Urban Outfitters’ Massive Social Media FAIL

Please check out my latest post over at iMedia Connection about how Urban Outfitters is following in the dubious footsteps of Domino’s Pizza back in 2009 in their failure to address a massively negative social media campaign.

Domino’s learned this lesson the hard way — and is now doing social media right — so let’s hope that Urban Outfitters figures this out faster.

Short Post: There’s More to the Amazon story than Fast Company conveys

Kit Eaton over at Fast Company (a must read in general) blogged today about Amazon’s announcement that it now sells more e-Books than physical books.  Here’s a relevant snippet including a link to the Amazon press release:

Since April the first, for every 100 print-and-paper books Amazon has sold, it’s also sold 105 e-books, according to a fresh Amazon announcement.

Kindle e-readers arrived, along with a small but fast-growing digital bookstore, in November 2007–by July 2010, Amazon notes, Kindle book sales had surpassed hardcover book sales, and then six months later beat the paperback books sales rate. Now Amazon’s customers are “choosing Kindle books more often than print books. We had high hopes this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly,” says CEO Jeff Bezos, comparing Amazon’s 15-year heritage of selling physical books to just four years of e-book sales.

What’s missing from this story are the economics. Sure, Amazon sells more e-books than physical books, but that’s because the electronic editions are generally cheaper than the physcial ones.  Moreover, when the book isn’t published by a major house with discount deals at Wal-Mart, CostCo, Barnes & Noble, et cetera, then the gap between physical and electronic can be huge.

What I want to know is this: how do the titles on the 105 e-books compare to the physical books? What is the intersection on the Venn diagram of those two lists, and what is the total list price differential between them?

Amazon is an exciting new frontier for small publishing houses or author-published books in both fiction and non-fiction — the Romance genre alone is changing fast because of the Kindle publishing platform.  As meat-space bookstores die — and this happens increasingly — Amazon will become only more important for both physical and e-Books.

But this 105 v 100 press release is a non-story without significant context.

 

 

 

Super Storytelling Smackdown: “Smallville” vs. “Thor”

This is a post about the difference between experiencing a story and remembering it later, a distinction that we pay too little attention to in the media world.  I’ll talk about theater, movies, TV, Superman, Thor and Shakespeare, and there will be spoilers… lots of ’em about the “Smallville” series finale, but I’ll be careful when it comes to “Thor.”

Those readers who have been following this blog or my other work at all will know that I’m a lifelong superhero geek, and over this weekend I hit a rare caped trifecta, watching the “Smallville” series finale, taking in the new “Thor” movie and receiving a big box of comic books from the shop in Los Angeles where I’ve been going since 1998.  I’m chewing my way through the comics, loved Thor (a bit more on this at the end) and have had a weird response to the Smallville finale where the farther I get from it the less I like it.

Although I got bored with the Clark/Lana/Lex triangle a few years ago and skipped a half season, I’ve watched Smallville for 10 years through the births of my two children, big career changes and a move from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. The entire series has been a build up to the moment when Clark Kent puts on the blue costume and red cape and flies off to greet the world as Superman. I’ve spent a decade on this hero’s journey.

So why, in the much-advertised and long-awaited series finale did they deny us the money shot? Yes, we had Clark holding the costume, flying to the big battle while holding the costume, and then we had him, wearing the union suit, but in close up gazing lovingly through the round window of an airplane at Lois. Yes, we had a blue blur flying through the sky towards battle, and yes we had him – seven years later — (I did mention the spoilers, right?) running across the Daily Planet rooftop pulling open his shirt to reveal the big red S to show us that Clark now fully inhabited the Superman role.

But we didn’t have this:

or this:

or this:

Why not? At one point I thought, maybe Tom Welling got fat– the way William Shatner plumped up during every season of the original “Star Trek” series (they only took his shirt off during the early episodes each season), but a quick tour through Google Images suggests that this isn’t the case.

It’s a huge failure on the part of the series, one that got me mulling over the flaws in the finale with a microscope… and that’s usually a bad sign. Days later, I realized that in addition to the lack of a money shot we also never heard the word “Superman” as a name, although we did have a Nietzschean moment where a character referred to a superman in flashback.

The worst series finale in TV history was “Quantum Leap,” where in a bump shot at the end we learned that Sam Beckett never returned home, even though the entire series was predicated on that return. When I saw that I lurched forward clutching my stomach like I’d been stabbed. Smallville, in contrast, couldn’t resolve this season on its own terms, spending most of the two hours on the soap opera and only a few minutes on the heroics.

The show runners got distracted by a bunch of characters to whom the audience had said goodbye years ago, most particularly Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor and John Schneider’s Jonathan Kent.  Annette O’Toole’s Martha Kent made an appearance as well, but since her character hadn’t died a few seasons ago that made sense. Why the team didn’t bring back Kristen Kreuk’s Lana Lang (not that I wanted this) alongside everybody else has, I presume, more to do with Kreuk’s availability than anything else.

Yes, the mythology states that Superman will battle Lex Luthor forever, but we didn’t need to spend 10 minutes with Lex and Clark in conversation only to have Lex’s memory wiped in the final moments of the episode. Yes, the memory of Clark’s human father guides him, but we didn’t need to have the ghost of Jonathan Kent literally hand Clark the super suit.  Ghosts are not a key part of the Superman mythos.

Nor did we need to kill off Lionel Luthor (who oddly turned into Gollum between his last appearance and the finale) and Tess Mercer just because they have no place in the comic book mythology. One of the great strengths of Smallville was the tension between the comic book mythology and its own—the series stopped being consistent with the Superboy/Superman origin story in the pilot, so why care so much in the finale?

In the finale we got too much of the man and not nearly enough of the super, but that has always been the case with the series. The problem was that the emotional drama of the tenth season was abandoned in favor of the Clark-growing-up arc that the audience finished years ago.

However, when I watched the finale on Friday night I rather enjoyed it. The eventful-ness of watching it on that night, carving out time after the kids were asleep and my wife was doing other things upstairs, watching it nearly in real time (I got a late start but caught up via DVR), these things swept me up and gave me that special momentum of real-time experience… the tide that carries us through experience.

The only thing I noticed in the moment was the lack of the costumed money shot, and my dissatisfaction with that gap is what kept me thinking about the finale, probing it like a tongue searching for a missing tooth.  Then, to mix metaphors, the entire episode unraveled.

This phenomenon where time reduces satisfaction is well known in theater and makes a certain amount of common sense.  When we are in the middle of things, particularly things that possess a great deal of eventness, we are surfing a wave of experience rather than mulling it over. The critic Bernard Beckerman expressed it this way in his 1979 book “Dynamics of Drama:”

The memorial experience is not distinct from the theatrical but merely a continuation beyond direct contact with the presentation.  The form of action induces the theatrical experience directly but has an indirect effect upon the memorial experience.  When unable to return to the same artistic work, the playgoer must either avail himself of a facsimile, such as a second performance of the same production, or be content to recall the initial experience. Once removed from his fellow spectators, he gains a new perspective of the work.  Responses elicited in performance may seem alien in retrospect.  The process of rumination alters the work (157).

Rumination is key to the superhero genre because after seventy plus years of stories about these characters they are saturated with inescapable foreknowledge. Do a search on famous fictional characters and both Superman and Batman show up early.

Even people who don’t know much about superheroes – my wife, for example, before our son joined me in the cape-o-philiac club – approach the genre knowing that the stories are embedded in a network of earlier versions of the tales and will be followed by later versions. Deeply satisfying stories within these contexts are aware of all their predecessors and heirs.  J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise, for example, was brilliant in its deft balancing of the old and new versions of the universe.

And this brings me to “Thor,” which managed to weave into its two-hour span allusions to the 1960s “Thor” comic books, to King Lear, the Empire Strikes Back, the Lord of the Rings, the Lion in Winter and embedded itself neatly into the other Marvel Comics movies of the last few and next few years.  This isn’t transmedia in Henry Jenkins‘s sense so much as a deeply allusive network of references and parallels that increases the satisfaction of movie going for the experienced viewer and gives her or him a qualitatively different evening than the newcomer to the genre.

I won’t perpetrate big spoilers for “Thor” because the movie is so worth seeing on the big screen in a top-notch theater with stadium seating. Visually stunning, charmingly acted and with an immense sense of scope, the combination of director Kenneth Branagh channeling his own Shakespearean movies (“Henry V,” “Hamlet,” “Much Ado About Nothing”) and story architect J. Michael Straczynski (who redefined the modern science fiction epic with “Babylon 5” and has spent the last couple years on Superman and Wonder Woman in comics) means that this movie understands and embraces epic.

“Thor” is a thrill ride (plenty of money shots with this one), and as my wife and I talked over the movie at dinner afterwards we found some things to pick apart (Natalie Portman joining Elizabeth Shue in “The Saint” in the ranks of brainy-sexy-unbelievable astro-physicists… although Portman is more convincing) but nothing that caused the experience to collapse in retroactive dissatisfaction.

Instead, we talked about how Loki echoes Edmund in King Lear, how this film links up with “The Incredible Hulk,” the “Iron Man” movies and the forthcoming “Captain America” and “Avengers” movies, and how Chris Hemsworth’s body is possibly the movie’s single-greatest special effect (as was that of Megan Fox in the first “Transformers” film).

Rumination, in the case of Thor, deepened engagement with both the story and the performance of the story, with the structure of the narrative and the way that the execution and casting (e.g., Anthony Hopkins as a Lear-like Odin) linked that performance to other stories.

Culturally, we tend to suffer from what I think of as the tyranny of the object when it comes to stories. We evaluate the thing itself and not the context in which we experience that thing. Our ability to buy just one song on iTunes means that we don’t think as much about an album, and the birth of new one-off journalism at Byliner (and see my previous post about Fortune) means that we don’t think about publications in the same gestalt way that we used to.

Both Smallville and Thor, though, are deeply contextual in their meaning-making and in the experiences of that meaning. Smallville is the end of the beginning of the Superman story. Thor is the start of that hero’s journey on earth and in the middle of the current Marvel movie epic.

The growth of digital media and distribution has eroded the easy context that came with analog media the way “Cheers” came after “The Cosby Show” to create NBC’s anchor Thursday night.

I believe that in the next few years we will pay more attention to context, and that in doing so we’ll also be more aware of the gap between the memorial experience and the in-the-moment experience of storytelling.

Good storytellers deliver on the in-the-moment experience. Great storytellers do that and also think about memorial rumination.

The take-away? Go see “Thor” while it’s still in the theaters.

Missed Advertiser Opportunity: Fortune Mag’s “Kindle” Strategy

The May 9th issue of Fortune Magazine contains a terrific 22 page article by Adam Lashinsky called “Inside Apple.” As has been much reported, Fortune withheld the article from its website. To read Lashinsky’s article, you have to subscribe (magazine subscribers get free iPad access), haul yourself to a newsstand or pay 99 cents at Amazon.com’s Kindle store to buy it as a short eBook. Amazingly, the Lashinsky article hit #9 in the Kindle store, outselling full-length books.

At 22 pages — seven of which are illustrations or content light — 99 cents is tad steep, but is sure beats the full cover price of $4.99.

Personally, I was so interested in this strategy that I paid the $19.99 annual subscription fee and now can happily read Fortune on my iPad in full and, apparently, ad free.

This is a bright, sunny day for Time, Inc., publisher of Fortune, and its peers as the success of the Kindle strategy suggests that premium content can command premium prices even in digital environments.

But there are players missing from this game.

Did no B2B advertiser think to subsidize this 99 cent fee? I can imagine that non-Apple competitors and big B2B spenders like Prudential, Staples, FedEx and Monster could have benefited by adopting a Hulu-like-strategy with Amazon and Fortune: “you can pay 99 cents and get this article ad-free, or you can pay 49 cents and get a version sponsored by…”

Surely Verizon, Apple’s new partner in iPhone love and a huge B2B spender, could have used the energy surrounding this article and the general fascination with Apple to accelerate interest in their version of the iPhone. Verizon might have sent an email to its subscribers saying, “read this best-selling article, on us!”

FedEx might have worked with Amazon for a separate, sponsored edition of the article with a limit of the first 1,000 or 10,000 people to come.

Did nobody think of this? Would Amazon decline to create sponsored editions? Would Time, Inc. decline because it wants to retrain its readership and potential readership into the practice of paying good money for good content?

I’m fascinated both by what’s in the Fortune strategy and what’s missing.

Two terrific ad:tech SF opportunities!

ad:tech San Francisco starts Monday afternoon, and I’m thrilled to announce that we have two great opportunities for conference attendees to be a bigger part of our sessions.

Get Presentation Tips from the Best in the Business: Sign up today!

Even experienced speakers can learn something new, and if you’re nervous standing in front of your colleagues or strangers then you need strategies to help you knock the presentation out of the park without having your knees knock together. At this year’s ad:tech San Francisco we’re proud to present two of the world’s foremost authorities on presentations – Nancy Duarte and Guy Kawasaki – as they help YOU make the most out of your presentation.

Want to have them go over your deck and give you pointers in their Wednesday morning session? Just fill out our form, upload your deck and you’ll be in the running for a real-time lesson on powerful, engaging presentations!  Sign up today!

Be there Wednesday, April 13, at 10:30am for “Great Presentations: Learn How to Engage Your Audience.”

PRESENTERS

  • Nancy Duarte, CEO, Duarte Design
  • Guy Kawasaki, Co-Founder, Alltop, and Founding Partner, Garage Technology Ventures

Free Consultation! Is Your Site Talking to the Right People?

Your business website is one-size fits all…. and that’s a bad thing! Different sorts of internet users approach sites differently: the colors that work for a stay-at-home mom aren’t the same as those that work for a 30 year old male sports fan. If you don’t know how your target customer uses the web, then this is a must-attend session. Join Joseph Carrabis — acclaimed neuroscientist, researcher, founder of the NextStage companies and author of the book “Reading Virtual Minds” – in a fast-paced session where we tour your URLs and figure out where they’re working and where they’re failing to connect with customers.

To get actionable, real-time advice on your company site, simply fill out our form: we’ll select several sites to review live in session.

Be there Tuesday, April 12, at 10:30am for “Reading Customers’ Minds: Neuromarketing without the Wires.”  Sign up today!

PRESENTER

  • Joseph Carrabis, NeuroMarketer-in-Residence, Critical Mass

Interesting Tidbits for March 16th

Things worth reading for March 4th through March 16th:

The State of the News Media 2011 – Here’s the direct study from Pew that Reuters summarized in the next link.

Online readership and ad revenue overtake newspapers | Reuters – Reuters Summary: “For the first time, online readership and advertising revenue has surpassed that of print newspapers.

“Online advertising revenue in the United States is projected to overtake print newspaper ad revenue in 2010, according to the latest report, the State of the News Media, from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.”

LivingSocial in Talks to Raise $500 Million – WSJ.com – “LivingSocial Inc., a website offering daily coupons, is in active talks with investors to raise around $500 million to help fuel its expansion and keep up with rival Groupon Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

“The move comes just three months after LivingSocial said it had raised $175 million from Amazon.com Inc. It isn’t clear what valuation LivingSocial is seeking or which investors are involved in the talks, but one person familiar with the matter said the company would like to raise $100 million from handful of marquee investors.”

Groupon Nightmare: Small Business Posie – Truly interesting article about the perils of using Groupon without proper planning.

All the Aggregation That’s Fit to Aggregate – NYTimes.com – The NYT’s Bill Keller on today’s journalism, including this ZING on HuffPo: ‘Last month, when AOL bought The Huffington Post for $315 million, it was portrayed as a sign that AOL is moving into the business of creating stuff — what we used to call writing or reporting or journalism but we now call “content.” Buying an aggregator and calling it a content play is a little like a company’s announcing plans to improve its cash position by hiring a counterfeiter.’

When Shakespeare Goes Disastrously Wrong – Funny Videos | Cracked.com – Very cute and worth a look.

What today’s brand marketers can learn from William Shakespeare — iMediaConnection Blog – Check out Gretchen Hyman’s kind coverage of my iMedia Brand Summit talk on Monday!

Facebook Users to Get Warner Bros. Movies – WSJ.com – The biggest part of this story is here: “Warner Bros.’ move also indicates that, at least for now, Facebook prefers to simply allow other companies to use its popular platform to set up their own virtual screening rooms, with Facebook taking a cut of sales.”

How To Do Propagation Planning – Really interesting deck.

If you like this, please follow me on Twitter as @bradberens for more!

 

The Shakespeare Brand: Yesterday’s iMedia Talk now UP on YouTube

UPDATE: More of the talk now embedded below.

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of speaking at the iMedia Brand Summit– an event that I’ve been intimately associated with for years but at which I’ve rarely presented while wearing my research hat.  This talk is the seed of my next book length project, and I was delighted to see that most of it is already on YouTube this morning:

 

Here’s the handbook description:

On February 11, 2011 Disney released a new kids movie called “Gnomeo & Juliet” based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Why? What made Disney think that an animated love story about lawn gnomes would somehow be better – or, at least, more marketable — with a connection to a play first performed in London in 1595? The answer is simple: Shakespeare created one of history’s most powerful brands. Allusions to and adaptations of his plays permeate our culture, and not just in movies and TV. In Corpus Christi in 1845, while serving in the infantry, bored and waiting for the Mexican War to start, future President Ulysses S. Grant killed time playing the role of Desdemona– the female lead in “Othello.” Imagine George W. Bush or Barack Obama doing that! We don’t typically think of Shakespeare as a successful brand story, but we should because the way Shakespeare created, bonded with and nurtured his customer base has actionable lessons for marketers today. Don’t get distracted by the tights, skulls, swords and iambic pentameter: what really distinguished Shakespeare was his longitudinal and economic relationship with his customers. In today’s insight address, iMedia’s own Chief Content Officer (and a bona fide Shakespearean) will unpack this economic relationship and explore how deploying the Shakespeare Strategy can empower marketing in today’s digital media landscape.

I’ll post when Part II comes live or repost the whole thing to YouTube once I get the files.

Please let me know what you think!