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Friday, May 18, 2007

Adventures in a Second Life

Well, everyone's talking about it so a Thinktank volunteer had to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon to make up an alter ego, er, atavar, called Trixi and start a Second Life in search of the promised land of marketing opportunities.

Well, it was (sort of) interesting, if not quite for me. Being a bit of a girl I liked raising Trixi's cheekbones and lengthening her legs and was grateful a free pair of jeans so she didn't have to wear the weird faux middle age kit she was 'born' with.

But from then on I struggled… in all I found the experience rather frustrating and certainly something for 'the specialist'. I persevered for longer than the reportedly average 15 mins and went in active search of entertainment, education and brand sites which offered me a new level of interactivity and was disappointed on all fronts. Failed to find a cinema which had sounded interesting (can't say the maps were very helpful); clubs were only open in the evenings (sorry, but I do have better things to do on a Saturday night), an educational institution required me to get into a lift which then failed to operate and a site on philosophy was only going to 'open soon'.

Finally, I located the Sony Ericsson site which took the shape of a replica of their CEBIT stall. Looked good at first - with promoters on site who one could turn to for information, free T-Shirts and phones to try out. However, when I looked at/clicked on some of the phones there was no way of Trixi directly interacting with them in 'the world' and I was merely redirected to the relevant bit of the ordinary SE website. Boring. As, by the way, were the conversations between visitors and promoters who seemed to be mostly German. 'So you live in Kassel, are you a Frankfurt fan then?' So much for being an outlet for creativity.

I flew around a bit more, found making my own clothes too complicated (again, couldn't be done in the world, needed separate download AND Photoshop), was amazed by the number of people who named their atavars 'Nokia' and 'Sony' and marvelled at the long list of pornographic sites.

I was impressed by some very intricate and evocative graphics but then had a mildly disconcerting encounter with a satyr like male nude who kept creeping up behind Trixi. I flew off in haste to re-connect with my First Life.

So what's my verdict… Well, given that 2nd Life is hugely user-unfriendly and that there is such a focus on porn, I am - as are more and more others - not entirely convinced that (mainstream) brands really need to spend money on a presence there. And I'm not sure whether half-hearted efforts like Sony Ericsson's will make that much of an impression.

Having said that, Second Life could give both brands and researchers access to some quite interesting audiences. It is likely that the regulars of the site are at least at highly technophile - and although the Sonys, Nokias and German football fans might not be amongst them, I'd like to believe Linden Lab's PR that some of them are quite creative.

So perhaps Second Life could be a platform for playful interaction and experimentation with some opinion leading types. As I've said before, there could be opportunities for idea generation, especially for experiential brands - which could also work as PR/branded experiences for the relevant companies. If Thinktank had a client prepared to take the plunge, I'd be willing to get together with some geeks and look into to resurrecting Trixi as a Second Life Researcher!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Have you seen the sofa?

I’ve just had a lovely lunchtime experience – all thanks to the marketing people at sofa.com I was stood at a bus stop with about four other people and a moving sofa came tearing past – stylish brown leather (I think) complete with pot plant, comfy cushions and magazines. Oh! and a www.sofa.com message. At least two other people at the bus stop laughed out loud, the guy “driving” the sofa waved (not often you get to write that sentence) and when I look around everyone was smiling. For a moment, it was a bit like being at a village carnival! Unfortunately with a top speed of 92mph the moving sofa moved quicker than I so no photo… (although click on the youtube link below to really see it in action) The success of ambient marketing is notoriously difficult to assess, but observing these people you could see that this mechanic has certainly achieved cut through and consumer interaction – quite literally at the street level. How successful it is in terms of call to action is much harder to say. I cheekily asked the woman who got on the bus with me whether she would visit sofa.com when she next wanted some furniture and she said “I don’t know, but they seem like nice people don’t they”. Not quite a resounding yes, but I do wonder if this could mean that on brand building level the moving sofa has had some impact?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bluetooth ads: a personal experience

Having received my first bluetoothed ad this weekend, I thought I'd share my personal reactions... The invitation to accept a message from 'Qashqai' appeared on my phone as I was sitting drinking a coffee and minding my own business in a cafe in Brixton. My initial caution (I've had viruses beamed to my phone in the past) soon gave in to basic human curiosity so I clicked yes. Going through my mind at the time: Who is Qashqai? What are they sending me? Why are they sending it to me?! My underlying assumption: this was from somebody sitting in the cafe As I waited for the transfer to complete I scanned the other customers in the cafe.... Then this arrived on my phone Judging from the reactions on YouTube the ad (from TBWA) has been a success, at least in terms of popularity. And when I've seen it on TV, I've always considered it to be a well made piece of film. But in this case my reaction wasn't quite as positive.. I should begin by saying that I'm not the biggest expert on cars - or the name Qashqai may have given the game away earlier. As it was I was just plain disappointed when I received the message and saw that it was an ad. I was expecting a personal message, some sort of contact with somebody else. This is what I'm used to using my phone for. Even if the message had been from a complete stranger, that would have been ok. But this was just impersonal. What made matters worse was that the message from Qashqai kept flashing onto my screen every 5 minutes or so, even after I had already accepted and viewed the ad. There was no intelligence behind this message, no personal contact, no connection being made. So not exactly intrusive, just a bit of a letdown. How my reaction might change if this became a more regular thing I can only guess, but I do know that my expectations have now been lowered for the future - probably to the point where I'd be less likely to accept any unsolicited bluetooths! What I suspect could have made a difference is if there had been some kind of interactivity, some kind of connection - even if with a website or link for further information, anything that gives me a reason to be engaged and INTERACT - this is after all what phones are for.. My personal reaction isn't too far from responses we have seen when talking to consumers about the concept of mobile advertising. It's acceptable - expected even - but runs the risk of being considered invasive if it offers nothing in return. In this case, I had no warning of what I was receiving - I was simply being asked to watch a TV-type ad in return for nothing. In the age of 'permission based marketing', mobile advertising in particular - due to the intensely personal medium - should be offering more than this if it wants to create a positive reaction. PS Having said all this I guess the whole exercise was a success on some level - I am now talking about the ad after all. It would just have been so much better if it could have done so without disappointing along the way!!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I'm Not A Plastic Bag

Something I saw yesterday evening really made me wonder about where we are going with ‘Green’ marketing…

A well-dressed, fashionable woman in her 30s or 40s was stood near Paddington Station looking for a cab. Over her shoulder was an Anya Hindmarch ‘I’m Not a Plastic Bag’ shopper. You know - the one that was a limited edition for Sainsbury’s and which had customers queuing from 3am earlier this week.

Seemingly oblivious to any inconsistency in her behaviour the woman was holding two plastic carrier bags, whilst the Hindmarch bag itself was visibly near empty (save perhaps one or two handbag essentials).

We’ve said before on this blog that ‘Green’ has definitely become more of a mainstream concern and have been optimistic about what this could mean. Yet, observing this behaviour does make me worry that in becoming so mainstream ‘Green’ becomes just another temporary and rather meaningless fashion badge with people saying but not really doing ‘Green’.

The event appears to have been successful in terms of media attention (even with the question of production in China) and yet if Hindmarch and Sainsbury’s really do want to challenge our behaviour should they not have produced enough of the bags for all of Sainsbury’s 16 million customers?

As Justin King, CEO Sainsbury’s is quoted as saying on www.wearewhatwedo.org
“We strongly believe that encouraging customers to shop with re-usable bags is the best solution, and this one-off Anya Hindmarch bag will make it much more appealing for customers to do that. It’s also great news that our 16 million customers will be able to buy an Anya Hindmarch bag as well as helping the environment.”