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Trends, commentary, and insightful rants from the bleeding edge of advertising, content & branding.

Super Genius’ car rescue TV reality series bows Aug. 1(ReelChicago)

 

Bruno Massel gives an update on Garage Squad.

Bruno Massel gives an update on Garage Squad.

Super Genius’s all-Chicago produced reality series, “Garage Squad,” devoted to helping gearheads restore their cherished vintage vehicles, will premiere Friday, Aug. 1, on Velocity, a supercharged Discovery Channel entirely devoted to all things automotive. Velocity deems “Garage Squad” so good that it’s part of Velocity’s current Dream Car Week’s 14 hours of programming focusing on the most unique, beautiful and exotic vehicles.   The half-hour, 10-episode series was developed and produced at Velocity’s request by eight-year old Super Genius, a hybrid advertising/entertainment shop. The partners, co-managers Bill Connell and Mat Burnett – EPs on the series — and ECD Craig Motlong are former long-time Leo Burnett executives. “We’ve had a relationship with Velocity for several years, when we turned a turned a brand initiative into a series, called ‘One of a Kind’ for the network.  It’s about the early design and production of custom cars,” Connell says. (continue reading at ReelChicago).

Filed under: ad agency, advertising, super genius inc., TV Production, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In Defense of Content Farms

"I"m a pickin' and I'm a grinnin'"

Over the last two years, there has been a universal backlash against farmed content. Demand Media and Associated Content, among others, are generating millions of articles every month, swamping search results, driving traffic to their content so they can sell ads against it. Smart strategy. Might be killing the web. You never know.

As writers, content farms are just one more herald of the end of civilization. Being a writer is already a lowly, underpaid, under-respected profession to begin with. Now we’re swamped by literally everyone with a computer and an internet connection who knows how to put two words together. There is now so much information online that to compete for any eyeballs is like slogging into a mud wrestling tournament. You hate yourself, you’re unlikely to win, and you’re just going to get slimy.

Much of the derision directed at the content farms react to the low quality of said content. Associated Content has a three-page writeup on How to Turn On Your Computer, which seems mean-spirited, taunting the people who have a doorstop with a Dell logo and can’t get online to figure this out. Google has started fighting back, lowering the page rankings of the content farms, but it’s a losing battle.

What’s getting lost in the shuffle here is that content farms provide a useful function. We’ve wandered through the assignment pages at Demand Studios, curious as to what kinds of writing topics were available. And you know what? These assignments are typically geared toward the specific and mundane, stuff that ordinary humans will never think to write about. “How to Hook Up Gauges in a Ford Super Power Stroke.” “How to Obtain Power of Attorney for the State of Mississippi.” “Passive Solar Dwellings of the Anasazi Indians.” Weird, specific, arcane, and not terribly useful. Unless you need to hook up gauges to your Ford in order to drive to Mississippi and get power of attorney for your solar-dwelling Anasazi aunt. Then, this becomes the most valuable information on Earth.

Which is, after all, the point of writing. Writers, especially, always forget that. We have been living in an age where the amount of information we had was limited enough that we could spend time making it pretty. Poetry has been steadily dying for a hundred years for a reason: words are functional creatures. We’ve been making them pretty simply because they were available, universal tools that everyone could understand. Now, you can cut a video on your iPad and stream it to millions in seconds. Old tools die. New tools emerge. I’m sure someone loved hieroglyphics, too.

We toss around the phrase “information age” like we pretend to understand it, but one thing is clear: the winners of this era are going to be the ones who process data more quickly than anyone else. We don’t have time to make it pretty. And content farms are doing the grunt work in transforming data into information we can absorb and implement. As writers, we hate the content farms. As media experts, we realize the value of what is happening. And we are paying strict attention.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

Twitter is Dead, Long Live Twitter.

tweety1We are slowly dying in 140-character bursts.

Twitter has gone from a precious little idea to a respectable mini-blogging service to a massive cultural phenomenon in a little more than a year. And I think a lot of us are looking around at each other, nodding, saying, yes, this is awesome, I get it, tweet tweet birdhouse tweetdeck rt @imsohip.

I think some people have a legitimate use for Twitter: comedians, technical support, and Barack Obama. I think the rest of us are fumbling around for a way to stay relevant on it. Because Twitter suffers from the same problem blogs, podcasts, and user-generated content does: most people either have something interesting to say but can’t figure out how to tell it, or don’t have something interesting to say and disguise that fact with wry observational humor that went out of style with Seinfeld.

Here’s the great thing about Twitter: you can only communicate in 140-character bursts, so if it sucks, it’s over. Here’s the crappy thing about Twitter: we haven’t learned how to create stories on it yet. What we’re getting is fragments, little tic-tacs of information that hit us like pellets and we pretend are refreshing and informative and clever, but what we’re leaving off is: for a tweet. As in, that’s cute. For a tweet. We’re grading on a 140-character curve.

That’s why most people who sign up for Twitter don’t stick with it: there’s nothing yet there to stick to. There’s no flow there. Say what you want about Facebook, but people have learned how to tell stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. There’s a continuity. Not so on Twitter. Each tweet lives and dies like a fruit fly, leaving us not necessarily wanting more.

I’m not saying there aren’t uses for this sort of communication, but that they’re more limited than we think they are. If I am wrong — and I am never wrong — then maybe it works as a meta-communicator and tastemaker, directing your attention to bit.ly links. The Japanese are writing novels this way, but they’re not necessarily the sanest of nations, pop-culturally speaking. Pogue has decided to let others write a book for him, which is stupid, lazy and just like him. It’s nice when you have a question to pop it into the ether and get responses. And it helps to have a brand, a mission, and something worthwhile to say. Three times a day. Every day.

We’re tweeting, we follow other tweeters, so we’re biting the hand that feeds us. But it feels like the Twitter phenomenon, like billions of “Margaritas! WOO HOO!” tweets themselves, has a shelf life, until something better comes along.

Filed under: social media, supergenius llc, twitter, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Sailing and the Art of Social Media

Man Overboard

Man Overboard

Let’s say you want to take sailing lessons. You go down to the pier, and pick up two brochures: one that’s glossy and slick, explaining how fun sailing is, with pictures of smiling sailors drinking champagne at sunset, put out by a well-known shipping company. The second one is obviously made on someone’s Macintosh, by two guys who live by the ocean, and tells you the nuts and bolts of what you’re going to learn.

Which company do you choose? Replace “sailing” with “social media” in the above paragraph, and it’s likely you’ll take the glossy brochure. Because they’re professional shippers, right? They know the ocean. They’ve been there before. The problem is, they have no idea how to actually get in the boat and push off the dock.

This is the trouble with PR firms right now. Their traditional media world is disintegrating around them, and they’re flinging themselves into social media like it’s water and they’re on fire. Because as Public Relations becomes less about newspapers (dying), magazines (gasping), broadcast (fragmenting) and blogs (moving to Twitter), the only thing they can see that makes sense as a future business model has an F at the beginning and a K at the end and has “aceboo” in the middle.

But PR companies are shipping companies: they are built to deliver big messages along traditional lines to create “news” and “events.” They are not built to scale. It’s likely that they got interested in social media about the same time you did, and are about the same place on the learning curve. It is also likely that they do not use social media.

This point bears repeating: while they know what social media is, and how it works, and who else is on there, if they don’t use it, they’re useless to you.

In social media, fluency is everything. Literally: everything. It changes so quickly that by the time most learn about a trend, the trend has played itself out: see “25 Random Things.” It’s not enough to be ahead of the curve. You need to be the curve. You don’t need PR. You need to know where social media will be tomorrow.

Creating and sustaining conversations with consumers, users, people requires a skill set built around engagement and participatory storytelling. Frankly, if the engine of online today is conversation then the fuel is content.  To keep the conversation going, to keep the dialogue moving requires more than just words in the air, it requires the ability to develop social tools (apps, widgets, etc.) and useful content (video, games, etc.) and cede some control to your consumers.  Sure, we (agency/brand/whomever) need to participate in those conversations but it starts with a strategic understanding of the sandbox we want to create and the technical capacity to create the right pails and shovels to go in that sandbox.

And not to toot our own horn – or, screw it, that’s exactly what we’re doing. If you’re at all serious about social media, you need people like us. Geeks with ideas. Plugged-in members of the technorati with a marketing background. We’re rare. We’re effective. And most importantly, we know how to sail.

Filed under: social media, , , , , , ,

Why We Blog

thacarterAgency blogs suck. That’s why we write one. It is a strange feeling to communicate in a medium you despise. Deep down, you despise blogs too. With rare exception, blogs do not add anything to your life. They are time-suckers. They are usually poorly written. They breed like gnats. Of these creatures, there are few things worse than the corporate blog, which are typically just glorified vehicles for press releases. Of the corporate blogs, there are few things worse than the advertising agency blog, because it has the stench of desperation. You can see someone, somewhere in the organization decided the blog had to be clever – because we’re an AD AGENCY, dammit – and so you have the obligatory twist of whimsy. But since it’s still a corporate communication, it has to go through legal, PR, IT, and some poor junior copywriter whose job it is to keep the blog from doing anything that would slander the reputation of the company. The result is inevitably unreadable. Why do we blog? I’m sure the readers of this blog are using the word ‘hypocrite’ along with their epithet of choice, and they’re probably not wrong. We might be hypocrites, or worse. We snark. We steal from popular culture. We bite the hands that feed us. We link to the sites that pique our interest and occasionally offer meta-commentary. We post opinions as fact. We have an alarmingly high opinion of ourselves. We lie to ourselves while pretending to be brutally honest. We’re maddeningly inconsistent. None of which you’ll find on a typical agency blog, except for the alarmingly high self-regard. If these were other times in history, we’d streak, or skywrite, or perform magic tricks. We’d paint, drink absinthe, and become expatriates. In some eras, we’d be hailed as prophets, in others, heretics. But this is 2009. And that is why we blog.

Filed under: advertising, online advertising, skateboarding cats, supergenius llc, , , , , , , ,

The Enduring Mythology of the “Name” Advertising Agency

death of the dinosaursThe Enduring Mythology of the “Name” Advertising Agency

Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. That’s the story. IBM was such an industry standard, and so widely perceived as being the best in the business, that no one could impugn you for making a decision based on that name alone.

Well, we all know that was a load of horse crap. Plenty of people got fired for buying IBM; IBM just had them quietly killed to preserve their word-of-mouth. But the temptation to buy something large, well-regarded, and safe is still with us. It’s how most of us buy (or bought, and will again) houses, cars, investment funds.

Oh, and by the way, advertising agencies.

That’s the funny part of this business. Agencies stake their name on their early campaigns that create edgy, breakthrough, back-of-a-napkin, two-guys-in-their-wetsuits campaigns that change a category and instantly make a name for themselves. Then those agencies get noticed, and get more business than the two guys in their wetsuits can handle. They get big. They hire people. They hire people to manage those people. And every level they add puts them further and further away from the ideas that made them great in the first place.

Here’s the ugly truth: big agencies get out of the idea business. They get into the selling-the-idea business. They stop feeling the idea and start thinking it to death. That’s why with every idea, you get a ream of paper explaining why the idea is not only good, it is also right. And they create an entire bureaucratic structure of planners, account service, creative and media to sell the idea to you, so you can sell it to your boss. Because nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

Everyone who works at Super-Genius has worked at a big agency. We’ve made the sausage. We know what goes into one. And we were once seduced by the big names, too. We get it.

But we wanted to talk ideas without asking the admin assistant to schedule a pre-brief meeting in the staff room. We wanted to pick up the phone and talk to you. We wanted to be closer to the work and farther away from the smoke and mirrors we use to sell you the work.

Who knows? We might hire a bunch of people and sell out to Omnicom tomorrow.

But today? You’ve got two guys in wetsuits. Anything is possible.

Filed under: ad agency, advertising, brands, supergenius llc, , , , , ,

You Are Not Viral. Stop Trying.

funny-pictures-strings-forte-pleaseSo you’ve decided to save some money this year by crafting a funny, on-message, stealth viral campaign.

Congratulations. You’ve already failed.

Here is the sad, honest truth that keeps a lot of creative people cranking out a lot of subpar home videos and releasing them to the web:

Viral is a lottery ticket. So many factors have to be working with you that it is impossible to predict the success and failure of any one idea, no matter how brilliantly conceived and on-target. In fact, the brilliantly conceived, on-target viral campaigns are the most doomed to fail. Here’s why:

It’s not the perfect storm. For a viral campaign to really catch fire, every wind has to be blowing in your direction. For ten years now, everyone in Hollywood has been trying to recreate the campaign for The Blair Witch Project. This just happened to be the first movie that utilized the web as its main promotional medium, by creating a virtual, creepy, unpolished world that heightened the verisimilitude of the movie itself. It couldn’t have been done after that, it couldn’t have been done prior to that. It only worked because there happened to be dramatic technological upheaval and a new form of communication.

The idea has come and gone. Let’s stay with arguably the most successful viral movie campaign of our lifetimes, Blair Witch. In the wake of that film, a hundred movies tried to do exactly the same thing with a thousand times the budget. But viral is a fickle mistress: once you’ve seen it, it’s over. I mean, over. The target for Blair Witch probably didn’t notice the desperate attempts to catch their attention, because they saw it the first time, when it was still cool.

Your competition has multiplied. By a million. When you make the leap to the web, you’re no longer competing for eyeballs with other marketers. You’re competing for eyeballs with everyone who owns a computer. There are a million people in Los Angeles alone trying to craft “viral” videos to advance their career, to land an agent, to hit the big time – and they don’t have a product to push. Andy Samberg creates a viral video on SNL every couple of weeks, has a million people watch it on television, and (aside from Lazy Sunday) still can’t get much viral traction. Professional entertainers can’t do this. It’s hard.

You’re smarter than a doorknob. Afro Ninja. Numa Numa. Star Wars Kid. Some of the most popular viral videos of all time. What do they have in common? They are viscerally stupid. They’re humiliating. They are the web equivalent of a blooper reel. If you’re smart enough to say the words “viral marketing campaign,” you’ve intellectually excluded yourself from being able to judge whether a viral video will succeed or fail. Your sense of humor is not America’s. Please trust us.

You can embarrass yourself. A lot. Because the most successful viral videos tend to be the most outrageous, marketers frequently assume that outrageousness will get noticed. This is deadly thinking. For every Bruce Campbell Old Spice or JC Penney’s ad that gets traction, there are a thousand misfires, some of them crippling. Agency.com is a smart agency in general. How did this happen? But by far, the majority of viral efforts just never get noticed at all. And that’s embarrassing enough.

Viral does not mean free. Pay to play, baby. Unless your video features NSFW images of people doing unspeakable things (or a skateboarding cat) you can’t just release into the wild on its own and expect some sort of wildfire runaway hit.  You want people to know about it? You want your viral thingy to get seen? You better be prepared to ante up for that viral goodness.

This is not a screed against web content in general. The smartest thing you can be doing is looking for new opportunities to spread your marketing message via the internet. Just don’t go looking for the viral force to be with you.

Filed under: online advertising, skateboarding cats, supergenius llc, viral, , , , , ,

Content Sucks

The Bard

The Bard

I’m going to write a few words, and I want you to note the first thing that pops into your head. Don’t worry, this isn’t a test, just an illustration. Here we go:

Story.

Opinion.

Argument.

Myth.

Comedy.

Tragedy.

Content.

Chances are, the first six words conjured an emotion, a picture, an idea in your head.

And chances are, the last one didn’t.

“Content” sucks. “Content” is a word that people use to hide behind when they don’t know what they want. It’s a safe, open word that people can fill with their own meanings, and keeps you from having to make a decision. Like “synergy” and “reengineering” and “benchmarking” before it, it has been rendered meaningless from overuse. It’s uninspiring. It’s a verbal placeholder until a better word comes along.

So don’t.

Don’t use the word “content.” Spend the extra three seconds to find the word that expresses what you really want to say. Do you want to entertain? To inform? To inspire? To shock? To amuse? To ramble?

The word “content” is too often used to describe what goes in after we establish the brand experience. But in reality, it is the brand experience. So that word we use to describe it makes all the difference in the world.

You don’t use “transportation” to describe a motorcycle.

You don’t use “emotion” to describe the act of falling in love.

You can do better than “content.” Try.

Filed under: supergenius llc, , , ,

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Super Genius LLC is a digital media and creative incubator that excels at bringing fresh, new thinking to existing strategy as well as blank-page strategic development. Our mission is to open up unique and exciting ways of connecting brands and consumers.

"The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." William Gibson

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