The Network of Stranger Things Fandom

Netflix’s runaway hit show, Stranger Things, has become nothing short of a global phenomenon. Set in the fictitious town of Hawkins, Indiana, the 80s inspired sci-fi horror conjures all the nostalgia from the decade. From Goonies to Standby Me, Dungeons and Dragons to Eggo Waffles, the 80s is practically another cast member of Stranger Things. With this in mind, Eggo set out to create an experience that would get Stranger Things fans excited about the launch of Season 3 and the Eggo brand. But how do you do this with no official Netflix partnership, a restriction on the use of Stranger Things IP, and a crowded market place of brands cashing in on the show’s success?

You leverage your OG status, that’s how! Eggo has been a part of Stranger Things from the very start.

Beloved by Eleven, a main characters in the show who possess telekinetic powers and is prone to nose bleeds, Eggo has become an artifact among the ravenous fandom of Stranger Things devotees. But since we couldn’t tell fans we’ll be there for Season 3 – due to legal restrictions – we could certainly show them. We decided to start in Hawkins. Not the fake Hawkins of the show, because it doesn’t exist, but the 11 real Hawkins that exist throughout North America. Channeling Eleven’s nose bleeds, we strategically placed 11 faux Eggo billboards across the social web to stoke intrigue among the network of Stranger Things fans, with a cryptic message…“Strange things are coming.”

Fans started putting the pieces together and constructing meaning out of the organically posted images. The billboards even made their way on to Reddit, where Stranger Things fans are the most ravenous and discerning. The organically posted billboards were well received within the fan network on Reddit and up-voted 35 times more than any fan-posted content from Coke, Nike, Baskin Robins’, or Burger King’s Stranger Things campaign.


With a captive audience, we stepped up the strange by leveraging the time-honored tradition of fandom, the Easter Egg. We placed Easter Eggos inside what appeared to be lost 80s ads from Eggo. Inviting hardcore Stranger Things fan into the Eggoverse to satisfy their inner-sleuth. Once fans found one Easter Eggo, it led you to another, which led to another, and another which gave fans a badge of honor to make it to the end. This unique Instagram experience was innate to the audience and found an interesting way for Eggo to participate while spending only a fraction of what the other brands did.

To further this initiative, fans who made it to the end got a surprise and delight gift from the brand. Some lucky consumers were able to get their hands on a limited release of 80s Eggo retro packs were available through Amazon Fresh and fans across the country got to enjoy their Triple-decker Eggo Extravaganza during the Eggo Truck Summer Tour. The campaign generated a 6,000% increase in followers on Instagram, 11% engagement rate, and over a 500,000 fan interactions. But most importantly, it helped solidify Eggo’s rightful place among the show’s fandom and drive product consumption in preparation for the launch of Season 3.

Contributing To The Culture: FarmlandxSupreme

What do a pork manufacturer and a cult streetwear brand have in common? Before August 24, 2018, the answer was absolutely nothing, until the iconic clothing company, Supreme, decided to jack our client, Farmland’s, logo for a new apparel drop. But unlike most tales of copyright infringement, this one has a very happy ending.

For over 24 years, Supreme has been a leader in not only its skate culture roots, but in a global community whose brand identity is built on quality, style, and authenticity. According to a spokesperson from the brand, traffic on their site can increase by as much as 16,800% on the day of a product drop — a limited release retail strategy. According to LSN, “Brands such as Supreme have mastered drops where limited product releases cause people to make impulse purchases that they normally might not have made if there was not this constant now-or-never in the back of their heads.”

Unbeknownst to Farmland, its logo was patched onto five paneled hats in an August 2018 drop, with the name ‘Supreme’ replacing ‘Farmland’ across the logo. While this was indeed new territory for Farmland, it wasn’t the first offense for Supreme. The brand has had a long history of illegally coopting others IP. In these cases, you basically have three choices. You can: (1) take action by way of cease and desist, (2) do nothing and move on, or (3) choose to play along — which is exactly what we did.

First we responded with a tweet:



Within 24 hours of going live, the tweet garnered over 13,000 likes, more than 200 replies and 4,000 retweets – a notable uptick for a brand that rarely sees more than 10 interactions on a post. Influencers in the streetwear community weighed in: “Classy move, Farmland.” While Farmland earned more than 10 million impressions across accounts, even engaging actor Seth Rogen and streetwear influencer Casey Neistat. The impact could even be seen on the stock market of things, StockX, with a notable increase in post-market sales - At $44 retail, the demand for this piece started bringing in asking prices up to $149, according to the site’s reported sales data.

We took another step forward and created a lookbook unlike any other, timed with this week’s Supreme drop, featuring the perfect model -- our farmers:

This is a shining example of how a brands participate in culture by identifying opportunity and paying mind to the nuances. Bravo, team!

Bringing Meaning to "Social"

The ubiquity of technology and its ability to accelerate the adoption of behaviors have created enormous opportunity for marketers to reach target consumers. On the other hand, however, it has also made it simultaneously more difficult to “break through.” This paradox challenges the conventional approaches to marketing communications and puts more emphasis on leveraging social media technologies as a means to engage target consumers and propagate messages, ideas, products and behaviors. Perhaps then we need an updated perspective as to how we view "social" to better inform how we apply its power. Let's give it a shot, shall we?

The scripture says, "write the vision; make it plain." And I'm a huge fan of radical simplicity, so this particular verse ranks highly as one of my favorites. In industry, far too often we find ourselves swirling in abstractions, jargon, and buzzwords, so much so that we tend to lose sight of concreteness. It's hardly ever simple and rarely ever plain. Ask 10 people to define "social media," and you'll get 20 different answers, most of which tend to describe its characteristic or run a laundry list of its benefits. Hardly do we get to a plain definition, so maybe this is a good place to start. "Social," by definition, is all about people. "Social" work. "Social" action. "Social" welfare. They are all 100% centered on people. That's because "social" denotes people. So is the same when we think about "social media." If "social" is all about people then "social media" must be the media of people. That is, people are the vehicle by which information, communications, products, behaviors, and messages are transmitted. The Facebooks and Twitters of the world are the environments in which these exchanges take place, facilitating the media of people.

This ties nicely to "social media marketing." The core function of marketing is meant to influence behavior; therefore, all marketing efforts should be in the service of exciting a population of people to take action. Considering people rely on people more than any form of marketing communication, it is incumbent upon marketers to ensure that our ideas are socially designed – with people at the center – and built to share. That is, of course, if we are to successfully “move people.” Whether it be campaigns (messaging and communications), content (film, GIFs, flat images, audio, code) or experiences (both online or offline), the aim is to excite a desired behavior – from conversations to pass-along, purchase to search, and everything in between. 

Simple, right?

If we calibrate the way we think about and talk about "social" within our industry, then our efforts to operationalize its power would prove far more consistent than today's status quo.

A Thought on Reach & Measurement

The same intelligence that is invested in the creation of creative ideas must be put into the delivery of said ideas so that brands are able to connect with people. The mass adoption of social networking technologies provides a great opportunity for brands to deliver content, experiences, and messages to a tightly targeted group of people and still achieve a high-volume reach. The value this creates for brands is unprecedented in comparison to preexisting marketing tools. However, the most compelling factor of social media is that content, experiences, and messages that resonate with people are shared from person to person and can easily spread across a wide populous. The “share” is accompanied with a degree of credence that a brand could not command on its own because people trust people more than any form of marketing. Here, engagement produces reach, with a twist. The technology accelerates this dynamic so that the propagation happens far more rapidly than it would in the “offline world” and amounts to a high-level reach as well. Therefore, engagement and reach are far more intertwined than they are binary. When people engage on social networking platforms, it produces stories, and these stories are presented to other people within their network. From this perspective, reach is a by-product of engagement. Concurrently, the high-level reach that social networking platforms provide creates opportunities for potential engagement, and thus the cycle continues. Engagement and reach are not mutually exclusive and should be seen as complements to a practice of social connections.

Delivery is not only a matter of to whom but also a product of where. The contexts of the environment inform the content, experiences, and message a brand would transport in an effort to connect. How the brand shows up would then be nuanced by the subtleties thereof. Of course, the retail environment is highly coveted, because of its proximity to purchase, and entrenched with its own set of nuances. With this in mind, brands can develop creative stimuli – informed by the contexts of the retail environment – that resonate with people and move them to take action, whether it be a share or a purchase. Or both.

If marketers are meant to “move people,” our approach to measuring success is quite simple. Did people move? Did they adopt the behavior we designed for? If the answer is “Yes,” then it was a success. If not, then it was not. The benefit of social networking technology is that marketers are able to track behaviors with low latency (thanks to social listening, Google Analytics, and other tools), analyze the deficiencies and optimize the design to course correct. Appropriately, we assign metrics that are most representative of the behavior we want people to adopt. The key performance indicators become those metrics that are closer in proximity to the identified business objective (sales, traffic, shares, etc.). Did people move? Did they adopt the behavior we designed for? If the answer is “Yes,” then it was a success. If not, then it was not. Simple, right?

Simple vs. Easy

Most thesauruses refer to 'simple' and 'easy' as interchangeable synonyms. However, life teaches us that these two terms, while closely related, couldn't be any more different from each other. There are plenty of things that are 'simple' but not 'easy.' Losing weight is a 'simple' concept. If you take in fewer calories and increase physical activity, you'll likely lose weight. It's 'simple' but it ain't 'easy.' Save more. Read more. All simple concepts that aren't entirely easily achieved because they require effort. So is the same with marketing.

Focus on your consumer. Invest in the long term (brand, customer relationships, etc.). These, too, are 'simple' concepts but they require effort and commitment, and that isn't so 'easy.' It is here where marketers fall down, much like dieters and retirement savers. Sticking to something is difficult, so we tend to quit before the results come. The short-term is more compelling than the long-term, so we cave. Imagine going to the gym, your first day back in years, and you look at yourself in the mirror after the workout and think, "I don't see any difference. I quit." It sounds ridiculous, but this is the exact behavior that marketers exhibit. A consumer-first approach didn't work the first time out of the gate, so we abandon it and go back to our value proposition-led tactics, which ironically don't work too well either. How do we ever expect to get results if we don't stick to it? 

The idea is simple. If you want a six pack, you have to do crunches. But crunches aren't easy. If you're going to establish rich, brand relationships with your consumers, you have to put in the work. Simple, right? 


Data: the oil which lubricates the network

In Hardt and Negri's seminal writing, Postmodernization, the authors described the digital area as a paradigm in which "providing services and manipulating information are at the heart of economic production." We can see this play out when thinking of the most successful and dominant players in today's market - Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, etc. Each of these firms provides services (and sometimes product goods) which connect nods (that would normally be disparate) to create more customized experiences. Things connected to other things. Things connected to people. People connected people. Digital facilitates the network which connects nods that otherwise would be disconnected and data is the oil which lubricates these networks. Today's dominating technology extracts the data we passively shed in our day-to-day actions -- research, communications, movement, consumption, commerce -- to optimize our day-to-day lives, helping us make better decisions through the benefit of collective intelligence. Make no mistake, this is not without its tradeoffs, of course. Just like anything else, there are both positive and negative consequences to these technologies and their ability to "provide services and manipulate information." That said, here is one of the coolest examples I've seen lately where data was used to lubricate the network and provide utility to the people.

Ever visited a city and wondered "where should we eat?" In most cases, you try to avoid the chain restaurants because the Olive Garden in NYC is likely the same as the Olive Garden back home. Instead, we venture to fully experience the culture of that city through the tapestry of its cuisine. You know, eat like the locals. We consult Yelp and curated lists from blogs to find the best places to dine in the city. But what if we could use the data people shed as a proxy to find the best spots based on where the people actually go? Apparently, the folks at Crimson Hexagon -- an AI-powered, social listening technology company -- wondered the same thing. To illuminate this curiosity, Crimson used its platform to identify the most popular foods and drinks in New York City on Instagram according to the use of associated hashtags. They gathered the posts containing those tags in the five boroughs over a period of time and visually represented where the true 'hot spots' are in the city. 

Full transparency, Crimson Hexagon is both a close colleague and friend of mine. That said, it does not bias how cool this active truly is. Check it:

Created by Crimson Hexagon

Confidence, or the lack thereof

Confidence is an ever-evolving spectrum, on which we oscillate from one end to another. Often times, we take aspirational steps forward to improve ourselves (or our situation) only to be met with self-doubt and an erosion of confidence. We all face it. Every single one of us. The question then becomes, "how do we persevere despite feeling like we're not good enough, smart enough, or [fill in the blank] enough?"

I wish I had the universal answer. Suffice it to say, I don't. At its core, however, I think you just have to muscle through. You have to push through the fear and the doubt. Push through the voices in your head that say "you don't belong here, you shouldn't try this, you're way out of your league." The challenge with this approach is that how one person 'pushes through' might manifest differently than how it would for someone else. So what do you do, right?

In my heart of hearts, I believe that whatever is meant for you is already yours. You just have to prepare for it and be patient. Patience is a product of prayer, an act of faith. Preparation is a product of work. Faith without works is dead, as the scripture says. Put in the work and it will come. That is, of course, if it is indeed meant for you. I have confidence in this perspective, and it guides my approach to most things in life. As long as I do my part, God will do His. 

It ain't for everybody, but it works for me.

It's finally here!

What started as a conversation between me and my colleague/collaborator, John Branch, about the ever-evolving media landscape and its impact on marketing, turned into a provocation that stretched across the worlds of academia and practice. What is ‘digital marketing’ and how do today’s marketers address the contemporary issues associated within the space? There were lots of questions and interesting debates that extended over a period of time, so we ventured to capture this thinking in prose in book form. And that book is finally here - Contemporary Issues In Digital Marketing. My hope is that you find it as thought provoking as the dialogue which sparked its genesis. 


A Tale of Two Cities: Rebranding the LA Clippers

John Smith grew up a hardcore Detroit Pistons fan in the days of the ‘Bad Boys’ era when the team made consecutive Eastern conference championship runs and won back-to-back world championships. His fandom would wane in the following years when the team was rebuilding and the losses outnumbered the wins. That was until the Pistons began winning again and Marcus’ excitement in the team would be restored a decade later.

This narrative is not unique by any stretch. Fandom within the world of the National Basketball Association (NBA) can be magnetic, exhilarating, and often times, fickle. When the team is winning, fandom is high, and people shell out dollars for tickets and apparel. But when the team is losing, no one seems to care. There was a time, not so long ago, when the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors were unmentioned in NBA chatter. Today, they dominate sports headlines and sell out arenas. Why? Because they win. Teams like the Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks, and Miami Heat used to hold this coveted position, but they no longer do, because they no longer win. In the NBA, if you aren’t winning, no one seems to pay attention. That is except for a select few teams — the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics. Even when these teams aren’t winning, they still matter in culture.

Three of these four teams didn’t even make it to the playoffs this past season, no doubt an empirical testament to a losing side. Yet they each held a position on the list of the top 10 highest merchandise sales and the top 11 highest game attendance in the NBA during their losing season. This happens year after year after year. Why? Because these four teams are more than just NBA franchises. They have transcended the sport and have meaning beyond the game. They matter in culture and, therefore, their significance extends beyond the wins & losses. This is particularly important because every year the team changes. In fact, the only consistent element of a team is the jersey itself. Players come and go, and often when players leave a team due to trades and free agency, the fans follow them (*cough* LeBron James *cough*). And the teams with meaning win, regardless of their record.

For our client, the Los Angeles Clippers, this truth is paramount. The team is anemic when it comes to ‘wins,’ and they lack the draw of a superstar player. But more importantly, the team doesn’t stand for much beyond its record and its geographic association. As a result, Clippers fandom, and subsequent revenues suffer with game attendance sitting at #22 of the 30 NBA teams.

Even the team’s geographic association is challenged, considering it shares the city of Los Angeles with the one of ‘the four,’ the Los Angeles Lakers. Much like the NY Mets are to the NY Yankees, and the Chicago Cubs are to the Chicago White Sox, without a doubt, the Clippers are the Jan Brady to the Lakers’ Marsha Brady. To make matters worse, the Clippers and the Lakers not only share the same city but they also play in the same arena. They share the same ‘home.’ This ‘hallway’ rivalry among the two teams has created a tale of two cities.

This is where things get interesting. To the outside world, LA conjures images of Hollywood and celebrities, sunny weather, glitz and glamour. This is embodied in everything the Lakers represent. They are, after all, the ‘Showtime’ Lakers. To the locals, the Los Angelenos, however, there is more to the city sparkle. As LA native, Kendrick Lamar, puts it this way, “There’s a part of town where you

can find the grit. The fortitude. The truth.” This is the real LA, not the veneer that outsiders see on TV and movies and, therefore, associate with the city. This is the tale of two cities.

To investigate this notion further, we partnered with the AI-powered, consumer insight tech company, Crimson Hexagon, to analyze Instagram photo metadata as a means to observe the behavior of LA tourists versus that of LA locals. We categorized photos in two fashions: (1) tourists - Instagram photos taken in LA by users with accounts associated with zip codes outside of LA and (2) locals — Instagram photos taken by users with accounts associated with zip codes within LA. After which, we mapped their photo behavior (as seen below) and color-coded the locations where these users’ photos were taken. The tourist locations are denoted in pink, and locals in green.  

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On the surface, the findings were unsurprising. The tourists took pictures in and around expected landmark locations - Disney Land, Santa Monica Pier, the Hollywood sign. The locals, not so much.

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But then something fascinating appeared. Among the tourist photos, we saw a disproportionate amount of photos taken at the Staples Center on the days that the Lakers played, which sparked an ‘aha’ moment for us. The glitzy symbolization of the Lakers doesn’t accurately represent the collective spirit of the city. The ‘Showtime’ Lakers are a veneer of Los Angeles, much like the tourist attractions we outsiders attribute to the city. But there is a ‘real’ Los Angeles that has gone unrepresented and uncelebrated in the NBA. And this will become the banner that the Clippers will wave. The Lakers will represent the glitz of the city and we, the Clippers, will represent the grit - the ‘real’ Los Angeles. We will be the receipt of identity for the ‘real’ Los Angelenos. We are the real home team.

This strategic approach set the stage for the closeout of the team’s 2017 - 2018 season and the start of a new chapter for the upcoming season. The Real Home Team provided the Clippers with a North Star by which the team could align its messaging, anchor its activations, and, most importantly, rally Los Angelenos who identify with the team’s POV. With only two weeks left in the season for the Clippers, we began a 10-day rollout which would put this flag in the sand for the team.

We started by promoting the team’s efforts to make the basketball court a sanctuary in every LA community, backed by a recent $10 million donation from the LA Clippers Foundation and owner Steve Ballmer to renovate 350 public basketball courts across the city. A proof point that the Clippers are not just a basketball team which plays in Los Angeles; we are the home team, and we take care of home. We supported the donation announcement with an anthemic film which captured an accurate and diverse view of the city, and its public basketball courts, to tell a story about their meaningfulness and the crucial role they play in the lives of locals – from families who play together on these courts every morning, to mid day leagues, and mommy boot camps. The film, and additional animated video complements, were distributed via the Clippers’ social channels and debuted during live fan events in Los Angeles.

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The roll out led up to the LA Clippers’ season-finale game on April 11, where they hosted their “hallway” rivals, the Lakers, on their home court at the Staples Center. To drum up excitement and attendance for the game, we took to the streets and literally rallied Clippers fans, far and wide, to capture their team allegiance in preparation for the big rivalry game. From salons who adorned nails with Clippers logos to cake makers and sign spinners, we helped the home team promote the home team. The film was then exclusively distributed by the most prolific, diehard Clippers fans who have supported the team through its ups and downs. We identified these people via Twitter and hand-delivered the asset to them so they could do what they do best, support their team. 

The results were quite impressive. Throughout our rollout we saw attendance intent, as demonstrated by Google Search, spiked by 2%, indicating purchase consideration throughout the campaign. The campaign received 3x the team’s average brand engagements that year, and 64% more video views — all without any paid media allocated to the campaign and only $10,000 spent on production.

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To conclude the season, we created a finale cinematic interpretation of “Grit and Determination,” an ode to the city and the team. “This city, our city, moves with a fighters’ pride,” the video says. “In the face of every naysayer.” It featured real fans – aka “The Home Team” — and debuted in-stadium, across LA Clippers social channels, as well as through Clippers influencers and local media celebrities.

While most people know LA for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood (as associated with the ‘Showtime’ Lakers), there’s a different side of Los Angeles — the grit, the resilience — which most accurately represents its people and this team. This is the real LA, and we are the real home team.

The Power of Perspective

I don't know much but I tell you what I do know, the greatest things I've accomplished in my career were primarily a result of calibrating my perspective -- the way I saw the world. I remember it being the dead of night, fall of 2011, and I was staring at the ceiling of my NYC apartment experiencing what I now refer to as my ‘Jerry Maguire’ moment. I was a newly hired executive at Translation advertising, where I ran the social media marketing practice. At that moment, however, I realized I knew nothing about ‘social,’ despite my past experiences working in digital and social with huge brands like Apple, Beyoncé, Microsoft, and the alike. Perhaps knowing nothing is a bit hyperbolic, but at the time it certainly felt that way. A more accurate statement would probably be that my understanding of ‘social’ was grossly incomplete. Until that fateful night, I thought about social media as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Foursquare, and all the other fast-growing platforms of the time. I held a technology-centric perspective on this phenomenon, and evangelized its benefits to clients and teammates alike. But something became irreversibly clear to me. ‘Social,’ by definition, is all about people. Much like social work, social welfare, and social justice are focused on people, social media is all about people.

I laid awake that night feeling like a fraud. I was hired to be a thought leader in social media marketing, tasked with the responsibility of building a social media practice to serve clients like State Farm, McDonald’s, and Anheuser-Busch. Yet, I realized in that moment that I knew nothing about ‘social,’ because I knew nothing about people. I had no understanding about human behavior — why people do what they do. My knowledge of human cognitions did not extend much further than the term ‘freudian slip.’ I felt equal parts illuminated by this new epiphany, and terrified by the fear of being found out. I decided to lean into this revelation. In the days and weeks following, I began investing myself in the social sciences to learn about people. I started with Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, and I could not stop reading. I found its exploration to be nothing short of fascinating. In it, Ariely proves that the cognitive biases which sway human behavior are so strong that they are partially predictable, despite how illogical they might be. I read the book twice and, in my second pass, I highlighted the research which I thought was most interesting. More importantly, I noted the researchers who were referenced, and whose work I began to read shortly thereafter. Ariely led me to Kahneman, and Kahneman led me to Loewenstein. I detoured to McLuhan and then turned to Berger, who led me to Watts and Thaler, and soon after to Asch and Milgram. My curiosity was insatiable and, as a result, I read broadly and deeply. After about a year of discovery, the research started to became self-referential. And then something amazing happen. This research grounding began to manifest in my own work. As I applied theories from the social sciences to my work, the better the outcomes were. This was evidenced in my work launching the Cliff Paul campaign for State Farm and the Brooklyn Nets’ “Hello Brooklyn” campaign when the team moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, for example. This was all a result of a perspective shift.

As you develop new skills and learn new tools, I urge you to develop a new set of lens, a new perspective. Widening our aperture, if only just a little, will not only make us all better marketers, better business people, but -- most importantly -- better human beings.  

Digital Musings

I am a child of the 80s. Michael Jackson, MTV, Beverly Hills Cop, Atari, Bart Simpson, Saturday morning cartoons, and just about every other 80s artifact which you can name brings back fond memories of my formative years. While this decade laid the foundation of my love affair with contemporary culture, it was the 90s which introduced me to the digital revolution. I bypassed typewriters and wrote school papers on the RadioShack-issued Tandy 1000 which my moth- er gave my brother Eugene and me in the winter of 1990. I bought my first compact disc in the spring of 1991: Boyz II Men’s Cooleyhighharmony. I surfed the internet for the first time, via Internet Explorer, as a high school sophomore in 1994 at the University of Michigan’s Summer Engineering Academy. I got my first email address as a college freshman, which drastically decreased my handwritten letter-writ- ing output, despite having a long-distance girlfriend at the time. And that was just the beginning. GeoCities-built websites became my source of new music discovery. Google aided my research studies and often times distracted me from it. AOL Instant Messenger helped me to stay connected to my friends, while Black Planet helped me find new ones. By that time, I was completely immersed in the ‘digital world’. But before it ended, the decade had one last discovery for me: MIDI.

MIDI, short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is the technology—the digital language—which enables individual electronic musical instruments, computers, and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another. With MIDI, an electronic key- board can sync with a drum machine, for example, and relay their shared performance to a computer for recording purposes. Music, therefore, can be endlessly edited, thereby empowering songwriters to produce full compositions in ‘digital space’...and without the need for a band. With MIDI, I found myself exploring a new world of musical possibilities.

This exploration completely changed the trajectory of my career. Although I studied material science engineering in college, I spent most of my undergraduate hours writing and producing music with MIDI-enabled digital/electronic instruments. Indeed, after graduation I went straight into the music business, co-founding a record label and artist development startup. I was making music for a living...albeit modestly. I produced all the tracks for the company’s debut album re- lease entirely in my bedroom studio, which kept overhead extremely low. The company was one of the early independent record labels to get music on iTunes, and thanks to music commerce aggregates like CD Baby, the sale of products advanced without the need to press ad- ditional CD inventory. I used the company’s website to generate leads, and leveraged an e-mail CRM system to distribute communications to fans and supporters. No doubt, the digital revolution afforded me great opportunity both as an artist and an entrepreneur.

The ubiquity of digital technology also removed barriers for amateur music-makers to create. Programs like Fruity Loops and Cake- walk reduced the financial barrier which expensive recording studios once erected. Creativity was ‘democratized’. Meanwhile, as the inter- net continued to proliferate, the growth of communities of people on- line ballooned. Out of this came the benefit of collective intelligence where people began to share their learnings of these new music creation tools with others in the community through vehicles like You- tube. As a result, amateur music-makers learned from each other, thereby reducing the perception that a lengthy apprenticeship was necessary for success.

Before the advent of digital technology, music-makers also required access to radio in order to distribute their art. And radio airplay, unfortunately, was strictly reserved for, and to a large degree con- trolled by, major record labels. Likewise, very few music-makers could afford to produce music videos. And even if they could, the production quality was low, and access to MTV was limited. The growing internet removed the intermediaries and the gatekeepers, thereby al- lowing these new, non-major-record-label-affiliated music-makers, like me, to reach music fans directly.

These changes also had a massive impact on the music business. The digital medium shift from compact discs to compressed files (MP3s) made the internet the most effective vehicle for distributing and discovering music. Consumers (perhaps surprisingly) accepted varying quality of MP3s; indeed, sonic quality ceased being a discrim- inating factor for music fans, which levelled the playing field for ama- teur musicians and producers. Consequently, there was an influx of content in the market—from amateur creators to superstars with re- duced latency between album releases. And so music fans found themselves, for the first time ever, with more supply of music than time to consume it. This in turn reduced the half-life of cre- ated a kind of ‘dopamine cycle’ in which listeners spent less time ex- periencing specific content. Ironically, the same technology which opened my eyes to a potential career in music—which helped me re- alise my dreams—was the same technology which brought those same dreams to a screeching halt.

The digital revolution forever changed the business of how music is created, discovered, and sold. There were winners and losers, much like in almost every other industry in which technologies have infused themselves. With all these changes, and their subsequent implications, the need for the business community to understand these technologies better is more important than ever.


Since its introduction in 2006, two years after the social networking platform’s founding, Facebook has long placed great focus on the optimization of its “Newsfeed.” The Newsfeed is the default welcome screen which dynamically aggregates the posts and updates from the various accounts which Facebook users follow and are connected — people, brands, artists, publishers, small businesses, etc. To optimize the experience of the Newsfeed, Facebook began using an algorithm in 2009 to prioritize what content gets seen by a given user. This form of content sorting depended heavily on the perceived relevance of the content, informed by user engagement. Previously, Facebook delivered content in the Newsfeed via reverse chronological order, a far departure from the 2009 methodology. Over the years, this approach to sorting content via popularity has experienced many changes — from design alterations to algorithmic shifts. The latter ushered in efforts to: prioritize content shared by users’ close friends and family, reduce “clickbait” posts, and give preference to video media which were growing in favor among users. Brands, of course, benefited greatly from the captive audience Facebook amassed and the unprecedented sophistication of Facebook’s ad-targeting capabilities. While Facebook happily opened its doors to the ad revenue, which grew year over year thanks to eager marketers who spent aggressively on the platform (as well as the laggards who were slow to adopt the technology as a marketing communications vehicle), its focus has been centered, by and large, on its users — people.

It should come to no surprise that Facebook would embrace new changes to the Newsfeed algorithm, as it has previously done so frequently. The company hires an army of social scientists and data analysts to do this very thing, observe human behavior on the platform and augment its features accordingly. Whether it be a response to the criticism of the widespread “fake news” articles, which circulated across the platform during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, or business as usual, change is a constant practice for Facebook, as it is for tech broadly. The most recent changes, once again, put an added emphasis on the user by prioritizing the content people see in their Newsfeed based on the posts most popular among people’s friends and family. Sound familiar? Facebook’s focus is centered on its users — people.

This is a hard pill to swallow for many marketers because brands have grown accustomed to buying their way into users’ Newsfeeds. Once Facebook began reducing organic reach for brands (yet another sweeping Newsfeed change some five years ago), companies delivered their communications to the Newsfeeds of brand “fans” — and anyone else on the platform who matched a targeted profile — by simply writing a check. With a population of over 2 billion people, Facebook became (and still is) a super compelling media investment for marketing communications, rivaling that of traditional television and radio outlets. The most recent Newsfeed changes, however, signal that those days are likely waning.

According to Facebook, the new changes to the Newsfeed will reduce the amount of content users see from media publishers and companies alike. That is to say that people will see more content from their people — the way Facebook was intended to function from the very beginning. Just recently the company stated that the shifts will affect publishers most, particularly those which have been able to reach users for free through the Newsfeed’s automated placement of these publishers’ posts. While Facebook may be focused on people, it’s not a philanthropy either. Therefore, publishers like Attn:, Buzzfeed and Upworthy, who have benefited from organic reach, will now meet a similar fate as brands once did — if they want to reach people, they will now have to pay up. The result of this move will be devastating for these publishers and likely undermine the value proposition they once offered as an alternative to ad agency-made creative. While Facebook has assured the advertising community that sponsored posts (that is, media-supported content) will not be affected by the recent Newsfeed changes, it certainly hints at a few things:

Facebook has long invested in video as a priority undertaking for the platform. In the last year, the company doubled down on this commitment by building a dedicated home for original video content. The new tab, called Facebook Watch, was designed to host content produced exclusively for Facebook by such partners as MLB, the NBA, National Geographic and others. Facebook plans to allow advertisers to buy against this content, not unlike television, based on contextual relevance. This is no doubt aimed to be a YouTube competitor. It also forces publishers to shift their content efforts toward Facebook Watch, as opposed to the Newsfeed, to keep the coveted real estate of the Newsfeed focused on people and their networks.

This strategic investment in highly produced content through Facebook Watch will likely nudge marketers toward this inventory as well. The move certainly resolves some of the brand-safety anxieties which marketers have been feeling as of late in regards to YouTube media placement issues. Not to mention, buying interstitials against video content feels far more familiar to traditional marketers than navigating the ambiguity of programming “social” content.

This is not checkers, it’s chess. As mentioned above, Facebook is a firm believer in putting things in the world and optimizing along the way. If this rollout proves successful for the company, it would not be much of a surprise if similar changes were soon knocking at marketers’ doors also. Whether it be a premium on sponsored posts — due to the reduction of Newsfeed inventory, in favor of more people-generated posts — or a fullout shift to Facebook Watch — adopting a YouTube-like model for on-platform advertising (or perhaps a combination of both), a detour from the advertising status quo on Facebook is inevitable.

The takeaway is this, Facebook is a social networking platform that became a marketing platform over time. While the company has made a fortune in ad revenue, its focus is on people first. Facebook’s Newsfeed changes are actually prioritizing the “social” in “social media,” and that’s a good thing. If marketers are to fully leverage social, then we must do the same also. We must put people first.

This cannot be overstated. Marketers have long viewed the inhabitants of Facebook as a population of potential consumers dubbed an “audience.” But an “audience” is an assembly of passive spectators, and people just aren’t passive. People are dynamic and their behaviors are largely influenced by the dynamism of the networks of people to which they subscribe. Now, more than ever, brands must earn their way into the conversations of would-be consumers and their networks of people. We can’t simply buy our way into the party, we have to be invited. The notion of disruption with no intrinsic value to the network will continue to erode marketing opportunities for brands in today’s hyper-connected world. Thus, it is more important than ever that marketers create “things” (content, stories, experiences, etc.) that are built to share, which will require of us a more nuanced understanding of human behavior.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, describes the new updates to the Newsfeed as a move to prioritize “trustworthy content” in an effort to make people’s time spent on the site more meaningful. The underlying implication of this statement speaks directly to the prioritization of people, which should also be the top priority of brands also.


Location, Location, Location — The Influence of the Digital Marketing Context

Toilet Humor

I have a confession to make. I love toilet-humour. From Richard Prior to South Park, Sarah Silverman to Sacha Baron Cohen, and anything in between, I am a big fan. The raunchier the better, as far as I am concerned. I suppose that growing up listening to standup comedy recordings of Eddie Murphy—at far too young an age, admittedly—had a large effect on my current comedic palette. And from time to time, I feel licensed to infuse friendly dialogue with some off- color jokes...I know that my friends are also fond of the same kind of humor, and that they will appreciate the reference (N.B. I am no Eddie Murphy, but I can practically recite his show, Raw, line by line. Just sayin’.). These ‘vulgarities’ take place in the everyday—at a foot- ball game, walking down the street to Subway, or at the photocopier. But I would never stoop to the profane—even with the same people— during a conversation at church, with my child’s paediatrician, or in the classroom. Why is that?

I certainly do not believe that I am pretending to be someone else at church, that my child’s physician is humor-less, or that the classroom is some sort of sacred space. But the answer is obvious—there are social expectations which dictate which behaviors are acceptable in which contexts, and consciously (and perhaps even subconsciously), people adhere to these expectations by behaving accordingly. That is to say, my proclivity to behave in a certain manner is influenced not only by my personal disposition, but also by the hid- den sways of the situation. In short, context matters!

This idea that context matters is not new to marketers. Research in the social sciences has for decades illuminated the influence which other people have on the things which we think, feel, and ultimately, do. Consequently, marketers invested huge resources to exploit this influence, in service of achieving their marketing objectives.

For example, the internet has democratized creativity, and in turn birthed a cadre of amateur content creators (Youtube and Instagram stars, for example) who have amassed large populations of followers. In many instances, these creators have attracted and, perhaps more importantly, influenced millions of people. Marketers court these creators with big pay-cheques, hoping to benefit from the influence which they have over their followers. The outcome is the new sub- genre of ‘influencer marketing’, replete with its own conferences, agencies, and business models. For marketers, influence is hot.

With all this enthusiasm for and investment in influence, there- fore, it is surprising to us that marketers have paid such little heed to the influence of the context. Indeed, channelling our inner Marshall McLuhan who coined the phrase “The medium is the message.”, we wonder why more marketers have not considered the influence which the marketing context has on people. The marketing context, like that of a church, physician’s office, or classroom, undoubtedly has its own communicative powers and hidden forces which guide our cognitions, affects, and behaviors. Psychologist and author of Situations Matter, Sam Sommers, summed it up well: “Just like the museum visitor pays little heed to the painting’s frame, we fail to notice the impact of outside influences on our innermost thoughts and instincts.” In turns out that the frame means a lot.

This a-ha creates a great opportunity for marketers to not only engage influencers who deliver messages on behalf of the brand mark, but also engineer the marketing context in ways which influence customer cognitions, affects, and behaviors. Consider the inherent wisdom in the old real-estate chestnut of fresh-baked cookies in show houses. And what about the effect which clean toilets have on customers’ evaluation of restaurant quality.

Life is not constrained to the physical world, however; people also live in a ‘digital world’. Indeed, more and more time is spent searching the internet, pouring over blogs, and updating social media sites. Here we will explore the digital marketing context. It begins by discussing defaults—the pre-established factors in a digital space. It then investigates the semiotics (the meanings) of digital ‘signs and symbols’. This continues by examining the placement, or spacial arrangement, in a digital space. Finally, it underlines the importance of cultural nuances in the digital marketing context.

Defaults: The Condition Set by Pre-Established Factors

You have waited and waited, with Monk-like patience, and now it is finally here...the new iPhone with all the latest bells and whistles! After wading through the seemingly endless queue at the Apple Store, you finish the transaction with the sales representative, and the phone is now yours. Oh, happy day! You arrive home, unwrap the meticulously designed packaging, walk through the user-friendly activation, and turn your new iPhone on for the first time. The device illuminates, and you find yourself on the home screen with 22 mobile apps, beautifully laid out, just waiting to be explored. Which apps do you see? Or, better put, whose apps do you see?

Of course, the 22 apps which you see first are all products of Apple, the maker of the iPhone. It is no wonder that Apple would de- sign your first home screen experience to be made up of Apple apps exclusively. Because the apps to which you are introduced first are the apps which you are more likely to use first, and also most often. Sure, iPhone users can go to the App Store (another Apple product) to obtain other (non-Apple) apps, but that takes effort. Like most things, people tend to take the path of least resistance. Thus, the pre-established factors which we experience in a digital space—the defaults— can have a tremendous impact on our behavior.

Designers have been leveraging the influence of defaults for ages, and marketers can stand to benefit from similar thinking. This influence can be seen in both offline and online experiences. Consider the differences between a traditional, paper-filled diary and Facebook. On the surface there are plenty of similarities between the two con- texts. People commit their feelings, experiences, and happenings in a form of syntax which documents their life and the people around them. Obvious medium differences aside, the defaults play a large role in how users behave when engaging with these outlets. In its default condition, the diary is literally kept under lock and key, signaling that its contents are meant to be kept private and only shared with discriminating bias. Surely, a diary is not meant for everyone, and if its owner decides to disclose its secrets, unquestionably this is a special occasion, and consequently ought to be treated as such.

Facebook’s default, on the other contrary, has a public setting which signals that its contents are meant for everybody. Of course, this is desirable to Facebook. The more people share, the more compelling the platform becomes. Inactivity makes a ‘social’ environment less attractive. Who likes a party when no one is dancing? Same thing here. The more active the platform—that is to say, the more people share—the more attractive Facebook becomes. Facebook’s defaults, therefore, are set to encourage this behavior. While users do have the ability to set their profile to private, or to restrict access to their con- tent for selected individuals, the majority of users do not go through the hassle. Defaults prevail.

The inconvenient steps which are necessary to keep Facebook content private create the perfect barrier to doing so, and consequently influence behavior toward Facebook’s desired outcome to share publicly. This is especially critical for marketers, because the core function of the discipline is to influence behavior. Drink this, not that. Buy these shoes, not those shoes. Vote for this candidate, not that candidate. Marketers, therefore, ought to pay more attention to designing defaults, especially because the more complex it is for people to alter the defaults, the more influential the defaults become. Indeed, the more hoops though which people must jump, the more they rely on the status quo...on the defaults.

This notion was illuminated vividly in research by Eric Johnson and Daniel Goldstein (2003) who explored variation in organ donation decisions. The researchers collected data from driver’s license renewal offices in a number of European countries, in order to quantify the participation rate of citizens in their national organ donation pro- grammes. The results were startling.

The group of countries on the left had very low donation participation. In the case of Denmark, for example, less than 5% of citizens were willing to donate their organs in the event of a deadly accident. Contrast that with the group of countries on the right, which saw organ donation consent rates approaching 100%. What explains the sharp contrast?

One might hypothesis that this contrast was due to cultural differences. Perhaps the countries on the right are more altruistic than the countries on the left. This hypothesis, however, was immediately challenged when considering the cultural similarities between Germany and Austria, for example, or between Sweden and Denmark.

The explanation for the contrast, however, was such simpler. Johnson and Goldstein found that the reason for country differences in proclivity to donate organs had nothing to do with altruism, and every- thing to do with the form at the driver’s license renewal office. In- deed, those countries which had low organ donation consent rates had renewal forms which required residents to ‘opt-in’. Citizens did not check the box, and, by default, consent was not given. Those countries which had high organ consent rates, on the contrary, had ‘opt-out’ renewal forms. Citizens did not check the box and, by default, consent was given. The defaults, it appears, are highly influential!

With an understanding of the influence of defaults, therefore, marketers can design marketing contexts whose defaults influence behavior toward a desired outcome. One of our favorite examples of this in practice was seen in Panama City, whose city officials needed some ‘persuasion’ to repair the pervasive and pesky potholes through- out the city. We live in Michigan which, despite its self-proclaimed title of automotive capital of the world, is notorious for its potholes. And like many Michiganders, the residents of Panama City had fallen victim to the ramifications of driving over these structural flaws in the streets: shredded tires, broken wheels, and a host of other vehicular and corporal damage. But rather than report the potholes to their city officials in an effort to get the streets repaired, the residents of Panama City took no action...other than complain incessantly to their friends and families.

In stepped a Panamanian advertising agency and a local news show, Telemetro Reporta, which together decided to change the de- fault of driving in Panama City by creating El Hueco Twitero (The Tweeting Pothole). Targeting the busiest streets of Panama City, the agency and Telemetro installed devices inside a number of potholes which tweeted a complaint automatically to the Twitter account of the Department of Public Works, when a driver traversed the pothole. This new contextual default allowed drivers to continue with their current behavior, but with a secondary outcome. Not surprisingly, after more and more tweets began to accumulate—and the news show covered the on-going frustration of Panama City drivers—potholes started dis- appearing. It demonstrates the power which marketers wield to effectuate behavioral change by manipulating the marketing context—in this case, by resetting the defaults, which in turn re-set human agency.

Semiotics: The Condition Set by Implicit Meaning

Signs are everywhere: that “Do not disturb” announcement on an office door, cloudy skies in the late Spring, or police tape surrounding a grassy knoll. According to Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Sanders Peirce, and other semioticians, social meaning is conveyed through signs...linguistic or otherwise. That is to say, the human condition is largely symbolic.

Formally, semiotics is the study of semiosis, or the production of meaning through signs. In his seminal 1966 work Course on General Linguistics, Swiss linguist de Saussure suggested that any sign is comprised of three inter-linked elements: 1. the ‘referent’ (the object to which the signifier refers), 2. the ‘signifier’ (the word, symbol, or other communicative device which refers to the object), and 3. the ‘signified’ (the conceptual meaning or sense made of the signifier). Consider a red rose, for example. The referent is the rose itself. The signifier is the image of a red rose or the words ‘red rose’. The signified is love or passion.

Signs are ubiquitous, and people often fail to realize that social meaning is symbolic nature. Moreover, they rarely — if ever — consider the effortlessness with which these meanings are interpreted. For example, imagine that you passed a person in uniform whose left jacket breast was adorned with a plethora of colored ribbons and metals. Without thinking, you would presume that the person is from the military, is a decorated hero, and is probably someone of high stature who deserves your respect. And as such, you would act accordingly, despite any affiliation with the armed services. It is this mean- ing-making which is the core of semiotics.

Signs, however, also have a cognative effect. Indeed, humans interpret meaning from signs, but they are also triggered to act in response to the signs. Imagine that you are in the swankiest part of the city, treating yourself to a night on the town with a visit to the newest dance club which is all the rage. As you approach the club, you can hear the bass of the dance music thumping. There are two bouncers standing at the entrance of the club, granting and denying access, thereby providing the perfect tension of popularity and exclusivity. Two queues have formed, one to the left of the bouncers and another to the right of the bouncers. The two queues look identical, except one queue is corralled by red, velvet ropes which are suspended by shiny, metallic stanchions. Which queue would you join? Our bet is that you would not join the roped-off queue, because the red, velvet ropes communicate exclusivity (unless, of course, you think that those two bouncers will vouch for you as VIP). Signs have meaning; but they also induce behavior.

We also see semiotics at play in marketing. Consider the quick service restaurant (QSR) Subway, for example. Before Subway entered the sandwich business, the status quo for most QSR restaurants was for customers to place their orders at the register, and then wait for pick-up while cooks prepared the food in the hidden-away ‘back- stage’. That the food preparation happened out of sight raised doubt and speculation around the order accuracy, the cleanliness of the prep area, and the integrity of the food.

Juxtapose this to Subway, however, in which customers’ orders are both placed and prepared in front of their eyes, behind a glass counter. And that glass counter conveys transparency, leaving no doubt about the veracity of the sandwich or its production value— what you see is what you get! The glass counter also gives Subway a ‘license’ to boast a healthy alternative to fast food. And thanks to the help of a spokesman’s radical weight loss story, the people came in droves. The semiotics of the Subway environment changed people’s expectation of QSR restaurants, and have since ignited the rise of other competitors which have emulated a similar physical (and semiotic) design.

Semiotics are not limited to the physical world, of course. Au contraire, signs also materialize in digital space. On Facebook, for example, brand marks are constantly serving up (commercial) messages which disrupt the stories and photos from our friends and families. I once received a message which claimed “Someone you know and possibly others like this brand.” The semiotics of this message connote that my friends like this, so I also ought to like it. But it is not just any friend, but Damon Williams who likes it, and who, in my mind, is a snazzy dresser. Consequently, I check it out. This sign serves as a stamp of approval. Indeed, when friends like something, it lowers resistance it, and, consequently, we are more inclined to adopt it. The signs sway behavior!

Marketing-engineered signs like this can also have power, even if the signs are communicated by strangers. Recall a recent search for a video on Youtube, the top two results of which had identical descriptors and thumbnails. The only difference is that one video has 700 views and the other has 8,000,000 views. Which do you click? Of course, you choose to watch the video with 8,000,000 views. Why? Because 8,000,000 people cannot be incorrect. The view count on Youtube acts as a public progress bar, conveying the message that this video is the one which everyone is watching. Again, this is the potential of semiotics in marketing.

Armed with this understanding of semiotics, therefore, marketers can design marketing contexts in order to influence people to take action. One of our favorite examples of semiotics in practice took place at the Oldenplan subway station in Stockholm, Sweden. Like most subway stops, the escalator to exit the station is over-used, because for most passengers an escalator is more compelling than the stairs. Re- member, people tend to take the path of least resistance. How might a marketer shift the environment using semiotics to encourage people to take the stairs instead? At the time, Volkswagen was in the midst of its Fun Theory campaign which hinges on the notion that if something is fun, people will be inclined to do it. Unbeknownst to Stockholm commuters, Volkswagen outfitted the stairs of the Oldenplan subway station with piano keys which emitted sound when stepped on (Think Tom Hanks in the movie Big.); each stair tread activated a piano key. Come the next morning, commuters faced a choice — take the boring escalator, as they normally did, or take the newly-minted piano stairs. It ought not to be surprising that most people took the stairs...66% more than usual, in fact. The semiotics of the piano stairs signaled to subway passengers that the stairs were fun, despite— even because of —the effort it took to climb them.

Placement: The Condition Set by Spacial Arrangement

There are no certainties in life, except death and taxes. So goes the old saying. But here in the United States, there is seemingly one other bankable fact — that in a grocery store, the milk will always be at the back of the grocery store. Nope, not in the middle, and certainly not in the front...always in the back. And grocers have made this design choice for one simple reason—that milk is among the most frequently-purchased items in grocery stores. Grocers, therefore, place milk in the back of the grocery store so that shoppers must wander through aisles of other (often higher profit margin) products in order to collect their dairy staple. And consequently, instead of only buying milk, shoppers often leave with a basket brimming with unplanned purchases. The placement of things in the marketing context has the ability to shape human behavior...many times with them being un- aware.

Consider this other more extreme example. It is 1952, and Carnegie Hall is jam-packed. Everyone is waiting with bated breath to see and hear the famed experimental composer John Cage debut his newest piece. People are dressed to the nines and expectations are high. Cage walks on stage, sits at the piano, and begins to play 4’33”. It is his most daring work yet. But as you read this, if you listen very carefully, you can also hear Cage’s composition. How so? Because 4’33” is actually 4 minutes and 33 seconds of, absolute silence. If you were reading the sheet music to the piece, you would see measure after measure of notational rests.

Perhaps the shocking thing about 4’33” is that people not only dressed up and paid top dollar to hear silence for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, they loved it! Indeed, it became John Cage’s most significant work. It has since been performed by a variety of musicians, from gui- tarist Frank Zappa to the BBC Symphony Orchestra. And 4’33” is now for sale on iTunes as a digital download...with a 4 out of 5 stars rating. 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence!

The key to understanding the example is in its placement. That 4’33” was performed at Carnegie Hall means that it must be art. That it was catalogued and archived on musical notation paper means that it must be real. That it is available on iTunes means that it must be mu- sic. The placement of this ‘musical’ piece influences how people per- ceive it, and, ultimately, how they behave with respect to it.

And as before, placement applies to both the physical and digital worlds—in both offline and online marketing contexts. Consider email, for example. If your name is in the ‘To’ line, it most definitely means “This is for you.”. And as such, you behave responding to the email, for example. If your name is in the ‘Cc’ line, however, it means “Heads up, or FYI.”. After you read the email, you might chime in with a response, or not at all. Either option is accept- able. But if your name is in the ‘Bcc’ line, then the message is clear — “Ooh, watch this! It is gonna be good.” This email is not really for you, but I the sender letting you know that something is going on. You definitely will not respond to the email, because you would be disclosing a secret. The placement changes everything.

Marketers can exploit this notion of placement, therefore, with purposeful design of the placement of marketing vehicles within the marketing context. Think billboard advertisements, those ubiquitous marketing communications which appear in high traffic areas of many major cities which, and which for many people are irksome and, more often, completely ignored...and consequently ineffective in terms of marketing spend. IBM’s recent campaign to make ‘smarter cities’, however, leveraged the placement of its billboards in order to catch the attention of passersby, to reduce their negative sentiment, and ultimately to reinforce the core marketing message that IBM technology can help make smarter cities. So, that which was once a flat billboard on the side of a building can become a shelter from the rain or a seat for the weary. Placement matters.

Nuances: The Condition Set by the Cultural Backdrop

In January 1964, Bobby Vinton’s rendition of There! I’ve Said It Again reached #1 on the Billboard 100, remaining at the top spot for four weeks. Vinton’s velvety voice captured the sonic silhouette of contemporary American society at the least until four lads from Liverpool disrupted it with their raw energy, cheekiness, and, well, hair. Indeed, that February, The Beatles’ I Want To Hold Your Hand rocketed to #1, usurping Vinton, and changing society forever.

The shock which was The Beatles’, however, was for many, er, shocking. The Chicago Tribune quipped that “The Beatles must be a huge joke, a wacky gag, a gigantic put-on.” Ditto The Boston Globe: “The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful.“ Even Elvis chimed in, lamenting that “The Beatles laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with you people today by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music.” How could they have missed something which would become so salient in society at that time—and in decades to come? The answer is obvious to us—that predicting societal change requires an intimate understanding of culture. Indeed, the marketing context also serves as a cultural backdrop whose nuances influence behavior.

Culture is one of those words which is bandied about, but which is seldom understood. This is not surprising, considering both the in- tangible nature of culture and its relatively loose quotidian use in colloquial language. Indeed, people talk about culture all the time, drop- ping the term alongside media, pop, and celebrity. Or consider the way in which recruiters tout their fun or familial office culture...which usually means very simply having a foosball table in the kitchen, or offering summer Friday gatherings. Despite the prevalence of culture, and the conversations thereof, there is a broad deficiency in our ability to talk about culture in a sophisticated manner.

More concretely, therefore, anthropologists define culture as the amalgam of four elements of a society: beliefs (values and principles), artifacts (tools, clothing, music, poetry, etc.), behaviors (norms and rituals), and language (lexicon, dialect, vernacular). This makes sense intuitively, when you think of culture as it pertains to a nation. But perhaps less intuitively, culture also applies to societal sub-groups— micro-cultures. Consider yoga enthusiasts, for example, who share a common set of beliefs about yoga, yogis, and other derivative terms; who have similar artifacts like yoga mats and yoga pants; whose behaviors (dietary routines) overlap; and who use the same language (namaste and the downward dog).

These four elements have a normative effect on people; they serve as unspoken rules which keep members of a society in lockstep. That is to say, in order to remain as members in good standing in society, people adopt the societal beliefs, don the artifacts, adhere to the behaviors, and use the language, the ultimate purpose (and outcome) of which is to be ‘normal’.

And of course, these cultural elements and their normalizing effects manifest themselves in both the physical and digital worlds — in both offline and online marketing contexts. In Facebook, for example, it is perfectly acceptable for people to post anything and everything under the sun: yesterday’s evening snack, the movie which they are currently watching, or the horrible rash which suddenly appeared. Any of these posts, however, would be unacceptable in LinkedIn, whose beliefs, artifacts, behaviors, and language are ‘controlled’ by different societal norms. Notably, although in many cases the same people who post on Facebook also ‘reside’ on LinkedIn, they are able to code switch in order to abide by the cultural norms of the different online societies.

It ought to be obvious, therefore, that understanding a society, and subsequently predicting changes in it, requires a sensitivity to the nuances of these four elements. This sensitivity, however, implies intimacy...something which is natural if you are a member of the society, but which is limited or altogether lacking when you are an out- sider, a stranger, an alien. Herein lays the challenge but also the opportunity for marketers — with an understanding of the cultural nuances of a society, marketers can design marketing vehicles in subtle ways which align and resonate with societal norms.

A good example of this in practice centers on the notion of ‘First- World Problems’, the term which is given to things about which people in wealthier countries complain, but which only people of privilege would see as an annoyance or inconvenience. You know, when your phone charger will not reach your bed, for example, or when you ask for no pickles but your hamburger still comes with pickles. Twitter, which is to some degree a measure or mirror of the cultural zeit- geist, is replete with these absurdities, many of which are punctuated with the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems.

As benign as these grumblings might be on the surface, they be- come increasingly uncomfortable for the privileged people when they are juxtaposed with the disparity of wealth across the globe. The WATERisLIFE organization, a non-profit entity whose mission is to pro- vide clean drinking water to under-privileged communities, leveraged this cultural nuance in a campaign which enlisted victims of the horrific 2010 Haitian earthquake to recite some of the most ridiculous #FirstWorldProblem tweets. Imagine a young man, for example, standing in front of a dilapidated, tin-roofed shack saying, “I hate it when my house is so big I need two wireless routers”. The contrast between the cultural lexicon which is used in the advertisement, and the young man’s living conditions, is so striking that viewers cannot help but question the degree to which they take things for granted. The WATERisLife advertisement was viewed more than 8 million times.

Jerome McCarthy

In his now 1960 classic Basic Marketing: A Managerial Approach, Jerome McCarthy introduced the now famous 4 Ps frame- work: product, price, place, and promotion. The idea was simple—that marketers, when going to market, must mange these four elements. Over time, the 4 Ps became known as the marketing mix, intimating that marketers, like cooks, have four ingredients to mix together in their commercial (culinary) concoction. Some marketers also use the term ‘controllables’, referring to the 4 Ps as the levers which marketers can pull when going to market. We have come to think of the 4 Ps as a company’s performance on the (front) stage, which demarcates marketing very clearly from the other functions of the company (ac- counting, finance, and human resources, for example) which occur in the company’s backstage, away from the customer’s eyes.

The secondary benefit of treating the 4 Ps as the performance on the (front) stage, is that it also points to the stage itself as a controllable feature of marketing. That is to say, this theatrical metaphor emphasis that marketers can control both the 4 Ps and the marketing context. In this chapter we have argued that this marketing context is comprised of four conditions: 1. defaults—the pre-established factors in a digital space; 2. semiotics (the meanings) of digital ‘signs and symbols’; 3. placement, or spacial arrangement, in a digital space; and 4. cultural nuances in the digital marketing context. Understanding these conditions enables marketers to design marketing contexts in order to influence people toward desired cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes.



  • de Saussure, F. Course in General Linguistics. Translated by: Baskin, W. New York, USA: McGraw Hill Book, 1966.
  • Johnson, E., & D. Goldstein. “Defaults and Donation Decisions.” Transplantation, Vol. 78, 2004, pp. 1713-1716.

Potbelly: Feed Your Smile

Growing up, there was no part of the school day more coveted than lunch hour. It was the moment between 8am and 3:15pm where socialization among peers was uninhibited by classroom rules. We would use this time to recount the latest episode from previous nights’ most popular show, catch up on the latest grade school gossip, and simply enjoy the recess from scholastic pressure. We experienced this slice of utopia from elementary school all the way through college. Who knew it would come to a screeching halt with the onset of contemporary adulthood?

Let’s face it, lunch hour just ain’t what it used to be. Those happy days, my friend, are gone. The cultural changes in lunch time behavior have seen fewer and fewer Americans leaving their desks for their midday meal and a slice of happiness. This created both a challenge and opportunity for our client, Potbelly, a 40-year-old sandwich shop whose food and quirks garnered a deep love for the brand. For QSRs like Potbelly, lunch is the busiest time for their restaurants, and a softening of traffic during this day-part has a tremendous impact on their business. To curb this, Potbelly would have to create new catalysts to drive store traffic.

This, however, would be no easy feat. Potbelly does not spend a lot of dollars on media and communications. With only 450 shops around the country, Potbelly was being outspent by their competitors in the market — in most cases by two orders of magnitude when compared to the Subway’s of the world. Combined with the rapid growth of the QSR category, due to more and more sandwich shop competitors seeking out would-be lunch goers, Potbelly was finding it increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Of the 1.4M sandwich brand conversations in a 12-month period on social, only 2% of those conversations were about the Potbelly brand. This meant that if Potbelly was going to break through and establish meaningful connections with lunch goers, the brand has to give people something to talk about. Easier said than done. To help Potbelly overcome these hurdles, we figured we’d start with its soul, and use the brand’s conviction to play a role in people’s lives beyond the products it sells. The conviction was pretty simple — Potbelly exists to make people really happy. However, no one outside the company knew what the brand stood for because it hardly communicates it, and certainly didn’t demonstrate it overtly. We saw this as a great opportunity for the brand to not only “zag to the zig” of the crowded QSR category but also connect with humanity. And if the brand is committed to ‘making people really happy’ then it ought to do just that — make people really happy. So we sought out moments of “unhappy” and made it our mission to remove them in ways that were uniquely Potbelly.

We started by associating the email addresses and corresponding Twitter handles of Potbelly’s most ravenous customers. The thought was that if we could find what these people had in common beyond their love for Potbelly sandwiches, then we could possibly identify a cultural driver for the brand to connect with them beyond “the bread.” Of the 360K email addresses, we were able to match 60K Twitter handles. We then used Crimson Hexagon, an AI-powered consumer insight platform, to analyze these individuals’ social conversations to uncover similarities. Of the 60K Twitter handles analyzed, we found that these people disproportionately shared Soundcloud files, and at an unusually high rate. On the surface, that doesn’t sound so discriminating. Who doesn’t love music, right? Considering the size of Soundcloud, relative to the Spotify's and YouTube's of the world, we felt this was quite selective. Not to mention, this proved to be fertile territory for the brand, if for no other reason then the fact that Potbelly enlists live musicians to play in their shops during lunch hour. This gave the brand permission to use music as a means to connect with their customers in a way in which their competitors could not.

At this point, marketers would typically generate creative ideas around this territory, present them to the client, and then test the creative in focus groups to see how it made people feel. However, the behavioral sciences have proven time and time again that self-reported data can be biased, if not simply flawed. Potbelly is not a big spender on marketing and media, so we didn’t have the luxury of potentially be wrong. We had to reduce risk wherever possible. Since we couldn’t outspend the competition, we’d have to outsmart them. To do this, we partnered with Michigan State University’s Media and Advertising Psychology Lab to see if we could really make people happy. Instead of asking respondents how they feel about the content recommendations we prepared for Potbelly, we asked their bodies, observing their psychophysiological responses to the content stimuli. With our academic partners, we exposed respondents to the proposed Potbelly content in a simulated Facebook environment and tracked their cardio, respiratory, sweat gland, facial expression, and eye-tracking responses. This allowed us to not only better understand how people might truly respond to the proposed content but also how they may feel when we consider the associated psychological drivers that led to their physiological responses.

With the psychophysiological study to inform our creative efforts, we were all set to “make people really happy” and feed some smiles. To start, we set our sights on arguably the most unhappy place ever — Twitter. Whether it be complaints, laments, rants, or outright anger, Twitter can be full of bad vibes. Using social listening tools like Crimson Hexagon, we identified 100 unhappy tweets and responded to them with100 original songs performed by improve musicians, in real-time, on one day. The results were tremendous. We generated 10x more brand engagement than the brand had ever experienced on one-day, produced 20x more Twitter followers than the brand normally acquires on a given day, and reached 12 million people during the one-day activation.

But most importantly, we made people really, really happy.

To scale the happiness, we then developed an algorithm that synthesized weather and traffic data, results from major sporting events, and social media happenings across key DMAs to find the most unhappy cities that could use some good vibes. Subsequently, we delivered a little happiness in the form of smile-inducing content every morning throughout the month of June to the people who needed it most. Massive traffic jam on the Dan Ryan in Chicago, torrential downpour in DC, or a big loss for the Rangers would trigger the algorithm — what we called the “Smile Scale” — and we’d identify the right kind of happy to deliver to the right people in those regions programmatically using Facebook and Instagram’s sophisticated targeting tools. As a result, we generated a huge lift in store traffic leading to a 1.4% sales increase in the first sixty days of launch. After the entirety of the campaign, we reached 16 million people and stimulated 800K relevant social engagements. That’s a whole lot of happy for roughly 45K in media spend.

For a competitor brand with challenges at every turn, we helped Potbelly leverage the possibilities of today’s hyper-connected world and the insights of behavioral science to understand people better and create more powerful consumer connections. All of which enabled Potbelly to increase brand engagements by demonstrating its commitment to making people really happy — by actually making people really happy.

Check it!


Finding Meaning In A 'Digital World'

A Global Village...or a Digital World?

“Well, there they are. Our new electronic media. Or, our new gadget. You push a button and the world is yours. You know how they say the world is getting smaller, well, it’s thanks to these that it is. Every- where is now our own neighborhood. We know what it’s like to go on safari in Kenya, or to have an audience with the Pope, to order a co- gnac in a Paris cafe. But not only is the world getting smaller, it’s be- coming more available and more familiar to our minds and to our emotions. The world is now a global village. A global village.” Alan Millar, 1960

You could be forgiven for thinking that these words allude to the global village which has resulted from today’s digital transformation. Indeed, the ubiquity of digital technologies has expanded without lim- its every facet of our contemporary lives: the way in which we socialize, the timing and nature of the work which we undertake, the provenance of the entertainment which we digest. Everything is more international as a result of 0s and 1s. The global village is seemingly also a digital world.

These words, however, were spoken by television host Alan Mil- lar in the introduction to an interview with Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan in the year 1960. In grainy black and white, stand- ing before rotary telephones and cathode ray tube-driven furniture- sized televisions, Millar calmly and convincingly foreshadowed the claims which McLuhan would make later in the interview...that new technology—new media—have erased temporal and spatial bound- aries, thereby giving rise to a ‘global village’.

Today’s digital world and McLuhan’s global village, however, are not the only revolutions in human history. On the contrary, human history is dotted with technological inventions which have given rise to new forms of social organisation. Consider agriculture, for exam- ple, which, along with the domestication of animals and aided by new planting and harvesting tools, transportation means, and irrigation techniques, disrupted the previous ‘hunter-gatherer’ mode of exis- tence.

Centuries later in the late 1700s, the so-called Industrial Revolu- tion unleashed sweeping changes in society. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, for example, then the weaving machine, attracted workers from the countryside to settle in cities, transforming the complexion of cities such as Manchester, England, and also the nature of the workday, housing, and family structure. And in the next 100-odd years, humans invented the telegraph and the printing press, which re-shaped com- munication. They harnessed steam power, which amplified manufac- turing, and altered their spatial boundaries. And eventually they pio- neered petroleum distillate (and the combustion engine), which changed city-scapes, vacations, and, er, almost everything else.

Digital technologies, however, appear to have the power to eclipse any changes which we have witnessed in the past. Indeed, the internet already generates more information in a few years than all the information which was accumulated in previous millennia. And imag- ine a future of autonomous vehicles, drone-delivered groceries, and shared devices. Thrill at the thought of enhanced and augmented mu- seum visits or tourism site excursions. Drool over a closet full of clothes which have been custom-made from measurements which were calculated from photographs on your mobile-telephone. Bob Dy- lan might have captured it best with his 1964 hit The Times They Are A-Changing.

To examine wherein lays the power in digital marketing, we must begin by demonstrating that digital technology, when it leads to a shift in medium, does not change the underlying human behavior, only its ubiquity and frequency. It then argues that the power of digital technology occurs when it leads to a network. Finally, it demonstrates the power of the network with two examples; Waze and Amazon.

Manners (Or is it media?) Maketh the Man

Shortly after that CBC interview in 1960, Marshall McLuhan published his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which gave rise to the phrase ‘the medium is the message’. The philosophical idea in this phrase is that the medium through which the message is communicated becomes as important to the meaning of the message as the message itself. Indeed, the message and the medium exist in a kind of symbiosis, together conveying meaning to the receiver. It is not unlike the notion that the mode of transportation— plane, train, or automobile—contributes to any journey...perhaps even usurping the journey itself in some instances.

It could be argued, using a similar logic, that the recent changes in society which we have witnessed are due to shifts in media. Indeed, there seems to be a popular narrative which claims that the things which were previously analogue in nature are now digital, and conse- quently that the world is an entirely new place. Consider music, for example.

In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison introduced the phonograph, which in a very short period of time became the primary medium by which music was stored. This device took vibrations from sound waves and impressed them upon a rotating material...wax or tinfoil, for example. The phonograph could, in the reverse, transduce the im- pressions in the material into corresponding sound waves for human listening pleasure. A decade or so later, this technology evolved into the phonograph record, which used vinyl as the material for the recording medium, which in turn made listening to different musical recordings easier and exchangeable. The ‘record’ went on to become the dominant medium for music for almost a century, until tape took over in the 1970s.

Tape, in its various guises—8-track, cassettes, and reel-to-reel— stores sound as magnetic patterns on plastic tape, and like the record, replays the original audio event by transducing these magnetic pat- terns into electrical signals, which are subsequently converted to sound with the help of an audio amplifier and loudspeakers. 8-track tape improved the sound quality of records, but perhaps more importantly, made recorded music more portable. This portability was in- creased further with the cassette format, the adoption of which was heightened with the ubiquity of cassette players in automobiles and portable cassette players. Who can forget the ‘boom boxes’ of the 1980s?

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the cassette, however, was its abil- ity to record, thereby allowing people to curate their own music com- pilations. Indeed, people could record music from the radio, from oth- er cassettes, or from live concerts, a feat which was impossible with the record. For amateur musicians and budding rockstars, the cassette was a boon, allowing them to capture their own musical performances for playback and promotion.

Technology made a giant leap forward from tape to the compact disc (CD for short). The CD is a 12 cm plastic disc which stores music in digital form as 1s and 0s which are ‘burned’ into the disc as hills and troughs. Sound is reproduced with a combination of three things: 1. a laser which ‘reads’ the 1s and 0s from the hills and troughs; 2. a digital to analogue converter (DAC) which, as suggested by the term, converts a stream of 1s and 0s into an analogue electrical signal; and 3. an amplifier/loudspeaker set-up which transduces the analogue sig- nal into sound waves.

The CD removed many of the the pain points of tape (and the record). Tape often gets caught in a player, stretches, or even breaks. To access specific points on a tape is slow and tedious. And most tape players required the user to remove and reverse the tape in order to en- joy the second half of the recording. More importantly, however, the CD offered an immeasurable sonic improvement over tape (and the record). Indeed, the so-called signal-to-noise ratio (the aural distance between the intended sound and the background sound) was vastly improved. And with the advent of digital recording and digital signal processed, the background hiss, pops, and other annoyances of both tape and the record were eliminated entirely. By the 1990s, the CD be- came the new standard, growing hand-in-hand with automotive and portable players.

By the early 2000s, another medium shift was underway, facilitated by concomitant technological advances in both the storage capacity of digital devices and the compression capabilities of digital algorithms. First, the number of 1s and 0s which could be crammed into the memory of any single digital device shot up dramatically. Indeed, in the 15 years from 2001 to 2016, the storage capacity of a desktop computer multiplied by more than 1 000...with a correspondingly smaller footprint. Second, scientists developed the MPEG Audio Lay- er III standard (known more commonly as MP3), which can compress a digital file into about 1/12th of its original size. Together, these two advances triggered a musical metamorphosis—the music which was once ‘recorded’ on its own tangible media (the record, tape, the CD) suddenly became ethereal, with an almost other-worldly existence. Music could now be played back seemingly anywhere, at anytime, and on any device, both dedicated music players and non-traditional de- vices such as computers and mobile telephones.

The MP3 standard was also propelled forward by a host of other factors, including the penetration of personal computers in the home; the growth of residential, broadband internet access; the creation of file-sharing sites such as Napster; the inclusion of CD burners on computers; the introduction of the iPod and other portable MP3 players; and the launch of the iTunes store. The result has been a complete re-jiggering of the entire music industry, not to mention mutations of consumer electronics retailing, radio broadcasting, and the wider entertainment machine.

New technologies are unquestionably on the horizon— or probably more accurately, being developed in the computer laboratory — which will cause other dramatic and unforeseen changes in society. But a closer inspection raises doubts about the veracity of this claim... and indeed about the claim regarding the power of previous technologies. The shift from the record to tape certainly brought portability, plus the possibility of curation. The CD improved the aural experi- ence. And the MP3 standard expanded access.

At the core, however, people did not listen to music differently, following each shift in medium. Indeed, they did not change their underlying human behaviors. On the contrary, each shift in medium simply made music more ubiquitous, and allowed for more portability, more customization, and, well, more music. The cassette, for example, enabled people to listen to music anywhere and at anytime...more ubiquity and more frequency. But this shift in medium did not change the fundamentals of listening to music. The would come with Spotify.

It’s The Network, Stupid

Spotify is the online music streaming service which provides subscribers access to compressed music files which are stored ‘in the cloud’ on remote servers. The seismic shift which Spotify has engendered is not so much a result of a shift in medium. On the contrary, it is a result of Spotify’s ability to recommend new musical groups and new musical genres according to a user’s listening behaviors (music preferences) and those of their friends. In other words, Spotify’s pow- er resides in social networks.

When subscribers login to Spotify via their social networking ac- counts (Facebook and Twitter, for example), the company is able to leverage the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ by mining their subscribers’ net- works. Music recommendations are served up, based on the music to which their network members are listening. It leads not to music for the masses, but instead to a bespoke musical experience which is de- rived from people ‘just like them’. Spotify’s ability to leverage the network of people using digital technology, therefore, not the digital technology in and of itself, is that which makes for a true musical — or rather social — revolution.

In short, we suggest that many of the recent changes in society have been mis-attributed to the digital revolution. Indeed, we contend that digital technology, when applied to devices—that which might be called first order digitalization — does little to change basic human behavior. Digital telephones, for example, have simply increased the ubiquity and frequency of interpersonal conversations. Ditto digital books...people can read more books of more genres in more places.

When digital technology leads to higher-order effects, however, then behavioral change begins to occur. A digital grocery store, for example, does not change the purchasing of groceries. But when the digital grocery store allows shoppers to share recipes or comment on dinner party menu plans, then new behaviors ensue. That is more than the power of digital technology...that is the power of the net- work.

We define a network as a complex system of interconnected nodes which share resources, knowledge, information, experiences, etc. Arguably, there have always been networks of people: sororities and fraternities, for example, bridge clubs, congregations. And digital technology has facilitated, enhanced, even accelerated these networks of people. Digital technology, however, has also created a new network of things — the so-called internet of things, or IoT, which consists of devices which are connected and which can communicate with each other, with the help of digital technology. The culmination is that which we call the network of people and things.

Viewing the changes which have resulted from digital technology as simply a shift in medium, therefore, is too narrow. Yes, digital technology allows people to do more, and to do it far more conveniently. But the tectonic changes are driven by the network of people and things. Indeed, the power of digital technology is situated not in the 1s and 0s, but in the network which these 1s and 0s aid and abet.

By definition, digital technology generates, stores, and processes data as a string of 1s and 0s. It relies on the very simple notion of binary states: on or off, plus or minus, 1 or 0. A digital photograph, therefore, is stored not in its original form, but as a string of 1s and 0s. And because all digital devices ‘speak the same language’, they can communicate with each other. That which was once simply a product can now become a ‘smart product’. As more and more of these smart products connect with each other, they begin to form product systems, and systems within systems, leading to remarkable, connected experiences.

Consider Google’s Nest thermostat, for example, which gets ‘smarter’ the more time its occupants spend in a room, thereby adjust- ing the room’s temperature according to the occupants’ behaviors. pulls together disparate financial information, from check- ing/savings accounts, to credit card transactions, from mortgage payments to student loan repayments, in service of people making better financial decisions. The power of digital technology is situated not in the 1s and 0s, but in the network.

Waze and Means

Frank Moss, the former director of the MIT Media Lab, summarized the power of the the digital network: “Every time we perform a search, tweet, send an email, post a blog, comment on one, use a cell phone, shop online, update our profile on a social networking site, use a credit card, or even go to the gym, we leave behind a mountain of data, a digital footprint, that provides a treasure trove of information.” It is this information — the reams of digital data — which fuels the net- work of people and things. Indeed, the more we behave in a digital world, the more our behaviors will change. Two examples will serve as illustrations.


I remember taking long road trips with my family when I was a child. My father would stop by the automobile club before we hit the highway to retrieve that seemingly magical, multi-folded map, whose yellow highlighted route would assuredly lead us to our destination. Without fail, my father would somehow wander off-path and get us lost. This problem would be somewhat mitigated thanks to Ya- hoo’s MapQuest which allowed us to key-in our starting location and desired destination, and which subsequently created a turn-by-turn, sequential set of instructions which accompanied a highlighted map route. And my father (and everybody else in those days) would print out the MapQuest map and instructions, in the spirit of its multi-fold- ed, paper predecessor. Despite the shift in medium, little changed in terms of navigation...maybe fewer curse words.

Fast-forward some years later and the Global Positioning System, or GPS, shifted the medium again. Indeed, there was no need for any paper of any sort—we now had a device in the car which would pro- vide turn-by-turn voice directives in real time, and recalculating capabilities if we found ourselves deviating from the route. This made navigation much easier...but it did not change the basic notion of getting to the destination.

The introduction of Waze, however, triggered a fundamental shift in driving behavior. Waze is a network-based navigation application whose purpose is to help people outsmart traffic. The mobile application allows its ‘community members’ to get driving instructions which are based on the experiences of other community members who are traveling the same or similar routes. Indeed, community members in- form others if there is a police officer on the road, or if a traffic jam has developed. Waze helps people outsmart traffic (and avoid fines) by leveraging the network of people. The application also gets smarter the more community members use it, offering, for example, recommendations on the time at which someone ought to begin a journey because of road conditions, typical traffic patterns, know police hang- outs, etc. Paper maps and GPS certainly made traveling easier, but Waze ultimately changed the human behavior.


‘In the beginning’, markets were physical places in which buyers and sellers came together to exchange their products. Indeed, people brought fruits and vegetables, cattle, grains, and the like to the market, in hopes that other people who were looking for these same products would find the offerings compelling. By the mid-1800s, Sears & Roe- buck and other mail-order companies began offering products in a ‘catalogue market’. Customers no longer needed to visit the market physically to get their products...although they often took weeks to arrive due to slow postal, order processing, and delivery times. Of course, these lead times would eventually shorten to a matter of weeks, with advances in operations and logistics.

By the early-2000s, however, the internet allowed for the creation of ‘virtual markets’, and e-commerce was born. Orders were placed instantaneously, and processed in a matter of hours, thereby reducing turn-around times from weeks to days. This shift in medium obviously made shopping (market exchanges) more convenient, but it did not necessarily change the way people engaged within the market.

Amazon changed all that. The e-commerce behemoth which be- gan as an online bookstore, has leveraged the behaviors of its shoppers — their searches, their wish-lists, their shopping carts, their purchases, and so on — to provide individualized shopping experiences. Amazon gets smarter each time a shopper uses it, and recommendations, therefore, reflect his/her history, but also that of people like him/ her. Amazon has also ventured out into the ‘physical world’ by the Amazon Echo, Dash, and brick-and-mortar retail outlets, furthering its goal to leverage the network of people and things, by connecting previously disparate and isolated nodes.

Battle of the Network Stars

The world is now a global village. So predicted Marshall McLuhan in the early-1960s. But it is digital technology — the processing, generation, and storage of information in the form of 1s and 0s — which has truly brought humans closer together. Digital technology has enabled disparate nodes of both people and things to connect in networks like never before, which, in turn, have eased, enhanced, and even extended human behavior. In summary, therefore, we challenge you to re-think the notion of a digital world, focusing not on digital technology but instead on the networks which the digital technology facilitates. Therein will be the innovations of the future.



  • Millar, A. “McLuhan’s They of the Global Village.” CBC Television Interview. 18 May 1960.
  • McLuhan, M. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Mentor: New York, 1964.

The Cookbook: A scientific recipe for creating cultural contagion

In today’s hyper-connected world, the allure of ‘going viral’ continues to seduce marketers and idea-generators into investing significant time and resources toward the creation of content – videos, memes, tweets, posts, etc. – that spreads. There is seemingly no shortage of brands, business owners, or storytellers who covet the opportunity to have their ideas trend on Twitter, rake up 1 million+ views on YouTube, or garner thousands of Facebook likes. Metrics of social-chatter are then used as a proxy for success with the inclination that virality leads to reach and reach implies potential action. Though there are benefits to ‘going viral’, one must wonder if virality is truly what we’re after or if perhaps there is something far greater worth pursuing.

This provocation led me to the movie Avatar, the highest grossing movie ever made. Avatar has been seen the world over. One might even say that Avatar had gone ‘viral.’ Though I had seen the movie 3 times – twice in the theater, in IMAX – I couldn’t recall the lead character’s name. Juxtapose the movie Avatar with the movie Frozen and the outcome is far different. During the time of this research, I had never seen the movie Frozen, however, I knew the lead character’s name (Elsa), I knew the storyline, and I knew the words to “Let It Go.” It probably comes to no surprise then that in 2014, Frozen went #1 on Billboard with no radio play. “Let It Go” was the #1 most requested karaoke song that same year. Elsa was the #1 Halloween costume in 2014 and among the top baby names as well. While Frozen went on to be the most successful animated movie, its impact was more than just getting seen by tons of people – i.e. ‘going viral.’ Frozen was culturally contagious, and that’s far more powerful than going viral.  

Virality, at its core, is simply the rate of exchange from one person to another over a period of time. The greater the exchange, and the shorter the time span, the more viral the content is considered to be. This exchange is typically measured by how many times a video or post has been seen or shared, which of course has significant value. Cultural contagion, on the other hand, is the spread of ideas, products, messages, and behaviors which take hold in culture. Unlike ‘going viral,’ cultural contagion goes beyond things being seen and takes a step forward to how they directly impact the beliefs, rituals, artifacts, and language within a population. This is achieved by leveraging the conditions of the Contagion Cookbook - a research discovery which details the drivers of cultural contagion:

  • Content: the communicative nod which is built to share
  • Credence: transferable cultural authority and/or trust
  • Covers: the repeated expression of an idea through derivative works
  • Complements: the environmental dynamics that cannot be controlled but can be exploited
  • Concurrence: the perceived ubiquity of an idea

The Cookbook provides marketers with the tools they need to create and launch their own culturally contagious ideas across a spectrum of industries. It looks at the way seemingly organic, cultural norms can be fabricated and designed to drive behavioral adoption at mass. This is not about ‘going viral,’ though the earned media is a welcomed side-effect. Instead, the Cookbook is myopically focused on permeating a population's consciousness and stimulating cultural wake.

Norming and Behavior Adoption (in this case, specially, with technology)

On the path towards a merged psychological-network theory of innovation diffusion through online communities.

This is a VERY low-fi description of the psychological theories at work - as it pertains to behavior adoption and network theory - but certainly is easy to digest. Influence is largely based on the shape of the network that connects individuals and and the position said individuals have in the network. Their proximity to the core of the network makes all the difference between how fast a rumor spreads or if the information will reach them at all. Not only that but how likely we are to adopt norms and stick to them Very powerful.

As such, our connection to each other has more impact on the decisions we make than what we perceive to be our own free will. Our likelihood to take on behaviors depends on two key factors - Attitudes and Adoption - both of which require very dense undertakings. However, when done well…can make the difference between wearing over-the-ear headphones vs ear buds or maybe even stopping the spread of a STD.

State of the Advertising Industry: The Music of Disruption

Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin’.” This premise is truer than ever in today's marketing and advertising world.

Advertising firms were once the authority on idea generation. They were the best mass storytellers and the best attention-grabbers. They were the modern day Don Drapers.

But that isn’t necessarily the case these days. The ubiquity of new technology means anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer is now a content creator. The pervasiveness of social media propagates these ideas from person to person. Meanwhile, new analytics capabilities empower anyone with an affinity for quants to direct placement and inform content creation.

All of which adds up to less power for traditional advertising firms and sets the stage for disruption that will fundamentally change the way we do business — and soon.

Sound too apocalyptic? Just look at the music industry.

As recently as the early 2000s record labels ran the show. They funded handpicked hitmakers for long sessions in big, expensive studios. Top-notch sound engineers guaranteed pristine sonic quality and A-list directors were hired to make lavish, over-the-top videos. Singles had long given way to albums with “filler” songs, meaning fans wanting a hit song had to cough up $17 for the entire album.

Business was booming until a viable alternative came along — the world wide web.

The Napsters and Limewires of the world, and ultimately Youtube, iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, ushered in the disruption in music in a newly networked world.

Here’s why history may repeat itself, this time with the advertising industry:

Ubiquity in Technology. The spread of broadband internet and CD burners allows more and more people to experience free music access (peer-to-peer exchange). For advertising, the devices in our pockets, bags, and desktops allow anyone to be a content creator, not just a consumer. A clever creative talent with an iPhone can legitimately create content for a brand without the overhead of a Madison Avenue ad agency.

Medium Shift. The product the music industry was selling — CDs — was no longer the medium people wanted. CDs were a secondary medium to the music itself. Likewise, advertising was once dominated by TV, print, and radio. Today content relevance is far more important than the channel by which it was delivered. In fact, there's often more credence awarded to content delivered via Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube because it was curated for me, by my people.

Access to Tools. Programs like Fruity Loops and Cakewalk reduced the financial barrier once presented by expensive recording studios. In advertising, firms once provided access to expensive software like Photoshop or InDesign that now can be accessed for free from Reddit or BitTorrent.

Decreased Learning Curve. The web allowed music makers to learn from each other, which reduced the need to apprentice for years before ever creating anything. Today social networks allow idea generators and content creators to share learnings about the craft, instead of being an apprentice at a big firm.

Democratization of the Internet. Broadband internet removed the middleman — radio, MTV, etc. — and allowed these new, non-major-record-label producers to reach music fans directly. Advertising content also needed TV, radio, and newspapers to be seen. Today social network platforms, search engines, and email allow non-agency content creators to reach the public directly.

Content Parity. It turns out people were fine with the varying quality of MP3s. Expensive sonic quality ceased being a discriminating factor for music fans, which leveled the playing field for amateur musicians and producers. While ad agencies tap big directors to shoot over-the-top productions for expensive media campaigns, the content that gets people talking the most is produced by amateur makers. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s a vertical video shot with an iPhone. Production values are no longer a key differentiator.

Distributors as Arbiters of Value. The launch of iTunes told the world — and the buying public — that it didn’t matter if a song was recorded in fancy studios or in someone’s bedroom with free software. It was all 99 cents. Big ad agencies charge for the time it takes to create content while publishers like Buzzfeed, Complex, and Vice charge per piece of content, not the time it takes to make it. Again, all content is valued the same no matter the investment to create it.

Bypass the Traditional System. Online music outlets like iTunes, CD Baby, and TuneCore allow amateur musicians to reach customers, often sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the screen with some of the biggest names. In advertising, brands needed agencies to do the content work for them. That’s not the case anymore. Outfits like Maker Studio have amassed thousands of content creators worldwide and use technology that makes it easy for brands to manage campaigns. No agency needed.

Overwhelming Supply of Content. The influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to superstars, with reduced time between album releases, means there’s more desired music than there is time to consume it. That greatly reduced the half-life of a song. Same is true in advertising. There’s so much content in the market now that brands see a greater supply of content than they need.

Access Over Ownership. The oversupply of content means fans don’t feel the need to own music anymore. They want to hear music they like on demand. Likewise, brands are wondering why they need advertising agencies. More brands are writing “jump ball” briefs to access the best ideas from a wide variety of potential partners — traditional agencies, YouTube stars, or aggregators. The agency model is no longer a very smart model for big brands – except the biggest brands and companies that require a factory-like agency to manage the enormous flow of content; think Ford and Procter & Gamble.

These implications have led to new vehicles for discovery (Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat), consumption (Vice, Complex, Buzzfeed), and creation (Maker Studios and Social Native), which sets the stage to disrupt the status quo of the advertising industry much like the music industry.

It won’t be long before more brands start to wonder, “With so much content being produced in the world, why would I reduce my access to it by having just one agency responsible for making it?” And perhaps more importantly, brands will soon say “With such a high amount of content available to me, why am I paying so much for it?”

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’. But there is hope. As the advertising and marketing world around us changes, we marketers and advertisers must change also, and these changes require us to reconsider the role we play as agency partners. Perhaps the best way to offer “agency” would be for agencies to move from being outsourced creative hands to true brand partners. Only time will tell.

A Peek Into Doner's Social Practice

The ubiquity of technology and its ability to accelerate the adoption of behaviors have created great opportunity for marketers to reach target consumers but simultaneously have made it more difficult to “break through.” This, of course, challenges the conventional approaches to marketing communications and puts more emphasis on leveraging social media as a means to engage target consumers and propagate messages, ideas, products and behaviors. Here at Doner, I have been tasked to reshape how we see the world of social media and how we operate in it as practitioners. The following is a peek into that world... 

THE STATE OF THE STATE: An intimate look at the disruption in advertising

Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin’.” And in the world of marketing and advertising truer words have never been spoken.

There was once a time when advertising creatives were the authority on idea generation. They were the best mass storytellers and the best attention-grabbers. Today, however, that position is currently under duress. Thanks in part to the proliferation of technology, anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer is now a content creator. The ubiquity of social networking platforms have democratized access for these content creator’s ideas to propagate from person to person. Meanwhile, new analytics capabilities have empowered anyone with an affinity for quants to direct creative placement and inform content development - all of which diminishes the sovereignty of traditional advertising creatives.

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’. But these changes aren’t just bruises to the ego of our beloved, modern day Dan Drapers. They have set the stage for the disruption that the advertising industry is currently facing and will fundamentally change the way our business operates in the short years to come - if not sooner. Sounds like apocalyptic rhetoric, right? I know! Like you, I roll my eyes every time I read one of those “TV is dead” headlines. The difference in this instance is not due to some big revelation of the future on my part, instead, it’s foreshadowing from the past. We’ve seen the dynamics that exist in advertising today play out in other industries and ultimately shake their business to its core. And as they say, history has a way of repeating itself. Case and point, the music industry.


Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, record labels invested a wealth of resources in the creation of content. Long session hours in big, expensive studios. Handpicked hitmakers were tapped to make tracks at a premium. Topnotch sound engineers were enlisted to guarantee pristine sonic quality. Top-rate video directors were hired to make the most lavish, over-the-top visual expression of the hitmaker-produced song. Millions and millions of dollars were allocated in an effort to make and sell content.

That was the music business and in those days, business was booming. In fact, 1999 - 2001 were the highest revenue generating years in the existence of the music business. To ensure a profit margin that benefited from this rise in music consumption, record labels discontinued the sale of “singles” and began padding albums with “fillers.” These “fillers” were less expensive to produce and often times considered throwaway songs. This meant that if a fan wanted the hitmaker-produced song, they’d have to buy the entire album to get it, “filler” songs and all. Yes, $17 for the one song we wanted. #Crazy. Of course, this created frustration with the buying public to which there was no viable alternative. That is, until there was. And once this alternative presented itself — the world wide wide — the implication therefore completely disrupted the music industry and irreversibly changed it from what we knew it to be today.

While the Napsters and Limewires of the world certainly ushered in the disruption in music, it was the implications of the networked world, facilitated by the proliferation of the internet, that ultimately did the music industry in. These implications are as follows:

1. Ubiquity In Technology - cable companies started offering broadband internet, which enabled more and more people to experience the free music access (peer-to-peer exchange) that college students had been experiencing just a few years prior. Meanwhile, computer companies started manufacturing CD burners as defaults on their machines so people were able to make their own CD’s — from full albums to compilations mixes — with their newly obtained, free music.

2. Medium Shift - the product that the music industry was selling (CD’s) was no longer the medium people wanted (music). The CD’s themselves were simply the secondary medium by which we enjoyed the music (the primary medium) we desired. Once compressed files were made available, whether ripped from CD’s or obtained through P2P sharing, it became the closest medium to what we actually valued, the music.

3. Access To Tools - music fans that once longed to be artists themselves now had the ability to create content themselves. Programs like Fruity Loops and Cakewalk reduced the financial barrier once presented by expensive recording studios and now these “amateur” content creators had technology that allowed them to creatively express themselves.

4. Decreased Learning Curve - as access to the internet continued to grow, the growth of communities of people online ballooned as well. Out of this came the benefit of collective intelligence where people began to share their learnings of these new content creation tools across websites with the community via video channels, like Youtube. As a result, amateur music makers learned from each other, which reduced the perceived need to be an apprentice for years before ever creating anything.

5. Removal of Arbitrage - previously, content creators required access to radio to get their ideas heard broadly. However, radio airplay was strictly reserved for major record label products. Very few content creators could afford to make music videos, and even if they could, the production quality and lack of access would keep them from getting their videos played on MTV. The growing democratization of the internet removed the middleman (radio, MTV, etc.) and allowed these new, non-major-record-label-affiliated content creators to reach music fans directly.

6. Content Parity - compressed music files often ran the spectrum of sound quality. There was no sonic standard among most music fans because there was a sort of “you get what you paid for” apathy when it came to the degradation of sonic quality of their P2P sourced MP3’s. As such, it didn’t matter so much that the high-end frequencies were EQ’d perfectly or that the vocal spacing sat just right in the mix. As long as the song was recognizable and close to terrestrial radio quality, “all good.” This meant that sonic quality was no longer a discriminating factor between music created in big, expensive recording studios and music created in someone’s basement using Fruity Loops. Investment in production would not be the differentiator in how fans valued music, which leveled the playing field for amateur content creators.

7. Distributors As The Arbiters of Value - in 2001, Apple introduced the iPod and the accompanying iTunes store. While this new technology and corresponding retail destination has been written about as the deathblow to the music industry, the implication of their pricing model is often overlooked. Not only did iTunes’ pricing approach decouple albums and reinvigorate the sale of singles, but it also turbocharged the notion of content parity. Essentially, Steve Jobs told the world — and particularly the buying public — that it didn’t matter if the song was recorded in big, fancy studios with the most reverenced hitmakers and the best sound engineers or if the song was recorded in someone’s bedroom with a free music software and an engineering novice, it was all 99 cents. Period. No matter the investment in the creation of content, it’s all valued the same.

8. Bypass The Traditional System - thanks to online retail outlets like iTunes, CD Baby, TuneCore, amateur content creators were able to get their products sold to the buying public. Often times, their music would sit in (online) retail, shoulder to shoulder, with some of the biggest names music, which added perceived value to these amateur’s offerings and further drove the notion of content parity.

9. Overwhelming Supply of Content - with the influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to superstars with reduced latency between album releases, music fans found themselves in a state where, for the first time ever, there was more supply of desired music than there was time to consume it. This created a dopamine cycle for music fans that would lead to shorter time spent “experiencing” or listening to a particular album or music releases so the half-life of songs were greatly reduced.

10. Access Over Ownership - since there was so much content in the market and not enough to consume it all, music fans no longer felt the need to actually own music content — especially if the lifespan of a release was so short. Ultimately, fans just wanted the ability to hear the music they liked on-demand, which gave raise to platforms like YouTube to be a music discovery and consumption destination.

These 10 implications led to new vehicles for discovery (YouTube, Facebook, Soundcloud), consumption (iTunes, Reverbnation, Spotify), and creation (Protools, Reason, Logic), which rocked the music industry by the mid-2000’s and forever changed its business. And the advertising industry is facing the fate.


While it’s easy to see the dynamics, and subsequent follies, of the music industry in hindsight, it would be nearly impossible to predict that an industry — in the hight of its success — would experience such unprecedented disruption just a few years later. Fortunately, history has a way of repeating itself so we can align historical data with causality-based theory to increase the likelihood of predictive outcomes. Unfortunately, for the advertising industry at least, the 10 implications that existed in music then are the exact same dynamics present in advertising today, especially in regards to both industries’ emphasis on content creation.

As such, one would expect similar outcomes from similar disruptions. Let’s unpack this further:

1. Ubiquity In Technology - technology is in our hands, in our pockets, in our bags, on our wrists, on our desks, and on our laps. These devices provide the broader populous access to the networked world and a pipeline to receive communications. Simultaneously, these device-holders are not just content consumers, they are now content creators.

2. Medium Shift - advertising was once primarily dominated by TV, print, radio, and OOH. The prevalence of the social web has since added new vehicles to the mix. This has become the most significant way messages, information, products, and behaviors are propagated by people within their communities. The content syndicated across the traditional mediums are increasingly becoming the talking points (secondary medium) that we share between our people (the primary medium) within our communities.

3. Access To Tools - at one time, an aspiring content creator would have to work for an agency to get access to Photoshop or InDesign (the defacto creative software suite) if they were to actually make something. Otherwise they’d have shove out a crap ton of money to get a user-license. Today, that is not the case. Aspiring content creators are now accessing these programs, and the corresponding license key, for free from Reddit or BitTorrent and finding themselves up and running in no time.

4. Decreased Learning Curve - the traditional path for a creative in advertising is that you’d produce a ton of ideas (that would likely never see the light of day) and get feedback from the Creative Director until your work is ready. This is a typical right of passage for the industry. Today, that is not the case. As access to content creation tools grow, people have begun to share their learnings across blogs and social networking platforms. As such, there is a ton of content across the web that amateur content creators are leveraging to learn about the craft of “making things,” instead of being an apprentice for 4 years, waiting to one day (hopefully) be “good enough.”

5. Removal of Arbitrage - previously, if a content creator in advertising wanted to get their ideas seen, they needed access to media - TV, print, radio, OOH. Otherwise, their ideas would go largely unseen and their marketing efforts would go unrealized. Today, that is not the case. Social network platforms, search, email, and other vehicles have democratized access to people. These information and communication technologies have removed the middleman (agencies, traditional media, etc.) and allowed these new, non-agency-affiliated content creators to reach the public directly.

6. Content Parity - while advertising agencies tap big directors to shoot over the top ideas that play out during big (read: expensive) media moments in hopes of getting people to talk, the content that gets shared the most among people — essentially, the things that people talk about most — is the content produced by the amateur makers. Grainy photos with uninspiring font choices. Vertical videos shot with an iPhone. The general public doesn’t care if the content was shot by David Fincher or a regular Jane Doe. Investment in production is no longer the differentiator in how consumers value content, which has leveled the playing field for amateur content creators.

7. Distributors As The Arbiters of Value - more and more, publishers like Buzzfeed, Complex, and Vice are entering the market and offering content creation services for brands. This is a service that agencies would exclusively provide for brands. When a client would asks for 5 TV spots, some banners, and a handful of social posts over a period of time, agencies would bill them for the time it takes to make said deliverables. All the while, the Buzzfeeds of the world are telling clients that “content costs ‘x’ amount per piece.” So if you want 5 pieces of content, it will cost you ‘5x.’ As such, since publishers are actually ascribing costs for content creation, not the cost of time to make it, the publisher’s determined value of content becomes the closest proxy to the actual product clients want and, therefore, become the new cost of content creation. No matter the investment in the creation of content, it’s all valued the same.

8. Bypass The Traditional System - if brands wanted content made (TV, print, OOH, radio), they’d have to enlist an agency to do the work for them. Today, that is not the case. Companies like Maker Studio (who was acquired by Disney a few years back) have not only amassed a network of 10’s of thousands of content creators across the world, they have also developed technologies that (1) make it easy for brands to task, review, and select creative assignment submission, (2) curate the maker to brand alignment, (3) publish across a myriad of mediums, and (4) measure the impact of the creative. All of which is being done without any agency from the agency. See what I did there?

9. Overwhelming Supply of Content - with the influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to publishers, brands have found themselves in a state where there is more supply of desired content than they actually need.

10. Access Over Ownership - since there is so much content in the market and consumers are seemingly attention-deficient, brands have begun to wonder why they’d need to retain content creators as opposed to just accessing what they do. As a result, we see a trend where brands “jump ball” briefs to access the best ideas from a selection of partners — be it agencies, YouTube stars, aggregators, or even platforms.

These 10 implications have led to new vehicles for discovery (Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat), consumption (Vice, Complex, Buzzfeed), and creation (Maker Studios, Social Native, Vine Stars), which is setting the stage to disrupt the status quo of the advertising industry. I don’t fancy myself an economist but if there’s one thing I learned from my 200 level Econ class it’s this; when the supply is greater than demand the cost of goods will go down. As the aforementioned implications have illustrated, content is in great supply. That is, there’s more content being developed and published than there is a demand for brands to make content. Ergo, if the supply of content continues to exponentially increase (and all signs point to “yes”) then the cost of said content has to decrease. That’s just basic economics. And this will ultimately drive the commoditization of content and reduce margins for agencies that focuses on “making” things.

With content in such an overabundant supply, it won’t be long before more brands start to wonder, “with so much content being produced in the world, why would I reduce my access to it by having just one agency responsible for making it?” And perhaps more importantly, brands will soon say “with such a high amount of content available to me, why am I paying so much for it?”

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’.