Monday, October 30, 2006

Console wars

Catching up on my Dilbert and came across something that pretty much sums up all the console war bickering out there right now. This Adams guy is good.

Can I say it?

You know, I am such a gloater when given the opportunity. So with my apologies, please consider this post pure unadulterated gloating!

From a post a few months back, I was mildly spanked by the Second Life community for calling BS on the marketing activities within their community. My basic premise was that it was one huge PR play and that no one's going to get any value from any of it. At the time, there were maybe a handful of brands that dabbled in the space. Maybe they had good intentions, maybe not. Regardless, today, like a swarm of piranhas, there are dozens of brands thrashing in this PR feeding frenzy.

It's gotten so bad that Second Lifers are getting sick of it, as evidenced by this post from Second Life Herald. As much as I like to gloat, I actually feel pretty bad for the residents. I doubt many of these brands want to settle down and be citizens, rather, they are more like prospectors, taking from the land, ignoring the original inhabitants and generally leaving ghost towns behind. Which of course, begs the question: What do you do with leftover islands when the original developer has lost interest? Will Wells Fargo island become a place for Second Life teens to loiter and pass around a richly pixeled pipe?

Second Lifers need to take back control of their world. It's time to realize that not all PR is good PR. New residents need to experience the world and the value of the world as old timers do, not as a test drive of a Toyota or a tour of a hotel but rather as a social experience built upon mutual interests and sex. Try screening some brands, you know, figure out their intentions. Because if you don't, get ready to call yourself a citizen of Ad World.

via Adrants

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Another cheese post

So what amounts to a rounding error, we were all gifted with an extra hour today. Like that fondue set I got last Xmas, I knew it was coming but really had no clue what to do with it. Blissful sleep would have been a good option but that's so overdone. Frankly, I never know a good way to spend the entire hour. Instead, I'd like to think that my extra time was well-spent and evenly distributed through this 25 hour day by being extra cynical on things that happened today.

Cheese Please
Why do "good" restaurants insist on using real cheese on nachos? What's wrong with the gooey yellow stuff you pump out of the warm metal box? Real cheese congeals and results in my well-planned nacho extraction becoming a nightmarish trail of tears and rogue tomatoes. Repeat after me, give it to me fake.

Eat'n Candy
I got three bags of Butterfingers, M&Ms and mixed chocolate bites (Crackle FTW!) just waiting to be rewarded to the cute costumed kids that figure out my building's intercom system. But let's be honest with ourselves here, there are no kids coming this year, just like no kids came last year. This is our guilt-ridden country's excuse to over stock candy and indulge ourselves in leftovers bliss. Let's just drop the excuses and call it Eat'n Candy day.

To the guy I ran into today whom I haven't seen in 10 years: The fact is, the hug was probably unnecessary, I'm sorry I pulled you in. Also, when I asked about the wife what I really meant was "Are you still married?" I wish could channel some Craigslist wit and end this on a high note but there's nothing there. I totally put on a face and I'm sure you did too. Why do we bother? I say we just nod to each other next time and move on. But hey, it was nice seeing you again.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

At the tone...

Hello. You've reached Branded Newb.

We're out of the state right now and will return this weekend.

If this is an emergency, elevate and ice it.

If you're interested in buying the beige couch, please leave your contact info and best offer.

To leave a message for Ken or for Stephanie Chambers #1 Real Estate Agent in the Westside!, click comment.

Have a nice day!

Caleefornya thanks you for the add

Election day is coming up in these here parts so it's time to flex those weakened voting muscles. Yeah, it's been a while for me too. Hmm... at least since like Taylor Hicks.

To help you make those critical decisions, there's the uber informative television commercials, tons of mail (e and snail), slick websites, puffy blogs and even the occasional phone call. But you and I both know those tactics are like so last election. No, this year the coolest candidates are on MySpace.

Take, for example, the California governor's race. Phil's got an official MySpace (page, but no one says page after MySpace, that's so lame). Arnold, well Arnie doesn't have an official one but there's arnoldisback, dictatorschwarzenegger, governor_arnie, governorofcalifornia and the very ultra-hip named 8198043.

Phil's got 7,328 friends, more than any of the Arnie clones can claim. Among Phil's friends: Tom (slut), Jesus, Orange County, the UN, Gandhi, Lindsay Lohan and an army of guys and girls sans shirts. I don't care about his platform, with a collection of friends like this, he's a shoo-in. I'm not Phil's friend by the way because he was online earlier and I wanted to chat but he totally blew me off. Whatevs dude.

On a serious note, this is an interesting online play. I'm pretty sure going on MySpace is not going to affect any candidate's chances for success. However, a candidate doesn't work alone and if you're trying to marshal the troops on the ground, (you know, the button-making, lawn stabbing, clipboard-waving unjaded youth of America) well, this isn't a bad way to do it.

When people are passionate about something, they need outlets to express this passion. The use of MySpace brings the campaign home to something familiar to the volunteers and their friends. It is the equivalent of staking that poster in your lawn. Is it really going to make a difference, probably not much, but it makes you feel like a contributor.

In this age of indifference, any outlet for political expression and discussion is a-okay in my book. So go out there, bump all your loser friends out of your top 8 and replace them with Phil or the Arnies or both (non-Californians, BYOCandidates). Heck, if nothing else, it'll bump up your friend count and you know you need a little help there.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How powerful is it?

Two new videos are up at PlayB3yond, the PS3 marketing site. The positioning is Playstation tried and true: It's all about the beauty and the power.

Hey, if you're going to have to explain a graphics chip, you might as well do it in style. Overall, these are slick videos. The retro love to the rubik's cube is a nice touch. The mouseover interaction thing on the second video is poorly executed; could have been much easier and thus cooler to use.

More to say when they release the full site.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The stacking of the opinionistas

Remember that cute little sign you'd see now and then? The one that goes something like this:

  • Rule #1 - The boss is always right
  • Rule #2 - If the boss is wrong, refer to Rule #1
Now of course we in business should always substitute "boss" with "consumer". Ok, sure, I buy that, consumers are always right. But umm, which consumer? In the days of brick and mortar, it was the one in your store throwing a fit. That guy was right but mostly because that guy was most vocal. Today, the consumer voice is coming at every possible angle. Can they all be right?

I love the Web 2.0 movement but there's one thing that keeps bothering me. Consumer generated content and rankings have democratized opinions. Everyone has an opinion and now every single one of those opinions count (usually literally counted as a vote). The problem with that is not everyone could possibly be right. You have no way to tell if someone has arbitarily come to a conclusion or has made one after doing tons of homework. Opinions are generated from information and we all know that information today is both voluminous and unwieldly. Chances are, we're not really using the best information available to make our decisions nor do we care if anyone else does. Expertise is dead.

What I think we're doing is what I'm going to call stacking behavior. The Web 2.0 movement has provided all of us with bags of tokens (our votes). As you traverse the online world of reviews, rankings and content, you will eventually come across something you like. As a sign of your approval or disapproval, you drop your token onto the pile.

Pretty soon though, something interesting starts to happen. Your opinion becomes influenced by how others voted rather than the available facts. I'm guessing it's a twist on groupthink. You notice large piles and think, "well, that stack is large enough, it doesn't need my token." On the other hand, you'll notice tiny piles and think, "well, that poor little stack needs another token." (I'm not exactly sure what makes something go from tiny stack to huge, probably a combination of timing and momentum, like that moment where popcorn starts to really go nuts in the microwave.) In the end, I'm pretty sure we're all just working towards making average stacks. Also, let's not forget that one dude that runs between the piles tossing handfuls of tokens over his head and screaming, "Look at me, I'm a valuable contributor!"

My gut feeling is that the democratization of opinions and our stacking behavior is going to ruin Web 2.0. We're going to have a backlash and snap back to recognize the value of expertise and quality of analysis. Well, at least, that's my hypothesis. My goal is to try to find some hard data to see if there's any evidence to support any of this. If you come across anything, let me know.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Whispers in the noise

Some notes from the weekend:

  1. Bob Dylan sings just fine, the problem is you're just too sober.
  2. You're not allowed to have a "favorite" restaurant in a foreign country if you've only been to said foreign country once.
  3. Inflation's a bitch. For the second time in a year, a homeless dude asked me for $100.
  4. When I ask to buy a beer, chances are, I don't want the one sitting on the side... so don't make things awkward by asking.
  5. The amount of loose change in your pocket is inversely proportional to your distance from an expired parking meter.
  6. The 70% off warehouse sale IS too good to be true, move on.
  7. Flowers cause selective blindness: Take any newspaper, then use it as a floor mat, to catch bbq drippings or as a bb gun target. Take same newspaper, use to wrap around roses and present package to a woman in your life. If she notices the paper, you didn't spend enough on the roses.
  8. Late night television preys on our weakened sense of quality. Exhibit #1: Infomercials. Exhibit #2: Byron Allen's immortal career.
  9. After the third date, it becomes acceptable to take home leftovers from dinner.
  10. You can't leave a list with only 9 items.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Built in come-uppance

There's a warm lounger reserved in Hell for some of us in this country. A majority will be for marketers... hopefully mine will have a nice view of the lava flows. The rest will be for middle class self-righteous soccer moms.

From Reuters: A lawyer (when you got your lounger reserved, go for broke) and mother of two has created a site called What's this? Here's how it works. You put a unique plate on your kid's stroller. When nanny is out about town with the kid, god forbid, she's a little late in giving your kid the juice bottle. Well, your fellow Prada kicking, Gucci touting, sister in class will whip out her pink Blackberry, load up the site and report that lazy-ass nanny so you can send her packing to whatever country she's from.

Holy crap, what a wonderful idea! No, not wonderful because what she wants to do, wonderful because it's got built in come-uppance. I don't care if this never gets anymore publicity but I know this is going to happen: One of these loving mothers is going to be late for a mani-pedi and pull out into town with the nanny's stroller. Then, it's just a matter of time before the kid goes nuclear, the ill-experienced mom loses it and someone else eagerly pulls up the site.

See you hell ladies.

Friday, October 20, 2006

First time free!

According to the NY Times, the guy that posted threats to bomb football stadiums has been charged with "committing a criminal hoax".

According to AP, via ABC News, "the man acknowledged posting the phony stadium threat as part of a 'writing duel' with a man from the Brownsville, Texas, area to see who could post the scariest threat."

Free speech anyone? OH wait, I remember my civics class... the whole thing about not being able to yell "Fire!" in a building and be protected by free speech. Ok fine, maybe this wasn't that smart. But wait a sec, this guy is charged because he posted something on the Internet. So what about the people that passed this on? Wouldn't that be the equivalent of echoing "Fire!" in said building? Shouldn't they be responsible for some of this? Surely we can take this opportunity to throw all those people in jail, you know, those people that pass on Internet stuff without thinking (Bill Gates will pay you if you forward this message). Can we, can we?!

...he first posted the threats in September and said he re-posted them 40 more times."

Umm, oh ok... nevermind. Throw the book at his stupid ass!

It's ok to dream right?

One day, I'm going to be "Man of the Year".

Or better yet, maybe "Most Influential Person of the Decade."

Yes, that has a nice ring to it.

Until then, I'll settle for "Word of the Day"'s Word of the Day for October 20, 2006:


My guilty pleasure

Lately, I've been engrossed, I mean seriously en-freak'n-grossed with Loco Roco. It's abnormal, it's not healthy and I need help! Someone help me? I mean, I tried hiding the PSP but then that one time when my buddies and I were settling in to watch some football...well, what do you say when someone feels something under the couch and pulls out a PSP with Loco Roco? I'll tell you what you say. You say nothing, that's what. You deny, you lie to their face.

"Yeah dude, that probably came with the couch. Ok maybe it's mine but I'm not like enjoying it... Yeah right, I don't sing along."

Ok, you and I both know it didn't come with the couch. I had to lie, if they knew, they'd take it away. I'm not denying it anymore though. Yes, I bought it. (Wow, this admitting problems stuff is hard) I made a conscious decision and acted upon it. I take full responsibility.

In fact, I ordered it off Amazon with shaky excited hands. When the box came, I ripped that sucker open so fast, you'd think it was Kiera's bra or something. Why the excitement?

That song. I had to have that song. The song and I are meant to be together. We were MADE to be together. I'll share the song with you but you have to give it back k?

It wasn't like love at first sight. (Cuz you can't see a song silly) But there was something about the song, something in the way it made me move. You know, it was foreign in that Angelina way but familiar and safe, in that Scarlett way? You know?! Anyways, first heard it on its MySpace page. MySpace, Ha! I guess that should have been my first warning sign this wouldn't be a healthy relationship. What can I say, sometimes you do things even if you know it's wrong.

Don't worry, I'm better now than the early days. I tried quitting cold turkey but then the pacing, the rocking, the night sweats... they were too much. I had to go back but I'm pretty sure I'm only singing the song now when I'm awake. Yeah, pretty sure.

Look, I'm not crazy k? I think the song is some weird mind control chant or something. It keeps sucking me in, sucking me in, sucking me in. I really don't know what to do. Last night, I filled up 20 yellow water balloons and slept in the tub with them. I know, that's not right.

Seriously, help!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Splish Splash

Just to close the loop on a post I did a while back...

Sony's new Bravia ad is up. Meh. Nothing you haven't seen Letterman throw off a roof.

The behind is scenes clip is pretty interesting though.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Time to Dance!

Acclaim Games announced its fourth title: Dance!

A MMO dancing game. Get your leg warmers on cuz you know you want some of that.

(And yup, it's been a record breaking 5 post day.)

Grenade, grenade, stun gun, facial cleanser, grenade...

Nivea and Phillips Norelco (makers of skincare and shaving stuff) have partnered with Ubisoft to do an integrated campaign within Splinter Cell 6: Double Agent. Some things to look forward to:

  • In-game rendered products placed in game world bathroom
  • Marketing billboards with lines like "The 'Good Guy' almost never has a beard."
  • Ad insert in the retail packaging
And my favorite, I kid you not:
"The company also bought a print ad in the game's strategy guide published by Prima. The creative features a bottle of after shave made to look like a hand grenade with the message 'Balms away.'"

No, this has got to be a joke right? C'mon, someone tell me it's a joke. You know, when I think about male skincare products, I totally think about Sam Fisher. That's Sam on the right there. Yup, he'll never leave home without all his "products". You think that fabulous looking unibrow just naturally falls into that style in the morning?

Ok, seriously, what's going on here? Why do I have that sinking feeling that in-game advertising is about to get sucker punched? Maybe it won't be that bad. Maybe an account exec never said, "Can we add a shaving scene? Can we let the player choose clean or scruffy Sam Fisher? Can we fit our fragrance line in here somewhere?"

Oh boy, this is gonna be a fun one to watch.

via Clickz

Real Beauty Viral

Just doing my part in spreading the viral love...

Watch this girl go from cute to mutant gorgeous. Brought to you by anti-marketing marketers in their latest marketing campaign.

Ultimate Ghosts N' Goblins from Capcom!

Recently, I was invited to review Ultimate Ghosts N' Goblins from Capcom. I've played the game for a week and a half now and quite frankly, I'm loving it. Now before you think I've sold out and will throw a good review on anyone that sends me a free game, let me refer you to the Branded Newb archive: My GameTap post on 3/30/06:

The new TV offering consists of 5 original channels and over 250 on demand video clips. My favorite part of the press release: Capcom adds Ghouls and Ghosts to the GameTap lineup. [image included]
So you see, I'm a fan of the series. Back in the day, I couldn't get enough of the original. Maybe it was some subconscious knight in shining armor aspirations or maybe it was a much deeper dude in boxers throwing lances thing. Who knows, don't judge me! Needless to say, I was kinda excited about playing the updated version.

For me, the new PSP version didn't disappoint. Now I have to caveat this by saying that I would probably never want to play this on a console, my expectations of console games is pure current-gen old-school free. However, as the device gets smaller, so does my expectations (it's why I love bubble breaker on my cell). Ultimate Ghosts N' Goblins is a great handheld title because it's fast paced, you can play in short bursts and there's not a single thing to read, it's all eye candy goodness.

First the pro's: Visually, it looks great. All the levels have a unique look and feel with appropriately unique environmental obstacles. You definitely don't get bored the first time through (more on this later).

The controls are classic so there's a learning curve to become twitch proficient but I kinda like that they're simple. I get self-conscious when I'm contorting myself wildly in public.

The gameplay is a basic sidescroller "get through without getting smacked" affair. This lends itself to a satisfyingly fast-paced experience. What's interesting about this version is that they've put in a bunch of auxillary goals. I find myself spending more time trying to explore the whole level rather than bashing through it. Must find more chests!

The con's: You can't beat the game by just getting to the end. The game requires you to play through until you've successfully mastered each level (that is, picked up all the gold rings scattered about). Since there are only 5 levels, you find yourself getting major deja vu... like staring at the menu at Taco Bell. This can get rather frustrating since there are certain levels you don't want to redo... Level 2-2, I will OWN you!

The bosses don't mean much. I don't know about you but I kinda like boss levels in general. They're a nice conclusion to a level and when you beat a tough boss, you get that great sense of accomplishment. I don't get that sense here. The bosses are fairly easy, have easy to hit sweet spots and are pretty cheap with the loot. I like loot, give me more loot.

The game has its fair share of jumping obstacles and if you're like me, you rack up the falling deaths. To stay sane, I found myself using the flying shield item all the time. Now this gets fairly annoying since the shield goes away after a while, causing you to have to warp to another level just to get more. I didn't like how it made me feel to be a flying shield addict. I'm just a "social" flying shielder, seriously.

Overall, you can expect to have a pretty good time. It's not going to win any game of the year awards or break any new ground in terms of innovation but it's a good staple to have in the library.

Role reversal in game marketing

A few weeks ago, I got an interesting email:

I just found your blog entry on Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Essentials for PSP:
[url to BN post] and I think you may be of some help to me. I'm reaching out to you on behalf of M80 & Capcom regarding Ultimate Ghosts N Goblins for PSP. Since you blogged about Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Essentials for PSP, I thought that you might be interested in posting the press release or a review of the game on your blog? You seem like a reputable influencer, so I think you'd be a big help to us. For your help or review, I'd be happy to send you a copy of Ultimate Ghosts N Goblins for PSP.
So I replied:

Thanks for the offer. I'd be happy to review the game; however, given that the topic of my blog is also about interactive marketing, I'd have to be upfront about this conversation and engagement with M80. If that is acceptable, feel free to send a copy of the game to: [my address, which you don't get to see, cuz you might do weird stalky stuff to me].
They reply with:
Thanks for your reply! It's wonderful if you post about this conversation and are transparent about your involvement with M80. I'm interested to see what you have to say about the process.
Fast forward about a week and a little brown paper package comes in the mail: free Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins from Capcom! You know, what tickles me the most about this is not the free Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins from Capcom. It's the role reversal of me going from game marketer to being marketed to as an influencer. Ahh, so this is how it feels on this side. It's kinda nice.

I was familiar with M80 before this email. In fact, I had thought about approaching them for some non-game clients. They're not a typical ad agency, rather they're experts at the word of mouth/viral marketing tactics that are so popular nowadays. What's very impressive to me was their eagerness for me to be transparent about the whole thing.

I don't like the covert stuff, you know, the stuff where people go and post on message boards like they're just a part of the community? This is something else entirely. This is inviting people that you think are vocal in the community to talk about your product. I like it, mainly because it's risky as hell. You have no idea if everyone you just sent Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins from Capcom to will end up hating it. But of course... if they love it, you get a major payoff in great word of mouth.

What did I think of the game? Stay tuned for the review post of... Ultimate Ghost and Goblins from Capcom!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Look at me, I'm altruistic!

Being charitable is tough. I mean, I really want to give to a good cause but what I do I get out of it? You can't lose weight with a donation to the Red Cross, you can't go to a party with a gift to the National Children's Cancer Society, Unicef doesn't help make your clothes smell better and the ONE campaign makes a terrible turkey sandwich. On top of all that, when I do donate to charity, no one knows, so I can't even walk around basking in that "I donated blood" aura of goodness. Seriously, what has charity done for me lately? Know what I'm saying?

Well, I found something just for me. The (Red) campaign, brought to you by Bono and friends. Partnered with big global brands like Motorola, American Express, Gap, and Apple, this campaign is so freak'n perfect. Ok, here's how it works. You buy something red (no really, all the stuff is red) and part of your purchase goes to charity. Simple huh? The best part? You get a great product and trust me, no one can miss you in a crowd. "Woo, look at that charitable soul at the bar" they'll say.

Seriously, I'm so glad this came along, my Be Strong bracelet was getting a little funk around the edges.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The time value of money

We're right smack in the middle of the console release frenzy. Just search Ebay for PS3 or Wii and you get a sense of how desirable it is for some people to get these consoles right away or before anyone else on the block. Based on bids made, it's looking like people will pay about a hundred bucks above retail for the Wii and two to three times the price for the PS3! Obviously, there's a monetary value associated with getting something now instead of days or weeks later.

All this got me thinking. Why doesn't Sony or Nintendo actually do something interesting with this phenomenon? They could release some limited edition consoles at an early date and charge a lot more for them. Release 1,000 consoles a few weeks earlier than the public release. Put the consoles up for auction with people bidding on the first to hundredth. There's no doubt in my mind that there'll be a wild response to it.

Now before you stop reading in disgust, this is not a suggestion for them to make more money. I actually think this would be a really cool way to make some money for charity. With 1,000 consoles and the possibility of people paying $1,000 more than retail for each, that's a cool million they could give to charity. They don't come out of it empty handed since they get a great PR story.

Just an idea.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Manufactured by Nissan

In a new campaign for the Sentra, Nissan gets a guy to live in his car for 7 days. The campaign is inspiringly called, "7 days in a Sentra".

(For full disclosure purposes, I'm currently consulting for the ad agency that created this campaign though I didn't work on this particular campaign.)

The campaign includes a blog as well as some other online elements. The trades have covered it and it's already gotten some bad reviews from bloggers. Overall, I think the main criticism is that this feels contrived and forced, like your grandfather sporting a threadless t-shirt at the family reunion. At first, I would agree. This stinks of corporate America tredding on the territory of quirky stunts usually done by kids with too much time on their hands (Mascot Roommate for Coffee Bean is another example). There's a sense of disingenuousness in the air, begging the question of "Well how hard is it to live in a car for 7 days if you have an entire company behind you?"

And then I started thinking about it. The language of marketing has changed. Consumers shrug off phrases like, "More horsepower than...", "Class leading legroom", or "Oh what a feeling...". You can't simply force feed your brand messages down their throats. You have to engage consumers with something interesting, something entertaining.

Yes, I think this campaign is contrived but that's exactly what it's meant to be, something artificially created to start a conversation with the consumer. If I were shopping for a Sentra and if I were given the choice of watching a boring video of the interior or this... well, I rather watch this. I rather be entertained or at least challenged/given the option to be entertained than given the same boring spiel. Sure, I know the guy probably had it easy for 7 days but I'm not taking it too seriously. I'm suspending disbelief and going along for the experience, like watching 24.

I like this idea. Like the Honda Element & Friends campaign (the crab that says, "I pinch"), this shifts the way car companies talk about their products and doesn't just toss marketing one liners at you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Scouting for better thumbs

Tom Taylor, all of 18, dropped out of high school and joined a professional video game league. He's pulling in $250,000 and has product endorsements as well as a "game tutoring business". He says, "I feel like I was born to play video games." Nice job Tom, don't get caught up in the drugs, women and gambling.

Well, this AP story dropped yesterday and was widely picked up by newspapers across the country. This story has, therefore, been deemed to be newsworthy... but why? Is it because a young man is pursuing his dreams? Perhaps it's the amount of money he's making at such a young age?

Let's face it, this story is all about video games and the general perception that the value in playing games is the physical and mental equivalent of Cheetos for Thanksgiving dinner. You could do it and it'd be fun but you're not going to be proud of it. In our society, games are to be outgrown, to gather dust like your old skateboard and replaced in your mind with things like FICA and PPO. If you're passionate about games, you're always tempering your enthusiasm because "they" wouldn't understand.

I hate it. I hate reading stories like this because stories like this perpetuate society's code of conduct. This story reads like a warning label for parents: there's a game league out there looking for your kid, let your kid play video games and he may just make a career out of it. Am I misrepresenting it? Probably but let's assume I'm right.

This needs to change and quite frankly, I don't think it's a content issue. It's not because games are violent or superficial or made for men. If that were the case, we'd have to demote all sports, movies or current books as well. No, what we have here is an image problem. We need to change the look of gamers. Socially inept teenage guys, thank you for your service, we'll take it from here.

So who do we want to represent the industry? What about me? I'm 30. I'm a professional with a master's degree and comfortably middle class. I have a robust appreciation and an above-average consumption of the cultural arts and fine things. When I'm not working, I have a social life. Am I what we need to be the face of gamers? Oh heck no, I'm too dorky looking but you get the point.

I guess what I'm trying to say to my marketing brothers and sisters is that we need to shift the imagery around. Use the guys from the SUV ads, not the Mountain Dew ads. Hey, you know the couch shot, the one from the TV's perspective? Yeah, that one. How about you add some art on the walls and some imported beer on the coffee table? And you know that X Games sponsorship? Drop it, no one pays attention anyways.

Finally, you know that high school dropout that you just sponsored? Yeah, bad idea.

via ABC News

Google World Domination Watch Part 19

So you may have heard, Google bought YouTube. I took a half day to figure out what this might mean for Google and why they went and dropped $1.6 billion on something they already have. My conclusion? Of all the articles I read, the head of Microsoft said it best:

“If you believe it’s the future of television, it’s clearly worth $1.6 billion,” Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, said of YouTube. “If you believe something else, you could write down maybe it’s not worth much at all.”
In the short term, Google is going to make money by the contextual ads you'll see next to the videos. In the long term, their clout is going to bring in authorized TV and movie content (they already scored music videos & check out this interview). It's tough to imagine a way for Google to squeeze their way into the action in television or movies. As it is now, you're just not going to see a Google channel on broadcast TV. So with the acquisition of YouTube, they're correctly betting that eyeballs will shift from TV viewing to web-based viewing. Once the eyeballs are in their domain, they'll rack in the ad revenue.

If you'll notice, I ignored the contribution of consumer videos to any significant future revenue. Don't get me wrong, I love the consumer stuff but at the end of the day, it's not going to replace professionally-produced content. (Popular YouTube videos get a couple hundred thousand views, laughable compared to network TV.) The real shift in online videos will take place when the latter becomes available and enjoyable online. Most of us still refuse to sit still for longer than 2 minutes with an online video but eventually, someone will figure out a formula that'll work (lonelygirl?).

This is new territory for Google but it's fitting on a day when we're supposed to celebrate exploration and conquest.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Engrish Product of the Week

From my local Japanese grocery store:

AmericanSoft! Chewing!

Cookies individually packed for your chewing enjoyment!

Remember kids... "It's not just soft, it's AmericanSoft!"

Tastes so good!

Customer Service with a Pant

I hate cleaning. Well, except laundry, I love doing laundry... ok maybe not the ironing and folding part but the washing/drying part, mmm just love it. But anyways, hate to clean. Unfortunately, I'm a bachelor with two bathrooms and a disdain for elbow grease. The solution? Chemical warfare baby!

I got so many scrubbing bubbles, upside-down ducks, sinking pucks and rock-eating sprays in one place that homeland security is probably watching me right now. The theory is, if I coat every surface with a "cleaner" then technically, the bathroom is "cleaner". Right? Right?!

Ok, so Saturday night, ran out of Clorox pucks. Yes, I know, panic mode right? So I ran out to Target to get some more. (Yes, this is what I do on my weekend nights now that I'm a month into my 30's.) So fast forward... scene change to Target... pucks in cart.

Now I don't know about you but I always have to stop at the games section when I'm at Target. You know those guys that can't step on cracks on the sidewalk or have to wash their hands 30 times? It's kinda like that. I can't leave the store without doing it.

So there I am, at the electronics section and I actually find a game I want to get. Should I wait and buy online or should I get it now? I decide to get it now, you know, cuz the toilet puck is looking a little lonely in the cart. Of course, they got the game locked up behind glass so now I have to find someone to help.

(If you haven't read my previous post on Target employees, this is a good time.)

No red shirts around, not a single one. But I do find a nice big button with a nice big sign that says, "Push for service" or something like that. Oh man, I do love pushing buttons. PUSH!

An automated voice comes on and says something like, "Thanks for pushing me, someone will be with you in 60 seconds." So now I'm thinking, "Wow, 60 seconds? That's accurate!" The next 60 seconds plays out something like this:

0:15 - Nothing... but it's only been 15 seconds.
0:30 - I'm not really counting so I guess it's been 30 seconds? Ooh look, new digital cameras!
0:45 - Maybe I should push the button again.

At 50 seconds, a red shirt walks up briskly. He's holding some sort of walkie-talkie and I hear an automated voice coming out of it:

"Customer service required at Electronics, who is responding? 10 seconds left."

Red shirt says something into his radio that sounds like his name and "responding". Red then walks right past me (with a very John Locke look in his eyes) and pushes something near the big button. Satisfied the store's not going to explode, he says, "Can I help you?" Yes, you can.

I got my game but obviously, the button thing got me thinking. Is Target trying to save money by reducing the staff and having the remaining staff "on call" around the store? I wonder what kind of stress that puts on the staff? What exactly happens when you don't reset the button within 60 seconds?

The irony is that I came out of there thinking that it's a giant game. The employees are probably running around answering pages and trying to increase their response "score". Happy customers come out with a smile. Ignored customers make a dejected "bloop bleep bloop" sound and leave. Eventually, the employees get better at it and then management kicks it into the next level: "30 seconds!"

Thursday, October 05, 2006

PSP: La la la la, can't hear you

Ignoring the obituaries written on the PSP, Sony says it won't lower the price in '06, so umm stop asking. And oh... all those whiners complaining about available games, there's 110 more on the way and due by the end of the year.

This is a smart move. A price cut signals weakness, like a goalie turned away with one eye closed. No, this move is a sign of confidence (stub...) and with confidence (born), you stick with your price and deliver more games (final burst from pipeline).

Ok, fine, I may be slightly unfair. I actually think this is a necessary move to keep the PSP viable. A drop in price will keep publishers and customers away from the device. Can they sell more units with a price drop? Sure. But this industry has a definitive product cycle and you ignore the downward curve as much as possible and you definitely don't drop prices until it hurts (and with Sony, it takes a while to hurt).

via Washington Post

Unlimited ideas for one low price

Late post so just close your eyes and imagine yourself back in time, a few days ago...

From the NY Times: Netflix is challenging the public to come up with a better movie recommendation system for their service. The first person to improve the system's accuracy by 10% will get $1 million. There's some light reading before you get started; about 100 million customer movie ratings. So you think you got what it takes? Go here and tell them the Newb sent ya.

This is pretty smart on two levels. First, Netflix is tapping into the global brain blob, you know, that collective geek consciousness with nothing better to do than tackle topics like this, life on other planets and obscure math theorems with Italian names. If you want something done, the blob will either get it done or it's simply not possible. Throw in the $1 million prize and you're sure to alert the blob to the challenge resulting in imminent oozage towards the task and eventual engulfment. Well, that is until the blob gets bored and sloozes back to Wikipedia entries.

The second point is that this is a simply a perfect storm of good marketing. Few days ago I talked about press releases that made a story out of nothing. This is a great example of that. With nothing new to really generate headlines, Netflix throws out the contest card. For a cool mill, they may not only get an improvement in their recommendation system but they also get a ton of press coverage. The story has all the sexy elements of consumer participation and good ol' American competition.

Links for 10/5/06 aka Too Lazy for Real Post

MarketingVox covers another set of gamer demographic stats.

Wired talks in-game advertising

Everyone seems to be talking about some show last night that's not Lost.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

If it's not real, I don't like it

Today's ironic treat brought to you by Kotaku writer Eliza Gauger in this post.

The post calls your attention to a post from Arstechnica regarding two research conclusions, both regarding gamers and in-game advertising. Basically the post calls the earlier research "bunk" and uses the new research as evidence. The irony? You'll see.

Here's what the Comscore research said:

"four out of ten heavy games (37 percent) agreed that featuring actual products or companies in games make the games feel more realistic, while 27 percent of light/ medium gamers agreed."
Here's what Arstechnica said:
"37 percent of these gamers agreed that the inclusion of ads made games more realistic. While this is higher than the 27 percent of light and medium gamers who agreed with this statement, advertisers should take note that 63 percent of hard-core gamers (and 73 percent of more casual gamers) do not agree."
Here's what Kotaku said:
"A new study by ComScore Networks asserts that 63 percent of "hardcore gamers" (16+ hours per week), and 73 percent of more casual gamers polled, did not want in-game ads."
Notice that the actual research was about gamers' opinion on "realism" of in-game ads. There was nothing about whether or not they "want" in-game ads. Psst Kotaku, here's a tip: If your post is about legitimacy of conclusions, try not to jump to yours.

For your own interpretation, here are both research press releases. Comscore & Activision/Nielsen. Check out the different methodologies and conclusions.

Dr. Phil of female gamers sheds some light

Here's a quick PR lesson for you. Sometimes, when your company has no real news to report, you make stuff up. For example, you can throw together some silly sweepstakes and hope something interesting happens or sponsor some wacky event and hope someone gets really drunk and something unsavory gets caught on tape. Or... you hire a survey company to do a study with the goal of getting you a good sound bite. Thus we come to this:

PopCap Games, backing "Information Solutions Group" (Can you think of a more harmless and sophisticated sounding name?), has dropped a release with some info on gamer behavior. Out of all the questions and people they questioned, they decided to focus on the female gamer angle. And so we get data like:

  • Female casual gamers chose playing casual games over spending time with family and friends or watching TV
  • Most of these gamers play games to reduce stress
  • Older female gamers play more often
Here's the best part. The requisite expert quote. This is Dr. Carl Arinoldo who is a "psychologist of 25 years and an author and expert on stress management". Get ready for it, it's a doozy.
" seriously attending to the word and puzzle games, people can control stress by cognitively 'blocking out' the negative stresses of the day and ultimately train themselves to do this more reflexively. Furthermore, women tend to be more in touch with their feelings and more introspective than men, generally speaking, so it's logical that when they're feeling stressed women would more readily seek out some sort of remedy such as playing casual computer games"
Let me paraphrase the logic. Women know when they are stressed. Games relieve stress. Therefore, women play games when they are stressed. Man, that's some good experting right there my friend.

Needless to say, I'm not exactly convinced about this whole thing. I decided to do some quick factchecking.

Now I don't want to put down the good doctor but I looked into him first. Yes, the doctor is an author; I found two books on Amazon, one on controlling eating and another on parenting. Googling him reveals that he is also on the payroll of PopCap as just about every press release they do has him saying something experty. I wonder how much he makes.

Now let's look at the survey company. The survey was done online with randomly selected participants. Random, right, got it. Oh heck, I'll just let their mission statement speak for itself:
As marketing professionals, providing quality customer satisfaction measurement research, we guarantee that our clients will receive cost-effective research services delivered in a timely manner. We promise to involve you and communicate with you regularly. We cannot guarantee outcomes; we do guarantee your satisfaction with our service.
Client focused, I like it. Good for them! The customer is always right you know.

Ok, I didn't really mean to try to tear this press release apart. It's very well put together. The world of PR has been separated from the real world for quite some time, nothing to see here, move along.

The problem is that this kind of stuff is dangerous for our industry. Shifty data about female gamers (and gamers in general) just result in erroneous stereotypes and even worse, backing of the industry into a wall. I'm often guilty of taking data for face value too, heck just look at the prior post. But a healthy skepticism is good or do I mean cynicism? I just don't know anymore.

The press release in all its glory here.

I'm all over that TPS report

In a survey of 1,000 adults, half play online games during work with an average playing time of 15 minutes. From the article:

More than six out of ten said that playing online games help them deal with stress, while 47 percent believe it helps their creative thinking.

One in five have been caught by their supervisors, while 13 percent admitted playing during a conference call.

For some reason, I get a lot of satisfaction from this data. We work too damn hard in this country and thank god at least half of us take aside some time for gaming.

I recommend Poppit.

via Washington Post

Monday, October 02, 2006

His royal flame-broiled highness requests your flamage

Yes yes, I know about the BK thing. Yes, marketers are evil, I thought we've established that. So please, go ahead and rant, I certainly won't get in your way. Let's just get it all out of our system.

[Plays his Lego Star Wars 2, occasionally glancing back as you rage on. Notices you running out of breath.]

Ok, we good?

Now before I get to my points, I want to just say that I'm personally torn between thinking this is a horrible step for games or a brilliant marketing idea. I read this story a few hours ago and I've been letting it marinate in my noodle till now. The end result: I'm still torn but there is something that I don't think anyone's talked about yet and so here goes.

Let me tell you why this is going to work like gangbusters and why the industry should pay attention. There are two key things going for this: Distribution and Price. (No, I didn't need to capitalize those words but I thought it'd look good for emphasis.)

There are approximately 7,400 BK restaurants in the US. Just as a point of reference, there are 2,280 EB Games (yes, I know I'm not counting the Walmarts and Best Buys where you can get games, like I said, point of reference). The sheer number of restaurants out there with these games will mean that your everyday consumer is going to have easy access to the products. Other than an online distribution, this is about as good as it gets.

Why is this important? Because game distribution is one of the biggest headaches for a major publisher. Simple fact; if Walmart does carry your game, you're screwed. The effect this has on game content is that it trickles up through marketing to production. Games that are not considered mainstream or marketable just don't make it. Sure, you can go the indie route but good luck with that.

So the fact is, as much as you'd hate to admit it, BK has unlocked a distribution channel for the industry. Sure, there's been branded games packaged in cereal boxes before but you could probably have more fun throwing those CDs against a wall. Here we have a next-gen console game that looks to have decent production values. Yes, it may be selling your soul to the flame-broiled devil but that indie dev house that just got a big check ain't complaining. Maybe they'll use that money for something else but at the very least they have money that isn't from trying to compete to make Demonslayer 5; The Slaying.

At $4 a pop, these games are hardly a high consideration product. If you're a parent, you can hit up BK and kill two birds with one stone, feeding junk to your kid's guts and brain. If you're older and curious, it's not going to hurt to try it. The end result is the same, more games sold. With the average price of next-gen games reaching close to $60 and even crappy games at least $20, this is (dare I say it) revolutionary. This is Dell with the under $2k computer breaking the barriers. If this game only delivers 10% of the entertainment value, it's already exceeded the cost to value ratio. Sure, BK no doubt subsidized most of the cost but there are less evil ways to get support for games like copartnership or event sponsorships (Superbowl football game?).

No, I'm not advocating making cheap branded $4 games. However, what this could potentially do is show that games at the low range can be fun and worth playing/making. Now all we have to do is wait for the reviews.

So what lessons can the industry learn from this? Basically, let's look beyond the normal distribution model for games and let's experiment with very low-cost games in those distribution channels. Sure, this BK thing leaves a bad taste in your mouth but let's not pass up a learning opportunity. I, myself, won't pass judgment on this thing until January.

Two articles of many
[update: got off my lazy butt and added images]

An industry without bosses

Back in May and June, I talked about episodic content for games, MMOs in particular. If you're interested in the topic, there's a good article on CNNMoney about Half-Life's take on episodic content.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Inconvenience as a business tactic

I had two experiences as a consumer this weekend that ticked me off, both from brands that previously had flawless records with me.

#1 Bank of America
You could probably guess that I'm a seasoned online consumer. I do all my finances online and like those few seconds before take off in a plane, I frequently brush aside thoughts of danger and life ruinage. I do, however, take my precautions; like ignoring phishing emails and keeping all financial logins or passwords off my computer. Offline, I shred old mail and bonfire those credit card applications.

So take a guess at the first word that came to mind when I logged into my online banking account and found a credit card account for which I never applied. Oh *$##, what is this?! Since it was the weekend, finding someone to talk to was near impossible. Finally, I called the lost credit card number and found out what happened.

In an act of pure brilliance, the bank sent a loaded credit card (ready for activation) to an old address. This is a good time to note that I never applied for this card. Luckily, the card was returned to sender since the address was invalid but the account lingered in my profile. According to the bank, it was part of a "promotion". Are you kidding me?

I mean, I get it. Let's just skip the step where the consumer actually requests the product. Let's just send the product to the consumer and if they don't like it, they don't have to use it. Some of them will, so if we send 100 and only 2 start using, that'll be worth it. Yes, it may be worth it to your marketing quota but you just ruined 16 years of trust you've built with me. Way to go BofA!

#2 Xbox
I received an email a few days ago to renew my Xbox Live subscription. I hardly use it so what's the point, let's cancel. Want to guess how many clicks it took for me to cancel my Xbox Live subscription from this "reminder" email? 3? 10? 50?

Trick question. You can't cancel your subscription online. It took me over 20 clicks to find that out. I would show you the screenshots but I'll spare you the run around I experienced. The "easiest" way to cancel? Sign onto the service through your Xbox system.

Given that you can check every stat from almost every game you've play with the Xbox Live service online and you can update every other piece of information about your account online, the cancel thing must not be a technological hurdle. No, this is a conscious decision to make it difficult for me to cancel. For that, Xbox, you have lost my respect.

Attention Brands!

Look, I know those rebate things work because half the people don't bother to claim them. I know some consultant guy somewhere probably told you to apply the same "inconvenience" principles to other things. Apparently, they convinced you. But let me tell you this. You are playing with fire. These short-term gains you may be getting from a 2% lift is going to ruin the experiences for the other 98% of your customers. This may not be a high-traffic blog and I may not be a fearsome consumer advocate but rest assured, others will experience these tactics. In an Internet world, you can't get away with sleeze for long. Good luck with that.

There goes the virtual neighborhood

Leo Burnett, a real world ad agency, is setting up a "lab" in Second Life. According to the top creative guy:

"I don't want brands shackled by geography," Burnett's chief creative officer Mark Tutssel is quoted as saying. "It lets all of our (2,400) creatives live in the same place," breaking down physical barriers to interact and share ideas, Tutssel said.
Sorry about that, I should have warned you. Did you bring your boots? Here, you can borrow mine.

That's some serious bullshit. I've been in ad agencies and from what I've seen creatives interact and share ideas like vultures to a fresh carcass. No, this isn't a creative lab, this is a pure PR play. I don't know about you but if I was a Second Lifer, I'd be pissed of all this hijacking going on.

via MarketingVox