Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Wii-ginning

That's a horrible pun. These things happen.

Since the Wii offers its own web browser through a partnership with Opera, it means that any website is accessible and viewable through it--right on your television. Some sites are already publishing their own "Wii-Friendly" navigation systems or microsites specifically for visitors who are using the Wii and it's remote.

Check out Finetune, and notice the navigation. It is fantastically Wii-friendly, and built primarily for streaming online music through the Wii, thus connecting the home entertainment center (and its great speakers) to the web .

Viidelectrix has created a gaming site that features a series of mini games designed to be played on a Wii via the web browser "channel".

These sites, while extremely elementary, represent a significant first step towards bringing the entirety of the web to the television screen. Let your mind wander for just a moment and think about the possibilities here. In addition to the possibilities for individuals or corporations to create experiences to attract Wii users through engaging content or even simple games, there is also an entire series of connective possibilities.

For instance, if it's not enough to stream music or play games through your Wii, you can also access all the music, photos, videos, documents, etc. that are stored on your computer via MyCasting with Orb.

Crunchgear.com says, "Orb MyCasting is a program that allows you to stream music and photos from your PC to your Wii. Using the Wii’s built-in Opera browser, Orb creates a mini-server inside your subnet and displays your content right on the Wii’s screen."

My friend Adam described it a little more clearly the other day, "I'm in my family room, listening to music on my Wii-equipped TV that is stored on a PC in my office while I'm playing on my laptop. Sure I could stream the content right to my laptop via iTunes, but why eat up my system resources while I'm working? Plus, laptop speakers suck. It's all about options people!"

Well put, indeed. You won't believe what these little steps will lead to.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

On a Wii and a Prayer

It has been some time since gaming has been a major recipient of my free time. Recently, however, some of the classics (Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, RC Pro Am, etc.) have re-emerged when groups of my friends gather. Perhaps its the nostalgia sprinkled with a little competition, but something about it is just a good time.

Until this week, my interest in the latest generation of console games had been strictly based on the appreciation of the technological enhancements and the ever-expanding "connective" capabilities to allow players to interact with one another. Xbox 360 was the first to the party. PlayStation3 was the prettiest girl there. But it would be a cute little Nintendo Wii that I chose to bring home with me. Though from a technology standpoint, it is little more than a GameCube with a new wireless controller and an adaptive interface, it has something else that the more complex systems can't deny--ridiculous fun for even the least committed gamers.

Just before the doors opened last Sunday morning, I joined a small crowd at my local Target store after having been alerted via iTrackr that they had some of the evasive little buggers in stock. After dealing with a touch of credit card fraud (someone had apparently stolen my information and used it to run up charges on a World of Warcraft account (I don't think we'll have much trouble tracking them down)), I was on my way home with a Wii.

Within minutes after being plugged in, the Wii was wirelessly connected to the web. We created our own character icons--Miis--and the gaming commenced. Over the couple of drifted-in snow days that followed, evenings around my house consisted of playing enough Wii Sports to find myself a tad sore.

The Wii remote is the most intuitive way to interact with technology since the advent of the mouse. Gone are the complicated sequences with a dozen buttons doing different things that have scared away the less committed gamers. Just point it at the screen, move it around, and push the button. Great work from Nintendo who seems to have emulated Apple in many ways with the creation of the Wii. It's all about creating a simple, fun user experience.

The exciting thing is that I get the feeling that this whole thing is really just in a sort of Beta format right now. There will be plenty of advancements to come and plenty of ways for third parties to create "channels" (downloadable applications) for users to interact with. The possibilities there are virtually limitless, especially since Wii connects online and allows access to the entire Web.

The next time you see a line of people outside of an electronics store just before they open--hop in line and pick up a Wii.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Who's Terrorizing Whom?

For a variety of reasons, I'm not one to get particularly political. To be honest, the same can be said of most of my generation. Every now and then, something happens that raises the ere of even the least political-minded citizens. With all of the turmoil in the world, perhaps it's surprising that last week's guerrilla marketing campaign gone bad was enough to do the trick.

The Cartoon Network and it's ad agency, Interference Inc., created magnetic light-up signs featuring one of the characters for the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The signs were basically relatively flat versions of a Lite-Brite and just about the size of a piece of notebook paper with some battery-powered LEDs protruding out. After notifying local law enforcement agencies of their plans, they posted the signs throughout 10 major US cites. After resting comfortably on display for several days, this happened in Boston on January 31:

Immediately, suspects were sought. However, finding them wasn't very challenging, since they had already posted video of their exploits on YouTube.

Inquires were made. Fingers were pointed. News coverage continued. Politicians got involved. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money was wasted. Commuters were inconvenienced. A full-on tizzy ensued.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino blamed the entire series of events on "corporate greed". He was ready to fight for his citizens. He was ready for blood. He was ready to use this opportunity to earn another term or a different office.

Eventually, a television network executive stepped down.

"Somebody had to pay," Menino said in an interview. "He's the one who made all the decisions, and he didn't do anything to react to the concerns. The resignation should really serve as a message that these sorts of marketing tactics should not and will not be tolerated."

Let me begin by saying that I fully understand that these are troubled times in which we live--we certainly do a wonderful job of reminding ourselves of that as frequently as possible. Placing any sort of foreign object anywhere near a city street is questionable at best. Nevertheless, I resoundingly question who is truly to blame for any sort of terror instilled upon the people of New England. Was it the group who posted advertisements, the administration that jumped the gun and called in the cavalry, or the media that fueled the fire?

The truth is, all three played a role in this marketing debacle turned Inquisition, yet it seems only the television network and their agency are bearing the brunt of the blame. In the meantime, government officials are using their complete miscalculation and embarrassing failure in communication as an opportunity to convince their citizens that they're being well taken care of. Even now, the media continues to report on this story by describing the ads as "Hoax Devices", though they were never had anything to do with bombs until the media announced that they were.

My stance is this. The advertisements didn't terrorize anyone (aside from perhaps one paranoid citizen who phoned it in). It was the politicians and the media that did. Will they have to pay?

Just Some Silly Kids in Costumes. Right? Part 3

So, how did this whole thing play out? It seems the promotion and the results are inextricably linked.

Almost immediately, Bear vs. Colt was picked up by several prominent sports blogs and a handful of traditional media outlets, including newspapers in Indianapolis and Miami (it's amazing what a couple of emails can do). The blogs would prove to be some of the most important referral sites throughout the length of the series. Each posting in a blog in Deadspin.com would prove to generate 50 times more traffic than an article in a major newspaper, such as the Indianapolis Star (based upon referral statistics).

On Tuesday, MediaSauce posted a Bear vs. Colt banner ad on Inside Indiana Business daily e-newsletter in place of its typical banner. The ad generated the highest number of click-throughs ever generated, generating more traffic on its first day than most of their ads create in a year (as described by Inside Indiana Business advertising director).

On Wednesday, Yahoo’s daily vodcast of their most recommended destinations on the web, The 9, unveiled Bear vs. Colt as their #1 site of the day. Later in the week, they would place it at #2 on a list of “Best Super Bowl Sites”, behind only the official site of the big game.

The rest of the week saw the trends continue. DeadSpin continued to post and redirected thousands of visitors to view the latest episodes. Even Fox Sports named Bear vs. Colt as one of its “Heroes” of the week. Publicity continued to increase—each posting led to several others, as well as open discussion from all who viewed it.

By kickoff, Bear and Colt had each sent out a flurry of eleventh hour requests to their “Friends”, swaying voting back and forth throughout the day. Ultimately, it was Colt who erased a late 1600 vote deficit to win the fan vote, the big game, and ultimately (in the final episode), the girl.

In the end, this campaign provided a rallying point and a release of nervous energy for thousands of fans across the world. In less than a week:
  • More than 92,000 votes were cast by people who were actively engaged and participating with the site.
  • Bear vs. Colt saw well over 1 million hits in just 7 days.
  • The average visit was more than 2:20.
  • The videos were watched via YouTube an additional 50,000 times.
  • Each character had gained more than 1,000 “Friends” via MySpace.
  • The Bear vs. Colt group on Facebook gained more than 1000 members.

  • Received prominent discussion about its innovative voting widget on technology and trade blogs such as Mashable.
  • Made an appearance/plug on an episode of CNBC’s nationally broadcasted Fast Money.
  • Appeared on the front page of the business section of The Indianapolis Star.
  • Earned two appearances on local CBS affiliate WISH-TV 8.
  • Increased traffic to its site by several thousand unique visitors per day.
  • Increased in-bound leads by 100%.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Just Some Silly Kids in Costumes. Right? Part 2

Everyday, thousands of videos, ranging from corporate training initiatives to Hollywood film trailers to dogs wearing outfits while knitting with grandmothers, are posted online. For the most part, that is the end of their journey. Their creators have made it to the show, but they have no real intent of going anywhere beyond where the couple of emails to friends might take it.

With BEARvsCOLT, our goals were very different, and several strategic initiatives were made to build a diverse audience, encourage them to help spread the word, and keep them returning for more.

We chose to utilize many popular web-based tools and applications, as well as some we created on our own. No one piece of the puzzle held all of the answers, but each worked together to bring more attention to the project, allow visitors to engage in different ways, and extend their experience throughout the week and across many sites.

The site itself is simple. It’s a player that allows us to post a new video every day. The videos are the main attraction, and a commitment has been made to keeping them unbiased. After all, the site poses a direct question and allows visitors to vote for their “side”. In just 5 days, more than 70,000 votes have been cast. It is this voting feature that has truly brought fans back time and again to support their team and help determine the winner of the final episode. The single most surprising aspect of this entire project has been the consistency of the voting. Each team has taken significant leads, but for the most part, it has been a dead heat. As I write, Colt leads by a score of 36,540 to 36,539. Unbelievable.

Rather than keeping the content exclusive to BEARvsCOLT.com, we chose to publish it on YouTube and MySpace. Fans were asked to “friend” their favorite character (BEAR or COLT) on MySpace, which not only allowed us to open two-way dialogue with our audience (and let them know when their team was falling behind), but also allowed them an easy, comfortable forum for spreading the word and pointing more people our direction. Also, Bear and Colt were able to update and alert their “Friends” when they needed help with voting, share photos they had taken in between videos, or announce when a new video adventure had been posted online. Hearing the backstory, as well as the genuine angst straight from the characters, riled fans to the point of sending messages to the rival character to tell them what they really thought.

As the presence increased on blogs and as MySpace “Friends” reached into the thousands, an innovative widget was created that allowed fans to embed a real-time scoreboard on their site to track the exact score between Bear and Colt. Even better—people vote directly from that widget and register a vote just like if they were at BEARvsCOLT.com. Feel free to cast your own absentee ballot:

Voting will continue until kickoff, at which time we'll be able to finish the edit of the final episode and announce the real winner to the world. Next time, I'll let you know who won, and some of the specific places where we have people talking about these silly kids in costumes.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Just Some Silly Kids in Costumes. Right?

Unlike many in my industry, I won’t pretend that marketing is much more than the creative execution of common sense. It’s about raising awareness and creating connections that last, and those results hinge on the relevance of material presented to a specific audience at a specific time. I shouldn’t even be telling you this, but here is the secret formula to winning marketing:

1) Decide what you want to accomplish (goal).
2) Decide whom you need to connect with to make that happen (audience).
3) Figure out what they need to know or do to help you out with #1 (strategy/message).
4) Do it (creative execution).

Depending on your goal and your audience, standing on the sidewalk and screaming into a megaphone may well work much better than writing a daily blog or buying a Super Bowl TV ad.

Just as the size of the television viewing audience drives up the costs of the 30-second Super Bowl spot ($2.6 million per for 2007), the excitement and energy surrounding our local team (Colts) and our nearest NFL neighbor (Bears) made the environment perfect for a big idea to be embraced and enjoyed by the entire community. With such a large number of folks interested in the same thing at the same time (a rarity in this age of segmentation), they’re apt to get excited about it when you place before them some fresh material about that area of interest. The timing is right, the audience is ready—all it takes is an idea that just crazy enough to get noticed.

Why not mascot-related violence?

I’m the first to admit, the idea is ridiculous. That's sort of the whole point.

1) Toss some talented improv actor friends into shabby-looking mascot costumes.
2) Throw them into some loosely formed situations (and a few completely uncontrolled ones).
3) Roll tape.
4) www.BEARvsCOLT.com

The truth is, the launch of the site is just the beginning. More precisely, it’s just the middle. We defined objectives, targeted an audience, and devised a creative concept to connect with them.

This project, though silly, had legitimate goals, purpose, and strategy. They weren’t as hatched or researched as most, but due to the nature of the piece and the brevity of the window of opportunity, we moved quickly and have found some amazing results.

Check back tomorrow for the update about the ongoing process of engaging an audience.