September 2009

This is the end of civilization as we know it. Well, ‘geek civilization’ because the classic Civilisation (TM) PC game that defined PC simulated worlds has become a real life card game. This might not seem like the shock to many but it is to those who grew up in digital world, where the experience of a ‘Civ’ computer match against an AI (artificial intelligence) made tedious board game equivalents Risk or Monopoly a pale version of fun. The Civ Card game is another example of a trend that is going to dominate the next generation of technology, as the lines between the digital and physical world experience become blurred. Today everyone plays games not just against a computer but with other people networked by the Internet. In this people-to-people digital world it’s a small step to make this a real life face–to-face game.

This move towards rematerialisation has been described in Business Week: “Web 3.0 should allow people to make real things, assemble real things, and have real experiences and deliver real services”. “Go beyond sharing recipes and share meals. Go beyond sharing photos and share reality.” The recent post on Augmented reality is a great illustration of one way this blurring of lines will develop. The other route lies in the connectivity of physical objects with the Internet and events as a part of the development of the semantic web, and the associated advance of smart materials and objects.

I would love to hear about any aspects of this trend, as it seems to me that as the world becomes smart enabled and the line between real and digital warps, then serious issues of trust become paramount. This is not simply what is real and what isn’t, but contextual what can be trusted in which environment. In this world we will need to become masters of this context if we are to keep a sense of what can or can’t be trusted.

here are some ideas of digital rematerialisation I’ve come across lately, I’d welcome your suggestions for any others…



Sure Tom won’t be pleased to see this, but like him I’m not a huge fan of “bottled water”. Do we really need it?

Anyway, despite this I wanted to share another bit of good PR/Online marketing from Evian. A company that’s really doing some cool marketing at the moment – remember this. Clearly a company with its backs against the wall today – bottled water isn’t in vogue – so they’ve really thought long and hard about its marketing approach. With many people questioning the real value of the bottle not to them but to the environment, it has a challenge.

So Evian has looked to bring a fresh look at the question of the value of the bottle and has partnered with Paul Smith to design a limited edition range for the brand. He’s a lifelong drinker of Evian (well so he says, but I’m sure the money he was paid had something to do with this) and put together a rather nicely designed bottle for them. The focus of the campaign, much like the Evian babies video, is about “feeling young” – a message that works, but I also think it could rub some people up the wrong way (i.e. it’s notion of live your life when you’re young and sod the rest of world when you die, they can deal with the problems you’ve caused). Anyway, skirting around this messaging issue – some nice work from the brand.

The PR’s have been smart and put together a nice (but probably low cost) video interview with Paul. This enables them to go further than a press release, or advertising campaign allowing the designer to speak in his own words, and create content that people will want to view/pass on. The agency did well, as Adverblog point out, by seeding the video on HypeBeast (really popular design/early adopter/opinion former new media and community site) which will ensure the right people see it and then pass it on.

I would quite like one of these bottles. Does that make me a bad person?

Working in technology, as we do, it becomes very hard not to – at some point in your career – face a point of conflict. Generally this will be via new business, or an acquisition/new development of an existing client. When this occurs we naturally have to look at how to manage this conflict. This post isn’t about PR conflicts mind, indeed if you wanted to read current thinking on this I’d recommend you read Ethan’s views which were shared in PR Week (US) a few weeks back.

However, us Flacks are not alone, conflict is something that Hacks also have to deal with. Some take it very seriously, such as the BBC (a great example) or some other newspapers (WSJE etc) are unable to take any form of gift (paying own airfares and even in some cases buying the products they plan to review). However, in a world where the lines between journalism and blogging are blurring and as the opportunities for journalism diminish (papers are closing daily, staff writer numbers are plummeting), the issue of conflicted hacks, I feel, is only going to increase.

Why? Well many journalists do other things to top-up their income, or to raise their profile. They many run a blog, a website, they may deliver training programs, they may be “expert” speakers or panellists for other media groups (not always, but sometimes, paid) and, as they are often seen as experts in their fields, they write books about technology.

Now an example of this, which has received a fair amount of attention, is David Pogue and the New York Times. A blogger, come technical expert, come multi-media powerhouse that was signed up by the New York Times in 2000 to write a regular technology column, blog and conduct product reviews etc. He also keeps his own blog, and writes technical help manuals (which net him a lot of money), he also runs “geek cruises”. He’s a man with a lot of interests. One of these interests is Apple. He is seen, in the US, as a fan boy. Indeed he even recorded a song – I love my iPhone (it was meant to be a parody – which I get – but a lot of the US audience didn’t).

He has also often been called out for being soft on Apple (a sour apple if you like) when reviewing their products (skimming over, or not reporting on, problems or issues) and for being easy on Steve Jobs during interviews (although to be fair be – if you’re tough with Jobs he would walk out). This all came to a head two weeks ago when David reviewed Snow Leopard favourably whilst simultaneously completing a book on the same product. Is this not an ethical issue, a breach of trust, as it’s in David’s interest (financially) for the product to sell well?

Hopefully you can see where I’m coming from and why this has caused a mini-stir. Indeed the New York Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, came out with an article questioning David and the New York times in this matter.

As David has pointed out in his rebuttal (scroll to the end of the transcript ) he isn’t the only one – it’s an industry issue. Many publishers have journalists on their books that also command high fees for public appearances, write books or run events. David is careful to point out that he has been critical of Apple in the past, and has been as favourable about other competitor products – and blames the “religious” nature of the Apple vs. PC audience for making this an issue. It’s also interesting to see that he doesn’t consider himself a journalist despite working as a reporter for the New York Times. Something Gawker explore here.

Anyway, it’s an issue that I think will only increase over time – the media world has changed, journalists are becoming bloggers, bloggers are becoming journalists. Do the same disclosure rules need to apply? When is a conflict a step too far? Fifteen years ago I’m sure the NYT would have clamped this out straightaway, indeed any “outside” interests would likely be frowned upon or not allowed. However, outside interests help the publication today – it drives awareness, brings in publicity and potentially new readers.

A tricky dilemma that isn’t going to get any easier…

Justin Westcott

I’ve heard it argued that the only real reason for visiting the gym is the feeling of smugness afterwards.

So it goes with early adoption, I think. I can hardly be accused of being a technological cool hunter – I resolutely refuse to buy an iPhone until every other handset vendor has gone bust, for instance – but every dog must have his occasional day.

Indeed, it feels like only yesterday that workmates were crowded around my PC at Edelman’s old Haymarket House offices, wondering what the strange site I was looking at was all about. It was called Facebook – you may have heard of it.

Today I am basking in a similarly fleeting moment of smugness, having just received my beta invite for Thing Labs’ Brizzly service ( All courtesy of a tip-off from Rick Klau (@rklau), product manager for Blogger over at Google. Smart guy, whose presence we were blessed with at Edelman’s recent Leadership Academy pow-wow in Chicago, and well worth following for exactly this kind of reason.

In a few days, of course, Brizzly will be everywhere, even my mother will have an account and I’ll be afflicated by the same pangs of possessive jealousy as when the world and his wife discovered Sebastian Tellier’s ‘La Ritournelle’.

In the meantime, for a brief moment at least, I feel like an early adopter. I am keeping up with the technological Joneses. I am gatecrashing a whole different marketing demographic. And, in spite of myself, it feels sweet.

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A new social network went live today, aimed at connecting parents with their childrens schools along with other like-minded parents. The site launches as the offspring of a partnership between the Department for Schools, Children and Families and well-established social network, Netmums.

Allowing parents to discuss school issues whilst engaging with their children’s teachers epitomises the openess a social network can enable – but is this one avenue which didn’t need exploring? The Telegraph takes the expected view point that the creation of this site could open up a raft of problems as pushy parents let rip. I would agree on some level, but then this argument can be applied to any online conversation so the usual issues of ethics and moderation stand. What I would question is whether involving teachers in this set-up really adds any value?

A platform for parents to discuss schooling is a useful tool, burdening teachers with another channel of information to manage is, in my view, perhaps not. Instead, why not keep this part Government-funded network as a conversation platform for parents to engage with each other, thus removing the temptation for them to badger and potentially abuse teachers


a personal request to Pete Pedersen to have a word with his Republican friends, and sort their spelling out, after this display:

(thanks to @tomjennings for sharing the above in the first place *cap doffed*)

personal highlights include Obama being called’muslin’









this lovely t-shirt:









and ‘English is our language, no excetions’. Genius.










Yesterday, Noor had a little bit of a rant, and rightly so, on the importance of detail – specifically, in her rant, about people getting your name right. Now, Noor will be the first to acknowledge that her name is perhaps unusual but this doesn’t forgive people beginning emails to her with ‘Dear Kheir’ when she’s signed off an initial email with ‘Noor’. Quite frankly, it’s just bloody rude and shows a lack of attention and care.

 Vicky Bentall (nee Aitken) used to get emails – still does – addressed to ‘Dear Aitken’… who the hell is called ‘Aitken’? Similarly, I often get called ‘Owen’ in emails – the sender clearly assuming my surname is that hugely popular family name ‘Chris’. Mark has to spell ‘Pinsent’ down the phone all the time, opting to either try and suggest it’s spelt like ‘Vincent’ aside from not having a ‘V’ nor a ‘c’; or he has to put up with people saying “as in ‘Piss Ant’?” to which he responds, ‘yes, like piss ant but with an education’.

 Mail merge is perhaps sometimes responsible (which shows a laissez faire attitude to personalisation); Pinny got a delightful invite from PR Weak to attend a networking event, which was addressed to ‘Mr Other 10’, presumably because ‘Mr Average Importance’ was too vague, or ‘Mr Potential Cash Cow’ was a little abrupt.

 Now spelling someone’s name wrong might seem trivial but really, it’s just manners isn’t it – and basic manners at that. But we often forget the importance of attention to detail (and I’m not necessarily talking about typos, we can all forgive them every now and again – unless you’re Tom Jennings in which case it turns into some kind of grammatical jihad). From a client’s perspective, this attention is key, and unforgiveable if often overlooked, to the extent that contracts can be lost on its account, or pitches declined due to lack of care (‘care is perhaps the most important word here). An anonymous mole highlights a case of a company losing the opportunity to pitch for a big global tech account because it spelt the company name wrong within the opening sentence. I worked on the SanDisk account for a few years, and when we first got it we didn’t appreciate how important that capped ‘D’ is in the middle of the brand name, let alone spelling it ‘ScanDisk’ as so many, including the Guardian always did.Spelling a client’s name wrong basically shows you don’t give a monkeys really.

 And don’t get us onto the subject of CVs – I remember one which we actually thought was a joke it had so many mistakes in it – including the applicant’s name. ‘Hi, I’d like to work for you – I can’t spell my name right, but I try really hard and do my best honest’. Sorry pal, back to flipping burgers I’m afraid…

 Attention to detail – such a simple thing; such an important thing, yet so often overlooked.


I have had a rethink on the idea that there is no such thing as local any more?

It began when contemplating, from a hotel room to the south of Paris, the specific kind of Gallic urban decay that is somehow depressing, artistic and monumental at the same time. This rediscovery of local nuance was exacerbated by a story in the paper this morning titled “‘100% sexy’ Tory Dumped by the Party.” 

In a nutshell a local Councillor was deselected by the Conservative Party because he posted a ‘How Sexy Am I Quiz’ on his Facebook profile. The 64 year old was ranked 93% by his community of friends and then compounded this crime by writing ‘Why are you saying 93 per cent? I demand a recount I want 100%.’ Geoffrey was then deselected by senior members for ‘lack of judgement over inappropriate material placed by you on your social networking site.’ The councilor had served his community for 12 years and no other reason was reported for decision.

Obviously local politics is by definition parochial. Also the case for social networks creating many narrowly focused micro communities with their own values and etiquette that are broken at your peril is well articulated.

But it struck me that here a local issue was being misinterpreted by a broader set of cultural and social media behaviours. As councillor Courtenay said, ‘There was nothing sexual about the post, it is just my sense of humour.’ It was the kind of off hand, ironic or simply odd comment that is a common factor of social media conversation. As evidence I refer to David Cameron’s twitter/twat comment; radio and social media share some traits. It’s part of what makes social media more authentic and neutralizes any overly-sincere tendencies, as content within social media amplifies very quickly.

This authenticity culture, I believe, is international and shared by the broadest social media community, but is likely to fall foul of local nuance when the different worlds mix. So it’s not the end of ‘local’, but rather that social media is mixing local and global in weird ways. Another story this morning made this quite clear: Noel Edmonds launching the Cosmos application on the iPhone. Now nothing is as locally specific as humorous light entertainment: Noel, Brucie and Freddie Starr belong to the UK palate and our palate alone. Before we condemn ourselves, their role exists in light entertainment scheduling the world over, but with crucial nuances or peculiarities that tie them in locally. So it is truly scary that Noel should go not only global but universal. As he explains, “The cosmos exists solely to help those who want to help themselves. It is an incredibly powerful force and a wonderful friend.”


    to quote Monty Python – and now for something completely different. Don’t ask us why but we put together a list of curry-inspired chart hits, an impressive thirty-five in total, but there must be more out there, surely… chuck your suggestions across and who knows we might even buy the best one a curry…

    35. Poppadum Preach – Madonna
    34. Korma Chameleon – Culture Club
    33. Bhaji Trousers – Madness
    32. King Prawn Massala Drinks Are Free – Wham
    31. Dansak Queen – Abba
    30. Korma People – Pulp
    29. Tikka Chance On Me – Abba
    28. When I Phall in Love – Nat King Cole
    27. You Can’t Curry Love – Diana Ross and the Supremes
    26. Korma Police – Radiohead
    25. Things Can Only Get Bhuna – D:Ream
    24. Tears On My Pilau – Kylie Minogue
    23. It’s Bhuna Hard Days Night – The Beatles
    22. Brothers in Naans – Dire Straits
    21. Girlfriend in a Korma – The Smiths
    20. Pilau Talk – Doris Day
    19. It’s My Chapati and I Cry If I Want To ? – Lesley Gore
    18. I’m a Bhaji Girl – Aqua
    17. Sag Aloo – Black Lace
    16. Take That and Chapati – Take That
    15. Bhuna Round The World and I Can’t Find My Bhaji? – Lisa Stansfield
    14. I Don’t Want To Dansak – Eddy Grant
    13. Dansak on the Ceiling – Lionel Richie
    12. We Are Jalfrezi – Sister Sledge
    11. Vindaloo – Abba
    10. I Don’t Want to Go to Chutney? Elvis Costello
    9. Rice Rice Baby – Vanilla Rice
    8. Jalfrezi Jalfrezi Nights – Kiss
    7. Tandoori Deliver – Adam and the Ants
    6. Love me Tandoor – Elvis Presley
    5. We Don’t Have to Tikka Clothes Off? – Jermaine Jackson
    4. Bye Bye Balti – Bay City Rollers
    3. Bhuna to be Wild – Steppenwolf
    2. Livin’ Dhal – Cliff Richard
    1. Raita Here, Raita Now – Fatboy Slim

The technology industry has often been likened to the fashion industry in the way it creates myths and icons. So, for example, in place of Coco Chanel read Bill Gates; and for Yves St Laurent, see Larry Ellison. Warning: there now follows a pseudo-intellectual attempt to explain this really quite weird phenomena.

Wikipedia explains how in The Fashion System the French mega-brain Barthes showed how adulteration of signs becomes translated into contagious words:

“In this work he explained how in the fashion world any word could be loaded with idealistic emphasis. So, if popular fashion says that a ‘blouse’ is ideal for a certain situation or ensemble, this idea is immediately naturalized and accepted as truth, even though the actual sign could just as easily be interchangeable with ‘skirt’, ‘vest’ or any number of combinations. In the end Barthes’ Mythologies became absorbed into culture, as he found many third parties asking him to comment on a certain cultural phenomenon.”

Unbelievably up myself as I am, I think something similar has happen to geekiness and words that have grown up around its megastar personalities, or at least some of those on the bleeding edge of Web2.0. In the analogy above substitute the words ‘cloud computing’ for ‘blouse’ for instance.

As this habit has gathered momentum an even more enjoyable aspect of geek mythology has flourished – that of the Geek-in-chief urban myth: from Bill Gates dropping his $1,000 note to Thomas Watson’s market for only five computers; to my overall favourite – SAP’s Hasso Plattner alleged moon to Larry Ellison from his yacht (apparently he lost the race). Is there any other industry that creates such a (frequently untrue) mystique around itself? Remember the Y2k bug? Indeed, apparently the iPhone has a kill 3G switch?

I’d love to start a list of all the weirdest, most apocryphal, most obtuse and just the plain bull surrounding all this Geekery, so do let us know your favourites.

Naked Pheasant

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