Nov 09

Cars need open innovation and apps

The other day when going to a meeting with a car maker client, I was a little early. So I went to the newsstand to browse magazines and ended up taking Fortune with me because of a small article titled “An App Store For Autos” (I just couldn’t resist).

In the article, the author suggests car makers a more open approach to software integration – after all, software is not what car making is about, so why not let others do that?

Audi and Mercedes have entered into collaborations with Bang & Olufsen to provide hi-end car-fi for the luxury segment’s audio experience, so integrating widget type features would seem only a small step away?

Open innovation

They seem to have gotten the message already at Ford, whose SYNC system (developed with Microsoft on their Microsoft Auto platform) is enabling synchronization with the driver’s media player and mobile phone, as well as offering traffic information. The news is that Ford is now opening up their development platform to embrace a model of open innovation.

In a statement, Ford says:

“The auto industry has long operated within a walled garden, with very little input from outsiders. The technology industry, on the other hand, continues to push the boundaries of innovation, and the result is a thriving industry that is delivering breakthrough technologies to customers.”

Letting people outside the industry join in development is a natural first step. Rethinking the in-car connectivity platform would seem the logical next.

In a way it’s similar to the discussion about the future of mobile services: Should mobile services be embedded in a browser (across platforms), or should they come as nifty, branded applications (for the individual platform)?

The way I see it, car makers should not be content with synchronizing people’s gadgets. They should provide enhanced in-car experiences with the help of open innovation – much like what we see on mobile platforms like iPhone and Android today (and what Ford is now spearheading with the University of Michigan collaboration).

With the expected surge in mobile broadband and data consumption and – not least – affordable data plans, there is a future lined up for in-car experiences that gets its juice from the cloud (check this PUGcast post for some interesting reflections on Cisco’s forecast) and functionality from in-car widgets. Cars will be able to connect with the environment, with other vehicles – and with the apps in these other vehicles.

A heads up windshield display from the not-so-distant-future, imagined by Wired

A heads up windshield display from the not-so-distant-future, imagined by Wired

The connected car

The Fortune article discusses ideas for apps that could be used e.g. to protect (limit?) certain drivers – say an old (or young!) family member, but why not extend the thought? With the car connected to the internet we can begin to look at it “as a node in a network,” as a recent Economist article wrote. I would be able to sync my car – not with my phone or music device, but with my entire music library, my contact lists, as well as those countless other services that belong to my online existence – e.g. my social graph that could be integrated with yet other services into the (soon to come) heads up display that will be the next generation windshield.

Not only would I be able to stay connected whilst on the road; I would also be able to enhance this experience with the integration of e.g. location based services, augmented systems to let me look around the corner through walls (as this post shows – online surveillance footage could be feeding this?), suggested routes (based on my preferences for landscape/shopping/gas/traffic the car would harvest from the surroundings), Google maps (with its new navigation app, needless to say) and of course: Fully integrated (geo tagged) social networking.

If the car industry has too long development cycles to make this happen (as recently suggested by BusinessWeek), leave it to others and the after-market, but please let us have a common platform this time!

What do you think?

Oct 09

Tuning Authenticity, part 1

I wrote this as a chapter some years back for the book Creative Destruction (2004) about the impact of “new technology” on the music industry. As is clear today, music has changed from being a high-brow practice with little regards for commercial aspects, to being an essential part of the marketing message in the experience economy.

The chapter (I chopped it up into 5 digestible parts) investigates the development of the musical stake in advertising which seems to be profoundly connected with values of authenticity. So, basically it’s about authenticity in youth culture: A commando-raid through music and advertising, and lessons learned by marketing.

When Mitsubishi Motors launched its 2003 Eclipse in the USA, it hit the American homes with a TV commercial showing a group of people cruising a night lit downtown area in the car. All in good spirit and with the girl in the passenger seat throwing some happy dance moves in a pop-locking style to the irresistible groove of the music accompanying the spot. The track was “Days Go By”, produced by UK three piece Dirty Vegas. The year before “Days Go By” had been pushed into no. 27 on the UK singles chart by DJs like Pete Tong who played it on his Radio One show for 12 weeks running. But in America, Dirty Vegas were virtually unknown when a marketing man from Mitsubishi spotted the original video for “Days Go By” in rotation at MTV in Holland.

The video showed an older businessman transformed into his younger self by break-dancing outside a retro diner in what gathering pedestrians tell us is an annual dance performed in honor of his lost love. A single shot of the man (then and now) makes up most of the video, with occasional footage of the band inside the diner.

The car commercial that followed was a smash and had people calling into radio stations to request “that song from the Mitsubishi ad.” The lush commercial struck a chord, in other words. It created a buzz, or – as phrased by Rolling Stone magazine – it had “the cumulative power of vibe.”

In fact, this vibe was exactly what Dirty Vegas themselves liked most about the video when they saw the final result. Vocalist Steve Smith told Yahoo!’s Launch that the video “didn’t seem to be about a car, it was about a vibe, you know. There’s the gang of people in the car and they’re popping, you know, and it’s inspired from our video, you know, which we see as a compliment. And we just thought, ‘It’s cool,’ you know? ”

Vegas’s Paul Harris seconds that with his remark, that adverts are “not as dull as they used to be, and what they’re trying to sell isn’t the most important thing. In the Mitsubishi ad, you don’t even know what it is until the very last second.”

Vinny Picardi, Vice President and associate creative director of Deutsch LA, the agency responsible for developing the advertising concept for Mitsubishi, remembers when they began thinking of ideas that would take Mitsubishi’s marketing in a new direction. He knew they didn’t want to make just another car commercial. Instead, Deutsch came up with a simple concept: Show people, especially young people, doing things that drivers and passengers actually do in their cars – such as singing along with songs on the radio.

“People hate commercials,” he explains. “We wanted to make little pieces of entertainment.”

Mitsubishi Motors have used a string of tracks for the various manifestations of the concept since its inception in 1998. Besides Dirty Vegas, the roster includes artists such as Propellerheads, Gus Gus, Groove Armada, and The Wiseguys. Mitsubishi have also used tracks from bigger artists, such as Iggy Pop, Ozzy Ozborne, and Curtis Mayfield, but – in Picardi’s words – “the idea is to have a tune relatively unknown to American audiences become associated with Mitsubishi, rather than have Mitsubishi become associated with an established hit.”

This is in direct opposition to the strategies recently deployed by e.g. Jaguar and the Chrysler Group, featuring mega stars Sting and Celine Dion respectively appearing in person in commercials for their products. By advertising standards, the Mitsubishi campaign is relatively innocent. The 2003 Eclipse looks more like a music video than a traditional ad. The cutting and editing is extremely tight, there’s no product commentary, and the song itself is used to set the scene more than to pitch the product.

Strategies for credibility

Such corporate lock-in with credibility is by no means a new phenomenon. In the eighties, a version of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” made up the track for a Sunkist commercial, and in 1967 Jefferson Airplane agreed to sing a Levi’s radio spot for Stretch Levi’s. But the real landmark in the partnership between music and advertising was shaped when the UK agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty began creating innovative television commercials in Europe for Levi’s 501.

At the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, the jeans market had become saturated. Levi’s were losing market share, and the advertising brief handed over to BBH was strategic; to reposition Levi’s against its competitors by foregrounding the authentic value of the product.

Levi’s brand values are – and have most appropriately always been – “the real deal” – to be authentic, original, and dependable. BBH wanted to achieve a general sense of a mythical America with the advertising, but an America open for contemporary associations. John Hegarty of BBH explains: “I thought it would be more interesting to do the ad with a period look. The 1950s idea wasn’t in the brief. It just happened, and out of that we established a mythical period for Levi’s. Grapevine, the music that backed the ad, was a 60s not a 50s song – it came to me simultaneously and there was no real logic to it. The aim was to portray the US without the US being boring – a US no-one could object to.”

When the ad was aired on Boxing Day 1985, it had model Nick Kamen stepping out of his 501s in a 1950ish set, to treat them to a stone wash in a small launderette, while Marvin Gaye’s soulful 1968 Motown hit “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” made up the sound frame, enhancing the atmosphere of authenticity.

A lot has been said and written about this ad. For advertising, it has been argued that it marked a turn in how it displayed a fracturing and sexualization of the male body, through the product. For Levi-Strauss, sales of its 501s shot up by 800 per cent in the wake of the ad. And by 1987 sales of Levi’s jeans were reported to be 20 times what they had been three years earlier. The ad also meant a re-entry into the charts for Marvin Gaye’s song. In fact, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was the first of four Levi’s-related songs to all make the Top Ten. And for the Clash who provided the song “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to the Levi’s 501 campaign in the early nineties, it was the band’s first number one hit – six years after they split up.

Hence, the launderette ad was also instrumental in developing the integrated marketing package: a commercial on the television, a single in the chart, as well as the ‘501’ logo alongside the artist’s name on the record in all the record shops. This may be defined as the turning point for music and advertising; the point that made advertisers realize the importance of selecting the right music. Music, on the other hand, has taken a long time to realize the importance of being chosen.

As that “great divide”, as Andreas Huyssen calls the incongruence and opposition between high modernism and mass culture, closed itself permanently and thus also in the academic sense brought highbrow and mass culture on the same formula, it became legitimate for artists to associate themselves with mass culture. Before that, artists were wary to be associated with mass consumption, possibly seeing the niche as the sign of true art as opposed to pop, and fearing accusations of selling-out. But post-modernity changed that.

Post-modern times have served as a unifying factor in bringing fine arts together with pop culture, a development spearheaded by the likes of Andy Warhol’s silk screens and the electronic folk of Düsseldorf four piece Kraftwerk. As the 1990s came to an end, it had become increasingly difficult for artists – musicians and producers – to sell out. In fact, when producer of electronic music Richard Melville Hall, aka Moby, actually did, media reported in awe about how he had managed to license every single track of his album “Play”.

When it first came out in the summer of 1999, the album’s compelling mixture of electronic beats and visceral blues and gospel samples drew great reviews, but catered little for radio and MTV. So, instead Moby decided to license his tracks to commercials, movies and television shows, and before long, his music was everywhere: on sitcoms and movie trailers, and on ads for Bailey’s Irish Cream, Nordstrom and American Express.

[I know, In My Heart is not on “Play”, but is featured on the later “18” (2002)]

V2, Moby’s label, signed a license for every track on the album, and allegedly more than 100 licenses in North America alone, for which Moby’s cut reached an estimated USD 1 million. But more important, the exposure opened doors at radio and MTV, who now helped to promote the album, pushing sales of the album up to a total of around 10 million copies worldwide, or around 50 times as many as the 200,000 copies Moby initially had thought “Play” might sell.

Oct 09

Tuning Authenticity, part 3

Celebrity branding

When it comes to endorsement, famous people enjoy a high degree of attention and recall which can be used to increase awareness of a company’s advertising. In the case of Lee’s “Behind the scenes” campaign, we are not seeing a direct endorsement by a celebrity, but instead a more subtle attachment between the Lee brand and two of the most celebrated stars of popular music.

The campaign plays upon the aspirations of many people to become famous today (and the possibility for them to become just that). However, neither Robbie Williams fan-mail coordinator nor Kylie Minogue’s pet care director are in fact quite ordinary people. The are swept in the aura of genuine pop stars, they are “behind the scenes”, founding their authenticity in two worlds: that of the pop star, and that of the ‘real’ world.

Kylie Minogue’s Pet Care Director

Kylie Minogue’s Pet Care Director

This makes an interesting slide in the concept of celebrity endorsement, which has been on the rise for at least the past decade. In recent years we have seen people like Moby, Macy Gray, Kim Gordon and Shirley Manson endorse Calvin Klein, Madonna taking BMW for a ride, doing apparel company GAP with Missy Elliot. Daft Punk have also done GAP – and Moby too, while Sting and Celine Dion have endorsed Jaguar and Chrysler respectively.

David Bowie have decided to support French mineral water brand Vittel, and with his wife Iman agreed to front the launch advertising campaign of Hilfiger’s Spring 2004 collection. The company declared at that occasion, that the two are cultural icons that represent Tommy Hilfiger’s “long time love of fashion and music.”This is just the people in the music business – and just the top of the ice berg!

As the year 2001 was coming to an end, USA TODAY reported that one of the few taboos left in Hollywood was about to come to and end, namely that of stars appearing in ads: “Top actors and musicians, who balked at appearing in ads for years, now are giving star power to TV commercials, magazine ads and billboards. The trend ranges from veteran megastars to the hippest members of young Hollywood.”

The Lee campaign and the way it pulls leverage from celebrities in the music business is essentially different from the way for instance the Vittel brand uses David Bowie. Both Lee and Vittel communicate the value added by (music-) celebrity through product to consumer, but in the Lee case the link between celebrity and product, and between consumer and celebrity, is much more subtle and indirect.

Sarah Thornton speaks of two different kinds of authenticity: One that involves issues of originality and aura, and one that is about being natural to the community or organic to subculture. This is also pointing to the main difference between e.g. the Mitsubishi ad, and advertising for Jaguar and Chrysler involving the personal appearance of Sting and Celine Dion respectively.

Where Sting and Celine Dion’s explicit personal endorsement circles around the artist as originator, the Mitsubishi ad is – as we have seen – far more about a vibe. About being true to the community or subculture. The main difference between the Mitsubishi ad and the Jaguar / Chrysler ads is therefore, that while the latter lean on the status and personality of celebrities Sting and Celine Dion, the former creates an integrated narrative, using a virtually unknown tune rather than an established hit to build on what is already at play, namely the break dancing from the original Dirty Vegas video. Thus, Mitsubishi creates ‘a little piece of entertainment’ which ‘doesn’t seem to be about a car, but about a vibe’.

Actually, the Chrysler ads with Celine Dion have been accused of not being about a car either. Instead, the ads are said to be more about Celine Dion than about Chrysler – a fact emphasized by figures showing that while sales of Chrysler rock-bottomed (dealers sold only 4,828 Pacificas in the first three months on the market after projecting selling 60,000 in the first year), Dion’s new album, “One Heart”, went through the roof selling more than 2 million copies. On the other hand, the Jaguar ad with Sting turned out a smash for both car and artist.

The question is whether the match between product and artist is right, whether it appeals to the target audience. In the case of Dion and Chrysler it obviously did not. In fact, when Chrysler’s advertising agency – BBDO in Detroit – embarked on the job, focus groups showed them, that Celine Dion appealed to consumers with an average age of 52. BBDO warned Chrysler about this, but Chrysler decided to go ahead anyway, inked a 3 year and USD 14 million deal with Dion and went on to spent another USD 2-3 million a spot.

In contrast to this, the Mitsubishi TV commercials not only pay substantially smaller fees (Dirty Vegas allegedly received USD 3,500 for the rights to use the track), they have also been quite successful in increasing sales and customer recognition. From 1998 to 2001, Mitsubishi says its brand awareness rose 36 percent while sales increased 69 percent. And the average age for Mitsubishi owners is 38 years with 38 percent of the company’s customers younger than 35.

Maybe the difference is essentially that of age. The difference in communicating with a mature audience and a younger audience. A lot of attention has been given to issues of ‘new’ vs. ‘old’ types of consumers and marketing. The difference between younger and older also signifies two different ways of thinking marketing. Where the old marketing style, as marketing guru John Grant puts it, “was to steal a creative film clip or character”, new marketing needs “to have its own intrinsic authenticity.”