Monthly Archives: January 2010

The agency of the future will be a horse of a different color

Brian Morrissey recently wrote in Adweek about the “great race” between traditional and digital shops to become the lead agency, that is, the agency that leads all brand communications efforts for the client among a stable of shops covering specific specialties.  Morrissey’s piece reports on a Forrester “state of interactive agencies” survey showing that only 23% of global interactive marketers believe that the “the traditional brand agency is capable of planning and managing interactive marketing activities.”  Conversely, only 22% think their interactive agency is ready to assume the leading role in managing all brand communications.  Thus the great race for world domination of brand stewardship between the traditional and digital agencies is off! To quote Morrissey, “…traditional shops scramble to add digital know-how and digital shops seek to move up the ladder to become brand stewards…”

Joseph Jaffee, in his latest installment of JaffeJuiceTV suggests there’s a third horse in the race, the social media agency.  (Thanks to Joe for drawing my attention to the Morrissey article in his video.)  You have to admire Joe for waving the social media flag, since his company, crayon, was just acquired along with two other companies by powered to create the first “social media agency with scale,” as I believe he calls it.

When a traditional agency acquires digital know-how — usually that means buying a digital agency — that’s one thing.  Integrating that expertise with the brand strategy capabilities of the acquiring agency is quite another.  Whether it’s a two or three-horse race, ultimately it’s about tearing down the walls that stand between traditional, digital and social in our minds and in the way we work so that ideas move freely, are informed and work across all three. It means bringing people of different minds, with different perspectives, together, ideally in physical space, not separating them into silos, so they can create something better and more powerful together.  The agencies that get that right will be the ones that win.  And then it won’t matter if they’re traditional, digital or social.  Because at that point they will be a horse of a completely different color.

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Ikea’s Easy to Assemble video series breaks new ground in branded entertainment

Easy to Assemble is a wacky online video series created and written by Illeana Douglas and sponsored by Ikea.  It’s based on an earlier online show created by Douglas called Supermarket of the Stars. Douglas later pitched it to Ikea and adapted it for the Swedish home furnishings giant.  In both series, Douglas and the other stars (including Justine Bateman, Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Pollak and Jane Lynch) play fictionalized versions of themselves.  The basic idea is that they have decided to get out of show business and start new careers as co-workers in the Ikea store in Burbank, California.  Sounds like a stretch, but the series is incredibly funny and entertaining.

And that’s the secret to its success as a brand property.  According to Advertising Age, Easy to Assemble has racked in 5.1 million views since first going online last year and the numbers are still growing.  Ikea had the vision to give Douglas the creative freedom to place entertainment ahead of marketing.  That doesn’t mean the brand is relegated to the sidelines.  The story takes place in the Ikea store, Ikea branding and products (including those famous Swedish meatballs) are weaved naturally into the story lines, and the brand isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, or at peculiarly Swedish traits that are at the heart of the brand and the company.  The ability not to take itself so seriously, something most brands sadly lack, makes Ikea all the more approachable and human.

In one of the spoof training videos that come at the end of many episodes, Nicole Bateman advises Ikea trainees not to inform customers who have left an important component behind by mistake.  When they get home, they’ll realize it’s missing, come back to buy it, and will probably pick up other items as well.  “And that means repeat sales.”  Of course everyone watching knows this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but most marketers would lack the courage for that kind of humor.

I’m also impressed how Easy to Assemble has engaged with Ikea’s online fan base to promote the show.  For the launch of the second season, Douglas engaged the services of CJP Digital Media, a company that creates, distributes and promotes branded entertainment properties.  CJP approached fan communities like Susan Martin’s, which receives over 320,000 unique visitors a month, according to a post on tubefilter news.

CPJ went beyond just providing brand enthusiasts with YouTube embed codes.  It approached the top four Ikea fan sites and gave each an embeddable online player that only works on that site, where visitors could watch the shows.  The one that gets the most people to view the series will be rewarded by getting written into the second season finale.  This provides benefits for everyone involved.  Ikea and Easy to Assemble profit from the increased buzz and word of mouth.  The fan sites are rewarded by repeat visits thanks to recurring, relevant and entertaining content.  October was’s best month ever for traffic and unique visitors, and Martin credits this in part to the show appearing on the site.

The influence and effectiveness of Easy to Assemble will grow in future.  Initially distributed only on YouTube and Metacafe, it now can be seen on CBS’s, My Damn Channel and  And it should be showing soon on Hulu, Verizon FiOS and The Hotel Network’s DoNotDisturb TV channel, if it isn’t already.

I loved this quote from Susan Martin in the tubefilter news piece:  “Ikea has that most elusive combination of respect and love from their customer base.”  At Saatchi & Saatchi, we call brands that achieve that elusive combination Lovemarks.  Ikea certainly is one.  But as in any relationship, brands need to find ways to continually fuel that love.  By taking branded entertainment to a new level of comedy and quality, Easy to Assemble is a great way to do that.


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Instapaper and Skitch are two useful tools you should get to know

Many thanks to Mitch Joel for introducing me to Instapaper on his Six Pixels of Separation blog.  It’s a simple tool that lets you file web pages to read later.  It works on your computer with a “Read Later” tab that instantly saves the article, and it can be synced to your iPhone.  So items that you come across on both devices can be filed, accessed and managed from both.

I love Instapaper because I receive many links to online articles and blog posts through Google Alerts and Google Reader and the amount of stuff coming in can be overwhelming.  This lets me quickly run through the items, delete the ones of little interest, and quickly save the ones I don’t have time to read at the moment.

I also like that Instapaper re-formats web pages for the iPhone, making them easy to read on the screen.  Instapaper also lets you organize your finds into different folders by topic, and it has an archive for the things you want to keep.  For anyone doing research on the web, this can be a fantastic tool.

Skitch is a new application that lets you quickly capture a screen shot and then edit or resize it, as well as superimpose text, pointers and other graphic elements.  Skitch lets you easily share the shot in emails, on blogs and in forums or build it into other documents.  You can also upload it to your or a personal Skitch page where others can access and work with it further.  Thanks to Dan Landin who recommended Skitch on a Twitter post.

I’m just starting to play around with Skitch.  I think most of the functionality is available elsewhere, but Skitch seems to put that functionality all in one place to eliminate steps and save time.  Here’s my first experiment with Skitch, in which I personally “defaced” my Facebook page.  A masterpiece!

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Socialnomics — this video speaks for itself

Four minutes well invested (and the music is hot!) …

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Social media? Let Mikey do it? I don’t think so

Many voices in the blogosphere are saying that 2010 will be the year that social media will move from “nice to have” to “must have” for brands.  Maybe it’s true.  But a conversation I heard this week on episode 85 of The BeanCast makes me think that CEO’s still don’t get what is happening here.

The topic of the conversation was the newly emerged position of community manager, who many companies are now putting in place to “manage” their online relationships with consumers, bloggers, etc.  (There must be a better term than manager.  Managing sounds pretty close to commanding and controlling, which is precisely what social media is not about, but that’s a whole different blog post.) It seems that in many cases these jobs are being assigned to junior people, just out of school, for salaries in the $20K range.  What that says to me is that the CEO is thinking, “Okay — there’s this Facebook, Twitter, blogger thing happening on the internet, I don’t really get what it’s about, but hey, it’s another way to get our message to consumers so let’s put the new kid on it who knows how to use this stuff.”

Mikey, our new online community manager

You’ve got to be kidding me.  The new kid?  The one with this least experience and the least understanding of what the company and the brand is all about?

Social media isn’t some hip new communications channel.  It is a different animal — an amazing, completely new and ever changing way for brands to interact and collaborate with their consumers and stake holders and address their needs.  What happens in social media is exposed to the entire online world and all it takes is one well connected blogger, enraged or enthused, for a company’s words and actions to be seen, discussed, praised or picked apart by everyone.

This person needs to know how to deal with a disgruntled customer, build a constructive relationship with an influential blogger, understand the complexities of how to be transparent without revealing confidential company or client information, work within the organization with all departments to guide them in understanding their role in social media and its benefit to the company.  He or she needs to understand strategy, and think creatively about how to integrate social media strategically with marketing, communications, customer service, internal communications, R&D and sales to achieve business objectives.

Scott Monty of Ford and Richard Binhammer of Dell, two social media evangelists within major corporations whose efforts have become case studies for innovative and effective social media engagement, aren’t kids.  They are seasoned business people who have been around the block a few times.

If you’re a CEO who thinks this social media thing is simply another communications channel, best handled by one of the kids in the organization just because he’s had a Facebook page since high school, you really need to think again.  Put somebody in place who not only gets the space, but has a few years under his or her belt in communications, marketing, branding building, customer relations or sales.  And who has gained some wisdom and experience in dealing with people and building relationships.

By the way, I’m available.  But not for $20,000.


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Why can’t The New York Times be like iTunes?

Everyone knows newspapers are in trouble.  The business model based on advertising revenues that served them well for decades no longer works in a world where people can get their news online for free and audiences are fragmented like never before.

What’s a newspaper to do?

Well, one thing is to try and force people to subscribe to online editions, as Rupert Murdoch would like, by not letting content loose for free, not even in your Google news feed.  That’s one model, and it seems to work for The Wall Street Journal.  Whether it will work for Murdoch’s other newspaper properties is another question.

But a better model might be to be more like iTunes.  I can’t imagine that someone hasn’t already thought of an iTunes-like model for newspaper content before, but I haven’t seen one.  If you know of one, please leave a comment.

Here’s what I imagine. Each day I receive a digital copy of, say, The New York Times.  It’s organized as I remember seeing it on the Kindle.  (I don’t have a Kindle – yet.)  There’s an initial page that lists the sections of the newspaper.  By clicking on a section, I then get a list of the article headlines, perhaps with the first one or two sentences of the article itself.  If I decide I want to read it, I click on it and a charge is automatically deducted from my New York Times online account.  I might also  subscribe to one or more sections, if I wish, rather than the whole paper.  Or even to specific topics, or a particular columnist or reporter.

Simple. I click and pay only for the content I read.  For the stuff I don’t read, I don’t pay.

How much would The Times charge per article?  25 cents? 10 cents? 2 cents?  (That would certainly give new meaning to “getting my 2 cents worth”!)  It’s hard to say.  They would probably have to experiment with different price points to see where the sweet spot is – where they get the greatest volume of click-through’s from the greatest number of readers.  But I could imagine that when people only pay for the parts of The Times they want to read, and the price threshold for that is fairly low, “pay per article” could potentially generate volume and revenues exceeding an online subscription model.  iTunes certainly made a killing, one 99-cent download at a time.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually still love newspapers.  I’m old fashioned.  I enjoy getting the whole paper, touching the actual paper, leafing through it on my sofa, discovering stories of interest that I would have missed if I preselected the content through an RSS feed.  And I also want to know that my news provider is trustworthy, which means it has an organization in place that upholds certain journalistic standards, checks facts, investigates stories.  That costs money and requires a healthy revenue stream.

iTunes freed people from shelling out the money for a whole CD when all they really wanted to hear were one or two songs. And made lots of money.  So maybe being like iTunes is a way for newspapers to generate the revenue that maintains quality, depth and breadth of content, in a world where more and more people want to pick, choose and pay only for the part of that content that’s relevant to them.  All I have to do is give up the paper.  But since I also love trees, that isn’t a bad thing either.


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