Care less Wispa

Does anyone else think the following – one an honest-to-goodness advertising campaign (from Fallon no less) and one a piss-take of the world without computers – look suprisingly similar?

(And yes, that is Rolf Harris).

The entire cracked photoshop contest is a lot of fun, imagining what the world would be like if the internet disappeared tomorrow. Particularly good is the theatre audience watching a cat doing something cute (a la YouTube) and the real life Rick-rolling.

The Wispa campaign basically says: people like sharing this crap on the internet, now let’s take some pap and shove it on a billboard sign. There’s something interesting in the idea from the point of view of creating salient advertising – each poster will be unusual and might make the passerby wonder what on earth it is about? But – of course – it will also be meaningless to most people.

Salience is important, but… erm… what the hell has it got to do with chocolate bars.

The site explains:

“We’ve decided to give our advertising space to you guys as a thank you for all the love you’ve shown to Wispa.”

“We have bought thousands of billboards all over the UK and Ireland so that you can share your special messages with the world. Yes, that’s right, you let us know your special message and if it gets selected we will post it on a real billboard in the location of your choice.

“So if your mum lives in Birmingham you could post her a special message, say a poem, and we’ll try to give you a site as near to her as possible.”

Here’s one:

(It’s for a dog!)

All of them are up on the site. There’s also the ‘gold panel’ of ‘normal’ (there needs to be about five sets of inverted commas around this freak show) people like Cara Stripp. Does anyone older than Cluster (see above), really think that these profiles aren’t made up?

As you have probably guessed I love Wispa, and was really keen for Cadbury to bring it back. So a few years ago I got involved with the bring back Wispa facebook group, and even though it is now back, I still spend lots of time on the site chatting to other Wispa fans and getting involved wherever I can.

I love Wispa because it’s something that I grew up with and it holds good memories for me. Everyone remembers their favourite sweet as a kid and for me it’s never changed. I like the special texture and just the fact that it tastes so gooooood!

My love of Wispa has become infamous and I often receive Wispas as parts of presents from friends and family. I even have Wispa earrings and a necklace which were specially made for me!

The thought process seems to go along these lines: People are really motivated by social media. People follow recommendations from real people. So if we make up some ‘real people’ and have them recommend us, and then get a sort of weird implied (but not really obvious) recommendation in return for some free poster sites, then everyone will love us.

We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again. The term ‘social media’ is a bit misleading for the advertising types. It is media, but not in the sense of ‘media buying’. You can’t purchase a chunk of it.

It’s certainly a truthful observation that there is a phenomonen around social media that people like it and respond to it, but it does not imply that it can be used for commercial messages. Good commercial messages can be amplified by social media. But that will happen if they’re good, interesting etc; not because they appear to be social in nature. Fallon must know this… it’s the point of the Gorilla.

I find this whole stage of advertising evolution really embarrassing to watch. It’s like a Wispa sponsored X-Factor at Sunderland townhall: “People love X-Factor, let’s get us one of those…. obviously on a smaller scale though, cause we’ve only got a 100k budget”.

Another day, another dollar


Robin sparks some interesting rants over on Advertising 2.0, in response to a frankly bizarre set of comments published in Campaign about how twitter can be used by brands.

The debate appears to be over whether brands should tweet and how – should they pretend to be real people or inanimate objects, funny characters or abstractions?

Not suprisingly many respond by dismissing twitter out of hand as nonsense (echos of ‘this internet thing will never catch on’), others talk about how no brand belongs on the microblogging site.

It seems that – to me at least – first off, we are fundementally misunderstanding the important but indirect social role of brands, and secondly that the twitter ‘debate’ is no more and no less than than the debate we used to have about brands and websites all those years ago in the ninetees (on which Amelia has been passing some suspiciously tweet-length thoughts).

Look at this. It’s a Bovril website. With a breath-taking circularity of irony (or perhaps secret plea for help from a web designer), the site’s strapline (and perhaps the brand’s slogan) is ‘give me strength’. And, indeed, what on God’s earth is the point of all this? And who thought it was a good idea (apart from the agency that created it)?

Don’t get me wrong, once you’re there, it’s quite nicely done, graphically interesting etc. But why would anyone ever go there? Even if it wasn’t difficult to use, I still wouldn’t treat it as my number 1 source of information about Bovril itself (that would be Wikipedia), Bovril recipes (is that a thing?) (I’d start in Google and since the site isn’t search engine-friendly, it doesn’t show up), outdoorsiness (ditto, you’d never get there and if you did you wouldn’t stay long because of the thiny veiled comtempt for this audience), or even gurning cows. It’s just bizarre.

Anyway, brands on twitter are all just like that: pointless, unless they manage to be interesting, useful or entertaining. And not all brands can be those things every day, using content.

I’m sorry, I don’t want to ruin the party. But don’t believe your agency when they give you this nonsense. Coca-cola office furniture making jokes is just not as funny or interesting as even your least funny mates, no matter how clever it sounded in an agency brainstorm.

We do not need a detailed study or deep meditation to tell us this. Clients: when you’re first reaction is to tell the agency ‘don’t be so bloody stupid’, trust your feelings.

The other question is, conversely, do brands have no role in social networks? After all this pointlessness, it would be easy to conclude that they have none. But I believe this is an entirely different question. Brands are massively important in social networks. But they are a method of communication not an issuer of communication.  They are talking points, they are social tokens, they are items of self expression. And, of course, this is not just true in a digital setting.

To entirely steal from Seth Goddin, to turn this effect to their advantage, brand managers must make their brand interesting to a vocal audience. Providing genuine uility can amplify this effect.

This is why Barack Obama and Stephen Fry can be interesting brands on Twitter but Starbucks and Vauxhall can not. Is it really that complex a distinction?

Search as the new science

They weren't joking

A few weeks ago, on the occassion of the company’s tenth anniversary, Marissa Mayer – Google’s VP, Search Products & User Experience – shared her thoughts on the future of search. The most striking feature of the analysis is a kind of quasi-religious fervour with which Mayer takes on her mission to extend the scope and realm of search, and of course, the pure belief that the company has in its continued ubiquity.

More than any dramatic change in paradigm, Mayer is previewing the building of an incrementally ‘better mousetrap’ – perfecting the search toy. Universal search, socially-honed search, location-orientated search, context awareness, search without the box, improved language handling and improved spelling correction.

But, as much as search has so rapidly come to dominate our  lives (and certainly our advertising), shouldn’t we be expecting more in the next ten years than just cranking the handle on technology which even our grandparents now take for granted? An idea that’s already entered our dictionaries? A noun that became a verb-generic before it’s eigth birthday.?

Let’s not forget that the Google twins are mapping the genome and the surface of Mars. They’re indexing audio clips, recreating video advertising and may even be able to help you find a cab in New York City.

Considering how far we’ve come together in the last two bubble bursts, where should we be setting our hopes for 2020?

If we were science fiction writers or TV producers, we’d have all-knowing computers with sinister voices, or at least self-driving cars.

Perhaps a greater amibition should be for us to rethink the concept of knowledge and truth in a world where we will be increasingly overwhelmed by the number of propositions to be evaluated. What we are talking about here is the ability to deliver a practical epistemology, rather than a theoretical framework.

To do this with a Platonic concept of truth is one thing. When we see truth as socially constructed, we can question again whether we are indeed all looking at the same picture, or whether communities of truth (or even conditions of truth) should be adaptable by who is searching, how they are searching, when they are searching, why they are searching. As the scope of what can be searched extends, as the scope of where search results are used becomes ever larger, the significance of this question grows too.

If a million people incorrectly believe something to be true when it is not, does that make it any less false? What about if they all blog about it? Well it certainly shouldn’t. But I think we all know that’s not the case.

What about a true thing which is all over the web but Google thinks it’s SPAM?

The problem is that for something to be true, it doesn’t matter if no-one knows it.  But to be known, something must be both true and be believed. Google’s often in charge of the later, and as it becomes ever more the owner of the context of social defintion, its role in the former will increasingly grow.

Then there will be more to its power then deciding on CPC rates.

No one to hear you scream

2012 Olympic celebrations in Trafalgar Square

An interesting comment on the last post came back to a topic which I seem to be asked, or ask myself, more and more often. If social media increasingly leads to closed groups, and tomorrow’s media consumers are increasingly avoiding the mass media, what will happen to mass-participation media events, and don’t we as a culture lose something if we lose common points of reference. What on earth will we talk about around the water cooler?

In particular, I’ve heard this as a strong initial response to Clay Shirky, who argues here that however ‘sad’ it is to play World of Warcraft, it’s a better use of the ‘cognitive surplus’ than watching a re-run of Gilligan’s Island for the 100th time. (Incidentally, what was the cognitive heatsink that we had as kids in the UK? Clearly Neighbours later on but before that? Rocketman?).

Of course, this is not a new idea. I remember years ago, a planner explained to me why you couldn’t advertise cars with direct mail – it wasn’t enough for me to know how cool my new Audi is, I need to be certain all my neighbors knew too.

Perhaps the point about ‘mass-participation media events’ isn’t that their power is diminishing (witness Apprentice this year), but rather that they are fewer and more extraordinary.

There also seems to be a point now that whole social groups can have ‘mass-participation’ events which they all know about but which are entirely closed to those outside of the group: that wierd feeling you get when everyone in a room’s been reading the same status’ and knows each others business without having ever discussed it.

It remains worth remembering a serious challenge that has been raised by commentators including Esther Dyson and Andrew Orlowski, about how these groups aren’t necessarily healthy, challenging or participatory. Often preferring to define very strict group rules and mores.

The final point, of course, is just what we mean by participation. By 2012, when the Olympic games is going on in London, what will the experience of watching it be like? If you’ve seen what NBC has planned for Beijing, the mind boggles about what it will be like in 4 1/2 years (three times the gestation period for a standard YouTube) but most certainly there will be opportunities to observe almost everything about the event, to turn the event into a private mass media event for your network, to ‘virtually’ compete and to compile, annotate and share your own coverage. 

With apologies for shoplifting to Hugh MacLeod, mass participation media events have always – of course -been social objects. So in the era of mass media, it’s not a surprise the objects themselves tended to have the same traits. Whilst we may still have global events to built frameworks around, surely local (and group) interpretation and meaning can be added to createsocial object which can be more intimately shared.

The reason, it seems to me, that nobody understands microblogging unless they do it themselves, is that they don’t understand how small social objects can be.

And, to revisit the negativity of small disconnected groups (and ever-decreasing differences of opinion in those groups), technology can take these objects and make them available to huge audiences. Anyone can write a blog, anyone can produce a LOLcat (as Shirky jokes), and by 2012, everyone will be able to participate in our global media event.

It is this access to open social objects which is at the heart of participation in all cases. It’s what got all the bloggers I know addicted, it’s what makes teenagers turn the telly off and Facebook on, and it’s what makes Amelia’s wired retired fall in love with Skype, so they can share the smallest of social objects – not  just their grandchildren’s first words or their first tooth, but their everyday stories about the day at school.

And do I really need to know how many people watched The Apprentice altogether if I know that my family, friends and colleagues watched it. Isn’t that enough?

Fun and games

Image of inside of cathedral. The church has been very successful at creating shared meaning.

There’s been a fun discussion on Gaping Void the last couple of days in response to Hugh’s post Social objects for beginners. In particular, Rachel Bellow weighed in with:

‘Social objects are the particular manifestation of shared meaning, right? So that suggests there’s a drive underlying all these manifestations… that the social object is not, in itself, the drive. The need for meaning… specifically shared meaning… is a deep human impulse that will, invariably, manifest in some form or another. If not this social object, another. Social networks like Facebook are simply evidence of that quest. Aren’t they simply forums where the quest for shared meaning can coalesce and result in manifestation (social objects)?’

I take her point to be this: What we observe might be the social object itself: the iPhone, the new baby, Christmas etc; but is the deeper underlying question about shared meaning which matters.

This is clearly not a small question, sounding more like the challenges faced in epistemology by many of the greatest philosophers for centuries. In particular, Wittgenstein (to radically oversimplify) understood all truths to be social, and the process of being judged to be correct little more than proving you could adhere to the common ‘language games’.

Just a small observation on that point. Before we had Facebook, the internet and so on, shared meaning was restricted to geographical or language groupings.

What is the most successful shared meaning ever? Surely it is the church, who managed to create a common language shared by millions across social and geographical borders.

However, as discussed here, we are not saying that the control of social meaning has been democratised by digital media. Instead, it has clearly been decentralised. Disparate groups across any divide (except the digital divide) can now free-form groups of shared meaning. The other massive shift is that being a member of one meaning-group (perhaps we should call them ‘karass‘ in honour of KV), is no longer exclusive. I can simultaneously be in multiple groups and I can bridge those groups for other members.

People have talked as Google as a ‘reputation management system‘. that’s always seemed a little narrow to me. How about Google (et al) as a ‘map of social meaning’, and imagine the power it will have when the engines understand the groupings of the communities of meaning.

This all seems very abstract. But of course, there is also a question here about exactly the how the role of social objects works in deciding how people buy things. It is this practical question which Hugh is discussing in today’s post: Why Social Objects are the Future of marketing.

Hugh asks ‘if your product is not a Social Object, why are you in business?’. I think we should revise that to ‘If your brand is not a Social Object, why are you in business?’. Brands are all about shared meaning of course, and branding is an attempt to influence and control that meaning.

I also think we need to look at two hierachies in which brands can exist as social objects. The first is the role they play in people’s lives in the continuum between need and want: between physical survival, functional value, enjoyability, emotional connection, social expression, and growth and learning. Notice the different relations we have to the heating in our houses, and our sports utility vehicles; between the newly born child and the newly purchased house. Luckily for us, as Hugh points out:

‘The bad news is, most products are boring. The good news is, most word-of-mouth is boring’.

The second hierarchy is a fascinating one as I presume it will be the key decider as to how social objects will spread, and therefore can help in marketing products. The second hierarchy is the observation that wherever a social object exists (within a context of shared meaning), it is not necessarily shared between two parties on an equal footing. Within the community of shared interest we have leaders and followers. These roles can change, but the landscape is not flat. And, similarly, the motivations around the objects themselves is not flat. Different members of the community will be trying to achieve radically different things.

Leading from behind

Jay Stevens of MySpace

There were two really strong themes from the Forrester Conference last week in Barcelona. For Financial Services, it was experience based differentiation. From the point of view of consumer brands, it was all about sharing your brand, about bringing your customers inside your marketing and product efforts, and from that building a network of vocal advocates.

Good stuff, although some of the thinking seemed a little wishful. And we are, it seems, yet to find something positive for which Dove Evolution cannot take credit, although I would be highly surprised if the success of this campaign was really as planned as Ogilvy might now be saying.

We also saw some fabulously precarious positions taken by some of the speakers. In particular, a rather faltering response from Mark Taylor at Wunderman when he was asked if the rise of social media interaction meant that one of the audience members could now give up their CRM strategy which had never really started working in the first place. Taylor started with ‘No’ and then tried ‘Yes’ before realising that he wasn’t meant to have acknowledged the premise of the question!

And headline sponsor Blast Radius (big in Canada) were talking a lot to companies about, ‘the opportunity for a billion people to build your brand’. It took me a whole day to realise the fault with this slick marketing formula, even after sitting through the whole presentation which, if you’ll excuse the play on words, smelled rather too much of brand onion.

What will 1 billion people build? Will they build your brand? Nope, they’ll build their brand. And at some point it must come back down to leadership again. It reminds me of a quote from Joey Lucas in West Wing, describing the cautionary tale of ‘leaders’ in the French revolution, following a mob and saying ‘I must find out which way they are heading so that I may lead them’.

MySpace were along for the last major presentation with a very confident Jay Stevens acting much more like the owner of a major media property than the co-inventor of a new social phenomonen. A good quote though, allegedly from a MySpace user in Europe:

‘I don’t want brands to advertise to me, I want them to be my friend’

There were also lots of interesting insights too into the new typographies of ‘digital natives’ which MySpace has been researching heavily. Conveniently, for advertisers at least, we hear that MySpace’s users are there to find new and exciting things.

 I think by that he means discovering new music and new films. But maybe there’s room for discovering new toothpaste brands too.

Sense and sociability

 How hyped can you go (iphone launch pic)?

There’s an absolutely cracking article on Mashable about the various social network’s monetisation strategy. The author points out that it takes an awful lot of personalisation to make up for hitting people with messages at the wrong time (and that entertainment doesn’t translate to word of mouth).

It’s a very reasonable criticism, and it’s always worth re-iterating why adWords is so powerful and lucrative in the face of alleged competitors.

However, I think all of this does potentially mask what is actually going on here by looking it at within the framework of disruptive advertising media.

In any market you need to have a buyer as  well as a seller. That’s why what facebook is selling is more or less ‘advertising shaped’ opportunities; so advertisers – set in their ways as they are – stand a chance of being able to buy them.

But I think there’s something much more interesting happening too. and it’s not just what happened when loads of brands stuck up crass MySpace pages. There is an opportunity for brands to define the role they play as social objects. Clearly, that should be alot more sophisticated than the lamentable early attempts I mentioned the other day.

From there it will simply not be about how loud the brand shouts, but it’s ability to get at least some of its customers really hyped up.