TAG | web_2.0
The internet is a weird and wonderful place. It connects people all around the world, people with niche and sometimes bizarre interests, people that would never meet in everyday life. I once saw a couple on a forum – I was doing that creepy thing where you read everything but don’t join in – who claimed to have been in a long distance relationship for a number of years, they had formidable ‘rep’ and were ‘respected members’ of the forum but it then emerged that they had never actually met. Through these relationships, and others, the internet gives rise to hundreds of new ideas, fads and crazes daily. An internet sub culture has formed and given birth to the internet meme:
What is a meme? Memes are spontaneous, amusing things which reflect some aspect of society or culture and can become every very popular very quickly. Recent popular internet phenomena are the Harlem Shake, before that Gangnam style and in the past we’ve seen planking, Rick rolling, lolcats and the list goes on and on and on and on. They can be anything from images, catchphrases, videos, words or themes, in fact here is a list that Wikipedia has complied and as you can see it’s all pretty random.
Yet these seeminly pointless phenomena have much wider implications, particularly on marketing. The aim of marketing is to promote a brand; you want to spread your brand image far and wide. This can be done by brute force – pushing your message in the consumer’s face through relentless adverts in magazines, on buses, on billboards, on TV, on the radio and on websites. But the holy grail of the marketer is known as ‘word of mouth’ – make the customer do the work for you and spread your message on their own. No only is this much less work intensive, but it also is more effective since consumers believe other consumers more than they believe billboards. The internet is busy changing everybody’s lives as usual and has the potential to revolutionise word of mouth marketing through memetic marketing – using memes, as concepts that spread from person to person via the internet, to encourage consumers to share a brand message.
Such phenomena are born and live on the internet, like a shameful secret they were once confined to the shady corners of chatrooms or forums but now they are plastered all over Facebook walls and taped to tweet decks. They are even slowly clambering out of our screens and into the ‘real’ world. (The real world is a place where two individuals in a relationship have had actual face to face physical contact.)
These are ideas and messages that go viral with lightening speed, reaching hundreds of thousands, even millions of people will little to no effort on the part of their creators. It certainly sounds ideal if you’re trying hard to get a certain message across – enter memetic marketing. Memetic marketing, is a term that seems overly technical for something which essentially started just for a bit of a laugh, and it means using memes in marketing campaigns. Simples. Only it’s not quite as simples as it seems.
As we know from the story behind key board cat, these phenomena tend to be things that somebody does messing around in their bedroom late at night that at the time they think is kind of funny, then the internet swallows it up and vomits it out everywhere, so they wake up in the morning and suddenly everyone is doing it. So these things tend to arise fairly organically and happen by chance. Nobody knows what will go viral and what won’t. Satire and political parodies tend to be popular, such as Mitt Romney’s ‘binders full of women’ but ultimately circulation and uptake are decided by the ‘internet community’ on forums, chat rooms, social networking sites and all other areas of web 2.0.
It is important to remember that memes are at heart humorous and simple which renders them not relevant to all marketing campaigns, but if memetic markerting is what you want then you have several options. The first is to piggy back on an existing meme and use this for the basis of your campaign. This is what Virgin Media have done with ‘success kid/victory baby’.The ‘Y U NO guy’ has been used on hipchat adverts and keyboard cat has been used to advertise pistachios. However, choosing the right meme can be tricky. The choice of meme and its meaning must be selected carefully to avoid any mis-interpretations. Memes have a shelf life and die out so using an existing one means that people could already be tired of it. Most importantly, stealing memes could initiate a back lash from an internet community unimpressed by your lack of creativity and willingness to free ride on others.
The second option is to create your own meme and this is obviously a lot harder but can be more rewarding. Old spice created a meme with their campaign ‘the man your man could smell like’ and Compare the Market have created one with their meerkat campaign http://www.comparethemeerkat.com/. You need to come up with something that is genuinely appealing or funny yet is still relevant to your company or product. There is no point generating a hugely popular meme that nobody associates back to you. In this way the meme replaces the traditional marketing ‘catch phrase’ and it needs to be very cleverly designed so that people want to share it of their own volition.
Memetic marketing can be very dangerous, once you’ve released your meme out into the internet wilderness anything could happen and many end up subject to vicious parody http://arcticready.com/arctic-ready. The advice when this happens seems to be ‘just go with it’ – no publicity is bad publicity right? In fact, another way to stir up some meme attention is to create the inspiration for a meme rather than a meme itself – is this the purpose of some campaigns which are so bad they’re good? These campaigns can get a vast amount of attention, although they tend to be more popular if the attention is negative. I cannot believe that the instigators do not foresee the way some campaigns are going to go, like the #IShopAtWaitrose or #susanalbumparty – the latter must be deliberate, how could it not be? If it was it definitely worked – who cared about Susan Boyle’s new album before that and then suddenly, with that hashtag, everyone was interested.
Conclusion – is memetic marketing the future? I’m not so sure, it seems a bit gimmicky to me. Using memes in traditional marketing campaigns seems a bit odd, like taking a fish out of water and then expecting it to leap back into the water to tell all its friends. In digital marketing, however, it is more natural – using memes on social media is like speaking the local language. I suggest we turn to the King of social media for advice – Barack Obama. The subject of many a meme, Obama, during an AMA session on reddit referenced ‘his meme’ and the crowd went wild. He’s following the age old rule of talking to your audience in their own language. He looks cool and people love it. I think this highlights that there are two different ways to use memes – you can acknowledge them and use them to relate to an audience or take advantage of them. Obama does the former, aggressive traditional campaigns do the latter and speaking on behalf of ‘the internet community’ I think we’d all prefer Obama, I mean, the former.
Millions of people sleep at night completely unaware that personalised search has steadily been revolutionising the way they see the web and, as with most Google led initiatives, there’s essentially nothing we can do about it…or is there?
Imagine the internet as a vast department store filled with everything you could possibly think of and many things you’d rather not. Google’s place in this department store is the plucky store attendant; tell them what you’re looking for and they’ll gladly guide you to the relevant bits of the store. In the carefree days before personalised search, Google would guide everyone searching for ‘shoes’ to the same shop filled with only the most relevant items, presumably shoes. Now this store attendant takes us to our own bespoke storefront filled with shoes in exactly my size and taste; some utopian retail fantasy where the bricks and mortar are data culled from my past shopping excursions and those of my friends. It’s a favourable analogy: this notion of personalisation has been the death of the retail high street. In the online world where everything is freely available in shiny web 2.0 style, the consumer and search user expects, nay demands, to get exactly what they want.
But the façade of user control is a thinly veiled one. The problem with the covert landing of personalised web over the past few years is just this – it’s entirely justifiable from a user experience point of view. Hate them as you will, but the Panda and Penguin updates did actually provide better results for the casual searcher; this has always been Google’s prerogative despite the indignant gnatter of the SEO’s keyboard. This new UX incentive seems a little twisted though. Clearly everyone likes what they like so there is considerable justification in throwing up related items again and again in search results. But we may also like things we don’t know we like and more importantly, things Google doesn’t know we like. Perhaps I don’t want the same Italian restaurant in my area, but even after the food poisoning subsides the search history remains. I want to holiday somewhere new this year, far away from all my friends and everything they like and generally everyone else on the web, will Google let me? What if I want to boldly go where my search history has never taken me before?
Internet searchers have responded to the increasing relevancy of Google’s search results by making it their shop attendant of choice (alas poor Jeeves, I knew ye not), but personalised search have moved away from this key metric. The notion seems to be that by showing us results we’ve responded to before before, Google is second guessing our future preferences, presumably to make the choice easier, quicker or remove it altogether. But my search history is a terrible approximation of who I am and what I want and thus what is relevant to me. What if I’m on a public computer, my friend’s browser, his Gmail account, what if I mistyped those saucy search terms and never want Google suggesting them at work again? The illusion is that I have already chosen these results through my past search activity, that I am in control here – the reality is that Google’s algorithms are in control.
So is personalised search better in any sense? The pedantic answer is that it depends what you mean by ‘search’; Google, after all, would be the first to concede that not all searches and searchers are the same. Whether any of this bothers you or not will probably depend on whether you’re the semi-mythical user who always knows exactly what they want, or, more likely, if you’re just conducting a basic informational search. But to fall in the other camp you don’t even have to construct leftist arguments about equality and freedom of online information to all, you just have to posses that very human characteristic of mutability.
One site that seems to recognise this is Match.com. Their occasional suggestions of people who don’t fit your ‘type’ recognise the fascist half-truth that the people probably don’t know what’s good for them. ‘I am not just what I search’; a new kind of social rallying-cry against the algorithmic oppressors. Don’t shout it from the streets, rage against the search engine my friends. Turn off personalised search now and rediscover the joy of finding what you weren’t looking for.
Since the first links between smoking and lung cancer were published by Richard Doll in 1950, legislation has been passed to try to control tobacco consumption. In addition to counter campaigns such as anti smoking adverts and specialist NHS services the Government restrict and regulate the tobacco industry in an unprecedented way. We’ve seen limits on smoking in public places, a ban on vending machines, compulsory warning messages on packets, excise taxes and unparalleled restrictions on advertising. This year the government are stepping up their game with more graphic campaigns and grotesque imagery.
Today most advertising campaigns are run online with a complementary social media campaign and since regulations began as early as the 1960s some of the most successful corporations, in one of the world’s largest industries, are unable to fully utilise any digital marketing. Furthermore, anti-smoking groups have been able to take full advantage of digital resources in the form of help quit websites, mobile apps, online adverts, infographics and web apps. So why do 157,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking every year in the UK? Why is smoking still a desirable thing to do? And why is brand loyalty still so strong – the highest of all consumer products?
The Government can ban tobacco firms from promoting smoking but they cannot ban the public from doing so. The tobacco industry invented marketing as we now know it. The first known advert for a cigarette brand was in 1789. The industry has a substantial legacy with strong, historically established brands to which few others can compare and this is not a market that is open to new entrants. These brand titans have been putting in the marketing ground work for the past 200 years.
As a result they are in a unique position; a comprehensive social media campaign is run – inadvertently – by smokers themselves. Whilst the only official smoking advertisements online are anti-smoking, there are ‘unofficial’ or implicit adverts for smoking all over the internet. Social media is full of indirect materials promoting smoking – photos, tweets, pinterest boards, discussions, polls, tumblrs, videos - all posted solely by consumers which perpetuate the brand message and cannot be regulated easily by the Government.
The Government have to be very carefully when justifying the regulation the tobacco industry for fear of appearing paternalistic. It cannot look like it thinks it knows better and needs to protect us from ourselves or from the big bad tobacco firms. As a result bans and restrictions are enforced with a focus on protecting children. Therefore, the focus of many campaigns is passive smoking and the messages are ‘I’m worried about mum/dad’, ‘you’re killing your children’ and ‘only way to protect your family’ is to quit.
Tobacco firms have been equally ingenious in response – their apparent aims are not to attract non-smokers only to try to get existing smokers to switch brands – but they’ve got into trouble. With the cartoon character ‘Joe Camel’ R.J. Reynolds were accused of intentionally targeting children. Internal documents emerged claiming that children were the ‘future’s smokers’, detailing that brand allegiance is formed before age 18 and instructions for campaign materials to be distributed near schools. R.J. Reynolds denies this but voluntarily ended the campaign in 1997. A study into the accusations famously found that that at one point more 6 year old children could recognise Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.
So branding is important. It is powerful and the Government are worried. Branding is what gives your company an identity through slogans, name, colour, music etc. and advertising promotes this. Branding is what makes smoking ‘look cool’. It is renowned that teenagers are keen to ‘look cool’ and are more easily swayed by peer pressure – this has historically been sited as the main reason for teen smokers.
But whilst brand image is traditionally formed physically through packaging, labels and adverts, today brand image is predominantly created digitally. The brand ‘voice’ speaks through twitter, is showcased on the company website, interacts with consumers on Facebook and networks through LinkedIn. Therefore, every time someone tweets ‘need a ciggie #addicted’ or a picture is posted of someone smoking at a party, brand image is re-enforced. Smoking advertising has gone viral. It is shared, liked and retweeted constantly.
Due to past decades of years of truly extensive marketing – and a highly addictive ingredient – the tobacco industry have a product that people want to share and promote of their own accord. Studies have noted for years how smokers tend to use their cigarettes as a ‘badge’, a ‘prop’, a ‘symbol’ and as long as they continue to do so – and post it on social media – they use their cigarettes to reflect and promote the brand image.
The irony is that this kind of promotion is so much more powerful than commercial, official, paid-for adverts. Consumers are much more likely to be swayed by what their best friend is posting or what Kate Moss is papped doing rather than a banner at the top of the page or an ad word on google. This is why businesses today work hard to create ‘share-able’ content on social media sites. This kind of marketing is self-perpetuating and there is not much the Government can do about it.
As seems to happen every time a new year rolls around, the media focus has now shifted from the recaps, summaries and top-ten lists of 2012 into predictions, forecasts and a crystal ball gazing free-for-all for 2013. A quick glance at the prognostications of those with their ear to the ground of the digital marketing terrain reveals all manner of cheery optimism for this year’s prospects. To give you a sense of the exciting things to come, we’ve put together this round up of the leading experts’ views of the field.
As always in the digital realm the key players (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are discussed avidly with a certain degree of fear combined with sycophantic praise. Rob Eleveld writes for Forbes, ‘we predict that Google is making a move towards charging for the data it collects and stores, and we might see this happen as early as next year.’ However, this daunting prospect is offset by his predictions that, not only will the number of digital marketing agencies double in 2013, but the marketing budgets of companies will expand to keep up with the growing digital demand.
Add to this the outlook of Lara O’Reilly at MarketingWeek, who reports on findings by the research company Forrester that digital budgets will grow to account for 20% (£31bn) of worldwide marketing budgets. Based on last year’s trend of 13% growth in the UK alone, it is reasonable to expect 2013 to be a year of marketing breakthroughs for companies on the digital front. If 2012 was all about ‘big data’ then 2013 appears to be time for some ‘big spending.’
With numerous other trends and developments to keep up with, 2013 promises at the very least to be a year of new opportunities to engage in interesting ways with more targeted audiences. Whether any of these experts can accurately predict the future of digital marketing is uncertain, but it is clear that whatever new surprises 2013 brings, the areas of search, social and other facets of digital media can no longer be ignored by competitive businesses.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are running for president in what has widely been said to be the first true social media election. The Democrats’ superior use of social media is claimed to be one of the factors behind Obama’s victory in 2008 and four years later the Republicans are determined to keep up. When 94% of social media users of voting-age are likely to watch an entire political message online the opportunity to be heard is unmissable.
Much of the debate surrounding this issue focuses on what social media means for politics and future political campaigns. Will facebook friends, followers and retweets become marks on a ballot form? Will events such as Obama’s ‘Twitter Town Hall’ replace more traditional grassroots political activities? Social media might be reshaping the political landscape, but what does all this political interfering mean for social media?
Politicians need to spread their message as far and as wide as possible and social media provides a platform to communicate with a vast network of users. We’ve seen businesses do the same and use social media sites to spread their brand message. But are they ‘taking advantage of’ or ‘manipulating’ social media? No, because social media can facilitate communication between politicians and citizens; on a broad scale as well as a personal one but most importantly it allows citizens to communicate back.
There is something about harnessing social media to aid political campaigns that makes me feel uneasy. But I think the reason for this is because campaigners’ approaches feel measured and calculated in a way that is in opposition to the free and easy flow of information that I associate with Web 2.0. There are teams of people who run the social media side of political campaigns and this can make them feel orchestrated or fake. Facebook even have their own Political Outreach Manager to advise political officials on how to use facebook most to their advantage in campaigns. However, social media can also facilitate interaction on a more genuine and personal level; Obama took part in an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on reddit and Romney is running a competition to win a ride in his private jet. In these instances both candidates are trying to engage with individuals rather than a whole population; a task made much easier by social media websites.
The wonderful thing about Web 2.0 is the control it gives to users. Politicians can try to use social media to spread their political messages but ultimately they have little control over that message once it is released and as a result their attempts can backfire. Web 2.0 is a two-way street and if you communicate through social media you become involved in a dialogue. Therefore, politicians can’t carelessly throw out propaganda on social media sites because it will inevitably be thrown back and normally in a much more amusing format.
The fact that social media facilitates a dialogue means that it also allows citizens the opportunity to express political opinions. Social media is reported as playing a role- the size of which is disputed- in the recent political revolutions in Egypt and Libya. Twitter provided a fast way to spread information of protests with hash tags detailing times and dates. Facebook pages with times and dates of protests were created. But it is not true to say that social media provides a universal platform for communication free from the confines of geographical and political boarders. Mark Zuckerberg may intend Facebook to “bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people” but the ways in which politics and social media interact differ vastly between cultures with some political regimes ban social media sites completely. In comparison to this, politicians engaging with social media and using it to increase interaction with citizens looks like a very good thing.
UK politicians have made tentative steps into social media but it will be interesting to see if the recent trends observed in the US are mirrored over here. If the run up to the 2015 UK election has a strong social media focus, we may have more than just the return of WebCameron to look forward to. Is politics reshaping the landscape of social media? Yes, but social media is a constantly changing entity. The beliefs and actions of politicians shape every aspect of our lives – a lot more than a tweet about someone’s breakfast or a youtube video of a surprised kitten.
‘Hi John, what did you do this weekend?’
‘Not much – Friday night I stayed in, but on Saturday a friend was having a youtube party, so I had quite a late one.’
Not true. No-one I know had a youtube party on Saturday, and the notion of a youtube party is not something you are expected to know about, but are actually not aware of because you can’t keep up with the edgy new media vanguard. However, it’s a sentence which I think is closer to being a standard piece of conversation than you might think, and here is why.
A funny thing happened to me the other night. I was having a drink at a friend’s flat when someone mentioned a clip on youtube that they thought was funny . Without a moment’s hesitation a laptop was produced and we all sat down to watch it, oh how we laughed. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, you might say. However, what (quite naturally) happened next was that someone else stifled their chuckles enough to suggest another video, which we all watched and laughed heartily (again). This went on for a good half hour, until we all got a little embarrassed and decided to stop being so damned geeky.
Half an hour. Isn’t that quite a lot?
I don’t expect this kind of an encounter is a rare occurrence. It’s certainly happened to me a good couple of times and I imagine 80% of the student population do it all the time. But if you think about it, prolonged, communal youtubery is quite an interesting phenomenon, for 2 reasons: 1, it brings an element of face to face social interaction to the medium which I’m not sure the people who hailed the revolution of web 2.0 ever really meant. 2, this face to face interaction brings with it a whole set of intriguing social rules and dynamics.
Let me elaborate point 1. Web 2.0 was (is?) all about (among other things) people easily creating and sharing content with one another, with the web providing a means by which to do so. People thought it was great that a guy from Uruguay could make a video about knitting which could be viewed, responded to and commented on by my grandma in Poland, or a janitor in Delaware, or the Queen. It introduced openness of communication. But what it also did was introduce content that could be discussed and shared in a personal context, not just by people firing off links at each other down the information superhighway, but shown to one another after dinner, whilst you’re getting ready for a night out, pointed at whilst crowding around a monitor in the office. It provided content people could physically take someone by the hand and show to them, which is an altogether different thing.
Which leads to point 2. For years marketing gurus have been mindful of the fact that you are much more likely to buy something if it’s recommended by a friend. In focus groups we’ve run here at Online, we’ve heard that it’s important to someone sharing a link to something on the internet that they preserve some kind of reputation. If you post lots of trash on your friends’ walls you exhibit a certain lack of credibility that is not insignificant. This kind of thing manifests itself wonderfully if you bring it into a face to face group dynamic. Picture the scene: my friends and I have worked ourselves into a cheerful youtube frenzy via a string of Japanese TV shows, childhood nostalgia, dramatic rodents, and Hungarian rappers. Then someone enthusiastically types in a link to this. The group tries to get into it, but it’s a slow starter, and they fall into an awkward silence. Energy drops. Suggestor tries to pick it back up with this one, but it’s worse. Mumbles excuses. Gets coat.
Similarly you musn’t over share. You’ve got to let everyone in the audience have their say, otherwise they feel left out. You can get the youtube samaritans, who in the face of their friend’s poorly chosen pat them on the shoulder and reassure them that it was funny, really. Picking a youtube video to share with people in this context requires a judgement of mood and possession / lack of sense of humour. You need to deal with those maladroit ‘Hang on, we need to wait for it to load’ moments. You need to be sensitive to what certain people might find impressive, and what leaves them utterly nonplussed. You need to be consider whether they’ve just had their lunch.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s possible to over-analyse this. But in thinking about how these technologies are changing communication we mustn’t neglect the possibility that it opens up new ways to interact with the person next to you, not just the Delaware janitor thousands of miles away. Of course all of these communal internet encounters (’social surf sessions‘, if you will) occur as afterthoughts to what you or I might call ‘normal’ social situations – people just fall into them. But 5 years ago no-one could possibly have imagined the way in which youtube wanders into our everyday exchanges now. 5 years hence? Get your party invitations ready.
So the media outcry about Street View continues. Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) today defended the roll-out of Google Street View to UK cities by saying that “We agree with the concerns over privacy… The way we address it is by allowing people to opt out, literally to take anything we capture that is inappropriate out… and we do it as quickly as we possibly can.”
Schmidt missed the point with great precision: the reason that many people feel uneasy about Street View is that it is impossible to find out if you are somewhere in there. You can’t opt out if you don’t know whether or where you are even included. Faced with this vast volume of information, it is simply impossible to manage your own digital identity. You don’t know what of you is out there, or how you appear (regardless of how many guilty secrets could have been snapped by Google’s roving cameras).
This is particularly significant if we consider that schools and universities spend considerable time and effort emphasising the importance of digital identities, teaching Twitter literacy, or interview technique (dangers of scandalous photos or inappropriate comments appearing in internet search). Many of us spend a good proportion of free time managing our online identities, whether through Twitter, Facebook, blogging, or massively multiplayer gaming. That people are concerned about the unknowable possibility of their presence on Street View is hardly surprising, regardless of whether they have something to hide.
Still, is it not a bit bizarre that citizens of one of the most CCTV-observed countries on the planet are concerned about a few static frames online? We could regard Street View as an exercise in open access to information, surely a step in the right direction, toward databases that presume freedom of information rather than hide from it.
Indeed, in the wake of exposure of inappropriate surveillance by our own government, it is slightly amusing that Street View now has a black hole where the Houses of Parliament used to be. However worried we might get about practices of surveillance, it is perhaps comforting that the centre of our state feels exactly the same as we do.