The AdPulp Interview: Amber Case

amber_case_nerd_about.jpgimage courtesy of Flickr user, bouldair
NerdAbout is a new blog brand from The Discovery Channel. Currently, there are three “Nerds About” in New York City, Austin and Portland.
I asked Portland’s Amber Case how she got this gig and other embarrassing questions. She was kind enough to answer.
Q. Do you enjoy being thought of as a Nerd?
A. It’s a love-hate relationship. One one hand, I’ve always been thought of as a nerd. It wasn’t as nice during gradeschool, but gradeschool is over now. Besides, I study Cyborg Anthropology, which is like geek-speak for nerd. Everything I do is technically nerdy, but I think nerds are becoming really awesome. For instance, nerds actually take the time and space to do something real, or look at things in ways that were not previously looked at before. I have to be extra nerdy because I’m an anthropologist studying my own kind rather than flying out to some foreign land and studying people and things there. I have to constantly bury myself in data, and then distance myself from it in order to see the larger picture. That makes me a nerd squared. A super nerd. A meta fractal recursive nerd.
Q. How’d this Discovery Channel blogging gig come about? Is it something one can make a living doing (like a columnist from the 20th century)? Or is it supplemental?
A. Three or four months ago, a friend of mine on Twitter passed along a question to me. It went along the lines of “‘Science Channel seeks blogger’, are you interested?’ At the time, I was blogging at OakHazelnut, which was an experiment in understanding how the Internet worked. I was also working part-time at the Portland Small Business Accelerator, doing E-mail marketing. The idea of blogging and consulting appealed to me, but I knew I had to take a stable job when I graduated from college so I could develop a skill set while retaining a stable environment. My personal blog allowed me to practice code, analytics, search engine optimization, and lots of narrative storytelling techniques that ranged from presenting boring, Google-friendly data to interesting, Delicious-worthy data. I jumped on the E-mail as fast as I could, welcoming the opportunity.
Nerdabout does supply me with a livable income, but I am constantly aware that I am on contract. I regularly work with clients and freelance on the side, because it allows me to keep a very flexible schedule. I need that schedule because I’m studying the offline tech space, which consists of tons of networking events in Portland, Oregon. I personally know a few people who do make a living blogging, but they do consulting on the side too. I think it help keeps the brain sharp because clients always have interesting puzzles to solve. Personally, it helps me know what kinds of blog posts to write.
Q. Portland is a very social city. Does that fact help make social media more viable here?
A. The tech scene in Portland is an enormous help to my visibility. Before I moved to Portland, I blogged a bit but didn’t get much traffic. I realized that in order to survive digitally, one must adopt social networking in real life. Sometimes digital interfaces get in the way of real interaction. Besides, I’ve never heard of a city that commands more people to a tech event like Ignite Portland. According to their website, “ALL of the tickets, about 560 of them, were GONE in 5 minutes”. Amazing. What I do here is made possible by the community. There is a networking event (or three) here almost every night. Local talent is accessible and very friendly. Ego is developed only through helping others. Data and methods are widely shared. And Twitter helps everyone to connect with each other when they’re not in the same room.
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Q. Will the NerdAbout brand grow beyond the Web? Is there a TV show in your future?
A. I’ve been asked to submit some video pieces on things I love and hate about technology, or the anthropology of technology. If I work on a few of these segments, they would appear mostly as buffers in between Discovery Channel shows. I think that if I were to develop enough of my own voice, a show about explaining the cultural effects that technology has on us — or better ways to be productive online — or demonstrating cool new technologies or websites — or visiting cool places and talking about them — or how to use new technologies. It might just be a blog for now, as writing is often so different from text.
David Pogue’s NYTimes Technology column is a fantastic and inspiring writer. So while Discovery Channel’s primary medium might be video, there is still a lot to be said for the written word.
Q. From your perspective, what’s the most important development/opportunity/issue for marketers and their agency partners to work on in 2009?
A. I think that granting power to fans is positive. As a culture, we are fascinated by the negotiation of value. This can easily be seen on Antiques Roadshow, where viewers and participants watch people repeatedly swap worth for value. With each appraisal, old artifacts come back into circulation. eBay is another example of the same phenomenon.
Objects that once held little value suddenly have a place and a community around them. Vintage Santa Claus Mugs from 1968, tiny thimble collections, velvet kitsch color-by-number poster. All of these practices of value creation regenerate wealth around objects that people once thought of as debris. Every mother who threw out all a child’s things when they went to college increase the value for future collectors.
Ideas take on value because of audience participation. We cannot understand the interactions of the Internet without understanding the social ideas of reciprocity. Any time there is a fundamental shift in infrastructure -we have to renegotiate social contracts. From the perspective of a company, it is often easy to assume that fans appropriating content depreciates its value — but fans actually multiply that value. Fan culture is all about value production. And value multiplies as it begins to circulate among fans. The idea of indulging and communicating with a fan — being less uptight about choosing what people are going to like — and playing along when a brand is repurposed — are very important in maintaining and even strengthening consumer/producer relationships.
One of the best examples of fan/agency collaboration was the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 Jesus Shot, where User Levinator25 found that Tiger Woods could walk on water.

As a video response, EASPORTS refilmed the glitch sequence with the real Tiger Woods in the exact same video, and that the “glitch” Levinator25 found in the game, was not glitch at all, but that Woods was just “that good”. The video response had nearly 3 million views, which was far higher than that of the original fan video.
The idea of a campaign is to spread up the dissemination of that media. Obama’s campaign allowed itself to be easily spread. Thus, it was successful. Fan created value systems work off of each other to amplify value with a reach far greater than traditional marketing campaigns. Companies who block nostalgic value creation or fan culture are suffocating the audience.
There will always be an outlet somewhere for these fans, but ignoring them reduces many opportunities for communicating directly with their needs and desires. A network has the power to grant requests, and strategically granting requests is a giant opportunity that, if ignored, could be a tremendous liability for stubborn entertainment companies.
I’d also like to say that expressly saying the words “social network” is really tiresome. Real value comes from a product or service, not from the creation of a social network. Strange as it may seem, people aren’t out there feverishly ‘waiting’ to sign up for social networking sites. Especially social networking sites that define themselves ‘as something’. People hate filling out forms! Networks provide something necessary to a user or solve a problem can be necessary only if they reduce the time and space to accomplish a certain goal online. Even then, networks for networking’s sake, or sites that don’t exist to help a user are doomed to fail. Flickr provides a solution to those billions of photos stored on the computer. Delicious allows simple tagging and sharing. Twitter collapses the space-time to communicate with someone else because it often does away with formalities and dives directly into the heart of the data.
More from “The AdPulp Interview” series: George Parker | Alan Wolk | David Rosen | Katharine Stone | Mark Babej



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.