May 22, 2018

The Fortnite Craze — A Foreshadow of The Future of Media?

The popularity of E-Sports is exploding. And the recent Fortnite craze may foreshadow the future of media.

Let’s start with a story about a young man named Tyler Blevins. You may already know of him as Ninja. Ninja currently drives the heaviest social media interaction of any athlete on the internet. He doesn’t play in the NBA or the NFL. He’s a professional E-Sports gamer with a wildly popular YouTube channel and he earns $500K+ monthly from subscribers on Twitch who watch his video game-play.

I first heard of Blevins back in March when he was challenged a game of Fortnite Duos by platinum rap artist, Drake and their contest broke the internet. Ninja’s success story totally blew me away for a few minutes. The next weekend while on a playground trip with my kids (4 and 6), I heard a group of 10 year olds debating Ninja’s greatness. They understood exactly how he had monetized his video content, what he was earning, what charities he supports and they had all watched countless hours of his game-play.

The past 10 years have given us the mainstream-ification of social media and mobile user experiences. As I ponder where media is headed in the next few years it’s stories like Blevins’ that are breaking in the news and alive on the playground that make me wonder what’s next for emerging media.

This is emerging as mass culture. It leads the imagination into all aspects of communication and media behavior. Especially because it’s popular with a variety of ages but it’s huge with very young audiences who will be growing up quickly and taking their expectations of media with them. Their behaviors will shape the future of media.

We’ve seen what technology and social media have done to the attendance and ratings of live sports events. However it’s done very little to diminish the celebrity value of sports. Professional athletes and musicians are increasingly influential in our culture and video games are a way for them to relate with fans, as well as compete with each other in a crossover channel and merge audiences into an entirely new context by doing so.

There’s a story just this week of David Price, pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, who had to sit out of a game (his job!) due to carpal tunnel from playing Fortnite. He’s since committed not to play the game while in the ball park! “The Internet of Things,” especially voice enabled devices in the home and increasingly powerful portable technology means that all of this stuff is going to be always-on and always available, very soon. Brands and organizations that aren’t familar with e-sports or real-time social gaming may be the victims of the next massive disruption in marketing.

The marketing and media industries have been looking at real time opportunities, augmented reality, vIrtual reality, The IOT, Influencer marketing and social advertising among so many other things knowing it’s big and wondering exactly how it will all tie together. The interactive environment that gaming provides and the instant access to celebrity that social media offers seem to be merging right now in a manner that could shift from “rapidly growing” to “full on mainstream adoption” of internet connected, socially interactive environments for live entertainment.

There are fewer and fewer walls between people when it comes to communication. The opportunities created by that increasing level of connection is reinventing entertainment and leading media culture into new frontiers.

Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

November 7, 2016

There's More Content Than Time to Absorb It

There's more content than time to absorb it. That's why algorithms are useful. They anticipate what we want to see.

In Facebook’s own words: “News Feed is designed to show each person on Facebook the content that’s most relevant to them.”

When striving to reach an audience in the Facebook newsfeed, relevance is key. Organic audience interest is usually not enough to earn exposure within campaign timelines. So paid advertising with great targeting options are a nice and effective way to get a message through.

A few years ago Facebook made a change that dramatically hampered the organic reach of business pages. Small businesses and social media marketers were in an uproar.  From that point on, businesses essentially had to pay to be seen at all.

The idea was to prioritize organic interest of the audience over the promotional agenda of the post and to better serve all users in the process. In effect, this forced more businesses into the advertising platform where they’re led to specify an audience and a campaign goal. Much better for all parties than shouting into a crowd.

This change served the advertiser and the audience. It put small businesses in check, keeping them from saturating feeds with overly salesy come-ons that the audience won’t value. It channeled marketers of all kinds into affordable ad channels and challenged them to create engaging content to overcome the more limited organic reach. Facebook made a pretty good explanation at the time.

However, the clamp down on organic reach continues today and there's no shortage of advertisers to bid for the inventory. As a result, I’m noticing a lack of welcome organic content in my own feed and over-saturation of ads that I don’t appreciate. I am finding more often that I never see posts from pages that I truly care about. I am also discovering that I already like pages I didn’t know I was following because I never see their content.

“I already like this page? Where’s it been?"

You can set notifications for desired content but that’s getting just a bit too manual for my taste. I don’t need more little red highlights calling for my attention. I do want a better experience and a more relevant newsfeed.

There is another downside to the lack of the content I’ve opted-in to receive: It makes more room for “swagvertising” ads. The biggest offenders in my feed are these really subpar t-shirt pages blindly calling out things I love like mountain biking, running, beer or deceased musicians like Pete Seeger, Bob Marley and J Dilla. Landmark artists whose names have been reduced to a merchandise license in this context. These ads are defensibly “relevant to my interests” and probably return a profit, but I use them to illustrate a point. These businesses are missing the mark by targeting me.

If Facebook is sincere about "showing each person the content that's most relevant to them" then they need to tweak the levels a bit. For instance, figure out how to let Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine tell me which elected leaders are actually doing something to protect the parks and rivers of this region. I really care about that. This publication is working hard to convey it. Facebook would get a lot of credit for making access to that valuable info much easier. While we’re at it, please don’t let Wacky Tee Fiendz try to sell me any more poly/cotton landfill fodder. That seems like a fair exchange to me.

All things considered, I give Facebook a ton of credit in this realm. They are focused on a good user experience. They are in many ways improving a native advertising model for users and advertisers. However, as the pendulum swings too far away from deep/organic relevance toward shallow/paid relevance, a correction should be made to the algorithm.

But with quantifiable revenue immediately behind that swing, it will likely be much less nimble correcting back toward the less tangible value of substance.

Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

November 6, 2014

Not Your Average Customer

Clicking through some recent articles, I came across a bit of research that affirms “common sense.”

In sum, it says that the advertising that works best for the broadest audience does not work best for a subset of that audience. For example, it is commonly accepted that ads designed to generate a behavioral response should be direct and straightforward, not nuanced. However, the research shows that luxury ads perform better when the ads take on more subtle qualities, such as “polite” or “beautiful.” These attributes would likely dilute immediacy, and therefore effectiveness, to the broadest population.

Seems obvious, right? But it’s a very real discussion in today’s revolutionary retail landscape.

Common sense is essential. However, it casts a big shadow over meaningful data gathered through testing and research with real customers. For this reason, the foregone conclusions of yesterday are not fore-drawn conclusions today. Especially when it comes to best serving the client and their customers.

Good advertising requires creativity, well-placed expertise and research.

In marketing circles we talk about our beliefs regarding what works and what doesn’t. We usually start with a firm knowledge of “best practices” and some subjective beliefs based in personal biases. Invariably, an anecdote or two are shared. As professionals, we identify the biases and move on to some form of research.

To this point, meaningful results are always about the customer, the end-user, first.

Best practices for any given medium serve industry-wide performance averages, which is a good place to start. But, quoting Avinash Kaushik, “There’s no such thing as an aggregated average customer.”

Well-researched customer insights simultaneously build upon and defy the averages, providing an optimized exception to the rule while unlocking a greater truth.

Jeff Smack
Digital Communications Director

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