The Power of Crowds

When Wikipedia first emerged, the idea of a community-built encyclopedia brought up concerns about reliability and accuracy. If anyone could edit the articles, how could we know the content was a reliable source of information? Through the power of the crowd – a global group of ”Wikipedians” sniffing out inconsistencies – the site was able to defeat the critics.

According to an article in Scientific American Mind, the “wisdom of the crowd” effect occurs when you ask a crowd a question, average their guesses, and the result you end up with is closest to the correct answer. If this is true, and consistency is a key to persuasion, can an experienced actor pull off a prank in today’s highly wired world or will the plugged-in crowd collectively conclude that it is a hoax even before the media professionals do?

For entertainment sake, the question for the crowd is whether or not the recent behavior and career move of Joaquin Phoenix is genuine. Some believe he is telling the truth and is going through a very public and emotional transition, while others have claimed his career move is a hoax, acted out in the interest of Casey Affleck’s documentary (the film does not have a title yet).

Here’s a bit of background on the topic. Last fall, the actor announced he was retiring in order to focus on his music career as a rap artist. So far, he has a contract with Sean Combs to produce an album and has performed in a club in Las Vegas. A YouTube video of the show displays the artist falling off the stage. Last week, his appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman was compared to disastrous interviews with Farrah Fawcett and Crispin Glover. His interview earlier that day with Cinema Blend writer Katey Rich, however, was quite coherent. Her opinion on the behavior of former actor was that he was being honest, reassuring her audience that “Joaquin Phoenix is not crazy, and none of this is a hoax”.

Reading through comments on YouTube for the Vegas performance, the opinion of the crowd believes the career move and behavior is very real (4 to 1). Comments on the Letterman interview, however, are more even with half claiming it’s a hoax comparable an Andy Kaufman stunt. The other half came to Joaquin’s defense, blaming the behavior on substance abuse and emotional breakdown while applauding him for making the bold career move.

It will be interesting to see what the documentary film reveals upon its release and if the crowd’s guess manages to either deflate rumors or punk the prank.

More on crowds:
The Rise of Crowdsourcing
The Wisdom of Crowds

Keep ’em satisfied

I have written previously about invisible quality–that quality that most (good) creative firms provide that makes invisible the effort and skill that goes into making top quality creative. Now, of course, the question comes to mind, if our efforts at delivering quality are aimed, at least partly, at making the very effort invisible, how do we keep clients (or bosses or management) happy, satisfied, and aware of our efforts?

The easy answer is, “it’s hard.” Because if we’re working to make something invisible, when we’re successful we’re also invisible. Is this why most Creative Directors always wear black? To stay as invisible as possible?

The hard answer is that we have to bring a certain awareness to a conscious level on the part of our clients, without appearing to be condescending or holier-than-thou. So, in large part, it seems to me, that our job for keeping customers satisfied is to bring their appreciation of the creative to a more conscious level. When we do things they like–and, inevitably, good creative appeals to people and clients, especially–our top job is to make them aware of why they like it, and to have them see that what goes into their liking it is purposeful, mindful, and not an accident.

This is why, I think, many advertising and marketing companies are accused of coming off like they think they’re smarter than their clients. Because doing this conciousness raising without appearing like we know more than they do is, perhaps, the hardest part of our jobs.

Personally, I think it’s the best and most rewarding part of what we do.

Viral Marketing Strikes Again!

Have you heard? Did you see anything? What’s happened to Jack? 

These are the questions Jack In The Box is trying to get us to ask. With one Super Bowl commercial, depicting their CEO/mascot Jack getting hit by a bus, his iconic yellow hat thrown to the ground, his round, golf ball-like head cracked, his pointed nose in shambles, one thing is clear: Jack in the Box has gone viral.


Now what the campaign is trying to promote isn’t clear. The commercial sets us up, piquing our interest — but it doesn’t give any explanation. Instead, the final frame of the commercial directs you to A second commercial has aired since — of Jack heading into surgery.

Needless to say, after seeing these commercials at least once a day for the past week, I was curious. So with the click of a mouse, I was whisked away to the world of fast food-meets-viral marketing. 

At first glance, the website looks like a blog (and in fact, it is). But they are really getting into the story. The header reads, “Hang In There Jack,” there are “Wish Jack Well” posts and videos from various users. You can sign up for email and mobile updates on Jack’s status, send get well cards via snail mail.

Hang In There


And, oddly enough, the only sign of Jack in the Box (the restaurant, not the guy) is an image in the sidebar that states, “In lieu of sending flowers, please order anything on the menu (with a “see the menu” button that takes you to Jack would want it that way.” 

Finally, there are YouTube video entries posted daily from Jack in the Box officials, Jack’s “doctors”, and the paramedics and “witnesses” from the scene of the accident giving statements and reports. One post explains that photos from the scene were “found” on flickr. And of course, you can follow along via Twitter and Facebook. 

Whatever JitB is up to, if you look at the success of previous viral campaigns, they’re on the right track.


Many other companies and movies have utilized viral marketing campaign successfully.

In 2004, Burger King introduced “The Subservient Chicken”, an advertising program created to promote Burger King’s TenderCrisp chicken sandwich and their “Have it Your Way” campaign. The program featured a viral marketing website, TV, and print campaigns, plus a one-time pay-per-view program.

I missed this campaign, so I decided to check out “The Subservient Chicken” website, which is still up! It shows the chicken standing in a living room, and he performs any action you give him … just type it in. I typed “moonwalk” and sure enough, he moonwalked. The footage is obviously pre-recorded, but it comes off as an interactive webcam. The site was meant to be a literal representation of the advertising campaign’s slogan, “Get chicken just the way you like it.”

Burger King's Subservient Chicken Campaign


In 2007, Transformers movie-goers saw an enticing teaser trailer for a movie — but the only details they got on the film were the name of the production company (J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot productions) and the release date — 1-18-08.

What followed were numerous Google searches on this mysterious movie, fanatic blogs, and massive speculation. Was it a spin-off of Lost, another J.J. Abrams creation? Was it a new film about Godzilla? But for months, the movie’s creators never gave anything away.

And with that, the viral marketing campaign got into full swing. Puzzle websites popped up that claimed to be a part of the film. The movie’s official website,, featured a collection of time-coded photos — their meaning was to be interpreted and pieced together by visitors. Eventually, the name was released: Cloverfield. In one of the last aspects of the viral campaign, MySpace pages were created for the movie’s fictional characters, and websites were created for the fictional companies referenced in the film. Cloverfield was viral marketing at its finest.

Cloverfield Movie Poster had quotes from Cloverfield execs. Producer Bryan Burk explained the viral tie-in, “[It] was all done in conjunction with the studio … The whole experience in making this movie is very reminiscent [of] how we did Lost.” Director Matt Reeves was quoted as saying “the Internet stories and connections and clues are, in a way, a prism and they’re another way of looking at the same thing. To us, it’s just another exciting aspect of the storytelling.”

The movie saved countless dollars on advertising — because they didn’t need it. By leaking little bits of information, they had created a massive word-of-mouth marketing campaign so great, most theaters were sold out on opening weekend and the weeks that followed, all anyone did could talk about was Cloverfield.


With the economy in a deep recession, and companies looking for more economical methods of marketing, consider alternatives like viral marketing. With the right product, concept, and plan, it can be extremely cost-efficient and generate serious buzz — more than you’d get with plain old print ads. Don’t believe me? Just ask Jack.

From D.C. to “The District” — Newsweek Spoofs Hit MTV Show

If you’ve ever read a tabloid, celebrity magazine, watched MTV, or talked to a teenage girl, chances are you’ve heard of “The Hills” and “The City.” Whether you think the shows are mindless drivel or actual entertainment is your own opinion, but there’s no doubt that they make for great spoofs.

Enter Newsweek. 

Riding on the coattails of Obama’s inauguration (and cashing in on his monstrous popularity), Newsweek has created a spoof of “The City” called “The District.” The 6-episode sereies follows Barack as he begins his journey as president…and takes on the Republicans and the economic crisis with the help of his former “frenemy” Hillary and loyal bff Joe.

As one of those people who never misses an episode of “The Hills,” I thought “The District” was hilarious and completely on point.

See for yourself!

User-generated Super Bowl Ads

I admit it — I only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. I’m not a football fan, but I’ve loved the clever 30 second stories that appear during commercial breaks since I was a kid. The quick wit and humor is what attracted me to pursuing a career in advertising and design.

This year, Doritos has once again embraced the talent of its consumers. The user-generated media contest ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ challenged US residents to come up with their own 30 second commercial for the brand. The top 5 finalists each received $25,000 and the winner was determined by online voters then aired during the Super Bowl. If the winning ad got the top spot on the USA TODAY Ad Meter they then received an additional $1,000,000. This year’s winner was Joe Herbert for his “Free Doritos!” entry. A close second was “Power of the Crunch”, which also aired during the Super Bowl. “New Flavor Pitch” was one of my favorites, but didn’t seem to make the cut (Note: a reader commented that the ad did air during the pre-game show).

User-generated media has been around for a while but has accelerated with the availability of software tools (Final Cut Pro), affordable digital filmmaking equipment (Panasonic AG-DVX 100), and online communities (SF Cutters). The film ‘Snakes on a Plane’ created buzz by allowing users to contribute to the script, Modest Mouse invited fans to create their music video for ‘Missed the Boat’ (I submitted an entry — a great experience), and Silverado Systems along with Vuze created a video editing contest called OpenCut, which eventually ended up as a Guiness World Record for the most people involved in editing one film (another great experience).

The participants in these contests range from high school students to professionals. Some ad executives have reacted negatively to user-generated media, but I think it shows that good ideas can come from anyone. It’s in the execution that a story can fall short of its potential. Casting, writing, post-production — I have yet to see a user-generated piece that meets the level of quality that comes from a team of branding professionals.

Doritos 'Crash the Super Bowl' finalists

Doritos 'Crash the Super Bowl' finalists

Doritos ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ contest website

Interview with “Free Doritos!” winner Joe Herbert (2007)

Super Bowl XLIII commercials on Hulu

Wondering What Your Customers Are Thinking?

Ask them!!

Here is a cool resource for custom online/mobile surveys: … and it’s free!

This website has a lot of great features. It allows you to create surveys with advanced reporting, PowerPoint charts, skip logic, custom branding and more. There are three different membership tiers; and the free membership gives you access to the basic tools you need to create a survey of up to 300 responses.

I gave it a test drive and can honestly say that creating the survey is REALLY easy and there are tons of options. You can create pull down menus, multiple choice questions, organize the question order with a drag and drop feature, and preview the survey just as your recipient would see it. 

So if you ever need to create a poll or a survey, check out their site … or have Oya do it for you! Screenshot