Archive for May, 2008

Is Greenwash the new pollution?

May 30, 2008






The world is filling up with rubbish. The world of marketing that is.

Marketing agencies already take flack from the green-lobby and are, rather unfairly, targeted as being responsible for the present consumer culture, which is (allegedly) destroying the planet. But there is a more disturbing and insidious form of pollution that they are directly responsible for.

It is the pollution of a constant drone of background noise, coming through posters, over the radio, in newspapers and magazines – it is literally inescapable. In fact, the industry’s drive to market companies and products on their green credentials (true or not) has meant that ‘greenwash’ has become a big contributor to marketing noise pollution. Ironic, no? The ethos of the major advertising agencies has changed in recent years to tackle the growing problem of ‘digital natives’, which sounds a bit Lord of the Flies, but basically just means kids.

These kids are used to working in several different media simultaneously and have become adept at stopping the onslaught of marketing information from entering their brains (ever wonder why teachers are having problems?). As a result marketing messages are becoming shorter and louder. And if you doubt that this is real pollution – take a look at Ad-Air’s new super-sized billboards underneath airline flight-paths. They are the size of four football fields, so they’re an eyesore you will see, like it or not.

With the arrival of Web 2.0 services, advertising messages can become more intrusive than ever before, as the Facebook Beacon system demonstrates, even though spam and annoying pop-ups do nothing but turn the consumer away from your product or service.

To put it simply, the marketing business is crushing itself under the weight of its own messaging, squeezing the effectiveness out of its product as consumers become more and more unaffected by the commercialization of their surroundings. But what we are still not seeing is the rise of personalised advertising, where you are informed only of products and services that you might have a specific interest in (similar on a larger scale to’s automated recommendations).

The race should be on for more targeted messaging and for marketing that asks for interaction from consumers. Web 2.0 should enable more directed advertising, not the scatter-gun approach that has predominated for the last few decades. So just do it, clean up marketing, get it whiter-than-white, let your fingers do the walking and stop putting damn slogans everywhere.


News junkie no longer

May 27, 2008

For the first time in ages, I’ve just come back from a holiday where I had no contact with what was going on in the outside world.  As someone who’s a news junkie I thought that this would be incredibly hard, but turned out that sitting on the beach with a beer was too great a temptation!

More seriously though, I wonder whether being totally connected is as necessary as it seems (to me at least) to be.  I mean, the world will keep turning irregardless whether I have the BBC news feed coming down my computer and mobile phone via Twitter, or check Perez Hilton at least 10 times a day.  In the spirit of post-holiday relaxation I’m going to try to switch off from the outside world in the evenings safe in the realisation that I can pick up the news the next morning.   Check back in with me in a week to see if I’ve managed to stick to this new chilled approach.

But, I reserve the right to fail.  Hey, I’m in PR – we’re meant to know what’s in the news, right?

Logic Failure: Linking games to violence

May 23, 2008


What are you doing with that pick-axe? No! Noooo!

What are you doing with that pick-axe? No! Noooo!

For many years now, video games have been the media punching-bag for anything from violent youth crime to school massacres to road rage. So, why does the media love to attack this particular entertainment industry?

● Older generations have never played any games. To them, games are an unknown influence. People fear the unknown, and thus ascribe to them the magic power to turn balanced, happy children into raging psychopaths. They do not try it for themselves and thereby realise that the risks are minimal. This lack of knowledge about the medium is also the reason that adult content finds its way into the hands of children who are legally too young to play it.

● The media ignores the idea that people prone to violence will be attracted to violent media. The killer chooses the media, the media does not choose the killer.

● People habitually like to blame horrible acts on identifiable external causes, from the Devil to witchcraft to movies and video games. Or goats. Hence, scapegoating.

● Part of the problem is the perception that games are automatically toys for young children and teens (an assumption which would never be made with books or films). They are not yet seen as a source of entertainment for what is, actually, their key market: 18 – 35 year olds.

● It’s an easy, clear target for anger and grief. Parents of victims would find it harder to focus an attack on “bad parenting” or “poor social integration in schools”, for example.

A recent US Secret Service study found that only 12% of those involved in school shootings were attracted to violent video games, while 24% read violent books and 27% were attracted to violent films. A far higher percentage showed violence in their own personal writing – essays, poems and diary entries.

In 2004, a 17 year-old murdered one of his friends. The victim’s parents immediately blamed the influence of the game Manhunt, as well as labeling the killer ‘inherently evil’ (which would presumably mean that he didn’t need to be influenced by anything).

Several news stories were run about the game being responsible. Stores removed it from shelves. It later because clear that the game was found in the victim’s house – not the killer’s – and that the motive for the murder was, in fact, simple robbery.

A parent’s distraught reaction is understandable. The media’s is not. Stop blaming games. Stop blaming goats. Blame parents, blame schools, blame the availability of guns, blame gang culture – because all of those things have an influence on children that far outweighs any brief entertainment. But most of all realize that people have, do and will continue to commit horrific acts.

 The sad truth is, we’re just not that far away from being monkeys.

Consumers win on digital music, so why are the other entertainment industries so behind?

May 22, 2008

The FT today reported how the value of music downloads and broadcasts has overtaken that of CD sales. For the music industry, this is no surprise. Over the past few years we have witnessed a huge step change in music “going digital” with big name bands snubbing their record labels and iPods becoming as prolific as slugs in a newly planted veg patch.

Meanwhile, the other media industries, particularly film and games, are sticking to their physical product roots and worrying about illegal downloads, ignoring the lessons that a heal-dragging attitude is fast teaching the music industry. From our side of the fence, we’ve seen a growth in young companies that are legitimate digital content retailers. Some have media players embedded within them, some monetise peer to peer sharing (P2P) and others are mobile. What they all have in common is incredibly tight Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection.

The speed at which the media and entertainment industries are willing to respond to consumer demand for digital is tiresome. We’ve been talking about the issues and barriers through our PR efforts for years now. With the proof of digital demand from the MCPS-PRS Alliance and extra pressure from this year’s explosion in green interest, with people realising that no physical products means no plastic packaging, will we see the fruition of a true digital revolution before the next decade?

All work and no (3.5mm) jack makes the Samsung Soul a dull phone

May 22, 2008

On tonight’s Download show on Pulse, I’m reviewing the Sony Ericsson W380i and the Samsung Soul. Now both have their own unique features to entice us into buying them and showing them off down the pub but… and it’s a big ‘but’… the biggest let down on both of them is their lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack. Why oh why do manufacturers still insist on making phones without this? It is so frustrating. You can even get a 3.5mm adaptor with the W380i so clearly Sony Ericsson are somewhat aware that people want to use their own headphones, but unfortunately for us, not aware enough.  These adaptors just look bulky and are just another extra to have to carry around. Who wants the hassle of that?

For me this is a real obstacle when it comes to getting a new handset. If, like me, you love your music, then you’ve probably got a half decent pair of headphones with which to lose yourself in your favourite tunes on the tube in the morning – blocking out other passengers’ sneezing, coughing, inane conversations about last night’s Apprentice or the worst, the person who insists on attempting to make a call in between tunnels (whoever you are, what is the point??). From top-of-the-range noise cancelling headphones to encrusted diamante in-ear monstrosities we all have something we prefer over what comes with our phones so why deprive us of using them?? So my message to the mobile industry? Listen up – we want to use your music players, we think some of them are actually pretty good. But if you think we’ll settle for your headphones, you don’t know jack. 

Really good post about writing really good titles

May 21, 2008

Q 1: Five minutes before your weekly team meeting an email pops into your inbox entitled, Weekly staff meeting in 5.
Do you?
A: Delete it. You have a staff meeting every week and it’s always dull as ditchwater.
B: Leave it sitting unopened in your inbox. Like I said, the meeting is boring.
C: Autofile it to your Emails About Boring Stuff folder…Staff meeting? Yawn. BORING.

Trick question of course, because you’ll soon be devastated to learn that the email reads:
First person in the meeting room gets a hefty pay rise and an ice cream.
Last one in gets fired.

Yes, the old misleading title/headline trick. Whether you’re sending virals, writing emails, press releases, blog entries, articles or even if you just want to sell your unwanted gifts on eBay, it’s vitally important to give some thought to your title. I’m sure there’s much more to say on this topic, but here’s a starter for ten on writing titles:-

  • Sum up your copy – By all means use colourful language, but your readers should know what they are in for if they read on
  • Get to the point – Queen dead is a much better title than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II fatally injured in tragic Corgie accident
  • Don’t get too obscure – Be as clever as you like with puns, but your title should not mislead your reader
  • Make the title relevant to your audience – Assume the title is your readers’ initial filter to judge whether your piece is going to be of interest to them
  • Don’t over capitalise your titles in the UK – It Can Be Quite Confusing For Brits To Read Because They Can’t Pick Out The Proper Nouns

Want to market your film? Keep quiet about it!

May 16, 2008

 Cloverfield Poster Mirrorer


For many years the core of a film’s marketing push, film-trailers haven’t changed much over the ages. And sadly in many cases they have become an uninspired précis of the film’s plot combined with a spoiler-style preview of all the good scenes. But the trend of dull marketing for films may be coming to an end. Whilst websites and online games have become standardfor all Hollywood films, some are wading a little further into the murky waters of online marketing. Let’s compare two recent films: I am Legend and Cloverfield.


I am Legend followed the traditional approach to marketing – a big-name star, trailers, interviews, a micro-site – it even went as far as to create an online game in the digital world of Second Life. The campaign was reasonably successful, but costly (they spent over $2 million on marketing in New York alone).


On the other hand, Cloverfield made more clever use of its slim marketing budget (around $20 million globally). With an unknown cast, their only advantage was surprise. Their first masterstroke was to create trailers and posters that did not reveal the name of the film (along with a powerful image of a smoking New York). This immediately created a buzz and sent keyboard-jockeys wild looking for clues as to what this mysterious new film was:


We said “We want to talk to you about not putting a title on and what are your regulations regarding that?” And they said “Regulations? No-one’s ever done a teaser trailer or trailer without a title.” It’s like putting out a commercial without actually what the thing is. [Matt Reeves, Director]


Their campaign was all about trying to create active interest in a potential audience. To make people go online, look for information and discuss theories. People are adept at tuning out all the passive advertising noise in their environment, but Cloverfield managed to make cinema-goers reel themselves in.


Another clever move was creating a rumour that the poster somehow revealed an image of the monster. Again this created a flurry of blogs and online videos – all claiming to have revealed the true image of the creature (in fact you had to mirror the poster). In a similar vein, buzz was created by using different titles during the shooting of the film (including the somewhat ridiculous Chocolate Outrage).


Fake websites for tie-in brands to the film were also created along with a complex background story to the film’s events, which sent audiences scouring the internet for clues. Some even connected Cloverfield to viral marketing attempts set up for other films (thereby making other people’s marketing budgets work for them!)


…a lot of the stuff didn’t have anything to do with us, it was just because people were so interested…they were making connections to things that didn’t have anything to do with us…


Most importantly, the producers realised how fatal over publicity could be, especially when your film doesn’t have a lot of marketable elements except surprise:


That’s why we decided we better to shut up, because the flames were already so high….


It worked. Cloverfield took $41 million in its first three days. So next time you want to market something, maybe you should try not shouting about it.


Music makes wine taste better

May 14, 2008

I like this story.  According to a study, playing music makes wine taste better .  Funny that, because my experience is quite the opposite.  Having a glass or two of wine makes music sound better.   Give it a glass or two more and most music sounds BRILLIANT.  At this point, I might start to sing along and do a little jig.  Interestingly, given one more glass, I’ll still sing along but it will be with a tear in my eye as music unveils its hidden meaning, becoming infinitely more depressing and evoking memories of unreciprocated teenage love and the happier times spent with long-dead family pets.  There is a name for this state of heightened musical awareness.  It’s called Being A Bit Tipsy.

Anyway, check out the story, it’s quite interesting – given a bit of Tchaikovsky, you too might be able to transform that three quid bottle of plonk into something a little more palatable.

Changing the face of news reporting?

May 13, 2008

As someone who’s obsessed with keeping up with the latest news, I was interested to see that there’s been a lot of discussion this week following the earthquake in China about the ability of Twitter to revolutionise the way of reporting major news in real-time.  (For those of you who aren’t aware of Twitter, check out for more information and to sign up).

The main focus of the chatter is that Twitter was able to break the news about the earthquake from people on the ground long before major news outlets were reporting it.  Popular blogger Scoble was influential in getting the news out – see here for his account on how it went down.

The interesting thing about this from my point of view is how Twitter might change how we find out about major events and the impact this will have on traditional news outlets.   BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones wonders “whether this is the moment when Twitter comes of age as a platform which can bring faster coverage of a major news event than traditional media”.

With publicity like this, and with the recent news that even Downing St has started twittering, it will be interesting to see if Twitter will finally move from being something for the tech-savvy and move to being a tool for consumers to use to keep up-to-date on the latest happenings around the world.  I know that the recent events have made me sign-up and start following some influential Twitterers, but has it persuaded you?


The “Greening of Communications”; what do the public really want to hear?

May 12, 2008

The past 12 months has seen a full circle when it comes to the ‘green agenda’ in the media. This time last year, you couldn’t turn on the television without hearing some highly enthusiastic message about yet another ‘Climate Change Week’, or the next big government initiative to lower our carbon emissions rate in line with new EU objectives etc etc, but now the public is seemingly growing tired of this corporate “greenwashing”, at least according to the media.

With politicians, small and large businesses alike, and even pop stars jumping on what is now sceptically portrayed by the media as the ‘green bandwagon’, many are beginning to wonder whether this attitude of goodwill towards the environment might really be fuelled more by the credit crunch than by a genuine interest in saving the world. 

As more and more large companies are looking for ways to tighten their belts, the slashing of international travel costs in the name of being ‘green’ may be dismissed by some as being a little too ‘convenient’.

Recent research by our sister agency Hotwire, The Greening of Corporate Communications, however, shows that the public are still very interested in a company’s green credentials.  Hotwire’s recent research shows that over 70% of European consumers are more likely to support businesses that show themselves to be running a green operation.  A similar proportion confirmed that when faced with two similarly priced products, they are more likely to buy the ‘greener’ product in a bid to support green initiatives.

The research also shows, however, that only 11.2% of UK companies’ external communications contain the ‘green’ message.  It seems that the ‘green agenda’ may show some mileage yet, at least if the media are willing to admit that the public still want to hear about it.

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