Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton

Yesterday we went to a lecture with Billy Bob Thornton. He was wearing glasses the whole time to cover his "puffy eyes" which I think means extreme SXSW hang over. Mostly he talked about the movie making industry, being an actor and director, etc. He did say one thing about Hollywood which I thought was relevant to advertising and I wrote down because it made me laugh.
"Testing turns anything great into toothpaste."
I wondered what about if you are actually selling toothpaste? Hmmmm...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


So, we've been hearing all week about how alternate reality gaming is one of many new ways to engage an audience with your brand and tell them a story they can get into. Tonight we saw a really interesting film that sheds light on a section of this audience, hardcore MMORPG players. Consisting of hundreds of thousands of people all over the globe, these communities play games like World of Warcraft, Everquest and participate in Second Life on a whole new level. It was truly fascinating to hear these people talk about how they preferred their online friends to their real friends, and in most cases their online identities than themselves. Of course it was loaded with the expected nerdy twentysomething males who live together and play these games 18 hours a day. But it also told stories of people who had found true love, or what some thought of as true love, through hundreds of hours role playing in an alternate universe online. It also touch on a few tragic situations, like a man in Philadelphia who got so caught up in these games he lost his business, house, everything, which sparked him to enter a rehab facility for gamers.....yes, they exist. In fact there is a whole medical society designed around the effects these games can have on people.
It also made a huge case for why these games can be good. They introduced several examples of severely handicapped people who had blossomed and found a reason to live through online identities. They talked about the hope and confidence these games gave them. People who could suddenly walk and talk and be know only for what they created themselves to be in the game and not their affliction in the real world.
In the end the film was really about individuals and the choices they make based on their perceptions of themselves. And how society can sometimes drive these people to want to "escape" through these games because of the way they are treated or looked down upon, but that ultimately it is the individuals responsibility for making the decision to participate in life, and not live through these games.
Don't blame the game, blame the gamer.

Animated Shorts

We saw some killer animated shorts this morning. It's a bummer to see them and know that their life after this will probably be some sad corner of the Internet. They looked great on the big screen. Theaters should get back to showing them before shows, instead of crappy commercials you can see on tv anyway.

Some of my favs:
Tower of Grantville
Shut Eye Hotel
My First Crush
Madame Tulti-Putli
(which won the Oscar this year)
and my very favorite, I Hate You Don't Touch Me or Bat and Hat about a bat and it's relationship to a hat. That's what I thought it was about, until the animator said it was about sacrificing things to get what we want and movies and animation and stuff. At any rate, it was very very good.

What User Generated Video Means to Word of Mouth Advertising

Have you ever read a review on Amazon and had a sneaking suspicion that it was written by the manufacturer? Have you ever gotten something from eBay and been disappointed to find out that it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be? This presentation talked about word of mouth advertising and what it means. As someone who who regularly uses Yelp!, Facebook, Myspace and eBay this was of particular interest to me. I hate when I am sold to, or especially lied to, on sites that I trust.

According to the presentation, the main way that advertisers F*** up when it comes to word of mouth on social sites is by not being truthful with their consumers. Advertisers should always identify themselves as such and remember that in this realm consumers control the brand. It is always better to play it straight. (i.e.- don’t pay people to review your product or censor testimonials.)

The panel also introduced which is a site created to provide consumers an unbiased user generated video platform to talk about products. Think of this as basically a commercial made by your Average Joe about a product they love (or hate) and then hosted online at Maybe Mom’s from Minnesota will be taking all our jobs!

Over 50% of the panels this year at SXSW Interactive were about social networking. It made me happy to think that with the Glad website among the most popular Clorox sites last year, our clients seem to be receptive to this kind of word of mouth advertising. And we aren’t F***ing it up!

Monday, March 10, 2008

They pay people to do this?

I went to a really cool seminar yesterday about feature film distribution. The panel was made up of "taste makers" who acquisition films for all of the relevant indie studios right now. I found it interesting that each one of these studios had a philosophy and certain type of film they wanted to put out. They sit together every year and decide what kind of films and statements they want to make. They all mentioned that buying a film at a festival is becoming more and more rare these days. They're really interested in acquiring screenplays and owning the whole production. They all agreed that theatrical release isn't where you make money these days, but that online, VOD and DVD purchases are most important.
What I found most interesting and relevant about this seminar was how these films are marketed and how they determine what niche to pursue distribution in first. Obviously they can't just do a marketing blitzkrieg for a small esoteric film, and in most cases that wouldn't be appropriate anyway. Instead they find "street teams" and alternate media plans that are specific to each film. A great example was from one guy who bought a film at Sundance last year called "Samoan Wedding". He and his team loved the movie but knew it wasn't going to play to a wide audience. After a little research they decided to only play it in Hawaii for two weeks to see how it went and then the plan would be to release on DVD and spend most of the promo budget then. Well, it worked, it opened in 2 theaters in Hawaii only with a huge word of mouth and little or no physical press and they made they're money back in two weekends. This enabled them to spend even more money marketing the film on DVD. There were lot's of examples of this strategy and were all tailored and unique to the style of the film and the audience they were trying to reach.

The Web Agency: There Will Be Blood

The title of this panel was a tad alarmist. The description of it on the website says that social media, a transition to digital marketing, combined with an economic slowdown could create a “perfect storm.”

The panelists, including Kevin Flatt, ECD of Tribal DDB, were a little less dramatic in their predictions. In fact, because it was so based on predicting the future, the panelists disagreed on a number of points. But there were a few points to take away:

The new media will transform the old media, not completely replace it.

We’re all headed to the same place, it’s just a matter of how broad an agency wants to go with their range of services.

When asked what people need to do to survive the change: Have a deep understanding of how consumers interact with all the media touch points.

11 Tips for Managing a Creative Environment

This two-person panel was made up of the CEO and design strategist from Adaptive Path, an SF-based company that, according to their website, “helps companies create products and services that deliver great experiences that improve people's lives.”

They picked the brains of a range of people who manage creative environments, mining them for insights into striking the balance between creative freedom and strategic deliverables on a rigid deadline. A comedy troupe, a head chef, orchestra musicians, a screenwriter collective, a stage manager, a writer and producer and a magazine editor all contributed to these 10 tips (these will probably read pretty dryly, but it was a really well-done, interesting and hopefully helpful panel):

1. Cross-train the entire team. Have specialists, but give everyone exposure to all aspects of the job.

2. Rotate creative leadership/ownership from job to job.

3. Actively turn the corner from divergence to convergence. This means that you should have two phases. The first in which there are no bad ideas, everything is thrown up on the wall and there is NO KILLING or telling why an idea won’t work. Then there should be a distinct point in which you shift to editing, killing off the bad, and organizing the good. The point is to cull the ideas down, so don’t keep throwing out unrelated ideas.

4. Know the roles in the convergence phase. Your role may be anything from the decider to “shut up and listen.”

5. Practice. Practice. Practice.

6. Make the mission explicit to the whole team. Make the mission actionable, not theoretical.

7. Kill with kindness. When killing your babies, or other people’s babies, even the ugly ones, do it kindly. Be supportive and respectful. “Great idea for phase 2.” “Remember that for the extended version.”

8. Leadership is a service. Good leaders listen, understand everyone’s investment and interest, then help them represent their ideas in the best way. Facilitator rather than Dictator. Give people space to do their best work vs forcing your vision on them.

9. Generate projects around the group’s creative interest. Identify specific interests/talents and fill roles accordingly.

10. Remember your audience. You are probably not them.

11. Celebrate failure. Appreciate spectacular misses. After the project, have a post-mortem party (or “After Party”) in which you discuss what worked, what didn’t and what was learned.

Self-Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing

This panel was full of really great pearls of wisdom. It had some of the same themes we’d heard, but delved more into the philosophy of social marketing. And to be honest, after listening to it, I had two opposite but instant feelings: a) Oh shit, we’d better start thinking differently, and b) for a big company, we have some pretty good, innovative things going on.

The big idea I took away from this panel was that we need to shift thinking in two ways. First, we need to “come out of the ivory tower” as one panelist put it. Stop talking at the community, and start being a part of it.

Secondly, as part of the community, it’s less about message and more about social gestures. Think about it as if the brand is a person in a community of peers. If you want to be a liked, respected member of the community, do you go around telling everyone what you stand for? No. You just act nice. You contribute meaningfully to the community.

In this new model, we’ll have to let go. It’s messier. We’ll have to embrace the chaos. It’s less about the “big idea” and more about lots of little ideas. Stop trying to sell to people and start helping them buy. And for Pete’s sake, stop talking and start listening.

The marketing of no marketing = how much can you give away?

Crazy, right? What client wants to give stuff away? A few examples, though:

Panelist Hugh MacLeod, former Burnett copywriter and current grand poo-bah at, when he was trying to help a winery in South Africa launch, started sending out free wine. A bottle to influential bloggers. Cases to dinner parties. No strings attached. Just be kind, get the word out, make people feel good about your brand.

What if you can’t give stuff away? Give away an experience. An idea. Audi has been trying this out, putting dry cleaning services, spa treatments, wi-fi, and coffee shops in at their dealerships. Would everyone agree exactly on how to articulate the message of those gestures? Probably not. Would they like Audi more for it? You bet.

Another company gave a handful of consumers access to their internal website. Gave them a look behind the curtain, so they felt like they were part of the team. A small gesture, but it built trust.

What are you giving away? If not a physical product (and no, we’re not talking about keychains with your logo) or a service, then is it useful information (Armor All Owner Center, Glad 1000 uses), entertainment (, or something else for them (not you).

This approach is an art, not a science. It’s more long-term. It’s about programs rather than campaigns. It builds sustainable relationships. Because the relationships are the important part. If two people are talking about an iPhone, the important part is not the iPhone. It’s the talking. It’s the relationship.

Transactions are the byproducts of good relationships.

So I hear all this stuff, and I’m all fired up because it sounds really really smart. Social gestures. And I walk out. It’s been rainy and shitty out all day, and we don’t have umbrellas. And there are people from handing out free ponchos. It’s perfect. Lots of people are very very happy about these ponchos. They take them with a big smile and before long there are several hundred smiling people walking around in the rain with these ponchos on, looking like Casper the Zappos ghost. Zappos sells shoes, not ponchos. What gives, right? Who cares. I now love Zappos.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Stories, Games & Your Brand

PANELIST: “We all know what ARGs are, right? And with ARGs…”

Tobin, Kelly, Jim exchange looks, shake heads. Tobin checks wikipedia. ARGs=Alternative Reality Games. Cool. Yes, we nod. Of course we know what ARGs are.

So, aside from that, interesting tidbits from this panel:

Why games? A continuing theme since we’ve been down here is that the interruption model of marketing has gone the way of the Brontosaurus. Old news, really. Stop talking at consumers, and start a conversation with them. Games are one way of doing that. And as the panelist from Penguin Books pointed out, they’re also a way to tell a story. In another panel later, which I’ll get to, one of the panelists said “The brands with the best storytellers wins.” So there.

The target for most of our advertising, women 25-40, are surprisingly the biggest users of games. Awesome.

When designing games, allow for a range of interaction, from those who want to just stop in and see what’s up, to those fanatics who will spend hours playing it. Make it accessible enough for the casual users, but deep enough for the hardcore.

Expect that with puzzle-based games, people will collaborate. This means that they will figure things out exponentially faster than they would in a traditional environment. Deeper games.

Be patient, and try a lot of things. The crazy-popular Office Depot dancing elves was one of 20 games developed in that year. It got 1 million hits the first year. But they were patient, revised it a little, and brought it back the next year. It got 11 million hits.

One of the tough parts of selling games to the client is that it’s not completely worked out how to measure their effectivenss. However, games have the potential to provide much more in-depth metrics and can ensure the audience gets a message (the example they gave is that if a person isn’t receiving the right message, they won’t be able to get to the next level of the game).

The thing to remember is that our competition is not just other commercials. It’s stuff like games. And if we can figure out how to use them in a way that is consistent with our brand, we can get the cheapest media available: word-of-mouth.

Rockin' the Trade Show

Spent a couple hours wandering the trade show floor and the arcade floor. Here's the rule of thumb: If you want to draw a crowd, have Guitar Hero. People will gather. They will stand. They will stare dumbfounded as if they've never seen it before. There must have been 20 Guitar Hero setups around the place. The only thing that drew more people was when the Sapient booth announced over the loudspeaker that they were giving away free beer.

Saw a couple of interesting things on the trade floor. Make Magazine had some interesting stuff going on. It's a little bit like ReadyMade but a little different and still cool.

Also, I've been complaining for a little while that I can't keep up with all the social websites and that someone needs to make a social site aggregator--something to take all your social website (myspace, friendster, LinkdIn, Flikr) profiles and combine them onto one page. Social Thing is just that. I haven't been on the site to check it out, but in theory it sounds like a good idea.

Met a guy from a company called Creative Commons that lets people upload photos, videos, artwork, etc., then set the level of legal use they'll allow (from "Anything, as long as you give me credit" to all rights reserved). Anyway, it seemed like a good resource for comps, internal videos, etc.

Other than that, the trade show had a bunch of state and city film commissions, and about 9,000 booths for new social networking sites. I was looking for the booth where you throw the rings onto the bottles and win a stuffed tiger, but I couldn't find one.

BMI Presents: Music for Film

SUNDAY - 10am

This was our first panel after registering for the conference. The panel was made up of music executives, producers, reps, directors, writers and musicians, most notably Richard Thompson. Some of their film credits include March of the Penguins and Grizzly Man.

The discussion revolved around finding the perfect piece of music for your film, something that seemed particularly relevant with as much emphasis as we put on music.

They talked about their different creative processes. Scoring a scene to picture while watching the scene, which they agreed is easier, versus Werner Herzog’s approach, which is to let the musician watch the scene and then make them go away and write the music without the film in front of them. More difficult, but sometimes yields more unexpected results.

Steve Conrad, a writer and director, made the point that the film should speak for itself and contain emotion and tell a story before music is put on it, which was interesting. We tend to always cut to a piece of music and have music in mind well ahead of time before we shoot the film. But his point is to try to get as much emotion as you can out of the cut without music first, then add music, rather than depending on it.

He also mentioned a scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where Joel and Clementine are on a train, and the music is used in the exact opposite moments that you might expect, which gave the scene a unique quality.

A piece of advice was also give, which seems pertinent to everything, which was to let the pros do their thing. From editors to directors, actors and musicians, let them bring what they're good at rather than trying to get them to do exactly what you have in mind. There's a reason we hire talented, creative people. Trust them.

Overall an interesting panel. Good start.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

We Made It

Saturday, March 8th

After a couple of short, but rough flights, Mark, Kelly and Jim landed in Austin for the South by Southwest Film & Interactive Festival (we might sneak in a little music as well). We'll keep you posted here on what's going on and what we're learning.

Tomorrow, we plan to register in the morning, then hit a couple panels and catch a movie at the end of the day:

BMI PRESENTS MUSIC FOR FILM. "Finding the right music for your film can make or break a scene. Some scenes are defined by the very song or music in them. This roundtable will tell you the ins and outs of finding the right sound for the right money. Hosted by BMI."

STORIES, GAMES, AND YOUR BRAND. "A look at how interactive gaming, storytelling and puzzles can engage users with your brand. Movie and TV producers are increasingly using these tactics to promote their entertainment but is it possible for other brands to provide such experiences for their adorers or to attract new customers."

SUPER HIGH ME. Playing off Morgan Spurlock's SUPERSIZE ME, this film follows stand-up comedian and stoner Doug Benson as he first goes completely clean for 30 days, then smokes marijuana for 30 days straight. Along the way, he is tested by doctors, psychologists and psychics to discover the effects of constant drug use.