Category Archives: Emerging Media

Effort = Reward: A Digital Solution to the Health Equation

When it comes down to it, we humans are motivated by results and proof, a personal return on investment. We put in effort only if we can see a worthwhile result. A what’s-in-it-for-me mentality that doesn’t make us selfish, per se, just efficient. We need to see some evidence that what we’re doing is working and has a purpose. Because the worst thing we could do is give something up without getting something back, wasting our efforts and more importantly, our precious time. This theory, I believe, is never truer than when applied to health and weight loss.

It’s not about incentivizing, we’re above that. Don’t give me extra points or even money as a prize, what I’m looking for is deeper than that and more valuable. It’s validation – it’s the affirmation that I’m a smart and capable person.  And validation is what we need on every level, in return for every healthy step we take. Not eating that slice of cake doesn’t fill my tastebuds with glee, so where’s my pat on the back for my self-restraint? Taking the stairs should, but doesn’t, lead to my pants instantly fitting more loosely, so where’s my chorus of hearty congrats? The absence of a reward slows me down, so I’m looking for the the results to justify my effort, and if not, at least a stamp of approval that I’m on the right track. Check out Walgreen’s “Balance Rewards” commercial for an example of a totally on-point messaging strategy.

In analyzing why we need this sort of validatScreen Shot 2014-08-28 at 2.38.37 PMion for something as basic and innate as our health, a few hypotheses arise. Maybe it’s a result of generations of helicopter parenting, rewarding children for participation and mediocrity. Maybe we crave validation now because we’ve been trained to receive it for anything we do, and we feel we deserve it. Or perhaps, doing something so difficult as refusing a delectable dessert feels so big that the reward should be equal and immediate.

However we look at it, there’s a need for validation. And that’s where digital health solutions, like FitBit or SIMBAND, come into play. When digital technology calibrates proof for you in increasingly advanced ways (e.g. number of steps taken today, average calories burned a week, growth in cardiovascular stamina this month) and shows you in real-time that what you’re doing is working, justifies your efforts as you drip with sweat, you get all the validation you need. Trade the bagel for a protein shake and now, instead of feeling deprived and grumpy, watch yoScreen Shot 2014-08-28 at 4.12.35 PMur numbers adjust in your favor… the ultimate high-five. Indisputable data tells you you’re on track, your efforts are working, what you’re doing is worth it, and you’re heading toward your goals. Suddenly that protein shake tastes better and you’re confident in your ability to be healthy. No need for imaginary fireworks or confetti celebrations to make you feel like your efforts are recognized, because your progress is your true validation.


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TV: The Renewal of Intelligence

After many decades of complaining that TV is rotting our brains, and many (many) seasons of sitcoms, adult cartoons, and trashy reality TV, we’ve finally seemed to turn a corner when it comes to our beloved home screens. However you like your TV (live, DVR-ed, streamed, on-the-go), the fact remains that what we’re watching today is significantly different, and I’d argue improved, than what we were watching 10, 5, even 2 years ago.

Of late, many TV series and broadcast dramas that premier on syndicated channels are offering a more selective, dare we say, more intelligent array of content. We’ve heard TV is the new cinema, and if we surveyed the landscape ample examples arise. Mad Men, Newsroom, House of Cards, True Detective… to name a few on specialty channels. Suits, How to Get Away with Murder, White Collar, House – more mainstream but still steps away from the usual couch-friendly sitcoms that flooded prime time slots in the 90s and early 2000s.

Part of this widespread popularity and repeated success seems to be derived from their common theme: a plot line centered around an intelligence-driven skill set. Law & Order, CSI, and others like them were initial attempts at this genre – but held on to a slow, long-form, soap-opera feel that is thankfully missing in popular content today. Let’s look at a team of doctors who diagnose illnesses and identify the not-so-medical cause, lawyers who find brilliant and often less-than ethical solutions in airtight cases, and ex-criminals that piece together forensic clues and decode the cryptic psyche of the fraudulent, to name a few. All these complex skills distilled down into pithy language and quick plot twists that are just-difficult-enough so that you end the show feeling part of an elite, discerning audience, with a nose slightly turned up. Whether you then switch back to Family Guy or Keeping Up with The Kardashians, is irrelevant. In that moment as the credits roll to some wonderfully apt indie tune, you’re reeling in the deliberate and stimulating triumphs of Don Draper, Annalise Keating or Frank Underwood.

Let’s have a round of applause for shows that make you feel intelligent, entertained in a way that requires your participation, and disallows you from sitting there, trance-like, staring into an alternate universe. In reflecting on these strides in TV content, it becomes clear that the mass audience’s interests are evolving; we are shaping ourselves into a more discerning group with standards we want, no demand, to be met. Granted, we’re not there yet, but we’re moving towards a new, intelligent consumer of TV. 

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The Spectators

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 5.52.40 PMThe stadium started to whir with excitement as the first of the graduates filed in, slowly and surely, with an earnest awe. Parents craned their necks to find their grown up child, now more darling than ever. Grandparents whipped out the smartphones no one knew they had, wanting to #insta it all. The easy, low, discordant hum of the band grew into a tremendous, rising crescendo and suddenly, the magnitude of the event became too much to ignore. A graduation ceremony, a rite of passage, the start of something big – hopefully. And something meaningful – ideally. It could go any way from here, really. All we knew for sure was that it was,  if nothing else, the end of something.

As the rows of chairs filled up,  we could make out some familiar faces. Names and people that fit into the puzzle. Little brother, twin sister, mom, long-distance boyfriend. Old roommates, dance team members, the lab partner, the secret crush. As the crowd settled, more details could be made out. The roommate was taking pictures of her class, of the crowd, of the stage. The dancer stuck her arm out, remarkably without grace, way above her head to capture the bleachers of people; all of them there to watch her, watching herself, as the moment unfolded.

Here was a collisions of worlds where everyone was new and still familiar, every voice in the crowd important and still trivial. And all trying to capture a moment in time. It begs the question:  what is the spectacle here? Thousands of doting parents and family members watching their darlings find their place, taking pictures. Thousands of anxious graduates, fidgeting in their seats, watching the enormous crowd grow with excitement, absorbing the enormity of the occasion, also taking pictures. Who is the audience? Who are the spectators?

Digital Darwinism: Cutting Through the Clutter

Competition is fierce, killer instincts prevail, and your chance of survival is diminishing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, you’re not a character in The Hunger Games. You’re a brand in the year 2014, with a strong history of profit, a stable consumer base, and an unblemished reputation. Yet you find yourself perpetually teetering on the brink of extinction and oblivion, wondering why no one’s listening anymore and your sales are plateauing. A quick look at the market around you and it strikes; growth and success in the age of Digital Darwinism takes much more than ‘strong, stable, and unblemished.’

Back when the first notably great, soon-to-be-legendary ads were launched, DDB’s “Think Small” and N.W. Ayer’s “A Diamond is Forever,” for example, we lauded the creative genius behind them, the courage to be different, and their spectacular ROAS. We look back and recognize the mark they made and trends they set in advertising history. It was, however, an acutely different era of content creation, with a meager fraction of the competition for consumer attention that brands face today. No doubt, the real life Don Drapers produced valuable work, but there is something to be said about the type of content that fights, survives and even thrives in today’s cutthroat environment.

The average consumer in 2014 gets hit with over 5,000 messages a day, across all channels. Which means that an enormous majority of those messages are ignored, the few that are actually noticed are not often remembered, and the ones remembered are seldom shared. If consumers listen, notice, and share – you can be sure that the content you produced was something meaningful, of substantial entertainment value, or stood out as supremely kick-ass. A re-tweet, share, pin, repost, even a basic copy & paste, are all activities saved for the content that consumers really want people in their circles to see. And let’s be real, nobody wants to be the one to share mildly funny, moderately entertaining, or borderline outrageous content. Old Spice “Real Man,” Kony 2012, and certain YouTube clips of Jersey Shore prove just so.

Digital Darwinism, or the weeding out of all mediocre content, thus dictates that only the funniest, most insightful, most disturbing and most likely to entertain, aka the most shareable content, will survive. We are left with a thin layer of content that is capable of slicing through clutter to survive and reproduce; thriving on social media networks, email threads, Pinterest boards and touted as iconic or the standard for what good content should look, sound, and make you feel like. What we are creating, is a display case of content that will stand to represent this era in cultural and advertising history. It will speak for this phase of content creation unlike any before it – where everything we save and share and archive is shockingly horrible or utterly hilarious or just the sweetest thing; an extreme of sorts.

Indeed there is clear cause for alarm here. The effects of Digital Darwinism requires one to step back and wonder, what will be said of this time period? What will the post-Golden Era of advertising have to show for itself, a display case collection of our time’s most extreme content? Is that an accurate reflection of our society? Are we setting a dangerous mold by asking for an industry in which only extreme subjects, personalities, and content fare well? If so, what happens to a society without mediocre content? Have we raised the bar or have we merely altered our perceptions of good quality?

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