Consumer Generated Content

Social Networks Show Users are Not Designers. And That’s Okay.

Posted on July 16, 2008. Filed under: blog, Consumer Generated Content, consumer marketing, Facebook, Michael Durwin, MySpace, Social Network, Twitter, Web 2.0, WordPress |

I recently came across fellow Twitter-buddy Bokardo’s blog on designing for social networks:

Ugliness, Social Design, and the MySpace Lesson

Good points all around. An important thing to keep in mind is Form Follows Function. In other words, first it has to work, then it can be made to look pretty. Well, like it or not, MySpace works, despite the fact that it is not pretty. But pretty is a subjective term, while working is not. In order to work, in the realm of social networking and personalization, the user must be presented with the ability to make their site their own. That means supplying the function and letting them supply the form. If the MySpace example tells us anything it’s that most users have no taste! Any designer could tell you that! It takes skill, talent and education to know good design when you see it, much less create good design. If users were all capable of creating good design, we designers would be out of a job. MySpace decided that stopping at Function suited them just fine. With their user base and cash flow, who could argue with that?

Facebook, on the other hand, has taken a different point of view. They are providing the Function and 99% of the form. The only personalization there is your apps, your friends and your pictures.

Twitter and WordPress are in the middle. Twitter (who is obviously still working on their Function) allows a bit of form to be handled by their users, but not alot. Twitter allows users to add a picture as an icon and change their background and colors. Both merely complement the user interface. With WordPress, if you’re using their hosted version, you can choose from a variety of templates to change your layout, or you can design or have someone else design a WordPress template for you. This last is not easy for a layman, so it is often someone with design skills who does it. At worst, a WordPress design can be boring, but at least it’s not as hideous as what some MySpace users are doing.

So, allowing the Form portion of your social network’s user interface to fall into the hands of it’s users may not be pretty, but that’s what social networks are all about, What the User Wants. The user has become the designer, for better or worse, of their own experience. Who knows if this will be a continuing trend? Well, maybe we have a hint already. Users in droves have been flocking to Facebook over the last year or so, which offers much less freedom of expression, at least visually. What I’ve heard over and over from those that have abandoned MySpace for Facebook, besides that it’s for stalkers and spammers (thanks Big Media), is that Facebook looks better. Maybe users are smartening up, and realizing that they enjoy elegant design, maybe, with all the different aspects of their real and online lives, they are too busy to design their experience and prefer to have one handed to them.

We will see how it shakes out over the coming year.

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BMW Shoots Viral Piece, Does it Hit or Miss?

Posted on June 25, 2008. Filed under: advertising, blog, Boston, Consumer Generated Content, consumer marketing, DVD, Facebook, iPhone, Michael Durwin, movies, MySpace, new media, User Generated Content, viral marketing, Web 2.0, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

BMW movie The Ramp

Earlier this year BMW launched a viral video to promote the launch of it’s new model in the U.S. The video was released as a documentary following the stories of a small Bavarian town named Oberpfaffelbachen. The town’s citizens include a stunt driver, over zealous police chief, event promoter and mayor, trying to save the town from hard financial times. They devise a promotion in which they will launch a 300 horse power BMW 1 Series from a 454 meter (1486.5 feet) ramp from Bavaria, across the Atlantic to the U.S. The town has created an entire festival around the event called Rampenfest. Towns folk are turning their houses into gift shops, town managers are tearing down forests for parking. I won’t give away the ending, but obviously something goes wrong. Not as dramatically as I’d hoped unfortunately.

The quality of the video is excellent, the acting, direction and effects (as subtle as the ramp, as obvious as the teeth) as good as a movie. The video has been seen by millions which can give BMW the opportunity to claim a positive impact, especially considering that it was shot overseas and cost far less than a U.S. 30 second spot. Was it successful? It’s hard to say.

As with any viral, guerilla or virtual advertising, it is hard to judge success. Many still talk about the negative impact of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerilla stunt, requiring a payout of 2 million to the city of Boston to cover lawsuits and the cost of our crack bomb squad (who apparently can’t tell the difference between a bomb and a light brite!). The press loves to bring up the GM (Chevy) Yukon promotion run on YouTube. Many people made anti-SUV ads from the audio and video clips GM posted in the make-you-own commercial promotion. This brings us to what determines success.

The GM promotion was considered a failure because of the thousands of ads that were created that shed a positive light on the Yukon, there were a few that were negative. But, is that a bad thing? Most people learn by making mistakes or being told they’re wrong. Negative feedback is just as important, if not more important than positive feedback. How will you know how to improve your product unless people tell you what they DON’T like about it? GM learned that there are alot of people that consider their giant SUV bad for the environment and a gas guzzler. If this prompts them to make eco-friendly, gas-conscious improvements to their vehicles, is that a bad thing for the company or the consumer?

And let’s not forget that with the launch of the BMW campaign, the GM promotion was brought up as a failure again. Really? The Chevy Yukon is mentioned in the press for another car manufacturer’s promotion and that’s a bad thing? Sounds like free press to me. Even when a guerilla or viral campaign can’t be measured in sales or doesn’t have quite the immediate impact a company would hope, there is always the fact that it will continue to keep the brand in the public’s conscience for months and years to come.

Brand visibility is the best way to consider whether or not your viral or guerilla campaign is effective. You can’t often track sales back to a campaign like this or even sign-ups. You may get a solid number of visits to your microsite, but when visitors pull down your video, or assets, or talk about it in their blog, it can be difficult to track especially since those co-opted branding placements end up living for months out of your control.

So, how successful will the BMW campaign be? Well, they millions of viewers at the moment. Add on a few million views of the video once people (like me) download the clip to their iPod/iPhone and show it around, upload it to their YouTube, MySpace, Facebook or blog accounts, hundreds of discussions of it in marketing or news related blogs (where I found it) and then it’s recurring mention every time another automaker or major corporation does a viral or guerilla campaign and it sounds like a success to me.

But BMW knows this. They were arguably one of the first to use viral video not just as a tool to sell cars but a way to engage consumers with their brand, and to redefine their brand as cool. I still have a DVD copy of the BMW Movies from the promotion in 2001. The shorts were directed by Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, John Woo, Tony Scott, John Frankenheimer and featured Forest Whitakker, Madonna, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke and others. It received rave reviews at Cannes, from the New York Times, and Time magazine. They very successfully hit their middle-age, married, 150k/yr target.

The new spot however, at least in the words of Marketing VP Jack Pitney, was, rather than target a demographic, to target a psychographic. While most companies want to stick to categorizing their demographics by generation, age and finances, BMW is smart enough to know that they can pull an 8 year old boy and an 58 year old woman into their brand halo just by virtue of the fact that they may share common interests, like flashy cars, or mockumentaries.

Despite my feeling that this viral video may be a bit long for most viewers (35 minutes), I’m fairly certain that the folks at BMW will be pleased with the outcome. And I’m happy to help them broadcast their brand (even though I drive the “other” german car)!

Links:
Official Film Site

BMW Films Wikipedia

BMW Films Site (no videos here)

BMW Film “Star” (you can find the rest of the films here as well)

Digg submission where I first found out about the promotion

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Corporations Leave Second Life. We never knew you were there!

Posted on July 25, 2007. Filed under: advertising, American Apparel, Bank America, Burger King, Consumer Generated Content, consumer marketing, H&R Block, Lost, NBA, Sears, Second Life, Social Network, User Generated Content, viral marketing, Warcraft, Web 2.0, Web3.d, Wired Magazine |

I got a good laugh out of the recent Wired article stating that Second Life was officially over.
Many companies who tried to market themselves in Second Life failed and are now leaving. Coke, American Apparel, NBA, Sears, H&R Block, etc. (edit: Some of these companies aren’t leaving, just complaining that their real world strategies failed).

The problem with these companies is they try to market in it the same way they market in the real world. This is a virtual world that they know virtually nothing about. Why would an avatar want a Coke? Duh! There is no thirst in Second Life as their is no rain.

It amazes me that these companies look at a brand new technology and say, “let’s make money in it right away. If we build it they will come and spend.” Very few of the marketers who have delved into Second Life have engaged users. “Come drive my car”, okay but to get there I’m going to hop on my hovercraft or just fly. Once the novelty of driving your car for 5 minutes wears off, what else do you have to engage me? A chance to win a Pontiac to the person who creates the coolest concept car in Second Life? No? A Mercedes racing game? No? Oh, a free racing suit. Thanks. ALot of people talk about American Apparel closing it’s store. It may have been one of the first but it was also one of the worst. There was stage but no posting as to when fashions shows took place. AA clothes are for the most part non-descript. Why would it appeal to me to buy one of your plain t-shirts for my avatar? I have an alligator head and fairy wings! Not to mention that there was no staff at the store, no events, NOTHING of interest, oh, except the free 6 pack of beer on the desk (random).

One of the few real world entities that has a presence in Second Life that works is the L Word. Why? Because they’ve created locations from the set to hang out, they let Second Lifers sell their L Word-related merchandise their, they host events, there are greeters to meet you and answer questions. Second Life is a waste of time for most companies just like Bud.tv was. Why go to a web site just because it has the bud logo. What are they offering consumers? Why go to Coke Island or wherever? Because it’s Coke?

I’m surprised Burger King hasn’t tried to replicate their games or created new ones in SL. That would generate some interest. I’m further surprised that game companies don’t host mini, playable previews of their game environments there, or more record companies don’t do virtual artist shows, or tv shows (Hello Lost) put on spin off episodes, meet the cast, or tour the island events on. These are the kinds of companies that can benefit from Second Life. Bank America isn’t going to get people to use their ATM machines! What is H&R Block going to do in Second Life, help people with their virtual taxes?

As for Wired’s article above, it’s further sensationalist journalism. “Second Life is Officially Over” they say. Only 1 million visitors in the last 30 days. I’d bet there are alot of companies that would like that kind of turnout on their web site.

Second Life does herald the next generation of the Internet, only a fool can deny that. The thing is, not unlike early 90s web sites, it’s not ready to be an ecommerce tool. Brand awareness, generator, maybe. Possibility for consumer engagement? I’ve got news for you, consumers are in charge now and no place is that more apparent than in their own world.

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Are Social Networks Losing their Sparkle? Yeah right!

Posted on June 22, 2007. Filed under: blog, BlogSpot, Boston, Consumer Generated Content, Facebook, Google, Michael Durwin, MySpace, Social Network, TypePad, User Generated Content, Web 2.0, WordPress |

This blog is a response to this blog:

I think that what’s hot or not can be misleading or misunderstood as a vague announcement. MySpace may not be where the hippest users flock or the site that gets the most cool press, but with over 24 million users, I’d say it’s far from being a ghost town. Fads stop being fads as soon as it has permiated the general public. So what makes it hot? Press? Hipsters? Users base? Features? Buyouts?

I think that social networking is in the beginning phase of a shakedown in which each will capture it’s audience, similar to the browser wars of the 90s. Alot of users and developers jumped back and forth with each release until they settled down with their favorite with a content sigh.

For those on the cutting edge that are bouncing over to Virb, there are thousands of 30-60 somethings every day discovering that they can put up pictures of their kids and their modl train sets on MySpace, thousands more every day flocking to Facebook because their business decided they needed to “get into” web 2.0.

Blogs are doing the same. While there are a few of us who maintain presences on Blogspot, WordPress, TypePad, etc., most bloggers find one their like and stick to it. This can be based on user interface, widgets, target audience, friend recommendations, visibility, etc. Like most media, site usage is as fractured as consumer markets. Goggle is in Beta-mode for Blog Search that spiders all blogs presumably.

Social networks are here to say, duh. 47% of all internet users in the U.S. are visiting social networks. I think they will become more narrowly defined environments for sure. The public has been given the power of choice and they are anxious to swing their weight around.

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Oh, Snap! Web 2.0 is Destroying the World?

Posted on June 19, 2007. Filed under: advertising, Andrew Keen, BBC, Blair Witch Project, Boston, Boston Metro, Britney Spears, CDs, Consumer Generated Content, Dave Mathews, Fantastic Four, Grammy's, Massachusetts, Michael Durwin, NBC, new media, Nirvana, Paris Hilton, Shrek, Tool, User Generated Content, Web 2.0, White Stripes, YouTube |

Andrew Keen was interviewed in today’s Metro Boston discussing who Web2.0 was ruining the Internet and culture in general. He states in his new book “The Cult of Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture”:
“millions of millions of exuberant monkeys … are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity,”

Keen rips apart user-generated content as a threat to existing cultural standards saying that anyone with a keyboard and a camera or a microphone can make their own news, movies or music and disseminate it on the web. The crux of his stand is that this is disintermediating Hollywood, news outlets, record labels, etc. He further states; “My fear is that if Web 2.0 continues it’s sort of idealistic rampage through mainstream media, we’re going to be left with nothing but this level playing field, and professional media is going to be undermined.”

Wow! 

What Keen is missing is that the cause behind the surge in user-generated media is the basic law of supply and demand. If the demand did not exist, the supply would dwindle. Why are there so few horse-drawn wagon repair shops? Because something better came along that people wanted: cars. The public constantly complains that today’s films and music, for the most part, suck. That’s not to say that there aren’t great movies and CDs being made. What is true is that many are jammed together, lowest-common-denominator targeted rehashing packaged for mass consumption. There wouldn’t be a half-dozen independent film channels if the public was happy with the available cinema. Certainly the latest Shrek or Fantastic Four has it’s audience (me for one), and a large one at that. But the public is fragmenting by choice. They are no longer willing to accept what they are force fed and are looking elsewhere for entertainment that touches them on a deeper level. I heard recently, so it may not be true, that most movies lose money. This is most likely due to the enormous operating costs of the studio, actors, special effects, directors, marketing, etc. Yet a little movie like the Blair Witch Project, made for $60,000, made over $29 million in it’s opening weekend. This was filmed with a small crew and limited cast, virtually no special effects, unless you count flashlights, and was marketed on the web by it’s writer and director. Blair Witch 2 was made for $15 million and made only $13 million it’s opening weekend. This one was made by a major production company. By the way, the original gets an 8 out of 10 stars rating while the major studio version got only 2 out of 10 stars.

There is a serious movement to abandon network news and news paper outlets in favor of consumer-generated news, blogs or the BBC. Many feel that due to their focus on the bottom line, network news agencies are focusing more on local drama or celebrity gossip than international news. As a musician, you don’t want me to get started on what record labels have been pushing. Keen says “I think record lables historically have found and polished marvelous talent.” Is he kidding?! Does he listen to the schlock on the radio? Are the Britney’s of the world really marvelous talent? Let’s not forget the Paris Hilton CD. This is typical of record company offerings. You don’t get very many White Stripes, Tools or Dave Mathews. Whether you like bands like this or not, they are quality musicians, writing quality music and releasing quality CDs. Not pre-packaged tarts with a crew of 50 year-old songwriters and mixing board gurus that represents a majority of record company releases. What he additionally fails to mention is the financial structire of record companies. Most bands don’t even make money from their CDs, the record companies keep it. Most must rely on ticket and t-shirt sales.

If anyone is killing our culture it is the very few that sit at the top of the heap of news outlets, record companies and film companies. They are the ones who continue to push watered-down, titilating, bland a rehashed content. By doing so they are creating a need that will only be filled by independents, consumer generators, etc. Consumer generated content will never be mainstream, it will always be nitch due to the very nature of it’s fragmented targeting. This blog will never be read by the millions that read the New York Times. I’l lbe lucky if it is read by dozens. But what blogs, YouTube videos, Virb bands etc. do for our culture, besides filling the need left by Big Media, is to keep those guys on their toes. It has always been true that the underground becomes the main stream once the big corporations figure out a way to monetize it. That’s not a bad thing. Once Nirvana started selling millions of records and made it to the Grammy’s, it created a new counter culture that hated grunge. 

It’s cyclical and circular. 

Unfortunately it seems like Andrew Keen and his supporters only see a curved line. Smart marketers like those at NBC and the other networks are taking advantage of technology that wouldn’t exist, web video, or be popular if consumers hadn’t been pushing forward it all along. Even the big media magazine Time realizes the importance of the consumer. Keen seems to feel that it is big media’s job to give consumers what big media thinks is appropriate. This is like a parent talking to a child. Consumers want a conversation. They’ll give their hard earned dollars to big media, only if big media listens to them, and gives them what they’re asking for. I wonder how Keen would feel if he went to an ice cream stand and was automatically given chocolate or vanilla. What if he wanted orange sherbet? What if the kids across the street from the ice cream parlor started selling home made sherbet? Should they be stomped out because they were destroying the culture of vanilla and chocolate? They may put the parlor out of business, the business may buy them out, but one thing is for sure, we all benefit from the choices being offered.

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