Rail Replacement Replacement


I stayed in London with friends on Friday night and tried to get the train back home to Brighton on Saturday. I knew there were ‘engineering works’ which meant that I’d have to brave the ‘rail replacement services’ (a euphemism for a massive scrum in some car park to get on a few 1950s style double decker buses) which filled me with a little dread.

It was all roughly OK until 1/2 way down the A23. We heard a massive bang and the bus started wobbling. Not particularly a nice feeling when you’re on the top deck. Anyway the bus pulls over and everyone gets off. Suspension was knackered.

We end up waiting by the side of the road for over an hour for a replacement bus to turn up.

Not exactly my best story ever I grant you. But I’ve not got to the point yet. I’m not commenting on buses or trains or breakdowns. My point is about what a huge amount of absolute morons there are driving on Britain’s roads.

Standing on the verge by a broken down bus makes you an attraction for sight-seers. I’ve never known what it feels like to have people rubber-necking at you. It’s just a bit odd really. I don’t begrudge people for being inquisitive, I know I’d be the same normally.

But the people I’m moaning about are the ones who felt compelled to shout humorous, witty, insightful and occasionally helpful comments from the windows of their cars, vans, lorries and buses. Or, when their vehicles were sealed tight, manged to communicate using gestures and signals. Here’s just a few of my favourites:

  • “Gutted!” from a generic wag-a-like in a hen-do minibus, her hair extensions blowing like a flammable nylon mane in the wind
  • “Want a lift” from a classic white van man as he sped by with little to suggest his offer was sincere
  • A poorly executed 1/2 moon from a bunch of teenagers in a convertible Mini that was clearly borrowed from one of their suburban mums (the Mini not the moonie)
  • AAAAAaaaaaaagh” from more than a few people who kindly felt that their expressions of sympathy were better without words in case anyone on the bus had limited English

It made me realise just how rife Schadenfreude is, and how much people seem to get out of it. I’d wrongly assumed that it was just famous people with loads of money that people get a kick out of seeing having a bad time. But no, it’s ordinary people standing next to a broken down bus too.

User Generated Signage

I deliberated about posting this because of the very bad language in one of the photos. So if you’re easily offended stop reading and leave the page now…

Then I reconsidered when I realised that there’s actually an interesting point in here somewhere.

So here’s the story: my walk to work is made hazardous by dog mess liberally scattered around the pavements. I’m sure many of you suffer the same thing. Here’s some ‘fresh’ evidence from this morning:

The council try to persuade dog owners to not let this happen by giving them bins, and putting up signs.

Often the signs seem to be pretty ineffective. And like lots of the messages that we see every day they just fade into the noise and clutter of the urban environment. Over time they get defaced and fade away. If the message ever worked its impact gets diminished as it’s gradually torn away:

I was slightly shocked when I saw this on the pavement yesterday:

I was shocked mainly because of the use of very strong language. But you know what, I noticed it. I really noticed it. And I bet the people who walk their dogs round there noticed it too. Especially the c***ts who let their dogs shit on the street and don’t pick it up.

And my point is:

  • Councils have to play by the rules. They use recognised placements for their signage: lampposts, bins, etc. They use tedious ‘council-approved’ language: “fouling”, “provided”, “prosecuted”, etc.
  • ‘Consumers’ can use whatever language they like (as evidenced above). They can use whatever media they like. They’re just not bound by the same set of rules. Which means they can create much more compelling messages.

Sound like a familliar situation?

The Daddy of All Secret Clubs…

Following the post about secret clubs, posters like this have just started going up for Secret Sundaze (one of the original new wave of oudoor / warehouse parties).

It doesn’t get much more secret than that. If you’re smart you might be able to figure out the date. But you’ll need to know where to look (or how to search the internet) to get more…

But you know what, they don’t need to do any more. They’ve created a really really strong brand. From a very simple yellow and black identity with just an unfussy typeface they’ve manage to build something that has massive cutthrough in the congested flyposter space. When you see a confident yellow poster that doesn’t say much their followers know exactly what it’s for. They’ve build a brand thats understood enough by its audience that information on posters is merely clutter and distraction. They use their ads simply as beacons or reminders, letting other channels do the ‘heavy lifting’ of information: who the djs are, where it is, etc. Almost like the way the iPod ads work.

Now That’s Segmentation…

Absolutely stunning.

This leaked segmentation doc (allegedly from Phones4U) is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. Certainly the funniest marketing segmentation anyway. Includes such highlights as:

Flashing Blades: blokes between 15 and 24 who enjoys “going to the gym” as well as “taking risks, drugs and the odd street fight”. All good ways of staying fit.

iPod Babe: watches Hollyoaks, Footballers Wives and Big Brother, shops at Lush and Starbucks, and is into Fuck Buddy Sex.

And there’s plenty more. With promises of even more to come… Are you a Top Gear Tiger or an iPod Babe? | The Register

Online Drama – Prom Queen

prom queen

I didn’t really know where to start with this one.

Prom Queen is a new 80 episode Internet-only drama. Here’s the facts:

  • Each episode is just over 2 minutes long and features pre and post-roll ads – a couple of seconds pre and about 10 seconds post.
  • It’s being produced by a production company called Vuguru who are the new media studio for Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company.
  • It’s been broadcast first on http://myspace.com/promqueentv
  • Then it gets shown on http://www.promqueen.tv/ – which interestingly uses streaming from Veoh not MySpace (perhaps not surprising as Veoh is another Eisner backed company).
  • Each character has their own MySpace page e.g. http://www.myspace.com/sadiesimmons and they’re nicely done, each has been styled, written, and lived-in as if owned by the character.
  • The activity in the official Promqueen.tv forum would suggest that no-one’s watching. But the show has 115,000 friends to date on MySpace which is a lot more encouraging. On Veoh the most popular episode has had 20,000 views which isn’t very good (and the rest are a lot lower) but I’m guessing most of the views come from MySpace at the moment.

So is it any good and does it work?

I have to say I’ve got almost no idea. The episodes themselves are OK as far as I can tell. They look like a kind of OC-lite, the acting is a bit hammy and because the episodes are so short it feels like they’re having to over dramatise some bits. But it’s perfectly watchable. And I think the 2 minute long episdoe format might just work. Even the pre and post-roll ads aren’t too annoying – they’re more like typical show sponsorship than ads. It doesn’t look like it’s got as many viewers as it probably needs though.

I’ve read a couple of criticisms of the show that suggest that episdoe 1 would be the biggest (because of the hype around it) then it’ll tail off. I think the opposite might be true. I saw no hype at all and if it works OK the old long-tail principle ought to kick in.

Where I think they’ve done a nice job is integrating it with the fabric of MySpace – I just hope that they use this integration in an interesting way. I’m not sure if the whole series is ‘in the can’ already but it would be great to see them responding to the community in some way or another.

It’ll be interesting to see how it does…

Some other links on the story:

10 Reasons Why Digital is Better Than Advertising – Number 8

There’s a whole bunch of stuff that makes online audiences great. They’re immediately measurable. You can see how they heard about you. You can see what things they’re searching for in order to find you. If people are talking about you it’s easy to see what they’re saying. If you fancy it you can even get into a proper 2-way-conversation with them, imagine that!

And because the web has historically been much more of an active medium than a passive one it’s much easier to get people involved with what you’re trying to do (if you’re engaging them on the right terms). It’ll be interesting to see how this changes in over time. As the web becomes a medium that delivers more of our traditionally passive entertainment forms will user involvement go down? Or will it go the other way round and traditionally passive entertainment will become ‘activated’ as it goes online? Early signs would seem to suggest the latter, which is a good thing.

No discussion of online audiences would be complete without a mention of numbers. And it’s true that the amount of people that you can reach with a piece of online activity is generally going to be smaller than you can achieve with a TV ad stuck in a couple of relatively cheap spots. But even the best TV media targeting is going to give you heaps of wastage and perhaps most worryingly ‘dead eyeballs’. With good online activity you can guarantee that people are interested and engaged (by the way I’m not counting banner ads or other interruptive online advertising here, they screw up my argument).

I quite often also hear people playing the niche card. About how it’s all very well using online for young male audiences but it’s not mainstream enough. And maybe on the surface that’s true. But it shouldn’t be. I just think we’ve not been working hard enough to do great stuff for 55 year old women.

Widgets, Dials, Switches and More

Yesterday I was looking for some pictures of ‘counters’ to use in a presentation, Nik sent me this blog: No Ideas But In Things

It’s a blog of photos about real-world interface elements. Incredibly single-minded and focused. But for me, yesterday, an incredible resource. And I”m hoping that today it’ll be an incredible resource for someone else. Absolutely great.

Isn’t the Internet great!

Bill Banned This Photo

Doesn’t that look like the most amazing sandwich you ever saw? Take it from me, it’s an amazing sandwich from an amazing shop. Bill’s in Brighton (there’s a branch in Lewes too but I’ve never been to that one. If you’re ever in the area you ought to pop in, it’s just stunning. It’s an organic deli and cafe rolled into one. But it’s not overly ‘soily’ if that’s a worry for you. Everything is beautiful to the point of art and damn tasty to boot.

OK, that’s where my praise ends. The purpose of this post isn’t to talk about sandwich art, but to talk about ‘banning photography’.

Nik was with me at Bill’s yesterday and as soon as he raised his phone to take a photo of a cake a guy dived in front of the lens like Britney’s bodyguard protecting her from the paps: “we have a no photography policy” he yelled. Same thing happened to me at the Whole Foods Market in New York a couple of weeks ago. (BTW I snuck the photo above a few weeks ago before I knew it was illegal, I didn’t break their rules on purpose, I’m not that much of a rebel!).

I guess that they’re worried about corporate espionage, people stealing the blueprints for their cakes or shop. But it feels a bit like some crazy form of Willy-Wonka-ism. Closing down the factory to prevent spies from stealing chocolate secrets. Next they’ll be making us eat cakes with our eyes closed. And what happens if I buy a cake and take it outside to photograph?

It just seems like a really backward step for companies to take. In a world where image sharing is so widespread. Stopping people from taking images of your amazing things and spreading them around the place is surely curtailing a great form of free advertising. Of course they’re not going to have control over the quality of the images or where they appear, but they need to let go a bit.

I know that in certain areas copyright and IP theft are big issues. So companies have to weigh up the risks of people stealing their designs vs the reward of people talking about them. I think the balance has changed and continues to change in favour of people using photos as a way to share and discuss rather than steal. But I could be wrong, what do you reckon?

As an aside – on the hunt for the names of the spies in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which I didn’t find) I found this great article on real life chocolate espionage and how it touched Roald Dahl.