October 26, 2009

Twitter is like word of mouth on crack, the Peperami Animal and other tales from Media140

The breakfast of choice for the social media crowd is a healthy, humble bowl of Shredded Wheat. This was one of the Twitter generated insights Rubber Republic picked up at Media140 today.

The one-day conference in London kicked off Media140’s ‘Around the world in 140 days tour’, which is set to rock up in all sorts of far flung places including Bangalore, Italy, Sydney, Perth, Mumbai and the Middle East.

The Media140 movement is all about exploring the future of real-time web and its impact or to put it simply … Twitter. The audience was mainly comprised of agencies and brands, with a smattering of publishers.

The day began with a talk from Tom Bedecarre, the San Francisco-based CEO of AKQA, who was battling the effects of flying overnight. Tom’s agency has just launched a new Volkswagen model solely through an iPhone app, which carries over to Twitter and gives users who play a virtual racing game the chance to win cars.

Tom revealed that social media is the number one requirement clients are coming to the agency’s door with. He said: “It’s taking over the conversation”, and added “everything we do whether it’s a website build or mobile has a social media element”.

Although Tom admitted the biggest FMCG advertisers were only “tipping their toes” in social media, he was in no doubt that this nascent market will lead to more robust business opportunities than it is at the moment.

Tom cited the reaction of established players, Google, and Facebook, to Twitter’s arrival as evidence of this. “Google and Facebook are scared shitless of Twitter,” he said.

What else happened? A panel wrestled with the question ‘Can you change a brand in 140 characters?’ But for some, the panel was heavy on intellectualising the subject without providing enough in the way of successful case studies, according to questions from the floor and tweets on the live Media140 twitter feed.

However, Scott Seaborn, head of mobile at Oglivy Group UK, suggested the agency has been forced to completely rethink its creative approach.“The paradigm shift in the media landscape means that consumers have all the power,” he said. “Creative has to come from the heart – social media acknowledges consumers have the power and gives them the tools to use that power.”

Seaborn’s fellow panelist, Mel Exon, managing partner at BBH Labs, agreed: “We are witnessing a huge shift from short campaigns to platforms and programmes. Fundamentally, we are having to rethink everything we do in the social media space.” Quote of the day came from Seaborn, who contributed the following gem: “Social media is word of mouth on crack”.

Given that some of the audience were getting testy at the lack of examples to back up the eulogising, it was a good thing that Unilever was up next to talk about its crowd sourcing initiative for the new global campaign for Peperami.

In short, the brand has ditched the traditional creative agency approach for a wiki-style route that has generated 1,200 ideas from the creative community. The FMCG is currently in the process of whittling those ideas down to 20 as it nears one big idea for a TV and print campaign.

The creative will feature the suicidal Peperami Animal character, which has been experiencing endless gory slapstick deaths since the mid-nineties. Noam Buchalter, marketing manager at Peperami, Unilever, said the main benefits were cost and “gaining an insight into customer ideas through listening”.

A panel that debated the dos and don’ts of social media debated lots of different methods but basically arrived at two conclusions: be honest and transparent and don’t lie and fake it. Or as George Nimeh, managing director at Iris Digital, said: “Be nice, don’t be an asshole!”

Other golden rules included “Be the rapper, don’t be the wrapper” (also George) and “Twitter is earnt media – it takes time to earn trust and build reputation” (Daren Forsyth, founder of 140characters).

Ciaran Norris, head of social marketing at Mindshare, offered a whistle stop tour of social media, crammed with amusing anecdotes. Norris said that one of the lessons he has picked up from working on a football campaign for a client is to engage consumers with precise questions. “You need to share the debate – frame questions rather than ask open questions,” he said.

And on the note, it seems only right to ask ‘what have you learnt from social media?’ It’s over to you.