Monthly Archives: July 2009

Context isn’t everything, it’s the only thing

A couple of years ago I went to a Caravaggio exhibition at The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. One of the greatest painters ever, it was always going to be packed.

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Sue that tweet!

According to the BBC, a tenant who used Twitter to complain about mould in her Chicago apartment is being sued by the lettings agency. Is it really libellous though? As someone quite rightly points out, should a humble tweet be deemed as a form of publishing? Or, is it merely the ‘electronic version of a coffee shop, where you can gripe privately but have your gripes overheard?’Twitter is fleeting and disposable by its very nature. Does this mean that all our pronouncements will now have to be run by our legal departments? If I tweet that my train isn’t running on time will I have to consider being sued by Virgin? Or risk the wrath of McDonalds if I say their mozzarella dippers turn my stomach? Tread carefully fellow Tweeters, indeed.

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Editor’s blog: Who should run ITV?

The news that the head of HMV, Simon Fox, is heading the list of candidates to become the next boss of ITV has left some cheering. But I’m not so sure I’m equally elated. The schtick is that ITV desperately needs some fresh thinking after the old boy Michael Grade has seen it go down the tubes. The broadcaster has been keen to find someone young and dynamic to embrace the digital age. It bought Friends United for 175m amid general sniggering from those in the know, and is currently struggling to offload it for 15m. There can be no more cock-ups of this nature.

So what they need is a digitally literate bright young thing. Another front-runner is apparently Pascal Cagni, the French head of Apple in Europe. (He’s bound to be well versed in the latest plotline of Coronation Street.) One analyst, quoted in the FT, described the prospect of appointing Cagni as daring and bold. Quite so. But also possibly hugely misguided, with the potential for une grande catastrophe. Most Euro heads of big US tech firms tend to be sales and marketing types, because the innovation all happens over there.

Fox is a retailer and no doubt possessed of considerable talent. We’re good at retail in Britain. But it may be worth recalling what happened when star retailer Andy Hornby was parachuted into HBOS to crank the stuffy bank up with the benefit of his retail expertise. Fox may be a member of the Magic Circle, he may be a turnaround master but he doesn’t have any experience of the sawdust and tinsel of showbiz. He used to shift fridges and washing machines at Comet before he went to HMV.

Sawdust and tinsel, critics and shareholders shout, is precisely what Michael Grade has in abundance – and look where that got the organisation. He may have had Tarbie, Eric and Ernie plus even Arthur Askey as guests at his first wedding, but that was then and his touch was long gone. However, ITV’s board need to be careful. Television – despite the throttling it has received at the hands of new media – is still an odd animal. Sui generis.

The truth is that it requires special skills to be a leader of a creative organisation. ITV needs to find some half-way decent ideas and make programmes from them. That requires imagination. It requires having the courage to chuck out the crappy, formulaic, tawdry rubbish and come up with something new. It’s daft to expect the CEO of ITV to be coming up with ideas for the next X Factor or The Wire, but he or she has to have an intimate understanding of, and ability to work with, those within creative organisations who can. I’m just not sure someone who knows how to shift iPods or tumble driers is the right person. I may be wrong, and Fox and Cagni could be ITV’s saviours – the next Jack Warner or Sam Goldwyn. And if the board goes after someone with a telly track record, the trouble is that nobody with any serious senior management talent in TV wants to go anywhere near the job.

The one thing it would be priceless to discover is what Rupert Murdoch has to say on the matter. He’s a major shareholder via Sky, currently looking at a value which is so far underwater since he bought in that you can hardly see the bubbles. But he also has a good track record in TV of letting those who understand the medium get on and run the show. I wonder who he would choose.

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Editor’s blog: BSM picks Fiat and gives Vauxhall the boot

Huge amusement all round with the news that BSM, the UK’s largest driving school, has dumped GM’s Vauxhall Corsa and is switching to the painfully trendy Fiat 500 as its workhorse. It’s yet another blow to GM because – according to BSM – about 70% of learners who pass the test buy the model of car in which they learnt.

Fiat has signed a deal to supply 14,000 of the Polish-manufactured cars to BSM over four years, in a marketing deal that will attempt to inject a bit of Italian-style bella figura into the dowdy BSM brand (which incidentally is owned by a German private equity group, so it’s not very British any more). Those who pass in the Cinquecento will qualify for a 500 discount on the uber-trendy runabout.

One hopes that despite the fact that they will be learning in a Cinqucento, BSM’s customers don’t adopt any dodgy Italian driving habits. It was PJ O’ Rourke, the American essayist, who wrote, ‘I’ve had to do my share of driving in the Third World. In Mexico, Lebanon, the Philippines, Cyprus, El Salvador, Africa and Italy. (Italy is not technically part of the Third World, but no one has told the Italians.)’

The stereotype of the Italian driver as an excitable, aggressive, high speed Narcissus in Gucci loafers and a dented Fiat Punto has been around for years. The truth is that their accident statistics are marginally better per kilometre covered than other Southern European olive belt countries. One reason for this is the Italians’ superb system of autostrade. Never mind that most motorways probably cost twice their original budget after all the necessary kick-backs have been paid, or that, in the South, a number have a good few bodies six feet down fixed in concrete – the motorways get those Alfas, Lancias and Cinquecentos from Como to Calabria fast.

BSM will also presumably teach all pupil drivers that Italy is a country in which spectacle and gesture rule supreme. So Cinquecento novices will also have to learn a series of hand signs with which to insult each other. Besides the notorious cuckold gesture – which should always be deployed with great care – another is to extend the left arm horizontally out of the window and lower the palm towards the tarmac. This indicates your belief that the other driver is of low intelligence. Both gestures are subtler and altogether more effective than the crude American middle finger.

And then strictly to be avoided are Italian attitudes to driving under the influence. Many years ago I was hitching along the Northern coast of Sicily and was pleased, after a long wait, to be picked up by a couple of lads in a old Renault 5. No sooner were we under way – with The Doors ‘Light My Fire’ blasting from the cassette player – than one of the pair removed the light fitting in the plastic ceiling, took out a sizeable lump of cannabis and began preparation with his Rizlas. Within minutes not only were we swaying all over the road – the driver having succumbed to a fit of the drug-induced giggles – but forward visibility was severely compromised by clouds of dope smoke. Through the haze I saw a carabinieri road block up ahead and had grim visions of spending the night in a Palermo police cell with some member of the Gambino family. Luckily our driver escaped with an on-the-spot fine for a bald tyre.

What BSM won’t be telling customers is that the Fiat 500 is both built on the platform of but inferior to a standard Fiat Panda. And you won’t have to wait three months for one, or pay the daft premium to be a Notting Hill fashion victim.

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Cognitive dissonance

I’ve just seen a great poster, but I’m confused. It’s a six sheet poster at a bus stop in Frankfurt. It’s just a simple picture of a plate with a knife and fork on either side.

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Friends Reunited to be sold at £160m loss?

Poor old ITV. It dived into the world of social media just as the tide was turning. Now, according to the Mail on Sunday, it could be selling Friends Reunited for a paltry £15 million; that’s £160million less than it paid for it 4 years ago! FR was rather a one trick pony though, wasn’t it? Once you tracked down Biffer Bradock, shared reminiscences about Spotted Dick and dinner ladies it all kind of fizzled out; or, of course you had an affair with an old girlfriend/boyfriend! The realclincher was the rise of MySpace, Facebook and Bebo though – social media based very much in the here and now. But is this a salutary warning? How should we price these sites? Especially given that their life span may be as little as 5 years? How long before Facebook goes the same way? I’m already trying out Gather.com – the site that professes to not be about ‘…who you know or people from your past; it’s about connecting with new people who share your interests and experiences today’.

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Is this the ultimate display format?

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s comparable to the amount of ‘page’ a print ad takes up and of course it’s as interactive and measurable as any online advert before it. I give you the relatively new billboard (or double MPU… whatever you like to call it):

If it was possible to fall in love with a rectangular animated advert, I would be asking this one to marry me. It takes up almost a third of the page, is available across most large publisher sites and it actually succeeds in making the page look cleaner. For branding, personally I think this is one of the best formats on the market.

You can see the actual size of the ad (300 x 600) below. Your thoughts?

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Real change or empty rhetoric?

Earlier this week Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered an interesting speech to the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in Oxford. He talked of the power of today’s technology in organising and uniting communities around the world on particular issues, such as climate change, the financial crisis or matters of foreign policy, and said that this citizen empowerment meant that we could create a “truly global society”, that foreign policy “can never be the same again” and could “no longer be run by elites”.

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Editor’s blog: Private school-bashing and social mobility

Alan Milburn’s report yesterday about UK social mobility – or the lack of it – has been met with a mixture of sighs, sage nodding and raspberries. ‘Birth, not worth, has become a key determinant of people’s chances,’ observed Milburn, who dragged himself up by his bootstraps. He should know, because the unavoidable conclusion is that despite trumpeting ‘Education Education Education’ until the cows came home, the New Labour experiment with schools has failed pretty miserably. If, after 12 years, the Government still cannot do better with state education, then something remains very seriously wrong.

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The punters haven’t read the brief

When Frank Lowe was CEO of CDP, he asked Ron Collins to come into his office. He said they needed something really special for a new client.

Frank said it had to be something really outstanding, something absolutely amazing. Ron said, “Okay Frank, where’s the brief?”

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