Thursday, May 28, 2009

Games people play: Principles of edutainment

"Culture relates to objects and is a phenomenon of the world; entertainment relates to people and is a phenomenon of life." -Hannah Arendt

I'm not sure what that quote means, but on the auspicious occassion of the 300th RKDNA post, let's have some fun. 

Specifically, let's talk about games--and then play one. Or, if you like, let's play a game and then talk about it.

Game Types

Online games come in many forms...shooters (Quake), racers (Mario Cart), puzzles (Bejewelled), collectors (Pac Man), Strategy (Call of Duty), Adventure and others (like Chess), based on traditional board games. There are single player, multiplayer and Massive Multiplayer Online Games, aka MMOGs. If you are new to online games, get a glimpse at part of an expansive category universe at or Yahoo games . 

Regardless of type, games can play a useful role in education...and not just the kind of education that caters to the K-12 kids. Product education--on mode of action, features and benefits, and other topics in marketing's domain--need not be the dry lecture of collateral, ad copy or hyperspeed voice over in radio and tv spots. 

Principles for online edutainment in marketing

We've built several games as support for client marketing campaigns. And while there are certainly more credible opinions on incorporating marketing into gaming titles, we'll limit this post to the subject of incorporating games into marketing campaigns. Specifically, games that seek to educate and entertain about a product or brand, though not necessarily in that order. See a couple of prior game-related posts here and here.

How might one approach games as edutainment in a marketing context? For the games we've developed, a simple set of design principles has guided us:

1. Simplicity: Rules + the gameplay itself should be simple to understand and execute. 

2. Excitement: Goals should be incorporated around short and long-term progress to build and sustain excitement...using multiple levels, variations in speed, time limits, scoring bonuses, and increasing number--if not complexity--of objects.

3. Consistency: Maintaining consistency in the type of game (e.g., a shooting game doesn't suddenly become a racing game), and in the user interface (i.e., the game controls) helps eliminate distraction and un-funness (is that a word?). 

4. Feedback: Of course games should be interactive. But they should also provide feedback on success or failure during play. Ideally the feedback is tied to the educational component of the game (e.g., it should be clear when a player gets the points and the points should be associated with the learning). Feedback can take the form of interstitial messages between game levels or visual clues during certain events of the game.

5. Gemutlich and Shadenfreude: (why, bless you!) Ideally, games for marketing engage by embedding rewards for both the intrinsically motivated (e.g., building a high score through multiple plays, and increasing familiarity with the game) AND for those whose motivations are more extrinsically motivated (as in taking pleasure at beating someone else's high score).

6. Fun: The most important principle is that the game has to be fun to play. Of course fun is in the mind of the beholder, but certainly little education will take place if one's mind is not open... and there is nothing quite like a lack of fun to close a mind quickly. Mostly in the marketing context, this means balancing the entertainment against the education...when a particular education objective goes unfun, then it has to be subordinated lest the entire idea of entertainment is undermined. Online, unfun usually shows up as a page bounce or short dwell time, both of which are measures of relevance that can help in a test-learn-redeploy environment.
Of course, the investment in the game should be matched to the metrics for success. In our experience, our clients tend to be willing to spend a little...not alot...on edutainment.  And we try to use the principles above to guide games that, at whatever budget, deliver an experience that will leave a player wanting more.

Let the game begin

We'd like it if you would play one of our recent games...hopefully, you will like it. Tell us what you, hate, indifference? Does the game deliver an entertaining and educational experience? What could we have done better?

Play Pest Invaders (here)


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Intern for rent: putting a price on talent

"It's like having your own mini CP+B"

So says the eBay listing for Crispin, Porter + Bogusky's Intern Auction (here)

Alex Bogusky posted a link to this on his twitter feed. (Having found a use for Twitter, apparently, after tweeting that he didn't get it earlier this year). The bidding, which is currently at $10,099.00, entitles the winner to: 

"...receive a creative presentation developed by our interns over a three month period, consisting of strategies, recommended brand positioning and concepts."

The bid amount goes to the intern(s) that do the work as a bonus of sorts, in addition to whatever intern salary they would otherwise make. It's an interesting and creative concept in building buzz for services and in connecting internships with real, paying customers...

So What Else?

Beyond the interesting-to-an-agency approach to filling out the intern's dance card, the idea is the latest in a number of services-as-commodity strategies. Sites like
elance,  crowdspring and others (prior post here) all bring bidders and buyers of creative, marketing and other services together in a managed bid-response mechanism. In these environments, though, the vast majority of service sellers are independents or small organizations.

CPB's eBay approach is interesting for a couple of questions it raises:

What about reputation? CPB has no seller's history on eBay.  As such, they have no reputation scoring or buyer feedback in eBay. These essential elements of trust online mean one must rely on the reputation of CPB as defined elsewhere (in the press, via awards) to assess just what makes an intern at CPB worth more than, say, an intern from other sources. There is also the issue of CPB's overall trustworthiness that must be vetted thru more traditional methods (the CPB-created Burger King is kind of creepy afterall!). 

What's a strategic plan worth? The final bid will put a price on what is arguably the last thing an agency would want commoditized...the strategic plan that drives the advertising. Perhaps the expectation is set that getting a "mini CPB" means you are bidding on similarly-sized ideas?. But if the CPB kid's meal costs what AgencyX Whoppers do, where does that leave the overall market value of the strategic plan?

In the end (the auction ends tomorrow), the intern auction is an interesting twist on Services listings (like Craig's List), where the pricing is transparent and the bidding is open to anyone with a PayPal account. What remains to be seen is just where the current market values strategic planning by interns...or  even if this is a belated CP+B April Fool's joke. 

I suspect we'll also know where the economy is really headed when agencies and other companies begin reverse-auctioning interviews for their open positions. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Three-screen mania: What's working?

People still watch alot of TV. That shouldn't surprise anyone.

Casting aside modern ambiguities like 'what is TV, exactly?', Neilsen has a neat and tidy report about TV consumption on three screens: Internet, Mobile and, er, TV. The report, titled oddly enough, The Three Screen Report, shows that timeshifted TV viewing is the clear revolution in our least for the last year. That and watching video on the internet. If it seems like you've heard it all before it's because, well, you have. Certainly, if you read any of these (here, here, and even here).

Tabula veritas shows it all.

So What?

The massive numbers associated with TV in the home are impressive but for one fact: they don't tell whether anyone was actually watching what was on, or whether what was on was merely on, in the background. Conclusions about a higher level of engagement that might be associated with timeshifted, internet, or mobile video may seem sensible: users of these forms must take an active role afterall. But that conclusion too indicates correlation only, not cause.

The 3h 37m average monthly figure for mobile video seems high (to me), especially when compared to the time spent watching video on the internet. Regardless, it may be a whisper of the Ubicomp future that walks, unevenly, among us. ( here )

Of the numbers in the report, what is true , if not interesting, is that the average American apparently spends more hours each month with the three screens (196h)  than they do working (150h)...even subtracting for at-work internet use (data table).

What's working, it seems, is the idea that people will watch a screen. Beyond that, we each have to find our own answers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Three things: Search, Harmony, and Power to the printer

Three things for the 3rd day of a week.

Thing 1: Search engine tales

From global pandemics, to Segways People seem hardwired to love the promise of 'the game changer'. But even when the big story takes on a life of its own, signaling its demise through its impossibly overhyped velocity, we give it extra life support in the imagination when it promises to take down the status quo...or as one might have said in the day, promises to 'Stick it to The Man'.

So when the latest challenge to Google's global hegemony was whispered as 'Wolfram Alpha', the geek class got their giant slaya' news motor running. And then, the actual Wolfram Alpha search was released last week.

The brain child of alpha-mind Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Alpha is a 'Computational Knowledge Engine'. The idea is that, where Google delivers a list of web page results around terms you search, Wolfram Alpha delivers knowledge in context.

A simple example: Type Naperville, Illinois in both Google and Wolfie...While Google delivers 799,000 results, including a map and 10 website links on the first results page, Wolfram Alpha delivers a single page with a synopsis of population, weather, geography and other facts in a neatly displayed report.

If you enter a series of musical notes in sequence, Wolfram displays a musical staff of said notes and the piano keys they represent. There are general areas of knowledge that are able to pre-define the scope of the query, such as chemistry, mathematics, music, geography and statistics and data analysis among 25 others.

Wolfram Alpha (not beta, mind you) requires a more involved approach to the user's query than does computations, not search...and this likely will limit its utility to more specialized uses among people with specialized information needs. And while the hype machine may once again have overpromised on the newest new thing, the real story is that Wolfram Alpha isn't anything like Google...and that's a good thing.

Thing 2: I'd like to buy the world a...Prius

30-second TV spots just can't do justice to the sweat equity that goes into them...not to mention the number of rapidly-devaluing dollars that go into making them. But one technique that's becoming part of the expected is posting an extended version of the ad on YouTube that shows: The Making of The Spot.

Toyota prepared a sweet spot for the new 3rd Generation Prius. The 30-second ad avails itself of the 'mass of humanity as art' highlighted in the Beijing Olympic's opening ceremony, employed for the purpose of bringing man, machine, and environment together in message of 30 seconds. The 4 minute 35 second making-of spot on YouTube brings to life all the meaning that lies behind what you see in the 30-second case you missed it.

It's all very a global pathos kind of way. (see below)

Thing 3: The paper-based web

Few things are more maddening than printing something from a website...only to realize after it prints 15 pages of mal-formatted gobbledygook that wysiwig is more theory than practice. Enter

The site provides an easy-to-use (free) print renderer for web pages that strips out ads and other superfluous page elements. If Useful and Usable are two corners of the perfect online experience trinity, printfriendly has them covered. And doing less waste is always more than doing more waste with ever less effort. All very a local, ethos sort of way.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Generitech: The problem with online video ads

The site is widely regarded as least among those with a college student's' sense of humor. 

But even if you are just a corporate marketer or agency trying to make it in the post TV world, you might find the following clip humorous...if you have a fondness for satire. The clip skewer the problem with online video ads...or more specifically, the problem with the people pushing them.

For reference, the guys on the right side of the screen are Jake and Amir, popular collegehumorists and co-founders of the site (who now work for Barry Diller's IAC, which purchased the site in 2006). The guys on the right are college humor employees too...playing the caricatures of the problem.

The irony is that the video is part of a teaser for the invitation-only New Fronts in Digital Content event sponsored by "...Digitas' branded content entity Third Act."  

One can wonder whose zooming whom.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Crop texts farmer: Snd wtr pls

For years, some people have talked to their houseplants in the belief that it will help them grow healthier and happier. But now, a company in Colorado is intent on helping entire fields of plants talk back.

Agrihouse of Berthoud, CO, is preparing to market a sensor-based technology to farmers that allows plants to send a text message to a mobile device with a request for water...or a message that 'we're fine, thank you'. Unlike other remote sensing applications in production agriculture that measure soil moisture, the Agrihouse solution actually purports to measure the internal moisture content of the plant by placing low cost sensors on plant leaves to measure turgidity.

Image from Agrihouse. More information, including video, here.

According to Agrihouse, this unprecendented level of precision takes out much of the guesswork in irrigation decisions and could save a typical 130-acre center-pivot implementation "enough water to supply 40 households for a year" in addition to significant savings in pumping costs (i.e., energy).

So What?

Interesting you say...if you are a farmer. But what does that mean to marketers? Three things:

1. Always-on, mobile technology (see here and here for a couple of related priors) is an opportunity in every industry. Marketers who look to remove cost, time and place as obstacles to the customer's experience can find the tools in ever-less-expensive technology. Any marketing effort that doesn't look to lower costs, reduce time, or enable efficiency in an implementation of technology is missing opportunity.
2. Sustainability is an opportunity in every industry. Marketers who consider ways to help their customers do more--with less--for longer--will find an increasingly receptive audience in the post-disposable world view. Technology can provide the means when the end goal is to be there for the duration.

3. People are strange...when you are the stranger. No matter what the person's occupation, stereotypes get in the way of good marketing. Good marketers, on the other hand, try to put themselves in the shoes of others (one of our five themes!)...recognizing that it is not the same as being someone else. Just as farming might be a surprisingly high-tech business (prior) to those outside of it, we all have surprisingly rich and varied qualities that technology can serve. Smart marketers look to engage us where we are different...not rely on least common denominator stereotypes.

Speaking of strange, here's a look through one of musical history's stranger Doors:


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

As seen on TV: Big branding. Sort of.

Google, one of the biggest brands to never have done a TV spot, finally can't resist. Of course, these masters of all media have a reason: Google TV Ads service.

Here's the ad, a repurposed 'video' that some folks in the Japanese office threw together to promote the Chrome browser:

So far, more than the home cooked ad has been seen more than 2 million times on YouTube. But starting last weekend, it's supposedly airing on regular TV.

So What?

Like so many other Googleys, Google TV ads is all about driving out the middleman. Or rather, replacing multiple middle-earthlings (middlings?) with a superior Google machine form.

In this case, Google TV ads makes you the media planner and buyer, enabling you to select demographic qualities of your target and match that with cable programming and schedules. Then, Google connects you with 'Ad creation suppliers' (the middlings formerly known as 'agencies'), many of whom list their standard creation price.

Don't need custom advertising tied to objectives? Create your own advertising using Google's Spotmixer...a template + stock solution.

But wait, there's more! You get to set your bid for maximum CPM and daily budget costs...interestingly the minimum bid for one thousand impressions is $0.50. And finally, you get to steward your media buy with daily data on what ran, where, and how many impressions were actually delivered.

See the whole product demo here. See prior posts on soon-to-be-Google's lunch DIY ad solutions here and here.

Of course this may not be the solution for a big brand that needs the thoughtful, objectives-driven advertising that we've come to love and adore. Then again, there's nothing like a little deflationary pressure (one of our five themes for 2009) to make what was once laughable, serious...sort Google on TV.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Collaboratory: Innovation through participation

"Alone, our tools offer an improved means to an unimproved end"- Henry David Thoreau

Information access is what much of the popular web has been built around...people seeking access to prices, product features and benefits, maps, photos, etc. But at it's roots, the web was built for collaboration. That's what a physicist at CERN had in mind anyway...

As the ubiquitous mobile network has enabled us all to be always on, at the place of our choosing, the digital space is returning to its collaborative roots...where contribution and participation--the watchwords of community--become the more powerful reasons to use the network. Browsing transforms into purposeful searching which elevates to active creation...which drives innovation. 

So What?

Businesses have, forever it seems,  sent product designers and market researchers into the field to capture input and data.  Ostensibly, this is done to inform the design and creation process. Of necessity, this approach requries a fair amount of abstraction. By design, it often suffers from the inherent confirmation bias of researchers who may be blinded by their pre-existing vision of the product or service they are designing. If you are a marketer, when's the last time you saw a double blind test approach used to inform the creation process?

The ubiquitous network and a user community increasingly trained for participation present a different opportunity for innovation: participatory design. Participatory design brings the customer or end user into the product/service development world. It doesn't treat the customer as a subject to be studied, but as a collaborator to be engaged. It's an open system for innovation rather than the more traditional, company-centric, closed system.

"The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer" - Peter Drucker

But why would a company elect to bring customers into the process of innovation rather than taking innovation to them? If you find any wisdom in the Drucker quote above, then you might agree that one way to create and keep a customer is by making a customer mean something more to the business, where more isn't solely defined around short-term economic decisions.  

How can it work?

Create a Collaboratory. Treatises have been written on collective innovation (Eric Von Hipple's most famous one is here). If you don't have time for that, here's three thoughts on engaging collaborators in participatory product, process or service design in the Collaboratory:

1. Engage lead users first: These are the user scientists who have a need for something other than a homogenous service/product offering. They are recognizable because they already have adopted or modified a product/service to fit their needs. Most importantly, they have a bias for collaboration, experimentation and persistence...and they are already your customers.

2. Structure the participatory process: Participatory design requires much or how little will depend on the expectations of the output and the size of the community. But in general the structure should focus on four stages...
  • Identifying issues/opportunitities (in other words, the questions to explore)
  • Prioritizing the issues/opportunities against criteria (what comes first--or last--based on what success criteria might look like. The hypotheses if you like)
  • Ideation/Solution building (the actual design/create activities)
  • Test-Modify-Retest (validating innovation against the outcome criteria)
3. Reward participation: The reward can be monetary--or it can be the emotional notion of ownership and contribution to community. The expectations should be honest, transparent and upfront...which is to say, you'll have to work with a lawyer on issues of ownership and licensing, but tread lightly lest you trample the trust inherent in effective collaboration.

Using tools like online forums, surveys, contests, and feedback databases are simple means of facilitating participation.  Unlike the tools used for participation, the Collaboratory results in meaningful innovation when it remains focussed on the power of participation.  

A few examples of Collaboratories: Dell computer product and service design. Nokia mobile devices and application design. Bubblewrap product use competition. Tshirt company where the customers ARE the company. Citizen science project.

A Simpson's episode showing what can go wrong with participatory design...when your customer is Homer Simpson.