Archive for the 'New Media' Category

The Imago Effect: Avatar Psychology

I am becoming more and more interested in avatars, the online, graphical representations users create as their identity. The avatar can be as simple as finding a photo of your favorite movie character or, in massive online games that implements a character creation system, a fully fleshed out character. No matter which end of the spectrum a user is on, one thing holds true: people love self-expression.

Game designer and panelist Harvey Smith of Midway put together a thoughtful presentation. He said that the avatar phenomenon is part of the larger modern trend of participatory culture. There is a greater desire (and, thanks to the web, outlet) for self-expression and asserting one’s will, views and identity.

Despite this, an avatar is still a mask and only so much information can be gleaned from them. The reasons people choose their particular avatar is a combination of an individual’s self perception and state of mood. Images across the web are appropriated with personal meaning. The state of mood is important, because it always changes, and so can the avatar. The avatar is the pulse-check into a person’s state of mind, and as more and more people sign on to instant messengers, social networking sites, forums, blogs and massive online games, the use of the avatar will only continue to increase.

posted by Bryan Keplesky 

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Avatar-based Marketing in Synthetic Worlds

Companies are just now starting to get their feet wet in the virtual world webspace, in places like Second Life or There, and it’s obvious because a discussion about how to market to people in synthetic worlds feels more like a discussion of philosophy or anthropology than it does business.

I found this panel to be quite fascinating largely because it posed more questions than answers. But while “fascinating” is an admirable trait, that doesn’t necessarily translate into an effective business model for marketing.

That’s the main problem. Marketers don’t really understand the culture of the virtual world, and since there are no web banners or web hits, the traditional ways of tracking a successful online campaign don’t work.

There’s also demographics. This is where the philosophy comes into play. When you exist and interact in a synthetic world, you are represented by your avatar. Your avatar can be a realistic digital version of you, or it can be completely fanciful. There’s debate about what exactly the relationship is between the real-world person and their web-based avatar. Is an avatar a truer expression of the individual? The anonymity of the web, the lack of real face to real face, can make people feel more comfortable and allows easier, genuine self expression. Or does an avatar transcend the real person and become its own unique entity, in some ways separate from its creator? According to Jack Hemp, a panelist and Senior Editor of the Harvard Business Review, “there’s still a person behind it [the avatar].”

Hemp also stated that even before the internet, advertisers have marketed to avatars. In this case, the avatar is the consumer’s alter ego, the idealized self that is brought out due to whatever product is being sold.

When it comes to companies currently marketing in synthetic worlds, some are doing better than others. Media companies, like MTV, is a good example. The reason the failure rate can be so high is, again, the traditional rules of advertising do not work. You can’t erect a synthetic billboard on top of a synthetic building in a synthetic world. You can’t get Nielson ratings, or click-throughs, or (obviously) real products being moved.

Linda Zimmer from MarCom:Interactive, another panelist, stated that the synthetic world is not a “mass market.” You have to really know your target audience and go after them specifically, on the specific platform that the audience uses. The attraction to synthetic worlds is that you can forge deeper connections with people. That’s the secret, according to Zimmer: A brand must develop content that connects people to each other, rather than connecting a person back to the brand.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

Emerging Social & Technology Trends

Where is the intersection of social trends and technology trends?

This was the question posed by the first Interactive panel of the morning. The consensus was that, right now, users of technology are driving social trends. The internet is the key force, and more specifically e-mail, instant messaging, blogging and personal networking sites.

An important thing to keep in mind is that this is a generational trend, specifically post-boomer generations, but particularly those under 25 years old. Slowly but surely the boomer generation, which prided itself on shaping American culture, is seeing its influence diminish.

The post-boomers are part of a larger macrotrend dealing with the perception of privacy. Through blogging and other online technology, the younger generations are much less private, and instead are very comfortable broadcasting even the most mundane aspects of their lives over the internet. This is an example of how social trends and technology feed off each other. Tools such as e-mail and social networking sites offer a “pulse check” on one’s social identity.

The internet also has provided a strong sense of community. Niche interests, through the internet, become huge online communities, with their own voices and leaders. With all of the political, social and environmental anxiety in the world today, younger generations are turning away from established authoritarian figures.

An interesting theory posed by one of the panelists is that at some point there will be a subcultural backlash against the technologically driven, very-public, personal identity prevalent in today’s younger generations. This would probably involve people who are right now not even born, or just barely, and more than likely will not be a mass rejection (much like there has never been a mass rejection of television). But it’s logical to think that given how mainstream the public persona is for the post-boomer generations, some within a future generation will want nothing to do with it.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

Reality, Superheroes and Typography : Film Festival

The Film festival is split between lecture panels and feature films. There’s a lot of overlapping between the Interactive and Film panels, which makes sense because there are several topics related to new media, particularly the future of “video” and its applications- on the web, on a mobile device or in a traditional format like a TV set or a movie screen.

User-generated content continues to be a huge deal for the film industry, especially because anyone with a digital camera and editing software can make a movie and upload it onto the internet. “What Does the Future Hold For Video on the Internet?” is one of a handful of panels that discuss this.

“Lonelygirl15: A Case Study” piqued my interest because the creators behind the whole phenomenon and its aftermath are going to be speaking. I watched some of the original videos before she was outed, and was mildly charmed but not motivated to keep checking back. Even the outing itself wasn’t all that surprising. But the lonelygirl15 ordeal works as a great metaphor for the relationship between advertisers and consumers, particularly in the areas of reality, fiction, entertainment and trust, none of which have clearly defined edges to begin with.

On the Feature Film side of things, there are a few movies in particular that I’m excited about. Since my background is in graphic design, I am totally nerding out over Helvetica. My non-designer friends have been giving me a pretty hard time about wanting to see this one. What Would Jesus Buy? takes an in-depth look at the commercialization of Christmas. And Confessions of a Superhero to me almost sounds like a documentary about living avatars, people who live out through a fabricated or completely-controlled identity.

On the party side, I think I’ll try the ASCAP party again. I accidently walked into their party last year (after answering “yes” to the doorman when he asked me if I was here for the ASCAP party) and enjoyed the open bar immensely.

posted by Bryan Keplesky 

New Media, Hot Avatars and Games : Interactive Festival

Looking at the Interactive lineup this year, I see a couple significant themes. The first one is user-generated content. The space between the consumer and the seller used to be a defined line, but with blogging, cheap access to video and design software the line is definitely now more like a gray blur. Trendwatching.com has a good overview of user-generated content. I think it’s a current infatuation more than anything, with more weaknesses than strengths. I’ll go into more detail when the Interactive starts, but the panels will present both sides (and that gray middle) of the issue. Some of these panels include “Emerging Social and Technology Trends,” “User Generated Content and Original Editorial: Friend or Foe?” and “Can Social Networking Build Your Brand?”

The other theme deals with virtual/avatar-based marketing in places such as Second Life. In a way, the avatar-based world and user-generated content are more similar than different. They both tap into a deep pyschology of individualism (but, ironically, using a simple psuedonymn on one hand or a fully-fleshed out digital character on the other). Avatar-based worlds are nowhere near mainstream yet (4 million+ members on SecondLife vs. somewhere between 43 – 100 million Myspace members vs. 98% of all U.S. housholds who own a tv.) Some intriguing panels include “Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation” and “Avatar-Based Marketing in Synthetic Worlds.”

There will also be panels discussing mobile devices, design aesthetic and the future of television. And even though the last video game system I am fluent in is this one, I really want to check out the Screenburn Arcade.

Party-wise, Frog Design is once again hosting the kickoff evening party for the Interactive festival. I also really want to check out the 10th Annual SXSW Web Awards afterparty at Club Deville. I can’t wait to see a bunch of web programmers dancing to some hot DJ Mel mashups.

*03/02 update: Adweek has a good article covering Digital Commerce at the 4A’s Media Conference.

posted by Bryan Keplesky 

Initial Thoughts on SXSW ’07

In a little more than a week Austin becomes a completely different city. Actually I’d go further and say that Austin becomes sort of its own parallel universe, where watching hundreds of bands or movies, drinking beer at 11 in the morning or seeing Dan Rather hanging out with Leslie on 6th Street will be considered normal activities.

Austin will also host thousands upon thousands of advertising messages. The first half of the festival, the Interactive and Film, did a great job this year by providing a lot of panels dealing with different forms of advertising, particularly with new and experimental media. And when the Music starts on March 14 the real advertising blitz begins, right on 6th Street. Every year I’ve seen some pretty unique and successful marketing campaigns, but I’ve seen just as many bad ones. I’m not going to pre-judge or slam the industry. I just want to be surprised. Austin has a great cross-section of demographics, and all the major media outlets and publications will be in town. In a way Austin becomes a great testing ground to see what trends will stick and which ones will fall flat for the next year.

posted by Bryan Keplesky 


What’s Behind the Door?

SXSW is an Austin event. And Door Number 3 is an Austin advertising agency. We're interested in how new ideas in advertising, media and branding will be presented during these 9 quick days. From inside the lecture halls where top specialists present their thoughts, to out on the streets where advertising is put to the test on tens of thousands of festival-goers. We'll be there with the complete coverage, reports, photos, editorials, and perhaps some tricks on how to sneak into a few sweet afterparties.

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