Archive for November, 2010

No names no pack drill in this post.

I looked on yesterday as opportunity knocked.

Opportunity knocked to create some high credibility, high visibility, on-brand noise for one of our clients.

Trouble was that the opportunity in question was of the social media variety.

Also known as the serendipitous, unforeseen, real-time, quick decision needed variety.

Opportunity knocked.

Opportunity went begging.

Opportunity presented about a half hour window in which a (very) low cost decision was required.

In this instance the client in question simply couldn’t be reached.

So we’ll never know what would have happened.

What I do know is that there are plenty of organisations – organisations with a professed interest in social media – that would be culturally incapable of capitalising on a chance like this, even if they could be reached within the window of opportunity.

No written proposal.

No time to raise a purchase order.

No guarantee of any effect.

Hunch marketing.

There are plenty of people in big brand marketing departments who intellectually and emotionally get it. It being the whole social thing. But they are trapped in cultures that won’t allow get-it theory to translate into get-it practice.

We’d need three things to avoid this kind of missed opportunity and put two metaphorical fingers up to 20th century corporate culture.

  • A client that gets it.
  • A pre-paid discretionary budget of, say, £1,000.
  • The complete trust of the client to spend the money without prior approval.

The third one is the big one obviously. But what a lovely position to find yourself in.

Could that work?


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Get well Danny Baker

As usual I’ve been slow on the uptake with celebrity news.

Danny Baker has cancer. And I find myself caring quite a lot.

I met him a long time ago, and only briefly.

But he made a lasting impression on me.

He had been the compère at a Bass Brewers conference in Birmingham.

A low effort, easy money gig compared to his day job.

A few gags between the business sessions.

A couple of knowing, mildly cutting, but carefully scripted remarks at the expense of the top brass to get the sales guys laughing.

Hosting an interview with the chief exec, both sitting on sofas on stage.


I’ve seen celebrities do this kind of corporate job dozens of times.

Conferences, awards dinners, product launches.

Their public profile earns them the right to cash in at events like this.

The result is usually polished, professional and platitudinous.

The celeb in question does the minimum possible and then buggers off.

And that was what I was expecting Danny Baker to do.

But he didn’t.

He did the maximum possible.

The mists of time might be causing me too exaggerate a little, but my memory is of him being amongst the last to leave in the wee small hours of the morning.

He definitely stuck around much longer than I suspect he was contracted to do.

And he was enjoying himself.

He talked to everybody and anybody about anything.

And he spent at least as much time listening as he did talking.

He was genuinely interested in people, their lives and their stories.

And ever since I’ve seen, or rather heard, him carry that interest with him onto the airwaves of Radio 5 Live.

First with the 606 football phone in and latterly with his Saturday morning show.

He gives great radio because he has great humanity. He is enthusiastic. He doesn’t put on any kind of act. And he uses the English language like a musical instrument.

I wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

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This is a harrowing piece of film which reveals the brutal break-them-down-and-build-them-back-up approach being used by some social media agencies and consultants to get traditional advertising clients to lose the message based, paid for interruption mindset and embrace conversation.

Click image to view clip


For “save American lives” read “join the conversation.”

For “let go David Webb” read “let go one way communication.”

Will you give yourself to this [social media] program?

Is this how advertisers feel?

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I’m reviewing this book before I’ve finished it.

I’ve read just four out of thirty four “stories about people who know how they will die” but I can’t contain myself.

Machine of Death is a book of revelations.

In all sorts of ways.

Firstly I don’t read short stories or anthologies. Mainly because I instinctively don’t like the idea of them.

(“I’ve never tried Guinness because I don’t like it.”)

Well forty six pages of this book have well and truly taken the blinkers off.

And here’s why. A single high-concept idea that has already (four stories in) proved itself to be a springboard for subtlety, suspense and social commentary.

The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you a date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words “DROWNED” or “CANCER” or “OLD AGE” or “CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN”. It let people know how they were going to die. [….] But the machine was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark , and seemingly delighting in the ambiguities of language. “OLD AGE”, it had already turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or being shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death; you can know how it’s going to happen, but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

The second revelation is that the stories are already not what I expected.

Each story takes its title from a cause of death that has been printed out by the machine. And I was expecting the unexpected. I was expecting a series of clever narrative twists whereby the exact nature of each death, despite the machine’s prediction being declared up front, would be a surprise.

In fact it wasn’t until the fourth story that anyone actually did die.

Part of the reason I decided to review the book before finishing it is that I realised that it is too easy to give too much away about short stories. You need to know enough to be convinced that Machine of Death is worth the price of the book and the shipping from Amazon in the US. But you don’t need me to deny you the repeated delight that I’m currently experiencing.

So this is all I will say.

The first story explores the impact of the machines on teenage social dynamics. You’re not allowed to use the machine before the age of 16. This creates another category of adolescent haves and have-nots, worse than any kind of mobile phone envy. It is really frustrating to be a 15 year old “no-know”.

And the other side of this rite of passage doesn’t necessarily bring any relief from teenage angst. Kids are categorised according to their cause of death predictions. “Burners” are cool. So are “Crashers”. But you really don’t want to be socially scarred by any prediction related to sickness or old age…

The other stories I’ve read explore the impact of the machines on relationships, the life insurance industry and the medical profession.

Machine of Death is like a brilliant advertising campaign idea that has spawned a series of commercials, each of which is brilliant in its own right.

As someone who has spent his entire career dealing with short-form creative content I am asking myself just why I haven’t spent more time with short-form literature.

The third revelation for the purposes of this post is the story about how this book actually came to be.

I bought the book because of this uplifting, community-based back story without really bothering to find out much about its content. I felt that the people behind the book deserved my custom purely on the basis of how they conducted themselves in originating the idea, how they crowd-sourced the content, and how, through doggedness, cunning and collective action, they turned it into an Amazon best-seller.

I’ve blogged this back story before. Read about the uplifting social success story behind Machine of Death here.

Then buy the book.

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Imagine my surprise (and delight) at finding myself in the car talking to my kids about the seminal 1977 Meatloaf album Bat Out Of Hell.

Prompted by them I hasten to add.

They having been prompted by the live TV butchering of the eponymous song by this year’s enduring X-Factor joke contestant, Wagner.

If you haven’t seen it, I’ve embedded it below for your viewing “pleasure”.


Back in the car, with the kids…

Imagine my surprise (and dubious delight) at finding myself able to quote, verbatim, lengthy passages not just from Bat Out Of Hell but also from songs like Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad and Paradise By Dashboard Light.

Pretty impressive, methinks, given that the last time I actually played the album (on cassette) was in sixth form back in 1984.

(Further proof, if proof were needed, that a man’s head is full of all sorts of superfluous, irrelevant and utterly interesting nonsense.)

I’ve written before about my love of idiosyncratic language.

And Bat Out Of Hell is a super-saturated solution of quirky, cod-heroic lyrics.

To the point of being poetic.

So here, inspired in unlikely but nonetheless strangely befitting fashion by a Brazilian ex-lion tamer, is an anthology of Bat Out Of Hell Lyrics written by Jim Steinman.

Bat Out Of Hell

Like a bat out of hell

I’ll be gone when the morning comes

When the night is over like a bat out of hell

I’ll be gone gone gone

Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone when the morning comes

But when the day is done

And the sun goes down

And the moonlight’s shining through

Then like a sinner before the gates of heaven

I’ll come crawling on back to you

Paradise By Dashboard Light (Praying For The End Of Time)

I couldn’t take it any longer

Lord I was crazed

When the feeling came upon me

Like a tidal wave

I started swearing to my god and on my mother’s grave

That I would love you to the end of time

I swore that I would love you to the end of time

So now I’m praying for the end of time

To hurry up and arrive

‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you

I don’t think that I can really survive

I’ll never break my promise or forget my vow

But God only knows what I can do right now

I’m praying for the end of time

It’s all that I can do

Praying for the end of time

So that I can

End. My. Time. With. You.

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

I want you

I need you

But there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you

Now don’t be sad

‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad

They don’t write ’em like that any more.

Related posts :

On the power of idiosyncratic language : Watch your language – what Dr Who and Old Spice have in common

On X-Factor : The X-Factor is practically perfect in every way

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So you think you’ve got a community, huh?

Does your community engage with each other around a shared interest in you?

Does your community believe that you’re interested in them as human beings rather than a sales channel?

Foiled Cupcakes has that kind of community.

Foiled Cupcakes is a delivery-only gourmet cupcake bakery that serves the greater Chicago area.

As per its Twitter bio (above) it is a brand grown by “YOU”, a.k.a. its community.

It was founded by “Head Cupcakeologist” Mari Luangrath, and her social success story is particularly refreshing and uplifting because she was anything but a digital native or social media addict before starting her business.

(Mari on SEO).

The more links you have the better it is for, like, your search result…thing.

But she is a natural.

Let’s cut to the bottom line.

Or bottom lines plural.

Blue projected sales. Pink actual.

Pink = uplifting social success story.

This graphic was created by Lauren Litwinka for the Aimclear blog.

In fact the full social success story behind Foiled Cupcakes is written up in stylish, accessible prose in an Aimclear post that you really should read.

You should read it for the quality of the writing.

And you should read it because it tells the story so well that there’s no point in me recounting it here.

What’s really important is the lessons that should be learned from this case study.

Lessons that come through loud and clear in Part 1 and Part 2 of this trilogy of uplifting social success stories.

  • Talking about others is much more engaging than talking about yourself.
  • Being interested is the best way to be interesting.
  • Being someone that people want to buy from is a more effective social strategy than trying to sell.
  • Enthusiasm is infectious.
  • Nice things happen to nice people.
  • You don’t need social media training, or social media guru consultancy, if you are a natural people person.

These things sound obvious.

But, like a lot of really important business principles, they are simple to describe but not easy to execute.

Three uplifting social success stories – Part 1 (The story behind the publication of Machine of Death).

Three uplifting social success stories – Part 2 (The story behind the social sales growth of Underground the comic book).

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So you think you’ve got a community huh?

Does your community really give a damn whether you are making a living out of what you do?

Would your community feel guilty if it felt it had done something to adversely affect your livelihood?

Steve Lieber has this kind of community.

Or rather, through his actions, he ended up with a community feeling that way about him.

Underground is a graphic novel drawn by Lieber and written by Jeff Parker.

I haven’t read it yet but, as with Machine of Death, the book discussed in the first of this series of uplifting social success stories, I shall be buying it entirely because of the behaviour of its originator.

The behaviour in question is his reaction to his labour of love being scanned and posted, page by lovingly crafted page, on a popular comic book discussion forum.

Rather than throw his toys out of the pram and rant about copyright theft, he jumped onto the thread in question and chatted openly about his work, his inspirations, and his favourite comics. I really urge you to read the thread in its entirety. But, to cut a long story short, it results in comments like this…

The conversation is also joined by one Erika Moen, the lady that runs the online store for Periscope Studios (cartoonist studio that Steve Lieber helped to found). She describes in detail the ins and outs of comic book publishing to an obviously interested forum. (Click on thumbnail to expand).

I doubt that Lieber thought much more about all this afterwards.

Until he checked his book sales that is.

What he found moved him to publish this post about what happened in the 24 hours following the 4chan discussion.

I am endebted to the Techdirt blog for drawing this story to my attention.

And it’s well worth reading the sometimes heated discussion in the comment thread associated with the Techdirt post.

The rights, wrongs and semantic, nay pedantic, details of intellectual property theft, piracy and copyright morality are discussed in detail.

Erika Moen jumps in again and gives full transparent detail to those commenters who were speculating that Lieber had got rich from his 4chan intervention. This wasn’t the case but the lack of scale on Lieber’s hand annotated graph had raised the question in several people’s minds.

But, for the purposes of this post, the killer comment is this one…

That, to me, is so obviously the moral of the story.

Selling books wasn’t Lieber’s objective when he jumped in. But that’s what happened.

His primary, indeed only, aim was to create something that he would be proud of. In the 4chan comment thread, someone states that the “only thing that matters is the audience.” Lieber jumps in and says…

And here I just have to flat out disagree. When it comes to comics like Underground or Whiteout, I’m not drawing for “the audience”. I’m drawing for me. I’ve got a whole other career as a storyboard artist and occasional mainstream comics artist where I worry about other people’s opinions, and that pays my bills just fine. But when I do an indy comic, my one and only job is making something I want to read. Sorry if that annoys you, but it’s the truth. Worrying about what the audience wants is how you get Whiteout the Movie instead of Whiteout the Comic.

The morals of this story aren’t really very surprising but it’s good to see what you believe to be true actually come to pass.

  • You’re more likely to succeed by focusing on content than by focusing on success.
  • In social spaces nice things tend to happen to nice people. (If only many brands could drop the advertising message mindset and get their heads round this concept).

If you found this post interesting, you might also want to take a look at Uplifting Social Success Stories – Part 1.

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