Brand loyal-tee

Conventional wisdom says brand loyalty is dead, and yet a recent discovery I made at a nearby Target store indicates we are still willing to pledge our allegiance to a logo, at least. Shoppers in the mens department are apparently willing to shell out good money for the privilege to flaunt T shirts advertising their love of products ranging from Coca-Cola to Ford, as these snapshots I took at Target show:

And of course you can find plenty more online:

So what gives? Well, I am not so sure the T shirts are about brand loyalty but rather nostalgia and hipness. The logos represent venerable consumer brands that say “Americana.” The logos (as well as the T shirt designs) have a retro feel to them. Also, I don’t think it’s any accident that the products are stocked next to tees with images of Pac Man and Sesame Street characters adorned on them. Some clever marketing going on here — making corporate logos legitimate by showing you that the SpagettiO’s smiley face can look just as cuddly as Big Bird.

Buy it?

Role players rule at comic/entertainment expo

The Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) is aptly named. The three-day show demonstrates the convergence of graphic books, movies, and games that has made its indelible mark on industries ranging from media/entertainment to tourism.

From March 18-20, the 2011 C2E2 (self-described as “Chicago’s pop culture event”) brought together a loosely defined coalition of gamers, fantasy enthusiasts, artists, entertainers, comic book vendors, and graphic novelists for a series of activities such as a video presentation of The Vampire Diaries, huge Battlefield 3 interactive booth, a Q&A with The Walking Dead cast members, merchandise sales, and a lot of people watching. My impressions after exploring the show floor March 20:

1. C2E2 dispels the notion that fanboy males dominate the comic-book world. I saw a strong mix of men and women of many ages and races. For every guy dressed as Batman wandering the floor, I saw women adorned as Blaze and Supergirl. In fact, my highly unscientific survey suggested that Supergirl was the most popular character at C2E2 if you count the numerous girls and women adorned in Supergirl tees along with those dressed like her outright.

2. Apparently the Star Wars franchise is safe for the next 500 years. A contingent of storm troopers could not stop an ongoing stream of fans having their photos taken with Darth Vader, who lurked about the show for hours Sunday. And all this fuss despite the fact that there are no new Star Wars movies on the horizon (the Blu-Ray releases coming in October do not count.)

3. The comic book world is splintered among an interesting set of enthusiasts (many of whom probably bristle at the notion of being described in context of “the comic book world”). The fan groups include military gamers engrossed in the blood and guts of Battlefield 3, the brains-for-breakfast zombie and horror lovers (although not as many as I expected), fantasy gamers, and superhero lovers, to name a few. In the span of a few moments you could indulge in a game of Sphereplay or hang out with the folks promoting the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean movie. C2E2 shows just how hard it is for to pigeonhole this audience.

But one attribute they all share: passion. Only a pure, unbridled, joyous passion could motivate someone to wander inside a crowded convention hall dressed as a storm trooper or Superman complete with rubber foam chest muscles.

4. And yet I saw a fascinating convergence of content, too, centered around the overlapping worlds of marketing, entertainment, and make-believe. This convergence explains why The Walking Dead flourishes as both a graphic novel series and a television show or why it seemed perfectly logical to see a man decked out as one of the characters from Ghost Busters hanging out at the World of Warcraft gaming booth. For all the money that Warner Brothers will surely pour into the promotion of the 2012 Superman reboot Man of Steel, it’s interesting to note that there are perfectly ordinary people wandering around shows like C2E2 willing to do the marketing for the franchise by dressing up as Superman and enjoying a day of make-believe.

Surely the role player is the real star of this converging world — the person who wants to share his or her passion for Thor, the subject of an upcoming Kenneth Branagh movie, by dressing up. The role player is doing something more significant and personal than marketer for hire could ever do: creating an act of self-expression. Importantly, role players can be effective brand ambassadors when they share their passion with others — especially because theirs is a genuine and deeply felt source of excitement and energy.

Finally, it was nice to be at a show that celebrates the work of writers and artists who labor behind the scenes to depict the world of comics. Artists and writers had their own signing booths, and artists demonstrated their work at an area called Artists Alley. For me C2E2 was above all a celebration of the act of creation — whether in the form of writing, drawing, or self-expression through role playing.

Netflix wants to own your entertainment

According to Deadline Hollywood, Netflix has become a content creator (not just distributor) by outbidding HBO and AMC to underwrite the production of House of Cards, a 26-episode drama series directed by David Fincher. Deadline Hollywood says that the deal (probably worth more than $100 million) is for Netflix “probably the biggest gamble in its 14-year history” — and “could change the way people consume TV shows.” Here’s what Netflix gets out of becoming a content producer:

  • An opportunity to own the streaming entertainment experience. Netflix can exert more control over its product — not just streaming someone else’s movies but owning the creation, marketing, and distribution of its own entertainment. It’s as it iTunes became a record label.
  • New possibilities for pricing and bundling content. It will be interesting to see what kind of premium pricing and/or subscription incentives Netflix will bundle into the distribution of House of Cards.

The deal has its risks, too, not the least being Netflix’s two-year commitment to the drama series. If the series bombs, Netflix is stuck. By contrast, Netflix bears far less of a financial burden by sharing content created by someone else.

Another risk comes to the Netflix brand: a poorly received product will tarnish Netflix because the company has a stake in its creation. By contrast, we don’t blame Netflix when we rent a disappointing movie from its library as we know it today; we simply return the movie and try again, or stream something else.

Netflix has hedged its bets by investing into a project whose executive producer and director is the highly regarded David Fincher. Moreover, Kevin Spacey (whose work has been inconsistent in recent years) will star and executive produce.

You can expect more companies to act as publishers for one simple reason: thanks to the proliferation of self-publishing platforms like GoAnimate and YouTube, people have become their own content publishers and expect brands to follow their lead. In effect, Netflix isn’t breaking any ground here — the company is merely following the example set by you and me. But with a lot more risk and reward.

The Zune is dead. Long live Zune.

Microsoft has announced the discontinuation of Zune devices, and at first blush, the news sounds gloomy, as reflected in this Mashable headline: “RIP Zune Player, 2006-2011.” But look beyond the headline, and the news is not as bad as it seems. Yes, Microsoft is throwing in the towel with the Zune device — but the company will embed Zune features into Microsoft Windows Phone 7 and Zune desktop software for Windows. Zune as a device? Dead. But Zune as a brand? Very much alive thanks to Microsoft’s decision to develop content where its customers are.

My battle with bullies

When I was growing up, bullies tormented me occasionally, and writing this blog post evokes some painful memories. I’m sharing my story to raise awareness for Facebook’s announcement to combat bullying by making it possible for people to report harassment to others in their support network.

The announcement was made in conjunction with a White House summit on bullying, where  President Obama said, “For a long time, bullying was treated as an unavoidable part of growing up. But more and more we’re seeing how harmful it can be for kids, especially when it follows them from their school to their phone to their computer screen.

He got that right. Bullying is wrong. And lives are at stake.

I endured bullying because my family moved around a bit. I was always the new kid in town, and neighborhood bullies then and now like to test new kids. It did not matter where we lived: a bully would corner me on a playground, in a school hallway, or maybe in the back of a school bus, and fists would fly.

Wheaton, Illinois, was the worst. Our family moved there in the 1970s. Although I would eventually form some valuable, life-long friendships in Wheaton, at first I encountered a town closed to outsiders. I could handle being ignored by other kids in junior high and high school, but being attacked by bullies was a different story.

I still have a slight scar from one such encounter, a vicious fight that ended with me receiving a black eye and the bully having his head smashed into a locker door.

The only way to cope was to learn how to fight harder and creatively. Bullies usually fought with their fists. I responded by punching, kicking, pulling hair, relying on the hammer lock, and turning ordinary objects (like locker doors) into weapons.

But my experience was nothing compared to what kids are enduring in the social media world. My encounters with bullies, however violent, ended quickly. Typically I dueled someone one-on-one, and when the skirmish ended, the bully found someone else to bother.

By contrast, bullying social-media style – say an attack on someone’s reputation through a nasty post on his or her Wall – can last for an extended period of time and often entails humiliating group harassment (and the group harassment is what makes cyber bulling especially lethal). It’s far too easy for bullies to rally large groups of impressionable peers on Facebook to menace and humiliate others, with tragic results.

And it’s more difficult for a parent to detect verbal bullying (on cyber space or offline). If your child comes home with a black eye, you obviously know his or her life has been disrupted; if your child seems moody, you might miss the root cause.

I don’t think the solution to ask the victim to simply get off Facebook – that’s like asking, “Why don’t you just move to another town?” The answer is to recognize bullying for what it is: unacceptable. As Obama said, being bullied is not a right of passage. What I endured was wrong. What kids go through today is horribly wrong.

Facebook’s effort is imperfect, but it’s a start. I hope you will take a moment to reach out to Facebook and voice your support. And just as importantly, become more aware of the problem. Even if you do not have children, kids live all around you — so why not spend a few minutes out of your day at least becoming more sensitive to the problem? (This website will get you up to speed quickly and so will this one.)

More importantly, if you see harassing behavior — online or offline –step in. Report cyber bulling to Facebook (and if you don’t know how, read these guidelines Facebook provides). Confront the bully yourself — you’ll probably have to sooner or later, so act. Pressure your school — loudly — to help. Discuss the bullying with your child’s teachers personally, and follow up frequently. Pressure the bully’s parents (but don’t expect results — the bully might come from a family of bullies).

Those of us who have dealt with grown-up Internet trolls have experience doing this. Well, the more vulnerable among us need our help. Stand up to bullies wherever you find them.

Charlie don’t surf

Why does the train wreck known as Charlie Sheen have 2.2 million Twitter followers (and counting) and a radio channel devoted to his every utterance? Is he just a freak show who will fold up his tent and disappear? In fact, I think he may have more long-lasting impact on the way we share content than we would like to admit. To be sure, we’re fascinated with his public melt down. But he’s doing something else, too: being unpredictable. And we like that.

As entertaining as Conan and John Stewart are, they are also predictable. Funny, yes — but we know basically what we are getting when we share their worlds with ours. With Charlie Sheen, we have absolutely no idea where he’s headed next: dissing Two and Half Men one day, making tiger blood an instant cultural phenomenon the next (and inspiring a new energy drink).

I discuss Charlie Sheen and his potential impact on the future of content on the iCrossing Content Lab. Here’s also an interesting discussion on Slate (as if you’ve not seen enough by now).

The only thing missing: a new Charlie Sheen movie directed by Mel Gibson.

Guy Kawasaki gets personal

I read Guy Kawasaki’s new book Enchantment expecting to learn how to become a better marketer. Instead I became immersed in something deeper: a discussion on how to be a better person, with more effective marketing being a by-product. Enchantment focuses on the embrace of personal and corporate values such as likability and trustworthiness. Get rooted in the right values and personal behaviors, Guy asserts, and you’ll not only become a better marketer, but you just might change the world. I posted a review of Enchantment on the iCrossing blog Great Finds. You may learn more about the book on the Enchantment Facebook page. This infographic courtesy of Guy is pretty useful, too. Happy reading.

Enchantment Infographic

Rescuing Antarctica with Facebook wall posts

Arturo Pelayo doesn’t want to change the world. He just wants to protect it.

The educator and web strategist just departed his home in Chicago to join a group of 83 students and business people on a 15-day expedition known as the International Antarctic Expedition. The purpose of the trip is to study the erosion of the global ice shelf and help us understand why the problems of Antarctica are our problems.

His challenge is significant. How he’s rising to the challenge is an inspiration to marketers.

The annual International Antarctic Expedition has occurred since 2002. The voyage is run by the 2041 organization, so named because in 2041, it’s possible that the Antarctic Treaty will be amended to permit commercial drilling on the continent — and the 2041 organization wants to prevent that from happening.

The expedition is one of the ways that 2041 draws attention to the plight of Antarctica. Participants in this year’s trip include a curious mix environmentalists, sponsors such as Coca-Cola, and companies seeking to find alternative forms of energy.

As Arturo notes, “It’s going to be an interesting combination having executives from energy companies mingling with students.”

Everyone onboard the ship, the Sea Spirit, is there to learn and share with the world beyond the ice shelf. And why should anyone care about what they’re doing?

“You should care no matter where you live in the world,” Arturo says. “About 70 percent of our drinking water is frozen in the Antarctic ice shelf. If that ice melts due to climate change and human-made intrusions like mining, the ocean currents will be affected, and people living in places ranging from Miami to New York will need to get used to disruptions to their living areas caused by increased sea levels.”

The team hopes to build awareness in many ways. Arturo will do his part by:

  • Issuing blog updates with the help of corporate sponsor Nokia, which has provided equipment to help him record the journey. His posts appear on keepitblue.org and expedition.2041.com.
  • Tweeting about the journey from @IAE11 and using #IAE11.
  • Recording a podcast series to be released later in 2011. All media assets from the trip will also be shared in the public domain via creative commons.

How he even got onboard the Sea Spirit is a story of the power of personal networking and the judicious use of social media. About one year ago, Arturo learned about 2041 through the news feed of one of his Facebook friends. His application to join the 2011 journey was accepted — all he had to do was raise the $20,000 participation fee.

“I took a deep breath,” he remembers. “How was I going to raise $20,000? I am in my 20s. Most of my friends are students or are unemployed.”

Arturo’s approach was, in his own words, “very naive — but it worked.” He visited the Facebook pages of companies that he thought might be interested in sponsoring him and posted sponsorship requests on their public walls.

“To my surprise, about half replied within 24 hours showing interest,” he says. As a result, he achieved funding form the likes of Pogo Plug and Nokia.

He adds, “I learned from this experience how closely corporations are monitoring their brands and how direct the social channel is. It was so much easier to make a public appeal on Facebook than to navigate corporate websites and call PR people.”

But he needed to do more than work the corporate Facebook pages. Other tactics:

  • Submitting a funding proposal on Kickstarter.com, a platform for creatives to secure support for projects ranging from film to environmental concerns. He uploaded a video appeal for help, which helped raise $1,645 — hardly a home run, but progress.
  • Good old-fashioned personal networking.

Eventually he reached his goal — with the help of an anonymous doner whose identity remains  unknown even to Arturo.

“This experience showed me how important it is to make a public appeal for help,” he notes. “You never know who is out there quietly listening. The next person who makes an impact on your life could be a quiet social media watcher — someone who did not even click a “like” on your Facebook post or Re-tweet your Twitter stream, but noticed what you were saying.”