Saturday, 31 July 2010

Suit You Sir!

I am getting old. No, perhaps I should change that, I am getting ‘grown up’. This has been brought home by yesterday’s decision that I am to hire an assistant. This slightly flattered my ego, and I must admit to having had quick visions of ordering someone to ‘take dictation’ or get someone ‘on the line’, perhaps with me chewing on a large cigar whilst I did so. In reality though they will really just be a ‘mini-me’ in the making driving our recent third edit suite. Actually, scratch that first vision with the cigar, the whole ‘mini-me’ concept sounds much more cool. In a few weeks I will have a newly-hatched little person under my wing, so to speak. This has made a very big decision in my life almost by default. I adore my trainers. I have kicked off under my desk so many pairs of Reebok, Nike, Puma, DC, Osiris and countless weird Japanese imports that I have lost count of their many vibrant styles. I have come to the conclusion that things need to change, and trainers shall no longer be propelling me to work. I bought a pair of smart leather boots the other week, they are brown with a slightly distressed appearance. I had previously considered ‘smart shoes’ as accessories one borrowed from classier friends to wear for a wedding or funeral. Now my mind has been opened to an entire new world of smart footwear, this is just the beginning! 

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Video: The Killer Marketing Weapon

My first encounter with online video was in 1997 at a trade show in London. A large grey mysterious box named a ‘streaming encoder’ was being demonstrated to a handful of passers-by and it was, we were told, going to take-off in a big way, most likely for creating pay-per-view music events via the Internet. To the left of their box sat a video recorder playing out a concert performance, to the right was a Windows NT workstation showing the exact same concert after it had passed through the box and been fed over a 56kb/s dial-up connection. The quality of the video and audio was horrendous, no where near a standard that anyone could view for an extended period, let alone pay to receive. No one I knew associated the Web with viewing videos in any case, so it felt like an iffy delivery medium aimed at a non-existent audience. I took a brochure and moved on.

Forward to 2005, YouTube launched, its growth enhanced by fast unmetered Broadband access which was becoming commonplace. Audiences viewing online video grew exponentially, as did the numbers of individuals creating and uploading their own video content or sharing video via social networks. Statistics generated by this activity are being published continually, and they are getting ever more difficult to get my head around. By 2014 Cisco estimates that 90% of all Internet traffic will be video; hardly surprising as YouTube alone intakes 100 years of video every day - no, that isn’t a typo - end to end it would take 100 years to watch all of the video which is uploaded to the site each and every day, and whilst it is the largest, YouTube is far from being the only video portal on the Internet.

Businesses are finally beginning grasp the fact that online video is now one of the largest marketing opportunities ever. This is especially good news for startups as it is a medium where great creativity doesn’t necessarily demand a huge budget. Furthermore if you involve and excite your target audience they will further distribute your content for you. Indeed, many niche startup businesses have become some of the leading exponents of the medium, often using it as their sole marketing activity. I spoke with Jordan Harbinger, co-founder of New York and LA-based startup ‘The Art of Charm, Inc.’, a business that teaches men advanced social skills and dating science. Jordan uses YouTube video and podcasting as the only form of marketing for the business, which now has revenues in excess of $1m. Jordan explains, “The company started in a friend’s basement as a podcast show and quickly grew into a coaching business that now teaches men from all over the world how to improve their charisma and self-confidence. Our podcast now receives well over 1,000,000 downloads”. Rick Mathieson, author of ‘The On-Demand Brand’, writes “When you create something that's so inherently targeted to a core user group, and that they can directly influence, they become evangelists on behalf of the video and the brand”.

Barbara Crowley is the founder of Snabbo.com, a social network for baby-boomers. Snabbo.com wished to leverage pressure coming from kids who disliked the notion of their ‘embarrassing’ parents joining them on Facebook. Crowley commissioned a viral video targeted at this Facebook crowd which you can view at http://www.ihavefacebookmom.com. The two minute viral arguably has many of the characteristics of an expensive agency-led campaign, but was in fact the product of filming some simple yet very entertaining scenarios, “We recruited actresses to audition via word of mouth at a local theatre school. We filmed with under-cover cameras and the crew was just myself, writers and producers Brian Dunaway and David Bartholow, and actress Gina Roberts” Crowley explains. “The tangible benefits we have reaped from the video has been increased membership, driven by the kids of the demographic we are targeting. Having an ad on more traditional media may have given exposure to the site, but it would have cost an arm and a leg at a time when we are just starting out with this endeavor”.

Central to all of this is one key question, a tough question, which must be asked before embarking on any video production aimed at promoting your business on the Web, “Why on earth would anyone want to watch this?” If the honest answer is “I don’t know” then you need to return to the drawing board. Faris Yakob is Chief Innovation Officer at agency network MDC Partners, “The internet is the great dis-intermediator, it connects everything else... previously mass media aggregated attention and brands bought it. To earn your own attention you have to do things, create content, that people actually elect to spend time with”. In other words if people wouldn’t watch it out of choice - they more than likely won’t watch it at all. Jordan Harbinger backs this view regarding The Art of Charm Inc’s marketing, “We do use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about our videos and media, however the subject matter itself is pretty juicy so people tend to spread it on their own. The fact that the podcast now has a large audience of loyal fans doesn't hurt either, but that has all developed organically over time”. In exactly the same way that brands do not get built overnight an online video strategy has to take a medium-term view, and real persistence, whilst trying to grow a following; as Rick Mathieson points out in his book, “Viral isn't a strategy, it's an outcome”.

One business which strives to achieve viral outcomes is New York’s Lucky Viral Branded Content, a hybrid agency and production company based in Brooklyn. I spoke to Mary Crosse at Lucky and she talked me through the methods employed to try and attain the Holy Grail of ‘going viral’. “We partner with companies to seed our videos on the web. You can’t just make a video and expect it to go anywhere on its own, you have to actually put together some kind of strategy to seed it. That means getting it to bloggers, and influencers on key social media websites, you need to put it somewhere first, and I think a lot of people forget that part, it’s also a lot of work. I think the strategy also depends a lot on the video itself, you don’t want to blast a video to inappropriate places, depending on what the video is about you want to get it on blogs related to that kind of content, and develop relationships with them”. This seems to be an element of video marketing campaigns which many businesses fail to follow through on, either themselves or through third-party agencies; Mary adds, “It seems like a lot of clients don’t really want to pay for seeding, it is another cost in addition to production but I think that when they see how much more success they get with seeding it is actually what makes the production worthwhile”. Lucky’s team has an enviable track record in creating top-flight videos for some of America’s largest multinationals, and many large businesses outside of the US. I asked whether the common perception of online video as being able to get away with cheap and cheerful appearances still held true. “I think many forget that a production is a production, no matter where it ends up you still have to pay your crew, you still have equipment, you still have editing and all the costs that go into production whether it’s on TV or on the Web; where you’re saving money is in the media platform, you’re not paying for commercial airtime. Sure, on the web you might still be paying for seeding and digital PR but it’s nowhere near the cost of what a TV commercial would be in terms of media placement, but yes a lot of people think that because it’s on the web the quality should be less, and should cost less - I think it’s changing though, a lot of the big viral videos now are really polished high quality productions, comparing to music videos in terms of costs”.

So, by its very nature the Web demands bold content. You can say and do a lot of things online - but boring your audience is never acceptable. As Lucky, Snabbo, The Art of Charm, and countless others demonstrate - no matter what video content you produce, the goal is to forge good quality deep engagements that foster further communication. The purpose of communication is to give and receive information, and the best information is that which fosters further communication. Get all that right, get your viewers on your side, and video marketing could just be the most powerful sales tool in your armory.

Tom Mountford is the Senior Editor at The JMS Group, a UK production company whose expertise spans Online Video Marketing, Advertiser Funded Programming and Television and Radio Advertising. You can see examples of their work, and get in touch with them at http://www.jms-group.com and also follow Tom’s Twitter feed at http://www.twitter.com/jmsgroup

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Abseiling, Running, What Next?

This weekend I could have relaxed. I could have spent a couple of days drinking bottles of chilled Peroni from an ice-filled tub whilst nibbling extremely hot meaty things barbecued to within an inch of total incineration. However, I didn’t enjoy a barbecue, nor did I relax. Several weeks ago I signed up for two charity events, which both happened to be taking place during the same weekend.

Saturday’s event was an abseil at the Ipswich Hospital maternity block. I have abseiled once before in London, it was an equally hot day and I had the additional drawback of wearing a full head-to-toe gorilla costume. However the bizarrely ecstatic feeling of frightening oneself shitless by leaning backwards off the parapet of a tall building prompted me to sign up for another. I wasn’t let down in my search for a thrill, yet again I was led to a scaffold gantry perched on the edge of the roof, clipped into the safety line, given the descent rope in my right hand and asked to, “Slowly take a step backwards until both your heels are just over the edge”. That is the moment when, as before, I locked eyes with the guy telling me what to do so as not to take a glance backwards down the sheer drop down the eleven storey building, “Now... when you’re ready, slowly... lean... backwards”. That is the moment which gets my heart racing; gingerly letting some of the rope run through my fingers as I lean back, and for those first few steps feeling my trainers skidding down the vertical concrete face whilst I get a grip.


Today’s event wasn’t quite so adrenaline-fueled, but it certainly burned a few calories. At around 9.45 this morning I passed the Start line of the 10th Asics British London 10k run, and as the name correctly implies - it was in central London. 27,000 runners started at Hype Park corner and took in the sights of London and the Thames on a ten-kilometer course finishing at Horse Guards Parade. It really amazed me just how many charities there must be in the UK, I have seen a dozen or more which I would enjoy running for. Even more spectacular is just how many people show up in huge groups, often wearing thoroughly impractical and awkward outfits, to do their bit in raising awareness - and money - for their causes. It is an unbeatable atmosphere. I am still awaiting my official chip timing, but I completed the 10k in approximately 1-hour and 6-minutes. 

Between the two events I have raised getting on for £200 for a charity just up the road from me, Ipswich’s St Elizabeth Hospice.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The YouTube Effect




Today has proved, in my mind at least, that the Internet - and YouTube in particular has dumbed-down client expectations of the quality of work we strive to deliver. We are currently pitching for a national TV commercial. To nail the brief we have specified our usual top-flight Director of Photography, who will in turn be booking the lighting kit deemed necessary to deliver top-notch images. There will also be location sound required for the commercial, and again we have pencilled our regular very skilled recordist and briefed him on the challenges the location may pose. Luke our Director has figured out all of the variables and put together an outline schedule to comfortably fit the commercial into a two-day shoot. Within the budget allowed we are certain we can deliver a tasty-looking ad to run in the client’s airtime.

As part of the pitch we also needed to cost for shooting some additional material for the client’s YouTube channel. At this point came the moment which confirmed what I have long suspected - the additional material didn’t need to be as good as the commercial,
‘wobbly’ perhaps, you know - because it’s going on YouTube. When we dug a little further into the brief with the client we found there was no particular creative strategy at play requiring the online pieces to be produced to any lesser quality than the commercial itself - ‘wobbly’ and ‘YouTube’ simply seemed to fit together subconsciously in the client’s mind. Interestingly this isn’t isolated, I can recall a handful of times during the past couple of years when I have heard from clients, educated clients with sizeable budgets say “It’s just going on YouTube” or “It’s just going on the website” as though no one is ever going to see it, and thus no reason to put any extra effort in to making it look absolutely right. For others YouTube is actually perceived as having a definite ‘style’ of output which needs to be matched in order for a video to be credible on the site - as though there is a recognisable low-brow ‘YouTube Look’ which needs to be met. Instead shouldn’t we accept that yes - online video in general has an incredibly low quality benchmark, and in recognition of that continually strive to improve and exceed the standard through our own efforts?

I think this is the most pertinent point to remember when referring to ‘
just YouTube’ - Corporate DVDs eventually get buried in desk drawers or binned, and your brand’s slate gets wiped clean. However, video your business puts out on the open Internet is quite likely to be kicking around the planet’s servers and viewable by anyone for the rest of eternity, so no matter how insignificant that two-minute piece may seem now, make sure it’s not crap!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Hidden Posters of Notting Hill Gate

I have received a link to a fascinating Flickr gallery via Twitter. London Underground workers recently uncovered advertising hoardings during work at Notting Hill Tube station. A collection of paste-up advertising posters had been left intact on the walls of a disused, closed-off lift passageway since 1959. I am fascinated by hidden, forgotten spaces and the decay of buildings left untouched, so much so that I drafted a pitch for a documentary about the subject a few years ago - but sadly nothing came of it. There is something endlessly absorbing for me about places which have been boarded off and excluded from the passing of time. So a wall of advertising last seen by the passing public a little over fifty years ago really caught my attention - and thanks to London Underground who took the time to photograph and share it.

These posters also got me thinking about how much advertising must have changed during the past five decades. Being a child of the 80’s most (if not all) of the advertising I have been exposed to has been regulated, substantiated, checked and double-checked against stringent guidelines. In today’s ad landscape the spurious claims of 1950s advertising simply wouldn’t see the light of day. However I don’t think regulation has hindered the creativity of more recent advertising, arguably many of the most memorable campaigns have been created during the past thirty years as the media has become ever increasingly sophisticated in its approach. That said, there is something rather absorbing about the simplicity of the 1959 paste-ups. They are undeniably stylish, hand-illustrated, and typeset by craftsmen to convey a message with artistic flair. Most of all they feel unhindered by the shackles of tag lines selected by focus groups and small-print legal provisos. For me it begged the question, do we get too caught up in developing radical creative approaches and extensive ‘brand stories’ when sometimes the ideal answer to the brief is simply to call a spade a spade?

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Knights, Camera, Action! (Sorry, I had to...)

Anglian Home Improvements are the sponsors of new late-afternoon Channel 4 series The 5 O’Clock Show. An armour-clad knight riding atop a rearing white horse has been a constant in their brand image since they started in 1966. For almost thirty years the representation of the corporate masthead on screen has been a purely graphical device, but the brief for the Channel 4 campaign was to revive a television commercial treatment from the early 1980s and bring the knight and horse back into being with a live-action shoot. 


Anglian worked with Norwich-based advertising agency The Point and ourselves The JMS Group to create the bumpers inside a very tight deadline. We sourced our gallant armour-wearing professional rider, and all-important white stallion, from The Knights of Arkley who were absolutely superb on the day and really up for it, so a million thanks to them! Hedingham Castle in Essex provided a dramatic Norman-period backdrop. The cavernous great chamber of the castle was the location for the knight’s comfortable lounge, complete with a china tea service and a pair of slippers! The great chamber is on the third floor and the minstrel's gallery (accommodating much of the lighting setup for the room below) was on the fourth, so transporting grip and lighting equipment up four flights of confined medieval spiral staircases required many additional hands... unfortunately I was back at base in the edit suite on another job, honest. Given also the limited power supply at the castle we sorted out an 18 ton generator to arrive at the site to provide additional power for the whopping great HMI lighting plot designed create pseudo shards of 'daylight' in the great chamber (they look proper tasty by the way!) All this made for a location shoot of feature film proportions, and provided an interesting spectacle for visitors touring the castle, which remained open to the public throughout the day.


The footage went into post-production the following day with myself and fellow editor Hugh South splitting the work back at our Hethersett HQ. Despite also requiring composition of a bespoke music score, creation of ‘period’ sound effects, and a full colour grade we got all twenty-one bumpers completed and delivered by FTP to London for transmission inside of four days.

The Anglian Knight receives his premiere in The 5 O’Clock Show from Monday 31st May on Channel 4. 


Saturday, 8 May 2010

Incredible Hospitality

It is a Saturday evening and I am sitting at my iMac in near silence. The only sounds are the distant rumble of traffic on the skyline, the breathing of my cat and a light breeze disturbing the tree outside. That was very poetic wasn’t it? I am giving my ears a well-earned rest as they have taken quite a pounding during the past twenty-four hours.
Ask anyone who knows me what music I like listening to and ‘loud stuff on records’ is likely all the clarification they could give you. Well, I like Drum & Bass in all its many flavours and sub-genres. It is music with a split personality - perhaps having a public persona of hoodies and baseball caps; whilst in private it is a considerate tea-drinking aficionado of precise syncopation and complex musical structures. The integration of both live instruments and inspiration drawn from other genres make Drum & Bass a fascinating melting-pot of styles. Added to this, when tracks are played out at events it is customary to have an MC adding live vocals and whipping up the crowd. Right, that was my sales patter for the uninitiated - so, where was I last night?

Last night I was at Hospitality at Matter. Hospitality is the legendary night laid on by Hospital Records, who are not only a truly world-class record label they are also one of my favourite brands. Those without a taste for the music will likely not have heard of Hospital, but for me they rank alongside Apple as a brand where I can truly feel the immense pride and love dripping off everything they do. They are also masterful at their web-presence, their online shop, artist pages, and iPhone apps just scream quality. Calling on the design talent of Trickartt they are also a label which still values quality sleeve artwork. The jewel in the crown is the Hospital Records Podcast, hosted by the passionate, charismatic and controversial London Elektricity (Tony Colman) which attracts some 60,000 loyal subscribers. To my eyes Hospital are a brand who have perfected the way to make social media work for them, if you want to see an exercise in passionate branding and a real belief in everything they do then check them out and read the article about them in K-Mag

Anyway, with my brand-porn set to one side I headed down to London yesterday evening to Matter at the O2. I never fail to be surprised on every visit I make to the O2 just how bloody gigantic it is, swallowing up an entire village under its dome and throwing in a handful of concert venues for good measure. Matter is a gigantic three-storey club yet it hides almost unnoticed behind a Starbucks. After a sweep with a metal-detector wand, an x-ray of jackets and bags, and a head-to-toe frisk I was in - and I honestly wish more clubs would adopt this sensible door policy instead of deciding suitability for entry based on choice of footwear. Matter is a venue obviously built with Drum & Bass in mind - it is concrete, entirely concrete - even the bar and the tables are concrete! Being a giant concrete box full of subs the venue sounds exactly as it should, earth-shatteringly loud with a bass response bordering on inducing vomiting. One of my current favourite tracks ‘Ready When You Are’ by Mutated Forms (also my ringtone) sounded like a bomb going off and shook the room like an earthquake. The excellent set-list and superb MCs were coupled with a rowdy but very well-natured atmosphere that made a really great night, Hospitality gets a big thumbs up from me.