Sunday, October 18, 2009

Youtube is a Network Waiting to Happen

Last night I watched Ken Block’s second iteration of Gymkhana.

No this isn’t Kurt Thomas’ attempt to extend his 15 minutes of fame and woeful acting skills on the heels of his early ‘80s film Gymkata. I’m talking about the founder of DC Shoes and his foray into the world of rally racing, stunt driving and the next generation of drifting.

Ken Block is a phenomenally intuitive marketer. Certainly as evidenced by his savvy in building DC Shoes into arguably one of the strongest action sports brands ever. Perhaps second only to Burton. Perhaps it's that no one felt comfortable to tell him the rules. Perhaps he wasn't listening anyway. Whatever it is, he knows right when he sees it.

Gymkhana 1 was originally posted about 10 months ago and between various posters of the video, it garnered over three million views. Not too shabby. No doubt it was professionally shot at every level and Ken Block has money to throw at these things. Although, I’m pretty sure he’s mastered the art of OPM.

Nevertheless, while most create :60 spots and hope they’ll find viral traction on Youtube, Ken Block did it on purpose! And I know lots of people will say, “come on, we did that.” Tampax, Dove, Cadillac. Blah Blah Blah. I don’t think anyone has done it as well AND on purpose as Ken Block.

7 minutes and 32 seconds. They even call it an infomercial. At the beginning of the video note the following:

“WARNING! The following is a product advertisement. You are going to be bombarded by visuals of great looking products, and then entertained by motorsports eye candy. Do not resist the temptation to purchase the products when prompted to do so. Enjoy!”

Who the hell would watch a dumb seven minute infomercial? Well all told there have been over seven and a half million views of Gymkhana 2.

Gymkhana 2 was technically brought to you by DC Shoes but other brands who reaped the benefits of this are Subaru, Monster Energy Drinks, BF Goodrich, Rob Dyrdek/MTV and Crawford Performance.

Now there’s a Gymkhana 2.1 brought to you by MTV and Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory which is a spoof of the very first Gymkhana. Another 1.3 million views. And all these people chose to watch it!

How many people are choosing to watch your spots?

Is the :60 spot going away? No. Does broadcast deserve its dominance and to make all the money? Most definitely not.

Once upon a time people laughed at cable as a network contender. I don’t care what you say. Youtube is a network waiting to happen.

Stuff White People Like

Brooke and I went to college together in the private enclave of Colby College in Waterville, ME.

We lived unique college experiences with my social environs grounded more in my lacrosse teammates and others in the student-athlete universe. Brooke while no doubt a sports fan was far more intellectual than I. Nevertheless, we were bound by common friends and most notably a class called “Female Experience in America”. In this class, we were part of one of six teams asked to create documentaries on social problems in America. It was probably one of our favorite classes from college and it was all-encompassing.

Brooke remains a good friend. She went on to Stanford and Salem State to get her MS in Psychology and is now the director of a community program at a local community college. She’s a wonderful global citizen. But Brooke is also phenomenally unique and very cool.

Let’s take a gander at a few of her recent Facebook posts:

• “Thinks 38-0 against a team with no wins this season is sufficient. Let the Titans go home to warm up, and put on some NASCAR or a hockey game!”

• “Leblanc has wanted to be a professional hockey player for as long as he can remember. But after he was drafted by the National Hockey League, he didn’t listen to the scouts who wanted him to skip college and dedicate himself to the pro game.” – Related link

• “Loves her Bruins -- consistently inconsistent!”

• “Inside 10 laps to go, Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle were contenders for the checkers. They brought home the steering wheel." [Nationwide series @ Fontana]

• “Now back to more important things: NBC's f*-up of canceling ‘Southland’” – Related link

Brooke also has links posted to Youtube clips of Istanbul spoofs from the song by They Might be Giants and clips from the Craig Ferguson show. Among her fave bands are REM, The Allman Brothers and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Her fan pages on Facebook include: NASCAR, U2, Brigitte Bardot, Wimbledon, The United States of America, The New York Times, Starbucks, Target, Twilight, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Calvin and Hobbes, Roger Federer, The New England Patriots, The Daily Show, Pete Carroll, The Princess Bride, The Young Ones and A Christmas Story.

What’s so unique about Brooke? She lives in New England, went to the preppy private enclave of Colby College in the woods of Maine, LOVES the NHL, her Bruins and NASCAR.

Here’s what’s so unique about Brooke. She’s black.

If you attempt to market to her solely based on her race, you will make assumptions that are flat out wrong. Just another example of the importance of truly getting to know your customers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why Big Ad Agency Models Will Struggle to be Sustainable

Today, AdAge reported research findings from the 4As that “Chief creative officers at large U.S. agencies, on average, billed $964 an hour to clients in 2008.”

Pardon me, but that’s insane.

If that’s what clients are paying, they’re not even close to an ROI. Most of these are at agencies owned by holding companies which are publicly traded companies with blue chip clients. Didn’t IPG land on a list of one of top 10 companies likely to file for bankruptcy this year? Gee I wonder why? Creative directors should start asking for raises. Perhaps the agency biz needs to be raked over the coals the way the financial services businesses currently are over compensation. Granted I will say that if the $100 million dollar man at Citi earns the company a billion dollars, give the guy what he wants. But I digress.

There are companies that have said they’ve changed the agency model but let’s be honest, that’s a crock. If it looks like a duck… They’ve changed the COMPENSATION model NOT the BUSINESS model. No one has. And clients haven’t demanded it of them. In general, large and mid-sized agencies are often given Carte Blanche to “move the needle”. And research is designed to show how “I’ve moved the needle”. Clients, how about empowering your employees and demanding more of them to ensure they are not using the agency to make them look like heroes?

And as the universe of consumers lean towards microtrends and microbrands, big agencies can't service these companies because they charge too much. They have to charge too much to pay for the exorbitant overhead.

Here’s what I think? The :30 spot doesn’t mean what it used too. Heck, corporate web sites don’t mean what they used to.

A good friend is the founder of a student loan marketing company. If you do a search on student loans, there’s probably a one in three chance you’ll land on one of his sites. It’s a pretty ingenious business and I admire him greatly for what he’s built.

He shared with me an effort for one of his financial services clients that he represents for student loans and credit card products.

I think it speaks volumes about how much companies miss opportunities in understanding their customers and prospects and how disconnected middle management is from senior management.

On one of his several web sites he has a student marketing blog. He posted a blog comparing two credit cards aimed primarily at college students. He also conducted a poll. The poll suggested a pretty clear winner. The winner was a rewards card. There were 250+ comments which further suggested that what students cared about was rewards but they also cared greatly about rates. The comments are in essence qualitative research and could help the company figure out what to probe for in formal qualitative research or what to ask in quantitative research and can also help folks at an agency in developing communications that are far more relevant and appealing to the target audience.

Furthermore, one may discover that a way to use the broadcast medium is to drive people to this blog as opposed to directly to the corporate web site or 800# where the prospect will be hit with a hard sell and likely be apprehensive. The blog, poll and corresponding comments would validate and support the prospective customer’s decision. Yes, as a company you’ll lose a little bit because of the shared revenue with your marketing partner but arguably you’d make that up with stronger close rates.

Isn’t that what everyone’s goal is?

The Fundamental Reason Why Ad Agencies Lack Diversity

At breakfast with a colleague today the discussion of advertising agency diversity came up.

Being a black male who spent about 13 years in ad agencies, a lot of people ask me how I managed to be successful and what I think are the reasons why ad agencies can’t seem to tackle the diversity issue.

Although I do think agencies have traditionally “self-selected” its staff which is really just human nature, I do not believe there to be any significant mal intent. And I say this fairly confident that I’ve been discriminated against at least a few times in my agency career.

That being said, my view on the agency diversity problem is exceptionally pragmatic.

The most fundamental reason for why ad agencies lack diversity so much lies with simple economics.

Ever noticed that account service staffs at big agencies are generally made up of good looking white kids who look like they came out of a j. crew catalog? There’s a reason for this. Ad agencies don’t pay well at the entry level and generally the big agencies are in urban centers. Expensive ones. NYC, Chicago, Boston, LA, San Francisco. These two factors are critical. Most of my peers when I was a lowly AAE were subsidized in some way shape or form and almost no one had the burden of a student loan to pay off (including myself). In walking around agencies these days, things haven’t seemed to change very much. If you haven’t read a book called “The Hidden Cost of Being African American” by Thomas M. Shapiro that might be a good place to start in beginning to address the diversity issue in agencies. It’s a fact. Most African Americans coming out of college have significant student loans to pay off. Living in a very expensive city on an assistant account executive’s salary in many cases isn’t even an option.

Most of the best and brightest African American college graduates are pursuing careers in law, medicine or business. This is largely a financially driven decision. Any of the best and brightest kids of color who might have been marketing majors are getting cherry picked by guess who?

Your clients.

And they offer a much clearer career path, training programs, benefits and better salaries in areas where the cost of living is far more sustainable. If a potential client has a diversity requirement as a part of an RFP, might I suggest you request to borrow a few of theirs? And I’m not kidding.

Ad agencies might want to look at organizations like The Posse Foundation which provide access to students of color to generally small liberal arts colleges and further work to ensure retention. I would suspect that ad agencies might find similar challenges to that of small liberal arts colleges.

However, until the wealth gap closes significantly or entry level agency salaries increase significantly, I wouldn’t expect much to change.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cross-Culturalization Today

“In 1930,Gottfried de Purucker, an author and theosophist, warned against intermarriage saying that ‘the race of the future will be a composite, composed of the many different races on earth today. Let us also remember that all men are ultimately of one blood.’” Time Magazine – 1993

I recently saw a trailer for BLAKROC. For those of you that don’t know, this is a collaboration of the rock band, The Black Keys (white guys) and Damon Dash founder of Rocafella Records (black guys). Back in the day Aerosmith and RUN-DMCs “Walk this Way” was considered to be cataclysmic. Mind blowing. Call that perhaps the beginning of a tipping point of Cross-Culturalization also known as Trans-Culturalization as coined by the founder and former CEO of the True Agency, Richard Wayner. A man well ahead of his time.

BLAKROC may not receive as much hype but in my mind it’s that much more telling. Because it’s a true collaboration whereas my belief was that the Aerosmith/RUN-DMC collaboration was a business opportunity. Don’t worry, I fell for it too. We all know that of course this is a business opportunity for Dash. The guy’s a pretty savvy businessman. However, when you watch the trailer you can see that these are artists collaborating and trying to create something. Mark my words, it will be dope. But what is so cool about this collaboration is the cultures, meeting, melding and creating something palpable.

Funny thing is that I wasn’t surprised at hearing about this collaboration. A couple of years ago I recall an article in which the author was shadowing Damon Dash for a day. They’re in Dash’s car and the author was taken aback by what Dash was listening to. John Mayer.

I’ve posted before about my belief that to market to people based on their race or ethnicity is inherently flawed and I still hold firm to my beliefs. It’s 2009 and agencies like Project 2050 should be agencies of record. Fact: by 2042, the racial make-up of this country will be more than 50% NON-WHITE. However we continue to have these ludicrous discussions about how non-representative of society agencies in fact are.

I’m married to a white woman and we have two beautiful mocha babies. I was dating white women, long before it became fashionable. I am a product of my environment, born to Black aristocracy and afforded the luxuries of prep schools and private college. White enclaves. Figures I would choose advertising for a career. Nine years ago my wife and I were defending our union to my wife's parents. Now I can’t even to begin to comprehend what the spectrum of my daughters’ cultural influences will look like. Especially given how early they’re exposed to the presence of multiculturalism via children's programming such as Blues Clues with Salt, Pepper and baby Paprika. Heck, Bratz forced Barbie to find some new friends. And Alas, finally Disney has decided to get with the program and have a “black” princess. Foxy Brown, look out.

A couple of years ago I was asked to speak at a conference on the “multiracial” category. Statistically this is a group that is technically growing exponentially. Feel free to e-mail me for a copy of the presentation.

Here are some quick facts:
The incidence of births of mixed race babies has multiplied 26 times as fast as that of any other group.
• In April 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau added 126 different possible racial combinations.
• 2.4 percent of the U.S. population or 6.8 million people responded to the Census by checking more than one race box those numbers are believed to be severely underrepresented.
• Over the past 30 years, America has produced the greatest number of hybrid households in the history of the world.
• The number of black-white mixed marriages increased by 504% in the last 25 years. Mixed marriages were illegal in as many as 14 states up until 1967.
• In a 1993 Time Magazine poll, 72% stated they knew married couples of different races.
• Among Jews, the number marrying out of their faith has shot up from 10% to 52% since 1960.
• Among Japanese Americans 65% marry people who have no Japanese heritage.

Do you think that there’s a little more than the plot line as to why Grey’s Anatomy and Heroes could be so popular among so many different people?

The Cross-Culturalization of music, fashion and style is astounding. The Roots are doing covers of Bob Dylan. Reggaeton while waning in popularity doesn’t negate the fact Daddy Yankee once had a Direct Effect top 10 video. Mexican kids wearing dime store sandals brought us the Converse One-star slides. Japan has brought us urban vinyl, Anime and the next generation of hot rodding in tuner cars. And while Americans are still eating up the Japanese tuner scene, the Japanese have gone Euro. Hip Hop styles are well entrenched in the action sports culture. I’m sure 20 years ago New Era never thought they’d be making the 59FIFTY with a Red Bull logo. Five years ago, I’m sure NASCAR never predicted the Japanese influence of drifting or the European influence of rally racing now an X-Games staple.

Not too long ago, the writer Carolina Miranda did a DNA test to discover literally where she came from. She learned that she was not what she thought she was and I think she sums up a way of thinking about better ways to approach consumers other than by race or ethnicity. The reality is that racial purity is largely a myth and as she stated in a Time Magazine article, “True identity, it seems, resides not in our genes but in our mind”.