Monthly Archives: October 2007

I’m getting old…

_41489696_bluepet.jpgI was tutting at the telly earlier.

Mind you, I still maintain it was a highly irresponsible piece of programming.  I caught Blue Peter with the kids this afternoon.  I hadn’t seen it in ages (my kids are a bit young for it) and it’s all gone quite funky.  Though it obviously hasn’t covered itself in glory this year.

Anyway, get this.  Only days when the majority of the kids in the UK are going to find themselves within eyebrow melting distance of a huge pile of flaming wood – probably for the one and only time this year – what does Blue Peter decide to do?  Only have one of its presenters walk barefoot across burning embers!

Any other time of the year, maybe.  But sorry, not this week.  All programme we joined the presenters in the Blue Peter garden where the ember walking experts were preparing the inferno, telling us how they’d prepared Zoe mentally for the challenge ahead.  Then they’d stick a thermometer into the fire to tell us that it was burning at “more than 400 degrees ” and that “human flesh burns at only a hundred and something degrees…”

Only thing was, when we cut back to the final piece, as Zoe was about to take the “walk of warm”, we could see some bloke liberally sprinkling mineral water onto the embers, and though Zoe’s over-excited co-presenter told us that the temperature was”off the scale” we actually saw that it had dropped to about 170 degrees.  Shit, I’ve been on hotter sand (honest – Rhodes, summer of 1981). 

Zoe skipped across untroubled, into the hugely impressed embrace of all and sundry.  Including my little girl.

“Wow, daddy!” she exclaimed, “did you see that?  That girl walked on fire with no shoes. 

“We’re having a bonfire this weekend, aren’t we daddy..?”

Bart Simpson, da Vinci…

hendrix.gifhendrix.gifhendrix.gif…and of course this fella, Jimi Hendrix.  What have they all got in common?

The pic of Hendrix is the clue.  Yep, they are (or were) all left-handed. 

I’m back on Microtrends again, I’m afraid, and I’ve just read a chapter that’s quite close to my heart – the increase in the number of left-handed people.  It’s important to me not because I’m left-handed myself, but because my 5 year old daughter is.  It was very evident from an early age.  When she was literally weeks old you could already see that she was favouring her left hand over her right (when painting landscapes…she’s very advanced).

The book doesn’t touch on what makes one person left-handed and another right-handed (which I’m planning on looking up on t’internet very soon), but rather on the steady increase in left-handed people in society.  Let’s be clear, a lot of the apparent increase is cultural.  It’s much less common these days to force a naturally left-handed child into being right-handed – it’s part of society’s increasing tolerance of many things – but there are also some scientific reasons.  For instance, children born to mothers over 40 are, according to one study, 128% more likely to be left-handed than those born to mothers in their 20s.  And the average age of mums is on the up.

I can tell you from personal experience, you don’t have to watch your daughter struggling with a pair of right-handed scissors for very long to seek out a left-handed pair.  And this is what I love about Microtrends.  If you’re a manufacturer of any product that is designed to be used in one hand, then you’d better think about making a left-handed version pretty soon, and getting it into some mainstream retailers.  Ever tried using a BlackBerry as a leftie?  And that given the company’s co-CEO is left-handed!

Still, it’s nice to know that my little girl is in good company.  Look at this list of lefties…Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Picasso, Michelangelo, Beethoven, John McEnroe, Navratilova, Seinfeld and every US President since Gerald Ford, save peanut-farmer Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush (thank the Lord).

Mind you, I’m ignoring The Boston Strangler (who surely needed to use both hands?) and Jack the Ripper…

Next, when baseball does cricket

David Brain of Edelman kindly gave the blog a mention this afternoon, so it only seems fair to do the same thing for him…though I suspect I’ll benefit more.

Actually, I’m very happy to as in the post before his mention of me, David’s embedded a video clip of one of my favourite ever sporting moments (though I’m not sure if I saw it on TV when it actually happened, given I was only 4 at the time). 

David’s juxtaposed (and there’s a word I don’t use very often) the clip against another, in which the most exciting moment ever in American Football took place when one team decided to start playing rugby.  Lessons to be learned, methinks.

Jigsaw pieces

9781846140426h.jpgI had a moment the other day.  And it was one that, perhaps, started to help all this social media/conversational marketing malarkey make a bit more sense.

There have been three pretty high profile (I hesitate to use the word ‘seminal’) texts over recent years that the web 2.0 crowd has latched onto.  The first one was The Cluetrain Manifesto; the second one The Long Tail.  I have to admit, though I’ve read quite a bit about both of them, I’ve never actually read either (so feel free to discount this post as the ramblings of an ill-informed imbecile).  However, the third one in the list – the cover of which is pictured here – is a book that currently resides upon my bedside table – and a terribly good read it is too.  It’s Microtrends, by Mark J. Penn.

If each were taken in isolation, I can understand how they might be dismissed, particularly by large businesses. 

The Cluetrain Manifesto claimed that all markets are conversations.  But hang on a minute…if we’ve got 100,000 customers, how are we supposed to have a proper, valuable, individual conversation with each of them?  And if we try to have a single conversation with all of them, then that’s not really a conversation, is it?  It’ll just be us telling them what we want them to hear, the same as always.  Let’s ignore that.

The Long Tail asserted that the world of online has given consumers infinite choice, and the ability to seek out entirely personalised and specialised products and services…and that for even the most niche product there’s a big enough global market to make it worthwhile.  But just wait a minute.  We’ve got a broad enough product range already (with at least a dozen different options)…I’m not about to start tailoring my product for every single customer.  Forget that one too.

Then along comes Microtrends.  Here’s the book that delivers the research (or at least examples of it) behind the explosion in niches in the global marketplace.  It contains seventy-odd cases where an apparently tiny trend actually earmarks a significant market.  The examples are primarily from the USA…and a microtrend can mean just 1% of the population.  But in the US, that means more that 3 million people.  And if you understand the microtrend, that market can be yours.

Now, think of these three texts together.  Global markets are exploding into millions of little niches (The Long Tail).  With the right research, you can understand the motivations, values and drivers within each of these niches (Microtrends).  And the market niches are small enough – with such a consistent set of values – that you might, just might, be able to have a valuable conversation with them (The Cluetrain Manifesto).  Now it starts to get interesting.

My mum – who’s 62 years old – bought herself an iPod Nano last year.  She’s not especially techie…she’s very happy with email and ecommerce, but she would be able to set up, say, a POP3 email account.  She absolutely loves her Nano though.  Why?  Because she loves her music.  And she’s not only got the Nano, but she’s got a Bose SoundDock in the lounge and anotherone (yes, another one) in the kitchen.  And she raves about it to all her friends.  Now, how difficult would it be for Apple to start a conversation with a market niche of over-60s women with a bit of cash to burn who love their music?  Not very, I’d have thought – and not that expensive either.  iPod Nana anyone?

That’s what we’re talking about.

James Bond’s motor

img12.jpgNot the Ford Mondeo so comically ‘placed’ in Casino Royale…the other one.  The Aston Martin with the defibrillator in the glove compartment (so much handier than the Werther’s Originals in mine…).  The one he crashed.  Aston Martin decided to launch the same car (minus any Q-branch gadgets, obviously) and it’s called the DBS.

I’ve just been reading the first report of the production version on the rather wonderful (if you’re a bit of a car lover like me) Classic Driver website.  If you do like your cars – particularly old ones – then I urge you to register for the weekly Classic Inside newsletter.  It always arrives on a Friday and is brilliant daydream material.

I’d been a bit worried about the DBS since the first shots of it were released.  To me it just looked like a DB9 that had been pimped…all bodykit, special alloys and air vents.  Sadly, the Classic Driver report and pictures hasn’t allayed my fears – it still looks too much like a DB9 with bits.  The DB9 is a beautiful car.  The DBS looks more aggressive, sure, but if I want an aggressive looking Aston (I’d take any, to be fair) then I’ll have a Vanquish (with a manual gearbox, ta).

Spitting distance from two World Chamionships

lewis_hamilton_bahrain5.jpglewis_hamilton_bahrain5.jpglewis_hamilton_bahrain5.jpgWhat a weekend of sporting action we’ve got ahead of us!  The Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa on Saturday night and then Lewis Hamilton guuning for the Formula One world chamionship on Sunday.  Cracking stuff – I can’t remember when a weekend last held the prospect of English victories in two such high profile global events.

So, who’s got the better chance?  I guess you’d have to say Hamilton.  He’s leading the championship – albeit only by four points – and has been on cracking form all season.  He also seems fairly unaffected by any amount of pressure (though his off into the gravel in the Chinese pitlane might suggest otherwise).  Still, ‘all’ he’s got to do is finish first or second and it doesn’t matter what the moaning Spaniard Alonso does or the death-warmed-up Finn Raikkonen.

I’ve become so quickly used to Hamilton’s stellar performances that I think it’s very easy to forget what an astonishing season the lad’s had.  Within a few points of winning the world chamionship in his first year of Formula One!  Amazing.  OK, so we know that the car you’re in plays a huge part in your chances of success, and he’s been dricing since he could crawl, but even so, he’s been lining up next to the two time world champion and generally blowing him off the track (possibly a little hyberbole from me there).  Win or lose, though, he’s not going to be wondering where the next paycheck’s coming from for a long, long time.

Now, the rugby.  Slightly different position for the English representatives.  They haven’t shown great form for…well, for four years and didn’t for the first few games of the World Cup.  But the team spirit has delivered a couple of fantastic performances and landed them in the final.  The South African’s have gone about their business quietly and pretty effectively (though not without one or two close calls in the group stage) and they’ve got to go into the final as favourites.  It’s silly to say that England have nothing to lose because of course they have…the World Cup (and their reign as World Champions).  Heart says England, head South Africa.  If it’s close then I’m going England…if South Africa win it’ll be by at least 15 points.

My French neighbours have invited me round to watch the game with them (he’s got a home cinema system and is having a bunch of friends round).  I’ve declined for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I want to watch the game with English commentary; secondly I generally don’t like watching big sporting fixtures on TV in large groups of people…it’s very distracting…and finally, I tend to get quite, umm, ‘agitated’ during games and I’m not sure my neighbours need the particular English vocabulary I’ll no doubt be using!

Obviously two English World Champions by Sunday evening would be perfect.  I’d take one…none at all would mean a hugely depressing start to next week.

There’s one clear winner in all of this though.  ITV Sport.

Old/new media melange

1422723.jpgI came across an interesting old/new media mash-up on TV last night.  Flicking around to find something to watch before the new series of Oz and James’s Big Wine Adventure (or whatever it’s called) I turned to Sky News and found myself watching News, presented by Martin Stanford.

Basically, the programme’s about all the news that’s floating around the web, so some mainstream stuff that’s on telly anyway, and some web-only.  The screen treatment grabs the eye – there’s a set of ‘web-like’ menu tabs along the top of the page and the screen spends a lot of time split into two or three separate images.  So, for instance, when one part of the screen is showing a fairly standard piece of news coverage, another part might be showing commentary relating to the story from a blog or website (the names of which are always prominently featured).

Some of the coverage felt quite rough and ready.  The show cuts together standard news coverage with user-generated video and live outside broadcasts.  Last night they grabbed Kylie on the red carpet in Leicester Square.  It was an interesting piece – we went to the live reporter quite early, and had to wait with him while Kylie made her way past a number of different reporters…we therefore listened in to other interviews, saw how the Sky man had to take his chance to grab her…it gave a real sense of the news gathering process that I quite enjoyed.

Stanford was joined throughout in the studio by a pundit who commented on all the stories – last night he was from one of the gaming websites (can’t remember which) – and closed the show by showing the top 5 video clips currently doing the rounds online.  The top one last night made me laugh like a drain.  You can watch it here.

It certainly felt like a different sort of news coverage, and I wonder whether it’s a glimpse into the future when our TV screens will more closely represent the web – and vice versa – and news coverage will be a mix of the story as reported, live commentary on it from the web and user-generated additions? 

It looks like it’s on most weekday evenings at 7.30pm on Sky News – worth checking out.  I certainly enjoyed it more than I did the Oz and James licence fee-funded piss-up that I watched after it…

Bad losers v. good losers

Matt Ravden pointed me to his blog post yesterday about the Rugby World Cup.  The central question was whether – having being knocked out at the quarter-final stage – the All Blacks could still claim to be the best team in the world?  After all, winning the World Cup doesn’t automatically mean that you move straight to the top of the world rankings. 

My perspective is a semantic one.  While the All Blacks can claim (probably rightly) to have the best collection of individual rugby talent, I think the World Cup has clearly demonstrated that they’re not the best team…a team being more than the sum of its collective parts.  France were the better team in the quarter-final against New Zealand because their players dug deeper, played for each other with passion and commitment and the All Blacks couldn’t match them.  Ditto for England against Australia and, of course, against France last weekend.  I’m biased, but if there was a team of rugby players that I wanted playing for my children’s lives (or mine!) it’d be England.

The Kiwis and the Aussies have reacted very badly to losing, as you might expect.  Or should we?  The French haven’t reacted with anything like the same sense of injustice.  I’m back home in France now and almost without exception people are being magnanimous in defeat.  When dropping the kids off at school yesterday my wife was congratulated by numerous other parents, all wishing England well next weekend.  Even the French press I read on Sunday gave credit to England for the deserved victory.  It seems French people are looking forward, not back.

No doubt fans of Australia and New Zealand will trot out the old mantra, “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”  I can’t stand that particular motto.  It’s also true to say “show me a bad loser and I’ll show you a loser.”  Losing well, with dignity, shows more character and spirit than losing poorly and moaning about others’ poor decisions.

I think it comes down to a nation’s sense of its own identity.  Australia’s a young country, with a relatively small population and without the depth of history of an England or France.  It’s a massive country with a small town attitude.  A huge proportion of the Australian national identity is centred on its sporting success and when that falls apart, there isn’t a great deal else to turn to.  While sporting success to the English and French is important and desired, we’ve all got a lot of other rich and diverse stuff – film, art, music, history, business, architecture – to get excited about, so we tend to move on a bit more quickly.

There are perhaps some lessons there for our Antipodean friends.  But then, we’ve probably been teaching them enough over the last couple of weeks.


Look hereClaridge’s has apparently turned water into wine.

I don’t care who you are, or how much money you’ve got, if you pay £50 for a litre of mineral water you’re an idiot.  They claim it delivers “a pleasant smooth sensation on the palate”…like most other bottled waters, I guess.  Careful though.  It’s from New Zealand, so it’ll probably make you choke.

Claridge’s food and beverage director says that “water is becoming like wine”.  I’ll take the wine, thanks.  Particularly as at Decanter’s 1999 mineral water blind tasting, the surprise winner was…London tap water.  You can have a jug of that for free at Claridge’s.  I urge you to.

Berlin, 2.0, rugby

small.JPGsmall.JPGFirst post, first post.  What to do?  Personal stuff?  Professional stuff?  Bit of a mix?  I think so.  I’ve had a full weekend which has managed to combine a bit of everything, so this’ll probably be a mess.

I went to Berlin for a summit organised by Edelman Public Relations called PR2.0 (bit of disclosure here: I’ve done some work on a freelance basis for Edelman in the past).  Edelman wanted to get a bunch of people either involved or interested in how the world of social media is changing the PR profession to see if we could come up with any answers, because to a greater or lesser extent, we’re all struggling with it a bit at the mo’.  And let’s be honest, they were also using it as a (very, as it turned out) soft recruitment exercise.  Fair play to them though.  We were put up in a very nice hotel, fed and watered liberally and weren’t asked to work too hard…

I can’t go naming any of the other delegates as half of them were probably there without their current employer’s knowledge (which is why the event took place over a weekend)  but there was a good line up of speakers from organisations as diverse as Nike and the World Wildlife Fund.  Hugh MacLeod was also there speaking.  For those of you that don’t know (ha! As if…) MacLeod is one of the UK’s most celebrated bloggers.  It’s quite extraordinary.  In the real world, he draws cartoons on the back of business cards (don’t necessarily expect belly laughs, mind…).  He’s also a marketing consultant to a South African wine maker, an English bespoke tailor and Microsoft.  Work that out.

Anyway, MacLeod did his speech and, as I’d been led to believe it would, it centred around what he calls ‘Social Objects’.  A cartoon can be a Social Object.  As can a bottle of wine.  Or a mobile phone.  Or a book.  Or a meal.  Or a newspaper article.  A Social Object is something…anything…that two or more people want to talk about; that prompts a conversation.  And conversations are important in the new world of social media.  In fact, it’s all about conversations.

I buy that.  I just think Social Object is a bit of a wanky phrase to describe stuff that people want to talk about.  But it’s right, and appeals to my view of the new world of social media.  Though I also hate the phrase ‘social media’.  I’m a content man, you see, and social media (for me, at least) is about the technology and not the content.  I’d prefer a phrase like ‘conversational marketing’, though accept that might be regarded as wanky in itself.  But the concept of organisations needing to create things (‘Social Objects’) that tap into the interests, values and emotions of two or more people is spot on.

It was a good weekend.  I’ve come away having learnt stuff, but also being confident in the fact that I know more about it all than I thought I did.  I also met some truly nice people.  Some of them German.

The highlight of the weekend was, of course, Berlin’s striking architecture.  No it wasn’t.  It was England beating France in the Rugby World Cup semi-final!  Thankfully – despite their clear and total mystification – our German hosts recognised the raw passion in the eyes of the English and French delegates and we were allowed to escape from the official evening out and seek out an Irish pub to watch the game.  It was quite an evening as, at the same time as the French and English rugby teams were doing battle, the German and Irish football teams were doing the same.  Luckily the pub had enough TVs to go around.  And beer.  The Guinness was served in 400ml glasses.  These were exactly the same shape as a traditional Guinness pint glass, but obviously about a third smaller.  This made it look like I had enormous hands, to my childish amusement every time a new one arrived.

But what a result!  Our joyous momentum carried us well into the early hours of Sunday morning, where I literally danced myself to a standstill in the Felix nightclub.  My contribution to the summit’s Sunday sessions was more than slightly affected.  Indeed, when I did decide to chip in with a question, I found my voicebox rendered useless through my constant screaming at the television the previous evening and simply emitted a sad stream of raspy whispers.  Quite pathetic.

However, the essence of the question still remains.  Are there the companies out there with the balls to give up enough control of their brands and messages to properly participate in the new world of conversational marketing?  I’m not sure there are.