Catch it, kill it

Thinking about the behaviors of Habitat and Moonfruit over the last week begs the question about what we mean by SPAM. Clearly, inserting marketing messages into randomly trending topics is corrosive and shows no respect for the community. Doing that when the topics were the first voices of dissent from Iran was just plain dumb.

Swine flu advert

But what about creating a trending topic with an incentive? If giving away three laptops may get you millions of mentions, then you can certainly imagine why moonfruit might think they want to do it. But noise doesn’t mean interest or relevance, and is this the sort of noise you want anyway, entirely free of content or motivation?

We used to do this back in the day with ‘viral’ competitions – invite five of your friends to watch our video and you’ll get five times as many chances to win. It didn’t really work then either, although for a while, it was the only real idea in town.

There are two reasons that member-get-member died out as a method to spread messages:

  1. The message itself got lost in the mechanic. All anyone cared about was winning the laptop, they didn’t want to know about making their own website with moonfruit
  2. People’s propensity to forward this crap would decrease over time as they realized that they had become the SPAMers themselves, devaluing their personal reputation in their own networks. Remember how we all pitied our contacts that would send around out-of-date or hopelessly commercial messages.

Surely the same will happen with Twitter and the rest. Who amongst us wants to be seen as being tricked into doing a marketers job for them? Or for failing to spot what are commercial messages.

It’s a bit like swine flu. You don’t want to get it yourself and you certainly don’t want to be seen to be the one forwarding it on. Catch it, kill it, bin it.

And it becomes more complex too when we think about ‘personal brands’. Just as twitter – and all that – mark the rise of the citizen journalist, citizen marketer etc, they also seem to mark the rise of the citizen SPAMer. Where does the line lie? Let’s say I’ve got a room to rent out. If I mention it once on twitter or facebook, then I am being useful. How about if I ask friends to retweet it? That’s reasonable. What about if I keep mentioning it and asking friends to retweet slight variants of the message. Haven’t I then crossed the line? What about if I’m asking for attention for my blog posts? What about if I’m talking about an ad or campaign I made at work? Even with our friends, I think the level of tollerance is low.

But it’s a line a lot more of us are going to have to recognize. People like Hugh MacLeod, brilliant though he is, are flirting with this all the time. Needing to make sure the commercial-esque messages make up the right-proportion overall, staying useful, not trying to hide the commercial messages in the ‘editorial’ ones.

It’s a line which is about how closely you are connected to the network in which you are communicating, and how well you stay in touch with what they care about.

Can brands make these approaches work today? I’d say Habitat’s approach is a definite no, Moonfruit’s  a probable no, and certainly one with a limited shelf life.

Of course, this is not really new information. There is little substitute for actually doing the work of getting involved in the market as a collection of human beings:

‘Markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked. (Cluetrain, 1999)

Advertising advertising


Apart from being an absolute copywriting car crash, doesn’t this Facebook ad for Cadbury’s Trucks campaign raise a question about what exactly the original ad was for.

I’m guessing the agency is getting a few of those ‘why didn’t it go viral?’ questions from the client and is trying to give it a little helping hand.

Viral isn’t a method, it’s a mark of success. And, if you can’t even get me to watch the ad, are you going to be able to buy your chocolate.

Your name here


Robin highlights that this month’s IAB Creative Showcase results contain ‘not a single banner in sight’. That’s slightly misleading as both the winner, Lean Mean’s ‘Non-stop Fernando’ and the first runner up, Dare’s ‘Vaio online script project’ both use traditional ad formats at promotion.

It’s the second runner up however, glue’s ‘Potato parade’ which I just don’t understand.

The original BBC Micro.

This happens to be the same week that the inventor of the BBC Micro, Steve Furber, received a CBE. Do you remember the excitement when that arrived in 1981?

I can vividly recall the huge hopes we all had, and then the slight disappointment when the beige box couldn’t do what the computers on the telly did – expectations had been set a little high by AirWolf and KnightRider. However we struggled on and, again, I can remember vividly the moment that wrote my first – admittedly a bit pathetic – computer program. It was BBC BASIC and what it did was ask you what your name was “ENTER YOUR NAME: (flashing cursor)”. When you did this it would spit back “HELLO TOM” (or whatever you put in, it wasn’t that shit).

So back to the potato campaign. It says, “TELL ME THE NAME OF YOUR FRIEND: (cool animation)”, and then – rather than just saying “HELLO <your friend’s name>” – it creates an animation of dancing potatoes, which I’m then supposed to email on to my friend, colleague, mother, ‘sweetheart’ etc with their name in the animation.


It might be really nicely designed, it might have the voices and animation of British favourites Aardman. But why on earth would I do it?, and what on earth has it got to do with potatoes?

Perhaps I’m missing a segment of my brain and this makes sense to everyone else, but as far as I can see, glue could have used the same campaign for any product. It doesn’t say anything to me about the manufacturer (McCain), the product itself (potatoes), it doesn’t make me want to buy or eat the product or anything like it. What is it for? And why is it winning awards? Unless it’s winning for its use of the craft, I just don’t get it.

And how did people find it in the first place? Assuming it didn’t circle the globe twice in a fit of viral-ness. The entry from glue says:

‘The Potato Parade has only be live a week or so but has been sent on by 125,000 people in 124 different countries. Including most of our mums.

Hmmm, really?, ranking the 194 countries of the world in order of economic size that would mean the campaign had reached Chad…

What’s the betting a couple of potato-shaped banners have been deployed too!?

Pass it on

Brands in the wrong places 

One of the very first things I wrote about when starting this blog was viral marketing and what we could possibly mean by the term.

Without wanting to get all Kant about this, I think there’s only one thing wrong with viral marketing, and that is that it doesn’t exist.

I’m not saying that the “viral effect” doesn’t exist. It’s everywhere. The growth of facebook is quite phenomenal for instance. I’m just saying this is not something you put on your marketing schedules. It’s not something where you can add a perceived difference (the monkey falling out of the tree being funny) to what you’re actually marketing.

Just because a phenomnen can be percieved does not necessarily mean that it can (or should) be turned into a type of marketing which is appropriate for any brand.

Word-of-mouth marketing is another example of the same thing. What on earth do ‘WoM’ consultants tell their clients? “Make a good thing and people will talk about it”?. Next week’s installment? “Make a shit product a people will talk about it”? Week 3? “Make a dull product and no one will talk about it”?

What next? Twitter marketing? Oh yeah. Sorry.

The home of the journey

Duel - page advert for Club Internet

Everyone seems to be raving about the Club Internet advert (above). Apparently it’s a new dawn of creativity online, going so far beyond what is possible on the normal or expanding banner advertising formats.

Well it’s certainly an interesting thing to watch. If you got the spare 25 minutes it takes to load, then the effect (of the actors in a l-rec style ad falling out of the ad format and continuing their fight on the page) is funny and entertaining. And it’s well executed by the agency that did it. It is also, however essentially a TV advert on the interweb. The idea is clearly about a webpage that turns into a battleground, but this ad would work better on the TV without the load time and lag, and without the need to look like the page works when actually its a big picture. Doing the ad on TV would also allow for a voiceover to explain what the advert is FOR. Since the offer (broadband for 30 euromarks) is otherwise completely lost as the page itself is background and is destroyed in the duel.

Much of this comes back to a lot longer-running debate, and what promises to be an ongoing and hotly contested fight about who’s best to do digital advertising (digital people or advertising people), and slightly more involved, where does the marketing stop and the business process start in such a connected environment.

All of these debates are posing difficult practical questions for clients and sending many traditional agencies into a bit of a spin. Well documented was BBH’s response when it won the pan European Axe work (it’s all about the creative idea). And we’ve seen it go the other way too.  AQKA win Yell’s above the line account and got Ikea’s. Once again, “it’s all about creative ideas” but with a bit more of the user-journey thinking built in.

This is the quote from John O’Keeffe – executive creative director of BBH London – which also formed the heart of a Campaign article

“A couple of years ago, we might have been at a disadvantage in a pitch like this, simply for lack of having the digital craft skills in-house. We now have that capability: whereupon this, and any other digital pitch for that matter, comes down to the same question that decides any such process: who has the best idea?”

As someone who has worked in this setting, I understand a little bit of what sits behind the headlines, and the functional problems that can exist trying to actually get these projects to work. Stories abound of the fairly disasterous digital audi work BBH has just completed and the departure of their head of digital production after only three months. There go those ‘craft skills’, which one has to assume were at least in part being borrowed from other agencies in any case for the pitches. Doubtless, though the very difficult traditional/digital agency mergers will continue for some years to try and solve these problems.

In a lot of cases (like the one we started with), the problem is that “creative idea” actually really means a visual or video idea. Becuase the sort of creative breakthrough which allows for really good user-engagement online, are actually creative planning ideas – consumer insights brought to life, combined with an understanding that online people take action rather than just builidng memories. But we also still see so many agencies unable or unwilling to take onboard the insights of the Cluetrain manifesto to understand why online is not another channel – you don’t always get to select the method and means by which you speak to consumers.

And the debate rumbles on. Ashley Friedlein  of e-consultancy last week set the scene again for this most contentious of battles, which Jim Taylor has also done a great job of mapping out in his Space Race (very much an insider’s view, loaded with keen observation about the what real structural constraints that are driving the industry).

Is there an upside to this in-fighting? Although a few skirmishes still happen, the advertising agency world does seem to have at least withdrawn from the battleground of the functional website, thank heavens. What we need now is a new brand of agencies that can do for digital advertising what web agencies have done for websites. But those won’t be set apart by cunning production methodologies or outsourcing to India, but by a redefinition of what planning and creative mean in this setting, and how that relates to user’s needs and desires.

Can I count the ways

 I see from the fact that it is still everywhere that is not taking a great deal of notice of the massive amount of negative feedback to its truly awful information revolution campaign. Well, aside from the fact it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, I’d think it’s important we dig down into the detail of this whole sworded episode which must have left google quaking in their boots:

  1. It’s not accessible (iframe on home page)
  2. It’s not even accessible to engines (Ask hasn’t indexed the first sentence on the main page)
    Ask indexing  “welcome people of courage”

    Although funnily enough, Google can see it – if not ranking it very highly!

    Google ranking “welcome, person of courage”

  3. It’s got that whole “fixed height” thing that people from traditional media make digital agencies do becuase they think “people won’t scroll”. Ironic if the client’s a search engine.
  4. Loads of nonsense text on the home page
  5. Dropped navigation on “Why ask” page
  6. The sign-up page is white text on a yellow background – completely unusable (am I the only person who’s signed up? – I had to use my decoder ring)Information revolution sign up
  7. No t-shirt (due to high demand, I’ll bet)No t-shirts due to high demand
  8. Flogs and fake video blogs – full on, invented human beings with obnoxious invented marketing nonsense in them (Sell a couple more t-shirts and buy a copy of Cluetrain chaps).Flog posting
  9. Some fairly obvious fake comments.
  10. Same title on every page (tut tut) and system generated page names !!! ?
  11. Really annoying interface errors (scroll bars in the middle of pages, non-standard search buttons, incorrect ident top left)
  12. The word “revolutionistas”
  13. Spelling Google with a lower case “g”
  14. Ask doesn’t even qualify as the “other search engine”. That’s Yahoo or Windows Live. is the “unused search engine”.
  15. This is supposed to sound like the way “real people speak”

“What could possibly make a sociology graduate, a computer engineering dropout, a silent expert of monkey peer groups and a genius handyman come together? Sheer determination & a shared passion to evolve the way people search, and a common love of jammy dodgers.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and take my medicine. 

In the money

Carlsberg £10 note “litter”

The Carlsberg ad campaign has always been extremely entertaining and memorable. It’s what Russell Davies describes as generous or rich, as opposed to simply being the “big” idea of which ad men are so fond. In 2004, this was successfully adapted to a very nice “french disqualified” viral email idea (if you know me you’ll know how much it hurts to say the ‘v’ word). The latest incarnation, spotted on Flickr by Leo Ryan at RMM is a sort of piece of viral activity started offline which travel online. A bit like the Microsoft Vanishing Point game but a lot more subtle and with not all the discussion activity necessarily online, Carlsberg appear to be hoping the £10 will do more than just go into someone’s pocket – it will make it into public discourse. I’d love to know what happens, and clearly it’s all inlne with the rest of the advertising.

Yet, while the advertising idea here is big, rich, deep, generous, memorable, famous and all that, does it motivate you to buy the product?

One follow up on Flickr says a great deal

If it only cost them fifty grand (which is a snip for advertising) then potentially the five thousand people who discover one of these on a friday night will tell all their mates. Still wouldn’t make me drink Carlsberg though…

Having said that. Perhaps it only cost them £10 and they got lucky!

Cupid Stunts

“Amelie” viral on YouTube

Digital Republic reports today that AIS (Archibald Ingall Stretton) has created a ‘viral’ on YouTube for Lorelei Mathias’ novel about speed dating, ‘Step on It, Cupid’. They’ve also created a ‘blog’ on MySpace.

 I think this is the worst “dad at the disco” behavior I’ve seen to date.

 Interested too in what Dare did for Vodafone: Coin Dominos

Much better obviously although:

1. Made using very traditional ad agency skills
2. Bit of a danger of it being a Vampire (more on that later, just been reading a great book on it).

Viral Marketing

(Transfered from Blogger / Typepad versions of blog) 

 I’ve been asked to bang on about viral marketing twice in the last couple of weeks in very different settings and at quite a serious level of banging on. It’s made me really think about the subject. Is there a renewed interest in ‘viral’? Well I certainly hope not per se (as you’ll see!) but I guess again it’s a symptom of this renewed interest in whatever sort of online marketing people can get their hands on (and hence the tangential relation to this blog).So what do people mean by the term? I think there is the original meaning; then there’s the old models, new method meaning; and finally the mere-observation meaning. So in reverse order:

1. The mere-observational meaning
This is “Build it and they will come” by another name. So take for example Google Maps. How did you find out about it? Someone probably told you. Why did they tell you? Because it is great. There’s been lots of useful functional things on the internet that have worked this way. Most of them created by Google. Really this is an example of the reality of social networks in computing that the way people share knoweldge is through fast recommendation online. Commercial marketing application: none.

2. Old model, new method
Traditional offline techniques adapted to online. Favourites are: “member get member” – tell your friends about our meat pies and we’ll send you a free meat pie; cause-related marketing – tell your friends and we’ll give children in africa a meat pie. Commercial marketing application: moderate.

3. The original meaning
This is what people really mean by the term, especially if they’re flogging you a campaign of some sort. This is the monkey falling out of the tree; this is the the Zidane headbutting game. Content which is so fresh; vivid; fun; entertaining or distacting that you think you should forward it to everyone on your contact list. Does this exist in the real world? Without a doubt. There’s hundreds of examples of it. I might see a good one a week and several bad ones. I wouldn’t forward them myself because I’d worry about being a year behind the viral trend but they go round and round the internet. Does it have a commercial application? Nope. I’m not saying it’s totally impossible. A couple of brands have been able to do it. Carlsberg found a great way for their brand to be an indispensible part of the World Cup correction gag; TV ads from John West and Budweiser were funny enough that people would forward them on and the undoubtedly massive-budet mini offering (; but how many can we honestly say we’ve seen and remembered the advertiser. I could count them on the fingers of one hand – with a couple of fingers missing. The reality is that for the gag itself and the brand to co-exist is extremely rare. Either the brand will manage to extinguish the gag in it’s eagerness to be seen, or the gag will completely overshadow the brand. And given that these pieces are so often made up of sexual; violent or distasteful humor, there’s even a threat of damaging the brand. The three best known virals: Mastercard, Ka and VW Golf – all renounced by their apparent creators.