Who’s social now?

For all the advertising that happens – for all that paid awareness – the true influence has been word-of-mouth. Don’t get me wrong, awareness is a key element in the process of word-of-mouth. But awareness does not close the sale.

Everyday we are surrounded by so many images and messages that they become environmental wallpaper, blending into the background with sublime camouflage. What is it that makes us take notice?

There has been advertising and marketing for a long time. And the arsenal at the disposal of companies moving those messages keeps increasing. From old-school approaches like billboards to new-fangled enterprises like twitter and pinterest. But for all that exposure, it’s word-of-mouth – still.

Interesting that we are moved by our friends using the same platforms. There is a certain disgust, stand-off that happens when we get a paid ad in our Facebook feed. But, if a friend makes a note about a product, service or even a show you are more likely to consider. So word-of-mouth still exists – it will always exist. All that is changing are the megaphones that we use – it was in person, then the phone, now it’s social media.

What will the future of word-of-mouth be?


Is advertising an option?

There is a tremendous amount of focus on social and digital media – relative to pushing a brand forward in these turbulent times. Many books have been, and will be, written about this topic – from Seth Godin to Mitch Joel. Including relative newcomers with such lofty titles for their books like Social Media is Bullshit.

It would be great if all the hurdles of marketing could be solved by applying just digital and social media (d&sm). It would be. But ultimately impossible.

There are a lot of positive stories associated with d&sm – kickstarter, warby parker and many more. But the biggest companies are still the biggest companies – Starbucks, McDonalds, Nike – you know the rest of the list. You know the list because they never stop advertising. I’m sure there are people in this world that do not know the companies I’ve listed. There has to be. Surely, somewhere – people don’t know what Nike is, or what they make.

But for the other 98.4%* of this water-based sphere – those companies are ubiquitous. And one of the main reasons – advertising. Sure they are getting busy in the d&sm space – but their world-wide presence is cemented by hard-core advertising.

It’s not just that they advertise – they Advertise. All the time.

And I think the take away on this for all is – whatever your channel of promotion – fill it all the time. The areas of d&sm are like children – and what I clearly remember the judge saying is that children need (read are legally required) to be feed.

*this stat may, or more likely may not be accurate.

Re-imaging the TTC: Part 4

This 5-part series is about how I would correct/fix various design issues within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). This is not about how I would change bus routes, or how one mode is better or worse than another mode (i.e., LRT vs. Subway). This is about how I believe the TTC (and other transit authorities) can improve the experience of engaging and interacting with it’s ridership (actual and potential). Here is part four.

Subway Stations (part b)

Yesterday’s post was mostly about the collector booth and the eye-numbing explosion of graphic debris that surrounds the collector booth at TTC entrances. Today I will be talking about the rest of the signage/wayfinding that exists in a TTC station. Again, I’m relating these to the TTC – but a lot of this thinking could be applied to other transit authorities and other places that require rapid movement of people to specific destinations.

What next?

Subway stations are never the destination – unless of course you work there. They are a transfer point from one mode to another. Whether it be walking to subway, subway to streetcar, bus to walking. You get the picture.

The current signage and wayfinding system is an ad hoc collection of various attempts to guide people through, sometimes, repetitive-looking areas in three dimensional space (x, y, z axises). I think one of the biggest drawbacks to the system is the inability to define a system font – some have borrowed from the Tube in London (UK) and gone with Gill Sans, others have utilized Helvetica (ugh!) and still a few other typefaces make their appearance. A standardized typeface choice would be the first step into helping guide people.

Effective colour

As stated in earlier posts, the TTC has colour-coded the subway lines and primarily used that in the maps for display only. I really believe that they (the TTC) need to implement the colour system as a part of the wayfining system. A way to quickly identify the line you are on, or the line you need to get to at an inter-change station like Yonge-Bloor. Beyond that I also think that a development, adoption of other colours would help with this system. A colour that defines signage of pure information, entrance and exits could have their own colours – not unlike the highway system in Ontario (white signs being the law – orange/yellow being a suggestion).

Unfortunately the TTC has already used Green (for the Bloor-Danforth line), because that is the colour I would suggest that indicates entrance. Then using red to indicate an exit. I would use yellow for information (already in use for Yonge-University-Spadina). I would really try to define a series of colours for the subway lines that exclude the three I just mentioned. Being able to quickly identify an entrance from an exit from a different subway line would speed up flow. I would even go as far as colour coding Buses and Streetcars areas – especially for those stations that have both (like Broadview).

To even help out flow – the colours could be used in bolder applications. Like on turnstiles. There are of course two side point issues with what I’m about to suggest. 1, the TTC is generating revenue from allowing advertising on the turnstiles, and 2, that some of the turnstiles are bi-directional (it is Canada after all). I would offer up the following solution. That turnstiles be colour-coded with their directional purpose – green for entrance and red for exit (we can even have those words on them as well). Beyond that I would suggest that they do away with the entrance/exit version. Mainly because it sets up a confrontation – not unlike a stopped escalator, who has the right-of-way?

Digital signage (and beyond)

The TTC is working with Pattison One in putting up digital signs on the platform. In most stations there is one per direction. In other stations there are two and in a few there are three. These are mostly an ad/news feed system with about the bottom 1/4 (maybe even 1/5) dedicated to TTC information. That information consists of next train arrival, delays, bus routes modifications, etc. The bulk of the display is taken up with, as mentioned, ads and news feeds. Although interesting, and a source of revenue for the TTC, they could be better used as pure information about the TTC. And there should be a minimum of three per station and for the busier platforms, five.

Information first

There is a push on by the TTC to keep the riders informed, most notably with delays. Making train and station announcements about delays and stoppage (which then require shuttle buses). And that’s great. Where this fails is in letting people get into a station while a delay is happening. There are many times that people have paid with a token, gotten down to track level only to find the platform filled (usually a bad sign at a station like Chester). Heading back up to leave and use a different method of transport, walking, Cab, whatever. They try to get a refund and nothing. If there was a sign or light that could indicate that a delay or stoppage was in place before people have committed to the TTC. This might seem like the TTC will lose out on those extra few fares, but in the long run customers will appreciate the frankness. They will not mistrust the TTC.

What’s the cost

Most of the suggestions that I’m offering are not free. I understand that. The TTC is already pinched for money in terms of just keeping the stations clean and expanding the actual service. But the cost in the long run of not taking into account riders and people flow will be massive. Having a good transit system is not just about the vehicles and staff – it’s also about getting people to their destinations efficiently.

How would you improve flow?

To sponsor, or not to sponsor

YouTube – that is the question – whether tis nobler in the mind… (sorry, went back to grade 11 there for a moment).

There is an article on today’s web site of The Globe and Mail about a new commercial within a commercial. It starts off as an ad for Bounce and finishes as an ad for Old Spice. It’s an old idea (think any comic book collection of superheroes), television has done it with crossover characters and plots (Law and Order and Homicide), it’s happened in books, it’s come full circle this year with The Avengers. But this may be one of the first times that a commercial has been ‘hijacked’ by another product. Oh, sure, there have been cross-promoted commercials – but you know that going in – when an restaurant joins forces with a sports team, etc. If Proctor & Gamble see fit to split the message of their commercial (and possibly leave the viewer unsure of an lasting impression) – who am I to question that? I know that this commercial will be viewed many times on YouTube (4.6 million+ views as of right now). And that somewhat makes it a great commercial.


It’s somewhat because it may only be raising the awareness of the commercial – and not of the product(s). Not to mention that it may not contribute to a sales jump. It will no doubt be a link in many an e-mail that make their way around the world – it will be in more articles (like the The Globe and Mail) and maybe even more blogs like this one.

Commercial (before commercial)

This commercial mashup is maybe the start of a trend – maybe? But the trend that has been happening is the YouTube commercial before commercial thing. That’s where you wanted to see a commercial on YouTube but were hit with another commercial before you got to see the destination commercial. A commercial that you heard about, missed during the superbowl – or like some for the upcoming movie The Dictator – you can only see on the Web.

YouTube is in a precarious position. They need to monetize their business – to be a business and everything. Yet they’re showing people commercials before commercials. How long before that really starts to irritate people?

Are you upset when a commercial plays before a commercial on YouTube?

Upgrading your skills (all of them)

The paradigm shift that has happened while I’ve been in the workforce has been amazing: from having no fax machines all the way to being able to order a pizza – online – from my phone.

This shift has seen tremendous advances in technology. Just think of the features that are now considered standard on any phone – call waiting, call display, speed dial, contact list, etc. We’ve had advancements and additions to the channels of advertising as well. Thirty years ago it was radio, television, print or out-of-home (and that really meant billboards). To kind of understand how different the world was back then regarding advertising check out a ‘classic’ hockey game from the ’80s. Not a single extra piece of advertising to be found. Not on the scoreboard, not on the boards, not behind the bench, not on the risers on the stadium stairs, not a sponsored event between periods – nowhere!

The delivery technology has changed and morphed as well in those three decades. Remember the first time you saw a 15-second spot? How about the time you saw that mini-billboard above the urinal (that one might be just for the guys). Today we’re at a point where not only can ads be targeted to me – but to me as a guy, married, kids, location, interests. Depending on the technology, you can get as granular as you want. Or, you can still throw a big net on the traditional buys – TV, Radio, Newspaper. It’s up to you, your client and the message you want to deliver.

Your Skills

Over that time period we have had to upgrade our skills or acquire new ones: using a fax machine, a computer, cell phones, MS Word and Excel, Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator – you get the idea. There are always technical skills that we can work on. And if we can’t master them, we can hire technically savvy individuals. For instance, I have no desire to be able to code HTML5, CSS, Javascript. Ever. Are those technologies important to the job I do – you bet. No different than operating an offset press. It’s very important that I understand what the tools can achieve, it’s not as important for me to have the hands-on skills.

Your (other) Skills

The skills that are important for me to have – is the ability to think in terms of the available technologies and channels for marketing and advertising. These are the skills that are tougher to upgrade. They require a leap of faith – of accepting that there are new ways of doing things. And that today’s audiences are not the same as they were – nor should they be! At one point a lot of people got up and changed the channel on their TV – manually. Now you can watch a channel, surf the web, PIP a second show, set the PVR for a show past your bedtime. The people that own this technology are adapting to how it’s used and it’s benefits – we as marketing and advertising people need to make the same adjustments to our skills in terms of how we get messages to them.

We need to embrace the changes, we need to understand the mindset of the marketplace and deliver messaging and content that resonates. Without that insight, we might as well be sending out smoke signals – or using carrier pigeons.

What skills do you think matter?

What’s the intent?

Too often lately we, as an industry, are concerned with how we are getting a message across (social media, print, out-of-home, broadcast, experiential, etc.).

We need to make sure that the client is clear on the intent – awareness, sales, etc. – of any campaign (or project). When the client does not have a clear vision of what they would like to achieve, we don’t know where we should end up.

And if we don’t know where to end up – we sure as hell won’t know how to get there (or what vehicles to use).

Do your projects have clearly defined objectives?

Future marketing

Prometheus – the much anticipated prequel to Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi movie Alien is set to be released in June. The future marketing for this movie is in full swing.


The trailers (commercials) used to be something that movie-goers had to sit and watch in theatre while waiting for the start of the movie they paid to enjoy. These were, at a time, a gift – a surprise. Today, for the most part these have been generating buzz on the internet. Trailers can be found on Apple and IMBD and sometimes that may not be there – based on their ridiculous plots/themes they might need to reside elsewhere. Some trailers come out so early that you forgot you saw the trailer when the movie hits the theatres (mostly the one’s near you). There have even been times when the trailer contains scenes that don’t make the final cut.

Future Commercials

There are many movies that have been set in the future and to help set the tone show commercials (or at least commercial concepts). Some glaring examples – Back to the Future II, Blade Runner, Minority Report and who didn’t want to vacation on Mars after Total Recall. These little gems in movies allowed someone to add an editorial comment, a little jab at a present day situation – think Demolition Man and the fact that all restaurants in the future are Taco Bell.

TED 2023

Just to be clear – TED 2023 has not happened (as far as I know). TED is the amazing collection of conferences put on every year and the we get to experience the results. The producers of Prometheus have taken future marketing one step further by producing a segment from TED 2023. It’s not going to be in the movie. It’s there merely to set a back story for the movie.

To recap – a movie made today about events in the future that prequel a movie from 1979 has produced a clip from the yet to happen TED 2023 to set up a back story for said prequel. If that is not a 360° example of future marketing then I have no idea what would be.

What’s your favourite future commercial?