Wednesday, March 31, 2010

stella artois launches story via social media

At the same time as ad agencies are being lambasted for not getting social media, one agency, Mother, is launching a brand fiction campaign that involves use of twitter, Facebook, youtube, flickr, and oh yes, print.

The campaign is for Stella Artois, a Belgian brew sponsoring the Cannes Film Festival in May. (I refer, of course, to the film Cannes Festival, not to be confused with the Advertising Cannes for which the deadline has been extended to April 9, get yer entries here.)

The agency is developing narrative entertainment that conveys the brand's core qualities--expensive and smooth--through a character of their own invention: Jacques d'Azur, a French bon vivant from the 60s who spends most of his time on red carpets and yachts.

I first heard about Jacques when he tweeted @BettyDraper, asking why he'd never escorted her down the red carpet. Intrigued, I went to his twitter feed and discovered similar shout outs to twitter users with hefty followings.

A link jumped me to his Facebook where there are albums of photos of him in the 1960s, gallivanting Mad Man-ishly around the world. He's described as having been lost at sea after radio-ing a message from his yacht: “I have come across an undiscovered island. Amazingly all the inhabitants are beautiful women.” Consumers are invited to enter a contest to win "his" place at the Cannes Festival this year.

It's pretty obviously a brand setup from the moment you hit the Facebook Fan page where the Stella Artois logo is prominently displayed. But still⎯it's intriguing, much more so than traditional outreach for a contest would have been. Best part of the experience is Facebook Connect which cleverly integrates vistor's personal content into a video that incorporates name, profile pic, gender, marital status and geographic location. (Note to Mother's backoffice: I got tech glitch on gender; FB account I'd connected was female but program read male, hmmm.)

What's exciting to see is that the agency knows how to tell a brand story transmedia, delivering the fiction in forms created and produced for various environments. There's a fake Wikipedia entry for the character. A flickr collection of life-streaming photos . A mock newscast on youtube announcing his disappearance. And testimonials in which Rivierans (is that what they're called?) regret that Cannes won't be the same this year without Jacques. There's even a blog post that claims Jacques taught tennis to the teenaged Bill Gates.

But wait, kids, there's more! Even hand-held print ads (remember those?) are part of the mix. Ironically, the print execution is the least creative use of space, imho; if I hadn't seen the tweet, it probably wouldn't have gotten my attention. But if you've already been introduced to the campaign via social media, it works to extend the story into yet another dimension.

Yes, there are other ways in which the campaign isn't perfect. The TV spot running concurrently seems to bear no relation to the Jacques concept. Subsequent tweets to @BettyDraper were impersonal posts directing to the generic youtube announcement. In contrast to the campaign's very active twitter feed, the company's corporate feed sputtered out a single post referring to the campaign (which it seems to have posted twice by mistake) and has gone silent for weeks. And then, there's the engagement--or lack of it--factor.

Mother is adept at creating artful entertainment. The videos are exquisitely produced; studio-quality casting, acting, directing, setting, lighting which you might not expect to find in web content. The Facebook posts are clever, even hilarious. ("Do the easy jobs first. The hard jobs will be done by someone less good-looking.") But as any social media "guru" will tell you, creating content that entertains is different than creating content that elicits conversation. Jacques' twitter posts ask for "retweets" but the only ones RTing seem to be accounts set up for other faux characters in the campaign. Yes, Stella Artois Facebook page has over 200,000 followers, but Jacques has so far managed to smooth-talk only 400 of them to his place. And a glance at his wall shows that those truly engaging with him are others on the agency home team, using transparent stage names like Madamme Agathe Garbo. ("Wrong Madamme Agathe Garbo?" Facebook asks. Could there be another?)

But I'm not joining with naysayers on this one. I applaud Mother for venturing into uncharted waters, for floating out a new way to tell a brand story, for undertaking a campaign with so many treacherously moving pieces, and for imbuing a brand manager with courage to go along with the game.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Showtime breaks barrier in twittertainment

Showtime is doing what renegade Mad Men on Twitter could only dream of: pushing television into another dimension by having characters officially live tweet from screen. When hospital series "Nurse Jackie" returns for its second season next month, Dr. Cooper will be sending out thoughts, observations, even photos in tweets that post in real-time as the show unfolds. (Unfortunately for MST and PST fans, tweets will be timed to East Coast viewings.)

This isn't the first time that characters have tweeted from fictional worlds, of course. Fans of Mad Men ignited the movement to extend television to twitter by launching accounts for characters and have been tweeting unofficially, sometimes during episodes, since August 2008. (In a particularly meta-moment the actor behind Trudy tweeted that her 1960s character had discovered twitter before she did.) Last summer, the Broadway play "Next to Normal" had characters (ostensibly) tweet during pauses in onstage dialogue, as a marketing ploy which proved extremely successful. More and more TV shows--Trueblood, Heroes, Glee, The Good Wife-- have established official twitter feeds, some in the voice of characters, but tweets exist parallel to shows, not incorporated into them. Interestingly, The Good Wife did an episode that revolved around twitter, but the twitter feed involved wasn't from a character, and subsequent postings have been sporadic.

“We want the story to extend beyond the hour that it lives on air," Robert Hayes, Showtime’s GM for digital media told NY Times reporter Brian Stelter. No doubt, Hayes has tuned in to the fact that 1/3 men and 1/4 women viewers multitask regularly by watching TV while using the Web.

But how far will he go to extend the story? Will he be the first to officially recognize the potential that twitter represents in extending a drama? Providing platform for not only extending the story as written, but expanding plots and subplots, creating parallel dramas contiguous with story, developing characters in ways they can't be developed on screen, even testing out new characters with a twitter "focus group" audience?

The @DoctorCoop account is already live, giving writers a chance to develop a twitter voice for him, the hardest thing to achieve when setting up an account for a character.

Why isn't there a feed for Nurse Jackie, I wonder? @Nurse_Jackie and @NurseJackie are live accounts, with no posts. Perhaps they're building the twitter cast slowly. The fun (and success) of @DoctorCoop will be watching him interact in real-time not only with followers (ahem, more of this, please) but with fellow cast members.

Or, perhaps the project is on hold as they trawl for writers well-versed in the medium. If so, let them know @BettyDraper is available ;)

Friday, March 19, 2010

3 things i learned at sxsw

QR Codes

At first, I wondered why SXSW campers were grabbing at others' badges and holding them up to their cellphones. Then, someone pointed out that QR codes were printed on badges this year. QR codes are little squares filled with boxy squiggles. They were invented in Japan (of course) and first used to keep track of auto parts for delivery. Now they're used on everything from magazine covers to business cards. QR stands for "Quick Response" and with proper reader installed, taking a pic of a QR code catapults you to a Web site. In the case of SXSW badges, you were directed to the owner's "my.SXSW" social network url. Interestingly, no one seemed to pay QRs much attention after the first day or so. For one thing, it was kind of awkward pointing your cellphone at someone's chest. For another, it seemed just as easy, and more efficient, to ask for a card.


The item in schwag bags that most got people talking were samples of Sticky Bits, a new app launched at SXSW this year. StickyBits are stickers printed with bar codes. You stick one on an object you want to track, scan the code, then upload a video, photo, voice message, text message or anything digital you want to attach. You'll be notified when the attachment is downloaded and where. Attach video to a birthday card, resume to a business card, photo of something you're trying to sell with a flier. A pack of 20 stickers are available on Amazon for $9.95, but barcodes can be downloaded for free on the StickyBits website. I haven't stuck bits on anything yet. But carrying around the pak, so I'm ready when inspired to do so.

Space Food Stix

Former Tang lovers will remember the original power bars created by Pillsbury, official sponsor of NASA. High energy protein snacks supposedly developed for space-age travel. Shaped like Slim Jims, they tasted like flavored Tootsie Rolls: peanut butter, caramel, chocolate. All were packed in foil wrapping to simulate space age-ness. Good news! They're back. Found them on trays next to the crudites at several SXSW parties. Get 'em here. Fresh from outer space.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

calvin klein could enlarge its X with social media

Erica Kennedy aka Feminista got my attention today with a post alerting me to Calvin Klein spots promoting men's um, wares. Have you seen these just-this-side-of NSFW promos for their new X line of men's briefs? "Oh my!" said the woman in her 60's sitting next to me in a seminar, when I unsuspectingly clicked on "play" (using earphones of course.) I was afraid I'd offended. Au contraire. "I'm having a hot flash," the woman grinned, fanning her shirt. Oh, yea, those Calvin Kleiners are smart. They know their target--most buyers of men's underwear are women. And as Erica points out, footage is satisfying not only because it's sexy and fun and diversely delicious, but because it's welcome relief from inundation by images like this.

So, how come CK's marketing genius doesn't translate to their social media efforts? The CK spots heated up on youtube over a a month ago, yet the CK tweetstream hasn't even acknowledged them, preferring instead to share news like Ashley Olsen is wearing Calvin Klein in Korea.

It's an example of the most common corporate social media fail. When SM isn't integrated with current marketing efforts, instead of adding momentum to the advertising racehorse, it sits inert as the horn of a unicorn. Erica's already written off the unintegrated campaign as a fail, but I think there's opportunity for the brand to pull ahead if they get off their advertising high horse and turn their creative attention to social media. To know for sure, excuse me, I have to watch these commercials again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

postcards from sxsw


Almost every session I've attended at SXSW this year has been SRO, including our own, which was gratifying. Last year, 10,000 campers convened at the Convention Center in Austin. This year, the number I've heard is 14,000. You have to get to sessions early, or sit on the floor. But even finding a space on the industrial carpet isn't easy, especially near wall outlets. I was glad to snag a seat in this crowd gathered for "Extend Your Brand, There's an App for That" with Shiv Singh and Adrian Ho, moderated creatively by Brian Morrissey.


There's too many sessions, too little time to sit down for meals which are generally grabbed on the run from first floor cafe stands or food trucks which of course have their own twitter accounts.

making a session is as challenging as making a plane at JFK

It takes a bit of planning to navigate Austin Convention Center which is as cavernous as an international airport. Inevitably, when a session is moved, it's moved to a spot furthest geographically from where you are standing. Just like air travel.


Many, many, many. As with sessions, if you don't get there early, you might not get in. Ironically, admittance to many parties the first night required hardcopy printouts of RSVP acceptances-- what? Mobile digerati were expected to have toted their printers? Party hosts have wised up since then and attempts to equalize party access to "first come, first served" have reverted to old-school VIP pass model: you don't need a printer, you need to know the right people.

Here's bird's eye view of funfest thrown last night by Barbarian with Stumbleupon, taken from the roof of the Mohawk.

And a shot from earlier in the evening: former McCann Chief Technology Strategist Faris Yakob embracing the awesome at Beer Sphere, Club Deville.

Zappos party bus/bookmobile

Zappos CEO and business book writer Tony Hsieh is one smart social media cookie.

of course, sxsw wouldn't be sxsw anywhere but austin

sign spotted by Shutterstock

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hive Awards launch at SXSW

For me the best opening party of SXSWi last night was the first annual Hive Awards show held "to honor the unsung heroes of the internet." The show was inaugurated to give props to those who innovate and create on the web but rarely get credit: coders, programmers, information architects, and others. It was the brainchild of Alan Wolk of Toadstool fame and former creative director from FCB. Ironic to me that it took a renegade from traditional advertising to come up with a way to acknowledge creators of digital.

The party was a rambunctious, live-streamed gathering of SXSW campers at Red 7, a fun bar near Convention Center. I'd thought a launch ceremony would be pretty barebones, and was pleasantly surprised by free drinks, catered eats (including local treats like chicken fried chicken which impressed my local friend who is hosting me here), a bona fide stage and comfortable seating. Alan, master of ceremonies wore a Mad Men-era tux, which contrasted dashingly with the crowd of ironic t-shirts.

Slickly produced programs were provided on chairs, but it was too dark for ad broads to read, even by the light of their iphones. So I had no idea that Ad Broad was a finalist. Honestly, hadn't seriously considered that a blogspotter who can't speak a speck of html could be thought of as a "hero of the internet." Halfway through the ceremony, my companion and housing host announced she wasn't well (maybe the chicken-fried chicken?) and I drove her home. What a thrill to receive news (via twitter of course) that Ad Broad won in the Advertising blog category.

Congrats to all winners including Deep Focus, Firstborn, RGA and others. Lucky for us and appropriate to the category that prizes are items more practical than dust-gathering engraved statuettes: flash drives.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

@BettyDraper packing her hatbox for SXSW

Thanks to you who kindly voted on this proposed panel last Fall, I'm on my way to Austin where @BettyDraper will be presenting a session on Brand Fiction: what the heck is it? What can it do for your brand? How to integrate it into current marketing efforts? It's been recommended as a top SXSW panel for business and highlighted in SXSWorld and by the sharp folks at Razorfish. If you're putting your SXSW schedule together, hope you'll consider joining @Roger_Sterling (Michael Bissell) and me at 3:30 on Saturday for "Rules of Brand Fiction from Twittering Mad Men." A little fun before happy hour!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

marketing synergy: Mad Men goes Barbie

Brilliant marketing move for two companies: the newest line of Barbies will include men-Mad Men. According to the New York Times today, Betty and Don and Roger and Joan dolls will launch in July to help promote the start of Season 4.

Mattel will issue 7000-10,000 copies of each doll but you won't find them in toy stores, only in specialty stores and two websites: and

Of course, dolls come with period accessories like fedoras, pearls and padded bras. But no cigarettes, ashtrays or cocktail shakers. Ironic that Betty can smoke and drink while she's pregnant but not while she's Barbie.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

why i'm on a horse isn't where's the beef

Since the Old Spice commercial launched on the Superbowl, "I'm on a horse" has entered pop lexicon. It's been a frequent retweet on twitter where the guy on the horse, of course, has his own account. It's engendered countless blog posts and news nods and chatter on Facebook and even interviews with its creators from Wieden and Kennedy who explain how the spot was a accomplished in a single, incredible shot. (57 takes)

Ad phrases that become catch phrases are nothing new, but what is new is that the commercials that spawn them are now the beginning, not the end of consumer engagement. When media flights for "spicy meatball" and "where's the beef?" ended, so did consumer involvement with content. But now the impact of brand messaging only begins with traditional ad buys, if content is compelling enough to inspire people to share it. The Old Spice spot has already exceeded 7 million views on youtube, numbers achieved because the spot went to social networks in conjunction with (not instead of) conventional buy on TV. (When Google gamed the value of running TV, its Superbowl spot which had been on youtube for weeks, jumped from a few thousand views to 4.4 million today.)

Evidence of even more successful engagement is when consumers not only share but repurpose content, inspired to spread the brand story themselves. As in this parody where Old Spice content is appropriated to spoof Apple. Why is appropriation good, some marketers may wonder, holding tight to their proprietary decks and brand bibles? Because consumers who not just share the story but participate in it, tend to be avid enthusiasts whose WOM messaging is likely to achieve far higher conversion rates.

According to Facebook, Old Spice "has been helping guys improve their mansmells for 71 years." Interestingly, the babe-baiting strategy behind "I'm on a horse" is the very same one executed in this spot from the 80s. One can only guess how creative impact might have been extended if social, um, tools had been in place.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

brand fiction wins big at Shorty Awards

The 2nd Annual Shorty Awards (for Twitter content) were held last night in Times Square and I'm thrilled to report that @BettyDraper won a Shorty in Innovation. Just as exciting for me was the fact that it was a big night for brand fiction. @FrankAdman (fictional art director from the 1960s) won for Advertising and @TrueBloodHBO (official profile of the show) won for Entertainment. Proof that a new kind of story telling for brands is getting attention.

A winner in the Brand category was @SesameStreet (tied with @WholeFoods) and one of the highlights of the evening was the chance to meet Grover and his "handler" Eric Jacobson.

For the first time, winners were chosen not only by popular Twitter vote, but by judging of a newly formed Academy whose members include Kurt Andersen and David Pogue. Congrats to the winners:

Frank Adman, @FrankAdman
TweetDeck, @TweetDeck
deviantART, @deviantART
Brand (two-way tie)
Whole Foods Market, @WholeFoods
Sesame Street, @SesameStreet
Nathan Fillion, @NathanFillion
Cultural Institution (three-way tie)
Jonah Holland of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, @lewisginter
Reduced Shakespeare Company, @reduced
Poetry Society of America, @Poetry_Society
Customer Service
Bonnie Smalley, @ComcastBonnie
Smashing Magazine, @smashingmag
TrueBlood HBO, @TrueBloodHBO
Suze Orman, @SuzeOrmanShow
Foodimentary, @Foodimentary
Cory Booker, @CoryBooker
Rachael Dunlop, @DrRachie
Humor (two-way tie)
David Thorne, @27bslash6
Mrs. Stephen Fry, @MrsStephenFry
Helen Klein Ross's Betty Draper, @Betty Draper
Journalist (two-way tie)
William Bonner, @realwbonner
Rachel Maddow, @maddow
Arjun Basu, @arjunbasu
Music (two-way tie)
Ivete Sangalo, @ivetesangalo
Ted Leo, @tedleo
The Diane Rehm Show, @drshow
To Write Love On Her Arms, @TWLOHA
The Nation, @thenation
Jen Scheer, @flyingjenny
Bill Simmons, @sportsguy33
Mark Watson, @soldierknowsbest
Paul Smith, @twitchhiker
The Llama, @DoWhatITellYou
Special Humanitarian Award
Carel Pedre, @carelpedre