How publishers can exploit “virtual currencies”

Paul Raven @ 01-02-2010

Given that publishing economics are pretty topical at the moment, this video embedded in this post from GalleyCat last Thursday seems either alarmingly prescient or laughably silly, depending on your viewpoint.

Here’s the thesis in a nutshell: those mind-numbingly infuriating and spammy Farmville games your friends play on Facebook are surprisingly good at generating income for their creators, so publishers should take a leaf from the same book to spice up their own online offerings. The theory does come from the president of a company called Orca which specialises in developing virtual currencies for corporations, so a certain bias in favour of the idea is to be expected…

Here’s an excerpt (which I’ve excerpted in turn from GalleyCat’s post – yay, lazyweb!):

“They convert [virtual currencies] at prices that are not easily divided–one dollar gives you 33 credits [for example] … People don’t necessarily think, ‘it cost me 42-cents to send my friend a virtual beer.’ I think when the publishing industry starts thinking about how they chunk up content–whether it be articles or chapters–it shouldn’t be a debate of whether an article is worth one dollar or three dollars. An article should cost 43 credits.”

My immediate instinct is that this idea stinks, though that’s probably due to my kneejerk loathing of Farmville, Mafia Wars et al; maybe there’ll be a way to graft virtual currencies onto the publishing ecosystem without introducing the intrusive “social” aspects (read as “spamming”) and underhand pricing structures that seem to inform such games, which I suspect wouldn’t gel well with the book-buying demographic. But then again, if you get rid of those aspects of the system, you’ll probably never make a dime with it… so it’s back to the drawing board, I guess.

Blurbflies – airborne insectoid advertising

Paul Raven @ 30-10-2009

OK, so the blurbflies from Jeff Noon’s novel Nymphomation were little flying critters that sang or chanted their advertising copy at you, but this is the first time I’ve seen anything along the lines of using actual insects as an advertising medium, even if via the surreal yet lo-fidelity marketing method of gluing tiny banners to the tushies of everyday houseflies:

Top marks for slightly gross innovation, if nothing else. Knowing the way the marketing business grabs trends and runs with them until they become ubiquitous to the point of infuriating banality, animal-based advertising will probably be massive by next summer and deader than last season’s butterflies by early 2011. So I’m going to grab the opportunity while it’s still fresh; if anyone needs me, I’ll be wandering the Canadian hinterlands, stencilling the Futurismic logo onto climate-refugee polar bears with photo-reactive spraypaint. [hat-tip to Geoff ‘BLDGBLOG’ Manaugh]

One-click celebrity endorsements!

Paul Raven @ 21-10-2009

As much as I have high hopes for the future, sometimes it seems that “the future” is just a place where you can buy a wider and weirder range of things more quickly and conveniently than before. This doesn’t just apply to us consumer types, either; the mechanics of business are being shortened and tightened and streamlined constantly. Speed is everything. We need it yesterday!

So, you’re building a new model of car (or cooker, or genetically modified guard-armadillo), and you need to get some instant credibility for it before your product launch next week. You need a celebrity endorsement, stat! But don’t they take ages to arrange? Not any more…

Brand Affinity’s goal is to automate the process by which marketers offer contracts to athletes, along with the process by which ads featuring those endorsers are created and produced. The Web site promises that those transactions will take no more than 96 hours.

It provides “a quick turnaround for something that would normally take months,” Mr. Brees said. “A company can contact a player, come to an agreement and the next day the ads could be up.”

That fast pace, said Brian Bos, senior vice president and convergence director at Team Detroit — the alliance of WPP agencies that work for Ford Motor — “reduces risk and provides flexibility, because you’re not tied into long-term deals.”


Athletes are “human capital brands,” said Ryan Steelberg, president and chief executive at Brand Affinity in Irvine, Calif., who share in an estimated $3 billion paid each year to celebrity endorsers.

Although “the days of someone right out of the draft getting a multimillion-dollar shoe deal are over,” Mr. Steelberg said, large sums are being spent on the handful of big sports names, active and retired, who appear in multiple campaigns.

“Relative to the cost of the superstars, you could potentially activate 5, 10, 25” players who are popular in local or regional markets, he added.

Now, that’s a strong modern business model right there. You’re trading in the currency of celebrity, which (sadly) shows little sign of decaying in perceived value, despite being based on a nebulous social concept whose hollowness is revealed on a daily basis; you’re using the web for swift brokerage and expediting; you’re offering a national service tailored to localised needs. You’ve bolted yourself as middleman onto the Long Tail of celebrity. [via TechDirt]

As pointed out in the article there, the biggest plus point of Brand Affinity’s service is its fine-grain duration scale. No need to risk a lot of money and kudos on a season-long campaign with a particular jock or clothes-horse; keep an eye on trending topics for rising names, jump on ’em when they’ve got enough cachet to give your product a boost, and drop ’em like a hot potato when their star slips out of the ascendant. In a world where fame burns brighter for ever shorter periods of time, that’s a system with a lot of appeal for the marketing and branding wonks… the sort of thing Leggy Starlitz might have stumbled into had he spent longer in the States, perhaps.

Who owns the dead? Guitar Hero, Kurt Cobain and publicity rights in a digital era

Paul Raven @ 16-09-2009

Screenshot of Kurt Cobain avatar from Guitar HeroI’m guessing you’ve probably caught wind of Courtney Love’s lawsuit against Activision regarding their reanimation of the image of Kurt Cobain in the latest edition of Guitar Hero. I’ve not seen it myself, but friends have told me it’s a bit tasteless, and this particular lawsuit may be one of the more sane things Love has done in some time (even though there are protestations from Activision that she actually signed off on a contract that gave them permission to do it). [image ganked from Kotaku post under Fair Use terms; contact for immediate takedown if required]

Specifics aside, though, this raises the spectre of an issue that is only set to become more complicated – the use of someone’s image for marketing purposes when they’re no longer around to give their permission. Take it away, TechDirt:

[…] that issue is getting more and more complicated as technology gets better and better. In the last few decades, for example, there’s been a growing trend to use famous dead people, such as John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Fred Astaire in commercials. But those mostly involved taking clips of those actors from existing films/TV and splicing them into a commercial (with permission from their estates). However, as some lawyers have been noting, with better and better digital technologies, this issue is becoming more important as it’s now possible to digitally recreate someone for the purpose of film. Or, say, a video game.

Or, say, a life-size photorealistic face-mask. I’d be the first to concede that making money from the dead is a bit crass – especially from as tragic a figure as Cobain – but is Activision being any more crass than Love and the Cobain holding companies she controls? Who gets to decide what’s appropriate, what’s tasteful?

There’s always going to be a price at which someone’s moral stance becomes less rigid, after all, and the dead can’t hang around to complain… not until we’ve cracked personality uploads or Turing-compliant simulations, anyway. And even then, would the electronic personality be considered legally the same person as the no-longer-living meat-machine?

And just to add an extra fillip of weirdness, consider the results of a recent experiment at Warwick University here in the UK, which shows that doctored video footage can easily persuade eyewitnesses that they saw something which never actually occurred. [via FuturePundit]

The legal implications are a bit nasty – especially in a country as saturated in CCTV cameras as this one – but let’s look at the light side: how much fun would it be to convince your best friend that he was so steaming drunk at his own birthday party that he missed Kurt Cobain wandering through the front room trying to bum cigarettes from people playing Guitar Hero?

Owning eyeballs – Jan Chipchase on augmented reality and advertising

Paul Raven @ 08-09-2009

sale billboardI linked to Jan Chipchase in passing when we were talking about in-game advertising the other day, but since then he’s posted more detailed thoughts on the corporate future of contextual advertising and augmented reality. If you don’t believe that the colonisation of augmented reality spaces by relentless barrages of commercial messages and content is inevitable, think again:

Spend enough time around corporate sales folk, whatever the industry, and sooner or later someone will talk about ‘owning’ the customer – where they are so into your brand that the next sales are inevitable. When it comes to visual media its all about owning eyeballs – diverting your gaze to their advertising and content […]

Ah – nobody’s going to stick an advertising driven augmented reality lens in their eye, right? How about for ‘free’ healthcare monitoring? Or because speed-dating is so much more fun when you have real time sexual preference look-ups on the people you’re looking at? Or simply because the alternative ways of viewing at the world put you milliseconds behind your social network in the connectivity stakes.

Yeah, this reasoning is all so base, ugly, techno-utopian. Sure, it *may* be about delivering the optimal augmented reality experience, but optimal for whom? There ain’t no such thing as (looking at a) free lunch.

Do no evil? To the shareholders!

To quote a band I’m rather fond of, this is the first draft of a worst case scenario – perhaps it won’t work out quite so badly. If we’re lucky. [image by Arturo de Albornoz]

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