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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.

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

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.

2011’s Retail Trends

February 11, 2011 3 comments

Zeitgeist was asked at the end of last year to write an article on retail trends for the coming year. The following is an altered excerpt of the original article…

It’s surprising to read editorial describing us as still being in a recession. If you’re going to use economic terminology, then you have to listen to economists when they say the recession ended months ago. The trouble now is dealing with the aftermath – impending cuts and taxes. Evidently it’s not all gloom though, as new stores Dior, Mulberry and Miu Miu join the salute to capitalism that is Louis Vuitton’s Maison on London’s Bond Street.

Look for more brand collaborations. Disney’s venture with Tesco is bold and innovative… Savile Row’s Gieves and Hawkes recently installed a space for barber Gentleman’s Tonic, and vintners par excellence Berry Brothers has a concession for Lock and Co. Both instances suggest a deep insight into who their shopper is; useful for the brand, flattering for the shopper. With empty high street retail spaces, the time is right for sage collaborations, bringing brands added security.

Digital integration will become more widespread, aiding both in brand building and simplifying the customer journey. More people are expected to be surfing via phones than computers by 2015. This swing constitutes an immediate opportunity for retailers and marketers. Since helping Obama to victory, crowdsourcing has only gained in popularity. The Louvre recently fundraised through thousands of individual donations online to buy a coveted Renaissance painting. The power of many, prognosticated in “The Wisdom of Crowds”, is driving ideas like Groupon, as well as its subsequent offer for purchase by Google.

It’s going to be a make-or-break year for Foursquare et al. There have been interesting campaigns by all sorts, from Marc Jacobs to McDonald’s. What’s missing is seamless integration of these services with retail environments. ‘Checking-in’ has got to become a utility for shoppers outside London, New York and San Francisco. Currently, opportunities to create conversations are being missed.

Twitter’s retail presence will continue to grow, evinced by Best Buy’s Twelp Force and Debenham’s Twitterers flitting about stores. Multi-platform interaction can be enhanced by the physical retail environment: Diesel pulled off a fun gimmick last year with a screen outside the changing room allowing customers to upload a photo of themselves to Facebook to query friends on their clothing choice. Neiman Marcus recently merged online and in-store inventories, a great idea that others should emulate. Allowing people to browse products in-store on an LCD screen without the pressure of exasperated sighs from sales assistants can make shopping enjoyable and convenient. Chanel’s Manhattan flagship has such functionality; it could be of equal use at B&Q.

Getting someone to linger in your space and mention the experience to others is what counts. Pop-ups, if they serve a purpose rather than being a gimmick, can be a tremendously effective – not to mention fun – tool. Don’t underestimate fun. Emphasising convenience alone means most people – especially when the odd flurry of snow arrives – will shop online at home. There must be an element of excitement, innovation. This can be escapist, like Secret Cinema, or pure enjoyment like Muji’s vending machine (see top photo). Pop-ups can provide an excuse for an otherwise serious brand. They help in getting a message to new audiences (Gagosian’s pop-up), or taking the store to the customer (Natwest’s mobile truck).

So, more collaborations, more digital and more pop-ups; so what’s new? As William Gibson once said, “The future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed yet”. Embracing digital won’t stop people price-checking and tweeting negative remarks, but it would be worse to keep it – and therefore the customer – segregated. If that happens, and you promote on convenience alone, that customer never comes to your store and never sees a physical embodiment of the brand. Last November, as Zeitgeist previously reported, Ralph Lauren was one of the latest brands making use of 4D projection mapping. People cheered at animated handbags and ties. In 2011, Mintel advises, “brands may need to get more creative to lure consumers into stores, offering more than just retail and be a venue, not just a shop.” I’ll leave you with that thought while I go and cheer at a sandwich in my local “venue”.

Social Media Success & Failure

January 14, 2011 1 comment

Learning from brand victories and losses on Facebook, Twitter et al.

Last week, Zeitgeist tried to book a holiday at one of the lovely resorts looked after by the luxury group “One & Only”. This company – which advertises mainly in Vanity Fair and Harrod’s magazine – ostensibly caters to discerning travellers who expect a certain level of service from the place they go to and the people that serve them. On trying to call one of the hotels, no one would pick up the phone, and the call rang off. The same thing happened when Zeitgeist tried again. Zeitgeist fired off a tweet, “mentioning” the company’s twitter feed, alerting them to the fact that a room was in need of booking but that no one was picking up the phone. This was mid-afternoon. At 10pm the next day, Zeitgeist received a private message from the One & Only account:

The only trouble was that the “OOResorts” account was not following Zeitgeist, so he found himself unable to reply. Thus the communication from the account was useless; they either were not social media-savvy enough to know I would not be able to reply to the message without them first following me, or they did not care enough to bother. Either possibility casts the brand in a poor light. It’s far from mandatory to have a Twitter account, but if you are going to set one up, you need firstly to respond to pleas for assistance in a timely manner (within 24 hours), and secondly to know how the platform works. The more equity your brand has (in the case of One & Only, it’s a fair amount), the more it has to lose by making simple errors such as this. In the meantime, Zeitgeist ended up booking a holiday at a different destination with a different company.

Starbucks, by comparison, although seen as a pin-up boy for the creep of homogeny in a globalised world, for the most part has done an excellent job when it comes to courting fans and maintaining a good PR stance on multiple subjects. This was the case again on Monday when it offered free coffee all day to UK customers. Zeitgeist found out about the offer through Twitter, but there was also an event on Facebook. A voucher could be downloaded and easily printed out or merely shown on your phone to your local barista. Now, the key here was, unlike the unpleasant (but free) glass of wine that Zeitgeist was entitled to upon checking into a restaurant on Foursquare at the end of last year, this coffee blend was delicious, it was not the sludge one would expect from an item that is free. That is because Starbucks realise the point is to use the free coffee to encourage future use; for newbies to think “Oh, their coffee is actually pretty good” – it’s not a throwaway gimmick. (It’s also so that people, when in the store collecting said coffee, will indulge in a muffin or some other accompaniment.) Good thinking, guys.

Rewarding Advocacy and Retaining Customers

December 6, 2010 2 comments

How “24”, Louis Vuitton and a London restaurant attempt to make their brands worth engaging with.

Eye-catching advertising – like the one mentioned by Zeitgeist in the previous article posting – that succeeds in converting a person to being a new customer of a brand is one thing, but keeping them dedicated is quite another. As The New Yorker cartoon above demonstrates so humorously and effectively, engagement is what’s important. It’s about incentivising and rewarding your customer for their association (and, hopefully, evangelism) of the brand.

Zeitgeist has touched on location-based services several times in the past, and as the service continues its maturation process, we are able to judge better as to what kind of benefits it brings to marketers of brands. One is still left with the impression that network effects have yet to fully take hold for the myriad platforms – Foursquare, Gowalla, and more recently Facebook’s equivalent – that provide these services. Logically, greater and more plentiful benefits for those that sign up to these services would encourage those users to advocate others to sign up to them.

So what is the current state of affairs for rewarding users of such services? Well, first you can count out anyone who lives outside a major metropolitan city; the service has nothing to offer them other than who gets to be arbitrary mayor of which location. Sometimes, locations can be inaccurate enough that it looks like people are having a drink in a subaqua bar, as is the case above.

In the past week, living in London, Zeitgeist has experienced two offers through Foursquare that have had real-world consequences. Tuesday before last, as one of the first people to unlock the “Louis Vuitton Insider” badge, Zeitgeist’s presence was requested at the Bond Street Maison for a drinks reception, attended by several Vuitton employees from the marketing and digital disciplines, from both London and Paris. The chance to get to talk to such people, while browsing the store’s significant art book collection while munching on macaroons and sipping various beverages, leaving with a small gift, all were clearly tangible benefits for those guests who attended the evening. What of the business though? What benefits does it reap from organising such an event at reasonable expense? Ideally it gets to know its customer base better, though in this case, some of those who unlocked the badge were not habitual customers of Vuitton. Still, for those that are, the event would no doubt have encouraged a greater affinity toward the brand.

Yesterday at lunch near Covent Garden, Zeitgeist was early meeting his friend and decided to check-in on Foursquare. The reward for having done so was a free glass of wine. The benefits of free alcohol need not be extolled or delved into greatly in this article. However, the execution was sorely lacking. The waitress, when presented with the notification of this offer, was totally caught by surprise, and was not aware of any such offer. When the glass was ultimately brought – Zeitgeist was presented with a choice of “red or white?” – it was of course some substandard plonk that wouldn’t have been fit for a university ball. On the face of it, of course, this was not surprising; but it led to the question of what is the point of rewarding the consumer / shopper / person with something that is pretty poor and leads to a less enjoyable experience?

Zeitgeist can think of few experiences less enjoyable than competing against others to stay awake. Yet this is exactly the idea that 20th Century Fox have had, on the eve of the release of an enormous, diss-it-and-you’ll-be-waterboarded, boxset of the entire series of the hit show 24. Starting last night in Los Angeles, several “lucky” winners of a competition run entirely on Facebook will be subjected to every single episode of the series, while they compete with other viewers in a glass cube to stay awake. The campaign is also supported by a Twitter feed and, as Fox would have hoped, has been picked up by “24” fan blogs as well as the mainstream media, appearing in the LA Times. The campaign will have relatively little long-term impact, as the series has now come to end – though rumours persist of a film being made – but the idea for the competition, one of endurance, is very on-brand for the series, and has clearly sparked much chatter online. It should be noted that endurance contests are not always on-brand, or safe. UPDATE: The winners.

How to master social media, the Conan O’Brien way

October 22, 2010 2 comments

Conan the Television Host, a Harvard alum who back in the day wrote many an episode of The Simpsons, found himself at the centre of controversy last year, a victim of NBC and its admiration of Jay Leno. When the latter’s contract on his 11.35pm nightly show expired, Conan, who had been waiting in the wings for so long in the 12.30am talkshow slot, finally had his dream come true when he took over the coveted Tonight Show spot, which in the US holds a nostalgic place in many people’s hearts, as well as being a significant place for advertisers to plug their wares for a young demographic with money and time.

As Oscar Wilde once said, however, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers”. After much dithering, NBC decided to bump Conan off the Tonight Show and return Leno just six months later. Conan was not impressed. A significant part of his fanbase felt motivated enough to rally in protest about the move, both online and on studio lots. After having his fun running up costs on the show and being paid $30m to leave, Conan transitioned to Twitter, which he used intially to promote a tour. He currently has 1.8m followers. After months of pithy and hilarious tweets, and rumours of courting by Fox, O’Brien eventually revealed he was transitioning the lesser-known network TBS.

After a saucy, Paris Hilton-esque ad debuted promoting the new show last week, Conan O’Brien and his production office bombarded YouTube for 24 hours straight yesterday, live from their humble abode in Southern California. This included an aerobics class at 4am PST given by bears, a puppet show (see below) and many, many other bizarre things. This all in aid of his new show, which launches early next month. The stream incorporated tweets and Facebook mentions, and periodically staff (mostly interns), would put questions asked over the platform to various members of the production office.

In his continuing dedication to exploiting all that social media has to offer, Mashable reported recently that the first guests to be on Conan’s new show may be decided by a popular vote on Twitter. Throughout October, a giant blimp has also been plaguing the East Coast of the US, emblazoned with the word “Conan”, that, of course, you can check into on Foursquare to earn a badge. Unnecessary, but inspired and fun. Three words which might well be used to describe the institution that is Conan O’Brien.

Out (of pocket) for a byte to eat

August 23, 2010 3 comments

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”, wrote Virginia Woolf. A friend of Zeitgeist’s is coming to town on Friday for what will surely be a sybaritic weekend. For the first time, Zeitgeist found themselves on Toptable booking dinner at a very nice restaurant nestled in London’s Mayfair district. The reservation came with an offer of 50% off the usual a la carte menu price. What had Zeitgeist done to deserve this? Nothing. So what is in it for the restaurant? See previous answer, perhaps. As any Toptable devotee knows, offers like this are plentiful, and reflect the state of the restaurant industry as a whole, particularly in the premium sector.

Zeitgeist was walking in Notting Hill about eighteen months ago with, as it happens, this same friend. We happened to pass Nicole Farhi’s restaurant, which sits next to a Daylesford Organic. Both were teeming with people literally overflowing into the streets enjoying their expensive brunches. “Credit crunch, what credit crunch?” my observant friend quipped at the time. It was hard to disagree. The numerous plates of food and cups of coffee being consumed by these Chloé- and Zegna-wearing denizens were totally out of sync with the times. Perhaps what these people had been doing though is downtrading. Instead of going out somewhere special for a dinner, they had instead chosen to go somewhere more informal for brunch. Or perhaps instead of going away on holiday for a weekend break, they had decided to stay at home and enjoy the fruits of London. This is an anecdotal example but the argument is supported by the reams of analysis conducted by those boffins at places like Forrester and Datamonitor; JWT’s AnxietyIndex wrote in May “Ostentation is out, practicality is in.” Witness brands like Starbucks and Louis Vuitton.

It’s this lack of ostentation and sense of frugality (which, for the most part, still pervades) that perhaps explains why, writes The Economist, “Visits to posh restaurants in America declined by 15% between May 2008 and May this year… Fast-food restaurants, on the other hand, saw traffic decline only 2%.”. It would be nice to know how a “posh” restaurant is defined, but otherwise it makes for an interesting statement. The decline at both ends of the dining spectrum lends credence to the notion that there is a “cocooning” going on where people are quite happy to order in or to cook their own meals, surrounded by their HDTVs and microwaves. Clearly though it is the high end that is fairing particularly poorly.

The article notes that Restaurant Week – held during the dog days of summer in Manhattan, when the city fills with tourists and any sensible residents have escaped northward – lasts for six weeks this year, and notes that the 21 Club “usually sees its business increase by around 25-40%” during the Week. So, similar to Taste of London, the event must attract those who would not usually consider dining at such a place (for such a price). Are these the customers the restaurant wants though? No mention is made in the article as to retention rates. As pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, (which contains details of several interesting promotions),

“‘Having dollar menus and value menus has become unsustainable, from an operating profit standpoint, so restaurants need to be able to establish consumer continuity with loyalty programs. Instead of getting customers in three or four times per year for special events, they need to get them in two to three times per month,’ says Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a consumer consulting firm.”

The industry has had to adapt though as the Internet plays an increasingly dominant role in people’s lives, not only exposing the consumer and restaurant to every bad review detailing every morsel of undercooked food and every supercilious waiter, but also forcing the establishments to adapt to people’s psychology when shopping online, which mostly falls under the category of ‘bargain hunter’. A similar thing has happened with high-end fashion. Members-only sites offering significant discounts on luxury brands have sprung up everywhere. The Economist reports that two of these, Gilt and Rue La La, have begun offering restaurant discounts as well:

“Gilt, for example, recently sold a four-course meal at the Tribeca Grill, a restaurant owned by Robert De Niro, an actor, for $160 (36% off). Shopping sites like these attract image-conscious restaurants, because only the site’s members can see that the restaurant has started to offer leaner prices.”

The other lure for the restaurant in this case is knowing that those whom the offer will be seen by are likely to be a suitable target audience for your establishment; at the very least a more specific one than might be found on somewhere like Toptable. These restaurants are innovating (mostly because they have to). The prospect of drawing crowds is an attractive one. Sites like Groupon offer significant discounts on meals, but which only become active once enough people have signed up to the offer. Foursquare similarly relies on encouraging a group of people doing virtual battle in order to obtain a mayorship that grants them free coffee at Starbucks or free champagne and a great seat at Galvin’s Windows. In the long term, having offers that keep the customer loyal (and accustomed to a consistently-priced menu) will hopefully, for the sake of the restaurants, trump the savage discounting some have become imbroiled in. For Zeitgeist, value-add to the proposition is far more attractive than saving on a regular meal. Let’s hope others think the same.

The Consumption Conundrum

A quick thought while Zeitgeist takes a well-deserved break in the hinterlands of the Côte d’Azur, and that centres on continued desire for content and immediate access, versus a dilapidated infrastructure for providing that content. A recent front page article from film industry trade paper Variety expressed concerns over who will be able to fill the shoes as the new head of the Motion Picture Association of America, headed by the much-loved Jack Valenti, and latterly the effective Dan Glickman. The post requires juggling many balls and keeping disparate parties happy, from the cultural binaries of Washington and Los Angeles, to the contrasting desires of consumer and corporation, (the issue of Net Neutrality being a particularly important example).

One principal concern for whomever takes hold of the reins will be that of the continuing threat of piracy, and the fear of ending up like the moribund music industry. One significant move that Glickman was able to implement was ensuring the creation of a post for “copyright czar” at the White House. Worries continue though as, according to the article, “technology advances make Internet speeds ever faster”. While this is true in a normative sense, in practice things are not as simple. For while improvements in technology may make computers ever more capable of handling more data at faster speeds, the delivery systems that support the transfer of this data are not being kept up to date, specifically in the US and UK. Telco networks AT&T and O2 have both recently pulled their unlimited data plans for mobile use. What is the impact for services like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare? Unfortunately it can only have a negative one, as users may begin to worry about updating their status if it will push them over their data limit for that month.

All these moves – including other industry machinations such as the decision by Hulu, a free, legal website, to begin charging – will serve only to further consumer confusion and distance the brand from their audience.

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…