Thursday, 23 October 2008

Discovery goes free to air

Discovery have secured a slot on Freeview, which will be used to screen the factual and entertainment programming which has made the network famous. I’ve not heard anything about what it’s to be called, but for me it’s a bold and very exciting move.

Discovery had previously agreed to supply factual and entertainment content for Sky’s ‘Picnic’ Freeview service. Picnic though was canned earlier in the year and Discovery have clearly decided it’s time for their content to get a wider airing.

...And bravo to them. Its a big step. Discovery’s whole model is pay TV; the business is geared to deliver large numbers of impacts – no-matter what the flavour. Moving onto Freeview presents all kinds of interesting challenges for the network.

Networks who deliver general impacts have limited commercial need in appealing to sought after audiences (clearly non core income streams are the exception here). As such the programming supported on air and ATL tends to be mass market – and doesn’t need to be terribly aspirational. As soon as a network starts chasing premium audiences all this changes.
I think there’s an interesting parallel hear to MTV and TMF.

MTV launched TMF in the wake of the ITV digital debarcle. The aim was to gain a free to air footprint to compliment the main channels. Today TMF is the larger channel and presents some interesting questions for the network going forward.

MTV had the advantage that their content is (in the main)short form – music videos, which means that they are able to show the same things on both channels without consumers feeling ripped off for having to pay for MTV when TMF is free.

So this is the question for Discovery, how do you brand a free to air channel whilst preserving the premium nature of your existing network?

It’ll also be interesting to see what becomes of their flagship shows currently re-airing on terrestrial...

All in all a bold and exciting move.

Millennium Humbug.

Now, many people might think it’s a little late to be writing about the millennium, it being 2008 and all. I saw today that Addidas have become the latest brand to become a ‘founding sponsor’ of the O2 - the run away success which is now (apparently) the most successful entertainment venue in the world - and it got me thinking... Why is it now considered such a success? And what changed?

Well, loads.

The content for a start. No more well-meaning exhibitions, pumping out platitudes about the body, God and god knows what else, for a start.

Instead AEG, the Giant American entertainment specialists have brought together a wealth of venues and experiences in their ‘little leisure city’ model which has been rolled out across the world many times before.

So the content has changed – and that’s great. But the content was never the concept for the Millennium Dome. The Dome was meant to be a celebration of the turning of the years; something great to mark the passage of time.

Criticising the Dome because of its content was always a bit like saying the telly was a rubbish invention because Richard and Judy is crap. The idea of the Dome was sound – something big and impressive to mark Y2k.

At the time I was a big supporter of the Dome. While others scoffed I was standing back, admiring the sunrise against its majestic outline, saying ‘wow, just look at it...’

If we look back at London’s three major physical projects for the Millennium I think we can all be fairly proud of ourselves... The Millennium Wheel, The Millennium Bridge and the Dome are all crackers... absolute aesthetic dynamite.

I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in all three since their conception (The Silver Surfer at the Millennium Eye, The Simpsons premiere at the O2 and... a dodgy Japanese TV interview about ‘wobbliness’ on th bridge) and will continue to cheerlead for them into the future.

I love ‘em and love the fact that we built them.

The points I want to make are threefold:

1) Isn’t it great that in the face of public criticism, we continue to build big shiny things? God knows if we didn’t we’d all live in Stoke.

2) Will the press please PACK IT IN! Printing obvious rabble rousing stories designed to shift copies rather than deliver news... YOU ARE NEWSPAPERS (or news programmes) for goodness sake. Yes it’s easy to doomsay, yes it sells...just stop it. I refer to the effects of the media on the recent credit crisis to evidence my point.

3) Well done AEG for their model of brand involvement.
There’s nothing overtly new in what the O2 is doing for founder partners – Mobile phone companies in particular have been giving perks to members for years – what is new is the iconic status of the focus of the activity. Getting priority tickets or parking (BMW) to the O2 really means something to customers.

All in all it’s a great story. Let’s all just be a little less quick to step on exciting new projects (Anyone or Olympics?)... you never know, they might just turn out really, really good.

Monday, 20 October 2008

In praise of Cbeebies

I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the past talking about commercial TV stations, their various machinations, positionings and evolutions. So I thought I should expend a few minutes singing the praises of one of our license funded channels which I’ve recently begun to spend a lot of time with and which I think manages to achieve something most commercial offerings fail on.
I'm talking about Cbeebies.

I believe that TV stations (and indeed all brands) prosper when they put the needs of their consumers at the heart of their business. Weird as it may sound I’ve sat around tables with television professionals, deciding on new directions for their channels without any real insight (beyond the qualitative) into the lifestyles and needs of their target.

I’ve no idea what research/insight/genius was tapped when Cbeebies was first cooked up... but it’s great. It mirrors almost perfectly the lifestyle and needs of its consumers – the tots and their parents, not just in tone, but in programming, scheduling and well... here are some examples:
Cbeebies kicks off with some involving, primary coloured high jinks – stuff that’ll keep your tots wrapped up while you tidy up after brekkie, or whatever it is you do early on.

At 12 – the time when nearly every mum/dad times their kids main protein feed, they have a lunch hour. Preceded by the magnificent ‘In the Night Garden’ and opened by a ‘time for lunch’ song, which has my young daughter rubbing her belly and doing the baby sign for food.
The afternoon builds with big fun time, a mix of high tempo stuff and gentle entertainment – some of the programming is unmissable. I recommend ‘Nuzzle and Scratch’ (available on the iplayer should you want it), - a reworking of the classic chuckle brothers formula, with Alpacas – genius; as well as ‘Space Pirates’ – go online and check the theme tune.
The day closes with gentle programming and bedtime stories.
In short it mirrors the day perfectly. Strikes the right note, and has programming that delivers on all its promises.

It’s not necessarily something that could be repeated by a commercial player – the fact that there are no ads for example ads to the sense of trust. However there is loads that can be learnt about building a schedule that fits the needs of your viewers.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

UKTV rebrandarama

I am a simple man, and frequently in marketing it pays to be simple. It means the more complicated things go sailing happily by whilst I can still enjoy the less highbrow side of life. Recently though I’ve been getting a bit confused. You see, UKTV are at it again, rebranding channels left right and centre, in line with their – ‘give it a new name and a sense of direction’ strategy which worked so well for Dave.
Where are we so far... Dave a channel for blokes like me (pretty good but wearing a little thin on material now).
Watch... some things that are great to Watch apparently. Hmmmm ok. It’s snappy and does what it says on the tin.
Eden... some inspirational programmes about Earth.
I like this. It’s all good concise stuff and UKTV surely needs to do something before we all switch over to digital and switch off to the networks message. My interest in all this is to do with babies and bathwater... which is to say; surely the network added something to consumer understanding.
I mean fine we’ll still have on air navigation which should help a bit, but as a consumer getting messages for Eden on Dave or Watch on Dave or Eden or whatever, doesn’t I think present a coherent family of channels.
I think that in a digital age it is of vital importance that a network exhibits strong network behaviour, and that this behaviour is reflective of what the group of channels stands for. It allows for a much bigger conversation.
The real problem for UKTV wasn’t a lack of direction for their channels; it was that their network had no sense of purpose. Rebranding the stations is a neat trick, and will work in the short term (at least until fresh, desirable programming dries up), But to my mind it is a job half done.
Oh and I still can’t hear watch without seeing lumps of plastacine whirling around to flute music.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Great customer service

Excellent Customer Service

I seem to spend most of my time these days on the wrong end of one of those calls to customer services complaining about something or other, or more often than not just trying to get the very basic level of service you would expect as a valued customer.

The other day for instance I was on the phone to Start-Rite, from whom I’d bought my daughter’s first pair of shoes; which rather unfortunately started to fall to bits two weeks after purchase. After a lengthy wait and a few attempts to talk to someone from the customer services department (which apparently they don’t have...) I finally managed to speak to someone who informed me – as an opening gambit, ‘We have no legal obligation to help you’... Now my purpose here isn’t to bash Start-Rite, who eventually managed to solve my issue. You’ll be pleased to know that I have a different and wholly more pleasant purpose.
The other day (here we go again), I found myself on the phone to Ladybird books. A brief bit of history - My sister had bought my daughter a book (Noisy Noisy Boo – it’s about monsters), which sadly didn’t make any noise (as advertised).
After 4 rings the phone was answered by an alert sounding lady. I explained my problem. She asked my name and address. ‘OK sir, we’ll put another in the post for you today.’ I nearly choked on my cornflakes!
‘What that’s it?’ I asked. ‘You don’t need me to send it back or anything?’
‘Well you can if you like sir, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.’
I went to the sorting office today to pick up my parcel... which had arrived the next day (when I was out). I immediately opened the parcel to give my expectant daughter her prize... and what should I find? Not one, but two books with a little hand written note apologising for the trouble and offering the second book as a free gift!
Customer service is the most important thing in business. It’s the most important marketing tool. It ensures that those customers that already by into you, keep doing so. Ladybird get this and it is to their immense credit.
I’m off to a mothers group this evening and I intend to bore them all to death about how good ladybird are. My Niece is also very very likely to get a ladybird book for her birthday.
And the really good news is that in a digitally connected world, this type of strong customer service has a much more powerful effect than ever before. I’m writing about it, you’re reading it and hopefully there’ll be a few more people well disposed to ladybird than ever before.

Monday, 21 July 2008

UKTV have announced the new name for Gold +1... 'Watch'. And after the success of the Dave rebrand last year, the announcement of 'Watch' has come in for some stick - and I think with good reason.

Before I go into my own thoughts, lets dwell on UKTV's other announced rebrand - Alibi for a second. This is a strong identity and in a sector (documentary channels) which has been undergoing massive upheavels it should prosper. Older, downmarket female audeinces love Crime, and the old model of getting your fix on Five and Discovery is shifting... The Crime Channel has come in to take a bite of Disco's pie, and Five's serving of Crime docs (and drama) is just popularising more specialised digital offerings.
Its fairly clear what you get on Alibi, so its not open to criticism on that count. The only weakness for me is the lack of a clear link to the parent brand - this isn't necessarily a massive problem though, and is in fact reflective of UKTVs strategy - on air trails will link navigation around thier family of channels.

So back to Watch.

I don't like it.
Industry commentators have largely pointed to the fact that the name doesn't reflect the content, and I agree that this is a problem for smaller channels (note that different channels on differing platorms need to behaive in different ways). Every brand - including TV brands need to put the needs of their consumers first and for a TV brand, one of the biggest consumer needs is knowing what to expect from your channel. I'd go further than most buyers though and argue that as well as overlooking their viewing consumer, UKTV have also overlooked thier media audeince.

TV brands aren't just selling to consumers, they're selling to agencies too.
I don't see how Watch would ever become integral to a media or coms strategy. I can see how Dave might... 'the home of witty banter' fits well with trends in lads lives... 'a place to watch... things' does not.

Broadly speaking there are two types of TV channel from a planning point of view: Ones which must be on your plan (because they fit the strategy) and make weights, ones which get on the schedule purely becasue they happen to be there. For me UKTV Gold +1's rebrand was a chance to move away from the big bucket of impacts that so many also ran channels supply and give planners and buyers a reason to put it on the plan for its own merits. Calling it Watch doesn't do that and as such is a mistake.

To me, Watch was a late 70's history show for kids with a natty dancing plasticine intro. Younger readers will have no idea what I'm talking about - check out TV Cream if you want some heady nostalgia.

To thousands of UKTV viewers as well as the media industry... well I'm not to sure what it will mean.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Independence Day

232 years ago today a group of angry colonials sat down and signed the declaration of independence.

You can read the history any way you want:
A usurpation of power.
The culmination of a mighty progress.

It changed history, and has been shaping it ever since.

I don’t think Independence Day should be remembered as the date a nation was founded. I think it marks a point in time when humanity grew up.

I’d guess that most people in the UK haven’t read the declaration.
I read it today, as I hadn’t before. It’s actually quite short…
… and in all honesty I was a little disappointed.

Most of it is a big list of complaints against George III (all of which seem fair enough to me, but I wasn’t there so can’t really comment). All rather dull.

The best bit is the second paragraph which is where you get the ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – which is genius.

Today I’m leaving my job to spend a year pursuing happiness - looking after my baby daughter, who is lovely.

In the meantime I’ll be trying to keep the blog going, finish my book, train for the Olympics in 2012 and write a Eurovision entry. So do feel free to keep stopping by – as, nappies allowing, there should still be some vaguely interesting stuff here.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Why digital isn't about digital

It’s a fairly overused cliché already, but the thing about digital is that behaviour doesn’t really change at a basic level… people are still doing the things they always did – they’re just finding new ways of making them happen.

This reminds me of a possibly mythic story I was once told about an architect who had designed two tower blocks within a campus. During the pitch presentation. One of the clients pointed out, they’d forgotten to lay out the paths that ran between the two buildings… a ha! said the architect, we didn’t forget them… build the towers and the users will mark the paths out for themselves. We’ll concrete them over later.

I was reading a post on potlatch called ‘blogging and its opposite’. I think Will makes an interesting (and obvious – but aren’t all the best ideas) point:

…Media gurus talk about the shift from 'push', broadcast media to 'pull', on-demand or network media, but this shift was always going to throw up some fairly uncomfortable truths about the human condition…
Why does someone link to, forward, click on, bookmark or save a link? The answer is less often epistemological or moral than aesthetic or psychoanalytic. In the age of 'pull media' it is not only the content that is pulled to us by technology, but we who are pulled to it by our psyches and bodies.

I was going to make a point here about an account man who I was in a meeting with a while ago who patently didn’t get this point. I won’t. He’s a dick and I’ve wasted too much time being annoyed by the meeting.

The point
It’s not just about content.
You have to understand the consumer too.
Think about their psyche. Think about what actually makes them tick.
Talk to them on that level and you have a genuine connection.

Digital is not about technology it’s about people’s reactions to it.
Don’t start the process by thinking about online. Think about digital.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Show Us a Better Way – The UK government harnesses the creative powers of the great unwashed

Ever been frustrated that you can't find out something that ought to be easy to find? Ever been baffled by league tables or 'performance indicators'? – so asks the opening paragraph of the new site from the Power of information taskforce.

In essence the UK government is running a huge competition, asking how can we make technology help us use our data better.
It’s open to all.
And there’s a £20k prize fund. Hardly a massive incentive, but still it might be enough to get some creative types off their beanbags/or GCSE students to look up from their PCs and give it a crack.

I think this is a really positive step forward.
The way things are done on high has been set in centuries of bureaucracy for years now. A Bureaucracy set up a long long time before digital information was ever dreamt of. As the website admits:

We're confident that you'll have more and better ideas than we ever will.

I’m sure the public will.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Obama's system - an opportunity for the Lib Dems?

The real life, non digital source of info that is Mr S Carr, sent me this. It’s a link to a Next Great Thing post on Barack Obama’s nomination campaign.

It picks out what it sees as the highlights of Obama’s approach to politics and fund raising including tactics such as and his use of existing social networking sites. It then goes on to contrast this approach with that of John McCain ( which has just revamped its website and is offering McCain branded water bottles.

To me this is a great political example of one candidate who gets the distributed identity point, and one who clearly does not. And points interestingly to a very real division between the connected (those voters who are absorbing digital) and the merely online (those who are not fully online, or whose offline habits are not reflected in their online usage).
And the obvious demonstration of this is on the one hand Obama’s use of a broad section of sites, pages and technologies and on the other McCain’s development of a website.

To be fair I’m sure McCain will evolve… (maybe).

I think it gets really interesting when you try to map this approach on to the UK political arena… because it doesn’t seem to work.


The American model elects a president. The UK system elects a party.

Parties are slower ships to turn than individuals.
People’s beliefs and understandings of parties hold over time.
Which is why the Conservatives went to town on Cameron first… the halo effect of a leader’s personality can influence a party positively and rapidly.

In the UK neither of the main party’s could adopt an Obama style system with any credibility.
It would be like watching your dad at a disco.
Both blue and red have too defined personalities within the British societies psyche.

The Libdems on the other hand could...
It is not inconceivable for them to set up a social network allowing real people to have a say. Importantly for them it could provide a funding basis too… which is something they lack over the two other main parties.

The other route… might be to set up a movement independent of the main parties.
For me this is could lead to extremism. The benefit of Obama’s route is that he has combined leadership with social input.

Look at Myfootballclub as an example.

As you might expect, it’s a football club that’s owned and run by on online community. All policies, transfer decisions etc are made by the network.
Interestingly very soon after it kicked off it was recognised by the members that the manager needed to be able to make decisions. He’s closer to the team and is a leader.

Maybe this model is the new direction British Politics has been looking for, for a while.

Google and Family Guy's creator reinvent... some stuff

‘We have reinvented the mass media!’ - really? Well not really, but Google and Family Guy co-creator Seth Macfarlane are having a pretty good crack at it.

Yesterday it was announced that Seth, was entering into a partnership with Google to distribute his new project ‘Cavalcade of Comedy’ through their adnetwork Adsense.
The big switch being that now an ad-network becomes a mass broadcast media…

Lost Remote have nice topline piece on it.

…and here’s me thinking that it always has been.

‘…The partnership with Mr. MacFarlane represents a bold step into the distribution business, one that, if successful, will surely send shock waves through the entertainment business.’ – Kim Malone Scott, Director of sales and Operations for Adsense.

The idea is that Cavalcade of comedy will run across a network of male orientated sites, carrying pre and post-roll advertising, which Seth will (at least in part), play a role in creating.

Well yes this is new news. And yes it is a reinvention of the use of an adnetwork. But is it the future?

Faris in TIGs thinks its pretty ground-breaking:

It turns the broadcast advertising model upside and inside out. The content doesn't create the audience to sell it to advertisers - it goes out and finds its audience, via the advertising, using other people's content, that already has an audience.
Or something.

A kind of marketing cuckoo.

I think its pretty cool. I also think its getting a lot of hype at the moment as it’s Google, and because it’s digital (and digital and televisual entertainment are on a collision course).
It’s certainly not the first example of content as a hook for advertising.
It’s also not the first time this type of thing has been embedded in ad units in other sites.
It is however Google. And that is impressive – because of their size, as well as their willingness to experiment.

I’m not so sure that this is the future of entertainment though … Although I think it could potentially be one way an entertainment brand could distribute its identity online.

Ultimately, for me it doesn’t tally with the way consumers enjoy televisual media at the moment. But could serve to draw them in to a more rich experience… who’s to say they won’t all change in the future though.

Either way I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Is this right? Sony offering downloads prior to DVD?

Now this is really interesting…

Well to me at least. I got sent it earlier today, courtesy of Mr Simon Carr. According to trend hunter, Sony will be allowing consumers to download Will Smith’s new movie 'Hancock', prior to it becoming available on TV or DVD.

From a consumer perspective this sounds great. I’ve got a young baby at home and don’t get out much… But I’d be more than happy to pay to see films ASAP. Rather than waiting for them to become available on DVD. But can it really be true?

There’s no source on the article beyond trend hunter and it would be a massive step for Sony.
Sure they could use Bravia and Playstation 3 to enable download, but the footprint for this would be tiny – what’s to stop someone videoing the feed and creating a million and one pirates? To me, you need to have your distribution end completely sorted before you try this sort of thing, or you risk losing all your profit from a film.

Does anyone know anything about it? Or have any further insight?

'There' and 'Back again' - Two Hobbit movies...

I wrote, last week, about Disney’s issues with Narnia as a basis for a successful fantasy film franchise. I note with some pleasure today that Guillermo Del Torro has stated the he won’t be making a second Hobbit film, if there’s no material for it.


I love Tolkien. I love his hobbits, his Englishness, his obscure short stories (read ‘Leaf by Niggle’ (by Tolkien), if you haven’t. already done so – it’s my fave’). I loved the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which (apart from the odd added cave troll scene and the omission of the journey home) was close to perfect (in my humble opinion). And I love the idea of a Hobbit film. But note ‘a’ (singular) Hobbit film.

Two films? Come on.
What is the first one going to be called ‘There’ and the second ‘Back again.’?

If you want to make great Tolkien films pick some stories from his earlier works.
Failing that look elsewhere. There’s some great fantasy out there at the moment – even some great urban fantasy that deals with more modern issues.

After all, for me, that’s what fantasy is for – it enables you to deal with issues which, without some form of abstraction, you couldn’t deal with.

So what’s the point?
Brand extensions. It doesn’t matter the category. If you’re going to extend it must be based on a consumer need/desire. If its not you risk weakening your brand, and your future exploits might just fall on their face.
If you’re Apple – the iphone works. People want music on the go and easier interfaces.
If you’re Wakestock – hold a festival in Blenheim. Southern English people like watersports and music.
I’m just not convinced the public really want or need the further adventures of Bilbo. Maybe they do though.

Friday, 27 June 2008

What would Mr Tumnus say?

I came across something off on the my way into work yesterday. Not groundbreaking in anyway, just a bit… well odd.

It was an advert for the new instalment of Disney’s Narnia series – Prince Caspian… and weirdly it had a couple of Soduko puzzles slapped in the middle.

You’ll have to forgive me for not including am image – I’ll try and track one down.

The idea seems to be to get people engaging more with the ad – in the simplest terms spending more time with the ad. A bit odd, but fair enough I guess.
In addition to the puzzle the ad encourages readers to solve simple questions related to the movie to give them a head start on the puzzles. Fair enough again.

As I said, fair enough.

It’s an interesting way to use advertising space and could encourage you to spend more time with it. I’m just a bit baffled by where the idea came from and how it ties in to any strategic thought about the movie…

As innovations go it’s hardly earth shattering but I kind of like the (near idiotic) simplicity of it.


Anyway, I was thinking about Narnia the other day. And the problems Disney is having getting the franchise to catch fire.
Quite apart from the merits of the movie itself I think there is a big issue with the peculiar fantasy rules that hold Narnia together – work with me here.

Most fantasy worlds are set up by a scene that shows the world described in terms of our own real one – In Lord of the Rings, for example Hobbiton is a very peaceful English village with Gas lamps and pipes and a mail service, The Temaraire series starts out on a Napoleonic transport ship..

LOTR has the advantage of being a self contained world. Hogwarts runs alongside our own, with the same time frame. Narnia however lives alongside our own but its timescale works differently. In Narnia you face entry restrictions.
Children over a certain age aren’t allowed back in – and this raises issues for Disney:

Firstly it needs to find new stars every couple of films or so – which might have certain cost benefits (see my post the other day about the downturn and Hollywood). But poses marketing problems of having to create more hype than an established star would merit.

Secondly there’s no opportunity for kids to grow up with the movies.
Harry Potter works well because Rowling wrote the books to be enjoyed by a gradually ageing audience. The older you get, the more adult Harry and his adventures get. With Narnia though the audiences are going to get older, whilst the main stars, and the themes won’t.
Which of course means that the marketing needs to pull a whole new audience in for every film.

There are solutions of course. Age it up - I gather there’s a scene added to Prince Caspian with Susan kissing the aspiring royal… which clearly isn’t in the book. And the battle scenes look darker too.
What next? Are we on a slippery slope? Will we have sex in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader? I doubt it, and frankly it’s a bit beside the point.

The actual point is that Hollywood has latched on to a beloved franchise in the hope of creating ongoing revenues for years to come… the problem being that the fantasy world its built on, isn’t built with this kind of monetisation in mind.

Maybe Disney should risk all and develop a stand alone fantasy film franchise. Put their money where their mouths are… Maybe they should, but they won’t. All of which means we are, I think, doomed to see adaptations brought to the big screen – but with sexy bits and battle scenes added.

What would Mr Tumnus say?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Great Wall of China... The Zero emissions media wall.

I saw this post on lost remote today.

It’s a picture of a huge media well that’s sprung up close to the Olympic site in Beijing. It looks amazing, and is entirely sustained by nature.
By day, solar panels take in energy. Buy night, the light show begins. The wall morphs and shimmers in response to the elements.

I like this kind of thing.

It’s innovative.

Its fun.

It entertains.

And it shows us what the power of nature can do for us if we just take the time to think about it.

Nature is our friend.

There are a couple of other fantastic examples of this type of thing that I’ve come across recently.
The Oasis in London – used to be a wind and solar powered installation, in which you could sit, slip a visual helmet on and enjoy a film of robots exploring mars whilst (if memory serves correctly), listening to some tunes. (is it still there?)

The Southbank in London has a tower powered by the wind, with lights that change in response to the weather.

One of my favourite pieces of art is by an Italian called Anselmo (annoyingly its untitled, which makes it very tricky to track down).
It's comprised of two highly polished granite stones, one bigger than the other, bound together with copper wire. Between the two stones is a hunk of lettuce.
The artist has stipulated that the sculpture is only whole and correct if it is always bound together.
Over time the lettuce dries out. And eventually, if neglected, the two rocks will become loose and fall apart – breaking the art.
The resultant work is one that constantly needs to be fed lettuce.

I love it.

Using natural forces to get man to feed a construct. Man enslaved by the machine.
… I suppose this is how capitalism works – but I digress.

I’m interested in eco powered media – for advertising, or just for fun, it doesn’t matter which.
Anyone got any examples?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The New Model for TV Advertising

I’ve been saying for a while that we need a new model for advertising TV programmes, and that in today’s massively competitive TV marketplace the old ‘stick a load of posters up and they will come’ model simply no longer works.

Because we’re asking too much of the viewer.
In the old days a simple ‘oh its on ITV’ reaction was all that was needed and a potential viewer would find there way to the one in three (later four, then loads of...) channels that they needed to get to.

Today viewers need to know when it's on, what channel it's on, what platform it can be found on, which number within that platform it's on… and then, if they can remember all of that stuff (and aren't halfway down the road), they merely have to get past their EPG (not to mention their spouse) without getting distracted, in order to get where they want to be. There's just too much for them to do.

Once more digital has made life more complicated, and ordinary people are still trying to work out how to navigate their way to the same kind of thing they always wanted.

A new model is needed.
And its not that complex.

Consumers need to be warmed to a new concept before ATL communications kick in.
This can be achieved through PR, online, experiential, promotions... whatever really (and is close to the film model). The crucial thing is that by the time your ATL communications kick in, the viewer needs to want to remember the info you’re giving him.

This sounds obvious, but it entails a shift in the way TV companies produce and supply content to thier marketing departments.

Channel Four have been very good at this with Skins, but others are also employing similar tactics… ITV2 did a neat job with the secret diary of a call girl.

This morning I stumbled across a blog talking about a survey by Yahoo/Deep focus (based on American viewers) which seems to put a little science behind these fairly obvious points of view. hopefully confirming some of what I’ve been banging on about.

Given Yahoo's involvement a lot of the results point to the effectiveness of online in supporting TV shows, but there are also one or two other interesting points being made:

  • You need to get consumers interested earlier (phew!).

  • If you engage consumers online with returning series, you are much more likely to get them to convert to viewing (which we all kind of knew)

  • and... if you convince a consumer to engage prior to launch, they are likely to persuade 5.1 friends to watch it too.

Why do I mention all this?

Because it’s an American survey and may well be overlooked in the UK and so my fellow TV planning chums can access it quickly and easily through this link.

But primaily I'm interested in the way businesses need to change processes in order to capitalise on the digital shift that's happened over the last few years.

The implication for broadcasters are mnumerous, the most important being:

Embrace the web – in all its expressions.
Use your own space but learn to exist in others – particularly if you’re making your own content.
Plan early - Build these considerations into your commissioning, filming and planning process to ensure you get the assets you need to engage consumers in the new digital world we find ourselves in.

There you go. Not rocket science, but worth a scan if you're in the market.

A kiss is just a kiss… which is beside the point.

Heinz and mayonnaise, two subjects close to my heart.

Actually I prefer salad cream, (which incidentally is much, much better for you than Mayonnaise), its so much more evocative of childhood for me, which is why I think Heinz hit the nail on the head with the ‘Pourable sunshine’ angle last year. This year, however, with their recent mayonnaise ad, they seem to have caused a bit of a stir.

Over the last few days the press is aflame with stories of hundreds of complaints made about the Heinz ‘Gay Kiss' advert - correctly called the Heinz 'Deli Mayo' advert… hundreds being 200 hundred – which when you think about what it takes to make people pick up the phone these days is not a number to be sniffed at.

Debate around the issue seems to centre around whether a gay kiss is appropriate for a family product or if it is indeed a gay kiss. For me this is to miss the point… but for the sake of form;

No the UK population shouldn’t have a problem with two men kissing – but they seem to.
No it isn’t a ‘gay’ kiss, any more than when Blackadder kissed Baldric (Series 2 episode 4) or when Alex Zane kissed Dave Berry during Xfm’s Iron man contest or when any number of UK comedy duos have done the same over the years.
Yes the ad was shown ex kids anyway to comply with HFSS legislation.

All of this is beside the point.

An advert is a form of communication designed to achieve an objective, usually to sell product but often (obviously) to build brand, encourage a behaviour etc.
Creating a brilliant advert entails looking at the people you’re advertising to and judging what (rightly or wrongly) they find acceptable, and then using this insight to create your ad (obviously there are a million other influencing factors – but for me consumer insight is paramount).
Some cultures will happily tolerate two men kissing, some won’t. Some will happily accept nudity in ad (which is why Jasper Carrot, then Chris Tarrant made good money showing naughty ads from around the world for years and years). Sadly middle England is one of those cultures that won’t.

And for me this is the weakness in the advert.

For some reason someone somewhere overlooked the reaction of middle England, to two men kissing (particularly when juxtaposed with a brand like Heinz).
As such it’s not a great idea for an advert. But it is a lovely execution of the idea.
And before we start... t’s not the fault of the British public. It’s just a bit of a miscalculation.

The shame of it all is that I love it.
I think it’s a great balance of homey product and modern life. It depicts really well, bringing the New York deli to the kitchen and I’d buy it… in fact I will this weekend, just to prove a point.
And happily I am in the target audience… I am our household’s main shopper.

One of Heinz big successes over the last year or so has been its willingness to take risks, to update their brand. In ATL communications this has meant creating really strong, fresh work. In NPD it’s meant developing relevant new products.

I really hope that this experience doesn’t stop them doing it in future. So if anyone is listening... Heinz, keep on doing what you’re doing (just with less snoggy bits)… middle England will catch up one day.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

No such thing as bad film viral?

Yes I know its doing the rounds.

But I think its funny.

And shows the power of the consumer in this crazy ole digital age.

In fact I may have it made into a t-shirt (and then give it away to a charity shop).

Balloonacy - the Great Orange Internet Balloon Race

Today sees the launch of what is billed as ‘The World’s First Internet Balloon Race’… and you’ve guessed it, it’s a marketing tool for our friends over at Orange.

The concept seems simple enough. You pick a balloon – I have a canary called Huckerby (Get it? – And yes I know we’ve not renewed his contract), and you pilot said inflatable around the net, picking up power boosts and bonuses on the way. There are (I think prizes for winners etc, but for me the more interesting part is the way the campaign interacts with the web.

I really like the way Orange are using other sites, almost as partners, generating traffic and presumably building bridges between each and orange (which has to be of some value to their corporate and business teams). I’ll report more on the functionality and how Huckerby is getting along later.

Quite apart from the whole balloon mechanic being unnecessarily confusing (Do I really care enough to find out what in the world a Camel Balloon package is?), the balloon race is a really nice, fun, summery execution of the central theme – and I for one will be playing (outside work time of course). So if you are bored and feel like giving my balloon a prod (apparently that makes them go faster too), look out for the only Canary with any realistic chance of flying high this season...

Monday, 23 June 2008

Hard Times in Hollywood - or why more superhero films mean the downturn has hit tinsel town

oh and by the way that means that your marketing needs to work that much harder…

Last year saw a glut of sequels and cartoon ogres.
The reasons for which have been well known for years – essentially, it’s cheaper to guarantee a hit, if there’s been one very like it before.

This year we’ve got superheroes – and lots of them; so far we’ve been treated to Iron Man and The Hulk… Still to come we’ve got Hancock (which is the exception to my point), The Dark Hype (ho ho), Hell Boy 2 (Which looks blinding) and Bond (who is a bit like a super hero).

And the reason? According to Variety… it’s all about the downturn.

Here’s the theory:

Back in the day big film stars could demand lots of money for their roles. This came in the form of gross receipts – I take 20% of your gross receipts… nice and simple.

Now in these days of tightening belts and increasing costs, studios are having to find ways of minimising outgoings.
Marketing and production costs are rising (thanks to the writers strike etc)). Which leaves the studios with very few avenues to reduce costs. One of the avenues available is the stars themselves…

Increasingly stars are having to accept Cash Break deals.
Essentially you (as a star) get paid a little up front, but you only get your big payday after the film breaks even. So if a film needs to make $50m you get your 20% after it takes this amount.
All of which seems reasonable – if a bit harsh on the star’s bank accounts.

From the studio’s perspective there are of course two ways to minimise Big Star pay outs: 1 increase the number of cash breaks, 2 use fewer stars.

And the way to use fewer stars and to diminish their bargaining power, is to ensure that your films aren’t built around them. Which is why (so the argument goes), we’re seeing more pandas and superheroes and less big star vehicles.

All of which may or may not be the case, but the facts are. We are seeing more concept films and fewer star vehicles. Which of course has an impact on marketing.

When I was working on the launch of the Simpsons movie a while ago, one of the first things we noticed was that there was a massive hole in the coms plan – no star talent. Which necessitated a huge amount of work filling this hole with paid for coms. Hence the chalk Homer, hence the O2 premiere… hence loads of really great stuff.

The point here is that in a downturn, where we’re seeing loads more concept films and fewer star vehicles, we can no longer rely on the interviews, appearances and gossip which has always been the mainstay of Hollywood. We need instead to innovate, to do things differently and to generate our column inches in different, interesting ways.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Don't Panic - The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy vs Wikipedia

I’ve just finished reading a section of ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’, by David Weinberger called ‘Social Knowing’ and it got me thinking…

I’m not talking about the novel/radio play here (which is of course wonderful), I’m talking about THE book, which is…

‘Certainly the most successful, book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor. More popular than the Celestial Home Care Omnibus, better selling than Fifty Three Things to Do in Zero Gravity, and more controversial than Oolon Colluphid's trilogy of philosophical blockbusters - Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes, and Who is this God Person Anyway?’ Oh and plain old Wikipedia, off the internet.

A while ago it struck me that Wikipedia was, in reality the Guide. It was, to all intents and purposes everything that the guide set out to be. And then the other day when reading an excerpt from David Weinberger’s ‘Everything is Miscellaneous*’, for a book group we have at work it struck me that I had been utterly wrong. - This happens quite a lot, and I'm quite happy to fess up to the fact that I often hold ridiculous ideas I dreamt up in the pub, but never really thought through.

(*nb. He's got a blog that its all based on)

And I thought it would be a bit of a laugh to look at why my initial viewpoint was such a load of old dingoes kidney’s. Whilst in doing so, bringing out some of Weinberger’s arguments and my own thoughts on them.

HGTTG vs Wikipedia - the face off

Both books are the ultimate source of knowledge in the universe - now, it could be argued here that the Hitch Hiker’s Guide has competition... and that this competition mirrors the Wikipedia/Britannica conflict, for example:
The Encyclopaedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With."
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.
Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."

… But this is where the similarity ends.

The Guide is Commercial – Wikipedia is not. Weinberger argues that there is a an issue with Authority and Truth highlighting that most big media organisations rely on authority to sell – we need to trust that what the Times says is true or we wouldn’t pay for it, and as a result the Times has grown reliant on the money driven by its authority to cover costs and drive profit…

1-Nil to Wikipedia.

No problems with one of your agents getting stuck on a small blue-green planet somewhere in the western spiral arm of the galaxy for them.
The guide relies on field researchers like Ford Prefect (originally from the Betelguise vicinity), whereas Wikipedia is open source, user compiled.

Weinberger talks about the benefits of a user driven system. How it generates its own form of authority by being honest and open. How consumers are more active in drawing information from it – by having to sift through occasional inaccuracies and how they reach a NPV (Neutral Point of View).

My main issues with Weinberger’s point of view are that he treats knowledge as how we process information, and the basis for knowledge being about mutual agreement. Personally I think knowledge needs a more philosophical basis (be that scientific/empirical or whatever). And whilst I like the idea of NPV I’m not sure you could ever call them right. – None of which detracts from Weinberger’s POV.

2 – Nil to Wikipedia so far.

3 – Nil in fact if you count the NPV as superior to the validity of field reporters… remember how the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation cut Ford’s entry about Earth to two words… ‘Mostly Harmless’?

It’s crazy really that none of us saw it coming. Models like HGTTG seemed so plausible until social knowledge (Weinberger’s term) turned things on their head – and hilariously social knowledge is what societies had (to some extent) been doing for years prior to broadcast media.

So in the final run off, which is the winner….?

...Controversially it’s the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


Well for two reasons.

First. I’m not Wikipedia and I think its better.

Secondly and most importantly the Guide has the words ‘Don’t Panic’ embossed helpfully on its cover.

...Next week ebay vs some guy I met outside the grand bizarre in Istandbul trying to swap carpets for my girlfriend.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Talking to the man - Gethuman

I was at lunch on Friday, when the conversation turned to Customer service. We talked for a while about call centre outsourcing, Orange’s decision to move their call centres back to the UK (or at least shift some customer service resource back) and First Direct and their consistently good call handling performance.

I hate call centres. I worked in one for a year with Norwich Union which, whilst I was there, got moved from the top floor, with a view of the castle, to a site overlooking a run down car park. View not withstanding, I hate call centres, being in them and calling them.

Which is why when one of the American’s around the table piped up and asked whether we’d seen get was delighted to learn that I hadn’t and that it’s great. is a very simple database of every big company you’d ever want to phone, and instructions on how to get straight through to an actual human operator! Brilliant.

Now, I’ve got no idea how they keep it up to date – I can only image it being fairly labour intensive.

Behind their database there’s a ‘Gethuman Standard’, which sets out the various rules a company should adhere to in order to be user friendly (for example – The caller must always be able to dial 0 or say ‘operator’ to queue for a human).

My only initial concern is that, if the site’s not (up to date), and I need to speak to someone at about it… will I get straight through? – I’ll wait to see if they come back to my e-mailed request on that one.

There are a few interesting points here.

First in a homogenous market, customer service is a key differentiating factor. Outsourcing your call centres, or making them overly reliant on recorded messaging may seem like a smart move for the bottom line, but if they start to erode your business, it’s a false economy (the Orange model).

Next it is clearly great that consumers are empowering themselves to get what they want, rather than what corporations say they want (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told that ‘the service has been scaled down for my convenience.’). And it’s an equally great thing that the internet allows us all to do this.

Lastly, there’s a nice little blog at the end of the site, allowing us to chip in and let them know about the service we’ve received at the hands of various corporations.

Right I’m off to talk to someone at Norwich Union (now of course Aviva), not that I need to you understand. I can though. So I’m going to.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Films for free on the internet - the tip of the iceberg?

Digital reinvented the music model; the question we’ve been asking for some time now is what it will do to the film industry.

Studios have been (understandably) slow to pick up on online downloads – which could of course fundamentally threaten the business model. But recently things have started moving the states, Yesterday Cinematical reported that Disney were to start offering their Wonderful World of Disney films online; Today the same site covers Fox Searchlight’s decision to offer content for download on Hulu.

Three films have been mentioned so far: Sideways, 28 days later and Quills have been mentioned. Reports suggest that content will also become available from other networks including Fox itself, Universal, MGM, Lionsgate etc.

Have a read of the Cinematical article (it’s much better than this). They centre on the disruption of ads in the stream. (interesting) and the fact that there are no age restrictions.

For me it’s more about what could be the front edge of a very big iceberg, which could change the way we consume film. Nothing’s going to change in the short term – there are too many vested interests involved – surely at some point though, new channels to market are going to start eroding a model that’s been in place since Hollywood was founded.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

A new way?

This is interesting.
One of the reasons I started writing this blog was to look at new ways of conducting politics. Weirdly, interestingly inspiration seems to have come from a wholly unexpected source.
David Davis, the Conservative Shadow home secretary has today resigned from the House of Commons. He has done so in order to force a bi-election in his constituency and focus the nation’s attentions on an issue he sees as overwhelmingly important.

You can see his speech here.

Whether or not I care of Mr Davis’ politics is beside the point in this instance, what is interesting is that he is using his position of authority – granted by the current UK political system to grab a platform to debate an issue close to his heart.
You might argue that the issue he has resigned for is of fundamental concern to his constituents – their freedom. You might say that it’s merely a way of grabbing the headlines… If his cause was different PR for example or The Abortion cut off date (all of which could be seen as fundamental to constituents freedom), would it been an equally valid thing to have done.Does this open the flood gates to other politicians grabbing the attention of the nation?
Is it an abuse of power?

If I’m honest, I’m not sure. Either way, and whatever you believe, you’ve got to admire his balls.

Home Alone

I’ve just read OMD's research into Stay at Home Dad’s (The New Dad's Army, Marketing, 11 June 2008 also Brand Republic), and was pleasantly surprised to find an agency trying to shift attitudes towards that most entrenched of roles child raising. You see in four weeks (actually 3 weeks two days now – but who’s counting?) I will be swapping my mouse mat for nappy bag and changing mat to become a stay at home father (the very terms seems apologetic.).

Apparently one in 10 fathers are now looking after the kids… so apparently I’ll be in good company. And this means (according to OMD) that companies should consider targeting this lucrative and growing audience. Which is fair enough. What interests me is the type of communication we’ll start receiving.

New audience, new insights. I certainly don’t want to start being pushed nappies with my club colours on them (or maybe I do, my daughter after all already has the branded baby grows…). What I’m saying is that one of the big issues for me is lack of knowledge and companies pushing new products at me are just likely to get my hackles up. What I want is helpful communication, reasoned argument that, in the short term mean my choices won’t bring down the wrath of ‘her in the office’, but which in the long term will allow me to spend my time with my daughter in the most rewarding manner possible for us both.

So my pleas are threefold:
Can we see some more qualititative insight into stay at home fathers – presumably our needs are not all the same?
Could big companies develop communications over time that help me (us) make sense of what is currently an alien world.
And on a personal note, can anyone give me any guidance on what resources; blogs/websites/groups/whatever really exist to aid people like me.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Starting point

Starting point.

Q. Isn’t there a better way of doing things?


Problem is that most people are so caught up in keeping their heads down, getting on with the way things should be done, they never take the time to look up and think about how things could be done.

My aim is to look up now and then. To look at things from different angles and see if we can’t, just once or twice see things differently.
No manifesto, no stated territories except the ones that interest me. There certainly won’t be a post a day, but maybe when we do get the chance, maybe it’ll be of interest to someone.