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This post also appears in the eFangelists blog from Met|Hodder.

When it comes to conferring legitimacy, “authentic” versus “manufactured” fan activity seem to be in conflict.

Things really go viral, its imagined by those in the “authentic” camp, when the fans themselves discover and champion the object of their enthusiasm. Creators and marketers need not engage.

It’s hard to resist the pun of calling this scenario a fantasy – at least in most cases of fan-worthy popular culture. In fact, the very introduction and nurturing of a popular culture artifact is the job of commercial creators and their handmaidens – marketers. That’s true if it’s a movie or music, television show or sports team. Even down to playing field pros and entertainment stars of all types.

Simply put, the objects of fan attention more than likely have been “made” to some degree or another. That’s no disrespect to genuine admirers whose potent word of mouth and homemade enthusiasm can be astoundingly influential.

But…sorry, indie kids, but “Pulp Fiction” was not hand-crafted in the corner of Quentin Tarantino’s bedroom. Nor has Arcade Fire’s “Suburbia” become a best-seller via street-corner busking.

Increasingly, the “authentic” and “manufactured” camps are finding common ground. And it seems that the manufacturers are going more than halfway to bridge the gap.

Smart marketers and promotions pros are becoming increasingly creative and flexible in how they stoke fan interest, and ultimately passion. A primary way is by going to the fans (or potential fans) where they themselves live, play, communicate and create.

Take the new Syfy network drama “Being Human.” [Full disclosure: Met|Hodder counts Syfy as a client and has worked on aspects of this show’s launch promotions.] The January 2011 launch of this show held a lot of promise, but it also posed challenges for Syfy.

The promise was that the show – which focuses on the lives of three younger-than-usual-for-Syfy characters – could draw a younger demographic to the network. The appeal of that, beyond a young demo being the bread and butter of advertising sales, is that it means exposing younger viewers to the network as a whole.

The challenges were even more interesting.

First, Syfy’s “Being Human” is an adaptation of a beloved, well-established and currently airing  series of the same parentage on the BBC (it runs on the BBC America network here in the colonies). So, how do you win over those fans and fend off the expected push back?

On top of that, the series has had to overcome the near-saturation in pop culture of stories involving supernatural beings. Especially vampires but now including werewolves. (Ghosts are under-exploited these days, so the show’s spectral character is yet to be scorned.)

And, of course, there are all the usual hurdles of successfully launching a new television series these days.

Faced with these challenges, the promotions folks at Syfy took extra effort to meet their prospective fans on their own turf. They launched a multi-platform campaign that ranged from the traditional (on-air, outdoor, print) to the imaginative (social media, partnerships with non-mainstream media, Shazam music integration – a first).

Perhaps it was the one-two punch of traditional and imaginative, but the early ratings success for the show seems to have proven Syfy’s strategy.

The lesson for marketers is: The authenticity of fan support matters as much to the seeding and success of popular culture as the often-corporate makers of fan-worthy output.

The lesson for fans is: Without the creativity and marketing muscle of popular culture creators, your buzz – for all its potential power – might not make it around the corner if not for something really worth fanaticizing over.

A final thought: The devil (not too many shows about them), of course, is in the details. Consider that there are two paths. “Ham-fisted manufacturing” of popular culture content is developed to be force fed to potential fans. But “thoughtful manufacturing” is authentically nuanced to nurture and amplify the fan’s passion. The former is still too common a practice, but the latter represents the inevitable future of marketing and promotions that relies on fans for success.

4DZ7000AAs white hot as social media is, digital signage/digital out-of-home media is on a long, slow burn.

Here at the Digital Signage Content Strategies Summit in Las Vegas, produced by the Strategy Institute, the Twin Cities is curiously well-represented. The contingent, speakers and attendees alike, come from Target, Best Buy, Splice Here, and Met|Hodder. And then there are those with the fabled “Minnesota connection.” Minnesota-based speakers (three out of 16 total presenters) were:

  • Paul Flanagan, Producer, In-Store Network at Best Buy
  • Mark Bennett, Channel Red Executive Producer & Group Manager, Media Production at Target
  • Kent Hodder, President and Executive Creative Director, Met|Hodder

Notable in their absence, both at this conference and perhaps in this emerging medium overall, are Minnesota advertising and marketing agencies–even those that have flags planted decisively in other digital media.

The digital signage industry isn’t losing any sleep over it because agencies like Razorfish, Goodby Silverstein, Saatchi & Saatchi X and Organic are on the job. But what does it say about a region’s entire advertising/marketing braintrust when none of the big boys (or girls) are at the table in a noticeable way. The Minnesota creative shops represented here are little guys with the advantage of being nimble, entrepreneurial and lacking many of the encumbrances of our larger counterparts. But this is a $6.1 billion media marketing category today with double-digit growth projected through 2012 by PQ Media in the “Global Digital Out-of-Home Media Forecast 2008-2012” report.

This is a call to action (or wake-up call) to Twin Cities agencies: discover digital signage and, just like you are doing with social media outlets, find ways to integrate it into solutions for your clients. And should you need some guidance on the medium, well, I think you know who to call.

If the gestation period for every Next Big Thing were as long as it has been for digital signage (digital out-of-home media), we’d all still be psyched about AOL dial-up service. Honestly, it’s like dressing your 8-year-old in a onesie and pushing him ’round in a pram.

That’s not entirely fair. Digital signage is indeed a bigger deal in Europe and Asia than the States. The networks are often bold and inventive, and occasionally effective. Integration with social media like Twitter and Facebook is beginning to take hold, notably in a recent Land Rover campaign.

The Twin Cities has been a surprising hub of activity in digital signage. Two of our retail titans–Target and Best Buy–are significantly signed up, as is 3M in its recurring role as a technology provider. There also are a few dozen scrappy companies either wholly or partly focused on the sector, offering software, installation, operations and (insert shameless plug for employer) content strategy and creation.

Minnesota will have plenty of representation at the Digital Signage Content Strategy Summit in Las Vegas May 12-13. Target, Best Buy and Met|Hodder are all on the speaker roster alongside agency bigs from “the coasts.” Any chance that agencies from Minnesota are ready to dive into this medium? And how about some big brands (a few have, most notably General Mills).

By and large, their names aren’t popping up in the list of usual suspects at these gatherings. So, I’ll do my best to flush out the locals in Vegas and report back on their readiness to forge ahead in this medium.

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