Category Archives: RANT

Blurred Lines: The Slippery Slope of Reviews-As-Ads.

Lately, I’ve been reading numerous articles about brands paying to raise the profile of positive press and reviews.

Digiday writes about paying to distribute positive press via contextual links:

In February, McDonald’s got a media mention that it found flattering — someone wrote a Huffington Post article that called its new line of Fish McBites “delightful.” So naturally the fast food chain wanted as many people as possible to see it. The solution: McDonald’s bought ads from content syndication platform Outbrain to drive traffic to it.

Digiday also writes about CNET selling ads that promote their positive reviews of products.

This past April, CNET senior editor Jessica Dolcourt reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone. Under the headline “The everything phone for (almost) everyone,” the CNET veteran journalist gave the device 4.5/5 stars in a detailed, mostly positive review. She did have reservations about the Galaxy S4’s dim screen and “cheaper look” compared to rivals like the iPhone.

Fast forward eight months: Dolcourt’s review is now part of a new advertising product CNET sold to Samsung, which purchased the right to promote the editorial review through “CNET Replay.” Visitors to CNET yesterday saw a paid promotion of the review on the homepage, in the midst of the site’s “river” of editorial pieces, called out in a shaded box with a “CNET Replay” label on the thumbnail photo. Clicking on the advertising link takes users to the original review.”


I’ve seen this before. When you take reviews or press and start turning them into advertising it doesn’t end well. In my time in the movie business I’ve seen countless movies feature reviews that were written solely for the favorable quotes, solely to give it a chance to make it to the movie’s poster or DVD packaging, solely because the studio wanted it. Ever read “Wireless Magazine”? Of course not. It barely exists. But ‘critics’ like Earl Dittman (it’s owner and resident film critic) have been providing quotes for years, presumably in exchange for being entertained at film junkets or other quid-pro-quos.

But this practice really reached its low point in 2000 when Sony Pictures just cut to the chase and produced a fake film critic, David Manning, to attribute reviews to.

I’m not saying the ad & publishing industries are there right now. But as we’ve seen in the past, anything is possible when you blur the lines between advertisers and editorial — or when those lines are completely erased.

Tread lightly.

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Demand A Plan.

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I’m proud to sign my name to an effort being led by more 750 mayors and 750,000 grassroots supporters to to demand that President Obama and Congress step forward with a plan to end gun violence.

I urge you to visit, and take some simple steps that will have great impact.

This full-page ad is running in todays NY Times, page A9. Thanks to Ken Lerer, Ron Conway, Eric Hippeau, and Fred Wilson for making this happen.

Please also take a moment to read Fred Wilson’s blog post today.

Reality Check: Why There Is No Instagram For Video.

Every week, there’s a new buzz around an app that is purported to be the “Instagram for Video”.

It was Socialcam, Viddy, and several others in the past. Today it’s Ptch.

But I can confidently say that there is no “Instagram for Video”.

And for anyone over the age of 16, there may never be.

The main reason is that our brains care more about candid still moments than candid moving moments.

Think about it. If you go to a friend’s house and they have a wedding album on the coffee table, you’re likely to open it up and start a conversation about the people, the wedding, the couple, or anything else that it might inspire.

But say that same friend asked you to watch their wedding, or vacation video. Even just clips from the wedding or vacation. That’s not wistful reminiscence. That’s torture. Because we all know that vacation (or any amateur) videos (unless directed by Ridley Scott) are probably going to be boring. And we all know that the video you’re sharing with us on the next “Instagram for Video” is probably going to suck.

Celebrities may dominate these new apps, and spam may be used to distribute them, but the “Instagram For Video” is a MacGuffin, and probably not happening any time soon.

But if it does, I’ll revisit this post :)

Some Initial Thoughts on Airtime.

A little conversation about Airtime and (missed?) Twitter Potential

Storified by Ian Schafer · Tue, Jun 05 2012 17:18:30

I would actually rather Airtime with someone who is tweeting about something I just tweeted about. #instanttalkshowIan Schafer
@ischafer So kinda like a hangout;-)David Weiner
Seriously. An instant video chat with people debating & discussing a topic is much more interesting and relevant.Ian Schafer
@ischafer Yes. I was thinking that this morning. . . I’d imagine a Twitter sync is only a matter of time, right?MikeMoffo
But alas, Sean Parker is not as vested in Twitter as he is Facebook.Ian Schafer
@ischafer powerful point you are making there. That Sean is missing the boat by doubling down on FB-model over Twitter model.Andrew A. Rosen
@ischafer Nice idea.It could use @Klout API to ID relevant topics, and invite you to a "show" when you tweet about those topicsRyan Drumwright
@ischafer The nice thing about using @Klout is it should help you identify thoughtleaders ppl would want to listen to. #Conference2.0Ryan Drumwright

On Hitting Curveballs: Featuring Buddy Media’s Mike Lazerow.

Full disclosure here, I’ve known Mike Lazerow for a while now. Deep Focus is a client of Buddy Media’s, too. But that doesn’t influence how I feel about this heartfelt, tear-jerking video that Mike just posted to YouTube, analyzing the sale of his company and everything (and everyone) that led up to it, that made me think about, well, everything.

Sometimes, when we analyze, criticize, and otherwise take a jaded look at entrepreneurial businesses, we forget that the people, the entrepreneurs behind them, are actually people. People that took chances. People that were faced with adversity. People that overcame it.

Having built and sold a business (Deep Focus) before, I know that the trials and tribulations of putting it all on the line can wreak havoc on your life. And life throws you curveballs, whether you’re at bat or not. As as an entrepreneur, I try to fear nothing; to treat every pitch like it’s one I can hit out of the park, no matter where or how it’s thrown. But then, as if to remind us that we’re human, things happen that make you realize what’s really important. Life. Family. Humanity.

And just like that, you’re reminded of why you’re so motivated in the first place.

As we get older, this becomes more clear. As a teenager, Mike was faced with a life-threatening condition that set him off on an entrepreneurial path. Me? I just thought I could do some things better. I was young and stupid.

But when I recently found myself with two children born nearly two months early, a wife who was stronger than I could possibly ever be, the most amazing 3 year old daughter welcoming me home every night with an ear-to-ear smile and the biggest hug ever, and a team of people surrounding me at work as an always-on support system, I realized why I (still) push myself so hard. Love for them all.

The kids are now home, and the family is doing great. It’s the new normal. But nothing will ever be the same. My toughest management challenge yet lies ahead of me.

Young entrepreneurs, young and stupid is an advantage. Believe it or not, this the easy part. Your desire will always be there, but your motivations will evolve, and curveballs (and other breaking balls) will be thrown, each with the potential of making you stronger. Embrace them. Overcome them. Learn how to hit them out of the park. And discover how to balance it all.

Like Mike.

SocialCam? More Like SocialSpam.

I’ve been in digital marketing for a long time. About as long as you can be, really. I’ve seen a lot.

There is a special “hall of shame” that should exist for products that have tried to force their way into people’s lives. Products like Gator. X10. About 50% of antivirus software. Self-installing toolbars.

I’d like to nominate SocialCam (not even linking to them) as the latest entrant into the those not so hallowed halls.

They have abused Facebook’s Open Graph (shame on Facebook for letting them) to frictionlessly broadcast videos to newsfeeds everywhere. They have been scraping YouTube videos to place into their player because most users’ content isn’t interesting enough to share. Most engagement with SocialCam is potentially embarrassing for the engager.

If they don’t change something soon, it’s likely going to end very badly for them.

Take this as a lesson, and a suggestion. As a user, be vigilant when you grant apps permission to publish on your behalf. as a marketer, you are who you associate with.

**UPDATE** Looks like Facebook just implemented the crackdown. Read it on TechCrunch.

Do Not Go Into Advertising. Do Something About It.

This is a counterpoint to Gawker’s piece, Do Not Go Into Advertising.

True. Advertising is an industry that many people fall back into. As Gawker writes, “Advertising is the industry that people who were not lucky enough to get actual “creative” jobs end up in.” Yes. Many who are in it are content to trade up their titles every few years by switching agencies while staying the course in their careers, managing the whims of their clients.

That is because when you get down to it the advertising industry is actually a service business. But the services we render have shifted from leadership to execution, and therein lies the problem.

A problem that can be solved if we start thinking about it and selling it differently.

Gawker’s claims are correct, if not jaded, if we purely think of the advertising business as a creative one. But our products are hours — the hours needed to deliver great creative. No one “pays for the work” like they would pay an artist. They pay for the work needed to make the deliverable.

In order for this to change, and to make people WANT to work in advertising (which is easy to do before they actually start doing it), we need to do something radical. Current agency models and silos need to be blown up and reassembled into leadership-focused integrated solutions, because that what is needed now; not antiquated commodity-creating mass machines — which is what holding companies have brought about. That antidote was the revelation that led me to start Deep Focus 10 years ago. And it’s something I’m still trying to figure out.

People will want to work in a place where their creativity and leadership is respected internally and externally, and where that expectation is set and met regularly, no matter how many procurement exercises that place has to go through. These places should be places that lead, because that is what is asked of them. If you want something else, go hire one. There’s a lot of them around.

Advertising is evolving. And the places that conduct business in that industry are evolving too. You just need to look for them and not make blanket statements.

Nearly every industry is in a hyper-evolutionary state these days. For example, it would be easy to say that journalism is dead or dying, but there are places that are trying to re-think the model, like Gawker. It would also be easy to say that blogs are the places that journalists go to work when they can’t get journalism jobs. But I don’t believe that. Gawker is attempting to redefine/re-imagine the journalism business in its own way, just like many companies in the advertising space are so Gawker can continue to make money (see Nick Denton’s awesomely candid Rock Center segment from a few weeks back). Love ya, Nick.

But Hamilton, ask the people that have been laid off in the last few years because ad spending was down, if advertising is stable. Ask the people that are still looking for work after their clients’ company hired a new CMO. Advertising is anything but stable. I risked everything I had to build a business that could help change advertising. This thing is hard freaking work. Stable my ass.

So yeah. Don’t go into advertising if you want a comfortable life where you do things to make people happy all day and compromise your integrity. F- that. I’ve fired clients that have threatened to take us there. But if you want to really do something about what advertising has become for many (including @hamiltonnolan, obviously), and actually make it something that it could actually work towards enhancing the daily lives of people that engage with it AND make money while doing so, then Deep Focus is hiring, and not just for the positions listed here.

Or you can check out

But if you still hate advertising, there’s always Pit-Pat.

UPDATE: Gawker has actually published its own counterpoint, titled (of course), “What the Fuck Makes You Too Good For Advertising?”.

Thoughts on “Generation C”.

Today I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the great Kai Ryssdal on NPR’s & American Public Media’s Marketplace about Nielsen’s latest report, calling Americans 18-34 “Generation C”. That’s “C” for “connected”.

It’s the first segment, so just click play to listen (topic starts around 01:00). Coincidentally, they interviewed students at The George Washington University (my alma mater) in the prologue.

In other words, the feeling I had (and a point that I made during our Evening of Connectedness at Social Media Week in NYC) was that “connectedness” is actually an evolutionary state — not a demographic. It’s also as much of a technographic as it is a psychographic. What I left out in the radio interview was that because of all the data that we are creating, “Generation [anything]” is becoming less relevant than ever before. When you can speak to consumers in ways that are personally and contextually relevant, it makes being generationally relevant irrelevant. You could even argue that there are generations within generations as the speed of everything increases.

Here’s Nielsen’s infographic:

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What are your thoughts on “Generation C”?

** UPDATE: Here’s the full transcript.

Social Media & The Art of Storytelling.

This was inspired by a recent conversation I had as part of the IAB’s MIXX Spotlight Series during Advertising Week 8.

UPDATE: This post is dedicated to Steve Jobs, my biggest storytelling inspiration.

Once upon a time, we told stories to each other. Stories meant to make us laugh, cry, or just understand the ‘what and why’ of something that happened, somewhere, at some time.

Eventually, we realized that we had to not just tell stories, we had to sell them. We had to make people believe. Religions needed the devout. Kings needed willing minions. Politicians needed the voting majority. And from the moment brands were born, they needed consumers willing to choose them over something else.

The way we told those brand stories used to be very linear. They had beginnings and endings, often told on a page, or in 30 seconds or less. They had punchlines; taglines; slogans; jingles to help us remember them. We crammed emotional journeys into instant coffee commercials and slideshow presentations about slideshow projectors.

For decades, brands have approached linear storytelling with a goal of migrating consumers through what we know as a similarly linear purchase funnel: awareness, interest, desire, and action. If a brand’s story was good (and, of course, if their product was good enough) they could be top-of-mind at the critical moment of a purchase decision, and the handful of steps that led up to it.

Historically, most brands’ storytelling has been used to affect those steps, as a constant barrage of TV, outdoor, radio, print, and even display advertising helped people decide for themselves – or at least make them feel like they were.

And you know what? We got really good at it.

But something funny happened on the way to the decision. The handful of steps grew exponentially. We got CONNECTED.
And because of that, storytelling will never be the same.

As consumers became more connected to information and each other, their decision-making processes changed. They found word-of-mouth, online research, reviews, blog posts, and recommendations more accessible than ever before. Their expectations were raised. A dependency upon truly-informed decisions and the sharing of information with our peers as trusted advisors were becoming as important as the act of searching for information, and a new form of media was born.

Social media.

But after decades of being good at storytelling through two-dimensional, linear media programmed at people, brands became stymied by the uncontrollable four-dimensional social media that had formed between people. Media that you couldn’t buy, in the traditional sense. You couldn’t creative- or art-direct for it. It just happened. With or without you.

You were screwed.

As an industry, we’ve spent the last several years trying to figure out how to tell stories in an age of social media. The problem is that some time ago, probably between the time Napster was launched and when Facebook eclipsed Google in terms of ‘time spent’, we reached what I will call (with apologies to Ray Kurzweil) ‘the advertising singularity’ – the point at which the velocity of consumers’ behavioral evolution outpaced the decision-making speed of marketers. Brand storytelling as we knew it changed forever, as an empowered consumer picked up brand stories from wherever they left off, and told them as their own. Often, with their own interpretation. And those interpretations weren’t always nice – especially if the brand or product wasn’t either.

Social media has given consumers the power to create, distribute, and manipulate content. It has given them the power to organize. To mobilize. To act. To embrace the good stories, and correct the wrong ones. It has made them both the medium AND the message. And it is forcing us to evolve into better storytellers.

Non-linear, trans-media storytellers.

Collaborative storytellers.

Real-time storytellers.

As time goes on, this evolution will have an impact on the business of advertising, as it becomes a polarized trade. On one end, you’ll have the traditional, linear, awareness-driven, impression-based practices, which will focus on squeezing as much performance out of classic advertising real estate as possible. On the other end, will be the much more complex practice of engaging the consumer, where performance will be evaluated upon how well consumers are actively or passively telling the brand’s story, and helping each other make ‘the right’ brand decisions.

This is already starting to change everything we know about the business of advertising. After all, how can we expect the same story to be told both synchronously and asynchronously – and by millions of different storytellers? I will posit that it is impossible for brands and agencies to do both profitably within their existing, siloed models. They will need to change. Traditional siloed approaches don’t help make these kinds of things happen. Silos are for storing. And social media is about sharing.

As media itself undergoes its most rapid changes in its history, social media is becoming the most engaging and intensely consumed (and created) type of media. And because of all of our connections, it isn’t impressions, but *attention* that is becoming most scarce. More impressions are being created every second. But they’re certainly not making any more attention.

In his book Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson argues that television storytelling is better now than ever before (in spite of reality programming) because it rewards us for paying attention to more complex story arcs. The stories may still be told linearly, but frequent callbacks to events from prior episodes, and even seasons, engross a viewer, turning them into active participants in show communities and advocates outside of those communities. Attention is what good stories are exchanged for, and social media represents infinite golden opportunities to pay it forward.

There’s a lesson to be learned there. If marketers choose to truly engage and involve audiences in non-linear, collaborative, real-time storytelling in an age of social media, they should tell stories that are not just about the product, but the lifestyle associated with the product, and the values the brand stands for. They should be ones that consumers can spin and tell on their own; ones they can share between them. And since the mix of media is as much a part of the story as the story itself, it requires more fluid thinking and execution, more real-time interaction with consumers. Everything is kind of starting to look like everything else as the methods of storytelling are becoming indistinguishable, yet more memorable at the same time.

We must tell those stories with consumers, in real-time, and engage consumers at scales that will actually result in measurable impacts on our businesses’ bottom-lines.

These new, non-linear, collaborative, real-time stories must add value to consumers’ lives. They must make consumers want to engage with each other in ways that make experiences better. These stories must be relevant enough to be meaningful at every consumer touchpoint. They must use digital, mobile, and social media to move people emotionally, behaviorally, and physically.

Of course, we must be able to measure the impact of these stories on consumer engagement and behavior objectively. Brands must first understand what the value to their business is of each kind of consumer engagement that advances the story. And the quality of those stories should be evaluated based upon their ability to be effectively wielded by consumers.

Brands must be comfortable with programming their never-ending stories with consumers. They must find each and every way to ensure that as many of the right people share those experiences as possible, so the story can find its way to as many people, through as many people as possible. Engagement across – and through – social media will demand that these aspects be managed holistically and be optimized towards meaningful, valuable, story-advancing engagement. And as media just becomes irreversibly social, collaborative and real-time storytelling will become even more important.

The biggest difference between historical and present-day brand storytelling is that when the stories were linear, the protagonist was the brand. But when storytelling is collaborative and in real-time, it’s the consumer who is the protagonist.

Evolve your approach to real-time, collaborative storytelling now, and your customers will advocate more, refer more, buy more, and make more, better customers. And you will live happily ever after.