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Disclosure : I used to work on the Coors Light account. So, whilst I’ve tried, I can’t promise that this post is entirely objective.

I find myself liking, in a bordering on admiring kind of way, the new Coors Light ad with the frozen-panted Jean Claude Van Damme.

The writing, the performance and the message are as tight as JCVD’s pants.

The humour is understated and knowing.

There’s no getting away from it. It’s good.

At the time of writing it has had a decent 255,736 views on YouTube and the comments are mostly positive.

It’s good.

The YouTube video includes a pop-up link to the Coors Light UK – Closest To Cold Facebook page.

This has a somewhat less decent 1,679 likes at the time of writing.

Only 1,679 likes in spite of the incentives to Like of more JCVD content (how could you resist?) and the chance to win 2011 festival tickets.

And thereby hangs the tale.

The new ad is good, bordering on very good.

But I don’t believe that the UK has ever got its head round light beer in general and Coors Light in particular.

And I’m not sure that, outside of small pockets of male evangelists and small pockets of females, it ever will.

There is a huge disconnect between advertising that is easy to like or admire and a brand that struggles to be relevant.

And the trouble is that it’s hard to pinpoint what could be done better.

The association between a light beer that comes from Colorado with ice cold refreshment is intuitively credible.

They’ve somehow managed to get away with the line “The World’s Most Refreshing Beer”. Hats off again.

And the new ad is good.

If it were me, which it isn’t, I’d be seriously considering a radical shake-up of the brand’s targeting.

Coors Light is inherently female-friendly and it is a massive brand for women in Ireland.

But that approach brings its own challenges. How to market a beer to women when women recoil from beer marketing that is overtly targeted at them?

Not my problem any more, but I wish any client that bought the latest ad the best of luck.

(Views on this blog are my own and not those of my employer etc. etc.)

(Enjoyed tagging this post with “tight pants”.)

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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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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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One is reminded of the Derek and Clive “This Bloke Came Up To Me” sketch, which we join half way through.

Clive : I was watching a game against Arsenal, and this bloke came up to me and said “Hello”.

Derek : Oh no…

Clive : And I thought, “Christ!”

Derek : Yeah.

Clive : You know, this bloke comes up to me, says, “Hello”.

Derek : Provocative fucker.

Clive : Fucking provocative.

Derek : Mmmm.

Clive : I said what do you mean, “Hello”?

There is much we can learn from this sketch.

Firstly that swearing IS big, funny and clever.

Secondly that it IS possible for other people to find you funny when you’re plastered and they’re stone cold sober.

But most importantly that people get wound up by the tiniest things.

Tiny things like the suggestion that social media aren’t necessarily the answer to life, the universe and everything.

In a there’s-a-clue-in-the-name kinda way The Ad Contrarian sets his stall out to be a provocative fucker.

The alleged massive failure in question was the Pepsi Refresh project.

This was the much vaunted (in social media circles) move by Pepsi to shift their entire Superbowl ad spend ($20 million) into a charitable social initiative.

A move which apparently “hasn’t worked.”

Talk about red rag to a bull.

I suspect that Ad Contrarian was quietly hoping that the social set would get its knickers in a twist when he wrote the Social Media’s Massive Failure post.

And the social set duly obliged.

Social media evangelist 1 : This blogger comes up to me, says, “social media’s massive failure”.

Social media evangelist 2 : Provocative fucker.

Social media evangelist 1 : Fucking provocative.

69 comments and counting at the time of writing.

Ad Contrarian is clearly a fucking effective provocative fire starter. Yeah.

And he carries a jerry can full of petrol with him just in case.

And petrol was duly poured several times in the immediate aftermath of his initial, firestarting post.

Finally, The True Value Of A Facebook Fan

The Pepsi Follies

Social Media Hysterics (ouch)

Anyway, somewhat belatedly, here’s my tuppence-worth on what has turned into an unhelpful, black and white, Social Media versus Advertising slanging match.

Firstly, not all ads, not all social media initiatives, not all advertising people, not all social media evangelists are created equal. As with just about every field of human endeavour a normal distribution of quality/ability applies.

The point being that a sample of one social media campaign is not proof of anything. What if Pepsi Refresh is a below average quality idea? What if it was below average in terms of how well it was executed? (And there seems to be some evidence to suggest that the execution was lacking in some respects.) What conclusions can we reasonably draw about social media as a whole from a single, possibly (probably?) non-exemplar campaign?

I have no idea how “good”, whatever “good” means, the Pepsi Refresh campaign is. It doesn’t matter. You can’t draw sweeping general conclusions from one specific case study.

And Ad Contrarian knows that.

But he hasn’t let that knowledge get in the way of a little fucking provocation and a lot of page views on his blog.

Secondly there’s the whole idea of a social media “campaign”.

The idea of replacing an ad campaign with a social media campaign.

Switching one kind of campaign for another.

Campaign is a useful concept for advertising. Advertising is an event based approach to communicating.

But I believe campaign to be a dangerous concept for all things social. Done properly social is a continuous approach to communicating.

A campaign (advertising) mentality begs the question “How can we use social media?”

A continuous mentality begs the better question “How can we best be social?”

Planning social campaigns as such feels like a very advertising thing to do. And, if Pepsi Refresh is a failure, I suspect that the underlying, campaign-for-campaign attitude is as much at fault as anything else.

There are plenty of brands that are doing very well by taking a long term approach to being social, rather than a campaign approach to using social media. Again the Pepsi Refresh example is no guide to future success or failure in this respect.

Finally the whole advertising versus social (either/or) debate is clearly nonsense. To the point of not being worth dignifying with further comment. Provocative, fucking provocative even, but not useful.

As another provocative fucker recently said…

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I predict that this ad will eventually be deemed an experiment that didn’t work.

Whilst it’s always tempting to push the creative envelope, and to explore new and original executions of a long running campaign, there are some things that are best left alone.

Incredibly powerful brand properties being one of those things.

You don’t frig with the Andrex Puppy. Metaphorically speaking.

No-one in this business likes the idea of advertising as wallpaper. But, when it’s done well and when it’s done for the right reasons, wallpaper advertising can be extremely effective.

I bet no-one involved with this CGI, “Nintendogs” bastardisation of one of the greatest wallpaper campaigns of all time is old enough to remember this from Asda Chief Executive Allan Leighton back in 1998.

The most important thing about advertising is that it is consistent and supports the brand. That’s why I’m a bit of a cynic about an advertising world that gets so wrapped up in producing creative advertising rather than asking whether the ad underpins the values of the product. Ours is wallpaper and I love it!

Here’s the full interview with Mr Leighton.

“Asda Price” and the Andrex Puppy. Two examples of effective wallpaper advertising at its best.

Allan Leighton wouldn’t frig with his slogan, and you can bet that he wouldn’t frig with no puppy either. Metaphorically speaking.

If you ask me whether this animated ad “underpins the values of the product”, the answer is a resounding no. Andrex advertising should make you feel warm towards the brand. This one leaves me stone cold.

As is my wont when writing about advertising these days, I’ve also had a look at what Andrex is up to in digital spaces.

Not only has the Andrex puppy gone all games platform on us, he (she?) has also gone all Twitter and Facebook on us too.

Oh yes he/she/it has.

It is the ultimate misguided cliché that Twitter is all about people posting what they had for breakfast. But here we have a person pretending to be a dog and tweeting about what it had for breakfast. Who cares if you’re still enjoying – sorry, pretending to enjoy – the bag of doggy biscuits you were given yesterday?

Well, at the time of writing, 1,546 people care enough about this kind of inane, canine banality to have followed @AndrexPuppy.

And, bugger me, the same puppy has 212,831 fans on Facebook.

I’m generally enthusiastic and supportive when brands do interesting things in social spaces.

But someone is going to have to explain to me why this isn’t really sad and pointless. The Facebook wall is home to apparently serious conversations between grown men and women and a pretend advertising dog. I jacked my built-in tongue-in-cheek meter up to maximum sensitivity but I detect no irony in any of the conversations.

The puppy talks about its morning in the park and, exhibiting best community management practice, ends its post with a question. “Can you run fast?” Forty people reply, 39 of them in earnest. The fact that there is only one dissenting voice of reason in the thread makes me wonder whether Andrex hasn’t hired Derren Brown to manage its social presence and remotely hypnotise otherwise rational people into posting gooey nonsense.

The (lone) voice of reason.

I’m going to cut Andrex a deal.

Given that pet owners are a notoriously different breed (pun intended), with irrational gooey tendencies,  I’ll keep an open mind on its social efforts. For now.

But I’d be very surprised if the Nintendogs approach to its TV advertising survives its first tracking study debrief.

(Disclosure : I am a devoted three-time dog owner. I love my dog’s company. I love play-fighting with him. And he gets me out of the house. But I will never talk to a pretend dog on Facebook.)

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One could be excused one’s WTF? reaction to a Betfair Poker tweet taken in isolation.

And Richard Bloch, International PR Manager at Betfair, has had to handle a few awkward, WTF? conversations with senior colleagues since the brand embarked on its zany Twitter adventure.

That at least one of these awkward conversations was with his CEO, and that the zany adventure continued thereafter, speaks volumes about a corporate culture that allows someone like Richard to experiment with an “off the wall project that I’ve been allowed to run with.”

It was the unusually off the wall tone for a branded/corporate Twitter account that piqued my interest in @Betfairpoker. (My interest, and that of several hundred other media/digital/advertising/social media junkie/groupies). And I was lucky enough to know someone who knows Richard and thus give that piqued interest an outlet.

Richard very kindly gave of his time for a telephone interview in which he gave me chapter and verse, the straight dope, on the method behind the apparent madness.

This, by the way, is the method (and the madness) that made @Betfairpoker the UK’s second most Follow Friday recommended Twitter profile the week before Richard and I spoke. Rio Ferdinand was number one, and there wasn’t another corporate or branded profile in the top fifty.

The Madness In Front Of The Method

It was only when Betfair decided to get serious about Twitter that they decided to get daft with @Betfairpoker.

They observed that the the most followed and the most highly engaged Twitter profiles were personality led. So their role models were people like MC Hammer and brands like Compare The Market (Aleksandr Orlov).

They also observed that writing for personality in 140 character bursts (and doing it well) is a skill, a skill that they didn’t feel they had in house. So, in much the same way that they bring in outsourced expertise to provide betting opinion, insight and analysis on their betting.betfair.com website, they took the decision to use outsourced expertise to create their Twitter persona.

So they have retained four “expert” Twitter writers – a combination of authors and comedians, all of whom have significant Twitter followings in their own right.

One of the interesting aspects of this project is that none of these people was previously monetising their Twitter activities. Betfair has given them a opportunity to do so. Richard gave me a ballpark figure for what each of these writers is being paid but I don’t think it’s fair to reveal that here. Suffice to say that, given the buzz being generated at the moment, this is a cost-effective profile building exercise.

Betfair has refused to reveal the identities of its writing team, but occasionally teases its followers with statements like not being able to confirm or deny that Audley Harrison is behind the tweets.

The result of all this is beautifully bonkers.

The @Betfairpoker Twitter stream is a barmy cocktail of cod-motivational philosophy, and what appear to be the random tweetings of a rogue Betfair employee. Richard chuckles at the idea of a zany character who has taken over the Twitter account, dishing the office dirt. Indeed in the early days of the new approach there were some at Betfair who genuinely believed the account had been hacked.

Such early disbelief/disdain has mostly (the odd CEO excepted) given way to a warm embrace. These days Richard is the regular recipient of email suggestions for tweet content. The Twitter profile is proving to be not just a pretty social media face. It is also a catalyst for internal communication, an effect which is amplified by the fact that all the alleged (twalleged) shenanigans of daily life at Betfair – as fabricated by @Betfairpoker – do actually feature real Betfair characters. There is a queue of people waiting to be lampooned.

The Method Behind The Madness

@Betfairpoker is but one of a wide portfolio of Betfair Twitter profiles.

As well as @Betfairpoker this includes @BetfairNews and @BetfairFootball, plus over 40 country-specific Twitter  profiles.

Richard talks about some things that were done well in the early days, such as the brand protection exercise that registered all these profiles before Betfair had given any thought to what it was actually going to do with them.

(Unfortunately, despite these early moves, they still missed out on the @Betfair profile which is currently being squatted by some geezer called Martin.)

He also talks about the mistakes and the lessons learned when various Betfair toes were being dipped in the Twitter water – doing too little with not enough resource and with little internal encouragement attaching to a channel that wasn’t generating any revenue.

“You have to have an opinion and talk like a real person. Ask questions. There’s no point just posting. You have to comment and engage with people, particularly influential people in your sphere.”

@Betfairpoker had between 2,000 and 3,000 followers when the decision was taken to step things up and adopt the current personality led approach. This decision was based on a confident, positive assessment of Twitter as a channel frequented by poker enthusiasts and professionals.

“Poker players travel the world. They have mascots. They spend lots of time with headphones plugged into iPhones and Blackberries. They’re tech-ed up. We knew it [Twitter] was a good market. The pros are on it all the time.”

In addition Betfair ran various quizzes through @Betfairpoker last summer, when it had around 4,000 followers, and the insight gleaned from this exercise confirmed that there was a real poker following – not necessarily high-stakes players but a significant number of beginners and enthusiasts. And a softly softly, high personality approach to engaging with these people on Twitter was felt to be the best approach to building relationships, at the same time as affording the best way to boost the brand’s profile.

Now I have to say that it was my impression that the personality-powered @Betfairpoker was an overnight success.

Within the space of a few days its tweets were peppering my Tweetdeck columns as several friends retweeted its random and rousing posts.

But the truth, as is often the case with Twitter, is that this apparently sudden arrival on the scene was actually the result of a serendipitous event, or rather several related serendipitous events in quick succession.

And, in fact, these serendipitous events happened several months after the team of writers behind @Betfairpoker began doing their thing.

The profile became a talking point in the diary pages of The Independent.

And it was compared to @shitmydadsays on Techcrunch.

And the rest, according to the Twittercounter chart below, is history.

And there’s a similar pattern relating to Follow Friday mentions.

This palpable buzz around the account has raised interest levels even further within “Betfair Towers“, and has hopefully reduced the number of awkward conversations.

Meanwhile, Richard and his team are planning the next phases of their Twitter strategy.

They are slowly but surely introducing more poker and betting content into the Twitter stream…

… but in their own inimitable style.

One of the writers is posting introductory poker tips aimed at the beginner audience that makes up the lion’s share of the Twitter audience, linking to the betting.betfair website. Again in the style of.

And, in the not too distant future, there are plans to buy one of the writers into a major poker tournament. Cue random live tweeting and poker face twitpics.

The moral of this story

It’s one thing to talk about the potential of social media for marketing communication and brand engagement.

It’s another thing entirely to be prepared, both personally and corporately, to take the calculated risks necessary to realise that potential.

And @Betfairpoker is a calculated risk that appears to be paying off.

How apt is that for a poker brand?

And long may it continue.

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I saw Bruce Springsteen play Wembley Stadium (the old one) in nineteen eighty something.

(In fact it was July 1985 and I think I’ve found – and borrowed – an image from that very concert.)

I was there.

And I saw The Rolling Stones play Wembley Stadium in nineteen ninety something.

Two big brands. Same platform. Both with access to an engaged community of 70 odd thousand fans. Two very different approaches. And two very different outcomes.

The Rolling Stones acted like a typical advertiser.

The production values were high. The content was slick and well rehearsed. And they “broadcast” said content to a captive audience that was kept at arm’s length.

It wasn’t a concert to write home about. It certainly wasn’t a concert that I talked excitedly about on the Monday morning. And I’ve never talked about it since in any “best gigs I’ve ever been to” conversation.

Engaged community + advertising mindset = zero word of mouth

The Springsteen experience couldn’t have been more different. He played for over three hours, during which time he made this stadium concert feel like a sweaty club gig.

He didn’t just go through the motions in terms of engaging with the audience. For the last hour or so he and the E-Street band were taking requests from the crowd. And not just for his stuff. They played Elvis Presley and pretty much anything else that we chucked at them.

We weren’t watching a broadcast. We were participating. We personalised the gig through the unique set of requests that we asked him to play for us.

And I’ve talked about this gig ever since.

(On and off).

Engaged community + participation + personalisation = 25 years of word of mouth

Here endeth the lesson.

Bruce Springsteen.

Boss.

And community manager extraordinaire.

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