Sunday, 30 December 2007


At what point do you go from trying in vain to draw your name, with the end result looking like something you would have produced aged 3, to this...">

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Game

I’ve just finished reading Neill Strauss’s ‘The Game’ which is a book in essence about the techniques employed by a secret group of guys to pick up girls who they would have originally considered out of their league.

I won’t ruin the story for you if you’re ever planning on reading it, but during the book, the author goes from becoming a geeky nobody with very little self esteem to a mPUA (Master Pick Up Artist) and then finally turns into somebody who realises the fakeness of what his life has become. As you can imagine, the core aspect of the book is how a man can boost his confidence and develop his communication and attention seeking skills in such a way that he can not only approach some of the most beautiful women, but also go on to take them home.

The protagonist however, after learning the skills and becoming a leader within the PUA community, suddenly realises that the people he is surrounding himself with and the activity he is doing are in essence wholly fake and shallow and he has an epiphany when, after chatting to a girl for an extended period of time (using all the tricks and methods he’s learnt) suddenly finds himself running out of material and starts to panic as he might have to talk to this girl as himself and all that self doubt that surrounded him before he learnt the techniques returns.

When I was reading this I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with advertising especially digital advertising with the way it is becoming increasingly social in it’s approach. Obviously there are basics to advertising which are apparent in everything that we do in order to raise the profile of our products and services or those of our clients.

However without theorising too much over this, I think the biggest thing to come out of reading about these techniques and methods and how effective they were, was that there is a need to get back to basics. There is far too much time being spent on trying to analyse consumer behaviour and interest focus which normally results in over complicating plans of execution and creative. That's not to say there is not a lot of excellent simplistic and highly effective creative out there but there is also a lot of overly wordy creative that either turns the consumer off or leaves them wondering what the hell they are on about. (ok this example isn't from the UK but it illustrates what could happen and it make me laugh)

So yeah, even if you are a mPUA of the advertising world with all the tricks up your sleeve, (good chat, expensive clothes, good aftershave), if your brand integrity (personality) is somewhat lacking, and you can't allow yourself to be judged on your core merits than no amount of attention grabbing techniques are going to save you. There is far too much information out there for the online community to access for a brand to be anything else but true to themselves and the people they are offering a product to.

Ok, I appreciate I might be a being a little bit utopian here and I'm not advocating a world of free love and mutual respect but if brands still think they can be anything but honest with their consumers, they're wrong.


Not that I needed ‘leave’ in order to go absent but I felt like I've neglected my posts for the last couple of months with no real excuse other than losing sight of what is actually important. I’m under no illusion that my little streams of consciousness are of that much importance, however as Erin says in her blog, it's not just about educating or informing others, it's also a type of therapy for introverts.

I agree with her, in that those of us who blog have a lot of internal thoughts and need to vent these ideas and opinions to allow for both their development (it's amazing how when you try to describe an idea to somebody you suddenly start to visualise the other possibilities the idea could lead to) and also allowing you to move on from said idea and start to think about other thoughts that have been bouncing around your noggin.

As a result of this I have decided that I will make a far more concerted effort to publish more posts, 1 a week in fact. Previously I have always tried to make what I say as polished as possible as I try to cover everything off on the topic. And whilst talking of topics, mine have always been slightly narrow minded and industry specific, this needs to change as I am of the firm opinion that planning requires influences from every sector, of course it does, else we have no chance in trying to convey a message to people.

Next post within 7 days (I promise!)...

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

'Re-volvo-lutionary' brand interaction

Although this has a bit of a way to go in terms of development I think this is a really neat idea and could lead to all sorts of interactive projects. One day we might even be able to manipulate the film we're watching...

Friday, 28 September 2007

We are still in September, aren't we?!

Very quick post just to say that I was in Somerfield this morning getting a few supplies and I noticed that they were selling Santa hats at the check-out!!
I understand that companies may well be trying to market their products for the overly organised amongst us who are buying their presents 3 months early - But why would you be buying a Santa hat at this time of year?! Of all the things Christmas related I think the Santa hat favoured by stag do's and office parties would be one of the latest things to appear on the shelves and if for any reason you needed to wear one for a party or the like, why on earth would you think to go and buy it from Somerfield?!!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Wish you were here?

Ok, I feel everything’s been a bit industry focused recently so I thought I'd put down some more creative thoughts to see what you think.

One of the accounts I run is a travel client and you can probably tell from what I've written about previously that I'm quite into the idea of using social networks more effectively. My idea is basically an 'Out of Office' application that users on Facebook could install so that whenever they receive a message from one of their friends an automated message is sent back which would look something like this:

(big thanks to Ed for his Photoshop skills. Cheers bud!)

I feel it's wrong for a brand to pretend to be anything else other than what it is, especially on social networks so the branding would be clearly stated. What I suggest as a way of defusing the obvious branding would be to include interactive feeds from the sender such as video and photo updates from their mobile which, as well as going into their profile pictures/videos they would automatically be updated on the OOO alert. There’s also scope to incorporate a twitter feed which I haven’t included in the mock up. The weather feed would act as an incentive for the recipient to book flights, (using the handy link at the bottom of the page) to the destination after seeing how great it is!

There is potential to develop this further by adding a competition element which could use the feeds to guess where their friend is (although you're probably not their best friend if you don't know where they were on holiday!) and guess at the bottom of the page with the prize being a free flight of your choice for example. I think this would be a really good way to launch it and create some buzz around the application.

As with all things on social networks I think it's very important to keep things simple and the installation would have to be very easy to upload and add to. I'm hoping that by including as many personal aspects in the application, it will minimise any potential backlash from users who fear the involvement of pushy brands in this environment.

I've currently got a couple of people helping me develop this and I really hope to get some sort of prototype together shortly, however I'm about to go on holiday myself ironically so you will have to watch this space...

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Is play time over?

Can digital media continue to successfully self-regulate or is it time for more stringent legislation to be introduced?

This is far too big a topic to comment with anything more than my own personal thoughts, however I'm hoping that maybe I can generate some sort of discussion.

I don't pretend to be in a position to have a fully educated opinion on this, however what I would say is based on my experience of the industry from a planner's perspective and what changes I think could be made so that the client and consumer (I don't like using that description but it seems the most apt) have a better understanding of what the digital world can offer but also take away in terms of brand integrity and user experience.

The comparison I would like to draw upon are the systems that are in place in offline media where checks are continually made on behalf of the consumer and breaches are punishable accordingly (i.e. C4 Big Brother). Where are these checks online? Are these checks possible on a global media where the consumer has complete choice over what they expose themselves to?

Digital media is still young in comparison to national press and TV and it's only now that there are trusted media houses such as MSN, Yahoo, AOL where it's probably safe to let your children browse the content but step away from these established areas and there is dangerous content in abundance. This is a massive generalisation and I am not suggesting for one minute that we should only use these online bastions, far from it. But the point I'm trying make is the only real comparison I can make between on and offline is through established online brands who have their own integrity and reputation to protect.

Another question is, are these checks possible on an ever changing medium where the consumer is hugely involved in a lot of the content that is produced? Some argue that if user generated content was removed from digital media plans then the client will dramatically reduce the chances of association with untoward content. The question that then needs to be asked is, are official political parties (who's views the client may not agree with) who have set up their own presence online, considered UGC? The answer to this is both yes and no. Yes, because they are appearing on a social network that is in essence user generated (and it is for this reason that places like Facebook are so popular) and no because an institution such as the BNP is a recognised party in the UK and as such is substantiated (unlike a lot of UGC that is out there). It would be fairly straightforward for brands to disassociate themselves from networks that have this sort of content (believe me I've just spent the last week removing all my client's advertising from any networks that might have unsavory sites as part of their portfolio) but is this actually such a smart move? Following on from both of my earlier posts, if clients are not advertising in these areas and engaging with these audiences, they are surely missing out on a massive user base. In respect of this I think clients need to be educated about what's available and the best way to interact with users using this medium.

To return to my original question of whether or not digital can establish a set of rules and guidelines that would be adhered to by both sites and the brands that advertise on them, I think we are still a long way off. Personally I think that the speed that this medium is moving at, means it has always been and will continue to be very difficult to fence in those involved in it, and I think if strict legislation is put in place, the amazing creative possibilities that digital can offer will be curbed along with it.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The Future? It’s now!

Cheesy title I know, but I’ve been thinking recently about digital planning and what planners are trying to achieve in this ever changing, rapidly evolving arena and I have a concern. This concern revolves around the fact that due to the speed of change and perceived speed of uptake by the consumer, planners have gone from thinking outside the box to not even considering the box in the first place!

Clearly what I’m saying is quite a generalisation and I believe it is vital that creative planners continue to push the creative limits of digital media which offers those, (who ask of it the right questions) a whole wealth of options. I do not want to marginalise this section of planners, I can only dream of having the scope to produce the work they do, however I do still feel there is a point to be made.

This point stems from my limited experience of working with creative planners and that many of them (especially in the digital sphere) are chasing what appears to be the ‘Holy Grail’ of ideas that will see their client's brand interact and engage with the audience in a totally un-heard of way. Whilst it is great that planners are studying trends and aspiring to achieve this goal, would it not be worth looking at what we currently have and seeing how we can harness what's already becoming the status quo, so that we can engage with users in an environment that they are currently familiar with and feel safe within?

I’m an advocate of Mark Lewis’s theory of ‘Liquid Communication’ - (Monday July 30th), where the point is made that in order to engage with ‘generation Y’ we need to engage them in a way that flows around their fast moving, ever changing lives. He talks about pushing interaction over information, which has become a clear trend in how advertising on the whole is changing. He also makes the point that although interaction and integration must be key aspects to any campaign that a planner puts together; unfortunately the brands who finance these plans are not always of the same opinion.

At the end of the day, it must be the brands who need educating/convincing in order for these new ideas to take hold and develop. The work I am involved in is very direct response focussed and trying to get the client to understand the benefits of developing an application on a social network that perfectly targets their desired audience, is not easy. This is not to say that it is impossible and I believe that if planners took a more dynamic approach to the tools and applications that are abundant in the digital sphere and being used by an increasing amount of the online community, clients would be far more susceptible to listening to these ideas.

Without leaving myself too exposed, I feel there are still benefits to social networking despite it fast becoming the norm. The fact it is now mainstream means that many planners are seeing it as old news and have moved on to seeing what potential other emerging media can offer them. As mentioned previously, although this is vital to the development of digital advertising, social networking is by no means exhausted. I am not going to divulge too much into the pros/cons of social networking (these points have been made in my earlier post) and whilst there are still concerns with this wholly un-policed arena (a day rarely goes by when it doesn’t make the press in some form of another) that is not to say we can’t still use this medium and harness it’s fantastic targeting capabilities.

In my opinion social networking emanates many of the important elements of the digital arena, and with sites such as Facebook opening itself up to user created applications/widgets, social networking is embracing all the core elements of Web 2.0 as well. I see Facebook’s organic growth develop in such a way that (as long as it doesn't get shut down!!) it will soon become a one stop shop for all of one's social media needs. This will be achieved by the continued collaboration with established web properties such as Trip Advisor and Flikr.

It is only a matter of time before someone develops a tool that cultivates all the consumer information, that users gladly offer up in exchange for an enhanced online experience, and provides advertisers and ultimately brands highly specific groups with which to target their desired demographic. Once this level of targeting is achieved, the brand wont require a ‘Holy Grail’ of creative ideas but instead can employ more traditional methods, as engagement will come about through precise targeting.

I believe it is possible for brands to both educate and engage, but perhaps using a social network to experiment with this is perceived as a risky strategy. On the flipside however, if the creativity can strike the right balance between engagement and passiveness then communicating with users where they feel safe and secure, (even if this area has become mainstream) such as a social network, could be the best place for promoting a suitable brand and it’s product.

Social Networking - An education

Why do people interact with social networks and what experiences do they hope to get from being involved? Unfortunately there are too many issues here to comment on in depth, however from a digital planner’s perspective; the most important aspects for me are what keeps community members (and ultimately consumers) interested.

Online social networks are in essence, the same as traditional social networks, i.e. a group of people who are affiliated to one another through either personal connections (friends, family, work colleagues) or areas of common interest (football fans, favourite bands, travel interests). What differentiates online social networks from any other traditional network is the ease with which members can interact with one another and enhance their offline relationships through the functionality of online social networking sites.

Despite what your preconceptions may be, social networks are not necessarily a place for dating and forming new relationships. In my experience (which I will admit is predominantly based on Facebook) social networks are used by people who want to share with friends and people with similar interests, aspects of their lives which may be of interest.

I think the best way to illustrate the difference between on and offline social networks would be to take an example of a typical offline social network and how it is enhanced once it becomes a part of a social network. Let’s look at a football team which consists of a group of work colleagues who play once a week as part of a Sunday league. Last season their captain had trouble maintaining numbers through lack of communication and a loss of morale through a string of defeats. There were also the issues of trying to get everybody to the different venues each week and invariably losing people through transport issues. Trying to recruit a new goalie also proved problematic as they had already used most of their workforce, including Nick from accounts!

At the start of this season however, their captain decided to embrace the digital age and set up a page on Facebook for his team. He set up a fixture list using the ‘Event’ function so everybody knew when and more importantly where the matches were to be held. Each match was reported on and pictures and videos were uploaded to the page. Also, when their lead striker broke his leg after a vicious tackle during a match with Carrot Digital, a sub-group was set up which recruited a new striker in no time. With their new found efficiency and improved morale, the team have had a run of successes resulting in a fan club being set up which has generated discussions and candid photos from supporters and the ever important footballer’s wives! - (; ilovefootball)

In order to understand what these networks consist of, let us look at the main players in the social networking arena and what they offer their users.

My Space: In many ways the most well known social network due to its high public profile. Founded in 2003, My Space typifies many of the core elements of social networking. The onus is on user creativity and self-promotion and is used by up and coming bands to promote their music. Personally I find My Space a high maintenance site that requires regular creative input to keep your page fresh. Drawbacks of the site are associated with how open the site is to other users who don’t necessarily know you, having access to whatever information you chose to publicise on your page.

Bebo: Set up two years after My Space its swift growth makes My Space look phlegmatic in comparison. Bebo gives typically ‘un-cool’ brands a creative outlet by offering user interaction through discussion and debate rather than simply forcing a message of product benefits upon the user. Interaction is encouraged as brands offer users benefits through association and mutual creativity, often tapping the huge creative source that network members provide.

Facebook: The last of the current ‘big players’ was set up in February 2004 and began life as a college networking site. Now available to all, Facebook has become something of a phenomenon amongst a large demographic as it combines the attributes of a social network as mentioned above with the added benefits of sites such as Friends Re-united as connections are predominantly made through school, university and the work place. The differentiating factor of Facebook is the onus on events such as birthdays and sporting events that in many ways encourage users to physically meet up and interact, which is lacking from many other social networks.

In my experience there are three key aspects to social networking that maintain user interest. These are quite basic but are ultimately 1) a sense of community 2) the development of friendships 3) ease with which they can interact with other users and ultimately learn from them.

These attributes must be at the forefront of a planner’s mind if they are thinking of placing a client’s product in this environment as there are many pitfalls that could be disastrous to a brand's image in this fragile and wholly un-policed arena. Although the responsibility of social networks is to monitor and check that comments and blogs are professional and friendly (to an extent) it is impossible to rein in a debate that may rage from the presence of a certain brand and their failure to interact in a way that suits the nature of a social network. If such a situation did arise around a brand then this could be highly detrimental to their image and damage their reputation amongst those they are trying to target.

Industry commentators often claim that connections made on social networks are superficial and short lived as the amount of effort required to make connections is minimal. Brands have recognised this ease with which consumers can communicate and jumped at the chance to easily target this consumer group but forget the other more complex details of social networking interaction.

Due to the very nature of social networks and the audience who use them ('Generation Y' or 'Generation Now') traditional interruption and repeat methods of advertising will be ignored and /or rejected. In order for a brand to get their message across to these users, they must employ a strategy of engagement, embracing the core aspects that define the usability of these sites, in order to firstly make contact and then build a relationship with the user. In many ways it must be a game of give and take, where the users feels comfortable engaging with the brand and are rewarded for their loyalty with continued interaction.

Saying that however, the demographic using social networks are diversifying in the age department and niche interest sites are setting up their own networks which encourage users to interact with each other through forums and shared interest pages. Examples of this diversity can be seen in the BBC Food and Top Gear social networks that are currently being created. (The BBC Worldwide looks to invest up to £350 million on this area of online activity – Guardian Jan 07)

The main point to be made here is that although social networks appear to be a fantastic source for highly targeted advertising and brand association, if a brand does not follow the unspoken rules and etiquette which governs a users experience, (or uses walled garden networks (who's audiences tend to be of younger generation)) they are leaving themselves open to attack from all sides.

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