The Power of Geek!

Are you old enough to remember when it wasn’t cool to be a nerd? Those days are over – at least for now! From summer blockbusters, where superhero and science fiction franchises rule the box office, to the streets of San Diego, where 150,000 raving fans descend on the city every July for Comic-Con International, geek culture is taking over pop culture and entertainment. And marketers have started to take note.

The audience for this brand of entertainment takes their subject matter very seriously. Just ask Ben Affleck, when emphatic responses to the controversial announcement that he will play Batman in an upcoming movie nearly broke Twitter. It’s also an audience in transition from the traditional core of young males to a more gender-balanced and demographically diverse group; sensitivities around sexism and “tribal authenticity” abound.

One thing geeks have in common is a desire to buy, talk about and evangelize the creative material that inspires them, whether it’s comics, videogames, toys, fashion or whatever. Brands are drawn to the energy and spending habits of this demographic like a moth to a flame – but without the right plan, they can wind up getting burned.

Over the summer, MediaPlant partner and director of strategy and content Rob Salkowitz, author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, participated in a panel discussion on the rise of geek culture at San Diego Comic-Con alongside other industry marketing and press leaders. His message to the group and the packed conference room? Tread lightly. Brands that come blundering in to niche cultures without a clue are asking for trouble. “If you don’t know the difference between Mr. Spock and Dr. Spock, you’re better off staying away from geek culture altogether,” he said.

Salkowitz will continue to explore this subject in events and presentations throughout the fall. In early October, he will be reconvening with some of the same group for a Power of Geek panel at the Future of Comics Symposium sponsored by ICv2 ahead of the New York Comic-Con October 8, 2013. He’ll also be talking about Con culture, gender and the changing face of fandom at Seattle’s GeekGirlCon the weekend of October 19. Finally, he will be exploring the literary side of comics with critically-acclaimed, best-selling graphic novelists Ellen Forney (Marbles) and David Lasky (The Carter Family) during the Seattle LitCrawl, Thursday, October 24 at 6pm.


Hear about the evolution of comics in the media at EmMeCon

Next month’s Wappow! Emerging Media Conference in Seattle will include MediaPlant’s Rob Salkowitz as a featured speaker.

Rob will be delivering a day one mini-keynote speech on “Transmedia in the Hour of the Nerd: Comics and the Future of Communication”. He will be examining how comics have moved from the fringes of media and culture to the center of both.

“Comic-based properties dominate the box office, the best seller list and the app store. As a medium, they solve many of the vexing communications problems of the 21st century and capture our attention as few things can,” explained Rob, MediaPlant’s Director of Content and Strategy, whose most recent book is “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture”.

The session will reveal how comics are evolving in the age of the iPad and how they have become an integral element in the transmedia and marketing strategies of some of the world's biggest entertainment and media companies

The Emerging Media Conference offers is aimed at professionals in all fields and offers previews of the latest in social, mobile, and gaming. The topics covered include social media marketing, mobile app development, and incorporating gaming to increase engagement and conversions.

Speakers include thought leaders from around the world, including Lynne D Johnson, Director of Digital and Social at Waggener Edstrom; Kiranjit Sidhu, Engineering Manager at Facebook; and Scott Porad, Product Development Lead at

EmMeCon takes place from June 3-6 and registration is now open. View the agenda and register today.


Ad Age Digital examines the fast-changing industry landscape

Day Two of Ad Age Digital Puts Spotlight on Content, Video

New modes of video delivery are rocking the old broadcast/cable model to its foundations, with profound implications for marketing and advertising. The Ad Age Digital Conference devoted most of its second and final day to an exploration of new video platforms and the opportunities they pose for brand storytelling and consumer engagement, reports Rob Salkowitz, MediaPlant’s Director of Strategy.

In a provocative segment called "Taking on Netflix," new CEO of Redbox Instant, Shawn Strickland, explained how the rental kiosk company's online streaming play (in partnership with Verizon), is set to disrupt existing service and the entire cable model. He said the company sees streaming movies and original programming on demand as the beginning of a true a-la-carte service where customers select (and pay for) only the channels and programs that interest them. Wonder how Comcast feels about that? Redbox also intimated they may take on Ticketmaster by selling event tickets through their kiosks - to which we say, "bring it on!"

Later in the morning, Chet Kanojia, founder and CEO of the provocative startup Aereo lit up the room. Aereo promises "cable without cable" in the simplest way possible: by rebroadcasting public TV signals over broadband networks. This has outraged incumbents nearly as much as it has delighted consumers looking to cut the cord. What makes Kanojia dangerous, besides his obvious business savvy and the appeal of his platform, is that he clearly has no stake in the status quo: he's a pure disruptor.

Not to be outshined, Hulu brought the star-power with actress Eva Longoria on hand to discuss her upcoming animated show, "Mother Up" - part of an original programming push by the online video-on-demand service. Hulu CEO Andy Forssell indicated that the service has enough correlated data on viewer habits to not only develop programming with near-guaranteed appeal (as Netflix did with "House of Cards"), but also to properly target and market that content in the context of its interface.

Clearly the shift seems to be toward content that finds you, rather than vice versa.

Microsoft made an appearance at the conference as well, with Advertising GM John Piontkowski introducing Citibank's head of Consumer Marketing, Vanessa Colella. She shared stories of how Citibank is engaging consumers around its brand through promotions, storytelling and initiatives that combine digital and local/physical components.

Finally Robert Wong, Chief Creative Officer of Google Labs, brought the house down with his highlight reel of Google ad spots and promotions. Google's philosophy, Wong explained, is to "get out of the way of the story" and let users themselves demonstrate how the platform empowers them in both public and private ways.

"People will forget what you tell them and forget what you show them, but they won't forget how you make them feel," said Wong. The stories, ranging from a Google engineer's series of notes to his newborn daughter as she grows through childhood, to the power of the "It Gets Better" anti-bullying campaign, clearly demonstrate the truth in that.

See some of the scenes from day two of the conference, and here are day two highlights from the @MediaPlant_US Twitter feed:

Day One of Ad Age Digital Focuses on Social Media and Big Data

This week, over 700 leaders in digital marketing and advertising gathered in New York City for the 7th annual Ad Age Digital Conference, the industry's premier event to share the latest insights and best practices around data, social, mobile and cutting-edge marketing technologies. As part of a research engagement for one of our clients, MediaPlant Director of Strategy Rob Salkowitz attended the sessions and has been reporting live from the event.

Day One kicked off with a keynote from Newark mayor and rising political star Cory Booker, who shared his experiences using social media and bottom-up channels to "redemocratize democracy" and connect citizens more closely to government.

The rest of the morning sessions featured Seattle homies Starbucks and Amazon reporting on their digital brand-building efforts. Starbucks wowed the audience with emotionally-engaging videos that put a human face on their brand. Amazon gave the Madison Avenue crowd a brief glimpse behind the curtain of its ultra-sophisticated data-based marketing operation.

After that, we took a deep dive into Big Data, with presentations from IBM, Accenture, RBC Capital Markets and VC firm Kleiner Perkins, all exploring the ways that marketers are gathering and applying information from various sources to better target their marketing. At one point, the president of data-based startup Grokr confidently proclaimed "we know just about everything about you" - leading to a lot of "Big Data or Big Brother?" conversations at the break.

Day two promises an exploration of the frontiers of content-based marketing, video, mobile and social.

If you’re not in the conference hall the next best thing is to follow the @MediaPlant_US Twitter feed, where Rob Salkowitz, is reporting the best of the sessions.

Some of the day one highlights:


The hottest technology-driven trends in media

Remember the Oreos Tweet that turned the Superbowl blackout into real-time marketing gold? Is the hash tag #bigdata all over your social media feeds?

These trends were among the hottest topics at the 4As Transformation: The Idea Effect conference – staged by the professional association for advertising and media agencies - in New Orleans earlier this month.

MediaPlant’s Director of Content and Strategy, Rob Salkowitz, was there as part of a research project for a client, investigating the future of marketing and advertising in the digital world.

"The 4As conference was an amazing opportunity to listen in to the discussions within the advertising and media industry as it tries to keep pace with massive changes in its marketplace and business model. As an agency principle, I found many of the conversations useful - not just for the project we're working on, but in ways that will add value to all of our clients," said Rob.

Hot topics at the conference included:

  • Real-time brand management: how leading companies are bringing the concept of the news desk or the political campaign war room to practice of brand promotion and marketing, connecting their brands to current events and conversations through social media.
  • The quest for better metrics: the traditional process for buying and selling media based on arbitrary channels such as cable TV or the web is failing in the age of digital convergence, when brands want to reach audiences across multiple channels. A lot of the discussion focused on how new big data technologies can be used to identify how individuals and households access media on different devices and to target advertising with greater precision.
  • Agency collaboration: the "full-service agency" model is not keeping up with the fast changing media environment. Big shops can't attract talent or integrate acquisitions quickly enough, so both clients and agencies are recognizing the need collaboration with specialty firms within accounts. "Agencies will need to develop soft elbows and hard competencies," said Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Strategy and Innovation officer at VivaKi.

Highlights of the sessions included a live conversation between dueling political pundits James Carville and his wife, Mary Matalin, on the power of branding in political campaigns; a round-table discussion with the CEOs of the world's six largest media agencies; and presentations of unique campaigns from companies including Proctor & Gamble, Nabisco, Microsoft, Geico and Google.

The event was accompanied by a generous helping of New Orleans culture, with live music from a jazz combo throughout the event, a banquet dinner catered by New Orleans-based celebrity chef Susan Spicer, and a gala performance by blues legends Irma Thomas, Jean Knight and Al Johnson.

Social media interaction was also a big feature of the conference. Rob was among the top 10 Tweeters and you can see the whole #4AsTransformation thread, links to videos and media reports, and more background information click here.


The future of comics in the digital world

The digital world is bringing big changes to how comics are created, used and supported, a weighty topic discussed by some of the top innovators and thought leaders on the field, including Rob Salkowitz, MediaPlant’s Director of Content and Strategy, at this month’s Emerald City Comic-Con.

Rob, whose most recent book is “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture”, was moderating the panel on the Future of Comics at ECCC on March 14. About 80 people packed the room to hear the experts delve into the various elements shaping comics and digital media.

The panel’s discussion included opportunities to blend and bend media types, from comics to animation to games, on tablets and other new delivery devices, and the new storytelling possibilities opened up by digital technology.

They also tackled disruptive pricing and distribution models enabled by digital, the opportunities and risks of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter in bringing creative projects to life, and ways artists can reach readers directly through programs like ComiXology Submit and digital-direct publishing.

Panelists included:

  • David Steinberger, co-Founder and CEO of ComiXology, the largest distributor of digital comics and the number three iOS app in 2012
  • Allison Baker, co-publisher of MoneyBrain Comics, a critically-acclaimed digital-direct startup employing top creators
  • Jordan Weisman, serial entrepreneur and game developer of titles including Shadowrun, MechWarrior and HeroClix
  • Mark Waid, award-winning comic writer and proprietor of Thrillbent, another original digital press.

Said Rob: "It was great to have some of the real leaders in digital content and creative storytelling talk about the future of the narrative art medium. Whether you love comics as a fan or just appreciate their impact on today's pop culture, this is an area of incredible innovation and business disruption."

The panel was covered by the geek-chic website Bleeding Cool. Their in depth report is worth a read.


IN-NW Conference Spotlights Digital Storytelling

Transmedia storytelling is the emerging must-do trend for businesses in digital marketing. That was a major takeaway from the in-nw conference on the current and future landscape of social engagement, held February 13 in Seattle’s SODO district with an audience of 200-plus agency and marketing professionals including MediaPlant’s Rob Salkowitz and Amber Kercmar.

In addition to using technology such as Twitter, web pages and apps to promote businesses and brands, marketers must pay attention to how consumers are using that technology and engage with their audiences in meaningful ways. Speakers stressed the importance of building relationships with consumers and collaborating with them to build better experiences of businesses and brands.

Applying the principles of storytelling – including story arcs and heroes – to content strategy was the theme of Steve Mallory, Director of Ideation at Edelman Public Relations. Adam Brotman, Chief Digital Officer at Starbucks, talked about how the company seeks to understand customers’ needs around the world by storytelling and personalized engagement using multiple platforms. Evonne Benedict, Social Media Manager at KING5 and discussed how different generations and savvy device users are interacting with different devices, platforms and their peers.

“Here are a couple quotes I really liked,” said Amber. "Social media isn't about technology, it's about sociology, and, digital storytelling… or as I like to call it: storytelling”.

Community, collaboration and the importance of telling authentic stories were key themes of the conference. In that vein, the fun social media experience of the day was a “social music experiment” led by Chris Callew of Caspar Babypants (and formerly the Presidents of the United States of America). He asked conference attendees to Tweet or post to Facebook a childhood memory, then used this input to create a song. See a video of Chris performing it here. It’s sure to be a hit!