Friday, October 6, 2017

TV Marketing: Fostering Criticism

The industry-wide opportunity for television recommendation in Southeast Asia

Our favorite shows shock us, make us weep, fill us with anger, leave us hanging. When we're charged with all that entertainment-enabled emotion, it sometimes seems necessary to process our feelings and reactions. While I turn to friends, fellow fans and loved ones to gush, roar, wonder or praise, I've found another source that also helps me do the same. In effect, I have become a consumer of a second set of adjacent media - recaps, criticism and reviews.

The day after every Game of Thrones episode, I have a set of podcasts to get other reactions to those killer set pieces and plot twists. (I have even more podcasts for Bachelor Nation processing which, in case you couldn't tell, is my very guilty pleasure.) AfterBuzz, a "TV after-show network", has become a favorite YouTube channel, where panels of hosts recap and react to episodes of popular programs. In Western markets, there are a host of television critics, blogs, podcasts and programs for whom television recaps and critiques are the entire content roster.

Television junkies are always looking out for new shows to try and as a fan and avid viewer, I depend on this ecosystem to highlight programs that are worth watching. It is a mix of professional and influencer word-of-mouth.

When Netflix announced their entry into Southeast Asia, I wondered how they would spread the word about their programs organically to the segment of television fans. Everyone is a fan of one program or another nowadays, but television criticism seem to be nascent in SEA. A thorough scan is certainly needed, but as far as my main cities go, no notable e- Singapore or Manila.

There doesn't seem to be a shortage of entertainment fans in Asia, and networks handle the official promotions. The gap that stands out is the criticism layer that is key to maintaining word-of-mouth, helping to build demand and acting as influencers to interested audiences. This may be a local sub-industry or category that needs to be developed. A brand like Netflix would be poised to start this, in partnership with online publishers or even an independent program.

I'm not talking about lifestyle columnists who cover a show once in awhile, or entertainment gossip. I'm talking about Matt Zoller Seitz, the dedicated recppars at Entertainment Weekly, or NPR's Monkey See. A sharp focus on television writing, recommendations (or disapproval) and criticism.

One could claim that there are hoards of recaps and reviews already existing. A simple Google search for any show will garner SERPs-ful of coverage. Though that may be the point - those already aware can easily find Western perspectives, but those who are on the lookout for new shows to try may not have a trusted, established local voice alerting them to interesting content. This would allow recommendations to go beyond the obvious hits and more into the long tail. For example, One Day At A Time is loved by critics abroad, but I've never heard anyone in Singapore or Manila talking about it. Or the original comedy specials that are low-barrier but killer entertainment - and I'm not just talking about Fil-Am Jokoy, but also Ali Wong and Michael Che.

It will be interesting to see if this side of entertainment marketing and coverage develops specific to Asia, whether organically or spurred by one or more streaming networks. Further, as the OTT industry (Netflix, Hooq, iFlix, etc.) evolves in the region, it will be interesting to see what practices will be taken from the West or what new ones emerge.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Streaming in the winner's circle

A look at shifts in the “Best Drama” category 

The Handmaid’s Tale was awarded Best Drama at this year’s Emmys, the first streaming show to ever to do so. Before the ceremony critics wondered whether academy voters would hand the award to This Is Us, which would have signalled that the broadcast drama is still alive and fighting. Instead, the drama from first-time nominee streaming network Hulu took the prize.

Another notable difference this year was the prominence of streaming show nominees. For the first time ever, streaming shows dominated the category with four out of seven nominations. It might have been an unpleasant surprise to Netflix, who had three nominees this year and has been on the slate for the past five, that the distinction should go to Hulu. In any case, Handmaid's win is an indicator that streaming has made its mark and will continue to spur the industry's digital transformation.

Until the arrival of prestige cable, ushered in by HBO’s The Sopranos, broadcast television was never challenged. “Remember broadcast? The TV O.G.,” Stephen Colbert quipped in his opening monologue at this year’s ceremony.

My personal TV viewing years peaked in the cable era and I couldn’t recall the last broadcast drama that won. I went back to the historical data to see the trends and the visual shift is compelling.

A few notes:
  • A show from a streaming network won Best Drama on the fifth year that streaming was represented as a nominee. It took cable six years after first being nominated in the category to gain a win.
  • The Sopranos was HBO’s magic bullet that put cable on the board in the 1998-99 season. House of Cards did the same for Netflix in the 2012-13 season.
  • Even after The Sopranos' first win in 2004, and nominations for every season it aired, cable still faced competition from broadcast for two more years. Lost and 24 picked up awards in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Cable secured the win in 2007, for The Sopranos once again, and never again lost to broadcast, who offered a dwindiling number of nominees over succeeding. Shows from cable networks were the only Best Drama winners in the past ten years, until this year.
  • Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Sopranos were cable’s winning shows with two to three wins each. The last broadcast ‘mainstay’ was The West Wing, which enjoyed consecutive wins for its first four seasons.

The rise of prestige streaming

Whether the crown will stay with cable networks will be up for debate in the next few years but cable certainly has huge competition now.

Prestige streaming has been challenging cable for several years, with online producers investing heavily in original programming. Netflix led the category with House of Cards as the first streaming program ever to be nominated for an Emmy, and the network continues to invest in a wide range of original programming. The three up for Best Drama this year were vastly different – political drama House of Cards, thriller Stranger Things and historical drama The Crown. It has an equally unique and critically-lauded collection of comedies. Amazon and Hulu have rich original products as well, though none as popular as Netflix's series.

Though we can’t discount cable completely.  The absence of Game of Thrones may have given streaming shows an early entry into the winner’s circle. The show’s last two seasons will remain major contenders. HBO’s other prestige fantasy, Westworld, was also nominated this year, while FX, AMC, and Showtime continue to produce critically-acclaimed programs. Cable may win for a few more seasons, but it will be interesting to see how many it will take for the tide to shift completely to streaming shows (as it did for cable after The Sopranos secured their second win in 2007), or whether cable will continue to challenge streaming.

Notes of digital interest

Television is an interesting vertical to explore in terms of digital transformation because new technology, new players, new ways to engage with the old, are so evident. Three things that stand out:

  • Contribution to fragmentation of the category: Streaming has provided a platform for content that would never be viable on broadcast television, or even cable, with their fixed airing periods. Streaming platforms make their programs available on-demand and opens up a content long tail that is not restricted by broadcast periods. The results have been glorious. So many new points of view are now being represented. These programs fit with audience demand and the digital behavior of finding a constantly refreshed stream of content that resonates with audiences’ personal stories and narratives.
  • Format shifting and bending: Streaming shows can play with episode lengths, airing dates and how quickly they release their episodes (binge vs. weekly). This season Master of None took complete license over episode lengths, with one episode at just over twenty minutes and one extending almost to an hour. In fact the series itself took a break in the 2016 season while creators took the time to refuel with new material. With Game of Thrones as a unique exception, most shows would lose network support and probably fan interest if it took more than a year off to air. Netflix won audiences over with the whole-season drop starting with House of Cards and streaming networks continue to play with binge vs. weekly releases for different programs.
  • Diversity to include a more global perspective: This may be unique to Netflix for now, and one of the reasons I find it such an exciting company to watch, but its expansion to other markets could eventually lead to a more global programming slate. This could happen on two fronts. First, in terms of local original programming. The US is likely to remain its center-of-gravity but for Netflix to make a big difference in markets like India, Korea or the Philippines, it will have to penetrate through original local programs. This would be interesting to see. Second would be the potential for Netflix to create a truly global experience. As it is, based out of Singapore, I have access to a growing number of Indian and Japanese properties. But that Netflix could one day broadcast a premier Korean drama or even Philippine drama to other countries is phenomenal. There are cultural hegemony questions and potential issues here I’m sure but the idea that my favorite shows could eventually include shows from countries outside the US and Britain is pretty exciting.
In any and every case the real winner for now are we, the viewers. With so much quality choice in every genre, sub-genre and new genres, there is never a lack of quality programming. As television's influence grows, we are sure to stay tuned.


Monday, September 18, 2017

To the rabid ones

"Before anything like this happened for your boy, I was a fan."
- Sterling K. Brown, Emmy acceptance speech

Many actors have referenced in their acceptance speeches or award show hosting gigs the kid at home who is watching, dreaming. "This could be you one day.," is the message. Much as I'd like to rewind the clock sometimes, I'm no kid. However I like to think the sentiment could still apply.

Thanks to the magic of streaming I've revisited many older shows and I always appreciate coming across now-stars in the bit parts of their early careers. He might have turned into the formidable House, but once upon a time he was Rachel's unfortunate seatmate on a plane home from the Carribean. She's the lovable dork Jess today but there was a time when she played a manic kisser in league with Frasier. He eventually played Dick freaking Whitman (thanks for the reminder, Sterling) but unbelievably he was once cast as one of Lorelai's boring dates.

The message is that we all gotta start somewhere.

At a point in time when I'm still passionate about working hard, creating things, and being part something great, yet not super inspired by where I'm actually sitting, I really appreciate the thought that I'm on my way and this could all still lead to surprising, rewarding places.

I was once huge admirer of the industry but it seems to have lost its way. As it transitions and redefines itself I wonder if I should also be looking for something new - something I can be rabid about once again.

Here's to being fans, and to a work-world to get really excited about.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Will you accept this content ecosystem?

The ever-unfolding storyline of THe Bachelor Universe 

The Bachelor it isn't just a TV guilty pleasure, it is a thriving content ecosystem that many brands and marketers would admire. Its content universe has a PERPETUALLY UNFOLDING STORYLINE driven by ACTION, ASSETS and MICRO-STORY STREAMS that are both Produced/Owned and Earned.

Close to the end of a season there are two major specials. The Wo/Men Tell All gives the cast (sans the final two contestants) a chance to come back and discuss season highlights – conflicts, scandals, bloopers. It also gives any member who was "blindsided" (i.e. let go at when they thought that the relationship was progressing and that they would therefore be asked to continue on the "journey") a chance to confront the Bachelor/ette and get some needed closure (or more media mileage).

After The Final Rose allows America to come back to the final two contestants and the Bachelore/ette and discuss how the final decision was made. It is also a chance for host Chris Harrison to press the happy couple for wedding details, or in some cases, repeatedly remind them that both their families and a priest are on set in case they want to get married on the spot. Most of the time, the next Bachelor/ette is also announced, teasing Bachelor Nation before the next season begins.

In both specials there is a live studio audience that is shown reacting to the interviews. In some cases the story even continues on After The Final Rose, such as when Bachelor Jason revealed that he had broken up with the winner Melissa because he still had feelings for runner-up Molly. (He and Molly got married on a wedding special and are still together.)

Other reality shows sometimes have an all-cast reunion after the finale, but none of them milk the drama the way The Bachelor does, with additional programming dedicated to processing highlights and conflict. The specials are considered a part of the narrative and also feed the media and coverage cycles.

When the franchise was launched, Bachelors seemed to be selected based on a level of professional success – they owned companies, or were doctors, actors, athletes. The Bachelorette was launched as a series for unsuccessful The Bachelor contestants to get a “second chance at love”. This trend has continued with more recent seasons’ unsuccessful contenders becoming the lead Bachelor/ettes. (e.g. Sean rejects Des who becomes the Bachelorette and rejects Juan Pablo who becomes the Bachelor and rejects Andi who becomes the Bachelorette and rejects Nick (hold that thought) and rejects Chris who becomes the Bachelor and rejects Kaitlyn who rejects Nick (yes, hold that thought) and rejects Ben who becomes the Bachelor who rejects Jojo, and then Nick becomes the Bachelor, who we already know will not end up with Rachel who has been announced as the next Bachelorette)

Bachelor in Paradise premiered in 2014, a summer getaway for previous contestants to get an nth chance at love. Bachelor Nation gets yet another installment of the show and drama continues as villains and fan favorites of various seasons mix and mingle as they try to stay in paradise by finding partners every week. The franchise storyline is sustained, and in Nick's case, even weaves back in to the lead show.

Nick Viall is (the only?) one contestant who has swum in all three Bachelor franchise lanes. As mentioned above he was on both Andi and Kaitlyn’s seasons. In both he was portrayed as a villain, and fans were shocked at how far he made it and then celebrated when, both times, he was rejected at the very end. Yet when he made an appearance on Paradise last year, he embodied a different persona. Sage to the ladies, still a significant part of the drama while remaining frank and honest, he suddenly seemed to be appealing and mature. And despite several fan favorites from the previous Bachelorette’s rejected roster who were rumored to be getting the next lead role, Nick was selected as the Bachelor.

The Chicago One of reality television, it is now part of the Bachelor universe for contestants/assets to move fluidly among shows thus carrying over the captive audience from one program to the next, all throughout the year.

Sure, most long-running reality programs now have staples of all stars (previous contestants). However the Bachelor franchise adds over fifty people to their roster every year (through one season each of Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants), many of whom run social media accounts that make the Bachelor-enabled lifestyle seem more aspirational.

Those who make it past a certain point in the show become micro-celebrities. They mingle with their cliques from the show, and then reveal on Twitter and Instagram who they are becoming friends with from other seasons. Going on the show seems to provide access to a new social club, and proof of bona fide membership is published on contestants’ feeds. They hang out together in between seasons (LA, New York and Nashville seem to be the main hubs), and make guest appearances in each other’s blogs, feeds and videos.

Social activity becomes a new lens for fans and media to view contestants and see whether or not they were portrayed fairly on the show. Fans sometimes discover that season villains (those disliked the most by others "in the house") are actually well-liked and maintain friendships with others from their season. Many have become influencers, endorsing retail and lifestyle products. Several start their own businesses or promote their professional, charitable or artistic endeavors.

This social activity adds fuel to the show’s word-of-mouth. During the season fans and media watch contestants’ interactions on social to get clues about season spoilers. Podcasts and recaps often refer to contestants’ tweets or photos to add dimension to season events.


Post-Action, Assets and Social Micro-Story Streams have made the Bachelor content universe a truly interesting media study. I wonder how media studies pros will ever be able to take stock of the always-growing expanse of content, from produced and owned, to social and earned. What the show has done brilliantly is to unleash several ongoing narrative-development engines that keep the storyline perpetually evolving, and all of us, highly committed.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

When our work doesn't work

Reviewing the digital problems revealed by the "I Sea" scandal

One of the recent industry scandals is the recent "I Sea" app by Grey Singapore - submitted to Cannes, awarded at Cannes, and then revealed to be more concept than actual solution.

What this reveals is that we are clearly not a proper digital industry yet. Similar to law enforcement, education, entertainment, our industry has been disrupted by technology and the old structures and norms have not adapted or gotten ahead of the new developments. Here are three indicators in relation to "I Sea" that remind us how digital we are not-yet:

/ Execution in digital is inherently about utility, a clear line going beyond concept and into real function
Where things have gotten fuzzy is in the transference of scam work from traditional forms to digital. A piece of traditional work (print, OOH, film, etc.) is considered good or award-worthy based on concept. Execution for traditional work is based squarely on craft whereas effective digital work is based on actual functionality. Being "user-centered" doesn't only mean having a consumer-cultural insight, but that based on a digital build that actually works in and out, top to bottom.
When trying to create sound digital work ideas must be reviewed (if not jointly conceptualized) by technical teams. When possible user testing should validate concepts, initial design work and user flows (would X be useful to and usable by Y target audience?) Some ideas may die if not feasible to execute, even if the concepts seem strong. Some creatives may not react well to comments that stemmed from usability and UX issues. It takes ongoing testing, always-beta, optimization to move a solution to its most functional form.
Where we stumble as an industry is that concepts are judged as solutions, being awarded even if they don't quite (or don't at all) work. THere were so many errors on the "I Sea" app resulting in diminished - or absent - utility.

/ Juries are made up of CDs and ECDs who may have little digital or technical experience. Is it up to the jury to validate the entries? And who is vetting the jury?
Arguably the most important show in the industry not only let this entry through to judging but awarded it. Which tells us that Cannes is happy to accept every claim and statistic as fact, disregarding any potential errors whether they stem from exaggeration, malicious intent or even human error. There does not appear to be any fact-checking as long as entry fees are paid. "I Sea" was apparently not even launched with the permission of the client it was supposedly representing.
Here is a list of members this year's Promo & Activation Jury. How much digital experience do they have? (This is a real question; I have no idea.) One interesting name on the Jury list is a Creative Director from Gray Singapore itself, which is extremely fishy. Given the outcome of the "I Sea" fiasco they seem to be either digitally inexperienced or have questionable enough quality standards to let a non-functioning entry through.

/ We were found out by people from outside the industry.
The alarms were raised not by industry members, but by non-agency technical experts. Maybe we forget that everyone in the world is using and/or is moving into digital and technology. Entire industry disruptors exist based on digital expertise. We as an industry have not the technical prowess that a Facebook or Google has. Those guys make functional programs and websites and apps and games that might never be considered creative by Cannes standards. But they work. People can carry out actual tasks on them. It seems that we don't hold ourselves to this standard of functionality yet, at least in terms of award work.

On a larger note, industry folks must admit that there's a little hypocrisy here. "I Sea" isn't the first sham of the agency award circuit. Industry members openly call these types of projects "scam" work. Agencies search for clients who will allow them to come up with "initiatives" (as opposed to real briefs from existing clients that must solve business challenges), take the lead in coming up with both issues and ideas, and sometimes even pay to print, air or publish the work for the minimum exposure required.

We are all complicit in this, from agencies that include the number creative awards won in yearly evaluation forms to creative directors who give preferential treatment to the young guns that add to their metal collections, and from all of us who put extensive lists of awards (no matter how relevant) our projects have won on our CVs, to the slew of random award shows popping up for agencies desperate to announce they've won literally anything. Gray may have gone too far, but we all create the atmosphere for it.

I'm not exempt from this award-hungry behavior but seeing what has happened with "I Sea" makes me think that we should actively question these prevalent practices that we devote so much time, energy and money to, and that we need to think harder about whether we really and truly want to be digital.

Thousands of migrants are dying at sea. This charity is trying to save them
Grey Singapore’s migrant-saving app shortlisted at Cannes Lions called out as ‘terrible fake’
Apple Pulled This App From iTunes the Same Day It Won a Lion at Cannes
Grey Grudgingly Returns Bronze Lion It Won at Cannes for Questionable 'I SEA' App
Grey Officially Returns ‘I SEA’ App Lion, Clearly Isn’t Happy About It
Grey Returns Bronze Lion After Blogger Backfire
How Grey Group's 'I Sea' app came undone
Grey Singapore’s ‘fake’ refugee-saving app removed from Apple store, slammed by client, wins at Cannes


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Next Steps

After ten years in advertising, I've started to wonder how long I'll stay in the industry. This isn't because I'm unhappy with my current work. For the most part I still love what I do. But if I choose to move somewhere else, what might that be? I don't think I'm looking for a career change, but it would be interesting to apply my skills and stretch a bit by being situated in a new environment. Here are a few things I would seriously consider -

*Super dream*
- Digital lead for a museum
- Digital lead for a city
- Digital lead for a theater company 

*Would be cool*
- Ideo - Apply design thinking everyday 
- Netflix - The future of entertainment 
- Teaching. Probably not full time though!
- Digital lead at a non-profit 

I've never been a five-year plan kind of person but I think in the next phase of my work life I want to be a little more well-rounded in applying digital throughout a business, organization or institution. Just putting it out there, universe!


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Kindle conundrum, continued


A few years ago I wrote about reading The Six Wives of Henry VIII on my Kindle and being disappointed that I couldn't feel it's physical heft. Without this I couldn't be properly proud about finishing what felt like an extremely scholarly work of historical non-fiction.

Recently I was browsing in Littered With Books on Duxton Hill and I came across a copy! It was bona fide! 

I'll always love my Kindle for portability that has ultimately led me to finish more books in the past three years than many years in my late teens and twenties of not reading much at all. But it will never quite replace the feel, smell and experience of holding a real book.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

the future of the ad industry: totally f-ed?

Why advertising is doomed, in three damning charts.

To quote the beautiful Spring Awakening, "There's a moment you know, you're f*ed". 
Have we reached that point?

That the industry, the world!, is changing is old news. The rise of digital specialists, digital agencies, specialist agencies, specialist specialists, integrated teams, trading desks, et al, et al, et al, are our reaction to this formerly new ones-and-zeroes world. But have we evolved quickly enough? A few things in the news have made me seriously doubt it.

You're F-ed, poof point #1:
Ad blocking use doubled from 2013 to 2014, and grew by another fifty percent in 2015.  Apple and Samsung made headlines this year after allowing and pre-installing adblockers on their mobile operating systems. Estimated revenue losses to ad blocking are in the billions. (Adobe/Pagefair).
Image from MIT Technology Review

With ad revenues moving switfly from traditional media to online, ad blockers will probably not kill advertising altogether, but there should be implications about consumer protection and interest that the industry must contend with.

You're F-ed, poof point #2:
I saw this video a few weeks ago and was startled by its implications, that advertising as I know it is basically f*ed. Mr. Galloway is an extremely engaging speaker who might have jumped to a few conclusions. The counterpoint to Facebook and Google are other publishers, not agency networks. We will never have the revenue that media publishers do, that has never been the case. But at the same time, the threat exists that if readership is more or less split between Google/YouTube, Facebook and Netflix (only somehwat too simplistic, see this), they can start to take on agency roles and then take those fees as well.

A clear sign that these publishers are ready to take our lunch? Read on.

You're F-ed, poof point #1:
As someone who has worked in the industry for almost ten years, this Adweek headline was depressing but also resonated with me.

"Fifty-four percent of people who left advertising said a major reason they changed industries was because they felt there was little opportunity for advancement, compared to a 45 percent global average." (Adweek) More of the findings were released at another forum: 50% wanted more challenging work, and 46% were unsatisfied with the level of senior management. (LinkedIn)

The continued move of creative talent from agencies to tech is so notable that recent coverage has talked about how agencies are "fighting back". (The answer is, not with much.)

Advertising is hard, it isn't for everybody. I've always loved the feel of our industry, "the tinkerers", as Mr. Schenck called us. The question that remains is whether this industry is still the right home for us. Maybe like everything in this crazy digital world, we need to rethink, disrupt ourselves and maybe find new applications for these skills.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Honest bucks

As publishers find new means of diversifying revenue streams, there could be room for a consolidation model that serves both publishers and consumers. 

My ad agency self and consumer self sometimes clash, oddly enough frequently about advertising. At work I subject myself to all the ads that Facebook, The Straits Times, Rappler, etc. want to throw at me, but at home I'm all about ad blocking. A few sites have now told me that I have to enable cookies to use their properties which really bugs me (consumer self), and only if I really want to see the content do I turn my ad blocker off. But my agency self, and begrudgingly even a little bit of my consumer self, understands the business side of things and how the publishers need to keep the lights on to keep producing the content I love to read.

Recently I clicked an Entertainment Weekly link. When I got to the site, which I visit frequently, a pop-up informed me that I had reached my free article limit for the month. I considered paying because I visit regularly, and the pricing seemed reasonable. What ultimately stopped me was the larger implication of potentially having to move into a paid model for more and more of the sites I frequently visit.

Because, first of all, isn’t the internet supposed to be free? (Consumer self.) But if publishers all have their way, am I going to have to enter into subscriptions with several of them, which might seem affordable on their own, but will add up overall? Not only is that going to potentially end up quite expensive, but it will be tough to keep track of.

Existing Monetization Models

There are a couple of monetization methods that exist at present. (The list below skips a few ad streams such as affiliate marketing, native advertising, etc.; wanted to keep the list topline. This is also covering larger content publishers and not bloggers.)

(1) Direct Subscriptions:
Consumers pay the publisher a fee to access content. Payment for access + experience.
/ Ads: None
/ Payment required: Yes
/ Content access: Unlimited
/ e.g. Netflix

(2) Freemium, no ads upon payment 
Consumers can access an initial batch of content, but must pay a fee to upgrade usage.
/ Ads: Eliminated when users move to the paid model
/ Payment required: None initially, but option to pay for extra features or no ads
/ Content access: Unlimited access upon payment
/ e.g. Spotify

(3) Freemium, ads remain even with payment
Consumers can access an initial batch of content, but must pay a fee to upgrade usage
/ Ads: Present all throughout
/ Payment required: None initially, but option to pay for extra features and/or no ads
/ Content access: Unlimited access upon payment
/ e.g. Hulu, New York Times 

On Freemium models with ads: Once a user is paying for access, will they still want to see ads? This seems like a double-charge, once for access and again for agreeing to ad exposure. When you compare it to traditional newspapers or magazines, you are also in effect charged twice, but on digital it somehow doesn’t seem to make as much sense. I signed up for Hulu then agreed to pay for the premium tier only to be served with ads throughout the shows. That was a real deal breaker and eventually led me to cancel my subscription.

 (4) Ad Supported
Content is free, Ads abound
/ Ads: Present all throughout
/ Payment required: None initially, but option to pay for extra features or no ads
/ Content access: Unlimited access upon payment
/ e.g. Buzzfeed, Pop Sugar, almost everyone else. 

The new cable?

Consortium models, like cable networks, may be the next step for publishers. There could be the equivalent of TV cable companies that charge just one fee for a whole range of channels. Digital publishers could enter into these consolidated arrangements, in order to make it easier for consumers to pay. This might even create new opportunities to offer new trial channels or sites that could be charged for later on. Publishers would still be able to choose to eliminate or keep advertisements on their sites, as they do currently.

I don't know how many publishers would sacrifice their independent revenue generation, but it might be easier for users to comprehend and manage because at the end of the day the consumer should win out.

Can we all just get along?

I can understand both sides of the argument. Consumers don't want to pay, don't want to be intruded on or tracked. Publishers need to keep the lights on. Advertisers are happy to pay for eyeballs. In our former media ecosystsem everyone knew the rules of engagement - ads were a part of any content experience.

Two parting thoughts.

First - Go native? Monocle is a publisher I support. They oversee the entire reader experience, even the ads. To be included in their publication advertisers must allow Monocle to shape their promotional material. It's the very best native advertising. Consumers may complain that native ads aren't obvious enough about, but when materials are obviously intrusive and flashy, they also lead viewers to bring out the ad blockers. Native content is of course costly on the advertiser front - can they really afford to craft a unique set of advertising material for each publisher? But maybe that's the digital evolution that is supposed to happen. Save the buys for consumers who are in-market and for any awareness efforts, craft along with publishers. (Cue: Post on new media planning.)

Second - Is it realistic to think that the media evolution is that we transpose our exact existing model into the new digital? This is what we're trying to do, after all. Ads existed above-the-line so they must exist in slightly enhanced versions online. Ads are capsules of promotional material; yes, we're now doing content as well, but ads themselves must still exist to fuel the entire content and marketing ecosystem.

Perhaps the new disruption is a world where ads no longer exist and an entirely newer, more subtle and useful form or marketing will prevail. Wishful thinking.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Where do we go from here?

What is the future of our ad industry?

"The house that advertising built was consumer packaged goods. They taught that detergents and soaps could be wrapped in emotion. You were a better mom, you were more American, you were a more elegant European if you used a certain type of hand soap. This is the house that advertising built. Last year [in] the house that advertising built, almost 90% of all CPG brands lost share, and two thirds lost revenue. Why? Because advertising sucks. And if you're wealthy you can opt out of advertising. We are now downloading "Modern Family" and paying two bucks for it from iTunes soley so that we can avoid the advertising. Advertising is becoming a tax only poor people pay."

Good talk by Scott Galloway, NYU Stern professor and founder of L2.


"For posterity" overdrive

I've always been a documenter. Even as a kid using film, I always had a camera with me. I spent so much money getting photos printed and resized and giving them away and even taking orders from friends. I had, at one point, boxes and boxes of photos that my mom begged me to sort through and put into albums. Even then, I tried to be selective. Because of the limitations of the analog film roll you could only take twenty-four or thirty-six shots at a time. Now we can easily take dozens of photos of a meal, hundreds of any birthday party or night out, and thousands on vacation.

My tendency to document went into overdrive with digital cameras and then phone cameras. It sometimes bugs me that I'm now one of the cliche people who take photos of their food and extensively of concerts and museum visits or even plane rides. Which is weird because I've always had this side to me. (Side note: "Seflies" before they were called selfies, with Broadway celebrities and in front of beatiful paintings because there were no other tourists around to ask to take my photo? Been doing that since the aught's. And sort of not embarrased about it?) Granted, none of my old almbus include photos of dishes or drinks or coffee, but now I find myself both going into posterity overview, and questioning the habit at the same time.

I've been thinking about this through a concert lens. I've seen three this past month.

Most recently I've gotten to fulfill a music dream. Before I discovered Janet and Mariah the music of my childhood consisted of Disney musicals, and my parents' tape and then CD collection. We had a classic Broadway selection —  Les Miz, Phantom, Miss Saigon, etc. — lyrics I memorized before I knew they were about identity theft, severe mental illness and prostitution. We had several volumes from a Classic Experience series. There was a lot of jazz, the Marsalises being my favorite. And then we had a revered pair of John Williams CDs. Because we were trained in many of the movie classics, he was a favorite and beloved in our house.

I've seen promotions for the live verison of some of those very albums — John Williams plays his famous music scores with the Boston Pops Orchestra. This has been on the bucket list. When it was advertised that that a symphonic concert was coming to Singapore featuring his music, I was over 100% board. I booked tickets and couldn't wait.

The concert opened with the chilling and masterful two-note Jaws signature. Then they launched into the classic Star Wars theme which I was finally hearing live. It was glorious. They played music from Jurassic Park, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and more Star Wars. They even did three pieces from Harry Potter. I hadn't particularly noted the score but was thrilled by the live verison (cue Hedwig's Theme). I found my eyes darting across the stage, watching for which instruments were playing, the violins leading one moment, then the brass section, or the wind pipes, and then everybody! The same troupe could go from the scary beach to 1920s Japan and then to a galaxy far, far way, and the in the next number Isla Nublar.

This has been a delightful concert month. The Stars (an all-time favorite) and Bon Iver have also been to Singapore in the last few weeks and I gotten to see them both.

At concerts now, I am always compelled to take my phone out and start shooting. I leave with pages and pages of photos on my phone, most of which I never look at again. The funny thing is, I get really annoyed when people in front of me keep taking photos and videos. The worst are the people with selfie sticks or Go Pro's, who hold their cameras up in the air obstructing your view. And ruining your own photos.


I have stores of photos of different concerts. They're all pretty crappy because I'm never in the front row. However when I find one that is different enough or better-composed I can edit them enough to share on Facebook or Instragram. But the whole haul is really tough to sort through becuase they all look the same. I've taken some videos too, most of which I've never re-watched.

A few dynamics and motiavtions that could be going on.
// Susataining an emerging Attention Deficit Disorder? In which real focus on the action is not possible.
// An addiction to capturing a moment and saving it for posterity because it is a unique live moment?
// An over-obsession with capturing a compelling-enough image to share? #blessed

This relates to a previous piece on the post-digital. The term might be limited and too conceptual, but I wonder what the emerging reality will be once we've settled in to all this technology. Will the rate of innovation ever slow down again? One reaction seems to have been the re-emergence of the heightened, live, physical, visceral experience that will never happen again. Which has always been the appeal of live theater and music. However there is this weird dynamic now where we'll go to a live concert rather than stay home and stare at a screen, only to obstruct our own experience and use a screen to live-document it.

This is on my mind because I think we have to be mindful of the behavior created through what is only going to be an increasing attachment to technology. It's always in our hands now, and soon it will be all throughout our homes, cars, washing machines, clothes, offices, cities. I wonder if we'll ever find a way of being that we can hold on to that has nothing to do with technology?

In the meantime here is to managing concert clicks and camera use.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Film to Television

Changing tastes based on social media behavior

This was Oscar week. Leo finally won. Most of the skits referenced the absence of any African-American nominees in major categories by being all about African-Americans. There was a big emphasis on not asking ladies who they were wearing, though as Chris Rock mentioned in his monologue maybe guys would be asked the question too if they weren't all wearing the same thing. There was a Girl Scout cookie feature.

In recent years I've watched the Oscars with more and more detachment. I still see the show every year out of tradition, having done it ever since I was a kid. But the habit has moved from being a huge family practice to one of more detached monitoring.

We were a huge movie family, a passion passed down to us from our father. We were schooled in all the necessary trilogies, many of the classics, a lot of musicals and a healthy dose of Disney. Even when I was too young to see the nominated movies, my older sister followed industry news and I caught the bug. We knew the actors, directors and films nomintaed every year. For a long time I watched the ceremony looking forward mostly to seeing how the year's Disney offering would be represented, usually a major variety number, and one year with extra pride as it featured our very own Lea Salonga. On Oscar mornings (because of the time difference) we would all gather to watch the red carpet interviews and then track the winners. One of dad's best gifts was a movie journal which included a listing of all the historical top category Oscar winners, with spaces for upcoming years. Every year I would diligently fill in the blanks as awards were given out. We even started printing out the New York Times Oscar ballots as a family challenge. (I was terrible at picking winners.)

Over the years however our interest in film has waned and television programs have become a bigger passion point. We all still watch movies, but starting with the (pirated) DVD revolution going to the cinema became less appealing and was suddenly saved for major blockbusters. We started joking with a way to review movies by deciding if they were worth going to the theater for, "pang DVD lang" ("DVD at home will do"), or worse, "pang treadmill". Huge movies still get me excited - Avatar was one of the most captivating theater experiences I've had in recent-ish years. The family waited for me to come home last year from Singapore so we could all watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens together.

But when we Skype on Sunday nights, what always comes up are updates on what TV we've been watching. I have a few programs in common with my sibilngs and parents, and those are always hot topics. Recent debates in our family have included whether you're on Team Mama Pope or on Team Papa Pope, which house you fall under whether Stark, Targaryan, Lannister, or worst of all Greyjoy, etc. When Heroes was new and still good out my sister, brother and I would crowd around the computer together to see the latest episodes. We watched quite a few seasons of Top Chef that way also. There was one weekend where my younger sister and I, who shared a room and TV at the time, watched The OC all night until three or four in the morning, went to bed, and resumed the season as soon as we woke up and all throughout the day. She and I have also done this thing where we "trade" TV pilots to try and get the other person watching a favorite show. I succeeded in hitching her to Mad Men, while I didn't take as well to her offering (Band of Brothers). Reacting to major TV moments and trading recommendations continues to be a running thread on our family Whatsapp.

After I moved away from home I became a 100% cord cutter relying on streaming and digital options completely, and becoming my own content programmer. That habit continues to this day. I follow maybe 20+ shows at a time, with varying degrees of attentiveness. Some shows like Mad Men are watched strictly mobile-free, while other programs are on while I monitor e-mail and Facebook, cook, clean, etc.

Even among wider social circles, in person and on social media, TV watercooler moments seem to have become the buzzier topic than film. I'm looking for stats to validate this. But even by virtue of the number of hours in a given TV season, and the length of time a season runs, compared to the 90-120 movie minutes, there is more to react to on TV. I still watch movies, but I would give up movies forever over TV, any day.

Outside of my own personal behavior, I can't validate for sure that TV has overtaken film. It certainly isn't an apples-to-apples situation. But the preoccupation with television has grown for sure. It is now a strong writers medium, and attracts even movie talent, while catapulting fresh new faces to fame, whereas TV used to feel like the poor man's silver screen. I remember, going back to when I was a kid watching award shows, the Golden Globes seemed like such an awkward ceremony becuase the TV actors were just so clearly on a lower fame and cultural acceptance level compared to the movie stars. But watching the Globes now, I cheer even more for the TV categories than for the film ones.

I plan to look in to this, but it seems plausible that we can use some of the new behaviors created by new social and digital habits that have impacted the preference for television.

  • Through the social media feed, audiences have been taught to consume more content, in smaller chunks. Although digital takes "byte-size" to a new extreme, with Vine videos for example now down to six seconds, this theme fits with television versus film. TV is cut into episodes that build the story over time, instead of investing in one single longer-form piece of content.
  • Social has also taught us to express and appreciate a depth of personality. Digital celebrities have built their fame on their personas, while today's actors and actresses, even musicians and models, are forced to show theirs through personal content feeds. Films have still been able to create iconic characters, but nowhere near the same way that television characters are not just established but tested against so many different situations. I'm sure there are arguments that TV's episodic nature doesn't necessarily lead to more character depth, but if I think about the evolution of someone like Walter on Fringe, Tyrion on Game of Thornes, even Lady Mary in Downton Abbey, there is potentially more to a character when there are more hours of potential screen time to get to know - and become attached to - them.
  • Not just social but the whole digital space is catered to exploring and going deeper in to our passion areas. Whether you're intersted in knitting, citizen science, sous vide recipes, YouTube musicals, or almost literally whatever, you can find communities and spaces online to explore and express those interest areas. TV plays on this by potentially adding complexity with every episode. It's always a case-to-case basis - there are crap shows just as there are crap films. But based on the medium potenial, this is better achieved with TV. 

I still enjoy movies and haven't given up on film, that isn't the point. (As I write this I'm listening to my Movie Themes playlist which features scores from Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Little Women, Mighty Ducks... more of my chidlhood favorites that make anything feel epic.) But it is interesting to note how alive the medium has become and how our tastes and preferences are evolving in a way that I think is more affected by our growing exposure to social and digital media. As these habits evolve, it will be intersting to see any the new dimensions and levels of craft in television, but also whether, as we leave the confines of the programming schedule and even potentially geographic boundaries of IP contracts, what new channels and formats will be created.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

The new normal

I saw a media plan recently with YouTube as the only paid channel, to fully support a new content launch. It was a web film, the digital version of a luxuriously lengthy 90-second spot.

The transformation is now complete. YouTube is the new broadcast media, Netflix the new cable. Congratulations, marketing. We've found a way to transplant our exact same activities and strategies into the new media, no need to worry about interactivity, participation, people in-market, micro-moments or any of that sort of crap.

This type of thing obviously depresses me a little. Like we've found a comfort zone where we do just enough to be able to tick the boxes and feel like we're being integrated. A few pieces of extra content here, a few blogger engagement initiatives there and done! The old advertorial and press release, reincarnated.

I don't hope for the end of the old-school campaign. But amdist the planning for a mountain of a content spike, have we done the due diligence of checking how well our website is performing, how we're going to compete in search, what usage occasions we'd like to become part of, whether there is an opportunity here for loyalty? Are we considering pushing play on anything personalized, automated, smart? And in this particular instance (of a brand that will not be named) did they do the standard "Will they care? Will they share?" check?

In this abundantly awesome digital world where we can forge new connections without having to lean solely on emotion to build relationships, why do we insist on thinking about contained, isolated campaigns?

Clearly the old guard is still in the driver's seat. Am I allowed to use two idioms? I don't know if I can even really claim to be a member of the new generation. But I still can't wait to see what the new world of marketing looks like.


Monday, February 1, 2016

death of the singular brand space

Is embracing diversity brand suicide?

Axe has been in the news for their new campaign, “Find Your Magic”. I don’t know if this will change the overall brand direction, or whether it is just a one-time blip to appease/attract alternative user segments.

Axe is known for its unapologetic depiction of masculinity (and chauvinism), tapping in to lust and the desire. The “Axe Effect” inspired young men across the globe with the lure of becoming savvier ladies men. This extensive reivew of Axe’s historical print work reminds us of the brand’s single-minded focus on being able to score under a range of circumstances. The brand often shows an aspirational image or situation and only once in awhile does its advertising actually acknowledge that its communication persona is different from its end-users, absolutely average guys.

There has always been a gap between how Axe presents itself with its ladykiller brand persona, and its end-users. With “Find Your Magic” Axe is now embracing and depicting their actual consumers – big nose, big hair, overzealous, geeky, disabled, and even cross-dresser or gay. The latter two were especially surprising for a brand that has been so single-minded in the past.

The brand now even acknowledges that guys can be particular and finicky with their hair. A guy spending time "doing his hair” is just not part of the traditional idea of alpha masculinity. In Axe's accompanying “Instagroom” video series guys are shown blowdyring, meticulously combing, and styling with a range of products. Not even one all-purpose man hair gunk, but an actual range of men's grooming products for all sorts of different styles. I'm not disputing that men have been metro for awhile now, but that a brand like Axe would suddenly claim this behavior and actively portray it is so far off from their usual route.

A common advertising discussion is whether your target consumers want to see themselves in communication efforts, or someone more aspirational. Axe has always played squarely on the latter approach, a clear focus on portraying hyper masculinity. This move is an interesting one to embrace their audience as both consumer and communication focus.

As a non-target and general consumer I appreciate Axe’s new point of view. I will find it distasteful only if Axe goes back to the tired ladykiller when it launches its next body spray campaign (this one is for hair grooming). It would seem that consumers, or at least Axe’s audience, have matured (in mindset if not in age) and can more consciously call the BS on their former position. But as films and television have evolved to accommodate more complicated characters, and diversity debates are now bringing minorities to the forefront it seems only right and also fantastic that brands are willing to evolve.

As a planner, however, I wonder what it means when big brands that have worked so hard to craft single-minded spaces expand their position to account for complexity and diversity. Classic strategies laud Apple for becoming synonymous with design, Coca-cola with happiness, Volvo with safety, Axe for ladykilling.

Advertising strategies are made of focused audience portraits, singlular insights and single-minded propositions. What room is there within that framework for diversity?

This leaves me with more questions than opinions: How can brands truly embrace diversity while maintaining brand identity? Is diversity something that only established brands can truly claim? What happens to the single-minded focus when brands want and need to be congizant of a wider definition of people? Will this type of thinking lead to to a more in-depth psycographic study in order to find characteristics that appeal to a wider audience? Will ‘having a diversity POV’ become an integral part of the masterbrand narrative? Will depicting the consumer in the ad become more important to audiences? Is there really room for diversity in the brand persona? Will this change the strategic planning discipline?

So much to consider and what a gloriously mad time to be in advertising.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Are you smarter than your tea kettle?

So you think you're smarter than your furniture?
This Smarter iKettle 2.0 Wifi Kettle was a featured product on's homepage. It certainly provides a service but just becuase you can enable this type of technology, does it really mean you should?

Its features include

  • "Remote boil your iKettle from anywhere in the home.
  • Water Level sensor shows you exactly how much water is in the iKettle on the App
  • Make night feeds easier, remotely boil and be notified once the water reaches your desired temperature
  • Select any temperature between 20-100c to get the best taste from your chosen tea
  • Wake Up mode and home mode allow you to schedule your kettle at a time to suit you."

Just because you can, does it mean you should?

We will discover in the near future that there is a fine line between the concept of a "smart" house or "smart" life and what is actually a lazy technology-enabled life, e.g. use your app instead of your eyes to check "how much water is in the Kettle".

This is distinctly different from the current crop of digital-first businesses such as Uber and Airbnb that provide services that literally were not available before, i.e. personal drivers or a worldwide database of more affordable travel accommodation. However many of the new smart devices use technology to do what humans used to and still do absolutely fine in an analog way. Sure you can be a little smarter about something, i.e. "exactly how much water is in the kettle" vs. approximately how much water is in the kettle. But it begs the quetsion, is any of that necessary?

One day we will need someone to help us figure out how to manage technology in the home. Sure, some things will make life better and easier. But do we really want to be completely app- and phone-dependent? If you lose your phone will that mean you won't be able to enter your house, turn your lights on or, as the case may be, heat up water for your tea? And in the case that you are still able to enter, will your mouth suddently reject water that is generally hot and not the exact "temperature between 20-100c to get the best taste from your chosen tea"? Or in a slightly more paranoid but completely realistic scenario, do we really want to create more openings for hackers to enter our homes and spy on our babies, blow up our tea kettles or turn our rooms an unchangeable pink? (Baby monitor streaming, smart kettles, smart lightblubs.) Or lock us out of our homes and worse, let intruders or thieves inside? (Smart door locks.)

I might be in the digital practice from the marekting side, but the booming technology side is all-in-all, alongside occasionally being useful, baffling, ridiculous and terrifying.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

switching lanes

I give myself nine months at every new job, the length of time I stayed at my first company. 

I don’t tell myself to quit after nine, but I give myself this mental out in case things don’t work out. I don’t know if it is me too jaded or maybe just being prudent to go in thinking that there will inevitably be parts of the new experience that won't work. And just in case the negatives outweigh the positives, I allow myself to go.

Nine is a meaningful number because that first company was one I had reservations about, but grew to really enjoy and see great potential in. I didn’t quit but had to leave because the company closed.  
I was halfhearted the job at first. I wanted to work in advertising but with no experience, no agency was willing to take me. While I got offers from other non-agencies, the only job I was willing to take was at MTV Philippines. It was a short-term contract, the department was PR, and I figured it was still within the marketing communications sphere and it couldn’t hurt to get at least get some job experience. 

I don’t think we practiced PR in any sophisticated way. We would write press releases about new shows and events, and a big part of my scope was printing, packaging and labeling them to go out to our Excel sheet of media contacts every month. Work wasn’t particularly demanding, and I read my first fiction book in four years on the job. I even started to go to the gym almost every day.

It wasn't challening but it was extremely fun, the perfect first job for a fresh graduate. We had events almost every week and part of our work was to manage press at these concerts and parties. I don’t think I did much managing, but I did enjoy the copious amounts of alcohol served. I was also super young and felt cool because we had minor celebrities in our midst and I never got hangovers. 

Halfway through my contract I started calling agencies again. The parties were fantastic but like a real millennial I was worried about career growth. Somehow the digital team found out I was looking for work and invited me to join instead of leaving for an agency. I wasn’t clear on what they did exactly, but I liked the idea. My contract was renewed and converted to the digital team. 

Immediately they tasked me with creating content for our website. I started to take photos and videos at our events and interview the artists that would come to our studio. I started making (passable) webpages that went up on our site using manual WYSIWYG because the CMS was shite. I worked with our marketing and content teams to come up with integrated initiatives - we had the channel, the VJs, local content and the website. We even had media partners for additional amplification. I found myself thinking through-channels with an emphasis of course on digital. I managed our community which was, pre-Facebook, an email fan list. I loved it. It was dynamic and two-way and media-rich. I was sold.

I would have stayed longer, but by some twist of fate MTV decided to close. I was too young and junior to understand why we weren’t profitable enough to renew the license locally. But nine months after starting at a company that I was lukewarm about at first, I left with a strong affinity and a new digital orientation.

I still wanted to get into advertising but I took my digital aspiration with me. As I was looking for a new job the agency I had interned at called. The role was in accounts, which I wasn’t keen on. But it was advertising and I finally had an opening. So I took it. And I told myself to stay for at least nine months, at least as long as MTV, to give it a real shot.

I stayed with that agency for seven years.

Seven years.

I only lasted in accounts for six months, but I asked to take a new task to launch and grow our digital services. I was eventually invited to make the career switch into planning, still with a digital slant. I got to set up my own planning team. If you count my time under the same agency brand, but moving to a different market, I stayed for eight.

Today it doesn’t even seem to be possible to stay at one place for that long. 

In my last two jobs I've only stayed for 12mos+. One that ended because of changes in global alignment, and the next because of value misalignment. 

This week I started yet again at another new place. 
I'm telling myself - nine months.

I've gotten so jaded and my new employers probably don't know that a couple of times each day I've had "fight or flee" moments, when things don't seem like they make sense, or when I'm taken aback by what seem like weird processes.

I'm pre-judging of course, and reminding myself to get a hold on the situation before I make a real call. I'm keeping in mind that nowhere is perfect and that what to keep in mind is potential. Inhale, exhale. 

It has been four days. 

And if I ever stop counting I'll know that I've found a new home. 

I don't know if I'll make it to seven years again, or eight, but not to be counting the days, weeks or months that I've managed not to leave would be a good start.

I'll let you know how I'm feeling in nine months......

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