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Baby Carrots

September 17, 2010

In the US a group of carrot growers have gathered forces and joined with the ad world to make baby carrots the ultimate snack. Taking the junk food market head on, the campaign’s cleverness is that it challenges the market with its very own tricks. Rejecting any kind of health-food didactic approach, carrots are made cool. They’re not just a vegetable but a snack with more attitude than any other on the supermarket shelf. Baby carrots have carved for themselves an entirely new category: a healthy snack brand just as enticing as Doritos or Cheets. They even look the same – from the actual product themselves, to the packaging and communications. To immerse yourself in the exciting world of Baby Carrots, take a bite of the campaign here.

Though it’s too early to tell the results of the campaign, I predict that, like the Got Milk campaign that it inspired it, Baby Carrots will be a case study for all health brand communications to come.

Map-a-network

September 16, 2010

Social networks are more than clusters of friends. A recent Economist article details how they’re increasingly being analyzed to understand everything from counterterrorism to branding. One thing that social networks reveal is the value of certain individuals in a specific field, and therefore those whom it is most effective to target. Often it’s not who you’d expect. In telecoms, thriftier customers are actually more valuable because they are “influencers” within their network. Though they themselves don’t spend the most, their power of persuasion within their surroundings, and therefore their social currency, is highest. Similarly intelligence agencies find that key terrorists to target are often not the leaders but the people at the lower-levels, such as drivers and guides, because of their extreme connectedness to the group at large. Police can now quickly identify a hot spot for crime by monitoring messages about party plans on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

The next step, already well under way, is the analysis of social networks to map larger movements within society. Hot-off-the press findings show exactly this to predict epidemics – whether a spread of an idea (ie Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point) or an actual medical virus:

The implications are huge. Firstly, in the case of analyses of online networks, it shows just how integral they are to daily life if they can lead to such accurate analyses. And while online social networks become more sophisticated, so will the results of their analysis. Secondly, social networks can be applied to any kind of trend, idea, or movement. So where epidemics can now be detected earlier than ever before, the same is true for social trends, political movements, or terrorist activity. Will brands in the future be able to therefore harness trends before they’ve even begun? And with “influencers” having the greatest value, shouldn’t brands also more integrally develop personal relationships with the “influencers” in their consumer networks? Old Spice’s personalized YouTube videos earlier this year did exactly that; will this become the predominant model for advertising?

Teach with TED

September 15, 2010

Why is TED so powerful? In a talk at TED about TED, the conference’s curator Chris Anderson identifies the global phenomenon at the heart of TED’s success: Crowd Accellerated Innovation – a self-fueling cycle of learning that sparks innovation through the additive potential of a crowd, light – or an open-source mentality – and desire. This generation’s Crowd Accellerated Innovation is progressing at a pace and breadth far greater than ever before. The reason is the rise of online video, a tool more significant than an image or the written word because it directly resonates with innate human psychology. We are wired to communicate face-to-face. Reading and writing are both fairly modern inventions when traced on our historical timeline. Through non-verbal cues, spoken information has a greater potential than text to be emotional, memorable, and inspirational. And with video, people can seamlessly emulate their peers, and thereby equip themselves with the tools to innovate.

So video is the perfect medium to propel Crowd Accellerated Innovation forward. It draws together a group of people online, with platforms like YouTube enables openness, and with the magic of non-verbal cues infuses desire. TED is at the pinnacle of this phenomenon. Just the numbers alone are enough to prove the point: as of July there were 727 talks online – the first were released in 2006. In January 2009 they had been viewed 50 million times; now, more than 290 million people have watched TED online. As a Guardian article put it “TED has gone viral. Ideas have become the new rock’n’roll”.

TED also proves the power of optimism as a motivational drive. All speakers share an infectious enthusiasm in their work and the belief in its potential to change the world. Together with a level of knowledge both accessible and intellectually stimulating, it empowers and spreads optimism. Beyond harnessing video as a tool to spread information, TED’s success is due to these qualities. In gaming developers cite that gamers spend countless hours on games because it gives them a sense of empowerment and optimism in solving problems. Set in the context of a political climate where most news is bleak, this is especially enticing. TED talks inspire with exactly this same dynamic. The fact that Generation Y already shares TED’s values – with a parallel desire for transparency, entrepreneurial curiosity, and thirst for immediate knowledge – shows how platforms like TED and the technology behind it shape new human expectations, and in turn propel forward their own growth.

After all this, what can the rest of the world learn from TED? How can educational establishments, corporations, and governments be more open, create more desire for their message, gather a crowd, and give a greater sense of empowerment and optimism? A plethora of intitiatives already exist, many of them showcased on TED, but there is still a great deal of progress to be made.

To wrap up, here’s just one example in education that embodies the potential of Crowd Accellerated Innovation and hints at a future where all of its factors are embraced:

Be stupid

September 14, 2010

An MIT study released at the end of 2009 lists the key ingredients for breakthrough research: time, risk and the possibility of failure. Together, these components nurture big ideas. Although there will never be one equation for original thinking, these findings can be extrapolated to non-research contexts.

In advertising the fact that failure and risk lead to greatness is especially true. At the height of the financial crisis, many marketers claimed that the potential for creativity was equally at its greatest. The recent campaign for Diesel even uses this contention as the basis for its strategy Be Stupid. By embracing “stupid” ideas, Diesel recognizes that creativity thrives from being open to risk and the possibility of failure. Not only does the campaign cleverly target its youth consumers with a Dazed collaboration competitionevents, and music video catalogue, but its big idea embodies the key to finding a big idea.

At a more global level, how can organizations also learn from MIT’s findings? Innovation consultancies structure brainstorming sessions for example which prohibit critique and debate, so that all ideas – even those initially thought stupid – are acknowledged for their potential. In advertising, an industry dependent on creativity, traditional companies have to start incorporating more of these ingredients. Of course being a client service, in certain contexts risk and failure is tough to embrace. But adjusting workplace mentality and processes is more easy to achieve. Although the time factor is more difficult to manipulate, if companies start celebrating risk and failure they’ll be well on their way to unlocking their creative potential.

Good Game

September 13, 2010

Games have the potential to save the world. At least according to Jane McGonical, whose manifesto for the next decade is to make saving the world in real life as easy as it is to save in online games. With staggering stats she makes a convincing case, that converges with talk within the field of the game layer being the next generation to social networking. We spend 3 billion hours a week playing online games, and accrue over 10 thousand hours by the age of 21 – the same amount of time people spend at school by the same age, and Malcolm Gladwell’s golden number for the recipe for success. Gamers are an untapped resource, and gaming is a powerful platform that can be harnessed to solve real world challenges.

What’s  interesting is that the very reasons for which many people might be against gaming – anti-social, violence, etc – are the exact opposite of what actually makes gaming compelling in the first place. Instead of breaking social links, it can reinforce collaboration; rather than causing laziness it promotes virtual productivity, problem solving and optimism. Gamers are empowered and hopeful. So by transferring these dynamics to real world problems in the form of a game, it will inevitably re-frame the way we approach specific challenges. McGonigal’s work on games tackling oil shortage and social innovation questions does exactly that: it blurs the lines between gaming and real life to realize tangible long-term effects, and be a force for good.

The key in these discussions, is that the semantics associated with “gaming” are undergoing a radical change. Just as “design” is no longer considered to be just about developing an aesthetic form but more about a thought process, “gaming” should no longer be seen as a medium, but instead as a model. In many ways it parallels behavioural economics. It’s more than a form of entertainment, but a discipline that understands human psychology to elicit a behavioural response. Game dynamics, if harnessed in the right way and for the right reasons, are an immensely powerful social tool.

Play the future

September 12, 2010

We are in the midst of a revolution in which gaming has become a deeply embedded part of our daily lives. Game designer and Carnegie Mellon professor Jesse Schell paints a colourful future with gaming at the heart of our every action and motivation. See his talk here.

His vision may seem extreme, but the root of his future landscape – that gaming will help us navigate our daily lives is already a reality – just look at Farmville, or the Fiat Eco Drive.

A latest example is the new iPhone app Epic Win, which transforms a mundane to-do list into a virtual quest. With experience points and the possibility to level up, the app is also an example of the game layer discussed in SCVNGR’s Seth Priebatsch’s TED talk. It’s all about using dynamics to shape behaviour, and leveraged for good. Like leveling up in education with better grades, and rewarding patients with points for taking their pills on time.

So should social policy be developed with game designers to motivate behavioural change through the game layer? And what does this mean for brands now; should all brands build game platforms, or does the layer only apply for certain kinds of categories? In luxury for example, will the game layer work?

Image from MacTalk.

Bike with a brain

September 12, 2010

A chord in the cycling rift. Nike’s 2010 update for the Livestrong campaign introduced the world to Precious. Precious is a bike that travels across the States to raise money for the fight against cancer, all the while relaying witty quips and comments about its journey into the digital sphere. It is the very first bike with a brain. The innovation brings together a passion for cycling, a craving for real-time information, and the determination to combat a universal cause.

Beyond raising money for cancer, could the bike with a brain be the template for the future of transport? Already initiatives exist that embed a social element into our vehicles. The Fiat Eco Drive revolutionizes attitudes and behaviour towards driving to minimize environmental impact, and the SoBi will allow cyclists to use their phones to connect with other riders, locate, and unlock public bikes. So what if rather than the exception it would become the rule? How about this: your personal bike/car will send automatic unique twitter feeds, while in combination with household energy tracking systems and technologies like Nike+, each journey will simultaneously update an online individualized log of your exercise progress and environmental impact.

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