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Will Beyoncé-style stunt by Avengers director reinvent the movie industry?

So, Avengers director Joss Whedon sauntered up to the unveiling of his new film to announce that, “It’s not just the world premiere of In Your Eyes… it’s the worldwide release date, because it’s now available on any internet-capable device for $5.”

Is this the brave new future of movie distribution? A simul-release across every conceivable channel? He sprung it on us too – much like Beyonce did with her self-titled release last year and Bowie a little earlier with The Next Day.

But isn’t it a short-term headline grabbing ploy – like Radiohead’s ‘pay what you want ’ In Rainbows album in 2007? It’ll help to hoodwink the pirate torrent downloaders.. but at what cost? Especially when it’s no longer a front page story and becomes the new norm.

Isn’t the whole cinematic experience about anticipation? Being among the very first to see something truly special? Take Gravity, for instance. The pre-release chatter was intense. People truly believed that they were going to see something special – even life changing. And then there’s the comradely sharing of the experience afterwards… “What did you think? Was it as good as they said? Did you believe the hype?”

I’d be surprised if Whedon chose this method of distribution for one of his blockbusters. But that’s probably the point. Maybe he’s ever-so-slightly pre-empting the curse of direct-to-DVD/streaming. In Your Eyes is from Joss’s Bellether Pictures – a microstudio. Would it have even registered on the critics’ Next Big Thing Richter Scale if it wasn’t for his more mainstream successes?

Like all such debates, there’s no hard and fast answer. I believe that each film should dictate its own method of distribution. What’s right for In Your Eyes and similar low-budgets won’t necessarily be right for the next Bond or Spiderman derivative. As long as the directors keep us on our toes over how they disseminate, who cares? It just adds to the excitement.


Rip it up and start again?

Best saw










Just when you thought the CD had breathed its last… Amazon looks set to resuscitate it, with its new AutoRip service. Already launched in the US, it’s now over here.

How does it work? Well, now, when you buy a physical CD on the site they’ll automatically give you an instant free digital version. It’s waiting for you. Right there in your Amazon Cloud Player and on all your devices.

Better still… they’ve retro-ripped every CD you’ve ever bought from them. So be afraid, be very afraid because all those Daniel Bedingfield albums are coming back to haunt you; long after you incinerated or buried them at the bottom of your garden.

What does it mean?

To be honest it’s either wonderful or completely meaningless. It depends how prepared you are to ditch the disc.


  • Best of both worlds? If you’re clinging on to the physical product… it could finally make you go digital. You get your precious disc, jewel case and inlay booklet with sing-along lyrics. Plus, you have the instant gratification of the digital download. Think of it as a migration tool, to help you dip your toe in the brave new world.


  • Utterly pointless. The AutoRip option looks to be more expensive than the digital download only. You pay your money, get your digital download. Then, 3 days a later, the physical CD arrives to clutter up your house. You’ve already heard and enjoyed the music, it’s already been ripped for you… so what’s the purpose?


Where it may come into its own is when a new release comes with opulent packaging. In other words, the artefact has a value over above the music it carries. So you get your instant gratification and then it’s built upon with the ten postcards of the band, backstage DVD and pin badge that arrives in the post. Or you might simply regard it as a useful back-up service. Only to be utilised if you lose the original or it’s smeared with cauliflower baby food.

What’s clear is that Amazon is doing what it does best. Sweeping up and filling in the gaps. Not sticking a finger to the wind and waiting for everyone else to act first. Like the best digital innovators it’s a question of fearlessness. Sometimes your ideas will hit and stick; sometimes they’ll fall by the wayside. What’s important is that you don’t wait around for the next guy to have them.

Just ask HMV.





Twitter’s getting married and you’re not invited!

Bet my data’s deeper than yours! So might run the playground brag of advertising and marketing groups Publicis and WPP. And they’d be right. Both global agencies have recently signed major multi-million pound partnerships with Twitter.

These deals are particularly important if you believe the continued reports that Facebook’s popularity is waning and Twitter’s growing – especially with younger generations.

An interesting new University of Michigan study alludes to why this might be:

“…among middle-aged adults… narcissists posted more frequent status updates on Facebook. It’s about curating your own image, how you are seen, and also checking on how others respond to this image. Middle-aged adults usually have already formed their social selves, and they use social media to gain approval from those who are already in their social circles. For narcissistic college students, the social media tool of choice is the megaphone of Twitter. Young people may over evaluate the importance of their own opinions. Through Twitter, they’re trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues.”

It’s no doubt why Facebook has finally given in and added support for clickable hashtags to its oeuvre. Zuckerberg’s latest attempt at social media domination – to become both the mirror and the megaphone!

Anyway, what does this Publicis/WPP/Twitter deal mean? We’re not sure yet. Mainly because we don’t know how deep the data will be. What’s certain is that it’ll be insights to drive even more relevant real-time messaging.

That’s the allure.

The age old quest to reach the right customers, with the right message… at precisely the right time. But analytics will only take you so far. They’ll still need that final creative twist to connect with consumers’ hearts – in 144 characters, or less, of course. What’s certain is that Vine created video Tweets will now truly come into their own.

Has online video killed the TV star?

Cassette Tape Coffee Tables (1)

Perhaps not quite. But we’re certainly seeing a huge shift. Take comScore’s recent figures for online video ad views in the States. Apparently, this April, Americans viewed a record 13.3billion – with Google Sites, predictably, ranking no.1.

Not only that, but a recent survey of US ad agency executives found that 75% thought online ads were equally, if not more, effective than traditional TV. Probably not surprising when you consider that there are plenty more ways to measure the ROI… to prove this point.

But let’s not get too carried away here.

The rise of one channel doesn’t necessarily predict the demise of another – it’s far more complicated than that. There’s usually ebb and flow. As the novelty value of one channel wanes and reaches saturation point, it makes sense to push your message somewhere else – less cluttered.

A recent BBC article, for instance, talked about the re-emergence of the cassette tape. It’s only small scale, and a mere blip, but some new bands are finding it to be a cost effective way to get their music out to a niche audience. In fact, it sits nicely alongside digital – because there’s a QR download code printed on the tape shell.

The big question in all this is that loaded word ‘effectiveness’. There are already many different ways to measure online video ad effectiveness – before you even begin to compare it with other channels. So you’re not always looking at like-for-like.

For instance, an online video ad may have huge initial effectiveness but quickly tire. Whereas a conventional TV ad may be more of a slow, sustained, burner. As always it’s about getting the media mix right – and being creative with it. Rather than putting all your trust in one magical channel.

Is Microsoft predicting a pandemic?

“If you see an illness and you don’t call the industry to arms to try and cure it then you are just going to die along with the rest of the industry.”
- Andy Hart, European VP for advertising and online at Microsoft (Marketing 21/03/13)

Mr Hart’s pronouncement on the dire state of the online ad industry is strangely reminiscent of the ‘Crime is a disease. Meet the cure’ strapline from Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra. It’s maybe equally as overblown. But I have to say that I do like the cut of his rhetoric; especially if it shocks us into action.

When I say ‘us’, I’m obviously not referring to you and me – purveyors of high quality, creative and relevant online advertising content. But I am talking about the other guys. The ones who see online as a cheap free-for-all. Where they can shout their wares at us for the umpteenth time and then stalk us around the internet in the hope that we’ll eventually give in to their demands.

According to Matthew Chapman’s recent news report, Mr Hart’s overriding fear is that we’re ‘training consumers to avoid ads’. It seems to be a strongly founded one too. The relative inexpensiveness of the medium often means that little creative integrity goes into the production of content. Yes, there are some wonderful exceptions, but they are few and far between. Can we self-regulate? Well, yes, but we’re rarely the offenders. It’s the fly-by-nighters who already have complete disregard for the industry.

Even if there was a desire, can we really police a global medium in the same way that we regulate domestic TV and radio? And, most importantly, who would sit on the panel that judges which ads are the most ‘beautiful, useful and relevant’? The danger is that the online fly-tippers would carry on regardless and cutting-edge creativity would be compromised.

Is this really the end to working from home?


So, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has put the kibosh on working from home.

For her, the main reason is that innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. It’s the face-to-face bouncing of thoughts and ideas that leads to breakthroughs and change.

I agree. Partly. Probably because our agency is precisely that kind of place. But isn’t it a bit idealistic though? To think that all company buildings are buzzing hives of collaborative innovation? After all, even when some employees are in close proximity to one another, you’ll still find them pinging emails rather than talking; or not even sharing eye contact, let alone a new theory of general relativity.

The fact is that there’s no reason for an ‘all or nothing’ approach to home v work.

Isn’t the truth that – home or workplace – it depends on the individual as to how productive they are? The driven employee will always deliver the goods. And the slacker will always, well, slack. Show me one chap buried away for hours in their home office and I’ll show you another wiling away ‘work hours’ with Loose Women.

Surely ‘in-the-office’ time isn’t always productive either, is it Marissa? Just because someone’s face is there, doesn’t mean there heart is too. And, those people who are always buzzing around might actually be achieving very little – other than making a power play for promotion.

Home. Office. It’s an irrelevance. It’s a question of trust. The focus should be on hiring talented people you can depend on to get the job done; whether it’s in the shed, the local Starbucks or the number 534 bus to Putney.

Blind data or blind date? Get the Valentine’s Day edge.


Our industry is built on data. We spend our lives extracting and extrapolating it. We’re experts at sifting and siphoning to reach the people we need with the message we want. In fact, only last week I wrote about a new algorithm that purports to predict the next ‘Gangnam Style’ viral.

So far, so obvious. But what about applying these skills to our personal lives?

If you’re single you’ve probably already got ‘up close and personal’ with a mega algorithm. Don’t worry, it was probably called Soul Searchers or, or the like.

Because that’s what they are. Giant algorithms. Which are only as good as the data that’s inputed. And, given that people tend to project stylised more interesting versions of themselves online, it’s no wonder that the outputs aren’t always Mr or Miss Right.

It’s also why a data analyst called Amy Webb decided to take matters into her own hands in ‘Data, a love story’

She turned the whole game on its head by creating her own dating algorithm and then using it to exploit the dating sites. In a good way, of course.

She talks about ‘reverse engineering’ her profile. At its simplest, this meant coming up with archetypes of her ideal men, posing as them on dating sites and then cataloguing the initial online interactions with women; picking up tips on how the most popular competition presented themselves e.g. leading with hobbies, not trying to be funny in print (because it would come across as sarcasm) and leaving a time lag of at least 23 hours before emailing back.

Watch Amy’s TED talk

This was used to create a super profile. Not a false one, just the best articulation of who she was for that particular medium. And, lo and behold, she went on to find her ideal man!

The moral of the story? Don’t give up on finding the ‘one’ and, no matter how big and complex your algorithm, it’s only as good as the data you put in it.

How do you make a panda sneeze?

“Let’s do a viral vid! Yes, just like that one I saw the other day. 500 trillion people watched that. It only cost 53p to make too”

Yes, it’s the seemingly micro cost way to global brand mega-stardom.

But you could be foiled before you’ve even begun.

The best virals frequently share a lack of contrivance. A seemingly random happening – captured by random people. The stars are unwitting. There’s an in-joke, a pratfall that urges us to send it on.

You could disguise the contrivance.

But you’ll risk the wrath of your audience when they discover they’re actually internet brand mules.

Well fear not. There’s a new algorithm on the block. Yes, another one. And it’s secret too.

It’s from Unruly Media and claims to help you ‘accurately predict the ‘share-ability’ of a video, before it is even launched.’ and ‘…gain insight into the psychological, social and content triggers that affect the success of your video content.’

Perhaps it does. Who knows?

But how different is it from the algorithm ticking over in any good Creative’s head? You know, the one that takes a little bit of insight, a sprinkling of empathy and a leap of conceptual audacity.

Science will only take you so far.

By its very nature an algorithm must be based on a mass of accumulated data. Stuff that’s gone before. Fine if you want to predict the next Grand National winner. But would it truly foretell the 70million, and counting, views of ‘Sittin On Tha Toilet’.

It’s probably better than nothing. However, with something as unpredictable as video virability, not necessarily a magical guarantee of success.

Why do so many people find charity advertising upsetting?

Tom de Castella’s latest article on BBC News Magazine is rather revealing.  It references a new survey carried out by the ASA on people’s reactions to ads. It turns out that, ‘Many participants felt that some charity adverts contained offensive content that went too far in seeking to make people feel uncomfortable or guilty, or used imagery that was considered too distressing despite being for a worthwhile cause’. Castella goes on to mention that some, ‘…stated their frustration at wanting to help the cause but feeling powerless to do so’ and the ‘…charity areas most commonly cited as generally causing distress were international aid, animal welfare and child protection’. Pretty much all of charity advertising then!

So what do you think?

Is it that the great British public can’t handle the truth? That they resent their social media/Sky TV bubble being popped by the harsh realities of life? Or does their resentment stem from a deeper sense of being manipulated by the advertising itself? Ad or issue? Issue or ad? Well, perhaps obviously, there’s no easy answer… it depends on the ad itself.

Personally I’m only offended by bad advertising. How many times have we seen gong-hungry creatives grabbing hold of a good cause and creating their mini-masterpiece – only to totally miss the underlying humanity and message? In effect, they stick a massive great conceptual boulder between donor and need. Some of the best charity advertising often has a lightness of touch. Allowing the cause to speak, but not getting in its way. A bottle of perfume needs conceptual garnish; child abuse and famine doesn’t.

Yes, certainly there’s the argument for creating cut-through in today’s multi-channel cluttered world. But not always via cheap shock tactics. These are weapons to use sparingly – so as not to blunt their effect.  The greatest warning to any creative is not to be seduced by one’s own reaction to the cause. Time and time again we see self-indulgent diatribes in advertising. Ones which wrench every last drop of shocking detail from a cause – but purely as an exercise in voyeurism… rather than pragmatically positing a solution and asking for help.

Shock horror – Facebook ads really do work, possibly



First GM pulled back on Facebook advertising. Then the high-profile FB flotation stumbled. The vultures began to circle. But now a new comScore study could herald an about turn. Or, at least, give us food for thought. It shows that fans and friends-of-fans were more likely to buy a product they cherished than not. Which seems to have some blindly obvious circular logic to it! Specifically, the people exposed to one company’s message on FB were almost 40% more likely than a typical user to make a purchase in the following month.

There are holes in the methodology and doubts over impartiality – Facebook co-commissioned it!? The key point to take out of it is not to use the obsessional amassing of fans as your one and only and simplistic metric. A lot of people will manipulate the button anyway to get their freebies – and then ‘unlike’ you in a flash. It’s just the beginning of the engagement process and you’ll need to be a lot cannier now that the novelty days of FB are over.

Here are some of the key findings from comScore, but please do read the whole report to make your own mind up:

  • Brands can maximize the impact of their social marketing programs on Facebook by leveraging a framework that helps them move beyond Fan acquisition to delivering reach, impact, and measurable marketing ROI. Using the Brand Page as a control panel for creating social marketing programs, brands should focus on benchmarking and optimizing on the following dimensions to deliver against their broader marketing objectives.
    • Fan Reach Exposure in the News Feed
    • Engagement – Fans interacting with Brand Page marketing content
    • Amplification – viral delivery of marketing content from Fans to Friends of Fans
  • Most leading brands on Facebook achieve a monthly Amplification Ratio of between 0.5 and 2.0, meaning that they extend the reach of their earned media exposure of Fans to Friends of Fans by 50-200%.
  • Facebook represents a unique marketing channel that enables Paid, Earned and Owned Media to be leveraged to create a virtuous cycle of brand impact.
  • Concentrated social media campaigns, such as those performed during important marketing promotions, can significantly amplify the reach of earned media exposure.
  • Exposure to Facebook Premium Ads also drove statistically significant lifts in both online and in-store purchase incidence for a major retailer over a four-week post-exposure