C'mon, Marketers! Why Aren't You Periscoping Your Meerkat Sessions Yet?

If You Don't Have a Meerkat Strategy, You're Missing Out on Hundreds of (Tech Journalist) Viewers

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That had to hurt.
That had to hurt. Credit: Kelsey Dake

Those of us at Ad Age headquarters could still hear the wails of fire trucks heading from midtown Manhattan to the scene of the March 26 explosion in the East Village when a certain sort of person rushed to social media to start posting.

No, I'm not talking about the disaster-tourists who notoriously posted Instagram photos of themselves mugging in front of the scene. Rather, I'm talking about the people who rushed to Twitter to talk about what a momentous event this could prove to be for Periscope, the new streaming-video app from Twitter.

Just because a thought crosses your mind doesn't mean you should share it. It was crass to start a media-technology debate while buildings were still burning.

It was also stupid, considering what happened to Meerkat just that week.

Meerkat, for the 98% of the world who thinks SXSW is an airport code, is a streaming-video service that was unveiled at the end of February and became the talk of Austin, Silicon Valley and New York tech media -- and those who have the misfortune of having their social-media feeds cluttered up by such people. Judging by their hysteria over the app, you'd have thought that nothing like it had been invented before. (Actually, my first thought was that a group of tech journalists had rented an actual meerkat and were going to shoot videos of it hanging out in their office. Sadly, this was untrue. Also, sadly, after looking into the possibility, the logistics of doing such a thing proved too much for me --and I couldn't find the appropriate code for the expense reports.)

But, yes, Meerkat streams video captured by the camera on your phone.

"It's video. On your phone. So what?" you might say, if you were a rational human being, rather than an insane person carrying a sack stuffed with $1.5 million that you were going to hand to the first person you ran across at SXSW.

And then someone, either the insane guy with the $1.5 million in a sack or one of the people desperately hoping to run into him, would have said to you, "But it streams video, you see. Live video."

At which point, you could have said something like, "Doesn't Ustream already have an app that does that?"

And then that other person, increasingly frustrated, would have said, in that tone a teenager uses for completely hopeless old people, "Ustream? More like Ugh-stream. Besides, Meerkat is tied into Twitter's social graph," and he would have stomped off, either upset that you didn't have a sack of money or afraid that you were going to ask him to define "social graph."

The crazy people did have a little bit of a point. Streaming live video for your phone is pretty much nothing without it being tied directly into a massive social-media platform where people can find it easily.

So Meerkat had a unique selling proposition. Until Twitter partially blocked it from tying directly into the Twitter social graph.

That alone might have been enough to throttle the fuzzy little startup in its cradle—or hole, or den, or whatever it is meerkats live in. But on March 26, Twitter unveiled Periscope, which it had acquired earlier and which does the exact same thing as Meerkat.

None of this is to say that Periscope is any more relevant or useful than Meerkat.

For all the commotion, I haven't seen many -- or any -- ideas that gave me an "Oh, yeah, that's kinda cool" moment.

One example that's been floated: live music. Let's say you can't make it to a concert of your favorite band. Now you can watch poorly lit video of the stage lights and the guy standing in front of your friend and almost hear the lyrics over the sound of people screaming and the swishing of your friend's leather jacket.

And news. Assume that you just can't stand professionally shot footage from a news crew. You can now hope that one of your friends happens to be in the right place at the right time and doesn't get shot, stabbed or set on fire trying to provide you with that shaky footage you so crave.

By the way, you know who'd get a kick out of live-streaming stuff to millions on Twitter? ISIS.

Despite all this, there were those insisting that marketers must rush to this technology that could put their brands in front of thousands of people. But did marketers listen? No! Tim Peterson, our Los Angeles-based digital reporter, even created a little widget to track marketers using Meerkat and Periscope. I can, literally, count the takers on one hand.

Does this mean marketers are clueless and conservative and out of touch? Hardly. If people are there, marketers will follow. But as I keep trying to point out, tech media aren't "people." They're super-obsessed savants with one of the biggest and baddest echo chambers going. And because their echo chamber can be heard by the regular media folks, it sometimes gets mistaken for reality.

Granted, my middle name is "Get Off My Lawn," so of course I would say something like this. I could also make a sarcastic remark about all those marketing dollars piped into Second Life and Foursquare, but you'd just argue that those guys didn't have the backing of a powerhouse like Twitter.

So then I'll just ask, how's that Google+ campaign working out for you? You know, the one you built with Google Wave.

Ken Wheaton, the managing editor of Advertising Age, writes our Last Word column. His latest novel, "Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears," was published in 2014.

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