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The fan spins harder and faster online March 19, 2010

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This ongoing event regarding Nestle’s Facebook page is an interesting example of the main problem  brands face online: giving control of the brand image, message and other assets to the consumer.

Basically, Nestle warned fans of their Facebook page that if they had an altered version of the company’s logo as a profile pic their comments would be deleted.  A possibly valid point , were it not for the sarcastic and aggressive reaction to user protests by the brand.  This situation offers two very important points for brands and marketers:

1)      If you built it, they will come, and make it their own: The internet and most things in this age of ‘remix’ are all about personal appropriation, mixing, and sharing. Even if you created the Facebook page, the internet is, for all effects, free. Censorship doesn’t work here. If the customer personalized the brand’s assets in a positive way, appreciate it as proof of a personal connection. If you feel the brand is being affected, politely notify your audience. Which goes to the next point…

2)      Don’t fight your customers: the brand will always be Goliath and the consumer David, which kind of sets the stage for the brand losing most, if not all, of public battles. Don’t go on the offensive with sarcasm (much less if you are a brand associated with, among other things, candy and baby food). Brands are expected to behave like anybody else on the internet – that is, they are expected to share and interact positively according to what positive is for the community they belong to.

The fan spins harder and faster online…

The Bottom of the Pyramid November 11, 2009

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(originally published on The House of Naked website )

Back in the 90’s few people thought that in Bangladesh, a country where almost half the population lives on a dollar or less a day, there could’ve been a profitable cell phone industry: when Iqbal Quadir was looking for investors in the U.S., one cell phone company executive reportedly said that they were “not the Red Cross.”

Finally, in 1997, Grameenphone started operations as a joint venture between Mr. Quadir, the Norwegian Telenor and Grameen Bank, the pioneering micro-finance entity. It achieved profitability in 2000, and by 2005 the company had 250,000 retailers, 22 million subscribers, and 50 million cell phones. More importantly, it brought connectivity to remote villages, as well as a source of income for women operating ‘village pay phones.’ By 2012 it is expected that close to half the population will have a cell phone, a notable feat in a country that had one of the lowest telephone penetration rates in the world (before cell phones, it was not uncommon to wait 15 years to get a land line).

Bangladesh is not the only example of the rapid expansion of the cell phone. In Africa, mobile penetration was about 30% by the end of 2007 and is estimated to reach beyond 50% by 2010. Countries around the world are experiencing similar growth. Lack of infrastructure – particularly electricity, widespread illiteracy and the fact that these people live on $2,000 or less per year were some of the objections to this kind of venture. Yet, they have all proven baseless, and many companies are now eager to enter the inmense untapped market of those in the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid.’

C.K. Prahalad popularized the term 5 years ago in his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, in which he outlined how multinational corporations could operate profitably in these markets, stimulating development through commerce, and without engaging in charity. The cell phone is perhaps the best case study because of its immediate effects. For starters, it is accepted that, on average, a 10 percent increase in cell phone penetration helps increase a country’s GDP by .8 percent. Also, the cell phone has come to replace entire institutions: for example, while here in the U.S. we are just starting to pay or make financial transactions using cell phones, this has been a common practice in developing countries for years, cell phone credits sometimes being more valuable than actual currency.

What’s really interesting is how MNCs have moved to cater to these markets: instead of just transferring their products or services from developed countries, they have worked to understand the complexities of these new customers, building products for them. For example, Nokia has a team of anthropologists and designers that visit low income communities around the world to study consumer behavior, and have even opened centers called ‘Nokia Open Studios’ in some of these places, where residents describe, sketch, even test cell phones that are tailored to their needs.

Apart from Nokia, there have been more companies actively courting these consumers. In India, BP engineered a smokeless stove called Oorja that runs on biofuels, looking to replace traditional stoves that run on wood or dung, which are more expensive to maintain and also pose serious health issues. Also in India, the Tata Group has unveiled the Nano, a $2,500 car that offers millions a chance at secure and efficient transportation for the first time.

But innovation runs both ways. Netbooks, fulfilling a demand for inexpensive yet durable and functional laptops here in the U.S., were born as part of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project seeking to provide affordable and effective computing to children around the world.

The market at the bottom of the pyramid is huge: most of the world’s population, around 4 billion people, lives on $2 or less a day. Yet, even with all of the opportunities for companies, it is challenging to enter these markets without clear guidance and a deep commitment to understand the local consumer and work with local partners. Here at Naked we are happy of our past and current work with major brands on projects around the world, actively engaging these markets. We are also proud of their determination to build lasting relationships with these consumers.

Mr. Prahalad said: “If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity will open up.”

We say: people are your partners, wherever they are.

If You Build It, They Will Come (and Play) August 25, 2009

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One of the most interesting aspects of the work that TBWA / Chiat / Day has done for Apple is  helping design the Apple Stores. Lee Clow and his team have been quite successful in encapsulating Apple’s spirit of intuitive function and organic design. This is part of their Media Arts approach to dealing with every point of interaction between brand  and consumer.

But in the end, as with any brand experience today, the effectiveness of the experience created is increasingly measured by the enthusiastic and unexpected ways in which people integrate into it.

A kid identified as Nicholi has been using the 5th Avenue Apple Store as his ‘studio,’ recording himself lip-synching and dancing to various songs. The very fact that he felt free -read unashamed – to do this on a regular basis points out both to the need of creating a retail experience where consumers feel free to interact with the brand on their own, but more specifically, the opportunity for creating spaces where brand interaction is more conducive to communal entertainment.

Our basic experience with digital entertainment is still very individual and private in terms of its localization and people we interact with.  But that’s changing. Whereas some people might see Nicholi and others as randomly goofing around (look at the face of bewilderment people have in the background), I think there is something more telling about the openness to goof around in public like that today. In essence Nicholi is expressing himself to the digital community, just like millions around the world use YouTube and other services to do the same. But I think it still holds that most people open up like this because the internet offers a ‘safe’ space facilitating casual and anonymous connections that are still pretty meaningful; we think we are not as exposed as in the ‘real’ world. Would most people uploading videos play that mediocre version of ‘Wonderwall’ to a public, or do that stupid dance out in the street? Even if we are indeed broadcasting to anybody, for the most part it is still behavior of a private context.

But of course, the internet is no longer so anonymous. Does this affect our notion of what privacy and intimacy are? I think so, which is why I’d argue that individuals like Nicholi don’t have any reservation about expressing themselves so openly to the public / physical space just like they do in the digital / private space. They don’t differentiate between the two, mainly because those categories don’t hold true anymore.

For the digital generations using technology regularly to engage their networks and communities this is an increasingly natural attitude. YouTube and other ways of showcasing ourselves and interacting with others on the Internet have pushed notions of privacy and personal behavior out of the window, in the way shifting the nature of electronic entertainment from an individual or localized setting to the higher plane of the casual community experience. In a way, the real world has become another digital sphere – ‘networkable’ and accessible – as our digital self continues to complement our ‘real’ self more seamlessly and our digitally-borne drive to interact with the network in a casual, almost instantaneous way spills over to ‘real’ life (flash mobs anyone?).

Brands that can tap into the dynamic of the ‘user’ by creating a space where it can be transposed unto the physical public space have much to win. The consumer of the 21st century lives in a tribe – sometimes spontaneous, informal, and playful – and brands should strive to be the fire around which the community sits to share and play.

via BoingBoing

Great Planners, Great Thinkers, Great Minds… Great Eyes? August 4, 2009

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I am researching the planning / strategic models used in the best ad agencies out there, how effective they are in driving culturally-relevant work, and how applicable they are to the public diplomacy practice. Part of this research deals with studying the actual conceptualization of insight as guided by the agency’s philosophy, or to make it sound smarty-fancy, the epistemology of planners: before asking ourselves which kind of insight and how and where to acquire it, maybe we can also try establish what it should be? In our conversation, Dr. Erica David, Sr. Anthropologist at CP+B, told me how she and her colleagues try to approach insight visually. I don’t think that any planner / strategist can really work a concept without considerable use of visualization, but a visual approach for Dr. David seemed to go beyond trying to use pictures to represent ideas, even using them as complements: it dealt with finding the big idea, in this case the cultural tension of a brand or product, as a visual. From the point of view of modern media and consumer society, heavily reliant on imagery, it only seems natural that a certain visual element could be the principal point of interaction and experience between a brand and a consumer. But maybe the approach itself is important for planners to grasp the big picture?

In his lecture to TED, Tom Wujec explains the many ways in which our brain makes sense of what we see. He covered three major features of this process. First, an area called the ventral stream helps recognize “who” or “what” an object might be: that round thing over there is recognized as a basketball and that other round thing as my little cousin. A second important area is the dorsal stream, which helps you locate objects spatially, allowing you to, for example, navigate your room after turning off the lights without hitting most of the stuff on the way to the bed. Finally, visuals are given meaning within the limbic system, where important functions like emotion, behavior, and long term memory are also handled:  that is why an object may trigger a bad memory which in turn triggers a negative sensation.  Mr. Wujec argues that certain visually-based approaches to working may help us reach more complete insight simply because of the mental meaning intertwined with how we process visuals. ”We make meaning by seeing, by an act of visual interrogation,” affirms Mr. Wujec. A great lecture to watch and get us thinking, literally.

No You Won’t Fool the Children of the (Twitter) Revolution June 17, 2009

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Excluding the  bloodshed and uncertainty that the Iranian people are living through right now, I have to confess the excitement I feel at witnessing such an important moment in world politics unfold; of course, this is due in part to us outside of Iran being able to participate in the revolution by following on real time the events on the internet, particularly through Twitter.

In this interesting Q&A, NYU professor Clay Shirky notes that ” it seems pretty clear that … this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted “the whole world is watching.” Really, that wasn’t true then. But this time it’s true … and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They’re engaging with individual participants, they’re passing on their messages to their friends, and they’re even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can’t immediately censor.”

We had seen the effects of cell phone and instant communication as a leveraging tool that promotes transparency, dialogue, and mobilization among activists, but what is going right now is truly distinct in the macro linkage that technology allows for globally. Does this mean that any future revolution will be instantaneously opened to be  the world’s revolution? Maybe, and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

PUMA Magic April 15, 2009

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Puma Lift. from CCW – Lab on Vimeo.

March 22, 2009

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Close up photo of Gilberto Gil, one of the greatest Brazilian artists of his generation.

Close up photo of Gilberto Gil, one of the greatest Brazilian artists of his generation . Photo taken during the Reconciliation Forum.

Delaying the death of a (newspaper) salesman March 22, 2009

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Across the U.S. local newspapers, many of which are historical institutions dating back more than a century, are finding themselves closing up shop or in the brink of doing so in the face of declining ad sales. Many point to the internet, and the fact that publications are expected to offer as much value-added features as they can for little or no cost. Did internet kill the newspaper star? If anything the internet has powered the transmission of journalistic information by making it mobile and time-relevant; a piece of paper with yesterday’s news is, for all it’s worth, useless and antiquated. But of course the newspaper as an institution can’t die, as there is the need for professional journalistic cadres to hold some ground while the concept of citizen-journalist is shaped by society; impartiality and professionalism are developed over time and through their own application.

For the past days a group of individuals that work in the forefront of digital journalism have been meeting in Washington, DC to come up with a business model that will sustain both the need to be profitable and the imperative to provide valuable content in the internet. Members of the group RevenueTwoPointZero have been working in everything from site layout to advertising models for portable content. Their work is both interesting and relevant. Just as companies have discovered the need to sustain their brands through sustainability and other CSR policies, so must publications find a way to balance profitability with the digital imperative of providing + sharing.

I’m Back March 21, 2009

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I have been away two weeks, which doesn’t do good for my career as a blogger. eh.

I was away in Puerto Rico for a week, and recently spent three days covering the amazing ABC PODER Reconciliation Forum as a blogger. I attended very interesting talks, met very sharp people and heard their stories, and even got to chat with Desmond Tutu.

To read my entries,  visit http://reconciliationforum.tumblr.com/

Microsoft’s Touchy Future March 3, 2009

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Wow.

For anybody that marveled at the type of display interface seen in the movie Minority Report, this new video by Microsoft will probably provoke a deep thump in the chest along with the feeling of ‘gimme gimme’ a six year-old has come Christmas time.

In this video, Microsoft imagines what the world will be like in 2019.

And you thought playing with an iPhone felt cool.

Video: Future Vision Montage

[ Istartedsomething via VentureBeat ]