I Smell A Rat – Or Is It A Meerkat?

Twitter

Deep breath…

There’s this campaign right, it’s called Compare The Meerkat, it’s for an insurance comparison website called Compare The Market, the ad is a bit funny. I could try and describe it, but it’s easier to show you:

Yes it’s all about a word gag. But it works. It’s embedded itself in my head. Ask me to think of a comparison website right now and I know what I’ll think of first. Well not actually right now, because I’m writing about it so I’d obviously think about it first, but generally I think it’s done a good job of using a weird device to get me to think about meerkats when I think about comparing. So psychologically they’ve done a smart thing – I think.

The numbers raise a load of questions…

  • On YouTube the ad’s not had loads of views. Does that matter?
  • No idea of traffic to: http://www.comparethemeerkat.com/ – it’s a pretty basic site, but there’s no point in spending any more on it really, it does it’s job as a spoof.
  • But people ‘seem’ to like the Meerkat chap – he’s got 65,000 fans on Facebook FFS!
  • And there are over 1,000 wall posts – that’s pretty phenomenal in my book – given the fact that it’s just a novelty thing

But here’s where it gets a bit fishy…

Aleksandr Orlov (the Meerkat) started following me on Twitter a while ago. And if you go and look at his Twitter page he’s following a huge number of very well-followed people… Dave Winer, Biz Stone, Om Malik, Tom Coates, Evan Williams, Jason Calacanis, etc. etc. etc. And he’s following 2,000 people with 1,800 followers which just isn’t natural, is it?

I’m not sure what the ethics of this kind of thing are. Or why it bothers me so much. All I know is that it makes me feel a bit yucky. And stops me from liking Meerkats.

Whoever is playing the part of Aleksandr is working it pretty hard. And doing lots of @replies. Which isn’t a bad thing when you’ve got a character that people like. It’s just the follower-spamming I find a bit scary.

The Worst Scottish Accent Ever?

From last night’s Superbowl:

I’m really tempted to re-dub it and see if I can pull off a better Scotch accent ;-)

And I was 100% convinced that this Cash4Gold ad was a spoof until I visited the website, where unfortunately it’s all true:

I thought it couldn’t go much lower. But it does…

Of course there’s some good ads from the breaks too, but being a bitch is so much easier…

Just To Be Clear…

RIMG0012

In retrospect. Looking at the comments. With the benefit of hindsight. And having chatted with Sophie (and others). I think the long post from yesterday was perhaps too long and too connected. I think maybe it should have been 3 shorter posts instead.

I fear I’ve developed a kind of addiction  to joining things up. A blogging symptom I think.

The 3 shorter posts should have been:

  1. “Look, there’s lots of ads around with lots of people doing stuff together in a similar way”. Isn’t that a funny thing. Personally I like some of them. End post 1.
  2. That T-Mobile ad. It’s everywhere. I’m not a hater. I don’t love it from a personal point of view. But I think it’s a good ‘big ad’ and my guess is that it works well against it’s target audience. End post 2. I’ve tried to set the record straight over at Adliterate. Where the rest of the comments prove that, if nothing else, the T-Mobile ad generates talk (in a good way).
  3. I’m of the opinion that, in some cases, you can communicate connection and collaboration in a different, more engaged way. Something less showing and more doing. Less manufactured and more real. And that requires a different approach. And the people who are experts at doing the two approaches may well be different people. The skills required are very different. They should collaborate more. End post 3.

Sorry for any confusion.

But it did spark some good comments / debate :-)

Ever Seen A Website That Can Make You Cry?

Oh bollocks.

My last post has stirred up a bit of comment and debate. I thought it might. I tried to be as clear as I could in setting it out. So as not to create yet another us vs them debate. It feels like I failed.

I was trying to suggest that there are opportunities to DO connections and collaboration, not just TELL METAPHORICAL STORIES about them. Maybe I should simply have said that, and ended the post there.

In the comments David re-quoted the old favourite: ‘what was the last website that made you cry?’.

It’s not about websites making you cry.

If you want to be reductionist about it a website is ‘just’ a container. You can put whatever you want into it. If you want your website can be a massive high-budget emotionally-harrowing tear-inducing film in full-HD quality and surround sound. You can put words in it. You can put amazing music in it. You can put an interaction that changes your view of the world in it.

If you’ve not seen a website that makes you cry it just means people haven’t been putting the right stuff in websites. It’s not the fault of websites. The pipes are totally neutral when it comes to emotion.

I’m not going to make a bit of film content that’s going to make you cry. I can’t make films. I don’t know how to do it. The people who made the ads my original posts know how to make films. That much is clear. So it’s not my fault there’s no crying-making websites on the internet (if, controversially, you think there aren’t).

I blame the people who make stuff that can make you cry for not putting it on the web where you can see it.

Or maybe, if you want a website to make you cry, you should go and look for one? Maybe it’s your fault for not looking hard enough? Or Google’s fault for not indexing them properly when you search for ‘websites to make me cry’?

Unless of course there’s something fundamental in the nature of screens that means that they can’t convey emotion unless they’re connected to a TV signal or a DVD player. In which case I take back everything I’ve just said. And I totally blame the Internet (and computers) for being emotionally void.

There’s other answers to ‘websites that make you cry’ question too. But I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that personal messages can’t be emotionally rich, or devastating. I’m supposing that the commenter was referring to what brands can do to convey emotion / make you cry.

To state the bleeding obvious. It’s not about Film VS the Internet, it’s about Film AND the Internet. And getting on top of at the amazing opportunities that we have to tell stories AND create experiences that get people involved in a deeper way.

Amen brothers and sisters. Let’s collaborate and share, to make people cry online. Together.

Life Is For Connectedly Sharing Better – The Advertising Myth

Experts predict that, if current trends continue, by q4 2010 all advertising will feature groups of people making something big and impressive.

Recent examples of the genre are:

A big domino toppling thing,

a big, unfolded newspaper,

a ‘hand made’ internet,

a big picture,

a rainbow,

an orchestra (forget for a minute that orchestras are made up of people collaborating and doing things together, this is an orchestra with a twist)

a big picnic,

Or milking a massive 80 foot udder. Actually that last one is a lie – or it might be a premonition.

I actually genuinely admire a number of these adverts. But put that aside for a couple of minutes…

Groups of people having fun together has always been good advertising fodder. We all want to be social and do fun stuff with our friends. It’s just that the groups featured in ads now have to be much bigger because technology has delivered us bigger groups of friends and contacts. In fact, everyone is now our friend, potentially.

As a technique it works especially well for brands that are about communication. Or socialising. Or simply not being on your own. Which is pretty much everyone. Apart from the Samaritans.

I guess it’s inevitable that we should end up with a bunch of not-dissimilar ads when everyone’s briefs contain words like sharing, or connection, or enablement. And given that infinite, always-on connections have changed the world in untold ways your brand would look a little out-of-touch if you didn’t at least nod to these things.

Then you’ve got the challenge of bringing things to life in 30s film. Which is far from easy. And let’s face it people outside, in the real world, doing something active is always going to be more visually interesting than the slightly dull reality.

Who wants to watch a bunch of people sat in their bedrooms, physically alone? Their only connection through wires? A girl sitting at her computer looks just like a girl sitting at her computer. She could be IMing her friend with an OMG because she’s unproved Fermat’s theorem, or because she just heard what Debbie said about Suzi. It’s the things that are in heads, on screens and coming down wires that are interesting and important. Not stuff a camera can easily capture.

293 people might be collaborating right now, on their computers, and be seconds away from ending climate change. But they’d look exactly the same as 293 people playing World of Warcraft. There would be no visual clues.

Which is, I guess, why advertising has to dial-up the excitement. To create quick, easy-to-grasp metaphors for collaboration and combined human effort.

But there’s a part of me that feels like the point gets overlooked for the sake of a nice colourful ad.

If you’ve ever actually been a part of something online, there’s something nice about the initial non-physicality. The fact that you’re not compelled to be a good looking, smiling stereotype that works as part of a human chain gang. You can be ugly, grumpy and totally asynchronous and still a hugely valuable part of the effort.

Every day millions of people experience comfort, pleasure, excitement, joy, anger, sadness, love, loss, hatred, passion, enlightenment, the horn and more. All online. All virtually. But this gets glossed over in ads. Because it’s not easy to represent in film. So we revert to metaphors of physical closeness and connection. Ideally in a sunny field. Which is kind of like the internet. In a way. Kinda.

That’s not to say that online relationships and collaborations don’t end up in real, solid, actual-world friendships and meetups. They do. But that typically comes later. And it’s more of a case of checking-in, sizing people up, and seeing how it goes. Not getting together to unfold a big newspaper.

But sometimes people do arrange to meet up with a large group of people to do something together. Sometimes it’s an incredibly useful and important thing, like a political rally. But sometimes it’s spontaneous and frivolous and pointless. And these latter things became known as flashmobs.

And now, inevitably, there’s an advert about a flashmob…

You can’t escape it. It’s on TransVision screens at all the London stations, escalator panels on the underground, the telly, and on the YouTubes (with a huge number of variants including the 2.41s mega-ad above). It’s pretty much everywhere. I’ve tried hiding from it. But it keeps on finding me.

Again. To be clear. I don’t dislike it as an advert.

But the truth is it couldn’t not have happened. It’s got the hip-but-not-too-hipness of flashmobs combined with looking just like one of ‘these ads’ should. And by creating this spectacular advert using choreography, trained dancers, etc. etc. etc. The ad becomes just an ad.

But it’s not surprising that they have to fake it, when an actual flashmob looks like this:

(I recorded this at the ‘Rick Rolling’ Flash Mob last year – I was not proud to be there)

Spot the differences:

Real

  • 98% observers – with absolutely no chance that any of the watchers are going to join in, they’re just watching
  • No audible music whatsoever
  • No one being quite sure what’s going on
  • A total lack of any kind of choreography
  • Just fades out when people get bored (very quickly)

Imagined

  • 30% observers dropping to 22% as a load of people spontaneously join in
  • Loud and jolly music to dance to
  • A core of people knowing what they’re doing and a bunch other people who get swept along
  • Nice choreography
  • A wonderful moment in time

The one thing that they have in common is people filming / photographing it. And to give it credit the T-Mobile ‘event’ does a great job of continuing the illusion by getting a bunch of assorted ‘real’ people to talk about their experiences of the flashmob:

Enthusiastic folk who’ve just seen a TV ad being filmed + editing = magic! If you’d done it you would though wouldn’t you…

I don’t dislike any of the ads above. I think they do a nice job of capturing a feeling and a vision of collaboration. And of course I’m not suggesting that advertising has to reflect reality. Otherwise it wouldn’t be advertising anymore.

However, my suspicion is that we’re seeing adverts made by people who haven’t been collaborating deeply online. Who haven’t been a part of these things. Who don’t understand the subtle, emotional things that happen in online relationships and groups. Another part of the reason we end up with big, generic, broad-brush, advertising. Things that work, in general, for some of the population.

But maybe broadcast media isn’t the place to tell the (more) interesting, deeper stories. The stories that happen quietly, inside the wires, over the airwaves, through the devices and in people’s minds.

Perhaps stories of togetherness and collaboration are best told in places where people are together, collaborating. And perhaps they should be told in ways that reflect the brilliance, excitement and usefulness of what doing things together using tools and technologies – not metaphors – is actually all about.

Or maybe in those places it’s not about telling stories at all.

Maybe. Just maybe.

Anyone got any thoughts?

Free Contagious Roundup of 2008

Most Contagious 2008

The nice folk at Contagious Magazine are giving away their roundup of the most contagious stuff of 2008 for free. You don’t even need to give them any details or nothing: click here to download the PDF.

Sorry, I know it’s a year out of date now. But it might be a good one for the archives. Or as a useful refresher if, like me, you’re feeling a bit behind the curve today.

What I’m Feeling About Webby Connect

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It’s interesting. But through the sessions it’s becoming very clear that it’s a world of 2 halves.

One half is people who believe that it’s just business as normal. Everything conforms to the old rules in the end. It’s all about talent, content, films and monetization through advertising. And things like fragmentation are just are just an irksome inconvenience than can be sorted out later using old-school big money hammers. There’s glimpses of new thinking. But rightly or wrongly there’s lots of clinging to old stuff too.

Examples:
http://lstudio.lexus.com
http://www.inthemotherhood.com/
http://www.thewb.com

Photo 8

The other world is made up of designers, inventors and entrepreneurs. People who love making things. Guys who understand online culture and user experience. They value simplicity, focus, single mindedness and more often than not have built something for themselves that it turns out (and I don’t think by accident) other people love too.

Examples:
http://www.muxtape.com
http://www.mint.com
http://www.tumblr.com
http://www.aaronkoblin.com/
http://www.hulger.com

And then there’s the anomalies. Guys like the New York Times who you’d expect to be in the first group, but quite brilliantly exist fairly firmly in the second.

I’m not saying that one or other of the groups is necessarily right or wrong. They can both be right and do their thing. But one costs less, is more fun and feels like the spot where ‘real’ creativity is occurring.

I’m talking tomorrow. Eek.