Cartoon Characters on Facebook

Hello. I’m one of those annoying types who recently changed their profile picture on Facebook to quite a dashing image of Disney’s Robin Hood, in aid of the NSPCC. In the past few days, I’ve been called many things for participating in such a ‘campaign’. ‘Slacktivist’ was probably the most hurtful.

This has been 'me' for the past few days.

All around Facebook, fiery conversations have been popping up constantly, about how social media has made us apathetic about making a real change, and about how people laud over others that they’re being noble, when actually they’re doing nothing more than changing their profile picture to something nostalgic and cool. The word ‘bandwagon’ has been bandied around like nobody’s business. Still, I don’t think anyone should be criticised for participating. I want to stress that there’s a difference between doing something, and doing absolutely nothing.

These people who have changed their profile pictures have all actively done something, and made the first baby steps towards making a change. Whether this change is making a donation to the NSPCC, spreading awareness, or just cheering up their friends, there is definitely some weight behind this movement. I mean, without trying to garner too much hate towards those who simply enjoyed the exercise for its pretty pictures and memories of childhood yore, I thought the whole thing was a lot of fun. From Pinky and the Brain to Captain Planet, these profile pictures have been a much welcomed return to my youth. I’m a big kid at heart, which is probably why I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this, but I’m sure it made a lot of other people happy, too.

I’m no advertising expert, but everything I’ve learnt to date has pointed towards one thing. The key to successful communications is making people happy. While the NSPCC themselves have tweeted that they didn’t actually start the campaign all the profile pictures across the globe are sparking thoughts of children in need. On a base level, this is raising awareness of the cause, and the NSPCC’s public profile to a great degree, in a way that no amount of paid advertisements could buy. This campaign reeked of ‘grass roots’ in a way that captured the public’s hearts. It was cool. It was so cool. It was unlike any other charity campaign I’ve seen for a long time, and because of this, people loved, adopted, and nurtured it.

While all may not act any further than changing their profile picture, they must not be blamed for this. Marketing types can tell you that ‘share of mind’ on its own is a very valuable commodity. Even though the NSPCC had nothing to do with this, I’m sure they’re still grateful for the support. However, instead of moaning that no one really cares, and the world sucks, I think it’s best to take a different approach. Urge people to follow through on their virtual pledges, and donate even a small sum towards the NSPCC, or any organisation that supports children. I’m sure there are many people who have already done so, but we shouldn’t criticise people for not monetarily supporting the cause. These are people who wouldn’t have given issues such as child abuse a second thought last week. If they were able to be persuaded to change their prized profile picture on Facebook, I’m sure they can also be persuaded into putting one or two pounds towards a tremendously worthy cause.

Instead of complaining that this campaign doesn’t work, it’s up to us to make this work. This is a true grass-roots movement. Unlike other ‘professional’ campaigns, it lacks the impetus to put good wishes and a willingness to support a cause into action. Next time you log on to Facebook or Twitter, why not post a link to the NSPCC’s donations page? Why not share a relevant article relating to child abuse prevention, or child welfare? Failing that, why not just show your friends that you’re backing the campaign, with or without your wallet, and provide the positive reinforcement it takes to change minds, and change the world. We started this, and it is up to us to finish this. Today is supposedly the ‘deadline’ for the campaign, so let’s make it count, for the thousands of children around the world who are affected by child abuse daily.

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PETA’s 2010 ‘State of the Union Undress’ – A Strip Too Far?

I’ve always respected PETA for their work towards promoting animal welfare, and exposing the cruelty behind the meat and dairy industries. I am, however, currently reassessing my views, due to their most recent campaign to drum up support, based around a parody of America’s annual ‘State of the Union Address’.

Their ‘State of the Union Undress’ (WARNING: VERY NSFW) is a feature that’s existed for a few years, now. It is essentially a collection of videos which all involve a model standing in front of an American flag, in their underwear, talking about PETA’s work. PETA have always been provocative in their advertisements (something a quick Google Images search will reveal) but this really takes the cake. Interspersed with shots of a legitimate Congressional audience, to give the impression of a genuine Union address, each model takes it in turn to talk about PETA’s brilliant work, and how it’s essential to keep supporting them, whilst taking off their underwear.

You read that correctly. While these ‘spokespeople’ elucidate the need to keep supporting PETA through these ‘tough economic times’, they’re stripping down to their bare bottoms. The faux-Congressional audience claps and cheers, while the models make horrible puns about Americans needing to ‘stand to attention’, and what-not, and the resulting debacle is all kinds of horrible. I am, of course, speaking as a vegan with an active interest in feminism, but the ‘State of the Union Undress’ campaign makes me, dare I say, ashamed to be vegan.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that PETA are hoping, as I’m sure they have done with previous ‘State of the Union Undresses’, to create huge amounts of publicity and PR spin. I’m sure that this will happen, and they’ll be featured on all types of websites, and in all kinds of publications. It doesn’t matter that the majority of these will likely be men’s magazines and adult websites, as long as they’re getting the word out, right? Yes, people are going to take notice, but will the people PETA are trying to appeal to, who will appreciate such a calamitous publicity campaign, really be the people who will actually be likely to give a damn about animal rights, and issues of animal welfare? I worry for whoever is managing PETA’s marketing functions, who I’m sure is one of those docile souls who believes that anyone can be won over to any cause, as long as you grab their attention. The men (and possibly women) who lap this up won’t give a damn about changing their diet, just as any responsible types who PETA should actively be trying to appeal to will just shake their heads, along with the rest of us, and move on.

It really bothers me that PETA have frittered away what little credibility they had by making women expose themselves senselessly, in the name of ‘animal welfare’. No, scratch that. If they got these models to stand on a soapbox outside their local McDonalds and KFC stores, and asked them to shout, whilst fully clothed, about how animals are slaughtered for fast food consumption, that would be in the name of animal welfare. That would at least be an attempt at something that resembles trying to making a change. Instead, these women are on our computer screens, stripping for the benefit of what is probably a load of serial masturbators, trying to make them care about what they had for dinner, and what they’ll have for dinner tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, by appearing to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Well done, PETA, for what I’d probably commend as being the most ironic advertising campaign of the year. In a poor attempt to gain some publicity, you’ve successfully shown that you treat women the way most other people treat meat. You’ve also completely lost my respect.

Feminists, do leave a comment. I know you’re out there.


Marcus Rivers hates the iPhone. Sony got beef.

As part of what I’m researching for my wonderful digital marketing dissertation, I’m looking at YouTube channels and whether or not ‘community’ growth links to video popularity, and whether or not that links to good mojo for your brand. It’s quite complex.

One of the channels I’m studying is the MarcusPSP channel, a vehicle for Sony to promote their PSP that was introduced to the world by fictional Sony VP Kevin Butler at this year’s E3. This campaign/channel stars another character, teenager Marcus Rivers. In proper street accredited language, Marcus talks up the PSP, its games, and also criticises the iPhone on more than one occasion. I’ve counted four so far. Take a look at this video that was uploaded yesterday:

In it, Marcus denounces AppStore title Hold On! (or something similar) for being a boring game. Sure, it’s a boring game, which is why I’m sure Sony chose to comment on it, instead of the thousands of other decent games available through the AppStore.

Let’s look at another ad, which this time discusses Paper Toss.

This time, you’ll see Marcus ridiculing the app for ‘wasting his momma’s hard earned money’, and charging for a game you can play for free. This is naughty, especially since Paper Toss is a free app. Admittedly, following its success, the game’s designers, Backflip Studios, launched a new paid app, Paper Toss World Tour, which I’d imagine only reinforces the fact that the original was a decent game. It really was!

If we examine the construction of both of these ads, it’s easy to see that the ads are simply puerile eye-poking, criticising the iPhone as a gaming platform for the sake of, well, not being a PSP. This is similarly highlighted in the comments to these videos, which are mostly (especially in the former) Sony fanboys bashing Apple fanboys, and vice-versa.

If we were to take this a step further, what do these ads actually say about the PSP? Other than the fact that it’s a machine with a die hard, pre-pubescent fan following? The ads are both sharp in their condemnation of the iPhone platform, giving no firm reason as to why. Indeed, the only real reference to the PSP comes from a short montage of PSP games at the end of each video. I’d argue, then, that Sony’s time (and money) would be better spent talking about the merits of the PSP, instead of the apparent downfalls of everything else. This is malicious advertising at its worst.

What about brand messages, as well? This campaign makes me feel as if I’m too old for the PSP. Crikey! I’m only 22! I had my time as a fanboy (Nintend0 represent!) which was all well and good, but have since then moved on to a state of technological enlightenment. I think brands should celebrate what makes them different from each other. Instead, Sony are resorting poking fun at the iPhone, which is most likely an indication of who their biggest competitors are. This makes me sad, and at the same time, makes me want to stay away from the PSP.

What are your thoughts on the iPhone/PSP situation, and on Marcus Rivers? Do let me know. I’d love to hear from you.


Brands that get it: Civilization

Civilization (the turn-based strategy games from Fixaris Games) might be an odd brand to bring up in a discussion such as this. Indeed, most of you reading this (unless you’re into gaming) have probably never heard of the brand. What’s so special about it, then?

Civilization has been around since 1991, and has since then enjoyed cult success as a heavyweight of the turn-based strategy genre. Fixaris’ latest offering, Civilization V, launches next month. Great news for strategy fans, and not a big deal for everyone else, I’m guessing. Bear with me.

Sid Meier, the “legendary game designer” behind the series, brought out a lighter version of Civilization’s rather full-on formula, for more casual players, in 2008. He called it Civilization Revolution. The game was released to a warm reception, prompting a 2009 iOS release. It’s a good, if not further chopped-down version of the original Civilization Revolution, that cost somewhere in the region of £5.

Last week, as a promotion through FreeAppADay.com, for one day, the iOS game was free to download, and since then has been selling for the paltry sum of £1.79. That still sounds like a lot, especially when you consider you could have acquired it for free, but it’s a massively different price point. Still, I’m sure people will be further enticed towards making a purchase by all the new, lovely reviews from people who downloaded the app for free.

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge Civilization fan. Or at least I wasn’t. Before my Civilization Revolution download, I specifically remember my last experience with the series was playing Civilization II at a friend’s house while I was in primary school. Still, being reintroduced to the Civilization has had a massive effect on me. It’s just so addictive. As a result, I’ll be sure to pick up Civilization V next month when it’s released.

Fixaris, and 2K Games, its publisher, don’t seem to have done a great deal of promotion for Civilization V, other than the standard, very pretty official website. It’s a long call from the brilliant, tongue-in-cheek campaign they used to launch Civilization IV, depicting a mock help service for Civilization addicts. They also produced some brilliant advertisements for this, which you should really take a look at. They did, however, use Civilization Revolution to promote the brand as a whole, in a very non-direct way.

So, what can we learn from this? People like free stuff, for starters, and are willing to download anything of (monetary) value if it’s given away for free. What some might see as money lost in app revenues, Fixaris/2K probably see as introducing people (getting them addicted) to the Civilization franchise. It worked on me, for sure.

It’s not often that companies give you something to say, “Oh, hello, here’s something we did a year ago, for free!” I’m sure many took their free game and let that be that. However, Fixaris/2K implicitly gestured, “If you liked that, there’s more where that came from next month!” This is fantastic, especially since they didn’t shove this in anyone’s face. Nowhere on the game’s AppStore listing is there any reference to Civilization V. Indeed, the promotion is put down to a ‘birthday celebration’.

Lesson two, then, is that people don’t like being shouted at. Games and advertisements are (or should be) two different things entirely. People download Civilization Revolution to play, not to be preached at. People are clever, and more than capable of doing their own research. In fact, I felt quite privileged when I figured out, all by myself, that a new Civilization game is being released soon.

All in all, this whole strategy is a great way of driving adoption of a small, cult-like (niche?) product, like a turn-based strategy game. Everyone knows that people don’t know what they like. If you show them something neat, which they might not have explored before, and they can obtain at no inconvenience to them, you might just be pleasantly surprised. Just be nice about it.


Brands that get it: Old Spice

If you take even the slightest bit of notice as to trends developing through the social web, I’m sure you would have heard of the Old Spice responses campaign. You should at least be aware of their brilliant TV ads, an example of which is below. Even if you’ve seen this one before, I think you should watch it again.

Did you see that? Wasn’t it marvellous? Truly, this should be the direction that communications should be heading. In one month, that video has captured over 11 million views, which is over half as many views as Powerthirst, which has been up for years; because, you know, everyone should totally start using Powerthirst as a benchmark of awesome.

Indeed, it seems that I’m not the only one who’s mega enthusiastic about this all. People have gone wild for Old Spice, following their online exploits. Or not. Depending on who you talk to, Old Spice sales have either increased a great deal because of these campaigns, or haven’t really done anything amazing in the wider context of men’s toiletry sales. I’m of the opinion that it’s really too soon to judge whether or not Old Spice man has had a profound effect on sales. Instead, I think we should (without forgetting how recent these videos, and the responses campaign was) focus on the things Old Spice, and W+K, the agency behind all this, did differently.

Number one, people generally like being listened to, especially by brands. The historical connotations of the word ‘brand’ conjure up images of soulless offerings manufactured by the kind of organisations that Ronald Coase was harping on about in the 1930s. Think limited distribution, the marketing ‘push’, one way communication, or whatever you want to call it. We all know that’s certainly not the case now. Brands now are more friendly creatures, that have every opportunity to listen and talk back to their audiences. Generally, I’m suitably satisfied when a brand I tweet at manages to tweet back at me. That specific example is all about customer service, and all about AWESOME, but I’m sure you get the point. In their own way, brands are celebrities, and we’d all like to be noticed by some celebrities every once in a while, right?

Number two, the responses campaign was essentially responding to the internet in real-time. This, known as low latency advertising (props to Faris Yakob for that one), is truly the future of advertising, in my opinion. We all know, as people, that people generally hate waiting for things. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, we also love it when brands talk to us. However, Old Spice didn’t only respond to the internet in real-time, it responded to the internet in real-time with well polished, humorous video responses. To be on the receiving end of one of those bad boys must have made you feel like a celebrity, as well.

Used in conjunction with each other, these two things result in increased audience engagement on a scale we’ve never seen before. The internet didn’t know what hit it. This was a result of superb strategic planning, from the team who produced these videos, who managed to scour the web for decent questions from influential people, and then answer these questions as a way of maximising the campaign’s exposure.

One area I think really needs paying attention to, is that Old Spice has truly befriended the internet. I like to think of the internet as another country, almost. As such, it’s got its own cultural values, its own customs, and most importantly, its own unique sense of humour. The Old Spice responses were not only able to tap into this unique pool of memes and in-jokes, but exploit it to their advantage. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate result of brilliant writing and planning, or whether it just happened, but it’s a lesson the creative industries all need to learn. The internet can be your best friend, with just a little love. Get to know it first, and then make it happy. Just watch this response to Anonymous (the shady group of internet activists who were behind the Scientology protests), which they unanimously approved of, and you’ll see what I mean.


Facebook, Interests, and Privacy

I’ve just been on BBC Radio Solent, speaking to the lovely Steve Harris about my views on Facebook and privacy.

If you’ve been keeping up-to-date, you’ll know that Facebook have been having something of a hard time, recently, what with Quit Facebook Day fast approaching. They’re set to announce new, simpler privacy settings this evening, and I’ll be keeping my ears open. I think Facebook have certainly been abusing their position as a makeshift Information Commissioner, for those familiar with the Data Protection Act.

Something that I think has flown completely under the radar, however, is Facebook’s radical redesign of its users’ ‘Information’ pages; a former space where you could write to your heart’s content about what you’re interested in, in whatever format you desired. All this changed a few, short weeks ago, when Facebook essentially catalogued each one of these ‘interests’ as fan pages. Essentially, you can no longer like anything without ‘Liking’ it. I think this is bad for two reasons. Firstly, it removes any notion of individualism from the site, as users are now defined by the connections that tether them to a predetermined set of interests. Confusing, right?

For example, say I like The Beatles. I don’t think this would define me absolutely, as there are many types of Beatles fans. This is obvious. I could, say, insist that I like their ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, but not their later psychedelic ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. That little difference is what defines me as a certain type of Beatles fan. It’s what signifies me as myself. Under Facebook’s new information regime, I wouldn’t be able to just type that in the ‘Music’ section of my Facebook profile. I’d only be able to include that I’m a fan of The Beatles, which doesn’t really say anything about me at all. It’s these differences in opinion, expression, and even syntax that define me as a person. Instead, I’m now forced to live my life as an all-encompassing Beatles fan. I’m forced into a convenient pigeonhole, where I define myself through a predetermined list of interests. The network has lost its dynamicism, which is a very sad thing.

Why have Facebook done such a thing, then? To move on to my second point, to further exploit us as commodities to advertisers. Thanks to this new hierarchy, Facebook now (potentially) can map out advertising reach a lot easier, by saying to advertisers, ‘Look, we’ve got X number of Beatles fans that you can advertise to!’ The new system will clearly make number crunching a whole lot easier to sell us, and our information, which some of us are unwittingly giving away.

My main gripe is that Facebook has lost its focus. When I first discovered the social network back in 2006, I was attracted to its simplicity and uniform layout, as opposed to MySpace. When Applications arrived, I balked. Slowly, Facebook has turned its users into commodities, which we can see clearly now, and we’re very, very angry.

I’m very eager to find out what Mark Zuckerberg comes out with this evening. I’ll be listening intently, probably along with the rest of the world.


Super Mario Galaxy 2’s YouTube Campaign: Nintendo know how to do content well.

Desire is a strange word. The OED defines it as a notion of requirement. If you desire something, you require it. While there are varying degrees of requirement, the OED also describes desire as an indicator of craving something. So, if I am to understand things correctly, if you desire something, you both crave and require, want, or need it.

Right now, I desire to get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy 2. Bear with me, if you will. I know this has been a recurring theme in this blog, as of late, but Nintendo have done a superb job of building, or manufacturing this desire within me, over the past few weeks, with its YouTube campaign leading up to the game’s release on Sunday.

I’m a huge Mario fan. That’s a given. I enjoyed the first Super Mario Galaxy a great deal, and was looking forward to its sequel, to some extent. I wasn’t craving it to the extent of hopping across my room with excitement whenever I see or hear anything new of the game, however. Nintendo have done a brilliant job of drip-feeding information about the game to its public, and they’ve done so fantastically.

If any of you are unaware of the current campaign going down on Nintendo’s YouTube channel, a new ‘transmission’ (from planet Mario, I assume) is uploaded every other day, which is a minuscule snippet of in-game footage, never longer than a minute or so. At the start of each video, you’re shown a ‘progress bar’, made up of planets, which denotes every trailer leading up to release. Instantly, you can see how much content you’re going to receive over the course of the campaign, which is already a good incentive to check back. The trailers themselves are brilliant, never showing too much, or too little; just enough to whet your appetite. Each trailer shows off one new gameplay element, such as a playable Luigi, various new power-ups, new level designs that incorporate 3D and 2.5D cleverly and seamlessly, and the return of Yoshi, and his functionality as character. The latest trailer was absolutely fantastic. To quote my recent tweet, “I almost just crapped my pants with excitement” on watching it. Quite.

Any fan of Super Mario 64 will instantly see what I mean, when I say that this made me excited.

Nintendo have created a cunning way of enticing Mario fans, old and new, into finding out about Super Mario Galaxy 2. By not releasing all the information gleaned from these brief trailers all at once, they don’t overload you with information, and deliver their content in a way that is much more exciting than a boring old ‘Info’ page on a website, that no one really reads in great depth anyway. These videos sort of make me feel like I’m piecing together a puzzle, which is exciting. That, I think, is something you don’t see enough of in advertising today, in my humble opinion.

I talk an awful lot about control on this blog. Control of expectations, but also control of emotions. Nintendo have made me want this game in a way that not even Rockstar have managed, with their imminent release of Red Dead Redemption tomorrow (in the UK). Red Dead Redemption is a game I’m also very excited about, but in giving me an almost daily reason to want their game, Nintendo have succeeded in making me truly crave Super Mario Galaxy 2. Good on you lot.