10 Dec, 2009 – 33 comments
Alright, let’s put a nail in this zombie’s head.
How a virus works: A virus is essentially a set of genetic instructions wrapped in a protein. Outside of a living cell, a virus is inert. Once attached to a host cell, a virus injects its instructions into the cell, which takes over the normal machinery of that cell for the express purpose of producing more virus particles and assembling those particles. The virus particles then reach a critical mass and break free from the host cell in order to find a new cell to commandeer. The only purpose of a virus is to produce more of itself.
We began applying the viral term to digital environments with the invention of the computer virus. This made some sense. Computer viruses often primarily function to reproduce themselves; to seize the normal functions of the system and use it to infect every host file the system accesses. Add the internet, and viruses begin to commandeer email applications in order to infect more and more systems. (these days the viral term is erroneously used to describe malware, adware, and spyware, which are not created to copy themselves)
Then came the marketers.
When we began to spend more and more of our time within networked digital systems, more examples of highly shared content appeared – this sharing occurred long before YouTube or a wide-adoption of video, but it’s safe to say that when YouTube came along, the marketers started paying attention to what we were watching.
Maybe it was because of arrogance… Perhaps marketers couldn’t fundamentally understand why we were all sharing and spreading clips of large men lip-syncing to European hit singles rather than their award winning commercials. And maybe this is why the term viral took hold – because to the marketers it must have seemed that if Numa Numa could have millions of views, almost anything could (which is true, in a way). Regardless, the viral term was applied to these videos and it has taken hold. Language tends to do that and we often tend to take artistic license with terms, marketers especially so. Big deal. Right?
Artistic license should be used to illuminate, not to obfuscate.
Jump to today. Brands now have viral video budgets. A whole new type of advertising agency has risen to life with the sole offering of creating viral videos and every other creative agency has that department or staff for that purpose. I see, at least once a month if not once a week, a slide in an agency presentation with the header of ‘Viral Video Concepts.’ We have viral video chart sites tracking top YouTube videos, books on how to create viral videos, seminars, and webinars, and marketers still don’t fundamentally understand what the hell they’re talking about.
They’ve pulled the wool over their own eyes. They’ve labeled the phenomenon by its visible effect, not its cause, and they’ve ignored it ever since. “Videos go viral because they’re viral videos, duh. Don’t you see the title of this slide? It says viral right in the title! And don’t worry, we’ve got some great tags, and we’re uploading it to all of the major video sites. We’re aces.” Aces, alright.
Viral assumes the mechanism for distribution is built right in. It’s not.
Here’s what a viral video would actually be: I receive a link from a friend to watch a hilarious YouTube video of a cat walking on a birthday cake. I click said link. Some malicious code on the page copies itself to my computer. That code continues to replicate across my system files. To make the marketers happy, that video also commandeers my social network profiles and publishes the same link to the hilarious video of a cat walking on a birthday cake. The same code has also corrupted my browser, now any video I want to watch is replaced with the link to the hilarious video of a cat walking on a birthday cake. (someone please write this code)
Viruses are inherently malicious because they disrupt the normal mechanics of a system. Trust me giant global brand, you don’t want to keep calling it a viral video. At some point, people may have different feelings about you huddled in some dark corner engineering viral videos to infect us with some advertising message.
Ultimately, we’re missing the point; and the point is people.
Whether you have a popular hit or near-invisible flop is solely up to people. People have to see your content and then feel motivated to spread that content on your behalf. Therefore, we have to create media that is spreadable.
Spreadable media is created with an understanding of the communities of people to be courted.
Spreadable media is created so that members of those communities can easily find it. And when members of a community share it, they can use spreadable media to spot other members of their community based on their reactions.
Spreadable media puts people’s motivations at the forefront of its creation.
What motives, you ask?
This particular section of Henry’s work deals with motivations for spreading content, not probabilities.
On top of the core question of why someone shares a piece of content, there’s still the actual mechanic and act of doing so – which requires, principally, the time and attention for consideration.
Mike put it more simply in his post, the currency of online sharing,
What does this mean for the people trying to make spreadable media? Well, before you create anything, ask yourself, “Self, what communities am I trying to court with this content?” And then, “What about this content will motivate someone within one of those communities to share the content with someone else?” And then you can move on to, “How will anyone within any of these communities stumble upon my content to start with?”
Start thinking about people first.
Speaking of people (I’m a people).
I need your help.
I need you to help me put a stake in the viral vamp.
Next time you hear someone use the term viral erroneously, correct them. Send them to any of the posts linked to from here. Fix slide titles, call bullshit, and rename your department.
Be loud and troublesome.
In writing this post, I’m surely standing on the shoulders of more brilliant gents like Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Josh Green.
By the by, Henry is working on a new series on seven principles for transmedia storytelling, definitely give it a read.
Oh, and what should you say call a video if its been spread to millions of people? Popular. Add an adverb before popular for special emphasis (e.g. very popular)
shared 09 Dec, 2009
The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling (Well, Two Actually. Five More on Friday)
Across the next two weeks, we will be rolling out the webcast versions of the sessions we hosted during the recent Futures of Entertainment 4 conference held last month at MIT. (see Monday’s post for the session on Grant McCracken’s Chief Culture Officer). Many of the conference sessions were focused around the concept of transmedia entertainment. The team asked me to deliver some opening remarks at the conference which updated my own thinking about transmedia and introduced some basic vocabulary which might guide the discussion.[read in full]
shared 04 Dec, 2009
About a month ago, I announced a free webinar about spreadability featuring USC’s Henry Jenkins, C3′s Joshua Green, and CMS alum Sam Ford. Below, I’ve provided a video and audio recording of the webinar presentation, produced by Sam Ford. If you didn’t get the chance to attend the talk, or would like the chance to review it, please enjoy the embedded video below!
* How do you understand and measure success in social media?[read in full]
shared 29 Oct, 2009
Colin Drummond wrote a great post today about the need to start planning around a better, broader definition of interactivity. Taps into a lot of the stuff Jason and I rambled on about at Planningness.
As I wrote in the comments, far too frequently we forget that interactive and digital are not channels but a type of communication (arguably, the only type of advertising that is true communication). And far too often we forget that it's not the technology that's interesting and meaningful, but what it's doing to culture and human behavior that's interesting and meaningful (thankfully we have Henry Jenkins and Clay Shirky around to keep reminding us).
shared 23 Sep, 2009
In anticipation of Futures of Entertainment 4, which will focus on transmedia, we at C3 wanted to share the syllabus for Henry’s Transmedia course at USC for anyone who wants to brush up on their reading.
The readings and speakers heavily feature C3 alum and affiliates, as well as previous FOE presenters. So those not fortunate enough to catch Henry’s class will have a chance to meet with some of the featured thinkers at FOE4.[read in full]
15 Aug, 2009 – leave a comment
In a bit of “holy shit that’s awesome” news, I see that my report, Becoming a Mad Man, is part of Henry Jenkin’s syllabus for the fall course he’s teaching on Transmedia Storytelling at USC. It’s sure to be poked, prodded, and maybe even dismissed, but I’m incredibly honored for its inclusion in the course.
By the way, season three of Mad Men starts today.
In the 8 months since I published the report, I’ve been rather obsessed with fan culture and have done my best to dive deep into Henry’s research (and the research of many other brilliant people). If you’d like to learn more yourself, here’s a quick roundup of my previous posts. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with a cable network to create a fan based strategy for their digital marketing team, a strategy based on the 30 years of fan research that came well before me. It was a blast, and I look forward to working with that team in the future to refine the model.
I’ve come to believe that the whole Mad Men on Twitter incident may have been small in the annals of fan expression, but it was a critical moment in time for digital marketers to take notice, be curious, and perhaps learn something. Some have learned, and some haven’t. When Paul Isakson gave up the @don_draper account to AMC, I had hoped that the network or its digital agency would have done something with it besides let it sit idle for 8 months. Instead of engaging fans during the off-season with the account, on a platform that is obviously ripe for tv fan expression, they’ve done absolutely nothing at all with it (an update: now you can help Paul man the account). But to be fair, I was happy to see the art of Dyna Moe used (she was much beloved by fans for her illustrations) in marketing this new season.
I’m excited for this new season. The writing and acting behind Mad Men never disappoints. Be sure to tune into AMC tonight at 10PM/9C.
Oh, and keep an eye on Bud Melman. I hear he’s got something up his sleeve.
02 Jun, 2009 – one comment
If you’re interested (or obsessed as I am) in media fandom, I highly recommend the following blogs. My two criteria for making the cut: 1) a blog specifically focused on media and/or fandom and 2) recent updates. Please add anyone I might have missed in the comments.
04 May, 2009 – 3 comments
According to a study done by Initiative Media, the average network program was identified as a “favorite series” by only 6 percent of its viewers. But in some cases, as many as 50 or 60 percent of viewers may rank a program as their favorites. Early evidence suggests that these loyals have a higher rate of brand recall and are much less likely to be lured away from the networks toward competing cable content. Loyals are twice as likely to pay attention to advertisements and two to three times more likely to remember product categories than more casual viewers. And they are between 5 to 20 percent more likely to recall specific sponsors – not huge numbers, perhaps, but big enough that they can give a competitive edge to advertisers who consistently target shows with a high degree of viewer loyalty. Historically, networks ignored those fan bases in making decisions about renewing series, seeing fans as unrepresentative of the general public; but advertisers are increasingly realizing that they may be better advised investing their dollars behind shows that have high favorability than shows that have high ratings.
- Convergence Culture: where old and new media collide. HENRY JENKINS, 2006. (p 76)
A lot of tv shows are on the chopping block right now. But not all shows have the same kind of favorability, or fan communities willing to work to keep their shows on-air. And what’s more, these communities (and a star or two) seem to be taking a page out of Henry’s book (and the referenced study) to prove why their fandom is so critical to both the network and its advertisers.
Fans have rallied to prove their loyalty to Chuck. The owner and blogger at Give Me My Remote has called fans to action: to flood Facebook and Twitter during the show’s airing, to download images to use as their Twitter backgrounds, and even to print and send custom postcards directly to NBC. But these are all fairly routine actions taken by fan communities (see Friday Night Lights). What makes Chuck so interesting is what the star, Zach Levi, is doing to rally his community. Levi has asked fans of the show to eat Subway sandwiches. Specifically, Levi asked fans to show up at Subway on April 27th, buy a footlong, and leave a comment card letting Subway know that fans really do care about the show’s sponsor. Fans have even begun calling on Subway itself to finance the show’s renewal. From Levi, “Again…the intent is to let the network and their sponsor know that we’ve received their message. This is something a Nielson box can’t do…this is a translation of fan loyalty into real dollars that NBC & Subway can measure.” Read more about the campaign to save Chuck at Mashable.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
In a recent E! online poll, fans voted Terminator the show most worth saving this season. So sci-fi blog io9 decided to help fans take action. They’ve started a Flickr group where fans can post photos of themselves with products advertised during the show. Like the photo here, fans attribute their purchase to the advertiser’s sponsorship of their favorite show. The pool is still pretty small (14 photos/75 members) so far, but it was only started on May 1st. I’ll be keeping an eye on the pool to see how or if it grows. And fans are certainly encouraging friend tune-in and increased activity within Twitter and Facebook.
All in all, both campaigns represent a significant shift in how fans lobby for their favorite programs. There seems to be a genuine change in how fans view the economies that their shows live and operate in. Research had shown that loyal fans are more likely to recall brand sponsorship; but this is proof that they’re willing to mobilize (with their wallets) in order to save a favorite program. If their efforts do prove successful, the next question will center around how fans interact with these brands that they patronized in order to save a show, after the show is back on-air. Henry and many others have long posited that there is an incentive for brands to sponsor shows with more well connected and fervent fan communities, rather than those simply with high ratings; and this could be further proof of that supposition.
If you care about either of these shows, or the power of fans, help spread this post, or the posts linked to from here. Long live fans.
24 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment
I’ve argued here that piracy often reflects market failures on the part of producers rather than moral failures on the part of consumers. It isn’t that people will turn to illegal downloads because they want the content for free. My bet is that many of them would pay for this content but it is not legally being offered to them. We can compare this to the global interest generated by Ken Jenning’s phenomenal run on Jeopardy: Jeopardy was already syndicated in markets around the world so when he generated buzz, he drew people back to the local broadcaster who was selling the content in their markets. They could tune in and see day by day whether he stayed in the game. Right now, everyone’s still acting as if Susan Boyle was only one video but they will wake up tomorrow or the next day and discover that lots of those people want to see what happens to her next.
- Henry Jenkins, How Sarah Spread and What It Means (2009)
Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.
22 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment
Mark Deuze has suggested at least two reasons why production companies get anxious around such [fan] activities: the creative department’s desire for creative control, the legal department’s concerns about controlling copyright. Here, we can add a third: the promotional department’s fears about losing control over their brand message. Of the three, the last is perhaps the most absurd, since in reality, these companies lost control a long time ago; the fans can do pretty much anything they want with these brands and with a high level of visibility and going after them is a bit like Brier Rabbit pummeling away at the tar baby. Yet, even pretty innovative companies are getting trapped in the internal politics around television production and promotion, incapable of forming meaningful partnerships with their most active and visible fans, and thus almost certain to start acting in ways that are going to leave them, to continue the metaphor, looking “stuck up”.
- Henry Jenkins (2009). Going “Mad”: Creating Fan Fiction 140 Characters at a Time
Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.