The Sneaky Nature of Large Scale Behavioral Change

So our TV went on the fritz Sunday night and a quick check showed I had to replace a bad Comcast HD DVR.  Anything involving service from this deservedly-maligned company gives me significant pause, but the thought of missing “Modern Family” spurred me to pursue a DIY option.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThat in itself is newsworthy.  But that’s not the story.  The story is that I used my iPhone to take a few photos of the input configuration on the back of the machine.  And so last night, when I hooked up my replacement DVR, I called up the photo to wire it correctly.  And by golly, the thing actually worked.  Candidly, I still can’t believe it.

But forget my momentary and entirely uncharacteristic triumph over Comcast.  Consider the meta implications of that action–my smartphone has quietly but permanently replaced my pen.  We are visual people, we like visual diagrams, and so I took a shot of the wiring.  Just like I took a shot of the parking section I used at the airport.  And the chairs we thought of buying for the living room.  And the name of that great bottle of wine at dinner.

One fascinating, year old post on the 1000 memories blog lists a number of mind-blowing facts that prove that lots of other people do what I’m doing.  Two years ago, we were already uploading over six billion photos to Facebook every month.  At the time, their photo collection numbered over 140 billion–10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress.  Estimates indicate we have taken 3.5 trillion photos since the medium was invented.  Today, what we photograph has changed (no cost snapping encourages usage), as has how we take them, most likely with our ubiquitous smart phones.

My phone is my alarm clock.  My phone is my window into Facebook.  My phone is my notepad and a dozen other indispensable tools.

And I don’t particularly like using the phone.

But somehow this happened.  While we weren’t paying attention.  And the axis shifts, ever so subtly, to a new norm.

It’s clear that getting ahead of, or at least in line with, those shifts is ever more critical in this advertising business.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

A Big Idea. No, Seriously, This is BIG.

As in, a giant, table-sized iPhone.

This news story has been popping up all over the web, along with allegations that it could be a total scam.  Apparently three Austrian Apple fans/development geeks spent the past two years developing a fifty-two inch table monitor with a working iPhone interface that they dubbed “Table.connect.”

And apparently, that’s not entirely legal.  Thus their insistence on anonymity.  And thus the suspicions.

Still, their YouTube demo video currently boasts over 2.14 million views.  And it’s a whole hill of fun to watch because, well, it’s an iPhone screen and it works like an iPhone screen.  Oh, and it’s huge.

Their prototype table uses a dock to transfer the information from a hacked iPhone into the massive touch screen but the developers believe they could hack any touch-input device as an input.  You can find more details about the device on their blog.

Only time will tell whether or not we’ll see a device like this in the future but one thing’s for sure: it would make mobile surfing a whole lot easier to read.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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So Steve Jobs Stumbled As He Introduced the New iPhone Yesterday…

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis RynAll I can say is “welcome to my world.” The fact that intermittent wireless access interrupted his planned presentation just puts him in line with the rest of us who depend on technology to work 24/7.

As much as I love Cupertino design and think the iPhone is a fascinating little device, it’s basically a crappy phone.  It drops calls like a butterfingered juggler and the promise of 4G connectivity is laughable given it’s frustratingly sporadic 3G coverage.

Conventional wisdom says I should blame AT&T and truth be told, I do.  But I never felt right giving Apple a pass on this one.    Which is why I was cheered to see this piece written by Danish mobile consultant John Strand.  In it, he dares to tell the truth about this wildly popular device: it has barely over 1% of the total global mobile phone market.  As Strand points out, “there are more people with Polish passports in the world than iPhone users!”

Strand argues that the iPhone is a niche device.  And he’s right.  What’s interesting is how much sway it has in the media.  He compares it to Paris Hilton–he just doesn’t understand why it gets so much attention.  Given that most agencies regularly offer iPhone app ideas to clients, this information does give you pause.

As an advertising person, I’m particularly culpable for this misinformation.  We have all been so moved by it’s elegance, so enraptured by it’s digital life integration, so charmed by it’s apps, that we forgave far too many other sins.

Which is yet another reminder: never underestimate the power of coordinated, synchronized PR.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Empowering Digital Spitballs: One Real Benefit of Universal Production Access

Picture 1The greatest thing Apple has produced for consumers is not the iMac or the iPod and certainly not the iPhone: it’s iMovie and other software that provide easy, widespread access to video production tools. Thanks to Apple, anyone with a Mac can produce some sort of video asset–shooting, editing and scoring the entire thing right at their desk or laptop.  And anyone with a broadband connection can post it to any number of websites for the world to see.

At the box office, this kind of innovation fuels dreams of ‘Paranormal Activity’ which after another relatively-successful weekend is closing in on $98 million in domestic tickets off of a paltry fifteen thousand dollar production budget.

But at home, it’s led to the ever-expanding world of YouTube comedy.   Today, anyone can jump on this bandwagon and post their take to help fuel a meme.  All it takes is a good, timely idea.

With that in mind, surf here.  If you’ve seen a movie in theaters these past few months, you’ve seen a trailer for Roland Emmerich’s latest CGI fest,2012.  But you haven’t seen it like this.  Consider this a brimming cup full of piping hot comedy for your Monday morning.  Oh, and if this pitch-perfect soundtrack doesn’t set your ironic toe a-tapping, check your pulse.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

There’s An App for That, And This App Gives 20% Off

Two separate news stories about the iPhone popped up last night.  The first from PC World announces that Apple’s App Store just posted the 100,000th app for the iPhone.  That’s a breathtaking amount of software options for a phone, though as the article is quick to point out, perhaps that number indicates they’ve taken this far beyond need.

Picture 1More informative however, was this second story about Pizza Hut’s iPhone app.  The headline is how that pizza chain generated over one million dollars in sales off of this app by making it easy to use, and offering 20% off every order coming through it.  This ongoing discount is a perfect example of a value add–why should I put your branded app on my phone?  Oh, because you give me real value for doing so.  Maybe that’s why their app has been downloaded over a million times.

In similar fashion, both Papa John’s and Domino’s are rolling out mobile ordering sites as well and claim large incremental boosts to their sales volume.  And really, doesn’t that make intuitive sense?  I won’t buy a car via mobile, but making pizza delivery simpler is a real benefit.

And doing it for 20% off is a positively killer app.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Hey Mobile, Are We There Yet?

Anyone who’s paid even the most cursory attention these past few years has heard the rising chorus touting the mobile platform. And with good reason: cell phones enjoy both incredible ubiquity and total devotion. As of July, the US market had continued it’s remarkable growth to reach 57 million users. People with cell phone feel naked without them, using them dozens of times a day. All of which makes mobile an exciting new platform for marketers.

The only hitch is that despite the hype, the number of truly successful mobile platform programs remains relatively insignificant.

People use mobile either for information or connection, neither of which tolerate an interruptive message very well. This forces marketers to find new ways to position their messages in helpful, assistive ways–something that presents a novel creative challenge and uncertain metrics for ROI.

But the challenge of reinvention doesn’t just exist for marketers—it seems consumers have little interest in reinventing either. According to a thousand person study by Gomez Inc., a web application testing firm, mobile Web users are frustrated by the experience. Between slow load times, site crashes and awkward formatting, the smart phone web experience is already madding, even before it slows further to deliver marketing messages.

Still Working Out Web Optimization Issues...

Still Working Out Web Optimization Issues...

The real issue springs from the direct comparison between mobile web and broadband work and home connections. The load times are simply night and day. And then there’s the obvious but undeniable issue of radically diminished screen size. My cell screen is less than 6% the size of my laptop’s. As someone who has requited himself to the fact that as a phone, my iPhone makes a great iPod, reliability remains a major issue. Downtown Chicago doesn’t have consistent 3G coverage? You’ve got to be kidding. Thank goodness for Cricket‘s reliable, extensive and ever-expanding network of 3G towers…

It only gets worse for mobile advocates, since half of all users report that they will only wait six to ten seconds before giving up on a site.

The upshot of these negative experiences is that they actually hurt brand perceptions. Frustrate a user once and they are highly-unlikely to give you a second chance.

For those committed to mobile—and there are many in our business—the good news is that 80% claim they would access mobile web sites more often if the experience mirrored their PC for speed and reliability. And true believers will no doubt glom onto the fact that Gomez did not differentiate between regular cell phone and smartphone users—particularly given that another study byQuestus, AOL, and Universal McCann found 80% of smartphone users were satisfied with their mobile web experiences.

The limits of our present technology create conflict for users, but still, the mobile promise remains tantalizing out on the horizon. We’re just not there yet.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Apple Moves Over Two Billion Apps In Eighteen Months

Picture 4According to a press release from Cupertino yesterday, Apple’s App Store delivers roughly 6.3 million downloads a day or a head spinning seventy-three apps per second.  You can now choose from over 85,000 programs, up over twenty thousand in the last two months alone.  All of this software serves the more than fifty million iPhones and iPod Touches in the market right now.  More importantly, it drives sales and differentiation for this smartphone platform.  The release quotes Steve Jobs as saying “The App Store has reinvented what you can do with a mobile handheld device, and our users are clearly loving it.”

While this is clearly a bit of sales-driving commentary, those words rang incredibly true for referring to my iPhone as ‘a mobile handheld device.’  It is mobile, it is handheld, and it is one remarkable device.  Unfortunately, it’s also a lousy phone.  It drops calls, it stumbles for minutes at a time as it searches for a 3G connection…but it does have those wonderful, engaging apps.  I have a modest thirty-five on my phone and use maybe four everyday, the rest very sporadically.  That’s not particularly surprising; it’s not like anyone really needs to constantly check movie times.

Still, there’s undeniable genius in this model; create a platform and open it up so that independent programmers can supply it with an endless variety of new and fascinating content, which insures the platform remains differentiated and vital in the world of smart phones.  Mr. Jobs clearly learned some things by watching how software developers flooded the open PC market with choices that his closed Mac system could never have.  And he leveraged that to insure the iPhone’s long term success.

Now if he will just let us pick our own carrier.  I can’t wait for a Cricket iPhone.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Cost of Format Change

Remember learning that the spaceships on the first Boston album were actually intergalactic guitars?  Did you ever spend hours staring at Shusei Nagaoka and Ria Lewerke’s cover art for ELO’s Out of the Blue double album?

Dig It Man, They're GUITARS!

Dig It Man, They're GUITARS!

You wouldn’t do that with a Greenday CD…

CD’s lack the visual impact of vinyl LP covers. And mp3’s lack any visual impact at all. Musically, these format changes have made the music experience far more convenient, but we’ve lost the visual entirely.  Which as the vinyl set might say, is a bummer.

It’s also why the whole mobile computing revolution leaves me deeply ambivalent.  Yes, the iPhone is an amazing device (though ATT makes it a lousy phone), but the more time I spend staring at it’s bright though diminutive screen, the more I realize aging’s effect on my eyes.  There is only so much information I want presented to me on a 2″x3″ screen because it’s hard to read.  Think about it: most mobile screens are smaller than a business card.

So the mobile revolution scores major points for convenience, but as a longterm platform or even a replacement for larger screens?  I don’t think so.  That makes as much sense as giving up your grocery store to shop exclusively at 7-11.

Or as the vinyl set might say, giving up 33’s for 45’s…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79 

Have You Friended the Pope Yet?

'His Holiness' Would Make an Epic Twitter Handle

'His Holiness' Would Make an Epic Twitter Handle

 

As reported in various news channels before the recent Holiday weekend, the Vatican launched www.pope2you.net last Thursday to celebrate World Communications Day, or Inter Mirifica: an outcome of the Second Vatican Council.  This year, the Pope’s message directly addresses ‘the digital generation’ through a website, e-mail outreach, and yes, a Facebook app.  No, you won’t be able to poke the pontiff or learn what his Smurf name might be, but this action represents a conscious, if occasionally unwieldy, move by this ancient organization into social media. 

The Pope’s message invites young people to become instruments for peace and promote a culture of respect built on ‘great synergies of friendship.’  Beyond the dismaying fact that the Pope himself resorted to saying ‘synergies,’ this move by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications drills home just how quickly our media environment has evolved over the past five years.  Obviously, technology has changed, but that’s not nearly as remarkable as how human behavior has changed.  The Vatican’s decision to turn to the internet as a means of spreading church gospel shows a practical awareness of where their congregation lives, plays and exchanges ideas.  With this new site, Catholics can now interact in this rich dialogue environment with a limitless supply of e-cards and banners from the Pope.  They can also follow and forward news and updates on YouTube or through a new iPhone app.  

What marketers refer to as viral messaging is merely a 21st century update of missionary work: a central organization creates a strong message, then sends out true believers with an imprimatur to take that message and spread it to people in far off lands.  The big difference is that today, you can do that simply by pressing ‘send.’ 

As Clay Shirky explains in his engaging, imminently readable book “Here Comes Everybody” (You still haven’t read it?  C’mon…), we live in a time where communications technology makes it incredibly easy to organize without organizations.  Because of this, organizations need to think beyond their own walls and self interests to consider outside communities that might share their thinking, values or interests.  These communities are not officially sanctioned extensions of the organization, because they exist solely on the strength of their members’ passion; call them ‘intramural organizations.’

Every large organization with a message to market must become aware of their own ‘intramural organizations’ and find ways to foster and encourage them.  When done deftly, large organizations can extend their marketing almost exponentially because these intramural groups excel at driving recommendation and word of mouth. 

The best way to spread any message—religious or secular—is to define your brand’s mission, and spread that.  The Pope’s doing it, why aren’t you?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Is That The Mobile Revolution In Your Pocket?

Industry visionaries have been touting this for a few years now and while I agree that mobile will be an important platform, I’m hoping it hurries up and gets here before my eyesight starts to really fade and I can no longer read that small screen.  If it does gain critical mass, the Mobilenet will be the second new mass communications medium in twenty years.  That will introduce even more profound platform, behavioral and social changes for us to adjust to in a wickedly short period of time.

Sent from my iPhone

Sent from my iPhone

Stephen Riley, our resident social media power user, monitored the Twitter posts from yesterday’s first day speakers at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York. Of the long list he forwarded, the ones that really stood out quoted John Stratton, CMO of Verizon.  Among other things, he talked about how 13-19 year olds text eight times more often than they call.  They also average a four minute reply time to an SMS versus two days for an e-mail.  But the most remarkable fact Stratton highlighted was the rate of App Store downloads and how they dwarf the rate of iTune downloads.  In many ways, the rapid adoption of this platform demonstrates that the handheld computer is already here.

To purists of course, the iPhone is merely a really good smartphone, not truly the portable computing device they envision as servicing a mobilenet-enabled future.  And yet, hackers and bloggers have rated this little beauty roughly akin to a PowerBook, circa 2000, with a CPU clocking at 400MHz, bus speed of 100MHz, and 128 MB of RAM. Mobile gaming advocates even claim it has more power than the Nintendo DS and PSP systems combined.  Which means the iPhone has no shortage of app driving power on hand.

And talk about app opportunities.  With more than 25,000 to choose from and more coming on line every week, the App Store stands as a testament to the value of free content and open source.  The iPhone itself will celebrate its second birthday in June; this past February marked the first birthday for the crucial iPhone development kit.

The social impact of relatively young technologies and platforms like the iPhone and YouTube and Facebook blows historical precedent out of the water.  And yet ultimately it reinforces a great truth that many seem resistant to grasp: we are not led into the future on platforms, we are led by ideas.  Platforms enable ideas, but without ideas, you simply have the Newton.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79