Monthly Archives: November 2009


Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, has weighed in on the issue of crowdsourcing, a current hot topic doing the agency rounds ever since Victor & Spoils launched and Pepperami decided they were going to dump their ad agency and crowdsource a creative solution.

What Jimmy says is, I think, quite brilliant:

“In the consumer space, people aren’t going to do it for strategic business reasons, they’re going to do it because it’s fun.”

As clever as Victor & Spoils like to think they are, their approach does rather feel like auditioning freelancers and giving the gig to the best one. It doesn’t really have a collaborative feel to it in the same way as, say, editing a Wikipedia page does. The same with the Pepperami experiment. These people call it crowdsourcing because it’s a buzzword that the marketing press are currently into and they know they’ll get coverage. But their projects naturally exclude the majority of consumers, being as they are openly targeted at design and creative professionals. Who, whatever you might think, are not the majority.

Crowdsourcing should allow anyone to get involved. MyStarbucksIdea was a great example of crowdsourcing: open to all, and produced genuinely useful ideas submitted by genuine Starbucks consumers. Same for Walkers Crisps, which again allowed anyone to take part. And for that very same reason, Victor & Spoils isn’t really crowdsourcing at all. It is a great way of getting freelance creative teams to submit their ideas for free and then only pay for the very best of them. But that is surely something that freelance creative teams won’t be happy about for very long.

Crowdsourcing is a great idea, and I think there is incredible potential, particularly around how a brand engages with their consumers; it’s taking new ideas and using them in new ways. What Pepperami did was use this idea of “crowdsourcing” to help produce an old-school campaign. You’re still going to get a 30 second ad spot, it’s just written by a freelance creative. Honestly – how is this different to using a variety of freelancers?

But using the idea of crowdsourcing to connect directly with your consumers, to involve them in a deeper level with your brand, and have them actually help to create output they’ll then later consume themselves, well, that’s sorta cool, right?

A plea: don’t turn digital into a game of bullshit bingo

So first of all, I read this article, and thought “wow, you’re an idiot”. It’s a few days later now, and I still don’t understand why flat structures and direct access to the CEO means digital agencies can’t lead, and are somehow inferior to traditional agencies.

I thought we all decided that there wasn’t much of a difference any more anyway.

But then I read The Ad Contrarian, who seemed real angry about a bunch of stuff, but principally how much toss digital agencies seem to speak, and then I got to thinking that, in all fairness, if someone came to me and said “Building a conversation strategy will allow us to visually see our complete marketing ecosystem” I’d end up being pretty angry about it too, although possibly less witty with my responses.

And then I saw this great YouTube video that reminded me of a few consultants I’ve met over

And then I realised why Ad Contrarian was so angry, because so many people pertaining to be “digital experts” talk such an amazing amount of absolute rubbish that quite literally anyone could say. And expect kudos for saying it.
This isn’t good for the digital industry, because crap like that gives food to the people who want to claim it’s not mature, it’s not business focussed, it’s not capable of delivering proper results. I don’t want to talk about visually seeing anything, but what I would like to comment on is one of the comments made by Tom Wanek at the bottom of another Ad Contrarian article:

I’m alarmed at the number of small business owners who struggle with foundational marketing principles. For example, the idea of speaking to the customer’s felt need is a foreign concept to most. Social media won’t help if your message is irrelevant. Now here’s another point to consider: With so much of social media being irrelevant noise, it’s becoming much more difficult to cut through the clutter, making it more critical than ever that marketers learn to communicate clearly and with power

Tom, social media (digital, the internet, whatever) isn’t meant to broadcast irrelevant messages. It’s meant to help you find what message is relevant. That’s what people mean when they talk about the power of conversation – it allows you to have individual, customised, one-to-one relationships with your consumers. Which means a two-way relationship, and not just thinking in terms of broadcasting messages to your consumer. Two-way conversations mean you listen as well as speak.

Digital continues to have a huge impact upon business. In many ways it completely changes the nature of how businesses communicate, and this is principally because it forces business communication to be more human. Humans communicate through conversation, through two-way dialogue and through ideas of honesty and trust. Sorry to sound all naive and hippy-like there, but it’s true, and it’s what business needs to learn. All these “social media fail” stories? They’re businesses breaking bonds of trust and honesty, and being outed in a very public arena for being shitsticks.

This is the power of digital. Not “First, by socializing all media, the engagement experience is cyclical and ongoing. Second, by identifying conversation groups (social graphs) and tapping directly into them and then connecting them together, the long tail of niche market segments become your mass or ‘mainstream’ media play.”

That’s just bullshit bingo, and the more we speak like that, the harder it is to convince the doubters that we have anything interesting or relevant to say. So please, can we stop?


Social Media Strategies

Social Media

Our clients ask us quite a lot about Social Media, and what their strategy should be to deal with it. My standard answer seems to illicit quite a lot of confusion – “be yourself”. I’m not sure why, perhaps because “being yourself” is something that is quite foreign to many large companies. But also, I think it’s because people still regard digital as something new, different and scary. When of course it isn’t. The internet is just a technology that allows communication on a scale and speed that has never been seen before. But it’s still people communicating.

It’s like record companies complaining about music piracy and how the internet will kill music. It’s not going to kill music. It’s not even going to kill record labels (which is not the same thing as music incidently), given that  a recent study in Denmark showed that those who are most likely to pirate music are also most likely to purchase it online. And in fact, today a new study was published in the British media (please excuse the link to The Daily Mail) backing the same statement. And anyway, sharing music with each other is nothing new. In fact, being able to share music you love is sort of fundamental, right? It’s just people communicating.

My favourite band in the world is The Pixies. I first heard Doolittle on my friend’s battered tape player back in 1992 on, you guessed it, a taped copy of the original album. Taped. Copied. Pirated.

I now own every single album The Pixies made. I own B-side collections, best-off compilations, rare releases of the Purple Tapes demos, a live DVD and even a DVD of them playing Newport Folk Festival. I’ve purchased all of these off the back of one pirated cassette tape that I played over and again until the tape wore out. I even own Bam Thowk for fuck’s sake.

The point is, of course, that pirating music isn’t actually anything new. In fact, it is all to do with the fundamental human desire to share things you like with people you like. And the internet makes it easier to share things than ever before. This is a good thing. If we share your product with someone else, they’re more likely to buy it in the future. This is what you as a corporation want right?

And of course this is how it’s always worked. My friend plays me music they like. I like it. I listen to it. Eventually I might buy it. Funnily enough there is no evidence to suggest that listening to a pirated copy of music actually then stops me buying the real thing. There’s no corrolation there.

So the internet is just people being people. And this is what I mean when I tell clients to be themselves. Find the people who are passionate about your organisation and get them talking to other people. Do it yourselves. I mean, if you’re not passionate about your own organisation, surely there’s a problem there.

I meet people who love the company they work for, genuinely talented passionate people who can talk for hours about what they do and where they do it, because they’re interested in it. Yet, they’re asking me for a “social media strategy” as if I have the secret recipe for instant internet success. Sorry, but there isn’t one. Just do what you’re doing already. Passionate people are interesting. Interesting people write interesting stories. Interesting stories spread.

Amelia Torode has a great post from her work with the IPA Social initiative. Her point is simple: “technology changes, people don’t”, and I like it because it expands on the idea of exactly why it is that people use social media. One of her main points is around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and how social media can help to fulfil them. And as she points out, Maslow defined his hierarchy around 1934. There is nothing new here.

Or as Paul Graham said at iMedia earlier in the year – “social media is just people chatting”.

(picture in this post from birgerking’s flickr feed, reproduced under a creative commons licence)