Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Peperami Crowdsourced Agencies's a bit..well, half-arsed really
On the one hand you've got a perfectly straightforward Idea Bounty brief to create a TV/print execution of Peperami's Animal character. But on the other this has been PR-ed as an end to Peperami's longstanding relationship with Lowe London, and a move to become the first brand to crowdsource lead agency status. So respect to the client Noam Buchalter for A. some great PR (whether it turns out to work in the long run or not) and B. for actively defending his move on Brand Republic forums to a selection of annoyed creatives (maybe annoyed because they have realised that their contracts forbid them from entering).

For me this falls some way short of being newsworthy (oh yeh, but I'm writing about it...). Crowdsourced ads are not big news: BMW & Red Bull being two of the brands who have used Idea Bounty in the past, and Current TV has worked in a similar way with a broader range of US brands. Even in traditional FMCG Doritos successfully bet $1m and a Superbowl spot on the concept in Crash the Superbowl. So the big idea here is firing your longstanding agency, which smacks of PR stunt. Why? Because the wisdom of the crowd is being directed to find a slightly different thing to do with a character created by Lowe, who has been featured in Peperami TV ads produced by Lowe for the last 15 years or so. So, nothing new, nothing different, just a bit of cheap publicity please. At least they could have had the confidence to ask for a new strategy to mark their departure from the traditional agency world.....

Contrast this with the work that the NSPCC (FD: Zed Client) do with virtual agencies, which is all about ideas and engagement, and intentionally generates very little media relations.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Fireworks and Bonfires

I tend to link to a lot of John's posts, as he tends to come up with a lot of great stuff. But this in particular is a defining analogy between social media and advertising

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Sony Ericsson's SMAA and the theft of ideas

SMEBS Watch - Meet Andrew from Marcus Brown on Vimeo.

This was a really funny thing that Marcus did a few months ago - it's part of his campaign to warn about the dangers of Social Media Expert Burnout Syndrome (S.M.E.B.S.), which was also tied up in the Tweetreading phenomenon - now lots of us spend far too much time getting far too excited about the next big thing in our day jobs, and stuff like this pulls apart the pomposity of it all, which is why it makes me laugh. Out loud. A lot. And why I thought that there was something familiar about the Sony Ericsson campaign for the SMAA (Social Media Addicts Association.... see any similarities yet?)

There's more of this stuff at, which is worth a look, as some of it actually uses whole chunks of Marcus's stuff. The agency behind this is Nascom in Belgium. Hopefully Copyc*nts will pick up on this soon, because it is one thing borrowing ideas from movies or TV shows, which are popular enough for viewers to understand how an idea references another idea. It is a totally different thing to steal ideas that have been shared around small groups of people and pass them off as your own when selling them on to major brands. Nascom call themselves a digital agency on their website, but they miss the most basic truth about the internet: everything is about reputation. Linking and referencing builds reputation. Steal and lose it.

UPDATE - @minorissues and @jannikolaas of Nascom reply to Marcus's version of events

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

IE6 No More

Mashable reported today that the campaign to kill off IE6 reached a new level as Google's Orkut social platform (the largest in Brazil) announced plans to stop supporting the browser. On the face of it this might look like Google having another pop at its biggest rival, particularly in the face of Bing's takeover of Yahoo search last week. But the recommended alternatives are not just Chrome - Firefox, Safari and for that matter IE8 are also suggested as upgrades. This isn't really about Chrome at all (although the implications for advertising are related to it, which I'll speculate vaguely about later on) - it's about the future of websites themselves.

IE6 dates back to 2001: if you can't remember exactly what websites involved in those days, here's an example of the BBC's home page from January 2001:
and this was the sort of site it was designed to browse. Even if internet connections had been up to it, web designers would still have been limited by the fact that 95% of interent access was through IE6 at its peak. This was after Netscape had been seen off, and well before the days of Firefox. So although 20% of internet users are still using this technology, it was designed for a bygone age. The world wide web was 18 last week, and this is the equivalent of asking a ten year old to graft like an adult.

Now up till recently that has only been a problem for the coders who had to shoehorn state of the art websites into IE6's limited abilities. It is becoming a problem for everyone who wants a genuinely useable internet. HTML 5 is capable of providing audio and video files that interact (ie edit and change) in real time on a web page. It removes the distinction between desktop applications and websites, enables dragging and dropping from web to desktop and back, and is built on the basis of complete location awareness. It removes the need for Flash and Adobe Air (the heavy duty code that PCs can run but mobiles can't) so blurs the boundary between mobile and pc screen. In short it enables all the things that are going to make the web a whole lot more useful. And it won't work with IE6.

So for Google, for whom interactive audio-visual (YouTube) and drag & drop functionality (Google Wave) are key to future innovation, HTML 5 is a pre-requisite. This is great news for everyone, because the main problem with changing browsing behaviour is that most people don't care about all the stuff I'm talking about. Or at least they won't until it is developed and ready to use. But if they are threatened with losing access to YouTube (or potentially Facebook) if they don't upgrade, then they will soon work out how easy upgrading is.

To be fair, Microsoft agree that they would love people to upgrade, but that they won't phase out support for the browser, which was the standard in Windows XP. On their IEBlog the view is:

"Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product, and we keep our commitments."

So (partly based on the failure of Windows Vista to tempt people away from XP) they seem happy to let other people put a range of non-IE options in front of them. And to bring this back to advertising, that opens up some interesting questions about Firefox uptake. Chrome and IE8 are based on being ad-friendly: Google and Microsoft have the world's largest ad revenues to support. Firefox on the other hand offers the opportunity to block all online advertising (although it too makes most of its income through a revenue-share deal with Google for search ads). Only a fraction of FF users (9m, or 3%, of the 300m users of Firefox) block ads. But then, back in 2005 only 3% of internet users ran Firefox. Now it is 23%.

Of course on the other hand maybe sites running on HTML 5 will carry interactive applications and realtime audiovisual narrative that people won't want to block. Let's hope we get the chance to find out soon

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

www.old enough to

I don't know if I missed this, but the World Wide Web came of age last week. On the 6th August 1991, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a summary of the W3 project that he'd been working on on the alt.hypertext newsgroup. Although the first server, Berners-Lee's NeXT computer, the first browser and the first web page had been live since earlier that year, this marked the first time that the project had been available to the public.

It's fair to say it has had a very public adolesence and been a troublesome teenager in the eyes of established businesses. But I reckon that we've not seen anything yet, and now the web is old enough to vote it can get on with the serious stuff

Friday, 7 August 2009

20th Century Media. The encore

(photo credit)
So Rupert Murdoch has finally made the announcement that the rest of the newspaper industry has been waiting for: online news content will be hidden behind a big paywall from sometime in 2010. This was always going to be a game of who blinked first; who would take the plunge. Realistically I don't think that it could ever have been trialled, tested or rolled out, as success or failure rests on giving the rest of the industry plenty of notice and hoping that they will all jump on board. What will be fun to watch is who doesn't join in. Murdoch's comments today about

"the sale of digital delivery of newspaper content"

suggest that he doesn't get what digital distribution is. His UK competitors at The Guardian and The Telegraph seem to have a much better grip on the realities of news distribution in the 21st century. What they clearly don't have at the moment is any more idea about how to make money from reporting it. The 'if you report it {and make it freely distributable through APIs and full text RSS} then they will come' may still bear fruit in the long run, but can they afford to wait? The dual squeeze of paper cost inflation and massive ad revenue contraction means that they have to look to the short term in order to survive.

So it's safe to say that any business that has been based on charging for news in the past is going to be examining the ways in which it can do so in future in the next few weeks. I've been trying to get my head around any way in which this can possibly work, and so here's a few attempts:

1. In the UK at least there is a robust model for paid content. 9m households subscribe to Mr Murdoch's own Sky TV/Broadband. As is clear from the post below, I am a massive fan of not just the technology, but everything about the Sky brand. If News International can leverage this paid network, and potentially include Sun or Sunday Times online content as a Sky Broadband subscription package (for instance instead of one of the free TV packages) then this would demonstrably monetize online news content with minimal impact on TV revenues. It may not provide any major cash injection, but let's face it, Rupert's pockets are deeper than his rivals, and anyway the whole paid news content is in desperate need of credibility; Sky could overcome the initial hurdles for News Int in a way that no other news publisher could compete with.

2. eReaders. Have been referenced by the upper echelons of News Int as the future recently. (apologies for linking to my own posts, but I've love writing about this stuff, and then I know where to find it!). News Int are apparently negotiating with Sony over a new reader, but personally I can't work out the point. Ever decreasing size and increasing power of digital devices means that we really only ever need to carry one. If I have the internet, email, Twitter, an mp3 player, camera, video recorder, feed reader and phone in one device in my pocket, there is no way I'm carrying another one with a news subscription on it. So, applications. Interestingly the pin-up kid of paid news, the Wall St Journal, offers free access via iPhone app. Ignoring that, most of the difficult bits of viewing news on a small screen are about navigation and search, so justifying payment on personalised content may work - the value for the viewer is not having to hunt for stuff that's interesting because the app learns what is and seeks it out.

3. And the alternative to applications, and where I think Rupert may already be casting his eye, is the mobile market itself. So absolutely commoditised that a bespoke content owner should be able to make major inroads quickly (only problem would be a tech partner - Apple hide behind an even bigger wall than newspapers, while I can't see this crusade sitting comfortably on open source Android)

But there's also a few tricky obstacles to overcome in this last hurrah. The first is that in the UK we have a pretty healthy paid content operation, the BBC. We pay around £11.50 per household per month for all the news, comment and analysis we can eat. And all it takes is one source of quality content to remain free and all the rest will just lose traffic. Expect the Murdoch press to become even more vehemently anti-BBC over the coming months.

I think there is an important distinction though between the BBC and News Int, which is that News Int's business has been newspapers. There's no new costs involved to publish text and pictures online once they are sent to the printers. People don't view websites in place of newspapers, and their enjoyment of them is rarely enhanced by engaging with them across two media. It's just the same content in a different place.

Secondly, there are lots of people who are quite happy with newspaper content because they trust it and it has always been there. It just happens that they are spending more time online than they are reading newsprint these days. If for some reason it wasn't there, they might well find out that most of the best stuff online isn't written by newspaper journalists. It doesn't matter whether you are after cricket analysis or celebrity scoops, it is a really straightforward lesson to learn, and one that newspaper marketing departments should be terrifed about. News spreads fast in the21st century, and they really are in danger of getting left behind.

And the most important question is how people will find these sites to go and pay them. Google can't look behind walls. The whole basis for paying for news is that you will be receiving the most authoritative set of opinions (ok, or The Sun. Or Fox News. So you might just be getting the set of opinions that you want...). Anyway, 10 years from now there will be no reputation left worth mentioning. As Jeff Jarvis points out in The Guardian, this move cuts access to the link economy. And whatever might have brought success last century, that is where long term revenues will be found this time around.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Infallible Customer Service

Q: How do we get people to talk about our stuff?
A. Make better stuff

Hugh MacLeod
and Mark Earls have both co
vered this sort of ground this week, and usually when reading about the 'make better stuff' theory I lean towards Sky as an example (as Apple is a bit too obvious). But that made me a bit twitchy this week as my favourite media-centric social object, my Sky+ box has been a bit unwell recently.
It has been skipping losing audio, failing recordings, and lots of other bad stuff. Obviously none of this worried me initially, as Sky have a customer service department that is light years ahead of any other business I've called. Not only do their polite well trained call handlers sound like they care about sorting your problem out, they also call back to find out if it has been fixed. In the unlikely event that they can't remote on and solve it straight away. So last Friday was the first time I've ever doubted the infallibilty of Sky customer service. They couldn't fix the problem over the phone, and had to call out an engineer. And I'm immensely pleased to say that my faith was restored the next day when we removed half a plant from the satellite dish, normal service resumed and i cancelled the engineer! Once a world-beating product becomes usual, people will still talk about infallible customer service