter on that very first 1994 banner for AT&T on HotWired.

According to his bio (pdf), "Joe conceived and developed the first advertising experience that ever appeared on the Internet in October of 1994. It was a banner that led to an online tour of the world’s best art museums, sponsored by AT&T and developed for the inaugural issue of HotWired Magazine."

Which also answers an old question -- what happened when people did click "right HERE".

"The Future of Advertising" Speech by P&G's Ed Artzt, 1994

On May 12, 1994, the CEO of Procter & Gamble Edwin Artzt delivered a speech at the annual 4As conference on the future of advertising. It has since become a classic,  often referenced but rarely read in full.  The speech, written months before the first banner ad received its first impression, was prescient in many regards and inspiring throughout:

"We run the risk of simply adapting to these changing technologies, but if we don't influence them -- and if we don't harness them -- loyalty to our brands could suffer in the long term."
"The most important change, by far, is that people will become more program-driven and less channel-driven." 
"[Remote controls will] soon be replaced by program navigational services that will fundamentally change the dynamics of TV viewing."  
"In virtually all of the media tests that have been launched around the country, consumers respond very positively to time-shifting." 
"History says that the advertising industry adapts brilliantly to new technology. But we can't sit there. We have to act."
"So we've got to get involved in programming to make certain that advertisers have access to the mass audience and to the best properties." 

The speech was made a year and a half before Nicholas Negroponte's seminal Being Digital.  The full text of the speech, via AdAge archives and an abandoned MediaCzar blog,  follows.

You Can't Run An Agency Without Digital

"I realized that you could not run a successful agency without digital and Hispanic advertising."

Bob Hoffman, The Ad "Advertising on The Web is Mostly a Bad Joke" Contrarian, in SF Biz Journal in 2009

Super Mario Propaganda

A set of four limited-edition posters for $80, here.  Also, my all-time favorite: Keep calm and save the princess.

20 Useful Tools

A collection of assorted tools that make my work easier:

1. Instructions for adding bookmarklets to Safari on iPad

2. Vi.sualize.us - bookmark pictures you find online via a browser plug-in; no sign-ups required

3. Formulists.com - create automatic Twitter lists based on certain criteria, such as "people who unfollowed me"

4. Manage Flitter - follow and unfollow people based on their activity levels

5. Setster.com - a web widget that lets you take appointments on your site

6. Blockposters.com - make any picture into a multi-page pdf of a wall-sized poster. Also, The Rasterbator

7. Checkdog.com - checks spelling on a website

8. Vischeck.com - check how colorblind people see your images

9. Google Refine - a tool for working with messy data sets

10. Social Mention - do a quick check of a brand's mentions in social media

11. Webbed-o-Meter - do a quick check on a URL's appearances in social media

12. Photosynth - create photo panoramas with your iOS device

13. Sendoid - share large files directly between two computers

14. Dropbox plug-ins -- a growing library of add-ons for everyone's favorite shared folder

15. PicMe - an app for rooted Androids that shows your phone's screen on any web browser for screengrabbing purposes

16. Add-ons for Chrome and for Firefox that add a button to YouTube's interface and make downloading the video files super easy

17. Ginipic - searches across different photo sharing sites and presents its findings in a nice photo wall

18. A complete Angry Birds walkthrough - videos

19. Sample Size calculator - is a sample of 100 people big enough?

20. pptPlex - an experimental PowerPoint plug-in from Microsoft that breaks up the linearity of the tool by putting the slides on a zoomable canvas (watch demo)


Indented plates on benches and other surfaces used for seating imprint a brand message on people's legs. Not to be confused with assvertising.
- via

Publishers Promote Books On Document Sharing Sites

Random House is promoting its books by publishing illustrated excerpts on Scribd, with over 2 million total reads of 287 documents to date.

The recently uploaded in time with the TV premier and heavily promoted Game of Thrones has its own custom page and background:

Media: Cross-, Multi-, or Trans-?

Myth #1 in Henry Jenkins's  7 Myths About Transmedia is that "transmedia storytelling refers to any strategy involving more than one media platform."  It doesn't, and the following attempt at a classification of  *media storytelling approaches could be useful for understanding the difference:

- A single story is told concurrently via different media, with the core narrative being supported by artifacts spread out across many types of media. None of these artifacts (except maybe one core piece?) can tell a (the?) story on its own, and the narrative can't be consumed in the absence of the elements. Many ARGs labeled as transmedia actually seem to be multimedia. Many consider traditional merchandising (think Happy Meal toys) to be a form of transmedia storytelling, but I doubt it can be classified even as multimedia.

- A single story is interpreted independently in different media. Consider The Lord of The Rings or Harry Potter books and their movie incarnations.  Consuming the story in one  medium can enhance one's understanding of the story told via the other, but each individual interpretation is self-sufficient.

- Multiple stories are set in a single universe, each is told via different media and they complement each other to form an overarching narrative. Example: The Matrix (one of Jenkins's original examples of transmedia storytelling), with the movie trilogy, the comic books and the virtual world all being self-sufficient but at the same time enhancing each other.

These approaches are not mutually exclusive, of course, and nothing prevents a media franchise from employing all three. Lost, with its combination of the TV series, the ARG, the video game, the board game, the novels and many other media artifacts is a great example of trans- and  multimedia storytelling (examined in detail in Ivan Askwith's thesis).

To the extent that advertising is storytelling, this classification probably applies to our output as well.

This thinking is under heavy construction and I would love it if you could poke holes in it in the comments or elsewhere.

Turn Your House Into A Linkbait

A mobile ad network is offering to pay your mortgage for up to a year if you let them turn your house into a billboard for their services. Probably an imaginative and successful linkbait (including a CNN story) more than an actual project, considering the $100,000 budget and all the codes they might have to deal with.  The company is in the process of attracting additional funding.

AdLab in Snapshots

Explore the visual side of AdLab's archives with Blogger's cool newly released Snapshots view.

Human Billboards in 1920

Walking billboards for run-free stockings, 1920s
- source

Mad Men Barbie

There goes my lunch money. Betty, Don, Joan and Roger for $75 each in a special fashion doll collection by Mattel.

Game-Based Marketing: Book Review

Contrary to what the authors suggest, your marketing program is not going to be automatically fun if you simply slap points and a leaderboard on it.

In my years in the advertising business, I have amassed a shelf overflowing with books on just about every new thing that came in vogue during the past decade, from Second Life and neuromarketing to crowdsourcing and design thinking. These books are usually a great time saver and a handy reference even if the expiry date on some of these new things arrives before the respective book goes into print.

Gamification, or using principles of game-play design for non-game applications and particularly marketing, is one of the newest new things that has gained prominence in 2010, much to the enthusiasm of marketers and the chagrin of professional game designers. Game-Based Marketing (Wiley, 2010) by Gabe Zicherman and Joselin Linder is a book that attempts to explain how to bridge the gap between a level boss in a first-person shooter and your own boss at your company’s marketing department. To quote a blurb from the dust jacket, “Most importantly, you’ll see how to create game-based marketing plans that measurably increase both sales and profits.”

The authors are not shy about their enthusiasm for gamification, an approach they call Funware: “In short, the future of Funware and game design in business is breathtaking,” they write. Similarly breathtaking is their predictable dismissal of the traditional advertising practices: “In this socially networked, choice-driven world, the old methods of reaching consumers with advertising messages have simply stopped working as well as they need to,” a thesis they chose to illustrate not with data but with a single example of a failed, in their opinion, commercial. Beyond the introduction where these two quotes appear, the book oscillates between numerous similar head-scratchers and occasional moments of brilliance.

The authors’ overview of the Boy Scouts’ system of badges is very timely in this age of Foursquare and services such as Badgeville that offer recognition programs to let website owners direct and reward visitors’ behavior through public acknowledgement of their actions. Their chapter-long overview of frequent flyer programs that they call “The Ultimate Funware” is thorough and provides useful gems such as an observation that shifting direct action-reward relationships (“buy 10 coffees, get 1 free”) to abstract point systems provides marketers with greater scalability of their loyalty programs. The head-scratching moment comes soon after, when on one page the authors rave about how airlines’ frequent-flyer programs create strong customer loyalty only to follow with a photograph of one of the authors’ own reward cards, not fewer than 16. One would also wish that authors had added texture to the book – one that is largely about loyalty programs – by referencing any of the numerous studies on frequent flyer program design published elsewhere over the past two decades.

Marketers working on certain brands will find plenty of unsolicited advice directed squarely at them. Safeway “is missing great opportunities to build game mechanics into a product that everyone loves – food,” while “for a brand like McDonald’s […] it’s going to take more than a million dollar grand prize and some local radio station coverage to fix what ails it.” Whether the advice is sound is left up to the marketers to decide as the authors offer little in the way of factual evidence to support their ideas; whatever might ail McDonald’s hasn’t prevented the company to grow its stock price more than twofold over the past five years.

Ultimately, Game-Based Marketing is not really about games, which is particularly unfortunate for a book whose one author is a “twelve-year game-industry veteran.”  Raph Koster, a famed game designer behind Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies and the author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design -- one of six game-related books Zichermann and Linder cite in their bibliography -- writes that games are about fun, and fun is about challenging players to learn new skills and then stretch themselves in applying these skills to new situations. As a book that introduces and then actively promotes the concept of Funware as a system of “putting fun into everything”, Game-Based Marketing offers no explanation of what fun really is. And herein lies the biggest problem with Game-Based Marketing: contrary to what the authors suggest, your marketing program is not going to be automatically fun if you simply slap points and a leaderboard on it.

If you are looking for an overview of marketing programs that involve rewards and leaderboards, you will find Game-Based Marketing a valuable addition to your collection. If you are looking to borrow design elements that make players spend hours playing video games for your next marketing campaign or other business problems, I recommend Changing The Game (FT Press, 2008) by David Edery and Ethan Mollick, and a presentation “Pawned: Gamification and Its Discontents” by Sebastian Deterding that can be found on Slideshare.


Game-Based Marketing: Inspire Customer Loyalty Through Rewards, Challenges, and Contests (Wiley, 2010) - $15 on Amazon

An edited version of this review for Game-Based Marketing: Inspire Customer Loyalty Through Rewards, Challenges, and Contests appears in the first 2011 issue of The International Journal of Advertising.

Influence Is Not Star Juice

"Influentials" is a funny word that makes me think of someone sick with influenza, with a runny nose and a feverish delirium.  That aside, Merriam-Webster offers an amusing definition of influence as "an ethereal fluid held to flow from the stars and to affect the actions of humans." Which is exactly how our industry imagines the "influentials" -- the more star juice they have, the more influential they are. (Here's an example from Brian Solis: "Influence is the ability to cause desirable and measurable actions and outcomes.")

Only it's not like you can buy star juice by the gallon, and so nobody can quite figure out what "more" means.  Klout's kscore measures observable outcomes: clicks, retweets and other similar stuff. Other formulas are fancier: "Influence = (Personal Brand * Knowledge * Trust2)". These and similar approaches to measuring influence are wrong for two reasons.

One is that considering only observable behavioral outcomes such as clicks could lead us to confuse influence with conformity, authority and power:
"Conformity occurs when an individual expresses a particular opinion or behavior in order to fit in to a given situation or to meet the expectations of a given other. Power is the ability to force or coerce someone to behave in a particular way by controlling her outcomes. Authority is power that is believed to be legitimate (rather than coercive) by those who are subjected to it." (source: pdf)
Social influence is a social phenomenon (no kidding), doesn't exist in a vacuum, and involves at least two people actors* -- an object A and a subject B. And the bigger problem with the "star juice" definitions is that they focus exclusively on A, count the number of Bs, and completely ignore the relationship between the two.  In other words, these definitions suggest that influence is an absolute attribute of A, sort of like weight, only expressed in the number of Bs.

Herbert Kelman, a long-time scholar of social influence at Harvard, defines (pdf, url) influence as an outcome of interaction between A and B:
- "Social influence can be said to have occurred whenever a person changes his behavior as a result of induction by another person or group.
- "The definition of social influence implies at least some degree of resistance to change that has to be overcome."
- "Social influence represents an aspect of the relationship between [A] and [B] within a social system in which both occupied specified positions."
- Influence can be positive or negative. "Negative influence refers to a change in a direction opposite to that induced by the influencing agent."

To sum up:
- "Influence" describes A as much as it describes B
-  Influence is situational
-  Not all behavioral change is an outcome of an "influence situation"
-  On the other hand, a lack of change can also be an outcome of an "influence situation" (negative influence)

In this context, measuring someone's influence with a yardstick makes about as much sense as reading the distance from Boston to New York from a thermometer, but at least you'll get some number.

(...more soon)

*Correction: A & B do not have to be individuals, either of them (or both) can be a group.

Real? Hacker Hijacks Times Square Screens

A guy with a transmitter plugged into an iPhone and a repeater placed near a screen on Times Square beams up footage of himself. Unless it's a masterful hoax, that is.
-- video on YouTube via Momentum Blog

Farmville For Dummies

Coming out today: 245 pages of instructions on how to "download the app and start your farm", "create your farmer avatar" and spend hours obsessively clicking on stuff.  Angela and Kyle, my hat's off to your genius. $12.50 on Amazon.

Wireless Power Lightens Up Cereal Boxes

"eCoupled intelligent wireless power is so flexible it can actually be printed directly onto packaging. A low-cost enhancement to product packaging, printed coils allow real-time communication from the package to the store shelf, and then to the store’s inventory management system. Product quantities can be identified and tracked, expiration dates monitored, and new stock automatically ordered when supplies are low to help reduce lost sales."
-- via PCWorld, LogoDesignWorks

Cable-Cutting Experiment [Video]

We invited several families to give up their cable and instead use a “connected TV” device for one week following last Christmas. We interviewed them before and after, and left them Flip cameras to record their experiences.

The video is below, and here's the post with background info and a recap of our findings.

Tune Into #TVnext on Friday

@HillHolliday is hosting a conference about the future of television tomorrow (Fri, Jan 28). Tune into our Ustream channel if you have a minute. The speaker line-up is pretty awesome: we are expecting people from NBC, Microsoft Interactive Entertainment, Boxee, GoogleTV, Hulu, Xfinity, FiOS, TiVo, Hulu and many other companies in the field.

I also have a couple of pieces of research going live at the event. One is an experiment about living without cable, and the other one is a survey of TV content availability across devices; they will be presented at the 12.30pm (EST) and 2.30pm panels respectively.

Electronic Blackboard Transmits Writing Over Phone Lines (1974)

"A new, experimental system devised by Bell Labs may make an old teaching tool more alluring. Called an electronic blackboard, it uses ordinary (and low-cost) telephone lines to send writing that is chalked on a pressure-sensitive surface to any remote point for TV-screen display. The audio portion of a lecture or other presentation can, if needed, be sent via a second phone line, using a portable conference phone available commercially. The system is being tried out at the University of Illinois."
-- Popular Science, June 1974

AdLab Featured on Pulse

Pulse, "the iPad's most gorgeous newsreader" praised by Steve Jobs himself, is even more gorgeous this morning because today it lists this very blog among its featured sources. As if iPad weren't shipping enough units already.

If you are a Pulse reader, welcome and here's the kind of stuff you've been missing for the past six years:

- A "Try Again" button for Google
- A lovingly illustrated post on the evolution of ads in sports video games
- 10 tips for ad-supported start-ups
- Mad Men Against The Machine, or how we soon will be advertising to robots instead of people
- Lots of good old media
- A collection of offbeat creative work

-- tweet by @ehunteryoung

Two Alternative Verizon iPhone Commercials

Long before yesterday's Verizon iPhone teaser aired on TV, fans had begun cutting their own ads in anticipation of the great day, some as early as April of last year. Below are the two best ones.

I need service, demands a half-naked girl:

We've got three words:

If you are lucky, you'll fall into a time-space warp and see an AT&T ad for its iPhone served by Google at the end of the second spot for Verizon, like so: