Got Schwag?

For about a year now Since the start of last year (time flies!) I’ve subscribed to Startup Threads Monthly. Every month a tshirt, some stickers and a discount offer from some hot new startup arrives in my mailbox, and a small fee appears on my credit card statement among the endless array of taxis, bar tabs and mobile phone charges.

Startup Threads

It’s been a while, and my initial motives for subscribing are no longer clear (probably some misguided, hipsterish desire to rock the startups nobody’s yet heard of – bogus and sad, I know). I know why I haven’t cancelled though, and for the same reasons I’d urge all of you to do one thing right now:

Sign up to a subscription service. Startup tshirts, underwear, razor blades, chocolate – whatever floats your boat.

Why? For me there are two reasons. First, there’s the absence of choice. Too many brands are labouring under the misapprehension that consumers want choice. Sure we do, generally speaking, but choice also creates problems we have to solve, and this will often cause us to simply not choose instead. I have to make a bajillion decisions every day at work, many of these having considerable consequences. You think I want to labour over more decisions in my free time? Hell no. Check out any busy working man’s sock and shirt drawer some time and you’ll see I’m not alone – all those threadbare shirts and odd socks are testament to the fact that choice can be an inhibitor to action.

By subscribing to Startup Threads I get a new shirt every month. Some are awesome (better than anything I could have found through hours of shopping), some are pretty cool, and a few I really dislike – but that’s ok with me because the juice is worth the squeeze. To me the cost of a dud once in a while is way less than the benefit of getting a new shirt every month, mostly cool, without having to think about it.

The second reason I love subscription services is possibly a little childish but still valid. I love surprises, and it’s nice to get one every now and then even if I did pay for it myself. Nothing beats arriving home after a long hard day and seeing a mystery package on the table. Joy! Sure I know it’s going to be a shirt, but what’s the design, who’s the startup, will the colour be awesome or… *not awesome*? It’s like having your own little Christmas morning each month, but without the ham (dammit – hey Frank, any chance you could throw in some ham?).

I’ll admit that when some of these product subscription services started to emerge I was more than a little skeptical. Why would someone pay top dollar for something they don’t even get to choose? If you only consider the simple exchange of money for product then yes, it all seems a little nonsensical. But once you factor in the cost of choosing vs the value of not having to choose, and the value of finding a surprise in the mailbox each month, the balance tips entirely the other way. Behavioural economics is some interesting shit, huh?

Go on. Treat yourself.

Beware of the Dogma

Beware of the dogma: reflections on snake oil, cargo cults and social media douchebags

Henry Rollins - patron saint of rantersFor a few weeks now, we’ve been running regular Pecha Kucha sessions at my office. The object of the exercise is to encourage knowledge sharing within the studio, so the range of topics covered has been pretty broad – secret passions, favourite authors, artistic achievements, all condensed to 20 slides and 20 seconds a slide.

When my turn came up last week I thought it would be a great opportunity to better articulate a rant that’s been boiling away in my head for months. I found Pecha Kucha’s time and slide limits force you to to cut through the piffle and get to the heart of a concise, structured argument. If you take nothing else from this post, if you ever find yourself struggling to express an idea clearly and succinctly, try putting a Pecha Kucha together. You’ll be amazed.

Anyhoo, the following is an approximation of where I got to with my thinking as a result of putting this presentation together. Bound to piss a few people off (I hope), but hopefully a greater number will understand were I’m coming from and maybe even agree with me. Feedback welcome via the usual channels…

Snake oilFor some time now I’ve had this sense of something quite rotten in the heart of the online marketing space, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

For the most part it stems from a sense of disgust I feel with the proliferation of snake oil salesmen I encounter on a regular basis, professionally, as an agency strategist liaising with clients’ suppliers and prospective suppliers, and personally, as an active user of marketing and technology media. To be fair, many of these people don’t realise that they’re snake oil salesmen, but that’s no excuse and I’ll get to that later.

The fact of the matter is, there’s a prevailing cargo cult mentality in online marketing circles, and an abundance of self-appointed gurus / experts / consultants (I prefer to call them douchebags) are perpetuating it for personal gain and to the detriment of their clients.

Was ist das ‘cargo cult mentality’? Good question. Let’s start with a little history…

Destination TokyoCargo cults have been observed since the late 19th century, in the wake of tribal cultures’ interaction with more technologically advanced civilizations. There was a significant increase in cargo cults during the second world war, as a result of Japanese and western military forces sending masses of manpower and machinery into the Pacific.

For the first time, remote island peoples had access to processed food, clothing, tools, equipment and machinery, weapons… and they liked it. They came to see this precious ‘cargo’ as their divine right – gifts from the gods that had been wrongly appropriated by the American forces and that would one day be theirs (for some reason everything the Japanese did seemed to make sense, so there were no Japanese-oriented cargo cults reported).

Cargo cult runwayFollowing the end of the war, the Americans went home and the regular deliveries of ‘cargo’ ceased. In order to attract further deliveries, cult followers participated in rituals mimicking the behaviour of the American forces.

They built wooden planes, hangars, antennae and control towers; they constructed runways lined with burning pyres; and they dressed in home-made uniforms and took part in parade-ground exercises sporting bamboo ‘rifles’.

Cargo cult planeThrough these rituals, cargo cult followers were seen to be making the logical error of mistaking a necessary condition for acquiring the ‘cargo’, for a sufficient one, thereby reversing the causation. For example, ‘looking like a plane’ is a necessary condition for building a plane, but it isn’t a sufficient one – the thing you build has to actually be a plane.

Cargo cult ritualOn another level, having planes, hangars, a runway, control tower and masses of uniformed soldiers may be a necessary condition for cargo to rain down from the sky, but it sure isn’t a sufficient one – the sufficient one is being an American military installation with a delivery scheduled to take place.

The term ‘cargo cult’ has since become an idiom for any group of people seen to be imitating the superficial exterior of a process without really understanding how it works.

We see this same kind of logical error all the time in the online marketing space, and the same kind of disappointed, disillusioned believers.

SEO cargo cult For example, much in the world of search engine optimisation is focussed on gaming Google with technical hygiene, keyword selection, link farming and Page Rank funneling. These may be necessary conditions for acquiring Google juice (a.k.a. ‘cargo’), but they are not sufficient ones.

The sufficient condition is to have have high-quality, unique content and actually be the site people are looking for. This is the stuff that generates inbound links, Page Rank and quality scores, which in turn lead to high SERP rankings and masses of qualified visitors coming to your site.

In the decade I have worked in this industry, not once have I heard of an SEO consultant advising a client to improve their site content – to actually develop and implement a content strategy – before commencing a traffic generation program. Going through the motions with paid search, technical optimisation and black-hat content pages is the usual prescription, as this makes sense to the naive observer (the client) and generates revenue for the SEO company.

Social media douchebagsA plague of social media douchebags has been visited upon brand owners in recent years, and it isn’t pretty. All over the world, people with nothing to say and nobody to say it to are creating Twitter accounts and Facebook pages in the misguided belief that if other brands are successfully using these platforms to engage with consumers, then they can too.

What these brand owners fail to realise (and what social media douchebags fail to tell them) is that ‘being on Facebook and Twitter’ may be necessary conditions for implementing a successful social media strategy, but the sufficient ones include having the inclination, capacity, resourcing and relevant subject matter to engage in meaningful conversations with consumers, relating to them on a human level about things that interest them. If they don’t actually get this, all brands are doing is broadcasting via additional channels, and that ain’t social.

Analytics cargo cultSadly, we also see a similar dynamic in the well-intentioned, less-douchebaggy field of analytics.

Investing time and money implementing best-of-breed measurement tools may be a necessary condition of having an effective analytics program, but the sufficient ones include having the ability to turn observation into insight, and the inclination and resourcing to turn that insight into action (i.e. to identify opportunities for improvement and actually do something with that information).

If I had a dollar for every site owner out there who has installed Google Analytics and looks at the numbers but does nothing with that information, I’d be writing this post from my yacht in the Seychelles. *sigh*

Follow the gourd, the holy gourd of Jerusalem!There is no shortage of examples, and there are new ‘cults’ sprouting up all the time. It seems every other week some new prophet arrives on the scene, spruiking a new and better path to the promised land…

‘Content is king’. This one has been around for a while, and there’s a lot to be said for the principles it suggests. But it’s also a hell of an oversimplification, don’t you think?

Content isn't king. Apparently.Later on, we started to read about how, thanks to social media, connections were now king. The glib analogy supporting this statement is that if someone was being sent to a desert island and chose to take their DVD collection with them instead of their friends, then that person would be a sociopath.

Personally, I’d rather sociopaths went off to their desert islands unaccompanied, and I’m sure their friends would prefer that too – yet I digress… Content isn’t king anymore, connections are. Got it.

Curation is king. Apparently.And then last week, just to round out the silliness, I read an article heralding curation’s coronation. Content? Connections? Screw ’em! Curation is king! Long live the king!

Aw, crap! So which one is it then? Who should I listen to? Content, connections, curation – which is the one true faith?

It all gets pretty confusing and frustrating, and you can see why some people find it easier just to pick an ideology, lock it in and go for it. But these dogmatic oversimplifications lead to a world of trouble.

Stop. Hammer time!Consider the truism that if your only tool is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. People who blindly adhere to popular dogma rather than thinking for themselves are pre-disposed to a given solution for all kinds of problems, whether they realise it or not.

Just as religious people pray for everything from bountiful crops to large pectoral muscles, an SEO consultant will always see your problem as search-related, and a social media douchebag will always see your problem as you having too much money and not enough Twitter followers.

This problem is by no means restricted to the realm on online marketing. The great W Edwards Deming, regarded by many as the father of Total Quality Management, was a staunch critic of the quality movement because it stops people from thinking, reducing a powerful catalyst for organisational transformation (organisational learning) to its physical and procedural manifestations (a set of control charts).

To cut a long story short, the problem with populist dogma – no matter how reasonable it sounds – is that it prevents us from thinking. And not thinking is bad.

So what are these, the all-important underlying principles and processes we should seek to understand, rather than adhering to dogma and imitating others who seem to be doing ok? Are you kidding me? The single most important point I’m trying to make here is that you really ought to figure that out for yourself. But I’m not a complete bastard, so here are some thoughts to get you started…

For my own part, I’ve spent a lot of time getting my head around The Cluetrain Manifesto, and Social Object Theory. While I can’t claim to have picked up a bunch of nifty new skills or tools as a result, I definitely feel like I understand the world I live and work in much better now, and am better prepared to handle a whole bunch of different challenges as a result. I’d seriously recommend exploring both in detail, but here’s my take on both…

The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took deliveryCluetrain: People aren’t the suckers they used to be. Rather than a sucker being born every minute, these days a sucker wises up every minute (or, to lessen the hyperbole, ‘there’s a sucker born every 10 minutes’).

Not only do people have access to more information, but they proactively seek it from and share it with others. This collective ‘wising up’ has shifted the power balance between brands and consumers. Put simply, people can smell bullshit. They know the difference between corporate spiel and human speech, and can tell when they’re being lied to.

The consequences of getting caught out in a lie can be dire. Thanks to the Internet, if PT Barnum went on tour with his travelling freakshow in 2010, he would be tarred and feathered before he left the first town. Some brands see this as a threat, but this is only a short-term problem because they will soon die out, replaced by those who don’t need to trick people into buying their products.

Magic salad plate = social objectSocial Object Theory: Conversations (in the broadest sense of the word) always have a subject. This ‘substance’ of conversation – the reason two people are talking to each other as opposed to talking to somebody else – we call social objects.

Social objects are interesting for a whole lot of reasons. For a start, social networks form around social objects, so we can understand things about groups of people by looking at the social objects that bring them together.

Perhaps more interesting for brands is the idea that social objects can be deployed. This is what marketers erroneously refer to when they speak of wanting to ‘create a viral’ (as if it’s a matter so simple as pressing the ‘viral’ button and away you go). What they really mean is they’re looking to create something that resonates with people they’re wanting to engage with, and that stimulates conversation within that group – i.e. they want to deploy a social object.

Without wanting to offer another populist ideology of the kind I’ve been pissing on for the past dozen paragraphs or so, my musings on social objects have led me to a few observations that are probably worth sharing…

Irrelevant or inauthentic? You choose.First, if you’re hoping to start or stimulate conversation, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you have in mind is a social object. Of course there’s a lot of guesswork, trial and error as far as specific subject matter goes, but you can save yourself a lot of heartache by considering where your object sits in relation to your brand attributes, and the interests of the person or group you’re hoping to engage.

Are you occupying that magical space where whatever it is that you have to say is both an authentic reflection of your brand attributes and within your target audience’s realm of interest? If your message / social object is true to your brand but doesn’t reflect the interests of your audience, then it’s irrelevant and likely to be ignored. If you’re hitting audience interests but there’s no real connection with your brand, then it’s inauthentic. Picture a bespectacled, middle-aged accountant in a 3-piece suit hitting on a 19 year-old surfer girl with tales of his love for big wave riding – bogus, sad and doomed to failure. Your odds of success are only non-zero when you tick both the authentic and the relevant boxes.

Don't you DARE share my content!Second, and this isn’t exactly rocket science here people, if you want people to take your message / object and run with it, then you probably shouldn’t chain it to your porch.

I see this all the time, and it does my head in – brands who are so protective of ‘their’ material that everything has to be hosted on their own sites and steps taken to prevent it from being downloaded, put on YouTube and shared throughout the blogosphere. Are they high on crack? Make. Your. Social objects. Portable.

Third, and most importantly, know your verbs. I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘engagement’ is a bullshit, agency non-word used by idiots to make themselves sound smart. What actions are you expecting people to take when they come into contact with your message / object? If you don’t know, you had better figure it out and fast.

Why? For a start, it could be that nobody is going to do anything, in which case you should probably save yourself a bunch of time and money by doing nothing too.

*shudder*Further, different actions entail different levels of effort and require different levels of motivation. There is no single set of actions that applies to all situations and social objects – theming one’s wedding, for example, appears to be the sole domain of Star Trek fans – so please ignore all those douchebags out there with their pseudo-proprietary engagement models, because they are full of sh1t (i.e. they are offering a seemingly useful simplification that doesn’t really help you to understand your own situation).

Understanding the full set of actions that applies to your situation allows you to do a few really useful things.

First, you can sanity check each one. Is someone really likely to create a mash-up of your ad and take it to Cannes? If not, you should stop kidding yourself.

Second, you can make sure you’re allowing people with varying levels of motivation to participate. You don’t have to make a call to target a small group of highly motivated people or a larger group of unmotivated ones. In fact, the more people you can get on board, the better. So make sure you’re not limiting your chances of success by not providing enough ways for people to participate.

Finally, by considering each action and its requisite motivation, you can figure out the best way(s) to encourage people to do them. There are likely to be internal (e.g. kudos) and external (e.g. prizes) drivers for each action, so considering the full set of actions and motivations should suggest a whole lot of things you can do to improve your chances of success.

Beware of the DogmaOk, that’s quite enough from the oracle for now.

The purpose of this post was to articulate some long-held misgivings about the ready availability of quick-fix solutions that obviate the need to think for oneself and understand what is really going on.

Along the way I’ve shared some of my own thinking about what I believe to be some of the core, underlying principles online marketers really need to get their heads around, and in doing so I may have given a little more practical detail than I needed to – but then it’s my blog, and if you don’t like it you can sod right off.

If you take nothing else from this post (besides the pecha kucha recommendation – seriously, give it a whirl) , let it be this. Beware of the dogma. Don’t be drinking the Kool Ade – not theirs, not mine, and you’d do well to avoid drinking your own if you can help it.

Richard FeynmanI’m reminded of a speech Richard Feynman gave during the 70’s, decrying what he called ‘cargo cult science’ – stuff and nonsense that was dressed up to look like science, but lacked any sense of scientific rigor and integrity.

Feynman advised, and I paraphrase here, that to avoid becoming a snake oil salesman, the first and most important thing is to not fool yourself, which is difficult, because we are the easiest people to fool. But this is important, because once you fool yourself – once you drink that Kool Ade – all you have to do in order to fool everybody else is just be honest.

Thus, the accidental snake oil salesmen I mentioned at the start of this post are by no means blameless. And you won’t be, either.

Flying Pig 2.0 crashes, burns – no survivors

Bwahahahahahaha!

ferrit_sm

We all saw it coming, but frankly I’m amazed it took so long.

The news media have been circulating the usual clichés from insiders citing external factors such as ‘the current retail environment’. Bullshit. The fact of the matter is, Ferrit never had a viable business model and seemed hell-bent on throwing money at a problem that could only be solved with smarts and balls.

A wee word of advice to any cash-heavy corporates looking to speculate on the next Interweb bubble: if you don’t believe in your product, neither will anyone else.

Back in the saddle

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v373r0to8Pk]

This is pretty much an exact remake of the classic ‘Flaming Logo’ IBM ad from about 10 years ago. It’s amazing to note that while so much has changed in the interim (for instance, our planet went from a warming to a cooling cycle – with no help at all from Al Gore), so much remains unchanged in the void between agency deliverables and client needs.

Thankfully there are notable exceptions, and I have been (very) fortumate to have spent most of my career to date working for two of them. After a brief (yet at the same time far too long) stint at one of the worst agencies I’ve ever encountered, as of this week I’m thrilled to once again find myself surrounded by brilliant, creative professionals who – get this – actually give a shit.

Yep, I am one lucky son of a bitch.

The funniest thing I’ve read in ages

Techmeme served up this story this morning, a pretty interesting piece about how ABC has started letting advertisers take makegood inventory (definition below) from ABC on its ABC.com video player during episodes of specific shows.

A makegood is defined as: Credit given to an advertiser (or advertising agency) by a publication or broadcast medium for an advertisement or commercial spot to make up for an error or unavoidable cancellation on the part of the publication or broadcast medium. The credit is usually in the form of a rerun of the advertisement or commercial.

The main point of the article was that some TV advertisers were being given free digital ad space in lieu of an airtime credit when something went wrong with an ad they had paid for, and in many cases the digital credit was more valuable. This is a pretty new development and one that makes sense for advertisers and the networks – if your TV ad schedule is packed but you have latent digital inventory then it makes sense to give the latter away, regardless of its book value. The alternative – underselling airtime to allow for all the freebies you owe to disgruntled advertisers – is damn costly, and is becoming something of a nightmare for networks battling viewer erosion.

The thing that really grabbed me though, was this fantastic passage mid-way through the article. I’ve maintained for some time that ad execs and their TV counterparts have their heads in their asses, but I never imagined one of them would be stupid enough to state it for the record (albeit anonymously). Of course, I should have known better:

More than a few media executives were astonished that some marketers would agree to [substituting digital makegoods]. “What have we come to?” asks one disgruntled executive. “How can this beat full-screen television? We don’t even know if they can measure the Internet properly, let alone giving us a demographic breakdown.”

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Are you fucking kidding me? Let’s respond to each point in turn, shall we?

“What have we come to?” It’s called the twenty-first century. You might have heard of it? It started about 70 years after the birth of the TV industry, and ten years after the end of the decade you, your colleagues and the entire advertising industry are stuck in (in case you’re still hungover from yesterday’s coke-and-Dom-fueled “lunch”, I’m referring to the 80’s). Were the 90’s that scary? Was grunge so terrible you all just decided “Fuck this, we’re going back to the 80’s. Shoulder pads, Miami Vice and Flock of Seagulls. Woohoo!” If and when you do decide to catch up with the rest of the world, brace yourself: OJ killed somebody but got away with it, Magic Johnson got HIV but it didn’t kill him, America invaded Iraq (twice), Michael Jackson molested a bunch of kids, and to make matters worse they made a Sex and the City movie!

“How can this beat full-screen television?” Um, by being relevant, interactive, measurable and less intrusive. You should give this Interweb-thingy a try sometime, dude – it’s really swell!

“We don’t even know if they can measure the Internet properly, let alone giving us a demographic breakdown.” WTF? Of course we can measure the Internet properly! We can measure everything, that’s what’s so damn cool about the medium! Sure, some analytics tools are better than others, but even the crappy hit counters we used to stick on our FrontPage sites in the 90’s were more accurate than anything the TV networks have. I mean for God’s sake – do any of you know someone with a people meter? Talk about the pot and the fucking kettle!

What the hell, I needed a laugh today. Sweet.

Hippies piss me off. Ad-men too.

Shell has recently started showing this commercial here in NZ, although I gather it’s been in use internationally for over a year.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39uqfnW1wS8]

I’ve noticed a fair bit of online chatter about this, much of it generated by eco-bastards decrying the expensive promotion of oil consumption in the age of dwindling oil reserves and man-made [sic] global warming (which, by the way, we all know is bullshit but few are prepared to say so publicly because of this McCarty-ist persecution of ‘deniers’ that’s been going around).

Anyhoo, the ad rubs me the wrong way as well, but not for the reason you might think…

The oil supplies are going to run out regardless of any steps to reduce consumption. It’s not like they’re asking us to stop or reduce our consumption of whale meat or timber to allow stocks to replenish and thereby guarantee supply for future generations – they’re not making any more oil, and running out was always going to be a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.

Those of you who have been reading for a while may recall a post from last year where I observed that if oil supplies are limited and the use of petroleum products is detrimental to the environment, then it would actually be in our interest to increase consumption to make the oil disappear sooner. Sure it may get smoggy for a while, but then there’d be ZERO oil-related pollution and surely that’s good for the environment, right?

I’ll grant you that it’s a pretty tongue-in-cheek assertion and that personally I’m not looking forward to the day the oil runs out, but at the same time I also think it’s a healthy perspective, in that we need to focus on the one undeniable fact that’s being clouded by all this eco-bullshit:

The oil is going to run out

All this malarky about reducing consumption implies that if we reduce our reliance on oil we’ll be ok. Well actually, we won’t. If we’re even partially reliant on oil when the wells run dry, we’re going to be totally screwed. These hippies remind me of an unemployed guy’s mother telling him to reduce his spending or he’ll burn through all his savings. He’s going to run out of money eventually, and what he really needs to do is get a job and/or move back in with his folks. In the same vein we need to either produce more oil or stop using it altogether. The former is impossible, and the latter isn’t going to happen while hippies cloud the issue with self-satisfied sermons about how much they love their hybrids, and pseudo-scientific doomsday prophesies.

So to clarify my position (God forbid I should be mistaken for one of those tree-hugging, cardigan-wearing, sprout-munching whale-humpers!): Yes, dwindling oil reserves is a problem but reducing consumption isn’t the answer. At some point we’re going to have to stop using oil altogether, and maybe running out is the only way we’ll be sufficiently motivated to develop and adopt alternative fuels. Think about it people – if the oil ran out tomorrow, we’d have affordable alternatives immediately and you know it! The opposite is also true – if we figure out how to stretch the oil reserves for another century you’d better not hold your breath for an affordable hydrogen cell, ‘cos it ain”t gonna happen.

As such – and I’m dead serious here people – you might as well smoke ’em if you got ’em (drive ’em if you can afford ’em).

While I’m on the subject, it also cracks me up how anyone with a straight face could try and convince me that a Toyota Prius is an acceptable alternative to a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. A car is just a tool for getting from A to B? That’s like saying having sex is just a process for making babies!

Anyhoo, the thing that really bugs me about the Shell ad (apart from the cacophony of hippie dissenters) is this. As a result of this ad, some pony-tailed wanker in New York probably got a nice awards ceremony to go to and a trophy for their mantlepiece; the agency got a new addition to its reel for use in new business pitches; and the client will have been taken to exotic restaurants, bars and brothels all over the world during filming. But here’s the rub – the ad may be a visual masterpiece, but did/will it help sell any more fuel? My guess is no.

When I’m contemplating a fuel purchase the only criteria I have in mind are how much it will cost (by far the most important factor); how much fuel I have left (and can I make it to a cheaper gas station before I run out); and – a VERY distant last – what other needs can I satisfy while I’m there (e.g. BP gas stations tend to have better toilets, but the food and coffee is better at Shell). Do I give a shit that Shell provides fuel to Ferrari F1? I drive a ’91 Sierra! What, if I use Shell fuel it’s going to develop another 300 bhp, shed 400 kg and miraculously grow a PussyMagnetTM?

The ad cost $5m to make and yet addresses NONE of the factors influencing my purchasing behaviour. I’m not writing about this because I’m surprised or alarmed by the ad. I’m writing about it because I’m not. This is the same tired old bullshit ad agencies have been churning out for so long that we (clients and consumers) no longer care or expect any better. Orwell once said that “advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill pail”, but I disagree. Advertising should be the rattling of a stick inside a swill pail – at least in that instance we have a relevant and compelling message, an appropriate and cost-effective medium, and a receptive audience. What we have these days is a swill pail, an orchestra playing Sprach Zarathustra, fireworks, celebrity endorsements… you get the idea.

Interesting observation of the day:

Type the following phrases into Google, and count how many paid ads are presented along with the search results (ok, I’ll do it for you)…

Cheap Fuel NZ (1)
Cheap Petrol NZ (1)
Cheapest Petrol NZ (5)
Gas Station NZ (2)

I think it’s fair to assume that a sizable proportion of people using these search phrases has a fuel purchase in mind, yet none of the advertisers targeting fuel-related search phrases are fuel producers, brands or retailers! Why? Because their ad agencies would have them believe that we’re more receptive to their messages while we’re at home trying to watch CSI New York than when we’re actually looking for information to support a purchasing decision.

On the up-side, this makes it a hell of a lot easier for people like me to earn a living. You see, if you can show a client – using irrefutable data – that the money they pay you yields a substantial improvement in their bottom line, they will do anything to keep you on board. That’s why I’m doing quite nicely, thank you, while my former colleagues (from my brief and yet far too long foray into the advertising industry) are facing round after round of layoffs. Dude, I dodged a bullet when I got out of that game!

Copywriting .101

Ok so this doesn’t just apply to copywriting. Have a look at the ad below, form your own opinion about the product, the client and whoever created the ad, and then click on the image to see the rest of the copy.

I’d like to think this was already widely understood, but apparently not. Let me spell it out for you folks:

If you say something is ‘classy’, it isn’t. And neither are you.

I’ll leave you to digest that while I watch me some Springer. Now THAT is classy!

The trick to creating great viral video

Dan Ackerman Greenberg posted a great article to TechCrunch last week, sharing his insight into what makes a truely effective viral video. I like the article because it speaks to a lot of thinkgs I’d wondered recently about exploiting video sharing sites for publicity purposes.

**And before you all jump in and give me shit about siding with a spammer… Yes, I accept that a lot of what Dan talks about isn’t exactly ethical. As the saying goes, however, this ain’t show friends this is show business. Show me the money! Show me the money! Show me the money!

Sorry, must be having another one of them Jerry Maguire moments.

In terms of traffic generation, online video is a hugely underestimated opportunity. There is an entire industry dedicated to mastering the Google algorithm (for all its complexity), but promotion and dissemination of video content is still in its infancy by comparison. Given that contributors can assign their own tags and categories to video content (unlike web pages, which are assessed by the search engine and subjected to a veeeeeeeeeeeery complex classification algorithm), a little foresight and imagination can go a long way in terms of exposure and appeal.

Example: they’ve probably blocked this now, but about 6 months ago I got thousands of views on a stupid clip of my dog chasing a stick simply by applying the tags PORN SEX and NAKED when I uploaded it to YouTube. A rather inane experiment, I know, but you would get NOWHERE pulling that crap with traditional SEO.

Anyhoo, the article is a little long winded but I definitely recommend you make some time to take it all in. For those of you working on their next heart attack here’s the abridged version…

Secret #1: Not all viral videos are what they seem

2. Content is NOT King

Here are some guidelines we follow:

* Make it short
* Design for remixing
* Don’t make an outright ad
* Make it shocking
* Use fake headlines
* Appeal to sex

3. Core Strategy: Getting onto the “Most Viewed” page

So how do we get the first 50,000 views we need to get our videos onto the Most Viewed list?

* Blogs
* Forums
* MySpace
* Facebook
* Email lists
* Friends

4. Title Optimization

5. Thumbnail Optimization

6. Commenting: Having a conversation with yourself

7. Releasing all videos simultaneously

8. Strategic Tagging: Leading viewers down the rabbit hole

9. Metrics/Tracking: How we measure effectiveness

Have a great week!