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Downfall in the Age of Conversation

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On the face of it, it seemed like a good idea – work with an existing and well-known meme to promote the Age of Conversation 2: why don't they get it? in the lead-up to the new year. It would give the contributing authors some content to blog about, hopefully create some conversation, and use some of the concepts fundamental to the book to explain some of the topics covered IN the book .... it would be a case of "eating our own cake" in the hope of creating what contributing author David Meerman Scott calls "a worldwide rave."




After considering a number of options, I settled on a clip from the movie entitled The Downfall - about the last days in Hitler's bunker at the end of World War II. Since the middle of 2008, there have been several hundred remixes of this clip including one parodying the Democrat nomination of Hillary Clinton (receiving hundreds of thousands of views) as well as a version about the Microsoft Xbox Live service.


It seemed to fit the bill .... it would be readily identifiable, it would already be well-known not only to our authors but also to the marketing directors who we hoped would purchase copies of the book. More importantly, it was easily adaptable .... because the dialog is in German, subtitles can be used to tell an alternative story, requiring minimal intervention and re-work.


After mapping out the storyline, I set to work tightening the messages to match the tempo of the acting. After a couple of attempts it was ready to go. Or so I thought.



I checked the video one last time and sent a note to my partner in crime, Drew McLellan, letting him know that the video was ready and available. Drew then sent an email to 237 the contributing authors asking them to use the clip to help publicize the book and build some additional sales momentum – and within minutes we began receiving feedback.



While some found the clip humorous, others were concerned about the subject matter. Some felt it was "on the money" while, again, others felt uneasy. What we had done was drive a wedge right through the center of our safest audience .... the authors who had committed their ideas, energy and time to the project. We needed to take this feedback onboard, quickly, and respond.


This year's edition of The Age of Conversation is broken into eight separate sections, with authors contributing 400 words or one page that section. There are manifestos, chapters on "life in the conversation lane", discussions on creativity, privacy and secrets, business models and essays on how ideas become reality. But the section entitled My Marketing Tragedy began to assume a new significance. I would have done well to review this section .... especially Douglas Karr's chapter entitled "You Are Not Your Audience".


Clearly accommodating the views and perspectives of over 200 authors from 15 countries is going to present a challenge. However, it soon became apparent that we had both succeeded and failed. Sure, we had created discussion and dialog – but it was not the conversation that we had wanted. We had used humor where many could find nothing but horror. We had shared a story that few wanted to propagate. We had created concern and anxiety where our intention was to do the opposite.


In the Age of Conversation, the path to success is littered with failures both large and small. The challenge for us all is to put relationships ahead of messages, or people ahead of process. This, of course, means changing the nature of how many marketers "do" marketing .... and this perhaps, is the underlying message of many chapters in this outstanding collaborative book. But it is one thing to understand, and quite another to unlearn what has taken an entire career to perfect. As Johnathan Trenn suggests, "our first challenge is to understand others".


And now, if you will excuse me, I have some re-reading to do before creating our next promotional video.


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Gavin in VP & Principal Analyst with Constellation Research Group. He possesses extensive international experience in driving measurable outcomes via digital customer experience platforms, digital strategy and executing innovative content driven campaigns. With a background in enterprise technology innovation, digital strategy and customer engagement, Gavin connects the dots between disruptive technologies, enterprise governance and business leaders.

Most recently, Gavin led the customer experience, communication and social media programs for SAP's Premier Customer Network. And over the last 15 years, he has been at the forefront of innovative digital strategies for some of the world's leading companies - from IBM to Fujitsu - and on the agency side, leading the global digital strategy for McDonald's.

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  • by David Reich Thu Jan 8, 2009 via blog

    I was one of the authors who wondered if this clip was appropriate. It was, in fact, humorous, but I said I wouldn't be able to use it on my site. But, Gavin, no harm done. It was an honest attempt to generate some buzz for our book and to help get more money to go to Variety, the international children's charity. But this shows how tricky it can be, especially in these times where material can move around the world in seconds online. Things that might be appropriate in one place or culture could be offensive in another. I tried creating a meme for Age of Conversation 2 in December by randomly picking a chapter and posting about it, and then tagging the author of the piece I picked to do the same. My first attempt went unanswered, but my second try, tagging Corentin Monot, seemed to work, although I've lost track of the meme. ( http://reichcomm.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/11/conversation-continues-take-... )

  • by Gavin Heaton Thu Jan 8, 2009 via blog

    It is always a balancing act, whether we like it or not ;) I love your meme idea ... let's see if we can't give it a boost!

  • by Douglas Karr Thu Jan 8, 2009 via blog

    I'm not sure if I'm the only author who had relatives who survived and perished in Auschwitz... and it's ironic that you talked about my chapter in the book ... BUT I took no offense at the clip. The clip did not mock the Holocaust. In fact, quite the opposite, it mocked one of the worst monsters in our worlds' history. No sane person would believe that your intent was to insult people. I grow weary of 'political correctness' run amok. I appreciated the work you did on the video and found it entertaining and memorable. While you are not your audience, you are you! Don't change that, otherwise the message would have surely sucked.

  • by Keith Burtis Fri Jan 9, 2009 via blog

    Gavin, as I watched the video I understood the time and effort that went into it. I kept thinking in my head that all politico themes aside that the video was genius. In fact Hitler was Genius.. a freaking madman with no conscious but he was genius. So I guess this goes back to the fact that just because you can doesn't mean you should. The video was genius and possibly offensive and coarse to many. I applaud you for your creativity and damn you for your lack of sensibility. I am glad the sensibility returned after talking to the many folks that emailed you back response. You never move forward without falling a few times. Bravo for falling and getting up quickly and dusting off. -Keith

  • by John Caldwell Fri Jan 9, 2009 via blog

    While I may understand what you're going for, two things come to mind with both from your column. First, "You Are Not Your Audience" (Kudos to Mr. Karr). Second is what you found from some of your feedback; where you may have found humor others saw horror. Maybe in another time, but right now we are living in a world of renewed anti-Semitism. And with all due respect to Mr. Karr, I don't think that this is political correctness as much as reverse political correctness. Irena Sendlerowa saves over 2,500 Jewish children during the Holocaust, but Al Gore beats her out for a Nobel Prize. Akmadenijad is invited to speak to a full house at Columbia after continually stating that his goal is to wipe Israel off the planet, and is only boo'd for saying Iran has no gays.... Man, do we live in a messed up world.... Timing is everything, and I don't think that this is the time for this clip for this purpose. Just my $0.02

  • by Gavin Heaton Fri Jan 9, 2009 via blog

    Thanks Douglas ... I can certainly see how this could be handled very insensitively. My aim was to actually share this as a lesson for us all (esp me) - and to remember how easily your message can be overwhelmed.

  • by Amy Jussel Sat Jan 10, 2009 via blog

    Gavin, I guess you get to join the 'marketing tragedies and triumphs' section with me in AOC, eh? For what it's worth, I'd like to do a blog/media analysis of the many striations and sensitivities on this topic with Carmen Van Kerckhove at Racialicious (on our Shaping Youth advisory board) because to me this is a global, sociological discussion on which involves the risks of muting authentic discourse (and parody/satire) out of cautionary fear. Not exactly on point, but in this adjunct piece "Is there a right way?" http://tinyurl.com/8chqe3 Liza talks about the "we-don't-want-to-do-it-wrong" example that surfaced in her daily life, and the 'I don't wanna mess up' focus curbing genuine dialog or tamped down observations on race, for example... particularly among youth educators who end up 'stuffing it' rather than discussing it. (whatever the 'it' may be) She cites "the practice of using every single other descriptor about a person other than race" and the frustration of her husband hearing, "see that guy over there–kind of athletic build, with the brown hair,with the book bag, standing up straight, with the nice smile–" rather than, "The Puerto Rican guy in that group..." So it seems the conversation on race, religion, politics, sexuality, whatever NEEDS uncorking to keep from going underground entirely in 'let's just not discuss it' mode. Then what's left in the Age of Conversation? Only the most vapid...And that sure doesn't appeal to me!

  • by Anne Sun Jan 11, 2009 via blog

    Hi Gavin: Thank you for your post. It takes a lot of courage to speak frankly about your video and to share your experience so that others can learn from it. Humor is a tricky thing in general, and particularly in marketing, because the reaction to humor is so subjective. I particularly appreciate that you accept that your video isn't funny to some people without judging their reaction as politically correct, humorless, etc. Cheers

  • by Gavin Heaton Sun Jan 11, 2009 via blog

    Thanks Amy, I agree that robust discussion of issues is important. Of course, issues of race and stereotyping are also cultural ... so actually being able to pick the stereotype and the "authentic" can be confusing in a global setting. For example, a TV show that aired here (Australia) last year gave me a little concern about its depiction of kids from a Pacific Island background. However, many Pacific Islander kids adopted the character as a role model. I was censoring myself without seeing the celebration of identity that the character encompassed. It was an interesting lesson. The character was called "Jonah": http://www.abc.net.au/tv/summerheightshigh/#home

  • by Gavin Heaton Sun Jan 11, 2009 via blog

    Anne ... you are right. Humor can be dangerous - precisely because it is personal. Many interesting lessons in this one!

  • by Will Egan Mon Jun 22, 2009 via blog

    Hey Gavin, I never knew you blogged on Marketing Profs Daily Fix site. This is a place full of gold! I was lucky enough to be sent to one of their conferences last year, it was amazing. Learnt so much and continue to do so with their online lectures. Hope your well, thanks for the comments on my blog lately also. Hope you like my latest one: http://tinyurl.com/willknows Cheers, Will

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