Monthly Archives February 2012

Facebook Timeline: Brand Pages Launched

Brands have one month to monitor their competitors’ adoption of Facebook Timeline and figure out how to make Timeline work for them. Here’s an early look at the approach taken by brands who embraced the conversion to Timeline today.

Facebook Timeline for brand pages was announced this morning on the new platform for breaking tech news- The Today Show. Brands have the option of using Timeline starting today, and all brand pages will be converted to Timeline on March 30th. So brands have one month to monitor their competitors’ adoption of Facebook Timeline and figure out how to make Timeline work for them. We thought we would take an early look at the approach taken by brands who embraced the conversion to Timeline today.


Coca-Cola didn’t remove the post from their Timeline when they updated their cover photo to the new larger image required for the transition to Timeline. The Timeline cover photo was updated at 5:06 am EST, which could make Coca-Cola the first brand to make the switch. Coca-Cola has posts going back to the companies founding in 1886, using Timeline to show off the company’s lengthy history. Timeline makes perfect sense for brands who have been around for a long time, but how are brands who haven’t been around for 120+ years using Timeline?

 

Magnolia Bakery is the New York bakery made famous in Sex and the City. Their approach to Timeline is to make you hungry. By using the Timeline cover photo to show the breadth of the bakery’s line of goods and artistic presentation, they are a great demonstration of how a small business can use Timeline to visually engage consumers.

 

Apps used to reside in tabs along the left hand side of Facebook pages. With the unveiling of Timeline, tabs are a thing of the past. Apps have moved to the front and center of brand pages. Each app is displayed with an image underneath the cover photo, similar to the old pre-Timeline photo strip.

Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation unveiled a cohesive approach to Timeline. Each app’s image coordinates with the Timeline cover photo. Livestrong also puts their message first. Unlike Coca-Cola and Magnolia Bakery, Livestrong opted out of using space within their app bar to promote the number of likes their page has. Instead they are using the space to promote apps where people can invite friends and become involved in the Livestrong cause.

Facebook Timeline for brand pages is just hours old, it will be interesting to see how brands roll out innovative uses of Timeline over the next 30 days.

Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever

Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever

With each new social network hitting the limelight, social media becomes a sexier force on the web. Email, by contrast, remains a largely unchanged technology since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971. Yet email still remains a highly profitable marketing channel. Here’s the reason why.

This is the first in a series of blog posts aimed at raising awareness of email marketing, its advantages, and its best practices — from designing your first eblast to deploying your newsletter to millions of customer inboxes, and beyond.

Why Email?

Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. LinkedIn. With each new social network hitting the limelight, social media becomes a sexier force on the web. Email, by contrast, remains a largely unchanged technology since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971.

Over the decades we got carbon copy recipients, file attachments, and HTML-based emails, but that was it. No “like” buttons, status updates, or share functionality. Just some text, images, links, and a subject line.

That being said, email is a marketing channel your business can’t afford to do without.
Why? First, it’s profitable. As Felicity Evans of Smashing Magazine points out, email still has a very high ROI — an estimated $44 for each $1 spent in 2011.

Evans also reminds us that more Americans have been introduced to email than social networks. It’s simply been around a lot longer. Finally, the Smashing article makes the point that email is a unique identifier. In other words, most people have a couple addresses to their name, but are members of many different social networks.

Additionally, your email campaigns can help leverage a stronger social media presence and vice versa. “Share” buttons at the top of your enewsletter can raise visits to your company’s Twitter feed. Newsletter signup callouts on your Facebook page can bring in new subscribers for your eblasts and special offers.

Assuming you’re sold and you want your first email campaign out the door by the end of the week, where do you start? The best place to begin is logistics.

What system is the most efficient for communicating with your customers? What kind of system even sends out thousands, even millions of emails at once? The answer lies in something called an email service provider (ESP).

Finding the Right ESP

The Interactive Advertising Bureau defines an email service provider as, “a business or organization that provides the Email campaign delivery technology. ESPs may also provide services for marketing, advertising and general communication purposes.”

Deciding which ESP to use can be a daunting task. There are many ESPs out there. They vary in size, functionality, and features. Do you go with one of the big names, like ExactTarget, Constant Contact, Lyris, or Experian CheetahMail? Or maybe one of the numerous smaller ones?

It depends on what you need. If you’re a big company that already has a large email list, one of the larger ESPs might be right for you. The costs may be higher, but you’ll get additional perks. Some ESPs offer helpful features like image hosting, round-the-clock tech support, and marketing data on your customers’ viewing habits.

In terms of the larger ESPs, I would recommend ExactTarget. We use ExactTarget in campaign deployments for many of our clients. In addition to the analytics and great technical support offerings I mentioned above, they offer email automation (sending entire chains of emails with the click of a button), triggered sending (automatically sending an email when an end-user performs an action on your website), and more.

On the other hand, if you don’t need all these things, you’re operating on a smaller budget, and you only have a few hundred or thousand subscribers, a smaller ESP may work better for you.

Analytics

Detailed analytics isn’t just for your website and Facebook page. There are a variety of ways to get large amounts of data on how your subscribers will react to your email. As mentioned before, many of the larger ESPs will offer an email-tracking package right out of the box. These will usually give basic statistics. Things like how many subscribers opened your email, clicked a link, unsubscribed from your list, or hit the “Spam” button.

ESPs will also offer statistics on “bounces,” or emails that fail to reach a recipient’s email address because they were undeliverable for whatever reason. Bounce reporting is a very powerful tool as it can sometimes help you diagnose larger issues. If a lot of your subscribers use the same Internet service provider (ISP) and a lot of them suddenly bounce, it’s usually the canary in the coal mine indicating that ISP has blocked your campaigns. In a later blog article, I will detail what to do if this happens.

There are also a lot of free or low-cost analytics vendors out there that can help you get even more information on your subscribers’ habits. Google Analytics shows how visitors arriving at your homepage via your email’s links travel through your whole site. It even has conversion tracking, offering a great chance to see what percentage of sales are due to your email marketing channels.

Litmus, another helpful analytics vendor, tracks what programs and devices your users check their emails with. Do most of your customers view emails on an iPhone, or their office desktop? Do they use Microsoft Outlook, or Gmail? Litmus also gives information on how effective your campaign is in engaging your subscribers. It gives such helpful metrics as the average time your subscribers have your email open for. Are they scanning? Are they reading your every word?

CAN-SPAM Compliance

One pitfall to avoid if you’re just starting out in email marketing is CAN-SPAM. Signed into law in 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act makes it illegal to send unsolicited email, or spam. What this means is that you cannot market your services or products over email unless the recipient has opted in to receive your promotions or newsletters. This concept is also known as permission marketing.

But it’s not enough to let your users opt in. They also have to be able to opt out. Unless you are sending a transactional email (the email equivalent of a receipt), you must place a link somewhere in your communications to a page where your users can unsubscribe. It’s not just the law, but it’s also a great way to avoid customer service nightmares. Think about it. We’ve all been there. We signed up for a service on the Internet and absently left the checkbox clicked for “Please send me your free monthly newsletters and special offers!” Before you know it, you’re getting 10 emails a week that you really don’t care to read. The unsubscribe link at the bottom of that email gives subscribers who got on your list by mistake an easy way out.

Another thing that CAN-SPAM requires is an address. All your marketing emails, transactional or promotional, must contain your company’s physical mailing address. This also helps the consumer in that it shows you’re a real company in a real location somewhere in the world.

If that’s a lot to keep track of, don’t worry. Many larger ESPs have features built in that allow to automatically place your mailing address and unsubscribe link in all your emails. Some even have safeguards that prevent your email from going out unless it is fully CAN-SPAM compliant.

Next Time — Building Your List

It’s easy to see how difficult it is to send emails only to subscribers who opt in, especially if your email campaign list numbers 0 subscribers. The temptation might creep up to go out and buy a subscriber list. Don’t. None of these users have opted in. Not only would sending to them be illegal, but it will also earn you a bad reputation. Users who hit the “Spam” button on a given email address frequently enough will get blacklisted by ISPs. This means all emails you send will bounce.

Besides, there are more ethical, legal, and organic ways to build a subscriber list. In my next post, I will go over the basics of list building and list health. You will be surprised at how easy it is to generate opt ins with some of the resources you already have. Don’t miss it!

Mobile App Review: Fab.com – iPhone, iPad & Android

Fab.com logo

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app that offers flash sales of designer and high-end products, often from smaller, lesser-known companies.

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app that offers flash sales of designer and high-end products, often from smaller, lesser-known companies.

The App: Fab.com

The Platform: iPhone, iPad and Android

How Much: Free

The Deal: The Fab.com website launched in 2011 as an invite-only destination. Specializing in flash sales of designer products (think vintage-style maps, hand-crafted wood furniture, Japanese vinyl toys, etc.), the site has grown enormously, reaching 1 million members by November 2011.

Each day, Fab emails its members previews of items that will be for sale later on in that day’s featured deals, which usually run for one week or until items sell out. (I’ve actually bought a couple of maps from one designer. Trust me, they’re awesome.) Sometimes, however, I see items for sale but just forget, as often happens in this opened-an-email-then-got-distracted-by-something-else world we live in. Or I miss the sales altogether. So the idea of an app, where I could have quicker, constant access to Fab, is very appealing.

Fab.com mobile app

Features: The Fab.com app opens to the “Fab Home” menu tab, which hosts a New section (recently added items), Shops (Art, Bed & Bath, Books & Media, etc., which groups items by genre), and Ending (sales coming to a close). There’s also a Calendar tab, showcasing items and shops coming in the next week, an Invite tab, and a More tab, featuring your order history, shipping info, a contact form and more.

What We Think/Like: Fab is a essential app for those who are already fans of the website. The look and feel distinctly match the desktop version, which is very smart; it feels as if the app is in continuity with the Fab emails and site experience. The images look excellent, the design and layout are intuitive and visually striking, and it’s very easy to use. If you select an item on sale, the screen shifts to feature a large picture of the item with a corner tag saying how much it’s discounted, and the bottom of the screen features the price and a big “Buy Now!” button. What else do you need?

Fab mobile app

What’s Missing: As far as I can tell, there’s no way to select items – currently or soon-to-be available – and add them to some kind of reminder alert system. There is a shopping cart, but if I see something in the Calendar section that will be available in a week, I may (read: probably will) forget about it by then. If I could tag that item so that I’m alerted as to when it goes on sale, I’d be more likely to buy it. At the very least, I’d come back and use the app again. That said, you do get push notifications for when sales are about to begin and other alerts, so that functionality is kind of there.

Fab mobile app

Overall: Fab – both on its website and now successfully with its app – routinely highlights truly beautiful, unique, well-made products that you may never have heard of otherwise. The app does a great job at presenting everything in an easily navigable and browse-able package. If you aren’t a Fab member, become one; if you are, download this app.

Grade: A-

Pinterest vs TheFancy: Social Media Marketing for Brands

Pinterest has grabbed the attention (and free time) of women and a lot of interest from social media marketers, but there is another quietly emerging player in the social bookmarking space. TheFancy is a visually stunning collection of the coolest images and products from around the web.

Pinterest has grabbed the attention (and free time) of women and a lot of interest from social media marketers, but there is another quietly emerging player in the social bookmarking space.

TheFancy is a visually stunning collection of the coolest images and products from around the web. Instead of adding images to boards like on Pinterest, users “fancy” images and add them to categories for others to view and “fancy” as well.

Users share images the same way on both sites.  Retailers can add Pinterest and TheFancy buttons to images to encourage users to share, but since both sites are relatively new most images come through users clicking a “Pin It” or “Fancy It” button in their browser’s toolbar.

Pinterest and TheFancy differ in the flavor of what is shared. Pinterest has an undeniably feminine Etsy-esque feel. The majority of Pinterest users are women, and as a result there are a lot of home décor, recipes and children’s product shots shared on the site.

TheFancy has a more unisex, urban, minimalist, high-design feel. The differences between each site’s content are obvious when you look at the brands that have a presence on each. Brands currently on Pinterest: Cabot Cheese, Lands’ End and Paula Deen. Brands on TheFancy: Brooklyn Industries, Williams-Sonoma, and Yves St. Laurent.

If you represent a luxury fashion, home décor, or tech brand then adding products to TheFancy is a smart marketing move, because unlike Pinterest- TheFancy is openly working with brands to drive sales through the site.

On Pinterest, if a user (including the brands that have set up Pinterest accounts) posts a price within a pinned image’s description, the price will appear as a banner in the corner of the image. Pinterest will then automatically pull the pinned image into the gifts category on the site. This is great, however Pinterest wants to keep users within Pinterest and is not at this time making it easy for users to leave the site.

In order to reach the original site to make a purchase, Pinterest users have to click pinned images twice. Some users I have talked to were unaware that they could even do this, since when an image is clicked once users are taken to a page where they are encouraged to like, repin or comment on the image within the Pinterest site. There is no prompt or link for Pinterest users to leave Pinterest and visit the original site. Pinterest has been designed as a social media destination.

TheFancy on the other hand, has been designed to easily move users to original sites for product purchase. When an image is clicked in TheFancy, users are presented with a “Buy It” link on the right hand side. Clicking this link will take the user to the original site where that product may be purchased. This is a great feature since the whole focus of the site is discovering products that you may never come across in a retail store.

Users can also unlock special deals from retailers by clicking “Fancy It” on their product photos. These special deals are typically discount codes that can be used at checkout on the retailer’s site. Current deals offered to TheFancy users are featured within a Deals tab at the top of the page, which makes it easy for TheFancy users to find. There is also an easy to find list of retailers on TheFancy, something which is missing on Pinterest at least at the moment.

TheFancy also seems to be here to stay. With significant investment from the French fashion firm PPR, who owns brands such as Gucci, Alexander McQueen Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, as well as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who is also on the start-up’s board. Yves Saint Laurent announced on Jan. 30th that Fancy buttons will be on every page of the brand’s website.

For social media marketers looking to ride the surge in social bookmarking site popularity, especially to promote luxury and boutique brands- TheFancy is one site to hop on.

Social Media, the Super Bowl and Planned Parenthood

planned parenthood social media

So, within more or less a week, we all got to see the full breadth of living in the viral, social media “activist” world of 2012. Three unmistakable cues to the times we occupy.

Madonna pulls off a stunning Super Bowl half time event complete with historically compelling “people as props” staging and her co-performer M.I.A. flips the bird and mouths off verbal no-nos. The drama didn’t end at halftime, as NBC totally blamed NFL Productions (and vice versa) in a kind of “Human Malfunction” and You Tube is getting page views like crazy – quickly approaching 2 million.

But as Dustin Hoffman’s character in Wag the Dog said, “That’s nothing.” That’s nothing compared to Gisele Bündchen, wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, calling out her husband’s teammates for dropping a few too many passes. Yes, she was egged on and yes, it was captured as content and also uploaded to YouTube, where it gained traction. I think the big winner of Giselegate (we know who the losers are) is the guy who got her to make those comments and video it all. He gets drinks for life at any New York bar by just saying “I’m the guy that…”

When Susan G. Komen for the Cure went public with its intention to stop grants of $700,000 to Planned Parenthood because of a “congressional investigation,” Planned Parenthood launched an articulated, highly mobilized and coordinated response that included traditional media tactics – like giving the lead to the Associated Press, ensuring blanket coverage – direct mail to supporters, and a rigorous social component.

According to Opposing Views, “More than 2,000 supporters shared the above email they received immediately on their Facebook wall and on Twitter. Planned Parenthood wrote, “ALERT: Susan G. Komen caves under anti-choice pressure, ends funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers.” More than 500 Twitter users retweeted that message.” The numbers and support over social media is astounding: On Facebook, Planned Parenthood has added more than 32,000 fans since last Tuesday; Twitter users sent more than 1.3 million Tweets referencing Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and related terms and hashtags, according to a Twitter spokeswoman. This pressure got Komen to change its funding position and gave the VP/strategist behind the move no way out but to resign.

I wrote this blog from the point of view that all three stories couldn’t be more different, yet are similar given the social media forces. People get emotionally into “issue driven” content that is provocative, unscripted, unintended or random – just ask M.I.A. or the now reclusive Gisele. But people really get into content that is agenda based or political (or seemingly so) when it is about people we love or emotional connect to.

Shazam Ads Succeed Where QR Codes Fail

It was around halftime Sunday when I saw the third straight Super Bowl ad with the Shazam logo in the bottom-right corner. I knew Shazam as the app that figured out a song’s title and artist based on a 20 second sample my smartphone recorded. Why is it here? Curious, I whipped out my phone, launched the app and started recording the ad. 20 seconds later, instead of the usual screen disclosing the song and artist info, I saw this.

Curious to see what others thought of this repurposing of the app, I searched out “Shazam” on Twitter. Some people liked it; others compared it to a marketing gimmick that was all too recent.

For the uninitiated, the QR code is a kind of barcode. Advertisers like to stick these complex network of squares on their ads in the hopes that users scan them with their smartphones. Once the phones scan these codes, they are taken to a page with more information about the advertised product. The problem is, most advertisers are lazy and unimaginative with their implementation of QR. They link the QR codes to URLs already mentioned on the ad, place the codes in locations where Internet signals are scarce (most infamously, the New York City Subway), and haven’t done a good job educating the public about the technology.

Like QR codes and other marketing gimmicks, the novelty could fade fast. The standard 30 second ad is a tad short for something that requires you to take out your phone, unlock it, open an app, and wait several seconds to capture a sample. And forget about trying to use this in a loud, crowded bar.

In spite of these drawbacks, I could still see a place for Shazam-enhanced ads when it comes to generating interest.

We’re Acquainted

Unlike QR codes, Shazam is already popular. QR codes began life as an invention by Toyota to track inventory. Shazam is a popular service people use to identify songs. It already has a head start in penetration because so many people enjoy it for its primary use. The image of that soft blue icon with a white “S” over a black circle needs no introduction. There’s a familiarity — a cue that we should be tagging whatever is on screen — something the alien-looking QR code just can’t attain.

We’re Curious

So, we see that icon we know so well, but there is no music playing. Just an ad. There is no readily available context, either. No announcers telling you to tag this commercial to win prices or music. Instead, all the viewer sees is what looks to be an out-of-place icon in ads for Pepsi, Toyota, Best Buy, etc. Naturally, I had to tag these ads when they came on. I was too curious.

The icon’s placement in these ads is the opposite of what we expect. None of the products advertised had anything to do with music or albums. So, why was the icon there? The ad wasn’t going to tell us. We had to go and hunt it down ourselves.

We Like Easter Eggs

What do video games and Easter egg hunts have in common? Both tap into that human desire to discover something. For decades, the video game industry has been sneaking hidden characters, stories and content into its products. They call them “Easter eggs” — hidden things designed to be just barely discoverable.

Advertisers like to use QR codes to link to the product’s URL, even if that URL is a few inches away from the code. There’s no imagination or creativity. And by now, the few of us who know what QR codes do are conditioned to believe they’re a waste of our time to scan for this very reason.

The Shazam interface doesn’t allow for this lack of originality. A successful tag never takes you to someone’s homepage. Instead, you go to a screen where Shazam gives you data on the sound sample you just tagged. In the case of the Super Bowl, advertisers seem to only have the option to place special content on this screen, like a video, a sweepstakes entry form, or an MP3 download. Unlike QR codes, they need to give you an Easter egg to reward your curiosity.

Many have heard of Shazam, but not enough people use it so that everyone knows what to do when the icon appears on TV. There’s something thrilling in it, as you feel like you’re one of the first to download this app which lets you see the pastel blue egg behind the couch before the rest of the family.

See You at the Grammys

As mentioned before, this kind of ad wouldn’t have much of a place during regular programming, but maybe that’s not the point. Perhaps a better use for these campaigns would be for special events where companies typically buy longer spots and users get enough time to tag the ads. With Shazam-enhanced ads planned for the Grammy Awards on February 12th, we won’t have long before we see if the spots find success in engaging consumers where the QR codes failed.

Ferris Bueller Super Bowl Commercial & Social Media: Honda Fumbles the Snap

Ferris Bueller Super Bowl Commercial

When the mystery teaser for a Matthew Broderick/Ferris Bueller Super Bowl commercial dropped last week, the Internet’s collective head almost exploded. Could it be? Finally, a sequel to Ferris Bueller, one of the most beloved movies of the ’80s? And we’d see the trailer at the Super Bowl? Not even a Clockwork Orange-style forced viewing of the abysmal Ferris Bueller TV show could dampen the excitement.

Then, the full ad was posted online before the Super Bowl. And the air was let out of the Internet’s balloon.

It was revealed to be an advertisement not for a Ferris Bueller sequel, but for the Honda CR-V. In the new advertising environment created by social media, Super Bowl ads are now being teased with previews, then released online before the game (see Volkswagen’s Star Wars themed commercials from this year and last, as well), making the actual airing during the Super Bowl a kind of non-event. The point is to drum up more interest, more hype, and make it last. But what about if it backfires?

I argue that it did backfire with the Ferris Bueller ad, because people were genuinely let down when they learned there was no sequel coming. This isn’t to say that the ad is not successful or people don’t like it – there are just as many positive comments as negative ones (thousands) on YouTube, and it is really well done (special props for the “I Am the Walrus” callback). But instead of being surprised or delighted by seeing this for the first time during the Super Bowl – as would have happened in years past – the general consensus after the online reveal was basically, “Oh…it’s a car commercial?” And then no one really cared about its airing during the actual game at all.

If there’s a lesson, it’s that presenting things in the right context and at the right time is more important than ever thanks to social media. Since the teaser did not even show a car, it could only disappoint people to find that there was no new Ferris Bueller movie coming. And would the ad’s shelf life have been longer if they didn’t tease it and didn’t release the entire thing online before the Super Bowl? For brands, knowing when to push things via social is essential to sticking the landing in modern advertising.

Interview: Jessica Chobot of G4 and IGN – Part 2

jessica chobot

Concluding Flightpath’s two-part interview (in case you missed it, here’s part one) with Jessica Chobot of G4 and IGN, the videogame and tech reporter talks the impact of smartphones on portable gaming, when we’ll know games have really been accepted into the mainstream, and why she sometimes enjoys checking out bad games just as much as the good ones.

Flightpath: Portable gaming is in a weird place right now, especially with smartphones having a bigger impact and being more of a threat to Nintendo and Sony than anyone may have thought. Where do you see the portable gaming industry going in relation to what’s happening with smartphone games?

Jessica Chobot: I think you’re gonna always have a market for handheld consoles in regards to PS Vita and 3DS and DS in general. But I don’t know if that market will grow beyond what it already has within it. The console market for portables, in that regard, I think might be cornered, because of the fact that the games on things like the iPad or your smartphone are getting to the point where they’re just as entertaining or just as beautiful or just as good. And [they are] a little bit more available for your everyday person that might not consider themselves a gamer, but doesn’t realize that they’ve spent 50 hours playing Farmville or Infinity Blade. So I don’t think that the handheld market is necessarily going to go away, I just think that maybe it’s going to continue on the path that it already has established. And if anything, because of those systems having to keep up with things like the iPad, [they’re adapting]. An example would be the PS Vita – now it has apps and it’s starting to develop ways within itself to compete with tablets and phones and things of that nature. It would be interesting to see what would happen to it maybe in the next 10 years versus like, the next three. I think there needs to be a little bit more time and better defined lines of what games on tablets can do versus what games on portable consoles can do.

Flightpath: I think a lot of gamers feel that games don’t earn enough respect. I think back to Roger Ebert saying games are not art, and the reaction against him online was very strong. But I think they’ve arrived in the mainstream, especially since there’s a channel like G4.

Jessica Chobot: I think they’re becoming more and more respected, obviously because of the accessibility of casual games – even though I hate that phrase – that you’d find on your smartphones and iPads. It’s introducing that world to a whole new group of people that might not have given videogames the time of day before. By giving them even just that small little intro through a Japan Life or a Sims game or an Angry Birds game – or however they end up find themselves within this group of gamers that they might not have ever thought of themselves in – they’re also going to have an understanding and respect for the other gamers that are really involved, that have the PlayStation 3, the PS Vita, the Wii U.

What I’d like to see is that videogames are no longer used for an excuse when bad things happen in society. Once that goes away, that’ll in my mind, be the height of when videogames have earned that respect. And I think they’re on that way because of the fact that games are accessible and open to more people, and the people that grew up with things like an NES, the original PlayStation, the Dreamcast and the first Xbox – those people are getting older and having families of their own and they used to play all the time, and they understand that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Flightpath: The same thing happened with comics and with rock n’ roll.

Jessica Chobot: Rock n’ roll’s my favorite example. Everybody’s like, “I can’t believe these groups of kids nowadays! They’re shooting up their schools because they’re playing too much Gears of War!” That’s the exact same argument that you, when you were a teenager, would get angry about in regards to your parents saying that Elvis couldn’t be shown from the hips down, because all the girls were going to burst out into whoredom. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous. So to me, that will be the ultimate sign of respect from society, is when society stops using videogames as an excuse for when something goes wrong within it.

As far as games not being art, it’s not even worth arguing with [Ebert] about, because in my mind he’s completely wrong. He’s just wrong. I don’t understand where he thinks the images from within games and advertising work comes from. I don’t even understand that. And I believe the Smithsonian actually has a section or has declared that videogames are art, and they’re actually accepting videogame conceptual art pieces. So yeah, when the Smithsonian says it’s okay, I think Ebert should just learn to be quiet. Of course, he backtracked. It was a completely ignorant statement on his part, and it just goes to show the generation gap.

Flightpath: It reminds me of what Pete Townsend once said about rap music. He didn’t say whether he liked it or not, but he said something like, “It’s just our generation’s job to get out of the way.” I thought that was very smart.

Jessica Chobot: Yeah. Even if he was to say he doesn’t like it, it’s fine to have an opinion and not like something. But it’s not okay to dismiss it across the board. Everybody’s allowed their opinion, but it’s another thing to just make a flat out statement and say everybody else is wrong and you’re right.

jessica chobotFlightpath: Reviews for videogames, particularly online, tend to have a real importance for both the market and for developers. Maybe more than any other entertainment or arts field. Why do you think that is?

Jessica Chobot: That’s a good question. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. They’re paid so much attention to because usually the people who are writing the reviews are hardcore fans themselves. Because they are such fans themselves, they really can speak the same language and reach out to the demographic that’s going to read them. Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I very rarely buy or not buy a game based off of somebody’s review. I’ll definitely read reviews just because I just want to hear what the game is about and what their experience was. But if I’m curious about that game, I will remain curious about that game and I’ll still go out and buy it even if that person eventually says you shouldn’t. Sometimes I buy it just because they say I shouldn’t and I’m like, “Oh, why is it so bad?” [Laughs]

Flightpath: The Mystery Science Theater 3000 aspect.

Jessica Chobot: Yeah, totally. And a lot of the people that I know still do that too. They’ll read the reviews and they’ll educate themselves. But at the end of the day they make the final decision. So I don’t know. Maybe the reason that the reviews are so taken to heart is just because these people are speaking the same language and they’re gamers the same as you and I, and they can walk the walk and talk the talk. So whether you agree with them or not, you’re still interested in what they have to say. And that’s probably both good and bad.

Gaming journalism went through a phase a couple years back – and it’s still there, it’ll never really go away – of self-importance and for lack of a better phrase, [an] “our shit doesn’t stink” attitude, and how they’re entitled to know everything upfront. That, I’m glad to see, has kind of fallen by the wayside. Because at the end of the day, this is a business. It’s a great, awesome, fun business, but it is a business. And people’s jobs are on the line, and people’s reputations are on the line, and they’ve got families that they’re raising now so they need these paychecks. To have that kind of fanboy-flaming reporting on games is not the best way to approach it.

Flightpath: What’s a typical day like at G4 for you?

Jessica Chobot: It’s kind of the same as it was when I was with IGN. I’ll just get assigned certain things and I’ll do the research on them, whether it’s reading articles that other people have written and then playing the game myself, if it involves games. The biggest difference between IGN and G4 for me is that at IGN, I pretty much covered mostly games, and what was going on in the gaming industry. G4, I cover a little bit more about the culture as well. We [just] did a shoot with Gentle Giant, and we did a shoot with a DJ – things that aren’t necessarily about videogames, but people into videogames might also be into these things. So that’s cool. It actually has helped to do a little bit more and not lock me into one particular thing. A lot of what I’m doing over at G4 is less studio-based and a little bit more out-and-about and interacting with people and kind of on-the-fly, which I also really like. Because as much as I enjoyed doing The Daily Fix over at IGN, I was very limited as far as the personality I could bring across, because I have three minutes to tell you the news and that’s it. Whereas at these events for G4 where I’m going out there and reporting on stuff, I can have a little bit more of my personality come out and show people what it is about these things that I also find interesting and fun. So that’s nice.

Flightpath: Is it different shooting things that are going out on TV as opposed to the Web? Do you feel more nervous or present yourself on camera differently?

Jessica Chobot: I actually find working for TV a little bit easier. At the end of the day, a dot com is a dot com, and you’ve got smaller budgets and limited resources as far as who’s available to help shoot and put together a production. Whereas a TV station, that is what they’re dedicated to, and so it makes things a little bit smoother.

But as far as me being in front of the camera and nervous and things like that, no. That’s actually not there. If anything, it’s making me improve faster because now I feel like there’s more of a variety of demographic watching me versus just hardcore gamers. And so I’ve got to learn to approach things that also then allows those people to be included in what it is I’m talking about. So I’ve learned to still have that fanboyism that I have for certain things, but try and make it as open to anybody that wants to view it.

Flightpath: And what can we look forward to in 2012 from Jessica Chobot on G4 or anywhere else?

Jessica Chobot: There’s some things coming out that are gonna be announced soon that I can’t necessarily talk about, but definitely keep your eyes peeled because they’re pretty awesome. Both in a videogame sense [Chobot was revealed to be playing a character featuring her own likeness in Mass Effect 3 shortly after this interview. – Dan] and in a non-videogame related sense. The one thing about doing what I do now is I’m able to go out and do things that aren’t even related to videogames at all, and that’s working out well, also.

And then within G4, I’ll definitely be doing more reporting for them, for both X-Play and for Attack of the Show, and covering games and culture. I think we’ve got a couple of Rad Jobs segments coming up, and then also some of the games that I got to see at CES will be showing up – hands-on [time] with Bioware and the Kinect and how Mass Effect works with that, and then the Wii U, I finally got some hands-on time with. All that stuff is pretty interesting.

So, there’s some things coming. [Sighs] Oh, how can I say it? Just really keep your eyes peeled in the next month. [Laughs]