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Monetising the Arts – Fundraising and cultural collisions

Eugene Onegin CROP

A promotional still for The Met Opera’s season opener, ‘Eugene Onegin’, which debuted to a blizzard of protest and outrage.

Damien Hirst divides the art world. No one thinks him a good artist, of course. But there are those who despise him for his commercialism, and those who recognise the ingenuity of the man and his innate sense of self-promotion and salesmanship. The apotheosis of this was undoubtedly Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, the infamous Sotheby’s auction held on the eve of the global recession. The diamond skull that was the centrepiece of the auction was described as a “vulgar publicity stunt” by The Economist. In the auction’s aftermath, the market for his works “bottomed out”; sales performed poorly versus the contemporary art market as a whole (see chart below). Despite such schadenfreunde, it was satisfying to read a positive review for the artist’s new retrospective, “Relics”, which opened last month in Doha. The exhibition is part of a major push by Qatar to make itself culturally relevant abroad. Indeed, the physical context in which the pieces are set do apparently allow the viewer to judge them anew, without all the tabloid baggage the artist’s works usually bring with them. But concessions have had to be made too:

“In a country where Muslim clerics hold sway, the titles of these works, many of which feature the word “God”, have not been translated into Arabic. Mr Hirst sees the sense in this, admitting that he wants his art to be “provocative in the right way”. Nudes are also virtually banned from public view.”

In an increasingly homogenised culture – by which we simply mean one where content from one nation is easily accessible and ultimately transferable to another – what does being “provocative in the right way” mean?

Screen-shot-2010-02-06-at-10.10.24-AM1

In New York, such questions were similarly asked in recent months, in particular at the city’s two opera houses. One, the New York City Opera, recently filed for bankruptcy. The house has long been suffering from financial difficulties, and despite a last-minute Kickstarter campaign that raised $300,000+ in a short space of time, the curtain will fall on this institution. Its strategy seemed sound – to not be, rather than to beat, the competition, in this case the Metropolitan Opera. In pursuing this end, they often used American singers and often produced avant-garde works, the most recent and famous of which was undoubtedly Anna Nicole, about a Playboy model who captured the hearts of America’s flyover states before meeting her tragic end. Such courage should be commended, and in a just world, rewarded, but sadly it was not to be. Indeed, the City Opera lost its biggest donor entirely because of this production.

The other of New York’s opera houses, The Metropolitan Opera, a stalwart of tradition, is battling with political ramifications that are happening thousands of miles away. In June this year, in another blow to any sense of fledgling democracy in Russia, President Putin signed into law an act that restricted discussion or promotion of homosexual acts, labelling such things “propaganda”. The New York Times cites one Anton Krasovsky, “a television anchor who was immediately fired from his job at the government-controlled KontrTV network in January after he announced during a live broadcast that he is gay, saying he was fed up with lying about his life and offended by the legislation”. Such news quickly became internationally relevant when mixed messages came from the Kremlin as to whether openly gay athletes would be welcomed at the Sochi Olympic Games next year. Boycotts are being considered. Just as there are openly gay people in sports, so in the arts. The controversy settled on the Metropolitan Opera as it prepared to launch its new season with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The new law, the almost universally acknowledged fact that the composer was homosexual, as well as the presence of talent (soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev) that were known Putin sympathisers, served to create a perfect storm. It was not long before opera fans were pleading with the Met to dedicate its opening night performance in support of homosexuals. Gergiev, an indisputably great conductor, as well as being a “close Putin ally”, according to the Financial Times, has long been dogged by rumours of political favours from the President, and protesters are becoming increasingly vocal. His claim on his Facebook page that the law targeted pedophiles, not homosexuals, pleased few. The stubbornness was mirrored by the Met. Writing an article for Bloomberg, Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met, attempted to clarify why the house wouldn’t “bow to protest”. Gelb conceded he personally deplored the new law, as much as he deplored the 76 countries that go even further than Russia currently by completely outlawing homosexuality. He went on,

“But as an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world.”

Clearly, Gelb is declaring that such a mention before the performance would not have been – to return to Hirst’s words – “provocative in the right way”. But just as we have called it a perfect storm of political and cultural affiliations, was this not also the perfect opportunity for such a tremendously important institution to take a stand for those people who do not have such a prominent pulpit? Gelb asserts that the house has never dedicated a single performance to a political or social cause. Progressive thinking and innovation rarely develops from such thinking. Moreover, the Met has stood up for the rights of the marginalised in the past when it refused to play in front of black/white segregated audiences. So a precedent exists, which arguably is not being lived up to.

It would be naive to avoid acknowledging the pitfalls in the knee-jerk use of the arts to constantly promote change and stand against discrimination. In some cases, such calls to action can fall on deaf ears, or worse, provoke outrage that costs the institution and earns it an unfortunate reputation. Such damage to a reputation can be financially devastating (the New York City Opera is to an extent an example of this), which apart from anything else rules out any future opportunities to make such important statements. These organisations are, whether for profit or no, ultimately businesses that cannot afford to support every cause, no matter how relevant. Arts organisations have the rare distinction of often being at the intersection of culture, politics and money (which can often make for a murky combination). Perhaps what is needed is an entirely new fundraising model. Monied interests will usually be conservative in their tastes (why would someone want to change the status quo that allowed them to get where they are?). Increased use of crowdfunding, such as the City Opera briefly used with Kickstarter, will surely play a far greater role in the years to come. Such efforts could go some way to negating the worry of avoiding a few vested interests. What an organisation should or should not publicly speak out on must always rest with the individual situation, as well as how any statement is phrased, which does not necessarily need to condemn a party. As Andrew Rudin, the composer who started the petition to ask the Met to make a statement, implored, “I’m not asking them to be against anybody. I’m asking them to be for somebody”.

Up in smoke: Trends in buying movies and content ownership

Like the main protagonist in The Artist, film audiences are increasingly falling out of love with physical film. A recent IHS Screen Digest webinar presented some interesting notes on home entertainment trends around the world. Most of it was far from good news for media companies.

Emerging markets are where a lot of industries are currently looking to for growth, from WPP to the Catholic church. The film industry is seeing growth here, too. China, which last year relaxed its quota on the number of foreign films it allows into the market every year, has seen record box office takings of late, with the release of Titanic being a major highlight. Russia, too, is seeing a new audience for film. On a macro level, countries like India and Brazil are seeing a significant growth in the middle classes. In other words, a group of consumers that has a larger amount of discretionary spending. Some of this spending will be allocated to home entertainment, in the form of video players, be they DVD or Blu-ray. However, this jars with the global decline in physical media spend, as viewers switch in droves to streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon’s Lovefilm. Data from the IHS webinar revealed that the global growth in video players will not serve to offset the decline of spend on physical media.

As well as shifting from hard copy to soft copy products, consumers are also beginning to show a marked preference for renting over owning. This trend extends far beyond the film industry of course. Companies like Spotify spearheaded the idea in the music industry, the phrase “access trumps ownership” has long been a mantra there. The philosophy is affecting many lifestyle aspects, as demonstrated by The Economist’s recent front cover article. In Western Europe, rental is now the transactional consumption choice for digital movies. IHS data reported that the average US citizen rented 5.3 films last year. The company predicted that revenue from rentals will go up, returning to where they were in 2009, but in large part only because rental prices will go up. Dovetailing with the increasing consumer reluctance to buy physical discs is that the medium also appears “less and less attractive” for retailers. Blu-ray, which was supposed to revive the disc format, has not taken off in the way that was hoped; IHS data showed most Blu-ray owners still purchase a lot of movies on DVD rather than paying a premium for the HD version.

TransactionalMovieSpending

The move from physical to digital formats is troubling to media companies because, IHS report, “transactional online movie spending will not reach levels of physical spend” anytime soon. Indeed, theatrical is predicted to take up an ever larger slice of the pie (see above). This is without considering relative externalities, such as piracy, which remains a huge problem in Asia. And while consumer spending on online movies will almost double in AsPac, the share in wider consumer spending on movies in the region will not move beyond the current share before 2016.

One solace could be found in cinemas, a special haven for a medium without distractions, providing ample opportunity to leverage some of the more irrational desires and behaviours of consumers. We wrote briefly about various opportunities recently, and it’s reassuring to see the news earlier this month that Digital Cinema Media in the UK, an advertising sales house jointly owned by Odeon and Cineworld, will “in the coming months” launch a mobile app that will attempt to track cinema visits in order to feed data back to advertisers. In return, audiences will get exclusive content, vouchers or free ice cream. Given that the cinema is surely one of the few areas where you can pretty much guarantee a captive audience, this sounds like a great idea. How much it will offset lost revenues from home entertainment though remains an open question.

UPDATE (30/4/13): Data gathered can sometimes be misleading of course because it fails to report things that are not being measured. Such is the case with the current trend, recently reported by The New York Times, of sharing multi-platform viewing accounts for products like HBO Go among friends and even strangers. This trend represents a threat to revenue, but also an opportunity to create further loyalty, if used wisely. Forbes questioned the legality of such activity in a follow-up article.

On the contemporary art market – Expertise, Marketing and Money

December 18, 2012 1 comment
“If all signs are autonomous and refer only to one another, it must seem to follow that no image is truer or deeper than the next, and that the artist is absolved from his or her struggle for authenticity.”
- Robert Hughes, 1989

Tom Wolfe, one of America’s greatest living writers, recently had his latest work, Back to Blood, excerpted in Vanity Fair. In it, the author excoriates the miasma of power, money, influence and ignorance that surrounds the contemporary art market. Wolfe describes the billionaires descending on Art Basel Miami as a “raveling, wrestling swarm of maggots”. What has become of art, its pursuit and its collection?

The pursuit of excellence can sometimes can be a quixotic quest, all the more so when dealing with something as ephemeral as art, and particularly with the contemporary art market today. But how does excellence, or authenticity, in art cope with a nexus of questionable experts and highly liquid but bifurcating market, in a world where promotion is all?

Part of this problem resides in the question of expertise, its influence and its value. If one thinks of artists in the period of the Italian Renaissance, the quality of the fresco or sculpture is mostly self-evident in the verisimilitude of the work. Moreover, the media worked with often necessarily involved painstaking, long-term commitment and toil. What artists like Marcel Duchamp began and Andy Warhol perfected was the thought that works of art should be valued by their conceptualism. In other words, not necessarily how much time or effort was put into making an object, or whether it was any “good”, aesthetically speaking, but with more emphasis on the power of the underlying idea – representation – behind the work. “Art can be expressed purely as a thought or action”, wrote the FT recently. This postmodern concept has not evolved since the time of Warhol. Without being able to critique the amount of expertise in the manufacturing of an object, it becomes harder to address the worth of an object, unless you are in the presence of a designated ‘expert’. The situation risks creating an echo chamber of unedifying art that speaks to no-one and is so self-reflexive it loses all meaning. It also allows for an artificial inflation of prices, creating a false market that shuts out all but the ultra-rich, whose tiny but influential numbers can significantly skew the market. One need only look at how much the Chinese taste for wine is influencing global production to see such an instance in action.

Such points were neatly summed up recently by the prestigious art critic and lecturer Dave Hickey, when he announced he was leaving the art world:

Writers, dealers, curators, advisers have become “a courtier class – intellectual headwaiters to very rich people”. For this 0.01%, “art is cheaper than it’s ever been” but “nobody cares if it’s any good, and everybody hates it when something’s really great”

The ‘experts’ who assign value to contemporary art objects have come full circle. Rightly recognising that there is art worth shouting about beyond an arbitrary, Westernised canon, it has now gone too far in the other direction. As a brilliant FT article on the subject recently pointed out, “The market loves theory because it spares the need for discrimination.” Making matters worse, the article quotes gallerist David Zwirner lamenting, “connoisseurship is really not valued, sometimes it is even looked down upon”. All of which leads to a highly fragile concentration of expertise and financial capital sitting with a select few. If we look again at the wine industry, American wine critic Robert Parker was at one time so influential that growers in France began changing their product purely to suit his taste so as to earn a higher rating on his guide. Zeitgeist asked art critic Brian Sewell at a debate earlier this year whether influential patrons such as Charles Saatchi and Francois-Henri Pinault were playing a similar role in the contemporary art world; shifting value perceptions of art and artists according to their personal whim. It helps little when major collectors like Frank Cohen admit publicly that they have “bought a load of bullshit”. The quotation may sound flippant, but it underscores the massive influence the bullshit they have bought has on the broader prices in the art market.

artmarketgraphs

Auction turnover returns to pre-recession highs… just in time for slowing growth in BRIC regions?

Art adviser Lisa Schiff spoke openly about this recently to Forbes magazine, saying she was “worried that there are a lot of young artists that could really take a nosedive”.This influence is being felt keenly right now with small but highly influential – and influenced – groups of buyers in Russia, Brazil and China. But as the BRIC regions continue to stall, what will happen to arbitrarily in-demand art and artists if these markets suffer further losses or even a sudden shock? Such problems are further compounded by the massive rise and fear of litigation, as previous, bona fide experts able to certify works as being genuine are being scared away by the threat of legal action.

So there’s an expertise fallacy here, one which is not restricted to the world of art. Elsewhere, marketing, something that admittedly has always been part of the selling of art to an extent, is becoming increasingly essential for a successful artist or studio. The Montoya exhibition currently on at The Halcyon Gallery in London represents the epitome of this new trend. Full-page ads in The Economist and 30-second spots on CNBC (see beginning of article) are being taken out for the exhibition, placed seemingly without irony at the feet of the very audience the art seems to be mocking, or at least parodying. It is the increasing lack of ironic awareness that creates an emptiness in the purchase and reputation of some of today’s bigger artists, including Jeff Koons, Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami. Interestingly, the latter two have both seen stratospheric success that goes beyond the confines of the art world, helped in part by collaborations with luxury goods company Louis Vuitton.

Richard Prince's oft-repeated Nurse motif was used for the Spring/Summer '08 Vuitton show

Richard Prince’s famous Nurse motif was used for the Spring/Summer ’08 Vuitton show

The marketing of art is at its most visible at contemporary art fairs – of which there are now more than 200 annually around the world – mentioned earlier as a subject of Tom Wolfe’s new work. Frieze, which takes place annually in London, is one of the most well-known. It was intriguing to see that this year saw the debut of Frieze Masters, which some saw as an attempt to breathe new life into an event that had begun to lose its ability to surprise. It was also seen as a deliberate attempt to focus attention on more established names in order to avoid some of the volatility the market has seen with newer, less-known artists. So the market isn’t so insular that it doesn’t recognise the need for significant change.

Collecting art is something that few of us can turn into a committed past-time. Moreover, the vagaries of art over the past ten years-plus have been such that only a select few would be able to decipher the worth of a current artist’s produce. The value of their art has been dulled by demographic shifts and concentrations, by overly-excessive marketing tactics and by a reduction and muddling of the nature of what it means to be an expert. Regulation of the sector seems overdue, as conflicts of interest and an oligopolistic marketplace seem to cry out for legal oversight. Some of these problems are not restricted to the art world and it will be interesting to see if a paradigm shift sits on the horizon. The Internet is providing some antidote to this. Recent online-only auctions by Christies – one of ArtInfo’s top ten stories that moved the art market in 2012 – have made the process of bidding for items extremely popular, and small art-sellers like Exhibition A are illustrating there is room for innovation in the industry. Is the art market in an aesthetic and financial bubble, and will it burst? Time will tell.

Ai Weiwei Exhibition A

PR own goals leave Germans feeling cold

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

As if their continued efforts to save the Euro weren’t giving them enough of a headache, recent German attempts to sell cars and excite football fans have also failed to hit the mark.

As any Englishman will tell you, the weather has a nasty habit of messing up the best laid plans. From BBQs to Wimbledon, the rain can be relied on to appear when it is least welcome. Similarly the winters of 2009 and 2010 were unusually harsh just when retailers most needed people to be able to get out and spend their money.

So while we applaud their innovative thinking we can also sympathise with German agency Sassenbach Advertising who have seen their clever weather themed idea turn into a icy nightmare.

Seeking a “wind and weatherproof idea” to support the launch of the new Mini Cooper Roadster, they took advantage of the “adopt-a-vortex” scheme run by Berlin’s Free University and named the current high pressure front sweeping across Europe ‘Cooper’.

All was going swimmingly until ‘Cooper‘ dropped to -33 Celsius, disrupted transport across the continent and claimed over 100 lives.

The campaign also involved buying a low front to be called ‘Minnie’ later in the year that one hopes will be less destructive.

A statement from BMW confirmed that while they had bought the names they didn’t have control over when they were used and that clearly, they regretted any loss of life.

While the whole episode has been highlighted as a bit of an gaffe, BMW and their agency haven’t done anything wrong and the €299 price tag for naming the weather seems cheap even though the publicity it has provoked isn’t what was planned.

The same can’t be said for German football giants Bayern Munich who upset their fans with an ill thought out launch of an app.

Last week, as the January transfer window was coming to a close, the club told their 2.7m Facebook fans that they had just signed a new striker who would be announced exclusively via a Facebook app in around an hour.

Naturally, the announcement set social networks alight. To set the scene, Bayern had recently lost to Borussia Mönchengladbach and seen target Marco Reus sign for rivals Borussia Dortmund.

As the clock ticked down, fans debated which star they’d be seeing at Allianz Arena with Manchester based duo Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov among the suggestions.

However when the announcement was made it became clear that the club had misjudged things enormously.

A live stream with Markus Hörwick (Comms Director),  Chrsitian Nerlinger (General Manager) and Philipp Lahm (Club Captain) announced that the new star player was actually the fan themselves, the 12th man of the squad.

The app then showed fake press announcements, mock interviews with star players welcoming the ‘new player’ and shirts with the users name.

What could have been a great value added experience resulted in a terrible user experience, compounded by the app crashing, with fans venting their anger on various social networks.

The press, who had also been kept in the dark showed great schadenfreude, gleefully spreading news of the failure which ended up trending worldwide on Twitter.

Within three hours the club had received over 5,000 complaints from angry fans and was forced to offer an apology.

Both brands will survive their difficult week. Mini because they didn’t do anything malicious and Bayern because disappointment is all part of being a football fan.

Let’s just hope their fiscal policies have better results.

On (Social) Media and Entertainment

Last week, Zeitgeist ambled down to Kensington Olympia again for yet another conference, this time the annual MediaPro Expo. Among the many speakers presenting over the course of two days, our main interest was captivated by prognosticators on the media and entertainment industries.

First up was Matt Rhodes, client services director of FreshNetworks. FreshNetwork’s clients, among others, include Telefonica (parent company of UK telco O2) and luxury shoe brand Jimmy Choo. Matt spoke of the challenges of measuring success across multiple markets. Aside from logistical difficulty, one prominent problem remains in that different sectors / regions / countries will need different approaches, therefore will have different ways of quantifying success.

Mr. Rhodes was speaking with regard to social media strategy, but the thinking applies broadly to other strategic planning as well. KPIs and ROI can both be meted out from a centralised hub (whereas in a distributed mode, ROI will vary). The possible problems with this stem from an ignorance of the particularities of a market. Suggesting that every market needs a Twitter and Facebook account for the brand might seem like sound thinking prima facie. Both platforms have huge audiences and many companies have now had notable success with presences thereon. Matt contended that such a presence was simply not necessary in all markets. Some countries may not have Facebook, but, like Russia, have a popular alternative that, with a high amount of pirated content, would be unlikely to be suitable for branded communications. As with the Soviet state, a centralised option is probably less effective. Furthermore, in some markets you might in be in acquisition mode – vis a vis customers – but in others you might be experiencing trouble retaining them, requiring very separate strategies. “Having a global strategy often doesn’t make sense”, Mr. Rhodes stated.

Regarding Jimmy Choo, people who want to purchase products from the brand in Japan differ greatly from those same people in a market like New York. In Japan there is heightened desire for accumulating a lot of accessory purchases as well as perfume, whereas in New York the emphasis will be on fewer, more substantial purchases. The Catch a Choo experience in London had different parameters for success than did the one in New York. The reasoning behind a social media presence is often never thought of, increasingly seen just as a mandatory practice. Mr. Rhodes confined activity to set parameters, suggesting that social media was best put to use for launching new products, customer care, working with advocates, brand messaging and answering critics.

Next up, Darren Gregory, Insight and Innovation Director at Howard Hunt Group and Russell Morris of LoveFilm spoke in detail about the latter company. With cinema box office receipts making a small profit year-on-year (and with negative growth adjusting for ticket price increases), and 3D failing to make much of an impact on audiences anymore (see chart below), the film industry is looking to the likes of Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and LoveFilm for its salvation. Currently, digital streaming has failed to make up for the precipitous decline in DVDs, though we are still in relatively early days. Getting a consumer to switch from DVD to streaming / digital formats is harder than previous medium transitions, which involved moving from physically-owned, tangible product (VHS) to physically-owned tangible product (DVD). You bought your films from a physical, tangible store. Now there is a lack of a sense of ownership, as Zeitgeist has written about before. Now companies like Apple, who make beautiful, tangible products, are increasingly talking about hosting your content in a cloud. There is an inherent difference here then that means take-up of digital formats will be a harder case to make psychologically to consumers than previous media upgrades. It’s importance may increase as recently written about in The New Yorker, with traditional platform release windows – the time between a film’s release from cinema to VOD, to DVD, etc. – increasingly narrowing.

LoveFilm has been around for seven years now. It is the leading European subscription service, with 70,000 DVDs available, including games by post, streaming to laptop, PS3, X-box, internet TV and iPads. It runs Tesco’s DVD rental business as well as partnering with Odeon and other companies. It has Europe’s largest addressable film community, and 50% of users access the site at least once a week. The addition of platforms like the iPad and X-box “fundamentally changed [the] business in the last six months”. The availability of games has increased their demographic reach, and in a year they have gone from 100k to 1m stream views per month.

Recently the company was bought by Amazon, and LoveFilm, like its new parent, is similarly obsessed with customer data in order to improve its service and by extension its bottom line. For example, they know that friends who recommend the service to others tend to have similar tastes, so the metrics they already have with the original customer can initially be applied to the new one. Mr. Morris next spoke about the changing nature of consuming content, with specific regard to watching film. Mr. Morris said that using their customer insight, they have divined that the way in which the customer watches a film dictates the kind of experience they are looking for. DVD rental, he said, is, for the customer, about getting that specific film in the cheapest way possible. Streaming, on the other hand, is a more spontaneous desire; “I want to be entertained”, he said. Said customer has just returned from a long day at work, etc., finds nothing on his television’s EPG, instead goes to LoveFilm. It is LoveFilm’s responsibility then to show the customer something they would be interested in. Mr. Morris elaborated further, using the recent film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as an example. The film has performed exceptionally well both at the box office and in the critics’ pages. He predicted that while the film would be a success for DVD rental, it would be a total failure for streaming.

This is of course a fascinating discovery. What, however is the insight? What does this mean, long-term for the film industry? Well, it does suggest a shift in filmmaking, long-term. For, if, as the film industry hopes, digital streaming eventually becomes on of the principal means of consumption for audiences, especially as the platform release windows continue to narrow, then surely studios must increasingly pay attention and cater to the types of films people are watching via streaming platforms. In essence, the question is whether streaming take-up will become entrenched enough that it influences the very types of films that are being made. When Zeitgeist posed this question to Mr. Morris, he seemed ambivalent on the subject. When Zeitgeist asked about the plethora of competition LoveFilm was facing, which is beginning to slowly affect their bottom line, Mr. Morris was dismissive of such talk, confident in the strength of both their breadth of films available and the deep customer analysis (which includes looking at weather patterns). Asked specifically about the arrival of Netflix into the EU market, Mr. Morris predicted he would soon be seeing the “whites of their eyes”.

The last talk Zeitgeist attended was one given by Tess Alps of Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK. With TV ratings at their highest since ratings began, and ROI up 22% over the past 5 years for advertisers, things are looking quite rosy for television at the moment. It is, however, like much of the media sector, dealing with volatile technological change. Ms. Alps acknowledged this with a “convergence sandwich” slide; the technology that delivers the medium, the device that you consume it on and then content sitting in the middle as the filler. Yummy, not to mention well-illustrated.

Ms. Alps went on to describe some of the main trends in the TV sector currently; enhanced quality (HD, 3D); all devices becoming a TV; connected / smart TVs; integrated communication between devices across home networks. The presentation continued with a sharing of quantitative findings; interviews with people who had been given prototype technology, using various devices for consuming a broad range of content. Thinkbox found a consolidation of viewing; using online viewing as a backup, only if the ‘live’ show on TV had been missed. Catch-up technology, whether through PVRs on the television or via the computer, was seen as essential. The TV, though, remained the go-to destination for consuming content, suggesting a hierarchy of platforms. There were complementary elements to this though; young people increasingly watch television with their laptops sitting by them, Facebook, Skype or some other program open. Zeitgeist wrote about this consumption conundrum last year. Realising this complementary trend, many companies are now creating campaigns that encourage use of television, laptop, iPhone, etc., for a truly immersive experience. Product placement is aiding this trend, with advertiser-funded programming such as that done by New Look for a recent television show, which encouraged contestants to design clothes online during the show, with the opportunity to be on screen by the end of the programme.

What the entertainment industry has been facing for a while is a fragmentation of viewers, easily distracted by multiple platforms, all enticing in their own way. What remains to be seen is whether efforts such as the ones mentioned by Ms. Alps can effectively remedy the situation by collating all devices to be used to enjoy the same piece of holistic content. Social media will surely play an essential role. With Disney up almost 8% today, entertainment analyst for Standard & Poor’s Tuna Amobi spoke to CNBC this afternoon, stating that he expected revenue from consumption of films via digital streaming to “ramp up significantly from here”. It will be interesting to see just how much our differing attitudes towards platforms influence the content that is produced for them.

A Lack of (Virtual) Governance

October 31, 2011 1 comment

If you’ve been living in or aware of any of the news coming out of the Middle East of late, you’re probably cognisant of the fact that the status quo as we have, for generations, known it, is coming to an end. If you’re living in a major city somewhere in parts of the world governed by more democratically representative institutions, you’re probably aware that similar tremors of discontent our rocking the foundations there, too. Just as important, however, is the state of disarray the internet finds itself in currently.

What began in New York with the Occupy Wall Street movement has since spread, across the US and across the world, including the streets of London, where squatting protesters have led to St. Paul’s closing for the first time since World War II. Social media, as with the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and other regions, has played a significant part. The protests in the West, while photogenically and aesthetically pleasing (the artwork Banksy donated to the London protest being one such example), not to mention emotionally charged and influential, have thus far produced little in the way of results. Perhaps this is due in part to the incoherence of the messages being broadcast from the panoply of protesters.

There are, realistically and practically speaking, for better or worse, few immediately attractive alternatives to capitalism. What matters, however, is the way the capitalism is operated and governed. For though the protest in New York focused on the epicentre of the financial district in Manhattan, the focus is a misnomer. According to a poll shown recently on Meet the Press, more people apportion blame to the government than on financial corporations. So is the problem one of governance then?

While such debates rock the material world, discussions just as important are flaring up surrounding the digital world. Who should be in charge of regulating content in the virtual sphere? Moreover, should some content or users or providers be prioritised over others?

The net neutrality debate has been under discussion for years. Its concerns revolve around the notion that anyone, anywhere should be able to access any content they choose at at the highest speed possible. It favours no particular user or website. The risk is that your access is arbitrarily regulated, both in terms of just what you can see, and also how easy it is to get to it. Some major players, be they countries like China – which recently banned the search term “occupy” – or large media corporations like Comcast, are already breaking this unspoken rule advocated by the founders of the Internet. Last month, the FCC announced new net neutrality rules, which didn’t please either side of the issue very much. Mashable writes that “while new rules do prevent fixed broadband providers from blocking access… they are different for wireless providers”. This latter exception dovetails nicely with Amazon’s release of its latest product, the Kindle Fire, which debuted recently. An article published in Politico last week quotes various pundits who accuse the device – which uses Amazon’s cloud-based servers – of optimising Amazon content over others, essentially making it more attractive and easier to access. Proponents of net neutrality should be wary, but what is there to do without a centralised, independent governing body with teeth to reach out to?

A recent article in The Economist noted that the internet is “shambolically governed”. This is due in no small part to the fact that at its inception, those who founded the world wide web could never have dreamed it would grow to become the network of networks it is today. However that is no excuse for action not to be taken now. One drastic notion was recently mentioned in an article appearing The Financial Times. Ori Eisen of 41st Parameter, a security company that defends banks against online crime, believes that efforts to create a wholly secure environment online are “in the long run… essentially hopeless”. Vint Cerf, described in the article as “one of the fathers of the internet”, has voiced his own concerns about the lack of security online, saying that more should have been done at the outset. He concedes that he is “actually quite interested in the clean-slate ideas”. Mr. Eisen has set out plans for Project Phoenix that revolve around creating an Internet 2.

“Included in his blueprint are biometric identification, encryption of all keystrokes and virtual machines created for every transaction.”

Such a radical overhaul has piqued the interest of Michael Barrett, head of security at PayPal, and the Pentagon’s DARPA – whom Zeigeist have written about before – are also passing around ideas for a redesign. Any such redesigns though would “be doomed without a government mandate or a consortium of banks or telecommunications companies stepping in”. This leads us on to our investigation of governance.

While the regulation of the internet may be chaotic, it has also helped foster a great deal of innovation in the absence of restrictive regulation. In keeping with this freedom of expression, the 2,000 people from 100 countries who met in Nairobi this week for the Internet Governance Forum “all had the same right to take the floor… decisions are made by ‘rough consensus'”. While the American-baked ICANN currently regulates the internet address system, other countries such as China and Russia are pushing for alternative bodies to be created, the upshot being that national governments have more of a say in how the internet is run. This kind of thinking is dangerous, but it does remind us that currently the system is almost entirely under the purview of the US government.

For the world outside the internet, the opportunities for change and development in democracy are not encouraging. The protesters at St. Paul’s cathedral in London have been allowed now to stay until New Year. Then what? What will it take to happen for the inchoate protesters to consider their work done? Any such practical remedies to be taken will surely involve government investment and expenditure. Yet this is precisely what the government is in short supply of. In the US, the judicial system is becoming underfunded to the extent that the process and execution of the law is becoming weakened. Emergency loans are having to be made by courts, so that processes that currently take twice as long as they should, do not end up taking three times as long. This lack of government is effecting lives now. The situation is similar in China, where suddenly workers in the private and public sector are finding themselves without pay;

“Work has all but ground to a halt on thousands of kilometres of railway track, and many of the network’s six million construction workers have been complaining about not being paid for weeks or sometimes months.”

One bright light might be suggested, of all places for a democratic wellspring, in Russia. Wikivote allows users, with particular priority given to heavy users and invited experts, the chance to reshape, comment and question draft laws and vote on the suggestions.

What the internet needs, suggests The Economist, is “a proper constitution, complete with a bill of rights for stakeholders and a separate board of review”. The difficulty will be in first creating such a document and body that functions efficiently without drowning in compromise. More importantly, it will have to ensure that the rules it enforces do not hamper the very innovation that has made the internet one of the most creative, inventive and revolutionary mediums ever.

Gambling with Engagement

Understanding + Innovation = Real Engagement

Though not yet quite falling into the category of a degenerate gambler, Zeitgeist regularly receives communications from various bookmakers keen to incentivise a bet or two. Indeed we’ve previously commented on the activities of bookmakers and the gambling industry both good and bad.

It is an unusual category, one where the consumer has a number of suppliers to choose from and the product is abstract.

Consquently the service is essentially the same across brands – anyone can take a bet – and punters can visit sites like oddschecker.com to find out the best odds on a given event.

In such a market, the equity each brand has, from a long heritage in a given sport to their brand attitude and from levels of innovation to ease of use, becomes ever more important as a means to differentiate them from their myriad competitors. Marketing activity becomes crucial as brands try to establish their territory in a cluttered category.

Event Based Promotions

Some activities are based around major sporting or cultural events such as the flyer below which was distributed in Paddington Station during the Cheltenham Festival a couple of months ago.

From the tone of the copy and the reference to a girlfriend rather than wife, one might infer that the target audience for this communication was a male up to the age of 40. However, this particular flyer was handed to a female colleague who indignantly passed it on in exasperation at such a poor piece of targeting.

While some media platforms don’t allow brands to ensure their message only reaches their target demographic, it is one of the benefits that handing out flyers does offer.

It’s simple really. If the message on the leaflet isn’t relevant to someone, don’t give it to them.

Given that there are more women than men in the UK it is entirely possible that some might like a wager or two.  Indeed the recipient of the flyer is a sports enthusiast who regularly places bets.

So why didn’t Boylesports produce a flyer that would appeal to women too? Or failing that, why didn’t they educate the people giving out the leaflets as to who they should be targeting?

They may only be leaflets handed out in a busy railway station, but just because an activity is intended to be quick and cheap doesn’t mean brands can be lazy and allow standards to slip.

In addition to short term tactical executions such as the poorly executed Boylesports example, some bookmakers also invest in attempting to build longer term engagement with initiatives that show an understanding of their target customer and the kinds of things that will appeal to them.

Trends

Since Conspicious Consumption and the Age of Bling disappeared along with our wealth, consumers have increasingly sought cool experiences that not only break the stress of daily life but also act as a form of social currency. By providing or enhancing such experiences, brands are able to create an emotional connection with consumers.

Whereas boasting about material wealth is seen as crass, sharing the fantastic things you’ve been up to with friends is perfectly fine.

As we live our lives ever more publicly, we can begin to experience a low level sense of peer pressure as we try to keep up with our more exciting friends. Tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare allow us to share what we are up to before we do it, while we are doing it and then upload photos after the event.

Another unsurprising consequence of the economic downturn is that people don’t have quite as much money to spend and as such want to get value out of any money they do spend.

For some, gambling might seem like a way out of financial strife but for the majority it is something that makes sporting events a bit more exciting and let’s us back up our hunches.

Innovative Engagement

For the past few weeks Zeitgeist recently been monitoring the development of a new initiative called BetDash which has been created by Paddy Power, a brand that is all too aware of the need to differentiate and maintain a high profile.

The site, currently in beta, claims to be Europe’s number one ‘Social Betting’ site and allows players to ‘buy’ a £100,000 bankroll to gamble on real events. The cost of the intial £100,000 is variable, ranging from free, then increasing by £5 to up to £50 and directly influences the potential winnings.

After 21 days the player wins cash depending on how well they have done – if they’ve been lucky enough to turn their money into a million pounds they win twenty times their original stake, otherwise they have to settle for smaller rewards, all the way down to nothing if they’ve blown the lot.

The site works because it simultaneously allows people to experience the thrill of making a bet worth tens of thousands of pounds with the safety blanket of not losing more than their initial stake. Importantly, it also allows people to compete with their friends and make the experience a shared one.

The site has a Twitter account which updates occassionally with news of new ‘millionaires’ and the odd retweet and a Facebook fan page, though they appear to be more of an exercise in getting ready for when the service is fully developed.

To that end, BetDash impressively crowdsources improvements via a page through which users can recommend improvements to the service.

With ‘gamification‘ a hot topic, Betdash taps into the trend and offers players rewards, such as free bets and badges for returning to the site on a daily basis and achieving feats, like winning three bets in a row. You can also challenge other players bets and laugh at their wagers.

And for those who still find it hard to pick a winner, there is a list of the trending bets so you can see what everyone else is betting on. If 96% of bettors think Watford will win and 94% have bet on a Federer victory then maybe you’ll feel safer putting money on a double.

With the curtain having just come down on the current football season players will have to try and make their fortune on summer sports, though with each round lasting 21 days that’s only three rounds until the 2011/2012 seasons kicks off.

In the meantime, the BetDash development team will be no doubt be busy implementing the ideas users recommend so that the site is ready for next season.

The site hopes to create a behaviour amongst users that gets them thinking and talking about bets they’ve placed socially. From gambling being something personal and secretive it will become something to be shared – there will be little stigma as you are gambling with imaginary money. The aim will be to make BetDash one of those handful of sites you visit with regularity.

And of course, if you see a bet that you think is too good to pass up, PaddyPower will no doubt be delighted to let you stake some real money.

Since we opened our account (for research purposes!), Zeitgeist has already bet on football matches from Poland, Russia, Japan and South America, not to mention Boxing, Tennis and Horse Racing with mixed success as we try to grow our bankroll.

We’ll be keeping an eye on BetDash to see how it evolves, but in a category where differentiation and staying front of mind are key, we’d bet that this type of innovative activity will prove more popular than poorly distributed flyers in train stations.

They think it’s all over. It never even started.

December 3, 2010 2 comments

The lessons marketers can learn from Englands World Cup bid.

One of the things Zeitgeist likes to do when not identifying first class insights is finding inspiration in the real world that can be brought into the world of marketing.

Sometimes it is as simple as this deconstruction of the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter that demonstrates how a fantastic creative execution is made during the fusion and collaboration of individual genius contributing their own part to the mix.

However over the past week one half of Zeitgeist has been lucky enough to be given an insight of their own into the pitch process.

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the excellent APG Battle of Big Thinking which pitted planners from around the industry against each other as they debated their big thoughts.

In the semi-informal atmosphere of the architecturally interesting British Library the style and charisma of the presenters was often more influential that their actual idea.

Trapped by the snow and a lack of faith in the UK rail infrastructure, Zeitgeist was able to watch the doomed English bid for the FIFA 2018 World Cup from the comfort of the sofa.

It is rare to be able to watch another team pitch and in the much more serious arena of the Messe Zurich it provided a few more lessons that we can bring into our own business.

Lesson One
The most important of which is to understand the criteria against which you will be judged. This isn’t always as simple as looking at the brief. You have to understand what your audience really want and why you are there.

England received a glowing report for infrastructure and facilities and a 100% rating by McKinsey. They were even acknowledged as being the only bidders who could ‘hold the World Cup tomorrow‘.

However a quick look at previous World Cup hosts suggests that much of that is irrelevant and what FIFA want is to enter new markets and leave a legacy.

Up to 1990 the World Cup was alternatively hosted between South and Central America and Europe. In the 90’s with the break up of the Eastern Bloc and growth of technology like the internet and mass broadcasting the world and the world of football changed dramatically.

By the time those changes began to take effect the 1994 and 1998 World Cups had already been awarded to USA and France respectively.

Then in 1996, FIFA awarded the 2002 World Cup to Japan and South Korea for what was the first Asian World Cup.

The 2006 World Cup went to Germany but was supposed to go to South Africa. The influence of Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer and other shenanigans saw to that.

In 2010 the World Cup was indeed held in South Africa breaking a new frontier.

In 2014 it will be held in Brazil, the nation that puts the ‘B’ into ‘BRIC’. They haven’t hosted it since 1950 and it will be the first time the event has been hosted in South America since Argentina invited the world to sample the delights of a military dictatorship in 1978.

So with this knowledge at hand the question arises as to whether England really thought they stood a chance of winning the 2018 bid. All the attributes that would have made them a stand out candidate as hosts before 2000 now count against them. The irony is that before then, the Taylor Report had only just forced clubs to upgrade their dilapidated facilities so they wouldn’t have been ideal candidates for earlier World Cups either.

The pitch itself was excellent.

If FIFA president Sepp Blatter was a balloon he’d have popped as he introduced the future King, current Prime Minister and icon David Beckham to plead with him and his mates for the right to host the World Cup.

Opened by the excellent Eddy Afekafe the presentation answered exactly what England would have wanted to see if they were choosing the venue.

Unfortunately FIFA’s criteria was different and that’s why the bid failed.

So what other lessons can we learn that will help us when we pitch to prospective clients?

Lesson Two
It doesn’t matter how well you present if you don’t tick their requirements.

Lesson Three
It doesn’t matter who pitches if you don’t meet their requirements.

Lesson Four
It doesn’t matter how in love you are with your own solution if it doesn’t meet their requirements.

For all the claims of corruption and a stitch up, England were fighting a losing battle from the beginning. In any case, the idea that good Olde English values of fair play would somehow infect an international cabal of sports administrators when national and personal fortunes are waiting to be made does seem naive to say the least.

With the newly branded St George’s Park finally getting the go-ahead after years of delay it looks as though we might finally be investing in training a team of World Cup winners rather than trying to get home advantage. Maybe our efforts should have been spent getting it finished sooner instead of chasing impossible dreams.

And that’s the fifth and final lesson for agencies. Next time you get the chance to pitch, stop and think about whether you actually really stand a chance.

Does this company always appoint local or global agencies? Is the pitch just an excuse to justify giving it to the incumbant? What is your role in the process? Are they just after some new ideas? Who is actually making the decision?

Be brutally honest. If you don’t think you stand a chance, work out how much you would have wasted pitching and instead invest it in developing your own staff and boosting their morale. They already believe in you and will service your existing accounts all the better for it.

“If you can dream, and not make dreams your master…”

From the November Zeitgeist…

“If you can dream, and not make dreams your master…”

When we think of the depiction of a typical man, our mind tends to drift toward a suit, a dinner jacket, or something similarly familiar, stable and unchanging. In truth, menʼs fashion – moreover our interpretation of masculinity – is very fluid and varies wildly according to time and culture.

At the V&A museum in London currently, an exhibition on the Maharaja is a good example of just how open to interpretation are the symbols of masculinity and power. In this case, “teardrops of diamonds dangling from succulent pearls” represent the pinnacle of masculinity. The bygone days of a world that celebrated “the effervescent elegance of a male world” serve to illustrate that the definition of what makes a man manly is inherently arbitrary, and therefore malleable. In this case, power and divinity were symbolised by an extraordinary amount of jewellery that even MC Zeitgeist would have been jealous of. The New York Times review says that with the independence of India so ended an era “when the male peacock finally folded its wings”.

Did it though? Pages of editorial are still detailing the rise of the metrosexual, seemingly one of the slowest ʻrisesʼ of anything ever. While one might be inclined to think that a womanʼs ideal man as sporting some kind of ill-fitting firemanʼs ensemble, with over-developed muscles straining underneath, in truth women in the UK apparently find willingness to do housework a most attractive asset. Perhaps increasingly then, it is responsibility that takes precedence over a more base hunter-gatherer, physical appeal.

In Japan, news of Toyotaʼs withdrawal from Formula 1 and itʼs first earnings loss in fifty years caused Tadashi Yamashina to break down in tears at a public press conference, specifically apologising for the F1 teamʼs failure to win a single race in nine years. Business failure in Japan equates to personal shame for the heads of organisations, and such a display of emotion is presumably intended to illustrate a full mea culpa and to show they are affected by the decisions they make for their employees, rather than appearing stone-faced and passive. This latter description is something of a stereotype for men – oblivious to the more sensitive side of their personality – and in this case shows the public that they truly care about the institution they preside over. As The Mirror comments “if the bullet train is delayed, you will see the CEO on TV bowing as low as he can. It’s about honour and showing sincerity”. Thus, while crying may not be seen by some as sign of manliness, in this context it is a conduit for showing you are a man of principles and respect, both tenets traditionally associated with masculinity.

Perhaps in another hundred years, when the current V&A is underwater, a future exhibition will remind us that brute force and intimidation, even from beyond the grave, once represented manhood. In Russia, the tombstones of erstwhile Mafiosi stand proud and very tall; several are life size depictions of the eternal residents, gazing menacingly outwards. These grotesque images are reminders that not all markets approach the concept of masculinity in the same way.

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