Is the tipping point toast? This is the title of a rather interesting article on fastcompany magazine.
There is a lot of thinking and research going on in order to find out, what will trigger a viral (marketing) explosion of any sort. Is it the people, the context or the actual idea? Or would it be a mixture of all? Most people will have read Malcolm Gladwells „Tipping Point“ or similar literature. In his book, all three are important, yet most marketers have started to focus too narrowly on the people part of the equation.
Now Gareth points me to an article to that article on fast company magazine. And it seems from this work that the ‚who‘ is not really what matters; instead it’s the context and, most importantly, the idea itself that matters the most when it comes to the spread of new things. Like in a forrest fire, where nobody would expect the person causing it to be highly influential or the match extremely flammable. Instead it is crystal clear that the forrest was ready for it…
„If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one–and if it isn’t, then almost no one can,“ Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it’s less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public’s mood. Sure, there’ll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts’s terminology, an „accidental Influential.“
Perhaps the problem with viral marketing is that the disease metaphor is misleading. Watts thinks trends are more like forest fires: There are thousands a year, but only a few become roaring monsters. That’s because in those rare situations, the landscape was ripe: sparse rain, dry woods, badly equipped fire departments. If these conditions exist, any old match will do. „And nobody,“ Watts says wryly, „will go around talking about the exceptional properties of the spark that started the fire.“
Duncan Watts, the originator of this not really new, yet still untrendy thought (I guess the context still isn’t right), calculated this with computer models:
That may be oversimplifying it a bit, but last year, Watts decided to put the whole idea to the test by building another Sims-like computer simulation. He programmed a group of 10,000 people, all governed by a few simple interpersonal rules. Each was able to communicate with anyone nearby. With every contact, each had a small probability of „infecting“ another. And each person also paid attention to what was happening around him: If lots of other people were adopting a trend, he would be more likely to join, and vice versa. The „people“ in the virtual society had varying amounts of sociability–some were more connected than others. Watts designated the top 10% most-connected as Influentials; they could affect four times as many people as the average Joe. In essence, it was a virtual society
So, a computer model, a rather static even, I would assume, is behind this? Not sure if I want to really believe in the validity of this approach. But hey, I am a marketer – and it says in the article that us marketers are amongst the heaviest doubters of this research.
Mind you, Watts does agree that some people are more instrumental than others. He simply doesn’t think it’s possible to will a trend into existence by recruiting highly social people. The network effects in society, he argues, are too complex–too weird and unpredictable–to work that way. If it were just a matter of tipping the crucial first adopters, why can’t most companies do it reliably?
True, damn it, very true. I wish there would be a reliable mechanism, of course I do. We do try to design built viral campaigns along the learnings of past campaigns, because that is the only thing we have.
As Watts points out, viral thinkers analyze trends after they’ve broken out. „They start with an existing trend, like Hush Puppies, and they go backward until they’ve identified the people who did it first, and then they go, ‚Okay, these are the Influentials!'“ But who’s to say those aren’t just Watts’s accidental Influentials, random smokers who walked, unwittingly, into a dry forest? East Village hipsters were wearing lots of cool things in the fall of 1994. But, as Watts wondered, why did only Hush Puppies take off? Why didn’t their other clothing choices reach a tipping point too?
What you can do, and that is part of the conclusion of that article, is to offer a mechanism to spread your ideas to every single person who might actually be able to send it on to at least one other person. Doesn’t sound like a great strategy, but if your goal is maximum spread, why focus only on so called influencers – i.e. focus too narrow. Spread to everyone, as far and wide as your own resources allow you to. Start with the people you consider influencers, granted – you have to start somewhere, but once you’re done with those, include everyone else, too.
Heineken in the Netherlands has launched a new advergame which looks interesting. The game asks playes to spot and track the delivery men of Heineken around the Netherlands and find out what their next stop will be. Whoever guesses correctly first, gets the chance to win a Nokia phone. So in a way, this game play is not that complicated or creative.
What I admire, is something completely different: Apparantly, these delivery men are tracked in real time with real journey data, during the regular working hours. And this is remarkable. I have also worked for clients with a huge fleet of delivery vehicles and I do appreciate the fact that Heineken managed to include their drivers into this game. Creatives usually come up easily with lots of brilliant ideas how to connect the mobile workforce of a client with a webpage via all sorts of mobile devices like phones or GPS tracking devices. But organisational reality most of the time kills these ideas.
So this won’t have been easy to push through the internal, most likely rather political, approval and commitment chain in order to get the buy in of all the different departments (marketing, distribution, logistics, etc.). Kudos, I like that.
Andrew Keen is a well known critic of the whole Web 2.0 user generated („communistic“) cult of the amateur that is shaping our media consumption („prosumption“) these days.
Now, on Ad Week, he contributed an Op Ed about Web 2.0 being the death of advertising. It is quite a rant, you’ll be amazed:
Web 2.0 is, in truth, the very worst piece of news for the advertising industry since the birth of mass media. In the short term, the Web 2.0 hysteria marks the end of the golden age of advertising; in the long term, it might even mark the end of advertising itself.
At first I thought he must be joking. And then I looked up his name on Wikipedia – finding out that he must be serious about these things.
Don’t get me wrong – the new media production and consumption setup has changed (and will continue to change) and has had an effect on the advertising business. But instead of complaining about it, we should look at the possibilities and opportunities of the new landscape.
Many of the new technology enabled trends are somewhat user friendly, if not at least user-centric. So why should we not adopt and keep them? Really, there is no time for complaining. It’s a no brainer, that (mostly) bad advertising was first to adopt the new setup. Now we should try to figure out how to continuously create good advertising given the new circumstances.
Let’s not sit there like the music industry (as Andrew Keen writes):
Evidence of the crisis of mass media is depressingly ubiquitous. The recorded music business is in free-fall, the tragic victim of mass digital kleptomania.
There are alternative ways to sell music, Steve Jobs proved it with iTunes. A much more user centric model. Might not yield as high a margin as selling CDs in heavy jewel cases transported across the globe, but that’s the way it goes. Horse carriages were out of fashion at some point, too. Musicians like Madonna and Radiohead seem to get it.
The next couple of quotes are amazing:
What Web 2.0 is doing, compounded by the online consumer’s shrinking attention span and his or her hostility towards the „inauthenticity“ of commercial messages, is radically deflating the value of advertising. […]
As the scarcity of mainstream media is replaced by the abundance of Web 2.0’s user-generated content, advertising itself is being painfully commoditized. […]
No new technologyâ€”neither the false dawn of mobile, nor the holy grail of personalized, targeted advertisingâ€”is going to save the advertising business now. No, the truth is that advertising can only be saved if we can re-create media scarcity. That means less user-generated content and more professionally created information and entertainment, less technology and more creativity. The advertising community desperately needs more gatekeepers, more professional creative authorities, more so-called media „elites“ who will curate, filter and organize content. That’s the way to re-establish the value of the message. It’s the one commercial antidote to Web 2.0’s radically destructive cultural democracy.
It almost sounds like advertising is a form of art worth protecting for its own good.
Instead, the value of the message should come from relevance, in terms of content, targeting and timing – and of course the creative idea! (This, by the way, has always been the case. But not all advertising in the past has had good content, targeting or timing. Nevermind a creative idea.) A valuable message should still resonate, even when surrounded by a cacophony of user generated clutter.
Only now it is not so easy to spread bad advertising any longer, because the audience has more choices and more control.
What do you think people have thought about bad advertising in the last 50 years? Yes, they fast forwarded, or got a new drink from the fridge, or switched the channel. Or cursed at the TV. Or flicked over to the next page. Bad advertising always existed, and yes, it has always been a pain.
Good advertising, however, has (almost) always found the attention of the audience. And it still does. It has even become a lot easier for the audience to seek and find the content of those campaigns that they’re really interested in. At any time of the day. And it has become much easier to share good advertising, forwarding the content, (clips, emails, site URLs) to their friends.
While Web 2.0 has made it much more difficult for traditional advertising mechanism to work or break through the increasing clutter, there is also a lot of opportunity, new ways for attracting and involving users. Sometimes even beyond what traditional advertising mechanisms are capable of delivering.