A square on Foursquare

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I finally did it: after resisting peer pressure to complicate my life with another social media application, I joined Foursquare. (Is that what you do?  “Join” Foursquare? “Fan” Foursquare?)  After all, I work for Razorfish, a company that took pride in earning a “Swarm” badge on Foursquare Day.  If you don’t tinker around with social media applications where I work, people look at you funny.  Now that this 47-year-old fairly ordinary dad has been onboard with Foursquare for about a month, I have a few observations:

  • Checking into places with Foursquare when I am in the company of others feels socially awkward and geeky — like checking work email or smoking a cigarette.  (“Just a sec — hold that thought while I whip out my iPhone and check in to acknowledge you and I are really having a conversation here.”)  I find myself ducking into the powder room to check in.  Odd as it may seem to a generation raised on mobile devices, there are people who expect my undivided attention. They are known as my family and friends.
  • My de facto Foursquare strategy is to become mayor by checking into places that are too uncool for others to acknowledge.  I visited a local Walgreens for cough syrup one night, took a moment to check in, and suddenly found myself a mayor in an apparent landslide.  However, I didn’t have time for a victory speech, and Walgreens didn’t seem interested in giving me the keys to Aisle 4.  Recently I even checked into church. You can’t get much more unhip than that. Yesterday when I received an Explorer badge, I felt like I won a batting title with a bunch of infield singles.
  • While dining at Corner Bakery recently I received an offer from Go Roma for a 10-percent discount next time I check in there on Foursquare.  Which was fine, except that I had already paid for my meal at Corner Bakery.  So far no one else seems to be interested in giving me any offers that I can actually use when Foursquare has my attention.  (It would have been interesting to see what kind an offer I could have gotten at church.)
  • Apparently I partied like a rock star in Los Angeles April 23 when I checked into X Bar at the Hyatt Century Plaza at 1:22 a.m.  How off-brand for a boring old dad.  Actually I checked in at about 11:22 p.m. Los Angeles time to sip a club soda and have a perfectly fine anti-social moment in a bar where it was too loud to talk to anyone.  To my Facebook friends seeing my information reported by Fousquare in Central Time Zone, there I was just getting warmed up at 1:22 a.m. It sure was fun to create the illusion.  Which is to say you can cultivate the Foursquare image you want the world to see.
  • I do worry about security on Foursquare.  At some point you have to ask yourself how many people should know you are miles away from home holding court at the X Bar. Or planting your butt in a theater seat for a few hours. In the time it takes for you to watch those puzzling ads for Fathom in a dark movie theater, a savvy thief could clean out your apartment or house.  Yeah, you can block others from seeing your Foursquare updates, but then what’s the point of checking in?  Just to receive badges and offers?
  • I’m intrigued by the customized content you can create on Foursquare.  While dining at said Corner Bakery, I noticed someone had created a location called “Hell aka Work.”  (Hopefully that wasn’t another Razorfish employee.)  Oh the possibilities, perhaps some even useful.

In coming days and weeks, I’ll continue to have some fun with Foursquare.   I suppose as a marketing executive I should be telling you I have created a thoughtful Foursquare strategy that integrates tightly with all the ways I share my own brand (whatever that might be).   If anything, my strategy is informed by something profound George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, said at the Forrester Marketing Forum April 22.  George questioned the popular notion that the only way to benefit from social is to go “all in.”  Instead, he proposed “social light,” or focusing on quality of social interactions, not quantity.  Or worrying more about the experience you can have on social, not how many Twitter followers you can accumulate.

Makes perfect sense.  For now, I’m just going to tinker around with Foursquare for the pure enjoyment of discovering a tool that hasn’t been figured out yet (at least by me). Profound? No.  Right for me?  Absolutely.

RIP: 20th Century agencies

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This blog post comes to you from the Forrester Marketing Forum 2010, where the theme is adaptive marketing.  During a break-out, Analyst Sean Corcoran discusses the changing agency-client relationship.

Sean asserts that the 20th-century agency model is dying.  Agencies focused on one-way advertising are passing away in an era when marketing has become tantamount to a two-way customer experience.  That said, history has shown agencies have always adapted, such as the transition from print-based to TV-driven advertising.

And agencies are now entering an era of adaptive marketing — a time in which consumers are empowered, social media is mainstream, and marketing has evolved from push- to pull-focused.  During the adaptive marketing era, marketers are taking advantage of media addressability and more effective data-driven decision making.  According to Larry Flanagan, CMO of MasterCard, “We are moving from decades of push strategy to a more holistic 360 consumer strategy.”

Agencies are struggling to adapt to this new era for many reasons. Among them:

1. Agencies are focused on campaigns rather than experiences.
2. They can talk but are not very good at listening.
3. Agencies are build for waterfall approaches to idea development instead of a more iterative approach.
4. Agencies treat customers as audiences rather than participants.
5. They are mostly “unbundled” — creating disparate skill sets.
6. Agencies have trouble mastering many new specialties at once.
7. Co-creation has torn down the creative wall.
8. Agencies have moved down the value chain and rarely distinguish themselves from each other.
9. Agencies can only move as fast as their clients will allow.

Meantime, marketers do not trust traditional agencies with digital, and interactive agencies often struggle to differentiate.

Which is all to say that no type of agency is perfect for the new era.  As a marketing leader from a healthcare firm told Forrester, “No one agency does it all well.”

So in an era of adaptive marketing, what do agencies need to do?

First, think of themselves as idea providers — ideas that can drive the creation of great customer experiences.  And ideas that are generated in iterative fashion.

Agencies also need to understand that interactions will drive future marketing success.  Paid media is shifting from the foundation of campaigns to the catalyst of experiences.

Finally, agencies need to become more intelligent — as in relying more on analytics to drive customer insight.

Among Sean’s predictions are that the interactive agency of record will disappear.  Some will become lead agencies; some will continue to be specialists; and others swallowed up by others.  So it’s decision time for interactive agencies: become a lead agency or become a specialist.

Meantime if you’re a marketer, Sean says it’s important to get your own adaptive marketing house in order before you think about your agencies, among other recommendations.  For more insight, contact Sean on Twitter or scorcoran@forrester.com.

Empowering your interactive marketing team

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This blog post comes live from the Forrester Marketing Forum 2010, where the theme is adaptive marketing.  During a break-out session, Forrester Vice President/Principal Analyst Shar VanBoskirk discusses organizing your interactive marketing team to embrace change successfully.

First, she issues a caveat and overriding theme: the wrong priority is to pursue the right organizational structure.  In fact, there is no singularly successful approach.

To set the context, Shar asks, How is interactive changing the way marketing actually functions inside the organization?  She asserts that:

1. Budgets are continuing to shift from traditional to online media. For the first time, growth in online is actually cannibalizing offline as opposed to resulting from organic growth.   Why?  One big reason is that marketers love the accountability of interactive tools.  The recession has moved marketing spend downstream from branding to point-of-sale, performance-based activities — which contributes to the growth of interactive.  In fact, by 2014, more than 20 percent of all advertising will go digital. We’re also seeing a decline in advertising overall.  Dollars are going into more efficient interactive channels and marketing investments like innovation, research, customer service, and marketing-specific technology.

2. Social media is transforming customer relationships.  This change, well documented elsewhere, affects your organization. Consumers expect to have interactive relationships with their favorite brands via many, many social channels like blogs and online discussion forums — and consumers want the brand to talk back.  Insights from social channels can inform PR, customer service, interactive marketing, and customer intelligence.  And interactive can play a much bigger role harnessing the power of social.

3. Bid-based audience targeting is redefining media buying.  We’re seeing a greater proliferation of media impressions. You can buy advertising on someone’s flickr page.  And quality of data is improving.  There is also increasing competition for search-based ads.  The result is the advent of the demand-side platform — a buy-side tool that helps media buyers aggregate, bid on, and optimize display inventory across exchanges, yield management networks, and ad networks.

4. We’re seeing the emergence of the Splinternet, a new era of the Internet in which devices proliferate and social online experiences live behind a user log-in. Devices control the interactive environment, forcing marketers to figure out how to distribute content more effectively across devices.

But along with digital catalysts are some challenges.  For instance, marketers are operating with leaner staff.  Interactive teams are too often being pushed into tactical mode.  Teams are not comprehensive. Interactive teams are not necessarily equipped with skills to manage interactive marketing.  And tensions abound between interactive marketing and other departments like information technology.

Shar believes no organizational model addresses the challenges facing interactive marketing teams.  She believes the real challenge is preparing your team for “interactive maturity.”  Interactive teams need to support existing business functions.  They need to spread their interactive DNA to other groups.  They need to define interactive job descriptions and career paths.  Interactive teams must mature by establishing interactive program standards. And interactive teams should use their insights to inform offline marketing.

She believes interactive organizations should mature along a spectrum. Less-mature organizations use a “scattered” model whereby teams lack a champion and clear role.  More mature organizations use a centralized interactive team that supports brand groups, product groups, or business units — akin to a service bureau.  (Another related model is the eCommerce alignment model, in which the interactive team’s primary focus is driving online sales.)

Shar believes organizations need to mature to a distributed model — meaning that you distribute your digital marketingresources into the different business functions you support.  This is not an ad-hoc scattered model but rather a more thoughtful way to support different parts of the organization.  The distributed model is a way for marketers to share their DNA throughout the organization.  The model aligns the business, customer, and channel more effectively.

An example: Newell Rubbermaid.  Prior to 2007, Newell Rubbermaid had different interactive strategies and sites for its 30 different brands.  Newell Rubbermaid moved to a centralized model to create an enterprisewide strategy, common Web platform, and standard channel processes.  The company hired an executive to focus on e-business and interactive marketing, reporting to the CIO with a dotted line relationship to the VP of marketing.

Newell Rubbermaid also elected to use interactive marketing to support branding and commerce goals.  Moreover, the interactive marketing team shares costs and accountability with the brands.  The team also trains others across the company on interactive marketing.  Newell Rubbermaid has also standardized interactive team roles.

Another example: Meijer wanted to reposition its stores and brand against increased competition in core markets and declining consumer spend due to the recession.  The solution: Meijer moved interactive marketing from e-commerce into a cross-channel media team that supports loyalty, brand engagement, community, and online/offline sales.

Meijer also uses interactive to support multiple goals and organizes to support functions, not channels.  Meijer also uses digital insights to inform offline media strategies.

For more insight, contact Shar at svanboskirk@forrester.com

Should CEOs be social?

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This blog post comes to you live from the Forrester Marketing Forum 2010, where the theme is the need for marketers to adapt constantly.  During a lively presentation, Forrester Research CEO George Colony asks a simple but provocative question: should CEOs embrace social media?

George indicates that Forrester studied the habits of the top 100 CEOs and found almost none of them are active users of social media.  This is true even among high-tech CEOs like Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison.  Even Mark Zuckerberg does not blog.  He asks, why are CEOs not social?  Many reasons:

1. For many, age is a factor.  Many CEOs were born before 1950 and simply do not relate to social media as a form of communication.

2. They have distinct constraints.  If  they run a publicly traded company, they need to follow regulatory constraints.

3. Many are risk-averse.  They might be quite justifiably risk-averse to potential litigation, for instance.

4. CEOs have a different sense of time. For them, embracing social with any level of commitment means carving out time they don’t have.  Seth Godin blogs 12 hours a week.  How many CEOs have time to blog even 1 hour a week?

5. There might be a mis-match to the medium going on. How many CEOs are willing to make six public statements per day via Twitter or one major statement a week via a blog? And how many are willing to adapt the provocative style that is often needed to blog successfully? How many CEOs are willing to be transparent?

George asserts that only a limited number of people can really succeed with social.  How many of us — whether CEOs or not — can really embrace social with consistently high-quality content? Today Einstein would have been a poor match for blogging, for instance.

Should CEOs be social?  Yes, if:

1. The CEO has something valuable to say.

2. She can navigate the minefield of constraints and restrictions.

3. Customers, employees, partners, and investors, are actually tuned into the CEO.

4. The CEO accepts a new construct of social.

And does the CEO really have the desire?  If the answer is no, then accept that reality. The CEO has to be the right person for blogging.

If your CEO is onboard to actually embrace social, then the marketer needs to support the CEO with well-researched insights into how one’s potential audience actually engages in social.  In other words, know your audience. Employ approaches like the Forrester POST Method. For instance, give your CEO objectives for participating in the social world — for instance, is simply becoming a better listener all that matters to your CEO?  (In that case, using Twitter to remain engaged might be a better approach to attempting to blog.)

George also says a new construct of social is needed to empower the CEO. For instance, it’s time to stop thinking of “social heavy” and start embracing “social light.”  Social heavy is all about a frantic race to get the most Twitter followers.  Social light means a social profile that stresses quality over quantity.  Think of social as a way to share your corporate values, not to chase followers.

And be choosy. George believes that Facebook is just too personal for CEOs to use as their social platform.

But, the new construct does not mean asking your marketing or PR team to blog for you.  Marketing and PR can and should be the coaches helping CEOs embrace social, but not the do-ers.  One thing has not changed about social: the need to be authentic, writing in your own voice.  Not ready to do that?  Then forget being social.

Get to know George on Twitter and on his blog.

Rethinking marketing for the digital age

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This blog post comes to you live from the Forrester Research Marketing Forum 2010 held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. (So please excuse any typos.) After Christine Overby of Forrester sets the stage, David Cooperstein asserts that marketers are entering into a new era of adaptive marketing, in which marketers are sensing and responding to change constantly.

David shares a brief history of media as a metaphor for marketing in the digital age. In the 1950s, we saw the advent of on-demand media (somewhat) with the introduction of TV.  But what really changed the media business was the launch of CNN Headline News, which gave us the means to get news on our own schedules.  Reporters needed to start managing around constantly updated content.  Then, with the advent of CNN.com, reporters needed to file and update stories constantly.  And then citizen journalists became a whole new competitor — and CNN treated them wisely as collaborators by opening up CNN.com to citizen journalists.

CNN is an example of an adaptive organization.  The company has successfully responded to changing audience needs and ways to distribute content.  By contrast, more than 100 newspapers in 2009 stopped printing, and the magazine publishing industry is in serious turmoil.

The journalists who have adapted successfully have learned how to report faster and more frequently, amplify their own content, and learn how to live alongside new voices (bloggers being obvious examples).

To David, the survival of marketers depends on their ability to adapt.  The question is, are marketers going to adapt like CNN or become also-rans like the publishers who have shut down?

And marketers need to adapt to many kinds of changes: as has been well documented by now, consumers are more empowered, they depend on each other for advice (less on advertisers), and their attention is split among multiple media channels, simultaneously watching TV and surfing content online.   Our own notion of “media” has nothing to do with consumer perceptions of the past.  YouTube stands alongside television as a medium for viewing video content. About 83 percent of U.S. adults have participated in social media in some fashion.

So which marketers are adapting successfully to this change?  Burberry has.  Through the Art of the Trench social campaign that encourages consumers to participate in the Burberry brand, Burberry has reached 7 million people who spend on average 5 minutes on the site; and the site has generated an substantial lift in business for Burberry.

David indicates that marketers and their agency partners need to get comfortable with adaptive models of marketing. How?  David defines adaptive marketing as this: a flexible approach in which marketers respond quickly to their environment to align customer and brand goals to maximize return on brand equity.

He outlines three tenets of adaptability:

1. Think and move differently. Consumers want marketers to engage, not advertise.  Lay’s has adapted to this reality by creating different, fun ways to share its brand message around “happiness is simple,” for example inviting consumers to post photos expressing their happiness on Flickr.  Some of those photos will be incorporated into Lay’s packaging.

2. Listen more, react intelligently. Incorporate social media insights into your marketing.  Hyundai responded to customer needs by using the Hyundai Think Tank to understand customer needs.  Thanks to the Think Tank, Hyundai introduced a gas lock program promising consumers more efficient performance from their cars.  And Hyundai sales grew during a recession. Meantime, Razorfish client Mercedes-Benz adapted its brand to stress innovation instead of the Mercedes-Benz heritage.

3. Target people, not statistics. Focus on consumer behaviors, not demographic data.  P&G is in the midst of merging Dawn and Olay in response to customer behaviors, not necessarily customer segmentation.

So what can marketers do today in order to adapt?

1. Adapt your approach to new ideas.  Watch for, and be ready to adapt to, major groundswell events (like the emergence of Foursquare occurring now).

2. Adapt the roles of your team.  Brand managers need to consider the role of brand advocates, or people who share your brand every day on multiple platforms and communities — invaluable sources of customer insight for the brand strategist.

3. Adapt your process. Plan iteratively and frequently.  Don’t think of planning as a one-time process. Partner for creativity, not durability.  Use predictive metrics in addition to descriptive ones.

4. Adapt your mix of media.  Think in terms of owned media for the portable brand and paid media as a brand catalyst.

In summary . . . remember that customers always evolve.  Be ready to innovate on their terms as CNN has done.  And marketers need to change the pace at which we learn and adapt.  We must constantly learn — and quickly. You can give feedback directly to David on Twitter or dcooperstein@forrester.com

The new TravelChannel.com: stuffed frogs & worms in the digital world

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Contrary to popular belief, content publishers can flourish in the digital age.  They just need to adopt a different mind set — for instance viewing their digital properties as brands, not just information sources.  A case in point is TravelChannel.com, which was redesigned recently with the help of my employer Razorfish.

TravelChannel.com is the online destination for the Travel Channel, which is the only television network devoted exclusively to travel entertainment.  According to Domenic Venuto, managing director of the Razorfish Media & Entertainment practice, the previous version of the website faced two challenges:

  • Popular content from TV shows such as Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern was not featured prominently on TravelChannel.com.  The website was missing opportunities to build equity from the offline Travel Channel brand.
  • The site offered basic information on traveling tips that visitors could find elsewhere.  So TravelChannel.com lacked differentiation.

The revamped TravelChannel.com features TV content far more prominently.  It’s easier to find featured shows (such as America’s Worst Driver) on the home page.  And the site offers a deeper dive into the TV content.  For instance, Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame writes a blog featured on the new site in which he discusses his favorite destinations from his show as well as the stuffed frogs, live worms, and crickets he’s eaten along the way.  A library of video content and crisp photography brings to life those locations, which range from the Philippines to Florida.  Links to social media properties like Twitter and YouTube offer more pathways for discovery.

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Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern

You can still explore the world through TravelChannel.com as in the past.  But visitors now have more of an interactive experience doing so.  In addition to linking travel destinations to TV shows, the city overviews themselves make more effective use of video and photography.  The navigation through the site is more playful and visually appealing in general.

TravelChannel.com is now a destination for entertainment as well as information.  And as Domenic says, “By integrating TravelChannel.com with popular TV programs such as Ghost Adventures, Travel Channel provides a stronger online/offline brand experience to web surfers and TV watchers.”

Razorfish performed website strategy, visual design, user experience, and front-end development as well as the strategy for supporting the site with revenue-generating digital advertising.  The redesign of TravelChannel.com follows a number of other Razorfish Media & Entertainment client projects including the redesign of Billboard.com (which recently won a Digital Media Design Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors as well as an Outstanding Website Award from the Internet Advertising Competition.)

Happy exploring with a great brand.

KIN you dig it?

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As Microsoft announced today, consumers will be able to purchase the new Microsoft KIN smart phone at retailers soon.  Meantime my employer Razorfish is busy helping Microsoft share the KIN with consumers through a new brand website, KIN.com. I think the Microsoft/Razorfish KIN partnership shows how intertwined technology and a successful consumer experience can be, not just the experience you can see but the one behind the scenes.

KIN, of course, is an innovative new mobile device that provides a social experience linking the phone, online services, and personal computer.  In January 2009, Razorfish won the KIN account through a competitive process, and since then Razorfish’s role has grown from designing the brand website to more comprehensive marketing support including digital strategy, creation of brand and product videos, product development, digital measurement, organic search, and interactive retail.

The KIN marketing strategy focuses on reaching out to consumers in the places they are spending time already, such as social media sites, and driving them to KIN.com, where they can learn more about the smart phone in an immersive way.  For instance, through a series of lively videos, the KIN website shows how easy it is to share content from a KIN device to one’s social networks or pull content, such as photos, from a social network on to one’s KIN.  Via Facebook Connect, consumers can explore the KIN further on Facebook.

The KIN website is all about bringing a brand to life, making it possible to experience a brand emotionally instead of telling you about product features.  And technology, coupled with design and customer insight, plays the crucial role.

And then there’s something going on behind the scenes.  Razorfish and Microsoft have also developed a web service known as the KIN Studio, which is a Silverlight-based experience that mirrors your KIN phone on the web.  Why so important?  Because when the KIN is in market, the KIN Studio will automatically sync information — messages, contacts, photos, and videos — from the KIN phone to your own secure website and will be accessible anywhere there is a computer.  To launch the KIN Studio, Razorfish has been working side by side with Microsoft engineers in a product development capacity.

I think the Razorfish/Microsoft relationship also demonstrates the role an agency can play providing strategy, design, and technology to support a product launch instead of focusing on creating a better message.

More about the Razorfish/Microsoft KIN collaboration here.

Sail on Mission Blue

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This week the TED organization and oceanographer Sylvia Earle announced the launch of Mission Blue, an ambitious campaign to inspire the public to protect the oceans. With the help of my employer Razorfish, TED and Sylvia Earle are tackling a branding challenge: how do you get people to care about yet another cause?

Mission Blue & How Razorfish Got Involved

Mission Blue is the result of Sylvia Earle’s 2009 TEDPrize wish to preserve marine-protected areas and to restore the world’s oceans. The TEDPrize is an annual $100,000 grant awarded by the nonprofit TED organization to help an annual winner realize a wish to effect world change. Razorfish has provided pro bono support to help previous TEDPrize winners fulfill their wishes, including the creation of the Encyclopedia of Life for biologist Edmund O. Wilson and Pangea Day for director Jehane Noujaim. Razorfish agreed to help Sylvia fulfill her wish, too.

Razorfish then did its homework and found that ocean conservation poses its own set of challenges. For instance, the ocean conservation movement is highly fragmented and lacks a singular rallying cry. Razorfish also found that there exists a large number of “blue consumers” who have an emotional connnection to the ocean, are aware that the oceans are becoming threatened by pollution, and yet do not know how to act.

So Razorfish decided the movement needed a brand to rally supporters — hence Razorfish conceived of the Mission Blue brand and campaign to connect people with the oceans emotionally. The key to the Mission Blue brand is narrowcasting. Mission Blue isn’t trying to reach out to everyone; rather, the brand is designed to target the blue consumers as well as enthusiasts (people like active surfers who have a vested interest in protecting the oceans) and influencers (people who are actively involved in ocean conservation and have the means to effect change).

Elements of Mission Blue

Mission Blue consists of several initiatives, such as:

  • Mission Blue Voyage, a sea voyage to the Galapagos Islands that kicked off April 6, bringing together renowned ocean experts, policy makers, business leaders, and artists to raise funds for marine-protected areas known as “Hope Spots” (a program akin to Adopt-a-Highway). During the voyage, participants are holding a “mini-TED conference” to raise awareness for the marine-protected areas. Participants include Jackson Browne, Chevy Chase, and cartoonist Jim Toomey. Once Razorfish pitched the Mission Blue brand to the TED organization, TED became a collaborative partner and generated the idea for the voyage itself. Razorfish is raising awareness for the voyage and connecting the experience to the outside world. For instance, Mission Blue Voyage participants have been relying on a Facebook page created by Razorfish to share their experiences as they sail to the Galapagos (check out the photos of Jackson Browne performing).
  • Beneath the Surface, which will help people understand how environmental degradation of the oceans affects the entire world. The campaign, conceived of by Razorfish, commences later in 2010. Beneath the Surface will include a microsite that enables people to share personal stories about their love of the oceans though personal notes, video messages, and music.

You can also follow Mission Blue on Twitter. If you want to get involved or have feedback about Mission Blue, contact Ray Samuels, ray.samuels@razorfish.com. Let’s see how enduring this brand can be.

“Hey good lookin’! We’ll be back to pick you up later!”

If you are a child of the ’70s, surely you remember one of the cheesiest advertisements of all time: Mr. Microphone, the device that “actually puts your voice on the radio!”  It was the kind of advertisement you might catch if you were staying up late enough to watch Tomorrow with Tom Synder.  I remember cringing each time I saw the “Hey good lookin’!  We’ll be back to pick you up later!”   Granted, it is easy to laugh now.  But watching a replay of the Mr. Microphone ad on YouTube got me thinking: what are some advertisements from 2010 that our children will be mocking at years from now?  What are your candidates?

History & marketing converge with “The Pacific”

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Promoting an entertainment venture based on a world war, as HBO has done with The Pacific mini-series, is a delicate matter. The Pacific, which premiered on March 14, recounts the story of U.S. Marines in the Pacific Theater of World War II.  Although World War II has largely receded into history’s dusky corridors for many of us, even still the war’s legacy is one of suffering and killing on a monumental scale.  So I am relieved and pleased to see how The Pacific has been marketed over the past several weeks — a tasteful and educational multichannel experience.

For instance, the digital experience focuses on an interactive map that uses striking graphics and narration by The Pacific co-producer Tom Hanks to allow you to explore in more detail pivotal battles depicted in the mini-series.

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A Facebook page provides previews of upcoming episodes but, even more interesting, a forum for fans to talk about the show.  I like reading the occasional post from a war veteran inspired to speak up, or the inevitable student of history who takes issue with the way a detail is depicted in the mini-series. I think the page brings out the best side of social media by bringing together enthusiasts who share history’s bond.

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Similarly, PR for the series has been thoughful, the highlight being Time magazine profile of Tom Hanks, depicted as “America’s Historian in Chief” for his involvement producing historical epics like Band of Brothers, John Adams, and now, The Pacific, among other ventures.

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Another highlight is Hanks and co-producer Steven Spielberg providing insights into why they tackled The Pacific via an engaging Q&A with Entertainment Weekly.  Notice the focus on the personalities behind the series.  Clearly, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg realize their celebrity appeal is essential to raising awareness for The Pacific — they know better than to assume that a war that occurred nearly 70 years ago is going to sell itself.  Does World War II belong in Entertainment Weekly? You bet it does.

I think the highlight of The Pacific marketing is the print element.  The series is based largely on the books With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie.  HBO did not publish those books.  But thanks to The Pacific, these noteworthy memoirs, published decades ago, are back in wide circulation.  Their availability is more than marketing but rather a public service.

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On top of that, Hugh Ambrose, son of famed historian Frank Ambrose, makes his own contribution to the literature of the war through his The Pacific, the official companion piece of the mini-series.  Kudos to Bantam, Presidio Press, and NAL Hardcover for publishing these books.

But an entertainment venture is no substitute for history itself.  In that regard, the real value of The Pacific has yet to be realized.  We don’t yet know how many viewers of the mini-series will be inspired to dig deeper into the history of the war and its impact on us today.  But if the marketing of The Pacific does nothing more than draw viewers to the mini-series, then at least the job has been done admirably.