Category Archives: Media & Marketing

Mano a mano in el bano

A brief interlude for some marketing japery – Old Spice Guy was challenged to an Internet Duel by New Old Spice Guy, Fabio. He accepted and the Duel took place yesterday at the Interwebs Stadium.

Brilliantly executed campaign. Hundreds of thousands views in a few short hours, thousands of tweets, hundreds of blog posts. Simply awesome.

p.s. I’m backing Old Old Spice Guy. Fabio is creepy.

NoTW, responsible journalism and business journalism in China

Frontline ClubI’m not really writing about NoTW and NewsInt here, but rather using the case of their recent downfall to segway to a different story – that of Public Business Media, my friend Damian’s NFP charity aimed at supporting investigative journalism. I’ve written about it before.

I’m sure we’d all like to believe that what happened at NoTW was the result of a few, rogue, irresponsible journalists calling out for a no-stones-unturned investigation, no matter the cost. Practical experience tells me that most people are simply ignorant of the techniques and tools of their trade, and therefore aren’t so much lacking a moral compass as they are unable to read one.

Public Business Media is hoping to fund an open approach to investigative journalism that will see the transparent publication of data and the education and upskilling of journalists to do this job. It’s a job that needs to be done to ensure we have a responsible, educated voice in the media looking into the thousands of business issues that touch our lives on a daily basis.

The charity’s hosting a fundraiser and public launch tomorrow night. Go along, you know you want to.

Panorama – always finding scandal

Jeremy Vine presenter of Panorama

Caught a few minutes of Panorama the other night, investigating medical equipment labelled ‘made in the UK’ but actually manufactured by poverty-stricken (but surprisingly well-trained) metalworkers on the streets of Pakistan.

What I want to know is: how come these guys always find a scandal? I mean, every now and then they find one that isn’t there and overdramatize it – the wifi story from a few years back springs to mind, ditto the Primark story from 2008 – but I’d love to hear some of the stories they have to reject:

"How about this one… all Dyson hand dryers are actually a portal to another universe?"
"What’s the source?"
"A professor of some science I can’t pronounce,"
"Sounds good to me, look into it."

"Hello Mr Dyson? Is it true that your hand dryers spiral underage disabled workers into a parallel universe made entirely of cheese?"
"I WISH. But no."
"Oh ok. We’ll go then."

I’d love to know how that editorial process works.

A cynical part of me thinks they must reject some stories that are ‘important’, but not sympathetic or controversial enough to work on the programme. But that’s a separate issue….

French gov’t bans mentions of social networks by name on radio

I love this:

How do you say Facebook and Twitter in French? You don’t – at least, not if you are on radio or television, where French officials have banned any mention of them unless they are specifically part of the story.

Conspiracy theorists springing up all over the place as to why they’ve done it; the rationale makes a kind of sense to me, however – it’s in the spirit of fairness, so as to not discriminate against other lesser, commercial social networks. Even if its total rubbish, I love that sentiment. There’s something very colonial about it, and I’m surprised the British (given the other strictures at the BBC about supporting commercial organisations) haven’t tried it ("that anti-competition stuff, old boy, it’s simply not cricket.")

At least, force broadcasters to mention (and have a presence on) every other social network in the spirit of fairness. It’d take a week…

@Flipboard – a @gilesfraser recommendation


My boss is always pleased to educate me – a self-professed, archetypal earlius adopterus – with his technical insight and technology trendsetting. He didn’t quite beat me to Spotify (although he was very early to that service), but he has stolen the march by introducing me to Flipboard, a ‘social magazine.’ I’d read about it but a combination of iPad apathy and happiness with my methods of absorbing media meant I didn’t investigate further.

Having now tried it, I can tell you that it is an awesome app that is making me fall in love with the iPad again. Essentially, it draws on any feeds you put into it – including a number of useful preset social accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader – and delivers them to you in a magazine style format. You flip through pages in which the content on links people have shared on Facebook and Twitter have been pre-fetched – and you can then tap through to the full article – or watch the video etc.

It’s a wonderful media engagement experience – you can download loads of stories over wifi and then mess around reading offline (for the most part, although the pre-fetch isn’t perfect), commenting on Facebook et al works when you’re online (would like a pre-caching service for when offline so you could maybe queue comments for publication when you came back into wifi range). You can also add any individual blog or feed you like as a separate magazine – all your subscriptions and services appear as a grid of tiles, Windows Phone 7 style.

Really beautifully executed and a very good use of the touch interface of the iPad. Recommended for all you iPad lovers out there – and looks awesome on it!

My only issue is that I’m not sure it’s very good at ‘getting through’ a magazine or set of updates on Google Reader. Unlike the handy ‘unread post’ notifications you get with the web app, there’s a seemingly endless, jumbled set of updates displayed through the interface. My Google Reader subscriptions include about 40 feeds I read regularly – and about 200 I just dip into – so might well find it frustrating to deal with that much (less relevant) content. Whether I should just flip through it (it is effortless after all) or finally get around to dealing with my mess of subscriptions, who can say…?

Definitely a big thanks to Giles for the pointer!

Five lessons from the Apprentices’ misadventures in media – @bbcapprentice

coveredWe cringed our way through another hour of entertaining, ridiculous television last night, having missed the scrap episode. Spoilers herein; alongside some of the prime examples of the Apprentice’s idiocy this week (always easier to give and assess from the outside, I know, but that’s my privilege as a member of the license-fee paying public):

  1. Always listen to to t’focus group. That’s why you do them. I think they get too much of an edge, here, to be honest – the focus groups are found for them and they’re told to go. Those idiots didn’t learn it last time (well, the Every Dog example), and didn’t do it this time. Raise the tone does not equal tits and a briefcase. Don’t patronise? Doesn’t translate to a magazine called ‘Hip Replacement’ with features on how to make a phone call. The banter between Lord Sugar and Nick on Hip Replacement’s content was brilliant.
  2. Puns do not translate well. Glenn really loved puns and plays on words too much – hence leaping all over ‘Hip Replacement’ as he did over his own ‘Catsize’ two weeks before. Idiot. — Don’t get me wrong, though, I love a good pun. Just not in any context where I plan to sell anything, except maybe to a tabloid newspaper.
  3. The balance between decision by committee and ridiculous high-handed authoritarian idiocy is apparently a fine one. Both teams struggled with inadequate leadership this week for opposite reasons; Natasha’s desire to take the credit when she thought they were on the up and her determination to do a lads mag in a crowded market that’s been evolving for the last 15 years – and on the opposing front, Jim looking to dissipate the responsibility for all major decisions for everyone.
  4. Listen to the quiet voice. I’m really not a fan of Susan – I think she’s probably one of the lesser bulbs on the programme – but she was flatly ignored by her team. Lots of loud, vocal people agreeing loudly with each other makes it hard for the quiet insight to creep through – I think its as much the responsibility of the leader as it is of the team member to acknowledge the perspectives of the team.
  5. Rate cards are a polite fiction. No-one pays the rate – I’ve seen discounts in excess of 90% off rate card rates on established magazines, never mind a start-up, and I’m in PR! The ‘offers’ they got from the media buyers were polite lies – no responsible media buyer would have put money into either of those publications without some very convincing demonstrations that they could hit some kind of sensible demographic. A free magazine called ‘Hip Replacement’ given out to 60+ people in the street? No wonder a couple of them actually laughed them out of the pitch.

A bonus lesson: ‘agreeance’ is not a word. Jim is an idiot, and should have been out. Don’t get me wrong – they’re all idiots – but Jim’s silver-tongued, mind-numbingly inept handling of the chief role won him the big wooden finger point this week.

Amanda asked why they hugged after the firing – but after this week’s boardroom backstabbery and the fact two of them have to go back and work on the next task together, it seemed like a necessary step. Alan Sugar’s boardroom is not an easy place to be, that last time.

Sidebar: in an act of genuine entrepreneurship, some clever people are auctioning off the magazines they produced in the show. Copies of both ‘Covered’ and ‘HIP replacement’ are currently running at £56 and counting on eBay…

Getting feedback from our readers at The Cambridge Student

When @damiankahya and I took on the editorial reigns of The Cambridge Student newspaper in 1999/2000, we stood on a platform of sweeping change and reform…. and, erm, well, mainly incremental improvement. One of the promises we made to secure the exalted and revered roles of editors-in-chief was to bring the paper online. After all, it was the dawn of a new millennium.

WordPress, however, and its fellow open-source CMS kin, were just twinkles in the eyes of their creators – and so we persuaded our friend (and Science Editor), codename ‘Horney’, to build a system for us from scratch. Which he did an admiral job of – and gave us a platform that provided us with some more instant feedback – primitive, article-specific reader stats. It was great to get this in an environment where we hardly ever received letters to the editor, and where comments, Tweets and ‘sharethis’ links were just a little too far into the future, never mind Google Analytics.

However, Horney had a more effective way of eliciting a response from his readers. In a classic example of ‘knowing your reader’ (and before the Internet ruined it for everybody), Horney would publish a ‘mindbender’ puzzle as a regular recurring feature. Sometimes physics or mathematics related, but more often just an absolute brain muddle, the puzzle elicited responses with the tantalising promise a piece of cheap confectionary of Horney’s choosing for the quickest or most elegant solution delivered by email. Dozens of readers would have responses to us within a few hours of the papers hitting the colleges on a Thursday morning.

Idle students? Or did Horney just gauge the target audience well?

The column doesn’t seem to have endured, telling us nothing (in fact, a science page seems to be missing from the pages of the latest edition of TCS). Maybe we just struck it lucky? Or maybe the current editors of TCS can’t stretch to the inflation busting cost of chocolate bars today, or are once against facing off against the arts/sciences journalism schism…

Sidebar: the application for the roles of editors-in-chiefs at TCS is a 400 word statement including relevant experience. I still have the 52 page plan that Damian and I developed, complete with design mock-ups, to win the top jobs. Young people these days…

When does product placement annoy, when does it give you joy?


I was watching Chuck the other day and our favourite spies dropped in a reference to Microsoft’s cloud storage service – Skydrive. The reference jarred for any number of reasons: first, Skydrive?  Everyone knows Chuck would use Dropbox if given the choice . Second, they’re the CIA – they use a public cloud service? Didn’t they get the memo on the Federal Community Cloud?

Geekiness aside, I think the principle objection I had was one of subtlety; this is one of many clumsy modern references to sponsor products. Chuck also takes a chunk of cash from Subway, resulting in (amongst other people) the massively chubby store manager/assistant store manager, "Big Mike" chowing down on the latest sandwich chain from the fast (or is it fresh?) food chain (odd choice there, guys, after your years of working with Jared). I actually quite like Chuck’s veiled references to Alienware – at least I think that all the computers that Orion left for the family Bartowski were Alienware machines – because they allude to the awesomeness without writing it ‘on the nose’ – as Robert McKee would have otherwise complained (see commandment 9).

I’m probably more forgiving – and more aware – of product placement than most, but the ‘on the nose’ model of product placement always winds me up slightly. Nokia’s presence in the Star Trek reboot  for example – whilst the product wasn’t mentioned, the 23rd Century Nokia ringtone was just annoying. Ditto for the Bond films – every product is shot as lasciviously as they film Daniel Craig’s pectoral muscles.

I think product placement has so much more power when its incidental – and, in the case of the BBC, accidental (the beeb is not allowed to do sponsored product placement, despite the relaxing of that law for commercial TV in the UK). Although, that obviously cuts both ways – when I noticed Evil Janine from Eastenders using an Android phone last night it made me question the goodness of Google (not really, but, y’know)…

That said; if I used the products in question (if had had been Evernote or Dropbox) would I have been more forgiving? That glint of recognition that makes me feel validated in my choice of product or service? Perhaps. But then this isn’t an exercise in customer acquisition, its one of retention…

So my top tips on product placement, from a consumer’s perspective:

  1. Subtlety wins out over blatant plugs
  2. Brand relevance! How exactly do you want to position the product/service
  3. Minimise the cringe factor
  4. Context is vital. If it jars with the characters/plot of the show, fans will resent you instead of admire you
  5. It’s probably more about validating your existing customers and maybe – subliminally (although that’s definitely not allowed) influencing prospective customers – than about wholesale customer acquisition.

What do other people think? Would you be more likely to desire/buy a product if your favourite character on your favourite show was using it? Or would it only work if you already had it?

Is Malaysia becoming a laughing stock in the eyes of the global press? Or a bad joke?

Two news stories that made the International press this week highlight the shifting role of Malaysia – my birth-country – on the global scene. Only a few years ago, it was held up as an example of a reasonably progressive, fast-growing, fast developing Asian economy. Today? It’s increasingly a laughing stock.

First – the ‘obedient wife’ club’, founded by 800 married women in Malaysia in a bid to address the problems of domestic violence and divorce “at their cause”. The foundation of a social group – even one with 800 women in – wouldn’t ordinarily make the headlines in the International media. But the ludicrousness of this particular story must have tickled a few editors’ funny bones, or made some misogynists smile. I find it absurd that Malaysian society could have evoked the creation of such a club, or brainwashed women into thinking that their husband’s infidelity, violence et al, was their own fault. I may have missed something in reading this story – if anyone can explain a positive spin on this to me in terms other than this that would be appreciated.

Second – another leak – this time of a diplomatic cable to Washington:

A former senior government official has said that the country’s bloated and overwhelmingly Malay civil service was “completely loyal to Umno” and was the main stumbling block towards economic reforms according to a leaked United States diplomatic cable The confidential report sent to Washington from the US embassy here was leaked by whistleblower website WikiLeaks and published in the Malaysia Today news portal

This one hasn’t yet been picked up internationally, so perhaps the country is still on the laughing stock side of things…

If I felt any affiliation with the country beyond my family being there, I’d be ashamed. Instead, I just feel moderately contemptuous of the rulers and pessimistic about any positive outcome. After all, it may be droll and amusing today – but its a short leap from droll to impinging freedoms (both in practice in Malaysia and in terms of its international reputation).

Don’t get me wrong, the country’s not at tangibly uncomfortable levels of government corruption, control or oppression… but if it was sliding in a direction, that would be it… Remember the Sarawak story…?