Engaging with target audiences – the age factor

Something made me look twice at this when I was thinking of booking tickets for an event the other day, because I haven’t seen many events where a person’s age gets them a discount. I think brand sponsors of events can use this in interesting ways if they choose to. Youth brands can give people under 18, 21 or 25 special access, for example. Something like American Express priority access to the Tribeca Film Festival, or even O2 Priority, but linked to age rather than membership or ownership, so that a larger pool of the target audience are motivated to become members or owners. I attend a lot of events and wouldn’t mind exchanging my email address for the opportunity to get insider access to an interesting event. Of course, the onus would be on the brand to create and maintain a relationship that is valuable to me in the long run after that.

India Business Forum, London

Ever since Goldman Sachs’ famed BRIC report a few years ago, a lot of eyes have been on Brazil, Russia, India and China. Focussing specifically on India, students at the London Business School have been organising the India Business Forum for a few years now. This year’s event will take place on April 23rd, and features a roster of interesting speakers – to name just one or two wouldn’t be fair because all of them come from different backgrounds and are well-known in their respective fields of work. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Innovative India: Creating Value and Opportunities’. I think it’s quite timely, given the current situation of the global economy, to examine the role of innovation and efforts being made to change the status quo in various areas in the country. I hope I’ll be able to attend!

Protein Forum #2

Went to a couple of interesting events in the last couple of weeks. One was the second Protein Forum, held at the Grok Institute, where three interesting speakers clued me in to the stuff they do. First was Andreas Muller from Nanikawa, a programmer who has worked on art projects like Nokia’s Swimming Message System in 2006. Andreas thinks of himself first and foremost as a programmer, though I’d put him in the ‘artist’ category – his works are really beautiful, more than being functional (no offence to him). One of the questions he was asked was whether what his clients want has a bearing on what he creates, especially given the fact that his work is so aesthetically pleasing. Andreas minced no words when he said that as long as he is paid, he doesn’t really care. That seems such a practical way of looking at things – and coming from someone whose skill with computers is more art-leaning than technology, I was somewhat surprised to hear it. I guess at the end of the day, all of us who work in the creative industries that go Ooh! and Aah! over art and culture need to remember that what is beautiful to us isn’t always beautiful to the creator – it’s just what they do, and as long as they have money in the bank, it’s not such a big deal to them. Simply put, everyone doesn’t have a cause. They don’t need a cause.

Thomas Eberwein and Marc Kremer from Digital Club spoke about as-found.net, a site they created that draws images from around the web (things found on Google Image Search for example) that are created by real people – sometimes at their worst, sometimes at their most artistic, but always authentic. It isn’t Flickr in the sense that these people don’t upload these images with the purpose of them being seen and commented on. Some may not even know they are on this site. It’s an example of a sort of web-wide image feed aggregator – at its simplest, crowdsourcing.
Finally there was Mitch Stratten who directed the Toshiba ad I wrote about a while ago. I mentioned how I was amazed after I found out how much detail went into it. I found out even more from his talk. What I left thinking about the ad after that was: detail detail detail. And passion. In a funny way, he was the complete opposite of Andreas Muller. And both of them have created such brilliant work. It’s good to know that talent can’t be put in a silo. 

Thoughts on Us Now

NESTA Connect organised a screening of Us Now this evening, a documentary that looks at how the concept of power is changing in an increasingly collaborative world. Rohan Gunatillake introduced the film by pulling together a tag cloud composed of the names of all the attendees at the event, and a slide that showed images of all those who were bloggers (gave me a bit of a shock to see myself up there, I can tell you – but a pleasant one!). 

Anyway, Ivo Gormley, the director, was on hand to introduce the film, which interspersed interviews with Clay Shirky, Lee Bryant, Charles Leadbeater and Don Tapscott among others, with more detailed case studies of collaborative projects that were changing the way people lived (couchsurfing), gave and received loans (Zopa), took participatory ownership of something they felt a strong connection with (Ebbsfleet United FC), or gave and received advice from people in similar situations (mumsnet). It ended with clips from Ed Miliband MP and Shadow Chancellor of the UK George Osborne who both, surprisingly, seemed to support the idea that people should have more of a say in government other than voting the administration in once every four years. One of the funniest comments in an otherwise serious film was (and I’m paraphrasing), “the problem with government is that they think people are thick.” (!!!)
I was relieved that the examples weren’t things I’d heard a hundred times before (I’d heard of Ebbsfleet FC and couchsurfing but they aren’t over-exposed examples). It was also interesting to see the way Ivo Gormley wove all his case studies into the film, one by one in increasing order of impact on society, leading up to his main thesis that the time is soon going to come when power will be more and more a concept that the public can truly feel (as opposed to a vague idea they know of but have no real experience of), because they will have a greater stake in how their money is spent, and what kind of issues are in focus in the government. It’s very easy to forget in the sheer volume of conversation about ‘social media this’ and ‘social media that’, that large-scale change – change that structurally alters the way people think about concepts like society, government, power or participation – is coming ever closer. That time will be a new revolution, and it’s just about bubbling under the surface now. 

The Webbies at the ICA

I thought I’d write up some of the interesting stuff that was mentioned at the publicity party for the Webby Awards at the ICA earlier tonight, before I forgot. The event’s focus were the five-minute talks by people who had something to do with the web in one way or another. That’s my description, but they were a truly diverse bunch by personality, so technically it was just a bunch of cool people talking about cool stuff. 

The event was compered by Nicolas Roope from Poke, whose blog I read quite a bit. Very entertaining guy – despite his claims that most of the speakers’ introductions were ‘taken off the internet’, he made the audience and the speakers laugh quite a bit. First off was Alfie Dennen from Moblog, who spoke about the XDRTB.org project that I noticed online when it was live. It was a project to spread awareness of tuberculosis, a wish of TED winner James Nachtwey, that was a GPS-enabled version of a treasure hunt that had clues spread across blogs. He also mentioned BritGlyph, a project that Moblog is working on that is a geoglyph for the UK. Think of it as the modern version of the crop circle pi (or at least I do!). It’s something I hope to participate in later this week. 
Next up was Miltos Manetas from Neen. I was really surprised I hadn’t heard of him before tonight – essentially an artist who started Neen for ‘Neenstars – an undefined generation of visual artists’. He seems incredibly interesting, and spoke about Jello Time, Harm van del Dorpen’s Diamond (which ‘spies on you’, as he says!), and JacksonPollock.org, among other things. 
Then there was Tom Loosemore from Channel 4’s 4ip. Tom’s core thesis was the growing relevancy of the web and crowdsourcing. His case in point was the Norwich City football site, started in 3 and a half weeks at a cost of 20p (or so he said), which had a huge amount of participation and views on launch (I forget the numbers). This in turn led to similar sites for Colchester United and Ipswich Town
Matt Biddulph of Dopplr spoke about..well, Dopplr. OK, I’m being a bit mean – he spoke about the growing tribe of travellers and how sharing of travel experiences is the next big thing, while also mentioning Brave New World and Buckminster Fuller – ideas I felt he could have expanded upon. Perhaps 5 minutes was not enough for him, but I didn’t think he made much of an impact. Maybe I expected too much – I’d heard a lot about him but never seen him speak before.
 Marcus Fairs, editor of well-known design magazine Dezeen, followed. For the entire 5 minutes he had at his disposal, he went on about Lightbulbs Direct and how there was actually a site where you can buy every kind of *lightbulb* you need. That doesn’t sound very cool when I write it, but if you were there, you’d have been in splits at the way he delivered his talk!
Sam Ball of Lean Mean Fighting Machine presented a great video (that I can’t find on YouTube), and said : “don’t worry about change, worry about motivation and inspiration.”
Matt Smith from the Viral Factory presented the fact that over 70% of all internet content is about cats. The idea I guess was that when people like something, it will spread, like icanhazcheezburger. This was his closing image:
To close the night was David Michel-Davies from the Webbies, who spoke about stuff he likes on the internet – Kiva, David Bowie, gay robot, NASA and Eyes on Darfur. He ended by inviting everyone to Internet Week New York in June next year, so if you’re around there, it looks like it may be a fun event. 
I’m really glad I went!

Education in art

I spent an educational afternoon at the Houldsworth Gallery in London today, where I went to view an exhibition titled ‘Learned Helplessness’ by the Royal Art Lodge. Each piece of art there is tiny – a small square of 2×2 inches, but has a message that comes out if you take the time to take in all that it is trying to say. I especially liked ones like ‘Kleenex Animism’ and ‘6’1-5’3′ which are among those pictured above (click on it to see a larger version). The latter, which shows a headless man, is a bit gory, but it is well-portrayed, in my opinion. The whole exhibition gives you a lot to think about, in terms of messages. For those who don’t really get it from looking at the images above, you have to BE there.

I was going through a book displayed at the venue that explained the rationale behind the Canadian collective’s art, and was surprised to note that Marshall McLuhan (yes, him again – he seems to be haunting me these days-his words came up in a scene in Mad Men when I was watching it yesterday as well!) and Charles Leadbeater were quoted by writer Guido Bartorelli in his introduction to the group’s work. I can’t find the essay or I would have linked to it (it’s very good), but essentially Guido says that the work of the group can be said to be low-definition art, or ‘cold media’ as defined by McLuhan: “its lexicon is by nature synthetic, stylised or grainy and the viewer is required to make a substantial effort to complete it, to fill in the gaps”.
Of Leadbeater, Bartorelli mentions the former’s work ‘We Think’, a book that was published earlier this year whose first three chapters can be read online and his Pro-Am Revolution theory, (i.e Professionals-Amateurs), which in essence says that today, thanks to the advances of technology, an amateur can pursue his interests to the level of a professional, and add to a body of work – as happens with Wikipedia. So, according to Bartorelli, things like Wikipedia, like the work of the Royal Art Lodge, are a good example of low-definition work, in that they are open to interpretation by pro-ams. (As a side note, I think Wikipedia, relevant as it is, is being used as an example by one too many writers – Clay Shirky also comes to mind, apart from Leadbeater – so much so that it is losing its power as a story-telling element. Familiarity and all that.)
Anyway, the point is that what I planned as a relaxed art viewing turned into a very informative day from a media point of view, and reinforced what I said just a couple of days ago – most meaningful communication these days involves the user. 

Ruminating on Ad:tech London

At Ad:tech London last week, I attended a couple of talks that gave me a new perspective to the industry. One was the talk by the guys from Bebo, who spoke about how to successfully promote a brand on social networks. Now I’m not a user of Bebo, so I found it interesting that a social network like them has executed on advertising in a completely different way to Facebook. The main mode of advertising on Bebo is not so much in-your-face (boxed ads that say ‘buy this’, for example) as through the sponsorship of an idea that appeals to teens and young people. Bebo is the only social network that actually runs mini-reality-shows themselves. For one of these, called The Gap Year, a number of brands came in to give the opportunity to 6 young people to take six months off travelling around the world, all expenses paid. Their travails became the reality show, telecast on Bebo only. It wasn’t an amateur show either – the people who made Big Brother are the ones who helmed this. I think this is an interesting way of reaching out to their huge user base. It reminded me of Skype’s Nomad programme though – except for the fact that the Gap Year initiative was on Bebo and the Skype Nomad thing was primarily publicized through a blog. A social network has a more captive user base than a blog, so from a publicity point of view, the Bebo initiative makes more sense. 

Other examples of brand presence on Bebo are Trident, who are holding the ‘Mess with your head’ competition, and Fanta – those are less exciting as they are regular competitions. 
The other interesting seminar I got to listen to was about the influence of widgets at Chinwag’s Micro Media Maze. The panel – Miles Davis, SVP European Advertising Sales at Last.fm, Umair Haque, Director of Havas Media Lab (and a pretty smart guy – check out his blog Bubblegeneration), Nick Halstead, CEO and Founder of fav.or.it, and Steve Bowbrick, internet manager and entrepreneur, all had a strong point of view on the subject. The key takeaway for me was the fact that widgets need to be open-source, like the ones that can be created at build.last.fm, and they should add value to the user. Umair Haque especially reinforced this point by saying that widgets impose a cost on the user (a time cost, I assumed), and that contrary to the system of old where people consumed ads through a one-way channel, nowadays media has a responsibility to add value to consumers as most communication originates from the consumers themselves. An interesting recommendation that came out of the talk was the potential for something like an eBay-last.fm mashup widget. Think about it. Interesting, isn’t it?

What I’ve been upto recently

Two events I attended last week that I must mention:
1. Brief 2008. Ashley and Anthony did a great job of organising an event that truly encouraged creative thinkers to ‘push the brief’ (Good work by Ike on the design of the event poster, by the way). What I liked about it is that it wasn’t just for the experienced industry people, but newbies and middleweights as well. In fact, the newest kids on the block won, and I think it’s great they had the chance to get noticed at an event like that. Complicated brief, and a variety of ways emerged to tackle it.

2. A talk on harnessing user-led innovation, at NESTA. A couple of main issues were tacked: how to encourage innovation and push the change of regulation around user-led innovation in the UK. NESTA has commissioned this research by the Centre for Research in Innovation Management (CENTRIM), University of Brighton, and the Science Technology Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex. Interesting cases that were discussed (and the heads/a representative from these were included in the panel), were Sibelius Software, a firm that makes music notation software, and Swapitshop, a site for teenagers that lets them swap stuff for free and earn credits to buy things they want as well – essentially, sites that are utilising ideas contributed by users to innovate. The report is available to download free, here.