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Posts Tagged ‘Brand Republic’

The Technology Paradox in Retail

January 24, 2012 1 comment

In December, shopping transactions saw a 187% increase, year-on-year. This sounds like good news for the economy, and surely the high street. Unfortunately, this increase was purely for mobile shopping, as reported by IBM. Brand Republic, which picked up the story, noted “mobile traffic on retailers’ websites rocketed by 169%, meaning 15% of all traffic came from mobile devices during December”. The principal attractions of mobile commerce are easy to identify: it allows you to purchase items from anywhere with a phone signal rather than travelling into a store. It also allows the customer to shop around far more easily than would be possible on a high street for the best deal.

The drift toward mobile commerce, however beneficial and efficient for the customer, is part of myriad factors that are having a pejorative effect on the high street. Another, recently noted in a fantastic editorial in The Financial Times, detailed the onus shoppers must face up to, as a nation obsessed with the material quest for the very best deal possible. “We are all going to hell in a shopping basket”, read the headline.

“Through the internet we can now get relevant information instantaneously, compare deals and move our money at the speed of electronic impulses. Consumers and investors have never been so empowered. Yet these great deals come at the expense of our jobs and wages, and widening inequality.”

183 retailers fell into administration last year. The internet must shoulder a large part of the blame for this, as customers shift to the relaxation of shopping at home. Experian Hitwise reported that Boxing Day 2011 was the biggest ever day for online retail in the UK, an incredible stat (one of many covered by eConsultancy), especially while circumstances for bricks-and-mortar stores seem so dire.

However, while digital technology is keeping people from shopping on the high street, it is also helping it evolve. Recently, CNBC reported from New York on the National Retail Federation’s annual convention. Technology companies like Intel and IBM were front and centre, and willing to engage ever more deeply with brands. 73% of consumers were willing to share their demographic information with retailers in order to improve targeted communications. In the store itself, Macy’s has unveiled Beauty Spot, a digital mirror that lets you try on what you want, what is suggested to you by the mirror, and share your looks with your friends, according to TIME magazine. Also at the conference, Kraft featured a vending machine that featured face-recognition technology, registering your ethnographic details and dispensing samples based on that data.

The possibilities for clothing are significant, too. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft unveiled a prototype digital mirror for retailers. PSFK noted it “relies on the Kinect gaming system and basically allows people to try on clothes before taking their final selection to the dressing room”. Moreover, last month, the e-tailer Gilt Groupe teamed up with GQ magazine to create a men’s high-fashion retail experience in the so-fashionable-it’ll-soon-be-uncool Meatpacking District of New York. The FT has more.

Such movements are part of a burgeoning trend toward blurring the boundaries between digital and bricks-and-mortar retail. But for the latter way of shopping, the problems are immediate. An article in this week’s The Economist referenced a report commissioned by the government in December that claimed “one in three of the nation’s high streets is failing“. Places like Argos, Mothercare and Thorntons plan to close up to one third of their shops. Conversely, the magazine references a survey conducted by Saatchi & Saatchi which detailed 16-29 year olds’ feelings on retail. Apart from enjoying a good shop, “42% said that, if they were to start a small business, it would be on the high street”. This puts a desire to see an epicentre of retail / beating heart of a town against an indolence born of the luxury of being able to shop while in the bathroom. To combat this dilemma of desires, Anne Robinson-lookalike Mary Portas has made several suggestions as shopping czar to the government, including requirements for a “quota of affordable shops”. This idea is pure lunacy. State intervention in market commerce is not a road we want to go down.

While the article offers some hope, detailing the importance of improvements to infrastructure, and making space above retailers into shops again rather than flats, the major threat is from online retailers. Last week, the Financial Times reported solemnly,

“Tesco [will] call a halt on new hypermarkets, believing the internet offers the most profitable future for non-food sales. Retail analysts believe Tesco’s admission marks a watershed moment for high street retail chains. Many have already seen their business models trampled over by the big supermarkets, but now they must follow the leader’s structural shift towards online sales, or face extinction.”

These are dire times for retailers, but things will not improve until they fully embrace the inevitable march of technology, both in their stores, and in people’s homes. With another recession looming, now is not the time to bury one’s head in the sand and hope for the best.

Serving up a good online experience

As with every summer, the tennis season kicks into high gear with the French Open (aka Roland Garros) in Paris in May, and the Championships at the All England Club (aka Wimbledon) just two weeks later. Brand Republic today published their list of the 10 Best Tennis ads. The sport’s popularity pales in comparison to other pursuits in the UK, and questions always abound at this time of the year as to the country’s woeful showing at the majors. It’s an especially sore point when one looks at recent successes in golf.

Demand for tickets however at the four annual Grand Slams has never been higher. Getting a seat at such events then is a tough ask. Recently, the French Open began making tickets available online for direct purchase. This included being able to select specific days, courts and seats. Of course, having such an easy route meant that there were one or two people who had the same idea as Zeitgeist. Even accessing the website on the stroke of the hour the tickets became available put him behind 3,560 other eager tennis fans (see picture at end of article). Prima facie then this democratisation of ticket availability – rather than having a lottery and corporate hoardings – is a good thing. From a practical perspective however, does it make sense to do it this way? Can or should there be priorities given, based not just on how much people are willing to pay for tickets? Why not give those who actually play the sport more of a priority, or using Foursquare, see how many other tennis tournaments people have attended and judge their passion for tennis based on that. Can they have ticket giveaways to those who “like” Nadal, Federer, etc. on Facebook? It’s a thorny issue; perhaps the route the French Open has taken is the least worst option.

All the slams provide diverting iPhone apps too. However, if you’re going to the effort of providing a service, better make sure it works. Zeitgeist was presented with the below image on their phone while sitting on Court 1 at Wimbledon on Monday, June 20th.

tennis french open wimbledon online

Product Placement’s Unknown Unknowns

September 9, 2010 1 comment

Zeitgeist has commented on product placement several times before, including its bumpy ride to legality on British television (this summer the House of Lords debated its worth), as well as the contextual advertising that takes place on television sets in the US.

Advertising on British television certainly needs a jolt. The amount of money spent on original British programming by advertisers has declined £300m, from £2.9bn in 2004 to £2.6bn today. This figure comes from Mark Thompson at the BBC, at a speech given at the Edinburgh festival recently. One solution to these pains, suggests Brand Republic, is ad-funded programming [AFP].

TV executives used to be extremely snobby about working with advertisers, fearing they would want a programme about the joys of baked beans or the absorption power of nappies.
But this view is changing as programme-makers realise their ivory-tower attitude does sophisticated modern marketers a huge disservice.

This is a potentially lucrative avenue. It creates opportunities for both product and programming that are mutually beneficial. The possibilites of funding from brands for content however are potentially fraught with danger for consumers, and the article concludes quite rightly that such an approach is still a way off.

Holistically, product placement is on course for a compound annual expansion rate of 18.2% to 2014 according to PQ Media, “as a result of the economic recovery and a relaxation of formal restrictions”, as written in WARC. The difficulty will be – as Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for information, society and media said in 2006 – in getting “content to drive the advertising”, rather than the other way around. The EU’s premise for product placement transparency is to ensure that consumers always know when such a placement is ocurring while they watch the idiot box. Brandchannel cannily compares this to “how the Dutch make candy commercials display a toothbrush icon to remind kids to brush their teeth after eating sweets.” This may well be scaremongering though; Zeitgeist isn’t aware of any TV shows, rollicking with product placement they may be, where the advertising drives the content, (except perhaps for the odd clip in the video below…) Indeed, in the US some savvy work is going at the moment, for example with the NFL and Febreze. Brandchannel reports “During ESPN’s locker room interviews with NFL players, the product can be seen on the players’ locker shelves — a subtle yet effective product placement.

One of the nastier and more insipid occurrences of product placement, however, might make regulators nervous. The infamous Snooki from the similarly-infamous detritus that is MTV’s Jersey Shore has been the target of reverse product placement, as luxury brands have sought to distance themselves from any association with her by providing her with products and accessories from their rivals. Devious indeed, not to mention ingenious. All of which goes to show that regulators, broadcasters and consumers must be wary about the potential rewards and pitfalls of product placement in the near future.

Justifying Luxury

September 3, 2010 2 comments

Luxury lies not in richness or ornateness but in the absence of vulgarity.” – Coco Chanel

If luxury is mostly defined by what it is not, then one can see how it faces an uphill battle in trying to attract the more cash-strapped among us, especially in economically turbulent times. A large part of a luxury brand’s assets are focussed on upselling to the shopper, but currently a brand has to work harder to justify its prestige (not to mention price tag). The following post looks at how some brands have responded by cultivating their image with top auteurs at the helm, while others have sought to bring the brand down to the masses.

Two of the biggest houses, Chanel and Gucci, both recently launched new ad campaigns to promote a new fragrance. Gucci first released a teaser trailer for it’s perfume, Guilty, which by all accounts went ‘viral’ before a 30-second spot went live on Facebook on August 12th, followed the next day it’s exhibition on TV. As Luxuo points out, what everyone is really waiting for though is the director’s cut of the commercial, which will be unveiled live September 12th at the MTV Video Music Awards. By the end of it, the campaign will have done a good job of building up audience anticipation and suspense. The shoot was directed by Frank Miller, the mind behind such films as “Sin City” and “300”, and the commercial’s aesthetics leave you in no doubt as to its author. The MTV VMA audience should dovetail nicely with the demographic Gucci is looking for with this particular product. As PSFK notes, the results could be mutually beneficial. Meanwhile Chanel, (recently branching out into surfing), has been mostly bombarding the cinema with its own ad for its own new brand of fragance, Bleu de Chanel. This advert was directed by the legend that is Martin Scorsese, whose crisp visuals are tinted blue and who can’t resist adding a Rolling Stones track to the background. It’s interesting to see both these powerful brands collaborating with famous / respected filmmakers in order to justify, endorse and build upon the image they are trying to perpetuate. The life shown through Miller’s and Scorsese’s lenses is an unattainable one.

Meanwhile, other brands have been seeking to do the reverse and making themselves somewhat more accessible, playfully or otherwise. Lanvin, one of the bastions of fashion, is reported by the New York Times to be doing a capsule collection for that bastion of mediocrity and crass capitalism, H&M, following similar collections by the likes of Matthew Williamson, Jimmy Choo and Karl Lagerfeld. Last year Lanvin produced a collection over a period of several months in collaboration with Acne Jeans. The latter brand helped make Lanvin more accessible (in that the synergised collection was cheaper than anything one might normally buy from Lanvin), but retained an esoteric air thanks to the jeans manufacturer’s relative anonymity (relative to H&M, anyway). What benefit does this brand dilution – for that is the only thing it can be described as – bring to the fashion house? Well it puts it on the radar of those 20-somethings who might not be able to purchase something from Lanvin outright on their current salary, but will be store it away for future consideration. Rather more cheekily, Issey Miyake recently opened a pop-up store in Tokyo, decked out not at all how you would expect. PSFK quotes,

“The overall concept derived from the Japanese convenience store, with its constant state of dynamic, fluid change… To highlight this association, the shop’s name is ‘24′, and its logo features the kind of stripes you might expect to find on the facade of a convenience store. The packaging, too, comes from food packaging.”

In this case then, Issey is taking it’s high-fashion image and poking fun at itself in its own retail environment. A dangerous move, but also an innovative one, with enough publicity to gain the attention of those fickle shoppers. It stands out from the more overt attempts at aspiration that Chanel and Gucci are creating, and perhaps this self-parody helps Miyake gains more fans than those who might otherwise be put off the more gilded edges of luxury, vulgar or no.

 

Louis Vuitton’s Brand Balancing Act

LV may have been around since 1854, but, as the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last picture. Just as many an actor has been condemned to Hollywood purgatory through making one poor choice, so it is with a brand. A brand’s equity is made or broken by its perception, i.e. what it’s done lately. Ogilvy’s own Louis Vuitton has been in the press a lot recently, for reasons both good and bad. Zeitgeist takes a look at Vuitton’s goings on, and what impact the machinations will have on it’s brand.

The last Friday of May heralded the reopening of London’s New Bond St. Louis Vuitton boutique, with the new moniker of ‘Maison’, presumably denoting it as a flagship store. Never one to miss a way to include Facebook, Vuitton recorded the event in a live stream over the social network, beaming around the world images of the oh-so tiring Alexa Chung as she hosted the broadcast. The brand has done this previously to great success for it’s Ready-to-wear collections from various shows, which inspire great community interaction. Concurrent with this was the launch of a brand presence on Foursquare, one of the first of any brand to have an account on the location-based social network. (Indeed, this democratisation of fashion could be an article in of itself; Ermenegildo Zegna are taking a leaf from Vuitton’s book with unprecedented access to what goes on in the runup to a runway show). Photos of designer Marc Jacobs, Gwyneth Paltrow et al. graced the front pages of several of the city’s dailies the next morning. Diagnosis: Very good

At the opening, in a separate story that appeared with very little fanfare on the Vogue website, a brief interview was conducted with Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs, who said that when he began working on the brand, his initial thoughts might have taken it in a completely different direction, “When I arrived at Louis Vuitton 12 years ago, and I was figuring out how to create a new tier of Vuitton for a different customer, I thought it would be clever to hide that monogram, which was very stupid of me. That logo is part of what makes Vuitton so desirable. It allows people to become members of an aspirational club.” Zeitgeist has never heard Jacobs utter such an admission prior to this; it is surely an incredibly controversial thought. The problem is that the designer may have been quite right to have thought of removing the logo. Without it, they are almost certainly missing out on what he refers to as a “new tier”; the customer that loves the quality and craftmanship of Vuitton but does not need the validation of having “LV” emblazoned on every product, so instead chooses to shop at Bottega Veneta or somewhere similar. For how long can a brand remain aspirational when it begins to be seen everywhere, including in all the wrong types of places? Zeitgeist recently spotted two pieces of genuine Vuitton luggage sitting in the window of a McDonald’s. Diagnosis: Not good

Elsewhere in Vuitton’s world, the Advertising Standards Authority recently upheld three complaints on a series of advertisements that Ogilvy Paris had concocted, which had received positive press from the FT at its inception, and to which Zeitgeist has referred to previously. The ads, though beautifully photographed in an homage to that brilliant artist Vermeer, were withdrawn after complaints that the print ads gave the impression that the products were completely handmade from start to finish, and that at no point was machinery involved in the manufacturing process. In reality, this is not the case. Craftmanship by hand is indeed a significant part of the process, but the ASA deemed this insufficient. It is also unlikely that such young, beautiful people as depicted in the advertisements work in such immaculate clothing with only chiaroscuro lighting to work by, but there did not seem to be any complaints regarding these artistic licenses. Perhaps this is because such things should be taken with a pinch of salt, instead of at face value. Diagnosis: Not good

Louis Vuitton continues to contest in court in efforts to cut down on the re-selling of goods or the distribution of counterfeit products. The last victory came recently against eBay when the company was fined €200k in damages and €30k in legal costs made payable to Louis Vuitton. TelecomPaper reported “The court described as ‘parasitic’ eBay’s purchase of keywords such as ‘Wuittton’, ‘Viton’ and ‘Vitton’ so that online shoppers searching under these misspellings would be directed to links promoting eBay.” More recently, however, holding company LVMH lost it’s battle with Google over charges “that Google’s practice of selling keywords in advertising searches to the highest bidder damaged trademark law”, according to the BBC. Diagnosis: A tie

Lastly, having already made clear it’s association with a new part of the Journeys campaign – previously featuring such luminaries as Sean Connery, Keith Richards and Catherine Deneuve – that had Pelé, Zidane and Maradonna huddled around a table football game together, this week the company cemented the connection. Vogue recently reported that the World Cup would have an official home in a piece of luggage designed specifically for it by Vuitton. The luggage was revealed in Paris to great fanfare, by that [super]model of restraint, Naomi Campbell. Diagnosis: Very good

It’s been a period of mixed blessings for Louis Vuitton, some of which were completely out of their hands. It’s had some big wins with the new London store opening, as well as the excellent association it has created with the impending World Cup. Long-term, it will be fascinating to see if this is the beginning of a brand embracing to an increasing extent the entertainments and pastimes of the masses (prior to the World Cup, the only sport Vuitton had been involved in was the America’s Cup sailing race, crewed and supported by nought but multi-multi-millionaires), and how they will maintain an aspirational slant if they do so (presumably by continuing to charge £300+ for a shirt). Exciting times are ahead, no doubt…

TechDisrupt :: The future of content, digitally

If Content is King, then last week saw the gentry discussing how best to serve their master. The other day Zeitgeist watched a fascinating roundtable from the TechDisrupt conference, where talking heads with varied interests discussed how content would be created, distributed and consumed in the future. The below are some of the more pertinent and interesting things we managed to peel from the chat.

Sarah Chubb, president of Condé Nast Digital, noted that Apple was lending a helping hand to the sales of the publishing empire’s magazines. Since the launch of the iPad (recently revealed to have sold 2m units in 59 days), Chubb states that the device has played a significant role in boosting sales. Regarding the iPhone / iPad split, she says 60% of GQ readers are accessing the publication through their iPad, 40% through the iPhone. For Vanity Fair, fully 90% is from the iPad, which is incredible after such a recent release and given that the iPad was only released outside the US in the last week or so. In related news, it was announced today that The Financial Times “iPad app has registered three times more downloads in its first two weeks since launch, than its iPhone app managed”.

Fred Davis, founding partner of Code Advisors, ruminating on how people perceive content now, makes the declaration, “It’s not about owning, it’s about accessing”. This is crucial. This is ‘I want my MTV’ for the next generation. As we have moved away from purchasing tangible goods like CDs – and to an increasing extent DVDs and books – the pleasure of owning content dissapates. People, however, still want to be able to use that content, and use it immediately. This is where, helpfully, cloud computing comes in. Perhaps this new type of demand makes the iTunes model – when compared to Spotify et al. – antiquated. Buying a track on iTunes is about owning content. It can be bought quickly and easily over your phone via a Wifi or 3G signal, but once purchased, the song is on your phone, it is not kept in the cloud somewhere for you to access at any time from any device. It is not easily shareable.

John Hagel of Deloitte talks of companies of the future having to make a choice between what they want to excel at: product development or customer relationships. In other words, product profitability or audience profitability. Is the company’s USP going to be “Come to us because we know your product” or “Come to us because we know you“? Zeitgeist ponders whether a company, GE for example, might not be able to manage both.

The IPTV service Boxee recently signed a deal with Google to make use of its Android OS, linking with Google TV. In related news, units that the OS operates on outsold iPhone for the first time this quarter. The CEO of Boxee, Avner Ronen, was also one of the speakers present at the conference. Taking an optimistic stance, Ronen stated that one of the benefits of increased fragmentation and availability of content was that, in a free market mindset, the more content published, the more competitive the environment and thus the better the content.

Of course, piracy is an enormous factor, and Davis pointed out that there is still a problem with people not equating downloading a song illegally off of Limewire with shoplifting from WalMart. Perhaps it is now too late for any efforts at education in this matter, as the MPAA seem to have singularly failed to educate the public. Chubb countered that people were now willing to pay for things in mobile that they wouldn’t normally pay for otherwise. This dovetails with the idea of paying not for the content itself, but for the instant access to it. The film industry, in particular, has combatted the threat of piracy in other ways. Now that international box office accounts for some 65% of a film’s total gross earnings, release windows are being narrowed for simultaneous releases. “Iron Man 2″ was released at the end of April here in London, a full week before the US launch. The world premiere was supposed to have taken place in Leicester Square, but sometimes even savvy film execs come up short, especially against volcanic ash.

Ultimately, the way we interpret ownership is undergoing significant change. What we used to be possessive of, with the arrival of the mp3 we suddenly felt inclined to share. Increasingly we do not have need of the physical product, merely the ability to use it when we wish. This might easily be linked to the continuing vogue for ephemeral clothing that is besetting the fashion industry, where cheap clothing is made to be worn once then tossed aside like New York Times stock. Zeitgeist thought it fascinating to watch these people prognosticate on the future of content; they may all be completely wrong, of course, but then that’s the interesting thing about the future, isn’t it?

There was much more discussed, and you can see the whole video here.

Promoting “Lost” farewells

Marketing a series finale of a hit TV show should be relatively easy. However, with “Lost”, just as with its storyline, nothing is ever as it seems, as Zeitgeist has previously reported. In that instance, the marketing team at Disney’s ABC network went to great lengths to introduce some clips, that they hoped would go viral, of the start of the final season, only to have the terribly web-savvy fans -whom it had been assumed were desperate for any crumbs falling from the “Lost” table – reject the clips out of hand, choosing instead to wait until they could see the episode in its entirety, and in HD.

Their ultimate gambit was to simulcast the show’s finale (for which, in the US, they charged advertisers $900k per 30-second spot according to Time magazine, “more than anything save the Oscars and the Super Bowl”) across multiple timezones, meaning it was at a comfortable 9pm PST (unfortunately those viewers still had to avoid any spoilers for the three hours after it was broadcast on the East Coast) and a bright and early 5am for those in the UK (with higher viewing figures than the show usually gets in its 9pm slot). Variety reports, “59 countries will air the final episode of “Lost” no later than 48 hours after the U.S. broadcast.” To Zeitgeist’s mind, this sort of thing has not been attempted before to such an extent. When we think of other broadcasts that are viewed live globally, we think of the Olympics and the World Cup; “Lost” hoped to piggyback on this aura of unity. By closing the viewing windows it also discouraged piracy, though Sky Player suffered unfortunate hitches, as did Zeitgeist’s Sky+ recording, which stuttered its way through the entire finale, leaving Zeitgeist to wonder why he paid a premium for corrupted content that he could have easily downloaded for free (albeit illegally).

However, what such synchronicity meant was that, at the time of its airing, there would have been a lot of buzz (facilitated by ABC’s “Lost” page that allowed users to sign in via the site to Twitter and Facebook to post their comments) about the show online, more or less simultaneously. What would usually have been a community of fragmented chatter that was localised by geographical region, with people talking about the same episode, at different times, suddenly became coherent. The official “Lost” Facebook page certainly did much to help promote the show, with regular status updates (commented on by hundreds, “like”d by tens of thousands), clips, as well as the obligatory Facebook event page for the finale, “attended” again in the tens of thousands. Conversely, a lot of people went into hermit-mode during the run-up to the finale so as to avoid any hint of a spoiler. The New York Times writes “The show’s time-bending storyline and layers of mysteries can mean that a single indiscreet tweet might ruin a whole episode for someone who has yet to see it.”

The simulcast was the last in a series of bold moves those in the marketing department had made for “Lost”. To promote the series premiere, bottles were wedged into the sand on the East and West coasts of the US. The doomed plane’s airline that the passengers fly, Oceanic, had its own, official-looking website (which now redirects to ABC’s “Lost” homepage). Variety continues “The Oceanic Web page idea morphed into a competing site claiming a conspiracy behind the plane crash; Find815.com was nominated for an interactive Emmy. The network posted Oceanic billboards in several international cities connected to series characters, then ‘vandalized’ them with conspiracy claims.” During the finale in the US, SMS messages that viewers had sent in were displayed, presumably during commercial breaks. A UGC competition was also run online to see who could create the best trailer for the show (see video below).

Further to this of course were comic books, podcasts and videogames – not to mention the fan-made wiki Lostpedia – that expanded the mythology of the show’s universe. Moreover, as Mashable points out, “Lost was among the very first series available on iTunes, giving the option to watch on-demand on your computer, iPod or iPhone… At the time of writing, seasons 1-6 are available in HD, all for free (with ads) on the ABC website.” Michael Benson, one of ABC’s executive VPs of marketing said that “viewers want to believe there really are people lost on an island somewhere.” By playing on this insight, Benson and his team have crafted a lattice framework of exciting, original promotions. The proof is in the pudding; six years on, “Lost” bows out as one of the most talked-about shows of the past decade.

On Convergence

Today the problem lies not in acquiring information, but in how to apply it effectively and efficiently in order to solve the problem at hand. The impact of the increasingly easy access we have to information was scrutinised recently by President Obama at Hampton University, “With iPods and iPads and Xboxes [sic] and PlayStations—none of which I know how to work—information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment”. As Le Monde details, the speech as a whole was really geared toward warning people of the dangers of excessive use of technology; about making sure it is the parents rather than the X-box that tucks the child into bed at night.

The statement in of itself though, is strange, given the person saying it. It is generally agreed that Obama won the election with his revolutionary form of fundraising. It meant he raised more money than fellow Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who stuck to her old-school guns by going to uber donors in their sizable Upper East Side and Malibu residences. Not only that, but the way he went about it – a truly grassroots system of peer advocacy; viral awareness through social networks to encourage micropayment upon micropayment – showed he was intuitively in touch with the electorate, and with a new way of doing things. To hear these Luddite words from Obama, complaining about the X-box, is odd coming from someone whose campaign advertisements appeared on in-game billboards on the X-box’s Burnout Paradise, moreover from someone who is a self-confessed Blackberry addict. His self-deprecating manner is patronising and unnecessary; people elected him because he is elite, which should not be seen as a bad thing, as Jon Stewart points out, “The Navy Seals are an elite squad… why must the President be a dumbass?” Bill Maher has more: no longer has more because this content has been removed by HBO, sorry. It was pretty funny though.

The information we all now have access to over the Internet is truly staggering. YouTube now receives 2bn hits daily (though not without repercussions), which rivals that of this blog. However that is no reason for condemnation, as long as whatever it is (text, audio, video; i.e. content) can be accessed efficiently. The problem at the moment is that this is not the case. ‘Convergence’ has been a buzzword for what seems like a lifetime in the world of digital. It is happening, but only in fits and starts, and to some extent it is being hampered by conglomerates whose corporate interest (quite understandably) in the bottom line does not exactly dovetail with what convergence is really about – open source.

The constantly stimulating blog Only Dead Fish featured a very well-written and thought-provoking article on convergence. Having studied the matter as part of its Master’s degree, Zeitgeist thought it knew all there was to know about such matters. This article challenged any existing, simplistic preconceptions. The author quotes Grant McCracken, who says, of the iPad as a converged device,

“The iPad critics can’t see this third space because they work from a utilitarian point of view.  For them, iPad will create economic value only if it solves practical problems.  But Apple has always seen the economic proposition as a cultural one, as an opportunity to speak to the entire consumer in all of his or her complexity, not just the problem solver.”

The author goes on to reference Henry Jenkins’ ‘Black box’ fallacy, “sooner or later all media content will flow through a single black box”. This is indeed one interpretation of the idea of convergence, and it is not necessarily wrong. However, what Zeitgeist believes convergence means for the consumer is not about a black box; we enjoy being able to access content through our myriad devices. What it does mean then is seamless interaction between these devices, i.e. being able to watch my TV show on the commute from work, returning home to dock the device in my TV and have it immediately start playing there, etc.

Conversations over social networks will play an increasing role as these platforms converge (and privacy continues to erode). However, the question remains on everyone’s lips about how to monetise all these goings on. One colleague of Zeitgeist’s suggested a provider like Sky might end up providing an offering where consumers can pick a package that includes The Guardian, some music (Sky has a lacklustre service for this already) and the Cookery Channel, believing that people would be more willing to pay for content in packages rather than in small, one-off payments. Of course, News Corporation could, with little difficulty provide a similar service, whereby they provide access to The Times, The Sun, Sky Sports events, Sky Songs and new films released by 20th Century Fox as packages.

The American humourist Frank Clark wrote that “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere”. Convergence as a term could easily turn out to be one of those unobtainable zeniths, along the lines of world peace; an abstract term. The possibilities though of seamless connectivity of content between platforms is an extremely attractive one, both for consumer and advertiser.

We Have (Green) Ignition

Shell and Renault might not leap to mind as producers of the most ‘green’ products in the market right now. Hence why both companies are trying to alter this perception by touting their so-called ‘green credentials’. In the past week, one brand has come off better than the other in managing these expectations.

Though unquestionably adept when it comes to social media – having in the past month launched their products on the latest incarnation of the Sims game, as well as the ubiquitous Facebook integration – Renault has fallen foul of the ASA twice over a period of five weeks. At the end of March, seventeen people complained that the company’s strapline for their new electric car, that it was a ‘zero-emissions vehicle’, was a fallacy, as it “did not take the full life cycle of the vehicle into account… the ASA adjudicated that if the car was charged using energy sourced from the UK’s national grid, CO2 emissions would be produced as a result.” The article also mentions a new set of codes by Defra meant to combat ‘greenwashing’ tactics. Yesterday, Brand Republic reported the ASA had banned a second Renault advert, when one person complained “it was using French rather than UK figures to make the claim that one of its electric cars reduces CO2 emissions by least 90%.” The ASA concluded the ad was “misleading”.

Where Renault has stumbled, Shell has not, with those wonderful JWT minds producing a simple but visually engaging advertisement that immediately speaks to the relative cleanliness and quality of its fuel.

One luxury brand not usually associated with such serious things like sustainability is Aston Martin. But then neither was BMW before it recently unveiled its prototype electric car (see headline picture). Campaign magazine reported yesterday that the manufacturer “is looking for an agency to handle the launch advertising for its Cygnet city car”. The project is being managed in conjunction with Toyota, based on that company’s iQ car. “a large proportion of Aston Martin drivers also own a smaller car, such as a Mini or smart car, which they use for their inner-city commutes or to do the shopping. Reports suggest that the Cygnet will cost around £30,000 and feature a low-emission economical engine.” It’s an interesting decision. Although one might initially blanche at the idea of Aston Martin producing a more economical car, as the above quotation illustrates, it is in fact very on-brand. In this case, why sell to half of the consumer’s automobile product purchase, when you can sell to it all? The model will, initially, only be available to those that already own an Aston Martin.

Zeitgeist is most pleased to see efforts being taken by the those industries with an environmentally questionable past to prepare for a cleaner future. Moreover, who’d have thunk it, but electric cars can be cool and fast (although UK hybrid and electric sales are unfortunately slipping). It’s clear from Renault’s example though that people won’t tolerate a greenwash. Perhaps the open-source project “c,mm,n“, will help.

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