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The Wiki-ing of Culture?


Do you always know exactly what you want? Do you know exactly the kind of movie you want to see, book you want to read, or music you want to listen to? And by exactly I mean, the title, script, premise, chords played in the chorus, etc? If you did and I gave it to you, would you still like it? Or would it be mediocre and not a true artistic expression?

This is the problem generated by Snakes on a Plane, the new movie from New Line Cinema, which has been the darling of the blogosphere for months. The story of the movie is well told, but what is most interesting to me at this point are the larger cultural ramifications behind the phenom.

Chuck Kolsterman in Esquire lays out the case:

Its existence represents a weird, semidepressing American condition, and I’m afraid this condition is going to get worse. I suspect Snakes on a Plane might earn a lot of money, which will prompt studios to assume this is the kind of movie audiences want. And I don’t think it is. Snakes on a Plane is an unabashed attempt at prefab populism, and (maybe) this gimmick will work once. But it won’t keep working, and it will almost certainly make filmmaking worse.

Snakes on a Plane is like the Wikipedia version of a movie. A year ago, New Line Cinema planned to change the title to the ultraforgettable Pacific Air Flight 121, but everyone who cared (including its star, Samuel L. Jackson) freaked out. That reaction was understandable; the one thing everyone seems to agree upon is that Snakes on a Plane is a funnier, more expository, paradoxically intriguing moniker… New Line made a philosophical decision: If people wanted snakes on a plane, they would literally get Snakes on a Plane. But the studio did not stop there; at some point, New Line decided to give audiences whatever they wanted. Long after the film had wrapped, the cast and crew went back and shot five additional days of footage, ostensibly to make the snake action more violent and to include a scene in which Jackson says, “I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” a line countless bloggers demanded to hear.

…When it comes to mass media, it’s useless to ask people what they want; nobody knows what they want until they have it.

This reminds me of The Simpsons episode “Beyond Blundersome” with Mel Gibson where Mel enlists the help of an ‘average joe’ to make his remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington “better” & “more appealing” and ends up ruining the film and its box office prospects.

And this is the risk I see with the approach New Line took with this film. The title and buzz initially I believe to be great examples of how community engagement can work to a movies advantage, but re-shooting and changing the script is ridiculous. Did the new dialogue & sceens fit in with the original premise of the film? Was Sam Jackson’s character a clone of his role in Pulp Fiction (the “motherf***r” addition)? Do any of these new enhancements make this a better film? Maybe, maybe not.

I’m not surprised the studios would embrace the “collaborative film making” concept as they must be salivating at the cost savings they could realize by hiring lesser-known screenwriters to perform secretarial work on the scripts as bloggers write them (much like the approach and obsession with reality TV). However, does that make it a film the majority want to go see? Or does it provide a pat on the back to bloggers while diluting the artistic medium?

A far better approach to engaging with consumers (outside of the initial work New Line did with bloggers) is the one taken by Universal with Miami Vice. With one phone call to an influential movie review blogger, the buzz about the film has spread far and wide and is tracking at about 10k conversations around the blogosphere.

There is a limit when it comes to interacting and engaging with your audience, and I believe we’ve found it in SOAP. It’s one thing to release a product that is filling a real or percieved need in beta and solicit feedback, and quite another to build it from scratch based on what people tell you they think they’d like.

As Seth succinctly puts it:

the people want what the people want, but if you ask them first, you don’t always end up with something they actually like.

[H/T - theQview]

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‘The Chain’ leads to powerful UGC

Nike’s “The Chain”, part of their efforts to loosen the stranglehold Adidas has on the soccer market, is an example of how UGC can work in an integrated and meaningful way with branding, engagement, and product placement.

The premise is simple, elegant, and engaging. Film yourself, your dog, what have you, ‘passing’ a soccer ball off to the next person in the chain. The goal is to make the longest soccer video ever and to encompass fans from across the globe. So far the spot runs at 37mins (10 secs per clip on average) with multiple different nationalities represented. It brings the essence of soccer (football) – the global community – to life. And it does so while making quite clear who is the backbone of the initiative – Nike Football. Based on an initial viewing, the campaign is attracting youths from the main football nations who are obviously enjoying showing off their skills for the camera. It’s a great emotional way to get others excited about being part of “the chain”.

The site, because it’s blatantly a Nike program, also has the requiste calls-to-action (sign up, subscribe, etc.), which can help the company keep their customers engaged and updated… and ultimately sell more shoes.

All in all an authentic, engaging, and well planned campaign. I mean, who doesn’t want to see their soccer prowess captured on film? ;)

GOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!

[Photo credit: mindcaster on Flickr]

[H/T - Three Minds @ Organic]

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Viral marketing goes mainstream

It seems as if everywhere you turn these days social networking, UGC, and viral marketing are the hot topics – and for a good reason. Tapping into word of mouth and community is a great way to generate positive buzz for your product or brand quickly. But, as with life, all things are not created equal and viral marketing is becoming saturated, and expensive, while user generated content continues to grow more sophisticated and mainstream.

… companies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for video campaigns crafted to grab the attention of the Internet’s discerning and ad-saturated audience. “In some respects viral marketing is a victim of its own success,” says Stefan Tornquist, research director at MarketingSherpa, a Rhode Island marketing research firm. “There is so much evocative content being produced by amateurs for free, and then there is competition among brands devoting more resources to viral marketing campaigns.”

Today, Robinson’s London company, The Viral Factory, charges $250,000 to $500,000 to create ads he guarantees will reach an audience equal to or greater than the one that saw his original $10,000 clip. “You can’t do what we did back then,” Robinson says. “Today, we could never go to a client and say, when they ask how we are going to distribute it, ‘Well, I have five mates.’”

Not only do advertisers need to spend more to make the ads, but increasingly, they’re having to pay for placement on sites. YouTube, the largest video site, shows about 100 million videos daily. It sells several visible spots, though it won’t disclose advertising fees. “Over the coming months you will see various forms of advertising on the site that (are) mutually beneficial to both the users and the advertisers,” says Julie Supan, YouTube’s senior marketing director.

As the saturation point is reached with traditional “viral” campaigns, advertisers will need to spend more and more to reach the tipping point where the idea reaches critical mass & influences consumer perceptions. Consumers, especially key influencers, are increasingly attuned to what is contrived by the brand vs. what is a unique idea worth spreading. It then becomes more difficult to capture their attention and build valuable word of mouth. Instead, “viral” campaigns are now being treated as another mass media campaign in order to gain as many impressions, or eyeballs, as possible. It is hard to imagine that the definition of viral is being honoured when media is saturated with the campaign, or the only measurement appears to be pure reach. Outside of entertainment value, many of these campaigns fail to implement even the most basic actionable items (i.e. schedule a test drive; email newsletter; product sampling, download a free song, etc.).

Also (in terms of the expenditures to generate a limited/ short-term buzz and awareness) the websites that have capitalized on UGC, such as YouTube, will continue charging brands for placement, upping the campaign costs again.

The idea that campaigns cannot go viral by “telling 5 mates” [okay, that may be a wee bit low ;)] is ludicrous considering the successes when a) UGC ignites with a highly influential network, or b) a concept or idea resonates on an emotional level or fulfills a distinct need, and is tailored to a specific niche audience of influencers who will spread the word to their network (see Malcom Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point“, or Seth Godin’s “Unleashing the Ideavirus” for indepth discussion on how ideas spread in society).

A prime example of tapping into the power of community organically is Cassie Ventura & MySpace:

“Me & U” is No. 3 on The Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and No. 2 on Hot 100 Airplay chart. Its viral growth, which started before Ventura signed with Atlantic-based Bad Boy Records earlier this year, can be attributed to vigorous online marketing (MySpace, specifically) and word-of-mouth.

“The song grew pretty organically,” Ventura says. “Radio stations added it before I even got signed, and clubs were playing it three and four times a night,” she says. “It was already established by the time labels started noticing me.”

…Since posting the song on her MySpace page in November, Ventura has generated more than 6.5 million profile views.

Which leads to a bold move into the social networking/ UGC arena by MTV, with their new channel MTV Flux.

MTV Networks will on Monday make its biggest move into the “social networking” area, dominated by websites such as MySpace and Bebo, by unveiling plans for a television channel devoted to content created by its users.

MTV Flux will allow people to exchange messages and video clips by computer and mobile phone, much like existing social networking sites, but will allow users to choose which music videos are displayed on the channel, and display their own videos and messages alongside.

This is a terrific way for MTV to recapture their audience from YouTube & MySpace, or enhance and augment what consumers are already doing on social networking sites. It empowers consumers, while providing brands with another channel to tap into. I see great potential for this channel to go beyond traditional videos/ UGC and look forward to the launch in the Fall.

Brands and agencies must pay attention to the saturation & commercialization of “viral” campaigns (in whatever form they take) and look at additional ways of adding value within the product or service, target a niche of influencers appropriate to your goals, and involving the community (not just your early adopters) in developing your positioning. Without targeting & strategy the campaign loses its effectiveness to influence perceptions except on a mass (or diluted) scale. If that is the end goal of a campaign, the stickiness factor is lost.

It is however, just a bit disconcerting to realize that we are still taking innovative mediums and trying to turn them into TV. Hmmm.

[Photo credit: BrianScott on Flickr]

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