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When you build digital stuff all day, you develop opinions. Lots of opinions.


Digital Trends

Don’t Fake the Funk Grey Singapore had a lovely idea. An app that would allow people to monitor the Mediterranean Sea for migrants who might otherwise die in the open and unpredictable waters. Every user of the app would be assigned a live satellite feed of a small square of ocean to watch and the app would allow them to alert authorities if they saw any migrants in trouble. The app was (predictably) called “I Sea.” They built the app, put it in the App Store and entered it in the Cannes Lion advertising competition. Small problem: it was a fake. It didn’t show a live satellite feed, it showed everyone the same static image of empty ocean. And the “local weather” was actually just a feed from Libya. Now Grey is claiming that they always knew the app was still in development and insisting they never claimed that the app actually worked. (They did in fact claim it worked.) Application to Marketing: I may be alone in thinking that this might just be an honest mistake. Here’s how it might have worked: 1. Creative team comes up with the idea for the app. 2. Producer is asked to build it in time for Cannes. 3. Producer learns that the in-house developers are not capable of building such an app (they rarely are.) 4. Producer outsources to a third party development shop. 5. Dev shop informs him that building the real functionality would take a long time and cost lots of money (it would.) 6. Producer asks dev shop what they can build quickly on the cheap. 8. Producer communicates revised spec to creative team in an email no one reads. 9. App is built with fake functionality. 10. App is entered into Cannes as the real deal. 11. Grey gives a laughably bad excuse because they don’t want to admit to clients that they don’t actually know how to build an app and don’t have the people in house who could actually manage a complex development. Next Steps: Commercials are easy. Technology is hard. Either develop the specialized knowledge or stay out of the tech space. Please. Read More Clean Windows I can remember a time when Microsoft was considered unbeatable. Their decision to license their Windows operating system to PC makers was lauded throughout the industry. Meanwhile, Apple’s insistence on reserving its (arguably superior) operating system for its own machines was viewed as a depressing failure of corporate imagination. Time passed and many of those PC makers, also called original equipment manufacturers or OEM’s, started finding that their margins were shrinking. To compensate for lost revenue, they would accept money to install various applications and utilities from third parties. Unfortunately, these third party tools tended to gum up the works and offer security holes; something that Apple with their tighter controls didn’t have to worry about. Users were rarely aware that their machines came pre-loaded with crapware, they just knew that the computer seemed slow and buggy. In recent years, the Windows operating system has greatly improved, but it retains its poor reputation in part due to this third-party software. Now Microsoft is offering Windows Insiders the ability to install a clean version of Windows on their machine, eliminating the bad, buggy or annoying software from the OEM’s. Application to Marketing: I have never met Steve Ballmer. He might be a subtle thinker and sensitive soul. But it seems clear that he was more comfortable with a public persona as the 800 pound gorilla of technology. His domineering approach to competition was appropriate for a time when Microsoft was the dominant force in computing. But this aged badly when he was confronted by an emboldened Google and a resurgent Apple. Satya Nadella has taken a more pragmatic and focused approach to rebuilding Microsoft and engaging competitors. Microsoft’s sudden awareness that OEM crapware was damaging their flagship product demonstrates self-reflection and the ability to adapt. Many pundits talk about the big four of technology: Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon. With Satya Nadella at the helm, I think it’s appropriate to add Microsoft back into the mix. Next Steps: If you’re buying technology for the future, Microsoft is a reliable partner again. Read More Tronc, as charming as it sounds Every business develops its own set of cliches and exaggerations. Advertisers insist they are “storytellers” who “change culture.” Investment bankers insist that they are “wealth creators” and “not crooks.” (Shout out to my banking friends!) Digital media is no slouch in developing their own set of cliches. Despite, or perhaps because of, the short shelf-life of digital media companies, they strenuously insist that their social media widget, or content advertising platform, or API represents an unparalleled revolution in human affairs. In advertising, this is politely known as “puffery.” Normally, digital media puffery is allowed to fly off into the atmosphere under the power of its own hot air and quickly disperse on the prevailing winds. But every once in awhile, a cloud of puffery has such a noxious stench that it cannot be ignored. Like the product videos for Tronc. (You may watch them in the link below.) Application to Marketing: As marketers, we are always tempted to believe that no one is paying attention. Mostly, they are not. When you imagine you are only talking to yourself, it’s tempting to indulge in sub-Randian triumphalism and stock video cliches just to get the CEO off your back. But beware. Because every once in a long while, someone will notice your steaming pile of corporate ego gratification and hold it up for scrutiny and scorn. I believe Tronc is some sort of attempt by an old newspaper company to come up with a new business model. It might not even suck. But it’s launch has gotten all kinds of the wrong attention. Next Steps: Before releasing anything, ask someone who will tell you the truth if your marketing materials sound like pompous nonsense. Read More Ad Blocking IRL Special shout-out to Dressler Digital Trend reader, Tim Cullen for bringing this link to my attention. Traditional advertising, particularly traditional out of home advertising, has gotten a wee bit smug about digital ad-blocking. Digital media has overtaken the media landscape with a rapidity and voraciousness that would make Ebola blush. Traditional media companies can be forgiven a certain amount of Schadenfreude over the sudden emergence of ad blocking technologies for mobile and desktop. But if one can imagine a future where augmented reality glasses (or perhaps contact lenses) shape our perception of the physical environment, the news that a group of developers have created ad-blocking for the real world should worry marketers. Application to Marketing: If you watch the video (link below), it’s clear that this ad-blocking technology is very much in beta. First, the “ad blocking” is more like logo blocking and is confined to logos on packages. Second, it currently relies on a frontal view of the complete logo that can be compared to a database of existing logos. If the viewer, or the object, moves or shifts, the blocking fails. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore this. It appears that the technology was scrapped together quickly using existing hardware, open source tools and Python. By the look of the video, this might have been for a hackathon or a school project. That means that producing ad blocking for augmented reality is actually quite simple to do. As augmented reality moves into the mainstream, this will be one of the features it offers. Next Steps: I cannot overstate this: Do not make annoying ads. Amuse people. Divert people. Challenge their understanding. If ads can be fun, fewer people will bother to install ad blocking. Read More International Business Machines, onward! Ten years ago, I had my doubts about the future of IBM. They had sold off their PC business to Lenovo, ceding prime brand position on the desktop to focus on business customers. Their server and services business felt dated, like a relic of the LAN era. And the corporate direction seemed too focused on shareholder value, rather than customer value. As frequently happens, I was wrong to worry. Under new CEO, Ginni Rometty, IBM has recaptured some of its audacity and imagination. In an era when cloud computing has become a commodity, their focus on value-added cloud computing (Watson and quantum computing) seems visionary and has captured the imagination of technologists and marketers. So when a recent article in Fortune (below) seemed to predict the slow death of IBM, I found myself vehemently disagreeing. Application to Marketing: When IBM has done well, it’s because they have approached the market obliquely. Back in the 90’s, when I was writing advertisements for server software, it was never quite clear to me how or where IBM was a competitor. They seemed to be selling some of the same things to the same people. But their approach was different, more services-based and they described this approach using different terminology. CIO’s would dismiss the entire competitive market when IBM came up. “Well, that’s the Rolls Royce!” one senior level information technology executive explained to me. IBM does not stay in markets where direct comparisons are easy to make. Their competitive advantage has always been to break the current paradigm. Comparing one cloud-computing provider or cloud-storage provider to another is easy. But what does Watson compare to? Who are the other quantum-computing as a service providers? Marketers always want to stand toe-to-toe and punch it out with their competitors on features and performance. IBM has thrived for 105 years on slipping those punches. They are the Rolls Royce of technology marketing. Next Steps: Stop leading with your chin. Figure out the points of comparison in your industry and talk around them. Read More

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