Archive for April, 2007

“How very dare you!”

It was unusual to see Contagious veer off into rant mode in one of its recent news alerts. Its flagship product, the quarterly Contagious Magazine, is a must-have for any advertising agency which doesn’t want to wither and die as an above-the-line dinosaur.
It was quite fun to see it rail against Ooh Am I In It? Weekly (otherwise known as Campaign), but not so much fun to see it pick on the two creative “girls” (the Contagious term, for they doth be blonde) who dared, in this week’s Private View, to say of Joost web ad

How is it different to ‘what we already have’ TV? Maybe if we knew exactly what Joost was, it’d work, but we don’t so it doesn’t.

One can almost hear the Contagious crew girding their loins in outrage at the supposed ignorance of the creative pair who really Ought To Know Better about this development in media (nicely covered in the latest issue of Contagious, I would like to point out).
But Contagious are SO missing the point… the duo (creatives talking about creativity – the cheek of it!) relate some of the YouTube comments left by other jaded watchers of the Joost ad. It really is saying something if YouTube viewers can’t make head nor tail of the virtually incomprehensible ad. And one would assume YouTube’s viewers contain a relatively sizeable constituency of new-media-friendly people.
After all, the ad doesn’t tell you what the blasted thing IS, a creative failure that two women of their profession were well able to notice.


Can advertising help create psychopaths?

violenceSchool massacres have become a meme, or a contagious idea. That’s the astounding conclusion of a thought-provoking article in one of the weekend papers. The media noise – advertising, films, TV, conversations – affect our self-image from which everyone, including deeply disturbed individuals, take their cue.
The distressingly large list of similar massacres has become a genre in its own right, and one which grows in power at each retelling.
Sam Leith, the Daily Telegraph‘s young arts editor, describes the mindset that causes us to seek a target to blame:

“As a species, we are very bad indeed at coping with eruptions of meaninglessness. We like things to have causes and effects – ideally, causes and effects whose relationships to each other are simple. And this seems to be why, in the wake of any eruption of violent senselessness, we tend to comb through the wreckage looking for explanations. And it’s art that usually cops it.”

Advertising is possibly one of the least valued and most despised form of communication to which everyone is exposed. If Leith is correct, then I wonder to what degree advertising, often guilty of stereotyping and of attaching a consumer’s idea of self-worth to brands, can be blamed for having one of the loudest voices.

I’m not suggesting that endless repetitions of the latest KFC ad is going to make someone brain a waitress with a chicken wing. But maybe some people’s perception of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment could be affected by these messages. To someone with low self-esteem and affected by violence seen elsewhere in the media, how would their failure to achieve such contentment manifest itself?

Yahoo! Answers isn’t the answer

There was some considerable plugging by Yahoo! of their new “Answers” service at the recent Blogging4Business Conference in London. It’s a neat idea: throw any question into the ether and there’s a good chance that several people will answer it.
But take a look at this:


This is a snapshot from the History category.
Being something of a history bore, I have spent some time surfing the various Q&As and it soon became apparent that most questions were from students passing on their homework assignments to complete strangers. If you consider the criticisms aimed at Wikipedia – a democratically-controlled knowledge base vulnerable to misinformation – then these flaws are writ large if people are relying on Yahoo! Answers to get them over the latest school hurdle.

I threw in the following question:

“Why don’t kids use books to research their homework? Will they get good marks by asking complete strangers on the internet?”

Some people said “laziness”, but there were some surprise answers:

  • “It’s probably because they get the correct answers more on the internet than by looking it up by themselves”
  • “there is so much information on the internet now days that there really is not much need for books… why waste time going to the library, searching for your topic & a good book on it when you could google it about 10x faster, learn the material and move on to the next subject”
  • “Get real – in today’s word you can read a book for your own pleasure, but if you want to get things done quick you get it online – that’s what you do in a job – and that’s what the kids need to learn”

I’m trying to teach my 13 year-old how to research online for his homework. It’s very hard – without life experience he isn’t equipped to spot the trustworthy sites and discard the rubbish. I’m starting off by building bookmarks to good sites, but it’s becoming an uphill struggle when he’s working on tougher projects.
It’s clear that many students, of whatever age, are too trusting of online sources. A page of replies on Yahoo! Answers lacks the safety net of peer reviews and rigorous checking of good old text books. And yet there are some excellent free online sources – but how can these guys tell what’s good, and what’s bad?

The Web 2.0 ego system

For the last few months I’ve been scrabbling around with pages of presentation slides, miscellaneous journal articles, blog posts and barely understandable data from high-brow research companies. The purpose was to try and explain Web 2.0 to the uninitiated, which is do-able at a simplistic, Wikipedia-style level. The problem comes when trying to explain the implication of social media upon brands. It helps if you can create an all-encompassing slide with lots of pretty logos which is why I was delighted to spot this diagram on Amelia Torode‘s blog.

It looks like the diagram hit the blogosphere here first, and I bet it’s going to crop up on a multitude of others before the next generation of Web 2.0 tools usurp the big fellas at the top of the pyramid (the way things move in this medium, that could be by the end of next week).

You’ll see various criticisms of the ranking method, not least because it uses Alexa, which I’ve never fully trusted anyway, but it’s a nice visual soundbite.

Self-important bit

I’m Victor Houghton, a, er... something or other in one of the UK’s largest advertising agencies. My job title has a comma in it, which is embarrassing. I’m the chief finder-things-outer with a splash of trends who is lucky to work with all the major functions of the agency, even though I am most closely associated with strategic planning. Everything in this blog has most probably been stolen from other, infinitely more talented people, although the opinions are most definitely my own and not those of the agency.



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