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All That Viral Goodness And Also On-Message: Intel Presents the Jack Andraka Story

Almost every time someone points me to a heartbreaking or hilarious commercial that’s tearing up the viral popularity charts, I laugh or cry and then ask myself what it had to do with the brand who sponsored it (for example). Or, worse, wonder who sponsored it. This Intel “Look Inside” spot bucks the trend.

Intel Look Inside

It captures an inspiring story of young man’s brilliant medical invention and connects it back to an innovative spirit that Intel wants us to associate with its brand, culture and products. For many years Intel asked us to look inside our laptops to make sure there was “Intel Inside” — a rational appeal to our inner IT Manager. Stories like Jack Andraka’s and the invitation (the dare?) to “Look Inside” ourselves is an appeal to our inner dreamers, and emotional arguments always kick butt over the rational ones.

Visual Storytelling for Brands in the Facebook, Pinterest, Insta-gallery Era

In November 1995 I had a job selling ad space for tech magazines. One afternoon the office fax machine scrolled out 12 pages worth of insertion orders from a software company I’d been pitching for two months, and I did a happy-dance in my cubicle. With those orders, the company had committed to running a full-page ad in every issue the magazine would publish in all of 1996. I called the client to confirm the mailing address for our traffic coordinator and the creative instructions — right-reading film, emulsion-side-down — and got the further good news that the ad creative was already on its way in a FedEx pouch. The ad creative. A single photo with ad copy that would serve as the campaign’s creative all year.

I don’t miss the inky mess I’d make of my hands when I had to change the cartridge on that fax machine. But they sure were simpler times in the world of advertising and publishing.

Back then the brands on the other end of those fax machines could afford to sink significant time and resources into the production of each creative unit. Hiring a renowned photographer, a model, a team of set designers, makeup artists, art directors and post-production editors might set them back $25,000 for a single photo for a single print ad. But given the enormous role played by that one photograph — it would likely anchor a $15-million national ad campaign across many magazines for months — the time and dollars invested in getting it exactly right could fairly be called a rounding error. Twenty-five thousand dollars in creative development divided by 15 million in media spend is less than two-tenths of a percentage point.

While the math still works for brands advertising in glossy fashion magazines, there is trouble in paradise. Or rather, paradise has moved to the Internet. If brands want to engage with consumers online (which, more and more, is where their consumers spend time) they need to compete with publishers and social media sites that refresh their bins of eye-candy every few minutes. By the time they’ve art directed, developed and shipped a piece of right-reading, emulsion-side-down film to a publisher, Gangnam Style has been replaced with parody videos of Gangnam Style.

The digital landscape changes fast, and pictures are a main catalyst. Netscape released the first commercially-available web browser in 1994 and fewer than 15 years later Flickr housed more than 6 billion photos — more than 450 times the number of photos held by the Library of Congress. In 2009 more than 2.5 billion camera-enabled devices were in the hands of would-be photogs and in the course of a year would go on to take ten percent of all photos ever taken by humans. Instagram, the photo-sharing apps for smartphones that Facebook bought earlier this year for $1 billion, measures its customer engagement in uploads-per-second; 60 uploads per second, back in the quaint old days of December 2011, pre-acquisition, and before comScore released data showing Instagram’s daily usage is now greater than Twitter’s. By early 2012 Facebook members were uploading to the site more than 300 million photos every single day.

This slurry of data signals “the end of the Kodak Era, where we took photos birthdays and vacations, and shared them only with a small group of friends,” says Bob Lisbonne, CEO of Luminate (my boss) and former SVP for Netscape’s browser group in 1990s. “We’ve now entered a phase in which visual communication is supplanting the written word — what some are calling the dawn of the Imagesphere.”

(Source: 1000 Memories Blog.)

But it’s not taking or uploading pictures that should worry marketers. It’s the fact that there are consumers on the other end of these photos — viewing them, engaging with them, and generally spending more time with images they see on Facebook, Tumblr or Pinterest than they used to spend reading glossy magazines that arrived on the newsstand once a month. comScore’s Mobile Metrix 2.0 survey says Facebook users are spending more than seven hours per month visiting the site by way of mobile phones alone. Om Malik, founder and editor in chief of GigaOM, asserts that photos are the fuel driving the mass migration to social media:

Malik writes, “Photos are the reason many of us continue to engage with Facebook. Facebook has tried many verbs to increase and maintain our engagement with the service — read, listen, watch. But in the end, it’s the photos that work wonders for the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social-networking giant.”

Research from a team at Harvard Business School supports Malik’s claim. A 2009 study finds that 70% of all activity inside social networks revolves around photos. Keep in mind, that was in 2009 — when Facebookers were uploading a mere 31 million photos a day, and My Space was still relevant enough to be included in a study of social-media sites.

These millions of new photos — or at least those shared by friends and organizations we choose to follow — are pushed to us each day in an unending, ever-updating stream of visual storytelling. We watch our friends’ kids grow up, in near real-time, and news stories unfold throughout the day as fresh photos replace those from hours or minutes before. Publishers, too, are responding to their readers’ growing appetite for image content with larger, high-res photography and the gallery-ification of stories as disparate as celebrity news, travel destinations and business analysis.

Roughly one-third of pixel real estate on the web is image content, according to the Wall Street Journal, and those images get old fast. In its first three days on the Internet, the average photo has attracted half the total views it will ever attract. If you look at content shared via social media platforms rather than the entire web, the half-life for content is measured in hours not days.

(Source: Bitly Blog.)

And there lies the rub for brands. The changing dynamic of media consumption has changed the rules of marketing in three fundamental respects.

One: “Professional grade” doesn’t get the mileage it once did.

Sure, the list of most-viewed clips on YouTube includes Justin Beiber music videos, but it also includes quirky independent interviews of people waiting in line for iPhones and home-movie sensations such as ‘Charlie Bit My Finger… Again.’ The same goes for photos. Consumer interest no longer tracks with traditional definitions of “photo quality.”

There was a time when all media was professional media, created and distributed by large publishing companies. It only made sense, then, for advertisers to polish their creative units to a professional, high-production-value shine. Good advertising should always seek to imitate the editorial content around it; ‘native advertising’ has been around long before the Internet. There’s mounting evidence, however, that recall rates for TV spots and display ads in magazines are declining, despite the professional expertise that goes into their creation. Nowadays relevance trumps production value.

Now that amateur photographers have gained access to distribution — Google might lead you to an independent photoblog, Instagram might introduce you to some great photos from an excellent hobbyist — consumers are dividing the world of photos into ‘interesting’ and ‘not interesting,’ not ‘professional’ and ‘amateur.’ Interesting no longer requires the talents of a professional.

Two: Attention Deficit Disorder has become a lifestyle choice.

A trend that’s probably as old as the publishing industry has achieved fever pitch: Content miniaturization. Articles get shorter and shorter, and readers still can’t get to the end of them. I mean, who has time to read the entire tweet anymore? Audience ratings seem to suggest that frequency and freshness of content are trumping quality and depth. In a world where tapping our thumbs on the Instagram icon on our iPhones unleashes an endless stream of photos taken in the last four hours, looking again at last month’s print ad for Prada strikes many modern consumers as boring.

Three: Consumption is giving way to interaction.

There’s something that’s even more popular than posting pictures: Liking them and commenting on them. It’s a sign that we define ourselves not only through our own pictures, but also through association with the pictures of others. It’s this instinct that explains the growth of Pinterest, the social network that rocketed to 10 million users faster than any social network before it. It’s not built on photo-sharing in the sense that Instagram or Facebook are (“Hey, check out my pictures”); it’s about photo-assembling (“I’ve collected these pictures so you understand who I am and what I care about”). Forty-one percent of us, says new research from Pew, find photos and videos online and re-post them on sites designed for sharing with others. It’s one of the most popular things we do on the Internet.

In order for brands to embrace these new platforms for photo mixing and mashing, they need to get comfortable with their images being separated from the carefully assembled context of yesterday’s print ad or the Spring catalog, and being extracted from the traditional models that protect ownership rights and pay out talent royalties. Your customers want to befriend you and play with you, but that game is going to be on their terms.

So what’s a brand to do?

The creative departments at traditional agencies simply can’t adapt to this new world, says John Battelle, founder of Federated Media (disclosure: I was his co-founder there) and the first managing editor of Wired Magazine. The old rhythm of branded storytelling — devise the Big Idea, take a month to convert it into an art piece of advertising, and then enlist the media department to implant it deep into the skulls of consumers through mass media — is losing its efficacy. Agencies will continue to find success producing professional-grade assets and distributing them around tent-pole events, but they’re ill-equipped for the in-between times, the 363 days a year that don’t feature the Super Bowl or the Oscars. The beefy muscles built up over years of pumping out thirty-second TV spots and full-page print ads aren’t well suited for the marathon running required by lasting social-media conversations. “Brands need to catch up to media,” he says, and they’re going to need some help.

“Most creative agencies don’t see themselves as ongoing, real time publishers — that’s the business of, well, publishers,” Battelle continued. “I predict the two will merge over time — agencies must become more like publishers, and publishers are going to have to learn how to service brands like agencies do.”

Federated Media says the solution is a distributed, crowdsourced model for branded content creation. It invites advertisers to tap the talents of “the world’s largest creative department,” the 30 million some-odd bloggers affiliated with FM, from the vast army of small WordPress publishers to large-reach sites such as Boing Boing or Notcot.

(Source: Tom Ryabo, featured on Intel’s My Life Scoop.)

Three years ago, David Veneski, Intel’s director of US media, took FM up on the offer for a program called My Life Scoop. While the site features periodic updates on products like Intel-powered Ultrabooks, the bulk of the content is created by a broad array of independent content producers who speak the native language of Intel’s customers — those young, affluent people who seek out cutting-edge tech gadgets to enhance their lives. The imagery that accompanies the site’s content is not highly produced. Instead the emphasis is on fit, tone and relevance — photos and videos collected, curated and presented to My Life Scoop readers at a fraction of the cost associated with a professional shoots. The content is on-message (‘Sponsors of Tomorrow’ and ‘Ultrabook’), it’s frequently refreshed and it’s inviting social amplification. Nearly 50,000 Twitterers are following the My Life Scoop feed, and 100,000 Facebook members have Liked it.

“It’s important to us that we provide an authentic and compelling brand story for our target audience,” says Veneski. “We find that visuals and imagery, both photos and video, alongside written content, offers a way of telling a story that is more interesting to the people we want to reach.”

(Source: GE’s Tumblr.)

General Electric has taken an even more stripped-down approach. On Tumblr they’ve created (with help from the Barbarian Group) a corporate site that is nothing but photos. You’ll only find text only where it’s used to caption or hashtag a photo. What’s initially surprising is that airplane engines, smart LED bulb testing facilities, and gardens decked out with PulseArc Multi-Vapor metal halide lamps are quite photogenic, especially when they’ve been dolled up with an Instagram filter. Without set designers, models or professional photographers, GE is telling its story with frequent, low-cost iPhone pictures. More importantly, GE fans are spreading this story to their networks, with comments and hashtags included.

And the ‘interactivity’ isn’t just something that occurs after the brand unleashes the content — GE uses Twitter to invite its social-media followers to pick the locations of future photos.

(Source: GE’s Twitter Account.)

Without breaking the bank or getting reckless with its brand, GE found a path to social-media relevance. The brand is leaning into the consumer acceptance of spontaneous, inexpensive photo storytelling, which isn’t just reducing production costs either. It’s giving GE a stream of highly sharable content nuggets to satisfy the short-attention-span types and the sharers.

In other words, they’re speaking our language — the one in which every missive is worth a thousand words.

(This article first appeared on iMediaConnection under the title Why Visual Storytelling is the Future of Digital.)

Kraft Uses Facial Scan Technology to Keep Kids Away From The Jell-O

Kraft is using facial scanning technology from Intel to estimate the age of potential customers so that they can turn away kids attempting to sample the only-for-adults new Jell-O sweet. From Springwise:

In trial campaigns both in New York and Chicago recently, Kraft has used a vending machine that reportedly can determine the user’s age by scanning his or her face and measuring features including the distance between ears and eyes, for example. When the machine concludes that the visitor is a child, it shuts down and asks the child to step aside.

I wonder what happens to kids who have a premature gap between their eyes and their ears? Or adults who have that compressed childlike look?

The full video, including some sad scenes of kids getting Jell-O blocked:

Update via Will Scullin:

Cigarette vending machines in Japan have been using facial scanning since 2008 — looking for wrinkles, saggy skin and bone structure — to determine whether a potential buyer is over the legal age (in Japan) of 20. A spokesman for Fujitaka, maker of the technology used in Japan, estimates the machines are accurate about 90% of the time.

Enter Intel's Visual Life Contest — And Kiss Up to the Judges

There are more than 3 trillion images on the web already, and we’re collectively uploading 200 million more every day to Facebook alone. Consumer demand for images is forcing publishers big and small to invest in photo galleries in content verticals from sports and travel, to news and entertainment. Meanwhile a phone isn’t a phone nowadays if it doesn’t have at least TWO cameras built in, so it’s no wonder that photo-sharing apps are exploding. One of them, Instagram, went from launch to a million members in 2 months. (It took Foursquare a year and Twitter 2 years to do the same.) Even dogs have joined the party: Collar-cams hit the streets of New York earlier this week. In Intel-speak, we’re living visual lives.

So when they asked me if I’d be one of the judges for Intel’s Visual Life contest, I said to myself, “Hey, this might just land me an invitation to Path’s super secret SxSW party — I’m in!!” Besides, checking out photos and videos from great indie producers hardly sounds like work. For inspiration, here’s The Sartorialist talking about his “visual life”:

If you want to participate, here’s what you do. Intel is inviting independent content creators to share — by way of a photo or a video that’s less than 60 seconds — how they’re making the most of the visual web. Instructions on how to submit your entry here. Finalists will win the latest gear from HP.

And if you come across any of the judges, give them your utmost respect.

Intel Hires As Director of Creative Innovation

Black Eyed Peas Shows Off Intel Employee Badge

The above isn’t a picture of Black Eyed Peas frontman unveiling a new Intel commercial in which he’s the spokesman. It’s a picture of Black Eyed Peas frontman showing off his new Intel employee badge. From the LA Times:

“The move to bring on as more than simply a spokesman follows in the footsteps of Polaroid, which appointed Lady Gaga its creative director in 2009…. has signed on for a multiyear contract with the company and will be hands-on with technology, Intel said.”

There are at least two reasons that TV spots built around celebrities generally don’t work. One, with a celebrity endorsement in the bag, advertisers get lazy. They don’t work as hard to make great commercials since they hope a recognizable face will magically move product for them. Two, they end up making commercials that are more about the celebrity’s brand than their own (see Snooki commercials for Paramount Farms pistachios). The celebrity, in effect, stars in a commercial about him or herself, and walks away with a healthy check but without, perhaps, a genuine interest in the sponsor’s brand.

Intel is doing something wholly different from overpaying a rock star to pretend for 30 seconds he or she cares about its brand. They’re letting him inform product development, which might result in better products — and which certainly will result in becoming an even more enthusiastic and vocal advocate for the brand and the products he’s helping to shape.

Intel Ads Speak to Digg Readers, Even When They're Not at Digg

If you’ve spent time with me in the past few years, you’ve likely heard some variation of my recommendation to “market in the vernacular of your customers.” (More here.) By that I mean: Figure out what attracts your audience to a particular media product or platform (whether it’s Vanity Fair, MTV or Facebook), and then speak to that audience with the same grammar, tone and format as the medium that attracted them.

This isn’t new. If I was among your target audience in the late 1970s, you were likely to find me watching the groovy kids on the sitcom What’s Happening. When Dr Pepper ran commercials starring a guy dancing his way across town dressed like the kids on What’s Happening, surrounded by a group of back-up dancers that looked like extras from the show, it got my attention. The commercial was nearly as much fun as the program, only shorter. I didn’t yet have an iPad and I had recently burned out on Atari Pong; the vernacular I spoke most fluently at the time was TV, and that’s the language in which Dr Pepper spoke to me.

Fast forward to today. If your customers get their news from Digg (where I work), they are speaking a vernacular in which yellow boxes next to blue headlines help them discover content they better not miss. The bigger the number in the box, the more they are likely to pay attention — since it’s a content item that has been vetted and recommended by influencers in their community.

Brands that speak to Digg readers in the vernacular of yellow boxes and blue headlines are succeeding with the Digg audience more than advertisers running more traditional banner ads. By an order of magnitude, in fact, if you’re looking at click-through rates.

Intel-sponsored Digg CES round up

Earlier this month, Intel took the idea a step further. They used Digg Ads units (Digg-able, bury-able ads between the 2nd and 3rd story on Digg’s homepage) and IAB-sized Content Ads to drive Digg readers to page filled with news stories breaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The page wasn’t a collection of press releases on Intel products, or even a list of editorial stories picked by an Intel employee because it said something nice about Intel. It was a round-up of CES stories that were vetted by the Digg readers themselves. Intel’s sponsorship created something that Digg itself was lacking: One page assembling the most important gadget news from CES for the reader who doesn’t want to be distracted by any other kind of news. (You know who you are.)

Inte's Digg-powered Content Ad on CNET

And Intel’s campaign took advantage of something else, too. While nearly 40 million people come to Digg each month, they’re not the only ones speaking the Digg vernacular. Readers of most content sites on the web have noticed yellow buttons and invitations to Digg stories right there on the site they’re reading. Like a Briton coming to America and finding out that we too speak her language. So Intel took IAB-shaped Content Ads and ran them on other sites — such as Wired and CNET — that also attract Intel’s customers in a context where those customers would understand that yellow boxes with big numbers in them mean there’s socially-curated content they might want to check out.

According to Intel’s David Veneski:

“The ability to ‘Digg’ something on the Web has become a ubiquitous sign of approval from a content hungry audience throughout the Internet. With our content ads the goal was to team up with Digg to provide genuinely interesting stories coming out of CES across a wide landscape of sites where our customers seek information.

“Recognizing the aggregation of compelling content was brought to you by Intel in a social friendly, audience approved ‘Diggable’ format gave us the ability to add value to our audience’s experience rather than just paying for an impression that may or may not be of benefit to them.”

Advertising that seeks to improve the audience experience? I like it. And I’m betting website audiences will too.

(Credits: Dave Veneski at Intel; David Zamorski, Sarah Reed and Melissa Sabo at OMD; and Elyssa Wilpon, Erin Coull, Dav Zimak, Eric Hoppe, Dan Contento and Mac Delaney at Digg.)

Asus Dual-Screen Concept Laptop, Sourced and Shaped by WePC Community

This week at CeBit 2009 Asus unveiled a prototype of a dual-screen laptop, where a multi-touch display replaces the standard keyboard. Asus calls it “a community designed PC” inspired by “ideas contributed from users from around the world” via WePC, a site launched last October as a social-media platform to crowdsource notebook design innovation.

Asus Dual-Screen Concept Laptop

And to go from concept to retail, Asus wants more input:

“As part of the ‘Community Designed PC’ project initiated by ASUS and Intel®, the concept is still a work-in-progress which requires continued feedback. ASUS is thus taking the opportunity to encourage users to participate in the development of this concept notebook. Additional information regarding this concept can be found at”

Asus release.

More at CNET and Wired.

James Patterson's Next Novel Will Be Crowdsourced

James Patterson's Crowdsourced Thriller

From Springwise:

“Best-selling crime author James Patterson will write the first and last chapters of AirBorne, a 30-chapter thriller that will be released one chapter at a time beginning next month. For those in between, Borders and Random House held a contest to find 28 writers who could each create a fast-paced and thrilling chapter in less than 750 words.”

Winning contributors will get a free copy of the final book, and one grand-prize winner will get a one-on-one writing tutorial (by phone) with Patterson himself. Great way to engage a core audience of fans, who will undoubtedly emerge as evangelists for the book.

Related: Asus and Intel invite their customers to crowdsource the next generation of laptops.

WePC Fans Shape Asus's CES 2009 Product Line Up

Or did they?

Back in October, Asus and Intel (in partnership with FM) launched WePC, a social media site that invites gamers, business people, hipsters, designers and anyone else who cares about technology to help crowdsource the next generation of laptops. (More here.)

Fast-forward two months to CES 2009, and some WePC participants credit Asus with not only listening to customer input at WePC, but bringing some of the ideas to life within 60 days: Among readers of Engadget’s review of the Asus G50, one commented that the product idea was his, submitted to Asus by way of WePC.

Comment on Engadget's Asus Review

Are the engineers at Asus that good?! I’m sure they’re terrific, but I also doubt it’s possible for any industrial engineering corp to launch a new product design that quickly. In fact, given that Asus is both a maker of Asus-branded laptops as well as an original design manufacturer (ODM) for other leading laptop brands, its product design cycles are likely faster than anyone else in the industry. But still.

Instead, I’d chalk this up to a happy coincidence: An Asus fan submitted an idea at WePC that was already under development at Asus labs. It’s a case of Asus knowing some of its customers well enough to predict what they want. And with this particular customer (and the other Engadget readers), it just got some extra credit for proving it.

UPDATE: I Twittered the above post. Four minutes later @ITProPortal reports back that Asus delivered on his PC dreams this CES, too.

ITProPortal Sez Asus Delivered On His Dreams

Intel's Twin Strategies to Leverage Search

Pretty much every marketer pursues twin search strategies — buying paid links (SEM) as well as taking measures to improve placement the natural search results (SEO). Intel buys text ads from Google for phrases such as “tech makeover.” (See below screenshot: is an Intel site.) Nothing out of the ordinary here; in fact, Target is buying text ads on the same page of Google results.

But instead of doing what many brands do to improve their organic search performance — hire a legitimate SEO consultant to coach them on how search engines work, or hire a less legitimate SEO firm that attempts to game Google’s algorithm — Intel uses its marketing dollars to become a better content publisher. Its Need A Tech Makeover site, a contest platform that invites people to say what they’d do with a new state-of-the-art computing set up, quickly morphed from a marketing site to a conversational media publication. Content (the individual pitches for a tech makeover) sparked conversation among the site’s other readers (comments and votes), and those conversations continued even after readers went to other sites (mentions and links back to the contest site).

Now when a Google user searches for “tech makeover,” Google points to Intel’s as part of the the AdWords paid search program (highlighted, by Google, in yellow), and also points to three web pages — in the #1, #2 and #3 positions — associated with Intel’s Need A Tech Makeover project. One is Intel’s site itself, and the other two are promotions at Hot Hardware, the reviews site Intel partnered with on the program.

Google Results "Tech Makeover"