Why #Brandbowl Matters Just as Much as the Superbowl

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/mhjohnston/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/mhjohnston/

Today, people around the world will be communicating on social media and sharing their ideas, snark, and observations about (arguably) the world’s most important day for advertising spend. Of course, we’re talking about the Advertisements shared during the Super Bowl. The fourth #brandbowl might be one of the best places to observe this phenomenon as it plays out in real time. The event, originated by Boston agency Mullen and now hosted by Boston.com, invites Twitter participants to share their thoughts about the $4 million spots that will be shown during the commercial breaks of the Super Bowl.

Why #brandbowl matters

There are two main things happening on Super Bowl Sunday: there’s a football game to determine the Championship of the National Football League and there will be many simultaneous parties happening where the largest single audience outside of the Olympics will be gathered to celebrate America’s unofficial national holiday over Wings and Beer. And there is a separate competition for bragging rights over the most striking advertising of the year, as agencies attempt to one up each other with sentiment, spectacle, and humor. (And there will probably be the usual smattering of movie trailers, in-house local ads, and “we couldn’t figure out what to do, so we ran an old ad” punts).

The Biggest Audience, so what should you show?

The Brand Bowl matters because it’s the biggest single mass audience any brand is likely to get in the age of the Internet. It’s the opportunity to break out and create a memorable national event on the order of Apple’s famous 1984 ad.

Except that most of the time, the ads shown in the Super Bowl are so strident (either in their interruption, their “edginess”, the quest to have an ad so sexy or violent that it’s “banned”, or just their general stupidity) or bland in their attempt to reach a mass audience that they are easily forgotten and don’t even trigger a memory of the brand at hand. The amount of money spent is staggering, when you consider that the $4m to get your ad on the air is just table stakes.

The Value of Real-time Conversation

So #Brandbowl is an amazing real-time narrative of that process to go along with the “official” Superbowl Ad result articles that will be paraded around in the coming days (and this year, many of the ads were released early so that they could be reviewed, and potentially build additional buzz even before the event.) It’s also the only place where you can get people trash-talking about commercials in real time. It’s entertaining, funny, and sometimes even sublime. I look forward to seeing you there today.

Reboot Cable By Making it All Internet, All the Time

Dear Comcast (and other providers): it’s time to change your model. Creative destruction is the way Cable companies can become more than a mere pipe to the Internet.  Wikipedia defines this term, first coined by philosopher Joseph Schumpeter, by stating: “innovative entry by entrepreneurs was the force that sustained long-term economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies and laborers that enjoyed some degree of monopoly power derived from previous technological, organizational, regulatory, and economic paradigms.”  Cable must change by offering a la carte programming to subscribers whereever and whenever they are, or Netflix, Hulu, Apple, or Amazon may leapfrog it by being able to offer the customer choice and convenience.

Having just re-enabled my Netflix subscription after a few years away, I think that the only place Cable companies can compete successfully is in the realm of sports.  Movies, TV shows, and other events have already time-shifted (and paradigm-shifted) to being available on partner web sites or individually available through services like iTunes.  So how can Cable compete? Imagine a world where MLB.tv, NFL Gamepass (not available in the US), and ESPN3 are available for a bundled price along with an Cable Internet package.  Comcast has already stuck a toe in the water here by offering ESPN3 to its subscribers through Single Sign-on (SSO).

The genius of Netflix is that the company uses Single Sign-on (in a very simple way) and builds intelligence into its clients so that the experience is optimized for the platform you choose to use.  Stream content on an iPhone, through a Wii, or through your computer, and the result is not quite perfect, but it’s most of the way there.  As compression algorithms improve, broadband speeds increase, and computer processor speeds grow, Netflix wins.  It’s much easier to use than other methods like BitTorrent (you know all of your content is legal) or iTunes (you don’t have to download the content and it’s a familiar “all-you-can-eat” model.

Cable companies will complain that the quality of service is lousy, that the public won’t like the potential technical challenges, and that the rights management and fees don’t add up to positive economic gain.  Yet events like this year’s World Cup broadcast over Univision and ESPN3 garnered millions of viewers around the world who were clearly engaged enough, technically savvy, and football-crazy to watch whereever they were. And if Comcast is losing a customer like me (I am a technically savvy, lucrative customer, who left because I couldn’t make their Video On Demand (VOD) service work the way I needed it too for my family), it’s not a good sign.

Now’s the time to open up the door to other live channels, yet simply change the transport mechanism so that we can watch the channels we want, at the time we want, and on the devices we want, without having to add the overhead of all of the silly channels no one watches.  Make Cable an actual free market experiment and let the pricing on events float (within a range), offering high-quality replays for less money, and I’m sure that most people will end up spending far more per month than they did under the old, monolithic, “bundling” model.  I’m still using a set-top box: it’s just that now that box is a Wii or a Blu-Ray player, running Netflix.

Obligatory iPad Post (by the way, it’s a gamechanger)

Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images

The last day or so, I was trying to figure out what not to write about the iPad.  Would I not write that it was like an iPod/iPhone, only bigger?  Would I not write that it should have had handwriting recognition, video recording, or a webcam?  Or would I not write that it has no chance of lasting the 10 hour reported battery life, as we all know from MBP and iPhone experience?  And then it hit me.

I think we’re looking at a new type of computing.  iPad doesn’t replace or substitute existing computing paradigms.  It’s true that yeah, “it’s kind of like an iPod”, and “a little like a netbook”, and “sort of a media player and a book reader” but that doesn’t really describe the change in consumer behavior that’s likely to happen when you have one of these babies in your hot little hands.

What Jobs has done is given us a portal to buy things, made the screen big enough for everyone to see, and opened up the floodgates so that we can not only buy DRM-able media, but also mini applications, a la carte Cable Television series, and perhaps even live streaming of Sporting events.

So forget Apple TV and the Cube.  The iPad isn’t going to be a failure — it’s going to be a rollicking success that is going to leave us wondering how we ever lived without it.  And by the way – if you are among the 75 million people who already own an iPod, iPod touch or an iPhone, you already know how to use it — and so the greatest pain of user adoption is going to be figuring out how you can hold the iPad in one hand and take out your wallet with the other.  Let the games, the gaming, and the gamesmanship begin.

Has Twitter Subscriber Growth Peaked?

CNN reported this week that Twitter subscriber growth had peaked and that visits to the site were relatively flat. This information doesn’t seem to match the reports from Twitter itself that the number of tweets per day keep growing and that the engagement of users has increased.

What else could be going on here? A key component of Twitter’s growth is in the mobile and client space — people accessing the service through smartphones and using clients such as Tweetdeck and Seesmic to access the Twitter API — and these users may not show up directly.

Mobile internet growth has not yet peaked (Apple has sold 42m iPhones on a 1 billion+ base of all mobile phone users, e.g) and only about a quarter of internet users use mobile internet services. Clearly, major growth is still to come for real-time services and the Internet — it just might not happen on the web browser but through other clients. Twitterific or Tweetie might appeal to users of the new Apple Tablet — and there are surely other devices to come.

So what’s CNN’s motivation for calling a peak on Twitter? First, Twitter’s a threat to the core CNN business, offering real-time news faster and (potentially) more accurate than the CNN reporting itself. MSNBC recently purchased the @breakingnews twitter handle and it is now an arms race to deliver a mix of curated crowdsourcing, breaking news, and expert opinion to be a news organization today. It would be great if CNN would respond to this challenge by offering better content in every news channel (mobile, web, tv, etc.) … let’s hope it happens.

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