September 2009

We’ve been talking a lot about Augmented Reality of late. The FT feature a few weeks back got us all excited but it also signified the paradigm shift; that moment when a technology that has been pottering around in the background for a while, finally sits up and screams from a full page in the FT ‘Hey Marketers – I know you’ve only just figured out Twitter but how about you have a play with me?”

Gary Hayes over at Personalized Media has pulled together a couple of rather handy posts. The first looks at the influence AR might have on story-telling – think Minority Report but like, er, for real. This is less aimed at the world of traditional marketing and more at ARG fanatics (for the record I’m an ARG enthusiast, not a fanatic). The second is unapologetically commercial and looks at the different business models that have (or may) spring from the fountain of Augmented Reality. Both are worth a read.

All the recent stuff I’ve seen about Augmented Reality (FT piece included) talk about the potential for advertisers: immersive adverts, billboards that will come to life and bite you, bus stops that will wow you so much with technical wizardry that you will metamorphose into a ‘PowerConsumer’, from that moment automatically purchasing everything you see even if you don’t need it. If you believe the hype it’s as if Augmented Reality will singlehandedly save the ad industry. It may well do – though it does make you wonder what the point is in saving something if the end result is product placement in the Rovers Return?

But enough about how those Above-the-Line types will use the technology. Gary’s post got me thinking. Why is it only the Porn Industry and Advertisers who get to experiment ? (You can take that sentence a number of ways, should you wish). What I mean is – sure from an advertising point of view Augmented Reality is going to turn high-streets, shopping malls and maybe even your local pub into a virtual playground reminiscent of Tron. And this is exciting. True – as neatly shown by the FT experiment – Augmented Reality has amazing potential for ‘3D Virals’. Again – this is exciting.

But what I want to know as PRs committed to Public Engagement, could we have more fun with Augmented Reality? New technology always challenges industries (see iTunes, Spotify etc etc). But as PRs on the cusp of a new decade it is worth us taking a look at the other business models that Gary has outlined so see if there are other ways that Augmented Reality can be woven into our campaigns. Installations, information booths and social gaming may be less traditional routes to ‘media’ but are equally effective opportunities to ‘publically engage’ – so let’s have a think about using them. Why not use AR to do more work like this Nikon stunt. True this is an Ad campaign and doesn’t have an AR element, but hopefully you get the idea. This is a brilliant campaign. It’s a neat use of technology, it’s perfectly tied to the product, it gets people stopping in the street and causes a conversation online. It also makes a great picture story.

So I suppose that’s my point (sorry for the ramble). Let’s not think of Augmented Reality as ViralStrategy2.0 – rather let’s look at it as an opportunity to use technology to start a conversation. That is, allegedly, what they pay me for anyway…

PS – if nothing else check out the Avatar toys. It’s like the chess game in Star Wars. Top Trumps 2.0, perhaps?


The difference between local and global Marketing is a question that often raises it’s head when certain kinds of marketers gather and has perhaps launched a thousand dissertations.  But it seems that the question is becoming increasingly redundant in the connected age.  Well at least the kind of locally created controversial campaign that exploits icons and ignores sensitivities.   This week the WWF has become swamped in controversy with “Tsunami”, a print advertisement for WWF Brazil created by DDB Brasil. The print ad, created in 2008, shows multiple planes heading through the skies around the New York skyline, bound, it seems, for the World Trade Center. “The Tsunami Killed 100 Times More People Than 9/11.”

The advert was created and shown in print and cable in Brasil apparently without creating a major outcry although it was quietly retired from circulation when it came to the attention of WWF’s global team.  That it could have been shown without creating a publicity storm is a reflection on different local sensitivities.  However, when circulated lately across and posted on U Tube the firestorm of negative press duly occurred as a local became global.

This raises the question of whether any campaign can truly be local.  If you would take the British ad phenomena of the year:  The meerkat one wonders if only because of the market or meerkat pun alone this great piece of creativity is limited to a local idea alone.  Would the strange animal accented humour work in the US market?  Would Russian consumers relate so readily to loveable count?  Has there been any Russian blog outrage at this parody of Russian aristocracy?

I guess the big question is if this need to make local campaigns work within a global filter mean that the danger of bland global executions is becoming foist on local ideas.  We know that any thought may become global so we begin with the premise that it must work globally.

Yesterday, Tom and I moseyed along to the ICA to witness a discussion between legendary Canadian author Douglas Coupland (Generation X, jPod, Microserfs among others), and Rick Poyner, founder of Eye Magazine. The topic for discussion was ‘What Words Look Like’ and centred around fonts, and typefaces – for some a geeky obsession and for others a never-thought-of triviality, just something that is inherent in modern life and which they don’t have an opinion of either way.

Coupland has an opinion though, he has many, especially around the Helvetica font, which he loves because, well, it’s so inexpressive that it doesn’t get in the way of the word. It betrays no emotion and so doesn’t influence what you’re reading. It’s an interesting point – to what extent does the font you’re reading impact the context of what you’re reading? Interestingly, over in the States, apparently all movie scripts are written in Courier New, as it too is an ‘emotionless’ font, and thus does not affect how an actor interprets a script.

Additionally, there’s the instance of Wired magazine in the States going round the editorial desks and removing the Times Roman font from all the machines, so no-one could type in it – it’s hated that much and is such a bland font, that they demanded it never be used. And don’t even get me started on Comic Sans. There’s a great phrase I once saw which simply read ‘Comic Sans – isn’t’. It’s a typeface developed to replicate writing in graphic novels and comics, but out of this context it becomes a hateful, ‘jolly’ font people use when putting up signs for the village fete, as if using Comic Sans instantly makes the event more fun for all the family. It doesn’t of course, it just makes people (okay ‘me’) think “wow, this event is being run by people who won their brain at last’s year’s fair”.

There’s also an interesting corporate element – at a previous agency, our emails were randomly checked to ensure everyone was using font x in size 12. A bit extreme we all thought and the Font Nazi was soon dropped, but the issue raised its head recently when a…” target=”_blank”>woman was fired for sending emails which were ‘confrontational’ due to them being typed in giant red capital letters. Now, whether you think this woman is mental or not is beside the point, as she won her employment tribunal claiming there was no company style guide and therefore she’d done nothing wrong.

Fonts cropped up again recently, when it was announced IKEA was shifting from Futura to the (slightly hateful) Verdana font for its catalogue and magazine. The impact of the font change is actually more significant than one might think – look here at the examples and tell me you don’t think the new style looks a little cheaper, tackier than the previous.

There’s also the issue of handwriting which was briefly touched upon (Coupland claiming his own is ‘shit’), and he made the point that if you receive a handwritten letter from someone these days, who isn’t an elderly aunt, your first instinct is to pick up the phone to a mutual friend and say ‘hey, is such and such okay?’ We just don’t write any more in communication and rely on text instead – yet much of the time we lose focus on the ‘handwriting’ of this text and what it means for the message we’re sending.

Karsten Nohl, a Dutch hacker alarmed the mobile industry this week with a methodology and claims that the theoretical risk of a mobile phone being hacked will become real within the next six months.  Pundits responded with claims that this was simply repetition of long standing fears which had yet to be proven by a practical attack.  Clearly the track record of the GSM standard that provides encryption for voice calls has stood the test through a decade of alarms and false claims and in this respect the trust accrued to the telecoms sector has been substantial.  Especially when compared to the computing, a sector of industry that was caught napping on the dangers not just to security but privacy in the online world.

However, this news does raise a broader trust issue for the industry as telecoms becomes more pervasive and converged with traditional computing platforms and models of usage.    Telecoms and mobile devices particularly have enjoyed a close personal trust with consumers and often seem to be an extension of the users emotions and lifestyle such as the Blackberry and iPhone sucesss.   The literally multi-billion dollar question is can the industry keep it’s particular sense of personal trust as it evolves and develops new models and ecosystems?  Indeed the importance of this question grows as the telecoms increasingly becomes a service beyond voice.  Already via voice CellCrypt  identified that 79 percent of workers discuss confidential issues by mobile every few days so imagine the challenge to security when sophisticated data services become the norm.  In this respect the industry is going to need to develop a culture of aftercare and ongoing customer education that has stood the computing industry well in addressing trust issues in recent years.

In doing this I do believe that a good starting point is clarification of what it has done right for so long, what exactly are these trust assets and how can they be developed as the sectors evolves to meet these new challenges.  I would love to hear from anyone with any data or opinions on these issues.

A post written by Justin and Luke

Justin: This post got me thinking about video – and dare I say it viral video. It’s a term I don’t like to throw around too often. True ‘going viral’ may be the ultimate aim but it’s hard to set as the objective. It’s the old Edelman adage – viral is the result, not the strategy.

You could say though, that almost everything we do in our job should aim to ‘go viral’. We’re in the business of driving conversations – the more people that are talking, the better we have performed. But as Pinny always says, you can’t have a dialogue with anyone without content. So the conversation business by default becomes the content business – managing it, shaping it, creating it. Whether the content is a story angle, a picture, a message or a video our aim is usually to create a ‘viral’ result.

For that reason video should be seen like any other piece of content we work on – it needs to be fully conceived and designed with the target in mind. So if you’re developing a video brief always have in mind what you want to say and who you want to say it to. Ask yourself what is the video’s exact purpose (which should always be more than “we just want lots of people to view it”? Who is the audience? What would resonate best with them? What do you want them to take away from having watched the video?

Luke: Justin makes a good point. It seems obvious but knowledge of the audience is key. A film of surf tricks is unlikely to impress a woman in her 50s who lives in Tunbridge Wells. Equally you don’t have to over-egg the content. If a telco client wants to engage with developers a behind-the-scenes look at a product in development should do the trick – don’t just try to be funny, informative can work just as well.

Justin: There are some other things to bear in mind when developing a video concept. Generally videos that are viral have something special about them, a magic ingredient or two. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I think a film you want people to pass on to friends should be at least one of the following: funny, shocking, irreverent, controversial, surprising, interactive, so of the zeitgeist, titillating (sex sells).

Luke: There is a thought that the “Shock of the New” concept could be put into play for ‘virals’. Show something incredible and people will pass it around. I’m of the mind now though, that as inboxes bulge with the weight of numerous funny videos’ we need to be cleverer with our films. I think something that is stunning in its simplicity like this or mind boggingly complex in its execution – like the HP printers example below – can equally stimulate a conversation.

Justin: Of course, most ‘viral’ films aren’t actually branded. The most successful videos tend to be the most authentic. I’m sure we can all think of examples of branded films that don’t work because they’re just too heavy handed. Equally this is why many of the “You’ve Been Framed” videos are the most viral – as they are not pre-planned and capture the world as it happens – which can be funny/shocking/surprising etc. In fact if you were to ask most people of the best viral video they’ve seen that was branded in some way, most people would stop and have to think for quite a while before they thought of one. Why? Well generally brands aren’t as risky as they’d need to be to be successful and many try to imitate the successful un-branded videos that have gone before. But we all know that most sequels just aren’t as good as the original.

Luke: Also some films that try to go viral are just adverts that have been shown online. To me this goes against the grain. It’s slapping old-style content onto new platforms, with disregard for the democratisation of the online space. Consumers should be able to interact with branded content not just passively watch it. A friend of mine showed me this the other day, he said it was one of his favourite ‘virals’. To me though it was just a funny advert created for the SuperBowl. Yes it is amusing. But no it is not a great example of online content. Though it should be noted that the subtle branding here is key.

Where brands can have more success, however, is in “prank” virals. I’ve posted about these before, but basically they’re interactive content. You either insert your friends details, or your own, to tailor the film. The reason these are so successful is that they make the viewer active. They immerse you in the film encouraging you to pass it on. I reckon we’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing – especially with the growth of Augmented Reality. Check out this example Nicola spotted. Though be warned – ASA has started cracking down on these sorts of initiatives. They think it’s dodgy that you pass on your friends contact details without approval. Spoil sports.

The other issue commercial companies have is rights. When creating content brands do need to be careful with image, model, music and overall online rights. A brand can’t be seen to infringe on anyone else’s copyright. The problem is a lot of the most successful UGC videos reference icons from popular culture. I wouldn’t have thought a brand could put their name to a project like this – unless they paid some serious cash to LucasArts – which is a shame, because it’s awesome. Sometimes I think brands should be braver and tread a little closer to the proverbial line. These Cadbury films are brilliantly executed and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have paid anything to the original rights holders. Other brands shouldn’t be so frightened of following suit.

Justin: So remember, if you’re suggesting a video as part of a brief/campaign/pitch – ask yourself why first. Ask who you want to reach and the reason for it – then check to see it’s got a magic ingredient to it. Also, test it before you release it. Find people from the audience you want to reach – test the concept, show them after shooting it and see their reaction. Any reaction less than “I’d love to show my friends” means you need to go back to the drawing board or look what further work you can do in editing before you release.

Luke: Although this post is about viral, I’d also encourage us flacks to think beyond the hackneyed ‘viral’ concept. True – some unique, witty content can take a brand round the offices of the world as workers unite over an amusing 30 second clip. But I think video can be used in many aspects of our jobs. From pitch, to press releases, to reviews – videos can better present our thinking, and better communicate our client’s messages to the relevant audiences. So as well as thinking of video as a route to the consumer, also think about how else it can work for you. A short film can introduce a team to a prospect, an idea to a client, a product to a journalist. Digital technology has made the tools cheaply available to all of us. Your film doesn’t have to have Hollywood production values to inform and spark a conversation.

Below you’ll see a few examples of the great and the not so great.

But let us know your favourite video (that a brand had a hand in) and let us know why…

Some Examples:

The Good – Branded Films we wish we’d thought of

Skating babies – Evian
Really highly polished video that just was so bizarre you had to pass it on.

The Dexter Viral
This was the first prank I spotted – though the Obama one was equally awesome.

Zombie Car Advert
Brilliantly simple advert for Vauxhall

HP Printers
This is quite recent. The execution

The Obama Musical
Low-fi but perfectly timed to coincide with the eve of the election. Though I’m not actually sure this was done by the Obama team…

Levi Jump in Jeans
Looks like UGC, but it’s actually brilliant executed branded film…

Sony Hijack
Not a branded film, but a good example how responding well can make £££ for a brand

Diesel – 30th Anniversary
Porn that’s safe for work

Microsoft – waterslide
Still “fresh” but a clever approach. No branding what-so-ever but a video that communicated a message (they then did a good job of telling everyone that they were behind it)

The greatest animation ever – by Blu
Included in branded section as this was all about self publicity. Blu now works on sizeable commissions from various brands based on the success of this truly awesome bit of video.

The Bad – Films that should have never got beyond the brand storyboard (in our opinion…)

Mr T Hitachi
Tim Callington’s favourite sells his sole to IT. Never mind the awful concept and dodgy script. It’s the shots showing the studio rig that upset me the most

Playboy Sub Girls.
Nominated by Jennings. Simply awful.

The Ugly – Classic UGC virals

Even before he was dead this was awesome

Diet Coke and Mentos
The ultimate home experiment

Volkswagen – Terroist
This is how brave and risky brands need to be to get a mass viral reaction…

Journalist FAIL
One of the funniest videos online – full stop.

Giant Snake
Another “prank” video. We love them though – we like to pass them on knowing the reaction they’ll cause.

For a week and a half I’ve been the owner (and, it has to be said, a slightly proud one) of an Apple MacBook Pro. It’s the first Apple Mac I’ve used since I was a student, which was a long, long time ago. For my entire professional career, I’ve used Windows-based PCs.

Of course these days PCs and Macs are much more alike than they’ve ever been in the past. To use that is. From an aesthetic perspective, let’s face it, Macs are just nicer (OK so that’s a huge generalisation because there are so many PC manufacturers and I haven’t been able to check them all out). It’s difficult to pin down why; after all, there’s a keyboard, a screen and it’s made of nice silver metal. But each of these individual elements is just a little bit nicer.

The screen’s the most obviously superior thing to my last Dell PC. It’s shiny and clear and just makes me want to watch DVDs on it (and the PC never did that). The keyboard’s pretty standard…expect for the hugely brilliant fact that it’s illuminated! And that is just awesome, because sometimes I like using my computer in the half-light of my lounge in the evening.

Many will argue that the PC vs Mac debate – or more specifically the Microsoft vs Apple battle – isn’t about the hardware, it’s about the software (because Microsoft doesn’t make computers). But you can’t really separate the two, can you?

On the software side, I was expecting a pretty significant learning curve in using the MacBook, given my legacy of using Windows added to the fact that the bloke in the Apple store convinced me to overlook Office for Mac and go with iWork. It would be a lie to say that there hasn’t been any news things to get used to, but many are extremely intuitive and, like I say, Macs and PCs are more similar to use today than they’ve ever been. Hell, you can even set the touchpad up to have both left- and right-click buttons. I’ll be honest though, the spreadsheet, document and presentation applications in iWork are nowhere near as rich as those in Office. But I think they’ll do (just about).

I think there are massive challenges for the PC manufacturers. PCs, Windows and Office were largely designed to meet the needs of business and desktop computing in the workplace. But these days – with digital photography, video, watching movies, music – the computer has become a much more central part of our everyday lives. And we want things that play such a central role to look nice. I’ve had quite a few people pass through the house in the last week and say: “Oh! You’ve got a Mac” (or, to be more accurate: “Zut alors! Tu as un Mac. J’adore le Mac. Et le fromage.”) That never happened with the Dell…

It’s a cool bit of technology though, without doubt. But I’m under no illusions that just having something cool makes you cool. A geek in Prada shades is still a geek. And as someone recently tweeted: “Just because you own an iPhone doesn’t mean you invented the bloody thing.”

Thing is, sometimes I fee that Microsoft tries far too hard to be a bit cool. You only need to follow some of the company’s tweeters and bloggers to see how they all jump onto anything Microsoft does that might be a bit cool and try to tell everyone about it (Bing being a good example, or Surface). If you have to stand on the table and shout about the cool thing you’ve done, then it loses its cool. Just do great stuff, let people discover it themselves and they’ll tell everyone for you.

Coincidentally, I was reading this article from the excellent yesterday. It’s quite long, but worth ten minutes. It’s all about the key elements of the new world of transparency in which we live and in which companies are operating. The bit that caught my eye, however, is the very last bit which discusses the countertrend, “Openly Opaque.” Apple is one company that’s listed as demonstrating the countertrend, along with others including Virgin Atlantic and IKEA.

The argument goes that some brands can get away with being less than completely transparent if they consistently delivers and surprises their customers. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily only about delivery and delight; I think it also has to do with emotional connections and trust. If you trust a company, or if a brand has connected with you on a positive emotional level, then you don’t need the proof that total transparency delivers.

Apple is opaque. There’s a little bit of mystery…and mystery is always a bit sexy. We all know that most people look better with at least a few clothes on than totally naked, but are too many brands too willing to strip bare these days and expose themselves warts and all?

Where’s the sexiness in that?

Mark Pinsent – @markpinsent

a friend of @lukemackay just sent him this

Basically it’s a new form of swapping books, sharing ideas, meeting people. It’s exactly what engagement is all about. Having a discussion, listening to new ideas, sharing information, having fun.

It also strikes Luke that it is a wonderfully old-school, low-fi approach: get some people in a room, get them to talk.

It also occured that an interweb extension of this would complement the intiative, but couldn’t replace it.

Luke’s conclusion is that though it’s important for us to engage on the net and embrace new fangled technologies it is equally beneficial to create platforms that allow people to meet in the real word. In this instance, at least, old style books win in the Paper vs Kindle war.

A few weeks ago Morgan Stanley got a heap of coverage on the back of a note written by a 15-year old intern about how teenagers consume media. The city was apparently rocked to discover that teenagers shun the broadsheets, listen to a lot of music (shockingly they do this whilst doing other things) and couldn’t care less about Twitter. Last week, a blog on the Telegraph discussed the greying of social media, again with Twitter taking centre stage.

As part of a client campaign on teen tribes, we polled 3,626 of their users on their shiny digital teen lifestyles. We know what teens do online but we wanted to know why.

So what makes them join a social network or virtual work? The resounding answer is the ability to create and join different social groups, or as one teen puts it, “To have fun making groups for other skaters, emos or anything else.” Another informs us as to why this is important, “You need to know who and how many people are in the tribe.”

Stereotypical teenagers are often seen as grumpy, miserable, loud, rude and obnoxious but the results that we’ve got show a softer side. The thousands of personal insights show that acceptance online is often easier to achieve than in the real world and that is what draws teens in. By flocking to networking sites that only target a young demographic, they have a potential goldmine of online friendships to be had – for a small part of their day they are ‘the plastics’, a feat that couldn’t be as easily replicated through the likes of Twitter.

Escapism is what the online experience is all about for teens, “Being able to leave the real world behind by people not being able to view your name, age and where you live so you can make totally new friends who like you for who you are online not offline. You can be anyone online.”

Whilst virtual worlds and social networks are their playgrounds for now, the teens said their online lives would change dramatically as they reach 18 years old. Thousands of the participants commented on their entry into the ‘real world’ (by getting a job or studying) cutting down their time online – although this isn’t something they’re concerned about, it’s something that they see as a natural transition in life.

Tom Jennings will be pleased to know that very few of the teens wrote in TXT SPK, although they don’t seem to like capital letters at the beginning of sentences.


as an addendum – similar post from Rory Cellen-Jones at the Beeb, with more figures and the like – nice nice:

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