Archive for April, 2011


Patrick : All you need is a box.

Spongebob : And imagination.

It is the oldest parenting cliché in the book that kids play more with boxes than with the toys that came in them.

Boxes are more fun because they provide an outlet for imagination.

And it’s not just empty boxes. I recently watched (un-noticed by her) as my youngest daughter role-played between several imaginary characters for over an hour using clothes pegs.

Just as importantly they (boxes, pegs etc) act not only as an outlet but also as a catalyst for imagination. An empty box acts as a prompt or trigger for imaginative play, often in a situation where said imaginative play wouldn’t otherwise have taken place.

So a box is more than just a blank canvas.

A box is in effect a partially formed idea that allows (and encourages) kids, to build, develop, embellish, personalise, participate and, dare I say, co-create (ugh!) something more relevant.

It is well worth watching the Spongebob episode below, called Idiot Box, in its entirety. The idiot box in question is a television. And the film brilliantly illustrates the stark contrast between the passive way that we interact with TV versus the active imaginative engagement that is possible with the box in which the television was delivered.

The best modern ideas have much more in common with the cardboard box than they do with the idiot box.

The best modern ideas are partially formed rather than fully formed.

The best modern ideas invite play, participation and personalisation.

And, having been played with, participated with and personalised, the best modern ideas are more likely to be talked about and shared than a fully formed, dare I say boxed off, piece of advertising that leaves no room for adaptation, interpretation or imagination.

We’ve always been in the imagination business.

Great ads and the great creative minds that come up with them have always been, and continue to be, testimony to the power applied imagination.

But its increasingly important that our ideas capture, and make room for, the imagination of the people for whom they’re intended


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William Thatcher (aka Ulrich Von Lichtenstein, and played by the late Heath Ledger RIP) is the hero of the highly under-rated film A Knight’s Tale.

He is a commoner who accidentally on purpose becomes a knight.

Here’s a trailer for the film. It’s well worth a regard if you haven’t seen it already, and I’ll let you make up your own mind as to whether William/Ulrich was born great, achieved greatness or had greatness thrust upon him.

Or, indeed, all of the above.

It shouldn’t spoil the film for me to tell you that he does achieve greatness in the form of knighthood by the end of the movie.

Nor should it spoil things if I tell you that he has to overcome a series of barriers put in front of him by a society that aggressively rejects the notion of a mere mortal from a common background getting ideas above his station.

And this is Thatcher’s lesson.

He refused to accept that it was his destiny to be a mere mortal.

He refuted the notion of being mere.

And this is what the internet is for.

The internet makes mortals less mere.

Mere : being nothing more nor better than that specified.

William Thatcher determined to be more and better than the commoner status that was specified for him.

And, for determined people, the internet is a great more than and better than enabler.

The internet connects and empowers.

If you are born with potential greatness, if you gave the gumption to grasp greatness with both hands when it is thrust in your general direction, then the internet makes it that little bit more likely that you will achieve said greatness.

The internet makes it easier to overcome or sidestep the kind of barriers that William Thatcher had to tackle head on.

Start up.

The degree of difficulty associated with these verbs can be significantly reduced by the internet in the hands of the right person.

And I fucking love it for that.

I won’t spend the rest of my life as nothing.
(William Thatcher.)

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T-Mobile has disobeyed its own (flash) mob rules with its royal wedding ad.

Last night, on the train home, I jotted down a list of T-Mobile values on the back of a receipt.

(Sorry Evernote, I still love you.)

These values are my out-take from the brand’s recent flash-mob style ads; the ones that immediately preceded the latest offering.

And, based on that kind of list, I can see how the script for the Royal Wedding film could have been briefed, written, sold, bought and made.

On the face of it, it’s on brief, on brand and it moves the campaign on, keeping the surprise and originality factor up and avoiding any “tired formula” accusations.

And I should say that, on the face of it, it’s actually a bloody good ad. Given the subject matter I don’t want to like it. But I do.

It leaves me with a smile on my face.

The casting is great. They paid a great deal of attention to the lookalikes.

And, in a strange way, it’s credible. I kind of believe the unfettered brotherly vibe between the two princes.

(And I can imagine that their mother would be clapping along in her grave at the thought of this two-fingers-to-the-po-faced-royal-establishment style of wedding. “If only” she’d be thinking.)

And yet, at the same time,  it doesn’t quite feel all that it was cracked up to be.

That’s partly because the brand went to great lengths to crack it up. It released a teaser/trailer that on its own racked up over 400,000 views on YouTube.

But, for my money, it’s mainly because they’ve slightly misinterpreted or misunderstood some of their own values.

And the above trailer only serves to underline this in my view.

First there was Liverpool Street.

Then there was Trafalgar Square.

…and Heathrow.

True, the Royal Wedding ad has scale and amibition – the brand has single-handedly hijacked the run-up to a huge global event via a film that was launched online only and that, at the time of writing has amassed a huge amount of PR coverage (39.4 million Google search results) and over 5 million views.

But it’s not the same kind of scale and ambition.

Liverpool, Trafalgar Square, Heathrow.

Big, public, wide-open spaces.

Big, public, wide-open spaces that are difficult to hijack.

Whilst the Royal Wedding ad is ambitious, the degree of practical, logistical difficulty associated with making it happen is much lower than we are used to for this campaign. And I think this matters.

Moreover these wide-open spaces were shot with wide framing to accommodate the large number of people that were participating.

There is no wide framing in the Royal Wedding ad.

This makes it feel slightly cheap (production budget dictated by the fact that it is “only” an online film rather than a TV ad?).

But it also makes it feel very different and, for me, off brand.

There are far fewer people involved.

And those few people feel like they are acting rather than participating.

The ad has a kind of spontaneity and joie de vivre. But it’s rehearsed spontaneity and joy. And as a result the ad lacks the genuine, collaborative, anarchic vibe of its predecessors.

The Wikipedia definition of flash mob rules includes the word “sudden”.

There was a sudden-ness to the previous T-Mobile ads that is missing from the Royal Wedding execution. And I think that sense of the sudden is a big part of T-Mobile’s vibe.

(I should have added “sudden” to my scribbled list of values.)

Campaign vibes are precious, fragile and important.

So my overall verdict is that it’s a bloody good (one-off) ad, but I’m not so sure that it’s a bloody good addition to the T-Mobile campaign.

And here it is…

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Paper prototype

My daughter built a helicopter yesterday.

Her sisters were variously texting, Facebooking, Wii-ing, watching crap TV, bickering and begrudgingly walking the dog.

But she, aged six, took it upon herself to turn a cereal packet and some yogurt pots into a VTOL plaything.

She decided to build shit.

As in #buildshit.

I was presented with said helicopter when I got home last night. And I could not have been more proud.

As a parent I want my kids to explore and experiment as much as possible to discover for themselves where their talents lie.

So as an ideas-junkie and employee of a creative industry I am torn between huge displays of enthusiasm and encouragement, and a fear of imposing personal bias, whenever one of my offspring does something “creative”.

Last night I erred on the side of enthusiasm and encouragement as she described in detail (and I’m not exaggerating here) her initial vision, the practical challenges faced as she moved from idea to execution, how she adapted her approach to overcome these challenges, and how she “user-tested” her work in progress with various Playmobil characters and Happy Meal toys to ensure that they would fit in the cockpit.

Alas, the picture above wasn’t the first in a series of rapid, paper prototype iterations.

Not because she is averse to the principle of failing to learn.

But because, in her view, the first model was entirely fit for purpose.

So she built it and launched it.

(I think you “launch” a helicopter rather than “ship” it.)

And, given that she experienced no significant bugs herself – certainly nothing that acted as a barrier to fun play – and that no significant bugs were reported by her “beta-testing” sisters or parents, she shifted seamlessly from builder mode to user mode.

Agile, lean, spontaneous and joyful.

Job done.

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What’s all this about then?

These started appearing in spaces usually reserved for Facebook advertising yesterday.

Pretty random to say the least.

Random in that I can’t see the point.

Random in that there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of rhyme nor much in the way of reason behind how Facebook decides which of my friends’ old updates are “memorable”.

If anything I’m left feeling more haunted than nostalgic.

The main thing these memorable status updates remind you of is the fact that, even though this stuff disappeared from news feeds many moons ago, it still persists somewhere on a Facebook server farm.

Everything you say is virtually indelible (in both senses of “virtually”).


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Every time you say “social media” someone somewhere drowns a kitten.

I said this during a presentation at the Social Media Academy‘s “Social Media In Scotland” conference a few weeks ago.

I said it with the best intentions.

I was trying to make the point that lazy language can be insidious and lead not just to bad attitudes but also to bad strategic decisions.

“Social media” is lazy language of the most insidious kind. In fact it sucks. (If you click and read that Forrester blog link, it says most of what I’m about to say, only better, by the way.)

To be more precise it’s the “media” in social media that sucks. Social is unequivocally good.

  • Media = something you pay for.
  • Media = paying for eyeballs allows you to control your message.
  • Media = one way and one-to-many broadcast.
  • Media = event-based content with long lead times.

Most of the brand marketers who now have responsibility for social strategy decisions are what would, until recently, have been called “advertisers.”

And it’s very difficult for any advertiser to drop the advertising mindset whenever the word “media” is used.

“Social media” is a very convenient industry shorthand but it can lead to anti-social behaviours.

  • Social = something that you don’t pay for (that at least is the big attraction for most “advertisers”).
  • Social = not just accepting loss of control, but planning for and embracing it.
  • Social = dropping the “on-message” mindset.
  • Social = two way, one-to-one, many-to-many and personal.
  • Social = continual, rapid, real time interactions with very short, if not non-existent, lead times.

So, in just about every way imaginable, “social” is the antithesis of “media”.

“Social Media” is an insidiously convenient oxymoron.

And the drowning kittens reference was just intended to get people to think a little each time the insidiously convenient phrase left their lips.

What I hadn’t really thought through is that I was on just before lunch at a “social media” (meow) conference.

Meaning that the speakers after me mostly had to apologise in advance of their talks for the havoc they were about to wreak on the world kitten population. Even then they were met with frequent audience sniggers at every mention.

I’m sorry.

But it works.

It works in the same way that asking yourself whether it would be acceptable to play with a Rubik Cube in the same situation whenever you check your mobile device in company makes you think twice about doing so.

Every time you see a tweet that mentions “social media”, retweet it with a #drownedkitten hashtag.

(Liking myself slightly less for including “kittens” as one of the tags for this post.)

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Trying to be something you’re not is too much like hard work.

It’s usually stressful and almost always unsustainable.

Even if it is with the best intentions.

Just ask Bart Simpson, who radically alters his behaviour to impress a virtuous girl called Jenny (voiced by Anne Hathaway no less) in the episode called The Good, The Sad and The Drugly.

Image borrowed from http://www.tv.com

All’s well to start with as his goody-two-shoes behaviour impresses not just Jenny but his mother Marge too.

Oh Bart. I don’t care that this is just an act. You’ve finally become the boy every mother dreams of. A girl.

But the relationship is obviously doomed to failure and ends in bitter recrimination.

Jenny : Are you saying our entire relationship is based on lies?

Bart : Not our entire relationship. Just the stuff I said.

If rule number one for success in social spaces is to be the best you can be

(Or, as John Willshire puts it, excelling at your “verb” – great post by the way. Read it).

… then rule number two surely has to be “be yourself.”

There are plenty of examples of brands that have made ill-fated and short-lived advertising attempts to be something that they’re not. The brand equivalent of being the forty year old at the disco.

(Aside : Like policeman and teachers, the people who are too old to be at the disco are getting younger and younger).

But increasingly it (brands trying to be something they’re not) will happen in social spaces too.

And it won’t necessarily be about brands screwing up by trying to be down with the kids in the tone of their Facebook status updates.

It will be more fundamental than that.

The bigger, more fundamental problem will not be about how social networks are used. It will be that the organisation, the culture behind the brand just isn’t set up to be social.

The back end of your presence in social spaces is at least as important as the fan-facing front end.

Does your CEO really get it or is (s)he liable to pull the plug at the first sign of negative comment?

Who does the community manager speak to (in real time) to get a (real time) legal view on a (real time) issue raised by an (influential) person?

Who do they talk to in Customer Service to get a human response in similar (real time) circumstances?

And is the community manager empowered to over-rule and prevent a potentially disasterous, obviously uncaring, platitudinous response from making matters worse?

Fan : Are you saying that our entire relationship is based on false pretence?

Brand : Not our entire relationship. Just the rest of the iceberg below the tip.

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