Revolutionary Measures

The offline election

With less than a year to go until the 2015 General Election, manoeuvrings and PR campaigns are already in full swing. Since before the party conferences David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have been trying to set out their agendas for the future – all with one eye on the rise of UKIP. In the case of the Tories this means pandering to the anti-EU lobby, for the Liberal Democrats claiming that things would be much worse if they hadn’t been a restraining hand on Conservative policy, and for Labour it means their leader forgetting a crucial part of his party conference speech.
Polling station by Paul Albertella/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/7Z2aa6

Polling station by Paul Albertella/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/7Z2aa6

One of the innovations of the last election was the first ever televised leadership debates in the UK. Indeed, many credit Nick Clegg’s TV performance with the Liberal Democrat’s dramatically raised share of the vote and subsequent kingmaker role in the coalition government.

So, you’d think that leaders would be keen to repeat (or even extend) this experiment given that it was proven to engage with voters and give a chance to discuss the issues head to head. Err, no. Broadcasters have proposed an extended series of three debates, with one featuring Cameron and Miliband, the second Cameron, Miliband and Clegg and a third adding UKIP leader Nigel Farage to the mix. The reaction has been muted from the main parties, while the Green Party (who currently have the same number of MPs as UKIP) taking legal advice regarding their exclusion.

Leaving aside my personal antipathy to Farage and the xenophobic, unthinking attitude he represents, there are multiple reasons for including him in a set piece debate. We have freedom of speech in the UK, he is the leader of a national party with one MP, and I’d hope that the political strategists of the three major parties can come up with a range of counter arguments (that don’t pander to the same baseless xenophobia) if they want to impress the public at large. I do agree the Greens should be involved in some way, but that is just a detail to overcome, rather than a reason to call off the whole exercise.

What is more worrying is the complete lack of interest in a rival proposal (from The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and YouTube) to host debates that would be streamed live on YouTube. The Digital Debate campaign points out that a similar set of four debates at the last US election garnered 27 million views. More importantly it allowed politicians to engage with younger voters, half of whom primarily get their news online. While the exact form of the event is not yet set (and no party has formally agreed to it), streamed debates lend themselves well to sparking discussions on social media, are easy to share and create an online event that will engage voters.

Given that there is widespread dissatisfaction at the limited real world experience of politicians, surely anything that potentially engages them with the electorate can only be a good thing? A quick search on the internet finds that even the candidates for Sherriff of Jackson County in Mississippi were happy to debate online – why then has there been an overwhelming silence on the proposals from the UK’s politicians?

As a PR person I know that there are times when you have to turn down a good idea just in case it leads to unintended future consequences. But at a time when the electorate are so fed up with anodyne career politicians that many will either not vote or will support UKIP, it is time to be brave. Political spin doctors, and their masters, should embrace the online opportunity as a chance to rebuild the political process, rather than shying away from it. Be bold, be modern and make 2015 an online election.

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The first social media World Cup?

With the World Cup almost upon us, we’re in the midst of a slew of big budget ad campaigns, coupled with unrestrained hype about the potential prospects of England making it further than the group stages. And of course we have the obligatory ‘will the stadia be ready?’ and ‘FIFA is corrupt’ stories on the front page of most newspapers.

English: FIFA World Cup Trophy Italiano: Trofe...

With its global audience, the World Cup has always been a magnet for brands, something that has swelled FIFA’s coffers. Obviously you don’t need to be an official sponsor to jump on the bandwagon (provided you are careful you don’t infringe copyright). For example, bookmaker Paddy Power has already come up with a (for them) remarkably restrained campaign, commissioning Stephen Hawking to look at the factors necessary for England to win the tournament. Just avoid penalties – as the renowned scientist pointed out when it came to shoot-outs “England couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.”

This should be the first real social media World Cup, with traditional broadcasting sharing the stage with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. As the marketing focus has shifted online, and more towards real-time activities, it does mean the playing field has levelled. It doesn’t quite let Accrington Stanley take on Brazil, but it offers a better opportunity for non-sponsors to get involved and engage with fans. Good, creative, well-executed campaigns don’t necessarily require enormous budgets, but do need brands to understand social media influencers and reach the right people if they are going to succeed.

Looking at social media, YouTube has been the early front runner, as brands increasingly put their video adverts on the site, either in addition to big budget TV slots or as an alternative for smaller brands. Castrol’s Footkhana ad, featuring Brazilian footballer Neymar and rally driver Ken Block has already had over 15 million views on YouTube, a figure that is bound to increase as the tournament nears. Nike’s ad, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, was seen online by 78 million people in four days – before it even went on TV.

When we get to the matches themselves, expect a flurry of activity as brands try and embed themselves into second screen conversations. Facebook estimates that 500m of its 1.28 billion users are football fans, while the 2012 Champion’s League final generated 16.5 million total tweets. Social media has already become a major part of big sporting events – and the World Cup will demonstrate this. It gives non-sponsors a chance to muscle in on the action, but is going to require a combination of good planning, quick reactions and genuinely engaging content if they are going to actually reach the right audience. Competition will be fierce – as well as brands, pundits, media organisations and the general public will all be looking to have their say, so expect Twitter records to be broken.

In essence there are three competitions going on simultaneously – on the pitch, between brands and also between the social media networks as they look to monetise their members and wrest advertising and marketing budgets from traditional channels. All of these promise to be fascinating contests – however far England actually get.

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June 4, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The end of the creative professions?

The industrial revolution mechanised previously craft-based activities, and since then machines have become more and more involved in creating the world around us. But until a few years ago, this mechanisation didn’t affect those of us in the creative industries – after all, our imagination and skills couldn’t be replicated by a machine.

Best Wedding Photography Picture about Profess...

The internet has changed all of that. In some cases it has allowed computers to take on tasks that were previously only done by humans, by applying artificial intelligence and machine learning and breaking them into discrete tasks. You can now get computer-written journalism, which use algorithms to bring together data and organise it into a rudimentary article. In the US, stories about minor earthquake reports are now routinely created and published, based on information supplied by the US Geological Survey. It isn’t much of a stretch to see short sports reports written based on player data and profiles, avoiding the need to send a reporter out to lower league matches.

However the biggest threat or opportunity to the creative industries is that the internet and digital technology has broken down the barriers around previously specialist occupations. Take photography. In the past only professional photographers could afford the equipment needed to create (and manually develop) arresting images. Now, similar levels of performance are available in a smartphone, and PhotoShop can do the rest. News stories frequently use amateur shots from bystanders who happened to be in the right place at the right time, adding extra depth to articles. Design and PR are both equally affected. Anyone can set up as a web designer or copywriter, without necessarily needing to undergo lengthy training.

In many ways this is a good thing – the internet has democratised creative industries that were previously off limits to most of us and enables more people to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas. It uncovers real talents who never previously would have been spotted, whether that is musicians on YouTube or specialist bloggers with a passion for their subject. But what it also does is amateurise previously professional occupations. How can a portrait photographer compete on cost with a bloke and an iPhone? Again, a copywriter on eLance charges much less than a professional. And the overall effect is that there is more stuff out there (words, pictures, videos of cute cats), but quality is far more hit or miss.

Before people start complaining, as someone that makes a living through PR and copywriting I obviously do have a vested interest here. But that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome more competition and the chance for more people to be creative. Far from it. However businesses need to understand that you get what you pay for – in the same way that fixing your car yourself is inherently riskier than going to a garage (unless you are a mechanic), working with amateurs opens you up to potential issues. Do they have insurance if something goes wrong, do they understand copyright, are they using legal images on your new website? There are 101 questions that you need to be sure of, before handing over your money. And it can be pretty obvious when a website has been put together by the managing director’s teenage son or daughter. Businesses therefore need to strike a balance between democratisation and working with amateurs if they are to stand out in an increasingly crowded global market.

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April 16, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Paranoid Android

This is not a good time for the paranoid to be on the internet. In the wake of the first set of revelations from Edward Snowden, more is emerging about the extent of online eavesdropping by the security services on both sides of the Atlantic. According to Snowden British intelligence agency GCHQ showed off the ability to monitor YouTube video views, Facebook ‘likes’ and Blogger visits in real-time to its US colleagues back in 2012. The programme, named Squeaky Dolphin, even had its own logo (though looking at the design, I don’t think the spies should give up their day jobs quite yet).

Angry Birds

Even worse, spooks have been accessing smartphone data while people play Angry Birds, enabling them to get hold of user’s personal information. Presumably the game was picked due to its global popularity, rather than being a cunning ruse by GCHQ and the NSA to enable staffs to play it during work time.

And in an unrelated story, a security company has found an internet-enabled fridge that has been hacked and is now sending spam. This is particularly worrying given the rise of the Internet of Things, with more and more devices and appliances around us connected to the web. Essentially each of these is a small, but powerful computer, often without the same level of security and protection than you see on a PC or tablet. Being able to hijack a fridge is one thing, but as the Internet of Things spreads, more sinister opportunities arise – remotely controlling smart cars or switching on and off hundreds of air conditioners to bring down a power grid are all possibilities.

Taking these stories together leads to two concerns in my mind. Firstly, internet privacy. I think most people understand the need to collect information on identified threats to public safety, provided due legal process has been followed. What Snowden seems to have uncovered is technological spying that has gone mad – exactly what you’d expect if you put a large bunch of very intelligent geeks in a room, give them all the resources they need and exonerate them from any qualms of conscience by saying it is in the national interest. So what happens to information that is found online that is not linked to terrorism but minor, non-criminal misdemeanours? GPS data that shows an MP was with his mistress when he should have been elsewhere or evidence of unsavoury (but not illegal) internet activities for example. The nature of technology means this information is unlikely to disappear, but will sit on servers somewhere, with no guarantee that it won’t be pulled out in the future.

Secondly, security concerns have the ability to derail the Internet of Things. As Google’s recent purchase of Nest shows, market momentum is increasing. But if people add the worry of security issues to privacy concerns they are less likely to embrace the opportunities that the Internet of Things offers when it comes to increased efficiency and energy saving. After all, I don’t want GCHQ to know what’s in my fridge – or burglars to know when I’m away on holiday.

There’s been a lot of talk from politicians about reining in the security services and that needs to be formalised to reassure the law-abiding – instead of enabling spying, the tech industry should be focusing its intelligence on improving the actual security of the devices and applications that control our lives.

 

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January 29, 2014 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The all-seeing eye

People are still coming to terms with the lack of privacy that social media and the online world have brought. Some are happy with the fact that ‘privacy is no longer the social norm’ (to quote Mark Zuckerberg). However for many more of us the fact that our every online move is tracked (whether by large companies or the NSA) is a big worry. But at the moment, the usefulness of free online services, such as search and social media, outweigh the intrusion. After all, it is confined to the virtual world and provided you don’t do anything stupid, like give out your house number on Facebook, you can keep your real life separate from the web.google-glass

But the shrinking size of cameras, and the forthcoming launch of Google Glass, promise to merge the offline and online worlds like never before. Whether deliberately or by accident you can photograph and share images, video and audio in real time, without the knowledge of those around you. Combining this with the vast store of digital information on the web enables people and places to be easily identified, tagged and shared. So far Google Glass has privacy safeguards built in – it bans facial recognition apps and requires either a voice command or tapping the top of the glasses to take a photo. However given that there is already a hack to take photos by winking, I can see developers getting round this all too easily.

Should we be scared? The normal argument trotted out by those in favour of increased surveillance is that only the guilty or those with something to hide should be worried. And obviously the ability for the police to identify criminals and terrorists is a major positive of ubiquitous cameras. But what about the person who happens to be snapped where he or she isn’t expected to be – on their way back from a secret rendezvous with a lover, or a job interview that they don’t want their existing employer to know about? The difference between official surveillance, where access to the pictures is tightly controlled, and the world of personal photo sharing, is that everyone can see everything, without safeguards to limit access. There’s already issues with unauthorised photos taken upskirt or down blouse by low lifes with camera phones. Add in facial recognition to these, enabling the victims to be identified, and it makes the whole practice much more sinister.

For me the even more disturbing thought is what businesses can do with this data. Advertisers already have access to your location, your past browsing history and what you have previously bought. Add in what you are looking at, and your reaction to it, and it gives a 360 degree view of your behaviour. Spend five minutes idly staring at a poster at a bus stop? Look at a pair of jeans in a shop window? Expect it to be noted and used to sell to you.

Don’t get me wrong, the proliferation of personal cameras can be a good thing. They can be used to provide information on the world around us – want to know what that plant is or what bird is singing nearby? Google Glass can help. They benefit dementia patients, enabling them to fill in the gaps in their worsening memory. Personal cameras provide a tamper-proof record of conversations that can prevent litigation against doctors, couriers or the police. But in my opinion, the negatives outweigh the positives.

What is needed is a fundamental review of privacy and how it is enforced. And that needs to happen now, before Google Glass and its competitors hit the streets and become mass-market. Social media failed to do this – there privacy was an add on rather than built in from the start and this has had a major impact on how our personal data is shared. When it comes to something even more personal, what we see and what we hear, governments and businesses must act now to guarantee privacy before it is too late.

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creators versus consumers – the new digital divide

Internet Access Here Sign

The last ten years have seen massive progress in getting the UK population online, with over 86% of people now having been on the internet. There is still a digital divide however, with 4 million households without internet access according to the Office for National Statistics.

And, the ability for online access via mobile is extremely variable – as Liz Stevenson from Cambridgeshire County Council pointed out at the recent Cambridge Smart City debate, 41.5% of the county isn’t covered by a 3G signal. I dread to think what the figure is over the border in Suffolk, where I live in a village with sporadic 2G coverage. Efforts continue to help the offline into the online world, particularly by targeting specific groups such as the elderly and disabled and by providing more user friendly devices such as tablets.

However a new digital divide is emerging. As the Economist Intelligence Unit points out in a recent report, this is between those that understand and use the internet to its full potential and those that simply shop, watch or read the content that they find there. It is essentially a split between creators and consumers. You’ll always get power users in any technological change but the risk is that those who don’t take up the opportunities offered by the internet will become disenfranchised, pay more for basic goods and services and miss out on achieving their full potential.

And it doesn’t need to be that way – the internet offers the chance for everyone and anyone to create (no matter how niche or, let’s face it, downright awful) their efforts are. It also offers the tools to make compelling content either for free (for example WordPress, YouTube) or at a very low cost (with a handheld video camera for instance). Only by doing can you gain the full benefit of the internet. At a basic level imagine someone on Twitter that merely lurks, following people without starting any conversations themselves. They may find out what Stephen Fry is doing, but it doesn’t add much else to their own lives (or the lives of other people). People who treat the internet in the same way as TV, as a lean back, broadcast medium, are missing the point (and much of the fun.)

So how can we encourage more creators who understand the opportunities that the internet brings? A really simple way is to copy the behaviour of the young (though without the selfies on SnapChat). As digital natives they start with no preconceptions and no manual to read – they just get on and use the internet as a tool to do what they want to do. Not having a fear of failure, or an embarrassment gene, is going to lead to cringeworthy moments, but it will also mean you experience new things, learn new skills and create. Once you’ve mastered these skills you’ll understand what you can do – giving you better control of the medium and deepening your understanding of how organisations might be trying to channel and constrain your internet experience for their own ends (normally to sell you something).

Otherwise this new digital divide will solidify – splitting the digitally savvy from consumers and providing a two speed experience that will damage people’s enjoyment and potentially harm their prospects. Go create!

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Withering on the Vine?

Vine

Can’t string together 140 characters? Help is at hand with Twitter’s launch of Vine, its new video sharing service. Essentially Vine lets you take 6 second videos and post them automatically via your Twitter feed. Launched last week, it provides another option for Twitter’s 500 million users to share their lives with their followers and friends.

On the face of it Vine is a nice idea as it capitalises on the power of video and opens up another front in Twitter’s battle to increase usage ahead of its predicted future flotation. And another revenue stream – I can see Twitter using Vine to encourage brands to interact with customers by sharing video content, solving simple customer service queries with how to films and even introducing a paid for service that gives greater control over the length of clips.

But there’s a number of issues that I believe will hold back Vine’s growth. Firstly, it isn’t integrated into Twitter itself but is a separate app, currently only available for Apple devices. This adds a level of complexity to the process – there’s nothing to stop other video services providing competition. And not launching an Android app at the same time as Apple removes a significant part of the market – while Twitter says Android is on its way, it looks slack not to have both issued at once.

Secondly, each clip may be 6 seconds, but it is on a constant loop (like an overlong animated GIF) which can be pretty tedious to watch, even if the content itself is interesting. Think of it as a moving picture, not a YouTube video.

And finally there’s what’s on Vine clips. Twitter boss Dick Costolo launched the service with a film of himself making steak tartare, but given that porn drives most internet innovation, it didn’t take long for more explicit content to arrive. The initial lack of filtering meant that X-rated videos began to fill Vine, culminating in one being chosen as ‘editor’s pick’ on the home screen of the app. All rather embarrassing for Twitter, but surely something that could have been predicted if they’d thought things through. Had they not looked at ChatRoulette?

To be fair to Twitter it has now banned searches for explicit content and deleted some porn, but automatically identifying and filtering pornography is notoriously difficult so it will be kept busy moderating clips for some time to come.

So, will Vine wither or grow? At the moment the jury’s out – it doesn’t have the safeguards to encourage mass market adoption (or the reach with just an iOS app) but if Twitter prunes away the porn it may yet create a new way for consumers and brands to share engaging content.

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January 30, 2013 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social media and the sales funnel

Due to its massive growth companies are flocking to social media. In today’s world you can’t be a self-respecting marketer without a Facebook page, Twitter handle, YouTube channel, LinkedIn profile, blog, Pinterestboard etc.

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facebook (Photo credit: sitmonkeysupreme)

This is all very well – social media provide a completely new channel that lets your brand interact with consumers in a genuine conversation. However there’s not a lot of thought (or rigour) going into the social media presence of a lot of companies. Some are simply chasing follower numbers, despite the fact that these can be easily bought and others are launching campaigns (like the Waitrose Twitter hashtag project) which seem doomed to attract only ridicule.

Companies need to take a step back and work out where social media is going to help them. If you’re selling a toilet cleaner is it worth having a Facebook page – will people really think it is cool to Like a bottle of bleach? It is time for marketers to put their puppyish enthusiasm to one side and look at some basic marketing and sales concepts.

When it comes to generating sales there’s a well recognised marketing acronym called AIDA, standing for:

  • Attention/Awareness – i.e. attracting the consumer
  • Interest – piquing their interest by focusing on benefits
  • Desire – making them want what you’ve got
  • Action – getting them to take a positive step such as purchase

Essentially lots of social media marketing is focusing on the first point, but doesn’t have a strategy to move people through the rest of the process. I think marketers are getting confused by the speed and accessibility of social media to think that you can skip the middle sections and go straight to Action. In some cases consumers do work like that – a tweet with a special offer on a new film/book/CD is a straightforward transaction, but these are the exception rather than the rule and merely replicate what you are doing through other channels.

Building interest and engagement with your brand takes time – you need to create a community, listen to your consumers and deliver sustained benefits to them. A money off voucher may be good for short term sales, but isn’t building long term loyalty (and who’s to say they wouldn’t have bought your product anyway?)

So marketers need to take a step back and ask themselves an honest question. Do consumers want to have a conversation either with or about your brand? Would they talk about it positively down the pub or is it just something that they buy because the toilet needs disinfecting? It could be that you don’t need that all singing, all dancing Facebook page and you should focus on other offline channels. Less sexy (and not as exciting on your CV) but there could well be better ways of connecting with consumers and driving sales.

Will the internet kill the TV star?

Last month streaming service Netflix entered the UK to great fanfare and with a stated aim to challenge the likes of Sky when it comes to winning TV subscribers. A nice soundbite, but one that got me thinking about where we’ll get our ‘TV’ content from in the future. Obviously internet streaming companies such as Netflix and Lovefilm (and even Sky themselves) are now pitching themselves as the savvy choice for those who want to sign up and download the latest shows and films, often before they make it to TV.

However often that same content is available through other channels, ranging from iTunes to that old staple, the DVD boxset. So what can internet only services do to differentiate themselves, apart from price? There’s a lot of talk about creating their own content, from both Netflix and established brands such as YouTube but you need to either be spending big on stars or sporting events to stand out or focus on established shows that are already hits. Given the power of the likes of Sky, which can simply create new channels to maximise the impact of its content (as it has in F1), it will be a tough ask to muscle in. Just ask BT which saw its Vision service comprehensively outmarketed by Sky when it tried to go head to head.

Before I’m accused of being a Luddite, I do think Netflix will be successful enough. People do want to access TV content over the internet, and either play it direct on their internet-connected TV

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

or through tablet or laptop. Just look at the tremendous success of the BBC iPlayer and other TV catchup services to show how, promoted properly, viewers will flock to an easy to use solution.

Where the real opportunity is going to come is in super-services that make it easy for mass market consumers to access whatever programme or film they want, when they want. Consumers don’t care if it is on Netflix or Sky, just that they can click, pay automatically and watch. Essentially it has to be as simple as surfing to another channel without having to register or download software. And it has to span multiple channels – so you can watch the same content on your TV, laptop or mobile device wherever you may be. Get that right, build a brand and that will be the platform for control of future TV.

 

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February 6, 2012 Posted by | Creative | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social Media – what’s the worst that can happen?

12-ounce Dr Pepper can sporting the new logo
Image via Wikipedia

It’s the time of year for the publication of Top 10 lists – from the worst gadgets of 2010 (though not sure that Google Wave should technically count), through Top 10 Tweets, to my own personal favourite Top 10 Weirdest New Animals of 2010.

Leafing through Marketing Magazine’s Top 10 Marketing Mishaps it is obvious that for certain marketers 2010 has been a year to forget. ITV switching to an advert when England scored one of their all too rare World Cup goals, Eurostar’s inability to communicate when its trains were stuck in the Channel Tunnel and MAC’s idea to base a new cosmetics collection on a town in Mexico famous for high rates of female murder all stand out in the hall of shame.

What struck me though was the growing number of social media faux pas – from Nestle pressuring YouTube to remove a Greenpeace ad that criticised its sourcing of palm oil – and then heavy-handedly policing its Facebook page, to Dr Pepper’s inappropriate takeover of Facebook status updates. There were plenty more that didn’t make the top 10, such as homophobic tweets from Vodafone amongst others.

And pretty much all of these cock-ups came about from not understanding social media and the consequences of wading in and getting involved without thinking things through. Despite what expensive social media consultants may tell you, a lot of these crises could have been averted with a bit of common sense and planning. Time for marketing departments to put ‘Create social media guidelines and crisis management plans’ at number one on their list of New Year’s resolutions.

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December 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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