Friday, November 02, 2007

Whose park is your ball in?

Facebook says to developers: 'Bring your ball to our park. We want to be the only park in town.'

Google says to developers: 'Bring your ball to our park. And take it to our friends' parks too. The more parks and balls people have to choose from, the better.'

I'll leave it up to you to decide which invitation Diginatives will take up. But in today's interweb world where content-fluidity and consumer-empowerment are the new touchstones, and prosocial brands rule the zeitgeist, I know who's got my vote.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You can't tag a teen

Now I'm all for a bit of geo-tagging. Stuff that not only has its place in the world, but let's you know precisely what that place is, seems pretty cool.

The geo-tagged photos on Flickr and the geo-tagged twitterings on Twitter - accessible to developers through open APIs - have given rise to the brilliantly pointless Flickrvision and Twittervision, which present a Web 2.0 version of watching the world go by.

Geo-tagging is also new-best-friends with mobile. The latest smartphones, and everything (calls, SMS, other data) that comes out of them, is, or can be, geo-tagged. (Strictly speaking, this isn't a new thing - complicated calculations based on triangulation or something have long enabled the location of mobile users, but the addition of GPS functionality makes it all much simpler and more accurate).

It seems that not a week goes by without some self-styled marketing industry prophet (not me, honest) forecasting mass demand for location-based mobile services. Apparently, uber-consumers - the sort who regularly suffer a price / existential crisis in the chilled dairy aisle at Milton Keynes Tesco Extra - will soon be demanding geo-specific recommendations and price comparisons, so that they can walk half a mile across town to save 4p on a Yakult multipack.

All well and good.

But the purveyors of geo-tagging technology and geo-tagged goods have a tendancy to get a little over-zealous in their apparent pursuit of a 100% geo-tagged panacea. (Imagine a world where hide-and-seek ceases to require traditional seeking skills).

Can't forsee a geo-armageddon? Then read this.

Seriously, what teenager is going to agree to leave the house wearing a $300 geo-tagged coat? I've written previously about how kids' neurobiology can be altered by their early experience of digital media, but it will take one hell of a video game to indoctrinate them into the cult of parental surveillance.

I can only assume that some entrepreneurial type observed the willingness of Diginative teens to accept parent-bought mobile phones and the obligation to call home every 2 hours in exchange for increased liberty and a pocket full of gadget, and concluded that geo-tagged clothing would be likewise welcomed by Western youth. Unfortunately this reasoning fails to consider the possibility that said kids are only happy to accept said offer because it represents de facto permission to do whatever the hell they want, whilst keeping to a strict lying schedule.

Escaping the parental radar is a fundamental part of growing-up. Excessive attempts to monitor and control teen behaviour promote what scientist call reactance, otherwise known as doing-the-opposite-of-what-you're-told-to.

So those parents who purchase geo-tagged coats can expect their kids to refuse to wear the coat; to leave it at a friend's house whilst they roam the streets; to hack the GPS system; to do anything other than give big-mother the opportunity to watch over their every move.

I guess it comes down to this: successful applications of any technology - those which find mass adoption - tend to augment natural human behaviour and pervasive lifestyle choices, not battle against them. This is especially the case with teens, as evidenced by a recent global study of digital youth, commissioned by MTV.

Rant over.

I'll get my (non-geo-tagged) coat.

Monday, October 15, 2007

APR is cool

Radiohead are the coolest thing in the world right now. Well, at least in my world (excuse the cod-relativism) and the worlds of several million other music / technology fans.

The cause of this cool spike is, of course, their decision to let each individual choose the price that he or she wishes to pay to download In Rainbows, the band’s latest album. (Note that in these digital times the concept of an album has been eroded so as to mean little more than an ordered collection of tracks. If you want an album in the traditional, material sense – plus a bunch of limited edition goodies – you can mail order it for £40 and await a December delivery date).

But I’m not too interested in discussing the merits or otherwise of Radiohead’s pick-a-price venture. Not directly, anyway. These music-industry-rattled-by-new-media-innovation stories tend to attract a glut of identikit reportage, which I’d really like to refrain from adding to in this case.

What I am interested in is the nature of that venture, the music-buying public’s reaction to it, and what that reaction says about the macro-zeitgeist – if such a thing exists.

The nature of the venture I will come on to. The music-buying public’s reaction I will take to be something along the lines of ‘very cool’. But what could that reaction possibly say about the macro-zeitgeist?

Well, sometimes, when an extreme cultural event such as the In Rainbows release comes along, it can shine a light on current usage of apparently banal terms – terms like ‘cool’. In other words, the supreme coolness of Radiohead’s honesty-box ploy allows us to take a peek inside the concept of cool and confront its bare semantics.

So what are those bare semantics? Put bluntly: what is the current meaning of cool? I would argue that it’s something like authentic prosocial rebellion (APR).

Now before I say any more on the matter, it’s worth noting that this meaning may actually be one of several current meanings of cool. As Mark Penn would no doubt quip, the current climate of conflicting microtrends demands that whatever is cool for 30% or 80% or even 99% of the population will likely be cultural anathema for 1% – the awkward, unswerving niche. And if the coolness of some thing can be wildly subjective, then it seems possible that the very notion of cool can mean different things to different people, too. Meaning is pretty malleable stuff, after all.

But back to Radiohead. And back to APR (that's Authentic Prosocial Rebellion, in case you've forgotten already) – which I’m suggesting is at least a part of the story of contemporary cool.

Three questions: Why authentic? Why prosocial? Why rebellion?

First up, authenticity feels like an essential ingredient of contemporary cool, perhaps because so much of society is plagued by pretence, duplicity and charlatanism (sweeping generalisation ahoy). On this view, people and brands that give the impression of sincerity and integrity – whatever their domain of interest – should at least be candidates for that sparkling reverence we call ‘cool’.

But what about the layers of recursive irony that post-post-modern scenesters lavish upon their every act? Are those scenesters not utterly inauthentic, but also the epitome of cool? At risk of tying my brain in knots, I’d say that where a person’s tastes are truly ironic, and any pretence is paraded rather than concealed, then what you have is a complicated form of authenticity, but authenticity nonetheless. Think fancy-dressing with conviction. Think mock-voguing to Madonna hits. By revelling in the absurdity of such acts (rather than the acts themselves), the cool gang undermine any accusations of fakery, instead radiating a playful honesty.

When you combine authenticity with rebellion, you get to a definition of cool that has survived for generations. Whilst the rebel cool presented by 50s and 60s Hollywood was – by virtue of its presence on the silver screen – a skin-deep phenomenon, manifested in appearances, its conceptual successor drew from more substantial reserves. Rebel cool in the Punk era was tied to an authentic sense of anger and disillusionment. In the 1980s, Boy George and his Blitz Kid chums radiated authentic rebellion through their colourful pursuit of a gender-bending hedonism. And the Rave, Grunge and Britpop scenes all prized genuine rebel credentials, despite their idiosyncratic fashion and music aesthetics.

But whereas the Punks, Grungers and Britpoppers were famed for their oft-antisocial brand of rebellion, and the Blitz Kids and Ravers were locked in a drug-fuelled self-obsession masked by a smiley facade, an emergent strain of rebel cool – exemplified by the In Rainbows release – has overtly prosocial sentiment at its heart.

Prosocial rebellion is a touchstone of the digital age. Just look at Wikipedia and the wider open-source movement, which rebels against the old, oligarchic model of knowledge. The rebellion in question simply involves flinging open the doors, and inviting the public in to observe, contribute to, and self-police an emergent knowledge community. Then there’s the Web 2.0 phenomenon, so beloved of the tech and media press, which is essentially just one big media revolution, with mass sharing and participation as its goals. Interestingly, Diginatives growing up with prosocial rebellion are taking it offline, too, as evidenced by the DIO (Do It Ourselves) Underage scene, promoted and populated by a gang of like-minded and like-aged kids who don’t want to attend gigs with their clingy, babyboomer parents.

Working backwards through our three elements of contemporary cool, we can surely classify Radiohead as rebels. Yes, they are a big band with lots of money, but this one stunning act of subversion may just trigger a revolution in the way every other major (and minor) band markets, prices and distributes its music. You only have to look at Oasis circa 2007 to see what a big band with lots of money but no sense of rebellion (or direction, or talent) looks like.

The In Rainbows release, as I’ve already suggested, is an indisputably prosocial act. Prosocial because it promotes access, trust and autonomy (by leaving the pricing decision up to the individual) and because it actively enables the cross-platform fluidity and shareability of content (by omitting DRM restrictions) that music fans have previously been denied.

Finally, this prosocial act of rebellion is an authentic one, essentially because Radiohead have gambled a whole album’s worth of creative capital on its success. Not just any album, either. Critics have called it their best in a decade – a masterclass in musical pluralism – and the band themselves describe its creation as a torturous, multi-year process fraught with tension and dispute that nearly broke-up the band. To stick to your experimental guns both musically and en route to market, despite internal and external pressure, is surely the essence of authenticity.

So, then. Radiohead are cool right now, cool right now is authentic prosocial responsibility (APR), and – just in case classical logic doesn’t hold true for rock bands – Radiohead have been shown to emphatically meet the APR criteria.

Perhaps APR is just one part of contemporary cool. Make of it what you will. As a Diginative Radiohead fan, all I can do is share it unconditionally, invite you to choose its value and welcome any response.

Friday, September 14, 2007

(Near-) live blogging at Ogilvy Verge

I did a spot of liveblogging at Ogilvy's Verge event at the British Library yesterday.

Well, it wasn't quite live. I watched the presenters present, then wrote my posts in the lunch and tea breaks. (I know us Diginative are famed for our multi-tasking, but trying to simultaneously absorb, evaluate and respond to someone else's nervous mumblings really isn't much fun, and tends to result in sloppy "X said Y" reporting, as opposed to the cunning commentary I obviously aspire to.)

You can read my quasi-spontaneous reactions to Rory Sutherland's excellent keynote (here) and a throwaway comment from the BBC woman (here) if you've got nothing better to do on a sunny Friday afternoon.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Discovery Channel ain't MY tribe

The mention of 'tribes' by an advertiser produces a Pavlovian response in me. I start to shiver. I get a bit anxious. Because I know what's coming...

Something like this.


Now, I've got nothing against those who wax lyrical about tribes. In fact, I subscribe wholeheartedly to tribe hype: we live in a long tail world where tribes multiply by the day, covering every conceivable niche interest. There are real tribes and virtual tribes - with the latter driving the explosion in tribe numbers.

But how do Discovery choose to represent this paradigm shift in social relations?

With a competition straight out of 1980s Blue Peter.

To win, all you have to do is complete the following sentence in no more than 250 words: 'Being part of my tribe inspires me because...'

Oh, and don't forget to submit a tribe motto and a picture.

Dear God. Did the whole Web 2.0 thing pass these guys by? Or is this their idea of participation, sharing and community in action?

That a competition about tribes can be entered by one individual visiting a single website says it all. This should have been an expansive web adventure, calling on multiple tribe members to amass content and solve ARG-type puzzles spread across tribal hubs like Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. It's crying out for collective endeavour; for something that demonstrates the dynamism, spirit and crowd clout that characterise modern tribes.

Poor old Discovery. Their brand should be super-relevant to adventurous, experience hungry Diginatives. But this campaign puts them back in their old media, old world box.

I'm sure that a few worthier-than-thou, silver ring thing obsessives will jump at the chance to tell the world about their tribe in micro essay format. But c'mon, what about the rest of us? Do you seriously think I want to write 250 words about my tribe, when I could be conversing and collaborating with them instead?


Monday, July 30, 2007

Rhythm of Lines

I didn't really 'get' the new Audi A5 ads (TV and press) - not until I stumbled upon their interactive sibling, anyway.

'What's all this about lines?', I mused. I'm buying a car, not a drawing. Did the end product fail to live up to its sketchy conception? Did some hapless work experience kid delete the hours of racey autobahn footage I was expecting?

All became clear when the ever-fabulous FWA pointed me in the direction of Audi's Rhythm of Lines microsite - web destination du jour for July 26.

And now I'm completely sold on the whole lines/rhythm thing.

Imagine a high-brow, hi-tech hybrid of Line Rider and Moto Colours, and you're nearly there. Yes, it's all a bit arty farty. But that's OK, because you, me and everyone else with a broadband connection is invited to get arty and farty with it.

The impressive Papervision-built site allows visitors to create and share 4D (3 spatial dimensions + 1 temporal dimension) virtual sculptures out of nothing but coloured lines, and all whilst listening to the same sumptuous classical score that soundtracks the TV spot.

Once you're done creating your animated masterpiece you can take a picture of it from any conceivable angle and distance courtesy of more Papervision cleverness. Then - if hubris allows - you can submit it to the judgement of other visitors via the on-site exhibition, or your friends via a simple advocacy mechanism. Best of all, you can download your animation as a personalised screensaver. How cool is that? (Apparently not very.)

All this could take upwards of 15 minutes - not that you'll notice the passage of time.

This is the kind of immersive interactive experience that the web was made for. It's completely abstract, completely indulgent, but completely engaging.

Whether I could articulate and explain the Rhythm of Lines concept to someone else is doubtful, but I do now feel deeply attuned to its audio-visual aesthetic. (OK, so the making-of video hosted on the site kinda helped me in my quest for understanding).

Moreover, the sophistication of the idea and the fact that it took me a couple of gos to master my 4D sculpture technique only added to the satisfaction I felt upon departing the site.

Y'see, like any Diginative, I don't want everything on a plate. I don't want my daily dose of inspiration to be served up as a 30 or 60" slice of commerical rhetoric.

But give me a challenge; give me something tricky and techy to get my teeth into, and I'll happily defy my stereotype and give you back sizeable chunks of my time.

Now clearly, this car isn't aimed at the Diginative generation. And there has to be a question as to how many prospective A5 buyers will find the aforementioned 15 minutes in their Blackberry-burdened schedules to appreciate all that has to offer.

Let's hope lots of them do, because this web element of the campaign illuminates and elucidates the opaque press and TV executions that make up the media agency numbers. Without it, I'd still be wondering what all those lines are about.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Jack Penate - Spit at Stars

NME have been championing London's (re)emergent DIY scene since... well... since doing so seemed like it might shift more magazines than yet another Oasis feature.

Slated one month, feted the next - that's music journalism for ya folks.

But fair dos, in his interview with this week's front page pairing, Jack Penate and Kate Nash, NME journo Mark Beaumont has summed up the current youth/music zeitgeist rather nicely, albeit with reference to its commercial front-end:

'What the arrival of this four-headed [Jamie, Lily, Kate, Jack] flounce-pop beast the birth of a new breed of pop star - fun, frolicsome and (crucially) aspirational. Think about it - what does the media tell the spangly vested 10-year-olds singing into their hairbrushes these days? The pussycat Dolls tell them they'll never be a pop star because they're not anorexic/pretty/buxom enough. The X Factor tells them they'll never be a pop star because they'd have to beat four million people in a six-month contest to win the chance and even then you'll probably not sell enough and get dropped inside a year. And what do Jamie, Lily, Kate, and Jack tell the teary little dreamers? They tell them they can be a pop star - they merely need to pick up a guitar/PowerBook/sampler and play.'
These DIY pop stars are the vanguard of the Diginative generation. They've grown up with mobiles and MSN. They've graduated from the University of Myspace. And now they're plying their DIY trade in the big wide world beyond the little square screen.

If technology that scares the shit out of your parents has become a boring second nature, then boshing out a few notes and lyrics is hardly going to present much of a challenge.

Watch out for DIY Diginatives in the art, film, fashion and business worlds. Their fearless, entrepreneurial spirit knows no bounds.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Good old customer service

There's an age-old marketing mantra which says that a customer service problem (a fuck-up, to you and me) dealt with swiftly and satisfactorily can instantly morph into a customer service solution, leaving said customer happier than if he had never perceived a problem in the first place.

Well, it might be old, but that mantra still rings true. Especially in the digital age, where some e-businesses - but no customers - think that offering discounted prices and minor convenience entitles them to do away with customer service altogether.

Predictably, it was an old-school business - but one which has adapted very well to digital life - that today offered-up a great case study in customer service.

There's a postal strike in England and Wales this Friday. Which means my copy of The Economist won't be delivered as usual. But I don't mind, because someone called Yvonne Ossman sent me a signed email (lovely mix of the old and the digi) to pre-emptively explain the service interruption, and apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Oh, and she managed to get a bit of cross-promotion for the website and the new audio service in there, too. (Neither of which I will have to pay for, as a subscriber.)

I think that's all rather brilliant. And yes, I do feel just that little bit more loyal and warm-fuzzy towards the Economist brand as a result.

Here's Yvonne's note (click to expand):

I know what you're thinking: Diginatives aren't allowed to read The Economist. Well, any company that can get a printed magazine, a web presence and a customer service policy as right as they do deserves everyone's patronage, regardless of technographic profile.

Three cheers (diggs?) for The Economist!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Diesel Cult and me

Just in case you give-a-shit, I'm now a 'Preacher' for Diesel Cult (get me), where I'll be mostly preaching about style, music, places and art.

Here's my Preacher profile. And here's my first and second articles. Please feel free to comment.

Oh, and apologies for such a blatant piece of cross-self-promotion. I'm a Diginative; cross-self-promotion is what I do.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Punk is dead. Long live DIY.

Boombox clubber, June 24th 2007. Photo Courtesy of

Looking back – 30 years back, to be precise – that Punk thing was all a bit tame.

Torn t-shirts bodged together with safety pins; shops called ‘SEX’; rock stars swearing on TV; rude versions of the National Anthem... Pah! An average day’s train-surfing on YouTube kinda puts Messers Maclaren, Rotten and Strummer to shame.

"Hold-up you sacrilegious, iconoclastic twat..." I here you (start to) say. And perhaps you're right, or would have been if I'd let you finish. But I'm talking now, so shurrup and listen.

If Punk was such a damp squib, how comes, when slouched in a Greenwich cinema a few weeks back, I couldn’t help but cream my pants as the story of The Clash and their Punk-rock beginnings was retold?

(The film I'm chatting on about is Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, a gushing biog of the late Clash singer, directed by long-time friend and original Punk videographer Julien Temple. It was great, and pleasantly loud - the whole cinema shook-like-fook each time White Riot graced the generally riotous soundtrack.)

If it ain’t the messy attire and naughty words of Punk circa ‘77 that still inspires and excites, then what exactly is it?

Three letters: D-I-Y

Forget about the angry, anti-establishment bravado that fuelled the original Punkstars. It’s the DIY ethic that we owe Strummer et al eternal thanks for.

And DIY is back. Big time.

Except this time it’s not angry.

All over the world (OK, all over the East End of London, Greenwich Village in NYC and other urban hotspots) the kids are doing their thing, making their shit, and generally DIY-ing it up.

Don’t believe me? Check out or for a snapshot of the DIY chic that’s rocking Shoreditch clubs like Boombox, Durrr, Foreign, Trailor Trash and Modular Club. It’s a scene where weird is wonderful and every fucker’s a self-stylist.

OK, so the kids are dressing crazy again. Who gives?

Well, that’s not even half the story. Straddling the epicentre of this new movement are gangs of DIY artists, designers, photographers, musicians, DJs, promoters and bloggers who create and communicate their own trend-setting agenda. They don’t hate the establishment. They just don’t take any notice of them. They’re doing it ALL for themselves, with a little help from interweb communities that gorge on pre-party-planning and post-party-scanning. (Yes, I’m talking about Myspace – not the apogee of middle-class dullness that is Facebook.)

Take Alistair Allan of Dirty Dirty Dancing fame (see link above), who has become a major celeb on the London fashion scene, just by taking party snaps and posting them on his makeshift web gallery the next morning. French Connection wanted him for their next shoot. They couldn’t have him: Alistair’s too busy taking pics of Hoxton eccentrics to give a toss about some poxy ad campaign.

Similarly, blogging fashion photographers like NYC's The Sartorialist are reclaimed global street-style from the magazines and advertisers. His improvised portraits match the DIY ethic of the style-conscious urbanites that feature on his blog.

Put simply: there’s a self-sufficient DIY culture out there (in London's East End, NYC and beyond) that has spawned, nurtured and showcased itself. The DIY club kids style their own kerazy-cool outfits, the DIY promoters and DJs provide the ents, the DIY photographers take the snaps, and the DIY bloggers spread the word (not forgetting the image).

Want more DIY? Check out Matthew 'the new Andy Warhol' Stone
(here and here), who shoots his !WOWOW! Collective friends in faux-renaissance poses (see below), showcasing the results in DIY exhibitions under the South Bank railway arches. Or have a flick through !WOWOW! bible Super Super, which stewarded the rise of New Rave - a fashion and music aesthetic that epitomises the nouveau DIY movement, complete with smiley overtones.

'New Rave!' you squeal. 'Isn't that hideously mainstream?' Well yes, it has become so. But that only serves to demonstrate the power and timeliness of DIY's second-coming.

I quite unashamedly attended an all-ages Hadouken! gig at ULU Union a couple of weeks back. It really was a sight to behold: hundreds of 14 / 15 year-old kiddywinks dressed-to-impress in their finest New Rave garb. I triple-cursed myself for not having a camera about my person, as this was trend heaven. The sophistication and downright impressiveness of the DIY-styling on display put your average fashion show after-party to shame. Even the simplest of looks incorporated the ubiquitous Hadouken! logo tee - buried under layers of clashing colour and complete with personalised felt-tip scrawlings, of course.

Hadouken! epitomise the DIY spirit as manifested in the current UK music scene. It's a case of grab yourself a guitar / bass / sampler / synth / glockenspiel /mic and start boshing out some noise. Folk? Rock? Electro? Electro-rock?. Ged-over-it. Genres are out the window. Other noteworthy DIY acts that have blurred boundaries to devastating effect include Bonde do Role and CSS (both recent graduates of Brazil's emergent DIY scene), plus Enter Shikari, Jack Penate, New Young Pony Club, Trash Fashion, Patrick Wolf, and (the now seasoned genre-buster) MIA. Check out the Modular Records label and their weekly East End basement rave-ups for a quick introduction to DIY dance music culture.

Music - both now and then - has been a convenient vehicle for DIY's journey toward the mainstream. But in today's tech-obsessed world there are other drivers of the DIY revolution. Diginatives empowered to create and distribute all manner of interestingness via the web are embracing DIY like never before. Marketers call it 'user-generated content'. Your average teen calls it 'videoing a band on my phone camera, uploading it to the YouTube and sharing it with me mates'.

So what does this all add up to? A new dawn for DIY. A revisiting of Punk minus the anger. A new post-Punk era that reaches beyond the Blitz Kid clique.

As some bloke in fancy trainers once said: just do it.

MTV does the green thing...

...and does it rather badly.

Firstly, the new site has no sound, just a deathly silence - which is more than a little weird coming from MTV, whose existence is (or was) premised on music promos.

Then there's the cringe-worthy copy that chats on about 'consuming' as if that were an established part of the youth venacular.

Hey, at least there's some 'ads from top agencies' - just what I was looking for. Oh, and hang on, there's something here about carbon footprints too.... *yawn*

It gets better: the 'cool stuff' section is 'coming soon!'. Great. I'll stick with the 'ads' and the 'celeb shouts' then.

Credit to MTV for managing to talk both over and under their audience at the same time, using a mixture of industry speak and patronising kiddy chat ('We've got to save this planet. SERIOUSLY!') to really miss the mark.

Christ, I've just stumbled upon the accompanying MySpace page and blog. They're not pretty.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Nothing but nothing but brilliance

Yep, it's another post about the boringly brilliant Innocent Drinks Ltd.

Here's a Web preview of their in-house-created TV spot for kids' smoothies.

It's perfect. Hard to know what else to say, really.

Oh go on then...

Admittedly it's a different comms task, but I much prefer the new spot (less scatty, less worthy, more smiley) to the one Lowe 'helped' (???) them make last year:

Now that Innocent have so completely (and repeatedly) debunked the myth that in-house creative doesn't work, do we agency-types need a new excuse to justify our existence?!

Monday, April 23, 2007

When viral spreads disease

Gotta love it when a fancy-pants ambient stunt 'goes viral'...but not quite as planned.

Marketing types should have learned not to play with urban fire (aka graffiti) after the PSP debacle a couple of years back.

The highest profile word-of-mouth balls-up of recent weeks has been's Information Revolution campaign. Its backfiring has less to do with ill-conceived wall scribblings and more to do with the fact that (the brand whose ambassador used to be a butler) never was and never is going to start an Information Revolution - especially not one that consumers have no appetite for. (Most people want more of Google's genuinely revolutionary applications, not less.)

Painful landing page copy like this doesn't help the cause:

"Welcome, person of courage... [cue lots of whinging about Google without actually saying the G word] we've been forced to go underground [what, TV and poster advertising and a crappy microsite?] to get the word out about No one said it would be easy [damn right, and you've failed miserably]. We're glad you could join us [sorry, I only came here to gloat]. Information Revolution Now!"

The cod-soviet grammar of that last sentence is brilliant. Give that man a Lion.

Changing tack slightly, it seems that marketers aren't the only people struggling to meet the challenge posed by P2P distribution. The Onion reports that some of the more serious jounalists at the NY Times were shocked and upset to discover that the newspaper's online readers tend to pass on articles about sex, animals and sex with animals much more than they do stories about Iraq and gender politics:

"I thought my Elizabeth Edwards breast cancer article the other week had a great chance, as it was at the intersection of politics, health, death, and family—and had the word 'breast' in the headline—but it didn't even make the top 10," Nagourney said. "Whatever."

So, what have we learnt about viral? Well, don't try to do it. Don't worry about it. Instead, just focus on making interesting stuff and making it shareable. Blog-happy Diginatives and their bulging Gmail addressbooks will do the rest.

Marketers can never own viral: it's not a medium, it's a mode of distribution, which by its very nature can't be controlled. That doesn't preclude us from observing and learning from it, though. Viral transmission is real behaviour, not reported behaviour. The contents and scale of that transmission comprise a dip-test for the digital age.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Your smoothie needs you

The folks at Innocent don't just talk the talk.

And they don't just walk the walk, either. Not on their own, anyway.

No, Innocent are inviting all of you to join them on a branded march to the virtual doorstep of Number 10, where you can voice your protest at the unjust tax legislation affecting their company and it's customers.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that legions (herds?) of Innocent Smoothie fanatics will clamber over each other to sign the e-petition.

Is this the most remarkable packaged-goods brand in the world today?


Friday, April 13, 2007

Mitchell or Webb?

I watched the first episode of the new series of Peep Show on Channel 4 last night. It was bloody great. Comedy gold, in fact.

However, the thing that stuck in my head (curse you marketing profession) wasn't the witty screenplay, or those internal monologues for which the show is famous.

No, no. The thing I couldn't stop thinking about was this:

Yep, that's right. Peep Show has turned into a half hour advert for Mac computers.

I don't know if the timing of the recent PC vs Mac campaign featuring Mitchell and Webb was pure coincidence or pure genius. Either way, it's been live for just long enough that when Peep Show came on last night my first thought was of PCs and Macs. More precisely, it was of Mitchell's character, Mark, as a metaphor for the PC, and Webb's character, Jez, as a metaphor for the Mac.

And there lies the problem. Neither Mark nor Jez delivers a particularly flattering association. In fact, it's Mark the nerdy cynic, not Jez the insouciant chump, that I find myself strangely endeared to.

So, that's Mark over Jez. Mitchell over Webb. PC over Mac. Oopsy daisy TBWA - that clever bit of casting no longer looks quite so clever.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Brand Portals

Russell Davies has suggested that a crop of small ideas united by a multifarious and organic Brand Voice should in some cases be preferred to the tyrannical Big Idea. (Check out Russell's Honda APG paper for a case in point.)

I've been thinking about how all of this might apply to brands on the web. More precisely, I've been thinking about the following question:

'How can a Brand Voice manifest itself online?'

To answer that question I'll need to fork off on a couple of tangents: the first will concern the humble web portal, and the second a marketing trend dubbed Brand Curation. Stick with me as I veer off-piste - the examples and conclusions that follow are worth the wait.


Before Google came along, web-enthusiasts obsessed over things called 'portals', not things called 'search engines'. The default way to discover stuff online was through exploration of the Yahoo, Lycos or Excite portals, not by whacking keywords into search boxes.

But what exactly is a web-portal?

The concept of a portal that I have in mind is similar to that of a newspaper or magazine: each comprises a collection of content with a specific domain of interest and a defined editorial voice. (Note how the web presence of most newspapers and magazines is portal-like in look and feel. My favourite UK press brand, The Guardian, has used its portal to morph into a global multi-media brand.)

In addition to collecting content, portals - again, like newspapers and magazines - tend to point to relevant third-party content with which they share a domain of interest, if not always an editorial voice. It's hard to imagine now, but the Yahoo portal started life as an outward-looking web directory, only building in naval-gazing proprietary applications and content over time.

For more on the history of portals and search, John Batelle's book and blog are essential reading.

Right. That's enough about portals for now. On to tangent two...


As the web continues to grow exponentially, and the value of filtering, aggregation and recommendation mechanisms grows with it, a viable role for brands online would seem to be that of curator - either of branded content or third-party content, or both.

Contagious Magazine recently noted the Brand Curation trend, but mainly in reference to brand involvement with real world arts events. I'm interested in the virtual world (specifically the WWW), and in a more engaging and dynamic form of curation; a form of curation where the brand directly presents consumers with curated content in a bespoke and interactive branded context, and then points - or in some cases, leads - them to web destinations where they can find more content like it. In short, I'm interested in Brand Portals.

Referring back to my definition of a portal, all a brand need do to create one is collect (or curate) content with a specific domain of interest and a unique editorial voice. This editorial voice is of course the Brand Voice touched upon earlier. And so the question 'How does a Brand Voice manifest itself online?' can be answered, 'Through a Brand Portal'.


So, who's doing the Brand Portal thing? And more importantly, who's doing it well?

Part of the reason I wanted to write something about Brand Portals is that some of the most likeable and successful brands around today have utilised them - particularly those brands who are liked and successful in the digital sphere.

The first brand I ought to mention here is Absolut. In recent years, Absolut and their interactive agency Great Works have created a series of capsule campaigns, some (Bling Bling, Ruby Red) to support new product launches, and others (Lomo, 100 Absolutes) to progress the master-brand. For the purposes of this post, it's not these apparently disparate campaigns that I'm interested in, but rather the coherent Brand Voice they all share and the Brand Portal whose nifty carousel interface organises them for consumers.

Absolut's Brand Portal is more new-Yahoo than old-Yahoo: it is navel-gazing not outward-looking, with a focus on own-brand content. That's okay for an iconic drinks brand with an arty pedigree, but for other brands, the old-Yahoo approach is more appropriate.

Onitsuka Tiger's Made of Japan campaign has been noted and applauded by various commentators in recent weeks. The website element of this campaign epitomises the old-Yahoo approach to Brand Portals. By clicking on one of the hundreds of tiles that make up an interactive trainer mosaic, users are transported to an authentic Japanese blog or website.

Whilst the content aggregated by Onitsuka's portal is all third-party, it still fits within the parameters of a single, albeit multifarious, Brand Voice. In fact, it is this third-party content that adds colour and nuance to the Brand Voice, rooting it in the everyday lives of natural brand advocates.

Contrast this with the portal mentioned earlier, which links to content that betrays its Brand Voice. Paradoxically, this betrayal is a crucial component of a media brand's voice. Unlike your average consumer brand, media brands must reference some off-voice sources to retain integrity.

I'm digressing again. Back to the examples.

So, I've looked at a Brand Portal that takes a new-Yahoo approach, collating purely own-brand content. I've also looked at a Brand Portal that takes an old-Yahoo approach, aggregating on-voice third-party content. There's two further examples I'd like to discuss: a Brand Portal that takes a mixed approach, gathering both own-brand and third-party content, and a Brand Portal that isn't tied to a brand website.

First up, the mixed portal.

Now, whilst conceiving a marketing trend that doesn't reference Innocent Smoothies is certainly an ambition of mine, it's not one I can fulfil here. Innocent have mastered the Brand Portal.

The most recent example of Innocent's portal mastery is the Innocent Pinboard. The Pinboard metaphor is a great excuse to gather content produced by Innocent consumers and third-parties, as well as stuff from the company's prolific in-house creative department. The April 12th pinboard I'm looking at (Innocent update it daily) features an animated tip of the day, a fruit fact of the day, plus consumer photos of a customised lunchbox and a dog playing with an innocent carton. There's also a widget linking to the Innocent Flickr group. It's a truly mixed Brand Portal.

What the Innocent Pinboard doesn't do is stretch the Innocent Brand Voice - certainly not in the same way as the Onitsuka portal does. Whilst the Pinboard incorporates consumer-generated and third-party content, this content is largely (though not entirely) product-centric. It's mostly about fruit and Innocent smoothies.

Another Innocent portal initiative does a better job of exploring the full range of the brand's Voice.

Every Thursday morning, tens of thousands of people receive an Innocent newsletter in email format. It's mostly composed of product and packaging updates, with a whimsical tale or two from Fruit Towers thrown in for good measure. But it's the little section at the foot of the newsletter that I really look forward to. 'Other stuff...' is where you'll find a handful of bulleted headlines that link to weird and wonderful things located in distant corners of the interweb. Whether it's space pics, brain facts or pet vids, the Brand Voice is unmistakeably Innocent. It's a great example of how to play portal in an off-site context.

I'm conscious of case study overkill, so I won't analyse the Milwaukee Light portal here. (An old-Yahoo-style 'point' will do.)

However, I do want to leave behind a slideshow featuring my favourite example of a Brand Portal: the White Rabbit banner trail created for Mini. This comprised a series of linked banners that led consumers on a journey through obscure third-party websites that share Mini's playfully eccentric Brand Voice. It's another off-site portal, and one that cleverly subverts the standard banner campaign.


So, to summarise:
  • Brand Portals are a bit like Brand Curation, except better, and on the web
  • They can showcase the full range of a multifarious Brand Voice
  • There are new-Yahoo-style Brand Portals like Absolut's
  • There are old-Yahoo-style Brand Portals like Onitsuka's
  • There are mixed portals like Innocent Pinboard
  • And there are off-site portals like Innocent's 'Other stuff...' and Mini's White Rabbit banner trail

I appreciate that the whole Brand Portal thing is conceptually quite raw at present, so feel free to comment, critique and add flesh to my bones.

If, however, you think it all makes perfect sense, then please direct me to any other Brand Portals you've stumbled across on your e-travels.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Impossible is Nothing 2007

Interesting to see Adidas focusing on premium, athlete-generated content - as opposed to rough 'n' ready, consumer-generated content - with a new microsite supported by video teasers on YouTube. This gives the campaign a human feel without the tackiness that CGC so often imbues. (The bog-standard CGC venture is starting to look more than a little tired, even from the creatively-empowered Diginative consumer perspective).

The fact that the athletes featured in the 2007 Impossible is Nothing campaign are taking a step back from their sports to do something thoughtful and arty (but not overly pretentious) helps to keep the campaign on-brand without resorting to product-centric mundanity. Of the individual performances, David Beckham impresses with emo-like candour and sincerity, whilst Lionel Messi's revelation of childhood growth hormone issues is genuinely touching.

From a design perspective, I like the use of an urban studio scene as background: it's a nice brand fit, and makes sense as a holding device for the athletes and their artwork. I also like the video player interface - simple but stylised. I'm not so keen on the pop-up landing page - it's far from simple to bookmark and I REALLY don't like advertisers - or anyone else, for that matter - messing with my browser toolbar.

More on data and the semantic web

On Saturday, The Guardian kindly updated us on the progress of Google's mission to digitise the world's books. Meanwhile, in The Economist's Technology Quarterly, there's an interview with Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who invented the web (nice claim to fame), which discusses his lack of excitement about Web 2.0 - the web was designed for user participation from day one - and his vision for the Semantic Web.

I imagine the Google Books project will go hand in hand with the development of semantic search functionality. With the world's books at my fingertips, it would certainly be nice to run searches like "memorable quotes by male protagonists in 19th century gothic novels set in london". To successfully deal with such a search would undoubtedly require a layer of computer-readable meta-data (the so-called 'semantics' of the Semantic Web).

Jeep swaps car-wash for brand-wash

Is nothing sacred? Seemingly not. Every Diginative's favourite childhood movie, The Goonies, has been brand-washed by Jeep.

The Jeep/Goonies advergame takes pride of place on a fancy-looking microsite. But as the old saying goes, looks ain't everything. The first level of the game requires the player to drive round (and round, and round) in a jeep doing not very much. I ran out of time and - shock horror - opted not to 'play again'.

There's also a cringe-worthy trailor for the game featuring... well, Jeep, for the most part. Good job I didn't watch it until after I played the game. Or maybe bad job - that trailor could have saved me the 5 minutes I spent 'engaging' with the Jeep brand (for 'engaging', read 'learning to hate').

A couple of basic-but-golden rules for branded content: (1) make sure the content doesn't disappoint, i.e. make it funny/sexy/challenging/useful/something other than dull (2) take a brands-off approach, plumping for relevence and depth of engagement over explicit branding.

Jeep scores 0 out of 2 in my books.

No doubt Jeep's agency thought reaching Diginatives by combining their favourite film property (The Goonies) and their favourite media platform (online) was an easy win. But playing around with people's favourite things is a dangerous game. The result of that game may well be a shock defeat, unless your average Goonies fan has superior advergame skillz to yours truly (quite likely) and a penchant for heavy branding (less likely).

Friday, March 09, 2007

Too much data?

This week, Emarketer and Techonology Guardian, amongst others, have been getting rather excited about an IDC report which analyses and forecasts the world's digital data output.

The findings are impressive and scary in equal measures. Emarketer notes that 'the amount of information created and replicated in 2007 (255 exabytes) will be greater, for the first time, than available storage capacity (246 exabytes)'. So the economics of data storage (scarce supply, insatiable demand) are about to get interesting. Well, maybe not quite yet: lots of that data will get deleted, and hard drives will get more efficient, apparently. But how long before the rate of production (minus deletion) outstrips the rate of efficient storage creation? Now that HD and Blueray DVD protection has been cracked, it won't be long before bloated BitTorrents flood the net. And then there's Joost. Uh oh.

Technology Guardian is more interested in looking backwards, and finds a great shock-stat of its own buried deep in the report (i.e. beyond the executive summary):

'The sheer amount of data that has been created by the digital age becomes clear when comparing it with the spoken word. Experts estimate that all human language since the dawn of time would take up about 5 exabytes if stored in digital form. In comparison, last year's email traffic accounted for 6 exabytes.'

As anyone with a passing interest in digital media will confirm, the data burden is becoming ever more unmanageable. Despite the best efforts of Google, Technorati, Digg and their legions of paid and unpaid contributors, the data mountain is growing too fast and too vast for humans to sort through. Step forward the Semantic Web: a brave new world wide web where computers get on with it and we get exactly what we want. What started out as a quixotic vision is now one step closer to becoming a reality thanks to pioneering projects like Freebase, which - with a little bit of help from the online community - hopes to map the inter-relationships between all online data in a language that computers can 'understand'. (Think of it as a structured, supersized wikipedia that fills in the gaps for you).

The Semantic Web is kind of like artificial intelligence lite, which has got the uber-nerds excited. But, as O'Reilly comments, projects like Freebase are still 'very much in Alpha'. Whether the Semantic Web will save Diginatives from a life of digislavery has yet to be seen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Joost will push personalisation

Following on from my post about the personalisation trend, here's a quote from the pre-launch FAQ for Joost, a revolutionary social-TV application from the guys behind Skype and Kazaa:

"Why am I being asked for personal information? What will you do with it?

The only information we absolutely require from you is a username and password to log you into the system. But if you'd like to give us more information about yourself, it will help us to provide you with a better and more personal TV experience - we'll be able to recommend particular features that we think you'll like, for example, and show you adverts that are more relevant to you.

You can give us as much or as little information about yourself as you like. However much you choose to share with us, we will never reveal it to any third parties without your express permission."

Putting consumers in control of personalisation is a smart move. It's the covert nature of targeting that many find unsettling, so Joost's transparent and customisable approach should help smooth the transition to personalised ads.

For Diginative teens and students who can't spend enough time glued to their PC screens, Joost is bound to be a massive hit. The combination of full-screen quality, total controllability and real-time community features (chat, messaging) really is a step-change for web-based TV, and proof that convergence ain't all about that big screen in the lounge.

So when will Joost land? Well, it's currently only available as a private Beta test (join the queue), but in the mean time, the screenshots look rather lush:

Friday, January 12, 2007

Sacrificing privacy for personalisation

Those recommended books that pop up on Amazon; those Just for You tracks suggested by the iTunes Music Store- they can be a little spooky at first. How did they know I'd love Richard Dawkins athiest polemic, or track 6 from the Punk Rock Power Ballads compilation?

Fans of the popular social-music application LastFM will be familiar with intelligent recommendation systems of this sort, which compare an individual user's inputs with the historic inputs of a huge database of users to generate related results that are likely to be of interest to that individual. For more on social-music, check out Johnny Dee's article in The Guardian Guide, which offers a neat overview of the movement and its key protagonists.

Recommendation services are just one example of the personalisation trend that's sweeping the web. And not before time. Left unfiltered, the Long Tail dream can quickly turn into a nightmare of excess content and choice-anxiety. Hence, as we're slowly coming to realise, the Amazons and iTunes of this world are doing us a favour. They pick strands from the Tail that suit our tastes and save our sanity. (Obviously there's a sales incentive for these retail behemoths, and we will increasingly find that they pursue us with so-called 'remarketing' tactics, but for now, at least, they're kind of on our side.)

And you know what? Those recommendations are pretty good. They're not always right, nor anywhere near. But they are right perhaps 3 or 4 times out of 10, which is enough to be useful. Moreover, this ratio will only get better as systems swell with ever more hard data on the likes and dislikes of people like you.

In his new year article for Ad Age, Steve Rubel predicts a change in how we perceive and manipulate the web. Whereas 2006 saw the continued explosion of web content, 2007 will be the year of a great implosion, Rubel predicts. Whilst the amount and variety of content available will continue to grow, increasingly sophisticated micro-chunking technologies like RSS will allow us to select just those slithers of content that really interest us.

There is a catch. In order to benefit from recommendation services and micro-chunking technologies, we consumers must give up a little of our privacy. By browsing our personalised picks, we tacitly agree to the exploitation of past click-streams. To solicit niche content one must volunteer personal details, and deal in the revealing currency of tags and keywords.

It seems that we are increasingly happy with this settlement. As eMarketer reports, both our positive view of personalisation and our hunger for help in tackling the Long Tail, even at the cost of privacy, are reflected in the results of a recent ChoiceStream survey. 79% of US adults who responded to the survey expressed an interest in receiving personalised content (83% amongst the Diginative-biased 18-34 age group, presumably due to their increased familiarity with personalisation, and their grasp of its benefits). And as the tables below demonstrate, the willingness of these adults to exchange personal details and click-streams in order to gain the desired personalised content has risen significantly since 2005:

Most interestingly for marketers, more than a third of all US adults and a majority of the 18-34 age-group profess their enthusiasm for personalisation in the realm of advertising:

This widespread pre-acceptance of personalised ads is a surprise. One might have expected the increased salience of civil liberties issues to prevent digital marketers from exploiting the inherent bidirectionality and addressability of some digital technologies to deliver personalised communications.

The special enthusiasm of Diginatives for personalisation is particularly pleasing, and allows marketers to begin planning for a super-targeted future.