Archive for January, 2010

Team Coco – Your Outrage Cannot Be Monetized

A reader—and not just any reader but the great Skip Tramontana–recently asked me to weigh in on the NBC/Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien imbroglio. I was not inclined to do so because so much has already been said about the cascade of bad decisions involved. No point in beating a dead talk show host. Whether there is any point in beating a dead network executive I leave you to work out among yourselves. (And before you send hate mail, I will point out that I am a fan of Mr. O’Brien’s; Mr. Leno merely makes me tired.)

All that being said, it does strike me that there is some wisdom about social media to be gleaned from this situation. A few points to consider—some obvious, some less so:

• NBC makes money when people watch its programs. No one makes money off the social media outrage that results when they make controversial decisions to change them. (Figure out a way to do so, and you’ll be able to buy a bigger jet than Larry and Sergey.)

• The decision to watch a late-night talk show is a significant commitment. Not an hour-long commitment. It’s a commitment that lasts years or even decades (See Carson, Johnny and Leno, Jay). It’s a habitual behavior. The commitment required to tweet about your displeasure is–what?–twenty-five seconds. Even if it could be monetized, it wouldn’t be worth much when stacked up against the commitment of people who have made watching a particular program every night for a number of years. Or in this case, the lack of such people.

• Yes, Conan’s numbers went up dramatically over the last couple of weeks of his tenure. So too will crowds gather around a burning building. What counts in the world of programs that are on every night is not whether they’re worth watching when the set is burning to the ground, but whether they’re worth watching when they’re ordinary. The evidence is that these were not.

Will Conan be able to convert the tweeters of outrage into ratings when he reemerges, most probably on Fox, and slaughter Leno, Letterman and all comers? Unlikely.

• From a purely demographic standpoint, Leno’s fans are more likely to make an appointment to watch every night at 11:30 than Conan’s fans. The younger the audience, the more absurd the idea of doing anything on someone else’s schedule.

• What the marketing industry is crying out for is a way to quantify the relative value of different types of media interactions based on the commitment level of the viewer. For example—for a pure lean-back experience (i.e., watching a television show or an online video), multiply the number of minutes spent by 1. If you forward that video to a friend, multiply the number of minutes spent by 2. For a lean-forward experience with some interactivity, multiply the number of minutes spent by 3. For a lean-forward experience that includes consumer’s pushing out of some form of content (e.g. a tweet, blog post, etc.), multiply the number of minutes spent by 4. Whether these number are right, I haven’t the slightest idea. I leave the math to the great Michael Fassnacht and other propeller-heads of his ilk.

Whoever gets it right will be a billionaire. He/she can mail me a check whenever it is convenient.

January 28, 2010 at 5:15 am 5 comments

Cigarettes, Bacon and Freud: The Dawn of Modern Marketing

Lisa Held, a doctoral student in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in Toronto, has written a fascinating piece on how the nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward L. Bernays–who was born in Vienna but raised in New York–used his famous uncle’s theories to sell cigarettes and bacon to Americans. His approach was all about leveraging psychological insights to “engineer consent” for new types of behavior.

In 1929, for example, “nice girls” didn’t smoke. Indeed, a woman who smoked was apt to be seen as promiscuous. In an attempt to broaden the market for his client Lucky Strikes, Bernays consulted with A.A. Brill, his uncle’s leading disciple in the United States, who told him that cigarettes were a symbol of male power.  Bernays took this insight and produced a P.R. campaign that not only made it acceptable for women to smoke, but made it desirable. Held writes:

Equating smoking with challenging male power was the cornerstone of Lucky Strike’s “Torches of Freedom” campaign, which debuted during New York’s annual Easter Parade on April 1, 1929. Bernays had procured a list of debutantes from the editor of Vogue magazine and pitched the idea that they could contribute to the expansion of women’s rights by lighting up cigarettes and smoking them in the most public of places—Fifth Avenue. The press was warned beforehand and couldn’t resist the story. The “Torches of Freedom Parade” was covered not only by the local papers, but also by newspapers nationwide and internationally. Bernays was duly convinced that linking products to emotions could cause people to behave irrationally. In reality, of course, women were no freer for having taken up smoking, but linking smoking to women’s rights fostered a feeling of independence.

Subsequently, Bernays pulled off almost as neat a trick that persuaded Americans it was OK to eat a gigantic 1,000-calorie breakfast every day. You can read about it here.

The idea of engineering consent remains powerful even today. Despite appearances, we still do not live in a world where everything is permitted. Millions of consumers still need a stamp of approval before changing their behavior. Brands that can give it to them can change the game.

January 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm Leave a comment


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