avin narasimhan

often rambling, but hopefully always interesting

Posts tagged digitalculture

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#Planningness2011: What I Learned And Thoughts For The Next One

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Back in the office after yet another incredibly inspiring Planningness, thanks to the tireless efforts of Mark and Claire, as well as the long list of fantastic and truly brilliant speakers. Though I think they learned their lesson by asking me to speak last time, and wisely chose not to this time around (kidding…I think). Anyway, lots of people with very different backgrounds and different views on the world shared their ideas with us, and the breakout sessions were again intense yet wonderfully productive at the same time. Many of these folks, in planningness tradition, were from far outside the ad world, and it made it all the more interesting and fun. And of course, there was plenty of drinks with old and new friends ( more and more and the list goes…) once the sessions let out, and I think even 3 days later I’m still feeling the effects.

A few people have already written up recaps/implications worth checking out (including Ed Cottons excellent post which he seemingly posted hours after the final session while the rest of us were still knocking back a few). Given I’ve been lucky enough to go to all 3 planningness events so far, I thought I’d also try and share some things I’ve learned overall, not just this past session, and also some thoughts as we look toward the next time we all get together. The idealism from Planningness 1 has been replaced, to some degree, with practicality
You could probably read that and take it as a bad thing, that maybe we’ve become disheartened or less enthused, but I think that couldn’t be further from the truth. When I left the first Planningness, I felt like I was walking on air. It was the first conference of it’s kind I had ever been to (which I think is true for most of us), and I got back to the office determined to change the world in 7 days or less. Well, not surprisingly, that didn’t happen. And it frustrated the hell out of me. Ed and Kristina keenly pointed out this feeling of high vs low at the start of their session:
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By the second planningness, and getting the chance to speak, I was back on the horse, though I distinctly remember forcing myself to realize the types of changes and shifts in thinking we were all talking about takes time. And by our latest gathering, I think a more practical atmosphere may be starting to define the conference- each time we’ll come away better armed and ready to make changes than when we arrive, but it’s still not going to happen overnight. It’s tough, it will be frustrating, but I think that challenge is in part what will continue to drive us forward. And the more we can push each other forward, the more likely success will be.

On that note, perhaps there’s some therapeutic value in the dreaded echo chamber

In a few of the sessions, we aired out in our groups some of the major problems planners face today, from our roles not being fully understood by clients, to our value in helping actually come up with creative ideas not being understood internally, to resource and time constraints on the brief/briefing process, and everything in between. And I guess to some that could be seen as a bit of an echo chamber, planners running in circles talking to each other. While I agree there are many detrimental aspects of the ‘echo chamber’ as it’s often referred to— particularly that it can perpetuate the stereotype of talkers vs doers— maybe the therapeutic side is one unspoken benefit. It helps for me to know there are others out there struggling through the same things, beyond these walls. Dealing with the same challenges, having the same fights, losing the same battles. It’s not in defense of an echo chamber, but just a point to say maybe there’s one helpful aspect to it after all.

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Frankly, there are too many brilliant people in this industry for agencies to fail
Just a few lines after I said idealism has been replaced with practicality, I realize maybe this is an idealistic thought. But working with all of the people in attendance this year, witnessing brilliance and energy in action, and seeing how determined (and perhaps even a little desperate) we all are to bring about meaningful change to this industry convinces me that for all the talk of the death of agencies, there’s simply too much talent for us all to fail. This isn’t limited to planners, of course, and I don’t think anyone else in attendance would believe that it is. We all know there are people across our own offices of a similar mind, determined to push things forward, whether you work at a large network agency or a small boutique. My hope is the more we’re able to learn from each other, gain fresh ideas and approaches, we can continue to make progress. It might be slower than most of us would like, but as someone once said, “change doesn’t happen over night”.
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Something to think about for Planningness 4: maybe we should invite more creatives
On that note, I might submit this humbly to our amazing organizers- what if we all looked around at our respective agencies to get some creatives out to the next Planningness? They may not be interested or may not care, but I bet there are a few that would. And I wonder if it would impact their views on what planning is perhaps seen as today vs what it can and should be, to see first hand how determined and excited we all are about the possibilities for the future, particularly when you put so many in one room and get outside the day-to-day challenges of work. Not that we want to fundamentally change the spirit and culture of Planningness, but just as Adrian sought to bring together the worlds of production and strategy in his session, maybe we can continue to blend other worlds into our little family.
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All that said…
What did I miss, and what did you learn? What sticks in other people’s minds? I realize I didn’t get too far into details about specific sessions, would love to hear further thoughts. And I’ll try and post a bit more about things in the coming days. Either way, can’t wait for the next Planningness. Thanks again to Mark and Claire (and everyone else who spoke and attended). See you all soon I hope.

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#newpresentation: Brands And Digital Culture— It Doesn’t Have To Suck

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In late February, I was invited out to the Olin School of Business @ Washington University in St Louis to speak at a new marketing seminar series they’ve just started this school year.


(Full disclosure, the professor in question who invited me is my father, and I’m still not sure if I deserved the privilege on my own merits. But was glad to get the chance to meet and speak with some future clients).

Basically, the seminar series is designed to bring more industry people into the classroom, and provide lessons of both success and failure for MBA students. Sessions so far have ranged from how to develop brand strategy, to how to manage agency-client relationships. Specifically the session I was asked to speak at revolved around what role digital platforms can play for brands. Obviously something I’m kind of interested in, but I have to admit I am always more nervous to speak in front of students than I am in front of executives.

Anyway, I tried to approach the session by providing a few broad principles/guidelines/themes based on stuff I’ve learned and done, stuff others have done, stuff I’ve shamelessly stolen from people far smarter than me (though I tried to credit you when I did, please don’t hate me if I missed something). I originally planned to talk about 5 such themes, but the night before I called an audible and cut it to 3 due to time constraints. But, I’ve included all 5 in the deck below should you be curious. Don’t think any of it is revolutionary, but more so I hoped to give the class some ideas they could act on in the near future when they get the chance to put class lessons to action in internships or full-time jobs. And so, with that long-winded introduction…would love to hear any thoughts/feedback/comments/criticism/insults/etc.

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Pre-Holiday Reading: Most Contagious 2010

The latest installment of Contagious Magazine’s ‘Most Contagious’ is out, and always is full of inspiring ideas and work. Particularly enjoyed section 08 on Gaming, and not surprisingly, Angry Birds gets its fair share of time (hate it or love it, it’s hard to deny that it’s taken hold of an unhealthy amount of many people’s time).

Full pres is worth a few minutes of your time, and definitely one to keep on hand for quick reference.

via slideshare.net

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Pre-Holiday Reading: Most Contagious 2010

The latest installment of Contagious Magazine’s ‘Most Contagious’ is out, and always is full of inspiring ideas and work. Particularly enjoyed section 08 on Gaming, and not surprisingly, Angry Birds gets its fair share of time (hate it or love it, it’s hard to deny that it’s taken hold of an unhealthy amount of many people’s time).

Full pres is worth a few minutes of your time, and definitely one to keep on hand for quick reference.

via slideshare.net

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Filed under accountplanning branding brands brandstrategy contagious contagiousmagazine digitalculture innovation mostcontagious2010 technology trends whatsnext

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TedTalks: The Beauty + Power Of Data Visualization

Seems like everyday there is someone offering up the latest infographic of the day or a new take on data visualization to wow your senses. But, not surprisingly, this Ted Talk courtesy of David McCandless is quite an amazing and inspiring display of data visualization unlike most others. Particularly impressed with the selection of data sets he works through (from media interest in violent video games, to $ figures randomly thrown out in news reports that are meaningless without context).

Well worth 15 minutes of your day. And a nice dose of inspiration for the next time you need to present absurd amounts of data in a way that won’t put everyone but you to sleep.

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Map Of The Social Web: 2007 - 2010

The smart folks over at Flowtown have recreated the original map of the social web for today’s current digital landscape. Interesting to put them next to each other- not surprisingly, it’s quite literally a different world. Wonder if we’ll see the same total shift in another 3 years. Probably a safe guess, and a good reminder that what’s important isn’t the hot item of the day on the social web, but rather understanding the underlying behaviors + motivations driving it. Social web circa 2007:

And in 2010:

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How Not To Suck At Banner Ads— Uniqlo Breaks It Down

Just the latest in a string of awesomeness from Uniqlo. It’s not often that banner ads do something other than clutter up and derail user experience on your site. While you could argue even this example is still a bit noisy, can’t argue the fact that it appears to have worked, and clearly added to rather than taking away from site experience.

Nice example of rethinking an experience that many people have written off. And showing that an idea doesn’t always have to be overproduced or epically done to be successful.

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Zipcar And Startup Culture

I’ve always had a lot of love for Zipcar, both as a very satisfied customer, and as an admirer of the way they’ve built their business from the ground up. Got this email from them today and not surprisingly it’s another brilliant idea.
 

Recognizing their place in local entreprenuerial circles, they’re sponsoring MassChallenge, a great competition among startups to give budding entrepreneurs a chance to do what Zipcar did a few years ago. Great example of a brand, even during major growth and success, understanding it’s enduring role in culture, and not just some marketer-defined ‘position’ in a category. There’s some things that you really can’t teach, and a culture like that of Zipcar’s seems to be one of them. And I think a smart play like this shows that even as they continue to scale up, they won’t soon forget how they got there, and the need to give the next gen their shot. Hope to see this competition take off, great idea, great brand, and a great opportunity for the startup community here in Mass.

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Taking A Smart Approach To Crowdsourcing

Came across this smart presentation (via @paulisakson) from the folks at UK co-creation agency Face, which lays out some good points around how you may best crowdsource ideas, and set the right environment for good results. Simple and straightforward bits to remember, yet which are so often forgotten.

A few of my favorite points/quotes (the presentation is well worth a read in full. Concise and to the point):
Crowdsourcing leads to contributions

Crowdsourcing will not give you a fully formed answer.

Handing everything over to the crowd will only take you so far, you still have to play a role as an expert in the field. 

Crowdsourcing delivers its best results if 1) the brief is simple; 2) the tasks are creative and fun; and 3) there is a conceivable output
 

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Post-Conference Hangover: Thoughts on (half of) ROFLcon

This past weekend was my first time at ROFLcon, and it was a fantastic event. Have to caveat this post by saying that, unfortunately, I was only able to attend day 2 of ROFLcon due to a rather crazy week at the office. But half a conference was absolutely still worth the price of admission. Met some great people, saw some ridiculously smart folks on panels throughout the day (the highlight was far and away the final panel on Mainstreaming of Web Culture, but more on that later).

My note taking consisted of my stream of consciousness tweets of interesting quotes throughout the day until my glorious iPhone battery gave out on me, but I’ll still do my best to recap some of the themes and interesting bits that arose from the various panels on day 2. After sorting through twitter feeds from day 1, feel like at least some common themes were shared, but anyone who can help add some more context from Day 1, feel free to chime in (particularly disappointed to have missed the keynote as well as the stellar panel on Race in web culture). Each of these deserves more time and thought, but just want to get them down while it’s fresh. In no particular order…

Protecting the core of web culture.
While the notion that web culture and mainstream culture are increasingly becoming the same was a common theme through the day, I also feel like ROFLcon is one of the last remaining events that brings together the core of web culture as it was intended to be. Fierce protection of anonymity, openness and lack of control, spontaneity and unpredictability. As many of these elements or ideals of web culture are becoming more fuzzy or going away altogether due to mainstreaming, ROFLcon serves as an enduring reminder that there is value in remembering where it all started and why. While there was a sense that mainstreaming of web culture is, in the end, probably a good thing because it places those who are leading it in a more prominent position of power, a strong desire permeated through to not completely lose what has always made it special.  A quote from Ben Huh (one of many fantastic soundbites during the day) of icanhazcheezburger fame, captures the overall shift, and part of the reason why there is potential for dilution:


The increasing supremacy of copying over creation.
Adrian wrote about this notion a few weeks ago, and it was perhaps best brought out in the panel on Pop meets Internet culture, with Dan Walsh (garfield minus garfield), Randy Hayes and Xavier Nazario (The Juggernaut, Bitch), Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda (Chad Vader), and moderated by Rob Bricken of Topless Robot. Among many things, the panel discussed how copyright laws today seem to be out of step with where culture is at (ie the booming popularity of mashup and remix culture), highlighting the need for updating antiquated plagiarism standards and definitions. Similar to what many of us in the agency world have been kicking around for some time— and which Gareth highlighted nicely in his recent transformers talk— it’s not so much what we do (or what the original content was) that matters, but rather what people do to it, and what further content is created from the original ideas. So much of digital culture is about building off of what came before, paying homage to other creators and keeping elements of that original creation alive by putting a unique spin on it— it doesn’t make sense to punish those who would choose to do so. Captured nicely in this quote (though unfortunately I failed to capture who exactly on the panel said it).



Marketers overthink the shit out of digital culture and ideas.
Perhaps a bit of an obvious one, but worth mentioning again (and again) either way. As the panels rolled by and the major successes in internet culture gave their POV on what they think works or doesn’t work, it was all the more clear that marketers, as often happens with things the marketing world doesn’t quite understand, overcomplicate and overthink everything about digital culture in misguided attempts to simply have their brand ‘be a part of it’. It’s so easy to forget that at the heart of any technology is still the underlying human desire to share and connect, regardless of where or how it happens, online or off. We get so bogged down in brand objectives, core attributes, tonality etc that we lose sight of the need to simply start with what people actually want to do and work back from there. We often end up with ideas that don’t quite fit in the broader context, and feel every bit like a brand trying to fake its way into a culture that it doesn’t understand. Moot of 4chan, though he was speaking in broader terms than brand initiatives, dropped a quote that works quite well:

The lines are being drawn: Facebook vs Web Culture.
While there is a certain grudging acceptance of what facebook is and what value it serves, the overwhelming attitude towards facebook was very much an us vs them mentality, from panelist and audience alike. For some I’m sure this is a bit of a mindfuck— how can the webs largest social platform be at odds with web culture. And yet it couldn’t be more true. Much of what made internet culture what it is, Zuckerberg and Co have taken a completely different direction with their own ventures and business. Personally, I don’t side with some of the panelists as much in their anti-facebook beliefs, but I certainly do understand where they are coming from. Anonymity in particular has taken a major blow in the era of facebook, and those at the center of web culture rightly (arguably) see facebook as representing something wholly different than the ideals and values of web culture. The opposing sides of web culture is something I imagine most marketers have little understanding or even awareness of, but it’s absolutely something they must understand particularly in the wake of facebooks recent open integration across the web. Many marketers are obsessed with implementing these new features as quickly as possible, sometimes without taking the time to really understand if their communities wanted all of it to begin with. Just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should.



A bit on the lighter side, one of the other facebook themes that arose was the notion that it has essentially dumbed-down the social web for the masses, much the way AOL did back in the 90s. To that end, can’t forget one of the most memorable facebook quotes of the evening from Ben Huh:


Sidebar: where were all the iPads?
Not really a theme of the conference content, but something anecdotal that took me a bit by surprise. Over the past month or two I’ve debated many times about making the plunge and buying a first gen iPad, despite the fact I know it will only infuriate me when the 2G comes out at half the price and twice as fast. So far, I’ve resisted. And what truly struck me was the fact that, at one of the geekiest and most tech crazy conferences around, I could count the number of iPads I saw on one hand (maybe one and a half). I have to imagine that after the same amount of time had passed back at the launch of the iPhone, a conference like this would have been overflowing with people on their iPhones and comparing notes. The fact that this wasn’t the case was quite odd— particularly given todays announcement that 1 million iPads have been sold, hitting that mark faster than the iPhone. Perhaps it signals a shift in who buys the latest Apple invention?

Interestingly enough, while I don’t have a witty quote from ROFLcon to go along with this, as I was writing I caught this bit from @aplusk— love him or hate him, he sort of hit the sentiment spot on (particularly as it relates to those who want to push internet culture forward):


Surely this is not a comprehensive list of things to take away from ROFLcon…
But captures most of what I found to be interesting and unique. Can’t wait for next year and the next iteration of what is a fantastic conference borne out of a desire to celebrate the greatness of web culture. Big, big thanks to @timhwang and crew for putting it all together. If you need more ROFL goodness, troll back through some of the feeds (including Saturday night’s afterparty), and catch some of the pix here (courtesy of laughingsquid).

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