From Blackouts to Battery Life: 2013 in the Eyes of a Very Digital Dad

Nestle Marketing Exec Pete Blackshaw Shares What Wowed and Worried Him

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I just have two words to summarize my take on 2013: Rainbow Loom.

This crazy viral tribute to analog -- basically, a plastic board for creating colorful bracelets with rubber bands -- entered my world after my kids were given a kit by my wife's friend. The rest is history.

I now wear my 8-year old daughter's bracelets with greater devotion than my Nike Fuelband. And now that she's hooked on YouTube "How To" videos, production quality is off the charts.

The Loom craze strikes me as an intersection point in our all-things-digital obsession. I mean, I'm an over-the-top "digital dad," but I can't stop talking about a bunch of rubber bands.

Such were the curious tension points of 2013. We're at once wired and tired. We love "check-ins" but secretly crave "check-outs." We freak if we can't find WiFi, but silently celebrate when the signal fails us. We're gaga about mobile, but we all need glasses.

Mind you, I'm not trying to be a buzz-kill. My annual (and eternal) appeal here is for balance.

I mean, it's not like anything slowed down in 2013.

Always on
The year opened with a blackout during one of the largest media events, the Super Bowl, which in turn powered an industry obsession around "adaptive marketing" as though we could all do the Oreo-esque fast-turnarounds on a big scale -- and with minimal resources.

My devotion to social media never wavered. I was inspired by the social-media compassion and response to the Philippines tragedy. And the mesmerizing tweet stream immediately following Nelson Mandela's death announcement reminded me why TV is no match for Twitter around big events and news.

Speaking of which, I added another thousand fans on Twitter, but none of that can be attributed to good or even marginally useful content. My content was choppy, random, and over reliant on Nike+ running updates. My personal blog,, gathered more cobwebs. I struggled to motivate myself -- or identify an unclaimed sweet-spot -- for a next book.

At some point I got ambushed with annoying LinkedIn "endorsements" that sourced more from algorithms than friends.

Visual storytelling arrested my attention. I studied the "like" nuance of photos with mad-scientist rigor. Key learning: My son next to a St. Bernard in front of the iconic Matterhorn nets the mother of all likes. That said, my wife took a curious hiatus from Facebook in 2013, and I'm still wondering if my newsfeed content is to blame.

I struggled to stay atop the Pinterest pack with my vintage ski posters but kept getting out-pinned by a design studio annoyingly intent on knocking me off-piste. Instagram held firm as my trusty darkroom, and I was snapped off-guard by the meteoric growth of youth-powered Snapchat.

New habits
Online groceries flooded our doorstep every Thursday. While attending Dreamforce, a work colleague wowed me with the transactional simplicity of taxi service Uber. A Chinese colleague lured me into WeChat, and it's been a non-stop "back to ICQ" party ever since.

I ran my first half-marathon, and I like to think my multiple running apps (and Beats by Dre plugs -- yes, I got sucked in) made the difference. That said, I still can't find that darn cap for my Up band, and I keep falling asleep before I can put it in sleep mode. I'm now giving Fit Bit a trial run.

Phone and device recharging became nothing short of an obsession. I was a compulsive and annoying "jack rabbit" in friend's homes, and I rarely left home without a spare iPhone charger hanging out of my pocket.

I only made it to two movie theater outings, but paid downloads kept me current. I succumbed to "Scandal," couldn't let "Homeland" go and finally joined the "Breaking Bad" bandwagon, sometimes inhaling three or four episodes in one sitting.

I obsessed over Oscar winner "Searching for Sugarman" -- not only because it was a great film, but also because it represented a grand failure of marketing to give Sixto "Bob Dylan" Rodriguez his fair due back in the 1970s. How could we mess that one up? And could this have happened in the digital age?

I read Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" cover to cover and especially liked her section on mentorship. "The Circle" freaked me out, and I can't decide if I actually want to finish it. Malcolm Gladwell hit another tipping point with "David and Goliath."

I loved Bob Garfield's "Can't Buy Me Like," but I'm still dubious about the title considering that organic brand reach on Facebook is now sadly slipping into single digits. I mean, what other options do we have?

More harbingers
I knew domain names were headed south in value when someone offered my $125 for one of my most prized domains. (Why did I wait?) Good luck with the new generic top-level domains.

I had a blast at my 30-year Pasadena High School reunion. Then again, the reunion was practically over by the time it started thanks to six months of pre-event Facebook bonding (and squabbling).

In my Nestle capacity, I attended both the Tour de France (Vittel and Powerbar are sponsors) and the America's Cup (Nespresso). In each, I marveled at the "earned media" upside of live events. I also watched with pride as our Kit Kat brand danced with Google Android across 1.5 billion Twitter impressions and 70 million packs.

I got exhausted with the terms "native," "programmatic," and "adaptive" (even coming from my own lips). Speaking of which, every time I tested a new buzzword, my boss slapped my hand and tossed me back into the pit of marketing basics. (God bless him!)

I poked my head back into the conference circuit and keynoted IAB Europe and AdTech NY. Work travel across the globe reminded me once again that the digital center of gravity is shifting East.

Final Thoughts
So there you have it, from blackouts and battery life to beaten up buzzwords. Another crazy year of change and disruption, most evident through a personal lens.

Looking to 2014, I remain as excited as ever about the power and potential of digital to transform the consumer and business landscape, but for now I'd like to return to my daughter's Rainbow Loom.

Pete Blackshaw is global head of digital and social media for Nestle. He's the author of "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000."
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