“Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole.” This is the current giving life to TED.com. TED, an annual conference, stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. Aimed at “spreading ideas,” the conference provides a platform for lectures that cover a broad range of topics including science, politics, education, culture, business, global issues … — basically everything and anything interesting, current and meaningful. TED speakers are influential individuals from all walks of life, some well-known and some only known within their field. Past speakers have included Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Bill Gates, and Malcolm Gladwell. According to TED.com, the annual conference brings together “the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers,” and over four days, 50 speakers give an 18-minute “talk of their lives”.
Founded in 1984, the TED Conference has been “leveraging the power of ideas to change the world” every year since 1990. Currently, TED is owned by Chris Anderson (who also hosts) and his non-profit organization, The Sapling Foundation. The cost of attending the annual TED conference has changed throughout the years, but currently is only open to members who pay an annual membership fee of $6,000. Membership includes conference admission as well as club mailings, networking tools and conference DVDs. Attendance, which is said to sell out a year in advance, has been even more exciting since 2005 with the introduction of the TEDPrize, which awards $100,000 to grant three individuals’ “wish to change the world”. Recipients of this prize have included Boon, Bill Clinton, and James Nachtwey. Since 2006, however, TED has proven exclusivity is not their thing by making TEDTalks available directly on the TED web site, or through YouTube, and iTunes for free. Currently, about 370 TED talks are free to view online under a Creative Conference license that enables users to share and repost Talks throughout the web. As of January 2009, TED.com talks have been viewed over 90 million itms by more than 15 million people.
TED utilizes a free pricing strategy for users initially visiting the site to view videos as well as those who become TED.com members. Membership to TED.com is free after visitors provide their email, full name and country and the benefits include: joining the conversation about TEDTalks, themes and TED Blog posts with comments; a public profile to talk about your own work, save favorite Talks, and any expression worth sharing; contacting other TED.com members around the world; and optional TED newsletters.
Although TED.com is free, a paid membership is offered for $995 per year. A TED Associate Membership requires payment, a mailing address and other contact details as well as sufficient internet bandwidth and an up-to-date computer system. This membership has many additional benefits, including a live subscription-only webcast of the TED Conference, TED Book Club mailings (which include books, CDs, and DVDs) five times a year; a DVD set of the event, social-networking with other associate members, announcements about TED events, as well as all of benefits of a TED.com membership. This type of membership would be valuable to individuals who utilize TED talks for their own business or organizational benefits or those extremely invested in the organization or its mission.
Throughout the organization, TED integrates its overarching theme, interconnection, throughout the organization — from the conference and the prize, to membership and the web site. TED.com is very user-oriented, not only presenting free content with simple navigation, but allowing users to contribute to the web site through comments and feedback at well.
“Our Mission (and how you can help),” is one more section of the site that promotes interconnection, suggesting various ways to help spread the TED word. Again, TED.com puts the user center stage suggesting users to: share links through email, Digg, Twitter, Facebook and Del.icio.us; host a “TED session” at school or work around a specific topic or connect with friends and neighbors with a “TED salon,” planning discussion around each Talk or theme and encouraging an open conversation. For web users, TED.com strongly encourages the sharing of its content on blogs, sites, or social-networks. Throughout the site, TED presents links for users to improve the organization or site through feedback and suggestions.
In these ways TED makes the user part of the experience connecting them with the mission and hopefully providing motivation for users to become Associate Members. Even as a free user, TED is extremely generous – presenting all the content you need to expand your mind for 18 minutes.
Two Talks I recently enjoyed from TED.com
Do you know TED? What are your favorite talks?
Launching in 2000, Pandora and its technology, the Music Genome Project, have been consistently delivering music to its loyal fans. Pandora calls the Music Genome Project the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken. Musical analysts at Pandora mine through music, one song at a time, to collect the intricate musical details that go into every song. These characteristics include molody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics and more (they say close to 400 attributes).
This intuitive project begins when a user enters a song or artist they enjoy. The program responds by playing the specific song or one by the author followed by selections that are musically similar. If the user approves, a new song begins once the previous one ends. If, however, the selection is not a match, the user has the capability to disapprove and begin a new song. This disapproval also serves to direct Pandora in making future selections. One great feature of Pandora is its mobility. Once users create an account their stations follow them anywhere. With any computer a user can log on and have their personalized stations right there ready to stream.
To generate revenue, Pandora offers two subscription plans: a free version, which is supported by advertisements as well as a fee-based plan that does not contain ads. For users browsing on their mobile phones, Pandora offers “Pandora Mobile”. Additionally, while listening users have the ability to buy the songs or albums they are listening to through Amazon.com or the iTunes Store. Pandora subscriptions are $36 for a one-year plan.
Ads shown on Pandora are not generic and offer the advertising customers a platform to brand themselves with the station playing. Pandora aims to tailor the whole user experience around the advertisement being shown. Rotating along with songs, these targeted ads transform the whole page with attractive branded skins changing as the user switches station. These brand-sponsored radio stations are appealing mostly because they look good. Users tend to spend very little time actually looking around the site once they have settled on a station or song, which is why a branded skin might have a better effect – making the user take notice when the station and screen change together.
A successful feature that some companies have jumped into is to actually offer suggestions to music listeners. Along with a branded skin, ads which feature TV shows or products will have a “mix track” station users can add to their own featuring music from the television show or tunes related to the product. This has had a pretty good success as users find it a good way to explore new music. I found numerous blog posts raving about this new feature: advertising as a service. Connecting user activity with an advertising message in a useful way really engages customers. This is especially important in an era where people are becoming increasingly weary of advertisements, especially those that disrupt their experience.
This point moves me on to Pandora’s next and newest advertising feature: audio ads. As a result of the rising cost of royalty fees for Internet radio companies, Pandora has begun introducing audio ads. These ads are played sporadically during the user experience, but only about 15 seconds for every two hours of listening. Some Pandora fans find this problematic as many are initially attracted to the project for its lack of advertising.
Performance metrics Pandora can use to measure their success using an advertising model can measure not only the quantity of users listening, but also the genres they listen to, stations they create, and time spent browsing the site. Measurements can also be made to gauge how Pandora is doing with the Music Genome Project, predicting music based on the attributes they assign to artists and songs. With the approve/disapprove feature, Pandora can determine how frequently users approve of the music or whether they spend more time skipping to the next song or station. This is useful for Pandora to determine what users want, how satisfied they are, and perhaps how to better tailor their offering to users listening to certain genres. It seems as Pandora grows, their ability to target customers with specific songs and artists will grow as well.
It seems that Pandora users are pretty loyal. A lot of users I know live by the program when they are browsing the Internet or using their computer for long periods of time. Personally, I use Pandora when I don’t want to browse through my own music to listen. It’s a great program to discover new artists and I think loyal fans will continue to use the project even with audio ad disruptions. 15 seconds for 2 hours of listening is a small price to pay for free streaming music. For extremely loyal fans that cannot deal with ads, Pandora has a subscription option. This option is good to have because it seems users who are passionately anti-ad are probably devoted enough to purchase a subscription plan anyway.
Radiohead – All I Need (Official MTV Video)
In looking on the Adbusters site for my last post I came across a new Radiohead video for the song “All I need”. This is an incredibly potent video, in line with kind of media transparency Adbusters hopes to achieve. Radiohead continues to showcase themselves in creative, innovative, and powerful ways. Check it out!
Kalle Lasn is the founder of Adbuster magazine, a culture-jamming publication that has been around for about a decade. In February 2008, Lasn was defeated in a lawsuit he filed against Canadian TV conglomerate CanWest Global for refusing to sell television-advertising time to Adbusters for its advertisements created to parody and criticize the ills of business and marketing.
This is extremely problematic, according to Lasn, who sees it imperative that consumers like himself fight for their freedom of speech. This, he feels, doesn’t happen when messages are blocked by big business. “You can stand on the corner and shout at people as they are going by,” he says, “but if a handful of corporations have media in their pocket, they can totally hoodwink the public.”
In this case, CanWest refused to air a number of Adbusters 30-second subvertisements covering topics from forestry to high fashion. The Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed his case finding private TV broadcasters free to air (or reject) whatever advertisements shown on their network. According to Georgetown University law professor Angela Campbell, cases like this are fairly common in the United States. Courts almost always side with broadcasters, citing a 1973 case, which decided broadcasters can control editorial content and can thus choose what ads run.
Lasn and Adbusters are fighting for their legal right to buy airtime under the same rules and conditions advertising agencies do, finding it absurd a public interest group can’t buy space on public airwaves. Lasn sees that the bigger problem lies not only in who has a voice and who doesn’t, but who is given a voice and who isn’t. If paying, what right is it for TV corporations, like CanWest, to block the message?
Sure –Adbusters ideas are loud and critical, but this is exactly the intent. One ad in particular ridicules Calvin Klein’s black-and-white underwear ads replacing a thin model with a normally proportioned woman bent over a toilet. Through narration an important question is asked: “Why are nine out of 10 women dissatisfied with some aspect of their own bodies?” The commercial ends with an answer: “The beauty industry is the beast.”
This Calvin Klein spoof and others by Adbusters utilize the technique of “subvertising”. According to Wikipedia, a subvert copies the look and feel of the ad or brand they’re criticizing, leading viewers to take a closer look. The idea behind this method is to create cognitive dissonance, revealing a deeper truth about the corporate environment and its effect on consumers, citizens, and the environment.
Adbusters Media Foundation is a non-profit anti-consumerist organization founded in Vancouver, Canada in the late eighties. Founders Lasn and Bill Schmalz describe themselves as, “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age
According to the brains behind Adbusters, “advertisers have taken over everything … It’s time for the backlash, and that backlash is the clean mental environment.”
In September 2004, Adbusters filed lawsuits against six major Canadian television broadcasters (including CanWest Global) for refusing to air their videos in spots the organization attempted to purchase. Adbusters Media Foundation claims that in blocking the videos to air, the organization’s freedom of expression was unjustly limited.
Adbusters has been called the leader of the culture jamming movement, characterized as a form of public activism in opposition to commercialism. Sometimes involving the transformation of mass media to produce a satirical look at the medium itself, a “culture jammer” is defined as a person who “disrupts the status quo of corporate influence”.
So what exactly does that mean? What does “disrupting the status quo of corporate influence” entail? Well, as I found, a great number of tactics are employed by the culture jammer including modifications to billboards and other outdoor promotions, as well as the creation of print advertisements redesigned not only to mimic but to mock the corporate brands they imitate. Essentially, this means taking the symbols, logos, and slogans successful brands use to communicate their value and changing them in clever and significant ways.
The aim of culture jamming is to highlight the consequences of corporate behavior visually by creating a contrast between the brand image and the subverted message. The culture jammer wants her message to be as public as possible because in essence she is voicing her objection to the issue – protesting her qualms with corporate culture.
The premise behind this, according to Adbusters, is “trickle up” activism; a funny designation considering the organization’s inherent nemesis is probably the economic “trickle down” theory. With “trickle up,” Adbusters encourages and honors culture jamming, supporting and showcasing consumer’s own versions of subvertising.
Backtracking to the case I started with (Adbusters v. CanWest Global), I have a hard time seeing why and how the non-profit lost to TV conglomerate CanWest. According to Fair Use laws, the parody of copyrighted work is legal as long as a number of factors are accounted for. First, the purpose of the parody is examined investigating whether the parody’s creator gained financially. Obviously it was not Adbuster’s intent to generate profit from its criticism – an argument further strengthened by the organization’s non-profit status. Second, the nature of the actual work is inspected to determine if the information parodied was factual or fiction. With regards to Adbuster’s work, the information conveyed may be offensive (perhaps because it’s brutally honest), but it’s not necessarily untrue. Third, the quantity of information taken from the original work is studied to verify that only portions were borrowed.
It is in the final factor where Adbusters’ legal pitfalls may lie. The fourth issue in Fair Use law is the effect borrowed, copied or parodied information may have on the potential market and the creator of the original work’s ability to profit. With Adbusters’ subvertising, light is shed on real issues surrounding the behavior of big business potentially (and aiming to) hurt the profit margins of those criticized.
This being said, I think the real issue lies in the choices broadcasters make when filling ad space. Theoretically, they are supposed to serve the public. Unfortunately, this intent seems to have become cloudy, as public interest (specifically their own) has become inextricably linked to the market.
Blocked from using one of the most powerful communication mediums, Lasn feels violated in his ability to voice his cause. This, he equates to a violation of human rights in the information age – the ability to communicate. His ultimate goal is to dismantle media conglomerates through lawsuits to hopefully gain at least one minute of airtime for every hour devoted to corporate interests.
It’s obvious that new technologies inherently challenge the old methods used to combat ethnical and copyright issues within media. It’s fortunate that organizations like Adbusters have the opportunity to thrive in the growing digital marketplace, voicing their concerns virally through their campaigns (International Buy Nothing Day), through commercials and videos, and in their own publications, available both in print and online. Still, there is no reason organizations like this should be blocked from communicating through the airwaves, especially because of the editorial (and financial) choices of conglomerates. The messages Adbusters’ aim to convey are intended to shed light on important issues facing the world today, yet because they essentially “bite the hand that feeds them,” they are rejected.
I’m not sure I feel as passionately about this as Lasn, but I do take issue with his blocked freedoms as a paying customer.
I discovered and used a lot of information within this post from article written by James H. Ewert Jr. in “In These Times” newspaper. Read it yourself: Adbusters’ Ads Busted
Sportswear giants Nike and Puma have both gone about capturing their internet-savvy markets in a similar way through their online shoe-customization programs. Both companies provide users the chance to become designers – choosing not only the size and style of their shoes, but the color of the mid-sole, laces, logo, and yes, even the metal holes the laces go through.
“Mongolian Shoe BBQ,” launched by Puma, and Nike’s version, “NIKEiD,” puts customization at your fingertips for about the same price and only a few weeks wait. Learning that both companies offer similar options for shoe customization, I decided to check out the features each company offers and customize my own sneakers – a creative project I was excited to begin.
Logging onto Puma’s site it took me little time to find the link to “Mongolian Shoe BBQ,” a theme Puma uses as the backdrop for their shoe customization. I like their idea – likening the shoe design process to a chef preparing his menu. This theme carries on throughout the shoes’ development as you choose your style from a menu off of a table, “gather ingredients,” and begin to create your “customer recipe”. After creating my new kicks I simply added them to my “doggie bag” and went to work creating a new recipe.
I like Puma’s idea of giving the design process a theme – making the consumer his own design chef – but without knowing what to look for, I doubt I would immediately know what “Mongolian Shoe BBQ” meant at all. Perhaps they have branded this idea to the process through other mediums (like TV commercials), but that is something I’m not aware of.
Puma offers fun patterns, fabrics, colors and designs – extending the customization process to three different shoe styles. The color palette they offer is broad with colors appealing to a wide range of users. You have the ability to make your shoes as tame or as crazy as you want. Personally, I prefer to get as crazy with color as I can, finally deciding on purple cheetah print shoes with red laces and a yellow Puma logo. Check ‘em out:
After closing my tab on Puma, I hopped over to Nike.com to see how NIKEiD compared. After narrowing down my region to the United States and finally reaching the actual Nike site I immediately spotted the NIKEiD link. Unfortunately, this is where the ease ended as I spent over 5 minutes trying to reach the blank shoe and begin work on my design. Nike offers too many styles and already-designed options in an unorganized way that I had a hard time figuring out where to start. Once I found the right link to a blank shoe, however, I had no problem figuring out how to make my creation. Dissimilar to Puma, Nike allows the user to literally click on the part of the shoe they want to change making the process easier for someone who might not know what a “vamp,” or “eyestay” means.
The NIKEiD program is not themed around anything as creative as Puma’s is, but being a company like Nike, I almost feel like that’s unnecessary in the first place. The Nike brand is so strong on its own and when it comes to casual yet funky shoes — I would be willing to bet Nike is the industry leader. I’ve heard of NIKEiD before and have even considered going on the site in the past. Obviously, as number one, the company has to do a lot less branding to get customers on the site. Therefore, I think the concept of NIKEiD is themed perfectly – actually turning the platform into a design studio. I enjoyed my time in this studio, even learning that you can actually go to the studio in New York City to physically design a pair. After much time exhausting all of my options I settled on a less flashy custom shoe by Nike:
Both sites offer a vast amount of options allowing you to literally pick any color combination your want, leading some shoes to look like a mixed-up rainbow of patterns and textures. The idea behind customized shoes is a pretty good one in my opinion. Sneakers are a big industry and with casual shoes like these in style now, everyone wants a unique pair. Both Nike and Puma have gone about the process in a similar way – bringing consumers onto their site and making them want to stay logged on as they play around with styles and color combinations until the perfect pair is created.
We live in a time where everyone wants to stand out for being unique and creative. These programs support this desire by literally handing the paintbrush to the buyer. This concept does a lot to make both company and customer happy. Nike and Puma first don’t have to do as much work by way of developing their product line and second (and maybe more importantly) they get a good amount of free research done – the ability to understand what color combinations are popular and what their consumers want in style, fabric, and texture. Just as ingenious, the customer is magically transformed into a VIP, now taking pride in the design of shoes no one else owns. Both sites also offer customers the ability to save and load their work into a gallery – giving them a medium to show off their creation. This concept is very important in our cluttered world of youtube videos and open-sharing networks.
Being into funky sneakers, I enjoyed going through the customization process these companies offer – creating my own combination of cool, unique kicks. My personal preference for Nike’s aside, I found Puma’s customization process much easier to access. Once in on the design process, though, I found both endeavors to be a fun way to play around with color to create something uniquely my own. The concept puts the consumer behind the driver’s seat for a product they would probably buy anyway – with very little additional cost. Giving the customer this kind of power is exactly what companies like Nike and Puma need to do to stay competitive in a digital world that is increasingly centered around the buyer. Even if a purchase doesn’t occur immediately – the consumer still spent at least 10 minutes on the site customizing a product they can now envision themselves wearing. A genius way to further involve the customer in the buying process, both brands are strengthened. Whether your prefer Nike or Puma, the age of going to the mall to pick out your shoes is over. From the comfort of your home you can be your own designer.
Check out your new shoes!
Welcome to Digital Bazaar. Visit this blog to read my opinions on the interesting and rapidly changing world of marketing on the Internet. Throughout the next few months I will feature my views on various topics related to what’s up on the web – how companies are adapting to engage their audiences and get them involved. Web 2.0 puts the power in the fingertips of the users. It’s imperative that companies recognize this and adjust to survive in our competitive marketplace. Through this blog, I will investigate just how this is being done.