Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for advertising

How Does Media Move Us?

Paley

I was very honored to speak at the Paley Center’s International Council Summit, an annual event that brings together a who’s who of media heavyweights and impresarios. This year the topic was big data and so the conference opened appropriately enough with Hans Rosling, the infographic genius, who shamed us for our ignorance about the state of the world (you have to see the video.) Eric Schmidt (yes, that Eric Schmidt) closed the proceedings with more quotable stuff than I could tweet (e.g., “The Internet is a huge accomplishment – don’t screw with it!!”) Of course everyone wanted to hear what Nate Silver had to say about his new gig at ESPN, and now you, too, can see every speaker on the program here . . . except me. I gave the luncheon talk at the 21 Club (talk about ambiance!) and so there was no recording.

Here’s what I said:

The Centers for Disease Control found out that over half of Americans believe that the health storylines they see in entertainment programming are accurate and a quarter say that those TV shows are one of their main sources for health information.

Of course we understand the difference between fiction and reality, but we have to be awfully naive to believe that really compelling stories don’t have an effect on us.

For 13 years, we’ve been doing careful academic research at the Norman Lear Center in order to figure out exactly how much of an impact media has on us. We’ve found that a storyline on the TV show Numbers – you know, the one with Rob Morrow – convinced 10% of its viewers to volunteer to donate their organs. An HIV hotline got a record number of callers after a soapie, the Bold & the Beautiful, aired a scene in which a guy tells his girlfriend he’s HIV positive.

Whether it’s smoking or seatbelts, or Fonzie getting a library card, we know that attitudes and behaviors can shift in response to imagery on popular television.

When we asked Americans whether they had ever taken some kind of action based on entertainment programming they’d seen, 65% of respondents admitted that they had. And those actions ranged from seeking more information about the issue to making a donation to a charity (13% owned up to that).

Is it a matter of monkey see, monkey do? Nah. Humans are more complicated than that, and so are the stories we tell each other.

The people in this room know how much is at stake. Imagine if we actually knew what role media was playing in our lives? What would happen if we could accurately measure how media moves us? And what exactly it moves us to do?

Just think back to a song, a TV show, a comic book character, a movie or a book that really shifted your perspective, that set you on a new path, that made you think about yourself and the world in different way.

We’ve certainly seen stories literally save lives. A radio soap opera in Tanzania was so effective at lowering HIV rates in provinces that received the broadcast compared to those that did not, that they had to discontinue the experiment and broadcast the show to the entire country for ethical reasons.

Usually we don’t have the luxury of creating such a large and diverse control group in order to scientifically measure the impact of media. You see similar issues in the field of education, where it’s taken entirely too long, in my mind, for educational initiatives to be adequately vetted through the use of control groups.

What if we applied the scientific rigor of the pharmaceutical industry to TV programming? What if we treated media as if it were a drug: which delivery systems would prove most potent and for whom? What types of content would prove life-changing?

At the Norman Lear Center, we recently developed a pragmatic new survey methodology for measuring the impact of media. The key is addressing the self-selection bias problem. Only certain people seek out certain kinds of media based on their personal taste and access. Our new tool accounts for that bias by calculating each and every survey respondent’s propensity to have seen that piece of media. After that likelihood has been determined, we compare very similar people who were exposed to that media and those who were not. Then we determine whether exposure to that piece of media is correlated with shifts in knowledge, attitudes or behavior.

When we used this methodology on the documentary film Food, Inc., we found significant differences between our control group and those who had watched the film, who were eating healthier food, were more knowledgeable about food safety issues, and who were shopping at farmers markets more frequently than very similar people who had not seen the film. (Here’s my TEDx talk about this research.)

These days we’re more awash than ever in data about how we humans are using and consuming media. For the Food, Inc. study, it was cheap and easy for us to gather 20,000 respondents through digital platforms.

But, as you also know, virtually no one agrees on how to measure media usage, engagement, and most importantly, impact. And the stakes seem higher than ever as we witness the development of ever more intimate and immersive technologies which make that bleed line between screen time (mediated reality) and real time thinner and thinner.

Why hasn’t measuring the impact of media been a priority for us? Well one powerful reason is liability. Who wants to be on the hook for having had some kind of negative impact on people? We’ve seen these accusations play out before with kids and violent video games or heavy metal music. Unless the news is good news, the media industry doesn’t necessarily want to know.

Another problem is that there are far too many incentives built into the media business to use measurement to game the system. The media industries are, by and large, for-profit industries. If you can come up with a custom audience measurement metric that makes your company more money, then you will receive strong encouragement to continue to use that metric – even if it doesn’t do a good job of actually monitoring who encountered your media and what kind of impact it had on them. The truth has been beside the point.

There are powerful incentives to keep your methods opaque – to come up with a black box algorithm that makes it impossible for others to check your work by attempting to repeat your results. This is why many media companies subscribe to multiple social media monitoring services, all of whom use different methods and generate different results that can be cherry picked by their clients.

So we remain adrift in a sea of unverifiable data points, making it virtually impossible for scholars and researchers to find out the truth about who engages in what media and to what end. As you can imagine, foundations that fund media initiatives have been very frustrated with their inability to get accurate, empirically solid, repeatable measurements of the impact of the media they have produced. Many have concluded that it’s simply too difficult and too expensive to do; that we’ll never have numbers we can compare, and, after all, isn’t it impossible to measure shifts in hearts in minds?

This year, we entered into a partnership with the Gates and the Knight Foundations to create a global hub for media impact research at the Lear Center. Our goal is to assist all media makers to do a better job accounting for how people engage with their media and assessing the consequences of that engagement.

We’re expanding the amount and types of research that we do at USC, and we are committed to collecting and sharing best practices from all around the world, from all sectors, academic, governmental, industry. From luminaries like you.

This new initiative is called the Media Impact Project and it brings together scholars across the disciplinary spectrum to develop and share freely the best possible tools and practices. Echoing Nate Silver’s comment this morning, I hope you’ll join us in making media analytics a non-fiction business.

Launching the Media Impact Project

MIPlogo270

Yesterday, I was very excited to launch the Media Impact Project, which aspires to be a global hub for the best research on measuring the impact of media. Supported by $3.25 million in initial funding from the Gates and Knight Foundations, I’m optimistic that the Norman Lear Center can help make media more accountable to audiences and contribute to a better understanding of the role that media plays in people’s lives.

The New York Times picked up the story and I was thrilled to see reporter Michael Cieply focus on this aspect of the program:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Benefits of Losing Control (and Exerting It Serendipitously)

My clever friend, Tim Leberecht, is a marketing guy and so he knows just how little control companies have over their brands. The reputation of a brand is basically what a brand is and no matter how much money you throw at it, ultimately, customers, and the general public, will determine a brand’s reputation.

In his TED talk, Tim explores how companies can productively cede control to their customers and employees as well as exerting new types of control and influence in creative new ways in social media contexts. I don’t want to give too much away — it’s only six minutes so check it out!

 

Core 77 Design Awards

I’m really excited to be a judge for the Core77 Design Awards this year. The marvelous Mariana Amatullo, Co-Founder and Vice President of Designmatters at Art Center College of Design,  is our jury chair for the Educational Initiatives category. The deadline is April 10, 2012: so submit now!

This year’s program presents 17 categories of entry, providing designers, researchers and writers a unique opportunity to communicate the intent, rigor and passion behind their efforts. The top professional and student entries receive the Awards trophy and the opportunity to attend a celebration in New York City, and all honorees will be published in the Awards Gallery, across the Core77 online network and in the awards publication. Early registrants receive a limited-edition 2012 poster designed by Studio Lin.

Catvertising & the Popular Culture of the Web

Kenzo Digital and I were teamed up by TED to nominate amazing ads for the Ads Worth Spreading challenge. Every nomination team had a category – here was the description of ours:

Cultural Compass

These are the campaigns that touch a cultural nerve; ads that capture or catalyze a cultural movement, moment or event. These campaigns may reflect the popular culture of the web, having gone viral, or celebrate specific regions or global diversity as part of their message. These are ads that are an active part of cultural dialogue in a connected world, crossing borders and cultures.

We put together a pretty long list of candidates – from silly video game ads to a touching long-form piece about the impact of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsusami on the creative community in Japan. Now that TED has announced the winners, I thought I’d celebrate some of the runners-up that we loved.

For those of you who didn’t have the good fortune of encountering “Catvertising” (top) I am delighted to share it with you here. I can’t tell you how many people forwarded this one to me – and with good reason. Kenzo and I were tasked with nominating ads that reflected the popular culture of the Web: no accurate accounting of that culture could ignore the ridiculously robust role that cat videos play.

TED’s Ads Worth Spreading Winners Are Announced

Be sure to check out the winners of TED’s Ads Worth Spreading challenge. I had a terrific time working with Kenzo Digital on one of the nomination teams, reviewing some of the most cutting edge ads from the last year. Here are two of my favorites from the 10 finalists – I’ll be sure to post some of the terrific nominees that Kenzo and I selected that also deserve some serious kudos.

Not So Super: Reading the Superbowl Ads

I had a great time this fall working with video artist Kenzo Digital to identify zeitgeist-defining ads for the TED Ads Worth Spreading initiative. I think ads have a tremendous power to shape cultural dialogue and so it’s worth our while to take a critical look at them and see what kind of story they’re telling us about ourselves. Whether we agree with that story or not, it’s an influential narrative informing opinions (and potentially fueling stereotypes) all around the world.

So I was wondering what kind of story the Superbowl ads might tell us about ourselves this year. Having seen a lot of truly inspiring and technically brilliant ads with Kenzo, my hopes were pretty high. One overarching theme we discovered was an effort to acknowledge the impact – both serious and silly – of the increasing intermingling of our digital and physical lives. Many of the cutting edge ads from last year grappled with the disconnect between the rules of our online lives and the rules that govern our physical bodies. So I was sort of surprised to see so little engagement with these ideas in the hyper-expensive A-list ads that aired during the Bowl. Instead, it was the typical mélange of cute dogs, hot chicks and childish whimsy – in other words, stuff you don’t see on the field during the game.

Clint Eastwood’s somber Chrysler commercial served as a surprising counterpunch to the seemingly endless stream of male fantasy ads – from Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller redux to the sleazy GoDaddy ads that promise a heaven filled with naked chicks and cheap domain names. Any alien tuning into this little snapshot of our popular culture might be tempted to believe the following:

  • Men eat their brides
  • Women administer head-butts for Greek yogurt
  • Kids actually try not to pee in pools
  • Kias are sexy
  • David Beckham is “misunderstood”
  • Doritos can be used as hush money
  • We’re still celebrating the demise of Prohibition

Yes, I do want my own private zipline running through Manhattan (though I’d prefer a few in LA). And I wish it were the case that babies could be programmed not to poop, that rainstorms could help people lose weight, and that DMVs would serve ice cream cones. But, boy, I’d be thrilled if some of the most-watched messages in the world told us something more substantial about who we are, where we might be going and why we should give a damn.

Pacific Standard Time Unleashes Its Video Outreach Campaign

I can’t wait for Pacific Standard Time, the massive art-fest extravaganza, to begin to take over 60 art venues in Southern California beginning October 1. I love the fact that they’ve harnessed the youth-skewing rock star appeal of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ frontman Anthony Kiedis to jump-start their marketing effort. In this charming little video, Kiedis drives Pop Art superstar Ed Ruscha around LA, the city they mutually adore. Their discussion about making art out of words as they drive through the texty corridors of  Los Angeles is a perfect introduction to the sprawling art scenes of SoCal.

Sheryl Sandberg & Social Media Matchmaking

Perhaps my favorite talk at TEDWomen was the one by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I was prepared to give a talk on social media and when I found out she was in the line-up, and basically providing a keynote for the conference, I was worried that my presentation would feel like stale news by the time I hit the stage during the last session of the last day.

I was relieved when it became clear that Sandberg wasn’t going to talk social media at all: instead, she took the harder road – explaining to a group of successful, driven women why women were still underachieving in global politics and business. The video of her talk has caught on like wildfire and now the venerable New Yorker has published a thoughtful profile of her by Ken Auletta that provides some great food for thought about Sandberg and the future of social media. Read the rest of this entry »

My TEDWomen Talk is on TED.com!

On stage at TEDWomen

I gave a talk in December 2010 on Social Media & the End of Gender at the first ever TEDWomen conference in Washington, DC. It was an unforgettable event, and I was pretty terrified to find out that I was scheduled to speak right after Madeleine Albright.

I had incredible conversations with people after the talk: I was really worried that people would be very skeptical about my thesis (how on earth would social media bring about the end of gender?) But the hyper-connected audience at TEDWomen didn’t bat an eyelash. “Of course!” they said. Let’s see if you agree . . .

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,225 other followers