Wednesday, September 23, 2009

JC Decaux and the little guys

At the nexus where web development, brand marketing and customer management meet right now there is a liberating sense that anything can happen. Companies and brands are a bit more nervous about it, true, but wonderful little things take place all the time to show a warmer sense of interaction coming from people who have genuine affinity with products and crucially were never told what they couldn't do. So much of this stuff is brand new and the fuddy-duddies who normally apply the brakes can't always keep up.

Can-doism. Like Dusty and Michael, the Coke-loving dweebs who set up their own fanpage, which soon became extremely popular.

It was unofficial, and almost four million people are now fans. I don't understand why either, but that's not relevant. Coke came sniffing (behave) but they had the good sense to recognise people power and not fuck it up for the dweebs or themselves. They co-author the page now or some such, but not with the heavy hand they could so easily swing.

However. It remains to be seen just how long this hippie vibe can survive, when you hear about shit like this happening. From the Irish Times:

A FREE iPhone application for users of Dublin’s bicycle rental scheme has been withdrawn after the software firm which developed it was threatened with legal action by the advertising agency backing the new initiative.

The real-time application allows users of the scheme to find their nearest Dublinbikes station and see how many bicycles and spaces are available at it.

Fusio, the company behind the application, was sent a cease and desist letter from JC Decaux earlier this week in which it was told that legal action would be considered if it continued to offer the mobile application for download.

Fusio seem to be a fairly together web developer based in Dublin, doing half decent work and getting themselves noticed in the right ways. I don't know them, but I like the sound of the iPhone app, and how could you not like such a cheeky and clever way of getting a little bit of self publicity? They earned it after all, and in return created something useful, ozone friendly and, perhaps most important of all in these hairshirt days, cool.

JC Decaux on the other hand is a very big company, and benefitting massively from the bike scheme. (It's had its share of controversy and detractors, if you weren't aware.) Quite what they had to lose by people knowing where the fucking bikes they wanted to rent were, well, I am not altogether sure. Perhaps they would like to explain that.

When they're at it maybe they can tell us why they didn't start doing wheelies of delight at the thought that someone would bother their arses developing the app in the first place. Me, I'd slap it up on my website as quick as I could. And be damn pleased with myself. I am however but one cycling hippie, with two wheels and the truth.
JC Decaux. It's their bike, ok? (Pic credit)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gotcha, Captcha!

Bit of a nerdy one this time. Google pulled on their Timberlands and strolled down to the chopin centra this week. Bored and loaded, they just had to buy something, so ReCAPTCHA got bought. You'll know them as these guys, the security text box you have to fill in order to validate your life as a non-robot.
Interesting thing is that it wasn't just a random fuckit-let's-splurge purchase. (Ok, that's not even remotely unusual, considering that this is Google we're talking about.) Google have a maniacal obsession with the information of the world, and clever little ReCAPTCHA isn't just a security programme. The words you're asked to verify are scanned archival material from newspapers and books. When you type them in, you're actually teaching the computer to understand the words because they have trouble with degraded ink. Computers are learning exponential- wait, someone's downstairs... asking for a Sarah Connor. Hang on a minute, I'll be back-

Coming up next on Adland: How Google mistakenly bought pornography portal Go Ogle...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Think outside the flatpack

New channels of media arrive almost daily on the web, but simple, strong ideas for branding are still a requirement. Entertainment for the most part still pulls in the punters. In Burbank at an IKEA outlet a bunch of hooligans with a camera has been making the somewhat droll IKEA Heights. Some timely creativity lessons here. They're shooting it instore, they're so far getting away with it, and if IKEA are not complicit then they are hopefully smart enough to let this thing have a hopefully viral effect. It's better than a lot of the soaps you see, and it's not being disrespectful to the brand. Aspiring creatives, flatpacking is out-of-the-box thinking.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I'm not getting newspapers

Plenty has been written about the imminent demise of the printed news. A lot of it is unsubstantiated guff and terror, but there's no arguing the pickle they find themselves in. As the next generation will find precious little reason to ever buy a title, most of them face a certain decline of readership with an ever greyer demographic slant. Hardly headline news. Everyone's got a prediction and nobody's got a concrete plan. Market contraction, free content distribution and a slew of other issues need to be tackled, but essentially nobody knows how to make the online model pay the same way as the real, manufactured product used to.

Peter Merholz, writing in Harvard Business, put it very simply, and I find it hard to argue with the logic.
If you don't work in mass media, you might be forgiven if you think that you — the reader, the watcher, the audience member — are the customer. When you work in mass media, you know that readers, watchers, and audience members are really the products, being served up to mass media's actual customers, the advertisers. So for decades, improving the "customer experience" meant doing what's best for advertisers, whether or not it was best for the audience. And so you get sites like the Bakersfield Californian, with giant banner ads dwarfing the social media content. If there were no Craigslist, the audience would put up with it. But there is a Craigslist. And on Craigslist, you really are the customer. Even with its shortcomings, the site has only one audience in mind. And so customers click away from the confused businesses, and direct their attention to those who endeavor to serve them.

The awful Craigslist is awfully successful because it is only what the customer wants. Like the utterly mundane Google homepage, it is selling shovels, not gold. Let's not be entirely naive. Every newspaper in Ireland is now sponsored jointly by Tesco, Dunnes Stores, SuperValu and the other retailers. Full page colour ads for cheap chicken are the dog, and editorial is the tail.

Time to wake up. When customers can increasingly turn to informed peer-to-peer online publications (and add to the content themselves) or when they can see from Amazon and TripAdvisor just what the hoi polloi thinks of whatever or wherever it is they have a mind to buy or go (and then themselves rate it) then the newspapers have to take seriously the issue of what they're chasing first, advertisers or readers.

Online readers and offline readers are touching tangentially now, but soon they will part forever imo. The latest college grads will not have a default buy-the-print-version setting. And 'innovations' like making your digital publication look exactly like your offline version are an utter waste of money and time that could be spent figuring out how to make your premium content, your opinion sections, your decent writers, that bit more exclusive (ie billable) without ignoring the fact that anyone, anywhere can get the rest of the news for free at any time.

Publishing and printing are in the front line of Changing Times, and the recession has less to do with it than the advances of electronic media. Henry Ford's idea that if he'd asked the people what they wanted, they'd have demanded a faster horse is now bunkum. The people know exactly what they want, but they don't want to wade through flashing, distracting, epilepsy-inducing and downright annoying ad content to get to it. There is only one Commandment: thou shalt engage. If your advertisers' content doesn't do that, Madam Editor, it will diminish them - and by association your online publication - in the eyes of the end users.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I will never text and drive again.

This is an explanation of viral. A road safety film from the Welsh Constabulary in Gwent. Links to the background here. Clever soundtracks, creative analogies, twisted puns... Nothing beats real drama for bringing this kind of message home. People don't necessarily understand it, but they utterly feel it.

And that is what has made it viral.