This winter term I took an advertising class called J460: Digital and Social Branding. It was taught by Dave Allen, a digital guru who currently works at NORTH brand agency in Portland. (You can read his blogs here!) For our final project in the class we have been assigned to write an essay or complete some other sort of creative project that demonstrates the breadth of knowledge we gained from the class. I have decided to write a blog post – a digital essay, of sorts – because it is fitting for a class based entirely around digital strategy and adapting to the ever-changing world of technology. This blog post will revolve around the doodles I drew during the class lectures.
I have gone back through my notes from all nine lectures and linearly traced my progression of my knowledge through my words, doodles and notes of things to look up later. Dave’s class was structured to make students think and question the modern world, especially when it comes to technology. From the very start we were asked to question the wording of “social” media (isn’t all media social?) and “mobile” phones (the person is mobile, not the device). All of my doodles drawn during Dave’s lecture, whether intentional or not, illustrate Dave’s core ideas.
1. The Internet Never Sleeps.
The main idea here is that the medium is the message. The hot topic to discuss of late has been the Internet and how brands can adapt their messages and strategies to better suit this channel that literally never sleeps. Dave underlined this message by talking about Facebook. It is a service based almost entirely on the web – people have posted their whole lives worth of thoughts, pictures and conversations in this one place. Facebook – like the Internet, is completely powered by people and is inherently social due to the shareable nature of its content. However, Facebook has turned into a company that is more interested in investors than in the people that power it. Once Facebook went public, advertisements began to pop up at alarming rates. The real question here is, do we want to be bothered by advertising while we are on Facebook, or even on the web in general? The answer essentially is no, but Facebook isn’t likely to listen anytime soon. The fact of the matter is, web companies come and go like the wind. Don’t freak out when I say this but, Facebook is going to go away, and something newer and shinier will pop up to take its place. For example, Friendster is the big thing in Asia right now. Ever heard of it? Neither had I. Just goes to show you that the world won’t stop when Facebook does.
People live in bubbles. They know what they like and like what they know – this is often called the “Curse of Knowledge.” However, the Internet was made to connect people; it urges people to step out of their bubbles and experience the world around them. In this way, Dave argues, the Internet has a lot in common with railroads. When railroads were first constructed in 1830s, their primary purpose was to connect people who were far away from each other distance-wise. They were meant to move things, people and ideas from one place to another – much like the Internet. Brands nowadays need to use the Internet for what it is instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The Internet is its own platform, meant primarily to connect people. It holds immense possibilities for brands – both for growth and for downfall.
3. Innovate Or Die.
“The future does not fit in the containers of the past.” – Rishad Tobaccowala @rishadt
The web is often cited as the downfall of the music, newspaper and advertising industries. However – this is old-school thinking. On the contrary, the Internet has revolutionized the options for these industries, if they choose to innovate.
The web is inherently social – old thinking (RE: banner adds) just won’t work when they are pinned onto an entirely new thing. The best new advertising just doesn’t look like advertising at all. Take, for example, the project/music video for Arcade Fire’s “We Used To Wait” that is called The Wilderness Downtown. The creators used the new HTML 5 to create a whole new way to experience music, this time it was set to images of the users’ hometown using Google Maps streetview. The “music video” was so new and shiny that even I overlooked the fact that, when it came down to it, it was just a really, really good ad for Google Chrome. You see, you can’t run the video unless you download the Google Chrome web browser. Obvious, looking back at it – but at the time I had no idea I was being fooled. This ad didn’t look like an ad at all. It’s the future of advertising.
Another example would be Nike Plus. Nike essentially socialized the experience of running by making it easy for runners to share their mileage with their peers. By partnering with Apple, Nike ensured that their product would appeal to a wide variety of people. Dave sums up this idea as “putting useful things in people’s hands.”
One brand that failed to innovate was Kodak. By positioning themselves as only in the “film business,” Kodak missed a huge opportunity to expand – they refused to switch to digital, then Flickr came along. They really should have thought of themselves as being in the “picture business,” and now they are bankrupt.
If you want to read further about innovation in the industry, you should check out the book “Velocity” by Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander. It’s a great read.
4. Don’t Make A Cupcake Launcher.
This is by far my favorite doodle I drew all quarter, and it just so happens to be incredibly connected to our course material. How? Because you shouldn’t make a cupcake launcher just because it sounds cool, you need to ask: “Is there a place for a cupcake launcher in this world?” The same goes for apps.
Dave’s user experience mantra can and should be used each and every time someone sits down to create an application: Who will use it? What is it? When will they use it? Where will they use it? Why will they use it? If all of these questions can be answered logically, then an application could be useful.
The main idea here is that the web is social – it only exists because we use it. A cupcake launcher doesn’t exist because we don’t use it. You should always test other brands’ apps to see what they are doing – then improve on it.
Don’t think apps, think personal applications.
5. Be Constantly Curious.
In this day and age, it is essential that everyone in the communications business – and any other business, for that matter – to take the time to learn about the digital world around them. Here are some of the key lessons I learned from this class that I didn’t think about before.
1. The “cloud,” as a technology, already existed – when Apple “introduced” it, it was simply a PR ploy to make more people invest in it.
2. Giant Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), such as AT&T and Verizon, currently have the potential to prohibit everyone’s access to their own Internet content. We have given them so much power over the years by paying to access the Internet, that right now it is a very real possibility that they could subsidize all Internet use to make a profit. That being said, this situation is unlikely; lawmakers will prohibit it. But it still stops and makes you think.
3. Exactly where is the thread that weaves together social and digital thinking throughout this campus? Why not pull more classes of different disciplines together to learn about the digital world?
6. If You Ask, They Will Come.
The music industry walks a fine line between art and business. Music artists are, ideally, highly invested in their music: they love their fans and make music to make people feel something. However, record labels want to make money. Up until very recently, people have always had to pay for any music they wanted for their personal connection. Now the Internet has allowed for illegal downloading. What this shows is a shift in social construct – people don’t see the reason to pay for music when every other service we use on the web is free (i.e., social media.) The current generation has grown up in a world of free that older generations didn’t know, which is why people of the older generation tend to blame the Internet for the “demise of music,” when in fact, it could be the very opposite.
There are a number of artists that are thriving despite people’s reluctancy to pay for music. Beck created an album entirely written in sheet music that people bought and played themselves, creating an online web of Beck’s music. Bjork decided to make an innovative app album. The Kaiser Chiefs made a website where people could create their own album, picking from a number of new Kaiser Chief songs. Look at artists like The Weeknd, whose whole career has revolved around free YouTube videos and music downloads. Look at websites like Kickstarter that ask people to donate money to artistic projects they deem worthy.
When it comes to music on the Internet, Amanda Palmer, a musical artist, argues: “You can make more money by paying what they can.” (Watch her TED talk on “The Art of Asking” here!)
7. The Whirlwind.
It’s really simple when it comes down to it: Find the problem, and solve it, using a strategy. Dave believes that Strategy = Goals + Research + Insights. He uses the idea of the hurricane or whirlwind to explain this.
At the top of hurricane is your big idea. It swirls around and around – you can’t predict where this idea will go until you finally reach the eye of the storm, the bottom of the vortex. Here is your new idea, much smaller, whittled down and thrown about until it is simple and concrete. This is the process it takes to create something great. The only challenge is not getting caught up in the whirlwind; let your idea evolve and change until it becomes plausible. Too many brands get caught up in these “big ideas” but only realize too late that there is no place for them in this world.
8. There’s Nothing New In Digital.
This is Dave’s favorite mantra. What it means is, ultimately, everything is just ones and zeroes. Thanks for a wonderful quarter Dave, this essay only begins to touch on everything that I learned. You rock.