Monthly Archives: May 2009

Richard & Judy lose it

The law of diminishing returns has struck again – with Richard & Judy’s trek from This Morning to Channel 4 to digital cul-de-sac coming to an abrupt end. The pair’s show on Watch will end in July and there’s talk of them pursuing separate projects.It was always a brave move; but was it foolhardy too? Should any celebrity really expect their fans to follow them wherever they pop up on the digital landscape? They certainly weren’t lacking in big name guests – everyone from Mirren to Rourke. However, my guess is that their core audience are probably people who still only have the five channels. If it’s a choice between a free edition of Paul O’Grady and a pay-per-view Richard and Judy, they’re always going to plump for the former. That said, long before R&J, Clive James successfully took his own brand of wry interviews online – with a succession of high profile intellectual conversations. The show is now in its sixth series and streamed through the much easier to find Times website. Maybe it’s something Melvyn Bragg will be carefully mulling over with the imminent demise of the South Bank Show?

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Digital dilemmas

As the digital world evolves it of course brings with it new dilemmas – some bigger than others. Two issues have been bugging me this week – both of which highlight issues about personal data in the online world.

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Editor’s blog: Advertising in a global meerkat

When times are bad, the money you spend on your marketing and advertising should be made to work even harder. The pain any organisation must feel at handing over hundreds of thousands of pounds to ITV or Sky, while laying off staff and slashing the R&D budget, is enough to make most FDs weep. But it has to be done – pity the fool who loses market share during a downturn because he stopped marketing.

But looking at the sad array of 30 second spots during the commercial breaks of the Champions League semi final last night (tough luck Didier, Ashley and Roman – it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys) made me wonder whether shedloads of precious marketing budgets are being wasted.

Take the Heineken spot, for example. This features a bunch of youths generally grooving around and texting each other – because texting is what the happening youth does these days, according to the bloke in planning – sending messages such as ‘Come on over if you fancy a Heineken!’ Tragic really. When was the last time any youth tried to entice a mate over with the prospect of ‘a Heineken’? And then you get a load of operatic singers in a pool singing the UEFA theme. Really surreal.

I’m probably resistant because I’m not a UK lager drinker – for a number of reasons. The main one is that British lager is the product of a grim industrial process; the best thing you can say about the product is that it’s wet and it’s got alcohol in it. The fact that you can usually buy gallons of the stuff for 9.99 at your local supermarket tells you all you need to know about its inherent value.

But this kind of material makes an old fart like me yearn for the ‘Reaches the parts that other beers cannot reach…’ campaign, or some Carling Black Label Dambusters stuff. Knowing ad people are now shaking their heads at my naivety.

The problem is caused by the harsh efficiencies of global product marketing. These days, big international brands like Heineken have to produce ads that will be shown all over the place. Pan-European, even pan-global. The result is a dull, lowest common denominator approach where everyone has to be kept happy. It’s bland and forgettable, just like the product. There may be a few saddo youths in Macedonia who think that the UEFA Heineken ad is the coolest thing they’ve ever watched, and are so moved to action that they instantly go out to throw six pints down their neck, but I doubt it. (I’ll probably now get an angry email from the research organisation that tested it to destruction on lager-swilling 18-25s from Barking to Burkina Faso. But research has always been the death of a good idea. That’s another story.)

The one exception to this reign of mediocrity is the utterly brilliant Meerkat ad for Comparethemarket.com (which is much more entertaining than watching Chelsea). This is clever, highly effective advertising at its very best – I still snigger on the twelfth occasion I’ve watched it. But I don’t just gladly accept a free laugh; I remember why. The branding is so good you instantly remember the name of an otherwise completely tedious price comparison website fighting hard for recognition against Moneysupermarket.com and all the rest. I even used it when trying to research car insurance. And they have produced a very amusing meerkat site, www.comparethemeerkat.com, which is good for a quick giggle over your lunchtime sandwich.

It’s so good they’ve even whipped up a story carried by the BBC (and probably the subject of millions of hits) about why meerkats don’t make good pets. Having spent several Sunday mornings recently watching these weird critters in the local zoo, I suspect that advice is entirely accurate. They’re so hyper they need to watch a few lager ads to calm them down.

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Video, your route into social networks

When we launched our Online Video
Guide
last week, I had hoped that one of the key messages to have twigged in
people’s minds was that video content is the one form of content that transcends
all internet barriers. It should be on marketers’ lists as a Top 3 method of
delivering a standardised brand message to audiences in social networks, on
email, on blogs, on standard web pages, dedicated video sites, even in search
results – basically anywhere on the internet.

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Election 2010: The Digital Media Battle

We should all welcome Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s return to YouTube this week. He was criticised by Cabinet colleagues (aka our ‘Communities’ Minister, Hazel Blears) and widely ridiculed by the media for his ‘MP expenses’ video late last month. But Brown knows only too well that we now live in a world of 24/7 digital media and he needs to use these tools to get his message across directly to the British people (he’s doing something right – apparently the 10 Downing Street twitter site is the UK’s most favourite). Of course, Parliament is the hub of our democracy and policy statements should be made first in the ‘chamber’ (but few people watch or listen to proceedings). Door-to-door campaigning is very personal but it is also time-consuming and effective on a one-to-one basis. So, as the political fighting (and in-fighting) intensifies in the run up to the European and local elections next month, another ‘war’ is beginning to emerge: the politics of digital media.

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The Politics of Losing

A few years ago, the LibDems asked some people from the media to a meeting to discuss how we could help them do better in an election.

I listened to everything everyone said, but it just seemed more of the same. They wanted some quite nice posters and cinema ads knocking the Tories and Labour.

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Editor’s blog: Crazy paving highlights public sector waste

One of the effects of the hideous news about the UK’s banana republic-style national debt will be to shift attention onto waste in the area of public spending. For the foreseeable future, all those in the private sector will be huffing and puffing about cost in everything from health, through education, to transport and defence. ‘Why can’t they just lop 10% off their annual budget? We’ve had to,’ is the typical cry, usually followed by a rant about index-linked retirement pensions for layabout civil servants.

This is going to make pretty boring reading for public servants while they are engaged in the perfectly laudable activity of trying to improve our roads, schools, hospitals and cruise missiles. They went through it with the Gershon efficiency review of 2004, which led to what is claimed to have been 26.5bn of government savings. Now a further 9bn by 2013-14 is promised.

The problem is, Gershon hasn’t changed the way in which the public sector operates. Sorry to be parochial, but nowhere is this better illustrated than outside my house at the moment. Late last year, our local council decided it was time to relay the pavement on both sides of the road. This was not a bad idea as the existing pavement was an ugly patchwork of broken paving stones, tarmac patches and stretches of concrete. The contractor did a surprisingly good job – a couple of workmen spent about two months carefully replacing all the paving stones and created neat, herringbone brickwork sections for the lowered crossovers onto people’s driveways. It must have cost a small fortune but everyone was pleased. Not often you can say this about the efforts of Lambeth Council.

Imagine our dismay, therefore, when last month we received a letter from Thames Water (a private sector organisation feeding, as some utilities do, off a monopoly) informing us they were about to rip up the road and large swathes of the pavement as part of their quest to replace London’s ageing Victorian mains water supply. This is a classic example of ‘non-joined up’ – i.e. stupid – practice. And it drives both us and the local authority (who can do nothing to resist Thames Water) around the bend. It’s inevitable that it will spoil what has been done, and hasten the day when the pavement needs to be re-laid all over again. With us footing the bill. The paradox is that it’s the weakness of the council that is causing the waste.

In the private sector at the moment, nobody does anything without thinking about the cost implications. Does it have to be done? Could it be done cheaper? Could I get two for one if I am doing it? Far too often they are terrible negotiators in the pubic sector – they do not have the skills of the souk, simply asking where they sign after being given a price. If we are all going to be broke together then this is going to have to change. In the meantime the public sector is keeping our economy afloat.

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