Archive for Grant McCracken

This is an extraordinarily complex post. There are two fundamental themes. The first is the notion of the changing means of how content is consumed. The second theme is that the notion of consolidation or “whole” really needs to give way to the notion of “fragmentation”.


Once upon a time we had three major networks. We came home from work. We watched the evening news. We ate dinner. Then we watched our shows. I literally grew up with M*A*S*H. MASH ran for 11 seasons beginning in 1972. So from about age 5 to about age 13 I would sit with my mom and step-father and watch MASH every week. I honestly cried during the last show.

Other shows I grew up with were “Different Strokes” (8 seasons), “Facts of Life” (9 seasons), “Dukes of Hazzard” (7 seasons), “Fall Guy” (5 seasons), “Magnum PI” (8 seasons) and of course “The Cosby Show” (8 seasons).

Hopefully, you’re starting to see a pattern. We used to “live” with TV shows. They were constants in our lives from season to season. We had relationships with these shows. Whether it was “St. Elsewhere” or “Hill Street Blues” we had prolonged relationships with shows and networks.

For the longest time every network followed a prescribed schedule. Then along came cable where repeats found new life and new audiences (or the same old ones). Then came FOX that started airing new shows when nobody else was. Then the Internet gradually began to turn things on its ear. Yet for some reason in the world of media planning and buying we still have a TV upfront.

I’ve known for quite some time that that the nature of TV shows and the way we watch them has been changing. I believe this to be a geologic change though. One in which we don’t necessarily see it happening. We make minor adaptations but there has yet to be a seismic shift.

That however I believe is coming. I’m not sure what it looks like. I’m not sure exactly when it will happen. Five years? Ten years? That’s where perhaps you can all lend a voice to predict or pontificate.

I believe that we are on the cusp of something and we need a much deeper understanding of people’s relationship with content.

What do we watch on which screen and why? Where does each “screen” fall as it relates to the trade-off of fidelity versus convenience? What is content we share versus content we commiserate about versus content we talk about at the water cooler?

We used to watch shows on a specific night. Now we may DVR a show and watch it on a different night. We may wait altogether and watch a whole season in weeks courtesy of Netflix. We may watch a show one week with friends and the next week online and the third week via a smartphone waiting at an airport.

Nevertheless, networks continue to present shows the same way all the time.

About a year ago, I watched Ken Block’s second iteration of Gymkhana.

No this isn’t Kurt Thomas’ attempt to extend his 15 minutes of fame and woeful acting skills on the heels of his early ‘80s film Gymkata. I’m talking about the founder of DC Shoes and his foray into the world of rally racing, stunt driving and the next generation of drifting.

Ken Block is a phenomenally intuitive marketer. Certainly as evidenced by his savvy in building DC Shoes into arguably one of the strongest action sports brands ever. Perhaps second only to Burton. Maybe it’s that no one felt comfortable to tell him the rules. Or he wasn’t listening anyway. Whatever it is, he knows right when he sees it.

Gymkhana 1 was originally posted about three years ago and between various posters of the video, it garnered over nine million views. Not too shabby. No doubt it was professionally shot at every level and Ken Block has money to throw at these things. Although, I’m pretty sure he’s mastered the art of OPM.

But then he came out with Gymkhana 2 (22m views). And Gymkhana 3 (25m views).

Nevertheless, while most create :60 spots and hope they’ll find viral traction on Youtube, Ken Block did it on purpose! And I know lots of people will say, “come on, we did that.” Tampax, Dove, Cadillac. Blah Blah Blah. I don’t think anyone has done it as well AND on purpose as Ken Block.

In Gymkhana 2, the video is 7 minutes and 32 seconds. They even call it an infomercial. At the beginning of the video note the following:

Bloody Brilliant.

How many people are choosing to watch your spots?

Now let’s just take YouTube and content as a whole. Consider this from the ADWEEK article by Brian Morrissey about “YouTube’s Stars”.

“The dirty secret of cable TV is audience numbers are often pitifully small, with many programs drawing under 100,000 viewers. That’s not the case for a select group of YouTube creators… The numbers they draw can be staggering. Comic actor Shane Dawson averages nearly 1.5 million views per day, according to video analytics service TubeMogul, and has racked up 670 million views of his videos over two and a half years. The typical YouTube star will average 250,000 views per video. ‘On any given night or day or two, the top 10 YouTubers will have more views than any cable channel,’ says Walter Sabo, a former ABC radio executive who started an Internet talent agency three years ago called HitViews.”

iJustine pictured to the left has more than 1m subscribers. DC Shoes… 79k subscribers.

Take that Ken Block.

Then if you consider the competing market for Hulu from this AdAge article about a new web ad video player from the Tremor/Scanscout merger.

“Tremor Media, the largest independent network, reached a deal last week to acquire Scanscout, one of its smaller competitors, in a bold attempt to consolidate the market, and create a scaled competitor to Hulu and YouTube. Separately, Undertone Networks is expected to announce a deal Monday to buy Jambo Media, a video syndication and ad platform. Two weeks ago, Specific Media snapped up BBE, one of the first pure-play video networks in the market… TV advertisers are the ones moving most aggressively into web video, looking to achieve similar goals through it. ‘I think that has been one thing that has been missing for advertisers is the ability to deliver mass reach,’ said Chris Allen, VP-video innovations at Starcom USA. ‘A lot of our clients are married to the reach metric, and TV delivers reach as fast as possible. The only way to achieve that reach online is through a network.’”

Is the :60 spot going away? No.

Does broadcast deserve its dominance and to make all the money? Most definitely not. Arguably, they are the least removed from purchase behavior. Wouldn’t it make sense that I’d be more likely if I was online to then stay online to purchase something as opposed to going from one screen to another to do so?

Are “reach and frequency” dated analytics? Do they truly get at how we consume media and connect to purchase behavior?

Once upon a time people laughed at cable as a network contender. ESPN, 24 hour sports. It’ll never work. FOX could never take on the Big 3. 24 hour news? Don’t be silly. 24 hour weather? Please!

Is Comcast/NBC really that big of deal? Not really in my opinion.

Fragmentation is the world of today. Whole is the world of yesterday.

No matter how big Comcast/NBC make themselves, the reality is that when it comes to content, they are hardly the only game in town.


McCracken, Grant  “Chief Culture Officer: How to Curate a Living Breathing Corporation”, 2010

Maney, Kevin “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On and Others Don’t” 2009


Categories : Uncategorized
Comments (5)

I won! (a brief interruption)

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Ok. So my next post is supposed to be on what makes great ads great. I’ll get to it, I promise but for now I’m tooting my own horn.

Grant McCracken hosts this thing called the “Minerva Contest”. They are in my view intellectual compare and contrasts on topics that are seemingly similar but not. The contests may be intellectual bragging rights but  I’ll take it. The task is as follows here. It was on the difference between PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow” and The History Channels’ “Pawn Stars”. I’m honored to have won the most recent Minerva Contest.  Below is my entry. Enjoy.

“When apprised of this intellectual compare and contrast of Antiques Roadshow versus Pawn Stars my initial inclination of those who watch either show or participate was that the primary difference would be in level of educational attainment. Immediately there’s a snob factor when you think about a distinction between the shows.

After a conversation with a producer of Antiques Roadshow, Sarah Elliott, I came to believe I was over thinking it a bit. Or at least I couldn’t find any hard evidence to support my hypothesis.

What I discovered was that while the shows could be seemingly similar, the core differences with the shows really have to do more with the nature of each show.

According to Ms. Elliott, “Antiques Roadshow is filmed over the summer. We visit six cities and travel with about 75 or so professional appraisers. Each event attracts some 5000 to 6000 attendees and sees appraisals of 10,000 to 12,000 items in a one day event.  We produce 18 original shows and two compilation shows for a total of 20 shows each season. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine.”  About her Anecdotal observations Ms. Elliott continued, “In my 11 years working on the show I can honestly say that it truly attracts the widest cross-section of America imaginable.”

Your price of entry into an Antiques Roadshow event is an item to be appraised and generally the item is legitimately believed to be antique.

Although as Ms. Elliott said, that she’s come across the “widest cross-section of America imaginable,” that’s not the focal point of the show. That’s an unintended outcome arrived at as a result of an object. When producing Antiques Roadshow she noted that they make the “object” the focal point. As far as the appraiser or person with the object being entertaining is almost purely a matter of luck.

The most important distinction about Antiques Roadshow is that there is no buying or selling of items on Antiques Roadshow. Thus motivation becomes an important factor. Once an item is appraised on Antiques Roadshow what the individual does with that item is then up to them.

In some cases clearly people will likely look to sell/auction the item but in many cases the item’s sentimental value outweighs the financial value. In one episode a gentleman has a Civil War era canteen appraised that was a gift from a dear friend.  The appraiser estimated its worth at around $5000 whereupon the gentleman says, “I guess I better keep it in a secure place then.”

With Pawn Stars motivation in almost all cases is financial. There is a financial need or want. A person enters Gold & Silver less concerned about the item’s integrity and more concerned with the cash transaction.  Or put this way, they’re only concerned about the items integrity in relation to its dollar value.

To further this dynamic there is often a level disappointment on Pawn Stars because every item the Harrison family comes into contact with they evaluate from the perspective of how much they can in turn sell it for. This means people often leave unable to have made any money.

While both shows are “reality” TV shows, Pawn Stars is produced as such and built around the dynamics of the family. This exposes a few things most notable it seems to me is pride – both generational (wanting to make Dad proud) and individual (wanting to “win” by extracting the most profit). There is also the element of risk. In many cases you see the Harrisons taking on an item, having it restored and hoping they can make a profit on the item. One could equate the Harrisons to stock brokers or traders.

“Pawning” is believed to have existed for more than 3000 years, its history rooted as a means of banking

From an article by Vonda Shines the history of pawn shops, “The word “pawn” comes from the Latin word ‘pignus,’ which means to pledge. The principle of pawning is simple. Someone has an item of worth against which they’d like a monetary loan. A pawn broker accepts it as a pledge – or collateral or pawn – in exchange for money. If the loan isn’t repaid according to its terms, the pawned item is offered for sale to the public.”

However, you rarely see the Harrison’s enter such a contract. Of course that would add an entirely new and complicated dimension to the show. Nevertheless, the character of the Harrison family still comes through clearly in the art of the transaction.

Consider this passage from a book called “In Hock” by Wendy Woloson.

“Pawnbrokers and their staff are not unlike bartenders or beauticians, whose relations with their clients are at once both professional and personal. For many the place plays a special role in both social and economic aspects of their lives.”

Antiques Roadshow originally began on the BBC a mere 31 years ago and in the US, 13 years ago via PBS. This means the show has weathered economic ups and downs.

According to the Simply Hired web site, their most recent Las Vegas trends data shows “Las Vegas, Nevada jobs have decreased 41% since April 2009.” Thus it stands to reason that the Harrison family’s Gold & Silver might see some brisk business these days. One would wonder whether given that we’re at one of the worst economic lows in our nation’s history if that has an effect on Pawn Stars success or even viability.

In short, the difference between the two shows is simple yet robust. One is about the thing and the other is about the people.


Woloson, Wendy.  2009. “In Hock: Pawning in America from Independence to the Great Depression”

Roath’s Pawn Shop, “History of Pawnbroking” –

Sines, Vonda ”The History of Pawn Shops” – –,+NV

Interview: Sarah Elliott, Producer, Antiques Roadshow, December 8, 2010″

Categories : Uncategorized
Comments (0)

David Lubars Thinks You’re Dumb

Posted by: | Comments (3)

I belong to a group on LinkedIn called “Re-inventing the Advertising Agency Business Model”.

Here is where my advertising and marketing brethren pontificate on the future of advertising. In my mind it’s a useful exercise if only someone would actually do anything about it.

Lately, this issue is one of the most widely discussed topics in the marketing/advertising community. Forrester has several reports on the matter.  Fast Company is planning to dedicate the December/January issue to the “tumultuous state of advertising.” As a part of this issue they recently asked the three top creatives of three very different agencies to visually demonstrate the future of advertising.

David Lubars, BBDO’s chairman and chief creative officer said this, “Everything will continuously change, but people will always stay the same.  Go back 70 years, go ahead 50 years, a human is a human. There are primal things that will always drive us: Will this product be better, will it help me succeed, will it make me more attractive? So the technology and the way we to speak to people will change, but those fundamentals will never change.” How he visually represented this is pictured above.

Herein lies the disconnect between the consumer and marketers.

One of my previous blog posts was about the chaos that is today’s consumer marketplace. These days we can’t even agree whether or not to call ourselves consumers. Alex Bogusky wonders if the term is a dirty word. Grant McCracken offers the term “multipliers.” No matter what, they’re far more diverse, sophisticated and interesting than we’ve ever given them credit for.  And while we try various new means of reaching consumers such as geo-tagging, QR codes, harnessing viral and so forth, at the end of the day on the whole, we default to the same old same old.  No disrespect to David Lubars. I don’t even know the guy and am not so sure they’d let me in the building but the same old same old is generally what agencies like BBDO produce. Advertising to the lowest common denominator.

Don’t get me wrong, BBDO has done some amazing work and continues to do so and the sheer size of BBDO globally is beyond intimidating. Nevertheless all too often it seems like big agencies are in protectionist mode as the biggest purveyors of disruption marketing.

Every day, the 30-second spot is becoming less and less relevant. Commercials are background noise. Banner ads have become plain beige wallpaper.  Brian Morrissey recently pointed out that click through rates on banner ads have stabilized. Phew.  Good. At .09 percent. Ummm Houston… we have a problem.

Grant McCracken has a wonderful section in his book “Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living Breathing Corporation” where he refers to the “American scholar Lewis Mumford [who] offered his vision of the world created by commerce.” It looks something along the lines of the set of “The Truman Show”.  As McCracken says, “This became the intellectuals favorite thing to say about popular culture: that culture touched by commerce must be diminished by it,” when in fact the exact opposite has happened. So while Lubars would have you believe that we as consumers are primal and simple the reality is we have evolved considerably.  Sure there are ways to simplify explaining consumer purchase behavior but in general consumers are extraordinarily complex.

In Mark J. Penn’s book “Microtrends: Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes” he says, “With the availability of choice has come a rise in individuality. And with the rise of individuality has come a rise in the power of choice. The more choices people have, the more they segregate themselves into smaller and smaller niches of society.” In his book he offers glimpses into 82 of these “niches”. To me, that’s relatively daunting.

We talk about the notion of true change but the reality is we continue to produce mediocre dumbed-down work largely at the request of the client.

Agencies are still effectively layers upon layers of management with peer-to-peer alignment with clients.  That being said, clients haven’t asked for it to change much.  When the ads aren’t performing, fire the agency!

In my humble opinion it’s going to take CEO/CFO level leadership on the corporate side to force their CMOs and marketing organizations out of their comfort zones to explore agencies with new business models and to change the way in which they interact with those agencies and who takes responsibility for idea creation. And to consider bringing some of those people who generate ideas in-house.

I don’t think there is one standard “agency of the future”.  I think there will be numerous solutions providers who all find unique ways to solve client’s problems and I think the more flexible and nimble those types of “agencies” are the better they will succeed.

And in fact according to Fast Company, Kraft appears to be on the cusp of doing it.

“For the enterprising client that can see clearly through the chaos, this new world holds promise. Kraft, for instance, has assembled a growing Rolodex of 70 new specialist partners. This isn’t some fringe brand — it’s Kraft, the country’s largest food marketer, which spends some $1.6 billion on marketing every year. The company is so open to new thinking that it recently hired a startup called GeniusRocket to develop a new campaign for the relaunch of its Athenos Hummus.”

My bet is that agencies will look a lot more like production companies and content will be king. I am also betting that audience segmentation will be far less about traditional demographics (age/race/HHI) and will be more about lifestyle/lifestage/interests. As we know Facebook is betting most heavily on “groups” and I guarantee you they will mine the data of the largest groups and offer up “access” to the largest groups at a steep premium. Social media in general has proven itself as a place where people with like interests congregate irrelevant of race or household income but don’t think for a second the consumer isn’t hip to what’s going on. We as marketers must be respectful and creative as to how we segment consumers.

May the best content win.

Categories : Uncategorized
Comments (3)

Why Twitter Really Works

Posted by: | Comments (6)

Recently I came across the following Tweet:

“RT @MalikYoba: RT…Twitter makes me like strangers I’ve never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life.”

I couldn’t help but agree but I didn’t know why. That was until I received a copy of Grant McCracken’s new book, “Chief Culture Officer”. This is an excellent read named one of the best Innovation books of the year by Business Week and one of the best Big Idea books by CEO Magazine.

But I digress.

In “Chief Culture Officer” McCrackan references the old Nike ad “Tag”. I remember the ad vividly.

In it is a live version of tag played out in the middle of the day on urban streets. Mr. McCrackan offers a few theories on why this ad resonated and what it meant to us culturally. The third of those theories is what he calls the notion of the “generous stranger”.

Although referring to the ad, he might as well be referring to Twitter as well in saying,

“’Tag’ evoked a third trend we might call the ‘generous stranger’. For many of us first notice came in the form of a bumper sticker that read ‘Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty,’ a phrase so influential it now has its own Wikipedia entry. Several thousand years of cultural practice and religious teaching had encouraged us to think of generosity as a personal gesture that passed between known parties.  The ‘generous stranger’ trend suggested that it was better when things passed between perfect strangers. “

And thus Twitter suddenly makes perfect sense.

Categories : Uncategorized
Comments (6)

“When I was four years old
they tried to test my I.Q.
they showed me a picture
of 3 oranges and a pear
they said,
which one is different?
it does not belong
they taught me different is wrong…”

Ani DiFranco

As the 2010 Census is being compiled one thing that we can most certainly be assured of is that we’ll probably recognize America as considerably different then it was say 20 years ago. We will see far more examples of other races, religions and ethnicities. While the census is used for lots of very important things, in the past it has been the single greatest overall driver of marketing decisions.

This being the case we can also be assured that marketing to said demographics will become increasingly challenging as well as remarkably inefficient and hardly cost effective. This is in large part because of what I like to refer to as “cross-culturalization”. This is simply where people from multiple ethnicities, races and religions share like interests.

In the past, marketers have traditionally marketed to people by finding the most similarities possible to reach the largest swath of people generally via demographics and household income otherwise known as “buying power”. Just consider the term, “general consumer”.

Is there really still such a thing?

Furthermore how people define themselves will hardly be answered by the census.

Zuckerburg would have you believe that Facebook’s fate to continue to remain relevant rests largely with the growing of the “Groups” functionality. No doubt he’s read Seth Godin’s “Tribes”. Interestingly enough today there was an editorial in the New York Times by David Brooks about “Flock Comedies” and shows like Dick Van Dyke, The Waltons and The Cosby Show being replaced by shows such “Friends”, “Sex and the City”, “How I Met Your Mother” and “Glee”. The editorial makes the argument that these “…shows also serve one final purpose. They help people negotiate the transition between dyadic friendships and networked friendships.”

Arguably the Internet has exploited people’s ability to group themselves and congregate together well before Facebook. Following a blog might be the simplest means of identifying with an interest or a group.

One question Facebook may want to confront is whether a group’s identity or brand is diminished by it being on Facebook. By its sheer size, Facebook is the Wal-Mart of social media regardless of whether or not it cares to admit it. ASMALLWORLD would not be the brand that it is if it were on Facebook. Perhaps there could be opportunities for Facebook to private label groups able to utilize Facebook’s functionality. But, let’s be honest, one thing about associating with a certain group is the notion of exclusion and to be a part of a certain group requires a degree of legitimacy or street cred.

Then there is the very real fact that there are some groups that people don’t want to be openly associated with. Take being gay, in which Facebook was recently accused of likely “outing” gays.

One of the simplest descriptions of Facebook I ever heard was, “It’s a TV channel I can turn on to see what my friends are doing.”

So let’s run with that. One could make the assertion that Facebook is really akin to an original big three TV network before cable where at any given point a marketer can reach the largest number of people. Let’s call Google the largest of the big three. Google however will always have search relevance for its ad platform. With Facebook though it has to provide relevance by interest. And here Facebook is actually becoming cable before our very eyes with groups becoming channels such as the Disney channel or Spike or Lifetime. However the same way marketers struggle to get a relevant message across requires understanding your audience.

And this is where groups come in.

What Zuckerberg isn’t saying is that basically groups will become a giant ad serving platform. Take for example the group “Mom’s Who Need Wine” which has about 336K+ followers on Facebook. Not too shabby a number, right? And where better to offer up any number of specific offers, Groupon like capabilities and so on based on hosts of data and data mining and insights to prospective advertisers.

At its core, I think Facebook is right culturally about the concept of groups. But I think Facebook has some considerable uphill battles. One is trust. The other is why Facebook? Facebook Groups is where the wannabes will live. The legit groups will be places like ASMALLWORLD or ShredUnion. As an advertiser, do you want to be where trends begin or where trends go to die (e.g. Wal-Mart). For that I suggest you ask Grant McCracken, author of “Flock and Flow”. Furthermore, if you start a group like “Moms Who Need Wine” why should Facebook make all the revenue off a group they didn’t even start?

Zuckerburg and the team at Facebook will position groups as what Facebook users want. And truth be told, that’s a load of crap. Groups is a way to make money. In interviews with Facebook staffers, nobody talks about the needs or wants of consumers… they talk about not being “… surprised if only 5% or 10% create groups,” noting “that’s 25 to 50 million people — not a small number by any standard.” Those are Nielsen numbers. Another factor to consider is what are real groups such as “Mom’s Who Need Wine” versus fad groups such as “Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips Bag” which currently has more than 51,000 friends.

So the question is what consumers do. And that, as I think we’re readily aware by this point, is anyone’s guess.

Categories : Uncategorized
Comments (3)