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The Meaningof MobileBy Jesse Haines and Abigail Posner
The mobile phone might be the buzzing, but as marketers seek toworld’s most ubiquitous device, and connect with their increasingly mobileyet the marketing community is just customers, it’s hard to tell emotionallybeginning to understand how mobile resonant stories about brands in thecan and should factor into their mobile space unless we understand theoverall strategies. Nine out of ten resonance of the mobile space itself.people on the planet own one1 — ahigher percentage than cars, radios, As we discussed the mobile spaceor television sets — and nearly 500 with countless creative directorsmillion smartphones shipped last year and strategic planners, we foundalone. 2 We know what percentage of the prevailing attitude to be that theBrazilian twentysomethings use their mobile screen is too small for creatingsmart phones in restaurants (71%) and immersive brand experiences. We hadhow many Saudi women have ever used a hunch that there was a lot more totheirs to shop online (19%)3. We can’t this story, so we decided to explorelive without apps, maps, and email on the deeper meaning of mobile in thethe go, but what we don’t know is why. same way that a strategic planner would approach the task of unlockingWhy does the ringing of mobile phones the meaning of the Cheeto — we hiredtrigger the same brain waves as love, an anthropologist to interview dozensfor example? And why do we feel them of ordinary mobile device owners andvibrating even when they’re missing? observe them as they interacted withWhat do these devices mean to us that their smartphones. The first thing wethey make us lovesick? Remarkably, found is that the phone’s pocket size isno one had thought to ask about how anything but a flaw — in fact, it’s the keyand why mobility is enabling us to to understanding what it really means.create meaning in our lives. It turnsout neuroscience can explain bothour Pavlovian devotion and phantom1 International Telecommunication Union, 20112 International Data Corporation, February 20123 Our Mobile Planet, thinkwithgoogle.com/mobileplanet 2
Small...or gigantic?Anthropology teaches us that in every one of our subjects told us. The screensculture, miniatures possess the power may be small, but they serve as gate-to unlock imaginations. Whether it’s a ways to the gigantic.dollhouse, toy truck, or some other tinytalisman, miniatures look and feel real, We see this power manifest in insightsbut their size gives us the permission to gleaned from the anthropologist’ssuspend disbelief, daydream, and play. observations. Our mobile devices helpRemember The Nutcracker? In between us fully actualize our best self, or whatpirouettes, a toy nutcracker comes we call the Quicksilver Self; they engageto life, defeats an evil mouse, and us to create a shared culture, the Newwhisks the heroine away to a magical Tribalism; and they help us to makekingdom. That, in a nutshell, is the story sense of the physical world aroundwe implicitly tell ourselves about our us, an act we describe as Placemaking.miniature computers — one of youth, Understanding the deeper levels atfreedom, and possessing the key to a which individuals, customers, aremuch larger world. finding meaning in mobile will enable marketers to put this powerful medium “Because it’s in my pocket I to its best use. somehow squeeze this time in for various things — and only because I think it just sits in my pocket,” 3
Small...or Gigantic? Applied:Heineken Star Player Through the rabbit hole of “the small screen,” Heineken brought rabid soccer fans from their couches onto the field. Their Star Player app allowed fans to interact in real time with the nail-biting action of the UEFA Champion’s League. Fans were given eight attempts to accurately predict whether either team would score in the next thirty seconds, making them feel like they were controlling the flow of the game, with all the disappointment and triumph that implies. Through the small, they became part of something gigantic. 4
The Quicksilver SelfIt’s 7 AM, the phone alarm’s ringing, and becoming our best possible selves. Thisfor many of us, our first groggy impulse is what historian James Truslow Adamsisn’t to press Snooze, but to reach over had in mind when he popularized theto see what the night has brought in phrase in 1931:terms of Facebook updates, GoogleAlerts, Breaking Bad recaps, Groupon “a dream of social order in whichdeals, and eBay auctions — the each man and each woman shallovernight syncing of our digital selves. be able to attain to the fullestLater that day, a friend texts to offer stature of which they are innatelytickets to that night’s Yankees game capable, and be recognized by(“something twenty minutes before I others for what they are.”had no idea was going to happen,” said This dream runs like an undergroundone of our subjects). That’s followed by river through American culture, whethera ping from OKCupid with a potential it’s The Great Gatsby, Jack Kerouac, ormatch, and on and on it goes, a Kim Kardashian (a lucrative act of selfconstant stream of news, offers, and invention if there ever was one). It’s alsochoices. The mobile life is a real-time morphed over the past few decadesChoose Your Own Adventure in which to the point where agility, fluidity, andwe are constantly writing and rewriting serendipity have become the ideals ofthe stories we tell about ourselves. the Quicksilver Self. It’s the freedom toFor Americans, this might sound be open to discovery and to make andfamiliar. “The American Dream” is remake ourselves, experimenting withpremised on personal transformation different personas and experiences toand reinvention — the promise of see which fits us best. 5
We’ve always looked to technology for Indeed. Today, it’s smartphoneshelp with this. For most of the 20th and their constant streams ofCentury, the ultimate mobile device information that streamline, automate,was the car, not only because it could and refresh our Quicksilver Selves —ferry us from point A to B, but also which is why we can’t get enough ofbecause of the tantalizing prospect them. “You feel settled, you know?” saidof discovering someone, something, one of our subjects. “Everything is here,anything new. (Cue Springsteen: so you have that energy.” They ground“Well, the night’s busting open, these us in the here and now by reassuring ustwo lanes will take us anywhere.”) But that nothing will slip past us, allowingthat’s ending. Less than half of potential us to take advantage of whatever comesteenage drivers have a license, down our way.from two-thirds a decade ago. Andtwentysomething Millennials — This is the explicit promise of a newthe largest generation in U.S. history — generation of “social discovery” appspurchase barely a quarter of all cars. such as Highlight and Sonar, which marry your phone’s GPS with your“We have to face the growing reality social networks to notify you of friendsthat today young people don’t seem — and friends of friends — nearby.to be as interested in cars as previous Suddenly, our phones can lead usgenerations,” the president of Toyota with pinpoint accuracy to the potentialUSA said last year. “Many young people mate of our dreams or future businesscare more about buying the latest partner. We’ve replaced the open roadsmartphone or gaming console than with the digital superhighway.getting their driver’s license.” 6
The New TribalismIn historically tribal societies, The technologist Adam Greenfield callsindividuality takes a backseat to this the “Big Now” — the deepenedkinship: who you are matters less than sense of time passing by seeing itwho you know (and whether you’re (metaphorically) through so manya blood relation). The New Tribalism, others’ eyes.by contrast, is the product of our newconnections: who you are is the sum of “A ten-minute interval may see reportswho you know. A network without links of friends experiencing rush-hourisn’t a network at all; we are increasingly frustrations in the Bay Area, dining outmade of what connects us. in New York, and late night dancing in London,” he writes. “For me, at least,Obviously, mobile devices are it’s been difficult to see my New Yorkaccelerating this. The smartphone is through quite the same eyes, whenfundamentally a communication tool — every time I get my phone out I feelwe can speak, text, chat, tweet, email the entire planet’s deeper rhythmsand video conference at a moment’s working themselves out.”notice. Facebook may have started itslife on the desktop, but the phone has Which isn’t to say we’re passivebecome the real-time nexus of social observers of life’s rich pageant. Thenetworking, whether it’s Google+, New Tribalism is defined by sharingInstagram, or next-generation apps and co-creating culture, whether it’slike Mobli, which literally allows us to tweeting your favorite restaurant insee the world through others’ eyes Manhattan, texting the password to the(or at least camera phones). hottest club in London... or sending a Coke to a stranger (see Project Re:BriefThe result is that our personal stories example). We are essentially creatinghave begun to entwine. We’re all sharing or reaffirming a community of sharedpieces of the larger story unfolding interests. A text or a tweet isn’t just ainvisibly all around us, a story whose message; it’s a gift of knowledge, ideas,edges are defined by our networks and opinions.and accessed through our phones. 7
The New Tribalism Applied:Project Re:Brief and Coca-Cola Perhaps the most iconic Coca-Cola ad ever is “Hilltop.” You know the one — Iʼd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect har-mo-neeee... Less famous is the singer’s second wish: to buy the world a Coke. Last March, Google partnered with Coca-Cola to belatedly grant this wish as part of Project Re:Brief, which re-imagined classic campaigns for the digital era. The re-imagined mobile ad enables users to select a location, attach a personal message, and then watch as the Coke is delivered to a specially-designed vending machine on the other side of the world. In an instant, a mobile phone user in New York City and an unsuspecting stranger in Capetown are part of a new tribe. 8
The New Tribalism Applied:Google+: John Butterill’sVirtual Photo Walks Photographer John Butterill uses Google+ Hangouts to share his photo walks with the world. By attaching a phone to his camera, he makes it possible for others to see exactly what he sees through his viewfinder: the rippling waters beneath his canoe, the beautiful bark of an old tree, the perfectly lit sky. Almost immediately after he posted the video from his first photo walk, photographers around the world began volunteering to share their views of the world with people whose mobility was limited. John, and the many photographers he has inspired, share the freedom they feel from going on a photo walk - whether it be in the woods by their homes or deep in the African plains - with members of the tribe who aren’t able to do so themselves. 9
PlacemakingHumans have an innate desire to make haunts. Another is Foursquare,sense of their physical surroundings by which rewards users for “checking in”assigning meaning to them. This is what to loactions with badges and the titleanthropologists call “placemaking”. of “mayor.” Both apps remind us thatThe places that surround us create, every place has someone’s memoriesstore, and bring back powerful attached. Those memories in turnmemories. A favorite restaurant, for remind us of who we are (and who weexample, might be the scene of past were) and orient us emotionally.first dates, break-ups, celebrations, We “read” and “write” meanings ontolast-night meals, and conspiratorial places the same way we tell storiesdrinks at the bar. In our mind’s eye, all about ourselves — only now we do thisof these memories exist simultaneously, using our phones.with each occasion mapped to adifferent table and booth. It’s the Real-time mapping and GPS are thereason we decorate our homes and foundations of Placemaking but theywhy young lovers carve their initials into barely scratch the surface when itpark benches. The latest iteration of comes to meaning. The flipside of theInstagram — the mobile photo-sharing “Big Now,” Greenfield suggests, is theapp with 80 million users — “Long Here” — the ability to accrete andhas the same idea. Unveiled in August, share thoughts and memories of a placeInstagram’s new Photo Map feature over time. Whether we leave notes orsorts geo-tagged photos onto maps, check in, we are doing just that.stacking them according to the placeswhere they were taken. The science fiction author William Gibson recently admitted he was wrongThe new Instagram is a perfect example about the Internet. We won’t abandonof Placemaking, which describes using the real world for “cyberspace”our mobile devices to tell stories about (or Second Life), but will mapand make meaning of our physical cyberspace onto the world. And we’llworld — our homes, streets, favorite navigate them both with our phones. 10
Placemaking Applied:Red Bull Street Art View Red Bull recognized their customers affinity for street art and utilized Google’s Street View technology to create a mapped collection of street art from all over the world. People were able to contribute to the map by adding markers tagging their favorite local artworks, helping to build a global, curated experience. They were also able to sift through the thousands of submissions to view works from unknowns to famous street artists like Banksy and Keith Haring. Red Bull Street Art View linked physical spaces and pieces of street art together, lending new meanings to places around the globe. This was a desktop initiative, but imagine how powerful it could be on a mobile device — where we are able to connect instantaneously and in new ways with our physical surroundings. 11
Conclusion As marketers, the notion that mobile phones are merely tools — a screwdriver or socket wrench with a data plan — is a strange one. After all, branding is about making sense of our lives; brands wouldn’t exist if we didn’t attach meaning to our surroundings. It turns out, of course, that our phones are no different. Instead of lacking all meaning, we use them to create new ones for ourselves, our friends, and the places we live in and love. Their screens may be small, but the worlds they open onto are gigantic. 12
How To BeMeaningfully Mobile 1. Start from the person up, 3. Help people tell stories rather than the brand down. to their tribes. One reason mobile storytelling Remember, they contain hasn’t reached its potential multitudes. Telling someone is because the content is a story is one thing; the key to frequently repurposed from making it go viral is to give them other media, which have their a story they can share as their own meanings. A television spot own with their tribe. on a smartphone’s screen won’t resonate the same way — 4. Exploit the Long Here and not only because of its size. and the Big Now. People are creating their own stories around themselves, their Chance can be cultivated; friends, and their world — opportunity can be orchestrated; so link your brand’s story to serendipity can be engineered. their stories. Anchor your brand’s story in a particular moment in place and 2. Be as quicksilver as they are. time and let them discover it — in effect becoming part of their We’ve become serendipity stories as well. addicts, accustomed to a never ending flow of offers, discounts, 5. The future is local. events, and invitations, each making us more excited for the On the one hand, this is obvious. next. The key for marketers is But think beyond geo-targeting. to join the flow in a manner Connect brands to local places, that’s both unobtrusive events, and landmarks, and offer (by offering something of value) to enliven and enrich them. and also on brand. 13