September 2009

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

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.

« Previous PageNext Page »