Monday, June 8, 2009

Ypulse Mashup Recap Part Two: Levi's, MTV, Playlist Culture and Trend Gurus

Anastasia Goodstein Moderating Panel at YPulse Mashup

It's hard to believe that youth culture blog Ypulse is celebrating its 5th anniversary. Anastasia Goodstein provides such a great service, with a fun and informative website and some of the most interesting conferences that I've ever been to. Last week I attended the 3rd annual national Ypulse Mashup (June 1st and 2nd in San Francisco), immersing myself in the current state of youth culture and technology.

I've already covered the role of music in college marketing in my piece last week on the pre-conference session that I attended. In this post, I'm going to share a few tidbits from the remainder of the conference. For the full scoop, you can take a look at posts from the live bloggers who were in attendance and also download some of the speaker presentations.

Josh Shipp at Ypulse Mashup

Josh Shipp - "My goal is to offend you."

"Advice slinger," motivational speaker, and soon-to-be TV star Josh Shipp of gave the opening keynote, suggesting to marketers that they listen to teens, show vulnerability, and be irreverent. He encouraged companies to allow users access to things like one's brand logo, so that consumers can "mess with it" and make it their own.

Levi's and Viral Video

Way back in my ad agency past, I worked on the Levi's account on kids' wear and 501 jeans. So, I always feel a bit proud and nostalgic whenever I see news about what they're up to. Their VP of Brand Marketing, Doug Sweeney, started his presentation by showing some old Levi's ads (some from my ad days!) and saying that one of their goals is to "authentically insert the brand into pop culture." One of the ways that they recently did this was by producing low budget viral films that appeared to be created by regular folk. They had a huge response to one of these films, "Jean Jump," which became a big hit on YouTube, then attracted mainstream press. Next up for Levi's, a series of films on the skater-like faux sport of powersliding.

Panel of Trend Gurus at Ypulse Mashup

Trend Guru Roundtable and the Role of Playlist Culture

I love trend gurus. Every since I was a lowly ad agency worker charged with keeping track of youth and pop culture trends, I've been obsessed with the business of trendwatching. Back in 1990 or so I met teen culture tracker Irma Zandl for the first time and thought that she had THE coolest job in the world since she got to monitor trends and report to companies about what was hot and what was not. A few years later we hired Marian Salzman's company BKG Youth to work with my agency and Levi's to interview and find trendsetting youth. For the first time, I actually got to be a trend tracker as well, helping to determine if hipsters that we pulled from the street were style leaders. I was drunk with power... Although I didn't build a career out of it, Marian Salzman has gone on to become an even bigger trend diva and now heads up Intelligent Dialogue, the trend arm of public relations firm Porter-Novelli.

With that personal history in mind, it was super fun to see a round table of trend expects talking about the latest and greatest 2009-style in the panel "What's Cool in 2009 and Beyond." They admitted that with changes to technology, everyone has access to trend information at hyperspeed, but argued that those looking for trend insights still need guides or filters to help understand the trends. Jody Turner from Culture of Future described this nicely, saying that she works as a "cultural translator."

In talking about the role of Twitter and social networking, Lauren Puglia from Undercurrent argued that today there is a "heightened self-awareness" since people are accustomed to filling out detailed personal profiles for all of their online identities. Jody added, "I call it more of a playlist[it's] more about what you've got...Life has become sharing playlists...[that's the] new identity builder." This was probably my favorite insight from the entire conference and I agree that this list-making behavior, which started with music, is a compelling way for people to share tidbits about their personalities.

Mobile Marketers in a Ypulse Breakout Session

Mobile Youth Marketing and Music - Def Jam's SRC on MocoSpace

A big theme throughout the conference was user-generated content, more specifically, users manipulating a company's content in order to create something new. Additionally, companies are starting to post things that look user-generated, either by creating low budget viral videos or by inviting viewers to comment on unfinished work. Mobile community MocoSpace has been working with a Def Jam label to post uncompleted music tracks in order to get not only exposure for various artists, but also to get feedback on the material.

Disney and User-Generated Campaigns

A trio of Disney execs chatted about Disney's role in social media and how they are embracing user-generated content. This is a real departure for Disney, a company which has historically maintained tight control over their artists and content. Yet, in today's world of YouTube, American Idol, and music mashups, they needed to be more welcoming to an audience of fans who want to be more involved in the creation of artists and content.

They talked about how we live in a day when a YouTube sensation like Marie Digby can actually get a record deal based on a viral video. With Disney Records, they are now utilizing a DIY aesthetic and are inviting fans to play around with their content in order to produce their own music videos. Through their U Rock the Summer promotion on, they provided downloadable music and asked users to create their own music videos, which were then voted on by other site visitors. It was so successful that the promotion will continue this summer on U Rock 2.

User-generated lunch discussion on iPhone apps
(fun fact: at least two people at the table were former college radio DJs)

MTV Does Air Music and is Moving Beyond "the Hills"

One of my favorite speakers from Monday, Ross Martin of MTV, was back on Tuesday on a panel about Generation Y and the recession. Ross was optimistic, saying, "this is not a generation that is depressed" and adding that the younger generation thinks about money simply as a "means to an end." When he was asked about MTV's demographic, he pointed out that MTV has something for every age-group, with 168 channels.

In response to another question from the audience about some of MTV's more superficial programming ("The Hills"), Ross pointed out that MTV does a lot of work in the pro-social arena and that its embedded in the network's "DNA," with efforts like "Choose or Lose" and, more recently, with MTVu projects related to Darfur (Darfur is Dying) and the financial crisis (Indepted). Additionally, Ross talked a bit about a new fall show on MTV called "The Buried Life," which will portray recent college grads working on their list of 100 things to do before they die.

Answering to the ever-present critics, he also added that one can still find music and videos on MTV properties, including an all-video website MTVMusic and a new early morning music-oriented show on MTV called AMTV that airs 24 hours of music a week. I also noticed that there a number of MTV-themed online "radio stations" (via Rhapsody), including some that are outside the mainstream ("Emo Youth" and "Indie Now"). He added that it's important for marketers in this economy to be risk-takers (he referenced Barry Judge's blog which posts rough cuts of Best Buy ads for user feedback), saying, "If you're not getting in trouble, you're probably doing something wrong right now."

Ross also mentioned that increasingly they have little control over how their content gets re-appropriated. He said that MTV decided not to stream the recent MTV Movie Awards online, but that viewers did it anyway and that what resulted was an active viewing audience online, with real-time tweets commenting on the show.

MTV always seems to be doing something new and interesting, which is refreshing. I hadn't been to their website in awhile and another thing that impressed me was that they have an ever-changing stash of backgrounds (sort of like "skins") for the page. Many of them look hand-drawn, kind of hearkening back to the early days of manipulated MTV logos. It's a nice touch.

Young Entrepreneneurs are Collaborative and Fearless

The Ypulse Mashup ended with a duo of sessions focused on young entrepreneurs. Donna Fenn discussed her forthcoming book Upstarts, which profiles young business owners. She argued that young entrepreneurs are much more collaborative than their older conterparts and that they tend to embed social goals into their companies. Donna also said they tend to be optimistic and are open about sharing their ideas in order to get feedback from others.

Guy Kawasaki then moderated a panel of very young entrepreneurs (the oldest was 23), some of whom started companies when they were as young as 13. Guy seemed impressed with their fearlessness when faced with board rooms, 40 year olds, and venture capitalists. And, indeed, their passion to follow their dreams was inspiring. I was particularly thrilled to hear about Carly Wertheim's success with Teens Turning Green, an environmentally-friendly product line that's now in Whole Foods.

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