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Cinematic Orchestra – To Build A Homeland

So, the trailer for the third season of Homeland is out, and it seems like there are more peaks and troughs for Carrie in the aftermath of her helping Brody to escape at the end of season two.

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Whilst I thought that the second season rather jumped the shark*, I do love the fact that the producers of the trailer have chosen to use Cinematic Orchestra’s haunting track To Build A Home to soundtrack it.

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With its lyrics which seem to tell the story of a house where a couple lived, right up until they died, it’s really rather apt for what is likely to be another very disturbing series, and certainly more than it is for a fizzy drinks ad.

*At least it took two seasons to jump it, I reckon Under The Dome nuked the fridge after two episodes.

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A Week’s A Long Time #13

waze

No Place Like Home

When Facebook launched Home, its super-app, many people (me included) suggested that thay had done so to get the benefit of having their own phone and operating system, but without the hassle or cost of building one. Based on the success to date of Home, it’s probably lucky that they didn’t.

According to reports, the app has only been downloaded 1 million times in the month or so since it launched, with many of those who have downloaded it unhappy. To put that in context, when Instagram launched its Android app, it added 1 million users in a day, and they didn’t have an existing user-base of over 1 billion. At the same time, the phone on which Facebook Home was initially installed, the HTC First, has seen its price slashed to $0.99 in order to clear stock.

This doesn’t mean the end of Facebook Home; when the social network launched its early advertising system Beacon it was widely panned,  and was eventually withdrawn after a costly law-suit. Fast forward 6 years and many of the elements of Beacon are now to be found in many of Facebook’s, and many other platforms’, products. It may well turn out that the same thing happens with Home.

Hire And Hire

At times over the last week the tech giants of Silicon Valley have resembled desperate bargain hunters, still throwing things into the shopping trolley as their other half drags them towards the check-out. Yahoo alone has bought or aquihired 4 start-ups, primarily in the mobile space, Twitter bought an analytics  company as well as a big data start-up, and enterprise outfits Salesforce and Box also got in on the act. Many of these deals were around mobile, as are a couple that haven’t come off yet.

Apparently Facebook is planning to doubledown on the $1 billion it (sort of) spent on Instagram and offer a similar amount for Waze, a company that crowd-sources the data to power sat-navs. In the words of Waze founder Noam Bardin:

What search is for the Web, maps are for mobile

Although a rather trite statement, it’s also kind of true. Ironically, the deal is supposedly stalled over an argument about location.

At the same time there were rumours that Microsoft was considering whether to buy Nook, the e-book business launched by Barnes & Noble. Whilst there have since been counter rumours saying that no deal is imminent, it was an interesting suggestion and one that got investors excited.

Maybe they could have done the deal with Bitcoin, the virtual ‘currency’, which received a shot of respectability when UVC, one of the first investors in Twitter, pumped $5 million into a Bitcoin related start-up. Whilst Fred Wilson, the man behind the investment has had an incredible run of investments, it’s hard not to think that he’s backed the wrong horse here.

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A Week’s A Long Time #12

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s start by looking at how pictures can be worth a billion dollars…

Picture Of Health?

This week saw Facebook release an important update to Instagram, the photo app that it paid close to $1 billion dollars for shortly before its IPO last year (70% of the deal was in stock, so there’s no knowing what the deal will end up costing Facebook). The update allows people to tag themselves, friends and even brands in the pictures they take.

Whilst Mark Zuckerberg has said that they have no immediate plans to start monetising Instagram, it’s not hard to see how tagging could be the first step on the road to making back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars that they paid for it. Tags in photos were what really turbo-charged Facebook’s growth, and, as I said a year ago, could do the same for Instagram, whilst the fact that it will also be possible to tags brands opens up obvious monetisation options.

That said, it’s worth noting that it only took a couple of days for articles to pop up telling people how to remove tags which may make things a little harder.

Mobile Money

In other Facebook news, the social network had its latest earnings call. Depending on whose PR you read, the results were either OK, great or terrible. In reality, they were probably a little of each.

Revenue was up, though possibly not by as much as some people would have liked. Revenue from games was the highest its ever been, though Zynga appears to be losing its attraction, with its contribution towards Facebook’s revenue down (something Facebook is probably glad about as it used to be dangerously reliant on Zynga.)

In terms of advertising, mobile now accounts for about 30% of ad revenue; this is growing, which is good, but may not be growing fast enough to replace revenue from desktop traffic as it isn’t currently as valuable to Facebook.

Seeds Of Growth?

Last week I highlighted the change in Apple’s recent fortunes that noted that it might well still turn out a major new product, and so it has turned out. To fund its major dividend it is selling its own debt (the iBond?) rather than repatriating the cash it has sitting outside the US, as this would cost it a lot of money in tax.

Having quietened down its major critics, the tech world is hoping that Apple will get back to releasing market defining products, though it seems more likely that Apple will instead bring out the iPod Mini to the iPhone’s iPod, by releasing a lower priced, mass market model. It seems that those waiting for Apple’s Smart TV or internet enabled watch will have to keep waiting.

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Why I Hate The ‘C’ Word, Part 2

Last week I wrote about how I’m increasingly finding that the word community is being used in ways that I find annoying, if not downright offensive. As if to prove this point, over the weekend a number of ‘community spokespeople’ managed to work themselves into a frenzy because Google chose to honour Cesar Chavez, who spent his life trying to help the poor. Whereas, obviously, they should have commemorated the death of Christ by putting up pictures of mass-produced chocolate eggs.

Anyway.

Obviously though, community isn’t the most offensive word out there. No. That distinction belongs to another word entirely.

Yep, you guessed it.

Consumer.

As someone who works in marketing, I probably hear this word at least ten times a day. And I probably say it or type it almost as many times again. But it’s actually a horrible word, and one that we should all try to stop using, at least in its current usage where it’s used to describe the people who brands want to buy their products.

Firstly, consumer has incredibly passive overtones. It brings to mind a motionless slob, sat on a sofa being spoon-fed junk food & junk TV. A burger-inhaling drone gorging on Biggest Loser, immune to the irony inherent in the situation. Is this really who we want buying our products? Is this the sort of people we, as advertisers, agencies and publishers aspire to talk to?

Secondly, if there’s one thing that most of us should be able to agree on, its that one of the biggest problems facing the planet at the moment is that we are burning through the earth’s resources quicker than we can ever hope to replace them.We are, quite simply, consuming the planet that we rely on to survive. Which is why, I feel, that in a world where we need to move away from green-washing to actual effective action, we shouldn’t be spending so much of our time trying to get people to consume things.

So what, considering the fact that I work in advertising, which depends on people buying things, are the alternatives?

One is to treat people with respect and we can do this by changing the nature of our relationships with them, simply by changing the language. By thinking of them as consumers, it’s almost impossible not to dive to the lowest common denominator in order to find something that people will want to consume; this is particularly true for the media. But if we think of people as audiences, we change the dynamic and therefore the entire relationship.

You can see this in the attempts by news companies to move from free website to pay-walls and metred models, and their need to differentiate themselves from social news aggregators.

Whilst the digerati mock these efforts, they should, in fact, be lauded. Because people will consume crap if it’s free, they’re a little less likely to pay for it, which could have the effect of improving the quality of the content that surrounds us. Treating people as an audience, with the ability to decide to withhold their applause, is much more likely to result in truly great content than thinking of them as mindless consumers, content to lap up any old rehashed churnalism. Maybe it will even save us from a TL:DR world.

Secondly, we can start thinking of things to sell people other than actual products. This shift, from consumers to customers, means that companies will be forced to start to value what happens after a sale, as much as what goes before it. It means that it’s important that you spend as much time telling people what not to buy, as what to buy. Patagonioa did it with this ad.

 

Marks & Spencer and TK Maxx are doing it with these initaitives.

And whilst it’s not about the environment  Nike are writing the rule-book on this by moving from a company that ‘just’ sells trainers and track-suits to one that sells services and experiences. Not every brand can make a FUELBAND, but every brand should have something to offer its customers, other than the product that sits on the supermarket shelf.

Because, apart from the ethical connotations  if they don’t then they have nothing to differentiate themselves from own-brands and pile-them-high retailers and the only thing that will end up getting consumed is what’s left of their brands’ advantages.

 

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Tune Of The Day: Marc Mac Presents The Visioneers – Paul’s Guitar Story

Marc Mac has been close to the beating heart of contemporary British for over two decades now. He was genre defining in the early 90s dance/hardcore movement, as part of A Homeboy, A Hippie & A Funki Dredd and redefined drum & bass as half of 4hero, where he was responsible for my favourite ever remix. And more recently he has been cataloguing his love of soul music, in all its forms, through his Visioneers project.

Their album Dirty Old Hip Hop, which consisted of instrumental covers of many of the most sampled tracks in rap, was and is one of my favourites of the last few years, and the follow-up, Hipology* (and the associated free mix-tape), which I only just discovered, is even more of a love-letter to the last great art-form of the 20th century. Kind of like an album length version of The Roots’ Act Too.

Anyway, I’ve been listening to his Visioneers stuff again quite a lot recently, and this has to be the stand-out track; it really is just beaitiful. The guitar line is wistful, funny & sad, the beat is, of course, absolutely spot on, and the whole is simply wonderful. Seriously, it has to be one of my favourite pieces of music of the last few years.

It’s like he bottled nostalgia, wrapped a beat around it and then pressed it on vinyl. Just listen to it, you’ll get the idea.

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[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/2088259" params="" width=" 100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

*He’s also created a wonderful scrap-book site cataloguing the things that have influenced his work.

Wallflower photo by yours truly

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The Guardian Likes Facebook

I just popped over to The Guardian site and noticed a bar running along the top of the page encouraging me to log in to The Guardian using Facebook, presumably based on my usage of their existing Facebook app. I’m not quite sure what will happen if I do as they ask, but presumably they might start serving me content based on my social graph (not something I necessarily want, due to the likely creation of a filter bubble). Still, I’m game for anything, so decided to give it a try.

Ahhh.

 

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Ciaran At Conferences

ciaran-norris-smx-sydney-2011

Every so often I’m asked to speak at events, and sometimes, though goodness knows why, these get filmed. This page collects some of those from around the web.

SMX, London, May 2009 (Interview)

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I was actually still at Altogether when this was done, though I guess not when they uploaded it.

Media140, London, October 2009

The Guardian covered this one and, needless to say, misquoted me.

#140conf, London, November 2009 (Panel)

Channel 4 News, London, November 2009 (Interview)

Dell Huddle, London, May 2010

Ignite, Dublin, November 2010

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Mindshare Digital, Dublin, February 2011

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SES, London, February 2011 (Interviews)

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IAB Think Digital, Brussels, May 2011

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Image of me at SMX Sydney, 2011, courtesy of DEJAN SEO

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T-Mobile & Pink Murder Hey Jude

Every so often I get emails from a company that gives brands access to bloggers who might want to write about their ads; in return the bloggers can receive payments for views/clicks. Normally I don’t pay much attention to these, but for the new T-Mobile ad I thought I’d make an exception.

Following on from their hugely successful flash-mob dance in Liverpool Street station, the latest in the Life’s For Sharing series saw a huge karaoke party organised in Trafalgar Square, with Pink leading the crowds. The ad was filmed last Thursday (30th April) and then shown in full during the ad break for Britain’s Got Talent on the Saturday (May 2nd): ironically for an ad that was obviously made with YouTube inspired viral success in mind, Britain’s Got Talent is of course where the ultimate YouTube phenomenon, Susan Boyle, was first seen. Even more ironically, neither ITV nor YouTube seem to be able to make a penny off of the success of Boyle.

Whilst the T-Mobile Trafalgar Square karaoke is currently #2 on the viral video chart (compiled by the company that emailed me about the ad), it still lags far behind Boyle, whilst the original Liverpool Street flash-mob is still #13. I realise that it’s only been out a couple of days, and that it will undoubtedly continue to pile up views, but I don’t think it will be as successful as its predecessor*. There are a couple of reasons why I think this which can be summarised as:

  • Lightning doesn’t (often) strike twice. In many ways these T-Mobile ads are in the same vein as the ads that Fallon has become famous for creating for brands such as Cadburys & Sony. However, if you look at the Fallon ads, whilst they have had a large number of successes, they’ve also had quite a few which didn’t do so well. I’m thinking Foam & Bunnies for Sony whilst Runway for Cadburys never really took off (sorry!) Just because people really took to something once, doesn’t mean that essentially remaking a different version of the ad will have the same effect (we discovered this with the follow up to Do The Test).
  • Karaoke sucks. Listening to one person murder Hey Jude in a karaoke bar is normally bearable because you know the person singing and so can laugh/you’re drunk. Listening to 2,000 people you don’t know murdering one of the most over-played songs of all time, whilst sober, is not an experience that I’d wish for. And certainly not one I’d look to repeat. Watching people dance is, in contrast, lovely.

That said, I like the idea behind the ad and hope that it does well as T-Mobile, and their agency Saatchi & Saatchi, deserve to be rewarded for their bravery**. But hopefully they won’t mind if I wish them luck whilst turning down the volume on the Mac and reaching for the The Blue Album.

*I’m almost always wrong about these things, so expect the karaoke ad to go on to be the most succesful commercial in YouTube history.

**I know that other people were doing flash-mob stuff before T-Mobile came up with the idea (hell, we considered it for a pitch). But talent imitates & genius steals.

Trafalgar Square image by Alan Light on flickr

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The Age Of ‘Meh’ Marketing

If you’ve been reading any of the echo-chambers that make up the digital marketing trade press, or the thousands of blogs that feed off of these websites & magazines like so many Pilot Fish (and yes, I realise that I am, therefore, a fish that feeds off the left-overs of man-eaters, anyway) you’ll have read about the ‘revolutionary’ experiment by Skittles. In a ‘first’ (except it wasn’t really), Skittles has got rid of its entire site and instead pulls in various bits of social media content. It’s so crap that I can’t even be bothered to explain it any more, but you can read about it here, here & here.

As Toby mentions in his post, it struck me that this was part of something that he described as “the age of average marketing”. In fact, what I actually said was that this was another example of something that I’ve come to think of as ‘meh’ marketing, in that when you first hear about it, it elicits an initial spark of almost-interest before, with a shrug of the shoulders you mutter ‘meh’ and wander off to find something more interesting. Like a Celine Deon B-side. The reason that I feel that this is part of an age, or a movement, is that it’s the third bit of marketing I’ve heard of recently which has almost nothing to say for itself except that it’s a first (except of course etc…)

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a link to the KitKat site you can see at the top: with the snappy title The First Worldwide Website Where Nothing Happens which could, I think, safely be renamed The First Worldwide Website Where No One Gives A Shit What Happens. In a bravely Ronseal move, the site does absolutely nothing although, if you hang around long enough, you might (so I have been told) see a little bug walk across the screen. And if you follow the instructions in the page’s small-print and report the ‘bug’ (geddit?!) you get an email thanking you and a link to a screen-saver. A nice, even sweet idea, and one that obviously fits with the brand. But, at the end of the day, one can’t help but think, “so what?”

In a similar vein was lastminute’s recent ‘TV first’ in which 3 ads were shown consecutively, on ITV, Channel 4 and finally Channel 5: its ‘Mexican wave of thumbs ups’ made the front page of many of the trade rags despite the fact that, other than the fact that no brand had ever run consecutive ads across the three main channels, it was a really average idea. Does anyone who doesn’t work in advertising care that it was a TV first? No. To be honest I think you’d strugle to find many people in the industry who were really that bothered.

It may seem that this is nothing more than a rant against crap ads and I guess, at its most basic level, it is. But what I’m really trying to get at is that, in a desperate attempt to capture consumers attention, marketers seem to have adopted a magpie methodology: waving anything at consumers so long as its new & shiny. But in fact this is an incredibly short-sighted strategy because, as my old colleague Chungaiz pointed out so well, with so many things clamouring for a share of their attention, consumers need to be engaged more than ever. And just chucking ‘new’ things at them won’t do it.

Because it’s not like it’s impossible: Fallon’s brilliant gorilla campaign for Cadbury’s that Chungaiz was talking about; WCRS’ award winning moonwalking bear; The Times’ excellent poster & TV campaign; UNIQLO’s UNIQLOCK; even the pop-up store that accompanied lastminute’s Mexican Yawn Wave. All of these were innovative (even if they weren’t all entirely original) but either entertained, informed or helped the consumer. So whilst this might be the age of ‘meh’ marketing, it doesn’t mean that the good work has dried up entirely.

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