Archive for July, 2011

A nostalgic post, it being a year since I flew to Kiev to join my Mongol Rally team-mates for the adventure of a lifetime.

Indulge me.

A year ago today (Jul 29). Spotless ambulance in Ukraine.

Morning after the night before. Southern Russia. Having talked our way our of a speeding fine a couple of hours earlier, we run out of fuel and have to hitchhike and haggle a Dollar/Rouble exchange rate in a Soviet housing estate to get more.

Kazakhstan. First of several suspension "problems". Helped by some Muscovite truckers who share Russian Cornettos with us in the searing desert heat. Surreal.

What passes for a road in Turkmenistan. 22 hours to cover 200km.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The morning after I was propositioned by a Ukrainian hooker in a hotel Karaoke bar.

The ancient city of Merv, en route to the Uzbekistan border.

On the Silk Road. Samarqand, Uzbekistan.

Tajikistan. On the road to Dushanbe.

Afghanistan seen from the Tajikistan side of the Panj River.

Over 4,600m above sea level on the majestic Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. It was actually cold for a few days. But a welcome variation on the theme of 45 degree desert heat.

The rains that caused the terrible flooding in Pakistan also washed out road and bridges in Tajikistan. We wouldn't have made it if we hadn't been in convoy by this stage. We also stopped to help dig, push and tow out some locals. A task made more difficult by the goat and the huge drum of fuel in the back.

The landlord and landlady of our guest house in Sari Tash, Kyrgyzstan.

More suspension issues. Front shock absorber blown by a pothole outside the arrmy town of Ayagoz in the heart of what used to be Soviet nuclear testing territory in North Eastern Kazakhstan.

Beautiful "alpine" scenery near the Russian border with Mongolia.

Mongol Rally teams stage a "friendly" blockade of the Russian border with Mongolia in protest at how slow the Russians had been in processing vehicles. Tempers ran high that evening, but things were much quicker the following day. Still, at 36 hours in total, it was the longest border crossing of them all.

The day Kelsey and Chala's cop car died in Mongolia. We allowed ourselves to think we'd made it when we crossed into Mongolia but we still had 1,000 miles to go and the northern Gobi Desert wreaked havoc on tired vehicles. Somehow the ambulance limped on.


Made it! Men with beards (aka The Ambeciles) at the finish line in Ulaan Baatar. This was taken before it all got very messy.

Great memories. Great friends. Great event.

If you ever get the chance, jump at it.


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Comedy depends on you sharing a set of reference points with your audience and if those are very divergent then they just won’t simply get your jokes.

Helena Lewis Hasteley, Assistant Editor, New Statesman on the Radio 4 Today programme, Thursday 21st July 2011.

Paul Stokes from The Daily Mash sent me a link to the above Today programme conversation about whether satire can cross the Atlantic, mainly because the Mash gets a favourable mention.

But the above comment struck a chord with me in light of several conversations with clients recently.

Everyone has had a good, long quaff of the word-of-mouth, earned-media, social buzz Kool-Aid.

And everyone is still acting like their brand and their content has a divine right to “go viral”. It doesn’t.

However, your brand and your content has a much greater chance of being talked about, of earning that earned media, if the person doing the talking or the sharing is confident that the people doing the listening or the receiving will get what they’re on about.

The effort required to lovingly craft this geeky in-joke for instance is only worth it if the creator is confident that it will indeed be an “in” joke.

As it turns out there were indeed enough shared reference points for this image to do the rounds amongst the early adopter Google+ crowd.

And it’s why television and social channels work so well together. The broadcast exposure afforded to an idea by TV advertising pretty much guarantees that it will tick the “will people know what I’m talking about?” box in the eyes of anyone deciding whether to share your content or a picture of a cat.

A true viral effect is akin to the nuclear chain reaction that creates the awesome power of an atom bomb.

And your average atom bomb is triggered by a fair amount of TNT forcing the fissile materials together to generate critical mass.

TV advertising is your TNT.

Whether your idea has viral, fissile power of Plutonium is another matter entirely. (Most don’t have that power).

This one by Nike did.

And, as luck would have it, the Nike client nicks my TNT analogy.

The TV will get you that moment. That’s that dynamite. But what Facebook enables is you to translate that into connection.

Jesse Stollack, Global Digital Director Brand & Innovation, Nike


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11.30 pm Heading to bed. Light on under the door to eldest daughter’s bedroom.


11.31 pm WiFi modem on. Flickering LED light indicates that bandwidth is being used. Coincidence?


11.32 pm WiFi modem switched off.


11.33 pm Light under bedroom door goes out. Assume that iPod Touch, rendered useless for the purpose of communicating with other 14 year olds by the lack of WiFi, has also been switched off. “Busted” as they say.


11.34 pm Proceed to bed. No words exchanged.

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A couple of summers ago I got chatting to a guy in the queue to pick up a hire car at Palma airport.

Turned out he was an independent cheesemaker from Devon. We nattered for a while in the air-conditioned office whilst our respective families melted in the Majorcan heat outside.

Then I watched, aghast, as his hard-earned holiday imploded.

His phone rang.

He stood to one side to take the call.

He was clearly agitated.

It turns out that he had just effectively been summoned back to the UK for a make or break meeting with Tesco. Fly back or lose your listing was the gist of the call. And, no, it can’t wait until after your holiday.


Every Little Helps and all that but I find Tesco increasingly hard to like.

Then you see a tweet like this.

On the one hand there’s nothing wrong with playing commercial hardball.

Tesco would probably argue that this wouldn’t be happening if the Premier Foods brands in question were strong enough to command a higher price.

But I’m at the point with Tesco where I question their motives. I don’t think they care about the right things. Or they don’t care enough.

I get the impression that Morrisons is doing rather well just now. We don’t have one near us. But I’d flock to it if we did. My anyone but Man Utd attitude to football has now transferred to Tesco.

And I’m heading that way with Facebook.

I question its motives in the same way that I do with Tesco.

It is very good at what it does and it is immensely powerful. So maybe it doesn’t have to worry about people questioning its motives.

At least not until a viable alternative comes along. Will people then flock to that?

Google+ is trying to find out right now.

I haven’t had a play yet. But I have read a mixed bag of tweeted remarks and blogged punditry. Most recently this thoughtful piece on, of all places, the All Facebook blog.

Some of the Google+ tweets have been very funny in a snarky way. But I’ve resisted the temptation to retweet any of them for cheap laughs. Partly because, until I get an invite, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But mostly because I really want Google+ to be a viable alternative to Facebook and I don’t want to contribute in even the tiniest way to strangling it at birth.

Snarky, funny tweet. But I stayed strong and didn't RT.

Tesco and Facebook are both very big and very useful.

But they’re both increasingly hard to like.

Is it inevitable that brands of this scale have their motives questioned?

Is it inevitable that brands of this scale create vacuums for viable alternatives?

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